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Deadbeat parents need assistance, not punishment

Re: Tracking deadbeat parents is a bust, Dec. 30.

Again we see government at its worst: Spending $4.5-million to track down "deadbeat parents" only to find that most of these "deadbeat parents" are "dead, in prison, homeless, on welfare, disabled, or otherwise unlikely to ever repay the state for public assistance money paid to former mates and children."

The state should find ways to help "deadbeat parents," instead of suspending their drivers' licenses and sending them to jail. The $4.5-million could have been spent on counseling, employment training and helping these "deadbeat parents" be better parents.

Perhaps even helping these "deadbeat parents" improve their parenting skills and helping them spend time with their children would help the state with collecting child support. This creates the incentive for "deadbeat parents" to do better.

The state should find ways to help "deadbeat parents" when they start to get behind with their child support payments. Once a parent gets behind, it is just about impossible to catch up without some kind of financial help. Someone should take a closer look at the laws that create court-ordered amounts of child support that help create "beat dead parents."

There is one more important point about this story. There is no input from the "deadbeat parents." Someone should interview some of the "deadbeat parents" to get their side of the story.

Robert A. Zeller, president, National Congress for Fathers

and Children, Pinellas County Chapter, Redington Shores

Good reasons to study French

Re: No, this expert won't pardon your French,

Dec. 30.

The choice of a language to study should be based on the likelihood that the student will put it to practical use, not on the percentage of the world's population that speaks it. Would it make sense for our high school students to study Chinese history instead of European history?

There are two good, practical reasons for Americans to study French:

1. France remains one of the most popular destinations for American tourists. Many of today's students will someday travel to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec, or one of the French-speaking Caribbean islands, while comparatively few will ever visit China, Japan or Russia.

2. Studying a foreign language increases one's understanding of one's own language, and English shares common roots, as well as thousands of borrowed words, with French. This is far less true of Chinese, Hindi, Russian or Bengali.

I applaud Richard Brecht's efforts to encourage schools to broaden their language curricula. High school students should be required to study Spanish, and encouraged to study French, German, Japanese, Russian, Arabic and other languages as well. But to say that French instruction should be dropped in favor of more globally prevalent languages is a position I believe very few linguists would agree with.

C. Morris, St. Petersburg

Sanctimonious views

The Times' Editorial Notebook by Robyn E. Blumner, When buses become billboards (Dec. 22), reflects the height of hypocrisy. Blumner cites the First Amendment to the Constitution for the proposition that anonymous anti-Scientologists have the right to post religious hate slogans on county-sponsored buses. She conveniently ignores that the first provision of the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. That amendment prohibits governmental agencies from taking an action that could in any fashion establish or disestablish a particular religion.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is sponsored by Pinellas County. Any activity of the PSTA that would disfavor a religion would fly directly in the teeth of the First Amendment.

If Robyn Blumner wants to argue that the PSTA is purely a commercial outfit and therefore less restricted by the dictates of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, then commercial standards apply. In that case, PSTA is completely free to accept or reject any advertising _ whether commercial, political or ideological _ according to its own standards of good taste.

In either event, the PSTA made a decision it was completely justified and within its rights to make.

Blumner is certainly entitled to her opinion. However, it is ironic that it appeared in the editorial column of the St. Petersburg Times, as if expressing the Times' views.

The Times, as a matter of policy, will accept no advertising of any kind from the Church of Scientology. For years, the church has attempted to purchase advertising space for book advertisements, statements on social issues, and even equal space to respond to Times articles. In every instance, the Times has refused to accept advertisements.

Perhaps the Times could be forgiven its lack of constitutional acumen were it not for its doublespeak on the issue of advertiser prerogative. Its views can only be characterized as sanctimonious.

Mike Rinder, director, Church of Scientology International,

Los Angeles, Calif.

Flynt is not a spokesman for the left

Re: The slime machines keep spewing, by Frank Rich, Dec. 26.

Rich is certainly right to ridicule those Clinton haters and Clinton defenders engaged in the tit-for-tat exposure of adulterous politicians. But he may have inaccurately described one of the mudslingers. In the haters' camp, Lucianne Goldberg and Richard Mellon Scaife are indeed "on the right," as Rich puts it. But is Clinton defender Larry Flynt "on the left"?

I confess to knowing little about Flynt's political views, but I do recall he first gained notoriety with a Hustler magazine cover of a woman being run through a meat-grinder. As a general rule, people who describe themselves as "on the left" are not amused by such images. Most (not all) leftists would defend Flynt's right to depict women as grist for the grinder, but none would regard him as a standard bearer of the left.

I don't recall Flynt leading campaigns for a livable minimum wage, national health insurance, sane drug laws, a new Iraq policy that reins in Saddam Hussein without quietly killing children through sanctions, or trade agreements with enforceable labor and environmental protections, to name a few issues that animate the left.

Granted, ideological labels don't mean as much as they used to, and folks on the left are just as inclined to disagree with one another as are their counterparts on the right. But as a general rule, the left criticizes Clinton far more than it praises or defends him. Rich may not realize this because of another general rule: The left rarely gets to speak to a mass audience.

Consider the Sunday chat shows on the TV networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS). Eight aggressive right-wingers hold permanent seats: George Will, Pat Buchanan, Tony Snow, Brit Hume, William F. Buckley, John McLaughlin, Fred Barnes and William Kristol. The latter four are editors at the two major right-wing magazines, the National Review and Weekly Standard. Their counterparts from the leading left publications (the Nation, the Progressive and Mother Jones) are granted cameos once in a blue moon, but no regular slots. Other engaging and popular lefties, such as Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West and Molly Ivins, also are excluded.

These people, Mr. Rich, are authentic voices of the left. Larry Flynt is not.

Dennis Hans, St. Petersburg

There's both good and bad

Now and then a letter writer on the Opinion page vows to cancel his subscription because of a negative remark or comment in a column or feature story he found disturbing.

What is disturbing are the almost daily reports of detailed child abuse _ however, these are not an excuse to cancel subscriptions. Any other newspaper would print similar stories.

Why deny the worthy news items, various dollar-saving sales, valuable coupons and so much more the Times pages have to offer? There is much information to be gained reading the Times and I'm sure many readers just skip over any news that doesn't appeal to them anyway.

Bill Dunihue, St. Petersburg

Extend the crack pipe crackdown

Re: Stores accused of selling tubes for crack pipes, Dec. 31.

Congratulations! It's about time someone had the guts to go after these people.

But why stop there? The police should go after the makers and sellers of Chore Boy scouring pads. After all, nobody actually uses that stuff for cleaning.

Who knows, maybe then we could go after Coca-Cola: those cans _ ha _ instant crack pipe, you know.

Then we could set our sights even higher. General Motors puts a crack pipe on every car. GM calls it an "antenna," but we all know what it's really for. Break one off and voila.

Darren Roper, Tampa

Law enforcement priorities

Re: Two items in the Dec. 31 Times.

1. A Port Charlotte crematorium is offering free cremation to drunk drivers killed in New Year's Eve accidents. What's the big deal? Strike a match and stand back.

2. Lee County Sheriff John McDougall feels free speech includes his using office stationery to promote his anti-abortion beliefs to a New Jersey judge. What if he used his time to fight drunken driving?

I wonder, has the DUI death rate in Lee County prompted the Port Charlotte offer? After all, it's in the next county to the north.

Gordon Hill, St. Petersburg

Lena's still alive

Re: Music's just not the same, letter, Dec. 24.

Being a fan of the music of the '40s and '50s, I enjoyed the writer's nostalgic trip "down Memory Lane" until I got to the last name on his list of artists who were (as he stated) "all gone."

Forgive me, but last I looked, Lena Horne was very much alive!

Mary Driskell, St. Petersburg

Consider theme parks' costs

Re: Theme parks' visitors slide, Dec. 23.

I wonder if the theme parks' officials and industry analysts ever consider that the cost of going to their parks is just too darn high?

Peggy Campbell, Indian Rocks Beach

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