March 5, 2007

The Washington Ratings Game, Part 2: National Taxpayers Union Notes Little National Improvement

Filed under: News from Other Sites,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:40 pm

The big picture from the National Taxpayers Union, as anyone following the fiscal follies in Washington last year could have guessed, is not good:

Despite some improvement in the Senate, last year the average Member of Congress couldn’t even meet taxpayers halfway in voting to reduce or control the size of government – that’s the bottom line from the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU’s) Rating of Congress. The eagerly-anticipated 28th annual scorecard, the only one to utilize every roll call vote affecting tax, spending, and regulatory issues, is widely considered to be the most comprehensive measurement of each lawmaker’s stance on fiscal policy.

“Even as most Senators were trying to crawl halfway out of Washington’s cesspool of wasteful spending, the typical House Member simply continued to tread in murky waters,” said NTU President John Berthoud. “As far as taxpayers are concerned, the next Congress will sink or swim based on how it tackles vital concerns like deficit spending, tax complexity, and regulatory overkill.”

Between 2005 and 2006, the average pro-taxpayer score in the House of Representatives dropped slightly from 40 to 39 percent. Yet, this still makes the two-session mean for the 109th Congress the poorest in 15 years. The 102nd Congress (1991-92) posted an overall score of 39 percent, barely half a percentage point lower than the previous Congress when rounding is taken into account.

Senate averages, however, took a 4 point-jump, from 44 percent in 2005 to 48 percent last year. Nonetheless, 2006 is the ninth straight year in which the typical lawmaker in the upper chamber could not even post a score of at least 50 percent. The worst averages for the 25-year-plus history of the comprehensive NTU scorecard were recorded in 1988, when they plummeted to 27 percent and 28 percent, respectively, for the House and Senate. The highest marks were reached in 1995, when House and Senate averages were 58 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

Now, here are the Tri-State specifics (NTU’s results are in PDF format HERE). First, the Senate:

DeWine (R-OH) — 57% (C+)
Voinovich (R-OH) — 59% (C+)
Bunning (R-KY) — 88% (A)
McConnell (R-KY) — 81% (B+)
Bayh (D-IN) — 12% (F)
Lugar (R-IN) — 67% (C-)

DeWine and Voinovich were at 48% and 60%, respectively, in 2005. DeWine’s 9-point improvement would appear to be a too-little, too-late effort to burnish his fiscal credentials to head off an electoral defeat that nevertheless occurred. In Kentucky, both Senators improved substantially from 75% ratings in 2005. In Indiana, Bayh was unchanged, while Lugar went up 6%.

Other Senate “notables,” with changes from 2005:

DeMint (R-SC) — 92%, A, +7%
McCain (R-AZ) — 88%, A, +10%
Coburn (R-OK) — 86%, A, +3%
Dole (R-NC) — 79%, B+, +11%
Santorum (R-PA) — 79%, B+, +10%
Clinton (D-NY) — 17%, F, +8%
Obama (D-IL) — 16%, F, +10%
Kerry (D-MA) — 15%, F, +8%
Biden (D-DE) — 11%, F, +1%
Harkin (D-IA) — 9%, Dead last F, +2%

In the House, here are pics of the scores for Ohio’s delegations in both 2006 and 2005, plus Kentucky’s and Indiana’s for 2006 (keep in mind that the letter-grade ranges for the House and Senate are slightly different; Jean Schmidt’s 2005 partial-year grade and score were calculated at this post last year):

NTU2006forOHKYIN

In Ohio:

  • Chabot is clearly the standout, followed by four in the low-60s and high 50s (Tiberi, Oxley, Boehner, Schmidt).
  • Turner, LaTourette, and Regula disappointed greatly.
  • Schmidt’s drop is the largest of the bunch (7.5% from 2005′s partial year grade), but her percentage is only a point below Boehner, who also dropped quite a bit (6%). Both are now at what I remember as the percentage levels of Rob Portman’s last couple of terms.
  • Five Democrats (Strickland, Brown, Jones, Ryan, and Kaptur) got worse 2006 and 2005 grades than Kucinich.

Other House “notables”:

Flake (R, AZ) — 92% (A)
Shadegg (R, AZ) — 83% (A)
Tancredo (R, CO) — 76% (A)
Hunter (R, CA) — 62% (B)
Murtha (D, PA) — 23% (F)
Mollohan (D, WV) — 21% (F)
Pelosi (D, CA) — 11% (F)
Emanuel (D, IL) — 11% (F)
Hoyer (D, MD) — 10% (F)
Kildee (D, MI) — 7% (Dead last, F)

It will be interesting to see what the change in leadership does to the ratings of key members of both parties in the coming year.

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Related Posts:
- Part 1 — National Journal Has Some Local Surprises
- Part 3 — Americans for Tax Reform — Local Congressional Delegation Gets Straight A’s
- Part 4 — Club for Growth
- Part 5 — American Conservative Union
- Consolidated Rankings for All Five Sources

February ISM Non-Manufacturing: 54.3

Filed under: Biz Weak,Economy — Tom @ 11:33 am

That result is vs. an “expected” 57, and is down from an on-fire 59 in January.

Though an expansion is an expansion, the expansion streak is at 47 months, and things are moving in the right direction, the 86% of the economy covered in the report could use a little more acceleration, so to speak. Let’s hope for at least a bit better next month.

There’s reason to believe that renewed acceleration is coming, since a feeling that inventories are too high (“Inventory Sentiment”) appears to be one of the main drivers for the reduction — yet inventory growth stalled at the end of last year, and was the main reason for the big downward revision of 4th Quarter 2006 GDP last week.

I don’t believe there has been much of an inventory bounceback since then, and the 47.0 and 50.5 January and February readings for the “inventory” element of the non-manufacturing index would seem to support that notion. Orders can’t continue to come in at strongly increasing levels (about 55 in both January and February) without inventories having to catch up.

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UPDATE: March 12′s Biz Weak, in an article that appears to be free for now, says that “Inventory Swings Are Whipsawing the Economy” — and that the recent reductions in inventories may (emphasis may) be sowing the seeds for a very strong rebound.

$12 Mil — That’s About Right

Filed under: Business Moves,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:30 am

A serial illegal-immigrant hiring violator has received a record penalty (HT Porkopolis):

The president of a company that employed hundreds of illegal immigrants in Wilmington, Ohio, must spend 15 months in prison and pay $12 million to the government – the largest forfeiture ever ordered in an illegal labor case.

Maximino Garcia pleaded guilty last year to participating in a conspiracy involving more than 900 illegal immigrants who worked for his temporary labor companies, Garcia Labor Company Inc. and Garcia Labor Company of Ohio. U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel imposed the sentence Thursday.

Federal prosecutors say Garcia, 42, hired Hispanic workers who used invalid Social Security numbers and provided them with transportation and housing in apartment buildings he owned.

The Social Security Administration issued warnings about the invalid numbers in 2002, 2003 and 2004, but prosecutors say Garcia took no action.

ABX Air Inc., a Wilmington air cargo company, terminated its contract with Garcia after an audit found that almost all of the 400 temporary laborers he provided to ABX were using invalid or fraudulent Social Security numbers, prosecutors say.

….. Garcia’s attorneys, Ed and Jim Perry, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But in court documents, they described the $12 million forfeiture as excessive and asked Spiegel to settle on a lower amount.

They said Garcia, of San Antonio, is a U.S. citizen who has worked hard all his life and is a “charitable man of great faith.”

“It would be unfair to impose a fiscal life sentence on Max Garcia,” his lawyers said of the $12 million forfeiture.

Let’s put aside the absolutely disgusting appeal to religion for a moment, and focus on the reasonableness of the $12 million forfeiture. While I am of course not privy to the details, my back-of-envelope estimates indicate that the number comes out looking pretty good:

GarciaFine0307

Explanations (if anyone has info they would like to confidentially submit to firm up these numbers a bit, e-mail me):

  • Garcia had as many as 900 workers, so 600 in an average year appears to be, if anything, conservative.
  • He would have billed ABX and other clients about 50% more, or $12/hour, than clients would “expect” him to pay, which in the area is I believe about $8 an hour.
  • It appears that he was operating at full capacity for about 4 years (early 2002 – early 2006).
  • Garcia’s profit margin is premised on an estimate that he really paid his employees about $6 an hour; he could legally have gone as low as the minimum, which I believe was $5.15 during the entire period, and of course even lower if he didn’t care about complying with minimum-wage laws. Paying $6 an hour would have given him about $1.80 an hour in additional margin to pay various employment-related taxes (assuming he did these things legally, which of course there is reason to doubt), transportation, whatever other fringe benefits (if any) he might have provided, and administration. The $4.20 per hour that remains ($12 – $6 – $1.80) represents a 35% profit margin.
  • His remainder after income taxes assumes he paid roughly the top federal and state rates on every dollar of income; of course, there’s also reason to doubt that.

So if Max Garcia hired hundreds of illegal immigrants and did everything else by the book (cough, cough), it appears that the idea that he made $12 million in after-tax profits from his enterprise is not at all unreasonable.

I have a strong suggestion for law enforcement if Garcia and his defense continue to claim he doesn’t have the money: LOOK FOR IT.

Amazing: Maureen Dowd Plays the ‘Is He Tough Enough?’ Card Yet Again on BHOO

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:28 am

That would be Barack Hussein Obambi Obama (Obambi being the nickname he has received from some in the Chicago media — a nickname that Dowd has continues to use herself, apparently along with “Barry”):

Dowd030407title

Mark Finkelstein at NewsBusters went behind the TimeSelect firewall, and reports the following:

Dowd reports on a recent interview with Obama ….. and lets us know she found herself, sitting across from him, feeling like the “nun [in the "Bells of St. Mary"] who teaches a schoolboy who’s being bullied how to box.” …..
Dowd clearly has her doubts as to whether Obama has the requisite toughness as either candidate or leader:

  • “I’m just not certain, having watched the fresh-faced senator shy away from fighting with the feral Hillary over her Hollywood turf, that he understands that a campaign is inherently a conflict.”
  • “If Hillary is in touch with her masculine side, Barry is in touch with his feminine side.”
  • “He turned up his nose at his campaign’s sharp response to Hillary and her pinstriped thug, Howard Wolfson.”
  • “Do you worry that you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little. That’s how they judge how you’d be with Putin.”

Along the way, Dowd also refers to Hillary as “Godzilla stomping on Obambi.”

It’s clear that Dowd’s concern about “toughening him up” is more than a short-term one.

MoDo continues to run with the “Obambi” nickname. How sweet it is. :–> It looks like this Hillary-BHOO food fight could be something to behold — that is, if he’s up to it. And the list of people clearly not enamored of Mrs. Clinton appears to be growing, and the people who feel that way more determined than I would have expected.

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UPDATE, 9:55 AM: At this rate, these two could eliminate themselves among thinking voters by the Fourth of July –

  • Obama makes laughable and easily disproven claims (from Michelle Malkin and Hot Air). This guy may make John Kerry look honest by comparison.
  • Hillary panders in the tradition of Al Gore (HT same Hot Air link). Can you say “condescending”? Apparently Obama did the affectation thing too. More from Instapundit Hilarious Hillary: “It’s not only a fake Southern accent, it’s a bad fake southern accent. You’d think that someone who spent years in Arkansas could do better.”

1:00 PM — I would think that what these two said and did in Selma this weekend should be seen as equivalents of the “Dean Scream.” I doubt they will be.

UPDATE 2, 10:15 AM: My oh my, someone’s getting very testy. This quote’s a howler that doesn’t even need a comment –

“She’s slipping in the polls, has a problem with blacks, [Sen. Barack] Obama is gaining, and then she has the governor of her own state equivocating on whether he’ll back her. That’s not good,” the Democrat said.

Here’s How One Guy Installed Windows ‘Vissssta’ (Other Items: DOT Ban, Free OS Folks Jump In)

Filed under: Business Moves,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:21 am

As tempted as you might be, do not try this (HT Pajamas Media) at home. It looks a little dangerous for your fingers, and I think the guy overstated his post-installation results.

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NOT UNRELATED:

Microsoft Hit By U.S. DOT Ban On Windows Vista, Explorer 7, and Office 2007

Tens of thousands of federal workers are prohibited from upgrading to the latest versions, according to memos seen by InformationWeek.

NOT UNRELATED 2 (bold in text is mine):

Free Software Foundation Urges Computer Makers To Replace Windows Vista With Free OS

The FSF sent five proposals to Sun Microsystems, HP, and Dell in January that would aid in the spread of free operating systems.

The Free Software Foundation, taking advantage of what it says is the rejection of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system, is urging major computer hardware manufacturers to offer consumers computers without any operating system or with a free GNU/Linux OS.

“We see Microsoft Vista as being a failure,” said Peter Brown, FSF executive director, in an interview Friday. “People aren’t buying new hardware because of Vista.”

That last bolded sentence represents potential trouble for the economy, possibly affecting thousands of people slotted for Vista-based development and consulting work. Thanks, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

Hopefully the Beginning of the End of a Practice That Should Have Been Stopped Long Ago

From Bloomberg:

Citigroup Ends ‘Universal Default’ on Cardholders (Update3)
By Justin Baer

March 1 (Bloomberg) — Citigroup Inc., the biggest U.S. financial-services company, will stop raising interest rates on credit-card customers who fail to repay loans from other banks, ending a practice that’s drawn scrutiny from Congress.

In addition to revising its policy on so-called universal defaults, Citigroup also will no longer raise rates and fees on customer accounts “at any time for any reason,” the New York- based bank said today in a statement.

Say what you will about the change in control of Congress that took place in November (and yes, this blogger has said plenty), the above move shows that Republicans utterly failed on their watch to rein in abusive lending practices, while at the same time putting the squeeze on consumers by passing “Bankruptcy Reform” (let it not be forgotten, with the help of more than a few Democrats).

“B-R” could have been defended had curbs on outrages like universal default, doubling-up on over-the-limit fees (even if you pay the balance below the limit almost immediately, you still get socked with another over-limit fee on the next statement), ridiculously high “mistake” fees in general, and other reprehensible practices (like this one) been put in place. But apparently the campaign contribution money was too good to pass up.

Now that the Democrats are in charge, financial services firms appear to be reluctantly getting religion. This is no accident. It is occurring because when it had the chance, the supposed party of Main Street gave too much slack to the moneychangers on Wall Street.

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UPDATE, Mar. 10: From Jeff at Credit/Debt Recovery — “Don’t let them fool you… Citibank is still evil… Inside the industry, we know that Citibank is the big bully.”

Verizon’s Investment: How Will They Recoup It?

Filed under: Business Moves,Marvels — Tom @ 6:11 am

This long USA Today article (yeah, they actually exist :–>), only very partially excerpted here, describes what the company is up to with its fiber-optic service:

The carrier plans to spend $23 billion to make fiber-optic broadband connections available to 18 million households by 2010. For that princely sum, Verizon will reach about a third of its sprawling territory in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Verizon hasn’t said when, or even if, it plans to upgrade the rest of its footprint. Meanwhile, it’s taking a meat ax to operations it has deemed not cost-effective to rewire: It recently announced plans to sell systems, many rural, in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, and more sales could be forthcoming.

One thing’s for sure: Once the massive upgrade is completed, Verizon will control one of the most advanced communications networks on the planet. The network — dubbed FiOS for Fiber Optic Services — will be capable of easily handling an endless array of phone, high-speed data and video services, including high-definition TV.

Consumers are the biggest winners in Verizon’s high-stakes engineering gamble, says Jan Dawson, a telecom analyst at Ovum. As phone and cable companies gird for war and beef up their networks, they’ll be able to offer a cornucopia of new services. Bargains won’t be far behind, he predicts.

“Ultimately, this is a great battle over the hearts and minds of consumers, and as a result, consumers are getting really good deals,” he says.

For pure horsepower, FiOS is impressive. Data services can be delivered at mind-bending speeds of 100 megabits per second or more. FiOS has nearly unlimited capacity for video, which is transmitted via a separate, dedicated wavelength. That way, Verizon says, video can’t interfere with data transmissions, and vice versa.

It’s going to be pretty amazing if it works. And “somehow” Verizon is managing to make it available at what appears to be a pretty affordable price without the yoke of “network neutrality” being forced on it. The key is going to be what percentage of users they can sign up for premium services.

Those of us not in Verizon’s territories are surely wondering what’s going to be available to the other 82 million households in the US.

Ho Hum Hiring Headline (030507)

From PR Newswire — an announcement from the Society for Human Resources Management (HT Matt at Weapons of Mass Discussion via e-mail):

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — March hiring projections appear strong as most employers from the manufacturing and service sectors plan to increase hiring in the coming five weeks.

Simply amazing, especially for manufacturing, which the New York Times told us last week is in a recession, while failing to describe the manufacturing environment as in a recession during 5 periods from 1995-2000 where the sector was performing more poorly.

Planet Gore Blog Debuts; Two Big Stories

Filed under: Business Moves,Environment,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 6:01 am

National Review’s newest blog (HT Ohio Conservative) jumped on an entertaining and enlightening opportunity to have a blog concentrating on enviromania about a week ago. Thankfully, despite the title, it appears to be going after enviro nonsense no matter what the source. The blog will surely not lack for material.

The two most significant posts thus far (bolds are mine):

  • March 1 — Global Warming Models: Predictions vs. Evidence: The final score is 1-27-4. That’s one confirmed prediction, 27 disconfirmed, and 4 undetermined. Shaq shoots free throws much better than that.
  • March 2 — “If you remember the e.coli spinach outbreak last year that killed three people, you might now be interested to discover that the outbreak has been traced to an organic farm.” It then references the Open Markets Blog at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where Greg Conko tells us that:

    The fact of the matter is, however, that, while microbial contamination will likely always be with us, so-called factory farms tend to be cleaner, not dirtier, than anachronistic organic farms. Having been on lots of farms, organic and conventional, on all six inhabited continents, I am much more willing to trust my family’s health to the products of a typical factory farm than a typical organic one.

Positivity: RIP, Warren Perdue

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:56 am

This IS a positive story. Read on (link may require registration):

Wrestler’s fight continues in research lab
Waynesville High School grad died Dec. 11 after battle with cancer; ‘gentle giant’ left mark at research center, school.

Friday, March 02, 2007

WAYNESVILLE — — Cancer took down Warren Perdue, but the long battle he waged before succumbing on Dec. 11 improved others’ chances of survival.

Because of the courage of the 24-year-old Wayne Twp. man, cancer researchers are advancing ground-breaking research on DNA alterations in cancers. Researchers at the Greater Dayton Cancer Center monitored the effects of experimental drugs on Perdue’s tumor, and oncologists hope to identify which medications work on various cancers to concoct “a special recipe” for each patient, Dr. Joseph Lavelle said.

On Saturday (last Saturday — Ed.), the aspiring professional wrestler will be remembered by area grapplers during a benefit match at Waynesville Middle School, organized by Tom Bellman, a fellow Waynesville grad who followed Perdue into local professional wrestling circles.

“This was something he deserved. He helped me get my start, made my dream come true,” Bellman said.

Perdue, a computer technician, played on the offensive line for Waynesville High School in 1998, where he was known for a “soft-spoken personality and a kind heart,” Athletic Director Tim Gabbard said.

Professional wrestling was his passion “probably since he was 5 years old,” his father, Ralph Perdue, said, recalling his young son dragging him to a Hulk Hogan show at Hara Arena.

About 6-feet-3 and 280 pounds, Perdue, known as Glenn Graves in the ring, wrestled in Dayton and Huber Heights with the Piqua-based Dynamic Championship Wrestling.

….. Perdue was 21 when his dentist discovered the cancer on Dec. 18, 2003. Surgeons removed part of his jawbone, replacing it with a bone from his leg.

While fighting his cancer, Perdue learned to be a bartender and was studying for a programming degree. In December 2005, Perdue was engaged to Janet Laugel, a woman he met after the diagnosis and treatment that took parts of his jaw and both lungs, his mother, Judy Perdue, recalled.

He became well-known in the Kettering oncology office, part of a 900-doctor national network, undergoing multiple surgeries and multiple rounds of experimental chemotherapies.

“All the nurses loved him. He turned out to be a very gentle giant,” Lavelle said.