Government

“Missed Opportunity” muffed in Star Banner editorial

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Readers of the Star Banner may have been stunned to read the post-inaugural address editorial entitled “Missed Opportunity” that expressed disappointment in the President’s remarks. Their criticism was that Obama had missed the opportunity to

… reach across the aisle, to mend some fences, to create an atmosphere of cooperation in Washington ….

Surely the Star Banner itself featured stories that time and again recognized the dangerously dysfunctional conduct of Republicans in both the US House and Senate. Click here for a review of recent history on the budget alone for the memory impaired.

Here are some highlights; the debt ceiling default threat (round 1) with credit downgrade, Boehner refusing the Obama-initiated Grand Bargains – TWICE! – the government shutdown threats (rounds 1 and 2), the sequestration threat, the new debt ceiling default threat (round 2), and plenty of smaller threats to bring pain and damage to citizens, like the contemptible delays in voting FEMA disaster aid to Sandy victims in the northeast, FAA Re-authorization, and voting down the Disabilities Treaty which former GOP Sen. Bob Dole advocated.

Public opinion has consistently failed to support the GOP’s ideological tantrums that refuse to raise taxes on anyone, and particularly not for rich people or fat corporations. The GOP lost a national election which functioned much like a referendum on these very issues, yet the GOP remains intransigent. They are willing to continue menacing our nation’s well-being while exposing vulnerable citizens to deprivations and abandonment.

But the editors at the Star Banner think Obama missed an opportunity to inspire with

…words like compromise, and sacrifice, and working together for the good of the country.

What planet are you folks reporting on? In the one which most of us inhabit, the most sensible, rational, and constructive ideas are routinely dumped on the junk pile, having been suffocated by the strangling idiocy of Tea Party. Their myopia perceives only one set of answers that applies to every issue; no taxing, cut spending, deregulate, dominate. End of monologue.

Whenever a national threat du jour finally gets addressed and overcome, it is because Republicans have decided to allow a miniscule amount of common sense into their narrow fundamentalist equation.

It is not because Obama and the Democrats failed to offer compromises time after time after time that we’ve had the ghastly national experience of the last four years. It got started in today’s extreme form with the Tea Party in 2009 and has been sustained by those extremists having taken over the GOP today. Congress was nothing to celebrate before, but most thinking folks regard twin pimples on the butt to be more helpful than Tea Party darlings Rich Nugent or Ted Yoho who represent us today.

The Star Banner apparently feels, as most media outlets these days, that there is some insanity that requires a balanced presentation, tilting reality to provide the loonies with an equal seat at the table of intelligent public opinion. Seriously, get a grip. They belong in a time-out chair, not an equalizing booster seat.

Is Obama only okay if he is doing some wimpy sell-out of a compromise, trying to minimize the egregious policy damage of the Tea-crazed while staunching the wound to sanity with constructive measures, however small and hamstrung?

The nation is ready to hear what we can do, what our chief executive can get done, and how we can move forward despite the national minority that has lost its mind and is willing to hold all of us hostage until we capitulate to their demands. That’s what we needed to hear and that’s what he said.

The outreach to these dangerous deluded won’t stop, but by omission, Obama has made it clear that reconciling with the dissenters won’t be a priority like it had been four years ago. They’ve had their best chances over the last four years. Incredibly, they blew off every single opportunity, even repeatedly defeating measures that they had supported themselves, simply to deny Obama any victory of any kind. They arrogantly believed that their destructive efforts would achieve a Republican giving the Inaugural Address on Monday. They gambled and they lost. But they can’t accept it.

We know the president will need to compromise, and we progressives expect to be pretty pissed off at some of the things likely to appear on the trading block. But for heaven’s sake, let’s get moving! We’ve had enough of being held hostage by the GOP at every turn. Call their bluff and act like you won the last election handily, President Obama, despite the highly successful and coordinated GOP efforts to suppress voter turnout.

If the austerity reactionaries can’t abide with working with the president, if they demand Obama’s failure and damn the national cost as they have for the last four years, then Obama would be an ass to emphasize the nicety gestures for which the Star Banner pines. That editorial may have given your Republican readers something to feel good about, but really, Star Banner editors, Tuesday’s editorial focus was pure crap.

Update: What’s this, Watson? More?

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Just a quick note to readers interested in yesterday’s post about the HD-20 race. You should go to the Comments at the end where you’ll find a long comment from “Public Citizen.” The comment contains a link to a YouTube video that is quite revealing.

Click here for the video

Being in Marion County, we aren’t customarily watching the happenings in the City of Alachua. This additional information is rather stunning and makes you wonder if people in Gainesville are even aware of the tight knit club running the City of Alachua that has included Clovis Watson.

The video is over 40 minutes long, but if you can’t watch the whole thing, be sure to check in at about 26:00 for Grapski’s lunchtime encounter with an egg eating Clovis Watson, pictured in the screen grab above.

You’ll also want to see Watson in a public announcement promising to help turn Alachua “red” for the Republicans at about 31:00. I guess it was during his “Republican” period.

Grapski’s ridiculous, unwarranted arrest at an Alachua  City Council meeting follows, showing just how out of control City of Alachua government can be. Watson wore several hats besides City Manager, at least one self-anointed, making him a key team member.

Charlie Grapski may be one of those royal pains that seem to haunt government operations, but most municipal officials have the ability to handle it without resorting to the deployment of law enforcement to bully citizens. Not so in Alachua; not so for Clovis Watson.

It all took place a few years ago, but take a look and evaluate it yourself.

Do I vote on Primary Election Day, August 14th? YES!

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Key races and questions will be decided by all registered voters on Primary Election Day, August 14th, so, yes, you do need to vote. Please. And there is always the option to loop the loophole. More on that in a moment.

In Marion County, several races are closed to registered Republicans only, like the race for Sheriff which will likely be decided in the Republican primary between Chris Blair, Dan Kuhn. (Two minor party candidates are also running and will appear on the November ballot against either Blair or Kuhn.)

Non-partisan races for 2 School Board and for 2 County Judges will be fully decided on Primary Election Day since there are only two candidates in each of the School Board and County Judge races, and these races are open to all registered voters.

(A winner in a non-partisan primary needs 50%+1 vote; if no candidate gets that majority, the top two vote-getters would face off in the November General Election. With pairs of candidates in all 4 non-partisan races, they will all be decided on Primary Election Day.)

Further, there are two ballot proposals for critical school funding this August that are open to all registered voters. (Shameless plug: yesformarionschools.com – volunteer to help get these funding proposals passed!)

Voter turnout for primary elections tends to be abysmal, somewhere around the 20% range of eligible voters. That means a small minority of voters actually make major decisions while some 80% of voters yield their voting power by ignoring the primary election. C’mon, wake up, people!

While Florida allows for open primaries – anyone can vote – when there is no competing candidate from outside that party, there is a loophole that invariably gets exercised. A write-in candidate can file and qualify as a candidate for virtually no cost, closing that primary to registered party members only. These write-in candidates usually have no intention of running a campaign and simply act to prevent members of the other party from voting, i.e. closing the primary.

Some voters exercise their rights to loop the loophole. It works like this: in whatever way a person is registered, with or without party affiliation, that designation can be changed quite easily and temporarily. For instance, there are prominent Democrats who will change their party affiliation with the Supervisor of Elections to “Republican” temporarily simply to empower their vote in closed primaries, hence looping the loophole. Once the primary election is over, they switch back. The same holds true for smaller party affiliations like the Constitution Party or Green Party or whatever, or for independents with no party affiliation. Yes, the primary may be closed, but there is still an open door for voters in switching party affiliation.

If you want to loop the loophole and switch party affiliation temporarily, you have until Monday July 16th to change your party registration with the Supervisor of Elections office. Allow enough time to get it done. The Marion County Supervisor of Elections phone number is 620-3290, the address is 981 NE 16th St., Ocala, and the web site is votemarion.com.

Disappointingly, the Supervisor’s office has not posted any Sample Ballot on their web site even though Mail-In Ballots are already being sent out to voters.

While you speak with the Supervisor of Elections office, ask for a “Mail-In Ballot.” Even if you’ve received one in the past, you need to confirm that you are still on the Mail-In Ballot list. All previous mail-in ballot enrollments automatically expired this year unless you acted to renew. Don’t assume anything, and act now!

Nothing beats the hassle-free convenience and tangible assurance of your vote getting counted than a Mail-In Ballot. Sick on election day, car accident, summoned out of town on business or family emergency: it’s no problem with a mail-in ballot – your vote still gets cast and counted.

Click here for early voting locations and schedule which starts August 4th.

This page will begin looking at some of these races and the issues around them in future posts. In the meantime, you can learn about the candidates first hand at free forums that will be occurring around the community, like these:

July 16th, Monday 6:30-8:00 PM – Marion County Commissioner Candidates Forum: sponsored by Marion County League of Women Voters at Live Oak Hall, on the back side of Circle Square Commons at On Top of the World, by SW 80th St. and SW 80th Ave., Ocala – click here for maps – <F> for “Conference space” is where Live Oak and Cypress Halls are located.

July 17th, Tuesday 6:30-8:00 PM - Marion County Superintendent of Schools and School Board Candidates Forum: sponsored by Marion County League of Women Voters at Live Oak Hall.

July 18th, Wednesday 6:30-8:00 PM – Marion County Sheriff, Public Defender, Supervisor of Elections and Judicial Candidates Forum: sponsored by Marion County League of Women Voters at Live Oak Hall.

August 2nd, Thursday 6:00-8:00 PM – Marion County Public Library, Main Branch, 2720 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala – Room #2 – The evening includes brief candidate introductions, voter’s registration, and an evening of networking, music and refreshments; sponsored by The Sircle and Focus on Leadership.

August 6th, Monday 6:00-8:00 PM – School Board Candidates Forum: sponsored by Education Task Force and Marions United for Public Education at First United Methodist Church, 1126 E Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala.

 

 

Bad Florida Investment for Stronach Syndicate

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Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach’s syndicate has made a big splash in Marion County, but if they had done the requisite homework, they would never have thrown away the master’s money by investing here.

While the championship golf course being built off N. Hwy. 441 seems like a reasonable reclamation of a property that included a bleak vacated mining landscape, it will depend on water to keep it “professional green” in the parched, blistering, Florida spring, early summer, and fall seasons.

The big ticket investment is Adena Springs Ranches, a mammoth property that runs from E. Hwy. 40 north beyond Fort McCoy halfway to Orange Springs (click here for a [inset] map of Adena Springs well sites, and click here for all his Marion land holdings as of February, 2012; he also owns thousands more ranching acres in Levy County), amounting to over 25,000 Marion acres with acreage for timber, but 10,000 acres for the ranch that will somehow support perhaps more than 30,000 head of cattle.

As pictures accompanying articles revealed months ago, the bulldozers have been very busy already. Indeed, the “Stronach Syndicate” made fast friends with legislators like Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Stand Your Ground-Voter Suppression), gaining the billionaire’s scheme a tax break that was gratuitous at best in a supposed belt-tightening year for … um … the little people.

But the success of this intensely ambitious gambit hinges on the availability of water, not only for the grasses but for the slaughterhouse and its power plant. The amount of water requested is so incredible that no sentient being can imagine it being approved (except in today’s Florida): 13.27 million gallons per day, in excess of the total daily withdrawals of the entire City of Ocala. While “Stronach Syndicate” media spinners demur that they likely will not need so much, they clearly need a major pipeline of endangered aquifer.

Further, the consumptive use permit (CUP) is simply permission to withdraw. It does not restrict use. If the Syndicate wants to sell the water for a gigantic profit, there is nothing stopping the Syndicate from its greed. Note and remember the term “water mining.”

Frankly, the state GOP has so fully dismantled environmental regulation, removed local control and authority, plus defunded and emasculated the water management districts, complete with shameless developer appointments to the Boards, there is nothing stopping the Stronach Syndicate from their piracy.

Indeed, regional water consumers/citizens – you – should be thankful they didn’t ask for all of the water because it seems like they could legally obtain it. Truly, that may be the Syndicate’s big mistake.

Assuming that the state GOP and its lackeys on the water district boards remain indifferent to citizens, stewardship, and sanity, the Stronach Syndicate ought to realize that the water it desires today will likely be gone tomorrow. Our water resources themselves are already screaming the warning of exploitative over-use to our deaf, apathetic leadership.

Between the evisceration of the Farmland Preservation Area by Marion County Commissioners and the Stronach Syndicate’s land and water exploitation scheme, the call will be heard loud and clear among the greedy developers/exploiters that Marion County is open for the taking. Unless you’re in the business of taking out profits, Florida is not the place to invest any resources. Wise investors don’t come to Florida to stay; you come here to take … and run. Florida is a dead end.

Judging from the recent article quoting Stronach at the UF building dedication, he is either clueless or pathological. My generous guess is the former. The Syndicate is advancing its plans while Stronach does whatever a 79 year old billionaire does.

Can the Stronach Syndicate recoup its $80 million investment and beat out the scrum of the scum scrambling to pirate resources, just like the Stronach Syndicate?

Stronach will discover the need for frequent six and seven figure checks to the Florida and national GOP, buying and owning the agenda like Gary Morse of The Villages. But he will soon be up against Nestle and Coca-Cola and other corporate bottlers eager for the biggest CUP they can get. They’ll drain the aquifer and, as with the Stronach Syndicate, there is nothing to stop their thievery either.

You see, Florida is now a great “no regulation” location. In today’s GOP-authored Florida, the biggest, baddest, and boldest corporation wins. This level of free-for-all is fairly new, but it is the new reality.

As for citizens and old style investors like Stronach who envision something long term, like building a family and life here, or starting a business and contributing to a community here, think again.

If you have investment dollars, extraction and quick profits is the only worthy bet remaining in Florida. Ranching, slaughterhouse, and golf course? Bad investments, chum.

Water mining? Smart! But steal it while you can … and then get out. The feeding frenzy has begun. Your CUP will not runneth over for long.

25 Questions about the Marion County Commission and Prayer

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A few questions arose in reflecting on the recent article on the Board of County Commissioners’ proposal to have a brief prayer meeting with a local pastor before every County Commission meeting … and arose and arose.

When the church is invited into the chambers of the state beyond any ceremonial purpose (we need another whole article for that subject) to perform religious services for the state – including its officials – or the state is invited into the church to perform its state services, the ability of one to redirect the purpose of the other gets enabled.

Clergy entering into the chambers of the state to perform a religious function have a unique ability either to endorse the state with a religious affirmation, or gain the endorsement of the state for its religious affirmation, or both.

The same applies inversely when the state enters into the religious space.

The wisdom of the nation’s founders, with regular affirmation by the Supreme Court, has maintained separation of church and state. Actually, the further apart they are from each other, the better.

With regard to the pre-Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting prayer meeting, one can ask loudly, “Huh?” Since the commissioners rotate offering the usual start-the-BCC-meeting -prayer already, why do they need to pray before the start-the-BCC-meeting-prayer, too?

Do they believe more prayer is better prayer? Do they believe prayer only “works” when it’s done outside (just outside, in this case) the venue of governing? If so, then why continue the start-the-meeting-prayer, and are there other places where prayer is nullified by time, location, occasion, etc., as if the Divine could be prevented from eavesdropping?

There is more. The commissioners have invited Rev. Phil Wade of Trinity Baptist (O for the days when Baptists were all separation-of-church-and-state-ish, the old days) to lead their prayer, among other clergy. Surely Wade is a man of God, but one must again ask in loud voice, “Huh?”

It seems it is not the amount of prayer that concerns the commissioners, but their own perceived inability to pray effectively on their own. Not knowing how to pray, they need a professional pray-er to do it for them. In the same way, this religious professional seems to agree with them; they are incompetent at praying and require his assistance.

One wonders, why is Rev. Wade accommodating this prayer incompetency? Wouldn’t building the spiritual life of believers be a priority for him? Shouldn’t he give them lessons in prayer rather than pray for them? You know, teach them how to fish instead of giving them a handout. It would not only be easier than commuting from Baseline Rd to E 25th Avenue for BCC meetings but it would also empower the commissioners to pray at other times than before BCC meetings.

One would have to conclude that, given their prayer incompetency, the commissioners have no experience of prayer and praying outside of start-the-meeting prayers which, as noted above, may not work, may not be sufficient, and may have other undisclosed disabling features. If they attend church on the Sabbath, whatever church they attend has obviously failed in empowering their individual prayer and spiritual lives. If so empowered, they would be able to attend to their personal prayers before, during and after BCC meetings without assistance, and indeed without public fussification (making of fuss). Sadly, they are unable to do so, becoming poor advertisements for the churches they attend, although in the church we would call them “poor witnesses.” Hopefully they don’t attend Rev. Wade’s church; how embarrassing that would be!

The above may have seemed cynical or even snarky (heaven forbid!). Is it possible that this is not about prayer at all? Now it truly does seem cynical, trying to read into this new religious emphasis on the BCC something that is not explicitly being disclosed. The cynical would be led to speculate that there was some agenda within the BCC or Rev. Wade or both that produced this development in order to benefit one or all of the parties.

There is no need to suggest that there is something being gained financially. Fortunately, Rev. Wade’s congregation’s major building expansion is a few years past now. How dicey it would be if that building expansion was unfolding simultaneous with an invitation to pray before the BCC meetings! That would fuel the rumor mill! Amen!

So, is the BCC trying to make a statement about religion in Marion County, that it is a Christian county, or even a Baptist county? Would they be suggesting the second class status or even non-status of those who do not profess Christian faith? Is there a particular Christian tradition that is being promoted, like Southern Baptist? Are Rev. Wade’s theological views the ones that will guide the county into the future? Does the county now have theological views? Is Rev. Wade now the county chaplain? Does the county need a chaplain? It certainly seems unwarranted given the fact that there are over 600 congregations in Marion County. Messy, isn’t it?

It remains unclear for whom this pre-BCC prayer meeting is being provided. Is this a private religious service for the county commissioners, or is it open to others, like the County Manager, the Clerk of the Court and county counsel, other BCC staff, those bringing business before the BCC, or to the general public and thereby acting just like many religious organizations already serving Marion County? Or is it for the commissioners alone, or the commissioners and their families, close friends, campaign donors, golfing pals, or what? Is it for non-Christians, or atheists, realizing they may not be too thrilled with it (but they may recognize the need to play along for their own cynical reasons)?

What if one decides not to attend the pre-BCC prayer meeting? Will the BCC evaluate you differently as staff, as citizens bringing business before the BCC, as a representative of someone else like a lawyer or vendor?

How would someone know what the BCC’s motivations are? Wouldn’t it invite a lawsuit to challenge a BCC decision that disappointed a non-prayer, a non-Christian, a non-Southern Baptist, a non-member of Trinity Baptist?

There are an infinite number of speculations that could entertained, and none make this new feature preceding BCC meetings okay in the slightest.

The point should be clear by now. The commissioners were not elected to arrange their private religious services within the BCC, nor were they elected to arrange for public religious services within the BCC. They weren’t elected to do anything religious.

Their actions would establish religion by the state, something specifically prohibited in the US Constitution. Yes, my revisionist history friends, the Constitution really does prohibit the mash-up of church and state. It isn’t some half-baked liberal plot to persecute Christians and eliminate the faith from the USA, but a stance affirmed by the US Supreme Court repeatedly for over 2 centuries and wisely conceived by the Founding Fathers.

Final question for the commissioners: do you intend to continue this absurd and embarrassing episode, likely coming to use taxpayer funds to defend a losing lawsuit, getting billed bucket loads by some crackpot law firm like Liberty Counsel which has an appalling track record of abject failure, or will you end this promptly?

Occupy Ocala: Clear Purpose Unites Protesters

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You should be beyond annoyed at the media’s ridiculous questions about the aims of the Occupy movement. It’s like they memorized a common script, and the first question is: What do they want? Let me help answer: economic justice. What are the goals? Economic justice. What are they opposed to? Economic injustice.

Here’s another idiotic line of queries: They’re against corporations, right? Don’t they buy things from corporations? Are they suggesting abolishing corporations? No, you blathering anus. Economic justice.

And of course: What is their list of demands? How will they measure success? Economic justice. A list of demands isn’t really necessary. Getting the attention of the morons who have been elected with corporate cash and getting them to act on behalf of the people is one measure. A “list of demands” fails to recognize that political power, pure and simple, is actually constrained by such specifics. The specifics get “negotiated” and then “met” by this or that set of entities in order to make the Occupy people go away. Don’t count on it. They are exercising power, not playing political games.

On Saturday morning, about 200 people stood at the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Silver Springs Boulevard opposite the Ocala downtown square during the stated hours of protest, 9am-12 noon. They weren’t there all at once for the whole time, but they came and went all morning. Click here for pictures.

What seemed to unite them all was a sense that the people had lost control of their future, that “the system” was now working actively to the benefit of large corporate interests while exploiting 99% of USAmericans.

They were young and old, but a common thread was a heartfelt anxiety about the future, that hope had shrunken, and that a failure to act now would mean allowing a foreclosure of their future. The system has been stacked against most citizens. Each could share a story of current struggle together with a future shrouded with uncertainty and continued loss. People don’t come out on a beautiful Saturday morning to stand with a sign at an intersection unless they have a good reason.

Motivations run a wide gamut. The convener of Occupy Ocala wears an “Elect Ron Paul” button, but if there were even 10 others in the group of protesters who felt Congressman Paul had answers to today’s issues, it would be a huge surprise. Some are worried about health care. Many are worried about jobs. Most feel victimized and cheated. A few blame the Federal Reserve and are fans of fear mongering, conspiracy spinners.

The Occupy Ocala group seeks to model the “leaderless” format, an aspiration that was hard enough with a resident group in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. That the model requires more meetings and discussions than the normal group with defined leaders and roles doesn’t seem to have been realized yet. “Leaderless” isn’t ad hoc. “Leaderless” isn’t spontaneous. “Leaderless” isn’t disorganized. “Leaderless” means that all have a stake and all work together to make things happen. Specific roles have to be assigned and accepted. A body or process of accountability is needed. Communication has to be clear, consistent and comprehensive. Getting such high level participation in moving an organization forward is entirely different from getting a good crowd to come out on a gorgeous Saturday morning. Entirely.

This group grew from a Facebook page, not unlike last year’s Awake the State movement in Florida. But while a Facebook page can bring together people for an event, it isn’t an organization.

Whether the group has legs will depend on the active participation of those who want to make sure the pressure endures over the long haul of struggle that realistically lies ahead. That goes for the Occupy movement nationally as well as in Ocala.

Occupy is not alone among those seeking to engage the struggle. Not long after the Tea Party became fully co-opted by corporate interests, the Coffee Party emerged demanding practical answers to problems instead of narrow, unreflective ideology. Over the summer, Van Jones partnered with MoveOn.org in seeking to rally activists to reclaim the American Dream. MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan is campaigning to reform political contributions. Here in Florida, Awake the State rallied about 15,000 last March including about 400 here in Ocala in response to state level issues.

A convergence is needed to cross beyond egos, agendas, and organizational turf. Cooperation, communication and networking, plus relentless action focused on challenging the forces of corporate dominance and protected privilege.

The Occupy movement does not seem to need any help in unifying its message, in listing its demands, or in holding an effective action. It will be challenged by

  • blowback that is surely coming from corporate titans and their proxies,
  • ongoing demand of organizational development and progressive growth, and
  • acting in partnership with like-minded others (who must also play nice with Occupy).

Popular is great, but it can be very fleeting. It is momentary, not proprietary. The strength of the organization is proprietary. Building that largely without funds and staff through volunteer activists will be a huge challenge for the leaders.

May they pay attention to putting in place the processes and people who can sustain the movement for the long haul. Look out for these folks if they succeed.

Stearns to Foul Waters with EPA Hearing in Orlando

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Longtime Ocala-based Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL6) is using his chairmanship of the US House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to reach out and smear the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its new water rules for Florida. Known for his nearly invisible presence for 20 years in Congress, Stearns gained a chairmanship and is carrying water as Republicans wage war on the US government and environmental protection.

Water rules have been a hot issue in Florida where the state agency in charge of environmental protection found itself incapable of adopting effective standards for measuring water nutrients. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a habit of catering to polluter industries and seemed incapable of coping with this basic issue.

Nutrient standards have to do with levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, common to fertilizers among other effluent and run-off from agriculture, industry and residential developments. Their contamination of waterways can have devastating impact, crushing ecosystems and marine inhabitants in suffocating toxic algae blooms.

Take a moment to look at the pictures. Imagine such an invasion into the relatively pristine waters and springs of north central Florida. The consequences would be catastrophic. Yet there are no viable standards for acceptable or unacceptable levels of nutrient elements in the state of Florida.

The history is pretty convoluted and serpentine. The US EPA required water nutrient standards from the states in 1999, with a deadline of 2004 for compliance. That seemed pretty reasonable. But apparently not for Florida whose DEP came up with nothing. After several years when it became clear that the EPA was not going to act to enforce its own rules in Florida (think Bush, one in Florida and one in DC), Florida environmentalists actually sued the EPA in 2008 to get it to follow through on its own rules.

The new EPA nutrient standards have been a bone of contention between the state and federal agencies since they were published. Florida DEP produced studies, paid for by polluter industries, declaring the standards impossible and too costly to implement:

Opponents assert the rules would cost $21 billion to implement. The federal agency strongly disagrees, saying the cost would be more like $130 million to $200 million. And, it says, failure to reduce pollution, which now impacts about half the state’s rivers and more than half of its lakes, could be a much greater economic drain on the state than the cost of complying.

Entities in Florida decided to sue the US EPA in an attempt to – get this! – set its own nutrient standard, something it had failed to do for over 10 years. Hello? A host of agricultural and development interests joined the action, led by corporate lobbyist heavyweight Associated Industries of Florida. AIF’s CEO Barney Bishop has had lots of amusing stuff to say, excoriating the EPA and government regulations in general, while still insisting that he’s a lifelong Democrat. By the way, they aren’t doing well on the legal front.

Then, in a truly stunning move, the EPA agreed to hold off its imposition of the new standards and let DEP take another shot at it. The Florida DEP’s next move; hold hearings. Yeah. A proposal seems imminent but it has been criticized for its utter complexity and nifty loopholes.

Part of the drama is being played out in Washington, DC where the Republicans have been orchestrating a coordinated attack on anything that seems like an environmental regulation, particularly members of the Florida congressional delegation. This pressure surely played a role in the EPA’s decision to back-off.

Given the tenor of the Scott administration and its undisguised animosity toward the environment and government regulations in principle, reasonable folks wonder how anything positive can come out of Tallahassee. (Yes, that’s a massive algae bloom along the west coast of Florida in a 2009 satellite photo. Think we have a problem?)

To add more sludge to the foul flow of right wing pollution-supporter pressure, Cliff Stearns is bringing his congressional committee’s show to Florida on August 9 in Orlando, only the latest in a long, intense campaign of saber-rattling against the EPA from Florida Republicans.

The title of the hearing leaves little to the imagination: “EPA’s Takeover of Florida’s Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Communities and Job Creation.” I’m sure you can already hear echoes of Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his baseless mantra about “job killing government regulation.” I could be wrong, of course. Maybe Stearns is suggesting that creating clean waterways and improving the environment creates jobs, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Budgeting: Are There Ways Besides Cuts-Only?

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Virtually every state has had to deal with budget deficits, particularly with the end of federal stimulus dollars that had propped up weak state treasuries for 2 years. Sadly, with the recovery inching forward snail-like, state revenues largely remain inadequate. How does a state cover its deficit? Different states have different approaches.

One of our readers (not you, I meant our other reader) had suggested weeks ago taking a look at how other states were handling the near-ubiquitous deficit issue. No, they aren’t all like Florida’s Republicans, cutting everything in sight like Edward Scissorhands. Here are some examples of what Democrats are doing in major states.

In the state with the worst problems, California, new Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown met failure in reaching agreement with legislative Republicans. Having sliced over $8 billion in spending and pulling $3 billion in loans and transfers, Brown needed $15 billion more which he sought in tax extensions – continuing existing taxes for another 5 years. The Republicans wanted a spending cap and had other ideas:

The talks stalled late last week after Republicans gave Brown and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature 53 demands, such as curbing teacher tenure and boosting funding for county fairs, in exchange for supporting the referendum.

Politics continue to be politics in other words, leaving Brown and the Democrats to figure out how to make it work, leaving open the possibility of a cuts-only budget and letting the political winds sort out the resultant mess.

California is one example where cuts-only budgeting is viewed as a radical choice of last resort by the majority Democratic legislature and Gov. Brown.

New York’s new Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrated his largely cuts-only budget. The opposition from various interest groups, educators in particular, was very strong since over $1 billion in education funding was cut. Aggressive protesters had sought extension of a surcharge tax on the wealthy to no avail.

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick has mixed $570 million in cuts with added revenues to balance the budget. The commonwealth has benefited from this rational approach which helps investors realize that the government will use all of its tools in meeting budgetary demands like repaying its debts.

Bondholders are primarily interested in making sure the state can pay off its debts, even if that requires cuts to government services or tax hikes, options that tend to be less popular among taxpayers. Massachusetts, for example, was praised by Moody’s this month for its willingness to close budget gaps through “new revenues and expenditure reductions.’’

Florida has been eyed warily by those same investors who rightly recognize that greater and deeper cuts without adding revenue invites depressing the state’s dismal economy even further.

In Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley closed a $1.4 billion gap by cutting spending by one third. With the encouragement of the state Senate, they are looking at $827 million in new taxes, including a millionaires’ tax and closing a big, juicy business tax loophole, as well as budget cuts.

Finally, in Illinois, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is unequivocal in his disdain for radical cuts in a depressed economy.

For governors cutting education and health care and going after public-sector employees to balance budgets, here’s a message from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn: You’re wrong. Not mistaken, not misinformed. “Just plain wrong,” said Quinn, 62, during a March 22 interview in his Chicago office. “I don’t buy into all these radical cuts in government as a way to make life better for ordinary, everyday people.”

Quinn’s budget is $1 billion in the red. Wall Street has warned Illinois about its rising debt, and individuals and businesses are upset about sharply rising taxes. Quinn did push through painful cuts and reforms, but responds to critics demanding more with:

“I’m not going to get our state out of the hole that it’s in in terms of the economy by just severe cuts in education,” Quinn said. “Lay off teachers? What’s that all about? Is that going to help us? No.”

Quinn’s approach won’t solve decades of bad (even corrupt) decisions overnight, but it got Moody’s to restore the state’s A1 credit rating. Maybe when the economy improves, Quinn can keep the ball rolling in a more fiscally responsible direction. At least he knows that key pieces in Illinois’ future won’t have been devastated by a short-sighted, alarmist, cuts-only budgeting approach.

My bet is on Quinn and the others who have balanced responsible cuts with targeted revenue improvements, making the wise choice of belt tightening without strangulation, a restricted diet without starvation. Cuts-only budgeting has impacts that are rarely framed in true measure. Hmm. That sounds like my next post.

Until then, move your belt over one notch and skip dessert, fatty, but don’t starve yourself. That’s just stupid.

Scott at “The Villages” Mocks Planning, Citizens and Intelligence

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Gov. Rick Scott made good on the recommendation to shut down the state agency overseeing real estate developments, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), while he stood amid the epitome of sprawl, The Villages. (The Google satellite map at left shows the spread of sprawl in Sumter County; click to enlarge.) The Department of Community Affairs will be merged into a new department with the in-your-face name, “Department of Growth Leadership.”

Scott has adopted and parroted the right wing slogan du jour of “job killing regulation” as the primary impact of DCA. One is supposed to imagine DCA and other state agencies making it impossible for developers to do business. This requires psychedelic drugs.

This anti-developer hallucination was set against the backdrop of The Villages. For those unaware, The Villages is a colossal retirement community, likely in excess of 75,000 seniors reaching south from County 42 in southern Marion County, taking in a chunk of northern Lake County, and dominating Sumter County. At its peak in 2005, The Villages was building 4,000 units per year but only managed to build 2,000 units last year. Who would have thought DCA was to blame for the “slowdown” and not the collapse of the national housing market? Governor Scott and the Republicans.

Of course, DCA has been in the crosshairs of the developer lapdogs in the Republican party for awhile. The agency and its director, Tom Pelham, have been hammered for saying “no” every once in a while and insisting on certain things from developers and local governments. Despite the furor from Republicans, DCA regularly approved over 90% of what got proposed. The Villages didn’t seem to have a problem, right?

In fact, DCA approved a Marion County development that local activists Susan Woods and Karen Lynn Recio fought, ultimately winning the case against the development proposal in a vote by the state cabinet. Nonetheless, DCA is the villain in this contrived government shake-up designed to give developers even freer rein to carpet Florida with unsustainable development and comprehensive sprawl.

The Villages is a must-stop for every Republican seeking office, and I mean every Republican, including national figures. The Villages is a family enterprise headed by Gary Morse, and donations to candidates and to state and national Republican parties from The Villages family and corporate tree runs into the millions. The Villages is a Republican cash cow and every right-winger wants to squeeze its teat.

The Villages is also a solidly Republican voting bastion. The demographics show that it is 98.5% white. It is a gated, self-contained community. About the only thing you can’t do within The Villages is burial. Otherwise you don’t have to leave its golf cart trails for real roads in the scary real world for any reason.

Designed by theme park consultants, The Villages boasts its own fake history, displayed on “historic” markers within several themed village settings.  In fact, the real estate of The Villages hosted little human history beyond cows and orange groves prior to a series of killing freezes in the 1980s which made thousands of acres available dirt cheap. With dozens of golf courses, rec centers, entertainment and retail venues, it’s known as “Disney for old people.”

Morse and family keep their turf under firm control. Highly influential in Lake County, The Villages essentially runs Sumter County. The Villages Media Group which operates The Villages Daily Sun newspaper and a TV station is owned by The Villages, and these outlets regularly drool and dote over Republicans, with Scott’s visit as no exception. Scott picked the right spot for his tightly controlled media exposure.

As Gov. Scott hands over the keys to developers for rampant development, there is one last thought. If regulatory agencies, even pretty nice ones like DCA approving over 90% of requests, are “job killing” and need to be eliminated, how is one to understand the “job killing” that occurs without adequate regulation.

A helpful reminder for the gov and his pals; the collapse of the banking, finance and housing markets with its global repercussions was a result of business occurring without adequate regulation. Now that’s job killing! In the tens of millions of jobs. Including Florida.

For the jobs and taxes saved by this deregulatory scam, citizens can expect the savings to be dwarfed as they’re required to foot gargantuan bills for the infrastructure costs of corporate welfare, plus environmental ruination that ensures no rebound in home values.

Great Scott! Just great.

Ocala’s Stupid CDBG Grab – Can It Be Undone?

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I’m sorry. It’s just plain stupid to seize funds that have gone to non-profits for years and years in order to fund water/sewer connections. Yet the Ocala City Council voted 3-2 last week to agree to a plan by City Manager Ricky Horst (pictured left) to grab the federally provided Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the water/sewer connections, leaving 13 non-profits in the lurch for key funding.

In a presentation to the City Council, the Chairman of the Community Development Advisory Committee which reviews grant applications for CDBG funds made the case for the non-profits in pretty stark terms. The Chairman, Cory Pool, is no bleeding heart liberal. In fact, he was a Republican candidate for city office in the last city elections. He understands what’s at stake and ably defended the funding for the non-profits, albeit to no avail.

As the presentation showed, besides providing critical money for programs in the worthiest agencies you could find, these non-profits are able to “multiply the loaves” rather miraculously. The Early Learning Coalition of Marion County would leverage $13,000 in City CDBG funds to gain $237,000 for its operations countywide, a 16 to 1 return on investment! The Marion County Children’s Alliance uses $10,000 in City CDBG funds to help train grant writers in agencies throughout the county, returning over $280,000 in funding. The Domestic Violence Shelter’s funding of $12,000 enables securing $37,000 in additional funding. Other funded agencies include ARC Marion (developmentally handicapped), Arnette House (youth shelter and services), Marion County Literacy Council, and Kimberly’s Cottage (child advocacy in abuse situations). Together, all 13 funded organizations serve over 13,000 Ocala city residents out of about 60,000 total residents.

The 3-2 vote had Suzy Heinbockel, Daniel Owen and John Priester voting for the motion to use the funds for water/sewer connections while Mary Sue Rich and Kent Guinn were opposed to stripping the funds from the non-profits.

John Priester’s vote was a surprise. Priester (pictured left) is the only current City Council member registered as a Democrat. (Reportedly, Mary Sue Rich changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat a few months ago.) In a Monday night phone conversation with Mr. Priester, he explained that it was his aim to get greater funding for the non-profits. He stated that he did not believe that City Manager Ricky Horst’s plan for using the funds for water/sewer connections was either necessary or desirable given the strong presentation by Cory Pool whose service and support for the non-profits he lauded.

Mary Sue Rich challenged the City Manager on the city’s use of availability fees, charges that have been assessed against property owners who could connect to the water/sewer system but haven’t. She asked how much gets collected annually and was told $50,000 per year.

Rich (pictured left) was not opposed to addressing the issue of problematic septic systems, a topic that continues to roil Florida state government as well, graphically explained in this post at Mother Jones. She thought other means could be found to accomplish the goal.

It may seem like the amounts are insignificant in “government-speak”; about $500,000 total CDBG funds, less than $80,000 in public services funding. However with the dire economic straits in Ocala/Marion County, such funding has become critical for non-profits as the state legislature looks to cut its funding, plus local donors are clearly strapped already. For example, United Way of Marion County, the primary source of local funding for Marion’s non-profits was delighted to exceed its goal for 2011 of just $2 million. Only a few years ago, United Way gathered over $2.5 million from the community, having seen a drop of 20% in local giving.

The City of Ocala’s grab for CDBG funds will cause hardships for already hard-pressed non-profits, and may end up costing exponentially more with the loss of the services and leveraged funding that non-profits provide. It isn’t like the City couldn’t have been using those availability fees for the last 10 or 20 years, or couldn’t designate them for water/sewer connections in the future. That would make … sense!

Bottom line: this grab of CDBG funds is stupid, just plain stupid.

Can it be undone? There are a lot of people in Ocala who are hoping that someone on the City Council will come to their senses, revisit the issue, and restore the CDBG funding to non-profits.

And yes, deal with the old septic systems and get folks connected to the water/sewer system; just use another funding source.