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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.

Pets, Paper, and Plastic

Valeria, my longtime cat, follows a strict procedure policy for eating. 

·      Step 1 – Sit by the broom closet until Mom notices that she is hungry, even if the scary vacuum cleaner is in sight.

·      Step 2 – Run out of the pet door to the garage as soon as Mom gets a can of cat food.

·      Step 3 – Sniff it to make sure Mom isn't trying to poison her.

·      Step 4 – Stare out the garage door for potential thieves on the deck.

·      Step 5 – Eat.

Speaking of Valeria reminds me of grocery shopping, as I go to the store only when she is out of cat food, as well as her favorite substitutes – sardines, cheese, and especially spray whipped cream.  Many other cats preceded her, and they have been my major motivation for our Mango Publix since it opened in 1986.  So I remember when big brown paper bags were the only option, and no one asked what type of bag you wanted.  Then there was the era of "paper or plastic?" and now it's just "is plastic ok?" 


It is ok for me now, but sometimes in the past, I took the opportunity to lecture about paper being a renewable resource that comes from pine trees -- which are beneficial to the environment while they grow – but plastic comes from petroleum, of which there is a limited supply.  After use, paper reduces itself to nothing, while plastic lives forever in landfills or wherever rednecks toss it.  


Most clerks looked at me in astonishment, but that is not the reason I now simply reply "ok."  It's because of the bone spurs in my spine, which make it difficult to raise the paper bags to get the arm support needed for carrying.  Plastic bags come with handy handles that allow them to be at about knee level, and when going from car to house, it's much easier to tackle three or more bags. 


The obvious solution?  Paper bags with paper handles.  Publix used to do this occasionally, probably at the holidays when bags are heavy with extra food.  Let's encourage them and others to do that again.  Paper bags with paper handles.  And at restaurants, biodegradable paper boxes instead of styrofoam.  Paper everywhere, instead of these forms of petroleum.  There's been a lot of talk lately about plastic drinking straws, but small as they are, that is the least of the problem.  Yet I remember when they, too, were made from paper.  We have become way too much of a society that follows every new and shiny trend, without nearly enough thought.  Call it leadership, Publix and other businesses, and step up to the plate.


Good News Happening Now:  National Popular Vote


You probably recall that I (and others) have been writing about the Electoral College since Hillary won 3 million more votes than Trumpster, yet lost the election.  This happened in 2000, too, when the Supreme Court declared Dubya the winner, even though more Americans voted for Al Gore.  And I've written about the 1876 election, when the Democratic nominee could have restarted the Civil War had he insisted that his popular vote victory be acknowledged by the Electoral College.  Samuel Tilden kindly put the nation's interests ahead of his own, as did Gore and Clinton.  (Interesting, isn't it, that all three were Democrats, while the math-defying bullies were Republicans.)


I've also bemoaned the difficulty of correcting this wrong, given that the only way to overturn Supreme Court decisions is to amend the Constitution – and that requires 2/3 of both houses of Congress, as well as ratification by ¾ of the state legislatures.  That is a huge hurdle any time, and virtually impossible in these partisan days.  What it means for us Floridians, however, is that voters in the eight states with populations smaller than Hillsborough County's cast ballots for president that, in the Electoral College, are worth about 16 times more than one of our votes here in Florida. 


I've detailed that math before, and it does not merit repeating – but in the last few years, smarter people than I have figured out an alternative to the 1789 Constitution.  Remember that when it was adopted, only a relative handful of people voted:  all of them white and male and usually declared Christians with substantial property.  Clustered on the East Coast as they were, with the Post Office providing the only means of communication, the founding fathers could not possibly have envisioned a modern presidential campaign with millions of voters across thousands of miles and involving radio, television, computers, telephones that act as computers, and more.  I think that most of them would agree that the Electoral College they created is indeed an anachronism. 


So some creative folks are proposing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  You can look it up for more context, but basically, because the Constitution left voting rights to the states, this is an agreement between the states (and DC) that they will award all their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote.  As legislative sessions wound down recently, there have been significant victories:  Colorado, Delaware, and New Mexico have signed on or will do so in the next few days.  With the states that already are part of the compact, NPVIC is up to 189 electoral votes – or 70% of what is needed for a majority.


The e-mail I got about this was dated May 15, and several legislatures still were in session.  Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon have taken steps for adoption, and NPVIC also is targeting Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia.  Florida, of course, was not among the states where democracy is respected.  Representative Joe Geller – whom I remember from the good old days of Sunshine – and our own Senator Darryl Rouson introduced the compact here, but it went nowhere.  Leaders in both houses lack interest in real democracy, and as far as I can tell, the issue didn't even get a committee hearing.


But I trust that other states again will save us from ourselves.  That was the case when we women finally got the vote, despite our own legislators consistently voting against us.  Florida's last vote against women's vote was in 1919, and in 1969, the Florida legislature retroactively ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution that granted it.  This year, some Tallahassee women put energy into a commemorative resolution, as on June 6, we will observe the 100th anniversary of Florida's failure to act.  Again, as far as I know, this year's resolution on the anniversary went nowhere.  I think partly that is because legislators are ashamed of our past, but mostly it's because most of them are too busy looking out for their own interests.  Few have any inclination to learn from history.


Please let me remind you, too, that the last time the Florida Senate elected a female president was two decades ago, in 1998, and our House never has been led by a woman.  Few states have such a poor record.


Good News (Almost) Achieved


You may also recall that I wrote a couple of years ago about Florida's statue in the national capitol.  Civil rights hero Mary McLeod Bethune is slated to replace Confederate General Kirby Smith, who already is sitting in a basement corner instead of the prominent place he had earlier.  Congresswoman Kathy Castor led this charge; it passed the 2018 legislature; but for reasons I don't understand, the implementing legislation seems to be still sitting on the governor's desk – even though we have a different governor and even though Bethune-Cookman University has promised to cover costs.  Make some calls about this delay, will you?


The good news I want to tell you about, though, is that other states seem to be doing the same.  My sister in Arkansas sent a newspaper clipping that showed Governor Asa Hutchinson – a Republican – signing legislation to replace two white, male, 19th century deadheads with new statues.  This is not to denigrate the 19th century, which is my favorite historical era, but instead to acknowledge that the plantation owners who ran things back then acknowledged the wrong people, and a re-do is overdue.


So Arkansas' images of U.M. Rose, an attorney who supported the Confederacy, and of James Clarke, a populist governor allied with the "Silver Party" of that day, presumably will join Florida's Kirby Smith in the capitol basement.  In their places will go statues of Daisy Bates, who led school integration when I was in school, and of Johnny Cash, a songwriter who spoke to poverty, prison, and the pain of American Indians.  Cash grew up in Dyess, a New Deal planned community that saved (white) sharecroppers who had endured major Mississippi River floods.  His daughter, contemporary singer/songwriter Roseanne Cash, commented:  "He said quite often that he loved every rock, every tree, every clod of earth in Dyess."


It being unlikely that Alabama would drop its capitol image of Confederate General "Fighting Joe" Wheeler, Congress took independent action in 2005 to add a statue of Alabama civil rights activist Rosa Parks.  This trend of replacing white men with black women isn't simply being trendy:  It is a major retelling of our national past that includes those formerly excluded and thus reaches out to young people.  Congresswoman Castor was motivated to act on the Smith statue after being embarrassed to explain to visiting Florida students that this honorable place was held by a Confederate general -- who lived in Florida only for the first five years of his life.  As if we have no one more deserving.  It's way past time.  Tell the governor to get the lead out.



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