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Red ride

While we were in Florida recently, we experienced something called red tide — when massive amounts of algae multiply in saltwater, usually off the shore of the Florida gulf coast. Highly concentrated, it may turn the surface of the water a brownish-red, hence its name.

Red tide produces strong neurotoxins that can harm marine life and cause humans to experience a dry hacking cough and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Red tide moves onshore because of winds and ocean currents.

No one knows when it will occur or how long it will last. It typically moves in a southeastern direction winding up in the Tampa Bay area. Red tide is proof that toxins produced by nature can be as uncomfortable or even as deadly as manmade pollution.

We were guests of my cousin and his wife in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island on the gulf coast of Florida during Valentine’s week. We were staying in a lovely beachfront home. All of us woke up one morning to find ourselves coughing and sneezing. Not realizing that it was red tide, we threw open all the windows to let in the ocean breeze and matters only got worse.

We found that everyone with whom we came in contact that day was experiencing the same problems. Finally, a visiting relative who has retired to the area told us about red tide. The symptoms lasted into the next day. We found out from the Internet that the condition usually occurs when the gulf water is much warmer and that, in worse cases, many dead fish pile up on the beaches. In this case, only a few dead fish were spotted washed up on the shore.

What we found so curious was that no mention of red tide was made on any of the local newscasts that we could find. This despite the fact that people who suffer from chronic respiratory ailments such as asthma can be placed in jeopardy by red tide. A day later at an outlet shopping area in nearby Ellenton, an older man told us that he had to stay indoors for 24 hours when red tide hit because of his asthma condition. How, then, could the local news ignore a possible health hazard to the community?

Resort areas are finicky about giving out any information that might scare away vacationers. Remember that scene in Jaws when the mayor of the fictional town held back information about the shark scare? When I worked at a radio station in Wildwood many years ago, the owner of the station thought it was his civic duty to censor reports of a shark scare off Cape May. Apparently the television news people in the gulf coast towns of Florida are like-minded.

So you had to depend on the locals to tell you about red tide and, if you had a severe breathing problem and had already been exposed, well, too bad, but hey, the vacation business is just too competitive to frighten people with the truth.

We kind of live in a red tide political environment. Our politicians are like the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men: They don’t believe we can handle the truth. So neither political party will admit the only way that we can really save Social Security is by either increasing taxes or extending the retirement age or a combination of both.

So, like the political powers in the resort towns when red tide hits, instead of the truth we get forecasts of sunny weather.

It’s the same way with the "outsourcing" of American jobs overseas. The Democratic candidate is in denial, railing against the inequities of NAFTA to please his union constituencies, even though he knows that NAFTA has had as many positive as negative results and the answer certainly isn’t protectionism.

How do I know that John Kerry knows better? Because his votes in the Senate are essentially the same in support of international free trade, something that former President Bill Clinton has never gotten enough credit for supporting.

A key economic adviser to President Bush made the faux pas of admitting that even though the loss of jobs overseas creates pain for some, there is gain for others. He was quickly pounced upon by the Dems and the media for speaking the truth. The President quickly disavowed the comments of his own adviser for fear of further highlighting his own failure to create new jobs to replace those that were lost.

No one has yet come up with a solution for red tide algae pollution. No one has come up with a solution for red tide politics, either. But the truth in both cases would be a good start.

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