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Florida’s Wake-Up Alarm Set for Tomorrow?

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by Jim White

Does Governor Scottdemort have a wake-up call scheduled for March 8?

On the heels of massive public demonstrations in Wisconsin and Ohio after Republican governors over-played their hands in seeking to destroy collective bargaining for public employees and make punitive cuts to education, Florida may be next in line. Tuesday, March 8 has been designated the day to “Awake The State“, with over thirty demonstrations planned across the state, spanning from Key West to Pensacola. There will even be multiple demonstrations in Tallahassee and Miami.

Ray Seaman, online director for Progress Florida, provides this description of the demonstrations and how they came into being:

After Gov. Scott released his budget at a Tea Party event that proposed to cut a massive $3 billion from education, among other devastating measures, Floridians stood up and said “Enough.” The Awake The State rallies are the result of these built-up frustrations. Since the Awake The State facebook page launched just a few weeks ago, everyday Floridians have taken it upon themselves to organize rallies in their own communities.

What local organizers and participants are looking to accomplish is to make it very clear to our legislators as well as Gov. Scott that Floridian’s won’t tolerate more unnecessary budget cuts, whether it’s firing their local public school teachers or damaging the retirement security of our public servants.

I will pile on to the documentation of Scott’s bad behavior, noting that he may have a $62 million conflict of interest prompting his actions to protect pill mills that are responsible for the deaths of seven Floridians a day due to pain medication overdoses and his rejection of $2.4 billion in federal funding that would have provided 50,000 job-years (a job-year is the equivalent of one person employed for one year). For a state that still struggles with double-digit unemployment, that’s a lot of jobs to turn down.

On Tuesday, will Tea Party-panderer Rick Scott see the effects of his over-stepping to further enrich the ultra-rich at the expense of ordinary working Floridians? When the livelihoods of teachers, firefighters and police officers are threatened, people notice and respond.  It happened in Wisconsin and Ohio and appears to be happening next in Florida.

Rick Scott Lies to Support Pill Mills Killing Seven Floridians a Day

6:25 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Scottdemort: Actively lying to protect the income of criminals killing seven Floridians a day.

Proving that his early history of setting the record for the largest federal fine ever for Medicare fraud was not just a fluke, Florida Governor Rick Scott now has taken actions to protect the income of fraudulent “pain clinics” across South Florida, even drawing the ire of fellow Republicans for his blatant support of illegal activity that is killing seven Floridians a day.

Carl Hiaasen has been hitting this story hard, in columns published in the Miami Herald on January 29 and February 26. The story broke through to National Public Radio this morning, as well.

Hiaasen’s January article sets the stage:

Interestingly, she [Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi] didn’t mention having any nightmares about Florida’s storefront pain clinics, which are still handing out Vicodins like Tic-Tacs, and overdosing customers at the rate of seven fatalities per day — more than heroin, crystal meth and cocaine combined.

Florida has become one of the nation’s favored destinations for prescription-drug dealers, who travel here to load up their car trunks and head north with the pills, which are sold on the black market for up to $30 each.

Hiaasen points out that Florida finally tried to catch up with other large states by passing a bill aimed at stricter regulation of pill mills calling themselves “pain clinics”, which are so poorly regulated in Florida that as Hiaasen pointed out in his February column, convicted heroin dealer Vincent Colangelo was up to selling $150,000 worth of pain pills a day before finally being indicted on federal charges.

Sadly, Scott is standing squarely in the way of the efforts to shut down the pill mills. From January:

Efforts to shut down the unscrupulous clinics have been stymied by Bondi’s Republican colleague, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott. One of his first acts was to eliminate the state Office of Drug Control, which had been coordinating the war on pill mills.

Scott’s active defense of pill mills goes beyond merely shutting down the Office of Drug Control. From Hiaasen’s February column:

Last week, as drug agents secretly prepared to raid more than a dozen South Florida pill mills, Gov. Rick Scott reaffirmed his staunch opposition to a statewide computer database that would track prescriptions of Vicodin, Percocet and other dangerous narcotics.

Said Scott: “I don’t support the database. I believe it’s an invasion of privacy.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Report: Scottdemort Turned Off Florida’s Republican Absentee Voters

5:04 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Yeah, he'd scare me away from voting, too.

Wednesday’s Gainesville Sun provides details from a report prepared for the state of Florida that informs us that the 2010 gubernatorial race featured a much higher rate of undervotes than in the previous election cycle. While only 0.86 percent of ballots in 2006 had no vote for governor, the 2010 race saw that figure jump to 1.49 percent. The rate for traditionally Republican absentee voters not casting a vote for governor was even higher.

It turns out that the number of non-votes exceeded Scott’s margin of victory in the race:

Scott narrowly beat Sink by nearly 62,000 votes. But more than 81,000 voters skipped the race altogether.

Absentee votes in Florida traditionally break in favor of Republicans due the large number of conservative retirees who travel extensively. This population appears to have been particularly turned off by Governor Scottdemort:

He [Democratic strategist Steve Schale] noted, for example, that more absentee voters — traditionally a stalwart of GOP campaigns — left the governor’s race blank. The state report shows that 2 percent — or double the amount in 2006 — skipped the governor’s race.

There is no reason to suspect that foul play, rather than voters (especially Republican voters) being turned off by the vile campaign and its eventual winner:

“No evidence exists to suggest that one or more tabulators negatively or significantly affected the data,” the report to the Florida Legislature stated.

But Scottdemort has a plan for dealing with a state that began turning away from him even during his election, and so he threw a Tea Party to announce his budget plans:

The new Republican governor reached out to tea-party organizers to host a budget-rollout event Monday in Eustis, a rural heartland town about 190 miles from the state Capitol, where governors traditionally unveil their spending proposals.

The event underscores Scott’s likely commitment to propose a budget with large cuts in spending, fees and taxes — a proposal that has been met with skepticism by legislators, who aren’t sure how to slash up to $2 billion in taxes and fees while the state faces a shortfall that could top $4 billion next budget year.

But calling for less government spending and revenue is like serving sugar, milk and crumpets to the tea party, an amorphous conservative-leaning movement that fired up the Republican base in the last election.

It’s time for us Floridians to brace ourselves, because the stupidity and duplicity flowing out of Tallahassee is only going to increase with this criminal in office.

Dark Days Ahead for Florida Under Governor Scottdemort

7:33 am in Executive Branch by Jim White

As a Florida resident, I have already pointed out the dismal future Florida faces under its new governor, where I fully expect a New Depression. Wednesday, Rachel Maddow pointed out bizarre behavior by the new governor’s campaign, where some staffers were paid with American Express gift cards, rather than cash. But as I think more and more about this new governor, he takes on a different identity for me. Is it possible that Rick Scott is really Lord Voldemort? Take a look at the side by side comparison. The Scott photo is from his ScottForFlorida Flickr feed and the Voldemort shot is from this YouTube trailer for the next Harry Potter movie.

At the Harry Potter Lexicon, the most famous quote attributed to Voldemort is “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”  That seems entirely fitting for an incoming governor who was CEO of the company that has set the record for the largest Medicare fraud settlement ever paid to the US Government.  He now is saying, even before he has been sworn in, “I don’t think anybody’s trying to go after my power.”  Scott and Voldemort really look and sound like the same person to me, so from now on it seems to make sense just to refer to Governor Scottdemort.

There are dark days ahead for Florida under the rule of Governor Scottdemort.

With 12% Unemployment, Dismal Property Values and Solo GOP Rule, Florida Ripe for New Depression

10:05 am in Legislature by Jim White

Don't look for Florida's GOP corporatist government to fund soup kitchens during the coming New Depression. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

If only the nation will pay attention, Florida has now become the perfect laboratory model for single-party Republican corporatist rule. When Alex Sink conceded to Rick Scott this morning, Republicans in Florida cemented a clean sweep of all statewide offices on the ballot. In addition, Republicans now hold over two thirds of the seats in both the Florida House and Florida Senate. Leading this merry band of corporatists will be Governor Rick Scott, who holds the distinction of having been CEO of the corporation that holds the record for the largest fine ever assessed ($1.7 billion) in settling Medicare fraud charges. With unemployment in the state now at 12 percent (pdf) and property values severely depressed from the burst property bubble, I see no way that a state without an income tax can withstand corporatist rule under these parameters without sliding into a New Depression.

This graph of unemployment in Florida shows that employers began trimming jobs as Charlie Crist took office in 2006. When the national economic crisis hit, Florida jobs then began to be cut faster than in the rest of the nation.

Depressed revenues to local governments in Florida because of  property values that have plummeted already has caused problems even before Republicans won their larger majorities:

A drop in property tax revenue forced four Central Florida county governments to slash their budgets by a combined $114 million for 2010-2011, reduce services and eliminate hundreds of jobs. And at least one county resorted to a tax hike.

It was the region’s third consecutive year of declining property values, which fell about 12 percent in 2009, or $20.8 billion, pushing the area’s median home value down to $110,000 from $135,000, according to a new report generated by the Orlando Regional Realtor Association this month.

Republicans should own the coming melt-down in Florida entirely, having held the governor’s seat since JEB! was elected in 1998.  They have presided over  privatization of an incredible number of state functions and have removed almost all semblance of government oversight or regulation.  There is, however, one thing of which we can be sure when it finally becomes clear that Florida will not be able to function without a  massive federal bailout, possibly bringing the rest of the nation into the New Depression: it will all be Obama’s fault.

It Gets Better in Gainesville: Pride Parade 2010 Smashing Success for LGBT Support

5:07 pm in Culture, LGBT by Jim White

I had the distinct pleasure of joining a group of over a hundred members of the United Church of Gainesville (home of the “If they can burn it we can read it” campaign in response to the planned Quran burning) who donned blue shirts reading “Gay and Straight Together” to march down University Avenue to the Bo Diddley Community Plaza as part of Pride Parade 2010. It was a spectacular day and the turnout was tremendous.

The video opens with our drum group warming up and then shows our group beginning to get organized behind a vintage car driven by Pastors Larry and Sandy Reimer. A very good time was had by all as we marched. A group of construction workers paused to watch the parade pass, and they can be heard yelling support and encouragement as we passed. Remarkably, even though Gainesville is a small enclave of liberal thought surrounded by some of the most conservative people in the country, I saw no negative responses to the parade. Since we only filled one side of the street, traffic traveling the opposite direction continued to meet us, so many people who hadn’t planned to watch the parade saw it from their vehicles.

After so many LGBT teen suicides brought on by bullying, perhaps the support shown in Gainesville today can join with the growing stream of “It Gets Better” videos (see this one for a tremendous example) and the good news on the reinstatement of Seth Stambaugh to his student teaching position to show those who are struggling that it really does get better.

Government Collusion with BP to Block Information; We Need Independent Commission on Spill Response

6:50 am in BP oil disaster, Energy by Jim White

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Writing in Thursday’s New York Times, Jeremy W. Peters provides further documentation of what he titles "Efforts to Limit the Flow of Spill News". Perhaps the most damning evidence Peters provides comes from an effort by Florida Senator Bill Nelson to visit the Gulf with a group of reporters:

Last week, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, tried to bring a small group of journalists with him on a trip he was taking through the gulf on a Coast Guard vessel. Mr. Nelson’s office said the Coast Guard agreed to accommodate the reporters and camera operators. But at about 10 p.m. on the evening before the trip, someone from the Department of Homeland Security’s legislative affairs office called the senator’s office to tell them that no journalists would be allowed.

“They said it was the Department of Homeland Security’s response-wide policy not to allow elected officials and media on the same ‘federal asset,’ ” said Bryan Gulley, a spokesman for the senator. “No further elaboration” was given, Mr. Gulley added.

Why would the Department of Homeland Security have a policy that prohibits elected officials and media being on the same ship in the Gulf? Is there any other explanation than a blatant attempt by the federal government to stifle reporting on conditions in the Gulf as they really exist, rather than as they have been presented by BP and federal "spokespeople"?

Consider also the efforts this week of NOAA Adminstrator Jane Lubchenco to delay work on scientific characterization of undersea oil plumes:

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), yesterday repeated her plea for researchers to be cautious in collecting and interpreting evidence of underwater plumes of oil from the Deepwater Horizon well. Citing unusable data from some expeditions, she proposed a workshop to coordinate sampling methods before more cruises depart. But a prominent academic disagreed, saying that studying the plumes is too urgent to be delayed.

Lubchenco cautioned that oil samples needed to be chemically fingerprinted, because of the potential for confusion with natural oil seeping into the gulf. "There is a lot of potential out there for jumping to conclusions that may not be warranted," Lubchenco said at a research symposium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, organized by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. "We are all served best by proceeding in a careful, thoughtful, and quantifiable manner." Lubchenco appeared to be referring to her previous criticisms that the initial claim of a plume was premature.

The NOAA and Homeland Security actions, taken together, take on the appearance of the government working hand in hand with BP to prevent independent discovery and analysis of conditions in the Gulf on a real-time basis, so that the media and the public become dependent on information provided only by federal or BP sources.

But it’s not only the Feds who are doing BP’s bidding in preventing access. Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland was one of the first reporters on the scene in the Gulf, and a recurring theme in her reporting has been the collusion of local authorities with BP in restricting access to areas damaged by oil. Consider this account of one attempt to gain access to a spill area:

The blockade to Elmer’s is now four cop cars strong. As we pull up, deputies start bawling us out; all media need to go to the Grand Isle community center, where a "BP Information Center" sign now hangs out front. Inside, a couple of Times-Picayune reporters circle BP representative Barbara Martin, who tells them that if they want passage to Elmer they have to get it from another BP flack, Irvin Lipp; Grand Isle beach is closed too, she adds. When we inform the Times-Pic reporters otherwise, she asks Dr. Hazlett if he’s a reporter; he says, "No." She says, "Good." She doesn’t ask me. We tell her that deputies were just yelling at us, and she seems truly upset. For one, she’s married to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy. For another, "We don’t need more of a black eye than we already have."

"But it wasn’t BP that was yelling at us, it was the sheriff’s office," we say.

"Yeah, I know, but we have…a very strong relationship."

"What do you mean? You have a lot of sway over the sheriff’s office?"

"Oh yeah."

"How much?"

"A lot."

And, of course, McClelland also documented the famous encounter of a CBS camera team with Coast Guard personnel and local BP contractors informing them of "BP rules" that prevented their access:


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Taken together, we see multiple federal and local agencies working with or for BP to prevent independent gathering of news or scientific data to document the damage that has resulted from BP’s blown-out oil well. It’s hard to believe that these efforts are anything other than an attempt to help BP lower its financial liability stemming from the spill. That explains why the government was so slow to force BP to make video of the the leaks available. Once the video became available, the estimates of the leak rate went up dramatically and BP’s eventual fines will be based on the amount of oil released.

Sadly, the time has come where the only way to restore credibility to the response to the spill is going to be to distance decision-making from both the federal government and BP. A truly independent commission headed by a team with appropriate scientific, engineering and environmental backgrounds needs to be assembled and put in charge of efforts to stop the flow of oil and to mitigate the effects of the oil already released. The resources of both BP and the federal government should be made available to this commission without reservation to allow rapid implementation of the strategies they adopt.

After all, our President has informed us that he would rather look forward than backwards, so why is the only independent commission he has appointed tasked with looking into what happened rather than what should be done?

Michelle Obama rally in Gainesville, Florida

5:16 pm in Uncategorized by Jim White

Michelle Obama came to Gainesville, Florida today and drew a crowd of 11,000 people to a rally aimed at getting out the early vote. The crowd arrived very early, with the line stretching many blocks an hour before the rally area was opened. The podium was located in front of the historic Hippodrome State Theater and the crowd spread out through the blocked off streets in front of the theater.
Michelle Obama in front of Hippodrome State Theater in Gainesville, FL
By arriving early, I was able to stake out a spot close to the podium to get the full benefit of the Michelle Obama smile:
Michelle Obama flashes her smile to the Gainesville crowd.
The crowd was very enthusiastic and many had already voted even though early voting has only been going on in Florida since Monday morning. Michelle provided a personal account of how Barack "gets it because he has lived it". There was a real connection with the crowd and the rally was an overall uplifting experience.

For more photos that I took, go here.

For a local media account check here.