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Archive for ◊ June, 2012 ◊

THE FIRST concrete effects of the Supreme Courts Citizens United decision became evident and it is not good news for our democracy.

The huge, largely anonymous money that poured into the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was eclipsed on Tuesday by $50 million spent by tobacco companies in California in an attempt to stop a proposed $1 per pack tax. The tobacco companies wasted their money, because the tax was popular among voters; but the simple fact that corporations can now flood an election with huge money is frightening.

In fact, the Walker election and the tobacco tax initiative are probably not good examples of the potential danger of this new system of purchasing power.

Walker retained his seat, in part, because many voters, like me, are not fans of recalling an elected official just because we disagree with him. Walkers attack on collective bargaining is despicable, but thats why we have legislatures and hold elections. There are other ways to skin a cat.

Similarly, the tobacco tax in California was popular because voters on the Left Coast realize that the state needs the money and even smokers are willing to cough up another buck for a pack. Heck, in Seattle, they are $9 a pack a far cry from the three for a nickel at Henny Meades in Avoca when I started on the little devils.

No, the most pernicious effects of Citizens United wont be felt in the big, important elections as much as they will on state and local elections. President Obama, for example, should be able to hold his own with the power money behind Mitt Romney.

The handwriting, however, is on the wall. Corporate cash can now take aim at state, regional and local governments where its purchasing power is magnified. Polluters will find their money well spent on state legislature elections where most regulations are written. Also, expect labor laws to come under serious attack.

Citizens United also should propel the Republican Party into a more dominant position. The richer the 1 percent gets, the more it can sponsor legislators of its liking.

With the tax cuts and elimination of programs contained in the budget proposal of US Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance, you can expect him to have a huge super PAC behind him.

The GOP is already in a strong position and Citizens United could enhance the partys dominance.

In 2010, there were 3,941 Republican state legislators throughout the country, the most since 1928, when there were 4,001. We can expect that number to increase as super PACs target state legislature elections.

Sadly, as we watch billions of dollars being spent on the procurement of political power, UNICEF recently reported that 23.1 percent of American children are now living under the poverty level. And across the country we are cutting funding for schools and social programs.

In an impassioned dissenting opinion on the Citizens United case, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens warned that the courts ruling threatened to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.

The undermining has begun.


Citizens United also should propel the Republican Party into a more dominant position. The richer the 1 percent gets, the more it can sponsor legislators of its liking.


John Watson is the former editor of the Sunday Dispatch in Pittston. He lives in Seattle.

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Why more cash won’t make you happy
Monday, June 25th, 2012 | Author:

If only God would give me some clear sign. Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank, said Woody Allen once. But the chances are the cash injection would not make the neurotic film director any happier, according to new research by economists.

Contrary to popular belief, making more money may not make you more satisfied with your lot, especially if you are prone to neuroses, the study says.

Economist Dr Eugenio Proto, from the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (Cage) at the University of Warwick, looked at how personality traits affect the way we feel about our income in terms of levels of life satisfaction. He found evidence suggesting that highly neurotic people on healthy salaries are more likely to view pay rises as a failure.

Proto said: Someone who has high levels of neuroticism will see an income increase as a measure of success. When they are on a lower income, a pay increase does satisfy them because they see that as an achievement. However, if they are already on a higher income they may not think the pay increase is as much as they were expecting. So they see this as a partial failure and it will not increase their life satisfactions.

Neuroticism is defined as an enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states, such as anxiety, anger, guilt and depression.

Proto said: What is clear is that neuroticism plays a big role in our personalities and in explaining our relationship with income. Neuroticism is not an illness. All of us are a bit neurotic. A fully neurotic person would be Woody Allen, at least he portrays himself as such. James Bond is the only person that I can think of who is not neurotic at all – and he is a fictional character.

Woody Allen has said: I have a lot of neurotic habits. I cut my banana into seven slices every morning before I put it in my cereal. These things dont hurt anybody else, but they are neurotic.

Proto, who co-authored the paper with Professor Aldo Rustichini from the University of Minnesota, said: If our pay rise is so much linked to neuroticism, this means our relationship with income is not an easy one. Its a nasty relationship. Were not happier because we can buy more things. Were happier because weve achieved a target – that is, weve got a bigger car or a better house than the Joneses. The more neurotic we are, the more we feel these things.

Proto, who will present the findings at the Economic and Social Research Council research methods festival next month, used data from the British Household Panel Survey and the German Socioeconomic Panel.

Proto went on to say: These results suggest that we see money more as a device to measure our successes or failures rather than as a means to achieve more comfort.

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Maroons on top in cash dash
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 | Author:

Theyre the real money men and the guys who command the big bucks.

The Maroons spine of fullback Billy Slater, halfback Cooper Cronk, five-eighth Johnathan Thurston and hooker Cameron Smith is worth $2.79 million alone. The quartet, along with star centre Greg Inglis, are considered the best players in the game. Only Kiwi captain Benji Marshall could challenge them in the cash stakes.

Of all 34 players contesting Origin II, only Brett Stewart is off contract. The Manly fullbacks management team are hoping to broker a deal worth $600,000 per annum. But given his age – he turned 27 in February – and recent injury history, its likely hell fall short of the target. However, he remains a marquee player due to his prolific try-scoring ability and has demonstrated he has enough quality football ahead to command up to $500,000. Its likely he will remain at Brookvale Oval next year despite interest from other clubs.

Michael Jennings remains under contract at the Panthers but, as revealed in The Sun-Herald last month, is being shopped around by Penrith. Jennings is on a reported annual salary of $600,000, a figure which balloons to $690,000 in 2013. However, his actual worth on the open market would be significantly lower. The centres stocks have fallen following a series of alcohol-related misdemeanours and there is no guarantee he wont be back in the NSW Cup for the Windsor Wolves after Origin II. One club CEO said Jennings isnt worth a cent more than $400,000, if that on current form.

The value of several other Blues stars could fluctuate wildly depending on their performances in Origins II and III. If Todd Carney plays a starring hand in a Blues series victory, he will finally fulfil his potential and be ranked among the games elite. However, another timid performance could spell the end of his representative career and adversely affect his future worth. Likewise, the series is a defining one for Carneys halves partner Mitchell Pearce. Another enigmatic player is Jarryd Hayne. At his best, the Eels fullback is THE best – as evidenced by his Dally M medal win in the clubs 2009 grand final season. He was hampered by injury earlier this season but the 24-year-old repaid the faith shown in him by Ricky Stuart in Origin I and his club form has lifted in recent weeks. If his form holds, he will be one of the most sought-after players in the game when he comes off contract at the end of next year.

The Queensland team is one of the greatest ever assembled. There are superstars everywhere and this is reflected in their estimated worth on the open market. However, not all of them are justifying their price tags at club level. Darius Boyd became one of the highest-paid players in the game when he followed Wayne Bennett from St George Illawarra to Newcastle. He has struggled to recapture his form with the Knights – he was spotted crying in the dressing rooms during a recent loss to the Roosters – prompting us to downgrade his value to $400,000. Veteran stars Brent Tate and Petero Civoniceva are integral parts of the Maroons machine but their injuries and age, respectively, mean they cant command the big bucks they have in the past.

W

hile it might not be a level paying field, bank balances wont determine the winner at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night. When asked for a man-of-the-match prediction at the Blue Tie Ball during the week, team of the century halfback Andrew Johns leant towards Pearce just ahead of Carney and Robbie Farah.

Ive seen things from Mitchell Pearce – and I saw from that first try he scored against Canterbury – is [the development of] his running game, Johns said. I think thats the blueprint for Mitchell. Hes at an age over the next three, four and five years [when] hes going to hit his peak. I believe its going to start on Wednesday night.

Still, the worth of the games best players remains a hot topic. There are calls for Origin players to be paid $50,000 per appearance once the next broadcasting deal is completed. Currently, interstate players earn $20,000 per appearance – double the amount players receive for representing their countries.

Tim Sheens, from the moment he was appointed coach of the Kangaroos, stated that he wanted his players to treasure their Australian jersey above all others. And given that not every Origin player gets to wear the green and gold, an argument can be made that the Australian jersey is still the most prestigious. The ultimate statesman, Sheens wouldnt buy into a debate over whether Test players should be remunerated on the same scale as state players. However, the riches on offer at Origin level have raised concerns that Kiwi-eligible players could turn their backs on representing their country if they qualify to represent NSW or Queensland.

Currently, Origin generates between $15 million and $20 million before television revenue. Once TV money is factored in, its speculated that figure rises to approximately $35 million.

Several marquee players have agitated for loyalty payments to be scrapped and to be guaranteed a fixed percentage of the revenue generated by Origin. In one of his last interviews before stepping down as the Australian Rugby League Commission chief executive, David Gallop said: If youre talking about percentages generally then our players are remunerated at a higher percentage than the other codes at the current time.

Around 9.55pm on Wednesday night, when the full-time siren sounds at ANZ Stadium, the team which has executed the best under pressure will be the one which, ahem, gets the cash.

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Dash for cash by Obama and Romney comes at a cost
Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 | Author:

Fundraising gluttony is in. Can a political stomach ache be far behind?

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are on an unprecedented fundraising binge that shows no sign of ending.

Motivated by the sheer terror of being outspent by one another, the two candidates are locked in an ever-escalating game of financial one-upmanship. And it comes at a cost all its own.

_Think of what other things they could be spending that time on if they werent courting donors: say, governing, or preparing to govern. Or talking to a broad swath of voters rather than campaign partisans.

_Think of what else all that money _ sure to exceed $1 billion _ could be used for: Fighting poverty? Improving education? Putting a nick in the $15.8 trillion national debt?

_Think of what all those donors might want in return: Some may be ponying up for a better country, but others will be looking for some kind of more personal payback.

The latest batch of fundraising numbers, out Thursday, showed Romney and the Republicans raised $76 million in May compared with $60 million for Obama and the Democrats. A month earlier, it was Obama and the Democrats $43.6 million compared with $40 million for Romney and the Republicans. Add the eye-popping sums being spent by super PACs siding with one side or the other and its by far the most expensive presidential election in history.

Joe Trippi, who earned praise for tapping into the Internet to raise big dollars for Howard Dean in his unsuccessful race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, remembers what a big deal it was when Dean brought in $15 million in three months.

Theyre doing $15 million in a day now, says Trippi. It is sort of an arms race that is getting ridiculous.

Obama did raise nearly $15 million earlier this month from an A-list fundraiser at actor George Clooneys canyon home in Los Angeles. Seats at the table cost $40,000, but more than half that money came in from a raffle for small-dollar donors hoping to score an invitation.

Romney, for his part, picked up at least $15 million on a two-day trip to Texas this week, collecting checks during stops in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.

Asked Thursday if he could beat Obama in the 2012 fundraising race, Romney said only: Long way to go.

Both sides have been working intently to stockpile cash now to use in the fall, when the TV ad buys will be relentless and there wont be much time for fundraising. Each side is bracing for particularly tough attacks ads from independent super PACs that dont have to answer to voters.

Can this all-out dash for cash be good for America?

Theres a reason all these people are giving all this money, says Trippi. They want things.

For some its good government, he says, but most of them want something else. Even if its just for the candidate to listen to them, thats going to have an impact. And there are surely others looking to sway policy, snag an ambassadors post, or some other favor.

For all the hand-wringing over cozy relationships between candidates and contributors, not everyone thinks all this money flooding into politics is a problem.

More money in the campaigns is going to lead to better campaigns and more engagement, says David Mason, a Republican appointee who served on the Federal Election Commission from 1998 to 2008. Not everybody will like everything thats done, but the kinds of things that campaigns will do when they have plenty of money are the kinds of things the Obama campaign did four years ago, which is to go deeper in their engagement strategies and try to come up with new tools.

Former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele says all this angst about money in politics is really kind of wasted energy because it will always be there, one way or the other. But Steele lamented the big money that super PACs on both sides will pour into ads that are increasingly full of crap.

Theyre distortions, theyre lies, fear-mongering, and thats not having an intelligent conversation about important issues, he said.

And, Steele said, the time that candidates themselves must devote to fundraising comes at the expense of time with voters.

Thats the Catch-22, he said. You need to be in front of the voters, but having the money in the bank helps you do that.

Both Obama and Romney are using this period between the primaries and the conventions to double down in courting donors.

Romney often holds just a few public campaign events per week while attending up to a dozen fundraisers. Even when he returns to full-time campaigning in the coming weeks, his advisers plan at least one fundraiser a day.

As of Thursday, Obama had attended 153 fundraisers since filing for re-election in April 2011, according to statistics kept by CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. During a comparable period eight years ago, President George W. Bush had done 79 fundraisers.

Just this week, Obama took a two-day, two-city fundraising swing through California that brought in $5 million from five events, among them a dinner crowd that included comedian Ellen DeGeneres and the singer Cher.

The presidential hob-knobbing with celebrities at fundraisers has opened Obama to criticism from the right. Hes becoming Barack Kardashian, commentator Rush Limbaugh poked this week.

White House press secretary Jay Carney shot back with two words: Donald Trump. Hes giving fundraising help to Romney.

Between Obamas cross-country travel and fundraising events on Wednesday, the president was in motion for more than 15 hours, most of that time out of the public eye. He did work in some official business along the way, though. During the flight to California, Obama called German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to discuss Europes financial crisis.

To see whats driving the money race, look no further than Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker this week survived a recall vote after heavily outspending his critics. Obamas team responded with an email to supporters saying that money had swung the election and was exactly what Obama could be up against this fall.

But Trippi cautions that money doesnt always win the day, pointing to Democrat Jerry Browns victory over Republican Meg Whitman in the California governors race in 2010 despite being outspent by a huge margin.

Its a fallacy to think that the one with the most money wins, he said. But neither side is willing to take the chance.

___

Associated Press writers Philip Elliott, Julie Pace, Kasie Hunt and Jack Gillum contributed to this report.

___

Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nbenac

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Farmer robbed of cash
Sunday, June 17th, 2012 | Author:

On his arrival at his farm house while busy unloading the groceries, two unknown suspects arrived driving a silver golf. The two armed suspects overpowered and pepper-sprayed the victim and took off with his groceries and the undisclosed cash amount.

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Konias frittered cash on sex, drugs
Saturday, June 16th, 2012 | Author:

By Bobby Kerlik


Published: Friday, June 8, 2012, 11:58am

Updated:
Saturday,
June 9, 2012

Ken Konias Jr. told the FBI he spent tens of thousands of dollars from a fatal armored-car heist on hookers to keep him company in Florida and nearly $800,000 on a cabbie who showed him around and gave him a false ID.

He also kept an eye on the task force of police who chased him for 55 days before a tip led to his capture on April 24 in a seedy Pompano Beach boarding house.

He didnt like being portrayed as a killer, FBI Special Agent Gerard Starkey testified on Friday during a preliminary hearing in Pittsburgh Municipal Court. He had checked the status of the case (in media reports) on cell phones.

Investigators relayed Konias account of the Feb. 28 killing, the theft of $2.3 million and his weeks on the lam to District Judge Mary Murray, who ordered the former armored-car driver from Dravosburg to stand trial on charges of homicide, robbery and theft. Konias, 22, is in the Allegheny County Jail.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli said authorities recovered all but $500,000 of the money taken from a Garda Cash Logistics truck after the killing of guard Michael Haines, 31, of East McKeesport.

Wearing a burgundy jail top, pants and black-rimmed glasses, Konias stared forward for most of the hearing and said nothing as Starkey and a Pittsburgh police detective testified.

Konias parents, Renee and Ken Konias Sr., attended the hearing but did not speak to reporters.

Theres always two sides to every story. I, for the first time, got to hear what Mr. Konias told the FBI, said Konias attorney, Charles LoPresti. I cant dispute anything the FBI said, not having the benefit of reading any reports.

Haines parents, Ann and Larry Haines, did not attend the hearing. Christina French, who is acting as their spokeswoman, said the couple had no comment.

Starkey said Konias told him he drove to Miami shortly after the heist but couldnt find lodging so he ended up at a hotel in Boca Raton, where he met a cab driver who drove him around town. Konias eventually paid him $700,000 to $800,000 for fake IDs, a house to stay and arrangements to get to Haiti. Authorities would not identify the cabbie, whom they did not arrest.

Konias paid a pimp $10,000 to rent another house in Pompano Beach and to have the pimp bring him prostitutes, he said.

During the weeks Konias stayed in Pompano Beach, one prostitute stole $92,000 from him, Starkey testified.

The pimp would arrange for women to be intimate with him. The pimp set him up in the house where he was captured, Starkey testified.

Konias housemates in Pompano Beach said that he kept cash stored in a black duffel bag in the home and in a storage facility nearby. They said he spent lavishly on alcohol and drugs.

Tranquilli would not identify the pimp who got Konias the room, but Shewona Flowers, who lived in the house with Konias, said her brother, John Flowers, arranged the stay.

Asked if her brother is a pimp, Flowers laughed. He says hes not a pimp. But Ive been hearing that, too, she said.

Police have not returned to the house since the days after they captured Konias, Flowers said.

Starkey said Konias led him to the storage facility and provided the key and access code to a unit where agents found more than $1 million stashed. Agents recovered from the Pompano Beach house the duty weapons that Konias and Haines used while working at Garda, Starkey testified.

Starkey said Konias told him he killed Haines in self-defense when Haines threw a hand-held money scanner at him, triggering a fight. Konias was driving, and Haines was riding in the midsection of the truck.

He said he stopped the truck abruptly, and some words were exchanged and Haines came at him, Starkey said Konias told him. This was outside the Home Depot near Ross Park Mall.

Starkey said Konias told him that Haines grabbed him and they went to the floor. Haines pointed his gun at Konias, who kicked it away and shot Haines in the back or head, Starkey said.

He made it sound as if it was quite a struggle in the truck, Starkey said.

Pittsburgh Detective JR Smith testified that the evidence inside the Garda van — nothing was overturned or disturbed and the handheld scanner was still attached to the wall — did not back up Konias story of a struggle.

LoPresti later countered that, saying, Quite frankly, a lot of different things could have happened post-death to clean that area up.

After Konias shot Haines, he drove the truck to the Strip District near the Garda facility, he told police. He loaded the money into his Ford Explorer, went to the gravesite of his grandmother, said prayers and cried and left $50,000, Starkey said.

From there, he went to his parents home to take a shower and change out of his uniform. Konias packed some things and left $100,000 to $200,000 for his parents but ran into his father before he left. Starkey didnt say if the two men talked.

Konias stopped at a gas station and stole a license plate from a Chevy Impala to put on the Explorer. He drove to a friends house, left $10,000 in work boots and set out for Florida — only stopping for gas, Starkey said Konias told him.

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The Delhi Police has submitted to a court here the Lok Sabha speakers sanction for prosecution of former BSP MP Raja Ram Pal in the infamous cash-for-query scam which had rocked Parliament in 2005.
Pal is now a Lok Sabha MP from the Congress party. The Anti-Corruption Branch of the Delhi

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