Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Watchdog is at the Door!

‘Doping the vote’ in South Texas triggers federal indictments - Shady ballot brokers are “doping the vote” in the Rio Grande Valley, an election-watch group says. Now the FBI is on the case. “(The politiqueras) took voters to their weed man after voting,” Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for True the Vote, told Trafficking in petty cash and dime bags, politiquerasround up voters for South Texas candidates, nearly all Democrats. The pay-for-ballot activity has resulted in 11 federal indictments so far. Republicans are turning up the heat on state Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, a Brownsville resident and longtime political kingmaker in the Rio Grande Valley.

Drink up! Taxpayers back bad loans for country clubs, boats, wineries - The Small Business Administration has backed loans for wineries, country clubs and boat dealers who couldn’t pay back the loans. There have been more than $8.7 billion in unpaid debts since taxpayers started partly funding the loans that are supposed to be covered by fees on lenders…
Vermont's middle class is hurting - I recently wrote about how Vermont is leading the nation in the growth in income inequality, despite (or, as I believe, because of) the expanding list of progressive policies Vermont has enacted over the past few decades. Two other reports highlight a corresponding fact that Vermont’s middle class is dying faster than every other state but one – California. One report by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that Vermont’s middle class declined by 5 percentage points (From 52.4 percent to 47.4 percent) between 2000 and 2013. The second, by 24/7 Wall Street looks at the more recent time frame between 2009 and 2013, in which Vermont’s middle class income growth declined by 5.9 percent — the second worst record in the nation. As this report states:….Vermont[’s] progressive experiment has blown up in the faces of our middle class….
Six months after New Jersey red light cameras go dark,world hasn’t ended - Red light cameras were supposed to reduce crashes in New Jersey and make people safer, but since cameras stopped issuing tickets, pedestrians and drivers may actually be less likely to get into an accident. The red light camera lobby warned of the dire consequences if New Jersey’s cameras went dark. And in the six months since, they claim Jersey drivers are back to their old ways, running red lights with reckless abandon. In the first three months after the cameras went dark, red light running reportedly surged in one city. The Traffic Safety Coalition, a group that includes red light camera company Redflex among its ‘partners,’claims that red light running increased by 116 percent in three months. The coalition even put out this video touting the numbers:……
Ohio Gov. JohnKasich’s combination presidential campaign and Obamacare promo tour stoppedthis week in North Carolina - A local TV host asked Kasich — one of few Republicans to embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion— what he would say to North Carolina lawmakers “adamantly against” expanding Medicaid. “We’ve taken $14 billion over the next seven years back to our state, of Ohio money that we sent to Washington,” Kasich replied Monday before defending the program’s benefits for drug addicts, the mentally ill and the working poor. Obamacare promises an open-ended stream of new federal Medicaid funding; there’s no pool of Ohio or California or North Carolina money for states to dip into. Every state expanding Medicaid increases the total cost. Kasich’s attempt to obscure the facts didn’t surprise Mitch Kokai, communications director for North Carolina’s free-market John Locke Foundation. Kasich, Kokai said, hasn’t simply tried to justify his decision to expand Medicaid but has“doubled down on it and said others should do the same.” Kasich’s Obamacare expansion cost $3.7 billion in its first 17 months and is already $1 billion over budget. Enrollment is much higher than projected, and so are costs per enrollee.
Lawmakers: Failing schools need more than just money - Philadelphia schools are in line for a $70 million bailout from the City Council this week.But money will only solve so many of the problems facing the School District of Philadelphia. According to a pair of lawmakers, turning around its worst schools req uires more than just dollars and cents. State Reps. John Taylor, R-177th District, and Jordan Harris, D-186th, represent Philadelphia and both support legislation aimed at changing the way the state turns around the city’s worst schools. “For failing schools, money alone is not the solution,” the two wrote in an op-ed. “Statewide, there are 150 schools that are, by any measure, not serving their families. And they have consistently underperformed — in many cases, for more than a decade — despite receiving $1.3 billion in public funding last year alone.”…..
Report: Texas has $81 billion in hidden debtTexas has $81 billion in hidden debt that doesn’t show up on balance sheets, according to a new study by Truth in Accounting. This means Texas is $62.6 billion short of the money it needs to pay its long-term bills, which the group calculates as equal to $8,300 per taxpayer. These figures do not include the $333 billion in bond debt run up by local government agencies, particularly school districts. When it comes to calculating unfunded liabilities, a few changes in assumptions can produce wildly different figures, so we took a closer look at Truth in Accounting’s numbers. The surprise here is that, if anything, Truth in Accounting is understating the magnitude of the problem…….Even the new accounting rules can understate matters. Texas’ major pension funds are advised by the same actuarial firm that was telling Detroit it could increase benefits right up until the city went bankrupt……Annual pension costs are calculated as a percentage of payroll. In household terms, this is like scheduling balloon payments and planning to cover them with a raise that never arrives. The result is much the same: a debt snowball that takes up more and more of the monthly budget but never shrinks…..
Lincoln schools to spend $150,000 to better ‘engage’ with people - In the wake of last year’s purple penguin fiasco, the Lincoln school board is on the brink of spending $150,000 to improve its “community engagement.” A district spokeswoman says the outlay isn’t a direct result of the controversy, but is intended to help the district better engage with the community, either by helping staffers better address questions and concerns or buying a software system, presumably to monitor social media. A Nebraska middle school made national headlines after discouraging teachers from calling students boys or girls. The school district generatednational headlines after middle school staffers gave teachers training documents advising them not to use “gendered expressions” by calling students“boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen,” but to instead use more generic expressions like campers, readers, athletes or even “purple penguins” to be more “gender inclusive.”…
Drivers licenses for illegal immigrants now accepted as employment documentsA change in guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services makes driver’s licenses for illegals acceptable ID for employment, creating a new shortcut for illegal immigrants to get jobs. Federal law prohibits employers from hiring illegal immigrants. However, a recent change by USCIS requires employers to accept driver’s privilege cards as proof of identity, even though the cards are uniquely granted to individuals with no legal presence in the country. According to guidance USCIS issued in May, a driver privilege card issued by a state is an acceptable List B document for I-9 employment forms “if it contains a photograph or identifying information such as name, date of birth, sex, height, color of eyes, and address.”…..
VA quietly drops criminal investigation of whistleblower after year of intimidation - A social worker at a Louisiana Veterans Affairs hospital is no longer under criminal investigation by his employer for accessing a secret list that he used as proof to show that 2,700 vets languished – including 37 who died – awaiting care. It’s been a year since Shea Wilkes, a decorated Army Reservist, went to the media with evidence that the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport kept an off-the-books appointment list. The nationwide scandal that followed cost the VA secretary his job – and nearly cost Wilkes his position. He was demoted and harassed, and saw any future advancement evaporate while the VA Inspector General treated him as a suspect rather than a whistleblower. On June 24, Wilkes’ attorney received a phone call: The Inspector General agents had dropped their probe……
Will Colorado taxpayers be investors in Iran? - Since 2008, Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) has had a policy of divesting from companies known to be doing substantial business in Iran. If the recently-concluded agreement with Iran is upheld by Congress, that could be about to change. The taxpayers of Colorado and PERA members could find their retirement funds investing in that country. Daniel Greenfield, in Front Page Magazine, reports that Article 25 of the agreement requires the US government to pressure states and localities to adopt policies consistent with the lifting of sanctions (emphasis added):……
Lord of theNannies: One Nanny to Rule Them All - It’s been two years since Mayor Bill de Blasiotook office in the Big Apple with a promise to rid Manhattan of horse-drawn carriages. He’s still fighting to get the ban through the city council, but it seems unlikely he’ll ever succeed. While the mayor is worrying about transportation from the 19th century, members of the city council are taking aim at the 20th century. A bill in front of the council would ban the use of helicopters in New York City for sightseeing tours, cracking down on an industry that thrills tourists and supports hundreds of jobs simply because cranky city council members don’t like the noise. Because if they could only get rid of the helicopters, New York City would be a quiet, peaceful, tranquil place, right? Both proposed bans, according to recent news reports, face the same opposition: a public that disagrees with them. The Wall Street Journal, on Sunday, took a long look at de Blasio’s effort to shut down the house-drawn carriages in and around Central Park. During his mayoral campaign, he said the rides were inhumane and promised to shut down the industry during his first week on the job.……..
Nanny State of theWeek: FDA bans trans-fats - Enjoy your brownies, donuts and other shrink-wrapped snacks while they last. That’s right, the federal government is coming for your stash of Hot Pockets, popcorn and Ding-Dongs. The federal Food and Drug Administration approved new rules last week that will effectively ban trans fats within three years, forever changing the face of snacking and fast food. Specifically, the FDA is going after partially hydrogenated oils, the main ingredient in the trans fats that liter the diets of many Americans. Food companies have until 2018 to remove the oils from their products. But does the government have the power to force people to eat healthy? The FDA is charged, in part, with protecting Americans from food that is unsafe to eat. They inspect meat, for example, to make sure we’re not going to get mad cow disease. The agency is now expanding that role to include trans fats, which the FDA has determined to be “no longer safe for use in food…..
Union boss wantsteachers waging war for ‘social justice’ - While most Americans celebrated Independence Day, the National Education Association bemoaned America’s lack of “social justice.” In a July 4 speech bristling with leftist buzzwords, NEA executive director John Stocks implored union members to be part of a national “progressive” movement.  “America is not working for most Americans,” Stocks told several thousand representatives of the union’s state and local affiliates at NEA’s annual meeting. Stocks, a white male who was paid $412,398 with teachers union dues last year, blamed the country’s struggles on income inequality and institutional racism. “I personally believe that we cannot challenge institutional racism without understanding the insidious entitlements of white privilege in America,” Stocks said, noting that he himself has benefited from “white privilege.”…..
Christie promises to ‘tell it like it is,’ but hides truth in New Jersey- Chris Christie declared his candidacy for president Tuesday, promising America that he would “tell it like it is.” But his track record in New Jersey shows the governor has often gone to great lengths to hide the truth from taxpayers. “We are going to tell it like it is,” Christie proclaimed in a gymnasium packed with supporters at Livingston High School. “The truth will set us free.” In contrast, the governor has often forced New Jersey Watchdog and other news outlets to go to court to win release of public records the governor and his administration have refused to disclose….
SCOTUS will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case- The U.S. Supreme Court announced this morning it will hear the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which seeks to eliminate agency shop fees that unions take from non-members. The game-changing lawsuit argues that forcing public employees to pay fees to unions they do not support is a violation of their First Amendment rights. The announcement was made during Tuesday’s “cleanup” session before summer break. The next regular SCOTUS conference is scheduled for September 28 and a decision on Friedrichs is expected by June 30, 2016. “This is an excellent first step,” Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, told Watchdog. “We should know within a year if the justices will do the right thing and let all teachers and other workers have a choice whether or not to pay dues to a union, as is done in 25 states. We have choices everywhere else in life, why not with union participation?” The Friedrichs case would determine if workers should be required to pay “agency shop” fees to labor unions if they choose not to be a member. In many states, employees who chose not to associate with unions are still forced to pay a smaller membership fee for representation in collective bargaining……
Starting Wednesday, Obamacare will punish businesses who help employees with health care - Employers who reimburse their workers for health care costs will face massive tax penalties beginning Wednesday. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, with its mandate that all Americans purchase insurance and requirement for businesses to offer employees insurance plans, many small companies provided coverage by directly reimbursing medical costs or for the cost of private insurance plans. Businesses do it because that’s a less complicated process than dealing with an official health insurance plan, but continuing to do so after July 1 could cost them hundreds of dollars in fines each day….
Laid-off worker welfare program doesn't work, renewed anyway- A billion-dollar welfare program to help laid-off workers displaced by foreign competition has been saved from extinction, even though it’s been judged ineffective and wasteful according to the federal government’s own commissioned studies….
Ruffled feathers:Larger wind turbines bad news for birds, groups say - To supply more energy to more states across the country, the U.S. Department of Energy wants to see wind turbines get a lot bigger. But many bird lovers — the American Bird Conservancy in particular — don’t like the idea, saying taller towers and bigger blades make for a deadly combination. “This expansion, together with larger turbines and larger blades, will mean more birds will die,” said Michael Parr, chief conservation officer at the American Bird Conservancy. “Our position is, if there’s something you can do about it, you should. The Audubon Society also has concerns. “Our advocacy would be to get those (turbines) tested for impacts on birds before we deploy them on a large scale,” said Garry George, the renewable energy director of Audubon California.

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