Friday, January 30, 2004

With Intent to Insult? 

Every day I drive past gas stations and car dealers who display large American flags, many of them torn, tattered and faded. I suspect that the primary motivation for the hoisting of these flags is to draw attention to the business and to avoid the complications of local sign ordinances, but I'm sure there is an element of patriotism there as well.

Now, what would happen if these business owners began receiving tickets or summons from the local police for running afoul of Florida Statute 876.52:
Public mutilation of flag.--Whoever publicly mutilates, defaces, or tramples upon or burns with intent to insult any flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States or of Florida shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
I guess the business owners' lawyers would state that their clients had no intent to insult the flag, but that the "desecration" was just an oversight.

So what's the point?

Recently, a student drama group in Broward County were disqualified from district competition by the event's co-chair, Melody Wicht. The students were performing The Children's Story.
In the play, first published in 1963 by Shogun author James Clavell, third-graders in a classroom in a United States that has been defeated by a powerful enemy, presumably Communist, cut the flag into pieces. Their new teacher tells them if the flag is so good, everyone should get a piece and tells them to hand out the shreds. It's a message about the dangers of mindless political indoctrination.
Wicht and other judges defended their actions
"Some people came to me after the play and complained about the performance," Wicht said. "So I looked into it."

"I tried to stay as objective as possible as they performed," Wicht said. "My problem was that they took an American flag off the flagpole and cut it into pieces. They were disqualified based on Florida law."

Jim Usher, from American Heritage School in Plantation, one of the three judges, said while he was "grossly offended" by the flag cutting, he didn't base his rating of the play on it. He gave the play a fair rating -- the lowest -- based on overall performance, he said.

Wicht said until she hears otherwise, the disqualification will stand.
Other than the questions of intent, and whether or not the Florida statute is even constitutional (doubtful), wouldn't you think drama teachers who are judging competitions would make themselves familiar with the works being performed, thus affording the students some warning that their chosen play might present problems?

This may sound to some like a tempest in a teapot, but I doubt the students think so. Moreover, it calls into question the purpose behind so-called flag protection laws in which the flag is treated like a fetish, with little regard to the values it represents.

Not to mention some drama teachers' fitness to be teaching their subject.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh addresses this matter at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Not Super For Everyone 

He was the youngest quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, and the youngest to die.

Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde writes today about the troubled life of former Dolphins quarterback David Woodley, who led the team to Super Bowl XVII at the end of the 1982 season. He was never comfortable with the attention that came with being in professional sports, or the pressure to win the big game.
"Some players are hard-core," [Woodley's ex-wife, Suzonne] Pugh said. "Some are big teddy bears. Some just don't know how to deal with what comes with the life. David was like that. That's what people should know -- he was a normal person, a good person, who couldn't handle the pro football life."

During his Super Bowl Week, he said a job with a paving company during a players strike was in some ways preferable to being an NFL quarterback.

"A lot less pressure and a lot less attention," he said.
David Woodley was just 44 when he died last year. For most people sports are a release from the pressures of everyday life; for some it is the other way around.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Inside View 

South Carolina blog, the wyeth wire, provides a good, brief analysis of that state's upcoming Democratic primary.

We'll See 

To help solve the state's health care problems, Governor Bush has proposed:
A statewide electronic medical records system that links patient information to doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers by December 2006;

New hospital licensing and certification standards by which state agencies would regulate hospitals based on their quality, instead of their need in a particular geographic area.

A promotional push for greater use of Health Savings Accounts, a type of system recently authorized by Congress which allows individuals or their employers to create tax-free savings accounts if they are enrolled in high-deductible insurance plans.

Allowing patients greater access to data that compares the quality and cost of doctors and hospitals, thereby creating more shopping power;

A $3.2 billion budget for KidCare, with a funding increase aimed at providing insurance for 10,500 children on a waiting list of 107,000 children;

Statewide expansion of Health Flex programs, a pilot project that allows public and private industries to offer alternative health-care products to uninsured residents;

Allowing businesses with fewer than 25 employees to pool their health-care policies and bargain for better prices;

A new program to open up an alternative health insurance market, thereby stabilizing prices among traditional health care providers.
Nothing wrong with most of these, but with a few exceptions the proposals do not address the needs of the state's poor families who cannot afford health insurance. Gov. Bush's increase in Kid Care funding, for instance, will only provide help for ten percent of those who need it.

A good percentage of the Governor's proposals are really "consumer choice" items. That's great for the two income family in Wellington, but doesn't help the indigent family in Belle Glade.

The New Gospel 

St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell says the black community needs a "good-parenting initiative," and that the churches are the place to start:
When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago during the early 1970s, curiosity brought me to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's popular church on Cottage Grove. During my first visit, Jackson asked for volunteers for his school homework project. I, along with the four other black students who came with me, volunteered. Our job was simple: Each night we had to telephone the 25 parents assigned to us and remind the parents to turn off the TV from 7 to 9 p.m. They were to help their children with homework or engage them in some other academic activity.

I worked on the project for a year, and I know that I did a lot of good. Jackson's church was responsible for this good work. Today's black churches that have not done so already need to create efforts that focus on our children's education. I am not talking about reading the Bible, either. We have enough of that. I am talking about the academic side of our children's lives that is being neglected.

Any church that refuses to join this crusade is good for nothing and does not deserve to exist. If a church really wants to do God's work, find ways to help our children develop a love of learning. In this modern era, education has to become the new gospel.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The Real Class War 

Conservatives and libertarians like to scream "class warfare" whenever someone suggests that cutting taxes for the wealthy should not be the government's first priority. But ignored is the real class war being waged against the poor and, to a lesser extent, the middle class.

In the latest edition of Newsweek Jane Bryant Quinn looks at higher education and explains how the ideology of cutting taxes is making it harder for those at the bottom of the economic ladder to get off the bottom rungs.
Higher education is getting less, not more public financial support. That's astonishing, in a country that knows the jobs of the future will require more knowledge and technical talent. President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address, promised to add mini-funding to some programs affecting higher ed. But that doesn't begin to offset the losses students face in the value of their federal financial aid. Nor does it make up for the big budget cuts that many struggling states have forced on public colleges and universities--which, by the way, educate 80 percent of our students.

To stay alive, these schools are firing personnel, increasing class size, snuffing courses, limiting enrollment and cutting out some majors. But most of all, they're hiking their tuition and fees. Tom Mortenson, a higher-education policy analyst, calls this "creeping privatization." If the public can't or won't pay enough for state schools ("no new taxes"), then the students must.

For lower-income people, that's easier said than done. The cost crisis is resegregating higher education, not by color but by class. Students of modest means are finding it harder to afford a bachelor's degree. Increasingly, they're shifting out of four-year colleges and universities and into two-year community colleges.
Quinn notes a number of disturbing trends in American higher education, including:
Who earns a college degree by the age of 24 is largely determined at birth, Mortenson says. Among families with incomes exceeding $85,000 or $90,000, 51.4 of children get their sheepskins young. But with family income in the $35,000-$65,000 range, only about 12.4 percent of children do. Among families with lower incomes, the portion is only 4.5 percent. Even comparing kids with the same academic scores, low-income students enroll in college at sharply lower rates. Costs count. Opportunities aren't as equal as Americans think.

You'll hear more about privatizing public education. At the University of Virginia, the business and law schools went private. They now set their own tuition and don't depend on state aid. In South Carolina, Gov. Mark Sanford asked the legislature to let the state's public colleges and universities go private if they want--giving up state aid in return for getting the deed to their campuses free of charge. The no-new-taxes crowd thinks it's great that students are paying more. But that's the route to less higher education--bad for the country, bad for all.
In Florida, Governor Bush and the Republican-dominated legislature are doing their best to follow these trends. Tuition is going up another 7.5% for in-state undergraduates and 12.5% for out-of-state students. Ah, but there's a catch here -- ambitious students (those who take ten percent more credit hours than the minimum necessary to graduate) will find themselves paying tuition at the higher rate.

An Independent Florida Alligator editorial opposes this "penalty," noting:
This punishes two groups of students: those who take on a second major and those who change their majors late in the game and have to play catch-up.

If Jeb and the Legislature truly are interested in raising the standards of education in Florida, the message they should be sending to the students is that ambition pays, not that you should pay for your ambition.

Students who pursue double majors often are hedging their bets for their entrance into a job market that has been, to say the least, unpredictable in the past few years. These days it's almost a requirement to have proficiencies in more than one field in order to land a decent job.

One important function of a university is to prepare its students for the professional world by providing a broad educational foundation.

If the university discourages its students from diversifying their skills and knowledge, how will UF students compete?
The message from Tallahassee seems to be pay up and don't bother trying to compete -- if you were truly competitive you would have gone to a private college in the first place.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Fighting the Plume Hunters and Saving the Everglades 

Stuart McIver is a historian who lives in and writes about South Florida. Recently he published a book on a little-known episode in Florida and environmental history, Death in the Everglades: The Murder of Guy Bradley, America's First Martyr to Environmentalism.

In the later part of the 19th century, women's fashion dictated the wearing of feathers, or more correctly, plumes. Most of these came from the egrets, herons and flamingos of Florida's Everglades, and such was the demand that the birds were hunted almost to extinction. Due to the strong lobbying effort by a band of early environmentalists (many of whom were pioneer women of southern Florida) a federal law was passed in 1901 protecting the plumed birds.

Guy Bradley was hired as the first game warden and patrolled the glades singlehanded. As might be expected there were quite a few individuals whose livelihood were threatened by the law and Bradley's enforcement of it. On July 8, 1905, Bradley was attempting to arrest a member of a well-known plume hunting family near the settlement of Flamingo when he was shot and killed. His killer fled to Key West where he was eventually acquitted by a sympathetic jury.

This summary doesn't do justice to this fascinating story of changing times on a rough and unforgiving frontier -- read the book.

As I mentioned above, many of the leading figures in the fight against plume hunting (and for conservation of the Everglades) were women. Most are little-known outside Florida, but they were a remarkable group of intelligent and strong-minded individuals. One who spoke eloquently against the plume trade was Miami pioneer Mary Barr Monroe. The following is an excerpt from an article she wrote in 1915:
"'Oh, the bird died a long time ago!' That is the Florida Egret's obituary or what every woman says when spoken to about wearing the plumes of the Egret and Snowy-Heron.

It seems incredible that to-day there should be in the United States any person able to read who is not aware of the fact that the 'aigrette' is the nuptial plume worn by the egret and snowy heron at the nesting time of the year, by both parents, and that to procure them it is necessary to shoot the birds, which means that the young are left to slowly die of starvation.
Many women in Florida defend themselves by telling how they bought the plumes from the 'poor Indians.' Would these same women give the Indians the exact amount of money in sweet charity? And do they realize that if they would stop buying and wearing the plumes the Indian would not have them for sale?
But it is not the Indian's sin: it is the women who demand the plumes, so that white men have hunted the birds in such numbers that after a few more years of such reckless slaughter during the breeding season the egret and snowy heron will be classed among the extinct birds of the country."
Other notable pioneer women involved in protecting the Everglades included Ivy Cromartie Stranahan, May Mann Jennings, Ruth Owen Bryan and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.

Unfortunately, the fight is not over.

What a Mess 

The Orlando Sentinel editorializes on Gov. Bush's priorities:
Today, some 100,000 children languish on waiting lists for state assistance to obtain health-care coverage. A $23 million investment by the state could leverage enough federal aid to provide almost all those children with a healthy start in life.

Yet in his proposed $55.4 billion budget, Mr. Bush instead wants a $91 million tax break to benefit wealthy investors and his business buddies. And to keep political peace with House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, he threw in another $11 million for an Alzheimer's research center Mr. Byrd wants.

Mr. Bush says he offered relief to only an additional 10,500 kids because the overwhelming need could bankrupt the program.

Perhaps if the governor reordered his budget priorities, that wouldn't be the case. Perhaps if he revisited $8 billion worth of tax breaks he's given primarily to the wealthy in recent years, that wouldn't be the case. Perhaps if he joined a national effort to collect Internet sales taxes already owed the state, that wouldn't be the case. And perhaps if he helped repeal some nonsensical sales-tax exemptions awarded to his lobbyist pals and campaign contributors, that wouldn't be the case.
These are the fruits of ideological governance.

Stealth Tax 

A big tax increase is coming, but you won't hear much about it from Gov. Bush and the Legislature.
Gov. Bush, a Republican, and GOP state lawmakers pushed through a $187 million tax cut for business five years ago, despite warnings that such a move could leave the state account that pays unemployment benefits dangerously low if a recession struck. Bush dismissed such predictions as "fuzzy headed."

But they proved ominously correct. Last October, with Florida's sluggish economy pushing the cost of jobless benefits near an all-time high, the money in the unemployment account dropped to the lowest point in nearly a decade. That triggered an automatic tax increase legally required to keep the fund from going broke.

State officials confirm that Bush narrowly averted a similar tax increase just before his November 2002 re-election by funneling most of the $449 million in emergency federal aid that Florida got after the Sept. 11 terror attacks to prop up the unemployment fund.

Now, with a presidential election involving his brother kicking into high gear, Florida business owners are about to be mailed sharply higher tax bills.

Bush and leading lawmakers have said little about the tax increase, with several top Republicans acknowledging even they didn't know the increase was kicking in.
Florida's unemployment fund had grown throughout the 1990s, but has steadily been drawn down during Gov. Bush's tenure in Tallahassee.

Clinton in South Florida 

Former president Bill Clinton visited Fort Lauderdale for a speech at the Office Depot Center, home of the NHL Florida Panthers. According to the Sun-Sentinel, about 2,000 people were in attendance.

Clinton highlighted several issues where he differed with the Bush administration:
"I believe we cooperate when we can and act alone when we must. The other party believes we should act alone when we can and cooperate when we must," he said.
"[The Bush tax cuts] are giving me $87,000 in cut taxes from some middle-class guy's Social Security benefits and borrowed money," Clinton said. "This is crazy."
Clinton said he was almost finished writing his memoirs -- in longhand.

Friday, January 23, 2004

The Joys of Being a Low Tax State 

The Jacksonville Florida Times-Union would never be accused of being part of the liberal media, but facts are facts. In a front page story, the newspaper reported how public schools teachers, more often than not, have to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets.

Times-Union columnist Ron Littlepage sums it up:
. . . despite the rhetoric coming from Republican-dominated Tallahassee, the state of Florida is, and has been for years, woefully underfunding public schools.

The budget proposed by Gov. Jeb Bush this week provides a perfect example.

Bush boasts that he is freeing up an additional $1 billion for the state's public schools.

Sounds good, but a closer examination knocks the dew off the rose.

More than half of that $1 billion -- $508 million -- will have to be spent just to meet the requirements of the class-size constitutional amendment.

That would leave $492 million to cover the additional costs that the 55,000 new students projected for next year will require, not to mention inflation and the rising cost of health insurance and trying to find enough money for even paltry raises for teachers.

School systems will have to struggle just to stay even.

That's why teachers have to use their own money to buy critical supplies, because the governor and the Legislature talk a good game, but that's all it is -- talk.
But first things first -- Governor Bush "has pushed through $8 billion in tax cuts since taking office. In this budget, he proposes another $139 million in cuts, again, as they have been in the past, mostly for the well-to-do."

If Governor Bush is not going to provide adequate funding for orphans and abused children, the developmentally disabled, or health care for the indigent, why should he do so for students -- after all, they should be in private schools, anyway.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Turning Off the Lamp 

Apparently Al-Quada is not enough of a challenge for the folks at Homeland Security, and so in their spare time, they have decided to go after Haitian orphans.

Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede relates a story that is both heart-breaking and infuriating.
Since arriving in the United States 15 months ago, Ernesto Joseph has lived a life that would make even Kafka wince.

Joseph is one of the Haitians who landed on the Rickenbacker Causeway on Oct. 29, 2002. He says he is 16 years old and has a birth certificate to prove it. As a juvenile, Joseph would have a greater chance of being able to stay in this country. Both of his parents are dead, and if he were returned to Haiti, he would face an uncertain life as a homeless juvenile who could be easily preyed upon by street gangs.

Last year, an immigration judge granted him asylum.

But for reasons that no one can explain, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to fight this child's asylum with a zeal unprecedented in an immigration case.
Homeland Security has run bone density and dental tests on Joseph trying to prove he is older than he claims, but haven't been able to gather conclusive proof. Then in series of misadventures worthy of a Keystone Cops movie, Joseph was informed he was being released, and then not released after all.
Facing a public-relations disaster, officials in Homeland Security reversed themselves yet again, and by 3:30 p.m. Friday decided to release Joseph on humanitarian grounds after all. But at the same time, immigration officials continue to maintain that Joseph is an adult. They are still working to deport him.
Hasn't this kid suffered enough?

Once upon a time this is what America aspired to:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
No time for bleeding heart sentiments nowadays.


Mary Jo Melone, St. Petersburg Times, on Governor Bush's funding cuts for the developmentally disabled:
No doubt in his own mind, Gov. Bush thinks he means well. As for me, I just can't get past the tight-fisted approach he takes when it comes to people who cannot fend for themselves. It speaks not of fiscal wisdom but of cruelty, plain and simple.

Broward County teacher Jan Amorosino, quoted by Michael Mayo in the Sun-Sentinel:
"Everything is test-centered, as opposed to student-centered," she said. "They've taken all the discretion and creativity out of teaching. It's like they don't trust us. We're not able to meet the individual needs of students, and it's the kids who suffer."
"Kids this age can't be sitting at a desk all day, they can't be in reading groups all day," Amorosino said. "But if an administrator walks in and sees you doing something you're not supposed to, they say, `Why?' ... Sometimes you need to break with patterns to break through. But we're under such pressure to finish the curriculum, children are not always being taught the way that's developmentally appropriate."

Leonard Pitts, in the Miami Herald, on a federal healthcare report that was altered to remove references to racial disparities:
It used to be snickered by some that George W. was not exactly the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer. But this is not stupidity you see here. Rather, it's the willful ignorance ideological rigidity demands, the readiness to charge full speed ahead with blinders on. And to what end?

Truth doesn't change its essential character because you tell it to. Facts don't cease being facts because you cut them from a report.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Florida Auto Trails 

I recently came across an interesting website that provides a brief history of Florida's highways before the national numbering system was instituted in 1926. These early highways were created and promoted by various "trail associations." For the most part the associations were comprised of businessmen and civic boosters anxious to channel automobile traffic through their towns.

The site list 15 Florida auto trails and the routes they followed. Unlike the federal numbering system, these roads had names that were more or less descriptive, such as the St. Augustine Road or Central Florida Highway. A few had promotional names such as the Old Spanish Trail or the Woodpecker Route.

As far as I can tell, only two of the fifteen roads are still familiar names: the Dixie Highway and the Tamiami Trail.

The website also list 12 other early highways that traversed at least a portion of Florida, but may not have been known by their auto trail names.

On Second Thought . . .  

This didn't occur in Florida, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if it had:
The American Family Association, a leading force in defining marriage nationwide as between one man and one woman, originally said on its Web site that it intended to report to Congress the results of its Internet poll on gay marriage.

But now it is "probably not" going to follow through, a spokesman said, after nearly 60 percent of the more than 825,000 votes tallied expressed support of gay marriage.
The AFA claims the results indicate that "[h]omosexual activist groups went to the trouble of skewing this particular poll."

Gov. Bush's Budget for Higher Education 

Governor Bush's proposed budget provides more money for the state's universities and community colleges (an increase of 5.7% and 7.6%, respectively), but also calls for a 7.5% hike in tuition (and generating half the funding increase).

Unlike high education funding, tuition went up substantially last year making for a tuition increase of as much as 15% for in-state students in the past two years (much more for out-of-state and graduate students).

The reaction from the universities is relief that more money is being allocated, but a recognition that it is not enough.

Articles on higher education funding are in the Independent Florida Alligator, Naples News, Tallahassee Democrat and Palm Beach Post, among others.

The proposed budget (in pdf format) can be viewed here. A summary of funding for the State University System is here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Return to Bizarro Sherwood Forest 

In a letter to the St. Petersburg Times, Governor Bush defends his administration's commitment to health care for Florida's children, but argues that there's not enough money to enroll any more families in the state's Kid Care health insurance program.

The Time's Steve Bousquet explains why:
Gov. Jeb Bush will send the Legislature an election-year budget proposal today that will feature more tax breaks, including another tax cut for affluent investors.
Bush also has pushed hard to limit growth in state spending, which will top $53.5-billion this year. But it was unclear how Bush would compensate for the lost revenue from any new tax breaks in what is expected to be another tight budget year.

A nine-day sales tax holiday on back-to-school supplies and clothing would cost an estimated $33-million in lost revenue. Should Bush advocate doing away entirely with the intangibles tax on investors, the price tag for that cut would be $305-million over the next year.

Such cuts would come even as the state faces increased Medicaid costs of nearly $530-million and constitutional amendments that require the state to pick up all court costs and pay for reducing class sizes.

"I just don't see fiscally how he is going to get there," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.
Bousquet also reports that Governor Bush is not just about cuts: "Bush hinted Monday he will look to college students to help with the state's budget crunch, though he won't push for tuition increases as high as last year's 8.5-percent increase for in-state undergraduate students."

Cuba Travel 

The Sun-Sentinel reprinted a recent editorial from the Los Angeles Times calling for the United States to open up travel to Cuba.
The House has passed bills to lift the ban on travel four times. The Senate did so once, last year. Businesspeople, academics and tourists argue that the policy is ineffective as well as unfair to U.S. travelers. Cuba's harsh crackdown on democracy advocates last year understandably slowed pressure to reform U.S. policy. But in the long term, U.S. citizens who travel to the island increase the flow of ideas and democratic influence.
For almost 45 years, the ban on travel to Cuba has not made Cubans more free, but it has made Americans less so.

Ties that Bind 

We all got a good snicker over the news that arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond had fathered a multi-racial child. Today, Sun-Sentinel columnist Ralph De la Cruz writes about the family ties between blacks and whites, even when they may not be blood kin.

Church and State 

Many, if not most, counties in Florida do not allow the sale of beer, wine or spirits before a specified hour (say, 12:00 PM) on Sundays. Other than for religious reasons, what is the rationale for these laws?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Bear With Us 

I've lived in Florida all my life and have never seen a bear in the wild. But they're here.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the Florida black bear population is stable enough that the animals have been denied endangered species status. Not everyone agrees with this decision, however.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said 1,600 to 3,000 Florida black bears prowl the forests and swamps of Florida, southern Georgia and southern Alabama. This population represents an increase over the past 50 years or so, and the wildlife service said the vast majority of Florida bears live in areas that are protected by the state or federal government.
The Florida black bear is one of three subspecies of the American black bear. The Florida bears are smaller, have flatter heads and don't really hibernate. They once ranged from the Upper Keys through southern Georgia, southern Alabama and southeastern Mississippi. At one time, an estimated 11,500 bears lived in the four states.
According to the article, Florida's bear population had dipped to just a few hundred about fifty years ago. Since then the state has bought hundreds of thousands of acres of bear habitat, providing the beasts with areas secure from development.

Monday, January 12, 2004

At Least He's Not Gay 

The following advertisement ran in the Miami Herald's business section today (no link):
Colonel Oliver North will be the Keynote Speaker at the "Friends of Scouting" dinner -- the Boy Scouts of America South Florida Council's annual fundraiser -- on Thursday, February 5th at 7:30 p.m. at the Signature Grand in Davie, Florida
Now is this the same Oliver North who admitted lying before Congress, destroying evidence, operating US initiatives in violation of US law, and participating in a coverup?

Guns Don't Kill People, and Lead Doesn't Pollute 

One of your favorite industries running afoul of the law? Then why not get the Legislature to exempt it from regulations or lawsuits? But if your going to use this strategy, you might want to talk to the National Rifle Association. It seems to be the leader in this type of initiative.

The St. Petersburg Times's Steve Bosquet writes about the NRA's latest effort to protect our right to bear arms:
The National Rifle Association is lobbying for blanket immunity for more than 400 gun ranges from liability for groundwater contamination caused by lead from spent shells.

To the Sierra Club and the state Department of Environmental Protection, it's a public health issue, which is why they are both up in arms. But supporters, led by the NRA's Marion Hammer and numerous legislators, make their arguments in stark Second Amendment terms.

Force a gun range to clean up its act, they say, and it's a short step to taking people's guns away.

Hammer calls DEP employees "bullies" for trying to shut down the Skyway Skeet and Trap Club in Pinellas Park. The range is near a county park and has spewed lead all over land and water owned by the Southwest Water Management District, the district's attorneys say.

The district and DEP sued the club, but the bill would kill the lawsuit.

"This bill will stop any agency and political subdivision from using its bureaucratic power to impose back door gun control," [past president of NRA and current executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida, Marion] Hammer testified.
I guess the NRA's next effort will be to prevent local tax assessors from raising the assessed value of property used for gun shops and ranges, since additional property taxes could be used to "impose backdoor gun control," too.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Bottom of the List 

Sun-Sentinel travel writer Thomas Swick lists his least favorite things in today's column, including:
The ban on travel to Cuba. Castro's a monster. A trip to his devastated country is sobering proof. Even those idiots who travel there for fun (imagine going to the old Gulag for a little R&R) can't help but notice a certain moribund quality. It's said that an influx of Americans would instill a sense of democracy; conversely, it would awaken our citizens to the bitter reality just off our shores. Cultural exchanges are no longer allowed, which is fine, since there was no exchange going on: We went to Cuba but no Cubans came here. Now in their absence, we should be able to go on our own, to see things for ourselves. Travel broadens; banned travel chafes.
Let's be honest, the travel ban has very little to do with Cubans' lack of political freedoms, and almost everything to do with Florida's electoral votes.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Timing is Everything 

The University of South Florida has opened a Starbucks in the Tampa campus' main library.

Seems I went to college a couple decades too soon.

What Do The Catholics Know About Education, Anyway? 

The St. Petersburg Times asks the question, "To what constituency is DOE now listening that it won't seek higher academic standards even when the schools themselves request them?"

The answer, of course, is the right-wingers who would love nothing more than to undermine public education.

Florida Education Commissioner Jim Horne is apparently turning a deaf ear to the urging of both the Florida Catholic Conference and the Council of Independent Schools, which together educate over 170,000 students outside the public school system, and who are calling for higher academic standards for voucher schools.
That puts Horne in a peculiar position. He is saying he wants less stringent standards for voucher schools than do many of the schools themselves. Is that any way to protect schoolchildren?
No it isn't, but more rigorous standards would probably push many small schools out of the voucher program -- and these schools would be disproportionately conservative religious schools, the very constituency that provides Governor Bush and Commissioner Horne with strong support for the voucher program.

Believe What We Say, Not What We Do 

Kevin Drum is the author of Calpundit, and he says that in spite of conservative assertions to the contrary, liberals have pretty much won the public debate on most important issues:
To see what I mean, consider the conservative agenda as represented by major Bush administration initiatives. They want to make life less dangerous for big corporations by pushing tort reform and whittling away at environmental standards. They want to promote vouchers and private schools by implementing absurd standards for public schools in the No Child Left Behind Act. They want to reduce and privatize Medicare and Social Security. They invaded Iraq in order to install a friendlier government and give us a base of power in the center of the Middle East.

But that's not what they say. What they say is that tort reform is designed to minimize frivolous lawsuits (though capping payments patently does nothing of the kind). The "Clean Air" and "Healthy Forests" initiatives strengthen our commitment to cleaning up the environment. NCLB will make our public schools better and more accountable. Their Medicare and Social Security proposals are designed to strengthen the system, not scale it back. The Iraq war was for humanitarian reasons — and we're going to get out as soon as we can.

To hear George Bush talk, you'd almost think you were listening to the reincarnation of FDR, and the fact that he says this stuff is a tacit admission that talking about conservative goals openly and honestly would be an electoral disaster. Most people want cleaner air and water, they want strong public schools, they like Social Security and Medicare, and even after 9/11 they don't want long wars or messy occupations.

The Adventures of Robin Bush 

Florida Politics quotes an editorial from the Daytona Beach News-Journal on the elimination of the intangible tax:
The Legislature slashed programs that once paid for hearing aids and glasses for poor seniors. It closed driver's license offices and raised fees for state parks. Children are being turned away from Healthy Kids, the pioneering public/private partnership that helped thousands of working-poor parents buy health insurance for their children, and the state is sending back millions in federal aid rather than budgeting the matching funds. Mental-health programs have been cut each year. Meanwhile, the state is drowning in red ink -- Florida's debt is more than twice what it was 10 years ago.

But don't worry about the wealthiest Floridians. They aren't feeling the pain at all. In fact, this week they became the beneficiaries of one of the largest --perhaps the largest -- tax cut in the state's history. The reduction in the intangible personal property tax will suck an estimated $112 million from state coffers.

The new exemption may be enough to give Florida the ignoble distinction of having the most unfair tax system in the nation. A 2003 study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy put Florida second only to Washington in terms of the tax burden carried by the very poorest households. The rankings, released last January, found that the poorest 20 percent of Florida households were taxed at a rate at five times that levied against the wealthiest 20 percent, thanks mostly to Florida's heavy dependence on the regressive sales tax.
More and more Tallahassee is becoming a bizarro Sherwood Forest, where they take from the poor and give to the rich.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

More on Florida's Cattle Heritage 

Last month Geitner Simmons had a post on the cattle-raising in Spanish Florida.

Today while looking for something else entirely, I came across a good description of how Florida's beef herds influenced the Civil War in South Florida:
The Confederate states became increasingly reliant on Florida cattle and salt to feed their troops. This reliance intensified after the Battle of Vicksburg [July, 1863] when the South lost its trans-Mississippi supply route. The Caloosahatchee region of southwest Florida supplied 25,000 herd of cattle to the southern army during the war.

In late 1863, Union Brigadier General Woodbury from Key West took up a position in Fort Myers, on the south Florida mainland, to raid the Confederate's cattle herds. The Union presence attracted Unionists in Florida, who formed a company-sized unit called the "Florida Rangers". This force, which expanded in 1864 to become the Second Florida Cavalry, mounted raids against Confederate positions along the Florida Gulf Coast and against the Confederate cattle operations. In response, the Confederates organized local citizens, herdsmen and cowmen into the 1st Battalion Florida Special Cavalry. The force was better known as the 'Cow Cavalry'.

The first recorded combat of the south Florida 'Cattle Wars' occurred in January [1864] at Fort Thompson, an old Seminole War outpost on the Caloosahatchee River. A Union scouting party from Fort Myers tangled with a band of Confederates. Other skirmishes ensued in the region, escalating with the arrival of additional troops from both sides. But strained relations between white Unionist refugees and black soldiers from the newly-arrived Union forces weakened the north's effectiveness. The Confederate's position improved as a result.

The southernmost skirmish of the Civil War took place in February, [1865], when the Cow Cavalry attacked Union-operated Fort Myers. The southern forces were repelled, with light causalities, but Union authorities decided to abandon the Fort soon thereafter.

The Cow Cavalry surrendered on June 5, 1865 in Bay Port, Florida, formally ending the Civil War in South Florida.
As was the case with other Confederate military units located far from the main fields of battle, the Cow Cavalry was still in the field for some time after Lee (April 9, 1865)and Johnson (April 26, 1865) had surrendered.

Snowmobiles, Yes; History, No 

The January/February issue of Preservation Magazine, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, contains an article on the state of cultural and historic resources administered by the National Park Service. The author alleges that underfunding, privatization and shifting priorities have put many of our nation's historical buildings and sites at risk:
There are more than 26,000 historic structures in the national parks. Of these, nearly two-thirds are in need of serious repair, at a cost of more than $1 billion. Thousands of archaeological sites within the system are unrecorded or threatened by decay, vandalism, and theft. But the administration's budget request for cultural programs in fiscal 2004 is $800,000 less than the previous year and shows a reduction in the full-time cultural staff, as well. In the construction budget, of 17 projects requested by the administration and approved by the Senate but rejected by the House, a full dozen involved rehabilitation of historic sites or structures, including Grant's Tomb in New York City and the crumbling Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortuga National Park.
The real danger is that for historic buildings delaying needed repairs often means their destruction.

The Preservation article is not available on line in its entirety, but an excerpt is available here.

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