Editor: What ails the Democratic Party? Where's the vim, the vigor? It has finally stopped regurgitating Republican rhetoric, but it's time now to fight fearlessly for its own principles.
President Reagan ravaged the republic with his trillion-dollar deficit and trade imbalance; his S&L; and HUD scandals; his fox-in-the-chicken-coop environmental appointments; his neglect of the cities; his laxity in gun control and drug trafficking and civil rights; his robbing of the poor to enrich the rich; his shameful legacy of homeless and soup kitchens in the most affluent nation on earth.
And with President Bush, we have more of the same.
Democrats are supposed to care about the country; to care that 34 million people have no medical insurance; to care that schools are not schooling and the work ethic isn't working; to care that the top 5 percent of the nation is wallowing in wealth while the impoverished proliferate; to care that the great cities of America are facing bankruptcy.
Sure, let us festoon with flags and preen with parades and thrill to the throb of Sousa's saxophones, but let us not continue to countenance the erosion of our country's well-being.
Rea Knisbacher. Baltimore.
Jewish Concern for Homeless
Editor: Letters and columns in The Sun have linked the deteriorating condition of the Holocaust Memorial with the plight of the homeless. This is an unfortunate attempt to pit the predicament of the homeless against the preservation of the memorial as an appropriate site of remembrance of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
The Baltimore Jewish Council and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore do not view efforts to deal with these two issues as being in conflict or mutually exclusive.
In our attempts to provide a place where all can mourn or pray in peace, where Jews and non-Jews alike can learn of what can happen when evil triumphs over good and where our youth can be taught that each generation must remember the painful lessons of history, we have never restricted access to anyone.
Nevertheless, problems in keeping the site attractive, clean and safe continue to cause us concern. In turn, the deplorable condition in which many of our most vulnerable citizens live has not been unnoticed or ignored by the Jewish community. For many years our stated commitment to the homeless and to poverty issues in general has been matched with constructive action.
Our housing task force, created two years ago, has brought together representatives from congregations and organizations to sensitize the Jewish community to the plight of the homeless. An education curriculum on the homeless, emphasizing community service projects, will begin this fall with teacher training workshops in Jewish schools.
Discussions are also under way between several congregations and Jewish organizations and the Coalition for Homeless Families and Children to create a support center for homeless families. In addition, our coalition efforts through the Maryland Alliance for the Poor and the Maryland Interfaith Legislative Committee have generated programs and initiatives that address the root causes of homelessness.
These activities have been combined with financial contributions by The Associated.
Obviously, such efforts, by themselves, do not represent a panacea for the tragedy of homelessness. Any solution to poverty, and economic and social injustice, requires governmental, religious and communal institutions alike to work together to right these societal wrongs.
William H. Engelman. Suzanne F. Cohen. Baltimore.
The writers are, respectively, the president of the Baltimore Jewish Council and the chairman of the board of The Associated.
Jesse Helmism at Film Forum
Editor: Mary Corey's delightful article, "Artistic Odd Couple," mentioned my resignation as program director for the Baltimore International Film Festival. Since then, numerous people have asked why I would step aside from an organization I helped found 22 years ago and was so closely associated with.
What brought all this on was that two really innocuous films, "Dick" and "We're Talking Vulva," were pulled from our opening night program. Both had local public arts council and National Film Board of Canada funding, reputable distributors and well-advertised exhibition histories at other film societies.
Yet all mention of them was deleted from our fliers, programs and press releases because some board members at the last moment thought the films or even their titles might prove to be offensive to the Baltimore Museum of Art, some of our contributors or to some segments of our audience.
When I resigned in protest over this action, the board decided to reinstate the films, but not publicize them in any way. To further confound the issue, the board decided to inform the audience at the beginning of the evening that these previously unannounced films would be shown at the end of the night's program so that any one who felt they might be offended could leave before screening.
I feel this is a case of creeping Jesse Helmism and frightened self-censorship that must be dealt with. The Baltimore Film Forum, its loyal patrons and the local media should confront the specter of some members of the forum's governing board interfering with the artistic choices of programming selection.
During my tenure with the forum, we had discussions about censorship. We always decided institutionally that we would resist it, that only the artistic merit of our films would decide whether we would play them or not. This was and should always be the Film Forum's creed.
There is so much fear manifesting itself in the artistic community. Frostburg State College, the Towson Arts Festival, the Columbia Arts Festival and so many others are knee-jerking back in ridiculous fashion out of fear of somehow becoming offensive and losing their government grants.
I think that the members of these organizations, the media and the caring public should remain vigilant and not allow a few frightened individuals to do worse than what Jesse Helms and his ilk would do if they could pass the regressive legislation they are always pushing for.
George Udel. Baltimore.
Focus on Math
Editor: The poor mathematics scores for 8th-grade students (editorial, The Sun, June 13) are caused by the mathematics teaching in all of the grades 1-8. Throughout these years, the students are exposed to graduates of colleges of education, who are trained to present mathematics as a social activity, which should provide fun for the students.
Mathematics is serious business, demanding discipline and hard work; it is not fun. Students must learn and understand the basic principles and, then, with regular drill and practice, become skilled in the mechanics. Popular experiments with hands-on experience and problem-solving cannot substitute for this procedure.
Early computer use is now advertised as a source of fun for the students. For some computer exposure, the only mathematical prerequisite is toilet training. The introduction of computers should postponed until the students are sufficiently competent in the principles and mechanics to appreciate the simplifications which will result.
Paul Slepian. Washington.
The writer is professor of mathematics, emeritus, at Howard University.
Selfish on Taxes
Editor: As the current conversation continues around tax reform, a disturbing theme can be noted in those who make public comment. From the tax forum recently sponsored by the City Council to public statements by some elected officials, the topic of tax reform is only framed from the "me-isms" of self-interest.
Taxpayers don't want to pay any more taxes; elected officials don't want to raise any more taxes that will offend their political base. Let's do nothing that will negatively impact me, myself or I.
The time is now to re-state the issue from the most important perspective. And that is,"What are the needs of our people"?
Of course, by people is meant all the people who live within the borders of our great state. The hungry, the homeless, the destitute and the growing working-poor are our neighbors, too.
The revenue questions can only be approached from the perspective of the needs present among us.
These controlling perspectives of political and financial self-interest will continue to shape a society in which the gap between the haves and the have-nots grows and where meeting human needs is considered optional goals of government, rather than being at the center of our social contract.
Elected officials who are quick to call meetings over transportation deficits, while feeling powerless to act concerning the rising human deficits among us, indicate how far we have fallen from the best vision of what human community can be.
People who believe that community means more than taking care of oneself within our population must break the silence and enter this debate with our public servants. "We the people" must shape our society to meet all the needs of our neighbors, or risk the chance that our society will soon meet none of our needs.
People of compassion must make witness to "the" paradox of life: The more you give and share with the other, the more comes back in return.
The terms of this debate must be changed. For the term, "quality of life," is meaningless unless it applies for me and my neighbor.
Rev. Edward Heim. Baltimore.
The writer is director of the Lutheran Office on Public Policy.