Sunday, January 25, 2015

NFL Should Kick The Punk Patriots Out Of The Super Bowl

(CNN)It turns out there's a pesky little gremlin lurking around in the Patriots equipment room deflating footballs. Mystery solved. We should have known all along there was a logical explanation for the "Deflategate" scandal gripping the Sport Nation.
That's pretty much what New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his coach Bill Belichick, would have us believe after their less-than illuminating press conferences yesterday. Both men claimed they were just as stumped as us over how exactly 11 out of 12 of the team's footballs used AFC Championship game against Indianapolis had been illegally deflated below regulation specs.
"When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to learn of the news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the situation," said a famously crotchety Belichick. "I was completely totally unaware of anything."
His quarterback, appearing equally puzzled, wanted everyone to know that he's no cheater: "I would never do anything to break the rules. I believe in fair play. I have no knowledge of anything ... no knowledge of any wrongdoing ... I don't know what happened."
Really Tom? It's hard to believe -- almost laughable, really -- that Brady, who is in his 15th NFL season with six trips to the Super Bowl and three Super Bowl wins, noticed nothing wrong. This is a guy who's known to micromanage every aspect of the game, including the ball. And he's on record saying he prefers a soft football. How could a pro like this notice nothing wrong?
The NFL, which according to ESPN reports, had been put on notice by the Colts going into the AFC Championship game that the Patriots may have used "soft balls" earlier in the season, said it is conducting a full investigation But with the Super Bowl less than two weeks away, we've heard nothing from them, nor apparently, has Brady, he said yesterday.
So it's easy to understand why fans and even pro athletes are not buying Brady's story:
"It's obvious that Tom Brady had something to do with this," said Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman on his Dallas radio program, even before the Brady-Belichick press conferences. "So for the balls to be deflated, that doesn't happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that. Now the question becomes: Did Bill Belichick know about it."
The evidence is clear: Eleven of the team's balls were illegally deflated and they didn't get there by themselves. All the talk about cold weather being the culprit? Forget it. Not only was the temperature in the 50s on game day, but if weather was a factor then the Colts' game balls would have also deflated. That didn't happen.
Brady, always the polished pitchman, is playing the innocent victim role perfectly. Perhaps this is all just a conspiracy put out there by Patriots haters, Brady suggested yesterday. Good try but most reasonable people do not believe in conspiracy theories. And hopefully, even fewer people believe in invisible gremlins. So there must be another explanation.
That leaves the Deflategate spectacle in the hands of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The scandal has provided plenty of jokes for late-night television and Twitter. But cheating in the NFL, a $9.5 billion a year industry with an overall market value of $46 billion for its 32 teams, is no laughing matter.
It's been a rough year for the integrity of the game. Goodell has admittedly made botched calls over several cases involving domestic abuse, with the Ray Rice scandal being the most egregious. And this season has been littered with debatable play-calling in crucial game situations.
This is no time for stalled investigations. A ruling on Deflategate after the Super Bowl would be a huge letdown, and signal that cheating, no matter how blatant, is no big deal in the NFL. Goodell should act swiftly and announce sanctions against New England before the Super Bowl takes place in Phoenix on Feburary 1. Fans are not the only ones calling for the commissioner to clean this mess up.
Earlier this week, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller called on Goodell to restore the credibility of the game. "I am seeking decisive actions ensuring all teams are playing according to the rules," Heller said in a statement. He recommended the league work with the NFL Players Association to resolve the issue ahead before the Super Bowl.
Let's be clear: The Patriots are second-time offenders when it comes to cheating. Back in 2007, Belichick was fined the NFL maximum of $500,000 and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for spying on an opponent's (The New York Jets) defensive signals. In the end, the team's assistant video guy took the fall and was the only person fired in the incident. The Pats also lost a draft pick in 2008.
"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field," Goodell said at the time in a letter to the Patriots.
Goodell got it right back then: He handed out the biggest fine ever for an NFL coach and he sent a clear message that cheating would not be tolerated, or excused away. This time around, despite the billions of dollars attached to the Super Bowl, Goodell needs to go further. At a minimum, the commissioner should:
-- Disqualify the Patriots from the Super Bowl
-- Strip the team's AFC Championship title
-- Fine, or suspend Belichick, who despite his claims to the contrary should have known about the deflated balls -- and even if he didn't, he's ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the field.
And if it can reasonably be argued that Brady knew or should have known based on his NFL expertise that the football has been tampered with, then he too should face tough sanctions.
Since there's no precedent for disqualifying a Super Bowl team, Goodell would have to put a plan in place. It makes sense to me that the next best AFC team would go instead of the Pats, which means the Colts would play.
And no, it doesn't matter that New England beat Indy, 45-7. The score is not the point when a team cheats. And if winning -- by any means necessary -- is really all that matters these days in the NFL, then we might as well throw out the rule books and stop preaching about the "sanctity of the game."
It's 2015 and it seems the Patriots still think the rules don't apply to them. They haven't learned their lesson. This time around the commissioner must send an even stronger message so there's no confusion.
The Patriots should be benched for Super Bowl XLIX.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dem Poll: 70% Americans Support School Choice

If there’s one issue that has virtual approval from everyone, it’s school choice. Beck Research, a Democratic polling firm, found that nearly 70 percent of Americans support the concept of school choice, 45 percent strongly support it, and only 27 percent oppose it. These poll results were unveiled at a press conference held by the American Federation for Children at the National Press Club yesterday.
From their press release [emphasis mine]:
“The findings of this poll reflect what we saw in the 2014 midterms and what I am seeing in communities across the country – a demand from parents for more options in deciding how their children are educated,” said Kevin Chavous, AFC’s executive counsel. “Educational choice through opportunity scholarships and charter schools provide these options. As communities from New Orleans to Milwaukee to Miami have learned, educational choice is an immediate solution for parents’ who have children trapped in underperforming schools. Americans know that a zip code should not dictate a child’s future.” Chavous cited other signs of school choice momentum – the resounding victories of prominent school choice advocates in the 2014 elections and a growing sense that national education unions are losing their influence with voters. Teachers unions spent at least $80 million in 2014 to express opposition to candidates supportive of such education reforms – and lost every race.
Chavous, a Democrat, former DC City Councilman and one-time mayoral candidate, urged his party to recognize the importance of the survey’s results. “As the 2016 primary fights begin, education reform is certain to take center stage – especially as a number of Republican candidates tout their records supporting expanded parental choice. As the civil rights issue of the 21st century – I urge the candidates in my party to recognize the shift in public opinion and embrace parental choice by putting the needs of students first.”
Deborah Beck of Beck Research said, “The poll clearly shows widespread support, among both political parties, for school choice. Any public official – or potential candidate for President -- who ignores these numbers does so at their own peril.”

Five key findings from poll:
  • 69 percent support the concept of school choice, including 45 percent who strongly support it, 27 percent oppose it.
  • 76 percent support public charter schools, with only 20 percent opposing it.
  • 54 percent of those surveyed believe that giving parents more choices of schools will improve the education system.
  • 65 percent believe choice and competition among schools improves education.
  • 62 percent believe we need to make major changes to the ways that public schools are run.
Some Republicans in blue states, like Gov. Chris Christie, have pushed for school choice initiatives–and it has yielded exceptional political dividends. Christie cruised to re-election in 2013, netting 60 percent of the vote, along with winning pretty much winning every demographic in the state. He also doubled his support amongst African-American voters, possibly due to his support for school choice policies.
On the other hand, Christie is way too moderate to win the GOP nomination. While he’s taken on the teachers unions, New Jersey’s economic picture is still awful, making any positive narrative about the state’s fiscal health close to laughable.
Nevertheless, Republicans have found an issue, like the Keystone Pipeline, that is insanely popular with Americans. Democrats seem to be onboard as well, but the left’s relationship with unions could have left-leaning allies looking over their shoulders more, especially during election years (i.e. every year).
Maybe this should be on the docket for this session after the Republican fumble on the bill restricting late-term abortions which was–though well-intentioned–straight up embarrassing.
Supporters Rally For School Choice In Texas
KEYE - Austin, TX
If there’s one issue that has virtual approval from everyone, it’s school choice. Beck Research, a Democratic polling firm, found that nearly 70 percent of Americans support the concept of school choice, 45 percent strongly support it, and only 27 percent oppose it. These poll results were unveiled at a press conference held by the American Federation for Children at the National Press Club yesterday.
From their press release [emphasis mine]:
“The findings of this poll reflect what we saw in the 2014 midterms and what I am seeing in communities across the country – a demand from parents for more options in deciding how their children are educated,” said Kevin Chavous, AFC’s executive counsel. “Educational choice through opportunity scholarships and charter schools provide these options. As communities from New Orleans to Milwaukee to Miami have learned, educational choice is an immediate solution for parents’ who have children trapped in underperforming schools. Americans know that a zip code should not dictate a child’s future.” Chavous cited other signs of school choice momentum – the resounding victories of prominent school choice advocates in the 2014 elections and a growing sense that national education unions are losing their influence with voters. Teachers unions spent at least $80 million in 2014 to express opposition to candidates supportive of such education reforms – and lost every race.
Chavous, a Democrat, former DC City Councilman and one-time mayoral candidate, urged his party to recognize the importance of the survey’s results. “As the 2016 primary fights begin, education reform is certain to take center stage – especially as a number of Republican candidates tout their records supporting expanded parental choice. As the civil rights issue of the 21st century – I urge the candidates in my party to recognize the shift in public opinion and embrace parental choice by putting the needs of students first.”
Deborah Beck of Beck Research said, “The poll clearly shows widespread support, among both political parties, for school choice. Any public official – or potential candidate for President -- who ignores these numbers does so at their own peril.”

Five key findings from poll:
  • 69 percent support the concept of school choice, including 45 percent who strongly support it, 27 percent oppose it.
  • 76 percent support public charter schools, with only 20 percent opposing it.
  • 54 percent of those surveyed believe that giving parents more choices of schools will improve the education system.
  • 65 percent believe choice and competition among schools improves education.
  • 62 percent believe we need to make major changes to the ways that public schools are run.
Some Republicans in blue states, like Gov. Chris Christie, have pushed for school choice initiatives–and it has yielded exceptional political dividends. Christie cruised to re-election in 2013, netting 60 percent of the vote, along with winning pretty much winning every demographic in the state. He also doubled his support amongst African-American voters, possibly due to his support for school choice policies.
On the other hand, Christie is way too moderate to win the GOP nomination. While he’s taken on the teachers unions, New Jersey’s economic picture is still awful, making any positive narrative about the state’s fiscal health close to laughable.
Nevertheless, Republicans have found an issue, like the Keystone Pipeline, that is insanely popular with Americans. Democrats seem to be onboard as well, but the left’s relationship with unions could have left-leaning allies looking over their shoulders more, especially during election years (i.e. every year).
Maybe this should be on the docket for this session after the Republican fumble on the bill restricting late-term abortions which was–though well-intentioned–straight up embarrassing.
Supporters Rally For School Choice In Texas
KEYE - Austin, TX

New Measles In America

Sue Clark/Flickr
Measles used to be an illness everyone got.
Before vaccination became widespread in the 1960s, pediatricians knew to check their patients' throats for the spray of telltale spots. Scientists raced for decades to develop an effective vaccine. And in the meantime, newspapers printed matter-of-fact death tolls, tallying high numbers of deaths by measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, and other illnesses of the recent past.
People expected to get measles in those days, but they didn't expect to survive. Measles killed some 2.6 million people each year before vaccination was widespread, according to the World Health Organization. Today, some 145,000 people die of measles each year—most of them because they lack access to the vaccine—and just a tiny fraction of them are in the United States, where the vaccine is readily available and widely used.
Traces of measles' one-time ubiquity in the States still linger in morbid nursery rhymes ("Cat's got the measles and the measles have got you," one goes) and splotchy illustrations in old children's books and medical texts, but vaccination has changed the way people see the illness in the developed world.
Culturally, measles is rarely seen as a threat anymore in the United States—a misconception that the disease isn't as dangerous as it actually is.
In reality, measles never went away.
At the petri-dish level, the virus—one of the most stable, unchanging strains there is—looks just the way it did in the pre-vaccination era. Measles remains one of the most infectious illnesses on the planet. The virus stays active and contagious in the air for up to two hours, and can be transmitted from an infected person for up to four days before and after a rash appears.  
The stability of the measles virus is also what makes its vaccine so effective. "Oftentimes viruses mutate a lot, like the influenza virus, but this virus is very stable," said Cody Meissner, a professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine. "There's really only one strain of the measles virus."
And although the United States successfully eradicated it—meaning that despite occasional outbreaks, measles doesn't move through the population continuously—there's no guarantee it will stay that way. That's what happened in the United Kingdom, where measles was wiped out but is now endemic again.
"It can definitely come back," Meissner told me. "And then because this is probably the most infectious of all the known viruses or illnesses—we say that about 90 percent of people who are not immune and who are exposed to measles will get it—that's a higher number than for any illness, even influenza. It's one of the most infectious or transmissible viruses that we're aware of."
Measles is already one of the leading causes of death among young children worldwide. About 400 people die from the virus each day—that's about 16 deaths every hour, according to the WHO. "It's a very severe disease," Meissner told me. "It's not a mild illness like mumps or even chickenpox. This is a much more severe sort of illness." Even those who survive the virus can suffer brain swelling, pneumonia, deafness, and other permanent complications. And in the United States, measles seems to be making a comeback. Today there are 67 confirmed measles cases in the United States, most of them linked to Disneyland in California. This puts the United States on pace to eclipse incidences of measles in 2014, which was already the worst year for measles since 1994, when there were 958 cases reported to the CDC. Last year there were 644 cases of measles reported in 27 states.
"It is very easy for entire communities to be exposed when an unvaccinated individual is infected and brings it into that group," said Roberta DeBiasi, the chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children's National Medical Center.

U.S. Measles Cases by Year

CDC

"The problem is people not getting vaccinated," said Jane Seward, deputy director of the Division of Viral Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The vast majority of our cases every single year are unvaccinated people who choose not to be vaccinated. They are living in a family who are unvaccinated and they have friends who are unvaccinated. They might go to a school with a high proportion of people who are unvaccinated."
That's true in parts of California, which has developed a reputation for communities where anti-vaccine attitudes thrive. Some 8 percent of kindergarteners enrolled in California schools have exemptions from the measles vaccine, according to CDC data. Some California schools have exemption rates as high as 43 percent, according to data compiled by the data-visualization platform Silk
The CDC estimates other states—including Pennsylvania, Maine, and Colorado—have even higher rates of exemptions statewide.

Measles Vaccine Exemptions by State


In the wake of the Disneyland outbreak, health officials in Orange County have ordered dozens of high schoolers without proof of immunization to stay home from school, according to the Los Angeles Times.
To complicate matters further, there's an entire generation of doctors in the United States who have never treated a measles patient, or even seen a case in person. "The success in general of the vaccination program does mean that younger physicians have never seen a case, and they don't necessarily think about it at all," Seward told me. "The other challenge, which is nobody's fault at all, is that measles presents early on looking just like an upper-respiratory infection with fever. But it can be contagious before the rash. At that stage it's not distinguishable from the flu or other respiratory viruses."
Seward says the CDC has been making a "huge effort" to educate physicians. "We've really tried to hammer home the message that if you see somebody with a febrile rash illness, ask them if they've gone overseas, ask them about measles in their community, and ask them about their vaccination status. Think of measles."
The CDC recommends two doses of the vaccine for babies beginning at 1 year old, but 6-month-olds who are traveling out of the country should get an earlier dose, too, Seward and Meissner said. The majority of measles cases in the United States come from people who bring the virus back to the country from places where measles is still (or has become again) endemic—including the United Kingdom, France, and Canada, countries that many U.S. travelers don't identify as potentially dangerous from a public-health perspective, several physicians told me.
"The vaccine is extremely safe," Meissner said. "No vaccine is completely without side effects. The CDC is quick to acknowledge that. You can get a sore arm. You can get swelling and tenderness. You can get a fever. That is true. But the likelihood of having a severe complication from the vaccine is so remote that it's hard to quantify."
And though some of the treatments for complications associated with measles are more sophisticated today than they were in the pre-vaccination era, measles is just as deadly as ever. "If you go into shock, treatment of shock has probably improved," Seward told me, "But none of the treatments have changed that are going to alter the risk of death if you have a really bad case of measles.

New York State Leads The Rankings For Most Corrput States

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara ripped into the political culture in Albany on Thursday during a news conference detailing the arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges. Indeed, cynics (including this writer) weren’t surprised that yet another of New York’s public officials landed in hot legal water.
But is Bharara being too tough on the Empire State’s public servants? Is the New York capital really that corrupt? The truth is, there are different ways to measure corruption, and they point in different directions. Here are four measures (I’ll go through each below).
entend-datalab-corruption
We can look at the absolute number of public officials convicted in federal court on corruption. On that score, New York was No. 1 from 1976 to 2010 with 2,522 convictions. California was No. 2, Illinois No. 3, Florida No. 4 and Pennsylvania No. 5. Yet it’s clear from this list that the most corrupt states are also the states with the biggest populations.
Per capita, Louisiana is the most corrupt state, followed by Mississippi. New York drops to No. 11 on the list, and California falls to 34th. The least corrupt states are Washington and Oregon.
This way of measuring corruption also has problems. Remember, these are only federal crimes. Plenty of corruption falls outside the purview of U.S. authorities. Some acts are technically legal but clearly unethical. We don’t know how many corrupt officials are never caught. And as Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston of Harvard University’s Center for Ethics detail, prosecutors have a lot of leeway in what they investigate.
That’s why Dincer and Johnston surveyed 280 state political reporters to ask them how corrupt they thought the branches of their state governments were. They asked them about illegal corruption (“the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups”) and legal corruption (“political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding).”
Aggregating their results across the branches and for both legal and illegal corruption, Kentucky emerges as the most corrupt state. Mississippi drops to No. 7, and California rises to No. 9. New Mexico, which was in the 30s in per capita federal convictions emerges as fifth. The least corrupt state, according to local reporters, was Massachusetts, even though in terms of federal convictions per capita it ranked in the top 25.
Of course, this method, too, has its weaknesses. It’s a survey of impressions. Some reporters are better tied into the political scene than others. And as the authors note, they had only a small number of reporters in some of the less-populated states. They didn’t get a single response from Louisiana.
What about good anti-corruption laws? The State Integrity Investigation had “experienced journalists grade each state government on its corruption risk using 330 specific measures” put into 14 categories, including campaign finance, ethics laws, lobbying regulations and management of the state pension fund.
The scores on these laws had little correlation with the other measures of corruption. Georgia took home the honors as having the least stringent anti-corruption laws. Somehow, New Jersey was rated as having the best anti-corruption laws, even though it ranked as the third and eighth most corrupt state, according to the reporter rankings and federal corruption convictions per capita, respectively. Illinois ranked in the top six across all the other categories, except it had some of the best anti-corruption laws on the books.
The lack of connection between the laws and actual corruption shouldn’t be that surprising. Some of the most corrupt states have recently passed laws because they were corrupt. The less corrupt states may not need the stricter laws.
Bharara, though, did have a point. While most states ranked high in one measure and low in another, New York ranked in the top 15 for most corrupt in every category.

Sen. Marco Rubio Will Be Republican Nominee In 2016

It would seem that Marco Rubio is tired of watching Mitt and Jeb soak up all the media attention, not to mention the big bundlers, fundraisers and assorted top staffers one needs to launch a successful presidential bid. ABC is reporting that the Florida senator has lined up his soldiers and told them to get ready to storm the gates of Mordor.
Sen. Marco Rubio has begun taking concrete steps toward launching a presidential bid, asking his top advisors to prepare for a campaign, signing on a leading Republican fundraiser, and planning extensive travel to early-voting states in the coming weeks, ABC News has learned.
“He has told us to proceed as if he is running for president,” a senior Rubio advisor tells ABC News…
Leading the effort to raise the $50 million or more he’ll need to run in the Republican primaries will be Anna Rogers, currently the finance director for American Crossroads, the conservative group started by Karl Rove that raised more than $200 million to help elect Republicans over the past two elections.
Rogers will begin working at Rubio’s political action committee on February 1 and would become the finance director of Rubio’s presidential campaign.
I’ll confess to being a least a little surprised by this. The longer Rubio waited, the more I thought he might just decide to give this a pass. He’ll be all of 45 years old when the next president is sworn in, and even if it’s a Republican who serves two terms, he’ll still be in his early fifties for the 2024 election. He would have plenty of time to season himself and let the current crop of heavy hitters beat each other up.
More confusing to me is exactly what “role” (for lack of a better word) Rubio sees for himself in this emerging field. His days of being the Tea Party, Washington outsider candidate seem to be in the past, and too many serious conservative voices have seen the bloom fade from his rose after he staked out various positions such as his plans for immigration reform. (His rather isolationist stints on foreign policy questions haven’t helped him with the base either.) Further, that “outsider” space is pretty well filled by either Ted Cruz for the social conservatives or Rand Paul for the more small “L” libertarian inclined primary voters. As for leaving the Tea Party behind and graduating to the Establishment wing, he’s staring straight down the barrel of Jeb, Mitt and (decreasingly) Chris Christie. What vacuum in the conservative political spectrum does Rubio fill today?
Waiting a while longer would also shine up his resume. He’s going to be running as a first term Senator, and what happened last time we went that route? (That’s a question that Cruz had better be ready to answer too, by the way.) Barack Obama may be a Democrat from the polar opposite end of the ideological scale, but his example is going to provide at least some primary voters with yet another excuse to look to the governors for the next aspiring president. When I add all of these factors up, I really thought Rubio might bide his time and stay in the Senate for a while, or possibly even run for Governor. Of course, politics is often unpredictable. If Rubio can somehow come up with the $50M nut he’ll need to make it through to next January, he may just surprise us.