March 20, 2007

The Strickland Budget: Proposed Tobacco Settlement Treatment is a Big ‘Told Ya’ for Critics

Filed under: Economy,Education,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:17 am

I’ll probably have more to say on the Governor’s two-year budget in the coming weeks, but what struck me immediately in the Dispatch article about it was the proposed “structured settlement” treatment for the remaining payments due in the next several years from the 1990s nationwide tobacco lawsuit settlement:

But a debate is shaping up over Strickland’s plan to pay for that tax cut: a proposal to “sell” the state’s expected revenue in the coming years from a major tobacco settlement to generate an expected $5 billion lumpsum (sic) payment to spend now.

About $2.2 billion raised would go toward school construction, while the rest would cover the tax break and other spending in the budget.

The nationwide settlement was supposed to be “compensation” to the states for extra health care costs incurred. But none of the lump sum is going for Medicaid or other offsets. Money was supposed to be allocated, as it has been until now, for stop-smoking campaigns. According to information I’ve seen elsewhere from those affected, the lump sum settlement money will not be spent on that, and the stop-smoking money is drying up (though I’m not as convinced as those groups are that the campaigns accomplished as much as, uh, advertised).

Finally, there was concern raised by critics at the time that the settlement money would be used for operating costs. The $2.8 billion that is being used for reasons other than school construction is being used exactly that way on a one-time-for-two-years basis. First, the property-tax break is surely expected to be ongoing. I expect that the “other spending” mentioned in the same sentence above is also anticipated to continue into future years. So, where is the $2.8 billion going to come from in the next biennial budget? (Hint to Ted: You might “find” some of it two years from now if you allow the other half of the individual income-tax cut hoped for in the last budget to take place now. As an added bonus, Ohio’s economy could very well start growing at a decent rate and you would come off looking good for it.)

The overall point is that those who predicted that the nationwide tobacco settlement money would not be used as promised are being proven right in Ohio, as they have in many, if not most, other states. I believe that the attorneys general who brought the tobacco suits expected all along that this would be the likely outcome. It wasn’t about the kids; it’s always been about the money.

Drudge Joins the Out of Touch

I don’t know how else to explain Drudge, who in many ways can be seen as the original blogger with a outsized headline stream, ripping into Michelle Malkin’s pioneering web site Hot Air with such a vengeance on his radio show Sunday:

Maybe we’ll do, uh, uh, a commentary on the Internet like Michelle Malkin. Maybe I’ll stand in front of like a blue screen and hold a banana and start talking into the Internets. (Sneering tone) ‘This is Matt Drudge reporting on Hot Air.’ Agggh. You know. It’s ridiculous. Looks like, you know, Captain Kangaroo time, Michelle. Get real.

In fact, Drudge can be seen as more like a pajama-clad blogger than Malkin has ever been (or for that matter, Bryan Preston). Give Drudge props for his ridiculously great sources, but when’s the last time you saw him out in the world covering a news event?

Matt, the world’s big enough for both of you. Zheesh.

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UPDATE: Maybe something else is bugging the Drudgester:

DrudgeAlexa0307

Ho Hum Hiring Headline (032007)

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 6:07 am

From the Phoenix Business Journal:

USAA recruiting 500 in latest round of hiring

Military insurance giant USAA continues its hiring spree in Phoenix with plans to recruit another 500 employees.

The Texas-based financial services firm will hold a job fair March 22 to recruit individuals for positions ranging from entry-level customer service reps to certified financial planners and other professionals. Compensation for the open positions ranges from $28,000 to $70,000 plus bonuses.

Wal-Mart’s Bank Plan Withdrawal: Opponents Should Be Careful What They Wished For

Filed under: Business Moves,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:02 am

Friday, Wal-Mart dropped its bid to establish a federally insured bank. It’s ridiculous that they had so much trouble getting approved, because as the linked article noted:

Industrial banks have been proliferating in recent years — Target Corp., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Harley-Davidson Inc. are among the nearly 60 that now exist. Critics say their growth dangerously blurs the line between banking and commerce, concentrating assets in the hands of a few big companies, stifling competition and hurting consumers.

I don’t see where “critics,” which I believe in this case really means “the unbylined author of the Associated Press article,” have produced even the tiniest bit of evidence the current crop of industrial banks has stifled competition in any way, shape, or form. It’s also pretty funny to see an AP writer worrying about “little guys” like Bank of America, Chase, and Citicorp, who are in an industry that itself is getting more and more concentrated (click on the “click to view data” box; the top 10 credit-card companies in 2005 had 92.4% of the business, up from 81.3% in 2004) getting some nontraditional competition.

That said, Wal-Mart’s Plan B isn’t going to make critics feel any better, and I don’t see any “legal” or protest-driven basis on which it can be stopped:

News of Wal-Mart’s decision came a day after details came to light of leases that Wal-Mart recently signed with banks that operate branches in hundreds of its stores, reserving the company’s right to offer an array of future financial services in its stores. According to the lease terms, Wal-Mart can offer future services including mortgages, consumer loans, home equity loans, investment and insurance products and any other type of service or product that the company might develop.

So if Wal-Mart’s customers get used to doing their banking at the stores, the retailer can apply pressure to their bank lessees to offer Wallyworld’s financial products. If those financial products are aggressively competitive (can you say “Always the lowest rates. Always”?), that will drive even more banking business, and more customers, into the stores, turning the whole operation into yet another competitive advantage over other retailers. Oh, it will also siphon business away from traditional bank branches.

Wal-Mart’s critics may end up wishing that the retailer got its way at the FDIC several years from now.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Stanford Medical Student is Visionary Behind Global Fight Against Blindness

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:57 am

What follows is about half of a much longer article that should be read in its entirety. What a marvelous story and wonderful charity:

STANFORD, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Six years ago, as a 19-year-old college sophomore, Jennifer Staple decided to battle preventable blindness so she started the nonprofit “Unite for Sight” with a staff of one: herself.

What began with the recruitment of a few fellow Yale University students to join her crusade against blindness among the homeless of New Haven, Conn., has since burgeoned into the recruitment of volunteers worldwide who have helped restore sight to thousands of impoverished blind people.

“I never anticipated it would actually go beyond homeless people in New Haven,” said Staple, who is herself a bit overwhelmed by Unite for Sight’s success.

From her dorm room on the Stanford University campus where she’s now a second-year medical student, Staple coordinates some 4,000 volunteers. Unite for Sight now has 90 chapters in 25 countries. It provides services to 400,000 low-income patients, and has sponsored more than 6,000 sight-restoring surgeries, a number that grows weekly.

On April 14-15, the nonprofit’s fourth annual conference will bring 1,500 people interested in global health-care issues to Stanford to hear 300 experts discuss subjects that range from individual eye care to organizing nonprofits to the fight against malaria and AIDS.

“They say, ‘Life is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things,’” said Tamilarasan Senthil, MD, an ophthalmologist who directs Unite for Sight in India. “Jennifer is one among them.”

Staple, a quiet warrior, volunteers 40 hours a week for Unite for Sight, responding to about 100 daily e-mails in between her medical school studies. She postponed medical school, asking to defer her acceptance to Stanford for two years, to get Unite for Sight up on its feet and rolling.

“Her dedication to and stewardship of Unite for Sight were exactly the skills and attitudes we wished to see in our future medical students and physicians,” said Gabriel Garcia, MD, associate dean of admissions at the Stanford School of Medicine. “We were delighted to grant her request for deferment.”

And Staple’s enthusiasm for the program shows no signs of waning.

“I love every day of it,” she said. “I love hearing the stories from the international ophthalmologists, hearing reports from all the volunteers in the field who are so excited about their jobs.” And, most of all, hearing the stories of the people whose sight is restored.

James Clarke, MD, one of Unite for Sight’s ophthalmologist partners in Ghana, Africa, talks of his patients “dancing with excitement, tears streaming down their faces,” after their sight-restoring surgeries.

“Unite for Sight came to Ghana, Africa, at the right time to bring hope to the hopeless,” Clarke wrote in an e-mail from Ghana. “It is a savior of the blind.”

The idea behind the organization was originally sparked while Staple was working a summer job after her freshman year at Yale in the office of her childhood ophthalmologist. She grew up in New Haven.

“I’d see low-income patients suffering from glaucoma who had already become blind,” Staple said. “They regretted not going to the eye doctor sooner. I saw firsthand the importance of educating people.”

In the early days, Staple and her small troop of about 35 volunteers went out into the community, visiting soup kitchens and public libraries in New Haven armed with eye charts and educational materials. The majority of eye damage can be prevented with a little education and some fairly low-cost care, Staple said. Amazingly, 80 percent of blindness is preventable or treatable, according to research sponsored by the World Health Organization.