Help choose Letter of the Month
Letters to the editor offer a significant contribution to the discussion of public policy and life in Tampa Bay. To recognize some of that work by our most engaged readers, the Times will select a Letter of the Month, and the writers will be recognized at the end of the year.
Help us choose from the nominations for letter of the month for August by visiting the website listed below. Read through the three letters and vote on the ballot at the bottom of the Web page by Friday. We will choose the finalists each month based on relevance on topical issues, persuasiveness and writing style. The writer's opinion does not need to match the editorial board's opinion on the issue to be nominated. But clarity of thinking, brevity and a sense of humor certainly help.
To see the three August nominees and vote, go to www.tampabay.com/opinion.
Money talks as public alerted to orcas' plight Aug. 20, commentary
Record of caring for wildlife
Media attention over the past 18 months has been focused on SeaWorld and a film called Blackfish. Much of it, including Carl Hiaasen's recent column published in the Times, does a disservice to the 1,500 dedicated zoological professionals who care for animals at SeaWorld. Our team shares a single focus: promoting the health and well-being of the animals that live within our parks and the thousands of animals we rescue.
I have enjoyed much of Hiaasen's writing. Like us, he is a champion of Florida wildlife. I think he would be gratified to learn that right now, endangered Florida species like manatees and gopher tortoises are being nursed back to health at SeaWorld and prepared for a return to the wild. We are also investing millions of dollars, in addition to our own hard work, in conservation efforts worldwide. SeaWorld is engaged in science to enhance understanding of killer whales and other animals that helps us to advance their care and conservation.
I can unequivocally state that the animals in our parks are thriving, both mentally and physically. More than 80 percent of the whales and dolphins that live in our parks today were born here. Our world is nothing like the image portrayed by the film.
For five decades, SeaWorld has provided experiences that bring families and animals together in ways that are inspiring and educational. If there is a greater awareness of the fascinating animals of our oceans — and a greater sensitivity to the challenges they face in an increasingly imperiled world — surely even Hiaasen would acknowledge that some of the credit belongs to SeaWorld.
Dr. Chris Dold, vice president of veterinary services, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Orlando
No Syria ISIS plan yet, Obama says | Aug. 29
Tentative, ineffective policy
President Barack Obama's admission that he has not yet formed a "strategy" in dealing with ISIS terrorists in Syria should have been no surprise given the many tentative and contradictory foreign policy decisions he has made since taking office. It is no wonder that our allies view the United States as basically rudderless in the sea of potentially explosive situations that exist throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.
As a result of Obama's hollow threats of "drawing a line in the sand" in Syria, his "serious concerns" about Russian hegemony in the Ukraine, and his incomprehensible reaction to Hamas' random bombing attacks against Israel, our enemies have simply stopped paying attention to the chatter coming from the White House.
In response, Egypt has now assumed responsibility for brokering a cease-fire in Gaza, Russia has invaded Ukraine and ISIS has murdered U.S. citizens before a worldwide audience.
One can only conclude that the president has decided to cede our role as a world leader and passively stand by in hopes that NATO forges an acceptable "consensus" that will give the president and the Democrats political cover as the midterm elections approach.
The problem is, fellow Democrats such as Bill Nelson are rightfully calling for clear policies and decisive actions to prevent further genocide by ISIS and protect our interests abroad. The "finger in the air, toe in the water" foreign policy practiced in the White House must stop.
Robert E. Heyman, St. Petersburg
Health site serves only 30 | Aug. 29
Worse than wasteful
My response to this report on the status of Florida Health Choices was a mix of outright hilarity, followed by utter disgust and ending with a deep sense of sadness and shame.
The Legislature rejected the federal program of health insurance subsidy. Florida Health Choice was created as the alternative and has signed up 30 people. Thirty — in six months! That leaves 764,000 poor people with no health coverage and lets federal funds go by the board. It's utterly ridiculous, but there's more. The chief proponent of Florida's plan, state Sen. Aaron Bean, says the state "wanted more business, but the competition is giving it away for free." What did he expect?
And the CEO hired to manage Health Choices says, "We are going to continue to grow and learn about our customers" — all 30 of them — "and enhance the platform." This is the management plan offered by a person being paid $126,000 to cover 30 people. It is absurd, horrendously wasteful and worse than naive to expect Health Choices to ever amount to anything. And in the meantime, 764,000 people are left high and dry, all in the interest of playing politics to avoid federal funds available to help them.
Gary Bullock, Palm Harbor
Expand Medicaid instead
Florida Health Choices claims to help those who do not qualify for Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. However, only 30 people out of the 764,000 without health insurance in Florida are getting help, and the only "insurance" available is discount plans for things like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses. No doctor, hospital, clinic or therapy fees are covered. And this costs $126,000 for the CEO and $55,000 for the administrative manager, plus $1,500 per month for the website. By my math, that equals $6,634 in our taxes paid for each of the 30 people enrolled for one year. And each person also pays premiums for the discount plans out of their own pocket.
To me, it would be better to not use any of my Florida taxes for Florida Health Choices and just take $51 billion from federal taxes to which I contribute to expand Medicaid in Florida and get hundreds of thousands of Floridians real health insurance.
Esther Kirk, Riverview