Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Sunday Post – Low income housing, Baseball, BP Money and the Pinellas County Commission

December is usually a slow month in local politics

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.
Now that we are in that mad rush shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas things tend to be quiet in the political arena- especially local politics.

On the National scene, interests may remain a bit higher with Carson in Jordan, Trump only opening his mouth long enough to change feet and all the rest of the Republican wannabes struggling to catch up.

It does not seem that there are any serious efforts in St. Petersburg to rush something past a distracted electorate and before the new City Council Members are seated, but it would be a good idea to keep a wary eye on the Kriseman administration as they tool up for the New Year.

Waverly Ann Moore has an interesting piece in the Tampa Bay Times: Commission rules against St. Petersburg neighborhood in fight against affordable housing. On the surface, this may seem like a lot of noise about nothing, but the Riviera Bay Civic Association is not a group to be taken lightly. Look for this one to continue to be a hot button.

Baseball should be relatively quiet for the month of December, the boys of summer like to enjoy their holidays without any distractions.

 Mayor Kriseman would like to put off any vote on the decision to let the Rays look for a new stadium site in the Bay area until the new City Council Members are seated. Primary reason is, so he can enjoy his handpicked vote from Lisa Wheeler-Brown and shore up his position as political mover and shaker.

Look for the BP money issue to come up next month. Outgoing City council members would like to get their stamp on how the money is spent. The spectrum runs from Darden Rice, who would give it all too esoteric causes like the arts and other social programs to Karl Nurse who would put it all in the sewers.

Compromise likely? Only after some uncomfortable discussion.

Some good news from the County scene, at least from my perspective, Charlie Justice will be serving as Chairman of the Pinellas County Commission. Bad news Janet Long will be serving as Vice-chair. Charlie will be dragging an anchor all year.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours

If you're paying attention to the news, it may seem a bit difficult to feel thankful this year. Ignore it all for today.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

Where I was born snow symbolized Thanksgiving. Northern Indiana is beautiful this time of the year.

Often we awoke on Thanksgiving Day to a fresh snowfall. Everything was covered with a clean white blanket, and for a little while everything seemed so perfect.

I have been in Florida for over 40 years now, and I have become very fond of Thanksgiving Day  sun rises and sun sets enjoying a walk on the beach, some coolness in the air and a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

If you're paying attention to the news, it may seem a bit difficult to feel thankful this year. Ignore it all for today. Enjoy your family and hug each one.

Every day a lot of people do a lot of good, and they really don’t ask much in return; first responders, honest public servants, doctors, nurses, teachers, preachers, truck drivers, trades people, your mom, your dad and the next-door neighbor.

Be thankful for all of them.

There is a lot to be thankful for in a sunrise: a new day, a new set of opportunities.

I hope you have safe and very special Thanksgiving.


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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Concerns with Syrian Refugees is Not "Political Hysteria"

Our hearts and prayers go out to Paris and the horrendous terrorist attacks that occurred last Friday.

Yesterdays's Tampa Tribune includes a commentary from Joe Henderson, Refugee hysteria is about politics, not security.
The hysteria we’re seeing and hearing all over the news has nothing to do with keeping us safe from orphans, mothers or hungry babies fleeing from Islamic terrorists. It’s certainly not about the national ideals of charity and hope we love to embrace, at least until we don’t. 
It’s about winning an election, and making us afraid might help do that. Politicians see the refugees as collateral damage in a campaign season for the highest office in the land. No one spoke that more clearly than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also happens to be running for president.
We also remember the Tribune reported in September Number of Syrian refugees arriving in Tampa area jumps.
The Tampa area already is seeing a surge in the number of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country, but the brunt of the influx is a year or two away, state officials say.
At the same time as the number of Syrian refugees are expected to surge, the county commissioners took this formal action presented by Commissioner Kevin Beckner. 
Hillsborough County commissioners earlier this month voted unanimously to become the first — and so far only — refugee welcoming county in Florida. The resolution was presented by Commissioner Kevin Beckner. 
“It’s important with the diversity of our culture here in Hillsborough County that we recognize the contributions refugees make after they escape persecution,” he said. “
Part of the purpose of the resolution, he said, is to make sure refugees feel welcome in Hillsborough County.
Creating a simplified media sound bite about diversity and that concerns about the Syrian refugees is about politics and not security is being very naive.

There are a number of valid issues to consider with security of course, being a major one.

As President Obama moved to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to come to the US, this is what FBI Director James Comey said during a House Committee on Homeland Security in October:
FBI director James Comey said during a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing on Wednesday that the federal government does not have the ability to conduct thorough background checks on all of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that the Obama administration says will be allowed to come to the U.S.
As Thompson, a Democrat, said, “a lot of us are concerned about whether you have enough information available to you to do an accurate vetting.” 
Comey acknowledged that knowledge gap. 
“You can only query what you’ve collected,” he reiterated.
Concerns of security is not a partisan issue. Even the Democrat candidate running for Governor of Louisiana has called for a moratorium on Syrian refugees until more is known about the vetting process

The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the Paris attackers had used a fake Syrian passport.
Mystery deepened over a Paris attacker who traveled to Europe via Greece and the Balkans, after French officials said Monday that the Syrian passport he had used was indeed a fake. 
Authorities in France and Greece have said that fingerprints taken from the remains of a suicide bomber outside France’s national sports stadium, the Stade de France, match the prints of a man who entered Europe via the Aegean island of Leros on Oct. 3.
That news brings us a Fox News flashback to the issue of forged Syrian passports.
A Daily Mail reporter who said that he obtained a forged Syrian passport, ID and driver’s license in just four days discussed the Paris terror attacks on "Fox and Friends" this morning. 
A Syrian passport was reportedly found near one of the terrorists after Friday's attacks, raising fears that ISIS is infiltrating Europe among the wave of refugees fleeing Syria. 
Nick Fagge traveled to Turkey to meet with the forger, and paid him $2,000 for the documents.
"There are people who are in Turkey now who buy fake Syrian passports because they know Syrians get the right to asylum in all the member states of the European Union," Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the border control agency Frontex, told Europe 1 earlier this year. “People who use false Syrian passports often speak in Arabic. They may originate in North Africa or the Middle East, but they have the profile of economic migrants.” 
Getting a fake Syrian passport is "surprisingly easy" if you have the money, as BuzzFeed put it last year. Along the Turkey-Syria border, high-quality passports cost $2,000, while less realistic options are $1,000. A BuzzFeed reporter was able to buy a Syrian ID card for $150. 
The prices and the process vary. A reporter for Dutch magazine Nieuwe Revu paid $825 for a passport and ID, which took all of 40 hours to obtain in September. When the forger asked for a photo, the reporter sent a headshot of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He received it with no problems, Dutch News reported.
While the media portrays the refugees are all from Syria, reports from ex-military, ex-intelligence and some journalists have stated they are not all Syrians. With forged Syiran documents easily attainable on the black market, how do we know where all these people are actually from?  

Another issue is that the United States is relying on the UN, often not exactly a haven of pro America sentiment, for determining who is getting refugee status. Is this process being fair?

CNS News reported yesterday So Far: Syrian Refugees in U.S. Include 2,098 Muslims, 53 Christians
Most refugees considered for resettlement in the U.S. are referred by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 
“The United States’ reliance on the United Nations for referrals of Syrian refugees should also be re-evaluated,” they said. “That reliance unintentionally discriminates against Syrian Christians and other religious minorities who are reluctant to register as refugees with the United Nations for fear of political and sectarian retribution.” 
Sookhdeo says Western governments “must understand that vulnerable Christians are being overlooked in rescue program that take only those in the camps to safety. Fully aware of the victimization that is likely to await them in refugee camps, Iraqi and Syrian believers are mainly taking shelter in schools, churches, and apartments, or with relatives where possible.”
There is also the issue of tracking the refugees once they are here. Already a Syrian refugee went missing in Louisiana.

The American Mirror reported yesterday:
WBRZ has learned Catholic Charities helped the refugee who settled in Baton Rouge, but said the immigrant left for another state after a couple of days, and they don’t know where the refugee went since they don’t track them.
“We’re at the receiving end,” Chad Aguillard, executive director of Catholic Charities, says. “We receive them, we welcome them into our community and help them resettle. There has been a lot of commotion and fear with Syrians. The fear is justified, but we have to check that against reality.” 
State leaders are upset after the federal government began relocating Syrian refugees in the state without notifying them. (emphasis mine)
“This is a federal program, and it was their responsibility, as the governor has stated, that they should have notified myself or governor directly,” according to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management Director Kevin Davis.
The missing refugee was found heading to Washington DC. Gateway Pundit who had originally posted about the missing refugee was told by Governor Jindal's office that the feds were no help and the state police had to locate the missing Syrian.

Breitbart reports Governor Scott's interview yesterday with Hannity.
Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) stated that the White House told him the White House wouldn’t explain how the US’ refugee vetting program is better than France’s and they wouldn’t give him “any authority to make decisions for my state,” or law enforcement “background information” on refugees in an interview broadcast on Wednesday’s “Hannity” on the Fox News Channel.
Bottom line, the federal government is not doing their job assisting and appropriately communicating with the states receiving these refugees.

The American Mirror also reported yesterday detail about what a Texas refugee services group gives to those refugees the Obama Administration is bring into America. This is at a time when Americans are still struggling in a stagnant economy, our Veterans deserve better treatment and we have other Americans who are in need. Please listen to the audio recording.
Liberty News recently published an audio recording it says is a phone call between a representative of Refugee Services of Texas and a man posing as a potential volunteer. 
The services detailed in the call — being paid for by U.S. taxpayers — is staggering.
“Every refugee receives a sum of money from the government that’s welcome money. It’s $925 per person — a one-time sum,” the organization employee tells the caller.
That’s only the beginning. She also rattled off a laundry list of services offered to incoming refugees intended to make them “self-sufficient and indeptendent,” including: 
Being picked up at the airport
Finding and securing an apartment
Setting up the apartment “so it’s livable”
Providing bus orientation
Transporting them to Social Security office to apply for card
Helping find employment
Eight weeks of English as Second Language (ESL) classes 
The organization gives the volunteer a Walmart gift card to buy “all the items needed for the refugee’s apartment.” Any waste, fraud and abuse in this program?

The employee of Refugees Services of Texas stated they do not even know who they are receiving until two to three weeks before the refugees are here and she admitted that makes it difficult to plan.

As Americans continue to debate what to do about the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, this analysis attempts to estimate the costs of resettling refugees from that region in the United States. Although we do not consider all costs, our best estimate is that in their first five years in the United States each refugee from the Middle East costs taxpayers $64,370 — 12 times what the UN estimates it costs to care for one refugee in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. The cost of resettlement includes heavy welfare use by Middle Eastern refugees; 91 percent receive food stamps and 68 percent receive cash assistance. Costs also include processing refugees, assistance given to new refugees, and aid to refugee-receiving communities. Given the high costs of resettling refugees in the United States, providing for them in neighboring countries in the Middle East may be a more cost-effective way to help them. (emphasis mine)
Powerline blog also reports that resettling refugees is very expensive.
The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector estimates that the net cost of resettling 10,000 refugees averages out to $6.5 billion over the lifespan of those refugees. So resettling 100,000 refugees will cost around $65 billion.
The federal dollars are never enough to cover all the refugees expenses. It is expected that non-profits (who often receive taxpayer dollars), state and local governments pick up the remaining tab. There is a real fiscal cost to this effort.
We are a nation that helps others when needed but there are always options to consider. 
Why isn't the Obama Administration working with our allies to provide the refugees a safe haven in Syria with a no fly zone and help with providing necessities to them there?  Why isn't the Obama Administration working with Syria's neighboring countries to accept these refugees? None of the neighboring countries are taking their own indigenous people. Why is that? Why aren't the Russians and Chinese taking these refugees?
Americans deserve an answer from the Obama Administration to these questions BEFORE starting an influx of thousands of Syrian refugees at an enormous economic and social cost to the United States.
Ann Corcoran began investigating the refugee resettlement program eight years ago when problems and questions arose regarding a local charity in her own hometown.
Eight years ago it came to our attention in Washington County MD that a non-profit group (Virginia Council of Churches) had been bringing refugees into the city of Hagerstown (county seat) for a couple of years. Some problems arose and citizens started to take an interest and ask questions about how this federal program works. Our local paper had no interest in finding the facts, so we decided to find them ourselves.
As a result of her initial investigation Corcoran set up Resettlement Watch. We must realize this issue is a local issue because it impacts our own backyard. 

According to blog there are approximately 180 cities that are eligible to accept the 10,000 Syrian refugees that the Obama Administration wants to bring in. Here are the US Refugee Public Affiliates in Tampa.
US Refugee Public Affiliates in Tampa
Also according to 
The so-called “monitoring” conducted by federal agencies is questionable, considering trends in other states with refugees and migrants show that refugees have been able to falsify records, travel back and forth to war-torn countries and potentially convert to jihad without the State Dept. ever stepping in. 
Also, the process of “screening” by the State Department is questionable. In the Hayride‘s special report yesterday, we outlined the number of refugees with red-flags that should have alerted the State Dept., but apparently did not. 
And the Hayride reminds us 
The most infamous terrorists in recent United States history are Dzhokhar and Tamerian Tsarnaev, also known as the Boston Bombers. 
The Tsarnaev brothers were political refugees that went through the State Department’s screening process.
Kevin Drum of the liberal Mother Jones wrote Liberals Should Knock Off the Mockery Over Calls to Limit Syrian Refugees. Even some Progressives understand the gravity of the situation.
Here's the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country. We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees. And most voters have no idea how easy it is to get past US screening. They probably figure it's pretty easy. 
So to them it doesn't seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris.
Mocking Republicans over this—as liberals spent much of yesterday doing on my Twitter stream—seems absurdly out of touch to a lot of people. Not just wingnut tea partiers, either, but plenty of ordinary centrists too. It makes them wonder if Democrats seriously see no problem here. Do they care at all about national security? Are they really that detached from reality?
Forged documents, a costly refugee program, questions of waste, fraud and abuse within the refugee program, questionable tracking of the refugees in our homeland, lack of communication from the federal government with the states to receive the refugees, our basic security and why we are not considering working with our allies to provide a safe haven for the refugees in their own homeland or neighboring countries. 

These are all valid concerns and questions especially after the Paris terrorist attacks and the downing of the Russian plane by ISIS. 

They are not political hysteria. Reducing this issue to that sound bite rhetoric is nonsense.

Government's fundamental and primary role at ever level is to protect its own citizens. Our safety must be ensured FIRST. 

We cannot afford to be naive. 

Progress on Pier demolition continues as the Pelican parking lot closes

If a walk out on the Pier with your family was a Thanksgiving family ritual, you might want to pass this year.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

The City has closed the Pelican Parking lot (south side) at the base of the Pier approach.

Until this week, the lot was  open for those wishing to stop by and watch the inverted Pyramid come down and for the few fishermen who are regulars on the parking lot sea wall.

It is unclear at this point if people are prohibited from the parking lot and sea walls.

I have been stopping by regularly for the last month or so as the pier demolition proceeded. It was surprising how many people would drive through the parking lot stop and take a few pictures.

Many would just stand and look while shaking their heads.

A few tears were not uncommon.

The inverted pyramid is now totally gone.

There have been some issues with turbidity barriers and navigation lights other than that, things seem to be going along as planned.

The Pier deck will be dismantled next, and then the approach will be removed. These are big jobs and as we approach fall and winter, the Northeasterly winds could cause a few problems.

If you're planning on going down and want to walk out on Spa Beach for a closer look, be sure to park on the street or over in the North lot which is still open.

If a walk out on the Pier with your family was a Thanksgiving family ritual, you might want to pass this year. Thanks to the Kriseman administration it's really just a sad sight with some remaining rubble and demolition equipment.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

In Defense of Momma "T" Lassiter

If you think she is brash now, you should have been in City Council meetings 10 or 15 years ago.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.
Last week Janelle Irwin, saintpetersblog, took Momma "T" to task in a post Momma Tee Lassiter: Activist or antagonist?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Momma "T" for over 25 years.

I worked with her on a couple of issues and was a regular at her 'Law Day" event for a number of years. I like Momma "T". In fact, it goes way beyond like I have a deep respect for the woman.

Momma "T" has spent a large portion of her life trying everything she can to improve conditions for people on the south side and really in all of St. Pete.

Momma "T" has been promised help that never came, lied to by staff and virtually every administration, and yet she keeps coming back and trying to move forward.

If you think, she is brash now, you should have been setting in City Council meetings 10 or 15 years ago or better yet sat down with her one on one.

Momma "T" is running out of time.

She is frustrated by the City's inability to get things moving south of central. The kids in South St. Pete, her "babies" as she calls them, are still underserved by the schools they go to, arrested too often and many die way too young.

Poverty in her world is not getting better it is getting worse.

The Kriseman Administration isn't much better than their predecessors, lots of promises but not a lot of results. All the redevelopment promises are just that promises for the future but Momma "T's" people live right now in the present.

She can be brash; she has a way with words, a short temper, a mean streak and absolutely no tolerance for indecision.

Part of the problem with cites is as they grow elected people on City Council become more of the elite and less of the people. Those like Momma "T" become more of an annoyance than a source of valuable direction such is the case in St. Petersburg.

Momma "T" doesn't need to be "shamed" and she doesn't need to be thrown out of City Council meetings.

Could she tone it down a little – sure?

However, think about this: If you went home every night after dedicating a good portion of your life to trying to improve the lot of your community and your last thoughts as you dropped off to sleep were after all these years things are still going bad.

The people who could change all that have no problem spending $70 million on a downtown park and play ground for the wealthy, but you have to beg for after-school programs.

They won't step up and take on the School Board for allowing the school mess in south St. Pete, and their solution for South St. Pete is a long term development plan that will have no immediate impact, and in all likelihood will never come to fruition.

You would probably be angry too.

As for me, I will sit there and listen to every word "T" Lassiter has to say, smile at some, be shocked at a few and know that pretty much all of it has value.

I think we would all be amazed at the number of people, white and African American, that watch "T" Lassiter on television and wish they had the courage to "wag their finger" at City Council.

Love ya Momma "T". I always have always will.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

The new St. Pete City Council will anything change?

Newton and Dudley gone, Montanari and Wheeler-Brown in will there be less strife more congeniality – maybe.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

There is quite a bit of speculation about how the outcome of the recent St. Pete City Council election will change the balance of power on the City's governing body.

Ed Montanari will be a steadying voice on the new City Council starting January of 2016. Montanari, a jumbo jet pilot by trade, is a calm and steady thinker who spends time understating the facts and the options. His long run of public service, including his work in the airport group and the Pier task force gives him a lot of back ground. Look for Montanari to be insightful, and cooperative. He is not a big conflict person and will like to have things well worked out before they go to a vote.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown could be tagged as an inexperienced newcomer, but that would be a big mistake. After several years of navigating her neighborhood association and a stint as head of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, she is not coming to City Council as an uninformed light weight. She has already had time in front of Mayor Kriseman. I sat down with Lisa in March of 2014 for a Casual Conversation with CONA President Lisa Wheeler-Brown.

Lisa took some hard knocks during the election and got some great support in the process. There was concern among many, me included, that she may be a bit of a rubber stamp for the Mayor. I expect the Mayor will get a couple of favorable votes from Wheeler-Brown, especially on the Rays issue.

Look for Steve Kornell to be more bullish on the issues he is concerned about,  Charlie Gerdes will stay steady with a possible eye toward a bid for the Mayor's seat, Amy Foster is a bit of a question mark given her support for Wheeler-Brown's opponent, look for her to be a calming voice.

Kennedy now term limited will be more aggressive and with his nemeses Wengay Newton gone meetings should be less frustrating for the two-term council member.

Biggest issue on the table seems to be the Tampa Bay Rays driven by the Tampa Bay Times obsession with getting a "deal" so the Rays can look for a new stadium site within the Bay area.

There is a growing understanding upon the part of City Council that continuing to be tied up in the Rays dispute is a waste of valuable time. Pressure from the County Commission is also adding some immediacy to the discussion. I expect this issue will be quickly dispatched with or without Wheeler-Browns vote.

The whole Rays deal could be done before the new council members are seated in January, but look for Kriseman to try to drag out the process, so he can cash in on his support for Wheeler-Brown and try to flex his political mussels a little.

Without the constant questioning by Wengay Newton 2016 meetings should move more quickly. There will be less actual decision making as things should be pretty well hashed out before they get to the Agenda. 

South St. Pete, failing schools, stormwater/wastewater, Pier Park, The Uplands Project, the Toytown Sports Complex, crime, roads and public transit: this Council has its hands full.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Who would be the next St. Petersburg Mayor?

Too early you say?  Not really.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.
One of the interesting things about being a blogger, and especially a blogger who writes opinions, is people like to ask you questions.

I have been at several gatherings recently with a number of St. Petersburg employees, and the questions were very interesting.

Apparently Kriseman's inner circle, notably Kevin King and Ben Kirby, are starting to get under the skin of some staffers as they filter inbound and outbound communications with the Mayor's office.

The most recurrent question was "who do you think will be the next St. Petersburg Mayor?' The implication seeming to be Rick Kriseman will either not run or will not be reelected.

I turned the question back by simply asking, "Who would you like to see as mayor?"

The most common answer from senior staff right down to workers was Rick Baker, usually followed with a comment like, "He was tough to work for, but he really got things done and he (Baker) knew how to lead."

Implication noted.

Baker is currently said to be mulling over a run for The US House seat in District 13.

Other names who garnered interest: Karl Nurse and Charlie Gerdes.

Outsiders Scott Wagman and Bill Edwards get favorable mentions.

Now that the midterm City Council election is over it is time to look forward to the next mayoral election.

Too early you say?

Not really.

Some of the knowledgeable political writers, Bloggers and St. Pete movers and shakers need to look around town and throw out some names that are not currently on the radar. Let's see whether some new bolder faces will step up and take an interest in leading Florida's fourth-largest City.

There seems to be a growing consensus that surviving the last two years of the Kriseman administration will be bad enough and four more years of Rick Kriseman will not take St. Pete where it needs to go.

Who would you like to see as St. Pete's next Mayor.

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