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Special interest groups not entirely to blame for policy malaise

In his Sept. 23 column, Policy paralysis in Washington, David Broder blamed the nation's policy gridlock on the ascendancy of special interest groups whose all-powerful influence has prevented controversial programs from being enacted. In my opinion, this theory, based on Mancur Olson's book The Rise and Decline of Nations, does not get to the heart of the problem.

Special interest groups, which have dominated American policymaking for perhaps a generation, are merely a reflection of the change in the attitude of Americans toward their government and society as a whole. Greed, selfishness and short-sighted self-interest have taken over the American psyche, especially since 1980. Far too many Americans have little concern for the future, even their children's future. They recognize that our overwhelming debt will come due, with disastrous consequences, but not in their lifetime. "Eat, drink and be merry" is the prevailing philosophy.

It is easy to blame this self-serving mania on Reagan and his "Morning in America," but the cause goes deeper. Almost 40 years of off-and-on prosperity have spoiled most Americans, and the nefarious influence of much television has glorified materialism to almost the status of a religion. Therefore, individualism has taken over, and idealism and a concern for others is passe. Under these conditions it was inevitable that self-serving interest groups would take policy control over government, at least negatively.

We should not blame interest groups exclusively for the policy malaise in the national government. Instead, "I have seen the enemy, and it is I." Only a return to idealism and a reawakening of concern for others will save our nation.

Robert H. McGregor, New Port Richey

Change: This is the key word in the forthcoming election. This applies not only to the president, but also to many members of Congress. All candidates must be committed to making the one basic change that will end the corrupting influence of special interest money on the political process.

Real reform must shut down the soft money system that is bringing huge $100,000 contributions back into presidential campaigns, and place new restrictions on PAC contributions. One example of the influences of PACs is the $60-million given to congressional candidates since 1980 by the medical industry to prevent reforming the health-care system.

So find out what the candidate pledges to do about reforming this corruption of our campaigns before you vote.

Irene M. Sirtoli, Port Richey

Re: Study: Arms sale limits reduce war threat, Sept. 28.

The article pointed out that "arms sale limits would make it impossible for Middle East countries to turn into major threats as Iraq did by buying $68-billion in weapons." But the item sadly ended with the comment that "the limits would cost up to 75,000 U.S. defense workers their jobs."

Where is the biblical plea to shape spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares? President Eisenhower, in his departing speech as president, warned us to beware of the arms manufacturers and military complex. For too many years our arms industry has been shaping our international policies. Politicians with arms plants in their districts vote to keep the arms race alive and well, instead of for the common good of mankind.

Now is the time for arms manufacturers to stop spending their obscene profits on lobbyists to perpetuate their evil empire and spend that money to retool and research into products which will benefit mankind into the 21st century.

Lewis M. Unterman, Treasure Island

Passing the buck

Re: Vets: We ousted VA head, Sept. 29, announcing the ouster of Veteran Affairs Secretary Edward Derwinski.

The item said that American veteran groups were dissatisfied with Derwinski because of steadily eroding health-care benefits, among other complaints. Derwinski, a Republican appointee, was undoubtedly carrying out the orders of his Republican bosses, including President Bush.

However odd it may seem, the president has recently compared himself to the famous Democratic president of World War II, Harry S. Truman. President Truman had a sign on his desk that said, "The buck stops here." In the case of eroding veterans' benefits and other Bush failures, the buck never stops; it just keeps going around in Republican circles. American veterans are not naive; we are well aware of President Bush's policy of passing the buck.

William A. Crutchfield, New Port Richey

An "election-year ploy'

Re: Bush proposes taking 10 percent cut in pay, Sept. 26.

If only I could tell George Bush, "There you go again!" Our forward-thinking (not!) president who followed in Ronald Reagan's footsteps and won the last election by telling people what they wanted to hear ("Read my lips"), and not what they should have heard ("We cannot continue to spend more than we make"), is now asking us to read his lips once more!

I refer to his proposed pay cut of 5 percent for high-ranking federal employees (10 percent for himself and others). Of course, we could not have done this four (or 8 or 12) years ago, but must do it now, less than six weeks before election day. Bush (and many other high-ranking officials) are independently wealthy people who would probably not suffer financially even if they received no salary _ they are in government for a variety of reasons, but could certainly earn more money in the private sector.

There are, however, many skilled professionals employed by the government who are not independently wealthy folks and could just as easily be employed in private industry. Congress wisely realized that there was a need for some sort of parity with the private sector to retain skilled personnel in public service. To a great extent, this program has been successful, allowing the employment of qualified individuals by the federal government to the benefit of the taxpayers.

Bush's last-minute, election-year ploy of "cutting salaries to reduce the deficit" is the latest in a string of actions which ought to insult the intelligence of the American people. After all, here is a president who has cared so little for the deficit that he never once proposed a balanced budget (regardless of whether Congress will approve it, the president has authority to submit any budget he wishes). A president who would try to circumvent the Endangered Species Act for the short-term profit of a select few. A president who takes credit for things that he had nothing to do with (e.g., the failure of the Soviet Union), but denies responsibility for things directly under his control (deficit spending and failure to submit a balanced budget). A president who has told us that he has many plans for improving the economy, if only we elect him for four more years (why didn't he stop the recession six months ago? He'd get elected for sure!).

Now, he wants the American people to think that it's okay to spend more on defense, foreign aid, subsidies to industries with strong lobbies, and to continue to "borrow" Social Security funds so that the deficit doesn't look as bad as it really is but we'll just cut his salary a little and that will make it all right! Unfortunately, this move may make quite a few government-employed physicians, dentists, engineers, etc., rethink their choice of careers, since their motivations are different from career politicians and private ventures may seem more attractive. Of course, there will always be those willing to work for substantially lower wages, but I can't help thinking that "you get what you pay for."

Michael P. Shear, M.D., Tierra Verde

Re: Bush proposes taking 10 percent cut in pay, Sept. 26.

If President Bush wants to send a message that truly reflects the concerns of so many Americans, why not just send himself a pink slip?

Mary Hight, St. Petersburg

The "Saddam Factor'

I am neither a baseball freak nor an attorney, but I have a common sense opinion about the San Francisco Giants fiasco. Behind-the-scenes San Franciscans are using what I call the "Saddam Factor" _ they are toying with the members of the St. Petersburg group, hoping they will withdraw their offer to buy the Giants. That's what they want you to do, Mr. Naimoli!

Maybe they learned this technique from the emirs of Kuwait, who toyed with our emotions (through an advertising agency) until we rushed to save them from Iraq, or perhaps they are copying Saddam Hussein's tactics _ toying with George Bush and the United Nations.

Who knows? Maybe they were just born crafty _ but one thing's for sure _ we shouldn't let them get away with it!

Bendita L. Mitchell, Indian Rocks Beach

Johnson's expertise needed

Your front-page story regarding Bo's bridge (Sept. 30) prompts me to write my first-ever letter to the editor, for two reasons.

It is sad that most of the people reading this story will accept the fact that an elected official is using his position for personal gain. This practice has become so commonplace at all levels of government that the question is not,"Did he do it?" but "Will he get away with it?"

Since most of those who do as Johnson is doing are careful to stay within legal bounds (and are also careful not to enact laws that would make this too difficult), I am sure that he will get away with it. In spite of the bright spotlight of publicity, the needed approvals will be given.

This situation brings to mind the idea that we could use Johnson's expertise on bridges here in Pinellas County. Many of your readers have probably never noticed that we have a "Road to Nowhere" right here. It is the western extension of Bryan Dairy Road from Starkey to 98th Street. It was built in the 1970s with the justification that it was to provide alignment for the western end of the "new bridge across Lake Seminole." Coincidentally, it also opened up land for development, and builders were pouring slabs before the road was even opened! The promised bridge still has not been built.

Maybe the motorists who have no choice but to "sweat their way" back and forth on Ulmerton Road and Park Boulevard every day would consent to a small toll, the proceeds to be passed to Johnson as payment for his services. Bet he'd get us a bridge!

James K. Solenberger, Clearwater

This is "civilized'?

As I watch newscasts depicting the suffering in Somalia, I can't help but sympathize with the plight of the native people. Unfortunately, this tragedy could have been averted and needless suffering by humans and resident plant and animal life avoided by simply listening to Mother Nature's warnings about overpopulation.

Somalia's current problems began long ago. A series of economic plans by Soviet and American experts were forced upon the people to modernize their way of life. These plans never took into consideration the fragile ecosystem that has supported its myriad of life for so long.

Cattle were introduced, which devastated the grasslands and competed with native wildlife. Periodic drought only worsened what experts had tried to prevent. As Somalians depended more and more on cattle, the way of life that had supported them for so long disappeared.

When will we stop trying to change native people to a so-called "civilized" way of life? It seems to me that forced civilization and religion bring more suffering in the long run than could ever be portrayed in a thousand years of nightly news.

Happy Columbus Day!

John Peterson, Ozona

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Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL. 33731. They must include the handwritten signature and address of the writer. Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be printed.

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