Saturday, March 30, 2013

More Sleaze in Tallahassee

Even more sleaze from Tallahassee--

Another scandal in Tallahassee? You bet! - Carl Hiaasen - " . . . The organization had presented itself as a charity called Allied Veterans of the World, and had tax-exempt, nonprofit status. Under a typically porous Florida law, it was allowed to operate Internet “sweepstakes cafes” as long as the earnings were donated to charitable causes. Over three years, Allied Veterans raked in hundreds of millions of dollars, but only 2 percent found its way to veterans’ groups. The rest of the money went to sleazeballs who bought fancy cars, boats and big houses. Gosh, imagine that. . . . In this latest case, some of the GOP lawmakers who are disgruntled with Scott have their own worries. Investigators say that Allied Veterans donated about $2 million to state and local political campaigns, and spent $740,000 lobbying in Tallahassee. Did anybody at the Capitol not wonder how a so-called charity could afford an army of lobbyists? Did any of the legislators give back the campaign contributions so that the money might be used to help military veterans? . . . The scammers at Allied Veterans certainly got their money’s worth from those high-paid lobbyists. Last year, the state Senate obligingly rebuffed a law passed by the House that would have outlawed the cafes. . . . Read more here:


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sleaze from Tallahassee affects the Everglades

More sleaze from Tallahassee--

Carl Hiaasen: Call this a sign of our sleazy times - Carl Hiaasen - "Even in a state of perpetual sleaze, some dirty deals stink more than others. The most recent is a weird little law approved last spring that allows the South Florida Water Management District to enter the commercial billboard business. The water agency usually sticks to flood control and Everglades restoration, touting itself as a defender of imperiled wetlands. Yet in coming months, 10 large electronic billboards are due to be installed on district holdings, which are public lands, with another 20 signs to follow in 2014. And dig this: The water agency’s staff, parroting the coy language in the law, refers to these digital monstrosities as “public information systems.” The term billboard is being avoided like an embarrassing disease. How did this latest travesty occur? Palm Beach Post reporter Christine Stapleton broke the story and did a fine job connecting the dots. The billboard provision was quietly shoehorned into a crucial bill for the water district. Oddly, the amendment had no named sponsor in the Legislature, no footprints anywhere. Even stranger: The billboard industry’s main lobby group apparently knew nothing about the proposal, including where it came from. . . . Read more here:


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Big Sugar’s Uncle Sugar Daddy

Big Sugar, Big Hogs--

Carl Hiaasen: Big Sugar’s subsidy — how sweet it is - Carl Hiaasen - " . . . According to the Wall Street Journal, the USDA is on the verge of purchasing 400,000 tons of sugar in a massive bailout of domestic sugar processors. The move would cost taxpayers about $80 million. It’s the sweetest of deals for the big companies that grow cane and beets. For years the government has guaranteed an artificially high price for American sugar, undercutting foreign competitors and inflating consumer prices for everything from soft drinks to breakfast cereal. Last year, sugar processors under the price-support program borrowed $862 million from the USDA. The loans were secured with about 2 million tons of sugar that was expected to be harvested. And the harvest was very good. Too good, apparently. . . . The transaction would result in Uncle Sam losing 10 cents on every pound of sugar sold, which adds up to an $80 million hit on 400,000 tons of product. What a brilliant system. . . . " Read more here:


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Homestead police officers fired in brutality cases and cover-up

This stuff is sickening--when is the public going to say enough! ?

Homestead police officers fired in brutality cases and cover-up--"Two police officers accused of assaulting men outside of Celio's Cuartel Latino bar in Homestead were fired along with another officer who allegedly covered up the incident, a police spokesman said Friday afternoon. The police brutality incident happened nearly three years ago. It involved three officers who were fired in February and suspended with pay in April 2011. They were arrested in July and have cases pending with the Miami-Dade state attorney's office. Sgt. Jeffrey Rome is accused of kicking a 69-year-old man in the head until he was unconscious and pepper-spraying an undocumented Guatemalan in the face from close range. While Officer Giovanni Soto allegedly beat up another man so badly with a nightstick that he disfigured his face. Meanwhile, Sgt. Lizanne Deegan is accused of failing to report the beatings. . . . "
Read more here:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hey US, look at Detroit, that's where you're headed!

A Crisis Born of Bad Decisions and False Hope--sound familiar?

For Detroit, a Crisis Born of Bad Decisions and False Hope - " . . . . Under Michigan law, the emergency manager would ultimately have the authority to remove local elected officials from most financial decision making, change labor contracts, close or privatize departments, and even recommend that Detroit enter bankruptcy proceedings, a possibility that experts say raises the prospect of the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history, at $14 billion worth of long-term obligations. None of the decisions, experts here say, will be simple, and some wonder whether Detroit can be saved at all. Some 700,000 residents now live in this vast 139-square-mile city that once was home to nearly two million people. That number may fall to close to 600,000 by 2030 before the population begins to rise again, one regional planning group projects. By pushing costs into the future while its population is shrinking, Detroit has left the people least able to pay with the biggest share of its bills. “Detroit is a microcosm of what’s going on in America, except America can still print money and borrow,” Mr. Boyle said."


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Paradise Lost - California

Paradise Lost | The Weekly Standard: "Even in his first gubernatorial incarnation, as he marched to the left, he could come across as a kind of New Age conservative, pinstriped and looking for all the world like a young Churchill in the glow of a parliamentary speech. On alternate days he would make his “small is beautiful” philosophy seem to apply to state government, which to the sober-minded raised questions about his credibility. In this January’s “State of the State” speech to the legislature, Brown, strangely complimenting his audience for their fiscal discipline, treated us to more of his philosophical eclecticism. He quoted the biblical story of Joseph, cited the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, and, as the pièce de résistance, offered this from Montaigne: “The most desirable laws are those that are the rarest, simplest, and most general; and I even think that it would be better to have none at all than to have them in such numbers as we have.”"


Saturday, March 16, 2013

US cities with the highest taxes - Louisville, Kentucky

10 U.S. cities with the highest taxes - Slide Show - MarketWatch:  #4. "Louisville, Kentucky. Taxes for family earning $25,000: $3,594 (8th highest) Taxes for family earning $150,000: $18,008 (5th highest) Unemployment rate: 7.9% (20th highest) For a family of three that earned between $100,000 and $150,000, the average tax burden was 12%, higher than all but four other cities reviewed. The tax burden for people earning $25,000 to $50,000, although higher at 14.4%, is less of jump compared with most of the cities on this list. The 14.4% tax burden is the eighth highest out of all the cities measured. The biggest tax burden comes from income taxes. Depending on a family’s income, Louisville has either the second or third highest income tax among all cities measured."


Thursday, March 14, 2013

SEC Accuses Illinois of Securities Fraud

“Without pension reform, within two years, Illinois will be spending more on public pensions than on education”

S.E.C. Accuses Illinois of Securities Fraud - "For the second time in history, federal regulators accused an American state of securities fraud on Monday, ordering Illinois to stop misleading investors about the condition of its public pension system. In announcing a settlement with the state, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Illinois had passed a law in 1994 allowing itself to put less than the required amount into its pension system each year. . . From 2005 to 2009, Illinois issued $2.2 billion worth of municipal bonds, which the S.E.C. said were marketed under false pretenses. There was a growing hole in the pension system, putting increasing pressure on the state’s finances every year. That raised the risk that at some point retirees and bond buyers would be competing for the same limited money. The risk grew greater every year, the S.E.C. said, but investors could not see it by looking at Illinois’ disclosures. . . . Because the states are legally sovereign, federal securities regulators have limited jurisdiction over their activities and can take action only when there has been a fraud. The first state to be accused of securities fraud by the S.E.C. was New Jersey, in 2010. The commission found that New Jersey had also deceived the municipal bond market about the risks posed by its shaky pension system. . . .  In his budget address on Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, issued a clear warning that the pension system had to be fixed. “Without pension reform, within two years, Illinois will be spending more on public pensions than on education,” said Mr. Quinn, a Democrat. “As I said to you a year ago, our state cannot continue on this path.” 

OK, fraud complaint settled; when will pension reform begin?


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Google's $7 Million Fine To Pay The Lawyers

Google's $7 Million Fine: It'll Pay The Lawyers But Not Much Else - Forbes: " . . . . There’s 30 States party to this suit. The damages will be split up between them. $230k a piece? That hardly keeps a government lawyer in a paycheck and a secretary for a year. And I’d be willing to bet a substantial sum that each and every of those States has spent more than that on the pursuit of this single case. So I’m afraid that I cannot really see the point of this. The actual regulator, the FCC, has looked into it, found at best insufficient evidence that there was even a crime, then the States all pile in with another suit. At the end of which Google pays an amount they’ll not really notice but the taxpayers of each State will have paid more out on lawyers than they’ll get in. I fail to see who has been protected here nor even what the point was. All I can see is yet more money going to lawyers. And while that’s nice for lawyers it’s not really the point and purpose of a legal system now, is it?"

Lawyers: hogs at the trough.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

US General Demoted -- another Hog at the Trough

Army Brass, Hogs at the Trough--what more is there to say?

U.S. general demoted over 'extravagant trips' - NY Daily News: "Another day brought even more general disarray for the country to stomach. Gen. William “Kip” Ward, the one-time head of the U.S. Africa Command, was demoted Tuesday and ordered to repay $82,000 he blew on extravagant trips and other unauthorized expenses. The move by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta means Ward will lose one star and retire as a three-star lieutenant general, officials said. The penalty will dock the 63-year-old Ward about $30,000 a year in pension pay — although he’ll still pull down about $208,000 annually. The demotion is just the latest news of misbehavior by military brass. It followed the resignation of ex-Army Gen. David Petraeus from his post as CIA director for an adulterous affair, and reports that Marine Gen. John Allen is under investigation for his "flirtatious" exchanges with the whistleblower in the Petraeus case. Ward’s indiscretions included a stayover at a $750-a-night Bermuda hotel, two nights at the Waldorf Astoria and other lengthy stays at lavish inns. He and wife Joyce also accepted dinner and Broadway show tickets — one offer included a backstage meeting with Oscar winner Denzel Washington — from a government contractor, officials said."

Still think Washington can't cut spending?


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The nature of the spending beast in Washington

The nature of the beast -  " . . . check the math. Between 2007 and 2012, annual federal spending went up from $2.7 trillion to $3.5 trillion, an increase of nearly 30 percent. Inflation over that period was 10.8 percent, meaning government grew at almost three times the rate of inflation. Federal spending as a percentage of GDP increased from the 40-year average of about 20 percent to more than 24 percent. And that’s before you factor in the president’s new health care law. Meanwhile, the tax revenue coming into the Treasury is increasing. According to the Congressional Budget Office, revenues will increase by roughly 25 percent between 2013 and 2015. Revenues as a percentage of GDP will hit 19.1 percent in 2015 and will average 18.9 percent of GDP over the next decade, a full percentage point above the 40-year historical average of 17.9 percent. Revenues increased by 6 percent in 2012 and will increase by 11 percent in 2013, according to the CBO. Simply put, tax revenues are increasing, and as a percentage of GDP, will exceed the 40-year average over the next decade without any of the Democrats’ proposed tax increases. Yet Washington has been running trillion-dollar deficits the last four years and the national debt will balloon from $16.5 trillion today to $26 trillion ten years from now. . . ."

The solution? Bring federal spending down to 21% of GDP. Tax reform for a fairer, simpler tax code that won't increase taxes, but will promote growth and still bring in revenues of about 19% of GDP per year (a small annual deficit is not a problem according to most economists).


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bradley Manning and Torture

Guilty or not, Bradley Manning should be treated humanely--

The Torture of Bradley Manning | VICE: " . .  . At Quantico, Pfc. Manning treatment wasn’t by the book: the sleep depravation and stripping of clothes; the humiliation; the taunts and mockery; the nine months of putting Pfc. Manning in protected custody citing concerns over suicide—concerns that were rebuffed relentlessly by both Pfc. Manning himself and qualified psychiatrists. That’s why Coombs is looking to have the case against his client thrown out, and Manning’s own testimony this week only accentuated the living nightmare he was made to endure for nearly a year while only a half-hour drive from the capital of the nation. As testimonies from Quantico staff, health professionals, and the private himself continued late into the night all week, often for hours without intermissions, more unraveled about not just the torturous conditions imposed on Pfc. Manning but the blatant mismanagement in the same institution he is accused of blowing the whistle on. On Wednesday, the night of Manning’s first day of testimony, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange embarrassed CNN during a 20-minute interview that seemed all too perfectly orchestrated to accentuate the mainstream media’s mistake of first underestimating WikiLeaks, then thinking it’s the site’s founder who needs to be forced into the spotlight. “The case is not about whether Bradley Manning allegedly stole cables or not. The case is about the abuse of Bradley Manning,” said Assange. Days earlier, Assange had again appealed the actions that his accused source is credited with contributing to the annals of history. “The material that Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked has highlighted astonishing examples of U.S. subversion of the democratic process around the world, systematic evasion of accountability for atrocities and killings, and many other abuses,” he wrote. . . . "


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Medicare--when will the free lunch end?

At some point, at some time, it will become obvious that we can't afford a health care system that rips off consumers, is opaque, subsidizes pharmaceutical companies, rewards inefficiencies, promotes bad medical practices incentivized to do unnecessary (and sometimes harmful) medical procedures (justified often as "defensive medicine")--we need standards, peer review, and limitations on coverage (90+ year old men and women don't need extraordinary medical treatments at taxpayer expense), as well as deductibles--

Jenkins: None Dare Call It Default - "Here's what you weren't told about Medicare during the presidential debates. Under the Paul Ryan plan, the affluent would pay more. Under the Obama plan, the affluent would flee Medicare to escape the waiting lists, shortages and deteriorating quality as Washington economizes by ratcheting down reimbursements to doctors and hospitals. Don't call either default. You don't have a legally enforceable right to the free care you imagined you were promised. "Don't worry" was President Obama's implicit message during the campaign: If cutting subsidies for Big Bird is unthinkable, a joke, how much more so cutting benefits for middle-class voters? Don't go running to a judge when this doesn't pan out. The courts do not overrule changes in government policy just because citizens find their promised free lunch isn't forthcoming. Nor will it be fruitful to appeal to politicians' sense of "fairness.""