Thursday, March 31, 2005

And Congress Shall Have No Dominion

Mrs. Terri Shaivo dies.

And Congress shall have no dominion.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Facts vs. The Tube

1. Schiavo court opinions, orders, and reports.
Get the real scoop directly from the original court documents.

2. Jon Stewart's Daily Show "decrees that the Schiavo feeding tube will soon be removed from the cable media networks."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Death Takes No Holiday

Death isn't on a holiday in Florida, if blogs around the state are any indication.
* * * * *

"It's too late to let Terry Schiavo die with dignity," Hot Wax Residue reflects. Florida blogs seems to offer a lot of evidence for that.

* * * * *

Blogwood and are following reports which Carol Marbin Miller fleshes out with new details in today's Miami Herald that an armed showdown between state and local law enforcement in front of Terri Schaivo's hospice center was narrowly averted Thursday.
"Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park, the small town where Schiavo lies at Hospice Woodside, on Thursday that they were on the way to take her to a hospital to resume her feeding.

For a brief period, local police, who have officers at the hospice to keep protesters out, prepared for what sources called "a showdown."

In the end, the squad from the FDLE and the Department of Children & Families backed down, apparently concerned about confronting local police outside the hospice.

"We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in," said a source with the local police.

* * *
The FDLE called to say they were en route to the scene,"' said an official with the city police who requested anonymity. "When the sheriff's department and our department told them they could not enforce their order, they backed off."
Thank goodness the state agents phoned ahead!

* * *

Right alongside that scary item, Miller has another report suggesting that the deaths of four disabled patients is traceable to the state's decision last fall to out-source, or privatize, medical care for disabled and elderly group home patients.
"Two developmentally disabled adults who lived in group homes in Brandon, and two others under the care of The ARC in St. Lucie County, have died since October 2004, a month after the state required the operator of the two Brandon group homes to change the way residents received nursing care."
A fifth patient "developed such a severe infection at the site of her feeding tube that she has been hospitalized in intensive care" for over a month. Following cuts in the quality of nursing care mandated by the state, the patients were being treated by --
"rotating 'pool' nurses who often did not know the group home residents -- and sometimes had no experience treating disabled people with severe medical problems," said Carol Middell, regional director for Spectrum, Inc., which operates the homes."
* * * * *

Bark-Bark, Woof-Woof noticed this week that "a spokesman for the NRA suggests that in order to prevent shootings in schools like what happened in Red Lake, Minnesota, the teachers should be given guns." Yeah, why not? Then arm the students, too. That way, everyone can be on a level playing killing field.

* * * * *

Both Why Now? and Gatorchick's Florida Blues were impressed by a Washington Post report on the contrast between President Bush's midnight ride to Washington to sign the Schaivo Relief Act (later declared unconconstitutional) and his silence about "the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history... ."

* * * * *

It was bound to happen. And it will probably get worse. First we had Andy Worhol's famous bon mot about 'fifteen minutes of fame.' Now, Infomaniac reports, we have some idiot's precedent-setting offer to "sell his vegetative body to any groups or organizations which will support issues he's interested in."

I get it. Privatized issue-advocacy death watches. For profit, of course. Can we assume Fox News, CNN, and MCNBC will be among the bidders?

* * * * *

People aren't the only things dying around Florida. Save Our Sarasota pays digital homage to "a wake on Main St. in memory of the Black Olive Tree."

* * * * *

U.S. Senator Mel Martinzes campaigned last year against "judges who interpret the law and do not legislate from the bench," Florida News reminds us. Then he wonders, "If you don't support judges who legislate from the bench, why should we support legislators who judge from the, umm, wherever legislators sit?"

The answer is, they 'judge' from the seat of their pants.

* * * * *

Great blogs must be attracted to the same metaphors. Jeb Bush "pumped up the religious right" in the Schiavo debacle, Florida Politics observes, but what will be the consequences? He warns: "When you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas." South of Swannee quotes a couple of right-wing extremists threatening Jeb Bush, and then muses:
"They say if you lay down with the dogs, you should expect to get fleas. If you lay down with vipers . . . "

* * * * *

Gainsville report is baffled when he sees "the groups most vocal for continuing Schiavo's feeding are the same groups most vocal for the invasion of Iraq, which has cost the lives of more than 100,000 people, mostly innocent civilians, including children and the elderly – the very people our government claims to be liberating." He also wonders why those "people campaigning outside of Schiavo's hospital to keep her feeding tube in are wearing tape over their mouths." Good question.

* * * * *

Poor Richard's Anorack solemnly takes note of the deaths this week of jazz great Bobby Short and architect Kenzo Tange.

* * * * *

Even fictional death is attracting attention. The mystery movie "Last Life in the Universe," gets an "A" from Hatless. According to the Internet Movie Database it's a beach movie, kind of, about "a suicidal, obsessive-compulsive Japanese librarian ... forced to hide out with a pot-smoking Thai woman at her shabby beachside home."

* * * * *

May as well mention two other movies for Pensacola Beach locals: Be sure to see Vera Drake and The Sea Inside now playing at Gulf Breeze Cinema 4. As the best fiction does, both prize-winning movies offer riveting, stunning truths about the human condition -- how we live and how we die.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Newer-Logical Exam

James Wolcott reports on the medical diagnosis we've all been waiting for:
"Two prominent neurologists who have asked to remain anonymous have examined CNN behind closed doors and determined that the network is irreversibly brain-dead, as flooded with cerebral fluid as the hull of the S.S. Poseidon."
Read the rest. It's worth it.

Cementing Connections

Following a blizzard of evidence showing he had "serious financial problems in recent years," Pensacola auto salesman Mike Murphy was convicted by a jury Thursday of several counts of grand theft. Murphy is often described in local news reports as "a long time friend to many local politicians, judges and law enforcement officers."

On the surface, the accusations against him look run-of-the-mine. As PNJ reporter Brett Norman described earlier in the week, along with bad check charges "he was accused of borrowing $30,000 from Coastal Wholesale Cars Inc. and its general manager, Ernest Rentz, while working there between April 2001 and September 2002 and repaying only $5,000... and stealing profits from the sale of two Coastal Wholesale vehicles."

Outside the hearing of the jury, however, Murphy's defense attorney gave voice to a more interesting subtext. Norman reports that the lawyer "accused the State Attorney's Office of prosecuting Murphy to strong-arm him into providing information for a[n]... investigation into Escambia County government."
"The investigation, launched in 2002, resulted in four Escambia County commissioners [including the late Willie Junior] being removed from office after allegations of corruption and private meetings on public business.

The probe later was expanded to look into possible ties among the road-paving company Anderson Columbia Inc., commissioners and other local politicians.

Anderson Columbia, based in Lake City, paid Murphy more than $171,500 for consulting services from 1999 to 2002, including $60,000 in loans, with no provision for repayment.

* * *
Pinkerton suggested the State Attorney's Office is convinced that Murphy has information to provide the investigation and is punishing him for not doing so."
Norman also reported on the opening day of trial that Murphy also "did favors for at least two commissioners, including paying them money."

Both Murphy and Anderson Columbia have denied publicly that they did anything illegal. At trial, Anderson Columbia comptroller Brian Schreiber "testified that... Murphy owes Anderson Columbia $60,000 from the two promissory notes that have not been repaid."

While he awaits sentencing, one is tempted to wonder if Murphy at long last is considering some sort of 'pay back' for Anderson Columbia.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

There Will Always Be A Key West

The Key West News is reporting that the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta "has declared unconstitutional a Florida law prohibiting disclosure of information from an active internal police investigation... ." The court is returning the lawsuit against the town of Key West to the federal trial court for further proceedings.

The civil rights lawsuit initially was filed against former city police chief Gordon "Buz" Dillon, after he arrested Dennis Reeves Cooper. Cooper was publisher of "Key West The Newspaper." In June, 2001, Cooper published an article "disclosing that state authorities had ordered an internal police investigation based on [newspaper publisher] Cooper's complaint that a city police investigator had improperly conducted a separate investigation."

"Key West The Newspaper" no longer appears to have a working web site. But Cryptome has archived three of the newspaper's articles which were critical of local law enforcement.

"Horrible to Watch"

Abstract Appeal is in agony watching what passes these days for news on television. It's worth quoting:
"I've just finished watching a round of television programs where Judge Greer was once again assailed as lawless, power-grabbing, and out of control. On a mission to kill, it's said.

"This is horribly difficult to watch. I cannot help but think that well meaning, honest Americans are home watching these programs, thinking there must be some truth behind the repeated assertions that a single judge or two have turned the justice system upside down. The public deserves better.

"Florida law told Judge Greer what he had to do here. Once fate chose him as the judge in the case, he was responsible for following the law laid out by both the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Legislature, all of which said that where those close to the incapacitated person cannot agree on what the ward would choose to do, then the court should resolve the matter.

"Judge Greer is a Republican and a Southern Baptist. No doubt he has his own views about what he thinks he would do, or what he thinks might be in Terri's best interests. But he was charged with deciding only what Terri would do. He found the evidence presented at trial clear and convincing that Terri would choose not to have her life prolonged by the affirmative intervention of modern medicine. Three appellate judges unanimously affirmed that decision.
* * *

"It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with the law on these points, but to condemn the judge for following the law as it exists is irresponsible and contrary to the basic principles on which our government, with its separate branches, was created.
* * *

"[T]he judicial system offers the checks necessary to ensure that the law has been properly followed. Judge Greer is part of that system, and he operated within it to perform his required role. Those who condemn him, and the judiciary that has thus far upheld his decisions, do not know what they do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Schiavo's Guardian

As the Terri Schiavo tragedy makes its way to the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court, ABC News is reporting that Jeb Bush again is calling on the state legislature to pass a law that somehow would reverse 20+ decisions of state and federal courts over the past 8+ years.

Amidst all the high emotions and strong opinions, it might help to know the facts. National Public Radio has posted the full 40-page report filed by Dr. Jay Wolfson, a physician-lawyer appointed by Governor Bush a year and a half ago. Common Dreams has a succinct but accurate summary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Our Peculiar Press

Someone's on the borrow here.

Federal Judge Refuses to Order Schiavo's Feeding Tube Reinserted, the latest from the Florida Sun-Sentinel by Andrew Metz, Newsday and the Associated Press:
Whittemore frequently sighed, paused and buried his face in his hands during the hearing. He wanted details of how long it would take to move Schiavo from her hospice to a nearby hospital and replace the tube -- about two hours, the lawyers said -- and what the procedure involved. Each side said it would require surgery and that Schiavo would need to be hospitalized for several days while her electrolyte balance was restored.
U.S. Judge Hears Tense Testimony in Schiavo's Case
From the New York Times written by Abby Goodnough with additional credit to "Carl Hulse ... reporting from Washington for this article, and Christine Jordan Sexton from Tallahassee.":
Judge Whittemore at times sighed, paused and buried his face in his hands during the hearing. He wanted details of how long it would take to transport Ms. Schiavo from her hospice to a nearby hospital and replace the tube - about two hours, the lawyers said - and what the procedure involved. Both sides said it would require surgery and that Ms. Schiavo would need to be hospitalized for several days while her electrolyte balance was restored.

And --
New Law Forces Old Arguments in Schiavo Case Back to the Fore from the Florida Sun-Sentinel "written by Andrew Metz, Newsday"":
Whittemore frequently sighed, paused and buried his face in his hands during the hearing. He wanted details of how long it would take to move Schiavo from her hospice to a nearby hospital and replace the tube -- about two hours, the lawyers said -- and what the procedure involved. Each side said it would require surgery and that Schiavo would need to be hospitalized for several days while her electrolyte balance was restored.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

How To Protect Your Own Life - and Death

We will let others who are more knowledgeable, like Abstract Appeal , comment about the Terri Schiavo case, which is rapidly spinning completely out of control.

Except to say this: Unless you relish the prospect of having a politician with no particular skill except exterminating bugs trolling for votes over your helpless body, you should execute a Living Will. While you're at it, in case some day you might become as insensate as a rutabaga sign a Medical Surrogate form, too.

Go to the web site for the Florida State Bar and print out the free forms. Two witness signatures needed, neither of whom would benefit under your regular will.

Protect yourself against an "orgy of grandstanding."

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Fortune Teller's Wisdom

As everyone begins to panic over what looks like an approaching New Ice Age, someone asks the 'Fortune Teller' in Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth what the future holds for them. She answers something like, 'Pshaw! Anyone can tell the future. The real trick is to tell the past.'

Privatizing some or all of Social Security is not an idea unique to the Bush administration. It's been tried before. As Wilder's Fortune Teller suggests, we should take a look at the past so we can learn from the experience of others.

Economics professor Paul Krugman wrote early this year in the The New York Times that the U.S. news media have done a terrible job providing readers with information "about how privatization has worked in other countries." He adds:
"Now my colleagues have even fewer excuses: there's an illuminating article on the British experience in The American Prospect, by Norma Cohen, a senior corporate reporter at The Financial Times who covers pension issues.

Her verdict is summed up in her title: "A Bloody Mess." Strong words, but her conclusions match those expressed more discreetly in a recent report by Britain's Pensions Commission, which warns that at least 75 percent of those with private investment accounts will not have enough savings to provide "adequate pensions."
The American Prospect article begins by recounting how Margaret Thatcher's government sold the public on a privatization plan in much the same way President Bush is pitching privatization today in Pensacola. The result in Britain was such a disaster that British politicians across the political spectrum now are preparing to adopt a plan very much like our own Social Security system. They think what we now have is superior to the kind of privatization plan they are trying to abandon.

And they should know. In Great Britain --
"[S]ubstituting private savings accounts for a portion of state benefits has been a failure. A shorthand explanation for what has gone wrong is that the costs and risks of running private investment accounts outweigh the value of the returns they are likely to earn. On average, fees and charges can reduce pension lump sums by up to 30 percent on retirement."
Here's a history of how the retirement safety net was shredded in Britain:
[I]n 1985, the Conservatives pushed through what would become the landmark legislation of social-security privatization. The new law curtailed some SERPS [Great Britain's 'State Earnings-Related Pension' system]; allowed employees the choice of either joining SERPS or setting up a personal pension scheme; and, crucially, allowed those choosing a personal pension to contract out of SERPS altogether. It was these last two elements, when combined, that led to one of the greatest financial scandals in recent memory and that, together, have undermined confidence in long-term savings in Britain.
* * *
It wasn’t until a July 1992...that the government got its first official warning that all was not well. * * * The warning came from David Clark, then deputy secretary for pensions, in a paper to the assembled group. A minister recalled to me, “The paper said that, in some sense, personal pensions have been a tremendous success, but there are a few time bombs ticking away there.”
Those "time bombs" included
  • Start-up costs exceeded $9 billion but privatizing the naitonal pension system saved only $3.1 billion.
  • What had been a £1.6-billion surplus in the pension fund had 'vanished'.
  • It was discovered that 'a staggering percentage' of workers who had opted for the privatization plan were 'worse off in retirement as a result.'

Then the British equivalent of 'Wall Street' scandals began to surface. Investment insurance companies, handed the job of overseeing private pensions, were exposed as having 'over-sold' the pension benefits, over-charged for administrative fees, and under-performed on the investment of the accounts.
Over the next eight years, roughly 1.7 million people sought and received compensation that ultimately cost the insurance industry £12 billion. In addition, hundreds of millions were paid out in fines and penalties. It was the biggest financial scandal in the United Kingdom to date.
Today --
"[M]ost British occupational pension schemes [are] in deficit. Tens of thousands of workers "have lost all or part of their pensions... . Those who have lost out have discovered that they have nothing to fall back on except the basic state pension, which is now so miserly because of changes put in place during the first year of the Thatcher reign that those relying solely upon it for their retirement income are defined as destitute."
Indeed, it seems that the 'private' invesment companies have botched the job so badly that "many U.K. insurance companies, mindful of tough new rules against giving bad advice... [are] urging [customers] to consider abandoning their private savings and returning to the state pension system -- something hundreds of thousands of Britons have done already."

30-Day Deadline

The Palm Beach Post reports:
"Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet on Thursday ordered insurers statewide to settle all outstanding hurricane claims within 30 days — by April 18 — or provide detailed reasons explaining why any remaining claims are not closed. * * * Companies failing to comply with the rule could be fined $500 a day or more. Insurers must report any unpaid claims to the state Office of Insurance Regulation by April 28 and explain why."
Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is said to have "a little fewer than 10,000 claims still unpaid, including several hundred in the Pensacola area affected by a court case involving flood damage vs. wind damage."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hurricane Clary

What planet does Charlie Clary (R-Destin) live on and who is his weatherman there?

Less than 10 days after warning fellow state legislators that an honor guard of two Air Force jets saluting the opening of the legislative session "could shake any buildings that are in close proximity to the Capitol," the local state senator single-handedly "derailed" an effort to improve the state's wind-proofing building code for Northwest Florida.

Peculiar, that. How can Clary be so sensitive about a building shaking in Tallahassee while the politicians party-down, and so insensitive to the loss of life and billions of dollars in property damage caused right here at home by Hurricane Ivan? The story can be found today at Proposal To Increase Building Standards Killed: Panhandle codes will not receive any changes.

About the same time Senator Clary was trembling over the annoying fly-by of two jet planes in Tallahassee, journalist Carry Johnson was writing in the St. Petersburg Times that since the year 2000 Northwest Florida has been exempt from statewide wind resistance building standards.
"When the Legislature adopted the stricter building code after [Hurricane] Andrew, lawmakers in the Panhandle argued the region was less hurricane-prone than South Florida. So the tougher standards, which include withstanding 120 mile-per-hour winds, extend only 1 mile from the Gulf of Mexico and do not apply to older homes."
The exemption -- which was drafted by Senator Clary -- applies from Franklin County (including Apalachicola) all the way west of Pensacola to the Alabama line.

You might suppose that Hurricane Ivan would give legislators reason to re-think that exemption. And you'd be half right. As Aaron Deslatte and Paul Flemming of the Gannett Corp.'s Tallahassee Bureau report today:
"Rep. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said that after Hurricane Ivan battered the Panhandle, she wanted to bring the region up to the same wind-resistant building codes enforced in the rest of Florida.

* * *
Detert's bill would have required the Florida Building Commission to adopt newer standards for wind resistance necessary for construction projects throughout Florida. At the committee hearing, she held up pictures of buildings constructed under the older code for wind resistance that were damaged in last year's hurricanes and others built to higher standards that fared better."
So, a bill was proposed to bring the quality of construction in the Panhandle into parity with the rest of the state. But Charlie Clary killed it:
"Detert said Tuesday she was told local lawmakers, specifically Clary, objected to the measure, and a House committee deleted it from the bill that was moved ahead. Clary is Senate president pro tem, and he is able to halt legislation from his leadership post."
The reason Clary gives? In perfect harmony with the modern age of Orwellian newspeak this is what he told the Gannett reporters:
"'Ivan probably strengthened my position that what we did was right,' Clary said of his actions to exclude the Panhandle five years ago. Panhandle structures 'performed exceedingly well' in Ivan, he said."
Clary added that "his constituents, particularly home builders and building associations, don't want the change to tougher standards."

Clary may have been too busy ducking jets in Tallahassee (which, by the way, is not exempt from the statewide code) to notice, but he's got more constituents in his district than just developers and real estate hustlers. Thanks to Ivan, thousands of citizens in his district are still homeless.

Follow this link to see Katie King's photo of "the sea of blue" that Senator Clary considers 'exceedingly' good performance. As the caption describes, it is a "Testament to Hurricane Ivan’s brutal winds, more than 49,000 and counting damaged roofs in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties... .With labor and material shortages, blue roofs likely will dot the landscape for months to come."

Moreover, it's been authoritatively estimated that Pensacola is affected by hurricanes, on average, once every 3.05 years. We suffer a direct hit once every 8.93 years. Similar statistics apply to other communities in Senator Clary's district.

Thanks to "Hurricane Clary" and his opposition to stronger building codes, you can be sure the senator will have a lot more homeless constituents in the future.

Monday, March 14, 2005

'Follow the Law'

Robert M. Heath has an op-ed piece in today's News Journal that bristles with outrage at the earlier, self-serving Viewpoint article written by Bob Ricker, the head of Citizens Property Insurance Co.

Heath identifies himself as an attorney who "has spent the better part of the last five months assisting clients whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Ivan... ." He goes on --
"Typically, Ricker echoes the company line and repeats what his adjusters have told these devastated families: 'Sorry, ma'am, your damage was caused by flood and we don't cover flood.' His statement that 'at Citizens ... we are motivated to pay legitimate claims' is not only hypocritical but untrue.

The Florida Valued Policy Law, section 627.702, Florida Statutes (2003), says that 'in the event of the total loss of any building ... located in this state and insured by any insurer as to a covered peril ... the insurer's liability, if any, under the policy for such total loss shall be in the amount of money for which the property was so insured ... '

This statute dates back to at least 1959 and is a part of every windstorm insurance policy in Florida, including those issued by Citizens. In addition, the case of Mierzwa v. Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association, to which Ricker refers, clearly states that the meaning of the Valued Policy Law is 'simple and straightforward.'

The statute requires that the building be insured as to a covered peril and that it be a total loss. If these two facts are true, then the Valued Policy Law requires that the insurance company pay its policyholder the full value of the policy."
There's more. Follow this link.

Casting Call

The ABC/Washington Post poll released today shows "barely a third of the public approves of the way President Bush is dealing with Social Security." Along with two other news articles, this helps shed light on why the visit of President Bush to Pensacola has not yet been confirmed, was confirmed only late this afternoon:
"A presidential visit is planned, the third to this area in eight months time. President George W. Bush, is planning a trip to Pensacola on Friday. Congressman Jeff Miller's Office has confirmed the travel plans. * * * The time and place of Friday's visit has not yet been announced."
You have to figure the White House is busy vetting local folk for super-tough roles in the coming political drama, "Let's All Trust Wall Street With Our Social Security."

In Sunday's Washington Post, staff writers Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker describe the way the White House elaborately screens and rehearses in advance the potential questioners Bush will call on.
"These meticulously staged 'conversations on Social Security,' as they are called, replicate a strategy that Bush used to great effect on the campaign trail. * * * First [the White house] picks a state in which generally it can pressure a lawmaker or two, and then it lines up panelists who will sing the praises of the president's plan. Finally, it loads the audience with Republicans and other supporters."
Once they have the cast, White House handymen decide who the president will call on in advance and then put them through rehearsals to teach them how to act like spontaneous members of the general public.

Take the experience of Mark Darr from Benton, Arkansas -- who supports privatizing Social Security -- and his mother (who does not):
"To help make its case, the White House recruits people such as Mark Darr ... who joined the president on stage at a forum in Little Rock last month. In a subsequent interview, Darr said he believes he was chosen because he went to college with one son of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and provided insurance for another.

After the governor's office called, Darr said, he began receiving one call after another from the White House, quizzing him on his thoughts on Social Security and his family history, just as they did all the other candidates. 'I'm sure they wanted to . . . make sure they weren't going to embarrass the president,' Darr said.

Not so his mother. At first when he mentioned that she receives Social Security, he said, White House aides seemed eager to add her to the panel. Then they called her. 'She wasn't really for the private accounts, so they didn't decide to use her,' Darr said.

The night before the event, the chosen participants gathered for a rehearsal in the hall in which the president would appear the next day. An official dispatched by the White House played the president and asked questions. 'We ran through it five times before the president got there,' Darr said."
Anyone want to bet on which familiar face from the beach is lining up for a screen test?

The second article comes from a Southwest Florida newspaper. It seems the president initially planned to stage his next Florida 'town hall' visit on Social Security in Sarasota, not Pensascola. But the Herald Tribune reports today that the president's "first visit to Sarasota in more than three years was nixed just hours after it was announced." The change was attributed to unspecified "scheduling problems," according to a Bush supporter.

The 'scheduling' problem may be that it's taking longer than usual to find any Republican politician who isn't running away from the president's plan to privatize Social Security. Even ubber-loyalist Katharine R. Harris (R-Fla.) is claiming she was "not involved in the planning process" for the abortive Sarasota meeting.

Harris, of course, is the former state elections supervisor who became a polarizing figure in the drawn-out 2000 presidential election contest. She represents a congressional district with the second-highest concentration in the nation of people over 65 years old, according to the Sarasota paper. Although many consider her the president's lap dog, to date she has "stopped short of saying the president can count on her vote," writes reporter Jeremy Wallace.

So, one is tempted to conclude that in addition to a few rich Republican donors who plausibly can be trained to act like ordinary folk, the hunt is on for a congressman more reliable than Harris when it come to supporting privatization of Social Security.

First District congressman Jeff Miller surely seems like he would be a reliable cast member. The nonpartisan "On The Issues" web site says Miller rates a low 20% on senior issues as determined by the Alliance for Retired Americans. And he showered truly fulsome praise on the president's stated intention to privatize Social Security after the state of the union speech.

But Mr. Miller's official statement on the issue now waffles a bit. From his congressional web site we learn that he doesn't want to cut benefits "to the current and soon-to-be retirees," he's against raising taxes, he wants a "safety net for all workers," and he thinks "personal accounts must be constrained within safe parameters so people do not recklessly lose money."

Still, careful readers will note that Miller's statement on the issue only precludes people from losing money. It doesn't expressly preclude a privatized plan that allows your retirement money to be lost by the recklessness of Wall Street investment firms -- say, in some future Enron or Worldcom or HealthSouth scandal.

So, he may be reliable after all.

Bush's Bubble Coming?

The Pensacola News Journal's paid stenographer, Nicole Lozare, transcribes in today's paper that President Bush likely will be visiting Pensacola in his continuing campaign to promote privatization of Social Security:
"The White House will not confirm the list of Florida cities Bush will visit, but several local leaders and active Republicans have received calls about a possible Pensacola stop later this week."
Why do you suppose Ms. Lozare's sources are "active Republicans"? Ms. Lozare doesn't say. A real reporter might have warned us that the president prefers to preach only to the carefully-culled and converted.

He travels in a bubble, as Tom Dispatch described while passing along Canadian reporter Don Murray's report of what it was like to tour Europe with Bush. As the president stumps here at home, three Newsweek reporters say, things are no different.

How are the crowds managed? Just as they were during last year's partisan presidential campaign.
  • Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Wallsten, who accompanied Bush on last week's Social Security tour of Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee explains: "Tickets to the events are distributed mostly to Republicans."

  • The same thing happened in Jackson, TN., as that city's Jackson Sun confirmed last week: "Most of Bush's events to pitch the plan have been open only to pre-screened audiences, with Republican lawmakers and selected groups distributing tickets. The White House also usually selects a small handful of area residents to talk with Bush on stage during the campaign-style events."

  • In Louisiville, KY., tickets had to be obtained through local Republican officials.

  • Republican party officals were tasked by the White House with screening attendees in Fargo, N.D. -- and someone among them along the way composed an 'enemies list' of do-not invites.

  • In Montgomery, AL, the Mobile Register reported Republican officials and "administration-friendly" advocacy organizations distributed the tickets to a crowd described as "overwhelmingly Republican" and "overwhelmingly white."

  • The week before, all 6,000 tickets were distributed by a Republican congressman's local office, acoording to the Associated press.

Naturally enough, the ostensible town hall atmosphere is "orchestrated", too, according to reports in the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post. Guests on the president's platform and the lucky ones he calls upon in the audience are hand-picked supporters of a presidential 'plan' that has not yet even been released in any detail. As the Post explains --
"[S]uch events are always the same: Bush as congenial host with hand-picked on-stage guests with stories to prove the president's point. * * * In addition to orchestrating the on-stage portion of the events, there is evidence that the White House works to control the live audience. Presidential appearances are 'ticketed events,' with ticket distribution controlled by local officials and organizations. The locals operate under marching orders from the White House 'advance' staff."
As Washington's widely-read Josh Marshall has repeatedly pointed out, other than proposing that it be at least patially privatized, the White House has yet to release its own detailed plan for reforming Social Security. But according to The Century Foundation, all known plans developed by White House-friendly commissions and think tanks --
"would require enormous levels of new federal borrowing. An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of the president's plan shows that over the first 10 years the plan is in effect, new federal borrowing would amount to more than $1 trillion.

Over the following 10 years, an additional $3.5 trillion would be borrowed, bringing the total to $4.5 trillion over 20 years."
A detailed analysis of census data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has concluded that "in Florida alone, Social Security lifts 1.1 million elderly people above the poverty line, reducing the elderly poverty rate from 50.2 percent to 8.7 percent."

To be exact, that's 1,116,000 Floridians. Maybe some of those soon-to-be poor folk ought to be given tickets to the show, too.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Weekly Blogwalk

Our own John Gunn has a soul mate at Sticks of Fire where 'Tommy' recounts recent incidents of bizarre road rage in Tampa.

The "specious science" of Chiropracty has been occupying the attention FSUBlius of late. The reason? Some well-heeled lobbyists from the Florida Chiropractors' Association want a "stand-alone chiropractic college" at FSU. Apparently, they've already insinuated several chiropractors onto the university's payroll, so maybe it's time for a compromise. How about making the Chiropractor Department part of an F.S.U. Tarot Card College and Astrology Institute?

Dred has stumbled across The Naked Repairman, a real South Florida business. By the way, for everyone in the Panhandle who's been having trouble finding licensed contractors, you may want to know that he's willing to travel if the price is right.

With the annual state legislative session about to open, a number of Florida blogs are turning their attention toward Tallahasse.

"Why does the Florida legislature hate America?" asks The Gainsville Report.
"Proposals to reduce our ability to get constitutional amendments passed [are] gaining steam. This is simply a power grab by the elected officials beholden to wealthy special interest groups that want to ensure state dollars are spent on their needs, not ours."
Which raises this question, as we see it: Why not allow ballot initiatives by the people to pass new statutes, thus saving the state's Constitution for matters a little more empyrean than pregnant pigs and high speed railroads?

The legislature is considering a two cent tax on toilet paper rolls in the Panhandle. You can read all about it on Florida News.

South of the Suwanee has spotted a "new scam" by Representatives Allan Bense (R-Panama City) and Joe Negron (R- Stuart) "to cut taxes and make ends meet by smashing into long-protected piggy banks dedicated to such things as environmental-land purchases, affordable housing and health care."

Interstate4 Jamming is all over the breaking story of upheavals and indictments of Orlando's mayor and prominent political figures. Jeb Bush suspended Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat, thus elevating Republican Ernest Page as "pro tem" mayor. Page "himself served eight months in jail for grand theft while a member of the City Council in 1983... ."

Blogwood reports that newly elected Florida U.S. Senator Mel Martinez is leading the Christian Right's charge in Washington D.C. to "fastrack a bill that could lead to a federal court review" of the Terri Schivo case. If you'd like to know more about this sad, interminable case check out the archives at Abstract Appeal.

Gordon, a Florida surfer at Anger Management Course is inspired by news of a bank shoot-out in Costa Rica to reflect on the declining quality of life he's witnessed in San Jose the past seven years. "Crime, including rape, disappearances of young women, and muggings are common in the capital."

Read more to find out where he recommends you can capture the same flavor of old Costa Rica "15-20 years ago." It's cheaper and safer than today's Costa Rica, he says.

Bark-Bark, Woof-Woof seems to be speculating on a Hillary vs. Condi presidential race in '08. As the Church Lady might say, "Now, wouldn't that heal a divided nation!"

A planned high-rise condo got cropped in Tampa out of concern for airport safety, BayCiti reports.

Florida Land Use Law provides links to the important details of the pending U.S. Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London. The central issue is, "Can a municipality constitutionally use its eminent domain powers to seize one person's private property only to hand it over to a private developer as part of an urban renewal project?"

Have an opinion on this? Unless you're going to be a guest on some cable TV news show, you might want to know what your talking about. So read the links.

On a related legal issue, Florida Musings observes that the state's community development planning process is intended "to open the comprehensive planning process to the fullest possible public participation." But he has identified two state administrative rulings that apparently decided only "for proft" buisenesses are qualified to challenge a local Comprehensive Plan amendment in Department of Community Affairs administrative proceedings. If Jeb Bush's cabinet lets the rulings stand, non-profit citizens groups could be shut out of the process altogether.

Which makes us wonder. What about "for profit" businesses that tell the tax man they're losing money?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Beach Photos

Save Five Flags is a new web site showing recent photos of Pensacola Beach dated February 23, 2005.

Much Ado About Nothing

Paul Flemming of Gannett's Tallahassee Bureau reports in this morning's News Journal that Citizens Property Insurance Co. is dropping the test lawsuit against Ralph and Barbara Perkins of Grand Lagoon.

There's less here than meets the eye. First, Citizens really isn't changing its position about the Perkins' windstorm claim. The company still denies it and will slog on fighting the Perkins -- and every other windstorm claimant who asks for policy limits when their home or business is damaged badly enough to be torn down. The Perkins, who filed a counter-claim after being sued, will have to continue their counterclaim lawsuit on their own to have any hope of collecting on the policy they bought from the state-owned insurance company.

Second, Citizens simply is switching the venue of its betrayal of wind storm policy holders from Escambia to Leon County, where a class action lawsuit was filed challenging Citizens' statewide practice of flouting the existing law as declared by the 4th District Court of Appeals in Mierzwa vs. Florida Windstorm. Presumably, the Black Hole memo continues in effect, too. That is to say, Citizens will continue to single out for adverse treatment all insured customers who have the temerity to assert their rights under Mierzwa and the existing Florida Valued Policy Law.

So, as the Perkins' local lawyer essentially told the News Journal, having Citizens drop its lawsuit is much ado about nothing. Indeed, state C.F.O. Tom Gallagher actually is encouraging Citizens to continue fighting the Leon County class action lawsuit.

Reporter Fleming has hold of a letter Gallagher sent to Citizens Property after his much publicized 'I-feel-your-pain" and "Gosh-whatever-can-we-do" visit to Pensacola. He reports:
"Gallagher continues to encourage the class-action suit against Citizens to move forward quickly.

"Consolidation of the legal issues in the pending suit in Leon (County) will help all affected policyholders with an early resolution of the law concerning coverage in these complex circumstances," Gallagher wrote in a letter to Ricker." [emphasis added]
The key phrase there is "legal issues." The key contradiction lies with "these complex circumstances" which involve intensely factual disputes that will differ from case to case. Except for the outrageously bad faith move by Citizens to categorically deny all Valued Policy claims, every insurance claim depends on a house-by-house, detail-by-detail factual inquiry. That is a situation singularly unsuitable for class action relief, as requested in the case of Scylla Properties vs. Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

While the Leon County class action can settle some issues around the margins -- probably only whether Citizens acts in bad faith when it categorically denies all Valued Policy claims -- individual claimants who have been given the back of the hand by Citizens Property Insurance will have to continue pressing their individual claims in individual cases, just as the Perkins are doing.

Gallagher knows this. Therefore, he know as well that his latest letter is mere window dressing.

It's just more bull from the pulpit while Gallagher studiously avoids invoking the substantial substantive powers of his office that could make a real difference for hurricane victims.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Surfing Florida Blogs

For a good time, look down the right side of this blog's front page and check out what's up on other Florida blogs. News, views, funny stuff, and some pretty good writing, too.

Hatless shares an overheard conversation in a Doctor's Waiting Room as an Man and a Mother watch a Kid playing with a Gameboy.
MAN: We didn't have games like that when I was your age. My mother made me play in the hall closet. She liked to keep the place clean. * * * The living room, we called it the museum.

WOMAN: With plastic on the furniture?

MAN: Yeah, yeah.

WOMAN: Everyone had that. There's nothing wrong with that.

MAN: No. I guess it wasn't so bad.

ME [piping in]: Except that you're afraid of the dark to this day.

MAN: That's actually sort of true.
* * *

Blog de Leon shares a sad archived photo of hearses carrying away the dead after the devastating hurricane of 1926 and speculates about the next one to hit South Florida. "The moral of the story," he suggests," is that everybody who lives in Florida has a shared liability, and the anti-tax crowd in Jacksonville shouldn't complain about sharing the cost of this summer's hurricanes."
* * *

Today's editorial in the Pensacola News Journal scores Alan Greenspan for being "practically incoherent" as he swings wildly to extremes, from supporting Bush's massive tax cuts a year ago to pointing out they will be the ruin of America. Bark-Bark, Woof-Woof impolitely snarls that Greenspan has become "just an old guy in a loincloth talking to himself." There's a reproduction of a funny Tom Toles cartoon, too.
* * *

Blogwood is shaking his head over the GOP-proposed bankruptcy bill being debated by the Senate. The bottom line is right there at the top of the page:
"It’s a horrible bill for workers, a perfect opportunity for Democrats to stand up for the common man, but many Dems are standing with their GOP cohorts as they get ready to throw a meaty bone to the already fat credit card industry."

* * *

Bayciti reports that The Donald doesn't need an 'apprentice' for the new Trump Tower Tampa so much he needs as an archeologist.
* * *

Two Florida blogs, Bayciti and Sticks of Fire, are jointly wringing their hands over the possible closure of MacDill Air Force Base. "Why not build a couple theme parks?" asks Sticks. "Is that crazy?"
* * *

In a late February Gainsville Report Colin Whitworth remembers starting out his career as a writer under the deep influence of the later Hunter Thomson. And not always for the better.
* * *

Favor all those proposals, do you, for privatizing schools, prisons, Social Security, Medicare, child welfare, and even the military? Want to see vast streams of government funds diverted to the private sector? Consider the long-term implications, South of Swannee suggests, inspired by and quoting Miami Herald columnist Robert Steinbeck: "With no common tribal history, and no sense of shared social commitment post-privatization, what generator of national unity will remain for us as Americans?"

Maybe greed, avarice, and gluttony?
* * *

Hot Wax Residue is mad at owners of professional hockey teams for greedily locking out the players.
"I've decided that I do not plan to go back to hockey when (if) the lockout ends. Oh, sure, I'll still watch it on TV. For free. Preferably in a bar somewhere, so I'm not even paying for the satellite feed. But it will be a long, long time before I go back to the Ice Palace (or St Pete Times Forum, or whatever) for an NHL game - whether the lockout ends or not."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Bull from the Pulpit

Veni, vidi, blateri.
(Loose translation:
'I came, I saw, I talked a lot.')
State Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher spent the last two days in Pensacola getting an earful from local residents, thousands of whom are still living in extremis almost six months after Hurricane Ivan.

Paige St. John filed this dispatch after the first day, appropriately titled Gallagher Rails Against Insurers:
"Gallagher spoke out after attending an emotional town hall meeting Wednesday in Pensacola that drew nearly 1,000 unhappy storm victims. A second meeting was called for Thursday, and three more sessions are planned in Sebastian, Punta Gorda and Orlando."
In mid-visit, St. John writes, Gallagher summarized the "unconscionable" insurance practices he was discovering --
  • Insurers failing to show for state-ordered mediation with policyholders.
  • Other companies sending representatives who can't pay.
  • Some sending victims partial settlements mislabeled as "final payment."
"Those (practices) are unconscionable," Gallagher said. "I think it's time we start exposing to the public what companies are the worst in regard to taking care of their customers."
To his credit, Gallagher singled out Citizens Property Insurance for special criticism:
"The worst problems are in Escambia County... and among the worst offenders is the state-run Citizens Property Insurance."
According to St. John, Gallagher orally urged Citizens to "drop its lawsuit against an Escambia County couple and make payments on the undisputed portions of hundreds of hurricane claims being held up by the litigation."

He's right, of course. The test suit Citizens filed against the Perkins family from the Perdido Key area is an outrage. In suing their own customers, Citizens has taken the low road of flouting Florida statutory and case law, apparently hoping to delay insurance pay-outs for years while the case is appealed and industry lobbyists log-roll the legislature to change the law. Meanwhile, Citizens is using that lawsuit as an excuse to stiff-arm thousands of its other policyholders who, like the Perkins, have the audacity to claim damage from the twin hurricane casualties of wind and water.

Gallagher may talk a good game, but as yet there is no sign he plans to take any meaningful action. Indeed, his chief lawyer, Pete Dunbar, imprudently confessed to St. John:
"This is all about the bully pulpit. * * * It's part cajole, part kick, part talk to Kevin (McCarty, Florida's insurance commissioner)."
Public 'exposure' of irresponsible or incompetent insurance companies is useful, of course. It can help potential customers entering the marketplace to avoid signing up with a bad company, like First Protective Insurance, Capitol Preferred, Vanguard Fire & Casualty, or Universal Property & Casualty -- all of whom Gallagher also singled out for a tongue-lashing.

But when it comes to existing customers of companies like the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance, it's hard to imagine what good can come of 'cajoling' from Gallagher's "bully pulpit." Seeing the head of all of Florida's Financial Services claim that he can do nothing more than "talk" to Citizens is like watching Worldcom's munificently-paid CEO, Bernie Ebbers, tell the jury he's never been able to add or subtract. To both men, one wants to scream "Then why in hell should you be the boss?"

Other than palaver, attorney Dunbar told St. John, "I don't know what else you do but get out there and roll up your sleeves." Dunbar is not a licensed contractor, so even if he rolls up his sleeves he won't be able to repair a single roof or replace a ruined home. But what he and his boss can do, if they really want to help, is use the lawful powers granted to Gallagher's office under the state law that created the Department of Financial Services in the first place:
(a) The department or office may issue and serve a complaint stating charges upon any licensee or upon any affiliated party, whenever the department or office has reasonable cause to believe that the person or individual named therein is engaging in or has engaged in conduct that * * * constitutes ... a detriment to policyholders... or the public * * * Whenever the department or office finds that conduct ... is likely to cause... substantial inability to pay claims on a timely basis, or substantial prejudice to prospective or existing insureds, policyholders, subscribers, or the public, it may issue an emergency cease and desist order requiring the licensee or any affiliated party to immediately cease and desist from engaging in the conduct complained of and to take corrective and remedial action."
-- Florida Statutes section 624.310
Gallagher may have convinced some in Northwest Florida that he feels their pain. But what policyholders really need is a Chief Financial Officer who will invoke the powers of his office to inflict a little pain on Citizens Property Corp. and force "corrective" action.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Citizens' Ministry of Truth

"Like an answer, the three slogans on the white face of the Ministry of Truth came back to him:
-- George Orwell, "1984"
Bob Ricker, the executive director of the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Wednesday mounted an op-ed defense against last week's editorial in the Pensacola News Journal.

The result is not pretty. Either Ricker is an idiot or he supposes that we are idiots. In either event, what he's written qualifies only as 'newspeak' worthy of George Orwell's 'Big Brother.'

Ricker titles his piece Citizens Will Pay Only What Is Owed. Like the headline, the body of the article is pure agitprop -- chock-full of dissembling half-truths, outright lies, and calumnies.

Plenty of letters-to-the-editor will be flooding the News Journal in reply to Ricker's arguments, I have no doubt. So, what I'd like to do here is simply call attention to the four blunt techniques Ricker uses to convert what could have been a normal article, giving the public needed information, into a despicable piece of propaganda serving only the insular bureaucratic interests of Citizens Property Insurance itself.

What do I mean by propaganda? As the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia explains:
"Propaganda is a specific type of message... aimed at serving an agenda. * * * What separates propaganda from "normal" communication is in the subtle, often insidious, ways that the message attempts to shape opinion. For example, propaganda is often presented in a way that attempts to deliberately evoke a strong emotion, especially by suggesting non-logical... relationships between concepts."[emphasis added]

Diverting Attention

As propagandists often do, Ricker begins by acknowledging there is a problem but then he swiftly tries to divert our attention to a new and unrelated subject:
'Citizens readily admits to delays and problems with customer service and has taken steps, both immediate and for the future, to better serve its policyholders. However, chief among concerns in the Panhandle is a legal dispute involving flood and wind damages.'
"Chief among concerns in the Panhandle," eh? Note the sly use of the indefinite reflexive pronoun. 'Concerns' are held by people, not places or things. So who, exactly, in "the Panhandle" has this "chief" "concern"? Is it someone -- maybe everyone -- in "the Panhandle"? Or, is it Ricker himself?

Distorting the Facts

He doesn't say because, if he did, the deceitfulness of his next statement would be exposed immediately:
This area was subject to a massive storm surge, causing widespread flooding and creating complex insurance claims.'
Storm surge? Really? But what about the hurricane force winds?

As "everyone" in "the Panhandle" really does know, "this area" was subjected to both a massive windstorm and, in select coastal zones, a storm surge. Sustained winds reached 145 m.p.h. and raged for hours, something Ricker totally fails to mention. I wonder why.

Distorting the Opposing Position

Ricker continues:
"Flood damage is covered by the federal government under a separate insurance policy and is not covered by Citizens or private insurance. However, some claimants are interpreting a recent court ruling to mean that if a home is totaled, no matter the cause, insurance companies owe policy limits." [emphasis added]
There you have the nub of Ricker's argument: "some" insured claimants, he is stating as if it were fact, have filed windstorm claims "no matter the cause."

That blatant untruth comes perilously close to libel, it seems to me. Indeed, it may over-step the line. Ricker and the corporation he heads, for now, are free to claim in court pleadings that a customer does not have a valid claim under the terms of the customer's property insurance contract. But to publish in a public newspaper a statement that defames those customers by claiming they filed windstorm claims "no matter the cause" is recklessly irresponsible, defamatory, and beyond bad faith.

Misleading in the same way is Ricker's implication that customers are asking Citizens to begin "covering flood damage" from Hurricane Ivan. As he surely knows, all of the dozen or more lawsuits filed against Citizens, to date, do not allege that the company is responsible for water surge damage. Rather, they allege that their property suffered wind damage in addition to water damage and under local ordinances, the various contributing factors require that the insured property be torn down and re-built to code.

Under Florida's long-standing Value Policy Law statute, it's this combination of causes -- casualty loss plus local ordinances -- that triggers the wind carrier's obligation to pay limits on the wind policy in accordance with the premiums customers have been charged. As the Mierzwa court noted, if a wind carrier believes part of the burden should be borne by another property insurer, the windstorm carrier is free to demand contribution from that other insurance company.

Lies of Omission

Instead of propagandizing, Ricker would have done the public and the agency he heads a far better service by explaining why all windstorm claims for policy limits are being routed by Citizens Property to the Black Hole of Bill Ellis' desk for special adverse treatment. Or, why every windstorm claimant at Citizens who asks for policy limits is being sent a standard cookie-cutter letter telling them, in effect, to wait three or four years for "a final determination from the courts regarding its obligations" to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Perkins before "we will contact you... ."

Does Citizens' insurance policy language specify that it can compel customers to wait on the outcome of other lawsuits Citizens may choose to file against other persons to 'test'previous court rulings about its legal obligations? I very much doubt it.

I also doubt that such conduct by Citizens could be considered a "good faith" insurance company practice. On Ricker's watch, Citizens already has been exposed as thoroughly incompetent at its core duties of servicing insurance polciies. Now, through Ricker's op-ed piece, the head of the company is effectively unmasked as a disreputable dissimulator with a personal disdain for the truth, the company's customers, and the Florida public at large.


Welcome to Bob Ricker's Ministry of Truth.