Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Diane Roberts/Florida Phoenix

From April 2020 as more assistance is planned in 2021.

Florida’s junior US senator is quite a guy–as he’d be the first to tell you. He’s worth over $250 million, and you’re not.

Rick Scott has no sympathy for these grasping whiners who lost their little jobs in the coronavirus pandemic and now have the gall to expect a government hand-out.

Who do they think they are: Boeing?

Scott sent a fundraising email on April 23rd to his well-connected and  richly-upholstered campaign donors complaining that, “Businesses looking to reopen are telling us their employees don’t want to come back to work because they collect more on unemployment.

Under Congress’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, these laid-off layabouts could theoretically get $600 a week to do absolutely nothing.

(Scott, of course, voted for CARES, but it pained him. Truly it did).

After all, $600 a week is lavish: enough to cover the rent, maybe the car payment, some ramen noodles, and a four-pack of tuna. You might have to let the health insurance slide, but there’s always the emergency room, right?

Most of the aid money is federal, but you have to apply though the state.

Problem is, the state system, to put it mildly, ain’t working.

You can’t get anyone on the phone; it can take a week to breach the online portal; and half the time, it crashes. Around 40 percent of those who somehow manage to fill in the forms discover they are supposedly ineligible”–even though they meet all the criteria.

To date, more than 1.8 million people have applied, but only about eight percent have received a check.

Now, who do you suppose we have to thank for what one Republican insider calls this “sh-t sandwich”?

Rick Scott.

Scott, you see, shelled out $77 million in taxpayer money for the glitch-prone, security-challenged, crash-happy, slow-as-Christmas CONNECT system. It never worked right. It wasn’t supposed to. As an adviser to Gov. Ron DeSantis (who’s been highly critical of CONNECT) recently told Politico, it was “designed” to fail.

The former governor, elected to the Senate by the skin of his capped teeth two years ago, signed legislation in 2014 requiring people trying to get that princely $275 a week in unemployment compensation to answer a 45-question “skills questionnaire” and prove they tried to get hired by at least five possible employers every week.

Many were rejected anyway, owing to some ill-defined charge of “misconduct.”

Scott, a person of limited imagination, thinks that if you’re poor it’s your fault—and your sorry bone-idle ways should not be rewarded with a handout.

Like many pols, including Donald Trump, he’s so thoroughly bought into his mythologized background he thinks he struck it rich entirely thanks to his own hard work and genius–instead of what we might describe as a certain ethical flexibility.

Trump talks about his “success” as if the money he got from his dubious daddy and the loans from the Bank of China and Deutsche Bank were incidental, as if he pulled himself up by his own bone-spur-friendly boot straps.

Scott talks about himself as if he were born destitute in a log cabin he helped build and split rails until he joined the Navy, founded the hospital chain Columbia/HCA, made money, and became governor of the Sunshine State.

In truth, his Navy career was remarkable only for the way he bought Cokes onshore and re-sold at hugely-inflated prices to his fellow sailors. At Columbia/HCA he presided over one of the largest healthcare frauds in history. He invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination 75 times; and he finally walked away with $300 million in stock and options–some of which helped him buy his way into the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

Like Trump, Scott equates money with intelligence and skill–and quite possibly divine favor.

Business ├╝ber alles.

Those who pursue low-paid but intellectually-enriching fields are losers.

Public employees are losers. Teachers are losers.

When he was governor, Scott tried to force universities to push students into what he saw as lucrative careers in STEM subjects, instead of useless nonsense like anthropology, which should not be supported by state funds.

His own daughter majored in anthropology, but that’s different. She comes from money.

Scott invented all kinds of ways to torment what he saw as the Undeserving Poor. He undercut public health facilities. He tried to mandate drug testing for all state workers, who are among the lowest-paid in the nation.

He also thought it would be a grand wheeze to drug test welfare recipients–at their own expense. If they didn’t come out clean, they wouldn’t get their benefits.

Scott’s family happened to own a string of clinics which perform drug testing. What a coincidence.

Though he had allegedly gone to law school (SMU), Scott seemed to have never heard of the Fourth Amendment. The courts slapped him down.

Taxpayers still ended up paying $1.5 million in his legal fees.

In the midst of this deadly pandemic, Scott wants to underline the fecklessness of those who need public assistance and the way profligate Democrats enable them.

In a hysterical (not in the funny way) column for Fox News, Scott splutters that while decent American families stick to a budget, reusing tinfoil and “cutting their own grass,” Big Gubmint throws money to the unworthy.

He quotes Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois saying of the CARES Act: “if we err on the side of giving a hard-working family an extra thousand dollars or two thousand dollars because of our approach, so be it.”

Clutch those pearls! You taxpayers, who have shelled out a mere $133 million  to pay for Donald Trump’s golf outings, should rise up and say this waste, fraud and abuse will not stand!

Rick Scott’s counting on you to be as wet-hen mad as he is. He’s running for president in 2024 and rage is all he’s got—rage and contempt.

Diane Roberts/Florida Phoenix


Old Town Homes

Some changes are coming to Monroe County after the election. Long time County Commissioner Heather Carruthers has been ousted by a couple of hundred votes in the unofficial count, by Republican Eddie Martinez. The cruise ship ballots in Key West all won resoundingly. What that means in the short term is unclear but in the long run Key West is starting to turn away from mass tourism as wished by the mayor who already won her seat with 60% of the vote a few weeks ago. No runoff needed.
I walk around downtown and I see empty storefronts everywhere, so I wonder what will replace the businesses that have closed. Locals don't like to go to Duval Street not least because there is nothing there for people not on vacation.
Rents on Duval Street are astronomical, $30-$40 thousand dollars a month for modest storefronts which makes the prospects for small business without corporate backing pretty dim you would think. Beyond our local problems unemployment nationally is not great, stimulus checks are running out and rents in the Keys are very very high. So taking away more retail jobs is going to have a knock on effect on the make up of the city's population.

Key West has been through many boom and bust cycles since it was founded in 1828                                                                  Florida Keys

Florida Keys
In the 1960s the Navy reduced its presence in Key West and left gaping holes in the storefronts of Duval Street which created an opportunity for today's community leaders to buy up city  blocks cheap and slowly start a turn around. It's a question for the modern city of those same leaders are up to the challenge again now that the referendum is pushing Key West away from cruise ships and easy money downtown.
Florida keys
I got an email from Webb Up North remarking he has seen a lot of advertising pushing the Florida Keys and Key West as vacation destinations using the slogan "Close to Paradise, Far from Normal," which is cute but the more time passes the less accurate that catchy slogan looks. Far from Paradise and Close to Normal seems to have been the path forward for some time as gentrification displaces eccentricity as the norm.
Florida Keys
Key West will find a way forward even if there is a financial glitch as the city reassess it's goals. Key West's fundamentals don't change, frost free weather, turquoise waters now promising to be more so with fewer large ships and a cleaner sparklier less shabby town for more high class visitors. 
Florida Keys

Florida Keys

For those looking to live  here on three part time jobs with no benefits to enjoy a few years of bohemian living in the tropics things will be stickier if not impossible. The Upper Keys import labor from the mainland which is an hour bus ride away. Key West is learning to create housing for a revolving corps of visitors who work. The cruise ship vote was won by people who do not depend on retail jobs fed by cruise ship passengers but by people who will need to look further afield and with greater creativity to find their chores taken care of by the working class. Minimum wage and an attic bed for a working stay in paradise? Far from normal indeed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Around The Fire Station

The Old Town Fire station was built on the site of the former city hall on Simonton Street at Angela. Key West has the largest wooden historic neighborhood in the US, which is pretty as I have tried to show over the years on this page. As a fire hazard it is a torch. The fire department takes any possible report of fire, a smell of smoke even, very seriously.  
Key West
In the 19th century when homes were fed by fires and light by lanterns and candles fires in urban centers were common and Key West burned down once but nowadays electrical codes make fires a rare occurrence, not impossible but rare. This fire station  can respond to as report of fire in a couple of minutes and I've seen them do it. Which makes the new fire station a reassuring presence.
Rusty fears chickens and when we park in their parking lot it's like they know it and close in.
Key West
Winter sees more homeless people oddly enough as they seem to ride the rails south just like their housed counterparts. However winter residents call them in all the time to get them moved on and the new managers of the shelter are keeping it open twenty four hours so I hope  that will help. Key West's winter weather attracts everyone inevitably and not having a place to live is not necessarily a deterrent. 
Those picturesque wooden houses...
Key West
... shadows waving in the breeze...
Key West
...headlights on the fence to produce a strange shimmering effect...
Key West
Night lights.
Shoot the proverbial cannon down Angela Street in the pre-dawn hours:
Key West
And look up to the skies this election day and see what the gods may bring. Peace and harmony seem out of reach.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Cruise Ship Vote

We are closing in on election day and personally I can't wait for it to be over. Locally the cruise ship question is exercising local minds over whether to encourage large ships or not. The vote on Tuesday in three parts will keep things as they are, open season for cruise ships, or voters will tell the city to keep larger ships away while encouraging smaller cruises with fewer passengers and a smaller environmental footprint. 
I have noticed in my walks downtown, mostly taken before dawn to avoid the unflagging heat and humidity as well as the mask-free daytime crowds, there are many boarded up storefronts. In a town used to frequent turn over it is not entirely odd but the number of them this time is rather startling to me. 
I was speaking with a  long time business owner downtown about the referendum and he said he voted no as he feels it's not his place to stifle other businesses which seems a reasonable position to take. Even though he doesn't benefit directly he said he does meet a fair number of customers first attracted to the city from the decks of a cruise ship. 
I also pointed out the drive a few years ago to spread cruise ship customers further afield down the length of Duval Street to allow others to benefit form their buying power. Which rings rather strange considering how the sentiment put about town now is to get rid of large cruise ships. 
The strongest argument against them is to reduce silt covering the reef as coral doesn't do well in silty water but as far as downtown goes not many local venture where cruise ship passengers roam anyway. The debate hasn't been particularly edifying with both sides shouting the usual over the heads of the voters, taxes versus environment, as usual as though the two are incompatible. 
The White House overruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has allowed cruise lines to start up again this week provided they achieve the impossible and pack people onto their ships while keeping them socially distanced and so forth. It doesn't sound very sensible to me but no one is asking my opinion.
In a world filled with lawyers it seems unlikely that simple vote will end the controversy over cruise ships but what does seem likely is that this vote will mark a transition for Key West. The mayor has made it known she wants fewer and more upscale visitors and she got  reelected in the proverbial landslide so one might assume this cruise ship vote is the first step in that new direction.
Key West has always lived a little bit by its own rules, given the isolation and the climate and the ability of the city to offer a living to all sorts of shady characters over the centuries.   However just as electricity has provided all modern conveniences so the Internet and television have worked their magic to break down barriers, first TV and later the Web. 
Instant communications and location-free work mean anyone can live and earn a living or monitor others doing work from a small home at the distant end of the road. The unique backwater charm of Key West can only be eroded. And without physical shops low paid work will be even less available. So Key West as funky eccentric destination, always at risk of gentrification seems to be pushing that ideal state nowadays.
These are interesting times. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020


A few pictures I took walking around the Key West Bight waterfront one morning. I noticed in the signboard below the old and the new advertised. The White Tarpon moved to make way from Wahlburgers but apparently has new and spacious quarters nearby. The burger place is a chain owned by an actor. I think I am lazy as the only reason I can see to make money is to quit making it. I am not looking for another job after I retire, that I do know.  I don't suppose it will last long in this peculiar town.
There again my predictions in that vein always end up being wrong. Better to just keep walking and photographing.
Conch Republic Seafood in an upside down world:

Turtle Museum:
No idea what this boater was measuring. Fish I suppose.
"Old Trafford" was a surprise signpost. The Wrigley Field of soccer stadia you could say.
Henry Flagler said that were it not for Florida he would have been a rich man. Every time you put gas in the car tip your hat to the founder of the consumer oil industry, creator of Standard Oil. His railroad to Key West was a loss making labor of love in the end as traffic never paid for the line.
Modern electronics bring the movie theater into your lap at a price anyone can afford it seems. 


Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Spectacular Sunrise

Happy Birthday to me. I am not, as my curmudgeonly nature would have it, particularly drawn to my birthday.  I treat it as a day like any other. 
I am amused from time to time at work when I ask for descriptions from eye witnesses to incidents around town. The interrogation runs through a  few salient features to enable officers to identify the person who is the object of the call, someone sleeping in public, acting bizarre or arguing or any number of activities that alert passersby to the need to call police. 
I find I am in the category of the elderly nowadays. And I know this because people are described to me every day as being old or at best older when they are possibly 55 or 60. Golly I think to myself. I am now old. Which is funny as I don't feel old. At 63 I am on the cusp of being high risk simply by virtue of age for coronavirus symptoms.
Old age doesn't seem that daunting to me as I can still do what I want to do, and even after my accident and all those broken bones I can still walk, bend, lift and climb without trouble. As befits an old man I can't do things fast but I can persist in doing them until they get done.
I suppose one should be grateful for the genetic lottery and I am for mine as I have reached an advanced age without, so far, any signs of illness that so often afflict people of my age group. No high blood pressure or diabetes or stuff like that.
Undoubtedly health is the thought uppermost in one's mind and I recall old people when I was a youngster mumbling very tediously about when you have your health you have everything. At age 20 I heard them but it didn't seem to be very relevant and 43 years ago it wasn't. It is now.
I have lived with Rusty for four and a half years now, which surprises me as the time has flown by and now I have to wonder if his life is half over already. Supposedly he was young when we got him so he may be 7or even a youthful 9 years old already... Birthdays are not always portents of good times.
 26 years of marriage is the other milestone and the van will put the last dozen or twenty to the test. I find it difficult to picture myself an invalid at 80 or something but I have no doubt I will be able to cope with whatever the fates have in store for me if I get to reach advanced old age. My time in the hospital taught me there is little to fear from physical deterioration. As long as the mind continues life can be managed and enjoyed, I found from my hospital bed. Experiences in life come in different forms and not being able to walk gives you a  new perspective, a different point of view. 
Until I lose my mobility I plan to keep moving, but aside from such gloomy thoughts I find the process of aging quite enjoyable. Things that used to seem urgent become less so and age does bring wisdom I find and with it the pleasure of my own company, a few select friends, and the time to read and think without the youthful pressures of external activity. I don't feel the need to justify myself or my choices and I have found especially  since my time in the hospital that I focus more on what matters to me.
In a way I suppose it is a form of selfishness but time is running out, most apparently so and with the time left a certain urgency manifests itself in my life. I am I fear impatient, always one of my many vices, and I would rather be done with this phase of my life and moving on with what comes next. I should be disappointed were fate to intervene to prevent me enjoying my retirement travel plans. I want to start now!
My friend Webb is closing in on 79 years of age and he hasn't wasted a minute of a life lived with an aim and a purpose. You don't sail around the world six times and set assorted records without making a plan. I never was quite that self assured to assume a single plan might work for me. My plans have come in small batches, planning a  trip a job and exit strategy, one thing at a time. 
I promised my wife twenty odd years ago we would get the pensions we had never planned for when we lived in Santa Cruz. She had agreed to sail to Key West and a new life in a  warmer more laid back location and I in turn said we would secure our old age. It was a good plan and we have stuck to it. Much to my own surprise I managed to hold down a long term job and not get lost in the pitiful world of office politics though I have been put through the office wringer over the years. That was a good plan and I tell her so now even though I wondered how I would do it in distant 2004 when I started working for the city of Key West.
Were I to be deprived by illness, pandemic, war or some other catastrophe of the chance to enjoy our planned retirement on the road in the van I would still count the past two decades a good use of time. I learned new skills and put them into practice. I lived mindfully and enjoyed most of the time living in a  special place with time to take vacations in other interesting locations. I've had the company of some excellent dogs too and Rusty is always worth being around. My wife has been patient and promises me more of the same as we start down the slippery slope to the final big sleep. 
Meanwhile I asked for some sushi cakes instead of a normal birthday cake in the manner of a last meal and Rusty no doubt will enjoy the day as shall I in the manner of any other day, last meal notwithstanding. I follow his imperturbable example.