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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’s $62 Million Pill Mill Conflict of Interest

7:31 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Does Governor Scottdemort have 62 million reasons to protect pill mills?

Yesterday, I pointed out how Rick Scott is lying as he takes actions to protect Florida’s pill mills against regulations that are in place in most other states, at the cost of seven dead Floridians a day from pain medication overdoses. Today, I want to point out a huge conflict of interest Scott has as he takes these actions: Scott holds stock in Solantic Corporation valued at $62,034,298 according to the financial disclosure form (pdf) he filed with the state on June 18, 2010. The Solantic stock is the largest single holding in his overall net worth, which was stated as $218,589,004. Solantic is a chain of “urgent care” centers in Florida aimed at providing low-cost alternatives to some services otherwise provided by hospital emergency rooms. At Solantic’s website, on the page titled “Why Choose Solantic“, the second entry on their list of services is “Urgent Care for Injuries”. It does not take a huge leap of logic to conclude that someone “doctor shopping” for pain medication prescriptions would take an interest in visiting Solantic, since a visit there is less expensive than visiting a hospital emergency room.  As he takes actions to prevent regulation of fraudulent pain medication prescriptions being issued in Florida, Rick Scott’s huge financial stake in Solantic makes it appear that he stands to benefit from his anti-regulatory actions.

When Carl Hiassen started pointing out how Scott is blocking regulation of pill mills back in January, he had this to say about legitimate medical providers’ views on the regulations:

Lawmakers had mandated that the state’s medical boards make strict new rules for the clinics, including penalties for violations. Legitimate pain-clinic operators and pharmacies generally supported the reforms.

Then in February, Hiassen pointed to Scott’s statement as he blocked creation of a database on pain medication prescriptions:

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.”

Is Scott trying to protect the privacy of the company in which he holds a $62 million stake?

When Scott’s financial disclosure form was first made public, there was some discussion of the numerous conflicts of interest that would arise from a governor having such wealth, and Solantic was very much involved in those discussions. This statement from a Scott spokesperson just after the election addressed the Solantic conflicts as well as reports that Solantic had been accused of Medicare fraud (gosh, what a coincidence, considering Scott was responsible for HCA paying the largest federal fine in history when his previous company, HCA, was caught in Medicare fruad):

Scott spokesman Joe Kildea said: “We are unaware of any such investigation, and thus unaware of any actual conflict. That said, the governor-elect will take appropriate steps to ensure there is no conflict of interest with respect to any of his investments. We will have more on those steps in the coming weeks.”

Given that the article from which the quote comes also points out that even though “public officials can’t own stock in companies regulated by the state or work as employees of companies they regulate”, state regulations in the end can’t force him to divest the stock:

“There’s nothing affirmative the law imposes on him,” such as setting up a blind trust, said Phil Claypool, head of the Florida Commission on Ethics. “He just needs to be careful not to run afoul of any of the prohibitions.”

How does it not run afoul of those prohibitions for Scott to take the definitive actions of disbanding the Office of Drug Control and then blocking the prescription drug database when both would appear to affect operation of Solantic?

Solantic took a very interesting response to the charges of Medicare fraud in how they attacked the former employee who accused them:

The Agency for Health Care Administration, which investigates Medicaid fraud, forwarded a complaint compiling accusations made by former Solantic employee Dr. Randy Prokes to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for review and possible investigation, a spokeswoman for the agency confirmed.

/snip/

Among his charges, Prokes says Solantic charged Medicare patients the full rate for work done by nurse-practitioners, which should be discounted to 85 percent of the rate of a physician visit.

Solantic CEO Karen Bowling denied the allegations in a call with reporters last week, saying Prokes was fired in 2009 for writing a pain-killer prescription outside the clinic, an action prohibited by the company’s operating procedures.

For some reason, Solantic firing an employee who had fallen from their good graces because of writing a pain-killer prescription outside the clinic made me think immediately of when ADM, once they learned he had been an FBI mole, fired Mark Whitaker for taking “off the books” payments that almost certainly had been a practice for all ADM high level executives.

To be clear, I’ve seen no evidence so far that Solantic is involved in writing fraudulent pain medication prescriptions. What I am saying though, is that Rick Scott’s actions on the issue of pill mill regulation are precisely what one would predict if he were trying to prevent discovery of such activity in a company in which he holds a $62 million stake.  So long as he holds this huge stake in a company that can write pain medication prescriptions, his actions regarding pill mills deserve much scrutiny.

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.

Florida’s New Governor Will Be Record-Setter

1:46 pm in Elections, Politics by Jim White

Florida flag (photo: erjkprunczyk (away) on Flickr)

With the very close Florida gubernatorial race coming down to the wire today, the only thing that can be said with certainty about the outcome before the polls close is that the new governor will be a record-setter. Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, would be Florida’s first female governor. Rick Scott, the Republican candidate, would be the first governor to have served as CEO of a firm that paid a record-setting fine to the US government to settle fraud charges. In addition to resigning as CEO during the investigation that led to $1.7 billion in fines being paid, Scott also likely would set the record for the number of times invoking the Fifth Amendment’s right against testimony that might incriminate himself, having invoked it 75 times in a deposition on a different case while the fraud case was still an active investigation.

Alex Sink began as a banker, working her way through the upper ranks of what was Barnett Bank before the wave of bank consolidations hit Florida. She has served as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer since 2006, when she was the only Democrat to besides Bill Nelson to win a statewide race. Barnett Bank was regularly cited as one of the most family-friendly workplaces in Florida during her tenure there.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →