Happytown 

The week where a call to arms brought unpleasant attention to the bumbling Republican machine, some oil cash brought more tackiness to the Panhandle and Joe Biden's brother brought bad education to Florida. It's already been brought-en!

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Holy crap! Did you just hear that? No, it was the rattle of your last two synapses clinking against the shards of glass of that New Year’s denouement that you never intended. You know, the one where euphoria slithered its way up to reason’s furthest cliff and then leapt off, leaving you in some bedsit tangle of sweat and neglect, scrambling for your keys, a cute top and some dignity to take you back to the bottom line of your existence. Or was it more like a siren? A huge warning that you know you should heed, but, like with most oncoming trains of awful, you’re at least partially driven to succumb to – just lie there on the tracks and let it run you down. Except this isn’t an imaginary locomotive; this is real.

On Dec. 30, what we all already knew was coming down the pike became painfully official. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus sent out the official call of horrors announcing, with all due seriousface, the “call to convention” for the 2012 Republican National Convention over in our hooker cousin’s trailer known as the St. Pete Times Forum.

“The call is an invitation to the Republican voters of America to participate in our party’s process for nominating our candidates for president and vice president by selecting delegates to the Republican National Convention,” Priebus declared in a prepared statement, reported the St. Petersburg Times.

Sure, we get it: Stock up your escort services and dust off your hairpieces, the Grand Old Party is coming to Florida! But what does it all really mean? Well, for one, Florida’s Republican delegation has been cut nearly in half to 50 instead of 99 because of the party’s hotheaded insistence that its Florida primary be held on Jan. 31. That 50-person sampling of avarice will join a pool of 2,286 national delegates Aug. 27-30 in a corporate-sponsored mud-wrestling pit to officially decide what will have already been decided: Mitt Romney will tell bad jokes for two months and (hopefully) shapeshift into a mute scarecrow or something. Or will it be Newt Gingrich and his inflatable head? According to recent polling by Tel Opinion Research, a blatantly Republican landline-hassling outfit,Romney is standing at 27 percent with Gingrich pulling up his rear at 26 percent. (Poor anti-racist Ron Paul clocks in at a distant 5 percent; paging Kelly Clarkson!) With less than a month to go, our money is on Scarecrow Romney, mostly because everybody else is just too scary to ponder.

The Florida Republican primary comes at a time when the Republican Party of Florida stands in apparent disarray. First of all, your favorite oak-room swindlers will be smack in the middle of the 2012 legislative session trying to hammer out whether they – or their big brothers in D.C. – get to hold onto their gerrymandered incumbencies via the ultra-boring redistricting sketch game.

“You’ll get to see members who don’t live in their districts, not because of any reason other than the fact that we drew these districts blind,” House Redistricting Chairman – and incoming Florida House President – Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told the Florida Current, reassuringly.

Speaking of blind, the Republican Party of Florida will also come face to face with the acrimonious civil lawsuit filed by its former leader Jim Greer, something it doesn’t seem the party is too keen on doing. The St. Petersburg Times was lucky enough (cough) to have an email exchange with Greer in which the soft-spoken hunk of cuddle bloviates heavily about the RPOF legal machine trying to filter (to its liking) the subpoenaed deposition of former Victory Strategies accountant, Richard Swarttz. You’ll recall that Victory Strategies is the Greer-formed company at the center of the $125,000 RPOF fraud controversy; those are the charges that Greer himself will be faced with in criminal court in July. Still, Greer smells a conspiracy.

“This becomes more bizarre every day as persons who can substantiate the party’s knowledge of Victory Strategies, drew up and signed the agreement, the party now wants to protect from giving depositions,” Greer wrote in an email to the newspaper.

In other news, it’s a great time to be a Republican, isn’t it? You can’t even hear yourself think!

Hey, remember that nasty oil spill of 2010 that sort of affected Florida enough for you to have to start enduring commercials egging you on to Panhandle vacations?Last week, the expected fallout from what happens when you throw millions of dollars at redneck municipalities broke into the news cycle, bringing with it tales of candy-cane ice-rinks, beach towels, senior citizen proms and “most deserving mom” contests. In April, BP announced $30 million in tourism grants to Florida, bringing the total mea culpa-cashfronted by the oil giant to $62 million for tourism. Panama City Beach decided to spend $1 million on a Christmas paradise, $100,000 on a pirate-themed festival, $1.3 million on a country music festival and $425,000 on a Christian music festival, reports the Naples Daily News. That sounds about right. Have you ever been to Panama City Beach? Did you not come back with crabs and a criminal record?

“It wasn’t all that busy out here [Christmas] weekend,” one area merchant told the paper. “There weren’t that many people over there skating, and that is a lot of money to spend.”

Still, the schizophrenic party busingseems to have paid off, with at least one BP spokesman, natch, calling 2011 “a banner year for tourism in the Panhandle.”

That’s all well and good and greasy, but it looks like BP might have bigger fish to fry. On Dec. 29, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors were this close to filing the first felony charges against BP for its handling of the Deepwater Horizon incident. BP, which has already spilled $41 billion on the goopy fracas, now stands to incur further federal fines as well as potential prison time for several of its less savory (or truthful) engineers who sold the whole deep-drilling in the Gulf goldmine. Some stains won’t be wiped away by a souvenir beach towel.

Just when we were (not) starting to warm up to the idea of charter schools saving all of education from the horrible public sector, the Miami New Times published a bombshell of a story on Dec. 29 detailing far more nefariousness than its title – “Mavericks charter schools don’t live up to big promises” – could possibly imply. It’s a really long story, and you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing, but the gist goes something like this: A huckster in a 10-gallon hat who heads up a charter school franchise born of a restaurant franchise in Ohio comes to Florida (after already being disgraced in Ohio, mind), strikes up a deal with Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade (who eventually bails out on the organization), hooks up with a post-drunk brother of the vice president of the United States, bilks $6,900 per student in state funding (plus $700 in federal funding; $250,000 in federal funding total), reportedly pays teachers less than $5,000 a year, charges each franchised school $350,000 a year in rent and averages a less-than-50-percent graduation record. Toss in lavish trips to Costa Rica, schools doubling as nightclubs and the typical scenery associated with carpetbagging financial impropriety and you’ve really got something. Yep, that’s the sound of the future.

Anyway, the story caught our eye because it turns out Mavericks isn’t solely a South Floridian problem. In 2009, the fast-food educators preying on poverty opened Mavericks High School in Kissimmee (48 percent graduation rate!). Even closer to home, though, was the November approval of a Mavericks right here in Orange County. How did that happen? Well, defying the advice of its own staff recommendations, the Orange County School Board approved a Mavericks school to ruin our own kids for profit. Hilariously, representatives from Mavericks claimed a 98 percent graduation rate in Kissimmee, according to a November 9 Orlando Sentinel report, even though the school didn’t have enough students to partake in the state’s testing system to give it an actual performance rating. Frank Biden, it should be noted, soberly pitched Mavericks to the school board, winning a 5-2 approval for the school.

“I’m a salesman,” Biden told the New Times, somewhat prophetically. “I’m nothing but a P.T. Barnum for these kids.”

Welcome to the circus.

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