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

Okaloosa Schools: Hypocrisy On Display

By Karl Denninger
March 01, 2011 2:52 PM

Why aren’t Ruckel Middle School students allowed to sit with who they wish at lunch? What values are Okaloosa District schools actually teaching our kids?

I had to ask myself those questions after my daughter was given detention by Ruckel Middle School for merely crossing the lunch room floor and sitting with another student.

On 24 February I met with the Superintendent of Schools Ms. Tibbetts, Principal Ms. Goolsby and Assistant Principal Mr. Whiddon.

I spoke about my high school years, relating how easily a school administration can lose the respect of the students and the possible consequence of that. Respect, you see, is earned — it’s not owed.

The Principal came up with four objections as to why the students couldn’t choose where to sit in the lunchroom on their own: “they might miss the next class,” “they might not clear the table of their debris,” “there are cliques in middle school” and “we have students with food allergies.”

I asked how many kids had missed their next class when open seating was allowed and pointed out the fact that I might have to FOIA that information. Given that tardy slips are a common feature in schools and attendance is taken, there is a record. That is, if there ever was such a problem. I don’t believe it, to be blunt, and said so.

Further, cliques are a part of life. We choose our associates every day. And students who fail to clear their tables can be appropriately disciplined.

As for the food allergies, there’s a solution to that of course. You set aside one table for kids with food allergies and prohibit the common things there, the most serious of which are allergies to nuts. Oh wait, the school district already has to do that, right? These sorts of allergies are real, but punishing everyone in the class by making them sit against their will for something beyond their control is not only inappropriate, it’s Kafkaesque.

There was no resolution offered by the superintendent or the school principal. Mr. Whiddon tried to argue there was a student led representative process about things like seating assignments at lunch. I pointed out the administration had previously admitted the students voted for open seating, but the policy was unilaterally changed by the administration, thus revealing the illusion of a student’s say in policy. I also pointed out that this process was like presenting a petition in the former USSR, or to Mubarak before he was deposed. Mr. Whiddon didn’t like that analogy, and the other administrators were unwilling to take responsibility for claiming there was a representative process in the student council when there in fact is not.

Clearly, there was no intent to move on the school’s part. I remained steadfast that these sorts of policies are self-destructive, disrespectful of basic human dignities and indefensible on the plain facts. Further, this not a countywide policy; Pryor Middle has open lunch seating.

But then the funniest thing happened.

My daughter and I attended registration for her high school, which she enters in the fall. One of the first items presented to both parents and incoming students in the auditorium was a program called “The Nest”, which is an opportunity for the kids entering high school to mingle and hang out with one another — and with upperclassmen — during the summer months. The first reason presented to attend? So you will have some idea of who you would like to sit with, and at which table, in the lunchroom on your first day in high school.

Excuse me?

The peanut allergies, the late class attendance, the lack of clearing of tables by the students, the cliques that are found in middle schools and the inability of perfectly-competent staff members that the school district pay a handsome salary to keep order in the lunchroom all suddenly disappear in a high school with more than twice the enrollment of the middle school literally next door when a student becomes a mere three months older?

Ruckel, drop the invented nonsense and do the right thing. Recognize fundamental human rights, including the right of peaceable assembly and conversation. Rights you should be teaching and honoring, not abrogating.

Let the kids sit where they’d like and talk to whom they want during their lunch period. Punish real wrongdoers, not everybody. Teach real responsibility to our kids.

Karl Denninger is a resident of Bluewater Bay, a well known financial analyst, and author of the Market-Ticker.

No Where Else To Go

Difficult as it is for me to admit this, the big story of the election of 2010 is that the Tea Party had nowhere else to go, or so they think, so they went Republican.

By doing so they lost an opportunity to set things right. Despite the large gains in the House and Senate, the 660 state representative seats that switched sides, and the Republican sweep in Okaloosa, the name of the game in representative government is using citizens rights as a negotiating tool, managing the markets for the benefit of a few, and always bigger government. Tea Party supported Republicans are not going to change this game any more than Democrats are.

This forces a question. How can it be that in a liberty loving country like ours we are reduced to choosing one of two ancient political parties that do the same thing? That is the constant thought of those who want real political competition in America, such as me and my fellow Libertarians.

The law is part of the reason. If you want to fight politically, the law has been codified in such a way so as to allow anyone to speak from a street corner, but becomes a serious obstacle if you want to form organized opposition to the Republicans and Democrats (who wrote the laws). The Fort Walton Beach Tea Party, for example, decided to incorporate as a 501c(3) corporation because it allowed them to accumulate resources to advocate issues while having IRS not for profit exemptions. But at the same time it prevents them from presenting or financially supporting candidates for political office.

I find it ironic that the loudest political voice in Okaloosa of the last two years cannot present or support candidates. I am sure that pleases the Republican leadership in the County.

Of course, the Tea Party could have chosen to be a political party, but by doing so they would have to run a gamut of political reporting requirements (local, state and federal), and be subject to dozens of laws with felony level penalties. The Tea Party collects cash donations with a glass jar today, no questions asked. If they were a political party that would put them in jail. A simple restriction like this favors the Republicans and Democrats who have 150 years of organization, deal making and big money behind them.

And that is just one small piece of a very big puzzle.

Another reason is voter complacency. Does anyone doubt a Republican candidate would say they were for responsible, conservative government? But Okaloosa is filled with Republicans who have made the County budget bigger; made millage rates go up for cities, towns, and fire districts; refused to make the Mid Bay Bridge Authority be a cost effective government service, proposed sales taxes, and even had some who scandalously abused their office. None of this was responsible or conservative. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of Okaloosans, Tea Partiers included, still gave their vote to Republican candidates.

This is what the Tea Party settled for. It’s a far cry from the outrage over bailouts and the corruption of the rule of law that formed them in 2008.

In all fairness, the Libertarians could offer but one candidate on the ballot to stem the tide this year, the redoubtable Alex Snitker. It remains the Libertarian Party’s ever present task to find and present more candidates to show people like the Tea Partiers that there is a better place to go than the Republicans.

And the need for an alternative is growing. Financial catastrophe is lurking out there. Decades of Republican and Democrat favors have produced a financial system rife with fraud, debt and unemployment. As a result, the Republicans were thrown out in 08. In turn, the Democrats were thrown out in 10.

Who will Okaloosa throw out in 12 when things are worse? And more importantly, who will Okaloosa put in?

Pete Blome is a retired military officer, member of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party, and Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County.

The County Makes Nice About BP

On May 3rd, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners held a public meeting to vote on declaring a state of emergency over the Deep Horizon oil well disaster.

By the time the meeting was over certain things were clear. We have an environmental disaster of epic proportions. The BP representative had questions shielded from him by our Commissioners. There was no commitment of resources to Okaloosa by BP, but we were told we should trust them. There was no estimated cost to the County. There was no public discussion of the effects or duration of the state of emergency.

They might as well have had the meeting in private. It quickly became apparent the idea was to get in step with the Governor’s executive order 1099 (declaration of emergency) and not worry about details. No public participation was asked for before the vote, even though it was held before a crowd. It passed quickly and unanimously.

The representative for British Petroleum Corporation was a Mr. Clayton Cochran. He spoke just long enough to say he was given authority to allocate resources to Okaloosa County and would work with the Okaloosa Emergency Operation Center on the next steps. When I asked Mr. Cochran, in the open meeting but after the Board approved the Declaration, exactly what those resources were, our County Commission, curiously, did all the talking for him. Their answer was they didn’t know, but they did know BP already gave $25 million to the State of Florida.

I’d have preferred if Mr. Cochran answered that question. If there is one thing I know about a situation like this, the BP representative was not there to protect the interests of Okaloosa. He was there to mitigate damage for those who employ him.

It is not the role of government to shield a corporation. It is governments role to hold liable those who damage others property and bring them to account.

The County Board’s actions will have other consequences, to be sure. A quick glance at executive order 1099 shows one immediate effect to be anti-gouging price controls. Who decides what is a fair price or gouging will, of course, be the government.

Price controls do not work, and only lead to criminalizing the free market, rationing (think gas lines and per car gallon limits), smuggling and shortages.

I asked the Board if there were going to be restrictions on individuals protecting their property from the oil in the water, and Commissioner Harris said no. But if push came to shove and the County needed, for example, oil containment booms, he said the Counties need would take priority over individuals.

I wonder how Commissioner Harris plans to make that happen. I wonder if he believes he can break a contract between two parties and if that is lawful or constitutional.

Another thing not discussed before the state of emergency was passed was the cost. The County was planning to foot the bill for a lot of emergency equipment, possibly for a very long time. When I asked about this, the answer was they didn’t know, but they did know BP was going to pay for it all. Call me skeptical, but I would be wary of the Counties plan to pay first and then trust a promise from BP.

Government has always acted in a cavalier manner when it comes to spending other people’s money. An emergency is no exception, but it is you and me that have to pay. And this emergency could cost us a lot.

Finally, I asked when the state of emergency would be over. Again, the answer was they didn’t know. I suppose it’s over when the government says it is over.

Our County Commissioners didn’t do the people of Okaloosa any favors this day.

To add insult to injury, those assembled listened to a phone conference with Secretary Michael Sole of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection who assured us that the duration of this disaster would be short and that there was no serious health risk from the oil in the water.

Yeah, and I have an oil well platform I’d like to sell you.

Mid-Bay boondoggle: Reconsider the costly road we are on

Published in the Destin Log, April 26, 2010 4:36 PM

In a month or two, the Okaloosa County Commission will cast its annual vote about one of the largest government financial enterprises in the county, the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority Budget.

The Mid-Bay Bridge, and the authority that runs it, are no minor matter. The tolls cost a regular bridge user $3 a day, or $15 a week, or $780 a year — even more if you are a visitor or do not use the SunPass system. This is a significant expense for anyone.

A key factor in this discussion is that the Bridge Authority financial report is “dependent to Okaloosa County” but the county decided sometime in the past to not include it in general purpose financial statements. This is because of accounting differences between the county and the Bridge Authority.

If it were included, the current Bridge Authority debt would represent more than a doubling of the total county commission liabilities, from $130.4 million to $291 million dollars. Future debts caused by funding the $190 million dollar road expansion currently under construction can only get bigger.

The key question to be asked about the road expansion is “will future road traffic justify such costs?”

I do not think so.

The idea that vehicular traffic will appreciably grow in the future is a flawed concept. It has fallen four years in a row.

America is undergoing fundamental economic change. The country as a whole is overburdened with a mountain of debt. Federal taxation is set to explode over the coming year.

The recession will continue to put a damper on summer vacation traffic, and fuel is likely to permanently go up in price in both real and nominal terms, which will reduce vehicular business and vacation traffic.

Furthermore, who knows what effect new auto regulations will have on people using their cars? Future government regulation of vehicles will probably make them more expensive, making them less available, and further reducing money left over for vacations and business travel.

The purpose of any government agency is to provide a service that the private sector cannot provide and to do so at the least cost. The best government services are those that are debt free and cost the user little.

Instead of adopting a strategy of keeping costs to a minimum, paying off debt, and then passing on the savings to those who work and use the bridge, the Bridge Authority has opted for a strategy of expansion.

It will prove to be a costly mistake, with greater debt and higher tolls in our future.

I ask you to consider:

•The bridge cost $67 million to build.

•$12 million dollars has been spent on tollbooth and access road expansions already.

•The bridge and road infrastructure costs roughly $3 million a year to operate and maintain.

•It takes in roughly $12 million dollars a year in tolls.

•It pays roughly $6 million dollars a year in interest payments, leaving $3 million a year to be used for capital projects that will cost $190 million.

If the Bridge Authority road expansion plans continue, there will be bigger government debts funded by fewer people paying tolls.

Mid-Bay Bridge Traffic will not be able to support the debts that the Bridge Authority is currently accumulating, at least not without another toll increase.

Instead of this situation, I propose the Bridge Authority finances be organized to pay off debt and lower tolls.

Had the bridge authority been organized in the past to pay off debt, it is conceivable the tolls could have been as small as 50 cents one way instead of the $1.50 they are now. This would have paid for operations and maintenance and even the accumulation of a prudent emergency fund.

I urge the BCC to review and make a determination about stopping the Capital Improvements Project, and save thousands of users the extra costs associated with high bridge tolls.

There is a real chance of having more road than we need.

The County needs to change assumptions about growth. Reorganize the Bridge Authority finances to pay off debt. Turn the bridge into a low-cost service to the county.

Remember, the only thing worse than having to pay a high toll, is for your kids to pay a higher one for underused roads.

Pete Blome is a Niceville resident and chairman of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County. The group’s Web site is libertarianpoc.org