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By Times Staff
Published August 19, 2007


Paycheck to paycheck, photo essay Aug. 13

Health care system a disgrace

In reference to Ms. Ryder's dilemma, all I want to say is, "Are you kidding me?" My sympathy goes out to this woman. It appears that she had her finances in order, and had the misfortune of getting ill in this country. This story has nothing to do with living paycheck to paycheck. It has everything to do with the sorry state of our health care system. It's a disgrace.

Terri Kraus, Spring Hill

Exhausted? Aug. 12

Automakers can sell efficiency

U.S. auto manufacturers claim they cannot build more fuel-efficient cars with today's technology. The article is correct in pointing out that these same manufacturers are building these cars overseas, and they are seeing profits doing so.

The article also shows that the U.S. demand for fuel-efficient vehicles is growing, right in step with vehicle production and advertisement. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute report, the Big Three automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler will see profits in the billions from fuel-efficiency standards like the Senate-proposed standard of 35 mpg by 2020. This is twice what they would see from weaker, auto-industry backed standards. The consumer market exists, and manufacturers should alter their production and advertising accordingly.

Additionally, auto manufacturers will not have to stop making SUVs or pickup trucks, therefore still catering to consumer choice. The Union of Concerned Scientists reported that standards of 35 mpg by 2020 can be met with today's technology without compromising size, horsepower or safety. Car companies will actually give consumers more options, and more spending money, by creating fuel-efficient vehicles.

Americans do care about saving money, and they can do this while driving an SUV-one that is manufactured under fuel-efficiency standards of 35 mpg by 2020. The more fuel-efficient vehicles created, the more choices Americans have.

Jessica Williams, Tampa

Program Organizer, Florida Consumer Action Network

Take a vacation already, Working column Aug. 12

Heed that vacation advice

Scott Long's got it right. (If you print this, I don't want my bosses to worry that I was looking for a job. NOT! All three of you are great!)

Robyn Dalton, Largo

A class action? Good luck Aug. 11

Lawyers to blame for class actions

Tort lawyers have only themselves to blame for the drop in class-action lawsuits. For years they have pocketed millions from such lawsuits while dribbling out a few crumbs to the plaintiffs who have signed on. At best.

There have actually been cases where the plaintiffs have gotten a few bucks then been ordered by the court to kick in to pay the lawyers and suffered a net loss.

I have never signed on to a class-action lawsuit and never will.

Pete Wilford, Holiday

Most dependable: Lexus and... Buick Aug. 11

Domestic doesn't mean American

The article on the most dependable cars was incomplete and misleading. Missing was the fact that Buicks are assembled at the GM (General Motors) de Mexico plant in Ramos Arizpe (Saltillo), Mexico. The reason that these cars are so dependable is that they are built in Mexico by highly skilled Mexicans using Japanese quality control and assembly techniques. There is also a GM plant in Oklahoma that produces high-quality Buicks. However, it is wrong to imply that these are American-made cars. The vehicle ID number on your car can be used to determine where your car was made.

John Miller, Tampa

On electricity rates

Puppets needn't apply for PSC

I find it incredulous that every time Progress Energy incurs what most would consider "normal operating costs," they request (and are usually granted) a rate increase.

Back when it was Florida Power, they asked for increases in "fuel costs" on a regular basis even though the coal mine, barges and everything associated with the increase went right in Florida Power's pocket as the mines, barges et. al. were operated by subsidiary companies. I read recently that the Public Service Commission was investigating them for overcharging for coal purchases. Instead of buying coal from a cheaper source, they bought from their mine subsidiary at an inflated cost.

Nothing has changed except the name. While CEO Robert McGehee has to struggle with his $14-million paycheck for 2006 (according to Executive Pay Watch, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO), he wants a rate hike because they incurred additional costs cooling wastewater.

Too bad. So sad. Has the EPA changed the standards recently or was Progress Energy remiss in addressing the issues in a timely fashion?

This country is going downhill rapidly to a great degree because of the obscene amounts of money paid to corporate executives regardless of corporate performance. If Joe Blue Collar does not do his job correctly he gets fired, not rewarded.

The PSC is supposed to watch out for the interests of the consumer and not reward these thieves because the CEO and others in North Carolina can't manage to get by on $5-million annually.

I believe consumers should be occupying seats on the PSC and not "puppets of big business." Last one out get the lights. Otherwise Progress Energy is going to send us yet another artificially inflated bill.

Sgt. Gary Veyera, USAF (Ret.), St. Petersburg

Pearlman agents tricked many Aug. 12

Agents need to be policed better

Lou Pearlman's sales agents employed lies and deception to gain investor trust. They plotted with Pearlman to bilk the unwary of huge monetary sums. These agents sculpted investment schemes, promises of total security of capital, which were fraudulent to the core. Such ethical transgressions by these agents were shrewd so they could sidestep suspicion and their subsequent dimensions of debt. But as time went on, they became too fumble-fingered for a growing percentage of investment doubters. Hopefully, prosecutions will include these corrupt sales agents and the investment business will be better policed in the future.

Robert B. Fleming, St. Petersburg

Bottled or tap? How much do we need?, column Aug. 11

Aim water debate on higher issues

I admit to being conflicted about the debate regarding the quality of municipal tap water vs. bottled water. It is a debate the bottled water industry, by and large, has left to others because the members of the industry would rather sell the positives of their product - great taste, portability of the product and the overall health benefits of drinking lots of good, clean water. We've always seen ourselves as the good guys!

But recently my bottled-water industry has come under scathing criticism for alleged gross waste and pollution. Critics of the industry fault the use of clean water resources by private enterprise, the cost of packaging, and the energy it takes to transport bottled water to market. It is, of course, true that it takes substantial energy and natural resources to manufacture our product and move it to where consumers want it.

I propose we not get into a negative, back-and-forth debate about tap-vs.-bottled quality because it doesn't begin to address the bigger issues we face as inhabitants of this planet. We can recycle. We can make wise decisions on how to spend our tax dollars. We can work together vigorously to keep our surface and ground water suitable for human consumption, wildlife and recreation. Municipal tap water can absolutely be used with great confidence for many purposes. And the bottled water industry can continue to be held to the highest standards of taste and quality for human health and nutrition.

Breck Speed, chairman and CEO, Mountain Valley Spring Co., Hot Springs, Ark.

Plenty of reasons to drink tap

How can something so simple and necessary to life as water become the target of environmental activists? It's not the expensive albeit filtered tap water, but the packaging. Manufacturing the plastic bottles for the packaged water Americans buy yearly uses 1.5-million barrels of oil. This is just the basic energy cost. Delivery and other costs add extra energy consumption.

In trying to become personally greener, and break the ad-driven thirst for bottled water (no, flavored or mineral added water does not "hydrate better"), it's hard to relate the bottle in your hand to oil and energy considerations. There are issues much more personal that should encourage tapping city water.

In our climate, plastic bottles in temperatures over 90 degrees for more that about 30 minutes can leach lots of carcinogenic materials into the water, for example. Bottled water lacks fluoride. Shared bottles can spread infections.

Until I read your article, I thought uroscopy had died with the Middle Ages. It could be dangerous, as the authority you quote advises, to react to dark yellow or amber urine by just drinking more water. This type of discoloration may indicate serious liver or other problems, and if persistent, requires medical attention.

Dr. David Newsome, St. Petersburg

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