Happytown 

It may not have been the year of the rat, but 2011 sure was full of rodents. Also, expect more of the same - plus an added twist of Jesus - in 2012. Happy New Year?

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Like most holiday celebrants of the drink-until-you-die persuasion, we’ve spent the lion’s share of our time over the past couple of weeks trying to forget the events and acquaintances of the past year while swigging our swill to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.” Forgot! Sure, 2011 may have been a romp in the hay for cynics and populists alike, but it was also the sound of logical life unraveling in a high-voltage dryer. Inevitably, now comes the time for the champagne chagrin and black-eyed regret that are inherent to these dark, quiet days leading us into another year. And, as always, we rush forward with a swishing glass of selective retrospect in hand. It’s over! And yet it’s all still beginning.

The year kicked off with the inauguration of Our Dumb State’s worst governor ever, Rick Scott, who promptly threw a tantrum and put the kibosh on anything he hadn’t directly approved (which was everything) so that he could figure it out for himself. Oh, we could list all of the initial atrocities of Gov. Scott here – his attempts to privatize all things public including prisons and schools, a blocked volley to force piss tests on the financially needy, disdain for unionized labor, merit pay for teachers, the killing of high-speed rail – but that would be too exhausting, and his dismal polling shows that most people are already aware of the extent of his awfulness. Instead, we’ll choose to remember 2011 as the year that Rick Scott popped up everywhere like a little self-promoting child star ready to cut the ribbons at car dealerships for attention. He was at a donut shop, a Walmart, behind the DJ tables on a cruise ship, shoveling slop in a public school – all in a desperate attempt to make it look like he wasn’t the same monster borne of Medicare fraud that the Floridian public mistakenly elected. He was just like us: clumsy, awkward and annoying. He hated the media. We hated him back.

Meanwhile, the media that used to love U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio – the American Psycho messiah – finally sharpened its talons when it appeared that the golden boy might be getting too vice presidential for his britches. Over the summer, Rubio caught heat for his campaign babble about his parents being “exiles” from Castro’s communist Cuba (they actually left before Castro came to power, but nobody was checking last year). He later found himself in a Puerto Rican versus Cuban flameout over blocking (then pretending not to block) the appointment of Mari Carmen Aponte, a Puerto Rican, as ambassador to El Salvador. In both cases, he came away looking like a stammering fool.

This spring, the Florida legislature, stacked to the ceiling with stammering Republicans, continued its wingnut assault on all things reasonable, including (but not limited to) voting rights, abortion, guns and business regulation. We are now, officially, a one-stop shop for trash!Also, House Speaker Dean Cannon spent a chunk of taxpayer money to lob a suit against the taxpayer’s fair districts vote last year, while Senate President Mike Haridopolos recoiled from a U.S. Senate campaign under the duress of several controversies (not the least of which is his involvement in the Republican Party of Florida scandal). In the end, our beloved CannonHair™ royal love affair came to a screeching halt at the end of the legislative session, with Haridopolos (and his hair) crying like a girl and Cannon sneering like an abusive boyfriend after a “sine die!” dustup. Like sands through the hourglass, so is Florida Government.

Perhaps sensing the thin plotline of our shared soap opera, activists lurched forwardas the real story of the year. There were the Awake the State rallies, the pink “Uterus” buttons, the Pink Slip Rick protests and other blips of generalized rancor pouring out from a previously dormant left. But the biggest two movements proved to be anarchically apolitical in their message. Over the summer, the Orlando Police Department began enforcing the homeless feeding ordinance against Food Not Bombs with the iron fist of numerous arrests (though the group was eventually allowed to continue its vegan buffet at City Hall). Later in the year, the momentum shifted to Senator Beth Johnson Park, where laptopped idealists with peculiar hand gestures set up camp and held “general assemblies” to attempt to divine a coherent message. After some police intervention, they’re now at City Hall, too. Apparently, Mayor Buddy Dyer likes to keep his enemies close.

Sometimes too close. Amid rumors of Dyer’s ambitions to jump ship and run for the gubernatorial hills in 2014, several candidates popped out of the woodwork to run against him in the upcoming April standalone election. Commissioner Phil Diamond was first, nervously blinking and shufflinghis way into pseudo-relevance by way of a voting record that challenged the mayor’s big, incentivized development eyes. Nice lady Linda Grund popped up but has been seldom heard from since. And former activist-turned-toothy-politico Mike Cantone made a little noise toward the end of the year, but that’s only because he tried to take credit for the mayor’s passage of a Domestic Partnership Registry, thus pissing off all the gays who actually did make it happen. Sour grapes! Also, we have a Domestic Partnership Registry! (G)yay!

Some of the mayor’s other projects didn’t fare quite as well this year, though you wouldn’t hear that over the spin coming out of his office. The new Amway Center, opened just last year, was faced with an NBA lockout that resulted in the Orlando Magic hemorrhaging 20 full-time staffers. The lousy Creative Village (of idiots) remains an electric dream as the city works to tear down the old Amway Arena to make room for the new Portlando™. And the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts got off to another bumpy start this year when Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs called foul on the finances, forcing a radical re-think (and more questionable funding) before it could break ground in June. For the record, no local artists will be harmed by this development, because no local artists are included in it anymore.

Wait, what did we miss? Oh, it wouldn’t be a year in review if we didn’t mention the performance art that took place around the Casey Anthony trial over the summer. There, we mentioned it. Happy New Year! We need a nap.

OK, done. Now on to a new year of divisive issues rooted in abject lunacy! Those who prefer their church and their state in separate lunchboxes will be alarmed to know that, with all due prejudice, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has gone out of her way to make sure that your church chocolate and state peanut butter get the Reese’s treatment. After Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis denied the Republican legislature a place on next year’s ballot for their “Religious Freedom” constitutional amendment on Dec. 13 – it was misleading, said the judge, because of its wording in regard to the U.S. Constitution – Bondi took a week to rewrite the language of the amendment to the judge’s specifications. She was allowed to do that because of a new law – signed this spring by Gov. Scott and written by a legislature that hates judicial authority – that permits a sort of do-over in these kinds of cases. Awesome.

The amendment seeks to repeal a 100-year-old state law forbidding taxpayer money from going to churches, because churches aren’t already coddled enoughby their current tax exemptions. Churches are most certainly not fronts for cash-heavy, fancy-car drug and sex scandals. Churches are awesome.

“Voters deserve an opportunity to decide whether to remove from Florida’s constitution a provision that discriminates against religious institutions,” Bondi said in a statement, according to the Palm Beach Post. Remember, institutions are people now, and as citizens they should be united with the rest of us.

Anyway, if the whole thing stinks to you (it should), you’re not alone. Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida executive director, weighed in with a statement saying that the amendment, if approved by a 60 percent margin in November, would “virtually require taxpayer funding of religious activities of churches, mosques and synagogues.” Mosques!

What this bit of political strategy really means is that churches – the Petri dish of all right-wing nonsense in Florida – will likely be mobilizing their congregations to show up to the polls in 2012, even if old Mormon Mitt Romney is their only choice. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our own new Amendment 2. Screw 2012. We’re going to party like it’s 2008!

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