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As a regular service to our readers we like to keep you updated on how much the war in Iraq is costing. And the best way to do that, of course, is to localize it.

That’s where the good people at the National Priorities Project come in. They’ve been breaking down the cost of war for cities, counties and states ever since President Bush declared “mission accomplished.” Their war-cost counter puts the total at about $519 billion and rising at the rate of about $341 million a day.

Congress is mulling Bush’s request for another $178 billion in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. If approved, it would bring Orange County’s total fiscal contribution to the war up to nearly $2 billion. What could we buy with that kind of money? Health care for 693,611 people; 45,282 public safety officers for a year; 31,403 music and arts teachers for a year; 613,168 one-year college scholarships; 136 new elementary schools; or 14,498 affordable housing units.

Politics, as they say, is all about priorities.

We were on our way over to Lake Eola with a sack full of stale bread crumbs and old Cheetos when we heard that the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida is bent out of shape about integrating exotic swans into the Lake Eola flock, thus turning it into some kind of swan freakshow.

City officials announced recently they would be adding swans from Europe, South America and Russia. The first exotics – a pair of Whooper swans – arrived April 23.

AARF says at least two of the species of exotics are harmful to native waterfowl, that the clipped-winged swans have a poor diet (like Cheetos) and that they’re cruelly deprived of their natural behaviors. Plus, these new swans are pretty randy and could multiply like rabbits, becoming a nuisance.

“We are huge fans of Lake Eola’s swan-shaped paddle boats,” said Nick Atwood, ARFF campaigns co-ordinator. “But live swans should not be treated the same way, as a gimmick to attract tourists.”

Plus swan boats don’t crap on people.

Alan Grayson thinks people love Alan Grayson, and Alan Grayson may be right! The second-time-around congressional candidate – one of several candidates, Republican and Democrat, trying to take down the local embarrassment known as U.S. Rep. Ric Keller – just sent us an e-mail with a bunch of quotes from e-mails that he’s gotten from adoring throngs who tell him how totally wonderful he is.

And since he shaved the beardafter he lost the 2006 Democratic primary, which wouldn’t have happened had he heeded our advice – we’ll go along with the idea that Grayson is one swell guy. He did, in fact, just stick a sizable boot up the arse of a company that screwed over U.S. taxpayers.

On May 7 Grayson, a lawyer who has filed dozens of lawsuits against government contractors, signed a settlement agreement with IIF Data Solutions, a company he says overcharged the federal government. The company had to shell out $8.9 million, the third-largest False Claims Act recovery in history, according to the press release his congressional campaign immediately blasted.

And to hear his campaign tell it, our man Alan is quite the American Hero: “In the IIF case, Grayson fended off numerous efforts by IIF to dismiss the case. The Bush administration refused to prosecute, and then it refused to allow any government officials to appear as witnesses at trial. Grayson persevered nevertheless, marshalling other witnesses, experts and documents.”

Not to piss on his grits or anything, but isn’t that what lawyers do?

Speaking of self-adulation, Rollins College has learned that Rollins College is totally awesome!

Rollins hired research firm Tripp Umbach to study Rollins’ awesomeness. And guess what they found out? That the school “enriches the quality of life in Winter Park and Central Florida” by contributing $205 million to the economy, paying the city of Winter Park lots of property and sales tax, hiring boatloads of people and “making significant social contributions.” (The last part is code for the fact that the school makes some students do community service.)

To recap: Rollins awesome, says Rollins. Film at 11.

Because as we usually reserve Sundays for the baby Jesus and cocktail brunches, we were intrigued by the giant, prop-heavy celebration populating the Lake Eola concourse on May 11. Would it include either of our Sunday staples?

Actually, no. Instead, the carnival-like atmosphere was a vaguely controversial celebration of Israel Independence Day, wherein our favorite holy land turned 60, but thanks to a couple of nips and tucks didn’t look a day over 40.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando threw down “in a big way,” focusing on awkward extensions of historical metaphors: “Ride a Camel in the Negev, 5 tickets (with photo 7 tickets),” read one sign next to two real camels; “Bounce in the Dead Sea (sponsored by the Law Offices of Michael B. Brehne, P.A.),” read another next to a repurposed bounce house. Fun!

In case you’re keeping track, the score in the ongoing battle between the city and Orlando Food Not Bombs is now 2-to-zip in favor of the hippies.

The latest victory came May 9, when a jury acquitted five OFNB members who were arrested for violating the city’s noise ordinance by banging drums at a Buddy Dyer re- election rally in June. (A judge threw out the charges against a sixth earlier.) The “Dyer Drum Corps” even got their drums back, right then and there.

This latest poke in the city’s eye comes seven months after OFNB member Eric Montanez was found not guilty of violating the city’s large-group feeding ordinance. (Montanez is also one of the Dyer drummers, so he must really stick in the city’s craw.)

“I think the jury recognized the absurdity of people being arrested while protesting the city’s policies at what was clearly a political event,” says OFNB lawyer Jackie Dowd.

The city released a statement saying that although it lost, it plans to continue enforcing the noise ordinance. Duh.

Round No. 3 of the fight is coming up in June, when a federal judge will preside over a trial on the legality of the city’s group feeding ordinance. We’re predicting a city strikeout.


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