Liberty's allies make a difference
I recently received an e-mail from friends in Indonesia who asked me to send their warm regards and appreciation to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., for his support of press freedom in Indonesia.
Earlier this year, my friends in Indonesia called me for help in protecting an Indonesian local radio station that carries programs, called Sound of Hope, from an American broadcaster known for its uncensored coverage of issues related to Asia, especially China.
As you may know, the Beijing government is not the best friend of free media. In March 2005, the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia pressured the Indonesia government to stop the local radio's broadcasts. My friend, a brave Indonesian citizen who runs that radio station, together with his American colleagues, embarked on a five-year-long journey of protecting the freedom of press in Indonesia.
As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Bilirakis initiated a letter earlier this year sent to the Indonesia Embassy in Washington expressing Congress' concern over this issue.
That letter made a difference, according to my Indonesian friend, who at one point threw himself in front of an Indonesian police van to stop it raiding the radio station and taking away equipment. At the time of the incident, a lawsuit concerning the radio permit was still before Indonesia's supreme court.
Reporters Without Borders sent a worldwide press release with my friend's picture. The Jakarta Post and other local media widely reported the incident, and letters of concern were sent from both the United States and European Union. The Indonesia high court eventually ruled that the radio station could keep its license. This decision effectively said no to interference from Chinese regime.
Though my friends in Indonesia never met anyone in a U.S. Congress office, they wanted to make sure I sent their heartfelt thank-you to Congressman Bilirakis. On July 20, 2010, I met the congressman at a rally in Washington calling for an end to 11 years of brutal persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice outlawed by the Communist regime. He was among several representatives to come out and show support of freedom before an important House vote.
It feels good to know that we helped freedom win. It is especially dear to my heart to know that our elected officials listen to the voice of the people and take actions. For the people living without freedom, it does make difference.
Sherwood Liu, Largo
Giant leap for schools | Dec. 8
Grade inflation hurtful
The new Florida high school grading system will hurt many students in the state. Under the new system, schools can "fail" the portion of the grade related to FCAT reading and math scores and still earn an "A" grade.
One high school earned only 430 of 800 points in the FCAT portion of the score, but because of other grading factors, the school was awarded an "A."
How can this hurt Florida students? In many cases one half of sophomores fail the FCAT reading test, and worse yet, many of our state's lowest performing students fail to make any learning gains in reading comprehension. A recent report indicated that 53 percent of Florida high school students need to take remedial reading and math courses when they enroll in community colleges.
Under the new grading system, 71 percent of Florida high schools earned a either an "A" or "B." Talk about grade inflation.
In a state that does not rank at the top in national achievement, the new system takes the pressure off the "race to the top." In fact, according the state Legislature and the Department of Education, we are already there.
Flint Shoop, North Port
Missing the mark | Dec. 5, letter
Don't blame the poor
This letter repeats the pernicious falsehood about poor people being the cause of the mortgage foreclosure crisis. This is simply not true.
The Community Reinvestment Act to which the letter refers did not force any bank or mortgage lender to make any loans, and that act specifically stated that all loans must be "consistent with safe and sound operations."
No bank was required to sell any loan to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae; these were voluntary programs and were much welcomed by banks as being profitable.
As Sheila Blair, the chairwoman of the FDIC, said in a December 2008 speech, "Where in the CRA does it say: Make loans to people who can't afford to repay? Nowhere! And the fact is, the lending practices that are causing problems today were driven by a desire for market share and revenue growth … pure and simple."
Conservatives need to cease pushing this false rationale.
Ian MacFarlane, St. Petersburg
A mall Santa's minor miracles | Dec. 6
Meeting special needs
Thank you for this article on the Sensitive Santa event. The startling response by loving parents and curious, festive children shows the great deficit that exists in our society in meeting the needs of children with special needs.
It is my hope that, come Christmas 2011, more businesses and charities will contribute to this much-needed event and give every child, regardless of whatever special needs he or she may have, the right to tell Santa what he or she wants for Christmas.
Parents of children with special needs, including autism, often travel a lonely road, in which so many of the things that other parents take for granted — such as seeing a child enjoy time with Santa — seem distant. Glimcher Realty Trust of Ohio is to be saluted for its compassionate and thoughtful gesture towards our most vulnerable in this holiday season.
Luis Viera, Tampa
Hard times ahead
As I read about the Spanish air traffic controllers' mass sick-out and violence in Greece over government austerity measures, I wonder if the same will happen here if proposed American government salary freezes or cutbacks come to fruition.
At a time of possible government financial collapse, everyone is going to have to absorb their fair share of self sacrifice. This is especially pertinent for those who work for government agencies. They need to stop and consider who pays their salaries — namely, the American people who are also experiencing cutbacks, layoffs and lower wages. The days of "a guaranteed job for life" with regular cost of living increases are over, both in the private sector and the government.
A government cannot (logically) pay more for any particular service than the free market is supporting at that moment. When a populace gets fed up with a governing body living like royalty over and above them, they storm the Bastille.
The postwar boom lifestyle is grinding to a halt.
Michael Walls, St. Petersburg
Cut agriculture subsidies
Too much money from our U.S. Treasury is paid to large agricultural businesses. Decades ago, our government paid farmers to keep the farm going and to produce certain crops. Now large, affluent agricultural businesses receive large sums of money from taxpayers. These payments should be drastically reduced or stopped.
D. Calvin Holloway, Dunnellon
Cost of living payment
It appears that both the Republicans and Democrats are still showing their true colors. A House bill was recently introduced that would have given those on Social Security a one-time payment of $250 to offset no cost of living increases for 2010 and 2011.
Republicans said they couldn't approve the bill as it would add to the deficit — but tax cuts for the wealthy, those we can pay for? And don't Democrats still have a majority in the House? Where were those votes?
Loretta Bulebosh, St. Petersburg
Urban Meyer resigns | Dec. 9
Poor front-page choice
It's an indication of either the pandering foolishness of the editors, or the utter emptiness of contemporary society, that the Times feels the most important story of the day in this troubled world, the story most deserving of the front-page place of honor, is about the resignation of a football coach.
Tyler Carder, Largo