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    Letters to the Editors

    Vote against amendment on high-speed rail

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2000

    The Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers is a nonprofit organization of private citizens who favor the improvement of rail transportation as a partial solution to overcrowded highways and as a way to enhance the convenience and enjoyment of travel throughout Florida.

    This letter has the unanimous approval of FCRP's statewide board of eight directors. The Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers suggests that Florida voters vote "no" on C.C. "Doc" Dockery's amendment to the Florida Constitution. If approved by the voters, the Dockery amendment would require construction by the state government of a new "high speed" passenger rail system "capable of speeds of 120 miles per hour." For comparison, the railroad systems that carry Amtrak trains in Florida now support top speeds of 79 mph.

    The rail system required by the Dockery amendment furnishes no standard for effective cost control, and it provides no room to adjust the plan for maximum value and efficiency.

    The Florida Department of Transportation has released a plan that does not emphasize "high-speed" rail, but it does call for expanded routes and increased schedule frequency. The FDOT plan deserves further improvement and development.

    Studies done by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and others indicate that a top speed of 110 mph for trains is likely to give passengers and taxpayers the most value for their money. An increase of top speeds to 120 mph can cost many millions of dollars more.

    Vote against the Dockery amendment, and ask Florida government for a better plan.
    -- John McQuigg, vice president, Florida Coalition, of Rail Passengers, Deltona

    High-speed rail is a top idea

    Why are all of our government representatives and civil servants trying so hard to derail the ballot initiative for high-speed rail among Florida's five largest cities?

    I can understand the Florida Transportation Builders Association's opposition, but why are our government representatives against it? It can't be a question of money or of boondoggles, since they haven't been shy about spending our money in the past on all sorts of pork-barrel projects. Is it because they don't want to step on Gov. Jeb Bush's toes?

    High-speed rail is probably one of the top 10 best proposals to surface in the last 20 years. Not only will it help to take traffic off our overcrowded highways, help eliminate congestion at the airports, but it would also provide an alternative to those Florida residents who either don't have an automobile or who cannot drive for other reasons.
    -- Dennis Zaccardi, Palm Harbor

    Getting the schools we pay for

    I am tired of viewing commercials from politicians and reading letters from people who continue to ignore the actual problems in our schools and, instead, raise smoke screens to hide those very real problems by overemphasizing "discipline" at every opportunity.

    According to Jack Gordon in his Oct. 7 column, It's easy to see why Florida's education system ranks so low, Florida spends less money on K-12 education than the national average, has larger class sizes, a higher student/teacher ratio and lower teacher pay than most states. We also struggle with the national problem of two-wage-earner families, which diminishes parental attention and control. The lower median income and wage rates here further encourage parents to be unavailable to their children and exhausted when they are. Finally, lack of funds has resulted in diminished extracurricular activities which, historically, contributed to children's proper socialization by providing them opportunities to work together in a cooperative manner, whether in sports, music or an academic-type setting.

    So why is it that the same people who would rather drive a Mercedes than a Kia, and spend much more for that Mercedes, constantly berate us that spending more is not part of the answer? Folks, you get what you pay for, and if additional scrutiny is needed to ensure that more funding would go directly to our children's educational needs and not be wasted on more bureaucracy, let's spend money on that scrutiny rather than on more disciplinary measures, such as metal detectors, which do nothing to add to our children's education. Also, spending can be mandated for specific educational purposes, such as the purchase of books, rather than thrown into the general fund.

    Children should not be forced to attend schools in a prison-like atmosphere. Enough is enough. Let's solve the problems and stop the smokescreen rhetoric that only continues to diminish opportunity for all of our children.
    -- Martin L. Altner, Safety Harbor

    A reminder to remain vigilant

    Re: Humanity's evil haunts grounds at Auschwitz, by Bill Maxwell, Oct. 1.

    Kudos to Bill Maxwell for his eye-opening report on Adolf Hitler's final solution at Auschwitz and Birkenau. As a result of his reporting, the message of "Never forget" can be kept alive. A concluding statement from his column ("Indeed, the Holocaust is real") should forever silence those who would deny its existence. Unfortunately, it will not.

    He asks the question: "What moral, intelligent person can deny this fact?" The answer is that there are always those who will, simply because they cannot imagine humans being so cruel.

    But it is important to remember that in every society, Nazis or Nazi-like people do exist. They can be found in every layer of society. This is frightening, but even more so when they manage to get into leadership positions. This is what occurred in Germany. Little by little, they gained strength until they were too strong to stop. We must be ever vigilant to identify those individuals in the early stages and prevent them from gaining additional power.
    -- David C. Milchan, St. Pete Beach

    Don't be misled on LASIK

    Re: Seeing LASIK's risks clearly, Oct. 1.

    As a certified ophthalmic assistant, I found the general tone of the LASIK surgery stories to be misleading, offensive and patently unfair.

    The article slanders the profession when it compares ophthalmic surgeons to used-car salesmen (with my apologies to all good used-car salesmen everywhere).

    Also, the assertion that the advertisements that we have submitted to the Times (which subsequently have been published) border on false advertising is ludicrous. I give the Times readership enough credit to understand that newspaper ads are, by their very nature, attention-getters and are not to be taken as legal documents, and that any allusion to dogs wearing glasses is not to be taken literally.

    I can personally testify that in our office we exercise all possible precautions to select only the candidates who fully qualify for this surgical procedure. To do otherwise would be unethical and would certainly not be a good business practice since a high percentage of our LASIK candidates come to us because of the outstanding results they have heard about from our other patients.

    So I feel your article did a great disservice to many, many people who could otherwise have benefited from this revolutionary, sight-enhancing surgical technique were it not for being afraid to pursue this option because of your misleading, offensive and patently unfair article.
    -- Laura L. Ellis, Tampa

    Continue to right a racial wrong

    Re: Activist regains the vote, Oct. 11.

    I applaud the fact that Omali Yeshitela has finally been given his voting rights back after a third of a century of injustice. I believe that most of the residents of St. Petersburg are appalled that our town allowed such an offensive painting to hang in City Hall. Clearly the mural with its racist and demeaning message to the black community was the crime, not the actions of Omali Yeshitela (then known as Joseph Waller). Yet Yeshitela spent time in prison and carried the stigma of being a "felon" for far too long.

    Such logic would brand Harriet Tubman as a felon for fighting against the legal but very unjust system of slavery.

    Now it is time to more fully "right this historic wrong." I urge the City Council to live up to its pledge to issue a formal apology to Omali Yeshitela and the African community of St. Petersburg for the racist mural and for the legal prosecution of Yeshitela. The council should follow through on its commitment to put up an official plaque with such an apology on the still-empty spot in City Hall where the mural once hung. As a white resident of St. Petersburg I believe that such an action on the part of City Council would help to bring our town together. An official plaque with an apology would set a historic precedent for ending divisiveness and creating an atmosphere of justice and unity in St. Petersburg.
    -- Penny Hess, St. Petersburg

    New voices in the political arena

    It makes my heart glad to hear that the governor and a review board have granted Omali Yeshitela his voter's rights and that he probably will be more directly involved in local politics. This should have happened a long time ago.

    Acts of conscience can be very traumatic. During the civil rights movement, many were beaten and jailed and some were killed. We should all visit the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., for a better understanding and an eloquent experience.

    Some of us were also involved in acts of conscience for other issues, such as protesting the Vietnam War, among others. My own efforts after coming home from that war involved declaring conscientious objection and resigning my commission, risking loss of family "respect" as well as threats of court-martial and other acts of intimidation, in order to actively protest the ongoing bombing and loss of life on all sides. I lost an aviation career in the process.

    The issue of granting felons voting rights is a further dimension. Many young people are now incarcerated for drug offenses without hope for rehabilitation and facing complete exclusion from participation in the system.

    If these folks were able to vote, we would see changes in the penal system, rehabilitation efforts for drug abuse and money shunted away from the bloated "defense" arena toward health care and education.

    Gen. Dwight Eisenhower himself said that every dollar spent on weapons of war is a dollar taken away from the greater society. How many young people are left defenseless without health care insurance? How many independent business owners pay out the wazoo for coverage? Where's the defense in that?

    Omali Yeshitela will be concerned about these issues, as they are the issues of "populist" America.
    -- James Willingham, Veterans for Peace, St. Petersburg

    Living wage vote is lauded

    Re: "Living wage," Oct. 14.

    According to this item, the City Council of Santa Cruz, Calif., voted to provide a "living wage" ($11 per hour with health benefits) to its employees and require all contractors doing business with the city to do the same.

    I don't know the political makeup of the council, but that does not matter. All governments -- be they local, state and/or federal -- should follow this courageous example.
    -- George P. Bunce, St. Petersburg

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