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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

You Can't Spell Greek Without Geek

See, it pays off to wear togas, get wasted and spank each other.

GOP Voter Fraud Case Closed

The State Attorney's Office says "there was not enough evidence" to connect the voter fraud allegations against a GOP-funded campus group that was tricking students into changing their party affiliations to Republican.

I covered this extensively before the Nov. 2 election, so I won't cover that ground again. Suffice it to say that the SOA didn't proclaim these knuckleheads innocent, just that they couldn't finger any specific people to charge with the crimes. The victims, who were unaware they had been tricked until weeks after, could not identify any subjects.

AND they won the election. What a pisser.

Social Security -- The Easy Fix

Without boring you with a lot of math and graphs, let me simply address this so-called crisis with this comment: there is an easy fix that will prevent any future problems with Social Security.

All we need do is simply raise or eliminate the cap on wages that are subject to the Social Security tax, which currently is an intensely regerssive tax. In 2005, only your first $90,000 in income is subject to the tax, meaning that millionaires pay a substantially smaller percentage of their income into the Social Security trust fund.

Studies have shown that eliminating the cap would raise enough money to cover any deficits caused by our aging population. This was done about a decade ago with Medicare.

Of course, the rich will cry foul, but truly the tax is unfair to lower wage earners. But it would cost nothing really to implement, unlike the $2 trillion estimate with Bush's privatization plan, and it carries none of the risk of Bush's plan. But the fact that rich folks would have to pay their fair share is the reason you won't hear this idea discussed much in the media -- they won't have it.

Protestor Wins Lawsuit Over Bad Arrest

After the Sept. 11 attacks, government officials in the Bush administration, and their mouthpieces in the mainstream press, made it clear that disagreeing with Bush's policies were unpatriotic and helped our enemies.

Such sentiments are also grassroots. Here in Gainesville, a local protestor was arrested and briefly charged with exposing minors to obscenity by wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt with a caricature that can best be described as graphic. The state attorney wisely declined to press the charges, but the protestor, Charles "Chas" Chiodo, sued the city for violating his First Amendment rights.

This week, he won. The city agreed to pay what he asked – about $12,000 plus his attorney fees – and to make a policy that prevents rouge cops from arresting someone just because they don't like what's on their t-shirt. Now the cop has to get his boss to agree the content violates the law before busting someone.

In other parts of the nation, there is still work to be done. A Denver woman was threatened with arrest recently for having a bumper sticker that says "Fuck Bush". Although in no way illegal according to the law and the courts, this woman was told not to return to the store she was visiting with the sticker on her vehicle, or she would be arrested. The cop is under investigation.

The right to say "Fuck Bush" is one of the most cherished rights we have. Political expression is what the freedom of speech amendment is all about.

Butler's Money Talks, Part II

The saga over the dirt road known as Southwest 24th Avenue continues, further highlighting the corrupt way that the rich and powerful are trying to subvert the citizen-led plan to make the road part of a walkable, bikable student village.

I've written on this issue here and here. The summary is this – several years ago citizens worked with local elected officials to devise a plan for the mostly undeveloped area north of Butler Plaza and west of Southwest 34th Street, through which SW 24th Avenue runs. The plan called for a grid of two-lane roads, bike lanes, sidewalks and bus bays that would serve student housing, thereby reducing the amount of students driving to the UF campus and the surrounding commercial areas. At least it gave them the option of walking, biking and taking the bus.

But Clark Butler, the owner of the sprawling Butler Plaza, wants to expand his development into the same area, and to get state approval for the massive expansion he needs Southwest 24th Avenue be four lanes, so it will provide the traffic capacity needed to carry all of the cars his expansion would create.

Butler is rich and powerful enough to manipulate our political system. He donates large amounts to political candidates at all levels, and through the debate over Southwest 24th Avenue, we've learned of more insidious ways he gains access to those in power. He donated expensive tickets to a UF event to County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut (as well as donating the maximum to her campaign); Chestnut is now the chair of the commission.

And this week, we learned that County Commission Paula DeLaney owns land close enough to his project to financially benefit from the expansion. DeLaney, who received ample contributions from Butler in all of her political campaigns (she was a three-term Gainesville city commissioners and mayor), was elected last November to the County Commission and is the swing vote that changed the county's two-lane plan for SW 24th Avenue to four lanes.

Chestnut was found guilty of an ethics violations, and DeLaney now says she will ask the state ethics commissions to determine whether her ownership of land near the planned Butler Plaza expansion will be a conflict of interest that prevents her from voting on any issues related to Butler's project.

It should be consider a conflict, but the larger question of the varying levels of access people have to those in power is not addressed. Butler, by virtue of his wealth, has more influence than most. He was able to wrangle federal funding for the four-laning even though the county had nto asked for it. And this week we learn that state Sen. Rod Smith, a strident soldier in Tallahassee for fewer regulations on real estate development, has filed a request for $2 million in transportation funds that he would give Gainesville developer Clark Butler, who would then use to subsidize his portion of the cost of four-laning SW 24th Avenue.

That's awful Sweet of Smith, who of course has received sizable campaign contributions from Butler over the years, in his Senate campaigns and when he ran for state attorney. Also, Butler allowed Smith's wife and stepdaughter to "borrow" his 100-foot yacht for a bridesmaids party.

I don't know about you, but if I called Butler to borrow that yacht, he's probably have me paved over and put a strip mall on top. I have no doubt that Smith's family got use of the yacht because of Smith's powerful position in the state senate.

This is unfortunately how government works. The rich and powerful spend oodles to get their candidates in office, and once there those elected officials are expected to return the favor, or at the very least are expected to give those donors heightened access and, therefore, influence.

Campaign contributions, free tickets, improved property values, borrow yachts – it is all part of the cauldron of corruption that keeps us simple folk on the sidelines while the elite keep their hands on the levers of control. In this case it is growth management, and DeLaney, Chestnut and Smith are more concerned, obviously, with helping Butler get rich than with making sure we properly plan our town for the benefit of everyone.

Thank goodness for people like Mike Byerly, one of the few really honest elected officials I have ever met, and I've met, interviewed and covered almost all of them for the past 20 years in this town. When DeLaney offered to have a citizen meeting to discuss Butler's expansion plans (now that she has decided to throw out the citizen's two-lane plan), Byerly said this:

"Talk is good, but we made the decision and I fail to see the purpose of convening citizens to once again tell us we cut them out of the process. The time to have those kinds of meetings is before the decisions are made. We had a charette. We went through a lengthy process of having the citizens tell us what they want there, and then we disregarded it."

Sing it, brother Mike. DeLaney's disingenuous offer to talk to citizens is too little too late, considering that she obviously has her mind made up. If she cared about citizen input, she would accept the plan drafted at the charette and two-lane SW 24th Avenue.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Kucinich Blog a Hoax

Well, I’m a sucker. Fell for the Kucinich blog hoax, which didn’t really accomplish anything unless fooling real bloggers gets your rocks off. Anyway, ignore my previous post suggesting you visit the blog. The hoaxer stopped posting a couple of weeks ago.

Here are some snippets from the comments that reveal the hoax:

diamondsoull said...

Folks, trust me when I tell you this is NOT Representative Dennis John Kucinich (D-OH). He doesn't have time to post a blog, he tried it while campaigning and couldn't keep it up. He doesn't even post to his own messageboard, so why would he start a blog and tell nobody who relays his message to the people?

Please read these posts and realize this is not Dennis.

Susan said...

If you are going to spoof a political figure, at least get the details of whether or not that figure has kids right.

Kucinich, after all, has a grown daughter.

Even the Bill Clinton hoaxer got those kinds of details correct.

Thomas Mc. said...

Impersonating a US Congressman. I think the Secret Service might have something to say about that.

Nathaniel said...

Well, you've certainly got the pitter patter down. If you aren't Dennis K, you do a dang fine imitation. Found you from the Salon snippet. Fascinating experiment :)

Thomas Mc. said...

I checked with the real deal - the Kucinich campaign website - and they told me this blog is a FRAUD.

It has NO connection whatsever to Dennis Kucinich, other than being an imposter.

You are wasting your time here, folks.

Matt said...

this blog isn't really dennis. mystery solved.

Hi Matt,

Thank you for writing. No, that blog has no connection to Dennis Kucinich. Sorry about the double response. The other one was meant for someone else.

Our campaign for peace and progressive issues continues. You can join us and stay involved by participating in the following websites:

http://kucinich.us/
http://www.kucinich.us/mx/

Once again, thanks for writing. Your continued support for Dennis and progressive issues is greatly appreciated.

In hope and peace,
Gail Heyn
Kucinich Campaign Volunteer
http://www.kucinich.us/

Monday, January 24, 2005

JibJab a One Hit Wonder?

I loved This Land, JibJab's take on the 2004 race between Bush and Kerry, but Second Term, the site's latest animation, was boring and reused too many jokes. I tried to determine whether my disappointment was really just the rechannelization of my negative feels about the outcome of the president election, but, no, I think the new animation is plain lame.

Die Johnny Die

Count me as one person who could care less about Johnny Carson dying. I'm sure he was a fine man, but he was a celebrity who had a show about celebrities, so his life on the Tonight Show didn't really focus on anything worthwhile. Funny guy, that Johnny, but people really need to get over this celebrity obsession. Along with sports fanaticism and greed, it's killing the country.

UPDATE (1/25): This morning's paper has a story about Herb Press, who did a college thesis on the monologues of Johnny Carson. My question -- what college professor approved that thesis idea?

"I studied 515 jokes," said Press, who retired last year as chief of photography in UF's News and Public Affairs department, where he worked 30 years. "I began to pursue the idea of continuity in topical humor."

A great photog, and I have one of his pictures framed in my kids' room, but puh-leeze. "Continuity in topical humor"?

Braddy Wants the Power

Sounding a bit like Gen. Buck Turgidson, Gainesville City Commission Ed Braddy announced Sunday that Gainesville faced an “energy gap” if citizens were allowed to stop GRU’s expansion plans.
“Critics have stated that burning coal is a source of pollution, but they have blurred the issue of energy supply,” Braddy wrote in The Gainesville Sun, “leaving the impression that future demand can be met simply through ‘alternatives.’”
Yes, he obviously does not trust the wind and sun like he does coal, and I do not know if he is right about these sources being able to sustain our future needs (our present needs are well covered by our current energy output). What I worry about is the level of growth Braddy is hoping for in the future, because a power plant expansion ensures that Gainesville and Alachua County can grow, grow, grow.

Braddy also wants us to believe that it is he, and GRU, and not the so-called environmentalists who really care about the environment:
“The plan's critics call themselves “progressives.” However, they lack confidence in progress.

Listening to them, we are on the verge of ecological catastrophe.

Yet last year, the United States recorded the lowest ozone smog levels since we began measuring these quantities in the 1970s. Although there are more coal-fired plants today and energy consumption has increased by 42 percent between 1970 and 2002, the total emissions of the six principal air pollutants (nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and lead) has decreased by 48 percent over this period.

How is this possible?

Innovative men and women saw a challenge and invented technologies that made the production of energy more efficient and environmentally responsible.”
I love stupid statements. There are more coal plants and less pollution, but why do you think that is? Because coal plant owners decided to spend millions on emission controls out of the kindness of their hearts? Or do you think it is because so-called progressives bitched, moaned and sued the government to create legislation making these companies clean up their act? Remember acid rain? We don't lack confidence in progress, Mr. Braddy, we lack confidence in you.

So rather than deride your many constituents who believes in clean air and fight to ensure our government protects what we have -- which is not exactly clean air but we’ll take it, for now – maybe Mr. Braddy should show some respect, state his case and stop being such a jackass. That’s my job anyway.

Hardee's Makes Food Porn

The annual list by the Multinational Monitor of the 10 worst of corporations includes Hardee's Monster Thickburger, which should be renamed the Ox Baker Burger because of the heart punch it delivers. Almost 1,500 calories.

This list of "price gougers, polluters, union-busters, dictator-coddlers, fraudsters, poisoners, deceivers and general miscreants" is always enlightening, and I used to publish it every year in Moon. This year MM decided not to repeat any from last year's list, "barring extraordinary circumstances". Halliburton was replaced by Hardee's (same letter of the alphabet and all).

Florida Minimum Wage Fight Not Over

Not that it should surprise anyone, but business lobbyists are swarming Florida's capital in an effort to water down the minimum wage amendment passed overwhelmingly by voters last year.

So far the idea seems to be to create loopholes by defining words like "employer", "employee" and "wage" in ways that will exclude some businesses from having to pay the meager increase in the minimum wage.

The amendment language is strikingly clear, as is the need for the increase. Voters agreed, passing the law with 71 percent of the vote, a landslide by any definition.

This is typical elite behavior – allow the masses to vote in an initiative and then use the corrupt legislative process to whittle said initiative into a form more acceptable to the elites.

This is a perfect example of why these elite bastards don't like the citizen initiative process – it takes away some of the control they have over our money. The big business and development lobbies spend oodles to get their people elected, and the payoff is getting laws written to serve their interests. When the people inject things like reduced class sizes or bullet trains into the mix, it means the lawmakers have fewer dollars to spend on pork projects, such as new highways that make more development possible.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is riding herd on this proposal. Make sure your reps know how you feel about this. And if you are reading this and oppose the minimum wage increase, I suggest you try a different blog, you jerk.

The None-of-your-business Lobby Strikes Again

Gainesville developers are always whining about the anti-business attitude and policies of the Gainesville City Commission, which always gives me a chuckle. It is a perennial complaint usually lodged near election time when a pro-development flunky is trying to get a seat on the commission, and the candidate needs to fool voters into thinking that the city doesn't like honest business owners or some such.

Rarely, if ever, are any specifics mentioned. And truth be told, the City Commission has always bent over backward to help business and economic development.

But along comes an idea from the developers to fix this horrible situation – a "streamlining" of the development review process that would eliminate the Development Review Board's oversight of some projects.

Bad idea. This is a citizen board appointed by the City Commission to flush out projects before they reach the City Commission. And it is important because it helps citizens find out about bad development projects before they gain momentum.

The City Commission is to begin hearing proposals about this tonight, which I realize is late notice. But no worries – any streamlining will take several meetings, so if you want to make your views known, you'll be able to do it. Unless of course the developers decide they don't think you should.

How Iran Started Worrying and Decided to Love the Bomb

Excellent article on Iran's desire to have WMDs and how US support for Iraq in the 1980s while Saddam was openly using chemical weapons on Iranian troops, and our efforts to help him cover it up, makes it difficult for Iran to now trust international efforts to end its WMD programs.