About Michael Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."

Tea Party Chair recalls the hate speech she endured during her own campaign.


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ORLANDO – One of the first things that Peg Dunmire thought of when she heard about the tragic shootings in Tucscon, Arizona that critically injured a local congresswoman was the final day of her own campaign for Congress last November. On that single day, Dunmire and her staff and supporters watched uncomfortably as four men followed them from one event to the next.

It was election day, and Dunmire — the Florida Tea Party’s candidate for the state’s 8th Congressional District — had posted her campaign schedule on her Web site that morning.

The tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona prompted Peg Dunmire to recall the eerie events on the final day of her congressional race last November, when four men followed her to several campaign events.

As she and her staff traveled from one event to the next, they noticed the same four men following her everywhere they went.

“They got my schedule because I had released it that morning, where I was going to be on Election Day,” Dunmire said.  “They went to all my events.”

Finally, the staff got nervous enough that they contacted police. An officer approached one of the men to find out why he was following the candidate.

“You know what they said?” Dunmire recalled.  “They said, ‘Because she’s not a legitimate candidate.’ I think elections decide that.”

Saturday’s shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others at a supermarket parking lot in Tucson has set off a national debate about anger, violence and heated political rhetoric in American politics.

It’s not yet clear if the man arrested for the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, had any clear political motive, but the case has put a spotlight on the issue of inflammatory political language, and spurred a number of lawmakers to question how they can protect themselves at public events — with a few promising they’ll carry weapons themselves from now on.

Another lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Carolyn  McCarthy, D-N.Y.,  announced she would introduce legislation aimed at banning the high-capacity ammunition clip used by the gunman in the Tucson shootings. McCarthy won a seat in Congress in 1996, three years after her husband was shot and killed, and her son seriously injured, during a shooting on a Long Island commuter train.

Dunmire, the chairman of the Florida Tea Party, said she understands how ugly campaign speech can get, noting that the stalkers who followed her on election day were symptomatic of anyone who disagreed with her views or platform, and responded as if her candidacy posed a threat.

“I ended up being subjected to the rhetoric of hate,” Dunmire said.  “It happened to me here. We need to understand this hostility is pervasive.”

On the day she got stalked, she recalled, “I wasn’t intimidated, but a lot of the people around me were.  Perhaps it should have been a little more intimidating when I think about what happened to Representative Giffords, because my sons repeatedly warned me that there are a lot of crazies out there.”

Still, Dunmire said the solution isn’t to push for new laws, including new gun control measures similar to the legislation Rep. McCarthy has proposed, or a suggestion by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., on CNN that he’d draft a bill making it a crime to use words or images that looked violent or threatening to public officials.

“My concern is the opportunists will use this (assassination attempt) as a justification for taking away more of our freedoms, and clamping down on freedom of speech,” Dunmire said.

Candidates and incumbent lawmakers can’t turn every political event into a heavily armed, screened and guarded fortress, Dunmire said.

“Does this mean TSA-type body searches in order to just see your congressman?” she asked.  “This is what we don’t want to happen. The role of the government is to secure our rights.  The role of the government is not to make us safe.”

Dunmire ran for the seat then held by Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson. Both candidates lost to the Republican nominee, Dan Webster.

On Monday, Grayson issued a statement about his friendship with Giffords, who had served with him on the House Committee on Science and Technology.

“I’m going to let others comment on what this means for America,” Grayson said of the shootings.  “I just want to say what it means to me.”

He noted that Giffords’ D.C. office was one floor above his, and “I saw Gabby dozens, if not hundreds of times, during our two years together.  And nearly every time that I can remember, she was smiling.  Gabby is one of the most cheerful, charming and engaging people I have ever known.  She’s always looking on the bright side.  She has something good to say about pretty much everyone.  Bad news never lays a glove on her.  She loves life, and all the people in it.  No matter what is going on in your life, after fifteen minutes with Gabby, you’ll feel that you can touch the stars.”

Grayson noted that like himself, fellow Democrat Giffords faced a tough re-election battle, although she narrowly won.

“I always thought that if each of her constituents could spend that fifteen minutes with her, and see what she is really like, then she would win with 99.9% of the vote,” Grayson wrote.  “You would want her as your congressman, because you would want her as your friend.  I know nothing about the man who shot Gabby, and what was going through his mind when he did this.  But I will tell you this – if he shot Gabby out of hatred, then it wasn’t Gabby he was shooting, but rather some cartoon version of her, drawn by her political opposition.  Because there is no way – no way – that anyone who really knows Gabby could hate her or hurt her. She is a kind, gentle soul.”

He added, “My heart goes out to Mark Kelly, Gabby’s husband, and the many, many people who love her.  Gabby, we don’t want to lose you.  Please stay here with us.”

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

Disney Historian Jim Korkis recalls Disney anecdotes, including the 1952 presidential campaign.


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ORLANDO – When Jim Korkis was a teenager, he’d already become a huge fan of Walt Disney, his movies and legendary characters.

But one thing Korkis did that a lot of other kids his age weren’t doing was reaching out to the people who created all that Disney magic.  While watching “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” TV show in the 1950s, Korkis used to write down the names on the credits at the end of the program. And then he went a step further.

Jim Korkis talks about his book "The Vault of Walt" at the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando.

Living at the time in California, “I would look them up in the Burbank phone book,” Korkis said.  “I would phone these guys up.”

Then he’d ask if they were available to explain how they came to work for Walt Disney and made all those wonderful animated pictures.

And it worked.

“Eighty percent of them were really nice,” Korkis recalled.  “About 20 percent thought their friends had put me up to it.”

He scored a big coup when he managed to convince Disney legend Jack Hanna to sit down for an interview.

“The very first animator I interviewed was Jack Hannah, who was the director of a lot of Donald Duck cartoons,” he said.  “I was 14 years old.”

Today, Korkis lives in Orlando and spent more than a decade working as a cast member at World Disney World.  He’s also the author of “The Vault of Walt,” a book available through Amazon.com, which as he noted recounts a lot of anecdotes and stories about Walt Disney that simply haven’t made it into earlier biographies.

On Saturday, Korkis talked about his book, Disney history, and the public’s ongoing love of everything related to the Disney name at the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando.

“I have a huge collection of Disney books,” he told the packed crowd.  “Do we really need another Disney book?”

Korkis noted that he has more than a dozen Disney biographies in his own collection – but he felt compelled to write another one because he’s collected so many stories over the years from Disney animators, employees and cast members that he had a treasure trove of great ones to share.  He even divided the book into four sections – on Walt Disney himself, the theme parks, the movies, and then miscellaneous stories – and still felt like he had enough left over for a second book, which he’s working on now.

“These are stories that are fascinating,” he said.  “I had so many stories that I couldn’t put them all in one book.” 

Jim Korkis' book "The Vault of Walt" covers all aspects of Walt Disney -- the man, the movies, and the theme parks.

As part of his presentation, Korkis brought along videos of some of the early pioneering television commercials that Disney animators worked on – such as Tinkerbell introducing Peter Pan Peanut Butter that spreads so gently on bread, “and even on crispy potato chips.”

Or Br’er Rabbit from the movie “Song of the South” hiding in an American Motors Rambler, a car that offered the perfect escape from Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, during both a heavy snowstorm and a hot summer day, because the auto had all season air conditioning.

“It’s the lowest price air conditioning system in America,” the narrator claims.

“Aren’t these charming?” Korkis said.  “And the Disney company has no copies of them.”

Many of these commercials were given to Korkis by the animators he interviewed over the years.

“I met an awful lot of these people, and some of the commercials came from their personal libraries,” he said.

The commercials didn’t just sell products like cars and peanut butter, but also politicians.  The 1952 presidential election was between Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson, and as Korkis noted, Walt Disney and his brother Roy were staunch conservatives who were eager to help Eisenhower win.  Since the Republican Party had come up with a phrase, “I Like Ike,” the Disney animators put that into a commercial, which included a jingle.

The animation shows a patriotic-looking parade of Eisenhower supporters singing “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike,” and midway through, Stevenson is seen riding the other way on a donkey, while the crowd sings, “And Adlai goes the other way.”

“This commercial would run sometimes over 100 times a day for two weeks,” Korkis said.  “And of course, Dwight Eisenhower won.”

It’s anecdotes like this, he said, that should not only be preserved in books like “The Vault of Walt,” but also shared with others.

“We’ve got to get these stories out there and write them down,” he said. “If you don’t tell people that story, they can’t share that story and communicate it with others.  If you don’t tell people, they won’t know.”

Korkis is known by many Disney fans as a Disney historian – a term he felt compelled to define.

“One of the questions I often get asked is what the heck is a Disney historian,” he asked. “It doesn’t help you get a date!”

Korkis said it’s similar to a library’s archivist – someone who gathers material, then catalogs and preserves it.

“What a Disney historian does is take that material and connect the dots,” he said.  “Stories are how we structure information and transfer information.”

He found, as he went to work at Disney, that the stories just kept coming – more and more of them all the time.

“I started to realize the more I was talking to Disney cast members, a lot of these stories had gotten lost,” he said.  “A lot of this stuff never got documented.”

Until now.

To order a copy of Korkis’ book online, visit http://www.amazon.com/Vault-Walt-Jim-Korkis/dp/.

 Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

In-Cite by John DiDonna: Vitriolic Rhetoric


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By now we’ve all read the stories, mourned the losses, gotten slightly (ever so slightly) over the shock, and discovered a new name in the lexicon of hate:  Jared Loughner.  The new assassin on everyone’s lips.

The sad direction of our national political dialogue ....?

On Saturday, with a semi-automatic handgun, he shot and he shot.  And when he finished shooting (and was wrestled to the ground), there were six dead and 14 wounded.  A federal judge – dead.  A nine year old girl – dead.  A congresswoman – Gabrielle Giffords – in critical condition but alive, her doctors optimistic about recovery.

The shooter himself?  The usual expectations.  Loner.  Pot smoker.  Unbalanced.  Previous trouble.  Worried classmates.

The not so usual?  The YouTube and MySpace postings showing a very disturbed man obsessed with “conscience dreaming” (his mistake, not mine) and the “new” currency.

In the face of all this tragedy and barrage of information, what did I also notice as I attempted to make sense of the hopelessly senseless?

One of the things that frustrates me on a daily basis.

It took about 15 minutes (or more likely less) from the last pull of that trigger for finger pointing to start, and it has yet to stop beyond multiple calls for it (including a brilliant one by CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen).

The “left” blamed the “right” which in turn blamed the “left.”  He was a tea partier. . . no,  he was a liberal and a democrat. . . no,  he read the communist manifesto. . .no, he was influenced by Palin. . .no,  it is your fault. . . no, it is yours. . .

Stop.
Just stop.

The fact is a very crazed man (yes, I used the word crazed) who was disturbed for reasons beyond our current knowledge of him, went on a killing rampage. Was it politically motivated? Possibly. But not in the way you would imagine (one friend pointed out it was a politician who was targeted, not anyone else – and recent findings in the shooter’s house support that clearly he went after Giffords). Was it an organized and agenda driven attack? Not likely – read the man’s writings and you will know there was not much coherence there.

Yet now we have new media sound bites to chew over.  “Vitriolic Rhetoric”.  “Toxic Political Environment” (Gergen’s phrase and one I like).

And while the direct and only blame that is deserved in this particular tragedy must be foisted on the shoulders of Loughner himself, we do have to ask ourselves: when did this savage vitriol start, and does it indeed set out an environment whereby a mentally disturbed man such as this may finally take the tragic action we are all now shocked by.

Every day we see the rhetoric in our papers, on our talk shows, blaring out of our radios and in blogs and our own conversations — from both sides of the political fence.  Just last night I was appalled at the horrifying posts being made on Facebook.  One – which I had to confess I was not sure was even real, it was so parody-like  – involved the effusive use of the words “Right Wing Nuts …. Nazi Propaganda ….” And of course there was the obligatory and oh so charming “Go f__k yourselves.”

As you see, the hate comes from all sides, not just one. Finger point. Finger point.

So how does it stop? None of it is beneficial. Some say “But it is political debate.” No, it is not. It is political division. It exists merely to divide.

Politics certainly contains high passions of both the intellectual and emotional kind.  But when exactly did the hatred start?  When did the vitriol become commonplace and even expected? When did finger pointing become a national pastime?  How and why did we let these individuals who flourish in this come into the equation, and why do we still listen?  When did we become so divided?  And how do we stop it and return to a useful national political dialogue?  And most importantly – why do we always think the “other” side is the one to blame?

What do you think? Looking for your in-cite.

But remember, no finger pointing.  If you decide to point the finger at the “other” side, (whichever “other” that might be), consider that a finger may be squarely pointed right back.

And remember the events of Saturday how dangerous that might be. Sometimes a finger pointing can be as dangerous as a gun.

Let us prove here on In-Cite that we do not have to fall into this dangerous trap and can have a non-partisan, intelligent, and constructive dialogue.

Enjoy the conversation.

Contact John DiDonna at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.
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