Monday, September 29, 2003

The Case Against Horne 

One might say that Florida's Secretary of Education, Jim Horne, is only doing his master's bidding, but as we all know "I was only following orders" doesn't cut it as a defense.

The Palm Beach Post puts forth a pretty convincing case that Horne's priorities do not include the welfare of public schools:
Public school students have to take the FCAT. Under Gov. Bush and Mr. Horne, it is THE standard for education in Florida. Schools whose students do well on the test get bonus money. Administrators at schools where scores are low get hauled to Tallahassee and told to do better. Yet private schools that get public money don't have to give the FCAT. At private schools, the state goes by what parents think.

At public schools, third-graders who don't pass the reading portion of the FCAT can't go on to fourth grade. When it became clear last spring that thousands would be held back, Mr. Horne hastily proposed summer reading "camps" but gave school districts no money for them. Thousands are repeating third grade. Yet the state doesn't ask whether third-graders at private schools getting public money are reading on grade level.

By design, the private schools don't need Mr. Horne. They have their own accrediting organizations, and they rely on donors. Until the corporate voucher program came along, the state gave them no money. Meanwhile, money for public education at all levels in Florida -- schools, community colleges, universities -- has failed to meet needs or been cut. Has Mr. Horne protested? No. He's encouraged it.

Mr. Horne defends the corporate voucher program he has mismanaged by saying it lets parents choose. One day, he might choose to do the job for which the public pays him.
Ah, but Jeb Bush signs the paycheck.

High School Hi-Jinks 

While the State's inept handling of its school voucher programs is perhaps the most egregious example of putting ideology over education, the new "Fast-Track High School Graduation" program shows that budget concerns beat student welfare every time.

The Lakeland Ledger provides four reasons why students are better off taking four years to graduate:
1. Full academic preparation for college or employment should not be shortened . . . Out-of-state universities may not accept the 18 credit/three-year graduate as is outlined in legislation recently passed in Florida.

2. Students mature through additional extracurricular activities.

3. The number of college freshmen who go off to college at 18 and fail socially is well-known. Lowering the age to 16 or 17 may create more problems for students not yet ready to handle the college experience.

4. If a three-year high school student finishes college, he or she will be 19 or 20 at graduation, and competing for placement in career or graduate school with much older and mature adults.
Of course "the Florida Department of Education can't say how the program is being received on a statewide basis because no one's keeping tabs on it." Typical.

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten 

Columnist Bill Maxwell recently took quite a journey through Florida:
I drove from St. Petersburg to Miami; from Miami to Daytona Beach; from Daytona Beach to Jacksonville; from Jacksonville to Tallahassee; from Tallahassee to Pensacola; from Pensacola to Gainesville; from Gainesville back to St. Petersburg.
He didn't like what he saw -- the natural habitats and farmlands of his youth have given way to urban sprawl. As a native Floridian I understand his anguish, but I just don't see any chance of slowing the onslaught of new residents in the foreseeable future. Still it's worthwhile to consider what we're losing:
I feel naive to mention that the Sunshine State has six of the nation's 21 most endangered ecosystems. Who gives a damn that we are losing, for example, our longleaf pine forest, Florida scrub, Southern forested wetlands, large streams and rivers?

Who cares that because of urbanization and its environmental problems, we have put 600 rare South Florida flora and fauna at risk? Nearly 70 animal species, including the manatee and panther, are considered threatened or endangered mainly because of sprawl. Does the average resident care?

We are killing natural Florida for a few years of luxury, for creature comforts that become an end unto themselves, that are devoid of real value. We need smart growth management and sound construction planning.
Sorry, Bill, but our elected officials in Tallahassee are thinking of their bank accounts when they speak of smart growth.

What About Us? 

The quote below is a paraphrase as I can't find a transcript as yet -- I do believe it is close to the actual wording and certainly conveys what was said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was on ABC's This Week yesterday, and in response to a question of why the United States shouldn't provide support to Iraq in the form of loans rather than outright aid, said, "We wouldn't want to saddle the Iraqi people with a huge debt."

UPDATE: Speaking of debts, Juan Cole notes that Kuwait and other Gulf states are not willing to forgive debts owed them by Iraq:
The Kuwaiti Information Minister said that the subject was not open for negotiation. Iraq's external debts may be as high as $200 bn., and Kuwait reparations alone come to $100 bn.. The United States, as the occupying power, has now become legally responsible for those debts. . .

Florida Water, Inc. 

Mark Lane's Florida Blog has a roundup of media reaction to the suggestion of privatizing Florida's water supply. One link is to a column by Bob Cotterell and Diane Hirth of the Tallahassee Democrat examining the Florida Council of 100:
The Florida Council of 100, the people who want North Florida's water for South Florida's economic and population growth, is an elite group of business executives that has advised governors for more than 40 years. When big-business lobbyists work on legislators for changes in taxation, state employment, transportation, education or development laws, they can roll out the Council of 100's impressive array of top corporate CEOs to seal the deal, if necessary.
How this battle goes will be as important to Florida's future as any other issue, because the wrong decision may not be correctable.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Was He Shouting "Seminoleade"? 

A Tallahassee man was arrested outside the University of Florida's football stadium following last Saturday's game for yelling obscenities. According to the Gainesville Sun,
[Seth] Garrett told authorities he was advertising an energy drink that has a similar sound to what he was yelling, the report states. He apologized to [nearby families].

Garrett said by phone Tuesday he didn't realize a child was nearby when he was yelling or else he would have stopped.
Now, in Garrett's defense, he is from FSU-land, and yelling Gatorade would probably be considered vulgar there.

Vouchergate in Perspective 

The Palm Beach Post has provided over 40 links to articles about the continuing mismanagement of the various Florida school voucher programs.

The Post sums up the problem thusly:
More than 26,000 Florida students used tax-payer dollars last year to attend private and religious schools through one of the state's three voucher programs. But the loosely written laws have created problems of their own, allowing questionable practices and schools to tarnish the reputation of voucher programs. Gov. Jeb Bush, Education Commissioner Jim Horne, and state Legislators have pledged to clean up the voucher programs, but if government oversight becomes too strict, some private schools said they will pull out of the program.
That's being a bit too kind. Given the questionable character of some schools receiving voucher money, any real oversight will cause those schools to run for cover.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Guard Your Nose 

There are no aquaducts in Florida. Tradition dictates that Floridians draw their drinking water from local sources. This may change if the high-powered Florida Council of 100's expected recommendations are inacted by the State.

The proposals promise to pit water-rich north Florida against the water-gulping urban areas of Tampa Bay, Orlando and points south. Businesses and developers are likely to put serious money behind the Council's recommendations since this would insure continuing urban growth (and sprawl).

But it won't happen without a fight:
''This is as close to North vs. South as you're going to get since the Civil War,'' said [Florida Senate president Jim] King, R-Jacksonville.
Another recommendation is to allow "private interests sell water without 'regulatory interference' to encourage investment in storage projects." Didn't I see a movie about this once? I think it starred Jack Nicholson and was set in L.A.

Winning Iraqi Hearts and Minds 

OK, the going is a little tougher in Iraq than imagined, but is this going to make our task any easier?
The US occupying forces blatantly contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention on Monday, announcing that they were opening the Iraqi economy to foreign investment and setting low trade tariffs. The economy has been plagued by massive unemployment (estimated by many observers at 60%) since the fall of the Baath regime, which had channeled oil money to employees through state industries and patronage. US civil administrator Paul Bremer, a fanatical devotee of the "Washington Consensus" on the absolute benefits of "free trade," has managed to get the Interim Governing Council to sign off on a wideranging set of new economic regulations.

The new rules allow foreign corporations potentially to dominate important sectors of the economy. Especially worrisome is foreign ownership of banks and deregulation of currency transfers, since it was the proliferation of such approaches in the 1990s that led to the 1997 meltdown in East and Southeast Asia. (Malaysia spared itself by clamping on currency controls, in defiance of the Washington Consensus, and it was spared the worst of the burst bubble that plagued Thailand and South Korea).

The new law allows foreign corporations to buy 100% of Iraqi firms, which is highly unusual in that part of the world. There is no provision for the state to license this activity or to screen the investors, according to the NYT. Worse, any profits can be immediately repatriated abroad, in full. So Iraq becomes an ideal place to launder money....
The above is quoted from Juan Coles' Informed Comment, an essential source for information on what's going on in Iraq.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Home Again 

Back in town after a week of limited internet access. I'll be posting on a proposal to place the Confederate flag on Florida license plates, America's relations with the English-speaking Caribbean nations, and the usual Florida lunacy.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Checks, Balances and Power 

Martin Dyckman, writing in the St. Petersburg Times, questions Governor Bush's three recent judicial appointments of political cronies.
The three are Charles Canady, the former congressman who was Bush's general counsel when he promoted him to the 2nd District Court of Appeal at Lakeland; Paul Hawkes, who was a political hatchetman in the House speaker's office when named to the 1st District Court of Appeal at Tallahassee; and, the latest, Frank Shepherd, to the 3rd District Court of Appeal at Miami. The Shepherd appointment apparently succeeded, where the others did not, in awakening court-watchers to what's at stake.

He is the managing attorney of the Pacific Legal Foundation's Atlantic Center in Coral Gables. The foundation is to "property rights" as the NRA is to firearms. He has argued against the right of citizens to intervene in environmental disputes, for the notion that modern environmental rules should not apply to owners of platted lots in the Florida Keys, for beachfront property owners and boaters against baby turtles and manatees, and for Bush's private school vouchers and so-called "tort reforms."
A more basic problem, Dyckman explains, is that there is no independent confimation process -- Gov. Bush has stacked the deck so that whoever he wants, he gets.
From 1972, when Gov. Reubin Askew succeeded in establishing nominating commissions in the Constitution, every governor had accepted their independence.

The commissions were set up this way: The governor appointed three members. The Florida Bar named three. Those six chose three more. Neither the governor nor the Bar could count on controlling the commissions. Some questionable nominations occurred, but not many.

Two years ago, however, Bush easily got the Legislature to let him appoint all nine members of each commission. The Bar's opposition was eventually pacified with an amendment entitling it to propose four people for each commission. But as the governor can keep rejecting the Bar's choices until he gets whom he wants, that was no compromise at all.
Whether or not judicial candidates are, in fact, judicial is important. But the long-term consequences of Governor Bush's consolidation of power in his offices is certainly more so.

Friday, September 05, 2003


The always interesting blog, Regions of Mind, looks at Victor Davis Hanson's new book Mexifornia and the author's views on many Californians' emotional ties to their former homeland.

One of Hanson's comments had a familiar ring: "A visiting Mexican soccer club playing almost any American team will find in our local fans a home-crowd advantage — despite being 1,000 miles from home."

I guess Hanson has never been to a Dolphins game when they are playing the Jets. It almost always seems like an away game, and virtually all of those cheering for New York live in South Florida, many for decades. My neighbor, who I would guess has lived in Florida for 90 percent of his life, flys a Buffalo Bills flag in front of his house during football season.

People don't seem to mind leaving their parents and siblings, childhood friends and meaningful places, but don't ask them to give up their sports teams.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Federalism From the Top Down 

The St. Petersburg Times has an editorial on Attorney General Ashcroft's insistence on taking jurisdiction and seeking the death penalty in a murder case in Puerto Rico. The problem is that Puerto Rico does not allow executions and a majority of the population is against capital punishment. If the case was of significant national concern, Ashcroft's actions may be warranted, but this was a local crime. Federal jurisdiction could be asserted because the intentional murder was committed with a firearm.
The attorney general has insisted that the death penalty be applied even in those states that do not have capital punishment, and the department under Ashcroft has repeatedly set aside the recommendations of local federal prosecutors. That's bad enough, but to charge a capital crime in Puerto Rico, which hasn't had an execution since 1927 and whose residents essentially have no say in our government (they don't participate in our presidential elections and have only one nonvoting representative in Congress) is a true abuse of power.
It is not known if the death penalty controversy may have influenced the verdict, but the defendants were acquitted.

Most Want Senior Year 

Apparently high school students are smart enough to realize Florida's new reduced-credit high school degree is a bad deal. According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, only a handful of students are opting to go that route.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

It Seems Like Only Yesterday 

The University of Florida's Independent Florida Alligator has an article that brings back memories.
Thirty years ago Saturday, eight members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War - known as the Gainesville Eight - were acquitted in federal court of trying to violently disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.

Four of the eight men gathered to commemorate the day they regained their freedom along with their lawyers, supporters and even a few jurors.

They met for the first time since the end of the month-long trial that garnered national attention as antiwar sentiment rose and the Watergate scandal unfolded.
The early seventies were indeed times of turmoil and change at Florida's flagship university. It had not been long before that blacks had been admitted as undergraduates. Changing attitudes about sexuality had led one Florida legislator to describe the dorms as "taxpayer's whorehouses." Protests and even violence (in the most notable case, a police riot) tested both students and administrators. And the war in Vietnam was on everyone's mind.

But it was great time to be a student. The issues were real and all perspectives were argued (for the most part in at least a semi- civil manner) in classrooms and in dorms. Whatever one's political stance, it was acknowledged that the times were "a'changing."

Today, that era -- the late sixties and early seventies -- is often derided as a time gone mad in which the inmates ruled the prison. It seems many of those who see it this way were too young to have experienced it firsthand. Well, you can't help when you were born, but it is a shame if you accept a black and white image of those years.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Different Ways to Look at History 

Here's an interesting contrast. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Miami-Dade County is considering licensing tour guide to insure that guides provide factual information about the area.
Proponents say they want to set some standards for a profession that makes many of Miami's first impressions and to make sure the tales told about its colorful history aren't unduly tall. After all, to listen to some local lore, "Madonna stayed everywhere," joked George Neary, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau's cultural tourism director. "It's sort of like 'George Washington slept here.'"

New York, New Orleans and Washington and some other much-visited cities license tour guides, but Miami-Dade likely would be the first place in South Florida to consider doing so.
Meanwhile, about 35 miles north in Fort Lauderale, the city's oldest structure, the Stranahan House, has decided to give ghost tours.
Officials at the museum on the New River downtown, where the modern-day city began, say publicity about the South Florida Ghost Team's investigation in May brought the attention they've been craving.

"I just think this has been the one shot in the arm that the house needed," said Stranahan House education specialist Marlene Shotamus. "Attendance really picked up."

Shotamus said the morning after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel featured the investigation, a group of 90 students from Pine Crest School came through. Some swore they'd felt a presence.

"Some smelled perfume, the eyes in Frank's portrait downstairs moved, laughter came from the vents in the dining room, and one child felt someone tap him on the shoulder when he was upstairs," she wrote in an e-mail at the time.

One radio station, Majic 102.7, had a seance there afterward, with a psychic and the ghost team on hand.

The next morning, during rush hour, drivers were given the mysterious details.

"There was a rocking chair in the middle of the room," disc jockey Rick Shaw told listeners, "and all of a sudden it started rocking by itself."

The creepy possibility that spirits of dead people are haunting the Stranahan House could save it from relative obscurity, even though national debunkers like Fort Lauderdale's James Randi, the "Amazing Randi," have said the ghost team's proof -- including ghostly "orbs" captured on digital cameras -- is easily explained away.
To the extent that the Stranahan House (a very well-done restoration, by the way) encourages visitors to believe that there are ghosts in the house, it is a perversion of its mission. If it presented as just a tongue in cheek Halloween event, it is less so.

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