Re: House bank to close; ethics panel to get bad check record, Oct. 4. This is about leadership _ or perhaps not. As a 70-plus year old, I recall speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives dating back to John Nance Garner of Texas (1931-33). I have always regarded "The Speaker" as one who leads the House, one who guides the legislative agenda in that body, one who stakes out the path of legislative behavior, propriety and ethics.
Well, now we have Rep. Thomas S. Foley as Speaker of the House. What is his record in that position? After the public revelation of thousands of bounced checks in the House Bank, it is announced by Foley that the bank will cease operations Dec. 31. Hallelujah! After the public revelation that our honorable representatives routinely get District of Columbia traffic tickets "fixed," Foley directs the House Sergeant-at-Arms to stop this practice. After the public revelation (thanks to the media) that the members of the House collectively owe some $300,000 in unpaid bills to the House restaurant, Foley announces that the deadbeats will be ordered to pay up. What about those who have retired on a generous pension, or are no longer members of the House? Is Foley going to send the sheriff after them?
Well, I think you get my point. Do the above examples represent leadership or acquiescence? Do the above reflect only on Foley or on the entire House? I am disgusted.
James E. Hunter, Treasure Island
In the past few weeks, all members of the House of Representatives have been tainted by the revelation that some members regularly bounced checks at the House bank without penalty and ran up excessive bills at the Capitol restaurant without paying.
Although I have never bounced a check and always pay for my meals, I am furious that these activities have taken place.
These are outrageous examples of special privilege, and their existence can only lead to further cynicism and lack of respect for our government. As deplorable as these practices are, however, I believe exposing them could have a long-term positive impact on the House in general.
For years now, I have been calling for institutional reforms in the House of Representatives, like requiring a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution to attack deficit-spending practices and giving the president line-item veto authority so he can trim the blatant pork out of the budget.
I have also complained many times about the excessive power of some congressional committee chairmen and women. These individuals can prevent the enactment of legislation that has overwhelming support among the general membership of the House. For example, for the past four years, a bill I introduced on veterans' benefits has had the support of a majority of House members _ yet attempts to pass the bill out of committee have been blocked by the disapproval of the committee chairman.
But I also believe _ and have introduced legislation on this issue _ that congressmen should not be paid unless they do their jobs. On a basic level, this means meeting our constitutional duties and enacting a yearly federal budget _ all 13 budget bills _ properly and on time.
The frustrating practice of dragging our feet on the budget is irresponsible and costly to the American taxpayer. The American public has a right to expect that its elected representatives conduct themselves in a responsible and proper manner and do their work in a timely and effective way.
We were elected to do the people's business. It is an honor to be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. All members need to remember that fact.
Rep. Michael Bilirakis, Washington, D.C.
"No taxation without representation!" Kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? There is absolutely no question in my mind that if an honest man or woman who is not independently wealthy can even get to Washington, he or she cannot remain uncorrupted because of the present system. Government is very clearly bought and paid for by special interests and high-profile political groups. Congressmen rarely seem so naive as to vote for what they simply think is right or in the best interest of the country.
Our "rulers" in Washington believe they are above us and that we do not know what is best for us. They tell absurdly blatant lies, knowing that they can slide them by an uneducated, busy, democratically lazy constituency. We require higher ethical and performance standards from mechanics, merchants and cops on the beat.
There are so many issues that urgently need attention that it is time we as citizens look up from our busy lives and pay attention to what we have allowed to happen. They, "our representatives," apparently need to be reminded from time to time how this country was born and what it is supposed to be all about. We revolted once, and we can do it again. Personally, I'm about ready for another Boston Tea Party! Or would that be considered politically incorrect/insensitive/immature/impulsive thinking these days?
Our forefathers must be turning over in their graves!
Lindsay Wilson, St. Petersburg
Why all the fuss about our students' low math scores? Some of our congressmen apparently cannot balance a checking account.
Peter Nevaldine, Largo
No wonder senators work so hard to get re-elected. If they lose their office, they have to live under the same laws we do.
Joe Sherry, Tampa
I would like to add my voice to the growing chorus of discontent with our elected congressional representatives.
Their self-created excesses are being widely exposed, and more should be forthcoming. They have quietly and arrogantly built an aristocratic class, one that self-perpetuates and one that, up until now, has been kept from the electorate. (The parallel to the Roman Empire should not be ignored; history does have a bad habit of repeating itself.)
Aside from the well-documented check-bouncing, free lunches, free health care, ticket-fixing, etc., there exists one perk that gets no attention, and one that really galls me.
If you've ever sat in front of the "boob tube" and watched C-Span, you will hear one "honorable member" after another preface his remarks with the request that he be allowed to "revise and extend" his remarks. It is usually asked and always acquiesced to in the blink of an eye.
What this means is that if the "honorable members" sound like Porky Pig, or if they are all wet in their facts, or even if they are on the wrong side of an issue, the printed Congressional Record and some videos will make them sound like Daniel Webster or William Jennings Bryan.
That nonsense has to cease, along with the practice of standing at the rostrum speaking to an empty chamber as if it were in session.
But what really has to be done is for us to get off our duffs and get out to vote! It is quite painless today.
These self-centered clowns are ruining our beautiful country, and we're rewarding them for doing it. Don't let it happen. The only way they'll get the message is at the ballot box. Election reform will then follow as surely as day follows night.
Ed Coghlan, St. Petersburg
Gates, Bush and the CIA
Re: Gates lays on Israel's role in Iran-Contra, by Jack Payton, Oct. 5.
He swallows Robert Gates' denial of responsible CIA involvement in Iran-Contra without challenge. Anthony Lewis' page 18 column, same edition, documents contrary testimony ignored by Payton (To accept Gates is to accept the misuse of power). Perhaps these columns should have run side-by-side.
Payton accepts depositions by Charles Allen, the CIA agent monitoring weapons sales for Oliver North, underling of CIA chief William Casey, that the plan "originated with Israel." He also repeats Gates' claims that President Reagan overruled CIA "objections." Lewis details the testimony of others that Gates' and Casey's CIA "findings" on Iran served Reagan's political agenda rather than CIA intelligence facts.
Israel, as the plan's go-between conduit, derived little benefit other than to provide an operational mask for its friend and intelligence ally. U.S. beneficial motives, both overt and covert, include release of hostages, normalization of relations with Iran and covert funding of arms to Contras.
If this "diabolically clever scheme" was Israeli-originated, its implementation and execution were certainly CIA-driven, and the primary beneficiary was clearly the Reagan administration's political agenda, despite Gates' CIA-absolving, self-serving denials.
Does President Bush seek another intelligence-manipulating director of Central Intelligence?
Morton Sherman, St. Petersburg
Re: Caller ID is a pig in a poke, editorial, Oct. 5.
I've been patiently waiting for the "Caller ID" service for several years. I envisioned the invention of a truly intelligent phone that would be capable of intercepting the phone number of every person who called me, and of looking that number up in my personal database to see if I wanted to speak to the caller before picking up the phone. This would finally give me some semblance of control over my telephone service.
Alas, it was not to be. Regulators have decided that solicitors, salespeople and obscene callers have the right to use my telephone service without first identifying themselves.
If someone tried to pass a law requiring the homeowner to open his door before identifying the person knocking on it, he would be tarred and feathered. This regulation is the electronic equivalent of that law.
Okay, I will continue to screen calls with my answering machine, but how about this suggestion: I want the phone switch to block all calls to me that have been made by callers who have bypassed disclosure of their ID. The public has been tyrannized by anonymous, intrusive callers since the invention of the telephone. How about a chance for subscribers to fight back?
David P. Dockery, Palm Harbor
Re: A woman's medical nightmare, by Carol Gentry, Oct. 7.
It was with great sadness that I read that yet another woman may needlessly pay the ultimate price for a disease that is curable 90 percent of the time it is detected in the early stages.
I commend Susan Waterbury for her courage in making her very painful and personal story public. If her story saves one woman from a misdiagnosis, it will not have been in vain. Cancer is the leading cause of death among women aged 35-54, approximately one-third of these deaths are due to breast cancer. Every four minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 13 minutes a woman dies of breast cancer.
The St. Petersburg Times and all other local news media were invited to attend a memorial service on Mothers Day of this year at the graveside of Jeannie Richardson's mother, who like Susan Waterbury sought early treatment but her doctors failed her. Jeannie is a nurse and her family trusted the medical advice they were given. Her family's tragedy was made available for the public, but not one media representative came. The statistics in this letter and many others could have reached countless women who are or will receive medical treatment for a lump in their breast. Five months have elapsed since Mother's Day. How many local women could have been saved from a death sentence? This information would not have saved Susan Waterbury from her plight, but it can save others.
Please do an expanded article or series on women and breast cancer, use a title that mentions breast cancer in bold letters. One in nine women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. It could be your spouse, mother, sister or daughter.
Sharon J. Simonetti, Tarpon Springs
The article Only in America, Oct. 6, wherein foreign-born physicians in America compare our customs and medical practices unfavorably with their own, says much about human nature. Criticizing other societies is a common phenomenon, as occasional derisive letters to the editor from Australians and Canadians will attest. It arises from a mixture of pride, inflated expectations, interrupted habits, envy and a few other things.
Still, some of the criticisms are valid, such as "lack of family structure" in America, as one physician put it. In the Third World, living with an extended family in a small flat is necessary to get by. You may not like your obnoxious cousin or brother-in-law, but it is better than starving or freezing on the street. A sense of mutual obligation exists because everyone understands that no one can make it alone.
But America's wealth has permitted families to separate, with individual members going their own way. When a life crisis arises, as it does for all of us sooner or later, we are on our own. Those semi-stranger relatives don't want to be bothered.
Some individuals handle this new-found independence constructively and, on balance, the wealth that permitted it is a benefit to them and society. For others, however, wealth allows them to dissipate in ways that might not be possible if they were poorer. Narcotics is a case in point. Its use is much less in the Third World because most people there can't afford it, and lessened demand means fewer suppliers. Thus, there is less crime and fewer health problems from drugs.
Anyone who thinks wealth is an unmitigated good has another think coming.
Francis J. Sullivan, St. Petersburg
Mass transit no answer
Re: Keeping up with the people-movers, Oct. 7, regarding plans for Orlando's potential mass transit system. The article stated that Tampa stood the risk of being left behind in planning.
Would that this area could be so fortunate! For some reason, the elitists among us feel very strongly that a mass transit system would be the answer to our transportation problems. Rubbish!
In the vast majority of cases, mass transit systems suck the blood of the taxpayer, and especially the motorist. It is almost impossible to get on a "pay as you go" basis. People want to use their own cars and instead of trying to get the motorist off the road, you should try improving all our roads to facilitate travel.
New York City has more passengers than any other system in the world, and they run a gigantic deficit every year.
Theoretically, mass transit sounds reasonable but in reality, it almost never satisfies the public. People love the convenience of their cars and the independence a car gives you.
Daniel D'Emidio, Clearwater
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