Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Reading

Is Florida Shrinking? You Wish — Carl Hiaasen looks at the 0.3% dip in the population here in the Sunshine State.

For decades, the state’s fiscal base has relied on exuberantly mismanaged growth. Since 1950, the population has more than sextupled. The stampede was gleefully abetted by short-sighted politicians and fueled by the twin attractions of mild climate and low taxes.

The underfunded infrastructure had no chance of keeping up with the influx, and the result made headlines for everyone to see: gridlocked highways, jam-packed schools, high crime, water shortages and a spate of other urban problems — including higher and higher taxes.

It’s no surprise that the three counties that lost the most residents — Broward, Lee and Palm Beach — are among the most overdeveloped, overcrowded and expensive places to live.

There is no sustainable model for an economy that depends on a constant stream of new residents. Migration inevitably slows, and sometimes even slips into reverse.

Anyone shocked by what’s happening in Florida hasn’t been paying attention. A more appropriate reaction to this puny population slide is concern (if you’re a banker or a builder), gastric distress (if you’re a tax collector), and very cautious optimism if you’re somebody who moved here hoping for a certain quality of life.

The place has been totally out of control for too long. In the absence of responsible political leadership, it took a crushing recession to expose the Ponzi formula that made Florida look so prosperous.

Now, hundreds of thousands of homes and condos sit empty — unfinished, unsold or foreclosed. Local governments that run on revenues from sales taxes and property taxes are slashing services. Many small businesses are closing, big businesses are laying off workers, and new jobs are scarce.

So some folks are hitting the road. That’s what people do to survive in tough times.

Yet the suggestion that Florida is emptying out, as appealing as it might be to many who stay, is premature. According to Stan Smith at UF, about half the state’s counties actually gained population last year.

He predicts that, as the national economy recovers, people will resume migrating here. If so, they won’t be arriving at the crazed-lemming pace of 1,100-per-day, as in the boom years.

Meanwhile, we’ll try to scrape by with only 18.7 million souls, and a per-acre density higher than California’s.

A modest population shrinkage of 58,000 might be historic for a place like Florida, but it’s not a shock.

It’s more like a start.

Continued below the fold.

Frank Rich on the president’s long, hot summer.

It’s not, as those on the right would have us believe, that Obama’s ideas are so “liberal” that the American public recoiled. It’s that much of the public didn’t know what his ideas were. Even now I’m not convinced that most Americans know what a “public option” really means or what Obama’s precise position on it is. But I’d bet that many more have a working definition of “death panels.” The 24-hour news cycle abhors a vacuum, and the liars and crazies filled it while Obama waited for his deus ex machina descent onto center stage.

That he let the hard-core base of a leaderless minority party drive the debate only diminished his stature. That’s why his poll numbers on “leadership” declined. The right-wing fringe has become so deranged that it will yank its kids out of school to protest the president and risk yanking more Americans off assembly lines by boycotting General Motors to protest the administration’s Detroit bailout. Even Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich stepped in last week to defend Obama’s classroom homily from the fusillades by some of their own party’s most prominent ideologues. The White House should have landed a punch before they did.

Obama would have looked stronger if he’d stood up more proactively to the screamers along the way, or at least to the ones not packing guns. As the Roosevelt biographer Jean Edward Smith has reminded us, it didn’t harm the New Deal for F.D.R. to tell a national radio audience on election eve 1936 that he welcomed the “hatred” of his enemies. Indeed Obama instantly gained a foot or two in height Wednesday night once that South Carolina clown hollered “You lie!” (One wonders what this congressman calls the Republican governor of his own state, Mark Sanford.) As the political analyst Charlie Cook has pointed out, Obama’s leadership poll numbers have also suffered from his repeated deference to Congress. Waiting for the pettifogging small-state potentates of both parties in the Senate’s Gang of Six is as farcical as waiting for Godot.


When we look back on these months, we may come to realize that there were in fact “death panels” threatening Americans all along — but they were on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and on Wall Street, not in the fine print of a health care bill on Capitol Hill. Obama’s deliberative brand of wait-and-then-pounce leadership let him squeak — barely — through the summer. The real crises already gathering won’t wait for him to stand back and calculate the precise moment to spring the next Do-or-Die Speech.

Gay is the new Black on TV this fall.

I’m glad there are more gay characters on TV these days. But I don’t want to single the gay ones out, because that would imply that I think gay people are different than everyone else. They’re not different! Gay people are just like straight people, only they’re smarter and funnier and more interesting.

Also, they smell better. They’ve read more books, sure. And they have more friends — that part isn’t surprising. Because they’re better educated, generally speaking, and also a little wiser. Like blondes, they have more fun.

When people talk about homos taking over the planet, my heart races a little faster. A planet ruled by gays! Imagine how good the scones will be!

Plus, there’ll be prettier yards, less crime, more funding for the arts but less bad poetry, fewer rude, disheveled dogs roaming loose on the streets, and less weak coffee. I’m guessing there aren’t many gay Hummer owners. McMansions would surely fall out of fashion, along with miniblinds, vinyl siding and Applebee’s.

Everyone would be grumpier and bossier on the outside, but more kindhearted deep down inside. Complaining about your crappy day would become an acceptable form of filibustering in Congress. Neglecting your houseplants would become punishable by law.

What, now I’m just making sweeping generalizations? Now it’s obvious that I think gay people are silly and overly fixated on trivial matters and other likable things like that? Now I’m just pandering to the future global elite in the hopes that I might one day fill some token fag hag post in the cabinet?

Wolverine vs. 007 — Two actors best known for their action-hero alter egos take the stage on Broadway this fall.

Rarely do fans have the thrill of seeing two of their favorite testosterone-charged action heroes square off. But Daniel Craig (Mr. Bond) and Hugh Jackman (Mr., well, just Wolverine) are offering a variation on that theme on Broadway this month in “A Steady Rain,” a dark portrait of two Chicago cops whose close friendship corrodes from suspicion, betrayal and lethal rivalry.

Be forewarned: The death match between the two characters is fought more with words than bullets or blades. Yet the two actors, during a recent interview over lunch, facetiously sought to reassure their admirers (men and women alike) of at least a little blow-’em-up-and-beefcake.

“There’s one mud-wrestling scene between us, yes, but I’m afraid that’s all we can offer,” Mr. Jackman said, deadpan.

“And there’s one explosion — medium-big, pretty impressive,” Mr. Craig added.

“And a few cars crashes,” Mr. Jackman said.

“And Hugh of course flies onto the stage.”

Enormous expectations have awaited “A Steady Rain,” which was originally produced by Chicago Dramatists in 2007 and began previews at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on Thursday, starting with curiosity about the chemistry between the two stars. “That was the biggest unknown for me,” the playwright, Keith Huff, said.

Doonesbury — Town hall wrap.