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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Horn: A Uniter, Not a Divider

Local Democrats have something in common, it seems, with some local Republicans – they don't like Travis Horn.

“I spent a lot of time pulling knives out of my back,” Horn told The Independent Florida Alligator.

Horn made news several times this year – once for getting into a fight with a Democrat who boxed a cardboard cutout of President Bush (same IQ as the prez, but with fewer verbal gaffs); once for showing up late to Bush's visit to Ocala; and a few times for alleging voter fraud in a local race (the charges were proven to be without merit).

Good riddance, I say, but it sure is nice to be able to see some common ground with those red voters, for once.

Sierra Club and Ecoterrorism? Yeah, Right

Federal investigators say they will look at "ecoterrorism" as a motive in the fires that burned 41 homes Monday in a new subdivision that environmental and community groups had opposed.

This story is odd on two accounts, at least.

First, every media account I've seen on this follows the FBI's purposefully vague allegations of arson with background on the Sierra Club's opposition to the development. While not explicitly connecting the dots between the fires and the Sierra Club, the juxtaposition certainly leaves the reader with the perception that somehow the Sierra Club is implicated in the fires.

I am a member of the Sierra Club and my wife and I are very active in the group. The idea of the Sierra Club endorsing anything remotely close to this is absurd, as the group is cautious to a fault, in my opinion. The Sierra Club is the kind, gentle grandparent of environmental groups, not the rebellious, nipple-pierced grandkid. That would be Greenpeace or Earth First!.

Second, the use of the word ecoterrorism is another stretch of the word "terrorism", which Our Leader has made applicable to any crimes committed by people not "with him".

Terrorism is the use of violence of the threat of violent acts as a way to achieve political action. If the FBI is right and these fires were set by people opposed to the project, then that would be retaliation, because the political part of the process is over. The subdivision had been approved, and what happens next is that insurance companies fork over the dough for the builders to redo their work.

Unless some group comes forward with some demands of the politicians involved, then I do not see how this can be labeled terrorism. Would you call outsourcing tens of thousands of American jobs "economic terrorism"? Bush would not. Would you call the detaining of anti-Bush protestors "free speech terrorism"?

The word is used as a political weapon. It's called propaganda, and in this case it is being used to undermine environmental activism which, in 99.99 percent of the cases, is done through legal, nonviolent, grassroots means.

A Bump in the Road

The Gainesville Sun made a few good points today about the problem with funding the county's $350 million road maintenance backlog, but as usual, The Sun failed to address the main problems – poorly planned growth and the failure of growth to pay for itself.

The Sun's solution to the problem is to throw more money at it, and because the voters defeated the 7-year sales tax increase on Nov. 2 that would have funded some of that backlog, the paper wants the Alachua County Commission to find the money elsewhere:

"They can raise the gasoline tax by as much as a nickel a gallon. They can redirect funding from other programs into road maintenance. Or they can do some combination of both."

And of course an increase in property taxes would help, but that is not likely to be proposed by any sitting elected official who desires to be re-elected. But even if the commission was to have that kind of political backbone (it won't), throwing money at the problem is not going to solve the problem, only delay it.

The reason that the county has such a massive backlog in road maintenance projects is twofold: First, the county, dominated by pro-development commissioners, have been approving new and wider roads for decades whenever a developer needed one built. This was good for people who make money from real estate development, because roads guide where growth happens, but it is bad for the taxpayers because each new road is a future road maintenance project.

According to The Sun: "Roads maintained on a five-year schedule cost about $250,000 a mile to resurface. Roads that are neglected for 10 years cost $1.2 million a mile because, at that point, foundations and bases begin to break down. Some of Alachua County's roads, voters were told, hadn't been resurfaced for 20 years or longer."

These roads made a lot of people rich, I can guarantee that, but it has left the taxpayers with a hefty bill.

That, too, could have been avoided had the county been taking measures all these years to ensure that growth paid for itself. Instead, county commissioners, almost always elected using the wealth of the real estate development community, have chosen to subsidize the costs of growth with tax revenues. Again, that's good for people who make money from growth, and bad for those of us who now face the task of paying for it.

So the county could start working on this problem by taking any money it has budgeted for new or widened roads and spend it on the maintenance. Also, the county needs to stop building any more roads until it can both fix the current problems and address the unfair subsidization of growth so that we do not have the same problems a decade from now.

The Sun, in the post-Buddy Davis era, has never argued for anything remotely like that. The Sun likes growth to happen as fast as possible, because it means more money for the newspaper. Growth = more people and businesses = more readers and advertisers = ability to charge more for advertising = fat bank account.

Doubt me? The check out this sentence from The Sun's eddy: "The adequacy of the county's transportation grid is directly linked to its economic prosperity and is as essential to the public health, welfare and safety as, say, police and fire protection."

The Sun ranked our economic prosperity above the public's health, safety and welfare.

It will be interesting to see how the County Commission responds to the problem. Keep watch for the commissioners to try to cut important programs, such and environmental protection. My guess is that the commissioners will have no spine and try to put another sales tax initiative before the voters, but this time with some sort of built-in threat that if voters don't approve the sales tax increase, then the county will have to raise property taxes. It's called a shakedown, but often it is effective.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Repeat After Me

Growing up, I always wondered why I was meant to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It was an instinctual curiosity, accompanied by a lack of desire to feel pumped about making the pledge, and only later in life did I see the daily recital for what it is – brainwashing.

Is there some chance school kids are going to suddenly revolt against the government or seek asylum at a foreign embassy? No. Our children's loyalty to this country is not in question, not at that age at least, yet we force them to repeat the same sing-song pledge every school day or their lives. We drill the pledge into their heads to the point that you never forget the words for the rest of your life. Even Alzheimer's can't get erase it.

But the pounding of this American idealism – this so-called liberty and justice for all – is apparently not enough. Florida lawmakers earlier this year passed the Carey Baker Freedom Flag Act, which is named for a Eustis lawmaker who spent a year serving in Iraq. The act mandates that every Florida public school classroom have an American flag flying there, ostensible so children will be forced to genuflect to the symbol of America every day while reciting a pledge to the country.

What's next? Mandatory portraits of Dubya in every classroom, with daily pledges of loyalty to Our Leader? I shouldn't joke -- already Clear Channel has been posting billboards that have a picture of Bush with the words "Or Leader" in large text, kinda the way Saddam and other tyrants had their faces plastered everywhere in their respective kingdoms.

Do you think this encourages any critical thinking on the part of these kids, or is it an attempt to cleanse their minds of any thought that might make them question the government? As an adult, I can clearly see that the pledge is hypocritical and false, that there is no liberty and justice for all. But how much deprogramming does it take for people to see through the veil of patriotism? Too much, as the Nov. 2 election makes clear. Brainwashing works.

As a humorous aside, I suppose, the Carey Baker Freedom Flag Act has become somewhat of a pain-in-the-ass for schools that already had flags in their classrooms. The act requires a minimum size flag that is larger than what most classes have, so schools are being required to spend money otherwise used on education to replace these perfectly good flags with larger ones.

They could save time and money in this brainashing op if they would only send a few of the less patriotic kids to Guantamo Bay, or maybe Abu Gharib, for detention. The rest would fall in line.