Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Do Scandals Get Worse

The thing that always surprises me is how a bad story - someone being violent, someone being inept, someone being greedy - goes from minor league to nuclear catastrophe within a heartbeat of the story getting out.

It's not even when a revelation about a minor crime turns into an expose of a major conspiracy, like Watergate.  It's just in any situation where there's a powerful person or an organization suddenly confronted with a problem he/she/they just doesn't know how to handle it, and then BOOM the entire structure of that person's powerbase implodes or that organization's impressive administrative order collapses.

I'm bringing this up in the wake of the NFL's (and commissioner Goodell's) Very Bad PR Week of mishandling the Ray Rice incident.  What went from a horrifying interpersonal assault in an Atlantic City casino back in February - that could have been calmly handled in the courts and through massive amounts of counseling - instead degraded into a months-long argument over how poorly the NFL handles domestic violence cases overall (in short: not well).

When Goodell handed down a mere (!) two-game suspension on Rice in July, it opened up the arguments about how tone-deaf the sports league was towards how domestic violence literally destroys women.  That the punishment for assaulting a women was less than a punishment doled out to a player caught with marijuana in his possession or his biosystem (and while pot is illegal, so is assault: and you can forge a strong argument that assault is a more serious crime than pot).  You could see in real-time the scrambling and back-pedaling that the NFL Front Office went through looking to come up with a stronger punishment code...

And then this past Monday just as Week One of the regular season kicked in, the media got ahold of the full video of what Ray Rice really did to his fiancee-now-wife Janay.

By that afternoon Ray Rice had been kicked off his Ravens team and the NFL had banned him indefinitely (although he could always get re-instated).

But this was getting worse and not better for the NFL and Goodell.  Because it begged the question: how the hell could a powerful organization like the NFL - an organization known to have its own army of investigators, and had months to get it - fail to see this video?

Each explanation - each excuse - that Goodell tried to offer came up more hopeless and inept and ill-advised than any of the earlier ones.  Reports kept cropping up that the NFL did get a copy of the video, that at least one executive did see the video, that all the league had to do was ask the casino for it and not the police or prosecutors' offices.  It wasn't helping that other players in the league facing the same legal issues as Rice - Greg Hardy, Ray MacDonald are two - are still playing without suspension... even though Hardy especially has been convicted in court of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend.

The hypocrisy.  The sloppiness.  The willful ignorance of a powerful, money-driven organization.

How could the NFL - an organization that can successfully bully communities into building multi-billion-dollar jeweled stadiums for them even while generating profits from massive TV and marketing deals - be so clumsy, stupid and tone-deaf now over something like this?

Because of one simple, universal constant that happens to those in power: they lose any perspective about things like accountability and honesty.

It's not so much that power corrupts, it's that power puts people on a different level of authority and responsibility.  It's at a level where things like accountability - where you answer to a higher power than yourself - fade away, because you no longer have as many bosses or overseers watching your mistakes and correcting what you did wrong (either through training or dismissal).

That lack of accountability in high places creates a void of sorts: it creates an environment where the people in power believe themselves infallible, untouchable.  All because they rose to a level of prominence that makes them seemingly superior to all other mere mortals.

That's what happened, is happening here.  Goodell and the NFL - the owners, the players' union, the networks and corporations co-thriving with it all - view themselves akin to Gods On Earth: rich and powerful men (it's mostly men) who make life-and-death decisions about a money-generating sport/entertainment that enough people can't look away from.  Why should their judgment be questioned or their values argued?  Why are we blowing something like this out of proportion?  Don't we know who they are?

It's the same in politics and their media bubble, it's the same in any church of size and power, it's the same in any organization with money in its coffers and power to its name.  They simply can't comprehend why we'd raise a fuss over something they think they've already solved.

So they do the next step in the process of self-immolation.  The person/organization of power begins to lie about what they did.  He/She/They begin to claim "oh well we did X so therefore we're blameless", or "well it was someone else's fault".  They make up a half-truth story that slides into flat-out lying as the need to shift the blame elsewhere grows.

This is from the knee-jerk reaction: the self-defense.  The refusal to admit wrong-doing as that somehow looks worse than the growing web of lies to cover up the earlier mistake(s).  The person of power, the organization of power dare not consider the slight possibility of "OOPS that's on me," because such sloppiness and failure does not belong in "my" world.

And then those in power wonder why they fall.  They're compounding earlier mistakes with fresh ones.  Because lying at that level of responsibility and power is reckless: because there's bound to be someone out there with the evidence to prove you are lying.  Because the more you try to cover it up, the more people and resources you are dragging into the mess: people who may not want to lie to cover your ass; resources that may not fit the gaping holes in your faltering stories.

That's why scandals get worse.  The people in power refuse to hold themselves accountable and refuse to make genuine efforts to fix the problems that arise.  They'd rather lie, blame someone else, and let the problem fade away.

What's sad is why those in power already think that way: because that's how they acted on their way up the chain of command to the high seat they now hold... because they made all that money and gained all that influence through lying and blaming others in the first place.  Because there's a broken system of accountability in place already: they're merely profiting from the status quo.

We are as a nation and as a culture in dire need of reform.  Of bringing accountability and truth-telling back, of ending the fraud and spiritual wickedness in high places.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Anniversary: Sadness Follows Thirteen Years Later

September 11 again.

Last year, I was worried about how the world had remained a bloody, violent place since 2001 as the Syrian Civil War was well into its third year.  It's now in its fourth, and due to the extremist group ISIL it's bled over back into neighboring Iraq which still hasn't recovered from the ill-planned Bush/Cheney occupation.

Last night Obama gave a speech outlining how we were committing airstrikes against the Islamist State psychopaths.  We are remaking military commitments to a nation we tried to exit back in 2011, mostly because we as a nation failed to leave Iraq in better shape than when we invaded it in 2003.  Mostly because we dove head-first into a Middle East quagmire out of anger and blind rage.

We had no reason to invade Iraq in response to what Bin Laden did to us on 9/11.  The reasons were fabricated by a Bush/Cheney administration that wanted to invade Iraq for other objectives (finishing off Saddam, placating our allies in the region who didn't like having a dictator for a neighbor, seizing all that oil and natural resources).  We had no plan for what to do with nation-building.  Well, there was a plan: remove Saddam and his ilk, put in pet Chalabi on the throne, sign up all the oil rights, exit Iraq.  When it happened that nobody in Iraq wanted Chalabi and he wasn't the puppy Cheney thought he was, it turned out we had no Plan B.

Because with the Middle East there IS no Plan B.  Just an ongoing, 5000-year cycle of violence and madness that will only end when everybody's dead.

And we are all stuck.  The innocent people in the Middle East trapped between warring factions.  Other nations tied to the region through all that damn oil.  A United States that's morally and politically obligated to keep dropping itself into that quagmire because we've been breaking things there since World War II and we're stuck paying the bills for the next century.

We're bombing away in Iraq today.  Because the Towers fell thirteen years ago.  We have no idea when we can stop bombing.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Failure of Us All When It Comes to Angry Guys

There is a lot of rage to go around.

There is rage in the heart of Ray Rice, which led him back in February to punch his then-fiancee Janay Palmer so hard that he knocked her unconscious.

There is no other way to describe it.  When he slams that fist into her face, driving her head into the nearby elevator handrail.  Letting her lie there, unmoving, while you can see on the video that Ray is still talking at her.  Look at that body language.  He is not asking if she is alright.  He is taunting her.  The act of a bully, laying the smack-down on his victim.  The body language of an Angry Guy venting his hate.

We are, as fans and as a nation, still raging at those in power who ignored the evidence, tried to play down the horror, who lied at some point during this scandal, who tried to get back to doing what they want to do (sell us a product to make sh-tloads of money).  Much like Keith Olbermann, I too want to see every person involved in this poor cover-up - all the way up to NFL Commissioner Goodell - either reprimanded or fired for trying to hush up yet another violent attack by a player on a woman.

Ray Rice is not the first player to mistreat a woman: there have been so many (hi, Ben "Alleged Sexual Assaults" Roethlisburger, hi Rae Carruth!) through the years that we seem to equate sexual assaults and misconduct as part of the package deal with school and pro athletes.  Which isn't entirely true, as most players - of any sport - don't go this far attacking women or other people.

But it's viewed as part of the culture: the entitlement, the perks of being famous and athletic and physically fit, the perks of the big contracts and the glamour and the media attention.  It's also viewed as part of the nature of sport itself: a level of physical competition that would explain away the quick reaction of a guy in a heated argument to go with fists first into any conflict.

Except that we live in a world where it's not just athletes beating up - and killing - women.  There are reports every day of at least one domestic violence incident involving men who are not football players but businessmen, teachers, bus drivers, architects, blue-collar repairmen... even judges.  And while everyone's burning Ray Rice's jersey right about now, nobody is calling for that Alabama judge Mark Fuller to resign or get disbarred as a response to his anger-driven violence upon his wife.

We live in a global world of violent patriarchy: culture after culture after culture where women are abused, enslaved, treated like cattle, murdered.  And despite all of the differences between each culture - between Asia to Europe to Africa to North America to South America - there remains the same base reason.

The men inflicting all this rape and pain and horror are driven by anger.  Frustrated, violent, lashing out.  It doesn't matter if the man lashes out with a whip, with a machete, with a gun, with his own fists.  The power and impulse driving each act of violence is the same.  Anger.  That the targets are mostly women tend to be due to how some of our cultures devalue women, viewing them as trophies or property rather than people.  But the base cause of anger is always there.

We may want accountability from the people in power who failed Janay that February and are failing her now (if she's defending her now-husband Ray, it's for the same reasons every battered wife will give: she's both terrified of how he'll react if she says otherwise, and she's somehow convinced he's getting better...).  But we should also be demanding action from those same people in power.  We should be demanding it among ourselves.

We have got to do something about culling back the Angry Guys of our world.  We have got to cure this Angry Guy Syndrome of violence that threatens us all.

Friday, September 05, 2014

It's Schadenfreude Time: Crooks In Virginia Edition

Yesterday's post was about a court ruling that angered me: not the ruling itself, but the bastards - BP Corporation - being held to account for their reckless greed and destruction.

There was another ruling that day that amused me: because it was ex-Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell's jury finding him and his wife guilty on various counts of bribery, corruption, and sheer arrogance.

So now I'm getting around to the schadenfreude portion of this blog.  This is the part of the malicious enjoyment where I lean my head back and guffaw.  A deep, throaty, almost maniacal laugh.  Kinda goes like this:


McDonnell is... was... one of those defendants where the sympathy train left the station years ago.  An up-and-coming Republican pol from Virginia, with enough charisma to swoon a room full of fund-raisers and a background catering to the social conservative platform of "family values" (aka Full-Me(n)tal Patriarchy, Pro-Fetus agenda).  He lucked into the national stage as a successful governor of a swing state, able to retain his Far Right credentials yet position himself in public as the "sane and normal" one when compared to his fellow Virginian wingnuts (Hi, Cuccinelli!).  This was a guy getting vetted for being Veep in 2012.  This was a guy who could have parlayed his position into a front-runner for (what is turning out to be wide-open for Republicans) the Presidential ticket in 2016.

This was a guy who couldn't figure out how to keep his corruption on the down-low and in the back rooms.  I mean, corruption is a bad thing no matter which politician is committing it, but there's something to be said about being savvy enough to keep it off the radar...

The feds were able to catch McDonnell's family hanging around with a deep-pocket fund-raising buddy (Jonnie Williams), not only taking money and gifts from him but also turning around and avidly promoting their buddy's diet supplement company.  While Quid Pro Quo is painfully rampant in modern politics, most other politicians tend to be a little more subtle about their deals.

The trial just finished was a soap opera drama worthy of a Lifetime Channel miniseries.  Rather than present a unified defense, Bob and his wife Maureen decided on a finger-pointing approach of accusing each other of being manipulated by a sweet-talking businessman who took advantage of a crumbling, loveless marriage.  Bob especially went with a "crazy wife" defense that essentially threw Maureen under the bus (figuratively, but if someone brought a bus to the front of the courthouse he well could have tried it literally).  For a politician who once stood on the virtue of a husband "defending and providing for his family," this was pretty hypocritical.  It was also pretty tone-deaf.

But the signs were there early: when first charged, McDonnell was offered a plea deal on just one felony charge (meaning minimal jail-time) that would have included all charges on his wife getting dropped (it's a standard practice by prosecutors to pile on charges to make sure a deal can get enforced made).  Even then, McDonnell said no to the deal, figuring he was better off winning over a jury and walking away clean.

Turns out the prosecutors were able to win more than one felony conviction after all.  Hindsight can be a pain, right Gov?


As Jim Newell at Salon noted, How could McDonnell be so stupid?:
...In modern politics, corruption charges are usually more tediously complex: Money was wired here and then laundered via a pass-through, which made its way through another pass-through and was distributed through a foundation before ending up at a nonprofit designed to help such and such’s interests with a client trying to change regulations in foreign markets, or whatever. Not in this case. The prosecution just had to show the jury images of the idiot governor showing off his flashy watch that was given to him by the rich businessman for whom he did favors in return. How much simpler could this get? It’s only a degree of reality or two away from an old-timey political cartoon of a tuxedoed plutocrat, smoking a cigar, handing over a big bag marked “$$$,” to a crooked politician slapping his back and cackling.
God, the stupidity...
...Because the defense — the now infamous defense — that they took in court reeked of desperation all the way through. If you’re willing to testify for days about the stunning levels of dysfunction in your marriage, as the best hope for your exoneration, doesn’t that suggest that you may not have the strongest case? Doesn’t that suggest that perhaps you would’ve been better taking a plea deal? It didn’t even cohere...
I would argue it wasn't stupidity.  It was arrogance.  Hubris, the Greek word for Pride: Pride, the highest of the seven deadly Christian sins.  You'd think a rock-solid self-promoting Christian like McDonnell would have learned about the price of Pride in Sunday schools.  That it leads to one hell of a fall.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Damn BP and Damn the Corporate Criminals

There were a couple of major court rulings getting handed down today, but the one I want to jump to first is the one that makes me angriest and affects me more directly (as I live in one of the affected states).  Today a judge issued a ruling over who bears the most blame for the disastrous explosion and subsequent Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010:
...BP PLC already has agreed to pay billions of dollars in criminal fines and compensation to people and businesses affected by the disaster. But U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's ruling could nearly quadruple what the London-based company has to pay in civil fines for polluting the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 spill.
Barbier presided over a trial in 2013 to apportion blame for the spill that spewed oil for 87 days in 2010. Eleven men died after the well blew.
The judge essentially divided blame among the three companies involved in the spill, ruling that BP bears 67 percent of the blame; Swiss-based drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd. takes 30 percent; and Houston-based cement contractor Halliburton Energy Service takes 3 percent.
In his 153-page ruling, Barbier said BP made "profit-driven decisions" during the drilling of the well that led to the deadly blowout.
"These instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks," he wrote.

BP is of course going to appeal the decision - 'cause God forbid they'll openly accept the blame after fighting this for four years - but are claiming they believe "that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court."

You want impartial?

Here's impartial:

  • Eleven workers died.
  • A massive explosion happened on a BP-owned oil rig, from what turned out to be from years of intentional negligence ignoring safety standards, all in a rush to get a rig running to churn out billions in profits.
  • A massive ecological disaster occurred as millions of gallons of crude oil - toxic, stifling - poured into the Gulf on a scale that dwarfed all previous oil spills.
  • Eleven families lost their loved ones.
  • Entire industries dependent on the Gulf for living - tourism, fishing - were wiped out or hit hard, and will remain so for years to come.
  • What part of "eleven men lost their lives" do you not get, BP?

It doesn't help BP's case that they've been slow to pay up for damages they've already agreed to own up.  Like any crook, they are loathe to part with the money they've so rightly killed other people to keep.

Some of the online chatter about BP's corrupt practices here, about the satisfaction that finally someone in authority is holding this corporation accountable for the blood on their ledger, is about how the insane rhetoric of the uber-rich claiming "corporations are people" ought to let this follow that logic to its rightful conclusion: putting BP as a corporation on death row for the deaths it caused.  There's a part of that which comes across as poetic justice: the truth is that will never happen, as it's impossible to strap a company logo down into the electric chair.  What should happen is that the courts - that Judge Barbier - should start forcing the CEOs and board of directors of these negligent criminal corporations to pay up in total all that they should.

No more delays.  No more excuses.  Pay all the damn fines and then some.  If these corporate overlords of malice and inhumanity refuse to, then throw them in jail until they do.  Did you know Exxon - the company responsible for the other major oil spill from hell the Valdez - still hasn't paid off their fines they had agreed to pay (they're still fighting it in the courts)?  Make them - Exxon, BP, all the other corporations wrecking havoc across our world - accountable to the law.  MAKE THEM ACCOUNTABLE TO THE PEOPLE WHO SUFFERED.

We are long overdue for true justice.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Homework for the Horde: Reading Assignment for September

Just to let the seven people following this blog know, Mr. Coates is asking the Horde to take part in a book discussion.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep up with it this time.

What we're reading this time is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.  With luck your local library owns a copy, or else is available through your library's Overdrive eBook lender.

Discussions should open up on September 17, so we've all got a few days to get some reading done and take some notes.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Florida Ballot Amendments 2014: So Few Yet So Important

Another election cycle here in Florida.  Another round of Florida state amendments on the ballot for 2014 for the voters to decide.

Unlike previous ballots like 2012 and 2010 and 2008, this year we've got only three amendments to consider.  Could make for the smallest ballot sheet in recent history.  Deal is, these three are some of the biggest issues to vote on I've seen in ages.

Amendment One: Land Acquisition Trust Fund

The wording on this makes it so Florida has "to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years."

What's at stake is funding for a state-founded land trust dedicated towards overall environmental management and protection.  Funding for that trust had been slashed back in 2009, and it seems the current legislature leadership isn't in the mood to find replacement revenues.

If you've never been to Florida, or just moved here, or if you've lived here for 20-40 years and just plain forgot, this state has a very fragile ecosystem and not a lot of room for growth.  Geographically, we're a mid-sized state but population has us as the fourth-most.  That means a lot of our limited resources are getting pulled in a lot of directions, above all our water.  Drinking water is important, as is our lawn maintenance and agricultural needs for water.  Not to mention our state's reliance on tourism with our impressive chain of beaches, rivers, lakes, and parks.  The risk of pollution to key waterways - especially the Everglades - is always high.

I don't buy what I've seen of the opposition's arguments: that this would force a constitutional solution to what normal legislation ought to handle, that it would cause an unbalanced budget, that it would kill job-creating funds.  On the first point, our current legislature hasn't been in any rush to resolve this matter, so we've got nowhere else to go to resolve it.  On the second, we have other ways of balancing the budget IF said legislature opened their fricking minds to the options available: besides, the Fiscal Impact committee that measures the cost benefits of all amendment proposals can't say if this will hurt or boost revenues.  On the third point, any time a Republican says anything will affect "job creators" I don't believe them, because their idea of "jobs creation" is "more money to the rich".

The overall purpose of this amendment is to protect our state's environment and conserve our resources in a way to ensure ourselves and future generations can LIVE HERE.  With regards to Amendment One, I vote YES.

Amendment Two: Medical Marijuana

This one is the doozy, the headache.  The major bout on the general election card this November (in some ways it's a bigger fight than the hotly contested Governor's race between Crist and Scott).  Just arguing over any kind of decriminalization of a drug... this can get messy.  So I'd like to start off simple.

This amendment sets out to allow "the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana."

What this means: marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes for individuals suffering in such a way that only marijuana's effects - usually pain-killing, appetite stimulus, and specific treatment for illnesses like glaucoma - can help them.  The use can only be signed off by licensed state doctors and caregivers (people who can lose such licenses if they're careless or law-breaking).  Treatment and distribution centers have to register and get managed by a state's oversight office, the Department of Health.  The amendment spells out that federal law, which still classifies marijuana as a major - Class I - narcotic, cannot be violated.  That means recreational possession or use of marijuana is a no-no.

Florida isn't the first state to pursue a medical marijuana protocol: both Colorado and Washington are the more recent states that have even legalized the manufacture and sale of marijuana (in Colorado's case even for recreational use).  There are 17 other states with some level of medical marijuana rights, or a decriminalization of pot use to where those arrested aren't jailed for it (they're fined and/or sent to outpatient treatment).  For what it's worth, the decriminalization efforts in other nations - Portugal for example - demonstrates that decriminalization does not lead to massive drug abuse (most drug abuse dropped in fact).

I do admit this amendment is a slippery slope towards an overall decriminalization of marijuana: if effective in showing the use of pot as a medicinal herb, the next argument is obviously how pot is "safe" as a recreational drug.  This is where the debate get worse.  Because there are a lot of people who fear the potential spread and abuse of marijuana as a recreational drug.  Because the keystone of our nation's massive War On Drugs has been a fight against marijuana use across the board, medicinal or otherwise.

Here's the thing: the War On Drugs has been a disaster.  The government is spending billions every year towards fighting it, it's led to the militarization of our police force to abusive levels, and it's led to the packing of our prison system at the state and federal level with a ton of non-violent drug offenders at a human cost of making them more hardened criminals.

It's been forty-plus years of the official start of the War On Drugs and the amount of drug abuse has not abated.  There is an aspect of human behavior we're just not going to be able to overcome with draconian policing and arrests.  The sad thing is that we've seen this all before: we called it Prohibition.

We tried policing human behavior under the good intentions of ending rampant alcoholism, which was viewed as a blight upon society.  The temperance movement in the United States got to be pretty powerful, and during an era of major social and political reform got the 18th Amendment - basically banning all alcohol - passed by 1920.  Rather than end the consumption of beer, whiskey, and other alcoholic drinks, all this did was drive the manufacture and consumption of alcohol underground, into speakeasies and gambling dens and criminal hideouts (and into country clubs, people's homes, other places where social types gather).  Criminal gangs that lived on the edge of society suddenly ran a profitable black market industry that boosted their financial and political clout.  Street wars erupted between these gangs.  The courts were flooded with Prohibition-related cases that clogged up our legal system for years.  Corruption became rampant.  In less than 14 years, we had to pass the 21st Amendment - and if you understand how hard it is to amend the U.S. Constitution, you'll understand how serious a problem this was - to repeal the 18th - we've never repealed an amendment since - just to do something to combat the violence and corruption.

Since then, our nation's fight against alcohol abuse has been more restrained and focused.  We go after direct risks such as Driving Under the Influence of alcohol (since drunk driving is a severe risk to everyone on the streets).  We place chronic drinking addicts into probationary counseling services - rehab clinics and group therapy - rather than jail.  We teach our kids in schools about the dangers of alcohol, and we have laws banning the sale or sharing of alcoholic beverages to the underage.  It's not perfect - we still have alcoholics, and we always will - but it's a good-faith effort, and it's more an effort to treat and save rather than jail and punish.

Instead of treating drug abuse as a crime, we ought to be treating it as a medical/health care issue.  We ought to focus more energy and funding into treatment and counseling, which have been effective means.  We ought to treat the overuse of drugs the way we treat alcohol addiction: as a medical problem, not a crime.

I'm not a drug user.  I don't use marijuana (although I've known people who have).  I don't smoke nicotine cigarettes (which is more lethal than marijuana yet regulated by the feds).  I don't drink any alcohol, not even wine (again, in excess alcohol can be lethal, yet is still regulated by the feds).  I don't want to see any substance abuse of any kind for kids under 18 (in alcohol's case, the age limit is 21).  These are personal preferences for me.  Yet I don't see the severe harm of marijuana.  The death rate from pot overdose is non-existent: the amount of ingested THC (the chemical that makes marijuana the weed we know today) needed to overdose is thousands of times higher than the regular rate of ingestion.  Nearly every pot smoker just smokes one a day: it would take 20,000 of those rolls in one sitting to kill one smoker.  Even pot brownies - arguably more potent - doesn't have enough THC in it to cause death (diabetes, though...)

I honestly don't see why pot is viewed as a Class I danger drug up there with heroin, which is deadly (along with cocaine and oxy, both of which deserve to be Class I but aren't): if anything marijuana ought to be classified a Class III alongside the synthetic THC drug Marinol.

I'll grant you one thing: The most severe problem with marijuana is psychological, the impact it has on the brain.  It can induce depression and cause memory loss, and it can adversely hinder kids' development during their growth into adulthood.  Any artificial drug/stimulant is going to have its' negative effects.  Alcohol can cause cirrhosis of the liver and affect depressive mood swings.  Alcohol in excess also causes violent mood swings that lead to a lot of other deaths (if anything, marijuana users tend not to trash the bar while high).  Smoking nicotine kills the lungs, causes cancer, and has been a major burden to our health care system.  Yet we regulate those drugs as best as possible to prevent kid and teen abuse: we regulate their sale and manufacture to try and reduce the health risks.  We can do the same with marijuana.

And that's not even getting into the legalization of industrial hemp, a cousin to the marijuana plant that's also been banned because of its' tenuous relationship (even though hemp barely contains any THC worth bothering).  At least our national government is making some sensible strides there.

For all these reasons - above all that this amendment is one more steps towards ending a War On Drugs we've already lost and that we can start treating marijuana use in a sensible productive fashion - I am going to vote YES on Amendment Two.

Amendment Three: Judicial Vacancies

This is the legislative-induced amendment proposal allowing the governor to set nominations for judicial vacancies, based off of a nominating committee list of no less than three names and no more than six.  Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?

Hidden in this amendment is the change making it possible for a current sitting governor to nominate a candidate for a judicial vacancy before that vacancy even happens (the "prospective" part of the amendment's wording).

Say Rick "No Ethics" Scott is still the sitting governor if this amendment passes.  And he's there in office 2015 and he's looking at the State Supreme Court and sees there's three judges facing mandatory retirement in 2019, four years away and during the tenure of the next possible governor (due to term limits, Scott can't run for 2019).  Scott can use the power granted by this proposed amendment to nominate in 2015 three people to fill those eventual vacancies in 2019 even though those judges are still sitting there doing their jobs.  Worse, these nominations can't be overturned or blocked by the next governor, who would want to have the right and authority to nominate his/her own candidates for the office.  In fact, all seven seats on the Florida court can have their "vacancies" filled by a governor who'll be long gone from office by the time all of them are retired out (voluntary or not).

To call this "rigging" or packing a court is an understatement.  This amendment can easily grant a governor who'll be long gone from office the power to put people on any judicial seat without repercussion or any input from the future governor(s), even twenty years down the line.  It denies future voters the power to vote into office a governor that can represent their interests in handling of legal matters relevant to the state in those future times: we'd be stuck with a judge nominated ten or fifteen years ago whose political bias - and yes this is a thing to worry about - won't reflect the current mood or needs.  It doesn't matter if this is a power that can go to governors like Lawton Chiles or even Reubin Askew (arguably the greatest, most honest governor the state of Florida ever had): this is a power that can be abused without limit and can create long-standing animosity and acts of retaliation that would cause decades of legal chaos.

This would be like nominating a replacement Library Director for Broward County Libraries, even though that county system just hired a director and isn't due to retire for another 27 years or so.  In the meantime for those 27 years of waiting, the library system can easily change services, require different resources, respond to new needs for the public that calls for a new brand of leadership that the replacement Director just isn't suited to fill.  This denies the library system the chance to hire at the moment of need the best possible candidate, someone who is versed in that future: instead they're stuck with a rigid, outdated Director more than likely to pursue goals and agendas no longer relevant nor working.

This smacks of Rick Scott and his buddies in the state legislature looking to pack the courts with their pro-corporate, anti-government cronies as soon as possible: the potential shifts in population - even in aging old Florida - is making the Sunshine State more Democrat/Blue by 2020, when even gerrymandering can't save the conservative wingnuts.  Fearing the future, they're hoping to use whatever power they have in the present to rig the game their way for the foreseeable future.  This is an amendment that needs to go down in flames.  For the Love of God, VOTE NO on Amendment Three this year.

And, just one more thing: GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT PEOPLE.  And for the LOVE OF GOD, please vote for Charlie Crist as Governor... get Rick "He's a Goddamn FRAUD" Scott out of office RIGHT NOW.

I thank you.  Stay focused this November, people.