May 27, 2010

DCF: still "Destroying Children's Futures"

The Daily Business News reports that Florida's most incompetent bureaucracy is still screwing up.   And Florida's misguided decision to privatize child welfare is paying the expected dividends of ruin and despair.

Back in 2005, DCF entrusted a 10-year old boy to a company called Hillsborough Kids, who accepted responsibility for placing the child in a foster home.  But they didn't to that; they passed the child onto another company to do it.

That company placed the boy in a foster home run by a single mother, which would have been acceptable if a 13 year old boy also in the home hadn't raped him one night.

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the boy, of course.  And of course, everyone who was supposed to be watching out for this boy is now behaving reprehensibly.  The subcontractor says Hillsborough Kids is responsible.  Hillsborough Kids claims that DCF is responsible.  Their argument?  DCF is supposed to vet all the contracting agencies.
“It’s sad and a complete waste of resources when we see each blame the other or duck behind technical defenses while the innocent foster child is suffering and waiting to get help,” said Howard Talenfeld, a child advocate with Colodny Fass Talenfeld Kalinsky & Abate in Fort Lauderdale.
If the DCF is solely to blame, the child won't get more than $200,000.  That's the maximum amount allowed by law.  And let's face it, the DCF should hand that over.  This ten year old boy is pretty badly scarred in so many ways.  But the fact is that the DCF is not solely responsible; they found an ostensibly professional service that claimed it could care for the child for a fee.
Meanwhile, private contractors argue they should have immunity from large judgments just like the state despite a statute and contracts that say otherwise. Additionally, providers say they couldn’t afford rising insurance premiums and legal fees that would come with any increase in lawsuits.
Hillsborough Kids accepted responsibility for the boy's welfare.  Once they signed for him, they became the arbiters of his fate, and while their argument that the DCF should have known better  than to trust Hillsborough Kids is interesting, it still doesn't let them off the hook for their choices in the matter.  They signed on for responsibility, and then chose to pass the kid along one more time. Hilllsbrough Kids chose, not the DCF. It was their choice who to pass him along to.

They argue that they should have immunity "just like the state" because they are "acting on behalf of the state."  But they are wrong.  They are not "acting on our behalf."  They are paid to "provide a service," and when they fail to do so, and worse, when their actions cause the damage their service was supposed to prevent, they must be held accountable.

Hillsborough Kids should not only pay for their negligence in this case, they should be punished for having the gall to try to dodge that responsibility.
But providers say that’s unfair and Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon said he supports giving the contractors sovereign immunity, which could limit judgments, fearing a multimillion-dollar verdict could break them. He suggested increasing the cap on the insurance contractors are required to carry and barring judgments above that amount
Hey, George, I have a better idea: keep the kids safe in the first place, so no one will need to file lawsuits.  Otherwise, sue the crap out of these agencies, yes, break them, ruin them, put them begging on the streets.  We should not tolerate this criminal lack of oversight, and that's what you're doing when you build a business plan to allow for it.

Because we can't assign a dollar amount to a child's innocence, to their welfare.

May 26, 2010

Midwest Realty Management: A Stain on our Republic

Dawn Price wanted to honor her husband's service for his country, and show support for all the other men and women serving our country.  So she did what patriotic men and women have been doing in this country for over 200 years; she hung a US flag in her window.  It's not a behemoth, like the Star Spangled Banner, it's just a simple flag, hung inside the glass.

But according to WLUK-TV, the Oshkosh NorthWestern, and numerous other sources, her landlord took issue with this.

Midwest Realty Management, a company with its head so far up its ass that it would make Rand Paul proud, decided that First Amendment rights don't apply, and have served an eviction notice to this patriotic family. 

WTMJ spoke with a company representative:
"We just don't allow people to stick things in their window," Midwest Realty Management president Rodney Oschleger explained. "Instead of drapes or blinds, for example, we don't allow them to put sheets. We don't allow them to put flags or banners or religious or political things."

Oschleger insisted that the company’s objections are aesthetic and have
nothing to do with the message a particular flag or banner might depict.
Oh, I see, speech is free only if it is aesthetically pleasing.  So much for all those rulings from the Supreme Court.

WLUK-TV spoke with property manager Randy Rich:
"This policy was developed to insure that we are fair to everyone as we have many residents from diverse backgrounds."
Great.  MRM isn't singling out Mrs. Price's civil rights, they're trampling on the rights of every victim tenant they have. 

Midwest Realty Management needs to be informed that someone has already found a way to "fair to everyone:"  it's called the First Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights attached to the Constitution of the United States of America.  It states that everyone has the right to make statements.  Statements like hanging a flag or political or religious material in the windows of our homes for all to see.  Our founding fathers thought that this right was so important that they made it the very first right they defined.

Sadly, the fact is that the US Constitution doesn't apply to individuals.  That's right, the Bill of Rights doesn't impose any behavior on you or I; it is a set of rules for the government.  This omission leaves the jackbooted thugs at Midwest Realty Management  free to inflict their own petty tyranny on their tenants. "STFU or move the hell out."  Yes, Randy Rich and his cohorts at MRM are completely within their rights.  But that doesn't make it - or them - right. It's an affront to every American who has ever lived.  It's a slap in the face to every single one of us.

WTMJ quotes Oschleger again:
“If you drove by the property you would see four huge American flags flying throughout the complex!  We‘ve got them at the rental office, at the clubhouse, at the Brookside North area, and then another one just down the street!  Four American flags and we‘re unpatriotic?”
The problem, Rodney, is that you're reserving that right for yourself, and denying it to others.  That's not fair.  And that certainly is not patriotic.  That's why Freedom to Display the American Flag Act was passed, specifically banning real estate management organizations from doing precisely what you're doing.  It's too bad Congress didn't think to choose the word "residents" instead of "homeowners."  It's an oversight that needs to be addressed.

Since the law can't deal with the petty tyrants that call themselves Midwest Realty Management, it's up to us.  If you're local, don't do business with them.  If you do business with them, call them and let them know you're done with them.

If, like me, you're a thousand miles away, write or call to let them know what you think of a policy that runs counter to the high ideals we expect of all Americans.
Midwest Realty Management
2990 Universal Street Suite A
Oshkosh, WI 54904
fax (920) 426-2065

May 24, 2010

Fire the "Foxes"

According to the Miami Herald, the Minerals Management Service has not only been lax on safety, but lax on collecting fees for all the offshore drilling.
Even as drilling exploration increased throughout the Gulf from 2000 to 2006, the MMS reduced the number of workers in its royalty compliance office by 75 positions. Spending on royalty enforcement in the Gulf fell nearly $3 million from 2003 to 2006. And, records show, the agency is increasingly relying on information provided by the companies in collecting royalties.
- The Miami Herald
That's right, the MMS relied on the companies it was supposed to be collecting the fees from to let them know how much was owed.  Remind you of anything?

And while the MMS was issuing more drilling permits, resulting in more productive wells, the revenue from all those permits went down, and the MMS didn't even blink.

This case illustrates, once again, why we can't adapt the honor system so heartily endorsed by conservatives.  As much as the GOP, the Libertarians, and the TEA Party would like to believe otherwise, big business can't be relied on to deal honestly with anyone where profits are concerned.  Their continuing argument against reasonable regulations undermines their credibility when stories such as this keep coming to light.

It further undermines the credibility of right wing politicians like Rand Paul, who would like you to believe that incidents like the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are merely "unforseeable accidents,"  when the fact is that BP knowingly chose a less reliable but much cheaper option so it could complete the well sooner and save a few million dollars.  Now BP wants us to know that they're "doing everything we can" to clean up the spill.  Sorry, Doug, you weren't doing everything you could when it really mattered - before the rig exploded and starting pumping 70,000 barrels of oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

And they saved their money at the expense of safety while knowingly underpaying the government - US - the fair share of profits made from its other wells in the Gulf.  They were playing both ends against the middle in the name of undeservedly high profits at our expense. And the MMS let them do it.

While the Obama administration has called for re-structuring that will likely solve some of the issues, they stop short of actually solving the problem by allowing the corrupt administrators from the MMS to continue working in the new bureaucracy.  Breaking up the MMS solves nothing if criminals are simply re-distributed.

The American people deserve better - a clean sweep and a truly fresh start.

May 21, 2010

Rand Paul's Platform; Irresponsibility

In the wake of the growing disaster of BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the oil conglomerate has been harshly criticized from all corners for its lack of preparedness, sloppy procedures, and inadequate response. 

But not from Rand Paul.   According to the Associated Press, the conservative politician and tea-party darling states that everything he has heard from BP indicates to him that they intend to pay for the oil spill.

That's little consolation to the locals:
"Everything in that marsh is dead as we speak," Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said after touring the clogged marshes. "Had you fallen off that boat yesterday and come up breathing that stuff, you probably wouldn't be here, either."
Is BP really going to pay for the dead marshes?  The destroyed fishing?  The loss of tourism? The loss of the entire region's economy?  Are they - CAN they - really pay for the total impact of the oil spill?  Remember, it's not just Louisiana.  It's not even just the coast line of the Gulf; that oil has entered the Gulf Stream.  They may wind up scrubbing beaches in Ireland.

Not only is Paul satisfied with BP's response, he thinks they should not be held responsible for the 70,000 barrels of oil a day being pumped into the Gulf of Mexico.
"...I think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be somebody's fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen..."
I guess Rand believes that BP accidentally decided to drill in deep water with inadequate equipment.  It's not like they didnt' know that wells can blow up.  It's not like they didn't know that a broken well-head on ocean floor would need to be plugged.  If you know that something is likely to happen and that you should prepare for it, how is it an accident when it happens?

But there's more; his views did not begin with BP and the oil spill:
"We had a mining accident that was very tragic. ... Then we come in and it's always someone's fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen"
Here's the thing, Rand; accidents are when you have no way of foreseeing the incident, let alone prevent it.  It's not an accident when you were not only aware it might happen, but you were told 31 times that what you were doing was going to cause it to happen.  In fact, the coal mine operator he's referring to had been cited 2,973 times in five years for their gross safety violations.
"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'" Rand said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America." "I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."
This oil spill wasn't an accident; it was an inevitable event that BP failed to adequately plan for, and the  damage will ultimately be far beyond the scope of BP's ability to "pay for" it.  Ultimately, because BP didn't ensure that they had the ability to cap the well in the event of an emergency, millions of Americans are going to suffer the consequences; fishermen who've lost their livelihood, restaurants who sold the fish,  resort communities that relied on beach-going tourists, and all the taxpayers who will have to pick up the tab when BP inevitably falls short.

In 1989, an Exxon tanker spilled its guts 21 years ago.  The Exxon Valdez spilled 20,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound, and they are still cleaning it up; the herring fishery has never returned - and that industry has been destroyed.  Exxon threw some money at them, but it didn't return their livelihood.

The lowest estimates of oil spewing into the Gulf put it at 5,000 barrels per day, but that number has been disputed, with some experts stating the amount is closer to 70,000 barrels a day.  So at best, every four days since the oil rig exploded has matched the Valdez disaster, or every single day has nearly quadrupled it  Either way, this disaster is several magnitudes greater than the Alaskan spill.

BP can't "pay for" this oil spill; no one can.

And if Rand Paul think's it's "un-American" to point that out, then he's not much of an American.

May 9, 2010

BBQ for Breakfast

Well, not literally.  Well, yes, actually.  Literally.

I usually head for the counter at The Floridian for a leisurely Sunday breakfast over the Sunday paper, but this week my timing was off, and the counter was full of people.  And not just full of people, but full of people reading menus.  Not really a situation where you just wait for someone to finish and pay.

With a line of people waiting for tables,  I got in my car, planning to drive over to Lester's - and not enthusiastically.  Lester's is great for breakfast, but always packed.  And this, being Mother's Day, was likely to be more packed than usual.  So as I came up on 17th Street and US 1, I remembered that Ernie's is owned by the same people that own The Floridian.  And here's the good part - they DO serve breakfast!

So I pulled into the nearly empty lot.

Inside, there were only a few tables seated.  But I decided to stick it out, and took a seat.  A waitress gives me a menu, and brings me a cup of coffee.  So far, so good.

Right off the bat, you see that the menu is much smaller than diner across town, but that's to be expected; after all, the Floridian is a diner, and Ernie's is a BBQ joint. Some of The Floridian's signature omelettes are on the menu, as well as other basic breakfast fare.  But management wisely chose to play to the kitchen's strengths, and you can have BBQ for breakfast.  I ordered the pulled pork barbecue omelet, with home fries.

The coffee was better than The Floridian's.  It was a little bit stronger and more flavorful.  Perhaps, as a BBQ joint, they don't serve as much coffee so the machine is cleaner.  Whatever, it was a pretty good cuppa.

At the next table, the waitress was explaining to the couple that Ernie's had been serving breakfast for some time, but it hasn't really taken off.  "We had a banner, for awhile," she said, "but it blew away, and we went through a lot of turnover i the kitchen, so it was inconsistent, so no one wanted to push it, I guess."  But then she added "but now we've got this really good cook back there, and things have really improved!"

And I agree.

The homefries were a hundred times better than The Floridian's, and maybe 10 times better than Lester's.  They were firm, moist without being mushy, and perfectly browned on a couple of facets, just like ma used to make.  My only complaint would be that the portions are smaller than the diners' portions, but hey, we don't really need that many carbs on the plate. 

The omelet came with a small bowl of Ernie's BBQ sauce on the side, so I could season it to taste.  It was savory, with small chunks of onion and tomato, and a hint of pepper that reminded me a little of the conch chowder they are known for.  But it's a big honkin' serving, and I just couldn't finish the whole thing, although I really wanted to.

I did not think to ask if the rooftop patio was open for breakfast service.

Like The Floridian, Ernie's BBQ is part of what I like to call "Travis McGee's Fort Lauderdale."  Founded in 1957, Travis McGee - or at least author John D. McDonald - might well have stopped in for dinner at some point.  I'll have to re-read the books to see if a BBQ joint crops up at some point.

Ernie's opens for breakfast at 7am, 7 days a week. 

May 6, 2010

The Go-Gos "Get Up and Go"

I know what you're thinking:

"The Go-Go's are still together?!?"

Apparently so, but not for long.

According to their website ("The Go-Go's have a website?!?"), they'll be launching their farewell tour (called, appropriately enough, Happily Ever After: The Farewell Tour!) on July 7, 2010 in San Diego.

It looks like the closest they'll be getting to us is Tampa, on July 10.