A plea for avoiding force against Syria | Sept. 13, commentary
Russia's crooked path to freedom
Russian President Vladimir Putin has contributed a lengthy and highly critical op-ed piece to the New York Times. Let us focus on one sentence: "There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy."
Finding a way to democracy in Russia has been anything but traditional, of course. In the period that followed the revolution of 1917 that ended the czarist monarchy, the hopes of the country's downtrodden masses were dashed during a drawn-out civil war, followed by Josef Stalin's consolidation of power that included the forced displacement of restless minorities. Famine brought about by the collectivization of Soviet agriculture resulted in the deaths of untold millions.
Some 20-plus years ago, an all-too-brief democratic interlude followed the implosion of the USSR's creaking command economy, leading to the temporary adoption of glasnost and perestroika, only to be dissipated by the buffoonery of the dipsomaniacal Boris Yeltsin, which ushered in the current thugocracy headed by ex-KGB colonel Putin.
Under his increasingly autocratic rule, journalists critical of his authoritarian ways have been hunted down and assassinated; political opponents have been jailed or have opted for self-imposed exile rather than face trumped-up corruption charges; antigovernment demonstrators have been brutalized by the police; and gays and lesbians have been driven into a legislated closet.
It is normally encouraging when foreign leaders avail themselves of our free press to communicate directly with the American people. And so it would be in this case were Putin's screed not so liberally laced with animosity and hypocrisy.
Fred Kalhammer, Sun City Center
The insurance quandary | Sept. 14
Scrap this act and start over
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act is not just a poorly written bill, it is a breach of contract and an unjust burden. Forty years ago, flood-prone communities entered into an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to comply with their rules regarding new construction, renovation and rebuilding in return for subsidized policies on existing (pre-Flood Insurance Rate Map) structures. Now Congress has decided the National Flood Insurance Program will break that contract.
Since NFIP policies are limited to a maximum of $250,000, this will not be a rich person's problem; their large homes are generally newer, built above base flood elevation and aren't subsidized. The effects of this bill will fall most heavily on people with average incomes who live in the smaller pre-FIRM homes. Many modest inland communities will be heavily impacted. We are told we must rapidly phase in actuarial rates. But how a $12,000 premium on a $250,000 policy for a home that has never flooded can be actuarially based escapes me. It makes no sense until you dig a little deeper.
Baked into this recipe for disaster is a provision to make the NFIP solvent within 10 years. We didn't make it insolvent; Florida has paid four times more into the program than we have received in claims. None of that matters; Congress has effectively attached the NFIP debt of more than $20 billion to all of our homes and we're being told it must be paid off in 10 years. Since this debt repayment burden, along with the immediate loss of flood insurance subsidies, will be conveyed with every pre-FIRM home and business sold after from July 2012 (yes, this is retroactive) it will significantly reduce values. As values drop, county and municipal revenues will drop and more homeowners will find themselves upside down — again.
Few people even read the bill, let alone understood its implications. This bill must be rewritten; merely delaying implementation is not enough.
Diane Love, North Redington Beach
BP oil spill
Losses are legitimate
BP has placed yet another full-page ad in newspapers across the country in its multimillion-dollar effort to try to avoid paying the very businesses it has admitted to hurting. The level of BP's distortion of the truth is shocking, yet journalists and citizens alike are falling for it.
Though former FBI director Louis Freeh's investigation found misconduct by two former members of claims administrator Patrick Juneau's staff, he also stated there is no evidence to justify halting the program. Juneau has reaffirmed that the situation was isolated and is being handled properly.
The reality is BP is trying to vilify individuals and businesses with real and legitimate losses and intimidate them into not filing their valid claims. The program is fair, objective and transparent, and Gulf Coast individuals and businesses should continue to file claims before the April 2014 deadline. They are the true victims here — not BP.
John Biesinger, Tierra Verde
Health care centers put up barrier | Sept. 12
Florida's reputation marred
This is going to be interesting: A sworn federal government employee trying to conduct legal and official business on public property will be barred from doing the job in Florida Health Departments because miscreant politicians in this state will not recognize the legitimacy of a 3-year-old law passed by Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court, and already helping millions of people.
Shades of George Wallace on schoolhouse steps and mad dogs foaming at the mouth. When will this state administration realize its truth-twisting and other idiotic behaviors are bringing unprecedented shame on themselves and Florida?
Roger A. Crescentini Sr., Tampa
U.S., Russia reach accord on Syria's chemical arms | Sept. 15
Slow and steady
Many Republicans continue to criticize President Barack Obama on just about everything regarding Syria.
Some say he's too slow to make a decision. But it's better to be slow and get it right instead of being like former President George W. Bush, who made one of the biggest blunders in U.S. history when he invaded Iraq. We will be paying for that mistake for the next 50 years.
Dominic Grillo, Dunedin