Archive for June, 2008

Cruise Control
June 19, 2008

This is a story you did not see on our newscast tonight. 


See whether you would have made the same judgment call:


This much we know to be true: a woman from Jacksonville has filed a lawsuit against a cruise line.  She alleges a fellow passenger raped her on the ship, alleges lack of security, and wants the cruise line to pay.


We know about the lawsuit because the attorney (who you’ve likely seen in one of her countless national television appearances) called a news conference to announce it. She brought in the woman, who was clearly on an emotional bubble, yet willing to go public. 


The attorney read a statement:  woman on the cruise with a friend; they’re in the disco; she orders a glass of water from the bar, she gulps it and realizes immediately it’s something other than water; friend had gone to the bathroom; a fellow cruise passenger at the disco offers to help find her; instead, he gets the woman alone, becomes forceful and assaults her.


The woman then read from a short statement (after news crews waited for the attorney to move her chair in up close to the woman and put her arm around her, thereby ensuring she would be in the camera shot).   The woman read about her emotional and physical pain; how her marriage has suffered; how her emotional state has confused her children; how she is financially crushed under the medical bills.


Questions, anyone?  Yes, plenty.


The woman cannot say what she drank, but she knew it didn’t taste like water.  She says she positively identified the offending passenger.  She said ship security came to her cabin after the incident.  What, if any contact did she have with the male passenger prior to the incident?  The attorney does not allow that answer.  She ends the news conference.  Just like that.


Another attorney, an expert on cruise ship crime, talks more broadly about lack of security on ships, statistically high numbers of crimes, lack of prosecutions, cover-ups.


So, does the story of the lawsuit air?


The attorney seems confident it will.  After all, she called a news conference.  We showed up.


Cruise ship crime and passenger safety are certainly legitimate concerns and deserves attention and action.   Alleged sex crime on a cruise ship is certainly what they call a sexy news story.   


I explained to the attorney I felt it would be unfair to air allegations against a cruise line without more vetting, details, facts and events that can be corroborated.   


I received a lecture about the hundreds of news conferences she has conducted, her work advocating for women.  “Fine, don’t air it,” she said.


By late in the afternoon, I learn there are no charges filed against that male passenger, no arrests.  The FBI will only acknowledge a “complaint”.


The cruise line says the woman did not report the incident while she was on the ship.  (Didn’t the woman say ship security came to her cabin after?)


The bigger question: Why call the cameras to make an allegation public?  Why not see the case through, then call in the cameras for the outcome, after facts, evidence and rulings are issued?


Maybe bad publicity is good for settlement chances? 




Power Less
June 9, 2008

Really.  It’s not their fault.


The good people at Florida Power & Light work hard at making sure your electricity bill is as low as it can possibly be. 


So efficient and consumer-minded is our electricity provider, Fortune magazine named its parent company one of “America’s Most Admired Companies.”   I know you will beam with pride for the home team when you open your next few monthly bills.


Or not.


Because come August, odds are your bill will be higher.  The actual increase is predicted to be 16% higher, should Florida’s Public Service Commissioners approve the rate hike request.   And by law, FP&L is entitled to pass on fuel price increases.  Your humble utility does not and cannot make a profit on fuel, as its spokespeople said over and over and over this past week, as the probable rate hike made big news. 


But its company can and does make a profit.  A pretty good one for the times we’re in: $1.3 billion profit last year on $15.2 billion in revenue.  That’s a bit more than 8 ½ percent profit margin.


Its shareholders have to love that.  


In fact, at the company’s annual meeting a few weeks ago, FP&L’s CEO is quoted as saying “FPL Group…is well-positioned for attractive, above-industry-average long term growth.”  Besides its 4 ½ million customers in Florida, FP&L’s parent company is an energy-industry force in 27 states.


You have to be happy for a company that’s profitable these days. 


Or not.


Because that  company with the enviable profit margin is the only one allowed to sell you an essential product, and it is passing on to you the full cost of its higher fuel costs, plus charging you to subsidize its investment in alternative energies, plus charging you for the costs of building new nuclear facilities.  


So when you sit at the kitchen table and talk about where/how to cut back to absorb the spike in your grocery bills, gas bills, electrical bills, insurance costs, etc., ask yourself: what would Lewis Hay III do?


Lewis Hay the Third is the aforementioned FP&L CEO.


I’m not sure what kind of electricity bill the Hay household receives every month; I am relatively sure he doesn’t stress about how he’ll pay it.  Hay earns, in salary and benefits, somewhere between 6 ½ to 7 million dollars a year.  Adding a few hundred dollars to his electricity bill in the coming year probably won’t be an issue. 


FP&L’s parent company also pays for Hay’s country club membership, regular luncheons, security for his home and his personal financial advisor.   


Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t begrudge Mr. Hay or anybody as much money as one can earn.   Ditto for FPL’s investors.


But something is terribly wrong here.


Maybe it’s the heat?  I just raised the thermostat a bit to save a few dollars.