In the wake of the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, Congress rushed to pass the Patriot Act. It was introduced in the House on Oct. 23, 2001, and passed the next day with overwhelming support. It passed the Senate on Oct. 25 with only a single dissent and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 26, 2001, with an immediate effective date.
You haven't read it? Don't feel bad. I'm pretty sure almost none of the representatives or senators read it, either. This document is 132 pages of insertions, deletions, cross-references and changes.
So why did almost everyone vote for it? It was political suicide to vote against this bill, no matter what it said. Congress could have written that we had to make copies of our house keys and turn them in to the local police station.
"Trust us. If you aren't a criminal, you will have nothing to worry about." So goes the refrain today; so went the refrain 12 years ago. We won't investigate you unless we find a link between you and a criminal, but if we find a link, we need to act quickly. Like lemmings, large groups of people will start following one another, notwithstanding what (with hindsight) is an obvious danger ahead.
Twelve years later, after renewals, extensions and reauthorizations, the resolve borne of panic and mass delusion (maybe Saddam didn't really have those weapons after all) has given way to the reality that this is, after all, America — the "Land of the Free." Maybe we really don't want to give one branch of government — our executive branch — unbridled authority to intrude into our personal lives looking for a reason to arrest us, harass us, cajole us. Our Founding Fathers knew this was a recipe for trouble.
The Patriot Act was bad law when it was enacted. It is bad law now. Just because you don't have anything in the trunk of your car does not mean you should agree to open it when the police officer asks you if it is okay to look in your trunk. Just because you aren't doing anything "wrong" does not mean you should agree, explicitly or tacitly, to allow the executive branch and their spy agencies to go through your phone records, listen to your calls, go through your Internet search results, study your web browsing habits and look at your stored files.
What we've learned in the past few days is just the tip of the iceberg. We elected the representatives and senators who invited government agencies into our electronic lives. The time has come to politely invite them out. If our representatives won't do it, we should invite our representatives out.
And, just maybe, we will be a little bit more careful next time.
Ronald Marlowe, Tampa
Paying too much for too little health care June 7, editorial
Medical safety net
Safe, reliable procedural sedation provided or directed by anesthesiology physicians has been instrumental in getting the public to accept uncomfortable and invasive tests such as colonoscopies. Echoing a recent New York Times article, your June 6 editorial distorts the facts surrounding payments made for anesthesia for gastroenterology procedures.
General anesthesia is not required for these procedures — that is correct — but this does not exclude the need for an anesthesia physician when that means a safer patient experience, as concluded through research studies. I agree the professional fees cited are outrageous and, if widespread, would be a significant driver of health care costs. Tampa Bay Times readers ought to know that a payment of less than $150 would be the nationwide norm to an anesthesiologist sedating a Medicare recipient for an upper or lower GI study.
The tragic and avoidable deaths of several Floridians every year during these procedures is proof that complications requiring immediate intervention can occur with any test, no matter how routine or minor. In recognition that minutes matter most when lives are at stake, nearly all knowledgeable patients and a majority of prudent gastroenterologists choose to have an anesthesiologist involved with their procedural sedation. As health care spending is appropriately and increasingly scrutinized, we must be cautious not to weaken any safety nets protecting us and our families.
Jay H. Epstein, M.D., president, Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, Pinellas Park
Scott goes out of state for jobs | June 9
Making the case for Florida
Gov. Rick Scott has been — and should be — focused on improving Florida's economy. A critical component of this is the development of new businesses in Florida. This can be done either by encouraging start-up businesses and/or by attracting businesses from other states.
Why do companies advertise their products? One reason is to get new customers who will use their product rather than a competitor's. That is exactly what Scott is doing by pointing out the positives of Florida's economy: shrinking unemployment, lower taxes, a great business environment and beautiful weather. These are excellent reasons to move a business to Florida from another state.
I hope the governor stays aggressive in attracting other businesses to Florida. What your article failed to point out is that, as we speak, other states are trying to attract and get Florida companies to leave the state. If another state's tax burden is higher than Florida's, that should be noted. If our weather is better, the governor should let them know that too. The governor is our state's greatest advocate and should point out advantages of doing business in Florida.
All states have tax incentive and exemption programs to grow existing businesses and attract companies from other states. This last session, Scott and the Florida Legislature created a sales tax exemption for machinery and equipment used within Florida to manufacture, process, compound or produce tangible goods for sale. This is only one example of what the governor and Legislature have passed throughout the years to encourage businesses to grow and prosper in Florida.
Alex Sanchez, president and CEO, Florida Bankers Association, Tallahassee
For state springs, small step forward June 10, editorial
Florida has been blessed with more freshwater springs than any other state, and we are dependent on clean, plentiful water for our health, environment and economy. Appropriation of $10 million for springs restoration is a small step in the right direction, but hardly a drop in the bucket considering declining freshwater flows and water quality.
Even as these systems decline from long-term reduction in rainfall due to climate change and massive overpumping, the Department of Environmental Protection plunges ahead with water permitting rules to "streamline" water use, creating longer permit periods with no real metrics for conservation.
Granting permits for a 20-year period in which water conditions can and will change dramatically is unsustainable. Meanwhile, water management districts continue to assert that pumping and overuse is not the primary culprit in dramatically reduced freshwater flows, thus allowing overpumping to continue.
It's time for Gov. Rick Scott to revive the Florida Springs Task Force and send the Legislature, DEP and the water management districts back to the drawing board with an order to place water protection at the highest level of priority for Florida's future.
Cathy Harrelson, Florida organizer, Gulf Restoration Network, St. Petersburg
Move transit talks into high gear June 9, editorial
A transit plan that works
Occasionally the editorial pages publish a piece about public transportation for Tampa Bay. There's a recap of the latest (lack of) progress and (dismal) prospects. The public yawns, as we succumb to hopeless traffic jams and endless road construction projects.
Many of us fuming in those jams have visited cities with great public transportation: San Francisco, Dallas, New York City. Last summer, I was riding the Portland, Ore., light rail and thought about the distinguishing characteristics of that system. It occurred to me that it wasn't the smooth rails, the quiet electric motors, or the comfortable carriages at the essence of this system. It was the dedicated lanes. As a result, the system has a huge advantage over other forms of city travel. The train has priority at intersections and whisks through lights.
What your editors and our civic leaders lack is a clear vision of a transportation system for us. Imagine a speedy line from Tampa International Airport to downtown Tampa. Initially, this line does not need rails or power lines. The cars can run on tires and diesel power. Think what that would do to the cost.
Perhaps this first route could terminate at the Tampa Amtrak station. It would probably be popular with people who visit for downtown conventions and events at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Residents could catch the tram to the airport and not have to deal with the bottleneck at the terminal.
From there, the system could add a route to USF and South Tampa. An express route could connect Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg and the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. In the next phases, the transportation authority can lay the rails and put light rail into service.
This is a vision of a system launched on a budget, with the goal of giving taxpayers a fast return for their investment.
Charles Arnold, St. Petersburg