It's been almost a month since I've submitted any articles and my editor is getting antsy. "What do I pay you for?" he asks, to which I reply "You don't. I do this for love." "I love you" he says, and for the time being that's enough. I have to also admit that my muse took a vacation for a while and it's impossible to write anything when that happens. I've also been busy with my business, a couple of speaking engagements and a heavy commitment to a local political campaign which has usurped a lot of my writing time. A pattern has emerged, however that is deeply disturbing, so let's examine some of what's going on; lots of important and relevant stuff is going on that most media people are ignoring.
Will Success Spoil Tim Osmar?
You remember Tim Osmar. He was arrested for the high crime of chalking on the sidewalks of Orlando City Hall and held in jail for 18 days over the Christmas holidays. The city eventually dropped the charges, He was fortunate enough to retain an excellent civil rights attorney, Dick Wilson, who also filed federal charges against the city. The city, in its lockdown mentality, fought back by blatant judge shopping. The city attorney, Mayanne Downs, was rewarded for her efforts by being taken in to the politically active law firm of Grey Robinson, who does a ton of legal work for the city. The judge shopping didn't work too well since the city lost the case and a settlement amount was reached. Downs was effectively kicked upstairs for her loyalty to Mayor Dyer regardless of what the actual dollar costs are to the taxpayers. The settlement figures are not being withheld, yet nobody is talking.
I saw Tim recently at a social event. Gone were the long hair, the Grateful Dead tie-dye and the beard. In their place he sported a button down oxford shirt, tailored slacks and loafers. He was clean shaven and had his hair styled. Perhaps his physical appearance is a little more attractive than before but he is still the same Tim. He is truly someone who marches to his own drum beats and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.
Moving on from the sublime to the ridiculous, another long awaited trial began April 24 that was sure to be a nail biter. When I arrived at the courthouse every media outlet had their linkup units going. Great, I thought. I can go to the press room and get the live feeds if I can't record this myself. There was this huge line getting into the courthouse going through security and it took close to 20 minutes which meant that we would be about five minutes late for the start of the trial. It didn't matter because the sign on the door said that the 1:30 trial scheduled would begin at 2:00 and the doors were locked.
It turns out that all of the media attention was for the attempted murder trial of boxer Christie Martin's husband. Our courtroom was for the more mundane trials of traffic court. The long awaited trial was that of Lawrence Levite aka known in Occupy circles as Nome Travels who dared to defy authorities by jaywalking on a city street.
Nome is a rebel from way back. He's fortunate enough to come from a family of means and he travels around with his self propelled RV and his motorcycle. He's on an allowance so there are times of the month when he's dead broke yet that doesn't matter to him. He's in the protest movement for real. He's been through this more than once and he enjoys suing the authorities in court which he's successfully done before.
The doors opened at 2:00 and everyone (except the prosecutors, plaintiffs and cops) were told to turn off their phones and recording devices or they would be removed from the court. The bailiffs actually did remove two of Nome's witnesses for just that. After all, traffic court is a really solemn institution that needs to be respected. After about a half hour of other trials where it seems that everyone pleaded through their attorneys to traffic fines and court costs it was time for Nome's trial. Nome's attorney, the aforementioned Dick Wilson asked to be removed as Nome's attorney, which the judge granted. Nome represented himself with the Abbott and Costello defense.
"Look, if I wanted a pick I would have picked the pick, but I wanted the shovel because the shovel is my pick."
Pick any of the wordplay routines and they all work; Who's on First? Two 10s for a five. The shovel is my pick or anything else. Nome's arsenal was ready. When asked how he pleaded his response was "I'm not pleading -- I'm the plaintiff here!" As Nome twisted the words to say "I'm the state," the judge's tolerance was worn a little thin, yet she gave him as much freedom as she could allow. Taking the position that Nome needed assistance in understanding his circumstance she tried to instruct him, however Nome would have none of it. His intent was clearly to make a mockery of the whole affair and he succeeded just short of being held in contempt. He knew exactly what he was doing. At that point 'Duckie' Wasman and I were ejected from the courtroom for "Whispering too loud." The judge withheld adjudication and told Nome she would mail him her decision.
According to Nome her decision was that he was found guilty, but not assessed any penalty or court costs. He is starting an appeal. That should be interesting since this entire process is a monumental waste of everyone's time and taxpayer dollars.
Hello! Is anyone there?
That same day Seminole County teachers were planning to address their school board with reasons why they should get their pay raised. They demonstrated in front of the school board and then went inside the building to air their grievances. The area was full and taxed to the limit with teachers and supporters. Many spoke passionately and a few spoke accusingly, as well as reminding the Board of the sacrifices they made. The spark that ignited the conflict was that the board had voted itself a pay raise claiming that the law stipulated they had to. What came to light was that, while technically true, The Florida School Board Association sent out a letter to all state school boards warning them not to accept the pay raise, which the Seminole Board ignored. Some members gave the money back after the letter was made public, but on April 24 this board was going to stonewall. Many school officials were sitting in the back row of the chamber checking their email or playing Solitaire and other games during official business. This turns my stomach. The last thing most Florida school boards do is exactly what they should be doing-advocating for the kids and those who teach them. Instead they have become the temple money changers who dole out what they get never questioning their funders or holding them accountable. Warning to Florida legislators and school boards: Screw our kids today and you'll be amazed and horrified to see how they pay you back in 20 years. I only hope I live to see it and write about it.
"Well after all, Pickering, I'm an ordinary man, who desires nothing more than an ordinary chance, to live exactly as he likes, and do precisely what he wants. An average man am I, of no eccentric whim, who likes to live his life, free of strife, doing whatever he thinks is best, for him. Well... just an ordinary man"... But let a woman in your life....!"
George Bernard Shaw's exquisite tale of the battle of the sexes, Pygmalion, later adapted by Lerner and Loewe for the musical stage as My Fair Lady, shows in graphic detail what men in general think of women in general. Henry Higgins molded Eliza Doolittle into whatever He wanted Her to be, without regard for her feelings or abilities. Throughout history women have been bought, sold, bartered and abused as much as through their family connections as well as by strangers. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet offers us a glimpse into the "how-to-use-children-for-fun-and-profit" world of powerful families. Those rare instances where women were born to power and knew how to use it, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great and others proved to powerful men that women needed to be kept in their place. If Joan of Arc had been a man he might have wound up as Pope.
The women's movement started at about the same time as the abolitionist movement in the USA. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. They had both been abolitionists who were denied any credentials at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. The abolitionists, including Stanton's minister husband, felt that the end of slavery (meaning black men) was more important than women's issues. Cady Stanton, Mott, Susan B. Anthony fought for 50 years for women's rights, never giving up the battle. Their early suffragette activism finally paid off in 1922 when women did get the right to vote. That was just another overcome obstacle on the path to true equality. The path is still not clear. It seems that as one obstacle is overcome another one is put in place.
Republican state legislators have been having a field day over the last few years passing draconian laws that affect women primarily. The recent Susan G. Komen debacle shows just how deeply the right wing has infiltrated charities and foundations that deal with women's issues. All of this particular legislation is emanating from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. So now we're engaged in the War on Women, which Republicans say doesn't exist which is code for the War on Women does exist and the actions of all these legislators proves it beyond a doubt.
The National March Against the War on Women was planned for April 28, and in cities and towns across the nation the actions took place. There were three major actions in Florida. Orlando hosted a march that included a crowd of over 400 people at Senator Beth Johnson Park, where Occupy Orlando started. One would think that the major media outlets would have been covering the event and that would have been dead wrong. There were several speakers plus candidates for office, yet not one word was published in the Orlando Sentinel on Sunday. What better way to disavow the War on Women than to ignore it?
UPDATE: Susannah Randolph, wife of State Rep. and Orange County DEC Chairman Scott Randolph, wrote a guest editorial in the Orlando Sentinel that exposes the War on Women in graphic detail, outlining for the first time Americans United for Life, which is allied with ALEC and works solely on women's issues. Is it time yet for Lysistrata?
"Old rockin' chair's got me, my cane by my side... "
As a Philadelphia native I'm well aware of the contributions of Maggie Kuhn and others who broke the stereotype of senior citizens. Age is now rapidly becoming a state of mind rather than a chronological condition for many people including yours truly. Kuhn founded the Gray Panthers after she was forced to retire at the age of 65. The Gray Panthers are still fighting for senior rights and everyone else's rights as well. One of the byproducts of her activism is a huge reservoir of seniors who refuse to be put in a rocking chair and left for dead. The Alliance for Retired Americans is one such activist organization that has come about over the years and is flexing its power nationally. Originally created as a retiree organization for former union members the Alliance is in every state and numbers close to five million members. The Florida chapter alone has over 200,000 members and they are becoming much more politically active than they have been. Their issues are clear and they don't like what has been going on in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. President Tony Fransetta travels all over the state wherever there are demonstrations and adds ARA muscle to the protests. At 75 he sets a pace that people half his age would have a hard time keeping up with. During his tenure as president since 1999 he has watched his membership grow from a handful of people to over 200,000 and closing in on a quarter of a million committed seniors striving for social and economic justice. Nor is the ARA resting on its laurels. The Southeast Region had a conference recently at the Walt Disney Buena Vista Resort for activists to familiarize them with the new social media and the impact it has on political races.
These people are dissatisfied with things the way they are and they are going to help change things. They were here to learn. I was honored to be a guest panelist along with some dynamite speakers, including Tony and his terrific organizer, Jen Kenny. The audiences really enjoyed these discussions and asked great questions in the Q&A period. They are going to be very active this political season starting with Wisconsin where they are going to make their presence felt. By the way, 70 is the new 50. Trust me, I know this.
"Folks are dumb where I come from, they ain't had any learnin'."
You would think that a school board member would be fairly familiar with educational issues and events such as National Education Week and all the other stuff that deals with education. Orange County Public Schools is the 11th largest school system in the nation and even if the individual board members are in the dark they have layers upon layers of staff to keep them informed. At the beginning of every meeting there are always the self serving gratuitous announcements such as recognizing certain students or clubs or school organizations for their achievements, so it was a bit of a downer when during the announcing phase of the meeting Chairman Bill Sublette omitted that it was National Teacher Appreciation Week. A palpable pall was in the air. Only one board member, Nancy Robbinson, even alluded to the occasion. Sandra Maldonado-Ross, a current candidate for school board questioned Sublette who came up with excuse that he didn't know. That's an appalling statement for one of the most powerful people in Central Florida to admit. Sublette is the most unique elected official in the entire United States because the voters of Orange County, spurred on by the Chamber of Commerce were finagled into electing a School Board Chairman who has two votes. The 2010 elections provided for seven districts plus an elected chairman who had the power to break a tie. This is a shameful episode for a group whose sole purpose is to advocate for the students. Sublette's only connection to education is that he has children in a public school. He's there to protect the construction industry's billion dollar a year budget no matter how badly the kids or teachers are shafted in the process. Parents and community activists should be outraged about this and they should get involved in the coming elections and vote these people out.
Occupy the Board Room
The last thing any publicly held corporation, or any government commission wants is you, John Q. Public, sitting in on their meetings actually watching them make decisions. The whole atmosphere in the room changes when you are there, cameras in hand, asking probing questions. The strategy is effective and makes them nervous as hell. Publicly held corporations hold yearly stockholder meetings and they go to great lengths to make sure that you will not attend by holding them in far away cities in expensive resorts at perfectly bad times of the year. You can thank the Occupy movement for the strategy. So far in Florida there have been occupations of Bank of America and most recently on May 16th an occupation of Chase in Tampa and on May 17th an occupation of Coventry Health Care at the Ritz Carlton in Ft. Lauderdale. Coventry is one of the many insurers who are fighting tooth and nail to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. One of the reasons is that by law all insurers must spend 80 per cent of the premium costs on actual health care, leaving them 20 per cent to deal with overhead and profit. Organize Now, HCAN, Florida New Majority, Awake Broward and other organized an action against Coventry, and the Alliance for Retired Americans joined in the action which took place outside the hotel on A1A. There was also a flash mob inside the hotel which ridiculed Coventry to the tune of 'Puttin' on the Ritz' which then carried over to the street. Only one reporter from the Herald with a tape recorder appeared. No camera crews... nothin. Here's an op-ed piece by Ben Markeson that details the days activities. Tony Fransetta again spoke elegantly about the inequality in the system. The most disturbing part was not that the crowd was ignored, but that two legitimate stockholders were denied entry into the meeting. That's not OK.
During this election year most media outlets are going to continue to report the most mundane stuff in ways that they think will interest you. The pollsters will continue to make you think the election is closer than it really is so that they can continue to get paid. No broadcaster is going to turn down what amounts to free money for political ads however misleading they are, and very few if any corporately owned newspapers will look through these smokescreens. Why? It is not in their interests to lessen the revenue stream and it is in their interests to keep you afraid and in the dark.