Sunday, August 31, 2003

Battleground: 2004

Maggie Gallagher’s Aug. 23 Commentary column, “Overriding issues for 2004 voting,” states that a political tidal wave is coming. The Democrats, however, are not in harm’s way — that position, frankly, belongs to the Republicans.

Though her assertion is correct that terrorism is an obvious issue that will dominate the upcoming political campaigns, Mrs. Gallagher seems to have missed the more important issue: joblessness generated by the current frail economy. Because of the dismal job climate, the unemployment rate in July was 6.2 percent. Homelessness in major cities is escalating. Many of these cities are traditionally Republican strongholds during presidential races.

How will this play out politically? Well, though I have not experienced it myself, I’m sure it’s rather difficult to focus on terrorism, an energy crisis or gay marriage when you’re faced with the inability to take care of your family’s most basic needs. Five years ago, the economy was stable. Today? Well, the facts speak for themselves.

No Democrat looks at all plausible. At this point, however, with more than 49,000 private-sector jobs lost in Alabama alone during the Bush administration, the Republican Congress had better hope it’s raining jobs by November 2004.



Assessing Gen. Clark

I am confident that retired Gen. Wesley Clark will handily debunk the assertions in your Friday editorial “Wesley Clark — Mercenary.”

What I found humorous is that The Washington Times puts forth that Gen. Clark needs to “memorize” Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying about the impossibility of fooling all of the people all of the time. Can you imagine the applesauce President Bush would make of the Lincoln quote? “You can fool all the fools most of the time. Erm … no …”

Right-wingers always shoot themselves in the foot with qualifications they want Gen. Clark to meet. Mr. Bush did not have much “basic training” in politics or meet his sworn obligations to the National Guard. Republicans leave Mr. Bush open to criticism at every turn in the paint-ball game they have initiated with Gen. Clark.

Another less-than-clever assertion is that Gen. Clark is wrong about Americans’ party affiliation. Gen. Clark is quoted as saying that the American people are largely independent, but the editorial then says that Gen. Clark is wrong because voters are largely registered as Republicans, Democrats or Independents. Well, Gen. Clark didn’t say “voters,” he said “the majority of the people are independent,” with a small “i.” I find that entirely credible. My opinion is that many people who are politically apathetic probably are independent in their thinking. Perhaps Gen. Clark is reaching out to those who don’t usually vote.

It’s also ludicrous to say that Gen. Clark is a political mercenary. Given that a general’s salary is only about nine times what a private earns in the military, I would say that his life trumps your evaluation of his political motivation. Since when are leadership and ambition qualities the conservative party won’t embrace? Your point is weak and disappears by virtue of its weightlessness. You do a disservice to all who serve at the highest levels of the military when you employ this tactic. Given Mr. Bush’s policies, I would say he’s the political mercenary you describe.

It appears to me that you haven’t been able to dig up any factual “dirt” about Gen. Clark, so you are trying to hit him on personal ability and motivation. That’s dangerous territory, because Mr. Bush is richly vulnerable in those areas. If panning for fool’s gold is where the right wing wants to go — it’s your choice.


Lakewood, Colo.

ADHD and children’s television viewing

I am no fan of much of modern television programming, and I believe children’s TV viewing should be supervised and strictly limited. However, much scientific research has been conducted on the causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and I would have hoped that you would have consulted a reputable authority or reference work on that research before publishing an article stating that too much TV viewing may be a major cause of ADHD (“TV ADDs to student woes,” Culture, et cetera, Wednesday).

I am not such an authority, but professor Russell Barkley is. He is the former director of psychology and professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and currently is a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina . Mr. Barkley is editor of the ADHD Report, a bimonthly newsletter, and has written or co-written in the past 30 years many peer-reviewed journal articles, textbooks and reference books for professionals on ADHD and related disorders.

On page 73 of “Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents” (revised edition), published in 2000, he writes:

“Most recently, several very large studies of twins have been able to determine that heredity explains between 55 percent and 97 percent of the range of hyperactive and impulsive behavior seen in children, with an average of 80 percent. Environmental factors — such as diet, toxins like lead, or complications during pregnancy and birth — explained only between 1 percent and 10 percent.”

On pages 81 and 82, in a section titled “The Myths: What Does Not Cause ADHD,” he discusses the notion that too much television is a cause:

“This idea has some superficial appeal, because it is consistent with popular folklore that watching too much television surely must shorten a person’s attention span. To my knowledge, no scientific studies have ever shown this folklore to be true. Nor have any studies shown that children with ADHD watch more television than do normal children. But the greatest evidence against [this] idea comes from twin studies that have found that the rearing environment that twins and siblings share growing up in the same family makes no significant contribution to differences among children in their degree of ADHD symptoms. Television viewing is a part of that shared environment, so these studies indicate that too much television does not contribute to ADHD.”

Regarding the dramatic rise in ADHD diagnoses in recent years that is mentioned in your article, Mr. Barkley writes on page 23:

“Several studies indicate that fewer than half of all children who have ADHD are diagnosed or properly treated for the disorder. … [W]e do not have a lot of research that has measured the rates of children’s mental disorders across multiple generations. The little research we do have indicates that ADHD has not been on the rise over the last two generations of children, but that a few other disorders may be, such as oppositional defiant disorder…. Mainly what I think we have been witnessing is an increase in the recognition of the disorder by the general population, and therefore an increase in the number of children being referred and diagnosed with the disorder.”



The problem with Tunisia

The Washington Times’ glowing portrayal of Tunisia as “An ‘Arab country that works’” (World, Aug. 20) ignores the North African nation’s monumental failures in human rights, particularly press freedom.

After nearly two decades of official threats and harassment against local journalists, Tunisia’s press remains one of the most restricted anywhere in the Arab world. In fact, Tunisia is one of just two countries in the Arab world that jails journalists.

One of those imprisoned in President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s jails is a young Internet journalist named Zouhair Yahyaoui, who is serving a two-year jail term for merely posting chat forums and articles critical of the president and his government.

Though Tunisia’s economic achievements should be lauded, one should not confuse them with success when basic liberties are so flagrantly trampled.



Middle East and North Africa

Committee to Protect Journalists

New York

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