Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Key Vote: Legislative Branch Appropriations, FY2012

Legislative Branch Appropriations, FY2012
- Vote Passed (252-159, 21 Not Voting)

This $3.3 billion bill would fund the legislative branch in the upcoming fiscal year. It marks a 6.4 percent reduction from the current funding level. It is not clear when the Senate will take up the bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act of 2011

Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (241-173, 18 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill to alter the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a mortgage and credit card watchdog group created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. The bill would raise the threshold by which the Financial Stability Oversight Council can overturn CFPB regulations and require Senate confirmation of a director before the CFPB can begin operating. The Senate is unlikely to pass the bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Cut, Cap, and Balance Act

Cut, Cap, and Balance Act
- Vote Passed (234-190, 8 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would make a debt ceiling increase contingent on passage of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment. The White House indicated the president would veto it. The Senate rejected the bill later in the week.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Motion to Table; Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011

Motion to Table; Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011
- Vote Agreed to (51-46, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate agreed to this motion to table the House-passed "Cut, Cap and Balance" debt ceiling and balanced-budget plan. The move essentially kills the bill.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted NO

Key Vote: Military Construction-VA Appropriations, FY2012

Military Construction-VA Appropriations, FY2012
- Vote Passed (97-2, 1 Not Voting)

The Senate passed its version of the military construction and Department of Veterans Affairs appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year. The $144 billion bill differs slightly from the House version that passed on June 14. A conference committee will work out a final bill.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: Energy-Water Appropriations, FY2012

Energy-Water Appropriations, FY2012
- Vote Passed (219-196, 16 Not Voting)

The House passed this 2012 fiscal year spending bill that would provide $30.6 billion to the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers and various water projects. The Senate has not written its version of the bill yet.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011

Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (239-184, 8 Not Voting)

This House bill would limit the EPA’s authority to override a state’s water pollution standards in favor of stricter standards. It is unclear if the Senate will take up the bill. The White House has issued a veto threat.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Better Use of Light Bulbs Act

Better Use of Light Bulbs Act
- Vote Failed (233-193, 1 Present, 4 Not Voting)

The House rejected this bill that would have repealed energy efficiency standards that are expected to lead to a phaseout of the traditional incandescent light bulb. A two-thirds vote was necessary to pass the bill under suspension of the rules. The bill is likely to come up again under a rule or as part of another bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Fiscal 2012 Defense Appropriations

Fiscal 2012 Defense Appropriations
- Vote Passed (336-87, 8 Not Voting)

The House passed this $649.2 billion bill to fund the Defense Department in the next fiscal year. The bill marks a $17 billion increase over the 2011 spending level. The Senate is expected to work on its version of the bill later in the summer.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Charter schools aren’t measuring up

The governor and the Legislature have invested their rhetoric and your money in the notion that charter schools will improve student achievement. Except the results haven’t been so grand. Less than 12 percent of the state’s schools are charters, but they account for 15 of Florida’s 31 failing schools. In Broward, for example, all four of the schools deemed failures were charters. Statewide, charters were more likely to receive a D rating, but less likely to earn A’s, B’s or C’s than traditional schools.

Study on Teach for America's effectiveness in Duval schools

The report found that Teach for America teacher's students made more gains than other Title I teachers with similar experience levels.

There are about 110 Teacher for America teachers in the district and the district pays about $1,500 per teacher.

U.S. Default: Sovereign And Local Government Debt Defaults Extremely Rare

Sovereign default events are rare. Since the mid 1990s Fitch has recorded a total of eight sovereign defaults, including the Jamaican default event. The list of sovereign defaults includes Indonesia and the Russian Federation, both in 1998; Argentina (2001); Moldova (2002); Uruguay (2003); the Dominican Republic (2005) and Ecuador (2008).

Even more infrequent are municipal or local governments defaulting on their debt.

Jacksonville City Council action

A look at some of the issues the City Council considered in its meeting Tuesday:

Issue: Property tax rates

What it means: The council was asked to adopt an emergency resolution listing proposed and "rolled-back" property tax rates for the coming year, which the county property appraiser mails to property owners. The proposed rate - the same as this year - is the highest the council can impose without mailing new notices.

Bill No. 2011-401

Action: Approved

Issue: Restricting mobile vendors

What it means: The council was asked to withdraw a bill that would have forbidden mobile vendors such as roadside rug or plant merchants from setting up shop within a mile of a similar business.

Bill No. 2010-856

Action: Withdrawn

Issue: Kaman Aerospace aid

What it means: The council was asked to approve an agreement for Kaman to seek up to $2.1 million in state and city aid if it adds 200 jobs to a plant in the Imeson area. It could also get a $231,000 grant.

Bill No. 2011-384

Action: Approved

Issue: St. Johns River City Band funds

What it means: The council was asked to retroactively approve grants to the band and remove it from the auditor's list of groups not complying with city finance rules.

Bill No. 2011-318

Action: Withdrawn

Popular medications are going on the cheap

In the next 14 months, seven of the world's 20 best-selling drugs will be available in generic form, dramatically slashing the cost for patients but also decimating sales for the drug companies that created them. CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy explains what they are and what this means.

So what are the two biggest drugs to go generic? Cholosterol drug Lipitor in November and blood thinner Plavix in May 2012. About 4.3 million Americans take Lipitor, while 1.4 million are on Plavix.

Generic drugs cost 20 to 80 percent less than brand names. When heartburn drug Protonix went generic, the price dropped from $170 per month to just $16.

By 2016, dozens of popular drugs -- Lexapro, Avandia, Lunesta, Singulair -- with $255 billion in global sales will go generic. Pharmaceutical company profits are expected to plunge.

Drugs Help Keep Seniors from Emergency Care, Study Finds

Seniors with access to affordable prescription drugs require less spending on emergency and short-term nursing care, according to a study of Medicare Part D released Tuesday.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the report shows that the federal program -- which subsidizes prescription drugs for seniors -- "significantly" reduces non-drug medical costs for those who had limited coverage before the program began in 2006.

In real terms, their non-drug health care costs dropped $1,200 per year below what would have been expected without Part D, according to the report.

Recession Study Finds Hispanics Hit the Hardest

The study, which used data collected by the Census Bureau, found that the median wealth of Hispanic households fell by 66 percent from 2005 to 2009. By contrast, the median wealth of whites fell by just 16 percent over the same period. African Americans saw their wealth drop by 53 percent. Asians also saw a big decline, with household wealth dropping 54 percent.

The declines have led to the largest wealth disparities in the 25 years that the bureau has been collecting the data, according to the report.

Median wealth of whites is now 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, double the already marked disparities that had prevailed in the decades before the recent recession, the study found.

The share of Americans with no wealth at all rose sharply during the recession. A third of Hispanics had zero or negative net worth in 2009, up from 23 percent in 2005. For blacks, the portion rose to 35 percent from 29 percent, and for whites, it rose to 15 percent from 11 percent.

About a quarter of all black and Hispanic households owned nothing but a car in 2009. Just 6 percent of whites and 8 percent of Asians were in that situation.

Whites were less affected by the crisis, largely because their wealth flowed from assets other than housing, like stocks. A third of whites owned stocks and mutual funds in 2005, compared with 8 percent of Hispanics and 9 percent of blacks.

The median value of stocks and mutual funds owned by whites dropped by 9 percent from 2005 to 2009. In comparison, the median value of holdings for those blacks who held stocks dropped by 71 percent, most likely because they had to sell when prices were low, Mr. Taylor said.

Charter Schools $55 Million:Public Schools $0 For Repairs

Duval schools were expecting $10 million this school year for maintenance, repairs, renovations and remodeling, but the legislature has opted not to give public schools a penny.

Last year, Duval County schools received $7 million from the legislature for maintenance, remodeling and repair; this year it was expecting $10.3 million but will get nothing.

Last year public schools in Florida received $122 million for maintenance but this year lawmakers declined to appropriate a dime.

Yet, they approved $55 million dollars for maintenance and repair of charter schools only.

Obama certifies repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

President Obama has certified the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," clearing the way for gays to serve openly in the military.

The certification will take effect in 60 days. Obama signed the congressional repeal in December.

Jacksonville the least walkable city in the USA

Jacksonville was named the least walkable of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. by Walk Score, a company that evaluates the walkability and transportation of cities.

The River City earned a walk score of 32.6 based on a scale of zero being the least walkable and 100 being the most walkable. Based on the data, about 80 percent of Jacksonville residents live in vehicle-dependent neighborhoods.

JEA ranked No. 2 for new solar power capacity in 2010

The Solar Electric Power Association recognized JEA as one of the nation’s top utilities driving solar electric power growth.

With 29.1 watts per customer, JEA ranked seventh out of 10 utilities in the 2010 Annual Solar Watts-per-Customer category and was ranked second in the nation for annual municipal utility solar megawatt capacity. California’s Silicon Valley Power topped the list with 39.9 watts per customer.

Wells Fargo fined $85M over subprime mortgage practices

Wells Fargo & Co was fined $85 million for steering potential creditworthy borrowers into more costly subprime mortgages through a subsidiary, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

The fine is the largest the Fed has assessed in a consumer-protection enforcement action.

Training of Teachers Is Flawed, Study Says

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group, is to issue a study on Thursday reporting that most student-teaching programs are seriously flawed. The group has already angered the nation’s schools for teachers with its plans to give them letter grades that would appear in U.S. News and World Report.

The council’s report, “Student Teaching in the United States,” rated 134 student-teaching programs nationwide — about 10 percent of those preparing elementary school teachers — and found that three-quarters of them did not meet five basic standards for a high-quality student-teaching program.

Fatal shootings of police officers are on the rise

Overall officer deaths are up 14% so far in 2011, while deadly shootings have increased by 33%, according to a midyear report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks law enforcement fatalities.

Police deaths

Number of fatal police shootings by year: 2007: 69
2008: 40
2009: 49
2010: 59
Source: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

Forbes: Jaguars the least valuable NFL team

As the least valuable NFL franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars are still worth more than any pro basketball or hockey team, according to Forbes, which recently published a list of the world’s 50 most valuable sports teams.

At $725 million, the Jags are also worth more than all but five Major League Baseball teams.

Council: Florida among ‘Toxic 20’ states

“Toxic 20” list, shown below.
  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida

Future of spaceflight? NASA is outsourcing the job

NASA has hired two companies - Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif., and Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va. - to deliver 40 tons of supplies to the space station in 20 flights. The cost is $3.5 billion, about the same price per pound as it was during the space shuttle's 30-year history.

Florida spurns $50 million for child-abuse prevention

Florida lawmakers have rejected more than $50 million in federal child-abuse prevention money. The grants were tied to the Obama administration’s healthcare reform package, which many lawmakers oppose on philosophical grounds.

The money, offered through the federal Affordable Health Care Act passed last year, would have paid, among other things, for a visiting nurse program run by Healthy Families Florida, one of the most successful child-abuse prevention efforts in the nation. Healthy Families’ budget was cut in last year’s spending plan by close to $10 million.

And because the federal Race to the Top educational-reform effort is tied to the child-abuse prevention program that Healthy Families administers, the state may also lose a four-year block grant worth an additional $100 million in federal dollars, records show.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

School Discipline Study Raises Fresh Questions

Raising new questions about the effectiveness of school discipline, a report scheduled for release on Tuesday found that 31 percent of Texas students were suspended off campus or expelled at least once during their years in middle and high school — at an average of almost four times apiece.

When also considering less serious infractions punished by in-school suspensions, the rate climbed to nearly 60 percent, according to the study by the Council of State Governments, with one in seven students facing such disciplinary measures at least 11 times.

The study linked these disciplinary actions to lower rates of graduation and higher rates of later criminal activity and found that minority students were more likely than whites to face the more severe punishments.

Can a Playground Be Too Safe?

“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,” they write in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, concluding that this “anti-phobic effect” helps explain the evolution of children’s fondness for thrill-seeking. While a youthful zest for exploring heights might not seem adaptive — why would natural selection favor children who risk death before they have a chance to reproduce? — the dangers seemed to be outweighed by the benefits of conquering fear and developing a sense of mastery.

“Paradoxically,” the psychologists write, “we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.”

Board grants waivers for 8 low performing schools

The Florida Board of Education agreed Tuesday to allow eight low performing schools - including several where just 15 percent of students or less are proficient in reading - the chance to continue under district management for another year rather than be closed or turned into a charter.

All but one board member, John Padget, voted in favor or each waiver. Dr. A.K. Desai described his approval of waivers for four Duval County schools as "a reluctant yes."

"The message to be taken home is loud and clear from the board," Desai said. "We are giving you this opportunity for a year, but the expectation is all the promises made today must be kept."

Only a quarter of U.S. students proficient in geography: report

About a quarter of U.S. students are proficient in geography, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Twenty-one percent of fourth-graders, 27 percent of eighth graders, and 20 percent of 12th graders performed at or above the proficient level on the 2010 geography assessment conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Performance among fourth graders improved since 2001, while eighth grade results were little changed, and achievement by 12th graders declined from 1994 levels when the assessment was first conducted.

Guards' union sues over Fla. prison privatization

A union representing correctional officers has sued to block the implementation of a state budget provision that would privatize 18 prison facilities in South Florida, warning of job losses.

About 3,800 prison guards work at the facilities targeted for privatization according to state figures.

Florida Police Benevolent Association lawyer Hal Johnson said Tuesday that the measure won't save the state money as claimed by its supporters in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Sponsors say turning the prisons over to private companies will cut operating costs by at least 7 percent.

Getting wise to red light cameras

Cameras were conceived as labor-saving cures for the epidemic of red-light running. The safety angle seems to have worked out, anyway. In February, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study conducted in 14 cities, all with populations over 200,000, concluding that red light cameras have reduced the rate of fatal crashes caused by red-light runners by 24 percent .

But maybe red light cameras worked too well. City and counties that installed red light cameras at their most dangerous intersections discovered that drivers caught on. Fewer ran red lights. Which meant fewer paid those $158 fines.

Hillsborough County, for example, set cameras at 10 busy intersections a little over 18 months ago. In the first nine months, the county took in $1.3 million from red light runner citations. In the second nine months, the total had fallen to $637,000. A police spokesman told the Tampa Tribune that the county drivers, aware of the cameras, no longer ignored the lights so blatantly. The number of collisions at those same intersections fell. Cops called this a success. Accountants may not have been so pleased.

The cities of Miami and Hollywood both prepared 2011 budgets based on wildly optimistic (if one can use the term “optimistic” in anticipation of mass stupidity) income estimates from red light cameras. Hollywood budgeted $1.8 million from red light citations. Miami figured on $8 million. Neither city counted on drivers wising up. Instead, Hollywood will take in about $500,000 from cameras. Miami, just $3 million.

JEDC approves $2.5M incentives for Medtronic

Medtronic Inc., a Minneapolis medical technology developer with a strong Northeast Florida presence, received approval from the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Thursday for a $2.5 million financial incentives package to jump-start job creation.

Medtronic has three Jacksonville offices and about 600 local employees, and the company will use the incentives package to generate close to 200 jobs by 2015 at its Southside location. The average salary for those positions is $80,000 per year, according to a JEDC report.

The city will provide $660,000 in qualified target industry tax incentives, while the state will hand over $1.87 million.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown Introduces Budget to City Council

Brown plans to eliminate 225 city government jobs, including about 50 that Brown himself would have appointed.

Additionally, Brown explained that some city departments have cut expenses. The information technology department will expend $7.1 million less than last year, and the fleet management department reduced its spending by nearly $5 million.

The budget is $961 million, $28 million less than last year.

"I kept my campaign pledge," said Brown. "I wanted to streamline government and not raise taxes or fees, and this budget does that. I made the tough decisions and you have to do that."

Brown's budget also cuts public safety a little. The sheriff''s office will cut 40 positions and lose $1.3 million. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue will be cut $1.8 millon.

High school grads make $8,000 more per year than dropouts, new study finds

High school graduates make an average of $8,000 more a year nationally than high school dropouts, according to a report released Monday by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The earnings varied by state. The release says a high school dropout makes almost $19,000 in Florida, compared to about $26,000 for a high school graduate. Someone with an associate's degree in Florida earns almost $39,000 and someone with a bachelor's degree earns almost $44,000.

Florida less reliant on manufacturing than other states

An On Numbers analysis of new federal data indicates that manufacturing generates 5.14 percent of Florida’s gross state product — a far cry from most manufacturing-dependent state, Indiana with 27.2 percent.

Florida’s total GSP in 2010 was $748 billion with $38.4 billion attributed to manufacturing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Debt Crisis Déjà Vu

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is losing patience with arguments for raising the debt ceiling.

“The question is: Are we staying on this course to keep running up the debt, debt on top of debt, increasingly financed by foreigners, or are we going to change course?” he asked.

But Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says there is no alternative, with lawmakers facing “a choice between breaking the law by exceeding the statutory debt limit or, on the other hand, breaking faith with the public by defaulting on our debt.”

That was the state of play in 2006, when George W. Bush wanted to lift the debt ceiling from $8.2 trillion to $9 trillion and the Democrats were ripping his handling of the economy. In fact, every Senate Democrat—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—voted against boosting the debt ceiling, while all but two Senate Republicans voted in favor. It was Bush’s fourth debt-ceiling hike in five years, for a total of $3 trillion.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

25,000 Airport Security Breaches Since 2001: Congress

The Transportation Security Administration has suffered more than 25,000 security breaches in U.S. airports in the past ten years, House subcommittee on National Security chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said today.

Chaffetz made the comments during the opening of a hearing on the TSA and Airport Security. Of the 25,000 breaches, more than 14,000 people were able to access sensitive areas of the airport and some 6,000 passengers and carry-on luggage were able to make it past government checkpoints without proper scrutiny.

U.S. airport bomb screening needs update, GAO says

The Transportation Security Administration spent $8 billion since the Sept. 11 attacks installing machines at airports to screen checked bags for explosives, but many of the systems are obsolete and need to be upgraded, according to congressional investigators.

In a report set for release Wednesday at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that explosives-screening equipment at many of the 462 U.S. airports use detection criteria more than a decade old, and machines being installed now will require upgrading before they can meet the latest standards.

Report: Systems to catch Medicaid fraud inadequate

The federal government's systems for analyzing Medicare and Medicaid data for possible fraud are inadequate and underused, making it more difficult to detect the billions of dollars in fraudulent claims paid out each year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office report said the systems don't even include Medicaid data. Furthermore, 639 analysts were supposed to have been trained to use the system - yet only 41 have been so far, it said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - which administer the taxpayer-funded health care programs for the elderly, poor and disabled - lacks plans to finish the systems projected to save $21 billion. The technology is crucial to making a dent in the $60 billion to $90 billion in fraudulent claims paid out each year.

Each state has its own systems with very limited access to Medicare or national Medicaid data. But CMS does not have set plans to share access with the states, despite an earlier commitment to do so starting in 2010, according to the report.

The new $150 million systems, which went live in 2009, are intended be a one-stop storage for all data, accessible by all CMS staff and its contractors, law enforcement and state agencies.

Homeowner associations foreclose on residents

In exchange for adhering to the rules, homeowners got safe communities with clubhouses, pools and tennis courts. But what many didn't realize when they bought their homes was that the fine print gave the association the right to foreclose — even over a few hundred dollars in unpaid dues.

All the association board has to do is alert its attorney to place a lien on the property to start the process. The home can then be auctioned by the board until the bank eventually takes ownership. Homeowners typically have no right to a hearing.

Today, one in five U.S. homeowners is subject to the will of the homeowners' association, whose boards oversee 24.4 million homes. More than 80% of newly constructed homes in the U.S are in association communities.

And of the nation's 300,000 homeowners' associations, more than 50% now face "serious financial problems," according to a September survey by the Community Association Institute. An October survey found that 65% of homeowners' associations have delinquency rates higher than 5%, up from 19% of associations in 2005.

Residents Upset City is not Removing Dangerous Trees

Donna Perry is outraged that a damaged tree in front of her home on city property has not been removed 13 months after the city tagged it. "It's very aggravating."

The Perry family is one of many waiting for the city to take action. According to a city spokeswoman, as of June 28, 725 trees either needed removal or repair.

Some are wondering why these dangerous trees are still standing, while the city is removing trees that an expert tells us, were not dangerous or damaged on Hendricks Avenue in San Marco.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Federal Health Spending from 1962-Present

This post will explain how spending for government programs can increase drastically from their original intent.

In 1962, federal monies spent on health care programs was 2.3 billion (0.4% of GDP). By 1980 (remember the 70s was extremely volatile), we spent $65 billion (2.4% of GDP).

During the conservative Regan era federal spending for health care went to $145 billion (2.9% of GDP).

Even the great Clinton years saw a large increase in spending: by 2000 they spent $388 billion (4% of GDP).

The Bush years saw a drastic increase in health care spending (at least in terms of percentage of GDP): it went from 4.2% ($428 billion) in 2001 to 5.2% ($750 billion) in 2008.

Thus Bush spent increased federal health care spending by over 25% during his reign. Once again, probably not the best "conservative" (at least fiscally).

So, to sum it all up, federal health care spending went from about $2.3 billion in 1962 (0.4% of GDP) to $916 billion in 2010 (6.3% of GDP).

Yet, the federal government has no role in the health care market? Remember, in another post I wrote, total health care spending in the U.S. (both government and non-government) was $2.5 trillion. Is this a free market? or are these federal payments subsidies that likely increase the costs of care? The federal government does, after all, make up almost 40% of health care spending in the U.S.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reagan Debt Limit VS Obama Debt Limit: Politics at its Best

I recently spent some time researching the federal limits on our national debt.

I found an excel spreadsheet called "Statutory Limits On Federal Debt: 1940-Current" which displays all of the debt limit increases from 1940 to the present.

Some interesting figures:
  • The debt limit (DL) jumped from $49 billion in 1940 to $300 billion in 1945.
  • The DL went down over the next decade to the low of $275 billion in 1957.
  • During the late 1970s (1978-1979), the DL was reverted to $400 billion three times (from an average of about $800 billion during those same years).
  • During the Reagan era the DL went from almost $1 trillion to almost $3 trillion.
I think this information is extremely important (among other information) in trying to understand how volatile our national economy is and how this politicking effects our economy in various ways.

The first bullet just shows how much money was spent (and made) during the great FDR years of growth and middle class perfection (at least that's how progressives see it).

The second bullet point shows how decreasing the debt limit led to growth in our economy (after all, the 50s-70s are often called are golden era (at least a correlation).

The third bullet point shows just how volatile the economy was during the late 70s (Carter's years). Why would anyone invest in an economy where Congress would raise the debt limit by 100% and then lower it again by 50%? and then repeat this two more times???

Finally, the fourth bullet shows just how "conservative" Reagan was during his reign. Regan increased the debt limit by $2 trillion (200%) while Obama has only raised it about $4 trillion (about 40%).

I will try to look up more info regarding this time period in the next few days.

Congressional Hypocrisy on the Debt Limit

Beginning in 1917, Congress established statutory limits on federal debt. Since 1939, these limits have been combined into one aggregate debt limit. The debt ceiling was "only" $49 billion in 1940. Surprisingly, it was actually lowered five times, in 1946, 1956, 1960, and twice in 1963, before growing to $1 trillion by September of 1981.

When President George Bush took office in January of 2001, he inherited a debt limit of $5.95 trillion. On the day of Bush's first inauguration, the federal debt stood at $5.73 trillion. But then Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress went on a spending spree that would make LBJ proud. By the time of Bush's second inauguration, the national debt had increased by almost $2 trillion to $7.61 trillion. On the last day of Bush's second term, the national debt stood at $10.63 trillion. So, during the eight-year reign of George Bush, the national debt practically doubled. The federal budget exploded under Bush from $2 trillion in fiscal year 2002 (his first budget) to $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2009 (his last budget). This last of Bush's budgets was especially significant; it was the first budget in U.S. history to have a deficit of over $1 trillion.

With a debt limit of "only" $5.95 trillion, how did all this happen? Simple. Bush and the Republicans raised the debt limit four times from 2002 to 2006 and then Bush and the Democrats raised it again three more times before Obama and the Democrats raised it three times.

A 'Fast and Furious' border fiasco

The op's name, "Fast and Furious," came from the series of movies about an undercover drag racer working for the FBI -- which gives you some idea of the lack of seriousness behind this cockamamie scam.

The Justice Department, which oversees the ATF, says the idea was to allow the sale of handguns, AK-47s and .50 caliber rifles to so-called "straw purchasers," who'd then pass them along to the cartels. In theory, ATF agents would then trace the extent of the smuggling networks in an effort to stop the illegal cross-border gun trade.

Oops No 1: The agency had no real way to trace the guns once they left the country -- and no real power to operate in Mexico.

Oops No. 2: The gangs used the weapons for what you'd expect. At least two American agents have been killed with Fast and Furious guns. God knows how many Mexicans have died; since 2006, more than 40,000 have died in the drug wars.

The operation was vehemently opposed within the Phoenix Field Division of the ATF, where the scheme originated. Agent Pete Forcelli testified: "What we have here is a colossal failure of leadership. We weren't giving guns to people for killing bear, we were giving guns to people to kill other humans."

Key Vote: Confirmation of David H. Petraeus to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

Confirmation of David H. Petraeus to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
- Vote Confirmed (94-0, 6 Not Voting)

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus was confirmed to be the new CIA director. Petraeus, currently the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is expected to begin work in September.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011

Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (79-20, 1 Not Voting)

This bill would reduce the number of executive branch appointees requiring Senate approval. Its future in the House is unclear.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted NO

CEOs reap huge payouts in 2011, corporate filings show

U.S. workers averaged $46,742 in 2010, up 2.6% from 2009. A June GovernanceMetrics analysis found average compensation among S&P 500 CEOs rose to $12 million in 2010, up 18% from 2009 — and that's not counting the potential multimillion-dollar value of stock or stock options, which are granted at set prices and provide holders profits as stock values rise.

Among CEOs cashing in:

John Hammergren, McKesson Corp. The health care services CEO pulled in $150.7 million, up 190% from 2010's $51.8 million. Hammergren, 52, received $32 million in salary, incentive pay and perks, although $112.1 million came from exercising stock options.

Ralph Lauren. The CEO of fashion powerhouse Polo Ralph Lauren received compensation worth $75.2 million, up 53% from $49.3 million in 2010. That includes a $19.5 million bonus and $37.1 million from stock options gains.

Mark Donegan, Precision Castparts. The parts supplier CEO earned $32.3 million, including $22.4 million from stock options. That's up 58% from 2010's $20.4 million.

Paul Marciano, Guess. The fashion marketer CEO had compensation worth $29.2 million for 2011, including $17 million from options — up 137% from 2010's $12.3 million.

Jacksonville #29 for overall 21st century employment

Of the 100 largest metros in the U.S., Jacksonville over time has been a good place to find a job. Jacksonville was 29th on a recently compiled list of 21st century employment in the country's 100 largest metros, with a median jobless rate of 4.7 percent from 2000 to 2011.

JPMorgan pays $211M to settle bid-rigging charges

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay $211 million after admitting one of its divisions rigged dozens of bidding competitions to win business from state and local governments.

J.P. Morgan Securities LLC made at least 93 secret deals with companies that handled the bidding processes in 31 states, the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission said Thursday. Those deals allowed the bank to peek at competitors' offers.

Banks help municipalities invest the money they raise from bond offerings so that they can earn interest before paying for projects. They compete by submitting to state and local governments the best yield they can offer.

The alleged bid-rigging deprived governments of a true competitive process that would produce the best returns on their investments, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney said in a statement.

JPMorgan's settlement covers complaints brought by the SEC, the Internal Revenue Service, bank regulators and 25 state attorneys general. Nearly a quarter of the money will go toward settling civil fraud charges brought by the SEC. A large portion will be divided among states, in part to pay restitution to victims of the fraud.

F.D.I.C. Rule Puts at Risk 2 Years of Executives’ Pay

Federal regulators will be able to take back up to two years of Wall Street executives’ pay if they are found responsible for the collapse of a major financial firm, under a plan approved Wednesday.

The provision is part of a broader Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation rule laying out the order in which creditors will be paid during a government liquidation of a large, failing financial firm.

The Dodd-Frank financial oversight law gives financial agencies the power to recoup executives’ pay, but bankers were complaining that regulators were taking it too far.

U.S. and Mexico Sign Trucking Deal

Mexican truckers will be able to carry goods deep into the United States, and vice versa, under a deal signed Wednesday in Mexico City to keep a 17-year-old promise.

As part of the deal, Mexico will eliminate tariffs on $2.3 billion of American goods and agricultural products as soon as the first Mexican truck obtains a permit and is allowed to enter the United States. As a preliminary step, the tariffs will be reduced 50 percent by the end of this week.

The United States had refused to honor a condition of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that allowed Mexican trucks to carry shipments across the border to a final destination. Regulations instead required those trucks to unload shortly after crossing the border. After more than a decade of waiting and negotiating, Mexico retaliated by imposing tariffs in 2009.

In March, President Obama and the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, agreed on a preliminary framework for compromise. Under the terms of the final deal, signed by their transportation secretaries, both sides agreed to drop their barriers for a trial period of three years.

87 Duval teachers dismissed

Eighty-seven Duval County Public Schools teachers were laid off recently as part of the district’s plan to make up a $91 million budget shortfall.

The jobs lost are in arts, music, physical education, social studies and vocational courses. No math, science, reading and language arts or elementary core subject teachers were cut.

The majority of the 87 teachers let go are first-year teachers making about $37,000 a year plus benefits. The savings come to about $4.5 million, including benefits and are already part of the district’s budget plan. There are about 8,700 teachers in the school system.

Union Shifts Position on Teacher Evaluations

Catching up to the reality already faced by many of its members, the nation’s largest teachers’ union on Monday affirmed for the first time that evidence of student learning must be considered in the evaluations of school teachers around the country.

But blunting the policy’s potential impact, the union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states.

“N.E.A. is and always will be opposed to high-stakes, test-driven evaluations,” said Becky Pringle, the secretary-treasurer of the union, addressing the banner-strung convention hall filled with the 8,200-member assembly that votes on union policy.

Jacksonville buses getting automated payment system in 2012

Starting next year, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority will switch to a new, automated payment system with a smart card for bus passengers.

The smart card, which looks like a credit card, will replace the 20 or so different bus passes that exist today, part of a system that has been in place for a generation.

When the new system goes into place, the options for riding the bus will be the pass, tickets and cash, said JTA mass transit director Clinton Forbes. That will make it easier for bus drivers and eliminate fraud, he said.

"Right now there are so many different fares and passes," Forbes said, "and the bus drivers have to know what all of them are."

Bus ridership has increased by about 8 percent in 2011 over last year, and a better automated payment system should help increase ridership even more, said JTA spokeswoman Shannon Eller.

The cost of the conversion is $4.6 million, with the money coming from federal stimulus funds.

Shuttle cost: More than AIG bailout, less than war

At $196 billion, the amount of money taxpayers spent during the lifetime of the space shuttle program seems astronomical.

For that $196 billion, America got five space shuttles and what will be 135 flights, when the last launch scheduled for July 8 is included. That figure includes design and construction spending dating back 40 years to when the program was first conceived. When all of that's included, the cost per launch is about $1.5 billion. If you exclude those early expenses and costs for upgrades and so forth, the average operating cost of a shuttle flight is $847 million.

Compared to other big engineering concepts, even when adjusted for inflation, the space shuttle program may have gotten less bang for more bucks. The Apollo program to the moon cost $156 billion, the Manhattan project that created the first nuclear bomb cost about $29 billion, and digging the Panama Canal cost $8 billion, according to the Smithsonian Institution. America got the moon, the bomb, and the canal for a total of $193 billion - $3 billion less than the space shuttle.

New fees for adult education classes in Florida

Adult education classes for the high school equivalency test in Florida are no longer free.

The state's new adult education tuition rules took effect Friday. For Florida residents, the tuition is $30 per term and not more than $90 a year, regardless of how many courses a student takes. Out-of-state residents will pay $120 per term and not more than $360 a year.

The rules also apply to courses for the English for Speakers of Other Languages and English for Language Learners tests.

Fireworks sales sparkle as local laws ease

According to the association, the industry set a record with nearly $1 billion in U.S. sales in 2010, and is on pace to top that this year, even though a number of Southern and Western localities have imposed temporary restrictions in the face of drought conditions.

FAA: Tired air traffic controllers can skip work

Controllers will also now be allowed to listen to the radio and read to help stay alert during overnight shifts when traffic is light under an agreement between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

However, the policy changes don't include allowing controllers to take naps while on break or to schedule naps during overnight shifts even though sleep scientists say that's the most effective way to refresh tired workers.

Currently, controllers caught napping, even when on break, can be fired.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Key Vote: To limit the use of funds to support NATO Operation Unified Protector with respect to Libya

To limit the use of funds to support NATO Operation Unified Protector with respect to Libya
- Vote Failed (180-238, 13 Not Voting)

The House rejected this bill that would have defunded U.S. military involvement in NATO activities in Libya. U.S. participation would have been restricted to support operations such as intelligence, surveillance, and search and rescue.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya

Authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya
- Vote Failed (123-295, 13 Not Voting)

The House rejected a resolution that would have authorized the use of U.S. military force in Libya for one year.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO

Key Vote: America Invents Act

America Invents Act
- Vote Passed (304-117, 10 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would make changes to the patent system. The Senate passed its version of the bill in March 2011. Negotiators will likely meet this summer to work out a compromise bill. The administration has expressed support for the House bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Jobs and Energy Permitting Act of 2011

Jobs and Energy Permitting Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (253-166, 12 Not Voting)

This House bill would require the EPA to complete action within six months on air pollution permit applications for offshore oil and gas drilling. A companion measure has been introduced in the Senate but its future is unclear. The administration opposes the bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Confirmation of Leon E. Panetta to be Secretary of Defense

Confirmation of Leon E. Panetta to be Secretary of Defense
- Vote Confirmed (100-0)

Current CIA Director Leon E. Panetta was confirmed to be the next Secretary of Defense. Panetta succeeds Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring at the end of June.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: Agriculture Appropriations, FY2012

Agriculture Appropriations, FY2012
- Vote Passed (217-203, 12 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would provide $125.5 billion in the upcoming fiscal year for the Agriculture Department. The bill would cut discretionary spending by thirteen percent over the current amount and increase mandatory spending by three percent. The Senate has not yet begun work on its version of the bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations, FY2012

Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations, FY2012
- Vote Passed (411-5, 16 Not Voting)

The House passed this $143.9 billion bill that would fund the Veterans Affairs Department and the Defense Department’s construction activities for the upcoming fiscal year. The bill marks a two percent increase over the current year’s level. The Senate has not yet begun work on its version of the bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Ethanol subsidies amendment

Ethanol subsidies amendment
- Vote Agreed to (73-27)

During work on the Economic Development Administration bill, the Senate adopted this amendment to eliminate a tax credit refiners receive for adding ethanol to gasoline and a tariff on imported ethanol.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Florida state workers get pink slips, more cuts ahead

To patch a $4 billion budget hole, more than 1,600 Florida state government employees were laid off as of Friday, and another 562,000 began paying into their pension plans for the first time in 37 years.

White House to pay $37 million in salaries for 2011

The White House said on Friday it will pay $37,121,463 in salaries for 454 employees in 2011.

Three policy advisors have a salary of zero, while more than 20 make the highest pay grade: $172,200.

More than 30 percent earn between $100,000 and $200,000 a year while 154 take home less than $50,000, according to the 2011 annual report on White House staff.

Scott approves controversial SunRail project

In an affront to his tea party base and to backers of a Florida bullet train he killed earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday gave the green light to SunRail, a controversial Orlando-area commuter rail project on hold since he took office.

He said his attorneys told him he would likely lose in court if he was sued for killing the $1.28 billion, 61.5-mile project.

Republicans Boycott a Hearing on Trade

In an upside-down pair of performances, Democratic senators filled half a hearing room to declare their support for trade deals opposed by much of their party’s political base, while Republican senators stood before television cameras to declare that they would not allow a hearing on legislation that much of their own base strongly supports.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said Republicans were responding to a decision by the White House to include in the free trade legislation the expansion of a benefits program for workers who lose jobs to foreign competition.

Report: Majority black schools have inexperienced teachers

Schools with African-American students are twice as likely to have teachers with little experience as majority white schools in the same district, according to data released by the Department of Education on Thursday.

Jacksonville City Council action

A look at items Jacksonville's City Council considered at its meeting Tuesday:

Issue: EverBank incentives

What it means: The council was asked to approve two agreements. One offered EverBank up to $2.1 million in state and city money to add 200 jobs in Jacksonville. The other pledged $2.75 million for the company to move 1,000 employees from Southside offices into downtown.

Bill Nos. 2011-368, 2011-369

Action: Approved

Issue: Landfill approval

What it means: The council was asked to issue a certificate of convenience and necessity for Otis Road Landfill LLC to open a construction and demolition recycling landfill at 1700 Otis Road.

Bill No. 2011-370

Action: Approved

Issue: Closing Monroe Street

What it means: The council was asked to abandon plans to reopen Monroe Street in front of the new Duval County courthouse. The building stands in the road's right of way, and Mayor John Peyton asked that the space be used as a public plaza.

Bill No. 2011-164

Action: Denied

Issue: General counsel confirmation

What it means: The council was asked to confirm reappointing Cindy Laquidara as the city's general counsel.

Bill No. 2011-432

Action: Approved

Issue: Legal Aid funding

What it means: The council was asked to create a new $50 fine for people guilty of misdemeanors, felonies and criminal traffic violations. Funds would go to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid work for the poor, but judges argued it was taxing defendants who are often poor, already pay more than $50 in standard fines and cannot afford any more.

Bill No. 2010-766

Action: Approved

Doctors Tell Congress How to Rein in Prescription Drug Abuse

More than 125 physicians descended on Capitol Hill this week to demand some relief in their fight against prescription drug addiction.

With nearly 30,000 Americans dying from overdose last year - roughly half from prescription drugs - they say it's time for the federal government to step in. Their solution: Require health care professionals who prescribe drugs to receive specialized training.

"In most cases, doctors contribute innocently because they haven't been trained properly on how to prescribe in a responsible way, how to identify a drug addict and help them," said Dr. David Kloth, a pain management physician from Connecticut and spokesman for the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

In fact, 80 to 90 percent of physicians in the United States have absolutely no training or education in the use of controlled substances, he said.

Doctors Tell Congress How to Rein in Prescription Drug Abuse

More than 125 physicians descended on Capitol Hill this week to demand some relief in their fight against prescription drug addiction.

With nearly 30,000 Americans dying from overdose last year - roughly half from prescription drugs - they say it's time for the federal government to step in. Their solution: Require health care professionals who prescribe drugs to receive specialized training.

"In most cases, doctors contribute innocently because they haven't been trained properly on how to prescribe in a responsible way, how to identify a drug addict and help them," said Dr. David Kloth, a pain management physician from Connecticut and spokesman for the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

In fact, 80 to 90 percent of physicians in the United States have absolutely no training or education in the use of controlled substances, he said.

Jacksonville one of the better Florida cities for business

Jacksonville ranks 61st on Forbes 2011 list of the Best Places to do Business, the second highest ranking for a Florida city, behind Gainesville at number 58. The magazine ranks 200 metro areas in the U.S.

Some Jacksonville statistics include: Gross Metro Product of $59 billion; median household income of $56,389; median home price of $138,800; cost of living 3.4 percent above the national average.

Ten Duval Schools Improve to 'A' Grade on Duval Public Schools FCAT

Studies: Diet soda may not be helping you keep weight down

A team from the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center tracked 474 people, ranging in age from 65 to 74, for nearly a decade and found that the waistlines of diet soda drinkers expanded 70 percent more than those who avoided the fizzy favorites. The waists of those who drank more than two diet sodas a day expanded by a belt-busting 4.7 centimeters, that report says.

Bank of America in $8.5B Mortgage Settlement

Bank of America and its Countrywide unit will pay $8.5 billion to settle claims that the lenders sold poor-quality mortgage-backed securities that went sour when the housing market collapsed.

The Charlotte, N.C., bank says the settlement with 22 investors is subject to court approval and covers 530 trusts with original principal balance of $424 billion.

Teen Drug Use Number One Health Problem: Study

Researchers from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, or CASA, found that nine out of 10 American addicts started smoking, drinking or using drugs before the age of 18 and one in four of those people become addicted to some sort of drug.

Marco Rubio calls for continued involvement in Libya on Senate floor

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called for continued involvement in Libya during a speech on the floor of the Senate Tuesday.

"Whether you agree with it or not, the United States is engaged in a fight," Rubio said. "And it is a fight that only has two possible endings. It can end with the fall of a brutal, criminal, anti-American dictator. Or it could end in the dictator's victory over our allies and us."

Gov. Rick Scott signs education choice bills

The five bills that passed allow:

• “High-performing” charter schools — public schools freed from some state rules — to increase their enrollment by adding additional grades or opening additional branches without local school board approval. Charter schools now serve about 6 percent of Florida’s 2.6 million public school students. Advocates say 32,000 students are on waiting lists for A-and-B rated charters.

• The Florida Virtual School to expand its offerings and other virtual providers to offer programs in Florida. The state virtual school, which now offers online middle and high school classes, can provide elementary school offerings. Kindergarten and first graders can enroll without any prior public school experience.

• Requires all students to take an online course to earn a high school diploma and guarantees that high-performing fourth and fifth-graders can take middle school courses; and for the first time, charter schools can provide online instruction.

• The McKay Scholarship program to offer tuition vouchers to a bigger pool of youngsters with disabilities. The program now provides taxpayer-financed scholarships, or tuition vouchers, to students with disabilities in the state’s “exceptional education” program and lets them leave a public school for a private one.

The new law allows students with “504 plans” to also apply. These students have a disability as defined under federal law but do not typically need the kinds of interventions or accommodations that students in the state’s “exceptional education” program need. There are more than 51,000 students with 504 plans in Florida schools.

• The Opportunity Scholarship program to expand its definition of “failing school,” giving more students the chance to transfer to better-performing public schools. The program allows transfers out of schools graded F two of the past four years.

• The Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship program to seek more contributions from corporations that would then be used to give private-school tuition vouchers to youngsters from low-income families. The program served more than 32,000 students this year.

Jacksonville's Water Hogs Let Millions of Gallons Go Down the Drain

The average family uses about 6,000 gallons of water a month. Each person in the house uses 90 gallons a day, and if you think that's a lot, wait until you see how much the water hogs in the city consume.

Most households are using about 72,000 gallons of water a year.

The top water hog on our list uses 1,489,949 gallons a year. That's 124,000 gallons a month.

The average family: about $60 a year on water.

The top offenders? JEA said they've seen bills hit $17,000 a year in water usage alone.

Gov. Scott vetoes university infrastructure funds

As part of a record $615 million vetoes, Scott cut nearly every state university project, including $1.9 million from UNF, primarily used for infrastructure and repairs.

Study: 5% account for almost 50% of medical costs

The survey, by the non-partisan National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, found that from 2005 to 2009, 5% accounted for 47.5% of all health care spending, and 1% were responsible for 20% of all medical costs. Half the population racks up only 3% of total spending.

In 2008, the average person's medical costs were about $233. For the top 1%, the average was $76,476.

Over Resident Protests, New Landfill Approved for the Westside

He was one of dozens of people in the neighborhood to speak out against the landfill, which he said will decrease his property value, and hurt the environment.

Even after the city council approved the bill, residents stayed in the chambers to express their disappointment over the landfill. Coxman tried to assure them that their concerns over pollution, traffic, and home value were unfounded.

Supreme Court: Sale of Violent Video Games to Minors Constitutional

The Supreme Court today struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a 7-2 majority, said the law was "unprecedented and mistaken."

"No doubt a State possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm," he wrote, "but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."

In a forceful opinion, Scalia noted that books given to children have "no shortage of gore."

Jacksonville has highest average annual salary in Florida

Based on 2009 statistics, the average compensation per job is $58,505 in Duval County, which ranks the county 101 out of 331 major counties measured across the United States. Next highest in Florida is Hillsborough County at $57,875, Okaloosa at $57,510 and Miami/Dade at $57,034.

Nearly 50 Warnings Issued so far in Jacksonville for Bad Watering

The city adopted an irrigation ordinance in 2008 in an effort to conserve water. But it wasn't until June 2010 that code enforcers began issuing tickets since the city wanted to give residents time to get accustomed to the rules.

Seibold said out of about 500 investigations, the city has issued 44 warning tickets and one $50 ticket so far. Investigations grow out of neighbors calling in tips.

After one warning, a second, witnessed offense gets you a $50 ticket. A third witnessed offense is $250.

Right now, there is no watering allowed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Odd-numbered addresses can water on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Even-numbers are on Thursdays and Sundays. Non-residential addresses may water on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Scott signs Florida charter school expansion bill

The charter school law goes into effect Friday. It will let charter operators that earn high-performing status to enroll more students and open more schools. It also offers charter schools more state training and technical assistance.

Charter schools are taxpayer funded but are operated by private interests or in some cases governmental entities other than school districts.

Scott signs Fla. unemployment comp benefit cut

The unemployment bill (HB 7005) is intended to cut employers' taxes by reducing maximum state benefits for jobless workers.

The cap will drop from 26 to 23 weeks if Florida's unemployment rate is at least 10.5 percent. If it falls below that level the maximum benefits also will decline on sliding scale to as little as 12 weeks for a jobless rate of 5 percent or less. Florida's unemployment rate stood at 10.6 percent in May.

The new law applies only to state benefits, not those provided by the federal government. It won't affect this year's tax rates but is expected to cut them by about $18 per worker in 2012

Atop TV Sets, a Power Drain That Runs Nonstop

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.

Report: State made $63 million from sales of driver license data

The State of Florida made nearly $63 million in the last fiscal year by selling Floridians drivers license data, according to

The sales brought in $62.9 million, mostly from companies buying the data to verify customers' personal information such as addresses, according to the report.

New rules chip away at homeowners' rights

Associations will soon be able to block access to a development's amenities — the pool, community room or tennis court, for example — for any violation of a community law or rule. If owners paint houses the wrong color or tenants leave lawns untended, they could be cut off from their community perks following a board hearing.

Previously, associations could restrict access to community amenities only if a property owner was 90 days or more late in making required payments.

Tuition at Florida universities to go up 15%

The Board of Governors that oversees Florida's 11 public universities approved Thursday to add a 7 percent tuition increase to an 8 percent raise already ordered by the Legislature.

The board approved the 15 percent raise during a meeting at the University of South Florida. The increase was expected, having been requested by the trustees of each school. The extra revenue will help replace reduced funding from the state.

For the 2011-12 school year students will pay between $21.42 and $32 more per credit hour, depending on which school they attend.

Supreme Court strikes down state drug data-mining law

The Supreme Court struck down a law that prohibits the use of prescription drug records for marketing, ruling for free-speech rights over a state government's medical privacy concerns.

The high court handed a victory to data-mining companies IMS Health, Verispan and Source Healthcare Analytics, a unit of Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer, which had challenged the law. The companies collect and sell such information.

By a 6-3 vote, the justices on Thursday upheld a ruling by a U.S. appeals court that Vermont's law infringed on commercial free-speech rights in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The law, adopted in 2007, prohibited the sale, transmission or use of prescriber-identifiable information for marketing a prescription drug unless the prescribing doctor had consented.

Obama releasing 30M barrels from U.S. oil reserves

Wary of a new surge in gas prices, the Obama administration has decided to release 30 million barrels of oil from the country’s emergency reserve as part of a broader international response to lost oil supplies caused by turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly Libya.

The release from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve will amount to half of a 60 million barrel international infusion of oil planned for the world market over the next month.

The administration said the uprising in Libya has resulted in a loss of about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day. The release comes as the United States approaches a period of high energy use in July and August.

Jacksonville named second best city for renters

Jacksonville is the second best city in the country for renters, according to a analysis.

With average monthly rent of $737, Jacksonville is second only to Tucson, Ariz., with an average monthly rent of $604.

Florida panel rejects federal funds for elderly

A Florida legislative panel Friday rejected millions in federal money designed to help remove patients from nursing homes and provide them with similar care in their own homes.

The Legislative Budget Commission also approved incentives of $4.5 million and $3 million for two undisclosed businesses considering moving to or expanding in Florida and agreed to consolidate and outsource state e-mail service as a cost-cutting measure.

The panel turned down a $2.1 million federal grant that would have fully paid for administrative costs to pave the way for Florida to receive an additional $35.7 million in federal Medicaid funding. Those dollars would pay for nursing home diversions of disabled and elderly patients over the next five years.

Rep. Robert Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said the federal program, which tracks individual patients, is unnecessary and duplicates Florida's existing nursing home diversion efforts.

Supreme Court Ruling Accepts No Substitutes in Crime Lab Testimony

Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that crime laboratory reports may not be used against criminal defendants at trial unless the analysts responsible for creating them give testimony and subject themselves to cross-examination. But it left an important question open: whether the required testimony must come from the analyst who actually did the work or from a colleague or a supervisor.

The 2009 ruling, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, was decided by a 5-to-4 vote that scrambled the usual ideological alignments. Prosecutors and analysts have complained that the decision imposed a crushing burden on them. They added that they hoped the addition of two new justices in the interim would cause the court to reverse course.

But on Thursday, in another 5-to-4 decision, the court disappointed law enforcement officials by reaffirming Melendez-Diaz. The court went on to extend the Melendez-Diaz decision, saying that what it called surrogate testimony would not do.

House Votes Show Mixed Feelings on Libya Mission

A second vote in the House of Representatives Friday portrayed a complex portrait on Congress' attitude toward the Libya mission, with a vote to cut off some of its funding falling short by a 238-180 vote. Despite the earlier vote, rejecting a limited one-year authorization for military intervention, members of Congress had mixed feelings on how far they should go in rejecting President Obama's decisions on Libya.

The House of Representatives voted 295-123 Friday against a measure that would authorize U.S. involvement in Libya for a year, formally registering an objection to President Obama's authorization of NATO-led air strikes. The measure is likely largely symbolic since it is not expected to passed in the Senate.

Republican members of the House, most prominently House Speaker John Boehner, have objected to what they call the president's lack of congressional consultation and violation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which requires the White House to seek congressional approval to deploy military forces for more than 60 days. The Obama administration has argued that because there are no troops on the ground involved in hostilities, and because the United States is playing a supporting role, the action does not fall under the War Powers Act.

Scott signs Florida bills on lawsuits, school food

Bills limiting lawsuits against automakers and giving the state's agriculture commissioner authority over school food programs became law Thursday with Gov. Rick Scott's signature.

The Republican governor also vetoed a bill (SB 1992) that would have exempted some volunteers from criminal background screenings required for those who work with state-funded social service programs that serve the elderly, children and people with disabilities.

"That is a risk that is not worth taking," Scott wrote in his veto message.

The lawsuit measure (SB 142) will make it more difficult for injured people to win product liability damages from automakers and other manufacturers. It will allow juries to hear evidence, previously prohibited, of other factors that may have contributed to those injuries besides alleged product defects.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce issued a statement praising the law as a step in the right direction and adding that "more work is needed to repair Florida's broken legal system."

The school nutrition law (SB 1312) was a top priority for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. It shifts oversight of lunch and other food programs to his department from the Department of Education.

Putnam said in a statement that it will mean more Florida-grown fresh fruit and vegetables for students.

Scott also signed a bill (SB 1128) to prevent local governments from diverting surplus funds in their employee pension plans to other purposes. It also will require them to disclose the value of their retirement plans and put that information on a state website.

Obama Will Speed Pullout From War in Afghanistan

Asserting that the country that served as a base for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks no longer represented a terrorist threat to the United States, Mr. Obama declared that the “tide of war is receding.” And in a blunt recognition of domestic economic strains, he said, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”

Mr. Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 “surge” of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the drawdown would continue “at a steady pace” until the United States handed over security to the Afghan authorities in 2014.

Scott signs bill to cut $210M in water taxes

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Wednesday intended to cut property taxes paid to the state's water management districts, but the move also will likely to lead to job cuts among those working for the districts.

In a brief event at the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach, the Republican governor ceremonially signed into law the estimated $210 million in tax cuts. The bill was actually signed last month.

The law requires the Legislature to annually review the budget and tax rate for each of the state's five water management districts and sets caps on the rate. Scott said, in effect, "the public will have a lot better handle on how their money is spent" and it holds the districts accountable.

Radioactive leaks found at 75% of US nuke sites

Tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records reviewed as part of the AP's yearlong examination of safety issues at aging nuclear power plants. Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard -- sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

FDA issues graphic cigarette labels

In the most significant change to U.S. cigarette packs in 25 years, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday released nine new warning labels that depict in graphic detail the negative health effects of tobacco use.

Among the images to appear on cigarette packs are rotting and diseased teeth and gums and a man with a tracheotomy smoking.

Also included among the labels are: the corpse of a smoker, diseased lungs, and a mother holding her baby with smoke swirling around them. They include phrases like “Smoking can kill you” and “Cigarettes cause cancer” and feature graphic images to convey the dangers of tobacco, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the U.S. a year.

$45M Medicaid shortfall to come from surpluses

Instead of finding the money through rate cuts, the state will fund the shortfall from other Medicaid funds. Medicaid is a $23 billion program in Florida.

3 Duval high schools make list of best in country

Three Jacksonville high schools made the national honor roll this year.

Stanton College Preparatory, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and The Paxon School for Advanced Studies placed in the top 500 of Newsweek magazine's America’s Best High Schools 2011.

Stanton College Preparatory ranked fourth on the list, with a graduation rate of 99 percent and with 99 percent of its students college-bound.

Scott signs bill to help Fla. ex-felons get jobs

The jobs bill (SB 146) will let ex-convicts obtain licenses and other governmental permits they need to hold down jobs without waiting to get their voting and other civil rights restored.

Scott and the Florida Cabinet recently made that wait longer for many by halting the automatic restoration of rights for nonviolent offenders. Now they'll have to wait at least five years after being released, just like violent offenders, before asking to have their rights restored.

They then must get the governor's approval as well as the votes of two of the three Cabinet members when they meet, usually four times a year, as the Board of Executive Clemency.

Jacksonville not a popular city for young people starting careers

On Numbers analyzed 65 metros with populations above 800,000, searching for qualities that would appeal to workers in their 20s and early 30s. The study’s 10-part formula gave superior marks to places with strong growth rates, moderate costs of living, and substantial pools of young adults who are college-educated and employed.

Jacksonville ranked 43rd out of the 65 metros, with a 1.94 opportunity score for young adults. Bringing the area down was a -1.14 percent job growth rate from 2006 to 2011.

College Board Finds Minority Men Continue to Lag Academically

The College Board is releasing two reports today on the crisis facing young black and Latino men, who, the reports find, continue to be measurably less educated than minority women and white men.

According to the reports, 16 percent of Latino and 28 percent of African-American men ages 25 to 34 had obtained an associate’s degree or higher as of 2008, while the comparable figure for white men was 44 percent and for Asian men, 70 percent.

Wal-Mart wins Supreme Court sex-bias ruling

The justices unanimously ruled that more than 1 million female employees nationwide could not proceed together in the lawsuit seeking billions of dollars and accusing Wal-Mart of paying women less and giving them fewer promotions.

The Supreme Court agreed with Wal-Mart, the largest private U.S. employer, that the class-action certification violated federal rules for such lawsuits.

It accepted Wal-Mart's argument that the female employees in different jobs at 3,400 different stores nationwide and with different supervisors do not have enough in common to be lumped together in a single class-action lawsuit.