This article is absolutely right in saying that sunshine and beaches are not enough to bring jobs and residents to Florida. Why would anyone want to vacation in Florida when he or she can go on a cruise to exotic places for about $100 per day per person, with free entertainment and unlimited food?
Many Northerners who used to come here to escape the cold and snow no longer find it affordable to keep a second home here, as condo fees, home insurance and property taxes have risen to a comparable level as back home.
As to jobs, thoughtful people and institutions have suggested that six industry clusters be established in the Tampa Bay area to create well-paying employment opportunities. The clusters are in life sciences, information technology, homeland security, aviation and aerospace, financial and professional services, and clean tech. All of these require that we have a work force that is well trained in science and engineering. They will have to come from the best graduate schools. Are there any in Florida?
Above all, we will need advocates who can articulate our needs and who can persuade policymakers in Tallahassee to invest (a bad word these days) in the sources to bring to Florida the best minds and intellects.
But I am not optimistic. Too many university presidents are busy recruiting star athletes, and too many politicians are preoccupied with building the next Taj Mahal.
Omar Wing, St. Petersburg
Improve the state's infrastructure
The revenue from Florida visitors in 2007 was $65.5 billion. The revenue from visitors in 2010 was $60.9 billion. We need to give Florida visitors what they really want to see when they arrive in our beautiful state.
One of the most fantastic assets is Tampa International Airport. It is beautiful, clean and extremely functional. We have good, but not great, highways. The infrastructure could be a great deal better if we had the crews and trucks to take care of every pothole and provide landscaping. Medians should be filled with tropical plants, and roads should be clean.
Florida's infrastructure needs a lift if we are going to encourage visitors. If visitors only come for the beach, the weather may not cooperate. We need them to want to see our state and have the beautiful roadways to lure visitors to travel around. Let's let go of the foolish structures that cost money and have no guarantee of success and provide those who visit a sensational take on Florida's beauty.
Michele Shriver, Palm Harbor
We must do better for Florida visitors
I recently took my family to Madeira Beach right across from John's Pass Village. I have many fond childhood memories of fishing off the old bridge and then cooling off in the gulf.
I went to use the men's room to change clothes and found the conditions deplorable. Toilets clogged with sewage, urine-drenched floors, sinks with no soap or towels — it reminded of Third World conditions I've encountered overseas.
Outside I was approached by some tourists who were just looking for a place to get change required for the parking meters. I was unable to help them, so they just drove away.
We are blitzed with TV ads encouraging us to get folks to visit Florida. Tourists create jobs, and we need them. We've got to do a better job with the kind of facilities that these tourists will use when they come.
Unless you are hellbent on driving people away, why would you have parking meters with no place to get change? I hope the citizens of Madeira Beach and all of us demand a higher standard.
Jack Byers, St. Petersburg
Internet 'kill switch'
Don't surrender free speech
As we watch events transpire in Egypt, including the shutdown of their Internet, it should not be forgotten that the United States is also considering a "kill switch" for the Internet.
Sen. Joe Lieberman's "kill switch" bill was approved by committee in December and could become law. Supposedly to be used in times of unspecified "cyber emergency," the switch is also obviously useful at times of unrest.
This bill would give government the option of suspending free speech. Is that what we want in America?
Pete Edwards, Seminole
Topping off their tanks
What's wrong with this picture? ExxonMobil's fourth-quarter profits are up 53 percent; Chevron's 72 percent; and ConocoPhillips' 54 percent. Yet here I am struggling at the pump paying over $3 a gallon. This must be "trickle up" economics.
Dennis Aubin, Largo
Criminals don't buy legally | Jan. 31, letter
Guns headed to Mexico
This letter referenced the indictment of 20 people in Phoenix on gun-smuggling charges as evidence that criminals would continue to bring guns into the state.
In fact, the indictment was for smuggling guns purchased in Arizona under Arizona's arcane gun control laws by "straw buyers" for resale to the drug cartels in Mexico. One man is accused of buying 239 assault rifles.
James Melvin, Clearwater
Protect law-abiding owners
It appears, from reading various articles and opinions over the past two weeks regarding gun control, that the issues are never going to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
I, for one, am glad that the National Rifle Association, Marion Hammer and Florida state Sen. Greg Evers, among others, are looking to protect our legal and law-abiding gun rights.
I am sad that the Times editorial staff, Robyn Blumner and Daniel Ruth are so biased against law-abiding gun rights. Criminals and fanatics will find a way to perform their hideous acts one way or another regardless of existing laws.
Robert Simister, Seminole
Beware of the assault vehicle! | Feb. 1, commentary
Differences in guns, cars
The short answer to Nicholas Kristof's op-ed is that guns are already "registered" at the point of purchase. Why do you think there is a serial number stamped on every firearm sold in this country? Even if you could trace every crime gun found at the scene, what half-intelligent criminal would use a gun that can be traced back to himself? Not only that, but unlike car purchasers, gun purchasers are subjected to a background check and waiting period. In some ways, guns are more regulated than cars.
Moreover, you do not need to register a car or have a driver's license if you keep your vehicle on private property. Public roads cost money to maintain, and cars, being large and obvious, are different than firearms, which are mostly kept out of sight, or on private property.
I don't know of any organization out to ban cars, but there are those out to ban guns. Car registration was never intended as a crime-fighting measure but as a revenue producer. Crooks steal cars every day and use them to commit crimes, just like they illegally procure guns. Enforcing traffic laws and crackdowns on drunken driving are the major weapons against car abuse, much like arresting people for misusing guns is the only real way to combat "gun crime."
Things like trigger locks, safes, multiple safeties and so on only serve to make guns less available in an emergency, which, instead of saving lives, can cost them. I am thinking of the case a few years ago in California where some children were unable to retrieve a firearm from a safe that would have saved their lives from a pitchfork-wielding assailant.
Some of Kristof's ideas might have merit, and it is fair enough to examine them. Many of them have already been tried and have been shown to be ineffective. Let's formulate our laws on a rational basis, not simply to appeal to emotions or politicians with an agenda.
Leonard Martino, Tampa
Reduce the carnage
A friend of mine, a recently retired career public defender who has defended a number of homicide cases, including multiple murderers, made a comment that makes a lot of sense. In defending seriously deranged murder defendants, his experience has led him to the inescapable conclusion that in the U.S. population of over 300 million there are probably several hundred thousand citizens walking freely on our streets who have extremely serious mental health issues.
And time and time again, it has been proved that they can buy high-capacity automatic weapons, capable of killing a number of their fellow citizens in a matter of seconds. He predicts, and I concur, that the Tucson massacre will be replicated in various places around our country over the coming months.
It is sheer madness not pass some reasonable restrictions on the sale of automatic weapons, especially those with high-capacity clips. With more and more cutbacks in mental health services, taking some reasonable steps to reduce the carnage that a mentally deranged individual can visit on an unsuspecting public should be self-evident.
Mark W. Brandt, Dunedin
Rubio won't commit to caucus | Jan. 24
Tea party won't last
It comes as no surprise that Marco Rubio is distancing himself from the tea party movement. As with the Moral Majority of the 1980s, a radical group is just what an underdog candidate needs to propel his name as quickly as possible. But like a quick spark burning out, the tea party is now too radical for Rubio.
This is actually good news for our state. A candidate could talk all he wants about how going back to the conservative economic model would save the country. But an elected official realizes that the government is essential to saving the economy from that same failed conservative economic model. A candidate will claim that if we leave it to the corporate community, money will flow through our economy. But a senator knows that if we do not get the government involved in a time of need, our economy will fail.
The tea party will be a footnote in American politics by the 2012 elections. The group succeeded in creating short-term stress in the political system, but is too extreme for the conservative politicians it supports.
Ken Miller, Tampa
Health care law
It's comical when Pam Bondi stands up and chats about how our forefathers would be pleased with the judge who overturned health care reform due to the mandates of coverage.
Most insurance, if not all, has some sort of mandate either from state government or the federal government on what coverage is needed and in some cases amounts we need to carry. Car insurance here in Florida has mandates that we all must carry a minimum amount of insurance. Is that now unconstitutional?
And how about those who own their house outright (no bank loan), where it is mandated here in Florida that if you purchase fire/theft insurance, you must also purchase wind protection. I doubt these will ever be overturned because, unlike our forefathers, today's politicians are in bed with the insurance industry.
Jim Steinle, Clearwater
Stray cats, dogs
Support spay, neuter bill
Please ask your lawmakers to support and co-sponsor Florida HB 359 and SB 676, providing for a $15 surcharge on animal ordinance violations to help fund spay and neuter programs in Florida.
Karen Parker, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, estimates there are 5 million stray and feral cats in our state. Apart from the health issues, these animals are prone to cruelty as nobody watches out for them. We tire of seeing cat and dog carcasses on our highways and roads.
Luke Swanhart, Winter Haven
Lack of respect for learning
What is wrong with the education system in America? If you ask a politician, he or she will likely tell you it is the fault of bad teachers. What makes them qualified to make that judgment? When was the last time any of them was in a classroom?
If America wants to know what is wrong with the education system in America, ask a teacher who is on the front line every day, dedicating his or her life to the betterment of our society.
As a teacher, I can testify that there are some great teachers, many good teachers, and a few okay teachers in the school system. In any profession you will find some lemons. Those are continually being weeded out.
The problem with education is the lack of respect given to the institution of education and to teachers as a whole. The day when students, parents, society and political leaders revered and supported teachers is gone.
In the past when a teacher had a concern about a student, she could call home and get the support of the parent to rectify the problem. Today when teachers call home, they are accused of lying and picking on the child. When homework is assigned, teachers are bombarded with complaints from parents that it is unreasonable for students to do so much work at home.
Fixing the education system is a huge undertaking, and there are no quick fixes. If you ask a teacher, the first step is for society to stop forcing everyone into the college mold — not every acceptable position in America requires a college education.
Tracy Graves, Tampa