Mail Call: A Bullish Report

News About the World Economy
NEWSWEEK deserves a medal of journalistic merit for having the guts to run a cover story with the unusually uplifting title "The Good News" (Dec. 24). Barrett Sheridan and Daniel Gross's feature article was brilliantly researched and optimistically presented. Well done, NEWSWEEK! I agree that "the world economy has never been better." I just regret that my adoptive country of France came so low on the leader board of GDP growth rates: a fifth of China's and less than half the global average. But my heartwarming mood changed abruptly when the six pages of "good news" was followed by six pages of gloom and doom. Sharon Begley's academic analysis of the fear factor switched my amygdala into overdrive—almost enough to push me into a deep depression.
Karl H. Pagac
Villeneuve-Loubet, France

While it has always been my sincere wish that one ought to be more optimistic and look at the brighter side of events in the new year, I have my reservations over your argument that the world economy has never been better. For starters, the world's largest economy has been badly bashed by the subprime mess and the credit-crunch saga. The economic giants Japan and the EU are not performing well, as clearly suggested by your charts. Of the countries you tabulated, China, India and Russia continue to surge forward relentlessly. But with double-digit growth, China is being pushed closer to an unprecedented economic overheating that will have a devastating effect on global trade. Unless stringent measures are seriously launched by the United States and China to cushion the hard landings, the world may well face a severe financial blitz as a result of the ensuing wild economic turbulence. Realistic prevention will often be much more acceptable than unrealistic promulgation.
Tan Boon Tee
Chukai, Malaysia

You ran a cover picture of Bangladeshi schoolchildren supposedly posing as harbingers of "good news." But your writers did not write a single word on Bangladesh! For the record, notwithstanding major natural catastrophes, Bangladesh has consistently achieved 5 percent (or more) annual economic growth during the past decade. At the very least, we expected to read a few sentences about the Gaibandha schoolchildren portrayed on your cover. It is baffling that a country that is home to the winner of the Nobel Prize for bringing "good news" to the poor through microcredit was ignored in an article that listed more than a dozen other countries.
Noushi Rahman and Fabiha Naumi
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Manipulating Through Fear
Sharon Begley's Dec. 24 article "The Roots of Fear" is a must-read. It explores the notion how people (political supporters in particular) could be easily swayed and manipulated by politicians' psychological prowess. Fear triggers intense human emotions. It incites intolerance, hate and antagonism. It has been, is and will continue to be the fundamental tool used by politicians (especially power-crazy despots and autocrats) to tower over their citizens everywhere. These power-corrupted, supposedly "elected leaders" are far too numerous to mention—just browse through the history of any nation. The fear factor reigns supreme in all human endeavor. Whoever masters the skill of fear management rules, and this is the cardinal principle of politicians. Today we not only have to fear fear itself but also the person who subtly instills fear in the public.
Han-Venn Ti
Hong Kong

"The Roots of Fear" and "The Two Shades of Gloom" made fascinating reading, highlighting how politicians could maneuver fear to control their followers and the people at large. Anxiety resembles a state of apprehension resulting from often irrational anticipation of a threatening event. Fear is the extreme form of anxiety. It provides a convenient tool for oppressors to subdue the oppressed globally. Fear of the unknown often leads to gloom, a state of melancholy and despondency that precedes utter despair, which could develop into a suicidal mind-set. There has been a great abundance of such occurrences throughout human history. A little bit of anxiety is harmless and could even be necessary for success. But too much of it is certainly disastrous. World politicians should take note and never overplay the fear card. It burns.
John B.T. Spencer

A Killer Gun Designed for a Woman
The Dec. 24 Periscope item ("Home Shock Protection"), in which you describe—as a "gadget"—a stun gun that looks like a toy and is specially designed for women, gave me the creeps. How can it be that the United States, a country with such high street violence, is doing nothing against guns? I believe that the responsible authorities should address the problem of violence by identifying the reasons Americans think they have a need to protect themselves from their neighbors. How can the authorities approve a "gadget" that looks like a toy but can kill? How can you live in peace knowing that the person next to you might simply go nuts and kill you with a pretty pink or pearl-colored gun that she carries in her purse? Americans seem to have a real problem. The fact that so many "regular" Americans own a gun proves it, and the fact that their authorities let it happen really frightens all of us.
Neus Portet
La Garriga, Spain

Mysteries and Miracles of DNA
I loved the article about the recent findings of "junk DNA," which marks a milestone in DNA research ("A Changing Portrait of DNA," Dec. 17). The hypothesis that our "half-on, half-off" genes predispose us to cancer is fascinating and may hasten the discovery of a cure. Still, the research into the human genetic code raises many frightening thoughts. Who decides whether a life is worth living? What are the consequences of interfering in the switching on of genes? It seems doubtful that we will ever be capable of responsibly handling these complicated gene technologies. Laws must be enacted and strict controls carried out to prevent the creation of a Frankenstein's monster.
Eva Fassnacht
Augsburg, Germany

I read your articles on DNA discoveries ("The Year of Miracles," Oct. 15) with a growing sense of disconnect: cancer, heart disease and diabetes could be prevented or cured, thanks to these new discoveries. Yet most cases of these illnesses are degenerative and accompany a modern lifestyle. (Indigenous peoples only develop them when they adopt a Westernized diet.) In a recent British government report, scientists predict that by 2050, 60 percent of men, 50 percent of women and 25 percent of children will be obese. Children are now growing up unnaturally, spending hours seated and staring into TV or computer screens while eating masses of fatty, denatured food. Unless this changes, these future adults will never be well enough or live long enough to take advantage of any DNA discoveries. Anyone who thinks a DNA "miracle" will mean not having to address this is living in cuckoo land.
Judy Smith
Sheffield, England

A Martyr for Democracy
As a former neighbor of Benazir Bhutto's (in London's Kensington), I once asked her if she was afraid of being assassinated. Without hesitation, she replied, "No, that would seem to be my destiny.'' This remarkable, courageous lady's legacy must be to have democracy restored to her beloved Pakistan. Her cowardly killers have silenced her, not her message. To murder a woman who brought hope to her nation is a disgrace for those who claim to be Muslims. Her sophistication, elegance and charm were no match for bullets. Her death is not her assassins' victory. The way she was killed shows the world the depth of hatred and intolerance it faces in the name of God. We must defeat the evil men who stoop to killing women to impose their bankrupt will on everyone else. It was a privilege to have met Benazir: her conversation was highly intelligent, knowledgeable and powerful. Her charisma, bravery and dignity are honors for Pakistan as it mourns its greatest daughter, who, despite some faults, became a martyr for democracy.
Dominic Shelmerdine
London, England

I think Benazir Bhutto's assassination was an opportunity seized by the gunman. He was positioned there, but Bhutto gave him the opportunity when she stuck her neck out of her car's sunroof. The real terrorist event—planned and executed—might have been the bomb explosion. The gunman might have taken the chance and shot Bhutto when she stood up and presented an easy target. The bomb explosion a few meters away hurt no one else in Bhutto's van or the van behind. Of the people in these two vehicles, only Bhutto was killed, and only because she stood up—she brought her fate on herself. As for Pakistan's future, the Army may have an internal coup, removing Pervez Musharraf and bringing another (more gentle and civil) general to the fore as leader. He will be welcomed by Americans, and everyone else in the West will follow. The Army will not give up its grip on the nation so easily or so soon but will continue to be in control—with a different, more palatable leader. The election may or may not go ahead, but that seems to be irrelevant in Pakistan with the military in charge.
S. Mohanakrishnan
Auckland, New Zealand

Assessing Angela
We may be seeing the repetition of A historical opportunity ("The New German Zeitgeist," Nov. 12). Imagine if Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy had been Germany's and France's heads of government when the United Nations considered authorizing force to bring Saddam Hussein to heel. An uncertain trumpet would not have been heard. Severe sanctions could have been imposed on Iraq—such as an economic blockade—and the West would have moved to a war footing with the collaboration of Turkey. More likely than not, Saddam would have faced internal dissent—the Iraqi military, for example—and could have been removed without the use of force. The West is now faced with a similar situation in Iran. This time, sufficient pressure may be mounted against the present regime in Tehran to bring about the needed change. The use of military force may be rejected and, thanks to the political courage and wisdom of Merkel and Sarkozy, armed conflict could be avoided. Peace may have a chance.
Jaime L. Manzano, Senior Executive and Foreign Service Career Counselor (Retired)
Bethesda, Maryland

Your correspondent in Germany blatantly takes sides in "Calculating to a Fault" (Oct. 29). In his analysis of Angela Merkel's performance as German chancellor, he heaps scorn on "socialism," "social justice" and opposition to "shareholder rights"—all aspects of serious political debate in Germany. European Social Democrats cannot be lumped together with Socialists, especially not those in the former Soviet bloc. Social justice is the sister of charity, brotherly love and generosity. It has a renowned equivalent in American philanthropy, from Andrew Carnegie to today's soup kitchens. Shareholder rights indeed "influence management," but often with negative results: hostile takeovers, shutdowns and buyouts of supposedly unprofitable divisions of a company, outsourcing, dismissals of qualified employees—and all this to raise an American pension fund's dividend to heights unknown in regular finance.
Jurgen Torber
Essen, Germany

The problem with Angela Merkel is that the chancellor still has no program of her own. She does not lead the country or the conservative party by ideas. She only looks for compromises between powerful groups of society—a policy based on the belief that a good future comes automatically, without having to create it.
Rasmus Helt
Hamburg, Germany

Spain's Part-Time Workers
As a reader of your magazine living in Spain, I read the "The Longest Shadow" (Oct. 15) with interest, and I have to agree with the man who said that it was time that your reporters writing on Spain got their facts right. In another article on part-time and temporary workers around the world you stated that very large numbers of Spanish choose to work part time. The reason so many people work part time in Spain is because that is the only work they can get. Employers here don't have to pay social security for part-time workers. Hardly a lifestyle choice.
Judy Sherriff
Begur, Spain