Reno reaction ill-advised

Just when you think the Florida Legislature’s special session, also known as Fiscal Food Fight ’02, couldn’t get much more bizarre, it does. Thanks, in part, to Janet Reno. But even more thanks to Cuban-American legislators.

Last week Reno, the former U.S. attorney general who’s running for governor, turned up in Tallahassee and was introduced as a guest to the House by North Miami Beach Democrat Rep. Sally Heyman. This prompted about a dozen legislators, mostly the usual suspects from Miami-Dade County, to walk out.

Nice touch. And great for the “cause.”

“We weren’t disrespectful,” sniffed Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. “We didn’t hiss.” The hiss-less demonstration, of course, was the Cuban-American delegation’s way of reminding Reno — and everyone else, thank you — that they neither forget nor forgive her for deciding to return Elian Gonzalez to his Cuban father last year.

The unflappable Reno didn’t indicate if she were hissed-off or not by the walkout. Deep down, however, she had to know it couldn’t hurt.

Having a bunch of grandstanding South Florida Cuban-Americans walk out could, if anything, earn sympathy for Reno. It’s also a reminder that even if you disagreed with Reno’s Elian position, you could still respect her stand in the face-off with the forces of outrage and intimidation. Finally, how much can you be hurt by a demonstration by those who discredited themselves nationally over the Elian affair?

Waytogo, Mario.

(Politically) Correct priorities at USF

According to USF officials, more than $15 million in budget cuts will force a “culture shift” at the university that will take the form of reduced course offerings, bigger classes and fewer adjunct professors and perhaps support staff as well. Layoffs are in the offing. A hiring freeze will only be waived when the job is “justified.”

All this, including holding classes at rented movie theaters at University Mall, is regrettable but understandable with a $1.3 billion state budget shortfall.

But there will be money — and more than $100,000 at that — available for USF’s first diversity chief. It’s not enough that universities, including USF, are already enclaves of political correctness and citadels of ethnic-racial-cultural-sexual orientation-but-not-ideologic-diversity.

USF needs a $101,000-a-year associate vice president for diversity and equal opportunity the way it needs more black basketball players. Hmmm. Actually, isn’t this part of a too-much, too-late public relations campaign to help distance USF from that embarrassing racial discrimination suit brought by all those black women’s basketball players?

Call it reparations money. Or just call it an institutionally “justified” hire.

What “culture shift”?

Vested interest

Product placement is nothing new to American movie fans. The pricey practice has even given rise to ethical questions, such as those involving tobacco products. But it’s perfectly legal, of course, and can be an effective way to promote a product in a high-profile, even positive, context.

Which brings us to The Protective Group, an American manufacturer of military and law-enforcement equipment that includes protective vests. The kind Osama bin Laden fancies.

Sure enough, one was on display in the infamous “Bin Laden, Done That” video the world has been watching. No mistaking the care-and-use label on the olive drab number featured in the video.

What to do? Two things.

First, express patriotic outrage.

“I am horrified that our enemies are using our products,” said Melvyn Miller, CEO of The Protective Group.

Second, make the best of it.

“On the other hand, I understand,” noted Miller. “If I had a $25-million bounty on my head, I would try to obtain the best protective product possible and get it between me and my enemies.”

Not exactly a textbook testimonial, but at least there’s no placement fee.

Hispanic scenario from mayoral poll?

Recently the Tampa firefighters union conducted its traditional mayoral poll. Only 436 out of the 1,889 registered voters contacted had an opinion — other than “undecided” — on the 2003 race.

But of those 436 political junkies, their preferences broke down this way: Tampa City Councilman Bob Buckhorn, 114; Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio, 98; former Hillsborough Chief Circuit Judge Dennis Alvarez, 97; City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, 46; City Councilwoman Rose Ferlita, 40; Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart, 24; and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation Francisco Sanchez, 17.

What this mainly means is that while it’s never premature for candidates to look ahead a political light year, a 2003 race is decidedly too far out for most voters. Thus, these poll results are mainly a function of early name recognition.

What it also indicates, however, is that while it surprises no one that Buckhorn tops this or any other early poll, any coalescing of Hispanic candidates — although problematic — could prove formidable. Even decisive. Especially in an election that historically draws less than 40,000 voters.

It’s in the mail
Never let it be said that Tampa isn’t on some cutting edges. And no, we’re not talking face-scans, lap-dances and sneakercams.

Starting next month Tampa will be one of just three cities nationwide giving the Segway Human Transporter — aka “It” and “Ginger” — a formal, 30-day, 12-mph run. The much hyped, battery-powered, gyroscopic-stabilized scooters will help ferry Tampa mail carriers on their rounds.

The check may not be in the mail, and the mail may not arrive any sooner. But this could be fun to watch.

A tragic lesson
At the risk of piling on a tragedy, just one question regarding the terrible hunting accident that resulted in a Tampa man accidentally shooting and killing his 9-year-old son last month. Why wasn’t that child in school?

An excursion to see Harry Potter on school time is enough of a reach, but a parent taking a kid out of school for several days to observe deer hunting? That’s where the negligence began. Tragically, it didn’t end there.

Reno reaction ill-advised
Just when you think the Florida Legislature’s special session, also known as Fiscal Food Fight ’02, couldn’t get much more bizarre, it does. Thanks, in part, to Janet Reno. But even more thanks to Cuban-American legislators.

Last week Reno, the former U.S. attorney general who’s running for governor, turned up in Tallahassee and was introduced as a guest to the House by North Miami Beach Democrat Rep. Sally Heyman. This prompted about a dozen legislators, mostly the usual suspects from Miami-Dade County, to walk out.

Nice touch. And great for the “cause.”

“We weren’t disrespectful,” sniffed Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. “We didn’t hiss.” The hiss-less demonstration, of course, was the Cuban-American delegation’s way of reminding Reno — and everyone else, thank you — that they neither forget nor forgive her for deciding to return Elian Gonzalez to his Cuban father last year.

The unflappable Reno didn’t indicate if she were hissed-off or not by the walkout. Deep down, however, she had to know it couldn’t hurt.

Having a bunch of grandstanding South Florida Cuban-Americans walk out could, if anything, earn sympathy for Reno. It’s also a reminder that even if you disagreed with Reno’s Elian position, you could still respect her stand in the face-off with the forces of outrage and intimidation. Finally, how much can you be hurt by a demonstration by those who discredited themselves nationally over the Elian affair?

Waytogo, Mario.

Sami Al-Arrant

For a guy who won’t talk to his hometown newspaper, Sami Al-Arian gets more coverage in the Tampa Tribune these days than Bob Buckhorn, Ronda Storms and Luke Lirot. Sami, the poster boy for guilt-by-terrorist-association and misunderstood rhetoric and erstwhile punching bag of Bill O’Reilly, is, along with Mrs. A-A, a regular ranter in the Trib’s letters to the editor and guest columns. They may not like their coverage by the Trib — indeed, Sami terms it “fascist” — but they should have no complaints about the availability of a forum.

Curious juxtaposition last Monday (Dec. 10), though, between the Trib and the St.Petersburg Times.

The Trib did a page one, top of the fold, Metro piece — with color photo — on Al-Arian’s speech in Largo at an Amnesty International event. The Trib quoted extensively from his presentation that excoriated the Israeli government for its “terrorist” policies and reproved U.S. Attorney General “J. Edgar Ashcroft” for his heavy-handed approach to Arab-Americans and Muslims. Etc. Etc.

Interestingly enough, sibling TV station WFLA, Channel 8 also covered it and did a lengthy piece on Al-Arian’s speech the night before.

As for the Times, it didn’t cover it, although it ran a wire piece with file photo on page three of City & State the following day.

Could it be that predictable Palestinian polemics from Al-Arian are, well, less newsworthy to the Times than to the newspaper Sami won’t talk to?

Not necessarily.

“We either missed it or ignored it and then thought better about it the next day,” said Neville Green, the Times’ managing editor/Tampa.

Handling Heisman hype
Much of the annual media controversy over the Heisman Trophy can be easily reduced. Just change the eligibility criteria.

Being awarded to “The Outstanding College Football Player of the United States” is beyond broad. It invites controversy over offense and defense and hyped statistics piled up by non 1-A players. It also allows periodic bias toward underclassmen.

Here’s the new standard: “The best upper-classman/student athlete playing offense at the 1-A level.”

It means that the Heisman can truly represent the best in big-time college football, a sport too often beholden to commercial interests and double standards for impact athletes. It would officially encourage gifted players to continue through to their junior and senior years and attain something other than a degree of fame and/or fortune. It would preclude bogus students and criminals from being eligible.

By the way, Nebraska’s Eric Crouch was a wonderful choice. He may not be a great pro, but so what?

Drink to that?
Amid all the reaction and over-reaction to more restrictive laws during a national emergency, there’s a tendency in some quarters to hunt for laws that may actually be eased. The Tampa Tribune found some, which could be “eased in the name of logic and liberty.”

The Trib, in a recent editorial, zeroed in on business regulations that only a bureaucrat could love and the federal tax code that gives byzantine a bad name. Here, here.

But what’s with easing off the legal drinking age of 21? Just because it used to be 18, which matches the dubious legal age for voting, is not rationale enough. If you can’t handle the responsibility to vote, then you don’t, which is the case with most 18-21 year olds. Or you vote the way your parents or social studies teachers suggest. Democracy survives and you learn as you go.

But if you can’t handle liquor responsibly at 18, the consequences can be horrific and tragic. Especially on the road. That’s why the age limit was raised from 18 to 21 in the first place. Moreover, when the legal drinking age is lowered to 18, the ages of those trying to pass for 18 is commensurately lowered. Logic — and human nature — should tell us that.

A legal drinking age of 21 is obviously not a panacea for eliminating teen-aged drinking. A societal sanctioning of 18, however, is an invitation. To disaster.

No one should want to drink to that.

Vested interest
Product placement is nothing new to American movie fans. The pricey practice has even given rise to ethical questions, such as those involving tobacco products. But it’s perfectly legal, of course, and can be an effective way to promote a product in a high-profile, even positive, context.

Which brings us to The Protective Group, an American manufacturer of military and law-enforcement equipment that includes protective vests. The kind Osama bin Laden fancies.

Sure enough, one was on display in the infamous “Bin Laden, Done That” video the world has been watching. No mistaking the care-and-use label on the olive drab number featured in the video.

What to do? Two things.

First, express patriotic outrage.

“I am horrified that our enemies are using our products,” said Melvyn Miller, CEO of The Protective Group.

Second, make the best of it.

“On the other hand, I understand,” noted Miller. “If I had a $25-million bounty on my head, I would try to obtain the best protective product possible and get it between me and my enemies.”

Not exactly a textbook testimonial, but at least there’s no placement fee.

Dying to get here

The alarming increase in illegal immigrant smuggling from Cuba to the U.S. has resulted in hundreds of Cubans drowning en route to a better life. The ill-fated Elian flotilla was merely one of many. Just last month 30 fleeing Cubans perished when their boat capsized in the Florida Straits.

Encouragingly, both Cuban and American officials talk regularly and genuinely want to crack down on the despicable practice of trafficking in human smuggling. The devil, of course, is in the details.

Obviously, America’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy is a critical factor. In effect, this allows most Cubans who reach American soil by illegal means to avoid repatriation and eventually apply for U.S. residency.

Havana’s spin, reiterated recently by Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, is that this Solomonic solution is to blame for the spike in human smuggling and subsequent tragic deaths.

Wrong. Disingenuously wrong.

Despite America’s 40-year legacy of a counter-productive, Cold War-era, embargo-driven policy toward Cuba, this charge won’t — or at least shouldn’t — stick. Granted, America has made it too easy to be scapegoated by Havana, but “wet-foot, dry-foot” isn’t, ultimately, responsible for all these tragic deaths at sea.

Ultimately, it is the life these people are fleeing from — even more than the promise of a better one — that is the driving force behind their perilous escapes.

No one has forced Fidel Castro to suffocate meaningful democracy and barely experiment with the demand-economy principles the rest of the world lives by. Those with ambition to better themselves are out of luck. The legal-tendering of the dollar has carved out whole new classes of relative “haves” and “have nots.” Global-village communication is a graphic reminder to many Cubans of all that they don’t have.

After two generations, the Cuban people know they can’t take revolutionary rhetoric to the bank and can’t take ration cards anywhere other than sparsely stocked, peso-only shops.

America’s policy toward Cuba has been nothing to be proud of for forty years. Havana’s policies toward its own people, however, have been shameful. And tragic.

Baseball throws curves at the public

It’s not hard to come across as the voice of reason when your opposite number is Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud “Lite” Selig. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura personified that contrast the other day in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. He made some cutting comments about MLB’s absurdly inequitable anti-trust exemption, but cut to the chase when he noted MLB team’s outlandish penchant for “paying players more than they can afford.”

Selig’s show-and-tell appearance included the release of financial information showing that 25 of baseball’s 30 teams lost money this past year. Overall, pointed out the beleaguered Selig, the teams posted a combined operating loss of $232 million.

Interestingly enough, that’s roughly the size of the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers last year.

Teaching the Wrong Lesson

No one,” said former President Calvin Coolidge, “has the right to strike against the public welfare.” That sage dictum was applied to the air traffic controllers by former President Ronald Reagan. And it applies no less to the 240 striking New Jersey teachers– outraged over a sizable hike in their health care premiums — who were arrested for violating a back-to-work order.

The Middletown Township, NJ, teachers, who are no longer in jail, seemed to hail each other heroically upon their release. Maybe others felt similarly, but hopefully not.

Striking is, of course, a legitimate, albeit last-resort, measure in labor-management disputes. It represents leverage. Against a manufacturing plant or a newspaper or a clothing store.

But not against, for example, hospitals; police, fire and sanitation departments; or schools. Because the strike, in effect, is against those in need — patients, vulnerable homeowners, students.

The public, especially our children, shouldn’t be hostage to a collective bargaining process gone awry in bad faith and ill tempers. There is nothing “principled” — let alone heroic — in “standing up” for your rights at the expense of responsibilities to others. No number of impassioned, self-serving speeches changes that.

The real harm, however, is not in the two weeks of school that students missed. It’s the two weeks’ worth of cynicism and selfishness they witnessed and absorbed.Ultimately, a two-week hiatus from academics can be overcome. The same can’t be said for a two-week lesson in perverted principles and hypocrisy.

MLB Throws Curves at Public

It’s not hard to come across as the voice of reason when your opposite number is Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud “Lite” Selig. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura personified that contrast the other day in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. He made some cutting comments about MLB’s absurdly inequitable anti-trust exemption, but cut to the chase when he noted MLB team’s outlandish penchant for “paying players more than they can afford.”

Selig’s show-and-tell appearance included the release of financial information showing that 25 of baseball’s 30 teams lost money this past year. Overall, pointed out the beleaguered Selig, the teams posted a combined operating loss of $232 million.

Interestingly enough, that’s less than the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers last year.

Drink to that?

Amid all the reaction and over-reaction to more restrictive laws during a national emergency, there’s a tendency in some quarters to hunt for laws that may actually be eased. The Tampa Tribune found some, which could be “eased in the name of logic and liberty.”

The Trib, in a recent editorial, zeroed in on business regulations that only a bureaucrat could love and the federal tax code that gives byzantine a bad name. Hear, hear.

But what’s with easing off the legal drinking age of 21? Just because it used to be 18, which matches the dubious legal age for voting, is not rationale enough. If you can’t handle the responsibility to vote, then you don’t, which is the case with most 18-21 year olds. Or you vote the way your parents or social studies teachers suggest. Democracy survives and you learn as you go.

But if you can’t handle liquor responsibly at 18, the consequences can be horrific and tragic. Especially on the road. That’s why the age limit was raised from 18 to 21 in the first place. Moreover, when the legal drinking age is lowered to 18, the ages of those trying to pass for 18 is commensurately lowered. Logic — and human nature — should tell us that.

A legal drinking age of 21 is obviously not a panacea for eliminating teen-aged drinking. A societal sanctioning of 18, however, is an invitation. To disaster.

No one should want to drink to that.