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By Times Staff
Published September 9, 2007


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On Mattel's toy recalls

Time to boycott Mattel products

Okay, Mattel. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me. Burn me three times? You're history.

Mattel issued yet another recall of toys containing lead that were made in China. And now it appears that Mattel knew about this problem for months. The company knew and did nothing to protect the public. It knew, and intentionally violated the existing statues on reporting such things. All for the sake of making the very last nickel it can. I hope the stockholders enjoy their extra penny a share at the cost of even one child getting lead poisoning.

Let's stop toying with this toymaker. As a consumer with grandchildren, I would be hard pressed this holiday season to buy any product from Mattel. In fact, as a show of consumer dissatisfaction with a company whose executives appear to make decisions that the monetary bottom line is more important than the health of children, we should all boycott their goods.

I fail to understand the logic of intentionally breaking the law on reporting these safety issues, and the executives' obvious arrogance in their view of the buying public and public safety. I would strongly suggest to the board of Mattel that it separate the CEO and the vice president, who was supposed to be doing such oversight.

Some people have suggested that the federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission needs more inspectors and funds. I don't favor this because it would be, in essence, the U.S. taxpayer subsidizing China and taking away contracts from places that do play by the rules. Why should we pay for oversight of their products to allow them to bid lower on U.S. contracts? China and its companies must provide the oversight and take the financial responsibility and costs for doing it.

What we must do in the United States is start taking criminal action against executives who make deals with the cheapest bidder and fail to ensure proper oversight of their goods.

Donald Fowler, Spring Hill

Santa has been watching Mattel

It appears as though Mattel Inc. likes to travel to the beat of its own drum. Instead of reporting any or all defective products within 24 hours as the Consumer Product Safety Commission states, Mattel has its own method. Or, in other words, it may take months until any defects are reported at all, because Mattel likes to do its own investigative work first. And even though hundreds of thousands of toys with abnormally high levels of lead paint have been recalled, who knows how many toys are still out there that have already been in the mouths of innocent children?

Let us not forget that Christmas is just around the corner. And Santa's been on constant vigil, watching to see who's been naughty, as well as who's been nice. As a result, when parents begin shopping for their kids, they too may travel to the beat of their own drum - not Mattel's. Gee, I wonder how many parents are going to scratch Mattel right off of their Christmas shopping list.

JoAnn Lee Frank, Clearwater

Fed wants to teach overpaid traders and bankers, column Sept. 6

Columnist does not get Fed's role

Steven Pearlstein's article reflects a naive attitude of a journalist who views a Federal Reserve as an institution bent on playing God and levying punishment for bad behavior to traders, bankers and speculators who have abused the system for excessive profit and gain. The problem with his logic is that the Federal Reserve is the banker's banker and has a complicity in the real estate bubble from a by-gone Alan Greenspan Fed era where "popping" one bubble by creating another was the order of the day.

Thanks to the Greenspan Fed's policies of keeping rates too low for too long, we are all now paying the price for with an avalanche of foreclosures, huge upheavals in property tax levies and unprecedented global financial volatility and uncertainty. To not lower rates with the current uncertainties is not just a lesson to traders and bankers but a travesty to millions of first-time homebuyers. In many cases, they had finally begun to realize the American dream only to find the rug being pulled out from under them and are now going to lose their homes.

The Bernanke Fed may or may not lower the federal funds rate, but a quarter-point reduction is hardly a bailout for those who acted irresponsibly or who have already paid a heavy price. Likewise the credit seize-up that has resulted will allow inflation to come down dramatically and put the Fed on the high side of the curve to be able to lower interest rates over a prolonged period. But that will be too late for innocent people. It's not just subprime borrowers but other, more creditworthy borrowers, as well.

To not lower rates when most of those traders and bankers have already gone out of business and when there are heightened risks to some sort of global financial collapse and meltdown would only result in more dramatic policy actions later.

Evan R. Jones, St. Petersburg

U.S. faces decline in skilled labor, letter Sept. 2

U.S. employers just can't afford it

In response to the letter about the lack of skilled labor: It's quite true that employers are apt to go with cheap foreign labor out of desperation. There are always some unscrupulous people out there who, pardon my expression, whore themselves out. But the real reason for the lack of everything in this country is that small business and even big business today are choked to death by rules, regulations, taxes, fees and overhead costs.

If you don't cheat or cut to the bone, you won't survive in America today. The dollar today is worth maybe 35 cents. We have fixed costs for materials, gas, insurance, phones and licenses. I have six different licenses just to run my plumbing business. Wouldn't just one statewide license be enough? No, it's called a name other than a fee or tax.

We can't afford anything anymore because of it all. With the cost of today, could you afford to pay the true cost for a plumber? A skilled, licensed plumber, for instance, should be paid $40 per hour plus two weeks vacation, plus health insurance and a 401(k). Does the owner of the business deserve to be paid? Of course! Who pays for the schooling? The employer! Who pays for the workers' comp if they get injured? The employer! Ultimately, you the consumer pays for it! There just isn't any room left to pay for all that's dumped on us.

It's time to fire (all) the politicians who have ruined this country and start over! On voting day, vote "none of the above." Don't re-elect any of them. Start over.

Bill Durnell, Holiday

On the trimming of stock data appearing in Saturday business section of the Times

Beware of effects in the long term

You seem to be following a dangerous trend: "stock tables [that] are shorter and contain less information."

Cutting costs and reducing information often improves short-term profitability. It also often speeds one's demise. Commercial radio and TV stations, which have been abandoning news in favor of canned syndicated programming, are quickly losing audiences as NPR's impressive growth in news and talk gains ratings nationwide.

I recently canceled the Wall Street Journal because, among several reasons, it reduced its stock market listings.

Yes, I will find this information online, but why go to the St. Petersburg Times' site when there are so many other outstanding business sites from which to choose?

Jim Hoffman,Lecanto

Editor's response: The reader makes several good points. Other readers have expressed similar concerns. Here's why we are cutting two pages of stock information from Saturday's Business section: The newspaper is looking for ways to cut some operating costs in tighter times. The stock information we have cut is readily available elsewhere and, as your letter indicates, even the Wall Street Journalis trimming its stock content within the newspaper. We acknowledge there are many quality Web sites that offer stock information, but we encourage readers to continue to monitor our online business page - money.tampabay.com - because we are steadily adding fresh content and tools to help stock watchers and investors.

Robert Trigaux, Business editor

Insurance rates: Promise or a pipe dream? Aug. 31

State needs to kick insurers out

Here we go again. The politicians dance and the fleecing begins. The smokescreen clears and the back-door finagling of insurers starts. The state needs to boot the insurers out and all insurance revenue marked from homeowners be used to amp up the state's insurance program.

The state commits to pay the loan off, or pay the damage done by the storm, and to heck with the deductible. Set aside the revenue in interest-bearing accounts. Use the interest earned to continue to back the insurance policy. No big, tall insurance buildings, no overhead, and hire people who specialize in insurance underwriting. Set up offices in every town and have a contingency task force to employ for claim filing.

As typical, the boomer generation blames it on the government, environment, county seat, municipalities for their/your decision to build near the water. If you have to ask the question about water rising after a surge, or heavy rain, and if it reaches 15-plus feet above finish floor elevation, your answer is: "My evacuation route is north on I-75."

Hey, Gov. Crist, you think we can get an eight-lane down here?

Kevin Braniff, Naples

Investors increasingly walk out on mortgages Aug. 31

We should be able to buy houses

In 2003 and 2004, I saw what was happening in the real estate market while spending months home shopping. This fallout should come as no shock to anyone more than real estate agents. After talking to at least 22 agents, we found one who did not attempt to play the game on us. One day we ran into what we wanted and everything fell into place.

Investors destroyed this market for now and just walked away caring less about Florida. The effects are felt all the way to Wall Street and Washington. I have followed the market news, and the turnaround of 2007 is now 2009. When it does turn, it will cost dearly to live here. I do hope the federal government steps in and helps people tricked into these loan-shark loans. It is the American Dream and should be made available to all citizens with good credit.

Robert Browning, St. Petersburg

Seniors are con artists' prime prey, column Sept. 2

Seniors, don't become a victim

You would think that older folks, who are ripened to maturity by the wisdom of their years, would not be so gullible and prone to scam ripoffs. But they are. Con artists know that many older folks, with a lifetime of savings, have deep pockets. Kathy Kristof's "Signs of Trouble" is a superb road map of warnings that will sensitize oldsters to exploitation tactics. Her checklist of knowledge will prevent bad decisionmaking.

Older folks should beware of pledges with financial guarantees and assurances, like 100 percent security of capital. Older people should become wised up to the whole suite of con artists' techniques and never permit their assets to be locked into any chancy investment scheme. Have sympathy for those who have been scammed, but don't become a victim yourself!

Robert B. Fleming, St. Petersburg

No free market in insurance, letters Sept. 2

Insurance is free from antitrust

Well-meaning people continue to talk of "free market" as if it could help in connection with insurance rates. Two letter writers (William Crawford and George Watkins) are the most recent. Crawford says that the state sets the rates for title insurance but everyone blames the title industry. Watkins says the government sets a price floor and consumers get ripped off.

Few commentators mention two important facts: Insurance is the only major industry whose business is exempted from federal antitrust regulation. The federal government deliberately gives them free rein to run their own "market." In order to keep that "freedom," the insurance industry gives more money to federal politicians than does the defense industry.

Within Florida, the insurance industry gave more than $15-million in political donations for the 2006 elections. It was spread around, but not evenly: The Republican Party got almost $5-million while the Democratic Party got less than $1-million. Candidate (now Gov.) Charlie Crist got more than $763,000, whereas Democratic candidate Jim Davis got $74,000. (Figures are from "Who's taking insurers' cash?" Florida Today, Dec. 1, 2006)

Alvin W. Wolfe, Lutz

[Last modified September 7, 2007, 22:36:30]


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