While reading Phillip Long-man's article on sheltering assets to meet Medicaid guidelines [FT, "Pretend Paupers," December], I was shocked to see that he perceives that Elder Law Section attorneys do nothing but shelter assets to qualify rich people for Medicaid.
Many members of this section have accumulated expertise in estate planning, probate, guardianship, real estate, trusts, tax planning, Medicaid qualification and more. What is unique about their practice is their ability to interact with very old and infirm clients.
Where attorneys decide to draw their moral line in the sand is defined by the individual, not by the section of the Florida Bar to which they belong. The "public officials who are outraged" should direct their rage at those individuals whose specific behavior they disagree with, not an entire section of the Florida Bar, especially when that section is doing such a fine job of meeting the needs of so many.
Vice President of Florida State Guardianship Assn.
Hurray for Mr. Phillip Longman's publication of what the legal sharks out there can do for the elderly in qualifying them for Medicaid. The form of sleaze necessary to put Mom in a nursing home and still retain control of her middle-class assets challenges both lawyers' ingenuity and the rubber-band like stretchability of Medicaid clauses - for an appropriate fee, of course.
One assumption Mr. Longman embeds in his text, however, is questionable. If Congress devolves responsibility to the Florida Legislature to set up qualifications for Medicaid, the Tallahassee sleazers will not tighten loopholes; the political pressure to open them still wider will be immense.
Regarding the December story, "Pretend Paupers," Phillip Longman hit the nail on the head and framed a recognized problem in America - "moral relativism." For decades, the body of law in America was also considered its foundational moral law. No more. As you have shown, "legal loopholes" in the law allow immoral or unethical practice - in this case, abusing the intent of Medicaid, which is to care for our truly needy. Incredibly, victories over intent are viewed as a mark of professional success for lawyers within their profession.
There are many reputable lawyers in our society, and we need them; but the combined advantage lawyers and the American Bar Association have over our legislative, judicial and executive branches is huge. How can there be an effective check and balance against the abuse of Medicaid and other issues as long as one profession dominates all three branches of government?
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. As usual, your articles are excellent, particularly the sports/baseball expose [FT, "The Grand Slam," November 1993]. You helped save West Palm Beach taxpayers $20 million for a new stadium!
West Palm Beach
MOUTHS THAT ROAR
I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful column in the December edition ["Mouths That Roar"]. We must change the confrontational nature of policymaking and political discussion in Tallahassee and Washington. Many good people are in public office today and many more would participate if the political debate was more civil and less partisan.
As the late, respected journalist James Reston stated: "The political leader has an obligation to try to appeal to the good side ... the better side of man's nature." We all need to keep talking about the importance of civility in politics. Keep up the good work.
Steven J. Uhlfelder
In your article, "Mouths That Roar" [FT, December], I believe you confused symptom with disease. Political one-up-manship has not produced a "dangerously cynical public." Rather, the cynicism has been produced by 40 years of misguided, expensive, wasteful policies whose real costs are being felt at the same time the private sector is being forced by competition to refocus on core missions and the elimination of unnecessary structure.
Instead of criticizing economic common sense using quotes from those cheerleaders of fiscal insanity, the Washington Post and the St. Petersburg Times, you should be applauding the tenacity of D'Amato on Whitewater-gate, and the willingness of Crist to rethink deterrents to crime.
When the public thinks its governments are worth their cost, civility will return to politics. In the meantime, Trend should focus on root causes of the public's discontent, not symptoms.
An article on the Florida economy, "A New Look At Service Jobs," in the November issue of Florida Trend states, "Last year, service pay exceeded retail pay by 59%, in terms of average earnings per employee." The caption to the photo reads, "In Florida, fast-food and other retail workers earn 59% less, on average, than employees in the service sector." Which statistic is correct?
Keith C. Spivey
Editor's note: The photo caption was wrong; it should have stated that pay in retailing is 37% less than pay in services. Average 1994 earnings per worker equaled $23,000 in services and $14,676 in retailing, according to the Florida Department of Labor & Employment Security.
Regarding "The Inn Crowd" in Talk & Predictions in the December issue: I lived in Miami Beach in the 1940s and the Delano hotel was neither "chic" nor "the favored resort of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's family." I think this, at best, is an exaggeration. This is now a wonderfully exotic and chic hotel, thanks to Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck. The stories of its past though, are seemingly manufactured, as are many reports of the past of Art Deco in Miami Beach.
Sugar raises so much controversial rhetoric as to provide FLORIDA TREND with material for a mini-series on the Everglades. The cast includes arrogant sugar barons, craven politicians, white-hatted environmentalists led by a 105-year-old lady, every alphabet agency plus phalanxes of lawyers and scientists, all singing with a chorus of p.r. people. The latest pitch is the loss of 40,000 jobs. Does anyone seriously believe the industry would desert their fields and plants the day after a new tax was enacted or supports removed?
No one knows the true cost of Florida sugar because these private businesses keep their business private. An Orlando Sentinel article shows that, during FY 93-94, the government paid the wealthy Fanjul family [owners of Flo-Sun Inc., the state's second-largest sugarcane grower] $64.6 million and $55.4 million to U.S. Sugar [Florida's largest grower]. The total paid to major Florida cane growers was $162.7 million - maybe not supports, but real money nevertheless, ultimately paid by user-taxpayers.
True, the Everglades problems were caused by a number of other factors such as development and flawed management techniques; however, the major blame should go to agriculture.
Sugar proudly advertises its contribution to Everglades restoration, failing to mention it was far from voluntary and that it took years of legal battles to reach a settlement - and they're still wrangling over details of its implementation.
The good news is that, in 1996, work will actually begin on the restoration. The bad news is that many of us will not live to see it completed. But before the series ends, FLORIDA TREND must question whether anything is learned from this expansive lesson. Must we always get to the brink of environmental tragedy before corrective action occurs? Must environmentalists always be ridiculed when they predict these events? Must budgets for environmental agencies continue to be cut? Must big business, their money, lobbyists and politicians continue to prevail in courses which ultimately prove so disastrous to the environment and costly to the entire tax-paying public?
In the November issue of FLORIDA TREND your comments in "Hooked on Sugar" couldn't be further from the truth. Senator Graham is fair and decent to support the sugar program. Unlike you, he also uses common sense with his approach to protect the Everglades and ensure 40,000 Floridians aren't on welfare due to the demise of Florida's sugar industry. Florida sugar farmers are paying over $322 million for Everglades Restoration. This is 100% of the cost to clean farm water run off. Who would pay the $322 million if Florida sugar farmers were out of business?
The major reason for the change in the historical water flow in Florida is caused by the millions of people now residing in Florida - not sugar farmers. Since you are so concerned about Florida's environment, we suggest a two cents per pound tax on all Florida published newspapers and magazines. We could use this tax money to restore the environmental damage caused by all readers in Florida.