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Heat Wave 2011: States Cut Programs Helping Families Pay Electric Bills

22 July, 2011 (04:42) | Uncategorized | By: Pamela Lyn

As the article points out many of the states hit hardest by this summer’s heat have drasticall­y cut or eliminated programs that help the poor pay to adequately cool their homes. The cruel paradox of this already deadly scenario is that many of the leaders of these same states have vehemently denied “global warming”; opposed investing in green technology­; and repeatedly & loudly decried “big government­” until of course, a natural disaster strikes.

Now in the face of high unemployme­nt and requests for assistance­, an economy drained by over a decade of war spending, Wall Street manipulati­on, and a lack of tax revenues has left even the most well intentione­d state government­s have been forced to make deep cuts in aid to the poor, the elderly and the most vulnerable­. Recent extreme weather will compound problems by not only posing serious health risks but also by impacting the costs of everything from food to clothing. Due to prolonged drought and scorching heat, crop losses will result in higher prices for everything from beef to corn to cotton.

So what have our political leaders been quibbling about for the past few months: raising the debt ceiling; making cuts to social safety nets like Medicaid & Social Security; and making sure that the rich do not pay a dime more in taxes.

Hopefully, all of this will still be fresh in the minds of the voters in November 2012.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

!Women Art Revolution – A Secret History

9 June, 2011 (14:46) | feminism | By: mgyerman

History doesn’t happen in a vacuum.   Often the individual steps it takes to get from Point A to Point B can only be understood as stops and starts — until the journey has been underway for decades.  Then it is possible to look back and say with an element of recognition, “I get it.”

In the documentary, !Women Art Revoltution—A Secret History, artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson seams together forty years of her personal interviews with friends and colleagues to capture the story of Feminist Art.  In 2007, that creative output was described by critic Blake Gopnik as “the most important artistic movement since World War II.”

Hershman Leeson narrates her footage, stating without reserve that the timeline for the film is her own.  She is clear about the fact that “much is left out.” Regardless, watching the convergence of the feminist art movement with the rising awareness that led to “women’s liberation,” gives plenty to view and digest.

For those who didn’t live through the tumultuous 60s, separate dynamics are named as the factors for a seismic cultural shift.  The Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers, Vietnam and anti-war activism all set the stage for another upheaval.  It was during the protests at the 1968 Miss America pageant, Hershman Leeson suggests, that “art and politics fused, and then transfused.”

Artists are documented during different periods of their careers. They come on camera, reflecting on and often revising their previous beliefs.  At the very beginning, Nancy Spero says that at first in women’s art, “Everyone felt isolated.”  Hannah Wilke comments dryly, “It’s hard to know you’re being censored when you’re not in a museum to begin with.”  Howardena Pindell reflects on the challenges of coming up “both as a woman and a black person.”  “It was,” she said, “daunting.”  Yet these single voices eventually found that they were not alone, and melded into a sort of unison.  However, like any other forged alliance, there were disparate points of views and eventually major disagreements.

One element that united them was their alienation from the prevailing art current of the day, Minimalism, which promoted art as a higher form devoid of content.  It was what was being exhibited and taught academically.

For many women, it did not reflect the landscape.  Adrian Piper felt that against the backdrop of the Kent State killings and civil unrest, her work needed to be “more concrete and confrontational,” so she turned to performance art.  As Nazi refugee Rachel Rosenthal pointed out, “Women were able to enter the art structure through performance.”  Women’s bodies became the “tool” of the work.  Martha Rossler created Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained, which addressed women being measured and judged by individual parts, on both a concrete and a metaphorical level.

As the decade wore on, women began making art that echoed their reflections on identity.  Consciousness raising groups stirred up concerns, as well as anger, that had either been ignored or pushed down.  “The personal is political” became the credo.  Women saw that they were being excluded from even the anti-establishment shows.  Faith Ringgold called artists Robert Rauschenberg and Carl Andre to demand that 50 percent of an exhibit they were organizing reflect both women and artists of color.  In a humorous anecdote, Ringgold relates that at the time her group, WSABAL (Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation), was actually a party of two — herself and her daughter.

Like all revolutions, there were strong leaders, cults of personality, and fervent ideological differences that led to fractures.  Miriam Schapiro, who was based at CalArts in Los Angeles, invited Judy Chicago, who had started the first feminist art track at Fresno State College, to join her in implementing a feminist art program.  Together, they developed Womanhouse, a woman-only art installation and performance series launched in 1971. Soon after, we learn, they stopped speaking.

Chicago went on to co-found The Woman’s Building.  One of the testimonies in the documentary features Martha Wilson, relating her encounter with Chicago — which left her in tears.  When she responded to work Chicago was championing as “prescriptive,” an enraged Chicago replied, “Can’t you see what we’re trying to do here?”  It was the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about “who owns feminist art?”  Wilson moved to New York and established Franklin Furnace.  In tandem with the on the ground artistic activity, a range of feminist magazines such as Heresies and Chrysalis were launched, that examined and disseminated the movement’s work.

The film also targets the trajectory of women who began their careers from within the system, and went on to forge their own independent paths.  A case in point was Marcia Tucker. She became the first woman curator at the Whitney Museum — after undergoing a barrage of questions during her interview that today would be illegal.  When she found out that she was being paid $2,000 less per year than her male colleague, she pushed back by suggesting the story would be of interest to the New York City media.  After eight years, and without explanation, Tucker was fired when a new director came in.  She turned around, rented a space on Broadway within days, and set up The New Museum.  She said, “I took the model for the New Museum from feminism.”

By the 1980s, Reagan was president and the Equal Rights Amendment had been voted down in the Senate.  Five years into the decade, the artist Ana Mendieta died.  Married to the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, she allegedly fell from the 34th floor window of their apartment.  He was charged with second-degree murder, indicted three times, and acquitted in a 1988 non-jury trial.  Calls for justice in her death became a rallying point for the Women’s Art Coalition.

Throughout the movie, the issues of power and exclusion are a constant.  So is the subtext about diversity and if roles were open to women of color, lesbians, and the working class women who did not emanate from the predominately white, middle-class, and straight ranks.

Despite this rich history, the crop of newer feminist artists in the film note that, when they went to the library to research their predecessors, they found little to no documentation.

Yet 2007 became a watershed year for a reexamination of feminist art. The exhibitions Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution on the west coast and Global Feminisms on the east coast, dovetailed with the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art — which is the permanent home of Chicago’s “Dinner Party.”

At this point, Hershman Leeson articulates, “I began to shoot this film forty years ago.  I’ve been waiting all this time for the right ending.”

The art continues.  The film provides history to those who were not present, and validation for those who participated in a groundbreaking period.  The Stanford University Special Collections Library has digitized the footage from the archive of the film, and it is accessible online.  The !WAR graphic novel written by Hershman Lesson, Alexandra Chowaniec, and cartoonist Spain, which includes a curriculum guide by Dr. Krista Lynes, Dr. Claire Daigle, and Dr. Fiona Summers, is a valuable supporting document.

With many national elected officials looking to rescind hard won reproductive rights, and global violence against women epidemic, a re-examination of the rocky road traveled in pursuit of gender equity could not be timelier.

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.







Liberia’s Leymah Gbowee Talks Maternal Health through Peace

9 June, 2011 (14:41) | health | By: mgyerman


The first time I heard Leymah Gbowee speak was at the 2010 Daily Beast Women in the World event in New York City.  I was familiar with her from her history-changing role in the Liberian civil war, documented in Abigail Disney’s documentary, Pray The Devil Back to Hell.  I then had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Gbowee at the Omega Women’s Institute Women and Power conference.  We talked in depth about her work to secure the reproductive and sexual rights of African women.

Pointing out the intrinsic link between women’s health and on the ground conflict, Gbowee said, “You can’t talk about maternal mortality without looking at the implications of peace and conflict.”  She correlated how countries with the highest negative statistics have sustained civil wars.  Liberia has 994 maternal deaths per every 100,000 births — one of the worst rates in the world.  These dismal figures have given Gbowee a “new sense of purpose.”

Her current portfolio extends beyond just reproductive rights —terminology which in Gbowee’s estimation “side-steps critical issues.”  For her, it boils down to “not owning your own body as an African women,” and she is straightforward about what she acknowledged as a prevalent problem — “harmful traditional practices.”  She asked rhetorically, “”How do we address the chiefs on FGM?” Reflecting on the need to “sit down with these men,” Gbowee said, “We haven’t yet taken big, deep steps on FGM because we are from a highly traditional, cultural background.”  She added, “The message on FGM has to be refined so that you don’t offend your mothers, your grandmothers — because they are all believers in this practice, even if they went to school.”  Reiterating that people’s traditional values are part of their identity, Gbowee was emphatic about the importance of how messages are structured so that “people don’t think you are attacking them.” Pragmatically, she has no illusions about the fact that taking on the FGM matter is a “huge thing to confront.”

Gbowee discussed the importance of continuing the prevalence of women’s leadership roles after President Ellen Sirleaf steps down.  Commenting on the challenges of a post-conflict society, Gbowee insisted, “The same efforts we put into sensitizing people into ending violence, we need to put into the renewed form of democracy — and I think that is where we failed.”  She explained, “Communities are groping in the dark, because they have never functioned in a functional society.  We have a whole generation of people who have only known war.  They are used to chaos because that is the only language that they understand.  Our role as activists and advocates is to really show them how to function.”  After pausing a moment, she reflected, “It’s overwhelming.  There’s so much to do.”

In Gbowee’s estimation, American women also have challenges that need to be addressed.  This topic came up in response to our conversation about CEDAW, and the inability for the agreement to get national traction.  She referenced the disadvantages that come from not signing the international treaty.  Totally frank in her assessment questioning America’s ability to provide cogent leadership on women’s issues, Gbowee pointed to matters that leaders “don’t want to tackle.”   She said, “If a President or Secretary of State is standing up and making statements about the rapes in Congo, and that same country has not signed a document that is so important to the lives of their women —what other name do you give it but hypocrisy?”

Part of our exchange included how important it was for those working to help women under siege, to truly engage in an equal dialogue.  “There is a need to speak to the women of these countries,” Gbowee said.  She told me a story about a trip she had taken to Congo where she had spoken with women on the ground, and learned that for them “rape was at the bottom of the list.”  At the top — was “political participation.”  For those women, “rape is a symptom of an actual issue.”  She continued, “We want to help. But we need to step out of our donor driven issues and step into what it is that these communities actually want.”  On Afghanistan she articulated, “We need to say to the women of Afghanistan, ‘What is your opinion? How is it [the troops] affecting you?  What added value is it bringing? What are the disadvantages?’” Gbowee added with crystal honesty, “It’s not good enough to sit in a Hilton or a Sheraton talking about Afghanistan’s issues.”

Trying to get a handle on the pervasive brutality against women, I asked Gbowee what she thought was at the root of such systemic violence.  After a thoughtful pause, she answered, “You ask, ‘Why is it this way?’  I think it is all part of the power dynamics that are affiliated with patriarchy. Let’s maintain this status, this way of life.”

Elaborating on this train of thought she offered, “If the leaders of the world were truly committed to women’s issues and were making those issues political issues — putting sanctions on countries that were doing nothing about honor killings, femicides, and all of these things…It would bring it to an end.  But this is the structure and system of power.

If President Obama stood up and made a solid statement about domestic violence in this country [United States], people would sit up.  If he went to the U.N. and made a statement about the abuses of women across the world and just added some sanctions to it — people would sit up.  But it’s all about the dynamics of power in my opinion.”

She concluded with the pithy observation, “In order to empower people, some one is going to have to give up some power.”

This article originally appeared on Women News Network

























Maria Shriver in Transition

9 June, 2011 (14:36) | family | By: mgyerman

For whatever reason, there are private events that happen to public figures, which become watershed moments for the general population.  They act as a litmus test for the national sensibility. People weigh in, as if reacting to a referendum.  Often the issue resonates on a very personal level, bringing up situations that as individuals we might have faced personally. While some judge from the luxury of being outside the actual experience and attendant circumstances, others are empathetic.

It’s been almost three weeks since the May 9th news of the Shriver —Schwarzenegger split.  I was working late and first saw the report on my Twitter feed.  I clicked on a link and read the terse joint statement.  After twenty-five years of marriage and four children, the couple was “amicably separating.” They were living apart while they worked “on the future” of their relationship.  The following day, the New York Times had a short article, deep into the first section, with the curious headline, “Schwarzenegger and Wife Say They Are Separating.”  I found it very strange that Maria Shriver’s name was omitted, and that she was relegated to the simple nomenclature of  “wife.”  The piece pointed out that Shriver had been instrumental in pushing Schwarzenegger over the top in his 2003 quest for the California governorship.  How?  By specifically defending him against allegations in the Los Angeles Times, detailing incidents of groping and inappropriate sexual behavior by six women in the Hollywood community.

My reaction to the breakup was shock, yet I was not totally surprised.  Throughout the years, my own opinion about their bond was always in the realm of incredulity.  I just didn’t get it.  The totally disparate politics would have been too much for me to get past.  The standard response to the coupling was the sexual attraction card. I didn’t relate to that either. Schwarzenegger’s thick-necked, cartoon muscularity struck me as totally unappealing.  I remember reading an interview with Shriver where she related that Schwarzenegger had once told her not to depend on him for all of her happiness and fulfillment.  The concept had validity, but it didn’t come across as very friendly.

With the revelation that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child born five days after his youngest son with Shriver, the story moved to the front page.  Those looking for a reason to explain the sudden divergence of paths got an unambiguous one.

In response to the scenario, everyone will bring their own emotional histories and perceptions to the table.  Some have criticized Shriver for not giving more credence to Schwarzenegger’s accusers back in 2003.  They have portrayed it as the “stand by your man” syndrome.  Others have pointed out that the dynamics in a marital relationship are never that easily dissectible.  Elizabeth Edwards and her choices were a case in point.

Shriver has been doing activist work in the field of women’s concerns.  She created The Women’s Conference, has been on the front lines speaking about Alzheimer’s disease, and has promoted equality for those with special needs.  She has written numerous books addressing these topics.  She has spoken movingly about the death of her best friend — her mother.  She became an orphan when her father died in January of this year.  With the premature demise of several cousins, loss is not new to her.

I remember her wedding.  It was the same year as Caroline Kennedy’s nuptials, and five years following the Charles and Diana extravaganza.  Like other women across the country, Shriver has evolved from a bride — to a woman who has transversed decades of life experience.

Shriver’s next steps will be closely watched.  How will she deal with her grief, sacrifices, adjustment, and entering a new phase of life?  Yes, she has money, famous friends, and plenty of connections — but at the end of the day, she’s another woman approaching 60, trying to redefine her life.

Schwarzenegger’s concept of not basing your happiness and security on any one person makes solid sense.  However, I doubt that Shriver expected to learn that lesson in such a difficult and exposed way.

A recent op-ed discussed the ambivalent feelings Shriver had about relinquishing her broadcasting career when Schwarzenegger took office.  Shriver recently posted a video on You Tube, asking other women to speak about how they deal with transition.

At this point, Shriver no longer has to bow to convention.  It’s been clear in other circumstances that she has her own voice.  Now, she may feel totally liberated to use it.  She has a strong example of resilience from her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, to build on.  I look forward to seeing the contributions that she will be making to society, and the new horizons she will be pursuing.  Her high profile puts her in a place where others will look to her as an example.

I don’t doubt that she will find her footing, and come out stronger on the other side.


This article originally appeared on the women’s health site EmpowHER.

How Failed Obama Foreclosure Relief Plan Contributes To Jobs Crisis [UPDATE]

3 June, 2011 (15:35) | Uncategorized | By: Pamela Lyn

Rep Dennis Cardoza asks the question: “For the life of me, I can’t figure out why a community organizer who says he cares about families, who says he cares about communitie­s, has just turned his back on one of the biggest problems in America,”

The answer is simple. Foreclosur­e and/or bankruptcy still carry a stigma in our society. There is a mythology that people facing foreclosur­e are in that position because they: were greedy and tried to buy more house than they could afford; are poor money managers or; were speculator­s who were just flipping houses for profit. Sadly, this mythology is prevalent in both Democrat
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Naomi Klein: Addicted to Risk

24 March, 2011 (03:34) | politics | By: Pamela Lyn

On December 8, 2010, Naomi Klein delivered a TED talk at the first-ever TEDWomen conference in Washington, DC.,  during which she raised the question of why our culture is so prone to reckless high-stakes gambles in our pursuit of energy.  

In light of this past weekend’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the renewed calls in the United States for off-shore oil drilling, I have to wonder if we will ever get serious about investing in clean and safe energy solutions.

Just days before giving her Ted talk, Naomi had been on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico, looking at the catastrophic results of BP’s risky pursuit of oil. 

Eight Civics Lessons from Governor Walker

17 March, 2011 (01:40) | Uncategorized | By: Pamela Lyn

As Professor Ravitch notes, “It is really important to vote.” Only 51.7% of eligible voters in Wisconsin cast a ballot last November, and they ended up with a governor and a legislatur­e who are wreaking havoc on state government and decimating vital public services.

This prompted me to look at the voter turnout results for a few other states and the numbers truly drive the point home. The following numbers reflect the percentage of the voting eligible population­: Florida 42.2%: Indiana 37.3%; Michigan 44.3%; New Jersey 36.5%; Ohio 44.6%; Pennsylvan­ia 41.7%; Idaho 43.0%; and Tennessee 34.4%. No wonder the Governors believe that they can do away with democracy and turn government over to the corporatio­ns.

Looking at this numbers, Wisconsin residents should be proud that at least more than 50% of their voters bothered to vote in 2010. Hopefully, we will all be inspired to do better in 2012
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Pennsylvania, Budget Cuts, Nuclear Energy & a State Energy Executive?

16 March, 2011 (19:29) | politics | By: Pamela Lyn

While Wisconsin didn’t have a budget deficit until Governor Scott Walker created one, Pennsylvania did.  However, as in the case of Wisconsin,  Pennsylvania’s newly-elected Republican Governor wants to preserve tax cuts for corporations and balance the state budget by making deep cuts to programs that aid those who need help the most.

As Tami Luhby reported last week for CNN:

“The state is facing a budget gap of more than $4 billion, and its new governor is keeping his promise not to raise taxes to close it. Instead, he is looking for concessions from public employees and for cuts from a wide array of agencies. Also, some 1,500 positions would disappear in the budget that cuts overall spending by 3%.

The governor is leaning hard on education — both K-12 and college level. Together, these suck up 38% of the state budget.

Corbett is asking teachers to freeze their salaries for a year, saying it would save $400 million, and he wants school districts to be allowed to furlough employees during tough budget times.

But he still plans to cut $550 million from basic education funding. He is also looking to reduce state mandates and promote school choice. And he wants to allow voters to rule on property tax hikes school districts may propose to make up for state funding cuts.

The state university system would see its state funding slashed $271 million, while Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities would lose half of their funding. 

The governor also said he will be looking for salary roll-backs and freezes from the state’s 62,000 employees, as well as having them pay more for health care. And he wants to start discussions on fixing the pension system, which could mean higher contributions or less generous benefits.”

Until last week, those cuts may have been seen as the most troubling items in the Governor’s proposed budget.  But as Rachel Maddow pointed out on her March 11th broadcast, there is a not widely reported element in the Governor’s plan that may have far greater and potentially dangerous consequences, his plan to appoint a state energy executive.

As the Pennsylvania Environment Digest reports: 

As part of his campaign platform, Gov.-elect Tom Corbett laid out a series of commitments on protecting the environment, developing Pennsylvania’s energy resources, enhancing agriculture and promoting sportsmen’s  issues.

 Tom Corbett’s energy plan has five core areas: 

– Growing Our Energy Infrastructure;
– Encouraging Renewable, Alternative; Clean Energy in Pennsylvania;
– Cultivating Pennsylvania’s Coal Resources; and
– Transitioning to Competitive Markets.

            Harnessing Pennsylvania’s energy potential to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make energy affordable for all

Sounds great doesn’t it.  Until you read a little further and find out what the Governor means by “Transitioning to Competitive Markets.”  

“As Governor, Tom Corbett will issue an immediate Executive Order to designate a senior advisor within the Governor’s office to serve as the state Energy Executive, who will be charged with coordinating the overall state energy policy, utilizing expertise within the relevant agencies of state government.”

As I mentioned, this was the topic of discussion on a recent broadcast of the Rachel Maddow Show.  On March 11th, Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica joined Rachel to discuss how the aforementioned provision in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s budget could give authority over the state’s environmental permitting process to an energy executive.  The proposal would give C. Alan Walker, the head of the Department of Community and Economic Development, the unprecedented authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted” – including coal, oil, gas and trucking.

( and nuclear power plants ?)

I’m sure that you see where I’m going with this.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission study released less than a year ago ranked Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station, (a nuclear energy plant located in southeastern Pennsylvania, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia in Montgomery County), as being the nation’s nuclear plant that is at the third highest risk of being damaged by an earthquake.  The study also reveals that of the top 10 nuclear plants most at risk from earthquake damage, three are in Pennsylvania, more than any other state.

Limerick has two General Electric boiling water reactor (BWR) units, cooled by natural draft cooling towers similar to but slightly newer than the reactors in Fukushima, Japan.  Limerick has Mark II reactors instead of the Mark I’s in Fukushima.  Limerick reactors 1 and 2 were licensed in 1984 and 1989, respectively. Nuclear energy plants in the United States are licensed to operate for 40 years which reflects the amortization period generally used by electric utility companies for large capital investments.  But 40 years in the world of nuclear physics may not be the same as 40 years on Wall Street. 

Are nuclear reactors meant to last 40 years?
Is it like comparing dog years to human years?

And what happens if a Governor gives a non-elected representative from the private sector the power to expedite nuclear power plant licenses ( for the sake of corporate profits) even if another government agency prohibits it?

Until these questions are answered, Governor Corbett’s plan to appoint a State Energy Executive is deeply trooubling

The following is a video clip of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) speaking to Ed Schultz on licensing nuclear power plants. 

Good luck Rep. Kucinich and thank you for being a voice of reason.

Eric Cantor Defends Foreign Aid Cuts In Aftermath Of Japan Earthquake, Tsunami

15 March, 2011 (02:00) | Uncategorized | By: Pamela Lyn

Let’s be perfectly clear so there is no misunderst­anding the GOP agenda.

They want to cut funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheri­c Administra­tion (NOAA), which tracks storms for disaster preparedne­ss like earthquake­s, tsunamis, hurricanes and tornadoes. They still believe that the nation should move full speed ahead with building nuclear power plants, off-shore oil drilling and the coal mining process known as fracking but not improve the rail system. They want to repeal the health care legislatio­n. They want to reduce the federal deficit by making cuts to education, social security and government programs that aid the poor. Republican governors want to bust public unions, have the right to privatize cities and towns and dismiss elected officials. In fact, it really doesn’t matter if jobs are lost and people suffer as long as the unions can’t make campaign contributi­ons to Democrats in 2012. AND most importantl­y, the GOP will defend to the death tax cuts for the wealthy.

Does that sum it up?
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Florida Loses $2.4 Billion For High-Speed Trains

12 March, 2011 (13:32) | Uncategorized | By: Pamela Lyn

“The project, which would have connected Tampa and Orlando with high-speed trains, was rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican­. He said he didn’t want to obligate the state to pay for what could be expensive operating costs for the line. However, the Florida DOT shows the line connecting Tampa to Orlando would have had an operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation.­”

So Gov. Scott does not want the expense of operating a train line that would provide the thousands of minimum wage employees as well as the tourists of Florida’s theme parks a less expensive mode of travel. Maybe he just doesn’t want Floridians to spend less on gasoline, have fewer highway accidents or breath cleaner air. Or just maybe Gov. Scott is more concerned about the 2012 Presidenti­al election than he is about the residents of Florida. Hmm!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost