The More Things Change

Let’s face it, the elections of 2012 show that going against the grain is not in the nature of those elected to office.

Take a look at Okaloosa County. This county was wracked by scandal at the Tourist Development Commission (TDC) and the County Commissioners were thoroughly embarrassed by their apparent lack of oversight of both money and employees. In 2012 two new Commissioners were voted into office. This was a superb opportunity for the new Board to reevaluate the nature, purpose, or need for a TDC, and even eliminate it. In the course of time, however, everything seemed to be blamed on one bad apple, despite the Florida Auditor General saying that the problem was much deeper. The auditors said contracts were given without paperwork, and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars went to people or organizations unknown. One bad apple couldn’t do that. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, the Commissioners have made nice and actually voted to give the TDC a boost of $300,000 for some special project earlier this year.

Then there is the matter of county taxation. Okaloosa County Commissioners recently voted for a 4.3% property tax hike along with a 3 cents per gallon gas tax. It was a close vote (3 to 2) and Nathan Boyles, one of the new guys, decided it is better to tax his neighbors than to figure out how to make government smaller. Of course, this is how things have always been done. Government gets bigger and you pay more. What makes this pinch my mind especially hard is the County Commission recently unanimously voted for an ad valorem tax break to a company that by law is secret to the public (FS 196 and FS 288). They gave a preferential tax break to one company at the expense of all others, and the law prevents them from telling us who it is. Secret tax breaks fly in the face of open, accountable government. This very same Board then votes to raise taxes on everybody else in the County. No change here.

At the State level, who can ignore the Medicaid flip flop of our Governor Rick Scott? You could say he was elected as an opponent to the Affordable Healthcare Act, and was quoted as saying he would never lift a finger to help its implementation. Despite high sounding rhetoric, the Florida legislature is no stranger to growing government either, and voted this year for a 6% increase in the state budget for 2013-2014. More and more of that money is coming from Federal sources, 36.93% of the total state budget as of 2011, according to the census bureau. How independent can a state be when its bills are paid by the Feds?

In national matters, our “conservative” Congressman Jeff Miller, has shown he likes the growing list of laws that restrict your liberties and feed the “all seeing all knowing” central government. In at least two public appearances he said the government is not listening in on your communications. Trust him, he says. Of course, Lt-Gen Clapper, Director Of National Intelligence, was forced by the Snowden revelations to publicly admit and apologize for lying to Congress about government surveillance of all citizens (where are the perjury charges?). Plus, an NSA internal audit said the agency violated their own rules about surveillance several thousand times in the past year. Despite this contrary testimony to what Mr. Miller thinks, and the lessons of history, he voted against the Amash Amendment to the Patriot Act, which would have limited government investigations to people actually under suspicion using probable cause. His reason? It would have affected some unspecified secret surveillance program Mr. Miller likes. The erosion of the Fourth Amendment proceeds apace just as it did before. None of this fits the moniker “conservative.”

I’ve only scratched the surface. It’s clear that the leadership of 2013 is shaping up to be the same as 2012 or any other year. Those who have been elected love government power, and that is what the trend of the last 100 years has been all about.

I dared to hope for better.

Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party

Transparency in College Education

Myth of Fact? 

College education is an investment in a better financial future.  It is a necessity in a global economy.

In a recent Editorial [“Deal won’t fix student debt woes”], the writer succumbed to the current conjurer’s sleight-of-hand issue that college must be affordable, and higher interest rates on school loans makes it less so. 

Focusing on the current costs of college in an information vacuum, makes a mockery of the most important decision facing youth – how to prepare for their life’s career path. 

There are larger issues.  For example, our current weak economy has exposed college degrees that are marginally valuable – and expendable.  Why study four years and go into debt just to wait tables or tend bar?

In my opinion, the college education business does not serve their customers [students and employers] well.  However, it serves special interest groups [faculty, government agencies and foundations with grant money, and the most current social fad] exceedingly well.

Assuming that the family and student do their market research of careers and choose a useful major, what other information from a college is important to assure a career with long term economic traction?  For example, by asking career-specific questions they may learn:

·      Only 55% of the students graduate  in five years in that major;

·      Their average student debt is $28,000 whether they graduate or not;

·      Only 50% of their graduates actually receive job offers in their field; and

·      The average annual salary offer is $30,000

Could the parent in good conscience encourage their child to attend that college?

These are unsubstantiated, made up numbers of course, but that is okay, because they are not readily available to parents and students today.  In a data vacuum, the higher education decision is wishful thinking based on emotion.

If you firmly believe that college education is an investment, such information is absolutely essential for an intelligent decision of college major and where to attain it.  Without this information, how can you determine whether a college’s degree is valuable or fraudulent?

Full disclosure:  when I attended college in the 1950s, those numbers were not available either, but only 10% of high school graduates attended college, and few students borrowed to pay for it.

If you received numbers like those above before committing to attend a college, would you insist that your child still attend that school?  Would you insist that they find a major that pays better?  Would you search for a college where a higher percentage of graduates receive job offers, and have higher starting salaries?  If not, you would knowingly start your child on a lifetime of financial stress starting with maybe a quarter of a meager take home pay going for a large student loan.

Cavuto on Business has reported recently that High School students are caught between the guilt trip of going to college to compete in a global economy and the future poverty of a college loan.

Which is more important to the future well-being of our youth?  Attending the attractive college with the incredible sports programs and social life, but leads to dead-end careers and high debt, or a less glamorous school that prepares their graduates for a career that can adapt and compete as our economy evolves?

Our whole college selection process is like a magic show filled with deception and misdirection.  The result is our children are defrauded of productive futures and enslaved to the lender – which now is the federal government.  Parties that could do something to make college affordable put the blame on other participants in the process for the overly expensive, assembly-line nature of our universities.  One false issue, for example, that families worry about is qualifying for Pell Grants. But every increase by the federal government is closely followed by college tuition increases.

Next year’s high school graduates and their parents must demand that colleges answer questions important to a wise career choice.  For example, at each school, what is:  the current total annual cost; the percent who graduate in four years; the average debt of their graduates; the average percentage of graduates receiving job offers; and the average starting salary offer.

These questions are not asked today, so parents may fear jeopardizing their child’s acceptance by a college.  But, is that worse than attending college for five years, having debt two or three times their starting salary, and receiving a degree that becomes extinct in five to ten years?

Lee Jackson, Shalimar

The Local Budget Scam Explained: An Example

By Karl Denninger
From my back yard — literally….. the bridge is visible out my back door.

Vest says it is a cold hard fact that tolls on the Mid-Bay Bridge will not increase to $7.50 next year. It is likewise written in stone, he said, that there will be no bridge toll hike of any amount before Oct. 1, 2015, the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year.

….

In fact, the Mid-Bay Bridge, built with $81 million in bonds in the early 1990s, these days carries a debt load of $260 million.

That’s why it is possible, Vest concedes, that if the Bridge Authority does find it needs to raise tolls for the third time in its existence, the cost of the trip across could go from $3 to $4 for two-axle vehicles and $2 to $3 for SunPass holders.

Nobody is talking about how the bridge went from $81 million in bonds to $260 million outstanding.

Nor are they talking about the “fact” that the terms of the bonds dictate that tolls must (if necessary) rise.

Even if doing so cuts use, and thus the total revenue falls, producing a death spiral.

Which, incidentally, has happened already not so far away (Garcon Point anyone?)

The problem with these projects is that they invariably obtain their “go ahead” from the local residents predicated on two promises — first, that they will be built and operated on time and on budget, and second that the bonds will be retired and once they have been the tolls will be lifted or reduced to that which is necessary only for ongoing maintenance.

The latter never happens and the former almost-never does.

The people responsible for that gross dereliction of duty, resulting in the tripling of the bridge’s debt, from the County Commissions on to these “authorities”, never, ever face prosecution or even debarment from public office for the outrageous deception they run on local residents in the promises they make and never keep when it comes to these “projects.” Never mind that if I screwed someone in the private sector to this degree I would, and the Commissioners and Authority “trustees” should, find themselves on the wrong end of a felony conviction.

But see, political promises carry no weight and are utterly unenforceable even when they screw the taxpayer blind. As a politician you can make claims that you have absolutely no rational backing for or even lie outright and when your “projections” and “expectations” turn out to be crap nothing happens to you for buying votes with what proves up to be a pipe dream or worse.

Instead of being accountable these very same public officials now make excuses and tell us how “wonderful” the cut of 20 minutes will be on our mythical trip that they dream will fill the coffers and pay the coupon on said unsustainable and outrageous debt — debt that their outrageously unrealistic expectations and projections caused to triple from what was originally proposed and agreed to by the people in the first place.

The “add-on” extension now being constructed is responsible for $143 million of this debt. But there is no evidence — absolutely zero in fact, even based on the rosiest of projections — that the bond issues outstanding will be retired on or before the roadway requires resurfacing.

Indeed, had there been any record of the Authority being able to pay down debt predicated on operating revenue the problem, and debt, wouldn’t exist — right?

The inevitable resurfacing and upkeep in coming years will be yet another expensive act that will in turn requiring issuing even more debt.

This is a “tiny” little ponzi scheme in the grand litany of lies and scams promulgated by County Commissions and “local authorities” of all sorts, from these feifdoms to school boards, all over the land, backed up by bond issuers at banks who “help float” debt that mathematically cannot be retired on or before additional capital expense in maintenance and repair becomes necessary.

The banks, for their part, don’t give a damn provided they get their fee. The accuracy of their projections for sustainability and paydown of the debt issued, just like everyone else’s, are never coupled to accountability.

Indeed I’m willing to bet that under any reasonable estimate of actual historical use and toll collection, less operating expense (salaries of the toll collectors, routine maintenance and inspections, etc) the bond issues can never be retired when the imputed operating costs, including resurfacing and other work on the expected intervals, is taken into account.

Those in the “authority” and County Commission who think that traffic will rise to meet the required revenue are flat out of their minds.

The fact of the matter is that ramping toll costs over the last years have already prompted WalMart and Publix to build stores on this side of the bridge. WalMart is open now and Publix will be soon; the earth-moving equipment is in daily operation on that project right now.

That has and will continue to reduce, dramatically so, the “need” for local residents to cross said bridge and thus reduce the number of trips — and the tolls collected.

The market has and will continue to spit in the face of the Okaloosa County Commission and MidBay Bridge Authority, reducing their pipe dreams of “efficiency in transportation” (not to mention their delusions of grandeur) to ash.

The market, of course, has a long history of doing exactly this quite efficiently; as price rises the utility value ex-cost to the local residents decreases. That increased net cost in turn causes businesses to find a reason to make it easier, faster and cheaper for residents to avoid paying said price.

Oh sure, the theory goes, the county can******the tourists, right after they spend $5 million in advertising to herd them in on their vacation so they can get bent over the fish-cleaning table while their wallet is vacuumed out. And let’s not kid ourselves — for those tourists who don’t have a SunPass (that would be nearly all of them) when they get surprised by the all-automatic plaza on the extension and are forced to pay $11.50 (which will show up in the mail when they get home) that is likely to have a rather serious impact on their view of this area — and not in a good way either.

But heh, the MidBay Bridge Authority will cackle at their playing of the proverbial troll.

The question is whether said tourists will come back to be screwed again, and if not, what happens to those precious “bonds” and their demanded coupon.

PS: The rolling of that debt, historically thus far, has been made possible only due to the secular decline in interest rates over the last 30 years. That secular decline is now over which means that all such projects that cannot retire their debt from operating revenue before it comes due are inevitably going to blow up in the coming years and decades. This is a mathematical certainty Mr. Vest.

IRS – You’re Surprised?

IRS – You’re surprised?

The blatant targeting by the IRS of groups opposed to the President clearly deserves prison time for those responsible.  The odious revelation that the power to tax was used to hinder free expression for partisan purposes rightfully shakes public confidence that the government protects the Bill Of Rights.  The IRS can, and should, be abolished.  But I must ask, why are so many surprised when this kind of abuse happens?

I would not be exaggerating if I said every day there are examples of even worse abuses by government.  It has routinely conducted warrantless searches of American citizens. For a long time it was a crime to tell anyone that a warrantless search had been committed.  In Boston we saw the fourth Amendment thrown to the winds for tens of thousands of citizens in the pursuit of two armed men.  The mortgage scandals, the LIBOR scandal, and the apparent immunity of big bankers, such as John Corzine, who blatantly steal investor funds but never come to trial, leaves the public with puzzled looks on their faces about the rule of law.  Worst of all, American Presidents have executed American citizens overseas without trial, or even without public evidence.  And this is the short list!

To Libertarians none of this comes as a surprise because we know big government is bad government.  It’s a pity so many of our fellow citizens cannot see the dingy forest of government abuse until their particular tree is chopped down.

Pete Blome, Chair, Northwest Florida Libertarian Party

We The Serfs

 By Tom Rhodes, 8/5/2013

When you think feudalism, with kings, dukes, princesses, etc., you think of royalty who live off the work of the toil of serfs. The federal government has just confirmed that the US consists now has a two-tiered system of justice and governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and the corporations, and another set for you and me.
The ruling elite, ruling class, government oligarchy,whatever you want to call ’em, no longer is even trying to hide the fact that they don’t want to live by and won’t accept the same rules for them and their favorites as you and I. The Office of Personnel Management, under pressure from Capitol Hill and Obama, has said that they will issue a ruling that the government can keep making contributions to the health care premiums of members of Congress and their aides in clear violation of the law.
If you weren’t paying attention, a feature of Obamacare was put there by Sen. Chuck Grassley that said members of Congress and their aides MUST be covered by plans created by the law or offered through an exchange. You know that “We have to pass the law to see what’s in it” bit? Well, it had a good bit of wording that made Congress and their staff subject to the exact same treatment as the rest of us.
As Congress was “finding out what was in the bill”, they learned that following the law would result in a massive increase in health insurance premiums for congressional staffers, IRS workers, etc. That meant the government had the same costs that we the common people have to experience. They didn’t like it so exempted themselves from the pain and cost that you and I have to endure. They have loudly proclaimed that “We the People” are actually “You the Serfs” and will be forced to pay for Congress and their staff’s “Cadillac health plans” and subsidies while hard-working taxpayer lose ours or face enormous premium hikes.
The next example you will see is IRS being made magically exempt from the Obamacare Law without congress actually passing a new law. The rule of law is dead, and if you are a mere serf who if you are lucky enough to work at the big house in DC you too may receive favors by the ruling elite. IRS Chief, Daniel Werfel clearly declared that he wanted to keep his health care and didn’t want any part of Obamacare. Those who collect the taxes for the rulers in DC want the same special treatment as Congress. I don’t think he has to worry as Chief Potentate Obama will grant him and the IRS special dispensation.
Has the hypocrisy of Washington pushed the American people to their breaking point? When did the Constitution get changed to grant the President dictatorial powers and create law by executive order if Congress doesn’t write the laws he wants?
I don’t get it. Congress passes a law that specifically says members of Congress and their aides MUST be covered by plans created by the law or offered through an exchange, and some bureaucratic agency has the authority to issue a ruling negating the law. Would somebody please show me where the Constitution grants the power to the Office of Personnel Management to issue rulings that supersede laws enacted by Congress and signed by the President of the United States, or some Supreme Court ruling that grants the Office of Personnel Management more authority than Congress?
The height of Roman Civilization was the Republic with the rule of law and a viable Senate. The fall came with moral decay, the rise of despotic powers, and the end of the rule of law. The fall of Roman civilization was followed by the Dark Ages. The height of western Civilization was NATO’s crushing defeat of communism and the end of the cold war. I wonder what history will call the coming dark age, and who’s going to write “The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization”?
Tom Rhodes is Chairman of the Platform Committee of the Libertarian Party of Florida