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Florida editorial roundup

December 3, 2013
Associated Press

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Dec. 2

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, on Hurricane season's end puzzling the weather experts:

Saturday was the end of hurricane season, and it appears as if meteorologists and climate theorists will be left scratching their heads.

The year 2013 is going to go down as the year with the fewest number of hurricanes since 1982. ...

Before the hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted between 13 to 20 named storms, and between seven and 11 hurricanes. Of those, between two and six were supposed to be major hurricanes.

Thirteen named storms have formed this season. But only two hurricanes were named. Two is well below the annual average. And neither of those hurricanes was considered major.

So what happened? Where is the climate-related strife that was supposed to bedevil Florida and the Southeast?

In 2005, it looked as if what some theorized was climate change related to human activity was making itself known through extreme weather. The nation had seen a number of severe hurricanes, culminating in Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Hurricane Wilma followed and caused much damage in Florida.

Then came — well, not much. ... Florida has not been hit by a major hurricane since late 2005. ...

Whatever the reason, perhaps it's time for believers in "climate change" to cool their rhetoric about warming producing supercharged storms. Few people advocate emitting carbon into the atmosphere with no limits, but to achieve policy goals of carbon regulation, some climate-change believers have amped up their rhetoric to the extreme.

Al Gore, the symbolic leader of the climate-change alarm ringers, said earlier this year that "the fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over" recent storms and hurricanes.

That's at least debatable, but the rhetoric is getting so intense that dissent is sometimes forbidden. Look at the Los Angeles Times: An opinion-page editor declared earlier this year that writers who deny evidence of man-made climate change will not be published.

That's just wrong. And it's not in the spirit of rational inquiry and debate — it's a kind of religious absolutism.

There certainly is still room to argue about the weather, weather forecasts and "climate" forecasts too.



Dec. 1

Miami Herald on the relationship between the nation's most secretive agency and its most secretive court:

Trusting the oversight of the nation's most secretive agency to its most secretive court never seemed likely to work. And as it turns out, it didn't.

That's the impression left by the latest disclosures about the National Security Agency and the court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which is the shadowy venue in which the spy agency's activities are supposed to acquire a patina of legitimacy.

The records were released with extensive redactions in response to lawsuits by civil-liberties groups in the wake of runaway contractor Edward Snowden's leaks.

They show that the FISA court labored to legalize NSA activities that had already been carried out and that could hardly be squeezed into the broad espionage authority Congress had granted, particularly in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A court opinion written in 2004 and released for the first time last month rubber-stamped the NSA's mass collection of online "metadata" — that is, information on the senders, recipients, and timing of e-mails and other communications, though not their content.

The Bush administration had begun the wholesale collection of such information unilaterally, but it was forced to present the program to the court for ex post facto review after top Justice Department lawyers threatened to resign.

Under a Supreme Court ruling in 1979, well before most people had imagined such a thing as an e-mail, metadata is not subject to constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Federal law sets a very low bar for authorities to access such data: They have only to certify that it's likely to yield information that is "relevant" to an investigation.

However, as George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr recently noted on the blog Lawfare, the statute was obviously written to apply to specific investigations and targets. The FISA court nevertheless relied on it to approve the continued collection of an "enormous volume" of Americans' online data.

While the court did attempt to impose rules and restrictions on the data dragnet, the documents show that the NSA repeatedly failed to comply with them. And yet online metadata collection continued until 2011, when the Obama administration discontinued it for what it called "operational and resource" reasons.

Meanwhile, a similar program collecting Americans' telephone metadata en masse, under a similarly dubious legal rationale, apparently continues to this day. ...

The ACLU is now suing to stop the NSA's mass collection of phone records.



Dec. 3

The Tampa Tribune on protecting the economy and land:

A report that found Florida's parks generate $1.2 billion in economic impact highlights the importance of a constitutional amendment that would ensure future funding for land acquisition.

For years, Republicans and Democrats alike supported purchasing beaches, springs and wilderness tracts to ensure their preservation.

But where the state traditionally devoted about $300 million a year to land acquisition, which number has shrunk to less than $10 million.

Thus the need for the Florida's Water and Land Legacy Campaign.

The citizens' petition drive would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would restore funding to normal levels by requiring 33 percent of the proceeds of the documentary stamp tax to be used for conservation.

This would not be a new tax. It would merely ensure a portion of the fee tied to real-estate development is used for environmental preservation, as originally was intended by the Florida Forever-Preservation 2000 programs.

Some background: In 1990, Republican Gov. Bob Martinez launched Preservation 2000, which used a portion of the proceeds from the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions for land conservation. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush continued the popular program as Florida Forever.

But under Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers in recent years, conservation funding has virtually dried up. ...

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, about 26 million people visited state parks last year, generating $1.2 billion in economic activity and supporting nearly 20,000 jobs. The parks produced more than $77 million in sales tax dollars for the state.

And DEP estimates that for every 1,000 people who visit a state park or trail, the direct impact on the local economy is close to $47,000.

Such numbers do not address how many people want to live in Florida because of its natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Realtors know that conservation lands usually increase the value of surrounding properties because people like to live near undeveloped land.

And there also is no way to compute how many expenses conservation spares taxpayers by protecting water supplies, preventing pollution and other growth-related problems. Land acquisition also offers a way to protect resources without cumbersome regulations or disputes with landowners.

Scott seems to be slowly awakening to the value of conservation, but the Legislature has shown little interest in restoring reasonable funding to land acquisition and has even engaged in a poorly executed effort to sell off "surplus lands," some of which have environmental value.

With the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, citizens can free conservation or political considerations and ensure future generations can enjoy our state's unique natural beauty.




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