Friday, April 29, 2011

Most human trafficking related to prostitution

More than 80 percent of the 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking investigated by law enforcement agencies between January 2008 and June 2010 involved adult prostitution or the exploitation and forced prostitution of children, a Justice Department report released Thursday says.

The report, written by the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), says 48 percent of the investigated incidents involved adults, while 40 percent uncovered the exploitation or forced prostitution of children. The remainder, about 350 cases, involved allegations of labor trafficking, in which people were being forced against their will into performing labor — including forced begging and roadside sales, along with work at hair salons, hotels and bars.

Jacksonville air pollution among the worst in Florida Read more: Jacksonville air pollution among the worst in Florida

Air quality in the Duval County area isn’t so great, according to an annual report by the American Lung Association. The State of the Air 2011 study, which grades smog and and soot levels, handed out a D grade to Duval County in both ozone and short-term particle pollution.

Duval also came in first (not in the good way) as the most polluted county in Florida for short-term particle pollution.

Jacksonville jury awards $40 million in tobacco case

A Jacksonville jury this afternoon awarded $34 million in punitive damages from two tobacco companies to the husband of a woman who died after smoking for 36 years.

That amount is on top of a $6 million verdict against the tobacco companies yesterday in the lawsuit brought by Andy Allen against R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris. Allen's wife Patty died in 2002 at 54.

The verdict is the third largest of the post-Engle cases that have gone to trial, according to the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University, which monitors tobacco lawsuits.

Supreme Court Allows Contracts That Prohibit Class-Action Arbitration

Businesses may use standard-form contracts to forbid consumers claiming fraud from banding together in a single arbitration, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a 5-to-4 decision that split along ideological lines.

Though the decision concerned arbitrations, it appeared to provide businesses with a way to avoid class-action lawsuits in court. All they need do, the decision suggested, is use standard-form contracts that require two things: that disputes be raised only through the informal mechanism of arbitration and that claims be brought one by one.

“Requiring the availability of classwide arbitration interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration,” Justice Scalia wrote. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Arbitrators are ill suited to handling sprawling cases, Justice Scalia said, and sensible businesses would not agree to participate in informal proceedings from which very limited appeals are possible when faced “with even a small chance of a devastating loss.”

“We find it hard to believe,” Justice Scalia wrote, “that defendants would bet the company with no effective means of review, and even harder to believe that Congress would have intended to allow state courts to force such a decision.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for himself and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said the state court decision banning class waivers did not violate the federal law favoring arbitrations.

Class arbitrations, Justice Breyer wrote, are perfectly appropriate ways to resolve claims that are minor individually but significant in the aggregate.

Report names U.S. cities with foulest, cleanest air

The nation's 25 most smoggy cities improved air quality over the last year, but half the nation's residents still live with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to an American Lung Association report released on Wednesday.

Weighing the pluses and minuses in U.S. air quality over the past year, the "State of the Air 2011" report concluded that the U.S. Clean Air Act, the federal law aimed at limiting pollution in the nation's skies, is working.

Cities with the foulest air were broken down into three categories and the worst three in each were Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Visalia, all in California, as most ozone polluted; Bakersfield and Fresno, both in California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as most polluted by short-term particle pollution; and Bakersfield, Los Angeles and Phoenix as most polluted by year-round particle pollution.

Cities with nation's best overall air quality were Honolulu and Santa Fe, New Mexico, the report said.

Obama Releases Full Birth Certificate, Calls Controversy 'Silliness'

President Obama spoke to the White House press corps after the certificate was released, and said that the big debates over the country's fiscal situation cannot be solved if the country is distracted by false stories about where he was born.

"We do not have time for this kind of silliness," President Obama said. "I am confident that the American people and American political leaders can get together and solve these problems. We always have," he said. "We aren't gonna be able to do it if we are distracted."

Jacksonville City Council action

A look at some of the issues Jacksonville's City Council considered Tuesday:

Issue: City pension investments

What it means: Trustees of the general employee pension system wanted permission to invest up to 10 percent of the fund in "alternative" investments that could include hedge funds and private equity funds.

Bill No. 2011-108

Action: Deferred until May 10

Issue: Police training money

What it means: The council was asked to approve using $200,000 from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for specialized training of police and correctional officers.

Bill No. 2011-175

Action: Approved

Issue: Selling city land

What it means: The council was asked to let the city sell flood-prone property on McCoys Creek Boulevard near the new Fire Station 5 without a bidding process. City departments said they had no use for it. A neighboring company, Miner Properties, Jacksonville Ltd., wanted to buy the land at its appraised value of $62,000.

Bill No. 2011-135

Action: Approved

1 in 4 children in US raised by a single parent

One in four children in the United States is being raised by a single parent - a percentage that has been on the rise and is higher than other developed countries, according to a report released Wednesday.

Of the 27 industrialized countries studied by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. had 25.8 percent of children being raised by a single parent, compared with an average of 14.9 percent across the other countries.

Ireland was second (24.3 percent), followed by New Zealand (23.7 percent). Greece, Spain, Italy and Luxemborg had among the lowest percentages of children in single-parent homes.

Experts point to a variety of factors to explain the high U.S. figure, including a cultural shift toward greater acceptance of single-parent child rearing. The U.S. also lacks policies to help support families, including childcare at work and national paid maternity leave, which are commonplace in other countries.

Single parents in the U.S. were more likely to be employed - 35.8 percent compared to a 21.3 percent average - but they also had higher rates of poverty, the report found.

Report: Fla. Hispanics outpace the rest of the nation in college degrees

Preliminary excerpts from the report emphasize that Hispanics are by far the largest minority in U.S. public schools — comprising more than 1 in 5 in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Hispanics are also projected to account for the majority of the nation’s population growth between 2005 and 2050.

In the other report released this week — authored by the Washington-based nonprofit Excelencia In Education — a spotlight is placed on Florida’s Hispanic college students.

What those numbers show: about 32 percent of Florida Hispanic adults have earned an associate’s degree or higher, a number higher than in any other state. The national average is 19 percent.

Yet even that first-place showing among Florida Hispanics was behind Florida’s overall degree attainment percentage of 36 percent.

American women pass men in advanced college degrees

For the first time, American women have passed men in gaining advanced college degrees as well as bachelor’s degrees, part of a trend that is helping redefine who goes off to work and who stays home with the children.

The educational gains for women are giving them greater access to a wider range of jobs, contributing to a shift of traditional gender roles at home and work. Based on one demographer’s estimate, the number of stay-at-home dads who are the primary caregivers for their children reached nearly 2 million last year, or one in 15 fathers. The official census tally was 154,000, based on a narrower definition that excludes those working part-time or looking for jobs.

Among adults 25 and older, 10.6 million U.S. women have master’s degrees or higher, compared to 10.5 million men. Women still trail men in professional subcategories such as business, science and engineering.

When it comes to finishing college, roughly 20.1 million women have bachelor’s degrees, compared to nearly 18.7 million men — a gap of more than 1.4 million that has remained steady in recent years. Women first passed men in bachelor’s degrees in 1996.

By the admittedly outmoded measure of the census, the number of stay-at-home dads has remained largely flat in recent years, making up less than 1 percent of married-couple households.

Guantanamo Docs Neglected, Concealed Medical Evidence of Torture, Study Finds

Doctors caring for detainees at the Guantanamo prison may have neglected or concealed medical evidence of torture, such as bone fractures, lacerations, and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, , according to a study released today by Physicians for Human Rights.

For example, one of the suspected terrorists held at Gitmo who claimed he had been severely beaten with kicks and punches until he was unconcious had evidence of a fracture on X-ray, but the circumstances of the injury were not discussed in his medical file.

"Apparently the clinician did not ask how the injury occurred," says Dr. Vincent Iacopino, senior medical advisor for Physicians for Human Rights and co-author on the study

The study acknowledged that the Gitmo medical staff provided quality medical care for ailments ranging from athletes foot to nearsightedness.

"What was so striking in our investigation," Iacopino says, "was that it's clear the Department of Defense clinicians provided medical care in the way you'd expect at any hospital or clinic, except that whenever an injury implied the possibility of intentional harm or psychological symptoms suggesting torture, the cause of those symptoms were completely ignored."

Duval County no longer state murder capital

Figures released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show Miami-Dade now has that crown, with a rate of 9.03 murders per 100,000 people. Duval is second by a slim margin at a rate of 8.98 murders per 100,000 among counties of 500,000 or more.

The number of murders in Duval County dropped from 101 in 2009 to 81 in 2010, according to the annual report.

In Duval County, overall crime was down 12.2 percent, nearly double the state rate. While rapes were up, robberies and aggravated batteries dropped along with murders. Burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts also were down.

Number of 100-year-olds is booming in US

But turning 100 isn't such a big deal anymore.

America's population of centenarians - already the largest in the world - has roughly doubled in the past 20 years to around 72,000 and is projected to at least double again by 2020, perhaps even increase seven-fold, according to the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau estimates there were 71,991 centenarians as of Dec. 1, up from 37,306 two decades earlier. While predicting longevity and population growth is difficult, the census' low-end estimate for 2050 is 265,000 centenarians; its highest projection puts the number at 4.2 million.

Florida crime rate at lowest mark since 1971

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said Tuesday the crime rate dropped by 6.6 percent in 2010 from the 2009 figures which reflected 54,000 fewer crimes. There were 987 murders last year, which was 26 fewer than in 2009 and nearly 5,000 fewer robberies, a decrease of 15.6 percent.

However, the improved safety numbers come with a price. Six police officers have already been killed while doing their job in the first four months of 2011.

Scott still upbeat on Florida corporate tax cut

Gov. Rick Scott says he's still confident Florida lawmakers will cut taxes.

Scott maintained that upbeat attitude Tuesday, just a day after his latest proposal to phase out Florida's corporate income tax was tabled by a Senate committee.

New Yorkers lead pack in government benefits

New York spent $2,903 per person on Medicaid in 2010 — a third more than any other state. The U.S. average is $1,364. Nevada spent the least: $666 per person.

High School Classes May Be Advanced in Name Only

But other studies point to a disconnect: Even though students are getting more credits in more advanced courses, they are not scoring any higher on standardized tests.

The reason, according to a growing body of research, is that the content of these courses is not as high-achieving as their names — the course-title equivalent of grade inflation. Algebra II is sometimes just Algebra I. And College Preparatory Biology can be just Biology.

Lynn T. Mellor, a researcher in Austin, Tex., who has studied the phenomenon in the state, compares it to a food marketer labeling an orange soda as healthier orange juice.

The 2009 results — the most recent available — of the federal test that measures change in achievement levels over decades showed that the nation’s 17-year-olds were scoring no higher in reading and math than in 1973. SAT scores have dropped or flat-lined, too, since 2000.

But a federal study released this month of nearly 38,000 high school transcripts showed that the proportion of graduates completing a rigorous curriculum rose to 13 percent in 2009 from 5 percent in 1990.

Florida No. 8 in U.S. employment growth

Florida continued its upward climb from the recession in March, posting the eighth-largest employment gain of any state.

The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show Florida with an increase of 51,500 nonfarm jobs between March 2011 and the same month this year. (Click here for a database with the new seasonally adjusted numbers for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

CEOs warn of subpar school standards

A group of top business leaders warned in a new report Thursday that U.S. schools have set a standard for their students that’s too low and that subpar expectations put the country in danger of falling even further behind other nations in reading and math proficiency.

The survey by Change the Equation, a coalition of educators and CEOs of companies that includes Time Warner, Xerox and ExxonMobil, found that while students in many schools meet the benchmarks set by their states, those thresholds fall far below national levels set by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP).

U.S. Orders Airlines to State Fees More Clearly

Although the rules do not set limits on how much carriers can charge for items like bags, ticket changes and seats, they do require airlines to more clearly disclose these and other fees in advertisements and on their Web sites. Ads will have to cite the full price, including government taxes that now are often relegated to the fine print.

Other provisions increase the compensation carriers must pay passengers who are involuntarily bumped from flights (from up to $800 to as much as $1,300 for the longest delays). They also require the airlines to refund checked baggage fees if luggage is lost, and require airlines to promptly notify customers of delays over 30 minutes. The provisions impose a four-hour limit on time spent on the tarmac for delayed international flights, expanding a policy that has been in place for domestic flights for a year.

S.&P. Lowers Outlook for U.S., Sending Stocks Down

On Monday, the ratings firm Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook on the United States rating to negative. Although the agency did not actually lower its highest AAA rating on the country’s debt, it was the first time since the S.& P. started assigning outlooks in 1989 that the country was given an outlook that was something other than stable.

Budget survey online for Jacksonville residents at

Jacksonville residents can take part in the city's fiscal year 2011-12 budget preparation process on line for the first time, thanks to the city's new online city service priority ranking program, available at

FAA issues new rules to keep controllers awake

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday issued new work rules aimed at preventing air traffic controllers from falling asleep on the job during overnight hours.

Six separate incidents have alarmed regulators and safety advocates in recent weeks, including a lone controller at Washington's Reagan National Airport who fell asleep on March 23 with two jetliners en route.

The new rules give controllers an extra hour of rest time between shifts and require FAA managers to work more early-morning and late-night hours.

The new FAA rules give air traffic controllers at least nine hours of rest between shifts, instead of the current eight hours.

Super Rich See Federal Taxes Drop Dramatically

The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992.

Over the same period, the average federal income tax rate for all taxpayers declined to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent.

There are so many breaks that 45 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

60-year-low tax revenues contribute to deficit growth

Revenues plunged from their peak of $2.57 trillion in 2007 to reach $2.1 trillion, or 14.8 percent of economic output in 2009 — the lowest level since the 1950s — and taxes remain that low today, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Violent criminals expand into cigarettes

From 2007 to last year, 27 states raised their cigarette taxes, according to Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which closely tracks tobacco tax rates across the country. Mackinac describes tobacco smuggling as an “unintended consequence of high cigarette taxes.

There is so much illicit money to be made, Penninger says, that some drug and weapon trafficking organizations are adding tobacco to their product lines to boost profits. For example, in low-tax states such as Virginia, where cigarettes cost about $4.50 a pack, smugglers can sell a truckload (typically 800 cases) in New York at $13 a pack. New York is the highest tobacco taxing jurisdiction in the country.

Smuggling costs states and the federal government about $5 billion, according to U.S. government estimates. “Everybody out there (involved in illegal trafficking operations) is tapping into tobacco,’’ Penninger says.

Stillbirth study: Thousands dying needlessly

More than 2 million babies are stillborn every year worldwide and about half could be saved if their mothers had better medical care, according to researchers' estimates.

While the vast majority of stillbirths happen in the developing world, the rates in countries including Britain, France and the U.S. have not dropped to the degree many experts had expected, as rising obesity levels among pregnant women increase the risk.

Obama Uncensored: President Caught on Open Mic at Fundraiser

President Obama's harshest words were for the Republican whom the president has praised in public for offering serious attempts to address the deficit: House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

"Eliminating the health care bill would cost us $1 trillion dollars," the president said. "It would add $1 trillion to the deficit. So when Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure, he's just being America's accountant and trying to you know be responsible, this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill -- but wasn't paid for. So it's not on the level. And we’ve got to keep on you know, keep on shining a light on that.”

High bacteria levels in meat at U.S. stores: report

Meat found on grocery store shelves often contains high levels of bacteria, with more than half of the bacteria resistant to multiple types of antibiotics, a study released on Friday said.

The meat is still safe to eat but consumers should take precautions especially in handling and cooking, the chief researcher for the study said.

Price said the most significant finding is not the level of bacteria on the meats, but rather how the bacteria are becoming strongly resistant to antibiotics used to treat animals before slaughter.

The study found that in 96 percent of the meats with staph bacteria, the bacteria were resistant to at least one type of antibiotic, and 52 percent were resistant to three or more types.

Scott won't sign Florida budget without tax cuts

Neither House nor Senate budget bills include the $1.7 billion in corporate income and school property tax cuts Scott has proposed.

Baby Boomer moms keep supporting grown kids: survey

More than half of Baby Boom-generation mothers support adult children financially and 60 percent are the go-to person when their grown kids encounter problems, according to a survey issued on Thursday.

That trend contrasted with the 86 percent of those 46- to 65-year-old women surveyed who said they were fully independent of their own parents by age 25.

Fla. high court rules on drug dogs' "sniff test"

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that police must get a warrant before they can do a "sniff test" by a drug-detection dog at the front door of a home.

The court released its 5-2 opinion on Thursday. Police went to a Miami-Dade home in 2006 with a drug-sniffing dog on a tip, later arresting the resident and seizing marijuana.

The court's majority said police should have gotten a warrant first because a drug dog's sniffing outside at a private residence constitutes a search.

But dissenters said there's no expectation of privacy regarding illegal substances in one's home. Attorney General Pam Bondi says the ruling hinders law enforcement and plans to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Rick Scott to rescind order to cut payments for disability services

Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday he would rescind his order to cut state payments for disability services after House and Senate leaders agreed to fill a $174 million deficit.

The announcement comes two weeks after Scott informed lawmakers he would invoke emergency powers and cut up to 40 percent the rates charged by group homes and case workers who help the developmentally disabled.

Oil & gas industry spills happen "all the time"

CBS News collected reported incidents for 2010 at wells and pipelines from three federal agencies and 23 of 33 oil and gas producing states. Not counting the BP disaster, we found at least 6,500 spills, leaks, fires or explosions nationwide - that's 18 a day. Overall, at least 34 million gallons of crude oil and other potentially toxic chemicals were spilled. That's triple the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

More Americans leaving the workforce

Only 45.4% of Americans had jobs in 2010, the lowest rate since 1983 and down from a peak of 49.3% in 2000. Last year, just 66.8% of men had jobs, the lowest on record.

The bad economy, an aging population and a plateau in women working are contributing to changes that pose serious challenges for financing the nation's social programs.

U.S. doing limited airstrikes for NATO in Libya

The Pentagon revealed for the first time Wednesday that U.S. fighter jets have continued to strike Libyan air defenses after turning the mission over to NATO.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the jets were assigned to NATO and are operating under NATO command. They can be used when needed to take out enemy defenses as part of the enforcement of the no-fly zone.

Obama Speech Text

U.S. orders 14 lenders to reimburse homeowners

he federal government on Wednesday ordered 16 of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders and servicers to reimburse homeowners who were improperly foreclosed upon.

Government regulators also directed the financial firms to hire auditors to determine how many homeowners could have avoided foreclosure in 2009 and 2010.

Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, the nation’s four largest banks, were among the financial firms cited in the joint report by the Federal Reserve, Office of Thrift Supervision and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The Fed said it believed financial penalties were “appropriate” and that it planned to levy fines in the future. All three regulators said they would review the foreclosure audits.

In the four years since the housing bust, financial institutions have foreclosed on about 5 million homes. About 2.4 million primary mortgages were in foreclosure at the end of last year. Another 2 million were 90 days or more past due, putting them at serious risk of foreclosure.

Florida ranked #1 for job creation potential by Wells Fargo Read more: Florida ranked #1 for job creation potential by Wells Fargo

A Wells Fargo study released Wednesday morning says that Florida has more potential to grow jobs than any other state in the nation, according to an article in The Miami Herald.

The study ranked Florida as regionally competitive in 22 industries, and said the state has taken big steps to broaden its economic base beyond tourism and hospitality. Georgia came in at second place for job creation potential in the study.

Report: Florida among states with tax loophole costing millions

States and local governments are losing roughly $275 million to $400 million in revenue each year because of loopholes exploited by online travel companies, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The lost revenue involves the "mark-up" charged by online firms such as Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline. These companies snatch up hotel rooms at wholesale prices and pay taxes on that amount. They then mark them up and sell them to consumers, but fail to pay taxes on that amount.

Online companies have been sued by local governments, including the City of Jacksonville, but legislation currently being weighed by the Legislature, which CBPP calls "profoundly misguided," would cement the loophole, in effect costing the state millions in potential revenue.

U.S. Lagging in Using Technology, Study Shows

The United States continues to lag other nations in its use of computing and communications technology, according to an annual study issued Tuesday by the World Economic Forum.

For the second consecutive year, the United States finished fifth in the study’s comparison of 138 countries that make up 98.8 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product. Sweden was first, followed by Singapore, Finland and Switzerland.

These rankings, for 2010, are based on an index of 71 economic and social indicators, as diverse as new patents, mobile phone subscriptions and availability of venture capital.

China ranked 36th and India 48th, falling five places from 2009. Rounding out the large developing BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — Brazil was 56th and Russia 77th.

Recidivism cited for sentencing reforms

More than 40 percent of ex-convicts commit crimes within three years of their release and wind up back behind bars, despite billions in taxpayer dollars spent on prison systems that are supposed to help rehabilitate them, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study by the Pew Center on the States concluded there was only marginal improvement in the nation’s recidivism rate even as spending on corrections departments has increased to about $52 billion annually from around $30 billion a decade ago.

About 43 percent of prisoners who were let out in 2004 were sent back to prison by 2007, either for a new crime or violating the conditions of their release, the study found. That number was down from 45 percent during a similar period beginning in 1999.

Florida gave away 2,094 state-owned trees to make room for billboards

With the blessing of a current state senator, and the help of a former state transportation secretary who is now the Clay County manager, a billboard company cut down more than 2,000 state-owned trees without paying the state a dime, according to emails and state records reviewed by the Times-Union.

Over a roughly five-month span in 2009, Milton-based Bill Salter Advertising received 105 permits to cut down trees impeding the view of its billboards across the Panhandle. Emails show that Salter sought help from then-Rep. Greg Evers, R-Milton, and then-Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos, who was hired in March by Clay County.

Companies typically pay the state depending on the number and type of trees removed.

Forbes: Jacksonville is one miserable city

Forbes Magazine has listed our fair city as one of the 20 most miserable in the country, clocking in at #19. Miami, according to Forbes, is the second-most miserable city in the US, West Palm Beach is #8 and Ft. Lauderdale is #13.

Street signs that scroll, change every 8 seconds approved by Jacksonville City Council

Jacksonville's City Council approved electronic sign rules Tuesday that had divided business interests and some neighborhood leaders who said roadways would become uglier and more dangerous.

The language that split the groups will allow sign messages to change every eight seconds and to feature "scrolling" announcements that crawl across a screen.

City officials once interpreted Jacksonville's sign laws as allowing changes every three minutes but later concluded that standard was unenforceable because of garbled wording.

Advocates said the new measure, Bill 2010-900, prevents rapid-fire changes but left businesses, schools and churches that owned electric signs flexibility to use them effectively.

Advocates for stronger restrictions won support from many neighborhood civic groups and all six of the city-organized Citizen Planning Advisory Committees, called CPACs. Ninety-nine out of 100 people sitting on CPACs citywide endorsed a three-minute hold on sign changes and a ban on scrolling.

Jacksonville Public Library Offers Plan to Balance the Books

The Jacksonville Public Library Board has signed off on a plan to cut $6 million from its annual budget - a figure requested by the mayor's office. This week is National Library Week.

The recommendation includes closing one branch, reducing hours, cutting staff and closing all libraries on Saturday and Sunday.

Debt Limit Politics

In January of 2010, the Senate voted 60-39 for an increase in the debt limit. All 60 Senators on the side of the Democrats voted 'Yes' and all the 'No' votes were from Republicans.

Barack Obama was the President, so the Democrats sided with him.

In March of 2006, the debt limit had to be raised. But - the Republicans controlled the Senate and the White House.

The vote was 52-48 to approve an increase in the debt limit, with all 52 'Yes' votes coming from the Republicans and all 48 'No' votes coming from the Democrats.

Girls Hit Puberty Earlier than Ever; Doctors Unsure Why

About 15% of American girls now begin puberty by age 7, according to a study of 1,239 girls published last year in Pediatrics. One in 10 white girls begin developing breasts by that age - twice the rate seen in a 1997 study. Among black girls, such as Laila, 23% hit puberty by age 7.

The $77 Billion Fighter Jets That Have Never Gone to War

More than five years and nearly $80 billion after the world's most expensive fighter jets joined the U.S. military fleet, the high-tech stealth F-22 Raptor has yet to see combat -- despite the U.S. Air Force's involvement in three simultaneous major combat operations.

When the U.S. led an international effort to secure a no-fly zone over Libya last month, the F-22, the jet the Air Force said "cannot be matched," was not involved. The Air Force said the $143 million-a-pop planes simply weren't necessary to take out Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses.

Jacksonville plunges in small-biz vitality

Metro Jacksonville ranked 58th in the small-business vitality standings of 100 major metropolitan areas, as rated by The Business Journals, the online arm of the Jacksonville Business Journal’s parent company, American City Business Journals Inc.

That’s a sharp downturn from a year ago, when Jacksonville was 13th, and from 2009, when the city ranked 25th. (Click here to see the full national standings.)

Metro Jacksonville had 34,497 small businesses as of 2008, representing 26 small businesses per 1,000 residents. Between 2005 and 2010, private-sector employment in the area dropped 6.43 percent, and the area population grew 8.62 percent between 2004 and 2009.

Studies Say Natural Gas Has Its Own Environmental Problems

The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines. This offsets natural gas’s most important advantage as an energy source: it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels and releases lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Burden of College Loans on Graduates Grows

Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year and is likely to top a trillion dollars this year as more students go to college and a growing share borrow money to do so.

Two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt in 2008, compared with less than half in 1993. Last year, graduates who took out loans left college with an average of $24,000 in debt. Default rates are rising, especially among those who attended for-profit colleges.

Abuse claims against priests rise in 2010

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church and its insurers paid $124 million last year to settle allegations of child sexual abuse, up from $104 million a year earlier, a church-commissioned audit showed on Monday.

There were 428 new allegations of sexual abuse against a minor filed in 2010, seven of which related to child abuse that was said to occur during the year, the U.S. Conference of Bishops said, citing the audit.

The number of claims was 7 percent higher than those lodged in 2009, but half the 2004 peak when 889 people reported abuse deemed by the auditors as credible, the report found.

Of the 345 clergy accused in 2010 of abuse, two-thirds had either already been removed from the ministry or had died, according to the report, based on a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Key Vote: Fiscal 2012 House Budget Resolution

Fiscal 2012 House Budget Resolution
- Vote Passed (235-193, 4 Not Voting)

The House passed a budget resolution that calls for $1.019 trillion in discretionary spending in the 2012 fiscal year. The budget resolution would allow for $2.859 trillion in overall spending. The resolution is non-binding but is used as a guideline for appropriators. The Senate is expected to work on its budget after the recess.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote; Fiscal 2011 Planned Parenthood Funding

Fiscal 2011 Planned Parenthood Funding
- Vote Passed (241-185, 1 Present, 5 Not Voting)

Following passage of the 2011 spending bill, the House adopted this enrollment correction resolution that would have blocked funding for Planned Parenthood. The Senate rejected the resolution so it will not be part of the final spending bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Fiscal 2011 Health Care Overhaul Funding

Fiscal 2011 Health Care Overhaul Funding
- Vote Passed (240-185, 7 Not Voting)

Following passage of the 2011 spending bill, the House adopted this enrollment correction resolution that would have blocked funding for the implementation of the health care law. The Senate rejected the resolution so it will not be part of the final spending bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Fiscal 2011 Spending Agreement

Fiscal 2011 Spending Agreement
- Vote Passed (260-167, 6 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill to fund the government through the end of the current fiscal year. Based on the agreement negotiated to prevent a government shutdown, the bill provides $1.055 trillion in federal spending. The Senate passed the bill later in the day, clearing it for the president.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: To repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund

To repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund
- Vote Passed (236-183, 13 Not Voting)

This House bill would eliminate funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was established by the health care law. Supporters of the bill say there is no accountability to determine where the money is spent. Opponents of the bill say it would defund important prevention programs. The Senate is unlikely to take up the measure.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Fiscal 2011 Spending Agreement

Fiscal 2011 Spending Agreement
- Vote Passed (81-19)

The Senate gave final approval to this bill funding the government through the end of the current fiscal year. Based on the agreement negotiated to prevent a government shutdown, the bill provides $1.055 trillion in federal spending. The president signed the bill into law on Friday, April 15.

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

Key Vote: Fiscal 2011 Planned Parenthood Funding

Fiscal 2011 Planned Parenthood Funding
- Vote Rejected (42-58)

The Senate rejected this enrollment correction resolution that would have blocked funding for Planned Parenthood in the 2011 fiscal year spending bill. The House adopted the resolution. Both chambers had to pass the resolution for it to be included in the final spending bill.

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

Key Vote: Fiscal 2011 Health Care Overhaul Funding

Fiscal 2011 Health Care Overhaul Funding
- Vote Rejected (47-53)

The Senate rejected this enrollment correction resolution that would have blocked funding for the implementation of the health care law in the 2011 fiscal year spending bill. The House adopted the resolution. Both chambers had to pass the resolution for it to be included in the final spending bill.

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

Key Vote: Further Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011

Further Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011
- Vote Passed (348-70, 14 Not Voting)

The House passed this one-week appropriations measure, giving negotiators time to draft the full-year appropriations measure. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent earlier on Friday night. The president signed the measure into law on Saturday.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Net Neutrality Disapproval

Net Neutrality Disapproval
- Vote Passed (240-179, 13 Not Voting)

This resolution would nullify a Federal Communications Commission rule prohibiting broadband Internet service providers from blocking content or traffic. Supporters of the resolution say the FCC does not have the authority to regulate the Internet, while opponents contend the regulations are necessary to provide unfettered access to the Internet. A companion resolution has been introduced in the Senate but its future is unclear.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011

Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (255-172, 5 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases for the purpose of addressing climate change. A similar measure failed in the Senate earlier in the week.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: To ban EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions

To ban EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions
- Vote Rejected (50-50)

During work on the small business bill, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes required to pass this amendment that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases for the purpose of addressing climate change. The House passed a stand-alone bill later in the week, but its future is unclear at this time.

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

Key Vote: Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act of 2011

Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (87-12, 1 Not Voting)

The Senate gave final approval to this bill repealing a provision of the 2010 health care bill requiring businesses to report payments to vendors over $600 to the Internal Revenue Service. The House passed the bill last month. The president is expected to sign it into law.

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

Key Vote: Government Shutdown Prevention Act

Government Shutdown Prevention Act
- Vote Passed (221-202, 1 Present, 8 Not Voting)

This bill would declare the House-passed spending bill, H.R.1, to be enacted if the Senate does not pass a FY2011 spending bill by April 6. Supporters say the vote highlights the Senate's inability to pass a budget, while opponents say the bill is unconstitutional.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011

FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (223-196, 13 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration for four-years. The Senate passed a two-year bill in February. The two chambers will now work out a compromise bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act

Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act
- Vote Passed (225-195, 12 Not Voting)

The House voted to revive a voucher program that would help low-income Washington D.C. residents send their children to private schools. The bill faces an uncertain future but could be attached to the 2011 spending bill currently being negotiated between the House and Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: The HAMP Termination Act of 2011

The HAMP Termination Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (252-170, 1 Present, 9 Not Voting)

The House voted to end the Home Affordable Modification Program, a home foreclosure prevention program that uses Troubled Asset Relief Program money to help homeowners modify their mortgages. The Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jacksonville Budget Breakdown

  • General Government -- $86,743,882
    • Includes money spent by City Council, Mayor’s Office, Central Operations and Supervisor of Elections.

  • Public Safety -- $521,669,306
    • Includes money spent by Fire & Rescue, the Office of the Sheriff, Medical Examiner and lifeguard services provided at the county’s three beach communities.

  • Physical Environment -- $12,163,843
    • Includes Environmental Quality, Solid Waste, Public Works, Cooperative Extension Service and Water and Sewer Expansion Authority.

  • Transportation -- $39,686,555
    • Includes Public Works, Engineering, Right-of-Way and Grounds Maintenance.

  • Human Services -- $64,225,103
    • Includes Public Health, Adult Services, Animal Care and Protective Services, Mosquito Control, Code Compliance, Indigent Care and Community Relations.

  • Culture and Recreation -- $61,161,368
    • Includes libraries, Recreation and Community programming, Waterfront Management, The Ritz Theatre and Special Events.

  • Economic Environment -- $10,610,230
    • Includes Veteran and Disabled Services, the Metropolitian Planning Organization, Northeast Florida Regional Council and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.

  • Other Disbursements -- $194,105,551
    • Includes Clerk of the Courts, Courts, Public Defender and State Attorney.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hospital Errors Common and Underreported

As many as one-third of hospital visits leads to hospital-related injuries, according to a report published today in Health Affairs

U.S. foundation giving steady in 2010: report

U.S. foundations made $45.7 billion in grants in 2010 and are expected to give away up to 4 percent more this year amid a fragile economic recovery, a top philanthropic research group said on Thursday.

Giving from the country's 76,000 grant-making foundations was almost unchanged last year from 2009, and remained 2.1 percent below a record $46.8 billion in 2008, the Foundation Center said.

Foundation assets grew about 5 percent last year to $621.4 billion, but remain 9 percent below their pre-financial crisis high of $682.2 billion recorded in 2007.

Independent foundations gave $32.5 billion in 2010 and corporate foundations gave $4.7 billion, both down less than 1 percent from 2009, while giving by community foundations fell 2 percent to $4.1 billion.

With Government on Brink of Shutdown, 'Narrow' Differences Remain

Rep. Boehner said again Wednesday night that there's no agreement on a top-line number for spending reductions, but reports now indicate the two sides are aiming for $40 billion in cuts -- $7 billion more than the Democratic compromise -- and two-thirds of the way to the $61 billion conservative House Republicans have demanded.

The House is set to debate a one-week spending bill introduced by Republicans that would cut $12 billion from current levels and fund Defense Department operations for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Some GOP lawmakers have referred to the proposal as a "troop funding" bill, but the measure also contains controversial policy provisions, such as a ban on federal and local government funding for abortions in the District of Columbia.

If there's a shutdown, senators and representatives would still collect paychecks, while federal employees who are furloughed would not.

Teen substance abuse on rise over past 3 years: study

The study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation and the 22nd in an annual series, found that between 2008 and 2010 teens who said they had used marijuana in the past year climbed to 39 percent from 32 percent.

Between 2008 and 2010, teens who said they had used the "party" drug ecstasy in the past year increased to 10 percent from six percent.

The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, which based its findings on a survey of around 2,500 high school students, found that 45 percent said they do not see a "great risk" in heavy daily drinking, while 31 percent strongly disapprove of their peers getting drunk.

A total of 68 percent of those surveyed said they had had at least one drink in their lifetimes. Among them, the average age for that drink was 14.

Drought hits southern U.S. pretty hard

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alvin Brown, Mike Hogan agree on Jacksonville getting out of illegal guns program

Jacksonville mayoral candidates Mike Hogan and Alvin Brown are expected to agree on little leading up to next month’s election, but both oppose the city’s continued role in a national program Mayor John Peyton joined seeking a way to curb gun violence.

Hogan said he believes the Mayors Against Illegal Guns program is an attempt to rob people of their Second Amendment right to bear firearms rather than being anti-crime. His website calls it a "deceptively named national organization that often puts gun control over crime prevention" — a position reinforced by the National Rifle Association, which supports Hogan.

Brown, asked about the website reference, said he believed that anything accomplished by the program could be handled locally and saw no need to spend resources to continue in the program.

Peyton joined the program while hosting the group's Florida conference in 2008.

He said he saw it as a way to look outward for ways to curb the city's high murder rate. A Times-Union study in 2007 found a third of those arrested in Duval County gun homicides were felons, prohibited by law from possessing firearms. But little was being done to track and curb the supply of those guns.

The city's role in the program has been minimal. An employee hired by the city with program funds to coordinate the city's role left the job after about a year and wasn't replaced. Peyton made one trip to New York - also paid for by the program - to participate in a conference.

Peyton declined to comment on the next mayor's plans but said he was pleased with the program.

Gov. Rick Scott drawing voter disapproval, poll shows

Rick Scott doesn’t just seem more disliked — he is, in fact, growing increasingly unpopular, according to the latest Quinnipiac University survey of 1,499 registered Florida voters.

The poll found that 48 percent disapproved of how Scott is doing — more than double the level measured in a February poll.

Only 35 percent gave the Republican newcomer a favorable rating, exactly what it was more than a month ago.

Chief justice, Scott agree on Florida court loan

Chief Justice Charles Canady and Gov. Rick Scott’s office agreed Wednesday on a plan to loan money from reserves to Florida’s court system to avoid furloughs and curtailing some legal services through May.

The agreement will cover $19.5 million of a $72.3 million shortfall in court funding blamed on a sharp drop in mortgage foreclosure filing fees.

The remaining shortfall through the end of the budget year on June 30 will be covered through spending cuts and a supplemental appropriation from the Legislature.

Jacksonville City Hall to spend $3 million extra to gas up its fleet this year

Higher gas prices could add more than $3 million to the cost of running Jacksonville's city-owned vehicles this year, an administrator warned City Council members Tuesday.

The city's Fleet Management Division is budgeted to spend $20.9 million this year fueling cars, trucks and other vehicles in the city's 5,600-piece inventory of motorized equipment.

That's 52 percent of the $39.6 million yearly budget for Fleet Management, which charges to maintain and repair vehicles owned by the city and by outside agencies that contract for similar services.

The division's budget has risen $6.7 million since 2009, about $6.1 million of that because of higher spending on fuel, according to data Reed circulated to the committee.

Scott says his former firm will not do business with state

Asked if he intended to divest his family’s Solantic shares, which he valued during the campaign at $62 million, Scott answered that the company would avoid state contracts.

Fed Help Kept Banks Afloat, Until It Didn’t

The discount window is a basic feature of the central bank’s original design, intended to mitigate bank runs and other cash squeezes. But access to it historically has been limited to healthy banks with short-term problems.

Those limits moved from custom to law in 1991, when Congress formally restricted the Fed’s ability to help failing banks. A Congressional investigation found that more than 300 banks that failed between 1985 and 1991 owed money to the Fed at the time of their failure. Critics said the Fed’s lending had increased the cost of those failures.

The central bank was chastened for a generation but in 2007, facing a new banking crisis, the Fed once again started to broaden access to the discount window. It reduced the cost of borrowing and started offering loans for longer terms of up to 30 days.

More than one thousand banks have taken advantage. A review of federal data, including records the Fed released last week, shows that at least 111 of those banks subsequently failed. Eight owed the Fed money on the day they failed, including Washington Mutual, the largest failed bank in American history.

Legislature asks: Should School Board reps be paid?

Board salaries averaged $30,850 across the state in 2009-10, according to the Florida Department of Education.

In Reversal, Obama Orders Guantanamo Military Trial for 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

In a sharp reversal of the Obama administration's policy on trying Sept. 11 suspects in U.S. courts, mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators will be tried in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay.

Attorney General Eric Holder today placed the blame squarely on Congress for creating conditions where the Department of Justice cannot try them in a federal court, saying their decision would gravely impact U.S. national security and counterterrorism efforts.

They "tied our hands in a away that could have serious ramifications," he said today. "In reality, I know this case in a way that members of Congress do not. Do I know better than them? Yes."

Mohammed was to have been tried in New York City, but city officials strongly objected to the move and Congress refused to appropriate funds to house Guantanamo inmates on mainland United States and to provide funds for a trial of extraordinary expense.

Florida auto insurance costs less than U.S. average Read more: Florida auto insurance costs less than U.S. average

Florida’s average annual premium rate is $1,476, 5.4 percent less than the national average of $1,561. Still, auto insurance fraud does affect rates in Florida and Jacksonville.

The highest rates in the nation are in Michigan at $2,541, followed by Louisiana at $2,453 and Oklahoma at $2,197. The lowest average annual premium in the nation is Vermont at $995, followed by South Carolina at $1,095 and Maine at $1,126.

U.S. Supreme Court upholds school choice tax credits in Arizona case

In a decision that likely bodes well for a similar program in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court today threw out a challenge to Arizona's Individual School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program.

By a 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority, the court said those challenging the program had no legal standing to do so and that the law doesn't violate the First Amendment's prohibition against establishing a state religion.

The program provides tax credits for individuals who contribute to non-profit organizations that provide scholarships for disadvantaged students to attend private schools.

Florida's program gives tax credits to corporations who make such contributions.

Are Bright Future scholarships going to the right students?

More than a half-million students have benefited so far, and Bright Futures is enormously popular with both politicians and parents alike.

Like the cost of a college education, the cost of Bright Futures has skyrocketed — from an initial price tag of $70 million in 1997 to $437 million today, making it easily the state’s most expensive student-aid program.

Bright Futures awards are generally funded by lottery money, as opposed to tax dollars, and can’t be diverted into the state’s general budget to shore up deficits there.

The program gets just a slice of every lottery dollar, not the whole pie. Lottery revenue is also funneled into K-12 schools, school construction bonds and community colleges. And of course, there are lottery prizes to pay out.

Theoretically, if the state decided to spend less on scholarships, it could spend more on those other educational areas.

With the growth of Bright Futures over the years, the college scholarship program was draining a greater share of those Lottery dollars. Last year, the expense was so high, the state had to dig into stimulus money and other one-time revenues to plug the roughly $100 million hole.

Police are catching many people illegally drinking alcohol on Jacksonville's Beaches

With the George's Music Springing the Blues Festival this weekend and the upcoming opening of the Beaches celebration parade and other festivals and concerts scheduled through the summer, it's important that people know and heed the law, police said.

A lot of alcohol is sold at festivals and concerts and special events at the SeaWalk Pavilion and around Latham Plaza.

But Bingham said that is a city-permitted area during the events. Fencing marks the perimeter of the permitted area, and people who are drinking alcohol must stay within that.

People must pass through one of only four gates to enter and leave the area, to limit drinking to there. Officers and security guards will not allow people with a drink in hand to leave unless they get rid of it first, Bingham said. As part of the permitting process, event organizers must hire extra officers for security.

Report Criticizes High Pay at Fannie and Freddie

The companies, whose fates are to be decided by Congress this year, paid a combined $17 million to their chief executives in 2009 and 2010, the two full years when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were wards of the state, the report found. The top six executives at the companies received $35.4 million over the two years. Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over in September 2008, the companies’ mounting mortgage losses have required a $153 billion infusion from taxpayers. Total losses may reach $363 billion through 2013, according to government estimates.

Charles E. Haldeman Jr., a former head of Putnam Investments, the giant fund management concern, joined Freddie Mac as its chief executive in 2009. He made $7.8 million for 2009 and 2010. Fannie Mae’s chief is Michael J. Williams, who has worked at the company since 1991. He received $9.3 million for the two years. Company officials declined to comment.

New Records Reveal Extent of Fed's Reach During Financial Crisis

The latest data -- nearly 900 files totaling 25,000 pages that were released on a CD -- reveal which banks and financial institutions borrowed from the Fed's "discount window" between August 2007 and March 2010 -- and just how much.

The discount window is the oldest mechanism used by the Fed and other central banks for providing emergency loans to banks in need. The Fed itself refers to it as "a safety valve in relieving pressures" and that was certainly true in the weeks after the financial crisis reached its greatest panic. At one point in October 2008, the central bank loaned out more than $110 billion through the discount window.

It's not the first time the Fed has revealed much of what it did.

In December, it was obligated to reveal how it had spread more than $3 trillion throughout the economy.

For example, just days before Washington Mutual would be seized by the FDIC and largely sold to JPMorgan Chase, it borrowed $2 billion from the Fed.

This evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a frequent critic of the Fed, found a connection to Libya. In a statement, Sanders asked why the Fed lent more than $3 billion during the crisis to the Arab Banking Corp, of which the Central Bank of Libya owns a 59 percent stake.

Half a million die from smoking yearly in U.S.

Smoking causes half a million deaths each year in the U.S., killing slightly more men than women, new statistics show.

A new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association confirms that trend: about 7 percent of adults in the U.S. were heavy smokers in 2007, compared to 23 percent in 1965. The researchers on that study, led by Dr. John Pierce of the University of California, San Diego, defined "heavy smoking" as 20 or more cigarettes a day.

Federal funding needed for bridge repairs: study

Tens of thousands of bridges in the United States need major repair or replacement, and maintenance backlogs are growing amid tight federal and state budgets, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Transportation for America, a coalition of housing, business, public health and transportation organizations, said in its report that 11.5 percent, or 69,000, bridges need attention or replacement. It said more federal funding help is "essential."

Federal spending for bridge repair has severely lagged estimates of needed funding. Federal spending increased by $650 million from 2006 through 2009, compared to the $22.8 billion that the Federal Highway Administration said it needed to fix deficiencies.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, the leading expert on U.S. infrastructure, has said the United States needs to invest $17 billion annually to improve current bridge conditions. According to a 2009 report, the country only spends $10.5 billion each year on bridges.

Currently, Congress is considering long-term legislation to fund transportation projects, and states hope to garner billions in new funding. President Barack Obama wants to put $336 billion into rebuilding roads and bridges over six years, with $70.5 billion for road and bridge repair in 2012.

More than 20 states have a higher percentage of deficient bridges than the national average of 11.5 percent.

RIEDL: Farm subsidies ripe for reform

Defenders assert that the $25 billion annual cost of farm subsidies (a bit less than 1 percent of federal spending) is too small to bother reforming. Yet one-third of the federal budget — $1 trillion total — consists of programs that each cost $25 billion or less.

The average farmer earns more than $83,000 annually (nearly 20 percent above the national average), according to the Department of Agriculture. Commercial farmers, who receive the majority of subsidies, report an average net income of $170,000, and a net worth close to $1 million. And despite past attempts to limit subsidies to millionaire farmers, the last farm bill actually repealed key payment limits.

The farm economy is booming. Farmers dealing with higher energy prices are also benefiting from soaring prices of wheat (up 81 percent in the past year), corn (up 59 percent) and soybeans (39 percent). Consequently, 2011 net farm income is forecast at 52 percent above 2009 levels.

Farm subsidy advocates often respond that farms could not survive without large subsidies. Nonsense. Producers of just five crops — wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans and rice — receive nearly all farm subsidies. In fact, only one-third of the $390 billion in annual agricultural production is directly subsidized. All other farmers — including growers of fruits, vegetables, livestock and poultry — receive nearly nothing.

Pro-life laws seen as factor in drop in abortions

Pro-life laws are part of the reason abortion rates have declined over the past two decades, a study says.

A review of abortion data from 1985 through 2005 provides “solid evidence” that laws restricting but not outlawing abortion “have an impact on the childbearing decisions of women,” Michael J. New wrote in State Politics and Policy Quarterly, a peer-reviewed publication aimed at state policymakers.

He found that all three approaches had significant results in certain populations. For instance, parental-notification laws were correlated with a 15 percent decline in in-state abortion rates for minors. Informed-consent laws, which require pregnant women to receive information about such things as their health, fetal development or resources for parenting, were associated with reductions in in-state abortions by 5 percent to 7 percent.

Legal limits on Medicaid funding for abortion also had a significant impact, reducing abortion incidence by about 9 percent in states with such laws.

SBA opens 504 refinancing to more firms

The Small Business Administration will allow more businesses to refinance their commercial real estate mortgages through its 504 loan program.

The SBA initially restricted this new refinancing option to small businesses that faced balloon payments on their mortgages before Dec. 31, 2012. Beginning April 6, it will open the 504 refinancing option to businesses with balloon payments due after that date.

The Small Business Jobs Act, which was enacted last September, allowed the 504 program to be used to refinance existing loans on owner-occupied commercial real estate through September 2012. To be eligible for refinancing, the mortgage must be at least two years old, and the business must be current on its payments for the past 12 months. Borrowers can refinance up to 90 percent of the current appraised property value or 100 percent of the outstanding mortgage, whichever is lower.

Missing BP laptop had personal data of claimants

A BP employee lost a laptop containing personal data belonging to thousands of Louisiana residents who filed claims for compensation after the Gulf oil spill, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

BP spokesman Curtis Thomas said the oil giant on Monday mailed out letters to roughly 13,000 people whose data was stored on the computer, notifying them about the potential data security breach and offering to pay for their credit to be monitored. The company also reported the missing laptop to law enforcement, he said.

New prisons chief making big changes in prison system

Gov. Rick Scott promised to shake things up, and nobody on his new team is pushing more change more quickly than Buss, a 45-year-old U.S. Army veteran who most recently ran Indiana’s prisons.

In hyper-partisan Tallahassee, Buss is receiving the highest compliment of all: high praise even from some Democrats who despise most of Scott’s policies. On the job for just six weeks, Buss has:

• Called for a major new financial commitment to helping prison inmates reenter society so they can start new lives and become less likely to return to prison.

• Fired more than a dozen highly paid administrators and proposed a 5 percent pay cut for all wardens and the privatization of all prison healthcare programs.

• Banned smoking by an estimated 60,000 inmates after voicing shock that prisons were still not smoke-free in 2011.

• Urged the Legislature to abolish mandatory minimum prison sentences in some cases, saying that judges should be given more discretion and that some people may be in prison who don’t belong there.

• Proposed that correctional officers switch from eight-hour days to 12-hour shifts to cut down on commuting costs and give more officers more weekends off.

• Suggested closing three prisons to cut costs and improve efficiency, including shutting the only faith-based prison for women in Tampa.

For Buss, it has not been entirely a smooth start.

The Senate quickly rejected a plan to pay for new inmate reentry programs by laying off more than 600 correctional officers, and a vast network of volunteers and ex-inmates have for now blocked plans to close Hillsborough Correctional Institution, a women’s faith-based prison with a low recidivism rate and a high number of success stories.

Obama Libya Speech

March 28, 2011

The President’s Address to the Nation on Libya – As Prepared for Delivery

National Defense University

Washington, DC

March 28, 2011

As Prepared for Delivery—

Good evening. Tonight, I’d like to update the American people on the international effort that we have led in Libya – what we have done, what we plan to do, and why this matters to us.

I want to begin by paying tribute to our men and women in uniform who, once again, have acted with courage, professionalism and patriotism. They have moved with incredible speed and strength. Because of them and our dedicated diplomats, a coalition has been forged and countless lives have been saved. Meanwhile, as we speak, our troops are supporting our ally Japan, leaving Iraq to its people, stopping the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and going after al Qaeda around the globe. As Commander-in-Chief, I am grateful to our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and their families, as are all Americans.

For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.

Libya sits directly between Tunisia and Egypt – two nations that inspired the world when their people rose up to take control of their own destiny. For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant – Moammar Gaddafi. He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world – including Americans who were killed by Libyan agents.

Last month, Gaddafi’s grip of fear appeared to give way to the promise of freedom. In cities and towns across the country, Libyans took to the streets to claim their basic human rights. As one Libyan said, “For the first time we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over.”

Faced with this opposition, Gaddafi began attacking his people. As President, my immediate concern was the safety of our citizens, so we evacuated our Embassy and all Americans who sought our assistance. We then took a series of swift steps in a matter of days to answer Gaddafi’s aggression. We froze more than $33 billion of the Gaddafi regime’s assets. Joining with other nations at the United Nations Security Council, we broadened our sanctions, imposed an arms embargo, and enabled Gaddafi and those around him to be held accountable for their crimes. I made it clear that Gaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead, and I said that he needed to step down from power.

In the face of the world’s condemnation, Gaddafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people. Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misratah was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.

Confronted by this brutal repression and a looming humanitarian crisis, I ordered warships into the Mediterranean. European allies declared their willingness to commit resources to stop the killing. The Libyan opposition, and the Arab League, appealed to the world to save lives in Libya. At my direction, America led an effort with our allies at the United Nations Security Council to pass an historic Resolution that authorized a No Fly Zone to stop the regime’s attacks from the air, and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people.

Ten days ago, having tried to end the violence without using force, the international community offered Gaddafi a final chance to stop his campaign of killing, or face the consequences. Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women and children who sought their freedom from fear.

At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We struck regime forces approaching Benghazi to save that city and the people within it. We hit Gaddafi’s troops in neighboring Ajdabiya, allowing the opposition to drive them out. We hit his air defenses, which paved the way for a No Fly Zone. We targeted tanks and military assets that had been choking off towns and cities and we cut off much of their source of supply. And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gaddafi’s deadly advance.

In this effort, the United States has not acted alone. Instead, we have been joined by a strong and growing coalition. This includes our closest allies – nations like the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey – all of whom have fought by our side for decades. And it includes Arab partners like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who have chosen to meet their responsibility to defend the Libyan people.

To summarize, then: in just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians.

Moreover, we have accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations. I said that America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.

Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and No Fly Zone. Last night, NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians. This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday. Going forward, the lead in enforcing the No Fly Zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gaddafi’s remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role – including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications. Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation – to our military, and to American taxpayers – will be reduced significantly.

So for those who doubted our capacity to carry out this operation, I want to be clear: the United States of America has done what we said we would do.

That is not to say that our work is complete. In addition to our NATO responsibilities, we will work with the international community to provide assistance to the people of Libya, who need food for the hungry and medical care for the wounded. We will safeguard the more than $33 billion that was frozen from the Gaddafi regime so that it is available to rebuild Libya. After all, this money does not belong to Gaddafi or to us – it belongs to the Libyan people, and we will make sure they receive it.

Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton will go to London, where she will meet with the Libyan opposition and consult with more than thirty nations. These discussions will focus on what kind of political effort is necessary to pressure Gaddafi, while also supporting a transition to the future that the Libyan people deserve. Because while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.

Despite the success of our efforts over the past week, I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya. Gaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. Moreover, even after Gaddafi does leave power, forty years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task. And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community, and – more importantly – a task for the Libyan people themselves.

In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya. On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all – even in limited ways – in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing concerns here at home.

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

Moreover, America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful – yet fragile – transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security. So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.

Now, just as there are those who have argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Gaddafi and usher in a new government.

Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

The task that I assigned our forces – to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger, and to establish a No Fly Zone – carries with it a UN mandate and international support. It is also what the Libyan opposition asked us to do. If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.

To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.

As the bulk of our military effort ratchets down, what we can do – and will do – is support the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners as they’re in the lead to maintain the safety of civilians. We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gaddafi leaves power. It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Gaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power. But it should be clear to those around Gadaffi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on his side. With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be.

Let me close by addressing what this action says about the use of America’s military power, and America’s broader leadership in the world, under my presidency.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe. And no decision weighs on me more than when to deploy our men and women in uniform. I have made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests. That is why we are going after al Qaeda wherever they seek a foothold. That is why we continue to fight in Afghanistan, even as we have ended our combat mission in Iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops from that country.

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

In such cases, we should not be afraid to act – but the burden of action should not be America’s alone. As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action. Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.

That’s the kind of leadership we have shown in Libya. Of course, even when we act as part of a coalition, the risks of any military action will be high. Those risks were realized when one of our planes malfunctioned over Libya. Yet when one of our airmen parachuted to the ground, in a country whose leader has so often demonized the United States – in a region that has such a difficult history with our country – this American did not find enemies. Instead, he was met by people who embraced him. One young Libyan who came to his aid said, “We are your friends. We are so grateful to these men who are protecting the skies.”

This voice is just one of many in a region where a new generation is refusing to be denied their rights and opportunities any longer. Yes, this change will make the world more complicated for a time. Progress will be uneven, and change will come differently in different countries. There are places, like Egypt, where this change will inspire us and raise our hopes. And there will be places, like Iran, where change is fiercely suppressed. The dark forces of civil conflict and sectarian war will have to be averted, and difficult political and economic concerns addressed.

The United States will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change. Only the people of the region can do that. But we can make a difference. I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed against one’s own citizens; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.

Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true measure of American leadership.

My fellow Americans, I know that at a time of upheaval overseas – when the news is filled with conflict and change – it can be tempting to turn away from the world. And as I have said before, our strength abroad is anchored in our strength at home. That must always be our North Star – the ability of our people to reach their potential, to make wise choices with our resources, to enlarge the prosperity that serves as a wellspring of our power, and to live the values that we hold so dear.

But let us also remember that for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe. We have done so because we know that our own future is safer and brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity. Tonight, let us give thanks for the Americans who are serving through these trying times, and the coalition that is carrying our effort forward; and let us look to the future with confidence and hope not only for our own country, but for all those yearning for freedom around the world. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.