Author Archives: DCG

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DCG

Illinois House committee OKs $100 million for Obama library

O presidential library

Chicago Tribune: An Illinois House committee endorsed a plan today to contribute $100 million in state funds toward construction of a Barack Obama presidential library in Chicago.

The proposal, pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, goes to the full House next.

Madigan said it’s appropriate for Illinois to commit public funds for the library even though the state is grappling with serious financial problems.

“The state of Illinois will spend over $1 billion in construction this year alone, so $100 million is not out of line,” Madigan said after the House Executive Committee threw its support behind the library funding plan in a unanimous vote. “It’s clearly a good investment for the future.”

While presidential libraries are traditionally funded mostly by private donations, Madigan pointed out that “close to $100 million in state money” was earmarked for the Abraham Lincoln presidential library in Springfield. “So we have precedent for this,” he said.

Three universities in the city – the University of Chicago, Chicago State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago — plan to bid for the library. Chicago may face competition from bidders in Hawaii and New York City.

Building the library and museum could cost $500 million or more. Madigan would not rule out additional state money going toward the library project down the road, though he said he’s “hopeful that the size of this appropriation would prove to be a very attractive argument to the (presidential library) committee.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel testified today that Chicago can’t expect to be chosen for the library simply because Obama lived here with his family and had strong professional and political roots in Chicago before becoming president.

“I want to thank the speaker for stepping up, and the state, for also looking at putting resources toward making the city of Chicago all that more competitive,” Emanuel said. “As I’ve often said, we are not going to rely on the president’s affinity for the city of Chicago. We will be subtle in our reminders.”

Though the General Assembly plays no part in deciding where the library will be built, delegations from the three interested Chicago universities came to the hearing to make pitches.

Applicants have until June 16 to respond to a request for qualifications from the Barack Obama Foundation explaining how they would fund the project, its potential economic impact on the community where it would be built, and how it would reflect the president’s vision.

Madigan said it makes sense for the city to present a single location rather than several competing spots. He said he will use his “skills that I’ve developed in the legislature to persuade people to do things they don’t want to do” to try to narrow the list of possible Chicago sites before June 16.

The State of Illinois has the largest yearly budget deficit of any state in the nation again this year (March 2014). The current annual deficit comes in at $47.8 BILLION. That’s a $1.2 billion increase over 2012’s record budget deficit. The state report also includes a comparison against all 50 states and as usual, Illinois is by far the worst.

Illinois is beyond broke so what do they care about spending another $100 million of taxpayers’ dollars. Elections have consequences.

DCG

One-year jail term for father who whipped son to death rejected by Abu Dhabi court

islam

The National: (Abu Dhabi) A father who whipped his 12-year-old son to death has had his one-year jail sentence overturned by the court of cassation.

Emirati R M admitted repeatedly hitting his son with an electrical wire and a cane, claiming he only wanted to discipline him for poor school grades.

The beating was so severe the son was left unconscious and covered in blood. He was driven to hospital by his mother where he was declared dead.

Prosecutors originally charged R M with causing death by beating, which holds a maximum jail term of 15 years. At the first trial in Abu Dhabi Criminal Court, the charge was changed to premeditated murder.

As the boy’s heirs, the father’s parents, waived their rights to a death sentence, R M was sentenced to three years in jail and a blood money settlement of Dh200,000.

His sentence was later reduced by the appeals court to one year, as the boy’s mother also waived her right to blood money.

On Wednesday, the court of cassation ruled that the heirs should not have been consulted in this case.

The law states that a father cannot be charged with premeditated murder unless he confesses, which R M did not, or if it was a straightforward murder act.

In this case, as the tools he used to kill his son were not weapons, it proved it was an attack driven by anger and not planned.

Also, Sharia states that a parent cannot be executed for killing his or her own child. Hence, there was no death penalty to waive anyway, so the charge should have been beating that led to death.

Also, the medical report showed there was not a fatal blow from the father, as the boy died from shock caused by the pain of the beating.

The cassation court therefore rejected the appeals court’s sentence of one year for premeditated murder and bounced it back for another hearing.

DCG

IRS considers taxing work perks like food, gym memberships

irs

Fox News: In competitive job markets like Silicon Valley, companies are doing everything they can to entice the best and brightest — offering freebies that have become the stuff of legend.

Employee perks like free food at lavish cafeterias, laundry and even yoga are not unheard of.

The IRS reportedly is looking at these perks and seeing if these companies need to start paying up for the free stuff they offer employees. 

David Gamage, a tax expert and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said it would really boil down to who benefits from these perks.

“To what extent is this intended as a perk, a form of compensation, for the benefit of the employee, or to what extent is this just another way the employer gets the employee to work harder and longer and do things for the benefit of the employer?” he said.

If it’s the latter, then it’s harder for the IRS to tax it.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that the agency is considering whether the freebies like food, shuttles, haircuts and more are really fringe benefits on which workers should be taxed. Some tax experts see the perks as skirting the edges of the law, and warn the companies may be violating it — but also think it would be a very aggressive move for the already-busy IRS to pursue this when they have much more on their plate (like prosecuting conservative tax-exempt groups).

Silicon Valley-based Clari, which has several dozen staffers developing cloud technology for smart phones, is one such company that offers free food — to workers who rarely leave their desks.

CEO and co-founder Andy Byrne argues that providing good, healthy food is a necessity, not a luxury, and that everyone benefits. 

“They win [because] they’re happier, our customers win [because] they get a higher quality product and then our shareholders win because they see our momentum in the market. For a small company like Clari, the idea of taxing the perks would have a devastating effect, not only for the employers who would have to cancel the perk, but also for the workers who would have lower productivity,” he said.

IRS officials declined to comment for this article.

According to Gamage, these perks have become a necessity in the workplace.  “Tech is a really competitive world at the high end, in terms of employers recruiting the top talent, and employers have responded; not just by paying high salaries, but by providing all sorts of perks,” he said.

Even if the IRS does crack down on this perk, the high-tech lunch isn’t likely to completely disappear. Legal experts suspect most companies will probably just report it as “taxable income” to employees and then pay them more in salary to cover the cost.

DCG

Kids try to figure out a “Walkman”…

DCG

New poll shows statewide Texas GOP candidate enjoy double-digit leads

Abbott in the lead...

Abbott in the lead…

Dallas News: GOP governor nominee Greg Abbott is maintaining a strong lead over Democrat Wendy Davis, as Republican candidates throughout the ballot are in strong positions seven months out from the November election.

A new Public Policy Polling survey of registered voters in Texas shows Abbott leading 51 to 37 percent over Davis. The Fort Worth state senator has seen her negatives increase among voters over the past several months, with now 33 percent having a positive impression of her and 47 percent having a negative view.

While Davis has been fundraising and become more active on the campaign trail in recent weeks, she has yet to place a big TV outlay to introduce herself to voters.

Abbott enjoys a 40 percent positive view with 27 percent having a negative impression.

The survey shows that all Republican candidates are doing well with voters – even Rick Perry, who’s not running for re-election.

For the first time in years, Perry has climbed into the positive stratosphere with 48 percent approving of him, compared to 44 percent who disapprove. That’s up 18 points from two years ago, after his failed presidential bid.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte trails both Republicans in the run-off. Dan Patrick leads her 51 to 35 percent and David Dewhurst leads her by 18 points – 50 to 32 percent.

The margins are similar in the U.S. Senate race, where incumbent John Cornyn leads Democrat David Alameel 49 to 32 percent.

Cornyn’s lead comes even with a low 31 percent approval rate. At best, even Republicans show only tepid support for him, pollsters said.

“There’s one finding in this poll that goes a long way toward explaining all the other ones,” PPP stated.

It’s that only 36 percent of voters in the state approve of the job Barack Obama’s doing to 58 percent who disapprove. “That makes life for Democrats running for office this year a lot more difficult,” pollsters said.

The random telephone poll of 559 registered voters was conducted April 10-13 and has a 4.1 percent margin of error, meaning findings could vary that much in either direction.

UPDATE 2:05 pm: Zac Petkanas, spokesman for Wendy Davis, criticized the methodology of the poll, saying that PPP failed to include voters who exclusively use cell phones instead of land-lines. Cell phones are “important to contacting African-American, Latino and young voters,” Petkanas pointed out. (raaaaacist!)

He also said that Davis is working on energizing qualified people who haven’t voted, which also would knock them out of the poll.

DCG

Idea of New Attention Disorder Spurs Research, and Debate

children

NY Times: With more than six million American children having received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, concern has been rising that the condition is being significantly misdiagnosed and overtreated with prescription medications.

Yet now some powerful figures in mental health are claiming to have identified a new disorder that could vastly expand the ranks of young people treated for attention problems. Called sluggish cognitive tempo, the condition is said to be characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing. By some researchers’ estimates, it is present in perhaps two million children.

Experts pushing for more research into sluggish cognitive tempo say it is gaining momentum toward recognition as a legitimate disorder — and, as such, a candidate for pharmacological treatment. Some of the condition’s researchers have helped Eli Lilly investigate how its flagship A.D.H.D. drug might treat it.

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology devoted 136 pages of its January issue to papers describing the illness, with the lead paper claiming that the question of its existence “seems to be laid to rest as of this issue.” The psychologist Russell Barkley of the Medical University of South Carolina, for 30 years one of A.D.H.D.’s most influential and visible proponents, has claimed in research papers and lectures that sluggish cognitive tempo “has become the new attention disorder.”

In an interview, Keith McBurnett, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of several papers on sluggish cognitive tempo, said: “When you start talking about things like daydreaming, mind-wandering, those types of behaviors, someone who has a son or daughter who does this excessively says, ‘I know about this from my own experience.’ They know what you’re talking about.”

Yet some experts, including Dr. McBurnett and some members of the journal’s editorial board, say that there is no consensus on the new disorder’s specific symptoms, let alone scientific validity. They warn that the concept’s promotion without vastly more scientific rigor could expose children to unwarranted diagnoses and prescription medications — problems that A.D.H.D. already faces.

“We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as A.D.H.D. has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another,” said Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”

Though the concept of sluggish cognitive tempo, or S.C.T., has been researched sporadically since the 1980s, it has never been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which codifies conditions recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. The editor in chief of The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Charlotte Johnston, said in an email that recent renewed interest in the condition is what led the journal to devote most of one issue to “highlight areas in which further study is needed.”

Dr. Barkley declined repeated requests for interviews about his work and statements regarding sluggish cognitive tempo. Several of the field’s other key researchers, Stephen P. Becker of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Benjamin B. Lahey of the University of Chicago and Stephen A. Marshall of Ohio University, also declined to comment on their work.

Papers have proposed that a recognition of sluggish cognitive tempo could help resolve some longstanding confusion about A.D.H.D., which despite having hyperactivity in its name includes about two million children who are not hyperactive, merely inattentive. Some researchers propose that about half of those children would be better classified as having sluggish cognitive tempo, with perhaps one million additional children, who do not meet A.D.H.D.’s criteria now, having the new disorder, too.

“These children are not the ones giving adults much trouble, so they’re easy to miss,” Dr. McBurnett said. “They’re the daydreamy ones, the ones with work that’s not turned in, leaving names off of papers or skipping questions, things like that, that impinge on grades or performance. So anything we can do to understand what’s going on with these kids is a good thing.”

But Dr. McBurnett added that sluggish cognitive tempo remained many years from any scientific consensus: “We haven’t even agreed on the symptom list — that’s how early on we are in the process.”

Steve S. Lee, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, said in an interview that he was conflicted over the journal’s emphasis on sluggish cognitive tempo. He expressed concern that A.D.H.D. had already grown to encompass too many children with common youthful behavior, or whose problems are derived not from a neurological disorder but from inadequate sleep, a different learning disability or other sources.

About two-thirds of children with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis take daily medication such as Adderall or Concerta, which often quells severe impulsiveness and inattention but also carries risks for insomnia, appetite suppression and, among teenagers and adults, abuse or addiction.

“The scientist part of me says we need to pursue knowledge, but we know that people will start saying their kids have it, and doctors will start diagnosing it and prescribing for it long before we know whether it’s real,” Dr. Lee said. “A.D.H.D. has become a public health, societal question, and it’s a fair question to ask of S.C.T. We better pump the brakes more diligently.”

Dr. McBurnett recently conducted a clinical trial funded and overseen by Eli Lilly that investigated whether proposed symptoms of sluggish cognitive tempo could be treated with Strattera, the company’s primary A.D.H.D. drug. (One of Strattera’s selling points is that it is not a stimulant like Adderall and Concerta, medications more susceptible to abuse.) His study, published in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, concluded, “This is the first study to report significant effects of any medication on S.C.T.”

An Eli Lilly spokeswoman said in an email, “Sluggish cognitive tempo is one of many conditions that Lilly scientists continue to study to help satisfy unmet medical needs around the world.”

Representatives of the drug companies that make the best-selling medications for A.D.H.D. — Shire (extended-release Adderall and Vyvanse), Novartis (Focalin) and Janssen (Concerta) — said they are not currently conducting research into sluggish cognitive tempo. However, because the new condition shares so many symptoms with A.D.H.D., these products might easily be repositioned to serve the new market.

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Dr. Barkley, who has said that “S.C.T. is a newly recognized disorder,” also has financial ties to Eli Lilly; he received $118,000 from 2009 to 2012 for consulting and speaking engagements, according to propublica.org. While detailing sluggish cognitive tempo in The Journal of Psychiatric Practice, Dr. Barkley stated that Strattera’s performance on sluggish cognitive tempo symptoms was “an exciting finding.” Dr. Barkley has also published a symptom checklist for mental health professionals to identify adults with the condition; the forms are available for $131.75 apiece from Guilford Press, which funds some of his research.

Dr. Barkley, who edits sluggish cognitive tempo’s Wikipedia page, declined a request to discuss his financial interests in the condition’s acceptance.

“I have no doubt there are kids who meet the criteria for this thing, but nothing is more irrelevant,” Dr. Frances said. “The enthusiasts here are thinking of missed patients. What about the mislabeled kids who are called patients when there’s nothing wrong with them? They are not considering what is happening in the real world.”

I’m not buying this new “disorder”. Especially with the financial ties between the researcher and the drug manufacturer.

Daydreaming is now a “disorder”. Good grief, just let the kids be kids!

DCG

How to register your gun (warning, foul language)!

guns4

DCG

Chicago Teachers Union to Mayor Rahm: Improving failed schools full of black kids is racist

lewis

Chicago Teachers Union Karen Lewis

Daily Caller: In late March, the Chicago Board of Education announced an ambitious plan to implement its “turnaround” model for three low-performing elementary schools in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.

The turnaround process involves the sacking of every teacher and staffer at each of the schools, according to an email from the Chicago Teachers Union obtained by The Daily Caller.

Naturally, the union bosses aren’t happy that the nation’s third-largest school district is employing such sweeping measures to improve some of its worst schools.

Still reeling from the closure of 50 schools in 2013, embattled Chicago Teachers Union Karen Lewis called the turnaround plan “a slap in the face to those of us who are attempting to negotiate for more resources” and “nothing more than school closings by another name.”

The email from the teachers union also suggested that the effort to improve the schools is an effort spearheaded by Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to damage black children and black families.

“This is an attack on Black schools that continues the assault carried out by” Byrd-Bennett “last year, when she closed 50 schools (claiming they were the last closings for at least five years).” Byrd-Bennett is black.

“After closing 50 schools, now we find three campuses more on the chopping block while the mayor continues his televised propaganda campaign of promoting these disastrous policies,” Lewis, a Dartmouth graduate, fulminated.

In a CPS press release, Byrd-Bennett countered by saying that the city is committed to fixing schools that aren’t adequately educating students.

“The power of a high school diploma is great and the power of a college diploma is even greater,” said the CEO. “Our children have one chance at a high-quality education and we are committed to doing everything we can to provide our students with the tools they need to be successful.”

One of the three schools facing turnaround plans is Ronald E. McNair Elementary School, which has been on academic probation for the past 14 years. Another school is Dvorak Technology Academy, which has been on academic probation for the past 7 years. The third school is Walter Q. Gresham Elementary School, which has been on academic probation for the past 6 years.

If the Board of Education approves the plan at its board meeting on April 23, the three schools will be managed by the Academy for Urban School Learning (AUSL), a nonprofit organization which already manages 29 public schools in Chicago where over 17,000 students are enrolled.

The turnaround process involves bringing in teachers and staffers who have been specifically trained to work in low-performing schools. It would begin in the fall of 2014 for all three schools.

DCG

Most public pensions may run out of money in 30 years

pensions

Watchdog.org: Public pension systems across the country may be heading toward a financial meltdown, according to a series of stress tests conducted by a respected hedge fund.

Bridgewater Associates, based in Wesport, Conn., estimates it will take about $10 trillion for public pensions to meet their financial obligations in the coming decades as an aging population retires, but according to Bridgewater’s report there is only about $3 trillion in assets to invest.

In order to cover the coming expenses, Bridgewater estimates pension plans would need to earn an annual return of 9 percent.

The report said most states’ public pension systems work on a presumption of a 7-8 percent annual return on their investments, but Bridgewater says a more realistic goal is 4 percent — or even less.

Given all those factors, Bridgewater’s report concludes that as much as 85 percent of public pension plans could run out of money within three decades.

New Mexico’s two big public pension plans — the Public Employees Retirement Association and the Educational Retirement Board — work on presumptions of annual returns of almost 8 percent.

On the other hand, New Mexico is one of the few states that have passed a pension reform “fix” to try to tackle the looming financial problem.

In the 2013 legislative session, Republicans and Democrats — working with PERA, ERB and the state’s chapter of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees — hammered out bills aimed at shoring up pension solvency.

“We haven’t let ours go completely in the cellar,” said state Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, who sponsored the ERB fix. “We tried to tackle the problem and I’m hopeful that we solved it. But our investments have to make some money. If not, we’ll have to come back and change them.”

State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, spearheaded PERA pension reform in the 2013 session, but worries about the annual rate of return assumptions.

“I think the 6 percent range, 6 and three-quarters” is more realistic, Muñoz told New Mexico Watchdog. “You’re floating that line. The economy is such a rollercoaster, there are no flat line projections where you can get a solid smoothing over for a three to five year period.”

The ERB plan works on a presumption of 7.75 percent a year. That’s pretty high, but last month ERB reported its investment portfolio returned 11.7 percent for the calendar year.

Ingle said adjustments may be needed in the future, but is relieved New Mexico passed the pension bill. “Before, it was a like a gusher,” he said. “Now there’s a certain stream of money going out, but the pipe’s cut down from 12 inches to maybe three.”

DCG