Re: White lies are at heart of NATO expansion, March 25.
Thomas Friedman is right on target in his argument that European security would be better secured by implementing arms control treaties and enhancing reforms in Russia rather than by expanding NATO.
In my high school sophomore ancient history class 68 years ago our teacher highlighted the passage in Thucydides that nations act from fear, honor and interest, pointing out that the then-recent World War had been precipitated because of the fear of each nation that whoever mobilized first would gain an immense strategic advantage.
The expansion of NATO is opposed by a wide variety of thoughtful and experienced men, such as Sen. Sam Nunn, George Kennan (who first warned us as early as 1944 of the Soviet danger), Field Marshal Lord Carver and many others.
We should be thinking of what the world may be like 30 to 50 years hence when we may need Russia at our side, not exploiting whatever transient advantage we have over it at present simply because we fear that somehow the Soviet Union might arise from the ashes.
Thomas S. Jones, Clearwater
Beware those who favor confrontation
Hey, Americans! Where are we going?
During these very critical times we will decide our path into the future, and we are not paying attention _ just as we did not pay attention in the 1950s when we decided to enter into the Vietnam War.
Now we decide to expand NATO into the face of Russia. We will spend many billions of dollars to arm governments with dubious leadership and we will unilaterally restart the Cold War.
Let us not forget that Russia is still a nuclear superpower and that between us, a nuclear war will destroy civilization in a holocaust that will make World War II seem like a local barroom brawl.
Our confrontational attitude has brought us to the point where we are committed to rearm nations that may be plotting local wars. They certainly are planning to manipulate us into some perplexing positions. I seriously doubt that the people of Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary really want to be part of a huge military establishment, but our arms merchants want to sell their wares there and they want to be paid with U.S. tax dollars.
So what shall we do now?
Call off the NATO expansion and create an organization that Russia can accept as a full partner. Call off the proposed military exercise "Sea Breeze," where we are to invade the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea. We have no more interest there than would the Russians in an exercise to "rescue" MacDill Air Force Base in the event of a hurricane hitting Tampa Bay.
We must clean house in our government and get rid of, or demote, those decisionmakers who favor confrontation, just as we have gotten rid of those who are suspected of racial discrimination or sexual harassment.
Lars Dohm, St. Petersburg
Teachers and tenure
Re: Worry about students, not tenure.
I found quite interesting your editorial of March 21. I think a major point was missed about tenure. There are some teachers, who are few in the Pinellas County school system, that need the protection of tenure. These teachers are the true educators. They are the ones who inspire, take chances and are creative. They question programs that come from school boards and administrators that are time-consuming, expensive and in many cases take away from the true learning environment _ which is, of course, the classroom.
Few teachers have the courage to speak up for fear of losing one's career. Where does an American history teacher go to get a job after 10 or 20 years of teaching?
Administrators are particularly adept at building cases against outspoken teachers. They fear their authority could be questioned. They do what is called "documentation," the practice of documenting incidents that are in some cases quite petty. If the goal is to remove a teacher who is out of lockstep with the administration, it is not too difficult to build a case against this educator.
I would also like to point out that tenure does protect that below-average teacher. Poor teachers protected by tenure are far more difficult to terminate. They typically are "yes" people, people without imaginations and who, in many cases, lack their colleagues' respect. These teachers know they are bad teachers. Bad teachers follow in with lockstep their school boards' and administrators' rules without question, they support poor programs and, in general, offer nothing to educational excellence.
One final point is the similarity between administrators and poor teachers. Administrators were "yes" men, followed administrative policy and certainly never questioned authority. I think you would find the definitions of administrators and poor teachers remarkably similar. It makes me wonder _ as a voter, taxpayer and concerned citizen _ what this says about education in Pinellas County.
Joseph A. Toumey, Palm Harbor
Teach basic skills
Education, the most precious gift we can give our children, today does not receive good grades, either from the press or the general public.
A March 2 Times editorial, Aim younger on education aid, and an earlier David Broder column, Token gestures toward education (Feb. 16), tell us that the malaise, the inadequacy of the system, still exist despite the millions put into it through the years. I remember the then-Florida governor, now Sen. Bob Graham, telling us that he was going to make Florida the example of "quality education." But now the editorial states that "almost two-thirds of the recent Florida high school graduates entering state community colleges during the 1995-96 school year were forced to take remedial work to qualify for college-level courses." Others say that unprepared students are being rolled over into the next grade, so that many college students neither write nor read comprehensibly. So what is the remedy?
A combination of things needs to be done.
My humble opinion as a former teacher, in a family of several teachers, is: Return to basics; more stringent academic rules; more exams given more often. Train elementary school teachers better; give them smaller classes so that they can pay more attention to each student. Take away the computers and calculators from grades one to four. Let the brain, the blackboard, and the paper and pencil do the work. Take away the multiple-choice questions; let the child write out the answers so that he or she can learn to write legibly. Do not promote the weak in any subject, particularly math; mathematics is not a subject one can bluff.
For example: I recently ate at a restaurant. My check came to $7. I gave the cashier _ a young girl, high-school age, perhaps first-year college _ a $20 bill. She opened the drawer _ not the register _ and then, embarrassed, turned to the girl next to her (about the same age) and whispered, "How much is the change?"; whereupon the friend grabbed a pencil and paper, calculated the "big" transaction and said, "Thirteen."
An isolated case? No. Years back, we used to eat at a nice cafeteria downtown. When we gave the cashier _ a mature woman _ the check and money, more often than not she gave us the wrong change. My husband, trained without the calculator, already had it figured out in his head. The woman was so embarrassed when my husband called it to her attention.
These examples prove my point. Let the brain do the work, not the machine, for at least the first four grades, with the teacher's guidance. Pouring money into a faulty system _ if not faulty, one that does not allow the brain to do its work as it should _ will not completely correct what is "wrong," according to what we hear.
America cannot afford academically incompetent high school and college graduates. The world is in a fierce competition with itself today.
Helen Ross, St. Petersburg
Trim the health care tax
Re: Uncaring lot in Legislature would deny health plan, by Mary Jo Melone, March 18, which falsely represented American Family Association of Florida's position regarding the extension of Hillsborough County's indigent health care half-cent sales tax.
Hillsborough County officials have asked state legislators to blindly extend the half-cent sales tax to fund the county's indigent health care plan without regard for the need to protect taxpayers' money from government mismanagement.
The half-cent sales tax is excessive and injurious to our county's economy. It should be reduced to a quarter-cent. The sales tax collects $25-million more than is spent on indigent health care each year. This results in a surplus of $124-million collecting economic dust in a government savings account, injuring the local economy and lowering sales tax revenues. Had this $124-million remained in the consumption cycle, the income multiplier effect would have yielded the Hillsborough County economy an additional $868-million in sales and $60-million in sales tax revenue.
Taking more money out of the hands of taxpayers than is needed to fund the indigent health care plan results in unnecessary harm to families and economy. The plan's rate is excessive and should be reduced to a quarter-percent.
David Caton, president, American Family Association
of Florida, Tampa
Give us our money's worth
Re: Uncaring lot in Legislature would deny health plan for the poor, March 18.
Mary Jo Melone characterized those of us who want a fiscally responsible Hillsborough health care program as "uncaring." If you want to criticize anyone, criticize those who allowed this program to transform into an inefficient, ineffective feeding trough for administrative hacks.
The stewards of this program should have prevented it from getting out of control. Good intentions don't cut it when you are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Hillsborough's health plan started out as a golden goose but has transformed itself into an obese, corpulent, overblown swine. I haven't heard Melone's vitriolic outcry for competent administrators. Did she criticize the fact that this program has tripled in cost? Did she condemn the pharmaceutical rip-off? Did she denounce the chronic mismanagement?
All we want is our money's worth. The same money could be helping many more individuals that need help. Instead of Melone's making spurious indictments, why doesn't she get on the bandwagon to improve the program? Accountability is not a four-letter word. Ms. Melone, drop the liberal mantras and look at the facts. You might find that we all share "family values."
Bart H. Siegel, Tampa
Share your opinions
We invite readers to write to us. Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, 33731. They also can be sent by fax to 893-8675.
They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number. Please include a handwritten signature when possible.
Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be printed.
For e-mail users: Letters can be sent by e-mail to letterssptimes.com. E-mail messages must be text only and cannot include attachments. If you're using a word processing program to write the message, you must use its "Save as" function to save it as a text file, then import it into your e-mail program. Please include your return e-mail address, as well as your name, mailing address and phone number, in the text of the message.