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Thursday's letters: U.S. should scale back its overseas role

Defense spending

U.S. should scale back its overseas role

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently observed: "In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it."

I confess surprise that Gates would make such a statement, since it suggests that our recent military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were, at best, ill advised and at worst simply mistakes. This is from a man who was a certified hawk during the Cold War, pushing for higher defense spending.

We are in the midst of trying to cut the federal budget. I don't think Gates has suddenly gone soft on defense spending, but his remark suggests he thinks America has assumed a dysfunctionally large role in trying to control global events. We are everywhere trying to do everything.

We need to rethink our level of commitments and seek a more modest role. This means a new strategy that would lead to lower defense and intelligence spending. Just staring at items in the budget is not the place to start. One starts with the policy itself and then determines what size and type of military we need.

If the secretary of defense can suggest the policy over the last decade has been too ambitious, why can't the politicians? Just blindly cutting the defense budget without changing our foreign policy goals makes no sense.

Michael Francis, Homosassa

Tampa elections

Apathy is disheartening

In the city of Tampa reside 147,968 registered voters who simply don't care who is responsible for governmental decisions that affect their lives on a daily basis. In the March 1 election for mayor and City Council, a mere 41,948 citizens thought enough of their civic responsibility to get off the couch and vote. Shame on the rest of you for not exercising a right many in this world do not possess.

Legislation should be considered that would provide for the loss, for a specific time period, of voting rights if a registered voter fails to vote in more than two consecutive voting periods. An adage fits the bill neatly: Use it or lose it.

Norman S. Cannella Sr., Tampa

Input from young needed

Daniel Ruth (Dick Greco: Victim of age and indifference, March 4) hit the nail on the head. We live in the greatest country in the world, where we can avail ourselves of just about anything we desire. But how long before malaise and complacency changes our society for the worse?

Priorities are severely misplaced when only seven out of 1,400 students at the University of South Florida show up at the polling stations to cast their vote. Young people are the future; their opinions are useful, and their respect for this wonderful privilege is needed.

Norma McCulliss, Palm Harbor

Florida deadly for kids at risk | Feb. 27

State is hardly a leader

Thank you for unearthing the shocking facts about child deaths in Florida.

The only public reaction I have seen has been from George Sheldon, the former head of the Department of Children and Families, who says, "The department and its partners have made substantial progress over the last four years."

Get real. The reporter found that in the past six years 933 children died from abuse or neglect, almost half of them after being called to the attention of child welfare authorities. Those "authorities" are the private agencies that were contracted by Sheldon to do the job under the privatized system put in place in 2000 under the label "community-based care."

Sheldon boasted, "Other states want to copy us, and our federal partners have recognized the work we do as the nation's best." But the article depicts Florida's leadership position differently: "Florida not only leads the United States in the number of such deaths, but it dominates the nation."

The Times is to be applauded for citing immediate problems like tight funding and administrative decisions to downsize and to shift costs. However, the broader and deeper problems — privatization of the child welfare system and dissolution of the citizens' health and human services boards — are left unaddressed.

Alvin W. Wolfe, Lutz

Reduce recidivism, but how? | March 6

The costs of crime

Steve Bousquet frames his arguments around the cost of incarceration. He says: "Florida's prison system is a giant warehouse of human misery costing the taxpayers $2.4 billion a year." And, "The cost of incarcerating one inmate for one year is nearly $20,000." He compares this cost with alternative investments such as community colleges.

Here is another analysis. Two people broke into our house, stole whatever was readily pawnable and generally trashed the place. Fortunately they were caught. The investigating officer explained that such people travel the country committing as many as three such burglaries a week. They pawn the loot some distance away from the crime, and then repeat. Such crimes furnish enough cash to purchase drugs for a bender.

The officer referenced studies that evaluated the average cost of criminal activities at around $450,000 per year per criminal. This number includes only measurable physical losses but not intangible factors such as security systems, lost enjoyment because of fear, increased insurance premiums and additional police forces.

It makes little sense to compare the cost of incarcerating specific individuals with the cost of educating them because most (but not all) of these people will never be college material. Instead, we should compare the cost of imprisonment with the cost of not incarcerating them.

By all means, do all that can be done to persuade criminals to abandon their hostile ways and accept the mores of the larger society. However, if they do not accept the opportunities society affords them, then $20,000 of public funds that return $450,000 in annual savings is among the best uses of taxpayers' money available.

William L. Bassett, Clearwater

Civil rights restoration

Citizenship doesn't 'expire'

It is sad that Attorney General Pam Bondi's plan to revoke former Gov. Charlie Crist's restoration of some of the rights of freed felons has gone through.

Last year we spent $2.4 billion on the prison system. We are one of only a few states in the union whose prison population continues to grow.

Experts agree: Without a job, recidivism is a given, and few businesses will hire people with records. The result: homelessness, crime and more jail. Can't we be proactive instead of reactive?

We are not talking about violent criminals. We are talking about nonviolent felons who, because of a mistake, are relegated to lives during which they cannot vote, serve on a jury of their peers, obtain licenses to have such jobs as undertakers and ambulance drivers, or get a job. What happened to inalienable rights?

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said, "Citizenship does not expire with misbehavior, but ex-felons are relegated to second-class citizenship because of the impact of felon exclusion laws."

Robin Sterling, St. Petersburg

Thursday's letters: U.S. should scale back its overseas role 03/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 8:22pm]
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