America's worst charities | June 9
Charities: the good, bad and ugly
The article in last Sunday's Times by Kris Hundley and Kendall Taggart was excellent. It was extremely informative and alarming to read how many "mock" charities exist, soliciting enormous amounts of donations that are likely being contributed by people who believe they are giving to a different organization. It is sad to see how the American people are being swindled by "charities" and how little actually goes to the people in need.
I get these calls from time to time. A recent one was from a company claiming to represent some law enforcement agency charity, and the man was very forceful. After pressing me a number of times for a commitment, I said I would not be making a donation. He finally gave up and ended the call, but he was intimidating and I'm not easily intimidated.
Also recently, I was checking out at Publix and the friendly cashier asked, "Would you like to make a donation to the Children's Wish Network?" I declined and raced home to look over the list to see if they are on it. They are not. However, several similarly named organizations are, and I began to see how easily the public can be fooled.
I was especially interested in this article because I recently have been introduced to Easter Seals, and after touring their facility in Tampa and learning that about 90 cents of every dollar goes directly to their programs for children, it made me a little sick to think anyone would receive money on behalf of someone who is in need and spend it on something else. It's just plain fraud.
Gwen Garris, Lutz
NSA spying challenged | June 12
A basic American right
A truly basic American right has been the right to privacy. It's one of the few areas that conservatives and liberals agree on.
The worst of our opponents have been those who constantly snooped into their citizens' lives — think about the Communists of the Cold War or Hitler's SS. And yet, here we are: a country that is snooping into our own citizenry at a level never before seen anywhere. I am dismayed by the level at which the NSA (and the other organizations) are looking at data from Google, Twitter, Verizon and monitoring our every phone call and text message, all without warrants.
This is just not what a free country does. It just isn't right. I don't care about "security" if it means that I have no privacy.
Please contact your representatives to repeal the so-called Patriot Act and oppose all laws that allow this un-American snooping.
Larry Bloom, Safety Harbor
The solitary leaker | June 12
Traitor or hero?
Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a hero? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock and others were traitors in the fact that they rebelled against the lawfully established government of their time, and heroes in the fact that they risked their lives and liberty in order to do what they believed was right. Snowden may very well be both a hero and a traitor.
My personal belief that the National Security Agency programs violate the Fourth Amendment is actually irrelevant. The NSA is not a police force gathering evidence of a crime. They are spies who have been ordered to spy upon their fellow countrymen. They need not worry that the information they gather will not be admissible in court. Those they accuse will not actually be tried in court, but will merely disappear into the shadows of what once was a country ruled by laws.
The fact that the Fourth Amendment was meant to prevent the broad scope "writs of assistance" and "general warrants" that our security services now rely upon is meaningless in a country in which persons may be held indefinitely and without charge based upon nothing more than a presidential finding.
If I have nothing to hide, then what do I fear? I fear government programs that believe they are above the law. I fear those who twist and distort words in order to hide the truth. I fear politicians who ignore their oath to uphold the Constitution. But most of all I fear those who believe the ends justify the means.
A police state is a secure state, but it's not the America that I love.
Paul Starr, Treasure Island
Do the right thing
David Brooks misses the real point. Edward Snowden saw something that is terribly wrong and did the right thing for this country by making it known. He is a hero and a patriot for having the courage to do so. We need more like him inside "government."
Our justice system will no doubt go after him in an effort to make an example and scare off other insiders who may think about stepping forward when they see something wrong.
Ray MacGrogan, Tampa
School security solution elusive | June 8
Expand use of video
We don't need to put guns into schools for security; we need to keep them out. Arming teachers or security guards increases the risk of something going wrong.
Video surveillance of parking lots, school entrances and school hallways by a trained person will do the job — 911 is a moment away. This would be a good role for a volunteer or disabled person. One person with a gun can't protect an entire school, but a proper video system can. Keep the doors locked so no one can get in without permission but those inside can get out.
More guns is the opposite of diminishing the gun problem.
Michael Ahrens, Tampa
Plan to control student loan costs fails in Senate | June 7
Big picture on loan rates
It's silly to insist that graduates pay high interest rates as some sort of austerity exercise. When a person gets an education, it's enlightened self-interest on his or her part, but it also benefits all of society — especially the government, which benefits from greater tax revenue from that same educated person, who will go on to earn two or three times more over a lifetime.
The economy also benefits, since graduates who aren't staggering under debt payments can buy more goods and services. Think about a new grad who is able to buy a car or a house, which creates jobs in construction and manufacturing.
High student loan interest rates also discourage college attendance, because the repayment amounts are so intimidating. No one is saying that grads shouldn't pay every dime of their student loans back, just that student loan rates shouldn't double. It's bad for grads, bad for the economy, bad for us.
Mark S. Cattell, Oldsmar