Friday, February 27, 2004

Is This Really a Good Idea? 

Premier Behavioral Solutions is losing its contract to run the Florida Institute for Girls prison, so who wants to run the youth facility? Apparently the Diocese of Palm Beach County's Catholic Charities.

I wonder if the Department of Corrections will do a background check before issuing the contract?

Murder by Conscious Neglect 

I would hope even the most ardent advocates of "getting tough on criminals" would get a lump in their throats over the grand jury report on the prison death of 17-year-old Omar Paisley last year;
A supervising guard at a juvenile jail told a dying teen to "suck it up" as the boy retched, wept and moaned from stomach pain, evidence given to a grand jury shows.
Paisley's death last June has led to an overhaul at the state Department of Juvenile Justice, including the removal of three top officials, and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges against nurses Gaile Loperfido and Dianne Demeritte. They are accused of failing to treat Paisley and falsifying records. They have pleaded innocent.

Paisley had been in 226-bed jail for just a day for cutting a neighbor with a soda can when he began complaining that he was ill, writing in a request to see a doctor, "My stomach hurts really bad. I don't know what to do."

Loperfido visited him that afternoon and diagnosed him with a stomach virus, the documents say. Guards say they never saw her touch his abdomen for signs of appendicitis.

The next day, Paisley was again visited by Loperfido, who ordered that he remain on bed rest and a liquid diet, but guards said she again failed to examine him.

That afternoon, Paisley was sweating heavily and had trouble talking. He vomited, and fellow inmates cleaned up the mess.

The next morning, Paisley was desperately ill. Guard Michael Johnson told investigators he tried repeatedly to get help from a supervisor or a nurse, as required by the jail's rules.

Guard Classy McCollough said she heard Johnson telling his boss, "Man, someone needs to get down here because this kid is sick."

Johnson "was upset, and he was fussing, and was using other choice words," McCollough told investigators. She said a supervisor yelled at her when she sought help for Paisley.

The supervisor, Jack Harrington, eventually did come to see Paisley, who tapped on his cell's glass to get Harrington's attention. Harrington said he told Paisley that he had a stomach virus and that nurses said he couldn't come out because he would infect the other inmates.

"I told him he had to suck it up and walk around, to wait another day or so," Harrington told investigators.

That afternoon, guard Terry Mixon said that when he arrived for work, Johnson and a group of inmates both said Paisley was very ill.

Mixon said that he found the teen lying in his cell, sweating profusely. Paisley's clothes and cell were covered diarrhea and urine and he was grabbing his stomach, softly saying that it hurt.

Mixon moved Paisley to a chair and had two inmates clean his cell. Paisley again asked to see a doctor. He was put back in his cell.

Mixon called Demeritte, the nurse on duty, telling her she needed to come see Paisley. He also started calling his supervisors, requesting medical attention for the teen.

More than two hours later, Mixon again called Demeritte, who asked him what was wrong with Paisley.

"How in the hell (should) I know?" he says he replied. "All I know is something is wrong with him. And she stated, 'I'm coming down there, but I don't want to take this (mess) home to my kid."

Demeritte arrived about 10 minutes later and told Paisley to walk out of his cell, even though he barely had the strength to stand, Mixon said.

She took his temperature and then said "Ain't nothing wrong with his ass. Let his ass go back in the room," according to Mixon. Then she left.

After Demeritte spoke to a supervisor, she completed paperwork to transfer Paisley to the hospital. She then went on a 45-minute break.

When guards and supervisors came to get Paisley, they found him slumped in a chair. They tried to stir him and then move him to a wheelchair. When they picked him up, brown, foul-smelling fluids drained from his body.

They put him on the ground, but no one tried to resuscitate him because the first aid kit was missing a CPR mask.

By the time paramedics arrived, Paisley was dead.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Haven't I Heard All This Before? 

What if President Eisenhower had advocated a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's "overreaching" in Brown v. Board of Education? His advocacy would not have been based on any racial prejudice, but that the desegregation of American society by judicial fiat denied the electorate to have its say through the legislative process. He might have said, regretfully, "On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. Activist courts have left the people with one recourse."

Farfetched? Hardly. I vividly remember the "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards that dotted the highways throughout the South, and the politicians whose opposition to civil rights was couched in terms of the South's "traditions." I also remember my grandfather stating his belief that the real goal of integration was legalized miscegenation.

Fortunately for America, Ike resisted the call for radical reaction to the Supreme Court's decision and subsequent event proved him right. Contrast that restraint with President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to defend marriage.

I didn't start out being in favor of marriage for gay couples -- and there may be some valid reasons to go slow in this process. But most of the arguments I have read seem to be based either on religious proscribtions, vague calls to preservation of traditions, or advocacy of seizing an opportunity to reign in out-of-control judges.

I've been married (to the same woman) for over three decades, and have a recently-married offspring and another who might not be that far away from "tying the knot." I cannot see that allowing gay marriages threaten my or my children's relationships. On the other hand, a constitutional amendment does threaten a number of citizens and demeans one of our most significant civil documents.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Jury has Returned 

The grand jury looking into conditions at the Florida Institute for Girls prison in West Palm Beach has issued a report that blames the private company running the facility for placing profits over inmate care. The state is blamed for failing to properly supervise the company.
Premier Behavioral Solutions Inc. skimped on staffers and training at its prison in suburban West Palm Beach, grand jurors determined. Leaders at the Florida Institute for Girls locked inmates in their cells and canceled school because there weren't enough guards to watch them.
But before the news media brought attention to injuries and sexual misconduct at the prison last year, state oversight was lax, grand jurors wrote. Unannounced visits were rare. Requirements for staff training were never enforced. The state seemed "unconcerned" with repeat violations, the report says.

A significant part of the problem was low wages:
"The ability to attract and retain youth care workers with the necessary skill and maturity to deal with this type of offender is virtually impossible at the current pay scale," the grand jury report said. Premier paid youth care workers $17,680 a year. The state pays $25,200 for the same job.
The grand jury also found the state had not only turned a blind eye to Premier Behavioral Solutions' lapses, but had tried to conceal them:
When a state juvenile justice official was presented with [Premier's] repeated failure [to comply with minimum mandated training], he testified that the state should do away with the training requirement.

"The Grand Jury finds this position to be completely unacceptable," the report says.

For years, Premier was out of compliance on this standard and others, but the state continued to renew its contract. This month, state leaders asked a judge to expunge sections of the report that criticized their oversight. The judge refused.

The state also cut the number of South Florida inspectors from eight to six and reduced the number of investigators who look into reports of abuse, because of recent budget cuts. The state also has closed a statewide training academy for new workers.
Florida's downward spiral continues.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Your Rights Are Safe in Florida (But Not Your Kids) 

I don't believe you have to be in the anti-gun movement to question the wisdom of two proposed laws being considered by the Florida Legislature. One would exempts gun ranges from responsibility for lead pollution -- or apparently any pollution. The other makes it a criminal offense for police to maintain a database of pawn-shop gun sales.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal has this to say:
Both bills incorporate language that strains the truth, at times to the snapping point. It's not unusual to see lawmakers prevaricating during floor debate or press conferences. It's more than a little disconcerting to see them putting whoppers into the statute books.
These bills grew from a flawed premise -- that gun rights trump any other rights, including the basic rights to safety and health. That's why no amount of fixing will make them acceptable. The only question remaining is whether lawmakers can shake off the heavy hand of the National Rifle Association and shoot these bad ideas down.
The editorial notes that one Pinellas County gun range had dumped 7,000 tons of lead, and another "range was caught blowing lead-permeated dust into a playground of a child-care center."

Gangs of Haiti 

The fate of Haiti is not just academic to Floridians -- the prospect of boatloads of refugees arriving on our beaches is very real and I question whether or not we are prepared for the economic and humanitarian costs.

Jonathan Edelstein has some interesting comments on the transformation of Haiti into a country run by street gangs:
Without an effective security force, Aristide has increasingly turned to street gangs to maintain his hold on power. The brother of the rebel leader was Aristide's chief enforcer in the city of Gonaïves until he was killed last year, possibly at the instigation of Aristide. The main obstacle in the rebels' path to the presidential palace is not the army but the Port-au-Prince street gangs, which regularly shut down opposition rallies and rule slum neighborhoods as fiefdoms.

The use of street gangs as political enforcers is hardly unique to Haiti. To take one particularly flagrant example, the Bakassi Boys gang was given law enforcement powers in several Nigerian states between 1999 and 2002, resulting in a predictable reign of terror. In Nigeria, however, the government did not rely exclusively on gangs to maintain power in the way Aristide has. In order to remain in office, Aristide has been forced to give the gangs virtual carte blanche to commit drug trafficking and racketeering; in the words of one commentator, he has "turned crime into an institution of state."

At the same time, government is slowly becoming an institution of crime. In many neighborhoods, the gangs are the court of first resort, and some gang leaders have begun to adopt populist political agendas. Again, Haiti isn't the only country where street gangs have gone political - the United States has a venerable tradition of gang-related politics, of which the Black Panthers were arguably the most successful example - but the Haitian gangs will evolve in a different direction without effective checks. At the moment, the Haitian street gangs outside the Gonaïves area seem to be loosely united around the person of Aristide, but if he falls or they desert him, they will be more likely to evolve toward warlordism than to go mainstream like some of the former Black Panther leaders.

It is improbable that this evolution would be allowed to run its course - the United States isn't likely to tolerate a Somalia in its backyard, given the implications for drug trafficking and international terrorism. If the Aristide regime collapses, the most probable outcome is either a gangster state with a different leader or a police state heavily underwritten by the United States - although the difference between the two may be largely cosmetic.
The question is, would the Bush administration take on an armed intervention in Haiti, given that our military seems to be stretched thin by its other commitments? Of course here's where international cooperation would come in handy, but who would be the competent military force most likely to take on this task? Oh yeah, the French.

UPDATE: From Phil Carter's blog, Intel Dump:
. . . one has to wonder just what is on the table in the way of U.S. contingency plans for [Haiti]. This is not 1994 -- we can't load the XVIII Airborne Corps onto planes to back up any sort of diplomatic initiative in Haiti. At most, we could probably muster a MEU to send to Haiti on short notice, or perhaps a piece of a unit that's already redeployed from Iraq. But doing so would have tremendously difficult secondary and tertiary consequences for America's military that's already stretched to its breaking point. Our commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan now constrain our foreign policy to the point that we cannot consider the deployment of troops to a place like Haiti as a viable option -- there just ain't any more to give. Ironically, our commitment in Iraq may now force us to pursue an internationalist policy in Haiti, and to support the deployment of an international police force.
Emphasis mine. (via Cal Pundit)

One Reason Florida's Problems Aren't Solved 

Florida has plenty of problems, but apparently not so many that some legislators aren't more concerned with foreign matters:
The phenomenon of state politicians trying to battle Castro from Tallahassee is not new, but there has never been such a united front, observers say.

''It's new because of the increased attention being given to terrorism issues, and the growing political muscle of Cuban-American legislators,'' said Susan McManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

Critics say [State Rep. David ] Rivera and others in the Legislature who rally round the Cuban flag are merely pandering to conservative Cuban exiles in South Florida, and should be focusing their energies on tackling Florida's many problems.

George Willis, a Democratic political activist from Collier County, said he is stunned by Rivera's obsession with Cuba.

''He ought to be run out of office,'' Willis said. ``We've got so many problems in Florida that for a legislator to spend his time on anything other than the people of Florida, he's not fulfilling his responsibilities.''

Rivera, 38, proudly says that his top priority is to help Cuba become free.
Rivera is quoted as saying that his ultimate goal is ". . . to be mayor of Cienfuegos in a free Cuba.''

(via Florida Politics)

Water Will Run Downhill 

Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) is named for Florida Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who campaigned for the state's highest office vowing to "Drain the Everglades." In office he initiated the dredging of canals that were intended to draw the water from the Everglades, creating productive farmland.

It didn't work out that way, and ever since then we've been tinkering with the flow of water in the glades, trying to balance nature, agriculture and development. But nature never bought into the various plans, and to be truthful, neither did agriculture and developers.

Michael Grunwald, writing for the New Republic, takes a look at what we've done and how reaction to the great hurricane of 1928 set us on our current path.
On the night of September 16, 1928, a ferocious hurricane ripped across West Palm Beach and the Everglades, busted Lake Okeechobee through its flimsy muck dike, and killed at least 2,500 people--about 5 percent of the population of Palm Beach County. It was (and still remains) the second-worst natural disaster in American history, even deadlier than the notorious Johnstown flood of 1889, behind only the Galveston hurricane of 1900. Hurricane Andrew, by comparison, killed only 15 people. A storm that killed 5 percent of Palm Beach County's residents today would wipe out sixty thousand people. That was the main reason [director of operations for the South Florida Water Management District, Tommy] Strowd didn't like to see the lake full: he hated killing oysters, but he really hated killing suburbanites.

The storm of '28 changed the face of South Florida forever. It ended the maniacal Everglades land boom that inspired all the jokes about Florida swampland sold by the gallon. But it also prompted the construction of the far sturdier Herbert Hoover Dike, the 140-mile-long, 30-foot-high, 100-foot-wide earthen wall encircling Lake Okeechobee and severing its connection to the Everglades. And that dike--along with the rest of the elaborate Holland-on-the-Gulf plumbing system that has grown up around it--has promoted the runaway growth and the environmental destruction that now define this Fantasyland of red-roof subdivisions and stucco strip malls and the world's highest concentration of golf holes per capita. Coming on the heels of the great Mississippi River flood of 1927, the Okeechobee storm also helped usher in a new era of massive federal flood-control projects designed to subdue and improve nature, creating a lucrative new mission for the monomaniacal concrete-pourers of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Grunwald's essay is posted on the Friends of the Everglades website. (via First-n-Main)

Friday, February 20, 2004

Point of Privilege 

One of my pet peeves is naming government buildings (or parks, bridges, streets, etc.) for individuals who are still living. I mean, it's not like there aren't plenty of deserving people who are not still with us, and who knows what the honoree might do during the remainder of his/her life?

This logic hasn't stopped Republican legislators from naming a new biomedical research lab for current Senate President Jim King. Let's hope he walks the straight and narrow from here on out.

Irritating for a different reason is the proposal to name a new Alzheimer's center at USF after House Speaker Johnnie Byrd's father. Byrd's father, who suffered from the disease, died several years ago.

Now Mr. Byrd, Sr. might have been a great guy, and my sympathies go to anyone who suffers from this affliction, but to name a major research facility after him? He wasn't even a Floridian:
The senior Byrd, a grocer and political leader in Brewton, Ala., died of complications of Alzheimer's on Election Day 1998 while his namesake was winning a second term in the Florida House.
We expect this sort of megalomania from tin-pot dictators; we should hope that our elected officials are a bit better than that.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Freedom Hat 

This month, a symbol of the civil rights struggle in St. Augustine is on display at the public library -- the Freedom Hat. Local historian David Nolan tells the story of the hat and the woman who made it famous:
Mrs. Katherine (Kat) Twine (1925-2002), of St. Augustine, came to be known as "the Rosa Parks of Florida" for her participation in the civil rights movement. She was frequently arrested by those who sought to break her spirit and quell her efforts for equality -- giving rise to a local joke that went: "What's harder to break than cat gut?"

And the answer was: "Kat Twine."

At the height of the civil rights demonstrations in 1964, more people were arrested than there were cells in the jail, so they were kept outside in "the stockade," a treeless area under the punishing summer sun.

Mrs. Twine decided she would combat this mistreatment by providing her own shade, so she bought a very broad-brimmed hat, wrote the slogan "Freedom Now" on it, decorated it with a button from the 1963 March on Washington (where Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech) and took it with her to wear whenever she thought she might be arrested. And, her friend Barbara Vickers said, it was like a revolving door between Mrs. Twine and the jail in those days, so the hat got a lot of use.

Mrs. Twine's "Freedom Hat" is one of the great artifacts of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine.
For several years, the St. Augustine Record has been running an ongoing series of articles on local black history by Mr. Nolan and others.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Catching Up 

The St. Petersburg Times reports that legislative leaders want to clear up a backlog of state funds for promised matches to private donations received by state universities and community colleges:
The state owes the 11 public universities $112.7-million and the 28 community colleges $73.2-million under a law requiring Florida to match private donations above a certain amount.

The backlog in some cases is holding up scholarships, research programs and endowed chairs. That includes $13-million at USF for three chairs in pediatrics and improvements to the Tampa Bay History Center.
Even House Speaker Johnnie Byrd seem to be on board, but he reportedly wants to "limit the size of donations that will be matched with state money."

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Shallow End 

I enjoy reading the Volokh Conspiracy blog, but often its contributors reinforce my opinion of libertarianism as a shallow way of looking at the world. That otherwise intelligent people subscribe to this philosophy is puzzling, and perhaps most kindly explained as a desire to be radical but safe. Less flattering is that it is an excuse for selfishness -- most of its advocates already "have theirs."

The posts in question take the position that public universities are morally bad: "the primary moral issue with public universities . . . is, they take our hard-earned money to provide privileges to other people. . . " and ". . . certainly, (from a civil liberties perspective at least) . . . there should be no state-run universities."

A nice theoretical debate, but it makes sense only in a vacuum. Of course most everyone has libertarian tendencies, but where do you draw the line? Would we be more free if all thoroughfares were privately-owned toll roads? If meat packers didn't have to suffer the burden of health inspections? If one was free to build whatever structure desired, sans building codes?

Naturally not, and I guess that few libertarians would argue that every facet of society should be privately managed. Now if you have a law degree from Harvard or Yale (as do the two VC poster cited) there is the possibility for a great deal more autonomy in life, and issues such as paying taxes so that someone else's kids might have an opportunity to get a college education may be irritating. But whereas libertarianism may make sense for an individual, it is less satisfactory for a society.

UPDATE: Balkinization provides a nuanced response to the libertarian view of what constitutes freedom of speech.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Vermin and Snipers 

Orcinus is concerned with the increasingly violent rhetoric of conservatives -- not some nuts living in a compound in Idaho, but people with easy access to the Republican leadership and the media.


Florida State University's nickname, the Seminoles, is well known throughout the country. Several years ago veteran journalist and historian Earle Bowden, speaking to a FSU alumni gathering, reflected on how they became the 'Noles:
We argued about athletic names from a long, widely circulated list sponsored by the Flambeau- Crackers, Rebels, Statesmen, Tarpons, fighting Warriors, Seminoles.

Some of the names didn’t make the final cut- Polly-Wogs, Sunshiners, Red Tide, Galloping gophers, Swamprats, Tallywhackers.

Tallywhackers! Now you don’t have to be too much of a country boy to understand the true meaning of that expression. Imagine Bobby’s Tallywhackers! How about them ‘Whackers?

But fortunately, we chose Seminoles, winning by 110 votes, with Tarpons- the familiar name of the women’s swim team- the No. 2 challenger.
Bowden (no relation to the current FSU football coach, a far as I know) was in the original group of males enrolled at Florida State College for Women following World War II. At first it was an emergency measure since the all-male University of Florida could not accept all the returning servicemen who were applying for admission. But the women of the 1947 graduating class would be the last to have diplomas that read Florida State College for Women.

The Pork Chop Gang 

Anyone younger than about fifty would probably not have any direct memory of Florida's Pork Chop Gang -- and with almost no Florida history being taught in schools, there's little opportunity for younger Floridians to learn of them.

The University of South Florida's oral history program includes an interview with T. Terrell Sessums, who served in the Florida Legislature from 1963 through 1974. Sessums remembers the Pork Chop Gang:
[Harris Mullins, interviewer]: You mentioned the "pork chop gang tell us a little bit about that organization. I'm sure you remember them well.

[Terrell Sessums]: Well, it was really a political network of legislators primarily in the northern part of Florida. At that time because of the development of population in central and south Florida fewer and fewer people in Florida were able to elect a controlling majority of the legislature. I think the former editorial editor of the Tampa Tribune, Mr. James Clendenin penned the name pork chop gang." It was an appropriate name because although many capable legislators were in that group they took good care of their own districts and gave sort of second priority to other districts in the more populated areas of the state. Probably only about 12 to 15 percent of the population of Florida in those small north Florida counties elected a majority of both the Florida Senate and the Florida House and that was a real problem for people in the growing areas of Florida primarily in central and southern Florida.

HM: Like a little northern Florida county would have as much representation as maybe Dade in certain respects huh?

TS: That's correct yes.

HM: Well how did...how did we...what happened to the "pork chop gang"?

TS: Well it was a long struggle but the Florida Constitution required that the Legislature be reapportioned every ten years. What the "pork chop gang" had been failing to do had been to fairly reapportion. First Governor Collins I think maybe even starting with Governor Bryant several special sessions were called to try to force the legislature to fairly reapportion and they just didn't do it instead they offered several proposed constitutional amendments dealing with apportionment but these amendments were really sort of counterfeit amendments they would not really have resulted in any effective reapportionment. So committees for fair representation were formed around Florida to defeat those amendments and they were defeated. Finally in 1963 the legislature did add some additional seats in the legislature for the more populated counties. For instance Hillsborough which had had three legislative seats in the House and one in the Senate had three additional House seats granted to it under that reapportionment legislation. It did not result in completely fair reapportionment but it got the ball rolling. That didn't really occur until 1966 or perhaps 1967 when the Federal District Judge promulgated a reapportionment plan. I think from that time on the Florida Legislature has been fairly apportioned consistent with the population of Florida.
Mr. Sessums also recounted how Ed Ball, head of the extensive DuPont interests in Florida and arguably the most powerful man in the state, used the Pork Chop Gang to get what he wanted:
HM: Well we used to have a lot of fun probing in Mr. Ball's activities in Florida...

TS: Well he was a key man in Florida politics because the "pork chop gang"...

HM: He thought like they did yeh. He was very conservative.

TS: He worked very closely with them. I think that Mr. Ball met with the leaders of the "pork chop gang" down at Waculla Springs or at a fishing camp at Knuxall's Rise once or twice a year and the major public policy decisions for the state of Florida were made who the candidates for governor were going to be who the president of the Senate was going to be who the Speaker of the House would be whose campaign would be funded. . .

HM: Where we're going to build the roads.

TS: Where we're going to build roads what projects we're going to get funded and the "pork chop gang" then implemented those decisions.
Urban legislators who fought against the Pork Chop Gang were given the title "Lamb Choppers."

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Grass Roots Democracy 

The Florida Constitution provides for amendments through citizen initiatives. With the victory of some of the recent proposals, such as the class size amendment, powerful interests are urging that this method of constitutional change be restricted if not eliminated.

The St. Petersburg Times thinks this would be a big mistake:
It is true, of course, that the initiative can be misused, as this page was saying long before the business community awakened. Well-financed gambling lobbies, having failed three times, are trying yet again to legalize casino gambling, a vice that deserves no sanction in any constitution. The fishing-net ban didn't belong in Florida's. Neither did high-speed rail, the workplace smoking ban or class size, and certainly not the pregnant pig amendment. Such issues, whatever their merits, are not the sort of basic principles of which constitutions should be made.

But it bears remembering that in most of these cases it was the Legislature's persistent, arrogant indifference that forced the sponsors to resort to the initiative process. Had Gov. Bush promised the voters any responsible alternative to the class size amendment, they probably would have disapproved it.

It is sad to contemplate, but there is perhaps as little democracy in Tallahassee today as when the Pork Choppers ruled. Legislative districts are equal in population, but that is a superficial difference so long as the districts are drawn in ways that suppress meaningful competition. This is the worst of times to eviscerate the initiative.
The Pork Choppers were rural legislators who, prior to the Supreme Court's one-man-one-vote ruling, pretty much ran things in Florida as they pleased.

Prosecutor's Dilemma 

The Palm Beach Post looks at the case against Rush Limbaugh and the poor record that Palm Beach prosecutors have in dealing with celebrity defendants.

But Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer "is faced with a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't decision."
"I don't think Krischer would want to prosecute Limbaugh, but little people are going to prison for having next to nothing," said Jim Eisenberg, a criminal defense lawyer who is representing a suburban Lake Worth pharmacist charged with illegal sales of prescription drugs.

It's not politics, Eisenberg said, but the hard, business-as-usual reality of today's drug laws that may ultimately be pushing Krischer more than anything else. "Everybody else who has a little cocaine rock is getting prosecuted," Eisenberg said, "and then Limbaugh comes along.

"And nothing?"
I certainly don't feel sorry for Limbaugh, but we need to rethink many of our drug laws.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Exactly What Business Should Government Be Run Like? 

Governor Bush has made no secret of his desire to privatize as many of Florida's government functions as he can. The only problem is that it just doesn't seem to work all that well.

The Department of Juvenile Justice is moving to revoke its contract with Premier Behavioral Solutions to run the State's maximum security prison for girls:
The Florida Institute for Girls west of West Palm Beach has been plagued by violence and allegations of inappropriate sexual contact between inmates and workers. It is home to the most troubled female juvenile delinquents from all over the state, for crimes including violating probation, dealing drugs and battery.
OK, what company was the next lowest bidder?

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Great White Hunters 

Tales of Old Florida is a collection of late 19th and early 20th century accounts of, for the most part, hunting and fishing in southern Florida. The following is excerpted from John Mortimer Murphy's "Alligator Shooting in Florida." (I've added paragraph breaks):
Most of the 'gators killed in winter by Northern sportsmen are shot while they are sunning themselves on a bank or beach, after a long sleep in the muddy bottoms of lakes or rivers, or while migrating from one body of water to another.

The novices who kill large alligators at such times generally like to have themselves and their victims photographed by a knight of the camera, that they may be able to furnish ocular proof to their Northern friends that they actually destroyed a "Florida dragon." These gentlemen also seem anxious to get a lady or two into the group, and no picture is thought complete without the usual black butcher engaged in flaying the carcass.

Colored men are quite anxious to become dissectors at such scenes, for, besides the liberal pay usually received, their vanity is highly flattered by having their features portrayed in the foreground, and surrounded by distinguished company.

Many of these photographs may now be seen throughout the Northern States, and the friends of the gentlemen who killed the saurians no doubt look upon them as the most daring of heroes, yet if the facts concerning some of these victories were told they would bring the Nimrods less praise than ridicule.

One of the photographs which made the deepest impression on my mind depicted a man, in full sporting toggery, sitting on a camp stool, with rifle across his knees, in front of a huge alligator, which a negro was carefully dissecting. A large tent occupied the background, and groups of palmettoes were visible on the right and left. The picture looked innocent and real enough, . . . yet . . . all the principle figure in the scene had to do with the alligator was to help tow it to where it was photographed after the negro has killed it with an axe while it was enjoying its noon siesta.
All part of the fine tradition of enlarging one's Florida experiences (this goes for Spring Break stories, too).

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

But Baby It's Cold Outside 

Joe Newman's terrific blog, First-n-Main, touches on some interesting subjects, including the relationship between Florida's development and the weather:
I've often heard environmentalists say they believe the paving over of Florida's habitat -- specifically the wetlands that encompass the middle of the state -- during the last 50 years has helped push the state's "freeze" line south. I don't know if there's any hard data on this cooling trend. Big freezes are surely nothing new to Florida. The "Great Freeze" of 1894-95 is legendary for wiping out the citrus industry of Florida's early settlements.

After several hard freezes in the 1980s, Central Florida's once dominant citrus industry is on the wane. Though many of the packing and processing plants are still here, the oranges are shipped up from South Florida. Many of the groves in Lake and Orange counties that were frozen in the 80s have been turned into subdivisions.
I don't know whether or not there is a direct relationship between development and freezes, but it is a fact that the citrus industry has been moving farther south for quite some time. Prior to the twentieth century, the center of Florida citrus production was not too far from Gainesville. Without checking, I suspect that the overwhelming majority of Florida's citrus is grown south of State Road 60 (draw a line from Vero Beach to Tampa), and much of it south of Lake Okeechobee.

Monday, February 09, 2004

We Can Only Hope 

The Tampa Tribune hopes that Governor Bush's proposal for a modest increase in higher education funding is a promising sign.
Florida's universities and community colleges are in crisis.

The University of South Florida has an average class size of 45 students. It plans to increase tuition by as much as 12 percent in the fall. Over the last three years, it has absorbed an average $5 million a year in state funding cuts.

The amount of money that the state provides per student - $9,867 - is lower than it was in 1986 - $11,277. Overall, the university system has suffered close to $500 million in cuts since 1990. Last year, it educated 16,000 ``unfunded'' students because the state didn't provide enough money.

The consequence? Students can't get into some colleges, lecture halls are replacing classrooms, fewer faculty are being hired, maintenance goes wanting and tuition keeps going up.
The same problems are found at the community college level, as well.

Let's see how Bush's increases (1.8% less than the increase in tuition) hold up after the Legislature gets through with the budget.

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten 

The University of South Florida is, I believe, Florida's third largest university, with over 35,000 students. With that many people anything is bound to happen, but it is sad to see the persistence of racism on campus.

The student newspaper, The Oracle, reports that a noose was found hanging from a tree in a university housing complex, and a "bust of Martin Luther King Jr. [had to be] removed from his memorial plaza outside the Marshall Center and restructured to make it more resistant to vandalism."

Doesn't Add Up 

The Palm Beach Post's Tom Blackburn looks at President Bush's budget proposals in relation to his stated plans to "cut the deficit in half over the next five years."
So Mr. Bush's plan is for Congress to cut taxes and not worry about revenue but spend less on education, housing, health or the environment. Oh, by the way, he wants to spend more on defense, including homeland defense, which also doesn't have to be offset by cuts in other programs.

Mathematically, it can't be done. There are too many minus signs on the revenue side and plus signs on the spending side to be offset by minus signs in the small part of the budget where the president wants to put them. If a satirist wrote this scenario, we'd all get a good laugh out of it. But this is the executive budget of the United States. It isn't meant to be satire.
Blackburn suggests that the administration doesn't really care whether or not people believe the deficit can be reduced, it's all just arguing points for the re-election campaign.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

What's Good for the Goose . . .  

Governor Bush is big on testing. Now the [Fort Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel is asking its readers to "grade the governor."

War on Terrorism: The Religous Front 

According to this article in the Sun-Sentinel, the U.S. State Department has denied a visa to a Baptist minister from Cuba who wanted to visit Mobile, Alabama, in conjunction with Black History Month.

Friday, February 06, 2004

War on Terrorism: The Cultural Front 

Another victory in the battle against terrorism -- the U.S. government seems to have been successful in keeping Cuban musicians from attending the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles this weekend.
[The State Department] cited Section 212f of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Law, which states that the American president can deny U.S. entry to foreigners when their coming to the country is deemed ``detrimental to the interests of the United States.''

''We continue to make judgments on a case-by-case basis, and we issue visas only when applicants qualify under U.S. law,'' a State Department official in Washington told The Herald.
Cuba had a different take on the action:
"The U.S. people have always gotten along fine with me," commented [Grammy winner] Ibrahim Ferrer when he heard that he had been refused a visa. And he is right. The cultural apartheid being practiced by the Washington authorities cannot prevent the citizens of that country respecting, admiring and enjoying Ibrahim’s boleros, the Septeto Nacional’s sones, Galván’s improvisations with Ry Cooder, and Chucho Valdés prodigious art at the piano.
This kind of thing makes us look small and petty.

UPDATE: Enrique Fernandez, writing in the Miami Herald, agrees that barring Cuban muscians is not in our best interests:
So now the Cuban government trots out Ibrahim Ferrer, the irresistibly charming old singer, rescued from obscurity by the Buena Vista Social Club. Look, they say, this is the ''terrorist'' the U.S. fears. And they -- and the whole world -- have a good laugh at our expense.

Some have said that Castro's biggest ally is the Miami exile community, which follows the script written in Havana to the letter. The Bush administration is giving it a good reading as well.

From Nigeria to Cuba 

I'm sure we've all gotten the unsolicited email letter from Nigeria, promising us a share of a fortune if we would just let the money be sent to our bank account. In Miami the scheme is done a little differently:
The convicted scam artist devised the quintessential Miami story to rope in his potential victims: Cuban exiles with plenty of anti-Castro passion -- and money -- to burn.

Roberto Martin told them he was a former Cuban intelligence officer who had defected after helping steal millions of the dictator's dollars. Martin and a pal posing as a Secret Service agent said they were working, as part of a secret CIA operation, to bring the money stateside, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.

Anyone willing to finance some of the front-end costs would be rewarded with untold millions -- riches made all the sweeter because they were coming directly from the pockets of El Barbudo, Fidel Castro himself.
How could they resist?

Combating Combat Experience 

Now that Kerry has emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination (based on actually winning primary elections, rather than press coverage or money raised), the Republican opposition strategy appears to be focusing on negating Kerry's military service and combat record.

Randy Barnett, blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy, is careful to couch his attack on Kerry in sardonic tones:
. . . as I recall from that era, [Kerry] ended up becoming a very visible leader of the anti-Vietnam left, at that time using his honorable service to advance the cause of a movement that demonized, sometimes viciously ("baby killers!), the American military, though I am quite sure this was never his intent.
The other day someone sent me a link to a website called Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry that, in addition to displaying a photoshopped picture of Kerry in front of a Viet Cong flag ("The Viet Cong flag was added as a back drop to J.F. Kerry to symbolize the aid and comfort he gave Vietnam's "revolutionary Communists". . .), the site charges that Kerry's Purple Hearts and Silver Star were undeserved and basically a ruse to get out of combat
In April 1969, having engineered an early transfer out of the conflict because of his three minor wounds, John Kerry left his crew behind and returned home to a sweet assignment as an admiral's aide.
Should be an interesting election.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Showing the Flag 

Mark Lane's FlaBlog comments on another "feel good" bit of legislation coming out of Tallahassee -- if passed, all public classrooms in Florida would be required to display an American flag.

Ooops . . . the Legislators forgot to appropriate any money for this.
The flags have come out of local school budgets and student fees. What's more stand-up-salute patriotic than a red, white and blue unfunded mandated?

How much? According to the Senate staff analysis, if you multiply 156,000 K-12 public classrooms times $17.50 for a mid-range cloth flag, the public cost is about $2.7 million. Find the cuts to make it work. We know you can. Whatsamatter? Don't you love America?
Simple solution: each district get rid of an art teacher or two. After all, art's not an FCAT subject.

UPDATE: The St. Peteresburg Times sees this for what it is:
That [Sen. Mike] Fasano's bill managed to emerge from the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday is no doubt a product of the pedestrian politics surrounding it. After all, what lawmaker wants to oppose the flag in an election year? But the truth is that schools don't need Fasano to tell them how to honor their country, and people don't have to lack patriotism to see such shallow stunts for what they are.
(via Florida Politics)

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Does That Include T-Shirts, Too? 

In response to my recent post on drama students being disqualified from a competition for performing a play that included cutting apart an American flag, I received an email quoting another section of the Florida Statutes regarding flags:
256.051 Improper use or mutilation of state or Confederate flag or emblem prohibited.--

(1) It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to copy, print, publish, or otherwise use the flag or state emblem of Florida, or the flag or emblem of the Confederate States, or any flag or emblem used by the Confederate States or the military or naval forces of the Confederate States at any time within the years 1860 to 1865, both inclusive, for the purpose of advertising, selling, or promoting the sale of any article of merchandise whatever within this state.

(2) It shall also be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to mutilate, deface, defile, or contemptuously abuse the flag or emblem of Florida or the flag or emblem of the Confederate States by any act whatever.

(3) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the use of any flag, standard, color, shield, ensign, or other insignia of Florida or of the Confederate States for decorative or patriotic purposes.
I would like to hear someone argue how this could be constitutional. Moreover, the email noted the prohibition on using the Confederate flag for advertising or promotional purposes, which has to be the among the most ignored laws in Florida (and rightly so).

Old Dixie Driven Down? 

The St. Petersburg Times' Bill Maxwell reflects on the dwindling number of people in the South who consider themselves "proud Southerners":
Since the heyday of author William Faulkner and his contemporaries, critics and historians have been intoning about the emergence of the New South - the disappearance of the Confederacy and its secessionist tendencies. The New South, they argue, is slowly becoming like the rest of the United States.
[Vanderbilt University professor Larry] Griffin speculates that as with the rest of the nation, the South's old esprit de corps is crumbling under the profound influences of urbanization and immigration. In September 2003, SouthNow, the journal of UNC's Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life, underscored the rise of urbanization: "In 1980 Census, the South had only 10 metropolitan areas of one million people or more. Now, the region has 22. Nearly three out of four Southerners live in metro areas."

The researchers were surprised at some of the findings. They were surprised, for instance, that the disassociation with Southern identity spanned all age groups, ethnicities and races.
In spite of change, Maxwell says political candidates must be careful in negotiating the cultural issues that still separate the South from the rest of the nations, especially race and religion.

Market-driven Environmentalism 

Florida's Department of Environmental Protection should be doing just that -- protecting the environment. The recent resignation of DEP Secretary David Struhs, who is going to work for one of the state's major pollutors, is cause for a Palm Beach Post editorial on that why the agency isn't getting the job done:
Mr. Struhs' decision to become vice president of environmental affairs at International Paper Co., the $25 billion-a-year company that is the world's largest paper products firm, sums up his five-year record much more clearly than the happy-talk testimonial to himself and Gov. Bush, who hired him.

Mr. Struhs began working to help International Paper shortly after the firm bought a paper mill near Pensacola in 2000. The mill has not met state water-quality standards since 1989, discharging 24 million gallons of waste daily into area waterways. All along, DEP backed off from strict enforcement; the plant employs nearly 1,000 people, and politicians worried about how International Paper might react. Meanwhile, the water got dirtier.

Mr. Struhs arranged a $56 million, low-interest DEP-administered loan to the Escambia County Utilities Authority to build a sewage treatment plant and pipeline to the mill. It will use about 80 percent of the capacity of a new, $34 million pipeline, which will extend another 10 miles to a wetlands area.
The sellout was Mr. Struhs' most lucrative but not his first. In December 1999, a few months after he and Gov. Bush took a highly publicized canoe ride down the scenic Ichetucknee River in North Florida and promised to protect it, Mr. Struhs negotiated a deal to allow a cement plant to be built beside the river, one of Florida's pristine waterways. Last year, he backed a state law that delays Everglades cleanup by 10 years. He backed efforts to weaken water-quality standards for the Everglades, tailoring rules to sugar industry specifications. He failed to enforce DEP regulations by approving permits for a phosphate producer to strip-mine thousands of acres in Southwest Florida.
The Post points outs that Florida has not had an effective head of DEP since Carol Browner in the early 1990s.

When in Doubt, Test! 

The fairly conservative Tampa Tribune on the proposal to create a standardized test for students at Florida's state universities:
It's a loopy idea and one that raises serious questions about the Board of Governors' priorities.
The Tribune also notes that the proposed test could cost as much as $50 million a year -- this at a time when
. . . Florida's universities, the foundation of the state's economy, are struggling financially. Classes are held in massive lecture halls. Students go without essential offerings. Admission is becoming ever more exclusive.

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