Threat of credit card ‘skimming’ rises during holidays

South Florida shoppers beware. While you’re looking for gifts, criminals are on the prowl for your banking information.

Credit card “skimming” — the use of electronic gadgets to steal credit and debit card information — is not new in South Florida, but it’s on the rise, especially around the holidays, said U.S. Secret Service agent James Porter in Miami. Porter specializes in electronic crimes.

Tips on how to shop safely online using public Wi-Fi

“People are just making more purchases around this time of year, and with the increase in credit card activity, there are often more chances for skimming,” Porter said.

With the stolen credit and debit card numbers, thieves make about $8 billion in fraudulent purchases each year, the Secret Service said. The number of skimming cases has risen by 10 percent each year since 2008, according to the Secret Service. The agency doesn’t keep South Florida statistics.

More than 3 million people have been victims of skimming at ATMs, losing an average of $1,000 per person, according to the ADT Security Services website. The company manufactures anti-skimming devices.

“South Florida is one of the top areas for this kind of fraud, for obvious reasons,” Porter said. “We’re a tourism hot spot. Where there’s a lot of economic activity, there’s fraudulent activity.”

Electronic devices that take, or “skim,” card numbers can be placed inside automated teller machines, gas station pumps, at check-out stations in stores or carried by hand to swipe cards.

The devices aren’t visible to most users because they’re inside the ATMs and pumps. Mihai Arnautu, from Delray Beach, was arrested in July 2010 after surveillance videos showed him tampering with bank ATMs in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

He got $45,000 with the card information skimmed by the devices, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Omar Fonseca, of Miami, faces 18 counts of identity theft, based on information he took from hundreds of skimmed credit and debit cards over three months in 2010, according to court documents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Federal prosecutors want him to repay more than $42,000.

Any place you swipe a card to pay is vulnerable to a skimming attack, Porter said. The devices can be bought easily on the Internet and are programmed to read and store credit card information.

Devices placed inside ATMs include cameras that can be positioned to record a user typing a PIN code, he said. And some devices are handheld, making it easy for clerks or waiters to pass a card through their skimmer before swiping it for the legitimate purchase.

Devices can capture data from up to 2,000 cards, according to ADT Security Services’ website.

“If you want to be sure not to be a victim, you can always pay inside at a gas station, or go inside a bank to get cash,” Porter said. “There is a thin line between convenience and security. People need to weigh that concern on their own.”, 954-356-4528 or Twitter @SunBizGriffin


How to protect your cards from skimming

At an ATM: Does the equipment on the ATM look normal and legitimate? If there is a card reader on the machine, give it a slight tug. Don’t use it if a piece falls off. Cover the keypad when you type your PIN code. Withdraw cash from inside a bank if possible.

At a restaurant: Keep your eyes on your card. Try to position your seat so you can see the area where the employee scans your card.

At a store: Check the point-of-sale device for anything that looks unusual. A camera lens or a device as small as a USB thumb drive could be a sign of a skimming device. You can always ask the clerk type in your card’s numbers.

At a gas station: If it looks like the pump has been tampered with, go inside and ask the store clerk to swipe your card.

Other tips: Check your financial statements. Report suspicious charges immediately to a store manager and law enforcement. Credit card liability is limited to $50. Debit card liability depends on your bank and when the theft is reported.

Big Florida political stories to watch in 2012

It’s a journalistic tradition to recap noteworthy stories of the year in the final week.

In a slight variation on the theme, here are 10 emerging political stories to keep a close eye on in 2012.

10. Outsourcing, in or out? Stymied by a court, the Legislature will persist in seeking to privatize dozens of prisons in South Florida while seeking to outsource all health care for inmates statewide. The jury’s still out on privatization, in more ways than one, because the cost savings have yet to be proved and it’s highly disruptive to rank-and-file state workers.

9. Greer’s trial. When Jim Greer goes on trial for alleged misdeeds as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, the GOP’s free-spending, credit card-loving ways will be on trial, as well.

8. Jack’s turn? Two GOP senators are quietly battling to determine which one will become Senate president in 2014: Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The outcome could have far-reaching political repercussions because these two men stand in stark contrast to each other. Latvala is a moderate and a maverick; Gardiner is a button-down conservative.

7. Line drawing. Reapportionment plans for the state House and Senate, and U.S. Congress will shape the state’s political leadership for years to come.

6. Where there’s a Will … Pasco’s Will Weatherford, just 32, is the House point man on reapportionment and will become speaker of the House in fall 2012. (Pasco’s one previous speaker was John Johnston of Dade City in 1893.)

5. PPP. The three letters stand for presidential preference primary. Mark the date: Jan. 31. That’s when Florida Republicans exert their influence in the selection of the GOP nominee to be formally crowned at the party’s convention in August in Tampa.

4. Senate sendoffs. Next year is when term limits exact their full impact on the state Senate, emptying the chamber of much of its experience and institutional know-how. The roll call of senatorial short-timers includes Dennis Jones of Seminole, who by next fall will have an astounding 32 years in the Legislature; Mike Fasano of New Port Richey (18); Mike Bennett of Bradenton (10); Paula Dockery of Lakeland (16); and JD Alexander of Lake Wales (14). Eight isn’t always enough; experience matters.

3. Mack the Fourth. Will U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV follow his namesake father’s footsteps all the way to the U.S. Senate? He’ll need to win a crowded, tough GOP primary, then face well-funded Democrat Bill Nelson in a November race.

2. Election machinations. The Legislature’s big changes to early voting and voter registration in Florida are still unresolved and in the hands of three federal judges in Washington, D.C. Approved or not, they will be a rallying cry for Democrats in 2012.

1. Rick Scott 2.0. The governor has a full year of experience under his belt, and he embarks on the second year of his term with lots to prove. Some of his policies have been blocked or curtailed by the courts; he remains personally unpopular; and legislators have their own ideas of how to run the state. The newness of Rick is gone, and it would be good if he and his constituents would trust each other more. By this time next year, he’ll have reached the mid-way point of his term.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.


Paradise Bank presents a 2012 Charity Billfish Blast

Plans are underway for a many rewarding weekend of a year, a 2012 Charity Billfish Blast to advantage a Twin Palms Center for a Disabled in Boca Raton.

Presented by Paradise Bank and Mahogany Services Inc, a weekend of fishing, food, fun, and fad is designed for Feb 10th and 11th during a Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo.

Lots of good prizes will be awarded to tip anglers in several divisions.  Great entertainment, auction items, and raffle prizes will be provided.

Proceeds from this special weekend will advantage a really estimable organisation of people during a Twin Palms Center for a Disabled located in Boca Raton.

The idea of a Twin Palms Center for a Disabled is to urge a peculiarity of life for people diagnosed with developmental challenges. They dedicate their module to educating a village on a talents and abilities that these people possess.

With a settled idea to inspire particular expansion and growth by training social, educational and daily vital skills in a protected and understanding environment, they accomplish this design while treating people with a grace and honour that they find and deserve

“Paradise Bank is committed to free works within a community,” settled Bill Burke, President of Paradise Bank.  “We are really unapproachable to be partial of a Charity Billfish Blast and a Twin Palms Center for a Disabled.”

Sponsorship opportunities are accessible during all levels.  For some-more information about a Twin Palms Center for a Disabled, greatfully revisit

For some-more information about a 2012 Charity Billfish Blast, greatfully hit Lisa Mundell during (561) 392-5444 or by e-mail during


Boca Raton Society for a Disabled, a 501(C)(3) Corporation d/b/a Twin Palms Center for a Disabled, was founded in 1968 by members of Soroptimist International of Boca Raton/Deerfield Beach and parents.  They saw a need for a structured sourroundings for their adult children diagnosed with developmental disabilities who had nowhere to go for socialization and persisting preparation once they outgrew a open propagandize system.

Paradise Bank is a full use blurb bank with offices in Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale and Delray Beach, Fl. For additional information hit Bill Burke, President, during 561-392-5444 or revisit

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VISIT FLORIDA: Wild winter fishing in the Keys

By Terry Gibson, VISIT FLORIDA,  Photos by Terry Gibson

You may not catch a 255-pound swordfish every trip, but any winter fishing excursion to the Florida Keys is full of adventurous angling potential.

A few winters back, long-time friend and legendary New York-based charter Capt. John McMurray called me to plan the fishing adventure of a lifetime. John’s wife, Danielle, was pregnant with their first children – twins – and she had given John the go-ahead to take a fishing trip of his choice, before feedings and diaper changes became daily affairs.

John’s plan: Rent a motorcycle in Miami and ride it down through the Florida Keys while I follow, pulling my boat. We would hit the best fishing that the winter waters surrounding the Keys have to offer, with the best captains.


It proved an epic road trip with superb fishing for dozens of species, including an incredible day of sailfish action, backcountry rod-bending for snook and redfish, and never to be forgotten, a 255-pound swordfish.

If you’re up for a wintertime fishing adventure in the Keys, here’s your guide to following in our wakes.

Best Bet: Sailfish in the Stream

Hemingway would be stoked to see how strong the Atlantic sailfish population that migrates along the Gulf Stream is today. You’ll probably target this acrobatic fish using the excitingly visual method of dangling live baits beneath kites, but you can also sight-cast live baits to feeding schools. There’s great sailfishing from Key Largo to Big Pine Key to Key West, but I’ve done my best fishing out of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada.

Florida Bay

Florida Bay is a vast wilderness comprising thousands of miles of shallow seagrass meadows, mangrove islands and tributary creeks between the mainland and the Keys. Most of it is protected byEverglades National Park, but you can access Park waters from the northern Keys, including Key Largo,Tavernier and Islamorada.

And there’s no shortage of exciting species you can catch. Winter redfish appear in schools that number in the hundreds. A warm day finds snook sunning themselves, perfect for the sight-fishing angler. Spanish mackerel are a guaranteed catch. They school up literally by the millions.

On the Reef

Accessible from any marina location, the North American Coral Reef Tract runs northward along the entire length of the Florida Keys and beyond. This is the only living coral reef in North America. Fishing for snappers, grunts, groupers and other fish associated with coral is a blast, especially for kids. You can hire a charter or take a “party boat.” The trip is inexpensive and sure to produce a fresh fish dinner. An added bonus: Many Keys restaurants will cook your fresh catch.

Sight Fishing

Catches differ depending upon where you launch in the Keys, but the flats behind Big Pine Key and parts south tend to fish better for bonefish and permit during winter months, though that’s a generalization. The fishing for these prized species gets even better in the spring, along with tarpon fishing, throughout the Keys.

You can also stalk permit, bonefish and tarpon in upper Florida Bay. You’ll catch even more species, including snook and redfish, if you run into Everglades National Park out of the Islamorada area.

Top Captains

Your trip can be made even more epic by enlisting the help of the best in the business to guide you to fertile waters and exhilarating rod-n-reel battles.


  • “Stanczyk” is the biggest name in Keys billfishing. The Catch 22 put me on the biggest fish of my life – a 255-pound swordfish.
  • Hawks Cay Resort is one of the nicest places to stay in the Keys. Capt. Lee Lucas of First Love Charters is one of the most hospitable captains, and he’s great with
  • Capt. Tony Murphy of Key Limey Charters/The Saltwater Angler tackle shop in Key West is the man in terms of bluewater fly-fishing for tuna, dolphin and mackerel.

Flats/Backcountry/Fly-Fishing in Key Largo/Everglades National Park

Reef Fishing

  • Hit the gym before fishing with Islamorada’s Capt. George Campbell of Snapshot Charters. You’re in for a brawl with big reef bruisers.
  • The Miss Islamorada, a party boat, sails daily from Bud N’ Mary’s marina. It’s $60 for a full day of fast action.

For a complete list of party boats throughout the Keys, visit To browse additional charter captains, check out VISIT FLORIDA’s list.


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Keys fishermen marvel during singular vessel used to shun from Cuba


Two Florida Keys fishermen who found and salvaged a temporary vessel also found themselves with an adult tighten tie to someone’s vital unfortunate tour from Cuba, substantially within a final week.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in 36 years of fishing in a far-reaching blue sea open,” pronounced Jimmy Verner.  “This is a many extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen.”

“There’s a lot of engineering that went into it,” pronounced Bart Sherwood, who examined a vessel from crawl to unrelenting and was vacant during a engineering and skill used to qualification it.


Sherwood was tender by a accurate welding, balance and craftsmanship on a boat, and a quick use of materials.

“It has an Isuzu vehicle engine finish with a scarf that came off of it,” Sherwood said.

He showed a propane tank blending to a fuel tank, a homemade stifle for speed, and a rudder apparently fashioned from a travel sign.

Aboard a vessel were 3 sets of men’s clothing, including 3 uniforms.  One of them is from Caribbean Dry Dock, one of Havana’s oldest shipyards.

The boaters brought fuel in cosmetic bottles, canned food, powdered milk, glucose in IV bags and stress medicine.

“These people put their lives during risk,” pronounced Verner.  “I overtly do trust and wish and urge that they came to a United States and were given asylum.”

According to a U.S. Coast Guard, that is not a case.  A mouthpiece pronounced she could not recover sum before their cases are closed, though confirms a people who were aboard a vessel were eliminated to a Coast Guard knife and are being processed for dictated repatriation.


Alexander Howard: What You Need to Know About a Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012

A co-worker asked me currently for a pile-up march on a “Stop Online Privacy Act” (SOPA). we sent him my underline during a O’Reilly Radar, where we wrote about how Congress is deliberation anti-piracy bills that could ravage Internet industries and mistreat digital innovation. The thing is, that post is about 6,000 difference prolonged and is now a month out of date. So here’s a lecture we sent back.

First, we should know a vital players in a House of Representatives: Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), authority of House Judiciary Committee. His staffers had a vital palm in drafting it. He supports it. So do Reps. Goodlatte and Berman. Rep. Mel Watts is a congressman whose remarks about not bargain helped to fuel headlines like “Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works” and “Dear Internet: It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How Congress Works,” by Clay Johnson.

Who else supports SOPA? The RIAA, MPAA, large Hollywood and large labor. Ergo, there’s bipartisan bloc of 39 co-sponsors that supports it in a House or Representatives. Why? As always, follow a money. Oh, and all of these companies support SOPA too.

Who’s opposite SOPA? Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Jared Polis (D-CO) and many of a Internet industry. These 4 member introduced dozens of amendments during a markup of a SOPA that would have addressed a many damaging, controversial, deceptive or cryptic aspects of a bill, post-manager’s amendment. (There’s a lot of those.) By lifting them, they catalyzed dual day’s value of discuss during a markup, effectively filibustering SOPA’s swell during a loss days of a legislative calendar. They radically ran out a time on a year during a time when a rest of a House was focused on other issues. See: payroll taxation cut extension.

Rep. Michele Bachmann is a usually GOP claimant I’ve listened speak about it, that is notable. we consider there should have been a discuss doubt about it and a Internet — though those aren’t adult to me.

Key counterproposal: An “OPEN” check from Rep. Issa and other opponents of SOPA. You can learn some-more about it There’s a lot that’s engaging about that site, including a content of both SOPA and OPEN enabled with open markup. The site hosted an embedded livestream of a markup hearings that drew hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Prospects for SOPA: mixed. On a one hand, it’s looking expected that it will pass out of committee. Most of a due amendments were voted down 2-1 in HJC when a manager’s amendment was noted up. Unless something changes, design SOPA to pass by a cabinet and emerge mostly unamended, quite with honour to a supplies that describe to hunt engines and a use of a domain name complement for enforcement, a many argumentative aspects of a check for a tech community.

On a other hand, there have been poignant cybersecurity concerns lifted about a bills since of what it would do to DNSSEC, including by DHS officials. The cabinet competence take a personal lecture so that a government’s possess geeks from Sandia Labs, a Department of Homeland Security and other “Three Letter Agencies” could explain to a legislators) who somehow neglected to move in any technical experts before a cabinet to testify) because SOPA won’t work and because it’s a terrible thought to try to DNS for enforcement. If that happens before markup, it could change a check that heads to a House building — and House care competence wish to residence confidence concerns before bringing it to a full vote.

There’s going to be a month forward before a messenger check to SOPA, a Protect IP Act, is brought to a opinion on a Senate floor. During that time, U.S. senators will be conference about how unpopular these bills are. It’s misleading if open choice will spin adequate opposite them if a promote and wire TV networks (which are all sensitively for SOPA) don’t cover it. FOX News did do a spot, featuring a Cato Institute’s Jim Harper, so that competence be changing.

If Mythbuster Adam Savage motionless to to a uncover about how SOPA could destroy a Internet as we know it — as opposite to “just” essay about it on, it also could change a dynamic.

Whether a promote networks select to cover it or not will matter reduction subsequent year than it would have even a decade ago. The Internet will expostulate recognition of these bills in 2012 in a approach that simply wasn’t probable before this impulse in history. The greeting from tech companies and their leaders is in of itself news and it’s many harder to skip a contention around SOPA online now. Google, Facebook and Wikipedia still haven’t altered their homepages to criticism SOPA. While Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Jimmy Wales have voiced concerns about a bill, as written, Mark Zuckerberg has not created a “status update” himself like Brin about it nonetheless himself. Those are 3 of a tip 10 sites in a universe and places that scarcely 100 percent of online adults strike daily. If Zuck or some-more Internet executives came out that publicly opposite SOPA, it would impact a discuss in D.C.

Need to stay adult to date on SOPA? The singular many inclusive blogger has been Mike Masnick during Techdirt, who has shifted many of his outlay to a emanate over a past month. Masnick is ardently opposite a bill. we consider Declan McCullagh during CNET and Gautham Nagesh during The Hill have constructed some of a a best sourced coverage around right now and know both a politics and a record (a regrettably singular combination). If we wish to keep adult to date and can means to compensate to get a news earlier, Politico’s tech process group is all over it during Politico Pro (paid) and Morning Tech.

If we cite your research giveaway and in real-time, follow Julian Sanchez, who has been following SOPA closely for a Cato Institute, Nate Anderson during Ars Technica and Cory Doctorow during BoingBoing. The EFF and Center for Democracy and Technology have also been examination a swell and supplies of a bills on a daily basis, including livetweeting a hearings (@EFFLive).

What’s a date of subsequent markup? Unclear as of today. It competence good be when a House comes behind into event in 2012, in a third week of January. Expect Rep. @Darrell Issa to share it on Twitter. He’s been violation a lot of a news on SOPA there.

Other pivotal date: Jan. 24. That’s when a Protect IP Act (PIPA) is set to go before a Senate. Senator Reid has pronounced he’s going to move it adult on a initial day a Senate is behind in session. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who put a retard on it, says he filibuster it. Key ratio, as with any check there, is for/against in Senate. It will be engaging to see how other senators line up. That 60+ for or 40+ separate is what to ask domestic analysts about — we don’t know that count as of today.

To learn some-more about where Senator Wyden stands on a Protect IP Act, watch my talk with him from this year’s Web 2.0 Summit.



Follow Alexander Howard on Twitter:

Robert Redford: Congress and Keystone XL: A National Disgrace

The Congress is finale a year many as it began — personification politics with a nation’s destiny and putting American families during risk to measure narrow-minded points.

In a shutting act to a ashamed year of stoppage and hesitancy on a issues that matter most, House Republicans hold common-sense taxation service for American families warrant to a holiday present to Big Oil.

After a GOP-led House welded a Keystone XL connect sands tube supplement onto a tax-relief bill, a Democratic-led Senate went along for a ride, flitting a bad square of legislation rather than being indicted of restraint a indispensable taxation cut.

When a United State Congress intentionally ties these dual things together, though, it’s not a joke: it’s a inhabitant disgrace.

Let’s be transparent about a purpose of this move. It’s a exposed domestic attempt designed to harm a boss in an choosing year. Excuse a sarcasm, yet we can see a tie here: taxation service value about $1,000 a year for a standard operative family, and a misled devise to crow a fortunes of an attention that has already hauled in increase commanding $100 billion this year.

With indispensable taxation service for operative families set to finish during year’s end, Congress should be promulgation President Obama a purify check that asks a elementary question: should we extend center category taxation service and stagnation advantages during a time when a workers are struggling with tough times? For anyone who cares about integrity and families, that’s an easy one.

Instead, House Republicans tacked onto that check a quarrelsome and separate question: should we concede Big Oil to build a Keystone XL pipeline, to take a dirtiest oil on a world from a connect sands of Canada, by a heartland of America, to refineries and ports on a Gulf of Mexico?

Tar sands wanton is not usually a dirtiest oil on a planet, yet it is constructed by some of a many mortal industrial processes ever devised.

In requiring a administration to make adult a mind within 60 days, this check ensures that a State Department will not have been means to settle that a tube is in a inhabitant interest. It would need a preference that pre-approves a reserve of an unknown, poser route, by Nebraska meant to equivocate a changed Ogallala Acquifer. There will be no choice yet to repudiate a tube permit.

Further, Keystone XL would cranky some-more than 1,500 waterways, melancholy them with a kind of collision that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in a Yellowstone River final summer and put 20 times that many connect sands in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, in a brief that hasn’t been spotless adult yet.

For Congressional Republicans, though, that doesn’t unequivocally matter.

What they caring about is perplexing to somehow confuse a president, to force his palm with an capricious deadline and means a rush to visualisation on a matter of critical inhabitant concern.

The misinformation rising from GOP Congressional caring on a Keystone XL connect sands tube is stunning. Just this morning on NBC’s Meet a Press, Speaker Boehner lied regularly about each aspect of this project. And it sat there, as truth.

Never mind that a infancy of a contracts for a processed oil are already cut and many of it will expected be exported to unfamiliar countries. Speaker Boehner sat there and pronounced it’s a matter of inhabitant security. It’s not. It’s a matter of a large payday for his friends in a oil and gas industry.

Never mind that each eccentric investigate on how many American jobs will indeed be combined says, during most, 6,500 proxy construction jobs, really few of that would be internal hires, according to a State Department. And never mind that Cornell University concludes it would kill some-more than it would create, by shortening investment in a purify appetite economy. Speaker Boehner can cocktail off with some-more misinformation observant hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created. And it sits there, as truth.

Here’s a elementary truth, they’re all peaceful to put a people and resources during flourishing risk to assistance boost oil association profits.

For a millions of Americans who caring about purify atmosphere and H2O for their families, inhabitant confidence and a re-energized economy, all GOP Congressional caring can come behind with is a personal slap down. That somehow Americans who feel open health and reserve are priority concerns, are crazy and irrational.

Newt Gingrich, a Republican’s heading claimant for President of a United States portrayed these American citizens, vital in a democracy as “… severe environmental extremists in San Francisco.” Senate Republican personality Mitch McConnell called for a boss to not “… let a few radical environmentalists mount in a way… ” All of this feels some-more like center propagandize than domestic leadership.

The American people are a lot smarter than these supposed leaders give them credit for. They can tell when they’re being played. They know that this is a Congress that’s some-more endangered with scoring domestic points than it is with doing a country’s business.



South Florida home prices nearing bottom

Wendy Umla, a yacht captain who lives in Fort Lauderdale, hopes she’s one of those homeowners.

Helping troubled borrowers “would free up a whole lot more people to go out and spend,” she said. “The economy would pick right up, and subsequently the housing market. It’s all in the hands of the banks.”

Despite the strides the housing market made in 2011, there’s still a long way to go, analysts say.

Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have about 100,000 of the 371,000 open foreclosure cases in Florida, according to Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach housing analyst. Many more homeowners are at least 60 days late on mortgage payments but have not been served with foreclosure papers.

What’s more, some big lenders, such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase, are offering delinquent homeowners thousands of dollars in cash incentives to complete short sales — unloading the properties for less than they owe.

The upshot is that 2012 will be another year for clearing the backlog of distressed homes, said McCabe, who expects single-family home prices to fall another 5 percent and condominiums to decline by as much as 10 percent.

“Anyone who sees next year as a turnaround year is being overly optimistic,” McCabe said.

After a record run-up in prices from 2000 to 2005, values nationwide started falling the following year, with South Florida one of the hardest-hit areas.

Median home prices for Broward and Palm Beach counties tumbled by roughly 50 percent after peaking at $421,500 and $391,100, respectively, in November 2005, according to data from the Florida Realtors. The median means half the homes sold for more and half for less.

While Broward’s median has increased on an annual basis for much of 2011, some housing market followers insist the median price is misleading because it measures only prices of homes and condos sold in a month — not the values of all properties.

Many analysts prefer the Standard Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which tracks prices of the same house over time. It does not include condos.

The index has shown consistent price declines in the South Florida metro area: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Moody’s Analytics’ forecast for local home prices is based on trends revealed in the Case-Shiller index.

“We’re not in a freefall anymore,” said Chris Lafakis, an economist covering Florida for Moody’s. “But we still have some progress to make.”, 561-243-6529 or Twitter @paulowers

South Florida’s rocky reservoir history doesn’t stop new water storage proposal

One unfinished South Florida reservoir collected more taxpayer money – nearly $280 million – than water.

Another $217 million reservoir has plenty of water, but not the pumps needed to make use of it.

Despite those reservoirs already costing South Florida taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars combined, the push is on to build a third reservoir, expected to cost more than $300 million.

Storing stormwater now drained out to sea has long been billed as the solution to South Florida water supply problems. But actually getting reservoirs built and functional remains an elusive – and expensive – goal.

Backers of the new reservoir proposal in Palm Beach County contend it offers a unique opportunity to boost regional water supplies. It would provide an alternative water supply needed for new growth, said project consultant John “Woody” Wodraska.

“It helps the environment. It gives … flexibility from a water supply standpoint,” said Wodraska, former head of the South Florida Water Management District.

That’s similar to the sales pitch used for the other two reservoirs, also in Palm Beach County, that ended up sidetracked by changing political winds and funding problems. South Florida keeps sinking too much money into reservoirs when it should be restoring wetlands and requiring more conservation, said Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club.

“You are basically buying a very expensive solution,” Martin said. “The cheaper solution is called conservation.”

South Florida averages more annual rainfall than Seattle, but much of that water gets drained out to sea to avoid swamping farms and towns built on what used to be the Everglades or other wetlands.

An Everglades restoration plan approved in 2000 includes building a series of reservoirs that would hold onto more water for both the environment and growing communities.

“Storage is the key to an awful lot of our problems,” said Pete Quasius of the Collier County Audubon Society, on Florida’s West Coast. “We need to look at storage, storage, storage.”

Creating that water storage remains a key shortcoming of Everglades restoration efforts.

South Florida reservoir projects include:

The Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County was intended to become a 16,700 acre, 62 billion gallon water storage facility to supplement water supplies. The South Florida Water Management District in 2008 opted to stop construction and shelve the project after taxpayers had already invested nearly $280 million.

The district initially blamed the decision to stop mid-construction on a longstanding lawsuit from environmental groups over how to divvy up the water.

But just a few weeks later, the district and Gov. Charlie Crist announced a bid to buy U.S. Sugar Corp. land for Everglades restoration. That ended up changing the timetable and locations of water storage efforts, which have yet to be resolved.

The L-8 Reservoir built from old rock mines at Palm Beach Aggregates, west of Royal Palm Beach, was intended to store water to replenish the Loxahatchee River and supplement community drinking water supplies.

The district’s 15 billion gallon, $217 million reservoir was completed in 2008, but it still doesn’t include $60 million pumps needed to deliver the water as planned. The district blames water quality problems in the reservoir on a lack of pumps to help circulate the water.

The new reservoir could be built alongside the L-8 Reservoir at Palm Beach Aggregates, collecting stormwater that now drains out to sea through the C-51 canal.

The canal that stretches through West Palm Beach dumps about 217 million gallons of water a day into the Lake Worth Lagoon, washing pollutants in to the lagoon and wasting water that could supplement community supplies.

A new reservoir could reduce the dumping into the lagoon and during droughts provide about 185 million gallons of water a day to restock drinking water well fields in Palm, Broward and eventually Miami-Dade counties, according to district estimates.

The water could be moved south through canals operated by the Lake Worth Drainage District and the cost could end up getting tacked onto South Florida water bills.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus questions the potential cost of building another reservoir. She said better use should be made of the existing reservoir.

“I have serious reservations about it,” Marcus said. “You already have a pit out there that doesn’t seem to be working. … There are other options out there that I think ought to be considered.”

An updated cost estimate for the new reservoir is expected soon. Deciding whether to move forward requires determining how to pay for it and how to divvy up the water.

“We will just need to have those debates,” said Melissa Meeker, district executive director., 561-228-5504 or Twitter@abreidnews

Bloomberg Releases Most Detailed Description Yet Of Federal Reserve Emergency Loans

Add adult a puncture loans a Federal Reserve distributed to banks between 2007 and 2009 — when a American economy lurched closer to fall than anyone had formerly suspicion probable — and it’s an estimable picture.

On Friday, Bloomberg News finished accessible a fullest chronicle nonetheless of its information on Fed puncture lending, a theme a news classification has created about countless times in a past year. The Bloomberg recover includes annals of about 50,000 exchange a Fed finished by 7 opposite financial mechanisms.

At their peak, these 7 programs represented $1.2 trillion in loans to banks and financial institutions — a high-water symbol of a massive, systemic bailout whose sum a country’s executive banking management has not always seemed fervent to divulge.

Much of a information enclosed in Friday’s recover has been formerly reported in Bloomberg coverage, though this week noted a initial time that supports from a 7 programs have been presented as a array of daily loans to 407 particular banks.

“There were reasons for doing it. There are always reasons for doing it,” pronounced Dean Baker, co-director of a Center for Economic and Policy Research, referring to a Fed’s lending to uneasy banks during a impulse when a country’s whole financial design seemed to be in jeopardy.

At a same time, Baker said, clarity is critical in matters like this.

“This is open money,” Baker told The Huffington Post. “The open has each reason in a universe to know where it went.”

Some of a information enclosed in Friday’s gathering was performed in a face of estimable resistance. Bloomberg News had to record Freedom of Information Act requests to learn some-more about that institutions perceived loans underneath dual of a 7 lending programs. Disclosure did not come until Bloomberg LP, a primogenitor association of Bloomberg News, brought a lawsuit opposite a Fed that scarcely finished it to a Supreme Court.

The Clearing House Association, that represents some of a country’s largest blurb banks, argued during a time that creation such information open would criticise financier certainty in a banks that ostensible loans, and would make it reduction expected that banks would find puncture assistance in a future.

Friday’s report, like Bloomberg’s progressing coverage, indicated that many of a banks that perceived Fed loans finished adult realizing estimable financial advantages as a result.

An progressing Bloomberg essay estimated that banks netted about $13 billion when all was pronounced and done, even after profitable off seductiveness on their loans. The Fed has contested this figure, though in Friday’s report, Bloomberg steady a avowal that borrowers were left improved off than they had been before.

“The fact that these institutions benefited enormously, we don’t consider we can unequivocally dispute,” Baker said.

Even as critics have indicted a Fed of being reduction than forthcoming, few people explain that a executive bank did a wrong thing by stepping in to uphold a financial complement that seemed to be on a verge of imploding.

“In a center of a financial crisis, this is what we need. This is what a executive bank is ostensible to do,” pronounced James Wilcox, a highbrow during a Haas School of Business during a University of California, Berkeley.

Wilcox compared a financial predicament to a timberland glow — except, he said, “forest fires are some-more predicted in a trail they’re going to take.”


Florida Lawmakers Considering Allowing Advertisements on School Buses

Advertising seems to be everywhere these days — on city transit buses, at sports stadiums, on airliner tray tables and even in public restrooms.

So why not on the exterior of school buses?

Florida is one of 34 states that prohibit such advertising, but three similar bills have been filed to lift that ban and provide a new funding source for cash-strapped school districts.

“We are in such tough times financially now that we have to look at various means to raise money,” Sen. Bill Montford said Friday.

The Tallahassee Democrat is sponsoring one of the bills (SB 344). It’s scheduled for its first committee hearing Jan. 9.

Critics, though, say school bus ads could be a safety hazard and legal headache.

“If I thought it was a safety issue I would not have filed this legislation,” said Montford, who’s also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

The Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis Government Accountability issued a report this week that makes no recommendation but cites opposition to school bus ads from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and Florida Association for Pupil Transportation.

Both groups say advertising intended to catch the attention of passing motorists also could distract them so they wouldn’t notice a bus has stopped or that students are getting on or off.

Montford said that shouldn’t be a problem as the ads will be relatively small. A House staff analysis of a similar bill (HB 19) says there’s been no specific research on the effect school bus advertising has on safety.

It also notes, though, that the National Highway Safety Administration says the big, yellow school buses are eight times safer than smaller passenger vehicles.

The two pupil transportation groups also say it may be difficult to control the kinds of advertising allowed on buses and that defending a district’s ad policy might cost more in legal expenses than the advertisements bring in.

“We’re not going to put ads for condoms and liquor on the sides of school buses,” Montford responded.

The legislation would prohibit advertising for alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, prescription drugs, pari-mutuel wagering and anything sexual in nature. Also banned would be political ads, anything that’s misleading or deceptive and material that’s inappropriate, offensive or insensitive to children or the community. The House bill also would prohibit material “effecting the establishment of religion.”

Such limitations could raise legal issues under the free speech provision of the First Amendment, the critics say. Montford, though, noted there’s been advertising at public school athletic facilities for decades with similar restrictions and there have been no legal problems.

Florida is one of five states that currently allow advertising inside school buses, but no school district has yet permitted such ads, the legislative report says. It notes there’s a concern about the appropriateness of pitching products to a “captive audience” of children.

The House staff analysis says in Colorado, one of the states that allow exterior advertising, only 10 districts have chosen to put commercial messages on their buses. It’s estimated they raise $5,000 to $10,000 per bus annually.

The Florida bills would require that half of any funds raised by such advertising in Florida be used for school transportation.

Montford said he filed his bill in desperation after the Legislature cut school spending earlier this year.

“Quite frankly, I was somewhat reluctant to do it,” he said. But he added, “The need for discretionary funding for the schools is so great that this is a viable option. … We’ve got to do something.”