Today's Letters: Two dogs' reunion with family was long overdue

Published May 26, 2007

I was so glad to see the entire Couture family reunited at last. The reunion of Master Tank and Nila with their rightful owners was long overdue.

I don't have any sympathy for Pam Bondi and Rhonda Rineker, the two women who adopted the dogs. Early on, they both failed to do the right thing. Once the Coutures located their pets, Bondi and Rineker should have promptly turned them over.

The Couture family - grandparents raising two young children, had already lost nearly everything to Hurricane Katrina. Once they were fortunate enough to track the dogs down, they reasonably expected their pets to be returned to them.

Instead they were forced to pursue a nearly yearlong legal battle. Bondi accused the Coutures of neglecting and abandoning the dogs. Now, her tone has changed, but I'm not impressed.

I know this case was not an isolated one. As a pet owner, I was glad not only to see the positive outcome to this story, but also the changes made nationwide on how our faithful pets are accommodated during disasters.

Eugenia Ceaser, Clearwater 

Five reasons tuition hike makes sense May 22, editorial

Fees would still be a bargain

There are at least two more reasons a tuition increase makes sense for public universities:

- The projected increases would still leave Florida's institutions among the least expensive public universities in America. Even with the increases, the price of tuition would only be a fraction of the actual cost of education. The difference between price and actual cost is a subsidy for students and their parents.

- Independent students and low-income families are actually not better served by low-tuition institutions, studies have well documented. Higher-priced institutions are able to afford more scholarships and financial assistance for students who can demonstrate financial need. Thus in many higher-priced institutions students with need find that a higher percentage of their tuition price is actually covered than in lower-tuition schools, where they receive no or little financial assistance.

The bottom line is that for students with documented financial need, raising the price of tuition at Florida's institutions will not increase their actual tuition bills, since the schools will have more resources for financial aid as well as the costs of providing a first-class education.

Merle F. Allshouse, St. Petersburg

Devastating tuition hike

Florida universities have some of the lowest tuitions in the country and provide outstanding education. Could this education be better? Of course. But the way to do that is not to create a system of socioeconomic discrimination.

If you are a parent of modest means, the Legislature has failed you by passing a ridiculous measure that allows for two state universities to raise their tuition as much as 40 percent and for one to raise it as much as 30 percent.

Sure, these schools say they will cover the cost of the differential for students that meet certain "financial aid requirements." Do middle-class students fit these requirements? Will the schools cover this differential? Of course they won't - that would defeat the whole purpose of raising tuition in the first place.

This is an incredibly naive and devastating move by the Legislature to force students and their parents to go deeper into debt because they don't want to do what it takes to fund education in our state.

I am ashamed that my state government is being so reckless with the future of your children. Call the governor and tell him you don't want to mortgage your or your child's life in order to pay for higher education.

Jared Stout, former student body vice president, University of Central Florida, Seffner

Doors are spinning at FAMU May 22, story

Hold FAMU to account

This article about personnel turnover and theft of money at FAMU was very "inside baseball" material. The article described a school that is out of control administratively and financially but the article, amazingly enough, did not address, except in the vaguest terms, the extent to which the incompetence, chicanery and criminality of school officials has infected the very process of educating the students.

As a taxpayer, I awaited some discussion in the article of at least a preliminary effort by the state of Florida to turn off the money spigot. Until the school is faced with real consequences for its failure to adhere to current standards for the administration of institutions that are funded to a large extent with public dollars, we will be reading the same article well into the future, with only the names of the personnel and the exact amounts stolen being changed.

Jeffrey Meyer, Clearwater

Direct deposit is safer

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck our shores in 2005, tens of thousands of Americans were unable to receive their Social Security checks for days or weeks. Because people were forced to flee their homes and mail delivery services were disrupted, almost 85, 000 emergency payments had to be issued. In contrast, hurricane evacuees who had their payments direct-deposited were able to access their money immediately.

In preparation for the 2007 hurricane season, the U.S. Treasury Department urges seniors and others who receive Social Security checks to sign up for direct deposit. This simple step can significantly reduce their vulnerability to financial disruption during emergencies.

Today, roughly 12-million Americans still receive their federal benefit payments by paper check instead of direct deposit. If you or a loved one receives Social Security or other federal benefits by paper check, consider taking the simple step of switching to direct deposit. It's safer, easier and more convenient - and it only takes a few minutes through the Treasury's Go Direct campaign. You can sign up for free through a government-secure Web site: www.GoDirect.org or by calling a toll-free number, 1-800-333-1795.

Anna Escobedo Cabral, U.S. treasurer, Washington

As Corps works to fix Glades, it approves golf course in it May 18, story

The paving of Florida

Here we go again. Another 1, 400 or so acres of vital wetlands to be filled, sculptured and otherwise destroyed. The prevailing attitude seems to be, "Well, A dropped their opposition, so B just goes along with it." When will the Corps of Engineers ever face up to their responsibility and learn to say no? Are these people so deep into the pockets of the developers, politicians and other financially interested parties that they really do not care anymore?

Day after day we see more examples of the paving of Florida, and nobody seems to care. Mention a football star's problems, however, and the whole town is involved.

Where are our concerns about the abuse of this state's wetlands, when on one hand we are told to take 5-minute showers and water the grass once a week, while on the other we are watching another 6, 000-home development being built? When will it end?

I have never in my 69 years seen such an abuse of political and financial power as is occurring in Florida.

Alan Hands, New Port Richey

City draws a line in the sky May 18, story

Trade Williams Park

The city of St. Petersburg should exchange land parcels with Fuel Group International. This could help both parties get what they need. Call it "creative city management."

The city should exchange Williams Park with the Fifth Avenue and First Street N lot. With the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the city could build a joint four- to six-story parking garage. PSTA could be the anchor bus shelter tenant and would then be in control and responsible for its patrons' environment and safety, as they are in downtown Sarasota where there is a great Art Deco-styled bus shelter next to a Whole Foods market. PSTA could also offer parking and express shuttle service to Tampa International Airport. There is a huge need for more parking in northeast and downtown St. Petersburg as well as some type of inexpensive public transportation to the airport.

The mayor's office and City Council claim not to have the resources to maintain the safety of Williams Park, which has become a huge blight in the heart of the city. By doing this exchange, the city gets to pass the responsibility torch to the hotel-condo. This would be an ideal location for the Westin project. The city shouldn't be afraid to think outside the box.

Arthur Verrill, St. Petersburg

Kodak moment May 24, World in a snap

Cheney caption has it wrong

The caption beneath the beaming Lynne and Dick Cheney holding their new grandson identified the child as the son of Mary Cheney and Heather Poe. Not so. He was the child of Mary Cheney and some presumably unknown sperm donor.

It's not bad enough that we anoint homosexual unions with positive publicity to give them the same look of marriage between a man and a woman; it's worse that we now seem to bless those arrangements by picturing the child as if he were their natural fruit.

To bring a child born outside this same-sex union into a life without a father is selfish. It speaks only to the happiness these two women will share and ignores the happiness the child would know with a father in his life.

Jack Bray, Dunedin

Cleaning up after Jeb Bush

More examples of the significant problems inherited by Gov. Charlie Crist and CFO Alex Sink now include the revelation that FCAT was mismanaged and not reliable (a problem which occurred on Jeb's watch). CFO Sink's cancellation of a software privatization effort costing taxpayers over $89-million is yet another example of unsupervised actions initiated by our former governor. The property tax problem and insurance mess are also problems resulting in large part from eight years of Jeb's reign. It now appears that many of his initiatives spent money unsupervised or were unmonitored.

I find it curious that Bush retains such high popularity and only hope that voters will continue to support Gov. Crist and CFO Sink as they work to recover our great state from the messes they (and we) inherited. We all need to understand that the problems occurred in large part because Bush did little or nothing to fix them (or worse, allowed them to happen through his lack of action and leadership). Fixes will be neither quick nor easy.

Charles Peters, Seminole

Follow the money

Privatization has become an almost theological article of faith with Republicans who have reasoned that the process is inherently cheaper and more efficient than having the same job being done by civil servants. They have never been able to demonstrate objectively that this argument has merit. Of course there are a lot more PAC contributions to be extracted from private contractors who may seek state and federal business.

Congratulations to CFO Sink for exposing this $89-million fallacy of Project Aspire. Is it a coincidence that the same contractor, BearingPoint, was also the contractor responsible for the $472-million debacle for Bay Pines VA computer system? I think not. Your reporters should follow the money.

Al Russell, Port Richey

Food for fuel is a bad idea

In the search for a fuel substitute to reduce our country's dependence on imported oil, President Bush is giving farmers a subsidy to produce corn for ethanol.

But corn is one of the most inefficient ways to make ethanol. Brazil makes ethanol from sugarcane, which yields more energy, but the administration has a high tariff against the import of ethanol from Brazil to protect the U.S. farmers. Because of corn's use in making ethanol, the price of feed corn for cows and pigs has gone up, which in turn works itself down to the consumer in increases in the price of milk, meats and other foods.

I hope our government representatives reconsider Bush's solution to our oil dependency and think about switching from corn to some other plant form that could produce ethanol more efficiently. They should also allow the import of ethanol. Using food for fuel is a bad idea.

V. Paradis, Seminole

Wrong outcome

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Nila and Master Tank were abandoned! This has set adoptions back. These people should have been grateful someone stepped forward to care for these animals at great expense and now heartbreak. I have had to evacuate several times and I would not leave without my animals even if I had to stay in my car. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Lynn Raper, Madeira Beach

Give adoption another try

I would like to congratulate the Couture family, Pam Bondi and Rhonda Rineker for having the compassion and the courage to sit down together and come up with an agreement over their dogs. It says a lot about how passionate you all are about your pets. I wish there were more people like you who would open their hearts to a homeless animal. The amount of animals that are available and are being put down every day is staggering.

I hope that Ms. Bondi and Ms. Rineker will open their hearts again someday to another pet that desperately needs a new home. Along with the local shelters, there are rescue groups for any breed that exists as well as groups that handle all breeds. Thank you for being passionate animal lovers and please give adoption another try.

K. Borland, Clearwater

Silence on gas prices

At a time when most of our attention is drawn to the Middle East and all of its problems, it seems that most of our elected leaders have grown silent on the devastating effects of rising gas prices in our communities. And still, oil company profits have been at record numbers and climbing.

At what point do we say no to the politicians who reap the benefits of oil company perks? It is obvious that campaign moneys have found their way to the right people. It's time to let elected leaders in our state and Washington know that our votes still can be heard on Election Day.

Charles Grunwald, New Port Richey

Can't afford to drive

You would assume with gas soaring unrestricted above $3 a gallon that people would curtail their driving habits. You know, cut back on weekend trips, do their shopping on the way home from work, make trips in the family car sparing and meaningful.

The few times I had to go out last weekend I noticed a normal flow of traffic. The big trucks and SUVs pulling their boats, drivers in a hurry to get nowhere, the usual stuff.

I wonder what it will take to get drivers to park the cars and cut their gas use. We Americans are spoiled and, I guess, rich. I still work and unless I really need go somewhere on the weekend, my truck sits. I can't afford today's gas prices. That makes me a minority according to what I observe.

Carl Schirg, Gulfport

To save gas, slow down

We're all hurting with the cost of gas. And even though I'm just an average Joe, I think I can help each and every person who drives a car.

They tell us the gas prices are so high because of supply and demand. That the oil refiners are not running up to full capacity. They charge us more because we're willing to pay. If there is more gas produced than we need, the price goes down.

I'm going to let you in on a secret: Drive 55 mph. When I drive at 55 I get over in the right lane and you know what happens? Even on Interstate 75, I spend most of my drive alone. I look in my rear-view mirror and I see a pack of cars gaining on me and - zoom - they're gone. And I'm alone again and safe. I leave a few minutes early for my destination and if I don't get there on the dot, so what? I'm alive and have gotten a few more miles on my car.

Face it, the president of this country was and is an oil man and nothing is going to change in Washington. If we're going to save our hard-earned cash and in the long run our way of life, we have to make the sacrifice.

Just slow down! Come join me in the right lane. Here are some facts:

- Speeding is a factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, killing an average of 1, 000 Americans every month.

- The NHTSA estimates the cost to society of speed-related crashes to be more than $40-billion each year.

- Fast acceleration and rapid braking waste gas and curb mileage by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds.

- Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 55 mph. Just slowing down from 65 to 55 mph can increase your mileage by as much as 15 percent.

- According to the U.S. Energy Department, as a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.21 per gallon for gas (at $3 per gallon).

- Smaller efforts today could make a difference. For example, driving at 10 miles an hour above the 65 miles-per-hour limit increases fuel consumption by 15 percent.

- Excess speed is the biggest gasoline waster.

- There is one thing we could do immediately: Bring back the 55 mph speed limit.

Jeff Clark, Tampa