MAIL CALL

Readers of our Sept. 20 report on the nastiness of the U.S. presidential campaign were dismayed. One said both men must "behave with more pride, dignity and honor." But some said equating the attacks on President Bush with those on Senator Kerry was unfair: "Criticizing Bush's policies is not the same as lying about Kerry's record in Vietnam."

A Mudslinging Campaign

Why is George W. Bush's approval rating so high ("Let's Get Ready for Slime Time," Sept. 20)? Is it because he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan? Were the innocent people who died on 9/11 more innocent than the people who died from American bombs and bullets? Or could it be that the United States, under his command, invaded a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and let the real culprits slip through? Where is Osama bin Laden? And finally, do Bush supporters feel safe? I certainly don't. George W is directly responsible for sending more than 1,000 U.S. service personnel to their deaths in Iraq ("Worse Than You Think", Sept. 20). At the same time, he has turned one of the highest budget surpluses, accumulated by President Clinton, into one of the highest deficits in America's history. Who is going to pay for all this? Bush's politics--thanks to his particular blend of arrogance and ignorance--have encouraged people all over the world to despise Americans. And those were America's allies! Bush and Cheney have, in three and a half years, given Muslim extremists all over the world enough reasons to hate us and have actually helped to cultivate a fresh new crop of young terrorists. These people might never have been motivated enough to attack America had it not been for Bush's policies. Four more years of this?
Dale A. Doering
Berlin, Germany

The whole world was united behind the United States in the real war against terror. But this arrogant president has stubbornly chosen to go his own way, and has alienated allies all around the world. He and his supporters have publicly shown contempt for international organizations like the United Nations. Arrogance, stubbornness and miscalculations are not going to bring other world leaders into the fight against terror. Besides, this polarizing president has divided his own country as well. He is "unfit for command." My American friends will not only be voting for head of state of their great country but will also have to choose a world leader--a key decider in matters of international peace and security. As president, John Kerry, I believe, will be able to bring credibility back to the table at the Security Council: he will be able to rally Europeans and the rest of the world in this global war against terror.
Sehzad M. Sooklall
Paris, France

The awesome power of negative campaigning has never been more evident than it is today in the Bush-Kerry presidential race. Who can outslime whom is the key to victory. The crucial issues of the day are not important, but making the mud stick to your opponent is. Lies, smears and innuendo are mud's sticky ingredients. Voters always complain about negative campaigns but, sadly, as long as slime-slinging candidates keep winning, campaign strategy will not change. It would be wonderful if we had a presidential election in which the electorate gets smart and elects the candidate who ran a positive campaign.
Paul L. Whiteley Sr.
Louisville, Kentucky

Comparing the swift boat attacks on John Kerry with attacks on George W. Bush regarding his Air National Guard duty does not make for balanced news. One involves tearing down behavior in battle that was deemed worthy of several Purple Hearts. The other involves filling in gaps in a service record embarked on (with whose help?) to avoid battle, and notable more for absence from--rather than attendance to--duty. Trying to equate these in any substantive way is not balance--it is spin.
Gregory Bachelis
West Bloomfield, Michigan

Your story implies that because mud is being slung, it is fairest to blame both parties. This is false, and most of the media know it. Bush's campaign workers have spent a large part of the election, and a large part of their advertising dollars, smearing John Kerry. They have smeared him for not being wounded badly enough in a war they did not bother to participate in. They have smeared him for voting to cut funding from the B-2, the Bradley fighting vehicle, the Apache helicopter and other weapons programs--the same cuts that the then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney asked for. The charges made by the Kerry campaign have been largely, demonstrably, measurably true. The Bush camp has engaged in far more distortion, negativity and deception, and thrown far more mud in this campaign. It is dishonest to try to paint a "balanced" picture where there isn't one.
Eric Hanson
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Your Sept. 20 story is a curious contradiction. George W. Bush is currently a victim of the worst slime attack I have ever seen, with a television commentator even using forged documents to try to discredit him. John Kerry was generating slime before Congress in 1971 by accusing brave American soldiers of atrocities. That is quite a difference.
Franklin E. Schaffer
Greenwich, Connecticut

With voter turnout for elections historically at only about 50 percent, I will cheer and feel new hope for our democracy if a huge majority of Americans turn out this November to elect our next president. I hope your article doesn't discourage ordinary people from getting involved in the electoral process, for this is just what our country needs now.
Carol Shutt
Bar Harbor, Maine

Your Sept. 20 story ponders "why the mud's flying so thick and fast." I can answer that in one sentence: because it works. Despite all the moaning and groaning from the electorate about how they would like to see a positive campaign, they still respond more to a negative one.
John Worsley
Greensboro, North Carolina

It is an understatement that this is a mean and nasty campaign. It is far worse. It is beyond divisive; it is erosive. My respect for those individuals who represent me, and supposedly lead me, is all but gone. Does either candidate think that, magically, on Nov. 3, the slime and stink of this campaign will wash away, revealing a knight in shining armor or a heroic leader? On Nov. 2 I will hold my nose and vote. And I will continue to hold my nose for the next four years.
Joseph A. Wright
Bloomington, Minnesota

Politicians and national political organizations should be subjected to the same types of sanctions imposed on commercial organizations for misleading advertising and promotion. The solution: an independent government body to monitor all political advertising and enforce rules for truthfulness, much as the Federal Trade Commission monitors the advertising and promotion of medical companies and enforces its accuracy. The independent government body should have the right to fine individuals and organizations for false and misleading statements. It should have the authority to require corrective advertising, and ensure that it is disseminated prior to the election. The oversight body should also have the authority to require organizations with previously offending advertisements to submit all promotion in advance for approval. Finally, only corrective advertisements shall be broadcast or published within seven days of the election. Only severe penalties imposed on perpetrators of false, misleading and underhanded political practices will restore dignity and truthfulness to the electoral process.
William J. Comcowich
Stratford, Connecticut

Stick to the Real Issues

Very few articles have sent a chill up my spine the way Jonathan Alter's Sept. 20 column entitled "The Danger of Distractions" did. Alter zeroed in on what a dangerous game election '04 has become in the way distortions, distractions and super-ficial character assassinations have detracted from real issues and real dangers. To both candidates the message needs to be loud and clear--America cannot afford to spend one more minute debating what happened in a war that ended 30 years ago. We have more than enoughwars and battlefields right now, and face far more ominous enemies.
Dominic Gagliardo
Scottsdale, Arizona

A Hybrid Economy for the Future

As an Italian journalist writing about science and the environment, I read your special double issue on "Hybrid Future" (Sept. 6/Sept. 13) with great interest. However, I must point out that the high price of oil is not the only reason it would be a good idea to move from an oil-based economy to a hybrid one. You forgot a "lesser" reason--climate change, fueled by carbon dioxide produced by burning oil, coal and natural gas. It is incredible that Tony Emerson did not raise this issue in his interview with Lee Raymond, CEO of Exxon-Mobil. Leonardo Maugeri, the Eni manager, speaks of every aspect of the problem as part of climate change. Is it considered impolite, or embarrassing, to mention the greenhouse effect among oilmen?
Alessandro Saragosa
Rome, Italy

I was really interested to read about hybrid cars and to know that the price of the Prius hybrid is $20,295. That is a lot for an ordinary worker. That is why in my country, people are not interested in buying a hybrid because it is so expensive. Why do we spend so much on scientific projects that don't solve any vital problems in our world? We don't spend similar amounts to solve our ecological problems which really threaten the earth. NASA spends huge amounts on Mars projects just to see if there is intelligent life in outer space. Let's appeal to world scientists to make more inexpensive hybrid cars so our ecological tragedy can be solved. After all, without Earth, there couldn't be any space probes.
Giannis Eleftheriadis
Patra, Greece

Your hybrid-car story touches on one of the two main topics for the coming decades: energy (water is the other one). An important energy source for the future will be methane or biogas, produced spontaneously under anaerobic conditions in our omnipresent landfills. All that is needed is a network of collecting pipes and a gas-burning electricity generator. Biogas sources include waste from animal husbandry--hog and dairy farms--which serves two purposes: production of energy in the form of electricity and heat and the reduction of wastewater pollution. As extra energy sources, slaughterhouse waste and specially raised crops can be added. A great advantage over wind and sun energy is the possibility of storing the biogas to burn only when needed. Excess electricity production can be fed into the distribution grid.
Gerd Teunissen
Figueira da Foz, Portugal

Your Sept. 6/sept. 13 cover story on "Hybrid Future" was both excellent and enlightening. However, I was surprised to see that one of your picture captions reads, "Toho Gas's hydrogen station could be the first of thousands across China." From the name of the gas company, the car number plate and the man's face, I believe that the country is Japan, not China. The car is a Toyota test model and the refilling place is near Toyota's manufacturing base.
Ted Miyazawa
Odawara, Japan

Sex and the Singapore Teen

I read with concern your article on the rising trends of teenagers getting infected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and their refusal to worry about the consequences of casual sex ("When the Mood Strikes," Aug. 23). A recent study of STIs among Singaporean teenagers found that "adolescents are at a higher risk of acquiring STI and HIV infections." Moreover, most of those who had sex "never used condoms." In Singapore, the older generation is more conservative than the teenagers. They shy away from sex, drugs and dating because they're too embarrassed to talk about these topics. Teachers hardly ever address issues of sexual health, even when students are eager to know more. Parents change the subject even when children raise the subject with questions. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education has had the foresight to include sexually transmitted infections in the science curriculum and this has led to the students' basic understanding of STIs. However simply giving teenagers this information is not enough for them to make the right choice regarding casual sex. Teachers' help is needed to set the right moral foundations and parents need to overcome their embarrassment and discuss such out-of-bound topics with their children to help them make the right decisions. At the end of the day, all of society has a responsibility to protect its teen-agers and lead them onto the right path--it's either that, or face up to devastating consequences.
Tan Xue Yang
Singapore

Iran's Nuclear Program

Fareed Zakaria seems to have left some important factors out of the equation of Iran's nuclear aspirations ("The Stealth Nuclear Threat," Aug. 16). First, it is short-sighted to reduce the discussion to any country which may be looking to join the club of those already possessing the ultimate bomb (America, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel). Also, it isn't easy to chastise Iran's leaders, when Israeli politicians don't sign on to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Wouldn't the "rogues" in Iran prove more amenable if, simultaneously, there were to be some progress on that front? But I do agree that Washington's reluctance to talk to the Iranians directly is unhelpful. Neither is it helpful to expect Europe to shoulder the whole diplomatic burden.
Werner Radtke
Paderborn, Germany

The kind of power that the United States has had over other countries for so long will no longer work when so many, opposed to the American way of life, have the same deadly weapons. America better find a different way of living with the rest of the world--ask what they want from us instead of telling them what we expect of them. Economic sanctions may stop certain material goods from reaching the countries we disagree with, but they engender resentment and anger in the very people we think we're helping; they also have little or no effect on the leaders of these countries. We're seeing the effects of that widespread anger against America now. If we don't change our international relationships from the power to force our will upon others for the purpose of what is best for us to what is best for everyone, then we may find ourselves increasingly assaulted in various ways and our lifestyles of freedom changed to one based on endless attack and defense.
Linda Carpenter
Port Ludlow, Washington