Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Half of Navarre Beach Road To Open May 9

The eastern half of Highway 399 linking Navarre Beach to Opal Beach will reopen May 9, according to the Daily News of Fort Walton Beach. Gulf Islands Park superintendent Jerry Eubanks says "it's not the new, first-class road some people might expect."

Work continues on the western half of the water front road that leads to Pensacola Beach. Eubanks is predicting that stretch of highway "could be" reopened by summer.

Repairs to the Opal Beach picnic and swimming facility, midway between Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach, are not yet finished. Port-a-potties will be in place, however, along with a few picnic tables.

The highway and popular Opal Beach facility were devastated by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Commissioners Vote for Deeds

"Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer— except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs."
-- George Orwell, Animal Farm
At the special two-county commissioners meeting we mentioned the other day, Escambia and Santa Rosa county commissioners approved a formal resolution asking U.S. Representative Jeff Miller to sponsor legislation authorizing the issuance of fee simple deeds to Santa Rosa Island beach property. Presently, owing to restrictions in the original federal deed of Santa Rosa Island to Escambia County, all property on Pensacola Beach is held under leases, most of them for a renewable term of 99 years.

Jamie Page had the early afternoon story yesterday ("Commissioners Push Beach Ownership") on the PNJ web site. This morning's PNJ repeats much, but not all, of that earlier dispatch ("Lease Fight Heads to D.C.").

Among all ten combined commissioners, the lone dissenters were two from Escambia County. One of them was Kevin White from the northern section of the county. White has been outspoken in wanting to preserve public access on the beach.

The other dissenter was Grover C. Robinson IV. Robinson represents District 4, which includes Pensacola Beach. He, too, has expressed concern about maintaining open public spaces on the beach. Robinson also has been popular with, and trusted by, a large majority of beach residents.

Commissioner Robinson voiced objections that not enough was known about the details of any deed-for-taxes proposition. Until the specifics are known, he said, it would be imprudent to support such a move; it could turn out to the disadvantage of both beach residents and mainlanders.

Also speaking against the resolution was long-time SRIA board member Dr. Thomas Campanella. Campanella has been a reliable voice for Pensacola Beach residents since first being elected by them in 2002. In brief remarks to the commissioners during the open forum, he expressed concern that opening the beach to unrestricted deeds of beach lots could lead directly to over-development on the beach.

After the meeting, Campanella told us that he fears "greed is behind" the resolution. He explained that the SRIA has been under pressure from the county for years to allow more intense development, greater densities, and higher revenues from residents and businesses. If the county persists, he said, "they're going to ruin the very resource that we need."

Voting in favor of the deeds resolution, among others, were Escambia County Commissioners Mike Whitehead and Gene Valentino. Whitehead has a long history of opposing beach resident intiatives and advocating for abolition of the Santa Rosa Island Authority. Valentino pretty much votes as if he were Whitehead's sock puppet.

So, what's going on here? Beach residents who want the guarantee of a deed if they're ordered to pay real estate taxes have to be nervous when natural predators like Whitehead and Valentino claim to be "helping" them and proven allies like Robinson and Campanella are on the other side.

The short answer is that we'll just have to wait and see. Much depends on the exact wording of any legislation congressman Miller is able to shepherd through Congress. It seems unlikely that any legislation Miller sponsors can be approved by Congress before it recesses for the year. So, equally important will be the composition of the Board of Commissioners if and when the time finally arrives to implement any deed-exchange.

As always, the future of the beach is in the grip of those we elect to run county government. Among a list of horribles one can foresee is the distinct possibility -- one which was advocated by former SRIA board member Bill Griffith about a dozen years ago, although he later renounced the idea as having been inspired by Mr. Whitehead -- that any residents seeking a deed in lieu of a long-term lease should be required to make a one time payment equal to 65 percent or more of the assessed value of the land and improvements.

Another IED that could be hidden along the roadway is Whitehead's long-held ambition to abolish the Santa Rosa Island Authority altogether. The SRIA has directly governed the beach for nearly sixty years. While its efforts to preserve the beach from unsustainable development have not been an unalloyed success, on the whole the island's governing authority has been far more eco-friendly and attuned to island residents' and business needs than Escambia County commissioners.

Congressman Miller, himself, could allay many of these fears if he makes a sincere effort to enlist knowledgeable beach residents and their representatives, like Campanella and Robinson, in the process of drafting the legislation. There are at hand on the beach a number of knowledgeable people -- lawyers, judges, real property finance experts, former legislators, urban growth experts, public administration specialists, environmentalists, and others -- who could be of service to the congressman as he drafts the legislation.

We will soon see if Congressman Miller calls on them, or instead takes his marching orders from our new-found beach "friends" like commissioners Whitehead and Valentino.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Beach Melee Videos

Sad to say, a number of vacation videos from Pensacola Beach like the one above are likely to be making their way onto A&E's "First 48" television series, or some such true crime program.

This past Sunday an afternoon gathering at the west end park of a predominantly young, African-American crowd turned nasty. If history is any guide, it isn't likely to be the last such scene this year.

Michael Stewart has been covering the story for the News Journal with admirable skill. Monday's article, "Several Arrested After Crowd Becomes Unruly," was thorough, balanced, and exceedingly well-sourced. Today's follow-up, "Weekend Gathering Spurs Confrontation," is equally deft, although it adds few new facts to the story.

What it does add is mostly news about the profusion of cell-phone and video camera clips of the episode that are making their way onto YouTube. No shocking Rodney King stuff, here. Not this time, anyway.

But give it time. Everybody -- the deputies, the young people, the amateur video artists -- are still learning. If the SRIA doesn't get a handle on how to safely accommodate the local minority community's needs, someone's bound to be hurt very soon. And we'll all get to see the results on YouTube.

Further Amplification

See: "A Different Drummer"

Monday, April 28, 2008

Island Deeds-for-Taxes Resolution

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. (April 29, 2008), the elected commissioners governing both Santa Rosa and Escambia counties will meet in the county commissioners' meeting room in Pensacola "to discuss title issues on Santa Rosa Island and the Regional Transportation Finance Authority." It could be more than a "discussion." If the commissioners act sensibly, it might lead to a revived and expanding beach economy.

Jamie Page succinctly describes the background above the fold in today's PNJ Local News section.
All the land on Pensacola Beach is the property of the federal government, but Escambia County government holds the master lease. Residents with homes and commercial buildings on Pensacola Beach pay lease fees on the land. They have a 99-year lease, with various options for renewing, on the land.

It's a similar situation on Navarre Beach, except all leases have a continuous 99-year renewable lease.

These Santa Rosa Island residents also pay property taxes to their respective counties, and that doesn't sit well with many.

By "master lease" reporter Page no doubt has reference to the loose legal threads arising from the original titling of Santa Rosa Island to "Escambia County" rather than to the "State of Florida" and the subsequent sublease of the Navarre Beach portion of the island to Santa Rosa County.

Neither Escambia nor Santa Rosa are charter counties with an independent existence under the Florida Constitution. Both counties, therefore, effectively are administrative subunits of the state. Consequently, however the federal deed may read, it's the State of Florida that has the ultimate ownership power over the island, although in practice the state legislature often, though not invariably, routinely approves county actions.

The big thing Page's article fails to mention is that a specific resolution will be up for consideration at this rare joint meeting of both county commissioner boards. The detailed agenda includes a resolution, presumably to be voted upon separately by both county bodies:


WHEREAS, on January 15, 1947, the United States of America conveyed to Escambia County, Florida, a portion of Santa Rosa Island, more particularly described in that deed recorded in Deed Book 248 at page 161 of the public records of Escambia County, Florida; and
WHEREAS, the deed recites that the property shall “always be subject to regulation by said County whether leased or not leased but never to be otherwise disposed of or conveyed”; and
WHEREAS, Santa Rosa County has an interest in the easternmost four miles of the property conveyed to Escambia County (Navarre Beach) pursuant to that certain Lease Agreement between the Santa Rosa Island Authority, an agency of Escambia County, Florida, and Santa Rosa County, Florida, dated February 11, 1956; and
WHEREAS, the Lease Agreement contemplates that Escambia County will convey Navarre Beach to Santa Rosa County and that the parties will cooperate “in obtaining such conveyance and congressional and legislative approval therefore”; and
WHEREAS, Escambia County and Santa Rosa County agree that it would be in the interests of both counties to release the restrictions on conveyance to facilitate transfer of Escambia County’s interest to Santa Rosa County and other persons and entities having leasehold interests on Santa Rosa Island; and
WHEREAS, the counties wish to express their intent to cooperate in drafting proposed legislation to release the restriction on conveyances and developing a process to convey Escambia County’s interest to Santa Rosa County and persons and entities with a leasehold interest on Santa Rosa Island, and to request the support of Congressman Jeff Miller to sponsor federal legislation to release the restrictions on conveyance; and
WHEREAS, the counties will direct their respective staffs and attorneys to cooperate in drafting proposed language for the legislation; and
WHEREAS, each County, through its Board of County Commissioners, has considered this Resolution at public meetings of their respective Boards.


1. The above recitals are true and correct and incorporated herein by reference in the body of this Resolution.
2. Escambia County and Santa Rosa County hereby request the support of Congressman Jeff Miller to sponsor legislation to release the restriction on conveyances for property on Santa Rosa Island, which shall be mutually agreed upon and drafted by the counties.
3. Each County’s staff and attorneys shall cooperate in drafting the legislation, which will be approved by each of the Boards at future public meetings and subsequently forwarded to Congressman Jeff Miller for consideration.
4. The Clerk of the Board of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners shall furnish a certified copy of this Resolution to Congressman Jeff Miller immediately upon its adoption and execution by both counties.
5. This Resolution shall become effective upon the date last adopted by each of the Boards of County Commissioners.
Why this resolution? And why now? Reporter Page doesn't address that, either.

Our guess is that it has a lot to do with the still-pending cases challenging the 2004 tax assessments issued against residential beach property lessees. Cross motions for summary judgment are scheduled for three hours of argument before Judge Michael Jones on May 2 beginning at 9:00 o'clock. If the above resolution passes, it could be the basis for settling all of the outstanding tax and lease fee issues.

This would be a just and fitting end to the tangled history that has plagued Island and county politics for decades. Equally important, it would at last provide a foundation for a prosperous island economy comparable to other Florida beach communities, for the reasons we described in a parable we authored some time ago.

As we pointed out there, via a series of links to contemporary economic land tenure studies, deeding the land outright to present-day island leaseholders in exchange for their assent to pay ad valorem real estate taxes would rescue Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach from a stultifying, repressive, and counter-productive economic morass that is almost identical to the way rural land is leased in the People's Republic of China.

Yes, the People's Republic of China has a booming economy, overall. But as anyone who has visited there for any time can attest, and as the economic studies we cited in the parable convincingly show, the rural economy in China is in shambles, largely because the land there is owned by the government and leased to occupants on terms strikingly similar to those on Santa Rosa Island.

Before the 1920's, Santa Rosa Island was owned outright by Escambia County. When the then-mosquito infested swampland with a newly-abandoned 19th century cannon fortress was deemed a financial burden to maintain, the county gave it away to the U.S. War Department. After World War II, stewardship of the island passed to the Interior Department.

Jane Johnson picks the story up at that point in her excellent history of the island (pdf warning):
The Department of Interior reverted the portion of Santa Rosa Island (from Fort Pickens to Navarre Beach) back to Escambia County, in 1947. The Deed of Conveyance specified: “...that the above described land shall be retained by the said Escambia County and be used by it for such purposes as it shall deem to be in the public interest or be leased by it from time to time in whole or in part or parts to such persons and for such purposes as it shall deem to be in the public interest and upon such terms and conditions as it shall fix and always be subject to regulation by said county whether leased or not leased, but never to be otherwise disposed of or conveyed by it… .”

In Escambia County the Santa Rosa Island Authority was formed in 1947, an outgrowth of the island advisory board formed in 1946.

On February 11, 1956 Santa Rosa County began leasing Navarre Beach from Escambia County. The lease was for 99 years at the rate of $100 per year... .

To populate the island and promote the tourist trade throughout the ensuing decades Escambia County promised, in written advertisements in national newspapers and magazines and in promotional literature distributed locally, "tax free" leaseholds on the newly named Pensacola Beach. Archives held by the Santa Rosa Island Authority include hundreds of examples of these newspaper ads and brochures. Some in private hands have even made their way to Ebay as collector items.

As we have pointed out before, "some of this history was later memorialized by the state legislature in the preamble to House Bill No. 3913, 1976 Laws of Florida, chap. 76-361." Overall, it can be said that as long as the county kept its word Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach prospered. The tax-free promotions worked, to a degree that Pensacola Beach eventually -- after half a century -- reached the maximum sustainable population of 4,128 units allowed by a state-approved building cap.

Thus, all was well enough until the late 1990's when county commissioners, spearheaded by Mike ("Deer Slaughterer") Whitehead , began agitating to impose ad valorem taxes on beach leaseholds in addition to the annual leasehold fees they pay. Then, lawsuits were filed. Some of those suits, including one over the issue of beach business leases and another over Navarre Beach condominium leases, were lost in front of appeal courts who issued one-word opinions.

But the granddaddy of them all, the Pensacola Beach residential leaseholders class action, has always presented the most compelling claim. History, facts, legal precedent, economic reality, and common sense are all on the residents' side.

Maybe, just maybe, this has at last sunk in with county commissioners. If so, the resolution being proposed tomorrow should pass unanimously. Most island residents are willing to exchange their leases for a deed and to pay real estate taxes like beach residents on other beaches, including nearby Fort Walton Beach. All sides benefit. County government gets the tax income. Beach residents get a deed absolute. Everyone in Northwest Florida profits by having, at long last, a truly free market in land tenure.

The People's Republic of China, communist as it may be, has come to realize that individual deeds to land holdings is good for everyone. Let's hope our county commissioners are at least as smart as the Chinese.


Six Little Words

Pensacola News Journal: still paying O'Brien?
Yes. He steals ideas, writes badly.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Other Side of the China Story

We were startled to recognize a person we know in a photo of the protestors in this week's anti-CNN demonstration in downtown Chicago. You might have missed the news. There has been no national news coverage of it.

News of public protests in foreign climes has been there for the reading, albeit abbreviated. Most readers probably know there have been public demonstrations in Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Jinan, among many others. And there has been some slight media coverage in the West about calls by millions of Chinese to boycott certain French businesses.

But almost no U.S. media outlet is reporting that all across the United States tens of thousands of Chinese-Americans took to American streets last week to express outrage at our own media's news coverage of the tensions over Chinese rule in Tibet. What coverage there has been is largely local, which is how we happened to learn of it.

The Chicago man we recognized is a very nice, very smart older businessman who emigrated to the U.S. almost four decades ago. He owns a successful retail shop near the loop. He, his wife, and children are as American as... well, as Jack Cafferty, you might say.

We know the fellow in the photo to be mild-mannered, progressive, and exceptionally even-tempered. But he and his friends are really hot about what they see as a virulent anti-Chinese bias in the U.S. media.

As it happens, we had a chance to speak with him later the same day. We asked him, Why the protest? He answered, "It's not about opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It's about getting the facts wrong."

Referring to recent news reports of violence in Tibet, he told us of one shooting that the U.S. media attributed to Chinese soldiers when in fact, so he says, Nepalese gunmen were behind it.

How he knows this we can't say. But there certainly is substance to complaints about American media bias which echoed throughout the Chicago loop and in other U.S. cities over the past week.
As for the larger issue of China-Tibet relations, a number of Chinese-American friends have told us there is another side to the story that U.S. media never mentions. In their view, a large part of the problem is that as long as Tibet was ruled by the Dali Lama the Tibetan people were hopelessly mired in grinding poverty.

"They were living in the Dark Age," one man told us. "No clean water, no sewers, no medicine, no roads, no schools for the children, no economy. All the time the [Buddhist] temples grew richer and richer."

Certainly, it's true that Chinese government censorship in Tibet contributes in a large way to alienating the world's press and thus undermining any effort we might want to make to become better informed about the issue. Speaking for ourself, we simply don't know enough about the history of Tibet, or China for that matter, to have an informed opinion.

Except for this: If there is another side to the story, a Chinese side that's being voiced right here in the streets of the Land of the Free, or in obscure college newspaper columns, why aren't we hearing about it in the "fair and balanced" U.S. media?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Other Amazing Race

Lots of others are worrying over the Democratic presidential primary race. Will she or won't she? Can he or can't he?

To hell with it. We're moving on. Another amazing race is happening, one that's even more difficult to dope out. The Chicago Cubs, now in the hundredth year following their last World Series win, are leading the Central Division of the National League.

Leading! Bleeding Cubbie Blue always has the latest commentary and, we promise you, George Stephanopoulos doesn't get a word in edgewise.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day -- Postponed Again

This year, once again, Earth Day won't be celebrated with the public at the Gulf Ecology Division on Pensacola Beach. As we noted two years ago:
Skipping Earth Day at the GED on Pensacolsa Beach is worse than merely losing one field day trip for school children. Earth Day Week traditionally has been the one time every year when the Gulf Ecology Division opened its doors -- or at least, some of its doors -- to the general public. The GED not only uses the occasion to cleverly educate children about the important scientific work they do, but it goes a long way toward dispelling the faint whiff of mystery that many islanders think hangs over the facility.
It's no mystery why the EPA's annual Earth Day Open House celebrations on Pensacola Beach are no more. According to research ecologist Stephen Jordan, it's the triple whammy of tighter security restrictions after 9-11, the added burden on staff after Hurricane Ivan, and steadily diminished federal funding over the last seven years.

"We just don't have the resources anymore," Jordan told us today. "Everyone here has been so tied up doing more and more with less and less budget."

No one should be surprised to learn that under the Bush administration the EPA "has been plagued by significant budget cuts." Among them are "sizable budget reductions for... science and research."

We always thought Earth Day week at the GED was one of the most fascinating, enjoyable, and intellectually stimulating activities of the entire year on Pensacola Beach. Staff scientists and facility managers spent up to three weeks, Jordan says, preparing hands-on activities for children and multiple outdoor educational exhibits for a walking tour of marine life and ocean ecology. There was always plenty to do, and learn about, for visitors of every age, from one to 100.

On rare occasions, Jordan says, it's still possible for a select few to make special arrangements for a tour of the facility. As an example, he mentioned that a small group of local 5th graders who are taking an advanced science class will be visiting the facility late this week. But that's a special case. Those particular kids are well ahead of their peers in science education.

For the rest of us, all we can say is "Wait 'til next year." If Congress and a new occupant of the White House can get their act together quickly enough to bump up the EPA budget, maybe GED could coordinate a "welcome back" celebration with the reopening of the road to Ft. Pickens, currently scheduled for next Spring.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blogger Injury

How were we hurt? Well you see, doc, it's like this....

We were at home, quietly working on this little essay for our blog. It was all about how George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson turned last week's ABC presidential primary debate into a travesty by devoting the first fifty minutes to inconsequential minutia. How that demeaned the candidates as well as the audience. And, indeed, the entire democratic process.

You know what we mean, doc? Asking Barack and Hillary why they dress like they do. Like, "Where's the flag in your lapel, boy?" Or, "Hey, honey! Isn't that a bit too much cleavage?"

And more questions like these: "Who did you befriend three decades ago? The despicable Mark Penn? The former Weather Underground organizer Bill Ayres?"

Or, even, "How do you spend your free time, candidates? Listening to angry Sunday sermons? Hearing your spouse confess his infidelities?"

Y'see, doc, we thought Stephanopoulos and Gibson had reached a new low. ABC should be deeply ashamed. They were treating two candidates for the highest office in the land like some two-bit entertainers who didn't have a serious thought in their heads. It was as if they'd been brought into the ring at the Roman Coliseum for the ABC lions to eat, just for our entertainment.

Why, the very foundation of democracy in the digital age might be hanging in the balance, we wrote.

It was a pretty good piece, even if we do say so our self. We wrapped it up with a ringing series of rhetorical but penetrating questions. Questions like, "Is commercial TV determined to turn everyone in America into a bunch of dopes so they can sell us more stuff we don't need, like drugs that put our legs to sleep and vaginal spray deodorant?"

No! we wrote. Say it ain't so!

Presidential elections are a serious business. Lives are at stake. The nation's safety. The world's future. The media should treat all the candidates with the highest degree of respect and seriousness, not just the Republican all the reporters want to win. Etc., etc., etc.

At last we were done. We reached for the mouse, ready to click it and publish. But then this email alert flashed up on our screen. It was from someone known as WWE.

"News from the campaign trail," it said. "Watch the video now."

And that's when we were injured. By a slap to the forehead. The mouse was still in our hand.

Take a look, doc. You'll see. Just be sure you aren't holding anything hard in your hand.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Official English Lesson

Overnight, one habitue of the Pensacola News Journal's miserable message boards thought he had a piece of wisdom to share in a post titled "10 Things About Obama You Should Know":
* * *
2) Obama and Hillary both voted against an admendment that would make ENGLISH ( that which you so love ) the official language.
* * *
4) Obama and clinton voted for the bridge to know where too

In the following comments, no one seems to have noticed anything wrong.

We won't provide a link for fear of polluting your computer with terminal stupidity.

News You (Can't) Trust

"Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand":

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

"It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’" Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

ABC-TV Covers the Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Obsidian Wings has the scoop:
LINCOLN: Thank you very much, Charlie and George, and thanks to all in the audience and who are out there. I appear before you today for the purpose of discussing the leading political topics which now agitate the public mind.

We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you think Mr. Douglas loves America as much you do?

LINCOLN: Sure I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But who loves America more?

LINCOLN: I’d prefer to get on with my opening statement George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If your love for America were eight apples, how many apples would Senator Douglas’s love be?

And there's more hilarity...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Diminishing Democracy

"Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, though a bit more extreme and really more transparent... in just how vapid they are, were really doing what the establishment media does pretty much without exception, in terms of how it covers our political culture."
Glenn Greenwald, interviewed on Democracy Now! by Amy Goodman:

From the transcript:

Now, leave aside the question as to whether or not journalists holding themselves out as political journalists have an obligation to focus on the more substantive matters, independent of what they can do in order to generate as high ratings as possible, even if you assume that political journalism ought to simply feed the public whatever the public wants, there’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the American public is more interested in Barack Obama’s bowling score or whether he wears a lapel pin than they are in how our political leaders are going to address the grave economic insecurity that the country faces or extricate ourselves from the debacle in Iraq that’s becoming increasingly savage and brutal without any end in sight. This is a fiction, an invention on the part of political journalists to justify their never-ending coverage of trash.

And in fact there’s much evidence to suggest—and you can ask any political elected official—that when they go back to their district, what they hear continuously are grave complaints from their constituents and others about just how ridiculous and inane political coverage is and how dominated it is by matters that have nothing to do with their lives and with the problems that they face. And these journalists believe that they’re sort of spokespeople for the people in the heartland and speak for them and patronizingly say that they’re interested in these insipid issues and that’s why they’re covered. The reality is there’s no connection between the establishment journalistic class and the people whom they claim to represent, and the reason they cover those issues is because they, the journalists, want to cover them, not because the people want to hear them.

Friday Haiku Blogging

Barrier Island Girl,
on Pensacola Beach,
recovers from her
Mayan trip by
tramping in the sand
while thinking of the
Long Count in Haiku.

Wouldn't you?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Health Care Fun

HT to Kevin Drum: Political ad by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Or):

For more info click here:
Stand Tall for America

Pet-ty Politics

Kate S. Peabody of the Pensacola News Journal collared a nearly month-old article about political dog fashions from the Colorado Gazette, among other news sources, slapped some local lipstick on it, and today it appears, recycled, on the front page of PNJ's Life section.

So what if the whole thing started as a cheap marketing ploy by Petlane? It's still amusing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

They Get Letters

Pensacola pooh-bah Fred G. Levin has a letter-to-the-editor in today's PNJ. You'll have to scroll down to find "I See The Light."

Former law partner (for marketing purposes, anyway) Joe Scarborough won't be happy, in the unlikely event he cares at all. Unless, of course, this is just a local lawyers' version of The Battle of the Sexes intended to drum up more business.

Here's the version of Fred's letter that would have been printed if his personal valet-and-editor hadn't been on strike for higher wages:
Joe Scarborough... Mike Papantonio and Bobby Kennedy Jr. have all been my law partners, and I thought we pretty much agreed politically. I was, therefore, shocked when I read Joe Scarborough's column saying that he is now very conservative. * * * I remember Joe as a young congressman who had a bust of Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s dad on his desk.

Both Joe and Mike grew up [in] very meager circumstances[.] I [was raised] with a silver spoon in my mouth. Now, all three of us are doing quite well financially.

I thought... [we] were in agreement that rich people should pay big taxes in order to cover our government's outrageous expenses (including wars). There's no question that Mike [and Bobby] still believe that the rich should pay their fair share and not put obligations on our grandchildren.

Now that Joe has joined the world of the financially secure, he believes in the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

[Sarcasm alert:] After a great deal of reflection, I have now come around to Joe's way of thinking. I don't want to pay my fair share of taxes and I am, therefore, only going to read the columnist on the right side of the editorial page on Wednesday mornings.

Thank you, Joe Scarborough, for enlightening me.

— Fredric G. Levin

Okay. Not the most erudite, graceful, or convincing argument. But what the heck, Fred's heart is in the right place. And, after all, it's just a letter to the editor.

Since the PNJ apparently won't give him his own column, Fred should get a blog.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Document the Atrocities

Dept. of Children and Family Services: Atrocity No. 54, 348:
John Joseph Edwards Jr. is also suing the Department of Children and Families' private arm, claiming the agency's caseworker failed to recognize the signs of neglect.

On Thursday, Edwards' attorney, Gary Gossett, likened the conditions suffered by his client to a Nazi death camp. The lawsuit says Edwards underwent "physical and mental torture," to include starvation, beatings, head shaving and "unlawful confinement."
* * *
As the Allains' case wound its way through the judicial system, the spotlight also turned to DCF. Investigations were opened to determine how the abuse could have continued for so long if case workers were supposedly making monthly visits.

As we have said, "the worst agency in the state of Florida, if not the universe."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Flying Blind

Then came 'Heck of a Job' George W. Bush.
Ideology trumped reality and competence, once again

Fred Hiatt's Pravda on the Potomac editorially wrings its hands today over this week's FAA-enforced grounding of all MD-80 airplanes, operated by American Airlines, "resulting in more than 3,000 flight cancellations and more than 250,000 stranded passengers by Friday." Then, there's this:
[L]ast month... an FAA inspector let Southwest Airlines fly its Boeing 737 jets despite reports of a crack in a fuselage. At hearings before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on April 3, the Transportation Department's inspector general, Calvin L. Scovel III, bemoaned the "overly collaborative relationship" between the FAA and Southwest. According to an FAA safety inspector, this was the result of the agency treating the airlines like "customers." Meanwhile, the real customers -- the ones crammed onto crowded and late planes who are nickel-and-dimed for everything from checking an extra bag to securing an onboard meal -- are treated with disdain.
This inspires WaPo to reach the brilliant, hard-hitting conclusion that passengers "shouldn't... have to worry that the plane they're sitting on might be a disaster waiting to happen." Really? Every time we board an airplane we assumed it was our job to worry.

The trouble with the Post's editorial is that there's no hint of how, when, or why our civil air transportation industry was allowed to fall into such a disgraceful state of disrepair. For that, you have to turn to today's New York Times.

In "Behind Air Chaos, an F.A.A. Pendulum Swing" by reporters Matthew Wald and Michelle Maynard, we learn that under the Clinton administration FAA inspection reforms led to enhanced safety. "Over the next decade, the accident rate fell 65 percent, and [the] new approach is widely seen as having played a role in the drop."

Then came 'Heck of a Job' George W. Bush. Ideology trumped reality and competence, once again.
[T]he F.A.A., under the Bush administration, took on a role after the Sept. 11 attacks to help the industry recover — “through technology, through greater efficiencies, through sensible and non-burdensome regulatory schemes,” Marion C. Blakey, the F.A.A. administrator in 2002, said at the time. She declined to be interviewed for this article.

This more collaborative approach was reflected in a “customer service initiative” announced by the F.A.A. in April 2003.

The customers in this case were not passengers; they were the airlines the F.A.A. regulates. The core principles of the new initiative, which inspectors could print up on pocket-size cards, included creating for the airlines “an environment without fear of retribution if you challenge our decisions” and “clear guidance on how you can elevate your concerns to the next higher level of authority.”

The F.A.A.’s watchdog role, to many Democrats in Congress who now oversee airline regulators, grew toothless.
One notorious example is the fresh example of Southwest Airlines:
In January 2007, the airline discovered cracks on some of its Boeing 737s. Less than two months later, an unidentified whistle-blower in the F.A.A.’s Chicago office noticed a crack in a Southwest jet that had been flown the day before.

Earlier this year, Southwest told the F.A.A. that it had flown 46 planes without the required inspections of fuselage panels, operating the defective planes for up to nine months on more than 61,000 flights.

It took the persistence of brave whistle-blowing inspectors deep down in the agency to expose safety concerns which the Bush's FAA administration has been actively suppressing. The whistle-blowers, we're told, "have become 'rock stars' within aviation safety circles."

Predictably, the Bush administration hit back hard at the whistle-blowers instead of the FAA administrators who consciously endangered public safety. But when an independent inspector-general's report about the controversy began circulating on Capitol Hill, the FAA was forced to act by re-inspecting all civil airplane fleets.

By one informed estimate, some 568 unsafe aircraft have been grounded so far. And, we're told, "more groundings of other planes throughout the industry are likely to occur in coming weeks."

We're thinking we should cancel our airline reservations for a business meeting next week. In fact, we just might cancel everything, go to bed, and pull the covers pulled over our head until Bush leaves office.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Future Forgetfulness

We can't remember why we wanted to read this Sunday New York Times article.

Saturday Mutt Blogging

Even many locals in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties are not aware of this worthy organization, run by dedicated volunteers: the Junior Humane Society, providing ethical "foster care" and adoptable pets throughout Northwest Florida directly, by appointment, or twice a month at Petsmart, 6251 N Davis Hwy, Pensacola.

How can you help? Click this link and scroll down the page for dozens of ideas, including --
  • Qualify as a "foster home" for abandoned pets
  • Help provide food, bedding, toys, etc. for the animals
  • Donate what you can afford, through PayPal or by check
  • Take a dog to the vet
  • Visit a 'foster' dog to help socialize it
  • Volunteer to 'dog sit' for a foster family, to give them a break
  • Donate your services or time - raking, fence repair, kennel cleaning, printing services, screen printing, advertising, etc.
  • Help wash & groom foster dogs
  • Donate old towels and blankets or your old pet items
Above all, spread the word and save a pet from misery, confinement, or early death.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bush's Catch-22

"Bush announced today that he would shorten Army tour lengths." That so? No, it's not:
Make no mistake about it: With an effective date of August 1st, this means that not one troop will benefit from this deployment reduction until August 2009--seven months into the next Presidential administration. This means that even if you're not scheduled to deploy for another three months from now, you'll still be conducting a 15-month-long tour in Iraq. And of course, it certainly doesn't affect anyone there now.
If Bush's PR stunt sounds familiar, that's because it is. Once again, life in the Bush administration imitates art. Without a doubt, Bush borrowed the idea from Colonel Cathcart , who lives within the pages of Catch-22.

If you haven't read the book, you should. Here's a short summary. Here's a longer one.

And here's an excerpt from chapter nine that nearly perfectly describes Bush's latest Iraq troop deployment plan, written some 58 years ago:
Major Major lowered his gaze sheepishly and fiddled with his fingers. "What do you want me to tell you?"
"That I've flown enough missions and can go home."
"How many have you flown?"
"You've only got four more to fly."
"He'll raised them. Every time I get close he raises them."
"Perhaps he won't this time."
"He never sends anyone home, anyway. He just keeps them around waiting for rotation orders until he doesn't have enough men left for the crews, and then raises the number of missions and throws them all back on combat status. He's been doing that ever since he got here."
Why does the Pentagon, or for that matter Congress and the American people, put up with this? Again, Joseph Heller had the answer:
What could you possibly say to him? Major Major wondered forlornly. One thing he could not say was that there was nothing he could do. To say there was nothing he could do would suggest he would do something if he could and imply the existence of an error or injustice in Colonel Korn's policy. Colonel Korn had been most explicit about that. He must never say there was nothing he could do.
"I'm sorry," he said. "But there is nothing I can do."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Will the Light Shine on Florida's Department of Children and Families?

Today's PNJ reports legislation is pending in Tallahassee that, for the first time, would open the records of the Florida Department of Children and Families to "children and others who have been through DCF's child care system... ."
Because their records so often deal with children and cases of sexual abuse, DCF has many records that are closed — including barring access for people to see their own records.

"That was a driving force behind the bill," [state senator Paula] Dockery said. "When I found out people could not even get their own records from DCF, I couldn't believe it."
* * *
Under existing law, the only way to get those records is to petition the courts.

This could turn out to be an expensive idea. After all, DCF is rightly regarded as the worst agency in the state of Florida, if not the universe. "There is no place in the country where it is worse to be a foster child than Florida," one national expert told Time Magazine six years ago.

Riddled with incompetent caseworkers and rife with ignorant and biased supervisors, the agency wasn't even "shocked" when a recent inspector general's report found the agency's hiring practices to be a muddled mess from top to bottom. DCF ignores judicial orders seeking to compel its employees to do their jobs properly.

It hires sexual perverts who abuse children to be top spokesmen. Six-figure jobs at the local county level are manufactured out of thin air for tired politicians with no particular skills to recommend them.

Unable even to keep track of children that are supposed to be in "the system" -- much less protect them -- the Florida Department of Children and Families presently must be hiding in their private archives evidence of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of tragic blunders, negligent mistakes, intentional villany, and other atrocities.

Once the public gets its hands on the proof, the victims of this abominable agency might actually sue for gross negligence, as did 9 year old Marissa Amora. That could bankrupt the state, don'cha know, if there is any justice in Florida.

But there is a ray of hope for worried taxpayers. Florida's Department of Children and Families is so utterly beyond redemption that, as shown by the case of an unnamed four-year old girl embroiled in an "important international custody battle," the agency is quite capable of "losing" more records than it can find. Moreover, sporadic investigations have revealed that "some caseworkers... falsified records... and knowingly placed children in abusive foster homes."

The "Sunshine Act" can't train the light on DCF's malfeasance if all the evidence gets 'lost.'

Monday, April 07, 2008

You're in a Bully's Hands with Allstate

"[C]laims organization... revolve[s] around two axes -- standardizing claims awards across the board; and stopping policyholders from hiring lawyers."

-- Allstate Insurance Co., PowerPoint training slide
The highly respected reporter Paige St. John, in Sunday's Sarasota Herald Tribune, boils down some 12,000 pages of previously-secret documents from the vaults of Allstate Insurance Co. to discover "how the nation's second-largest insurer systematically cut payments" to those covered by insurance "as a way to boost profits."

First, the company eliminated much of the discretion of on-site adjusters.

Second, using its own adaptations of computer software known as "Colossus" the company lowered authorized "average payouts for bodily injuries" by "more than 20 percent." This, we are told, was "a big step" toward reaching a consultant company's stated "goal of establishing a new fair market value" for injuries.

Third, Allstate pressured claimants "to accept quick settlements without the help of lawyers." If a policyholder was so bold as to hire a lawyer or hold out for more, Allstate would coach its own lawyers "to refuse to negotiate and to drag out litigation."

Allstate, here, is talking about hurting its own customers who have been paying premiums to the company for auto and property insurance, including hurricane wind insurance. As one lawyer with extensive knowledge of Allstate's abusive policies explains:
"When you look at it from the policyholders' point of view, here you are, your home is flattened. They come to you and offer [a low settlement] to you within the first 180 days.... [when they know] that financial pressure in that first 180 days would be at its greatest." * * *

"They won't walk away happy. They'll just walk away. A lot of them won't understand how badly they've been abused."

Internal company documents also make it clear that Florida was an early and profitable testing ground for Allstate's new strategy:
"Florida East and Florida West are getting phenomenal, never-seen-before results in terms of loss/cost management," a 1997 Allstate newsletter declared. Allstate today pays less than most other auto insurers in Florida for accident injuries, averaging $16,884 per claim in early 2007 compared with an $18,105 average for the industry.
There's no real surprise here for anyone who has ever had a close look into the small, dark heart of Allstate Insurance Company. What is surprising is how blatant the company and its industry consultant, McKinsey & Co., can be when they think no one is looking:
In PowerPoint presentations and discussion papers drawn up for Allstate executives, McKinsey used "boxing gloves" to characterize how Allstate should treat policyholders who balk at settlements. For customers who hired lawyers, McKinsey urged, "align alligators," adding these instructions: "sit and wait."
* * *
PowerPoint slides show the McKinsey consultants also advised Allstate to convince policyholders they did not need lawyers, and then to target those who disregarded that advice for denials, delays and litigation.
In effect, says former Allstate lawyer Robert Healy, who's now in private practice in Tampa, Allstate has become "a bully in the market." That would be the market for justice.

To be sure, "Allstate has been sanctioned by regulators in at least two states." And some policyholders have won "bad faith" claims "forcing it into confidential settlements and large jury verdicts."

However, explains St. John, courts too often have generously ordered verdicts to be cut to a fraction of what juries awarded. By that means, Allstate has managed to keep the lion's share of its gains from bullying customers.
Allstate's incentives to keep the system have proven larger.

Since changing the way it regards claims, the company has reported the largest profits of its 77-year history. It had a record profit of $4.9 billion in 2006. In 2007, it reported a $4.6 billion profit.
The insurance company's trove of secret documents became publicly available only after a Florida appeals court ruled that "state regulators have the right to ban Allstate from writing new policies" if it doesn't turn over evidence of internal policy-making demanded by "state investigators."

What do you want to bet that even now a few hundred million dollars of those skyrocketing profits are being used to buy lobbyists and legislators in Tallahassee, to be sure that Allstate never again is compelled to wash its dirty linen in public? Keep your eye on the current legislative session.

Dept. of Amplification

"All State Insurance Co.'s Behavior "Potentially Criminal'"

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Whitehead: 'Trapped' Again

Mike ("Bambi Killer") Whitehead has been busted again. In his long war against the truth, this time Whitehead seems to have broken Emily Post's law: when you decline a formal invitation to be the featured speaker at an event that's important to the host, be sure to give an excuse that can't be exposed as a blatant lie.

Jamie Page has the story for the Pensacola News Journal. She makes the most of it with appropriately cheap golfing puns:
Some Myrtle Grove volunteer firefighters are teed off.

The object of their wrath: Escambia County Commission Chairman Mike Whitehead, who was teeing off at the Marcus Pointe Golf Club last Saturday morning instead of attending the Myrtle Grove Fire Department's 55th anniversary celebration.

And consider it a double bogey since Whitehead had told the firefighters he couldn't be there to be the main speaker because he'd be out of town.
This isn't the first time Whitehead has been caught in a lie. It seems to be a habit with him.

It was Wilson Robertson, who's running against Whitehead's bid for reelection, who blew the siren this time.
Robertson, a fellow member of Marcus Pointe Golf Club... let the firefighters know about Whitehead's stroke of subterfuge after seeing him golfing during a regular Saturday morning members' tournament.
Now, it's obvious that Robertson had a motive for penalizing Whitehead. But was it politics? Or concern for the integrity of the game?
Robertson normally would have played in the Saturday morning tournament, but he canceled to attend the Myrtle Grove event.
Maybe both.
Clarence Gulsby of Molino, who serves on the county's citizen fire advisory committee, said Whitehead should have been at the Fire Department, considering it's in his district.

"Nobody should tell you one thing and then do something else," Gulsby said. "That's not good ethics, let alone, politics."

It also makes you wonder about the scorecards Whitehead turns in, doesn't it?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Glass Two Percent Full

Good News for neocons: Two of every 109 historians rate George W. Bush's presidency as a success.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ron Thompson (1931-2008)

Ronald Vincent Thompson, 76, passed away on March 31, 2008.

Ron was a native of Pensacola, grew up around Bayou Texar, Bayview Park, and Pensacola Beach, fishing and water-skiing. He was one of the original lifeguards on Pensacola Beach.

Ronald was a 1949 graduate of Catholic High School and attended college in Mississippi and Pensacola on a football scholarship. He also played for the Pensacola Alumni Football Team for 4 years. Ronald was an Insurance Adjuster for 32 years and retired in 1996 as owner of Thompson and Associates.

Ronald was an original member and founding member of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church on Pensacola Beach as well as serving as parish council president, Eucharistic minister and usher.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Colley and Marie (Rivais) Thompson; and son, Stephen Wayne Thompson.

Ron is survived by his wife of 54 years, Betty Russell Thompson; son, Douglas (Penny); grandchildren, Ashley Yvonne-Marie Thompson, Collin Wyatt Thompson, Justin York Gittings; 2 great-grandchildren; brother, Jerauld R. (Jackie) Thompson; sisters, Marie Gossman, Elizabeth Hale; fifteen nieces and nephews; five brothers-in-law and their wives.

Visitation will be held 9-10:00am Friday, April 4, 2008 at Our Lady of The Assumption Catholic Church (Pensacola Beach) with Funeral Mass to begin at 10:00 a.m. with Msgr. Luke Hunt celebrant. Burial will follow at Bayview Memorial Park.

Active Pallbearers will be Justin Gittings, Collin Thompson, Jerauld Thompson, Ellis Mason, John Russell, and Nikko Sarabia. Honorary Pall bearers will be Charles Schultz, Edwin Frank, Glover Bridges, Paul Bookout, Paul Cutchen, Frank Plewa, and James Turnupseed.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Our Lady of the Assumption Building Fund, P.O. Box 1057, Gulf Breeze, FL 32562.

HARPER-MORRIS MEMORIAL CHAPEL is in charge of arrangements.

Also published in the
Pensacola News Journal April 3, 2008

Saturday Backstory on the Torture Memo

The Justice Department has at last declassified and turned over to the ACLU the infamous John Yoo torture memos. WaPo has more on the news.

Georgetown Law School professor Marty Lederman has the memos (Part 1 here; Part 2 here) and the fascinating back story:
On Friday, March 13, 2003, Jay Bybee resigned from his Office as the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The very next day -- a Saturday, mind you -- John Yoo, merely a Deputy AAG in the Office, issued his notorious memo to the Pentagon, on behalf of OLC, which effectively gave the Pentagon the green light to disregard statutory limits on torture, cruelty and maltreatment in the treatment of detainees. This is the version of the 2002 Torture memo, which was addressed only to the CIA and the torture statute, as applied to the numerous statutes restricting the conduct of the armed forces. None of those statues, you see, limits the conduct of war if the President says so. It is, in effect, the blueprint that led to Abu Ghraib and the other abuses within the armed forces in 2003 and early 2004.
CBS's "60 Minutes" already has documented the kind of atrocities the Yoo memo led to. Glenn Greenwald adds a small snippet from Yoo claiming it's legal for the president to order the crushing of a child's testicles. Then he asks --
If writing memoranda authorizing torture -- actions which then directly lead to the systematic commission of torture -- doesn't make one a war criminal in the U.S., what does?
04-02 pm
Scott Horton has more.
04-03 am
Marty Liederman has a correction and an apology.

First Pitch of the Hurricane Season

The 2008 season of hurricane predictions opens this week. The first big game is now under way in Miami at the National Hurricane Conference. Phil Klotzbach and Dr. William Gray take the mound on Friday.

The first pitch wasn't tossed there, however. Instead, it was hurled into the news maw by The Weather Center, a privately-operated non-profit operation in Houston. They announced at the start of the week that they are predicting "at least 11 named storms with 6 of these tropical storms intensifying into hurricanes."

According to something they call the "Orbital Cyclone Strike Index," which they say assesses storm risks to specifically designated geographical areas, "West Florida" has a 70 percent chance of being hit this year. The Southeast states from North Carolina to Georgia have "a 90% chance of experiencing a landfall of a tropical storm or hurricane this year."

Interestingly, The Weather Center's "strike index" relies on sunspot cycles. And, no, we aren't joking. According to the Center --
The OCSI model is based on the premise that there are orbital influences that are reflected in the global circulation pattern on the sun as well as the global circulation pattern of the earth. These orbital influences are reflected in the 11.1 year sun spot cycle. During the 24-year period from 1984 to 2007, there have only been three years (1987, 1992, and 1999) when a storm or hurricane did not make landfall in the section of the United States coastline that had the highest risk. In all three of these years, cyclones made landfall in the section of the coast with the second highest risk. This gives the OCSI an 87.5% accuracy rate.
You can read the whole of the Houston-based WeatherCenter's 2008 hurricane forecast here [pdf file].

Time to get those office hurricane pools going! Which "expert" hurricane forecast will prove to be the dumbest one this year?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Wall Street Government

Conservative political principles at their core, we were always taught, promote smaller government, a less intrusive federal authority, multiple checks and balances against abuse of power, respect for states' rights, and the sanctity of contract.

The Bush administration's proposal, announced yesterday, to reform the financial regulatory system actually "drastically" expands the powers of the Federal Reserve; would eliminate the multiple checks and balances provided by smaller agencies; virtually erases more than a century of state regulation of the insurance industry; supplants it with a federal charter system for insurance companies and brokers; and gives federal authorities the power to override and rewrite individual contracts of all kinds.

Oh, and one more thing: when it comes to investing in nationally marketed stock and bonds, it takes away the one major safeguard individual investors have relied upon since the New Deal: "The plan proposes... to reduce the enforcement authority of the S.E.C. in a variety of ways and hand that authority instead to industry groups."

In other words, stock touts and hot room bond jockeys that prey on the ordinary consumer get to police themselves. Now, that is a recognizable conservative principle. It's the same one that helped bring on the Great Depression and that has a lot to do with today's financial crisis.

The Bush administration's plan to "reform" the financial system, as Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulsen candidly admits, has nothing to do with the current financial crisis.
“Some may view these recommendations as a response to the circumstances of the day,” Mr. Paulson said. “That is not how they are intended.”
Indeed, they aren't. If anything, the administration's proposals, which are more than a year in the making, reflect an ideological commitment to not much more than governance "of America, by Wall Street, for Wall Street."

That's exactly the opposite of what is needed. As Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) puts it, "[T]he Fed helped create this crisis by ignoring the red flags as far back as five years ago. It does not make sense to give a bigger shovel to the very people who helped dig us into this hole.”