Saturday, October 1, 2011

Last Call

Montana Republican Rep. Dennis Rehberg believes he has found the state's most urgent source of fraud and waste:  armies of welfare queens scamming school lunch programs.  As Evan McMorris-Santoro reminds us, this is the same guy who called Pell Grants "welfare" now taking aim at reduced and free school lunch money.

This time around, Rehberg set his sights a little lower down the educational ladder. On a tour of a Montana elementary school (where his sister is principal), Rehberg wanted to know quite a bit about how the school policies its government-subsidized lunch program. From the Billings Gazette:

Rehberg asked [his sister and school district official Brenda Koch] pointed questions about fraud and whether families ever dupe the free and reduced-price meal system.
Koch explained that each year, a random sample of families who sign up and qualify are audited by the district to make sure they meet the income guidelines.
On top of that, she said, the district is audited by the state every year on how its Title I dollars are spent.
“I’d like to punish those systems that rip the taxpayers off,” Rehberg said during the visit, according to the Gazette.

Rehberg (who is expected to run against Democrat Jon Tester for his Senate seat in 2012) is the 23rd richest member of Congress.  Tester's office didn't waste any time delaying their counterattack on him, either.

“Millionaire Congressman Dennis Rehberg went to an elementary school and demanded to know about fraud in the school lunch program for low income students,” Tester campaign manager Preston Elliott told TPM. “At the same time he’s voted to increase his own pay 5 times and to protect subsidies for oil companies. Well, Dennis, the fraud is you telling Montana families that you’re on their side.”

Reduced or free school lunch programs are about $1 billion total yearly for America.  Montana has about 1 million people, or 1/310th of the country's population.  Ballpark that out and that means the state's entire share of free lunch programs is roughly $3.25 million.  Even if some ridiculously high number like 10% of that is fraud, Dennis here could foot the bill himself if he's that worried about it.  If it's one percent, that's $32,500 or so.  Write a check, big man.  It's almost worth more to the state for Rehberg to pay the money than it is to prosecute anyone on school lunch fraud, for crying out loud.

The point is school lunch programs aren't the flood of fraud that Rehberg makes it out to be.  Now oil subsidies on the other hand, well, I'm sure Montana taxpayers could save a lot more money by looking at that.  Heck, if it's one percent, why the oil lobbyist money Montana's congressional delegation has been paid in your average year would more than cover that $32,500 fraud tab.

That'll buy a lot of little rectangular pizzas.

Obama To Address Gay & Lesbian Activists

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama will deliver the keynote address Saturday to a gathering of gay and lesbian activists, a key constituency that hasn't always been receptive to the president's policies and style of leadership.

Supporters say Obama's accomplishments on gay rights issues have been substantial since he last headlined the annual National Dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, in 2009, including the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. However, his lack of support for gay marriage still stands out as a snub for many.

Obama currently supports same-sex civil unions, and has said his views on gay marriage are "evolving." He recently announced his support of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Obama had his hands full, and he has done more good for this direction than any in history. It's not enough, but because he has had so much on his plate I'm pleased that he is giving this his consideration. I'm still awaiting reports of how it went, but I will follow up as soon as possible.

If I could give Obama a theme for 2012 it would be "Let Me Finish"... maybe he is finally getting around to this because it's time, maybe not doing any harm was the best he had at a time when his every word was twisted and used against him.  He still has to be careful about his words because this is such a sensitive subject, but I hope he comes out with a more receptive message.  Of course, compared to the GOP treatment of gays, he could hardly do worse for himself.

I think he deserves the praise for his actions and the benefit of the doubt because even if he's slow, he can't do everything right away.

Here In My Car, I Feel Safest Of All

Drivers and researchers in cities all over the US will be participating in a national, two-year study of American driving habits.

The Second Strategic Highway Research Program was created by Congress to investigate the underlying causes of highway crashes and congestion on the country’s roads. When completed, the two-year, $180 million Naturalistic Driving Study will have collected the equivalent of 2,000 driving years of data from thousands of participants in Centre County, Buffalo, N.Y., Bloomington, Ind., Durham, N.C., Tampa, Fla., and Seattle.

“The study will ensure decisions on matters of transportation are made based on mathematical models rather than educated guesses, like it has in past years,” said Penn State civil engineering professor Paul Jovanis, the principal researcher for the local portion of the project.

A study like this is long overdue, frankly.  Designing cities, roads, highways and transportation options of the future is a massive undertaking, and it's about time we had solid data on this to help with those designs.  Lost time, wasted fuel, and added emissions were bad enough in 2007, now these numbers are all worse.  But the modeling in this study goes further than that:  it shows how we drive as well.

The data, containing the unsparing details of every aggressive merge, inattentive swerve and jarring fender- bender, is uploaded every one-tenth of a second via a wireless router installed in the car, and is backed up on a hard drive kept inside the car. Combined with the results of a three-hour physiological and psychological exam taken by the driver, the data will be used to study transportation from academic perspectives ranging from psychology to economics.

“It’s the most comprehensive transportation study ever done,” Jovanis said.

Jovanis made assurances the data being collected is “extremely secure,” as it’s encrypted before it’s transmitted. Since each driver in the study is identified by a code, and not by name, the data would be difficult to use in a lawsuit against a participant resulting from an accident, Jovanis said.

In return, drivers receive $500 per year for one or two years, and are entered into a $1,000 raffle held every six months. But most participants have volunteered for the sake of science, said Janet Fraser, who coordinates the project’s assessments.

“They’ve been incredibly patient and understanding. Not one has turned down taking any portion of our testing, even though it’s all optional,” she said. 

Considering your average American spends something like 10 hours in a vehicle every week, you'd think we'd want to study this more just for the economic and environmental impact alone.  It's good to see it being done at the very least.

A Little Soft, Indeed

"The way I think about it is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track."
-- President Obama arguing for his third stimulus package in an interview with NBC affiliate WESH of Orlando, Fla.
Well it's about time.  This is core Obama, the reason I respect the man so much.  Instead of saying what people want to hear, he's telling them the sometimes unpleasant truths.  He is talking to us like equals, like grown-ups.  He is telling us we're a bit off track and it's time we all turn this sinking ship around.  It may not be a popular message but it's the right one.  It's the way to bring us together and moving in the same direction.

We can't ask for change from government and continue on the path we are as citizens.  Our spoiled self-serving culture has to take a step back and learn to be lean and mean.  We come from a scrappy history full of independence and humble brilliance, and we have turned into an indulgent, shallow version of our former glory.  It is never easy or pleasant to call someone out on their BS, and he did so in a matter of fact and reasonable way.

Compared to the screeching insanity of the right nowadays, this is the contrast that portrays realistic stability. When some folks shake off the stupidity, when the witch burners and racists just push it too far, this type of plain talk will be refreshing.

Up, Up And Away In My Beautiful Balloon

If you've not heard the news yet, I've been asked to become a contributor to Balloon Juice, which apparently means I'm lucky, skilled, blindingly naive or all three.  That means I'll on occasion be taking some of my better articles (and Bon's too if she lets me, Bon is now a contributor over at ABLC as well and I'm thrilled) and putting them up over there to get yelled at by a lot of people.  It's exciting and nauseating and crazy, like love.  Or mono.

ZVTS is still my home, however.  Not straying too far from these environs, or the readers who have stuck with me throughout the 3+ years I've been here.  We'll carry on as always.

Conrad Murray's Trial Gets Shady

Conrad Murray is in some mighty deep doo-doo.  The death of Michael Jackson won't disappear off our radar for decades, and he is smack in the middle of it.  There has been murmurs of the depth of his involvement from the very beginning.  The trial has been a slam dunk from the beginning, with the evidence coming out at every turn to make him look even more guilty than suspected.  But as we all know, not all evidence is created equal.

However, a few tidbits sort of bother me.  Please don't think I'm saying Murray is innocent.  At best, he was incredibly negligent.  Today I read that there was a huge buzz because a paramedic said he could have saved Michael if 911 had been called immediately.  I'm sorry, but he couldn't possibly know that. The extent of damage that had been done by long-term drug abuse would not allow anyone to say that for a certainty.  There has been zero mention of any response from Murray's lawyer.  I have to wonder if he was asleep.

The hard evidence is moderate.  Witnesses seem to all say Murray was hiding and collecting vials.  I just have to wonder how that worked out.  Were there so many people on the spot, or were there that many vials?  It sounds to me like he either had a barrel of vials or a lot of convenient witnesses are telling the same story.  It seems a little neat.  Either Murray is so guilty that the radiation of guilt would light up a room, or there is a whole lot of talk and just a little hard proof.  I realize we aren't seeing the entire picture,  but there seems to be a lot of wiggle room for reasonable doubt.  Of course, it could also be that the leaks and reporting are one-sided.  If not, Murray's only hope is one hell of a poisoned tree.

He is a doctor, and he should have known better on a million levels.  It seems clear that his very wealthy client paid him to get the drugs he wanted and the soothing he craved.  I'm just a little surprised that there is so much reliance on witnesses and theory, and I wonder what kind of fight he is putting up.

Doubting Thomas

Democrats in the House are finally getting serious about looking into Justice Clarence Thomas's financial and ethics problems, calling for a formal inquiry by the US Judicial Conference and Eric Holder's Justice Department.

A group of House Democrats alleging that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas violated ethics rules by failing to report his wife’s income called for a federal investigation into the matter today.

The group of 20 House Democrats led by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to the U.S. Judicial Conference, the governing body for federal courts, saying that Thomas has failed to report the income of his wife, Virginia, who earned $700,000 from 2003 to 2007 while working at the Heritage Foundation, according to news reports.

The letter came just days before the Supreme Court returns for the new session, during which it is expected to consider a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s sweeping health care law. With such high-profile issues on the horizon for the court, the lawmakers wrote, “it is vital that the Judicial Conference actively pursue any suspicious actions by Supreme Court Justices.”

"Suspicious", indeed.  Nobody doubts that Anthony Weiner was crusading to get this very inquiry started when the issue was lost in the tornado of his own ethics problems.  But in addition to the failure to disclose, there are a number of thorny ethical issues dogging Thomas, including his relationship with real estate tycoon Harlan Crow.  Thomas has been up to a number of seemingly hinky activities and has the power as a Supreme Court Justice to basically police himself.

The definitive piece on Thomas's ethical issues throughout his career comes from Allan Brauer and is definitely worth a long a careful read.  Finally it seems that Weiner is getting the investigation and attention to the issues that he asked for, but only after it played a part in wrecking his career and becoming a notch on Breitbart's belt.

I still don't expect this inquiry to go far or even for it to happen, but at least it's getting noticed.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

Related Posts with Thumbnails