Behind the News

Walmart Gang Killing Spree — or not

grand-theft-auto-liberty-city-stories-20050923061139569If there’s one thing I hate more than forwarded bogus e-mails, it’s forwarded bogus text messages. Here’s one I just got:

Please do not go to Walmart tonight. There is an alleged Gang initiation that involves killing three women and three men. Keep this going and pray for non-violence!

So, let’s examine this for a moment:

I shouldn’t go to Walmart — and I’m not even told which one — because you heard about a gang killing spree? A killing spree so public that we know exactly how many people they plan to cap? Considering this, wouldn’t Walmart be the safest place to be ? If you know about this killing spree, then obviously the police do too. So, the local Walmarts should be crawling with police.

Second, how many initiated gang members are there if everyone in the country is sending these out? There are roughly 4,200 Walmarts in the country. That would mean at least two gang members each Walmart: 8,400 gang members. That seems like a lot of initiations on a Tuesday night.

Third, doesn’t this seem awfully similar to that old rumor about gang members driving with their headlights off and, if you flashed your lights at them, they would chase and kill you? My other first thought was: This sounds like a scene in Grand Theft Auto.

Obviously, on its face, the whole thing is a hoax.

Which leads me to my plea: Whenever you hear a ridiculous rumor such as this, back slowly away from the cell phone and check out The site has a nice overview of all the Walmart killing spree-related rumors since 2005.

Verifying your bogus text message will not only save you countless hours of worrying, but save me a text messaging charge (and accompanying blog post).

The Unemployed Life

South Florida journalists band together to help fellow laid-off reporters

Reporters don’t curry much favor with the public. So it’s no surprise that, during this economic downturn, laid-off journalists don’t get the same sympathy as, say, unemployed police officers or veterans. As newspapers across the country downsize, or outright cease to exist, who will help the unemployed journalists? Other journalists, of course!

Enter Stacy Singer. After watching friend after friend get the ax, the Palm Beach Post reporter decided to create a nonprofit that would provide short-term aid to laid-off reporters. She’s calling it “After the Jump.” Singer has already put the word out to several news organizations and has the support of the South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Broward New Times reporter Bob Norman has the full text of Singer’s call to action on his blog, The Daily Pulp.

A worthy effort. If only we had a Stacy Singer here in Tampa Bay . . .

Behind the News, The Unemployed Life

Proposed Florida law seeks drug testing for the unemployed …

statesenatorbennett. . . Because, obviously, everyone on unemployment in this bountiful economy are unmotivated, crack-smoking losers.

SB 2062 would require Floridians collecting unemployment benefits to undergo random drug testing. To top it off, they would have to pay for their own test.

This slap in the face comes courtesy of Florida State Senator Michael S. Bennett, a Republican from Bradenton. He’s 64, Baptist and hails from the Midwest. Besides finding ways to demean laid-off workers, Bennett enjoys long walks on Siesta Key, gutting smart growth initiatives, running retirees out of trailer parks for fun and profit, and — well, looky here — taking campaign donations from a company that sells drug testing kits (h/t to the Raw Story for pointing that out).

In addition to the obvious constitutional issues, Bennett’s law faces some problems of practicality. Even though workers would pay for their own drug tests, our cash-strapped state would need to invest in clinicians and a whole new bureaucracy inside the Agency for Workforce Innovation. But most of all, SB 2062 (HB 969 in the Florida House) furthers the humiliation many workers feel after losing their jobs.

In the words of Bill Piper, a director for the Drug Policy Alliance: “. . . to require someone to pass a drug test to get their unemployment insurance after they’ve been laid off is pretty cruel — and to require them to pay for the test themselves is even more cruel.”

The complete outrageousness of this bill leads me to wonder what Bennett and Co. are smoking up there in Tallahassee. In the interest of finding out what that substance may be, I propose a compromise:

Under only one circumstance should SB 2062 become law — if an amendment is added that requires the random drug testing of state lawmakers.

I nominate Bennett to take the first one.

The Unemployed Life

Florida, St. Petersburg unveil stimulus websites

criststimulusBarack Obama’s most ardent Republican supporter, Florida’s Charlie Crist, finally released a website detailing where federal stimulus funds will go. Florida is not the first state,  nor the last. There’s isn’t much on the site now except for some photos, FAQ and various letters from the Guv. But once the federal funds pour in, this site could get real interesting. Check it out here.

Following his hometown governing friend, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker announced a similar website for the city. Though there isn’t much information on there now about how much St. Pete will get, it does detail the grants available. Check it out here.

So how does this help you? Once you see where the funds are going, you can track where the jobs will be created.

Behind the News

Another homeless sex offender story reports on a group of homeless sex offenders living in Lakeland:

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more about “Homeless sexual predators sleeping in…“, posted with vodpod

Homeless sex offenders is quickly becoming a frequent scenerio in Florida. Miami New Times writer Isaiah Thompson broke the story back in 2007 with a fantastic piece on a group of sex offenders living under a local bridge. Through his reporting, Thompson found that the Department of Corrections was transporting sex offenders straight out of jail to a spot below an overpass, because it was the only place in Miami they could live due to strict laws on how far sex offenders can live from bus stops, apartment buildings and schools.

After that story broke, other reporters found similar circumstances in their own backyards, including right here in St. Petersburg. In 2008, I wrote about a group of sex offenders pushed out of a trailer park to possible homelessness.

Of course, few people have sympathy for sex offenders becoming homeless. Even homelessness is too good for some sex offenders, they say. But many readers miss the societal impact.

Homeless sex offenders are harder to track, rehabililate and re-integrate into society. In December, the Washington Post investigated the effect of residency restrictions on encouraging homelessness:

The issue is starkest in California, where the number of sex crime parolees registering as transient has jumped more than 800 percent since Proposition 83 was passed in November 2006. The “Jessica’s Law” initiative imposed strict residency rules and called for all offenders to wear Global Positioning System bracelets for the rest of their lives.

Named for a 9-year-old Florida girl raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender, the provision passed by a wide margin that reflected the powerful public emotion that experts and law enforcement officials say in this instance trumped sound policy.

Be prepared to see more of these stories showing up in the future.

Behind the News

Who is the worst company in Tampa Bay?

The Consumerist recently called for readers’ nominiations for the 2009 Worst Company In America contest. (Great idea, but the prize is even better.) Last year, Countrywide took the prize. Halliburton won the year before that. This year, I’m betting on AIG.

But what about locally? Who would you nominate as Worst Company in Tampa Bay?

UPDATE: You might want to consider Verizon and their practice of charging for customers who do NOT make long distance calls. (h/t the Consumerist)

Behind the News

Current and former Creative Loafing employees comment on the bankruptcy

Nothing brings the web hits like a Creative Loafing post. Just ask Steve Fennessy.

The recent Creative Loafing court battle has prompted a number of current and former employees to analyze the situation. Wayne Garcia is covering the hearing with balance and facts. Former Creative Loafing Atlanta editor Ken Edelstein wonders if Creative Loafing‘s management are on drugs, and also provides an interesting gauge of CL‘s value by stacking 2008 and 2009 papers next to eachother. And, well, I’m making Terri Schiavo jokes.

Anyway, I’ll be obtaining court documents soon and will post them. Keep checking here for updates.

UPDATE: Washington City Paper editor Erik Wemple (part of the Creative Loafing chain) weighs in about the bankruptcy, too. In the paper’s blog, he wonders why he had to take a pay cut a few weeks back if the company’s value is “going through the roof:”

Holy cow—in the middle of the greatest financial crisis in however many decades, and the greatest biz-model crisis ever to affect newspapers, our very own company has nearly doubled in value. Quick–someone call Romenesko!

Behind the News

Speaking of monkeys …

If you have one, or eight, and/or a couple of a tigers, the Florida Wildlife Commission is happy to take them off your hands — no questions asked — on March 21.

More info here.

Behind the News

Breaking News! Reggie is free!

spidermonkeyOK, the news is a few days old, but in Fruitland Park, they’re lucky to be getting the Internet at all.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Reggie the “horse riding monkey” escaped from the circus on Friday after a PETA activist began arguing with the monkey’s owner. As of yesterday, no one has seen the little guy. The folks over at Florida Animal Advocates couldn’t be happier:

As of this afternoon, Reggie the “horse-riding spider monkey” is still enjoying his freedom in the wilds of Lake County. On Friday, before a performance of the Liebling Bros. Circus at the North Lake Flea Market in Fruitland Park, the owner of the circus failed to properly latch the door to Reggie’s cage. Spider monkeys are known for their intelligence. Reggie saw an opportunity and took it, dashing from the cage and into the woods near the flea market (the flea market is a short distance from Lake Griffin State Park). We wish Reggie luck!

Hmmm .. wily monkeys, dubious owners, maligned animal institution … where have I heard this before?

(Photo Credit: Amatuer Photo Bore/Flickr)