It's interesting that, as President Barack Obama criticized economic inequality in the United States, he reached into the pages of history to quote a few lines from Teddy Roosevelt's famous "square deal" speech.
But when Roosevelt spoke those words in 1910, America was far different than it is today. Women and children toiled in sweatshops for paltry wages. The average workday was nine hours, and 10 to 12 hours for blue-collar workers, with no overtime pay.
There was no national safety net for the destitute elderly, the disabled and neglected children. Poorhouses were frequently the last resort for such unfortunates, who were often forced to wear uniforms that advertised their lowly status. Workers' compensation was still a controversial topic, and injured workers usually had to prove that the employer was negligent before a claim would be paid.
Roosevelt was a compassionate man, but he was hardly a groveling socialist. He would have abhorred the thought of long-term payments to the chronically unemployed, welfare bonuses to the able-bodied, random "stimulus" checks paid by the government with borrowed money, and other forms of unearned bounty. A plain-spoken man, he would have called such prizes just a form of bribery for political gain.
Roosevelt did not define fairness in terms of economic equality, for he believed that hard work should be duly rewarded. He said, "I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself."
Unfortunately, none of us, President Obama included, ever achieved greatness by quoting a great man. Too bad. We could use another Teddy Roosevelt right about now.
Marion Smith, Lutz
Bin Laden death turned into class debate at USF | Dec. 5
We need more than science
This article about the USF class on assassinations demonstrates why we need more than just a STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and math) in education. While producing graduates who have a strong background in the hard sciences is essential if we are to continue to be the leader of innovation, it is only part of the well-rounded education that will be needed.
The ancient Greeks were well-aware that it was vital to include the study of rhetoric, logic and the humanities to produce students who would have an understanding of the world they were about to enter. By focusing our education on STEM alone we will, in effect, stifle innovation. Without exposure to the classical inventors and their works, students of STEM will not be able to make the connection of learned science to applied science. Without the classes in debate and logic they won't be able to persuade investors to put money into their capital ventures. Without an understanding of history and politics they won't be able to see their future.
Rick France, Ph.D., MPH, Tampa
Board has big shoes to fill | Dec. 6
Race shouldn't play a role
It is mind-boggling that Janet Clark, a Pinellas County School Board member, is advocating that Gov. Rick Scott name a replacement for Lew Williams based on the color of that person's skin.
Clark is supposed to be a learned leader on education, and she is advocating something that is patently illegal. Regardless of race, color or religion, let's find a way to get some competent board members.
Jeffrey Hausman, Tarpon Springs
Deputies fire up a half-baked scheme Dec. 6, Daniel Ruth column
War on drugs is no joke
This column was very funny. Too bad the real so-called war on drugs is not. The amount of time and money we waste on pursuing marijuana smokers approaches the absurd. Unfortunately, private prisons, narcotics cops, prison guards and lawyers all have made careers from these archaic laws.
There are more people in jail in the United States than in any other country in the world. Over 800,000 Americans are arrested annually for violating pot laws.
A recent study at Montana State University looked at traffic fatalities nationwide for the years 1990-2009 to see if there was any correlation between highway fatalities and liberalized medical marijuana laws. They found that, in states that legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, both traffic fatalities and alcohol consumption declined. It is long past time we repealed our outdated drug laws.
Scott McKown, Palm Harbor
Florida sales taxes
Go after lost revenues
The Florida Legislature needs to make it a top priority to begin collecting sales taxes on items purchased over the Internet.
It is not fair to require only brick-and-mortar businesses to collect this sales tax while excluding merchants who sell over the Internet. In addition, the state desperately needs these funds to address the increasing needs of our schools, economic development initiatives, social services and other critical initiatives.
Why in the world are we letting millions of dollars in legitimate sales tax revenue slip through our fingers? This is not an increase in taxes — it is collecting the sales tax that every legitimate business is already paying. Let's get this done.
Stephen Koch, Seffner
Crystal River nuclear plant
Don't put region at risk
Progress Energy's plan to spend billions to repair and put the Crystal River nuclear plant back online should raise concern from all our elected officials and the public. This plant is obsolete by today's standards and has been plagued with problems.
A failure at this plant would have catastrophic effects for both Florida and the entire Southeast region. The aftermath of the Japanese facility, weather-related or not, is proof of what such an event would cause.
Wouldn't the money Progress Energy intends to spend be better used to construct a modern facility to replace this plant? We have had our power needs fulfilled satisfactorily since this plant has been offline so far. Why put our immediate area at great risk to repair a faulty plant that would not begin to provide power right away anyway?
Vicki LaFleur, St. Petersburg
Hillsborough waste collection
Get best deal for taxpayers
In 1996, Hillsborough County awarded contracts to three solid waste haulers, creating an effective monopoly for these companies to provide residential and commercial service.
Since the original agreement was signed, our contractors have generally met their obligations. The County Commission has extended the contract once and approved rate increases four times. All were approved without an open, competitive bid.
Some argue the existing system works well and that we should extend the current agreements. County staff prides itself on having negotiated competitive rates. But without open, competitive bids, how can we ensure we are getting the best deal for taxpayers?
If you are like me, you "price shop" your auto insurance every couple of years. Constituents in my district compare prices for prescription medicines and Medicare options. We all "price shop." So why not expect the same from your government?
The time has come for the county to put garbage collection services out to bid. On Wednesday, the County Commission will hold a public workshop on this matter. If you believe, as I do, that the way to get the best deal is to comparison shop, I encourage you to let the commissioners know. Email us or attend the meeting.
Al Higginbotham, Hillsborough County commissioner
Pink slip for the best man Dec. 7, commentary
An example of waste
Joe Nocera's op-ed piece praising the recently dismissed Dr. Donald Berwick neglects one fact: the bottom line.
I recently spent two hours on the telephone with a succession of Medicare benefits specialists and supervisors. I was trying to get authorization for a $98 piece of durable medical equipment to replace a worn-out one and save Medicare money in the process.
I'd been getting replacements via my employer health insurance, as prescribed by my physician based on testing from 16 years ago. A year and a half ago I went on Medicare, and this year Medicare refused to pay unless there was a copy of the test report in the submission. That report was discarded years ago, but Medicare refused to budge and insisted on another expensive test.
I gave up. Medicare paid for the test, paid for the equipment, was billed far more than market price and cut down the payment to merely excessive. They are no doubt congratulating themselves on this successful medical management exercise.
Nowhere in this idiocy was any sign of Berwick's wonderful management of Medicare. He may have embraced all the management buzzwords, held hundreds of meetings, and promulgated hundreds of pages of new initiatives and regulations. But the cost inflation of health care continues.
James Klapper, Oldsmar