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Martin Dyckman

Martin Dyckman: Pam Bondi’s mess too pungent to ignore

Assume that Pam Bondi were a judge. That’s a dismal prospect but bear with it.

Assume further that she asked for a campaign contribution from a big shot businessman who was being sued in her court — and that after getting the money, she dismissed the case.

If she was a judge, instead of Florida’s attorney general, she could be kicked out of office simply for asking anyone for a campaign contribution, even without a pending case being involved.

The Florida Code of Judicial Conduct clearly bans personal solicitation by judges. Surprising many, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that rule last year.

With a case involved, she’d be an even bigger target for the Judicial Qualifications Commission and for impeachment — and perhaps also for a grand jury …

The Florida Attorney General is more than just another lawyer. If the odor reeking out of Bondi’s office means anything, it’s that the AG should have to follow the same ethical code that judges must.

The imaginary case I described is an analogy to Bondi’s conduct with respect to Donald Trump and the yuuuuge consumer scam known as Trump University.

Florida complaints against Trump University were pending in her office — the question is, how many — and the office supposedly was considering whether to join a New York Attorney General’s investigation, Bondi personally solicited a $25,000 campaign contribution from Trump. The eventual decision was to let her New York counterpart go it alone.

A committee backing Pam Bondi’s re-election received $25,000 from a Trump Foundation on Sept. 17, 2013, four days after it was announced that the office was considering whether to join the New York probe.

After the check came in, Bondi — or someone — decided against the investigation.

While her campaign mouthpiece admits she personally asked Trump for the money, he denies that she was aware that many Floridians had complained to her office about the so-called “university.”

If you have been following the news from San Diego, Trump University is a big, big deal. The documents unsealed in a lawsuit there depict it as a bait-and-switch racket. People flocking for advice from expert teachers supposedly chosen by the master himself were high-pressured to spend thousands more dollars on higher levels of questionably valued instruction.

The federal judge in the case, Gonzalo Curiel, is the one Trump has been attacking over his Mexican ancestry, with a venom that is repelling even supporters like House Speaker Paul Ryan.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham put it, there’s been nothing so outrageous since Joe McCarthy.

But I digress. The issue of the moment is Bondi.

As I said, she’s not just another lawyer. Her public duty is vastly greater than simply representing state agencies in court and fending off criminal appeals.

She also has an explicit responsibility to represent the public under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices law, also known as the Little FTC Act. The law, proposed by Gov. Reubin Askew and passed over intense opposition in 1973, was one of the great reforms — and one of the few still standing — of what’s called the Golden Age of the Florida Legislature

What it says is that when the attorney general finds some business dealing down and dirty, he — or she — sues on the public’s behalf.

Bondi’s predecessors used the law to great effect.

A lawyer from Boston has filed complaints against Bondi with the Commission on Ethics, the Elections Commission and the Florida Bar. The Bar complaint may be the most significant. A lawyer owes an undivided loyalty to her client. If the public is considered her client, Bondi had no business accepting, let alone soliciting, a contribution from Trump.

But the Bar complaint is unlikely to go anywhere, at least not while Bondi remains in office. The Florida Supreme Court ruled long ago that the Bar, whose ultimate penalty is disbarment, cannot take action against a constitutional officer who must be a lawyer — judge or attorney general — to hold the office. It would amount to an impeachment proceeding, which is solely the business of the Legislature.

The House should be considering impeachment, right now. But don’t hold your breath. The prospect of that intensely politicized body targeting anyone from the majority party is remote at best.

For perspective, consider what happened in 1973 when the media caught the lieutenant governor, Tom Adams, using a state employee from the Commerce Department to run Adams’s private farm not far from Tallahassee.

Although he was a Democrat, the Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives went right after him with impeachment hearings. The money misspent at the farm wasn’t great, but the principle was, as the leaders saw it.

It took intense lobbying by Askew to deflect the likely impeachment into an essentially meaningless vote of censure instead. He also canned Adams as commerce secretary and dropped him from his 1974 re-election ticket.

What Adams did was petty graft, but it was not such a fundamental betrayal of his office and his duties as it would be for an attorney general to nix a well-founded investigation in exchange for a campaign contribution.

I’m not saying that’s what she did. She denies it. However glaring the circumstantial evidence, it doesn’t prove there was a quid pro quo. It doesn’t prove what she knew about Trump University or when she knew it.

Those are, however, questions that beg to be pursued by people with the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence.

This latest mess in Bondi’s office is too pungent to be ignored.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: A European perspective on Donald Trump

“Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad Company.”– George Washington‘s 56th rule of civility and decent behavior.

A recent cruise in the Baltic Sea took us to eight northern European nations where we were impressed yet again with how much alike all the world’s people are.

But there is a dark side to that.

In 1932, amidst a grave worldwide depression, Americans elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a decent man who told us we had nothing to fear but fear itself. At almost the same moment, the people of Germany — perhaps the most advanced nation in Europe — got Adolf Hitler.

When we toured Berlin and beheld a friendly and prosperous city with an enviable quality of life, the hideous events of the Nazi era seemed almost improbable.

A visit to the impressive Jewish Museum Berlin is the antidote to selective memory. To see the exhibits of Jewish life in Germany in the millennium before the Shoah, one first must pass the exhibits dedicated to the Holocaust. Nothing is held back.

Yes, the people who did that were decent and highly civilized by all the standards of their times.

I have never thought that what happened there could not happen here in similar circumstances.

And now it IS happening here.

A man who emulates Adolf Hitler in significant ways is poised is to be the nominee of a once great, now degraded political party, and could become president of a nation whose proudest boast is to be the leader of the free world.

If you doubt the parallels, read the British historian Alan Bullock‘s magisterial biography, “Hitler: A Study in Tyranny.”

Like Hitler, Donald Trump inflames the latent, and not-so-latent, prejudices of a substantial element of the populace. The targets are different, but not the hate-filled rhetoric.

Like Hitler, Trump is capitalizing on the public’s justifiable dissatisfaction with the apparent political paralysis in Washington. Hitler’s promise to end a similar situation and make government function again was his primary issue in the pivotal 1932 campaign that he won with only a plurality.

Like Hitler, Trump spews hate at people — not just journalists but critics in his own adopted party — who oppose or criticize him. Like Hitler, he would tame and muzzle the judiciary. Could any threat be clearer?

Like Hitler, Trump has no coherent policy positions — other than bigotry — and is conspicuously disinterested in the details of how government works. He would have his vice president do all the real work. Nothing in the Constitution contemplates that. No president has been so blissfully ignorant and lazy.

Many industrialists and politicians in Germany rationalized that Hitler, their inferior in every respect but cunning, could be put to their use. They learned better, to their sorrow.

Rick Scott, Paul Ryan and the other opportunists scurrying aboard Trump’s ship figure they can use him too. Ryan, for one, claims to believe Trump would promote the Congressional Republicans’ entire far-right agenda. Can’t they see that Trump will do only that which promotes himself?

They don’t love their country half as much as they hate Democrats in general and Hillary Clinton in particular. They would sooner see America ruined than muddle along, if not prosper, under Clinton.

Why do I say that?

It’s because Trump’s presence would defile an office in which almost every occupant has tried to project the senses of dignity and responsibility that are so grossly lacking in that vulgar, thuggish, bombastic, bullying, fundamentally amoral man.

Trump as a successor to George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? Teddy Roosevelt?  FDR? George H.W. Bush?

It makes one want to vomit.

Vladimir Putin likes Trump. The bloodstained boy dictator of North Korea likes him.

David Duke, the professed Nazi and Ku Kluxer, likes him.

What company you keep, Speaker Ryan. Welcome to the sewer, Gov. Scott. Where is your integrity, Mel Sembler? Have you forgotten the Holocaust?

The foreign dictators relish the prospect of someone so unfit, unprepared, unworthy and amoral defiling the White House. They figure that America would become a laughing stock, an irrelevancy, a faded former power in the hands of such an unfit, unprepared, unworthy person. You have to wonder, though, whether they weigh the risk of such a thin-skinned, irascible bully’s finger on the nuclear button.

Trump’s apologists argue that he can’t be compared to Hitler because he has never had a perceptible, consistent ideology and lacks the organized cadres — the Hitler Youth, the brownshirts — who put the muscle and murder into Hitler’s campaigns.

But he does have an ideology. It’s his Id, his ego, the persistent, insatiable promotion of himself, his greed. No one could be more dangerous.

And he has the brownshirts too, lacking only similar organization. The people harassing Muslims and other foreigners, roughing up protesters at Trump rallies, bedeviling journalists with unspeakably anti-Semitic emails and telephone calls, are their equivalent. And, as in Germany, their vocal and physical violence is provoking the opposition into replying in kind. Two wrongs make no right.

Clinton is far from a perfect candidate but, as intellectually honest conservatives have observed, the country would survive her. That it would survive Trump is far too great a risk for any honest patriot to want to take.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of what is now the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Impose a delay on tummy tucks; they’re more dangerous than abortions

Any law that invades the privacy and liberties of American citizens should come into court facing a heavy burden of proof. Does it serve a compelling public interest? Is it the most reasonable — that is, the least restrictive — approach?

That’s doubly true in Florida, whose state constitution contains an explicit right to privacy.

That’s why the Florida Supreme Court did the right thing last week to put a hold on the Legislature’s latest mean-spirited and colossally hypocritical attack on the reproductive freedom of Florida women.

To hear the sputtering hysterics of some legislators, you might think the court had overturned the 2015 law requiring a woman to see the doctor at least 24 hours before he or she can perform an abortion.

In fact, the court merely suspended that provision while it decides whether it even has the jurisdiction to do that. Assuming the answer is yes, the next question would be whether to leave it on the shelf during the long process of debating and appealing the constitutionality of the law itself.

That’s still at the trial stage in circuit court at Tallahassee, where Judge Charles Dodson properly granted a stay pending subsequent arguments on whether the law is, in fact, an unreasonable obstacle to a woman’s right to control her own body.

It’s hard to imagine how the stay hurts anyone, but the state appealed and persuaded the First District of Appeal to put the waiting period back into force. That’s what led to last week’s 5-2 Supreme Court decision.

So far, 11 judges have had their say on that narrow question of timing. Only six of them did the right thing.

The five who didn’t are Supreme Court Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, and a First DCA panel composed of that court’s judges Brad Thomas and Susan L. Kelsey, along with William F. Stone, an elected circuit judge from Okaloosa County sitting by special appointment.

It’s another of those reminders that who you elect governor really matters. It was the stridently anti-choice Jeb Bush who launched the appellate careers of Thomas, Polston and Canady. It was Charlie Crist, a Republican then, who promoted Polston and Canady to the Supreme Court. Kelsey is Rick Scott‘s responsibility.

Polston and Canady are frequent, virtually predictable dissenters to Supreme Court decisions favoring citizens against the government, as in this case, or workers and consumers against corporations.

In one particularly cold-blooded moment, they objected to the court’s proportionality reviews of death sentences because the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t require them. On Thursday they voted to preserve arbitrary low limits on workers’ compensation attorneys’ fees that the majority held in violation of an injured employee’s access to the courts.

To Crist’s credit, he balanced those appointments by later naming Justices Jorge Labarga and James E.C. Perry, who joined Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and R. Fred Lewis in the order temporarily suspending the waiting period.

But Perry faces mandatory retirement next year and Pariente, Quince and Lewis will be out in January 2019. A nominating commission composed entirely of Scott’s people will winnow their potential successors, and that could be the death knell for reproductive rights in Florida. It’s a close call whether the current case, brought by Gainesville Woman Care LLC and others, will be completed by then.

The core issue is whether the law imposes an unfair burden on a woman seeking an abortion by forcing her to first see the doctor who will perform it and then wait at least a day to have it done.

It is a significant burden. Not all women can afford to take time off from work and travel what might be a considerable distance on two separate occasions. The brief filed by Julia Kaye, the ACLU staff attorney in charge of the case, also points out that this increases “the risk that her family members, employers or others will discover that she intends to end the pregnancy.”

It could, she said, “prevent some women from obtaining an abortion altogether.”

And that’s the transparent purpose. As State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, a co-sponsor, put it last year:

“One day to reflect upon the risks of abortion, one day to view an image of the unborn child’s ultrasound image, and one day to consult with friends, family and faith are minimal considering the effects that will remain for a lifetime beyond that irreversible decision.”

None of that — NONE OF IT — is the government’s business.

And that gets to what I said about hypocrisy.

No other medical procedures are subject to any waiting period in Florida, and there are a lot of them that are just as irreversible and, what’s more, a lot more dangerous.

According to statistics posted by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, the mortality rate for legal induced abortions is a negligible .6 per 100,000 procedures. That’s less than one death per 100,000, which compares to 8.8 women dying for every 100,000 live births.

The death rates following cosmetic surgery are astronomically higher. One study put the risk from liposuction at 19.1 per 100,000 procedures. Another calculated the risk to range from one in 600 to one in 3,000 for tummy tucks.

The death rate from vasectomies is negligible. But they’re practically irreversible too, with lifetime consequences.

So doesn’t Florida require pudgy women and reluctant fathers to wait 24 hours after a consultation before going ahead with their tummy tucks, liposuctions and vasectomies?

To hear the legislators, it’s because no one can get those on a same-day basis. That strikes me at fatuous nonsense. The real reason is that it’s because they’re more concerned with other people’s fetuses than with other people’s lives.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Swayed by Koch money, Republicans refuse to face scientific facts

That the world is round has been established fact and common knowledge since ancient Greece, when the mathematician Eratosthenes (276-194 BCE) calculated its girth with remarkable accuracy.

But even today there is a Flat Earth Society, reincarnated in 2004, which couches stupendous disbelief in the incongruously modern accoutrement of a website.

A 2009 Huffington Science post described the Society as the ultimate and oldest conspiracy theory. It professes to believe that space photographs are faked along with all the tangible evidence of a spherical Earth. Nothing matters but what they feel beneath their feet, and that feels flat.

At least those people are few in number and harmless. Not so their political equivalent — the Republican Party.

The science of global warming — that it’s happening, that it’s bad, and that human activity is responsible — is virtually as settled as the proof that the world is round. The isolated kooks with doctorates who disagree resemble the “experts” who said cigarettes were harmless. Not by coincidence, the conspiracy to deny global warming follows the tobacco lobby’s old playbook: Deny, disparage, confuse.

From statehouses like Florida’s to both houses of Congress, the GOP is in deliberate denial. In Rick Scott‘s Florida, state employees are forbidden to utter “climate change” or “global warming.” North Carolina’s infamous legislature barred its scientists from factoring global warming into their assessments of coastal erosion. Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency is up there with Obamacare on the GOP hit list.

The party line is so pervasive that Rep. David Jolly caused a stir when he renounced it recently to an audience at the University of South Florida.

“I think the climate’s changing. I think man’s had an impact, and we need to stop arguing about the science,” he said. “… I truly do not understand why members of Congress argue over science.”

Actually, it’s easy to understand. The explanation is in Jane Mayer‘s “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right.”

The most important book so far in 2016, it explains in detail how successfully the billionaires have conspired against climate science, health care, environmental protection, campaign finance reform and just about everything else that matters.

The Tea Party, the best-known example of their success, wasn’t exactly spontaneous combustion. It was fed and fanned from the outset by the petrochemical billionaires David and Charles Koch, their allies in the super-rich right-wing, their acolytes on talk radio, and the propaganda machine that calls itself Fox News.

The Kochtopus, as some describe it, owes its grip not just to the campaign contributions that elect, defeat and intimidate politicians. The Gilded Age’s robber barons were comparative amateurs. The modern strategy is to manipulate public opinion and co-opt the grassroots. An example of that is in the history of Obamacare, which was popular when first proposed.

“If there was a single ultra-wealthy interest group that hoped to see Obama fail as he took office,” writes Mayer, “it was the fossil fuel industry… And if there was one test of its members’ concentrated financial power over the machinery of American democracy, it was this minority’s ability to stave off government action on climate change as science and the rest of the world were moving in the opposite direction. While Obama’s health-care bill was useful in riling up Tea Party protesters, his environmental and energy policies were the real target.”

The strategy included personal attacks on climate scientists. Mayer, a New Yorker staff writer, got a taste of that. While she researched the book, a private investigator went after her and a smear campaign accused her, falsely, of plagiarism.

Mayer cites a seminal study by Greenpeace. From 2005 to 2008, the Kochs sent almost $25 million “into dozens of different organizations fighting climate reform.”

A subsequent study by Robert Brulle, a Drexel University professor, identified some 140 conservative foundations involved in a “corporate lobbying campaign disguised as a tax-exempt, philanthropic endeavor,” waging a “permanent campaign to undermine Americans’ faith in climate science and to defeat any effort to regulate carbon emissions.”

Brulle identified $558 million in 5,299 grants to 91 different nonprofit organizations. The subversion of American democracy has been financed out of the Treasury’s back door.

The Koch influence, applied through charitable contributions as well as through such well-known fronts as Americans for Prosperity and such witless stooges as Sarah “Drill, Baby, Drill” Palin, extended even to corrupting the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

As Mayer describes an exhibit that opened in March 2010 at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, “the message, funded by his fortune, was that the human race had evolved for the better in response to previous environmental challenges and would adapt in the face of climate change too.

“An interactive game suggested that if the climate on earth became intolerable, people might build ‘underground cities’ and develop ‘short, compact bodies’ or ‘curved spines’ so that ‘moving around in tight spaces will be no problem.'”

Democrats have hardly been immune to the science deniers and their campaign money, but it’s only the Republicans who have been thoroughly brainwashed.

There’s this to say for the Flat Earth Society: It compares favorably to the Republican Party in one respect. According to that Huffington Science article, its leaders accept the evidence of global warming even though much of it comes from NASA, an arch villain in their conspiracy theology.

They also believe in evolution.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Courts failed organizations that won redistricting fight

If only the Florida Constitution included a provision like this:

(1) Members of the Legislature who vote for measures subsequently held unconstitutional shall be liable jointly and severally for all attorney fees and costs as established by the court.

(2) Failure to pay such liabilities within 60 days of final judgment shall constitute disqualification for re-election or election to another office.

That is, to be sure, as far-fetched a dream as hitting the Powerball, if not more so. But it’s just as sweet.

It’s prompted by a pair of recent court decisions that expose, as courts too often do, the distinction between law and justice.

Law is supposed to serve justice. When the law becomes an end in itself, it can thwart justice.

That’s what has happened in the epilogue to the stunning victory over gerrymandering by a coalition of plaintiffs led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

After four years of litigation, cynically resisted at every step and in every way by the Republican-controlled Legislature, the plaintiffs proved that Florida’s congressional districts had been drawn in gross violation of the 2010 “Fair Districts” initiatives. The Senate then threw in the towel, confessing its own districts were invalid too.

Nearly two-thirds of the voters had voted for the initiatives that their purported representatives consciously violated.

Attorney General Pam Bondi was defending the Legislature rather than the people, so the nonprofits stepped up. Thanks to them, Florida finally will have fairer elections.

At the last reckoning by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, taxpayers had spent $11 million to defend the Legislature through four trials, three special sessions and eight rulings by the Florida Supreme Court. The other side’s legal bills are not public, but amount to several million dollars at least.

But when the plaintiffs went back to court to be awarded those fees, the courts said no.

Terry Lewis, the Tallahassee circuit judge who had heard most of the trial litigation, turned them down because of the general Florida policy, known as the “American rule,” that each party bears its own costs. Losers pay only when there’s a specific law or contract saying so.

“If there is to be an exception to that rule of law, which I have to follow, it needs to be made by the legislature or by the Appellate Court,” Lewis said.

The plaintiffs took a powerful argument to the First District Court of Appeal. In California, Iowa and some other states, courts have invoked what’s called the “private attorney general doctrine” on behalf of citizens who speak truth to power on the public’s behalf, as the Florida plaintiffs did.

But at the First DCA, a panel of three judges appointed by Republican Governors Jeb Bush and Rick Scott turned them down. Judge Joseph Lewis‘ opinion relied on contrary precedents from other states. It was a political opinion by a politicized court.

And it added insult to injury. It scoffed at the plaintiffs’ plea that the court should grant their fees because the Legislature never would.

“Not only is the argument about the future actions of the Legislature based on speculation,” the court said, “but it ignores the fact that if the Legislature refuses to act upon an issue that is supported by the public will, Florida’s citizens hold the power to vote their representatives out of office.”

That was smug, fatuous and unrealistic. It was propaganda, not jurisprudence. Thanks to gerrymandering and the financial power of incumbency, Florida’s Legislature never has to fear the voters. The odds of being swept out of their offices are almost as long as those in a lottery. The new maps are a significant improvement, but not a cure.

Judge Brad Thomas, writing separately, poured on the heifer dust. If attorney fees were to be awarded in redistricting litigation, he said, the sponsors should have provided for that in the “Fair Districts” initiatives.

Had they done so, the initiatives might have been tossed off the ballot because of Florida’s single-subject rule.

Any chance of appealing the decision vanished a few days later when the Florida Supreme Court, ruling separately on legal fees for the appeals it had heard, denied them on a 4-3 vote with no written majority opinion.

Justice Barbara Pariente, writing in dissent for herself and Justices Peggy Quince and James Perry, warned that the court was encouraging “recalcitrant legislatures…to use the taxpayer resources at their disposal to run up their adversaries’ costs, thereby shielding constitutional violations…”

In these cases, the defendants did just that. They had relied on consultants to rig the maps for Republican candidates. When the plaintiffs subpenaed documents, the consultants claimed they were “trade secrets.” That had to be appealed, costing much time and expense.

When the Supreme Court finally opened the documents, in a split decision, there were “hundreds of thousands of pages” to sift through, and “the real stuff had been destroyed,” according to the League’s Ellen Frieden.

Even so, the “trade secrets” turned out to be dirty secrets, such as passing off a highly political map as the suggestion of a private citizen who had nothing to do with it.

More than a dozen lawyers were needed on the plaintiffs’ side alone. As none of the nonprofits or private citizens have deep pockets, it’s hard to see how those bills can be fully paid.

But Liza McClenaghan, Common Cause’s state chairperson, sees a bright side.

“Now we have the legal precedents and recognition for the efforts.  Supporters are no longer strangers.  The lawyers are being paid through funds raised,” she said in an email to me.

They won an enormous precedent that set benchmarks for future redistricting. But what happens if the Legislature tries again to game the Constitution? Pariente’s warning is apt. The lawbreakers will hold the financial high hand, at taxpayer expense, and the nonprofits will be scrounging for money again. It could be left to the minority political party, with somewhat deeper pockets, to challenge the maps.

Such a partisan cast would be unfortunate, and harmful. The genius of the victory this time was that the public’s banner was in nonpartisan hands.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Rick Scott doesn’t know when to shut up

There was once a senator from Virginia who was dismayed to find his picture on the cover of New Times magazine under the headline “the dumbest Congressman of them all.”

He called a news conference to deny it, thereby proving it to be true.

His name was Scott. William Scott.

You can probably guess where this is going.

From that day in 1974 to now, no public official has so witlessly confirmed the substance of a harsh criticism as Florida Gov. Rick Scott did the other day.

A more prudent man would have shrugged off his chance encounter with the citizen, Cara Jennings, who loudly called him an “asshole.”

Left alone, its notoriety would have subsided after the first 2 million or so YouTube and Facebook views.

But Scott is Scott, with an ego nearly as large as that of his newest buddy, Donald Trump, and a slush fund to match.

His Let’s Get to Work political committee swiftly made and posted a video savagely disparaging Jennings.

Unlike a bystander’s smartphone cinema verité video of the original incident at a Gainesville Starbucks, Scott’s riposte is a professional job. A professional hit job.

In the course of claiming that thousands of new jobs have been created in that Gainesville neighborhood, the announcer says “almost everybody” has a job, “except those who are sitting around coffee shops demanding public assistance, surfing the Internet and cursing at customers who come in.”

A former Lake Worth city commissioner, Jennings is a self-described anarchist who refused on principle to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Scott’s body slam harps on her background and calls her a “latte liberal” before getting around to implying that she’s a freeloader.

In fact, she is a freelance consultant who says she was in Gainesville on business, stopped for coffee at Starbucks, and was at work on her computer when Scott walked in. What’s more, she said she doesn’t get a dime of public assistance.

“What I find very offensive is for him to infer that I’m unemployed and just hanging out at Starbucks,” she told me. “I’ve never seen this type of attack against a private citizen.”

Neither have I. To trade public punches with another politician, or a media critic, is an accepted part of the game. To defame a private citizen — one who wasn’t even responsible for publicizing the original incident — is out of bounds.

Some people I know, having seen only the Starbucks video, which begins partway through their confrontation, were critical of Jennings for shouting at Scott.

But to hear the whole story is to understand why she lost her temper.

She began by upbraiding him for refusing to expand Medicaid and for signing a bill to keep state money away from Planned Parenthood, and says “you should be ashamed to show your face around here.”

That’s tough language, to be sure, but nothing worse than what hundreds of editorials have said.

Scott then resorts to his standard mantra, his answer for everything, his non-denial denial for any criticism, by replying that Florida has gotten 1 million jobs on his watch. That’s when she loses it.

As he retreats, she shouts, “A million jobs? Great. Who here has a great job or is looking forward to finishing school? Do you really feel like you have a job coming up?”

She utters the epithet with which he will forever be identified. That is not so much because it was said, but because he dignified it with a response.

For the governor to claim credit for 1 million jobs is somewhat like boasting of making the sun rise or the tides ebb and flow.

PolitiFact acknowledged the statistic to be mostly true.

“That said, ” it added, “we’ll note one caveat that we always raise when analyzing claims such as Scott’s: It’s a stretch for the governor (or the president, or a mayor) to claim credit for such gains.

“But even if governors do deserve some credit for how the economy performs on their watch, there are other things over which they have no control that can have impacts that are at least as big, if not bigger. These include changes in technology, fluctuations in the national and international economy, demographic shifts (the Census Bureau estimates the state’s population has increased by about 1.46 million people since April 2010, for instance), and events like natural disasters.

“Indeed, governors — like presidents — tend to get too much credit when things are going well, and too much blame when things are going poorly.”

Scott bought his way into power when Florida was still recovering from the 2008 recession. The job growth since then owes in some part to President Barack Obama‘s stimulus program, which Scott’s predecessor praised and was rejected by his party for saying so.

In any case, Florida’s job growth is beside the point that Jennings wanted to impress on Scott. It’s that his policies have condemned thousands of Floridians to needless sickness and death for want of the Medicaid expansion money. The spiteful defunding of Planned Parenthood will make that worse.

The name she called him hardly seems too strong for that.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Donald Trump’s remarks about nuclear weapons are scary

Is it time to recycle the daisy ad?

The most effective political spot ever filmed begins with a precious little girl pulling petals from a flower, counting them imperfectly. It segues to a man’s harsh voice counting down from 10. The child’s face dissolves into the hideous sight and sound of an H-bomb test.

“These are the stakes,” says another voice — the familiar one of the president of the United States. “To make a world in which all of God’s children can live or to go into the darkness. We must either love each other or we must die.”

“Vote for President Johnson on Nov. 3,” says an announcer. “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

The ad did not mention Barry Goldwater, Johnson’s arch-conservative, hawkish Republican opponent, and it was pulled after running only once. But nearly everyone saw it in news replays, and it contributed enormously to LBJ’s landslide victory in November 1964.

The message was that Goldwater shouldn’t be trusted with the nuclear codes. He had, in fact, suggested the use of low-yield nuclear weapons in Vietnam.

Anyone old enough to have seen the ad will never forget it. For everyone else, it’s on YouTube. Search for “daisy ad.”

There is now a candidate for president, presently leading the race for his party’s nomination, whose reckless talk about nuclear weapons makes Goldwater look rather like a peacenik.

That candidate has suggested that South Korea and Japan should be encouraged to develop their own nuclear arsenals so as to shoulder a greater load of their own defense, which is now guaranteed by the United States.

“At some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world,” Donald Trump said. “And unfortunately, we have a nuclear world now … Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”

No, we wouldn’t. And neither would Japan, which promptly cited its prudent policy of never possessing them.

As for the two Koreas, what does Trump suppose that the North’s manic dictator Kim Jong Un would do with his nukes should he see or suspect South Korea actually undertaking to develop one? Trump is practically goading the tyrant to use one now.

The problem, of course, is that Trump shoots from the lip, whether the subject is war, women, abortion, or anything else. As The Washington Post columnist Katherine Parker put it, “The man either can’t or won’t think before speaking.”

Newt Gingrich, a supporter, acknowledged that Trump doesn’t see that “being president of the United States is a team sport that requires a stable personality that allows other people to help him.”

That too many nations already have nuclear weapons hardly makes a case that others should. It means just the opposite.

Nuclear nonproliferation is a long-standing, bipartisan policy that we share with all our allies as well as such less-friendly nations as Russia and China. It’s why we assembled a coalition to enforce the sanctions that pressured Iran into forsaking its own pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.

“We don’t want somebody in the Oval Office who doesn’t recognize how important that is,” President Barack Obama said Friday at the close of a summit meeting on nuclear security.

“Even those countries that are used to a carnival atmosphere in their own politics want sobriety and clarity when it comes to U.S. elections because they understand that the president of the United States needs to know what’s going on around the world,” the president said.

The next president, heaven forbid, could be someone who not only doesn’t know but doesn’t seem to care that he doesn’t know.

The only one thing worse than ignorance in politics is the willful stupidity of a candidate who assumes that his gut instincts are all the knowledge he needs.

Trump’s interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board was so jaw-dropping that the newspaper posted the full transcript online. Click here to read it.

Typical of his dissembling and evasion was his answer to a timely question about whether “it’s a problem that the percentage of blacks in prison is higher than whites, and what do you think is the root of that situation?”

Trump wouldn’t say. Asked a second time, he still wouldn’t say. Asked directly whether he believes there are “disparities in law enforcement,” this is what he finally did say:

“I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t. I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that.”

On climate change: “Perhaps there’s a minor effect, but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change … to me, the biggest risk is nuclear weapons.”

And then he went out and dialed that risk up yet another notch.

Ten, nine, eight, seven …

• • •

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Politics mars the Supreme Court nomination process

The maxim that “no good deed goes unpunished” is often borne out in politics these days, and if President Barack Obama hasn’t taped it to his shaving mirror, he should.

In Merrick Garland, he found an ideal Supreme Court candidate, one whom, were the present roles reversed, a Republican president might have nominated and a Democratic Senate would have been obliged to confirm.

His credentials are impeccable: Ivy League degrees. Clerkships at a Court of Appeals and at the Supreme Court. Antitrust practice in one of Washington’s blue ribbon firms. Distinguished service in the Justice Department, where he supervised the investigations and prosecutions of the Kansas City, Unabomber and Atlanta Olympics bombings. A centrist record in nearly 20 years as a judge of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he is now the chief judge, and where he befriended John Roberts, the current chief justice of the United States.

Garland is known as a diligent scholar who respects Supreme Court precedents, strives for consensus, and writes opinions that are “models of judicial craftsmanship,” according to Adam Liptak of the New York Times.

Seven still-serving Republican senators supported Garland’s confirmation to the Circuit Court in 1997. Among them is Orrin Hatch of Utah, who was quoted in 2010 as saying Garland would have made a “consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court and dropped his name after Antonin Scalia died. Now, the oleaginous Hatch is saying “Let the voters decide,” as if they didn’t already do that when they re-elected Obama.

At 63, Garland is a decade older than the usual Supreme Court nominee. The not-so-subtle message to the Senate majority is that a future Republican president might be able to fill the seat sooner than any Democrat might anticipate replacing Roberts.

Despite all that, Senate Republicans are still refusing a hearing on the nomination and most aren’t even willing to meet with Garland privately. They’re holding out in the hope that a Republican will be elected in November to nominate a conspicuous reactionary like Scalia. In so doing, they’re catering to the Koch brothers, the NRA, and other elements of the rabid right that actively oppose Garland.

What they might get instead, of course, is the nomination of someone younger and more liberal if a new Democratic president finds Scalia’s seat still vacant. While praising Garland’s qualifications and calling on the Senate to act, Hillary Clinton has been notably silent about whether she would resubmit his name in January 2017.

As for Bernie Sanders, he too has demanded the Senate act on the nomination, which he said he would vote to confirm. But he also said explicitly that if it does not, he would ask Obama to withdraw it so that he could nominate someone considered to be more progressive. Both he and Clinton are open about wanting the court to overturn the Citizens United decision, which she said would be a criterion for any justice she might appoint.

That’s where Obama must truly feel punished. Although the Democratic Party, most of its candidates and virtually all their center and left-of-center supporters are making hay — i.e., campaign contributions — out of the Senate majority’s position, their enthusiasm for Garland himself is notably muted.

Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker’s eminent authority on the Supreme Court, took note of this in writing that Obama’s choice reflected not only his “boundless faith in the meritocracy” but also his “distaste for the vulgar realities of politics.”

He could, Toobin continued, “have chosen a nominee who would rally his core supporters, and thus assist his party in races up and down the ballot.” The short-listed candidates included a woman, an African-American and an immigrant from India who are respected judges. But, says Toobin, “this President prefers technocrats to Democrats.”

That said, Toobin thinks it is “outrageous,” and I agree, for the Senate to act as if Obama were re-elected for only three years rather than four.

In signaling to their core voters — and more importantly, their allied lobbies — that the election will be in large part about the future of the Supreme Court, the Republicans have also made that quite clear to Democrats and independents. Fair enough.

Vote Democratic as if your life depends on it, because it does.

Although there have been three Democratic presidents since Lyndon Johnson, the Supreme Court has been controlled by Republican appointees since Warren Burger replaced Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1969. It would still be so even if Garland is confirmed.

Interestingly, Republican presidents have been almost as much in thrall of the meritocracy as Bill Clinton and Obama have been. Like Scalia and Garland, every present justice has an Ivy League law degree — all from Harvard, like Obama himself, or from Yale, like Clinton, except for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who started at Harvard and finished at Columbia.

Moreover, the last justice who wasn’t Ivy League was Sandra Day O’Connor, also the last who ever had experience as an elected politician. O’Connor’s service in the Arizona Senate informed her vital role as a consensus builder and frequent deciding vote on the Supreme Court.

The present court’s deficiency in that regard is reflected in the frequent 5-4 splits over hot-button political issues such as Obamacare and campaign finance. This is a condition that impairs the legitimacy of the court in the public’s eyes.

Imagine if Brown v. Board of Education, the historic decision against racial segregation in public school, had been decided by anything less than a unanimous vote. Warren’s great service to his country, reflecting his background as California’s attorney general and governor, was to write the opinion in such a way as to ensure that it would be unanimous.

He wasn’t Ivy League either, by the way. His law degree was from the University of California at Berkeley.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Smart Republicans need to start thinking, acting on their own

In 1789, as the new United States of America was just taking root, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

The quotation is making one of its frequent rounds on the Internet.

The remark was ironic, if not to say hypocritical, considering Jefferson’s subsequent energetic role in organizing the anti-Federalist movement into what he called the Democratic-Republican Party. Present-day Democrats claim him and Andrew Jackson as co-founders.

But the full context — rarely quoted — of what he wrote makes great sense now as a trenchant description of how the party system has gone off the cliff.

“I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything where I was capable of thinking for myself,” Jefferson explained. “Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven…”

Party discipline, the plague that Jefferson deplored, gives us a U.S. Senate whose majority party leader refuses even to permit the body to consider fulfilling its constitutional duty to approve or reject a president’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the nation’s highest court.

Moreover, in rationalizing why he would not allow it even in a post-election session should there be a Democratic president-elect, Mitch McConnell had this to say:

“I can’t imagine that a Republican majority Congress in a lame duck session after the American people have spoken would want to confirm a nominee opposed by the NRA, the NFIB, and the New York Times says he would move the court dramatically to the left. This nomination ought to be made by the next president.”

What he really was saying is this: Even if the next president is a Democrat, and even if the Republicans lose their Senate majority, they’ll fight hard, they’ll fight long, they’ll fight dirty, and they’ll filibuster to keep anybody opposed by the likes of the gun lobby and the National Federation of Independent Business from replacing Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court.

He neglected to mention the Koch brothers. One of their front organizations declared war on any Barack Obama nominee even before he selected one.

Now I cannot find in the Constitution — nor can McConnell — anything that says a president’s second term is for only three years rather than four. Or anything to say that lobbies unelected by the people or billionaires whose father was a John Bircher have veto power over what used to call itself the “greatest deliberative body in the world.”

Nor is anything to be found in the New York Times online files where the newspaper ever asserted that Merrick Garland‘s confirmation would “move the court dramatically to the left.” What the paper did say, in an article describing Garland as essentially a centrist, was this:

“Conservative groups, who said Judge Garland would move the court sharply to the left, raised questions about his commitment to gun rights, although they based their objection on fairly thin evidence.” (Emphasis supplied)

McConnell can’t even get his sources right, let alone his constitutional duty.

(For the record, the NRA’s objection to Garland appears to owe entirely to his vote in one case: the challenge to the District of Columbia’s strict firearms law. After a panel of three other judges voted 2-1 to overturn it, Garland voted in the minority that the entire court should rehear the case. Such a procedural vote does not necessarily predict how he would vote on the merits. The case went directly to the Supreme Court instead, where Scalia wrote the opinion in a 5-4 decision rejecting the law — and a century’s worth of precedents — by finding an individual constitutional right to own firearms.)

The Republican Senate’s pathetic submission to McConnell and the right-wing lobbies is reason enough for voters to elect a Democratic majority.

And now that Marco Rubio has returned to his Senate duties, owing his party nothing, it would be a good time for him to join the handful of other Republican senators who have said they would be willing to give Garland the hearing that he — and the American people — deserve.

This isn’t to suggest that the Democrats are virginal on the question of senseless party discipline. At their 1992 convention in New York, they infamously kept Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey off the speaker’s rostrum because he wanted to say how it was possible to be both liberal and opposed to abortion.

But not since Robert Bork‘s nomination in 1987 have the Democrats defeated a Republican President’s Supreme Court nominee. Even in Bork’s case, two Democrats defected in his favor despite the prevailing view that he was an extremist. Six Republicans voted no. The majority party also gave him the floor vote he demanded despite the Judiciary Committee’s disfavor.

The nation will need Republicans to break ranks en masse in the eventuality that the uncouth, erratic, self-centered and dangerously demagogic Donald Trump becomes their nominee for president.

Already, such hack party figures as Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi are crawling aboard the perceived victor’s bandwagon for whatever favors a President Trump might bestow.

Republicans who truly respect their party, on the other hand, will not want a chronically dishonest racist with no coherent policy proposals to symbolize the party of Abraham Lincoln to the nation and to the world. One Nixon was enough, and he was a gentleman compared to Trump.

Some Republicans oppose Trump because he has strayed from their ideologies in the past, others because they fear they couldn’t control him, and others because he simply disgusts them. That last reason is the compelling one.

As another Republican president, Rutherford B. Hayes, said at his inaugural, “He serves his party best who serves his country best.”


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: To stop Donald Trump, vote for Marco Rubio

Donald Trump doubled down on war crimes in that gutter-level brawl the other night, insisting that military personnel who have been trained to refuse illegal commands would not dare to disobey his orders to torture terrorism suspects and murder their families.

“They’re not going to refuse me,” said the would-be egotist-in-chief. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

Did any other aspiring tyrant ever make his criminal intent so clear?

There’s a theory among Republicans — the rational ones, anyway — that Trump would spell disaster for them in November.

I’m a liberal Democrat. So shouldn’t I be rooting for Trump to take the Florida delegates in the March 15 primary and just about seal the GOP’s doom?


Reason one: America needs the checks and balances of two fully functioning major political parties. It isn’t good for the nation if one of them self-destructs.

Reason two: It ought to be unthinkable that someone so amoral, so unqualified, so irresponsible, so brutish, so unbalanced and so vulgar as Trump could become President of the United States.

Even if the odds are against his winning — but remember, the conventional wisdom about him has been wrong from the start — the mere possibility is a clear and present danger to the republic.

So I’m pulling for Marco Rubio to pull it out in Florida, slow Trump’s momentum, breathe some sanity into the campaign, and give the nominating convention a chance to pick a respectable nominee out of the chaos of a first-ballot deadlock.

Rubio exemplifies what they say about politics being an exercise in relativity. His career has been defined by ambition for higher office rather than by accomplishment therein. He’s a crackpot on taxes and an extremist on abortion. He cowed before the Tea Party on immigration and stooped to Trump’s level of bathroom innuendo.

But he has this going for him: He’s not a bigot, a bully, a misogynist, a hater, or a demagogue like Trump. He’s not a political and religious fanatic like Ted Cruz.

By elimination, he is the best of the Republicans except for John Kasich, who is not a viable alternative in Florida.

Rubio can carry Florida only if enough Republican voters stop and think about what a vote for Trump would do to their party and their country.

Some are beyond reason. They’ll vote for Trump not knowing, or caring, that he can never speak truth when there’s a lie to be told. Some will vote for him because he is a bigot, not despite of it, since they hate Mexicans and Muslims as much as he seems to, or because they hate blacks and Jews as much as Trump supporters David Duke and Louis Farrakhan do.

Some will vote for him knowing — or not caring — that there are no coherent plans behind his promises. They will vote for him knowing — or not caring — that he has never been faithful to any principle except self-aggrandizement.

Despite knowing that he’s unfit to be president, there are people who will still vote for him as an obscene gesture to the “establishment” that they have been taught — oh, so carefully taught — to hate. He is to right-wing politics as the monster was to the fictional Dr. Frankenstein.

No one has diagnosed the problem better than David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, in his Feb. 26 op-ed, “The Governing Cancer of Our Time.”

A “big, diverse society” like ours, Brooks writes, can function in either of only two ways — “politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.”

In politics, no one ever gets everything they want. But now we have people like the Tea Party, and some groups on the left, who want “outsiders” unwilling to compromise on anything.

“They suffer,” Brooks explains, “from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.”

And so they elect legislators with “no political skills or experience,” whose “incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.”

Trump is the product of that death spiral, “the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years … the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible … the declining importance of policy …

“Trump represents the path the founders rejected.”

As Mitt Romney put it the other day, Trump personifies a “brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”

A vote for Trump, even if only to “send a message,” is in effect an obscene gesture at everyone who tries in good faith to make American politics work. It’s an extended middle finger against everything America should stand for.

If you’re still of a mind to make that gesture, try practicing it in front of a mirror, and reflect upon what it says about you.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

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