Tag Archives: Florida

A Special Place in Hell

On August 16, 2022, a United States Senator representing Florida published an “open letter” to “American Job Seeker.” The letter purports to address grievances about the planned hiring of 87,000 new employees for the Internal Revenue Service. In keeping with Scott’s general method of operation, the letter is replete with lies, distortions, and deflections. A U.S. Senator addressing the legislation he’s complaining about should know better. I believe he does and that his mendacity is deliberate. Donald Trump will be happy with him, though, so in Senator RIck Scott’s mind, he is fine with lying, distorting, and deflecting. Let’s have a closer look.

First, Scott decries the “labor participation rate” that he says the Biden administration has caused “to drop to historic lows.” That is a gross distortion at best and a bald-faced lie at worst.

The labor participation rate is the percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work. A casual look at Labor Department data would have shown Scott that the rate has remained within a percentage point or so of the level during Trump’s administration. https://bit.ly/3SZT71u Except, of course, for the big dip in 2020 caused by, you will recall, Trump’s grotesque mishandling of the pandemic. In July 2022 the rate was only .3 below the level when Biden was inaugurated. Oh, by the way, Florida, Scott’s state, ranks among the lowest states in LPR. Also, by the way, the national unemployment rate was 3.5% in July 2022, exactly where it was in February 2020, just before the pandemic struck. By most standards that unemployment rate is considered “full employment.”

Scott then says, “I write to you today to offer a few things for you to consider as you continue your job search.” Ah, job hunting advice from a professional politician from Florida, a man whom Wikipedia describes this way:

During his tenure as chief executive, the company [Columbia/HCA, then the largest private for-profit healthcare company] defrauded Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs. The Department of Justice ultimately fined the company $1.7 billion in what was at the time the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

Scott has two messages: (1) expansion of the IRS workforce is a threat to Americans and when Republicans get control of Congress in the fall elections, they will remove the funding for these jobs; therefore, don’t waste your time applying; (2) the original job posting indicated the new IRS employees would be armed and one of their “major duties” was to be prepared to kill your neighbors and friends.

That deliberately misinformed and childish hysteria is plainly designed to frighten ordinary Americans. Scott goes on to refer to an “IRS super-police force” that will not only audit your taxes (that you are required by law to pay — remember, Scott is in the party of “law and order”) but directly suggests a mob of armed government employees will kill you if you don’t pay up.

This is the face of the modern Republican Party that uses the rhetoric of government running wild to frighten Americans into believing that a utopian and authoritarian solution is their only safeguard. The reality is quite different.

Lower taxes are, first, a lie. Republicans only lower taxes for the very wealthy. Ordinary Americans see little of the oft-promised tax cuts. Trump’s oft-toted big tax cut went almost entirely to the wealthy and increased the federal deficit by a huge amount. While promising to eviscerate the government, Republicans also promise stronger borders, a more powerful military, and more efficiency – all for less money! The Republican Party is the modern version of the snake oil salesman – buy my elixir and enjoy good health for life! Nothing to it. Something for nothing.

Let’s look more closely at Scott’s hysterical claims. He uses transparent techniques. All caps on “$80 BILLION.” He then compares the resulting IRS work force to the combined employment of four familiar federal agencies: Pentagon, FBI, Customs and Border Protection, and the State Department.  If his original claim of doubling the size of the IRS was accurate, then this might be true even if totally pointless. But it is not. The IRS is not going to hire 87,000 new employees in one year. So, Scott’s workforce comparisons are just more distortions/lies.

The more important question is: what will the new employees be doing that is good for America? Senator Scott doesn’t want you to know about that. Here’s why.

The IRS’s budget has been cut by nearly 20 percent since 2010, impacting the agency’s ability to staff up and modernize half-century-old technology. In 2010, the IRS had about 94,000 employees. That number dipped to about 78,000 employees in 2021. Some of the agency’s computers still run on COBOL, a programming language that dates back to the 1960s. Since 2010, the agency’s enforcement staff has declined by 30 percent, according to IRS officials, and audit rates for the wealthiest taxpayers have seen the biggest declines because of years of underfunding. [https://bit.ly/3K8AzIp]

So, if you’re fine with wealthy tax cheats getting away with under-paying taxes, you’ll appreciate Senator Scott’s gross deception. Otherwise, well, you’ll recognize that you can’t run the government on thoughts and prayers Republicans like to send when your school children are slaughtered with AR-15’s they refuse to restrain.

Speaking of that, Senator Scott also wants you believe that the IRS auditors are going to shoot you. Another lie. Fewer than 3% of IRS employees are Special Agents who carry weapons. Why do they? Because they are law enforcement personnel in the IRS Criminal Investigation unit. They investigate criminal tax violations and other financial crimes such as money laundering, bank secrecy, national security, and national defense matters.

While we’re still on violence, Senator Scott should know that anti-government, anti-worker statements have inspired violent attacks on federal employees in the past. There are now reports of one Republican candidate advocating shooting federal employees, including IRS employees, “on sight.” When you add these incitements to violence against federal employees carrying out Congressionally mandated duties to Republican indifference to the slaughter of school children with automatic weapons they refuse to regulate, you have the perfect storm of a political party advocating violence against its opponents and the government.

Senator Scott’s letter is a dangerous collection of gross distortions and outright lies. This man cannot be trusted. Florida should send him packing (no pun) as soon as possible.

Norwegian Cruise Line Fights the Right Fight Against Ignorance

The case is Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd., et al. Plaintiffs, vs. Scott Rivkees, M.D., Defendant, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The opinion was written by U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Williams acting on the Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The defendant is the Surgeon General of Florida and the head of the Florida Department of Health.

The lawsuit was brought to enable Norwegian to protect its customers to the maximum extent possible in the face of directives from the Republican “small government” Governor of Florida who has forbidden cruise lines operating there on international itineraries to require use of face masks, vaccinations and proof of vaccinations.

Judge Williams’ thorough and carefully crafted 59-page opinion grants the plaintiff’s motion. This allows Norwegian to establish its own COVID health protocols, including requiring proof of vaccination as a condition for cruising. The opinion skewers the defense for its failure to present evidence on key issues. While it’s always tempting to blame this on the lawyers, the reality in this case is that the evidence for the defense simply doesn’t exist. The state’s attempt to prevent cruise lines from adopting safe health standards is a political maneuver, not a rational health policy decision with demonstrable roots in local health needs or medical science.

Judge Williams’ opinion should stand up well in the appeal that Governor DeSantis, known on Twitter as #DeathSantis, has announced he will file. DeSantis’ statement about the case included this gem, “A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone’s speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information.”

That suggests the good governor did not read the District Judge’s opinion or lacks understanding of the legal principles involved. His lack of awareness extends to the growing public support for “vaccine passports,” and he is also unaware of federal ventilator resources sent to his state by the federal government to help relieve the crisis caused by the Delta Variant and his refusal to recognize the challenges it poses. Delta threatens to overwhelm the health facilities of multiple, mainly southern, states, including Florida, that have largely ignored the danger still posed by COVID-19. Florida’s governor is earning his moniker as #DeathSantis every day.

Norwegian Cruise Line is on the right side of health science, health policy and rational business behavior. Kudos to NCL’s management for standing up to the Florida Governor’s rejection of all of those as he plays to his right-wing political audience, the same base that thrives on adoration of Donald Trump (you remember him, speaking about Democrats: “the virus is their new hoax.”)

In an op-ed in TravelMarketReport, https://bit.ly/2VKcfri, way back in October 2020, long before anyone had heard of the Delta Variant, I argued that the path to travel industry recovery required restoration of consumer confidence but that the path then in play was more chaos than order. I suggested an approach that, in those troubled times, I thought might work:

I suggest that the atomization of the industry’s approach must be replaced with an across-the-board cooperative regime of joint decision-making to which individual firms commit to total compliance for a significant period into the future. For example, and as a great beginning, the cruise industry players (of which there are relatively few independent entities) have undertaken a collective effort to establish firm rules about how ships will be sanitized, how masking and social distancing will be applied and so on. Obviously, the science behind this is still evolving, but much is already known about how to manage indoor environments. I believe that the new rules should be vetted with a representative sample of cruise travelers to evaluate whether the rules are understandable, practical and reassuring. The likely outcome is not a return to full-on unlimited cruising and many economic challenges will remain. The concept is not a cure-all but an attempt to establish a common and trustable arrangement that will permit business to resume on some scale.

Call me a dreamer if you like. We are not close to what I had envisioned. Nowhere is this clearer than in the battle Norwegian Cruise Line is fighting, alone, with Florida. Downloadable CDC data for Florida, from August 6, paints a grim picture. https://bit.ly/3lU94rX This will not deter Florida’s governor from resisting science and common sense as he continues his efforts to stop the cruise lines from using the best defenses available to control the virus and resume safe cruising.

The chaos will thus continue for a while longer. I am confident Norwegian Cruise Line will continue the fight and hopefully will succeed, however long it takes.

 

 

 

Faux Election Integrity Fever Identified in Texas & Florida

Like coronavirus, “Faux Election Integrity Fever” (hereafter “FEIF 2021”) moves quickly across state lines and attacks Republicans with a vengeance. In this case the evidence indicates that Georgia’s sudden post-election awakening to the realities of demographic change and resistance to racism (see https://bit.ly/3njQqbC and https://bit.ly/3aGt0rQ) has morphed into a collection of proposed voter suppression legislation in Texas and Florida.

The odd thing is that Trump won 2020 Texas handily and the state’s two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, are among Trump’s most devoted sycophants. Cruz in particular is an avid member of the Sedition Caucus that voted to overturn the 2020 election and hand it to Donald Trump as, in effect, Dictator of the United States. So what is going on with the Texas variant to FEIF 2021?

Trump also won Florida — by more than 370,000 votes, split largeyn,ly by urban (Biden) and non-urban (Trump) preferences. Florida also sports two Trump shills in Senators Rubio and Rick Scott.

Disclosure: I am relying on published reports regarding the content of the legislation that, based on past experience, are highly reliable sources for such information. Texas GOP Targets Access for City Voters [print headline 4/25/21] https://nyti.ms/3gls1vc and Florida Legislature OKs Bill That Limits Voting By Mail, Ballot Drop Boxes, https://n.pr/2RgSnte 

The NY Times online report regarding Texas notes:

Republicans Target Voter Access in Texas Cities, but Not Rural Areas

In Houston, election officials found creative ways to help a struggling and diverse work force vote in a pandemic. Record turnout resulted. Now the G.O.P. is targeting those very measures.

The NPR report indicates many of the Florida provisions are similar to those recently adopted in Georgia.

Defenders of these bills argue that they include some provisions that make voting easier and more secure. The problem is that there are other provisions that either make voting harder or create the danger that Republicans, motivated as they have shown regarding the 2020 election to overturn important election losses, will use the tools contained in the legislation to simply override the voters’ choices in the future. This is not fantasy.

Given that (1) there is no credible evidence of voter fraud in any of the states where Trump challenges were mounted, (2) these states all had highly detailed vote regulatory laws in place before the new legislation, (3) these are states where 2020 turnout set records, creating (4) reasonable doubts that the Republican-controlled legislatures’ real goal is to enable even great turnout in the future. No, the most reasonable inference is that the huge turnouts in 2020 that resulted in Trump’s defeat have led not to sudden enthusiasm to increase Democratic opportunities going forward but have inspired renewed efforts to suppress Democratic voting in future elections.

These areas of focus are more than a little curious, considering certain other facts about Texas and Florida that one might think would be the real subjects of interest by the governing bodies of those states.

For example, Texas ranks 36th nationally in per-student education spending. While some conflicts exist about the exact amounts spent, https://bit.ly/2S8gyuz, the real losers in the squabbling over the state’s stinginess are the students. As for the mothers of those students,

While maternal mortality is decreasing in most countries, maternal death rates in the U.S. have been increasing and Texas is recognized as having the highest maternal death rate in the country. Texas’ own study on maternal deaths indicates that Texas’ rates have nearly doubled in recent years.

[https://www.texmed.org/MMM/]

U.S. News https://bit.ly/3noOXRc ranks Texas in these categories among the states:

Health Care – No. 31

Education – No.34

Opportunity – No. 39

Economic Opportunity – No. 40

Equality – No. 45

Crime & Corrections – 37

Natural Environment — 40

Population without Health Insurance

                   Texas 24.5 %

                  National Average 12.9 %

And that’s despite having the nation’s 9th largest economy and net inbound population growth, due, it is reported, to little regulation, low taxes and low labor costs.

The Florida story is similar. Despite its famously aged population, Florida ranks:

Health Care                25

Infrastructure            20

Opportunity               33

Crime & Corrections  26

Florida ranks 3rd in Education, driven, however, by the large higher education establishments. It’s only 16th in PreK-12.

You would think that with those standings, the governing parties would be focused on more than just voter suppression but apparently not.

Much of the Republican hullabaloo about voting has no factual or logical foundation. Putting aside the absence of meaningful evidence of voter fraud (all this legislation is directed at a non-existent problem), if you can file taxes online, then why not voting online?  Maybe we need to reconsider leaving all this to the states. Maybe, just maybe, the federal government could do a better job of securing voting systems under a well-crafted legislative plan.  Surely there is a way to do this safely. And, if not, then why not establish through federal legislation a uniform system of manual voting that affects everyone the same way across the country?

Beyond actual voting, why is there a concern that sending out absentee ballot applications, or real ballots, to everyone is a problem, given that voting is highly regulated with detailed checking and matching of ballots to registrations before votes are counted?  Why are drive-through voting sites a problem? In many places you can get a COVID vaccination at a drive-through. And millions routinely do bank transactions at drive-through windows. What is the problem, other than the fact that these practices make it easier for more people to vote?