Under pressure from the digital-TV industry, Congress has set Feb. 17, 2009, as the date when the United States goes digital, and that means an estimated 70 million TV sets won't be able to pick up signals from the air without a digital-to-analog converter box.
Anticipating a backlash from voters by setting a firm cutoff date, lawmakers put aside $900 million in subsidies for the converter boxes, but analog-TV users will still face about $10 in costs for each box to continue to watch terrestrially received TV signals. (Analog-set owners who use cable or satellite services already have digital signals converted.)
Americans want their privacy back. Five years after the 9/11 attacks resulted in tolerance for increased police and government surveillance, most Americas now tell pollsters they don't support routine searches of purses and packages in railroad stations and subway systems. Pollster John Zogby says a growing concern about civil liberties means President Bush faces as tough sell of his anti-terror surveillance program.
P.S. One surveillance technology that still gets wide acceptance: street cameras. Some 70 percent of those asked said they don't have problems with more camera surveillance of shadowy streets and public areas.
According to the score sheets kept by the National Taxpayers Union, President Bush's State of the Union address ranks among the cheapest in modern times.
The NTU counted up all the costs of promised new programs and extracted the savings from proposed government pruning outlined in the speech, and concluded that it would cost taxpayers about $91 million _ a fraction of the $107 billion in new spending that Bush touted in his 2002 address. Mired in a bitter and embarrassing impeachment fight in 1999, President Bill Clinton delivered a landmark promise-them-the-moon State of the Union address that carried a price tag of $305 billion.
In the latest incarnation of the 1950s "duck-and-cover" campaigns to prepare Americans for nuclear war, the Department of Homeland Security is unveiling its "Ready Kids" initiative. The idea is to persuade kids to become part of family efforts to make preparations to cope with emergencies. Surveys show that only a third of American families have an emergency plan.
So meet campaign icon Rex, "a strong and confident" mountain lion who will appear on material the government is spreading through the National PTA, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. and Boy Scouts of America.
The National Weather Service is rolling out a new and more precise scale for estimating killer tornadoes. The new Enhanced Fujita Scale refines the traditional Fujita Scale, which ranks tornadoes on a scale of F1-to-F5, with F5 being the most dangerous. Because of technical quirks, meteorologists found that the Fujita scale overestimated wind speeds. The refined scale also allows the use of new weather data, which the weather service hopes will produce more accurate warnings of really dangerous tornadoes as the system is put in place over the next year.
Drought conditions in the South and Southwest are expected only to worsen this summer, thanks to forecasts that the La Nina weather pattern is returning. Farmers are already being urged to plant crops this spring that thrive on low water and adopt soil-conservation techniques to lessen dust storms.
Latest prescriptions from Congress for correcting lobbyist abuses: more reports. Newly minted House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio says he wants to see "more transparency" in the relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists, which translates into requiring lobbyists to file more complete public reports of what they are doing.
The same message comes from the Senate, where rules changes would require final legislation to be made available for senators to read at least 24 hours before any votes. This is designed to give full notice of all the special projects and pork-barrel measures stuffed inside, but doesn't promise to put any limits on them.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott of Mississippi doubts it's possible to eliminate the "earmarks" buried in must-pass bills. "It's not going to happen, will not happen, not now or in my lifetime or ever," Lott says.
(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)shns.com)
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