Editor's note: 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. 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 helps.
Help us choose the letter of the month for September 2014 by reading through the three nominated letters and voting on the ballot at the bottom of the web page.
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
From Koch to FSU, an offer tied up in strings
Sept. 21, Perspective
Thanks to Dave Levinthal for his incisive report on the corruption of academic integrity at Florida State University, my alma mater. I used to tell my students that a university was like a zoo; a poor zoo had only a few kinds of animals, but a good zoo had representatives of as many species as possible, including rare and unusual ones. The worst university would be one in which all the music professors taught flute, all the history professors specialized in the Civil War, or all the economics professors were libertarians. That would be a sorry excuse for an education and a disservice to the students, their parents and the future of the nation.
Privately funded "think tanks" proliferated in the past decades when publicly funded universities resisted being bullied by special interests on a variety of issues such as public energy policy or global warming. Many of these are nothing more than collections of people paid to spin particular political agendas. There is no academic freedom or tenure in such an institution; independent thinking is the one thing one must not do.
The new strategy of special interests such as the Koch brothers seems to be to get their pet legislators to underfund the universities and then to buy them up on the cheap like so many bad mortgages and turn them into cut-rate think tanks. Who knows, in a strange twist on the Stockholm effect, a desperate university might even be inclined to hire one of those legislators to be its president, especially if he promised to use his connections to restore some of that lost funding. Of course, those connections will want something back for their money. As professor Bruce Benson felt the need to inform his FSU colleagues, "there is no free lunch."
Suppose one of these new Koch economics professors, selected for his already made-up mind and approved by Charles Koch, began to develop a different and more nuanced way of understanding the world? Would Koch withdraw his funding? Why would anyone with intellectual integrity accept an academic position if part of the job description was, implicitly, never changing his mind?
I'm offering to donate $500 to FSU, but I do insist on getting power of approval over the next two faculty hires in European history. "How dare you?" I expect to hear. "What sort of institution do you think we are?" To quote an old joke, we've already established what you are. What we're doing now is haggling over the price.
Richard Long, Temple Terrace
Florida: down the drain | Sept. 26, commentary
Prepare now for rising sea levels
While the specter of man-made climate change may still be debatable in some circles, sea level rise is an indisputable fact. Since 1870, data collected from global tide gauges indicate that sea level has risen by over 9 inches. Furthermore, since the mid 1990s the rate of sea level rise has increased significantly, and even the most conservative projections of future sea level rise are truly staggering. With its low and flat land elevations and porous limestone geology, South Florida is the most vulnerable region in the nation to the threats posed by sea level rise.
In South Florida the threat is not so much that the rising sea will overtop barriers, but rather that it will seep into the foundations of our cities and infrastructure. We need to look no further than low-lying neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area to see the effects of sea level rise on roads and outdated sewage systems that routinely flood during high tide storm events.
A study by the Florida Department of Transportation concluded that over the next 35 years, rising sea levels will severely damage smaller roads in South Florida, and that after 2050, major coastal highways will also experience significant flooding and deteriorate as the limestone beneath them becomes saturated and crumbles.
Florida needs to start planning and budgeting now for the major infrastructure improvements that will be needed to protect against the very real threats posed by sea level rise. This is critical work that will create jobs in the near term while protecting public safety and our economy in the long term. Sadly, however, our "jobs" governor just doesn't get it.
Doug Robison, St. Petersburg