Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 13

Florence Snyder

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

Florence Snyder: The Walking Warehoused

For most of history, dying was an event. These days, it’s a “process,” and one that can go on for decades.

It’s rough on families. And it’s a gold mine for those who had the cash and the foresight to invest in the burgeoning “assisted living” industry.

Old folks’ homes are springing up here faster than mattress stores and burger joints.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s TaMaryn Waters reports that 12 of these places are in the pipeline and, says AARP spokesman Dave Bruns, “The market sees a lot of opportunity.”

The local “Office of Economic Vitality” is pleased as punch. Competition for the Medicare set is fierce and commercials are ubiquitous. Even on Thanksgiving morning, construction workers were on-site, toiling to get a facility in the capital city’s high rent district ready for opening day.

Nobody wants to be a burden to their children, and advertising agencies do a remarkable job of making these “senior living communities” sound like Club Med. On television, you can’t smell the disinfectant that pervades the “memory care” wing, even in the five-star, amenity-intensive care units.

Decades of dementia is the new normal for significant segments of the population. The warehousing of those who cannot fend for themselves is a source of steady employment for people with strong backs, the patience of a saint, and extremely limited career options. But it is not a sustainable business model for a society that seeks to fulfill the Fifth Commandment.

On Thanksgiving, advice from AAA. And Mom

No matter how often the trained professional experts at the American Psychological Association tell us that the human brain was not designed for heavy-duty multitasking, we keep stockpiling toys that tempt our drivers to distraction, and sometimes death.

Just in time for the holidays, Neal Boudette of The New York Times reminds us that American technological exceptionalism has brought us the biggest spike in traffic fatalities in half a century, and fingers app addiction as the likely culprit.

The teenagers, little kids, and even the babies in the back seat all have their own screens, relieving drivers from having to distract them with 20th-century games like “count all the blue cars.”  That cuts down on annoying questions from the peanut gallery, such as “Are we there yet?” freeing up moms and dads for Bluetooth, Snapchat and Pokemon Go.

Aided by the North Star, 16th-century explorer Ponce de Leon made his way from A Land Without Indoor Plumbing to La Florida. Today, he probably couldn’t find his own Waze to the grocery store.

Any traffic cop can tell you that the techno-chickens have come home to roost. In the first six months of 2016, traffic fatalities are up by 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The keepers of the grisly statistics are alarmed, as well they should be. That’s a subject for long, thoughtful consideration on another day.

Right now, it’s time to for 2.29 million Floridians to load the car and head over the river and through the woods. The AAA is on the rooftops, shouting its seasonal plea.

You know how it goes, because you heard your mom say it every time you walked out the front door: Be patient. Limit distractions. Stay safe.


At Thanksgiving, three ways to trump politics

According to front page stories everywhere, America is bracing for a tense holiday weekend.

Our biggest seasonal challenge used to be arranging the place cards to keep Drunk Uncle’s hands away from Junior’s girlfriend. After years of practice, most families have survival strategies for annual airings of grievances over who Mom loves best. But is there enough Xanax in Grandma’s medicine cabinet to take the edge off the First Thanksgiving After Trump?

Probably not, so here are some Hatfield & McCoy-tested conflict avoidance game plans to help politically divided families Trump the blues and drain the bile from the crankiest Clinton supporters.

1. Mindless television: For a bipartisan bonding experience, gather the Rs, the Ds, the Bernie Brigade and the Never-Trumpers ’round your screen for a binge-watch of Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party. Elderly felon Martha Stewart and middle-aged stoner Snoop Dogg join forces to name drop and drop live lobsters into boiling water. The show is taped before a live audience of appreciative drunks, and you’ll want a martini, too, as Martha regales Snoop with a story about Barbra Streisand’s fondness for free-standing toilet paper holders. Snoop reciprocates by turning Martha on to Golden Oreos.

The only way this show could be improved is if Snoop and Martha taped at The Villages.

2. Clean out closets:  Screw your courage to the sticking place and deal with that room where Christmas 1957’s board games, books, and stuffed animals went to die. Every community has a church, synagogue, mosque or domestic violence shelter that will wrap stuff that you’ve used once, or never, in holiday ribbons and put it directly in the hands of some man, woman, or child who may find life-changing meaning and encouragement in the small kindnesses of strangers.

3. Thank somebody who’s not expecting it: A while back, a Tallahassee doctor who provided birth control pills to FSU freshmen at the dawn of the sexual revolution got a handwritten, snail-mail thank you note from a patient he surely did not remember. But she never forgot “that doctor on the east side” who treated her with respect and understanding in that not-too-distant time when young women couldn’t obtain a credit card, much less contraceptives, without a husband to “take responsibility.”

Genuine expressions of gratitude require genuine effort. Pushing a like button on your iPad is not the same thing as a card, a letter, or a cup of hot chocolate with the neighbor lady who used to patronize your high school band’s candy sales, whether she wanted candy or not. We all have people who helped us along the way and most of them will never know how much it mattered. Thanksgiving is a good time to track them down and tell them.

USF’s Herb Maschner loses title, but not money

herb-maschnerFor an academic who can’t keep his hands off the co-eds, friends with funds sure do come in handy. That’s the takeaway from the tawdry tale of the University of South Florida’s Herb Maschner.

The aptly named anthropologist left his longtime professional home at Idaho State University for USF, bringing with him a long-standing relationship with the well-endowed Hitz Foundation. Dazzled USF administrators didn’t ask about skeletons in the closet, and Maschner didn’t disclose that he was on the wrong end of a sexual harassment claim.

The accusations leveled by a graduate student under his supervision had been investigated, and sustained, leaving Maschner hot to trot out of Idaho.

USF made him an offer which included tenure, a $57,000 raise to $195,000; and a background check that wouldn’t pass muster at a well-managed burger joint.

Soon after Maschner arrived in Tampa, the Hitz Foundation ponied up $4.6 million for a “USF Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies” with Maschner as its executive director.

They might have all lived happily ever but for Idaho State quibbling about money with Maschner’s victim.  A trial is set for December, and the pesky press in Idaho was writing about the case, forcing Maschner to at last come clean at USF.

Pesky Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times broke the sordid story to taxpayers east of the Mississippi, forcing USF to assemble a Committee to Add Insult to Injury.

Weeks of dithering followed. Administrators eventually stripped Maschner of his fancy title, but not his fancy salary, and promptly took cover behind the skirts of an unfortunate spokeswoman. Lara Wade emailed the Times with the ludicrous claim that taking Maschner’s name off the letterhead “will facilitate greater productivity and success for him and his colleagues,” by which she means that “faculty members at the center … will report to their department chairs instead of Maschner, who has “also has been stripped of all governance responsibilities, such as committee assignments or evaluative functions  …”

The anthropology faculty is rightly concerned that “the negative publicity would affect the reputation of their department and harm recruitment” and wants the administration to “… identify a way to disassociate our department from professor Herb Maschner and to rescind his membership in the department immediately.”

That may be too little, too late, but it’s not too much to ask of a university that aspires to “preeminence.”

South Florida is still ‘skin tight’

Call him Ismael, and don’t be surprised if he turns up in Carl Hiaasen‘s next ripped-from-the headlines novel.

Ismael Labrador is a very real purveyor of strip mall surgery and beneficiary of Florida’s laughably lax enforcement of laws aimed at protecting the public against charlatans peddling plastic surgery on the cheap.

As owners of south Florida plastic surgery “clinics,” Labrador and his ex-wife Aimee De la Rosa cater to people with little money and less self-esteem. The Miami Herald’s Daniel Chang brings us the details, which would be shocking if we hadn’t heard this story so many times before.

Labrador has been on the state’s bad guy radar since 2007, when Miami-Dade police investigators discovered he employed unlicensed doctors to work on real people with unrealistic dreams of looking more Kardashian-like. He beat the rap by accepting a $30,000 fine and a wrist slap from the regulators, along with some community service, the nature of which Chang’s story mercifully spares us.

In the decade since, Labrador and his former missus retrieved a boatload of complaints from injured patients, some of whom ended up in area hospitals with “debilitating injuries and infection.”  Three deaths have been linked to their bargain basement beauty treatments.

Some customers trusted their instincts and decided not to go through with surgery. It took Attorney General Pam Bondi to get their deposits back, and, in exchange, her office agreed to drop an investigation into the facilities. We’ll see how that works out, because Florida has not seen the last of Labrador.

Spokeswoman Giannina Sopo says her clients will carry on following a “rebranding” as Eres Plastic Surgery. In a statement to the Herald that might have been crafted by a drunk alumnus of The Onion, she wrote:

“Like so many of our patients, we too are opening a new chapter in our lives with our rebranding effort. We have worked from the inside out to improve all aspects of patient care and we are in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that regulate cosmetic surgery centers and businesses.”

The rebranding includes a promise that doctors and nurses will monitor patients closely before and after their surgeries.

Well, it’s never too late for surgeons and surgical nurses to do stuff that mothers knew to do since before Hippocrates was born. But don’t bet the Brazilian butt lift that Eres will.


In St. Johns County, an uphill fight to put the genie back in the bottle

Cellphones are here to stay, and so, it seems, are the staggeringly stupid things we do with them.

Facebook fiascos are infinite in variety now that people of limited impulse control have a high-powered computer at their 24/7 command. It’s a problem for people of all ages, and from all walks of life.

Not for the first time this week, a Florida public official is wearing egg on his face for Facebooking While Biased Against Muslims. State Rep. Sam Killebrew offered this jolly joke to his fans and followers: “Liberals are acting like (President-elect Donald) Trump is going to kill all the gays, make slavery legal again, and take away women’s rights. Did he become a Muslim?”

As night follows day, right-thinking people took offense and Killebrew returned to Facebook to issue an “if you were offended” non-apology.

At age 71, Killebrew is probably beyond understanding why not everybody thinks he’s Central Florida’s answer to Mark Twain. But there’s hope for the kids, and St. Johns County is working hard to help them understand that the internet is an unforgiving place with a long and photographic memory.

Seventy-three percent of American teenagers have a smartphone, and 100 percent of them have brains that will not be fully developed until they are well into their 20s. It makes for a lot of heartache and aggravation in St. John’s County, where Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Strausbaugh clocks a lot of hours trying to educate kids about the consequences of uploading while clueless.

Long before Donald Trump cyberbullied his way to the White House, tech-savvy teenage Eddie Haskells were honing their skills at hounding the helpless. Sometimes, the kid who is told to “go kill yourself” really does. After a bit of community soul-searching, parents return to sleeping with their smartphone, and letting their children do the same.

Schools, youth groups, and cop shops everywhere are spending ungodly amounts of time cleaning up the messes caused by young’uns armed with Apples and Androids. The genie is out of the bottle, and all the Lt. Strausbaughs in the world can’t put it back.

Florence Snyder: Hogan, Ifill and Rushing, rest in peace …

Death really does come in threes. This week, people who care about journalism are mourning the loss of Paul Hogan, Gwen Ifill, and J.T. Rushing.

Hogan was one of our last links with an era when a kid could volunteer at the Marietta (Georgia) Daily Journal, bypass college, and rise to become the editor of the Tampa Tribune. The Grim Reaper kept a respectful distance from Hogan for three decades following his 1987 departure from the newsroom he loved, and the feisty reporters who loved him. Reading William March’s heartfelt remembrance, it’s easy to see why Hogan was squeezed out when the Trib fell in to the hands of the corporate carpetbaggers who plundered, looted, and left the paper to rot.

Death is doubly hard when it comes far, far too early, as it did for Ifill and Rushing.

Ifill’s death at 61 unleashed a torrent of genuine grief. Media bashers, no matter how hardcore, stood in line to pay tribute, along with the legions of journalists she mentored and inspired, and the audiences who trusted her implicitly. Ifill began and ended her career at news organizations where a woman of any color had to be twice as good to get half as far as her white male competitors. And still, she rose.

Rushing left the Jacksonville Times-Union years ago, and that was Florida’s loss. His byline on a story meant there was something underneath it worth your time. His death at age 45 barely registered in #TheProcess, where memories are short and turnover is high. For much of its life, the T-U was a house organ for corporate interests and deservedly disrespected by regular people. Rushing’s tenure as its Tallahassee bureau chief went a long way toward turning that around.

Postcard from the ‘sorry-not sorry’ apology files

Most of us learned in Sunday School that an insincere apology is worse than no apology at all, yet people keep issuing them, anyway.

Case in point: John Browning, member of the Florida Transportation Commission, St. Johns River Water Management District board member, and person who never met a Muslim he didn’t think was packing a suicide belt.

Browning was at the Jacksonville International Airport to catch a plane to President-elect Donald Trump‘s victory party when he spotted a man wearing a red and white checked headscarf. Browning snapped a picture and uploaded it to Facebook, with the clever-for-a racist fourth grader-comment asking his friends if anyone had “ever wanted to get off a plane when loading.”

Dinah Voyles Pulver, bless her, covers stupid things public officials say on social media for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Her story hit the paper’s website Friday afternoon, and Browning disappeared the post from his Facebook page before the presses rolled on the Saturday print edition.

But screen shots are forever, and Browning went into his dance:

“I apologize for any hurt I may have caused,” Browning posted. “It was not my intention. I have good friends that are liberal and conservative and enjoy a lively discussion with both.

“In hindsight it was a mistake to post …. Thank you, but no one needs to defend my mistake.”

That’s a relief, because this mistake is indefensible, and anyway, it wasn’t a mistake.

Browning posted exactly what he meant, and he knew he would tickle the funny bone of his fellow Facebook travelers like the one who responded to his defamation of all Muslims with a hearty  “If you hear something ticking, run like the wind!!!!!!!!”

Browning is entitled to his opinion, and he’s done Florida a service in telling the internet what, exactly, his opinion is. His phony baloney apology fools nobody, and insults everybody.

Florence Snyder: Is your mug shot in FACES virtual lineup?

Now that Attorney General and former Tampa Bay-area prosecutor Pam Bondi is among President-elect Donald Trump’s Legal Influencers, this is an excellent time to talk about FACES.

That’s the Department of Acronyms name for the Face Analysis Comparison Examination System, a statewide “facial recognition database” created over a decade ago by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Let’s hope our state’s top lawyer has heard of it. Most people working in Florida’s criminal justice system hadn’t until Sunday’s front page story in The Florida Times-Union by enterprise reporter Benjamin Conarck.

It’s a riveting account of an accused crack cocaine addict and dealer by the name of Willie Allen Lynch. Representing himself, Lynch discovered he and 33 million other folks are shaked and baked into a database that looks a lot like the ones on those police procedurals aimed at old people who still watch network television.

FACES golly-wow technology warp-speeds its way through millions of pictures of law-abiding people with drivers licenses along with less savory characters with mug shots —and spits out someone to arrest.

It’s a neat trick when viewed on a Jumbotron at Hawaii 5-0 headquarters.

In real life, the technology comes with questions that deserve a closer look.

“One of every two Americans is in a facial recognition database, according to a report released last month by Georgetown University. Florida’s face-matching system is the country’s largest and most active,” Conarck reports.

“Using the technology, police can insert people with no criminal histories into virtual lineups without their knowledge and identify faces on social media or in protest crowds. The software has expanded swiftly to police departments around the country, and has been left virtually unregulated.”

That won’t trouble those who think that people who have done nothing wrong have nothing about which to worry. But judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers have obligations to the Constitution which require that cards be laid on the table when a citizen’s life and liberty is at stake.

FACES software “is not designed to say ‘no’,” Conarck writes. “Instead, it returns multiple potential matches. That means police and prosecutors could be learning of alternate suspects from searching the database without notifying defense attorneys, who would be legally entitled to that information.”

This entitlement is grounded in a U.S. Supreme Court decision dating back to 1963, when judges were still writing opinions in longhand.

With the best of intentions, it’s close to impossible for law to keep up with technology. We’re just going to have to pick up the pace, and FACES is as good a place as any to start.

Not surprisingly, police and prosecutors hid behind spokesmen offering vague platitudes as Conarck went about his reporting. Bondi could take a big step in a more transparent direction by giving him some FACES time.

Florida Bulldog, tenacious watcher of the watchmen, celebrates its seventh anniversary

Uber-real estate developer and all-’round power broker Armando Codina once threatened to punch the aggressive and highly decorated investigative reporter Dan Christensen in the face. Today, Codina is among a growing number of donors to Florida Bulldog, the investigative reporting website Christensen founded in 2009, when he became one of the casualties of one of the Miami Herald’s newsroom purges.

Movers and shakers like Codina may not always like the impertinent questions posed by reporters like Christensen, but they understand that democracy cannot survive without a free and independent pack of watchdogs who aren’t afraid to pee on the Gucci loafers of the powerful.

Bulldog celebrates its seventh anniversary Tuesday at YOLO, a popular watering hole on Las Olas Boulevard. There’s a lot to celebrate, at least for people who aren’t reading about themselves on Bulldog’s increasingly well-trafficked website.

Crime reporter turned crime novelist Michael Connelly was the earliest and most generous Bulldog supporter on an honor roll that now includes, along with Codina, William Scherer, a founding partner of the powerhouse law firm Conrad & Scherer; Wometco Enterprises Chairman Arthur Hertz; Ed Williamson, chairman and CEO of Williamson Automotive; Miami Herald alum Dexter Filkins, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent and staff writer for The New Yorker; and former Sen. and Mrs. Bob Graham.

Bulldog was the first, and for years, the only news outlet willing to lend credence and column inches to Graham’s concerns about the role of the government of Saudi Arabia in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Media lawyer Tom Julin, a partner at the Gunster law firm, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of time to Freedom of Information Act litigation on behalf of Bulldog as it digs for truth in the face of federal stonewalling and sandbagging.

The Bulldog party begins at 6 p.m. and goes on until 9, or until people in #TheProcess run out of stories to leak to reporters in the room, whichever is later. The event is free, and so is the first drink. YOLO is located at 333 East Las Olas Blvd.

Disclosure: Florence Beth Snyder is a member of Florida Bulldog’s Board of Directors.

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