Friday, May 20, 2011

Florida - sinking in a swamp of greed under Rick Scott

[Rick Scott cartoon from here.]

Rick Scott is known for shady dealings.  Most people are aware of the fact that he should be in jail for his involvement in the most massive Medicare fraud in history.  Most of us are also aware that he used a portion of his ill-gotten gains ($73 million) to buy the governor's office in the state of Florida.

It is likely, I believe, that at some point this nogoodnik will overreach and the short arm of the law will catch up to him and he'll be indicted and convicted and impeached.

Another option would be a recall petition, but there is currently no mechanism to achieve this.  One of Florida's Democratic legislators has introduced a bill that would allow elected officials to be recalled but whether this will ever become law is problematic what with a Repugnican-controlled state house.

His amorality, however, as I suggest above, may ultimately prove his undoing.  One of his pet projects is to have all state employees and welfare beneficiaries in the state of Florida tested for illegal drug use.  One can't help but wonder why this suddenly has become an issue.  The reason is clear.  Scott was co-owner of Solantic, a company involved in drug-testing, among other things.  But when two conflict-of-interest complaints were lodged against him, he transferred his stake in Solantic to his wife's revocable trust and finally sold his interest.  Of interest, though, is that the Florida Ethics Commission threw out the two complaints saying there was not enough evidence against him.

There is a pattern here.  It appears he frequently operates on the edge of legality.  He claims authority that less worthy people lack.  He personifies the amoral corporate mindset in which profit is god and that the end justifies the means.

How many of the common folk of Florida are able to devote money and time to lobby the state legislature for laws favorable to their interests?  I don't know, but it doesn't take a genius to conclude that the number would be very few.

The corporations, however, along with the rich and powerful, spend big bucks to lobby the state legislature.  Kathleen Haughney and Aaran Deslatte, writing for, note that "Florida utilities, casino operators, local governments and a host of other interests spent more than $55.1 million to lobby Tallahassee lawmakers and the governor during the first three months of the year [2011]..."

Specifically, $1.28 million of that total was spent by AT&T.  "For the past several years, the company has pushed for a bill that would deregulate land-line telephones, meaning AT&T and other telecoms that offer land lines could raise their rates without approval from the state.

"This year the bill passed."  Read that again.  And again.  Here's what the Florida legislature is telling us common folks:  "Screw you!  We don't give a damn about you!  You can't help us stay in office where we will become rich!"

The efforts of another lobbying group, this one dedicated to establishing Vegas-style casinos in Florida, came up short but they'll be back!

As we shall see, the Florida legislature is all about ensuring the rich get richer and the middle-class and poor  in Florida get screwed!  Jeb Bush was bad enough.  Rick Scott is a disaster!

If you are old and unwell in the state of Florida, the state legislature has made certain that your life will become a living hell!  Scott Maxwell, also writing for, says "Florida is stepping back into the dark ages when it comes to nursing-home abuse and neglect.

"The industry is facing fewer regulations.  Staffing requirements are being lowered.  The watchdog program is being neutered.  The state is even trying to muzzle the watchdogs who dare speak up for the elderly.  And all of this is happening while cases of horrid abuse - the likes of which you would barely believe in a Stephen King novel - are on the rise.

Maxwell gives several examples such as the case of  a 71-year old South Florida "man with schizophrenia [who] died from burns he received in a bathtub.  At the same [nursing] home, staff failed to stop residents beating one another with 2-by-4s."

Maxwell notes that "Homes throughout the state are regularly caught using illegal restraints" and the elderly are "actually dying at a rate of nearly once [sic] a month as a result of abuse and neglect."

Since Scott took office, he threw out Brian Lee who led the state's watch-dog program who had also pissed-off the nursing home industry!

It's an incredible mess led by Scott and the Repugnicans!  Why?  To increase the profits of the nursing-home industry.  Anything goes in the name of the corporate god:  profit!

The above relates to what the St. Petersburg Times calls "Devaluing the lives of poor, elderly."  The Florida legislature passed "four bills that would it harder to bring personal injury cases and cap the damages that courts can award."  This means that "lawmakers have closed or curtailed access to the courts for thousands of injured Floridians ... [and] makes it far more likely that the cost of catastrophic injuries due to medical malpractice or a faulty vehicle design will shift to taxpayers."

The bad guys, in other words, get a pass and the rest of us get screwed!

Furthermore...the poorest among us will "no longer have their injuries due to medical malpractice compensated to the same extent as others."  In addition a cap of $300,000 on "pain-and-suffering damages" means that few attorneys will be willing to take malpractice cases as they are very expensive to litigate!

Another piece of stupidity is a bill (SB 1676) which gives "medical faculty at the University of Miami the same 'sovereign immunity' - or protection from major malpractice judgements - when teaching at Miami's public Jackson Memorial Health System."  The University of Miami, though, is a private institution and should not be shielded in such a manner.

The bozos in Tallahassee also passed a law that would, according to (Tampa Bay Online), write "taxpayer-funded religious discrimination into our state constitution by incorporating an exemption to anti-discrimination laws ... for example, a house of worship hiring a cook for a taxpayer-funded shelter could advertise 'Catholics, Jews, Protestants or Muslims Need Not Apply.'"

Even scarier, under Joint Resolution 1471, "Florida could not bar funding to a religious group based on its anti-Semitic, racist or other extreme religious views.  Why?  Because 1471's affirmative language provides the unfettered constitutional rights to taxpayer dollars for all religious groups, including religious extremists, of which there is no shortage in Florida."

This Joint Resolution has not yet become law.  But it is part and parcel of a larger attempt, funded largely by ultra extremist right-wing christianists.  One of their dreams is to destroy public education and bills that they have written and underwritten are finding their way into state legislatures around the country, often reading the same, word-for-word.  We can expect a huge assault on our traditional values by these christianist extremists who are working day and night to get Creationism taught in our classrooms instead of real science; to push for  christianist prayer at public school events; and to press for an expansion of the "voucher" system would be a wonderful boon for all the wacky christianist fundamentalist schools in our state.  They could continue their nefarious education with taxpayer money!

Here's how things are already working out.  In November, thanks to the christianist fundamentalists in the Florida legislature and Rick Scott, "Voters will have a chance to repeal Florida's ban on state aid to churches and other religious organizations. ...

"The proposal would lift the threat of legal challenges to voucher programs that send disabled and low-income children to parochial and other private schools at taxpayer expense.

As to Medicaid, the elderly got screwed again.  Big time!  HB 7109 "makes major changes to the Medicaid program, putting the care of nearly 3 million beneficiaries into the hands of private companies and hospital networks."  If anyone should know how to screw the people and the government at the same time, it's Rick Scott.  He's had lots of experience.  HB 7109 is in the pipeline in spite of the fact that a pilot program was determined to provide "providers with big profits by scrimping on patient care."

Hello?  Is anybody listening?  Are the people of Florida going to rise up and throw these christianist bastards out of office?

The unemployed got hit hard.  Their maximum state benefits were cut from 26 to 23 weeks.

The teachers really got screwed.  Teacher pay would be based on "merit."  Hah.  As a former teacher I know from experience there is no way to do this!  Every classroom is different.  Every subject is different.  Most administrators know very little about what makes a good teacher.  This is a horrible assault on the teaching profession.

Not only so, but the tenure system has been abolished for new hires.  Well, good luck with that.  Anyone agreeing to teach in the state of Florida without some sense of security has got to be crazy.  Teachers are constantly under the gun by people who know nothing about education and if it wasn't for teacher unions and the tenure system our educational system would be even worse than it is now!

The Senate's budget cut $1 billion from our schools!  In Marion County, Florida, the superintendent is "demanding" a 4-day week under the threat of teacher layoffs.

Teachers and other public employees, for the first time, must pay three percent of their wages into their retirement fund.  What is so nasty about this is that public employees "gave up pay raises decades ago in exchange for full public funding of the [pension] plan.  Also, state workers now are going into a fifth straight year without an across-the-board pay raise."

Scott is pushing for more charter schools, even though there is no evidence these are in any way superior to the regular school system and some evidence they are worse!

Did you know that Eric Smith, Florida's education commissioner has resigned.  Scott has not found the time to meet with him.

The legislature did a reverse and over-rode former Governor Charlie Crist's veto to pass a law allowing our "legislative leaders to raise unlimited special-interest money and funnel it to the campaigns of their hand-picked candidates."

The legislature also made it much harder for women to have an abortion.

The gave cops the authority to ask for a person's "immigration documents" if the cop suspected he or she was in the country illegally!

A rather large deregulation bill was reworked because of consumer complaints, but it still deregulates moving companies and auto mechanics.  Another example of exactly how your elected officials work for - no, not you - their corporate owners!

Let's see how Gov. Scott and the legislature did on job creation.  You will remember that Scott ran for office saying he would see that Florida created a massive number of jobs.

He was lying.  Again.

What he's done is cut jobs!  Twenty-nine people are being let go in the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

According to (Panama City, Florida), 650,000 state employees will find their paychecks cut in order to balance the budget.  The legislature didn't raise taxes.  They cut employees and wages.  In other words the people got screwed again!

"The budget will eliminate nearly 4,500 state positions, about 2,000 of which are vacant, while 1,700 jobs are in prisons slated to be privatized.  Schools districts also are anticipating layoffs and furloughs due to state spending cuts.

"Some private sector employees who depend on state funding, such as road builders and nursing home workers, also may get the ax."

Now, listen to this.  Corporate taxes were cut!!!  Also, "...lawmakers ... found enough money to cut taxes by $308 million -- mostly at the expense of water management districts - and pay for dozens of their pet projects.

Another bill, HB "7207 would make sweeping changes to the state's 25-year-old management system, substantially reducing state oversight of local land use decisions.  The bill shifts the burden of proof to citizens who file legal challenges and lift requirements that developers pay for needed roads and schools."

Scott, you understand, thinks regulations are bad because they keep companies from creating jobs.  It's a laughable position, and tragic, for it has been debunked over and over ever since Reagan the clown started our country on the road to financial ruin!

But for Scott, it's all a game.  The people are the pawns and the corporations manipulate them through their fully-funded legislators!  You see, "Scott threatened to veto the entire budget if lawmakers failed to cut Florida's corporate income tax."  They finally agreed on a $30 million cut, which Scott said was a "first step."

Perhaps Brad Ashwell, a spokesman for the consumer group, PIRG, said it best:  "The majority party, emboldened by a two-thirds majority, aggressively went after the courts, voters, labor groups, trial lawyers and anyone else they deemed a threat to their power.  Middle class Floridians will see higher insurance rates, higher phone rates, more sprawl, and more obstacles to having a voice in their elections."

Which reminds me we haven't even begun to discuss our return to the days of Jim Crow in Florida when it comes to voting.  But that's another article.

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