Imagine there were a bill under consideration in the legislature that, if approved, would legalize marijuana use in Connecticut. Would the existence of that debate mean we’re all free to spend the next few days firing up joints, without waiting to see if the bill actually becomes law?
Or let’s say lawmakers were thinking of raising the speed limit to 65 mph on the entire length of I-84. Would the introduction of such a bill be legal justification to immediately start blowing through Hartford at that top speed?
These would not qualify as difficult civics questions, and yet, under the curious logic of state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, the answer to both questions would seem to be “yes.”
Bolinsky, a Newtown Republican, has introduced legislation that in most cases would set a six-month waiting period before a town clerk could release the death certificate of a child under 18. The bill was drafted after news reporters requested copies of death certificates for those killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School – and after Newtown Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia, in a bow to the sensitivity of the tragedy, refused to release them.
Bolinsky famously called reporters seeking the records “jackals.” But perhaps more intriguing is the logical path he is following in defending Aurelia. Bolinsky told the Danbury News-Times‘ Dirk Perrefort that he does not believe Aurelia’s actions violate state law because there is pending legislation that would change the rules, and she hasn’t yet broken that potential, future law.
“She is still within that six-month window that is being proposed,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I would argue that she is well within her rights and I support what she’s doing.”
There is no serious dispute that death certificates in Connecticut are public records and town clerks are bound by their oaths of office to release them. So this is more the municipal equivalent of civil disobedience, where a town official has concluded that the interests served by disobeying the law are greater than the interest served by adhering to the statute.
Those are individual decisions, and it will be up to the Freedom of Information Commission to decide what consequences, if any, there will be for a town clerk who makes a principled decision to break the law.
But a legislator who endorses the practice on the chance that the action will stop being illegal some time down the road may not like what he finds following that concept to its logical conclusion.
In January, Bolinsky introduced another bill that, if approved, would repeal the state’s $250 business entity tax. Would Rep. Bolinsky be sympathetic to a company that stops paying the tax immediately, under the argument that, hey, there’s pending legislation?
I’ve left a telephone message for Bolinsky. When I hear back, I’ll ask him.
The Powerball jackpot has topped half a billion dollars. So at what point does it actually become a statistically smart play? Sorry, not this weekend. Not even close.
By the numbers, it may seem a reasonable investment: $2 to play. 1-in-175 million odds of winning. A $550 million prize. But the payout isn’t really $550 million – and there’s no guarantee the winner won’t be splitting the bounty.
The $550 million figure represents an estimate of the total 30-year payout for winners who choose an annuity option – an option that adds roughly $200 million in interest. (Powerball doesn’t actually know how much the figure will be until it seeks bids for the annuity after a win.) So the actual cash prize this weekend is currently estimated at $350.1 million.
That could still make it a break-even investment – if only Uncle Sam didn’t want his share. Even if you lived in a state with no income tax, the feds will grab about 39.6 percent of the dough. Now you’re down to a measly$211 million.
So best-case scenario: A $2 ticket that pays, on average, $1.21 back for the jackpot. And even then, only if there’s one winner.
So how high would the prize have to climb for Powerball to actually be a statistically supportable play? A jackpot topping $911 million – with all the other players not matching your luck.
Is the Darien-based National Veterans Services Fund one of the worst charities in America? A new rating by the the well-respected group Charity Navigator suggests that by some measures, it could be a contender for that dubious distinction.
We’ve written about the National Veterans Services Fund before. The non-profit, run for more than a decade by Phillip Kraft, has generated about $70 million in donations in the last decade, but only a small fraction of the money was actually spent on charitable services. In the year ending June 30, 2012, well-meaning donors gave nearly $9 million to the fund. But as much as 84 cents of every dollar donated went back to the professional fundraiser.
Charity Navigator gives the National Veterans Services Fund zero stars – as it has for each of the last nine years. That record put the Fund in the No. 1 spot of a new list of “10 Consistently Low Rated Charities” published by the rating group.
“These ten charities have earned the most consecutive 0-star, ‘extremely poor’ ratings meaning they consistently perform far below industry standards and below nearly all similar charities.,” Charity Navigator reports. Not surprisingly, charities that claim to help children and law enforcement are heavily represented on the list, as those heart-string causes are commonly used in fundraising campaigns that deliver only a pittance to the non-profit group.
There are non-profits on the list that provide little to no true charitable services. But that is not the case with the National Veterans Services Fund. Kraft, who collects a six-figure salary, says he and three other workers – one full-time and two part-time – have helped thousands of warriors pay their bills and navigate the Veterans Administration. He wishes fundraising costs didn’t deplete 80 percent or more of the millions donated, but says he and his crew lack the resources and expertise to raise money on their own.
“To blame a charity for the price charged by our fundraisers is like blaming a driver for the price of gas,” he said.
Kraft said his small operation has picked up the tab for everything from wheelchairs to utility bills to dentures, and has paid for temporary housing for down-on-their luck vets. But under the charity’s lopsided fundraising, every dollar it spends requires more than $5 in donations. So a wheelchair with a $175 pricetag costs donors to the charity nearly $1,000. And covering Kraft’s $118,800 salary requires more than $600,000 in donations.
Still, Kraft is unapologetic, saying those pricey fundraising contracts are the only way for him to stay in business.
Click the chart above for our full Charity Check report on the National Veterans Services Fund. And see below for the group’s most recent tax return.
Just as moviegoers are flocking to the reboot of The Great Gatsby, the Powerball jackpot has climbed to stratospheric heights that would impress even F. Scott Fitzgerald’s anti-hero. So what are the odds you’ll be in a position to take over the Gatsby estate and revive the weekend bacchanals? Really, really, really small.
The chart below shows the probability of a single $2 ticket winning the various prizes – including the estimated $360 million grand prize – along with the number of consecutive coin tosses you’d have to correctly call to roughly match those odds.
U.S. consumers horrified by the tragic building collapse in Bangladesh might want to check the manufacturer’s label on the clothing they’re wearing; data show the compact nation is now the fourth-largest source of apparel imported into the U.S., delivering $4.5 billion a year in goods.
That’s more than double the amount imported from Bangladesh a decade ago, and in that same time frame, Bangladesh’s share of the U.S. apparel market has nearly doubled as well. In 2003, Bangladesh ranked 10th among nations supplying the United States, with 3 percent of all apparel imports, Department of Commerce numbers show. But as manufacturers have sought ever-lower labor costs, that figure has jumped to 5.8 percent.
The shift in manufacturing to Bangladesh comes as wages are rising slowly in other apparel-producing countries, including China. Pay in Bangladesh increased three years ago as well, but the minimum wage for garment workers in the country is still about $38 a month.
Efforts to increase that amount have met resistance from factory owners and government officials, who fear even a small uptick in wages will lead Western brands to look elsewhere for suppliers.
For what is likely the first time ever, blacks who were eligible to vote went to the polls at slightly higher rates than whites during the 2012 election in which Barack Obama won a second term, newly released Census data show.
Survey results released Wednesday show that nationally, an estimated 66.2 percent of eligible blacks cast ballots last November, compared to 64.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Those rates closed what had been a significant gap in voting by race in the years before Obama was on the ballot. In presidential elections from 1996 to 2004, whites went to the polls at rates 5 to 7 percentage points higher than blacks.
Although blacks voted at higher rates than whites nationally, the numbers varied considerably across the country, the Census Bureau reported. Generally, voter turnout by blacks exceeded whites in the East North Central, East South Central, Middle Atlantic and South Atlantic regions of the country. White turnout generally exceeded that of blacks in the Mountain and Pacific regions.
Asians and Hispanics continued to lag far behind whites and blacks in voter turnout, the Census numbers show, with neither group topping 50 percent nationally.
But while the percentage of eligible Asians and Hispanics who voted dipped in 2012, their raw numbers increased due to demographic shifts in the voting-age population. About 1.8 million more voters went to the polls in 2012 compared to 2008, an increase driven entirely by non-white voters. Overall, 2 million fewer whites cast ballots at the same time there were an additional 1.7 million black voters, 1.4 million Hispanic voters and 550,000 Asian voters.
Non-Hispanic whites still accounted for the great majority of ballots cast last November, but their share is dropping. In 2012, whites made up 73.7 percent of all voters. Twelve years earlier, that figure was 82.5 percent.
The Census numbers also show a continuation of familiar patterns, with higher voting rates among women, those with more education, and those with higher incomes. Voter turnout also generally increases with age.
In Connecticut, total turnout by those eligible to vote slightly exceeded the national average – 62.7 percent for the state compared to 61.8 percent for the country. But blacks in Connecticut did not head to the polls at greater rates than whites. In Connecticut, non-Hispanic white voter turnout, at 65.8 percent, exceeded the national average while black turnout, at 62.2 percent, lagged the nationwide figure.
Census numbers for the state also show that men voted at rates similar to the national average, while women topped the national average by more than a percentage point. Overall in Connecticut. 59.9 percent of eligible men voted, compared to 65.3 percent of women.
More than 20 million people watched President Obama’s inauguration in January, which included a spirited performance by singer Beyonce Knowles-Carter belting out – or at least pretending to belt out – the Star Spangled Banner.
Beyonce promptly fessed up to lip-syncing the national anthem – saying she hadn’t had a chance to rehearse with the Marine Corps Band and didn’t want to risk ruining Obama’s big day. So in the aftermath, the curious souls over at Bloomberg News filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails related to “sync-gate,” hoping to get some juicy exchanges among the Marines, the White House and Beyonce’s people.
They got 172 pages – with one particular name excised at every turn; identifying the Artist Universally Known To Be Beyonce, the Marines apparently concluded, would violate her privacy.
Instead, Bloomberg correspondent Tony Capaccio writes, Beyonce’s name is replaced on page after page with the designation “(B)(6)” – the section of the federal Freedom of Information Act that exempts information that would constitute “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
So a Marine Corps statement publicly issued in January that read “We don’t know why Beyonce decided to use prerecorded music,” appeared in the released emails as “We don’t know why ‘(B)(6)’ decided to use prerecorded music.”
The records released did not include any exciting exchanges with the White House, but one email shed some light on the thinking inside the Marines’ FOI operation. Given the quick acknowledgement by the Marines that Beyonce was not singing live, one Marine official (who’s name also was redacted) wrote that releasing the emails should not present a problem for the corps, since the records did not contradict their earlier public statements.
“Funny how the truth works, isn’t it?” the official wrote.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal to increase the minimum wage in Connecticut to $9 an hour over the next two years predictably has brought strong reactions from those who find it a boost for the working poor that will energize retail sales and those who see it as a jobs killer that will hurt small businesses.
But how does that $9 figure compare historically over the 62 years the legislature has been setting the minimum wage in Connecticut? Higher than average, but hardly unprecedented.
As the chart below shows, Connecticut’s minimum wage, in inflation-adjusted dollars, topped the equivalent of $9 an hour for most of the 1960s and ’70s, reaching a peak of $10.63 in 1971. But for the past 34 years, the minimum wage has been set below the equivalent of $9.
Both Malloy’s proposal, and the current minimum wage, are far more than the buying power set by the first legislatively established minimum wage in 1951, when the statutory 75-cent wage was the equivalent of $6.71 an hour in today’s dollars. Inflation ate away at that value until the legislature raised the minimum wage in 1957, and since then, the wage has fallen below the equivalent of $6.71 an hour only once – in 1995.
When the legislature has boosted the minimum wage – as they have done more than two dozen times since 1951- the new rate on average has been the equivalent of $8.78 an hour. Malloy’s proposal exceeds that by 22 cents, or about $450 a year for a full-time worker.
The hacking of the Associated Press’s Twitter account created more than an embarrassment for the global wire service and way too many panicked retweets. It also caused an ever-so-brief panic on Wall Street.
As the chart below shows, trading volume soared and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted (as did broader market indices) following a bogus Tweet indicating multiple explosions at the White House.
The market quickly recovered, but in that brief window, the market capitalization of U.S. stocks fell and rose by about $180 billion – suggesting that some people made a lot of money, and other people lost it, during the prank.
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