INEQUALITY IN THE WORKPLACE: It Is Not Illegal Or Immoral To Pay Different Employees With The Same Job Title Different Wages. Here’s Why

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Government efforts to tell business owners how to hire and pay employees continue to be in the news. While I do not represent myself as an expert in this field, I have had the opportunity to work as a middle manager in New York City with one of the largest corporations in the world as well as to own and operate a small business here in Key West. That at least provides a basis for some thoughts and opinions on this topic and, as is my custom, I will share some of those thoughts and opinions with you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: EVERYONE WHO DOES THE SAME WORK IN THE SAME ORGANIZATION SHOULD BE PAID THE SAME. That concept may sound good when uttered by a naive politician looking for votes, but in the real world, it just is not practical. The truth is that, in any large company or other organization, different employees (men and women) with the same job title are paid different salaries. That is the norm, not the exception. Here’s why. Continue reading

NEW RESIDENTIAL PARKING LAW, THE BALLOT PROVISION TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA AND OTHER LOVE STORIES

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper

EARLY VOTING. One more time: If you want to consider yourself a good citizen, you need to register to vote and then vote in every election. There is almost no good reason not to do this. Election day this year is November 4– but Early Voting started last Monday. The Key West location for Early Voting is the Supervisor of Elections Office on Whitehead at Southard. The office is open for Early Voting Monday- Saturday, 8;30am- 5pm. Last day to vote early is Saturday, November 1. On the ballot, voters will see choices for governor, U.S. House of Representatives, several other statewide offices, a County Commission seat, two Mosquito Control seats, a circuit judge runoff, as well as several state constitutional amendments and local referenda. For an advance look at the ballot, log onto the Supervisor of Elections website: keyselections.org

IS LEGALIZED MARIJUANA COMING TO TOWN? Maybe, When you go to vote, you will see a proposed state constitutional amendment that would authorize the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. If approved by a majority of voters, will we soon see a prescription-only pot store on Duval Street? Continue reading

NO AMERICAN BOOTS ON THE GROUND

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With the advances of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist army in Iraq and Syria, America is once again reacting to the argument that we have to confront the bad guys over there or we will have to fight them over here. So our anti-war president has reluctantly authorized the use of American air strikes on ISIS positions. The new war is being supported by a few allies– including even a few Muslim nations. But the President has solemnly promised that there will be no American boots on the ground. Critics, including a number of military experts, quickly came out of the woodwork to point out that, while even “pinprick” air strikes might slow down the ISIS terrorists, somebody’s boots on the ground will be required to defeat them. I want to suggest here that, under the immediate circumstances, the “slow-down-ISIS” strategy may be the right strategy. Continue reading

IT’S ONLY ROCK ‘N ROLL

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My daughter the lawyer calls me an “accidental academic.” After high school, there was no way that I could afford to go to college. So I joined the army and learned how to jump out of airplanes. After the army, I used the GI Bill to finance a degree in journalism and landed a job in public relations with a large corporation based in New York City. It wasn’t long, however, that I realized that an advanced degree would be helpful if I wanted to progress in my career. Also, in the field of public relations, mass persuasion is the name if the game– and I learned that there were entire programs of study being offered by some universities dealing with persuasion and mass communication. Social psychologists had been studying the effects of mass communication for years, but it was just then becoming an independent field of study. So I returned to graduate school to get a masters degree and, a few years later, I went back again and got a Ph.D in mass communication.

One of the ways I paid my tuition in graduate school was to teach one course every quarter– usually journalism 101. But one quarter, journalism school management asked me to teach a course called Mass Communication in Society. Okay, something different. As I reviewed the textbook, I saw that the content of the course was basically what I expected– the effects of various mass communication media. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, etcetera, etcetera. And music. Music? Yep, music as a mass communication medium. Continue reading

BODY CAMERAS FOR COPS?

Chief Lee body cams

Apparently, enough is enough. Use of  excessive force by police officers, that is– real or imagined. More and more police departments across the nation are equipping officers with body cameras that can record both audio and video. The increasing use of this new technology has two goals: (1) Help try to catch cops who might use excessive force during arrests and other interactions with citizens; and (2) To try to protect cops from false allegations by citizens.

Just last week, the New York City Police Department unveiled new body cameras that officers will wear as part of a pilot program to test the technology. One of the cameras being tested is about the size of a pack of cigarettes and weighs 3 ounces. Another camera being tested looks like a small microphone and can be worn on a collar, a baseball cap or helmet or even on the frame of a pair of glasses. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said that he expects the cameras will help to reveal the truth in “he-said-she-said” situations. Continue reading

VOTER ALERT: IN THE WAKE OF THE EIMERS GRAND JURY SCANDAL, STATE ATTORNEY VOGEL IS UP FOR REELECTION IN 2016

Corruption and Justice

Corruption and Justice

State Attorney Catherine Vogel’s office is corrupt. This statement might appear to some readers to be an attempt on my part to be a bit sensational. But it’s not. Informed government-watchers reading this are more likely to simply yawn and silently ask, “So what’s your point?” I have been reporting to my readers for years the varying degrees of corruption on the part of the various residents of the State Attorney’s Office (SAO). I have repeatedly pointed out that prosecutors knowingly allow police officers to present false under-oath testimony against  defendants — including, but not limited to “facts” from falsified police reports.

To grasp the truth of the concept that I am presenting here, you need to understand that the objective of the SAO is not necessarily justice — the objective is to win cases. Continue reading

FOLLOWUP 2: THE BLUE WALL OF SILENCE

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Last week, I again wrote about the Blue Wall of Silence, the unwritten “commandment” in law enforcement that cops don’t rat on cops– no matter how illegal or near-illegal a police officer’s conduct may be. I pointed out that this rule is almost absolute, not only because of peer pressure, but also because, typically, whistle-blowers are not protected by police management. In fact, the law enforcement careers of police officers who are too honest– officers who refuse to play the Blue Wall game– are often destroyed.

The classic example of this truth here in Key West is the case of former police officer Tom Neary. Neary was suspended in October 2007 and finally fired in June 2008, charged with conduct unbecoming a police officer. The official list of allegations against Neary gave the term “trumped up” a whole new meaning. But make no mistake here: The real reason that Neary’s law enforcement career was destroyed is that he threatened to go public with information about a bogus investigation ordered by then-Police Chief Bill Mauldin with the objective of ending the political career of City Commissioner Mark Rossi. Continue reading

FOLLOWUP: BLUE WALL OF SILENCE

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If you are a regular reader of Key West The Newspaper (The Blue Paper), I hope you read John Donnelly’s thoughtful commentary on the “Blue Wall of Silence,” published here two weeks ago. If you missed it, click on “back issues” on this website’s home page and call up the August 8 issue and scroll down to “Police Investigating Police Will Not Expose Criminal Cops– nor Protect Citizens.” Donnelly quotes police officers (anonymously, of course) explaining their “rationale” for failing to speak out or downright lying about other officers who may have broken the rules (at best) or who have maybe even committed a crime (at worst). Continue reading

THE WAR TO END ALL WARS STARTED 100 YEARS AGO

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The fact that various wars, large and small, continue to rage around the world suggests that, sometimes, it’s really easy to start a war. Maybe too easy. Perhaps the classic example of too-easy might be World War I– which started almost exactly 100 years ago. The Great War, the War to End All Wars, started in June 1914, with the assassination of the archduke of Austria-Hungary. Historians did not start calling it World War I until the start of World War II, when it appeared that we were going to have to start numbering our wars. Today, the assassination of a government official of a minor nation might not even be a major news story, much less start a war. But that event triggered a chain of events that would result in the deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians in Europe, as well as thousands of Americans after the US became involved in the war. Continue reading

THE BLUE PAPER AND BILL O’REILLY

Dennis Reeves Cooper with Bill O'Reilly in 2001

Dennis Reeves Cooper with Bill O’Reilly in 2001

Since I have been writing a weekly column for the new Blue Paper online, the editors have periodically accompanied my column with a photo of me appearing with Bill O’Reilly on his show on the Fox News Channel. A number of readers have asked me when and why I was invited to appear on the O’Reilly Factor– the highest rated cable news program. Longtime readers know the story, but new readers may not. So here it is again. Longtime readers please pardon– but we have a lot of new readers.

When I ran Key West The Newspaper, I often pushed the envelope when it came to controversy– as the new editors still do. Back in 2001, one of our prime targets was an out-of-control police department. Needless to say, this pissed off then-Police Chief Buz Dillon. And on June 22 of that year, he used an obscure state law to have me arrested and jailed for writing about an on-going internal investigation. Now while I was confident that those charges would never stand up, the immediate fact was that I was facing criminal charges and that I was going to have to find the money to hire a lawyer and defend myself in court. Beyond that, I was concerned about my reputation and the reputation of my newspaper. Rightly or wrongly, many people assume that anybody arrested and charged is probably guilty. Continue reading

Does Climate Make A Difference?

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Over the past weekend, I binge-watched a TV drama series on Netflix. The story took place in Seattle. It was not about Seattle; it was about a murder mystery. But the outdoor scenes showed the city of Seattle and its climate. Now, I have never been to Seattle but I have always heard that it is cloudy and rainy there almost all the time. And sure enough, the TV presentation showed that. With few exceptions, it was raining or black-cloudy in every outdoor scene. I feel sure that it was not the intent of the producers to present the city in an unfavorable way and, as part of the plot, the actors were not particularly preoccupied with the weather. That is just the way it was. They were almost always walking or running or driving in the rain. Jeez, I kept thinking, how could anybody live in a place like that?! Indeed, when I Googled Seattle and weather, I learned that it does indeed rain a lot there and that the sun rarely shines– and that many residents suffer from depression and that there is a high suicide rate. Go figure. Continue reading

CLIMATE CHANGE: How Do You Sell Florida Keys Real Estate That May Soon Be Underwater?

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Back in the summer of 2009, there was a big meeting up in Marathon about climate change and its implications for the Florida Keys. Officials of the Nature Conservancy and others, quoting reports from international panels of scientists, predicted that by 2100, the Keys will have lost about 59,000 acres of real estate valued at $ 11 billion to rising sea levels. And that, they said, was the best case scenario. The worst case scenario would be that sea level could rise by more than 28 inches, submerging 154,000 acres valued at $ 43 billion.

The spin, in case you haven’t heard, is that the climate is warming and that the polar ice cap is melting, which is causing sea levels to rise. Indeed, sea level here in the Keys has already risen by 9 inches over the last 100 years, according to an Associated Press article published in July of last year– that rise reportedly documented by a tidal gauge operating in the Keys since before the Civil War. Also, perhaps coincidentally, tidal flooding here, once a periodic inconvenience, has become almost routine. Just ask the owners of businesses on the northern end of Duval Street. But having said that, it is also important to report that a large number or scientists and weather experts believe that the Keys-going-underwater scenario is being overstated. Continue reading

A POTPOURRI OF UNSOLICITED OPINION AND COMMENT

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Here is a compilation of opinions and comments that either do not lend themselves to complete columns or which are left over from some of my previously-published columns. Some are tongue-in-cheek and some are reasonably serious. I will leave it up to you to tell the difference.

IRS SCANDAL. For months and months, congressional investigators have been trying the get the IRS to release emails of several high-level IRS employees to see if they were involved in an orchestrated effort to gag political speech of conservative groups before the last presidential election. Finally, in recent days, IRS officials, have reported, with straight faces, that thousands of the requested emails have simply been “lost.” Geez! The dog-ate-my-homework scam didn’t even work in the third grade. Continue reading

SAVING THE WORLD: Where Do We Draw The Line?

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Should Americans continue to try to save the world? If so, it seems pretty obvious that we can’t save it all. And if that is true, how do we pick and choose? Where do we draw the line? And the big question: Is the life of one American soldier worth the lives of the entire population of any Stone Age country? In the wake of the apparent meltdown of government military forces in Iraq, these questions seem appropriate and timely. Since we invaded that country in 2003 to save the people from an evil regime (and to search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction), more than 4000 American soldiers have been killed and thousands more injured, many with pieces of their bodies blown off. The financial investment so far has been estimated at more than $ 1 trillion. Continue reading

HURRICANE SEASON: BOGUS FORECASTS AND PREPARING FOR THE “AFTER”

Hurricane

Hurricane

Last week marked the beginning of the 2014 Hurricane Season and this year, the so-called hurricane experts are predicting a fewer than average number of storms. Of course, they are just guessing. But they have been humiliated over the past couple of years by predicting busy hurricane seasons only to see almost nothing happen. Two of the most famous “experts” are those two guys from Colorado State University– Phil Klotzbach and William Gray. They are famous because, every year, editors across the country pick up and publish the press releases that Klotzbach and Gray send out– without a thought of whether or not their forecasts are anywhere close to accurate. For example, their press release is usually included in the hurricane guides the non-weekly papers here publish every year. But the truth is that those annual forecasts are almost never accurate and absolutely never specific. They predict number of hurricanes– but they don’t even pretend that they know when or where the storms might hit or how powerful they might be. Continue reading

THE PRISONER EXCHANGE: He Did What?!

Prisoner Exchange

Longtime readers know that, of all the adventures I have had in my life, I rank my three years of military service at near the top, especially my time as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne. That time changed my life. I was discharged back into the real world, still young, but way more mature and responsible than before the Army. My brief time in the service does not make me a military expert, but I do have my opinions. Case in point: The prisoner exchange this week that resulted in Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from captivity as the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

I remember what I thought when I heard the national news about Bergdahl’s capture back in 2009. How could that happen? What could the situation have been that would have given the enemy an opportunity to capture an American soldier? Well, subsequent news reports provided that answer– Bergdahl was a deserter! He simply left his post and walked off of his base. But regardless, our military has a tradition that we do not leave soldiers on the battlefield. So, during the five years that Bergdahl was in captivity, his fellow soldiers continued to look for him with the goal of freeing him from captivity. And six of them died in that effort. Continue reading

THE VA HOSPITAL SCANDAL

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The developing scandal at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals makes another strong statement about the sustainability of government-run health care. The problem here–the scandal– is not the quality of health care provided to our vets at the VA hospitals; the problem is access. And the problem of access is the result of sheer government incompetence. Here is a summary of the situation.

For the men and women who commit to serve our country in the military services, one of the commitments our government makes to them in return is to provide health care for life. This commitment is especially critical for veterans of this country’s various wars. That is one hell of a commitment– a commitment that requires professional and creative management to achieve. The problem is that, apparently, professional and creative management seem to be foreign concepts in government.

Recently, we have been hearing a lot about veterans having to wait months to get care at some VA Hospitals. By law, veterans should be able to see a doctor within 30 days after making an appointment. But at some hospitals, veterans have been forced to wait months for care– and some have died while waiting. This alone is scandalous enough. But to hide the fact that these hospitals have not been meeting the 30-day standard required by law, hospital staff has been falsifying appointment records. Now we are moving out of the realm of simple incompetence into the realm of criminal activity. Continue reading

SUPREME COURT RULES THAT SOME FLOATING HOMES MAY NO LONGER BE REGULATED BY FEDERAL ADMIRALTY LAW

Photo: City of Key West Garrison Bight Marina Facebook Page

Photo: City of Key West Garrison Bight Marina Facebook Page

If you still think that you can’t beat city hall, consider Fane Lozman’s story. It started with a dispute over dockage fees for Lozman’s floating home and ended up in the US Supreme Court– and the results of that case may have ramifications for many houseboat owners in Key West.

In 2006, Lozman’s floating home was docked at a city-owned marina in Riviera Beach. Following a dispute over fees, a county court ruling– citing federal admiralty law– resulted in Lozman being evicted from the marina and the seizure and the ultimate destruction of his home. Lozman sued, claiming that federal admiralty law did not apply because his home was not a “vessel.” We can imagine the Riviera Beach City Attorney laughing his backside off when he heard, not only that this was the defense that Lozman was offering– but, also, that Lozman was going to be representing himself in court! Continue reading

LITERATURE OF A LOW ORDER

Sam

Sam was 23 years old in 1860– but he still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He had apprenticed as a printer, but he yearned for adventure.

Sam

Sam

He had briefly considered heading off to South America where he thought he could make some money collecting coca leaves. But before he got too serious about that, he landed a job as an apprentice riverboat pilot.

Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Orion, had been working in Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign in Missouri and, after the election, Lincoln had arranged a political appointment for Orion in the office of the Territorial Governor of Nevada. Sam saw that as a perfect opportunity to experience “The West,” and he cut a deal with his brother to become his paid assistant. So, in July 1861, off they went to Carson City– 19 days by stagecoach from St. Joseph, Missouri. That trip was probably a major adventure all by itself. Continue reading

MOTHER’S DAY

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One of the pleasures of being retired and just writing a weekly column for the new Blue Paper online is being able to sometimes write about subjects that are personal. I rarely did that when I was editor. My page one commentaries were almost always about politics, the police and other “journalism as a contact sport” topics. My column this week is certainly not one of those controversial, hard-hitting topics. In fact, it’s sort of mushy. Not my usual style at all.

My mother’s name was Hazel– one of those wonderful old-fashioned names like Martha, Emma and Pearl. Hazel was born and raised in Wewoka, Oklahoma. Her father– my grandfather– was the station master for the Rock Island Line in Wewoka. Talk about a small town! When Oklahoma became a state in 1907 (only about 10 years before my mother was born), the population of Wewoka was only about 800. Originally located in Indian Territory, Wewoka was, at one time, the national capital of the Seminole Nation. Oil was discovered near Wewoka in 1923.

Hazel Hutchison was the prettiest girl at Wewoka High School. And like many small town girls, she wanted out. Continue reading

Should Judges be Elected Or Appointed?

Justice Not Blind

In Florida, appeals judges and state Supreme Court judges are appointed by the governor from lists provided by a nominating committee. Circuit and County Court Judges are elected by the people. All you need to run for judge is a law degree. Some say that a judge is simply an attorney who has gotten a promotion– or, in some cases, a demotion if you consider income. But if you have ever appeared before a judge at any level, you know how powerful these people are. Thus the continuing debate over whether judges should be appointed by the governor or elected by the people. The question is timely since the seats of three of the four Circuit Court Judges here are up for grabs in the upcoming elections– Judges Mark Jones, Tegan Slaton and Luis Garcia.

Jones and Slaton have announced challengers. So far, Garcia does not, but candidates have until May 2 to qualify. Circuit Court Judge David Audlin is not up for reelection this year– but he has just announced that he is stepping down from the bench May 9 with four years left on his term. He has not said why. According to Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin, Audlin’s replacement will be selected by the governor, since his resignation date is too late for candidates to qualify for the July 26 primary election. None of the four County Court Judges here are up for reelection. Both District and County Judges serve six-year terms. Continue reading

TALKIN’ BASEBALL

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“I’m talkin’ baseball
Kluzewski, Campanella
The Man and Bobby Feller
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newk
They knew ‘em all from Boston to Dubuque
Especially Willie, Mickey and the Duke”

“Talkin’ Baseball”
Terry Cashman, 1981

Major league baseball opened a new season a few weeks ago and opening day always takes my memory back to when I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma– when baseball was my life. I was the catcher on my neighborhood team and, on the weekends and all summer, all we did is play baseball. Most of us were 12 years old or thereabouts. I don’t recall that there was any announced schedule or even a regular location.

All I remember is that we played baseball every day that we didn’t have to go to school and, sometimes, we played into the evening until we couldn’t see the ball anymore. Sometimes we played as part of a youth league, but mostly not. When we were part of a league, we got a little coaching and maybe some matching t-shirts. And we didn’t have to supply our own equipment. But mostly we played “independent,” challenging other neighborhood teams. A problem with that was finding a place to play.

HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT JOINING THE PEACE CORPS?

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Have you ever thought about joining the Peace Corps– not only to experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but also to help others in need in less-developed countries? Well, if you have, you have a unique opportunity to get inside information about service in the Peace Corps at a special event scheduled here next Thursday afternoon, April 17, 1-2pm, at the Key West Public Library at 700 Fleming Street. Steve Hunsicker, the Peace Corps recruiter for South Florida, will host the event. Steve served as a Peace Corp volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga for two years 2007-09. He will talk about some of his experiences as a volunteer in Tonga, as well as answer questions about serving in the Peace Corps and the application process.

Since the Peace Corps was created, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide. Thirty-six of those volunteers have been from Key West, including Richard Hatch, owner of the popular Blue Heaven Restaurant here. He served in Gabon, in central Africa, 1983-85, teaching math and English– in French. Key Wester Kate Ahern is a brand new Peace Corps volunteer. Within a few months, she will be leaving to serve in Panama.

Actually, I can tell you something about the application process. I have applied to serve and I am well into the year-long application process. Yeah, yeah, if you know me, I know what you must be thinking. Continue reading

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN PRACTICED ADVOCACY JOURNALISM

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Benjamin Franklin has got to be a role model for anyone who makes or has made his or her living as a publisher. We all learned about Benjamin Franklin in school– the statesman, diplomat, scientist, inventor and a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But he started as a printer and a publisher.

At the age of 12, Ben became an apprentice to his brother James, a Boston printer, and learned the printing trade. Three years later, in 1721, James Franklin founded the New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. Back then, logically, printers also often became publishers. They had the presses, paper and ink. But newspaper publishing was a risky business for printers. Printers had to be licensed by the British government– and printer/publishers who dared to offend the government could quickly find themselves not only de-licensed, but also jailed. And that is exactly what happened to James Franklin. Keep in mind that, before the creation of the United States of America, there was no freedom of the press. Continue reading

CLIMATE CHANGE: IS THE SKY FALLING?

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Last week, the United States Senate held an all-nighter to call attention to the threat of climate change. You don’t have to convince me that the climate is changing. I watch the National Geographic and Discovery channels a lot and I have learned that climate change is natural. It’s been going on for millions of years. In fact, starting back about two million years ago, the climate of the Earth repeatedly shifted back and forth between very cold periods to very warm periods. During the cold periods, glaciers covered much of the world. And during the warm periods (global warming), much of the ice melted, presumably submerging much of the low-lying land around the world. There weren’t any civilizations back then, but if there had been, it is possible that, during one of the warm periods, a reporter in Chicago may have written, “Scientists are predicting that the climate is changing and that Chicago will be completely destroyed by a glacier within the next century. Congress is continuing to debate the passage of laws to try to prevent the climate from changing. But the good news is that the scientists are also predicting that we’ll get five great lakes out of this.” Continue reading

PROPAGANDA

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Last week, I wrote about the alleged power of the press and told you that it may not be as powerful as you may have thought. A well-established academic theory known as “Agenda Setting” holds that mass communication is not very effective in persuading people concerning what to THINK; but it can be quite effective in persuading people concerning what to THINK ABOUT. In the years before I founded Key West The Newspaper (The Blue Paper) here in 1994, I earned an advanced degree in mass communication and spent a number of years in advertising and public relations in New York City and Philadelphia, as well as down here in Florida. I also taught these topics, as well as journalism and marketing, at the college level. So I was exposed to the “academics” of mass communication.

Many critics dismiss advertising and public relations simply as “spin”– efforts to manipulate a hapless population. In essence, PROPAGANDA. But if we can accept the Theory of Agenda Setting, we have to accept the fact that, in most cases, even the best efforts of advertising and public relations professionals can persuade only a percentage of their audiences to even THINK ABOUT the ideas they are attempting to communicate. But that is no small deal– because, if the message being communicated is truthful and attention-grabbing, a percentage of the audience will not only think about it, they will accept and act on it. Continue reading

THE “POWER” OF THE PRESS

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Everybody has their own opinions about the “media.” Some say that the media is too powerful and often unfair. Others recognize the important role the media plays in our democracy. Keep in mind that journalism is the only business specifically protected by no less than the First Amendment of the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .” The founders saw the “power of the press” as a that of a government watchdog, as well as a catalyst for discussion of public issues.

I have always been fascinated by the mass communication media. In fact, I was fascinated enough to pursue college degrees in the field, including a doctorate in mass communication. Before I founded Key West The Newspaper (KWTN) in 1994, I spent more than 20 years working in virtually every facet of mass communication– advertising, public relations, writing and teaching. Do you want me to tell you how powerful the press really is, according to the academic literature? I’ll do that at the end of this column. You might be surprised. Continue reading

WHY COPS WANT TO BE COPS

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, over the years, we published a number of stories about police officers. Although we have certainly published lots of favorable stories about police officers and the police department, most of the stories were about officers who beat the hell out of somebody for no good reason, officers who tried to enforce laws that don’t exist or officers who got caught lying on their police reports. Let’s face it. When police officers break the law, it’s news.

Many think our police reporting has helped make a difference in Key West. Our editorial support is one reason there is a Citizen Review Board (CRB) here, an independent city agency that reviews complaints against police officers. Before the CRB, citizen complaints often just disappeared into a black hole at the police department. We also made new free speech law in Florida. Citizens who file complaints against police officers are no longer prohibited from speaking to the press about their complaints during active investigations.

Because we didn’t beat around the bush when reporting corruption and incompetence in the police department, some readers told us that we were “picking on” the department. Not at all. We were just reporting the truth. For example, several years ago, our critics said we were unfairly picking on Officer Michael Beerbower when we reported that, more than once, he punched handcuffed suspects in the face and, sometimes, after he had punched them a couple of times, he also pepper-sprayed them in the face. But everything we wrote about Beerbower was true– and subsequently, he lost his job and was prosecuted by the state attorney’s office. Continue reading

INCOME EQUALITY: FIGURING IT OUT

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President Obama says that he wants to make income inequality– the growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans– the defining issue during 2014. He points with alarm to the fact that distribution of economic gain is increasingly favoring a small percentage of the population– those who are already well off. Duh! Why would anyone find that surprising, much less somehow illogical? But to Obama, it is simply unfair for a corporate CEO to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, while a high school dropout working at a fast food restaurant makes minimum wage. And in the president’s mind, that can be fixed by simply taking money from those in our society who have figured out how to be successful and giving it to those who haven’t figured it out– in essence, redistribution of wealth.

The fact is, however– except maybe in Sherwood Forest– taking from the rich and giving to the poor is not going to have much impact on the problem of income inequality. Continue reading

A LOOK BACK ON STORIES IN THE NEWS 2006- 2008– WISTERIA ISLAND AND MORE

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

A couple of weeks ago, we looked back on some of the stories of the year during 2000- 2005. This week, let’s re-look at a few more recent stories, starting with 2006.

During 2006, beleaguered City Manager Julio Avael was still trying desperately to hold on to the job he had held since 1996. Even before the city elections in 2005, he knew he was in trouble when several of the city commission candidates were promising to dump him if elected. His response to this was classic Avael. Just a few weeks before the election, he tried to slip a contract extension onto the commission agenda. The plan was that his cronies on the lame-duck commission would quietly approve the contract extension before any of those pesky anti-Avael candidates could take office. But when the press picked up on this story, the plot imploded. We have told you before and we’ll tell you again– we don’t make this stuff up.

Avael was right to be concerned. After the election, the mayor and commissioners actually discussed firing Avael on the spot, but opted instead to give him a one-year “transitional” contract to give themselves adequate time to search for and hire a new city manager. Humiliated, Avael announced that he had planned to retire anyway. But that wasn’t the case at all. To Avael, the transitional extension just gave him another year to try to convince at least four members of the commission to give him a multi-year contract. Part of that plan was to try to curry favor with the newly-elected members of the commission. For example, he openly fixed a job for a longtime buddy of new City Commissioner Danny Kolhage. And, suddenly, Kolhage became one of Avael’s defenders on the commission. Continue reading

STORIES OF THE YEAR FROM BACK IN HISTORY

Dennis Reeves Cooper on Fox O'Reilly show

Dennis Reeves Cooper being interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel in 2001. Cooper founded the Blue Paper in 1994 and was editor and publisher for 18 years before he retired in 2012.

When I was editor of Key West The Newspaper– the Blue Paper– back in the “old days,” we published a “Story of the Year” feature at the end of each year. Here’s a look back at a few years of those stories.

2000. Our Story of the Year of the year 2000 was the defeat of 20-year incumbent State Attorney Kirk Zuelch at the polls. Few election-watchers thought that could happen. After two decades in the office, Zuelch was thought to be too powerful, too entrenched to get voted out of office. Zuelch was so comfortable in office that he no longer even tried to hide his use of his position to forward the objectives of his powerbroker pals. Selective enforcement of the law was routine. And it was in your face. It was said that Zuelch could even make judges quake beneath their robes. Lawyers with clients facing prosecution by Zuelch’s office often advised their clients to take just about any plea offer coming from the state attorney’s office (SAO) because “the judges do not often rule against Zuelch.”

A PERSONAL NOTE: We here at the Blue Paper were never among Kirk Zuelch’s best friends. For years, we repeatedly published stories that exposed corruption inside the SAO. Less than a year after the voters ousted Zuelch from office in 2000, Key West Police Chief Buz Dillon had me arrested for writing something he didn’t like– and the case went to the SAO for prosecution. New State Attorney Mark Kohl refused to prosecute because, he said, the law Dillon used to have me arrested was unconstitutional. He was right. A couple of years later, a panel of three federal judges did rule 3-0 that the law was, indeed, unconstitutional– and new free speech law was made in Florida. However, had Zuelch still been in office, it is unlikely that he would have made the same decision that Kohl made. In fact, it is quite likely that Zuelch would have enthusiastically gone forward with prosecution. I and my ACLU lawyers would have eventually won in court– but had Zuelch still been in office, things would have been way different for me for a couple of years as the case worked its way through the courts. Continue reading

FORMER CITY MANAGER JULIO AVAEL WAS JUST NOT VERY GOOD AT PICKING POLICE CHIEFS

Dennis Reeves Cooper on Fox O'Reilly show June 2001

Dennis Reeves Cooper on Fox News, ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, June 2001

In last week’s column, I looked back into history to re-report to you how former Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin was tricked into resigning after getting caught sexually harassing his public information manager. But in researching that story, it occurred to me that the Mauldin scandal was just a part of former City Manager Julio Avael’s strange legacy when it came to the appointment of police chiefs. He just wasn’t very good at it.

In Key West, the city manager appoints the police chief. The City Charter is very specific in spelling out that the mayor and the the commissioners have no say in this. So the city manager has complete discretion to hire and fire his “boy” at his pleasure. Avael served as city manager for 12 years, from 1996 until 2008, when he was finally forced to retire from city government in disgrace. One of his first actions was to fire Police Chief Ray Peterson, one of the best police chiefs in the history of the city. Peterson’s crime? He reportedly had called in the FBI to investigate corruption in city government.

To replace Peterson, Avael promoted John Kirvin to police chief in November 1997. That appointment didn’t work out all that well. Kirvin lasted less than three months in the job. He resigned in January 1998 after somebody phoned in a death threat.

For his next appointment, Avael decided to go all out. Continue reading

1991: THE FAT BOY CONNECTION

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Because I edited and published the Blue Paper from the first issue in January 1994 until my retirement last year, one of my assignments as a columnist for the new Blue Paper on line is to periodically go back and dredge up some of the more bizarre stories we published back in the old days. One of the biggest scandal stories Key West The Newspaper was covering back in 1996 and 1997 was then-City Manager Julio Avael’s continuing vendetta against then-Police Chief Ray Peterson– despite the fact that Peterson was one of the most popular police chiefs in the city’s history.

But Avael had been virtually ordered to fire Peterson by then-Mayor Dennis Wardlow, supported by several other “Bubba” city commissioners. You see, they blamed Peterson for calling in the FBI to investigate corruption in city government and that investigation had resulted in the indictment of Mayor Wardlow. The mayor was subsequently acquitted. But payback is a bitch. Avael concocted a dozen or so charges against Peterson and the chief was eventually forced to retire– although his settlement included a letter noting that all charges against him were unfounded.

MORE TOP STORIES OVER THE YEARS

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Phd

Dennis Reeves Cooper

 

NOTE: Dennis Reeves Cooper, Phd. founded Key West The Newspaper (the “Blue Paper”) in 1994 and was editor and publisher until his retirement last November. Apparently, he is up for at least one more adventure, so he has now applied to serve in the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, he is contributing a weekly column to the Blue Paper on line.

WHAT’S A BUQUEBUS?

I had the opportunity to go down to the city-owned ferry terminal at the foot of Caroline Street a few days ago to meet with Sue Srch, the executive director of the Citizen Review Board (CRB). That’s where the CRB office is located. I had not been in the terminal for several years– and it reminded me of a little scandal story we had covered back in 1996. The city commission passed a resolution “strongly supporting the efforts of Buquebus Inc to establish Naples-to-Key West ferry service.” At the Blue Paper, we thought that resolution was a little strange. Yes, such a service would potentially bring dollars to Key West. And the company was even promising to build a ferry terminal here. But all kinds of companies are always promising to bring business to Key West– and they don’t get special resolutions from the city commission supporting their efforts. After asking around, here is what we learned: Continue reading

TOP STORIES OVER THE YEARS

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Phd

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

 

If you are a longtime reader of the Key West The Newspaper, you may know that I retired last November after running the paper for 18 years. But I may have one more adventure in me, so I have applied to join the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, I told new owners Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new online venture, including an occasional look back at stories that appeared in the Blue Paper over the years.

In 2003, Key West The Newspaper was 10 years old. On page one of the January 3, 2003, issue, we did a look-back at various stories that we had published during our first decade. If you are a longtime reader of KWTN, see if this doesn’t take you for a ride down memory lane. If you haven’t been reading KWTN since 1994, rest assured that I am not making this stuff up. Continue reading

THE DAY THE BLUE PAPER ALMOST TOOK OVER SOLARES HILL

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Phd

Dennis Reeves Cooper

If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you may know that I retired last November after running the paper for 18 years. But I may have one more adventure in me, so I have applied to join the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, I told new publishers Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new online venture. The start point to my piece this week is a blockbuster story (my opinion) that broke in the Key West Citizen last Friday. I bet you didn’t know that the Blue Paper almost took over the publication of Solares Hill newspaper back in 1998.

In a fit of budget-cutting last week, the Key West Citizen finally put the ax to Solares Hill newspaper, one of the longtime icons of Key West journalism. As part of the blood-letting, Editor Mark Howell and Associate Editor Nadja Hansen both lost their jobs. Before the Citizen bought the belly-up publication for a song back in 1998, it had been published off and on since 1971, usually every-other-week with vacation time off during the summer. It only became a weekly in 1994 after Key West The Newspaper (KWTN) hit the streets as a 52-weeks-a-year publication. Continue reading

THE POWER OF THE CRB [Police Citizen Review Board]

Dennis Reeves Cooper on Fox O'Reilly show

Former KWTN Publsiher Dennis Reeves Cooper on Bill O’Reilly’s show on the Fox News Channel in June of 2001

If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, after 18 years of publishing The Blue Paper, I retired last November. Since that time, I have been finishing up several personal projects– like sorting out 18 years of back issues to donate to the history department at the library. I also have a Peace Corps application pending– I have at least one more adventure left in me. So while I am waiting to go to Africa or somewhere, I told Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new on-line venture. Those contributions might be news stories or opinion pieces– or re-publication of special stories that have appeared in KWTN over the years. This week, I have some comments about a story currently in the news.

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There was a page one article in the Key West Citizen last week about a local man being turned away when he went to the police station to file a written complaint against a police officer who has allegedly been harassing him for at least a year. Scooter deliveryman Kenneth Lawrence told the Citizen Review Board (CRB) that when he went to the police station to file a complaint against motorcycle officer Randall Hartle, Sgt. Robert Allen simply refused to take his complaint.

The members of the CRB voted unanimously to recommend to Police Chief Donie Lee that he formally reprimand Allen for “deficient service” and they asked that Lee meet with CRB Chairman Larry Beaver and Executive Director Sue Srch to discuss changes to the police complaint process.

As a longtime police watcher, here’s my take on this. Continue reading

THE BUBBA BUSTS REVISITED

If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, after 18 years of publishing The Blue Paper, I retired last November. Since that time, I have been finishing up several personal projects– like sorting out 18 years of back issues to donate to the history department at the library. I also have a Peace Corps application pending. I have at least one more adventure left in me.

So while I am waiting to go to Africa or somewhere, I told Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new on-line venture. Those contributions might be news stories or opinion pieces, if I get pissed off about something. But I have to tell you, as a retired guy, I don’t get anywhere near as pissed off at politicians and police as I used to.

Another thing I might do for the Blue Paper while I’m waiting to take off on my new adventure is to re-publish some of the more interesting stories we published over the years. That’s what I have done this week. Back in 1995, the now-famous Mark Howell and David Mock researched and revisited the so-called Bubba Busts of 1975 and 1985. (As you may know, Mark Howell now edits Solares Hill.)

Their story originally appeared in Key West The Newspaper on February 17, 1995. It was updated and re-published on July 25, 2003, adding info about the 1995 Bubba Bust.

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Anyone who looks back over Key West history for the last 20 years or so will note that, about the middle of every decade— almost like clockwork— the feds swoop down and make what has come to be called a “Bubba Bust.” It happened in 1975, 1985 and again in 1995.

Continue reading