If there’s any lesson to be gleaned from the twinkling-light moralism (sprinkled with gingerbread-flavored economic indicators, natch) of the holidays, it’s that consequences are just about the only gifts you can depend upon. Such has undoubtedly been the case with the fabled, painful rise of Florida’s latest Republican iniquity paradigm in which your fearless leaders have been committing science-fair atrocities aimed at the well-being of you and your neighbors and laughing all the way to the bank. Alas, it appears that sickening Grinch-laughter on the part of the governor may have been premature. One year into Gov. Rick Scott’s reign, and the cracks in some of his cornerstone policies are starting to look like festering wounds scraping against a bumpy reality wall. We’re hemorrhaging for Christmas!
On Dec. 15, word trickled down from the White House that one of the state’s many-faceted attempts to avoid the Affordable Care Act had taken a hit. You’ll recall that Florida – by way of then-Attorney General Bill McCollum – was the originator of the scurrilous 26-state lawsuit challenging “Obamacare” and its constitutionality; that case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March. But Thursday’s news was a little more nuanced. Written into the ACA is a directive that requires insurance companies to manage their medical-loss ratiosin a manner that sees them spending at least 80 percent of the premiums they take in on actual medical costs, with only the remaining 20 percent to spend on giant salaries and drunken holiday camping retreats (i.e., administrative costs). According to the Washington Post, over the last year, 17 states have applied for waivers to put off the new regulation until, well, the politics monstertakes over the Supreme Court and the whole thing is tossed out so we never have to talk about it again.
Florida’s involvement in the waiver gamble is a very big deal, because the state has 21 insurance companies on the individual market and a giant heap of old people in need of health care. So the fact that Florida’s waiver application was denied last week with a 16-page response that declared the regulation would not “destabilize the Florida individual market” raises the stakes on the never-ending health-care debate, and could mean that insurers will be writing $60 million in rebate checks to the state’s insured citizens. Also, it shows that the White House is none too afraid of Scott or his 26 percent approval rating. Who wins? You do, Cindy Lou.
Another key tenet to Scott’s generalized awfulness – that voting should be a hard-earned right reserved for rich Republican white people, basically – came under fire last week when, on Dec. 15, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Public Interest Research Group and Rock the Vote officially filed suit against the state for unfair voter suppression via this year’s HB 1355. The move came on the heels of some stern “moral imperative” words from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on the issue and news that there would be a Senate hearing on the matter held in Tampa on Jan. 27 at the behest of Sen. Bill Nelson. At issue in the suit are the blurry terms applied to voter registration efforts by the plaintiffs and whether those terms are constitutional. Specifically, the threat of felonies and finesfor those who dare to try to bring more people into the fold of this representative democracy has rendered standard practices null and void.
“Part of our argument is that the rules are fairly confusing,” FPIRG spokesman Brad Ashwell says. “There are all of these hoops set upto keep people from voting. The whole fraud argument just doesn’t hold up. There’s nothing in the law that would really even address fraud.”
By way of example, Ashwell, who operates out of Tallahassee, would have a hard time orchestrating voter registration efforts in Miami if the forms had to go through FPIRG’s office; the new law requires a 48-hour turnaround on registration forms, meaning that his Miami volunteers would have to overnight the forms and hope that they got there in time to avoid recrimination. All of this bobbing and weaving for the sake of a basic right begs the question: Why isn’t every citizen automatically registeredto vote when they turn 18? Because your bought-and-sold government doesn’t want your input, that’s why. So this is deregulation.
“Corporate America is shaping your election laws,” Ashwell says. “It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s just the truth.”
While we’re on this long-winded subject of harsh truths (and consequences), yet another blow to Scott’s ego appeared on the morning of Dec. 16 when the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services announced that Florida would not be receiving the $100 million it thought it was going to get from the Race to the Top early learning challenge program. The news came just one week after Scott removed his dunce capand promised to up the ante on education spending by $1 billion in his proposed budget; it also came one year after the state received $700 million from Race to the Top in aid of public schools. What changed? Well, it looks like Scott got a little cocky, if his press-released response is to be believed.
“When Florida’s application was submitted for the grant in October, we made it clear that we would not accept grant money with strings attached, additional state spending obligations or requirements that created new, burdensome regulations on private providers,” he said, presumably curled up in a ballin a charter school rec room. “We stuck to our principles, and unfortunately our insistence against irresponsibly using one-time dollars for recurring government programs did not win the favor of the administration in Washington.”
Or, Rick Scott is an asshole who only plays by his own rules. That way he always loses. Lumps of coal for everyone!
Well, not everyone. While we werequietly cheering the public lashings of our bald public enemy No. 1, one of our other least favorite Republican rodents was getting a $500,000 promotion just in time for Christmas! On Dec. 15, former Oviedo curlicue congressman Tom Feeney – yes, the same Tom Feeney who crashed his campaign four years ago with a televised kitchen table apology for the “rookie mistake” of taking pay-for-play from perennially “disgraced lobbyist” Jack Abramoffin the form of a men’s golfing trip to Scotland (or, hookers and blow?) – was declared the new chief executive officer of the shadowy pro-business lobbying organization Associated Industries of Florida. Since the high-profile 2007 scandal scuttlebutt that involved the FBI and an awful lot of public stammering, Feeney’s been keeping himself busy doing what he knows best: playing lobbyist, via his own Liberty Team, to corporate interests like Big Sugar. Turns out that at least one of those interests, Florida Crystals, had a man (and another former legislator) sitting on AIF’s search committee to replace outgoing CEO Barney Bishop. It pays to have friends.
“[Feeney] is a proven leader and will be a tremendous asset to the association,” AIF’s board chair, Erika Alba, effused in a press release. “Having dedicated much of the last 20 years to public service, Tom knows what it takes to be effective in the halls of the Florida capitol and on Capitol Hill.”
That in and of itself is laughable, especially when you consider that Abramoff has been making the post-prison talk-show rounds with his book Capitol Punishment, taking on the “what it takes to be effective” issue with his soiled gloves off. (Answer: money.) For Feeney, being effective is going to take a little bit of a flip-flop, as the former anti-gambling crusader (he cosponsored the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) is now deep in the pockets of one of Florida’s most outspoken pro-gambling proponents, AIF. It all sort of makes sense: In a free market, political positions are the first things that are for sale. Those golf balls won’t shine themselves.
Speaking of old elephants in over-sized rooms, you may have heard that Facts of Life shark-jump (and Raising Hope’s “Maw Maw”), Cloris Leachman, personally crafted a letter on behalf of PETA to the city of Orlando last week in an attempt to get the mayor involved in stopping Ringling Bros. from forcing aging elephants to perform very slow cartwheels in the circus when it comes to town next month.
“In addition to the fact that many of the elephants are suffering from lamenessand a host of other maladies, the elephants scheduled to appear in Orlando are aging,” Leachman wrote, pointing out that Florida law, via Florida Statute section 877.16, forbids the trotting out of crippled animals for financial gain. It’s a misdemeanor! (Ringling, the letter says, has recently been fined $270,000 to settle dozens of animal welfare violations).
City spokeswoman Heather Fagan says the city is aware of the issue, and – unlike in the cases of most overzealous PETA complaints that always come in before the circus does – the city is “looking into it,” mostly because Leachman’s objection comes with enforceable specifics and slightly less hamfisted rhetoric. Well, now it seems that Orlando Venues Executive Director Allen Johnson has taken a big sip of the Ringling Yuengling.
“It is my understanding that the Ringling Bros. animal staff is dedicated to making sure all animals have an enriching and safe environment,” he wrote in a response to Leachman. “Their team of world-renowned accredited veterinarians provides 24/7 support to ensure proper treatment, well-being, health and safety of all the animals.” Also, pigs can fly, but only on Christmas. Happy holidays!