In an online video explaining the Orlando Sentinel’s new redesign, editor Charlotte Hall insisted that they weren’t dumbing the paper down; rather, they were telling stories “more smartly.” And we totally believed her, until we saw the ludicrously vacuous “news” that filled the new Sentinel’s first few editions.

Our suspicion that the paper’s commitment to journalism was headed to the crapper faster than a double bean burrito was further confirmed when we received word last week that our colleagues at the daily were bracing for yet another round of pink slips, and that these layoffs would target the paper’s news gatherers.

According to a tip we received – on background, several Sentinel newsies confirmed it to be the office buzz – the paper is getting ready to ax 20 percent of its news staff, including 50 from the newsroom. And this could happen any day now; it may have happened already by the time you get your peepers on this column. After the guillotine falls, the Sentinel’s editorial staff will be down to about 200, from more than 300 two years ago.

Oh, and in case you were worried, our source says that people in senior management, administration and the milquetoast op-ed section are safe. After all, the new Sentinel doesn’t need “news.” That’s what the wire services are for.

Here’s some exciting news: We’re getting a giant Ferris wheel!

The Great Wheel Corporation, a Singapore-based company that builds … take a guess … will hold a press conference June 25 to announce the construction of an “international icon” right here in our little city. The presser didn’t say what exactly that icon would be, but thanks to the wonders of Google and a little reporting from Orlando’s best daily newspaper, The Orlando Business Journal, we’ve already figured this one out.

It will be a 400-foot-tall rotating “observation platform,” similar to those already spinning in Singapore and London. It’ll cost between $40 million and $60 million to build, will be located near the Orange County Convention Center and will open in late 2009. You’ll ride it once. But you are not a tourist.

From the 4:20 desk comes this item: Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum wants you to smoke out! Why else would he put out a press release touting a new law aimed at “for-profit” marijuana grow houses? The message is clear, wethinks: Grow your own for your own consumption, friends. How very green of you, Bill.

McCollum was even nice enough to enumerate exactly how much weed you can grow for yourself without running afoul of the “for-profit” clause in the new law: up to 24 plants. Put that 25th seed under the lights and you’re looking at a third-degree felony. Do it in a house where kids live and you’re staring down a first-degree felony.

The new law is a buzzkill on one level: The old threshold for criminal charges was 300 plants. That’s a mountain of bud. But still, you can probably scrape by with a 24-plant harvest, if you’d just restrict your intake a little, you damn chimney.

Anyway, the new Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act is law, and you know where you stand. Who’s ordering the pizza?

As the political chasm between old white ladies and progressive frat boys continues to throb like a festering wound, one local grass-roots organization has decided to rub a little gay salve on the whole Clinton/Obama injury.

Dubbed “A Summer Party for Democratic Unity in 2008,” the event at Stonewall Bistro turned out to be less a public outreach than a stumpy, wonkish circle-jerk. Greater Orlando Team Hillary leader Jessy Hamilton echoed his queen’s lament, “This isn’t the party that I planned,” while Orlando4Obama head Michelle Stile leaned in slightly to admit that “we won’t be able to win without the 18 million Hillary voters and stuff.” But it would seem that the real purpose of the evening was to provide a platform – albeit one rigged through a gay karaoke machine – for the senate and congressional candidates vying for the Dem party nomination to test their chops.

Diminutive congressional District 8 candidate Quoc Van, for example, spoke of his family and his GPA, while competitor Charlie Stuart sweated a lot and mumbled even more. Alan Grayson, who later commented to us that this really wasn’t the right place for candidates to talk about themselves, bleated the unthinkable through the lousy sound system when he ended his mechanical stump speech with a rousing “free at last, free at last!” Of what? Your beard?

State Rep. Scott Randolph held on to his Hillary guns, saying that as “pissed off” as he was about Clinton’s losing, he’d be waaaay more pissed off if McCain won. And then, as if the circus couldn’t get any more absurd, there was a moment of silence for Tim Russert.

Exhibiting all the enthusiasm of a raucous funeral procession, Orlando cabbies drove down Orange Avenue last week circling and honking. It wasn’t the first time. Local cabbies have long decried Mears Transportation, which they say holds a monopoly and makes it impossible for drivers to make a living (see “Cab fight,” May 8.) In their latest showing of displeasure, cab drivers went on their third daylong strike this year June 16.

There wasn’t much reaction from taxi companies, but one federal agency is taking notice. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating a complaint filed by the Florida Civil Rights Association on behalf of 50 taxi drivers alleging that during the group’s first strike on March 10, Mears conducted surveillance of the protesters in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, then fired several drivers. We’re just glad we didn’t need a cab that day.

Mears is also being investigated for civil rights violations after drivers complained of discrimination and retaliation. (Most of their drivers are immigrants and minorities.)

Happy hailing!

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