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A democracy shouldn't be built on dollars

Re: George W. Bush's fundraising a triumph of political participation, by George Will, July 29.

George Will marvels that the candidate's appeal was able to generate $40-million, via 80,000-plus contributors, most of whom gave the maximum permitted ($1,000). This, Will would have us believe, is an excellent example of how democracy is supposed to work. In effect, we are constrained to "put up or shut up." Nothing is said about the reality that most voters do not have $1,000 to contribute to political campaigns.

Will's treatise also seems designed to convince us that any attempt at campaign finance reform is basically undemocratic, that the giving of money is just as noble as the giving of time and labor in support of one's candidate, since "money is congealed labor."

On the issue of whose labor is congealed, Will is strangely silent. No mention is made of the legions of anonymous workers and consumers, both foreign and domestic, regularly exploited by powerful corporate interests who perpetuate a vicious cycle, using the "congealed labor" of their minions to provide the political capital with which to bribe venal politicians, the quid pro quo being the preservation of their license to continue their exploitative pursuits.

Finally, and in all fairness, perhaps Will's statement that "in a healthy democracy, individuals should spend more of their personal surpluses on politicians" doesn't really mean that he subscribes to the old joke that "Americans have the best politicians money can buy"through it sure sounds like it.

Ben Tutoli, St. Petersburg

We should first reduce our debt

Regarding proposed tax cuts, it is easy to believe _ and difficult to refute _ that this present Congress in Washington is among the most irresponsible in our nation's history.

There is no economic need and no public outcry for a tax cut. To the contrary, by most accounts, people want Medicare and Social Security stabilized. They want defense and environmental concerns, including the national parks and other government programs, adequately funded. They want the national debt reduced!

The multitrillion-dollar national debt is not just a static amount, an entry on the books. It is costing us _ the taxpayers _ hundreds of billions of dollars in interest every year, money that buys nothing.

It is the height of irresponsibility to push for tax cuts when we are finally in a position to reduce the debt and relieve the taxpayers of that monstrous dead-weight expense. Do that, and we will then have the money for the things we need _ and tax cuts _ far more than will be provided by a tax cut now that will leave the debt and attendant expense still hanging over our heads. There's also the real possibility that the debt will grow even larger if the economy does not live up to fond expectations. That, of course, would fuel further inflation and/or higher interest rates, more than wiping out the few dollars of tax cuts that will be afforded to most of us by this truly irresponsible legislation.

The Republican majority, frantic for an election-year issue, blathers on and on about giving a few dollars back to the taxpayers, while most of it will go to further enrich the already rich. Some Democrats are not much better, tagging along behind, saying, "Me too, me too, but not so much."

If ever there were a time and opportunity _ particularly for the Democrats _ to offer real leadership and fiscal responsibility, it is now.

Sydney K. Potter, Tampa

Generation X should pay attention

After reading What Congress' legislation would mean to taxpayers (Aug. 6), I was very disappointed that neither Congress nor the article addresses the interest of Generation-X taxpayers, who will actually end up paying the national debt. Our generation is not well-represented in Congress nor does it have a significant voice in the present economic and political arenas. It may be a lack of interest or cynicism, but I am alarmed at the lack of concern for our future.

I would like to see the proposed $792-billion tax-cut package go toward paying off our national debt, not toward stuffing the baby boomers' cushions to sit on once they retire. I am sure it is not all that simple, but it is about time that our generation takes a sincere interest in protecting the economic and political future of this country.

Yasmin Forlenza, Tampa

Treasury is on the right track

Re: Treasury plans to buy back debt, Aug. 5.

Hallelujah! It sounds as though the Treasury Department just might know what to do with our new-found budget surpluses. After all this sickening talk by Congress about a $792-billion tax cut, it seems the government may possibly do the right thing by paying down our national debt. A $3.6-trillion public debt needs to be addressed by this generation, not our kids and grandchildren.

Now that we are being told that deficit spending could become a thing of the past, it makes sense to pay off this horrendous debt. When we cease paying almost $1-billion per day in interest, that's the time to think about tax cuts. The national debt isn't going to disappear by ignoring it.

Dick Holmes, South Pasadena

Court's ruling on Scouts is contemptible

Re: N.J. high court says Scouts can't ban homosexuals, Aug. 5.

I read with interest the contemptible decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court to enforce the acceptance of homosexuality and "de facto" homosexual mores on the Boy Scouts of America operating within that state, in contravention of its fundamental constitutional rights.

As a private organization, the Boy Scouts movement has constitutionally protected rights as to freedom of association and freedom of expression covered under the First Amendment. If the Scouts, as a group fundamentally embracing a Christian ethos, contends that homosexuality is immoral and thereby incompatible with the mores of the Scout movement, then it is that group's prerogative to exclude from membership those whose avowed sexual preferences violate those mores.

I trust that this erroneous and unconstitutional decision will be summarily struck down on appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court and that the values of a wholesome and productive exemplar of American youth, the Boy Scouts movement, will be protected against further unwarranted assault from obsessional and odious egalitarian dogma, such as that being peddled by pusillanimous advocates in the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Matt Horsey, Clearwater

Judge Downey is an asset to the system

I had the pleasure of serving as a juror in Judge Brandt Downey's courtroom in late June and into July. I found him to be very patient, considerate and pleasant toward the jury. Several jurors commented on how thoughtful he was.

Serving as a juror for one murder trial was emotional and mentally taxing and made me appreciate the exhausting hours of the judge. Through the week we usually reported to judicial reception around 9 a.m. The judge had already been at work a few hours prior to the trial. We proceeded into late evenings as well as a Saturday and Sunday. Though it was fatiguing, Judge Downey ran the courtroom efficiently, attentively and was always aware of our comfort. I was impressed by how he took the time to explain carefully the order of events and how he treated us with the utmost respect. He was fair and impartial in the way he presented everything.

In the opinion of a common citizen, Judge Brandt Downey is truly an asset to our judicial system, and I have confidence in his ability to dispense fair justice. Serving in his courtroom helped me strengthen my belief in the American system of justice.

I feel very strongly about the integrity of this judge.

Joan Tobiassen, Clearwater

Public television deserves our support

Re: Fairy tales perpetuate PBS, by George Will, Aug. 1.

In questioning the need for public broadcasting, George Will offers a facile analysis and a faulty one.

His contention that look-alike cable channels make public television unnecessary is unsupported by the facts. It's PBS, after all _ not CNN, Discovery or Nickelodeon _ that is consistently honored with the most Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for television journalism, George Foster Peabody Awards for distinguished achievement and meritorious public service, and Daytime Emmys for children's programming. Just last month, PBS programs received more nominations for News and Documentary Emmy Awards than any other network _ broadcast or cable!

Will's let-them-eat-cable argument is an empty dream for the 24-million households that do not subscribe to cable or a direct-broadcast satellite service. Cable subscribers, meanwhile, pay on average $510 a year. Many of them would be surprised to learn that while established cable networks share in this revenue stream, not a penny is sent on to local PBS stations for their services.

Contrary to George Will, we know that our commercial counterparts are very interested in broadcasting our groundbreaking series. The rub, however, is that they have no desire or commitment to create these programs on their own. After 30 years, where is commercial television's Sesame Street? It doesn't exist.

Sesame Street and more than a dozen other award-winning children's series are part of PBS' unique, community-based Ready to Learn Service, which helps parents and other caregivers prepare children for success in school. According to a recent University of Alabama study for PBS, parents who attend a free Ready to Learn workshop on the effective use of television read to their children 35-percent more often and 20-percent longer than other parents; their children watch 40-percent less television. WEDU will conduct 500 free workshops locally in the coming year.

The recent mailing-list controversy (in which some stations shared member names with Bob Dole's presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and other political groups) needs to be kept in perspective. Its origins can be found in stations' pressing need to raise revenues _ not in any political agenda. Tens of thousands of other non-profit organizations, it must be noted, engage in similar direct mail fundraising.

List-sharing with political candidates, parties and committees was ill-advised, to be sure. WEDU understands that the most precious asset it has is the community that supports it. We will not engage in any activity that raises doubts about the integrity and objectivity of our service.

Public broadcasting's mission of education, culture and citizenship is as important today as it was three decades ago. The American people, in survey after survey, agree. When last queried in a Roper poll, they ranked public radio and public television as the second and third best values for their federal tax dollars. Only national defense ranked higher.

In helping fulfill vital goals of Congress, the White House, state legislatures and governors, public television deserves government support. Public television is one of those special institutions that make life in this great country even greater. More than 93-million viewers each week seem to agree.

Stephen L. Rogers, president and chief executive officer,

WEDU, Florida West Coast Public Broadcasting Inc., Tampa

Let the electrician handle it

If the electric chair is not working right, then blame the electrician who should know how to repair it. When we had the electric chair in New York, no convict had a nose bleed from it.

Arthur R. Mitchell, New Port Richey

Share your opinions

Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. They can be sent by e-mail to letterssptimes.com or by fax to 893-8675.

They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number.

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