Florence Snyder - 4/11 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

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

Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell – Part 3

How many adults does it take to get a 4-year-old girl from day care to her “destination?”

Quite a few for a 4-year-old in the “care” of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and its “community partners” at Eckerd Kids and Camelot Community Care.

We don’t know the child’s name because #PrivacyLaws. But her face is on RaSheeda Yates’ smartphone, as well as the internet, thanks to the underpaid, undertrained, and now unemployed Camelot driver who brought the child to Yates’ house Monday night at 7:45.

That’s a pretty long day for a little kid, and perhaps it explains why she was hungry, and scampered through the front door the moment it was opened by Yates’ 14-year-old daughter, although more sinister interpretations are possible.

Yates called the police, and eight officers came to her aid. Everyone was baffled that there was no missing child report.

Yates turned to the Church of Facebook and posted the child’s picture. Faster than you can say “6 degrees of separation,” the child’s biological mother saw the picture.

Four hours and two meals after the little girl walked through Yates’ front door, the foster parent, dressed in nightclothes, showed up. For some reason, the child did not want to leave. For obvious reasons, Yates did not want to “send her back to a place where people didn’t know she was missing.”

Predictably, DCF is “absolutely outraged.”

Naturally, Eckerd “urged” Camelot to “institute new procedures.”

Undoubtedly, Facebook is happy that Florida is talking tonight about something other than streaming suicide.

Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell, part 2

Naika Venant kept a journal and hoped one day to write a memoir. Instead, her life story will be told by the Miami Herald.

Eight of the paper’s most experienced reporters collaborated Tuesday to piece together the last hours of the last chapter of the 14-year-old foster child’s life.  But it was old news to the thousand people who watched in real time on Facebook as Naika hung herself by the neck until dead.

An all-star cast of usual suspects showed up to say all the usual things.

Department of Children & Families (DCF) Secretary Mike Carroll is “horrified and devastated.”  There will, of course, be a multidisciplinary investigation.  He’s committed to “helping the family heal.”

Carroll can take that up with the birth mother’s lawyer, who kicked off his client’s healing process with a shock and awe news conference.

Soon to be heard from is the dependency court judge who ordered that Naika be shielded from social media and provided with intensive counseling.  Sure to come is a Herald lawsuit to gain access to the facts of Naika’s life, which included being raped in foster care. That was half a lifetime ago, when she was 7 years old.

Yesterday, House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo wondered aloud: ” … how much appetite do we have to be disciplined financially? We’ve been led by Republicans for the last 20 years, and we spend like Democrats.”

Indeed. High on the list of stupid money Florida spends is the millions it takes to support its web of confidentiality laws written decades before parents decided it was OK for 14-year-olds to sleep with their smartphones. There’s a bipartisan consensus that it’s a good use of money to “protect the privacy” of children like Naika, as if their families, teachers, neighbors, grocery store clerks, and Facebook friends don’t know who they are, and why they’re “in care.”

Today and every day, there are Naikas and Nubias acting out, crying out, waiving their privacy “rights” and begging for help. There are professionals ready, willing and capable of providing meaningful help, court-ordered or otherwise.

What we lack is the willingness to take money out of the Department of Hollow Apologies and Reshuffling Deck Chairs and put it into the hands of professionals who can, for example, keep 7-year-olds away from rapists.

When Naika’s story is finally and fully told, we will see, yet again, that the only thing Florida’s privacy laws protect is a fiscally stupid and morally bankrupt status quo.

The room where it happens just a phone call away

For voters who want to piss their politics into the wind, there’s Facebook. For voters who want to change the hearts, minds, and votes of elected officials, the telephone is the easiest, most effective way to go.

Every officeholder from Carrabelle to Congress employs human beings whose primary job is to lend a respectful ear to Floridians who want to be heard. Often, these staffers are civic-minded idealists who encourage their bosses to follow their better angels. They’re easy to talk to and very effective at delivering the vox populi to the corner office.

The dumbest politician knows that for every person who bothers to pick up the phone and speak his or her peace, there’s family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers with the same view, and they’re all likely to remember in November.

Marco Rubio is not Florida’s dumbest politician, and he might have voted his convictions, rather than those of his puppetmasters, if more Floridians had called his office with a polite, but firm, “Man up, Marco, and stick to your guns on Rex Tillerson.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve taught civics in our schools, so we can’t blame citizens whose political muscles have atrophied. Folks have been lulled into thinking that hitting a “like” button, forwarding an email, or being one of a thousand people to sign a letter forged in a cookie cutter factory in Consultantville, Ohio is a good use of time. They’ve been intimidated into believing they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or articulate enough to take their own messages, in their own words, to the room where it happens.

Being impossible to ignore is easier than you think, and calling is cheaper than it’s ever been. If there’s a Trump nominee you want confirmed, or kicked to the curb, take a cue from Ma Bell and reach out and touch your congressional delegation.

Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell

Finland lacks a “culture of apology,” but sucked it up anyway and joined the growing number of western countries owning up to the suffering of generations of children whose lives went from bad to worse in state care.

You can cross your fingers and pray, but you’re probably never going to see Florida apologize to Victor Docter and the children who preceded him in state-sanctioned torture chambers, and to all who have followed in the years since he was tortured, and his twin sister Nubia murdered, under the “care” of foster parents recruited and trained by the state, and later paid by the state to adopt them.

Apologies are not Florida’s style. Our lumbering, crumbling social services “system” has been living at the intersection of Dickens and Orwell for as long as any Floridian alive can remember, and there are no meaningful incentives to change.

We have all gotten comfortably numb to the endless cycle of Government Reports followed by Commitments to Improve. It began again this week with the latest federal “Children and Family Services Review” filled with more food for nightmares about how Florida may or may not be keeping children safe in their “placements,” and is most assuredly not staffed and funded to provide them with adequate counseling and care.

As always, a “children’s advocate” is standing by with a hearty “This is a wake-up call …”  Flacks whip out their save-strings and fire off “we take this very seriously” emails to reporters and “stakeholders.”

It’s been nearly six years since the Valentine’s Day when Nubia’s decomposing body was found, wrapped in a garbage bag in the back of her adoptive father’s flatbed truck.  As usual, when the headlines are sufficiently shocking, a Blue Ribbon Panel was convened to quiet the media mob and appease the legislature. Also, as usual, the underpaid, overworked people who were “pressured” to get the twins off the state’s books and into a “forever family” are long gone to who -knows- where.

The “leadership” that pressured low-level caseworkers to sign off on homes where the Humane Society would not place a rescue cat is gone, too. They have risen to higher and better-paying levels of incompetence, where they continue to take things very seriously.

Sobering news surfaces about security at Fort Lauderdale Airport

Mike Sallah, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Miami Herald Brain Drain, may be working for Gannett in Washington, but he’s still looking out for the folks in Florida.

Sallah and Naples Daily News staffer Kristyn Wellesley teamed up to add some important context to our understanding of airport security following the mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale that left five dead and thousands traumatized. Sallah and Wellesley looked at staffing levels and found that as passenger traffic grew by the millions, sworn deputies, traffic enforcement officers, and community service aides were cut.

There were no armed deputies in the terminal when Iraq War veteran Esteban (“My Pleas for Mental Health Treatment Fell on Deaf Ears”) Santiago opened fire. In the past decade, the number of deputies assigned to the airport has dropped from 150 to 116. Crisis-trained deputies have been repurposed to keeping the cars moving in the passenger drop-off lane, dealing with drunks, and reuniting children with their lost stuffed animals.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel insists that airport was “properly policed” and the “active shooter” response was “timely.” That’s a bold — indeed, bizarre — statement from a guy who admitted to Gannett’s reporters he “had not seen the staffing data and was unaware that positions at the airport had been reduced over the years, including the loss of 14 jobs during his tenure.”

“If we need more deputies, I will ask for them,” Israel promised. But first, there will be a monthslong Study to Make Sure This Never Happens Again. That will give the traveling public time to think about how much we’re willing to pay for peace of mind in the baggage claim area.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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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