Friday, December 9, 2011

The Pier What Happened?

My Post Sunday on the Pier resulted in some comments and some e-mails. These Comments from Linda say a lot. 

 "My perspective is actually that of a tourist, I do not live in St. Pete area, but my parents do and we visit 2-3 times a year. I think the city should really find out what TOURISTS are looking for, also in the pier, because, after all, tourists/visitors/snow-birders contribute largely to Florida's "income."

For those of you new to the whole Pier Process, here is a link  to the Pier Advisory Task Force. This is the outline and these are the people that brought us to this point in the process. The Minutes section of each meeting is a hyper link and you can read how the process unfolded. 

If you take a few minutes and look through this information you will see the amount of effort has gone into the Pier process up to this point and how much input the general public really had.  The question of a public referendum surfaced early and was downplayed from the very start.

So the question is what happened? All of those high end people, a bunch of money for consulting, visioning and planning, a whole raft of meetings how did we end up with the public so upset at the process?

A partial answer may be in the comments by the City's staff architect In a June 8, 2011 article in TBO.com J. Raul Quintana, the city's staff architect, acknowledged that, after all the money spent, the city is no closer to "a visual solution" to The Pier than two years ago. "In a way we're asking the same questions we asked back then," he said.

If you give a bunch of guys with rooms full of computers, egos the size of all outdoors,  that live thousands of miles away from here 50 million dollars to play with, and ask them to design something they can have their name on and not live next to,  you will get what we got. I am not sure what we expected, but we should have expected what we got. 

It is fascinating to listen to the St. Pete elite fawn over these architectural nightmares.  It's kind of like going to a wine tasting and listening  to some gal who showed up in a BMW go on and on about a glass of wine that tastes like the cat took a whizz in it. 

Quintana's comments still stand.

I think the real problem is that there is a group of movers and shakers in St. Pete that have never been happy with who and what St. Pete really is. They think we need a major league team or a monstrosity the water to define us. I think our quality of life defines us.

Look at the names on the Task Force and if you follow things closely a lot of them will look familiar. 

They know what's best for St. Pete and they are not about to be discouraged by letting you vote on their ideas

 All they need you to do is pay the tab.


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Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Pier - Decision Time


There are plenty of comments out there about the proposed new Pier designs. Mine probably wouldn't add much. What we do need to think about now is the process and the impact.

The designs are interesting. It is notable to me that there is not a firm Florida, one that might actually understand our community and environment, that could design the new Pier. I guess they're just not "artsy" enough.

This is a big decision for St. Petersburg. If you haven't noticed, things are not going all that well. The news paper is abandoning the City as a name sake, like it or not it is probably just a matter of time before major league baseball takes their game elsewhere and we were just awarded the dubious distinction of being one of the saddest Cities in the nation.

There are a lot of questions to be asked and answered before the City commits to a project of this scale and impact. There is a fine line between artful attraction and something that becomes a eyesore.

The last thing we need is new Pier that becomes a laughing point, object of bad jokes, or that ultimately ends up on Spa Beach as a tangled mess when the hurricane finally gets here.

We may have been a bit too preoccupied with touting St. Pete as an "ART DESTINATION". I enjoy molded glass and the occasional clock dripping off the edge of a table, but something that is inordinately expensive to build, exorbitantly costly to insure and maintain, that most visitors stand on the shore and laugh at is not where we need to go.

Fifty million is the opening price. That is nowhere near what the final price tag will be if it is anything like the Dome and the International Museum projects.

Add to all of that the effort to prevent the people from actually having an opportunity to vote on what is done at the Pier and you have the makings of a real disaster.

From my perspective the Arts Council, the Chamber of Commerce and a few well connected downtown players have way to much say in this whole process. They don't want you to be able to vote because they know how it will go.

What does West St. Pete get out of this other than a bigger tax bill?

After a long time in the City Administration, I finally figured out the people got it right a lot more often than we did.

The public needs to push hard for a Pier Referendum.


 
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pinellas County Schools - Epilog

I have watched with interest over the years as the Pinellas County school system wrestled with first one mess and then another. I had some distant contact with Clayton Wilcox, the past Superintendent. I had hoped that bringing in a talented outsider would begin to make some difference in the both substance and the stature of the school system. From the very beginning Wilcox was in a pitched battle with the administration and the teacher's union. Soon, thanks to some clever politicking by teachers and administrators and a gullible School Board, Wilcox was on the defensive having issues with the School Board. One of the big problems was Wilcox liked kids. He had a passion to see that education was provided to everyone in an effective way. He wanted teachers to teach. Heresy.

Clayton, like all of us, had his problems, lots of ego, aggressive and not real patient. As support for Wilcox eroded he decided to move on, motivated I am sure by some well meaning School Board members. The elected brain trust selected Janssen as the new person to head a troubled school district, an easy decision for the pseudo politicians that set on the School Board. No push back from the teachers or the administration. The reason? Janssen was an insider it would be business as usual. A classic case of in breeding. So it has been. The most condemning reference was "she had grown up in the Pinellas County school system". A product of the very culture she would be asked to change. It was like reaching into a boiling pot and trying to find the solution to what's making it boil. A poor choice that has come back to haunt them. The School Board has given Janssen 60 days to clean up her act, a seemingly impossible task. She could do everyone in Pinellas County a favor by simply resigning. Not likely. Janssen was never a class act and nothing has happened to change that.

The current question on the table is will the School Board finally have enough courage to take a stand, fire Janssen and go get, and support, someone who can reform the school system? Based on past history it seems unlikely. In any event we need to look carefully at who runs for School Board in the next election cycle. Let's try voting in some people who are not tied to the school system. Some independent thinkers with some backbone for a change.

Sixty days and Counting…Can Janssen Clean up her act?

The Pinellas County School System has been troubled for years. Maybe they should hang out a sign "Reformers Not Welcome"

I think school systems in general have missed the mission. Today we spend way to much public education money on athletic fields, stadiums, team uniforms, high paid coaches and not enough on teaching students how to read, write and add. The chances of a Pinellas County School student punting, passing, hitting, slam-dunking, swimming, or catching his or her way to success is a real long shot. Don't believe me, check the number of professional athletes in the major leagues and their salaries. Yet we spend a disproportionate amount of money on these programs. A school Board worth its salt should recognize this and do something about it.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

ITT TECH St. Petersburg Summer 2011 Graduation

GOOD NEWS
By: Dr. E. Eugene Webb, BEE, MBA, PhD

Good evening.

Dean, distinguished faculty, honored guests and Graduates; it is real honor to be asked to present a few comments at your graduation from ITT.

The last time I was here to speak to ITT Graduates, things were in a mess. The economy had tanked, no one was hiring and the outlook was bleak. It’s tough to make an uplifting presentation when things are looking so bad…..

But tonight I come here with some GOOD NEWS.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE):
A 2011 job outlook survey showed employers planned to hire 19.3 percent more graduates this spring than they did a year ago.

Monster .com says:
As the economy improves in 2011, IT hiring will pick up as companies implement projects they put off during the recession and rehire those laid-off project managers……

Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific:
Among the more promising hiring trends: improving prospects for science and tech workers. According to Dr. Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California he says. “We’ll see better growth in technical fields related to computers and engineering.”
US News and World Report:
Early economic indicators show positive signs for the class of 2011 as its seniors prepare to enter the workforce, according to several studies by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Adecco Work Force Solutions:
Professional and business services gains contributed significantly to the overall private sector (job) additions in May. The sector added 44,000 jobs in the past month. Job growth for soon-to-be college graduates is stronger this year than last… in nearly every industry sector, says Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at NACE. Last week, the Bethlehem, Pa.-based organization released a statement …that about 53 percent of employers surveyed intend to hire more college graduates from the class of 2011 than from the previous year, a jump from less than 50 percent who reported they would hire in a fall survey.

And here at ITT they now have more job postings than candidates in several job categories.

Things are getting better. Growth is returning. For a time it will be slow and bumpy but it will be steady. For you, the Graduating class of 2011, this is really great news, because you are ready, you are well trained…. and you are well prepared.

As you move into the work place you will be catching the bottom of the new growth wave. You have the opportunity to be there with a great education and practical knowledge as things start to happen.

You can position yourself in your new job, use the tools you have acquired here at ITT to propel yourself to a great career and a rewarding future.

I firmly believe there will never be a better time to be entering the work force and starting a career than right now.

How do you catch the wave?..... How do you succeed?...... What do you do? ….. How to you make the most of this almost unbelievable opportunity?

We know you make good decisions because you chose ITT for your educational experience. We know you have a great education. Look at the history of ITT Graduates. We know that your education is well respected by business and industry. We know that you have a strong work ethic because you are here graduating.

So what’s left to do?

Go get the job…… Work hard…… Contribute to your company’s success….. Keep your eyes open for new opportunity….. Take on new assignments….. Go the extra mile….. Continue your education…..

Come back to ITT or go somewhere else, but always keep growing your knowledge base. It is the one thing no one can take away from you. Expect to be successful.

Dr. WAYNE DYER is an internationally renowned author and speaker in the field of self-development. He's the author of over 30 books, has appeared on thousands of television and radio shows. If you watch any Public Television you have probably seen him. He makes this statement:

“Contemplate yourself surrounded by the consequences you intend to create.”

It means this: Imagine you can accomplish all you want…. The perfect life…. The perfect family…. The perfect job…. The perfect house….. The perfect car…. Robust health….. Unfathomable love.

These are the consequences, the results, you intend to create. You can have all of that and more if  you

"Contemplate yourself surrounded by the consequences you intend to create."

While you’re at it…… Be sure to give back.Always remember that all of your success, whatever it may be, is just a small part of all of our successes…. In a society as complex as ours, each of us shares mutually in the success of all others. Through community service, church, volunteerism or whatever instrument is comfortable for you, always give something back.
Finally …….. I am excited for you…for each of you. Honestly, I am also a bit envious….. You stand at what now appears to be the beginning of the next really significant period of technological, societal and economic change…. You have the opportunity to play as big a part in this new era as you desire and are willing to work for. My generation’s time is passing… but yours is just beginning. We have left you with some great accomplishments to enjoy, some serious problems to be solved….. and an abundance of opportunity. There are solutions for our problems waiting to be found…. Search for them.

The opportunities are almost limitless. … Take advantage of them when they arise.
And never for get to enjoy life. It is easy to get caught up in work and career, so take some time for yourself and your loved ones… and enjoy the rewards of you labor along the way. To many wait till the end…. only to find out it’s too late.

We are all very proud of you tonight……. You have reached a true milestone in your life…..
Your next great adventure awaits…… On behalf the entire ITT family….. let me thank you for letting us be a part of your future.

My congratulations to the Summer 2011 Graduation class.

Thank you.
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pinellas County Schools

I have been watching the wrangling between the School Board, Superintendant Janssen and the public with interest for some time now. It has been a long time since I had a child in the Pinellas County Public school system, but my memories of many of those twelve years are still pretty vivid. I arrived here in Pinellas County in 1968; my daughter was 2 years old. Shortly after our arrival the Federal Court ordered bussing was put in place. Almost immediately a spate of private schools sprung up to accommodate parents, many of them our friends, who wanted to avoid bussing and the integration it brought on. I remember my wife and I discussing sending our daughter to a private school, the means were certainly there, but we opted for the public school system, mostly because we both felt that the socialization in a real word environment was more valuable than "protecting" our child form life's harsh realities.

It turned out the decision was both right and wrong. Fully realizing this was over 40 years ago, you may be thinking ok where is the relevance? Here it is. I distinctly remember a number of occasions when issues arose with the school system where we interacted with teachers or the administration. I cannot remember one that went well or turned out positive. Even now, I clearly remember arrogant administrators, tenured teachers with the "I don't care what you say or think, I am untouchable" attitude. My daughter, while far from a saint, was not treated fairly or properly along with many of her class mates. An as much as the school system touted parental involvement I came away feeling it was more talk than real desire.

Things don't appear to have changed much over the years and I obviously I don't think much of the Pinellas County school system. I interview people who are a product of the Pinellas school system who can barely read or write. Over bloated with administrators, assistants and tenured teachers whose attitudes are more hostile than supportive, the school system has degenerated into a political cat fight. Like Rick Scott or not, eliminating tenure is going to go a long way in improving the quality of teaching.

Why we cannot find and elect people to a School Board with common sense who are willing to make serious decisions totally eludes me. Once elected, they become politically correct, fearing even the hint of a controversy. My daughter went on the St. Pete Junior college where she struggled a bit, then to USF and directly to the Florida Institute of Technology to complete her Master's degree.

You might think it all ended there but it did not. Pick up the story Wednesday when I tell you more about the surprising impact of a poor public school experience.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Time To Go

I have a very large Oak in the back of my property. Every year for the last decade or so I have been entertained by a family of nesting Blue Jays. This year, I count four nests in the tree, not all Blue Jays I am sure. This weekend I spent part of Saturday at home cleaning a bit and the afternoon in the pool. My resident Blue Jays were all the twitter, moving this years hatchlings out of the nest and on their way. The adults were most insistent and soon the young, three of them, were enticed to a nearby power wire, then a slightly more distant tree and then apparently gone.

My own resident feathered companion, Jeepers, a 25 year old Blue and Gold Macaw watched the whole proceeding with tacit approval but without much comment. Also odd because she has something to say about almost everything. It seemed a bit early in the summer to be moving the family out on their own. As of late Saturday afternoon none had returned.

Our faithful oak has been a reliable home for nesting birds and squirrels for many years, but perhaps moving on a bit early this year is the prudent thing for wise mother bird to do. It set me to thinking that maybe the Blue Jays know something about the upcoming hurricane season that I had missed. I grabbed the laptop checked the hurricane forecast and pulled up my hurricane check list and started making some changes. Probably time, the last up date was in 2009. You might want to check yours.

The Blue Jays may just know something.
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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Parrot Heads, Palm Harbor and a Slice of Paradise

I have been a ParrotHead since the very first Jimmy Buffet song I heard. From live performances in Key West to the Trop, when it was called the Thunder Dome, I have been a die hard Buffet fan. I could not pass this weekends' Palm Harbor ParrotHead party. I dusted off the Harley grabbed a Buffet T-Shirt some flip flops and headed up US 19. A scant 30 minutes or so later Thresea and I were in "Down Town Palm Harbor" which has a very genuine Key West type feel. We passed on the Cheese Burgers in Paradise and instead dropped by Molly Goodheads for some great fish and stuffed mushrooms. Then on to the party. The crowd was big, older and the Buffet tribute band, The Caribbean Chillers, was great!

Jimmy Buffet has been the troubadour to at least three generations. Problem is the crowd is getting older and the newest "constant on" generation doesn't relate well to the laid back, disconnected lifestyle Buffets' songs and books espouse. The Caribbean Chillers lead singer had just turned 60 and from his comments he was still trying to adjust to the challenges of his newest decade. It was fascinating to watch the crowd switch from looking at their cell phones to singing along with their favorite Buffet tune.

It's still too early to determine who will be the alternative life style leader of the new I-Phone, I-Pad, Droid, Kindel always connected generation, but I doubt it will Buffet. A picture of a Parrot on a Droid, no matter how the high resolution, just can't equal that same Parrot sitting on your shoulder at a bar with your mind totally disconnected or laying for hours under a palm tree with a pitcher of margaritas staring pointlessly at the ocean. Sooner or later every generation, so far, has tired of the pressures they self inflict on them selves and look for a way out. This one is no different; they are just waiting for the right song from the right person. Let's hope they find it soon. Palm Harbor throws a great party.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Battle Over Credit/Debit Card Swipe Fees


The path between your credit card transaction at your favorite store and the bank or credit card issuer is significantly more complex than most people think. VISA and MASTERCARD , for example, as business entities that you do business with directly do not really exist. Seriously, try to find a VISA or MASTERCARD Office. You always end up at an issuing bank. That's because VISA, MASTERCARD, AMEX DISCOVER are really service providers. They supply the network that processes your transaction. There are a multiplicity of hands in your credit card transaction all taking a penny here, a few cents there all referred to as the "discount rate". When you make a one hundred dollar purchase at store and use your debit or credit card if the merchant has a 5% discount rate he only gets $95. The five bucks is divided among a number of service providers from the regional clearing house, card issuer and others. Think about the number of credit/debit card purchases daily and you begin to get a picture of the enormous amounts of money being funneled off to the credit card industry. They are like a leech on the money flow.


In December, the Federal Reserve issued a rule that would cap the fee at 12 cents per transaction. The new rule was added to the reform bill as an amendment by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Thus begun an intense battle between the banks, credit card issuers, service providers and the retail industry who would like to hold on to this money instead of giving it to the banks. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has proposed legislation that would delay its implementation by two years. Want to guess where his campaign contributions will be coming from?
The credit card issuers, banks and service provides have gotten fat on this unregulated flow of money and are now fighting to hang on to the only thing better than an oil well when it comes to making easy money. The retail industry wants to keep the discount fees to "lower consumer costs". Don't hold your breath on that one. A better bet is any savings they reap will go right to the bottom line as profit. Finally, the banks are threatening to raise fees and every other charge including card interest rate if they loose this revenue flow.
Most likely outcome if the bill passes: Banks will use it as an excuse to raise fees on small account holders, retailers will keep the money, prices will not go down and card issuing may become more restrictive.

See a win in there for the consumer? Me neither.

 
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Debt Ceiling and Disaster

Dr. E. Eugene Webb

You are hearing a lot of noise about the US Debt ceiling. Most of the politicians and financial people are predicting disaster if Congress doesn't vote to raise the debt limit. Those crying the loudest are social reformers who think we can spend our way out of the current mess, and the financial/investment people who live off the interest paid on the US debt while contributing nothing in return. But recently some new voices are starting to be heard. They are pointing out that the US will not default on the debt but start moving funds around to make its debt payments. The real problem is all of those political sacred cows that won't be funded while we pay off our obligations. The liberal left, who never saw a dollar that they didn't want to spend two of, are concerned that their source of funding, borrowed money, for social boondoggles will dry up. Actually, not raising the debt limit might be good for the government. It would cause a refocusing of priorities and start to bring some reason to government spending. We've tried everything else. Its time to cut up the Federal Government credit card. Let's take a shot at fiscal responsibility. The global economy will not fail regardless of what all those mournful faces on the money talk shows say.


 

Doc.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Politicians, Public Servants, Religious Leaders and Easter

Dr. E. Eugene Webb

A little over 2,011 years ago a guy who many of us believe arrived on this earth via a miraculous birth began speaking out to the people. At the time he was just about 30 years old. At first dismissed by religious leaders as a flash in the pan, his popularity began to grow. For the next three years he would push the limits of civil and religious law. Soon, he was on the radar of not only the right wing religious leaders but also the politicians. His inner circle of twelve were not the most sophisticated of their time, but they had a charismatic feel about them.

As he moved about the countryside the number of his followers began to grow. The crowds were bigger and more fervent. The religious leaders were in a frenzy as he questioned their law and their motives. The political establishment, while reluctant to enter into what appeared to be a religious dispute, were becoming concerned. The people were uneasy and a revolt might threaten the political establishment. The religious leaders on the far right began to pressure the political elite for swift action. They wanted their old laws preserved and this perceived threat eliminated. The politicians handed the problem to a dutiful public servant who carefully reviewed the facts. Being politically correct, he found no reasons for pursuing the religious leader's desire of putting their problem to death. When the public servant offered to release him, the religious right flew into a rage chose instead a thief. The public servant, weary of the fray, released Jesus to the religious leaders who took it upon themselves to put him to death in a most insidious way. Then there were the circumstances of his resurrection. An empty tomb, reported sightings and resurgence of his movement and a promise to return.

For the next two millennia no single individual would have the effect on government, politics, religion and life itself as this one person. 2000 years later religious leaders still pressure for their way, politicians maneuver and public servants to often wash their hands of the problems. One can only image he must wonder if we have learned anything from Easter.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Who is Really Failing our Students? The Teachers or the System?


My family's experience with the Pinellas County school system, a number of years ago, left several indelible feelings with me, all negative. I had no idea the impact it had on my daughter.

It was several years after my daughter received her master's degree. She was expecting her second child, the first, a son was three, pushing four, and nearing preschool age. She called from her office in Atlanta and started the conversation with a sentence that no parent likes to hear, "I've got something I need to talk to you about". Taking a deep breath I mumbled the typical response "What's that"?

She proceeded to tell me she was giving up the career and going home to be a stay at home mom and raise her children. Pure relief on my part, but then there was this. She said "I have decided to home school my kids". "Why home school?". I Asked. I'll never forget the response. She said. "My experience in the public school system there in St. Petersburg was so bad and left such a deeply negative impression on me about school and public education, that I will never take that chance with my children."

We chatted a bit more about the socialization issue and isolation of home schoolers and the conversation ended. I remember I sat there stunned. I never had thought about how the consequences of the educational process, the business of education, might affect the student's long term view of public education. It occurred to me that this school system was failing many of its students on a number of levels. Looking at FCAT scores, dropout rates and graduation percentages it would appear not much has changed.

There are now four children in my daughter's household. Two in college, another soon to follow and the youngest well on her way. All totally home schooled. Realizing the problems with home schooling, she developed an outside the home program that now serves over 150 home schooled children providing that needed socialization and academic access to arts, music and science programs that are often difficult for home schoolers to provide. I am not particularly an advocate of home schooling. I think it can bring children as many problems as it solves. My daughter and I have had many discussions about the subject.

What happens to others who are turned off by school system? Could it be today's dropout rate is influenced as much by the parent's perception of the school system as it is the attitude of the student? The point is if the public school system in this County is so poorly run that it inspires this kind of reaction why hasn't it been fixed? How many students have dropped out or been turned off on education by what goes on as opposed to what is taught?

Those were the questions almost 30 years ago and they persist today. Why has the Pinellas County school system found it so difficult to get on track and stay there ?

Some final thoughts Sunday.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

What Happened to the High Tech President?

By: Dr. E. Eugene Webb

All during the election campaign we saw Candidate Obama with an I phone. He held it embraced it and used it. He probably did as much for the I phone as all the advertising. The campaign Tweeted, Face Booked and used every social media opportunity to communicate with donors, campaign workers and citizens. What happened? I haven't seen Obama lately with anything that resembles an I-Phone, I-Pad, Droid or anything else high tech for that matter. Security? Leaks? What's up? Does any one else at senior level Tweet? Hillary?, ……

When a revolution in Egypt, then Libya and all through out the mid east an maybe even in China is all but fomented by social media the High Tech Prez is no where to be seen. Scared and wounded by WIKI Leaks, cautioned at every turn about possible ramifications it seems like Obama has crawled into the political equivalent of a radio wave proof screen room. It looks like old time politics have slowly replaced the tech savvy staff that got the President elected.

Like it or not social media are pushing the envelope and becoming the thread that weaves the global culture together. Maybe the President of the United states should not be Tweeting or responding on Face Book, but then when an entire society rises up in the call of freedom and risks everything using social media as the primary method of communication and motivation then just maybe he should.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

20th Century Diplomacy Tackles a 21st Century Global Crisis

By: Dr. E. Eugene Webb

In case you haven’t noticed Governments all over the globe are playing catch up in the current Egyptian Libyan revolutions. All governments, including the Obama administration, are proceeding with dealing with these modern day revolutions like they would have in 1980. While the news media continually report that these revolutions are being fueled by the internet, social media and the ability to rapidly communicate, the political elite chooses to meet in closed door sessions evaluate with committees and fly around the world to talk. Meantime people are dying, oil prices are going through the roof and almost every leader in the major capitals of the free world has a puzzled look on their face.

Today the oil companies, oil speculators and every one else with their finger in the oil pie are watching in real time and making their decisions based on instantaneous information. One can only guess that big oil has operatives on the ground in every one of these crisis areas reporting moment by moment what is going on. How is it that gas prices rise within hours of events occurring? Simple, Big oil and the commodities markets are not waiting for the US government or anyone else to make a decision they are going on the facts from the ground in real time.

Political correctness, diplomatic protocol, and respect for the borders of a tyrant are no longer the guiding principals for decision making. It is just possible that the Obama administration is missing the launching of an all out war on the US economy by the petro rich, a petro jihad, that is using all of the modern tools of communication to quickly manipulate the one force that can sink the current US economic recovery. Moammar Gadhafi is a madman. We have known that for several decades. But in the interest of diplomacy and Big Oil we have coddled this tyrant and now we are reaping the rewards of our actions. Obama seems stumped. His economic recovery may be oozing way in a flood of oil price increases, yet he is reluctant to step and lead. Let’s start talking about nationalizing the oil industry, fixing oil prices, taking Big oil out of the equation. The president of Exon says $4.00/gal oil won’t hurt the US economy. Certainly not his economy as Exon will likely post the biggest profits in its history. $4.00/gal gas will sink Obama’s presidency if the economy slips back over the edge.

We look to the UN, long for partners to help us so we can share the responsibility for action, talk and talk and talk while the US economy is bleeding at the rate of 1 billion dollars for each 1 cent in gasoline price increase. On the ground in Libya people are dying from bombings inflicted by their own government while our Secretary of Defense bemoans even the thought of a no fly zone. The Secretary of State wrings her hands, the UN drones on while people who long for some hint of freedom are murdered by a madman. Sounds more like the late 1930s when another madman ruled than the twenty first century with all of its technology.


Doc
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Monday, February 28, 2011

Who Really Benefits When Oil Prices Go Up

Dr. E. Eugene Webb

Here we are once again, political upheaval in the mid east and immediately gas prices in the US take off. The question remains why? The answer is unmitigated greed. There is no shortage of oil. It is very unlikely there will be a shortage of oil. Believe me, if it looks like oil supplies are seriously threatened you will see all of the UN mumbo jumbo thrown out the window and the major oil consuming countries will move in politically and yes militarily to keep the black juice flowing. Why then is uncertainty the reason for rapid and unjustified increases in consumer prices. Answer same as above GREED. Everyone in the supply chain sees a chance to make a lot of money really fast based on fear not the reality of the cost of oil.

As long as oil trades on the open market as a commodity, speculators will use these events to artificially inflate oil prices for their own profit. Oil does not cost one penny more to produce today that it did three weeks ago. The pipe line is full and there is plenty of refined product. You might think all of this increase flows back to the oil sheik in his tent, but not so. Most of it ends up as profit for the Big Oil and the speculators who drive the futures market. Watch Big Oil’s profit reports in the next few quarters and futures divisions of the major brokerage houses. They will continue to sky rocket. Big oil loves all of this chaos. They are the ones who profit the most.

Given the strategic importance of oil to all economies, it is time put the futures traders who suck billions out of the economy, while adding no real value, out of the oil business. Oil producing and oil consuming nations need to take oil out of the futures trading market, establish a global crude oil management system and fix crude oil prices to a unique currency made up of a combination of the Euro, Dollar and Yen. Nothing would do more to stabilize the global economy and give emerging nations economic and political stability.

Doc
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Three Reasons While High Speed Rail Will Not Work

Dr. E. Eugene Webb
Local politicos are screaming their heads off trying to figure out a way to get the Fed’s high speed rail money into Florida. The thinking is all short sighted and fails to look at the realities of business and the economy.

Reason One: All of the facts are flawed and biased; cost to build, cost to operate and the number of jobs it will create.

Reason two. Private enterprise is unlikely to go on the hook for the whole deal. If they do here is the 800 pound gorilla. BANKRUPCY. It will be set up as a subsidiary or private wholly owned company. If the rail project starts to tank private enterprise, no matter who they are, what the agreed too, or what they signed, will run away from this like rats from a sinking ship. They have too. The have their equity owners to worry about and any executive who doesn’t will be out the door in a heart beat. Just how long do the leaders of Tampa, Lakeland and Orland think these guys will hang on. Answer not very long. They will sign anything, say anything and do almost anything to get their hands on the Fed’s money. But when the money is gone, ridership doesn’t materialize and it goes south all we will see is red tail lights and the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill. If you think for one minute three cities can litigate their way through that mess, then high seed rails for you.

Reason three: Local governments have a horrible history negotiating long term contracts with private industry. Even when they have lots of time to do the deals, these agreements often fail. The local high speed rail initiative being driven by Mayor Iorio is moving at lightning speed and there is little chance they can cover all the bases to protect the citizens of these communities. So here is the question. If you live in Tampa, Lakeland or Orlando are you willing to bet your future tax rates on high speed rail? If this project fails the only place the bailout money can come from is the governments who signed on for the deal.
Think about it.

Doc
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Blessing or Boondoggle - Scott Sacks High Speed Rail

Dr. E. Eugene Webb

The bleating hearts of wounded politicians have begun to cry like wolves howling at the moon. At a time when every one of their governments, Tampa, Orland and Miami are in serious economic trouble they want to focus the ire on Governor’ Scotts decision to pass on High Speed Rail. The hype concocted to sell this massive project is staggering. The Mayor of Tampa is accusing Scott of being just short of a traitor and politicians from Washington to Tampa are expressing disbelief and shock. The problem is none of these people every stopped to take a serious look at the big picture.

The ridership figures are flawed. The cost is likely way understated, the promise of the private sector picking up cost overruns and operating shortfalls cannot be guaranteed. The contracts will be full of outs and in the long run the private sector can just walk and the Florida tax payer is still stuck with the bill.
“We were hoping the process could go forward with the private sector,” said Barney Bishop III, president and chief executive officer of Associated Industries. “The problem is that ridership numbers are always optimistic and construction numbers are minimized so it ends up costing more. The governor is not looking at any more liabilities for Florida taxpayers, and we understand where he’s coming from. Economically and fiscally, that has to be a superior reason to anything else.”
It takes a lot of courage to standup and make a decision that on the surface flies in the face of logic. But the fact is there is not enough critical thinking in Government. No serious unbiased business case planning. Once a pile of money is in site all reason flies out the window. Get the money - get the money. There is not and never was a solid business case for high speed rail. Not here not in Wisconsin or Ohio. A few large companies, some consultants and contractors were going to get very rich and the rest of us would get the experience of watching an empty bullet terrain fly by us at 225mph as we drove to Orlando on a still crowed I-4. Would you really ride it? Core infrastructure that supports commerce and industry is the key to more Florida prosperity. The Mouse will due just fine bullet train or not.
Governor Scott is going to take a lot of heat over this one but he is right. We need to focus on the core infrastructure and not shiny things that cost a lot, go fast, cost taxpayers and arm and a leg and make politicians feel better. Scott’s political advisories are going to make hay over this one, casting him as the Villon. But in 7 to 10 years when the stories about states going broke supporting their high speed rail system with no riders begin to show up, Floridians may just be experiencing a good economy and reasonable taxes. Ya gotta hand it to the bald guy. He has some big ones.
Doc
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Is Big Oil Sabotaging the US Economic Recovery?

By; Dr. Eugene Webb

Just as it looks like the US is crawling out of the worst recession in years, oil prices, and as expected, gasoline prices have begun to rise dramatically. The question is why and there are a lot of answers from a lot of people. Thomas Friedman’s “law of Petropolitics” suggests that there is a negative correlation between the “price of oil and pace of freedom,” which “always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states.” In other words there is direct link in the evolution of freedom and the price of oil. There are a lot of opinions about Friedman’s theory, but if you correlate oil prices and the growth of democratic progress in the oil rich states there is an inverse correlation. As oil prices go up the opportunities for the development of democratic institutions in countries benefitting from increased oil revenues seem to decrease.

So the question is how that might relate to current conditions in the US. It is certainly true that the economic conditions of the last few years have garnered the attention of both political parties. Much of their efforts to resolve domestic economic issues continue to be akin to a mating dance of two large birds as they try to develop polices that will work and support their political objectives. All of this activity tends to pull the politicians away from the international scene and cause them to focus on domestic issues. You know, it’s the economy stupid.
Big oil, as we like to refer to it, is really nothing more than a distribution system for a product, crude oil, produced in the Mideast by many of the countries that dislike us the most. Big oil is a surrogate for these governments who produce crude oil and then use the enormous transfer of wealth caused by America’s demand for oil into revenue streams that, using Friedman’s theory of Petropolitics, restrict the development of freedom. With the US totally distracted by its own economic woes, these same countries have been able to continue to create crisis after crisis in the Mideast and elsewhere stretching US military resources to the breaking point and raising the fear level here at home while we are trying to resurrect a struggling economy.

With some pinging and testing, OPEC has discovered that they can quickly affect the rate of economic recovery in the US by merely adjusting crude oil prices. More accurately by increasing or restricting production. Their other big asset, the US commodities market, gives a big assist by manipulating crude oil futures prices in an often near panic as the oil rich puff and posture about oil production. The Mideast oil Barons have the US economy in the palm of their hands. In other words, using Big Oil, the Mideast crude oil producers can speed up or slow down the US economy almost at will.
Once again as the US economy begins to look positive, oil prices suddenly begin to rise. Market pundits and followers blame the Fed’s monetary policy saying oil is a commodity and merely adjusts its price to make up for diluted weaker dollar. Maybe, but what about this theory? If the US economy really did pick up steam and the public became less frightened and more positive, would the Obama administration be likely to turn more of their attention to international concerns and start putting more pressure on the Mideast regimes that are thwarting the freedom of their own people (Petropolitics) and threatening our security? It seems logical that a really strong US economy may not be in Big Oil’s best interest. Demand for gasoline and petroleum based products is remaining very strong in the US and so raising the price may slightly reduce unit sales but total revenues rise. Remember marginal returns from Econ 101?

The theory thus becomes if Big oil can keep the US economy in a mild state of crisis by manipulating consumer behavior through high gasoline prices, while not unduly reducing sales volume, revenue flow to petro states continues to grow. The petro states can become more totalitarian solidifying control within their own boarders, while government attention in this country must stay focused on internal domestic and economic affairs for political if no other reasons. Therefore the petro states can continue to successfully export terrorism.
It is a widely accepted view that oil money funds most if not all of the subversive and terror activity in the Middle East. The question then becomes are higher oil prices in the US the result of economic activity such as actions of the Federal Reserve, or are they a well calculated strategy on the part of the very interests we work so hard every day to protect ourselves from? Petro attacks instead of cyber attacks. One easy way to find out would be for the Obama administration to slam the door on oil prices through price control, restrictions on futures trading, or utilization of the strategic reserve or a combination of both. Dangerous and complex solutions to what may be the biggest threat to our long range economic recovery.
As long as Big Oil has its foot on the throttle of our domestic engine, economic recovery will be when they want it to occur and my bet is that is that will be much later than sooner.
Doc
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Governor Scott’s Real Budget Problem - Budgets and Bureaucrats

Florida’s projected 2012 budget deficit is about $100 million more than forecast in December, according to Amy Baker the State Legislature’s chief economist. That would put the deficit at about 3.6 billion dollars. The deficit is being driven by Medicaid costs, education costs and pension funds. County and local governments also face steep budget deficits in 2012. Governor Scott, Senate President Haridopolos and House Speaker Cannon seem to be converging on a series of solutions to cut costs. Governor Scott wants to lower property taxes, reduce or eliminate the corporate income tax and get employee participation in pension plans. The question is how do you do all of that.

As I set at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast on inauguration day I looked around the room at probably 2000 attendees a many of whom were state, county and municipal employees. Those bureaucrats you hear so much about. It dawned on me that the real budget problems of state, county and local government probably reside right here with this group. Leaders like Governor Scott, Senate President Haridopolos, Speaker Cannon, County Administrators and Mayors all face the same issue. A bureaucracy has a real strong tendency to protect itself. Here are three examples that point out the problem.

The first is pothole budgeting. In this scenario, to reduce the budget, the bureaucrats lay off the guy or guys that actually fix the pot hole. The lowest paid people on the totem pole and also, by the way, usually the position where the government in question gets the smallest dollar benefit for the actual staff reduction. They don’t, in most cases, lay off the supervisor or the manager, or the assistant director, or the director. When people complain about the pot holes, the supervisor does not go fix the pot hole, nor do any of the managers or directors, they just keep collecting their salaries and blame budget cuts for deteriorating streets. Nobody in that chain wants to get rid of the person below him because THEY would actually have to do some real work. Governor Scott has a whole state bureaucracy full of this problem as does every county and municipal government of any substantial size.

In the private sector they solve this problem by expanding the span of control. Keep the workers and reduce the number of supervisors, and managers along with their aids, assistants and secretaries. With today’s technology, supervisors can manage a lot more people than they could even five years ago. There is a real good chance productivity will go up along with morale.

This same idea works in education. Take a look at the number of administrators, directors, program planners and other non-teaching jobs in the state and local education system. Spend some serious time reducing all of that overhead and less time fighting with the teacher’s union. It is time to stop letting middle management drive the train and paint the teachers and the teacher’s union as the problem while keeping all of these really cushy management jobs in place.

The second scenario is ballistic budget cuts. In this situation, under pressure to reduce cost, the middle level bureaucracy picks a program to cut that they know has a serious, dedicated constituency or even better a fanatical public following and recommend the whole program as a budget cut. Examples: Catastrophic cuts or elimination of social programs, entitlements, libraries, pools, public safety functions, arts or sports programs. These cuts are specifically designed to be headline makers, create fear and raise the ire of the public so the Governor, County Administrator or Mayor becomes an instant target. Never mind the fact that the program is probably loaded with excess baggage in terms of mangers, administrators, program directors or whatever and could be streamlined and probably maintained. The objective of the ballistic budget cut is to create a public furor that redirects the budget effort in an entirely different direction; and the ultimate goal is to position this particular area so it is completely off the budget cut radar. It happens every budget cycle and midlevel bureaucrats have become experts at orchestrating this type of budget scenario. Beware of the ballistic budget cut.

Then there is the whole issue of actual verses ceremonial budget cutting. Or the cut and shuffle. In an actual budget cut, the position is eliminated and person is removed from the payroll - gone. In government we have ceremonial budget cutting. We cut the position, usually with great fanfare, but miraculously the person is quietly shuffled to a new job often times with less responsibility but oddly enough at the same salary. Granted nobody likes to terminate people. Besides, if we really start that you might be next. The cut and shuffle process has got to stop if state, county and local budgets are going to get balanced.

Don’t buy all of those nodding heads and smiling faces in the budget meetings as you talk on and on about cutting the budget, programmed budgeting, doing more with less and those other budget cut clichés. The smiling, nodding bureaucrats are likely working up their cut list of pothole patchers or the next ballistic budget cut so they can teach you who really runs the show.
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is Big Oil Sabotaging the US Economic Recovery?

Just as it looks like the US is crawling out of the worst recession in years, oil prices, and as expected, gasoline prices have begun to rise dramatically. The question is why and there are a lot of answers from a lot of people. Thomas Friedman’s “law of Petropolitics” suggests that there is a negative correlation between the “price of oil and pace of freedom,” which “always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states.” In other words there is direct link in the evolution of freedom and the price of oil. There are a lot of opinions about Friedman’s theory, but if you correlate oil prices and the growth of democratic progress in the oil rich states there is an inverse correlation. As oil prices go up the opportunities for the development of democratic institutions in countries benefitting from increased oil revenues seem to decrease.
So the question is how that might relate to current conditions in the US. It is certainly true that the economic conditions of the last few years have garnered the attention of both political parties. Much of their efforts to resolve domestic economic issues continue to be akin to a mating dance of two large birds as they try to develop polices that will work and support their political objectives. All of this activity tends to pull the politicians away from the international scene and cause them to focus on domestic issues. You know, it’s the economy stupid.
Big oil, as we like to refer to it, is really nothing more than a distribution system for a product, crude oil, produced in the Mideast by many of the countries that dislike us the most. Big oil is a surrogate for these governments who produce crude oil and then use the enormous transfer of wealth caused by America’s demand for oil into revenue streams that, using Friedman’s theory of Petropolitics, restrict the development of freedom. With the US totally distracted by its own economic woes, these same countries have been able to continue to create crisis after crisis in the Mideast and elsewhere stretching US military resources to the breaking point and raising the fear level here at home while we are trying to resurrect a struggling economy.
With some pinging and testing, OPEC has discovered that they can quickly affect the rate of economic recovery in the US by merely adjusting crude oil prices. More accurately by increasing or restricting production. Their other big asset, the US commodities market, gives a big assist by manipulating crude oil futures prices in an often near panic as the oil rich puff and posture about oil production. The Mideast oil Barons have the US economy in the palm of their hands. In other words, using Big Oil, the Mideast crude oil producers can speed up or slow down the US economy almost at will.
Once again as the US economy begins to look positive, oil prices suddenly begin to rise. Market pundits and followers blame the Fed’s monetary policy saying oil is a commodity and merely adjusts its price to make up for diluted weaker dollar. Maybe, but what about this theory? If the US economy really did pick up steam and the public became less frightened and more positive, would the Obama administration be likely to turn more of their attention to international concerns and start putting more pressure on the Mideast regimes that are thwarting the freedom of their own people (Petropolitics) and threatening our security? It seems logical that a really strong US economy may not be in Big Oil’s best interest. Demand for gasoline and petroleum based products is remaining very strong in the US and so raising the price may slightly reduce unit sales but total revenues rise. Remember marginal returns from Econ 101?
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Governor Scott’s Real Budget Problem - Budgets and Bureaucrats

By: Dr. E. Eugene Webb

Florida’s projected 2012 budget deficit is about $100 million more than forecast in December, according to Amy Baker the State Legislature’s chief economist. That would put the deficit at about 3.6 billion dollars. The deficit is being driven by Medicaid costs, education costs and pension funds. County and local governments also face steep budget deficits in 2012. Governor Scott, Senate President Haridopolos and House Speaker Cannon seem to be converging on a series of solutions to cut costs. Governor Scott wants to lower property taxes, reduce or eliminate the corporate income tax and get employee participation in pension plans. The question is how do you do all of that.

As I set at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast on inauguration day I looked around the room at probably 2000 attendees a many of whom were state, county and municipal employees. Those bureaucrats you hear so much about. It dawned on me that the real budget problems of state, county and local government probably reside right here with this group. Leaders like Governor Scott, Senate President Haridopolos, Speaker Cannon, County Administrators and Mayors all face the same issue. A bureaucracy has a real strong tendency to protect itself. Here are three examples that point out the problem.

The first is pothole budgeting. In this scenario, to reduce the budget, the bureaucrats lay off the guy or guys that actually fix the pot hole. The lowest paid people on the totem pole and also, by the way, usually the position where the government in question gets the smallest dollar benefit for the actual staff reduction. They don’t, in most cases, lay off the supervisor or the manager, or the assistant director, or the director. When people complain about the pot holes, the supervisor does not go fix the pot hole, nor do any of the managers or directors, they just keep collecting their salaries and blame budget cuts for deteriorating streets. Nobody in that chain wants to get rid of the person below him because THEY would actually have to do some real work. Governor Scott has a whole state bureaucracy full of this problem as does every county and municipal government of any substantial size.

In the private sector they solve this problem by expanding the span of control. Keep the workers and reduce the number of supervisors, and managers along with their aids, assistants and secretaries. With today’s technology, supervisors can manage a lot more people than they could even five years ago. There is a real good chance productivity will go up along with morale.

This same idea works in education. Take a look at the number of administrators, directors, program planners and other non-teaching jobs in the state and local education system. Spend some serious time reducing all of that overhead and less time fighting with the teacher’s union. It is time to stop letting middle management drive the train and paint the teachers and the teacher’s union as the problem while keeping all of these really cushy management jobs in place.

The second scenario is ballistic budget cuts. In this situation, under pressure to reduce cost, the middle level bureaucracy picks a program to cut that they know has a serious, dedicated constituency or even better a fanatical public following and recommend the whole program as a budget cut. Examples: Catastrophic cuts or elimination of social programs, entitlements, libraries, pools, public safety functions, arts or sports programs. These cuts are specifically designed to be headline makers, create fear and raise the ire of the public so the Governor, County Administrator or Mayor becomes an instant target. Never mind the fact that the program is probably loaded with excess baggage in terms of mangers, administrators, program directors or whatever and could be streamlined and probably maintained. The objective of the ballistic budget cut is to create a public furor that redirects the budget effort in an entirely different direction; and the ultimate goal is to position this particular area so it is completely off the budget cut radar. It happens every budget cycle and midlevel bureaucrats have become experts at orchestrating this type of budget scenario. Beware of the ballistic budget cut.

Then there is the whole issue of actual verses ceremonial budget cutting. Or the cut and shuffle. In an actual budget cut, the position is eliminated and person is removed from the payroll - gone. In government we have ceremonial budget cutting. We cut the position, usually with great fanfare, but miraculously the person is quietly shuffled to a new job often times with less responsibility but oddly enough at the same salary. Granted nobody likes to terminate people. Besides, if we really start that you might be next. The cut and shuffle process has got to stop if state, county and local budgets are going to get balanced.

A suggestion to Governor Scott, President Haridopolos and Speaker Cannon, as you are working the budget issue get out of the office and the Chamber and walk around a little. Maybe even travel around the state to some of those out of the way state facilities that are crawling with midlevel bureaucrats. Look in all of those offices at all of those people sitting there and begin to ask some questions like what do these actually people do? Get some organizational charts with job descriptions. It should be a real eye opening experience. Same holds true for County Administrators and Mayors.

Don’t buy all of those nodding heads and smiling faces in the budget meetings as you talk on and on about cutting the budget, programmed budgeting, doing more with less and those other budget cut clichés. The smiling, nodding bureaucrats are likely working up their cut list of pothole patchers or the next ballistic budget cut so they can teach you who really runs the show.

Doc
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