Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Teabaggers To Veterans -- Not In Our Backyard

I am still trying to make sense out of something stunning, and oh, so very sad that happened last night at a meeting of County Commissioners, here in north Florida.

Last Saturday, the Gainesville Sun ran a front page story on homelessness, which, in turn, I wrote about and posted in this space on Monday.

The "Sun" wrote about a recent assault in Gainesville's Tent City; and I wrote that the headline was misleading and that the article could be damaging to ongoing efforts to convert a foreclosed hotel into transitional housing for homeless veterans.

By yesterday, the County Commission inbox was described as inundated by emails objecting to the housing project. Then, at a meeting of Alachua County Commissioners last evening, dozens of citizens flooded the room to protest the project, which had been approved by a 3-2 margin two weeks earlier.

I find it ironic that the opposition is being led by two commissioners who are members of The Tea Party. I have always felt that its stressing of patriotism was one thing I could admire about the Tea Party.

But here are two commissioners, publicly proud of their Tea Party affiliation--yet adamantly against housing that would take 152 homeless veterans off the streets and out of the woods, and give them a helping hand on their way back to being law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.

It should not be surprising that a member of the Tea Party would look for a financial reason to oppose the project. The Tea Party is, after all, a strong proponent of fiscal responsibility.

But the suggestion by Commissioner Lee Pinkoson that the transitional housing would cause more work for the Sheriff's Department is void of merit. If anything, having 152 homeless persons housed would lessen the burden.

Most of the objections, however--to housing homeless veterans in the former hotel--come from businesses and residents who openly acknowledge that they just don't want formerly homelss people in their neighborhood.

No matter that many, if not all of the homeless veterans, have gone off to fight in far away places, so that Americans here at home could continue to live in peace. No matter that many, if not most of these veterans have seen the horrors of war that the rest of us can only imagine.

It doesn't matter at all to at least two members of the self-proclaimed patriotic party, the Tea Party. They seem to have no problem saying to 152 homeless veterans, "Not in our back yard!".

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Couple Of Restaurant Tips

The title of this column could be misleading. The restaurant tips provided herein will not steer you to "good" places to eat. But these restaurant tips might well prevent you from being cheated at "good" places to eat.

There are a lot of out-of-towners coming and going during renovation at my apartment building. One of them, who is necessarily eating out while staying at a local hotel, related yesterday a bad experience he had at one of the area's better restaurants.

Because of the frequent use of his bank card, he checks his bank balance on a regular basis. Finding a minor discrepancy last week, he dug deeper--listening to that automated recording of all transactions that is provided by banks and credit card companies.

One of the charges didn't sound quite right, and so he came up with the customer copy from the restaurant visit. Bottom line--the amount of the tip had been changed.

How did he know this? In most restaurants the amount of the meal is put through for approval and then a receipt is presented to the customer for signature and the tip. The amount of the tip often appears on bank card records as a seperate transaction for a few days after the purchase.

What did the gentleman do? Nothing. His explanation for inaction was that his time was worth more than the amount of the extra tip.

I have a vivid memory of something "bad" that happened at a "good" restaurant. It was late 2009 and I was on my way from the Denver Library back to the Greyhound terminal. I hadn't had breakfast or lunch and I had an overnight bus trip ahead of me.

I had passed Katie Mullen's many times before, but while it looked inviting, I knew it could be a budget breaker. This day, however, I decided to spring for a good meal.

The food was good and the tab, as expected, was a little on the high side--for me. But it was a welcome change of pace and I happily paid the bill with my Visa debit card.

I was always on a very tight budget in those days, and so next morning I checked my bank balance. I was surprised to find my balance less than it should have been, and a check of transactions showed that my Katie Mullen's bill appeared twice.

I had to pass back through Denver two days later, and I was at Katie Mullen's Irish Restaurant when it opened. I asked for the manager and explained to her the problem.

I didn't yet have a bank statement showing the double charge, and so I was expecting to be told that I would have to allow time to check the records for the day of my visit. But the manager simply gave me a faint smile, and glanced at the receipt I gave her.

Without an apology or a word of explanation, she retrieved the amount of the double billing, and placed the cash for the overcharge on the counter, before turning and walking away. I remember thinking, as I left Katie Mullens, that the manager had seen this movie before.

Katie Mullen's is a big, busy restaurant--a "good" restaurant--and so it was shocking to think that what happened to me could be a common occurrence, a regular practice.

So what is the moral of this story? Simply that just as you won't know how good a restaurant is until you've eaten there--you won't know how honest a restaurant is until you've seen, and checked out, the final bill.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Governor Scott Story: Part Two

The opening chapters of the Governor Rick Scott story were fast-paced, furious, and filled with controversy.

The Florida Republican was elected Governor last November by the narrowest of margins--just one percent, and much of his agenda immediately met with strong opposition that included some officials and lawmakers from his own party.

But it wasn't just his programs and proposals and budget that turned most voters--even previous supporters--into critics. Much of the media attention, and electorate displeasure has come from Gov. Scott's modus operandi.

He appears to want to "rule", rather than govern. Much has been written about some of the Governor's actions, which occasionally border on the bizarre.

The most recent example was his decision to charge the media an outrageous $780. for one week's worth of Governor's office emails--which, by law, anyone can request, and which had heretofore been provided free of charge. The move is seen by the press as another effort to slow down access to government records, and to cloud transparency and to hinder accountability.

It would seem now that the first half of 2011 will go down as Part One of the Gov. Scott story. That's because it now appears there will be a Part Two--a much different story for the rest of his term.

What separates Part One from Part Two is a statistic. Gov. Scott's approval ratings have gone south, to a point where only 29 percent of Florida voters think that he is doing a good job. If last November's election was held today, polls show that Scott would lose by 20 points.

With more than three years left in his first term, how will Governor Scott react to the 29 percent approval rating? Will he change? Will he adjust?

Perhaps he will, indeed, adjust to the will of the people. Perhaps he will give in to public opinion and change, or at least compromise. It's hard to believe that he would fight the tide and try to make the future a continuation of the past.

But what will happen if he does remain the same old, less-than-loveable Governor with all those overwhelmingly unpopular policies?

Did I hear the word recall?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Republican Debate --- And The Sound Of Silence

Monday night's Republican debate provided some interesting moments; but, for me, what was said was not nearly as noteworthy as what was not said.

Moderator John King asked all seven participants--who had been to that point highly critical of the current Administration--if they could think of anything that President Obama has done right. There was no response. The silence was deafening.

Like all those before him, this President has a few faults, and he may have made some mistakes along the way. Through 235 years, our nation has yet to see a perfect President. But like others before him, President Obama also has an impressive record of accomplishments.

One of those accomplishments--something the Republican candidates could have mentioned--was compromising, giving in to Republican demands, in order to get a federal budget passed, and avoid a government shutdown.

I find it disappointing and sad that not one of the candidates had the political courage to respond to the question as an American, rather than as a partisan Republican.

How healthy it would have been for our nation's psyche to have had someone, anyone, say something positive. Brief words of praise would not have taken away from the overall criticism of the President throughout the rest of the debate.

There is a reason for the moment of silence last night. We have reached a point in this country where saying something, anything good about a President, who is a Democrat, can be an act of political suicide for a candidate who is a Republican.

A case in point is former Florida Governor, Charlie Crist. Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama, the Democrat, visited Florida and was welcomed and literally embraced by then Governor Crist, a Republican.

Charlie Crist was vilified for his actions by other Republicans, and he went from being a rising star in the Republican party to being demonized by the GOP, and losing party support in a failed bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

A better and more current example of the danger facing a Republican, who has a kind word for President Obama, is the problem plaguing Jon Huntsman. The two-time Governor of Utah, and more recently the U.S. Ambassador to China, is about to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President.

Hunstman is being attacked by Republican powers-that-be even before he officially enters the fray. He opposes many of President Obama's policies, but for many GOP leaders, Huntsman has committed an unforgivable sin. He has called Barack Obama "a remarkable leader".

No wonder last night's debate included the sound of silence.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gov. Scott's "Nixonian" Moment

It's been nearly four decades since then President Richard Nixon used the power of his office to suppress opposing points of view.

Nixon kept a list of those he considered his enemies, and history has revealed a variety of dirty tricks that he and his supporters used against those enemies.

The media of the 70s did a good job of showing what can happen when one of our leaders works to curb criticism, and the media has been more vigilant since that time. But ever so often something happens that provides a flashback to the Nixon years.

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida had what I can best describe as a "Nixonian" moment two weeks ago, before he affixed his signature to the state budget during a ceremony at a retirement community.

Much of the state budget remains controversial, and as it is with many public ceremonies or "signings", some protesters showed up to demonstrate their displeasure. The protesters were ordered to leave the area by sheriff's deputies, who were following the instructions of the Governor's staff.

The protesters were peaceful, and in no way disruptive. In fact, they were ordered to leave well before the event began.

Gov. Scott has acknowledged, and has taken responsibility for the removal. His only explanation has been "confusion.....whether the event was public or private".

How can a state budget that affects all citizens be considered something "private"? It can't, and peaceful, non-disruptive demonstrations must be permissable at any public event. Isn't the Arab spring, which Americans are supporting, about the right to protest peacefully, to demonstrate?

For me the most troubling aspect of this story is the fact that it got little media attention. It was buried deep inside Florida newspapers.

Any action by Rick Scott that brings to mind the unethical, and sometimes illegal activites of the Nixon White House should be a scary thought for both the Governor and his constituents.