Protecting US embassies

Bruce Laingen's opinion piece ("Beyond the Bombs," March 26) is a persuasive account of the administration's failure to put its money where its mouth is regarding security for our diplomats overseas. Yet Mr. Laingen has it only half right.

Yes, our embassies need more protection. But what is also needed is a fresh look at why and how the US conducts diplomacy. The State Department of today functions in a mid-20th century mind set in how it gathers and reports information. In an era where CNN regularly scoops the embassy political officer, and economic data can be easily picked up from the Web, the State Department needs to take a serious look at its mission.

Michael A. Rugh Washington, D.C. Military force in Yugoslavia

Bravo, Helena Cobban! In "Three calls Clinton ought to make on Kosovo" (April 1), she hit the nail on the head.

She has suggested four rational moves he could make toward stemming the tide of this holocaust. I just hope he takes note.

Rachel D. Odhner Perkiomenville, Pa.

Would your columnist have taken the same attitude to Hitler's aggression in World War II? Take a nonviolent approach and let Germany annihilate whatever portion of mankind it chose to target? In my opinion, we waited much too long to get involved in Yugoslavia, and we should be sending in ground troops immediately.

Tim Carmell Portland, Ore.

Why prisons are overcrowded

Your editorial regarding the growing number of incarcerated Americans ("Still-Bulging Prisons," March 22) points out, once again, that the state cannot regulate behavior, but only punish it.

A sense of personal responsibility must come from within, fed and fostered by education rather than punishment. Laws against acts that don't harm others should be stricken from our lawbooks. The failed war on drugs has mostly served to make necessary the endless construction of new holding tanks for offenders at taxpayer cost.

Stephen C. Allison Ramona, Calif.

I am sure you and your readers cannot imagine that prison life is actually an improvement in material necessities for some. Its called "three hots and a cot," and is sadly the first time for many to have a clean place to sleep and three hot meals a day. There are also many amenities such as color TV. Better-off prisoners pay the less-affluent ones to do the few chores required of them. Generally work is not required but may earn some "gain time" toward release.

In a word, prisoners are "coddled," in some states, else why would over 50 percent of them "choose" to return?

Robert H. McCrea Obrien, Fla.

The Banana war

The opinion piece titled "The banana war's missing link: campaign funding" (March 31) is a credible explanation why our government is pressing the European Union over banana imports from Caribbean nations. It is a media scandal that the true circumstances are not being reported more widely -perhaps because it could become a political scandal as well. It is particularly offensive that Chiquita, owned by Carl Lindner, while seeking government help to gain greater market share for its bananas, has not taken any real action to alleviate the misery of its workers after hurricane Mitch, leaving that to our government and taxpayers!

Robert W. Zimmer Longmont, Colo.

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