- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

July 30

Herald Tribune, Sarasota, Florida, on cable customers lacking leverage:

When you have a problem with your cable service, there’s a handy “800” number to call. But getting actual help … ah, that can be another challenge entirely.

Last week, a man got so fed up with a Comcast service call that he recorded it and posted it online, where it went viral. In response, the chagrined cable giant said it would have the employee “personally apologize.”

“We are investigating this situation and will take quick action,” said the response from Comcast Cable Senior Vice President Tom Karinshak.

Note the absence of a promise to correct the problem. And sadly, note the absence of any outside regulatory pressure to do so.

The customer, Ryan Block, sent back a priceless reply to Comcast: “I hope the quick action you take is a thorough evaluation of your culture and policies, and not the termination of the rep.”

“We can, and will, do better,” Comcast Cable Chief Operating Officer Dave Watson pledged in a later message.

Unfortunately, customer service complaints aren’t limited to one big cable company. Frustration is widespread among the limited providers, nationally.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. As cable and telecom services evolved and were deregulated in recent years, the mantra was that competition would thwart monopolistic practices, yielding more choices and happier customers.

The reality, so far, is somewhat different. It has become easier to find alternative access to TV, but “high-speed” Internet service in many communities comes from a single cable company. (That is true, for example, in parts of Sarasota.) And though Internet access is critical to communication and the economy, Florida does not regulate it or provide oversight through the Public Service Commission.

In Florida, cable issues used to be handled by franchise agreements — permitted monopolies, in effect — hammered out with cities and counties. The arrangement was far from ideal, but it did give locals some leverage in setting terms of service.

With deregulation in 2009, the state Legislature ended that localized system.

Now, if you have a service complaint, you can file it with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (800-435- 7352). It acts as a “clearinghouse” but is not the regulator. Getting a response may take 30 days. Certain cable complaints also can be taken to the Federal Communications Commission (888-225-5322).

The first step in dealing with a service problem, of course, is to call the cable company. Often, this works out OK once you get through the “press 1, press 2,” ”call failed” gantlet. But if the response has you steamed — say, for example, if six different customer reps tell you it will be at least four days before a service slot opens to restore your “bundled” cable, phone and Internet services — what then?

It would be nice to know that providers of such important communication services would hold themselves to a high standard — and that if they fell short, someone would hold the companies accountable.

But when the providers have more leverage than the consumers, good luck with that.




July 30

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on marijuana:

America appears to have come a long way from “Reefer Madness,” the iconic 1930s cannabis cautionary film.

Two states have legalized recreational marijuana. A handful of others have allowed its medical use. And if you believe the latest poll, Florida in November will join them in legalizing the weed for medicinal purposes.

It’s therefore good to see local governments already preparing to deal with the expected growth in pot use.

This week Deltona city commissioners started deliberating where medicinal pot should be dispensed in their community, leaning predominantly to heavily commercial districts, and away from schools and churches. That follows passage of similar proactive measures by Flagler Beach and Ponce Inlet in May and July respectively.

It’s the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it - before any state or federal laws are loosened further.

Earlier this year the Legislature passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law, a bill legalizing the dispensation of low THC strains of marijuana to certain medical patients. A more comprehensive medical marijuana initiative seems set for ratification via a November ballot initiative, Amendment 2.

Monday, a Quinnipiac Poll found 88 percent of state residents favor allowing the medical use of marijuana - up from 82 percent in December (the poll didn’t specifically ask about Amendment 2, which requires 60 percent of the vote for passage).

Additionally, the poll found state voters approve of allowing adults to have small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by 55-41 percent, although that is not on the ballot.

The initiative seems so popular that workshops have already started popping up, instructing potential area business operators on everything from marijuana cultivation to its culinary uses.

Still, the proposed amendment has been a source of contention in the state.

The University of Florida’s agricultural extension offices have refused information-gathering calls, fearing that their instruction would directly contradict federal law and jeopardize millions in federal support for the university.

Even Florida’s law enforcement community is split.

Many officers, such as Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson and Florida Sheriffs Association President Grady Judd, have characterized the proposal as gateway legislation and a harbinger of high lawlessness.

Others, such as Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, have been less willing to openly oppose the ballot initiative.

Even if the proposal passes, Floridians need to recognize that nearly every form of marijuana is still illegal in the state.

Some, like the convenience store owner Daytona Beach police arrested earlier this month for possessing 3,000 grams of synthetic marijuana, may see the writing on the wall and be tempted to get a head start on cornering the market.

But unless pot is fully legalized, the cautious steps by local legislators are needed to make sure the intoxicant isn’t arbitrarily available to the entire populace.




July 28

Miami Herald on Israel’s challenge:

When Hamas decided to initiate rocket attacks on Israel, it invited the furious reprisal that began earlier this month. Three times since 2006, Israel has responded to aerial assaults on its citizens with fierce counter-attacks, and each time the fighting has come to an inconclusive end that allows its enemies to replenish their arsenals and start planning for the next round.

For that reason, Israel’s Security Cabinet unanimously rejected a U.S. proposal for a ceasefire on Friday, though Israel agreed to a 12-hour pause for Saturday. The images from the funerals of Israeli troops are heart-rending. The scenes of horror and destruction in Gaza, gut-wrenching. No one could wish for the people of Gaza to endure prolonged misery.

But it was Hamas that wished for the fighting. First, by attacking Israel, and then by rejecting an Egyptian ceasefire proposal because it wanted its own narrow demands addressed first. That included lifting border restrictions and the release of dozens of former prisoners Israel rearrested in a crackdown on the West Bank after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers.

Throughout the fighting, Hamas has used the civilian population of Gaza as hostages. That is one big reason the terrorist group has worn out its welcome there. It uses populated areas to fire deadly rockets into Israel. U.N. officials have also said they twice found Hamas using abandoned schools to conceal dozens of rockets.

The refusal to agree to a cease-fire more than one week ago, along with the discovery of an extensive network of tunnels leading into Israel, triggered the Israeli ground assault and the determination of its government to achieve a twofold aim: Destroy the tunnels and degrade Hamas’ arsenal to render it ineffective.

Without that, Hamas would be exposed as dangerous and useless. Its control of Gaza has only worsened the lives and prospects of Palestinians who live there.

Israel must be allowed to crush the threat from Hamas, not just for a few months or a year (the last ceasefire took effect in November 2012), but for the foreseeable future. The right of self-defense is not negotiable.

While it is putting an end to Hamas, Israel must also do a better job of avoiding civilian casualties. As mentioned earlier, Hamas thrives amid reports of the deaths of women and children under Israeli attacks. It’s an integral part of Hamas’ strategy. Thus, Israel has both a moral necessity to avoid civilian casualties and an enormous self-interest in ensuring that mistakes resulting in more civilian killings don’t happen.

Marginalizing Hamas and reducing its support among Palestinians is another strategic imperative. As long as Hamas is seen as an effective standard-bearer for Palestinian aspirations, it will draw grassroots support. It’s doing a pretty good job by itself of alienating Palestinians, especially those in Gaza who understood that provoking another round of fighting with Israel would invite disaster. But Israel can hasten the erosion of Hamas’ popular support by helping to improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, has become an effective partner in keeping the peace.

The ultimate challenge for Israel is to help provide a better life for Palestinians in the West Bank, giving them a glimpse of a more-peaceful future - including the return of Mr. Abbas’ group to power in Gaza. That, of course, requires victory over Hamas and an end to its destructive power.



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