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Bush bias
Derek Jennings' article, "Land of the Free?" [May 29] was so blatantly biased and spiteful, not to mention wrong, that I'm wondering how The Independent can publish such sloppy journalism. The article's point is that George W. Bush should not lecture the Cuban government on the virtues of democracy since George W. Bush undermines democracy himself. Jennings' personal agenda, however, gets in the way of making a convincing case.

Jennings begins by stating that the United States is "damn near a monarchy." This is an utter falsehood. Thanks to Senators Leahy, Edwards and others, Bush can't even get judges past the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Joseph Lieberman is currently investigating the administration's contacts with Enron, a move that may cause trouble for Bush. Finally, Bush's efforts to allow drilling in the Alaskan national wilderness were recently thwarted by Congress. These are not signs of a monarchy. Rather, they indicate that Bush is constrained by constitutional checks and balances, as any president should be.

Jennings then examines what he calls "the Bushocracy" and condemns Bush for raising a lot of campaign money, the lion's share coming from Enron. Yes, Enron and its executives did contribute more than $2 million to the Bush campaign. But Jennings does not mention that this was before Bush signed the Shays-Meehan/McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which places restrictions on soft money contributions. He also fails to mention that much of this soft money was raised through direct contributions of $1,000 or less. Finally, Jennings does not scrutinize Democrats (many of whom also received contributions from Enron) to reveal any of their campaign indiscretions. According to Jennings, Bush is a near-monarch because he has wealthy supporters. The unwritten assumption is that Democrats do not, and this is not true.

Jennings continues by claiming "George W. used the home court advantage of his brother Jeb to eke out a last-minute victory." Yet he later admits that the Justice Department's investigation on the supposed "disenfranchisement of Florida voters" has just begun. In other words, the jury is still out, but Bush is still guilty. Jennings must prove conclusively that not only the election but also the ensuing recounts were frauds perpetrated by the Republicans. Until he can do this, his conspiracy theories will remain only half-baked.

Jennings then commits his most egregious error. On one hand, he condemns America for supporting "a stable of dictators" around the world. On the other, he justifies removing the embargo on Cuba because America already trades with other dictatorial regimes, so why not Cuba as well? So which is it, Derek? If we stop supporting dictators (like you want us to), then of course the embargo should stay, right? Or if we lift the embargo (like you want us to), then you must believe in supporting dictators, right?

The bottom line is that Jennings, like most left-wingers, holds the United States and its leaders to higher moral standards than the rest of the world. The way George Bush squeaked past Al Gore in 2000 was nothing compared to how Fidel Castro brutally gained power in 1959 and has brutally held on to it ever since. The man murdered thousands of his political enemies and oppressed thousands more, he expropriated millions from his citizenry, he suppresses free speech at every turn, he refuses to hold elections, and even practices a kind of "tourism apartheid" in which poor Cubans (many of whom are black) are forbidden in certain tourist hotels and resorts. It's also curious that Jennings mentions Bush's "pedigree" to demonstrate how the United States is no longer a democracy, while not mentioning that Castro, in an open act of nepotism, appointed his brother Raul as minister of the armed forces.

The fact that Jennings concentrates on Bush's supposed hypocrisy while remaining silent on the topic of Castro's actual crimes reveals that Jennings is not honest and that he has an ax to grind. He just does not like George W. Bush and will happily pervert the truth or do away with it altogether to make us not like him as well.
--CHRIS SPECK, DURHAM

Mental understanding
Bob Geary's story, "Minds Divided," in the May 22 issue was excellent. It presents a human face, a face like yours and mine, to many people who still believe that the mentally ill are akin to images they see in horror movies. The descriptions of their lives and their challenges presented a very vivid and real picture. This picture, combined with the excellent grasp on the needs for services and costs of the services, which the article presented, made an excellent case for the need for more funding for mental health.

Thank you for this excellent coverage. Without the social consciousness of papers such as yours, many fewer people would understand that the mentally ill can, indeed, be helped with properly structured programs that are adequately funded.
--LOIS CAVANAUGH-DALY, PRESIDENT, NAMI-WAKE COUNTY

I appreciated your recent article, "Minds Divided" [May 22]. Mental health and the mental health system, always important topics, are especially relevant these days. As a program specialist at Threshold, a clubhouse model rehabilitation program in Durham, I wanted to share more information with you about why the Clubhouse philosophy is so revolutionary and why it should be supported under any new mental health plan.

The clubhouse philosophy is indeed so groundbreaking because it does something that current mainstream mental health systems do not: It normalizes. Members (not "patients" or "clients") work side-by-side with staff in completing the work of the day. This work is meaningful, including everything from making lunch to running a thrift store to putting out a newsletter. These are not your average psych ward "arts and crafts"! The work-ordered days focus on members' strengths, rather than on their weaknesses, teaching valuable job skills and building confidence. Contrary to what you have written, clubhouses are rarely used as "drop-in centers"; rather, they provide members with a workplace-like environment that helps them maintain daily structure and routine.

This support in maintaining structure is often the first step in getting members back to work, and our Transitional Employment Placement program has made dreams come true for many of our members. This program "loans" a real job in the community to a member for six months, with staff providing coverage for doctors appointments or hospitalization. This makes the experience fail-safe and allows members the intermediate step that many need to make the transition back into the work force. The idea of a "transitional" approach is also refreshing in a system that encourages chronic stabilization, often at the lowest level of functioning. Early on, The Wall Street Journal recognized the greatness of the TEP Program in its article, "When a Good Deed Can Be a Good Deal" (Monday, July 9, 1990).

Martha Brock was correct in saying that stigma is the biggest problem facing the mentally ill. In Clubhouse, stigma is eradicated entirely. One of the four basic member rights is "the right to meaningful relationships," and these form among members and between members and staff. Members representing a wide spectrum of diagnoses and levels of functioning come together to form an amazing and close-knit group of people.

Although the characteristics of Clubhouse are fascinating and compelling in themselves, cost is always an issue. For the amazing success rate we have in decreasing re-hospitalizations, our price tag is also impressively low. Our most recent figures indicate that for 15 minutes of case management, Medicaid can be billed $22.50, while the same case management at Threshold costs only $2.59.

I applaud the effort you have made with your article to advocate for North Carolinians who suffer from mental illness. I strongly urge you to follow up by learning more about the clubhouse program and philosophy and to feature Threshold in an upcoming story. For more information, please surf our Web site at http://www.thresholdclubhouse.org.
--SUSANNAH KIRBY, DURHAM

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