Opinions Archives - Page 4 of 258 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Basketball cesspool overdue for draining

Forget about draining the swamp. The story of Rick Pitino being in essence fired as head men’s basketball coach at Louisville following a bombshell investigation by the FBI is the first step in the draining the cesspool known as NCAA college basketball.

Those who love the sport, and I am among them, should be celebrating today. This story goes way, way, way beyond the fun, games and boolah-boolah we normally associate with trips back to campus. College basketball needs a radical change, and the first steps toward that have been taken.

In addition to being extraordinarily popular, college basketball is an easy target for those who skirt the rules and laws of this land. For decades, shadowy figures known loosely as “street agents” have existed on the periphery and exert considerable, and sometimes illegal, influence over recruiting.

Look at recruiting as the foundation of any major athletic program. Then consider that millions and maybe billions of dollars can hinge on where a high school athlete chooses to spend his college career – short as it often is.

These “street agents” can include relatives of the athlete, long-time buddies, girlfriends, or coaches of the elite travel squads that identify talented players when they’re in middle school, or even earlier. Shoe companies exert enormous influence as well, since they can outfit a player (or travel team) with exclusive, glittery swag in hopes of gaining the best athletes as future clients.

For basketball and other sports, especially soccer, colleges concentrate recruiting on athletes on these traveling teams. In many ways, high schools sports have become irrelevant for basketball.

These travel teams traverse the country to high-profile tournaments against the best competition, giving young players tremendous exposure at an early age. For the best of the best, college is just a way station en route to the NBA.

Money is at the core of all this, course. Everyone has their hand out along the way.

And so it is that four assistant men’s basketball coaches from Arizona, Oklahoma State, USC and Auburn were arrested along with a high-ranking employee of Adidas, charged with crimes that include fraud, bribery and corruption.

Simplified, the way it works is that these third-party “agents” will steer the best players to specific programs in exchange for cash. It goes all the way to the top. The best description I saw of this came when an ESPN commentator said to think of the assistant coaches who now face charges as the Watergate burglars.

Trust me, the FBI didn’t spend three years investigating this in order to nail four assistant coaches. By the time the FBI is finished, you could see states getting involved if need be. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi should be paying close attention, for instance.

Pitino, the highest-paid men’s basketball coach in the country at more than $7 million per year, ironically had the best take I have seen on how this system works.

In an interview shown on ESPN from several years ago, Pitino noted that a college coach from a school outfitted with Nike gear, for instance, can’t bother recruiting a player from a travel team sponsored by Adidas.

Brand loyalty, you know.

This story is only going to get deeper and darker as it goes along. My guess is this will touch most, if not all, of the college basketball powerhouses.

It could, and should, spark a change in the rules about how players can declare themselves professional and simply skip college to try their luck in the NBA.

At stake is the future of the NCAA’s coveted March Madness basketball tournament, along perhaps with the reputations of who knows how many high-profile coaches the country. It may even force fundamental changes at the NCAA in the way it governs college sports.

As a long-time college basketball fan, I knew this day was coming, and now it’s here – along with a case of the cold sweats on many campuses around the country. College basketball has survived many things, most notably a point-shaving scandal in the 1950s. It will survive this, but change is on the way.

It’s long overdue.

Syd Kitson: Proud to be a Floridian

Storms are a fact of life for the 20-plus million that call ourselves Floridians. Mother Nature reminded us of this when Hurricane Irma made her one-two punch – the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005.

Before and after Irma’s impact, Floridians responded.

With Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership, Florida safely executed the largest evacuation in U.S. history. He successfully negotiated lifting the federal government’s 1920 Merchant Marine Act, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, which immediately reduced regulations limiting the delivery of much-needed fuel in Florida – spurring a convoy of fuel trucks from seaports to gas pumps.

Law enforcement, first responders and direct service providers quickly jumped into action to protect and serve. Utility providers from Pensacola to Key West pre-staged – joined by more than 30,000 linemen from throughout the United States and Canada – and immediately began restoring power to more than 6.7 million homes and businesses that were in the dark after Irma’s wrath.

In business, leaders routinely assess what worked and what didn’t, and make necessary improvements. And in Florida, we have a long history of doing the same. It’s why, after Hurricane Andrew, Florida implemented some of the strongest building codes in the country, and the results are encouraging. For Irma, teams of building code experts will be conducting a deep dive looking at code performance and will continue to learn and improve, but one thing is for certain, the homes built under the current Florida Building Code performed remarkably well. Special thanks to the leaders of the Florida Home Builders Association and the Association of Florida Community Developers for working to make Florida stronger.

Perhaps most importantly, Floridians embraced their neighbors from all walks of life to lend a helping hand. Democrats, Republicans, people of different races and religions came together to help each other in a time of desperate need. As was the case in Houston, this unity was on full display when Irma engulfed Florida with its fury.

Wouldn’t it be great if this caring, respect and compassion lasted long after the impact of Irma begins to fade?  Unfortunately, politicians are trying to use this disaster for personal gain and are already fanning the flames of partisanship and extremist views rather than focusing on what is most important – the actions that were taken to ensure the safety of Floridians from Irma’s wrath.

With Gov. Scott, our first responders, utility providers, neighbors and more, we saw leadership. Colleges, universities and schools opened their doors to shelter their neighbors, and in several communities, local chambers of commerce served as community Wi-Fi locations to help connect families with their loved ones, and to provide water and cooler temperatures.

Leaders from throughout Florida will gather this week for the annual Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum to focus on ways to make Florida more competitive. We’ll discuss Irma’s impact on Florida, but most importantly, we’ll take time to be thankful for and to honor the leadership of many.

After all, these heroic efforts should make us all proud to be Floridians.


Syd Kitson is chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and is chairman and CEO, Kitson & Partners. He can be reached at skitson@kitsonpartners.com.

Fernando Rivera: Should I stay or should I go? A disaster researcher’s personal dilemma

I am a disaster researcher. I study the social processes by which communities work in building resilience to emergency events, particularly natural disasters. But earlier this month when the possibility of Hurricane Irma striking Central Florida was becoming real, I also became part of the unfolding event.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, Sept. 4, and as I went grocery shopping, the water aisles started to empty. I addressed my honors medical sociology students, told them to take the threat seriously and encouraged them to complete their disaster kits and possible evacuation plans. As the class concluded, I told them that I was hoping to see them back in class that Thursday. But that never happened.

Concerns grew as I received a text Wednesday from UCF Alert, a communication system that informs the university community about emergency situations. The text stated that all classes were canceled for the rest of the week. On Thursday, there was still some sense of normality; my kids went to school, I did some work at the office, and kept a watchful eye on Irma’s projected path.

Then another notice, this time from the Seminole County Public School System: Classes were canceled for that Friday. By now, resignation. Like it or not, Irma was coming.

I have visited and spoken with most emergency managers in Central Florida. I know we are in very good hands. I know that Florida is one the best emergency-management systems in the country. But I was hearing all the talk in the media about the strength, size and unprecedented nature of this storm.

I should have been level headed and I tried my best. In all honesty, I was afraid and wondered what I should do. Pack up and head north? Stay? Go to a shelter? Even with my expertise, these were decisions that were not meant to be taken slightly.

By Saturday, my family and I decided to stay. We had all the supplies we could get, window shutters were up in the house, and the forecast suggested the hurricane eye was moving east away from us. Things were looking good and spirits were lifted. Now the waiting for the storm began.

As I continued to monitor the path of Irma, bad news trickled in. The storm was moving west, expected to ride up the gulf coast of Florida, directly impacting Tampa. My heart sank as I know that the eastern side of hurricanes always pack the strongest winds and rain. Resignation, again. Did I make the right choice? Did I put my family in harm’s way?

Glued to weather reports I was hoping for a change in Irma’s trajectory. Saturday night brought even worse projections, the eye of Irma shifted more east, and the possibility of a direct strike was upon us. It was the beginning of one of the longest nights of my life.

Saturday evening, emergency alerts started to arrive: “Tornado warning, seek shelter immediately!” We all packed into the safety of the bathroom and waited for the warning to expire. No luck, as the night progressed we received six additional tornado warnings.

Time stood still that night.

The wind started to blow, rain began to pour and we were bracing for the worst of it at 2 a.m. I did my best to comfort the kids. We played games and kept an eye on the news. As reports of power outages began to trickle in, flashlights were nearby and we waited for our power to go out. Luckily for us, it never did.

Around 2:30 a.m., the eye approach our area, the winds kept blowing, gusts shook the house to its core, and in the darkness of night it was hard to tell what was going on. By 4:30 a.m., I couldn’t stay awake. For an hour or so, sheer tiredness allows me to sleep. But it was short-lived. The howling of the winds woke me up and I was just hoping for it to stop. Please just stop, Irma. Move on, please!

Daylight finally arrived and I peeked through the window to get a glimpse of the damage. I could see a section of the back fence was down and several roof shingles on the ground. In all, I felt a sense of relief that the worst of the storm had passed and that we were going to be OK. Resignation turned into relief. Good call on staying put. We made it!

As neighbors started to come out to assess the damage, there was a strong sense of community. Everyone asked if others were OK, how they could help, etc. By far, we dodged a bullet; things could have been a lot worse, and it was for many others around the state, Georgia, South Carolina, and those in Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Kitts and Nevis, Turks and Caicos, and the Virgin Islands.

I am grateful to all emergency personnel, media and government officials for their hard work to keep us informed and safe.

As I reflect on the experience, I cannot be certain that I would stay if a hurricane like Irma comes our way again.

But one thing that was reinforced for sure is that preparation is the best tool to get ready and recover from a storm.

Should I stay or should I go next time? Hopefully, I won’t have to find out soon. My fingers are crossed.


Fernando Rivera is a UCF Forum columnist and an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Sociology. He can be reached at Fernando.Rivera@ucf.edu.


Steve Schale: Last night was a BFD for Florida Democrats

Steve Schale

Last night, the train of Democratic state legislative wins around the country came to Florida, as Annette Taddeo defeated Jose Felix Diaz in the special election for Senate District 40, picking up a key seat for Florida Democrats.

How big of a deal is this for Florida Democrats?

This is the first legislative special election pickup since 2008, and the first time Florida Democrats have won a special in the state Senate probably since about the beginning of the Republic.

When I wrote about this race back in the summer, my belief was this race meant a lot more for Democrats than it did for Republicans. This is a race Republicans should win. Outside of the Hillary Clinton numbers in 2016, this seat leans a little Republican down the ballot, they fielded an outstanding candidate, and they had more money — which becomes a bigger factor in a short sprint election in a really expensive media market.

Taddeo’s win, if my text messages last night are any indication, sent a pretty loud shock wave through political circles. And it should.

Here are some of my takeaways.

Winning breeds winning.

I know this sounds trite, but one of the reasons why I felt this race mattered a whole lot more to the Democrats than the Republicans is because the Democrats needed to prove they can win, both to the outside world and to themselves. There is a confidence that comes from winning, and last night will make fundraising and candidate recruitment easier going forward.

Don’t ever underestimate your opponent. Ever.

A lot of people in the Florida establishment didn’t take Taddeo seriously. But I know Annette, and she is a tenacious campaigner. Moreover, even in her Congressional loss in 2016, she did quite well within this seat, allowing her to come into this race with a ton of name recognition, name ID that gave her an important leg-up against the wave of money she would face.

Donald J. Trump.

My friend Rick Wilson likes to say “everything Trump touches dies.” This is a part of the state where immigration policy matters, and where Obamacare was always popular. To this point, Barack Obama had a 63 percent favorable in recent polling in the district, while Trump’s very unfavorable was 50 percent with total unfavorable at 57 percent.

Absolutely nothing Trump has done over the last six months was good news for Republicans there.

As we saw in the St. Petersburg mayor’s race, and again last night, Republican candidates who can’t figure out how to deal with Trump have a hard time getting to those last 2-3 percent of voters who swing elections.

This was my reality in 2010 and 2014; Republicans have to figure out the two problems we often faced: How do you deal with increased enthusiasm on the other side driven by sending a message to the president of your party — and how do you talk to voters who want to use you to send that message. And here is the problem, as Alex Sink learned, sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t solve it.

Dear Democrats: Recruit. Recruit. Recruit.

Just like for Democrats in 2006, 2008, and 2012 — and Republicans in 2014 and 2010, there is currently a dividend to just being a Democrat on the ballot. I would argue SD 40 is, in a generic election, a +1 or +2 GOP seat in a legislative or congressional race, and based just on likely partisan turnout, should be an even to +/-1 point advantage for either party. Taddeo won by 3, despite being vastly outspent, which is basically a 5 point shift from the generic performance. What does that mean? Every seat you think is currently out of play, add a few Dem points to the generic performance and see what happens. In other words, a lot of places are potentially in play. In 2006, we approached the cycle with two goals: recruit the best possible candidate in as many seats as could potentially be in play, then be smart about where you spend money.

We don’t know what November 2018 will bring yet, but waves start with having a lot of good candidates out there, and right now, there is work to be done. Fortunately, for Democrats, there is time.

There are no sure rules anymore.

Republicans have done well on Election Day of late, in part because Democratic voters have tended to take more advantage of in-person early voting than Republicans. But this led virtually every Republican I spoke to over the last few days to believe it was a sure thing they would win Election Day. Instead, Taddeo won it by a yuge margin, driven by an enthusiastic turnout operation. There was hardly an activist on my Facebook feed that wasn’t checking into some canvass or virtual phone bank this weekend.

The Florida Democratic Party, Senate Democrats (congrats to my old ‘08 Obama/Biden organizer Josh Weirebach), Team Taddeo and various outside groups came together and instead of fighting each other Democrat-style, blew it out together on the ground. And it won Taddeo the race.

As I said in my piece this summer, I do think people tend to read too much of the future into these special elections, and I still believe that to be true. The fact Taddeo won doesn’t mean Democrats are going to sweep the ballot in 2018. Nonetheless, it was a big win, a yuge win, and in the words of my once — and maybe future — boss, a pretty big f’n deal.

I want to close with one last thought. Often times, we complain about the quality of choice in an election, and races are too often framed as the lesser of two evils. In reality, most people in public life are good people, and in the case of Senate District 40, voters had a choice between two outstanding citizens.

Both Annette Taddeo and Pepi Diaz are friends of mine, friends who I hold in the highest regard, and while I personally hate they ended up in a race against each other, I am glad for democracy that they did. This is how it is supposed to work.

Congratulations Annette — you truly deserve this and I know you are going to make your friends, family and supporters proud.

And Pepi, thank you for putting yourself in the arena. You are (as Teddy Roosevelt would say) a man who “spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Joe Henderson: Two cities, one push for Amazon HQ

The news that Tampa and St. Petersburg will work together to attract the much-sought new Amazon headquarters is exactly what outsiders have been saying for decades this area needs to do.

This goes back to when the squabbling sibling cities submitted separate proposals to attract a Major League Baseball team. Baseball bosses rolled their eyes and said this place needs to act as one if it wants to join the league of important cities.

We haven’t been disposed to do that, though. Tampa seemed to get all the big stuff – the airport, University of South Florida, skyscrapers, the Bucs, etc. – while St. Pete endured jokes about green benches.

No one is laughing at St. Pete now, though. It has a thriving and trendy downtown, quick access to beaches, gobs of entertainment options, and any envy it felt about wanting to be Tampa should long ago have subsided.

The last big hurdle that both sides had to conquer was maybe the hardest one – realizing that to compete for prizes like the Amazon headquarters, it can’t be about one location or the other. It’s about a united “us” and that needs to be the mantra going forward.

The mayors here – Bob Buckhorn in Tampa and Rick Kriseman in St. Pete – have joined forces to convince Amazon that it should spend the estimated $5 billion the company has budgeted for its headquarters right here in the Bay area.

St. Pete’s initial pitch includes the interesting idea of making the current site of Tropicana Field available for Amazon. That’s top-shelf thinking that makes tons of sense.

I don’t want to get into a whole thing about the Tampa Bay Rays and where a new stadium should be though. This is about much more than that.

It could bring in 50,000 jobs.

This would be a life-changer more than a game-changer for this area, which is why Buckhorn tweeted he is “happy to partner” with his St. Petersburg counterpart.

OK, reality check: It’s a long shot.

For one thing, our shabby transportation system could, and probably will, be a huge negative in this bid. Maybe that will finally convince enough people to do something about that.

Even in losing, though, Tampa Bay could win. Coming close to landing a prize like this would send a potent message to potential moguls looking to do business here.

The list of cities pursuing Amazon includes all the big boys and represents real competition. We’re used to having pro teams around here, but something like this will teach this place we call home  what it is really like to play in the big leagues.

Lila Jaber: Thank a lineworker

Amidst the post-Irma “tweet storm,” there was a visual that made me pause: two lineworkers from Gulf Power, a Florida Panhandle utility, descending a power pole after replacing a transformer in a St. Augustine neighborhood outside Gulf Power’s service area. Having traveled to that area to provide extra support, the utility team lead expressed his group’s eagerness in helping the residents in any way possible to “get their life back to normal.”

His sincerity made me think of all the lineworkers whom I have had the privilege of meeting over the years. What each of them had in common is a strong commitment to service. At no time has that commitment shone brighter than when we weathered the storm together in recent days.

Hurricane Irma ravaged our state, stealing power from the majority of us. Our lineworkers – as prepared as they could be to handle the worst-case scenario – faced what The Washington Post rightly dubbed a “Herculean task” in getting our neighborhoods restored and returned to routine. As always when duty calls, these men and women left their own families behind in the wake of the storm to help families like yours and mine. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with paramedics, firefighters, police and the like, their dedication during and in the days since Irma has renewed the dialogue on how lineworkers, too, should be designated as “first responders.”

Yet, despite all their preparation, sacrifice and grueling shifts, the aftermath of Hurricane Irma has seen the rise of another kind of surge. Sadly, some who benefit from these lineworkers’ services are now critical of the pace of restoration. The task of restoring power is not as quick and certainly not as simple as one might think when the issue is spread over such a large area so dense with trees and power lines that serve as hosts for electricity, telephone and cable. As they work to support the needs of nearly 20 million Floridians, it is important that we extend our willingness to learn, understand, and unite with these dedicated professionals in solidarity as they do what they do best: supporting each and every one of us.

It is easy to overlook our lineworkers’ passion as we go about our lives as usual in the comfort of our homes and workplaces. But it is times like these when we must recognize the comforts they forgo to support us in living our daily lives. These hardworking people deserve all the grace and compassion of our Southern hospitality.

To them, I say thank you. #ThankALineWorker


Lila Jaber is the Regional Managing Shareholder and Governmental Affairs Practice Group Leader of Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, P.A. She is a former chair of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the founder of Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum (FWELF).

Joe Henderson: Marco Rubio maybe gets the message

Gwen Graham’s attempt to make Marco Rubio look bad may have fallen flat, but it does raise a couple of interesting points.

First, Democrats obviously still plan to make an issue of Rubio’s image as a detached and disinterested U.S. senator. You may recall that was a major point of contention last year when Rubio successfully ran for re-election.

But second, is Rubio doing enough in the early stages of his second term to put that question to rest?

Maybe. His performance – and especially that of his staff – during the recent hurricanes suggests he has gotten the message that being a senator requires than showing up at election time and asking for votes.

Graham, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, released a video last Friday that hit directly at Rubio’s detached image. With a camera rolling, Graham called Rubio’s office to urge him to vote against the pending health care bill in the senate.

The call went to voice mail. She left a message.

She called his offices around Florida. More voice mail. More messages. Apparently, she never reached a live human, and she punctuated that with a tweet that read: Senator @MarcoRubio, answer your phone.

Olivia Perez-Cubas, Rubio’s communications director, responded with a zinger that said the reason no one answered is because staffers were busy helping “over 10,000 people apply for FEMA assistance, not sitting behind desk waiting for a political stunt.”

She released pictures to back up her claim.


Rubio also just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico to survey and report on damage, again with photos. And this was after he was highly visible, along with Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, going around Florida before Hurricane Irma struck. After the Keys were dealt a severe blow by Irma, Rubio was on the scene with Tim Tebow (!) to pass out ice to people in need.


Rubio’s staff gets an A-plus during this time. And someone seems to have gotten through to Rubio that being a senator, especially in a crisis, requires visibility and action. We need to see these people. We need to hear from them.

The late former U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons was renowned throughout Tampa for his rapid response to constituent needs. Nelson routinely returns to Florida to see what’s going on, and not just for fund-raisers.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa also spends a lot of time back home, listening to concerns from the people who elected her.

Throughout his first term, Rubio basically blew off the job he was sent to Washington to do, concentrating instead on an ill-fated run for president. He moped that he didn’t like being a senator and even said he wouldn’t run for re-election before changing his mind.

He won a second term, but after six years his brand was that of an absentee representative. As Graham’s gambit showed, that can be a tough image to change.

Give Rubio credit for this much, though – at least he seems to be trying.

Joe Henderson: Patriotism is more than flag waving

Patriotism is not the exclusive property of any one group. Showing real devotion to this country takes more than waving a flag and snarling at someone who doesn’t. It starts with understanding what this nation is supposed to be about.

I got caught up Sunday night in watching the latest installment in Ken Burns’ epic series about the Vietnam war. Given current events, it seemed an oddly appropriate thing to do.

The show focused on the late 1960s, a particularly volatile time. Americans were beginning to realize their government was feeding them loads of bunk about what was happening in that faraway country.

Students were taking to the streets in protest, and many of them burned U.S. flags. Many who supported the war argued that anyone who believed differently was unpatriotic. That seems to happen any time the authority of a president is questioned like we’re seeing now.

Here’s a quote from a pretty patriotic guy that might lend some perspective.

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

George Washington said that.

Washington and many of this nation’s founders, which some on the right embrace when it suits them, would be appalled by President Trump’s reaction to the protest by football players who chose to kneel during the national anthem.

That includes Tampa Bay Buccaneers players Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn locked arms with his players on the sideline in a show of solidarity before their game Sunday. In a direct shot at President Trump, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross noted, “Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”

Alas, the nation’s Tweeter-in-Chief once again has mistaken division for leadership. At a rally, he said anyone who kneels in protest is a “son of a bitch.” So, here we go again. We’re deep enough into this astonishing presidency to understand this is the way it’s going to be.

He is so ill-informed and lacking in circumspection that he doesn’t realize the protest isn’t about the U.S. flag or patriotism, at least it wasn’t at the start. It began with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to highlight what he believes is racial injustice in this country. Trump, however, is succeeding in making the protest all about him.

It must be at least a little awkward for high-ranking Republicans from Florida – particularly Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott.

Publicly denouncing this man would be statesmanlike, but both seem more interested in pushing through political agendas no matter the compromise that takes.

It hasn’t been business as usual in this country since Jan. 20 of this year, when this president took over. At the rate we’re going, I’m not sure how long it will take to get back to a semblance of what used to be normal.

Our friends in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are in ruins. Mexico, which Trump wants to wall-off, was staggered by a major earthquake. A lunatic in North Korea wants to vaporize us. Who knows what chicanery Russia is up to this week.

And our president wants to pick a fight with athletes who exercise their freedom of expression?

For a final thought, let’s go back to the Vietnam war.

I graduated high school at the height of that war. I dutifully registered for the draft, but wasn’t called because my lottery number was 275.

I attended funerals of guys my age who died over there. One of my classmates won a Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry I can’t even fathom.

It is possible to respect the sacrifice everyone made there and still be against the war, and I was. I believe strongly that the relentless protests in this country against the Vietnam “conflict” (like leaders wanted to call it) helped save lives by pressuring this nation to end the war.

Being an American means you can do that and still love this country. Anyone who says otherwise is flat out wrong.


Joe Henderson: Bad timing for USF money request

The medical school and heart institute being built by the University of South Florida in downtown Tampa is ambitious and more than a little bold. It can be major step in the ongoing re-invention of the city’s urban core.

Speaking of bold, though, that’s the word that came to mind after reading the News Service of Florida story about how USF plans to ask state lawmakers for an additional $21 million next year to complete the project. That’s on top of the $91 million it already has received.

Construction has begun on the sprawling complex, which will cover 50 acres of prime real estate as part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa project. Local businessman and philanthropist Frank Morsani also has contributed $18 million, and in return gets his name on the college of medicine.

Noble aim.

Bad timing.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced a couple of days ago that instead of requests for local projects, lawmakers should concentrate on ways to provide hurricane relief and planning in the next Legislative Session.

He pointedly noted, “…I ask all of you, and our colleagues in the Senate, to join me in setting aside the business-as-usual of pork projects and instead invest all of those funds to either assist those in need after Hurricane Irma or prepare Florida against the threat to life and property that will surely come with future storms.”

I can almost hear USF President Judy Genshaft arguing that a project like this is hardly pork or business as usual. She would be correct.

The medical school proposal is a game-changer for Tampa in many ways. It would attract the kind of young, upwardly mobile and skilled professionals that all cities value so highly.

At a news conference Wednesday to update the project, Genshaft noted that USF received more than 6,000 applications this year to fill 170 spots.

Corcoran, however, warned that money is going to be tight next year even before the billions in damage from Hurricane Irma.

The worthiness of the medical school should not be questioned, but put it this way: There are a lot of worthy projects in the state, and they will all be competing with Florida’s urgent need to repair from Irma and prepare for the next monster hurricane.

Good luck.

Blake Dowling: Tech and the next threat

For the next threat, both our state and nation are constantly sleeping with one eye open.

The threat landscape consists of digital, cultural, and of course good old Mother Nature. At the top of the list: hurricanes, terrorism, human trafficking, and even the current opioid epidemic in Florida.

Tech Industry leaders and our government are doing their part to help — when possible.

Lately, Twitter has been a hotbed for recruiting young folks to ISIS. To counter that effort, the company shuts down any accounts created to promote extremism or violence.

Hopefully, Abu (see below) was first on the list.

Example of a deleted terrorist account

Some of those that were cyber-yanked were at the request of the government, but Twitter removes others on its own. They have automated tools to look for that type of content, as well as actual humans who view activity — called “content moderators.” Talk about a tough gig.

Twitter is reporting that they shut down over 300,000 accounts in the past six months for just this reason. Man, our world is certainly full of a**holes; 300,000 hate-filled social media accounts is staggering to consider.

And just this morning, I was reading about the positive work of Operation Airdrop in Florida. They are bringing supplies to the state’s rural areas affected by Irma, people without power, fuel, access to grocery stores, etc. since the storm hit.

Then there is this glaring stat from Twitter about negativity in our world.

Oh, well, it’s a good reminder (if your head is in the sand) to get it out of there, and always be on the lookout for trouble.

As James Cronin’s book “The Passage” says: All Eyes. (It’s worth a read if you’re into post-apocalypse vampires.)

Tallahassee Mayor Gillum with alleged undercover FBI agent, Mike Miller.

Thank you Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook for zero tolerance for this type of behavior.

If you visit FloridaPolitics.com regularly, I am sure you have read pieces on Attorney General Pam Bondi and her office fighting the good fight regarding our state’s opioid crisis.

They have a new ally in this fight in the form of an app — called OD Map.

OD Map focuses on High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and monitors overdoses and other analytics.

Why is this data important? There were 52,000 overdoses in 2015, mostly from heroin, oxy, or some type of pain medication. If hospitals and other agencies can get overdose stats in real time, they can take more proactive measures to save lives.

For example, they can have the drug Naloxone on hand in areas spiking with overdoses. Naloxone is the FDA-approved medication used to block or reverse effects of an opioid overdose.

Also, for law enforcement, if there is an area with lots of overdoes, it might be time to send in undercover FBI agent Mike Miller to help shut down dealers. (That’s a little North Florida CRA investigation humor for you).

Last week, I wrote about some hurricane apps last week – Waze, Zello, etc. – so we won’t go back there.

Just remember, technology (apps, artificial intelligence and more) is always available to help (when used properly) in the global fight against all things evil, ridiculous and just plain wrong.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.


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