Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: The Strange Death of American Liberalism

Title: The Strange Death of American Liberalism
Author: H.W. Brands
Year: 2001
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: American History

Review: This is by far the worst non-fiction book I have ever read. I can't believe a college would require this for a class. Just the hypocrisy of the title says it all. Do not read!

Grade: F

Book Review: No Ordinary Time

Title: No Ordinary Time
Author: Doris Kearns Goodwin
Year: 1994
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: WWII, History

Review: This is an excellent look into both FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and WWII. Goodwin is a great writer as she uses tons of sources and quotes. My only complaint is the length of the book. The first hundred pages or so are a little hard but it gets easier. Definitely worth the time.

Grade: A-

Obama signs 2010 US defence budget

Barack Obama, the US president, has signed into law a $680bn defence budget for the next fiscal year, which includes $170bn in funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 2010 defence authorisation bill, which Obama signed at the White House on Wednesday, drops funding to several expensive projects.

"I have always rejected the notion that we have to waste billions of dollars of taxpayer money to keep this nation secure," Obama said at the signing ceremony, which was also attended by Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, and Joe Biden, the country's vice-president.

"I think wasting these dollars makes us less secure. That is why we have passed a defence bill that eliminates some of the waste and inefficiency in our defence process; reforms that will better protect our nation, better protect our troops and save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars," Obama said.

The bill also contained an expansion to the definition of federal hate crimes, to include criminal acts based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

30,000 stimulus jobs figure is way off the mark

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs downplayed errors in job counts identified by the AP's review, telling reporters, "We're talking about 4,000, or a 5,000 error."

The AP reviewed a sample of federal contracts, not all 9,000 reported to date, and discovered errors in one in six jobs credited to the $787 billion stimulus program — or nearly 5,000 of the 30,000 jobs claimed so far.

Even in its limited review, the AP found job counts that were more than 10 times as high as the actual number of paid positions; jobs credited to the stimulus program that were counted two and sometimes more than four times; and other jobs that were credited to stimulus spending when none was produced.

Those errors were included in an early progress report on the stimulus released two weeks ago that featured numerous mistakes, including a Colorado business' claim that its stimulus contract created more than 4,200 jobs. In fact, the actual count was less than 1,000.

Seeds of adult dishonesty are sown in youth, study finds

A new study claims there is truth to the adage: People who cheated on exams in high school are considerably more likely to be dishonest later in life, according to a report to be released today by the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

The study, which surveyed nearly 7,000 people in various age groups nationwide, offers a sobering assessment of today's youth as cynics who are aware that their behavior crosses boundaries but believe it is necessary to succeed.

And the findings suggest that habits formed in childhood persist: Those who cheated in high school are more likely as adults to lie to a customer, inflate an insurance or expense claim, cheat on taxes and lie to their spouses.

Among the findings: Teens 17 and younger are five times more likely than those older than 50 to believe that lying and cheating are necessary to succeed (51% vs. 10%), those in the 17 and younger group are nearly four times as likely to deceive their boss (31% vs. 8%) and three times more likely to keep change mistakenly given to them (49% vs. 15%).

More young adults ages 18 to 24 reported lying to a spouse or partner than did the 41- to 50-year-old members of their parents' generation (48% vs. 22%), more made an unauthorized copy of music or a video (69% vs. 27%) and they were more likely to have misrepresented or omitted a fact in a job interview (14% vs. 4%).

The older generation outdid its younger counterparts in one area: 69% of adults 41 to 50 and 58% of those older than 50 reported using the Internet for personal reasons at work, compared with 53% of those 18 to 24.

Today's students are also under more social and parental pressure to excel than perhaps any earlier generation, said educators. The same federal mandates and state requirements for testing that tax school systems may affect student behavior, said Jeff Sherrill, associate director of the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals.

"I cannot say for sure if the pressure to test creates pressures to cheat," Sherrill said, "but we know one reaction is a natural instinct to try to figure out how to finish ahead."

Vote No On Confucius

House Resolution 784, "Honoring the 2560th anniversary of the birth of Confucius and recognizing his invaluable contributions to philosophy and social and political thought" turned out to be controversial for 60 different House members.

While 361 voted "Yes" - 47 voted against the resolution, and another 13 members voted "Present."

Democrats split 234-12-2 on Confucius and his legacy, while Republicans voted 127-35-11 on it. Here is a list of the 47 "Nays".

Akin (R-MO), Altmire (D-PA), Barton (R-TX), Berry (D-AR), Boccieri (D-OH), Broun (R-GA), Burgess (R-TX), Camp (R-MI), Carter (R-TX), Chaffetz (R-UT), Conaway (R-TX), Davis (R-KY), Davis (D-TN), Driehaus (D-OH), Ellsworth (D-IN), Emerson (R-MO), Flake (R-AZ), Fleming (R-LA), Graves (R-MO), Hoekstra (R-MI), Johnson (R-IL), Johnson (R-TX), Jordan (R-OH), LaTourette (R-OH), Latta (R-OH), Marchant (R-TX), Massa (D-NY), Matheson (D-UT), Mica (R-FL), Miller (R-FL), Platts (R-NE), Poe (R-TX), Radanovich (R-CA), Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Shadegg (R-AZ), Shimkus (R-IL), Simpson (R-ID), Skelton (D-MO), Souder (R-IN), Space (D-OH), Taylor (D-MS), Tiberi (R-OH), Walden (R-OR), Westmoreland (R-GA), Wilson (D-OH), Young (R-AK) and Young (R-FL).

That's a lot of "No" votes, considering that no one spoke against the resolution during debate on Tuesday.

Confucius wasn't very popular in the state of Ohio, where eight members of that state's delegation voted against the resolution. That is almost half of the state's 18 members in the U.S. House.

Stop Gap Budget

The month is almost over and Congress still hasn't finished work on the budget for the fiscal year that started on October 1st, so lawmakers are poised to extend a temporary budget until early December.

Lawmakers gave themselves extra time at the end of September, when they had only finished one of the dozen annual spending bills for the 2010 Fiscal Year.

And in the last four weeks, they managed to finish three more bills, with a fourth getting added in today.

* $1,000,000 for "Mass Marking of Hatchery Fish In The Great Lakes"
* $150,000 for the "Caddo Lake Institute of Texas"
* $16.8 million for employee housing at the Grand Canyon
* $3.8 million to preserve Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C.
* $3.25 million for Land Acquisition in the Virgin Islands National Park
* $1.2 million for Land Acquisition in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia

So there's just a few of the earmarks.

Report: States Set Low Bar for Student Achievement

Many states declare students to have grade-level mastery of reading and math when they do not, the Education Department reported Thursday.

The agency compared state achievement standards to the more challenging standards behind the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress.

State standards were lower, and there were big differences in where each state set the bar.

Yet in his home state of Illinois, which lowered its eighth-grade math standard, Easton said officials were trying to make it easier to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law that prods schools to boost test scores to meet annual improvement goals.

Easton said a bigger concern is the wide disparity in standards among the states. A student who is proficient in one state might not be proficient in another, the report said.

The report by the department's statistics arm compared state achievement levels to achievement levels on NAEP. It found that many states deemed children to be proficient or on grade level when they would rate below basic or lacking even partial mastery of reading and math under the NAEP standards.

Among the findings:

— Thirty-one states deemed fourth-graders proficient in reading when they would have rated below basic on NAEP. Mississippi's standards were lowest, and Massachusetts' were highest.

— Seventeen states deemed eighth-graders proficient at reading when they would have rated below basic on NAEP. Tennessee's standards were lowest, and South Carolina's were highest.

— Ten states deemed fourth- and eighth-graders proficient at math when they would have rated below basic on NAEP. Tennessee's standards were lowest; Massachusetts had the highest fourth-grade math standards, and South Carolina had the highest eighth-grade standards.

Orlando Leaders Excited About Jaguars Opportunity

The Jaguars expect to blackout every home game this season. So for the first time ever, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver acknowledged interest in playing one or two regular season games in Orlando.

"Wouldn't it make sense to play an out of market game to try to energize that fan base?" Weaver said last month.

But the idea faces some hurdles. Chief among them, an aging Citrus Bowl that isn't up to NFL standards, lacking box seats and premium suites.

The Citrus Bowl was built back in 1936. It only held 8,900 people. Over the decades it's gone through a series of expansions. One of the most recent, back in 1989, when the current seating capacity was reached at 70,000 people.

City Offers More Incentives to Keep Florida-Georgia Game

And now Mayor John Peyton is doing more than ever before, contractually, to make sure the RV's and the game stay in Jacksonville.

"We've had a lot of competition from other cities wanting this game so I think this contract with the arrangements we worked out is the best deal for the taxpayers," says Peyton.

Among other incentives, Peyton is now offering to give each university $50,000 to help with expenses and the city will pay for air travel for the Georgia players directly to and from Jacksonville.

Nation’s GDP rises 3.5 percent in third quarter

The nation’s real gross domestic product increased at an estimated annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said in an advance estimate Thursday.

In the second quarter, real GDP — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property in the United States — decreased 0.7 percent, the BEA said in a release.

Sheriff's Office gives nearly $1.5 million back to county

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings plans to return more than $1.4 million to Orange County government coffers Thursday.

About $1 million of the $1,435,169 in unused funds was left over because the county gave the Sheriff's Office more than it needed to pay for gasoline when the price was nearly $4 per gallon, sheriff's officials said. The price dropped to about $2.30 per gallon but is now about $2.70 per gallon. The Sheriff's Office saved further by implementing fuel-conservation measures, a spokesman said.

The rest of the money came from a $297,000 COPS grant and about $150,000 in miscellaneous funds not used by various agency departments.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As US population increases, Congress must adjust

The Constitution created 65 seats in the House of Representatives, set a minimum size of 30,000 residents for a Congressional district, and mandated a reapportionment after each census. As new states entered the union and the nation's population grew, the size of the House increased every decade until 1912, when it reached the current size of 435 and the average district had 210,000 residents.

Today the average district has a startling 650,000 people. The largest district – Nevada's Third – has 960,000 residents, and the smallest – Wyoming's single district – has 493,000.

These disparities will continue to grow. By 2040 the average district will have more than 900,000 residents. Districts could range from as few as 500,000 residents to more than 1.7 million. Almost one-third of the states in the "People's House" could have only one or two representatives. How can one person adequately represent the diversity encompassed in such a large district?

October deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan

October has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the start of the war in 2001, Pentagon officials said on Tuesday.

The death of eight troops in bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday pushed the October death toll to 53, topping the previous high of 51 deaths in August, officials said.

Obama: $3.4B for 'smart' power grid

President Obama on Tuesday announced a $3.4 billion federal investment to modernize the country's outdated power grid.

The money will go to 100 projects in 49 states to add automated substations, digital transformers, electric meters in homes and other high-tech equipment to create a "smart" grid.

"We're going to create an energy superhighway," Mr. Obama said when making the announcement at Florida Power & Light Co.'s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Fla., one of the country's biggest solar-power facilities.

The money will be released in the form of grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and recipients will have to match the federal money with an equal amount of private investment.

Administration officials said that the program includes $4.7 billion in private investments and that grants range from $400,000 to $200 million.

Iraq and Afghanistan US Fatalities

The first graph includes US causalities in Afghanistan, the one below it is Iraq.

I posted this to note the significant decrease in US deaths in Iraq since President Obama went into office in January 2009. At the same time, however, the increase of US deaths has been significantly increasing in Afghanistan.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Obesity: A Weighty Issue

"Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, dramatically. It increases the risk of heart disease, of stroke, of hypertension, increases the risk of many forms of cancer. And you think about the costs of health care and the role that chronic diseases play, obesity is a major factor in all of those chronic diseases I have just listed."

And those costs are staggering…

"About $147 billion a year are spent directly related to obesity and the underlying health conditions related to that," said Sebelius. "That compares with all the cancers that people have across America, which cost a little under $100 billion a year. So one-and-a-half times as much money is spent [on obesity]."

Medicare Fraud: A $60 Billion Crime

President Obama says rising costs are driving huge federal budget deficits that imperil our future, and that there is enough waste and fraud in the system to pay for health care reform if it was eliminated.

At the center of both issues is Medicare, the government insurance program that provides health care to 46 million elderly and disabled Americans. But it also provides a rich and steady income stream for criminals who are constantly finding new ways to steal a sizable chunk of the half trillion dollars that are paid out each year in Medicare benefits.

In fact, Medicare fraud - estimated now to total about $60 billion a year - has become one of, if not the most profitable, crimes in America.

Health care wastes up to $850 billion a year

The U.S. health care system is just as wasteful as President Barack Obama says it is, and proposed reforms could be paid for by fixing some of the most obvious inefficiencies, preventing mistakes and fighting fraud, according to a Thomson Reuters report released on Monday.

The U.S. health care system wastes between $505 billion and $850 billion every year, the report from Robert Kelley, vice president of health care analytics at Thomson Reuters, found.

One example — a paper-based system that discourages sharing of medical records accounts for 6 percent of annual overspending.

Some other findings in the report from Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Reuters:
  • Unnecessary care such as the overuse of antibiotics and lab tests to protect against malpractice exposure makes up 37 percent of health care waste or $200 to $300 billion a year.
  • Fraud makes up 22 percent of health care waste, or up to $200 billion a year in fraudulent Medicare claims, kickbacks for referrals for unnecessary services and other scams.
  • Administrative inefficiency and redundant paperwork account for 18 percent of health care waste.
  • Medical mistakes account for $50 billion to $100 billion in unnecessary spending each year, or 11 percent of the total.
  • Preventable conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes cost $30 billion to $50 billion a year.

"The average U.S. hospital spends one-quarter of its budget on billing and administration, nearly twice the average in Canada," reads the report, citing dozens of other research papers.

"American physicians spend nearly eight hours per week on paperwork and employ 1.66 clerical workers per doctor, far more than in Canada," it says, quoting a 2003 New England Journal of Medicine paper by Harvard University researcher Dr. Steffie Woolhandler.

H1N1 is declared a national emergency

The White House has declared the 2009 H1N1 "swine flu" pandemic a national emergency, a designation that will make it easier for medical facilities to handle a surge of patients infected with the potentially deadly virus.

The president's action on Saturday is intended to remove bureaucratic roadblocks and make it easier for the sick to seek treatment and medical providers to provide it immediately. It also will allow medical facilities to waive certain standard requirements for Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health insurance programs on a case-by-case basis.

But Mr. Obama said "given that the rapid increase in illness across the nation may overburden health care resources," raising the level of the virus to national emergency status was warranted.

The new declaration clears the way for medical providers to bypass federal requirements that, for example, could prevent hospitals from establishing off-site, alternate care facilities that could help them deal with emergency department demands.

Federal health officials say that the swine flu is more widespread now than it ever has been, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths so far in the United States. About 100 pediatric swine flu deaths have been reported.

Pension fund director cries foul over salary cuts

As Jacksonville looks to plug gaping financial holes, the Police and Fire Pension Fund has acquired arguably the biggest bull's-eye in town.

It's the overall pension debate that the fund's director says motivated the City Council to slash the fund's budget and salaries by 3 percent - a move he says is illegal and wasn't done to any other independent agency.

As it stands now, the pension fund's eight full-time employees are the only people among 8,100 city workers with a budgeted pay reduction - which fund Executive Director John Keane says shows the pension is being unfairly targeted.

City attorneys, however, say the council is well within its rights, especially because the pension fund gets money directly from the city.

The city's contribution to the fund this year is more than $79 million, Council Auditor Kirk Sherman said.

The city did not impose 3 percent salary cuts for other agencies, which include the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jacksonville Aviation Authority and JEA, the city-owned electric, water and sewer utility. But none of those agencies receive money directly from the city's general fund like the pension fund does, Council President Richard Clark said.

The pension's unfunded liability was about $788 million at the end of the 2007-08 budget year, Sherman said.

Bernanke backs clamp down on pay

The White House and Federal Reserve moved Thursday to clamp down on executive pay at companies bailed out by taxpayers and at financial firms thriving during the recession.

President Barack Obama’s pay czar announced he would be slashing the salaries of 175 executives at seven companies that have yet to pay back bailout money in the past year.

Hours later, the Federal Reserve board said bank regulators would begin reviews of top banks’ compensation and use its regulatory authority to demand changes to excessive pay packages.

“We believe in success,” Obama said. “But it does offend our values when executives of big financial firms — firms that are struggling — pay themselves huge bonuses, even as they continue to rely on taxpayer assistance to stay afloat.”

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton wants to put city fees on property tax bill

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton hopes to add $6 million to city coffers by changing the way solid waste and stormwater fees are collected.

Peyton’s office is proposing adding the fees to property tax bills, which is expected to increase the number of households that actually pay the bill.

Since the fees were approved by the City Council in 2007, the city has been sending out separate bills and looking for a more efficient, less expensive way to collect the money.

About 83 percent of those billed have paid, but the city is projecting a 95 percent collection rate if the fees are on property tax bills, said Marcy Cook, manager of special initiatives for the Public Works Department.

The city is expected to collect about $40 million in solid waste and stormwater fees this year and is estimating bringing in $46 million if the switch is made, said Sherry Hall, a Peyton policy director.

The city also spends $730,000 a year to mail the bills, which the Tax Collector’s Office could do for about $500,000 a year, Hall said.

Congress Pressed to Act to Curb Child-Abuse Deaths

Child-welfare advocates gathering for a rally and conference in Washington say America should be embarrassed to have a child-abuse death rate far higher than other wealthy democracies. They cite the latest federal figures showing that an estimated 1,760 U.S. children died from abuse and neglect in 2007 — up 35 percent from 2001.

"Child abuse and neglect are national problems that require national solutions," said Michael Petit, president of the Every Child Matters Education Fund. "That means federal lawmakers must work with states to address what causes it, be more consistent in how data about it are shared, and increase support for the agencies that work to stop it."

Among the report's recommendations:

—Up to $5 billion in additional federal funds to support child protection services.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Review: The Dirty Dozen

Title: The Dirty Dozen
Author: Robert Levy & William Mellor
Year: 2008
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Law

Review: A good book about 12 Supreme Court cases that, according to the authors, "radically expanded government and eroded freedom." They bring up good arguments though at times they seem a little hypocritical. Short and easy read with good case briefs.

Grade: B

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Article 1, Section 9

Article 1, Section 9: "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law."

Please just read it one more time.

Now I have a simple question: Does this mean that an agency, such as the Federal Reserve, has the power to just print money? Or is it Congress only who can spend money?

Something to ponder...

Key Vote: Energy and Water Development Appropriations

Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010
- Vote Agreed to (80-17, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate approved this $33.5 billion bill funding the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and related agencies and programs for FY 2010, sending it to the President.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Homeland Security Appropriations

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010
- Vote Passed (307-114, 11 Not Voting)

The House approved the conference report of this $42.8 billion bill funding the Department of Homeland Security.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Bay Area Key Vote: Regional Water Recycling Program Expansion Act

Bay Area Regional Water Recycling Program Expansion Act
- Vote Passed (241-173, 18 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that is intended to help address California’s cycles of drought and reduce dependence on water from the troubled Bay-Delta ecosystem.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Book Review: Plain, Honest Men

Title: Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution
Author: Richard Beeman
Year: 2009
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: American History

Review: Pretty decent book about the founding fathers and the ratification of the Constitution (although there are MANY books on the same topic). I still think there are better out there than this particular one (i.e. "Miracle at Philadelphia").

Grade: B-

Book Review: Revolutionary Mothers

Title: Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence
Author: Carol Berkin
Year: 2005
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: American History

Review: Very short and easy to read book about the role of women during the Revolution. Women were spies, cooks, prostitutes, couriers, farmers, and some even took up a weapon for the fight.

Grade: B+

Book Review: Boss

Title: Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago
Author: Mike Royko
Year: 1971
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Politics

Review: Interesting and disturbing look at the history of the political machine in Chicago. It fits the stereotype that politicians have only one aspiration in life - to get your vote.

Grade: B+

What Is the Electric Power Grid, and What Are Some Challenges It Faces?

The grid of electric power lines has evolved into three large interconnected systems that move electricity around the country. Standards have been developed by the electric power industry to ensure coordination for the linked operations. Challenges facing the power grid include getting approval for corridors of land for new transmission lines within States or that cross multiple States, and the financing and constructing of new transmission lines to assure continued reliability of our electricity supply.

Around the beginning of the 20th century, there were over 4,000 individual electric utilities, each operating in isolation. Almost all of those used low-voltage connections from nearby generating power plants to the distribution lines serving their local customers.

As the demand for electricity grew, particularly in the post-World War II era, electric utilities found it more efficient to interconnect their transmission systems. In this way, they could share the benefits of building larger and, often, jointly-owned generators to serve their combined electricity demand at the lowest possible cost, and to avoid building duplicative power plants. Interconnection also reduced the amount of extra capacity that each utility had to hold to assure reliable service. With growing demand and the accompanying need for new power plants came an ever-increasing need for higher voltage interconnections to transport the additional power longer distances. Over time, three large interconnected systems evolved in the United States.

Fossil Fuels’ Hidden Cost Is in Billions, Study Says

Burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution, the National Academy of Sciences reported in a study issued Monday.

The damages are caused almost equally by coal and oil, according to the study, which was ordered by Congress. The study set out to measure the costs not incorporated into the price of a kilowatt-hour or a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel.

The estimates by the academy do not include damages from global warming, which has been linked to the gases produced by burning fossil fuels. The authors said the extent of such damage, and the timing, were too uncertain to estimate.

Nor did the study measure damage from burning oil for trains, ships and planes. And it did not include the environmental damage from coal mining or the pollution of rivers with chemicals that were filtered from coal plant smokestacks to keep the air clean.

“The largest portion of this is excess mortality — increased human deaths as a result of criteria air pollutants emitted by power plants and vehicles,” said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who led the study committee.

Nearly 20,000 people die prematurely each year from such causes, according to the study’s authors, who valued each life at $6 million based on the dollar in 2000. Those pollutants include small soot particles, which cause lung damage; nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog; and sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain.

Coal burning was the biggest single source of such external costs . The damages averaged 3.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 0.16 cents for gas. But the variation among coal plants was enormous.

Plants can recognize rivals and fight, study says

Plants can't see or hear, but they can recognize their siblings, and now researchers have found out how: They use chemical signals secreted from their roots, according to a new study.

Back in 2007, Canadian researchers discovered that a common seashore plant, called a sea rocket, can recognize its siblings — plants grown from seeds from the same plant, or mother. They saw that when siblings are grown next to each other in the soil, they "play nice" and don't send out more roots to compete with one another.

But as soon as one of the plants is thrown in with strangers, it begins competing with them by rapidly growing more roots to take up the water and mineral nutrients in the soil.

Further, when sibling plants grow next to each other, their leaves will often touch and intertwine, while stranger plants near each other grow rigidly upright and avoid touching, the authors say.

Death penalty is too expensive for states, study finds

A group opposing capital punishment is urging government officials to reassess the costs and benefits of the death penalty in light of America's economic troubles.

State and local governments facing dire budget crunches can realize substantial savings by replacing capital punishment with a regime that sentences the worst offenders to life in prison without parole, according to a report released Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

The number of death sentences handed down in the United States has dropped from roughly 300 a year in the 1990s to 115 a year more recently. Executions are falling off at the same rate, the report says.

In the meantime, some 3,300 inmates remain on death row.

Despite the report's findings, the death penalty has the support of most Americans. According to an October 2008 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. Thirty percent oppose it.

Only once in the past 70 years (in 1966-67) did more Americans oppose capital punishment than support it, the poll results show. In that time span, 47 percent opposed it, while 42 percent supported it.

A 2008 study in California found that the state was spending $137 million a year on capital cases. A comparable system that instead sentenced the same offenders to life without parole would cost $11.5 million, says the DPIC report, citing the study's estimates.

New York spent $170 million over nine years on capital cases before repealing the death penalty. No executions were carried out there.

Some officials may be tempted to try to cut capital-punishment costs, notes the DPIC report, but many of those costs reflect Supreme Court-mandated protections at the trial and appeals-court levels. "The choice today is between a very expensive death penalty and one that risks falling below constitutional standards," the report says.

Nationwide, the report estimates, at least $2 billion has been spent since 1976 for costs that wouldn't have been incurred if the severest penalty were life in prison. The figure is based on an estimate in a 1993 North Carolina study that found the average extra cost of a death sentence in this state was $300,000. The average extra cost of capital punishment is significantly higher in several other states like California, Florida, and Maryland, the report says.

Medical Marijuana Proponents Breathe Easier Under New Guidelines

Diagnosed with a brain tumor, chronic pain and scoliosis, Raich, 43, says she uses marijuana to help her survive. But having lost multiple court cases, including one in the Supreme Court, the Californian has lived in constant fear that she and others in her position will be arrested by the feds.

But new formal guidelines by the U.S. Department of Justice could change that. In a marked departure from the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder made it clear today that medical marijuana users and dispensaries in states that permit its usage should not be prosecuted.

California is one of 14 states where it's permissible to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. But even though it's permitted for sale there, it still violates federal law, which bans any use of marijuana. And in the previous administration, authorities targeted medical marijuana sellers under federal laws even if they complied with state laws.

The new policy is in line with what candidate Barack Obama promised in his campaign. As a presidential candidate, Obama said he would end federal raids on people who used marijuana for medical purposes.

Pending home sales surge in NE Florida

Pending home sales surged 60.4 percent in September compared with the same time in 2008 and closed sales were up 12.7 percent over September 2008, according to the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors.

There were 1,628 pending sales, or sales that have gone under contract but have not yet closed, in September in the Jacksonville area. There were also 1,297 closed sales during the month, 336 of which were lender mediated sales.

The huge spike is attributed to first-time home buyers rushing to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit, in combination with low interest rates, according to a news release announcing the figures.

Government unveils new mortgage help

The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a new program to support state and local housing finance agencies. The plan will help the agencies finance mortgages for first-time homebuyers and develop rental housing.

The agencies have had a hard time raising money because of the housing crisis and credit crunch. This year, the agencies have sold about $4 billion in tax-exempt bonds — one-fourth the amount in a typical year. That reduction is limiting the number of loans they can make.

The new program uses mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help fix the financing crunch. The two companies will package mortgages made by the housing agencies and sell them as bonds to the Treasury Department.

The agencies play a relatively small role in the mortgage market, aiding about 100,000 to 200,000 first-time borrowers a year.

Bank failures drain FDIC insurance

Nearly 100 banks have failed so far this year, pushing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s insurance fund into the red for only the second time since its founding in 1933.

As the worsening commercial real estate debacle continues to ravage the balance sheets of thousands of mostly small and medium-sized banks, analysts expect hundreds more could fail before the problem abates.

This year's 99 bank failures have already cost the FDIC more than $25 billion. That's on top of the nearly $20 billion in costs absorbed by the federal agency from the 25 banks that failed last year.

The recession has so devastated the FDIC's deposit insurance fund that the agency has had to take the unprecedented step of requiring banks to prepay $45 billion of insurance premiums by the end of this year in order to replenish the FDIC's coffers. The premiums would cover the fourth quarter of this year and all of 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Friday, October 16, 2009

UN backs Gaza war crimes report

The UN human rights council has endorsed the Goldstone report on Israel's war on Gaza, which accuses the military of using disproportionate force as well as laying charges of war crimes on Israeli occupation forces and Hamas.

The council's resolution adopting the report was passed in Geneva by 25 votes to six with 11 countries abstaining and five declining to vote.

The United States and Israel were among those countries which voted against the resolution.

In addition to endorsing the report, the resolution "strongly condemns all policies and measures taken by Israel, the occupying power, including those limiting access of Palestinians to their properties and holy sites".

It also calls on Israel to stop digging and excavation work around the al-Aqsa mosque in occupied East Jerusalem as well as other Islamic and Christian religious sites.

Israel rejected the charges saying the resolution – drafted by the Palestinians with Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tunisia, on behalf of non-aligned, African, Islamic and Arab nations – threatened peace efforts.

The Goldstone report recommended that its conclusions be sent on to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor in The Hague if Israel and Hamas do not hold their own credible investigations into allegations of war crimes within six months.

The report accused Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also accused the Hamas movement, which has de facto control of Gaza, of war crime violations, but reserved most of its criticism for Israel.

About 1,400 Palestinians – the majority of them civilians - and 13 Israelis were killed during Israel's three-week war on Gaza, which had the stated aim of stopping rocket attacks by Palestinian fighters from the coastal territory.

Obama signs off on extra aid for Pakistan

President Obama on Wednesday signed legislation that triples economic aid to Pakistan, even as it seeks to shift the focus of the US partnership with Pakistan from the military to the country's people and civilian institutions.

The new assistance program, which boosts US aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over the next five years, seeks to redirect the substantial aid the US has provided Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks to a "hearts and minds" battle aimed at winning over the Pakistani population in the struggle with Islamic extremism.

Federal deficit triples from year ago

The federal budget deficit has surged to an all-time high of $1.42 trillion as the recession caused tax revenues to plunge while the government was spending massive amounts to stabilize the financial system and jump-start the economy.

As a portion of the economy, the budget deficit stood at 10 percent, the highest since World War II, according to government data released Friday.

For 2009, the government collected $2.10 trillion in revenues, a 16.6 percent drop from 2008. The plunge reflected declining income tax collections as millions of Americans lost their jobs or saw their wages cut. Corporate taxes also plummeted as the recession squeezed companies' profit margins.

Government spending last year jumped to $3.52 trillion, up 18.2 percent over 2008. The $700 billion financial bailout fund and increased spending and tax relief from the $787 billion economic stimulus program that Obama pushed through Congress in February drove the increase.

For September, a month when the government usually records surpluses, the deficit totaled $46.6 billion. That's a sharp contrast to the $45.7 billion surplus in September 2008, the last time the government's books were in the black.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown opts against Senate run

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is opting against a Senate run.

In a prepared statement released Friday, the Democratic lawmaker said she wants to campaign to retain the House seat she’s held since 1992.

“From providing health care for everyone to helping create jobs and stimulating economic development to protecting our beautiful beaches and coastline from the drill-first-and-ask-questions-later crowd, I am in a unique position to fight more effectively than ever for northeast and central Florida,” it reads.

A $250 bribe to help the ObamaCare medicine go down.

No one ever went broke underestimating political cynicism, but these days even we can't keep up: On Wednesday, President Obama announced that he wants to send every American senior a $250 check.

"Even as we seek to bring about recovery, we must act on behalf of those hardest hit by this recession," Mr. Obama said. Of course it's a mere coincidence that these checks are being proposed, and probably passed, just as Congress is about to vote on health care.

Supposedly these "economic recovery payments" are justified because seniors won't get an inflation-adjusted increase in Social Security benefits this year. This zero cost-of-living, or COLA, increase has many seniors alarmed, and AARP and other lobbies have been fanning their anxiety. Mr. Obama's Wednesday news was timed to pre-empt yesterday's announcement of the zero COLA by the Social Security Administration. The $250 checks will funnel $13 billion to some 57 million beneficiaries—in addition to whatever they have already received as part of the $787 billion stimulus.

Florida workers’ comp rates to decrease 6.8%

Florida employers will get another break on workers’ compensation insurance.

The state’s insurance commissioner said Thursday he has approved a proposed rate decrease of 6.8 percent, effective Jan. 1 for all new and renewed workers’ comp policies.

The rate reduction, submitted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, will result in an estimated $166 million in savings for employers.

It is the seventh consecutive decline in rates since the Florida Legislature passed reforms in 2003.

U.S. spends $3.6 billion a month in Afghanistan

The United States spends about $3.6 billion a month in Afghanistan, according to data from the Congressional Research Service.

The average cost per month is calculated per 51,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but that number likely will increase with the 68,000 troops the Obama administration is planning on having in that country.

The cost of sending one U.S. soldier into Afghanistan for one year is $1 million versus an estimated $12,000 for an Afghan soldier, according to Stephen Daggett, a specialist with the Congressional Research Service.

Limbaugh dropped from group bidding for St Louis Rams

Controversial conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been dropped from a group trying to buy the St. Louis Rams after several black NFL players objected and the league commissioner weighed in against Limbaugh's "divisive comments."

"It has become clear that his (Limbaugh's) involvement in our group has become a complication and a distraction to our intentions," said SPC Worldwide Chairman Dave Checketts, who is leading the bid to buy the National Football League team and keep it in St. Louis.

"We have decided to move forward without him and hope it will eventually lead us to a successful conclusion," Checketts said in an emailed statement.

Several black NFL players have told newspaper reporters they would never play for a team owned by Limbaugh because of remarks they found racially objectionable, including his comment that the media wanted Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to succeed because he is black.

Job Program Found to Miss Many States That Need It Most

The new jobs reported Thursday come from a small slice of a sliver of the $787 billion stimulus program: the roughly $16 billion worth of stimulus contracts that were awarded directly by federal agencies, of which about $2.2 billion has been spent so far. But the preliminary data represented the first time that the federal government has reported actual job figures, and not just job estimates, and they provided the most complete snapshot yet of how one component of the sprawling program — direct federal contracts — was shaping up.

One thing was clear: while the federal contracts have created or saved 30,383 jobs, they were not directed to states with the highest jobless rates. Businesses in Michigan, whose 15.2 percent unemployment rate in August was the highest in the nation, reported creating or saving about 400 jobs. Businesses in Nevada, which had the next highest unemployment rate, reported 159. And businesses in Rhode Island, which had the third-highest unemployment rate, 12.8 percent, reported the fewest jobs: just six.

More jobs, by contrast, were reported in some of the states with lowest unemployment rates. Businesses in North Dakota, whose 4.3 percent unemployment rate was the lowest in the nation, reported creating or saving 219. The most jobs were reported in Colorado, whose 7.3 percent unemployment rate was below the national average that reached 9.8 percent last month, and where businesses reported creating or saving 4,695 jobs.

What U.S. Companies Really Pay in Taxes

At the moment, most companies pay less than the official tax rate of 35%. A study published last summer by the General Accounting Office found that from 1998 to 2005, 55% of large U.S. companies had at least one year of paying no taxes at all.

The result is a list of players whose tax burdens ranged widely, from essentially nothing to almost 400% of pretax income a year. Troubled industries with weakening profits had the highest tax rates: The auto sector averaged 45.5%, banks paid 50.3%, and real estate companies paid 66.1%. The least-taxed industries were semiconductors, at 19.6%, often because of high expenses in the U.S. and high overseas income. Infrastructure investments helped to keep telecoms at a low 22.2%.

States Letting Inmates Cut Even More Prison Time

States under pressure to erase budget deficits and ease prison overcrowding are allowing inmates to shave greater amounts of time off their sentences through good behavior and participation in classes such as job training and substance abuse treatment.

Among new laws passed this year: Colorado now permits low-risk inmates 12 days per month of earned time instead of 10; Mississippi lifted a 180-day cap on earned time; and Oregon raised the amount of time inmates can deduct from their sentences for good behavior from 20 percent to 30 percent.

Rhode Island revised its earned time statute last year. Now, virtually all inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses can deduct up to 10 days per month for good behavior, two per month for having prison jobs and five per month for participating in treatment programs. There's a one-time 30-day credit for class completion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Key Vote: Department of Defense Authorization, FY 2010

Department of Defense Authorization, FY 2010
- Vote Passed (281-146, 6 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill authorizing defense spending, which also contains a provision that extends the definition of federal hate crimes to include crimes in which victims are targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010
- Vote Passed (263-162, 7 Not Voting)

The House approved the conference report of this $23.3 billion funding bill for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and other related agencies and programs.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010

Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010
- Vote Passed (93-7)

The Senate approved this $636.3 billion bill funding the Department of Defense during fiscal year 2010.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Medicare Monster

The cost of Medicare is a good place to begin. At its start, in 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion. The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost only about $ 12 billion by 1990 (a figure that included an allowance for inflation). This was a supposedly "conservative" estimate. But in 1990 Medicare actually cost $107 billion.

This is a mere bagatelle compared with "conservative" projections for the next generation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Medicare will cost $223 billion by 1997. Constance Homer, deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, warns that "by the year 2003, at the current rates, we will be spending more on Medicare than we do on Social Security."

Anticipating a 3.5-percent annual inflation rate, government actuaries predicted that the cost of a day’s hospital stay by 1985 would be $155 and that the hospital insurance portion of Medicare would cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual average cost of a hospital day by 1985 was over $600; instead of $9 billion, the hospital-insurance program cost $63 billion in 1990.

Insurance Industry Assails Health Care Legislation

A lobby for the industry, America’s Health Insurance Plans, focused its criticism on a bill likely to be approved Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee.

“The overall impact will be to increase the cost of private insurance coverage for individuals, families and businesses above what these costs would be in the absence of reform,” said Karen M. Ignagni, president of the trade association.

Democratic aides on the Finance Committee disputed the conclusion. They said the bill would provide tax credits to millions of people to help them afford coverage. Moreover, they said, people could keep the coverage they now have if they wanted. In addition, they said, some provisions of the bill would reduce the administrative costs of insurance.

The report says that the cost of the average family coverage, now $12,300, will rise to $18,400 in 2016 under current law and to $21,300 if the Senate bill is adopted. Likewise, it said, the cost of individual coverage, now $4,600, will average $6,900 in 2016 under current law and $7,900 under the bill.

U.S. can't trace foreign visitors on expired visas

Eight years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and despite repeated mandates from Congress, the United States still has no reliable system for verifying that foreign visitors have left the country.

Last year alone, 2.9 million foreign visitors on temporary visas like Mr. Smadi’s checked in to the country but never officially checked out, immigration officials said. While officials say they have no way to confirm it, they suspect that several hundred thousand of them overstayed their visas.

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Over all, the officials said, about 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States came on legal visas and overstayed.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, immigration authorities, with more than $1 billion from Congress, have greatly improved and expanded their systems to monitor foreigners when they arrive. But despite several Congressional authorizations, there are no biometric inspections or a systematic follow-up to confirm that foreign visitors have departed.

Last year, official figures show, 39 million foreign travelers were admitted on temporary visas like Mr. Smadi’s. Based on the paper stubs, homeland security officials said, they confirmed the departure of 92.5 percent of them. Most of the remaining visitors did depart, officials said, but failed to check out because they did not know how to do so. But more than 200,000 of them are believed to have overstayed intentionally.

Freddie Mac to help banks get credit

Freddie Mac is starting a pilot program to help lenders get access to warehouse lines of credit to fund loans those lenders eventually sell to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Freddie Mac says it is currently working with Natty Mac, a Guggenheim Partners company, in the pilot program it says.

“The warehouse lending industry has nearly exited the market making it increasingly difficult for lenders to fund loans,” Freddie Mac’s new chief executive Charles Haldeman said in a statement. He calls it much needed additional liquidity for residential financing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Obama vows to end restrictions on gays in military

President Barack Obama, speaking on the eve of a major gay-rights march, told gay supporters on Saturday he would fight for their causes and renewed a pledge to end restrictions on their service in the U.S. military.

To a standing ovation at a dinner held by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group, Obama said he would "end 'don't ask, don't tell,' That's my commitment to you."

At the dinner, Obama acknowledged that work on those issues was "taking longer than you'd like" as the push to overhaul healthcare and dealing with the economic crisis dominate his domestic agenda.

Feds: Food stamps swapped for booze, Viagra

The alleged scheme worked this way: Food stamp recipients would get cash from the store in exchange for swiping larger amounts off their electronic cards. The store would then be reimbursed by the U.S. Agriculture Department.
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And in some transactions, the government says the store provided informants Viagra, liquor and porn in exchange for swiping about $2,000 off food stamp cards.

The government says fraud at the store topped $130,000 over 2 1/2 years. The store is closed.

Pollution an Enduring Legacy at Old Missile Sites

To date, the corps has spent $116 million at 44 former Atlas and Titan intercontinental ballistic missile — or ICBM — sites and 19 former Nike anti-aircraft missile sites from the early Cold War. The missile sites include 14 in Kansas, 10 in Nebraska, seven in Wyoming, seven in Colorado and two in Oklahoma. California, New Mexico, New York and Texas have one contaminated site each.

Total cleanup costs are projected to cost $400 million, according to corps spokeswoman Candice Walters.

Paying for Jaguars' jungle has Jacksonville in debt

But since the team took the field for the first time in 1995, the math hasn't worked.

Even when then-Alltel Stadium was a tough ticket and the high-octane offense twice had the team a game from the Super Bowl, the stadium was being subsidized by taxpayers - at least $3 million a year to cover debt and other expenses.

As the city borrowed money to get Jacksonville Municipal Stadium primed for international eyes and the 2005 Super Bowl, the equation tilted further.

By the end of the 2007-08 budget year, the fund set up to pay stadium expenses was more than a million dollars in the red, and another $8 million-plus was needed to cover basic operating costs and debt service.

The plan calls for taking $5 million in bed tax revenue that will be freed up now that the Prime Osborn Convention Center is paid off - and directing those dollars to the football stadium, Veterans Memorial Arena and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

The dollars would go for routine maintenance, which the city is contractually obligated to pay for. A 2007 study commissioned by the Jaguars shows a $148 million need over the next 30 years - from replacing every seat in the approximately 75,000-seat stadium to upgrading the sound system from analog to digital.

The city gets about $14 million a year in revenue - including a cut of ticket sales and parking costs. Those shares are adjusted annually for inflation.

Included in that $14 million is rent from the team and the $5 million in bed tax revenue already committed to the stadium.

US: Taliban has grown fourfold

Taliban-led forces fighting US and Nato troops in Afghanistan have increased nearly fourfold since 2006, according to a US intelligence estimate presented to the US president.

The report says that the number of Taliban fighters has grown to 25,000, from 7,000 four years ago, the officials said on Friday as Barack Obama convened a fifth cabinet-level meeting on his country's military strategy in Afghanistan.

The US president is considering whether to agree to a request by the senior commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan for up to 40,000 extra troops to be deployed.

General Stanley McChrystal has warned that the US mission in Afghanistan risks failure unless more troops are sent to combat the Taliban and provide training and support to Afghan government forces.

Officials said on Friday that Obama - who agreed early in his presidency to send 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan - has not made any firm decision in regard to McChrystal's request.

Study Finds High Rate of Imprisonment Among Dropouts

On any given day, about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates, according to a new study of the effects of dropping out of school in an America where demand for low-skill workers is plunging.

The picture is even bleaker for African-Americans, with nearly one in four young black male dropouts incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized on an average day, the study said. That compares with about one in 14 young, male, white, Asian or Hispanic dropouts.

A coalition of civil rights and public education advocacy groups and a network of alternative schools in Chicago commissioned the report as part of a push for new educational opportunities for the nation’s 6.2 million high school dropouts.

The new report, in its analysis of 2008 unemployment rates, found that 54 percent of dropouts ages 16 to 24 were jobless, compared with 32 percent for high school graduates of the same age, and 13 percent for those with a college degree.

Again, the statistics were worse for young African-American dropouts, whose unemployment rate last year was 69 percent, compared with 54 percent for whites and 47 percent for Hispanics. The unemployment rate among young Hispanics was lower, the report said, because included in that category were many illegal immigrants, who compete successfully for jobs with native-born youths.

Young female dropouts were nine times more likely to have become single mothers than young women who went on to earn college degrees, the report said, citing census data for 2006 and 2007.

Surprise Nobel for Obama Stirs Praise and Doubts

The choice of Barack Obama on Friday as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, less than nine months into his eventful presidency, was an unexpected honor that elicited praise and puzzlement around the globe.

Normally the prize has been presented, even controversially, for accomplishment. This prize, to a 48-year-old freshman president, for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” seemed a kind of prayer and encouragement by the Nobel committee for future endeavor and more consensual American leadership.

But the committee, based in Norway, stressed that it made its decision based on Mr. Obama’s actual efforts toward nuclear disarmament as well as American engagement with the world relying more on diplomacy and dialogue.

“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” the Nobel committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, said in Oslo after the announcement. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”

He said, though, that he would “accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century.” Mr. Obama plans to travel to Oslo to accept the award on Dec. 10. He will donate the prize money of $1.4 million to charity, the White House said.

Limiting malpractice lawsuits can save big

Limits on medical malpractice lawsuits would lead doctors to order up fewer unneeded tests and save taxpayers billions more than previously thought, budget umpires for Congress said Friday in a reversal that puts the issue back in the middle of the health care debate.

The latest analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that government health care programs could save $41 billion over ten years if nationwide limits on jury awards for pain and suffering and other similar curbs were enacted. Those savings are nearly ten times greater than CBO estimated just last year.

US Education Chief Appeals for Great New Teachers

"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation," Duncan said. "And if you care about promoting opportunity and reducing inequality and social injustice, the classroom is the place to start."

Duncan told about 100 prospective teachers at the University of Virginia that veterans, retirees and professionals seeking a second career must heed the call to teach. He said the need is especially acute for black men in the nation's classrooms.

Bus shelter battle heads to Jacksonville City Council

In 1987 the installation of new billboards and other commercial signs was banned in Jacksonville. This ban also mandated the incremental removal of existing signs and billboards.

Now the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is looking for a way around it.

The JTA has asked the council to amend an existing ordinance so that advertising would be allowed on bus shelters within the city. The council will take up the issue at its meeting on Tuesday.

Ten of the 19 City Council members have co-sponsored the legislation, all but guaranteeing the bill will pass unless one of the co-sponsors changes his or her mind.

Opponents say the amendment could allow sign companies to sue the city and put the entire law in legal jeopardy.

The JTA wants a company to build and maintain bus shelters in exchange for the right to sell advertising. Executive Director Michael Blaylock said that with advertising, the JTA could construct about 80 shelters a year, instead of the 20 or so a year being built now.

It costs $4,000 to $12,000 to construct a shelter and about $1,200 a year to maintain one, but the new shelters might by more ornate and cost more than the existing shelters, JTA spokesman Mike Miller said.


Today, almost one month ahead of a November 1 benchmark set earlier this year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a new milestone of more than 500,000 trial loan modifications in progress under the Making Home Affordable program.

Want good health care? It's location, location ...

The quality of health care Americans receive depends largely on where they live, with insurance coverage, access to preventive medicine and disease treatment varying widely from state to state, according to a study released on Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund.

Residents of Vermont have the best health care in the country, the foundation said. The small northern state, which embarked on a radical plan to provide all citizens with health care less than a decade ago, also leads the nation in "equity," or making sure that people of lower income groups have health care.

Generally, the report found, states in the South, Southwest and lower Midwest have worse insurance rates and less access to good medical treatment.

Report: Fla. medical malpractice rates fall in 2008

Legislation passed in 2003 to stem the rising tide of malpractice insurance premiums appears to be working.

A new report by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation finds a net decline of 10 percent for all approved medical malpractice rates in Florida. That’s the fifth year in a row that the cost of medical malpractice insurance has fallen.

There were 3,336 closed claims in 2008, which paid an estimated $700 million, according to an analysis of the closed claims data submitted to the OIR’s Professional Liability Closed Claims Reporting system.


"The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced a commitment to insure a mortgage loan to Mennonite General Hospital in Cayey and Aibonito, Puerto Rico, to expand and renovate its Cayey campus. The $129,966,100 loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's Section 242 Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program."

Sheriff's office sells ads on inmate monitors

"The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday it is starting to sell advertising space on the video monitors used by jail visitors to communicate with inmates."

"The rotating still-frame ads will air on the terminals in 2-minute intervals when they're not in use by a visitor. Advertisers will pay 60 cents per showing."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review: Somebody's Gotta Say It

Title: Somebody's Gotta Say It
Author: Neal Boortz
Year: 2007
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Politics

Review: Excellent and humorous book. It can open a whole new world for you and can also make you a cynic.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 5, 2009

Key Vote: Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010
- Vote Passed (308-114, 10 Not Voting)

The House approved this $33.5 billion bill funding the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and related agencies and programs.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2010

Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2010
- Vote Agreed to (62-38)

The Senate approved this $4.66 billion bill that funds the legislative branch for Fiscal Year 2010, sending it to the President. The bill also includes a continuing resolution to fund government operations through October 31, as this is the only one of the 12 annual appropriations bills to have been completed before FY 2010 began.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Waves of New Fund Cuts Imperil US Nursing Homes

"A Medicare rate adjustment that cuts an estimated $16 billion in nursing home funding over the next 10 years was enacted at week's end by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — on top of state-level cuts or flat-funding that already had the industry reeling."

"And Congress is debating slashing billions more in Medicare funding as part of health care reform. Add it all up, and the nursing home industry is headed for a crisis, industry officials say."

"The funding crisis comes as the nation's baby boomers age ever closer toward needing nursing home care. The nation's 16,000 nursing homes housed 1.85 million people last year, up from 1.79 million in 2007, U.S. Census Bureau figures show."

"Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes were cut this year by Rhode Island (5 percent); Michigan (4 percent) and Florida (3 percent)."

"A University of Pittsburgh study earlier this year found nearly 1,800 nursing homes nationwide closed from 1999 to 2005, about 2 percent each year."

"On average, Medicaid payments by states to nursing homes fell short by $12 per patient, per day last year — nearly $4.2 billion in unreimbursed costs for Medicaid-allowed expenses, according to the AHCA."

UNF announces $110 million campaign

"In the midst of this economic upheaval, the University of North Florida has been planning the Jacksonville school’s most ambitious capital fundraising campaign."

“The needs of a university — especially one that’s developing as rapidly as UNF — they don’t go away during lean times,” President John Delaney said. “We identified areas that we can improve to make this a better college, and we owe it to our students and the community to follow through.”

"The multi-year fundraising campaign, dubbed “The Power of Transformation,” was unveiled Friday night. Its net goal: $110 million."

"UNF’s previous campaign, Access to Excellence, raised about $100 million from 1997 to 2003 during Anne Hopkins’s tenure as president. It led to the creation of 180 scholarships."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Book Review: In Fed We Trust

Title: In Fed We Trust
Author: David Wessel
Year: 2009
Type: Non-Fiction
Genre: Politics, Finance

Review: Wessel is basically making the argument that the Federal Reserve messed up in its handling of the current economic crisis or "great panic" as he calls it. It is a pretty boring book though it is interesting to see how complicated everything is when it comes to the economy - adding to the argument that the Federal Reserve and government, with one person (Ben Bernake) or even if given to a group, has just way too much power. Yet we still believe in government...

Grade: C+

Saturday, October 3, 2009

All Printouts at Library Now Cost 10 Cents

"Yesterday, the libraries started charging a new, 10-cent fee for all printouts on library computers."

"Previously, customers were allowed five free printouts."

Smokers, Overweight People to Face Fine Under Health Bill

To prove that the American health care system is not part of a "free market":

"The Senate Finance Committee approved an amendment to the healthcare bill Wednesday that would allow employers to charge workers with unhealthy lifestyles more for their insurance coverage. "

"The amendment would permits employers to adjust premiums as much as 50 percent according to the level of workers’ health habits, up from 20 percent now."
"The USA's largest teachers union will encourage local chapters to ignore contract provisions that in the past have kept school districts' best teachers out of schools that serve mostly poor and minority students."

"Testifying Tuesday before the House education committee, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said the union, which represents about 3.2 million teachers and other workers, will ask local affiliates to draw up memoranda of understanding with local school districts that would "waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers."

"Van Roekel said the move is part of the union's "Priority Schools" campaign that will also encourage "the most accomplished teachers-members" to start their teaching careers in high-needs schools, remain there or transfer there."

Report finds progress in narrowing achievement gap

"Some of the most significant improvements were seen in elementary black and Latino students: The percentage of fourth-grade Latino students scoring proficient in reading exams increased from 46 to 64 percent between 2002 and 2008, and from 36 to 53 percent for blacks. Similar jumps in proficiency were seen in fourth-grade math."

"Despite those improvements, however, the gap between white, black and Latino students remains significant: 81 percent of fourth-grade white students tested proficient in reading, compared to 53 percent of blacks and 64 percent of Latinos."

"That gap tends to widen as students enter middle and high school. Fifty percent of 10th-grade white students scored proficient in reading, compared to 17 percent of blacks and 30 percent of Latinos."