Sunday, February 28, 2010
Despite a new $2.25-billion infusion of federal economic stimulus funding, there are intensifying concerns -- even among some high-speed rail supporters -- that California's proposed bullet train may not deliver on the financial and ridership promises made to win voter backing in 2008.
Estimates of ticket prices between Los Angeles and San Francisco have nearly doubled in the project's latest business plan, pushing ridership projections down sharply and prompting new skepticism about data underpinning the entire project.
"This just smells funny," said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), a supporter of high-speed rail and chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.
New inflation-adjusted construction figures show that outlays needed to build the first 520-mile phase of the system have climbed more than 25%, from $33.6 billion to $42.6 billion.
… in your report, Joe Califano, a chief architect of Medicare, admits that the first method of determining doctors’ pay was chosen for political reasons, namely, to buy doctors’ support for Medicare.
… you report that Mr. Califano, LBJ, and Congress were genuinely surprised by the rapid cost increases sparked by this first method.
… you reveal that much of the treatment that Medicare paid for was previously provided free by physicians; that is, Medicare crowded out a sizable chunk of private-sector philanthropy.
… you tell how attempts to change this first method of paying doctors were deeply influenced by skilled lobbyists working on behalf of doctors.
… in describing the development of the method currently used for determining doctors’ pay, you (perhaps without realizing it) reveal that this current method is the product of a comically childish labor-theory-of-value analysis – the same sort of analysis that is at the foundation of Marxian economics.
… your report ends with the admission that, because the current method isn’t working so well, Uncle Sam – 45 years after Medicare was launched – is still searching for a sound method for determining physicians’ pay.
Given this history, what reason is there to suppose that Obamacare is a good idea?
Friday, February 26, 2010
Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government's become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. Forty-four percent of those polled disagree.
The survey indicates a partisan divide on the question: only 37 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents and nearly 7 in 10 Republicans say the federal government poses a threat to the rights of Americans.
The poll showed support for reducing the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent at 49-44 and backing for eliminating the new sales tax on alcohol at 54-39.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Labour has raised more than a trillion pounds in additional taxation since 1997. Yet, unbelievably, Gordon Brown has still managed to run up a deficit of 12.6 per cent of GDP (Greece’s is 12.7 per cent). A far lower level of taxation brought Americans out in spontaneous protest last year.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Thomas Sowell: "Tiger Woods doesn't owe me an apology. Nothing that he has ever done has cost me a dime nor an hour of sleep. Public apologies to people who are not owed any apology have become one of the many signs of the mushy thinking of our times.
So are apologies for things that somebody else did. When somebody who has never owned a slave apologizes for slavery to somebody who has never been a slave, then what began as mushy thinking has degenerated into theatrical absurdity-- or, worse yet, politics."
Warren Meyer: "I saw some news story that Tiger Woods was going to publicly apologize. Why? What did he do to me? I suppose he could apologize to us for letting us down by under-performing his public image, but he has taken a $100 million a year hit for the damage he did to his own image. I am willing to call things square between us."
So why the change of heart for Corbett, who wouldn't rule out a tax hike one month ago?
Two words: Tea party.
The conservative anti-tax movement of disaffected voters angry with the level of spending in Washington and Harrisburg has emerged as an influential political force in Pennsylvania, a new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows.
Nearly half of the 954 registered voters surveyed — 45 percent — said they would be likely to vote for a candidate who supports the tea party movement's goals.
DENVER — Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Tuesday signed a bill that cuts state employee retiree benefits to prevent the pension system from going broke.
In the past, the (New Jersey) unions yawned as smaller-government conservatives railed at government worker pensions. But this time, Democrats led the charge, and not just any Democrats, but those who double as union members. It made you wonder if the vote was held in a right-to-work state like Georgia, not New Jersey.
Newly elected Democratic Sen. Donald Norcross, a Camden County union leader, defended the bills as a necessary stopgap to restore the pension system's long-term solvency. Peering down at him from the podium was his ally, Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a union ironworker with the torso of a forklift.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
A Senate panel has approved legislation to adopt a British tradition of having the head of government take questions from lawmakers on a regular basis.
Under SCR1012, Arizona’s governor would be required to answer questions by lawmakers for 30 minutes to an hour every two weeks during the regular legislative session. The “question time,” as it’s called in the United Kingdom, would be open to the public.
“I don’t think that there is really the dynamic conversation that we should be having taking place, in which the executive interacts with the Legislature,” said Sen. Jonathan Paton, the measure’s sponsor.
The governor wouldn’t be the only one on public display, Paton said.
“We’ll also get a window into how the Legislature works,” he said. “And if the questions that we ask are stupid, the voters will know about it as well.”
Monday, February 22, 2010
"She felt more than justified. She cooperated very well, with the reasoning why she fired the shots, as well as recovering the gun. She said she didn't want a child to find the gun in the sewer," says Daniel O'Conner, the Assistant Chief of Police for Pine Lawn.
O'Conner says the woman will face several charges as soon as Sunday including attempted murder, domestic violence, and a charge for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
In response to criticism from opponents seeking to defeat him in the Aug. 24 Republican primary, the four-term senator says he was misled by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. McCain said the pair assured him that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program would focus on what was seen as the cause of the financial crisis, the housing meltdown.
"Obviously, that didn't happen," McCain said in a meeting Thursday with The Republic's Editorial Board, recounting his decision-making during the critical initial days of the fiscal crisis. "They decided to stabilize the Wall Street institutions, bail out (insurance giant) AIG, bail out Chrysler, bail out General Motors. . . . What they figured was that if they stabilized Wall Street - I guess it was trickle-down economics - that therefore Main Street would be fine."
Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
But since the Grand Canyon State began enforcing speed limits with roadside cameras, motorists are raging against the machines: They have blocked out the lenses with Post-it notes or Silly String. During the Christmas holidays, they covered the cameras with boxes, complete with wrapping paper.
One dissenting citizen went after a camera with a pick ax.
"It's using big-brother tactics to balance the state budget," she said. "It's outlandish."
That's certainly been the reaction in Arizona, where the cameras have incited a mini revolt.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
The District of Columbia spent over $28,000 per pupil in the 2008-09 school year. This year is probably similar. So why does (almost) everyone still claim the figure is around half that much? John Stossel has a good summary here.
If you’d like all the gory details, drawn from the official DC budget documents and the District’s own audited enrollment figures, then have a look at this Excel spreadsheet file.
I’m happy to go over the calculation with any DC or DCPS official — or journalist — who would care to dispute it. (It’s only been challenged once before, and the official in question fell silent after seeing the spreadsheet.)
Isn’t it about time that the local media start telling it like it is, and acknowledge that the District of Columbia spends four times as much per pupil as local voucher-receiving private schools charge in tuition ($6,620), while still getting worse academic results?
All told, Brown collected $15.2 million in his campaign, nearly all of it in those final chaotic weeks, particularly when polls began to show the race slipping away from Coakley.
Coakley's campaign did not immediately release her fundraising totals.
Brown's campaign portrayed the fundraising as broad-based. They said donations came from 154,431 donors and the average donation was $86.
"The low-dollar average donation of $86 shows the strong grass-roots support that Scott Brown enjoyed in this race," said campaign spokesman Felix Browne.
Brown also enjoyed a late influx of spending by independent groups, including a $1 million television advertising campaign by the Washington-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Other out-of-state groups that supported his campaign were the Virginia-based Americans for Job Security, which spent $460,000 on an ad campaign; the California-based Tea Party Express, which spent $348,000; and the Iowa-based American Future Fund, which spent $618,000.
All told, outside groups spent more than $2.6 million in the last 12 days of the campaign supporting Brown's election efforts.
Second-term Gov. Haley Barbour rarely releases his public schedule, despite repeated requests by The Associated Press. Previous governors, Democrat and Republican, released their schedules regularly _ though sometimes only after prodding from the media.
People who want public information about arrests are routinely told by lower-level employees of sheriff's departments and police departments that the information can't be given out over the telephone.
Elected boards sometimes state one reason for going into closed session, as they're required to do, but then discuss additional business while they're there, which they're not supposed to do.
In this series, journalists from across Mississippi are examining strengths and weaknesses of people's ability to get public information or attend what are supposed to be open meetings. The series is coordinated by The Associated Press and the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Illinois ranks 50th among the states in setting aside the tens of billions of dollars needed to pay its employee pensions.
That's the mortifying but believable word in a major new study that, if anything, understates just how big of a hole the state and its taxpayers are in when it comes to financing the cost of state employee retirement.
The report by the Pew Center on the States, a Washington research group, concludes that Illinois has set aside barely half — 54%, to be exact — of the amount it will need to pay benefits in its five worker pension funds, leaving an unfunded liability of $54.4 billion.
The top earmarkers in both the House and Senate are Republicans, even after the GOP has spent much of the past year making fiscal restraint and runaway government spending the centerpiece of its political message.
Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) — both atop defense spending panels — led their respective bodies in securing earmarks, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Young, the ranking member on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, helped secure 63 earmarks worth $128 million. Cochran, his counterpart in the Senate, had his hand in 242 earmarks worth nearly $498 million. In the House, Young was followed by Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) with $121 million, Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) with $116 million and Jim Moran (D-Va.) with $107 million. After Cochran, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was No. 2 in earmarks with $392 million, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) received $368 million in earmarks and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) grabbed $292 million for his home state.
A debt-ridden NHS hospital is to be taken over and run by a private company in what will be a groundbreaking departure for healthcare provision in England
David Worskett, director of the NHS Partners Network at the NHS Confederation, said such a level of private provision was to be welcomed. “The NHS faces two huge problems. One is its finances and the need to improve productivity and the other is the means of finding innovative new ways of delivering care.
“Hinchingbrooke shows us that there are hospitals using conventional NHS approaches and, with all the will in the world, have not been able to make it work. The only way to preserve this hospital is to look to people who have the greatest chances of innovation and improvement. This is the start of something that will develop on a larger scale in years to come.”
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Vets mean serious business when it comes to protecting their industry from competition in Oklahoma. Similar to other states, OK vets are taking steps to prevent unlicensed professionals from honing in on their customer base. Equine dentists, also called “teeth floaters” are specially trained, but unlicensed professionals that care for the oral hygiene of horses.Veterinarians are seeking to make it a criminal offense for these floaters to practice without the supervision of a licensed vet. But equine dentists, enthusiasts and other professionals in the horse maintenance business (such as those who shoe or massage horses) are fighting back.
The ink is barely dry on the pay-as-you-go law, and Democrats are seeking to bypass it to enact parts of their job-creation agenda.
Democratic leaders said extensions of unemployment insurance and COBRA healthcare benefits should be emergency spending that isn’t subject to the pay-as-you-go statute, which requires new non-discretionary spending to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Last week, the state filed dozens of records related to TNInvestco under seal, saying in its filings the documents constituted either “tax information” or “tax administration information” and therefore were exempt from the law.
It was an argument echoed by Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter before Davidson County Chancellor Russell T. Perkins today. Kleinfelter said the state tax statutes and those governing sensitive economic development information trumped Tennessee’s Open Records Act.
“This is not really an appropriate forum for Mr. Coleman to challenge the commissioners for the decisions that were made,” Kleinfelter said, adding later “It is not a privilege. I is a law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly saying the commissioner of economic and community development has the ability to make such documents confidential.”
“We submit is is clearly a tax statute (issue) but at the very least it is related to tax statutes,” Kleinfelter added.
At one point, Kleinfelter appeared to suggest when asked by Perkins that his court did not have the authority to rule in the matter as state law allows for no judicial review once Kisber seals a document with the attorney general’s blessing.
And to hell with the public.
"I'm not running a popularity contest here," Mesley said. "If I'm the bad guy to the average citizen . . . and their taxes have go up to cover my raise, I'm very sorry about that, but I have to look out for myself and my membership."
Mesley added: "As the president of the local, I will not accept 'zeroes.' If that means . . . ticking off some taxpayers, then so be it."
Poffenroth and Kent Fleischmann used their 401(k) savings, a working line of capital from a local bank and additional personal savings to fund Dry Fly Distilling in 2007.
Risking their retirement nest eggs has paid off so far: Dry Fly Distilling has garnered national and international awards, and its products are sold in 19 states and several Canadian provinces. Business doubled last year, Poffenroth says. Their 401(k) funds were converted to company stock as part of the start-up, and the stock value has doubled as the $2 million firm has grown.
Monday, February 15, 2010
BOSTON—When Massachusetts residents cast their ballots for governor in November they'll likely face another decision in the voting booth -- whether to lower the state sale tax rate from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.
It's a question that's making those running for the state's top political office nervous.
Of the six declared candidates, only one -- Republican convenience store magnate Christy Mihos -- has endorsed the question.
The other five say they favor lowering the sales tax, just not all the way to 3 percent.
They say they'd be more comfortable returning the rate to 5 percent, where it had been for decades before lawmakers increased it last year to help cope with the state's ongoing fiscal crisis.
A City Paper investigation of Metro pension records and other publicly available information suggests Nashville’s disability pension numbers are highly unusual. There appear to be vast disparities in benefit administration between Nashville and other jurisdictions around the country. For example:
• Metro Nashville taxpayers shell out seven times as much each year on disability pensions as do citizens in comparably sized Providence, R.I., which had only 100 ex-city workers on disability (3.2 percent of total employees) and spent $1.6 million to cover them in the fiscal year ending mid-2007. It’s hardly as though Providence is widely seen as a national model for efficient public administration: Former long-serving Mayor Buddy Cianci went to federal prison some years ago for racketeering in a case that also led to convictions for eight other members of his administration.
If cynicism and distrust continue to build, this decentralized, leaderless movement could emerge, as military theorist John Robb has recently argued, into something like a full-blown non-violent insurgency against the extreme centralization of economic and political power. At its edges, it would grow beyond its white and middle-aged and conservative base to include the growing number of disaffected voters of all political stripes who've lost faith in a government that colludes so easily and instinctively with powerful private interests. And that would be a much bigger deal than electing dozens of Scott Browns.
More than two decades ago, Congress set out to stop dangerous or incompetent caregivers from crossing state lines and landing in trouble again.
It ordered up a national database allowing hospitals to check for disciplinary actions taken anywhere in the country against nurses, pharmacists, psychologists and other licensed health professionals.
On March 1 -- 22 years later -- the federal government finally plans to let hospitals use it. But the long-awaited repository is missing serious disciplinary actions against what are probably thousands of health providers, according to an investigation by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica in collaboration with the Los Angeles Times.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The plan comes with a hefty price tag. Obama has requested $10 billion over the next 10 years to update the Child Nutrition Act and help get healthier choices into school lunches. There's an additional $5 million to support farmer's markets across the country and the grocery store financing initiative will cost a proposed $400 million a year for the next seven years. The USDA has created an interactive map that shows which counties and states might be in most need of the funds.