Saturday, October 26, 2013

Latest sports doping scandal

Here's a change of pace from scandalous news coming from Washington.

The New York Times reports the latest performance enhancing doping scandal from the sports world.   But you would never guess which sport.

Pigeon racing.    Yes, that's right.  Pigeon racing.

Who knew?   Apparently pigeon racing has become huge.   Some people really get excited about pigeons competing for how fast they can fly long distances, like 600 miles.   One prize bird was recently purchased by a Chinese businessman for $450,000.

But much of the appeal seems to be from the high stakes betting that goes on.   So, of course, where big money is involved, doping will soon follow.

Five racing birds in Belgium tested positive for drugs.

Dog racing, horse racing, Tour de France cyclists, Olympic sprinters?    That's become all too common.    But now . . .  pigeons


Friday, October 25, 2013

Here's the deal on Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal may not be an outright crook, but he certainly knows how to play the system, to work behind the scenes and manipulate the strings of the government to his advantage.   He knows how to operate in the gray areas for personal gain.   

Remember all his financial woes when he first ran for governor, where it looked like we could have a governor who had to declare bankruptcy?    Well, that didn't happen.    Somehow, with sweetheart loan deals that only the rich and/or powerful have access to, it got fixed.

Here's a smelly story that may not be illegal;   but it certainly is not squeeky clean.

Governor Deal was under investigation by the State Ethics Commission for questionable uses of campaign finance.   Once he became governor, with an active investigation going on, it just happened that the bad economy "required" that they cut the salary of the Director ("Ms. A") of the Ethics Commission by 30%, and they also eliminated the job of her assistant.

Ms. A resigned.   And, wouldn't you just know it?    Someone in state government had already lined up her successor, whose salary over the course of the ensuing year was restored to near what the previous one had been.   Yes, the one that had to be cut.  And it wasn't that the economy had suddenly improved.

The Guv says he had nothing to do with it, that it's routine to have someone lined up when you think there is going to be a resignation.   Yea, right.   Wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn?

Now let's call this new Director Ms. B.    Pretty soon, according to sworn testimony, she ordered certain documents removed from the Deal investigation file.   In due time, the Commission decided on a small fine for the governor, which amounted to a gentle tap on the wrist.  I think it was something like $3,500.

Also, according to several members of the staff, Ms. B. said in front of several staff members that Gov. Deal owed her for taking care of the problem.

Now in fairness to Ms. B. and the governor, she has said that the documents removed were irrelevant and duplicate copies of things.   I'm skeptical.   Do we have any proof of that to counter other testimony that it did influence the verdict?

That's not all.   Ms. A. has now sued, challenging the circumstances of her reduced salary and subsequent resignation.    An investigation of this whole sordid mess was called for, with a special investigator to be appointed by the Attorney General.    But he says that he has never received a formal request from the Ethics Commission.

Yesterday it was announced that, after looking at a number of potential appointees for the investigative job and not finding one suitable, the Ethics Commission is now asking the State Auditing Department to do the investigation.

Why does the commission being investigated get to choose who does the investigation?   That's a question we should raise and get an answer to.

Now it will be simply an auditing of the functioning of the Ethics Commission in the matter.  And the head of the auditing deparment is a Deal appointee.   It will not be broadened to include how this all came about with the forcing out of the previous Director.

This stinks of corruption of the kind that is all too common when you have the whole state government ruled by one party.    It is also standard operating procedure for this governor.  And he always manages to be once removed so there is deniability.

I hope the AJC stays on the case and keeps pushing to get the truth out in the public sphere.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

But what else is new . . . ?

Former Gov. Howard Dean said today on MSNBC that Republicans are partly responsible for the difficulties in the rollout of Obamacare.

So far only about 20 states have agreed to set up the state marketplace exchanges for health insurance.   The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) mandates that the federal government maintain an exchange for citizens in those states who do not have their own.

Because so many states have opted out, it leaves a far bigger burden on the federal exchange than was anticipated.   A system designed for a smaller number of applicants has simply been overwhelmed.

That is not to say there are no design flaws, no failures in operation.   But the problem has been made much worse by the refusal of Republican led state governments to do their share.

In fact, Republicans have done everything possible to make it fail -- and then play the sanctimonious "I told you so" game.    And that includes spreading blatant lies.  Shame on them.

So -- and this is by no means a new story -- Republicans are whooping and hollering in derision about a problem that they are at least partly responsible for.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

They just don't get it . . .

Here is a quote from Ann Coulter:
"The shutdown was so magnificent, run beautifully. I'm so proud of these Republicans, and that is because they have branded the Republican party as the anti-Obamacare party."
Seriously ?!?

She's accomplished two things:
1.   She has blown a dog whistle that will be heard by the 18% of the Republicans who agree with her.   The rest either think she's nuts -- or a cynical entertainer rather than a serious conservative.

2.  She has written the script for Saturday Night Live's parody of her.   All they have to do is get up and repeat what she said.

This was posted the same day a new WashingtonPost/ABC News poll showed the following results:
     80% of American disapprove of the shutdown
     63% have an unfavorable view of the Republican party
     53% blame Republicans more for the shutdown
     29% blame Obama more for the shutdown
     12% approval rating for Congress
     48% approval rating for President Obama
     47% think Congress would be improved if every member were
           voted out 

A CNN poll released yesterday shows that 53% of American think it's bad that Republicans control the House of Representatives.

Just the facts, ma'am.   


You would never guess

An online business blog, 24/7 Wall Street, is reporting the list of the 10 most educated countries in the world, based on the percent of their population with a college degree.

I would never have guessed the top educated country -- and I doubt you would either.  Here is the list of the top 10 -- in reverse order:

10.  Australia  38.3%
  9.  Finland  39.3%
  8.  New Zealand  39.4%
  7.  United Kingdom  39.4%
  6.  Korea  40.4%
  5.  United States  42.%
  4.  Israel  46.4%
  3.  Japan  51.3%
  2.  Canada  51.3%
  1.  Russia  53.5%

Russia #1.   I would not have guessed they were even in the top 10.   You never hear much about their universities or their people as scholars.   But it's the breadth of education, not the excellence of the few, that this measures.    

Another measure they made was of the percentage of gross domestic product that each country spends on education.   Russia's was the lowest of the top 10  at 4.9%, compared to the U.S. at 7.5%  and Korea at 7.6%.

Interesting.  Despite our relative high standing in degrees, we score worse than most developed nations in high-level math and reading skills.

Sounds kind of like our health care stats:   we spend more and get less.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Marriage equality in New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature passed a law allowing same-sex marriages;  but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it, saying that the voters themselves should decide this issue.

Someone sued, the state court ruled that the law must be upheld. and Gov. Christie appealed the decision, saying this should be decided by the voters.  The court denied his request to delay marriages until the appeal is heard.  The court has denied that request.    That was the situation as of yesterday.

Today it has been announced that Gov. Christie is dropping his appeal.   So marriage equality is now fully legal in New Jersey

New Jersey is now the 16th and joins:   Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, Washington, California, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia.   That's almost 1/3 now and counting.


Gov. Deal's priorities

Gov. Nathan Deal continues to say that Georgia cannot afford to take the federal government's generous offer to pay for the expansion of Medicaid to cover an additional 600,000 Georgians.    The federal government would pay 100% for three years, gradually declining after that to 90%.

In addition, according to a Georgia State University study, it would also create 70,000 new jobs in the state.   That -- in addition to providing health care and saving lives -- makes it seem like a very good deal.

Sadly, we just cannot afford it.   In fact, we've also had to cut days from the school year because we can't pay the teachers and keep the schools open that long.

But we can cut taxes for businesses,  In fact the governor has appointed a committee of 21 businessmen to advise him on how to do just that.   You know the mantra:   to stimulate job creation, cut taxes for business.

There is now some data from a natural experiment that bolsters the argument that it doesn't work that way, at least not in the kind of economic situation we have today.   Thanks to the AJC's Jay Bookman for writing about this.

Four years ago, Georgia and Oregan had similar taxes and similar rates of unemployment:  11% for Oregon, 10.4% for Georgia.  Then Oregon raised taxes and Georgia cut taxesSo what happened?

Oregon's unemployment dropped to 8.1% (from 11% = down by 2.9%);  Georgia's dropped to 8.7% (from 10.4% = down by 1.7%).

Of course the different tax plans were not the only factor;  but it does challenge the Republican mantra that cutting taxes is always the answer.  Oregon had a more significant drop in unemployment than Georgia.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sean Hannity caught in lies about Obamacare

Eric Stern of Salon did some fact-checking on Sean Hannity and caught him presenting "fake evidence . . . to exploit people’s ignorance and falsely point to imaginary boogeymen."

On his show, Hannity presented the "horror stories" of three guests who claim to have been harmed by Obamacare.    Stern did his own interviewing of the three and found a very different story.

One couple claimed that their construction business had been forced to cut employee hours to meet Obamacare demands for health insurance.   Stern found, instead, that they have only four employees (Obamacare only requires businesses with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance).   When confronted, they owned up to the truththey had not been forced cut hoursthey had simply chosen to and blamed it on Obamacare.

Two other couples claimed that the insurance exchange rates were far more than they had been paying for insurance.    Stern did his own checking and found that this was simply not true based on their circumstances.

Stern concluds: this was all part of the "Fox News lie machine."


PS:  The first stats are in:   thus far 467,000 have applied for insurance under Obamacare in the first two weeks -- and despite all the computer problems.   That should take a little glee our of the Republican's mantra that it is a disaster that people don't want.