The Michael Jackson memorial; stalled jobless benefits; John Kerry on Osama bin Laden

Money always talks

Re “Decision near on tab for Jackson service,” Dec. 6

Once again, private campaign contributions influence public policy, as the City Council may not push Anschutz Entertainment Group to defray the public cost of the Michael Jackson memorial service.

I take issue with Councilwoman Jan Perry’s claim that it’s a “stupid way to think” that AEG owns Los Angeles. I think it would be stupid to assume AEG gets no payback for its huge donations to city politicians. Smart businesses don’t invest in politicians unless there is a reasonable rate of return.

Assuming this scenario is but a microcosm of common practice on all levels of government, if citizens don’t start demanding a public-financing option, then we get the government we deserve.

Tobi Dragert
Los Angeles

Brother can you spare a check?

Re “Aid to jobless stalled by state’s aging computers,” Dec. 9

I am one of the 117,000 jobless victims of the state Employment Development Department who has not received a check since the first week of November.

I have made phone calls, sent e-mails and written a letter with documentation to find out why, but the EDD has completely ignored my inquiries. It wasn’t until reading The Times that I learned of the EDD’s computer problems.

Is it really so difficult for the EDD to let us know there is a problem? Must it leave thousands of people frustrated, angry and worried about our benefits? Most of all, with so many good people looking for work, why do the callous and incompetent employees at the EDD still have their jobs?

Gregory Urbach

Having spent about 40 years building large financial computer systems, I feel compelled to raise a few questions.

At issue here is not the age of the computer but rather the design and maintenance of the software. It would seem that the state of California avoids the option of “not invented here” software. Surely with 49 other states (and the District of Columbia) paying unemployment insurance benefits, one of them must have a more flexible system that could have been obtained for far less than the reported $66 million wasted so far on this endeavor.

In addition, given that there have been term extensions already made, doesn’t it seem that the game plan used to provide the previous two could be used again?

Perhaps a better headline would have been “Aid to jobless stalled by incompetent IT management and staff.”

Donald Cameron

Gays on campus, or not

Re “Justices to hear discrimination case,” Dec. 8

Because private religious universities such as Malibu’s Pepperdine get to ban gay activities on campus by denying the use of rooms, withholding funding and forbidding leadership by any faculty, staff or administrator -- even though publicly guaranteed student loans support their programs -- it makes sense that groups at other schools think they can discriminate against gay students too.

If some UC Hastings College of Law students feel so put-upon and meanly Christian as to actually ban gay students from participating in a group, let them hasten to one of the many private colleges that promote their kind of bigotry in the name of God and religion.

Jerry Lewis
Los Angeles

An Expo Line explanation

Re “Expo Line running over budget, behind schedule,” Dec. 8

It is ironic that complaints of delays and increased costs of building the Expo Line are made by those who helped to both cause delays and increase costs by pressing for costly and unnecessary changes in design. Such remarks probably evoke bitter laughter from Expo Authority staff, who have been doing their best to expedite construction and keep costs down, going to great lengths to make all grade crossings extremely safe along Phase One of the Expo Line.

Now that the final environmental impact report for Phase Two is about to be released, perhaps the obvious and very pressing need for light rail from downtown to Santa Monica will persuade members of the public to work constructively for the extension of this line.

Karen Leonard and Sarah Hays
Los Angeles
The writers are co-chairs of Light Rail for Cheviot, a neighborhood organization.

Victims deserve a voice

Re “Victims’ rights, and wrongs,” Editorial, Dec. 7

In attacking “victim-impact evidence,” The Times is once again on the wrong side of criminal justice.

Victim-impact evidence involves the introduction of evidence regarding a victim’s background to a jury deliberating whether to impose the death penalty against a defendant. It also includes allowing the victim’s family and friends to testify about how they have been affected by the murder.

Defendants enjoy a broad array of constitutional rights in criminal proceedings. Such privileges are necessary to ensure that justice is meted out fairly -- especially in capital cases. Yet there is nothing inconsistent with safeguarding these rights in permitting victim-impact evidence.

Obviously, murder victims will never have the ability to appear at trials to speak for themselves. Rather than require that victims remain faceless unmentionables, the public has a right -- and an obligation -- to consider the real-life consequences of a convicted killer’s heinous acts.

James R. Bozajian
The writer, a deputy district attorney, is a former mayor of Calabasas and past president of the Los Angeles County Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys.

Day late, dollar short

Re “Bin Laden’s escape,” Opinion, Dec. 8

I read and reread Sen. John Kerry’s Op-Ed article looking for a point that is relevant to the decisions we face today.

Unfortunately, his major objective is to be critical of two men, Gen. Tommy Franks and former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who have devoted a great deal of their lives to the public service of our nation.

A secondary point was to endorse the Afghanistan troop surge, a point that could have been made much more effectively if the senator wrote about today’s circumstances.

It is regrettable that Osama bin Laden escaped our grasp in December 2001, just as it is regrettable that he “escaped” during the Clinton administration. This is not news.

The senator seems to have forgotten that every combat decision is a calculated risk. There may have been a hundred legitimate reasons for not sending in 2,000 Marines. Kerry mentions none.

I shudder to think how close this man came to being our commander in chief, given his propensity to dwell on past mistakes rather than look forward and solve problems.

David Wender
Fairfax, Va.

Sapphires work for her

Re “Saying no to blood diamonds,” Opinion, Dec. 7

I have an idea: Instead of just saying no to diamonds from Zimbabwe, why don’t we just say no to diamonds period? As long as it is so difficult to determine a stone’s origin, why take the chance?

I find it hard to believe that many jewelers could say with any certainty where a stone came from -- and in this tough economy, I would bet that they wouldn’t disclose a stone’s origin, if they even knew it, if it came between them and a sale.

Diamonds are not the only stones that can express undying love and devotion. I’ve been married to a jeweler for almost 25 years, and my engagement ring proudly boasts a sapphire. He has boycotted diamonds for years because of the ongoing abuses by those who control the market.

Wendy Wainwright
Los Angeles