The Association of Comm-unity Organizations for Reform Now, better known as love-nugget ACORN, has come into some good news: Their housing counseling agency is the recipient of $7.8 million from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Fund ($180 million greenlighted by Congress two months ago to stem the foreclosure flood), making them fifth in the nation at getting money for sad stuff.

How’d they do it? Well, ACORN Housing has been engaging in “loan workouts” for the financially atrophied, preventing some 4,000 foreclosures just last year. The money should help them up that number to 20,000 this year. That and a collapsing market, actually.

In related news, you too can immerse yourself in the rubbernecking of the subprime foreclosure fantastic next weekend, as the Orlando Homes Tour offers to carry you to up to 10 pickable carcasses in just a couple of hours on March 22. Of course, there’s a positive spin. “With interest rates as low as they are and the large amount of foreclosed homes in the Orlando market, it is definitely the ideal time to buy,” bleeds real estate agent David Torres in true press release fashion.

Sure, it’s intended to entice first-time home buyers into the American dream, but the real joy will be in trying to locate little Jenny’s torn Raggedy Ann doll, left behind on her hasty exit, or to stare at the existential infinity of the spinning wheel on Joey’s overturned tricycle. Sniffle.

Meeting locations and times vary; check www.orlandohomestour.com or call 407-970-0759 for details.

Speaking of ACORN, it’s been a busy week for them and other groups dealing in social justice. On March 7, we caught them and members of the Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Self-Help, Central Florida Jobs With Justice and the ACLU, chained together on the sidewalk in front of the Robinson Street offices of Florida senators Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez. They were there to protest abuses farmworkers in Florida must endure to make sure you get cheap tomatoes on your burgers, stuff like being hassled by cops, exposed to pesticides, detained and deported. And that’s not right.

No word on whether Nelson or Martinez witnessed the shackling that took place outside their offices.

For the city of Apopka, it seems like a done deal: Kick two red-light cameras into operation in June, then slowly add others. The police department has better things to do than write tickets to red-light runners, you know.

Ah, but not everyone is delighted with the prospect of red-light cams, so it wasn’t shocking when the Florida Civil Rights Association and the National Motorists Association last week filed a litany of public records requests (with both the city of Apopka and camera vendor American Traffic Solutions) for documents they say may highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the digital eye of justice.

The groups have long contended red-light cameras invade privacy, deny due process since there is no accuser to face, and conflict with state law (though lawmakers are now getting into the fray). J Willie David III, prez of the Florida Civil Rights Association, says it boils down to “a cash-cow justice system and injustice to the people of Florida at its worst.”

Perhaps. But isn’t that what cities do best?

We’d long suspected that Orange County School Board member Kat Gordon and Ocoee Mayor Scott Vandergrift weren’t the best of friends. So when contentious e-mails began passing between the two over the proposed plan to move Evans High School, all we could do was enjoy the rancor.

In the version forwarded to us, Gordon begins with a hearty ass-kissing, calling Vandergrift her “favorite mayor” and correcting the spelling of her name, but the conversation deteriorates at a breakneck pace. In reference to Vandergrift’s free-flowing newsletters opposing the move to a rural settlement in Clarcona, Gordon demands: “Stop scaring the people. What hatred are you now trying to create?”

“It is certain members of the board that have race hatred issue and you know that isn’t a legitimate argument,” Vandergrift retorts, before clarifying that building in a rural settlement isn’t the only issue. “You bet … it is a fundamental right of the citizens not having something shoved down their throats without due process by a runaway government.”

After a lengthy exchange, Gordon winds down on a softer note, pleading, “Be ‘sweet’ Mr. Mayor I love you. ‘Why can’t we all get along’ as stated by Rodney King?”

Vandergrift drips with sarcasm as he answers: “I guess Rodney has never had anyone email him calling him a lair, a hate monger, racist, and a few other innuendos that can keep people from getting along…For you to even insinuate that I was a racist is the hardest thing for me to perceive and I can only say, that you will do anything to win rather than accept responsibility of staff not keeping Evans in good repair.”

What could be more harmonious than the sound of local officials throttling each other?

The fundies who complained when the Florida Department of Education mandated the teaching of evolution, thus making a modest attempt to stop unleashing uneducated dolts on the world, have one last trick up their sleeve: Ben Stein!

Good old deadpan Stein, whose résumé includes writing speeches for Richard Nixon and playing that really boring teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is actually something of a fundie himself. And it just so happens he’s releasing a movie in April to disprove all that evolution nonsense called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Sweet serendipity!

Stein’s plan, apparently, is to become the Michael Moore of the far right. And he’s going to be making a super-special appearance in front of the Florida Legislature March 12 to tell them that little kids don’t need their heads filled with all that Darwinian gobbledygook when a good reading of the Bible -will do just as well. (Except we don’t call it “creationism” anymore, because that’s not allowed in public schools. We don’t call it “intelligent design” either, because that got tossed out as creationism. What we call it these days is “academic freedom.”) And it so happens Stein has a movie coming out too! The timing is just divine, we must say.

This week’s report by Billy Manes, Deanna Morey and Bob Whitby.


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