Letter to the Editor: Government of the Corporations, by the Corporations, for the Corporations

While accepting “donations” for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbyists, corporations, and special interests may technically be legal for Governor DeSantis, there is no question that is unethical. These are “bribes by another name.” And what they suggest is that our Governor is not the Governor of the people of Florida, but rather the Governor of Corporations based in Florida. Donald Trump has metaphorically set up a summer home in the “swamp” of corporate interests to personally enrich himself as President. Governor DeSantis is following his idol and has set up a metaphorical golf club in the swamp. Or, perhaps, by “draining the swamp” he really meant he was draining it right into his re-election coffers.

Letter to Stacy White, County Commissioner

Stacy White, Hillsborough County Commissioner, filed a lawsuit that is preventing Hillsborough County from improving its transportation infrastructure based on a ballot measure that was approved by 57% of voters in November 2018 (more about this here). Here’s the email I recently sent him:

Commissioner White,

I want to let you know that I’m really disappointed in you for filing the lawsuit that has held up improvements to our transportation system in Hillsborough County. I travel regularly for my work to conferences both in the US and around the world. In most major cities, when I arrive at the airport, I can easily hop on a train or subway and get to where I need to go.

I love Tampa’s airport. It’s my favorite airport perhaps in the world (though Zurich’s airport is pretty impressive as well). But I am appalled that we don’t have easy public transit from the airport to downtown Tampa. The transportation tax would have fixed that. And now, because of you, the entire process has been held up in stupid lawsuits.

I sit on the board of a professional organization that chooses where to hold conferences. One of the major factors in our decision-making process is public transit from the airport to the hotel. By not improving our transportation infrastructure, we are losing out on millions of dollars from such conferences every year. I hold you personally responsible for that.

I will be donating money to your opponent in the upcoming election to ensure you don’t have another term in office.

Sincerely,

Ryan Cragun
Hillsborough County Resident

(NOTE: You can submit your own letter here.)

Letter to the Editor: Ashley Moody’s mixed up priorities

I find it more than a little concerning that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody wants to kill a petition drive to ban assault weapons (Ban Assault Weapons Now) but hasn’t said anything about the secretive effort to restrict constitutional amendments that is possibly being funded by utility companies in Florida. If Moody cared about Floridians and the law more than she did conservative politics and big donors, her actions would be exactly the opposite of what she is doing. She would be calling for the donors of the Keep Our Constitution Clean initiative to be revealed and would be encouraging reform to gun laws. Based on her actions, our chief law enforcement official in Florida is nothing more than a Republican team member defending corporate and Republican interests.

(NOTE: This is another letter I sent to the editor of the Tampa Bay Times that was not published.)

Wagging the Dog – Iran and the 2020 Election

(NOTE: I submitted this to the Tampa Bay Times as an opinion piece on 5/16/2019. They didn’t publish it.)

While no one can predict the future, it looks like we’re about to go to war with Iran so Donald Trump will be re-elected. Of course, skepticism is warranted, but a close reading of history suggests this may be intentional.

In 1964, the USS Maddox engaged in an exchange of munitions with several North Vietnamese torpedo boats. This incident happened because the USS Maddox entered the territorial waters of North Vietnam at the direction of US leaders. In essence, we provoked the North Vietnamese into attacking us. After this incident, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that gave President Lyndon Johnson the authorization to use conventional military force in Southeast Asia. Basically, we tricked North Vietnam into a confrontation in order to drum up support for a war – the Vietnam War.

The recently claimed acts of sabotage on ships in the Persian Gulf that have been blamed on Iran sound eerily familiar to the claims of North Vietnamese aggression. I’m certainly not suggesting we should trust Iran over US intelligence agencies, but Iran is denying involvement and explicitly claiming that this is an effort to provoke them. Remember: Our political leaders have lied before in order to convince the American people to support wars in the Middle East.

Couple the above with the fact that incumbent Presidents do really well during wars (see here) and it now seems as though there is intentionality to what is happening. Whether or not this was devised by Donald Trump or his advisers is uncertain (I’d guess the later), but it appears to me as though we are headed to a direct confrontation with Iran and that we headed down this road as soon as we pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Iran really is the aggressor and that the American public are not being manipulated into thinking a war with Iran is justified and that President Trump is the person to lead such a war. But history strongly suggests that we are being manipulated by an unpopular administration to enter a conflict with Iran. I doubt that the only motivation is to bolster Trump’s re-election, but that is a likely consequence if a war with Iran does begin.

We’re still fighting an unending war in Afghanistan, the same location that helped bankrupt the Soviet Union. We’re now threatening a war with Iran to what end? Will Iran be the boogie man that wins Trump re-election? I hope the American public and the American media are less gullible when the administration tries to manipulate us into a war this time.

Tampa Mayoral Election – 2019

I often rely on the Tampa Bay Times to provide useful information on local political elections. Their coverage is usually pretty good. But they don’t always cover every election or every candidate. And since I like to do my own research, I figured I’d start blogging about the elections.

Here’s what I’ve found on the Mayoral candidates. The election is March 5th, 2019.

Jane Castor

Campaign website

Job History:
Former Chief of Police of Tampa.

Unique Features:
Castor has been heavily criticized for a policing policy implemented while she was Chief of Police of stopping people on bicycles, as a disproportionate percentage of those people were black.

Tampa Bay Times officially endorsed Jane Castor for Mayor.

Harry Cohen

Campaign website

Job History:
Lawyer turned public servant. Worked as Chief Deputy Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hillsborough County from 2005-2011. Elected to Tampa City Council in 2011 and re-elected in 2015.

Unique Features:
The only candidate to put together a fairly detailed transportation plan for Tampa.

Dick “Dickie” Greco

Campaign website
Job History:
Unique Features:
Dickie Greco is the latest addition to the candidate pool, announcing his candidacy in early January. He is also the son of Dick Greco, who was mayor of Tampa multiple times.
Party Affiliation:
Democrat

Michael Anthony Hazard

Campaign website; Twitter;

Job History:
He’s a Tampa native. His family operates an online human resources and office supply company.

Unique Features:
Hazard is a convicted felon (for bad checks and forgery) who voted illegally in Florida twice (though, this was before the passage of Constitutional Amendment 4 in 2018 that restored the voting rights of felons, which made him eligible to run for Mayor).

Party Affiliation:
Democrat

LaVaughn King

Campaign website

Job History:

Unique Features:
King appears to be the only candidate who is flaunting his religiosity.

Topher Morrison

Campaign website

Job History:

Unique Features:

David Straz

Campaign website

Job History:
Comes from a wealthy family. His mother loaned him the money to buy his first bank.

Unique Features:
I found this quote from an article about a candidate forum interesting, “Straz advocated letting the private sector take the lead on the problem [affordable housing in Tampa] with help from willing banks and city and federal aid. He said he had hired an African-American staffer to “help me in the urban core.“” So, like Trump, put a black person in charge of poverty because blacks are, presumably, all poor?!? That strikes me as remarkably out of touch… And racist.

Mike Suarez

Campaign website; Twitter;

Job History:

Unique Features:

Ed Turanchik

Campaign website

Job History:

Unique Features:

Polling Information:

July 24th, 2018 – St. Pete Polls put Jane Castor at 41%, almost 30% ahead of the next closest candidate, David Straz, at 11%.

Debates and News Coverage:

October 3rd, 2018 – You can read about the first debate here.
December 11th, 2018 – Here’s the coverage from the Tampa Bay Times on the third debate/candidate forum. Candidate statements from that debate on youtube.
January 9th, 2019 – Fourth debate covered here.
January 15th, 2019 – Another candidate forum.


Campaign finance information for all of the candidates is available here.

Other Items on the Ballot

Tampa Charter Amendments

The Tampa Bay Times details the aims of each of the amendments to the Tampa City Charter here.

District 1

Joseph Citro
Alan Clendenin
David Loos
Craig A. Newman
Walter L. Smith II
Tampa Bay Times recommends Citro.

District 2

John Godwin
Charlie Miranda (no campaign website)
Joe Robinson

Tampa Bay Times recommends Miranda.

District 3

John Dingfelder
Nicholas Glover
Stephen Lytle
Vibha “Ms. V” Shevade

Tampa Bay Times recommends Dingfelder.
This article provides some good background on each of the candidates.

District 6

Guido Maniscalco
Wendy Pepe

This article provides some good background on each of the candidates.

a vote against McCollum for Governor of Florida

Anyone looking for a reason not to vote for Bill McCollum for Governor of Florida? Look no further than an article in today’s St. Petersburg Times noting that, under his direction, the State Attorney General’s office spent over $100,000 on “expert” testimony to hire George Rekers, a homophobic hack who had already been discredited by other courts as having no scientific credibility whatsoever, to defend Florida’s law disallowing gay couples from adopting children.  Ergo, Bill McCollum throws taxpayer money away on hacks to defend religious ideology.

Oh, and George Rekers was recently outed as a closet homosexual – he hired a male prostitute for a 10-day European trip and was caught.  So sad…

the ticket of false hope :(

In case you missed it, President Obama came to my university, University of Tampa, last week.  He spoke mostly about the funding for high speed rail, but then took questions from the audience.

Faculty at my University were reserved a certain number of seats, we just had to ask for a ticket.  I asked for a ticket:

The Secret Service shut down a number of streets around my university and we were told that certain faculty parking lots would be blocked off.  So, I decided to ride my bike into work (takes about 20 minutes; I should do it more often, but I’m too lazy).  Anyway, there was a very long line to get into the gym where the Town Hall Meeting was to be held.  Since I had a ticket, I didn’t think getting in would be an issue.  Um, yeah, I was wrong.  Apparently some of the students at UT decided that, rather than wait in line the day before (there were not enough for all of them), they would simply photocopy tickets.  As a result, about 400 people were turned away from the event, despite having valid tickets.  I was one of them.

I ended up watching the meeting in one of the rooms on campus where they were broadcasting it live.  I guess it’s a good thing I went to see him when he was campaigning here in Tampa; now I don’t feel too bad for missing this event.

why no email campaign?

Sorry for another political post, but something just dawned on me.  I was walking through the lobby of one of the main buildings on campus and there was a student group giving away donuts if you would call your Representative, Senator or the Whitehouse and urge them to take action on the genocide in Darfur.  It’s a noble cause, and a free donut.  So, I called Representative Kathy Castor’s office and urged them to take action (then ate my donut).

On my way back to my office, I realized that I had not contacted my Representative or Senators about health care.  I also realized that I hadn’t seen any email campaigns to do so.  As healthcare is an issue that really bothers me, I decided I’d go ahead and email them myself.

If you’ve never done so, now would be a good time.  It’s also quite easy.  For your senators, go here:

http://senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Find the senators for your state and email them.  For your representative, go here:

https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

You can even use my email if you’d like:

Senator/Representative,

I’m writing to encourage you to do whatever you can to institute a government-run health insurance plan.  I’m proud to be American, but ashamed that we are the only developed country in the world that does not have some form of universal coverage for all of our citizens.  Instituting a government-run health insurance plan is the first step in making that happen.  Instituting a government-run health insurance plan will also substantially lower health care costs, which I think most people in the US would like to see.

As one of your constituents, I urge you to reflect the desires of the majority of Americans and institute substantial health care reform, including a government-run health insurance plan:
http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/03/05/poll-do-americans-want-government-health-care-reform/
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-the-politics-of-health-care/

Sincerely,

It will take you five minutes to do this.  I’m not one for guilting people into action, but come on – 5 minutes!  Of course, it may take longer if you want to customize the message, but that’s up to you (you mean you don’t want a government-run plan?).  Plus, you’ll be cool; you can go around to all your friends and say, “I contacted my senators and representative today.  Did you?”  Come on!  Don’t you want to be cool?

You disagree with me? LAAA LAAA LAAA

As a social scientist I’m fully aware of the fact that people tend to listen to, observe, and even seek out media and information that support their existing beliefs (this is a subset of both confirmation bias and self-justification).  Along with this is the tendency of people to avoid, criticize, and even demean any media or information that disagrees with their existing beliefs.  The result of such behavior, of course, is extreme polarization and a reduced ability to see the perspectives of people with whom you disagree.  In layperson’s terms: Once you stop listening to people with different opinions, it becomes nearly impossible to accept the idea that they may have something worthwhile to say.

Enter Barack Obama.  This Tuesday he plans to speak to the nation’s school children.  Thanks the polarizing efforts of Fox News’s scallywag blowhards, the parents of the nation’s school children are freaking out.  Now, turn the clocks back almost 20 years and George H.W. Bush (the dad) did the same thing.  I was in high school at that point.  Was there an uproar?  Did the parents of the nation’s school children freak out?  Were liberals running through streets demanding that their “socialist” children not listen to this god-fearing capitalist propagandist?  Um… No…

This raises two questions:

1) Should the President of the U.S. be allowed to talk to school children?

I’m pretty sure the Rush Limbaugh’s, Sean Hannity’s, and Glenn Beck’s have conveniently failed to mention the fact that Presidents of the US regularly visit schools and classrooms.  In fact, George W. Bush was reading a kid’s book to students in an elementary class when the September 11th terrorist attacks took place.  I wonder how many of the parents of those kids threw fits when they found out THE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. was coming to visit their kids and talk to them?

While George Bush was President, I regularly used him as an example of someone with power.  I would tell my students that, if he were to suddenly walk into my classroom, regardless of how important I considered the topic of discussion at that moment, I would turn the floor over to him.  I’m not a fan of George Bush and I disagree with him politically on just about everything.  But because of his position (i.e. “status” in sociology), I would still listen to him and assume that what he had to say to my students would be worth hearing.

Additionally, I am a believer in listening to people who disagree with you precisely because it forces you to rethink what it is you believe (this is why we went to see Mitt Romney and John McCain speak during the election last year).  If you only ever listen to people who agree with you, you fall prey to groupthink.  And, your views are often ill-founded and not carefully developed.  In short, you think what you think not because it is a well-developed argument but because you’re afraid to think and have not considered thinking anything else.

So, the short answer to this question: Parents should be ecstatic that the President of the U.S. is taking time out of his schedule to talk to their children, regardless of his politics.  That he is doing so reflects the importance he puts on school.

2) What has changed to result in this type of a response?  While I’m not an expert on this particular social psychological phenomenon, my guess is that the media is playing a particularly large role in this.  While having a free and mostly unrestricted press (George Bush certainly didn’t give the press free reign in Iraq or Afghanistan during his wars there) is a hallmark of a liberal and open country, this also means the press can work to undermine the leadership of the country.  You would likely not find such criticism in the media in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has cracked down on the press.  So, I fully support the right of the media to say what they want regarding Barack Obama’s address to the nation’s school children.  I’d even die for their right to say what they are saying.

But I can’t help but see the media that is pushing this as remarkably hypocritical.  They demand the right to criticize the President and even try to get students to avoid listening to him give an innocuous speech about staying in school.  But if anyone were to criticize their right to say what they are saying, they would be up in arms about Constitutional Rights.  So, they support peoples’ rights to listen to them, but not to anyone who disagrees with them.  This is hypocrisy 101.

As for why this response now?  I think it does reflect both a growing divide in the U.S. between conservatives and progressives.  Luckily for those of us who are somewhat in touch with reality, it appears as though progressives are winning some of these battles.  The Republican Party is shrinking.  Religious fundamentalism is shrinking.  People are realizing that you can’t fight progress forever.  Doing so will ultimately doom your society.  So, my guess as to why this is happening now is because the religious right and conservatives in the U.S. are feeling increasingly marginalized (because they are), but they retain control over much of the media (most of the CEOs of media conglomerates are wealthy white men with vested interests in maintaining the status quo).  So, as wealthy white men lose a little bit of their power and control, they are fighting back, using the tools they have – the media and the unfailing loyalty of those who are too closed-minded to listen to anyone with whom they might possibly disagree.

Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but it seems like what we are hearing are the death throes of conservativism in the U.S.  It may be a long, loud, and painful death, but I’m hoping it is a death nonetheless.  That death may lead to the rise of Libertarians, but I’m guessing Libertarians wouldn’t run away from the opposition with their hands over their ears screaming at the top of their lungs so they can’t hear the opinions of those who disagree with them.

big government vs. little government

For all you fans of reducing government out there, maybe you should reconsider.  This NYTimes article gives a good illustration of situations when small government doesn’t make sense.  For years the government has allowed private companies to provide student loans at virtually no risk to the companies as the government insures the loans and provides the funding.  The companies just make money off that arrangement.  When the government makes the loans directly (even if it uses a private company to manage the loans), it saves billions.  In short, sub-contracting out to private companies services that government can provide directly only increases the cost.  It doesn’t decrease the cost, and here’s why: You introduce profit into the equation.

Do the math.  When the government runs the program, it looks like this:

cost of program = cost to provide the services

When government subcontracts programs, it looks like this:

cost of program = cost to provide the services + profit for corporation

In what situation can “profit for corporation” lead to lower costs of programs?  (It certainly hasn’t in healthcare; one of the primary reasons healthcare costs in the US keep going up is because insurance companies keep increasing their profits.  Take them out of the equation and healthcare costs will go down, not up.)

When I read that article this morning I remembered thinking about my father’s military experience. When he was in the military soldiers did the cooking and cleaning.  That was part of being a soldier.  Today, all of that is subcontracted out at ridiculous rates.  Soldiers don’t cook the food.  Why?  Can they not cook?  Of course they can.  The reason they don’t is because defense contractors see that as one more way to take money from taxpayers.  How could it possibly be less expensive to have soldiers cook their own food?

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a rant against soldiers having more leisure time.  It’s a rant about wasteful spending.  I’d love to pay less in taxes, just like everyone else.  But that means cutting out these ridiculous subcontractor scenarios where they simply add “profit for corporations” to the equation and then claim that it is cheaper for the American taxpayer because it “reduces government.”  That, of course, is crap!  It may mean bigger government to get rid of the subcontractors, but, ironically, bigger government sometimes means lower taxes.