July 25, 2006

Is Lance Armstrong Becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of Cycling? (see Updates)

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 2:04 pm

There are early signs that Lance Armstrong is indeed turning into cycling’s Rodney Dangerfield — despite an alltime record seven consecutive Tour de France victories, he’s getting no respect.

In a BBC article about American Floyd Landis’s Tour de France triumph on Sunday, there are two strange tidbits.

Here’s the first:

Despite Armstrong’s all-time record of seven consecutive wins, Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc hailed Landis’ ride as “the best performance in the modern history of the Tour”.

Landis’s comeback was spectacular and exciting, but “the best”? When the only way Armstrong could have lost when he had commanding leads in the final days of at least two of his wins (and had totally demoralized his rivals), was if he fell?

Then there’s this one:

And on the following day he (Landis) clawed back all but 30 seconds of that lost time with a remarkable solo break, leading for 120 of the 200km to Morzine to evoke memories of Eddy Merckx, arguably the Tour’s greatest ever winner.

Whoa. I suppose you could argue that Merckx was the “greatest rider” in tour history on the basis of competing against stronger competition, but that’s not what the article says. Armstrong has won more Tours than anyone else, and is by definition its “greatest ever winner.”

Three-time tour winner and fellow American Craig LeMond piled on a bit too (about halfway through linked page):

Lemond has certainly not hidden his feelings on Armstrong, and when asked who would win today between Landis, him and Armstrong, Lemond at first chuckled, “I am biased! I can’t answer that, [laughs.]” But then Lemond got a little more serious. “Every race is different. The race changed dramatically this year. For me I am a strong anti-doping advocate. I think we are seeing a true Tour de France winner, someone who might have otherwise been cheated out of a win.”

When asked if he was saying Lance’s wins were tainted, Lemond said, “I am not saying that. It goes back to the historical norms, where people got tired and had bad days. It was common to have a bad day when I was racing. I have been waiting for this period since 1998… The French riders are competitive since 1998. They have a much harder dope testing in their country. Watching a race that shows the human drama. I believe you can do the TdF without drugs, you get tired, and the strongest win.”

What’s interesting about LeMond’s statement is that it was an open secret that Tour course designers during Armstrong’s final years specifically schemed to make things tougher on Armstrong, obviously failing miserably.

I can’t remember when a champion of Armstrong’s magnitude has gotten the back-of-the-hand treatment from part of the press and fellow athletes so soon. Yes, I know there have been the drug and blood-doping whispers, but there has to my knowledge never been any proof that he did either of these during his riding career. So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t see the justification for what is clearly an attempt by some to downplay his unprecedented achievements.


UPDATE, July 27: It is intensely painful to report that Landis has flunked a drug test. A second sample will be tested before the finding is finalized.

UPDATE, Jan. 18, 2013: Armstrong has admitted to a career of doping. The damage he has done to those who play by the rules is incalculable.

Of Haircuts and “Error Rates”

I really do wish I had a GOP example or two on this particular topic; anyone who has one is welcome to send it in.

But at the moment I have only have examples of follicle follies involving Democrats, with one of them very recent. They are indicative of a bipartisan political culture that is as indifferent to mind-boggling levels of waste, fraud, and abuse as you and I are at the idea of picking up a penny off of a filthy floor in a public place.

First, there’s the Democrats’ 2004 presidential candidate (third item at Boortz link; external links added by me), with an allusion to the party’s last White House occupant:

Apparently eager to look as out of touch as possible, John Kerry decided he needed a haircut while he was campaigning in Portland, Oregon last week. So what did he do? Go visit a local place, socialize with the locals for a perfect photo-op? Nope…once again, he flew his own private hair stylist across the country for a haircut. Must be nice.The New York Daily News (HT GOPcity) is reporting that French hair stylist Isabelle Goetz, from the exclusive Washington D.C. hair salon Christophe, rushed to groom The Poodle on the campaign trail. If the name sounds familiar, that’s the same hair stylist that shut down LAX in 1993 to give then-President Bill Clinton a haircut on the tarmac. What’s with Democrats and expensive haircuts? Who knows.

Yep…that’s a man of the people right there. He’s so much like you and me, he flies his hair stylist from Washington, D.C. all the way to Oregon just to give him a haircut. It doesn’t get any more like the common man than that.

Then there’s the more recent story about Hillary Clinton:

Recently released federal fund-raising records show Clinton shelled out $1,500 in April for Goetz to carefully craft her coiffure and another $1,000 for a camera-ready clip in May. She passed off both styling sessions as “media production” expenses.

Clinton was so desperate for Goetz to style her gilded mane, she picked up the scissor siren’s $405 travel tab in April and a $38 expenses tab in May.

Goetz, a fixture at the swank Cristophe salon and the favored stylist of John Kerry, has been clipping the former first lady’s locks for years – she’s credited for updating Clinton’s coif from country to chic. To complement the touch-up of her tresses, Clinton invested another $3,000 for makeup maestro Barbara Lacy to brush on some blush.

….. Clinton paid Lacy an eye-popping $1,600 for some eye-lining in mid-May and another mind-boggling $1,300 for some makeup two weeks later.Again, Clinton justified the makeovers as a media production expense.

So John Kerry and Hillary Clinton think nothing of spending what for many people is over a month’s pay on hair and makeup, while Hillary’s husband didn’t mind spending what was almost certainly taxpayer money on what would almost always be a personal expense for you and me.

It should be no surprise that if these folks (and I’m sure the GOP is not exempt, which is why I have asked for examples) treat contributor and taxpayer money so cavalierly on “little” things such as these, they are probably less than conscientious about how the big bucks are spent.

Need an example? Fine — Here’s an example from a state controlled by Republicans:

Already under fire for poor accounting practices in Hamilton County that could cost state taxpayers millions of dollars, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has been sanctioned by the federal government for sloppy handling of food-stamp money.

Ohio has been fined $3.1 million by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for having one of the nation’s highest error rates in administering its $1.2 billion food-stamp program, The Dispatch has learned.

On average, $1 out of every $12 in payments was wrong.

Last month, the USDA notified Ohio that it was one of three states being fined for having error rates well above the national average for two consecutive years. Ohio’s fine accounted for most of the $3.6 million in penalties being assessed because of the size of the state’s program.

Ohio’s combined error rate, which accounts for underpayments and overpayments to food-stamp recipients, was 8.65 percent in 2005 and 8.43 percent in 2004, compared with the national averages of 5.84 percent and 5.88 percent, respectively.

Over those years, Ohio paid out about $150 million more than recipients were entitled to, more than any other state, the Agriculture Department determined. The report has been shared with states but not distributed publicly.

I believe the Dispatch meant to say $150 million each year (i.e., that much money was wasted in BOTH 2004 AND 2005).

The real stunner isn’t Ohio’s error rate, which is bad enough, but the national error rate of almost 6%. States with these error rates apparently are not being punished, ergo wasting 6% must be “acceptable.”

A corporate payroll or purchasing director who told his boss that his or her department’s error rate was “only 6%” would be out on the street within seconds of saying so. But a 6% error rate in a multibillion-dollar entitlement program is tolerated, and doesn’t even get a rise out of our “watchdog” media. This travesty gives new meaning to the phrase “close enough for government work.”

Despite their occasional lip service, don’t count on the people who shell out thousands for hair and makeup on someone else’s dime to do anything about it.

Yet Another Reason to Privatize Ohio’s Workers’ Comp System

Filed under: Consumer Outrage,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:31 am

Injured employees sue to double-dip, the state Supreme Court lets them, and lawyers get a big payday:

Ohio ordered to pay $52M in workers’ comp
Thursday, July 20, 2006 12:05 a.m. ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation agreed Wednesday to drop its appeal and pay $52 million awarded to injured state employees in a class-action lawsuit.

The bureau had argued that state laws prevented workers from being paid twice _ once by the state and once by insurance companies _ for the same injury. But the state Supreme Court said the laws were unconstitutional.

About 7,900 workers, who were forced to return their compensation from the state insurance fund, will get back 70 percent under the payment process approved by Judge Michael Donnelly of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday. The remaining 30 percent will be paid to attorneys and an administrator hired to distribute the money.

The bureau’s decision to pay is a victory for thousands of workers who “will see a return of their funds that had been unlawfully collected,” said lead attorney Craig Bashein.

William Mabe, the bureau’s new administrator, decided that appealing the ruling was not appropriate given the agency’s attempts to rebuild trust following an investment scandal that rocked the agency.

Let’s see:

  • The lawyers get $15.6 million.
  • The 7,900 workers split $36.4 million, or about $4,600 each, even though from all indications their claims were already paid by insurance companies for their injuries.
  • Every other man, woman, and child in the Buckeye State is out about 5 bucks.

Privatizing workers’ comp would mean that there is only the insurance company to deal with and no ability to double-dip. I hope Ken Blackwell means it when he says it’s high on his priority list.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (072506)

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:54 am

Free Links:

  • Pundit Review had Pat Dollard on Sunday evening — Dollard has been in Iraq for eight months, is showing videos at his site, and ultimately plans to release a movie, tentatively called “Young Americans,” portraying the realities there on the ground. Full audio of this tremendous interview is here. If you’re pressed for time, please, at least listen to this two-minute call into the show from a military mom and wife.
  • I can’t help but wonder how many people in these crowds would still tell pollsters we’re still in a recession:

    Ticket sales have concert promoters singing out

    Looks like concertgoers aren’t so intimidated by high ticket prices after all.

    With splashy tours from Madonna, the Rolling Stones and Billy Joel as lures, fans paid an average price of $58.11 per seat in the first half of 2006, up 15.6% from the first half of 2005, according to concert trade magazine Pollstar.

    Total ticket sales rose 20% to 17.4 million.

    Pollstar pegs total sales at more than $1 billion, up 38.5%, while the Billboard Box Score tallied sales at $990 million, up 24.6%. Either way, first-half revenue broke records.

    This is not an indicator of a shortage of discretionary income.

  • I have very mixed feelings about StretchPay, which is a program Ohio credit unions are using to deliver the equivalent of lower-cost payday loans –

    Through StretchPay, credit union members can get a $250 revolving line of credit for a $35 annual fee, or a $500 line of credit for $70 a year, plus an annual percentage rate of 18 percent – rate more in line with traditional credit cards. The loans must be repaid within 30 days before another can be taken out.

    Payday lenders charge short-term interest rates that can translate to as much as 400 percent when annualized, the Ohio Credit Union League said.

    “You don’t have to pay the kind of interest that you do going to payday lenders,” said Dick Maslyk, CEO of the $75 million-asset MidState Educators Credit Union, a founding member of Credit Union Outreach.

    ….. To obtain a StretchPay loan, a recipient must be a credit union member in good standing for at least 60 days – a factor that is likely to reduce some of the risk for credit unions, Burke said. Other requirements include having a proven source of income.

    But the program doesn’t generally deny StretchPay applicants based on credit scores, which helps differentiate the program from banks, Burke said.

    The goal is to offer lower interest rates while credit union lending officers provide financial counseling to help members get to a point where they no longer need to obtain short-term loans, Maslyk said.

    Do the math on these “deals,” treating the annual fee as part of the finance charges, and the interest rate is 32% or more. Yes, it’s a better deal than any payday lender would provide, but I’m concerned that some credit unions will get so used to the income they are receiving that they will slack off on the education.

  • AOL Founder Steve Case said he is “sorry” for the 2001 Time Warner merger — Not half as sorry as Time Warner shareholders.
  • Borderline Insanity? No. Intellectual Dishonesty? Yes — The “Borderline Insanity” that John Fund thinks he is referring to in his OpinionJournal.com column yesterday is the supposed “enforcement only” approach to immigration embodied in the Immigration Bill passed by the House earlier this year. The trouble is that “enforcement only” is a gross mischaracterization of what was passed. It’s all about “enforcement first,” and Fund knows it. He clearly knows better, and is indeed being intellectually dishonest.

Positivity: 10 Positive Stories in One Post

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:56 am

Rochester, NY’s Do The Right Thing program has 10 winners this month. You’ll have to go to the link to get full descriptions of each. I’ll just give you teases of each:

Rochester police recently announced the June winners in the Do The Right Thing program. The program was developed to build self-esteem in youngsters and enhance the image of the Police Department by generating an awareness of its commitment to area youths.

The following youngsters, ages 5 to 18, were honored during a ceremony at the Public Safety Building.

  • Rutmarie Alsina, a sixth-grader at School 35, was nominated for helping a friend in need…..
  • Markeith Logan, a 10th-grader at John Marshall High School, was nominated for assisting a motorist…..
  • Chance McClary, a fourth-grader at the Nathaniel Rochester Community School, was nominated for seeking help for her mother…..
  • Ebonee Robinson, a sixth-grader at St. Monica’s School, was nominated for her honesty…..
  • Iris Roman, a seventh-grader at Frederick Douglass Preparatory School, was nominated for her generosity and ability to help a classmate…..
  • Samantha Rose Solomon, a third-grader at Seton Catholic School in Brighton, was nominated for donating…..
  • Justin Tucker, a 10th-grader at Edison Tech, was nominated after he helped a classmate…..
  • Da’jonar Williams, a second-grader at School 36, was nominated for her courage…..
  • Griffin Wright, a second-grader at St. Pius the Tenth School in Chili, and his sister Tega, 5, were nominated for raising and donating…..
  • Cameron Yudelson, a third-grader at Winslow Elementary School in Henrietta, was nominated for his generosity and perseverance as he strives to raise money…..

For more information on the Do The Right Thing program, go to www.dynrec.com/dtrt.