A place where freedom flourishes

A place where freedom flourishes

Cast a doleful glance across the Arab world, and look for freedom of speech. You won’t find it in Algeria, where police have been clubbing demonstrators. In Tunisia and Libya, you may find the graves of those who dared speak out against the government, but you won’t find free speech. The same has long been true in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Hamas-controlled Gaza.

In regions governed by sharia law, simple renunciation of Islam or criticism of the Prophet is a capital offense. The great irony of the crisis in the Arab world is this: The only place an Arab may safely criticize his government is Israel. Even though some Arab countries literally will not let a Jew set foot on their soil, the Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the same freedom of speech that the Jewish citizens do.

More than 10 percent of the members of the Israeli parliament are Arab citizens, most representing Arab political parties. One of Israel’s Supreme Court judges is a Palestinian Arab. Israeli law guarantees equal status of women before the law, and prohibits polygamy, child marriage, and female sexual mutilation.

The Arabs of Israel may have their grievances, but nowhere in the region are they likely to enjoy greater political liberty.

Eric Chevlen MD, Liberty

Teachers get special treatment

Someone please tell me how and when teachers became a special class and exempt from Social Security while the taxpayer paying them has no choice — particularly in light of the low level of knowledge and skills of their students compared to their student counterparts outside the United States. Suddenly they are immune to the struggles of their employer — the taxpayer — and can make no sacrifices.

The average starting salary for a teacher for nine months is that earned by a new hire in the private sector for 12 months. Private sector sick days, personal and vacation days are “use them or lose them,” not saved up as a golden parachute at retirement. The private sector under Social Security can’t collect full benefits until 67, and that is being raised. The employer/taxpayers assessment toward public employee retirement is two or three times the employer’s share for Social Security. The fix is to convert to a 401K system and limit the employer share to the same percentage as in the private sector under SS. The employee share would be a minimum percentage of SS in the private sector, with the option to add more.

As for health benefits, let them buy into Medicare and that legacy cost will go away when age eligible. Through my 45-year private sector career, my minimum premium obligation was never less the 50 percent for medical coverage with all the bells and whistles, and I survived — all while raising three children.

The public sector should come share the difficult times and the private sector will share the good times, but the taxpayer can’t be loaded on any more right now.

Daniel Victor Bienko, Canfield

SB 5 wouldn’t help students

I have been a counselor with the Boardman local schools for eight years. There is nothing more rewarding than working with kids in need. I am proud to work in a school system designated as “Excellent” and feel fortunate that my daughter will attend Boardman schools.

Senate Bill 5 is a bill that proposes to end collective bargaining for teachers and other Ohio public employees. I couldn’t feel more strongly that SB 5 is bad for educators, students, the middle class and Ohio.

First, it has been shown that states with strong unions and collective bargaining laws have higher ranked education systems than those that don’t. Collective bargaining does not “protect” bad teachers, rather it gives a voice and some security when advocating for students. “Bad” teachers can still be fired if the administrator follows the proper channels.

Another aspect of SB 5 that I wholeheartedly disagree with is “merit pay.” If you were being paid on how well your students performed on a test, which type of students would you want in your class? A large study on merit pay has shown that bonuses awarded to teachers had no impact on test scores.

Proponents of SB 5 suggest that public teachers and educators haven’t made enough sacrifices in this tough economic time. Teachers and other public workers have negotiated dozens of concessions. Don’t be mislead by those who claim that breaking the backs of public employees unions is related to trimming state budgets. Teachers did not create the recession, and stripping us of our rights won’t fix it.

Finally, SB 5 will make teaching unattractive and will make it difficult for Ohio schools to attract and retain high quality teachers. Collective bargaining is good for our kids as it allows two groups to work together and discuss important issues. Ultimately, teacher’s working conditions are student learning conditions.

Mandi Scrocco, Youngstown

Actions speak louder than words

I attended the Mahoning Val- ley McKinley Club dinner that honors President William McKinley’s birthday at the National McKinley Memorial in Niles. The speaker for the Feb. 22 event was Karl Rove.

On arriving I heard harsh loud noises and discovered a dozen protesters of Rove inside the memorial courtyard banging on pots, pans and screaming. The dinner began with prayer. We could all hear them walking around outside banging their pans, screaming and shining flashlight beams into the museum windows, then we heard sounds of loud crashing and yelling inside. One had forcibly entered and two Niles policemen pinned him against the door.

I went out and pleaded that this was a peaceful dinner in honor of President McKinley and that an angry mob in his memorial was disrespectful. One man spit on the memorial steps after I said conflict and war is caused by the absence of peace and love, and asked if they being loving and peaceful toward those inside. They protest war by creating conflict. How insane.

Rich Eagle, New Springfield

Keep judicial nominations moving

Linda P. Campbell’s Feb. 12 col- umn “Senate slow to confirm judges” concludes that Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn “should still be advocating improvements to the process so even his own party doesn’t get to chew up qualified nominees in a politically mangled confirmation process.”

Ohio’s Senators could play a vital role in responding to nonpartisan calls to solve the judicial vacancy crisis. Newly-elected Republican Senator Rob Portman took the first step in joining with Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in approving a Senate ban on unexplained secret holds that blocked and delayed many consensus nominees.

Senate floor votes are required to fill more than 100 federal judicial vacancies, almost double the number when Obama took office. Especially in areas affected by 47 vacancies the U.S. Courts have declared to be emergencies, justice delayed is justice denied.

Glenn Sugameli, Washington, D.C.

The writer is a staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife and heads its Judging the Environment project on federal judicial nominations.