Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 16

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell

Finland lacks a “culture of apology,” but sucked it up anyway and joined the growing number of western countries owning up to the suffering of generations of children whose lives went from bad to worse in state care.

You can cross your fingers and pray, but you’re probably never going to see Florida apologize to Victor Docter and the children who preceded him in state-sanctioned torture chambers, and to all who have followed in the years since he was tortured, and his twin sister Nubia murdered, under the “care” of foster parents recruited and trained by the state, and later paid by the state to adopt them.

Apologies are not Florida’s style. Our lumbering, crumbling social services “system” has been living at the intersection of Dickens and Orwell for as long as any Floridian alive can remember, and there are no meaningful incentives to change.

We have all gotten comfortably numb to the endless cycle of Government Reports followed by Commitments to Improve. It began again this week with the latest federal “Children and Family Services Review” filled with more food for nightmares about how Florida may or may not be keeping children safe in their “placements,” and is most assuredly not staffed and funded to provide them with adequate counseling and care.

As always, a “children’s advocate” is standing by with a hearty “This is a wake-up call …”  Flacks whip out their save-strings and fire off “we take this very seriously” emails to reporters and “stakeholders.”

It’s been nearly six years since the Valentine’s Day when Nubia’s decomposing body was found, wrapped in a garbage bag in the back of her adoptive father’s flatbed truck.  As usual, when the headlines are sufficiently shocking, a Blue Ribbon Panel was convened to quiet the media mob and appease the legislature. Also, as usual, the underpaid, overworked people who were “pressured” to get the twins off the state’s books and into a “forever family” are long gone to who -knows- where.

The “leadership” that pressured low-level caseworkers to sign off on homes where the Humane Society would not place a rescue cat is gone, too. They have risen to higher and better-paying levels of incompetence, where they continue to take things very seriously.

 

Sobering news surfaces about security at Fort Lauderdale Airport

Mike Sallah, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Miami Herald Brain Drain, may be working for Gannett in Washington, but he’s still looking out for the folks in Florida.

Sallah and Naples Daily News staffer Kristyn Wellesley teamed up to add some important context to our understanding of airport security following the mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale that left five dead and thousands traumatized. Sallah and Wellesley looked at staffing levels and found that as passenger traffic grew by the millions, sworn deputies, traffic enforcement officers, and community service aides were cut.

There were no armed deputies in the terminal when Iraq War veteran Esteban (“My Pleas for Mental Health Treatment Fell on Deaf Ears”) Santiago opened fire. In the past decade, the number of deputies assigned to the airport has dropped from 150 to 116. Crisis-trained deputies have been repurposed to keeping the cars moving in the passenger drop-off lane, dealing with drunks, and reuniting children with their lost stuffed animals.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel insists that airport was “properly policed” and the “active shooter” response was “timely.” That’s a bold — indeed, bizarre — statement from a guy who admitted to Gannett’s reporters he “had not seen the staffing data and was unaware that positions at the airport had been reduced over the years, including the loss of 14 jobs during his tenure.”

“If we need more deputies, I will ask for them,” Israel promised. But first, there will be a monthslong Study to Make Sure This Never Happens Again. That will give the traveling public time to think about how much we’re willing to pay for peace of mind in the baggage claim area.

 

Corporate media leaves the Republic in the lurch

Between the lingering ethical stench of Brian Williams and the high hysteria quotient of the rest of the “talent” at NBC, it’s easy to forget that the network still has some working journalists on the payroll, producing some remarkable work.

Eight of them joined forces to create this thoughtful piece of multimedia reporting that goes a long way toward explaining why, on this Inauguration Day, Democrats are “left in the lurch.”

You need to turn off all your devices — especially the TV — to slog through the dense mix of history, statistics, demographics, and trends identified and analyzed. Like all real journalism, this project asks far more of its audience than the consultants, commentators, contributors, and Friends of the Show that Corporate Broadcast Media fawns over on Inauguration Day, and every day.

American broadcast news has devolved to almost nothing but “political analysis” delivered by men and women who can emote for the camera while babbling a fluent stream of Word Salad. The Political-Media Codependent Complex is a death spiral for democracy, but a cash cow for corporate media, and for those who have mastered the art of “messaging” their way into The Conversation. The men and women who dig for facts and keep their “quite frank” opinions to themselves are, like Democrats, left in the lurch.

The election of President Are You Not Entertained? has not made a dent in the “journalism” that spends too much time telling people what to think and too little time giving them the facts they need to think for themselves. Real reporters get a vastly smaller portion of airtime than they used to.  But they’re still around, even at NBC, and that’s cause for hope that the People on TV will one day educate themselves. Or stop talking.

 

Commissioners get two fat salaries; public gets half their time, all the bill

In Leon County, the median household income is $47,000, and people who are lucky enough to have a full-time job are generally expected to work that job, you know, full-time.

At $75,829, plus benefits, Leon County Commissioners’ compensation is well above what most of their constituents earn, but it’s less than what Commissioners Nick Maddox and Jimbo Jackson collect at their other full-time job.

Maddox was just hired to head the Foundation for Leon County Schools at a salary of $78,000. Jackson makes $90,875 as principal of Ft. Braden School.

Maddox modestly assured the Tallahassee Democrat that he’s going to do a “great” job in both of his positions and if Jackson’s staff at Ft. Braden has any complaints about picking up their principal’s slack, it’s a safe bet they won’t be griping to reporters.

Maddox and Jackson did not invent the fiction that public officials can serve two masters.  And the public didn’t especially mind in times and places when a public official’s salary was little more than gas money.  In modern times, Maddox and Jackson are just a tiny tip of an iceberg of public officials who serve two, three, four and more masters at great cost to taxpayers. We’ve all gotten used to it, but that does not make it right.

 

We missed you, Sasha, but you were in the right place

Sasha Obama wasn’t in Chicago to see her dad’s farewell address, and the internet went crazy at the deprivation of its Right to Know how she reacted to the president’s touching tribute to his wife and children.

Turns out the 15-year-old Second Daughter was back in Washington, studying and getting a good night’s sleep ahead of an exam the next morning.

The tuition at Sasha’s school, Sidwell Friends, is $39K per child, per year. That includes a hot lunch and some actual rules. Among them: “Students must adhere to the published examination schedule; absence for travel is not an adequate reason to reschedule an examination.”

Sidwell is a pricy but refreshing throwback to a time when parents might take the kids out of school if Aunt Mabel died, but not if Aunt Mabel wanted to meet up at Disney.

In Florida, the average starting salary for teachers is $35K. That includes insufficient classroom supplies and all the hot guff they can eat from parents who are nowhere near as willing as Sidwell moms and dads to follow rules. The definition of “parental involvement” has expanded to confer upon parents the right to decide when Jack and Jill have something more important to do than show up for class, turn in their homework, or take a test.  Kids learn that teachers can be disrespected. Teachers learn that they might be happier in another line of work.

Rules have to be followed all the time, by everybody, or they aren’t rules.  That’s something all schoolchildren have the right to learn, even if their parents aren’t presidents.

Palm Beach County veggie-pocalyse requires #FreshThinkingFromFlorida

In Palm Beach County, millions of pounds of vegetables are unpicked, plowed under, and rotting in the fields not far away from large populations of undernourished children.

The weather this growing season was everything it needed to be for a bountiful harvest Florida’s growers can be proud of. But the “agricultural economics” that forced growers to abandon their crops are an embarrassment to a state that claims to be creative and compassionate.

The Palm Beach Post’s Susan Salisbury explains: “Perfect weather has resulted in a bountiful crop that’s caused a glut on the market and low prices. Demand is down. Winter storms have kept people out of grocery stores and restaurants along the nation’s East Coast where much of Florida’s produce would normally be sold.

“Meanwhile, Mexico has become a year-round producer of cheap tomatoes and also experienced ideal growing conditions and huge crops as have Arizona and California. Florida’s agricultural industry is wondering why the much-touted buy-local movement isn’t helping more.”

You can’t blame growers for cutting their losses when the market tanks. They donate as much as they can to food banks, and heaven knows the food banks need all the donations they can get. The holiday season, with its surge of volunteers bearing hams and turkeys, comes to an end, while lines outside the food banks remain endless.

But it takes more than a thousand points of light to do the picking, washing, packing and driving to get healthy Florida produce into the stomachs of people who survive on heavily subsidized diets of sugar and grease. So, the growers give the crops they have lovingly tended a kill shot of herbicide and plow ’em under.

Food banks are hoping to expand their capacity to safely store produce and bring it directly to people who need it. But like growers, they have very little manpower and no margin for error.

A state that markets itself as America’s best place to do business needs an “agricultural economics” that provides a living to farmers and healthy meals to hungry children. This is an excellent opportunity for Florida’s Innovators, Job Creators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders With a Sense of Statewide Community to do some meaningful marketing by putting their heads together and serving up a plate of Creativity Primavera.

American Moor is a revelation, one you can see this week in Tallahassee

Theater is like life, actor and playwright Keith Hamilton Cobb told a crowd of 650 last night at The Moon. “There’s no Take 2. That keeps it honest and authentic, which we should all be.”

We should, but we’re not, so Liz Joyner, one of Florida’s few remaining honest and authentic civility activists, invited the whole town over for pizza and a sneak preview of Cobb’s one man tour de force, American Moor. He wrote and will perform the entire show tonight and tomorrow as part of the Southern Shakespeare Festival. See it at your own risk of rethinking everything you think you know.

Cobb’s play, Cobb’s character in the play, and Cobb’s real life begin in those moments in childhood when he stumbled over Shakespeare and recognized how many of The Bard’s characters were saying “some s%$! like” he wanted to say to some idiot he had to pretend to respect.

Cobb wanted to play all the leads in Shakespeare, and he has the Benedict Cumberbatch kind of chops to do it. But as a black actor in a world where most directors are white, and trained in Ivy League drama schools followed by an immersion in The Method, you’re pretty much stuck auditioning for Othello and playing him as instructed by a kid half your age with limited experience in life and no experience being a target of bigotry, jealousy and people too blind to see.

There will be time later to heap well-earned praise upon Joyner’s Village Square, and its co-sponsors in “Created Equal,” a series of community conversations about race and the many other things that divide us. Right now, those in driving distance of FAMU’s Lee Hall should be lining up babysitters and buying tickets to see American Moor.

TCC serves up coffee, corporate welfare, and confidentiality

At Tallahassee Community College (TCC), they’re serving up a venti cup of corporate welfare with a side order of unnecessary and possibly illegal confidentiality.

The school is shelling out $500K in “unrestricted funds” to peddle coffee — more specifically, Starbucks coffee — at its downtown “Center for Innovation” located just spitting distance from the state Capitol.

TCC’s stated goals include providing students with “hands-on entrepreneurial experience.” You’d think that Starbucks never hired college kids — or high school kids — without a subsidy from their mommies, daddies and college presidents.

TCC began brewing this exercise in innovation and job creation in 2015 when it tried, and failed, to persuade three local coffeehouse proprietors that there was a pony of a business plan inside its under-trafficked downtown location.

The bean counters and bean roasters at Redeye, Lucky Goat and Catalina Café saw only a pile of horse feathers. In an impressive exercise in graciousness, diplomacy and understatement, Lucky Goat’s Ben Pautsch told the Democrat, “The timing and economics didn’t make sense for us as a local business.”

Maybe it would have made sense if the local coffee guys had the kind of high-powered negotiators available to multi-billion dollar players like Starbucks. The Colossus of Caffeine talked TCC into a “confidential nondisclosure agreement” which precludes release of details of its discussion with Starbucks. That’s just as well for House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s blood pressure, considering what the parties are not embarrassed to disclose. In addition to picking up the $488,000 construction tab, TCC paid a $30,000 licensing fee and will be giving Starbucks 7 percent a month off the top once the place opens.

For regular people, a handcrafted mocha choca latte ya ya Creole Lady Marmalade skinny Frappuccino is a very occasional luxury, if that. For TCC trustees, it’s a good reason to raid the stash of “non-restricted money which can be used for non-instructional services.”

Tallahassee is full of local businesses that could use a $500K transfusion. TCC is full of teachers who could use a raise, and students who could use gas money. What TCC trustees could use is better judgment about how they spend the slush funds.

Nat Hentoff, master of words and music, gone too soon at 91

Nat Hentoff‘s writing was as brilliant, edgy and unpredictable as the music of Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Charles Mingus, and the many other geniuses he worked with in his altogether remarkable life.

Hentoff died Saturday at age 91, mourned by family, free thinkers, jazz junkies, and persons on the lunatic fringe of the First Amendment who will never cease to be amazed and inspired by the half-century of columns, commentary and criticism he leaves behind.

Modern punditry is too often a gassy blend of wasted breath that begins with “Wow!” and ends with “That said, it is what it is.” Hentoff, by contrast, is always “a gas to read …” tweeted POLITICO’s Jack Shafer, himself a newsman with a Hentoff-level ability to slice and dice through “every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

As a kid, Hentoff aspired to a career as a jazz musician, but his ear was good enough and his ego small enough to know that he did not have a gift for the kind of riffing required to make music with the best.  As a speaker and writer, things were different. Hentoff’s mastery of language and ability to marshal facts and mold them into glorious examples of persuasion made him a rare light in a world full of people who think that free speech is for folks who agree with you, and everyone else should be made to pay a high price for going off the sheet music.

Ft. Lauderdale massacre caps a miserable week for the military

Last week’s news was overstuffed with upsetting reports about the mental health of military people. And that was before “troubled Army veteran” Esteban Santiago opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The armed forces have shrunk by 10 percent in recent years, but child abuse and neglect in military families are up. Way up.

Some of our “heroes” will be spending time in the stockade, but at least they’ll have a roof over their heads.

That’s more than we can say for America’s 40,000 homeless veterans. The nation that set and achieved the goal of putting a man on the moon in a decade has been unable to meet a five-year goal of getting homeless veterans out of the woods and into permanent homes.

Miracle workers like Ju’Coby Pittman, the longtime CEO of Jacksonville’s Clara White Mission, have taken a bite out of the problem. You’d think the job of getting veterans off the streets would be easy in a community where the military is omnipresent and everybody professes to “honor our heroes.”  But when it comes to sharing the block with the disabled and the mentally ill, folks in Duval County can be as NIMBY as folks anyplace else.

In Seminole Heights, Laura Sellinger mourns her husband John, another “troubled veteran” who survived deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, but not the “survivor’s guilt” that “exploded” in a rampage, a struggle with Pasco County deputies, and death.

Our country provides a bottomless book of blank checks to the manufacturers of military hardware. The men and women who bear the weight of war must make do with whatever’s left behind in the petty cash drawer.

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