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It Happened In Orlando, But It Could Have Been Anywhere

When has there been such a burst of sickening headlines from one place? First, the killing of singer Christina Grimmie by an unhinged stalker with a handgun. Then the vicious slaughter at the Pulse nightclub by a homophobic wannabe jihadist with an AR-15. And, finally, the snatching of a toddler by an alligator roaming a Disney lake.

All three stories are datelined Orlando, Fla., a stunningly freakish coincidence.

Each horrid event, even the gator attack, could easily have happened in other towns, in other states.

Yet they all happened here, in the space of five days.

A national radio host asked me if this heartbreaking blitz of tragedies was an extreme display of Florida’s well-documented craziness.

The question wasn’t surprising, given the usual flow of bizarre news from this place. People all over the world hungrily devour and retweet weird Florida stories, as soon as they hit the internet.

Last week’s events inevitably reinforced the state’s off-center reputation, which is understandable if not entirely fair.

It’s true that we have some of the weakest firearms laws in the nation, and that basically any hate-filled misfit can lurch into a gun shop here and buy whatever he wants, including assault rifles.

It’s also true that the NRA basically owns our cowardly governor, one of our U.S. senators, a bunch of stooge congressmen and the entire Republican leadership of the state Legislature.

However, a similar lax climate exists in many other places, most notably the power corridors of Washington, D.C. Politicians who take money from the gun lobby vote the way the gun lobby tells them.

Some are true believers, and some are just whores.

This isn’t to minimize what happened here, or to let any of our spineless lawmakers off the hook, but it’s a sad fact that Florida’s lunacy mirrors America’s lunacy.

It was young Christina Grimmie’s fate to give a concert within driving distance of an armed maniac who’d seen her perform on “The Voice,” and for some reason decided she deserved to die.

Yes, we have these psychos in Florida, but you can find them all over the country. They’re out there — seething, muttering and fantasizing — from coast to coast.

Same goes for the monster who mowed down 49 people at the Pulse.

What he did has been done many times before, from Columbine to Fort Hood to Sandy Hook. The distinction in the Orlando massacre was the body count, a new record.

Which will undoubtedly be broken someday, in some other place, by some other whack job with an AR-15.

There’s no denying that Florida is way different. Our 20 million residents bear witness to an extraordinary range of extreme behavior — much of it silly, some of it terrifying. Kooks and criminals flock here for the same reasons that draw tourists and retirees.

Nonetheless, last week’s events were almost overwhelming, the horrors coming one after the other. There were none of the usual comic distractions, no daffy local stories to retweet to our friends.

What occurred along a lakeside beach at Disney’s Grand Floridian hotel was the nightmare finale.

Typically our alligator news is benign — gator in the swimming pool, gator on the freeway, gator in the storm drain. These video clips are a go-to staple of every Florida TV station and narrated with practiced amusement by the anchor persons.

Even the incident in Loxahatchee when a small gator was deposited in a Wendy’s drive-through didn’t evoke dread; it was just another knucklehead tale from the Sunshine State.

Not this time, though. This time it was the worst story imaginable.

A 2-year-old boy from Nebraska was grabbed from the shallows at night, in front of his family. The boy’s father desperately fought to pull him free, without success.

Some “No Swimming” signs were posted, but nothing that specifically warned tourists about gators in the lake — and there were several living there.

It’s hard to believe the child’s parents would have let him go near the water if they’d known about those gators, which behave the same way on Disney property as they do deep in the Everglades.

Attacks on humans are very rare, but come on. How much does a sign cost?

True, this awful tragedy could have happened on a lake in Texas or Louisiana, but it didn’t. It happened at the most popular tourist destination on the planet, in Orlando.

Capping five days of shock and sorrow.

It’s no great cosmic mystery why all these bad things happened in the same place in Florida. It was pure cruel chance, in the extreme.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.

Photo: People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri 

Gov. Rick Scott: Florida’s Ambassador For Cheap Labor And Mediocrity

Florida Gov. Rick Scott went to California last week to steal some jobs.

Guess how that brilliant idea turned out.

Scott urged California businesses to pack up and move to Florida because the minimum wage in Florida is only $8.05 an hour.

That was actually the thrust of his selling point: Why are you paying your workers $10 an hour? Floridians will work dirt cheap!

Scott spent lots of taxpayer money to carry this dubious offer to the Golden State, where it went over like a lead balloon.

In a caustic retort, Gov. Jerry Brown wrote: “If you’re truly serious about Florida’s economic well-being, it’s time to stop the silly political stunts and start doing something about climate change — two words you won’t even let state officials say.”

A Los Angeles Times editorial called Scott’s California trip “especially offensive.” It said he “should be home in Florida … trying to create well-paying jobs, instead of trolling for low-wage ones that he can steal in California, undermining this state’s effort to pay a living wage to more of its low-skilled workers.”

The impetus for Scott’s trip was California’s decision to raises its minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next six years. Scott says the wage hike will cost the state 700,000 jobs, a figure he got from a conservative think tank that didn’t even use California jobs data.

Meanwhile, a study by the Labor Center at the University of California-Berkeley predicted no net job loss in Los Angeles as a result of the state’s phased-in pay increases.

In Florida, we’re used to Scott’s obsession with job numbers instead of quality jobs. It will be the centerpiece of his U.S. Senate run in 2018, by which time we might lead the nation in convenience-store openings.

Last week’s “trade mission” to California was Scott’s second. His first try came in March 2015, and since then California employers have added twice as many new jobs as Florida employers have.

So, that trip didn’t work out so great, either.

Unfortunately for Scott, California’s economy is booming right now.

Although the unemployment rate is higher than in Florida, there is no corporate exodus. Ironically, census figures from 2014 indicate that more Florida residents are moving to California than going the other direction.

Florida is an easier sell to multimillionaires looking to relocate in a state with no income tax. That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons that Scott himself moved to Florida in 2003.

However, Florida isn’t so alluring to firms looking for a skilled and educated labor force. That’s because the state still spends an embarrassingly paltry amount on its schools.

According to the National Education Association, the average salary of public teachers in Florida in 2013-2014 was $47,780. That’s 39th in the country, worse than even Alabama or Louisiana.

In California, the average teacher salary that year was $71,396.

Now, if you’re on the board of Apple or Microsoft, where do you think your employees with school-age children would rather live?

It’s bad enough that Scott flies around the country bragging about Florida’s pathetically low wages, but he’s using public money to run radio commercials in other states, beseeching companies to close up shop and move to Florida.

Which would basically screw all the working people on their payrolls.

The governor’s job-poaching junkets are, as the Los Angeles Times said, offensive. But his mission is futile, and his lack of sophistication is breathtaking.

Scott puts the “goober” in gubernatorial.

In March, he invited Yale University to leave its iconic Connecticut campus and resettle in Florida, to avoid state taxes on its endowment fund.

That would be Yale University, founded in 1701. A perfect fit for Boca Raton, right? Or maybe Yeehaw Junction?

Whether Scott was serious or not (he insisted he was), he came off looking like a dolt. They’re still laughing at him (and us) in New Haven.

Out of courtesy to his GOP colleagues, Scott focuses his job-stealing raids on states with Democratic governors. There’s nothing for them to be afraid of, no manic stampede of companies — or Ivy League universities — to the Sunshine State.

All we Floridians can do is apologize to the rest of the country for any past and future appearances by our weird ambassador for cheap labor and mediocrity.

Don’t take him seriously. We certainly don’t.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.

(c) 2016, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses an economic summit in Orlando, Florida, in this June 2, 2015 file photo.  REUTERS/Steve Nesius 

Outside North Carolina Bathrooms? Gender Monitors

North Carolina’s new law aimed at controlling transgender access to public restrooms might seem stupid and unenforceable, but actually that’s only half true.

The law can definitely be enforced. All you need are thousands of paid gender monitors, stationed diligently at the doors of every public restroom in the state.

North Carolina lawmakers have declared that the gender of a bathroom user must match the gender listed on his or her birth certificate. Most people don’t usually bring their birth certificates to the toilet, but perhaps reminders could be posted on highway billboards, social media and in airport terminals.

The job of the gender monitor would be to interview and inspect all persons seeking to use that particular public restroom. After reviewing a subject’s birth certificate, the gender monitor would have the discretion to require that person to disrobe for a visual examination.

Such a time-consuming procedure might be offensive, creepy and brutal on a full bladder — but how else could a gender monitor ascertain whether the person squirming at the door lawfully belongs inside that restroom?

Even after conducting a physical exam, GMs might find themselves stumped to make a conclusive determination, surgery having advanced phenomenally in the area of sexual assignment.

Obviously the first challenge facing North Carolina authorities is finding and training enough competent individuals to oversee entry to all its public restrooms. Nobody even knows how many public restrooms there are.

For traditionally divided facilities, a male gender monitor and a female gender monitor would be required. But then the question arises: What gender of gender monitor would be appropriate for a unisex bathroom?

This is all strange new territory for law enforcement.

In fact, there’s currently no such job as a professional gender monitor, except maybe in a niche market of the porn industry. That means guidelines and standards must be set.

North Carolina would be wise to open training centers for future GMs, and graduates should be certified and licensed, just like masseuses and food-truck operators are.

Bathroom sleuths will need to be schooled in the skills of wary, eagle-eyed observation: Wait, does that “guy” have boobs? Or is he just super chubby?

Or, across the hall: Good Lord, that one’s got ankles like Rob Gronkowski! What if she IS Rob Gronkowski?

Recruiting qualified GMs will be an ongoing problem, since most sane and normal people don’t like to hang around public restrooms.

The people who do like hanging around public restrooms are often perverts and predators, and they would probably perform poorly in a supervisory role.

All applicants for the position of Gender Monitor should be carefully screened for possible criminal backgrounds. They should also be evaluated by psychiatrists in order to rule out … well, lots of bad stuff.

It’s crucial for North Carolina, in this groundbreaking mission, to get things right. One little scandal could derail the whole transgender-crackdown movement.

Already there’s a national backlash, including boycotts by several major businesses and big-name musicians. The furor has spurred Gov. Pat McCrory to scramble around proclaiming his state isn’t really trying to punish the LGBT community.

Some supporters now say there was never any intent to actually police the genders of restroom users, that it would be too costly and impractical. Yet, without enforcement, the only point of such a law would be to gratuitously demean an alternative lifestyle.

And who would ever do a thing like that?

Eager defenders of the bathroom restrictions include Sen. Ted Cruz, the ever-vigilant American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., and the city council of Oxford, Ala., which adopted a transgender restroom ordinance of its own.

The Oxford law is even tougher than the one in North Carolina, imposing up to six months in jail for anybody caught taking a leak in a facility that doesn’t match the gender on his/her birth certificate.

With only 21,000 residents to worry about, Oxford has a much smaller number of public restrooms to protect from transgender infiltration. Even so, enforcing the new law won’t come cheap. Taxpayers, brace yourselves.

If you want good people standing guard at your public potties, you’re going to have to pay them way more than a meter reader or a night security guard.

And the very last thing you want, by the way, is volunteers.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

(c) 2016, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Allan Hoyle, of North Carolina, stands with bible in hand in support of Kim Davis at the Rowan County Judicial Center in Morehead, Kentucky, September 9, 2015.  REUTERS/Chris Tilley

Got Hot Money To Hide? We Can Help!

Hastily rejected first draft of a new TV commercial for the Mossack Fonseca law firm, exposed in the ongoing “Panama Papers” scandal:

——

Are you worried about being indicted? Or having your bank accounts seized?

Are your friends and associates blabbing to prosecutors?

Or maybe you’re just an ordinary deadbeat nephew of an iron-fisted dictator, looking for a safe real-estate investment in the United States?

Come see us at Mossack Fonseca.

We help wealthy weasels hide their money. It’s what we do!

Ask around. We’re Panama’s premier law firm for privacy-seeking movers of cash — and don’t worry, we promise not to ask where you got it.

Because we don’t want to know. Seriously. Do not tell us.

Let’s say you’ve got your heart set on a $2 million condo on Brickell Avenue in Miami, but you don’t want your name on the deed.

Maybe it’s a birthday surprise for your wife — or maybe you’re worried that people back in Rio won’t understand how you can afford such a posh crib on a government minister’s salary.

No worries, friend.

Come to Mossack Fonseca, and we’ll create an offshore shell company to help you purchase that dream condo.

Shell companies are a great way to hide ownership, and we’ll make up a legitimate-sounding name for yours.

——

(Cut to client testimonial).

I’m Leon Cohen-Levy, and the Mossack Fonseca law firm helped me and my father set up 13 different offshore companies!

One of them was called BlueOcean Finance, which doesn’t sound anything like the money-laundering scam it was.

With Mossack Fonseca’s help, Dad and I were able to buy a mansion on Miami Beach, a condo on Fisher Island, fancy cars and even a helicopter.

The IRS eventually busted us for a $49 million tax fraud, and we were sentenced to 10 years in the slammer.

But that wasn’t Mossack Fonseca’s fault. We didn’t come right out and tell them we were scumbags.

Four years after we were convicted, the law firm was still listed as the registered agent for our shell companies.

Now that’s loyalty!

——

(Cut back to lawyer spokesperson).

The vast majority of our clients here at Mossack Fonseca are not convicted criminals, we’re pretty sure. They’re just honest, regular folks with loads of cash they want to invest using a made-up company name, far from the jurisdiction of their country’s courts.

As a future client of Mossack Fonseca, you wouldn’t ever have to come visit us personally.

In fact, we like dealing with intermediaries, especially other lawyers.

And we have offices all over the world, from Lichtenstein to Uruguay. We’ve even got a booming operation in Wyoming, where the laws of incorporation are basically a joke.

Think of it as the Cayman Islands, with cows.

Many people come to us because they’re interested in prime Florida real estate, one of our specialties.

——

(Cut to client testimonial).

My name is Helder Rodrigues Zebral. If you’ve ever been to Brasilia, you might have dined at my trendy steakhouse.

What you probably didn’t know was that I’ve been convicted twice of embezzling public funds and avoiding public bidding.

Yet, between my criminal trials in Brazil, I was able to buy a $1.9 million condo in beautiful Sunny Isles Beach.

Thanks to the hard-working lawyers at Mossack Fonseca, my dream of owning a piece of Florida’s Gold Coast came true, leaving virtually no trail of paperwork.

I highly recommend this law firm to anyone who is facing corruption charges and possible confiscation of assets in their home country.

——

(Cut back to lawyer spokesperson).

The guiding ethical philosophy of Mossack Fonseca is best summarized by co-founder Ramon Fonseca himself, in a recent exchange with the New York Times:

“We are like a car factory who sells its car to a dealer (a lawyer for example), and he sells it to a lady that hits someone.

The factory is not responsible for what is done with the car.”

So, whether you’re a restless Russian oligarch, an indicted Wall Street financier, or the new prime minister of Iceland, we here at Mossack Fonseca make this solemn commitment:

We really don’t care what you do with the “car” we sell you.

We’ll park it offshore, and happily look the other way.

Call us today, at 1-800-LOOPHOLE.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

(c) 2016, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Euro, Hong Kong dollar, U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, pound and Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are seen in this picture illustration, in Beijing, China, January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee