Gavels in teen hands could keep at-risk kids out of jail

As a young, incarcerated black male from an inner city section of Philadelphia, I paid particular attention to the Dec. 21 article "Teens take the gavel to judge peers." Whoever introduced this concept of setting up a court run by teens to judge teen misdemeanors definitely had the insight to know that such an activity would grasp the attention of up-and-coming youths.

If we had had such a program in my community, I probably wouldn't be in my current situation.

The program is probably relieving the juvenile court system of a little work, but most of all, it's giving youths the opportunity to learn a little bit about the legal system and it's allowing them to address each other's issues. It's also good that they're settling their disputes among peers, because peer pressure plays a significant part in a teenager's life.

Hopefully, the youths will take advantage of the opportunity.
Talbert Hill-El
Camp Hill, Pa.

Pre-retirement Social Security benefits

The Dec. 27 article, "One man's retirement math: Social Security wins," which compared analysts' figures on Social Security, was helpful. I hope perceptive people will not be taken in by the campaign to give up Social Security as insurance, a basic safety net for all, and substitute the riskier prospects of wealth-building.

Not yet retired, I have already benefited from Social Security because it helped my parents so that I did not have to provide for their financial support - unlike what they had to do for their parents before Social Security existed. So I am able to save to supplement my future Social Security benefits.

The lure of increased wealth for younger workers is being used as bait to support proposed changes. But younger workers can be saving today, without change in the Social Security system, as they are unburdened by having to give direct support to their elders in retirement. And there are a number of financial ways for them to build wealth on their own, without changing the system.

All who can should be saving, but let's leave Social Security as the insurance floor for all people, a guarantee that everyone will have something, not a promise of returns on investments, which may vary a lot.
Stephen W. Osborn
East Lansing, Mich.

Financial aid losses widen rich-poor gap

Regarding the Dec. 30 article "Think you can't afford college in 2005? Think again, experts urge": The loss of $300 to $400 up front each semester, coupled with the increasing costs of college, could add $10,000 to a degree. If you were in the market for a home and the price changed by a similar amount proportionate to the total value, you'd be out of the bidding.

The magnitude of this loss will be seen in a regressive society where education becomes a privilege of the rich.

Ironically, Europe is moving toward embracing wide-scale education for all - a Jeffersonian ideal - while America falls back into a desolate society of rich and poor.
Andrew Blash
San Jose, Calif.

Fair trade, not free trade, the real goal

Responding to: Regarding your Dec. 31 editorial, "Unbuttoning the Clothes Trade": Free trade is not fair trade, and this distinction must be made. Textile companies in the US are not inefficient when you compare output per worker. Most important, if you add worker and environmental protections into the equation of efficiency, then it is the Chinese factories that cannot compete with the US.

It is too bad that the ones pushing for free trade are not the ones who feel its effects.
Tony Nemil
Fairfax Station, Va.

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