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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

NAFTA, Newspaper Renewals, and the “White House Boys”

Because I peruse the Sunday newspaper advertising sections, I noticed recently that a grocery store had a box of fresh blackberries for less than $3. This may sound inconsequential, but it has meaning. First you should know that blackberries grow in only a fairly narrow band of the United States. It was too cold for them in Massachusetts, where Hubby and I bought our first home, and it’s too hot for them in Florida, where we have lived since 1972. They are not greenhouse material, so nowhere in the US could you have gotten fresh blackberries in February a generation ago. We, the purchasing public, quickly have come to take for granted such horticultural and transportation miracles, but they are revolutionary in the human diet.

When I picked wild blackberries back in my Arkansas youth, only a few weeks at the peak of summer offered berries that were neither green nor dead. Picking them was not fun, as sweat would soak into the scratches that their brambles made on legs and arms. But mom sent my brothers and me out to the damp parts of nearby woods to find ripe ones, and she canned or froze them for the many months of the year when none would be available. That we now can get blackberries and blueberries and raspberries and countless other items of fresh produce in February and at a reasonable price is largely due to another Arkansan, Bill Clinton, and his advocacy of NAFTA.

The North American Free Trade Act was strongly opposed by many people in and out of Congress, including most of our trade union friends. Hubby, who long has been active in the AFL-CIO, had particular difficulty with this issue: most union members regurgitated the protective instincts of their employers, who historically insisted on import taxes or other barriers that make the price of goods from foreign nations artificially high. Hubby, however, is a believer in globalism, including world peace via free trade. Nations cannot refuse to buy and sell to each other and also expect peaceful, productive relationships.

Bill Clinton understood that point and had the courage to argue against many of those who had supported his candidacy. I remember our representative at the time, the Honorable Jim Davis, asking for advice on this politically painful fight between friends. I think he ultimately voted with the president; in any case, NAFTA passed. The result is that now you can buy fresh blackberries from Latin America in February, where the weather is the equivalent of our August. Count that as still another unnoticed economic achievement that Democratic leadership has brought you.

* * *

Thinking about Sunday advertising supplements returns me to another argument in which I’m often lonely. Because newspapers repeatedly say they are losing money, most people believe that -- but I want to ask you to count the lines of advertising vs. content and think again. Although electronic alternatives certainly are cutting the number of subscribers, putting free content online was a management decision that didn’t have to be made – and more than that, ads continue to fill as many actual printed pages as in the past. Instead, I think corporate complaints are based in outrageous profit expectations.

This is especially true of papers with out-of-town owners, as is the case with the Tampa Tribune; its modern owners first were based in Richmond and now in Los Angeles. Because these guys don’t know their audience, they developed a pattern of laying off writers valued by many readers. This seems especially true of women: I still miss columnist Judy Hill, feature writer Suzie Siegel, as well as editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau. Management recently had the bad sense to let go Michelle Bearden, whose weekly page on religious issues won national recognition.

Although the Tampa Bay Times isn’t particularly better than Mother Trib about featuring women, its editorial policies generally are more enlightened. So for years, Tribune columnist Steve Otto and political reporter William (“Windy”) March were the only reasons I continued to subscribe to the Trib. I had told each of them that I would be canceling my subscription if they ever were forced into retirement. Steve was – briefly – but apparently enough readers objected that he now is back on a semi-regular basis.

That was semi-satisfying, but then at a holiday party, I heard that Windy was not on a well-deserved post-election break as I assumed, but instead had been dismissed. “Windy” is not an appropriate nickname, as he is anything but boastful: he’s modest, reasonable, and respectful to everyone in the political game, and his writing truly is fair and balanced. It takes years to build connections with people who believe a reporter can be trusted, and he earned that golden place -- but apparently the Tribune’s LA owners didn’t value it. I’m glad to learn that the Associated Press will be using his talents, but I shall miss his local presence.

Mother Trib’s letter-to-the-editor section also continues to decline. The last guy who did a good job, Joe Brown, was too conservative for my taste, but at least he had some standards for inclusion. I don’t know if the Trib gets fewer letters than it used to or if the current editor plays favorites, but back then, no one could have a letter published more than once a month. Now certain writers appear much more often. I don’t know any of them, but all are conservative. Moreover, when Rosemary Goudreau headed that department, contributors were rewarded with honors for letter-of-the-month and an annual lunch. That’s long gone, another example of the Tribune’s diminishing civic commitment.

I also factor into my decision about canceling the fact that both local dailies run the same bridge column, another example of a lack of management creativity. The Times even runs more comics than the Trib, and in my assessment, the sole thing that the Tampa paper has going for it now is “Today in History.” I’m not sure that’s enough to keep me loyal when renewal time comes around. After 43 years, I may cancel.

* * *

I’m sure you know of the “White House Boys,” the topic of last Friday’s League of Women Voters lunch. They were prisoners at the notorious north Florida reformatory that, since 1967, has been called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. It existed for more than a century, from 1900 until its closure in 2011 -- and during that time, dozens of boys died and were buried without explanation or ceremony or grave markers. They are called the White House Boys because they survived beatings in a concrete white house, where the walls still are stained with blood. Boys were required to watch their friends whipped, some to the point of death.

This happened to both blacks and whites, with the white house in the middle of a segregated campus. Investigations of the institution in the Panhandle town of Marianna have been conducted over the years, but experts agree that they were largely whitewashes intended to favor the Department of Corrections, not its young wards. A 1982 investigation, for example, found boys who had been hung by the noose from cell bars; some were hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks, until death from “natural causes” seemed plausible. Given that the prison was open until very recently, it’s entirely possible that some of the wardens who tortured, raped, and beat these kids to death still are alive and living nearby. I’m grateful that US Senator Bill Nelson has asked the US Department of Justice to intervene, as I do not trust state government to seek honest answers.

No one around Marianna wants to talk about that or about the woods where bodies have been found in unmarked graves. That amplifies the courage of USF anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle: A slim blonde, she nonetheless intrepidly has gone where no one welcomes her. She leads her students in the use of ground penetrating radar and finds bodies that she was told were not there. She spoke to the League about this dangerous and under-funded work without complaint or even concern about her personal safety. Although she still looks young, Dr. Kimmerle already had demonstrated her abilities by doing forensic science to identify victims of the Bosnian war, working under the aegis of the United Nations. My question for USF: why isn’t this outstanding representative of our university a full professor?

The second speaker was Ben Montgomery, the Tampa Bay Times reporter who broke the story several years ago, while Dozier still was operating. I have to confess that my initial interest in Dozier was because the first reports were co-written with Waveney Ann Moore, who is the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, and because somehow I learned that Ben Montgomery is from the same small college in Arkansas that Hubby and I are. Ben’s beautiful and thoughtful writing made him a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in local reporting. (By the way, he’s another journalist that Mother Trib has lost to the Times; he worked for the Tampa paper until 2006.)

League of Women Voters president Shirley Arcuri did me the honor of seating the sole White House Boy in attendance, Bill Price of Valrico, next to me. When I asked what offense he had committed to be sent to Dozier, he quietly replied that he never was charged even with a misdemeanor: his parents simply considered to be troublesome teenager, and they dropped him off on their way to California in 1966. He was there for 2 ½ years, until he was old enough to be drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. In his time at Dozier, he was sent to the white house four times: three days after his arrival; twice when he tried to run away (and was returned by Marianna residents); and the last time just before he went into the military. He considered his 25 lashes with a metal-studded leather belt to have been “not that bad,” as he witnessed smaller boys receive worse beatings.

The state-owned Dozier land is being advertised for sale, and many residents hope that they can lure another distribution center akin to the one on the other side of the interstate. Given that bodies of young boys we Floridians failed to protect probably still are there, that would be a disgrace. I’m looking for legislators willing to stop any sale and redeem this dishonored ground.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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