Land grab poses risk for region | April 26, editorial
Another punch to the middle class
This "land grab" is the knockout punch for the middle class. A few years ago, Wall Street saw the banks making money on real estate loans. The Street grabbed the mortgage market and sliced and diced the now-commodified home mortgages into collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs. When the mortgage pools turned out to be fakes, it tanked the market and middle class pension funds. That was the first sucker punch.
We're now just about a minute into the second round when, in the land rush, those very same Wall Streeters, using money from the first scam, decide to swoop in and buy all of those homes whose owners they conned into foreclosure. Now, even someone with preapproved credit can't compete with their cash offers. Sorry, Joe the Plumber.
So, after they sucked the consumer dry of any equity by overinflating the housing market, they've now turned the middle class into permanent renters. Given Wall Street's predilections for taking, not giving, maintenance won't be a top priority. In fact, it will have no priority. They'll hold for a while, generating income (without associated maintenance costs) and then start selling CDOs consisting of the housing rental income streams. After that, they'll sell real estate investment trusts or mutual funds back to the consumer, and, because the investment bankers will no longer will have any economic incentive in owning the homes, they'll dump the houses (with thousands of dollars in deferred maintenance), just in time for consumers to start buying houses again.
And then the Street will start on the next scam.
Kenneth L. Weiss, Treasure Island
Pinellas tax swap benefits detailed | April 27
Commuters and corruption
We recently moved here from the Chicago area, which has a large but troubled mass transit system. There are regular commuter rail lines, suburban bus lines, city lines and the legendary "L" or elevated light rail system.
The financing of these systems and the corruption they bring to the political process is scandalous. All sorts of taxes have been used to support mass transit. There are gasoline taxes and sales taxes, which after they are enacted are always deemed inadequate. Fares also rise continuously. The transit unions are strong, aggressive and politically savvy, and know how to get what they want regardless of what is in the best interest of the public. Employment by the various transit agencies is also a source political patronage, which keeps the Democratic machine well-staffed with precinct foot soldiers.
As a new resident of Pinellas County, I will be registering to vote and will cast my vote in November against this project. There is no reason to begin the process of turning this wonderful, small piece of paradise into an overpopulated, urban political hell hole like Chicago by approving this ill-conceived light rail project.
Vance Gregory, Seminole
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit
Efficient, effective transit
As someone who spends a lot of time criticizing government, I would like to compliment Hillsborough Area Regional Transit. I attended the grand opening of its compressed natural gas facility last week. The move to CNG is just another conspicuous example of HART's leadership as a steward of the people's money. Natural gas is a cleaner, safer, more cost-effective fuel alternative.
This is the same agency that asked county commissioners for $35 million to build the first rapid transit bus route between downtown and the USF campus. Metro-Rapid is a proven success and serves the same riders and route that would have been served by the rail line proposed in the failed 2010 referendum — at one-sixtieth of the cost. Then, to top it off, HART brought the project in on time and under budget, returning $6 million back to taxpayers. In the world of business, we measure success by asking, "What did you do with what you had to work with?" By that yardstick, few can match HART.
Ken Roberts, Apollo Beach
Feds' role key to rancher standoff | April 25
Welfare for ranchers
It's perversely ironic for rancher Cliven Bundy to excoriate poor people for collecting government subsidies while taking the federal government for $1 million in grazing fees. But even if he were to pay up, Bundy and his fellow ranchers would still be living on government welfare.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, livestock grazing is subsidized by federal agencies on public land in 11 Western states to the tune of nearly $300 million annually. Monthly grazing fees per cow and calf on private rangeland average $11.90, but corresponding fees on federal lands are set at a paltry $1.35.
Even so, grazing subsidies are dwarfed by other government subsidies and the medical, environmental and other external costs imposed on society by animal agriculture. These extra costs have been estimated at $414 billion annually, or $3,600 per household.
Each of us can make our $3,600 annual contribution to the common good by replacing animal products in our diet with the rich variety of grain, nut and soy-based meat and dairy alternatives.
Thomas Carter, Tampa
Charges against cop too lenient? | April 27
A sheriff's detective, Thomas Pettis, runs into the back of a car, then confronts the innocent driver, pulls a gun and punches him in the face. Pettis does this in front of witnesses, one of whom gets the event on video. A fellow officer arrives, copies the video and asks the witness to erase her original footage — something he had no right to do. Prosecutors, whom you would expect to be throwing the book at Pettis, assert that pulling the gun is self-defense? How can that be when the detective started the fight, which was over before he pulled the gun? Now this detective is being charged, not with a felony, but with much less serious offenses.
Of course, the conduct of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is being questioned, and rightly so. Had the assailant been an ordinary citizen, the details would have been released to the press. But the only way we found out about it was because your paper investigated. If all this is correct, there is no doubt that the detective is being given special treatment. It is also frightening to think that an officer could stop you, assault you and get away with a slap on the wrist.
Michele Elliott, St. Petersburg