I have not always been political, but the seed was planted early, in a time and place I would not expect. I can remember one time in particular driving hours from Central Florida to the courthouse in West Palm Beach to demand that the votes be counted fairly and accurately. The other side outnumbered us 10 to 1 at least.
After a time things started getting dicey. After all, a presidency was at stake. Ted Koppel went home, and the police offered to escort us back to our car. We would have to pass almost through the opposing mob. While we were walking, someone in the crowd waved me over. I glanced sheepishly over at the cop looking for direction. "Watch out, they might spit at you or throw something," he said.
I decided to risk it. I crept up cautiously, expecting an attack of some sort. Maybe a hurled water bottle or at least a handful of insults. What I got was a lesson in politics.
The other guy was a bit older. Big, muscular and sunburnt. You could tell he had been out there all day, not like us chicken livers who rolled up after dark. He was in it to win it. "Oh great, a fanatic," I thought. Just then he leaned over to me and said, "I may not agree with you, but I'm glad you're here. This country doesn't need more conservatives or liberals, it needs people getting involved." Then he stuck out one great paw and shook my hand. I was a bit at a loss for words, but I managed a half-hearted "thanks" and shuffled away.
I'll never forget that guy, or what he said. His point though, cut me like a razor. I was hooked right then, and I vowed I would never let an election go by, no matter how inconsequential, without voting and I haven't.
The moral of this story, if there is one, is that politics is a game that needs to be played. Whether that game is played by fat cat business tycoons, faceless and shameless corporations, tree-hugging hippies or religious zealots, be played it must.
I think one thing everyone can agree on, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, is that money, not al-Qaida, Iran, or some shadowy villain is surely the greatest threat to our political system.
Louis Meert, Tampa
Court can undo its wrong
The U.S. Supreme Court has a chance to fix the enormous mistake it made in the Citizens United decision. A Montana case challenging that Supreme Court decision has just been appealed back to the court.
Justice Antonin Scalia recently said, "If the system seems crazy to you, don't blame it on the court." Well, I do blame it on the Supreme Court. Its decision in the Citizens United case two years ago is destroying our democracy.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer have issued an extraordinary statement calling on their fellow justices "to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway."
This country was founded to protect the rights of individual citizen. Corporations are artificial entities, not real people.
Bill Monrose, St. Petersburg
District embraces reform | Feb. 28
The decline of discipline
Seems like each day brings more news and opinions about the local schools, the latest being the finding that the Pinellas County system is too top-heavy. That may be, but the most important people involved in schooling are parents and the classroom teacher. The single most important issue is discipline.
In an age where single parenthood is more and more prevalent, where 100 police have to be called upon to quell a riot over sneakers, and where the obese population is exploding to record numbers, it's fair to assume that self-discipline and home discipline often have fallen by the wayside.
The schools' ability to discipline has been eroded over time, leading to an inability or unwillingness to enforce behavior issues. I often wonder what all the test scores and school ratings would be if hundreds of parents hadn't forsaken the local public schools for private ones.
Curt Geer, St. Petersburg
Jeb Bush shaping education in Florida Feb. 28
Bush should just butt out
Out of the blue pops Jeb Bush with his worldly advice on a subject on which he has put his foot in his mouth many times. I refer to public education, about which too many politicians are afraid to call out Bush for his positions. Bush and Rick Santorum are apparently two peas in a pod.
Bush had ample opportunity when he was governor to support and enhance public schools but instead chose to use public school funds to support and push for vouchers for charter and private religious schools. Now he is trying to influence his Florida Republican buddies to follow his lead even after it was established that using public funds for vouchers for private religious schools was not only improper but unconstitutional.
Florida has enough public school money problems without Bush's negative comments.
Vaughn N. Anderson, St. Petersburg
Obama touts auto bailout | Feb. 29
Some retirees are hurting
President Barack Obama touts the auto bailout as a significant accomplishment but conveniently fails to mention the thousands of people hurt by his orchestration of the bankruptcy to buy union votes.
The good-faith purchasers of the GM common stock and corporate bonds prior to the bankruptcy had their investments wiped out with the UAW receiving their stolen ownership. Ask the 21,000 Delphi (part of GM) retired salaried employees about losing 40-70 percent of their pensions while the retired union employees are receiving their full pensions.
Furthermore, the American taxpayers should be aware of the fact that GM still owes them $27 billion of bailout money yet pays its employees and officers very generous bonuses and buys million-dollar ads for the Super Bowl.
Fred Zimmer, St. Petersburg
Cuban orchestra plans 3-day bay area visit Feb. 29
I can only hope our guardian saint, Rubio the Pious, has demanded the Florida National Guard be put on full alert and deployed to Tampa to protect citizens from these communist invaders. How dare they try to lure true Americans into an evening of total enjoyment with their subtle, subliminal tones of beautiful music?
Bob Dodd, Dade City
No need to fear instant F grades | Feb. 29
I am appalled that the Board of Education thinks that it is a good measure of a school's ability to instruct children by testing children in a language that they are just learning.
I would love for the Board of Education to take a high school reading test written in Russian. If they can pass that test, then they can continue to hold their positions. If they can't, they need to think about the young people that they are inflicting with stress to take a high-stakes test that will then indicate the proficiency of their teachers.
There are students that have only been speaking English for a little over a year. They will take the FCAT in April. Teachers work hard daily to teach them English. They are learning, but can we really expect them to be proficient at grade level?
Should teachers be graded for how well they teach when ESOL students try their best but don't quite make grade level expectations? Does this mean my school is unsuccessful? Wake up, Board of Education. Think about the expectations you are asking for. Can you pass a test written in a language you don't speak?
Karyn Smith, Trinity
Head off a war between the ages Feb. 29, letter
Eliminate earnings cap
This letter on fixing Social Security without causing war between the ages was spot on.
Simply eliminating the cap on earnings subject to Social Security tax would eliminate almost all of the future funding shortfall. This is a solution that is much less painful than most options we hear discussed, and it would change the regressive nature of the tax.
The Robert Samuelson article suggests more difficult approaches to the problem based on questionable data indicating that seniors are wealthier than they actually are. For example, much of the wealth used in the article comes from computing a present value for future Social Security income, and a good portion of the remainder comes from home equity. There would be no need to have this discussion if our politicians would simply eliminate the earnings cap.
Unfortunately, politicians don't typically act on anything unless there is an immediate crisis. Regrettably, this makes fixing the problem much more difficult and much more painful.
Jerry Stephens, Riverview