Just as we were beginning to think that we were living in the middle of nowhere, – staring at our empty skyline baking in the summer sun and pondering the fact that CNBC named Orlando "America's emptiest city" last month – our focus shifted abruptly to Salt Lake City, the poor city that hosted that weird Winter Olympics that Mitt Romney saved in 2002. Why? Well, there was that whole thing on Thursday where Romney pissed off every soul in London – home of the current Summer Olympics – by calling the city unprepared for such a grand scheme as the international sportsfest. That act led to a public outcry from both the London mayor and the British prime minister, who, naturally, referred to Salt Lake City as the "middle of nowhere" in a public game of one-upmanship.
Hey, but it's also somewhere! Somewhere enough that the finely frocked folks at the American Legislative Exchange Council saw fit to convene there for their annual secretive barbecue of human decency. Now, we've covered ALEC pretty extensively in these pages before ("Hiding the sausage," Sept. 15, 2011), but it seems that the group that brought you the national scourge of Stand Your Ground laws, voter suppression laws, charter schools and prison privatization efforts – in a word-for-word manner that seems a little like cheating – has been crumbling in the recent ethos of class warfare. A total of 30 corporations have abandoned the pay-for-play organization in recent months (General Motors and Walgreens slipped away on July 26), with the expected hemorrhaging of legislators following suit. Because the annual confab is kept under a shroud of secrecy, we know very little of what billionaire corporations and idiot Republican legislators are gumming over this year, but we do know the National Rifle Association is hosting a shoot-off in a timely manner, Big Tobacco is pushing a "Can tobacco cure smoking?" bit of Snus-logic, and there's some talk of using meds in lieu of incarceration for criminals.
But how does that affect our middle of nowhere? Well, on July 26, a bevvy of progressive groups released a 50-page report specifically highlighting the "unprecedented influence" of ALEC over Florida lawmaking. We sat in on a conference call to discuss the report, and although we learned little that we didn't already know (i.e., lazy people who shouldn't even be in government become heroes to their party when they pass ALEC's boilerplate legislation without even really reading it), there were some interesting updates. Though the group seems to be losing favor elsewhere, 60 of 160 Florida legislators have had ties to the group since 2011. Though Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, told us that the group has "indicated from a number of sources that [ALEC's leadership members] are very upset that they have lost" a number of corporations and lawmakers, ALEC claims it is focusing on its economic agenda. "That economic agenda is an extreme one," she says.
One of the most extreme initiatives she brought up was about tort reform, specifically an attempt to forbid people from suing pharmaceutical companies after a drug has been recalled, because, hey, it made it through the Food and Drug Administration!
Doug Clopp, deputy program director of liberal group Common Cause, added that ALEC was "in it for the long haul," saying that it took the group 25 years to make Utah in its corporate image, 20 years to do the same to Arizona, and many believe that Florida could be next.
Welcome to nowhere!
While we're alluding to meds and how much we need them to survive this ignominy, it's interesting to note that the Florida Pharmacy Association – which ostensibly has all of the happy pills we desire – filed a lawsuit against the state on July 26 based on the backlash to the state legislature's bizarro Medicaid privatization shell game and how it will disrupt the usual business of dispensing medication to the state's most needy. Wait, are we having a pill panic?
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the suit alleges that Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration has somewhat nefariously been drawing up deals with out-of-state HMOs for mail-order drug requirements, despite promises to do otherwise, or at least do so with some heavy regulation. Not so much.
"We have recently learned that over at least the last two-and-a-half years the agency has secretly been entering and awarding contracts that amount to just such a hand-off to HMOs in what we believe to be a full and illegal privatization of Medicaid for the majority of Medicaid patients," a representative for the group said in a statement.
AHCA is playing dumb on the allegations, naturally. Still, one of the named patients in the suit is an Orlando woman with cystic fibrosis who is "fearful AHCA will force her into an HMO," according to the Times.
Well, maybe that woman will be able to have her grievances heard when Gov. Rick Scott is keynote speaker at the Florida Health Care Association's conference here in Orlando on Aug. 1 at the Hilton Orlando. Probably not, though, as it appears to be a private affair. Wait, what could Scott possibly have to say about health care as a keynote speaker?
"Rick Scott was fine taking money from Medicaid and Medicare when he was profiting from it," says Organize Now's executive director, Stephanie Porta. Yeah, maybe that'll go over well.
Back on the subject of Nowheresville – or, rather, how the rest of the world sees us in the scalding context of real-life issues – it's good to know that our uglier sister Tampa keeps getting reamed by the national media over what kind of mess this year's Republican National Convention is going to be. We're so jealous! On July 26 (again! Everything happened on July 26!), the New York Times ran a true sociological gem when it blurted out the headline, "Strip clubs in Tampa are ready to cash in on GOP Convention." Of course, we're tripping over our lower lips with the constant recitation of "hookers and blow" as we slouch toward the last week in August, but this feel-good piece from the nation's paper of record made our jaws drop even further. Nobody of any suited import wants to comment on it, including RNC spokesman James Davis, who told the Times blankly, "We're expecting a great convention. We're focused completely on having a great convention."
Well, just so he knows, that great convention is likely to include Mons Venus, numerous other strip clubs and, of course, a Sarah Palin lookalike. "I wonder whether the look-alike will be able to see Russia from the stage?" Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joked. No, but she may be able to see London. Or even France. Hopefully, knowing Tampa, she'll have a hard time seeing underpants!