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America's resolution should be to create universal health care

A New Year's resolution of the American people for the upcoming year should be to take the weapon of ethical right to their political representatives relative to the need for a viable national health insurance plan that will cover all Americans. Tens of millions of Americans have no medical coverage because it is not affordable. We, as a nation, must better this state of affairs. Medical care must be made accessible and affordable to every citizen. In addition, the average American worker must have the same quality of health care as the wealthy elite, including members of Congress.

Ponder the consequences of health care if we had an organized, efficient medical entity devoid of waste and corruption that would render health care equally, whether you are president or peasant. Should not the spirit of our medical care be more compatible with our general ethical views? In the long run, any government system is maintained by faith in the soundness and truthfulness with which it represents and advances the interests of a people. Our American government must summon up the energy to take corrective measures in the medical realm.

Everybody talks about homeland security, but isn't part of the protection of our people seeing to it that they are treated for life-threatening medical maladies and serious diseases? Billions of dollars are spent for the welfare of foreigners abroad, but what of our own unhealthy and sick Americans here _ what of their welfare?

Robert B. Fleming, St. Petersburg

Improving the lives of patients

Re: The pharmaceutical industry puts profit before people, letter, Dec. 22.

I'm not sure whether the letter writer has ever needed any of the miracle drugs our pharmaceutical industry is dedicated to creating, but such medications are the ones that make it possible for me to write this response. I almost died from end-stage liver disease. However, modern treatments saved my life. My sister had breast cancer. Modern medications both saved her life and greatly reduced her suffering.

Yes, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies make a living helping patients lead ever better and more productive lives. However, this seems of little importance because America is a capitalistic society and profits drive every invention any of use. Additionally, most companies offer free or reduced medicines through a patient assistance program for those who otherwise would be unable to afford them. This is a clear example of putting people before profit.

I remember waiting for years, crippled by the pain of ruptured discs and arthritis, for Vioxx and Celebrex to finally be approved. Vioxx was a miracle to me. It changed my life. I can still do all sorts of things because of Vioxx. And now that Vioxx was so abruptly recalled, because of Bextra.

My brother, an attorney who is severely crippled by diabetes, was confined to a wheelchair. Then he tried Celebrex and now he can walk a bit. This is a miracle to me and our family _ one that without this medicine we may not have been able to experience.

Personally, I'm grateful to the scientists, doctors, nurses, hospitals, the FDA and pharmaceutical companies that together better the lives of patients like me, my brother and sister. I give the makers of Vioxx, Celebrex and Bextra kudos. I know the risks inherent in using these medications. However, that's a risk I'm willing to take to be able to lead a full, happy and productive life!

Steve Kersker, St. Petersburg

Focus on consumers, not investors

Re: Drug companies make a killing on the uninsured, by Peter Rost, and In a panic over painkillers, by William Safire, Dec. 29.

In 1994, while driving a taxi in St. Petersburg, I encountered something that I shall never forget. I picked up a little old lady who was going to the Northeast Shopping Center to get a drug prescription filled. This lady had a beautiful smile and a pleasant manner, but my trained eye as an infantry medic veteran told me that she had all the symptoms of severe malnutrition. Her pretty dress fit over her frail figure like a potato sack. And her thinning hair with bald patches, her paper-thin, desiccated skin and veins popping out of her skin near her temples indicated that unless she got prompt medical attention, she was not long for this world.

"Ma'am, you need to put some meat on your bones," I said.

"I'm on a fixed income, and it's either eat or get this drug prescription filled," she said.

Poor thing didn't realize that taking drugs on an empty stomach was worse than not taking the drugs at all. When this little sweetheart got out of the cab, she smiled and handed me the fare. There was a dollar tip included.

The point is, what is wrong with society when we let these angels drop off like flies? I've been told that the pharmaceutical companies have a program that gives those who are financially in need all their drugs at a lesser cost. If that be the case, where is the disconnect? Are not the personal physicians telling their patients? Or is this a case of the pharmaceutical companies hiding this benefit under an obscure title, in fine print?

Although Rost and Safire's articles are commendable, something needs to be done now for those who are dying from malnutrition and drug toxicity, and those who are dying from the side effects of drugs that have been tested and found to be safe.

Maybe it is time for the pharmaceutical companies to focus more on the health of the consumer and less on the investor and a healthy bottom line.

John Mashburn, Largo

Happiness is being called "Grandma'

Re: These days, being called "Granny" is not so grand, Dec. 25.

I read the Christmas Day article concerning grandparents not wanting to be called "Grandma" or "Grandpa" because it makes them feel too old with great sadness.

I remember how it warmed my heart to be called "Grandma" by my grandson for the first time. I felt honored. Many people don't live long enough to hear that word spoken to them. It is a milestone in life.

The biggest grief of my life is having to be apart from my four grandchildren in another state.

So, don't call me Nana, Mamason, Gigi, or whatever other meaningless words people are now using. "Grandparents" should be one of the most honored words in the dictionary.

When I die I want my epitaph to read: "If you could cut open my heart you would find my grandchildren."

Joanna Harrington, Treasure Island

Give the gift of advocacy

With the holiday season, community members are once again opening their hearts and wallets to a variety of worthy charitable causes.

Of course, charity isn't only about checkbooks and charge cards. This time of year also brings out the spirit of volunteerism, as Americans donate their time and energy to soup kitchens, canned-food-collection drives, and more. Those are great and worthwhile contributions, of immense value. But there's another sort of contribution that can make a huge difference _ the gift of advocacy on behalf of worthy organizations and causes.

When concerned citizens contact their elected officials on behalf of important causes, advocacy can pay huge benefits. For example, on an issue I care deeply about _ creating quality after-school opportunities for every child that needs them _ I have no doubt that the thousands of citizens who have reached out to their elected officials have made an enormous difference.

The last 10 years have seen a surge in the number and quality of after-school programs _ not just extracurricular clubs, but formal programs at schools, community centers, houses of worship and elsewhere, where children regularly spend the afternoon hours engaged in constructive activities under the supervision of caring adults. Much of the growth in after-school programs has been the result of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, a wildly popular federal funding stream that supports after-school programs serving 1.4-million children.

Two years ago, the 21st Century initiative faced a severe challenge: a proposed 40-percent funding cut. But after-school supporters did a remarkable thing: they flooded Congress with letters, cards, phone calls and personal visits, and persuaded lawmakers to restore the funding. As a result, after-school programs serving hundreds of thousands of children were saved.

But the challenge facing the after-school community is far from over. The president's No Child Left Behind Act laid out a multi-year road map for gradual funding increases for after-school programs. And while cuts have been defeated, the promised increases have not materialized.

Here in St. Petersburg, that means thousands of children are unsupervised each afternoon _ wasting their time, getting into trouble, or worse, getting hurt. Pinellas County currently has between 3,000 and 4,000 children on a waiting list for care.

There's no doubting what citizen advocacy can accomplish on behalf of programs meeting genuine community needs. So as you're contemplating your charitable giving, it's worth considering adding a little advocacy into the mix. That may mean sending a letter to Congress on behalf of after-school programs, or on any issue that matters to you. But whatever cause moves you, think of advocacy as a personal gift of time to your community and country.

Debra Ballinger, afterschool ambassador and program services director, R'Club Child Care Inc., St. Petersburg

A legacy of selflessness

Thank you for the excellent coverage on Wednesday, Dec. 22 by Ernest Hooper on Homes for the Holidays spearheaded in large part by the Warrick Dunn Foundation. The Tampa Bay area is fortunate to have individuals like Dunn. His leadership has truly changed the lives of the 52 single mothers whom he has assisted in achieving the American dream of owning their own home. As the article pointed out, only one of the 52 homeowners involved in this program over the past five years in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, Baton Rouge and Atlanta metropolitan areas has failed to keep their home. To see the tears on Tanya Pickle's face when she thanked Dunn was truly an emotional experience.

Thanks are also owed to all of the volunteers, federal, city and local governmental agencies, financial partners, corporate sponsors, and other NFL players who support this great program.

Finally, special recognition is due to the efforts of all of the professionals at St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. Our organization is a nonprofit neighborhood revitalization and community housing development organization that was chartered in 1980. It was established to stimulate reinvestment in urban neighborhoods by building a working partnership consisting of neighborhood residents, local government, the business community, lending institutions and national partners. The mission of SPNHS is to improve the quality of life in our city through the development of affordable housing, promotion of homeownership, the fostering of safe living conditions and stimulation of economic development. In the past three years, we have helped over 200 families become homeowners.

Warrick Dunn, through his efforts, embodies the true holiday spirit of selfless giving back to his community. We thank him again for his efforts and the privilege of being part of his legacy. As Erich Fromm once wrote, "In the sphere of material things, giving means being rich. Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much." In a world driven by material possessions, he understands that a gimmie-gimmie mentality, rather than enriching us, actually impoverishes us. Tangible things enrich us only when we use them and share them to improve our lives and the lives of others. We don't need to be football stars to share what we have with others. It is the sharing that nourishes us and builds bridges between us.

Mark S. Mandula, Volunteer Board of Directors, St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services Inc., St. Petersburg

No harm in stepping on toes

We moved here last year from Dayton, Ohio, and one of the things I have really enjoyed is the outspoken attitude of this area. There is a lot of humor around, and the comic page is full of it.

Our local paper publishes Boondocks, and this strip is a fine example of raw humor. I may not agree with some of the slants taken, but when a comic strip can consistently make me laugh, I call that humor.

I hope this paper will continue to be versatile. The "buckling under" that the majority has to do nowadays to keep the minority happy has become a lifestyle hazard. It seems everyone who gets their feelings hurt wants my world changed! Every time someone's toes get stepped on a little, heaven has to open up . . . but all I see is that my toes have been smashed flat.

Denise DeHart, Ocala

A new year's wish for oil independence

With the new year's arrival, it's time again to focus on our wishes for the future. My fervent wish is for President Bush and the Congress to finally see that changing America's dependency on foreign oil is essential.

It's a false choice we've been given by the Bush administration these past four years _ that drilling here in the United States is going to make us secure from foreign oil regimes. Not true, since we only have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves, and we use 25 percent of the world's supply.

Hopefully, our new U.S. senator, Mel Martinez, has figured this out, as did Sen. Bob Graham, and will push for real solutions. To not do so is a threat, not only to special regions like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but also to our own coasts.

Don't forget that it was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who said last year in a closed-door session of Republican leaders that an important argument for opening the Arctic Refuge to oil development is to establish a precedent whereby no public resource, no matter how pristine, would be off limits to drilling.

Just a few weeks ago, Sen.-elect Martinez said, "Bringing people together is my nature. I've spent my life building bridges, and I want to work in the next six years as your senator representing all Floridians." As our senator, he is responsible for protecting our interests and the country's interests. Let's all ask him to take a leadership role in bringing people together in support of real energy solutions.

Let's ask him to vote NO to any proposals to drill in the Artic Refuge or along our coast and to vote YES to energy independence through development of new non-fossil fuels and increased conservation.

Such a change in America's energy policy will not only protect ecologically important places, it also will lead to sharply reduced oil revenues going to autocratic regimes in the Middle East that use the money to fund terrorist groups. It will reduce global warming and improve our relations with European countries. It just makes sense in so many ways.

Sen. Martinez, please lead us to a better future!

And best wishes for the new year.

Charner Reese, Tampa

Democrats need a platform

Re: A problem for the Democratic Party, not its solution, by Joan Vennochi, Dec. 25.

Anyone but Hillary? Right idea but wrong reasons. The Democrats need someone that can win.

No senator has won since Kennedy and he only won because Nixon lost the debates. Hillary probably can't win because people don't seem to vote for senators and representatives. This is a logical reason, not one based upon emotion.

In the '70s the Republicans evolved a platform tying many issues into a compelling package that seemingly gave them the moral high ground. They have essentially stuck to this platform with a few minor course corrections along the way. If you ask a Republican politician a question about what they believe, they come back immediately with that belief in a convincing manner.

Democrat politicians don't seem to be able to do that. Ask a Democrat a question and you get a pause as if to say "I can't believe you have to ask that" and then you get a few words that seem to lack conviction, as if discussing something from history.

To this day Democrats are still a loose group of people following issues; freedom of choicers, gay rights activists, civil rights activists and a few unionists. What they don't have is a platform or a cohesive package that ties Democratic issues together. If they can't look a young woman of 22 in the eye and convince her that freedom of choice is her right whether she chooses to use it or not, then the Democrats will continue to slide into oblivion.

Paul Wilson, Clearwater

No case against Hillary

Re: A problem for the Democratic Party, not its solution.

To quote Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe: "The bumper stickers are correct. No one died when Clinton lied. But something was extinguished: Respect for the office, the man, his wife, and the truth."

If Vennochi really believes that statement, then nothing she says has merit.

Respect for the office and the man? President Clinton would have been re-elected again if he could have been eligible to run.

Respect for his wife? What do her actions have to do with his? But she did stand by him, "for better or worse."

Respect for the truth? She has to be kidding! President Bush makes Clinton look like a piker.

Donald F. Kelly, St. Petersburg

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