Earlier this year, Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia. This agreement limits both countries to 74 percent fewer nuclear weapons than allowed by the previous START agreement of 1991.

The leadership demonstrated by the two nations — which have the great majority of the weapons — gives us the credibility to advocate that other countries also accept limitations on their stockpiles. Furthermore, there will be fewer weapons that might be stolen or otherwise acquired by rogue states or terrorist organizations.

Formal ratification of new START requires two-thirds of the U.S. Senate, and hearings are currently under way. With Sen. Olympia Snowe on the Intelligence Committee and Sen. Susan Collins on the Armed Services Committee, we in Maine have an important opportunity to influence this procedure.

Historically, national security debates have risen above party politics, and relied on the wisdom and experience of our military and diplomatic leaders.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified, “The U.S. is better off with this treaty than without it, and I am confident that it is the right agreement for today and for the future. I urge the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification of the new treaty.”

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, said, “I believe this treaty will achieve the purposes for which it’s intended, and I support its ratification.”

And our own former Sen. Bill Cohen — a Republican who served as Secretary of Defense under President Clinton — recently signed a public letter supporting START.

Sens. Collins and Snowe are key votes toward the 67 required for ratification. Maine citizens should ask them to lead the way toward a safer world by supporting the new START treaty.

David E. Clark, M.D.

Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine Chapter Portland

Hansel and Gretel as opera entertains and educates

I enjoyed Christopher Hyde’s piece on June 27 about PORTopera’s upcoming production of “Hansel and Gretel.”

I recalled a lesson I learned at one of my more delightful opera outings. I took my two granddaughters, then 7 and 5, to a very good 2007 Washington National Opera production of “Hansel and Gretel.”

While discussing over ice cream what we had just seen, both girls were indignant. “Grandpoppy, why were Hansel and Gretel’s parents so mean to them? Grownups shouldn’t treat kids like that.”

A light went on. After following opera for some 50 years and attending at least four productions of “Hansel and Gretel,” I finally got it! This was something far more than a fairy tale.

I was disappointed in myself, especially after serving eight years on a family court bench, that I had failed to detect the theme of child abuse, neglect and abandonment. Fortunately, Hansel and Gretel survive these adversities and live happily ever after.

Tragically, in 2007 there were 1,760 child fatalities in the United States resulting from abuse and neglect, as reported by The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

“Hansel and Gretel” can stand alone as an enjoyable opera experience with gorgeous, sometimes lush music in its magical and make-believe setting. But its darker side can make for a most thought-provoking experience — which great opera does for us.

This opera reaffirms my conviction that opera, no matter how old the work, is an art form that can have relevance to contemporary social problems and events.

The Portland community is fortunate to have the opportunity to see and hear this opera on the 29th and 31st of this month.

Richard Jamborsky

Durham

Letter writer chastised for lack of understanding

I was appalled and disgusted by Zoo Cain’s letter on July 7 bemoaning the fact that Herbert Jones was found mentally incapable of committing a crime when he showed up at an AA meeting with a loaded rifle.

Obviously, neither Cain nor any of his family members has ever suffered from any form of mental illness. The complete lack of understanding or empathy evident in the letter made me wonder how a person could be so isolated.

It would do Cain a lot of good to read up on mental illness issues before passing judgment on people who suffer from those illnesses on a daily basis. Most people with mental illness never commit violent acts. People suffering from mental illnesses with no past record of violent acts do not deserve to be locked up in a prison with hardened felons. There they will not get the treatment they need, and will continue to suffer and go untreated.

Herbert Jones will now get the treatment he needs, which will allow him to re-enter society and be a safe, functioning member again.

That’s justice.

Steven Burr

Kennebunk

BP spill another example that Obama’s over his head  

The BP oil spill disaster has proven beyond a doubt what millions of people who voted for John McCain knew: President Obama is in way over his head.

When is the president going to inform BP that the U.S. government is taking control of the oil spill? When is he going to kick butt? The only butt being kicked so far is that of the people in the Gulf states. BP’s contributions to Obama’s political campaign must have been paid off by now.

The Gulf states are a total disaster financially and emotionally. The $20 billion cleanup fund is a joke. No amount of money is going to replace what is being destroyed every day the spill continues. Will the fund pay off the family of the charter boat captain who committed suicide?

Meanwhile, the president is fooling around with the Middle East. He’s a joke there, in Iran, North Korea and wherever there are terrorists. Nobody is afraid of him and his rhetoric. He will accomplish in the Middle East what previous presidents accomplished — zilch.

The health care reform law is already proving to be a boondoggle. Pre-existing condition premiums are beyond the ability of most people to buy even with government subsidies. The subsidy program will be broke in a year. So much for saving money.

Craig Elliott

Bristol