Living Longer-and a Plan to Live Better

Multi generational handsA baby born in 1900 in the United States had a life expectancy of 47.3 years. For male babies, the number was slightly lower: 46.3 years. For females, it was 48.3 years.

Flash forward 110 years. A U.S. baby born in 2010 has a life expectancy of 78.7 years. Again, somewhat less for males, 76.2 years, and a bit more for females, 81 years.

What accounts for that amazing increase in longevity between our grandparents’ generation and today’s?  Credit modern science and updated sensitivity to health threats that in grandpa’s day went largely ignored.

The big factor is advances in medicine – pharmaceuticals, medical procedures and devices like pacemakers – that help patients survive what formerly would have been fatal ailments. Eradication of diseases that often proved fatal to children boosted the number, as did progress in obstetrics, childbirth and childhood immunizations.

Too, more awareness of workplace hazards and a proactive approach to risk management in recent decades made life safer for those who survived to adulthood. Machinery is safer, work environments healthier, and smoking has been demonized. Better understanding of healthy living habits has enabled many born after 1900 stay alive longer and to stay healthier than previous generations.

As a result, for the first time, Americans are experiencing a historic demographic shift: Four full generations in relatively good health living side by side.  I wish those advances had happened sooner. I lost my grandparents in their mid- to late 60s. But it was better for my parents’ generation. They lived into their 80s. I wonder what it would have been like having them all together, with my own children constituting the fourth generation?

I’ll never know. But I hope to experience it from the other end. With my oldest granddaughter having just turned 15, I expect to live to bounce her and her brothers’ children on my knee and teach them to play Pick-Up-Stix and Monopoly. Mine is among the first of the four-generation families. But we are far from alone. With expanded life spans, a four-generation family increasingly is becoming the norm.

The number of U.S. persons age 65 and over has increased from 4 million in 1900 to 40 million in 2010. The number of people living to 85 and over went from near-zero in 1900 to 600,000 at the turn of the century. In 2010, there were 55,000 Americans age 100 or more, and by 2050, demographers project that there will be half a million centenarians in the U.S.

In fact, Florida already is a model of the demographic reality the nation will face in 40 years. There are currently 3.3 million Floridians age 65-plus living in the Sunshine State – 18 percent of the population, and over 500,000 of them are over 85. Pinellas County’s age demographics are even more tilted to graying: 21.5 percent of its population is 65 or older, and 4 percent is over 85-plus.

We’ll be exploring how those four generations – children, parents, grandparents and super-elders – can live in harmony and mutual support at a Community Conversation on June 17. The program, titled “Our Families’ Four Generations: Ready or Not, Here We Are!” is sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and jointly hosted by this Institute and the 4Generations Institute of Tallahassee.

The program will be from 7-9 p.m. in the Digitorium of the SPC Seminole Campus, 9200 113th Street N. Advance registration is requested at .

My long-time friend, Jack Levine, will lead the conversation, directing questions to a panel of six local experts from organizations that serve the four generational groups. Jack, who spent 25 years advocating for children as head of Voices for Florida’s Children, began to realize that needs in each group are going unmet while potential resources are going to waste. Younger children are struggling with reading and math.

Retirees who realize they can play only so much golf and tennis become bored. Teens are looking for opportunities to gain public service credits. Young singles have time – and the desire – to give back. The elderly waste away in assisted living facilities with no one looking out for them. Working adults find themselves sandwiched between raising children and caring for elderly parents.

“The needs for health care, education, family services, employment, public safety and environmental protection are best addressed through the lens of our four major age groups,” says Jack. “How we address the needs of the four generations is among the most critical economic and public policy challenges for the next decade.”

I am excited by the potential for inter-generational cooperation that could come from this initiative. If all of the unused resources of time and energy among the generations were channeled into assisting the needy, lonely and imperiled, it would represent a seismic shift in societal well-being. Let the conversation begin!

David Klement
Executive Director
Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

Battle Lines Set for Medical Marijuana Campaign

(L-R) Ben Pollara, United for care, Dr. Carlton Turner, Former Director of White House Drug Abuse Policy Office, Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff

(L-R) Ben Pollara, United for care, Dr. Carlton Turner, Former Director of White House Drug Abuse Policy Office, Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff

I was correct in my previous blog on this topic: Medical marijuana is hot. In fact, if you thought the furor over the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, was super-heated, just wait until this fall. In Florida, Obamacare will take a back seat to the debate over legalizing marijuana for medical use, which Floridians will be asked to decide in the Nov. 4 election.

That was confirmed at the Institute’s Village Square forum on medical marijuana, held at the Seminole campus Conference Center on April 17th. The question of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, the subject of a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution, is loaded with emotion, ideology and a great deal of conflicting information. That came through loud and clear at our debate, which featured proponents from the two major organizations in the battle for the hearts and minds of voters: Ben Pollara of United for Care, who supports the referendum, and Dr. Carlton Turner, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Ronald Reagan and spokesman for Save Our Society From Drugs, who opposes it. Also weighing in with the view of law enforcement officers was Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Much like fencers with foils, the speakers parried with statistics and assertions. Pollara tugged at heartstrings with references to sick people who benefit from the medicinal effects of marijuana, a number of whom were in the audience. Turner countered with warnings of out-of-control marijuana accessibility by teenagers and children, whose developing brains can be damaged by pot use. Sheriff Gualtieri worried that the reference in the referendum summary to “debilitating conditions” is so broad that it will lead to widespread abuse of the drug by unscrupulous doctors looking to make a fast buck, much as they did in setting up “pill mills” to hand out prescription pain pills a few years ago.

“It’s all about money, making money,” said the sheriff. And, he added, “It’s a segue to recreational use” of the drug, a point also made by Turner.

The debate can be boiled down to a relatively few points of contention – wide, gaping differences of opinion, to be sure,  but not all that difficult to understand. Here are the essential arguments of the two sides:

On the con side:

  •  That smoking marijuana is harmful to the human body.
  • That teens with developing brains will have easier access to it.
  • That it is a gateway to experimentation with other, more dangerous drugs
  • That legalization for medical purposes will lower society’s inhibitions against illegal drugs in general.
  • That this referendum on medical use is just a prelude to legalizing it for recreational use
  • That it is untested by science and not approved by the FDA
  • That unscrupulous doctors will write certifications for use to anyone for any ailment, just as they did with pain pills
  • That marijuana users are less productive, absent from work more often, and more prone to accidents than non-users.
  • That it will put more impaired drivers on the road, causing injuries, deaths and property damage.
  • That there is no consistency to the plant itself nor in the medical products made from it, so how are doctors supposed to prescribe it?
  • That it is essentially snake oil.

On the pro side:

  • That it provides relief to a great many ailments, especially: nausea and appetite loss associated with cancer and AIDS; muscle spasms; chronic pain, and intraocular pressure (of the eyes).
  • That people should not have to move to states where it is legal to get access to it, nor to risk arrest at home
  • That it is not harmful  in medical form or in smoked form if in limited quantities
  • That no one has ever died from an overdose
  • That it would be tightly regulated and taxed by the state, shutting down the black market
  • That legal substances like alcohol, tobacco and pain pails have adverse health consequences far more dangerous to society than pot
  • That it once was perfectly legal and in widespread use for these kinds of ailments but was demonized in the 1930s due to racist attitudes toward Mexicans and African Americans
  • That it is a natural plant created by God and the government has no right to impose an outright ban on its use to help people feel better
  • That there is no scientific proof that it is a dangerous, addictive Schedule 1 drug.

During the forum, the Institute staff invited audience members to take part in three separate “straw votes” via cellphone texting to measure attitudes toward medical marijuana. In the first survey, before hearing any arguments, the survey breakdown was: For legalization, 39 percent; against legalization, 18 percent; undecided, 44 percent.

In mid-program, after the audience had heard the opening presentations by the three panel members, the results had changed significantly. The number for legalization had jumped to 74 percent, while the number of undecided dropped to 9 percent.  Those against legalization dipped just slightly, to 17 percent. Apparently, Pollara’s arguments for approving legalization of marijuana for medical purposes were persuasive.

IMG_0667In the final survey, audience members were not offered a choice of being undecided. Instead, they were asked their view of medical marijuana in one of four scenarios:

-Not in any form: 9 percent

-In non-smokable form for medical use only: 11 percent

-In any form, for medical use only: 43 percent

-For medical use and recreational use: 36 percent

 So, those opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use dropped into the single digits. Those who think it should be legalized in some form total 54 percent, with 11 percent of those favoring its use in non-smokable form only. And a surprising 36 percent are in favor of legalizing it for recreational as well as medical use – a segment I found surprising in a conservative state like Florida.

Where all this will end in November is anyone’s guess. As we emphasized in instructions for participating in the polling, these were straw votes only – since it was not a random audience, it bears no scientific validity. Yet is provides interesting fodder for speculation as the campaign heats up – and perhaps a sense of direction for the opposing campaigns.

–David Klement, Executive Director
Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions
St. Petersburg College

Honoring Public Service- a New SPC Tradition

Sen. Dennis Jones

Sen. Dennis Jones

A new tradition was established at St. Petersburg College last week with inauguration of the Distinguished Public Service Award Dinner. The Feb. 21st event, staged by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at the Seminole campus, honored Dennis L. Jones, a former SPC Vice President , for his 32 years of public service as a state senator, state representative, civic leader and doctor of chiropractic medicine in St. Petersburg.

Nearly 200 people, including 18 current or former public officials and a large number of SPC administrators and staff, filled the Conference Center at Seminole to honor the work of Sen. Jones specifically but also to recognize exemplary public service in general.  As Dean Susan Demers of SPC’s College of Policy, Ethics and Legal Studies put it in her role as master of ceremonies, the ancient Greeks considered public service to be the highest calling of mankind, and Sen. Jones epitomized that quality in his career and life.

SPC President Dr. Bill Law opened the program by recognizing Sen. Jones for his role in funding and creating the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, which serves as a conduit for civic engagement and academic enrichment within SPC and the community, and also represents all 28 members of the Florida College System in the public policy arena.

In summing up Sen. Jones’ career, speakers focused on the important legislation that he had a major role in passing as well as on his skill at building consensus by working across party lines. A humorous note was provided in a video message by former House Speaker Fred Lippman, who served with Sen. Jones in the Florida House for 20 years. Dr. Lippman, now chancellor at Nova Southeastern University, said that the two of them were responsible for passage of more legislation in that period than any other legislators.

Seminole campus Provost Dr. Jim Olliver enumerated highlights of those legislative successes: mandatory child safety seats and driver/passenger seat belts, organ donor designation on driver licenses, Bright Futures Scholarships, “Rails to Trails” using old railroad corridors, Seminole Indian casino tax compact, state poison control registry and judicial reforms to aid small business. Among major projects affecting SPC, Dr. Olliver credited Sen. Jones for helping to secure funding for the Health Education campus, the Seminole Library, and the Bay Pines STEM learning center.

Dr. James Winterstein, President Emeritus of National University of Health Sciences, spoke of Sen. Jones’ role in establishing the University Partnership Center, which includes NUHS’ doctor of chiropractic medicine program.  And Kim Black, President of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, offered detailed evidence of his commitment to public education.

Medical Marijuana is a Smokin’ Issue

Marijuana Plant

As a political issue, medical marijuana is as hot as any issue I have seen in Florida in many years.

That is clear to me after attending two recent forums on the topic in the Tampa Bay region – at the Manatee Tiger Bay Club in Bradenton and at the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club. So be prepared for passionate debate when the Institute for strategic Policy Solutions presents its forum on April 17th at the Seminole campus of SPC. The forum, titled “Medical Marijuana: Should Florida Go to Pot?”, will be a program of the Institute’s Village Square series, and advance registration for the dinner event is required (at

The Sarasota Tiger Bay Club debate on Feb. 12 featured Orlando attorney John Morgan arguing for passage of a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight arguing against passage. Morgan is head of Morgan and Morgan, the personal-injury law firm whose “if you or someone in your family has been injured” commercials are seemingly everywhere on local TV. He is also the attorney who personally bankrolled the initiative petition campaign that helped put the medical marijuana issue on the Florida ballot this November.

Morgan said his passion for legalizing marijuana for medical purposes began with his father’s cancer and his brother’s spinal cord injury. His father was in “unbelievable pain” and had lost his appetite. Like many cancer patients, he was “wasting away,” Morgan said. After Morgan procured some marijuana for his father, his appetite returned and his pain was greatly relieved, he said. As for his brother Tim, who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident, marijuana relieved “uncontrollable spasms” and pain, the attorney said.

Sheriff Knight warned that legalization of marijuana would  “have significant negative consequences” in three areas: Greater access to pot by teens, increased crime, and reduced quality of life, including lowering of property values. This has been the consequence of  legalizing the drug in California, said Knight, displaying a map of Anaheim with 43 red dots representing medical marijuana dispensaries spread out across a community of 325,000. Sarasota, with a population of 375,000, could see a similar proliferation of pot dispensaries, likening them to the “pill mills” that sprang up to provide prescriptions for Oxycontin pain pills until Florida cracked down two years ago. Knight warned that children would be able to access these dispensaries without a prescription and without their parents’ consent, points that Morgan refuted. Florida would only have as many dispensaries as the state Legislature allows, he said, adding that Florida will learn from California’s mistakes.

John Morgan and Sheriff Knight

John Morgan and Sheriff Knight

The marijuana available today is three times more potent than it was 20 years ago, Knight said, and is highly addictive. One in six persons who try marijuana as teens will become addicted, he said. Morgan argued that many legal drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are also highly addictive and far more dangerous than pot, citing Oxycontin, Xanax, Percocet, Ativan and Adderall in scathing attacks on the FDA.

“I don’t know why God put this plant (marijuana) onto this Earth for us, but He did,” Morgan said. “And it works. For a lot of really sick people, it works.” Countered Knight: “I am scared to death of a crime wave,” citing the lure of the cash-only dispensaries to the criminal element, including Columbian cartels.

The Manatee Tiger Bay debate featured similar warnings from Dr. Jessica Spencer, an addiction specialist, and Dr. Fabian Ramos, a physician specializing in pain relief. The pro side was represented by Cathy Jordan, who uses marijuana to ease the pain and health issues associated with ALS disease, and Donnie Clark, a farmer who served time in prison in the ‘80s and ‘90s for growing marijuana. Dr. Spencer said marijuana is more dangerous to smoke than tobacco, and said she considers medical marijuana as “a stalking horse” for full legalization of the drug for recreational purposes, not just medicine. She cited statistics about the negative effects of marijuana use on job performance, absentee rates and increased incidence of impaired driving. Dr. Ramos also worried about the dispensaries becoming versions of the “pill mills” that prescribed pain pills for virtually any complaint, and repeated Sheriff Knight’s concern about teen access to pot and higher crime rates because of the cash-only nature of medical marijuana sales.

Mrs. Jordan spoke of the therapeutic effects of marijuana to relieve her ALS symptoms, and Clark advocated growing marijuana as a cash crop to enhance agricultural profits – not for ingesting purposes, but for production into hemp, a natural fiber.

The Institute’s debate on April 17 will feature similar lively exchanges, with plenty of opportunity for audience participation. Watch for details to come soon.

–David Klement

Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

An Encounter with a Living Legend


Clyde Butcher and David Klement

Clyde Butcher and David Klement

Clyde Butcher is an original – a genuine Florida character who defies alligators and mosquitoes in the muck of swamps to capture his priceless images of pristine nature and who minces no words in telling anyone who listens how poorly the state has managed its natural resources.

Clyde shared some of those images – and insights about how he shoots and processes them – along with choice words about the pollution of the Everglades, the state’s natural springs and its rivers, in two presentations sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College on Jan. 29th. The eccentric photographic artist, in full Florida cracker regalia of flowered shirt, straw hat, baggy pants, croc shoes and chest-length white beard, commanded the room as he highlighted his life and his art in separate presentations to a student forum in the afternoon and a Village Square dinner program in the evening.

Butcher, often referred to as “the Ansel Adams of Florida,” is a gentle giant of a man who morphs into a mystic when you get him talking about the connection between the human spirit and nature. In his Village Square talk, he spoke of a communication bond between trees and plants and a chemical reaction in humans when exposed to a forest – a positive reaction. He speaks of wilderness as being “a sacred necessity,” and recounts how, after the tragic death of his son at the hands of a drunk driver in 1986, he went into the deep woods of the Big Cypress National Preserve where “the mysterious spiritual experience of being close to nature helped to restore my soul.”

There is similar tone of mysticism when he speaks about his art. “I make pictures large enough so that you can’t see them,” he says in reference to his large-scale – as big as 4-by-5-feet – black-and-white photos of nature. “You have to scan, and the mind puts together what you see. I want you to see the sky, and veins in the leaves.”  The unique perspective of his pictures, along with the scale, “make people feel like they want to walk into them. I want people to be drawn in and feel their way through the environment.”

Yet in his public talks he is plain-spoken, talking nonchalantly about wading in chest-high waters teeming with gators and water moccasins to set up his tripod for the perfect shot, and in giving a humorous account of helping President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter briefly elude the Secret Service on one of his frequent “swamp walks.”

And he is blunt when talking about the greatest threat to the Everglades. “In plain English, its s—,” he says, using the four-letter word for human waste. The incursion of development to the very edge of the Glades – in some cases beyond the edge – and destructive forms of agriculture such as sugar cane fields to the immediate north have done immense damage to the quality and quantity of the watery expanse named the “River of Grass” by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in her landmark book about the Everglades.

Clyde bemoans that careless regard for pristine wilderness as he disdains the politicians who pay lip service to environmental protection even as they strip funding from restoration programs. But he worries more about an even greater threat to the Everglades: sea level rise brought about by climate change. By 2025 – just 11 years from now – the Glades will be under water, he told me after the evening lecture. Extraordinary tides are already inundating parts of the preserve, and they will only get worse in the next few years.

The only solace to be found in that gloomy prediction is his promise to continue photographing those doomed patches of Eden even into his eighth decade. At least we will have his pictures to remind us of what once was. And those lucky enough to have attended his lectures will have the memories of having rubbed elbows with a living legend.

–David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, St. Petersburg College

World Peace Forum a Success

Little did we know when we came up with the title for our world peace forum that it would capture the essence of the program’s conclusion. But it absolutely did.

“World Peace: Let It Begin with Me.” That was the title and it was the take-home message for the nearly 200 students and members of the public attending Thursday’s (Nov. 14) forum that the Institute co-sponsored with Rotary International, Seeds of Peace, and Tri-Sense Medical, LLC. Besides a nearly full house at the Digitorium, which seats 200 with chairs along the back wall, the forum was webcast to three other campuses in the SPC system.  The results exceeded our expectations.

The forum was moderated by Roy Slater, Associate Professor of Social Science at SPC. Other panel members were Randy Lightfoot, American Government and Model UN Instructor at Tarpon Springs; Sane Haidara, SPC international student from Mali, and Dustin Lemke, Communication and Leadership instructor at Hillsborough Community College.

Sane Haidara, SPC Student from Timbuktu, Mali

Sane Haidara, SPC Student from Timbuktu, Mali

Contrary to hopes, it seems that world peace may not be achievable, because conflict between humans is inevitable. But, the panelists agreed, it is the responsibility of each person to live and act in ways that promote peace instead of war, dialogue instead of violence, in pursuit of the ultimate goal of a peaceful world.

There was general consensus among panelists that war is a blot on global society no matter how distant or isolated the location of the conflict. Asked about Americans’ responsibility to the people of Mali, beset by a jihadist uprising in 2012, Prof. Lightfoot said, “We have a moral responsibility to prevent war. Pain in one country is a pain felt by all. We are a global community.”

Haidara, who has seen war up close in his hometown of Timbuktu, Mali, had a readyanswer for Moderator Slater’s question about the cause of conflict: Inequality. “In Mali, a common denominator is lack of education, access to clean water and adequate food, inequality between men and women, lack of jobs, denial of social justice.”

Lemke said civil behavior in day-to-day life, such as traffic encounters or relationships with friends and family, contributes to peace in small but meaningful ways. “You probably already have had 15 chances to show peace today,” he told the mostly-student audience. He also encouraged students to become civicly engaged in their communities in pursuit of peace. “As students you have more power than you think,” he said. “Call up the mayor. He is more likely to listen to student voices than to a 40-year-old like me,” he said.

The level of interest shown in the issue of world peace told us we have only scratched the surface. Therefore, we are already looking at the next phase for this initiative. Stay tuned.

–David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College

Time to Reboot at Leadership Florida Conference

I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of Leadership Florida last week in Orlando. Held at the Yacht & Beach Club Resort at Disney World, the meeting of Florida’s premiere leadership organization brought together some 450 LF alums from across the state to hear interesting speakers (including SPC President Dr. Bill Law and Gov. Rick Scott) and to network like crazy with some fairly influential people.

At least, that’s why I go. I was privileged to be selected for Class XXVII in 2008, and I value the connections that I have made through this organization over the years. And the chance to get away to think, learn and exchange ideas with other professionals serves as a mental reboot.

Dr. Law was part of a panel on higher education, pointing out that the Florida College System is “the envy of America in the way students can move through the system.” He said a particular strength of FCS is the attention paid to helping students prepare to enter the workforce, especially in the health care sector. In response to a question about trends in higher education, Dr. Law said Florida is fortunate to have a public and private sector that work “hand in hand” to provide a variety of choices for students. He identified a gradual shift in higher education in Florida: “As our colleges mature, the universities are moving to more research and we (the State College System) are sharing the undergraduate burden more evenly.”

One of the most interesting presentations was by Dr. Beth Stevens, senior vice president for corporate citizenship, environment and conservation for the Walt Disney Co. She focused on the importance of preserving Florida’s natural resources for future generations, and the growing disconnect between children and nature. Today kids spend on average just 1 percent of their time doing things in nature and 27 percent of their time using electronic devices. Yet a connection with nature is extremely important in childhood development, she said.

Disney is in Year 5 of a proactive program to promote conservation of natural resources and to provide visitors connections to nature. It has created a 12,000-acre wilderness preserve in Kissimmee with the Florida Nature Conservancy, and partners with 350 non-profits worldwide dedicated to nature conservation.

Gov. Scott focused on economic issues, especially his job-creation efforts. “No state in the U.S. should be in a better position economically than Florida,” he said. Its low tax burden, geographic proximity to the Panama Canal, resurgence in tourism and expansion of many of its ports all contribute to “a dramatic turnaround” in the Florida economy in his 2 ½ years in office, he said.

In response to questions, the governor dashed hopes that he might call a special session of the Legislature to reconsider joining the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid plan. “I can’t do anything,” he said, because the Legislature has spoken by rejecting the plan and it is unlikely he could compel legislators to reconsider that decision.

Another speaker, Peter Kageyama of St. Petersburg, offered a truckload of ideas on how to make our cities more safe, functional and fun. Especially fun. In a fast-paced presentation, he showed dozens of examples of what cities have done to add life to the streets and boost municipal morale. For example, spray-painting weeds in a vacant lot and labeling it a “weed garden.” Or turning that lot into a “barking lot” mini-dog park. One city created an inexpensive water park with a garden hose. Another urged citizens to attach post-it notes to derelict or under-used buildings. The notes bear the title “I wish this was. . .” and people write in their idea for improving the structure. One city turned the problem of gum litter into an attraction by declaring a vacant stone wall the “bubble-gum wall.” Instead of tossing gum on the grass or walks, citizens are encouraged to stick their used bubble gum wads on the wall. Somewhat gross, but also interesting.

Kageyma’s message: “Play is central to our relationships with other people.” It’s a good takeaway for our community.

By David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College


NRA Lobbyist Backs Gun Limit on Mental Patients

It’s safe to say that most of the recent mass shootings have been perpetrated by men with serious mental problems. Who in his right mind could turn automatic weapons on innocent people going about their business in malls, offices, schools and movie theaters?

So it was good news the other day when Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill to close a loophole in Florida gun laws that permitted some persons with mental illness to buy guns. But not everyone agrees with that statement. The governor’s office was flooded with almost 25,000 emails urging him to veto the bill.

Why would anyone want to allow mentally ill people to buy guns? Because the bill applies to people who have voluntarily submitted themselves to mental health exams or treatments. The old law allowed such people to buy guns once they are released from mental health institutions. The new law requires a judge and doctor to concur that an individual is no longer a danger to himself or others in order to get off the database of those prohibited from buying a gun.

To the surprise of many, even Marion Hammer wanted Scott to sign the bill. The longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist seldom gets behind any restriction on gun ownership, but even she could see the sensible justification for this one. In fact, she and her allies flooded the governor’s office with 200,000 emails asking Scott to sign the bill.

As was noted in our Village Square forum on guns held on May 22nd, ( the Second Amendment‘s guarantee of the right to bear arms is not voided by reasonable restrictions to protect public safety. No “right” is absolute; no “liberty” is open-ended. Preventing harm to others seems a reasonable limitation.

By David Klement

Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersbug College

Jonathan Haidt on why we should “think asteroids”

When Dr. Haidt was in Florida this month, he spoke at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at University of Florida. They did this videotaped interview that features an important concept he shared with us: if we want to succeed in these conversations, we need to think common threats more than common ground. We need to think asteroids.

Something we could stand a little more of.

“After 9/11 we came together as a country and you got this feeling – like you heard in WWII – in the foxholes, there weren’t Democrats or Republicans… there were Americans.” — Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe

Uncle Jay Explains: Incendiary

Play this video

Purple Post: “600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs” (and still we’re uninformed)">My Purple Post: “600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs” (and still we’re uninformed)

monkees 3

(Visit our Purple friends at

Fresh from one of my unique moments of agreement with Glenn Beck yesterday as he riffed righteously on the unmitigated hypocrisy of Senate Democrats, I tuned into Rachel Maddow who was riffing righteously on the unmitigated hypocrisy of Senate Republicans.

They were both completely right.

Or completely half-right. Which makes them both completely wrong.

Beck gigged Democrats who are wailing about the Republicans’ use of the filibuster threat to kill health care when just a few short years ago there was talk of the “tyranny” of the Republican majority wanting to stop a Democratic minority’s right to filibuster.

Maddow set her sights on the Republicans who were arguing for the procedural validity of reconciliation during the Bush administration when they were kings of the hill, now squawking like stuck pigs as the Democrats may use it too.

So half the TV watching audience was treated to the half of reality they liked, other half of the story be darned.

Roger Cohen shed light on the dynamic at work in The New York Times as he described a societal rise of narcissism:

Community — a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions — has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.

These trends are common to all globalized modern democracies, ranging from those that prize individualism, like the United States, to those, like France, where social solidarity is a paramount value.

Beck and Maddow are simply different choices in our national à-la-carte life, and as we pick out what we love to eat, we seem to not recognize we’re eating ourselves to death.

Are we really an America with so little moral compass that we don’t give a flip about staggering acts of hypocrisy unless it’s a staggering act of hypocrisy by someone we dislike?

In their moments of slightly higher statesmanship, Republicans argue that a 51% majority shouldn’t get 100% of what they want and that our system was structured around minority rights. When Democrats are cogent, they argue that a minority shouldn’t essentially have the power to stop all governance by procedural foot-dragging.

Of course, they’re both correct.

The piece they are both missing is where our system demands that they step outside their neat and self-righteous hermetically sealed realities and deal with each other. I mean roll up the ole sleeves and really get in there and work out solutions.

Cohen agrees normal human contact is in short supply, as he recalled a recent stint of jury duty:

Thrown together for two weeks at Brooklyn Supreme Court with 22 other jurors, I was struck by how rare it is now in American life to be gathered, physically, with an array of other folk of different ages, backgrounds, skin colors, beliefs, faiths, tastes, education levels and political convictions and be obliged to work out your differences in order to get the job done.

There’s only one way this is going to turn out well for us as a country and it will be if we willingly walk away from our self congratulatory self-absorption and feel similarly obliged in our political life to work our our differences in order to get the job done. And we’re going to have to expect our elected representatives to do the same, or we should fire them.

The alternative, according to Cohen: “Or we can turn away from each other and, like Narcissus, perish in the contemplation of our own reflections.”

Yesterday Obama and the Republicans met on health care, but I haven’t quite had the courage to turn on the television to see how it turned out.

Should I?
Stay tuned next week for our companion Keith Olbermann piece to last week’s Glenn Beck. The staggering hypocrisy of this week just couldn’t wait.

(Photo credit)

Why the Village Square and Glenn Beck have just about everything and absolutely nothing in common

glenn beck

By Liz Joyner

Perhaps you didn’t know that Glenn Beck is a big fat copy cat and he’s copying me.

I wrote the essay The Square to launch The Village Square more than 3 years before Glenn Beck’s 9/12 project. In it, like Beck, we harkened back to the days after 9/11 as something we might want to emulate.

Like Beck, we have built our concept on the guiding wisdom (and sometimes the manners advice) of our founding fathers.

Finally, we’ve both launched (or in my case am trying to launch) populist movements, although I have to admit that our event attendance (and my salary) is just a wee bit lower than Beck’s. But we both seem to believe in the power of the common man, of “We the People.” (We even have a project called We the People that got us a Knight Foundation grant.)

We’re practically twins!

Except I believe Glenn Beck is currently one of the people most responsible for breaking down civil and civic discourse that The Village Square has been working to restore.

Unlike many others who agree with me about the damage that Beck is doing, I watch Beck’s show and listen to him on the radio. It has led me to some stunning head-exploding moments of weirdness where I agree so fully with an isolated statement he makes or even his basic premise, but his conclusion leads me to wail in abject agony on the floor (literally). People regularly ask me why I am torturing myself.

I do it for you.

So, humbly presented for your consideration is everything I’ve learned about Glenn Beck (and The Village Square):

1. Glenn Beck isn’t always wrong. There are parts of his perspective that would make a constructive contribution to our public debate. (The Village Square isn’t always right.)

2. People I really love really like Glenn Beck. (Weird, but true.)

3. Glenn Beck is smack in the middle of The Big Sort – the grouping of like-minded people resulting in group think to the point of denying factual reality. He needs a good friend or two who thinks his philosophy is nutty and will tell him so, forcing him to moderate just a bit. (Half of The Village Square board thinks the other half is nutty and vice versa.)

4. Glenn Beck’s show is a manifestation of many of the things wrong with our society, both sides of the aisle. We’ve gotten lazy physically and mentally and when we turn on the TV we want drama, intrigue, and self righteous fury all inside of a warm bubble bath of agreement. The show gives us what we’re asking for and don’t be all smug if you’re on the other side of the partisan fury cause you’re asking for it too*. (The Village Square seeks out disagreement as being a fundamental building-block of good decision making and democracy as our founders intended. We should note here that far fewer people are asking for this.)

5. Glenn Beck’s thinking is sloppy. Facts presented, when they are actually factual, lead inevitably to the conclusion he intended to draw from the very beginning. Facts that don’t support his view are simply disregarded. (The Village Square sees good facts as fundamental to drawing good conclusions. Sloppy thinking inevitably leads to bad results as the chickens of the factual distortion come home to roost and your action simply misses the mark…or far worse. Squawk. Squawk.)

6. Glenn Beck’s face is next to a definition of cherry-picking in the dictionary. Sometime he has to throw out half of a whole sentence to make his case because the other half a sentence blows it out of the water. (The Village Square so abhors cherry picking we draw dinner door prizes out of a bowl of 200 numbered cherries to make the point.)

7. Glenn Beck’s show is an emotion looking for facts to support it. (Our primary emotion is abject horror and despair at the quality of the civic dialogue.)

8. We need to remember that it’s not Glenn Beck’s job to govern. He’s even performed the public service of repeatedly reminding us of that, but we seem to not be listening. (OK, so it’s not The Village Square’s job to govern either.)

9. Glenn Beck needs to put down his Swami hat because he cannot read minds or infer intentions from the evil “they” he’s always, well, reading the minds and inferring the intentions of. (The Village Square doesn’t have enough money in the budget for a Swami hat.)

10. Glenn Beck plays a major role in the ramping up of the partisan fury in our national dialog. His nearly day long overreaction every day provokes an equal overreaction on the other side of the aisle against him and a spiraling cycle that may lead – and has led – to a lot of things that are very bad for our country. (Alas, The Village Square doesn’t play a major role in anything nationally. Really people, what is wrong with you?)

11. Glenn Beck seems to be serving an audience who doesn’t even want to hear the other side of the argument thank-you-very-much. By comparison, I might add, the Fox News rubric is to find someone who can make the very weakest case liberals have therefore torpedoing the liberal argument altogether. Icing on the cake if they’re ugly. (The Village Square‘s specifically finds the best argument from each side of the aisle because we want to – uh – solve the problem?)

12. Among a certain percentage of the American population, Beck’s antics are absolutely poisoning the cogent conservative argument that needs to be made YESTERDAY in order to competently solve the current mess we’re in. (Uh, has anyone noticed what Democrats do when they’re all on their own?) While conservatives may get a short term bump from the momentum he creates, it’s like using LSD to study for an exam… not a good long term strategy.

13. While we’re on drug analogies, Glenn Beck sells cocaine masquerading as cod liver oil. (The Village Square sells cod liver oil with a bit of a candy coating to help it go down a smidge better.)

14. I believe that the success of shows like Glenn Beck too often plays to the worst in human nature. (We go for the best, although we understand that the worst is there.)

Given the obvious advantages to our approach over Mr. Beck’s to the business of running a country, I’ve been sitting by the phone waiting for a major network to offer The Village Square our own hour and planning what schtick I can use to replace the blackboard and the red phone.

America’s got a choice to make. My hope springs eternal.

Stay tuned next week to our companion blog post: “Why The Village Square and Keith Olbermann have everything and absolutely nothing in common.”