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Blake Dowling: Uber troubles

Unrelated Uber humor.

A local TV station just called to ask our take on the Uber breach.

When they call, it’s a good cue to write something about the topic. It also means I must stop thinking about turkey, IPA and college football. Rivalry weekend is something to be cherished indeed.

What went wrong? A company that has danced around the law many times and thoroughly disrupted the transportation continues to wreak havoc.

This time, it is alleged that 57 million user accounts around the world were flat-out stolen. It was not a ransomware attack; this was straight up hacking.

A couple of criminals got into a collaborative coding website called GitHub; from there (possibly pretending to be legit coders) they were able to steal login credentials to an Amazon Web Services site where Uber private data was stored.

They copied it and reached out for payment.

Terms of the blackmail were $100,000; Uber paid the money, and the (allegedly stolen) data was deleted.

Valerie from WTXL, Alien and me.
The Waco Kid.

Unfortunately for Uber, they appear to a bypass some laws. You know, those pesky regulations that require organizations to disclose info on breaches. The officers that handled the situation are now former employers, so it’s up to new leadership to clean up this dumpster fire.

 

Breaches happen, mistakes happen in all industries, but the critical step they missed — owning it — makes the situation unacceptable.

What does Uber Leadership have to say? According to Bloomberg: “None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as chief executive officer in September, in an emailed statement. “We are changing the way we do business.”

No online security could have stopped this from the driver’s perspective.

Complicated passwords, two-factor authentications, dedicated credit cards for online purchases, anti-virus, firewalls … nada. If a vendor is breached, regulatory guidelines are in place by the State and Federal Reserve to help protect data.

It would appear Uber flat-out ignored those.

Talk is cementing its reputation as rouge and outlaw; Uber is the 2017 version of the Waco Kid.

In this day and age, it is time to consider credit monitoring and identity theft monitoring as even another level of required safeguards for what one cybersecurity. The landscape is too vicious not to consider deploying every possible option out there. I use Uber all the time; as a client, I feel like my trust was abused, and their brand is tarnished.

However, they make it really easy to get from point A to point B, so they haven’t lost me yet.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there, enjoy the time with your family, friends and football teams.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies; he can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbistech.com.

Aaron Bean: Small business tax cuts should be Congress’ top job

Following the recent House of Representatives passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Americans in Florida and across the country agree: Now is the time to give hardworking small businesses the tax relief they need to power our economic growth into next year and beyond. With one more legislative session to go before Thanksgiving, Congress must rise to the occasion.

Poll after poll now shows that voters see tax cuts for small businesses as the sweet spot for tax policy and economic performance. Over 80 percent agree Congress needs to pass a tax bill, according to a new America First Policies survey. Specifically, 80 percent favor rate cuts that grow family paychecks, grow local businesses and grow the national economy.

Regardless of party identification, over three in five voters disapprove of the status quo.

As it stands now, small-business owners suffer from their tax status as pass-through entities, which means they often have to pay individual rates of nearly 50 percent in federal, state and local taxes. That’s more than large corporations — so much so that, in order to cope, job creators have to spend precious time and money on filing and outside help. One in three told the National Small Business Administration in its latest tax survey that the annual process chews up two weeks’ worth of work. It’s no wonder that four out of every five small-business owners went on to say their top tax goal was rate cuts and higher deductions.

Fortunately, the White House has recognized the importance of leading on taxes. The Trump administration’s plan would cut the income tax rate for small businesses to 25 percent, encouraging growth. Small businesses have plenty of room to grow, as I’ve learned providing capital access to expanding businesses and startups. In Florida, 97 percent of all small businesses employ no more than 20 people. But they create three out of every four jobs in the state.

As I’ve experienced, investors can park their money during uncertain times. Not so with small businesses, who see opportunity around every corner and invest accordingly. Tax cuts would go to raising wages, adding employees and expanding facilities, a majority of owners agreed in a recent survey by the Job Creators Network. Half concurred that those cuts were the most helpful policy legislators can pursue right now.

And the American people are right there with small-business owners. Most Americans want a major overhaul of our onerous tax burdens, and view new tax cuts as the key to strengthening our finances, increasing our jobs and powering our growth.

Floridians have a lot riding on Congress’ ability to pass extensive tax cuts. Our state is host to more than 2 million small businesses, which employ over 3 million employees. That’s over 40 percent of the entire private-sector workforce. Florida is the kind of place where legislation has been put forward to create a “Small Business Saturday” to kick off the holidays, when shopping season puts many small businesses over the top for the year.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Congress has an all-important chance to come through for small businesses — and the millions and millions of Americans who win big when they do.

___

Aaron Bean is a State Senator from Florida’s 4th District.

 

Did hotel CEO really have to humblebrag about post-Irma profits?

Marriott International, among other major hotel and hospitality chains, did a very respectable job during Hurricane Irma.

As the September storm forced many in South Florida to seek shelter points North, hotels and other services – like home-sharing Airbnb — stepped up in a big way to offer accommodations for victims and relief workers.

For that, we give hearty thanks to both Marriott and its President and CEO, Arne M. Sorenson.

Nevertheless, did Sorenson really have to humblebrag about how Irma (and Harvey before that) were great for Marriott’s bottom line?

In an earnings call Nov. 5, Sorenson noted that though the company’s budget process was not yet completed for the upcoming year, early indications show “growth will be similar to growth expected for 2017.”

He followed that up with this: “It’s a little bit counterintuitive, maybe … the impact of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, not counting the Caribbean, were a net positive in September, not a net negative.”

Net positive? Good to hear, Arne.

 

 

In all fairness, Sorenson did preface that statement with some sobering words about Marriott’s “eventful” third quarter – from Hurricane Harvey and its “historic flooding” in Texas, to hurricanes Irma and Maria and the destruction in the Caribbean, Florida and parts of the southeast, as well as two earthquakes in Mexico and devastating fires in Northern California, all within a seven-week period.

“We have a presence in these communities, and our crisis management and property teams have worked tirelessly to ensure associate, guest and property safety,” Sorenson said. “Not only have these events damaged property and upended lives, they have also impacted local economies, many of which are very dependent on tourism.”

“As these areas repair, rebuild and recover, we encourage you to support their efforts.”

In the leadup to Irma’s slog across Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott launched a campaign to warn companies against price gouging – and implied that everyone (particularly the hospitality industry) to do the right thing.

And while many would agree Marriott did the right thing, somehow, by increasing profits in the storm’s aftermath, Sorenson’s words feel (just a little bit) wrong.

“Probably, most dramatically so in Texas where that was one of the weakest markets we had in the United States for the last year or two years, and fairly quickly, within days, recovery efforts are beginning and people who are looking for housing are filling up hotels,” Sorenson concluded. “And so, the Houston market and Florida market drove a bit of the outperformance in Q3.”

What else are we supposed to think when a CEO humblebrags Harvey and Irma-related profits?

Of course, Marriott did earn its accolades for being there to support communities affected by the hurricanes.

But did it have to be such a “win-win” for Sorenson and Marriott, when Floridians and Texans lost so much?

Pledges, safety and Greek life; time for a culture change

The indefinite ban on Greek activities at FSU, precipitated by the tragic death of a fraternity pledge, has two intertwined problems — pledges and excessive alcohol use.

Nearly all of the recent deaths around America that involved fraternities had two common themes — the first was they were pledges and second was the excessive use of alcohol, by those pledges.

Let’s address the first issue: pledges.

Why is it that, for the most part, pledges are dying?

The simple answer is because pledges do things that a typical college student or initiated fraternity member would never do. In fact, pledges are asked, forced or challenged to do things a brother would never do to another brother.

Pledges in most fraternities are considered subservient and below brothers — second-class citizens, plebes.

That’s why on Sunday mornings, pledges show up to clean the house. That’s why, even after the invention of Uber, pledges provide non-drunk driving services to brothers at all hours of the day and night. That’s why pledges are asked to do 5 or 10 consecutive shots of tequila, shotgun multiple beers, etc.

That’s why pledges are required to spend 20 or more hours at the house under the auspices of getting to know the brotherhood or studying, when in fact they are doing tasks no brother would ask another brother to do — clean the house, do the laundry, go buy a case of beer because the fraternity cannot expend fraternity funds to purchase alcohol.

Here’s what a national fraternity leader said about pledges in 1970:

“And, come to think of it, why should a bright young freshman (or sophomore, or junior) who has met the entrance requirements of his university, who has perhaps worked all summer to help finance his education, be expected to enjoy a role in which his fraternal status is second class?

“We expect a pledge to obey every rule (while actives don’t); be respectful to the housemother (while actives frequently aren’t); light cigarettes; carry matches; say “yes, sir; no, sir”; clean the toilets, and never say anything which offends anyone.

“In these negative ways, the pledge is ‘proving’ himself worthy of membership. Yet if we found a spineless person who would subject himself to such a status of semi-servitude anywhere else in society, we’d be disgusted with him.

“The problem, as I see it, is that we have been doing an excellent job of training men to be pledges … a role they will no longer have as soon as the training period is over.”

Many of us experienced pledgeship and shrug our shoulders, but nowhere else in society does one man treat another man with such disdain and have it considered acceptable.

Please don’t say military boot camp is comparable because becoming a brother in a fraternity is nowhere close to becoming a soldier willing to lay down his life for fellow Americans he will never meet.

Many fraternities were started in the aftermath of the Civil War and some at military academies, so the concept of a “plebe” or “pledge” was common. And when many of these fraternities were started, women and blacks couldn’t vote so falling back on “tradition” and “heritage” is not a valid excuse for continuing an archaic and demeaning practice.

FSU has a chance to begin a process that places fraternities back on campus without the scar of pledgeship and provide a national model for success. And that process would involve dropping the artificial barrier between new members and initiated brothers.

Existing initiated brothers would still have 2 or 3 opportunities to deny new members brotherhood, but in all other respects new members would be treated as brothers — no new member would be asked to do something a brother would not be asked to do.

In this new scenario here are a few things that would change:

— New members would attend chapter meetings, although there could be initiated brother-only meetings.

— The pledgeship would last 4-6 weeks.

— Pledge work sessions would be replaced with chapter work sessions involving both brothers and pledges.

— Some would argue that pledge classes would lose “unity.” And that is true and a laudable goal, since these artificial divisions create cliques within the fraternity — everyone should be a member of the whole, not a member of “my pledge class.”

— Pledges are in no way would be subservient to active members, and discipline of pledges is handled within the same framework of laws and policies which govern all members.

— No pledge house hours.

— Pledges would have fraternity education meetings to learn about the history and how the chapter operates in new member weekly meetings.

A final thought from that 1970 fraternity leader:

“This will appeal to students who are interested in the fraternity experience but who are unwilling to subject themselves to the lengthy, immature and time-consuming activities which traditionally characterized fraternity pledgeship.”

Five years from now, when everyone who was a traditional pledge is gone from FSU, this new system will not seem different. The time between now and then will be difficult since some pledges relish the idea of becoming brothers and inflicting upon new pledges that which was inflicted upon them but in time that will all go away.

The issue of excessive alcohol use can be dealt with in several ways, including but not limited to, requiring sworn law-enforcement officers replace private security companies at events where alcohol is present for fraternity tailgates, socials and formals.

Joe Henderson: Moral high ground can be pretty low

Sleazy politicians are nothing new and stupidity has no party affiliation.

From the infamous dalliances of Alexander Hamilton with Maria Reynolds to John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and now to the seemingly ceaseless string of headlines we see about sexual misdeeds and judgment lapses from members of both major parties, we know the moral high ground is often the size of an anthill.

But no matter the perpetrator or party, if what happens under the covers doesn’t stay under the covers, the consequences range from a shattered reputation to a career checkmate.

The latest to tip his king is now-former Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel.

He resigned after a POLITICO Florida report cited six unnamed women who said Bittel made sexually suggestive remarks, created a hostile work environment, and was, in the words of one woman, “creepy.”

This follows the resignation of Democrat Jeff Clemens from the Florida Senate after POLITICO Florida exposed his affair with a lobbyist.

The career of Republican Senator Jack Latvala is in serious jeopardy following accusations of sexual misconduct, and we know what’s going on in Alabama with the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican conservative firebrand Roy Moore.

There is a trend here – powerful men accused of saying and doing things they shouldn’t because they forgot The Old Boys Club today is equipped with cameras, recorders and lots of ways to get the story out.

It doesn’t have to be sexual deviance, either. Republican Frank Artiles can testify to that. He had to resign his seat in the Florida Senate earlier this year after making racially divisive remarks over drinks at the exclusive Governor’s Club.

It’s a standard for political campaigns to produce feel-good ads with their spouse and adorable kids. It’s supposed to make the voter feel like they could meet up with the candidate for a picnic lunch right after Sunday School.

Nice image. The truth is neither major party can claim a copyright on purity. There are scoundrels on both sides of the aisle. Regardless of political stripe, power can bring the illusion of immunity from consequences.

And man, have there been a lot of consequences lately. If someone believes they can get away with something because they have a fancy title, they are delusional — President Donald Trump being a notable exception.

Avoiding that shouldn’t be all that tricky though. Just remember the words of Aretha Franklin, who famously sang about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Find out what it means, then put it into full-time practice with everyone.

Do that, and you’ll be fine.

Darryl Paulson: Republican prospects in the 2018 Florida congressional campaign

Republicans have controlled the Florida congressional districts for almost three decades.

During that time, the size of the Florida congressional delegation has jumped from 23 in 1990 to 25 in 2000, and 27 in 2010. Projections have Florida adding two more seats after the 2020 census, growing the delegation to 29 seats in the House of Representatives.

Only California and Texas have larger delegations.

Currently, Republicans hold 16 of the 27 congressional seats, meaning Democrats need to flip three seats to take control of the delegation. How likely is that to happen?

That’s the topic of Paulson’s Politics for next week.

Three decades of Republican control of the delegation is testimony to the party’s ability to attract quality candidates and to provide them with the organizational and financial support essential for victory.

Is Republican dominance of the delegation over?

At one point, there were as many as seven more Republicans than Democrats in the Florida delegation. Democrats had hoped that a judicial redraw of the congressional district lines in 2016, due to a League of Women Voters challenge to the legislature’s redistricting plan that they believed violated the Fair District Amendment, would allow Democrats to pick up a number of congressional seats. In the end, Democrats picked up one seat, reducing the Republican advantage to 16 to 11.

Floridians elected eight new members to the Florida delegation in 2016, the highest turnover rate of any state with at least eight members. Typically, 90 percent of House members win re-election.

Three incumbent Republicans retired and were replaced by three new Republicans. Two Republicans lost to Democrats and another Republican, Daniel Webster, moved from District 10 to 11 after his District was redrawn and made heavily Democratic. Republicans picked up two seats that had been held by a Democrat. Gwen Graham decided not to seek re-election after her District 2 seat was redrawn to favor Republicans, and Patrick Murphy abandoned his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate. Republican Neal Dunn won the Graham seat and Brian Mast won the Murphy seat. The net result was a one seat gain by Democrats.

One Republican strength has been that Republican voters have been more motivated than Democrats to turn out on Election Day, especially in midterms. Democratic advantages in voter registration numbers have been diminished by Republican advantage in voter turnout.

A recent Washington Post/ABC Poll indicates that the Republican edge in motivation will not be there in the 2018 midterms. An identical percentage of Republican and Democratic voters, 63 percent, indicated that they are certain to vote in 2018. That number may change by Election Day, but it has to be a concern for Republicans.

Republicans in Florida have been advantaged over the past three decades due to their organizational strength and their ability to finally support their candidates. This is no longer the case.

Democrats, who have had a long history of forming a circular firing squad and executing their own members, finally seem to have their act together. It is now the Republicans who are divided. When Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked candidate to lead the party was defeated by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia, Scott told Republicans not to contribute to the party, but instead to his own Let’s Get to Work PAC.

The flow of money to the Florida Republican Party has slowed to a trickle, making it difficult to support more than a small number of candidates. During the first six months of 2017, the Florida Democratic Party raised $3.5 million compared to only $2.4 million for the Republicans. This is, and will be, a major problem for the Republican Party and their candidates heading into 2018.

NEXT WEEK:  An analysis of the 2018 congressional races. Will it be status quo, or will Florida experience a political tsunami?

Blake Dowling: Flying taxis for you and me!

Chip Kelly to Florida as head coach; Jimbo Fischer pursued by Texas A&M.

Kevin Spacey is a predator; UCLA Hoops players shoplift in China (way to go, guys, making America look great. (Isn’t there another U.S. athlete still in jail in China?)

A mistrial for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, Roy Moore, etc. … crazy, sad, pathetic, fanatical headlines and behavior from Hollywood, Tallahassee, D.C. and everywhere else.

For a change, how about something fun in the headlines?

Flying taxis!

From the team that brought you the Hubble Telescope (NASA) and the jokers at your fave ride-sharing service (Uber), I proudly present what they call … Uber Elevate.

Yes, an automated (unmanned) flying service just for you. We could see demonstrations as early as 2020 and service by 2023.

Details are fuzzy, but there is an epic video on how this concept might work.

Oh, and they make sure to mock all those silly people in traffic as they zoom above it all as they bounce from one Uber Skyport to another. The video really is brilliant.

Watch here:

Uber is partnering with NASA because its wheelhouse is air and space (literally it’s in their name).

With that expertise and Uber’s aggressive approach to R&D, you have a great match.

Can you only imagine the legal red tape associated with this venture? Jump on in, lobbyists, just wait until airlines, charter services, and transportation companies on the ground get wind of this.

Remember when Uber disrupted ground transportation? This will be the North-Florida-Fair-versus-Disneyland comparison. Insurance? Regulations?

Yikes!

We are seeing the tip of the iceberg in regards to automated air transport – with drones starting to be found everywhere.

Throw this into the mix, add a dash of artificial intelligence, and you come up with some serious things to consider.

This is happening now, it will become a reality.

So, buckle up and put your tray table in the upright and locked position.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

 

Curbelo incident demonstrates pettiness of Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Carlos Curbelo is a two-term Republican Congressman from Kendall, just a few miles southwest of Coral Gables. He is the son of Cuban exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Put those two facts together and you get an Hispanic Member of Congress. Pretty simple, right?

Not for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).

Based on his demographic provided by his parents and his occupation provided by voters, Curbelo applied for membership in the CHC. Despite meeting the basic qualifications, he was denied admission.

It turns out there is a third requirement: members must be Democrats. On this point, the moderate Republican fails.

Make no mistake, this is the reason Curbelo had the door slammed in his face. Members revealed their partisan motives in a disingenuous statement following the vote.

“The CHC isn’t just an organization for Hispanics; it is a caucus that represents certain values,” said CHC spokesman Carlos Paz. “This vote reflects the position of many of our members that Rep. Curbelo and his record are not consistent with those values.”

Curbelo did not hold back with his response. While it contained a strong dose of hyperbole, he took on the true motives behind his exclusion.

“This sends a powerful and harmful message of discrimination, bigotry, and division,” he said in a statement. “Unbelievably petty, partisan interests have led the CHC to formally endorse the segregation of American Hispanics.”

Over the past couple of months, the whisper campaign said Curbelo was unworthy because he did not sign on as a co-sponsor of the Dream Act. Launched on July 26, this legislation was designed to grant legal resident status to those younger undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country by undocumented parents or relatives.

There is one problem with that roadblock. Curbelo was four months ahead of them.

On March 10, he introduced the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which also would provide the mechanism for permanent residency for those affected. Why would one co-sponsor another bill when he had his own?

So, what were other values Curbelo might have lacked? He must be an ogre when it comes to climate change, one of the key issues that defines the Democratic Party.

It turns out Curbelo is concerned about climate change, too. That’s why he teamed up in February with Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, to form the House Climate Solutions Caucus.

The bipartisan membership is now up to 50. Apparently, the best way to gain admission to a caucus is to start your own.

The Hispanic Caucus wants Curbelo to pay for his support of the GOP tax bill and his vote to replace the Affordable Care Act. Some think he has not done enough to help Puerto Rico.

He is right about the pettiness of the caucus membership. Look no further than the Congressional Black Caucus for the example on how to do it.

Republicans Mia Love was admitted in 2015, as was former Florida Rep. Allen West 2011. Others before, like former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts and then-Rep. Tim Scott (now Senator) were offered the chance to join, but refused.

In other words, they were black and members of Congress, meeting the qualifications for membership.

Why is that so difficult for the Hispanic Caucus to comprehend?

Brecht Heuchan: FHCA ‘wrong on all’ counts

The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), a nursing home industry trade association, recently attacked my proposed “Resident’s Bill of Rights” amendment to the state constitution saying that it does not belong there, that it “weakens protections for residents,” and that it is “glaringly bad.”

Unfortunately, they offered nothing in the way of evidence to support these claims and are wrong on all. Here is my take:

Heuchan

I cannot count the number of times I have been told one issue or another does not belong in the constitution. When it comes from the mouths of special interest groups it is code for something else.

What they really mean is: 1. they think they have other forums wired in their favor, and 2. they know if voters have a chance to consider the proposal, it would pass.

Make no mistake—rights for residents belong in the Florida Constitution. Our constitution is a place where rights of the individual are protected, especially when it comes to the rights of the vulnerable. As we so sadly saw in the recent, preventable deaths of 14 residents of a South Florida nursing home, the elderly in our society are far too often the most susceptible targets for neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

According to a news account just this week, a hidden camera in a nursing home-room showed a 94-year-old man with dementia being thrown, hit and doused with mouthwash by a facility worker. The man later developed stage three ulcers and bed sores and died.

Is it any wonder the industry opposes cameras in resident’s rooms? We as a society can do better and should demand it.

People that live in these facilities are there necessarily, because they cannot care for themselves. Consequently, they need and deserve the highest levels of protections, and these protections should be free from the cyclical nature of politics and instead guaranteed to residents by the permanency and consistency of the Florida Constitution.

The suggestion by FHCA that the proposed amendment weakens protections for nursing home residents is an ignorant one. It is as if they did not read the proposal, or they have a distorted view of what is in the best interest of residents.

You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to get this. The plain reading of the amendment is simple and sensible. If adopted by the Constitution Revision Commission and then passed by Florida voters next November, much needed basic rights would be afforded to our frailest and most vulnerable citizens.

The proposal merely says this: Residents of long-term care facilities would have the right to be treated courteously, fairly, and with dignity. They would have the right to adequate and appropriate health care that puts their needs and best interest first.

Residents would have the right to safe, clean, and comfortable living conditions and the right to insist the government does its part to safeguard their welfare. They would have the right to require facilities get meaningful insurance in case something goes wrong. And in the terrible event of abuse, neglect, or death, residents or their heirs would have the right to identify who is ultimately responsible for their harm and hold them accountable.

My proposal clearly strengthens protections for residents of long-term care facilities in Florida; it is obvious to any reasonable person who reads it, and to say otherwise is flatly false. This brings me to my last point.

The FHCA said the proposal is “glaringly bad,” but bad for whom? The FHCA represents facility owners, so we can assume they mean bad for the owners. I do not share that view.

The welfare of residents and the viability of the long-term care industry in Florida do not have to be zero sum games of mutual exclusivity. A healthy industry is in the best interest of residents but not when it comes at their expense.

Thankfully, there are many very good facilities in this state, and the caregivers that work there perform miracles each and every day. But here is the reality, the nursing home industry in Florida is largely a for-profit one.

Undoubtedly, a profit motive encourages efficiencies and innovations and many other desired outcomes. But sometimes the motive for profit in nursing homes is at odds with the objective to prioritize the welfare of residents first. In these circumstances, a Bill of Rights for residents is needed to ensure their safety to the highest degree possible.

Nearly 20 percent of Florida’s 21 million people are over the age of 65, making it the oldest state in the U.S. Approximately 150,000 Floridians live in long-term care facilities in this state, and as the baby boomer bubble hits the hardest, these numbers will exponentially rise along with the cost to care for them.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to evaluate the Constitution in an effort to prepare our state for the future. In my view, and it is one I believe to be shared by industry and resident advocates alike, is that there are few issues more important or more relevant to the future well-being of our state and its people than how we treat and care for the elderly.

So let’s work to be better.

Brecht Heuchan is a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission.

Joe Henderson: Let’s hope Stu Sternberg was joking

I assume Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg was trying to make a joke Wednesday when he said his organization might come up with $150 million to help pay for a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City that will cost a lot more than that.

I say that because I literally started laughing as I read his quotes in the Tampa Bay Times.

Speaking to longtime Rays’ writer Marc Topkin at baseball meetings in Orlando, Sternberg said, “We’ve tried to make some guesstimates, some estimates on what would be prudent for us, what would give us the ability to take this step in committing to a physical place for another generation or two, and our thought process is it’s probably in the $150 million range. We might find out that’s too much. We might find out that we can afford more.”

My guesstimate is that with a stadium to replace decrepit Tropicana Field hypothetically priced at $800 million, give or take a luxury suite or two, Sternberg and Major League Baseball can’t be seriously thinking of asking/demanding taxpayers to pay the $650 million difference.

As Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan noted, “I don’t know if we’ll ever get there.”

Hagan, who worked with the Rays on potential stadium sites in Hillsborough, was speaking at a commission meeting that was going on at roughly the same time Sternberg made his opening gambit.

I love baseball and believe the Rays are a major asset to the overall community, but it has limits. What Sternberg offered up sounded more like an extortion note than a pitch for serious public-private partnership.

I believe Sternberg knows that, too. He is a smart man.

As long as we’re tossing numbers around, how about these: Major League Baseball’s revenues reached $10 billion in 2016, with a goal of topping $15 billion within a few years. The Miami Marlins just sold for $1.2 billion, much of it driven by the team’s five-year-old stadium that will cost taxpayers an estimated $2.6 billion by the time it is paid off in 2049.

That made a nice return on investment for former owner Jeff Loria, who bought the team for $158 million in 2002. Sternberg bought a 48 percent stake in the then-Devil Rays in 2004 for a reported $65 million. The Rays are worth a lot more now.

Then, there is this: In 2014, Sternberg said that without a new stadium, he would sell the Rays and the new owner likely would move them out of the area.

That would be bad, but if the alternative is a take-it-or-leave-it pitch to taxpayers, my guess is the Rays will be some other city’s problem at some point.

The usual ideas for what laughably is referred to as the public’s “contribution” have been floated — some combination of tourist taxes, rental car surcharges, special taxing districts, user fees, and so on.

There are several problems with all those pitches.

First, the mood in Tallahassee has swung dramatically against using any public money to enrich private enterprise. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been particularly outspoken on this subject.

Second, even if lawmakers would soften their opposition to such solutions, all those sources combined probably would still fall well short of the amount needed to pay for this.

Everyone knows that.

If Sternberg’s statement is just an opener to get talks started, OK. But if he’s serious about what he says the Rays will pay, then it’s over.

That’s no joke.

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