Monday, September 29, 2014

Week of 09/29/2014

Ex Post Facto Theft
Imagine one day getting a knock on your front door.  It’s the owner of the local gas station that you’ve been going to since forever to fill up your car’s gas tank.  He tells you that one of his attendants had been making a horrendous error when authorizing gas purchases.  It turned out that he’s been hitting the “discount” key for every customer instead of the ones that pay with a certain credit card, so all the customers have been paying less in gas than they should have.  And this had been going on for at least a year, if not longer, but nobody said anything about it until he found out about it just the other day.
The gas station owner tells you that he’s promptly fired the attendant that was making the mistake and that he’s “awfully sorry” for the “mistake” that was made, and then says that you now need to pay him $24,000 for the difference that was lost for all of those transactions made during that time.  Oh, don’t worry, he says, you can make a series of payments over the next year to make up the difference, but, either way, he wants his $24,000 that he believes you owe him.
Now I know some of you will say “But, David, the real world doesn’t work like that!  The deal was made at the point of sale.  The price was set, payment made, the exchange was completed… it was a done deal!  If there was a screw-up in the price, then that was the gas station’s fault; he has no right to demand extra money from you for a mistake that his own people made!”
And you would be right to say that.  That is how the business world is supposed to operate!
But we’re not talking about a business here.
We’re talking about government.
Specifically, local government.  You know, the mom-and-pop career politicians that double as your next-door neighbors that all pretend that they can run local government just like they could run a business, and then turn around and expect their state and federal counterparts to do the same thing.
Well it turns out not all of them are such “stellar experts” in how the real world works.
In Barrow County, northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, their local Board of Education came across a rather embarrassing discrepancy with their revenue.  It seems the county government has been giving out a $10,000 homestead exemption for taxpayers instead of the usual $2000.  That’s an $8000 difference per household.
And we’re not talking about just a mistake for a year or two.  We’re talking this $8000-per-homestead discrepancy going on for about sixteen years!
Someone crunched some numbers and came up with a rough number of $24,000,000 that the Board of Education did not get because of this screw-up by the Barrow County government.  Twenty-four million! 
That’s a pretty big “Oops!”
So the BoE have two questions…
One, how the hell could the county make this kind of screw-up for sixteen years and nobody stepped up and said “Hey, wait a minute, isn’t this number wrong?”  Do these people not own homes?  Do they not read their own tax bills when they show up in the mail?  Are these the same “creative accountants” that were behind Enron?
But apparently that line of questioning takes a backseat to the next one…
“Where’s our money?”
Now, the Barrow County government have acknowledged that they screwed up in the past and have agreed to make up the difference for what was missed this past year.  And obviously they won’t want to make the mistake the next time around.
But then the BoE asked “Where’s the rest of our money?”
Yes, members of the Barrow County Board of Education don’t just want the money that was missed this past year.  They want the whole twenty-four million!  Every penny of it.
I’ve read Barrow County’s budget for 2013-2014, and at most their revenue was $34 million.  They couldn’t even pay their police officers with what would be left.  But according to one BoE member, they’re willing to let the County pay it off in 16-year increments.
Yeah, well here’s the problem, BoE member Lynn Stevens and anyone else in the group that thinks the same way: it’s not your money!  It never was!
Let’s get brutally honest here… the Barrow County Board of Education has absolutely no right whatsoever to claim any of the money that they theorize they have “missed” because of mistakes over the past sixteen years.  In fact they should be lucky they will get what was missed last year.
Yes, Barrow County screwed up, and they should have caught that.  But so should have the members of the Board of Education!  They’re supposed to be the “smart” ones in the bunch, right?  If they didn’t catch the discrepancy in over sixteen years, then it’s really their fault as well.  And they can’t blame “Common Core” or the “New Math” either.
The so-called “missing money” is not the Board of Education’s to claim.  It’s not even Barrow County’s money.  It is the taxpayers’ money.  It comes out of their pockets.  Even if Barrow County government were to somehow pay every penny, it would still have to come from the taxpayers.
The whole purpose of education is to prepare children for the real world.  But if those in charge of that education cannot deal with the real world, then they certainly cannot fulfill that purpose.  One of those realities happens to be the reality that you cannot “re-do” a done deal if you overlook a mistake.  If the members of the Barrow County Board of Education cannot accept that, then they need to be replaced at the earliest opportunity with those that do understand how the real world works.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Week of 09/22/2014

Deal’s Raw Deal With Numbers
Let’s get this part out of the way first…
I am not a fan of Georgia’s current governor.
My dislike of him goes way back when he was a member of Congress.  Although Nathan Deal got in as a so-called “Blue Dog Democrat”, he decided to jump ship to the GOP right after winning re-election.  And once “imbedded”, it could be said that the system in his district was gamed so that he would continue to get re-elected over and over… at least until “something” convinced him to run for the governor’s mansion.
No, I did not vote for him when he ran for governor in 2010.  And, no, I will in all likelihood not vote for him this time around either.  I voted Libertarian then and I will probably vote Libertarian again.
But just because I am not a fan of the “Real Deal”, that does not mean that I can’t criticize his recent bout of hypocrisy, especially when it concerns one of his strongest re-election selling points.
Deal’s biggest selling point has been the economy.  He’s been running TV ads touting the fact that he gave big breaks to Big Business so they would come to Georgia and supposedly “create jobs” during the Great Recession.  And to back it up, he’s been pointing to the state’s unemployment numbers, which were steadily declining.
But then this past week something “strange” happened.  Those same unemployment numbers started climbing again.  Now, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia is ranked dead last in the country for unemployment. 
Dead last!
Well how can that be if Georgia is supposedly the “best place in the country to do business”, according to Deal’s own spinmasters? 
Don’t worry, Governor Deal has a quick and simple explanation for that.  You ready for it?
It’s all a conspiracy.
No, I’m not kidding about that.  Governor Nathan Deal actually said that the reason why the unemployment numbers suddenly placed his state dead last in the nation was because of a conspiracy by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to “cook the books” in favor of Democratic governors.
So… Deal takes the credit when the BLS numbers look good for him, but, when they don’t, he claims that it’s a “conspiracy”.
Well, wait a minute, Governor.  How do we know that these numbers are the “questionable” ones?  Could it possibly be that the previous numbers – the ones that you touted as part of your campaign – were the actual “fudged” ones?  Maybe they were designed to give you a false sense of security and then the BLS would spring the “real” numbers on you at the last minute to make you look bad!
Don’t forget, Governor Deal, that the BLS numbers were being questioned by your own party going back to October of 2012!  All that time you’ve been reaping the benefits of numbers that members of your own party claimed were suspect!
Oh, but wait, I’m not done yet!
Wouldn’t it make more sense for a suspected politically-manipulated government agency to start sabotaging your efforts while you’re in the middle of your first term and not suddenly when you’re running for re-election?  Why make things look good for you so soon into your tenure?  It would certainly help the “other party” out tremendously to show how much of a perceived failure you are.  It would encourage better candidates to run against you.  It would even support a greater effort to replace you in the primary so you wouldn’t be able to run for re-election.
But that didn’t happen; did it, Governor?  No, it didn’t.
Let’s get brutally honest here… Governor Deal’s tin-foil ass-hat claims of a conspiracy are laughable at best.  They show just how ethically questionable his whole tenure has been, which, given the circumstances which led him to go from Congress to the governor’s mansion in the first place, is really no stretch of the imagination.
Let’s not forget that Deal left Washington under a cloud of shame when the Office of Congressional Ethics said that then-Congressman Deal abused his office to benefit his own family’s businesses.  And then there’s the recent news that his head of the state’s Ethics Committee, Holly LeBerge, was fired after a Fulton County Superior Court judge said that she had, and I quote, “repeatedly proven herself to be dishonest and non-transparent.”
So to claim that there is some sort of “truther” conspiracy out there to cook the unemployment books against him is just par for the course. It’s nothing more than the pathetic whining of a career politician who has no business holding any kind of political position whatsoever.
Besides, this commentator has long pointed out that the unemployment numbers are not a reliable indication of the economy to begin with.  They only count the number of people who are eligible to get and are receiving unemployment compensation.  They cannot count the people who are considered ineligible for compensation or who have exhausted their previous claims.  Those people suddenly do not exist in the eyes of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Deal could have used this to explain the BLS statistics, but then if he did that, it would have also disqualified him from using those same numbers when they would benefit him.  But Deal seems to think that he can use the numbers only when they benefit him and then disqualify them when they don’t.
The sad part is that Deal’s MARTA trip to Wingnut City really won’t help the one person that would gain from it, namely Deal’s Democratic opponent, Jason Carter.  Carter is still too much a political neophyte to take an opportunity like this and run with it.  That leaves the voters to hold Deal to account… and we all know just how well the great unwashed is when it comes to this kind of stupid.
This is yet another reason why I’m not a fan of Governor Deal… because he knows how to game the system all too well, and also how it is already gamed for people like him.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Week of 09/15/2014

Two-For-One Ignorance: The NFL and Cloud Celebs
I have two subjects that I want to talk about that really have one thing in common… namely ignorance.
First, let’s talk about the National Football League and domestic abuse.
It seems that the NFL hierarchy is in a bit of a pickle.  Commissioner Roger Goodell is having to explain why the League had blatant video evidence of Ray Rice’s domestic abuse and still managed to give him a light punishment.  It’s a little hard for the League to say “we didn’t know” when, according to one account, the police sent them the incriminating videos from the hotel’s security cameras this past April.
It’s more probable that they really didn’t want to know.  This is, after all, something that went on outside of the stadium.  Would you like your workplace to be delving into the things that go on in your private life? 
And don’t give me that whole “if you have nothing to hide” BS, because we all have something that we would rather keep private!  All of us!  And if you say that you don’t then not only are you a damned dirty liar, but you’re lying to yourself worst of all!
But, really, this is nothing new when you think about all of the things that go on that once were considered “private” that now are serious issues.  It wasn’t that long ago that police and judges considered domestic abuse to be a “private” matter.  They didn’t want to get into it unless there was a death.  They didn’t want to get into it unless the victim needed to be hospitalized or unless the neighbors complained or unless it was done in a public place.  Out of sight, out of mind.
It was the same way with child abuse.  We didn’t want to know.  Same way with drugs and alcohol.  If it didn’t affect what we did at work or in public, then it wasn’t anyone else’s business.
And I’m sure that’s what was going on with the NFL when the incident first happened.  Yes, the police were involved.  Yes the news itself was “embarrassing” to the franchise and the League.  But it had nothing to do with what was going on in the sport itself.  When put in that context, a two-game suspension for the “embarrassment” seemed appropriate at the time for them.
That’s the operative phrase.  “For them.”
And then the first part of the security video was leaked out.  And the women’s groups got their panties in a bunch, and then Keith Olbermann of ESPN was able to brush off his old MSNBC persona and get his panties in a bunch.  And suddenly it wasn’t a “private” matter anymore.
And now that the second part of that video got leaked, everyone is screaming for Goodell’s head on a platter.  Women’s groups want Goodell to quit.  Olbermann wants Goodell to stay on just long enough to be fired.
Here’s the thing: Even the Sunday morning talking head people are saying this is new territory the NFL is getting into.  This is the same group that is having a hard enough time dealing with all of the concussions dealt to their players over the decades, and now the women’s groups and Olbermann want them to somehow have a masterful micro-management of player marriages as well?
I’m sorry folks, but the ignorance is overwhelming on both sides of the issue, and all of these social jihadists need to take a step back on this issue.
Is what Ray Rice did wrong?  Deplorably so.  But that does not entitle you or me or the women’s groups or Keith Olbermann to suddenly turn an issue that was never really dealt with into a “Scorched Earth” zero-tolerance crusade that would make the ISIL terrorists look downright tame in comparison. 
Roger Goodell screwed up big time with this issue.  There is no doubt about that.  But unless the women’s groups or Keith Olbermann want to personally take over the NFL, they need to let the League get knowledgeable on the subject and then properly deal with it.
The other big subject that deals with ignorance involves the recent rash of female celebrities having their nude photos plastered on the Internet. 
Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence, Arianna Grande, and a whole bunch of other female celebrities in the world of film and modeling and music apparently had their personal photos that were stored in Apple’s iCloud service hacked and copied and then posted for people to see.  One person even tried to ransom the photos for money.  Apple claimed that their “cloud” wasn’t really hacked, but they certainly moved quickly to fix a problem that they said wasn’t theirs.
Reaction has been mixed.  Obviously the women in question feel violated by this, no matter how snarky their statements can be.  The “I’m going to sue every single person who ever saw those pictures of my client” representative really needs to get a new profession.
The folks at Playboy decided to take the high ground and scold Internet users for looking for the photos.  You know, Playboy used to have a pretty good site until they decided to be “Facebook-friendly”.  While I will compliment them for taking the high ground, it is with this warning: they had better not have any of the photos in question show up in their annual “Year in Sex” special in the December issue.
For the rest of us, it is extremely easy for us to blame the women for having their nude photos up in the “cloud” to begin with, but let’s get brutally honest here… I really do not think they had any idea this could happen, never mind happen to them.
They certainly aren’t the first to have this happen.  Remember Paris Hilton’s video?  Or Scarlett Johanssen’s photos? Or Vanessa Hudgens’s?
In fact, what surprises me is that there aren’t more of these incidents happening.
How many of you realize just how un-safe “the cloud” is when it comes to keeping stuff?
We have the Attorney General of the United States telling the Congress on more than one occasion that anything in “the cloud” is fair game to them!  They don’t need warrants.  They don’t need judges.  They don’t even need probable cause.  They just need hackers, and anything they get is theirs free-and-clear!  And it’s not like they are “too busy” going after Big Corporate or Too-Big-To-Fail to do it either.
So what makes you think that they will give a care about keeping your personal stuff away from some script-kiddie baby hacker?
Now consider this… celebs get the latest-greatest cellphone toys as part of some “goodie bag” package for an awards show or hopefully to get some free publicity on social media, and they’re not being told of the risks of putting risqué photos online.  They’re being told simply to use them and show them off and to have fun doing it.  It’s no different than if Big Banking gives out credit cards to high school kids; or the National Rifle Association giving people free guns, and simply telling them to “have fun”.
Maybe we all need reminders about how “the cloud” really works.  I’ve been using computers since the days of Ronald Reagan and I can tell you from experience that not everyone that gets technology today knows the consequences of having and using these devices.  They may be used to play games, but they are certainly not toys.  There’s certainly nothing private about putting stuff up on “the cloud”, any more than if you put actual photos up in a real cloud and expect only certain people to see them.
Ignorance is not really “bliss”, especially when it comes to our personal lives.  We need to remember that if we choose to be ignorant, then we really can’t complain when it comes back to bite us in the butt… or to show our bare butts to the world.