Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Hanging Tough"

The respected Columbia Journalism Review has an on-line salute to executive editor Randy Hammer and the Pensacola News Journal for "hanging tough in Pensacola."

Walmart Crumbles

Associated Press reporter Bill Kraczor is reporting that Walmart will lift the ban on selling the Pensacola News Journal by the end of the week.
"We did make an error in judgment by removing the papers from our stores," Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman Sharon Weber said in an e-mail from company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. "They should be available in our stores by the end of the week."
Meanwhile, area manager Bob Hart is said to be "on vacation."

There's more here.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Up Against the Wal-Mart Bully

"Wal-Mart cultivates an aw-shucks, we’re-just-folks- from-Arkansas image of neighborly small-town shopkeepers trying to sell stuff cheaply to you and yours. Behind its soft homespun ads, however, is what one union leader calls "this devouring beast" of a corporation that ruthlessly stomps on workers, neighborhoods, competitors, and suppliers."

-- Beyond McSpotlight

Walmart has done it again. This time, the giant retailer -- now the largest corporation in the world, bigger even than Exxon-Mobile -- is refusing to sell the daily Pensacola News Journal out of pure spite.

Randy Hammer, executive editor of the PNJ, tells the story in today's newspaper.

Undermining the First Amendment

Here's the essence of Hammer's article:
You can't buy the Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore.

The store ordered us off their property, told us to come pick up our newspaper racks and clear out.
* * *
Some managers at Wal-Mart didn't appreciate a column Mark O'Brien wrote last month about the downside of the cheap prices that Sam Walton's empire has brought to America. We all pay a little less, and sometimes a lot less, at the grocery store and department store because of Mr. Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.
* * *
Leave it to old Mark, whose column runs four days a week in this newspaper, to find a downside to this. Actually, it wasn't Mark, but Thomas Friedman, who wrote "The World is Flat," which happens to be a best seller right now.

... here's what Mark wrote:

"I like Wal-Mart prices the same as the next shopper, but there's a downside, too. Many Wal-Mart employees lack the fringe benefits and insurance that makes the difference between existence and a good quality of life. Yet, we customers pay a surcharge from a different pocket — subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart employees who can't afford it."

Mark then described how Friedman's book pointed out that more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are in a Georgia health-care program, which costs the state's taxpayers nearly $10 million a year. Mark also pointed out that a New York Times report found that 31 percent of the patients at a North Carolina hospital were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid.

Mark's column really wasn't about Mr. Walton's store, but about Pensacola and how we're becoming a Wal-Mart kind of town, "cheap and comfy on the surface, lots of unhappiness and hidden costs underneath."

That was the point Mark was trying to make.
The next thing to happen was someone named Bob Hart, who is described as "one of the upper managers for the Wal-Marts in the area" ordered local Walmart stores to remove the Pensacola News Journal from its shelves.

If Mr. Bob Hart doesn't like Mark O'Brien's columns, or anything else he may read in the newspaper, he is, of course, free to avert his eyes or even stop his personal subscription in protest of a columnist's opinion. But to refuse to sell it to others? That's downright un-American. How ironic for a company that once urged customers to "buy American."

Interference With Employment Contract

It's even worse than that. Hart's store-wide boycott actually is intended to get Mark O'Brien fired for what he wrote!

This, of course, would be grounds for a big-time tort lawsuit, if Mark O'Brien were the type to turn to the courts for justice instead of to his readers. (Then again, how can he appeal to readers if Walmart blacklists the newspaper he writes for?)

Here's how Hammer describes the real story behind the bullying by Walmart:
Mr. Hart... said he and his stores couldn't tolerate a newspaper that would print the opinions of someone who was as mean and negative as Mark O'Brien. * * * Hart said he wanted the newspaper to get its racks off his lots. But he also said that if I fired Mark, we could talk about continuing to sell the newspaper at his stores.[emphasis added]
What could this Bob Hart fellow have been thinking? Deprive Walmart's Pensacola customers of access to their only daily newspaper because he didn't agree with a columnist's opinion? Fire a popular columnist because another corporation doesn't like what he writes?

Bad Corporate Character

The arrogance -- not to mention the rank stupidity -- of all of this would be breathtaking if it weren't so predictable. Unfortunately, as many critics have charged, it seems to be very much in the corporate character of Walmart.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has written that Walmart is a "Law-breaker, union-buster, tax-escapee and shifter of costs to others... ." Who are the "others" Nader says shoulder the costs of Walmart? The American taxpayer, which many believe Walmart has finagled into subsidizing its payroll and medical care costs.

According to the Pulitzer-Prize winning series published by the Los Angeles Times, Walmart long ago abandoned its "buy American" slogan. Now, it shamelessly exploits child labor in Asia and Mexico. has more about the deplorable state of corporate ethics at Walmart. According to its Walmart Week in Review: Litigation Walmart currently is facing:

  • A Sarbanes-Oxley complaint from a former employee after blowing the whistle on a senior executive
  • A discrimination suit filed by nine minority customers in Boston who allege they were “followed, searched, humiliated, and in some cases, detained by greeters”
  • A class action racial discrimination suit in by African-American truck drivers in Arkansas.
  • And the largest class action sex discrimination suit in the country.

So, is it possible Mr. Hart learned his bullying tactics from higher execs in the Walmart corporate suite? Was he ordered to do it? Quite possibly. According to BBC News, even Walmart shareholders are getting fed up with the arrogance and wrong-doing of the highest ranking Walmart executives.

Shopping with a Conscience

As Randy Hammer points out in today's op-ed -- which appears in the newspaper you can't buy at Walmart anymore -- the root criticism of Walmart which Bob Hart found so offensive is stated at greater length in a best selling book by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. You probably can't buy that book at Walmart, either. So, go to the competition and order it from

While you're at it, consider buying everything else you need elsewhere. Including a copy of The Pearl by John Steinbeck.

The Pearl is a cautionary tale about a small village where a valuable pearl is found. Thinking it a treasure, the villagers soon are overcome by greed and avarice and abandon their timeless values just to get a piece of the action. In the process, everything and everyone the villagers once loved is destroyed.

Steinbeck couldn't have had Walmart's discount pricing in mind when he wrote The Pearl, of course. But more and more shoppers with a conscience are passing up the chance to save a few pennies at Walmart and buying elsewhere. Not because 'turn around is fair play' -- although it surely can be in circumstances precisely like these that Walmart has created. Because no thinking, humane American would want to trade with any retailer who undermines American values.

Our ancestors, and the soldiers and sailors now dispatched around the world, put their lives on the line to protect American democratic freedoms like those embedded in the Bill of Rights. These freedoms include, preeminently, the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, a free press, and the freedom of conscience.

By its actions in Pensacola, Walmart is undermining those very same American values. Maybe it's time for us to 'support the troops' by avoiding Walmart.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Pensa-oily Beach?

The Associated Press is reporting today that both liberal and conservative heavyweights in Florida's congressional delegation have combined to oppose White House attempts to open the Gulf of Mexico to drilling south of Pensacola Beach.
Florida's two U.S. senators criticized the White House on Friday for trying to open new waters in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida to oil and natural gas drilling.
* * *
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the administration proposal would violate a moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf by giving control of some Florida waters to Louisiana, a state that supports offshore drilling.

"As I have stated repeatedly -- the administration is hell-bent on drilling off Florida," Nelson said in a news release.

Nelson and other Florida politicians have opposed lifting the moratorium because they are afraid drilling accidents could damage beaches vital to Florida's environment and $50 billion tourism industry.
The "other" politicians, as the Orlando Sentinel points out, span the ideological spectrum from ultra-consrvatives Sen. Mel Martinez and Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fort Lauderdale) to liberal Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Miramar).

Those who pay attention to such things will recall that in the first term of the Bush Administration, after public demonstrations in Pensasola and around the state, the president agreed to impose an "administrative moratorium" on drilling off Florida's Gulf coast. Then, he convinced Congress that there was no need to pass a statute banning drilling off the Florida Gulf coast.

As it turns out, it seems he was deceiving everybody. What normal people view as "off Florida's Gulf coast" the White House now claims is Louisiana territory!
The administration proposal is based on a "seaward lateral boundary" extending in a southeast direction from the Louisiana-Mississippi line toward the southern tip of Florida's peninsula. It would give Louisiana control over some waters more than 100 miles south of the Florida Panhandle.

[Senator Bill] Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said that would violate the moratorium by opening areas east of the Florida-Alabama state line.

Michele St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which advanced the new drilling plan, said areas of the Eastern Gulf belonging to Louisiana under seaward lateral boundaries are exempt from the moratorium.

She said the Florida-Alabama line is an artificial boundary that "exists for planning purposes but it is not a legal boundary."
In plain English, as the Orlando Sentinel explains, the White House has decided "to put some key tracts -- including sites about 100 miles from Pensacola and 138 miles from Panama City -- in the jurisdiction of Louisiana, which wants to give drilling rights to oil and gas companies."

So, under President Bush's much-ballyhooed drilling "moratorium" any time the White House wants to let Dick Cheney's oil company buddies start washing globs of crude onto the shores of Pensacola Beach, all it has to do is re-define the waters south of Pensacola Beach and call it "Louisiana."

It's positively Orwellian, as Matthew Brophy and Jacob Levich, among many others, have pointed out. "War is peace.... Freedom is slavery.... Ignorance is strength...."

...and Florida is Louisiana.

Dirty Beach Opens to Public

The doors of Pensacola Beach will be thrown fully open to the public beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday, July 24, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

Kris Thoma starts off her front-page article with the predictable, obligatory silliness about "beach bums" once again being able to sink 'toes in the sand' and 'soak up the glorious summer sun.' To her credit, however, Thoma makes it clear not everything's going to be idyllic.
Island Authority General Manager W. A. "Buck" Lee said sand at Casino and Quietwater beaches has been spot-checked for debris but not sifted as it was after Hurricane Ivan. That process will occur later, he said.

Lifeguards have been swimming in the waters off the two main beaches and bringing in floating debris, said Bob West, Pensacola Beach's public safety director.

"We'll have the bulk of debris out of water by Sunday," West said. "But it wouldn't surprise me if there was some more out there."

Waterways and sand outside the lifeguard-protected beaches are even more dangerous, and beachgoers should wear footwear at all times when leaving the core area of the beach.

Rip currents have become more dangerous since Hurricane Ivan changed the layout of the sandbars in September, and Dennis only made things worse, West said. Dennis destroyed the lifeguard towers and all the safety signs that survived Ivan and damaged some of the patrol trucks.

"We'll probably only have three towers completed by Sunday," he said. "Our ability to watch people is going to be diminished to some extent."
No information about the size of the lifeguard staff has been publicly released, but with the fractured summer season and local schools opening the first week of August, it's likely to be greatly reduced.

Is the Island Authority going to warn visitors about the dangerous debris beneath the waves, for example with flyers at the toll bridge? We don't know. Will the Island Authority prominently post cautions about the reduced life guard presence -- using, perhaps, the new electronic sign at the entrance to the beach? Apparently, Buck Lee isn't saying. What steps are being taken to warn swimmers about the "poor" fecal coliform rating at Quietwater Beach? Probably none.

In the ever-present struggle between protecting the public safety and shaking them down for spare change, spare change usually wins. That's why Pensacola Beach was known as "Death Beach" just three years ago. Let's hope newly-apppointed SRIA general manager Buck Lee realizes that and makes a different choice.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Shortages Galore

Construction workers and materials, especially cement, continue to be in short supply in the Pensacola area, according to an Associated Press dispatch:
The construction industry was in a labor crunch even before the hurricanes, said David Peaden, executive director of the Home Builders Association of West Florida. He said there's an estimated shortage of 250,000 construction workers across the nation.
* * *
"It's very difficult to find quality help, sometimes any help at all," said Taff Berrian, who runs a small construction company in Pensacola. He said he has lost his electrical, plumbing and drywall subcontractors since the hurricanes because they can earn more by working for bigger companies or directly for homeowners.
There's also a serious housing shortage. According to the Associated Press, "At one time as many as 16,000 families across Florida were in FEMA trailers and mobile homes, but the number now is down to 8,710."

As everyone who drives in the Panhandle knows, post-hurricane petroleum shortages continue to plague the area. Gasoline remains in astonishingly short supply, as a truncated version of another A.P. news report in the Tallahasee Democrat says. To get the full wire service account, check the Miami Herald (free registration required):
"It could be two more weeks before supplies are back to normal, said Greg Threadgill, chief executive officer of T-Gill Fuels, a Pensacola distributor."
Another kind of shortage can be discerned in the oddly personal press release of Keith Nabe of Crestview, who bills himself as a "management consultant/public speaker." Under the title GAS SHORTAGES STILL BAD IN CRESTVIEW FLORIDAƖ [sic] Nabe makes this on-site observation:
"It remains an eiry [sic] site [sic] to see gas stations with plastic bags over gas nozzles at the pumps, convenience shopping slow in their stop and go retail outlets without the gas as the leader for all sales. It is not know [sic] what these gas shortages have costs [sic] the local economy or how much longer these gas shortages might last."
Looks like we've got a shortage of copy editors in the management consultant field, too.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Funky Franklin

The National Weather Service expects Franklin will run around in circles.

Thank goodness!

Finding Franklin

The Hurricane Hunters are looking for this tropical disturbance. It will be named Franklin.

Bet on it.

Depopulated to a Dog?

Citizens Property Insurance, the state-owned insurance company, "depopulated" a large part its Pensacola Beach wind insurance portfolio over the past few months. What that means is, if you are a Pensacola Beach resident and if you were insured by Citizens for Hurricane Ivan last year, you might not be a Citizens customer now for Hurricane Dennis.

Under state law, Citizens is required to hand off policies to just about any private insurance company that "bids" for them, whether the company is well established or newly created out of thin air. Moreover, the law says Citizens has to pay cash up front to any private insurer that takes the policies off its hands.

Never let it be said that Florida isn't friendly to private enterprise. Why, we love 'free' enterprise so much we actually use public funds to subsidize it! (Kind of undermines the point, doesn't it?)

Of course, the hope is that solid, mainstream companies will be induced to handle more wind storm policies than they otherwise might. But, perversely, the same incentive system can attract a lot of fast-buck artists to start up an insurance company on paper, collect a large "depopulation" fee from Citizens, pay themselves handsome salaries and bonuses, and leave just enough left in the company coffers to hire a bankruptcy lawyer when a hurricane hits.

Some customers who have been "depopulated" by Citizens in the last month or two report they're having trouble finding their 'new' wind storm company in order to file a Hurricane Dennis claim. That could be because so many were still mere 'paper' companies with not much more than a post office box when Hurricane Dennis came ashore on July 10.

Citizens Property Insurance now has posted on its web site the names and web sites for all the 'new' insurance companies that took over "depopulated" policies. Having a web site means next to nothing, of course. As the cartoon caption goes, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog."

But maybe you're lucky. Maybe you've been "depopulated" to a company that still has some assets left. Let's hope so....


The More Things (Don't) Change...

A new "tropical depression or a tropical storm could form later today or tomorrow" near the central Bahamas, according to the National Hurricane Center. Another tropical wave worth watching is expected to cross the Yucatan and emerge in the Bay of Campeche in two or three days.

'Energizing' Beach Businesses

According to the weekly Gulf Breeze News four hotels and eight restaurants on Pensacola Beach are ready to reopen when power, water, and sewer are restored to the commercial areas adjacent to the immediate commercial core area. The Pensacola News Journal quotes Gulf Power officials as saying that could be as early as tonight.
"That's assuming there are no major problems once those areas are energized," according to Gulf Power's Pensacola district manager Cal Wilson.
All residential sections of the beach are expected to have power restored by August 1.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Boardwalk Debris Sinks Bushwacker?


The annual Bushwacker Festival on Pensacola Beach is likely to be canceled or moved to a mainland location, Tom Carmichael of Jubilee is telling the Pensacola News Journal.

Carmichael says hurricane damage to the boardwalk is too extensive to conduct the festival. Speaking of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, he says, "They're not allowing us to do it, and rightfully so. The wiring, the power, the lighting -- none of it works."

Just last month, the Pensacola Business Journal was reporting that Jubilee -- once the main site for the festival -- would be open by August. However, other boardwalk businesses might not be able to open until "sometime in the Fall" because of "extensive damage to the wood floors on the boardwalk."

The Bushwacker Festival is named for an alcoholic beverage suspiciously similar to a frozen brandy alexander. Legend claims the drink was invented at Pensacola Beach. The festival usually is held the first week of August, just before schools re-open for the fall semester.

In Deadwood, S.D. the very same chair Wild Bill Hickock supposedly was sitting in when he was shot by Jack McCall hangs above the entrance door of a dozen different bars on main street. On Pensacola Beach, signs in a dozen bars proclaim you are standing on the spot where the Bushwacker was invented.

In recent years, the festival has become surprisingly popular with families as well as young singles. But Carmichael and his wife, June Guerra, more and more have been noticeably steering festival attendees toward their downtown Pensacola "Cap't Fun" venue, in preference to the beach.

Ms. Guerra, in particular, has been outspoken about what she contends is insufficient SRIA financial and promotional support for a festival which her business organizes largely on its own.

Amplification Dept.

Bushwacker Festival '06
"Jubilee Restaurant is still closed, but the Pensacola Beach Bushwacker Festival will go on this weekend (Aug. 4-6) as usual." more...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Post -Tropical Depression

We know about Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. But is it possible for an entire county to become clinically depressed?

In the days immediately preceding and following Hurricane Dennis, everywhere one went the same scene was encountered. Always the same, no matter the venue -- in gas lines; at the few open convenience stores; inside grocery stores where shelves were stripped bare; and in hardware stores and lumber yards where batteries, plywood and electric generators were flying out the door. Wherever one went, there were glum faces, teary-eyed strangers, and hang-dog locals giving public vent to their personal frustrations, anger, and a manifest sense of helplessness.

Typical were comments like these:
"I'm too old to go through this again.

"Not again! It just isn't fair!"

"We just finished repairing our home. Oh, god, what will we do now?"

"This is it -- we're leaving."

"My wife and I just can't take it anymore."
Often enough, these comments were preface to long and intimate tales told to strangers of family travail and tragedy caused or substantially aggravated by the tropical storms that have repeatedely targeted Northwest Florida.

The stories were of wives or husbands, already frail or ill, who died within a few days of Ivan or Dennis. Inconsolable grief over precious personal possessions lost -- family photo albums, heirlooms from past generations, irreplaceable memoribilia of youth, the carefully preserved tangible evidence of a lifetime. Elderly couples speaking to strangers about their worries over losing their homes and the bleak prospect of starting all over from scratch. Young people who see mountains of trash around them and vow to move away at the fuirst opportunity. Home owners and business people chagrinned that they had not sold out when they had a chance, before the storms changed everything.

In the past few days a few news reporters have begun to systematically catalogue the despair affecting so many in Northwest Florida. The unfortunately named Brady Dennis of the St. Petersburg Times in last Sunday's edition describes a "long, slow, detour-filled day" spent interviewing five victims of Hurricane Dennis "from Navarre on the west to St. Marks on the east."
U.S. 98 is a highway made unwhole by Dennis' wind and water, a road with washed-out homes and mountains of debris. A road heavy with the smell of mildew and loud with bulldozers and clanging hammers.

Along the way, we encountered defeat and determination, acceptance and anger, heartache and happiness. And an important lesson: Every storm, big or small, alters lives.
Carlton Proctor of the Pensacola New Journal expanded on that same theme in a lengthier Sunday front page story titled, "Two storms too much to endure: Dennis rekindles distress in Ivan survivors."

Give Proctor an 'A' for effort in trying to quantify what many sense, although the empirical evidence remains thin:
Psychiatric admissions are up 10 percent over this time last year, said Nancy Ramos, director of the Behavioral Medicine Center at Baptist Hospital. She called the 10 percent increase "a really big increase." It's not uncommon, especially on weekends, for every psychiatric bed in the Pensacola Bay Area to be occupied so that patients have to be transferred as far away as Panama City, she said.

"People's resilience is just gone," she said. "We know people have coping skills and reserves of energy, but that energy is being eroded now. There's only so much there."
The same theme also can be found embedded in the first post-Dennis issue of the Navarre Press . "Hurricane Dennis No Ivan" reads the top headline for editor Michael Stewart's very good main story. But Suzanne Stearns's below-the-fold article tells the darker side. The title:

Some Locals Find Hurricane Dennis Just As Bad
Or Worse Than Ivan

Still, however slowly, recovery is underway. Homes and businesses are beginning to be rebuilt. The community will rebound sooner or later. If only someone at the state level -- a governor, say, or the Financial Services Director -- would pound some sense into Citizens Property Insurance, even the 80% or so of damaged beach dwellings would at long last be able to start repairs.

Like the storm itself, eventually the post-tropical depression that has settled over the Pensacola area will lift. Things will get better. Life will return to normal.

Until the next hurricane, that is. On average, that should be 3.05 years from now.

In the meantime, it's important to remember Ben Franklin's wisdom:

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

"Lingering Misperceptions"

Four days after Hurricane Dennis virtually wiped out the Santa Rosa County community of Navarre Beach and extensively damaged other county towns like Milton and Bagdad, the weekly Gulf Breeze News is reporting that a Florida state tourist development board has awarded $50,000 to Santa Rosa County so it can "reach prospective tourists" with a tourism brochure next year. Impressive efficiency for a state agency, right?

Not so fast. Turns out, according to Governor Jeb Bush, this grant was intended to help Santa Rosa County market itself "in a positive light, as well as to address any lingering misperceptions stemming from the 2004 storm season."

Lingering misperceptions? Is that the name for all those roofs flying through the air last week?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Grim Photo Tour

Thursday's Pensacola News Journal included a headline so misleading that even the normally somnambulent copy editors noticed it -- after the paper went out, of course. The newsroom was buzzing with the sound of sadly shaking heads. The headline read:

Things Not So Grim After All For Beach

In fairness to reporter Fredie Carmichael, whose byline ran with the story, it's barely possible someone else wrote the headline -- someone, perhaps, who's been living in Beirut the last three years or, quite possibly, a sanitorium inmate who is stark raving mad.

Was there really any basis for concluding "things not so grim on the beach"? Well, here's the "good news" Carmichael reported:
Cliff Taylor had just completed $80,000 worth of Hurricane Ivan repairs to his Pensacola Beach home when Hurricane Dennis showed up at his doorstep.

Now, Taylor has to start all over again.

The northwesterly winds of Dennis ripped the roof off his 1312 Via de Luna home, exposing the living room and part of the kitchen. Taylor was frustrated Wednesday as he sipped a Diet Coke, stood in the sun and watched family members work to salvage what they could from his home.

But there was some good news: He was able to drive the 2½ miles east on Via de Luna to his home, with supplies and tools in the back of his truck."
Say, now that's really good news. Beach residents now can drive to see what little is left of their sodden, roofless homes.

That's almost as terrific as finding out the funeral home has a sale on caskets the week your spouse dies.

In any event, the PNJ headline inspired a drive along the side streets and main streets of the beach, east and west. At a glance, less than 15% of all residences seem occupied -- or habitable. Maybe... just maybe 20% of the businesses are open, but a much lesser share of the hotels.

Take the 'good news tour' yourself. But bring a crying towel.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Go West, Young Emily, Go West

Newly-designated Hurricane Emily is headed WNW on a projected track that nearly all computer models suggest would bring it over the Yucatan peninsula in several more days. The experimental 5-day NHC forecast shows Emily re-emerging in the western Gulf by early Tuesday.

At the moment, the best guess seems to be that atmospheric conditions will continue to influence Emily in a westerly direction. The Yucatan peninsula is a wide, low, flat, heavily forested shelf of limestone. Assuming this ancient center of Late Classic Mayan civilization doesn't smother the storm, a likely second landfall would be near South Padre Island in southern Texas.

South Texas has never been the center of any classic civilization. The last hurricane to make landfall there, according to news reports, discomfitted mostly cattle.

Not to wish ill on any people or cows, but let's hope the experts have it right. Go West, young Emily, go West.

Contractors and the Good Ol' Boys

Florida law requires building contractors to be licensed. Fair enough. But handymen aren't required to be licensed, except insofar as they have a business covered by local county or city ordinances.

When Hurricane Ivan devastated the area, it was immediately apparent that there weren't enough licensed contractors to handle the crisis. Tens of thousands of damaged roofs, blown doors and windows, and dwellings open to the elements had to be secured.

What to do, what to do?

The state quickly adopted an emergency rule allowing localities to issue "temporary roofing licenses." Some counties did, and some only pretended -- adopting Rube Goldberg procedures that made it nearly impossible for any capable handmen from out of state to get a temporary license. The need was so great, however, that enforcement of the licensing rules was lax to non-existent for many months.

So, the work got done. Anyone who lives in Northwest Florida knows darn well that if hadn't been for out-of-state workers, many from Texas and points even further south than that, we would have still been looking at a sea of ruined roofs as Hurricane Dennis approached. (True, there still were several hundred un-repaired homes the night before Dennis arrived, but most of these were due to the bad faith settlement practices of insurance companies, not the unavailability of workers.)

The Pensacola area, including Pensacola Beach, owes a huge debt of thanks to foreign and out-of-state workers who helped to pick us up when we'd been knocked down by Ivan. So how do we thank them?

By banning them from the beach!

Yesterday, general manager Buck Lee of the Santa Rosa Island Authority announced that anyone with a current year's window sticker can drive to the beach to secure their homes and business. To get a sticker, you have to be either a resident or a licensed contractor. In effect, this protects the market for the good ol' local boys and their buddies. Foreigners, out of staters, and -- we may as well say it bluntly -- dusky-skinned workers need not apply.

The irony is that Northwest Florida prides itself on being politically "conservative" in the traditional meaning of the word -- against overweaning governmental rules and in favor of the 'marketplace magic' of free competition. When the chips are down, though, local politicos are every bit as heavy-handed as the Politburo pols in Moscow.

How will this affect beach residents? Those whose homes were damaged again by Hurricane Dennis can't hire a handyman to help seal up their home, apply a blue roof, clean up the debris, or perform a myriad of other necessary post-hurricane tasks -- tasks that need to get done now, well before anyone begins to think about permanent repairs or rebuilding.

These aren't jobs that require a licensed contractor. But you'll have to pay for one, anyway -- or do it yourself.

No doubt beach and county officials will claim the rules are for our own good. We need to be protected against unscupulous workers, they'll say. There always will be a few cheats in the aftermath of a storm like Ivan or Dennis. Recent experience shows, however, that cheats and frauds and bankrupt contractors are at least as prevalent among the licensed contractor community as among out-of-staters.

The solution is not to allow licensed contractors to monopolize the beach market, especially during the clean-up phase. That only will delay recovery and invite price-gouging.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

While you were out...

... plywooding your windows and packing the family photo albums ahead of Hurricane Dennis, South of Suwanee noted that Northwest Florida's own Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Fl) voted to restore funding for National Public Radio.

Good for him! He resisted the worst ideological extremists in Congress, who are out to kill public television and radio or turn them into clones of the execrable Fox Cable News, as Bill Moyers warned just two months ago.

Republican or Democrat... liberal or conservative... classical music lover or blues afficiado... news hound or feature story lover... all reasonable people have to applaud a vote to keep public radio on the air.

Here in the Pensacola area we not only enjoy the superb programming of WUWF-FM throughout the week, we depend on it. Especially during tropical storm season, which these days seems to run 13 months a year.

If you believe in positive reinforcement, send Congressman Miller a thank-you note.

Beach Open to Residents & Contractors

At Wednesday afternoon's county press conference, it was announced that the roads have been cleared and Pensacola Beach is now open to residents and contractors "to secure your home." There is an 8pm curfew.

At last report, however, there is still no power or water service.

-- Addendum --

Contractors who need a beach entry permit or a work license for the beach should apply at the SRIA offices, 1 Via DeLuna.

Cool Satellite Photos

NOAA this morning uploaded over 200 satellite photos of the Pensacola, Gulf Breeze, and Santa Rosa Island area in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis. NOAA cautions that the photos may be visible only if you are using Internet Explorer. Other browsers may not display the photos.

Pick the area you are interested in, allow the photo to fully load, and then place your cursor over the full image. A red/orange box appears allowing you to enlarge the photo and see if your roof is still there.

Dennis' Spelling Humor


Photos - Dennis

Via DeLuna - Tuesday, July 12. Click the title, above, to see more photos.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Done Waiting in Line

We finally made it to the front of the Electricity line. More tomorrow....

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Farewell for Now

The Boardwalk pier on Pensacola Beach, rebuilt after Ivan, is now well under water. Water and power were shut off to the beach several hours ago.

Near midday, wind gusts over 65 mph are beginning to be felt on the mainland. Trees are being bent by the stronger gusts. Electrical brownouts are playing havoc with power in various mainland neighborhoods.

At 11 am EDT Dennis was 100 mi SSE of Pensacola. According to the National Hurricane Center "earlier intensification has ceased" and the storm is now speeding over waters that are not quite as warm. Dennis "is moving rapidly enough that only modest changes in intensity are likely."

The center of the storm therefore is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 or 4. Hurricane force winds will be experienced on the mainland by early afternoon and will likely persist well into the night.

Signing off for now. Back when the power is restored, which may be several days to a week -- or even longer. In the meantime, tune to live Internet Radio at WUWF-FM .
The evil twin of Ivan now has the stage.....

History's Tale: Camille, July 12 1969

Local confusion

As the winds mount and the waves begin to crash along the beach, local media reporters are wringing their hands in public over whether a small jog to the north in the apparent path of Dennis, about an hour ago, means the storm is more likely to make landfall closer to Ft. Walton Beach than Gulf Shores. Almost as soon as some talking head says that, some other talking head says the storm is jogging back NNW and again is aiming at Gulf Shores.

If we didn't know better, we might think everyone is starting to panic.

The truth is, no one knows where Dennis will make landfall other than it's likely to be somewhere between Gulf Shores and Destin. Pensacola remains in the bullseye, and, regardless, Dennis will wreak havoc along a broad path of Northwest Florida.

If you insist on seeing the exact pinpoint where the eye of Dennis crosses land, you'll just have to watch NOAA's local radar.

Flag at Full Mast

"Best Case" Scenario a Cat 4

Dereck Ortt, the PNJ's new "hurricane expert" blogs today that "the best case scenario" for Pensacola "appears to be a repeat of Hurricane Ivan..." with "tidal surges of up to 10-12 feet along the beaches and the bays." If the storm comes ashore anywhere east of Mobile, he says, "then conditions would be significantly worse."

The worst case scenario he's talking about is "145 m.p.h. sustained winds, wind excess of 170 m.p.h. and tidal surges on the beaches and bays... approaching or exceeding 20 feet."

Hurricane Dennis Update

It's dark at 4:30 am CDT Sunday and the wind has freshened considerably, with gusts estimated as high as 35 mph. As of half an hour ago, the NHC is predicting Hurricane Dennis will make landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama – probably as a Category 4 storm.

According to the latest advisory:
“Maximum sustained winds are near 145 mph...with higher gusts. Dennis is a Category Four hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 40 miles...from the center...and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 230 miles... .”
NHC expects a storm surge of 14 to 19 feet above normal tide levels, topped by “large and dangerous battering waves.”

Landfall likely will occur on Pensacola Beach near high tide, as well. In addition, 5 to 10 inches of rainfall is expected with as much as 15 inches possible near landfall and “isolated tornadoes will be possible today over the Florida Panhandle...Southwestern Georgia and Southern Alabama.”

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Pensacola Menaced By Hurricane Dennis

As of the 7 pm Saturday update at the National Hurricane Center, Dennis once again has become a "dangerous Category 3 major hurricane." The NHC expects it to grow even stronger over the next twelve hours, reaching at least Category 4 status.

The NHC "strike probability" tables also have been updated. As we first noted on Thursday, Panama City and Apalachicola narrowly edged out Pensacola as the likeliest target for land fall. And that continued over the next two days.

It wasn't much, a percentage point or two. But it was something to hang our hopes on.

No more.

As of the 7 pm update, Pensacola now is the runaway leader for likeliest point of landfall:
  • Apalachicola - 26%

  • Panama City - 30%

  • Mobile - 33%

  • Pensacola - 35%

We are really in for it. At this late hour, there's nothing more to be done except hunker down, keep a good sense of humor, and survive the storm.

More to come (sigh)

While everyone's eyes are fixed on Dennis, three strong new tropical waves have entered the eastern Atlantic off the coast of Africa.

2005 already is a record-setter for tropical storms. And things could very well get worse.

Not much doubt, now

The 5 pm Hurricane Center report caught Dennis in the act of strengthening and once again 'possibly' becoming a Category 4. Computer models are in agreement, too: Dennis will make landfall in the Pensacola area.

Santa Rosa County has declared a curfew from 6 pm Sunday night to 12 noon on Monday. News reports are that all area bridges will be closed when sustained winds reach 45 mph -- most likely early Sunday morning.

Dennis looks more and more like the evil twin of Ivan, only bigger and stronger, if anything.

All of a Sudden

It was bright and sunny and nearly cloudless at 12:30 pm. All of a sudden, the sky turned gray, the wind howled, and the trees began to bend.

Best local web site for storm info

Those outside of the immediate Pensacola area who will enjoy uninterrupted electric power over the next several days may want to follow local storm info as it unfolds via internet radio at WUWF-FM. This National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate did a phenomenal job of covering Hurricane Ivan last year, first by simulcasting with Pensacola's WEAR-TV and other local commercial radio stations, and then by carrying on by itself when other media went down for the count.

While you're there, take a moment and click over to the radio station's Call to Action section to learn how you -- yes, even a single listener like you or me or our neighbors -- can help preserve this extremely important local public radio station.

Dennis Gaining Strength Again

Hurricane Dennis surprised weather experts by nearly losing its hurricane status during a longer than expected sojourn over central Cuba overnight. By 7 am Saturday morning, however, the National Hurricane Center was warning the public in its traditional capital letters shout:
The projected storm path remains dead-on for Pensacola as of 5am.

At 5 am, the NHC discussion read:
However, by 7 am the Public Advisory, quoted above, rated Dennis a Category 2.

Local residents are taking no chances. Tens of thousands have evacuated. The Miami Herald (free subscription required) is running an AP dispatch quoting a Gulf Breeze resident whose discouragement is replicated by many throughout this area:
Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extended up to 65 miles from Dennis' center, and tropical storm-force winds stretched up to 175 miles out, so the Keys could be damaged even if they are spared a direct hit. Flooding was also possible in much of the state because the ground is saturated from recent heavy rains.

Many in Dennis' strike zone were aware that it was following nearly in the path of Ivan, which came ashore at the Florida-Alabama line, causing 29 deaths and $4 billion damage in the Panhandle alone.

Mitch Lamb had lived in a government-issued travel trailer while his home was being repaired and only recently moved back. About 9,300 other trailers were still in use by Floridians whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the hurricanes.

As he packed up his belongings Friday, Lamb was ready to give up on his Gulf Breeze home after spending $70,000 out of his own pocket on repairs.

"I hope this house is gone when I get back because I do not want to go through it again," he said. "We'll just sell the waterfront property and take the loss."
In nearby Mobile, Alabama, officials Saturday morning ordered a "mandatory evacuation" of 500,000 people -- all of Mobile County and that portion of Baldwin County south of I-10.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Beach Evacuation Saturday

From the afternoon update of the Pensacola News Journal:
Escambia County officials announced early this afternoon that Pensacola Beach will close to sightseers and tourists at noon Saturday because of the threat of Hurricane Dennis.

Residents and business owners will be asked to leave the beach at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Dennis, a Category 4 hurricane currently crossing the island of Cuba, is scheduled to arrive on the Gulf Coast somewhere between New Orleans and Tallahassee, National Hurricane Center forecasters say.
Elsewhere Friday, there were news reports that "40,000 residents and tourists were ordered out of the beachside town of Gulf Shores" and 458,000 in a parish south of New Orleans were asked to evacuate.

Residents of south Walton County also were evacuating Friday.

Proverb for a Storm

As readers of this blog know, Pensacola Beach is far from fully recovered after Hurricane Ivan (Sept. 2004). Many island structures are little more than piles of rubble scattered along the narrow streets. Others are still covered with plastic blue roofs whitening in the sun, with windows, doors, or even entire sides open to the elements. Indeed, a good many Pensacola Beach residents are still living in travel trailers perched on a sand foundation, as a photo taken today on Pensacola Beach shows.

This is not only a disreputable state of affairs -- it is highly dangerous. Dangerous to people, to property, and to the environment of the entire Pensacola Bay area. Just how dangerous is becoming evident as Hurricane Dennis races northward toward the Florida panhandle.

How could things be in such a sorry state nearly ten months after Hurricane Ivan? Hundreds of beach houses and business buildings haven't been repaired largely because of bad faith adjusting practices of the property insurance industry. Chief among the worst offenders is Citizens Property Insurance Co., the state-owned wind insurance company that supposedly insures most barrier island homes and businesses. Rather than pay what the law requires for homes so badly damaged they must be torn down, as two separate courts have ordered, Citizens still is fighting its customers with seemingly endless appeals to higher courts.

It's a toss-up which is the greater threat to public safety: Hurricane Dennis or Citizens Property Insurance. Both are stormin' dangers.

And then there is the danger of doing nothing. Florida Governor Jeb Bush couldn't do anything about Hurricane Dennis. But you'd think instead of vacationing in Maine or dispatching prosecutors on a wild goose chase into Terri Schaivo's past, he could have done something to reform Citizens and energize the rebuilding of Pensacola before another storm came along.

As Proverbs has it, "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it."

Dennis Skirting Cuba

Dennis skirting Cuban mountains, early Friday morning.

You stoned? We have a problem.

Three reporters from the incomparable St. Petersburg Times grabbed the quote of the year for today's newspaper:
"Reality in Florida: We have a hurricane problem," said state Emergency Management director Craig Fugate. "If you didn't know it from last year and you haven't got it from these four tropical storms, I don't know what it's going to take."
Hurricane Dennis, now ranked as a Category 4 storm, was following the southern coast of Cuba this morning. Winds at the center of the storm are a sustained 131 mph and sometimes higher. Although the Cuban landmass may weaken the storm, particularly if it crosses the centeral mountainous region, hurricane experts say it will enter the Gulf of Mexico at the least as a Category 3 hurricane. Then it will strengthen again.

According to Jack Bevin, hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, as reported in the Pensacola News Journal:
Dennis is expected to make landfall between Mobile Bay and Apalachicola as a Category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds of at least 120 mph and a Gulf of Mexico storm surge of about 10 to 15 feet... .
Dennis is looking very much like a twin of Ivan. Same size, same strength, same tracking path, same general target, and it's a good bet the same devastating results.

Yes, Houston. We have a problem.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Searching for good news

As of 11 am EDT, Hurricane Dennis continues to strengthen as well as speed up. That's the bad news. For those hungering for any semblance of good news, try this from the National Hurricane Center:
For Pensacola, any shift to the East for Dennis' projected path holds out the promise of leaving us on the (generally) safer northwestern quadrant of the storm as it comes ashore.

Verification lies in the 'strike probability' numbers . According to the 8 am forecast, Apalachicola and Panama City now have an ever-so-slightly higher chance of being within 65 nautical miles of the center of the storm in the next five days.

To be sure, 18 percent versus 16 percent isn't much of a comfort. But it's something.

On the other hand, it's still far too early to make anything but an educated guess where this hurricane is going and how strong it will be at landfall. The only thing we know for sure is it will be very, very bad for some people.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hurricane Dennis

The illegitimate son of Ivan, Dennis, officially has become a hurricane. Rapid intensification is possible over the next twenty-four hours. The NHC Discussion at 6 pm says:

Dennis Soon to Be a Hurricane

Tropical Storm Dennis is getting stronger. The NHC expects it to reach hurricane strength today.

Worse news: The experimental 5-day warning cone is pointed -- guess where? Directly at Pensacola Beach.

For those who are interested, radio personality Kenneth Lamb seems to be posting his predictions on the message board of Jim Williams' estimable web site, Hurricane City.

Look to the left of the main page here as we add more weather links.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It's a Boy!

Tropical Depression No. 4 has been re-born as Tropical Storm Dennis. The five-day forecast isn't looking good for South Florida -- or the Panhandle.

But there's plenty of time for unexpected things to happen. Cross your fingers and check what's left of your insurance policies.

Watching T.D. 4

While everyone else watches Tropical Storm Cindy, we're keeping a wary eye on Tropical Depression 4

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Summer Crash

Cool off this week by seeing Crash at Cinema 4. The New Yorker's David Denby has it right:
A brazenly alive and heartbreaking film about the rage and foolishness of intolerance — the mutual abrasions of white, black, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Asian citizens in the great and strange city of Los Angeles. The movie starts off with separate vignettes in which the characters run afoul of each other, say things better left unsaid, and get into terrible trouble. Later, they cross paths again, sometimes in bizarre coincidences that feel exactly right; some of these scenes play out at the edge of insanity, where contentiousness spills over into tragedy or farce. The furiously candid screenplay was written by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco, and the picture was directed by Haggis, who, in his first time out as director, demonstrates an amazing skill with actors. Don Cheadle, as a withdrawn, melancholy police detective, is the star, and the other players include Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton as an upper-class African-American couple, Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock as an L.A. district attorney and his bitchy wife, Chris (Ludacris) Bridges and Larenz Tate as carjackers, Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe as cops, and Shaun Toub as an Iranian shopkeeper who thinks everyone is out to cheat him. The gentle electronic score is by Mark Isham.