Archive for September, 2014

Medicaid opposition is all wet

Eventually Floridians will look back at today’s politicians and say, “What were they thinking? What were they smoking?”

I’m talking about Florida’s refusal to accept millions of dollars in federal Medicaid money that would have improved life for thousands of people.

Forget about the way the Rabid Republicans spurned the money because Uncle Sam would eventually stop reimbursing the state at 100 percent and drop the reimbursements all the way to … 90 percent!

Forget about the access to health care and insurance for thousands of people, just so the Republicans could say “Nyah nyah” to Barack Obama.

Forget about the bitter irony of Floridians now paying for Medicaid for people in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and other states that took the money.

Forget about the lost job opportunities in a state where “Do you want fries with that?” is a question too many workers ask.

Just look at what it has done to the future of hospitals, which are like mini-cities with their need for infrastructure and technology.

The loss of the Medicaid money means hospitals must scrap ideas for improvements that would lead to lower costs, better service and long-term improvements.

It’s not just the latest whiz-bang medical device. Take a mundane example like laundry, for example.

It’s a significant factor at hospitals and other large health care institutions — an estimated 2 to 3 percent of a hospital’s budget.

Modern new laundries can reduce labor and water costs, reducing overhead, improving the environment, increasing sustainability and helping hospitals function more efficiently.

But hospitals may have to cancel or delay plans for major functional upgrades that would improve life for their patients, employees and owners. It’s similar to the refusal to maintain highways and schools, always pushing off long-range improvements just to make a short-term political point today.

No need to be sensible and make the best of a deal we question. It’s smarter politics today to thumb our noses at Obama and his health care program than to make the best of a situation we might not like.

This is because the Republicans have a better plan, right? It’s uh, what is the Republican plan for health care?

Put this example of blindness on the list of errors by fearful conservatives, who have been wrong on all the big issues of this era, opposing women’s rights, gay rights, minorities and pretty much anything else.

They can’t see beyond the end of their noses, which they’re biting off to spite their faces — and Florida’s future.

Mark O’Brien is a writer in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Hooker sting shows tricks to governing

A little controversy in my town shows how government is tugged in different directions.

Transpose it to your community and you can see the forces at odds in so many Florida cities as people disagree about what should be government priorities.

It was a fairly routine prostitution sting in Pensacola. An undercover police officer approaches an apparent streetwalker, they talk, she offers her services for a fee, and he arrests her. Or a woman is approached by a man who makes a proposition, only to learn that she’s wearing a badge and probably a tape recorder under her clothes. Busted!

Those arrested included nine alleged wannabe customers; the gossip quotient rose when the media published the names and mug shots and the town discovered that one of those arrested was a 72-year-old surgeon who has operated on half the residents.

Officers also arrested six people for soliciting for prostitution — five women and a man with long, wavy blond hair. (Warning: Don’t judge a hooker by his or her cover.)

This crackdown has been a periodic law-enforcement practice in Pensacola for more than 40 years, with mixed results. After a sting, illicit activity dwindles for a while, but then resumes, and the sheriff’s department makes another sting and catches more people, or the same people again. (Incidentally, despite our many churches, Pensacola is not a prudish place. Until the Navy cracked down for health reasons during World War II, brothels operated openly, old-timers say.)

Some critics say prostitution should be legalized, licensed and taxed. That’s a simplistic solution for a complex problem. Do we want to encourage this activity, as government has tempted people to gamble via state lotteries?

“Yes, honey, in America any little girl can work hard and grow up to be President, a physicist or a prostitute.”

Legalization wouldn’t be a cure-all, either. Some people will prefer the time-tested method of cruising dark streets and lurking on street corners because they will be unable or unwilling to follow the rules about licensing, health tests and taxes. The only difference is the legal prostitutes will be demanding the cops do more about their competitors, the illegal prostitutes.

The hooker sting also was criticized because it took a week to conduct. Critics said the cops’ time would have been better spent on more serious crime.

That may be true unless you live or work in the neighborhood where the prostitutes and their customers meet. Alcohol and drugs also are often involved.

Just because people live or work in a downtrodden area doesn’t mean they forfeit the right to a decent quality of life and stable property values.

So that’s the dilemma, not so easily solved. Government feels the heat either way.

It’s one more reason prostitution seems sure to forever hold its title as the world’s oldest profession.

Mark O’Brien is a writer in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida. Sept. 2, 2014



Ditch old gripes, get new life

Many Pensacolians apparently grew up in log cabins, doing their homework by the light of a smoky fireplace and milking the cows before walking uphill through the snow three miles to school while fighting off wild Bengal tigers.

At least, that’s the impression I get from listening to some not-so-old old-timers mythologizing their pasts, as they harrumph about young people these days and exaggerate the vicissitudes of their own youth.

Ask a few questions and you find that they usually came from a home with two involved parents, a steady if not large income, and the expectation that they could and would get an affordable education or specialized training that would lead to their own version of the American dream. I’m guessing the floors in their “log cabins” were linoleum, not dirt.

Many people don’t have such advantages now, something the grumps overlook.

I don’t mean to bash my fellow seniors; they’re hardly the only negative Nellies. Some of society’s biggest whiners are young people who seem to thrive on unnecessary melodrama: “I’m fabulous because I’m young,” “Mary won’t tell me the secret handshake for being a Pensacola Young Professional.”

And while sociologists tell us that today’s younger generation is the least sexist and most color-blind ever, they still have the young’s ability to stereotype older people and ignore them.

But that’s the way it has been ever since Adam and Eve were complaining about Cain and Abel. Generation gaps are inevitable, a part of one group coming into power and their elders moving to the sidelines.

But we don’t have to be constant critics, saying, “You should have done this” and “I told you not to do that.” We had our turn; let them have theirs.

We also need to remember that we did stupid things, too.

That’s why I keep on my desk a photo of myself at age 29, with my brown-and-plaid sports coat, a textured brown tie and a pile of hair artfully placed into an early but ill-fated combover. It was a fashion faux pas even then, although I thought I was da man, a groovin’ dude indeed!

The photo reminds me that I too have committed lapses in taste, judgment and common sense.

It also reminds me to keep my comments to myself except when asked. I made a conscious vow a few years ago to offer advice only when asked, and the experience has been humbling. No one asks!

Oh, occasionally a daughter may ask my thoughts on car tires or auto insurance, but I think she’s humoring me.

There are major advantages to not being asked for advice. When people talk, they assume you must be in agreement with them because you don’t say stuff like, “Whoa, you idiot, that’s not what you should do!”

So, since you’re quiet and smiling, they like you more. Just don’t let them read your mind.

If you make a suggestion and it goes badly, they will blame you. If it goes well, they will forget you suggested it and take credit for themselves.

What’s the advantage in that?

It’s curiously liberating to not give unsolicited guidance. Now you’re just two people talking, and there’s no burden or expectation.

Instead of grumbling about the old life, use this chance to get yourself a new life.

Splash! magazine, September 2014