Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Bush's Cuba Policy 

The Palm Beach Post editorializes on the President Bush's "deplorable, politically motivated sanctions" on Cuba:
The absurdity of the administration's Cold War thinking leaves Cuba isolated in the strangest and most outrageous ways. It is the only country on Earth that Americans are forbidden to visit. Even Libya and its reformed tyrant Moammar Gadhafi are receiving U.S. tourists. But there is no Libyan exile community that might be the deciding voting bloc in a close American presidential election. President Bush pulled in about 80 percent of the 600,000 Cuban-American voters in 2000 through the usual pandering to anti-Castro hardliners. Since his margin in Florida was 537 votes, those exiles can be said to have given him the presidency, and he is hoping they can give him a second term in November.
Of course since the Bush administration is not given to thinking things through, the increased restrictions on travel to Cuba for family reasons may have unwanted political consequences.

Al-Qaida = Michael Moore = John Kerry 

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker would hardly be considered a deep thinker, but she has found an even shallower end of the pool in her most recent offering. She parrots the right-wing mantra that those who oppose George W. Bush are, in fact, fifth columnists who secretly yearn for America's defeat.
But celebration isn't a likely option for those who want to defeat Bush more than they want American success abroad. A short list of those for whom successful Iraqi sovereignty is not such good news would include: the radical Islamist world, terrorists, al-Qaida, Michael Moore, George Soros, John F. Kerry, moveon.org and the Democratic Party.

If you had to pick a team, which would you prefer: one who prays for victory or one who prays for defeat?
Prays for defeat? Kathleen, Kathleen, Kathleen . . . don't you remember? The rules require you to characterize Democrats as anti-religious.

Put Up or Shut Up 

This past session the Florida Legislature passed a bill requiring all public classrooms to display an American flag. Apparently the legislators thought this issue was important enough to address during its busy time in Tallahassee, but did not deserve state funding.

Now, Florida State University's president, T. K. Wetherell, is calling for individual legislators to pony up.
Wetherell has sent a letter this week to all House and Senate candidates in the state, asking them to help pay for the extra cost with their leftover campaign contributions. FSU expects it will cost $8,775 to purchase flags for its 1,350 classrooms. That's based on a $6.50 flag set for each room.

"A donor form is attached for your convenience," Wetherell writes.
A couple legislators interviewed for the Tallahassee Democrat article said they might contribute, if they can find any leftover campaign funds.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Restoration in Ft. Myers 

In Ft. Myers, the winter homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are undergoing much needed restoration. The 9 million dollar project required a shift in governance.
The McGregor Boulevard house where Thomas Edison spent his winters is next door to the home of friend and automaker Henry Ford. Mina Edison, the inventor’s second wife, deeded the Edison estate to Fort Myers in 1947. The city bought the Ford home in 1989.

The management change came after 17 months of often bitter feuding over who should oversee the estates. Some community supporters were fed up with decades of city neglect that allowed termites and weather to seriously damage the Edison estate’s buildings.

Auto dealer Sam Galloway Jr., chairman of the nonprofit Edison-Ford Winter Estates Foundation, threatened to abandon efforts to raise $10 million for the estates if the city did not give his group control. Officials from the Charles Edison Fund, which owns many of the estates’ artifacts, said they would remove their property if the city didn’t give up oversight.

But some council members balked. The ultimate compromise: The trustees, who operate as the nonprofit Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates Inc., were given management. The city retains ownership.

The council approves the estates’ budget but has no control of the day-to-day operations and cannot divert estates’ revenues for other city projects, as previous administrations did.
This seems like a pragmatic solution.

Edison Home in Ft. Myers Posted by Hello

Good Luck, Bill 

One of my favorite columnists, Bill Maxwell, is leaving the St. Petersburg Times to make good on a promise he made 40 years ago.
At age 58, and counting, I must fulfill a promise I made while attending historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach: that I would, at the appropriate time, return to a historically black college or university as a professor, that I would pass on my expertise and knowledge.

That time is now.

Beginning in August, I will become a writer in residence at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Currently, the college has a journalism minor and a student newspaper that is published once each semester.

My short-term goals are to help establish a journalism major and to publish the student newspaper weekly. My long-term goals are to help produce competent African-American journalists who can land good jobs with the nation's mainline and minority media outlets and to transform Stillman into a center for journalism excellence, where companies, such as the St. Petersburg Times, come to recruit.
He could have had his pick of academic settings but chose to go to an obscure little college where he believes he can do some good. Well, I'm sure he will.

It's just that spirit that made him an outstanding commentator.

A Peach for the Teacher? 

In the 1920s, there was a significant movement of people from Georgia to Florida. Those who stayed put were fond of saying that the migration raised the average intelligence of both states.

Apparently they were on to something. Compare Georgia's pre-kindergarten program with what Florida's Legislature came up with for the Sunshine State.

The Legislative proposal is little more than free babysitting (or Bible study), and does not meet the needs of either the children or their parents.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Demon Developers 

Perhaps no group of people have more power in Florida than do land developers. Most Floridians could not name the individuals who run the companies that are building the new developments that are consuming the state's open lands, thousands of acres at a time, but they recognize company names such as Lennar or WCI.

These and other land development companies pay big money to court politicians and project a positive image to residents, but still they are viewed unfavorably by the public at large.

In their book, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck discuss the decline of the American developer:
Of all who suffer from suburban sprawl, who is the greatest victim? It could be argued that the distinction belongs to that former pillar of society, the real estate developer. Certainly, over the past quarter century, few members of American society have experienced as drastic a fall from grace as he has. While entire segments of the population have been forced by suburbia to significantly compromise their quality of life, the developer has been victimized in a different way: he has become persona non grata.

It has not always been thus. When George Merrick built Florida's Coral Gables, only seventy years age, he was regarded no only as a developer but as a town founder. A bust of his likeness still presides proudly over city hall. He is hailed, appropriately, as the city father, a visionary, and mentioned regularly in public discourse, not unlike the framers of the U.S. Constitution. The same is true of J. C. Nichols in Kansas City, James Oglethorpe in Savannah, Mary Emery in Mariemount, Ohio, and myriad other developers nationwide who were lucky enough to go about their business prior to 1945.

George Merrick, developer of Coral Gables, Florida. Posted by Hello

Since then, developers somehow have devolved from admired figures into reviled characters, challenging drug dealers and pimps for position in the public's esteem. How could this have happened? Are they of no use to society? In fact, developers provide the nation with products that it needs: they build houses, shops, offices, even streets and roads, and they often do so at great financial risk. But they are resented, because they are unable to provide those things in the forms of towns, places that people care about. Instead they can provide only sprawl, toward which most people feel indifferent at best. As long as the conventions of real estate development effectively outlaw the construction of mixed-use neighborhoods, developers will find it very difficult to build anything that provides residents with a sense of community. Similarly, as long as zoning codes favor low-density development over the creation of compact communities, developers will not be able to shake their reputation as land rapist, as they turn farm after farm into cookie-cutter sprawl. . . .

Essentially, the demonization of the developer arises from the relationship in people's minds between nature and culture. Any new construction on undeveloped land replaces nature, typically farmland or forest [or, in southern Florida, wetlands], and few would claim this is not a loss. However, if what replaces nature is a town or a village--a place of culture--then perhaps that transaction could be considered a fair trade. After all, even the most ardent environmentalist wouldn't want to level Nantucket, Charleston or Santa Fe so that nature could reclaim that territory. On the other hand, were the typical citizen offered the opportunity to remove a subdivision, a strip center, or an office park for, say, an orchard, one might suspect an enthusiastic response. The public knows that these single-use pods are not places of culture, and that trading nature for sprawl was not a fair transaction -- and they know that it was the real estate developer who brought them the lousy deal.
Is there any communty built in the past half century that is named after its developer? I can't think of any in Florida.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Bully Mentality 

The Sun-Sentinel reports that a Jamaican hotel chain is pulling out of Cuba because of pressure from the U.S. government. But as the article points out,
Yet Washington's decision to single out the Jamaican firm -- and not threaten European or Canadian firms operating on property confiscated from Americans -- raised concern Thursday over whether the United States is strong-arming a small nation with little political weight. Spain's Sol Melia, for instance, has never been given final visa notice despite operations on the same Holguín property.

"If this was meant to be a principled application of the law, why has it been applied only to the weakest of the companies in terms of their national government's support for them?" asked Robert L. Muse, an international attorney in Washington, D.C. long active on Cuba issues. "Clearly, we appear to be a bully."

Even the Miami lawyer for the Cuban-American claimants saw U.S. foreign relations at play in threats against the Jamaican firm and not others.

"Obviously, Jamaica carries far less political clout than the European Union or Canada," said Nicholas J. Gutierrez, who represents the Sanchez-Hills in claiming some 100,000 acres of waterfront land confiscated by Cuba's communist-led government. "And the fact that Jamaica gave asylum to [former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide probably did not endear them to the United States."
This seems typical of the Bush administration's "schoolyard bully" attitude toward foreign relations -- talk tough but act only against those who can't do much about it.

Another Sun-Sentinel article discusses the Bush administration's tightening restrictions on American boaters who travel to Cuba.
American luxury yacht owners and rough-hewn sailors alike once dominated Cuba's regattas and fishing tournaments, navigating around U.S. travel restrictions through a loophole that allowed them to cruise legally if they could prove they hadn't spent a cent "trading with the enemy."

Armed with letters from Havana's Marina Hemingway generously waving all docking, visa and cruising permit fees, hundreds of American pleasure boaters sailed home from Cuba's forbidden shores claiming they had been "fully hosted" by the marina.

Federal agencies charged with enforcing the embargo didn't like it, but found the provision difficult to challenge without restricting Americans' freedom to travel.

Now under new, tighter travel restrictions meant to strangle Cuba's economy and precipitate the end of President Fidel Castro's 45-year rule, the Bush administration plans to eliminate the "fully hosted" provision as of June 30, a move many critics deride as a ploy aimed at pleasing Cuban American voters.
Beyond the "hitting the gnat with a sledgehammer" factor, this is another indication that partisan politics trumps American liberties:
Robert Muse, a Washington-based attorney who has represented American companies with property claims against Cuba, said the new rules effectively prohibit not only spending money in Cuba but also traveling there.

"Clearly the administration is aware that there are cases that disfavor [legislating] where Americans can travel, so they have framed this within their existing authority to regulate [economic] transactions," Muse said. "It's been done artfully, but at the end of the day it's a per se prohibition of U.S. travel to Cuba."

Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana from 1979 to 1982, said relatively few Americans traveled to Cuba under the "fully hosted" provision. However, they may challenge the change.

"The Supreme Court after all decided the U.S. government could not tell an American citizen that he or she cannot travel to a given country," said Smith, a frequent critic of U.S. sanctions on Cuba.
I can travel to Sudan,Iran, Zimbabwe, even North Korea! The State Department provides a warning to those who might chose to visit these countries, but the final decision rests with the individual. Except Cuba.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

With Me or Against Me 

Those who accuse President Bush of a "go it alone" policy on international affairs will be pleased to note that he is willing to court potential allies on domestic issues:
During his June 4 visit, Bush asked the Vatican to push the American Catholic bishops to be more aggressive politically on family and life issues, especially a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A Vatican official told [National Catholic Reporter] June 9 that in his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican officials, Bush said, “Not all the American bishops are with me” on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism.

Other sources in the meeting said that while they could not recall the president’s exact words, he did pledge aggressive efforts on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican’s help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken. (emphasis mine)
(via Talking Points Memo)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Ask the Dixie Chicks 

Sharkbitten compares today's music with that of the 1960s:
Here's my question to you, can a protest song make it today? Would Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan find public support or outcry if they made an album that stood for their political beliefs? Would they get label support to do so? Would they find themselves uninvited from social happenings and dissuaded from appearing at public events? Would their personal choices be dragged through the court of public opinion by Fox News to discredit their artist efforts? Would the FBI and IRS sift through every last piece of information about them in an attempt to find a way to paint them as evil while entire corporations who stole pensioners' money be free to walk? Would Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell even exist in today's America?
Of course the muscians of the sixities didn't get a free pass -- I remember the comic strip "Li'l Abner" had a character called "Phoney Joanie, " based on Joan Baez -- but the songs were too good to ignore.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Premier Behavioral Problems 

The Miami Herald looked into the company the State chose to run some of its prisons under Governor Bush's privatization push:
At the Southern Glades Youth Camp in Florida City, three teens suffered broken arms while being restrained by staff members last year. During one ''shoulder lock restraint'' Nov. 18, a witness reported hearing ``a loud popping noise . . . in the victim's arm.''

At the Florida Institute for Girls, a maximum-security prison in West Palm Beach, one girl told Department of Juvenile Justice authorities that she was taken to the ''boom boom room,'' where officers ''slammed her head into the wall and struck her in the mouth.'' The girl suffered ''bruises'' and ``welts.''

And at the Okaloosa Youth Academy in the Panhandle, a 16-year-old boy was placed in isolation for ''horse playing.'' When he banged on a door, guards ''slammed him into a wall, a sink, and then to the floor.'' The teen needed six stitches on his chin.

The incidents, all confirmed by juvenile justice authorities as acts of excessive force, occurred at privately run youth corrections camps managed by a Coral Gables company [Premier Behavioral Solutions] at the center of an emerging controversy. The company will earn about $35 million this year from juvenile-justice contracts.
The Herald article is based on "[h]undreds of state Department of Juvenile Justice inspector general reports" that recount abuses at a variety of Premier-run facilities.
Critics of Florida's highly privatized juvenile justice system say administrators have allowed the welfare of children to be left in the hands of companies that sometimes cut corners to increase their profit margin.

''Their first allegiance is to the stockholders, and the only way to make the stockholders happy is to make money,'' said retired Broward Circuit Judge Frank A. Orlando, a juvenile judge who served for 21 years on the bench.

''If I were the parent of a child who ended up in the custody of one of these programs, I would be fearful,'' said state Rep. Gustavo A. ''Gus'' Barreiro, a Miami Republican who has led a charge to reform the department. ``These kids are not being rehabilitated. They are being punished and abused, and they're coming out meaner and tougher.''
Unfortunately, the privatization ideologues in Tallahassee aren't likely to let abuse of juveniles get in the way of dismantling state government.

Trouble for Tourism 

The Ft. Myers News-Press points out a trend that may spell trouble for Florida's biggest business -- tourism.

Developers are buying hotels and converting the property to residential use. Particularly vulnerable are smaller waterfront hotels. This has the effect of reducing the number and variety of hotels, leaving only the high-end facilities for tourists.
. . . Wayne Daltry, Lee County’s Smart Growth director, cautioned the loss of hotel rooms to condos is “sort of an anti-tourism stance.”

“There has to be some real thought as to what is our strategy,” he said. “If we replace all the hotels in attractive locations with houses, we no longer have the tourist stream.

“Nobody really understands exactly how the area loses its tourism sparkle,” he said. This is how, he said.
This phenomenon is not limited to the Ft. Myers area -- it is a significant planning issue in areas such as Broward County, as well.

UPDATE: (6/18/04) Sticks of Fire notices this going on in Clearwater. (I guess he does get out of Tampa once in a while.)

Saturday, June 12, 2004

It's Time to End the Embargo 

The Ft. Myers News-Press calls for an end to the embargo of Cuba. Trade sanctions are not working, so why should American companies be penalized, the editorial asks.
The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, now four decades old, has failed to dislodge dictator Fidel Castro and bring freedom to the island, as intended.

In the meantime, it stands in the way of billions of dollars in opportunities for U.S companies, as well as improved living standards for the beleaguered Cuban people.
In answer to the assertion that Castro and other Cuban leaders might profit from increased trade, the News-Press says "So what? They already enjoy a privileged life. With free trade, a rising tide could lift everybody’s boat."

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Crying Time 

Hard to believe he's gone.

Who was better than Ray Charles over the long haul? He was a star before the British invasion of the 1960s, and he was still going strong forty years later.

Ray had a Florida connection. Although born in Georgia, from 1937 to 1945 he attended the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine. The school noted its most famous alumnus' passing:
Music giant Ray Charles attended FSDB from age 7 in 1937 to age 15 in 1945. He received his early music training in Braille here at the Blind Department in the music program.

He had a continuing association with the school throughout his life and included our students at his side when he was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors Program.

FSDB President Elmer Dillingham had the following comment:

"The FSDB Community is saddened with the passing of Ray Charles. Mr. Charles is well known for his unique brand of music and as one of his fans, I continue to enjoy the variety of his music. The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is pleased to have had some small part in Mr. Charles' life. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those closely connected to Mr. Charles."
The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind was founded in 1885 and is today the "largest school of its type in the United States." About 70 percent of its graduates continue their education at post-secondary institutions.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Betty Castor, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Bob Graham, has a campaign blog. Most of the entries are of the press release variety, but the blogroll does include a link to Dave Barry's blog.

The Phantom 70 Percent 

This morning, on Washington Journal, I heard it again. A caller was commenting that prior to Reagan's tax cutting, Americans were paying 70 percent of their income in taxes. It's a figure I have heard multiple times in the last few days.

I'd be interested to know exactly how many, if any, people paid 70 percent of their income in taxes in 1980 (the last tax year before Reagan became president).

Just for fun, I went back and looked at my income tax return for 1980. Our deductions were few. We had one child at the time, and during 1980 my wife and I had purchased our first house.

Still, we paid just 15.7 percent of our income to the Federal government.

Now I'll give these 70 percenters the benefit of the doubt and assume they are referring to taxes paid to all levels of government. Even so, in our case we paid less than $500 in property taxes in 1980, and I believe Florida's sales tax in 1980 was five percent.

Roughly calculating our 1980 taxes, I doubt we paid more than 20 to 22 percent of our income. That's a long way from 70 percent.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Florida's Civil War Experience: Tampa 

Florida's Civil War history has few significant battles, but numerous small engagements. The long coastline presented targets of opportunity for the Federal Navy, and settlements (and, indeed, even isolated farmhouses) were subject to bombardment and raiding parties.

Although most of Florida's population was in the northern part of the state, the area around today's Tampa had been settled for some time before hostilities began. Originally a military outpost called Fort Brooke, by 1861 the population included a number of civilians, both tradesmen and farmers.

Soon after the war began several military units were created to protect Tampa and Fort Brooke. One such unit, officially Company K, 4th Florida Infantry, were known as the Sunny South Guards.

The Federal blockade of Tampa Bay began in November, 1861, but the first real action didn't take place until June 30 and July 1, 1862, when a Union gunboat entered Tampa Bay and threatened the settlement. After opening its gunports to the town, an officer and twenty sailors approached the shore under a flag of truce and demanded local forces surrender. When this was refused a few shots were fired at the town, and after warning was given to evacuate noncombatants a sporadic bombardment was initiated. Having made its point, the Federal vessel withdrew, allowing the Confederates to declare victory and declare the incident the "Yankee Outrage at Tampa."

Southern blockade runners continued to use Tampa Bay, and so in October, 1863, two Union gunboats shelled Tampa once again. This time Federal troops were landed. They burned two blockade runners and skirmished with Confederate cavalry.

On May 6, 1864, a Federal landing party captured Fort Brooke, but withdrew two days later. At war's end, Tampa was in Southern hands, but occupation troops arrived in Tampa in May, 1865, where they remained until 1869.

When Florida Freezes Over 

I'm not much of a hockey fan, but congratulations go to the Tampa Bay Lightning for winning the Stanley Cup.

I'm sure Sticks of Fire will take care of the local color. (Probably sleeping in this morning after the celebration).

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