In a doubtful and discouraging move, it has been reported that on Friday the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approved the State of Florida request to expand its Medicaid privatization, at least for its long term care patients. With the elderly consuming as much as 70% of the costs of Medicaid, this ruling focuses on a large section of the costs, but it also puts the most vulnerable cases in the hands of private insurers whose primary motivation is profits, not care.
Many of those who will be affected are known as “dual eligible,” covered under Medicare, but due to poverty and/or the circumstances of care are also thrust into Medicaid. As those who have cared for the elderly know, Medicare will not cover maintenance type care that is provided by nursing homes. With costs upwards from $5000 per month for nursing home care, few can afford it and Medicaid is sought to cover those expenses. Further, seniors are on reduced incomes and are prone to require assistance with medical expenses beyond what Medicare covers.
Florida has sought this approval for two years as an avenue to alleviate its rising Medicaid costs. For the current Medicaid program, expenses are roughly split between federal and state funding. The expanded Medicaid program which Florida has (so far) resisted that is part of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – federal funding provides at least 90% of the costs until 2020. Still, Florida is among the stingiest Medicaid states:
As a low-tax state, Florida has long tried to run Medicaid on the cheap. It now ranks fourth from the bottom (ahead of California, Georgia, and Alabama) among states in the amount spent annually per enrollee, a number that has declined steadily over the years.
The Florida experiment with Medicaid privatization has been fraught with problems in its limited 5 county service area. Private insurers were bailing out of the program because it wasn’t profitable for them, and patients were then left hanging:
Nearly half of the 200,000 patients enrolled in the pilot have been dropped from at least one plan, federal health officials previously said.
Patients would often complain about the lack of available medical services offered by the private insurers. The quality of care was also haphazard. Like the experience of many with private insurers, there seems to be greater interest in denying care than providing it. For a good examination of the program, well linked and referenced, click here. The topic has been covered on this page before as well, here and here and here.
The pilot program was touted as demonstrating how privatization would provide less costly and more effective services. Neither has been shown to be true.
HHS is allowing this expansion to occur statewide, but it is difficult to understand their reasoning. Did Gov. Scott manage to pull a quid pro quo from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius that will have Florida as more cooperative participant in the ACA Medicaid expansion in exchange for this scandalous profit-from-the-poor scheme? If so, it was a really bad move since the prospect of billions in new federal revenue had unleashed the lobbying attention of the health care community, changing the ideologically idiotic minds in the Florida legislature as money tends to do.
A report by the arch-conservative Florida think-tank, James Madison Institute (JMI), provides an asinine spin for the failed and largely discredited charter school/school choice “reform” movement. No one besides Jeb Bush fans would find much use in the Madison report, except that it gained plum attention from unreflective NPR/StateImpact Florida reporting.
This follows StateImpact Florida’s pattern of regurgitating half-baked pronouncements by corporate school proponents without a scintilla of critical assessment. Progressives and education activists should be aware that StateImpact Florida, a project partially sponsored by National Public Radio and local affiliates WUSF, WLRN, and WJCT, often makes no attempt to be balanced, analytical, or even cautionary. It amounts to serving as a mouthpiece for anti-public school, anti-teacher union, pro-corporate, pro-privatization advocates. A look at StateImpact Florida’s posts provides clear evidence. [Update: Here is another uncritical post today trumpeting an ALEC report praising Florida's changes to education! Click here.]
The prime argument of anti-public school advocates like JMI is that Florida public schools are somehow governed by teacher unions and not by performance, like this jaundiced comment in the JMI report’s second paragraph:
… If you’re a union ofﬁcial, watching Florida students ﬁghting to overcome a long classroom battle against mediocrity and failure, you go away grousing that the Governor didn’t run the plays you wanted him to run. Even though the students you supposedly root for just experienced remarkable success.
They decry a supposed “one-size-fits-all” approach in traditional public school teaching and insist that private educational options are the remedy to sub-par performance. The JMI report gives its privatization agenda all the credit in Florida’s improved test scores. Remarkably, it fails to mention that the measured improvements are overwhelmingly from the traditional public schools, in spite of the abysmally disappointing performance of charter schools, even reported by StateImpact Florida. At their best, charters simply match traditional public schools and at worst have amassed a stunning record of failure. Private schools receiving tax dollars for scholarships are not even required to administer the FCAT, Florida’s standardized testing mandate.
Further, they make no accounting of Florida’s FCAT obsessed testing regimen, neither acknowledging that testing in itself is a “one-size-fits-all” benchmark (hello?) or that improved test scores are poor measures of actual educational achievement. If preparedness for higher education was the criteria and education was really so improved, then how would they explain the need for colleges to provide so much remedial education to newly entering students? Standardized testing measures narrow parameters of knowledge and certain skills, but it has proven a poor indicator of educational achievement. Florida’s students have simply improved at testing.
The report’s author, JMI Resident Fellow James Mattox, is quoted by StateImpact Florida as saying that Florida’s education system needs to head
“in a direction toward customizing education so that the offerings that are available to each child are consistent with their needs, their interests, their learning styles.”
The uncritical reader would suppose that traditional public educators and teacher’s unions would not support “customizing education.” It’s a ridiculous suggestion. The only missing element for traditional public educators and teacher’s unions would be funding, something Florida’s public education system has been sorely lacking.
The Jeb Bush agenda has focused on siphoning funding from traditional public schools into charter schools and private virtual schools, typically managed by politically powerful for-profit corporations, and into private school voucher programs like the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships and the corruption riddled McKay Scholarships. While Bush’s “accountability” agenda targets traditional public schools, it manages to avert its gaze from the lack of accountability for the non-traditional gambits that it endorses so heartily. Could better funded public schools customize education in a more cost effective and performance focused manner than profit-oriented corporate schemes? Hey, let’s try that!
As if funding made no difference in the educational equation, JMI’s report has the audacity to say:
The need of the hour isn’t so much for Florida policymakers to “open up the checkbook” as it is to “open up the playbook” and expand creative learning options for students in a new wave of education reform. [p. 4]
If our public tax dollars were withheld from the privatization agenda, and we told them to find their own “checkbook,” that industry would die overnight, along with its profits. Why? Profits motivate them, not education.
JMI’s report is just plain silly. Readers should know that StateImpact Florida easily lets itself become a parrot of the corporate education profiteers and should not be regarded as an objective or even useful source of information on public education.
Shame on NPR and local affiliates WUSF, WLRN, and WJCT for supporting what appears too often to be a useless corporate propaganda tool, StateImpact Florida.
It is the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973 which defined a woman’s right of personal privacy in making decisions about her own body, and now four decades later, it remains the hottest social issue in the USA.
Center for American Progress’s Think Progress has lined up powerful numbers:
- 70% of Americans now oppose overturning Roe, the highest number since 1989. Most religious groups also want to leave Roe in place.
- 135 new state-level abortion restrictions enacted over the past two years, the worst years for reproductive freedom since the 1973 Supreme Court decision.
- 87% of U.S. counties don’t have an abortion clinic. At least four states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi — only have a single abortion clinic.
- 45 is the age by which nearly half of American women will have had an unintended pregnancy. About one in three will have had an abortion.
- 20 states allow insurers or employers to deny women affordable contraception by refusing to comply with Obamacare’s birth control guarantee. Studies have shown that Obamacare’s contraception provision will help reduce the national abortion rate.
- $470 is the average cost of a first-trimester abortion. Although most women having abortions carry health insurance, the majority pay out of pocket for an abortion because of the cultural stigma surrounding abortion.
- 42% of women who have abortions whose income levels fall below the federal poverty line. Seven out of ten women who have had an abortion would have preferred to have the procedure sooner, but many were forced to delay because they needed more time to raise money.
- 0.3 is roughly the percentage of abortion patients who experience complications from their procedure that require hospitalization. Studies have repeatedly shown that having a legal abortion is actually safer than giving birth.
The range of issues surrounding Roe v. Wade is readily perceived; ethical and religious positions, political partisanship, health care access, human sexuality, poverty, civil rights, employment benefits, health insurance, social taboos, and willful disinformation. It is truly complicated. Yet in simplest terms today, it amounts to personal choice vs. criminal action.
The so-called pro-choice camp insists that the one best suited to make a decision about a pregnancy is the woman who is confronted by it and experiencing it. It is not a condition that men will encounter, and it is not a decision for which they will likely be held responsible or for which they will likely be penalized, certainly not in the same way as a woman.
To criminalize the early termination of a pregnancy oversteps governmental authority which infringes on a woman’s ability to control what happens to her body. Again, for men, there is no control issue applicable to their body. On the simplest level, if a man was required by law to grow something in his body which he did not want, it would be intensely opposed as a violation of basic human rights. Therefore, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose are often seen as insensitive, oppressive, and even hostile to women. Take, for example, the idiotic comments of conservative political candidates in 2012.
The so-called pro-life camp doesn’t believe there should be any choice. Their focus is exclusively oriented to conception and to the fetus, invoking the will of God to fulfill the promise of a pregnancy, and often over-dramatizing the nascent stages of human life. In their dramatization efforts, they play fast and loose with the acknowledged 26 week standard for routinely permitted abortions, after which time medical necessity must be defined.
What is never mentioned is that the aim to end any choice for pregnant women also means that any act of abortion becomes a criminal matter. The outlawing of abortion is also its criminalization. While prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no basis or history for criminalization, the rhetoric employed over the last 40 years by the various anti-abortion groups makes it clear that abortion is the taking of a human life and recourse to prevent abortions – outlawing them – means criminal penalties.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to expect that women who seek an abortion face criminal prosecution. Suspicion would also be cast upon women who miscarry; they stand to be indicted for attempted murder or manslaughter. Negligence in caring for a pregnancy would easily become criminal, as if the woman was trying to induce an abortion. Of course, there could be no corresponding criminal sanction on any man who brought about the pregnancy.
If nothing else, the agenda for criminalization and the gray areas of culpability which any woman would face leads to the conclusion that government needs to stay clear of women and their pregnancies. Legally remove a woman’s right to decide for herself about a pregnancy and the consequence is turning any attempt at opting out of a pregnancy into a criminal act.
Frankly, no one likes the idea of an abortion. Whether to have one or not must be an awful decision for a woman to have to make. One would hope that if a woman wanted to proceed with a pregnancy that she would be given the complete support and encouragement of our society. However, such full support is non-existent today. In fact, condemnation is more likely to ensue, for ‘having more children than you can support,’ or ‘having children so that our tax dollars can pay for it,’ and similar sentiments which we’ve all heard casually.
Our society can do much to encourage women to proceed with pregnancies, and many worthy organizations with limited resources have that as their mission. However the decision must remain the woman’s about whether to proceed or not. Taking a difficult individual decision and making it criminal is to lose sight of the goal amid ideological confusion and entanglements.
Fulfilled women, happy children, and loving families are not achieved by filling prisons with mommies or forcing women to accept responsibilities and penalties no man has to shoulder. But sadly those positive ideals have been lost in the bitter conflict of the last 40 years. Clearly, Roe v. Wade needs to remain the law of the land.
Key concerns were raised at the first Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) meeting on Wednesday afternoon. This is the first meeting in the process that aims to address the serious problem of nitrate pollution at Silver Springs and in the Silver River. Those concerns included: how long will the process take, who pays, and how does it get enforced?
The meeting was well attended, considering that it was at 1:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. Many in the audience were environmental activists from throughout the region while most of the remainder were involved with water in one way or another occupationally (agriculture, bioscience, public utility, government agency, for example). It was held at the Marion County Growth Services office at the main library complex. Marion County is regarded as a contractor with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which made most presentations on Wednesday.
There are BMAPs for a number of water basins throughout Florida, but the process and practice is a relatively new one that is time-consuming. It was acknowledged that the BMAPs for Rainbow Springs, Orange Creek, and the Santa Fe River will likely overlap with areas expected to be addressed by the Silver Springs BMAP because the basin areas are so large. You can get an understanding of the scope by referring to the map pictured which shows the range of different “capture areas” for the Silver Springs basin over different time frames.
The BMAP is a strategic design to significantly reduce nitrate pollution (expressed as TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) in the targeted area. Initial steps in dealing with nitrate pollution occurred last year when DEP drafted TMDL recommendations in July and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard signed off on them in December. The rule is expected to be adopted in February.
Nitrate levels at Silver Springs easily exceeded 1.0 milligrams per liter (mg/L) average over a 10 year testing period (2001-2011), up to a peak level of 1.69 mg/L which became the baseline for top measurement. The DEP recommended a target of .35 mg/L average TMDL, a major reduction in nitrate concentrations. Yet environmentalists are frustrated since the natural level is .05 mg/L, far lower than the target. See the chart pictured for the measurements.
Nitrates contribute to high levels of algae growth which can suffocate a water body by removing its oxygen, negatively affect water flows, negatively impact fish and wildlife, and even be toxic to humans while producing green slime on surfaces and various submerged plants. Silver Springs and sections of the Silver River have been identified as “impaired water bodies,” a necessary preliminary step in forming a BMAP strategy.
The audience appreciated the scope of the task and was glad for a comprehensive plan combating nitrate pollution. However, they had significant misgivings.
Guy Marwick, longtime local environmentalist who was champion of the Silver River State Park, commented regarding the 5 to 10 year compliance schedule, saying Silver Springs doesn’t have 5 or 10 years to have its threats addressed. It will be gone by then. Mary Paulic, the DEP Basin Coordinator in charge of completing the Silver Springs BMAP admitted that their planning allows for 5 year blocks in order to implement changes and then measure and assess whatever progress is being made in prepping the next 5 year plan. She reminded the audience that results take time to work through, but she did say that she expected significant measurable improvement in TMDLs within the first 5 year plan.
Another concern was raised by Nate Gilman, a retired educator and community activist. He asked how the plan would be funded, recognizing the significant scope of work. Paulic didn’t mention much coming from FL DEP, pointing instead to local governments and public utilities who would be required to fulfill responsibilities under a BMAP. There were some state and federal grants, and other possible sources, like FL Department of Agriculture providing certain assistance for farm operations needing to take remedial steps. In general, it was sketchy and relied heavily on local government and business to shoulder costs.
Gilman’s concerns were timely since this headline appeared in Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times: Florida water management districts seek $122 million for springs restoration. Youch! The article starts:
Florida’s springs are in trouble. Most have lost flow. Some have reversed themselves. Many of them are suffering from rampant pollution that has spurred the growth of toxic algae. There are signs that saltwater is intruding.
What will it take to fix all this? According to state water officials, $122.4 million — just to start. That’s 10 times what the state spent on springs last year, and four times what the state budgeted for Everglades restoration.
A key part: $10 million to be spent replacing septic tanks and small sewage plants near some of the state’s key springs in hopes of reducing their leaking of pollution into the aquifer.
Looming over the whole proceeding was the specter of the Adena Springs Ranch. With each cow (of an expected 15,000 total) producing 100 lbs. of manure daily, or 750 tons daily for the ranch, the proposed operation of billionaire Frank Stronach threatens the aquifer with a huge water withdrawal permit requested as well as calamitous nitrate pollution from the manure. For an update on Adena Springs, click here for the recent post.
The next BMAP session will likely be in early March where defining the BMAP geographic boundary and identifying the stakeholders within that area who need to be involved in the process will be the objectives.
While it seemed like a positive start, worries about delayed implementation and inadequate funding support exceed the BMAP expectations and need organized advocacy from the community.
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.
Campaign finance reform had been announced in November as a priority of new Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel, pictured left with former Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala)) who said that reform of the secretive flood of campaign cash is best addressed by removing caps on direct campaign donations (now $500) and requiring fast, full disclosure of donors, something certain entities can legally avoid.
Surprisingly, Integrity Florida, the newcomer watchdog group, has just submitted a report to the Florida House that fully endorses Weatherford’s two key ideas. Okay, it’s a mirror image of Weatherford’s viewpoint with a generous dollop of Integrity’s claim to non-partisanship thrown in. Click here to download their report.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Aaron Deslatte wasted no time with a very informative piece challenging some of the basic calculations in Integrity’s report. Deslatte also reviews the different entities that may have their hands on cash that ends up with a campaign, and describes how the process can be rather elaborate in shielding the true donor.
Since the US Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates to a torrent of corporate campaign cash, many have raised grave questions about the integrity of political campaigns and candidates. A 2012 case tested a century old Montana state law restricting corporate campaign donations, giving the Supremes an opportunity to reconsider their dubious decision to give corporations the free speech (and campaign donation) rights of individuals. The court’s decision affirmed Citizens United, striking down the Montana law as unconstitutional. Bad news for states.
In the 2012 presidential campaign, voters were shocked to see massive amounts of cash being donated to candidates in the Republican primary process, like Sheldon Adelson literally keeping Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive with his own funding. It seemed every candidate needed a billionaire backer to stay afloat financially in a race defined by cash.
In Florida, Democrats well remember the bizarre 2010 US Senate candidacy of billionaire Jeff Greene who appeared out of nowhere, easily spent huge sums, forced Kendrick Meek to spend precious cash in a farcical primary, and then disappeared off the political map. Some question whether Greene was just a shill to undermine Meek’s funding. By the way, Greene is still a mess.
In short, what happens with campaign cash matters in a variety of ways. It affects races, campaigns, candidacies, candidate positions, opponents, etc. And 2012 showed one thing clearly; there is a lot of cash for politics. And surely it’s spent for a reason.
Both Weatherford and Integrity Florida start from the same premise, stated in the IF Report:
The state-level campaign finance system in Florida is fundamentally broken.
That’s a dramatic statement, but isn’t it broken in most places, certainly since Citizens United? The IF report claims that Florida’s campaign finance system amounts to “money laundering”:
… [The current system] has failed in preventing unlimited amounts of money from being spent to attempt to influence the outcomes of our state and local elections. Donors have a proven track record of adapting to any campaign finance regulatory schemes that seek to limit contributions or restrain spending.
Weatherford and IF seem to believe that removing the $500 campaign donation cap is a non-event since it is being circumvented so readily and donors always seem to find some way around restrictions. The IF report cites four states that have unlimited contributions, the disparate states of Missouri, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia, pointing to their politically mixed legislatures as proof that unlimited donations don’t result in any advantages. It’s an entirely specious and irrelevant argument. No one denies that Republicans already have a consistently huge cash advantage in Florida and unlimited donations will surely encourage that gap to remain, if not widen. Unlimited campaign cash is about who gets to buy the candidates for how much, not partisan political advantages. If they’re already bought, no caps simply increases the ante for the players.
Further, Weatherford and IF are convinced that 24 hour disclosure of donations will bring accountability. If there is a money laundering system – let’s not argue the point; it seems valid enough – do they seriously believe that new routes for cash won’t be found, passing through more obscure entities in a continuation of the current game plan? The IF report focuses on the operational feasibility of fast reporting – yes, it can be done. The IF report says absolutely nothing about impacts of fast reporting that would suggest it has any benefit of disclosure. In short, 24 hour full disclosure reporting is a great idea and should be done, but don’t think it’s a magic bean that will contribute much at all to lifting the covers on secretive donors.
Basically, Floridians are supposed to believe Weatherford and IF that there is some sort of worthwhile trade-off in lifting the $500 donation limit, making unlimited donations possible, in order to gain 24 hour full disclosure reporting. Do you see any merit?
From Weatherford, one expects posturing like this that would really drench the whole messed up system with bigger bucket loads of cash.
If Integrity Florida was serious, they might have presented a reform agenda that would serve to tame the cash flow and demand fast, full disclosure of donations. IF might have drawn the best examples from other states that have effected reforms. Instead, they somehow envisioned Weatherford’s agenda and produced an 8 page rubber stamp. Their organization did itself no favors with this report, and now IF deserves close scrutiny itself since its allegiance to seriously improving the political process seems doubtful.
When your latest attempt at a huge water permit gets a smack down like the one delivered last Friday to Adena Springs Ranch by St. John’s River Water Management District (SJRWMD), one has to wonder if the actual message being sent is to abandon this (really bad) idea. To read the full response from SJRWMD’s Director of the Division of Regulatory Services, Michael A. Register, click here.
Adena Springs caused an uproar when it was disclosed in December, 2011 that the proposed massive ranch and slaughterhouse operation sought 13.2 million of gallons of water per day (mgd), an amount that exceeded the permitted withdrawal for the whole city of Ocala. They applied to SJRWMD for a consumptive use permit (CUP).
Following the public furor, Adena Springs agreed to reduce its original CUP request from over 13 mgd to 5.3 mgd. Since making the announcement in the Spring at a public meeting that Adena Springs management arranged and hosted, the permit has been given extensions several times. The latest extension gives Adena Springs until May 11, 2013 to respond.
The SJRWMD response is a mind-numbing 16 pages that details significant and often glaring flaws in the claims being made by Adena Springs. The District requested answers to 21 questions (pages 13-15), many of them quite substantial. This one (listed as “s.”) alone is a doozey:
Please describe how manure will be collected from heavy use areas (HUAs) like “concrete feedfaces” or “cooling pond paddocks.” Please describe how this manure will be applied to mechanically harvested pastures and indicate whether this is included in the nutrient balance calculations.
Apart from the stunning size of the CUP, the expected manure from the proposed operation has been a huge issue for environmentalists. Pollution of local waterways with nitrates, primarily from fertilizers and manure, has led to a recent Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) decision to reduce the nitrates levels at nearby iconic Silver Springs from over 1 milligram per liter (mg/L) to 0.35 mg/L.. Activists complain that DEP’s target is still seven times the natural level. (A meeting next Wednesday afternoon ought to begin outlining approaches to addressing the nitrate problem – Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) meeting on January 23 at Marion County Growth Services office at 1pm.)
With the ranch expecting to graze around 15,000 head of cattle, and each one generating 100 lbs. of manure daily, like 750 tons daily, it is pretty crucial that Adena Springs have a comprehensive and effective plan that won’t impact waterways, including seepage into the aquifer. It appears from the district’s question that it is still a missing piece from their permit request.
Adena Springs managers have stated that their plan is to spread the manure as the cattle move on to other pasture, providing nitrates to help grow back the grasses. The effectiveness of this approach on this scale and the containment of negative environmental impact has always been doubtful.
The Adena Springs project is the latest venture by Canadian/Austrian billionaire Frank Stronach (pictured). Stronach made his fortune in auto parts, but has invested in many ventures, and had many notable failures. After sinking huge sums into horse breeding and horse racing in Florida, Stronach thinks that grass-fed beef is an untapped premium market since most western beef is grain fed in confined feed lots.
Dismissing critics who insist that Florida grasses and its sandy soil are inadequate for the size of the proposed operation, the plan is to remedy rainfall deficiencies outside of the rainy summer season with a massive center pivot irrigation operation (featured image above). Of course, this also requires massive water withdrawals, hence the giant CUP request.
One might hope that Stronach and Adena Springs managers would take a strong hint and back off this unsustainable and dangerous proposal. However, it is more likely that SJRWMD’s Michael Register and his bosses will be getting some heavy pressure from Tallahassee to ease up and help get this permit through in some fashion. It will be up to concerned local activists to remain vigilant and not let up in presenting countervailing pressure to stop this nonsense.
On Monday night, over two hundred citizens returned to the Vanguard High School cafeteria in Ocala to get briefed about the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) proposal for the future of the Silver Springs Attraction, and overall they liked what they heard. Click here to read the full Interim Plan proposal, or click on the above image which can be downloaded and examined more closely (right mouse click, select Save Image/Picture).
The proposal focuses on redeveloping the existing Silver Springs Attraction with emphases on restoring natural hydrology, being attentive to environmental restoration, upgrading storm water management, and reducing negative water impacts. The plan calls for removal of unhelpful and non-essential structures and schemes, bringing maintenance and restoration to essential structures, and identifying private sector partners for continuing a range of visitor services and certain appropriate concessions. Don’t worry, the glass bottom boats will continue as will other low impact opportunities for visitors to experience the Silver Springs area, together with an aim to add swimming, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and nature trails with interpretive programs to explain and showcase the natural wonders of the park. However, the Jeep Safari, for example, is (thankfully) slated for elimination.
The future of Wild Waters, the water entertainment park at the corner of the property, seems secure for the time being. The Interim Plan calls for it to continue operating during transition through a private contracted operator. Numerous commenters insisted that it was not needed there and detracted from the restorative, nature-based vision for the property.
Generally, the DEP’s Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP) seemed to have listened well to the huge crowd and dozens of commenters that had addressed the issue in December at the same venue.
The need for a plan became a concern when the current lessee, Palace Entertainment, finally admitted that it really did not want to continue operating Silver Springs Attraction. The degradation of the springs and the decline in the maintenance of park facilities sparked a public outcry for the state, the property owner and lessor, to seize the opportunity and take back the property. The state already administers the adjacent Silver River State Park.
Among the public commenters, Vanguard High School IB program science teacher John Hare emphasized the opportunity for the development of a research center which would study the springs and the habitat, allowing multiple disciplines to have the facilities on site to learn more and share their insights. His thoughts were echoed and endorsed repeatedly.
Several commenters urged that private sector business leaders be consulted in developing the park so that the state would not be burdened with its maintenance costs. DRP has a strong record behind its management and draws substantial revenue from its operations statewide, but the money people wanted to have their interests prioritized. The crowd was not too enthusiastic about that, local or not, having seen what Palace Entertainment had done.
A number of commenters (including yours truly) urged that DRP continue to take the lead in management, with expressions of distrust and disdain for county and state elected officials as well as those with monetary interests or benefits in anything to do with Silver Springs. Farmer and environmental activist Jeri Baldwin said that as far as stewardship of such natural gifts, these folks were “lacking resources of the heart” to be entrusted with such responsibility.
Current employees also offered comments, defending the care given to the animals, reminding the audience of the animals’ popularity with visitors, and that the unique habitat that is home to most of these animals has been one of the key reasons for their inclusion and popularity at the park from its earliest days. There were also concerns about continued employment during any transition, and Captain Tom regaled the audience with his 15 ideas for broadening the offerings just in boat ride themes.
Speaking of earlier times and the springs’ history, Cynthia Graham encouraged DRP to include the presence of Paradise Park in its historic representations of Silver Springs. Paradise Park was the neighboring property “for colored people only” during the segregation era. (An excellent history of Paradise Park is provided by Jenny Hammer with a number of photos – click here.) The DRP officials stated in reply that they had planned to include Paradise Park in their historic representations.
Along the same lines, Mindy Adams, a professor at College of Central Florida, further affirmed the need to include Paradise Park in Silver Springs’ history. She also wanted to ensure that when folks talked about “authentic Florida” that they didn’t mean a sanitized Florida. She insisted that the garish, tasteless, and tacky – “kitschy” she called it – should be included as well since it is undeniably part of Florida’s heritage, too.
River boat captain and environmentalist Karen Chadwick expressed her concern that the presence of managers from Adena Springs at the first public meeting might infer that their project’s seemingly endless money might be influencing any part of the discussion, particularly among private, for-profit promoters. Adena Springs, a venture of billionaire Frank Stronach, has continued securing additional property for its huge proposed cattle ranch and slaughterhouse operation, including property quite close to Silver Springs.
The next step is for the DRP proposal to go to Governor Scott and the Cabinet for approval. It is expected to be decided on Wednesday. Supporters of the plan have been urged by the Silver Springs Alliance to communicate support for the DEP/DRP plan and the need for Governor and Cabinet to entrust the property to DEP/DRP, not local officials, other agencies, or any private organization.
The emails are:
DEP Secretary: email@example.com [corrected: no "e" in vinyard]
Governor Scott: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Hollingsworth: Chief of Staff to Gov. Scott: Adam.Hollingsworth@eog.myflorida.com
The entire audience seemed eager for the plan to gain their approval so that Silver Springs can begin the long road to restoration as a natural treasure. Let’s hope the money crowd hasn’t poisoned the idea and precluded an intelligent decision by state leaders.
This year’s Marion Legislative Delegation meeting had several presenters articulate positions on progressive issues, something Marion’s legislators are not used to hearing, much less considering. This should be recognized as the seeds of something that will grow.
Each year, the delegation of state representatives and state senators gathers in the respective counties to hear concerns from constituents prior to the start of the annual two month legislative session. In Marion County, there are three state senators and four representatives, all Republicans except for Rep. Clovis Watson.
The progressive coalition, Awake Marion, had several of its participants make presentations. [Disclaimer: the writer is Awake Marion’s coordinator.] Combined with several human services agencies, legislators heard about a number of areas of concern where state funding for key community-building programs and services was the primary focus, contrasting against the skewed priorities of legislators who can always find money for a corporate tax credit, can always ignore tax loopholes, and can always award lucrative, unaccountable contracts to privateers.
Despite the absence of anyone (anyone!) from the public schools, Nancy Noonan, president of Marions United for Public Education, an advocacy group that shares in the Awake Marion coalition, was present so that someone spoke up for public education. Noonan highlighted the unfunded mandates like teacher merit pay and the requirement for digital textbook technology that the legislature should correct with an allocation of proper funds. She said that money should stop being thrown at unproven, largely ineffective, and often unaccountable “reform” schemes that divert funding from public schools. Finally, she reminded legislators that there was an ongoing need to add revenue, readily available by ending corporate tax and sales tax exemptions, credits, and loopholes.
As if deaf to what Noonan had just said, State Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) then called attention to the pension case awaiting a court decision which could overturn the 3% pension contribution that the Tea Party/GOP legislature had enacted for state employees. If decided against the state, it could result in a $1.3 billion bill for the state. Hays said that would change everything. Had he so quickly forgotten Noonan’s call to raise revenue by addressing the hodgepodge of wasteful tax breaks that litter the state tax code? Or did Hays never hear her words in the first place?
Whitfield Jenkins, representing Marion County NAACP, another Awake Marion coalition participant, urged legislators to pay attention to “underserved communities” which most often meant minority communities. While he cited progress locally in multi-level government partnerships to spur economic investment and development, he urged sustained vigilance and commitment to forging a new direction in such communities.
Pat Hawk of Water Well Justice, an Awake Marion coalition participant, reviewed the history of wells going dry in the area, including her own not long ago. She called attention to the disturbingly low water levels in Lake Weir and Orange Lake as well as the historically low flow rate at Silver Springs, acknowledging that there are mostly unknowns when it comes to what is happening in the Floridan Aquifer. Noting how drilling a new well was a major cost for families and seniors, Hawk sought special state funding for citizens forced to drill new wells since there is no apparent intention by the legislature to protect citizens and their water by limiting new water withdrawal permits.
Guy Marwick, noted longtime Marion environmentalist, admonished the state for its Band Aid approaches to water and conservation policy. He expressed his deep concern about water quality, citing nitrate contamination, permits for large withdrawals, and the spreading threat of saltwater intrusion and contamination of the aquifer and wells due to excessive withdrawals. Comprehensive solutions are needed, and are long overdue, he emphasized.
Michael Davis, an activist leader in Awake Marion’s Juvenile Justice Project, called for repeal of SB2112, a law which allowed county governments to assume control of local juvenile justice detention services. Previously, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) handled all juvenile justice detention since it was uniquely capable of dealing with youth with issues. Duh. But for financial reasons, counties were given the option of taking them over from DJJ and saving large sums. It was such a really bad idea that only 3 of 67 Florida counties have begun handling juvenile detention; Marion, Seminole, and Polk. As Davis stated, Marion’s is considered a model operation, Seminole’s program is passable, and Polk’s is a disaster that has resulted in dangerous and abusive situations for youth among untrained correction officers, plunging Polk into a lawsuit for its gross mismanagement. The best idea, said Davis, would be to repeal SB2112 and let DJJ return to doing what it knows how to do and is supposed to do.
Delphine Herbert who, active with other community organizations, is leader of Marions for Peace, another Awake Marion participant, insisted that the state needed leadership to address the culture of violence, particularly in the wake of the Newtown, CT school shootings. Citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she suggested that more guns did not equal more protection: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. “
It was over four hours of public comment, so there is another post or two to come. But the sound of progressive voices increased noticeably this year, signs of new community advocacy in Marion. Of course, getting the legislative delegation’s ears to listen is also a work in progress.
There is little doubt that Charlie Crist’s recent party switch to the Democrats is a prelude to a run to recapture his former role as Florida’s governor. Can (or should) progressive Democrats swallow hard, hold their nose, and get on board with a Democratic Crist? For Democrats, progressive activists in particular, there is great consternation that Crist is hardly the champion of its values, just a washed out, flip-flopping, ex-Republican. Hardly inspiring.
His record as a Republican showed him in his early legislative career as a first class hard liner who enjoyed the limelight of being known as “Chain Gang Charlie.” As Education Commissioner and later Insurance Commissioner, he developed a more populist attitude, earning the respect of educators and the ire of insurance companies while right wing Republicans began regarding him with considerable suspicion.
He bested more conservative challenger Tom Gallagher in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary by tacking to the right and declaring himself a “Ronald Reagan Republican,” winning the nomination and the office.
As Governor, his populism migrated to opportunism, noted in these pages as a weathervane and a chameleon for his willingness to switch positions and cater to prevailing political winds. His popularity with the electorate ultimately kept him as an asset to the GOP, even though the base came to thoroughly dislike and distrust him (with good reason).
Crist’s usually astute political moves were swamped by the extreme shift among Florida Republicans as the Tea Party surged following its 2010 ascendancy and rigid ideological fidelity became required in GOP ranks. Crist swung himself Gumby-like as far right as he could during his campaign for the US Senate, but he couldn’t distance himself from his past, most notably the infamous embrace of President Obama and his vocal support for the President’s fiscal stimulus legislation.
Marco Rubio’s upstart Senate candidacy surged, lifted by Tea Party loyals and other extremists for whom Rubio seemed to pass the ideological sniff test, even though Rubio has always maintained his distance from them. (Talk about an opportunist!) Facing a heavy GOP primary loss, Crist preemptively dropped the GOP and ran unsuccessfully as an independent.
His recent self-promotion as a new Democrat signals the start of the Democratic primary for governor. Polls show Crist favored over all likely contenders, particularly over Gov. Scott – not a great feat since even Republicans seem to favor a primary challenger to the ever unpopular Scott.
No one should expect Crist to hew to a consistently progressive line. Progressives tend to diss Crist in favor of those more ideologically defined like Sen. Nan Rich (pictured), former Sen. Dan Gelber, and others who remain completely unknown to Florida voters outside of their own circles.
The complaining noises about Crist from the camp of 2010 Dem loser Alex Sink have fallen flat. Sink ran away from Democratic positions in 2010 (literally; there was a video of Sink glaring icily at a reporter who persisted in asking about her stance on the health care bill before dashing/stalking off in a silent huff), she can hardly grouse about Crist not being enough of a Democrat. Sink lost to a crook, Rick Scott, presenting herself with a conservative message only a Republican could love (except she was out-conservatived by the Tea Party schmuck – what a shock) and blessed with yet another failed Tallahassee insider campaign plan that has yielded her almost no notoriety just 2 years later for a possible second run. Great job.
That she lost by a hair in a wave year for the Tea Party is small consolation. Scott was (and is still) a crook and a schmuck with a personality akin to the creepy robot HAL of Kubkrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scott has remained wildly unpopular with the electorate since his inauguration, and is even disliked within his own party. A worse major party candidate for governor is unlikely … ever.
While Republican operatives stew behind Scott’s back about finding a candidate who doesn’t suck and isn’t utterly loathsome, Democrats find themselves – apart from Crist – with the possibility of a recycled Sink and a bevy of potential unknowns statewide. Those lesser knowns generally have better progressive credentials than Sink or Crist, but any reasonable person would view them as unelectable against a modestly well known, well funded Republican.
If you dismiss the notion of watching Sink, who sank, sink again, and admit the severe electability limitations on the rest, then let’s recall the realpolitik directions of 1992, the DLC, and Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. You’ll recall that Republicans had held the Oval Office for 12 years in dominating fashion. Albeit weakened, Bush, Sr. was game for another Mondale or Dukakis liberal. However, the moderate Clinton got the nod and eked the win. While gaining the presidency for the Dems, progressives can recount many painful concessions from the gutting of welfare to the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Still, it was a Dem in the Oval Office.
Clinton, for all of his progressive faults, made Democrats electable at the national level once again, bringing closely competitive presidential races since. We forget just how crushing were the defeats of 1980, 1984 and 1988.
Could Crist supply an opportunity for Dems to gain the governorship, providing a Democratic executive counter weight to the Republican legislature, likely to remain theirs for the foreseeable future? Would having a moderate and, yes, unpredictably political animal like Crist elevate realistic Dem positions to serious consideration and force a retreat for the GOP legislature’s draconian agenda? Would having an official voice of moderation in Tallahassee help give Dem candidates greater credence, leveling the incline in competitive legislative districts? In short, can progressive Dems realistically expect to seize the governor’s mansion in one fell swoop, or is there a process that can begin unfolding with a Dem Gov, even Charlie Crist?
I’m thinking about it. What do you think?