Archive for March, 2013

Beverly Hall indictment a stunning turn of events

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2009 Superintendent of the Year Beverly Hall

It shouldn’t be so stunning, but it is.

Former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall — a one-time national superintendent of the year who ran the Atlanta school district with an authoritarian hand — has been indicted on racketeering and other charges, as have 34 other administrators, principals, teachers and others, in the Atlanta cheating scandal.

If convicted, Hall faces as much as 45 years in jail, and the grand jury has recommended that bail be set at $7.5 million. Given that Hall is not a great threat to flee the country and poses no danger to anyone, that bail recommendation sounds exorbitant. Frankly, it sets off warning signals that the case itself may be an overreaction, but we will see.

I’m not trying to defend Hall by any means. If she did do the crime, she should do the time, although it is possible that the charges will be bargained down if she admits guilt and returns the bonuses “earned” through cheating. As it …

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Remember, ‘every form of refuge has its price’

As a rule, I stay away from political commentary at the close of the business week Friday, but I want to dedicate this one to the “ethics reformers” in the Georgia Legislature:

“My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
You set it up so well, so carefully
Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things
You’re still the same old girl you used to be.”

– Jay Bookman

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Gov. Deal should veto this so-called ‘ethics reform’

“Ethics reform” bills should never be written in secret, at the last minute, behind closed doors, by those who have a lot to gain by gutting them.

Because when that happens, as it did this week in the Georgia Legislature, bad things happen. You get a bill that masquerades as reform but in reality changes little and in important ways makes things worse.

Let’s begin with the “attorney loophole.” In a last-minute change to House Bill 142 — a change that had not been included in previous House or Senate versions of the bill — legislators in effect exempted attorneys from the state’s lobbyist disclosure and ethics law. Because the language was changed in secret, we don’t know who is responsible for it. But we do know that it creates a massive loophole in the law, because some of the most influential people lobbying our elected officials have law degrees.

In fact, the bill itself is evidence of that influence. As a result of the change they apparently sought, …

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Georgians, prepare to pay much higher taxes

On the final day of the 2013 legislative session, a group of Republican legislators introduced “The Georgia Fair Taxation Act.” By doing so, they set the stage for what may prove to be the most important legislative battle of next year’s session, or potentially the decade.

“This bill is the beginning of the discussion to eliminate the income tax in the state of Georgia,” state Rep. Tom Kirby of Loganville said in announcing the legislation. He also said that he has already conferred with and agreed to work with Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, who has proposed similar legislation on the Senate side.

To offset the revenue lost by eliminating both the personal and corporate income tax in Georgia, Kirby says it would be necessary to increase the state sales tax by three to 4.8 percentage points. In metro Atlanta, that would produce a state and local sales tax of roughly 11 or 12 percent. And as we’ll see, the actual number would be higher still.

In addition, the …

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Speaker Boehner and the eternal wisdom of Abe Lincoln

Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious.

House Speaker John Boehner has sent out a memo to fellow House Republicans in which he updates the current situation and attempts to bathe his party’s efforts in the reflected nobility of President Abraham Lincoln, the most famous Republican of all.

Boehner writes:

A NOBLE PURPOSE: BALANCING FOR GROWTH AND WHY IT MATTERS

There should be no doubt that our purpose in calling for a balanced budget is a noble one, and the right one.

The book Congressman Lincoln by Chris DeRose, which I recently read, includes a chapter focused on Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to help craft a new national agenda.  At one point in the book, young Lincoln warns that government debt is “growing with a rapidity fearful to contemplate.”

“[Government debt] is a system not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute,” Lincoln warns his countrymen in Congressman Lincoln.  “An individual who undertakes to live by …

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North Koreans get a little reminder

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An angry North Korea has cut the last remaining military hotlines with South Korea, raising tensions between the countries still further.

“There do not exist any dialogue channel and communications means between (North Korea) and the U.S. and between the North and the South,” the North Korean regime announced. “Not words but only arms will work on the U.S. and the South Korean puppet forces.”

That came after previous statements from the North Korea military claiming that its missiles “are assigned to strike bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops in the U.S. mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zones in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in South Korea and its vicinity.”

“They should be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed.”

The United States has now responded with a message of its own, announcing that it sent two nuclear-capable B-2 Stealth bombers from Whiteman …

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GOP should pray it loses gay-marriage decision

Speaking in purely political terms, the best thing the Supreme Court could do for the future of the Republican Party is issue a sweeping ruling that gay marriage is a constitutionally protected right. By doing so, it would pretty much gut the issue as a point of political contention.

The worst thing the court could do to the GOP — again, politically speaking — is duck the issue and leave it for politicians to wrangle over, which is the outcome that most observers now predict.

Here’s why:

Last week, Mike Huckabee was asked if the GOP could ever endorse gay marriage.

“They might,” Huckabee responded. “And if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk.”

He’s probably right. As the latest Pew poll reports, 75 percent of white evangelicals oppose gay marriage. As Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, warned recently:

“If the RNC abandons marriage, evangelicals will either sit the elections out completely or move …

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Health-care costs consuming our national future

In fiscal 2013, the federal deficit is projected to be 5.5 percent of GDP, a level that according to many in Washington threatens our basic solvency and that must be addressed by any means possible, as long as “any means possible” does not include tax increases.

Meanwhile, Americans spend 17.6 percent of GDP on health care, more than three times our deficit. Much of that money is of course considered well-spent, keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive and healthy. But here’s the problem:

By any measure that you care to use, U.S. health-care spending vastly outstrips those of our competitors in the industrialized world. Here’s the comparative data, as compiled by a new report by the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health-insurance companies:

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If we reduced health-care spending to the level of the average member of the 34-member Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, we would offset our deficit entirely and free up another …

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The economic conundrum of the 21st century

Two stories at The Fiscal Times capture our predicament nicely.

The first, from Blaire Briody, explores the job-stealing impact of technology even in the service sector:

“MIT already has a BakeBot that can read recipes, whip together cookie dough and place it in the oven. The University of California at Berkeley has a robot that can do laundry and fold T-shirts. Robot servers have started waiting tables at restaurants in Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand – and just last week, a robot served Passover matzah to President Obama during his trip to Israel.

“Every year, machines are getting more capable of doing low-level tasks,” says Professor Seth Teller, a robotics researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.

Many experts worry about what robots in the service sector could do to employment. The national unemployment rate remains at 7.7 percent — not remotely close to the 4.7 percent unemployment in 2007 before the recession. Job growth …

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A closet is for clothing, not for people

In 1994, 66 percent of Americans told Time/CNN pollsters that they did not have a close friend or family member who was gay.

Little did they know.

At the time, the closet was still a pretty crowded place. President Bill Clinton had just signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, instructing the Pentagon not to pursue gay military members as long as they kept their sexual orientation secret. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres was still three years from her “big reveal” on prime-time TV, and people in less-accepting communities and industries had far more to fear than she did. Matthew Shepard was still four years away from dying a brutal beating death in Wyoming, martyred for the sin of being gay. And just 10 years earlier, Rock Hudson had been dragged, sick and dying, from the closet by AIDS.

(For all of its horrors, and strange as it may sound, the AIDS epidemic played a crucial role in forcing society to acknowledge at least the existence of the gay community, and in encouraging many …

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