- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

John Kerry, absentee senator

Your reporting doesn’t mention it, nor did President Bush during the debate on Thursday, but Sen. John Kerry has yet to explain why he has missed so many committee hearings during his time in the Senate (“Bush rips Iraq flip-flops,” Page 1, Friday). During eight years on the Select Committee on Intelligence, he attended fewer than a quarter of the committee’s public hearings (11 out of 49 hearings, according to public records). During 18 years on the Foreign Relations Committee, he attended a little more than a third of the public hearings (100 of 280). Hearing attendance is a matter of public record and is easily verifiable.

Why did Mr. Kerry miss 180 Foreign Relations hearings? Was he making fund-raising phone calls during the hearings? Was he getting a manicure or haircut?

Did the missed hearings deal with ongoing concerns in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea? Aren’t members of Congress supposed to make attending committee hearings a priority?

Most important, if Mr. Kerry could not fulfill his duties as a senator for the people of Massachusetts, how can he assure the people of America that he will do so as the commander in chief?

DINO TEPPARA

Falls Church

California’s questionable stem-cell proposal

To say that California’s controversial Proposition 71 would fund “both adult and embryonic stem cell research” is somewhat misleading (“Stem-cell research remains divisive,” Nation, Saturday).

Theoretically, the initiative would make California borrow $3 billion to fund research using all kinds of stem cells — cells from adults, from “spare” embryos in fertility clinics and from embryos specially created by cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer). However, Section 5 of the initiative says that to ensure that this funding “does not duplicate or supplant existing funding, a high priority” will be placed on research that “cannot, or is unlikely to, receive timely or sufficient federal funding, unencumbered by limitations that would impede the research.”

Thus, top priority will go to research that destroys new embryos for their cells, to cloning and to anything else too unethical or too bizarre to win federal support.

At the Senate hearing mentioned in your article, Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, tried to blame the existence of this costly and irresponsible state initiative on the limitations of current federal policy. He asked me, as a witness at that hearing, whether the federal government shouldn’t expand its policy to cover new embryonic stem cell lines, to discourage such wild experiments in the states. I replied that exactly the opposite is true: If the federal policy expands to encourage killing the available “spare” embryos for their stem cells, California’s initiative will automatically devote most of its funds to whatever still remains without federal funding, primarily to human cloning.

RICHARD M. DOERFLINGER

Deputy director of pro-life activities

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Washington

Lasers’ effects on the eye

As a physicist and laser researcher with experience working with powerful lasers and the requisite safety considerations, I want to point out likely inaccuracies in your Wednesday article “Laser injures Delta pilot’s eye” (Nation). Studies conducted to assess the danger to pilots from outdoor laser beams show that the only lasers truly capable of injuring pilots are certain infrared types that produce powerful pulses of invisible light. This is the type thought to have injured Naval Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly. But because the light in these lasers is invisible, the pilot cannot know an injury has occurred until he notices vision problems. Visible lasers have not been found to be powerful enough to cause damage at long distances.

There are reasons to think something other than the laser may have caused Lt. Cmdr. Daly’s injuries. The article states that the co-pilot “felt a stinging sensation,” “suffered a burned retina,” but is not likely to have permanent damage. This is inconsistent. Retinal burns are painless but permanent. The retina does not have pain sensors, nor does it have the ability to heal. So what really happened here? Using past incidents as a guide, it’s most likely that a powerful visible laser beam flashed the cockpit briefly and surprised the pilots. This happens occasionally and is extremely bright and unpleasant, though there is no danger of permanent eye damage. The co-pilot may have vigorously rubbed his eyes in response to this — a common reaction to bright laser exposure — causing a corneal abrasion. Such abrasions do sting, but they heal in a week or so.

MICHAEL POULTON

Research assistant

Department of Physics and Astronomy

University of Nebraska

Lincoln

Covering government, not politicians

In his Sunday Commentary column, “Middle-class mania,” Alan Reynolds falsely impugns my character by accusing me of tilting, in favor of Sen. John Kerry, my July 29 article in the New York Times on government data showing declining incomes (“I.R.S. Says Americans’ Income Shrank for 2 Consecutive Years”).

With no basis in fact, he writes that “the major media feel obligated to prove” Mr. Kerry’s negative “proclamations” about the U.S. economy are not made up. He said I made “brave efforts to convert” Internal Revenue Service information “into a Kerrylike anxiety about ‘modest incomes’” despite the fact that “accompanying facts showed the 5.7 percent income decline was entirely confined to those earning more than $100,000.”

Provable nonsense.

My article does not mention Mr. Kerry, and I was not aware of the statement Mr. Reynolds attributes to him. My signed articles show that I focus on what the government does, not what politicians say.

I accurately reported that Internal Revenue Service data showed that incomes fell across the board in 2000 through 2002.

For those making $25,000 to $100,000, the middle class about which Mr. Reynolds wrote, incomes fell by more than 4 percent in real terms. The chart accompanying my article was not adjusted for inflation, but because Mr. Reynolds is an economist, he knows real from nominal.

His partisanship charge is also belied by my article’s explanation of the reasons incomes dropped, citing factors that all took place before President Bush took office — the 2000 stock-market fall, the recession that was on its way in late 2000, and changes in pay practices that tie compensation for millions to the stock market.

I also reported that these facts, and not the Bush tax cuts, were the primary reasons tax revenues fell far more than incomes.

In dozens of articles assessing my work, which has won numerous prizes, including a Pulitzer, others have described my writings as evenhanded, rounded and enterprising. I write and lecture widely on how to make sure news reports are straight and fair, as thousands of journalists and citizens can attest.

Because the facts do not support Mr. Reynolds’ charge, either he did not read my entire article or he knowingly distorts. Either way, his conduct is reprehensible.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON

Tax reporter

The New York Times

New York

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