Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mayberry with rail

A while back, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe tweeted this dreamy video from 2009 touting the wonders of light rail for Kansas City.  Just get light rail, relax, and all your troubles will go away.

It starts off with an animated scene of a commute from home to the bank, post office, work, lunch, groceries, and gas.

As if that's all we do.

We could add drop kids off at multiple schools, then drop them off at multiple after school activities, go to the gym, the cleaners, shopping, the vet, the drugstore, visit friends, a park... No two days are the same.

Who goes to the post office or bank any more?

Why is it a bad thing to freely move about and visit multiple business on your own schedule, wherever they may be?

"Limited walkability", they say.  Limited numbers of people walk these days, I say.  Especially walking with a weeks supply of groceries.  In Tampa.  In the summer storms.  Dreamy.

"The average resident spends 6 weeks a year in a car", they say.

"Independence, some time in the future".  It's implied independence from driving your personal automobile.

In the future, all will be much better.  You'll be spending even more than 6 weeks waiting for the rail, and waiting for transfers, and walking to your final destination (there's some unlimited walkability), than driving.  See, those rail things, they go where they rail goes, when the rail goes, not when you go, nor where you want to go.  There are few cars "sometime in the future".

Do you have a light rail station planned for your driveway?

"What would your life be like  in 2020 with alternate forms of transit?"  See, it will "draw development together", they say.  That bank, grocery, post office, lunch, etc. all miraculously will move along the rail.

What about my bank?  It's not there.  I may have to take the rail.

Wait, rail doesn't go there in 2020.  But we have a plan for 2040!

Parking lots are built over for new development.

Who will now drive into the planned development zone if they can't take that government approved light rail that won't be in their in neighborhood until 2040 and there's nowhere to park?

But downtown now is beautiful.  You can walk, you can ride a bike, it has trees, it has beautiful people, single lane roads and manicured medians, and handsome old men and sidewalk cafes.  It does not have lots of people, its not too crowded.  Not too much hustle and bustle... don't want it to be too busy and noisy and disturb the mixed used development residents, with pre-planned ratios of seniors and cool young adults.

Exciting?  Not exactly.

No rail video would be complete without obligatory references to green roofs (not too many backyards I guess), solar panels, and healthy living.  Sustainability for the environment, it is the right thing do.

In this dreamy world, no one ever is waiting on the rail.  Or getting off.  Or getting on.

"Independence?"  For who?  Sometime in the future?

If anything, its a new dependence -- on a transit system. It's schedule, not your schedule. It's destinations, not your destinations.  Rail planners master plans, not your personal plans.

Of course, they never mention costs or funding for their plans for sometime in the future. As if its a dream.

All that's missing is Floyd the barber, Juanita at the diner, and Andy and Barney keeping the streets free and clear.  And sustainable costs or funding.  As if it's magic.

Just like taking us back to our dreamy home town America.


With rail.

UPDATE:  I should note that Kansas City rejected light rail in 2008, but they are ever persistent since this video is from 2009, and they recently were granted TIGER funding for a 2 mile streetcar with stops about every 2 blocks.  More limited walkability.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The New Tipper Gore?

Here at the Eye we agree that today our country has a huge culture problem which has de-sensitized our society to violence.  This debasement of our culture must be addressed.  Chris Ingram, who has a blog the Irreverant View and a title of Republican political consultant, writes an Op-Ed in today's Tribune railing against a video game.  His premise:
If there is ever something to get fired up about, or if you ever wondered why we're raising a morally tone-dead generation of citizens, take a look at the recently released video game Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5).
Grand Theft Auto 5 - Rated M for over 17 years of age
The Eye agrees that violent and morally bankrupt video games are a problem. The Eye's household never allowed video games so our children never had the opportunity to get addicted to them.  

However, Ingram conflates his rant against this video game with the recent grassroots uproar over Common Core (CC).  Maybe Ingram will interview some teachers in Hillsborough County who are now trying to implement CC in elementary grades and some parents who have children in those classrooms before flippantly stating
the tea party needed to do something to appear legitimate so it got worked up about Common Core
Well....we  will note that CC appears to be the ObamaCare for education - a one size fits all national education program that is being forced on us by our government.  Sure seems like an issue that's a natural fit for the Tea Party to get "worked up about".  

Much of the angst against CC started with parents. Parents cannot opt out of CC and Common Core entrenches the federal government smack in the middle of educating our children. When was the last time the federal government became less intrusive once its entrenched? Now there's multitudes of organizations across the country that oppose CC and they represent a broad group of Americans. Below are some links Ingram and others may find of interest regarding Common Core:
Common Core is a bi-partisan issue that those on the left and right and in the middle oppose.  They all agree that Common Core destroys local control of our education.   Miami Herald recently reported:.
“It’s not just the Tea Party that’s skeptical of the Common Core,” said Bonnie Cunard, a Fort Myers teacher who manages the Facebook page for the 1,200 Florida BATs. “We on the left, like the folks on the right, are saying we want local control.” 
The BATs represent a new wave of liberal opposition to the Common Core standards, which includes some union leaders, progressive activists and Democratic lawmakers. They are joining forces with Tea Party groups and libertarians, who want states like Florida to slow down efforts to adopt the new benchmarks and corresponding tests.

Read more here:
If CC was such a great thing, this tsunami of opposition from teachers, teacher unions, parents, other educators, politicians, Tea Partiers, Republicans, Democrats, Think Tanks and so many others would not have happened. Those left supporting CC are the bureaucrats and the special interests (and some politicians) who will benefit from spending millions of tax dollars on a curriculum that has had ZERO success.  

Ingram has a valid point about the explicit video games. Back in 1985, Tipper Gore, wife of then Tennessee Senator Al Gore, got very upset and concerned about some music lyrics she heard her daughter, 11 years old at the time, was listening to.  She was so upset that she co-founded that year with Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary Howard Baker, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC).  The goal of the PMRC
to increase parental control over the access of children to music deemed to be violent, have drug use or be sexual via labeling albums with Parental Advisory stickers
The PMRC suggested a voluntary move by the RIAA and the music industry to develop "guidelines and/or a rating system" similar to the MPAA film rating system.
The Senate held hearings on September 19, 1985 where Tipper and others testified. Nineteen record companies agreed to put Parental Advisory stickers that came to be known as "Tipper Stickers" on record covers warning of explicit lyrics. But then what happened?  Tipper got "gored" by many in her own Democrat party.  She shut up because almost all of Hollywood gives their political money to the Democrats and the Liberal Democrat establishment railed against her with freedom of speech issues.

However, the result of the PMRC effort was that in 1985 the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) worked with the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA)
to address their concerns regarding explicit content in sound recordings.  The organizations reached an agreement that certain music releases containing explicit lyrics, including explicit depictions of violence and sex, would be identified so parents could make intelligent listening choices for their children.
Public opinion pushed the industry to provide information so parents can responsibly deal with this issue with their children. Today the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB)  provides information regarding the content in video games and apps. The ESRB content rating for GTA5 is Mature:  
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
And here is the entire rating summary for this explicit video game.  

What parent would want this video game anywhere near their child?  But parents need to be parents and take the responsibility to pay attention and know what music or video games their own children are playing. Children should be governed the most by those who are closest to them - parents and the family unit. Parents must say no and teach their own kids to not buy this stuff - make it unmarketable. 

Yes, violent and sexually explicit videos are harmful to our kids. Instead of ridiculing those who oppose Common Core, Ingram could have been the "New Tipper Gore" and linked to the ESRB rating summary for GTA5; then asked "where are the parents"?

And maybe Ingram will tune in to the upcoming Cato Institute Common Core:  The Great Debate on October 3rd.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Can Nelson handle the Truth about ObamaCare?

We have all been wondering Where in the world is Senator Bill Nelson on ObamaCare Now?   We've heard crickets from him as issues swirl all around it's implementation. Apparently our local media isn't curious either but we know you are.

Well, in November 2012, Senator Nelson sent out this letter that stated
Let's be clear:  If you have health insurance now, you can keep it. 
Members of Congress did not exempt themselves from any part of this law. 
Senator Nelson response re: ObamaCare
Fast forward to 2013 and today.  

We have watched Obama unilaterally and unconstitutionally decide what parts, and when, of the ObamaCare law Obama signed he will enforce. We have watched as special interests and special groups, as well as Congress, carved out their own ObamaCare exemptions.  We have watched as UPS dropped 15,000 spouses from their employer healthcare.  We have watched as employees of Walgreens and other companies, as well as retirees of IBM, will no longer have the healthcare plans they currently have, but will be moved into healthcare exchanges.  We have watched company after company after company reduce employee hours to part time 29 hours a week to avoid the pain of ObamaCare.  We have watched as our economy is now turning into the ObamaCare economy of part time workers.  Even the unions are mad as they see ObamaCare is destructive to their own self-interests and what Americans have always understood as a normal full time job - the 40 hour work week.  We now know Nelson's statement in 2012 that those who currently have health insurance can keep it with ObamaCare is absolutely false.  What does Senator Nelson say to those who are losing the health insurance they currently have?  Does he care?

And yes the political elites in Congress and their staff did get their own exemption as Senator David Vitter explains 
“As you have no doubt read, President Obama recently issued a special rule for Congress only. Under it, Congress and congressional staff get a special subsidy to purchase health insurance on the Obamacare Exchange unavailable to every other American at similar income levels,” he said. “That special subsidy is worth approximately $11,000 per family."
and Vitter graphically exposes.
ObamaCare exemption for Congress
A majority of Floridians have always opposed ObamaCare. In fact, a greater percentage oppose it today since we now know what's in it than when the totally partisan ObamaCare bill passed in 2010 (thru a corrupt process of back room deals). But where is Senator Nelson now?  He's Missing In Action on ObamaCare!

Recently Nelson aide Lisa Marshall in Nelson's Orlando office adamantly said Nelson believes "Everything is ready for October 1".  Really?  Is ObamaCare even ready for Prime Time?  Americans are worried about the security and privacy issues with the ObamaCare implementation and this Weekly Standard article confirms our worries.
An ObamaCare exchange employee in Minnesota accidentally sent out an email containing 2400 American's Social Security numbers.
“Users of the exchange will need to provide sensitive information, including Social Security numbers, that will be sent to a federal hub to verify such things as citizenship and household income…. 
“All states and the federal government, which also is setting up exchanges for some states, are scurrying to get the complex system running in less than three weeks. 
“‘The people who believe in this are so driven that there’s a subcontext of “Just let us do our job and get as many people signed up as possible, and we’ll pick up the debris later,”’ said Steve Parente, a University of Minnesota finance professor who specializes in health IT issues. 
“Parente testified on Capitol Hill earlier this week, urging caution in pushing the federal hub online before it has been thoroughly tested.The Star Tribune reports that the recipient of the mishandled privacy data was applying to become an Obamacare “navigator."
And get this - there's no validation in place for eligibility for the subsidies so we're all on the honor waste, no fraud there I'm sure. 

So what is going to happen in Florida to health insurance premiums?  According to this AP article
Florida's insurance officials are predicting that health insurance rates will rise 5 to 20 percent for small businesses and 30 to 40 percenin the individual market through the state's new exchange.  
Wait, Hold on....Obama promised us that Americans would save families $2500 a year.   But Forbes wrote this today:
the experts working for Medicare’s actuary have (yet again[1]) reported that in its first 10 years, Obamacare will boost health spending by “roughly $621 billion” above the amounts Americans would have spent without this misguided law.
Between 2014 and 2022, the increase in national health spending (which the Medicare actuaries specifically attribute to the law) amounts to $7,450 per family of 4.
ObamaCare cost per family
In addition, the Cleveland Clinic, the very model that Obama touted in 2009, is cutting it's budget by $300 million due to ObamaCare - that means thousands of jobs lost too. What does Senator Nelson say to those losing their jobs, about company layoffs or companies not hiring simply because of ObamaCare?  Does he care? 

We speculate Senator Nelson and the Democrats are quietly sitting on the side lines anxiously waiting for the taxpayer subsidies to start flowing, hopeful that once they flow they will never stop.  Senator Nelson is being allowed to sit quietly because the media refuses to confront him about the ObamaCare train wreck he helped create. But with $17 Trillion of direct debt, our other entitlements Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security approaching life support, health insurance premiums going up, do you think the ObamaCare subsidies are even sustainable?  

But lo and behold federal flood insurance rates are going up just like health care premiums.  Federal flood insurance affects about 2% or 2 million Floridians while ObamaCare affects all 20 million of us in Florida. And guess who wants to delay any increase in federal flood insurance rates?

None other than Senator Bill Nelson.  Now the Tribune did catch up with Nelson to report on his position on flood insurance rates.  

But where in the world is Senator Nelson on ObamaCare now?  Don't you think it's about time our local media asked him?  Nelson's constituents want to know.  

Or is Nelson getting a "free media pass" on ObamaCare?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Deceptions on transit solutions don't help

As transportation nerds, particularly as it affects Tampa Bay, we try to keep on top of the latest messaging from the pro-transit fronts.  Whatever you're position is on transit, and we're not anti-transit as long as there  is transparency and truth about the projects, particularly on their costs, funding and ridership revenues.  But the proponents do themselves no good when they are deceptive in their messaging. Here's a couple of a cases in point.

Recently, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) decided to fight transit foes with a series of infographics, which got some wide spread "see, we told you so" from some local transit proponents.  Unfortunately, these "infographics" are extremely misleading or downright lies. Let's take a look at a couple of them:

CATS Infographic ridership claims
CATS is stating that transit foes believe the initial rider projections are inflated, yet Charlotte actually achieved a 53% increase over its initial projects.  Who's right?

Well, Baruch Feigenbaum at actually looked at some numbers.
Supposed Myth According to CATS: Light rail ridership projections are inflated.
CATS claim: Charlotte’s light rail ridership for the opening year was 53% over forecast.
Reality: Long-term light rail ridership projections for Charlotte are inflated.
How CATS spun this: CATS actually released three different ridership figures. When it submitted the proposal to the federal government, it submitted a ridership forecast of 25,700. Then, after it received federal funding, it revised its forecast downward to 18,100. Finally, before the line opened it revised its forecast downward again to 9,100. Since, CATS used the 25,700 number to get federal funding, that is the correct number to use in calculations. To be charitable we calculated the percentages for the 18,100 figure as well.

Light rail ridership for the opening year was 30% under the official forecast and 8% over the revised forecast. Light rail ridership today is 47% under the official forecast and 25% under the revised forecast.

According to calculations from the National Transit Database, at the end of its first full year LYNX ridership averaged 19,700 daily riders. However, the forecast the agency provided to the federal government for funding indicated 25,700 weekday riders. And the agency’s revised forecast of 18,100 is similar to LYNX’s best year.

How did LYNX get the 53% over figure? It used rail ridership forecasts for the opening year of 9,100 riders, which the agency deliberately low-balled to make ridership look high.
Looks like someone was cooking the books.

Here's another:
Another misleading infographic from Charlotte
CATS claims:
[This] infographic opposes the belief that LYNX carries fewer people than a single lane of Interstate 77. One lane of I-77 through Charlotte moves, on average, about 2,200 travelers in a single hour. In contrast, LYNX can carry anywhere from 3,120 to 6,240 people an hour, depending on headways and number of cars to a train.
This obviously an apples and oranges comparison.  Its comparing the average of a single lane of I-77, which I assume has multiple lanes that are already well traveled, to a fully utilized light rail, which, like roads, are not always highly utilized.  Furthermore,
CATS Claim: One lane of I-77 can move 2,200 people per hour, LYNX could transport 6,240 people per hour.
Reality: Charlotte light rail carries far fewer people than a lane of I-77. For every passenger the LRT line moves, I-77 moves 5.7.
How CATS spun this: Of all CATS’ claims this comes the closest to being an outright lie. According to transit consultant Tom Rubin, on a weekday CATS currently carries approximately 4,054 passengers per directional route mile while I-77 moves approximately 23,471. According to basic math 23,471 is a lot larger than 4,054.

CATS further assumes total occupancy of 236 to justify its claim. It also assumes that trains will expand to 3 cars. But the current 2-car trains are underutilized so why would it expand them to three? Accepting the 3 car trains, this would require squeezing passengers into cars like sardines, something that works in China but will never work in Charlotte. And the high number of passengers will decrease the number of trains per hour that operate since full trains take longer to load and unload. (I realize Charlotte does not have experience with really full trains but that's how it works in New York City and Washington D.C. where they do.)
Do the transit proponents not think this through?  They're not really helping themselves.

You can read more of the takedown from Reason on CATS here.

But they're not the only one.

Recently, the Hillsborough MPO and ConnectTB tweeted this.
Curious, we had to look at the link.   It's from, a public transit advocacy group.  Turns out the source of much of this data is from a 2009 study, American Public Transport Association (APTA) Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment.  APTA is a lobbying group, and is paid to promote the transit industry.

Some of the statements on the "fact sheet" include:
  • Every $1 billion invested in public transportation capital and operations creates and supports an average of 36,000 jobs.
  • Federal investment provides more than $10 billion annually for public transportation. This investment creates jobs and helps transit systems meet the demand for public transit services.
  • For every $1 invested in public transportation, $4 is generated in economic returns. Every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation can return up to $30 million in business sales alone.
  • An individual can achieve an average annual savings of more than $9,700 by taking public transportation instead of driving and by living with one less car.
  • etc. etc.
There is not a single citation in the "fact sheet".  But let's apply some sniff tests.
  • Every $1 billion invested in public transportation capital and operations creates and supports an average of 36,000 jobs.
What does "create and support" mean?  There is no definition for "support" of a job.  Is it supporting a job if someone takes transit to work?  What if they are able to take other modes of transportation?  Is that still support?  If somebody buys a hot dog from a vendor near a rail station, does that count?  What kind of jobs are we talking about, anyway?

Here in Tampa Bay, we were ground zero for the Florida High Speed Rail debate, which Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected in 2011.  The route was 84 miles from Tampa to Orlando, with 5 stops, and really, not so high speed, but that's another story.  The costs estimates were around $2.5B.
High speed rail
How many jobs were being projected?  The media was citing 20,000 jobs over and over, and some up to 60,000 jobs. That seemed like a lot to me, so I checked the Florida DOT site (since taken down), and the real numbers?  20,000 job years, over the construction of the HSR, with a peak year construction of 8,000 jobs (Politifact cites 10,000, but I recall the DOT numbers).  So not really 20,000 jobs.

What was Florida DOT forecasting for ongoing jobs post construction?  500.  

Just a little off that 36,000.

Charlotte should be happy.  They're spending $1.2B for 9.3 miles of light rail for the second leg of the Lynx, so they'll be creating and supporting over 36,000 jobs, right?  It's obviously a good thing for Charlotte I'm told, whose unemployment rate is 9.5% as of July 2013, and they already have light rail.  Hillsborough County should be so lucky, as we only have a an unemployment rate of 7.1%, and we don't have light rail.  How can that be?

Over the last several years, many municipalities have invested in light rail systems -- Denver, Charlotte, Seattle, Portland, Austin, St. Louis, ... Yet we still have high unemployment.  How can that be?

They should be "creating and supporting" some kind of jobs, right?

Lets's take on another:
  • An individual can achieve an average annual savings of more than $9,700 by taking public transportation instead of driving and by living with one less car.
Fine, sell your car, take transit, and you've got $9,700 extra in your pocket.  You no longer have car payments, insurance, fuel costs, maintenance, etc.   It's your choice.  

But most transit systems only recovery about 20  - 30% of their costs from the fare box. That $2 fare really costs about $10, so the taxpayers are picking up $8 of the costs.

But if you are able, and say, have an extra $9,700 and are now a fan of transit and its great conveniences, should you not pay your full and fair share? That would be $10, please. After all, its the right thing to do, isn't it?

Good news! You can save money by selling your car and riding transit instead. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) says the average person can save $8,500 a year taking transit instead of owning a car.

This is based on the AAA cost-of-driving formula, which says that driving costs an average of $0.54 cents per vehicle mile. Funny how Americans only actually spend $0.39 cents a vehicle mile, at least according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The difference? The BEA uses actual costs while AAA numbers are hypothetical.

So that might reduce the savings to only $6,100, which is still a lot. But the other big thing APTA is leaving out is the huge subsidies to transit. Transit subsidies amount to $0.61 per passenger mile. APTA assumed that, prior to giving up their car, the transit rider drove 15,000 miles a year. At $0.61 per mile, a transit rider who rides 15,000 miles a year gets about $9,150 in subsidies.

So you can save, maybe, $6,100 a year by imposing more than $9,100 in costs on other taxpayers. Good deal!
There are more of these deceptions and falsehoods.  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to debunk more.  But you get the point.  The transit proponents feel the need to cook the books.  Why?

If transit proponents want it to work, they really have to start with an honest, open and transparent analysis of what works, what doesn't and the REAL costs and funding involved.  By hiding behind misleading and deceptive statements, "infographics", and "fact sheets", they are harming their mission.  These are so easy to take down, it raises further doubt in their ability to deliver on their promises.  Mistrust of our government is running high these days, and these deceptions do not help.

The core of the problem is transit projects have been over promised and under delivered again and again.

The sooner transit proponents apply some honest introspection on their failures, and develop realistic  plans to deliver on revised promises, then perhaps we can all get behind a reasonable and balanced discussion on transportation futures.  

Until then, we'll continue to hold them accountable for their deceptions.

Actually, we'll always hold them accountable. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Where in the world is Senator Bill Nelson on ObamaCare Now?

In 2010 when a majority of Floridians and Americans opposed ObamaCare, Senator Bill Nelson went against his constituents and voted for it. Now that we are finding out "what's in it", more Americans oppose ObamaCare today than when it was passed. But where is Senator Nelson?  Surely he knows the latest polling
Support has dropped in virtually all demographic categories, but it has fallen the farthest among two core Democratic groups – women and Americans who make less than $50,000.
The mainstream media continues to focus their attention on the Republicans who are somewhat divided on just what to do about ObamaCare and anything else. The Tea Party conservatives want to defund ObamaCare in any upcoming budget resolution while the moderates and the GOP leadership is conflicted all over the place, fearful of being blamed for a government shutdown. The conservatives aren't advocating nor want a government shutdown – that's a mainstream false narrative from the Democrat party. Conservatives will work to pass a budget resolution - they just don't want ObamaCare funding to be part of it. The onus and responsibility then is solely on the Senate Dems and Obama to either fund the rest of the government or the Dems and Obama shut the government down because they won't stop the job destroying ObamaCare train wreck.
Senator Bill Nelson
Let's get back to our own Senator Nelson. He and we both know the many issues associated with the implementation of ObamaCare.  Have you heard of Senator Nelson being asked if Obama can constitutionally and unilaterally delay the employer mandate?  Crickets.  A call to Nelson's Orlando office yielded an answer from an aide named Rupa that Obama could constitutionally delay a part of a law he signed because it was “procedural” due to employers not being ready. Really? However, when pressed about delaying the individual mandate because the government's not ready either, she said the individual mandate should not be delayed.  Huh?

I also spoke to a Lisa Marshall, an aide in Nelson's Orlando office and asked what Nelson's position was regarding other issues such as Florida employers cutting employee hours to part-time, Congress exempting themselves, unions wanting a carve out or exemption, the security issues and the navigators being hired with no background checks. According to Lisa, Nelson believes "everything is ready for October 1.  He will not vote to repeal it." Did he miss the House vote yesterday to mandate a verification program to make sure Americans don't collect more insurance subsidies than they're qualified for.  Lisa, by the way, admitted she is for universal health care aka single payer. Comforting to know the Far Left who wants totally Socialized healthcare works in Nelson's office, huh?  (Didn't the media portray Nelson as a moderate last year??)

"The reason we are bringing this legislation forward is because there is a gaping hole. We know that having self-attestation for getting these taxpayer subsidies in these exchanges is going to lead to an incredible amount of fraud. We are even having estimates of as much as $250 billion worth of fraud that could be going into this program."
Meanwhile, the White House is arguing that the so-called Obamacare data hub, the system of information users will enter when applying for health insurance subsidies, is "ready for operation." But as former Social Security Administration commissioner Michael Astrue testified to the House Homeland Security committee Wednesday, there are significant concerns with regard to security and privacy that the Department of Health and Human Services has not answered.

Nelson knew ObamaCare would decimate and eliminate Medicare Advantage, especially for so many of his retired constituents in the more heavily Democrat districts of South Florida. So we remember Nelson's own ObamaCare GatorAid backroom deal.  It's exposed in the video below and was part of all the other corrupt, crony deals the Democrats negotiated behind closed doors to ram ObamaCare through. 
Gator Aid: At the request of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fl), the Senate bill includes a formula for protecting certain Medicare Advantage enrollees from billions in cuts. The formula would only apply to five states, most notably to Florida in which 800,000 of the state's one million Medicare Advantage users would be exempt from cuts.

We found some of Nelson's past list of priorities that included:
  • Eliminating government duplication and reducing waste and fraud plaguing programs like Medicare.
  • Reducing fraud plaguing programs like Medicare.
  • Regarding ObamaCare:  "The law’s not perfect. But he thinks we should focus now on fixing the law and not on repealing it."
According to Nelson's wikipedia:
  • Nelson wrote on his campaign website that the health care reform passed wasn't perfect, but was necessary because "the system was broken and we had to do something.
  • A Mason-Dixon Florida poll indicated that the measure was opposed by a majority of those surveyed, and by nearly two-thirds of Florida voters aged 65 or older.
But there is irony with Senator Nelson.  The Tampa Bay area has been almost ground zero for tax identify theft so Nelson is again backing legislation to crackdown on the $5.2 billion crime. He's sponsoring the bill. OK. Well the security in the ObamaCare application where taxpayer identification and other personal information is entered is in question and it has not gone through strenuous and thorough testing before the October 1 launch. The ObamaCare Navigators who will be navigating to “help” folks sign up for ObamaCare do not have background checks. Can you square up Nelson sponsoring identify theft legislation with his seemingly unconcern with the ObamaCare security issues?

Earlier this year Nelson signed on to back a plan to raise the cap on rewards for people who report Medicare fraud from $1,000 to $9.9 million.
Announced in April, the draft rule change also seeks to speed up payments to whistle-blowers who have helped the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to recoup almost $15 million in fraudulent Medicare funds since 2010.
We doubt Nelson would do this if he didn't think Medicare was fraught with fraud. So how does he thread the needle of the ObamaCare application not having a solid verification system in place when it launches next month? In other words, an invitation for more fraud and waste!

There you have it. Nelson admits he had to vote for ObamaCare because “the current system was broken”.  But now he and we see that what he voted for is worse. He has admitted ObamaCare is flawed and the very law he voted for “needs fixing”.  

But where in the world is Senator Nelson now on ObamaCare?  What fixes is he proposing as we watch the negative impact in Florida?  Silent and Missing In Action. We heard nothing from the Senator during the August recess. We've heard no proposals from Nelson on how or what he proposes to fix the ObamaCare train wreck. It's time he is held accountable for his ObamaCare vote which went against the majority of Americans and his constituents in Florida who opposed it. Nelson is trying to push a square peg down a round hole as he supports legislation to stop Medicare fraud and ID theft at the same time he supports inviting more fraud and ID theft with ObamaCare. You simply cannot have it both ways. 

The media's focus and fascination only on where Republicans stand on the ObamaCare train wreck is disingenuous. Why isn't our media asking those who voted for it, like Senator Nelson, what they think of ObamaCare now that it's warts have been exposed. Does Senator Nelson now believe Americans must suffer the negative consequences of ObamaCare before he will speak up?  Why isn't our media asking Nelson what his proposals are for fixing the ObamaCare “train wreck” or whether he even cares? 

Sadly, don't hold your breath. The mainstream is either uninterested or refuses to even question, much less hold accountable, Democrats like Senator Nelson who voted for the ObamaCare train wreck. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Abbott and Costello take over the PTC circus

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission aka PTC comedy troupe was on full display at yesterdays PTC meeting. With all the recent PTC drama, I decided to attend and had no idea what to expect.  I did take my video camera – ready for the action or rather the entertainment value it ended up being. From the start of the meeting, I wondered if I was watching the Abbott and Costello comedy duo.  The bureaucratic waste was apparent.  Who was running this show was even more obvious, County Commissioner Victor Crist who Chairs the PTC. There was a lot of bumbling and confusion throughout this entire meeting.  Are all the PTC meetings like this?

First of all the PTC is an Independent Special District that was created by the state legislature decades ago to regulate shared vehicle services – taxi cabs, limos, towing and ambulance services. It's the only commission like it that exists in the state – in other words 66 other counties and almost the entire rest of the country have figured out how to do this internally without creating another bureaucracy. In addition, this bureaucratic nightmare is politicized because three elected county commissioners sit on it:  Crist the Chairman, Ken Hagan and Les Miller. It's the circle of money that buys influence and votes as the campaign donations circulate through the elected officials coffers and protects certain companies, inhibits others and has enabled corruption and unethical activities. Remember it wasn't just the corruption case of former Chair of the PTC Commissioner Kevin White who's in prison today. In the late 1990's there was another publicized scandal regarding ambulance permits and the attempt to put an ambulance service out of business.

For transparency, I did make a public comment at this meeting stating it cannot be salvaged as it stands today.  The Eye has previously reported about the PTC Here and Here. The PTC meetings are televised on HTV and for anyone who wants to watch this episode of Abbott and Costello, it will be replayed Friday at 10am. You can watch the comedy unfold in its entirety, but there were a couple of interesting moments at yesterdays meeting.

A snafu occurred regading the latest agenda PTC Chair Crist was using that was not sent out to the other board members or sent out publicly prior to the meeting. This agenda item related to TransCare (ambulance service), which appeared to be a somewhat controversial item. So some sparring went on between Crist and Miller that reminded me of Abbott and Costello's famous "Who's on First" comedy routine. It lasted for about 10 minutes. Miller was insisting that Rogers Rules of Order must be followed regarding the agenda issue because there's no PTC rules that exist to guide otherwise. Victor was calling Miller an obstructionist.  Who's on first? The PTC's been around for decades and they don't have standard operating procedures for how their meetings are conducted?  

The biggest drama of the day came when Commissioner Les Miller suddenly stood up and abruptly stated he had to leave and was resigning effective immediately from the PTC.  I looked around and it did not seem to me that this board or anyone in the audience was expecting that to unfold.

No reason was given at the time Miller abruptly resigned but the Tribune reported
Miller said he was fed up with what he called a roughshod abuse of customary meeting protocols by commission Chairman Victor Crist. A stickler for Roberts Rules of Order, Miller said Crist was making up the rules as he went along. 
He can’t seem to rein it in,” Miller said after the meeting.
But the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Miller said, occurred at Wednesday’s meeting when Crist attempted to schedule a discussion on a divisive ambulance service matter that was added to the agenda late Tuesday afternoon. The new agenda was supposed to have been emailed to PTC members, but none had seen it. 
After Miller abruptly resigned and walked out, Crist stated that he had wanted to ask Miller to chair the search committee for the new Executive Director.  So instead Crist turned to the newest member of the commission and asked him to chair the search committee.  I sat there wondering if that was intentional........ However, the newest member politely responded he's so new he has only attended two meetings and basically "doesn't know enough" to chair a search committee though he would participate.  Next Crist turned to fellow commissioner Ken Hagan who was in and out of the meeting but happened to be there at the time. Hagan jokingly stated that he knew he should have stepped out then but he  politely stated he has enough on his plate as chairman of the BOCC but would participate.  Crist turned to one of the remaining board members who finally accepted to chair the search committee.  It must've been the second act of the "Who's on First" comedy routine.

This commission is supposedly independent of any particular government entity. However, the PTC is chaired by a County Commissioner, three elected county commissioners sit on it and they subcontract their legal services from the County Attorney's office. They voted yesterday to temporarily move some county employees over to fill the interim Executive Director and administrative positions as they search for a new Executive Director. They voted to give the county employees taking on some temporary support of the PTC a temporary 25% raise. What a deal! The private sector's been in perpetual downsizing for years (decades) but do you think those employees who temporarily (or sometimes permanently) take over additional responsibilities get an automatic 25% raise?  So the county is knee deep (or deeper) in this commission - how independent is it?  

Get this, the previous Executive Director, Cesar Padilla, got to retire.  Cesar was put in that position by the former PTC Chair and commissioner now in prison, Kevin White. Cesar was in that position for 6 years. We recently found out that even though he was paid $107,000 to do something, (we don't know exactly what because he had no employment contract) he was moonlighting.  Cesar failed to disclose his moonlighting income, called in sick when he was moonlighting (lied) and sometimes moonlighted when he was supposed to be working (more lies) and he gets to retire.  And at your expense I guess.  Is that another Abbott and Costello mishap?

It was striking to hear from some in the industries regulated by the PTC stating they wanted to keep status quo.  However, status quo burdensome regulations and bureaucracy can be used to protect certain companies and special interests who benefit from them.  With so much talk from our local elected officials, our media, those pushing economic development in Hillsborough county, do we want to be known as the county of status quo? I don't think so.

This bumbling meeting sure seemed like a a waste of time and resources but at least there was the entertainment value.  I've got the camera recharged and ready as we await the next episode of the Abbott and Costello comedy hour.  Who's on first?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Private roads a good idea

The Tampa Bay Times decided that private toll roads are a bad idea.
Pasco County needs better traffic flow between east and west, but the answer is not a privately owned toll road. After receiving an unsolicited bid from a private company in June to build a toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor for 25 miles from U.S. 19 to Wesley Chapel, and potentially further east toward Zephyrhills, the Florida Department of Transportation sought additional proposals. The state should be wary of turning over its responsibility for building roads to private enterprise more interested in making a profit.
Under the plan, the state would sell or lease public right of way, allowing a private company to build new lanes in the median for uninterrupted travel and to charge tolls to recoup the projected $2 billion investment. Planners envision elevated, managed toll lanes for motorists and express buses.
The state already turns over responsibility for building and maintaining public goods and services to private companies interested in making a profit. Ever heard of power utility companies?  There are some that are publicly operated, but most are private, such as Tampa Electric and Duke Energy.
Pay the toll... but keep on driving
Does the Times believe that a company operating a toll road would not be subject to some public scrutiny and regulation, say like the power utilities, whose profits are regulated?
The push for private highways is a by-product of a smaller government, less-tax philosophy in a state unwilling to raise revenue to meet its transportation needs. The problem is exacerbated by Florida's role as a donor state on federal gas taxes, receiving 91 cents in federal road money for every dollar it sends to Washington. To public officials, the private road scheme has the allure of pushing the financial risk onto the private sector and saving state revenue for other highway construction. But the true risk remains with drivers, who face the prospect of pricey tolls to cover both the debt and a profit for the builder/operator.
As if the public sector has done a great job of meeting transportation needs. Yes, Florida is a donor state, subject to the whimsy of the politics up in DC.  We send them our gas taxes, they take their cut, take another 40% or so cut and give to transit projects, run it through the patronage mill in DC, and eventually, if we're lucky, we'll get 91% back. That's actually quite high for Florida compared to the past when it was closer to the 70% range for years.  Perhaps we should keep all our road money for our roads?  What does DC know about our needs anyways?

It's not as it this is an original idea. There are thousands of miles of private roads across the world.
Of the 11,000 kilometers of France's highways, 8,000 km are under private concession. 3,120 kilometers of Italy's highways (comprising 56% of the country's toll roads) are controlled by Autostrade Concessioni e Costruzioni Autostrade. According to Forbes, "Autostrade was an early Electronic Age entry, computerizing to its highway system in 1988".[7] The M6 Toll was the first private toll motorway in the United Kingdom.[8] The project was described by as a "27 mile [43 km] dual three lane (plus hard shoulder), £485.5 million motorway" with six toll stations.[9] 
Even the bureaucrats in France figured out a role for the private sector.

The Times has no idea how the private sector... or even roads, work.  A private toll road operator will have to provide a compelling service to survive.  If they charge too much, or don't maintain the roads, or have safety issues, they won't attract the ridership.  The Times obviously has an issue with the concept of "profit", and they also overlook the cost and bureaucracy of the State of Florida is not free.  Which is greater, a toll operators profit (likely to be regulated or fixed by contract by the state), or the cost of more government bureaucracy?

The private operator could potentially build the road much cheaper than the state. Why? The Davis-Bacon act.  The Davis-Bacon law requires federal contractors to pay workers at least the prevailing wages in the area where the work is conducted. It applies to federally funded construction projects such as highways and bridges. I know folks who've worked in contracting and payroll on large, federally assisted construction programs.  The unions are literally at their door every day, demanding anyone who picks up a hammer or a nail be classified at the highest paid journeyman carpenter rate, and requiring costly record keeping and compliance, thus artificially increasing the construction costs.  This could keep the costs down, and actually lower the tolls the drivers pay, making it more affordable for all drivers.

What are the risks?  The toll operator could fail, or go bankrupt.  What then?  The state could take over, and buy the remaining assets at a firesale price.  Odds are the state or another operator would then acquire the road at a much lower cost than if they were to develop it.  Then they could later sell it another operator or operate it like the other toll roads in the state.
The impetus for a new road now comes from Pasco County's long-range plan to funnel future growth into that corridor. Projections call for a 55 percent increase in population in that area, to more than 312,000 people, by 2035.
Private operators can be part of the solution.  It's had success in Indiana. Given the anticipated, growth, should we not look to new private sector solutions if they can improve the traditional public sector approach?
The result could be an undesirable two-tiered transportation network serving more affluent commuters with private roads and forcing everyone else onto the underfunded public highway network.
Actually, the result will more likely be a desirable situation whereby the drivers that can and want to pay the toll will do so, thus reducing traffic and congestion that would otherwise be on state roads, improving traffic flow and reducing future costly expansion. It's worked that way in South Florida on the I-95 Express Managed Toll lanes.
I-95 Express Managed Toll Lane in South Florida
Driving is not free.  We need to pay for our roads, and the anticipated growth in the region.  Toll roads and managed toll lanes will need to be part of the solution in the Tampa Bay area.  As long as we have transparency and some regulation to ensure safety, let's not keep the private sector out.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Trevor Loudon speaks in Tampa

Trevor Loudon, well-known author, researcher, blogger from New Zealand, spoke Friday evening in Tampa at an event hosted by the Tampa 912 Tea Party Coalition. The Eye was there and captured him speaking. Once again Trevor has connected the dots in his new book "The Enemies Within: Communists, Socialists and Progressives in the US Congress". You won't want to miss this jaw dropping information so watch the whole video and you too will be awestruck. Some points you do not want to miss:
  • The unions used to be staunch anti-communists and anti-immigration. How and when did they flip on these issues? 
  • The Democrat party is now controlled heavily by the unions and their allies yet the far left is a small percentage of the voting public. 
  • A few people can strategically make big impacts and the far left takeover of the Democrat party is a shining example. 
  • Reminder of the successes that the Tea Party/912/Liberty movement, that sprung out of nowhere in 2009, has made and why the Left is fearful of them. 
  • The next two election cycles are critical and what is needed today is another Reagan on steroids. 
So sit back and watch the video.

Then read Trevor's book and understand who these enemies are. When you know who your enemies are, then you can defeat them.

We wish Trevor well and much success on his US book tour and look forward to seeing him again. Both of Trevor's books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Red light on the red light cameras

Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), has filed a proposed law to ban red light cameras for the upcoming legislative session.
Red light camera
"This program was originally sold as being about safety," Brandes said. "I have come to believe that it's now about revenue."
Of the $158 collected from every citation, the state takes $83. The remaining $75 is split between the municipality and the camera vendor.
Between July 2012 and June 2013, according to the Florida Department of Revenue, the cameras produced about $62.5 million for the state.
The biggest player, by far, is American Traffic Solutions, a Tempe, Ariz.-based company that operates cameras in about 70 cities and counties in the state, including Miami, Tampa, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Fort Lauderdale. It has 24 lobbyists working for it in Tallahassee. 
Guess who is among the largest lobbying firms for the 2013 State of Florida legislative term?  American Traffic Solutions.  They have 24 registered lobbyists in Tallahassee.

Think they might be looking to grow the business by ticketing more drivers?

Is this what we call a "Public-Private Partnership"?

The Trib, clearly reacting to Brandes proposal, yet again comes down on the wrong side of the liberty question, this time on red light cameras.
The evidence in Tampa is pretty persuasive. The number of accidents at intersections with red light cameras is down nearly 30 percent, the number of citations for running red lights at those intersections is decreasing, and police say motorists are changing their driving habits for the better.

The city has every reason to continue, or perhaps even expand, its use of the technology.
Well at least they are consistent against your civil liberties, as they decided last week we needed more camera surveillance, which we questioned their judgement last week.

Why did the Trib not highlight some real data?  One really cannot draw any real conclusions from a statement "The number of accidents at intersections with red light cameras is down nearly 30 percent" without understanding the time frames they are citing. Was it a year?  A month?  A day?  How was the data controlled for other variations... such as weather, time of day, holidays etc.? What is the source? Even if there is a statistical correlation, without proper controls, that may not prove that more red light cameras were the direct cause for a reduction in accidents.

Elsewhere, the Tampa Bay Times reports different stats:
In the six months before the city of Port Richey installed red light cameras on U.S. 19 at Grand Boulevard, authorities reported just two motor vehicle crashes at the intersection. Two years later, that number had jumped 700 percent to 14 accidents over the same six-month period.
The statistics show that it is time for two west Pasco cities to drop the pretense of red light cameras being about enhanced public safety. A report this month from Pasco County revealed a significant drop in accidents at only one of nine intersections equipped with the cameras along U.S. 19 in the cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey. And, overall, the data show an increase in crashes when taking into account vehicles skidding on wet pavement, drunken or distracted drivers or other contributing factors.
"We're not saving anything, in terms of making it safer, as far as red light cameras go,'' Commissioner Jack Mariano correctly surmised after being briefed on the report at a Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting.
 Given the Trib's proclivity for surveillance, if we all had cameras in our cars all the time for Them to monitor, we could further reduce traffic violations, crime, ... and privacy. Oh, never mind.
The cameras are not without flaws. As with any technology, there were bugs to work out. Lawmakers last year, led by a bill Brandes championed, made tweaks in the law that made the appellate process fairer and eased the rules for motorists turning right on red.
Actually, the "tweaks" apparently made things worse:
Attempts at reform didn't go entirely as planned. State legislators complicated the appeals process by forcing local governments to set up an appeals process or hire special magistrates to hear cases, while putting additional costs on drivers challenging their tickets.
Of course, red light cameras are money makers for the local jurisdictions.  They're incented to keep it that way.

We are not technophobes.  We are for using new and interesting technologies, but we draw a line when it encroaches... or even can encroach, on our privacy, and our right to be left alone.  We're certainly not for more running of red lights.  Perhaps we could alter the technology such that if the driver runs a red light, the get a mild shock or buzz in the steering wheel, or use a gamification (using a simple score keeping to encourage certain behaviors) coupled with smartphones for safe driving with some rewards or recognition.

Insurance companies are offering safety monitor devices for further discounts, if you're OK with your insurance company monitoring your driving.  That's up to you.  It can benefit you, but not the state or municipal government.  Or American Traffic Solutions.

Red light cameras from a technology point of view are revenue cash cows and productivity enhancers (fewer police or deputies needed to write more tickets!) for the municipalities.  I expect any moment now we'll see reduction in the Tampa Police and Hillsborough County Sheriffs budgets and staffing since they are obviously doing more with less.  Right?

Hillsborough County Public Safety, including the Sheriff's department, is already is by far the largest department according the Hillsborough County budget.  And they want more, apparently.

Hillsborough County proposed 2014 budget
In case you're wondering where all these cameras are, they're all over the Tampa Bay area.  Too many for me to count.

Just a few red light cameras in the Tampa Bay area
And surprise, they've been prone to abuse from local officials, such as strategically reducing the yellow light times in an obvious effort to increase revenues.
The 10 News Investigators discovered the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) quietly changed the state's policy on yellow intervals in 2011, reducing the minimum below federal recommendations. The rule change was followed by engineers, both from FDOT and local municipalities, collaborating to shorten the length of yellow lights at key intersections, specifically those with red light cameras (RLCs).
While yellow light times were reduced by mere fractions of a second, research indicates a half-second reduction in the interval can double the number of RLC citations -- and the revenue they create. 
Nice work if you can get it.  I wonder if there's any connection to those 24 lobbyists in Tallahassee?

Not only the shortened yellows, but right turn on red is another big money maker, despite rolling right turns are involved in less than 1% of accidents according to most stats.  In the past, the law enforcement could exercise some judgement on whether you abide by the law.  Now, if you stop early, and don't properly stop over the sensors in the road... cha ching!

The state is making money.  The municipalities are making money.  ATS is making money.  They are all collecting more data.  They are all now hooked to the millions these cameras bring in to them.

Making money off of you.  Where will it end?

At least Jeff Brandes has an idea.