Remember when ACORN was just that little harmless tree nugget registering voters while working to stop foreclosures (you know, before it became the Republican devil)?

Well that little nugget has grown into a scrawny sapling. In an attempt to keep people facing eviction in their homes, the group launched its "Home Staying" campaign in seven cities, including Orlando, on Feb. 19. Basically, while the world waits for President Obama's foreclosure plan to take root, ACORN will stop at nothing — including the civil disobedience of dispatching "Home Defender teams" to homesteads in dire straits — to keep people in their houses. They will literally "block foreclosure evictions," says Home Defender spokesman William Moore in a press release, along with other words like "combat" and "decimation."

So this is the apocalypse, right? No, but it's a little like 1933 Depression-era Iowa when the governor declared martial law after more than 500 angry farmers dragged a circuit judge from the bench to stop him from approving more foreclosures. That little act of defiance brought out the National Guard! Hurray, chaos!

So say you're a freshman go-getter in the Florida House of Representatives and you really want to make a humdinger of a difference. Well, if you happen to be Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, you crusade to preserve state funding for religious teachings on the sanctity of conception (see "Immaculate Deception," page 10). That act lands you a place at Gov. Charlie Crist's wet bar and a ring tone in former Gov. Jeb Bush's Blackberry. Yay, you!

But what do you do for an encore? You tackle the next biggest threat to the health and well being of Floridians: novelty lighters.

Plakon's HB 417 takes square aim at this menace. "The bottom line," he warned the House Public Safety and Domestic Security Committee Feb. 17, "these are deceptively dangerous and should not be sold in the state of Florida."

You see, children might be drawn to cigarette lighters shaped like SpongeBob Squarepants, miniature guitars, food or guns, and then use them to start fires, smoke cocaine, or bring down jetliners. It's a natural progression.

Who could object to such legislation? State Rep. J.C. Planas, R-Miami, that's who. He spent 45 minutes discussing his own hotdog lighter at home, which you'd have to pry from his cold, dead hands. When did the state legislature turn into a truck stop, exactly?

While the Republicans were busy arm wrestling over toys, state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hallandale Beach, introduced SB 1642, The bill aims to write domestic partnership into the books, thereby (partially) undoing the idiot wrath of Amendment 2 and settling a more worthwhile flame war.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Delray Beach, and state Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, have companion bills intended to prevent gay discrimination in housing and employment. Surprise! Not everybody in Tallahassee is an asshole.

But most of them are. Last week also saw the Republican majorities in both the Florida House and Senate scurrying to repeal public campaign financing.

You'll recall that it was the Republicans who raised the spending caps in the financing program in 2005, which did in fact raise the cost to the state. The Florida Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters called foul on the Republicans, pointing out that the public campaign financing mess stems from decisions Republicans made to render the program useless.

Apparently, the protestations of Common Cause — calling into light declining public confidence in the state government following the recent financial fraud of former House Speaker Ray Sansom — pissed off House Majority Leader Adam Hasner enough to have him call Common Cause nasty names and question their own funding sources. Common Cause responded with a list of funding sources comprising all political affiliations, and somebody's tail went swiftly between somebody's legs. The battle wages on.

Have you heard the tale of Sir Robert Allen Stanford, the Texas billionaire who was once knighted by Antigua (the country, not the bar) and who was briefly on the lam after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged him securities fraud a la Bernie Madoff?

Fun facts: ABC News says the FBI is investigating him for laundering Mexican drug money. Also, the Associated Press says that he owes $212 million in income taxes.

Like scumbags everywhere, Stanford also showered the U.S. Congress with money so that politicians may do his bidding. For instance, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 2000 he, his employees and his political action committee have given $965,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $250,125 to their GOP counterparts.

So guess who's the No. 1 recipient of his largesse: Our own Sen. Bill Nelson! In the entire freaking Congress! Go Bill!

Nelson, who has banked $45,900, is in good company too. Right there with him is former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, who did time in the federal clink after getting all wrapped up in that Jack Abramoff scandal. And not far behind is former U.S. Rep. Tom Delay, now under indictment in Texas.

What did Florida's favorite space cadet do to merit such coin? In 2002, when Stanford was feeling especially generous, Nelson was the vice chair of the DSCC, which tries to elect Democratic senators (and that year failed miserably). That year, the DSCC banked $800,000 from Stanford, who was lobbying against the Financial Services Antifraud Network Act, an antifraud measure that stalled in the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee when the Dems were in charge.

Nelson wasn't on that committee, however, and he supported the bill. His office announced that they're donating all 45 large to charity. No harm no foul, right?

What would Fred do in these hard times? Saintly man that he was, Mr. Rogers would gladly have given the cardigan off his back to warm a shivering neighbor. In fact, his never-out-of-style button-up sweaters "came to represent the gentle spirit and warmth of the man himself," says Stephanie Duesing, communications manager at Rollins College. (Millennial update: Cardigans for men are now marketed as "mandigans.")

You too can be saintly by dropping off any Mr. Rogers' specials (or any other sweaters and the like) at sites around the Winter Park campus until Feb. 27. That's when they'll get packed up for the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, as the finishing touch on last weekend's second annual Good Neighbor Conference at the college. This year's theme, "Being a Good Neighbor in Today's Multicultural Society," was explored via workshops, like "Don't Laugh at Me," and "Do You Know Your Neighbors?" It's a PC stew, yes, but the bottom line remains: no one should be without a warm sweater.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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