Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Leadership – A Memorial Day Meditation

This is today’s Forward Day by Day reading, and I think it is perfect for Memorial Day, a day in which we celebrate those who fought and gave their lives that we might live free:

MONDAY, May 26    Rogation Day

Matthew 13:14. You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.

The daughter of the young clergyman looked and she did perceive.

She had taken a bus trip with her father to their home country so she could obtain an identification card at the age of eighteen. Before the bus left, the driver asked if someone would pray for a safe journey. Her father walked to the front of the bus and led the passengers in prayer. Later, at a rest stop, the priest noticed some trash littering the area. After other passengers walked past heedlessly, he scooped it up and put it in a trash bin. 

The acts seemed minor, and he thought no more about them. But later, his daughter asked him to read her homework—a profile of a leader. He did and was humbled and amazed. 

The profile was about him. Citing those two examples and others, the daughter described how his behavior reflected his values. She wrote, “Leadership is not a title, but it is about the way you live your life.”

She had done much more than see her father’s actions. She had perceived their meaning and importance in the context of their faith.

 

May 26, 2014 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Environment, Faith, Hygiene, Interconnected, Leadership, Lectionary Readings | Leave a comment

Nigeria’s Stolen Girls

This is what I love about New Yorker magazine: they print stories no one prints, they follow stories that need following. They lead, and they do their job, alerting us to issues that matter. My heart goes out to the families, Christian and Muslim, of these girls who were abducted because they were being educated. Boko Haram believes educating women goes against Islam. Someone should read them a Quran.

 

APRIL 30, 2014

NIGERIA’S STOLEN GIRLS

AP218361876356-580.jpg“I thought it was the end of my life,” Deborah Sanya told me by phone on Monday from Chibok, a tiny town of farmers in northeastern Nigeria. “There were many, many of them.” Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, kidnapped Sanya and at least two hundred of her classmates from a girls’ secondary school in Chibok more than two weeks ago. Sanya, along with two friends, escaped. So did forty others. The rest have vanished, and their families have not heard any word of them since.

Sanya is eighteen years old and was taking her final exams before graduation. Many of the schools in towns around Chibok, in the state of Borno, had been shuttered. Boko Haram attacks at other schools—like a recent massacre of fifty-nine schoolboys in neighboring Yobe state—had prompted the mass closure. But local education officials decided to briefly reopen the Chibok school for exams. On the night of the abduction, militants showed up at the boarding school dressed in Nigerian military uniforms. They told the girls that they were there to take them to safety. “They said, ‘Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to you,’ ” Sanya told me. The men took food and other supplies from the school and then set the building on fire. They herded the girls into trucks and onto motorcycles. At first, the girls, while alarmed and nervous, believed that they were in safe hands. When the men started shooting their guns into the air and shouting “Allahu Akbar,” Sanya told me, she realized that the men were not who they said they were. She started begging God for help; she watched several girls jump out of the truck that they were in.

It was noon when her group reached the terrorists’ camp. She had been taken not far from Chibok, a couple of remote villages away in the bush. The militants forced her classmates to cook; Sanya couldn’t eat. Two hours later, she pulled two friends close and told them that they should run. One of them hesitated, and said that they should wait to escape at night. Sanya insisted, and they fled behind some trees. The guards spotted them and called out for them to return, but the girls kept running. They reached a village late at night, slept at a friendly stranger’s home, and, the next day, called their families.

Sanya could not tell me more after that. She is not well. Her cousins and her close friends are still missing, and she is trying to understand how she is alive and back home. All she can do now, she said, is pray and fast, then pray and fast again.

The day after the abduction, the Nigerian military claimed that it had rescued nearly all of the girls. A day later, the military retracted its claim; it had not actually rescued any of the girls. And the number that the government said was missing, just over a hundred, was less than half the number that parents and school officials counted: according to their tally, two hundred and thirty-four girls were taken.

In the wake of the military’s failure, parents banded together and raised money to send several of their number into the forest to search for the girls. The group came across villagers who persuaded the parents to turn back. They told the parents that they had seen the girls nearby, but the insurgents were too well armed. Many of the parents had just bows and arrows.

 

***

The circumstances of the kidnapping, and the military’s deception, especially, have exposed a deeply troubling aspect of Nigeria’s leadership: when it comes to Boko Haram, the government cannot be trusted. Children have been killed, along with their families, in numerous Boko Haram bombings and massacres over the past five years. (More than fifteen hundred people have been killed so far this year.) State schools and remote villages in the north have borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s violence this year. The group is believed to be at least partly waging a campaign against secular values. The kidnapped girls were both Christian and Muslim; their only offense, it seems, was attending school.

Last June, I visited Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and the birthplace of Boko Haram, to report on the insurgency and the Nigerian government’s counteroffensive, a security operation that placed three northeastern states, including Borno and Yobe, under a state of emergency as troops launched attacks on terrorist hideouts and camps. The military cut phone lines and Internet access, and, while residents were glad for the intervention, there was a sense of living in the dark. Gunshots, a bomb blast: was it Boko Haram or a military attack? Were the hundreds of men disappeared by the military actually terrorists—even the young boys? And was the government, as it claimed, really winning the war?

The military has restored phone lines in Borno. But the sole airline that flew to Maiduguri cancelled the route at the end of last year. The road to Chibok is so hazardous that Borno’s governor visited the town with a heavy military escort. Much of the northeast is now physically isolated. What is happening there that we cannot see?

Nigerians in the rest of the country had, until recently, been able to ignore the deaths. The general mood has been one of weary apathy—from a government waging a heavy-handed crackdown on northerners to civilians far removed from the chaos. That mood may finally change.

 

 

***

Sanya’s father, a primary-school teacher named Ishaya Sanya, is struggling with conflicting emotions: gratitude that his daughter has returned to him; guilt that the daughters of his siblings, friends, and neighbors are still somewhere in the bush; and an angry frustration that there seemed to be no effort to rescue the girls.

“We don’t know where they are up until now, and we have not heard anything from the government,” he told me. “Every house in Chibok has been affected by the kidnapping.” The only information that the families had been able to gather about the kidnapped girls, he went on, was from the girls who had escaped.

He remembers the exact time that Deborah appeared in front of him after her escape—4:30P.M.—and how he felt: “very happy.” But his despair soon returned. “Our area has been affected very seriously,” he told me. Parents had fallen physically ill, and some were “going mad.”

The military’s current plans are unclear; the Chibok parents hope that it is acting swiftly and cautiously. There is worry, too, that a rescue operation could result in the deaths of many of the girls; this happened during a previous attempted rescue, of two Western engineers kidnapped by Boko Haram. Last week, a military spokesman, Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade, said only that the search for the girls had “intensified.”

In the meantime, as in so many other ways in Nigeria, each community has to fend for itself. For a while after the abduction, girls trickled back into town—some rolled off trucks, some snuck away while fetching water. That trickle has stopped. “Nobody rescued them,” a government official in Chibok said of the girls who made it back. “I want you to stress this point. Nobody rescued them. They escaped on their accord. This is painful.”

A pastor in Chibok whose daughter is missing told me that he set out with friends on the morning after the abduction to find the girls. “I was forced to come home empty-handed,” he told me by phone. “I just don’t know what the federal government is doing about it. And there is no security here that will defend us. You have to do what you can do to escape for your life.”

I asked the pastor about rumors that Boko Haram has taken the girls outside of Nigeria’s borders, into Cameroon and Chad, and forcibly married them. He paused, and then said, “How will I be happy? How will I be happy?”

Four students walk in Chibok following their escape from Boko Haram. Photograph by Haruna Umar/AP.

 

May 1, 2014 Posted by | Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Faith, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Nigeria, Values, Women's Issues | , , , | Leave a comment

Where is Rwanda and How Do They Celebrate a Genocide Anniversary?

Today the church prays for the diocese of Byumba, in Rwanda. There is Rwanda, below, right in the heart of Africa, nestled between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi.

 

 

Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 8.09.26 AMRwanda was in the news this last week for something very special. Most of our western news stations gave it zero coverage, but you could catch a glimpse online. This, from the Christian Science Monitor: on an amazing event just twenty years after one of the worst genocides in my memory. To me, it is wonderful and inspiring that they forgive one another and love one another to live in peace with one another. It gives me hope for our world.

The Monitor’s View

What to celebrate in Rwanda’s genocide anniversary

The 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide should focus as much on how the African nation worked toward reconciliation through forgiveness as on the mass slaughter itself.

 

This month, Rwanda marks the 20th anniversary of an event that its name is most associated with – the 1994 mass slaughter of the Tutsi minority and many in the majority Hutu. Over 100 days starting April 7, more than 800,000 people were killed, many by neighbors incited to ethnic hatred by a political elite. It is a genocide often cited since then to justify military intervention in similar ongoing atrocities.

This type of reparative justice in an intimate setting could prove useful in countries that will need post-conflict healing, such as Syria, Colombia, andMyanmar (Burma). It might also help prevent a cycle of revenge and retribution in those countries, as it has in Rwanda.

Most of Rwanda’s main perpetrators in the genocide have been tried in regular courts, either in Rwanda, Europe,, or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, set up by the United Nations. But for hundreds of thousands of others who were charged with killing, the Rwandan criminal-justice system was too weak and its jails too full. Legal trials would have taken decades. The country had to fall back on a form of community-based traditional justice known asgacaca.

Other post-conflict countries in transition, notably South Africa, have relied on a similar process with their truth-and-reconciliation commissions. But the bodies have usually been more formal and national in scope. Rwanda’s gacaca are far more personal, designed to achieve the end result of allowing people who knew each other to resume living in the same community. They also bring together an entire village to witness a confession, attest to its sincerity, encourage forgiveness by the victim, and agree on some reparation, such as helping till a victim’s fields for a time.

It hasn’t worked in every case. Many Tutsis who killed Hutus have not been tried. Many victims could not bear the trauma of hearing how their loved ones had died. And many Hutus disappeared or were able to hide from the truth.

The government under President Paul Kagame, despite its drift toward authoritarian rule, has encouraged the process by outlawing formal use of ethnic identities. “The divisionism of before is gone. All of us now have equal access to opportunities,” a young Rwandan told The Christian Science Monitor.

The gacaca rely on the guilty to listen to the stories of their victims with empathy, admit their acts with repentance, and rethink their self-identity within the community. For the victims who forgive, the process can lift feelings of rage and bitterness. Much of the justice lies in the restoration of relationships as much as in material reparations.

Rwanda is not yet a “post-ethnic” African nation. But the possibility of a future political class inciting Hutus and Tutsis to take up violence now seems slim. More Rwandans have a higher sense of identity.

As the world helps Rwanda mark the 1994 genocide, it should also spread the lessons of this post-genocide reconciliation. Dispute resolution is a common technique in every society, whether in families or courts. But when almost every village in an entire nation goes through it, the lesson is worth repeating elsewhere.

 

April 11, 2014 Posted by | Africa, Charity, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Cultural, Events, Faith, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Values | , | Leave a comment

This ‘Commercial’ Will Make Your Day

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Character, Charity, Civility, Faith, Financial Issues, Leadership, Relationships, Spiritual | , , | Leave a comment

Please: ‘Condescend’ to Me With Equal Pay

It happened to me. I was working in the best job I ever had, working harder than I had ever worked and loving the work I was doing. Then raise time came, and I got a raise, but I knew it was not as much as the young guy who had started after I started. I liked the young guy; we worked together a lot and we worked together well. Sometimes he disappeared, sometimes for a long time. As it turned out, he suffered from depression, and I ended up doing a lot of his work.

 

So I confronted my boss, and said it was unfair that he had gotten the larger raise and I the smaller. My boss said “Intlxpatr, you have a husband who makes a lot of money and this young man is just getting started.” It had nothing to do with merit, quality of work, productiveness – it had to do with me being a woman who had a husband who provides for me. I know that to some of you reading this, that makes sense, but to me, even from the time I was a young girl, it makes no sense at all. You pay what the work is worth, regardless of sex. Regardless of nationality. Regardless of marital status.  That’s FAIR.

I didn’t quit. The boss moved on and the next boss gave me a giant raise to stay. I loved that job :-)

 

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WASHINGTON — Democrats’ push for pay equity between men and women is “condescending,” one of the top women in the House Republican leadership argued Tuesday, suggesting that the campaign for equal pay for equal work reflects a lack of understanding of women’s contributions to the workforce.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), the GOP conference’s vice chair, made her comments flanked by her fellow leaders in the House at their weekly news conference, and suggested that the campaign for equal pay for equal work reflects a lack of understanding of women’s contributions to the workforce.

“Please allow me to set the record straight. We strongly support equal pay for equal work, and I’m proud that I live in a country where it’s illegal to discriminate in the workplace thanks to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Jenkins. “Some folks don’t understand that women have become an extremely valuable part of the workforce today on their own merit, not because the government mandated it.”

Jenkins went on to belittle Democratic efforts on the issue.

“Many ladies I know feel like they are being used as pawns, and find it condescending [that] Democrats are trying to use this issue as a political distraction from the failures of their economic policy,” Jenkins said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, appeared to slam the Democrats’ push as cheap political showmanship and accuse Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had just addressed the issue, of playing games.

“Yesterday, here in the Senate, Republicans were hoping the Democrat Majority Leader would finally work with us to pass a job creation package that contains ideas from many of our members — legislation with provisions several key Democrats support too,” McConnell said. “But that’s not what the Majority Leader chose to do. Instead of focusing on jobs, he launched into another confusing attack on the Left’s latest bizarre obsession. Democrats chose to ignore serious job-creation ideas so they could blow a few kisses to their powerful pals on the left.”

However, shortly after this story was posted, McConnell’s office said his remarks were being misconstrued. Spokesmen pointed to his use of the word “yesterday,” and said that he had been referencing Reid’s Monday speech targeting the billionaire Koch brothers, rather than his procedural motion, also on Monday, to begin work on the Democrats’ Fair Pay Act.

According to many independent assessments, women who do the same job as a man are often paid significantly less, on average earning just 77 cents to a man’s dollar. Even when many of the factors that lead women to make different job choices are controlled for, significant gaps remain.

Jenkins did not address the issue of women getting paid less for the same job, but suggested that women simply tend to choose different jobs.

“When it comes to employment, the fact is many women seek jobs that provide more flexibility for their family over more money, which is the choice that I made as a young working mom,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ and McConnell’s opinions notwithstanding, women overwhelmingly backed the Democratic ticket in the last election, running up the largest gender gap in the history of Gallup polling. Women supported President Barack Obama over GOP nominee Mitt Romney by a 12-point margin.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) chose his words more carefully than his colleagues at the press event when asked whether there was anything in terms of legislation that Republicans would consider doing to address the gap.

Though Cantor demurred from offering new ideas, he did tweak the White House, noting reports that women working there get paid about 88 cents on the dollar, compared to men.

He said a better idea than passing new laws was trying to enforce the old ones.

“I point to the White House, and say what it is that they’re doing? They’ve got a problem in the White House,” said Cantor. “Let’s put the politics aside.”

He suggested that repealing part of Obamacare would help, and pointed to a bill the House GOP passed last week that would change the definition of full-time work in the law from 30 hours a week to 40.

“If you look to see those most impacted, it’s women. Sixty-three percent of those impacted by the 30-hour workweek rule are women,” Cantor said. “If the Senate Democrats would pick [the bill] up, we could help women right now.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide health insurance for full-time workers, currently defined as people employed more than 30 hours per week. Republicans argue that because of that, employers are pushing people — in this case, mostly women — into part-time work, although independent fact-checkers havefound that claim to be false.

This article was updated after a spokesman for McConnell clarified the intended meaning of his remarks.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. 

 

April 8, 2014 Posted by | Family Issues, Financial Issues, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | 2 Comments

Empowerment

I’m working with a group, one of whose goals is empowerment. They are all from the same country, but not the same parts of the country, nor the same ethnicities, but they all get along well with one another and the group does fine. I admire each of them, and even better, I like these women.

00RoundTable2

Here’s the LOL, empowered people have ideas and opinions. We have a format to adhere to, and empowered people come up with other ideas and alternatives. Here’s the problem: other ideas and alternatives, especially good ones, mean a lot of extra focus, it creates more work for facilitators and program managers. Sometimes you need permissions, sometimes you need transportation arrangements, and always, you need to assure a delegate’s safety. All this on top of the changes that will have to be made because of this unusual weather.

First, yesterday as I met the group, I had to apologize for the weather – usually mild, sunny Pensacola was having a howling storm; sheets of water being blown by a raging wind, tree limbs falling, the sky grim and dark and grey the entire day. In the midst of this, I was with one delegate on a tour of the Port of Pensacola, where it was like being in the middle of a huge storm at sea, with squalls. The man giving the tour carried on, they had a great discussion while the wind howled around us and at times the rain fell so hard on the tin roof that we couldn’t hear one another.

00DelegateWindstorm (Those lines you see coming in through the door are wind blown rain. The drops on the camera lens – ditto)

Here is what I truly admire about this group, all their empowerment is for the good, their suggestions are making this visit even more productive and helping them exceed their goals. Their alternatives were doable, and will be accomplished. I can also tell you that at the end of a day dealing with a lot of good ideas and changes, my brain is happily fried. Guess the LOL is on me.

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Afghanistan, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Pensacola, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Iraqis Draft Law Allowing 9 Year Old “Women” to Marry

From AOL News:

BY SAMEER N. YACOUB AND SINAN SALAHEDDIN

BAGHDAD (AP) — A contentious draft law being considered in Iraq could open the door to girls as young as nine getting married and would require wives to submit to sex on their husband’s whim, provoking outrage from rights activists and many Iraqis who see it as a step backward for women’s rights.

The measure, aimed at creating different laws for Iraq’s majority Shiite population, could further fray the country’s divisions amid some of the worst bloodshed since the sectarian fighting that nearly ripped the country apart after the U.S.-led invasion. It also comes as more and more children under 18 get married in the country.

“That law represents a crime against humanity and childhood,” prominent Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar told The Associated Press. “Married underage girls are subjected to physical and psychological suffering.
Iraqi law now sets the legal age for marriage at 18 without parental approval. Girls as young as 15 can be married only with a guardian’s approval.

The proposed new measure, known as the Jaafari Personal Status Law, is based on the principles of a Shiite school of religious law founded by Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shiite imam. Iraq’s Justice Ministry late last year introduced the draft measure to the Cabinet, which approved it last month despite strong opposition by rights groups and activists.

The draft law does not set a minimum age for marriage. Instead, it mentions an age in a section on divorce, setting rules for divorces of girls who have reached the age of 9 years in the lunar Islamic calendar. It also says that’s the age girls reach puberty. Since the Islamic calendar year is 10 or 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, that would be the equivalent of 8 years and 8 months old. The bill makes the father the only parent with the right to accept or refuse the marriage proposal.

Critics of the bill believe that its authors slipped the age into the divorce section as a backhanded way to allow marriages of girls that young. Already, government statistics show that nearly 25 percent of marriages in Iraq involved someone under the age of 18 in 2011, up from 21 percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1997. Planning Ministry spokesman Abdul-Zahra Hendawi said the practice of underage marriage is particularly prevalent in rural areas and some provinces where illiteracy is high.

Also under the proposed measure, a husband can have sex with his wife regardless of her consent. The bill also prevents women from leaving the house without their husband’s permission, would restrict women’s rights in matters of parental custody after divorce and make it easier for men to take multiple wives.

Parliament must still ratify the bill before it becomes law. That is unlikely to happen before parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30, though the Cabinet support suggests it remains a priority for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration. Al-Maliki is widely expected to seek a third term.

Baghdad-based analyst Hadi Jalo suggested that election campaigning might be behind the proposal.

“Some influential Shiite politicians have the impression that they should do their best to make any achievement that would end the injustice that had been done against the Shiites in the past,” Jalo said.

The formerly repressed Shiite majority came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime. Since then, Shiite religious and political leaders have encouraged followers to pour in millions into streets for religious rituals, a show of their strength.

Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari, a Shiite, has brushed off the criticism of the bill. His office introduced a companion bill that calls for the establishment of special Shiite courts that would be tied to the sect’s religious leadership.

Al-Shimmari insists that the bill is designed to end injustices faced by Iraqi women in past decades, and that it could help prevent illicit child marriage outside established legal systems.

“By introducing this draft law, we want to limit or prevent such practices,” al-Shimmari said.

But Sunni female lawmaker Likaa Wardi believes it violates women’s and children’s rights and creates divisions in society.

“The Jaffari law will pave the way to the establishments of courts for Shiites only, and this will force others sects to form their own courts. This move will widen the rift among the Iraqi people,” Wardi said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch also strongly criticized the law this week.
“Passage of the Jaafari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq’s women and girls,” deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement. “This personal status law would only entrench Iraq’s divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all.”
It is unclear how much support the bill enjoys among Iraqi Shiites, but Jalo, the analyst, believes that it would face opposition from secular members of the sect.

Qais Raheem, a Shiite government employee living in eastern Baghdad, said the draft bill contradicts the principles of a modern society.

“The government officials have come up with this backward law instead of combating corruption and terrorism,” said Raheem who has four children, including two teenage girls. “This law legalizes the rape and we should all reject it.”

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Civility, Community, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Marriage | , , , | Leave a comment

Promises, Promises (Lies, Lies!)

West Virginia is one of the poorest – and most beautiful – of the 50 United States, green with forests and uninhabited spaces. It also has pockets of some of the poorest people in the United States. It is a state which accepts that which other states might find unacceptable. And when the chemical spill poisoned the water of thousands of people, Freedom Industries, the responsible company, declared bankruptcy.

Even today, while their water has been declared OK, people say it tastes funny, and chemists have found unacceptable traces of chemicals that other tests were not even measuring. Today, we have this report that the spill was much worse that the company originally reported.

Its sad, and it is disheartening.

In Florida, there are constant proposals for land use restrictions being lifted. The military, the companies – they all promise that this (whatever) will have no impact on the environment. Why, no one could be more environmentally responsible than (_______) fill in the blank with whatever the requestor is.

Yeh. Right.

My guess is that if the true cost of the BP oil spill in the Gulf were known, it would bankrupt BP.

Water Supply Threaten In Charleston Community Of Over 300,000 After Chemical Leak

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued an update on Monday evening indicating that the Elk River spill in West Virginia earlier this month involved more gallons of chemicals than previously reported.

Freedom Industries, which owned the tank that leaked into a river supplying water in the state, now says that approximately 10,000 gallons of the chemicals 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as MCHM) and PPH were released. The company initially said 7,500 gallons spilled, and failed to disclose the presence of the second chemical until last week. The leak, first reported on Jan. 9, left hundreds of thousands in the capital region without access to tap water for days. Though the formal advisory on the water has been lifted, some in the region say they are still concerned about the safety of their water.

The DEP’s press release provides Freedom Industries’ newest estimate, but notes, “It is not known how much material spilled into the Elk River and shut down the drinking water supply for citizens across nine West Virginia counties.”

“We are not making any judgment about its accuracy,” DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said in a statement, referring to the company’s latest spill figure. “We felt it was important to provide to the public what the company has provided the WVDEP in writing. We are still reviewing the calculation, and this is something that will be researched further during the course of this investigation.”

“This is the first calculation that has been provided concerning the amount of materials that spilled on Jan. 9,” Huffman said. “This new calculation does not change any of our protocols in dealing with this spill, nor does it affect the ongoing remediation efforts. Our actions have never been dependent on what Freedom has reported to us. From the start, we have acted aggressively to contain the spill and remediate the site.”

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has called for the storage facility to be torn down, and for a full remediation of the site.

January 28, 2014 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Crime, Environment, Financial Issues, Florida, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues | , , , | Leave a comment

Kuwait Posts New Speed Limits Effective NOW

From the Kuwait Times:

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UPDATE:

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January 2, 2014 Posted by | Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions | , , | 4 Comments

Killing the Golden Goose in Pensacola

Every place we have ever lived in has it’s own politics, and the politics in Pensacola are opaque, and to me, bizarre. We have a very pretty mayor – great for photo ops – but WHAT IS HE THINKING???? He displays some of the very worst traits of the old-boy way of doing business. What are those traits? How about telling one of the top grossing restaurants in Pensacola that they now owe $5M because they haven’t been paying a percentage of their revenue to the City of Pensacola? How about voting a Dollar Store into an upper level residential neighborhood? Singlehandedly re-naming a small airport without a single international flight Pensacola “International” airport? How about allocating all the food services at our “International” airport to bland chains, rather than some of our really good local vendors?

 

Lots of behind the scenes machinations, not putting items on the agenda – countering the spirit of the Sunshine Laws and making the deals in public – giving those who will be impacted some input on the measures.

 

It’s killing the golden goose. When something is working – and the Fish House restaurant is a go-to place in Pensacola, a place you meet up with friends and a place you take your out-of-town visitors to show off the city – LEAVE IT ALONE!  When good people like the Studers and Collier Merrill are investing in downtown Pensacola, and building downtown up as a destination, let them make a buck or two – they are breathing life into the city! Do not kill the golden goose!

 

Piano11

 

“The Emperor Has No Clothes!”

In contrast to some of the places we have lived, Pensacola has an outspoken paper – Our favorite newspaper, Rick Outzen’s Independent News has several wonderful articles this week. It’s where you find out what is really going on in Pensacola. His paper will bravely call out when the emperor has no clothes. I have shamelessly copied and pasted from his website at the Independent News:

 

How Not To Do Business

City vs. The Fish House
By Rick Outzen

The title of the Pensacola News Journal’s (PNJ) article on Tuesday, Nov. 26 could have easily been “Mayor Accuses Fish House of Cheating City Out of Millions.” It wasn’t, but that is how some interpreted the article about the default notice sent on behalf of Mayor Ashton Hayward to Collier Merrill, co-owner of the restaurant.

But PNJ readers didn’t know what Merrill knew—that the notice was a negotiation ploy by the city, unsupported factually or legally, according to his attorney. They also didn’t know that the notice itself was leaked, Merrill believed, to the media to hurt his business.

The notice demanded that Seville Harbour, Inc. (owned by Ray Russenberger) and Merrill Land LLC (owned by Burney, Collier and Will Merrill) pay as additional rent payments five percent of The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House’s gross sales since April 2000, plus interest—an amount that could total well over $5 million.

Seville Harbour, Inc. has the ground lease for Pitt Slip, the name given to the three parcels owned by the city that include the anchorage between the Port of Pensacola and Bartram Park. Merrill Land LLC bought in April 2000 the building on the property from Seville Harbour for $1.3 million and subleased the parcel upon which it was built.

The default notice stated that the two companies had 90 days to pay up or the city would terminate the master lease, which would shut down the two restaurants on Feb. 13, 2014.

The impact of the article on The Fish House was immediate. Merrill tried to prepare his staff for any questions from customers.

“I had a meeting with the managers the next morning at 9:30 after the written article came out,” he said. “As much as you can say everything is fine, a few were a little hesitant. They were getting calls from other restaurants; one guy was offered a job.”

Jean Pierre N’Dione, the general manager of the two restaurants, said that the holiday business has been slower than prior years. He’s also dealt with questions from customers.

“The day of the article, a couple came in and said they were here to get a meal before the restaurant closed,” said N’Dione. “They were thinking we were going to be shut down in a few days. It was difficult to say if they were jokingly saying that or if they really believed it.”

The restaurant’s party and catering businesses have also been hurt by the city’s threat.

“We’ve definitely lost business,” said Merrill. “Over Thanksgiving weekend, there were brides in town booking their parties for next October. They didn’t want to take the chance that we might not be in business next year. People are now hesitant to book their Christmas parties with us.”

Why would the mayor’s office resort to such strong-arm tactics? Many would expect a default notice to be sent by Mayor Hayward only after his negotiations with Seville Harbour and Merrill Land had hit an impasse, especially when the notice is a public record that could hurt two landmark restaurants.

However, there had been no negotiations with the city, though Russenberger’s attorney asked for the leases to be combined in 2009. The leases were properly renewed in July 2011, and the mayor had never sent them any written proposals for the properties.

Merrill told the IN that he had only two meetings with the Hayward administration on the lease—one in 2011 with City Attorney Jim Messer and then Chief of Staff John Asmar, the other this past September with City Administrator Colleen Castille. Neither time did the city officials bring up anything about the restaurants owing millions in back rent. Never did the city ask for five percent of his restaurants’ sales.

“We have been waiting for the city to get back to us,” said Merrill. “We had no idea this was an issue or the mayor’s position on the leases.”

Pensacola Landmark

For many, The Fish House is an iconic Pensacola landmark.

The restaurant has hosted presidents, governors, senators, congressmen and other celebrities. During the 2008 presidential election, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson held campaign fundraisers there. This past election cycle, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, with McCain, actor Jon Voight and Mayor Hayward, held a rally on The Fish House deck, pictures of which appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times.

Chef and co-owner Jim Shirley has served his famous Grits a Ya Ya for dignitaries in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Pensacola native, former congressman and author Joe Scarborough has hosted his MSNBC show “Morning Joe” several times from the restaurant.

Three reality shows have been filmed there.  The Travel Channel aired an episode of “Bizarre Foods” that featured The Fish House’s grouper throats. “American Pickers” also filmed an episode from The Fish House, which featured the Merrill brothers trading some of their memorabilia for a model of the USS Atlanta. This past August, Chef Emeril Lagasse showcased The Fish House as part of his show “Emeril’s Florida” on the Food Network.

The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House have made Pitt Slip a destination for many visiting our area, serving an estimated 500,000 customers a year. They also are part of what was one of the city’s first public-private development projects.

In the 1980s, the Pensacola City Council wanted a marina built on Pitt Slip, the inlet across from the town’s historic district and outside the gates of the Port of Pensacola. Three parcels were combined—the water area for the docks (Parcel 1), the area along Barracks Street that the city leased from the state (Parcel 1A) and the lot south of the marina (Parcel III).

The intent was to lease to a developer the parcels for 30 years with a renewal option for an additional 30 years. When the original lease was executed in 1985, the city learned that its lease for Parcel 1A with the state only had 27 years remaining. The city had to amend the original lease to adjust its end date. The state required that it be renewed for five successive five-year periods.

The history of the development was filled with ownership changes and business failures. The project never was as successful as the council had hoped until Russenberger and the Merrills got involved.

In January 1998, Chef Jim Shirley rented the space formerly used by the closed Beef & Ale House in the Seville Harbour building on Parcel 1A. He opened the Fish House with Brian Spencer and Dr. Roger Orth as his investors. By the spring, Merrill brothers stepped in as investors in The Fish House, forming Great Southern Restaurant Group of Pensacola, Inc. that put about $2 million into the restaurant, according to Merrill. Spencer and Orth focused on Jackson’s, a restaurant they were opening on Palafox.

“At the time, my brothers and I had invested in several businesses downtown,” said Merrill. “We bought the Bass building on the corner of Palafox and Gregory and were the landlord to Jim Shirley and the Screaming Coyote. We bought Seville Tower on the corner of Palafox and Government streets, which is where my grandfather had his offices in the 1940s.”

He said, “We wanted to move downtown. At the time, our offices were near the mall at Madison Park. Though not a lot was going on downtown, we loved it and saw the potential.”

In 2000, Merrill learned Russenberger was looking to sell the Seville Harbour building. Merrill Land LLC, the brothers’ real estate development company, bought it for $1.3 million and agreed to sublease the ground lease for parcel 1A upon which it was built at the same terms of the master lease. The purchase and sublease were both recorded with the clerk of courts.

Great Southern Restaurant Group went from renting from Seville Harbour, Inc. to renting from Merrill Land LLC.

“Merrill Land got a loan to buy the building, on which it is still making payments,” said Merrill. “It’s like any business. It rents out spaces. We charge rent and hope that those collections are enough to cover our mortgage, lease payment to Russenberger for the ground lease, utilities, repairs and maintenance. At the end of the day, we hope to make a profit like any landlord does.”

Merrill admitted he has been surprised by how much he has come to like the restaurant business. He enjoys the positive feedback he receives from customers and is proud of the role The Fish House plays in the community.

“Maria Goldberg, our marketing director, and I get together once a week,” said Merrill. “We go over all the requests for donations from charities, and there’s always a stack of them. We try to help every one of them, from the high school booster clubs to the NICU at Sacred Heart.”

The Fish House caters events for charities, hosts parties and donates appetizers and the services of its chefs for other fundraising events.  He said, “We’ve tried to be good citizens by giving back to the community, trying to get downtown going and helping to promote Pensacola.”

Legal Battle

The default notification from the city asserted that it was entitled to five percent of the gross sales of the restaurants because Merrill Land had been partially assigned the master lease when it bought the Seville Harbour building. The city claimed Great Southern Restaurant Group was a subsidiary or business combination of Merrill Land and therefore should have paid rent based on its gross sales.

Attorney Bruce Partington responded on Nov. 27 on behalf of Seville Harbour and Merrill Land LLC.

First, he made it clear that the leases had been properly renewed. According to Partington, the renewals required nothing more than delivery of a written notice. The letter exercising the renewals was sent July 21, 2011 by Leo Cyr on the behalf of Seville Harbour.

Seville Harbour never partially assigned its lease to Merrill Land.

“Seville Harbour retains multiple rights and duties with respect to the property sub-leased to Merrill Land,” said Partington. “The fundamental concept of an assignment is that the assignor’s entire interest is transferred to the assignee which did not occur here.”

He pointed out that the city had refused in 2000 to approve any assignment to Merrill Land, which is why the transaction was done as a sublease. He asserted that the city’s new position of the relationship between the two companies being an assignment was “irreconcilable and fundamentally inconsistent” with its position 13 years ago.

He pointed out the two restaurants are not owned by Merrill Land. The owner, Great Southern Restaurant Group, “is not, and has never been, a ‘subsidiary or business combination’ of Merrill Land.”

“Merrill Land has no ownership or other interest in Great Southern Restaurant Group, nor does Merrill Land receive any portion of the revenues from the operation of the restaurants on the property.”

Partington believed that the city’s position is without merit and based on “two dubious propositions which are unsupported factually or legally.”

He expressed Merrill’s concerns about how the daily newspaper got wind of the letter one day after the certified letter was received.

“It is extremely troubling that Seville Harbour’s multiple attempts over several years to meet with representatives of the city to discuss the lease were ignored,” wrote Partington, “and then, after years without a response, receive a notice of default, which was then leaked by the city to the media for dramatic effect.”

He put the city on notice that it was responsible for any damage that the leak may have caused Great Southern Restaurant Group.

The Leak

Merrill admitted that when he first received the letter from Daniel he was not that concerned. He was surprised the attorney brought up gross sales, but believed that the restaurants were on solid legal ground.

He said, “I wasn’t really worried about it. I don’t even think I told my brothers about it because I knew it was baseless.”

He sent the letter to Stephen Moorhead, Russenberger’s attorney, to review. Then on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 21, Merrill received a call from the PNJ saying that they had heard about a letter sent to him saying The Fish House owed the city millions of dollars. The reporter would not tell him how they got that information, but he admitted they had not yet seen the letter.

Merrill called City Administrator Colleen Castille, who denied any responsibility for the leak. “Colleen, I don’t think you understand the severity of this. This is going to be a front-page story and I’m going to lose business immediately.”

A meeting was set up for the following morning between the daily newspaper, Castille and Merrill. He hoped that the City Administrator, whom he had given the details of the leases in September, would say the letter was wrong. That did not happen.

According to Merrill, she said the letter was a negotiating tool.

“I said that’s fine if you want to sit down at the negotiation table. We’ve been wanting to do it for years,” Merrill recalls what he told Castille at the meeting.

“But to say something that bad about my business is just wrong. I told the City Administrator that to send out a totally baseless letter with inaccurate facts to hurt my business is almost criminal.”

The IN asked the city for an interview with Castille for this article. The city’s communications director, Tamara Fountain, replied the following week, “Colleen has decided not to do any further interviews.”

The city did not offer for anyone else to explain the mayor’s decision to send the default notice or talk about the negotiations and did not give the paper permission to talk to its attorney Nix Daniel.

Who does Merrill think leaked the letter?

“Obviously it had to come from the city. It was either someone with the city or they gave the information to someone who then leaked it to the News Journal,” he said. “The last thing I wanted was this inaccurate letter to come out, because it’s hard to get that genie back in the bottle. I knew people were going to think The Fish House owes the city millions and the city was going to shut us down.”

Merrill said that the city knows the letter is totally inaccurate. “We’ve paid every bit of rent we owe. We’ve shared our financial information. I’m shocked that the mayor’s office would use this tactic. We sat down with Colleen, explained all the details of the leases and we thought it was all good—until we got the default notice.”

He said for the city to send out a default notice demanding millions of dollars without any discussion is unconscionable. “We properly and legally renewed our leases in July 2011. We got a letter from the city attorney that our attorney responded to almost immediately. We received nothing in writing until two years later and it’s a baseless default notification about something that the city has never mentioned to us was even an issue.”

Merrill asked, “What kind of message does this to send to businesses looking to invest in Pensacola and possibly partner with the city?”

Editor’s notes:  •Collier Merrill owns a five percent interest in the Independent News. Ray Russenberger owns 2.5 percent of the paper. Neither has, or has ever had, any control over the paper’s editorial coverage.

•At the time of print, the mayor and his attorneys had scheduled a meeting for Monday Dec. 9 to discuss Pitt Slip with Ray Russenberger, Collier Merrill and their attorneys.

———————————————

 

Don’t Forget The Airport

Mayor Hayward has been in a dispute with The Fish House over the food services contract at the Pensacola International Airport.

Hayward recommended to the city council at its Sept. 26 regular meeting the 10-year concession contract should be awarded to OHM Concessions—which included Chick-fil-A, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Surf City Squeeze and Corona Beach House. Collier Merrill’s The Fish House had joined forces with Bagelheads, Varona’s, and Pensacola Bay Brewery to offer a more local option that had placed second to OHM during the selection process.

The issue was tabled at the meeting when Merrill, the other local business owners, their employees and citizens spoke out in favor of their proposal. Since then, Mayor Hayward has pulled the item off the council’s agenda twice.

Those familiar with council politics say the mayor simply doesn’t have the votes to win approval for OHM. Did the mayor’s office leak the default notice to the daily newspaper to tarnish the image of Merrill and The Fish House to gain the one or two votes needed to bring Chick-fil-A to the airport?

“I certainly hope not,” said Merrill, “because I would hate to see them use those tactics (the notification of default and subsequent leak to the media) to win on a completely separate issue and to punish my 250 employees and my family.”

The next week in his “Upwords” newsletter Hayward criticized Merrill and the others who spoke out at the council meeting claiming they “ambushed” the council.

“It is a terrible idea to disregard our objective business processes in response to a few influential people politically strong-arming our elected officials,” said the mayor.

Merrill was dumbfounded by the mayor’s comments.

“I spoke before the city council because City Administrator Colleen Castille said that was what I should do,” he said. “She said she was going to let the Airport Director, Greg Donovan, stand on his own. We could make our argument and then we let the council make the decision.”

After the newsletter, he met with Castille and City Attorney Jim Messer and asked for explanation of the mayor’s comments.

“I asked Colleen, didn’t I do what you told me do?” he told the IN. “Basically she told me that she didn’t think we would be that organized.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 15 at his first “Mornings with the Mayor” session, Hayward bristled when asked about his “ambush” comment.

“That’s what I called it,” said Hayward, “It was an ambush.”

The IN asked how so, especially since Merrill had been instructed by the City Administrator to make his case at the council meeting.

“They did, but in my opinion I said it was an ambush,” said the mayor.

Mayor Hayward said of the upcoming council vote on the issue, “We will see what happens. They might win. If they do, we will move on. We’re going to support them and we’re going to say let’s make Pensacola a better place. I’m a big boy. Sometimes you win ’em; sometimes you lose ’em.”

When the council agenda for its Oct. 24 meeting was released, the food services contract was on it. The following Sunday, Hayward supporter Bob Kerrigan wrote a viewpoint in favor of OHM getting the contract. Ads appeared in the daily newspaper supporting the mayor’s proposal. A website was set up for Hayward supporters to send emails to council members.

Then at the council’s agenda review meeting, City Administrator Castille, on the mayor’s behalf, unexpectedly pulled it off the agenda. The mayor appeared no longer willing to lose on the issue.

The airport food services recommendation was not on any of the council’s agenda. On Dec. 2, Merrill received an email from the city that stated the issue would not come up in December either.

“Please be advised that the Airport Director will not be bringing the Food and Beverage concession lease agreement to the Pensacola City Council during its December, 2013 meeting,” wrote Airport Administration & Contracts Manager Michael Laven. “Both the Director and the Mayor will be out of the country on business. We believe that the scheduling of this concession will take place in January or February of 2014.”

Stay tuned.

December 7, 2013 Posted by | Blogging, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Leadership, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues, Restaurant, Social Issues | , , , | Leave a comment

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