Your Dec. 7 editorial on student loan reform ("Give It the Old College Try") didn't get the facts quite right. While it is true that Congress is considering reforms that would end student lender subsidies and generate more than $80 billion for additional need-based financial aid like Pell Grants, your statement about lenders was incorrect. In fact, Sallie Mae and other lenders continue to advocate for passage of thoughtful reform that would generate the desired savings, provide the certainty that schools and students deserve and protect hundreds of jobs in the commonwealth.
Although the legislative proposal does many positive things, it also requires about 4,000 colleges and universities to switch to a government-run student loan program before July 1, 2010. A mass migration is not feasible in so little time - colleges and universities have already begun to prepare financial aid materials for next year's students. Any implementation delay jeopardizes the very savings the legislation is intended to achieve.
That's why we support a modified approach that still generates, according to the Congressional Budget Office, historic savings for need-based aid. This approach could be implemented tomorrow using the existing infrastructure. Risk gone. Billions in savings guaranteed. Thousands of jobs protected.
As the one who oversees Sallie Mae Wilkes-Barre's 1,100-person operation, indeed I hope that Congress gives student loan reform the old college try. And when it does, I hope it pursues an option that both delivers on the president's objectives and protects local jobs.
Good for children
The recent release of the benchmark document, The State of Child Welfare, by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, as part of its Porch Light Project, is welcomed by the members of the Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families advisory board and should be lauded by all who care about children.
The Porch Light Project is a statewide effort that advocates for permanent changes in child welfare policies and practices to keep children safe within their homes or to unite them, in a timely way, with a legal and permanent family. Here in Allegheny County, we who help guide and oversee child welfare efforts are heartened with the additional layer of independent and nonpartisan oversight the PPC will now afford all county child welfare systems across the commonwealth.
Moving forward, the PPC will gather annual data at the county level to track the progress or lack thereof in meeting the goal everyone shares - a "forever family for every child." We welcome the furthering influence this oversight will have on transparency and accountability. It will add another important layer to our system of checks and balances in Allegheny County.
We also applaud PPC's recommendations that Pennsylvania lawmakers create real financial incentives to adequately support child welfare agencies' efforts to keep children safe in their own homes. Surely, our community can agree - if children can be kept safe in their own homes, they should remain there. Taxpayer dollars should align accordingly.
Chair, Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families
9/11 on his watch
I would like to offer a "minor" correction to M. Zilko's letter ("Bush Kept Us Safe," Dec. 10). Where is it stated that the former president kept us safe for eight years? Do I need to remind M. Zilko who was president when 9/11 occurred almost eight months into his first term in office? Plus, it is well documented that George W. Bush and his staff ignored repeated warnings from outgoing Clinton officials and the CIA about Osama bin Laden's imminent threat.
I do not solely blame Mr. Bush for allowing 9/11 to occur, but please do not tell me he kept us safe for eight years, when the most horrific terrorist attack in the history of this country occurred under his watch.
Upper St. Clair
Rarely have I read a letter in the Post-Gazette that was more distorted than that by Robert Szypulski ("Desperate Times," Dec. 9), who refers to the current president as "most dangerous" and an "arrogant extremist," among other extreme descriptions.
Has Barack Obama ignored security briefings with titles such as "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," thus failing to do anything to prevent the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,800 Americans?
Has he cherry-picked intelligence to build a phony case for invading another country that posed no risk to us, leading to the needless deaths of 4,300 American soldiers?
Has he ignored federal plans, like the "Hurricane Pam" exercise, designed to minimize the impact of a hurricane in New Orleans, thereby contributing to the loss of 1,000 residents along the Gulf Coast?
Add it up, and more than 8,000 Americans have died as a direct result of the negligent and incompetent policies of George W. Bush. If Barack Obama is "dangerous," what does that make George W. Bush?
A wasted penalty
Todd Cenci makes some good points in the Dec. 11 letter "Those Who Kill Police Should Be Put to Death." The sad part is that making the death penalty mandatory for anyone who is convicted of killing a police officer in the line of duty is not enough. Currently there are 221 people on death row in Pennsylvania. Among that number are individuals with multiple death-penalty convictions.
The case of John Lesko and Michael Travaglia is a classic example of the death penalty being wasted. They have been convicted more than once for pre-meditated murders, including the murder of an Apollo police officer nearly 30 years ago. Yet the last execution in this state was over 10 years ago. There's little sense in having a law unless it's carried out, and that's the sole responsibility of the governor.
The writer retired from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections as a captain after 27 years of service.
RichlandRespect for police
Referring to police officers as cops is wrong. Example: The Post-Gazette headline of Dec. 8 "Parolee Held in Cop's Death." Everyone should show more respect for the police, especially people in authority, the media, politicians, the entertainment world, government, etc. - all of us.
Call the police, not the cops! The police should always be referred to as police officers and addressed as "officer."
We're the employer
Regarding "Director Sounding Alarm on State's School Pensions" (Dec. 10): I read this article with great interest, but I would like to make one correction. Throughout the article there are references to the employer's portion or employer contribution rate into the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System and the State Employees' Retirement System. This should read the taxpayers' portion or taxpayers' contribution rate.
We can't ignore addiction and junk food's role in obesity
Dr. Robert F. Quinlin ("Obese People Generally Don't Have a Choice," Nov. 29 letters) raises an important point about the genetic predisposition many have for overeating. Genetic identifiers have been isolated for many compulsive behaviors. Yet for some reason, he fails to use the "a" (addiction) word.
The concept of out-of-control behavior, especially eating, doesn't mesh well with our "take responsibility" world. Acceptance of the concept of food addiction would group otherwise respectable, overweight citizens in with lowly alcoholics and other chemical dependents. The fact is that consumption of foods laden with fat, sugar and salt triggers the same brain pleasure center response that occurs with other addictions.
As long as we, as a society, continue to deny the addictive component that contributes to our nation's obesity problem, the junk-food/fast-food industry will continue to get a free pass on its involvement. This industry has teams of lawyers at the ready to crush each "McDonald's made me fat" episode, knowing the cascade of events that occurred when the tobacco industry was finally held to account. In the meantime, it continues to bombard children with thousands of ads per year, knowing that if it gets them hooked early, children will be hard-wired for compulsive consumption of its products, for life.