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Reader feedback 3.17.04

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The Fest change

City's February 18 edition features an article entitled "RBTL Gets Dogged." The headline represents an unfair and inaccurate characterization of the change in the producer for the Rochester MusicFest from the Broadway Theater League to LeadDog Marketing Group.

            I am hard-pressed to understand how the fact that the city conducted an extensive public request-for-proposal process that resulted in the selection of a new contractor for this event equates to anything other than sound business-management practices. Even though RBTL Chief Operating Officer John Parkhurst himself acknowledged the need to "get the best bang for the buck" from contractors, City presented this information in a negative, inflammatory way.

            July 2004 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Rochester MusicFest. We are very proud that we have been able to offer outstanding entertainment to Rochester and the region for the past several years. More than 20 percent of the attendees of the 2003 festival came from outside of the Rochester area. Clearly, the RMF is an increasingly important feature on the entertainment landscape for Rochester residents and visitors as well. They deserve our very best efforts.

            We are committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure the continued viability and growth of this event. For you to suggest that we should do anything else is surprising and disappointing --- not to mention insulting to RBTL, which was and continues to be an important city partner in producing high-quality entertainment events.

            Loretta C. Scott, Commission, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Human Services, City of Rochester

'No tolerance'erodes rights

I was sorry to hear Howard Stern say on his morning radio show recently that he had been taken off the airwaves in six major markets, and even sorrier to read in the New York Post that Rochester was one of these markets. The current "no tolerance" rule set by Clear Channel Communications following Janet Jackson's minor Super Bowl escapade has apparently opened the door for government attacks on our First Amendment rights. All of this, of course, as we approach an election and George W. Bush tries to boost his eroding credibility.

            I am from our wonderful Rochester community, but am currently working in Manhattan, so I was able to listen to Stern's morning broadcast. After taking a number of calls from concerned listeners, Howard basically stated that nothing could be done to help the situation and that the government had gotten out of control with its censorship agenda. But Howard is wrong. Something can be done, and it starts with important political communities like Rochester.

            It starts with voters tired of religious-right groups and "family-value" organizations that undermine our basic human rights. It starts with letters and phone calls to local representatives and with not voting for any politician willing to hinder our First Amendment freedoms.

            It starts with protests (like this one) against those who push their moral righteousness on hard-working, good Americans.

            It is such a copout for our president to continue to remind us of his wonderful tax cuts while he attacks the constitution and proposes an amendment to stop gay marriage. I would be willing to give up half my paycheck just to receive the full benefit of constitutionally guaranteed rights.

            This is not activism. It is trying to once again be the democratic country that we are capable of being. Please stop the insanity and stand up for what you believe in.

            Eric R. Schwartz, Greenwich, Connecticut

Don't blame system for health problems

Thank you for a great article on the issues most relevant to the presidential primary and election (February 25). However, I think some of your statements regarding health care require amending: specifically, concerning our low life expectancy, the cost of health care, and the nationalization of health care.

            Is it fair to blame the US health system for our lower life expectancy as compared to other nations? A study of health policy shows that the leading causes of death are directly due to lifestyle choices. The leading causes of death in older people are due to heart disease, cancer, and stroke --- mostly due to lifestyle choices such as smoking, diet, activity, and alcohol consumption. It is not a coincidence that Japan, with its traditionally low-fat diet, has the longest average lifespan. I think the US health care system is actually doing a fairly good job of keeping us healthy as we work to make ourselves more unhealthy.

            Secondly, do Americans pay more than they should for health care? Aggregate data studies and regression analysis show that changes in per-capita income almost completely explain changes in medical care spending. In fact, if you graph these two variables, industrialized nations (regardless of the kind of health-care system) fall into an almost perfect upward sloping line --- and the US is right were it should be: the highest per-capita income and the highest medical care spending.

            Lastly, is a nationalized health-care system something that most Americans even want? In theory it could help control costs, depending on the types of cost control implemented, but that would have non-monetary costs of its own. Canada has nationalized insurance, yet has adopted new medical technology at a much slower pace than we have. Also, many Canadians travel to the US for health care to escape the queue period due to the "rationing" of procedures. Do Americans really want less technology and a longer wait for procedures?

            However, changes do need to occur. There are gross inefficiencies in our health-care system as well as large numbers of uninsured people. The most successful efforts toward nationalized insurance in the US have included the idea of mandatory employer-supplied insurance and an expanded Medicare program to cover all others. Both John Edwards and John Kerry propose changes consistent with that idea.

            Joel Thompson, University of Rochester

            Jack BradiganSpula responds: The US health-care system admirably serves those who have full access to it and money to spend. But with 40-plus million uninsured at any moment, the system is clearly not accessible enough.

            The World Bank ranks Norway and Switzerland right up with us in wealth per capita. We outstrip those nations in per capita health spending, though. An OECD summary says that in 2001 we spent almost $4,900 per capita. The Swiss spent around $3,300; the Norwegians, around $2,500. Yet look at comparative life expectancy (from the Census Bureau): US, 77.1; Norway, 78.7; Switzerland, 79.6.

            An Australian government study, looking at 1990s, found Switzerland and Norway had higher percentages of adult smokers than we did. Alcohol consumption is not unknown in Europe, either.

            Nobody's more concerned about queues than Canadians themselves. They're loudly calling for more government funds to cure the problem. (Fans of privatization sometimes exaggerate the problem, too.) Canada spent around $2,800 per capita on health in 2001. That could be increased significantly without challenging US spending levels.

            I think the crossborder issue is overblown. A data-based study in Health Affairs (2002) found the numbers of Canadians coming here for care "are so small as to be barely detectible relative to the use of care by Canadians at home." Indeed, much of the crossborder activity occurs in remote rural areas, where Americans travel to Canada for health care, as well.

            Last: The OECD summary notes that USpublic spending on health in 2001 was $2,168 per capita --- about the same as the OECD average for total health spending ($2,117). The take-home message? We could realize huge savings, and better outcomes, by "going public." That will take not regression analysis, but progressive politics.

Nothing changes

I congratulate Brian Lorenzo for having the wisdom to comprehend what many of my generation still haven't grasped (The Mail, February 18): the Republicans and Democrats may package themselves ideologically very differently for their perceived core voters, but when you unwrap those packages and lay them side by side at the end of a political term, it's very difficult to tell one from the other.

            There are two basic reasons for this. First, both parties' main priority is to serve that top 5 percent of Americans that control 90 percent of the wealth. This is the true core constituency for both major parties. This is why every living US president from both parties posed smilingly for a group portrait when Nafta passed.

            This is why, as Brian stated, CEO salaries went from 50 times the average worker's pay to 400 times while the middle-class standard of living continued to lose ground under Clinton's watch.

            This is why the middle-class retirements were shifted from pension-based retirement funds to 401K retirement plans. This is why US businesses are allowed to move overseas, laying off their US workers without ensuring that they receive financial support to re-educate, re-train and re-establish themselves in the new economy. This is why China, one of the most repressive governments on the planet, gets "most favored nation" trading status.

            This is why universal health care never got beyond the rhetoric stage after Clinton took office. This is why the current new Medicaid prescription-drug plan does more to protect American pharmaceutical companies' profits than it does poor and elderly Americans in need of the drugs they produce.

            The second reason is that to gain or remain in power, both major political parties require the majority vote of the 40 percent of the US citizenry. They both know that to do this, they must hold the middle ground and offend as little of middle America as possible. Democratic Party presidential candidates John Edwards and John Kerry did that with their non-stand on gay marriage: stating they are against gay marriage but also against a Constitutional Amendment. As Al Sharpton said, this is akin to the stance our political leaders took on slavery for our first 100 years.

            Most politicians have been saying for years that they are personally against abortion but won't interfere with a woman's right to chose, neither completely satisfying nor displeasing those on both sides of the issue. If America isn't sure where it stands on a social issue, the Democrats and Republicans will hug the middle ground.

            So Brain, you're absolutely correct: Whether it's a Democrat or Republican in the White House, little changes. The rich get richer, the rest get poorer, and those with liberal or conservative agendas too far from center get lip service and rhetoric until their ideology is solidly embraced or rejected by the majority of mainstream voters. Perhaps yours will be the generation that makes an alternative third-party candidate a realistic alternative to the status quo.

            Nathan A. Brightman, Albemarle Street, Rochester

Casting the first stone

My daughter, who visits Planned Parenthood for her annual OB-GYN check-ups, called me recently, sobbing, from the street outside the downtown Rochester office. She'd been upset and frightened by a group of "pro-life" protesters.

            The ringleader, a man with a bullhorn, had singled her out as she left the building to fetch something from her car. He started bellowing accusations (and worse) directly at her while others knelt in "prayer" around him. Since she was there to look after her reproductive health, not only was this "protest" inaccurate, it was cruel in the extreme.

            While claiming to speak for God, this heartless man felt free to judge my daughter, apparently ignoring the strong warning given in the Scriptures: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Unlike Jesus Christ, who compassionately confronted the "woman at the well" in private, and who condemned a mob getting ready to stone Mary Magdalene by saying, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone," this "Christian" mercilessly and self-righteously harassed my daughter until she was completely unnerved.

            My daughter begged a nearby police officer to stop the harassment, but was told the man was within his rights to "protest" this way. As my daughter later asked me: "What about my rights? What about the rights of the people who live on this street? What about the rights of the women who work there for peanuts, just trying to help girls avoid abortions by offering education and alternatives? What about the rights of the babies whose mothers get pre-natal care there?"

            Afraid to even go back to her car, my daughter ducked into a nearby deli to try to compose herself. The proprietor, a man of Middle Eastern descent, offered her a free snack and tried to distract her from her tears by complimenting her on her necklace. Two African-American men in the store warmly told her to "take care" when she left. As she walked back to her car, a woman carrying laundry fell in step with her. This kind black lady understood the situation immediately --- and sympathetically asked my daughter if mean people "like that" didn't make you want to cross that street and "kick 'em."

            "Did he really think," my daughter asked me, still in tears hours later," that he's going to convince me of anything by humiliating me in public?"

            My daughter did have an encounter with God that day, but it wasn't the one the man with the bullhorn intended. Instead, she felt the presence of a loving God in the kindness of strangers. She'll never forget their warm caring. Nor will she ever forget that shameful demonstration of sanctimonious intolerance, cruelty, and ignorance ---professed, ironically, all in the name of a God my daughter loves and worships.

            Marline Williams, Webster

The plague

Regarding mad-politician disease, the current thinking among investigative authorities is that the outbreak on Capitol Hill can be traced to tainted campaign contributions. The illness, a degenerative and debilitating ailment known as conscientious spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to result from politicians accepting large corporate and private donations, thereby forgoing ethical considerations in their decision making.

            Currently, the investigators have focused on oil, defense, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and energy companies as potential carriers. A substantial majority of those responding to a public-opinion poll expressed great concern that the president's campaign war chest of over $150 million will further erode protection of the environment, increase the gap between rich and poor, continue the outsourcing of American jobs, saddle future generations with unmanageable deficits, and erode government-mandated services for the least fortunate in our society.

            Although the investigation is still in process, and suggestions for a cure await completion, a number of organizations and citizens are calling for an end to campaign contributions by corporate America and a return to democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people.

            Peter R. Mitchell, Edgerton Street, Rochester

Writing to City

We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: themail@rochester-citynews.com or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester14607.

            Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. We don't publish letters that have been sent to other media. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than once every three months.

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