Alarms fail to inspire action | Dec. 29
Housing failures, top to bottom
Bravo to staff writers Michael Laforgia and Will Hobson for tracking down what went wrong in Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery program. Nearly everyone with some responsibility for helping the homeless can be pointed to as having a hand in this disastrous situation: a county administrator, Mike Merrill, unaware of problems; high-level administrators who failed to act despite numerous red flags about the squalid living quarters where the homeless were shuttled; middle managers with conflicts of interest amid lax fiscal oversight; and a county commission with its head in the sand.
So why did this happen and how might it have been avoided? County commissioners need to get their act together and commit to solving the homeless problem.
The county administrator's failure to be aware of the severity of the problem is baffling. High-level administrators are expected to engage the community they serve and put forth recommendations that ensure their elected bosses understand and take appropriate steps to ameliorate problems like homelessness.
Ethics, or more appropriately the lack thereof, is evidently threaded throughout the workplace culture. How could a county employee who was a landlord receive county payments from the division that housed Homeless Recovery? The two caseworkers who authorized payments knew Earl was a county employee and claimed they saw nothing wrong with the arrangement. Does the county have an ethics training program? If it does, it needs to be energized or perhaps trashed and restarted. If it doesn't, isn't it time to create one?
Hillsborough County government is in sore need of an overhaul from top to bottom. This sad, revolting case demonstrates the classic problem of "many hands" with no person or persons responsible for decisions that have dire consequences for vulnerable men, women and children.
Donald C. Menzel, Tampa
Lawmakers cool to Snowden's claims Dec. 28
How we lost our rights
I think down the road history will brand Edward Snowden a hero. If he blew the whistle on U.S. soil he would be slapped in a federal prison with no representation under the National Security Act and the issue would have been buried.
He made us aware of how far our government is slowly eroding our rights. We will never know how many other secret programs our government is using to look into our lives under the pretense of security. At one time I had faith that our leaders were protecting our God-given rights under the Constitution, but not so much anymore.
Mark P. Enering, Wesley Chapel
Help to those in need
Last week I had the privilege of spending time with volunteers from HSN. Together we spent a few hours distributing Angel Tree gifts to grateful parents who need the extra help this time of year. I was heartened to learn of HSN's policy that allows employees to spend two paid days a year volunteering at such organizations as the Salvation Army and giving back to our community.
It was encouraging to see a company that makes a commitment to its community. I was proud to volunteer alongside the energetic members of HSN. Most of all, together we were blessed to bring smiles to those in need.
Betsy Godbold, Tierra Verde
Affordable Care Act
A healthier, freer nation
One aspect of the health care law that solves a major problem is often overlooked. Many Americans are stuck in dead-end jobs because they have a spouse or child with medical issues. If they quit for a better job, they would lose that vital insurance. That makes us not so much the "land of the free."
And it does not matter what party you belong to: You eat in restaurants. Do you really want your food prepared and served by unhealthy people who do not go to the doctor when they are sick?
When the Affordable Care Act becomes mainstream like Medicare, we are all going to benefit with a healthier country. That is real freedom.
Susan N. Walzer, St. Petersburg
Living with less — a lot less | Dec. 29, Perspective
Unloading our stuff
I found the essay on "living with less stuff" by Graham Hill interesting. However, it does seem more suited to adults who can make unilateral decisions about their lifestyle. I have a suggestion for the title of his next essay, which should be more suitable for us stressed middle-class moms: "How to peacefully notify your husband and children that you are going to discard most of their possessions and then find the time to actually do it."
Nicole Riddell, Tampa
Best magazine essays of the year | Dec. 29
Protect animals from abuse
David Brooks mentioned the absorbing essay in the New Atlantis by Caitrin Nicol, who quoted testimony from those who study elephant behavior to ask the question, "Do Elephants Have Souls?" The article referenced "how Shirley the elephant very deliberately showed Tarra each injury she had sustained at the circus and Tarra then gently moved her trunk over each injured part." This is a remarkable observation and a powerful question to be sure.
There are so many animals who suffer abuse by circuses and private owners who think that owning an exotic animal is cool until the animal becomes an adult exotic animal. Our Big Cat Rescue is yet another example of how someone has "stepped up to the plate" to rescue these lovely creatures while our lawmakers do nothing.
Yes, I do believe that animals have souls. But a better questions might be, "How do people exist having no soul?" Shame on everyone who mistreats animals and shame on our alleged lawmakers.
Susan Park, Tarpon Springs
Reconstructing Benghazi attack | Dec. 29
Foreign policy amateurs
"A boyish looking U.S. diplomat was meeting for the first time with … Islamist leaders." David McFarland, a former congressional aide, "left feeling agitated" and based on his vast experience waited two days to make a report.
I see this New York Times report as further confirmation that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration operated as if it were amateur hour in Libya.
Edward Germond, Apollo Beach