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    Letters to the Editors

    Give the FBI a higher sense of mission

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 9, 2002

    Re: Reforming the FBI, editorial, June 2.

    One result of Sept. 11 is that both the FBI and CIA need to undergo reform, executive and congressional review and learn to seamlessly coordinate their intelligence findings. However, arguing the FBI needs to reallocate greater attention and resources to domestic security and counterterrorism requires careful planning and implementation. This may not happen quickly enough unless FBI director Robert Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft are truly serious about such change and willing to bring it about. Whether you agree with some of their proposals to increase FBI powers, I think one powerful force for change is the message President Bush must deliver to the FBI, and hopefully Mueller and Ashcroft speak for him. This early it is self-defeating to speculate that the FBI can't be reformed.

    Your editorial strikes me as leaving some questions unanswered. Reform of the FBI should not significantly reduce its cooperation with local law enforcement nor degrade the availability of its criminal information resources and its technology capabilities. There are crimes that render great internal harm to the United States and which the FBI must at least continue to combat by collaborating with local law enforcement. The DEA aside, police must have FBI help in fighting the illegal drug trade, especially the international sources. Other troubling crime areas that seem to be growing are white collar crime, corporate fraud and political corruption at the state and federal level.

    I certainly want the FBI to be far more effective in dealing with counterterrorism, whether internally or externally based, but the greater emphasis must be balanced with continued cooperation with police and questions of what power becomes concentrated in which law enforcement bodies. The lines have been blurred before and now is not the time to tear down an agency as much as it is to change it and imbue it with a higher sense of mission.
    -- James R. Gillespie, St. Petersburg

    A chance to change

    Is this what we are to expect for the rest of the election cycle: One puff piece on a Democrat (Bill McBride and his wife), one attack piece on a Republican (Katherine Harris), one puff piece on a Democrat (Daryl Jones), etc.?

    Your newspaper has a well-earned reputation as an editorially liberal paper. But how about articles presented as "news"? Oh, let's be honest. Your paper has a reputation for editorializing in its news articles, too. But this is your chance to change.

    Try to imagine a puff piece on a Republican followed by an attack piece on a Democrat. Okay, okay. You can stop laughing. How about simply unbiased articles?
    -- Lawrence P. Marlin, Palm Harbor

    Vets can get help

    Re: What happens to men who are sexually abused?, June 2.

    It was not an easy decision to be a part of Tom Zucco's Sunday piece on the VA program for survivors of sexual abuse in the military. Neither the professionals nor the public want to confront this problem. It is an ugly, sordid subject but does happen and needs to be dealt with by both professionals and the public alike. Young people going into the service need to know.

    In my case the rape took place in Vietnam. Unlike today's military, criminals often were given the choice of jail or Vietnam back then. The wide-eyed kid right out of high school was thrown into the midst of hardened criminals without even knowing it was happening. That combination of criminal and naive kid turned tragic in Vietnam more often than anyone would like to acknowledge.

    The primary reason for my going public about a very private and personal history is that I want other veterans who have been hurt by sexual assault to know that there is a place where one can go and get help and feel safe. The more it is talked about the more veterans who survived rape and molestation will be helped. I owe that to a program that has literally saved my life.

    There is also a not-so-noble reason for baring my private life in public. Since I have been in the program my employer, the U.S. Postal Service, has done everything imaginable to keep me from getting help. Officially its policy is to help employees through difficult times. Unofficially, it will go to any lengths to get rid of an employee who has emotional problems. Once it became known why I was going to the program at the VA, the Postal Service suspended me twice, has given me letters of warning, forced me to be examined by its doctors and demanded that I get clearance before I can return to work after each participation in the program at the VA. It has branded me as an immediate hazard to myself and others simply because I take part in the program and am being treated for post-traumatic-stress disorder for a war-related condition. It doesn't matter that I have never exhibited aggressive or dangerous behavior, only that I am seeking treatment.

    Since Tom's article came out, the Postal Service no longer has the power to hold my condition hostage or "blackmail" me into submission. It can no longer use my disability to hurt me. I am free. For that I am grateful to the program that has made it possible for me to get better and to Tom Zucco's excellent portrayal of what life has been like for men like me.
    -- Harold Phelps, Bradenton

    Unfair to historian

    Re: Plagiarist historian resigns from Pulitzer Prize board, June 1.

    This headline strikes me as misleading and unfair to Doris Kearns Goodwin. Out of a large collection of well-researched and documented writings, a scant few paragraphs, which Ms. Goodwin attributes to carelessness in handwritten note-taking, have been deemed attributable to other writers.

    She does not excuse herself for these errors, but to call her a "plagiarist historian" implies some sort of ongoing calculated moves to take the material of others and fool her reading public.
    -- Elaine Markowitz, Tampa

    For a new tolerance

    Re: Gay survivors of the Sept. 11 tragedy deserve death benefits, by Bill Maxwell, June 2.

    It was a delight to read such a logical and levelheaded column about a topic that so easily brings out the worst in people from either side of the argument. In my mind, there is no question as to the validity of the claims of gay partners' claims to Sept. 11 death benefits. These people shared their lives, and all that went with them. Victims' families' disapproval, while a personal matter, should have no bearing on whether or not gay partners receive benefits. Perhaps, if this tragedy will do nothing else, it will allow greater respect for gay unions, legal, official or otherwise. The issue here is not gay marriage, but the acknowledgement, if not approval, of a fact of life.

    Louis Sheldon's quote is simply sickening. In stating that funds should be going "to those widows who were home with their babies," Sheldon latently bolsters the (sexist) notion that women/people who do not conform to a "normal" sexual role are less valid than traditionally heterosexual barefoot-and-pregnant stereotypes.

    I hope, for America's sake, that the September tragedy will foster a new tolerance among Americans.
    -- Nolan Smith, Tallahassee

    Leave out the hate

    Your gifted writer Bill Maxwell, in his recent column Gay survivors of Sept. 11 tragedy deserve death benefits, used the "H" word (hate) in describing conservatives like me. Specifically he said, "In addition to their hatred of gay people, conservatives fear that awarding money to same sex surviving partners will open the door to legalizing gay marriages."

    First of all, I fear nothing and I surely hate no one. Quite the contrary, I love two of my close relatives who are living in the homosexual lifestyle. My faith tells me this is not only sinful but an abomination, so I pray for them daily hoping they will seek help and break out as so many others have done.

    Maxwell can call me a conservative or any other name he chooses, and he's right in saying I'm against any legalization of homosexual marriages. But he's dead wrong in saying this or all conservatives hate homosexuals.
    -- Dick Walker, New Port Richey

    Travel lessons

    Robert Jenkins' column, If my suitcase could talk, in the June 2 issue was extremely forthright, entertaining and meaningful. I also have traveled extensively to many corners of the world over the past few years and totally agree with Mr. Jenkins' observation, "the most important lesson I've learned in traveling beyond our borders -- the world does not revolve around the United States."

    His words rang so true when he stated that "we learn about the world by going out into it, meeting others and learning how they are like us and how we differ." In referring to Sept. 11, Mr. Jenkins emphasized, that "we cannot let our fears prevent us from traveling to appreciate the rest of the planet." He is an excellent travel editor and I eagerly look forward to his interesting articles and columns.
    -- Bernie Singer, Tampa

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