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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.

Tariffs, Trade, And Thinking About Holidays

After 54 years of decorating for Christmas, I'm grateful that I have all the things I ever will need – and probably a few more.  It's an especially good thing this year, when the president promises us that he will raise tariffs.  That, by the way, is the term for taxes on imported goods.  The "duty free" shops you see in international airports are there because the items they offer are tariff-free, and therefore presumed to be cheaper.  This is sometimes true in European airports, but seldom here.  It just means the government doesn't get a share of what you spend. 


So, as the White House hopes you don't understand, higher tariffs axiomatically mean higher prices.  Right now the White House is particularly at economic war with China – so I'm encouraging you to look at your holiday ornaments and tell me how many don't come from there.  Although few Chinese people are Christians, they have made an industry of Christmas.  I've often wondered, while doing the decorations, what those factory workers think about us when they churn out angels and manger scenes.  I hope that someone shows them photos of beautifully decorated American homes, so they can understand the effect of their work. 


It's especially appreciated this year, when our loony-tunes president has "ordered" American companies to stop trading with China.   It's been forever since holiday items and other small household goods were made in America, and those manufacturing jobs aren't ever coming back.  Like our president, instead of making things, we make deals.  We pass paper, create inexplicable hedge funds, and sue each other.  We have become the nation that New York financier Alexander Hamilton wanted, not the agricultural world of Thomas Jefferson in western Virginia.  Moreover, we are well on our way to destroying what little remains of our farming foundation, as Trump's tirades with the leaders of China, Cuba, and other nations means our farmers have lost countless customers who happily bought from us under Obama.


But back to "ordered."  The quote from a midnight tweet-fest in France said that American companies "are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China."  Ordered!  There seems to be no end to the things that Little Donny didn't learn in school.  Under our Constitution, the president cannot order private corporations to adopt his personal purchasing preferences.  Even Congress doubtless would face court battles if it adopted such an "order," especially in peacetime.  Limitations on what government can do, in fact, is a fundamental difference between capitalism and communism. 


There are many graduations of global political, economic, and cultural systems (and few have worked out the way their founders envisioned), but it is generally true that in capitalism, the economic role of government is intended to be limited.  If the president truly thinks that he can order American companies to adopt his biases, it only demonstrates that this top Republican – and many of his supporters – are not the capitalists they claim to be. 


Instead, they are authoritarians who are behaving exactly as the authoritarians in China, Russia, and other nations where leaders do control the economy and indeed can order people around.  Because of that, such nations can hang in on a trade war much longer than we will be willing to do.  So do your holiday shopping now:  the shelves may be empty in December.


When Things Matter Most, That's When We Can't Talk About Them


Sunshine State News is a conservative-leaning online source that recently published this:  "After a mass shooting in Texas intensified a partisan divide about immigration, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida has decided to postpone a statewide 'listening tour' focused on the controversial topic.  'The rhetoric is so charged across the political spectrum that in order to have a truly productive listening tour we've decided to delay.'"  In other words, because people care so much, we won't listen to them.


Joe Gruters chairs the Florida Republican Party (more on that later), and he doubtless expected that his six-city, dog-and-pony show would play well with his party's donors.  Instead of having conversations about immigration in places like Wimauma and Immokalee -- where workers who toil in the fields and groves actually know something about immigration -- his hearings were scheduled for affluent towns such as Venice and St. Petersburg.  Gruters and his pals probably hoped to garner some dollars by railing against non-existent "sanctuary cities" and pushing the myth of voter fraud by people too poor and too frightened ever to consider going to the polls. 


By the way, did you see that the first person prosecuted under the new database that compares voters by state is a Trump supporter?  He voted in California and Nevada – five times, and always Republican.  I've been advocating for such data for years, and I'm glad to see it beginning to happen.  I've wanted it ever since two arrogant white men told me that because they own property in more than one state, they had the right to vote both here and Up North.  They were sure that this was legal and that their money entitled them to multiple ballots.  No wonder Trump abolished his "voter fraud" commission almost as soon as it started.


But back to Joe Gruters.  Not only is he the elected chair of the state's Republicans, he also is a state senator.  He is elected from parts of Sarasota and Charlotte counties (the affluent parts, I'm sure), and he apparently sees no problem with ignoring Democrats in his district to instead carry two titles and serve two masters.  Nor was he the first such in that party:  Blaise Ingoglia set the precedent in 2014.  After he was elected to represent the Brooksville and Springhill area, Ingoglia successfully ran for the state Republican chairmanship. 


He defeated the incumbent woman, who did not serve two masters.  No Democrat ever has done this, not even during the many decades when Democrats dominated Florida.  None even thought of pretending that they could fairly represent their constituents of the opposite party, while also leading the parade for partisanship.  It's an important point, and the media has given it almost no attention.


Sounding Off On Sound


I was on Fowler Avenue near USF last week when a car pulled next to me with a sound system so loud that its waves shook my own car.  I mentioned this to the friend I met for lunch, and she said that she frequently sees kids in her affluent suburb who have the earbuds in their ears loud enough that she can hear their music from a distance.  We agreed that it is one of the things that makes us less reluctant to see our life spans running down; the cemetery probably will be quiet.


I told her about conversations with our dear Jim Davis, a terrific congressman who should have won his race for governor in 2006.  Jim always was/is more visionary than the average pol, so I talked with him about hearing loss as a public health issue.  I urged him, when elected, to assemble audiologists, get the data, and push legislation to insist that people turn down the noise.  That didn't happen, of course, as Floridians opted for Republican governors with short-term, no-risk-to-me mentalities.


The fact remains, though, that we are raising a generation of teens who will be deaf by middle age.  I'm predicting that literally millions of Floridians will need hearing aids soon, and because neither government health insurance programs nor most private ones cover hearing, people will just turn the volume even higher.  I strongly hope that we elect a new president and Senate next year, but even if they mandate insurance coverage, we still will need preventative sound control.  Everyone will benefit -- and you no longer will not have to endure those who assume that their taste in music is the same as yours.


Actually, we shouldn't have needed this legislation in the first place, as way back in the 1980s, State Senator Betty Easley of Pinellas passed legislation on sound.  It was well researched and detailed the decibels allowed under different circumstances, but the law never was adequately enforced.  Almost no one now knows that it still is on the books, but I hope someone will resurrect it – with explicit ties to law enforcement budgets.  The "broken windows" theory of policing is valid:  if you arrest a kid who breaks a window, you have a much better chance of breaking bad habits.  And protecting his ears and yours.


A Little Lesson In Life And Legislation


I think that perhaps Betty Easley's legislation was not enforced because it passed so easily.  This seems a contradiction, but more controversial bills get more attention – including from the folks who will enforce the new laws.  She was a Republican in the days when Democrats controlled everything, but she was smart, fun to be around, and the guys liked to vote her way without particularly caring what the bill said.  She died long ago of lung cancer, and yes, she was a smoker. 


I had another friend in Tallahassee at the time who most decidedly did not smoke.  Linda Vaughn was a lobbyist for the American Lung Association and worked to ban smoking in public buildings.  Most politicos were addicted to cigarettes, and capitol meeting rooms literally were smoke filled.  Everyone laughed at Linda -- but her goal long since has been achieved.  She went on to lobby for the Brady Gun Control group, but died before that goal was won.  It will be, I've no doubt.  The lesson here, however, is that passing laws is not enough.  They need to be enforced, and an important part of that enforcement is social shunning of the offenders. 


I'm not going to get close enough to the loud-music offenders to try, but I certainly shall avoid being around them as much as possible.  I told my friend that if I had money to invest, I'd open a restaurant called "Calm."  It would have thick carpets to absorb sound, as well as other architecture to discourage reverberations.  If there were any background music at all, it would be low and classical.  Staff would be trained to keep their voices down, and diners wouldn't have to shout to converse.  You can go someplace more hip if you like, but I know there is a clientele for Calm.  We could talk there.



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