1. Archive


Florida's Civic Health Index, a new feature of America's Civic Health Index - the definitive statistical report on civics in the United States - ranks Florida 47th in civic health and near the bottom on such key indicators of our civic life as voter turnout (32nd), volunteering (47th), participation in public meetings (49th) and working with others to solve community problems (40th). The miserable state of our civic health puts Florida on the critical list.

As a Florida resident, I am dismayed by how little we seem to do. We need look no further than our educational system to see how little. Florida ranks 45th in the nation in the percentage of entering high school freshmen who actually graduate. As the Florida Index observes, this means many Floridians not only face lives of economic hardship but of "second-class citizenship" as well.

Paradoxically, I can think of no other state where education - particularly civic education - is more important than ours. Florida ranks 50th among states in the percentage of its population born here and fourth in the percentage of its people born outside the United States. Building anything like a cohesive civic culture in the coming years will depend on our ability to teach our national and local history, and to embed an ethic of service within the children of immigrants.

Despite our own indifference to the importance of civic participation, we Floridians seem to believe it is good for our children. According to the Florida Index, about 70 percent of state residents support both requiring high school students to do community service and requiring them to pass a new test on civics and government. Legislation is expected to be introduced in the Legislature next session to include civics and government on the FCAT, and to require end-of-course exams at the high school level in civics. These provisions should be enacted.

Michael Weiser, chair, National Conference on Citizenship, Miami

Democracy withers if civics not taughtOct. 22, commentary by Bob Graham

Graham stands tall

Why are there so few people like Bob Graham? Why is the political class so devoid of statesmen of Sen. Graham's stature? Possibly it is because of the dearth of real, informed, participatory citizenship, as noted by Graham in this article. Or is it due to the purging of old-fashioned civics classes from schools, and erasure of civics from public discussion and media in favor of uncivil tribal foolishness and reality TV programming, and teaching to tests, and the anti-Americanism of voucher schools?

Learning civics, the way this older American was taught in my mandatory school years and by the likes of Walter Cronkite, is like reading the operating manual for your car or HDTV. Don't read it, and you might not even figure out how to open the door, use the keyless ignition, or change satellite-service functions. If we don't study our history and how the Constitution is supposed to work, can the ascendancy of special pleading and its effects, like subprime crashes and trillions in debt and an imperial presidency, be any surprise?

But maybe that was the whole idea, intentionally or subliminally. Thank you, Sen. Graham, for once again increasing your stature by encouraging the rest of us to stand taller.

Jon McPhee, St. Petersburg

Tax reality vs. fantasy - Oct. 22, editorial

Cuts in taxes and spending will boost the economy

With this editorial, the Times stirs the class warfare pot that was set simmering by the campaign rhetoric of Sen. Barack Obama, who has finally gotten around to admitting that he wants to "spread the wealth."

Citing the allegedly nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a stepchild of the left-of-center Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, the Times predicts that under Sen. John McCain's tax proposal, government revenues could decline by $4.2-trillion over the next 10 years. This estimate, like the ones annually churned out by the Congressional Budget Office, ignores how investors respond to tax cuts with increased investment that grows the economy, generating more tax revenue. This has occurred three times in the last 50 years.

The Times is in a fantasy land on the banks of a river in Egypt as it continues to ignore this historical truth. Kennedy, Reagan and now George W. Bush have all demonstrated that lowering marginal rates for people and businesses that pay the lion's share of taxes stimulates the economy and increases tax revenues.

The editorial also implies that the Bush tax cuts created the current huge deficit, but this is simply not true. The current deficit is a direct result of two wars, several major and minor hurricanes, out-of-control spending by both Democrat and Republican Congresses and the most recent round of financial industry bailouts.

The way out of the present economic mess is to cut spending and stimulate the economy with aggressive tax cuts. Governments cannot create wealth, they can only redistribute it. And no government has ever taxed and spent its way out of a recession.

Timothy S. "Mac" McDonnell, St. Petersburg

Workers deserve better

"Hold onto your wallets, because Sen. Obama wants to redistribute the wealth." This sort of comment, along with accusations of socialism, are the latest examples of the McCain campaign using incendiary words and tactics in a continuing vicious campaign.

Hello. The wealth has already been redistributed over the last 20 years: in the boardrooms, executive suites and through continued tax breaks to the top-earning individuals voted by a Republican Congress that believes in "trickle- down" economics.

Just look at the last few years, when executive compensation has swelled to millions, and then tens of millions. Business owners and corporate executives have fought against raising the minimum wage above poverty levels, kept middle-class workers from getting decent raises, outsourced jobs and thrown longtime employees out of work, but they find plenty of money to vote million-dollar bonuses and outrageous salaries to top executives.

The middle and working class would like to see some of the money earned on their backs redistributed, not in the closed meetings in corporate boardrooms, or in the trade-offs in the back rooms of Congress, but in a fair tax plan that makes it possible for hard-working people to pay for their homes, put food on the table and send their children to college.

B. Bottone, Treasure Island

Tax reality vs. fantasy - Oct. 22, editorial

Recipe for disaster

Your recent editorial comparing tax plans between the presidential candidates read like it came straight from the Barack Obama Web site.

Here's the real fantasy: Raise taxes on those who employ people, including corporations and those business owners making more than $250,000 a year, and that will help turn around the current economic crisis. Yeah, that's the ticket!

I have news for those who believe in this rather fantastic proposal. Corporations and small businesses do not pay taxes ... they collect them. Taxes represent an additional cost of doing business and when costs go up, they are passed on to the consumer. If the market does not support the price increase then the business cuts costs (i.e., lays off workers). Add an obvious attempt to buy votes by falsely claiming that 95 percent of all working families will receive a tax cut (about one-third of all workers pay no federal income tax) and you have a recipe for economic disaster and a story as believable as Star Wars. May the force be with us if these policies are put in place!

Bob Borland, Palm Harbor

We need fair taxation

In the last debate, John McCain pointed out that corporations in the United States face the highest tax rate in the world, citing our 35 percent corporate rate versus Ireland's 11 percent, and pointing out those rates will drive business from the United States to other countries. Those rates are true, but McCain failed to mention tax deductions, loopholes and other methods used in legal tax avoidance. It's not the rate, it's the amount of tax actually paid that is relevant in this debate.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "The share that corporate tax revenues comprise of total federal tax revenues has collapsed, falling from an average of 28 percent of federal revenues in the 1950s and 21 percent in the 1960s to an average of about 10 percent since the 1980s." It was 7.4 percent in 2003. Depending on the outcome of this election, those rates could fall even more. As corporate rates fall our individual burdens grow.

Much has been made about distribution of wealth. In the past 25 years that redistribution has gone to the wealthy. The top 1 percent own more than 34 percent of all of our wealth. The top 10 percent own more than 70 percent. The bottom 40 percent of our citizens own less than 1 percent.

I'm not advocating socialism. I'm simply pointing out that a fair tax code, which would begin by charging the corporations their fair and historic share of our tax burden, would be a start in the right direction. Instead of inane arguments about "Joe the Plumber," let's address the real problem.

Lee Nolan, St. Petersburg

Is U.S.-style capitalism over? - Oct. 10 and Woman's shooting put face on crisis - Oct. 13

Capitalism has no pity

The free-market capitalistic system is a rotting corpse. It wasn't until a 90-year-old woman shot herself in protest of her impending eviction that Fannie Mae reversed its foreclosure action. And in another case (Brown lawn means jail time, Oct. 11), a man who couldn't pay his mortgage was jailed because he also couldn't pay to resod his brown lawn. A more compassionate system would not have allowed such situations in the first place.

These are examples of the social impact of a harsh and pitiless system, but many myths about the mechanisms of the economic system have also been inflicted on a passive, gullible populace. For example, "supply-side economics," a.k.a. "trickle-down economics" doesn't work. Proof is that in times of prosperity, the wages of the average worker remain stagnant, i.e., all boats don't rise with the same tide. Yachts rise much faster than rowboats. Even conservative economists say no more than a fourth of tax cuts go to create jobs but instead produce deficits that lose jobs. Then there is the enormous and obvious hypocrisy of corporations socializing their losses and privatizing their gains, and CEO pay and golden parachutes not linked to good performance.

So the public will continue to borrow and "max out" their credit cards because their wages have flat-lined and they have no choice. But there is another reason they will continue to go into debt.

Cynthia Tucker's The perils of abundance with no purpose on Oct. 13 quoted John Kenneth Galbraith: "The Puritan ethos (save first and enjoy later) was not abandoned. It was merely overwhelmed by the massive power of modern merchandising." If you read The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard, you will find out how it was overwhelmed. Packard explores the use of consumer motivational research, including subliminal advertising that induces desire for products. It is a frightening report on how manufacturers and retailers are turning the American mind into a catatonic, malleable dough that will buy anything at its command.

Charles E. Jay, St. Petersburg

Campaign financing

Candidates spend too much

Doesn't it bother anyone to see how many millions of dollars are going for TV ads, radio spots and other advertisements during this presidential campaign? Doesn't anybody care how much good that amount of money could do?

In my opinion, there should be a limit for all candidates and they should not be allowed to receive above a certain amount for their campaign advertising, travel, etc.

This campaign has absolutely been over the top. It's unconscionable for anyone to happily accept these amounts of money. We need monetary limits for these campaigns. How could anyone from middle America ever run for the office? What about of the people, by the people, and for the people?

Brenda Angell, St. Petersburg

Spreading the wealth

To his credit, Barack Obama has successfully managed to raise obscene amounts of money for his campaign war chest, far more than his Republican rival. I propose that in the interest of fairness a government agency be created to punish Obama's success by taxing and redistributing his excessive bounty to candidates who are less fortunate, like his Republican counterpart John McCain.

John A. Touitou, Hollywood