Tag Archives: politics

Compendium of Florida facts and follies links the loony, lousy and laughable

Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, by Craig Pittman. St. Martin’s Press. 336 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Already a New York Times best-seller, this book belongs in every Florida home. No, it’s not a hurricane survival guide, rather it’s a rambling encyclopedia of Florida freakiness. It reminds us of what we have been surviving while warning others to enter at their own risk. Craig Pittman is the literary entrepreneur of what’s odd – and yet often trendsetting – about our populous state with the seemingly endless coastline. It’s local color with a laugh and a blush.  ohflorida

Mr. Pittman presents his learning, lore, and laughs in eighteen friendly chapters, perhaps to make us think we are strolling along on a Florida golf course. Having established a central focus for each chapter, he generally stays in bounds even while addressing Florida hazards. Every now and then, Craig Pittman does need to take an extra stroke penalty.

There’s something called “school of beauties” criticism, not very well respected, in which the critic simply oohs and aahs and quotes passages. I’m tempted to go there, but then I wouldn’t know how or when to stop. Readers will find their own favorite passages in this delightful romp. So, here are some of the themes and categories:

Florida is, and has been forever, a land of hucksters. Think swampland, think Cape Coral, think rum-running, think of a rainy, often overcast state that named itself the Sunshine State.

Craig Pittman - Photo byCherie Diez

Craig Pittman – Photo by Cherie Diez

Florida is a land of “surface flash” that leads people to overlook truly interesting architecture. Why stand gaga in front of Cinderella’s Castle when you can find ten Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on the Lakeland campus of Florida Southern College?

Florida is the land of mermaids and manatees, alligators and armadillos. That’s enough freakiness for one state. But we have more. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the October 5, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 6 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Pittman

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Punta Gorda author works for fair, full, and informed voter participation

Make Democracy Work Again: A Blueprint for the 2016 Election and Beyond, by Teresa Jenkins. Book Broker Publishers. 362 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

Playing off the principle slogan of the Trump campaign, with its implicit racial and cultural elitism, Teresa Jenkins has crafted a mighty call for a strong resurgence of true democracy as viewed from the left side of the political pulpit.  makedemocracyworkcover5-19-16

The author presents a carefully researched and reasoned argument that is really three arguments in one. The first strives to extoll the virtues of what enemies would call big government. Ms. Jenkins applauds having a government big enough to continue the social benefits that, beginning with FDR, the Democratic liberal-leaning agenda has brought forth. She sees these accomplishments, from Social Security to the Affordable Care Act, as part of a continuum that must keep advancing.

Her second argument is for the absolute necessity of respectful political debate in which the contest is truly one of ideas, not slogans or name-calling or fear-mongering.

The third argument calls for the widest possible enfranchisement of citizen voters. The more that citizens embrace the ballot box and all the other means of engagement that shape government action, the more the American Dream is realized. This outcome requires self-education and open-minded listening.



Twelve tightly organized chapters, each compressing a heap of fact and a measure of passionate, honest opinion, drive home Teresa Jenkins’ concerns. First comes a historical overview of our major political parties, focusing on changes that evolved through the second half of the 20th century and continue today. Pivotal figures are President Nixon, Newt Gingrich, and George Wallace.

The second chapter establishes a pattern of analyzing and criticizing Republican policies and politics. Though she always sets the issues in the context of each party’s stance and rhetoric, Ms. Jenkins’ emphasis on Republican negatives does not allow much room for Democratic positives. I’m not sure how effective this strategy will be in winning over anyone from the enemy camp. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 21, 2016 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Jenkins

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Insider view deepens legal thriller’s insights

Blame, by Linda Rocker. Wheatmark. 286 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

Linda Rocker’s new novel follows Punishment (2012) and precedes Innocence, which will conclude her trilogy. This simply-named novel is also well named. One thing readers learn from the book is that many are blamed but few are guilty. The rush to blame a person or persons for an unpleasant occurrence  comes more out of emotional need than from any reasonable assessment of motive and evidence.  BLAMEFrontCover

When Jeffrey Klauser takes his own life, shortly before his wedding day, the young man is not allowed to be thought accountable for his actions. Something or someone must have driven him to this desperate end. Should we blame the girlfriend who exhibited hesitation about marrying a drug addict? The doctor who may have overprescribed medication for pain? The parents who failed to take his problems seriously?

The actors in the legal system will frame the issue so a verdict allows for the transition from blame to guilt, both a moral and a societal label.

Ms. Rocker, from her many years of trial experience as a litigator and judge, allows us a close-up examination of the system, including the strengths and frailties of those charged with making it work. A trial is many different things to the many people involved.

To prosecutor and State’s Attorney Charlie Graham, it is the step to public adoration that will win him a judgeship, perhaps the held by Janet Kanterman, whom he will try to discredit through his manipulation of the case brought against Dr. Neil Hammer – the pain specialist. To Mrs. Klauser, the suicide’s mother and the driving force behind this case, it is about blame and revenge. Mrs. Klauser’s need is interpreted by the narrator as resulting from her buried guilt over her poor parenting.

Inside of the courtroom drama, which focuses in part on the overreaching of Charlie Graham, are several other story lines. One of these follows the romance between Casey Portman, Judge Kanterman’s bailiff, and the much older but thoroughly attractive Sheriff Luke Anderson. Missed signals in communication and expectation have led to a major rupture in their relationship.

Linda Rocker - photo by Randi Rosen

Linda Rocker – photo by Randi Rosen

Casey is angry and despondent, and things get much worse when she is attacked – raped and severely beaten – by a mob hit man who was just after his twisted kind of fun. The man was actually in the courthouse following a totally separate case from that of the pain doctor trial. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 27, 3014 Naples Florida Weekly, the December 3 Fort Myers edtion, and the December 4 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here  Florida Weekly – Blame

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Teenage girls are hell in Neapolitan mystery novel

Naples: Paradise Can Be Deadly, by Diane Ketcham. Tidelow Press. 312 pages. Trade paper $14.95.

Ms. Ketcham’s New York journalist A. J. (Agatha Jasmine) Billings is staying real close to her boyfriend, Naples area congressman James “Whit” Whitman. The couple is making the all the right moves to enhance Republican Party chances in the upcoming elections. There are fundraisers galore, many focused on the re-election of Carson Wicklow, chairman of the governing county commission. “Jazz” is enjoying her hot relationship with Whit, though she’s a bit perturbed at having her identity reduced to the woman in his life. After all, she is – or has been – an independent somebody.  KetchamCoverHigh

As one might expect in a mystery story, there is trouble in Paradise. A young man has vanished without a trace, leaving his tennis playing girlfriend, an acquaintance of Jazz, getting nowhere with the local constabulary. They just don’t take her missing person complaint seriously. Jazz tries to help, but she too is stonewalled. What’s going on here?

Worse, Commissioner Wicklow’s gorgeous teenage daughter Cara, who has been incarcerated in a hard case private school for troublesome girls – for her own good – is found dead. At first her death looks like suicide, but a closer look suggests murder.

What’s a somewhat bored award-winning journalist to do? Check out the secretive school and the teenager’s friends, that’s what. Why not connect with her boss-editor at the New York paper and get assigned to do a feature on this weird school and the even weirder sorority whose initiation rites are extraordinarily perverse . . . and dangerous?

There is one person who is likely to give Jazz the best insights into Cara, and that is her twin sister Chasen, who has been somewhat reclusive since the murder. Yes, I said twin sister. Use your imagination.

The tenuous state of Jazz’s love life and domestic life is a cause of additional suspense throughout the novel. Her large diarrhea-prone Labrador Retriever is not at all welcome in the condo where she and Wit live, and confrontations with the condo overlords threaten.

And why is Wit spending so much time with Mara, the former stepmother to Wicklow’s twins? Is it just election campaign business – or something more? Jazz’s lover is not so much a loverboy now that she is plying her journalistic trade; he seems rather standoffish and preoccupied. What’s the problem?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 25, 2013  Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 26 Naples and Bonita Springs issues, click here  Florida Weekly – Ketcham 1 and here Florida Weekly – Ketcham 2.

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Obama, the Tea Party, and invisible change

Obama and America’s Political Future, by Theda Skocpol. Daniel Carpenter, Foreword. Larry M. Bartels, Commentary, Mickey Edwards, Commentary, Suzanne Mettler, Commentary. Harvard University Press. 206 pages. $26.95.

Providing a context of American political history while building a cogent contrast with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s situation as he took on the Great Depression, Professor Skocpol tries to account for the many conflicting perceptions about President Obama’s leadership. 

She calls Obama’s New Deal the “Halfway New Deal,” wrestling with the issue of whether he should have tried to put through more or fewer reformist programs. She notes that the American voter had only seen the tip of the recession iceberg when Obama took office, and their dismay at its full dimensions contrasted sharply with the situation in Roosevelt’s presidency when the Depression already had the country in its firm grip and both Congress and the public were ready for innovative, remedial change. . . .

To read the full text of this citybookreview.com contribution, click here:  Obama and America’s Political Future | CityBookReview.com

See also my https://philjason.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/revealing-the-surprising-progress-of-obamas-agenda-for-change/

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BOOK BEAT 30 – S.V. Dáte

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   February 7-13, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

For years, readers have known  as Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post and as the critically acclaimed author of five zany, satirical novels about Florida and Florida politics. But after the last of these novels, Dáte turned his attention to political biography. In 2004 came the highly regarded Quiet Passion: A Biography of Senator Bob Graham. Now comes a thought-provoking and chilling treatment of Florida’s two-term governor Jeb Bush, a man of enormous talent whom Dáte give us reasons to fear if (or, rather, when) he offers himself for the presidency. The perspective is that of an aggressive journalist who has been a professional Jeb-watcher through the entire reign, who has dared to ask the embarrassing – though often simply factual – questions, and who has paid for his independence. 

Jeb! America’s Next Bush – which hits bookstores on February 15 and can be ordered now through the online booksellers – will warm the hearts of liberals and be attacked by the fans of the self-proclaimed “fair and balanced” news empire. That much is predictable. The question: will it persuade those in the expansive middle of America’s political spectrum that Jeb Bush is a threat to democracy and to broadly-shared American values. For this middle-of-the-roader, Dáte’s arguments – arguments firmly supported by evidence – are compelling.

 Dáte worries that Bush’s push to privatize major government services is too extreme and too driven by unreasoned ideology while blind to measurable, factual consequences. The major case in point is the failed school voucher system that turned taxpayer dollars into vouchers into assets for private institutions that were not held accountable for their performance. By outsourcing education to the private (or nongovernmental) sector, Bush placed a faith in the free market in an area for which that faith could not be justified. At the same time, public education was undermined.

The very same voucher issue illustrates Dáte’s concern that Bush’s policies undermine the separation of church and state. While some might argue that the separation theory is itself a shaky one, there is no question that favored denominational religious institutions have been funded with taxpayer dollars through the voucher system, and that enrollment in such a voucher-supported or voucher-dependent school brings the additional price of being held hostage to religious ideology. Though Dáte does not go quite this far in his claims, one can sense a dangerous circle in which the religious right raises money for Conservative candidates like Jeb Bush who work to put taxpayer money right back into the pockets and proselytizing ventures of the right’s religious institutions. Finding church (or certain churches) and state in this kind of embrace is certainly worrisome.

On these and other matters, Dáte finds Bush’s policies at odds with Florida’s state constitution. But Jeb Bush is not the kind of person who would let something like a constitution stand in his way. He will circumvent it. Why? Because he is always right and because he – according to Dáte – operates like someone anointed rather than elected.

The main thread running through the book is that of an Imperial Governorship. Though the style is different, the stance is much like brother George: we know what we’re doing – get out of the way and don’t ask questions. Dáte traces this royal stance to a privileged childhood and easy entrance into the corridors of wealth and power. Though Jeb believes he is a self-made man whose success is simply the result of his merits and his industry, Dáte makes it clear that many doors where opened to Jeb because of his family’s influence. Jeb Bush acts as one born to rule. He shows little patience with the legislative and judicial branches of government, and even less patience with reporters who won’t simply regurgitate press releases from the governor’s office. Because he is smarter, more a master of detail, more articulate, more ambitious, more hands-on, and far more charismatic than his older brother George W., Jeb may be even more dangerous in wielding presidential power. This book can be highly recommended to anyone concerned with the dynamics of American politics. Especially revealing is Dáte’s group portrait of the assumptions and methods of an American political dynasty.

Who is this guy making trouble for Jeb Bush’s political future? Born in India, S. V. Dáte came to the U. S. as a child. He majored in Political Science at Stanford and became a journalist upon graduation. Before coming to the Palm Beach Post, he worked for the Middletown (N.Y.) Times-Herald Record and then the Orlando Sentinel. His first novel, Final Orbit, a murder mystery set aboard NASA’s space shuttle Columbia, was published by Avon in 1997. His subsequent novels, Speed Week, Smokeout, Deep Water, and Black Sunshine, are darkly satiric thrillers that have been praised in the New York Times and the Washington Post and featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” All four were published by Putnam. Dáte’s new book and its immediate predecessor are published by Penguin’s Tarcher imprint.

As part of the launch tour for his new book, Dáte will be a featured speaker at the Naples Writers’ Conference and Authors & Books Festival at International College. His fifth appearance at this five-year old event makes him the record-holder. On February 24 at 3:15pm, Dáte will address conference attendees on “The Art of Biography” and sign his new book. All are welcome to the book signing, which will begin about 4:15pm. Seating for the presentation is limited. That evening, he will visit the Naples Borders at 7:30pm. For information about the conference, call 593-1488 or visit the website authorsandbooksfestival.org. To learn more about this multi-genre author, visit svdate.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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