- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

Broadcasting controversy at Voice of America

Olga Kryzhanovska missed the point in her article "VOA to End 10 Eastern Europe Broadcasts" (Friday, World). The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) that oversees the Voice of America apparently has abandoned VOA's mission of telling America's story to the world friends and foes. While the Cold War may be over, the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union tune to VOA to learn from the American experience.
Moreover, unlike Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which were created specifically to fight the Cold War, the Voice of America is charged with broadcasting world news and information about the United States. It was created long before the Cold War , and its mission continues into the 21st century.
Now, however, the BBG wants to siphon funds away from proven VOA radio audiences to create a 'hip' television program for the Middle East that would only offend the sensibilities of Muslim viewers. After all, board member Norman Pattiz, who hatched the scheme, has been quoted as saying, "It was MTV that brought down the Berlin Wall." With an inaccessible satellite television show, he plans to win the war on terrorism with salacious propaganda.
The world listens to the Voice of America because it is a respected and trusted source of news, which operates under a congressionally mandated charter that ensures accurate, comprehensive and balanced reporting. However, the BBG is dismantling VOA to create pet projects such as Radio Sawa in Arabic and Radio Farda in Farsi to Iran that skirt the charter.
Just as troubling, VOA plans to cut its premier worldwide English news program VOA News Now by as much as one-third in the next few months. So much for telling America's story as the war on terrorism widens and the "Axis of Evil" threatens the world.

Local 1812
American Federation of Government Employees

Sticking up for American

I take issue with the tone and tenor of "Bankruptcy: Is American Airlines next?" (Business, Wednesday).
I am a 30-year employee of American Airlines (AA), and have witnessed the rancor of labor relations over those years. To its credit, American Airlines is taking a different path. Management has communicated exhaustively with employees to ensure we are all aware of the economic climate that exists, and of the plan it has to make AA competitive in that environment. Management has taken a measured approach to the task of reducing operating costs, having identified about $4 billion in cost reductions that must be achieved. Contrary to the statement, "The airline also is trying to cut $2 billion in non-labor costs," AA has already implemented the programs to cut those costs.
There can be no argument that AA is in a precarious financial situation and needs the help of all employee groups, but the use of the incendiary terms "bankruptcy" and "wage concessions" are untrue and uncalled for. Admittedly "bankruptcy" is an attention-grabber for readers, but it was unfairly used. American Airlines has stated many times, "We're not working this hard to file bankruptcy. We lose control of our future." Wages are defined as "payment for services … usually hourly, daily or weekly." There actually are three areas that are being addressed, only one of which is wages. The others are productivity improvements and benefits such as vacations, medical coverage and the like. Any wage reduction could be a small part of the total package.
Finally, two points on the analyst from Salomon Smith Barney who is quoted in the article. He is critical of AMR Corp., parent of American, "for approaching the labor issue 'very gingerly.' " Where in the world can a supposedly intelligent person gather from AA's recent past that "we are waiting to see what happens to United"? First, AA has a plan and is busy implementing it, regardless of United Airlines. Second, apparently he would have management use the old "tried-and-failed" method of confrontational, my-way-or-the-highway labor negotiations. If he had bothered to read the press release announcing the employees' share of the pain, he would have seen that AMR's management is attempting to make this recovery the job of everyone, and not to sink to the "us vs. them" quagmire that has ruled the past. I pray to God for their success.
We at AA can't afford to fail. Working together, we will not fail.

Middleburg, Va.

End seniors' 'double payment' on health care

As a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I have the opportunity to explore issues affecting our nation's senior citizens in a unique and in-depth way.
So I would like to respond to my colleague Sen. Larry Craig's column, "Quit double-taxing seniors" (Op-Ed, Tuesday). While I agree with Mr. Craig that we need to do all we can to help seniors keep more of their money, I believe there is a different "double payment" we could eliminate that would put more money in their pockets immediately.
Last Tuesday, the Committee on Aging held a hearing on President Bush's proposed dividend tax cut and how it might help seniors. Witnesses testified that seniors who wish to create financial security for themselves and their families are being "sabotaged by the tax code," and that ending the individual taxation of dividends will bring "relief to the elderly."
But the numbers don't bear that out. In my state of Michigan, 55 percent of seniors would get nothing from the dividend tax plan because they have no taxable dividend income. Even those seniors who do pay taxes on dividends wouldn't see much of a difference. For instance, seniors with taxable income between $20,000 to $30,000 would save about $17 a year; those with $40,000 to $50,000 would save about $105 a year; and those with $50,000 to $60,000 would save about $224.
But here is a double payment we could eliminate that would put money in seniors' pockets immediately and guarantee that their retirements are comfortable and healthy the double payment on health care.
Look at it this way: An American turning 65 in 2005 who started paying Medicare taxes in 1966 will have contributed about $58,000 to the system in anticipation of a comprehensive health care package upon retirement. But Medicare is not a modern "comprehensive" health care plan because it does not include a prescription drug benefit, although that is now the preferred course of treatment for many illnesses.
In Michigan, a senior with an ulcer and high blood pressure would pay more than $2,900 a year for brand-name prescriptions. That is a lot of money, especially on a fixed income. If Congress passed a Medicare drug benefit that included a $40 co-pay for brand drugs, this citizen would save $1,886 a year.
Now that is real money in their pocket.
So let's eliminate the double tax on seniors making them pay once for a promised comprehensive health care plan and again for prescription drugs because Medicare has not kept pace with the times.

U.S. Senate,
Michigan Democrat

Undermedicated children

The Associated Press story about a study that found that rates of treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) vary greatly by region, race and income is a reminder of an old problem that also goes beyond ADHD ("Research questions Ritalin use," Nation, Monday).
In a 1999 report on mental health, the U.S. Surgeon General noted that minorities are less likely than whites to be diagnosed, let alone treated, for ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association has observed similar disparities in overall treatment rates for mental health disorders. This newest study, unfortunately, confirms the continuation of unmet health needs of minority children.
It is tragic that certain children with ADHD may not be getting the help they deserve when effective and safe medications are available. Leaving underserved children without access to treatment for mental health problems puts them at risk for underachievement and unfulfilling lives.

Association of Clinicians for the Underserved

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