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Wednesday, 19 April 2017 23:20

HOW TO AVOID BUYING A LEMON CAR

Finding a trouble-free used car has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with applying good research and investigative skills.

To help you determine whether a used vehicle is a good value or potential trouble, here's some advice from Consumer Reports:

-- Check the reliability record. A good way to reduce the risk of purchasing a trouble-prone vehicle is to select models with a good reliability record before you begin shopping. Consumer Reports' annual subscriber survey provides exclusive real-world reliability information that can help you narrow your selections.

-- Read the window sticker. Usually attached to a window, the buyer's guide must contain certain information, including whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty, and what percentage of repair costs (if any) the dealer is obligated to pay. The buyer's guide information overrides any contrary provisions in your sales contract.

-- Check the exterior. Begin by doing a walk-around of the car, looking for dents, chipped paint, mismatched body panels or parts, broken lamp housings and chipped windows. Paint overspray on chrome or rubber trim or in the vehicle's wheel wells is a telltale sign of body-panel repair.

-- Check the interior. A long look into the cabin can reveal such obvious problems as a sagging headliner, cracked dashboard and missing knobs, handles and buttons. Frayed seat belts or ones with melted fibers (because of friction) may be evidence of a previous frontal impact above 15 mph -- damaged safety belts should always be replaced.
Prematurely worn pedals or a sagging driver's seat are signs that the vehicle has very high mileage.

-- Check under the hood. At first glance, the engine, radiator and battery should be relatively grease-free and have very little or no corrosion. Belts and hoses should be pliable and unworn. Look for wet spots, which can indicate leaking oil or fluids. Melted wires, tubes or lines, or a blackened firewall may be signs of overheating or even an engine fire.

-- Check the tires. Wear should be even across the width of the tread and the same on the left and right sides of the car. Tires that are frequently used while over-inflated tend to have more wear in the middle; tires driven while under-inflated tend to wear more on the sides. Heavy wear on the outside shoulder near the sidewall of the tire indicates a car that has been driven hard. This can be a sign that other parts of the car may suffer from excessive wear due to aggressive driving.

-- Check the vehicle's history. A vehicle-history report from CarFax or Experian Automotive can alert you to possible odometer fraud; reveal past fire, flood and accident damage; or tell you if a rebuilt or salvage title has ever been issued for the vehicle.

-- Visit a mechanic. Before you buy a used vehicle, Consumer Reports recommends having it inspected by a qualified mechanic who routinely does automotive diagnostic work. A thorough diagnosis should cost around $120.

ConsumerReports.org

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 23:18

War Cries Drown Out 'America First'

"Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?" tweeted President Donald Trump on Easter Sunday.

Earlier, after discovering "great chemistry" with Chinese President Xi Jinping over "the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake" at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had confided, "I explained ... that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!"

"America First" thus takes a back seat to big-power diplomacy with Beijing. One wonders: How much will Xi end up bilking us for his squeezing of Kim Jong Un?

Trump once seemed to understand how America had been taken to the cleaners during and after the Cold War. While allies supported us diplomatically, they piled up huge trade surpluses at our expense and became virtual free-riders off the U.S. defense effort.

No nations were more successful at this than South Korea and Japan. Now Xi is playing the game -- and perhaps playing Trump.

What is the "North Korean problem" Beijing will help solve in return for more indulgent consideration on future U.S.-China trade deals?

North Korea's nuclear arsenal. As 80 percent of Pyongyang's trade comes through China, Trump believes that Beijing can force Kim to stop testing missiles and atomic bombs before he produces an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S.

But what is to prevent Xi from pocketing Trump's concessions and continuing on the strategic course China has long pursued?

For in many ways, Pyongyang's goals parallel China's.

Neither could want an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. For Kim, this would devastate his country, bring down his regime, and cost him his life. For China, war could mean millions of Koreans crossing the Yalu into Manchuria and a disruption of Beijing's march to Asian hegemony.

A continuing crisis on the peninsula, however, with Trump and the U.S. relying on Beijing's help, could leave Xi in the catbird seat.

And now that North Korea has declared its goal to be building missiles with nuclear warheads that could hit all U.S. bases in Asia -- and even California -- the clock is running for the White House.

"It won't happen," Trump has said of North Korea's developing an ICBM that could hit the United States. "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will."

"The threat is upon us," says outgoing deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland. "This is something President Trump is going to deal with in the first year."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have declared that our policy of "strategic patience" with Pyonyang is at an end.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday the U.S. has "to take action, short of armed conflict, so we can avoid the worst" in dealing with "this unpredictable regime."
With a stunning parade of missiles in Pyongyang on Saturday, the North's failed firing of a solid-fueled missile that same day, and the promise of new missile tests weekly, Kim is forcing our hand.

Either he backs away from building atomic bombs and long-range missiles or Trump and his generals must make good on their warnings.

How did we get to this point?

Why, 64 years after the Korean War, a quarter-century after the Cold War, are we still obliged to go to war to defend South Korea from a North with one-half the South's population and 3 percent of its gross domestic product?

Why are we, on the far side of the Pacific, still responsible for containing North Korea when two of its neighbors -- Russia and China -- are nuclear powers and South Korea and Japan could field nuclear and conventional forces far superior to Kim's?

How long into the future will containing militarist dictators in Pyongyang with nuclear missiles be America's primary responsibility?

Another issue arises. Before the U.S. launches any pre-emptive strike on North Korea, Congress should be called back into session to authorize any act of war against the North.

Perhaps this time, Congress would follow the Constitution.

Though Korea is the crisis of the moment, it is not the only one.

Not since 9/11 have the Afghan Taliban been stronger or controlled more territory. The United States' commanding general there is calling for thousands more U.S. troops. Russia and Iran are reportedly negotiating with the Taliban. Pakistan is said to be aiding them.

To counter Vladimir Putin's Russia, we have moved U.S. and NATO troops into Poland, the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria. We have fired missiles into Syria. We are reportedly preparing to back the Saudis in the latest escalation of their war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Twenty-four years after "Black Hawk Down," the weekend brought reports of U.S. troops returning to Somalia.

The promise of a Trump presidency -- that we would start looking out for our own country and own national interests first and let the rest of the world solve, or fail to solve, its own problems -- appears, not 100 days in, to have been a mirage.

Will more wars make America great again?

Patrick J. Buchanan

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 23:12

Two Very Different Tax Days

Leftist protesters around the country used the tax deadline on April 18 as an occasion to hold rallies demanding the release of President Trump's tax returns. They could use large inflatable chickens and signs with hammers and sickles saying "Show us your rubles" and no journalist would be offended.

Knowing the president, this will have all the effectiveness of national rallies that demand we get transcripts of Hillary Clinton's six-figure speeches. It's unlikely.

But the Saturday network newscasts promoted the anti-Trump "resistance" without really noting that it's a bit strange for left-wingers to be protesting on taxes, unless they think rates are dangerously low. CBS correspondent Errol Barnett announced, "As nationwide Tax Day protests reached the sunny streets of West Palm Beach, Florida, today, President Trump spent time at his International Golf Club and Mar-a-Lago resort nearby."

On ABC, they acknowledged "violent clashes" among protesters in California, and anchor Tom Llamas promoted the wave, saying, "There were about 150 Tax Day protests demanding to see the president's tax returns, even at the president's Mar-a-Lago resort." NBC led the whole newscast on the protests, including the violence that erupted in Berkeley.

Something was missing in all of this protest publicity: the notion that the protesters weren't a real grass-roots movement. Liberal journalists are always happy to see liberal protesters boosting any mob that matches their ideals. Because they are liberal, they are always presented as authentic, diverse and representative of the public, regardless of the last election's results. It can be rigidly organized by MoveOn and other leftist groups, but it will be painted as spontaneous.

But rewind to eight years ago: While the networks covered conservative Tax Day protests against then-President Obama, the emphasis was on how phony they were.

ABC reporter Dan Harris suggested the protesters were AstroTurf "cheered on by Fox News and talk radio." As opposed to "authentic" organizers cheered by ABC, CBS and NBC? Harris added: "Critics on the left say this is not a real grassroots phenomenon at all, that it's actually largely orchestrated by people fronting for corporate interests. ... While the Boston Tea Party in 1773 was about taxation without representation, critics point out that today's protesters did get to vote -- they just lost."

CBS reporter Dean Reynolds announced that while "a fistful of rightward-leaning websites and commentators embraced the cause. ... fresh polling indicates there is not all that much passion about high taxes in the country at large right now. Gallup this week found 61 percent of Americans see their federal income taxes as fair."

On NBC, Lee Cowan reported that "organizers insist today's tea parties were organic uprisings of like-minded taxpayers from both parties," but "some observers suggest not all of it was as home-grown as it may seem." His "observer" was colleague Chuck Todd, who didn't exactly have his finger on the 2010 pulse. Earlier that day, Todd insisted that the idea of these "so-called tea parties ... hasn't really caught on."

Oops. Wishful thinking trumped reporting.

The networks also spent the Obama years ignoring how the tea party was motivated by historically enormous trillion-dollar deficits. Facts like those were stubborn things. Journalists felt it was best to navigate around them as the "news" consisted of congratulating Obama for his ability to sing Al Green songs and his rib-tickling Obamacare-promoting interviews with supportive comedians.

It's ironic that the liberal media now accuse President Trump of lacking any principles and being indifferent to public policy matters. Perhaps after their performance in the last eight years, the anchormen should be looking in the mirror.
­

L. Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham

Let me get a good grip on the Main Stream Media (MSM), Left Wing, deceitful press reasoning. The Press has a Constitutional right to report the news and a moral obligation to seek and report the truth!!!

If Donald Trump refuses to release personal and private information about his taxes he MUST be hiding something! Now if I follow common sense, logic deductive reasoning then it must be true that withholding private information is evidence, maybe even “probable cause” that the withholder has “something to hide”! (Like someone that pleads the 5th is guilty right?) If we take it one step further, it should follow that if a person, especially the President of the US, hides personal information that would reveal a lie, indeed, a criminal act, then the MSM should do everything they can to “out” the lying SOB, shouldn’t they?

They should be relentless! Like they did to Nixon! Right?

Now IF those hidden documents would /could PROVE that the lying President committed a Federal Felony, by further covering up those lies, sort of why President Clinton was Impeached, then the MSM MOST CERTAINLY would have been relentless NO MATTER WHAT THAT PERSON”S POLITICAL AFFILIATION IS, to get the truth! Hmm… let’s think about that for a minute!
Let’s say President Trump didn’t release his Taxes because they show he earned less that we thought, or paid less that we thought or paid no Tax. Foul or no foul, legal or illegal? In my opinion, NO FOUL, NO CRIME and NO BODY’S FREAKING BUSINESS BUT HIS!!!

Now, playing “devil’s advocate…let’s just assume this scenario is TRUE (which it IS)… Barack Obama, sealed his birth records! Why? Did they show he wasn’t a Natural born US citizen?

Then after a lot of time and discussion a Birth Certificate was released, it was proven to be a FRAUDULENT Government document. He sealed his college Financial Aid Forms, Why? did they show he applied as a Foreigner, born outside the US?

He obtained a Social Security Number that was previously issued to a now deceased US citizen using fraudulent Birth Documents (SSA only reissues a SS number to the ORIGINAL owner). Why did he seal his passport, making it unavailable to anyone else? Could it be because it shows he was of “different” citizenship than US and born outside same?

His Selective Service card was altered and other, official US Achieves documents ( US Customs Port of Entry Documents ) were deleted or otherwise altered.
WHY…?

The DIFFERENCE is this…what Barack Obama did are ALL Federal Felonies and should have been the basis for Impeachment, Indictment and probably evidence that he IS a Muslim and consequently, evidence of Treason! HAD THE DECEITFULL, DISHONEST, UNETHICAL, CORRUPT, PRESS DONE THEIR JOB, Obama would most likely be in prison, on death row for Treason. There is no statute of limitations for treason? There is still hope!

J Gary DiLaura
FBI retired

It was a month after Donald Trump won the presidency and, to be honest, many stunned journalists were still trying to figure out how they missed the tremors that led to the political earthquake.

That was the backdrop for an appearance by New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet on the "Fresh Air" program at National Public Radio. While the focus was politics and journalism, Baquet also offered a refreshingly candid sound bite about mainstream media efforts to cover religion news.

I think those remarks are worth a flashback this week, which marks the end of year 29 for my syndicated "On Religion" column. You see, I am just as convinced as ever that if journalists want to cover real stories in the real lives of real people in the real world, then they need to be real serious when handling religion.

Quoting a pre-election Times column by Jim Rutenberg, "Fresh Air" host Terry Gross said: "If you're a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation's worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him? Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century."

For Baquet, this topic was linked to stirred-up populist emotions out in the heartland. Journalists must strive, he said, to understand the "forces in America that led to Americans wanting a change so much" that they were willing to back Trump.

"I want to make sure that we are much more creative about beats out in the country so that we understand that anger and disconnectedness that people feel. And I think I use religion as an example because I was raised Catholic in New Orleans," said Baquet. "I think that the New York-based, and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don't quite get religion. ...

"We don't get religion. We don't get the role of religion in people's lives. And I think we can do much, much better. And I think there are things that we can be more creative about to understand the country."

Needless to say, his blunt statement -- "We don't get religion" -- hit home for me as editor of the GetReligion.org website that has, for 13 years, produced media criticism focusing on that very topic.

It's important that Baquet also noted that, while his newsroom contains a veteran religion-news specialist, one pro on this beat isn't enough -- if the goal is to listen to what Americans are saying outside elite zip codes in the urban Northeast.

Thus, it mattered that The New York Times later posted a job notice for a new "faith and values correspondent" to be based outside of New York City.

"In 2017, we'll roam even more widely and dig even more deeply into the issues, both those that animate and those that infuriate Americans," said the notice. Then it added, "We're seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won't need to be an expert in religious doctrine."

Another media critic immediately underlined that reference to doctrine.
"I don't want to read too much into this, and to unfairly knock a good-faith (so to speak) effort," noted commentator Rod Dreher, writing at The American Conservative. "Certainly a general-news 'faith and values' correspondent doesn't need to be able to give a detailed explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, or parse the finer points of sharia according to the Hanafi school. But the reporter certainly should be able to understand why doctrine matters to religious thought and belief.

"My concern here is that the Times is inadvertently minimizing the importance of religious knowledge, along the lines of, 'You don't really have to understand how religion works in order to report on it in the lives of ordinary Americans.'"

As I head into my third decade with this column, all I can add is this: "Amen."

Terry Mattingly

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 22:49

To Microchip Or Not To Microchip!

It's creepy enough, when you think about it, that we casually inject microchips into our pets so they can be tracked by a computer scanner. Certainly, we'd never think of treating humans that way. Would we?

In Sweden, employees at Epicenter, a high-tech startup hub, are opting to be injected with microchips so they can avoid the hassle of pulling out their swipe cards whenever they want to enter a facility or use a printer. Now they just wave a hand, and the scanner does the rest. The microchips, the size of grains of rice, can even be used to buy smoothies.

Outrageous, perhaps. But considering how thoroughly millions of humans have handed over their brains to smartphones, humanity already is skiing fast down that slippery cyborg slope.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 22:42

April Showers Help You Flower

Are you having secret thoughts, dear reader, about jumping on your bike and pedaling up the road, foraging for fresh zucchinis at your farmers market, planning the kind of outdoor adventure that makes you feel happy, healthy and sweaty at the end of the day?

Of course you are. It's spring! Many people on the path are feeling that undeniable seasonal urge to get out and grow, to open up and sprout. But where do you begin?

You can always start where you are. Consider this short list of springtime strategies. Pick one or two that call to you. If you get a busy signal, slow down and go over the list one more time. In fact, less time with technology, more focus on live-action fun -- would give you a sweet taste of what your life could be all year round if you asserted your freedom to choose:

SIGN UP FOR SOMETHING NEW

Are you tired of tennis? Bored with running? Publicly humiliated by golf? Spring is the perfect time to come up with a new sport or activity to love, maybe something you've always wanted to try but felt inhibited about.

For one friend of mine, it was the tango. It happened many springs ago, but I always think of her, because taking five tango lessons in a high school gym changed her life. I saw it happen. Her inner Carmen just exploded, and she went from being sullen and contracted to being strong and sexy, from having a miserable social life to having more friends than she wants.

Life is too interesting to settle for workouts that aren't. What about aikido? Square dancing? Tai chi fly-fishing (a favorite in Santa Fe)? Now hear this: There's a sport for everyone. This spring find yours.

FIND THE TIME

Everything starts here. I'm too busy... to walk, to cook a good meal, to coach my daughter's softball team. Not having enough time is the No. 1 excuse we give ourselves for not living the lives we want. This spring, find time! Determine your priorities, and say a polite but firm no to people and projects that don't reflect them. Schedule yourself for fun stuff, the same way you do for car pool and grocery shopping. And don't spend a minute -- not even five seconds -- feeling guilty.

CRANK IT UP

Whatever sport you've been doing, challenge yourself to take it to a new level. If it's running, set new (but realistic) goals, try new terrain or do sprints at high-intensity intervals. If it's golf, concentrate on mastering your seven iron or getting out of the sand. If nothing thrills you, do what I wish everyone would at least “try” yoga. Give yourself six months of just showing up in the presence of a great teacher. Amazing things can happen.

FOCUS ON REAL FOOD

Find those farmers markets. Grow some food. This spring, continue your shift away from old patterns of eating that make you unhealthy, unhappy and overweight. Stop dieting-as-a-verb. Instead, use your smarts to come up with a new way of eating that focuses on tasty real food. Do a springtime kitchen makeover, and replace the processed food, junk food and toxic snack food with the healthier choices you know are out there. Admit you've always wanted to try a sea buckthorn and raspberry smoothie with chia seeds.

LET NATURE NURTURE

Knowing that spring is the obvious time for new beginnings and new habits is one thing. Experiencing it is another. This week, take a day, or an hour, and tune into seasonal change. Spend some quiet time in a green and blossoming space. Ready to sign up for adult soccer camp? Finally willing to trade in your Twitter time for a 20-minute walk? If you have an aha! experience, write it down and let that be the start of a springtime journal (a great tool for keeping you focused).

When you tap into the nature of seasonal change, you tap into something bigger than yourself. That helps you make lifestyle changes that last a lifetime -- or at least four months.

"Making contact with your creative self is vital to spring harmony. Who are you inside? ... You are continually creating your life; be aware of this, and dance and play the tune that you are!"
-- Elson M. Haas

Marilynn Preston

We love Mother Earth and look forward to Earth Day, April 22.

These are exciting times for energy, as innovation improves the conversion of wind, solar and geothermal heat into power for our offices, homes and electric cars. Our lives improve as energy options increase.

On a day we celebrate the Earth, it is reasonable for people to also acknowledge the role fossil fuels play in helping maintain and even improve our planet's condition.

Fossil fuels continue providing most of our energy and will do so for generations to come. Without fossil fuels, we cannot build a single solar panel or wind turbine.

As explained in a column this week by former Mayor Paul Danish, who devised his community's famous green planning practices, fracking of oil and natural gas has emerged as the great new hope for a grid powered by solar and wind.

"The single biggest barrier to these technologies becoming the primary source of U.S. electric power is the absence of suitable batteries to store their output for times when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing -- which is more than half the time," Danish wrote.

A world shortage of lithium severely limits electron storage. Lithium is expensive to extract and refine. One new Tesla factory in Nevada anticipates consuming 17 percent of the world's lithium supply, which will mostly benefit owners of luxury electric cars.

Petrolithium promises to solve the problem. It is easily extracted from the wastewater generated by fracking. The process can produce in a day what standard lithium production delivers in 18 months. The byproduct is potable water.

Fossil fuels have given us the cleanest environment in human history.

"If you want to see what 'dirty' looks like, go to a country that is still living in 'natural,' pre-industrial times," writes Alex Epstein in the free-market energy blog Master Resource. "Try choking on the natural smoke of a natural open fire burning natural wood or animal dung -- the kind of air pollution that has been almost eliminated by modern, centralized power plants. Try getting your water from a local brook that is naturally infested with the natural germs of all the local animals -- the once-perennial threat that modern, fossil-fuel-powered water purification systems eliminate."

Or, look at photos of horse manure piles in the middle of urban streets before cars.

We cannot function without fossil fuels, let alone improve our environment and perfect the harnessing of sunshine and wind.

That may explain why the Independence Institute has made national headlines by sponsoring an "Earth Day Fossil Fuels Art Contest."

The institute wants artistic expressions -- "all media are accepted" -- that "showcase the awesomeness of fossil fuels."

On Earth Day, give thanks for the energy nature provides and humans tame.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 22:35

The Un Handy Man

Sue can always find some silly excuse to go to Home Depot. Like "patching the roof so that big leak in the living room ceiling won't get any bigger and destroy the entire house." Or like "replacing the three missing risers on the front porch steps, so no one will break a leg and sue us for everything we are worth, which is not much, but we like it." Or "getting a new freezer that doesn't shut off randomly."

I'm not good at home repairs. One day she told me she needed grout and spackle, and I thought she was talking about making dinner.

"Pick up a nice bottle of wine, dear -- we're having braised grout stuffed with spackle on a bed of wilted frisee and sauteed wild mushrooms."

And I don't want to know anything about fixing things around the house. To me, the three scariest words in the English language are "do it yourself." Why on Earth would you want to do it yourself if you can pay someone else to do it for you?

The sheer size of places like Home Depot and Lowe's prove I'm in the minority here. But their size should also be a warning sign to all homeowners. When we were renting an apartment in the city, our friends would always wag their fingers and say, "You're just throwing money away on rent! If you bought a house, all that rent money would be equity." So we bought a house in the country. Now, all that money is equity. For Home Depot and Lowe's.

Don't believe me? Try to find a parking space at one. You have to drive around for a half hour waiting for someone to leave. And some of these stores are open 24/7. I saw a sign in the lumber department once that said, "No wood cut after 10:30 p.m." If so many people want their wood cut after 10:30 p.m that they had to make a sign, we are in the middle of a national do-it-yourself epidemic.

Honestly, the 10:30 rule is more than a little silly. No contractor I know is working at 10:30 p.m. It's hard enough to get them to work at 10:30 a.m.

The DIY shoppers are obsessed with kitchens and bathrooms. If they're not remodeling them, they're adding new ones. I expect to start seeing real estate ads soon that read: "Nine-bathroom, two-bedroom home, newly remodeled professional kitchen with cathedral ceiling, granite countertops, Viking stove, farmhouse sink carved from a solid block of Carrara marble. Second bedroom could be turned into a 10th bathroom."

Home improvement stores are full of guys -- well, except for my wife and the millions of other women with lazy, good-for-nothing, glued-to-the-sofa husbands -- who can install Jacuzzis by themselves. Guys buying pressure-washers to clean their decks -- decks that they built with wood that they bought here and presumably had cut before 10:30 p.m. There are guys buying tools to cut bathroom tile, tools to cut pipe, tools to cut wire.

On one trip to get quarter-round (yes, I thought we were going to the supermarket to buy some kind of steak), I had to use the restroom. It was a two-mile walk from the front door, past guys who were buying screen doors, 4x8s, miter boxes, arc welders, PVC pipe, crushed marble and dropcloths. They're having paint mixed and colors matched; they're buying kitchen cabinets that they'll install themselves. They're buying light fixtures and patio pavers and closet doors and table saws and pipe wrenches. There doesn't seem to be any challenge that these homeowners and contractors can't handle.

It's when I get to the men's room that I discover the one thing none of these guys can do. I'm in a store full of guys who can install a toilet -- they just can't flush one.

Jim Mullen

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 22:28

Florida Cities Closer To Banning The Bag

With last year’s styrofoam ban upheld by a Miami-Dade judge, the city of Coral Gables, south Florida’s “City Beautiful,” is stepping into the eco-regulation fray with another initiative. This time, to “ban the bag.”

At a March 14 meeting, the Coral Gables City Council gave initial approval to an ordinance prohibiting plastic bags being used by retailers or at special events – with a few exceptions. A final vote, which would make the ban official, is expected on May 8.

Coral Gables would be the first city in Florida with a plastic bag ban.
“Coral Gables has strict zoning laws of which you wouldn’t believe the minutiae and nitpicking,” according to WLRN. “If something is ‘decayed’ in Coral Gables, even lushly, you risk getting beaten to death with a perfectly manicured palmetto branch that can ­only be removed Thursdays at 4:00 a.m. by the mayor’s cousin.”
And if the city does enact the bag ban, it would also be operating in defiance of existing state regulations – but perhaps not for long.

Two bills in the state legislature are poised to allow cities across Florida to legally join Coral Gables in this popular regulation.
Ban on the ban

In 2008, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that prohibited cities and municipalities from instituting retail bag bans until such time as the Department of Environmental Protection could make recommendations on the practice. The DEP’s Retail Bags Report came out in 2010.

PROOF IN THE PUDDING

Environmental groups push bag bans as a necessary planet-saving step. But do they work?

State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, has been introducing bills for several years to allow bag ban programs in the state.

The third consecutive iteration, this year’s HB 93, would allow coastal or otherwise water-adjacent municipalities of less than 100,000 residents to initiate a pilot program banning plastic bags. The accompanying Senate bill, SB 162, has made it through its first committee stop.

If enacted, the man-made island of Miami Beach, population 92,312 according to the latest available Census estimates, would be allowed to begin a bag ban trial program. On the other side of Biscayne Bay, the city of Miami, with its 2,712,945 residents, would not.

Richardson was not available for comment. But his legislative assistant, Luis Callejas, told us that this was the result of legislative negotiations to advance the bill.

“Initially, it was for any city in the state,” said Callejas. “[Our goal is] just to make sure that interest groups know that this is a big concern for Miami Beach and coastal communities in general.”

Callejas said that the larger goal of this legislation was simply to get these environmental issues more attention in the legislature, but that the Florida Retail Federation had successfully blocked previous bag ban bills from advancing in the House.

The Florida Retail Federation had not responded to our requests for comment at the time of publication, but FRF spokesman James Miller told the TC Palm that the ban hurts the “ability of each retailer to respond to the demands of its customers,” particularly when navigating different regulations in different municipalities.

“Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable, and retailers have embraced their role in recycling these materials,” he said, adding that there is no perfect environmental solution.

A little less conversation

At the state legislature, the bag ban talk might be more for show.

But for Coral Gables, the activity on the ban is real.

If Coral Gables does pass the ban in defiance of existing state law, it can expect to be sued by the state.
Marilu Flores, vice chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s Miami chapter, told Watchdog that they have offered the city legal assistance in the event of a suit.

“What’s happening in Coral Gables is very interesting because it’s putting pressure in Tallahassee that this is what people want,” she said, adding that Surfrider has drummed up 40 letters of support from different Florida communities interested in their own bag bans.

Callejas also said the Surfrider Foundation has been instrumental in crafting the language of the bill and pushing the legislative agenda.

Surfrider’s involvement in the Florida issue is longstanding. It has been active in pushing legislation in the past few years and tried to thwart the initial legislative bag ban pre-emption.

Flores said she was hopeful. “This year, we’ve seen some movement that haven’t seen in years past.”

She added that Florida was uniquely situated to benefit from a ban, and that aside from all of the obvious wildlife and ecological pollution problems, plastic bag pollution is a “huge financial disruptor as well.”

Miami Beach found that loose plastic bags interfered with the city’s floodgate mechanisms and worsened flooding problems, she said.
Surfrider is one of the most visible advocates behind a nationwide epidemic of bag bans.

Florida alone has eleven Surfrider chapters, with many more across the country, all of which coordinate with the organization’s Malibu headquarters.

Surfrider bills itself as a community of everyday people who are the “champions of surf and sand.”
However, investigations into the national organization suggest that Surfrider sometimes skirts the lawsthat govern not-for-profit entities.

Solving the wrong problem

In addition to questions about the organizational integrity of the bag ban’s loudest advocate, the movement’s claim to scientific integrity and environmental dedication is undermined in another way: the empirical results of places that have already tried the ban.

“Plastic bag bans haven’t been transformative anywhere else. This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at the free-market Reason Foundation.

CLEAN WATER: Reason’s Adrian Moore says that banning plastic bags is not an effective way of getting at the real
problem: littering.

He told Watchdog that plastic bag bans do not have a significant impact on litter reduction. Reusable plastic bags make up only 1 percent of litter found in a typical city, and even less than that of the solid waste in landfills.

Moore added that the heavy duty reusable bags that people turn to when grocery plastic bags are banned are not necessarily better for the environment, given the greater resource and processing demands of making them.

He called bag bans a kind of “cop-out,” allowing cities to avoid asking the real questions about why we have problems with litter (including plastic bags) getting into the environment, be it lack of garbage cans, insufficient public education, or not cleaning up after events, for starters.

Moreover, Moore said that a lot of these cities that pass bag bans are those with environmentally conscious, better-off residents. In other words, places where people are already likely to be mindful of reusing bags and stewarding the environment – and where the impact of bag bans is particularly negligible.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states proposed legislation regulating the retail use of plastic bags in 2015 and 2016. The only laws that passed were in Arizona, Idaho and Missouri, all of which pre-empted city bans.

California has the oldest statewide ban, passed in 2014. Hawaii effectively has one as well, given that all of its largest cities have passed bag ban ordinances.

At the city level, there has been even more activity, with cities like Austin, Chicago and Seattle passing legislation regarding the use of plastic bags. Others, such as Boulder, Colorado; Brownsville, Texas; and Washington, D.C., have instituted bag fees.

The results are underwhelming. In Washington, the evidence of definitive success isn’t there. The bag tax money has been used for purposes like school field trips and personnel costs, as opposed to the environment initiatives that it was earmarked for.
In Brownsville, the legality of local bag fees has come under question.

But maybe Florida would be different?

“No,” said Moore. “There’s nothing unique about Florida.”

“If you have a litter problem, you have a litter problem, not a plastic bag problem.”

Erin Clark
Watchdog.org