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Times alienates readers by its slant to the left

Recently, your paper reported that circulation has slipped about 4 percent since last year. That is unfortunate since, in general, you provide an excellent product.

However, I will point out a glaring problem with your newspaper. Your writers and your editorials are slanted so far to the left that a large percentage of your readers are very unhappy with the obvious brainwashing tactics that you use to attack the Republican Party.

I know that if there was a fair-minded publication for competition to your paper, your circulation would drop possibly 50 percent.

Patrick Burns, Clearwater

Republicans just want positive results

Re: Graham to now-merged unions: GOP aims "to kill public schools," May 14.

Referring to Republicans, U.S. Sen. Bob Graham tells 1,400 delegates of the newly formed Florida Education Association: "I'm sorry to say that they now propose to kill public schools under the guise of improvements, a disingenuous attempt to wipe the murder weapon clean of fingerprints."

Though I am not surprised to see Graham demagogue on this issue, it would be refreshing to see this partisan Democrat speak the truth. But I understand that these comments come from a man who thought the president's lying under oath wasn't a big deal.

Let me set the record straight! We as Republicans don't want to kill public schools. But we are not going to tolerate children graduating from these same schools who can't even read and write. Public schools have been under liberal Democratic control for years, and the poor performance shown by the children graduating is evident. (Just ask the colleges students are applying to or the employers they end up working for.)

No, Sen. Graham, Republicans don't want to kill public schools. They want positive results and people held accountable for this, be it public or private schools. The children deserve better and so do the parents and the taxpayers footing the bills.

My hope would be for all elected officials to work together and help correct the lack of education the children are getting from the present failed public school system. Remember: It worked years ago before liberals started controlling our education system. It's time to change the system before we lose yet another generation of children! If it takes steering many of them to private schools, so be it!

Robert E. Guthrie, Seminole

Graham's candor appreciated

Re: Graham to now-merged unions: GOP aims "to kill public schools."

Kudos to Sen. Bob Graham for his candid assessment of the Republicans' seeming intent to "kill public schools." I have been expressing the same view for years, much to the surprise of many people. I have seen this coming since the Reagan-Bush days of Channel One, which was television in the classroom. Former Bush/Quayle Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and his business partner Chris Whittle saw this plan get derailed when George Bush lost to Bill Clinton. The plan also included commercials aimed at children in the classroom.

Republican movers and shakers never lost sight of the value to their party in capturing the huge pot of money spent on public education, in addition to dumbing down the average American's ability to think critically and independently.

Graham uses strong language to portray the Republicans as employing "Robin Hood principles in reverse" to "steal badly needed public funds from public schools." Public schools are a very expensive proposition indeed. However, they are invaluable when you consider the cost of ignorance. If schools become controlled by private interests we, as a society, abandon any accountability, flawed at times as it is, of the educators who shape the future through our children's minds. Privatization of public schools is a bad idea at any time, and it is incumbent upon us as citizens, parents and educators to speak out loudly against it.

I suspect that the many billions of dollars taken away from public school funding would simply be returned to wealthy political contributors in the form of tax breaks. Over time this process would then perpetuate the ignorance and disdain of the voting public even further, to the point that true representative government would be even more diminished than it is now! As is so often the case, you simply need to "follow the money" to find where many politicians truest interests lie.

Jim Duffey, speech-language pathologist, Pinellas County

Schools, St. Petersburg

A man overlooked

Rick Dantzler, former Florida state senator and former candidate for lieutenant governor, spoke to the Greater Pinellas Democratic Club on May 11. His thrilling talk, based on 10 years in the Senate, was informative, educational and inspiring _ yet no representative of either of our two newspapers was there.

When either of the two spoiled children of ex-President George Bush pats the head of a posed child, he gets a picture and a rave comment in our papers. When the man who might be the next Florida governor in the tradition of Lawton Chiles speaks publicly, not a word gets printed in our two papers.

Citizens, you missed a great man who gave a great talk about the state of our state, and you missed meeting eight fine candidates for state and county offices. You would have learned that Dantzler is taller, more handsome, much better informed and a better speaker than either Bush.

Milton Aronson, St. Pete Beach

Column promoted religious bias

Phillip Terzian's May 13 column America should allow Germany to deal with Scientology in its own way is not just blatantly un-American; he seems proud to be a lone voice defending a policy of religious discrimination against Scientologists and other religious minorities in Germany. I guess there are those who endorse the Ku Klux Klan, too, but one normally expects to read them in The Spotlight, not mainstream media.

But I suppose nobody should be surprised that the St. Petersburg Times would reprint this piece of right-wing propaganda. After all, it is anti-Scientology, and everyone in the community knows the Times has an agenda. While you ignore recent wire stories concerning the full religious recognition of Scientology by the Swedish government (and the same in South Africa) and the official press statements from the State Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative condemning the discrimination against Scientologists, you pluck Terzian's extremism out of a small-time paper in Rhode Island and give him undeserved prominence _ though he should feel right at home in the company of Mary Jo Melone.

For the record, the depths of German paranoia reached new lows of late when some right-wing wacko decided that because a Scientologist owns a company that supplies software to Microsoft (which, of course, provides Windows to the world), Windows is really a plot to infiltrate the computers of loyal Germans. And this, in turn, justifies a boycott of Microsoft and a heightened state of alert to be on the lookout for "Scientologists' schemes." Thus, the so-called "sect filters" so they can screen out those undesirables who dare to say they have read a book by L. Ron Hubbard.

And Terzian supports this? On the basis that Germans have such a good history in this arena and are "better equipped to judge how best to nurture their free society" than the "bureaucrats" in the government of the United States, including Florida Reps. Joe Scarborough, Mark Foley, Corrine Brown, Carrie Meek and Sen. Connie Mack _ not to mention the more than 30 official reports from governments and international human rights bodies including the United Nations, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the International Helsinki Federation?

Imagine Terzian's words being written 60 years ago. Would the Times have given him the opportunity to vent his spleen in support of the Germans' proven excellent record of dealing with that other nasty "cult problem" they had back then?

Your censoring of anything positive by the church or its members displays a callous disregard of people. It's about time the Times, rather than merely proclaiming itself a bastion of liberalism and protector of the First Amendment, actually began to act like one.

Mike Rinder, Office of Special Affairs, Church of Scientology International, Los Angeles, Calif.

Scientology is a religion

Re: America should allow Germany to deal with Scientology in its own way, by Philip Terzian of the Providence Journal.

Like it or not, Scientology is a religion by any ordinary analytic definition. Terzian calls it a cult, but Scientology more closely resembles a sect and one that is undergoing the predictable transition to a denomination, much like American Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints and others before them. True, L. Ron Hubbard was a science-fiction writer. And, as a matter of fact, the founders of new religions _ Moses, Jesus, Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy _ typically arise unexpectedly.

True, Scientology has a corporate character. But Scientology differs little in this regard from the various organizations of American Catholicism, Protestantism or Judaism. Similarly, religion and politics freely intermingle in America. Scientology is not unique among new or old religions in lobbying the president, Congress or other governmental entities. Describing Scientology with the words "criminal overtones" is just name-calling. The claim that "cults like Scientology are likely to weaken" German democracy is not supported by facts. We doubt German democracy is so fragile.

We recognize no exceptions to the rule that people are free to believe what they want and to organize themselves as religious communities without government interference. The Scientologists ask no more, but no less, than that.

Dell DeChant, instructor; Gail M. Harley, Ph.D.,

adjunct instructor; Danny L. Jorgensen, Ph.D.,

professor and chairperson; Paul G. Schneider, Ph.D.,

visiting instructor; Department of Religious Studies,

University of South Florida, Tampa

Jacob Neusner, Ph.D., research professor of religion and

theology, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

AP courses need to be more available

I hope the Pinellas County School Board takes time to study the May 1 article Drives for school equality focus on advanced classes. It is a topic that surely will arise as board members initiate their "school choice" program.

A few months ago the Times published an article on AP (Advanced Placement) courses offered in Pinellas County high schools which revealed a significant disparity in such course offerings. As I recall, Palm Harbor offered 15 AP courses while Dixie Hollins High School offered only two. Even if the School Board members implement a plan incorporating only one or two zones for high schools, they need to insure that all students have equal access to an equal number of such courses. Surely a student residing in my neighborhood (the southern tip of Pinellas Country) should not have to travel 45 to 60 minutes each morning for the opportunity to take courses that will allow him/her to be competitive in the college application process.

Nancy L. Parrish, Tierra Verde

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