Parties are the problem

I agree with a letter writer's comment (Tuesday) that the ever-growing polarization of Congress and the public may foreshadow the end of true compromise in American politics. But his notion that either Democrats or Republicans will ultimately prevail, and be free to zealously impose their will, sends chills up my spine. I believe the left and right each have valid ideas that could be dangerous if carried too far. True compromise (as opposed to settling "for now") is the lubricant that makes democracy work efficiently.

But hasn't the schism become too wide to close? Probably. Barring an unforeseen calamity that draws us together, the only solution I can see is to learn from our allies in Europe. If we had more than two strong, viable political parties, our politicians would be forced to compromise to get things done. The two-party system once served us well, but it isn't working today.

Our Constitution doesn't specify a two-party system. And many of its consequences - gerrymandering, pork, closed primaries, unimaginable fund-raising - are undemocratic.

Jim Lundberg, Newtown, lundbergjames@hotmail.com

Convictions and the comics

The gist of a recent Peanuts strip (Dec. 22) was, Who needs Santa when "for to you is born ... a savior, who is Christ the Lord"? The gist of a Penn's Place strip that day was, Who needs a savior if people can simply agree on "Peace on Earth: Goodwill to all"? Such diversity is the hallmark of a democratic, pluralistic society.

Our society must allow Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson to express the view that he knows homosexuality is wrong because divine revelation says so. Our society also must allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocates to say they are right because their experience says so.

Freedom of speech and democratic pluralism come at a cost. Part of that cost is having the courage of one's convictions in the face of competing epistemologies and comic strip characters.

Dan Kunkle, Abington, djkunkle@comcast.net

Earth to Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer and his friends seem to live in a world in which government agencies always mess up, but businesses never do ("Surprise! You're the president," Dec. 16). In Krauthammer's world, one always has to wait in a long line at the DMV, but never at the supermarket. In his world, government bureaucrats ration health care arbitrarily, but no one ever has to spend months arguing with a health-insurance company because he hasn't submitted the right form. In his world, government websites compromise everyone's privacy, but no big-box store ever loses 40 million credit card numbers.

In the world I live in, all large organizations, both private and public, often treat me with indifference and incompetence. Krauthammer's world may have its flaws, but it sounds better than mine. Perhaps in his next column, he will include a map of how to get there.

Robert Pollack, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania flunks GED

Kudos for the well-written story on Pennsylvania's new GED test ("A Challenge or a Roadblock?" Dec. 22). As a GED math teacher, I believe it will be a roadblock.

How many teachers and students were consulted on the new high school equivalency test? Did any current urban high school seniors take the new version of the test? And is this another opportunity for the rich - i.e., test publishers and vendors - to get richer and the poor to get poorer?

Pennsylvania has chosen the most expensive version of the test: The fee will increase from $70 to $120. It's also computer-only, which is another roadblock for some folks.

New Jersey officials seem to have gotten it right. They will allow three versions of the test, and a paper-and-pencil exam will be an option. Pennsylvania officials need to heed New Jersey's more humane and reasonable approach.

Sister Mary Ellen O'Connell, Narberth, meoconnell@comcast.net

NSA's rubber stamp

I think I have lots of company when I say that I've supported President Obama on many issues, but he's completely on his own when he defends the NSA's overly aggressive collection of data on Americans. I regard the data-collection effort as a direct descendant of the Bush administration's "Total Information Awareness" project, which was broken up abut never truly stopped.

I appreciate that an advisory panel advised that the NSA be reined in and took notice of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which hears arguments only from the government. Obviously the court's judges don't think they're rubber-stamping all applications, but in practice, that's just what they do.

Richmond L Gardner, Horsham