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Common sense is missing, and kids pay the price

Regarding George F. Will's Jan. 12 column, "A Societal Stupor," I could not agree more. Common sense has been lost regarding personal responsibility.

Attorneys used to be trained to uphold the law. Now many are trained to circumvent the law because everyone is a perceived "victim" of some unfortunate situation, stupidity, accident or fate.

As a former teacher I can attest to the fear that every teacher lives with on a daily basis. Even defending yourself from a physical assault can, and does, result in litigation. Most teachers carry some insurance to cover such nuisance lawsuits, but the aggravation created defending yourself is why many teachers leave the field.

Also, children cannot sue -- parents do so on their behalf; however, childhood today is so over-regulated by parents that we now have "play dates." Whatever happened to unorganized childhood play using one's imagination? Gone! Sports coaches are criticized, often physically attacked, by irate parents because Johnny/Suzie got an apparent bad call and it will affect his or her self-esteem forever. To this I say, nonsense!

I have witnessed parents who are fearful of denying their children some superficial need (cell phone, designer clothes, etc.) for fear of retribution. Who is running these homes? Children! The simple reason is that many parents are often not responsible individuals rearing a child to understand that injury, denial and failure are part of living. These things are to be expected by the vast majority of people.

Children often learn much from failure, and they learn that they cannot excel at everything, even if the parents believe that their child is perfect.


They should pay

In rereading the letter by Father Gregory Swiderski ("Say What?" Dec. 21), in which he states that "Lying, deceiving, obscuring facts and so much more have become the hallmark of the Bush-Cheney years," I can't help but think of the other evils they have perpetrated, and how appropriate it would be for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to be prosecuted for war crimes.

There would be ample evidence to convict them. Of course, at some point they would be pardoned (accepting a pardon is an admission of guilt). Perhaps they could "plea bargain" and pledge their personal fortunes to help to pay for the care needed by those Americans who came back alive from this unjust war, but who will require medical and personal care for the rest of their lives. We will all be paying for that care.

It is only right and fitting that the instigators who lied and deceived us into war should help to bear the cost of its very sad results.

Brighton Heights

In name only

In regard to Gregory J. Hartley's letter about circumcision ("Bodily Integrity," Jan. 12): Please do not try to say that female circumcision and male circumcision are the same. The circumcision of boys and girls is only the same in name.

While the penis remains in the male circumcision, the entire clitoris is removed in female circumcision. You may feel it is unnecessary for males, but it does not stop them from having sexual sensation. The vagina is also often sewn closed only to be ripped open on the wedding night. Also, male circumcision is done by a doctor under sterile conditions, when the baby is days old; female circumcision is done by anyone with a kitchen knife when the girl is old enough to be aware of what is going to happen and often results in infection and even death.

Female circumcision is done only to control and oppress women by barbaric societies and should be banned.


Careful Israel

In her Jan. 12 letter "Fellow Humans," Beatrice Rettger asks what gives Israel the right to bomb and kill "indiscriminately." First, her presumption is inaccurate. Israel's counteroffensive against Hamas has been conducted with the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties.

Unfortunately, Hamas has deliberately placed its weapons and armed forces in schools, mosques, hospitals and other civilian areas, which has led to civilian casualties. Even then, Israel has dropped leaflets prior to bombings to warn civilians to leave the area.

While Israel has steadfastly attempted to avoid civilian casualties, over the past several years Hamas has indiscriminately fired more than 7,000 rockets and mortars in an effort to deliberately kill Israeli citizens as part of its stated genocidal goal to kill all Jews in Israel.

As far as what gives Israel the right to strike back at Hamas? That's easy. It's called self-defense.

Squirrel Hill

Simply not true

In the letter "Fellow Humans" (Jan. 12), Israel is accused of a plan of ethnic cleansing, which purportedly originated in 1948 and is being continued in Gaza. This canard must come as a major surprise to the more than 1 million Arabs who live peacefully in Israel. If Israel was interested in ethnic cleansing it would have already killed or expelled these citizens.

If Israel was interested in ethnic cleansing in Gaza, then why several years ago did it forcibly remove the few Jews who lived in Gaza?

If Israel wanted to engage in ethnic cleansing, there would be hundreds of thousands of dead Gazans now instead of a few hundred collateral civilian casualties.

False accusations such as these do not promote peace. They only foster anti-Semitism.

Squirrel Hill

The root of anger

I'm writing in response to Harold Shapiro's letter ("Necessary Defense," Jan. 9), which asks the question, "If someone who lived next door to you was throwing rocks at your children, wouldn't you want to do something about it?"

If I had stolen their house and made them live in deplorable conditions, which included separation from one family member to another and limited water, food, electricity, education and job opportunities, I wouldn't have to look far as to why someone is throwing rocks at me or my family.

One thing is for sure, though: I wouldn't load up on every gun I could get my hands on and wipe out the entire family. That's just plain criminal.


This $25 more will mean a lot

We're celebrating today! We congratulate the Department of Public Welfare for allowing Pennsylvania's 9,000 poorest personal care home residents to keep $25 of the cost-of-living adjustment provided to them by SSI ("Low-Income Care Home Residents Get Aid Boost," Jan. 6)

At New Horizons we serve about 75 people each day who are living with mental illness; about a third of them live in personal care homes. We provide a nutritious meal, activities and support groups. For the past 15 years, people living in personal care homes received $60 a month to meet all of their personal needs: medication co-pays, clothing, transportation, toiletries, etc.

So, today we're celebrating with our friends. Twenty-five dollars will pay for bus fare so that they can get to places they need to go. It will buy warm boots and some gloves. With $25 a person can get a haircut and some nice secondhand clothes for a job interview. It can be applied to that outstanding ambulance bill that never seems to get any smaller; it can buy batteries and a transistor radio to help someone deal with the symptoms of their illness.

For most people $25 is pocket change, but for our friends in personal care homes $25 will change the quality of their lives. So we're celebrating!

If you have a friend or a loved one in a personal care home and have questions about the raise, call the DPW Helpline at 1-800-692-7462. Please celebrate with us!

Center Coordinator
New Horizons

We receive more letters than we can fit into the limited space on the editorial page, so we'd like to share some additional letters with our Post-Gazette Web site readers.

Just as reliable

Regarding the Jan. 10 letter from Eric Riesen ("Unreliable Products"): I can honestly say the American cars that I have driven over the last 35 years were all trouble-free. I drove a Chevy Monte Carlo, a Chrysler 300M, a Chrysler four-cylinder turbo auto, a Pontiac Bonneville SSE, and I currently have a Chevy Malibu.

I had no problems with any of these automobiles. I did the normal service and had brakes, etc., replaced. I did own a Lexus -- nice ride, very expensive to maintain -- but the American-made cars were just as reliable at a lot less cost.

I almost forgot ? I had a Volvo for which I spent more than $4,000 on maintenance over a four-year period; this car lost its brakes while I was driving it through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Luckily I was able to stop the car by using the hand brake.

Bluffington, S.C.

The writer is formerly of Pittsburgh.

The U.S. isn't a true free-market system

Frederick J. Rokasky, in his Jan. 7 letter ("These 'Cure-Alls' Have Caused the Current State of Affairs") disputes the arguments of those who advocate free-market reforms as the solution to the recent financial crisis, claiming that it is the "free market" that is to blame.

What Mr. Rokasky fails to mention in drawing his conclusion is that the United States is not a free-market system and has really never reached that lofty ideal. The closest the United States came to a true "laissez-faire" capitalism was in the period after the Civil War until 1890, a time of unprecedented prosperity and growth.

Since 1890, control of the marketplace through anti-trust legislation, labor laws, the increasing power of the Federal Reserve Bank and the abandonment of the gold standard have destroyed any semblance of a free market in the United States.

Mr. Rokasky's argument is against a straw man and does not impact the argument for a free market in any measurable way.


Mental illness and crimes

With Mayview closed, we need a facility better designed for the analysis and treatment of mentally ill people who commit crimes. Cases like Andrea Curry-Demus, who attacked a young mother and kidnapped the baby of another woman in 1990 and is now charged with committing a bizarrely similar crime, show the mistakes that occur when we initially try to get the offender to voluntarily accept help.

While voluntary treatment teams might be enough for the mentally ill who do not commit crimes, many refuse treatment. There should be consequences. The criminal law can require an offender to accept mental health services as a condition of pre-trial release, sentence and/or post-trial probation. Moreover, even refusal to accept treatment before trial, when we do not yet have power to compel it, can later be considered as a condition for sentencing and release. We don't need new laws to make offenders take their medicine.

It was a mistake for the State Office of Mental Health to impose a moratorium to prevent Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic from accepting new cases. The primary fault was not with the voluntary mental health system, which should focus on law-abiding patients; it was with the criminal justice system which, alone, has the power to compel people who have committed crimes to participate in mental health services.

Rehabilitation is a primary purpose of the criminal justice system. It can compel treatment. Since many serious crimes are committed by mentally ill people who have committed prior criminal acts that were not prosecuted, let's use the criminal law to compel people to accept mental health services at the first instance. Let's not wait till they commit another, perhaps more serious, crime. Mayview's closing should lead us to refocus on that issue.

Point Breeze

The writer, a lawyer, is the instructor of the course "Questioning the Criminal Justice System" for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Focus on Afghanistan

As Jan. 20 approaches, there is reason to hope that intelligence and competence by our new federal government will help ease the disastrous eight years of incompetence and arrogance by our last president and his administration. As the new president removes our military from the ill-conceived war in Iraq, Afghanistan will become more important to our nation's future. The line between the terror on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City, Washington, D.C., and on Flight 93, and Afghanistan is direct. Nowhere on this line is there a detour into Iraq.

The Afghan elite experimented with religious fundamentalism and communism in their elections of 1965 and 1969, both parties showing political strength in elections. These elections were the beginnings of horrible suffering by the Afghans. But during the '60s, these storm clouds were over the horizon: a period of peace and stability allowed for foreign aid both in infrastructure and social work as evidenced by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in fields ranging from education to hydrology. But the clouds of war were forming; King Zaher Shah would not enforce his constitution, and the rule of law was increasingly punctuated with a gun.

In 1978, ruling politicians aligned themselves with Moscow and began to imprison teachers, lawyers, Islamic priests (mullahs) or anyone who disagreed with them. Thousands were murdered. On Dec. 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded and over a 10-year period more than 1 million Afghans were killed. The resistance fighters, known as mujahedeen, with assistance from the United States, fought the invaders to a standstill. After the Soviets withdrew, chaos developed between competing warlords and from this maelstrom arose the Arab mujahedeen, Osama bin Laden and his hatred for what he viewed as a decadent West and, in particular, his former benefactor, the United States of America. The horrible images of people flinging themselves from the Twin Towers in New York on that brilliantly clear September day to avoid the flames from the jet fuel are tied inexorably to the killing fields and mountains of Afghanistan and the terrible suffering that occurred there.

Let's hope that our new president and his Cabinet are wise enough to bring some measure of peace to Afghanistan, a country whose people are still suffering from cold, hunger, religious-inspired violence and governmental corruption. The Afghans were a decent and generous people. I don't know what has become of their character over the last 30 years or so, but I like to believe it is the same. They deserve better than what they have. And as we have learned, the world is a small place; walls and fences do not keep out hatred. What happens in the mountains of Afghanistan can have murderous effects in the canyons of Manhattan.

Ford City

The writer and his wife, Donna, both served as Peace Corps teachers in Afghanistan from 1967 to 1969.

We welcome your letters. Please include your name, address and phone number, and send to Letters to the Editor, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222. E-mail letters to letters@post-gazette.com or fax to 412-263-2014. Letters should be 250 words or less, original and exclusive to the Post-Gazette. All letters are subject to editing for length, clarity and accuracy and will be verified before being published.


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