Rewriting the history of Iraq war

Trudy Rubin's column "A bipartisan effort doomed misadventure in Iraq" (Sunday) is an astonishing rewrite of history. Iraq represents the failure of the Republican right ideology. It was one of the greatest misjudgments in American history - all those lives lost, our economy wrecked, without even a valid reason for attack. Her argument that President Obama is at fault because he didn't stabilize Iraq and neutralize Iran's influence is purely fanciful. How could that be done without a continuing and substantial U.S. military presence? Is it our responsibility to fix everything and everyone forever, while our own economy collapses from imperial overreach? It is up to Iraq to fix its problems. Obama's arguable mistake is that he didn't remove the troops faster, and right a wrong that should never have occurred.

Mark Squires, Philadelphia

A waste of lives and money

Tony Auth's cartoon of Iraq in 2011 (Sunday) is premature. Give it six months to a year and we will be using helicopters to take our employees from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. This will be a repeat of the helicopter rescue in Saigon. It's only a matter of time. What a waste of lives and money!

Tom O'Shea, Gloucester City

Sentence war leaders to service in Iraq

I believe that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and others who invented the Iraq war should be sent to Iraq for the remainder of their lives, housed in a shack, and made to work every day to rebuild the country and its families. In addition, they should take 90 percent of their money and turn it over to Iraqi families. It will not bring back the 100,000 Iraqis or more than 4,000 Americans who were killed, but it is a tiny payback.

Ann Eynon, Villanova

A disengaged president

If Iraq should devolve into sectarian violence and become little more than a satellite of Iran, there will be no one other than President Obama to blame. From March until October of this year, at a time when we had tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel on the ground, our president failed to reach out to Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. When a president is so disengaged from affairs of state, is it any wonder that a new status of forces agreement was not negotiated?

Obama's actions, contrary to the recommendations of our military and the long-term interests of both the United States and Iraq, have revealed that he has no interest in preserving hard-fought gains or nurturing a fragile democracy. His sole preoccupation is in securing a second term to promote his socialist domestic agenda.

Mark Furlong, North Coventry, mfur01@comcast.net

Students achieving in Cherry Hill

The Rev. Amir Khan tossed out some district test data with little context ("Even in Cherry Hill, schools fall short," Dec. 14). In fact, the Cherry Hill School District has made real progress in narrowing the achievement gap.

For black students who took the state assessments as eighth graders in our district in 2008, and as 11th graders in 2011, language arts proficiency improved from 90 percent to 96 percent. For white students, proficiency improved from 95 percent to 98 percent. An achievement gap of 5 percentage points in 2008 had narrowed to 2 percentage points by 2011. Similarly, a gap of 19 percentage points between black and white fifth graders had narrowed to 8 percentage points by the time these same students were eighth graders. The data indicates that the longer students stay in our district, the better they achieve.

The writer also contends the charter school will cost our district "a mere 1 percent of its budget." When it comes to taxpayer dollars, we can't afford to be so cavalier. The setaside of $1.9 million for the Regis Academy Charter School represents 64 percent of our total allowable growth under New Jersey's 2 percent levy cap.

The intent behind the charter school law was to provide a lifeline for students trapped in chronically failing school districts. No matter how you spin the test data, that isn't Cherry Hill.

Maureen Reusche, superintendent, Cherry Hill School District

Seth Klukoff, president, Cherry Hill Board of Education

Bike ramp needed for bridge

I support the installation of a cyclist/pedestrian ramp on the Camden side of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The picture of Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia members carrying their bikes down the long, steep staircase highlights the awkwardness of getting from the bridge to street level ("$20 million in projects," Dec. 15). And going up those stairs is perhaps even more treacherous. As the only way to ride directly to New Jersey from Philadelphia, the bridge is a valuable route not only for commuters and day-trippers, but also for cyclists on multiday journeys.

This summer, my girlfriend and I rode across the bridge to the Camden waterfront. On our way back, I slipped on those shallow stairs, tumbled backward into her, and both our bikes and us went crashing down about 10 steps. It left us shaken. A gradually inclining ramp would eliminate this risk and also allow people in wheelchairs to enjoy the breathtaking views one gets by crossing the bridge.

Sebastian Petsu, West Philadelphia

Expected more of Christie

It is good to see the level of cooperation between Gov. Christie and Democrats when it comes to the Delaware River Port Authority and good old-fashioned patronage ("$20 million in projects," Dec. 15). The money is there, and it is spread around. Nobody gets hurt. There is money for food banks - because people have to eat. There's money for Rutgers housing - because you can't be against education. Cancer research? Only a real jerk would deny cancer patients. I am disappointed in my governor, and embarrassed to say that I voted for him. He is no better than the people he replaced. I expected more of him.

Andrew J. Anderson, Marlton

Fight the anti-tax hysteria

The article "Montco officials fret over budget" (Dec. 14) provides an excellent example of the way anti-tax hysteria is tearing our country apart.

Let's put it this way: Would you contribute $10 per month to a fund if you knew that it would keep 500 of your neighbors from being laid off, prevent your county parks and zoo from closing, keep your library open, and generally keep Montgomery County a great place to live and work? Apparently that's all they are talking about.

A 28 percent tax hike sounds like a huge increase, and I know some people are hurting, but, for the vast majority of Montgomery County residents, $10 per month is pocket change. Nobody likes paying taxes, but we all want a nice, safe place to live.

I urge county commissioners to reject the cult of greed, selfishness, and anti-government fervor that is rapidly replacing the American spirit of working together to achieve greatness. Keep the county working. We can afford it.

Barney Stone, Maple Glen

Confusion over death penalty

Contrary to Michael Smerconish's claim, the federal judges who found Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence unconstitutional did not act on a "preposterous claim" ("No doubt on guilt, but fighting on was futile," Dec. 11). Instead, the courts were properly applying a Supreme Court decision when they recognized that the instructions given to Abu-Jamal's jury were so misleading that his 1982 death sentence was likely the product of a jury that relied on the wrong legal standard. Death sentences throughout the country were overturned by the Supreme Court's decision.

Empirical evidence bears out the seriousness of this problem. The Capital Jury Project interviews with nearly 1,200 jurors who had decided death penalty cases in 14 states revealed that many jurors do not understand how they are supposed to decide whether a defendant deserves death. Pennsylvania jurors were especially likely to misunderstand the instructions. Most of the Pennsylvania jurors (59 percent) did not understand what they were allowed to consider as mitigating evidence, and 68 percent failed to understand that they did not have to all agree on what was mitigating in making their punishment decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the death penalty is unconstitutional unless the jurors' sentencing discretion is guided by instructions, but the statutory guidance is not effective if most of the jurors do not understand it.

Bill Bowers, director, Capital Jury Project, Albany