Florence Snyder - 4/8 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

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

For Richard Corcoran, a Sisyphean task

“We have a spending problem in this state,” says House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land ‘O Lakes), and nobody in their right mind could argue with him.

Florida spends more stupid money than a drunken sailor on shore leave. Any state worker can — if they trust you — rattle off a Top Twenty list of publicly funded member projects, unnecessary junkets, sacred cows, and six figure people who just graduated college with a degree in kissing the right rear ends. They cost a bundle, and taxpayers would not miss them if they were gone.

Pork ‘n nonsense has been bloating the budget since Corcoran was in knee pants. An expanding economy and bipartisan support for bonding and other forms of kicking cans down the road has, for decades, kept The Piper at bay.

Lately, there are signs that The Piper is losing patience.

In Palm Beach County, the bills are coming due at the medical examiner’s office. Thanks to the heroin epidemic, business is booming at the morgue, with bodies piling up at a pace that threatens the office’s good standing in the National Association of Medical Examiners. We don’t think about the Office of Autopsy unless we’re watching CSI or grieving a loved one lost in circumstances that are unexpected, unattended or otherwise unexplained. Then, we can think of nothing else, and we darn well expect our government to provide timely and accurate answers.

On the ground in Alachua County and from the skies above the Treasure Coast, the goop and gunk that threaten our water supply and our very way of life are the subject of endless, expensive talk and turf wars. Lawsuits funded on several sides by taxpayers are easy, and profitable for many of the players. Problem-solving is harder, and lacking in a critical mass of constituents.

For anyone, anywhere, who has been rescued, comforted or inspired by a firefighter, the suicide of Indian River County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief David Dangerfield comes as a gut-punch.  After a lifetime of performing heroic acts and making it look easy, he left us with a five-alarm reminder that “post-traumatic stress syndrome for firefighters is real,” and the limited supports we grudgingly provide them pales in comparison to the need.

It takes money to maintain a credible medical examiner’s office, clean water, and appropriate care for the people who care for us, so it’s encouraging to hear Corcoran take note of the difference between “pork belly fat and things that make the trains run on time.”

Environmental scientists, medical examiners and mental health professionals to minister to the very real needs of public servants in traumatic lines of work are the difference between trains that run on time, and train wrecks. Here’s hoping Corcoran will be bringing a sharp butcher knife to the pork roast.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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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Florence Snyder: On Veterans Day, a Valentine to UF’s bug-busters

The bad news is that a variety of bed bug not seen in Florida in 60 years is back. The good news is that the University of Florida is on the case.

Like its cousin the “common bedbug,” the tropical bed bug under investigation by UF researchers will drain your blood and your bank account. The difference is, the tropical bed bug can do it faster.

Doctoral candidate Brittany Campbell and her colleagues at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have taken to the peer-reviewed journals and any news organizations which will listen to spread the scary news about the return of a nasty brand of bedbug that could “….. develop more quickly, possibly cause an infestation problem sooner, and also could spread more rapidly.”

Like Zika, the story starts small. Patient Zero is a family in Merritt Island whose home was overrun in 2015. UF’s entomologists can’t pinpoint the bedbugs’ point of entry, but the list of suspects includes nearby Port Canaveral. Ports are great engines of globalization, and, since ancient times, a great way to spread all manner of pestilence.

The creepy crawlies are formidable opponents, but we rarely think of them until they are, literally, sucking our blood. Previous generations have fought back with high-powered pesticides.  It seemed like a good idea, until the cancers and birth defects began to show up.

This Veterans Day weekend, UF researchers are in their labs, looking for safer weapons of war against bedbugs, mosquitoes, and fellow-traveling forms of vermin. Let’s thank them for their service.

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Postcard from the center, which didn’t hold

It’s Morning After in America, and the recriminations are well underway.

Even with a crappy crystal ball like Larry Sabato‘s, you can predict the Democrats will assemble an Autopsy Committee like the one the Republicans did in 2012. Old habits die hard.

Bleary-eyed pundits, pollsters, pols, and political reporters are crying into their beers and Bloody Marys on Twitter and on national television. They’re plenty worried about their credibility, and their fat paychecks, not necessarily in that order.

The cluelessness is entirely bipartisan, and has been for decades.

Floridians old enough to share the Clintons‘ fondness for Fleetwood Mac recall a time when state workers got regular raises. It was 5 percent, or 10 percent or 2 percent, of your current salary, whatever that salary was.

The Little People were not fooled by the fake fairness of the People in Power. A 2 percent raise for a telephone operator was enough to buy the kids some new clothes to wear on a family night at the movies. For the man three rungs up on the org chart, it was enough to buy the kids some new clothes to wear on a family vacation in Europe.

The state payroll pay disparities that put down roots in Fleetwood Mac’s heyday pale in comparison to the pay disparities of today. It’s even worse in the private sector, where most of the jobs!jobs!jobs! are equal parts mind-numbing and soul-destroying.

Something had to give. When there is no center, the center cannot hold.

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