Clinton Slavery Apology: A Redress Rehearsal?

It’s that deadline time again. And for too many of us that apparently means last second scrambling across the taxing terrain of deductions, receipts, extensions and reparations.

Yes, reparations. The slavery sort.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, nearly 80,000 returns were filed last year for more than $2.7 billion in bogus reparation refunds. The IRS is gearing up again, even though the U.S. tax code does not allow for such reparations. Never has.

The rash of reparations-for-slavery scams seems attributable to several factors.

Publicity, if not credibility, has been generated by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who has introduced legislation that would establish a commission to look into the institution of slavery and its repercussions. There’s also the Rev. Al Sharpton, a putative presidential candidate, who has given every indication that he’ll push for a reparations’ plank in the 2004 Democratic Platform.

Second, we now have a slave descendent suing three companies in federal court for a share of the profits those companies — Aetna Inc., FleetBoston Financial Corp., and CSX Corp. — allegedly gained via slavery. Moreover, other such suits are in the works, including one being pursued by celebrity trial lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

Third, reparations represent a predictable and malignant outgrowth of victimhood, the mentality as well as the industry, that is sustained by white guilt. President Bill Clinton apologized for slavery, but that was only the redress rehearsal. The ante necessarily gets upped from there.

Moreover, the reparations issue only reinforces a false and counterproductive premise. That is that black Americans can’t make it on their own in this country without playing the victim card for all it’s worth. That should be as patronizing as it is insulting.

Fourth is a concept older than slavery itself: something for nothing. The operative color is greed green for those enslaved by old-fashioned opportunism. In this case, trying to cash in an I.O.U. earned by somebody else in the 19th century.

But some of those who let Cochran and Harvard University Law Professor Charles Ogletree do their talking and rationalizing for them, may have to face an intriguing irony as well. According to the 1860 census, more than 6,000 blacks owned slaves, mostly Indians.

Any of those slave-owner descendents want to step forward and settle ancestral matters with certain native Americans before proceeding on with principled recompense for historical affronts? What’s more, anyone interested in pursuing those related to West African chiefs who sold their tribesmen to the European slave traders?

Searching for Israeli-Palestinian Leverage

The U.S seems as unable as it is unwilling to get directly involved in a Middle East crisis that presages dire consequences for America itself. Ordering up a drive-by Zinni doesn’t cut it.

Perhaps this might.

Two countries — Egypt and Israel — that have a lot to say about whether the world turns toward Armageddon or toward a Cyprus-like solution keep raking it in from the U.S. Israel receives $3 billion annually in U.S. foreign aid, while Egypt’s take is $2 billion.

Perhaps Secretary of State Colin Powell could assume a role beyond rhetoric and brow knitting. Recall that he had no problem holding up $200 million in aid for Haiti until President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took steps to make that strategically unimportant, beleaguered country work better. Perhaps he should consider getting $5 billion dollars worth of leverage out of Egypt and Israel.

If we’re going to incur blame, wrath and more terrorist attacks, let’s at least not pay $5 billion for it.

Rights, Responsibilities and a Lesson Learned

There’s a certain journalistic episode that reflexively comes to mind when yet another story about “censorship” and high school newspapers hits the mainstream news.

First, start with the premise that if you choose journalism as a career, it will probably happen to you. Most likely sooner than later, but still at a point when you’re somewhat accomplished. You’re going to get something spiked. A story you labored over never sees the light of any day’s press run.

Mine was a piece on former President Ronald Reagan and “The Great Communicator’s” increasingly infrequent press conferences. It was a White House strategy designed to protect the president from his own misstatements. But it was a practice that too often resulted in Reagan being shouted at — seemingly always by Sam Donaldson — when en route somewhere. Such drive-by queries inevitably resulted in the president cupping his good ear, looking avuncularly perplexed and ultimately responding: “What?” It was wincing to watch.

I didn’t think the lines of public communication or the dignity of the office of the presidency were well served by such sideshows. I also gave voice to the people’s right to know, the role of an informed citizenry in a democracy, etc., etc.

I thought it was pretty good, even edgy, stuff.

But my editor, who thought I was a little rough on the president, had qualms. My publisher, however, had a fit.

My column was anchored as the lead editorial on the Opinion Page of a business weekly. Very conservative, very Republican, very brazen of me.

The column was returned to me, not with the usual pro-forma publisher notations about some factoid or a comma splice, but the word: “Inappropriate.” It carried the connotation of “See me” inscribed on a term paper by your high school English teacher.

The editor confirmed that “inappropriate” was short for: “It’s OK to criticize the president but this seemed more derisive than critical. Remember who he is, who we are, who our readership is and, yes, who the publisher voted for. So start over, research another topic, order out and work as late as necessary to make a compressed, unforgiving deadline. Thank you and don’t let it happen again.”

I was steamed, plunged headlong into a foreign trade zone piece and locked up after the cleaning crew that night.

Two days later the editor, the publisher and I reconciled over lunch. The publisher explained that the spiked piece was, indeed, well crafted but incompatible with the institutional voice of a business publication, especially one that he published. He underscored that ultimately he was responsible for everything — our editorial positions, our image, our market niche, our advertising mix, our profitability. We were free press pillars, but were also free to fail in a market economy. He had to balance it all. Writing columns, I inferred, must be so much easier.

Sure, he couldn’t be hands-on everywhere, he acknowledged, but he did want to preview each week’s lead editorial. Deal with it. But, hey, it was the first time he actually bounced one back, which wasn’t tantamount to a trampled First Amendment right.

I defended the barely defensible, owned up to an incipient case of writer’s ego and acknowledged a greater authority — and responsibility.

Now back to Hillsborough County. Recently we’ve seen Plant High administrators delay distribution of its student paper over a column on condom availability at the prom. We’ve also seen the principal of Leto High pull a column that criticized a teacher who sold flag decals for extra credit. The first Amendment will survive both. Some perspective.Principals are, in effect, publishers. They are ultimately accountable. To school boards, to taxpayers, to parents, to students. In fact, it’s an accountability sanctioned in 1988 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior review of student newspapers is well within the legal purview of principals. It can be a dicey, sometimes lose-lose proposition, for principals take the heat for what might upset teachers, segments of the student body, parents, politicians, the community at large and junior journalists. Moreover, they really aren’t real world “publishers;” school newspaper faculty sponsors typically aren’t real journalists; and teenaged, amateur reporters in pre-training are just that.But those who work on high school newspapers deserve as meaningful an experience as possible. Journalism in a free society is that important. Mastering layout, doing interviews, getting your facts straight and separating fact from opinion can’t be emphasized enough. Principals, however, need to save their trump cards for the tough calls, not overreacting, say, to an opinion piece on a valid, real-world issue for those in their prom years.

FishHawk High School Could Be A Winner

As an educational issue, it doesn’t rank up there with FCAT motivation, school discipline, phonics programs or abstinence instruction. But it is an increasingly polarizing one: what we name our schools.

Case in point: the folks in Lithia who think there are better names for a school in their area than, say, “Joe Newsome.” For viable alternatives, they say, all a school board would have to do is consult them. That’s why about 75 of them, residents of the FishHawk community, protested outside the Hillsborough County School Board meeting earlier this month.

They say they’re protesting the board’s high-handed process that precludes input from the community. Nothing against Newsome, of course.

Hmm.

Let’s admit something. Unlike a rose, a school by any other name wouldn’t be the same. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it matters. Helen Hayes or Gabby Hayes Elementary? Marcus Garvey or Steve Garvey Junior High? Harry or Truman Capote Middle School? Stonewall or Jackson Pollock High School.

While teachers, curriculum and the quality of instruction are obviously more important, reality dictates that connotation and cachet count. Would it matter if your diploma and resume read: “Sharpton,” “Schwarzkopf,” “Shabazz” or “Shakespeare” High School?

The fundamental problem is two-fold when we name schools after people. For openers, we have many more schools than we have dead American icons. And the disparity only widens. No problem with the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Franklins, Lincolns, Edisons, Wilsons, Carvers and Roosevelts. But all too quickly do we run out of first-tier names. How else to explain Buckhorn Elementary?

No offense intended, but it’s like wandering through the Baseball Hall of Fame and noting the plaques of Ruth, Cobb, Young, Foxx, Gehrig, Williams, DiMaggio, Aaron, Mays, Koufax and Yan.

Worse yet, however, are scenarios for naming schools after the living, typically local politicians and prominent members of the business community. Not only are they not necessarily of icon quality, but the unwritten chapters of their lives could prove dicey for posterity. It’s courting the educational counterpart of Enron Elementary.

Joe Kotvas Alternative School would have been awkward. Two years ago Steve LaBrake Vo Tech might have made the cut. Ronda Storms Magnet School could still happen.

Let’s face it. Except for that special American pantheon of heroes and exceptional achievers, we’re better off going geographical. It avoids needless controversy and helps instill some sense of community in schools too often lacking in identity.

FishHawk High. Why not?

Standards Absent As Well?

It was heartening to see that Pinellas County relented and reinstated popular but chastened Principal John Nicely of Tarpon Springs High School. However, it’s only for the remainder of the year.

Then Nicely will be transferred to supervisor of work force development, which doesn’t sound like the best posting for a well-regarded, hands-on high school principal with a reputation for being as caring as he is competent. He is, by all accounts — including an outpouring of sentiment at a school board meeting — precisely the sort of principal schools can’t get enough of.

Nicely’s controversial reassignment had been prompted by a grade-changing incident. He reportedly changed a student’s “F,” incurred because of attendance problems, to “A,” thus enabling the student to apply for a scholarship. Nicely had acknowledged the procedural mistake.

There are, however, bigger issues afoot here than knee-jerk punishment for a well-intentioned error in judgment.

Pinellas County’s attendance policy says a student can’t pass a class with 10 or more absences, excused or not, in a nine-week period. Recovering from the flu is not appreciably different than answering the siren song of the mall.

In the interest of motivation, Nicely apparently cut a deal with good students with bad attendance. If the six seniors had no more unexcused absences the remainder of the school year, their final grades would reflect what they otherwise would have earned. One of those six had asked Nicely to send along the amended passing grades to colleges. Hence, the ensuing flap.

But here’s a begged question. What sort of curriculum and what sort of standards are in effect such that a student with inordinate absences can legitimately “earn” a quite acceptable, even outstanding, grade if only the arbitrary attendance policy is waived? Shouldn’t sheer lack of attendance ensure academic adversity? If not, then maybe there isn’t such a pressing need to attend the class in question, after all.

Iorio is Out — For Now

It was the best of timing. It was the worst of timing.

Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio seemingly had a political free pass as she took her touch-screen road show around town. Every prominent ad, every well publicized appearance looking not unlike a de facto campaign stop — only without any of the hassles of a declared candidacy.

The only problems: redistricting, an election and a new, chad-free method of voting. It would be a bad time to moonlight as a front-running-albeit-undeclared mayoral candidate.

“If this had been an off-election year, I would have resigned and run full time for mayor,” acknowledged Iorio.

Pundits seem divided as to whether Bob Buckhorn or Frank Sanchez benefits most, but Iorio wouldn’t go there. “I think the people are looking for someone with a fresh approach to city hall,” she noted wryly.

What she didn’t have to say is that she is even money to have such an approach in, say, 2007.

The Winsome Ways of Daryl Jones

It has nothing to do with being 6’2” without power pumps, but former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno still towers over the Democratic gubernatorial field in name recognition, celebrity status and poll numbers. It’s still a given that the nomination is hers to lose.

But should that actually happen, conventional wisdom says it’s Bill McBride’s to win.

The Tampa attorney leads in fundraising and union endorsements. The high-level Democratic Party activist is more than liberal enough to appeal to the party’s traditional constituencies, while maintaining crossover and independent potential. McBride’s a decorated Vietnam veteran and a successful businessman and civic leader.

Then there’s Daryl Jones, a state senator from Miami who can’t approach McBride’s incrementally increasing poll numbers, let alone Reno’s. Nor has he raised much money or garnered any notable endorsements. He’s also African American, and no black person has even seriously aspired to the office of governor of Florida.

What Jones is — is impressive. He is by far the best public speaker in the race; a trait complemented by chiseled good looks. He’s cocky but not off-putting.

He is an honors graduate of the Air Force Academy and a former F-4 Phantom pilot. He’s a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve as well as a practicing attorney and an investment-banking consultant in Miami.

A 12-year legislator, state senator since 1992 and current Democratic Leader Pro Tempore, Jones goes right after economic development, education and public safety as top priorities.

“International trade is where it’s at,” he told a gathering of political junkies at a recent Tiger Bay Club of Tampa luncheon. He wants to broaden the state’s tax base by making Florida the hemispheric distribution center for international trade. That means, stressed Jones, making major improvements in transportation links — both railroad and highway — from Florida’s airports and seaports.

Not unlike his rivals, Jones took shots at anything having to do with education and Gov. Bush, most notably vouchers and FCAT implementation. “I’m not sure public education can survive this,” he warned.

He also shot one across the bow of higher education.

“We consistently field three football teams ranked in the top 10,” he pointed out. “We need three universities that rank (academically) in the top 50. The best and brightest leave; most never to return. Except to retire.”

On security matters, Jones wants the National Guard and reserve units to train local authorities in combating bio-terrorism.

“We are trained to not only survive, but thrive in an NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) environment,” explained Jones. “We have the equipment that will enable us to function at full capacity if we are attacked.

“I queried law enforcement about their capability of doing the same,” Jones said. “Would there be an uncontrolled panic? Are you able to maintain the peace in such an environment? The answer was not encouraging.

“I believe that we need additional training among our civilian forces,” emphasized Jones, “so that they may function at required levels in the event of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack so that we can increase our chances for survival and react appropriately.”

As for the taxing soap opera still unfolding in Tallahassee, Jones characterized it this way: “(Senate President John) McKay really wants tax reform. (House Speaker Tom) Feeney really wants a congressional district. And who knows what the governor wants?”

Jones finds merit in McKay “taking on the (tax-reform) mantle of five former governors,” but wonders about his strategy. He said the better approach is to first max out on governmental efficiency and “economic policies that grow the economy” before looking at taxes. “We have an obligation to exhaust the first two before raising taxes.”

As to how he would reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable if he were governor, Jones noted: “You can get just about anything done in Tallahassee, if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

“I understand the process,” he underscored and took a jab at Tampa’s hometown candidate. “Bill McBride is bright and sharp, but knows almost nothing about state government.”

Jones also handled the predictable question on whether he would except a lieutenant governor’s spot on the ticket in predictable fashion. Of course, he’s “not running” for the number two spot, he replied.

But mark it down.

Daryl Jones may or may not accept — or even be offered — the second spot on a Reno or McBride ticket. But he’ll be a major player in maintaining the get-out-the-vote momentum from the presidential election. He’ll help his Party.

And he’ll help his own cause — in 2006. When the lieutenant governor question may not get asked at all.

Soiree Setting For Renaissance Plans

It took the better part of a year, but someone has now stepped forward from the private sector to say they want in on the cultural arts district synergy. It’s precisely what Mayor Dick Greco had in mind with his Last Hurrah -like championing of the CAD cause last year.

Chesapeake Atlantic Holdings did the stepping, and they did it in style. As in a media all-call/soiree for its high-rise announcement at the Tampa Museum of Art — replete with catering by the Blue Gardenia, artistic dancing by Blake High performers and power schmoozing by Greco and the downtown cognoscenti. Pam Iorio was there without so much as a single touch-screen in tow.

To recap the run-up to last week’s grand-plan proclamation:

Last spring Greco pushed hard for the cultural arts district downtown. The contentious campaign was as high decibel as it was high profile. His was a vision that some labeled legacy-driven. But it was also a bricks-and-mortar-and-money plan that had to be jumpstarted by a City Council vote to use some Community Investment Tax dollars. Twenty-seven million of them.

Greco said the revitalization of downtown depended on it. He said a bona fide CAD was the key catalyst for residential — as well as more commercial — development in downtown.

To City Council, he said: If you pass it, they will come. Developers, that is.

Well, less than a year after City Council’s critical vote in favor of allocating CIT funds for the CAD, Greg Hughes, Chesapeake’s president and CEO, has made that first private-sector sortie. The Palm Beach native wants — initially — to build a 28-story office tower, featuring some 450,000 square feet of office space. The $100-million, limestone building would be the vanguard of a mixed-use development project called Renaissance Tampa. Condominiums and apartments — mostly along Ashley overlooking the CAD — would be key components.

The downtown office market, however, remains dicey with vacancy rates higher than preferred and square footage rates lower than desired.

So, amid the rebirth scenarios, easeled renderings, champagne, pineapple ponzu and andouille sausage, there was this reality. Hughes wants to break ground within 12 months, and to do that he needs an office anchor tenant in the worst way. But so do a couple of other developers still in pre-groundbreaking mode.

It will take a large tenant, such as a Bank of America, “to step up and drive the rebirth of downtown Tampa,” acknowledged Hughes, whose Chesapeake Atlantic Holdings owns or controls three continuous blocks adjacent to the CAD along Ashley Drive.

Clearly, a lot of people at the beam-a-thon were happy to hear of Hughes’ ambitious plans. Clearly, they could be the perfect complement to the Tampa Downtown Cultural District master plan that includes a new Tampa Museum of Art, history museum, riverfront housing and showcase civic spaces.

Clearly, Hughes’ announcement was also a classy, splashy tenant pitch.

No one, not even Hughes, looked happier than Greco, who gushed that “in the next five to 10 years you’re not going to recognize downtown.” He’s all too mindful, of course, of what a CIT “no” vote from City Council would have undone.

Also making the ecstatic list: Bank of America. Can’t have too many solicitous suitors.

Charlie’s Miranda Rights

Is this getting personal or what?

Last week City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who is a candidate for mayor, took umbrage at plans by fellow mayoral candidate Frank Sanchez to visit city departments throughout the campaign. “Employees of the city should be working instead of giving kindergarten classes to political candidates,” sniffed Miranda.

A couple of days later Miranda couldn’t resist a swipe at Sanchez over some anonymous Sanchez ads that ran in three Bay Area weeklies. Political ads need to identify who paid for them. The matter has since been resolved.

Said Miranda of Sanchez, who is a rookie at running for public office: “Maybe he should run for president his first time out.”

Any chance the caustic comments reflect Miranda’s sense of “poaching” by Sanchez? Miranda can arguably claim to have paid his public service dues here while Ybor City native — and fellow Hispanic — Sanchez was building a killer resume elsewhere.

This may be as civil as it gets.