Here are some suggestions to reduce the federal budget deficit:
• Privatize NASA, expecting no benefits in return, and let the company taking over pay expenses and reap the benefits. Let universities do research on the subject of outer space, just as they are doing for our more important oceans. Savings: $20 billion.
• Pull our troops out of all other countries and quit tending to their business (a savings of $180 billion). For instance, we went into Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, not to rebuild the country. We failed in our original mission, so there is no point in being there. The same goes for Iraq. What made President George W. Bush think we should reinvent that country?
I know that one reason for having troops overseas is to be a deterrent to aggression by other countries. However, in the event Russia, Iran or North Korea become aggressive, we can mobilize our troops rapidly from this country.
• Eliminate foreign aid (a savings of $52 billion) until U.S. citizens are taken care of. Remember, charity begins at home. Nearly 35 million people, including 13 million children, in the United States were food insecure, hungry or living on the edge of hunger in 2002. There are thousands homeless and countless unemployed. The one exception to not helping other countries would be in the case of a disaster, such as what happened in Haiti.
• Implement a flat percentage income tax for all citizens and businesses, and stop allowing people to hide income through deductions. The mantra of lowering business taxes to increase hiring has never worked, and it certainly isn't now. The only exception to this concept would be to implement a higher tax rate for companies that move their work force overseas.
• Eliminate the Social Security contribution and benefit base. The Social Security tax should be applied to all, no matter how much the income. And leave that money in the trust, instead of using as part of the general fund. Eliminate the payroll deduction cap for Medicare as well. Lower the cost of drugs by no longer allowing drug companies to advertise on TV, magazines and the like.
• Stop all privatization where the companies must answer to the government. For instance, the managed care Medicare plans, run by private companies, cost the federal government a lot more than traditional Medicare. It seems that private companies are more expensive and subject to corruption and shoddy work. Blackwater and Halliburton come to mind.
• Add a 15-cent tax to gasoline to cover transportation infrastructure. This country desperately needs to repair and upgrade the transportation infrastructure. There are many old bridges in this country on the verge of collapse.
• End earmarks.
• In cutting federal payrolls, start with the employees who are at the top of the income chain. Leave the "worker bees" who are near the bottom of the compensation chain. They are already doing the jobs of two or three employees as a result of past budget cuts. And while we are at it, let's make an across-the-board cut, say 20 percent, to all congressional salaries.
• Consolidate duplicate committees and departments and eliminate archaic committees and departments. Eliminate subsidies for wealthy farm corporations, and grants to wealthier companies and communities.
These are just a few of the cost-cutting measures that make sense to me. However, please remember that "entitlements" is not a dirty word nor an entity to be slashed first. The definition is: "An entitlement is a guarantee of access to benefits based on established rights or by legislation." We send billions of dollars to other countries, but the mind-set seems to be that the citizens of this country should be disenfranchised when it comes to "entitlements."
Judith Black, Oldsmar
Gridiron success offers a lesson in persistence
During this time of continued economic difficulty, hope for things working out in the end may be coming from a surprising source: Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount.
Here is a young man whose dreams seemed to come crashing down after one ill-advised loss of composure in September 2009, when as a member of the Oregon college football team he punched a player after a loss at Boise State.
He was suspended and then — apparently considered poison by the NFL — not taken in any round during last spring's draft. With all these terrible things piling up, it would have been easy for him to give up on himself and his dreams of success as a pro football player. Instead he chose to continue to believe in himself and his abilities and persisted in pursuit of his dream.
The rest is history. The Bucs — figuring they had nothing to lose — signed him on the cheap as a rookie free agent and now he's being talked about as a potential NFL rookie of the year.
In recent months, lots of non-football-playing folks have lost their jobs, homes and businesses. In many cases the cause of these catastrophes may have little to do with anything they did right or wrong. It would be easy for them or any of us to pack it in and give up the dream of living the good life.
The example of LeGarrette Blount should lead one to think otherwise. No matter how great the setback, America is still the land of opportunity, where persistence combined with talent will — one way or the other — overcome the odds.
John Benincasa Jr., Oldsmar
'Don't ask, don't tell'
It's not a 'preference'
A letter from a man who served in the military was published recently in the Times supporting letting homosexuals openly serve in the military.
I would like to address two terms in the letter, because it has been pretty well proved that they are not factual and only perpetuate the idea that gay people choose how they live.
One is "sexual preference." Heterosexuals don't choose to be heterosexual, and neither do homosexuals. This is who they are, how they were when they were born.
The other is "lifestyle." Again, they live as gay people because that is who they are. Always have been, always will be. It's not a choice.
Making them second-class citizens in the name of religion is not only cruel but unfounded. There are countless editions of the Bible, and many thousands of contradictions among and within them. There are also those who just don't like gay people because they're different.
Our young people are moving us in the right direction, with open-minded thought and seeing people as who they are, not as some "other" that demands ridicule and hate. We certainly aren't there yet, but hopefully we will get there soon and we will never have to hear of another suicide because of a person's sexual orientation.
Marie Chapman, Palm Harbor
Lack of compassion
I went to a movie on a recent Friday, and a handicapped woman in a wheelchair and guide dog were there. She was not blind, but the dog guided the chair. While the previews were being shown, she was talking to a woman next to her.
There were no teenagers there, but many of the adults started yelling at her to shut up. They were going to call the manager, they had not paid $15 to hear her talk, and so on. She turned to them and pointed out that the movie had not started, but they kept verbally abusing her.
When the movie started, she didn't say a word, but I noticed quite a few of the complainers were talking to each other. It was then that it hit me that what is wrong with our country is not the economy, or people who bought $300,000 homes on an income of $40,000. It is the lack of compassion, feelings for others, and just plain rudeness shown by the so-called adults who are only concerned with themselves.
I felt sick. It's plain what kind of homes our unruly teenagers come from after observing their parents' behavior. There is no hope for our country if most of our citizens are like this.
Nancy Shanks, St. Petersburg
To the citizens of St. Petersburg:
Two years ago, my dad — a St. Pete resident — had a stroke. He uses a cane, he is slow, and he shuffles when he walks. He lost most of his hearing and wears a hearing aid. His speech is slurred, and he cannot easily think of the words he wants to use.
My dad is not drunk. He is not ignoring you. He is not a "retard," as someone recently called him.
What you see is an old man whose body is tired out. What you don't see is a decorated Vietnam veteran; a husband, father and grandfather who is dearly loved; a survivor with a great sense of humor; a man who likes to meet people and make small talk.
When you see my dad, please show him respect and compassion. Don't know who my dad is? Be kind to anyone who meets this description.
Dawn Kendall, Fredericksburg, Va.
Girl Scout uniforms
Back in the U.S.A.
A few weeks ago, Girl Scouts of the USA put the manufacturing of Girl Scout uniforms out to competitive bid. In light of that announcement, various media outlets picked up the story that, as a result of the bid process, Girl Scout uniforms may be manufactured overseas.
As an organization, we are fortunate to have Girl Scout parents, members and volunteers who are very passionate about the movement, and they let their voices be heard by sending their concerns directly to GSUSA.
GSUSA not only heard the concerns but listened to them and has since altered its request for proposals to require that Girl Scout uniforms be manufactured in the United States.
Bids are being reviewed by GSUSA, and while no decision has been made, the public can be sure that any vendor under consideration agrees to adhere to strict guidelines as to worker age, treatment and safety, as mandated by GSUSA.
We look forward to and appreciate the community's continued support of the nearly 24,000 girls and 10,000 adult members we serve throughout eight counties in west-central Florida.
Kimberly Jowell, CEO, Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, Tampa
Cruise ship fire
Ships have a good record
The fire recently on the Carnival cruise ship Splendor was very unusual and may never happen again. To the passengers who were unhappy with their cruise, Carnival did everything it could to protect and take care of them.
I have been on 86 cruises, and 75 have been on Carnival Cruise Lines. On those 75 cruises, the worst thing that happened to me was when we were a few hours late coming into the Port of Tampa because of fog. Some people blamed Carnival, but the Coast Guard has control over that.
Ora M. Krueger, St. Petersburg
No donations this year
I will be passing the bell ringers and kettles this Christmas. Not because I don't want to help the needy, but because I refuse to donate to an organization that can afford to pay $95,000 to a weekend, on-call, work-when-you-want job that does not even need to be replaced when the employee "resigns" to avoid being fired for unethical behavior.
Until the army can show a tad bit more responsibility in how it spends my donations, it will receive nothing from me.
Sandra Henry, Port Richey
Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. With a little imagination, the electric car can be the spark that turns this economy around.
It may be impractical to expect most drivers to plug in their cars, but if you think back to the summer of 2008 when gas prices were pushing $4 a gallon, then you might expect maybe 10 to 15 percent of the public willing to plug in.
As far as the range and recharge time, I'm guessing that most people live about 25 miles or less from their place of work or school. If these institutions were to install plug-ins for electric cars, then these drivers could plug in at work.
Paul Scolaro, New Port Richey
Cracking down on "school sneakers" Nov. 16
Parents vote with their feet
It's upsetting that a school board is so focused on preventing parents from getting their children the best education. The Hillsborough board would rather spend valuable resources on increasing an enforcement bureaucracy than on providing superior education to children throughout the county.
Why do parents "sneak" their children into the better schools? Obviously, to get them a better education. The school board needs to face the facts that some of their schools are not measuring up.
Edward Nove, Sun City Center