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 MiamiHerald.com, 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.