Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Reading

Where’d Everybody Go? — Florida’s population is shrinking, which is fine for traffic but terrible for schools and revenue.

The smiling couple barreling ahead on the cover of Liberty magazine in 1926 knew exactly where to go. “Florida or Bust,” said the white paint on the car doors. “Four wheels, no brakes.”

Sandra Woodward, 25, who grew up in Hollywood, said she was considering leaving.

So it has been for a century, as Florida welcomed thousands of newcomers every week, year after year, becoming the nation’s fourth-most-populous state with about 16 million people in 2000.

Imagine the shock, then, to discover that traffic is now heading the other way. That’s right, the Sunshine State is shrinking.

Choked by a record level of foreclosures and unemployment, along with a helping of disillusionment, the state’s population declined by 58,000 people from April 2008 to April 2009, according to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Except for the years around World Wars I and II, it was the state’s first population loss since at least 1900.

“It’s dramatic,” said Stanley K. Smith, an economics professor at the University of Florida who compiled the report. “You have a state that was booming and has been a leader in population growth for the last 100 years that suddenly has seen a substantial shift.”

The loss is more than a data point. Growth gave Florida its notorious flip-flop and flower-print swagger. Life could be carefree under the sun because, as a famous state tourism advertisement put it in 1986, “The rules are different here.”

But what if they are not? Or if those Florida rules — an approach that made growth paramount in the state’s sales pitch, self-image and revenue structure — no longer apply?

“It’s got to be a real psychological blow,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who predicted that census data in December would confirm the findings. “I don’t know if you can take a whole state to a psychiatrist, but the whole Florida economy was based on migration flows.”

Continued below the fold.

Trading Places — The embargo against Cuba still stands, although American-made products are getting through.

President Obama’s decision in April to lift the limit on visits by Cuban Americans to their homeland was seen by some as a sign that the embargo, centerpiece of U.S. efforts to isolate the island, might be nearing its final days.

Don’t count on it.

The president can weaken the embargo, but only Congress can rescind it. Embargo supporters in both houses, including Florida lawmakers from each party, remain confident they have the votes.

But something more nuanced is happening, a slow erosion:

• Miami Herald reporters visiting the island found that, embargo or no embargo, huge stockpiles of American-made goods are finding their way to Cuba — sometimes legally, often not. From sunglasses to jetliners, if it’s made here, you can probably find it there, although often at an exorbitant price.

Loopholes carved into the embargo in recent years have helped make the United States Cuba’s top supplier of food and agricultural products and its fifth-largest trading partner.

• A persistent campaign by farm-state Republicans and business interests to junk the embargo has shifted its focus to chipping away at it piece by piece.

Their probable next target: the rule that prevents Americans not of Cuban descent from traveling to Cuba as tourists. Longtime opponents of the embargo have filed three bills this year that would do just that. Advocates insist the idea has gained traction — and the backing of a diverse coalition of groups ranging from the American Farm Bureau to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Human Rights Watch.

”The theory is that travel is the thread that will unravel the whole sweater of the embargo,” said Dan Erickson, a senior associate at the Inter-American Dialogue and author of The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution.

Majority Rules — The New York Times tells the Democrats to Just Do It.

The talk in Washington is that Senate Democrats are preparing to push through health care reforms using parliamentary procedures that will allow a simple majority to prevail in their chamber, as it does in the House, instead of the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster that Senate Republicans are sure to mount.

With the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, the Democrats do not have the votes just among their 57 members (and the two independents) to break a filibuster, and not all of these can be counted on to vote in lock step. If the Democrats want to enact health care reform this year, they appear to have little choice but to adopt a high-risk, go-it-alone, majority-rules strategy.

We say this with considerable regret because a bipartisan compromise would be the surest way to achieve comprehensive reforms with broad public support. But the ideological split between the parties is too wide — and the animosities too deep — for that to be possible.

In recent weeks, it has become inescapably clear that Republicans are unlikely to vote for substantial reform this year.


Clearly the reconciliation approach is a risky and less desirable way to enact comprehensive health care reforms. The only worse approach would be to retreat to modest gestures in an effort to win Republican acquiescence. It is barely possible that the Senate Finance Committee might pull off a miracle and devise a comprehensive solution that could win broad support, or get one or more Republicans to vote to break a filibuster. If not, the Democrats need to push for as much reform as possible through majority vote.

From Screen to Stage — How movies become musicals instead of the other way around.

SEATTLE — As opening night approached early this month for the new musical “Catch Me if You Can,” about a con man on the run from the F.B.I., the director Jack O’Brien and his creative team were making changes to the production here almost hourly. Dialogue was added; dialogue was dropped. The pacing of some scenes was stepped up. Actors’ hand gestures and body language were tweaked. And one entire section — “mostly nuts-and-bolts exposition” — was excised entirely.

What Mr. O’Brien did not do — did not even contemplate doing, he said — was turn for last-minute inspiration to the commercially successful 2002 film by Steven Spielberg that is the basis for the musical (and shares its title). Mr. O’Brien directed the Broadway productions of “Hairspray” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which were also created from movies, and he said he believed it was essential to reimagine the original movies, add new layers to the stories and characters and demonstrate clearly to audiences why a theatrical version of a popular film is warranted.

“The ones that usually don’t work are the musicals that are slavish to the original movie,” Mr. O’Brien said over breakfast with the rest of the “Catch Me” creative team. “I’m not going to talk about any specific musicals. But there are some movies that have an inherent theatricality, where you can imagine these characters singing and dancing. And there are others that simply don’t.”

Doonesbury — Change is not good.