Strange Doings in Alabama

The race for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat vacated by current Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions features two candidates: former judge Roy Moore and current senator Luther Strange.

Neither is much of a prize. Moore has twice been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for misconduct in office. The first time was in 2003, when he was suspended when he refused to obey a federal order to remove a ten commandments monument from the state’s judicial building. The second time was just last year after he told state probate judges to defy federal orders governing gay marriage.

A law-abiding citizen he is not.

Luther Strange lives up – or down – to his name. He was the state’s attorney general when he was appointed to fill the vacancy left when Sessions was appointed to become the law enforcement official whose job was to return the country to the 1950s. Not-so-coincidentally, some people believe, Strange ended his investigation of his state’s governor in return for the appointment (that governor has since resigned in disgrace). As Alabama attorney general, Strange sued the Obama administration over its birth control mandate and its transgender bathroom order. Finally, he bears the burden of Agent Orange’s endorsement.

Again, not exactly a pillar of the community.

It’s a real lose-lose for America even if it is only par for the course for Alabama, where the people will make this decision tomorrow.

It’s a close race, Moore appears to be in the lead, but both candidates are pulling out all the stops. To that end, Judge Moore, whose disinterest in truth and law apparently knows no bounds, recently announced a major endorsement: that of conservative leader and anti-ERA advocate Phyllis Schlafly.

That’s a real coup for Moore, with only one slight problem:

Ms. Schlafly, it seems, passed away more than a year ago.

It’s a Sad Day Indeed When…

…third-rate late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel can spot a wretched and unacceptable health care proposal more readily and more accurately than more than half of the United States Congress.

Doctors and Generic Drugs

A study published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, found that doctors who work in hospitals prescribe fewer prescription drugs and more generic drugs when the hospital in which they work limits the ability of pharmaceutical sales representatives to wander the halls.

In other words, the more access drug company reps have to these doctors, the more the doctors prescribe brand-name, more expensive drugs.

Let us put aside the brand name versus generic drug argument for now and look at another issue:

What does this tell us about doctors?

Consider how much money doctors make.

The average orthopedist makes $443,000 a year.

The average cardiologist $410,000.

The average general surgeon $322,000.

The average ob/gyn $277,000.

What does it say about these doctors, all making six figures and many of them among the one percent, that they can be bought off with a few complimentary pens, a box lunch, or a pair of tickets to a ball game or play from a drug company sales rep?

What it says…isn’t good.  Isn’t good at all.

 

 

Texas: Where They Really Have Their Priorities Straight

High school football season is now in high gear, and nowhere is high school football more important than it is in the Lone Dope state of Texas.

High school football?  VERY important.  High school education?  Not as.

According to the publication Education Week, Texas ranks 43rd in the country in education quality.

One possible reason for this is that Texas doesn’t spend a whole lot on public education, at least compared to other places.  According to an article in the El Paso Times,

In school finance, Texas ranked 45th in the nation, earning a D grade based on per pupil spending, state spending as a percent of taxable resources, and other factors.

 Texas ranked 49th in the country in per pupil spending, taking into account regional cost differences, according to the report,  Texas spent $7957 per student, well below the national average of $11,667 per student, according to the report.

The states that rank behind Texas?  Louisiana, Arizona, Oklahoma, Alabama, Idaho, New Mexico, Mississippi and Nevada.  That’s understandable:  places like Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi are dirt poor.  But Texas?

Not so poor.  Texas is right in the middle of the pack in average annual income:  25th in the country,  As you might imagine, Texas has a lot of very rich people:  35 of the Forbes 400, all of them billionaires.  In fact, a bunch of Texas billionaires don’t even make the Forbes 400 list.

So it’s not like Texas doesn’t have a solid tax base.  And of course there’s all that oil and all that oil money.

You know:  oil money.  Black gold.  Texas tea.

So if Texans are doing okay in the pay department and okay in the rich folks department, why isn’t it doing better in the investing in public education department?

More specifically, if it’s not spending money on public education, what is it spending public money on?

Well, as it turns out, it’s spending big on one aspect of public education:

Football stadiums for public high schools.

As reported by the online publication citylab.com, Texas’s McKinney Independent School District is currently building an $87 million football stadium for its team.

That’s $87 million.

$87,000,000.

A dollar sign, 87, and six zeroes.

Among the amenities $87 million buys:  a 55-foot-wide high definition scoreboard.

This stadium, by the way, will replace a stadium that was renovated just ten years ago at a cost of $10 million.  The new stadium will seat 12,000 – an interesting decision considering that during the 2015 football season the current stadium, with only 10,000 seats, was never even half full for a single game.

But McKinney didn’t blaze this trail; it’s only following in the footsteps of others – but going bigger.

Because going bigger is the Texas way.

In 2004 the school district in Plano opened a $20 million football stadium with 9800 seats.

Four years ago, the Allen independent school district opened an 18,000 seat stadium.  The price tag:  $72 million.

The Curmudgeon understands that high school football is a very big deal in Texas.  Yes, a lot of people saw the movie Friday Night Lights and watched the television show of the same name.  The Curmudgeon, of course, took a different path:  he read the book before there even was a movie or a television show.

The purpose of high school, though, is to teach kids who are soon going to be called upon to vote, to work, and to raise children.  It’s more important to teach these kids than it is to build palaces for the fun and games that come after school and are incidental to their education.  Spending tens of millions of dollars on football stadiums for teenagers is foolish, and it suggests yet another way that too many Texans have warped priorities.

But then, warped thinking and warped priorities often come to mind when we think of Texas, don’t they?

 

 

Who Needs Equifax?

A data breach at the health insurer Anthem compromised the personal data of 80 million of the people Anthem insures.  Anthem is a health insurance company, though, not a data company, but it clearly needs to learn how to protect its data better.  Something like this should never happen again.

A data breach at the web site Ashley Madison compromised the personal data of 33 million who have interacted with the web site in one form or another.  Ashley Madison is a web site that helps married men cheat on their wives, though, not a data company, but it clearly needs to learn how to protect its data better.  Something like this should never happen again.

A data breach of Home Depot compromised the personal data of 56 million people who have done business with Home Depot.  Home Depot is a retailer, though, not a data company, but it clearly needs to learn how to protect its data better.  Something like this should never happen again.

A data breach of the company Equifax compromised the personal data of 143 million – 143 million! – people.  Equifax is a data company:  all it does it collect data and sell access to that data to others.

Equifax does one thing one thing only:  data.  And it proved incompetent with its data.

Something like this should never happen again.

But for a different reason.

Is there any reason that anyone should ever do business with Equifax again?  Data is the only thing Equifax does and it couldn’t even do that right.  Under those circumstances, is there any reason the liquidation of Equifax hasn’t already begun so the company can close its doors forever?

An Unlikely Headline

From an editorial in last Friday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

UPMC genital photos: Unprofessional & outrageous

 If you’re not familiar with the story, go here to see what the paper is editorializing about.

And while you’re at it, consider whether the headline itself isn’t every bit as unprofessional as the deed it deplores.

Cats

What’s new pussy cat?

Whoa whoa whoa whoa.

The Curmudgeon has never been much of a pet person.

Okay, that’s an understatement:  the truth is he doesn’t like animals at all.  Doesn’t hate them but doesn’t like them.  He’s very fortunate, he should add, that in addition to finding a spectacular wife so late in life he also found a pretty great dog, the very lovely Sable (pictured right).  Sable understands the terms of the relationship, which The Curmudgeon states often:  “No nose, no tongue.”

That’s a reference to the dog’s nose and tongue, by the way, not The Curmudgeon’s.  Sable gives him a quizzical look when he says this but uses neither her nose nor her tongue when showing affection, so The Curmudgeon considers this a small victory and continues to tolerate the presence of this canine in his life.

You have to take the bad with the good.  Mrs. Curmudgeon is worth it.

In the past The Curmudgeon generally preferred cats to dogs, mostly because cats have generally been so indifferent to his presence.  When cats encounter you for the first time they come over and check you out.  If you show no interest in them, they show no further interest in you.  The Curmudgeon’s mother, for example, has a cat, and Tomas hasn’t come within ten feet of him in years.

But it turns out that those sweet, innocent cats are pretty destructive creatures, or so The Curmudgeon learned when he read a review of a book about cats and their role in our natural habitat.

It isn’t pretty, as illustrated by the following excerpts from the New York Review of Books review of the book Cat Wars:  The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.

You wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley

Free-roaming domestic cats… are an environmental menace of staggering and still-escalating proportions. They are “cuddly killers” that butcher tens of billions of songbirds, small mammals, reptiles, and lizards each year and push vulnerable species toward extinction. Cats hunt when they are hungry and hunt when they are full. “In the United States,” the authors write, “more birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats than from wind turbines, automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windows, and other so-called direct anthropogenic causes combined.”

 And this:

 …attribute about a third of the annual cat-linked carnage to pet cats that are allowed to come and go as they please. The rest is the work of unowned cats: former pets that were abandoned or wandered off—otherwise known as strays—and the feral offspring of strays. The loose-cat problem is not limited to the US. The prestigious International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Felis catus as one of the hundred “worst invasive alien species” in the world, right up there with the Anopheles mosquito, the zebra mussel, and Dutch elm disease.

 And there’s more:

 For island-bound species, cats of all colors are a sign of bad luck. In a 2011 review in the journal Global Change Biology examining wildlife crises on 120 islands, Felix Medina and his colleagues concluded that cats helped cause the decline or extinction of 123 species of songbirds, parrots, seabirds, and penguins; twenty-five species of iguanas, lizards, turtles, and snakes; and twenty-seven species of small mammals, including a lemur and a bat.

Mmmm, lunch!

More on the impact of cats:

… up to 4 billion birds, 22 billion small mammals, 822 million reptiles, and 299 million amphibians are killed by free-ranging cats each year—and that’s just in this country.

While much of this damage is done by feral cats, surely cat owners are willing to do their part to limit the damage their own animals do, right?

Well, not so much, apparently.

The number of cat owners who allow their cats to roam outside is about 50 percent, and the figure shows scant signs of declining. In 2015, when Scottish researchers presented cat owners with proof of their pets’ habitual killing sprees, 98 percent of the owners said it didn’t matter, they had no intention of keeping their cats inside full-time, and 60 percent denied their cats were really harming wildlife—surely there were enough chaffinches to spare.

Who knew our feline friends – make that YOUR feline friends because they’re no friend of The Curmudgeon – were such incredibly destructive animals?

Shame on Amazon

And the cities and states that are about to fall all over themselves for the opportunity to knuckle under to it.

The online retail giant recently announced that it’s growing so big and so fast that it needs to establish a second headquarters to go along with the one it already has in Seattle. With this in mind, the company sent out a request for proposals to American and Canadian cities giving them six weeks to get back to Amazon with their explanation of why the company should choose their location for its expansion.

In this request for proposals the company lays out some of the things it’s looking for in a new headquarters city, including a metropolitan area of at least one million people, a diverse population, on-site access to mass transportation, a location within 45 minutes of an international airport, easy access to major highways, good cell phone coverage, strong local colleges and universities, a skilled workforce, appealing cultural and recreational opportunities, and more.

And oh, yes, one other important thing: money.

Or, as the Amazon request for proposals puts it,

Incentives offered by the state/province and local communities to offset initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs will be significant factors in the decision-making process.

This is nothing new for Amazon. As described by the New York Times, the Institute for local Self-Reliance reports that between 2005 and 2014 the company received more than $600 million in local and state government subsidies for 40 of the 77 warehouses it built during that period and another $147 million for new data centers.

“Brother, can you spare a dime?”

And to be fair to Amazon, which really doesn’t deserve fairness, it’s not alone in receiving such subsidies, as the New York Times reports: the state of Wisconsin is giving Foxconn $3 billion in tax credits to build a $10 billion factory in the state; Washington state, where Boeing has had a major presence now for more than 100 years, is giving that company $8.7 billion in support for projects through the year 2040; Tesla received $1.25 billion in tax credits from the state of Nevada to build a battery factory there; and Aetna will abandon Hartford so it can take advantage of $24 million in tax breaks offered to the company by New York City.

But still…

Let’s put this in a little context.

How much a business is worth is known as its market capitalization. That number comes from multiplying the number of shares of stock a company has issued by the value of that stock on any given day. The higher the market capitalization, the more valuable the company. Based on market capitalization, Amazon was the fifth most valuable company in the world as of September 7, behind only Apple, Alphabet (which is Google), Microsoft, and Facebook and just ahead of Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett’s company). Amazon is worth $465 billion.

Again: Amazon is worth $465 billion.

Amazon is pretty high up in revenue, too: 26th highest in the world, with revenue of $135 billion in 2016.

And last but not least, Amazon’s CEO and largest shareholder, Jeff Bezos, is now the third richest person in the world, behind only Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. How rich? Try $73 billion worth of rich. ( By the way, both market capitalization and individual wealth ratings fluctuate daily based on the value of the stock these rich folks own at any given time. For one day this summer, Bezos briefly was the richest person in the world.)

Again: Bezos is worth $73 billion.

Yet there those Amazon folks are with their greedy hands out, looking for government to subsidize the expansion of one of the richest companies in the world led by one of the richest men in the world. It’s not enough that the company is fabulously successful and the man is incredibly rich. No, they demand to feed at the public teat and pursue greater success and greater wealth at taxpayers’ expense. Can they afford to pay for what they want on their own? Of course they can. They may be more capable of doing so, in fact, than any company and any individual in the world. But why would they, why should they, when they can put out their hands, cry poor, and demand that government give them a handout they neither deserve nor need.

Is it disgusting?

Of course it is.

Is it going to happen?

Of course it is.

Doesn’t it make you feel good, as a taxpayer, to know that even though your government is struggling just to cover its own costs it can still find it in its heart to lend a hand to one of the most valuable companies in the world that’s run by one of the richest people in the world?

 

President Trump Visits Hurricane-Ravaged Florida Today

To assess the damage to Mar-a-lago.

And if he has both the time and the inclination, he may even check out other parts of the state that were damaged by the storm.

Ten Years

Twice as good as Five Years