Don't Spark Another L.A.
Although the subsequent looting in Los Angeles was undoubtedly done by opportunists, the beginning of the rioting was probably justified by anger over the jury decision and conditions in Watts, which are still the same, or worse, than in 1965.
George Bush is just throwing fuel on the fire. As The Sun headline states: (May 5) "White House turns partisan on L.A. riots," "Great Society's programs faulted; . . ."
Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty were not faulty; they just were never carried to completion.
An Associated Press article lists things which survive from the 1960s and 1970s, the era Marlin Fitzwater criticizes: Medicare, Medicaid, health care for the elderly and poor, Head Start, automatic Social Security increases.
But the many other programs that could help have fallen by the wayside: elimination of poverty and slums; aid for cities' infrastructure such as streets, bridges, water, etc; housing aid, including public housing construction, low- and middle-income home building for potential home-owners, as well as low-interest loan availability; aid for public transportation, police, fire, etc.; better health care; drug abuse eradication; jobs, jobs, good-paying jobs.
These programs were allowed to flounder during the administrations immediately following LBJ. And the Reagan-Bush administrations have made overt, and largely successful, efforts to reverse all previous progress and see to it that no more "liberal social welfare" programs are enacted. Perhaps the biggest problem-causer was the Reagan-era 80 percent decrease in public housing construction.
And now George Bush wants to throw even more fuel on the fire. Mr. Bush, a day or so late, vowed Justice Department investigation of the LAPD policemen on federal civil rights charges. Good. But now Mr. Bush wants to undo the good.
The Los Angeles County court system can and will take care of prosecuting the more than 10,000 rioters and looters; but Mr. Bush wants Justice Depatment prosecution of the rioters, event-screening videotapes "to find the lawbreakers" (The Sun, May 6). That's double jeopardy and overkill. Now, how's that for the healing process?
The problems of Watts 1965 are all still there in 1992; perhaps worse. And they reflect the other cities of the United States.
Now there will probably be a call for an investigation and a report on the causes of the rioting. I have just glanced through the pages of the Kerner Commission report of 1968. It's all there, all you needed to know in 1965 or 1992 about anger and causes of rioting. Its recommendations have been largely ignored, opposed or reversed. We don't need a new report; just read Kerner, apply it to today; and follow it this time.
"The only genuine, long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack -- mounted at every level -- upon the conditions that breed despair and violence. All of us know what those conditions are: ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs.
"We should attack these conditions -- not because we are frighted by conflict, but because we are fired by conscience. We should attack them because there is simply no other way to achieve a decent and orderly society in America . . ."
That's President Lyndon B. Johnson, June 27, 1967, as quoted in the Kerner report. Can President George W. Bush, in true honesty, make that same statements in 1992?
Or is Mr. Bush still the disciple of divisiveness?
Harry E. Bennett Jr.
No Help to Howard Teachers
After reading your April 23 editorial, in which you rave about the Howard County budget presented last week by Chuck Ecker, I feel compelled to respond to what I see as a continuing effort on the part of The Sun to lambaste and belittle teachers in this state. Over the past year, the financial crunch in Howard County was basically put on the shoulders of teachers and county workers. Rather than raise property taxes another dime and look for some sort of contractual compromise, as Chuck Ecker's own appointed committee recommended, Mr. Ecker chose to ignore the teachers' contractual agreement with the county and make Howard County one of the only jurisdictions within the state to not provide a yearly pay increment last year.
In addition, county workers were furloughed five days, which in effect cut their salaries. All of this to save the average homeowner in Howard County about $200 a year. The cost to my family was nearly $7,000. Let's also keep in mind that Howard County now has the highest median income in the state -- nearly $55,000.
That accomplishment is largely a result of the outstanding education system this county has enjoyed, which is the main impetus for so many high salaries families moving to Howard County.
Yet, Chuck Ecker's budget proposed that 35 percent of the teachers in Howard County -- those largely responsible for making this county a prosperous one -- receive no pay raise at all for the second year in a row. Unbelievable.
Basically, what is happening once again is teachers are being asked to pay the price to a much larger extent than is equitable. While the people in Howard County continue to earn more money than those in surrounding areas (and, by the way, have fewer people unemployed than the surrounding areas), the bulk of any fiscal difficulties is put on the teachers.
The state says it may give our county $4 million more now that the budget has been passed, and people like Chuck Ecker and Darrel Drown say great, let's cut $4 million from our local education budget. Again, unbelievable.
No one wants to see taxes raised further. However, we public employees have paid more than our just due over the past year while most of our county has fared quite well (I'll gladly accept that $55,000 salary next year).
To raise the piggyback tax from 50 to 52 percent would at least make the burden more equitably shared while allowing the county to raise an extra $4 million, some of which could be used to fund a fairer contract agreement between teachers and the county.
That 2-percent increase would add about $40 to the state tax bill of someone earning $50,000 gross, $40,000 net -- a small price to be paid by residents of Howard County. We are on the verge of totally demoralizing those people largely responsible for much of Howard County's success.
People in this county understand the importance of a quality education and I believe they are willing to share the cost of funding a quality educational system like ours.
Make no mistake about it -- that system's excellence starts and ends with quality, highly motivated professionals working in the system. Chuck Ecker's budget proposal is once again shortsighted and places too heavy a burden on a few.
It's disappointing to see a respected paper like The Sun continuing to support policies that encourage such disproportionate demands on teachers. Our students spend six times the cost of this extra tax on Prom night. Aren't we at least worth an extra $40 a year to the residents of Howard County?
=1 The writer teaches at Mt. Hebron High School.
Managing Fiscal Risk
The last few years have not been the best of times to be a local elected official in Maryland. The economy collapsed out from under us, the federal government cut back on local funding, the state suffered revenue losses and passed much of that shortfall down to local governments.
We were faced with very unpleasant choices and the virtual assurance that we would meet with criticism no matter what we did. For example, The Sun editorial page did not care for the way Prince George's County dealt with its financial problems.
We have been told that The Sun "does not approve of government deficits." Well, neither do I.
However, facing an $80 million budget problem -- approximately 8 percent of our operating revenues -- tends to temper your view of the issue and remind you that flexibility can also be a virtue. It puts a very human face on the problem.
Essential government services deal with people who want to be educated, who want police protection, who want emergency medical services, who need senior citizen and public health programs. These needs do not just disappear because there is a recession.
More than two years ago, we saw the change in the financial weather coming. We enacted a hiring freeze, curtailed purchases and delayed building projects. As the storm clouds grew worse, we began layoffs, instituted an early retirement program and canceled contracts.
We reduced government positions by 1,300 jobs -- nearly a quarter of general government employees and 38 percent of all non-public-safety workers.
Two hundred employees were fired -- hard-working people with families, who had contributed to the economic health of the community.
Three times our labor unions agreed to renegotiate their contracts and reduce or postpone scheduled salary increases in return for saving additional jobs.
We held community forums to discuss the situation with our citizens, the taxpayers.
There was particular concern about the approximately 110,000 children in our schools, the state's largest school system.
Education is not a light switch. It cannot be turned on and off easily without inflicting grave damage to our children. Do you really tell a child, "Wait two-to-three years and the recession will be over?" We decided we would not leave our schools in the dark. We had to maintain funding for education. We gathered together a team of financial experts from within and outside government and put together a plan that allowed us to prevent disastrous cuts by establishing a three-year, short-term borrowing plan. Of course, we were blessed with exceedingly low interest rates which made this option even more attractive.
We sought and received a great deal of citizen and expert advice on this approach before its adoption. Subsequently, the financial community and media have given it very favorable reviews. The traditionally hard-nosed New York rating agencies confirmed our decision by maintaining the county's relatively high bond rating.
Despite millions of dollars in state cuts and the continued battering of the recession, we are on target with our three-year plan and we will meet our goals.
Do I still believe that governments should not have deficits? Absolutely. But I also believe that being too doctrinaire can cause real harm to children, the elderly and all those who particularly depend on government services. Managing fiscal risk times of adversity is a necessary government skill.
Parris N. Glendening
C7 The writer is the Prince George's County executive.
Can't See the Ball for the Ads
Trying to escape the constant bombardment of commercialism in America in 1992 has become an impossible task.
If we commute to work, there is no way to avoid the sensory assault of billboards on walls, buses and parking meters. Even if we decide not to read the paper, peruse a magazine or listen to radio, there is a good chance on arriving home of being greeted by a telephone solicitor, human or computerized.
Even more significant than this annoying attack on adults is the alarming effect on our children's perceptions of what is important.
I have been an avid Oriole fan for over 30 years, with many an entry into my Memorial Stadium logbook. I also am a fan who loves to relax on a hot summer evening with a couple of cold beverages, some snacks and the Os on the tube.
The problem of late is that I can't distinguish between the commercials and the game itself.
Whereas I used to be able to run to the refrigerator between innings to avoid the ads, now I'm forced to look at the Washington Post Scoreboard, the Jeep & Eagle Eye Skycam, the Miller Hi-Lites, the Coca-Cola Classic Player of the Game, the Sears Home Improvement League Leader and so on.
What I'm particularly concerned about are the millions of kids tuned in to watch America's pastime. Must they constantly have to be told that anything of value must have a designer label or corporate logo attached?
Do HTS and WMAR-TV really need to turn the great game of baseball into yet another pitch for consumerism? How about something a little more community-minded, or youth-minded, like Say No To Drugs Hi Lites on a Stay in School Scoreboard?
I fully expect that one night I'll be watching the game and a news flash will blaze across my screen with the announcer saying, "We interrupt this programming with the Pepto-Bismol Tragedy of the Week."
Patti Davis Confessions
I am astounded by insensitive remarks made on publication of Patti Davis' book, "The Way I See It," directed not to the literary merit of the work but to her impetus for writing it.
One columnist wrote that after age 35 there should be some sort of moratorium on criticisms of parents. Others suggested that Ms. Davis simply get on with her life, grow up and take responsibility for herself.
The implicit message is that not only should we refrain from criticizing our parents, but should not bother to examine our past -- even in the hope of a better understanding of ourselves.
Anyone with a modicum of knowledge in developmental psychology should recognize the importance of childhood and adolescent experiences in the formation of adult personality. Who we are can be traced to who our parents were and how they behaved toward us, our siblings, each other and society.
What may be perceived as small, meaningless events to an adult can loom large for an impressionable child.
These can lay dormant in memory for years, yet have a major impact on our lives.
If we are expected to credit and thank our parents for the gooqualities we possess as adults, why are we criticized when we examine the facts of our upbringing that have contributed to the development of our negative qualities?
And how exactly are we to forget our past and simply get on with our adult lives? Are we to believe that as adults we are wholly responsible for how we became who we are?
As a child of my parents -- both good, caring people -- I am increasingly aware of the myriad ways in which my adult personality has been shaped.
As a parent myself, I can only hope that my children will be able to cope with my admitted inadequacies and mistakes, that they will believe in their intrinsic self-worth and will know that I love them unconditionally.
In the words of Socrates (as quoted in Plato's "Apology"), "The unexamined life is not worth living." To examine our lives, we must examine our past.
That of necessity involves examining our parents. Only after we have discovered why we are who we are, can we truly get on with the business of living.
Susan Hughes Gray
Like a reverberation from the past, Patti Davis' autobiographical revelations stirred the dust barely settled upon the Reagan era.
Although some hints were given in previous writings, her sudden step-up in the limelight surprised many.
Praised by some and condemned by others for her open confession, Ms. Davis hit the talk show circuit, as put by Alice Steinbach in her column.
To interviewers and TV audience, Ms. Davis relentlessly explains her motivation for lifting the curtain and exposing her growing-up years in the former First Family.
There is no question that Ms. Davis was a rebellious girl who caused unpleasant consequences, candidly described in her book.
Like her were thousands of youngsters who marched under the drumbeat of the '60s toward new ideals, breaking the old conformism.
But this is no reason to doubt her account of her family, her perception and feeling in those sensitive and confused years.
A denying father and obsessive, abusive mother are not hard to picture after all we have seen and read during Ronald Reagan's tenure. Many sensed the detachment and aloofness of our Teflon president, concerned more to polish his TV image than with active involvement in the country's affairs.
What a tragic irony that the "Great Communicator" failed to find a way to talk to the soul of his own daughter.
On the other hand, ambitious, arrogant and eager to make her presence noted, Mrs. Reagan soon managed to estrange a lot of people around under the passive eyes of our president.
I would rather believe an abused child than a denying adult. Ms. Davis' revelations are not vindictive. Through them she got inner peace and healing.
What a pity that her family refuses to hear the message and continue to live in a denying world.
Emil C. Romano