Return to the fields | May 4, story
Illegal workers bring hardship to citizens
My heart bleeds for Israel Lopez and his family. I feel his pain. Paying people a mere pittance for the brutal work that they have performed is unconscionable.
When I closed my small construction business, due to the inability to compete with "contractors" who employ illegal workers at $4 and $5 per hour, I also lost the ability to enjoy my pursuit of the "American dream." I could face the reality of a foreclosure due to being drastically undercut by people using "undocumented labor," and therefore being priced out of business. Now I can't even get a job picking strawberries, because I still have to compete with the same "lowball" numbers that killed me in the first place!
By not enforcing current immigration laws, and by not enforcing current business laws, our government is supporting the "insourcing" of "outsourced" workers.
In times of economic strife, Americans will do what it takes to make a buck (to pay their bills), and picking strawberries may not be the easiest way, but apparently a living can be made, and dreams of a home in America pursued and fulfilled, by legal citizens, versus "pirates."
Derrick Haefs, Safety Harbor
Obey the law
I was saddened — no, angry would be accurate — when I read your article on the front page. I am 100 percent in favor of legal immigration. After all, nearly all of us and our ancestors fall into that category.
What really bothers me is the "illegals" who come into the country, taking work from those who have earned citizenship and are the foundation that has made us strong. Those undocumented immigrants are the people who do not pay taxes, but use our facilities, stress our medical system, take money out of our country and often commit crimes.
With the economy in the state that it's in, we should focus on the people who are out of work and the needy, not on undocumented immigrants. We are a country that lives by the rule of law. You call them undocumented immigrants. Does the word "illegal" mean anything at all? The INS should act on this.
And congratulations and welcome to those who pursued the path to citizenship.
Steve Fissel, Hudson
Pushing down wages
I am disappointed the media hasn't run any stories about how the illegal immigration problem has contributed to dragging the economy down. Paul Krugman's column on May 5 (Falling pay drags economy down) suggests the blame is due to falling wages and the paradox of thrift. Why isn't anybody addressing the fact that illegal immigration contributes to falling pay, and huge sums of money are leaving this country daily?
The vast numbers of illegals in this country have contributed heavily to the stagnation of wages in many industries, especially in food service, construction and warehousing. I know a lot of people feel these are low-end jobs and of no concern, but they are a huge concern to the people in those industries.
Last year the media estimated there were 12 million illegals in the United States. If only 10 million of those illegals are employed, that is 10 million jobs unavailable to American citizens during this recession.
Of course, nothing will be done to stop the flow of illegals as it allows the big businesses to hire cheap labor in order to keep their profits high.
But does the media cover this angle? No. Instead the St. Petersburg Times runs an article about how the poor illegals are having to give up $1,400 a week construction jobs to go back to working in the fields. If these people are illegals and people are hiring them, why isn't the government going after the employers more? I know the answer to that question, but I wonder how many Americans even give it a thought.
Patrick D. Foster, Redington Shores
Changing estate tax will protect family farms
Like most Americans, family farmers and ranchers are affected by the current economic situation facing our nation. Unfortunately, farmers and ranchers face an added economic hardship: the federal estate taxes that come due when a family member dies.
We should all commend Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez for urging Congress to improve existing estate tax law to allow farms to continue operating when a family member dies. Sen. Nelson was one of only 10 Senate Democrats who voted to approve a crucial bipartisan amendment offered last week by Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln and Arizona Republican Jon Kyl.
Unless Congress acts, the estate tax exemption will drop to $1 million in 2011. The resulting tax hit may force families to sell farm assets including land to pay the taxes when a family member dies. Here in Florida, buyers are likely to be developers and the farm is ultimately replaced with more intensive uses.
Compared to other sectors of the economy, federal estate taxes fall heaviest on family farms and ranches. Family operations make up 98 percent of all U.S. farms. Freezing the estate tax exemption at or below the current level is not an acceptable option for America's farming and ranching families. It is also bad for consumers, who rely on U.S.-grown farm products to feed their families.
America's farmers and ranchers will benefit from the leadership of Sens. Martinez and Nelson. So will the rest of us consumers.
John Hoblick, president, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Gainesville
Save our cropland
I recently had a discussion with a lifelong friend, the editor of the Frontiersman in Alaska, regarding our joint concerns: cropland loss from one corner of the nation to the other. His comment was to write a letter to the editor. Imagine that.
Then I happened on the April 19 edition of the St. Petersburg Times. Recalling the discussion with my editor friend, I noticed the headline Florida builders poised to pounce. I read in amazement about the proposed projects on the waiting list for approval that could add a potential 600,000 new rooftops in Florida and an additional half-billion square feet of nonresidential space. By their own admission, the planners at the Department of Community Affairs are overwhelmed.
It appears that landowners eager to generate a nice profit from that patch of dirt are behind the push for these planned communities. The first step is to get the land use changed from agricultural to residential. That is where the DCA gets involved.
There are those who say that most of this is only plans and we shouldn't worry. There is the rub. As with the recent collapse of the financial sector, it is readily apparent that many are only interested in the here and now.
You don't have to be a research scientist tuned into the latest publications to see what is happening to our world food production. From recent issues of National Geographic to USA Today, talk of loss of agricultural production is in the news around the world.
In a world where our food safety is constantly being brought into question, climate conditions are changing, and the lack of water a constant threat, I am hard pressed to understand how we can sit back and let this happen for a short-term financial gain for a few. I have been to Brazil and I can assure you they are poised to be the largest producer of agricultural products in the next few years.
We are held hostage, as a nation, by importing much of our oil products and those nice things made in China. How can we even think of letting the control of our food production go outside this country due to poor land-use regulations? Are we truly crazy?
All this talk makes me hungry; I think I will go buy a nice apple from Japan, and some lettuce and produce from Mexico, some beef from Canada and a beer from Germany. Make it two beers.
Doug Lasater, Milton
'night, sleep tight | May 7, story
Obesity can be costly
In children, sleep apnea clearly is getting more common because of the epidemic of obesity we have. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, obesity among children more than doubled in the past 20 years and tripled among adolescents.
Obesity related illnesses will cost this nation approximately $117 billion per year in increased health care costs. We as a nation need to address both short- and long-term solutions to reducing the rates of childhood obesity. Also, include measures to identify and overcome all obstacles to achieving the goal of reducing childhood obesity.
Julie Ryczek, governor's Council on Physical Fitness, Treasure Island
The new diseases of our own making May 7, commentary
Concern for animals is wise
You can call me a bunny-hugger, but you can no longer deny that things that are bad for animals turn out to be bad for people as well. Keeping animals that are raised for food in conditions so cramped and stressful that disease spreads like wildfire is not so good for people. Causing the death of billions of animals every year just because they "taste good" is no longer so great when you end up with heart disease or cancer.
And when the medication you are taking for your heart disease is recalled because it killed a few people after it was tested on rats rather than with more accurate methods? Well, not so good either. If you care about yourself and your health, it pays to be compassionate to all animals, not just your dog.
Erika Seshadri, Sarasota
An important first step
During the legislative session it was a privilege to assist Pinellas County residents Irv Hoffman and Margie Weiss, the parents of Rachel Hoffman, who in spite of their painful grief championed "Rachel's Law," a much-needed effort to reform law enforcement's use of confidential informants. If Gov. Charlie Crist approves the bill, which passed both chambers unanimously, Florida will be the first state in the nation to enact such legislation.
Rachel's parents would never have thought of the idea but for the fact that their only child was senselessly used as an informant last May and brutally murdered in a botched sting operation in Tallahassee. Her death sparked national interest and revealed a shadowy system that exposes untrained young people to unreasonable danger.
Several key provisions were stripped from the bill despite the efforts of the bill sponsors, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Palm Harbor. Without these two men, Rachel's Law would never have become a reality. Both have pledged to see what can be done next year about allowing confidential informant recruits the opportunity to meet with legal counsel before agreeing to serve, prohibit the use of anyone in a substance abuse treatment program, and strengthen the bill's language when matching nonviolent informants with dangerous targets, especially when a weapon is present.
Had any one of these three provisions been in place last May, Rachel Hoffman would be alive today. Moreover, these are simple, commonsense ideas that will improve a bill that is already better than the current chaos.
Lance Block, Tallahassee
Bright Futures Scholarship
Wealth moving wrong way
The Bright Futures Scholarship program can be explained as an almost reverse Robin Hood situation. To those unfamiliar with the story, our hero Robin Hood would steal from the corrupt and rich of Nottingham and give to those who were poor and suffering.
A leading indicator of how well a student does on the SAT is how much money his or her parents make. As individual SAT scores rise, so does the income and vice versa. UCLA's national survey of entering undergraduates at four-year colleges and universities states that today's undergraduate families have a median income 60 percent higher than the national average. Most parents in this higher income bracket can afford tuition. The Florida Lottery funds the Bright Futures Scholarship program. Those playing the lottery are using a dollar and a dream for a chance that their life's financial struggles may suddenly end. Perhaps most do not posses very affluent lifestyles.
Yet they pay for their chance to end their poverty so those children whose parents can afford college pay even less of a percentage of their income on school. At the same time, a student with an unstable financial life may botch a semester as a result and lose Bright Futures. So now, that student living on financial aid whose parents cannot help financially is even more discouraged from continuing college.
It's time to wake up and realize this is simply another tool for widening income disparity. We know your children have done well as a result of your ability to provide a situation with good schools and stable home life. Let's give those without that support the ability to give it to their children.
Justin Rivera, Tampa
Future dim for Bright Futures | May 6, story
Keep rewarding hard work
There is all this talk about how Bright Futures does not address financial need and has a low percentage of minority awardees. Please, it was designed to be a merit award for good grades in academic core courses, not remedial-level course work. It is blind to finances and ethnicity and should be kept that way.
Perhaps it is too successful, so here are some ideas that may balance the Bright Futures budget: raise the 970 SAT minimum to 1010-1020 range; for 970 to 1070, only award 50 percent; award 75 percent for above 1070. And how about requiring awardees to have taken at least two Advanced Placement or Dual Enrollment (or one of each) classes?
Don't take away a merit award for hard-working students.
Christine Pribyl, St Petersburg
Time to put workers first | April 30, commentary
Offer a free choice
I have waited since 1950 to see legislation to come on the scene to allow a majority of workers to select a union of their choice.
I saw a worker lose his thumb and another one work over trichlorethylene for eight hours a day.
I went to a union to see what could be done and within a week I was told by the foreman that I was fired. He said I was too young to work in a machine shop (there were other workers there who were my age). Needless to say when I completed my tour of duty with the Air Force I looked for a job that was union.
I became involved with the union and for the rest of my working career have extolled the benefits of having a union.
I am now retired with a good pension plan and health care along with Medicare and a prescription plan that has been a lifesaver to both me and my wife. I worked up the union ladder and want to say I am proud to be union.
Call your representatives in Washington and tell them you want them to support the Employee Free Choice Act.
Joseph Faherty, president emeritus, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, New Port Richey
Summit on water falls short | May 6, editorial
Awash in incompetence
Perhaps Tampa Bay Water should spend its time overseeing construction of a reservoir and determining why it can't ever seem to hire a competent contractor to solve the problems of the desalination plant rather than organizing summits.
Isn't it time they are held accountable for their incompetence?
Bob Kinney, New Port Richey