Friday, December 22, 2006

Out for the holidays

I'm ducking out of the conversation for a few days, to seriously relax over Christmas and the start of the new year. In a couple of weeks, though, let's put our brains to work on how to straighten things out in the public arena.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Subsidies turn farms into big business

The popular image of the struggling family farm appears to disconnect from reality. Check this out:
The very policies touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms are instead helping to accelerate their demise, economists, analysts and farmers say. That's because owners of large farms receive the largest share of government subsidies. They often use the money to acquire more land, pushing aside small and medium-size farms as well as young farmers starting out.
There's more in the Washington Post.

Using mess for success

As one who has long tried to keep his workspace clean enough to start the day productively, instead of sorting and clearing, I was interested to read of a movement to embrace disorder. Here's a sample:
Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It’s a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs, and have way too much time on their hands.
You can read more in the New York Times House & Home section (registration required, most likely).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Inaction by Congress threatens funding

Here's more on the congressional budget debacle and the role "earmarks" play in it:
Republican leaders left behind just enough spending authority to keep the government operating through mid-February, less than halfway through the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Democrats have signaled that when they take control of Congress in January they will extend that funding authority for the remainder of the year based largely on the previous year's spending levels, which will result in many cuts in programs.

The Democrats also will do something that is certain to anger many lawmakers but cheer critics of excessive government spending: They will wipe out thousands of lawmakers' pet projects, or earmarks, that have been a source of great controversy on Capitol Hill.
There's more in the Washington Post.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bush backs reform of congressional earmarks

It's wonderful what an election can do. Here's the president, in his Saturday radio address, calling for an end to the slippery "earmark" process that Congress uses to spend without leaving tracks:
Earmarks are spending provisions that are often slipped into bills at the last minute, so they never get debated or discussed. It is not surprising that this often leads to unnecessary federal spending -- such as a swimming pool or a teapot museum tucked into a big spending bill. And over the last decade, the Congressional Research Service reports that the number of earmarks has exploded -- increasing from about 3,000 in 1996 to 13,000 in 2006. I respect Congress's authority over the public purse, but the time has come to reform the earmark process and dramatically reduce the number of earmarks.
The full address is posted at MarketWatch.
And here's the better-backgrounded Associated Press version of the story, as carried by CNN.

Giving credit where it's due, let's note that Democrats in Congress have already declared an intention to reform the earmark process.

Lesson plan for education reform

Calling for a radical transformation of American schools, the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce issues an education plan for keeping the United States competitive in the world. Business Week writer Jane Porter writes:
If implemented, the commission's recommendations . . . would revolutionize the way children are educated in this country. Among the ideas: a set of board examinations allowing all 10th graders to place into college; improved compensation and incentives to attract better quality teachers; an overhaul of the American testing industry; contract-run schools instead of schools run by school boards; improved education for all three- and four-year-olds; standards for state-run funding instead of local funding; legislation for continued education for adults; a new GI Bill; and regionally focused job training.
Porter's article is here. Or, you could read lots more at the commission's own website.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Big dreams and larger folly

Right up there with Ian McHarg ("Design with Nature") in the realm of writers who show us our folly is Orrin H. Pilkey, the renowned professor of earth sciences at Duke University. Pilkey and a North Carolina colleague, Robert S. Young, wrote a piece for today's New York Times op-ed page that calls down the Army Corps of Engineers for its scheme to restore the Mississippi Gulf Islands in response to last year's hurricane damage. It won't work, Pilkey and Young tell us:
"The corps’ failure to devise a rational redevelopment plan points to the futility of trying to maintain coastal development in such an unstable place. A realistic appraisal would conclude that the long-term outlook for coastal development there is bleak. Yet the corps, urged on by developers, seems determined to wage a quixotic fight.

This is particularly galling in light of a recent report issued by the British government under the leadership of Sir Nicholas Stern, who is widely viewed as a pragmatist. The Stern report concluded that it will probably cost global economies more to ignore climate change than to take steps to address it. It seems we are about to learn this lesson in coastal Mississippi. Rather than use a creative, flexible approach to redevelopment on a vulnerable, changing coast, the corps is commanding nature to behave itself."
They aptly call their piece Castles in the Sand. (Registration may be required.) And if you want to learn more about Pilkey and his thinking, check out this interview from Grist.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Working sick

Did you know there's a name for showing up to work when you're ailing? "Presenteeism," I believe it's called. It's not a good thing, says this piece at Web MD.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Public health and personal responsibility

A senior executive at a major company here, taking note of the number of workers currently absent with colds or flu, has diagnosed the problem as -- messy desks. A clean ship is a healthy ship, he reasons, and everyone is being required to throw away old papers and other clutter from their personal workspace.

I have my own ideas about workplace illness, and a key point is the culture that encourages people to show up for work when they're obviously still sick. These job heroes may look tough and dedicated, but they also spread the virus of the day. They actually hurt both their company and their colleagues. This is especially bad when workers must share desks and equipment, and doubly so if the workers try to eat at their desks.

So here's my own prescription for healthy workplaces:
If you have a cold or flu, stay home until you're well. If you get flu, remember that you were contagious the day before you got symptoms -- so alert your coworkers that they need to take extra care in handwashing, etc.

Do clean your workspace each day, and use hand sanitizer or Lysol wipes if you have to use someone else's space.

Break away for your meals, and wash before you take food of any kind.

If you haven't already gotten the flu shot, do so. And put it on your 2007 calendar for as early as October 1. (I was sandbagged by waiting for a shot at the office and coming down sick before I could get the shot.)

A ploy for leverage in Iraq

I usually agree with Tom Friedman's views on the world, but his column today in the New York Times brings me up short. Here's the nut graf:
The only hope of moving the factions inside Iraq, not to mention Syria and Iran, toward reconciliation is if we have leverage over them, which we now lack. The currency of Middle East politics is pain. And right now, all the pain is being inflicted on us and on Iraqi civilians. Only if we tell all the players that we are leaving might we create a different balance of pain and therefore some hope for a diplomatic deal. Trying to do diplomacy without the threat of pain is like trying to play baseball without a bat.

The problem I have with that is something I recall from my reading on conflict resolution. When you set a deadline, you create leverage all right -- but it's leverage that your adversary can use against you. In Iraq, it would tell the bombers they just have to hang on a few more months and we'll be out of their way. Friedman also sets up a straw man to knock down:
Yes, yes, I know, the conventional wisdom is that if the U.S. sets a date to leave Iraq the whole Middle East will explode in a Shiite-Sunni war. Maybe, but maybe not.
I would have thought the conventional wisdom to be that chaos would ensue when we actually leave Iraq, not when we set a date for doing so. Anyway, you can read Friedman's argument (registration required) and see if you find it persuasive. The piece is called
Set a Date and Buy Some Leverage.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Green light for book publishing

The Internet may be nibbling away at TV and newspaper audiences, but if anything, it is helping the world of books. So says Forbes magazine in a special report. Key thought:
People are reading more, not less. The Internet is fueling literacy. Giving books away online increases off-line readership. New forms of expression--wikis, networked books--are blossoming in a digital hothouse.
There's lots more to chew on, right here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rescuing the end of life

Updated December 5
More and more, the American way of death is an agonizing decline rather than a sudden blow. For millions of the dying, the companions of their last days are machines and medicines that manage to extend the vital signs for hours, days – even, in extreme cases, for years. Too often, those last days are endured, not lived. And that just begins to explain the mission of Stephen P. Kiernan in his new book, Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System (St. Martin’s Press, 2006).

Kiernan was a writer and editor at the Burlington Free Press, in Vermont. His newspaper work documented his state’s End-of-Life Initiative and the effort to make sure that all Vermont doctors were trained in how to relieve pain, a frequent issue for cancer patients and others with fatal ailments.

In his book, Kiernan takes us to the bedside of several people dying badly – that is, in such pain, confusion and turmoil that they don’t get to settle their affairs, forgive their adversaries, say their goodbyes or even say "I love you" to the ones they love the most.

These cases are contrasted with a few where the patient was fortunate enough to have hospice care, which means that their doctors, nurses, friends and family worked to make them comfortable but employed none of the ventilators, defibrillators and other emergency devices or procedures commonly used to extend life as defined by bedside heart monitor.

In a chapter called "We can celebrate," Kiernan puts the point on his values:
"The last wishes of a seriously ill person have little or nothing to do with death. They are about life, about heightened awareness of its preciousness, about expressing individuality in the pursuit of small joys, about how death is an instant and how every moment preceding that instant is about living in all its fullness."

He concludes with recommendations for steps that the government, the medical professions and you and I can take – on the one hand to end the overuse of resources that barely postpone certain death, and on the other hand to make the last of life the most precious and memorable part.

"When the American culture around dying shifts," he writes, "it will improve medicine, cost less, and help families. But the largest impact will be on patients themselves."

These are wise words, and timely for everyone in the healing professions, anyone active in church or charity work, and all who may become the primary caregiver for an ill or elderly friend or relative.

Kiernan was interviewed for the public radio show "Fresh Air," and that segment is scheduled to run today. You can find where to hear it here. Here are his publisher's page, and Kiernan's own.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting in the Miami suburbs

Voting stations were mostly busy but there was no waiting as I went to vote today in the Kendall suburbs of Miami. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 03, 2006

Polling Place Photo Project

An interesting concept: Let's all snap photos of our polling places this year, especially to document the kind of voting machines in use. The concept and how to proceed are discussed further at the AIGA Polling Place Photo Project.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Zooming in on the truth

Many think they can tell when someone's lying. They watch their eyes, their hands, the tilt of the head. Or they hook up a whirring machine that sends ink pens scurrying across strips of graph paper. Now there's a whole new world in the quest for demonstrable falsehood:
"By peering directly into our brains, its keepers aim to set a new gold standard for the recognition of honesty in everyone from politicians to criminals to lovers"
There's more, in the Washington Post.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Insulating the Times from Wall Street

If you followed my discussion early this year about the sale of the Knight Ridder newspapers to satisfy impatient investors, you may be interested to learn of signals that the venerable New York Times may be bought into private ownership. Here's the scoop from Forbes.

Comma comedy costs a bundle

An extra comma in a 14-page contract is costing a telphone company a million dollars (Canadian). It's a prime example of why you should listen very carefully when your teacher explains grammar. A key line from today's story in the New York Times:
Citing the "rules of punctuation," Canada's telecommunications regulator recently ruled that the comma allowed Bell Aliant to end its five-year agreement with Rogers [Communications, of Toronto] at any time with notice.
The costly comma occurs in a 57-word sentence that was intended to make the contract a five-year deal that was renewable for five years at a time unless one side or the other gave a year's notice. See if you can tell why it's not working that way. Here's the sentence in question:
Subject to the termination provisions of this Agreement, this Agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice by either party.
If you're registered, you can read the story here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Congress helps farmers double-dip at your expense

Here's a good example of how our political system is being abused. Thank the Washington Post for the disclosure.
"The result is that farmers often get paid twice by the government for the same disaster, once in subsidized insurance and then again in disaster assistance, a legal but controversial form of double-dipping, a Washington Post investigation found. Together, the programs have cost taxpayers nearly $24 billion since 2000.

The government pays billions to help farmers buy cheap federal insurance, billions more to private insurance companies to help run the program and billions more to cover the riskiest claims. And on top of all that, it spends billions on disaster payments."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Foley: Public ambitions, private demons

Lots of Floridians have been asking, who the heck IS this guy Mark Foley? The able Frank Cerabino supplies the answers, in the Palm Beach Post.

Friday, October 06, 2006

How the Democrats Can Step Up

David Ignatius sensibly writes today in the Washington Post:
The Democrats are talking about a culture of corruption in Washington, but what are they going to do about it? That's the question Democrats should address over the next month if they want a mandate for change. If they win the House of Representatives, will the Democrats embark on a two-year binge of investigations and score-settling? Or will they get serious about solving the country's problems?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Conservationists take on incumbents in Maryland

Let's watch these two races and see if we can tell whether the environmental movement is alive or dead. Today's story is from the Annapolis Capital.

Monday, September 25, 2006

An obsession with plugging leaks

David Carr's column this morning notes the increasing volume of discussion about how corporate and government secrets make their way into the public press. Part of the friction around those disclosure has been an attempt to punish not only the leakers but the journalists who share the information with their readers. An important passage:
The ability to cultivate confidential sources is one of the building blocks of journalism. Without it, the media world would run on press releases. No one knows how many stories are going unreported, how many whistles going unblown, as a result of the increase in subpoenas....
Many reporters are now forced to conduct themselves like CIA operatives, encoding files, shredding notes and switching cellphones.

So why does it matter if the press is inconvenienced, even curbed? Do you mean you're able to learn all you want from the official announcements of the White House, your boss, your local school board? I thought not.

Here's Carr's full column, though you'll probably need to register to read it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Compromise called possible on interrogations

The maneuvering between White House and the Republican-dominated Congress has been fascinating. Today it looks like a breakthrough might be in sight, says the New York Times (registration required). In the same edition, Times columnist Paul Krugman asks and answers the question of why the Bush administration is so determined to validate torture in questioning terrorism suspects, when it would so clearly erode not only our standing in the world but also the protection given our soldiers under the Geneva Conventions. Krugman's answer:
The central drive of the Bush administration -- more fundamental than any particular policy -- has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president's power.

Here's AP's slightly fresher take on the story, from this morning. Not clear on details of the Conventions? Here's a handy Reference Guide.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hopeful signs for Mexico

My friend Sallie Hughes, a wise woman and true scholar, will be presenting her book on modern Mexico in a few days at my favorite bookstore. For the moment, I'll leave it to the blurb at Books & Books to tell you what it's about.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Krugman names the tax collectors

Paul Krugman picks up on the development I mentioned yesterday, the privatizing of tax collection by the IRS. Let him explain:
In the bad old days, government was a haphazard affair. There was no bureaucracy to collect taxes, so the king subcontracted the job to private “tax farmers,” who often engaged in extortion. There was no regular army, so the king hired mercenaries, who tended to wander off and pillage the nearest village. There was no regular system of administration, so the king assigned the task to favored courtiers, who tended to be corrupt, incompetent or both.

Modern governments solved these problems by creating a professional revenue department to collect taxes, a professional officer corps to enforce military discipline, and a professional civil service. But President Bush apparently doesn’t like these innovations, preferring to govern as if he were King Louis XII.
You can read more in the New York Times (registration required).

Why vaccines are scarce

One of my earliest discussions here was a lamentation over the shortage of flu vaccine. Here's a piece from Forbes that offers an explanation: the heavy, inept hand of the FDA. To check it out, read here. Your comments would be welcome.

The initial post.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pols give public service a bad name

I declare, as my hometown neighbor used to say, there are some real skunks out there. This reflection comes in response to the news that secret campaign organizations are growing and possibly the dominant factor in Florida's statewide elections this year. Near the bottom of The Miami Herald's thorough report, one finds the information that most offends me:
Unnoticed by many, an unknown person changed [former Senate President Tom] Lee's bill at the last minute and abolished a ban that prohibited ECOs [electioneering communication organizations] from coordinating with campaigns.
The changes render Florida's strict $500 cap on campaign contributions meaningless, since a candidate can now legally ask friends or special interest groups to raise large amounts of cash through ECOs to pay for television ads.
We ought to be asking every state senator we meet, how can it be that a bill in the Legislature is changed by hands that remain invisible? Such a system is an invitation to the grossest abuse. Actually, the present case is pretty darned bad.

IRS hires debt collectors

Has it ever seemed to you that the Republicans running things in Washington are systematically trying to dismantle as much of the government as possible? Here's the latest sign. The Internal Revenue Service is going to start using private bill collectors to chase down many of the debts that its own agents used to pursue. Never mind that the IRS can do this work at less cost. Congress, according to today's report in the New York Times, has declined to let IRS have the necessary staff.

As the Times points out, such privatization is often defended as saving money for taxpayers. That isn't the case here. Clearly, the name of the game is fomenting private profits.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New owner hopeful of newspaper turnaround

You may remember posts here earlier this year about the forced sale of Knight Ridder Newspapers because Wall Street in general and one institutional investor in particular weren't satisfied with the company's substantial profits. One of the proudest parts of the Knight Ridder group was the pair of daily papers in Philadelphia, the Inquirer and the Daily News. They wound up in private ownership, and here Brian Tierney, the head of the new group, tells why he's optimistic about the venture.

Want more? Here's a takeout on Tierney from the American Journalism Review.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A book I wish I had time for

Harvard historian Caroline Elkins reviews The Wonga Coup in Sunday's New York Times Book Review. The heart of the matter:
“The Wonga Coup” is a forceful example of how a group of rapacious Europeans can hatch a fantastic plan to overthrow a foreign government, gain the tacit support of Western officials — not to mention international corporations — and fully expect to succeed in executing their grandiose vision.

The book is by Adam Roberts, and you may be able to see the review here. The author was interviewed a few days ago on NPR's Fresh Air.

Friedman on target about Iraq and the elections

The columnist Thomas L. Friedman nails the point again in the New York Times today.
What should really worry the country is not whether the Democrats are being dragged to the left by antiwar activists who haven't thought a whit about the larger struggle we're in. What should worry the country is that the Bush team and the Republican Party, which control all the levers of power and claim to have thought only about this larger struggle, are in total denial about where their strategy has led.

I recommend you find the column Big Talk, Little Will and read it all. Registration may be required.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Have you tried the Tri-Rail?

I had an afternoon meeting in Hollywood on Saturday, and my wife and I were going to the Davie Barn Dance that evening, so I didn't want us both to have to drive up from our place near the Falls. So I caught the Metrorail ($1.25) at 1 p.m. at Dadeland South, transferred to Tri-Rail ($2 for a senior ticket) in Hialeah, and stepped out of the train in Hollywood at 2 p.m. From the platform I had just a few blocks' walk to the new Hollywood Public Library.

The train ride was swell! The coaches are clean and comfortable, and for gawking at the scenery those upper-deck seats are the best. Not that the scenery was much to brag about. As you might expect, the train runs through what's left of Miami-Dade County's industrial zone -- not exactly throbbing with commerce. But I loved the ride, and I'll do it again at my first opportunity to avoid the familiar I-95 headache.

Hollywood is an interesting enclave in this car-focused metropolis. Along and around Hollywood Boulevard, the street immediately south of the Tri-Rail station, things are close enough together to make walking or bicycling comfortable. I did find crossing the southbound I-95 exit ramp to be awkward -- as if whoever built the sidewalk imagined that pedestrians would levitate across the traffic lanes. That place would be intimidating, even dangerous, for anyone with impaired mobility.

Along the way to my meeting I had several choices for refreshment, from a neighborhood donut shop to a Miami Subs store and a very busy I-Hop. And further east, there is the lively downtown strip with restaurants, music venues and other diversions.

OK, enough about me. Try the train. In a place as dense as South Florida, it's the way to go!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Climate warming rapidly

Fresh report on global warming, from the Washington Post (registration may be required).
The warming around Earth's tropical belt is a signal suggesting that the "climate system has exceeded a critical threshold," which has sent tropical-zone glaciers in full retreat and will melt them completely "in the near future," said Lonnie G. Thompson, a scientist who for 23 years has been taking core samples from the ancient ice of glaciers.

A heart-felt farewell to Knight Ridder

A personal reflection on the change underway today at the Miami Herald and other former Knight Ridder newspapers. This piece is from the Duluth News-Tribune.

Comment from one of the original Knight newspapers, the Akron Beacon Journal.

And here's the final shareholder meeting, reported from the perspective of the flagship Ridder newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News. Unlike the Herald, the Merc is not part of the greatly enlarged McClatchy group.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Congress spends without a trace

The magazine U.S. News takes a look at the shifty means used by many members of Congress to get money spent without submitting to the kind of examination you'd think a budget would have to undergo. Perhaps you've heard of this practice, called "earmarking." Read the piece here: Loading the Pork Train. Here's an especially good part:
Congress approved minor curbs on earmarks as part of the lobbying reforms passed this year. The new rules would require bills and reports to include a list of their earmarks along with the names of the requesting lawmaker.

But there's a hitch. More than 40 percent of earmarks will not be subject to these new disclosure rules, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. The new regs do not include pork directed at federal entities, such as the Department of Transportation.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Parking madness degrades urban life

Jim Bacon is writing here about Virginia's capital city (and its suburbs), but his observations are completely relevant in South Florida as well. His website is called Bacon's Rebellion.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Saudi textbooks persist in teaching intolerance

One reason the Muslim-Western conflict is so deep and persistent is a particular form of Islam being taught in religious schools all around the world. It comes from Saudi Arabia, which has financed and assisted schools, not only in traditionally Islamic countries but even in America. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Saudis began to say they were reforming their schools to take the hate out. But the hate remains, and is systematic in the Wahabbist curricula, according to translations done for Freedom House for an article in the Washington Post. Read on:
The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the "monotheists") and unbelievers (the "polytheists" and "infidels").

This indoctrination begins in a first-grade text and is reinforced and expanded each year, culminating in a 12th-grade text instructing students that their religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to "spread the faith."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Don't write off gasoline yet

Alcohol's affinity for water makes it problematic as a replacement for more than a fraction of the gasoline currently consumed by U.S. motor vehicles. A whole new pipeline network might be needed, says this report from Knight Ridder Newspapers' Washington Bureau.

Vote in House seeks to erase oil windfall

Speaking of oil subsidies, as I was yesterday, here are some Republicans finding the courage to cross the aisle in a vote for common sense. It's reported in the New York Times. Significantly,
Eighty-five Republicans, already under fire from voters about gasoline prices, sided with Democrats in voting to attach the provision to the Interior Department's annual spending bill. The measure would require adoption by the Senate, which is less reflexively supportive of the energy industry than the House.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Democrats' energy plan focused on alternative sources

I've been waiting for a Democratic better idea than the continued subsidy of big oil for exploiting their leases on offshore drilling sites they lease from Uncle Sam. It surfaced Wednesday:
"The bill . . . calls for expanding the use of alternative fuels for vehicles, in part by requiring more federally owned vehicles to use them, and by ensuring that more service stations sell them.

The bill would also revoke subsidies for the oil industry, increase subsidies for the renewable fuels industry and restore aid to low-income Americans struggling to pay energy bills."

The report is from the New York Times, where you need to be registered to read online. And here's the Reuters account of the same proposal.

Studies contest Bush's tax cut assertions

Didn't you always know there was something fishy in President Bush's claim that lowering taxes for the rich would increase treasury receipts? It turns out his own economists knew, too. Or they know now. A story you might have missed in the Miami Herald.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Newspapers will change or die

Disruptive competition and a change in Americans' habits have greatly eroded the economic power of the daily newspaper. What might be done to save this essential tool of a self-governing nation is discussed from many angles here in Harvard University's Nieman Reports.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Tri-Rail better, but still a challenge

Service was recently upgraded on the three-county commuter railroad. Read a rider's experience in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mentally ill living together, and apart

The people of the Big House at Palatka are different from you and me. They hurt more, perhaps, and when they try to do something nice they are misunderstood. It's a lonely life in many ways, as Anthony DeMatteo describes it:
Arlington House residents root against toothaches. Medicaid once paid for extractions and dentures. That stopped with federal budget cuts. Now, one woman cries in her room from the pain of an abscessed tooth.

“Their option is basically to suffer,” [administrator Barbara] Hebert said. “And it’s dangerous. An abscess can become quite an issue.”
You can read the full story in the Palatka Daily News. I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Goss resignation from CIA goes unexplained

Porter Goss and the White House danced around the obvious question of why he was quitting the CIA. He and the president ignored the question on Friday, and no explanation was offered later. Jay Rosen reasons that Americans deserve better than that when a major presidential appointee is replaced. Here's his piece in the PressThink blog.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Clarity on the UM workers' union election

It seemed so reasonable when the University of Miami's president, Donna Shalala, said campus janitors should vote by secret ballot on whether to have a union represent them. But an expert in labor law points out that in union-representation elections, as they're run in this country, the cards are stacked against the union. It's not at all the democratic exercise suggested by the hallowed term "secret ballot." Read it in the strike-inspired weblog picketline.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

President negates new laws

Imagine if Congress passed a law that had a final paragraph saying, "Just kidding. Never mind." The effect would be the same as what our Republican president is doing to the Republican-dominated Congress. The link here is from the Wichita Eagle.

A book-lover's pleasures

My favorite bookstore, Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla., prints on its bookmarks this pithy line by Jorge Luis Borges:
I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.
There's a bit more of Borges at the start of this engaging piece about the ups and downs of those whose lives are defined, in part, by print on the page. It's from New West.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

U. of Miami janitors end two-month strike

A compromise solved the impasse: the union gets its card-check process, but has to reach 60 percent approval to be recognized. Read it in The Miami Herald.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A personal action plan on energy policy

This guy has some good ideas. I like the way he breaks down the issues to the personal, local, state and national level of action. I'd quibble about his unqualified recommendation of hybrid vehicles, though, since the hybrid SUVs don't get all that good mileage compared to several perfectly good family sedans and compacts. Overall, a useful discussion at Experience Plus!

Straight talk about gasoline prices and transportation policy

If you read past the Virginia specifics in Jim Bacon's post, there's quite a bit that applies just as well in Florida. What he and some of his responders don't see, though, is that there really are things that each of us can do to conserve energy right now. We do not have to wait helplessly for national leaders to wean us off the oil teat. I'll develop that idea presently. One thought you'll see: bicycle to the 7-Eleven. Meanwhile, here's good reading at Bacon's Rebellion.

Workers' struggle is broader than Miami

Most readers here, I trust, are aware that housekeepers at the University of Miami have been on strike -- first for better wages and some health coverage, and now for recognition of a union. It may have been overlooked, though, that this is an issue in many places, including the venerable University of Virginia. Here, Barbara Ehrenreich lends her support to the struggle and tells how she is helping out. The piece is from Bacon's Rebellion.

Update: The Miami strike is over.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Devil's in the details of the legislative process

If you want to know how legislative mischief gets hidden, grab a look at the title of House Bill 7077. I'm not saying there IS mischief in this multi-purpose transportation bill, now ready for second reading in the Florida House -- just that it wouldn't have been hard to hide it in the bramble thicket of type describing the bill's many purposes. Out of curiosity I copied the title to my word processor and clustered the items that seemed to be related. The resulting document was four pages. By my count, you could have made 42 different bills of this thing. They're clustered because they're supposedly all routine matters with no policy implications.

It's a good lesson: Anyone looking for local impact in the legislative process needs to read every bill carefully. Miamians, there are some gems for us near the end of the title.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Coping with the heat

This Miami spring feels warmer than any in my 32-year experience of the city, and I suspect that one reason is the huge loss of tree canopy in last year's hurricanes. Not only did the storm wreck many of our trees; many others that were damaged were cut up and hauled away rather than pruned and reset in their holes.

One place where that happened was the park near my house. As I walked past this afternoon, a children's party was under way at a spot that before the storms was shaded by several leafy trees. A dozen children played in the sunshine while grownups watched from their lawn chairs. Parked at the curb were five cars and eight vans and sport utility vehicles. (Evidently there's no car-pooling in this social circle.)

We have devalued our trees in Miami, and it is no surprise that some of our lawmakers are willing to sacrifice some more of them to preserve a clear view of billboards along our streets and roads. The idea sounded so absurd when I heard it that I thought it a joke, but this is a serious proposal that the Florida Senate has already approved. Some communities protect trees; ours protects billboards. This billboard protection bill is a fine example of the skewed priorities in a state that owes its appeal to natural beauty. What can its sponsors be thinking?

The bill's progress through the Senate. I haven't found the votes on the floor, but the links near the bottom of that page do show you who was for and against the bill in committee.

36 ideas for Earth Day -- and tomorrow

This is from the Fort Myers News-Press.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cops shoot 2004 Lotto winner

This relates to none of my usual themes here, but it's too good a yarn not to share. Enjoy, in the Orlando Sentinel.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Turn off your TV

Among the reasons cited for the decline of public education, one I think especially to blame is the prevalence of television in American homes. The TV habit shortens the viewer's attention span, and the fare offered is increasingly coarse and vulgar. So I am delighted to report that next week is being observed, in some circles, as TV Turnoff Week. You can check it out at Adbusters, where you'll also find links to other groups who are taking part.

If you really get into this, you might want this handy little gadget called TV-B-Gone.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Generators for gas stations

Miami's Sen. Alex Villalobos figures in this report from the Fort Myers News-Press

School dropout rate as 'civil rights issue'

It was general education as much as our Constitution and America's great natural resources that made the United States the power it has been, according to Paul Starr in The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications. That makes it all the more alarming that our public schools today, for all their successes, are failing so many children so badly. One can hardly blame the mayor of Los Angeles, then, for trying to take hold of the situation and start making improvements. He's just fired a shot across the bow of the education establishment, and you can read it in the Los Angeles Times.

Resources mentioned or brought to mind by the Los Angeles article:
--Dropout study edited by Gary Orfield at Harvard.
--The Silent Epidemic, a study of dropouts -- with recommended remedies at the individual and larger levels -- from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What Florida is doing about its 30 percent dropout rate, as told in the Orlando Sentinel.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Trolly for our town?

I've been a skeptic during recent discussions of laying down a trolly line from downtown Miami to the city's northeast, sometimes styled the Upper East Side. In this look at some of the cities that are using light rail, the idea begins to look better to me. See what you think.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Enough with the smiley-face

It says right here in the Sydney Morning Herald that forced jollity is bad for our psyches -- and eventually, our health. So while you may whistle while you work, feel free, once in a while, to vent some steam. Secret to a long life - get even more often

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Automotive news that makes my heart race

Remember the nimble and sexy British sports cars from the 1950s? Someone's planning to revive the Austin-Healy brand, with an updated design. Can't wait to get into one of those... Vrrrrmmmmmm!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tweaking the justice system

Updated March 24
My guard goes up when a legislator uses the word "reform." And when I hear "tort reform" I get especially wary. See what you think, in the
Tampa Tribune.
There may not be votes enough in the Senate, though, to pass the bill.

Panhandle wetlands may get a little protection

One that will make you shake your head, in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Democrats snubbed on school reforms

Arts education will suffer so there'll be more preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. There's more. Read it in the Palm Beach Post.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nostalgia for the gas wars

Here are a pair of lawmakers who profess that the free market is the friend of the commuter in his 6-year-old Chevy. You may remember a few years ago when Florida forbade the sale of gasoline at a price below what the seller paid. This was meant to protect small merchants -- independent service stations and mom-and-pop convenience stores -- from the predation of Wal-Mart super stores and Big Oil's company-owned outlets.

Well, there aren't that many service stations anymore where you can get a brake job as well as a fillup. So I can see why someone might rationalize that a new outbreak of gas wars, like we had in the cheap-oil era, would be welcome.

But I don't want to see gasoline retailing get any more centralized than it is. I can't believe that discount pricing will continue one day longer than the disappearance of the last independent outlet in any given market.

Read more about the bill in the Palm Beach Post.

The sponsors are David Russell, R-Spring Hill, and Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. The current state of their bill can be found here.

Trapped in a state of denial

The Miami Herald leads page one today with a story premised on the idea that lots of Florida homeowners would be moving into bigger houses if only the property tax wouldn't be so painful in their new digs. Here's Mary Ellen Klas getting wound up:
Across the state, Floridians are finding that they can't afford to move into a new home because of rising prices and property taxes -- a legacy of the red-hot real estate market and the unintended consequence of a constitutional amendment called Save Our Homes.

The 1992 amendment caps the increases on assessed values of properties that qualify for homestead exemptions to a maximum of 3 percent a year. But the cap ends when you buy a new home. That means someone who pays taxes on $100,000 of assessed value, sells his home for $300,000 and buys a $400,000 home could pay four times as much in taxes.
As authors of this "portability" theory see it, you should be able to have your cake and eat it, too -- escaping taxes on present value as well as any future value when you move up. So who IS going to pay for schools and streets and police protection, given that Florida is so committed to avoid the income tax that most progressive states employ to share the burden of public services?

One can imagine the real estate agents getting all excited about this idea. Maybe that's why 11 different versions of it have been filed.

I wasn't able to quickly find the text of these bills, but Sen. Jeff Atwater has filed a couple of "shell" bills that could become the vehicle for the legislation. All it would take is one of those last-minute midnight amendments that the Florida Legislature uses so deftly to escape the light of publicity -- and reason. You can watch S1202 and S1204 from this link.

If you're registered at, you can read the full story here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Secret gardeners brighten the corner where they are

Under cover of darkness, these Green Guerrillas dig and plant and prune. A pity it takes "covert action" to beautify a city. ABC tells the story.

Another cloud over the Sunshine State

If you believe in a watchdog press, or in an activist citizenry that keeps an eye on what our public servants are doing, you'll be concerned about this latest effort to curb what you can learn about official conduct. It's told in the Palm Beach Post. Here's where to read or follow Senate Bill 1898.

Home rule in for a beating from Republican Legislature

Funny how the rhetoric that used to drive votes can get left behind when it's convenient. This Tallahassee report by Joni James and colleague in the St. Petersburg Times

Here's a good example, a proposal to stop communities from negotiating with their cable TV franchise-holders about what programs are offered. Maybe they couldn't even grant a franchise at all! As told in the Orlando Sentinel, this particular move is spurred by the phone companies, which want to start delivering entertainment to help pay for their high-capacity digital lines. Read or follow House Bill 1199 right here.

Hand sanitizers good if there's enough alcohol

Little pump bottles of alcohol gel are almost ubiquitous in the office where I work. Many of us share desks regularly, and we all borrow others' workstations once in a while. So we count on sanitizers as well as soap and water. Now someone's validated the stuff -- but with a warning that it has to have more than 60 percent alcohol. The nut graf to remember when you buy, from Elaine Larson, professor of pharmaceutical and therapeutic research at the Columbia school of nursing:
"Check the bottle for active ingredients. It might say ethyl alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol or some other variation, and those are all fine. But make sure that whichever of those alcohols is listed, its concentration is between 60 and 95 percent. Less than that isn't enough."
Read the details, if you're registered, at the New York Times

Ambassador Wilson urges talks on Iraq

Joe Wilson, the diplomat who popped the Bush administration's Niger balloon, spoke at Florida State University last night. Interesting talk! In the Tallahassee Democrat

Hiding the tracks of government emailers

A surprising little bill from state Sen. Margolis, formerly regarded as a champion of Government in the Sunshine. Read it in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Scraping by at the temple of learning

The janitors at the University of Miami don't seem to be alone in their predicament of working at wages too low to get along on. Here's a blogger in Virginia saying that the same problem exists at all six state universities there. Poverty Wages

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Gas-guzzlers go begging for buyers

It appears the tide has turned against the Hummer and other fuel-offensive vehicles. The New York Times reports:
On top of the sales drop that has hurt all sport utilities, fewer than half the people who bought luxury S.U.V.'s are going back for another one. Incentives for the vehicles are at record levels and for the first time, luxury automakers are paying out more for rebates and lease deals to entice consumers to buy luxury S.U.V.'s than to buy cars.
If you're a registered Times user, you can click to read Trading the Hummer for a Honda.

Dialing for Petrodollars

With all the foreign capital pouring into the United States in search of safety and relative bargains, the magazine U.S. News asks and answers the question of why the recently sidetracked purchase of seaport operations was so unusual. Part of the answer:
... as the uproar over the port deal showed, America just isn't that friendly a place for Arab investors. Stiff visa restrictions make travel harder, and there's always a danger that assets could be frozen.
Here's the full story.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Why Knight Ridder's future matters

So you think you get all the news that matters from your CNN and whatever newspaper you pick up? Maybe not. Here the American Journalism Review tells how the Washington Bureau for my hometown newspaper has time after time filed reports that shattered the conventional wisdom about important events of our time. Perhaps I should have made the point sooner, but perhaps I was too close to the inside to see the stark differences. If you care about current events, this is definitely worth reading.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Back shortly

Necessity will keep me offline for a few days, so please check back, oh, Friday or so for my latest musings. Your comments welcome in the meantime, as always.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Molly Ivins is fed up with D.C. Democrats

The straight-talking oracle of Texas is calling for a grass-roots revolution in the party, and it doesn't start with anyone with a Washington phone number. Here's a sample:
As usual, the Democrats have forty good issues on their side and want to run on thirty-nine of them. Here are three they should stick to:
1) Iraq is making terrorism worse; it’s a breeding ground. We need to extricate ourselves as soon as possible. We are not helping the Iraqis by staying.
2) Full public financing of campaigns so as to drive the moneylenders from the halls of Washington.
3) Single-payer health insurance.
Molly's piece is in the March issue of The Progressive. Buy it or read it here, but seriously think about what she's saying.

Meanwhile, with our third anniversary in Iraq close upon us, President Bush talks about what he's trying to accomplish.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A conservative baby boom

Sobering geopolitical thoughts, from the magazine Foreign Policy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What's the Inky worth?

Another angle on the potential sale of Knight Ridder Newspapers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports about itself.

A paper's history of boom and bust.

How business reporters watch the negotiations.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Re-release for "All the President's Men"

The movie that sent a generation of young people off to journalism school is coming out again, in a two-disc video that includes a segment on the real deep throat, Mark Felt. I'm referring, of course, to the Robert Redford/Dustin Hoffman portrayal of Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post, exposing the political burglary and White House coverup under the Nixon administration.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Where AMT is concerned, the rich are not so different

While Congress wasn't looking, the law intended to make sure the rich don't totally escape taxation was overtaken by time and economic growth. If you've already started your 1040 for 2005 you may already know that. As for how it happened, it's explained very clearly in The Washington Post.

Another secret dragged out of Germany's closet

Business Week reports and comments on Dresdner Bank's self-financed history of its collaboration with Adolf Hitler. Hitler's Bank Bares Its Dark Past A few lively comments follow the article.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mogul backs union's Knight Ridder papers bid

The Guild's effort to find "worker-friendly" owners for nine of the Knight Ridder newspapers is beginning to look credible. I still can't see how they'll solve the problem of the capital-gains tax hit, though. This AP report is at Morningstar.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Higher profits, lower costs: to what end?

The unwelcome change facing Knight Ridder Newspapers is in part the product of national tax laws that penalize all kinds of otherwise healthy industries. Two academics point to the capital gains tax for helping force companies shorten their horizons so that quarterly and even annual financial results have outsized an impact. Read Lawrence Mitchell and Geneva Overholser in Harvard University's Nieman Reports.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Knight Ridder buyer may need 80% approval

If you're following the future of the Knight Ridder newspapers, here's a twist in the question of a possible sale of the company. From the San Jose Mercury News.

China's Communist elders fight censorship

There's resistance in China to the government's hard line against free speech. Audio story from Tuesday on NPR was followed in Wednesday's NYTimes with "Beijing censors taken to task in party circles." Meanwhile, Tim Johnson reports in the Knight Ridder newspapers:
Most Chinese Internet users appear . . . nonchalant about the barriers that prevent online research into topics such as democracy, religious freedom, human rights and other sensitive matters.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Budget would cut English-language broadcasts

I haven't decided yet whether or not I'd make the choice being presented to Voice of America. For many years I've held a strong attachment to the idea of sharing the best of American culture via these broadcasts. But given the budget situation, maybe cutting back in Europe to add more in the Middle East is the right move. Your thoughts? Here's the story as told on National Public Radio.

Environmental Ethics in South Florida

This conference on Feb. 17 looks really worthwhile. I won't be able to go but I hope they have a good turnout from throughout the region. 5th Annual Environmental Ethics Conference

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Senators grapple with Net neutrality

I'll be writing more about broadband questions in a day or two. Meanwhile, a quick update from the ZDNet Government Blog |

A colleague's advice: Buy newspaper stocks

Dave Carlson of the University of Florida, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, checks in with comment and a recommendation, here at the website of Inside Indiana Business .

Newspaper chains discuss teaming up to acquire KR

This report from the Ridder-era home base of Knight Ridder newspapers, in the San Jose Mercury News.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

As essential as the ballot

I've written elsewhere that the forced tender of Knight Ridder newspapers for sale should be of concern among civic-minded Americans everywhere. The news -- at its best subtle, complex and sometimes deep -- is as essential to a self-governing people as the ballot box. Yet many of the scenarios being considered for a new owner of Knight Ridder would require serious cuts in the staffs that have upheld John Knight's tradition of quality journalism in 32 cities.

Today I was shown a letter that Merrett Stierheim, the former Miami-Dade County manager and retired school superintendent, wrote to Bruce Sherman, the investment manager who had the most to do with forcing Knight Ridder to put itself on the auction block. Stierheim knows what a Knight Ridder paper can do because he was in the glare of The Miami Herald's spotlight for more than 20 years. It wasn't always pleasant for him, if I remember correctly. Here's how he lectured Sherman:
I am deeply troubled by the relentless squeezing and cost-cuttiing with insufficient concern for the fundamental responsibilities that go hand in hand with the sacred guarantee of "freedom of the press." Capitalism, without meaningful concern for the public and our democracy -- now corrupted from within with sickening regularity or carried to excess with no value systems other than the pursuit of the almighty dollar -- has within itself the seeds for its own destruction. Mr. Sherman, this is a serious, growing threat to our free and democratic society and to free enterprise in the long run.

The full letter ran Dec. 5, 2005 in the St. Petersburg Times.

Since you're reading a blog, you may be in the habit of getting much of your news off the Internet. I invite you to take notes for a day or two, and see just how much of the news you read there actually comes from newspapers. So far, the people who own and run practically all the news Websites are either newspapers or they are scraping their news off a newspaper site and repackaging it on their own sites. So if newspapers are dumbed down to the point that they might as well go away, where will you get your news? That is, the news that doesn't consist of weather reports and celebrity sightings?

If you're in South Florida and want to know more, there's a program at the University of Miami the morning of Feb. 10 that will ask whether some ownership model other than a public stock company could protect newsrooms from debilitating cost-cutting. I'll try to keep order as three really well-informed panelists deliver their views of reality. You can learn more from the Society of Professional Journalists' site, the second item down.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The energy cure

Under different circumstances it might have been encouraging to hear President Bush declare, as he did in his State of the Union address, that “America is addicted to oil.” It might have been, that is, if he and his Republican cohorts hadn’t done so many things to keep our country hooked on its petroleum habit.

Many of us recall Richard Nixon, at the time of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, claiming cause for national pride in the U.S. role as the world’s largest consumer of oil.  As Nixon spun the facts, our profligate consumption was a sign of strength, and long might it continue.

When Jimmy Carter got to the White House, he made energy conservation and development of renewable sources a national priority, only to encounter resistance in Congress – notably from the oil-state senators – and ridicule in supposedly friendly quarters.  Even some of Carter’s own party sniffed at the peanut farmer in his cardigan setting back the first family’s thermostat.  (For once, a national Democrat had shown a keen understanding of the power of symbolism, but some who should have backed him up tried to make Carter’s act a symbol of futility, not of leadership.)

Reagan wasted no time in picking apart the Carter incentives for conservation, and the oil-friendly Bush family kept unraveling the wool.  With the SUV craze going full throttle, once the Republicans got control of Congress they even slipped a few lines into a tax bill that encouraged small businesses to buy gas-thirsty trucks.  (The upshot of that was pediatricians and quick-print shops writing off the cost of 10-mile per gallon Hummers as business necessities.)

My local newspaper made it out that Bush gave an important emphasis to the oil issue in his speech Tuesday night. Here’s the entire passage, as reported in the New York Times from the White House’s pre-delivery text:

“Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

“The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources, and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies and clean, safe nuclear energy.

“We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks or switch grass.  Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.

“Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.  By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.”

Just for the record, that passage occupied five inches of the 90 that the text required in my Times.

Others have made the point that we actually buy less than a quarter of our oil from the Middle East.  Closer, larger suppliers are Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. What needs to be added is that oil is a fungible resource – that is, a barrel of crude from East Texas is pretty much the same as one from Kuwait or Iraq.  And in a global market, what we don’t buy in the Middle East, someone else will.  So pumping out of one well instead of another doesn’t really change the price of oil or the overall supply available to the world.  

I am less than enthusiastic about the president’s emphasis on ethanol as a substitute for oil.  It takes oil for tractors and natural gas for fertilizer to grow the corn and cane from which ethanol is being made, so you don’t really obtain a gallon-for-gallon replacement value.

It’s time to redouble the attention to efficiency and conservation that were spearheaded by President Carter. He was, let it be remembered, an engineer as well as a farmer.  These are times for problem-solving, not doctrinaire politics. It’s my view that the market hasn’t a perfect solution for every need. Sometimes, there needs to be a national policy backed up by law to make us do what is good for us all.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

On break; see you back here soon

The DSL connection to my desk went down last week and it's taking a while to get it restored. So posting and the necessary surfing beforehand is not very practical. You're on your own for a few more days. I'll be back by the end of the week, I hope.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google censoring search results in China

With dismay but no surprise, I share the latest restriction on freedom in the world's largest emerging market. I don't know what we can do about it. (I did take the Google News link off my other blog. Small gesture.) Ideas, anyone? Yahoo! News

The China version of Google won't include email or blogs, the New York Times reports. The Times also has these interesting points:
Google says it plans to disclose when information has been blocked or censored from its new site, just as it does in the United States, Germany and other countries.
The regular site, based outside China, will continue to be available for access from China. Difficulties using the site have put Google at a disadvantage in China, where the site had lost ground to a Chinese rival,, which went public last year.

Want more discussion? Foreign Affairs had a good piece last fall. The introduction:
Conventional wisdom has long assumed that economic liberalization undermines repressive regimes. Recent events, however, suggest that savvy autocrats have learned how to cut the cord between growth and freedom, enjoying the benefits of the former without the risks of the latter. Washington and international lenders should take note.
The article is here.

Lender showing leadership

Updated Jan. 27

An important regional bank says it won't lend to developers of shopping malls and other private ventures who are getting their sites through eminent domain. This is a reaction to the Connecticut case in which the U.S. Supreme Court, defying the accepted sense of what's fair, allowed the seizure of people's homes to create a New London construction site not for public, but commercial purposes. Here's BB&T's chairman explaining the bank's decision:
"One of the most basic rights of every citizen is to keep what they own. As an institution dedicated to helping our clients achieve economic success and financial security, we won't help any entity or company that would undermine that mission and threaten the hard-earned American dream of property ownership."
Here's the news release from the bank.
And here are the documents on the New London case.
I should mention, also, that I own stock in BB&T. Today they make me proud.

There's an interesting Florida case involving eminent domain. Audra D.S. Burch tells the story in The Miami Herald.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A wrap for "West Wing"

My favorite TV show for years has been NBC's West Wing. I haven't managed to follow it very well, for personal reasons, but every time I do catch the show I am moved by the respect the writers and actors show for a life of public service. Well, this week I read in the Miami Herald that this is the show's last season. Am so sorry. Anyone know where I can find tapes? Hmmm, maybe it will go into reruns.

By the way, did you know that NBC's website for the show provides additional topical reading for each episode -- an article on Kazakhastan, a link to an education reform organization, a piece about the French ban on dwarf-tossing. Hey, you can't get more eclectic than the topics this show has covered!

The show.

Some more from the Herald's TV writer, Glenn Garvin.

And, for real fans, the unofficial West Wing Continuity Guide.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Florida's own "meanest city"

Beautiful Sarasota, home to retirees and art students, won itself a place of distinction that I'm sure many there would just as soon not occupy. It was labeled America's meanest city by advocates for the homeless because Sarasota has outlawed the act of camping without a property owner's permission. Actually, they've done this three times now, with the first two tries ruled unconstitutional. The latest ordinance was upheld a few days ago by a county judge, inspiring comment in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Here are more of the facts, from the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Carmakers get the message

Well, it's about time. Detroit and its import competitors are finally thinking small again. Can they give up the SUV binge? It's probably too early to say, but meanwhile, here's a look at a Pint-sized Lineup

Friday, January 06, 2006

Media's man of the moment

Thanks to Jon Friedman at MarketWatch for this profile of James Risen, who with Eric Lichtblau blew the lid off a domestic spying program that had operated in secret since weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. There's been some controversy about their report in the New York Times, with slams from President Bush and speculation about why the story was held by the Times until days before Risen's book (right) would hit the stores. Here's Friedman:
During our conversation, Risen only expressed emotion on two occasions. When I asked him to comment on the President saying that Risen and Lichtblau's sources were traitors, Risen said, "That wasn't too nice." Then he said animatedly: "I think they're patriots."

The second time was when he discussed, with noticeable disgust, the media criticizing the New York Times for "sitting on" the Risen-Lichtblau story for about a year before publishing it.

Countering the skeptics, Risen said the Times "performed a major public service." While the Times conceivably could've published it sooner, he said with a shrug, "Who cares? In the end, the important thing is that they published the story." He dismissed the debates as being "inside baseball."
Friedman's Media Web column is here.
If you're interested in the book, here's my favorite bookseller, Books & Books.

Politics was country before country was cool

Here's a book I'll have to take a look at. Thanks, Bob Edwards, for having the author, Chris Willman, on your show today. Here's a sample from Willman:
Country musicians as a whole, it seems, sing from the heart more than anywhere else. They're sincere, but as Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt concludes in his recent best-selling little tome "On Bull -- " (a topic familiar to real country folk), uninformed sincerity is still bull. Many of these most successful musical stars are, like our Texan president, wealthy folk just playing a role….
I found a good review at SFGate

Wikipedia can be better

The write-it-yourself reference site should be tweaked, not trashed, according to Mitch Ratcliffe at ZDNet. OK, maybe it will take more than tweaking to achieve the transparency he wants. But his Rational Rant is worth reading. It's the first of a series.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Back at the desk

The Christmas holiday in New England was fun and thoroughly relaxing. The rain didn't spoil our daughter's ski plans, and the plunging temperature on New Year's eve was manageable even for thin-blooded Floridians.

We went into Boston for First Night, with snow falling on the Commons as the parade passed by (see the Mardi Gras-style bird), and fireworks afterward. We caught the 7 o'clock show, then ducked into The Last Hurrah -- a great urban watering-hole in the famed Parker House Hotel -- for delicious stew and brandy-laced coffee. After another walk in the park we were lured into the historic Park Avenue Church by the free cocoa and hot cider, and stayed for a Christian pop concert that was upbeat and life-affirming. By the time we came out, all train rides were free and we trundled homeward in the snow-muffled city. A lovely evening, and to bed just minutes after midnight.