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Our nation suffers because of the loss of civility

Our nation has lost its civility. We used to watch shows like "Judging Amy" or "Touched by an Angel" that portrayed us caring for one another, particularly children. Now we watch reality shows waiting for that big hair-pulling, face-scratching fight. We watch judges belittle and humiliate contestants on talent shows and find it amusing.

Our pundits call people the worst person in the world or use names like pinhead and loon. Our citizens have no respect for our representatives. Our representatives have no respect for our president. Even in the one place where you would expect civility and decorum to exist one representative decided to shout out "you lie" at the president of the United States.

Our Congress was on break recently so that its members could meet with their constituents. Unfortunately many town hall meetings were canceled or held over the phone because of the unruly behavior displayed by the attendees.

We have mistaken the pursuit of happiness as a right to grab and hold onto all that we can. President Barack Obama got it wrong. We do not cling to our guns and our religion. We cling to our SUVs and our big houses. We are caught up in selfishness and greed. We have lost the ability to care for and respect one another, the very ideals on which this country was founded. The United States of America is about to become another story for the history books of a once great nation that fell victim to corruption and greed.


The city difference

I would like to respond to Gregg Corsello's Sept. 7 letter ("The City Continues to Chase People to the Suburbs"): To Mr. Corsello's assertion I simply say that he needs to recognize the fundamental difference between cities and suburbs. While it is true that parking is more costly and requires more effort in the city, the trade-off is that the variety, quality and uniqueness of the businesses and restaurants in the city cannot be matched by any suburb.

If you choose to dine exclusively in the suburbs instead of the city, that's fine, but I am fairly certain that the city's growing restaurant scene will be capable of finding another diner to take your place. Cities were designed (and should continue to be designed) for people, not cars -- there's a limited amount of space that can be dedicated for parking.

I'm hopeful that a reasonable solution will be worked out regarding on-street parking in Pittsburgh, but even with no changes to the current setup, it's very easy to get to Market Square by parking at one of the nearby garages and taking a short walk -- a walk that is probably shorter than the one you'd take from the parking lot at the mall to the food court.

Mr. Corsello says (I'm paraphrasing here) that anyone with half a brain wouldn't travel to the city to patronize Market Square businesses, but I would argue that the activity that actually requires only half a brain is going to a chain restaurant in the suburbs.


The UPMC situation

The refusal of UPMC to negotiate with Highmark for the renewal of their contract has been of great concern to all citizens of the region, and the Post-Gazette has done a good job in outlining many of the issues. Last Sunday's lead editorial ("Lack of Traction: UPMC's Health Plan May Be Why It Fights Highmark") is important in highlighting some of the reasons that UPMC has taken such a hard-line position.

There are several other issues that need to be brought to the fore as well. Prior to this year UPMC had failed to contract with several of the large national insurers (which it has now partnered with if its ads are any indication). The inability of large national insurers to gain access to UPMC facilities has in fact stifled growth of competition on the payer side. At the same time UPMC benefited from its contracts with Highmark. I believe UPMC needs to articulate what has changed.

This has allowed UPMC to greatly consolidate its position as the dominant provider of services. While this worked well for a while, it began to break down when UPMC chose to build a facility in Monroeville, which will compete directly with Forbes Regional. Not only does it not benefit the region, it only provides excess bricks and mortar at a time when excess supply may already exist in the region, if closing UPMC Braddock is any indication.

Western Pennsylvania is unique in that it is dominated by one large payer and one large provider. The region needs more than one large provider network just as UPMC has concluded that it needs more than one large payer. With the disappearance of St. Francis and an independent Mercy Hospital, West Penn Allegheny remains the only viable option and needs to be preserved. The fact that Highmark has chosen to do this is good for the region in the long term. For the short term, Highmark members will need access to UPMC facilities until West Penn Allegheny is on firmer financial ground.

Fox Chapel

Commemorate those who died by working for peace

Today marks 10 years since I watched from a terrace in New York City as the towers of the World Trade Center crushed to death my cousin, Kathy Mazza, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey captain. Shortly afterward, I learned that Robert Schlegel, a college buddy with whom I used to play jazz at Washington and Lee University, had died in the Pentagon attack. If I can ask something of you on this day, please do not look backward. Instead, look forward and commemorate those who lost their lives on that day and during the 10 years since by dedicating yourself to creating peaceful tomorrows.

Working for peace will be all the more hard after 10 years of war, but it will not be impossible. We can commemorate the casualties in many ways. We can make sure our government does not walk away from helping the families of soldiers who died in battle and that it keeps its promises to American veterans and their families. We can work through civic organizations or individually to help construct peaceful lives for the families of those who gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq together with the veterans and their families.

We can demand that our elected representatives end the use of mercenaries to carry out the constitutional role given to the armed services. We can ask our representatives in Congress to repeal the Patriot Act and to re-establish the rule of law. We can speak out against racist and religious hatred toward Arabs and Muslims. We can learn about the Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis who also bore the brunt of war. We can demand that our government not run away from its responsibilities in a difficult transition to peace in Afghanistan and Iraq. We can work directly or indirectly through international and civic organizations that help the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan reconstruct.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows." We have tried 10 years of war and solved little if anything. Let us instead try peace so we can turn the loss of those who died into millions of peaceful actions to make the world a better place for Americans, Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis. If I were to get a wish today, it would be to ask you to commemorate those who died by working for peace. Of course, some readers already have answered the call, and I thank you. If you have not, please get involved. If you have trouble finding how, please see a list of organizations at www.peacefultomorrows.org/links.php or talk to someone who is working for peaceful tomorrows.

Indiana, Pa.

The writer is with September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Relating to others

In 2001, my twin boys, Robert and Peter Webb, who are not Muslims, had a good friend in grammar school named Salahuddin, an Indonesian-American practicing Muslim. My concern was that after 9/11, after all the media images of the terrorists, I wanted my sons to see and understand that many Muslims are peace-loving people, so I asked Salahuddin's mother to have my twins accompany Salahuddin to Jummah prayer at the mosque on the Friday after Thanksgiving 2001.

So along with a sea of men, the cavernous mosque swelled to full capacity and among those Muslim men I was able to see my little 9-year-old boys following Salahuddin's various bows and prostrations in shadowing him for salat prayer. It was their first experience at a religious service that was not Catholic, Jewish or Protestant, and it was one of the lessons I have always tried to instill in them: to "think outside the box" in order to relate to people from different cultures and faiths.

Later they had told me that they thought their visit to a Muslim service was "cool," and coming from two fourth-graders, that was a mighty compliment.

Squirrel Hill

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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