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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Trey Radel, The Last Unashamed Citizen in Southwest Florida

So it was confirmed for me today that I will be represented through 2014 by a coke head. Of course, I knew that, so as discouraging as the news is, it's no great surprise to those of us living in the Congressional district of Trey Radel.

But was more disappointing as our esteemed Congressman held his first press conference since leaving rehab was the litany of lies, dodges and other disrespectful bits of behavior intended to leave me confident my representation is in good hands in Washington, D.C. And we saw just the most recent bit of befuddling antics surrounding his October arrest.

First came the strange revelation in mid-November that Radel was busted for coke possession a month prior. How that was kept quiet in this Internet age is anyone's guess, but few would guess an explanation that meets any definition of the word good. Radel wouldn't resign, and surprising to me leadership in Washington wouldn't push him out.

Now he has finished a stint in rehab, but he swears his only addiction is alcohol and that he just tried coke a "handful" of times. Besides the bummer of having one of those times involve a DEA agent, that's completely inconsistent with the account of Mike Adams, a producer for Radel's old Fox radio show. From the News-Press:

“He would talk about his life, of being a traveler,” Adams said of Radel. “He would talk about hiking, taking his backpack and hiking in Colombia And, you know, it always led to, because of who Colombia is, it always led to drugs. We’d go to break and I’d say ‘Man, I bet the coke was crazy’ and he’d say, ‘Oh my God, you have no idea.’ ”

So here I am, myself and my neighbors left with a representative who admits to alcoholism, lies about his use of cocaine and remains a hypocrite who pushed for drug testing of welfare recipients while he was violated the law himself. For all my life following politics, I've never imagines being this embarrassed by my own representative.

Allow me, if it matters, to join the chorus of those who feel Radel truly should resign and leave with it some unsolicited advice. The problem right now is no longer that Radel broke the law, that he hid that from constituents or even that he lied tonight to his constituents. It's that he insists none of this affected his work in Washington, even as he missed a critical budget vote. It's that we have no confidence anymore in our representatives own sense of reality.

But most important, it is that Radel has yet to pay any significant price outside of personal shame.

Even there, he managed to shield himself away from most of the scrutiny and stares by hiding in a Naples rehab facility. Pity Amy Wegmann, who gave up a bright journalism career for husband's ambitions but now weathers this storm from outside that center's walls.

Radel says he is sorry, but right now, we have no reason to believe it, not when he has paid no political consequence even as he has acted in dereliction of his own duties. Radel does not think he should give up the seat he shamed.

Frankly, I'm surprised DC leadership hasn't shown him the boot yet, though an ethics investigation is finally underway. It isn't like there is much risk of losing the seat; Radel in 2012 won the district with 62 percent to Democrat Jay Roach's sub-36 percent performance. Actually, Radel is about the only Republican that could still lose this seat if remains there until next Fall and comes out on top of a crowded primary.

But until Radel grows some sense of shame (unlikely) or leadership enforces some sense of order, we're stuck here with this disgrace of Congressman.


Friday, July 26, 2013

So Far Still To Go

Here we stand, weeks after the verdict that exonerated George Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin, and the case still dominates the news, the blogosphere and most of our Facebook feeds (especially those of us who live in Florida). In today's rapid world of electronic news, that in itself is pretty astounding. But if there is an explanation how a single trial, a single tragedy, can grip our collective attention so long, it is probably the way this case has revealed so much about our collective selves, much of that remarkably unflattering.

I have been terribly discouraged just today as several friends from high school posted the same lengthy questionnaire supposedly intended to inform us of details that obviously would convince of Zimmerman's innocence but which in fact only depress about the mindset not only of George Zimmerman that night but of the people who watched this case play out through such jaded and prejudiced eyes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Race and the American Justice System

It's hard right now to digest this verdict. I've been telling friends and family for a week that I this trial was stressing me out entirely too much, but part of it is that I always knew this is a possibility. The Stand Your Ground law is extremely flawed, and the right lawyer in front of the right jury can get this verdict.

So we've seen the punditry and the arguing and the ridiculousness. Now a man who killed a child - a man who has never denied doing so - is free.

But alas, that's happened before and it will happen again. The real reason we are all so anxious now, more so with this than with Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson or any number of others, is that racial tension is very much in the air, and very few people can or will acknowledge why.

I've been thinking about this a lot since this trial began. I don't know that I'm the best person to try, but I've seen so many people utterly unqualified to say this is not about race do just that. Maybe I can at least try and explain what those people cannot or will not see.

First off, let me make the wild suggestion that I don't consider George Zimmerman a racist. At least not in any significant fashion. Would he have gone stalking a white teenager in the streets? Who knows. But after having the facts of this case hammered in repeatedly over the last few weeks, I have no doubt at this point that he would have shot a 10-year-old girl that not if she came at him armed with a bottle of Snapple.

The point really is, what if he had done that? That may seem a strange mental exercise, but just walk through it. Zimmerman said he feared for his life because the person he was stalking with a loaded weapon came at him, caught him off-guard and put him on the ground, said he would die that night, then seemed to go for his gun.

None of those facts depend on Trayvon Martin being bigger or stronger, or on him knowing mixed martial arts (as this rather disturbing RedState article suggests was important). Virtually anyone could have done the things which George Zimmerman says prompted him to shoot a child at point blank range.

So what if it had been a woman? What if it had been a white teenager, even one build like a fullback? I realize some may argue, but many people, including myself, can only guess Zimmerman would have gone to jail that night, Stand Your Ground likely never would have been discussed, and none of us outside a small neighborhood in Sanford would have any awareness of this case.

That's where the problem lies. We have a justice system today which applies different treatment based on race of the VICTIM.

At the heart of the defense has always been a rather offensive notion: that a black teenaged boy is inherently a threat to your life. Not a black girl. Not a white boy. No, the one time it
s ok to shoot to kill is if a young black man is at the other end of the gun because, who knows, somehow they may have the power to kill you.

There have always been complaints that the justice system is less likely to give the benefit of doubt to a black youth facing charges. But for most of us, at least those who are white like myself, that's a complaint that doesn't consume our thoughts. There may be greater scrutiny on black youths, after all, but if he stays out of trouble, a young black man can still grow up to be president.

This is different, though. Trayvon Martin didn't create this situation, however he responded to it. He died because he was in wrong place at the wrong time and handled it the wrong way. Alas, that too has happened to people before and it will happen again.

But usually, when you bring a gun with you to stalk someone and that someone ends up dead, the justice system will bring you to justice, particularly if they find you standing over the body with a smoking gun.

There are a lot of people in American confused and hurt about what makes this case so different.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The fight begins. All supporters must be welcome.

There are two important things to think about when you read this Palm Beach Post item. The first is that all supporters of marriage equality must get in fighting shape right now. The other is that we absolutely cannot start beating away people who are on our side.

From the post:
Former NBA star Tim Hardaway tonight is scheduled to become the first petition-signer on the Equal Marriage Florida effort to put a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage in the state on the November 2014 ballot... Equal Marriage Florida would define marriage as a “union of two persons” and would erase a gay marriage ban approved by voters only five years ago.

As I already noted in a prior post, it will be hard to pass this item. While I think a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Florida today would surely fail because it couldn't hit 60 percent, reversing this terrible decision from just five years ago will be a challenge because that high hurdle is now our burden.

And that brings me to the second critical aspect of this fight. We cannot scoff at anyone's support. Not anyone.

It will be hard to stomach for many to fight alongside Tim Hardaway in this fight, a man who made headlines making unabashed homophobic remarks at just the same moment the last gay marriage fight in Florida was gearing up. He was beaten up for that, and seems to have fully embraced the equal rights agenda now. We need to welcome people who change their mind into the fold.

It wasn't so long ago that the great fear of straights supporting gay rights was that we would be mistaken for gay. I'd love to tell you that was never a concern of mine growing up, but this I don't think I would have marched in the streets at age 19 for gay rights just because I would be afraid what others would assume. Of course, I got over that at a younger age than certain NBA all-stars, but that's not the point.

There is a reason that we didn't see a pro athlete in one of America's major team sports come out until this year. The attitudes on personal issues like that are different from situation to situation. If we preach tolerance, we need to allow people to evolve and embrace them when they reach the other side of this great divide. Our job is to coax people into our position using reason, not embarrass them by waving the finger of shame.

This has struck me especially this year, we saw the first GOP senator come out in favor of gay marriage. Rob Portman changed his position because his son is gay, and that changed his position. Of course, Dick Cheney it may be presumed was at least influenced by similar circumstance. Liberals unwilling to put down the sword for even a second chastise these individuals for having selfish reasons for coming to the side of angels.

The New York Times' Paul Krugman said of Portman:
While enlightenment is good, wouldn’t it have been a lot more praiseworthy if he had shown some flexibility on the issue before he knew that his own family would benefit? I’ve noticed this thing quite a lot in American life lately — this sort of cramped vision of altruism in which it’s considered perfectly acceptable to support only those causes that are directly good for you and yours.

But so what? Hardway may only have come around on gay rights because he was afraid of losing endorsement deals. Portman may only have rethought his position on gay marriage because a ban hurts his own child. Do you know what that makes these men?


Folks, this is how change happens. The reason marriage equality supporters were losing this issue so badly 10 years ago wasn't because we weren't organized. It wasn't because we needed better spokesmen or better funding. Improvement in those area helps, but in a democracy, none of those things are what truly wins the day.

We were losing 10 years ago because the vast majority of Americans thought we were wrong. We lost on Amendment 2 five years ago more than 3 of every 5 Floridians favored codified bigotry over equal rights. We only win this issue when we convince people who once that we were wrong that we in fact are right.

Now, momentum is so clearly on our side it seems unimaginable that the tide will turn against gay marriage. But make no mistake, the winning shot on this one is not made by Jason Collins. It's made by Tim Hardaway. He is the one who changed the game he was playing. And we need the game-changers on our side.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Repeal and Replace Amend 2 Now

Florida voters need to remove the term Prop 8 from their heads. It's gone now and it never affected them in the first place.

In all the excitement about rulings this week, entirely too much attention has been placed on Prop 8. Certainly, it's a big deal that same-sex marriage is legal in the largest state of the union, but more most of America, it is still against the law. And many Florida liberals have appeared startlingly unaware for years that on the same day California passed a law dashing marriage equality in one Sunshine State, Florida voters were preemptively discriminating against homosexuals here in the other one.

I imagine most of the readers on this obscure blog understand the landmark court decisions this week didn't legalize gay marriage nationwide. It's much more complicated. If you happen to live in one of a dozen states where court rulings, legislative action or voter referendum has come down on the side of human rights, your fight is over. But for Florida and 37 other states, the fight has only just begun.

Here, we need to do two things, and they won't be easy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Holy Crap! Jennifer Carroll is out?

I would never have predicted this (via the Miami Herald):


Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned, Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, she was interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is assisting in a national probe of Allied Veterans of the World, a Florida-based nonprofit that operates a chain of internet cafes.
Carroll once owned a public relations firm that represented Allied Veterans, and she did work for the company at the same time she served in the Florida House.
I have to concede that I always viewed Carroll as one of the legitimate government people in the Voldemort administration. She is not the one I figured would get perp-walked out of office. Reading the story completely, it is quite possible this matter, being pushed forward by an investigation in Oklahoma, may be a guilt-by-association thing. Only time will truly tell.
Carroll was actually a supporter of Bill McCollum in the governor's race two years ago, and was tapped by Rick Scott as a running mate in an apparent attempt to unite he party.
I'm very curious how this whole thing plays out, but at the very least, this will result in a judgment issue for Scott. Why, of all the potential running mates with legitimate government credentials, did Scott go with someone doing this type of outside work in addition to her public service? Was he that poor at vetting? Was it just a craven move motivated by a desire for diversity on the ticket?
And if Carroll ends up not having done anything wrong, will Scott have to answer for cutting her loose at the first sound of trouble.
In truth, Carroll has been a surprising source of problems for the administration. Allegations leveled against her by former staffer Caretha Cole, and Carroll's unfortunate response to those rumors, garnered embarrassing attention to the normally invisible office of Lt. Governor.
But seeing her depart from office, especially as the next gubernatorial cycle just starts to rev up, is going to be troublesome for Scott. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving administration.

Read more here:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why Poland Springs?

Sorry. It had to be said. If our U.S. Senator had to take an opportunity at the national stage and use it turn himself into a meme, couldn't he at least have grabbed some Zephyrhills?

Too many bottled water companies call Florida home to evade getting called out on this one Marco Rubio!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lake County's Bigoted History

I should have learned a long time ago that it never was good for Lake County to make national headlines. The possibility the school district may ban all school clubs to make sure a pro-gay club isn't allowed to operate at Carver Middle School leaves me hiding me head in shame once again.

I'm not sure where to start on the bad publicity surrounding this, but a good place is probably the sad history of the Lake County schools' brushes with national attention. I was in high school when the America First controversy garnered attention from across the nation. Those who did not grow up in Lake County can read that link to the New York Times (that's the New York FRIGGIN' Times) for background. The short version is that the School Board, after seeing the Christian Coalition get three members elected on the five-member board, voted to require history classes teach that America was morally superior to all other cultures in the world. It is hard to believe this whole episode happened in the early 1990s.

As someone who lived in the county at that time, I cannot overstate the extraordinary embarrassment foisted upon everybody living there by this utter nonsense. This should not be forgotten by School Board members considering taking a stand firmly on the side of homophobia in a world changing faster that street-front of 441.

As that Times article notes, a political solution was eventually found to the problem with the political ouster of these School Board members, in a Republican primary no less.

But something left unexplored in this article is the long list of specific embarrassments we suffered thanks to this crew. I myself testified in front of a School Board committee at one point because the district, which at the time beamed Channel 1 into classrooms each morning, was planning to censor a report on AIDS which discussed condoms. Because I attended hearings in Tavares, I was one of the only students in the district to see the full report—it did get censored—but I still cannot fathom the logic that mentioning sex in front of teenagers in the context of a terrible and fatal disease was going to be arousing, but going to school uneducated about the dangers of unsafe sex would keep youngsters on the path of the righteous.

If only this was the darkest part of history for education in Lake County. No, that distinction belongs to the entire 28-year reign of Sheriff Willis McCall.

The wickedness of McCall's time as a "law and order man" in Lake County could fill books, but his most notorious interaction with the learning of children likely came in 1954, when the sheriff ejected five Croation children out of a Mount Dora school because they appeared colored. This happened the same year that the Supreme Court declared desegregation illegal in the famous and surely-known-even-in-Lake-County verdict for Brown v. Board of Education. Yet in a public hearing, McCall said the children weren't allowed in white schools, even pointing directly at a 13-year-old girl and declaring he didn't "like the shape of that one's nose."

Right now, school officials in Lake County are concerned the actions of the School Board today will make the county appear out of step with the rest of America. Unfortunately, such action would be par for the course.

In an interesting historic twist, Lake County's Chistian Coalition majority was booted from office by voters the same year Willis McCall died. I naively hoped at a younger age that the county's days of discrimination and its philosophy of supremacy was sent to the hells of history in 1994. Sadly, that does not appear to be so.

It is important to note that a Gay-Straight Alliance, as students at Carver Middle School wish to start today, is devoted to promoting tolerance, not to recruiting homosexuals. It does not seek to "make" kids gay. Likewise, any fears one might have that sexual experimentation was going on within a middle school should want groups like this to be sanctioned and sponsored by professional faculty. That's the way to ensure student's conflict about their personal identity are dealt with in an appropriate setting, not through putting themselves in private, potentially predatory situations.

The issue of fairness should also be considered. The School Board never batted an eye about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (nor should it have). It also hasn't ever stopped clubs with no academic purpose whatsoever to form. At one point, Leesburg High School had a Dungeons and Dragons club.

But I hope above all that the School Board, the next time it meets, considers how their decision on this matter will be viewed in 20 or 60 years. Despite his political popularity at the time, the actions of Willis McCall are viewed universally as monstrous bigotry today. Lake County already looks behind the time on tolerance by entertaining a ban on student groups. If such a ruling is truly put into place now, will the decision in the future be viewed any differently than the actions of McCall?

My genuine fear is that history will see this ban as a continuation of hateful policies. After a few decades pass, there will be visible a clear line from banning Croatians to boasting superiority to banning gays. In every case, brave voices always stood up and said these policies were wrong. Will the Lake County School Board stand with the brave or the bigoted?