For all its selective history, aggregated statistics, dated anecdotes, and anecdotal dates, Matt Welch's "Watergate Blowback" (August/September) manages to avoid almost completely the central issues of the last three years, if not the last 13: the fact that America is under attack by fanatical terrorists whose widely trumpeted goal is to murder at least 4 million Americans and destroy much of our territory, possessions, and economy. Could it be that some of those millions of documents Welch laments being classified would help terrorists discover and use vulnerabilities in our nuclear facilities, water treatment plants, or other vital infrastructure?
Welch manages to make multiple innuendoes about the Bush administration's alleged propensity toward secrecy for secrecy's sake–or worse, for purposes of corruption, lying, and political advantage. He gives no hint of legitimate purposes or objectives of any kind. Yet Welch offers not a single example of those crimes and misdemeanors tied to this administration. Instead he cites the 1971 Pentagon Papers leak (33 years ago), unspecified 1948 accident reports (56 years ago), and the August 2001 briefing that ultimately revealed nothing of significance.
While it may well be tedious to have to show that a document was wrongly classified, it would be far, far worse to have terrorists attack vulnerabilities the document exposed.
Jeffrey E. Levinger
San Francisco, CA
Matt Welch replies: Many advocates of openness, including myself, believe that declassification will enhance, not endanger, national security. As Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) warned in an August 26 New York Times op-ed, "Too often, Congress and the American people lack the best information–in the form of declassified intelligence and national security materials–to ensure that the job [of national security] is done right. The United States cannot preserve an open and democratic society when one branch of government has a free hand to shut down public access to information."
Taking Science Seriously
Cathy Young's "Taking Science Seriously" (August/September) should be required reading for doctrinaire conservatives and radical feminists. As usual, Young cuts through half-truths and pseudoscience as well as camouflaged political agendas.
Something about the conservative view of working women has long troubled me: They claim that women who work outside the home for pay when they have children of school age deprive their children of their presence and companionship and abdicate parental responsibility to others. Is this not also true of women whose children go to boarding schools? Is this not also true of women who have live-in nannies and housekeepers and fill their days with social activities?
I was raised in the '50s–the Holy Grotto for conservatives–in an upper-middle-class community where live-in housekeepers were the norm. As a rule, children did not come home to their mothers; they came home to their housekeepers.
Danielle Crittenden (mentioned in the article) and Nancy Reagan, both conservative heroines, sent their children to boarding schools. There is no shortage of conservative women who travel the country urging other women to stay home.
I believe the real reason conservatives do not want these women in the work force is to deprive them of economic power. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and the majority of divorces are initiated by women. A woman with an independent income is in a better position to leave a marriage. Conservatives are putting marital stability ahead of personal freedom.
Gloria M. Stewart
Thousand Oaks, CA
The War on Fat
I am one of the three authors of the University of Baltimore's recently released Obesity Report Card, and I found Jacob Sullum's "The War on Fat" (August/September) a great read.
I am far from a proponent of government intervention, but in this case I side closer to Kelly Brownell's view. We can influence children's habits to encourage better health, and we should, just as we did with smoking. Sucking back an 850-to-900-calorie Super Big Gulp is just plain disgusting and ought to be discouraged.
Yes, the sweetened little snacks taste good and you want to eat more even when you suck up enough calories to propel a Freightliner from New York to L.A. We are, on the whole, wealthier than we used to be, so the cost of food is a smaller part of our budget. Still, demand curves slope downward. Make crappy food cheaper, and more of it will be consumed, hitting all of us in the pocketbook: Obesity-related health care tends to be expensive.
Obesity prevalence accelerated upward rapidly in the late '70s and early '80s. Something, perhaps many things, changed at that time to push the balance toward a rapid gain in weight. For one, agricultural subsidy policy changed just prior to that in a manner that encourages overproduction. The growth in Twinkie consumption is in part explained by policies that subsidize corn production. (Similar changes? occurred in Canada, but at a later date. Now Canada's obesity levels are catching up.)
Also, caloric intake has increased. The portion of our diet that comes from highly processed foods has increased more than the rest of our diet. There is basically an infrastructure of obesity that subsidizes processed foods, encourages urban sprawl (reducing exercise), and discourages healthy living. Vested interests are likely to prevent the implementation of potentially helpful policies, as with tobacco in Kentucky and Frito Lay in Maryland.
Health care affordability in this country is a serious problem, and obesity-related costs make it worse. From everything I have seen, there is a genuine need to take proactive steps, even if those steps are objectionable government interventions, since there is no other obvious way to change behavior in a manner that is fast enough to prevent a disastrous outcome.
Kenneth R. Stanton
University of Baltimore
As a retired police officer, I am embarrassed by what my colleagues at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are doing ("Dr. Feelscared," August/September)–law enforcement professionals second-guessing doctors who have had some 20 years of schooling.
At the end of the day, it is the drug agents who determine, based on who knows what, if a doctor has "prescribed controlled substances to a person outside the scope of legitimate practice." Drug agents receive about four months of training, none of which qualifies them to do more than give CPR. If a loved one or I need serious painkillers one day and don't receive them, I will curse the DEA and their bosses.
Howard J. Wooldridge
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
John Perry Barlow 2.0
After reading Brian Doherty's interview with John Perry Barlow ("John Perry Barlow 2.0," August/September), I was left wondering what Barlow's definition of a libertarian is. He states that "most of the people in the think tanks behind the Bush administration's current policies are libertarians." I would have appreciated some examples; I have seen little but criticism of the Bush administration from the Cato Institute. And where is this "dismantling of government" he refers to? I see only growth of government, at all levels.
For this reason, I encourage the "Thomas Jefferson of cyberspace," and others with a similar point of view, to become active in the Libertarian Party, even if they do not yet see it as credible, as Mr. Barlow mentioned that he did not. John Kerry may be a marginal improvement over George W. Bush in some ways, but switching allegiance back and forth between corrupt Republicans and corrupt Democrats makes as much sense to me as paying off one credit card by borrowing off of another.
John Perry Barlow leaves me with the distinct impression that this aging baby boomer has taken, as they say in scientific circles, "n plus 1" tokes too many. For a supposed libertarian to say that "we need something–and I think it's government–to reregulate the market and make it free" is mind-boggling.