Florence Snyder - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

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

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In heaven, Debbie and Carrie continue to deliver a class act

Carrie Fisher and her kid brother Todd had every right to loathe their parents. Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher were self-involved entertainers, and the needs of their children ran a very distant second to Debbie’s relationship with her career and Eddie’s relationship with drugs.

From their “shared history of weirdness,” the kids managed to emerge quite a bit more kind, wise, and devoted to their star-crossed parents than Debbie and Eddie had any right to expect.

The Fisher children have been tabloid fodder since toddlerhood but survived to take ownership of their own stories and tell them with wit and a rare degree of honesty.

Carrie, in particular, was a one-woman Algonquin Round Table. Over decades, she aimed her powerful and sometimes poisonous pen mainly at herself, and shared ever-deepening insights into her bi-polar disorder and the self-destructive methods she used to self-medicate. We’ll never know how many people she helped, but judging from the outpouring of grief at her death last month, it’s a big number.

Except for the bi-polar disorder, Carrie grew up to be a carbon copy of her mother.  No matter what else was going on in Debbie and Carrie’s lives, their work ethic was unflagging. They wanted to be loved by everybody and they pretty much were.

Long before Carrie’s untimely and utterly unexpected death at age way-too-young, fans were counting the days to her December 15 reprise of Princess Leia in Star Wars VIII. And long before Debbie “left to be with Carrie,” Turner Classic Movies had announced a 65th anniversary big-screen showing of Singin’ in the Rain, the film that made Debbie a star and is, by general agreement, the best musical of all time.

It seems Debbie & Carrie are not done with us, and, it’ll be a long time ’til we’re done with them.

 

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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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In the Great Game, government fights for the White Walkers and the germs

Life really does imitate Game of Thrones.

Republicans, Democrats, Lannisters and Starks fight over White Houses and King’s Landings, but the future is trending in favor of the White Walkers and the germs.

A timely reminder of The Coming Plague comes from USA TODAY investigative reporter Alison Young, who weighed in this week with new reporting on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) screw-ups in the handling of Ebola and other deadly viruses and bacteria.

The CDC dragged its feet for two years on USAT’s Freedom of Information Act request for incident reports about sloppy and potentially fatal missteps at its laboratories in Atlanta and Ft. Collins. Apparently, that’s how long the CDC’s Department of Making Documents Look Like Swiss Cheese needed to review 503 pages of reports and redact the living daylights out of them.

Young and her colleagues in USAT’s investigative reporting unit are the sweat and muscle behind Biolabs in Your Backyard, an exhaustive and exhausting look at “vials of bacteria gone missing, escaped lab mice carrying deadly viruses, wild rodents making nests in research waste” and myriad other tidbits and outrages you won’t read about in government press releases.

Along with America’s roads and bridges, our public health infrastructure is teetering on the brink of collapse. Government won’t cough up the money necessary for scientists and researchers to do their essential work in the safety of facilities that are appropriately staffed, equipped and maintained. But government can always be counted upon to support the CDC’s Department of Don’t You Worry Your Pretty Little Taxpaying Heads.

Reporters who write about threats to public health suffer from poor pay, the constant threat of being laid-off or transferred to the Deal Diva beat and have a round-the-clock migraine from banging their heads against The Government Stone Wall of Secrecy, Silence and Spin.

This blast from the Nieman Reports past reminds us just how much time these public servant-journalists spend “talking to the hand.”  It’s a chilling collection of horror stories about the “complete lack of respect for the public in the way…agencies operate” to block, tackle, and bully reporters trying to tell stories that might cause a run on the Torch & Pitchfork Depot.

Right now, the germs are winning. On the present trajectory, we all might get repealed and replaced.

 

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Space Florida ‘Steeles’ itself for the winter that’s coming

Good on you, Jason Steele, for being the first person in the Space Florida boardroom to talk about the elephant.

“We have not had a target on our back, but I promise you, and my crystal ball is very clear, the target will be on our back,” Steele told his fellow Space Florida directors, as they reaffirmed a one-million-dollar line of credit for the folks behind a secret-something called Project Ice.

For all the public knew, the loan was going to Vanilla Ice, at a time when secret deals with rappers have fallen out of favor.

Steele’s warning seems to have had an effect. Within days, Space Florida revealed that the line of credit is for Made in Space, ” a Silicon Valley company with a growing Florida presence, for a project that aims to produce a higher-quality optical fiber aboard the International Space Station.”

Steele noted VISIT Florida’s claim that the public got 9-bucks on the dollar rate of return on its trade-secret intensive investment with Pitbull. We now know that the Miami rapper was paid a cool million to encourage millennials to come to Florida to get drunk and screw, an idea that might not otherwise have occurred to the kids. Steele warned that rate of return questions would be coming Space Florida’s way, too, and they’d best be prepared with answers that don’t make people laugh out loud.

Florida has a long history of public-private partnerships where private partners got the profits and the public got the bill.  Most of these deals have been covered quite well by Florida’s newspapers, in spite of the “trade secret” exemptions to the public records laws which have been multiplying like rabbits in recent years.

Beleaguered taxpayers picked up the tabs and suffered in silence because, as philosopher Bruce Springsteen observed, “you can’t start a fire without a spark.” Now that VISIT Florida has provided a blowtorch, pols and press will no longer be content to take an executive director’s word on ROI. They’ll want to know who did the research, and what they got paid to do it. Steele wisely wants Space Florida to get its “tools in the toolbox” … before they get hammered.

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A desperate declaration of war on word salad

Quite frankly, moving forward, our partners, community partners, and stakeholders must step up to the plate to reach out, speak out, and double down on a robust, impactful, pushback against Word Salad.

So, clearly, our paid professional purveyors of political communication are obviously resonating with an obsessive-compulsive doubling down on words and phrases that frankly take up space but add no weight to The Conversation.

Going forward, we must bring a sense of urgency to the table and, quite frankly, unpack this, as we move forward to step up to the plate and meet this challenge in the State of Florida.

Along with manatees and panthers, the simple declarative sentence is an endangered species. The annoying and downright ludicrous verbal tics of Word Salad have taken over the language of politics, like pythons in the Everglades and Gambian pouched rats in Carl Hiaasen’s new novel.

Here’s a partial list of fresh from Florida Word Salad ingredients:

at the table

basically

call out

challenge

clearly

community partners

double down

drill down

frankly

get our arms around

going forward

icon

I’d love to work with you

impactful

legendary

lessons learned

level the playing field

like

obviously

moving forward

partnering

picking winners and losers

policies in place

pushback

reach out

resonates

right?

robust

sense of urgency

So

speak out

stakeholders

step up to the plate

strategic vision

thank you for that question

thank you for the opportunity

that said

The Conversation

The State of Florida

The takeaway

unfortunately

unpack

working group

Some of these nasty bits of kale show up twice in a single sentence. Or three times. A particularly fluent speaker of Word Salad can spew four or five in a row without pausing for breath.

It will not be easy to rid The State of Florida of the empty calories and vapid clichés of a pervasive verbal virus that reduces even the smartest and most sincere speaker to an easy target for parody. The public expects and deserves nutritious platters of protein-rich food for thought. People in #TheProcess, resolve to cast off those rhetorical pork rinds and potato chips, and #makeFloridacoherent again.

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