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Off Key

By Bob Frederickson 

From Local Sand Storms to Befriending Veterans

“Spinning” the Facts in Brewing Lido/Siesta Sand Storm
An informational meeting held recently in Sarasota by the Army Corps of Engineers to update the public on plans to re-nourish Lido Beach drew more than 100 citizens, many from Siesta.

Of special concern to the Siesta contingent: the sand for the project is to come from Big Pass Shoal, sand that if left to its own devices would naturally migrate toward Siesta. The shoal also protects the island from storm damage.

The $20 million project’s goal is to widen over one-and-a-half miles of Lido by an average of 176 feet.

The Corps maintains the project is not a danger to Siesta, but the group Save Our Siesta Sand 2 remains skeptical, seeing the recent presentation as little more than an effort to “spin” the facts of the matter in the Army Corps preferred direction. They want an independent review of those facts.

But one of the project supervisors told the crowd that such a study would only be approved if it was determined the work would have “a significant environmental impact,” adding: “it won’t.”

That supervisor’s name? Jason “Spinning,” which many in the audience took as all together fitting.

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Riding the “Scooby Doo” Express
Remember the Vice Presidential Debate between Dan Quayle and Senator Lloyd Bentsen back in 1988? That was the one where the Texas Senator got the better of his younger colleague after Quayle invoked the name of the late President Kennedy in one of his responses, prompting the Bentsen retort: “Mr. Quayle, I knew John F. Kennedy. I was a friend of John F. Kennedy. Mr. Quayle, you’re no John F. Kennedy…”

Now with all the hoopla surrounding Hillary’s “of the people” campaign rollout with the former Secretary of State and New York Senator setting off on a road-trip to Iowa in her luxury van named “Scooby Doo” (after the Great Dane cartoon character who rode around in the back of his scruffy owner’s anything-but luxury model van), perhaps we will have a reprise of that grand moment of political theatre.

I can hear it now. An opponent of Hillary in an upcoming presidential debate, taking exception to her claims to be ‘just like the rest of us’ by virtue of her having driven cross country in her “Scooby Doo” van (forget about the $300,000 speaking fees); he or she turning to the former first lady and saying solemnly:

“Mrs. Clinton, I’ve met Scooby Doo. Scooby Doo was a friend of mine. Mrs. Clinton, you’re no Scooby Doo!” 

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Often Wrong but Never in Doubt…
The folks at Colorado State University have once again released their annual forecast for the upcoming Atlantic Hurricane season, and if past performance is any indicator of future results, we could be headed for an especially rough season. Why? Well, the scientists there have predicted one of the slowest seasons on record.

“Overall, the environment this year is just not conducive to hurricane development,” according to Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State.

Two years ago the forecast was for an especially active season with an above average storm count. The result? One of the lowest storm totals on record, hence our contrarian view that we may get whacked but good this year.

Amusing isn’t it? We’re supposed to suspend all skepticism about the “settled science” of human engineered global warming, based on predictions for one-hundred years hence…based on models where the predicted dire results all fall within the margin of error of the underlying studies. Meantime, a forecast looking ahead three or four months is about as accurate as a blindfolded chimp tossing darts at a board labeled “more storms” on one side and “less” on the other.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in climate change…I was raised in upstate New York after all, where the climate changes by the minute. I just don’t get how the human influence – which is but a nano-second in comparison to the planet’s 4.6 billion year age – can be calculated with any degree of accuracy at this point.

So do we constrain economic growth in the west with tighter environmental restrictions (while in the name of ‘fairness’ eastern nations…including…China get to continue polluting at their current levels to ‘catch-up’, economically) and risk the real human toll such a likely economic slowdown would bring… all to avoid an outcome that may or may not ever come to pass?

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Savings of $2.5 Million by Privatizing SCAT, MCAT? (Don’t hold your breath)
An Illinois company has proposed a plan that could potentially save local taxpayers $2.5 million (roughly 12.5% of budgeted expenses) on mass transit expenditures in the Sarasota/Manatee County region. By combining Sarasota and Manatee counties’ separate operations into one combined transit system, Transdev Services says it can eliminate overlapping management and maintenance facility costs, providing the same or better service with less of a tax burden on local taxpayers.

The proposed privatization makes a lot of sense, which is probably why it will never be implemented. Politicians and the bureaucracies they put in place love the status quo. They generally shun bold plans that might result in greater efficiencies, like the one proposed by Transdev.

Just witness the recent favorable tax considerations for Marina Jack’s related to past lease agreements with the city that have raised questions over the years. Then there was Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Lori White recently expressing her preference for a contractor the school board had used in the past to build a new Suncoast Technical College satellite campus despite another qualified contractor’s bid coming in $4.5-million below the “preferred” candidate’s. That preference came despite the school board’s own advisory panel recommending the lower bid contractor be awarded the contract. White’s response that the public doesn’t understand the bidding process and that the “higher” bid is actually the “lower” one struck me as at best dismissive and at worst, as simply absurd, either as to the math involved or to the school district/board’s own inefficiency (why spend the time and resources having a bid scoring review panel if its conclusions are to ultimately be ignored)?

The intersection of government and commerce often ends in “rent-taking” “conveniences” that eschew free and fair competition and confer special privileges on the connected or first in line; such arrangements value relationships and the security of the status quo over even the rudiments of financial common sense. They’re not generally considered to be illegal (though with court challenges some are from time-to time determined to be so)….but they are almost always costly for the rest of us.

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Stevie Nicks Hits the High Notes with Veterans Efforts
After seeing and more importantly hearing the original 1970s lineup of Fleetwood Mac perform in Tampa this past December, I was familiar with Stevie Nicks’ talent as a songwriter and performer. But I discovered something even more important about her recently when I learned that according to the Baltimore USO, she holds the record over the past five years for the most hours spent visiting wounded combat service members.

Says Nicks: “I am most proud of this, of the time I have spent with these girls and boys, that I have sat on their bed and tried to discern what injury they have and how to fix it and what they were doing and what happened and where they came from and meet their mom and dad and their brothers and sisters and cousins and boyfriends and become part of their family.”

Some of our politicians could learn a thing or two about “connecting” with real everyday folks by following Nicks’ lead.

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Writing the Headline Before the Story
Kudos to WWSB Channel 40 for leading a recent newscast with a report on the discredited Rolling Stone story about an alleged gang rape on the University of Virginia campus that most now agree never happened. Both the local Chancellorsville, Virginia police department and a review by the Columbia School of Journalism concluded that the story was fake. That was the real news of the day.

So leading their broadcast with that news on that night was commendable. But instead of quitting while they were ahead, the local coverage veered into the same open pit Rolling Stone fell into in the first place: namely the pursuit of a story just too good to be passed up (even if it never happened).

Instead of focusing on the subject of journalistic ethics, or the manipulation of public perceptions by news organizations with an overriding agenda (which news of the Rolling Stone’s discredited story pointed to), reporter Bobeth Yates and her producers instead lamented the fact that by retracting the story, the very “real” problem of sexual assault on campuses across the nation will – in the report’s mixing of metaphors – “be washed under the rug…”

But if the concern is with the problem of sexual assault on campus…a problem that WWSB and its sources reported is so widespread that 1-in-5 college women are victims – then why not report on a real example of a local sexual assault at one of our nearby colleges or from one up the road in Tampa? By hanging the coverage on a discredited example from a campus four states and a thousand miles away, the story itself loses credibility.

With thousands of students attending classes on local campuses, a committed effort should uncover at least one person with the requisite tenacity and courage to tell his or her story – either on-the-record or off. If not, then, well, there is no story.

In their defense – despite the story being an abysmal failure – the editors of Rolling Stone could at least say they thought the story was real. Using it after it has been discredited is an entirely different matter – one that hurts rather than helps further efforts to deal with an important issue.

Twenty nine seconds were devoted to the real story of the day (the retracted Rolling story). Two minutes and 45 seconds were devoted to the issue the editors of Rolling Stone (and producers at WWSB) felt was so important we needed to hear about it even if the facts of the original incident reported were – in the words of the Columbia University report – “a journalistic failure.”

Is this the new, new journalism? “It’s true, even if it didn’t happen?”

Ken Kesey couldn’t have written it any better.

People sense when they are being played. That’s why journalists today are held in such low regard…only slightly above members of congress, in fact.

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