Thursday, July 30, 2009

U.S. to suspend auto "clunkers" program

"The Obama administration will suspend a $1 billion program intended to spur U.S. auto sales after it approached its funding limit after only a few days, government and industry sources said."

"The program was expected to run through September 30 but the sources said the administration would suspend it within the next day."

"The government estimated 250,000 auto sales if the full rebate was granted. It is unclear how many vehicles have been sold under the program. The government formally launched the program on July 24."

Mortgage Co. Face New Pressure on Homeowner Help

"Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a statement following the meetings that 200,000 loan modifications are already underway."

Mayor Peyton Vetoes City Council Tax Vote

"The Mayor vetoed City Council's amendment to keep the millage rate at 8.45."

"City Council could override the Mayor's veto with 13 votes, but Clark believes it will be difficult to bring everyone together for a meeting before August 4, the deadline for the property appraiser to hand out tax notices to property owners."

Sheriff Looks for More Revenue to Keep Up Fight Against Violent Crime

"Mayor Peyton's budget proposal includes a $27 million budget increase for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office this coming fiscal year."

"The Sheriff's Office expects to cut $9 million from next year's budget, primarily by cutting overtime."

"Another $18 million will go straight to the pension fund, off-setting the additional money needed in the fund with new officer hires. "

"City crews perform maintenance on JSO vehicles and receive a mark-up for administrative costs. That means in addition to labor and parts costs, JSO pays the City $600,000 in mark-ups on tire repair alone."

"JSO also pays the City 22 cents for every gallon of gas. On average, Rutherford says police vehicles burn 7,000 gallons of gas a day."

Fla. spends less than national average per student

"Florida’s public schools spent $8,515 per student in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available, according to a report issued Monday morning by the U.S. Census Bureau."

"That’s $1,151 below the U.S. average of $9,666, and nearly half of what New York’s public schools spent."

Study: Obesity accounts for 9.1% of medical spending

"Spending on conditions associated with obesity, such as diabetes, has doubled in the last decade, as obesity rates grew 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, according to a study published Monday."

"Obesity now accounts for 9.1 percent of all medical spending, up from 6.5 percent in 1998."

"The report found that per-capita medical spending for obese people was 42 percent – or $1,429 – higher per year than for someone of normal weight."

Sheriff Urges Residents to Support Tax Hike

"In his budget presentation, Sheriff Rutherford says, "We have had the highest murder rate in the state for 10 consecutive years." The sheriff issued a letter to "concerned citizens" of Jacksonville."

"Rutherford says funding for public safety in Jacksonville is the lowest among major cities. He says now is not the time to stop progress on the war against violent crime."

"The sheriff attached a list of council members, urging people to call them in support of the millage rate increase."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

10 years later, Florida's FCAT, school grade reforms get mixed grades

deserved or not -- for graduating too many kids who couldn't read or write. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who saw himself as an education innovator, hit on a grand plan to make schools accountable."

"He called it the A+ Plan for Education. It morphed into the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and took on newfound importance: Schools would be assigned a letter grade, A through F, based on exam scores."

"A decade later, the FCAT and school grades -- along with a host of other changes -- have placed Florida front and center in the educational reform movement."

"Since Florida began grading schools in 1999, the percentage of schools receiving A's and B's has more than tripled from 21 percent to 79 percent. The proportion of D and F schools dropped from 28 percent to 7 percent. The improvement came even as the state continually raised the standards on which the grades would be based, affording the schools little time or resources to adapt."

"Critics say improved school grades show only that students are getting better at the FCAT, not that they are necessarily learning more. But students have also improved their scores on other standardized tests they don't prepare for."

"One of them -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress, billed as ``the nation's report card'' -- showed 70 percent of Florida fourth-graders reading at grade level in 2007, compared with 53 percent in 1998."

"Those results lifted Florida's national ranking. In 1998, Florida placed 35th on the fourth-grade reading test. The state ranked 22nd in the same category in 2007, though the results have been less stellar in math and in eighth grade."

Administration Takes Aim at State Laws on Teachers

"The Obama administration took aim on Thursday at state laws — adopted after heavy teachers’ union lobbying — barring the use of student achievement data to evaluate teacher performance."

"The federal Department of Education proposed rules to prevent states with such laws from getting money from a $4.3 billion-educational innovation fund."

"Proposed rules for the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition say that states must show they are carrying out education innovation and reform, improving student achievement, adopting higher standards, recruiting effective teachers and principals, building educational data systems, and turning around low-performing schools."

"To be eligible to apply for money, a “state must not have any legal, statutory or regulatory barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation,” according to a summary of the proposed rules."

Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Kill More Americans Than Car Wrecks

"Diseases easily preventable by adult vaccines kill more Americans each year than car wrecks, breast cancer, or AIDS."

"Yet relatively few in the U.S. know much about these diseases -- and far too few adults get vaccinated, find surveys by the CDC and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)."

"It may surprise you to learn that over 50,000 adults die each year of diseases that are potentially vaccine preventable," NFID president-elect William Schaffner, MD, said at a news conference held to announce the survey results."

Who Is Killing America's Millionaires?

"CapGemini's survey contains some interesting geographic wrinkles. High-tax areas like New York and California—places where politicians have been talking about potentially raising taxes on the rich to deal with budget crises—held up better than the national average. The New York region, which has the most HNWIs, at 561,000, lost only 13.6 percent of its rich population last year. Los Angeles and San Francisco lost 17.8 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively. As for Maryland, the Baltimore metro area had a 19 percent drop in high-net-worth population."

"Comparative tax havens like Florida, Nevada, and Arizona didn't see an influx of millionaires in 2008. Far from it. In 2008, Las Vegas lost 38 percent of its HNWIs, and Phoenix lost 34 percent. Florida, which has no state income tax and hasn't been talking about one, was a killing field for the rich. The three major metro areas that lost more than 40 percent of millionaires in 2008 were all in no-income-tax Florida—Orlando (42 percent), Miami (42 percent), and Tampa (51 percent). The decline has nothing to do with taxes and everything to do with bursting asset bubbles. Florida, Vegas, and Phoenix are places whose economies were dominated by ultra-bubbly real estate markets and where lots of businesses owned by wealthy people are dependent on construction, tourism, and leisure—sectors that got seriously whacked in 2008."

Successful charter school cuts staff, hours over union contract

"Baltimore's most successful middle school is laying off staff and shortening its school day to meet demands of a teachers union contract in what is one of the first major disputes over teacher pay between a charter school and a union."

"KIPP Ujima Village Academy, based on a model that has forged a successful track record among poor students in more than a dozen states, has been violating a contract requiring teachers to be paid more if they work extra hours, school and union leaders acknowledge."

"After seven years of ignoring the issue, the Baltimore Teachers Union told the charter school earlier this year that it must pay its teachers 33 percent more than other city school teachers because they were working nine hours and 15 minutes a day, as well as every other Saturday. The standard workday for teachers is seven hours and five minutes."

"KIPP has been paying its teachers 18 percent above the salary scale, but could not afford to increase all teachers' salaries by 33 percent, according to Jason Botel, executive director of KIPP Baltimore. So it decided to stagger staff starting times and cut back on the hours students are in school when they return to classes next month."

"Students will attend classes for eight hours in the next school year, and Saturday classes have been canceled. The four layoffs include one music and one art teacher who were recently let go, as well as two staff members who worked with special education and struggling students."

Study Links Rise in Health Care Costs to Job Losses

"The Rand researchers examined the economic performance of 38 industries from 1987 through 2005, in an attempt to assess the economic impact of “excess” growth in health care costs on U.S. industries. Excess growth is defined as the increase in health care costs that exceeds the overall growth of the nation’s GDP—a yearly occurrence in the U.S. The team compared changes in employment, economic output and the value added to the GDP product for industries that provide health benefits to most workers to those where few workers have job-based health insurance."

"After adjusting for other factors, industries that provide insurance had significantly less employment growth than industries where health benefits were not common. Industries with a larger percentage of workers receiving employer-sponsored health insurance also showed lower growth in their contribution to the GDP."

"The rate of growth in U.S. health care costs has outpaced the growth rate in the gross domestic product (GDP) for many years. In 1940, the share of GDP accounted for by health care spending was just 4.5%. By 1990, it had reached 12.2%, and 16% in 2005, when health care spending totaled nearly $2 trillion, or $6,697 per person, far more than any other nation. This year health care spending is on track to equal 18% of GDP."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

City Council Committee Snubs Tax Hike

"The Finance Committee of the Jacksonville City Council said no to the Fix it Now tax hike proposal that Mayor Peyton is shopping around the city."

"The committee voted to approve an amendment to set the millage rate at 8.48, which happens to be the current millage rate for homeowners."

"We felt it important to get into our budget and cut unnecessary expenses and dig into the budget process before we raise taxes," said City Council president Richard Clark. "We need to look at the budget before we look at tax increases."

"The issue will be voted on by the full city council on July 28. The committee has a total of 7 members."

Report: Fewer Mexicans entering U.S.

"The number of Mexicans moving to the USA has dropped sharply since the middle of the decade, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center."

"Figures from various sources, including the Census Bureau, show that 30% to 50% fewer Mexicans came here — legally or illegally — in 2008 compared with 2006, says Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the non-partisan research center, who is a co-author of the study."

"Last year, 653,035 of the 705,005 people caught breaching the southern border were Mexican, he says."

Mayor talks public safety and Jacksonville Journey

"In fact, he included $6.1 million in Jacksonville Journey's budget proposal to fund 40 police officers, 44 additional corrections officers and 19 civilians. He hopes the city receives federal funding to offset the costs for the new officers."

"The Journey Oversight Committee has asked for $19.8 million in funding, down from the $31 million approved last summer. Most of the reductions come from no longer funding capital projects and eliminating $4 million spent on police overtime."

FCAT test is no longer sole factor in grading

"Florida is changing the way it grades its high schools. Beginning this fall, grades no longer will be based solely on performance on the often-criticized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. In fact, FCAT will only account for half of a high school's grade. Final details are pending."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Foreclosures rise 15% in first half of '09

"The number of U.S. households on the verge of losing their homes soared by nearly 15% in the first half of the year as more people lost their jobs and were unable to pay their monthly mortgage bills."

"The mushrooming foreclosure crisis affected more than 1.5 million homes in the first six months of the year, according to a report released Thursday by foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc."

"The data show that, despite the Obama administration's plan to encourage the lending industry to prevent foreclosures by handing out $50 billion in subsidies, the nation's housing woes continue to spread. Experts don't expect foreclosures to peak until the middle of next year."

"Foreclosure filings rose more than 33% in June compared with the same month last year and were up nearly 5% from May, RealtyTrac said."

"It was the fourth-straight month in which more than 300,000 households receiving a foreclosure filing, which includes default notices and several other legal notices that homeowners receive before they finally lose their homes. Banks repossessed more than 79,000 homes in June, up from about 65,000 a month earlier."

U.S. must address high minority jobless rates: think-tank

"Minority jobless rates have spiked sharply higher than those of whites in some states, according to a report released on Wednesday, prompting calls for new job growth efforts and the possible revival of a funding mechanism long opposed by Wall Street."

"The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, issued a report analyzing racial and ethnic jobless rates in the 50 states. It said the 18-month recession has erased many recent gains for minorities because manufacturing, construction and trade jobs, often the easiest for them to obtain, are melting away."

"At the end of the first quarter of this year, Alabama's black jobless rate soared to 15.1 percent from 5.3 in the 2007 fourth quarter. For whites, however, the rate rose to 5.8 percent from 3 percent."

"For blacks, Louisiana had the worst comparable rate. They were three times more likely than whites to be jobless. In Alabama, New York, Mississippi and Texas, blacks were more than twice as likely to be unemployed."

Pot No Longer Focus of Anti-Drug Campaigns

"In fact, the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the nation's largest creator of anti-drug messages, hasn't produced a single anti-marijuana public service advertisement since 2005. "

"The change comes as a result of the decline in marijuana use amongst teens, and growing worry over the abuse of prescription drugs. Marijuana use has been declining for 10 years and past-month use is down 25 percent since 2001 according to the largest tracking study in the U.S., "Monitoring the Future" by the University of Michigan. "

"Meanwhile prescription drug abuse has held steady over the past five years according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, with nearly one in five teens (19 percent) abusing prescription medications to get high."

"The bottom line is the Opiates and Stimulates are much more addictive than marijuana, those that try it are likely to return to them after first use." said Mitch Earleywine, associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York. "Maybe 9 percent of marijuana users develop problems but 14-23 percent of prescription drug abusers end up saying can't quit or report withdrawal when they want to stop."

"The report compared data on deaths due to marijuana with FDA-approved medications. It found that the approved drugs -- which included anti-psychotics, Attention Deficit Disorder medications, painkillers and other prescription drugs -- were suspected as the primary cause of 10,008 deaths and as a secondary cause in 1,679 more."

"Another report recently issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicated that prescription drugs caused more deaths than illicit drugs - even including alcohol-related automobile accidents. Prescription drugs were the cause of more than 25 percent of drug related deaths in the state. Marijuana was not listed as a cause of death last year in Florida."

Sex Offender Begs For More Jail Time

"Marquez is just one of hundreds of sex offenders who are unable to find work or housing in Broward County. One local blogger describes his plight as being "under house arrest without a home."

"And the problem isn't just there. In Miami, a legal battle has erupted over a growing colony of sex offenders who have been forced under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The vagrants live in shacks, creating a national dialogue over the unintended consequences of residency laws."

"Marquez was required to register in his Oakland Park neighborhood and carry a large GPS box to track his every move. He must observe an indoor curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and not live within 2,500 feet of a school, day care facility, playground or other place where children regularly congregate."

"That, in addition to the high cost of rent, has made finding a place to live impossible, according to his public defender lawyer, Cheryl Koewing."

"No one wants to employ him," Koewing told "How can law enforcement keep track of these individuals and not have them turning to other means to get food to live? They've served their time."

Health Care Details

"Some of you were nice enough to play "research team" for this correspondent, and search out a few things in the bill. Jason read my mind by searching for provisions that would authorize spending "such sums" as may be necessary for certain sections of the bill."

"There are a dozen of them:
* p. 120, to cover the start up costs of the government health insurance option
* p. 300, to pay for a study on why Medicare costs vary around the nation
* p. 404, to pay for a section on "Ensuring Effective Communication In Medicare"
* p. 610, for a study of large intrastate chains of nursing facilities
* p. 864, to increase funding for Community Health Centers between 2013-2019
* p. 869, to fund the National Health Service Corps Program for 2013-2019
* p. 892, to increase money for the Public Health Investment Fund
* p. 897, more on funding for the Public Health Investment Fund
* p. 931, "such sums" to fund a cryptic reference to public health law
* p. 1001, money to fund School Based Health Clinics for 2011-2014
* p. 1006, to fund the National Medical Device Registry
* p. 1018, to fund Grant Programs to Provide Education to Nurses"

"Since taxes are such a hot button issue, I thought I would also look at the tax hikes included in this bill, as a penalty for those not getting health care coverage."

"If you make $350,000-$500,000 in modified adjusted gross income and don't buy health insurance, then you would be subjected to a 1% surtax; If you make $500,000 to $1,000,000 and don't buy health insurance, you would be hit with a 1.5% surtax;"

"And if you make more than a million a year, you would see a 5.4% surtax. After 2012, the 1% rate would go up to 2% and the 1.5% rate would double as well to 3%."

More troops lost to roadside bombs: a familiar pattern

"The Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan are turning to a familiar tool to try to kill more Americans and allied troops: the roadside bomb."

"Allied troops reported 736 IED incidents last month, up from 234 in June 2007, according to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, a Defense Department group. "Incidents" include bombs that detonate and are effective, as well as bombs that are found and cleared and those that detonate but are not injurious."

"So far this year, 107 American service members have been killed in Afghanistan – compared with 155 for all of 2008, according to the website Last month, there were 38 coalition fatalities, but so far in July, not yet half over, there have already been 40. British forces have lost 15 soldiers in the past 11 days."

JEA: Climate bill would raise rates by 10 percent

"Climate change legislation pending in Congress could translate into a 10 percent electricity rate increase for JEA customers within three years."

"JEA CEO Jim Dickenson said Tuesday the cost would trickle down to customers — many of them irritated already with a number of recent rate increases — if the city-owned utility has to purchase $130 million in pollution allowances in order to obey the law in 2012."

"By 2020, utility companies would have to be generating 20 percent of their electricity with renewable resources like solar and wind power. The JEA grid currently includes 1 percent renewable energy. Even with a 15-megawatt solar farm planned for a 100-acre plot in the Westside, the total renewable portfolio would be only 1.2 percent."

"By 2050, utility companies would have to either reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent of what they were in 2005, or purchase carbon credits from other companies meeting the demand."

"U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., the lone regional legislator who voted in favor of the climate change bill, released a statement saying it would cost the average American household 50 cents daily, a small price to protect the environment — including the 1,350 miles of Florida coastline in the crosshairs of global warming. Brown said the bill would also spawn needed green-energy jobs."

"Her Republican counterpart in the 7th District, John Mica, voted against the bill. He said it would cost the average American family $1,400 a year and force some businesses to send jobs overseas."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chicago report says Obama misled public about Duncan

"New research from a Chicago civic group takes direct aim at the city's "abysmal" public high school performance — and suggests that President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who led Chicago schools for seven years, have misled the public about school performance during Duncan's tenure."

"The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, a supporter of Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's push for more control of city schools, issued the report June 30. It says city schools have made little progress since 2003."

"Its key findings stand in stark contrast to assertions Obama made last December when he nominated Duncan to be Education secretary. And though the findings are by no means as explosive, they're reminiscent of revelations from Houston in 2003, when state investigators found that 15 high schools had underreported dropout rates under former superintendent Rod Paige, who by then was George W. Bush's Education secretary."

"In December, Obama said that during a seven-year tenure, Duncan had boosted elementary school test scores "from 38% of students meeting the standards to 67%" — a gain of 29 percentage points. But the new report found that, adjusting for changes in tests and procedures, students' pass rates grew only about 8 percentage points."

"Obama also said Chicago's dropout rate "has gone down every year he's been in charge." Though that's technically true, the committee says it's still unacceptably high: About half of Chicago students drop out of the city's non-selective-enrollment high schools. And more than 70% of 11th-graders fail to meet state standards, a trend that "has remained essentially flat" over the past several years."

"Even among those who graduate, it says, skills are poor: An analysis of students entering the Chicago City Colleges in the fall of 2006 showed that 69% were not prepared for college-level reading, 79% were not prepared for writing, and 95% were not prepared for math."

More than 70 caseworkers lied about efforts to protect children

"During the past two years, more than 70 Florida child-welfare workers have been caught falsifying records -- lying about their on-the-job efforts to protect children, according to state and county records reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel."

"As a consequence, the Florida Department of Children and Families temporarily lost track of at least six children, sometimes for months. Fourteen children were left in unsafe homes, the Sentinel found in a review of agency records."

How budget cuts equal more spending in Jacksonville

A list of $993.8 million in expenses for Jacksonville's next fiscal year shows that despite departmental budget-trimming, spending at City Hall is projected to increase.

Although the city's projected $110 million in pension costs next fiscal year has been made a primary culprit, there are also concerns about the growing cost of health care and electricity.

The numbers remain fluid until Mayor John Peyton delivers his budget proposal Monday to City Council, but overall spending appears to be going up by $22.4 million.

The 2.3 percent increase for 2009-10 tops last year's 1.8 percent, which was heralded as the lowest since 1991, despite a multimillion-dollar public safety increase.

Next year's budget is growing despite $41 million in planned cuts, most of them to employee compensation. To prevent deeper cuts, Peyton is proposing a 12 percent property tax rate increase.

Although he gave department heads a directive to cut at least 5 percent from their operating budgets, total departmental expenses are expected to jump by $33 million, according to the latest figures released by the mayor's office.

However, $30 million of that increase stems from more spending by the police and fire departments, which were not directed to trim their budgets.

Although Peyton is proposing cutting $1.1 million from the libraries on top of the 5 percent reduction, the library budget actually is increasing by $3.3 million.

Since Peyton took office in 2003, non-public safety spending has dropped roughly $7 million, while the overall budget has grown by about $270 million.

Operation Valkyrie and the July Plot to Assassinate Hitler

Follow the above link (by clicking the title) to learn about the final failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler near the end of World War II.

It is an interesting story about a group of individuals who were willing to die based solely on their principals. It's failure shows not only the coup's military ineffectiveness but the failure of German citizens to rise up against a dictator.

Who decides how much White House staffers get paid?

"The Obama White House recently released the salaries of its 487 staffers. The highest-paid administration staffer, the president's director of public health policy, David Marcozzi, earns $193,000, while salaries bottom out at $36,000. The president himself makes $400,000, a salary set by Congress. Two advisers, Michael J. Warren and Patricia G. McGinnis, forgo pay altogether. How does the White House decide who makes what?"

"There's a rough formula for how much executive branch staffers make. White House salaries are on a scale associated with certain ranks. The top rank in the White House consists of those staffers who hold the title "assistant to the president." Twenty-two people in the Obama administration have that rank—including David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, and Jon Favreau—and they all get paid the same amount: $172,000. Marcozzi earns more than the assistants to the president because he's on detail from the Department of Health and Human Services, which pays his salary. (After six months, "detailees" have to switch to White House payroll.) The next level below the assistants are the "deputy assistants to the president," all of whom make between $130,000 and $150,000. Further down still are "special assistants to the president," who earn anywhere from $50,000 to $130,000. And below that are the staff assistants, legislative assistants, press assistants, secretaries, greeters, speechwriters, advance coordinators, and record keepers—i.e., the bulk of the White House staff—who make between $40,000 and $55,000."

"The total spending on salaries is determined by Congress, which has to approve the annual White House budget. In 2007, President Bush requested a total of $51.9 million for White House office salaries. (That's for the core of 500 or so staffers.) The numbers creep up every year. In 2003, the maximum pay for assistants was $151,000. Since then, it has increased between 1.7 percent and 4 percent annually. In 2008, it reached $172,000 and remains there, since Obama declared a pay freeze for anyone making more than $100,000."

U.S. Wiretapping of Limited Value, Officials Report

"While the Bush administration had defended its program of wiretapping without warrants as a vital tool that saved lives, a new government review released Friday said the program’s effectiveness in fighting terrorism was unclear."

"The report, mandated by Congress last year and produced by the inspectors general of five federal agencies, found that other intelligence tools used in assessing security threats posed by terrorists provided more timely and detailed information."

"While the program obtained information that “had value in some counterterrorism investigations, it generally played a limited role in the F.B.I.’s overall counterterrorism efforts,” the report concluded. The Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence branches also viewed the program, which allowed eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of Americans, as a useful tool but could not link it directly to counterterrorism successes, presumably arrests or thwarted plots."

"The report found that the secrecy surrounding the program may have limited its effectiveness. At the C.I.A., it said, so few working-level officers were allowed to know about the program that the agency often did not make full use of the leads the wiretapping generated, and intelligence leads that came from the wiretapping operation were often “vague or without context,” the report said."

U.S. Wiretapping of Limited Value, Officials Report

"While the Bush administration had defended its program of wiretapping without warrants as a vital tool that saved lives, a new government review released Friday said the program’s effectiveness in fighting terrorism was unclear."

"The report, mandated by Congress last year and produced by the inspectors general of five federal agencies, found that other intelligence tools used in assessing security threats posed by terrorists provided more timely and detailed information."

"While the program obtained information that “had value in some counterterrorism investigations, it generally played a limited role in the F.B.I.’s overall counterterrorism efforts,” the report concluded. The Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence branches also viewed the program, which allowed eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of Americans, as a useful tool but could not link it directly to counterterrorism successes, presumably arrests or thwarted plots."

"The report found that the secrecy surrounding the program may have limited its effectiveness. At the C.I.A., it said, so few working-level officers were allowed to know about the program that the agency often did not make full use of the leads the wiretapping generated, and intelligence leads that came from the wiretapping operation were often “vague or without context,” the report said."

U.S. commander: Afghan forces insufficient

"Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama's strategy for winning the war is to succeed, according to senior military officials."

"Such an expansion would require spending billions more than the $7.5 billion the administration has budgeted annually to build up the Afghan army and police over the next several years, and the likely deployment of thousands more U.S. troops as trainers and advisers, officials said. "

"Obama has voiced strong commitment to the ongoing Afghan conflict -- which this year surpasses Vietnam as America's longest combat engagement -- but has been cautious about making any additional military resources available beyond the 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 military trainers he agreed to in February. That will bring the total U.S. force to 68,000 by fall."

"The Afghan army is already scheduled to grow from 85,000 to 134,000, an expansion originally expected to take five years but now fast-tracked for completion by 2011. Several senior Pentagon officials indicated that an adequate size for the Afghan force may be twice the expanded number."

Study: 50% borrow money for college

"College students are borrowing more and taking on riskier forms of debt than ever before, according to a national analysis released Thursday."

“Drowning in Debt: The Emerging Student Loan Crisis,” released by an independent education policy think tank called the Education Sector, analyzed 15 years of data through the 2007-2008 academic year."

"The study found:

  • The cost of attending a public university has doubled over the past two decades, causing previously unseen costs of higher education.
  • Family income and student financial aid haven’t kept up with the increasing costs, forcing students to borrow more money for their education than ever before.
  • More students are finding those funds in the form of risky, unregulated, private student loans, where they pay the highest interest rates.
  • Minority college students appear to be borrowing a disproportionate share."

"Some of the specific stats included in the report include:

  • Borrowing has gone from being the exception for undergraduates in 1993, at only 32 percent, to the rule. As of 2008, more than 50 percent of students at public, four-year universities borrowed for their education. In for-profit education, the percentage of borrowers rose to 92 percent in 2008 from 53 percent in 1993.
  • The average annual debt for borrowers at four-year private universities increased by 70 percent over the study period, while the average debt for students at for-profit colleges increased by 57 percent, to $9,600 a year.
  • Only 5 percent of undergraduates borrowed private loans in 2003-2004. In four years, the percentage grew to 14 percent.
  • Between 2004 and 2008, the percentage of African-American students who took out private loans tripled, giving that group higher participation levels than white or Hispanic students.
  • At private, four-year institutions in 2008, the wealthiest students received institutional grants of nearly equal size to those earned by the poorest students."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

'Shocking' Security Breaches at Federal Buildings

"Investigators from the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, were able to penetrate all 10 of the undisclosed federal buildings it tested across the United States."

"The Federal Protective Service, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for securing more than 9,000 federal buildings and, among other employees, utilizes 15,000 contract security guards. "

Cops threaten to boycott Peyton family business

"How a police boycott of Gate would hurt the business is uncertain. A veritable empire built by the mayor’s father, Herb Peyton, in the 1960s, Gate has 225 locations in six Southeastern states."

"The company also has a stake in $21 million worth of contracts to fuel the city motor pool, including police cruisers, which officers take home after work."

Reading The Bills

"Earmarks are usually listed in what's called the "report" which accompanies the bill, where the legislative intentions of the Appropriations Committee are spelled out. They are just recommendations, which some argue don't even have the force of law."

"If you think it is time consuming to read a bill, it is much more time consuming to read the report, which can be hundreds and hundreds of pages of explanation."

Green nonsense

"Global temperatures have declined -- extending the current downtrend to 11 years with a particularly rapid decline in 2007-2008," said a draft report written in March by an expert at the Environmental Protection Agency."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

"We cannot retaliate on indifference by asserting truth, only by casting doubt." (Piscali's Island, 192).

Herr Gesing: "How have you arrived at this confident knowledge of what is lies and what is truth? I envy it." (Piscali's Island, 70).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Highway deaths at lowest level on record

"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday the number of motorists killed from January through March 2009 declined by 9 percent, to 7,689 motorists, from the same period a year ago. Motor vehicle fatalities continued to fall to levels not seen since records began being kept in 1961."

"An estimated 37,261 motorists died nationwide in 2008, the lowest number since 1961. If this year's trends continue, fewer than 31,000 people will die in 2009. However, motorcycle deaths have increased for the 11th straight year in a row and account for 14 percent of all highway fatalities."

Mississippi's Still Fattest but Alabama Closing In

"In 31 states, more than one in four adults are obese, says a new report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And obesity rates among adults rose in 23 states over the past year, and no state experienced a significant decline."

"The report provides one of the first in-depth looks at obese boomers, and its implications are sobering. This first wave of aging boomers will mean a jump of obese Medicare patients that ranges from 5.2 percent in New York to a high of 16.3 percent in Alabama, the report concluded. In Alabama, nearly 39 percent of the oldest boomers are obese."

"Health economists once made the harsh financial calculation that the obese would save money by dying sooner. But more recent research instead suggests that better treatments are keeping them alive nearly as long — but they're much sicker for longer, requiring such costly interventions as knee replacements and diabetes care and dialysis. Medicare spends anywhere from $1,400 to $6,000 more annually on health care for an obese senior than for the non-obese, Levi said."