Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Banks Own the Senate

Having said the Republican Party faces a generation in the wilderness, the question remains, "Does it matter?" Today, the answer is "No." Republican or Democratic, the U.S. Senate is owned by the banks:

The bankers are celebrating:

Glenn Greenwald has the details you need to know.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking G.O.P.

Arlen Specter quits the Republican Party. Michelle Bachman stays in it. That's just about all you need to know about the Republican strategy for re-taking a majority in 2010. They're counting on the Extremist Ignoramus Vote.

Steve Benen:
[T]he Republican Party is home to Limbaugh, Tea Baggers, Palin, right-wing blogs, the Rove/Cheney/Gingrich triumvirate -- and no one else. The party that's been shrinking to generational lows just got even smaller.

For three months, the conservative message has been that President Obama, his widespread popularity notwithstanding, is some kind of radical ideologue, far from the American mainstream. Specter's departure from the GOP sends the exact opposite message. Moderate Republicans are teaming up with Obama, and leaving the party that has "moved far to the right" behind.

That said, the Republican Party is unlikely to go the way of the Whigs. While the nation is sharply divided over political, social, religious, economic, environmental, and educational issues, political parties in the United States have a history, even in deeply troubled times, of reforming from within rather than being displaced by wholly new parties. The only exception is the Whig Party, and that quite clearly was due to unbridgeable differences over slavery that ate at the very foundation of the Republic for the entirety of its first eighty years.

Count us among those who want a vibrant, reasonable Republican Party. It's never good when the opposition is peopled principally by religious crazies and know-nothings. We cannot divine how and where the Republican Party will find the reformers with the courage to remake it. If history is any guide, it may take a generation or longer, which means the saviors of the Republican Party, right now, probably are just learning to toddle and eat from their highchairs.

History also strongly suggests -- once again, opposition to slavery being the exception -- that the fortunes of any political party inevitably will decline when it falls into the grip of a great religous awakening, such as the Republicans have experienced since Reagan. Reform requires embracing secular pragmatism over rigid religiosity. Wrenching though it may be, in the end we Americans have always returned to our secular roots, strengthened the wall of separation between church and state, and allowed the revivalists to retreat from the public sphere to their private sanctuaries where they can concentrate on saving themselves and their flock.

In short, history teaches that political party reform is inversely related to dominance by what, in former times, was known as the 'religious faction.' To find its way back to reason and vibrancy, the Republican Party will have to separate from the religious faction, and let each go their respective ways.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Trustees Fire Richburg

From the Tampa Bay newspaper blog, The Buzz: "The trustees of Northwest Florida State College just voted to fire president Bob Richburg, the man who hired Rep. Ray Sansom and was indicted along with him earlier this month. The vote was 4 to 3." More here.

Save the Ink

Here's a suggestion for how to save money at the Pensacola News Journal: Drop the David Broder column. By the time that D.C. syndicated columnist's apologies for lawlessness appear in the Pensacola newspaper, his consistently fraudulent facts and defective reasoning already have been exposed.

Richburg Rumpus

Northwest Florida College's president, Bob Richburg, is facing trial on state felony charges. Now, he has more to worry about.

A self-described "muckraker" with "no ax to grind" -- retired Air Force officer Alan Vafides of Fort Walton Beach-- has filed a state ethics complaint against Richburg for failing to disclose his close business ties with former state senator Charlie Clary. Ditto that last for college board member Jody Henderson.

Meanwhile, governor Charlie Crist says he'll be "asking" the college to return the $6 million previously steered toward the college to build an airport hangar for his developer buddy, Jay Odom.

The trustees can't be happy to have their names associated with this spreading scandal. But, can they summon the courage at today's "special session" to fire Richburg? If not, we expect to see soon a number of them resigning in order to "spend more time with the family."

Florida Coast Drilling Postponed

We told you this was likely. The lunatic Republican initiative to allow oil drilling within three miles of the Florida coast failed to pass the state senate yesterday.

But don't think for a moment the proposal is dead, or even asleep. The only way to kill this insane proposal is to throw out of office every single legislator, Republican and Democrat, who voted to put our coasts and tourist industry at risk.

Among others, this means you, Dave Murzin (R-Pensacola), Greg Evers (R-Baker), Ray Sansom (R-Out on Bail), and Clay Ford (R-Gulf Breeze).

Travel Tip For Chicagoland

On the Internet, Illinois toll roads around Chicago are always depicted like this:

In fact, they look like this:

So, when you see a sign like this...

... what it means is cash is accepted only in the far right lane -- which you can't get to because through your windshield this is what you see:
So, you should have this with you:

.. and pay the toll on-line in seven days.

If you don't, the Illinois Tollway Authority will track you down and assess you interest "higher than [that] allowed by the state's usury laws." Just as they did this poor woman...

... and thousands of out-of-state residents who have never even been to Illinois.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Florida Oil Mystery

We've been traveling, and so didn't get a chance to see Wednesday's PNJ editorial opposing the Republican effort in Tallahasee to throw open Florida's beaches to off-shore oil drilling as close as three miles from shore. The PNJ writes it short and bitter. We can make it a bit shorter:

Conscientious state leaders have long opposed offshore drilling not just for
environmental motivations but for economic reasons. They recognize what clean
beaches mean to the state's economy.
* * *
Even as the demand for energy increased, the goal in anti-drilling efforts has been to keep rigs in the Gulf of Mexico at least 100 miles off the coast of Florida, from the Panhandle to the Keys.

There is no reason to reverse the state's long-held opposition to offshore drilling.

Gov. Crist should take a stand and veto any measure that threatens Florida's coastlines.

It is beyond comprehension why the Republican majority in the Florida statehouse planted this roadside political bomb along the road to adjournment in the waning days of the legislative session. Are they trying to commit political suicide? Do they seriously expect Florida voters to thank them for a sneak attack on Florida's 2,200-plus miles of tidal shoreline?

How can Republicans explain, next year when running for reelection, an eleventh-hour proposal so manifestly engineered to discourage and evade public debate and deliberation? Can they seriously believe, here in Florida of all places, that we don't know the magnitude of the threat that would be posed by tropical storms if oil drills and pipelines were allowed so close to our beaches? Are they blind to the fact that this proposal is the biggest anti-small business bill in state history?

The drilling proposal, thankfully, is unlikely to pass the state senate. Even if it did so, Governor Crist almost surely would veto it, unless he plans to run for president in 2012 as the Candidate of Big Oil.

So, why the kari-kari act by Florida House Republicans? There'$ only one an$wer we can think of, and it i$n't pretty.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oily Florida Lawmakers Trash Earth Day: "Drill, Baby, Drill"

Benedict Arnold? Typhoid Mary? Move over. You've got company.

Gannett reporter Jim Ash, from Tallahassee:
Catching opponents off guard in the waning days of the session, House Republicans unveiled a dramatic proposal Tuesday to lift Florida's offshore drilling ban.

An amendment (HB 1219) by Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, passed the House Policy Council with less than 11 days left in the session. It would give the governor and the Cabinet the power to grant oil- and gas-drilling leases as close as 3 miles from shore.

"I just want to start a dialogue," Cannon said.

Dialogue? That's a hoot. Not only was the proposal filed just the night before the vote, but according to reporter Ash the "drill, baby, drill" coalition has been "working quietly behind the scenes with the legislative sponsors for months."

They even showed up for the abbreviated committee session with "a half-hour presentation and glossy handouts for committee members and reporters." Apparently, Florida Republicans want the "dialogue" to take place somewhere around 3 am, preferably while the public is sleeping.

Among the traitors to the Florida coastal environment are Northwest Florida's own Dave Murzin (R-Pensacola) and Greg Evers (R-Baker). You might think that they, more than most, would understand how oil drilling within three miles of the coast threatens both the environment and the economy of places like, say, Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key.

You also might think that Murzin and Evers, whatever their ideology, at least would know that among their own coastal constituents are quite a number of highly educated and articulate citizens, business owners, and tourism offciials who, over the past several decades, have acquired so much expertise about the pros and cons of oil drilling off the Florida coast that Congress invites them to share their knowledge in Washington D.C..

Why didn't Murzin and Evers insist that their own constituents be included in the "dialogue"?

It's depressing enough to see legislators, caught in an ideologoical time warp, advancing outmoded and dangerous answers to the energy needs of the nation and the fiscal needs of the state. It's downright alarming when they secretly plot to shut out well informed voices in their own districts from participating in the debate.

Sansom Missing in Action

Did the judge impound Ray Sansom's Florida passport when he released the indicted legislator on bail? The Destin Republican is missing in action in Tallahassee, precisely as Florida lawmakers get down to serious horse trading in the closing days of the legislative session.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If the Andrews Institute Falls in a Forest...

The Pensacola News Journal may not yet realize it, but it has just declared war on the Andrews Institute, which, as we have long surmised, is not much more than an expensive marketing ploy for the ever-expanding "non-profit" Baptist Hospital empire.

The declaration of war came in today's editorial, "Lost in Space." The opening salvo begins when the paper asks rhetorically, "Is an unethical act no longer unethical if a person says 'I quit' after reaping the benefits of that act?"

The answer can be deduced from Governor Charlie Crist's refusal to follow through on his promised ethics investigation of the "space travelers' training" program at the Andrews Clinic.
"Apparently so," the PNJ editorial concludes, "at least in the Sunshine State. * * * Be sure to pass that message along to the kids."

Now, the main point of the PNJ editorial is that if Gov. Crist won't do it, someone should investigate how Brice Harris got hired. All one can know from press reports is that using taxpayer money, the former state-paid functionary seemingly promoted himself into a new and oddball "space training" job with Baptist/Andrews that pays twice as much as his state salary -- also using state money.

Brice Harris may have acted like a dissembling, self-seeking careerist, as many think the public allegations suggest. But the thing is, someone at Baptist/Andrews also had to be in on the deal.

If the Sansom-Richburg scandal teaches us anything, it is that it takes at least two schlubs to fleece the public of its money in a hiring scandal -- the employee and the employer. Sometimes, it takes even more than two.

Once someone starts peeling the camouflage leaf off the tender parts of the Andrews Institute, there's no telling where it might lead. If the governor's office or the state ethics commission won't do it, then it's likely to be a grand jury.

In that event, you might say, outer space will be the limit. The powers that be at Baptist Hospital/Andrews Institute won't like that one bit.

edited 4-21 pm

Blindly Looking Forward

Florida headlines:
  • Judy Hall of Gulf Breeze, age 61, was arrested yesterday and "charged with carrying a concealed weapon, bringing a gun onto a school campus and resisting arrest without violence." She had her reasons, even if they were patently idiotic. Let's look forward, people, not backward.

  • In Lauderdale Lake, Florida, four men have been "charged with killing a Sunrise man in a case of mistaken identity that started with threats made on a social networking site and through text messaging." But, hey, they made a mistake, that's all. We shouldn't dwell on the past. Let's concentrate on the future.

  • In Miami two days ago, a police patrol car that was supposed to be slowly cruising along struck and killed "a Florida City landscaper as he crossed the street in front of his house." The good news is the dead man's last act was to push his wife out of the path of the recklessly speeding patrol car. No need to wait on the driver's toxicology test results. Let him go. We need to appreciate what we have, not look back on what we've lost.

  • Along the Florida Turnpike in south Florida earlier this week, Miami-Dade police pulled a truck driver over after a large piece of styrofoam blew off the truck, revealing half a ton of marijuana on its way to market. How pointless, to arrest a hard working man who's struggling just to survive in this dicey economy. Call off the investigators! We need to face forward, not back!
National headlines:
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs explained Monday that the White House does not plan for the Justice Department to prosecute even the highest-level Bush administration executives who ordered torture, contrary to U.S. law and international treaties. Why?
  • MR. GIBBS: "The President is focused on looking forward, that's why."

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Bigger They Are...

The local business necrology continues to grow. The Gulf Breeze News is reporting that Bruno's, the anchor grocery store in Gulf Breeze proper, is likely to close by May 31 "if new ownership does not acquire the store in the coming weeks."

It's hard to imagine anyone taking over that rental space, particularly with the unfortunately- named Sea Shell Collections shopping center, anchored by Publix, practically next door. When Bruno's falls, what do you suppose will happen to all the other shops in the mini-mall that depend on its traffic?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

This is for Karen...

... and all the other Scots in the Florida panhandle -- and there are quite a few!

video added 4-19 pm

Can Northwest Florida College Trustees be Trusted?

One aspect of the Ray Sansom/Bob Richburg scandal that hasn't been getting enough scrutiny is what, if any, role the members of the college's Board of Trustees played. Among other things, college boards of trustees in Florida have responsibility for establishing and enforcing recruiting and hiring policies, advertising their own public trustee meetings, and evaluating "the performance of the community college presidents... ."

It sure looks like, collectively, the "Northwest Florida College" Board of Trustees has a lot to answer for. Among other things:
  • They turned a blind eye, to be charitable about it, toward the obviously fixed hiring of Destin politician Ray Sansom as a "part-time" college vice-president at a salary of $110,000 per year, when he didn't even meet the minimally-advertised job qualifications.
  • In 2007, the trustees accepted college president Bob Richburg's "resignation" so he could collect over half a million dollars in accumulated state pension benefits, and then the board re-hired him in the same job with a three percent raise just one month later -- after what no one could call a bona fide nationwide advertising campaign to fill the post with the best qualified candidate. Even conservative Republicans were outraged at that one.
  • The Northwest Florida College Trustees acquiesced a year ago, when Richburg set up one a March board meeting in a private "members only" Tallahassee club 150 miles away from the campus, then they defended the action afterward when Florida's attorney general called the meeting legally questionable and likely a violation of the Sunshine Law.
  • No minutes of that "legislative update" meeting were taken by or for the trustees -- yet ten months later they approved supposed "minutes" of what took place, just as prosecuting attorneys were about to empanel a grand jury.
So, who are these "Northwest Florida College" Trustees? To all appearances, the board is drawn 100% from the local business community. By contrast, a new nationwide survey of state and local community colleges -- and that's what "Northwest Florida College" really is, hyped-up name to the contrary notwithstanding -- finds that, nationwide, only 32% of trustees on boards "were from the business sector."

None of the present members of the Okaloosa-Walton county college appears to be renown in higher education circles for, or to have demonstrable expertise in, academic administration, management, college teaching, or research. Now, we could be wrong. Maybe the otherwise prosaic-looking composition of the Northwest Florida College board of trustees masks a John Dewey clone, a Warren Buffet heir, or a fund-raising genius.

To find out more about the trustees, however, could it be symptomatic of some deeper malady that the college's web site directs us to call the "Marketing Department?"

All of the trustees, no doubt, volunteer their time because they want to serve the college and the local community. For that, they doubtless deserve the standard round of politely appreciative applause.

But community college trustees have something else, too: fiduciary and legal obligations, as described in State Board of Education rules. They are required to establish college policies and hold executives accountable for following them.

When two of the top administrators "hired" by the college trustees are indicted by a grand jury for college-connected activities, and the legality of the board's own conduct is called into question by the state's attorney general, it's well past time for someone on the state Board of Education to be asking, "Who are these trustees and what on earth have they been doing?"
Elizabeth S. Campbell (business owner)
McCaskill & Co.
P.O. Box 369
Destin, FL 32540

Joseph W. Henderson (CPA)
O'Sullivan Creel
P.O. Box 1600
Fort Walton Beach FL 32549

Brian S. Pennington
Tybrin Corporation
1030 Titan Court
Fort Walton Beach FL 32547

Dale E. Rice, Jr. (CEO/President)
First National Bank of Crestview
1301 Industrial Drive
Crestview FL 32539

Sandy Sims
Gulf Power Company
1 Energy Place
Pensacola FL 32520

Vercell Vance, CEO
(Business Owner)
Alpha Data Corporation
1326 Lewis Turner Blvd.
Fort Walton Beach FL 32547

Esteena K. (Teena) Wells (Self Employed)
92 Hillcrest Way
DeFuniak Springs FL 32433

Wesley Wilkerson (Business Owner)
54 Seashore Circle
Santa Rosa Beach FL 32549

Future News You Can Use

Better than telling you what's already happened, Josh Sugarman reports news that is a dead certainty to happen in the future. Just fill in the blanks:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Texas for Sale

You have only 7 days to make your Ebay bid! (Or probably less, once the Powers That Be learn what's going on.)

If the above link doesn't work, click on this screenshot:


On Apr-17-09 at 15:26:32 PDT, seller added the following information:

The great state of Texas is for sale. All proceeds will go towards paying off the national debt of the United States of America. Must sell before she secedes! You’ll receive the whole state including all sports teams. Historic sites include the Alamo, Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home, Bishop’s Palace, and so many more. Think of the income opportunities. The state is also plentiful in both hunting and fishing sites. As an added benefit you can make all your friends real, Texas Rangers. How about that!

On Apr-17-09 at 15:17:16 PDT, seller added the following information:

A question was posed by a potential buyer: Can Texas be moved?

Answer: Yes, Shipping is extra but please consult your local zoologist and botanist in the geographic zone you wish to move Texas to as many of her plants and animals do not do well outside their native climate range. In other words, there are no refunds on dead cactus and prairie dogs.

The Perfect Gift

"Available at any Great Basin Bank Location" -- of which there are now none.

Charlie Crist's World

Even as a Tallahassee grand jury was indicting two Northwest Florida leaders on public corruption charges, governor Charlie Crist was busy sweeping Brice Harris under the rug to cover up the "Project Odyssey" scandal:
Gov. Charlie Crist will not file an ethics complaint against a former top-level Andrews Institute employee, because he has resigned his job. * * * Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the governor's office, said that "in light of his (Harris') recent resignation from the Andrews Institute we will not be making a referral to the Ethics Commission."
We get it. In Gov. Crist's world, thieves get to keep the booty so long as they retire right after the big score -- if they're caught.

This must be why the gods invented grand juries.

Northwest Florida Leaders Indicted

Northwest Florida kingpins Ray Sansom (R-Destin) and Okaloosa-Walton County college president Bob Richburg were indicted Friday on felony "public corruption" charges. Richburg also faces a second charge of perjury.
Sansom, R-Destin, was booked into the Leon County Jail on Friday afternoon and released on his own recognizance. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on the felony charge.
* * *
State Attorney Willie Meggs said Richburg unconvincingly told the grand jurors that building an aircraft hangar and emergency-management complex 15 miles from the Niceville campus was a "multiuse educational facility."
* * *
Meggs said Sansom's charge, a third-degree felony, reflects the then-House budget chief's creation of a false and fraudulent budget item that described the hangar project as a college building.
The full 10-page grand jury indictment can be read here. From the narrative "presentment" that follows the actual indictment, it's clear that the grand jury more or less considered Northwest Florida developer Jay Odom an unindicted co-conspirator. As Gannett Publishing Co.'s Tallahassee reporter puts it --
Odom, who contributed more than $1 million to the state GOP and Sansom's political causes, was not accused of any legal violation, but the grand jury said back-scratching among corporate honchos and politicians is a symptom of a deeply rooted malady.
At the root of this back-scratch was Odom's persistent efforts to find "other people's money" to finance a $6 million airplane hangar for one of his companies, Destin Jet, which he promotes as a state-of-the-art luxury private jet service. When Okaloosa County emergency managemnt personnel expressed no interest in misusing public money for Odom's company, the grand jury's narrative suggests, Odom used college president Richburg to be his cat's paw, in order to claw the $6 million out of Florida's state education appropriation:
During 2OO7 and 2008 airport officials learned about the appropriation to NWFSC [Northwest Florida State college] and the requirement by the Legislature that the college facility would be built at the Destin Airport. The college was to use a development order previously prepared by Destin Jet. The Destin Airport is located fifteen miles away from the NWFSC campus in Niceville. * * * During this meeting the NWFSC officials discussed how the building would be used. The college would have classroom space and the college could sub-lease the storage area to Destin Jet. The building essentially was the same design as Destin Jet's 2004 design, and is still an aircraft hanger. The second floor drawing now includes classrooms as opposed to office space and the first floor is now called a staging area.
The kicker is, "NWFSC does not have an aviation component in its curriculum" and "the vice-president of NWFSC responsible for construction of structures, Dr. Yancy, was not aware of the hanger project until he leamed that The Legislature had appropriated funds for it."
Your Grand Jurors have determined that the funding for this hanger can be attributed directly and solely to Speaker Designate Ray Sansom. No member of The Legislature ever saw this appropriation until it was inserted into the appropriation bill during conference between the Appropriation Chair Ray Sansom, and his senate counterpart senator, Lisa C arlton. The hanger project for a community college was the sole work of Ray Sansom, Jay Odom and Bob Richburg.
Jaded Northwest Floridians, by now, fully expect to be ripped off by developers like Jay Odom. Cronyism, corruption, and cupidity run so deep and wide among politicians at every level in the Florida panhandle that the only surprise is there's someone left still honest and courageous enough to try catching them.

But a corrupt college president -- and one who allegedly perjured himself, too? That still surprises.

It probably shouldn't. The reality of higher education is that some time ago it ceased to resemble the idyllic vision of berobed scholars, books in arm, thoughtfully wandering the tree-studded groves of academe.

The "Commercialization of Higher Education," as Derek Bok explains in a book by the same title, inevitably has compromised values "that are essential to the continued confidence and loyalty of faculty, students, alumni, and even the general public." When college presidents, in the scramble to acquire more and more money, climb into bed with developers and politicians, it's to be expected many will wake up indicted.

Friday, April 17, 2009

American Sterling Bank

FDIC's Burial cost = $42 million. We are now just one failed bank shy of the total bank failures in all of last year. Give those boys a bonus!

Criminal Since the Time of Cain

When the complete history of the Bush administration is written, it will reveal a criminal enterprise engaged in brutality every bit as revolting as --
  • Japanese interrogators during W.W. II, whom we prosecuted for "waterboarding" and illegal torture";
  • "Indonesia" and "Iran", which for years we have publicly condemned for engaging in "psychological torture" and "food and sleep deprivation" of prisoners;
  • "Egypt" whose torture of prisoners we have condemned because it involved "stripping and blindfolding victims, suspending victims from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor, beating victims... and dousing victims with cold water"; and
  • "Algeria" for using the "chiffon method" of "placing a rag drenched in dirty water in someone's mouth."
The examples, above, come from "legal memoranda" written by high-ranking Bush administration lawyers which explicitly approved torturing prisoners.

Four of those memos were publicly released yesterday:
The four legal opinions, released in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the A.C.L.U., were written in 2002 and 2005 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the highest authority in interpreting the law in the executive branch.
To be sure, President Obama revoked these very memos on his "second day in office" and "condemned what he called a "dark and painful chapter in our history." He's also promised "the interrogation techniques would never be used again."

Until the next time, that is. Because even as he released the evidence of war crimes, Obama also promised "that C.I.A. officers who were acting on the Justice Department’s legal advice would not be prosecuted."

It simply is not enough to leave each new presidential administration to decide which laws of humanity it will follow and which it will discard. In a democracy committed by Constitution and Treaty to being a republic governed by laws, crimes against humanity should not be treated like mere agency regulations or presidential signing statements, to be issued and revoked at will.

As our own nation argued successfully at the Nuremburg trials, "civilization cannot tolerate" acts which have been regarded as criminal "since the time of Cain." Those ultimately responsible for approving this must be prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished. Even if -- no, especially if -- some of them like Jay Bybee, now sit as federal judges, judging others.

At Nuremberg, we prosecuted the lawyers and judges who were complicit in the Nazi depravities. We owe it to ourselves to do no less when those depraved lawyers and judges are our own.

Dept. of Further Amplification
4-17 pm
Scott Lemieux properly points a finger at Senate Democrats who, in 2003, lay down on the job of 'advising and consenting' to give Torture Memo author-in-chief Jay Bybee a lifetime federal judgeship.

How can this be permitted to stand? Imagine the hundreds, even thousands, of lawyers who over the coming years will have to appear, in this or that case, before "the honorable" Jay Bybee, now unmasked, himself, as a key figure in the Bush cabal of war criminals. It would be like enduring proctology exams by Dr. Josef Mengele, year after year, until the criminal is, at last, hustled off to his eternal reward.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea Party Crasher

Ha! Looks like someone with sense tried to share a few facts with the Pensacola tea baggers. Being Fox News viewers, they weren't interested, of course.

The party crasher blogs as Sinfonian, and has a partial transcript of his own remarks.

Jeff Miller: 'Time for Your Business to Go Away'

There were some very dumb bunnies out on America's astroturf yesterday, like this one in Syracuse. What else would you expect from Fox News watchers?

In the Panhandle, we had more than our share of 'tea bag' idiots, too. Check the reports from the Independent News and PJC's Corsair.

But no one made a fool of himself quite as thoroughly as Northwest Florida's own congressman, Jeff Miller (R-Chucklehead). Sean Dugas reports that while speaking at University Mall, Miller said of government spending--
"We can stop this, but it has to be a grassroots effort... . If your business can't make it, it's time for your business to go away."
A lot of local business owners will remember that the next time Miller is up for reelection. Ironically, some of those small business owners once were located in University Mall -- the very venue Miller chose for kicking dirt on their graves. But as Carleton Proctor reported early last month, all but one of them "have closed their doors." (Google cache here. expired) [Project Vote Smart has the full report.]

updated 11-08-09

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'We Be Prosecuted Now, Bro?'

Brice Harris, the once-upon-a-time state employee who slaved away on a $70,000 state salary to see that half a million dollars in taxpayer money was appropriated for a "space tourism" program in Gulf Breeze, and then took the top job himself for $150,000 a year, has resigned.

Too late. Harris' resignation comes hours after state investigators concluded the 31 year old Pensacola native "likely violated state law" by taking a job he was "substantially" involved in creating on state time with state money.

The Orlando Sentinel, which broke the original story last January, has the latest details ["Space tourism project likely tainted by official's ethics violation"].
The investigators said that they examined approximately 5,000 e-mails from Harris – many sent from his home computer -- that showed he had helped design and draw up the proposal for the program. He even negotiated to set the director’s salary at $150,000 – and then resigned his $70,000-a-year government post last summer to take the job.

Setting up the project “consumed most of Harris’ e-mail communications and work time while he was employed with” Crist’s office, the investigators wrote, and “was disproportionate to his time expended on his various other … duties.”

* * *

Besides overseeing the project’s contract dollars, Harris rewrote large portions of a $60,000 study by the University of West Florida to make the business case for creating a commercial-spaceflight-research center in the Pensacola area.

He approved photos for the project and even picked out logos for lapel pins and shoulder patches the would-be space tourists would wear. In late June, he and Andrews Director Joe Story met with Navy officials in Pensacola to explore use of the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory.

In fact, the investigators found he was so close to the project that at one point, after Space Florida and the Andrews Institute signed an agreement not to talk about their plans to create it, Harris sent Story a message from his BlackBerry. It said: “We be rollin’ now brother!”

Bejeebus! For $150,000 a year, you'd think the Andrews Institute would want someone who doesn't get his kicks emailing parodies of uneducated ghetto residents.

The full report of the Chief Inspector General is available in pdf format here.

We be facin' legal problems now, bro? Well, Governor Crist has asked for an "ethics investigation" -- which, too often, is Tallahassee-speak for "let's sweep this one under the rug."
In the Ethics Commission, at worst Harris would face "a $10,000 fine and be forced to pay back money to the state," the Sentinel says.

Yeah , right. What ought to happen is a grand jury should start looking into all the shenanigans that misled the state into committing $500,000 a year for this insane project.

Barney Bishop, a member of the Space Coast Economic Development Commission, has it right.

"There’s no reason to be spending state dollars to subsidize rich people who will be flying on future flights into space," he told the Sentinel. "I would hope they’re going to cancel this contract, because it makes no sense on the face of it and now there are questions about how it was set up in the first place."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The American Way...

... brought to you by the National Rifle Association. Bob Herbert:
This is the American way. Since Sept. 11, 2001, when the country’s attention understandably turned to terrorism, nearly 120,000 Americans have been killed in nonterror homicides, most of them committed with guns. Think about it — 120,000 dead. That’s nearly 25 times the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the most part, we pay no attention to this relentless carnage. The idea of doing something meaningful about the insane number of guns in circulation is a nonstarter. So what if eight kids are shot to death every day in America. So what if someone is killed by a gun every 17 minutes.

The goal of the National Rifle Association and a host of so-called conservative lawmakers is to get ever more guns into the hands of ever more people.
You'd think that in a nation where Fox News features a certifiable lunatic and drug addict Rush Limbaugh passes for sane, we'd be a little more careful about who we arm with lethal weapons.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Student Loans: Obama Reform or Bank Rip-Off?

David Herzenhorn's reportage in today's Times isn't as clear as it could be. But once you struggle through the disorganized mess of one-the-one-hand -this, on-the-other -hand-that, the bottom line is obvious enough: the Obama administration wants to save taxpayers $94 billion over the next ten years by having the federal government directly administer Pell educational loans itself, rather than continuing to let private banks horn in on the action as middle men out to make a profit.
Critics of the subsidized loan system, called the Federal Family Education Loan Program, say private lenders have collected hefty fees for decades on loans that are risk-free because the government guarantees repayment up to 97 percent.
Historically, government-backed student loans have been pretty much a government show from start to finish. They still are. "Privatizing" them by letting banks play the middle man has never been an efficient or sensible use of taxpayer money.

What do the banks do in exchange for the huge profits they snap up? First on the banking industry's list of talking points is "marketing." Second? "Customer relations."

Oh my, what a crock! As anyone ever associated with higher education can tell you, the last thing student borrowers or tuition lenders need is to see money thrown away on "marketing" and "customer relations." Almost everywhere, students in need know where to go and the colleges administer the loan programs all by themselves.

It has ever been thus. Nary a student in the nation gets the idea to borrow for college from a bank "marketing" campaign, any more than cancer patients get the idea to go for chemotherapy or radiation from television ads. Cancer victims rely on their oncologists. Needy students rely on the college financial aid office.

No one in his right mind turns to private banks when they want to apply for a loan. They know that if they do, they'll simply be referred back to the source: the college student loan office.

Allen Boyd (D-Fla) must know this. That's why, we imagine, he makes an even less persuasive argument against the Obama administration proposal: jobs.
“The president’s proposal,” Representative Allen Boyd, Democrat of Florida, said in a floor speech, “could be detrimental to thousands of employees who serve in the current student loan industry throughout this country, 650 of which are located in Panama City, Florida.”
Boyd's numbers are suspect, of course. It's hardly conceivable that as many as 650 private banking employees in Panama City, Florida are engaged, day after day, in the utterly useless make-work of "marketing" student loans to students. If they are, their work assignments should be redirected.

How about re-assigning them to, say, the home mortgage department to disperse all that TARP money? As Elizabeth Warren says, "ultimately, the banks exist to serve the American people. Not vice versa.

Lawmaker Lies

With approximately three weeks remaining in the Florida legislature's annual session, the Palm Beach Post is reporting that a dozen bills to "benefit the insurance industry... already have passed at least one legislative committee."
For instance, legislation proposed by Sen. Bryan Nelson, R- Apopka, that passed the House insurance committee earlier this month would, among other things:
  • Increase rates of state-backed Citizens Property Insurance by up to 20 percent for individual policyholders;
  • Allow private insurers to automatically increase premiums by up to 10 percent a year with minimal state scrutiny;
  • Prevent regulators from limiting how much insurers spend on advertising costs or insurance agent commissions; and
  • Allow insurers to require public adjusters hired by policyholders to represent them in claims disputes to take sworn statements under oath.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that state lawmakers like Nelson, who are promoting the corporate interests of insurance companies over those of home owners, already have received large campaign contributions from -- guess who? Insurance corporations!
Nelson tops the list of the two dozen legislators in insurance-related campaign contributions last year with $28,295, which is 17 percent of his total contributions.
The real laugher is that Nelson claims he doesn't even know how much money he's collected from the insurance industry.
"I'm a private market sector guy," Nelson said. "I've got no idea how much money I have from insurance companies."
So, we have a Florida lawmaker -- who is required by law to "certify" his own campaign contribution reports -- claiming he hasn't even counted the money he's raking in from the biggest lobbying industry in Tallahassee. Either he's lying to us or he's lying to the Florida Election Commission.

Should we forgive him just because he also claims "I'm a private market sector guy"?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Frontier Bank, R.I.P.

Named a "top company" in 2008 by the now-deeply embarrassed Colo Biz Magazine, New Frontier Bank of Greeley died friendless and alone. No one was willing to pick up the dead body.

The FDIC has announced a thirty day visitation period at the "Deposit Insurance National Bank of Greeley" where grieving customers can visit their money and even take some of it home to be stuffed in a mattress.

Cape Fear Bank, R.I.P.


The deceased is survived, but only for the moment, by Cooperative Bankshares.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

'Considerable Consternation'

This is really rich; as in, rich with irony. It seems "healthier banks want to pay back their bailout loans to avoid executive pay and other restrictions that come with the money. But the banks are balking at the hefty premium they agreed to pay when they took the money."

Camden R. Fine, a banking group lobbyist, says the government's attempt to hold the banks to the deal they made is "a source of considerable consternation."

Bejebus! Bankers have no shame.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Business Necrology

One of the two Starbucks Coffee houses along Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze is closing.

This follows announced closures of Boater's World, Moe's, Dagwood's, another locally-owned coffee shop, that little Japanese place no one ever dined in (which has been replaced by a Hawaiian restaurant no one patronizes), a real estate office in the Winn-Dixie Shopping Center, an ice cream shop, two book stores, a children's apparel store, an auto dealership, a used car dealership, a computer repair shop, at least one hair salon, one bar, two convenience stores, and lots of others.

How many local businesses have been shuttered in these hard times? The usual news sources don't report a complete count, if they even dared to make one. It would be bad for business, don'cha know.

Just the other day, however, we overheard the owner of a small copy shop in Gulf Breeze talking about it with a customer. She and a friend had just driven three miles along a stretch of Gulf Breeze Parkway. Along the way, they counted seventeen businesses that had closed recently, or were about to do so. That's almost five and a half businesses per mile.

To be sure, many of them had shitty locations or bad business plans, or both. But isn't it odd that this becomes evident to the business owner, and its lender, only when times turn bad?

Law in the Netherworld


We would guess this will work about as well at the jury trial as it did at yesterday's bail hearing:
"As to reports of his client appearing drunk with bloodshot eyes at the scene, Stevenson noted that Stewart suffered from pink eye and was anxious because of the severity of the crash."
Pink eye? Pink eye!!?

The popular mystery novelist and former criminal defense lawyer, Phil Margolin, once confided to us that in the netherworld of defending drunk driving charges, at bottom there are only two defenses. The first one he called "the little black dog excuse," as in 'I swerved to avoid a little black dog.' The second one, Margolin said, is "the pink eye defense," as in 'That's why my eyes were red.'

Life imitates art, once again.

4-9 pm

Looks like "pink eye" might be a lifelong condition -- at least for manslaughter defendant Joseph Stewart. Stewart used to live in Navarre. Now he lives in the Santa Rosa County jail, without bond while awaiting trial.

Last week, Stewart allegedly struck one vehicle on Highway 98, moved on down the road a mile or more, then hit another one, killing one occupant and putting the other one in intensive care. He told the judge yesterday he was suffering from "pink eye" and "nervousness."

It must be a chronic condition that's plagued him for years. According to the new issue of Gulf Breeze News. Stewart "has a long history of run-ins with the law in seven Florida counties."
Stewart, State Attorney's Office records show, has been arrested in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Polk, Pinellas, Volusia, Orange and Osceola counties. He's been ticketed nine times for moving violations, five of which were for speeding. Two charges were for driving with a suspended license.

Also, records show Stewart has completed substance-abuse and DUI schools.

Pink eye. A terrible thing to have.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Wisdom of Paul Samuelson

Ezra Klein was surprised to learn that famed economics professor Paul Samuelson is still alive. For his own part, Samuelson is sorry that Ronald Reagan's economic guru died before Milton Friedman "could witness how his extremism led to the defeat of his own ideas."

Mr. Hindcast Satisfies Your Curioristy

Q. Why issue extended-range forecasts for seasonal hurricane happiness activity?

A. We are frequently asked this question. Our answer is that it is possible to say something about almost anything. Guessing the probability of the coming year’s hurricane happiness activity is superior to climatology astrology or snake entrail reading.

Q. What good does it do to guess?

A. The Atlantic basin has the largest year-to-year variability of any of the global tropical cyclone human happiness basins. People are curious to know how active happy the upcoming season is likely to be, particularly if you can show hindcast skill improvement Monday morning quarterbacking improvement over climatology astrology and snake entrails for many past years.

Q. What's the point if you keep changing your forecasts after the fact?

A. Everyone should realize that it is impossible to precisely predict this season’s hurricane happiness activity in early April. * * * We issue these forecasts to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and to bring attention to the hurricane happiness problem. Plus, it gets our name in the papers.

Q. OK, so satisfy our irrational curiosity with an utterly pointless but sensational guess. What's going to happen this year with hurricanes happiness?

A. Hurricane activity Human happiness activity will be average, except in the Florida Panhandle, where it will be one percent (1%) above, or below, average -- depending on where you live.

101 Years

Yes, it's been 101 years, but next year is now. Follow the Cubs on Bleed Cubbie Blue.

The Big Chill

We're having it... Miami just thinks they are.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Coastal Roulette

Around and around she goes... where she stops nobody knows. Place your bets now.

A Simpler Machine

In a classically straight-forward, clear, and precise essay, investment advisor and University of Chicago lecturer Andrew Rosenfeld makes the case against Tim Geithner's "Public-Private Partnership" folly ["How To C lean a Dirty Bank"]. It should work just as efficiently as the FDIC bank closures:
  • Seize the bank
  • Fire the management, stock holders, and creditors who let it gamble away the business
  • Re-capitalize the new bank with U.S. bonds, and
  • Sell it back to the public within a month.
As Rosenfeld points out (following economist Joseph Stiglitz' similar observations) --
If markets work at all (and if they don’t, Treasury’s new plan is doomed to fail), such an auction would produce a new privately owned “clean” bank, with ample capital to lend. It would also generate proceeds from the sale that would be at least as great as the value of the securities injected into the bank as equity — and likely greater.

If the recapitalized bank could not be sold at a price that amounts to (at least) the new cash injected, then the bank would be worthless, but not because of the toxic asset problem. It would be because the bank has been mismanaged or has other bad loans unrelated to the mortgage crisis, and such a bank should be allowed to fail.

If the sale succeeds, however, the government would have created a fully financed private bank at essentially no incremental cost to taxpayers, and Treasury would still hold the toxic assets on its books — to be sold whenever it becomes economical to do so.
Instead, Geithner continues tinkering in the basement with some sort of Rube Goldberg machine for no better reason than to protect "from their own folly" bad bankers and those who placed bets on them.

We need the simpler machine; the one that works faster, costs less, and does the job better.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Unspoken: Iowa's Same Sex Marriage Decision

"It is to the honor of the Polk County Attorney's office... that it mounted fair and ethical arguments in support of the statute, while refusing to follow in lock-step the pre-baked script handed to them."
We happen to know lawyers on both sides of Varnum v. O'Brien, the Iowa same-sex marriage case decided today by the state supreme court in Des Moines. Of all the many lawyers, expert witnesses, and others involved from one end of the country to the other -- not to mention Great Britain and Canada -- oddly, it was the lawyers themselves who played the most minor of role of all.

The moment the Iowa legislature passed an explicitly anti-same sex marriage statute, national anti-gay and pro-gay marriage advocacy groups descended on poor Iowa, assembled the case, hired local lawyers (or insisted on 'helping' government lawyers), and handed each side what amounts to cookie-cutter formulae for how to try the plaintiffs' and defendants' cases.

"File this..." "List that witness... " "Invite this friend of the court to join us ..." "Oppose that friend of the court's brief..." "Go here..." "Go there..." "Call this expert..." "Ask these cross-examine questions of that expert..." "Make this legal argument..." "Answer that legal argment by saying..." "Write this brief..." "Sign this letter..." etc. etc. etc.

Much of the social and legal research in Varnum, almost all the witnesses, virtually all of the evidence, and certainly the legal arguments were identical to that used in other cases in other states like Massachusetts and California. In effect, anti- and pro- same sex marriage lobbyists handed their respective lawyers a completely polished script and said, "Here are your lines and here are your stage directions. Now, say the lines out loud and toe the marks on the floor."

It is to the honor of the Polk County, Iowa, Attorney's office -- which was legally responsible for defending the legislature's anti-gay marriage ban in court -- that it mounted fair and ethical arguments in support of the statute, while refusing to follow in lock-step the pre-baked script handed to them. This becomes clear from a passage late in the state supreme court's opinion:
I. Religious Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage. Now that we have addressed and rejected each specific interest advanced by the County to justify the classification drawn under the statute, we consider the reason for the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken by the County: religious opposition to same-sex marriage. The County’s silence reflects, we believe, its understanding this reason cannot, under our Iowa Constitution, be used to justify a ban on same-sex marriage. [emphasis added]
In other words, the county government's lawyers acted ethically in declining to advance essentially religious-based arguments. Although they lost -- Iowa's statute discriminating against same sex marriage was today unanimously declared unconstitutional -- the county attorneys who defended the statute truly distinguished themselves.

The state supreme court explains:
While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage and perhaps even shapes the views of those people who may accept gay and lesbian unions but find the notion of same-sex marriage unsettling. Consequently, we address the religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate as a means to fully explain our rationale for rejecting the dual-gender requirement of the marriage statute.

It is quite understandable that religiously motivated opposition to same-sex civil marriage shapes the basis for legal opposition to same-sex marriage, even if only indirectly. Religious objections to same-sex marriage are supported by thousands of years of tradition and biblical interpretation. The belief that the “sanctity of marriage” would be undermined by the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples bears a striking conceptual resemblance to the expressed secular rationale for maintaining the tradition of marriage as a union between dual-gender couples, but better identifies the source of the opposition. Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained — even fundamental — religious belief.

Yet, such views are not the only religious views of marriage. As demonstrated by amicus groups, other equally sincere groups and people in Iowa and around the nation have strong religious views that yield the opposite conclusion.

This contrast of opinions in our society largely explains the absence of any religion-based rationale to test the constitutionality of Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban. Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them. See Iowa Const. art. I, § 3 (“The general assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . .”). The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions. Instead, the statute declares, “Marriage is a civil contract” and then regulates that civil contract. Iowa Code § 595A.1. Thus, in pursuing our task in this case, we proceed as civil judges, far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics, and focus only on the concept of civil marriage and the state licensing system that identifies a limited class of persons entitled to secular rights and benefits associated with civil marriage.

We, of course, have a constitutional mandate to protect the free exercise of religion in Iowa, which includes the freedom of a religious organization to define marriages it solemnizes as unions between a man and a woman. See Iowa Const. art. I, § 3 (“The general assembly shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion] . . . .”). This mission to protect religious freedom is consistent with our task to prevent government from endorsing any religious view. State government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation. Knowlton v. Baumhover, 182 Iowa 691, 710, 166 N.W. 202, 208 (1918). This proposition is the essence of the separation of church and state.

As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.

For us, the court's wringing endorsement of the bedrock principle of the separation of church and state is every bit as important as the substantive ruling itself.

Kudos to the Polk County Attorney's Office. They may have lost the case but they saved their souls.