Thursday, May 31, 2007
"NASA administrator Michael Griffin defends the space agency's programs, including plans for a permanent moon base and manned missions to Mars. He also says that while NASA studies climate change, the agency has no authorization to "take actions to affect climate change in either one way or another."
The following are excerpts from Griffin's conversation with Steve Inskeep, edited for clarity:
It has been mentioned that NASA is not spending as much money as it could to study climate change — global warming — from space. Are you concerned about global warming?
I'm aware that global warming exists. I understand that the bulk of scientific evidence accumulated supports the claim that we've had about a one degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last century to within an accuracy of 20 percent. I'm also aware of recent findings that appear to have nailed down — pretty well nailed down the conclusion that much of that is manmade. Whether that is a longterm concern or not, I can't say.
Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?
I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.
Is that thinking that informs you as you put together the budget? That something is happening, that it's worth studying, but you're not sure that you want to be battling it as an army might battle an enemy?
Nowhere in NASA's authorization, which of course governs what we do, is there anything at all telling us that we should take actions to affect climate change in either one way or another. We study global climate change, that is in our authorization, we think we do it rather well. I'm proud of that, but NASA is not an agency chartered to, quote, battle climate change."
“There is a reason for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq that has more to do with American interests: stability in the Persian Gulf, the world's single largest producer and exporter of oil and natural gas.”
"It's been a brutal month for American soldiers in Iraq; but it would be a mistake to think that it's the number of deaths alone that is creating the sense of national urgency to get out. Given the right circumstances, Americans are quite prepared to tolerate far higher casualties. Roughly 43,000 people die on our roads and highways every year.
Considerable effort is expended to bring that number down: Our vehicles are increasingly built to withstand crashes. We seem to have made real progress in persuading drivers to wear seatbelts and not to consume alcoholic beverages when they're about to get behind the wheel. Law enforcement does what it can to reduce speeding. Having said that, the number of driving fatalities every year remains stubbornly constant.
Apparently, 43,000 deaths a year is a price we are prepared to pay for the benefits that motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses provide. Those benefits are such, that no politician in recent memory has seriously suggested getting rid of all motor vehicles. It simply wouldn't happen. Our economy would come to a grinding halt. The impact on the national interest would be devastating.
In another week or so, we will have lost 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq. That, of course, is over a four-year period.
So, the level of outrage and the growing opposition to the Iraq war has to be connected to something other than simply the number of those killed. After all, we lose that many people in traffic accidents every month, with barely a murmur of protest.
Where the Bush administration has failed, tragically and repeatedly, is in explaining to the American public why U.S. forces were sent into Iraq in the first place, and why they must remain there now.
Certainly, the United States has a moral obligation to deal with the chaos and anarchy that were, at least partially, unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But that falls into the category of something we're doing for them. The president cannot and should not expect Americans to give their open-ended support to a nation that seems overwhelmingly to regard our troops as "invaders and occupiers."
What, then? There is a reason for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq that has more to do with American interests: stability in the Persian Gulf, the world's single largest producer and exporter of oil and natural gas.
Do we know for a fact that, without U.S. troops in Iraq, that country's chaos would bleed into Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; Egypt, Syria and Jordan? No. But chances are better than even that it would — and you can throw Iran into the mix.
That is not an easy political argument to make: Blood for oil has never been a popular slogan in America. But try to separate us from our motor vehicles and you'll get a sense of where our national interests lie. And if you try to keep those vehicles running without Persian Gulf oil, you'll know that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is nowhere in our immediate future."
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Wanted: Veteran attorney to oversee important cases in 35 Florida counties. Job expected to last 18 months or so. Salary: $145,400.
Sounds enticing, but so far there have been almost no takers.
In the past, lawyers clamored to be U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida -- one of the most powerful federal-prosecutor jobs in the country.
Stretching from Fort Myers to Orlando and Jacksonville, the office has prosecuted some of the nation's biggest criminal cases, from Colombian drug lord Carlos Lehder to real-estate infomercial personality William McCorkle and Soviet spy George Trofimoff.
But after U.S. Attorney Paul Perez announced March 13 that he was stepping down for a lucrative private-sector job, only one person applied for the post. So earlier this month, the job was re-advertised with an application deadline of June 15.
"It's astonishing," said Michael Seigel, the former No. 2 man in the region's U.S. Attorney's Office from 1995 to 1999, who twice was considered for the top job. "The typical number is 15 people.
"Being U.S. attorney at the end of the Bush administration -- most people would not see that as being a plus on your resume."
Current and former prosecutors say there are several reasons complicating decisions for prospective applicants.
With 18 months before the next presidential election, a change in administrations -- especially if a Democrat is elected -- would likely guarantee the U.S. attorney would be replaced. The jobs are filled by political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president.
There also would be a significant risk to any civil lawyer selected for the job who would have to leave his or her practice with little time to earn a reputation in the new role, attorneys say. Any career prosecutor who got the job could risk a smaller pension if not allowed to return to an old job when the new administration takes over.
"Everyone can sense the political winds are changing in this country, and there's a possibility a Democrat could win [the White House]," said Rick Jancha, an Orlando defense lawyer and Republican who retired in January after 21 years as a federal prosecutor. "There would be a real likelihood [the new U.S. attorney] would lose their job. So if you're a career prosecutor, why screw up your retirement for 18 months as boss?"
And once the U.S. attorney resigns or is replaced, he or she would be barred by federal law for two years from handling any criminal or civil cases investigated by the prosecutor's office.
Finally, there is the controversy and drama engulfing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, possibly for political reasons. His office and the White House are currently under scrutiny by Congress.
Seigel, a Democrat who is a University of Florida law professor, thinks the turmoil inside the Justice Department in Washington is a key factor.
"It's got to be a reflection of the low morale and the attorney general's awful performance in defending the actions the department took in firing eight U.S. attorneys. I think the politicization of the department -- a lot of people are not interested in getting in the middle of that."
Perez, 52, now a corporate lawyer in Jacksonville, said the political controversy in Washington and congressional hearings have little to do with operating the U.S. Attorney's Office in Central Florida.
I think that's an inside-the-beltway issue," Perez said. "That doesn't affect what's going on in the field. That shouldn't keep qualified people from applying for U.S. attorney.
"This is major league, the big show," Perez said of the district. "You're basically a mini-Department of Justice."
The job also has been a steppingstone for lawyers to become federal judges and partners in major law firms. Perez said working with 200 employees, including 94 attorneys, was the best post he has ever had.
"Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who was U.S. attorney for New Jersey, told me earlier this year it was the best job he ever had," Perez said. "Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said it was the best job he had."
Orlando business lawyer Marcos Marchena, chairman of the Middle District Conference committee that will screen candidates, said it is expected to submit at least three names to Florida's Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez for review with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. The senators will submit a candidate's name to the White House for consideration, and the nominee will be sent to the Senate for confirmation.
Screening committee members decided to postpone the May 3 deadline because they received only one application, Marchena said. He noted that only a half-dozen lawyers applied for a similar vacancy in Miami two years ago.
Since the application process was reopened, Marchena said, he has received inquiries from interested parties.
He admits political issues in Washington might complicate the process, but he is confident qualified candidates to oversee criminal and civil cases locally for the federal government will be found. Marchena also said some U.S. attorneys have been retained by successor administrations.
"It's an important position and crucial position for our society," Marchena said.
Perez said he urged the department to name his former No. 2, Jim Klindt, as the acting U.S. attorney because of the short amount of time before the election.
"When there's 18 months left," Perez said, "maybe more attention should be paid to continuity and less disruption caused by a new person coming in." "
"Ameriquest Faces Lawsuit by Borrowers
by Chris Arnold
May 30, 2007 · Ameriquest was a high-flying sub-prime lender during the housing boom, and was accused of predatory lending by state prosecutors. The company now faces a class-action lawsuit from borrowers.
Chris Arnold talks to people who lost their homes after getting Ameriquest loans and to former employees who describe the hyper-aggressive sales practices.
As the nationwide real-estate boom of recent years goes bust, economists and regulators are questioning the role that mortgage lenders played in helping to create an overheated housing environment. Here, an overview of what happened:
A Rush of New Buyers
In the early 2000s, the economy was healthy, interest rates were low and consumers felt a bit flush – all of which helped push real-estate values up across the country. With values escalating, lenders felt more confident about making mortgages to customers whose poor credit histories had prevented them from buying homes in the past. (When values are rising, borrowers are less likely to default, because they can take money out of their homes if they run into trouble.)
That put more potential homebuyers in the market, helping to raise home-ownership rates to a record 69 percent in 2004 – which pushed housing prices up more. Skyrocketing prices (double-digit growth year over year was common in some areas) lured real-estate speculators, creating even more demand — and driving the cycle further.
Risky Loans Proliferated
To attract this growing pool of borrowers, lenders repurposed "creative financing" products that had previously been marketed to high-income borrowers seeking flexibility with their money. Among the most popular were variations on the adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM.
ARMs are loans whose interest rates adjust up or down periodically. The initial rate is typically fixed for a period of two or three years. The benefit is that the starter rates are lower for ARMs than for traditional, fixed-rate mortgages. That means lower monthly payments, making homeownership more affordable and allowing borrowers to qualify for a bigger loan.
Some of the creative ARM products that flourished of late included interest-only and payment-option loans. With the former, a borrower only pays the interest on the loan — not the principal balance — during the introductory period. With payment-option ARMs, borrowers get to choose how much they pay each month: enough to cover the interest plus the principal, the interest only... or less than the interest. In that last scenario, the unpaid interest is tacked on to the principal, leaving borrowers owing more than the amount of the original loan.
How prevalent were these loans? Nearly 23 percent of all mortgages taken out in 2005 were interest-only ARMs, and more than 8 percent were payment-option ARMs, according to First American LoanPerformance. In certain once-sizzling markets, the numbers were much higher: For example, 34 percent of all new mortgages in California in 2005 were interest-only.
These products made sense to borrowers who thought they'd live in their homes for a few years, then sell at a profit or refinance. But now that housing sales have stalled and prices are softening, borrowers can't do either very easily.
And many borrowers are facing painful payment hikes: According to a First American CoreLogic study, one-third of ARMs taken out between 2004 and 2006 began with "teaser" rates below 4 percent. Payments on these loans will double on average – if they haven't already done so, says study author Dr. Christopher Cagan.
Growth in Subprime Lending
And then there were the loans to borrowers with poor credit. Subprime loans expanded to 20 percent of the mortgage market in 2006, from 9 percent a decade earlier. These loans carry higher interest rates to compensate for the risk posed by borrowers. They can be traditional fixed-rate loans, but most are ARMs, according to Susan Wachter of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
Recent subprime loans were rife with risky terms — interest-only payment options, penalties for paying off the loan early (which makes it costly to refinance into a better loan), and low documentation requirements, meaning borrowers needed little paperwork to verify that they could, in fact, afford the loans. (These so-called "liar loans" accounted for about 58 percent of all loans in 2006, according to First American LoanPerformance).
Kathleen Keest of the Center for Responsible Lending says the pairing of these new loan types and new pool of borrowers was dangerous.
"They took the riskiest of products and sold them to the weakest borrowers to compound risk," Keest says.
In the old days, most homeowners obtained mortgages from their local bank or credit union, which adhered to strict lending rules. Nowadays, the lion's share of homebuyers' business (70 percent) goes to independent mortgage brokers — some of whom get bonuses for steering borrowers to higher-interest loans.
Experts say many recent borrowers were put into ARMs that are likely to cost far more over the life of the loan than if they'd chosen a fixed-rate option. Often, consumers could have locked in fixed-rate loans at low interest rates, but lenders downplayed the advantages of these loans.
Experts also cite numerous cases where borrowers say they didn't understand the loan structure — and the escalating payments; in many cases, they couldn't really afford them. Jennie Haliburton, a 77-year-old widow in Philadelphia, told NPR she refinanced into a subprime ARM that now costs her $300 more than the $800 she was originally told she'd pay. Her loan resets in May 2008. If the current interest rate holds, the monthly payments will grow to $1,218; depending on rates, they could eventually reach almost $1,700 — 95 percent of her Social Security income.
New loan products allowed more Americans to own their own homes than ever before. But regulators exercised little oversight over the booming mortgage market. The Federal Reserve and four other federal regulators did not issue guidance for nontraditional mortgages until last year. They recommended that lending institutions consider the borrowers' ability to make payments over the life of the loan before underwriting, and that they improve disclosure to consumers.
Yet many, including Federal Reserve executive Roger T. Cole, say it was too little, too late. "Given what we know now, yes, we could have done more, sooner," Cole told Congress in March.
But the loans are already out there; all that's left is to wait for the fallout. According to First American CoreLogic, this year and next, about $260 billion in prime ARMs and $376 billion in subprime ARMs will begin to reset.
So What Now?
Several lenders are taking steps to curtail the rising tide of foreclosures. Washington Mutual plans to refinance up to $2 billion in subprime loans at below-market rates. Citigroup and Bank of America are working with an advocacy group to similarly target $1 billion in subprime mortgages, focusing on cities with high foreclosure rates. Freddie Mac is fueling the market with a commitment to buy up to $20 billion in subprime loans, and Ohio is floating a $100 million bond issue to help troubled homeowners.
The new environment may also drive new solutions. Lenders now face falling home prices, large loan portfolios with no money down, and a home-foreclosure process that may cost them tens of thousands of dollars. Renegotiating loans -– lowering the interest rate or extending the payment period –- may be more attractive than foreclosing."
Monday, May 28, 2007
The coalition, which continues to broaden and deepen its membership, brings together key sectors
of the economy—from energy, transportation, agriculture and technology to telecommunications,
infrastructure and financial services—with environmental and conservation leaders.
This diverse group of businesses and environmental organizations stands together in calling for
the federal government to take immediate action to enact mandatory national legislation to
achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
“GM is very pleased to join USCAP to proactively address the concerns posed by climate change
and applauds its members for recognizing the important role that technology can play in
achieving an economy-wide solution,” said Rick Wagoner, chairman and CEO of General
Motors. “A central element as we see it is energy diversity – being able to offer consumers
vehicles that can be powered by many different energy sources and advanced propulsion systems
to help displace petroleum and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
With its new members, USCAP companies now have total revenues of $1.7 trillion, a collective
workforce of more than 2 million and operations in all 50 states; they also have a combined
market capitalization of more than $1.9 trillion. (Market capitalization, or market cap, is derived
from a company’s current stock price per share times the total number of shares outstanding.)
The non-governmental organizations have more than two million members worldwide, and
represent America’s environmental interests and its conservation traditions. The Nature
Conservancy, known for its nonpartisan, science-based approach to policy issues, believes the
climate crisis must be urgently addressed.
“Climate change will be the biggest threat by far to our mission of protecting nature and to the
many investments in lands and waters we have made over the past 60 years,” said Steve
McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “One of The Nature Conservancy’s
goals is to ensure that the important role intact forests and other ecosystems play in mitigating
climate change is recognized as a vital part of any policy framework developed to address this
In January, USCAP issued a landmark set of principles and recommendations to underscore the
urgent need for a policy framework on climate change. The solutions-based report, titled A Call
for Action, laid out a blueprint for a mandatory economy-wide, market-driven approach to climate
USCAP’s recommendations are based on the following six principles:
• Account for the global dimensions of climate change;
• Recognize the importance of technology;
• Be environmentally effective;
• Create economic opportunity and advantage;
• Be fair to sectors disproportionately impacted; and,
• Recognize and encourage early action.
These principles and recommendations are the result of a shared goal of slowing, stopping and
reversing the growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the shortest period of time
reasonably achievable. Top executives from USCAP companies have driven this effort, and new
members were chosen carefully to preserve a high-level consensus approach.
The non-partisan USCAP urges policy makers to enact a policy framework for mandatory
reductions of GHG emissions from major emitting sectors, including large stationary sources and
transportation, and energy use in commercial and residential buildings. The cornerstone of this
approach would be a cap-and-trade program. The environmental goal is to reduce global
atmospheric GHG concentrations to a level that minimizes large-scale adverse impacts to humans
and the natural environment. The group recommends Congress provide leadership and establish
short- and mid-term emission reduction targets; a national program to accelerate technology
research, development and deployment; and approaches to encourage action by other countries,
including those in the developing world, as ultimately the solution must be global.
The founding members of USCAP include Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy,
DuPont, FPL Group, Inc., General Electric, PG&E, and PNM Resources, along with four leading
non-governmental organizations – Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council,
Pew Center on Global Climate Change and World Resources Institute."
Sunday, May 27, 2007
"Crist chops millions, halts hike in tuition; Gov. Charlie Crist signed a $71.5 billion budget into law after slashing a record $459 million in spending. FLORIDA BUDGET
Source: The Miami Herald 05/25/2007
If the hundreds of millions in pet projects state lawmakers tucked into the budget were a test of how far they could push the new governor, the response was sharp Thursday: Not far.
Gov. Charlie Crist, striking back at legislators who refused to pay for many of his top priorities, axed a record $459 million from the state budget, which takes effect July 1.
Most significantly, he rejected a 5 percent tuition increase at state universities and community colleges, provoking the state's top education official to threaten a challenge.
''Honoring the fact that the people across the state are pinching their pennies, so are we,'' Crist said, noting what he called the ''crushing'' effects of property insurance, property taxes and gas prices on citizens and the economy. ``We're asking local governments to tighten their belts, too. We are tightening ours. We can do no less.''
The vetoes caught some lawmakers off guard. Nevertheless, legislative leaders said they will not buck the governor's decisions on the $71.5 billion budget.
In a short statement, Senate President Ken Pruitt said the work on the budget was now done and that he had ''no intention'' of supporting any effort to override Crist's vetoes.
There are questions over whether Crist overstepped his authority when he nixed the tuition hike for community colleges and universities, including Broward Community College, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University.
State University System Chancellor Mark Rosenberg said universities need the money to hire faculty and keep up with enrollment growth and predicted the governor's veto ``in all likelihood will be challenged.''
Florida's Board of Governors, the panel that oversees state universities, may consider a legal challenge at its June meeting.
''We thought [the tuition increase] was a very modest initiative by the Legislature to help us close the gap in funding to keep our doors open,'' said Rosenberg.
Crist, however, said it was the wrong time to hit families with a tuition hike.
He also said that a separate bill that authorizes higher tuition at the University of Florida, Florida State University and University of South Florida was ''doomed'' and that he will veto it as well.
''I feel for our students and I feel for their families,'' Crist said. ``They are paying higher insurance rates. They are paying higher property taxes. They are paying higher gas prices. I don't think it's right to make them pay higher tuition, too.''
Crist's vetoes cover every aspect of state government, from road projects to reading programs, to school construction, to programs that help minorities, seniors, the disabled and children. At least $24 million was cut from Miami-Dade -- which did get to keep tens of millions in the budget. Broward lost $13.9 million; Monroe $250,000.
Among the items cut: $1.3 million for streetscape improvements for Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale; $840,000 for Exponica International, a three-day Latin America cultural and trade festival in Miami, and $900,000 for a gospel music museum planned in Broward.
''I don't think there's any ink left in his veto pen,'' said Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and House minority leader. ``This was his chance to be a fiscal conservative.''
Crist said many of the projects he killed were ''meritorious'' but that some were more appropriately funded by local governments or private charities. The governor also vetoed projects viewed as likely to benefit a single private vendor, a rationale used to cut millions that legislators set aside for pilot reading programs.
Crist did give some leeway to items sought by top legislative leaders such as Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Crist left intact $20 million for Jackson Memorial Hospital that was a top priority for Rubio and did not touch more than $40 million to help Florida Atlantic University take over the troubled Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.
''They are leaders in the legislative branch, and they don't ask for things unless they think they are very, very important,'' Crist said. ``I tried to honor that.''
Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story. "
TEHRAN, May 25, 2007 (AFP) -
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday that Iran will continue developing its nuclear programme to the limit as threats loom of yet more UN sanctions against the country. "Iran's nuclear technology is being developed each day and will reach the farthest possible limit," the president said in a speech in Isfahan province reported by state news agency IRNA.
"The great powers are using every means to prevent Iran's progress, but the Iranian people, with strength and resistance, will brush aside the obstacles placed along the way by those powers and will continue their path to the summit of progress."
He was speaking as the United States was urging its European allies, Russia, and China to toughen sanctions on Iran for its defiance of UN demands to rein in its suspect nuclear programme.
"We need to strengthen our sanction regime," President George W. Bush said on Thursday a day after UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tehran had accelerated its uranium enrichment efforts, which can be a key step in atomic bomb-making.
Ahmadinejad said in response that the "great powers should renounce their crude methods against Iran, such as adopting sanctions, and should apologise to the people of Iran."
He repeated his oft-stated insistence that Tehran will not budge one iota from its efforts to develop nuclear power, something it claims the right to do under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it signed.
Iran insists that its programme is aimed solely at developing nuclear energy for its growing population, but Washington and its allies are convinced Tehran is using the programme as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.
In a jab at the United States for boosting its naval presence in the Gulf, Ahmadinejad said "if your missiles, aircraft carriers and bombers could do anything they would have helped you get out of the quagmire of Iraq."
The carriers USS John Stennis and USS Nimitz sailed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf this week along with a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ships carrying an estimated 2,200 marines.
The US Navy said the Gulf exercises were not directed at Iran, but Mustafa Alani, senior analyst with the UAE-based Gulf Research Centre, said it was no coincidence that the powerful flotilla arrived on the day of the UN report.
"The aim of this step, which coincides entirely with the end of the UN deadline (to suspend uranium enrichment), is to send a clear message to Iran that a military option is available to Washington," Alani said.
Ahmadinejad also accused the United States and its allies of having gone into Iraq four years ago as part of a strategy to encircle Iran, and said "they now need the help of the Iranian people to be rescued."
His comments also come as US and Iranian diplomats prepared for historic talks on Iraqi security in Baghdad on Monday.
Both sides have said their discussions will focus strictly on Iraq, and will not touch on other issues such as Iran's nuclear programme.
Iran believes that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is a prerequisite if security is to be restored to its war-ravaged neighbour.
The United States charges Iran with fomenting the violence through its support for extremist groups, mainly Shiite. "
Source: Orlando Sentinel 05/25/2007
The plan to spend $1.1 billion to build sports and arts venues in downtown Orlando ranked dead last in a poll of community priorities, according to a survey conducted by business leaders who are among the biggest boosters of the projects.
The survey of 500 Central Florida voters showed they were far more interested in reducing crime, improving schools and protecting the environment. At least two-thirds of those polled ranked these as high community concerns.
Only 14 percent ranked "building world-class performing arts, sports and entertainment venues" a high priority. That was last among 16 issues surveyed, right below improving business and government relations, which 26 percent rated a "high" priority.
The survey, obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, was paid for by the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce but not released to the public.
The chamber, which includes the area's top business leaders, has been a pivotal booster of the three-venue package, which includes a new arena, performing-arts center and major Citrus Bowl upgrades. The chamber also was an architect of Project Hometown, a lobbying group that paid for radio and TV ads pushing the venues.
"It doesn't surprise me," said County Commissioner Teresa Jacobs. "It's certainly lower [venue support] than what we've been hearing from those who are advocating for them."
Chamber President Jacob Stuart said the March survey was part of a periodic polling effort business leaders use to forge policy strategies. Such results are rarely publicized, he said.
`Not a venues survey'
Stuart said the results should not be used to gauge specific support for the pending plan to build the downtown venues.
"This is not a venues survey," Stuart said.
Stuart said the fact that it's a regional poll mined from across seven Central Florida counties may confuse some respondents who thought the facilities it referred to are in their home county. Also, no project details were shared during the poll, and more venue financing features have emerged since the March 8-11 survey was conducted, he said.
David Hill of Hill Research Consultants conducted the poll. Hill said that while only 150 Orange County voters were among the 500 surveyed, their feelings mirrored sentiments of the region as a whole. Still, that pool is too small to gauge how Orange voters feel about the venues, he said.
"It would be inappropriate to say this was a poll on the venues," Hill said.
Also, Hill said that while just 14 percent rated building the venues as a high priority, only 33 percent of respondents rated the venues as a low priority, leaving 51 percent rating it as somewhere in between. "It's more of a [glass] half full or half empty thing."
On the wrong path?
Stuart said the real gist of the survey is that voters feel the community is on the wrong path. A year before, 58 percent of those answering a similar poll said the region was headed in the right direction. This latest survey saw that number dip to 42 percent, while those saying the community was on the wrong track climbed 13 percentage points to 40 percent.
"Recent prosperity has camouflaged genuine concerns in our community," Stuart said, calling it a regional "malaise."
Stuart said more recent venue-specific polls are more instructive, and reveal public support for the plan.
Yet previous public polls have carried mixed messages.
An April poll commissioned by the Sentinel found that most Orange County residents want a new performing-arts center and upgraded Florida Citrus Bowl, but say the Orlando Magic should pay a bigger share of a new arena.
When the venues are packaged together, 48 percent of Orange residents support building them, with 40 percent opposed and 12 percent undecided. The survey of 500 adults was conducted by the Mason-Dixon Polling & Research firm.
But support for both the Citrus Bowl and the arena erodes when they stand alone, that poll found. It also showed that as financing details were shared, support for the entire venue package dropped.
Magic officials said the Sentinel poll failed to reflect the team's true contribution.
A poll commissioned by the Magic found that the organization's contribution to the cost of a new arena is fair.
Nearly two out of three surveyed by the Magic's consultant -- once told details of the contribution and how it compares with other NBA teams -- say the team's offer is "fair" or "generous and more than fair."
But that survey, released soon after the Sentinel poll, failed to note public costs of the venue.
Those issues have become more critical since county commissioners, who control the tourist taxes that would pay for much of the venue plan, now question whether the team is contributing enough.
City and county leaders will consider a final venue financing plan this summer. They are waiting on state lawmakers to conduct a special legislative session on property taxes next month, which could hamper the venue's public financing.
Stuart said he did not share the results with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer or Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, the two main elected proponents of the plan. And the venue results that emerged did not prompt him to rethink his support for the public-private venue effort.
"Did it give me pause?" Stuart said. "Absolutely not." "
Thursday, May 24, 2007
I’d like to briefly discuss this petition with you. Many folk view Moveon Org as a far left liberal organization. I have no opinion nor will I argue with this viewpoint. What I am aware of is this pressing issue. The price of gasoline has not reached a plateau. It continues to rise. The public constantly is being sold contradictory reasons for the rise in gas prices.
I did my own research. Here is the FACT. I have found the root cause of this problem is a result of arbitrary costs levied by Big Oil that has raised your price at the pump. The break down looks like this Taxes = 15%, Corporate Operations = 9%, Refining =24%, Crude Oil = 52%. Analysis: Big Oil controls 85% of the cost you pay.
Let me define what I mean by “arbitrary”. Big Oil determines the price of gas by pulling it from their ass.
Please sign this petition. Thank You.
Enough is enough! A bill in the House would make gasoline price gouging a federal crime, and it could pass this week! Can you help be sure it does?
"Source: Newsweek 05/23/2007
Jerry falwell loved his jet. in 1980, it was no small thing for a preacher to have one, even if he was a preacher with a TV show, "The Old Time Gospel Hour." The plane was a Lear, he told me as we climbed aboard on a September day in that crucial year, "specially reconfigured by an Israeli company." He saw this as providential--as if the jet had been anointed by the engine oil of the Holy Land. And it was dart-quick. His congregation, Thomas Road Baptist, was locked away in the Blue Ridge town of Lynchburg, Va. With the plane, he could roam the Bible belt, from Okeechobee to Oklahoma. This trip, the destination was Alabama.
We lifted off with a prayer in the name of Jesus, but the flight wasn't aimed at saving souls. It was about electing Ronald Reagan. With the advice and financial backing of national conservative and GOP activists, Falwell had launched a group he had the chutzpah to call the Moral Majority. The goal was to use the then-new tactics of "independent" grassroots organizing to draw evangelical and fundamentalist Christians--for decades, reluctant participants in politics--into a Republican crusade.
When we got to Birmingham, I saw what he was up to. He filled the old Boutwell Auditorium with thousands of "Gospel Hour" fans for a rally called "God Save America Again!" It was like a revival meeting--co-written by George Orwell and staged by Lynyrd Skynyrd. With lights dimmed and ominous music echoing in the hall, the stage was framed by giant photos of America's enemies (back then, the Soviet Union). In the spotlight, Falwell warned that Armageddon was at hand, unless God-fearing voters ousted Jimmy Carter (a born-again Christian himself, but never mind) and the rest of the Democrats. Hope lay in only one place: with Reagan and his GOP disciples. When the lights came up, there they were, standing and waving in the audience: not the Gipper himself, but a lineup of Alabama Republican candidates.
The rest, as they say, is history. If you had to reduce American politics of the last three decades to a headline, this is it: conservative christians enter public life and form the core of a new republican party. The edifice is cracking now, stressed by George W. Bush's failures, by disappointments with and second thoughts about playing in Caesar's game. Still, the political migration of millions--evangelicals, fundamentalists and charismatic Protestants, as well as "right to life" Roman Catholics for whom abortion is the central issue--is the biggest electoral story of our time. Falwell did not create this movement, and was never its most pivotal inside player--only its first and most visible. Wooed early and shrewdly by the late Lee Atwater, Falwell became the unofficial guardian of the Bush family's religious-right flank. A procession of would-be Bush successors, including John McCain, an erstwhile enemy, were eager to link arms with him for '08. His clout had faded, but not disappeared.
What he did for--and to--America is harder to figure. He believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, and carried that absolutist attitude into politics, which could be a dangerous and divisive thing. Gays had invited the 9/11 attack by turning our country into a Sodom and Gomorrah; the antichrist was on his way--and was a Jew. Falwell could be a bully, lacking in Christian charity.
Yet there was a benign side, too, and a worthy one. There was never an ounce of scandal in his personal life. His large congregation was devoted; Wednesday-night sermons, full of complex diagrams about events in end-times, drew thousands. A college dropout from the rougher side of the Lynchburg tracks, he doted on Liberty University, a school he founded in 1971 with the aim of making it "Notre Dame of the evangelicals." He told me not long ago that he was very proud of the science programs there. "We have kids accepted to graduate school at Harvard all the time," he said. He could be a demagogue, but he was as much a P.T. Barnum as anything else.
I ran into him not long ago in Union Station in Washington. He had no entourage, no jet. His always-florid face was fuller than ever. He had come up on the train from Lynchburg, and was having lunch before making the D.C. rounds. Falwell remained in demand as a talking head, eager to mix it up with the heathens in a city he had helped to transform. It was a long journey from Birmingham. Now Falwell is in a Better Place. I'm not sure that's true of the country. "
"Source: BusinessWeek Online 05/23/2007
Since U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson began talks with Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi and much of the rest of the Beijing Cabinet in Washington Tuesday morning, there has been a notable lack of hard news from the front lines. Sure, there were the obligatory opening speeches, with Paulson warning that Americans are an impatient bunch and will want to see some real progress, and Wu responding that the negotiations should be carried out calmly. Then the doors were shut, and the real work started.
The news blackout, though, has hardly stopped the chatter online, since almost everyone in the U.S. has a stake in the outcome of the talks. The U.S., of course, hopes to achieve what it considers a leveling of the economic playing field, while China aims to avoid making significant changes in its policy, but risks further rankling Congress.
Just about every American company has skin in the game. Microsoft (MSFT) wants to see China crack down on counterfeit software, and studios such as Sony (SNE) and Disney (DIS) are seeking a clampdown on movie piracy. And while many small manufacturers would like to see China's currency strengthen, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and Home Depot (HD) are more likely to benefit from a continued weak yuan since they import so many products from China. With so much on the line, the U.S.-China trade relationship is always sure to get the bloggers hot under the collar.
China's Upper Hand
At Tokatakiya, a layman-friendly assortment of politically themed posts, blogger "Robb" expresses mixed feelings about the talks. In Robb's estimation, "'the growth of the Chinese economy is a good thing, if you care about poverty." However, he recognizes the great loss China's economic growth represents to U.S. trade interests. In an engaging commentary, Robb gave advice to American officials to remember that "No matter what comes out of these trade talks' everything China does, it does for China--I'm not judging that as being right or wrong, it's just a fact."
All Roads Lead to China, an all-things-China market blog, is at once hopeful and skeptical about the talks. All Roads sees China as having a distinct advantage over the U.S. both in terms of its current position in the trade relationship and its chances for maintaining that position. The blog also offers advice and admonitions for both Chinese and American officials: "For the U.S. team, it is going to be imperative to find common ground quickly'. For the Chinese side'they will need to take some of their own medicine and take the long view on the relationship."
An Opening for Candidates
The finance-oriented BloggingBuyouts takes a wider view of the U.S.-China relationship, connecting the trade talks with China's recent investment in the Blackstone Group 5/21/07, "China's $3 Billion Bet on Blackstone"] as well as the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections.
The blog contends that "China's $3 billion investment in The Blackstone Group is bound to cause ripples across the crowded field of Presidential contenders." While the post doesn't delve too deeply into the notion, blogger Jonathan Berr notes that given the unpopularity of both China and hedge funds these days, "combining these two political bogeymen creates a target that's too good for any Presidential candidate to pass up."
At The Huffington Post, union leader Scott Paul views the talks not so much as an opportunity for negotiation, but as one of many steps the U.S. must take to compel China to abide by international trade laws. Paul cites a litany of China's illegal trade practices: "subsidies, dumping, currency manipulation, violation of labor rights, and lax or nonexistent environmental enforcement."
Paul points out what he calls an "artificial" divide between Americans who are pro-China and Americans who are anti-China. That division is obsolete in the face of "cold, hard facts" indicating that China's trade practices are not only hurting the U.S., but are also illegal. Until Washington enforces the rules that would protect its citizens, Paul claims, the U.S. economy will continue to suffer. "
“The Rev. David Wynn is off Saturday and Monday, so he will spend the day with his wife Wren and their son Seth, who has eight teeth, one for every month of his life to date, and is just learning how to risk all of them in thrilling freefall flights from the sofa."He's an adventurer," says Wynn. "He'll do anything to get where he wants to go."The same can be said of Seth's father, who spent his own boyhood in a girl's body, a situation at least as confusing to Wynn back then as it is to others now.There are times with Seth, at Bray Park or Sam's Club or anywhere Bradenton dads go, when the furthest thing from David Wynn's mind is the years of therapy, hormones, surgery and the slow, painful confrontation with self that brought him to here.At work, though, as associate pastor of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church in Sarasota, his "journey," as he calls it, is almost always in his thoughts. Ministering to transgendered men and women and those who love them constitutes his special mission, he says. "My calling."It is not his sole focus. Much of Wynn's job involves providing backup to pastor Mona West at Sunday's two services for MCC's congregation of 320, mostly gay men and lesbians, and a handful of transgendered men and women.He organizes the readings for each week -- one each from the Gospel, the Hebrew bible, the Psalms and St. Paul's letters -- and schedules the 75 ushers, lectors, deacons and choristers who, he says, "make Sundays happen around here."Wynn also supervises educational programs and outreach for the church, one of 300 MCC congregations around the world, and plays a senior role in programs such as Trinity's campaign to raise the $3 million needed to build the striking church complex Carl Abbot has designed for them.But it is Wynn who fields calls from people inquiring about transgender issues, as they have with more and more frequency lately, following last week's Newsweek cover story -- "The Mystery of Gender" -- and the various incidents around the country that prompted it, including the back-to-back coming out of a transgender sports writer for the Los Angeles Times and the city manager of a Florida town.The "Susan Stanton factor," the firing of Steve Stanton in Largo and Susan Stanton's current candidacy for the job of city manager in Sarasota, has caused Pastor Wynn to identify himself as transgendered in a more public fashion than he had planned when he came here from his native Texas a year ago."There comes a point where you really want to move out of the place where everybody knew you as ... ," he says, a wave of his hand filling in for the female name he was given at birth.He had been a public high school teacher in several Texas cities, attended college there, and then Perkins Theological Seminary at Southern Methodist University, all as a woman. He had been involved in a 10-year relationship with a woman whose child he helped parent, and the couple became widely known as David's pastoral assignments changed.In Sarasota, he hoped, "Who I was" would have no relevance beyond Trinity's 20-acre campus.But that, as he says, "just wasn't in the cards."'I shut down completely'"Like most transgendered people," says Wynn, "I knew very early, five or so, that there was a difference between how the world saw me and how I saw myself."I knew I was a boy, but nobody else seemed to get it, and somehow I knew even at that age that this was just wrong. So I did what you do, I shut down completely, closed off that knowledge and gradually it just went away."He will not reveal the female name with which he was born, and he will not talk about his surgeries, but Wynn is otherwise candid about both of his lives."My father tends to be this Clint Eastwood man's-man type and my mother is Scarlett O'Hara, very girly, with very strong ideas about how Southern womanhood is supposed to behave. I was always a tomboy, so there was a lot of turmoil there."I was trying to figure all this out in Texas, in the the 1980s, when there weren't any Dateline/20-20 specials going on, no 'Will and Grace' or 'Ellen.'"So I thought, well, I am royally screwed. How do I manage to pull out of this mess that I'm in some chance at any kind of happiness?"Then I thought, well, 'OK, I can do the lesbian thing.' I didn't feel like a lesbian -- I was a boy who was attracted to girls -- but it was as close to a normal life as I was going to have."What strikes most people about David Wynn today is how "normal" he appears.From encroaching male-pattern baldness -- "hormones," he says -- to the tin of Skoal on his desk ("a nasty habit," recently resumed) to the collection of miniature cars and trucks that pop up here and there on his office bookshelves, the Rev. Wynn is very much David.His unequivocal maleness has taken even some of his parishioners a while to get used to."I think some people here were expecting that I would be a gay man, and I'm not, never have been. I'm married to a woman; we have a child. That puts me outside the experience of many people" among his congregation."Gay and lesbian people wrestle with the transgender thing the same as everybody else does, which is: 'It's just odd. I think it's strange and I don't get it and it makes me uncomfortable.'"Even resentful. To some within the gay community, "We muddy the waters," says Wynn. "I mean, 'Here we are trying to fit in and be ordinary and these people are making us extraordinary.' I can understand that."Within any religious community, he says, "you are always going to have people ready to ask you, 'Well God created you in that body and God doesn't make mistakes and how could you be changing his work? It's not natural.'"And so, Wynn says, this has become his work: Explaining the world as it looks to someone who has lived on both sides of the gender divide."I believe that God created me to experience the world in just the way I have, in a transgender body, female first and now male."In sharing what I know from my experience, I'm doing what I am supposed to do."Pursuit of destinyAltar clothes and clergy robes at Trinity MCC will change to red from their Easter white this Sunday, marking the start of Pentecost, which Christian tradition identifies as the start of an organized Christ-based religion.On Pentecost, according to the New Testament, the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles and sent them out into the world to preach the word of God, giving them divine fluency in all languages so they would be understood by everyone with whom they spoke.It is "spirit," David Wynn says, that guides humans to pursue their individual destinies.He refers often to the impact of "spirit" on his own life, for spirit, he believes, is what got him through the difficult time of his transition from female to male five years ago."I was in a long-term relationship with a woman and all of a sudden it stopped being satisfying to me. It felt wrong. Everything felt wrong."I never thought I was crazy. But it's a situation that can make you crazy, feeling, as I did, that you are this freak of nature."Deeply depressed, David's female-bodied predecessor entered therapy for the first time, and for the first time as an adult "put words to that thing I had known as a child."Gradually, "I came to understand that for me to exist soulfully, to be fully present in my life, to live in the way that I felt like I was here to live, then this is what I had to do."Suddenly, and to his shock, he says, he was a teenager again at 37.With the combination of natural exhilaration and artificial hormones -- "Wow," Wynn says, "you never know how powerful those things are until you take them" -- transgendered men and women typically go through a kind of second adolescence."The pendulum kind of has to take a big swing the other way at first," says Wynn, who says he went through a period of "hyper-masculinity" that gradually abated.Nearly five years later now, he has settled comfortably into his new life.As difficult as the transgender journey is for those who undertake it, he says, it may be the rest of society that has the bigger adjustment to make."Don't forget, I'm the person I always knew I was. It's the form you take to move through the world that changes."On Wednesday, Wynn will moderate the first of a series of workshops at the church on "Creating a Life that Matters," and one of the subjects for discussion is how to "recognize your essence, and embrace what it is that drives you, your passion."It is a subject, he says, "that I know a little bit about."
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
A day after Orlando backed a $1.1 billion downtown venue package, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on Tuesday reshuffled some of his top political posts.
Chief of Staff Cheryl Henry, a chief architect of the financing plan to build a new arena and performing-arts center and upgrade the Citrus Bowl, will step down June 1 to take a corporate lobbyist post with Ruth's Chris Steak House Inc.
Former top city staffer Joe Robinson will replace Henry, serving again as one of the mayor's key lieutenants. As before, Robinson will spearhead Orlando anti-crime efforts. Former press chief Brie Turek will step into the deputy chief of staff slot, an open position.
Dyer said in a statement that Henry, 33, was pivotal to his team, especially in pushing the venues. But the mayor does not see her departure as hindering a final effort to secure political support for the complex venue financing, Turek said.
While City Council members voted nearly unanimously Monday to approve a series of deals for the proposed facilities, a final financing agreement must still be approved by city and Orange County leaders this summer. When interest on loans is paid off over 30 years in the proposed venue deal, the final cost could top $1.8 billion.
Another wrench in the plans could come from state lawmakers, who are considering property-tax overhauls in a special session next month.
Now Robinson, 48, and Turek, 26, will help secure Dyer's final venue deal. Robinson retired as an Orlando police captain and Dyer's deputy chief of staff in January 2006. He then went to work as chief of staff for Orlando venture capitalist Frank L. Amodeo and his AQMI Strategy Corp.
The company provided consulting services to a 70-company equity firm Amodeo helped found and fund, Mirabilis Ventures Inc. In May 2006, Robinson and fellow AQMI contractor Kevin Billings of Maitland were among several men detained by authorities for nine days in the west African country of the Congo, where they were sent by Amodeo to provide security and political consulting services to a presidential candidate.
Earlier this year, Mirabilis laid off more than 100 workers and shut down numerous affiliated companies. In March, the Orlando Sentinel disclosed that Mirabilis Ventures was under investigation by a federal grand jury in Orlando and that prosecutors had issued more than 100 subpoenas for witnesses and records involving several payroll and human-resource outsourcing businesses controlled or affiliated with Mirabilis, Amodeo or Amodeo-controlled companies.
During the past few months, several top associates of Amodeo's left the company, including Robinson. Dyer's new chief of staff said, "there's no connection with me at all" to the companies in the federal probe. "
There is a reason the public office Alberto Gonzalez holds is called the Department of Justice. When a sitting Attorney General testifies to Congress using phrases indicative of a criminal such as "I don't recall" as Gonzalez did it is clearly time for the President to fire his Justice Secretary.
"Bush defends Gonzales, calls plans for no-confidence vote 'political theater'
Source: Associated Press Newswires 05/21/2007
CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) - President Bush insisted on Monday that embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales still has his support and denounced Democratic plans for a no-confidence vote as "pure political theater."
"He has done nothing wrong," Bush said in an impassioned defense of his longtime friend and adviser during a news conference at his Texas ranch.
Despite Bush's comments, support for Gonzales is eroding, even in the president's own party. The Senate is prepared to hold a no-confidence vote, possibly by week's end, and five Republican senators have joined many Democrats in calling for Gonzales' resignation.
The attorney general is under investigation by Congress in last year's firing of eight federal prosecutors.
The president told the Democrats to get back to more pressing matters.
"I stand by Al Gonzales, and I would hope that people would be more sober in how they address these important issues," Bush said. "And they ought to get the job done of passing legislation, as opposed to figuring out how to be actors on the political theater stage."
Still, Bush did not directly answer a question about whether he intended to keep Gonzales in office through the end of his presidency regardless of what the Senate does.
Gonzales does not necessarily need Congress' support to continue serving. But Bush and Gonzales are under increasing pressure as more lawmakers demand the attorney general's departure.
Democrats pressed ahead with plans to put the Senate on record in expressing a lack of confidence in him.
"The president should understand that while he has confidence in Attorney General Gonzales, very few others do," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in response to Bush's comments. "Congress has a right -- and even an obligation to express its views when things are this serious."
Gonzales, who is headed to Europe this week, scrapped a meeting with his Swiss counterpart and shelved tentative plans for a tour and a meeting in Hungary. But the overall trip is still on, and he is to leave Tuesday.
His former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, is to testify Wednesday on Capitol Hill about her role in the firings of the U.S. attorneys.
Gonzales is at the center of congressional inquiries into the 2006 firings by the Justice Department. He has acknowledged the ousters were mishandled but has denied politically motivated interference and has resisted calls for his resignation.
Further eroding his support was the revelation that in 2004 -- as White House counsel -- Gonzales went to the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to pressure him to certify the legality of Bush's controversial warrantless eavesdropping program while Ashcroft lay in intensive care.
Ashcroft had reservations about the program's legality and refused, according to Senate testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
Bush was asked about Gonzales during a news conference on his ranch with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
"I frankly view what's taking place in Washington today as pure political theater," Bush said, sounding exasperated with the furor swirling around his longtime friend.
As for the attorney general's stops in Switzerland and Budapest, Hungary, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said they had never been set in stone. He said Gonzales would leave Tuesday for meetings in Munich that are a leadup to next month's gathering in Germany of leaders of eight major industrial democracies.
Roehrkasse said Gonzales had hoped to travel to the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest for a tour and a meeting that ultimately could not be scheduled. Similarly, Roehrkasse said Gonzales was too short on time to make it to Switzerland, and that no meeting there was ever confirmed.
Sascha Hardegger, a spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry, said Washington called off the meeting. "
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
For those of us that have forgotten the strength we once found in Jesus Christ. Never Give Up.
“They can see that you are a letter from Christ, written by us. It is not a letter written with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the Living God; not one carved on stone, but in human hearts.
We dare to say these good things about ourselves only because of our great trust in god through Christ, that he will help us to be true to what we say.” 2 Corinthians 3:3-4
Monday, May 21, 2007
"Gas prices: Worse than '81 oil shock
Gas now at highest level, even adjusted for inflation; AAA's reading of nearly $3.20 a gallon marks ninth straight record high in current dollars.
May 21 2007: 5:46 PM EDT
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Gasoline prices have soared to levels never seen before as even the inflation-adjusted price for a gallon of unleaded topped the 1981 record spike in price that had stood for 26 years.
The nation's retailers say soaring gas prices are prompting U.S. consumers to cut back on their purchases and shopping trips.
The Energy Information Administration's latest pump price, when adjusted for inflation, also reached a new peak. The EIA said Monday the average price for regular unleaded gasoline soared 11.5 cents over the past week to a fresh record of $3.22 a gallon, the all-time high fuel cost reached in March 1981.
The AAA survey now shows prices up 4 percent over the course of the last week, along with an increase of 11.8 percent over the last month.
The new date still follows the Iowa and Nevada caucuses, as well as the emphatically first-in-the nation primary in New Hampshire. But Florida's vote will now be held on the same date as the South Carolina primary.
With New York and California among the 12 states voting on Feb. 5, the new January date makes Florida by far the largest state with an early role in the presidential nominating process. It is possible more states may move their caucus or primary to Feb. 5.
Adam Smith, who covers politics for The Saint Petersburg Times, told NPR's Robert Siegel that the move is a way for Florida to assert itself in the general election.
"They see themselves as the biggest swing state in the country — a diverse state" Smith said, "and they want to have a lot of say in who the nominee of the respective parties is.""
Sunday, May 20, 2007
"MANATEE COUNTY - Florida Highway Patrol closed down northbound lanes of I-75 and State Road 70 near exit 217. A 5-acre wildfire burning close to the interstate darkened the road with heavy smoke and scattered debris. Due to limited visibility troopers closed the northbound lanes temporarily. Emergency crews were able to contain the fire quickly and re-open north bound lanes. The on and off ramps to exit 217 were closed for a while afterward but Manatee officials say they are now re-opened."
CAPITOL HILL (AP) - Democratic congressional leaders say the White House has rejected a stripped down spending bill for the war in Iraq.
In a meeting today with the president's top aides, Democrats said they would remove (b) billions in domestic spending from an emergency appropriations measure. They also pledged to give the president the right to waive compliance with a timetable on the war.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says it would be an "understatement" to say he's disappointed that no agreement came from the meeting.
Earlier this month, the president vetoed a bill that would have funded the war, because it also demanded that troops start coming home in October. "
Monday, May 14, 2007
"Source: Associated Press Newswires 05/13/2007
WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic-controlled Washington stepped in to help save Chrysler nearly 30 years ago when the automaker was on the verge of bankruptcy due to lackluster sales of its fuel-thirsty vehicles.
With the Big Three struggling again, many political leaders now are taking Detroit to task for failing to do more to reduce how much gas their vehicles use. The Democratic presidential candidates are pledging tougher gas mileage rules. Automakers say such changes would hurt an industry already down.
But the political climate is turning against the companies. Concern is increasing about global warming. Pump prices are high. People are worried about U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East.
"We're talking about saving the auto industry from itself," said Sen. Chris Dodd, who is proposing the highest increase of any presidential candidate.
Dodd, D-Conn., wants to double the average fuel economy for each automaker, from about 24 miles to per gallon today to 50 mpg by 2017.
"The industry just digs its heels in to fight any of these changes, but it's hard to maintain a very sympathetic ear when you realize that other (foreign) automakers are moving" in the direction of more fuel-efficient vehicles and "devouring market share in the country," Dodd said in a telephone interview. "Why aren't we doing this?"
Other Democratic candidates have talked about mileage increases, too:
--New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former energy secretary, also wants to reach 50 mpg, but his deadline would be three years later than Dodd's. Richardson plans to offer details of his proposal Thursday.
--Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards wants 40 mpg by 2016. He has urged his audiences to consider sacrificing their gas-guzzling vehicles for the good of the country. In a campaign line that he uses often and that wins applause, the 2004 vice presidential nominee says, "It's time for Americans to be patriotic about something other than war."
Dave McCurdy, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma who recently took over as president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said Obama's presentation was "great campaign speak."
Obama's proposal would require an increase in fuel economy standards of 4 percent each year. The government could stop the increases if it determined they were technologically unachievable, a threat to safety, or were not cost-effective. Environmentalists oppose that provision, saying it could derail progress.
"There are so many loopholes in it, you could drive a Humvee through it," Dodd said of Obama's plan. "If that's what we adopt, you will not get anywhere near the standards we are talking about. It's not going to happen, I promise you."
Obama's campaign says he is trying to reach a middle ground that will set aggressive goals while taking into an account factors that would reduce the rate of progress.
Edwards would have no exceptions to reaching the fleet-wide standard of 40 mpg, said his spokesman, Eric Schultz.
This past week, a Senate committee approved a plan that would raise the nationwide fleet fuel economy to an average of 35 mpg by 2020.
Auto executives have said they support an increase in government standards, as long it is determined by experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"I'm not prepared to name a certain number," McCain said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "I'm hopeful that the marketplace itself and the sale of hybrid cars -- the (Toyota) Prius, electric cars -- would address this issue in an effective fashion."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney opposes increasing the standards without taking other steps that include increased use of alternatives fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel and the development of hybrid technologies, said his campaign spokesman, Kevin Madden.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., has voted against increased standards in the past, but said the threat of U.S. dependence on foreign oil has him so concerned that he would consider changing his position. He said an increase couldn't be so steep that it would endanger the U.S. auto industry while it is at financial risk."
Saturday, May 12, 2007
CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday denounced the Rev. Al Sharpton's remarks about God and his Mormon faith, saying it could be construed as "a bigoted comment."
"It shows that bigotry still exists in some corners," said Romney, who spoke to reporters after a campaign event. "I thought it was a most unfortunate comment to make."
On Monday, Sharpton said in a debate that "those of us who believe in God" will defeat Romney for the White House. He denied he was questioning the Mormon's own belief in God.
Rather, the New York Democrat said he was contrasting himself with Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author he was debating at the time.
"As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary situation," Sharpton said during a debate with Hitchens at the New York Public Library.
Romney's campaign seized on the comments to criticize Sharpton, and the candidate complained about the remarks on Wednesday, calling them "terribly misguided."
Asked if he considered the civil rights leader a bigot, Romney demurred.
"I don't know Reverend Sharpton," he said. "I doubt he is personally such a thing, but the comment was a comment which could be described as a bigoted comment."
Romney added that he was willing to believe Sharpton didn't mean to be offensive.
"Perhaps he didn't mean it that way, but the way it came out was inappropriate and wrong," said Romney.
In a statement, Sharpton accused the Romney campaign of a "blatant effort to fabricate a controversy to help their lagging campaign" and argued that it was Hitchens who criticized Mormons.
"In no way did I attack Mormons or the Mormon Church when I responded that other believers, not atheists, would vote against Mr. Romney for purely political reasons," Sharpton said.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Sharpton denied questioning Romney's belief in God and suggested the Romney camp was trying to stir up a controversy because of their political differences.
"What I said was that we would defeat him, meaning as a Republican," Sharpton said. "A Mormon, by definition, believes in God. They don't believe in God the way I do, but by definition, they believe in God."
Romney, the former one-term governor of Massachusetts, said that as he campaigns, he hears little criticism about his religion.
"Overwhelmingly, the people I talk to believe that we elect a person to lead the nation not based on what church they go to, but based on their values and their vision," he said. "I receive very little comment of the nature coming from Reverend Sharpton."
The issue of Romney's religion is often compared to the scrutiny given to former President John Kennedy, whose Catholic faith was an issue in the 1960 campaign. Kennedy dealt with the matter by giving a high-profile speech in which he said his religion would not shape his policy choices.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, hasn't addressed such questions so directly, but he has been clear that his religion wouldn't dictate his policies.
"I make it very clear that the doctrines of any one church are not the basis for electing any individual in this country -- never have been and I doubt they ever will be," Romney said. "
"Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium Announces Significant Progress in Health Information Technology Systems Adoption
Source: ENP Newswire 05/08/2007
Release Date - 02052007
SAN JOSE, CA -- (ENP Newswire) -- 05/02/07 -- The Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium, a collaborative effort started by Cisco® (NASDAQ: CSCO), Intel Corporation and Oracle along with several large California physician organizations (POs) to accelerate the use of technology for quality health care, today announced its first year end results. These results demonstrate impressive strides in the adoption and use of patient-centric systems and processes.
Through this consortium, seven POs representing 25 practice sites and more than 1,800 physicians accepted the invitation to join and continue to participate. As a part of consortium participation, these seven POs applied for and received National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Physician Practice Connections (PPC) recognition, a nationally recognized set of quality of care standards.
After receiving NCQA PPC recognition, consortium members qualified to earn financial rewards for instituting new health information technology systems designed to improve the patient experience and outcomes. Utilizing nationally recognized quality of care standards helped ensure all seven POs were in alignment, and also helped them qualify for other Pay-for-Performance programs.
After one year, all seven organizations met NCQA's rigorous PPC standards, and reported making the following patient-centric improvements:
"We are more than pleased to see the advancements these physician organizations have made to implement and enhance health information technology systems in order to improve the quality and safety of care," said Dr. Jeffrey Rideout, Cisco's vice president of healthcare, Internet Business Solutions Group and Cisco's Chief Medical Officer. "These impressive results in just over a year underscore the transformational impact of implementing patient-centric health information technology systems and are really a tribute those participating medical groups and IPAs who took on this program voluntarily. They truly are to be commended for turning a general goal of accelerated IT adoption to practical action."
The seven Bay Area based POs participating in the Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium include Camino Medical Group, Kaiser Permanente, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Stanford Hospital & Clinics, San Jose Medical Group, Santa Clara County Individual Practice Association (SCCIPA), and Santa Cruz Medical Foundation.
About the Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium
In this last year, the Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium has received important distinctions for itself and the recognized physicians. First, it was made part of the national Bridges to Excellence (BTE) program which recognizes and rewards health care providers that demonstrate the delivery of high quality patient-centered care. It is also worth noting that the 1800 physicians involved in the consortium doubled the current number of physicians recognized by NCQA and Bridges to Excellence in PPC nationally. Second, the successful certification also allowed the POs, with a single NCQA application, to meet the IT standards of the Integrated Healthcare Association (IHA)'s Pay-for-Performance program. This qualified them for further rewards from California health plans. IHA is one of the nation's largest and most well recognized pay for performance initiatives.
A total of $584,000 in financial rewards is being paid in the first year to the seven POs. These POs were the first set of medical groups approached by Cisco, Intel and Oracle because they provided health care to a significant number of the Bay Area based employee populations of these three companies. The objective was to not only highlight the benefits of HIT adoption, but also to move these physician organizations closer to their goal of delivering care that meets the expectations of these generally healthy and technology savvy employee groups.
Going forward, the Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium will continue to support NCQA PPC improvement and rewards payout and is considering recruitment of additional employers and provider groups. It also is considering building the capability to communicate health data between payors and providers and will continue to report and track program impact.
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Below are some additional employer and physician organization perspectives on involvement in the Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium:
"Managing a patient's health is far better than merely treating a patient's symptoms; the difference between the two types of care is access to the right information at the right time. Rewarding physician practices that have invested in the resources to provide 21st-century care is good common sense. The financial and health benefits are there on the surface." -- Margareet E. O'Kane, President, National Committee for Quality Assurance
Camino Medical Group:
"These companies are the data experts and we generate the medical data. Now we are collaborating to use this to benefit patients and advance community health care. By improving efficiency through information technology, we also hope to trim the ever-growing costs of health care." -- Criss Morikawa, M.D., medical director of Information Technology at Camino Medical Group
Stanford Hospital & Clinics:
"Stanford Hospital & Clinics is most proud of the quality of care we deliver to our patients. To that end, the Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium has been an exciting platform in which to positively impact patient care through the use of Information Technology, and collaborating with some of the most important employers in Silicon Valley. We are extremely gratified to have participated and achieved independent certification from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) and help to promote the appropriate use of information technology to improve quality patient care." -- Kevin Tabb, Chief Quality & Medical Information Officer
"We are proud of our physicians who participated and achieved NCQA recognition through the Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium. Our organization is made up of individual physician practices -- all small business owners -- and there is an assumption that IT is easily adopted and that everyone has a computer at their desk. This effort provided an opportunity for our physicians to re-evaluate their practice needs relative to IT systems, education and training and put new tools in place. This resulted in more efficient workflows and patient/physician communications. Basically it helps extend the already excellent care they are providing and maintain healthy patients and healthy practices." -- Lori Vatcher, Executive Director of Managed Care, PPMSI and Santa Clara County IPA (SCCIPA)
" Intel and other large employers are seeing healthcare costs rise faster than inflation and other costs in our business. The inefficiency of the US healthcare system has become a competitiveness issue for many companies and the country as a whole. Intel is joining with other large employers to play a role in driving systemic change in the way healthcare is delivered." -- Corrie Zenzola, Global Benefits Thought Leader, Intel Corporation
"The Silicon Valley Pay-for-Performance Consortium has demonstrated, in just one year, the power of information technology to transform the delivery of healthcare starting at the local level. Consortium members understand that IT can be a powerful tool in efforts to improve quality through more complete and accurate data, thereby preventing errors that can be dangerous and costly." -- Mychelle Mowry, vice president, Global Marketing and Strategy, Oracle "