Saturday, October 31, 2009

Let 'Em Eat Candy

"If you are a child without insurance, if you're seriously ill and end up in the hospital, you are 60 percent more likely to die than the sick child in the next town who has insurance," said Fizan Abdullah, lead writer of the study and a pediatric surgeon at Hopkins.

"Let 'em eat candy," responded Joe Lieberman, the obstructionist senator from Connecticut. "It's Halloween. I'm feelin' generous."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Genoese Democrats

One of the lowest circles of Dante's hell is reserved for corrupt traitors to country and family; the kind of politicians who would eat their own children for a slight advantage.
Ah Genoese! men perverse in every way,
With every foulness stain’d, why from the earth
Are ye not cancel’d? Such an one of yours
I with Romagna’s darkest spirit found,
As for his doings even now in soul
Is in Cocytus plung’d, and yet doth seem
In body still alive upon the earth.
Their souls already are in torment while, like zombies, their bodies still stalk the earth. That would include Joe Lieberman (former D-CN) and Evan Bayh (D-IN).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pensacola Beach Deja Voodoo


"We want to still have a view of the Gulf and great public access."
--Beverly Boswell, Pensacola Beach

Every ten or fifteen years the Santa Rosa Island Authority or its hireling manager gets the urge to re-make Pensacola Beach. They claim the beach is falling behind the "competition" and something needs to be done. Then they throw out age-old, never-resolved questions and issues for the public to chew over--
  • "Does the beach look modern enough?"
  • "Shouldn't we remain quaint and old fashioned?"
  • "Is there enough parking?"
  • "We need to be more pedestrian-friendly."
  • "We don't have enough entertainment."
  • "The rock music is too loud at night."
  • "Do we have enough booze joints."
  • "Shouldn't we ban alcohol on the beach?"
  • "How can we attract more free-spending, oversexed college kids?"
  • "We need to be more family friendly."
Invariably, an expensive consulting firm is hired, a couple of meetings on the island are staged, and a plan is produced which -- Joila! -- calls for throwing up a shopping mall on Casino Beach. It's the answer to all those vexing questions.

It always ends that way, like magic. Raise a bunch of doubts about the economic viability of Pensacola Beach, then propose the solution of an expensive, snazzy commercial development. It's how commercial beach consultants roll. There's no money for them in leaving Mother Nature alone.

The last time this happened was in 1994-1998, when the Island Authority embraced a plan that called for breaking lease contracts with a string of tent merchants who once flanked Tiffany's- On- The- Beach. Once they were gone (Tiffany's being the one successful holdout) the SRIA went so far as to install below-ground utility lines in anticipation of ... Yep, you guessed it.

The consulting firm they'd hired back then produced a slick booklet graced with an "artist's conception" of a two-story mall sitting squarely on Casino Beach. While it would have blocked all views of the beach and the Gulf of Mexico until visitors had passed through the mall itself, the development did include a handsome water fountain -- exactly like the kind you might find in a suburban mall in Peoria or Topeka.

In a rare victory for beach residents, that plan eventually was halted by opposition from three county commissioners who hadn't yet been paid off, aided by a series of distracting hurricanes and tropical storms. The old commissioners are gone by now, although some of them still may be reporting to their parole officers. We haven't had a devastating storm since 2005. So, Hey! Let's double the toll bridge fee (to attract more visitors, don'cha know) and use the money to build a multi-million Parking Garage/Mall Combo!

If history is any guide, that's where this is headed. And that's probably why Beverly Boswell is worried.

Oct. 29 am
At last night's informal meeting, barely 75 island residents attended. They would be, for the most part, only the more naive, newer residents or a few consciously willing to be stage props.

The words "natural beauty" popped up a number of times with the beach planning consultants. So, too, did "parking garage."

No, Virginia, There Never Was a Santa Claus

Hard on the news of plunging circulation numbers around the nation, Megan McCardle for The Atlantic says the party's over:
I think we're witnessing the end of the newspaper business, full stop, not the end of the newspaper business as we know it. The economics just aren't there. At some point, industries enter a death spiral: too few consumers raises their average costs, meaning they eventually have to pass price increases onto their customers. That drives more customers away. Rinse and repeat . . .
One commentator follows that with a provocative perspective that makes the imminent death of newspapers seem, in a way, less calamitous:
The average schmuck buys a paper and sees it as a product designed to inform him, the customer, about the world around him/her.

But in any financial transaction the customer is identified as the person who pays the money, and since newspapers only get 20% of revenue from subscribers this means the subscriber is not the “real” customer.

Newspapers get 80% of revenue from corporate advertisers, so they are the “real” customers. And since the corporate advertisers don’t take delivery of the newspapers it means the newspaper is not the real product.

The real product is the reader, and the newspaper is just a medium (like radio waves or tv signals) that is used to “deliver” the real product (our eyeballs) to the real customers (corporate advertisers). That’s why writing a letter to the editor is about as useful as shouting at the tv.

People are important in the newspaper financial model, just not in the way that they thought they were.
There is an undeniable strain of truth there, one most of us who love to read newspapers -- and a lot of journalists who like to write for them -- don't enjoy contemplating. It's somewhat analogous to telling a child, "There is not now, and never was, a Santa Clause" -- and then adding, "By the way, mom and dad can't afford to put presents under the tree, anymore. So, get your own or do without."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Joe Lieberman: Icon of the Obama Administration?

“I have long supported the goal of universal health care.”
-- Joe Lieberman, 2006 (on the campaign trail)
* * *
"I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill."
-- Joe Lieberman, Oct. 27, 2009
It's looking very much as if the health care reform will come down to whether President Obama has the will to fulfill the promises of Candidate Obama, or whether he chooses, instead, to adopt as his mascot -- the very embodiment of his administration -- the sniveling unprincipled liar, Joe Lieberman.

Regardless of what you may hear, as Jane says, it all comes down to whether Obama is willing to twist Lieberman's arm.

The New Revival

"Meanwhile the two priests continued to walk among them; they repeatedly mounted on the benches, and trumpet-mouthed proclaimed to the whole congregation, 'the tidings of salvation,' and then from every corner of the building arose in reply, short sharp cries of 'Amen!' 'Glory !' 'Amen!'"

Cable TV News in America more and more is looking like another evangelical religion. Just when the insane Excitement hits, they start squabbling among themselves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Panhandle Fantasies

The grisly Billings murders have their sensational aspects, which is why the news media keep desperately flogging it with breathless "breaking news" cable TV reports and front-page headlines. At bottom, however, we've always thought it was merely a story of a bunch of profoundly stupid low-lifes who committed an unspeakable crime with astonishing clumsiness, and left a household full of children bereft.

That's about it. We've seen no profound public policy issues in any of this.

But reformed ad-man Mark O'Brien found one for the Pensacola News Journal. He leaned back in his columnist's chair and endured more than three-plus hours of a videotaped interview of Hugh Wiggins, one of two husbands snagged simultaneously by accused accessory-after-the-fact, Pamela Long Wiggins.

One thing O'Brien learned is that Hugh Wiggins' "good friend" -- alleged trigger man and presumed lame-brain of the conspiracy, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. -- thought Hugh Wiggins was some sort of Mafia big-wig. This was an incorrect thought, of course, as anyone with eyes can tell.

For heavens' sake, look at the man! No one with any sense would allow this guy to bag groceries, much less be the conduit for a "Mexican drug cartel."

So, where's the public policy issue? Writes O'Brien, Wiggins developed his reputation as a "made guy" due --
to the fact that he owns lots of guns, partly because he likes weapons and partly because he fears "armed insurrection" if the United States doesn't change its ways.

"I love machines. Why do I have three bikes in the shop? I like machinery," said Wiggins, who intensified his gun collecting out of concern that President Barack Obama would push for gun control. "It looked to me like the Second Amendment was going to be in jeopardy."
Holy cow! Probably half the people in the Florida panhandle have the same political opinions as this goon.

Which makes one wonder.... Just how many more Hugh Wiggins are lurking out there among the Obama-hating masses of the Florida panhandle, busily fondling their joy sticks while fantasizing that they're defending the Constitution? And, what more do you suppose the Florida Legislature will do enable them?

Real People in Real Trouble

St. Petersburg Times:
A growing number of Americans who are 50 to 64 are losing their health insurance, casualties of rising unemployment and the increasing number of businesses that can't afford to cover their workers.The AARP estimates more than 7 million people in this age group are uninsured, a number that is rising fast and adding a new dimension to the national health care debate.
* * *
The newly uninsured who try to get coverage on their own are learning that it's often unaffordable at best, and virtually unavailable at worst.
* * *
Studies have shown that uninsured people are more likely to put off necessary treatments than people who are insured, and that can lead to declining health for them and higher public costs in the long run.

A new Harvard study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people with intermittent or no health insurance end up costing Medicare $1,000 more per year when they turn 65 than those who had coverage all along.

And that's if they even reach Medicare age. Another Harvard study, published in the policy journal Health Affairs, found that the risk of death among uninsured people age 50-64 is 43 percent higher than it is for people with coverage.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fox News and the Locofoco Connection

"Because traditional journalistic organizations have understood the Administration's push back against Fox an attack on journalism generally, and not as an attack on the newly emerging partisan press, these organizations, by rising to the defense of Fox News are helping to dig their own graves."

Law professor Jack Balkin today has the most penetrating analysis we've yet seen about the White House kerfuffle over Fox Cable News. Here is a distillation of his main points:
We have been witnessing the return of a twenty-first century version of the party presses of the late 18th and 19th centuries. These party presses have no obligation to be journalistically objective, and they are not. They may say, as Fox News does, that they separate out news coverage from editorial writing, as the Wall Street Journal has done for many years. But do not believe it. ...

This new form of journalism is not, strictly speaking, a "party press" in the early 19th century mold because it is not owned and operated directly or indirectly by a political party. It is, however, a "partisan press," because it is unabashedly partisan in its purposes and its product, including both editorial and news operations. Indeed, the two operations increasingly merge in the new partisan press, as they did in the nineteenth century party press. (Fox's protestations that it keeps these two elements of its product rigidly separate cannot really be taken seriously. ...)
* * *
Barack Obama's Administration is the first Administration that both faces a dominant and hostile new party press and has publicly recognized it as such. It is seeking to change politicians' (and Presidents') relationships to a media that has already changed for better or for worse. It is the first Presidency to recognize and adapt to the rise of a powerful party/partisan press, which, if the current decline of traditional newspapers continues, is likely to be an increasingly dominant form of journalism in this century.

The irony of the Administration's response to Fox News is its declaration that Fox is not a "legitimate" news organization. It is not a legitimate mid-twentieth century news organization. But it is a legitimate nineteenth century news organization and it could well be what twenty-first century news organizations increasingly look like.
Like Balkin, we've been struck by how closely today's emergent media echo the partisan and vituperative press of two centuries ago. For just a mild taste, check out the "news" item in the Trenton State Gazette, which appeared just a week before the 1848 presidential election, where you'll learn, "We all know that a locofoco cannot be trusted politically."

"Locofocos" [crazy lights] was a common Whig pejorative for Democratic Party sympathizers -- a party whose platform principles at the time favored states' rights, the conquest of Mexico, opposition to internal improvements [read: "stimulus"] funded by the federal government, and (for the most part) return of runaway slaves who sought refuge in free states. (Almost sounds like today's Republican Party, doesn't it?)

The Whigs, on the other hand, were so diffuse in their individual political views and factions that as party they didn't stand for much at all. But they were the closest thing to a Peace Party then available. A significant proportion of western Whigs favored federal financing of roads and canals linking the states together. Another faction insisted on complete abolition of slavery. No one faction could gain the ascendancy. (All of which sounds rather more like today's Democratic Party, doesn't?)

Also like Balkin, we would not be surprised if all "twenty-first century news organizations" become more partisan. Many social and economic parallels between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries augur well for such a development. By no means the only, but certainly one of them is the shrinking amount of leisure time available to the mass of people in the economic middle and below.

In the nineteenth century, both husbands (in the field or shop) and wives (at home and in the garden or field) worked long hours and were compelled to budget their leisure time as well as pinch their pennies. As the twenty-first century opened, things are looking very much more like a return to that condition for the mass of Americans.

If you have only an hour to spare every day to learn the political news, how would you rather spend it? With some columnist or media performer who shares your perspective or one who favors a world view you find repellent? In our household, She Who Must Be Obeyed tivos MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and not, god forbid, Bill O'Reilly. Time was when we watched Jim Lehrer's News Hour or BBC News, instead.

The thing to bear in mind is that the nineteenth century partisan press had a very tough time making a go of it, even as it became more one-sided and vituperative. Almost as many newspapers died as were born, as even a short recitation of newspaper history in one city illustrates.

If Balkin is right, you can look forward not only to more tendentiousness in your news, but also shorter-lived news entities from whom to get what you want.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wall Street Bankers Hit the Tables - Again

Robert Reich:
"The Street is back to where it was in 2007, but most of the rest of us are poorer than we were then -- largely due to the meltdown that occurred because Wall Street overreached. The oddity is that we bailed out the Street, including Griffiths and his colleagues, but apparently won't even be repaid. And now that Griffiths et al knows his firm and the other big ones on the Street are too big to fail, he and his colleagues will make even bigger gambles in the future with our money."
Just call 1-800-Screwed

Pensacola Charter Question

We don't mean to step on anyone else's turf to argue for or against the proposed new charter for the City of Pensacola, which goes to a vote in late November when almost no one will be looking. Progressive Pensacola is doing a fine job describing the contending theoretical differences, as is Rick Outzen's Independent News.

We just want to ask one question. What makes anyone suppose the intelligence and discernment of Pensacola voters will be any more acute under a strong mayor-council system than under the mayor-city manager system we have now?

Oops. Change of plans. We'd like two follow-up questions, please.

Have you checked out the pitiable quality of county commissioners and state reps routinely elected over the years by voters who live mostly inside Pensacola's city limits? (We include, of course, the ones who were later paroled as well as those who narrowly escaped indictment or conviction.) Is that the kind of politician you want occupying the chair of a "strong" mayor?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Greatest Play That Wasn't

"That was very clear, and very simple."

Some people have sympathy for the umpire here. We have sympathy for the catcher. Check out here the greatest play of the year, that wasn't.

Dept. of Copyright Claims
10-21 pm
There was a Youtube and a separate TV broadcast news video of the play available, for a short time today, on multiple Internet sites. Major League Baseball, the behemoth that enjoys a unique court-authorized exemption from antitrust laws, objected to its use on the grounds it owns a copyright of every frame of the video and reproductions of the same.

Now, the video is gone. We can hope MLBs antitrust exemption will soon be gone, as well.

A Useful Newspaper Experiment

Pensacola News Journal columnist Reginald Dogan confessed the other day that after moving here from somewhere else, he's had a come- to- Jesus realization that off-shore oil drilling is bad. Good for Reggie. Glad he woke up.

In the on-line version of the column, however, this was soon followed by comments from the usual collection of minimally-educated knuckle-draggers, who advance arguments like --
  • oil is good for you
  • oil corporations are just swell
  • oil technology is oh-so-terrific
  • fishes love oil rigs, so they must be good for us, too
  • Hey! I work on an oil rig; and
  • Mother Nature has bad taste, anyway, so what the heck.
The best that can be said for the New Journal's "In Your Voice" on-line comment board is that it usually takes two hands to type. So, as long the Neanderthals who inhabit the PNJ comments section keep vomiting their brain cramps through the Internet Tubes, they can't be loading their guns.

It's a good bet the one thing they are not is subscribers to the newspaper. Too few people are, which is why PNJ slims down the news so much these days. Fewer subscribers means less news; less news means fewer subscribers. It's a vicious circle that can't end well.

Today's print edition of the PNJ carries another column about this very conundrum. It's a canned piece by Gene Policinski describing one small part of the problem but offering no real solutions beyond charging for on-line access to the news. You can read Policinski's pedestrian piece just about anywhere Gannett Corp. is losing money.

There are other solutions, and to our mind better ones. But, what the heck -- maybe Policinski has a point. The News Journal should test it out.

Here's a useful experiment: Limit on-line commentating to Pensacola News Journal subscribers. Print subscribers can log on with their account number; on-line subscribers with their screen names, after paying by credit card, if they have one.

To be frank, this might, or might not, generate all that much revenue to ease the newspaper's financial crisis. But it sure would improve the image of Pensacola and its residents that the PNJ presents to the world.

What Doesn't Roll Downhill in Gulf Breeze?

To the surprise of no one, the Gulf Breeze City Council on Monday approved raising utility rates on everyone who doesn't live or vote in the City of Gulf Breeze. The "Wanker Paraphrase" of the week came from Dick Snyder, lifetime chairman of the "advisory committee" that recommended the rate increase:
Don Richards, president of the United Peninsula Association, read to the council a position paper that stated the association "adamantly opposes the arbitrary rate increase ... for the users of the 32563 ZIP code."

South Santa Rosa Utility board chairman Dick Snyder disputed Richards' remarks. He said there has never been anything arbitrary about the utility board's recommendation to the council to raise rates.
Differential rate hikes by zip code, rather than actual cost-of-service, aren't "arbitrary?" And just how does Dick Snyder -- who repeatedly utters sweeping conclusions unsupported by facts -- know this?

There hasn't been a cost-of-service analysis released to the public since the City of Gulf Breeze bought the South Santa Rosa Utility (also housed in "improper" 32563, by the way). But, it's a dead certainty it costs more per household to pump the sewage of "proper" Gulf Breeze residents (32561) to a point some eight, ten, or more miles eastward than it does to dispose of sewage from "improper" residents (32563), most of whom live within a much shorter distance of the sewage treatment plant and various spray fields in "improper" Gulf Breeze.

So, now "proper" residents will be costing more but paying less than "improper" residents for sewage disposal. In Gulf Breeze, sh*t doesn't roll down hill. It rolls eastward.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Circulating Pensacola Beach Letter

Letter from Bill Post
Dear Santa Rosa Island Leaseholders,

Governor Crist, on October 14, 2009, announced that he is asking for a Grand Jury Inquiry into the conduct of county officials statewide. He specifically named 5 Judicial Districts in south Florida , but said no counties are excluded. See below. This is the leaseholders’ opportunity to complain about the Escambia and Santa Rosa County taxing officials and others, and to have the complaint heard outside the confines of the two counties.

This attached letter is the third which I have written the Governor. The first letter did elicit a response from the Governor’s Office. Specifically the Chief Analyst from the Office of Policy and Budget was asked to respond on the Governor’s behalf. Although his response was error ridden, it gave me a chance to send a second letter which hopefully was an eye-opener for the Governor’s Office. There has been no reply to date to my second letter. In both letters I asked for an outside investigation. Whether the Governor’s Office has taken my requests to heart is unknown. But with the Governor’s recent announcement I believe this third letter is now timely.

I hope my letter will motivated you to write a letter of complaint as well. A complaint letter is not a sure solution for the injustice, but worth the small effort. Simply state that the Property Appraiser is not following the law and is not upholding his constitutional duties. Receiving many complaints may convince the Governor’s Office to include our two counties in the statewide investigation.

Let’s see if we can create a letter writing campaign by spreading this message beyond the hand full of email recipients I have started with. Please send this email to any fellow leaseholders for whom you have email addresses. We must pressure the Governor’s Office to study the injustice of taxation of Santa Rosa Island.

Best regards,
Bill Post (Author of "Deceit Beach")

October 14, 2009

(850) 488-5394

Governor Charlie Crist today filed with the Florida Supreme Court a petition for order to impanel a Statewide Grand Jury. Governor Crist deems it to be in the best interest of the public for a Statewide Grand Jury to investigate criminal activity committed by public officials while acting in their official capacity.

Statement by Governor Charlie Crist
Regarding Statewide Grand Jury

"A recent rash of crimes committed by public officials in South Florida has led to a crisis of confidence among those who have elected them to office. Today, I have petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a Grand Jury to investigate these crimes, bring indictments and provide specific recommendations to address fundamental problems within the system that may be cultivating a culture of corruption."

Please find attached the Petition for Order to Impanel a Statewide Grand Jury filed today by Governor Charlie Crist.If you have any questions or need additional information, please call the Governor’s press office at (850) 488-5394.

Pacifying Our Enemies


We've made this point before, somewhat jocularly: Don't make war, make hamburgers. But there's something to it. Now, it seems, Vietnam is going ga-ga over golf.
Until last year, according to experts who have done the calculations, licenses for new courses were being issued at an average of one a week, for a total of more than 140 projects around the country.
So, 58,178 Americans died on the supposition they were saving the world from evil communism. It turns out, though, what they were really doing is clearing the war for the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail -- a much more effective way of pacifying villages. Just read what Nguyen Dang Van has to say about it:
“Golf courses are for rich people, account for vast areas of land, cause pollution and affect food security... ,” he told the newspaper Tuoi Tre in July.
Can we learn from our mistakes? Instead of drones, robots, helicopters, machine guns, and risking tens of thousands of young people's lives, we ought to be flying C-130's over the landscape, dropping Big Berthas, Nike golf balls, and endless bags of tif dwarf grass seed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yep, It Was the Yes Men

Confirmed: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not favor anything that would really prevent global warming.

Breaking News on Cable TV!

The Yes Men strike again:

Prank Pops Balloon of Chamber of Commerce

It's a good guess it wasn't a six year old boy with a helium balloon. He's too busy making fools out of the media. Probably, it was the intrepid and hilarious Yes Men who are behind today's fake press release punking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber is now under the antediluvian leadership of Thomas Donohue, who richly deserves all the punking he gets. Donohue has put at risk the entire organization (not to mention the entire planet) by vigorously opposing any meaningful regulation of carbon emissions to save the world from global warming. Already, Nike, Apple, Levi Strauss and several utility companies (!) have quit the Chamber over his mis-leadership.

Today, Reuters, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and any number of other news organizations that snag off of them or use Google News, dutifully reported that the Chamber of Commerce was reversing its position on global warming. An improbable 'spokesman' for the Chamber said:
"We at the Chamber have tried to keep climate science from interfering with business. But without a stable climate, there will be no business. We need business more than we need relentlessly higher returns."
The good news that the C. of C. was joining the 21st century also was announced from a podium at the once-prestigious National Press Club:
Environmental activists held a hoax press conference Monday morning, pretending to be the business group -- and pretending to announce that the chamber was dropping its opposition to climate-change legislation now in Congress.

The event, complete with fake handouts on chamber letterhead, at least a couple of fake reporters, and a podium adorned with the chamber logo, broke up when a spokesman from the real chamber burst in.

What followed was a spectacle not usually seen in the John Peter Zenger Room at the National Press Club: two men in business suits shouting at one another, each calling the other an impostor and demanding to see business cards.

"This guy is a fake! He's lying! This is a stunt that I've never seen before," said Eric Wohlschlegel, an official at the actual Chamber of Commerce, who said he'd heard about the hoax event from a reporter who'd mistakenly shown up at the chamber's headquarters.
Almost surely this was the Yes Men in action, again. They pulled a very similar "identity correction" stunt a few years ago by announcing that Dow Chemical and its wholly owned subsidiary, Union Carbide, were reversing 20 years of ignoring the worst chemical spill disaster in history, and would fully compensate more than a hundred thousand injured survivors and relatives of about 15,000 left dead by the U.S. company. The prank served to remind the world of Bophal, and put the U.S. company into the embarrassing position of having to announce to the world that it still refused to do the right thing by the people it killed and injured.
The hoax ran twice on BBC World and was picked up by the major news wires before the BBC determined that no man named Jude Finisterra worked at Dow and he was an imposter. The company was forced to remind the world it did not take responsibility for the disaster and said there was no compensation fund set-up for the victims.
Today, we're guessing it was the Yes Men who forced the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to admit that it favors profits over people by opposing all meaningful steps to halt global warming. Donohue and his puppets did a very good job of it, too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wing-Nuts Roasting on Obama Flyers

Before all of those semi-literate Florida panhandle wing-nuts who have our email addy start flooding our in-box with their usual ill-informed hysteria, would someone, please, let them in on this --

More from Snopes:
In mid-2009 an e-mail began circulating claiming that this year the White House sent out a letter brusquely informing past participants that henceforth arboreal adornments would be referred to as "Holiday trees" (rather than "Christmas trees") and that submission of ornaments decorated with religious themes would not be welcome. We could not confirm (through anyone connected with the White House or otherwise) whether the practice established by Laura Bush will continue throughout the Obama administration, but according to White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield, the claims made in the e-mail are untrue:
There is no truth to this, and the letter referenced in the e-mail does not exist. No letter has gone out yet from the White House pertaining to Christmas tree ornaments. The trees in the White House will be called Christmas trees, and the tree on the Ellipse will be called the National Christmas Tree. There will be no name changes.
(HT to archy the cockroach)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Holly "Go Lightly" Benson

Via St. Petersburg Blog:

Heartless or brainless? You be the judge.

You'd think the kind of sentiments Holly Benson displays would play well in the deeply red political netherworld of the Florida panhandle. However, even here on her home turf in Republican circles Holly Benson is widely considered a "flake."

Regardless, at this point she's pulled too many Sarah Palin's to have any real chance at statewide elected office. First, she resigned in mid-term as a state representative to become director of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. A year later she resigned that job to become director of State Health Care. Now, she's resigning after less than two years as State Health Care Director. In all likelihood, she is about to run for state Attorney General.

It's always amusing to see Republican politicians who spend their entire adult lives nuzzling in the public trough for salary money hitting the campaign trail to screech about the evils of government. But, could Benson have picked a worse time to quit?

Not likely, with "shameful" barriers still standing in Florida against effective vaccine programs for swine flu and cervical cancer, HIV/AIDs continually hovering near epidemic proportions in the state, national health care reform front-and-center with what looks like a very large role for states to play, and the nutty "personhood amendment" likely to be on the next Florida ballot.

Holly Benson goes away lightly from every public office she's held. With her, it's not about serving the public; it's all about serving herself.

If elected, how many months, weeks, or days do you suppose she'd be willing to serve as Florida Attorney General before quitting -- again? Just because she never finishes a job doesn't necessarily mean she's a featherhead; it just means she has a lot more time to run after some other public office.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Common Sense, Improperly

Mike Robertson, of Gulf Breeze 'Improper', makes sense:
Keep in mind that all of the water delivered to 32561 or 32563 travels through the same pipes, and is distributed by the same physical utility, owned by the City of Gulf Breeze. Whether toilets are flushed in 32561 or 32563, the resulting flushes end up being mixed together and treated together.

It is easy to understand that the utility serving both ZIP codes needs a rate increase if the money coming in is not sufficient to pay the bills. It is not clear why separate rates must be charged for equal flushes occurring in 32561 and 32563.
* * *
The City of Gulf Breeze should consolidate its accounting of its utility service. If taxpayers in the city are paying for part of their utility in their taxes, reduce their taxes by a like amount. Spread the burden of all costs for the utility service on the utility bills we all receive each month, but spread it equally among the ratepayers.

Compare and contrast with the "Proper" argument.

Monty Python: The Pensacola Connection

**This month, otherwise sane people are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Monty Python's first appearance on BBC, which launched them into the "comedy firmament," as Dave Itzkoff acutely notes in his review of last night's proceedings at New York's Zeigfeld Theater. There, a lucky audience saw the premier of the new documentary, "Monty Python: Almost the Truth," and had a chance to see Monty Python reunited on stage, answering questions from the audience in their usual irreverent style.

There is a Pensacola connection, of a somewhat attenuated nature, with Monty Python. After the comedians -- or whatever they are -- disbanded and went on with their individual lives, troupe member Terry Jones established himself as a highly respected scholar of medieval history.

Among other books, he was the inspiration and lead author of Who Murdered Chaucer?, an elegant and detailed analysis of Chaucer, the politically parlous times in which he lived, and the mystery of why he so abruptly disappears from the written record in 1402. In Jones' telling, you can blame it on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, who seems to have played an evil Karl Rove to the Middle Ages' version of George Bush, Henry IV.

"Who Murdered Chaucer? is a great page-turner for mystery lovers as well as an edifying account of fourteenth century Britain, Chaucer, and medieval society.

The Pensacola connection? Co-author of "Who Murdered Chaucer?, and English language scholar, Robert Yeager is a professor at the University of West Florida and chairman of the English Department. He provided the truly superb translations (if that's the word) of Chaucer's Middle English to modern English.

Prof. Yeager's work not only adds scholarly heft to an already lively history, it includes some of the finest Caucerian translations we've had the privilege of reading. If you're a U.W.F. student, or an adult looking for a stimulating class or two to take, you can't do better than to take a class from Prof. Yeager.

We guarantee you will find it as engaging, if not quite as funny, as the younger Terry Jones' portrayal of the deservedly obscure Scottish "poet" Ewan McTeagle:

** (Embarrassing spelling error corrected)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Child Homicide and Public Policy

There is very little one can say about the deeply appalling and grotesque facts behind the death-by-neglect of 18-month old Myleahya Woods of Pensacola. Although known facts are few and dribbling out only slowly, to its credit the Pensacola News Journal, so far, has given just about as much ink to this case as it did, earlier, to the more sensational Billings murders.

Good for the newspaper. Keep it up.

In an important respect the two cases strike us as worlds apart. In one case, there are no deeper public policy implications we can see. In the other, there is ample reason to conclude that the crime itself was enabled by a great many public officials, from the lowest county caseworker to the Governor of the State.

The Billings murders to all appearances were committed by a hapless gang of misfits, stumblebums, and rock-stupid crooks. The perpetrators relied on erroneous information about the loot; developed a criminal burglary plan hardly worthy of a third grader; incompetently reconnoitered the planned crime site; overlooked a number of video security cameras which later caught them on tape; made a dozen idiotic mistakes as they pulled off the heist -- not least of which is they stole the wrong safe; and then the parents were wantonly murdered for no apparent reason that would have advanced the dastardly criminal design.

Afterwards, these criminal geniuses tried to disguise the get-away vehicle by re-painting it from red to... red. That tells you just about everything you need to know about the murder case. Even Jimmy Breslin could not have invented a more incompetent bunch of thugs.

The Billings murders may make for sensational copy, but even if persistent rumors about a bigger conspiracy to assasinate Mr. Billings ultimately bear out, it's hard to find any larger lesson for public policy in this crime. Unless, that is, you are inclined to use the case as further evidence for an indictment of the local public school system for turning out people so stupid they don't even make good crooks.

The death of the infant child, Myleahya Woods, is another matter. To be sure, it also has what some may consider sensational aspects: six Jello cups left for three infant children with which to sustain themselves over three days; electricity cut-off, leaving the kids in the dark; the mystery of where the mother really was over that 3-day weekend; the near-death of Myleahya's twin sister; the trashy, over-grown yard and the cockroach-infested home, and so on, and on, in a litany of terribles that describes the very bottom of the poverty ladder.

More than that, however, the Woods case raises very serious questions of public policy that need -- indeed, practically shout out for -- wider and more intensive investigative reporting. The first clue for this was buried deep in the thirty-sixth paragraph of yesterday's news story by Thyrie Bland and Rebekah Allen:
The Department of Children and Families has visited the house in the past. There was a complaint of neglect filed concerning the boy, said Janice Thomas, circuit administrator for the Department of Children and Families.

Thomas could not provide details of the case, citing privacy laws. But she said the department did not recommend the child be removed from the house nor any court action.

There's been no follow-up on this tantalizing bit, yet. If there is to be any, it will take a truly skilled reporter to do it.

Do not suppose that this is the first time an Escambia County DCF worker has blown the investigation of a child abuse complaint. It happens far too much of the time. One of the more persistent, if least publicized, rumors about the Escambia County DCF office is that it is staffed by an over-abundance of incompetent, lazy, credulous, and stupid case workers and supervisors. Not every Escambia worker may fit that description, to be sure, but enough do that the local agency has earned a terrible reputation among both DCF caseworkers in neighboring counties and professionals who see them at work every day in Pensacola courtrooms.

Certainly, a part of the problem is the state agency itself. It is woefully underfunded, grossly understaffed, and almost always over-politicized. Over the years, an increasing crescendo of voices, statewide, has called out the agency for repeatedly neglecting dependent children, inappropriately placing them in life-threatening environments, and even losing track of dependent children entirely. Judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers, independent child development specialists, psychologists, social workers, parents, and even children themselves have complained of shoddy DCF investigations, inadequate follow-up, failure to provide promised support services, and chronic agency cover-ups of its own malfeasance.

In fact, state-wide Florida currently ranks 41st out of the 50 states in "child abuse fatalities per 100,000 children." There's plenty of blame for this to go round: the legislature that starves the agency, the agency that tolerates incompetent employees, judges that give agency recommendations excessive deference, lawyers who stay silent when they know the agency needs radical reform, and so on.

Getting at the evidence won't be easy, though. Typically, as in the case of Myleahya Woods, DCF pleads "privacy laws" whenever it declines to disclose the names of caseworkers who placed a child a risk or failed to identify and provide needed protective services. If there are any such laws that shield negligent caseworkers from public exposure, they need to be changed immediately. Given the proclivity of our state governors to paper over embarrassing DCF gaffes, how other than through public exposure will caseworkers and their supervisors be held accountable for shoddy work?

Locally, an even more delicate problem needs to be mentioned, however uncomfortable it may be. That problem is racial, although not in the way you may think. It is something mostly whispered about, and rarely discussed openly. But one very experienced lawyer we know who specializes in dependent child cases told us not long ago, "To be blunt, the problem in Escambia County DCF is that black supports black. If you quote me by name on that, I'll deny it."

What the lawyer meant is that the race of the child and its parent or guardian often determines how skeptical or forgiving -- that is, how credulous or critical -- an Escambia County DCF worker will be when confronted with a risky home environment for a dependent child. Caseworkers are more forgiving of same-race adult child caregivers and more critical of opposite-race caregivers. The child's welfare becomes secondary.

That's disgusting, if true. Race, of course, should play no role in any of this. Yet, the rumors persist and can be heard -- almost always "off the record" -- both locally and from other DCF or former DCF caseworkers in neighboring counties.

Doubtless, there is a myriad of other problems facing the local DCF office as well as the state DCF department. Some of them may help to satisfactorily explain why "the department did not recommend" that Myleahya Woods and her siblings "be removed from the house nor any court action" be taken before she died. Some may not.

The public, whose taxes pay for the DCF agency as well as for the politicians who oversee it, needs to know what those problems were so that they can be fixed and more children like Myleahya Woods don't die in the dark.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Gulf Breeze Zip Code War

If there were any doubts about the discriminatory way in which the City of Gulf Breeze administers sewer and water rates by "zip code," Richard A. Snyder just dispelled them. The long-time chairman of the utility's "advisory board" has penned what surely must be one of the absolute worst op-ed articles ever given ink by the Pensacola News Journal.

That in itself is quite an achievement. No facts. No reasoned arguments. Just one long, inane whine: "Trust us."

Here are his talking points, in plain-speak:
  • A majority of the advisory board used to be from "improper" Gulf Breeze down-the-highway (32563). Now it isn't because we're all moving into Gulf Breeze proper (32561) where the rates are lower.
  • Sure, we're unpaid volunteers but we know what we're doing. Really, we do.
  • We have no real power, so don't blame us.
  • We advise the city to raise rates on "improper" 32563 residents down the highway, but it has never reversed one of our "votes!"
  • [Tautology alert!] "It is the City of Gulf Breeze's prerogative as an incorporated entity to control its own utility service separate from the 32563 service area."
  • Noblesse oblige.
  • City utility rates for "proper" 32561 residents have never been lower than, but sometimes they've been the same as, those for 32563. If you don't like it, see # 1, above.
  • The City does a lot of other wonderful things for people.
  • If you disagree, "there may be a board position open for you."
But first, you'll have to move to the "proper" zip code like the rest of them are doing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Improper Gulf Breeze Protest

"This is a further divide of the proper and the improper residents
outside the city." -- Don Richards, United Peninsula Assn.
(Oct. 12)

Residents of "Gulf Breeze down the highway" -- the "improper" people -- are upset that the city council is poised to increase their water and sewer bills by 8.5 percent while leaving residents of "Gulf Breeze Proper" (within the narrow city limits) unchanged. If you live in zip code 32561 (Pensacola Beach and Gulf Breeze proper) your bills won't go up. If you live in zip code 32563, they will.

To add insult to injury, the city's sewer facilities are located "down the highway" and that's where they field-spray all the effluent, using nineteenth-century technology so typical of this part of Florida. Gulf Breeze "proper" residents also are protected from sewage spray in the eyes.

"On the surface, it seems unfair," says Mike Robertson, an "improper" resident. Yes, Mike, on the surface, deep inside, and all around.

The reason the city can, and will, get away with it is, state law allows cities to act as discriminatory as they like when setting utility rates. That, plus the "improper" ones don't get a vote on city council members because they live outside the city limits.

Another "improper" resident, Don Richards, says the handwriting is on the wall. "We're not going to stop the rate hike," he told the Pensacola News Journal today.

That's another characteristic of the local population. They're sheep. So, of course, they get shorn.

Have a little spine, people! If the "United Peninsula Association" of homeowners is worth the fee it costs to join, it should mount a boycott of all "Gulf Breeze Proper" businesses -- starting with every shop in the Publix, Seagreen, Office Depot, and [formerly named] Bruno's shopping centers.

They want "improper" business? Then, they ought to make sure the city council of Gulf Breeze doesn't treat down-the-highway residents improperly.

If UPA can't manage to mount that much of a protest, what's the use of it? Just take your annual dues and use it to offset the discriminatory impact of a city that knows no bounds -- except a zip code.

Dept. of Amplification

The Gulf Breeze Zip Code War

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Moon

U.K. Guardian:
"As Nasa's LCROSS spacecraft travelled towards the moon at more than 9,000 kilometres per hour on Friday afternoon, it tweeted in the whale's words: 'And what's this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round ... it needs a big wide sounding name like 'Ow', 'Ownge', 'Round', 'Ground'! ... That's it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it'll be friends with me?'"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bill Nelson's Health Reform Dyslexia

Merely to satisfy one Republican and the handful of Blue Dog Democrats left in the Senate who are not nuzzling too deep in the hog's trough of health insurance campaign contributions, over the past couple of weeks two compromise ideas have been floating around Washington, presumably to satisfy the 70 percent of Americans who want a public health insurance option while making it possible for politicians to claim otherwise when they're confronted with the remaining 30 percent.

One path to compromise is the so-called "trigger" option. Under this, there would be no hope of universal health reform for years to come, under the best of circumstances, and probably never.
The other is the so-called "opt-out" option -- everybody gets it, unless they're stupid enough to elect a state government that "opts out."

Today, Florida Senator Bill Nelson was asked which he prefers. His answer suggests he has a bad case of Health Reform Dyslexia. He got it exactly upside down and inside out:
[T]o argue that a trigger is preferable to the opt-out seems entirely wrong. With the latter, there would be a national public plan that gives consumers a choice. With the prior, there would be no public option at all until some arbitrary point in the future, when private insurers have failed by some arbitrary measurement.

Or put another way, with the opt-out, it's possible that some states would refuse to let residents have a choice between competing public and private plans. With the trigger, it's definite that everyone would be denied a choice between competing public and private plans for some indefinite period of time.

This bears repeating: Congress on a number of occasions has enacted a half-step toward reforming something and then added a "trigger" to mollify reform advocates. In no case has the trigger ever been pulled. The legislative "trigger" is merely a congressional slight-of-hand to make you think you can have it both ways.

The "opt-out" alternative isn't problem-free, either. It looks too much like the Missouri Compromise, enacted to satisfy both abolitionists and slave holders. The criticism, in those antebellum days, came down to a fundamental point of fairness, justice, and equality: either everyone really is created equal, or they're not; latitudes and state boundaries should have nothing to do with it.

So, too, with health reform. Either everyone in America should be entitled to quality medical care, or not. Allowing Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and such -- basically, the old Confederacy -- to "opt out" not only invites terrible inequality, it will endanger the rest of the nation's population when the next epidemic comes along.

Germs and viruses have no respect for state boundaries or political preferences. The opt-out option makes no more sense than does providing police and fire protection only to those who can buy it.

Neither "compromise" is reasonable. Both should be rejected in favor of true health reform -- a strong public option. But if we have to have one of them, Florida's own Bill Nelson has it exactly wrong: the trigger would deprive all Americans of a basic freedom. Only the "opt-out" compromise gives all Americans a true choice.

All Our Sons

"For me? Where do you live, where have you come from? For me! I was dying every day and you were killing my boys and you did it for me? What the hell do you think I was thinking of, the goddamn business? Is that as far as your mind can see, the business?"

Arthur Miller, "All My Sons" (1947)

All My Sons - 2d edition (2009):
  • __In the chaos of an early morning assault on a remote U.S. outpost in eastern Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Erich Phillips' M4 carbine quit firing as militant forces surrounded the base. The machine gun he grabbed after tossing the rifle aside didn't work either.
  • __"My weapon was overheating," McKaig said, according to Cubbison's report. "I had shot about 12 magazines by this point already and it had only been about a half hour or so into the fight. I couldn't charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down."
  • __The soldiers also had trouble with their M249 machine guns, a larger weapon than the M4 that can shoot up to 750 rounds per minute.

  • __Cpl. Jason Bogar fired approximately 600 rounds from his M-249 before the weapon overheated and jammed the weapon. Bogar was killed during the firefight, but no one saw how he died, according to the report.

  • __A week ago, eight U.S. troops were killed at a base near Kamdesh, a town near Wanat. There's no immediate evidence of weapons failures at Kamdesh, but the circumstances were eerily similar to the Wanat battle: insurgents stormed an isolated stronghold manned by American forces stretched thin by the demands of war.
The Cubbison Report still has not been released.

The M-4 carbine is made by Colt Manufacturing. The M249 machine gun is made by FN Manufacturing of Columbia, S.C.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

John McCain, President of TV Village

Steven Benen:
IF IT'S SUNDAY, IT'S PRESIDENT MCCAIN.... A couple of days ago, Atrios tweeted, "Huzzah! President John McCain will be on my teevee on Sunday." I hoped he was kidding. He wasn't.

On today's episode of CNN's "State of the Union," viewers can tune in to find yet another Sunday interview with last year's unsuccessful presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). For those keeping score, this will be McCain's 14th Sunday morning appearance since President Obama's inauguration in January. That's 38 Sundays, for an average of a McCain appearance every 2.7 weeks.

Since the president took office, McCain has been on "Meet the Press" twice (July 12 and March 29), "Face the Nation" three times (August 30, April 26, and February 8), "This Week" three times (September 27, August 23, and May 10), and "Fox News Sunday" three times (July 2, March 8, and January 25). His appearance on "State of the Union" today will be his third visit since February (October 11, August 2, and February 15).

Not bad for a senator in the minority, who isn't in the party leadership, who has no role in any important negotiations, and who has offered no significant pieces of legislation.

The interview, as I understand it, was pre-recorded on Friday, which is a shame. I would have liked to see John King ask the Arizona senator about Frank Rich's column today, which emphasized McCain's record of being consistently wrong about what's alleged to be his signature issue.

Medical Lesson from a Founding Father

"Avarice, in physicians, discovers itself in their extravagant charges, and in the means which are sometimes employed to obtain payment for such debts as are just. I have heard of a surgeon in the British army, who made it a practice to take the swords of the officers, as a security for the future payment of his bills. A physician, in this country, once took, by legal force, a solitary cow from a poor woman, on which she chiefly relied for the subsistence of her family. But it is after the death of the master of the family, that the avarice of physicians appears in its most distressing and cruel forms. Behold one of these harpies enter into the house of a widow, who has just been bereaved of her husband, on whose daily labour she depended for her daily support. Unmoved by her tears, and by the sight of a group of helpless children, calling upon her, perhaps in vain, for their customary articles of food, sternly he demands an immediate settlement of his accompt.* Gracious Father of the human race! touch the heart of this wretch with a sudden sense of thy justice, and cause him to feel the enormity of his crime!"

-- Dr. Benjamin Rush, M.D., Sixteen Introductory Lectures to Courses of Lectures Upon the Institutes and Practice of Medicine, Philadelphia: Bradford and Innskeep (1811) at 126.

* "accompt" = account.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shooting the Moon

You were expecting to be entertained? Well, here's the image most Americans were hoping for, courtesy of Cosmic Log:

Friday, October 09, 2009

Pensacola Graffiti Question

The 17th Avenue viaduct apparently is one of the more memorable sites in Pensacola. While traveling, more than once we've encountered strangers who have visited here and, other than the blinding white beach sand, the one thing they remember most vividly is "that bridge with all the graffiti."

Waymarking describes it as a place where "local kids... proclaim their feelings.. of undying love." True. But every so often an artistic or political statement can be seen, if briefly.

Once, it was Edgar Allan Poe. Yesterday, it was this:

We're not entirely sure, but it looks like a political statement to us. Maybe against rape? Vaginal circumcision? The abysmal state of health care in the U.S.? Cervical cancer? You tell us.

Obama Receives Nobel Peace Prize

"As described in Nobel's will, one part was dedicated to 'the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses'."
Olympics, schmo-lymics. U.S. President Barack Obama has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize:
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

He is only the third U.S. president to be selected for the prestigious international award while still in office. Previous presidential winners while still in the White House were Teddy Roosevelt (1906) and Woodrow Wilson (1919).

Now, the fun begins again. How long do you suppose it will take right-wing cranks and Fox News to trash Alfred Nobel, Sweden, Europe, Obama, the shades of Roosevelt and Wilson, and the world -- all in the name of world peace, of course?

Dept. of Amplification
10-9 am
Among the early commentators, Renard Sexton, writing from Geneva for Five Thirty-Eight, has an interesting perspective on the award:
The justification for the prize, while certainly unexpected and a bit tenuous, is indeed rooted in fact. Obama has long been a booster for non-proliferation, and his speech and lobbying at the UN General Assembly and Security Council proved to be quite successful.

On climate change, the Obama administration has taken the toughest line against carbon emissions of any White House so far in terms of concrete regulations by Federal agencies. The September announcement by the EPA that the agency would begin to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, verified by the Supreme Court in 2007, was a major step towards US action on the climate change issue. Though cap-and-trade or other large scale programmes are clearly the purvue of Congress, the executive branch's efforts in the realm are likely to be a major portion of the US effort.

Regarding diplomacy, the committee was likely in part referring to the re-elevation of Susan Rice's post, the US Ambassador to the UN, to a cabinet level post, as well as his public addresses and promised strategic changes toward diplomatic action over rapid military decisions - such as Iran. The G5 plus one meeting with Iran, where Undersecretary of State Burns officially met with the Iranian negotiator, and found a way forward on nuclear energy processing was the first concrete outcome of this strategy.
* * *
While the US political scene is often quite skeptical of the international community, the Peace Prize is a quite lauded affair. Even major Obama detractors will have a bit of hard time criticizing his win, especially after their poorly received revelry of Chicago's olympic demise.
Dept. of Additional Amplification
10-9 am

Conservatives and the Taliban agree - President Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a very bad thing.

And, of course, former Pensacola resident Joe Scarborough agrees with the Taliban.

Dept. of Even More Amplification
10-09 am
As often is the case, Steve Benen -- with an assist from Josh Marshall -- has the most measured and insightful response we've seen. [Added: And here, too.]

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Another Health Care Alternative: Move to The Netherlands

The Florida "insurance consumer protection" people forgot to tell our Pensacola Beach friend there is another alternative to escalating, unaffordable health insurance or "getting a job with health insurance" in an "at will" state in the midst of a "jobless" economic recovery : She could move to The Netherlands.

There, health insurance companies don't 'compete' against their own customers. They compete against each other. What a novelty.

Because of Winn Dixie

We have a bar code story that happened to us just yesterday and, wouldn't you know it? Today turns out to be Bar Code Day! Google is celebrating "the 57th anniversary of the bar code patent." What a coincidence.

For some years, now, She Who Must Be Obeyed has insisted on nothing but 20-ounce polystyrene thermal cups for taking along a cup of coffee on her daily commute.

She likes her cups big and she like 'em strong enough not to lose their shape when you pick 'em up and put 'em to your lips.

Now, as it happens, the grocery store in Gulf Breeze is the only supermarket in the Pensacola Beach-Gulf Breeze vicinity that carries big, strong, 20-ounce polystyrene thermal cups. Unlike the inferior brand sold at Walmart, the brand sells has little 'give' in the sides and it doesn't collapse in your hand, spilling coffee all over the clothes.

However, for nearly three weeks, now, the shelves at the Gulf Breezehave been bare of the 20-ounce cups. It has become nearly a daily ritual for us to stop in and check the shelves at only to be disappointed, time and again. Nothing but little dinky cups and over-priced, soft-sided cardboard containers.

Where had the 20 ounce cups gone? Finally, we collared an on-site manager. "Could you please be sure to order the 20-ounce cups?" we pleaded.

"Inventory replacement is done automatically by corporate headquarters," came the reply. "They'll be on the truck Thursday."

We checked back that next Thursday. Still no cups. And that was nearly two weeks ago. We continued to check, almost daily. Nothing doing.

Then, last evening -- just hours before the 57th anniversary of Bar Code Day (although we didn't know that at the time) -- we stopped by again. This time we discovered there are almost no cups left of any size or description. Here's a shot of the pathetic cups shelf at the Gulf Breeze as of last night:

So, we spoke to another manager.

"I know, I know," he said. "The cups didn't come in. We have asked, believe me. But Corporate is telling us they can't send any 20 ounce cups until we tell them what the UPC bar code is. And we don't know because, of course, we're all sold out."

"So, find out. Tell them the bar code!" we urged. "Call another store and ask them to read it to you."

"I'd like to," the manager answered, "but Corporate shorted us on staff, too. Right now, we're supposed to have six in management. But we have only two. We just haven't had the time."

So, what did we do? The sensible thing, of course. We treated like a charity case. We got on the cell phone and called anotherstore, elsewhere in Pensacola proper.

"Do you carry 20-ounce polystyrene thermal cups?" we asked.

"Sure do. Very popular," came the reply.

"Would you be so kind as to read us the bar code off the package?" we asked.

There was a long pause. "What's going on, here? Is this a test?" asked a trembling voice. "This is Corporate calling, right?"

"No, we aren't Corporate. Look, the idiots at Corporate are telling the Gulf Breeze manager they need the bar code before Corporate's centralized inventory control system can replenish the stock on the shelves that's been sold. But the store managers don't have time to call because they're short handed. So we're doing it for them. Think of us like volunteer labor helping out the less fortunate."

The Pensacola manager breathed a sigh of relief. "So, what you're saying is Corporate headquarters doesn't know the bar code and the store managers can't get it, either. And you are --- ?"

"We're just a customer who'd like to buy some cups. But nobody at seems able to sell them to us."

"Yeah, I see," came the reply. "That makes a certain kind of sense, at least around here. Sure, I'll get the bar code for you."

And so we were able to deliver the bar code numbers to the Gulf Breeze within the hour. Now, let's see what Thursday's truck brings.

Meanwhile, Happy 57th Birthday, Bar Code. Wish you had made life easier all around, but because of Winn Dixie.......