Saturday, September 20, 2014

Republican senators choose banks over struggling students

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a bill that would have allowed students to refinance their educational loans, just as home owners refinance their mortgages to get a lower interest rate.

Some 40 million students from middle class and working class families could have benefited on their aggregate $1.2 trillion dollar debt

Mitch McConnell and senate Republicans sided with the big banks, however.   That is, they allowed the fat cats to keep getting higher-than-current-market interest rates (8% to 10%) by blocking the bill from coming to debate.

Why?    Do they want to discourage education in our future?   Are they so beholden to financial interests?   Or are they just continuing their "Just Say No" policy until after November?

Whatever the reason, it's another mark of shame for the Do Nothing Republican Congress, whose public opinion now polls at 7%.

What I don't get is why Republicans are set to retain control of the House and have a good shot at taking control of the Senate.   Why don't voters get it?


Friday, September 19, 2014

WHO KNEW ??? This is disgusting.

Every week brings a new scandal that involves domestic violence by an NFL player, along with calls for the commissioner to resign.

Now new senator from Massachusetts, Cory Booker, is introducing a bill to remove the NFL's tax exempt status as a non-profit -- and use the $10 million a year to stop domestic violence.


This should get bi-partisan support.   Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) already has a bill which would repeal the tax-exempt status of certain professional sports leagues.  It is currently in the Finance Committee.

Where else are we losing tax money that is completely unjustified?   Yeah, we already know about the government subsidies for corporations that buy private jet airplanes.

This, folks, is what we mean by "corporate welfare." 


Obama's lasting legacy -- federal court appointments

This is based on reporting by New York Times' Jeremy Peters (Sept 15).

There are 13 United States Courts of Appeal, each having jurisdiction over a geographic region.   These are the most important courts below the U. S. Supreme Court and have major influence in interpreting the law.   They are the last stop before a case gets heard by the Supreme Court.    Judges on these courts are often picked for SCOTUS appointments.

When President Obama took office in 2009, of the full-time, active Appeals Court justices, 99 had been appointed by Republican presidents and 65 by Democratic presidents.    Currently, 99 were appointed by Democratic presidents and 77 by Republicans.

Another shift has been in which has a majority in each of the 13 Courts of Appeal.   When Obama took office, Democratic appointees were in a majority in only one of the 13 courts.   Now Democrats are in a majority in 9 of the 13.

There's nothing sinister or improper.    For the past 6 years, Democrats had control of the White House and the Senate;  judicial appointments reflect that, just as the 8 years of George W. Bush's terms move the numbers in the other direction.

However, being appointed by a president of one party does not mean that justice follows that ideology.   David Souter was appointed by a Republican but came to be a reliable vote with the liberal justices.

It does point up the importance of, not the politics so much as, the way a person thinks about the Constitution and the place of government in American life.  The opportunity to make appointments to the Supreme Court may be the most important legacy a president leaves.   It should be an important consideration in deciding which presidential candidate to back.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Bush defends Michelle Nunn

In their race for the U. S. senate seat from Georgia, Republican David Purdue has approved a television ad claiming that, in her position as CEO of "Points of Light," his Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn "gave money to organizations linked to terrorism."

Background:   Michelle Nunn was already CEO of the nation's largest organization of volunteers when it merged with former President George H. W. Bush's "Points of Light" volunteer organization.  She served as CEO of the merged volunteer organization from 2007, taking a leave of absence in 2013 to run for the senate.   She has touted this association with the former president as demonstration of her ability to work across party lines to get good things done for our society.   In 2012, they mobilized 4 million volunteers in 250 affiliates in 22 countries.

So it seems a bit backhanded that Poppy Bush has endorsed her opponent in a tv ad paid for the National Republican Senatorial Committee-- even though it makes sense, given that they are both Republicans.    No doubt, Purdue actively worked to get the endorsement, hoping to undercut Nunn's rightful claim to having worked with the former (Republican) president.

Now Neil Bush, son of Poppy Bush and current chair of the Points of Light Foundation, has denounced Perdue's claims:  "It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation. . . .  Neither Points of Light nor Michelle Nunn have had anything to do with funneling money from our organization to terrorists organizations. . . .  To smear our organization for political gain is, in my opinion, shameful."

The connection is so remote as to be laughable -- and really should be an example of the desperation the Purdue camp must feel to find something . . . anything . . .  to smear Nunn with.   Points of Light regularly serves to validate charities for the donations wing of EBay, which serves as a collector for some 20,000 charities.  An individual can donate to any one of those charities through an EBay account, and EBay then distributes the money.

One of those is Islamic Relief USA, which is an IRS recognized non-profit, tax-exempt organization.   It may, or maybe not, has a separate connection with an umbrella group that has been accused by Israelis of being linked to Hamas.  It has denied any link with terrorists.   Even if it did have, there is no evidence that Points of Light funneled any money to them.   At most, it's a case of imputed guilt by the most tenuous threads of association with an organization whose umbrella organization may possibly have a link to Hamas.

That's it.   That's the story.   That's all they've got.  It's laughable . . . except in today's heightened frenzy about "terrorists," and Lindsey Graham getting all hysterical and saying "they're going to kill us all," many voters will hear that buzz word and nothing else.

Politics is a dirty businessWhen it usurpts non-political, humanitarian organizations -- for political gain, as Bush says -- it is shameful.   And Purdue and the Republicans should be ashamed.    The smear should rebound to hurt them.

Denouncing this false charge was an honorable thing for Neil Bush to do.   His father should do the same and retract his endorsement of Purdue. 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Justice Gnsburg's prediction about SCOTUS and gay marriage

Speaking to an audience at the University of Minesota Law School, U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that we should watch closely what the U. S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decides in pending cases as a clue to how soon SCOTUS might take up the question of gay marriage bans.

The 6th Circuit Court hears appeals from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.   If their decisions "fall in line with" other rulings from all the other appeals court decisions, then there will be "no need for us to rush."

As I understand her, she's saying that as long as the appeals courts are all deciding these state appeals the same way, everyone can assume that things will continue to go that way.   Only when there is a contrary decision -- i.e., one of the state bans on marriage equality is upheld -- will SCOTUS need to act expeditiously.

Ginsburg also commented on the "remarkable" shift in public opinion, and attributed it -- as many of us have done -- to people coming out.  "Having people close to us who say who they arethat made the attitude change in this country," she said.

This diminutive powerhouse was asked, during an extensive Q&A period, if she had an unrealized dream.   "If I had any talent God could give me, I would be a great diva," said the noted opera lover.

To me, one of the world's strange friendships is that between liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg and conservative fellow justice Antonin Scalia.    They share a love of opera;   and in fact someone has written a comic opera about the two of them, "Scalia/Ginsburg," which will have its premier next year in Virginia.

This report of her talk did not say whether she was asked about when she might retire.   All this other stuff is interesting, but that's the real question.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We could possibly elect Democrats to four state offices in Georgia

Jason Carter, Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia's November election, is making education his top campaign issue.   He wants to have a separate budget for education so that school funds cannot be so easily diverted to other uses.

We also have an excellent Democratic candidate for State School Superintendent in Valerie Wilson.   Her priority is support for public education in a time that political and business interests are trying to fool the public that education is the goal of their push for charter schools.

As I understand it, Wilson is not opposed to charter schools as demonstration projects that can ultimately improve public education;   but charter school funding should not come at the expense of the public school system.   I agree.

Here are some facts.   True, it's from a campaign letter from Wilson, but I do not doubt the truth of these claims:
"The Georgia Legislature has cut more than $8.4 billion in funding for public schools in recent years. Georgia is 35th in the nation in spending per student and invests nearly $1,400 less per student than the national average. While the governor touts that nearly half a million dollars was put into the school budget this year, a new report shows that the General Assembly shortchanged districts an average of $439 per student for the 2014-2015 school year. 
"Despite all that, my opponent proposes giving back billions . . . in education dollars. When I met with teachers at yesterday’s Georgia Education Leadership Institute, their message was clear: asking them to do more with less is crippling our classrooms. 

"Enough is enough. It’s time to stop playing politics with our children."
We have four excellent Democratic candidates for statewide offices this year.   Carter and Nunn are both running from 2% to 4% behind in the polls, but those are both close enough that they could turn into winners.  There is no good polling on the other two races.

I urge any Georgia readers to vote for:

Jason Carter for Governor.
Michelle Nunn for U. S. Senator
Greg Hecht for Georgia Attorney General
Valerie Wilson for Georgia State School Superintendent


Monday, September 15, 2014

Police officer who killed Ferguson, Mo. teen not likely to be indicted

Highly respected Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has looked at the prosecutor in Ferguson, Mo. and concluded that he is not likely to push the grand jury for an indictment.     Milbank writes:
"It’s a good bet the grand jurors won’t charge him, because all signs indicate that the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, doesn’t want them to. . . .

". . . McCulloch’s office has declined so far to recommend any charges to the grand jury. Instead, McCulloch’s prosecutors handling the case are taking the highly unusual course of dumping all evidence on the jurors and leaving them to make sense of it.
"McCulloch’s office claims that this is a way to give more authority to the grand jurors, but it looks more like a way to avoid charging Wilson at alland to use the grand jury as cover for the outrage that will ensue. It is often said that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it to. But the opposite is also true. A grand jury is less likely to deliver an indictment — even a much deserved one — if a prosecutor doesn’t ask for it."

Milbank further states that, during prosecutor McCulloch's 23 year tenure in the job, there have been at least a dozen fatal shootings by police officers, and McCoulloch's office has not prosecuted a single one of them.

We're not talking about a rush to conviction, only that a prosecutor ask a grand jury to find probable cause enough to have a trial to decided guilt/innocence.    With the evidence so far available to the public, it seems almost an open and shut case of excessive use of force:   an unarmed black teen was shot when he was running away from the police officer, and then shot again and killed after he had turned with his hands up in the air in an act of surrender.

If that does not warrant a trial, with evidence and arguments for and against guilt argued before a jury, then there is no justice for black people in St. Louis County.   Let's hope that Milbank is wrong, that there will be a fair trial.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Shady deals are Gov. Nathan Deal's operating norm. Rampant corruption and abuse of power

Gov. Nathan Deal has perfected the political dark art of making shady deals, abusing his power, and keeping his fingerprints off of everything -- all the while presenting an image to the public of this grandfatherly, dull as dirt drone whose speeches could put an ADD child to sleep.

Does this all add up to corruption?   I think it does.    First, his multiple run-ins with ethics commissions.  He resigned from Congress just as the House Ethics Committee was getting close in its investigation.   Then he incurred several more ethical charges during his 2010 campaign for governor.    Once he was in office, he squashed those by getting rid of the two top administrators of the Georgia ethics committee, intimidating his hand-picked replacement in the process.    That is abuse of power.  Then he got off without being exposed in a public nearing and received only a negotiated, wrist-slap fine for technical filing errors.

Then his shady financial deals.  Remember his being on the verge of bankruptcy during the campaign because he had backed his daughter and son-in-law's business, which then failed, leaving him stuck with the debts..  He was going to have to sell his home.   It was an embarrassing spectacle:   a governor-elect about to lose his long-owned home just as he was about to be sworn in.  

Somehow that all got taken care of.   But what favors did he then owe those who bailed him out?  It's never a good sign when a new governor is inaugurated while facing possible bankruptcy.   Someone is going to bail him out;  and then he's going to wind up owing somebody -- and then returning favors to make up for it.

Well, one he owes seems to be the Nursing Home Industry.    Right off the bat, this same son-in-law, who badly needed a job after his business failed, was given a cushy job as a lobbyist for the state nursing home association, even though he had no obvious qualifications for the job.   Deal crowed that his office had nothing to do with the hire, and that it would pose no conflict of interest, even though nursing homes get billions of dollars of state money every year for Medicaid patients.  In turn, nursing home owners are huge contributors to Deal's campaign and even moreso to the PACs that support him.   

Now the payback.   Deal has been trying to push through a sweetheart deal for nursing home owners in the form of millions of dollars of compensation for improvements.   Someone sneaked that item into the budget, which the legislature then passed.    But most senators deny knowing that it was in there when they voted on it.

Now that same issue was up before the state Department of Community Health that oversees nursing homes.   The board raised serious questions about the measure and did not vote to approve the allocation as the governor wanted (and had probably promised his wealthy donors who own nursing homes).

Two hours after the board's meeting, two of the appointed members, who opposed Deal's deal, received calls from the governor's office, telling them that they were not being reappointed for another term.

But the governor has denied that there was any connection.   Which is also par for the course.   He thinks, if he just says "no, it isn't so," that the gullible public will continue to believe him.    I don't think voters are that stupid.    The problem is that they just don't care enough be pay attention.

In Deal's dealshe knows how to manipulate and maneuver while staying just under the radar of public outrage.   But those who pay attention have got his number.   And it's only a matter of time.

Will that time come before November 4th?   Will Jason Carter and the AJC be able to get the voters' attention?   Will Holly LaBerge blow the abuse of power thing wide open, now that she's lost her job and is the only one to suffer personally from Deal's abuse of the ethics process?   Will Deal lose the election to Carter, and then the whole thing will just go away?

OMG.   It sounds like a soap opera.  Stay tuned.


Man vs natural beauty

From BBC News Magazine Monitor:
cliff house

This abomination so far does not actually exist.  It is an artist's rendition of a design for a Cliff House by Modscape, an Australian design firm.    They were asked to create a house design for "extreme" locations.   The five-level structure would be secured to the cliff face by steel pins, while cantilever beams could be drilled into the rock for support.

What a horrible prospect for defiling a spot of natural beauty.   The accompanying article does not even hint at the moral-ecological implications of this outrage;  rather it concerns itself with how unique the design is, how problems are addressed and overcome, etc.

Why don't we build a steel bridge across the Grand Canyon?   How about naming rights for the Statue of Liberty, with a giant logo atop the upraised torch?

I have no information on whether this cliff is privately owned and could actually be obtained for building purposes.   Hopefully, it is owned by the government or protected by historic preservation covenants.