Ah yes ... the meritocracy in which we live
"Shortly before Gov. Charlie Crist's former chief of staff left government to return to his old law firm, the firm landed a $500,000 contract with the state Transportation Department." "Crist's former chief prospers in new role".
"Builders and the politicians they control"
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "The Florida Legislature's 2008 session has yet to begin, but a familiar story line on growth and development already is playing out. Having beaten back a more radical citizen initiative to rein in development, builders and the politicians they control in the capital no longer seem interested in striking a middle ground." "Sharp growing pains", See also "Enough may finally be enough growth" ("2007 may be remembered as the year Floridians finally gave up their faith that growth is inevitable and, on balance, a good thing.")
On the grill
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Two days of hearings last week by the Florida Senate Select Committee on Property Insurance showed the need for more hearings. The committee wants an answer to this question: Did private companies violate the 13-month-old insurance reform law, which says that insurers must give consumers all the savings from cheaper, subsidized reinsurance that the state provided as a way to lower premiums? " "Keep the grill fired up for insurance companies".
"A new scenario"
"With the Democratic presidential primary shaping up to be a protracted battle for every last delegate, there seems to be no good solution to the fact that Florida's Democrats stand to have no voice in picking the nominee.
But here's a new scenario some leaders of the Democratic National Committee have been talking about lately: the DNC's credentials committee this summer could decide to split Florida's delegates evenly between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.""Primary's done; how about voting again?".
"An attorney has been charged with assault for allegedly shaking a federal prosecutor's hand so hard it injured her shoulder. ... it nearly ripped the prosecutors arm out of its socket, a court security officer told officials." "Lawyer charged with assault on prosecutor after handshake".
"The Florida Lottery turns 20 this year, a milestone that is marked by stiffer competition for players' gambling dollars." "Florida Lottery faces more competition in its 20th year".
Some call them terrorists
With the democratic election of a president with whom they disagree, "newly energized Contras in Florida say their opposition will be peaceful, but some suggest they could rearm if [democratically elected Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega] attempts to reinstate socialist policies." "Ortega's return galvanizes Contras Nicaragua's former rebels vow to oppose a return to socialism". Will Florida harbor anti-democratic terrorists as they attempt to overthrow a democratically elected president if he supports, what the Contra dead-enders claim are "socialist policies" - you know, like nationalized health care, free higher education, wealth redistribution, egalitarian land ownership programs, and other wacky things like that.
Florida and the "Delegate debacle"
Beth Reinhard: "Without a clear-cut nominee after Super Tuesday, Democrats are left with a difficult decision over Florida and Michigan's sidelined delegates." "Florida at center of party's delegate debacle". More: "Will Florida again play kingmaker in Democratic convention?".
Bill Cotterell yesterday: "It's a paradox:"
Florida made its presidential primary important by defying party rules and voting in January, but now its delegates to a national nominating convention may only be counted if they don't matter."Florida delegates could be critical".
On one side, moving the primary worked as intended — the slingshot effect of his Florida victory propelled Sen. John McCain into last week's coast-to-coast Republican primaries with momentum that knocked Mitt Romney out of the race and made McCain the GOP nominee in waiting. Gov. Charlie Crist, a McCain supporter, wanted the primary date moved from March 11 to Jan. 29 so one candidate would emerge as the early frontrunner — and have Florida to thank for it.
But on the other side, Florida ended ex-Sen. John Edwards' candidacy and set up a Super Tuesday showdown that last week plunged Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in a delegate-by-delegate springtime slog toward possibly the first brokered convention in more than a half-century.
"One year after passing radical property insurance changes to lower homeowners' premiums, legislators are increasingly worried the overhaul could cost the state — and homeowners — billions of dollars if a major hurricane hits. Instead of pledging more rate relief, lawmakers are drafting proposals to cut back a key provision in last year's bill that offers $12 billion in publicly financed backup insurance coverage to private insurers." "Florida lawmakers worried about cost of big storm are rethinking backup insurance coverage".
"Clinton claimed a staggering 10-to-1 advantage over Obama in some populous, Democrat-heavy Palm Beach County retirement communities, including the Century Village development west of Boca Raton. In similar spots in Broward, the ratio was 6-to-1. The results showed that even though changing demographics and population growth have diluted their influence, South Florida's retirement havens still contain sturdy voting blocs that can swing for one candidate, whether it's for a county seat or the White House." "Condo villages' retirees show they still have clout for Democrats".
Is it me, or does this straight news piece sound like an editorial? "College tuition increases are unpopular, especially at a time of economic anxiety across Florida. But the state's university system makes a good case for an 8 percent increase in the next academic year." .
The Sun Sentinel editorial board:" "DCF incompetence costly to taxpayers".
Will the GOPers continue to sit on their hands?
"Florida's State University System is these days bearing a sad, but maybe sufficiently shocking subtitle: 'the stepchild of public education.'"
That's how House Minority Leader Dan Gelber describes its condition, owing to the ongoing negligence of legislators to our 11 public universities."Battle taxes".
Yet, writes Mr. Gelber in a bristling pre-session evaluation of Florida's "self-inflicted woes," investing in higher education is one of the most effective ways to stimulate our economy. Investment in them — access for needy students; support of current students and faculty — is especially important during tough economic times. A lack of competitive pay stimulates a brain drain of faculty and defection by top scholars to other state systems — losses of reputation and scholarship that cannot be quickly recouped.
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "The tax cuts were hastily thrown together because they polled well, not because they represented balanced, rational reform. They even give homeowners the perverse incentive to argue that the tax assessor appraised their property too low, because the higher the assessed value, the greater the tax cap available when they sell their home." And then there's "portability" - "Portability Won't Cure Tax Ills".
The Tampa Tribune editors: "School choice allows families to pick the best environment for their child's talents, regardless of whether those talents are displayed in the classroom or the playing field."
"All Students, Athletes Included, Are Entitled To School Choice".
A matter of priorities
Mike Thomas bomoans that
on the academic side, my Gators have dropped to 49th place nationally. That's according to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, which aren't perfect but are at least as accurate as the BCS poll."Mike Thomas: Off the field, our colleges are bunch of wimps".
Among public universities, UF fell from 13th place to 17th place. We've been trying to get in the top 10 for a while, but to no avail.
One problem is ratios.
The ratio of football players to coaches is about 10-1.
The ratio of students to professors is more than double that.
In this state, athletics always has taken precedent over academics.
If the football team finished 49th in the nation, Urban Meyer would be bounced in short order. But we take it for granted on the academic side. Making this all the more depressing is that UF is by far the best university in the state. After Florida, there is a long, steep drop-off before you get to Florida State.
Their corporate masters
The swells on the Orlando Sentinel editorial board think Florida governments' financial problems can largely be traced "fatter paychecks of government workers". These dopes, in a delightfully titled editorial this morning - Local and state governments are overly generous to employees - have the gall to complain that public employees are compensated too well. They make three (3) laughable points:
As their first argument, the editors hit us with their best punch:
the wages of city and county workers in Florida [which were already pathetically out of sync with the private sector] grew by more than 20 percent between 2001 and 2006, and the average salaries of all local government workers is now higher than those who work for businesses.The editors find it outrageous that
the average pay for city and county workers in Florida in 2006 was nearly $41,000 compared to about $38,000 for businesses. ... Wow. So much for the struggling public employee.Of course, the figures used by the editors for "comparison" include the minimum wages and miserly benefits received by "service workers" who dominate Florida's private sector economy, as well as the wages (and in most cases the complete absence of benefits) of part-time and temporary workers.
Ironically, these lower private wages also include the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs formerly performed by government workers, which have been subcontracted out to companies playing low wages and few if any benefits.
That leaves Florida governments employing for the most part workers performing core government functions, like state troopers, nursing home inspectors, paramedics, lift station mechanics, firefighters, building inspectors, fish and wildlife officers, environmental protection inspectors, and, municipal police officers and deputy sheriffs and ... oh yeah, those wildly overpaid teachers.
Do the Sentinel editors really want the wages and benefits of these critical employees compared to, and reduced to the level of, the wages and benefits received by workers struggling in Florida's largely service sector economy? Apparently they do.
Indeed, a Sentinel columnist just today (correctly) characterized Florida's economy as a "low-wage, boom-bust, service economy that has plagued us since the first bungalow went up in St. Augustine." Plainly, the Sentinel editors want Florida's public employees to be paid on a par with those in our "low-wage, boom-bust, service economy". Nice.
The editorial board's second brilliant argument is that many public employees have the unmitigated temerity to enjoy real pensions, to wit: defined benefit plans, as opposed to defined contribution plans. In this connection, the Sentinel editors praise the fact that the private sector has "replaced expensive [defined benefit] pensions with [cheap defined contribution] 401(k) plans," and complain that "few governments have done the same."
Slum lord*, union bashing**, and scab supplying*** hypocrites**** like the operators of the Orlando Sentinel hate defined benefit plans. Toeing the big business line, the editors support substitute defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans. The reasons are simple: (1) DB plans are cheap, and, depending how they are structured, the employer is actually never required by law to pay anything (e.g., matching contributions) into the plan; (2) the employee bears all the risk in a defined contribution plan; (3) even if the employer contributes something, they can unilaterally cease their contributions (no matter how meager) at any time (that is, if the employees are not unionized); and (4) defined contribution plans do not guarantee that an employee will receive any particular retirement benefit (have you looked at your 401(k) plan's performance lately?) Oh yeah, did we mention that DC plans are real cheap.
The editors third "argument" is that public employers have not gutted health insurance benefits: they write that "while businesses cut back on health-insurance benefits ... few governments have done the same." You read that right, the editors actually argue that health-insurance benefits should be "cut back". The reason that, because the private sector - in the absence of a strong union movement - has been able to shift most if not all health care costs to employees (after all, there is no law requiring employers to provide health insurance at all)), government should do the same. Taking this "argument" to its logical conclusion, why not eliminate public employee employee health insurance in its entirety - after all, it would be cheaper for the taxpayer.
The bottom line is that the Sentinel editors believe that the public sector - which, unlike most of the private sector, actually treats its employees with a modicum of decency - is a drag on the private sector's ability (including the Sentinel in its capacity of an employer) to unrestrainedly exploit employees for the sake of making a buck. We know and accept that corporate America is an amoral machine that cares nothing about anything else but profit, but one would hope that our society - acting through its elective representatives - would care about something greater than joining Florida's private sector in its race to the bottom.
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* The Tribune Company's new owner is a "real estate mogul [sic]", with a wide wingnut streak: "the mention of Hillary Clinton’s name prompted him to use a four-letter obscenity to describe her."
** The Sentinel's anti-union glee is no secret: see e.g., "Ignorance", "Sentinel At It Again" and "Oh ... The Horror".
*** During a strike involving a Tribune Company newspaper [the Baltimore Sun] a few years back, "guess where Tribune's finding its [reporter and editor] scabs? 'Florida is supplying them with a lot,' says one Sentinel source". Indeed, "potential scabs are offered Sun pay on top of their normal salary -- more than double their pay, for scabs coming from regional papers like the Sentinel -- plus per-diem expenses and even security to deal with the hecklers." "Send in the scabs".
By the way, we all can agree on what a scab is, can't we? No less a figure than Jack London, described as "the most successful writer in America in the early 20th Century" - and presumably someone for whom the Sentinel writers have some respect - is attributed with putting it this way, as described by the U.S. Supreme Court:
The ScabSee also this Jack London paper in "the Atlantic's series of papers on the Ethics of Business."
"After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab."
"A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles."
"When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and Angels weep in Heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out."
"No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with. Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his Master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not."
"Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British Army. The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife, his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer."
"Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country; a SCAB is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class."
**** The Orlando Sentinel has editorialized long and hard against newspapers being subject to lawsuits for so-called "false light" torts, yet at the same time threatened another newspaper with a "false light" lawsuit. "Oh ... The Hypocrisy".