Saturday, September 30, 2006

Shorter Book Review

Pulitzer prize winning book critic Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times on Saturday reviews the latest addition to our book shelf:
"In Bob Woodward’s highly anticipated new book, 'State of Denial', President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war."
Who'd a thunk it? WaPo has excerpts from the book.

Page-Turner in Pensacola


By now, the whole world knows Mark Foley, a high-ranking Republican congressman from Florida, abruptly resigned his elective office Friday afternoon just as ABC News was about to release copies of sexually explicit emails he has been sending for years -- for years! -- to underage male pages who work for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The world knows, too, that the Republican leadership of the U.S. House knew for many months about ex-congressman Mark Foley's proclivities for pederasty. But the Republican leadership did nothing except -- we're not making this up -- put him in charge of drafting the "Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006."

Our neighboring blogger at Why Now? links to everything else you need to know. Foley's behavior is disgraceful and very likely to land him in the criminal courts.

We wouldn't bother saying anything more about this tawdry mess -- there's so much worse going on right now in Washington -- except for one little detail: ex-congressman Foley, writing in 2003 under the assumed name of "Maf54" appears to have committed at least some of his pedophiliac felonies right here in Pensacola. The proof of jurisdiction appears in one email itself: [caution: pdf file]:
(7:32:26 PM): whered ya go this afternoon
Maf54 (7:33:39 PM): i am in pensecola...had to catch a plane
Xxxxxxxxx (7:33:47 PM): oh well thats fun
Maf54 (7:34:04 PM): indeed
Xxxxxxxxx (7:34:14 PM): what are you doing in pensecola
Maf54 (7:34:21 PM): now in my hotel room
Xxxxxxxxx (7:34:39 PM): well why did you go there
Maf54 (7:35:02 PM): for the campaign
Since Foley hails from the 16th congressional district, some 600 miles south of Pensacola, what "campaign" could it have been that brought him to Pensacola? Whaddaya bet it was the early months of the reelection campaigns of George W. Bush and local congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL).

Can anyone tell us, are U.S. presidents and congressmen mandatory reporters under Florida law?

Sept. 30 - AM
That legislation Foley wrote imposes "mandatory 10-year prison sentences" for sex crimes against children. This inspires Billmon to look for a deeper verity:
"So the congressional point man on sexual predation is -- or rather was -- a sexual predator. Why am I not surprised?
"I think there's a long post, if not a book, to be written about this particular truth, which is the Jeckyll-and-Hyde split between appearances and reality in 21st century America -- the America where prostitutes pose as journalists (or vice versa), 'Christian' activists lobby for legalized torture, generals swagger like Rambo in front of the cameras but cringe before their civilian masters in private, libertarian law professors write secret memos justifying the creation of a police state, sworn enemies of big government gorge themselves on pork, vomit, then gorge some more, and U.S. Senators with the racial values of a klavern leader masquerade as 'compassionate conservatives.'

"And then, of course, there's our president, who preaches democracy and freedom by day and rewrites the Geneva Conventions by night."
Sept. 30 PM
We found the web site that seems to have been among the first to receive some of ex-congressman Foley's emails. And nearly a month ago, this message was posted at Daily Kos. (HT to Glenn Greenwald and Why Now?) All of which helps to explain the outrage of former prosecutor and current mother Christy Hardin Smith, who asks several important questions, including:
"didn't Denny Hastert and John Boehner and Roy Blunt and Tom DeLay and all the rest owe something to the parents of these children beyond 'well, we want to stay in power, so we'll keep our mouths shut and hope he doesn't hit on any more boys until after the election?'"

Monday, Oct. 2

The Scene of Foley's Crime
" has to wonder: on the very day Mark Foley was sending out his obscene emails and text messages, did anyone in that roomful of journalists happen to notice signs of Foley's claimed alcohol problem?"

Friday, September 29, 2006

Nelson Running Scared

Yesterday, both U.S. senators from Florida voted for the Bush administration's detainee interrogation bill on final passage. Citizens who realize the deeper implications of that vote are particularly disappointed with Senator Bill Nelson's vote.

No, they're more than disappointed -- they are furious.

The Reaction

Take a gander at Eclectic Floridian's diary at Daily Kos. After persistently redialing to get through to Nelson's office, over the background cacaphony of other phones "ringing off the hook" he says he conveyed this message:
"Please tell the Senator that rather than run for office again, he needs to find a job in the private sector ... something that doesn't require much in the way of morals."
Another commenter farther down the screen says of Nelson, "His reelection is assured -- he had nothing to fear by doing the right thing and yet he backed this horrendous legislation."

Or, read this post from the Miami-Dade blog, Stuck on the Palmetto: "In a partisan vote yesterday, Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, sided with Republicans and voted for torture. * * * Jeebus, do I miss Bob Graham."

Practical Politics

It's true that casting a vote which panders to the worst instincts of the electorate in red state Florida would seem to be a thin excuse -- if it ever could be an excuse -- for Nelson's vote. Although he is up for reelection in six weeks, the opposition he faces is weak at best. After all, Katherine Harris already has been deserted by top Republicans in the state. She trails Nelson by at least 18 points in the latest opinion surveys. That's a gargantuan lead as such things go.

Moreover, Nelson's campaign coffers are so full other Democrats are begging him to share the wealth. So he can't have been worried that a vote against the bill somehow might cripple his campaign financing.

Still, we did find in our own email box today no fewer than three separate solicitations from the Nelson campaign for a financial contribution. So, it's fair to conclude he's still 'running scared.'

In one sense, that's the way every incumbent should campaign if he wants to avoid an unpleasant surprise on Election Day. Does it excuse his vote in favor of S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006?

No, not in itself. Certainly not if you expect your elected officials to vote their conscience, as opposed to self-interest, when it comes to one of the most important votes in our nation's history. And there can be no doubt that the bill approved by the U.S. Senate yesterday represents an historically dangerous piece of legislation, perhaps the most egregious subversion of the U. S. Constitution since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

As TPM blogger "Third Estate" writes today:
"This execrable piece of legislation gives the President the power to imprison American citizens without a trial or due process. It prevents the Courts from intervening, giving sole discretion to the Executive. Any person found "materially supporting" terrorism can be thrown in jail forever, without recourse to a lawyer or the courts. The interpretation of the phrase "materially supporting" is left up to the President. Furthermore, the Congress has now become the first legislative body in the history of the United States to endorse the practice of torture."
But we do see two mitigating factors in Nelson's favor. One of them, surprisingly, has not been noted much and certainly not by any of the critics blogging today.

Mitigating Factors

The first mitigating factor is that Bill Nelson did cast four courageous votes in favor of amending the legislation yesterday. That is something that deserves more attention than it's been receiving from bloggers whom you otherwise would expect to support him.
  • Senator Nelson voted in favor of Sen. Carl Levin's much-superior "substitute bill" that would have protected the homeland and our troops and complied with the Geneva Conventions without violating the Constitution's guarantee of due process or restricting the writ of habeas corpus.
  • He supported Sen. Kennedy's amendment "To provide for the protection of United States persons in the implementation of treaty obligations." (Shockingly, not a single Republican senator supported this measure to protect our troops in the event they are detained by the enemy.)
  • Nelson also voted in favor of the Byrd amendment to sunset the legislation after five years, unless Congress acts later to renew it.
  • Most importantly, in the context of the moment, Nelson voted in favor of Arlen Specter's (R-PA) "motion to strike from the bill" its worst provision, the one that eliminates habeas corpus review for 'enemy combatants' and 'supporters.' True, this was defeated 51 to 48. But that was the closest vote there was yesterday and, effectively, given Republican control of Congress, the Senate, and the White House it was whole ballgame.
The second factor in Nelson's behalf was well articulated this morning by attorney Glenn Greenwald. It is a central, inescapable truth that Bill Nelson, alone, just wasn't going to be able to change the outcome yesterday. But if a few more Democrats can be elected to join him in Congress and the Senate he can help to save the nation -- and the Constitution -- from these parlous times:
"[T]he need to restore the rule of law to our country and to put an immediate end to the unlimited reign of the increasingly sociopathic Bush movement is of unparalleled and urgent importance, and it so vastly outweighs every other consideration that little else is worth even discussing until those objectives are accomplished.

"We are a country ruled by a President who has seized the power to break the law in multiple ways while virtually nothing is done about it. Yesterday, we formally vested the power in the President to abduct people and put them in prisons for life without so much as charging them with any crime and by expressly proclaiming that they have no right to access any court or tribunal to prove their innocence. We have started one war against a country that did not attack us and, in doing so, created havoc and danger -- both to ourselves and the world -- that is truly difficult to quantify. And we are almost certainly going to start one more war just like it (at least), that is far more dangerous still, if the President's Congressional servants maintain their control.

"For all their imperfections, cowardly acts, strategically stupid decisions, and inexcusable acquiescence -- and that list is depressingly long -- it is still the case that Democrats voted overwhelmingly against this torture and detention atrocity."
Fear Factor

There is a final dynamic that needs to be brought into the harsh light of day. It may not excuse Nelson's one bad vote out of the five he cast yesterday, but it might help to explain it.

In a telephone interview Sen. Patrick Leahy gave to Amy Goodman today, he contrasted the current mood on Capitol Hill with the historic courage shown by famous Vermonters in the past. In the process, he made it quite plain that Congress itself is in the grip of a pervasive Kafkaesque "reign of fear."
"And you have to stand up. I mean, it was a Vermonter -- you go way back in history -- it was a Vermonter who stood up against the Alien and Sedition Act, Matthew Lyon. He was prosecuted on that, put in jail, as a congressman, put in jail. And Vermont showed what they thought of these unconstitutional laws. We in Vermont reelected him, and eventually the laws fell down. There was another Vermonter, Ralph Flanders, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy and his reign of fear and stopped that. I mean, you have to stand. What has happened, here we are, a great powerful good nation, and we’re running scared. We’re willing to set aside all our values and running scared. What an example that is to the rest of the world."
If you listen to the broadcast, it becomes even more evident what Leahy is saying: America is on the brink of falling into another McCarthy-like era of mutual accusation, recrimination, persecution, threats of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, all fueled by fear. And it's no mystery who is stirring that fear:
"AMY GOODMAN: Was President Bush on Capitol Hill yesterday?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, yes, indeed. You can always tell, because virtually the whole city comes to a screeching halt with the motorcades, although it’s sort of like that when Dick Cheney comes up to give orders to the Republican Caucus. He comes up with a 15 to 25 vehicle caravan. It’s amazing to watch."
It's no knock against Senator Nelson that he wasn't able to summon the courage of a Matthew Lyon or Ralph Flanders, or for that matter a Paul Robeson or Don Hollenback.

Bill Nelson Is Only Human

So Nelson, like a lot of other senators, may be running scared in another sense. Not admirable, but he's only human. No one wants to be victimized by slanders on their patriotism.

Much less would Sen. Nelson want to be accused of 'embracing the enemy's propaganda,' to use a new phrase George W. Bush introduced today to describe the majority of Americans who now oppose the Iraq war.

After all, thanks to the majority of the Senate including Nelson himself, all it takes now is an accusation by George W. Bush that someone has "purposefully and materially supported" enemies of the United States to land you in jail without bail, without access to a lawyer, and without the right to petition for habeas corpus so a court can determine if "embracing enemy propaganda" is a lawful ground for your arrest.

So, let's give Nelson a pass on this one. He tried, just not hard enough.

Too few of us have tried at all.

Amplification Dept.

Friday Reading: Kafka

Anti-Amplification Dept.

To be 'fair and balanced' Disgrunt has a wonderfully snarky take on all of this titled, "Pity the Election Year Democrats: For They Know Not What They Do" .

Thursday, September 28, 2006

R.I.P. 'The Freedom Writ'

"If the time ever comes when habeas corpus orders are ignored, we can conclude that power has been usurped and that the military are no longer the defenders of the institutions they profess to serve.
* * *
"The Constitution of the United States sets forth in some detail the rights of persons accused of crime. Yet, despite what impress me as admirable constitutional provisions, I venture to suggest that the intended protections might on some occasions fall far short of their goal if they were not buttressed by the writ of habeas corpus, or, as it has sometimes been admiringly called, 'the freedom writ.'
* * *
"If, as we hope is true, we Americans are slowly becoming civilized, the availability of habeas corpus provides us an instrument with which, from time to time, we can test whether our law enforcement practices are keeping abreast of our consciences."

-- Walter Gellhorn, American Rights: The Constitution in Action (MacMillan 1960) pp. 13-14, 19
Among this week's assassins of the Bill of Rights were every Republican congressman from Florida, including Jeff Miller (R-FL). If they won't protect our fundamental freedoms, we can't trust them to protect America.

Amplification Dept.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Sept. 28, 2006:
"Habeas corpus is a fundamental recognition that in America, the government does not have the power to detain people indefinitely and arbitrarily. And that in America, the courts must have the power to review the legality of executive detention decisions.

"Habeas corpus is a longstanding vital part of our American tradition, and is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

"As a group of retired judges wrote to Congress, habeas corpus 'safeguards the most hallowed judicial role in our constitutional democracy – ensuring that no man is imprisoned unlawfully.'

"Mr. President, this bill would fundamentally alter that historical equation. Faced with an executive branch that has detained hundreds of people without trial for years now, it would eliminate the right of habeas corpus.
What most Americans probably do not know, but the U.S. Supreme Court does, is that the Bill of Rights is not self-executing. The writ of habeas corpus is "the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action." Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 290-91 (1969).


609 Law Professors' Letter:
"Taken together, the bill's provisions rewrite American law to evade the fundamental principles of separation of powers, due process, habeas corpus, fair trials, and the rule of law, principles that, together, prohibit state-sanctioned violence. If there is any fixed point in the historical understandings of constitutional freedom that help to define us as a people, it is that no one may be picked up and locked up by the American state in secret or at an unknown location, or without opportunity to petition an independent court for inspection of the lawfulness of the lockup and of the treatment handed out by the state to the person locked up, under legal standards from time to time defined by Congress. This core principle should apply with full force to all detentions by the American state, regardless of the citizenship of detainees."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Drafting Errors"

Digby at Hullabaloo analyzes today's backstory on how "drafting errors" showed up in the latest iteration of the anti- pro-torture bill being negotiated between neocon Republican conservatives and plain 'ol Republican conservatives.

Among other changes slipped in over the weekend, as currently re-drafted detainees would be allowed to "respond" to evidence, but not examine it; judicial review via habeas corpus would be abolished; and American citizens, as well as enemy foreigners, who are arrested would be denied due process of law for as long as the "war on terror" persists.

Thus will American democracy die: not by the sword, but by a stroke of the pen.

The Grand Fenwick Solution

Our Northwest Florida blogging neighbor, Bryan, over at Why Now? is stunned by news reports that Donald Rumsfeld "is in talks with Montenegro about sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan." It seems Bryan is personally acquainted with the army of Montenegro.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ricker Abruptly Resigns from Citizens

Bob Ricker -- he of the "Ministry of Truth" at Citizens Property Insurance -- has resigned effective "immediately," Paige St. John is reporting late Tuesday.

The Citizens governing board 'accepted' his resignation at "special teleconference meeting this morning."

Why resign? Why now? Why in such an abrupt manner? Why at a time when the hurricane season is nearly -- but not quite -- over?

For public consumption, Ricker is claiming "exhaustion" and "the toll that running the state's largest property insurance company has had on his family." Ricker also "has no immediate plans." So says Citizens' P.R. flack, Rocky Scott, who also says "the unbidden resignation is unrelated to Attorney General Charlie Crist's recent attack on Citizens for failing to respond to consumers."

Yeah, we believe that. Surrrrrre.

No doubt, if Scott were to be asked before the next shoe drops, he'd also try to tell us that Ricker's abrupt departure is unrelated to the grand jury investigation announced late last year and to the other ethical and legal mysteries at Citizens Property Insurance.

Noir Profile

Pensacola News Journal columnist Reginald Dorgan seems to have been reading a few Raymond Chandler novels lately. Get this opening from his profile in today's PNJ of local candidate for Congress Joe Roberts:
"At high noon on an overcast and humid last day of summer, the lunch crowd packed Jerry's Drive-in as tight as jeans on Jennifer Lopez. Elbowing my way through the maze of tables and bodies, I squeezed into a chair at the bar.

Amid the cacophony of chatter and laughter, and the rattle of plates and forks, I heard his voice before I saw his body."
As Chandler himself might have written, and probably did, the hard-boiled style fits this subject like a stall fits a horse. Joe Roberts is no mystery. What you see with him is what you get.

Still, Dorgan's effort is entertaining.
"I recognized the slow baritone Southern drawl of the man who wants to shake up conservative Northwest Florida by unseating U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican incumbent in the District 1 seat.

Candidate Joe Roberts worked the tables -- up close and personal. If he'd had an apron, you'd think he was taking orders and serving customers.

In a way, I suppose that's what he was doing: getting advice on how best to serve the people."
The rest of the column settles down with more run-of-the-mine metaphors, similes, and even a fact or two. The only mystery remaining is how can Reginald Dorgan possibly top this when he profiles incumbent Jeff Miller?

Maybe he should riff off Christopher Buckley, author of the hilarious Little Green Men, a scarily prescient comic novel about a Congress led by a president who thinks, "A country convinced that little green men were hovering over the rooftops was inclined to vote yea for big weapons and space programs."

Buckley is a conservative Republican distressed over the decidedly un-conservative reign of today's crop of Republicans in Washington. This month he's suggesting to his party, "Let's Quit While We're Behind."

Joe Roberts would say that's good advice.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dumbing Us Down

Want a graphic illustration of why Americans are growing so stupid about their own government? Check out the cover story stories by world region for Newsweek. (HT to Rising Hegemon)

The Army's Budget Revolt

The Los Angeles Times is reporting today that the U.S. Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, "withheld a required 2008 budget plan from Pentagon leaders last month after protesting to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the service could not maintain its current level of activity in Iraq plus its other global commitments without billions in additional funding."
"Schoomaker failed to submit the budget plan by an Aug. 15 deadline. The protest followed a series of cuts in the service's funding requests by both the White House and Congress over the last four months."
The protest is said to be "unprecedented." Also unprecedented is the Army's budget request for $138.8 billion in 2008, which is "nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld." According to the Times --
"The Army's budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker's request a 41% increase over current levels."
Times sources say Rumsfeld initially proposed a cut of $2 billion in current year funding. Schoomaker's protest was inspired by the declining readiness of regular Army manpower and resources being drained by Bush's Iraq war.
"The Army, with an active-duty force of 504,000, has been stretched by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. About 400,000 have done at least one tour of combat duty, and more than a third of those have been deployed twice. Commanders have increasingly complained of the strain, saying last week that sustaining current levels will require more help from the National Guard and Reserve or an increase in the active-duty force.

* * *
"Schoomaker has been vocal in recent months about a need to expand war funding legislation to pay for repair of hundreds of tanks and armored fighting vehicles after heavy use in Iraq."
The Army is nearly broken. Two big questions that remain are whether the Bush administration can be forced into fixing it -- and how much it will cost U.S. taxpayers to repair the damage.

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (also reviewed on line by James McCormick):
"In my opinion, key internal element in Rome's success or failure was the economic well-being of its taxpayers. This was because the empire relied for its security on a professional army, which in turn relied on adequate funding."

* * *
"Military expenditure was by far the largest item in the imperial budget, and there were no massive departments of state ... whose spending could be cut when necessary in order to protect "Defence"; nor did the credit mechanisms exist in Antiquity that would have allowed the empire to borrow substantial sums of money in an emergency. Military capability relied on immediate access to taxable wealth."
But we have those "credit mechanisms" today. This explains why a third question is necessary, one that was asked by Billmon three years ago after an informative and detailed exposition on the size and meaning of the U.S. debt. This question becomes more and more relevant with every passing year of the Bush administration:
"What are the long-term implications of an imperial America increasingly dependent on the financial support of its primary long-term rival: China?"

Sunday, September 24, 2006


New York Times, Sept. 24, 2006:
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

* * *
The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.
George W. Bush, Sept. 7, 2006:
Five years after September the 11th, 2001, America is safer -- and America is winning the war on terror."
Dick Cheney, Sept. 10, 2006:
[O]n the broad, overall strategic sweep of what we did, what we set out as our objectives, the strategy we've pursued to get there, I think we've done a pretty good job.

Crusader Blow-Back

Philippe Douste-Blazy, France's foreign minister, WaPo, Sept. 24, 2006:
"You may believe yourself stronger because you have your own values of strength," he said in an interview, referring to the United States. "But for others there are other values. Therefore, I believe what is essential and ideal is to have respect of others and therefore knowledge of others. That is why the clash of civilization is in fact a clash of ignorance."
Norman F. Cantor, "The First Crusade and After," in Civilization of the Middle Ages, HarperCollins 1993, p. 301:
"[T]he crusading ideal... had a profound and not altogether fortunate impact on medieval life. The crusades gave an absolute moral and religious sanction to the union of military force and religious devotion. An important legacy of the crusades was the lesson that it taught Europeans -- that it is right and fitting to kill and destroy in the service of Christian ideals. The immediate sufferers from this belief during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were Jews and heretics. The long-range sufferer was European society as a whole."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Shorter Greenwald: Where Are the Dems?

Shorter Greenwald [Salon - subscription or watch free ad required]:
"There is a strong temptation to feel that if Americans allow themselves to be manipulated again in this manner -- if, after they spent the last two years thoroughly disgusted with the president, they maintain the stranglehold that Republicans so disastrously hold over all facets of our government -- then perhaps the country will deserve what it gets. The damage to our country from a Bush administration that is completely unchecked and unlimited for the next two years is hard to fathom, but if Americans choose that, they will reap the consequences of their choice.

That sentiment, unfortunately, is bolstered by the completely despicable -- and quite deliberate -- disappearing act of the Democratic Party at exactly the time our country debates some of the most profoundly important political issues of our time. News accounts of the "compromise agreement" reached by political leaders on the torture issue barely even mention Democrats at all. It is as though we do still have a two-party system, but the two political parties are the White House and congressional Republicans. Democrats are like some quirky little third party relegated to an afterthought and quoted almost as an act of charity.

* * *
The "opposition party" is literally missing, silent, mute and invisible. And yet the only hope for reversing or at least halting any of this is to have that same Democratic Party actually somehow win an election and provide some desperately needed gridlock and balance and investigative processes to find out what our government has been doing. That is about as bleak of a picture as one can imagine.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Democrats Playing Dress-Up

"It's as painful to witness as seeing a fat man dance Swan Lake."

You may be wondering where the Democrats have been hiding while the three or four so-called 'moderate' Republicans left in Congress were busy figuring out how to approve torture as a matter of American law and morality. Well, it seems they've been closeted with some Madison Avenue salesmen and pricey Beltway campaign consultants; the kind who consistently advise Democrats to dress up like Republicans so they can lose another election.

What has emerged from the closet this time is one of the most insipid campaign slogans in modern political history: "A new direction." Howard Dean mentions a "new direction" twice in today's Wall Street Journal, if you don't count the headline. On last night's News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Nancy Polosi used that exact phrase thirteen times.

Count 'em! Thirteen! She mindlessly repeated that vacuous phrase so many times in so many contexts that one half-expected if Lehrer had asked her where to find the men's room, she would have answered "New direction."

It's been said before, but it needs to be repeated: Democrats never are less convincing than when they try to imitate repulsively cynical Republican campaign tactics. It's as painful to witness as seeing a fat man dance Swan Lake.

Modern-day Republicans are good at coming up with meaningless rhetoric and misleading campaign slogans. Remember "No more nation building"? Republicans have elevated hypocrisy to a political art form. When Democrats indulge in it, they just come off looking like, well, hypocrites.

Modern-day Republicans follow the phony "Twelve Rules of Perception." They're terrific at pretending to be as tough as John Wayne in a war movie, even though most of their top office holders are chickenhawks -- as was John Wayne himself. Democrats -- even the authentic war heroes among them like George McGovern and John Kerry-- for some reason just can't bring themselves to speechify convincingly about the joys of waging war and nuking the Earth.

Republicans shamelessly claim to be doing "god's work" as they bankrupt the government treasury and rake in the bribes. Apparently, Democrats just can't pray loud enough in a public enough way to qualify for secular office.

All that Democrats can do is govern efficiently, avoid reckless foreign policies, preserve constitutional liberties, and make sure the nation lives within its means. In this day and age, apparently that's not enough.

License to Torture

Yale law professor and constitutional law expert Jack M. Balkin has an academic group blog where he and colleagues hold forth on the legal issues of our times.

In the wee hours of this morning, one of those colleagues, Georgtown Law prof Marty Lederman, was among the first to offer a detailed analysis of the so-called "compromise" between George W. Bush's White House and Senate Republicans over the pending "torture bill." As Lederman explains in the cool, objective language of a trust department lawyer reciting a routine contract, the "compromise" esentially gives the current and future presidents a free license to torture anyone they please:
"The Executive branch -- not only the CIA -- would effectively be authorized to engage in cruel treatment that Geneva proscribes, including pursuant to the alternative CIA techniques."
Moreover, the "compromise" also would prohibit the federal courts from enforcing any foreign or domestic law against presidential torture.
What this means, in effect, is that the President's interpretation and application of the Geneva Conventions will be virtually unreviewable, no matter who the affected parties may be, in this and other armed conflicts, now and in the future . . . across the board."
For once, both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree:

Washngton Post, "The Abuse Can Continue":
"[T]he senators who have fought to rein in the administration's excesses -- led by Sens. McCain, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) -- failed to break Mr. Bush's commitment to "alternative" methods that virtually every senior officer of the U.S. military regards as unreliable, counterproductive and dangerous for Americans who may be captured by hostile governments.
New York Times, "A Bad Bargain":
The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.
As Tristero asks in a pointedly un-academic way over at Digby's Hullaballoo, "So tell me, my fellow Americans, How does it feel knowing that your government will pass laws permitting the violation of the Geneva Conventions against torture?"

We can tell him how we feel: It's time for a new Law and Order political campaign to sweep the streets clean of criminal presidents and the congressmen and senators who shelter them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Clueless in Gulf Breeze

We've got a small bone to pick with the Gulf Breeze News. Worthy as that weekly newspaper is -- and we mean that sincerely -- Franklin Hayes' weekly "On The Spot" feature always leaves us scratching our head and asking: Why?

Why waste valuable newspaper ink and digital bandwidth asking people no one's ever heard of what they think? Why are we never given a clue who these people are, what they do, how old they are, where they live or work (other than "Pensacola") or whether they know their elbow from a nose hair?

Even the implied presumption these are "average" people requires a leap of faith.

Take this week's "On The Spot" question (Sept. 21 issue) for example. Hayes asked four women -- two of whom are barely out of high school, by the looks of it -- "What are your thoughts on the current discussion to dissolve the Santa Rosa Island Authority?"

Now, there are a lot of rational "thoughts" someone who pays attention to the world around them might have in response to a question like that; pro-SRIA or anti-SRIA, pro-county control or anti-county control, and more. But there are a lot of hair-brained, woefully misinformed, and just plain idiotic brain cramps out there, too.

"Everybody's entitled to their opinion" is a popular public expression. It's usually articulated in a plaintive, whining tone right after the speaker has been exposed as completely clueless.

Well, maybe so. Maybe they have a right to believe anything they like. But before we readers pay any attention to the opinions of others shouldn't we have some assurance these people know what the heck they're talking about?

No doubt, there are sound marketing reasons to send Franklin Hayes out to interview people-in-the-street. For one thing, they'll probably buy the newspaper that week. But if he's not going to ape Jay Leno's amusing "man in the street" routine and test their state of awareness --
Newspaper: "In what century was World War I fought?"
Average Person: "Duh... ah... um... the 18th century?"
-- then it isn't even entertaining. It's just irrelevant.

Here's a standing bet: We'll buy a full year's subscription to the Gulf Breeze News print edition if anyone can offer convincing proof that on the day they were put "on the spot" Brandy Nicholson, Amanda Donaldson, Jennifer Siegel, and Blue Curry could have told us how many members there are on the SRIA board and how long each one has served. All four of them Oh, what the heck... even just one of the people interviewed

Otherwise, we'll just stick to reading the free electronic version of the Gulf Breeze News.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Death In the Florida Panhandle

Florida leads the nation in one especially dubious category and the Florida Panhandle is disproportionately responsible for it, according to the newly-released 454-page A.B.A. "Florida Death Penalty Assessment Report".

As one south Florida newspaper explains:
"Florida leads the nation in Death Row exonerations, 22 of them since the penalty was reinstated in 1973. During the same time, Florida executed 60 Death Row inmates.

'Over one exoneration for every three executions,' according to the report."
That particular news article doesn't mention it, but the study also found that north Florida and the Panhandle have accounted over at least the past two decades for more than one-third of all death sentences in the state -- a grossly disportionate percentage given the substantially smaller local population.

The Florida report was authored by a panel of in-state experts who have "varying perspectives about the death penalty." Some favor it, some oppose it, and some are in between. But all agree on the report's findings that as it is administered now capital punishment in Florida is grossly unjust.

The analysis is the latest in an ongoing series of state-by-state reports begun by the American Bar Association in 2003. An introduction to the latest report explains:
"In addition to the Florida assessment, the Project has released state assessments of Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia. In the future, it plans to release reports in, at a minimum, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia."
Divided as it was between death penalty proponents and opponents, the Florida report panel was unanimous in finding "many... substantial... shortcomings" in the application of the Florida death penalty. In fact, as the Miami Herald counts them, Florida complies with only 8 of 93 specific legal standards adopted by the A.B.A. for the imposition of capital punishment.

Florida leads the nation in condemning the innocent to death-row, or at least in getting caught at it. As the report states, "since 1973, the State of Florida has exonerated twenty-two death-row inmates, which is more than any other state in the nation."

In other words, as a state we condemn to death far too many innocent or undeserving defendants. Something's rotten in the Florida criminal justice system. The Florida report identifies these potential causes:

  • Inadequate compensation for court-appointed defense attorneys.

    Because of state law and agency rules, both public defenders and private attorneys appointed to defend co-defendants in conflict cases are paid so poorly that most "experienced and qualified attorneys" won't take on capital cases and cannot afford to advance "the funds necessary to present a vigorous defense." In some cases, private attorneys appointed to defend a death-penalty defendant are paid less than $3,500 per year for all the work they do on the case. It's not an easy thing for tax-averse Floridians to accept, but if we want a justice system we can be proud of -- and grateful for, in the event we are unexpectedly enmeshed in it -- we'll have to pay for it.

  • Significant Capital Juror Confusion.

    Many jurors "are confused about their role and responsibilities when deciding whether to impose a death sentence." They do not understand how to evaluate penalty-phase evidence, they misapprehend the burdens of proof, and in one study "over 36 percent of interviewed Florida capital jurors incorrectly believed that they were required to sentence the defendant to death... ." To be sure, juror education is the first responsibility of trial judges and lawyers. But other institutions also have a responsibility for this kind of civic education: schools, churches, civic groups, journalists, the electronic media, parents in the home.

  • Lack of Unanimity in Jury Sentencing Decisions

    As the report observes, "The Florida Supreme Court recently noted that 'Florida is now the only state in the country that allows a jury to ... recommend a sentence of death by a mere majority vote.'" The supreme court has urged the legislature to consider changing the law, but to date nothing has been done.

  • Florida law grants excessive discretion to hanging judges.

    State law incorrectly (and quite probably unconstitutionally, after two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings) allows state court trial judges to override a jury's decision for life imprisnment rather than capital punishment. The ABA report notes:

    "A recent study of death penalty cases in Florida and nationwide found: (1) that when deciding whether to override a jury’s recommendation for a life sentence without the possibility of parole, trial judges take into account the potential 'repercussions of an unpopular decision in a capital case' ... 'especially so in the run up to judicial elections;' and (2) that the practice of judicial override makes jurors feel less personally responsible for the sentencing decision... ."
  • Secrecy of the State's Clemency Process. According to the report's authors, "Full and proper use of the clemency process is essential to guaranteeing fairness in the administration of the death penalty." In Florida, however, the state clemency decision-making process is 'ambiguous'; lawful standards are non-existent; and even the final decisions to grant or deny clemency are treated as 'confidential.' In light of the high number of wrongly-condemned prisoners "and the fact that clemency has not been granted to a death-sentenced inmate since 1983" the report finds "Florida’s clemency process is adequate."
  • The Florida capital punishment system is rife with 'racial disparities.' Studies have found that in Florida "a criminal defendant in a capital case is, other things being equal, 3.4 times more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is African-American." Indeed, "since Florida reinstated the death penalty, there have been no executions of white defendants for killing African-American victims" but"those convicted of killing white victims are far more likely to receive a death sentence... ." Racism is alive and well in the jury box as well as on the bench.

  • Geographic Disparities and Excessive Prosecutorial Discretion. The report points out that death penalties in Florida are generated out of less than half of all Florida counties, and nowhere more often than in the Panhandle and adjacent areas of North Florida:

    "The death sentences of the sixty individuals who have been executed in Florida since 1972 were imposed in thirty of Florida’s sixty-seven counties. Similarly, of the fifteen new death sentences in 2001, three (or 20 percent) came from the First, Second, and Third Judicial Circuits. [The first judicial circuit includes the Pensacola-Ft. Walton area.] The cause of these geographic disparities is unclear, but one possible variable is the charging decision. Research in other states indicate that charging practices vary from prosecutor to prosecutor and few of the prosecutor offices in Florida that we contacted have written polices governing the charging decision. Research also suggests that some capital charging decisions in Florida are influenced by racial factors."
  • Death Sentences Imposed on the Mentally Ill."The State of Florida has a significant number of people with severe mental disabilities on death row, some of whom were disabled at the time of the offense and others of whom became seriously ill after conviction and sentence."

One cannot review these factors without coming to the conclusion that when it comes to capital punishment ignorance, race, and petty politics play the largest parts in mis-loading the scales of justice in Florida. Jurors are woefully undereducated. Judges, legislators, and state officials, including a succession of governors, have not had the courage to lead reforms by creating or funding a fair, competent and even-handed criminal justice system.

Floridians have grown infamous in some quarters of the nation for what is perceived as our rank me-first-ism; perhaps nowhere more so than the Panhandle. 'I've got mine,' so it is said we think, 'so to hell with you.' To such an attitude others attribute our underfunded schools, our painfully inadquate public transportation and over-crowded roads system, the always-predictably bitter opposition to civic improvements for the public at large, and the too-frequent destruction of an environment that we should be preserving for future generations, to mention just a few of our more obvious shortcomings.

However unpleasant it is to contemplate the subject, whether, when, and how we collectively put to death another human being for a heinous crime is an irreversibly permanent decision. Once done, there is no second chance. In that, if nothing else, we define our aspirations for justice.

When we are repeatedly shown by studies like the A.B.A. report, and countless others that have preceded it, solid evidence that grave mistakes have been made and innocent people executed, we need to understand that our response to that reality defines our morality, individually as well as collectively. In a democracy, it isn't "the state" that kills innocent people. It is each and every one of us.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lunacy Afoot

Veteran blogger Matt Yglesias reports on the "the Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Scrutable Billmon

Billmon asks, in his scrutable way, "Is Bush doing the terrorists' work for them, again, in Iraq?"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Joe Roberts Blog

Long promised but silent throughout the summer, at last 1st District congressional candidate Joe Roberts has begun posting regular articles on his Joe Roberts candidate's blog.

The first entry, about Hurricane Katrina, was published on August 30. Right away, it reminded us of something we had noticed at the time and then forgot:
"[Incumbent Jeff] Miller's dismal record on hurricane relief for residents of Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties hit a new low last year when he supported a Bush administration bill that cut out the counties in the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005."
So much for the advantage of sending a Republican congressman to join the corrupt Republican majority in Washington. Miller didn't even have the muscle to help his own hurricane-devastated district when Congress was spreading billions around the whole Gulf Coast.

The latest entry on Joe's blog is about "the hard truth" concerning Bush's Iraq disaster:
"Caught in the middle of a bloody civil war and virtually restricted to the Green Zone, and with Iran waiting in the wings, our troops are facing a potential disaster."
Potential? Potential, Mr. Roberts? Our troops have been victimized by an on-going disaster for the past three years, as yesterday's front-page feature story in the Washington Post makes painfully clear. And one of the reasons comes down to the incompetent boobs the Bush administration hired to staff that restricted "Green Zone."

"Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq," screams the headline. The article is adapted from a forthcoming book by veteran war correspondent and WaPo editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran, titled "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone."

As excerpted in the Post, the book is about how "the decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest... to stabilize and rebuild Iraq [is] one of the Bush administration's gravest errors." At the center of this alarming tale of how the Bush administration deliberately recruited America's 'Worst and Dumbest' is Pentagon Jim O'Beirne, the spouse of conservative commentator Kate O'Beirne and a rug-chewing ideologue in his own right.
"To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience."
Examples of the staff O'Beirne -- with the active encouragement of the White House -- wanted and got are detailed in an accompanying book review. They are enough to make you weep for our soldiers (and their loved ones).

A "clueless 24-year old in charge of reopening the Baghdad stock market" ... a thoroughly incompetent anti-choice ideologue who left the Iraqi hospital system "as decrepit as the day the Americans arrived" ... "ten young go-fers" hired to handle "minor administrative tasks" suddenly appointed to manage "Iraq's $13-billion budget"... the corrupt Bernard Kerik, who, it turns out, played cowboy all night long on the streets of Baghdad but slept-in throughout the day instead of overseeing the training of a new Iraqi police force... etc. etc. etc.

On the other side is the example of "Frederick M. Burkle Jr., a Navy reserve officer and physician with two Bronze Stars whom a colleague describes as 'the single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government'. He was fired after just one week "because the White House preferred to have a Bush 'loyalist' in charge of health matters in Iraq."

For the Bush administration, it's all about ideological purity and loyalty to "The Leader" rather than competence. Too much like George Orwell's 1984:
"Parsons was Winston's fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms—one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the Thought Police, the stability of the Party depended."
This is no way to run a republic, whether from the Green Zone or from Washington D.C.

If there is a common theme that ought to unite voters of every partisan persuasion in Northwest Florida, it's our desire for competence in government during disaster, whether natural or man-made. We sure haven't seen any from the incumbents who hold national office the last several years.

It's time for a change. Check in on Joe Roberts' blog from time to time to see if his candidacy offers a good place to start.

Amplification Dept.
Sept. 18

Inspired by Chandrasekaran's WaPo piece, Billmon recalls his "favorite" Green Zone incompetence story "when the CPA couldn't even get its own name right on its own web site, and thus informed the world that it was the Coalition Provincial Authority."

And, importantly, he reminds us that --
"it wasn't the Washington Post or the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or any of the other corporate media that originally broke the story. It was the blogosphere's own Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen (of War and Piece) and Colin Soloway, writing for the Washington Monthly, in December 2003. That was almost three years ago. And now -- only now -- it's showing up on the front page of a major national newspaper."
Why tolerate laws that wink at the increased concentration of "corporate media" into fewer and fewer hands, when the news they bring us is 3 years and 2,683 American soldiers' lives too late?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Flexible Principles

We've already noted the mounting evidence that county commissioner Mike Whitehead and SRIA General Manager Buck Lee have been consorting -- some would more pointedly say, plotting -- to abolish the Island Authority.

The payoff for Lee is he gets to keep a job for which he's utterly unqualified. Doubtless, someone has promised he'll get a pay raise out of it, too.

As for Whitehead, he's been having wet dreams for decades over the prospect of eliminating the residential building cap on Pensacola Beach so his developer buddies/campaign contributors can junk up the place with high rise condominiums. They won't rest -- as too much of coastal Florida attests -- until they have walled off the entire beach from the public.

As Rick Outzen pointed out last Wednesday on his blog, there's another snake in this woodpile: county administrator George Tuart. According to Outzen, over the summer "Escambia County Administrator George Touart was pressuring County Atty. Janet Lander to write a legal opinion that the county commission could abolish the Santa Rosa Island Authority without a vote by the state legislature."

The queer thing is, Tuart was for the Island Authority before he was against it. In that February 2003 meeting with the Escambia County Charter Commission which we mentioned before, chairman M.J. Menge, a widely respected Pensacola lawyer, specifically asked Tuart to "give his viewpoint on the Santa Rosa Island Authority."

Check page 7 of the minutes [pdf format]:
"Mr. Touart stated that from an administrator's standpoint that he works very well with the SRIA, that it's an excellent organization, that the County plays a support role, and that the SRIA does a very good job. He also stated that if there is a recommendation for the Island Authority from the Commission and it has merit, they would certainly look at it. He also stated he would recommend against abolishing the Santa Rosa Island Authority." [emphasis added]
Whatever else may be said about this band of county pols, lick-spittles, and apostates, they sure have... um... flexible principles -- presuming they have any at all.

Friday, September 15, 2006

What Would George Do?

If you need confirmation that a coup against the SRIA board by general manager Buck Lee is part of what lies behind county commissioner Mike Whitehead's effort to abolish the SRIA, check out Rick Outzen's blog for Wednesday, Sept. 13.

Frankly, we didn't even know the publisher of the Independent News had a blog. Good for him. Doubly good, given the constraints of a weekly newspaper and Outzen's sharp insights into local politics.

Outzen says he's been hearing rumors of a plot to abolish the SRIA "over the summer" and that there are two reasons behind it: "The buzz is that they want to raise the residential building cap on Pensacola Beach" and Buck Lee "believes he will be a county department head and no longer have the SRIA holding down his salary or voting on his contract."

On second thought, the SRIA board might not want to wait until February to get rid of Buck Lee. Right now, they're probably muttering to themselves, "What Would George Washington Do?"

Related Stories on this Blog

Rocky Horror Island Show

Abolishing the SRIA: The Ironies

Rocky Horror Island Show

What did we tell you? Yesterday, county commissioner Mike Whitehead admitted that after eliminating the Santa Rosa Island Authority he wants to transfer the agency's entire staff, including general manager Buck Lee, to the county payroll:
"Whitehead said he'd keep all the employees and General Manager W.A. 'Buck' Lee to run a beach services department... ."
Remember, Whitehead is the guy who claims there's no need for "two bureaucracies." Apparently, just one huge new bureaucracy that happens to protect a fellow pol whose current job is hanging by a thread.

Although preliminary signs are that Whitehead is one vote shy of dissolving the SRIA, the story isn't over. Or, to continue yesterday's analogy, Dracula isn't back in his coffin yet.

Eliminating the SRIA requires concurrence of the state legislature, which next convenes in March of '07. Buck Lee's one-year contract is up for renewal in February.

The timing is a bit awkward. It's hard to imagine the SRIA board wants to keep Lee after this, but it's equally hard to imagine them driving a stake through his heart while Whitehead still holds an axe over the agency's head.

Maybe they should offer Lee a 3-month renewal that just happens to expire the day after the legislature adjourns.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Abolishing the SRIA: The Ironies

"The proposal appears to come from county commissioner Mike Whitehead. For years, Whitehead has yearned after Pensacola Beach the way Dracula lusts after women."

The estimable Derek Pivnick reported Wednesday that Escambia County Commissioners once again have under consideration a proposal to eliminate the Santa Rosa Island Authority:
"The County Commission is set to discuss dissolving the SRIA at its committee of the whole meeting Thursday. Commissioners still would have to vote on the measure at a regular meeting. They then likely would ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation to dismantle the Island Authority."
Predictably, the proposal appears to come from county commissioner Mike Whitehead. For years, Whitehead has yearned after Pensacola Beach the way Dracula lusts after women -- as a mere object to be drained of all blood so that he can feed himself and they are left dry and lifeless, a mere husk.

This is the third time in the past ten years Escambia county commissioners have sought to abolish the SRIA. As before, the SRIA board likely will oppose its own execution. Two veteran board members, Bill Griffith and Thomas Blas, already are on record as opposing the move. As Pivnick reports:
"They said the residential building cap may have been reached but hotels still have building room. They also argue oversight is needed as rebuilding from hurricanes continues.

'We have a specific charter that allows us to be in existence," Blas said. 'We're an intimate part of the island.'

[Bill] Griffith, appointed by Whitehead, said the Island Authority is in a better position to oversee what's happening and is more responsible for the controlled development that has taken place on the beach than the County Commission, he said."
We can't avoid mentioning that the abolition issue, though barely a day old, already is weighted with heavy ironies. It's hard to find any good guys in this fight.

Take Bill Griffith. In his quoted remarks in today's Pensacola News Journal, he lays claim to 'controlling beach development' as a reason to retain the agency he helped to direct for the past fourteen years. Yet, in his many years on the SRIA board Griffith has led the charge time and again --
  • to approve massive dunes-destroying high rises,
  • to promote huge hotels using public money to finance private developers,
  • to upscale island infrastructure to make room for more development,
  • to approve dangerously-erosive pier extensions farther and farther into Santa Rosa Sound until the day seems not far off when they may as well become bridges to Gulf Breeze.
  • to widen main island roads for future development although every traffic study conducted on Pensacola Beach shows the existing roadways were more than adequte to handle currently allowable growth through 2025, and
  • to finance the road project, Griffith and SRIA board colleagues signed a formal written agreement essentially surrendering the SRIA's purse strings to Escambia County for the next forty years.
Irony upon irony: as it happens, too, Griffith currently is the appointee of Whitehead to the SRIA. Maybe not for much longer.

In yet another irony, because of the bond agreement over road-widening which Griffith pushed, virtually every SRIA decision that might remotely affect the agency's ability to pay the annual tab is now subject to county review and approval or disapproval. As described by out-going SRIA general manager Monte Blews in February 2003 [pdf file] to the then-existing County Charter Study Commission --
"[O]n the bond issues, one for 22 million dollars for roads and 20 million dollars for beach nourishment... the SRIA is committed to [pay the county] 600,000 dollars a year for the next 30 years. The first 10 years they will be paying back on beach nourishment, and after that, they will pick up their share of the responsibility for the 30-year bond issue, particularly on the roads."
What more could county commissioners want? The SRIA already has indentured itself to the county and handed over the purse strings.

Equally surprisingly, the current year's president of the Pensacola Beach Residents & Leaseholders Assn., Tona DeMers, is quoted by Pivnick as saying the SRIA's "time has come and gone." That may be true, but it certainly doesn't mean the time has come for direct county commissioner administration of Pensacola Beach.

DeMers' remarks should not be misunderstood. We think she is trying to signal that if the county moves to abolish the SRIA, then residents and business owners most assuredly will revive the campaign to incorporate Pensacola Beach as a self-governing municipality. Indeed, abolition of the SRIA would leave them with no other reasonable choice.

For more than half a century there has been a consensus at the state, county, and local levels that the proper administration of services on Pensacola Beach requires an on-site government. It's also been said, repeatedly, that the county commissioners need to find ways to reform the agency so that it is more responsive to the public interest and needs of island residents and businesses. Nearly every Escambia County commissioner-ordered study -- and there have been half a dozen or more of them -- confirms that judgment.

In 1991, the "Westmark Report" concluded that:
"the focus of SRIA [has]... evolved over time from its principal charter of encouraging and managing growth and development of the Island to a custodial form of government occupied primarily with providing various services to Island residents and visitors, arbitrating disputes, and generally focusing on short-term problems and issues."
See, Santa Rosa Island Study Committee Report," Escambia County Board of Commissioners, August 1, 1991.

That blue-ribbon county study committee found the SRIA in 1991 "unresponsive" and ineffective. Yet, it reached a consensus that Pensacola Beach is best administered from the island itself and what was really needed was reform of SRIA, not abolition.

County commissioners ignored the findings of their own study.

Another study commissioned by county commissioners in 1997 concluded that some form of island-based governmental operations "should remain in existence." That study, too, recommended significant reforms. See, Gregg Welstead, "The Santa Rosa Island Authority: Current Duties and Functions – A Report for the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners," Escambia County Board of Commissioners, November 10, 1997.

The Welstead report concluded:
"After examining the functions and services provided by the Island Authority, it is the consensus of the reviewers that the Authority should remain in existence. The Authority's ability to respond rapidly to leaseholder and visitor concerns and fix whatever problems present themselves is commendable and its stewardship of the Island is evident. Likewise, its initiatives to increase tourism through advertising, and ensure visitors return year after year by maintaining high standards of cleanliness and offering a variety of events year-round, ensure a continuous stream of revenue to the County in the form of bed taxes and the local option sales tax.

"It is the reviewers' opinion that elimination of the Authority, or reduced service levels in any of the areas currently served by the Authority, will seriously jeopardize the tourist trade and impact tax revenue."
That last sentence was true when written and it is still true today. According to certain of our tourist promotion friends, who asked not to be named out of concern for their jobs, "millions of dollars, year after year" are generated from the room tax on Pensacola Beach. The money, they say, goes directly into the coffers of the county's tourist development council.

Although 30% or more of all such county hotel room tax revenues are earned by Pensacola Beach commercial establishments, not one dime has been returned to the SRIA or the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce, according to the same sources. Instead, TDC funds are turned over to the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, which manifestly has a stronger interest in promoting off-island interests of the "Downtown Crowd" and other businesses far removed from Pensacola Beach.

There is another irony that should not go unnoticed. The strong suspicion has arisen in certain quarters that SRIA general manager Buck Lee secretly may be behind the abolition move.

Lee has not been a popular replacement for former SRIA general manager Monte Blews. In his first year on the job he received poor performance reviews, as we reported early this year.

Although he and the board 'kissed and made up' -- as we also reported -- it was said that he was given only a one-year renewal of the contract. That year would be just around the corner.

There was never much to recommend Buck Lee for the job. He has no education to speak of and certainly none in public administration, management, accounting, or mass marketing that would qualify him for running the $8 million SRIA agency. His one claim to fame is that he once was a county commissioner in neighboring Santa Rosa County.

What would drive Buck Lee to go behind the backs of SRIA board members and seek the abolition of the agency? Not only might he have the willies over board renewal of his contract, but we're guessing Buck Lee would rather be dealing with his own kind -- county politicians -- without being required to answer to SRIA board members.

If the SRIA is abolished, Escambia County most probably would have to follow the alternative blueprint outlined in Gregg Welstead's report: create a new county department that would effectively be staffed by the same people doing the same things. So much for Whitehead's argument, as reported by Pivnick and other local media sources today, that the SRIA "duplicates" existing county functions.

Since the Welstead report points to creating a "Pensacola Beach Department" as the second-best solution, just who do you suppose would be named to administer that department if the SRIA were to be abolished?

Someone needs to inquire if Mike Whitehead and Buck Lee know the answer.

Amplification Dept.
Thursday, Sept. 14

In a fact-free editorial that skirts close to complete incoherence, the PNJ sees 'irony' in Whitehead's proposal, too, but then chickens out, quotes itself from several years ago, overlooks all the past studies which county commissioners also have forgotten, and concludes, in effect, 'Ah, what the heck -- let's run the risk of wall-to-wall condos.'