A big reminder of importance of art | Dec. 28, editorial
Monstrosity with a bad message
Colombian artist Fernando Botero may be a composite of a male chauvinist, a naive creator of art that is supposed to be a positive image to art lovers worldwide, and a man with an insensitive mind regarding the dangers of obesity and smoking among both sexes.
To the directors of St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts: Some patrons may pay for this disastrous monstrosity. Whom do you know who has suffered from diabetes, lung cancer and heart disease suggested by the image gracing your sidewalk? Shame on you!
Laura W. Randall, St. Petersburg
This is art?
You must be kidding if you think a sculpture of a big, fat woman smoking a cigarette is art. It's hideous!
It also portrays the two most common causes of heart disease and lung cancer in this country: obesity and smoking.
If you want art, go check out the cemetery. The sculptures there are much more pleasing to the eye.
Deborah Nash, Odessa
Race to the Top
All should rally behind education program
As the chief executive officer of a national company based in St. Petersburg and a Florida Council of 100 member, I know that our state needs a world-class work force if our citizens are to have the career tools they need to compete and prosper in the ever-changing economy of the 21st century. Florida's ability to create and sustain jobs depends directly on the availability of talent, and improving our work force through investments in education is the key to our economic prosperity as a state.
Fortunately, Florida now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to participate in a federal education grant program — Race to the Top — that could generate up to $700 million for local school districts. This money would have two main purposes: to help Florida students, teachers and principals improve their performance, and to reward that improvement.
The question now is: Will the students and teachers of Pinellas County get their fair share? Will our children be able to capitalize on a unique opportunity to spark their learning and enhance their future careers? The Florida Department of Education has been working tirelessly with numerous educational leaders, experts and stakeholders to design an ambitious yet achievable plan that can win the Race to the Top competition for Florida — and Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen and our School Board are to be commended for supporting that plan. But it's not enough.
Race to the Top is something we all must rally behind — parents, grandparents, teachers, students and, especially, the business community. Not only do we, as business leaders, have an economic obligation to enhance Florida's future work force by supporting Race to the Top, we have a moral obligation to advocate for these grant dollars, half of which will be targeted toward low-income students, all of which will be affected by our county's decision to participate. Some $700 million would make a tremendous difference for Florida's students and teachers — no small amount given the $3 billion in budget cuts facing the state next year. Nearly $15 million would benefit the teachers and students of Pinellas County.
Our education leaders, including the teachers' union, should co-sign Florida's Race to the Top application as soon as possible. Without signatures by the middle of this month, the new federal dollars for each school district will be in jeopardy, as will a special opportunity for our children.
Thomas A. James, chairman and chief executive officer, Raymond James Financial Inc., St. Petersburg
Stimulus won't fix old bridges | Dec. 21
Bridges need attention
As a longtime elected official in the city of Schenectady, N.Y., I support the need to place deficient bridges on the high-priority list when it comes to spending the people's $150 million of the federal stimulus money. I am publicly urging legislators in Florida to initiate a lobbying effort to encourage the president and congressional legislators to spend the bulk of the federal stimulus dollars on the restoration of bridges, not on roads.
I will give one example of why I am urging this. Many years ago, as an elected official in New York state, I asked the city council to support my legislation urging the governor and the legislative body to increase the number of annual bridge inspections and follow up on repairing any and all deficient bridges. At the same time, I also cited the collapse of a bridge in Connecticut that killed a number of people, but the city council majority refused to support my resolution. About one year later, a bridge a few miles from our city collapsed, killing nine people. One week later, the same city council majority approved my resolution.
I am not saying that had the city council initially approved my resolution, we could have saved those nine lives. However, I am saying that it is the responsibility of elected officials to do whatever possible to enhance the public safety of people who use bridges on a daily basis. One way to do this is for the president and all elected officials to support using more dollars from the federal stimulus money to enhance annual bridge inspections and repair all the structurally deficient bridges in Florida and in other states where there are bridge concerns.
Florida legislators, let's work together with the president and Congress to help save irreplaceable lives.
Frank J. Duci, Largo
Preserved land is gift for the ages | Dec. 24, editorial
The editorial commending the recent public acquisition of some overgrown pasture at the absurd price of $20 million — by a county governments that doesn't know where its next dollar is coming from — is simply ridiculous.
The good intentions of folks who wish to preserve natural places are to be admired, but elected officials using funds that could be used for vital public needs like hospitals, schools and fire/safety are acting as the first resort instead of the last resort.
Not only do such efforts unfairly compete with private interests, they present the taxpaying public with an asset that has to be maintained, preserved, guarded from poachers and roped off to obstruct those who would dump their garbage there.
A much better approach is to support the actions of private, not-for-profit groups such as the Nature Conservancy. These groups take a responsible approach to securing land and water resources for future generations and are in a much better position to safeguard these assets. They use a transparent approach that works in alignment with government, private interests and agriculture, instead of backroom dealing that so often goes on when governments buy private assets like forest acreage or ranchlands.
Public officials can use tax breaks to assist nonprofits in the acquisition and maintenance of these lands without putting the taxpayer on the hook. Florida currently manages millions of acres of wild land, and owns many millions more. It is a troubling trend to anyone who cares about keeping the spiraling growth of government spending in check.
Jim Parker, Lakeland
A year later, Gaza not on way to recovery Dec. 27
The article describes the inhuman suffering of the people of Gaza: "sporadic water and electricity"; Israel's order to deny any reconstruction whatsoever to the thousands of homes, schools and other infrastructures destroyed by Israeli-American bulldozers; a three-year blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel ($3 billion in U.S. aid annually) and Egypt ($2 billion in U.S. aid annually); a 24-foot wall dividing Palestinian land separating families and their livelihoods.
It's no wonder that Gaza "is not on its way to recovery." If a foreign nation were to act thusly toward the American people, what conclusion would the American people quickly arrive at and what would be their reaction? Would they care if they were labeled "terrorists" by the press of their captors and their allies?
Arthur Hebert, Largo
A year later, Gaza not on way to recovery Dec. 27
Hamas wants more war
I was in Israel last October and went about as close to Gaza as one can safely go. I truly feel for the innocent residents of Gaza. They undoubtedly suffered greatly in the war, as terrorists hid behind and under civilians and their structures as they brought terror to Israel.
Unfortunately, I suspect they will continue to suffer: While Israel has spent the past year feverishly adding protective rooms and shelters in areas closest to Gaza, Hamas has spent the year digging more tunnels to smuggle in arms.
Sadly Hamas is rearming, with the help of Iran, for more war. It vows to destroy Israel and kill every Jew. Despite this, Israel continues to supply electricity, and allows thousands of tons of oil, food, medicine and other necessities (often stolen by Hamas) to enter Gaza on an ongoing basis.
The rebuilding will flourish when the Palestinians throw off the shackles of their destructive government and realize that peace with Israel and the rest of the world will bring about the well-being of all people in Gaza, and their neighbors in Egypt and Israel.
Robert Tankel, Dunedin
Judge rules against Odyssey | Dec. 24
A questionable claim
Where are the claims of Peru and African in this court battle for possession of the gold and silver recovered from a Spanish warship?
The lawyer for Spain says it is like the fallacy of "finder's keepers" in that finding a Rolex in Central Park does not mean it becomes yours. By like manner, mugging someone and killing their family also does not mean it becomes yours.
In 1533, Pizarro murdered the leader of the Incas in what is now Peru for gold and silver. Within 100 years most of the Incas were dead through disease or the cruelty of slavery in the mines. At the time of the sailing of the treasure ship in 1804, black slaves had been imported to work the mines.
In my book, Spain has no more valid claim on anything that came out of Peru than present-day Germany has on any discovered Nazi gold that came out of World War II death camps.
Fred Jacobsen, Apollo Beach
Weak climate effort | Dec. 23, editorial
The population problem
The Nick Anderson cartoon you ran with your editorial summed it up, "We're screwed."
One of the main reasons for that is that neither the Copenhagen talks, nor any other political forum has confronted an essential issue which is ultimately responsible for human-induced climate change, exhaustion of resources, extinction of species and increase in the production of energy.
The world population has more than doubled since 1950. More than 4 billion people have been added to the world since that time. These billions of people have wanted to live comfortable and safe lives. It has taken a lot of resources to satisfy their wants. The demand is growing, not only from the current 6 billion-plus people on Earth, but also from the next billion people we can expect in the coming decades. Aside from affecting the climate, the human population is in the middle of causing a major extinction of species at this time. With another billion people the other species don't stand a chance.
Until we solve the population issue we will continue to encroach on the habitats of other species; we will continue to demand more energy; we will continue to use up more nonrenewable resources.
Tonu Toomepuu, St. Petersburg
Health care reform
Shaping a sound bill
Now that a health care reform bill has been passed in both the House and the Senate, the process of reconciling the two bills has begun.
Members of Congress need to consider a bill that is modeled after the House bill and give all Americans an opportunity for the public option, the key to real competition for the insurance companies and for lower costs.
Both bills impose dangerous new restrictions on women's reproductive health care. Neither of the two versions should be in the final bill. The government needs to stay out of the rights of women to determine their own care. It is a private matter between the woman and her doctor.
Both bills require most Americans to have insurance. But even with subsidies, some people could pay up to 20 percent of their income on health care. The final bill must ensure families aren't required to spend more than they can handle.
Once passed with the above provisions, it will be a good start for universal health care.
Ed Pazicky, Port Charlotte
Give the people some perks
The way our politicians are passing out "bribes" to get their partners in crime to vote for the new health care bill it is starting to look like blank checks for everyone in office. With lobbyists kicking in huge bribes and promises of cushy jobs when our politicians retire, it is a wonder why we bother to pay their bloated salaries and many perks.
I have a sure-fire way to get the American taxpayer on board with the new health care program: Bribe us! No more "doughnut" holes, no withholding of needed medical care, no huge premiums, and no more unaccountable HMOs. Give us real health care like the rest of the civilized world has.
Unless we voting taxpayers get something too, it looks like we are going to show up at the polls soon and demand "None of the above" on every ballot.
Craig R. McNees, Tampa
Political happiness | Dec. 23, letter
Instead of simply accepting the Times article about states with the happiest people enjoying warm sunny weather, the letter writer tried to insinuate the connection could pertain to the fact that 9 of the top 11 states happen to have conservative electorates and are run mostly by Republicans.
I don't believe the letter writer really wants to go there, because if you expand his thesis internationally you'll see that his correlation of right-wing governments and happiness falls apart. Forbes' 2009 list of the world's happiest places found Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands rated at the top of the list, ranking first, second and third, respectively. Outside Europe, New Zealand and Canada landed at Nos. 8 and 6, respectively. The United States did not get into the top 10.
The top three countries have socialist governments with health care for all as well as affordable higher education. In addition, data show that another important factor is work-life balance. While Scandinavian countries boast a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in that part of the world is no more than 37 hours.
And so the answer is no, right-wing governments do not produce the happiest citizens.
Lee Nolan, St. Petersburg