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Altogether ooky: Gomez Addams actor opposes fracking

The actor who played the patriarch of the Addams Family says the gas drilling process known as fracking is no joke.

John Astin, a Baltimore native and comedian who played Gomez Addams, is the voice of a radio ad that supporters of a ban are broadcasting Thursday morning.

Astin says in the ad there's nothing funny about poisoning drinking water and the air we breathe.

A measure to ban fracking in Maryland is advancing in the legislature. A bill to ban the practice already has passed the House of Delegates. A Senate panel passed the bill on Wednesday, and Gov. Larry Hogan says he supports it.

Fracking isn't being done in Maryland now, but a moratorium on issuing permits ends in October.

Exxon Mobil Must Turn Over More Documents And 'Wayne Tracker' Emails

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating whether Exxon Mobil misled investors about climate change.

By the numbers: Property values of theme parks in dispute

Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld are engaged in legal battles with the county appraiser and tax collector regarding what their massive properties are worth. The theme parks claim the Orange County appraiser has assessed the properties too highly, resulting in higher tax bills than they deserve. The market value of a property is what it is worth if it were sold on the open market; the assessed value is usually a lower figure the appraiser uses to arrive at a tax bill.

Here's a look, by the numbers, at the dispute.

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Number of theme park parcels in dispute from lawsuits filed last year: 46

Market value of all the theme park parcels in dispute from lawsuits filed last year: $5.7 billion

Most valuable parcel in dispute, by market value: Walt Disney World's Grand Floridian Resort, valued at $554 million

Priciest theme park in dispute: Walt Disney World's Epcot, given a market value of $469 million.

Priciest parking garage in dispute: Universal Orlando Resort's 20,000-vehicle garage complex, which was given a market value of $297 million

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Source: Orange County (Florida) Property Appraiser, Orange County Clerk of Courts.

'Borked': How A 1987 SCOTUS Nominee Still Affects Nominations Today

The events that led to Judge Robert Bork's rejection changed the SCOTUS nomination process forever. Now, the strategy even carries his name.

Netflix/Marvel's 'Iron Fist' epic fail, say viewers, critics

If your web connection seems sluggish while you're watching "Iron Fist," don't blame your internet provider. The problem is the listless pace of this new Netflix series.

But such languor isn't the only failing of this latest offering from the Marvel factory, judging from critical pans and fan unrest since the 13-episode season was unveiled last week.

Any Marvel project (and this is Netflix's fourth, following "Daredevil," ''Jessica Jones" and "Luke Cage") is breathlessly awaited by fans. "Iron Fist" was no different. But even before anybody saw it, it was already drawing accusations of "whitewashing."

The series centers on Danny Rand, the scion of a corporate titan who returns to New York 15 years after he and his parents died in a plane crash over the Himalayas.

Well, actually, Danny didn't die. He was rescued by a mysterious order of monks. And in this intervening period, he trained in martial arts and gained the mystical power of the Iron Fist. Now he returns to New York to reclaim the corporate empire that was hijacked by brother-and-sister baddies (and his childhood friends) Ward and Joy Meachum. He is also, of course, on a quest to "get answers."

"Iron Fist" stars Finn Jones, who is best known for playing Loras Tyrell on "Game of Thrones." But casting him as Danny was a missed opportunity, according to disgruntled fans who argue that an Asian-American actor should have been chosen.

Maybe, maybe not. But that would seem to be the least of the ills plaguing "Iron Fist." For instance, the Polygon website wielded iron fists of its own in declaring that the series' "problems with delivering exposition, crafting consistent characters, and even basic dialogue writing run right alongside ... problems with its portrayal of Asian cultures and Asian-Americans."

"Not one element of this plodding piece works," railed Variety, adding that the story line "is about as exciting as a slice of Velveeta cheese left out in the sun too long."

The New York Times complained about "the dawdling featureless" of the early episodes. And how many viewers could be expected to stick with the series beyond those first installments? Calling it "the first complete misfire of Netflix's Marvel shows," the Uproxx website posed the question: "Why would anyone but the most devout, masochistic Marvel completist want to watch?"

The Twitterverse has been no kinder, with one typical post calling it "a great show if you're looking to sit back, relax and stare at your phone as it plays in the background." Another tweet likened the series' fight scenes to "an awkward junior high school dance."

Even a forgiving Marvel neophyte who samples "Iron Fist" is likely to be put off. The conspicuous lack of action and of visual effects, at least in its early episodes, serves as a stark reminder of how lavish production values, unrelenting action and eye-popping visual effects are taken for granted by today's audience — and jarring when they're absent.

Granted, the epic failure of "Iron Fist," now installed for eternity on the Netflix site, will register as just a blip on the Netflix/Marvel landscape. And since Netflix never discloses audience figures, no one will ever know how many viewers choose to avoid or abandon the series who might have watched a better "Iron Fist" faithfully.

But every potential viewer is advised to note an exchange between two characters in an early episode:

"We need to know more before we can decide how we should proceed."

"So we just wait?"

"Yeah. And watch."

Such patience by "Iron Fist" viewers is doomed to go unrewarded.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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Online: http://www.amazon.com

Disney, Universal battle tax bill for Florida theme parks

It takes a lot of land to accommodate Cinderella's castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Epcot's 11-country World Showcase — and a hefty purse to pay the property taxes on it.

To cut tax bills in the tens of millions of dollars, the specialists at Orlando's famous theme parks have employed methods from the creative — placing cows on undeveloped land and claiming an agricultural exemption — to the traditional — negotiating or appealing to a county board.

Over the past couple of years, however, such tactics aren't quite doing the job: Property assessments and taxes have jumped — and so has the number of lawsuits the theme parks and other businesses have filed against Orange County's property appraiser. That's Rick Singh, who was re-elected to a second four-year term last fall despite the thousands of dollars in donations park officials gave his opponent.

In lawsuits filed last year, the theme parks said Singh's office had failed to use proper appraisal methodology. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts issued a statement describing increased assessments on some of its properties for 2015 as "unreasonable and unjustified."

Beyond such terse statements, officials from Disney, the development arm of Universal Orlando and SeaWorld of Florida are saying very little about an issue they hope to resolve in court.

But they have spoken loudly with their wallets. Groups affiliated with all three companies gave $19,000 to Singh's Republican opponent. Singh, a Democrat, got only $5,000 from the groups.

The backlash isn't surprising, said Doug Head, chairman of the watchdog group Orange County Watch. Head said the appraiser's position has traditionally been a cushy post for local politicos waiting to retire, but Singh is one of the first to have substantial professional training.

"He uses professional expertise, and he clearly figured out there is a lot more value than is properly being reflected," Head said. "He did what he needed to do, and people accustomed to the way business was done weren't happy."

Singh said his methods for assessing properties are no different than those of his predecessors — except when looking at resorts and hotels. Then, he considers their income statements and the local "bed tax" paid by hotel customers, which he said his predecessor didn't use. Income isn't considered when assessing theme parks.

"It's a matter of being fair and equitable," Singh said. "If the single mother who is working two jobs has to be held accountable to pay her fair share, so should everybody else."

The importance of the three theme parks to Orange County, which includes Orlando, can't be overstated: The properties owned by Disney, Universal and SeaWorld are valued collectively at about $10.7 billion. Properties owned by the largest resort and timeshare companies are worth another $6.3 billion.

The three theme park companies pay 7 percent of the county's property taxes — more than $135 million last year. That revenue helps to mitigate the impact of hosting 66 million visitors in 86,000 hotel rooms and 15,500 timeshare units every year, and to finance law enforcement, schools, parks and public health programs. Disney also pays property taxes to a private government established by the Florida Legislature that provides the Disney parks and resorts with services including utilities, roadways and firefighters.

Property values for the theme parks, resorts and other large commercial properties are set by a team of almost two dozen of the county's seasoned appraisers in what Singh calls "the most complex tax roll in the world" due to the constant growth.

Singh said the appraisers use a "cost approach" when evaluating theme parks. Tax bills go up not just from rising property values but also from new construction, which is constant at the parks.

"What does it cost to improve the land? What does it cost to build this? ... What is the labor cost? Factor in all that and then it depreciates, and that's your cost approach," he said.

But the results are meeting a wall of resistance. Last year, Disney, Universal and SeaWorld filed a dozen lawsuits against Singh's office, the tax collector and the state Department of Revenue. Several other Orlando resorts also have sued.

The companies pay taxes only on their properties' "assessed" values; the "market" values reflect what the properties could be sold for.

SeaWorld is fighting the market and assessed values of its flagship SeaWorld Adventure Park, its Aquatica water park and Discovery Cove, an animal-encounter park. In a separate lawsuit the property appraiser's office filed against SeaWorld in 2015, Singh's office listed a market value of $192.5 million; SeaWorld listed it at $143.4 million.

Universal is disputing the market value of its 20,000-vehicle parking garage, which has nearly doubled in two years, from $148.6 million in 2014, to $297 million in 2016. The garage's assessed value only went up 10 percent a year during that time, however, from $145 million to $175 million.

Disney is disputing the assessments of properties including four theme parks, 11 resorts and two water parks. An Associated Press tally of all the properties listed in the lawsuit shows that the appraiser gave them a total market value of more than $5 billion in 2015.

Disney, whose total properties in Orange County have a market value of $8.2 billion, is not saying publicly what it thinks the value should be. But the company's tax bill from Singh's office jumped from $84.5 million in 2014 to $97.2 million in 2015 to $102.6 million in 2016, an average increase of about 10 percent a year. Those numbers exclude what Disney pays its private government in property taxes.

"Similar to other property owners in Orange County, we have no choice but to take action to dispute these errors by the property appraiser," Disney's statement said.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mikeschneiderap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/Mike-Schneider .

The Secret Service Wanted A $60M Budget Increase To Protect The Trumps

But it's not clear how the budget compares to previous presidents' needs.

Todd Fisher says mom Debbie Reynolds set him up for death

Todd Fisher says his mother, Debbie Reynolds, set him up "for her leaving the planet" the day his sister and Reynolds' daughter, Carrie Fisher, died in December.

The 84-year-old Reynolds suffered a stroke and died one day after her 60-year-old daughter died following a heart attack. Todd Fisher tells Entertainment Tonight that his mother told him she wanted "to go be with Carrie" before she died.

Fisher says he's "really OK" with his mother's death, but "not so OK" with his sister's. He says the revival of the Star Wars films and Fisher's role as Princess Leia meant she was in the middle of what he thought to be "her finest hours."

Fisher and Reynolds will be remembered Saturday at Hollywood memorial service.

Greta Garbo's former NYC apartment on market for $5.95M

Film legend Greta Garbo's former longtime apartment in New York City is up for sale for nearly $6 million.

The New York Times reports (http://nyti.ms/2nFMaXm ) that the Swedish-born star's seven-room Manhattan co-op overlooking the East River is on the market for $5.95 million, with monthly maintenance of nearly $9,100.

The co-op is located on the fifth floor of the 14-story Campanile building, located on East 52nd Street. Garbo lived there from 1954 until her death in 1990 at age 84.

The apartment is being sold by the family of Gray Reisfield, Garbo's niece and sole heir to the actress's estate. Reisfield and her husband occupied the co-op from around 1992 to 2013 before relocating to San Francisco.

Garbo was one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 1920s and '30s.

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Information from: The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com

Greta Garbo's former NYC apartment on market for $5.95M

Film legend Greta Garbo's former longtime apartment in New York City is up for sale for nearly $6 million.

The New York Times reports (http://nyti.ms/2nFMaXm ) that the Swedish-born star's seven-room Manhattan co-op overlooking the East River is on the market for $5.95 million, with monthly maintenance of nearly $9,100.

The co-op is located on the fifth floor of the 14-story Campanile building, located on East 52nd Street. Garbo lived there from 1954 until her death in 1990 at age 84.

The apartment is being sold by the family of Gray Reisfield, Garbo's niece and sole heir to the actress's estate. Reisfield and her husband occupied the co-op from around 1992 to 2013 before relocating to San Francisco.

Garbo was one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 1920s and '30s.

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Information from: The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com

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