Friday, February 18, 2011

The Scott Brand of Transparency

Deja vu washed over me when I learned that Gov. Rick Scott would unveil his new budget for Florida to a gathering of Tea Party supporters in Eustis last week.

It was a trick presidential candidate George W. Bush employed to make his speeches appear universally well received. His handlers continued to hand-pick audiences even after Bush was elected president, going so far as to bar attendees because they had unfavorable bumper stickers on their cars parked blocks away from the appearance.

The Tea Party venue should have been a sure sign to Floridians that they wouldn't like what Scott had to say. I can't deny having had a twinge that they deserved whatever bad news it was. Floridians did, after all, vote him into office by a strong majority despite ample warnings.

Of course the Scott campaign had countered those warnings with promises of transparency and - most of all - jobs.

Oh yes, "Let's get to work!" The slogan was effective though details were short on how he was going to add 700,000 jobs in seven years. Details have been even more elusive since Scott occupied the governor's office. Campaign promises to operate Florida like a business have proved that his meaning was that meetings would be held behind closed doors, in contempt of Sunshine Laws which require open forum for state business, and hand-picking reporters when media finally is allowed inside the veil.

Scott's out-of-hand rejection of high-speed rail this week has motivated others to comment on the pattern. Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel business columnist observed: "Most governors unveil their budget proposals in Tallahassee where the serious business of negotiating the state's budget plays out, but Scott turned his spending cuts into a Tea Party pep rally in Eustis last week.

"Scott used Fox News to tout his budget. On Thursday, he appeared again on Fox to talk about his refusal to accept federal money for the high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa..."

A coward addresses only audiences he thinks will applaud his actions and then calls it transparency.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rick Scott Ignored Rail's Facts

By Joanie Schirm, Orange County League of Women Voters, Transportation Committee. Published on on February 17, 2011

On Wednesday our governor decided to cancel high-speed rail to save tax dollars and concentrate on putting people to work in other ways.

This man just doesn't get it. Now single-handedly, he has denied future generations of Floridians and visitors the opportunity to ride on a world-class transportation system that would have created thousands of jobs just when we need them the most. And we had the federal government and private sector willing to make it happen for us.

Let's review Florida's circumstance: In 1956, when the interstate highway system began, we started paying federal gas tax. Since then, Florida has been a donor state, paying $5 billion more to the federal government than we received back for highways and mass transit.

This money was sent to other states, producing millions of jobs and numerous highway and transit projects for others — not us.

By federal law, up to 20 percent of gas taxes we pay the federal government must go to transit. It can't be used for roads. We haven't come close to our 100 percent share back on either account — roads or transit. Florida was positioned to receive some of its own money back in a mammoth way — federal funding of close to $3 billion toward high-speed rail.

This is a no brainer: It would have been our money coming back to us to nearly completely fund this large infrastructure project connecting Orlando to Tampa. Our governor has concocted bogus statements as he canceled the project before Floridians could hear from credible ridership studies revealing the facts for a system between Tampa and Orlando.

Our new governor should proceed with the private-sector proposals for the system's guaranteed maximum price to build, operate and manage the system for the state. Private companies have already said they would guarantee costs (so no state risk in overruns), and they would be willing to make up the funds not coming from the federal government to pay capital.

Only in that way can Scott be authentic in assessing if this system makes sense to accept the full federal money (our money after all) to achieve the fully integrated transportation system that we have planned for over 30 years.

Without credible ridership results and allowing private bids to arrive, which would have showed the private sector would have completed the funding for our system — our governor has denied Floridians the facts. How sad for future generations.

I Couldn't Have Said It Better: Clueless Scott

From the Orlando Sentinel editorial page on February 17: 
When Gov. Rick Scott announces his plans for SunRail, we hope he'll at least consider its benefits to Central Florida. On Wednesday, he seemed utterly clueless about what the state would gain from a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa.
The Orlando-Tampa line would have created an estimated 23,000 jobs to build it and another 1,000 permanent jobs to operate and maintain it. Mr. Scott couldn't be bothered about that in rejecting $2.4 billion — that's billion with a B — specifically earmarked by the federal government for the project. And, in an Orwellian, head-shaking, did-I-really-hear-him-say-that? moment, the governor reminded listeners during his job-killing announcement that he "was elected to get Floridians back to work."
This was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to start transforming the way Floridians get around.
The train would have served stops at Orlando's airport, International Drive, Disney, Lakeland and Tampa. The airport, the Convention Center, hotels and restaurants along I-Drive, Disney and businesses in Lakeland and Tampa all wanted the train, rightly viewing it as another way to move customers to and from their doors.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida — the state's premier business groups — also wanted the train, knowing it could lead to the building of another economically simulative high-speed line planned for Orlando to Miami.
Yet Mr. Scott said that he was ditching the project to create an environment "where the economy can flourish." Huh?
Mr. Scott wanted Floridians to think the project put them at risk.
But state transportation officials had fashioned terms where the train's private operator — not the state — would pay any cost overruns and the cost of operating and maintaining the train for 30 years.
And did we mention that Floridians almost certainly wouldn't have had to pay $280 million to complete the project — money needed in addition to the federal government's $2.4 billion contribution? A number of companies vying to operate the line indicated they'd assume that cost.
That fact had conservatives from John Mica in Congress to Mike Haridopolos in the Legislature supporting the Orlando-to-Tampa line.
The high-speed line also would have connected to SunRail, providing thousands more riders for the commuter-line planned to run from Volusia County through Orlando to Osceola County.
What drove Mr. Scott to turn away from so many arguments in favor of high-speed rail?
It might have been that governors of New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin rejected federal funding for rail projects before Mr. Scott, earning rave reviews from Tea Party enthusiasts. No doubt they're applauding Mr. Scott in Eustis, where last week he unveiled his program-hacking budget to tea partiers.
Mr. Scott needs to do what would benefit all Florida, not what might play well before his Tea Party fans. High-speed rail would have benefited the state. So will SunRail, which Mr. Scott on Wednesday ominously said he's still "reviewing."
An adviser to Mr. Scott said the governor's budget includes money for SunRail. But Mr. Scott has suspended contracts that are needed to build the line.
If he signs off on them, he'll be getting behind a project that can get Floridians back to work — and perhaps temper the monumental blunder he's made with high-speed rail.

He's Responsible, If Not Guilty

In writing about Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Tribune reporter Mark Magnier wrote, "Although Singh's personal integrity is generally considered above suspicion, his oversight role has come under growing scrutiny."

The observation came amid controversy about "a rash of alleged irregularities connected to sports, telecommunications and real estate deals, potentially involving tens of billions of dollars" in India.

These revelations and observations coincided with my decision to speak out about Governor Rick Scott's revelation of his decision to kill high speed rail in Florida. In reaction to the February 16 announcement, I posted on Facebook: "Apparently Florida Gov. Rick Scott only takes federal money if he can do it fraudulently. Rue the day, Floridians."

I point out that this was only his revelation moment because of my conviction that Scott had actually made the kill decision long before the announcement - perhaps even before his election to governor. I don't pretend to have insight into his motivations except that, based on what I have learned of Scott, I'm fairly certain that the kill decision is motivated by personal gain.

It is no secret that I dislike and distrust the former beneficiary of Columbia/HCA Medicare fraud which netted the company a multi-million dollar fine - the  largest in U.S. history - but no criminal prosecution of its captain. Scott has always maintained that he knew nothing of the criminal activities of his company, which brings me back to the parallels with Magnier's reporting of the Singh story.

"If he didn't know about the alleged irregularities going on around him, his leadership should be called into question, and if he knew, he should have halted them."

Scott is no Singh. Unlike Singh, we can't say that Scott's personal integrity is considered above suspicion. Which is the basis for my contention that putting Scott in the governor's office is equivilent to tasking the fox with guarding the hen house.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Social Media Revolutions.

It seemed an eternity: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's stubborn resistance to calls from demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square to "Just leave!" In truth, of course, the relatively peaceful deposing of the autocratic regime has moved astonishingly quickly. Just eighteen days have passed since the Egyptian people took a cue from nearby Tunisia and revolted against their own oppression.

From the U.S., we watched the news on CNN and MSNBC, spellbound by the video images. We read detailed accounts online and in the newspaper, grasping for accurate details. Even today -- before I learned of Mubarak's resignation -- beginning my morning ritual, I flicked the remote control button to have the TV news in the background while scanning the newspaper. And there it was: the disconnect between the immediacy of electronic media and the lag with the more comfortable printed media. As sounds and sights of jubilation in the streets of Cairo lept from the screen, my newspaper's headlines delivered disappointing headlines, "Defiant Mubarak Refuses to Quit."

As CNN's Wolf Blitzer observed that Mubarak has finally acquiesced to the revolution and handed over leadership to the millitary, Blitzer attributed the uprising to "cable TV news and the Internet." It caught my attention as being rather solicitous of the significance of cable news because I was aware of the apparent roles of reviled Julian Assange's WikiLeaks in exposing corruption in the governments of the revolting nations combined with democratic exchanges and organization through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, prompting Mubarak's government to shut down Egypt's Internet service providers. Along with the rest of the world, I had observed the concern over detained Google executive Wael Ghonim, and then the relief and his rock star reception as he was released and he bravely returned to join his friends in Tahrir Square. But I hadn't been aware of the significance of cable TV news directly to the revolution.

Yes, cable TV news had been significant to me as an observer, and likely to other outsiders who actually could lend significant voice in pressuring the Mubarak regime to step down, but not to the Egyptians in rebellion. I had felt my heart swell in pride and support as CNN's Anderson Cooper made an impassioned call for Mubarak to stop lying to his people and the world about his history and intentions and resign immediately, even as U.S. President Barak Obama hesitated to take a firm stand against the long-time ally.

The telling sound byte came moments later as Blitzer interviewed a jubilant Ghonim, "First Tunisia, now Egypt, what's next? " asked Blitzer.

Google's Ghonim blurted, "Ask Facebook!"

An incredulous Blitzer pressed, "You're giving Facebook a lot of credit for this?"

"Yes. I want to meet [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him, actually," Ghonim enthused.

So, there you have it -- The Social Media Revolutions. Facebook and Twitter, hand-in-hand with WikiLeaks and Google.

Viva la Egypt! Viva la Tunisia! Viva la freedom!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Reaching Out

It's 5 a.m. and I am laying in bed -- awake with thoughts of sadness about the death of an extended family member. Not only did I lose someone I cared about, but now I risk losing contact with her family as well.

Our relationships are so tenuous. We are survivors of a terrible shipwreck, bobbing on the swells of life. We call out, hoping to find others and help them pull through; perhaps to tend to their wounds in some way. Is it unrealistic to think that we can reach out to survivors and grab on so that they don't drift away completely? I hope not.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Overdrugged: Higher Than "Normal" Pharmaceutical Use.

Americans don't realize how excessive their reliance on drugs has grown. In the U.S., there is a Walgreens or CVS on the corner of every major intersection. By contrast, pharmacies can be rather scarce in other countries.

Is it then any surprise that drug abuse is so rampant in a nation where drugs are so common and readily available?

Is it possible that our high cost of health care is at least partially linked to maintaining such a plentiful pharmaceutical infrastructure? Probably no one would dispute that the infrastructure of high-technology medicine is largely responsible for runaway costs of healthcare.

Physicians are thoroughly indoctrinated in prescribing drugs. There is so much that could be done with nutrition, yet very little focus is given to nutritional training in medical school. Results from drugs are more dramatic for an impatient society, and profits are easier from patented pharmaceuticals.

Now evidences of pharma kickbacks have made the news. Reports have surfaced about the direct correlation between fees paid by the pharmaceutical industry to physicians and the drugs and procedures the physicians most prescribe.

A Nation of Missionaries

Over the past decade, speculation has grown that the United States is loosing it's industrial and technological edge on the developing world. Recent statistics bare the reality that those speculations were well founded and the fulcrum has already tilted against us.

While attempting to invision a United States without even a technological or intellectual advantage, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps our best bet is to become a nation of missionaries -- carrying to the world our message of capitalism and freedom. I'm not sure that we have a gospel that other countries don't emulate better than the preacher. But then I guess that's probably true of any given church: there are members that are brighter-shining examples of the church's doctrines than the person who propounds from the pulpit.

Britain has skated through the past century or so on a similar basis. Can it be said that it has been successful? Considering that Britain had far fewer resources to start with than the U.S., my opinion is that we should fare even better in the role. The one thing that Britain has going for it that we do not is self discipline.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can We Trust Private Health Care? Public Would Be Better.

In January, I suffered a blinding headache. A simple visit to the local emergency room turned into a helicopter trip to a major teaching hospital and emergency neurosurgery. The event cost well over $100k - far more than my basic medical insurance covered. So now that burden has fallen directly on my shoulders, even as I struggle to support my family with an underpaying job after earning a college degree, working hard all my life and meeting obligations to the extent possible.

Additionally, my father-in-law experienced a life-ending illness this month. A veteran of WWII, he was dependent on Medicare, Medicaid and VA benefits. As his condition deteriorated at the hands of incompetent private providers, they daily pressed us for a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. We refused to sign a DNR, yet he ultimately secumbed anyhow to their incompetence.

It doesn't take a financial genius to recognize that unbridled greed of providers and payors has caused a meltdown of America's businesses and government by placing disproportionate emphasis on covering health care in employee benefit programs. It is apparent to me that threats of declining quality if the system is nationalized are ludicrous.

Nothing turning the system public likely will degrade health care like the greed of private providers and payors has already done.

The fallacy of the argument for opposition to health care reform is that the status quo is working. It is not.

Even when you have payed for insurance for years, payors either don't cover your costs - or cancel coverage - when required to actually pay. Yet we are asked to believe that the marketplace will better care for us than the government.

Did we learn nothing from deregulation of banking and Wall Street - and the resulting financial sector meltdown?

Can anybody still maintain a straight face while assuring us that private care can be trusted more than public care?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Obama's Ice Cream

Why do relatives not understand that I hate forwarded email messages? Normally, my response is to immediately trash them. At most, I quickly scan and then trash them. For some reason, the offending relatives invariably are conservatives passing around their Republican and/or Christian propaganda. If forwarding proves to be the primary message activity of the relative, I create a junk mail rule that automatically filters them so that I no longer see the messages when they arrive. This one slipped in today and I scanned it. I couldn't resist responding.

"From a teacher in the Nashville  area.

"(Who worries about 'the cow' when it's all about  the 'Ice Cream?')

"The most  eye-opening civics lesson I ever had was while teaching third grade  this year.

"The  presidential  election was heating up and some of the children showed an  interest.

"I decided we would have an  election for a class president.

"We  would choose our nominees. They would make a campaign speech and the  class would vote.

"To simplify the  process, candidates were nominated by other class  members.

"We discussed  what kinds  of characteristics these students should  have.

"We got many  nominations and from those, Jamie and Olivia were picked to run for  the top spot.

"The class had done a  great job in their selections.

"Both candidates were good kids. I thought Jamie might have an  advantage because he got lots of parental support. I had never seen  Olivia's mother.

"The day arrived when  they were to make their speeches Jamie went  first.

"He had specific ideas about how  to make our class a better place.  He ended by promising to do  his very  best.

"Everyone  applauded.  He sat down and Olivia came to the podium. Her  speech was concise.

"She said, "If you  will vote for me, I will give you ice cream."  She sat  down.

"The class went wild.   "Yes! Yes!  We want ice cream." She surely could say more.  She did not have to.

"A discussion  followed. How did she plan to pay for the ice cream?  She wasn't sure.

"Would her parents buy it or would  the class pay for it?  She didn't  know.

"The class really didn't care. All  they were thinking about was ice  cream.

"Jamie was  forgotten.

"Olivia won by a  landslide.

"Every time Barack Obama  opened his mouth he offered ice cream and fifty-two percent of the  people reacted like nine year olds.  They want ice  cream.

"The other forty-eight percent of  us know we're going to have to feed the cow and clean up the  mess."

It's a cute story, but where was that concern during the past eight years when the previous administration rang up nearly $4-trillion dollars on wars in Iraq and  Afghanistan, and ran the national debt up to an all-time high of nearly $11-trillion? Check out these stories:

By contrast, the economic bailout package being decried by congressional Republicans as too expensive is less than 20 percent as much - and it is to be spent on Americans in America, not on foreign countries that don't want us there anyhow. Granted, I don't agree with economic bailout that throws taxpayer dollars at bad businesses and arrogant corporate fatcats, but they are less than 3 degrees off of bad government and arrogant fatcat politicians who retire to a "working weekend" at a luxurious Williamsburg, VA, resort. At least the plan currently under debate has more accountability built in than the TARP bill of the Bush administration, rebuilds critical infrastructure and limits executive salaries of bailed-out corporations. Far better to have given the $700-billion of TARP money and $900-billion of economic bailout directly to Americans. That would be a check for $5,236 to each and every American, compared to $300 to each qualifying American last June when auto manufacturers and other businesses fell all over themselves trying to entice recipients to spend their $300 with them. More than $5,000 in the hands of each American would truly stimulate the economy, instead of allowing corporations to absorb huge sums of money without any discernible benefit.

Not that anybody has asked, but I believe the Obama plan to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan is just a misguided as the initial attacks by the Bush administration. The Soviet Union failed with twice as many men. What neither Bush or Obama has ever understood is that the appropriate response to a bunch of Islamic thugs attacking the World Trade Center would have been a quick-strike police enforcement of international law against the perpetrators - wherever they might be - not all-out wars against nations that did nothing to provoke us. A blindingly-fast and decisive roundup of  Al-Qaeda as the criminals they are in September of 2001 would have been true "Shock and Awe." The lesson we should have learned from Korea and Vietnam - and now Iraq and Afghanistan - is that wars waged against idealism are sure to be lost. It is impossible to "Win Hearts and Minds" with war.