Live free and die hard

The world will little note nor long lament the death of 33-year-old Drew Grant in a two car collision on a lonely highway in Arkansas Saturday night. Traffic fatalities are all too common in autoAmerica and typically merit little media attention.

Anyway, most of us were too focused – at least for the moment – on the latest mass shooting: Three dead, including a six-year-old boy, and 15 wounded at a Northern California garlic festival.

Indeed the only reason Grant’s passing (by the way, the driver of the other vehicle died too, and three passengers, including a child, were injured) is that before he had his name legally changed, Grant, aka Andrew Golden, had gained national infamy as the “baby faced” killer.

Along with 13-year old Mitchell Johnson, Golden, then 11, shot and killed four fellow students and a teacher in Westside Middle School, in Jonesboro, Ark, on March 24, 1998. At the time it was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, though not for long. Tried as a juvenile, Golden spent 9 years in juvenile detention before being released.

Some might consider Grant’s death by automobile poetic justice. It is certainly one of the most ironic exits imaginable. Young Andrew Golden lived by the gun in a country where some 33,000 people a year are shot. Drew Grant died at the wheel in a nation that shrugs off in excess of 40,000 traffic fatalities annually.

“Since January 2000, more Americans have died in car crashes than did in both World Wars, and the overwhelming majority of the wrecks were caused by speeding, drunk or distracted drivers, according to government data,” reports the Washington Post. “Where’s the social outrage? There should be social outrage,” said Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told WaPo.

Every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns and hundreds more are shot and injured. The effects of gun violence extend far beyond these casualties—gun violence shapes the lives of millions of Americans who witness it, know someone who was shot, or live in fear of the next shooting.” This from the advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety.

Indeed, death by gunfire and death by automobile are uniquely American ways to go. Statistically no other nation on earth can touch our fatality rates in either category.

Make no mistake, we Americans have it well within in our power to stop the slaughter on both counts. We could ban military-style assault weapons and “cop killer” ammunition. We could do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. We could impose sensible waiting periods and background checks. We could ban private “off the books” gun sales and more.

But we choose not to. Our politicians have long ago decided that a staggering body count is an acceptable trade off for our sacred right to pack heat. And they know that voters are far more likely to punish them than praise them for their pro-gun sentiments.

Likewise we have the technology to stop speeding and reckless driving. There is a reason why lawmakers are prone to ban cameras that ticket red light runners and speeders. Because they know that Americans get angry over mechanized “speed traps” and insist that they be ticketed only when cops actually see them misbehaving and chase them down for it.

Which is more sacred in America: The right to arm ourselves against government tyranny? Or the right to drive as fast and as much as we please?

And so 40,000 traffic deaths here, 30,000 gun deaths there. Call them acceptable losses necessary to preserve our freedom to drive and shoot. It is what the Founding Father’s fought and died for

What can be more central to the American identity than guns and cars? “Live free and die hard” might as well be our national motto.

The parade we deserve

Why must it always fall to me to rise to the defense of the indefensible? It is my burden to bear I suppose.

Thus in the face of almost universal condemnation of Donald Tump’s crass appropriation of D.C.’s Fourth of July parade to simultaneously glorify himself and America’s awesome military might I must counter: In your face, America. 

Trump gets our essential ethos better than we care to understand it ourselves. 

Tanks for the memories Donald. Jets to the Chief. Rockets red glare and all that it entails. 

The only puzzling thing about Trump’s Independence Day triumph is that he is seemingly giving credence and credibility to – gasp! – another president. And a Democrat at that. Oh the humanity!

America is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” was Jimmy Carter’s recent Sunday School message. And who can argue with that? We are, after all, the only nation in the history of human civilization to split the atom expressly to commit mass slaughter. 

Not only once, but twice. 

Yes, I know, we like to think of ourselves as always ready to march “over there” against tyranny. To fight the Kaiser. To send Hitler and Tojo packing. To wage the “good wars” in defense of freedom. 

But what if there are no good wars handy? No problem. Take Hawaii for the pineapple barons.  Or Cuba for Big Sugar. Or steal from Mexico for Manifest Destiny’s sake. Or invade the Philippines or the Dominican Republic or Vietnam or Panama. Or Grenada for a boost in the polls (one of my favorite political cartoons: Ronald Reagan musing “Fabulous, a crisis coming to save me.”).

And when there are no foreign despots or leftist regimes handy, we Americans are quite content to take our blood lusts out on each other. (Washington Post: “More Americans were shot to death by March 6 this year than died on D-Day.”)

Too self-absorbed to appropriate somebody else’s homeland? No problem. We are also Arms Merchant To The World. We will happily and simultaneously arm an ally, Israel, as well as its sworn enemies  (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) because, well, business. 

My only beef with Trump’s obsession with big hulking tanks is that it’s so last century. Trump hates to give any credit at all to his immediate predecessor, but it was Obama who normalized drone attacks so as to wage war by other means without the messy necessity of actually putting American boots on the ground.

If anything, Trump’s “In Your Face America” parade underscores his own reticence, at least thus far, to indulge in mechanized mayhem for the sake of saving his own political bacon. Bush The Younger didn’t throw a parade – he just invaded the wrong country to boost his post 9-11 poll numbers. LBJ sacrificed his Great Society on the alter of Vietnam. Nixon bombed the country next door, Cambodia, because..well why not? When Teddy said “Bully!” he wasn’t kidding. At least Jefferson had the good grace to pay cash for the Louisiana Purchase. When Polk wanted more land he just took it from Mexico.  JFK’s only unAmerican sin was not showing up for the Bay of Pigs affair. And now there is the Forever War to preoccupy us. Like Abrams tanks, the Peace Dividend was so last century. 

So happy Independence Day America. Trump is going to give you the show you deserve. 

And question my patriotism if you will. But I enlisted right out of high school. While Americans were putting boots on the Moon I was on a destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin shooting at things we couldn’t see. My taxes have paid for many many adventures abroad since then, and I’ve reached an age when it bothers me not at all to hear someone say “If you hate America why don’t you leave?” 

I paid my dues and I’m staying, thank you very much. Rather than wrap myself in the flag I prefer the comforting embrace of the First Amendment.

So happy birthday America. And tanks again for the memories Donald. 

You have the right to park

Once more I must rise to the defense of our woefully misunderstood public servants in the Florida Legislature.

Of late lawmakers have been taking heat, and even threatened with legal action, over a bill – still awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature at this writing – requiring a “sufficient” amount of parking be available at early voting sites. 

What’s wrong with that? Well you might ask. Listen, if we don’t take the phrase “motor voter” literally as well as seriously here in autoAmerica then where? What can possibly be more patriotic than our collective fidelity to liberty, equality and parking? 

But, no, cynics accuse legislators of harboring ill motives in their insistence on parking. This is just a sneaky ploy to avoid having to put early voting sites on college and university campuses. Because – gasp! – student voters are presumed more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. 

And this kind of thing can quickly get out of hand. At the University of Florida alone nearly 8,000 people voted early in 2018. This after UF students successfully sued the state in federal court to have early voting on campus. 

Follow the conspiracy theory here folks: Anybody whose ever tried to drive onto a college campus knows that parking is a nightmare. Permits are almost always required. Faculty and administrators gobble up all the spaces. Campus cops toss out tickets like confetti at a homecoming parade. 

“Location is one thing that you’re looking at. But the other thing is access. And if there’s no parking, there’s no access for many people,” Republican state senator Dennis Baxley told the Huffington Post.

Reasonable, no? Well, no, counters  Patricia Brigham, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. She told HuffPost: “This is not about parking. Those students with cars, they can hop in their car and go to an early voting site off campus. This about those students living on campus, who don’t have a car and they want to vote early.”

Suspicious minds. 

But listen, there is nothing more American than minimum parking requirements. In this country you can’t build anything – outhouse, corner bar, duplex, mom and pop store, shopping center or subdivision – without meeting stringent parking mandates. That’s precisely why American cities, towns, commercial centers and suburbs have the look and feel of…well, gigantic used car lots. 

These things don’t happen by accident you know. 

Parking minimums are the strange, out-dated, and totally unscientific law that’s probably languishing in your city’s zoning code,” asserts StrongTowns.org. “They sound dull (and they are) but they’re incredibly important because they have dramatically shaped our cities in a detrimental manner.”

Yeah, not to put too fine a point on it, but we have for decades been sacrificing the look, feel and very function of our civilization for the convenience of people in cars.

And, really, what’s more fundamental to American civilization than the right to vote? And is that right truly sacrosanct if we can’t park really really close to a ballot booth?

No, if anything, a sufficient parking requirement doesn’t go nearly far enough. 

If we’re serous about universal access we need to insist that all voting be conducted at fast food restaurants, parking garages, gas stations, car washes, drive-up banks, drive-through liquor and beer barns – really at any structure specifically designed to allow patriotic autoAmericans to exercise their franchise without having to leave the sanctuary of their vehicles. 

Listen, if McDonalds can serve billions, why can’t supervisors of elections?

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

 

Trump’s man in Florida

Very early on in my Navy stint I signed a petition.

Yeah, I know. But it was the sixties and my generation was going to change the world. Cue Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

I don’t even remember what we were seeking redress for. I do remember my Come To Jesus meeting with a kindly chief bosuns mate who gently explained that when the Navy wanted my opinion they’d beat it out of me.

Or words to that effect. 

Fine, the military isn’t a democracy. But that’s pretty much the same message Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered when he signed legislation making it harder, if not impossible, to get citizen-initiated amendments to the Florida constitution on the ballot.

Memo to Floridians: When we want your opinion we’ll tell your elected representative what it is.

Unless your elected representative is a Democrat, in which case keep your lame opinions to yourself.

So much for our new breath-of-fresh-air chief executive. 

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. 

Listen, the elected elite in Tallahassee hate it when the peons try to tell them what to do via amendment initiative. And for the most part when that happens they try their best to ignore whatever the mandate might be.

Polluter Pays? Nah, Big Sugar buys too many politicians to have to spend even more money saving the Everglades.

The conservation land and water amendment? They laughed it off.

Let former felons vote? Not unless they pay through the nose first.

Fair districts? Well, the Legislature tried to ignore it but for once the courts insisted. 

Which is the real reason for this new move to criminalize the petition gathering process. 

The big Florida Republican priority right now is to deliver the state to Donald Trump next year. 

That should be easy, except that Trump steps on his own tongue so much that he makes everything harder than it ought to be. 

The last thing the party wants to see is Trump’s name on the same ballot as a constitutional amendment to ban assault weapons. That might turn out altogether the wrong sort of voter.

The assault weapons ban has already collected more than 100,000 signatures, but it needs 766,200 valid names to get on the ballot. 

“I think it’s very unfortunate that they want to muzzle Florida citizens from conducting democracy and giving us a voice,” Gail Schwartz, chair of the initiative drive, told Florida Phoenix. “It is going to make things harder and it is going to make things more expensive…”

Which is pretty much the point. DeSantis rode into the governor’s office on Trump’s blessing, and now he’s bound to return the favor. 

And it’s not just an assault weapons ban that worries the elites. Other petition initiatives hovering over the 2020 ballot propose to raise the minimum wage, expand Medicaid coverage for the poor, open up primary elections to all voters (horrors!) and require background checks for firearms purchases.

The peasants are revolting! Time to crack the whip.

Florida has been under one-party rule for more than 20 years. During that time the reds in power have done everything possible to insulate themselves against demographic shifts that might give the blues some wiggle room. Voter purges? Sure. Voting registration barriers? Why not? Gerrymandering? As long as they could get away with it. And now weaponizing the constitution against the reformers in the cheap seats. 

Ain’t democracy wonderful?

“A direct democracy is for other places,” Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, famously said this past session, “not, namely, the United States or the state of Florida,” 

Oh, right, I forgot.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Gainesville Sun.

Sleepless in City Hall

Former Alachua County Manager Randy Reid typically ends his correspondence with “In Public Service.” Appropriate coming from a man who has spent his professional life working in city and county governments.

Reid recently sent me a document titled “What keeps local government managers up at night.” The product of a series of focus group discussions involving local government managers in Florida, the concerns expressed were pretty much what you might expect – state legislatures eating away at home rule authority, deteriorating infrastructure, eroding tax bases and the like.

Ironically, within hours of sending the document Reid – now a regional coordinator for the International City & County Management Association – was abruptly summoned to provide assistance to one local government, Virginia Beach, whose managers suddenly had ample cause to lose sleep.

Add to the list of things that keep managers up at night: Mass shootings.

“Virginia Beach is the classic nightmare for public managers in our current era of political divisiveness and recognized failure to be able to identify or track people with mental health or violent prone tendencies in our communities and workforces,” Reid told me in an email.

Reid had been attending a city and county manager conference in Orlando when the news broke about a disgruntled city worker who used an automatic pistol rigged with sound suppressor and extended ammunition capacity to murder 11 Virginia Beach employees and a local contractor. 

Most of the managers at the conference, he wrote, were thinking “this easily could have been my city or county.”

“We all have war stories of disgruntled employees who could have carried out threats or gone off their meds.”

Such is the occupational hazard of working for the branch of government that is, by definition and proximity, “closest to the people,” in the most heavily armed society in the history of human civilization. And unlike the well guarded buildings that shelter Congress and most state legislatures, city halls and county administration buildings tend to be easily accessible, and thus vulnerable. 

“Public buildings and meeting areas must remain open and accessible in a democracy,” Reid wrote, “so short of implementing TSA procedures, meetings in public facilities must balance security and ease of access and are likely places of future occasional tragedies.” 

Not surprisingly, this tends to foster a near state of siege mentality among those who work in local government buildings. 

“Most managers instinctively visually scan meetings for known troubled attendees, look for packages carried into meetings and scan empty parking lots if leaving the building late, and some on occasion if lawful carry firearms on persons and vehicles. Bailiff or police officers are now common place at meeting and have been for decades. Card entry to non public areas the norm,” Reid wrote.

Randy and I both regularly attend an informal gathering of current and former Gainesville and Alachua County elected officials, employees and community leaders. And quite often during our sessions, the increasingly hostile and uncivil tone of public comment at city and county meetings is a topic for discussion. 

In Virginia Beach, it was an angry employee who wielded the gun. But you don’t have to watch too many local city commission meetings to wonder about the prospect of angry rhetoric degenerating into something decidedly more deadly. 

When commissioners are routinely impugned as liars, fools and thieves how can they not worry about their own personal safety and that of their families? When city employees must sit mute as their professional reputations are impugned and their personal lifestyles condemned, how can they not wonder when ugly verbiage may take a lethal turn?

We live in an era of political polarization in which the popular rhetoric of the day more often makes government out to be the enemy than the servant of the people. Combine that with easy access to firearms – not to mention state and federal restrictions on the ability to the locals to control guns – and it is easy to understand why city halls and county administration buildings may become irresistible targets of opportunity for the spiteful, the vengeful and the deranged. 

Looking back on his own career in local government, Reid recalls “I have personally always had meeting room evacuation and emergency plans distributed to folks on the dais with procedures, as to code words, exit procedures and where to meet up for post event security.

“I and many  managers, like cops, learn not to set with backs toward the door in public places, take different routes when commuting if suspecting trouble or harassment,” Reid continued. “Personally in forty years I have been threatened several times, harassed while shopping for groceries and at civic events and physically assaulted once at restaurant when I did have my back turned to the door by the brother of a terminated employee requiring police response and arrest.”

“In Public Service” is a worthy salutation for legions of men and women who labor each day on behalf of their fellow city and county residents. That such public servants all too often become objects of public contempt – and, yes, even human targets – says something frightening about the fragile state of our democracy in an age of rage. 

Talking about real money

In retrospect, President Trump should have chosen his words more carefully.

Who knew, right? That the man with the silver tongue would end up hoisting himself on his own petard as it were.

If Trump, eager to show his art of the deal making acumen, had just said that he made a deal with House leaders to spend “a gazzion bazillion” dollars on infrastructure, then everything would have been hunky dory. Because we all understand that a “gazillion bazillion” is shorthand for a lot of dough-ray-me. 

But he didn’t. 

Instead, Trump boasted that he and House Democrats had agreed to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure. 

And you know what they say in the D.C. Swamp. A trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there. Pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

And here’s the thing. No doubt those liberal taxers and spenders in the House would be delighted to spent $2 trillion on asphalt….or on anything else for that matter. That’s what liberal taxers and spenders do. 

But somebody must have whispered in the President’s pink ear that the only thing Senate Republicans would possibly pay $2 trillion for is still more tax breaks for the rich and shameless. 

So what’s a President to do? The only thing he could do was storm into a meeting with House Democratic leaders, glare at them for a designated number of seconds, and then storm out into the Rose Garden and announce to the press that he is shocked (shocked) to discover that Nancy Pelosi uttered the words “cover up.” Thus shoving infrastructure off the table. 

Listen, Congress can build roads or it can investigate the President. It can’t do both. 

In response Pelosi suggested that Trump needs an intervention. But I’m prepared to give the Prez the benefit of a doubt on this one. I think it’s very possibly the sanest and most rational thing Trump has done to date.

Because deciding to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure without first deciding how to spend it is nuts. 

In autoAmerican political speak “infrastructure” means new roads. It doesn’t mean clean water or modern airports or high speed rail or deeper ports or any of the other things politicians mention – but aren’t serious about – when Infrastructure Week and election years roll around.

Here in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature just decided that infrastructure means throwing billions of dollars at new toll roads that will run through vast areas of rural lands sorely in need of sprawl development. We’ll be paying that bill for decades to come, even as thousands of miles of existing roadways sprout potholes like warts. 

Politicians, like kids at birthday parties, want shiny new things they can show off to the folks back home. Like new interstate interchanges and ever wider traffic-stacking stroads. They throw billions at new lane miles, thousands at existing road repairs and pennies at transit.  

The result being a prescription for autoAmerican bankruptcy.

“As of 2017, we estimate that we would need to spend $231.4 billion per year just to keep our existing road network in acceptable repair and bring the backlog of roads in poor condition into good repair over a six-year period,” says “Repair Priorities,” the latest collaborative study from Transportation For America and Taxpayer for Common Sense. “By comparison, all highway capital expenditures across all government units totaled $105.4 billion in 2015, only a portion of which goes to repair. It is significantly more expensive to rehabilitate roads that have fallen into poor repair than to preserve roads in good condition on an ongoing basis through routine pavement preservation.”

I doubt either Trump or Pelosi has read the study. And I suspect that Trump’s eyes would glaze over long before he got to the part explaining that continually prioritizing new roads over basic repair “is an ever deepening money trap. “Every new lane-mile of road costs approximately $24,000 per year to preserve in a state of good repair. By expanding roads, we are borrowing against the future.”

So I don’t really care why Trump pulled the plug on his $2 trillion pact with the Democrats. Next year is an election year and if past if prologue a lot of politicians want to peg their reelection hopes on new roads to nowhere. 

Or at least as much hot asphalt as a bazillion gazillion dollars will pay for.

Collusion collages

I cannot help myself. I think therefore I must collude to collage.

I know this whole Trumpfestation is getting to be deadly serious stuff. The fate of our democracy, indeed our nation, hangs in the balance. It’s no laughing matter.

But. But. But these are heady times for the confirmed cynics and curmudgeons amongs us. We cannot resist the urge to commit parody in small boxes. So just let me get it out of my system and we’ll move on as if none of this ever happened. OK?

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Guns, students and 1968

When it came out that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President of the United States, in 1963, with an Italian bolt-action rifle that he bought under a false name via mail order for $19.95 (plus postage and handling) Congress fairly leapt into action.

“If guns are to be kept out of the hands of the criminal, out of the hands of the insane, and out of the hands of the irresponsible, then we must have licensing,” newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson said as he signed a bill restricting the sale of mail-order firearms.

Just kidding. 

Actually it wasn’t until 1968 that LBJ finally got to sign a rather tepid gun control bill – one without his licensing requirement.  

Politicians won’t even cross the NRA to protect their own.

Still, let’s not gloss over the possible significance of that five-year – well, call it a “waiting period” – between the time Oswald’s bullets struck home and Congress finally did something about mail-order guns.

Remember 1968? 

The year of the barricades?

“1968 was a year of revolution,” says historyguide.org. “In a period of unprecedented material prosperity and cultural activity, the sons and daughters of the most privileged sections of the United States and of Europe decided to make their own revolution.

“The year of the barricades served as a symbol of everything an entire generation of young people detested about the generation of their parents: the ‘It,’ the System, the Establishment.” 

Yes, it was very much a youth-driven revolution. Certainly Gainesville experienced its own days of rage as young anti-war and civil rights protests spilled out into University Avenue and 13th St. 

Speaking of kids, did anybody notice how polite and well behaved were the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting who went to Tallahassee after the bloodshed to ask their elected representatives to please redress their grievances?

Said grievances being their dread and horror over the prospect of being among the next wave of innocent children caught in the crosshairs of an angry young man with an AR15. 

They stood in the House visitors box in respectful, if appalled, silence as their elected representatives deemed it more important to debate pornography than so much as talk about a ban on military-grade guns designed to kill a lot of people in a very short period of time.

Even the teenagers who staged a three minute lay-down in front of the White House carried out their act of symbolic death without fuss, muss or bother. 

Three minutes being the time it took Nikolas Jacob Cruz to extinguish 17 lives at Stoneman Douglas.

Of course, 2018 isn’t 1968. Back then a terrible war without end, racial strife, civil discord, economic inequality and a growing contempt for governmental authority were among the factors that finally sent America’s young into the streets and onto the barricades. 

Nothing like today.

Still, there is little doubt that a new generation of, well, let’s just call them concerned citizens, is waking up and wondering what’s going on. They have grave doubts about the efficacy and fairness of the system they are inheriting. And they are appalled that so many politicians can be so easily bought by a gun lobby that doesn’t care how many children must die to protect their profits. 

Prudent politicians might want to consider, at this critical juncture, that it is better to show this upcoming generation of voters that the system really can work for them. That problems can be solved by policy rather than polemics.

Before the barricades go up and it’s 1968 all over again.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.  This blog post was originally published in The Sun in Feb. 2018. 

 

Cross and double cross

Impressive things I saw on my trip to Russia in the summer of 2017.

The Kremlin. The Hermitage

Young couples pushing baby carriages. 

No kidding, they were everywhere. 

That might not sound impressive until you consider the “Russian Cross.” 

That was the infamous point in 1990 – amid the economic chaos that ensued after the fall of Soviet communism – when the rising death rate crossed the falling birth rate. 

The Russian Cross didn’t reverse itself until 2012.  And that didn’t come about by accident. 

Rather, it happened because Russians made a conscious decision to invest in children. Women were awarded “pregnancy allowances” worth several thousand dollars, and lucrative “motherhood capital” benefits for a second child…with still more tacked on for triplets. Child care and pre-school was heavily subsidized so parents could work without worrying about their kids. 

Which, when you think about it, is pretty much the reverse of what we Boomers have been doing back here at home. For years now we have been front-loading our tax breaks and government entitlements toward the goal of making life easier for us seniors in our golden years. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with any society taking care of its elderly. But there’s no question that my generation has chosen to do so at the expense of our children. 

So It was no great surprise to hear, shortly after returning to the U.S. from my Russian visit,  U.S. Sen Orrin Hatch say:  “The reason CHIP’s having trouble is that we don’t have money anymore.”?

CHIPS being the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides care for about 8.9 million American kids. 

Or at least it did before we…um…ran out of money.

Call it the “American Double Cross.” That point at which the political imperative to award tax cuts to the wealthy surpassed the fiscally prudent strategy of investing in our children. In our future, really.

I’d like to think that we are a better country than that, but they keep proving me wrong up in the D.C. Swamp. Especially now that we have well and truly entered the Imperial Age of Trump.

Which is not to say that we are not capable of choosing to invest in our children right here at home. Indeed, in this election just past, Alachua County voters opted to bank on its children on at least two fronts. 

A healthy majority of voters agreed to raise their sales taxes in order to help fix up Alachua County’s aging schools – the State Legislature long ago having, um, economized on public school funding so as to pour more tax dollars into charters and private education.

And while they were at it, local voters also raised their property taxes to better fund basic children’s services: That initiative will raise $6 million to $7 million a year for pre-school education, after school care, early childhood health and nutrition services and more.

Right here at home.

Apparently at least we in Alachua County are better custodians of our children than the likes of Donald Trump and Orrin Hatch. 

One more recollection from my visit to Russia. While on a bicycle tour in St. Petersburg our young guide took us to a small park to show us a monument to the children who helped form the backbone of the local resistance when Germany laid siege to what was then called Leningrad during World War II. 

Just kids, really. But for nearly 900 days they played dangerous cat and mouse games with hardened Nazi shock troops amid the rubble of Tzar Peter’s grand city. And when it was finally over, predictably, the majority of Leningrad’s casualties were women and children.

It is a stirring image of defiant kids. In a green park. In a now prosperous city. In a country that  hasn’t forgotten its children.

I wish we could say the same thing here at home.

(A version of this blog appeared in The Gainesville Sun in Dec. 2017.)