Archive for March, 2012

An appalling lesson in ethics and the Ga. Legislature

In the last two hours of the very last day of the 2012 Georgia General Assembly, with scores of proposed bills flying back and forth between the House and Senate, a handful of powerful state legislators tried to take advantage of the confusion. The conspiracy they launched demonstrates just how contemptuous they have become of the people whom they were elected to serve.

The goal of their little plot was to further weaken Georgia’s already lax ethics laws. Had it succeeded, it would have prevented voters from learning the identities of elected officials who had failed to meet deadlines established in state law for filing ethics disclosure and campaign finance statements. It also would have allowed fines levied against legislators for violating those laws to simply disappear, without payment and without anyone even learning they had existed.

And believe or not, the means by which legislative leaders attempted to accomplish that deed was more sordid than the deed itself.

We …

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Travelin’ that last mile to St. Peter’s gate

American music — not country music, not bluegrass music, but American music — lost a giant this week in the passing of banjo great Earl Scruggs. His style was as authentic as North Carolina moonshine, and it packed just as much wallop.

The video below gives you a nice peek at the three-fingered picking style that Scruggs made famous, but it also highlights the trait found in almost every song he plays. The man may crack just the barest hint of a smile, but his playing reveals a great sense of humor. He sets up the story beautifully, leading you to think you know what’s coming and then wham, here comes the punchline and he takes you in another direction entirely. It brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Scruggs, and thank you.

– Jay Bookman

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We are led by a Congress of telemarketers

We’ve all heard the stories about how much time and effort members of Congress devote to raising money for re-election, so that next year they can return to Washington to once again start spending a lot of time raising money for re-election.

As an NPR story puts it, our senators and representatives have two jobs — they serve in Congress, and they work as a telemarketer, manning the phones two to four hours a day on average to raise money. The two parties have even established call centers near Capitol Hill so their members can dial for dollars.

“I think most Americans would be shocked — not surprised, but shocked — if they knew how much time a United States senator spends raising money,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told NPR. “And how much time we spend talking about raising money, and thinking about raising money, and planning to raise money, and going off on little retreats and conjuring up new ideas about raising money.”

Take a minute to listen to the story. If you want to …

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Why Paul Ryan’s budget would explode the deficit

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, promises that his proposed budget will free America “from the crushing burden of debt now threatening its future.”

It would do no such thing. To the contrary, the Tax Policy Center says that major tax cuts included in the Ryan budget would reduce federal revenue by $418 billion in 2015 alone; by 2019, revenue losses would exceed half a trillion dollars each and every year. That will make the deficit worse, not better.

Ryan disputes such analysis, claiming that he will make up that lost revenue by eliminating various tax credits, deductions and exclusions. However, he refuses to specify what those credits might be and instead asks that we trust him on it. The check’s in the mail, in other words.

Last week, the Congressional Research Service took a look at the 20 tax credits, exclusions and deductions that have the biggest impact on tax revenue. Together, they account for 90 percent of the revenue lost through tax …

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Paul Ryan budget seeks Ayn Rand’s America

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

– U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan

“Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars. Take your choice–there is no other.”

― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

The U.S. House passed Paul Ryan’s proposed budget this week, a budget that slashes almost every conceivable program that protects the vulnerable among us — Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, college loans, education support, etc. — in order to finance large tax cuts for the wealthy. The country that such a budget document would produce would be a cold and callous place, a description that an Ayn Rand acolyte such as Ryan would probably embrace as praise.

Every House Democrat as well as 10 Republicans voted against …

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On a smarter planet, Augusta membership wouldn’t be an issue

For a decade now, IBM has been one of three main sponsors for broadcasts of the Masters golf tournament, which begins a week from today. IBM technology helps to run the tournament; IBM hosts a hospitality cabin near the 10th hole for its clients and guests.

Reflecting that long and close relationship, the last four IBM CEOs have been invited to become members of Augusta National, a highly sought honor. (The Washington Post puts the number at the last eight.)

Last October, however, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano announced he was stepping down and named as his replacement a 53-year-old by the name of Ginni Rometty to replace him.

That would be Ginni, as in Virginia. And as we all know, Augusta National has yet to welcome a woman to don its exalted green jacket (it welcomed its first black member in 1990).

Ten years ago, when Martha Burk tried to strong-arm the club into inviting a woman to join its exclusive membership, club leaders resisted, insisting that any changes in its …

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The Gingrich political career, now at an end

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“A lot of us who were around him before and didn’t think this was a good idea from the beginning were worried this was the way it was going to end. He’s in danger, I think, of becoming a laughingstock.”

– Rich Galen, former staff member for Newt Gingrich, quoted in Politico

The sense of personal destiny that has driven Newt Gingrich throughout his life, the deep and defining belief that he was fated to do great things and write his name in large letters upon the history books, has finally run aground on the sharp shoals of reality. And that is a hard thing for the former speaker and Georgia congressman to accept.

He has no money and in fact his campaign is deeply in debt. He lacks the resources to travel, let alone buy campaign ads, and the press has abandoned him, raising the age-old question: If a man utters pearls of profound wisdom, and no one is there to hear him, did he really utter them at all? Yet still he presses on, insistent against all evidence that he …

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American people just not warming to Mitt

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll says a lot about the challenges facing Mitt Romney in his effort to remove Barack Obama from the White House.

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According to the poll, Romney faces a 17-point deficit among registered voters: 35 percent view him favorably, 52 percent view him unfavorably. The splits for Barack Obama are 53 percent favorable; 45 percent unfavorable.

Complicating matters even further, the more that people see Romney, the less they appear to like him. Back in September, just 31 percent of Americans viewed him unfavorably, which means it has jumped almost 20 points since then.

And as ABC News points out, “Romney’s rated favorably by 44 percent of Americans with incomes of $100,000 or more, 13 points better than his score among those with less-than middle incomes. Obama’s favorable ratings exceed 50 percent across income groups.”

In the history of the poll, only one major candidate has had higher unfavorable numbers than Romney. That was Hillary Clinton in …

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If ObamaCare dies, what then?

It’s June, and the heart of ObamaCare, the individual mandate, has just been struck down by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote.

What now?

In discussions today, the justices will hear debate about whether they can kill the mandate and leave the rest of the legislation intact, or whether the entire structure comes tumbling down without the mandate.

That legal debate aside, as a practical matter I think it’s clear that without the mandate, insurance companies cannot be required to cover pre-existing conditions, which goes to the heart of what health-insurance reform is supposed to achieve.

If individuals can go without insurance as long as they’re healthy, then force the insurance companies to cover them when they get ill, the whole concept of insurance goes out the window. It is no longer sustainable. That’s precisely why the Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, among others, embraced and pushed the mandate approach.

So again, what happens if the mandate …

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Trayvon Martin aside, ’stand your ground’ law is stupid

Let’s acknowledge from the beginning that there are no grounds to believe that Florida’s “stand your ground” law can be blamed for the events leading up to the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin.

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch fanatic who shot Martin, may have had no idea that Florida even had such a law. And even if he did know, that knowledge might not have changed his behavior in any way. The only thing we know for certain is that Sanford police cited the law in explaining why they lacked probable cause to arrest Zimmerman.

So setting aside the Martin tragedy, what possible purpose does a “stand your ground” law serve in the first place? What good can it possibly achieve, particularly when implemented outside the home?

Dealing with an intruder inside the home is quite a different matter. And every person of course has the right to defend themselves and others from bodily harm. That right existed before passage of “stand your ground” laws around the country; it …

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