State Committee

I’m at State Committee so blogging is light as the Sheraton doesn’t have wireless access.  The judicial endorsements are being voted on Saturday and there are numerous candidates for Superior and Commonwealth Courts.  I’m supporting Jack Panella for Supreme Court, Anne Lazarus, John Younge and Judge Colville for Superior Court and no idea on the slew of new faces for Commonwealth Court.

Senate Passes SCHIP

The Senate passed SCHIP yesterday with both Pennsylvania Senators voting in the affirmative.  This means the expansion of healthcare for children will become law because George W. Bush is out of office.  He vetoed the legislation twice.  Change has come to Washington and the sooner Republicans realize this the better off they will be.  If they continue obstructing important legislation as they did in the 110th Session they will continue losing seats.

Arlen Specter had an interesting week.  After railing against Eric Holder and claiming all sorts of outrage he, again, collapsed on his spineless back and voted for confirmation.  Then he voted for SCHIP.  I’m sure Pat Toomey is watching.

I don’t think for a moment that Toomey will not run a challenge to Specter.  He came within a hairs breadth of beating him four years ago and has spent the intervening time spreading money around Pennsylvania with his Club For Growth.  You do that for a reason and the reason is usually to curry political favors.

Specter would be more susceptible to a Toomey challenge since there are few moderates remaining in the GOP.  People like Toomey have driven them to the Democrats and this makes a strong challenge from Specter’s right a serious success opportunity.  Either way the Senator’s serious health issues are an issue.  Should a Democrat succeed Ed Rendell and Specter die during his next term (he will be Hodgkins related 80 in 2010) the GOP would lose the seat.  This makes a strong challenge even more likely.

On the Democratic side this opens an opportunity for Allyson Schwartz.  Senate seats really don’t open often.  Incumbents are very difficult to beat and they tend to stay in office until the voters get sufficiently enraged or they retire.  Recent elections have shown, however, that voters are fed up with Republicans over Iraq, the economy and their strident obstructionism.  Specter was part of the constant filibusters in the 110th and this puts a target on his back.

2010 may be the year for a Congresswoman Schwartz to step to the plat and hit one out of the park.  Attacking Specter as part of the GOP obstructionism against Change will play to voters fed up with the continued partisan bickering under President Obama’s attempts to change the tone in Washington.  It would be a powerful message IF Specter beats Toomey.  If Toomey beats Specter Schwartz waltzes her way to the Senate and doesn’t fight a crowded field again for an open seat.

Blagojevich Impeached, Removed From Office

The corrupt Governor with his little boy haircut is Governor no more.  Rod Blagojevich is now a private citizen following a unanimous vote for impeachment in the Illinois Senate.  Some Senators seemed ambivalent which way to vote until it became clear most were voting for impeachment.  The undecideds then piled on.  In the end the tally was 59-0 and then they voted again, again 59-0 to bar Blago from ever again holding public office in the state.

Blago now faces serious criminal charges without a source of income.  His high powered lawyer has fired him for refusing to listen to legal counsel and the prosecutor is none other than the esteemed, pit bull Patrick Fitzgerald.  It isn’t good to be Rod Blagojevich today.

The trap of self-delusion

Has claimed the political life and potentially the freedom of another elected leader, in the way of Rod Blagojevich; now former governor of Illinois.  

The sad truth and deeper realization that needs to be taken from this latest public occurrence and incident of corrupt behavior and abuse of power, is that the type of self-delusional, egomaniacal detachment from anything resembling factual reality and crafted out of and managed on nearly pure spin and cooperation of others with budding similar aims, is very much behind a good bit of why our economy and the “market” that makes it up are out of control and have little hope of finding their sanity or balance again anytime soon.   We are seeing another instance of Blago-like behavior in the repealing of reforms by the Democrats in Harrisburg in our own state, and by the paying of unthinkable bonuses to people at failing financial firms from the very coffers of bailout money or other revenue that these companies have cried wolf over and beg for more with no thought of remorse, reform, or reticence.  

I am painfully angry as I am sure many people in America are, but I know that it will take more than anger or stern language to bring about the changes that must come.  As long as the current mode continues to hold sway in the daily dealings of our economy, in its current stupor, we will eventually reach the same point that could occur sooner and better and not have us end up all but at the bottom looking up and wondering what the hell happened and how it could have gotten that bad, when that day comes and I’m afraid it will.  So, for now the best I think anyone can do is brace themselves and let the crazy, obstinate, greedy fools in their self-delusional trance run out their pathetic scheme and then when the moment is right, reclaim balance and sanity from their grips.  I just hope we are smart enough and willing enough at that point to take the steps needed to help prevent such types of mentality from wrecking that kind of havoc again on such a wide and destructive scale.  

The uglier truth though, is that while the practices, consequences, and behaviors of those who are at the forefront of the evolving collapse bring a natural reaction of disgust and disbelief to many, they have a role to play in the larger scheme of things and have fallen prey to losing sight of the larger perspective.  I don’t mean their perspective of long term financial health or prosperity, but rather the larger perspective of their place in the larger machine of life and society itself.   So, it is not that we should have no desire for prosperity or profit or growth or wealth, but that at some point, such wealth reaches its terminus and must find ways to be productive in the larger realm of life or cease to be wealth and become excess.  

In some ways I blame the current problems and our general condition on the general decline of meaning and purpose in the lives of people beyond material aims or attainment of wealth in the most fiscal sense.  The religious conservatives who have railed on for years about the decline of the “moral fabric” of America got it at best half right, but at the same time have bedded down many times or regularly with a goodly number of the same people who were helping to degrade the “fabric” or “fiber”.  Their admonishments of immorality or amorality failed to understand that they picked the wrong things to rail against and embraced the very devils and demons that were lining their pockets and filing their collection plates for all these years.  The irony at this point is beyond biting to me.  

When Obama said it is time for new thinking or rethinking, I cannot agree more, but I know too well that for it to be accepted or even brought to mind that there must be some motivation or some willful sense of purpose that can help lead to change and acceptance of such new ways of thinking or rethinking in practical application.  

Pro Union Talk Radio Nearly Blankets Pennsylvania

This is a guest column by Stephen Crockett:

I want to make friends of Democratic Talk Radio aware of a great addition to non-Republican Right talk radio in Pennsylvania.

Charles Showalter is hosting a great new show Monday-Friday on KFB 770AM from noon to 1pm. The show is called The Union Edge Talk Radio. The studio line is 412-829-7100.

Here are a couple of Podcast links:

Our good friend Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress,

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka,

There is much more information at his website at The Union Edge and we encourage DTR fans to explore that site.

We will be having Charles Showalter are a future guest on our Lehigh Valley WGPA SUNNY 1100AM Democratic Talk Radio program which broadcasts on Thursday mornings from 8:05am until 9am.. Our call-in line is 610-866-8074.

Charles Showalter is a member of the AFTRA union.

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As we expand our Democratic Talk Radio show into the Philadelphia market in coming months, we are intentionally not broadcasting during the time slots of The Union Edge , The Labor to Neighbor Show or The Rick Smith Show. We applaud the great work of all the great hosts.

They are all union brothers and sisters. All are friends of Democratic Talk Radio.

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On weekends, you can hear pro-union, progressive talk radio in Pennsylvania by tuning into The Rick Smith Show with host Rick Smith.

His show broadcasts on WHYL 960AM on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 2pm. The call-in line is 1-877-960-0960.

You can hear Podcasts of past Rick Smith shows at this link and we advise spending the time to do so. Explore his web site while there.

Rick Smith is a good friend and frequent guest on Democratic Talk Radio. We highly recommend his show! It gets huge ratings in the Carlisle-Harrisburg, PA market and reaches most of central Pennsylvania plus surrounding areas.

Rick Smith is an active member of the Teamsters

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In the Philadelphia market, we have another great pro-labor talk radio show on WURD 900AM.

“The Labor to Neighbor Radio Show is heard Tuesdays at noon. The hosts, Patrick J. Eiding and Janet H. Ryder invite guests to address contemporary issues facing working families in our region. Topics include but are not limited to; union and worker issues, employment and job training, human and social services referral information and sharing pertinent current events that help shape our daily lives.

Patrick J. Eiding is the president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO which is a federation of more than 100 local unions with more than 150,000 members and families in this city. This former business manager for the Insulators Union Local 14 serves on many boards and commissions and was recognized as one of the 75 most important Philadelphians.

Janet Hammond Ryder is the vice president of labor participation for both the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO and the United Way of Southeastern PA. In that capacity, she links community organizations and local unions together to make sure they are actively engaged and involved in making a real difference in their communities. She is a former Philadelphia Public School educator and political director for American Federation of Teachers, PA.”

The call-in lines are 866-361-0900 or 215-634-8065.

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Democratic Talk Radio is hosted by Stephen Crockett who is Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com. Crockett is a member of the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981) and OPEIU Local 277. He is an associate member of the United Steelworkers (USW). Crockett has been involved in an organizing drive by the Machinists (IAM). He is from Maryland and Tennessee.

Democratic Talk Radio co-host Dana Garrett has been very active with UFCW Local 27 and the Laborers (LIUNA). Dana is from Delaware. Dana Garrett hosts another talk show in Delaware called Progressive Voices which broadcasts on the University of Delaware FM station WVUD.

The Democratic Talk Radio office is located at the UAW Local 1183 union complex in Newark, Delaware next door to the Delaware AFL-CIO. This is the main Democratic Talk Radio website.  The DTR blog is also interesting.

Democratic Talk Radio currently broadcasts from Bethlehem, PA on WGPA SUNNY 1100AM. Anyone can listen in live to Democratic Talk Radio on Thursday mornings from 8:05am-9am Eastern via this link:

“How Can You Throw me Out?”

Rod Blagojevich asked this question at his impeachment trial today.

The answer:  Just watch.

The man has refused to mount any defense for his conduct prior to deigning to make a speech today.  Instead of complying with the rules he’s mounted a media offensive and used his mouth to make things worse.

He doesn’t seem to understand that this isn’t a criminal trial and he isn’t Martin Luther King, Jr. Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela.  They weren’t corrupt egomaniacs.

Just watch Rod, just watch.

Match This for Stupidity: Taxing a House of Cards

Match This for Stupidity:

Taxing a House of Cards

by Walter Brasch

           My wife is a smoker. Except for one year when she quit, she’s been a smoker since she was about 18. But she’s cut back, from as many as three packs a day to just three cigarettes. And, she now smokes outside the house.

           At various times, she was asked to show an ID. When in her 20s she saw it as an annoyance. By her 30s and 40s, it was a compliment. Now it’s just downright annoying.

           The law restricts persons under 18 years of age from buying or smoking cigarettes. My wife understands why she must be “carded.”

           Yesterday she was carded when she wanted to buy two lighters. The sweet lady at the grocery checkout counter said that the chain store is carding everyone who buys lighters. Something about a juvenile who used a lighter and accidentally set his house on fire.

           The law doesn’t say a person must be at least 18 to buy a cigarette lighter. But, the reasoning is that people buy cigarette lighters to-well-light cigarettes. Therefore, cigarette lighters-which can be used for many things other than to light up-also must be controlled. So, every adult, from the 20s to the gray-haired elderly, will also be “carded” when they buy lighters.

           If this restrictive and selective enforcement continues, we might soon see stores carding people who buy cups, because they could be used to hold beer. Anyone who buys watermelons would be carded since plugged, spiked, and corked watermelons are a delightful summer treat. Jello, once promoted by all-American “dad” Bill Cosby, would be suspect, since there aren’t many college parties without Jello shots.

           Unlike the sale of cigarettes and liquor, there is no age restriction on most foods. So, various health-nut organizations and not-so-bright legislators have decided to tax foods they don’t think are acceptable. Several legislators have tried, but so far have failed, to enact legislation that would tax high-calorie foods. New York Gov. David Patterson wants to levy a 15 percent tax on any juice or drink except diet sodas, bottled water, coffee, tea, and milk.

           Eventually, we’ll see a special “obesity tax” placed against anything sold at a fast food restaurant.          

           When you break through the smoke and mirrors, governments really don’t care about anyone’s health. They do care about ways to generate revenue. Gov. Patterson readily acknowledges that the “obesity tax” in New York would generate about US$400 million additional revenue. New York also leads the nation in cigarette taxes. A smoker in New York City pays about $9 per pack, which includes a 39 cents federal tax, a $2.75 state tax, a $1.50 city tax, plus an 8 percent sales tax on top of everything else. Chicago is second, with taxes totaling $3.66 a pack. States and the federal government collect about $26 billion a year in cigarette taxes, according to a New York Times report in August 2008.

           Liquor taxes aren’t meant to make anyone healthy, except the state economy. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a five cent a drink tax that, had the legislature not tabled the suggestion, would have raised $600 million a year. Overall, the federal government collected more than $9 billion in taxes, while states collected an additional $6 billion, according to a comprehensive analysis published in June 2007 by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

           With budgets being pumped up by numerous “sin taxes,” it won’t be long until someone figures out they need not only to card buyers of cigarette lighters, cups, watermelons, and Jello, but that there also needs to be special excise taxes upon these products as well.

[The assistance of Rosemary R. Brasch is appreciated. Walter Brasch’s latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com, bn.com, and most bookstores. You may contact Dr. Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu, or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]

 

House Passes Economic Stimulus

It is interesting how unconcerned Republicans were about the federal deficit the past 28 years but now are suddenly getting religion.  Of course this is when we need deficit spending.  I’ve always opposed balance budget amendments because in times of world war or serious economic depression the country may need deficit spending.  Now is one of those times.

The House passed President Obama’s economic stimulus plan this evening on a mostly party line vote of 244-188.  Eleven Democrats voted against the bill.  Every Republican opposed the plan.  The lone Pennsylvania Democrat to vote NO was Paul Kanjorski who issued this statement:

“I strongly agree that we must stimulate our economy to help it recover from the current crisis,” said Congressman Kanjorski.  “However, considering the magnitude of this program, it is vitally important that the Congress and American people fully understand both the problem and proposed solution.  All Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle needed to provide their input, but unfortunately this was not possible.  I hope that the Senate will make necessary changes to the bill so that I can support it in its final version and help rebuild our economy.  Lastly, I applaud President Obama’s efforts and goals to pass a recovery package.  We have the opportunity to turn our economy around and I look forward to working with him and Congress to improve the current bill.”  

Floor statement:

MR. KANJORSKI.  Madam Speaker, I rise today to offer my thoughts about H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Revitalization Act.

I regret than I cannot support the legislation in its current form.  While I absolutely agree that we must stimulate our economy to help it recover from its troubled state, I am concerned that this bill does not represent an effective plan to ensure our economic recovery.

We face the most challenging economic crisis since the Great Depression, yet this bill merely throws money at the problem by expanding existing programs.  We have not taken the time to fully understand the nature and the full scope of the collapse of our economy, and so we have not taken the time to understand how to target the problems with innovative solutions.  While I recognize the urgency of the situation, we would do better to follow the advice of an old civil engineer friend of mine who often cautioned that to do a job correctly, it is better to go slow in the planning to allow you to go fast in the implementation.

Just one example of the difficulty we will have in getting this money spent well was described in today’s Washington Post, which quoted a state energy office director lamenting how he was going to have to figure out how to spend 35 times as much money as he normally gets in a year, using new funds allocated in this stimulus.  Pennsylvania’s own transportation department has indicated that its “shovel-ready” projects are not so ready that they can be started within the ninety days sought by Transportation Chairman Oberstar, who rightfully is seeking to expedite these funds to get spent as quickly as possible.  Having dealt with publicly-financed projects for more than forty years, I can assure you that numerous federal, state and local regulations will provide numerous obstacles to getting this money spent both quickly and wisely.  I sought to offer an amendment which would have allowed a waiver of many of these restrictions because – to the best of my knowledge – there is no provision in this bill to allow federal administrators to waive regulations under these extraordinary circumstances.  

My Republican colleagues raise a reasonable objection that they were not fully included as the framework of this legislation was constructed.  Perhaps I am one of the few Democrats who will acknowledge publicly that most Democrats were also not included.  This is wrong.  When undertaking the most significant and certainly most expensive program of my Congressional career and maybe in our nation’s history, it is vitally important that all Members of Congress first understand the problem we are addressing and then fully participate in determining how best to solve that problem.  It has been my experience that the most successful policies are those which many minds have constructed.

In addition to Members of Congress fully understanding what we are trying to do and why, it is vitally important in a representative democracy for the American people to understand both the problem and the proposed solution.  We rushed through the so-called TARP program without educating the American people, and they are convinced it was a bailout of Wall Street.  I helped to draft the TARP program and voted for it because I believed that it was absolutely essential that we act immediately, despite the suspicions voiced by my constituents.  The need for an economic stimulus is indeed urgent, but it is not so much of an emergency that we cannot afford to take the time to think so that we can do it right.

No piece of legislation is ever perfect; I recognize that compromise is always necessary to reflect the diverse interests of a country as heterogeneous as ours.  Had we reached this bill through a more orderly, bipartisan basis, I very well may have cast my vote for it.  I still hope that the Senate will make enough necessary corrections that I will be able to support a final version.  Let me now highlight my substantive objections to this bill.

First, infrastructure projects were an initial focus of a recovery package, but that focus has dwindled to just $90 billion out of an $825 billion bill.  For every $1 billion we spend in infrastructure, we create upwards of 30,000 jobs.  It seems to me that this is a proven method of creating jobs and additional funds should be put towards this area of spending.

In addition, from my perspective, we need to focus more on helping those who are unemployed or retired.  While many people are struggling, we must help those without jobs feed their families immediately.  One of the major tax provisions of this bill is the $500 tax credit for individuals and $1,000 for couples.  While this tax credit may provide relief to working families, it will not help individuals who are unemployed since the credit will be provided through a reduction in payroll taxes for workers.

Moreover, I am concerned about the disproportionate impact this bill will have.  Without doubt, much of the funding will go to large urban areas, while areas like my Congressional District which are more rural, will receive much less funding, even though our unemployment rate is higher than the national average.  Residents of my Congressional district are struggling just as much as those living in urban areas.

Finally, a recovery bill should include funding for localities.  Many counties, cities and municipalities across the country are facing significant funding shortfalls as a result of the ongoing economic downturn.  These budget shortfalls have resulted in local officials having to make difficult decisions about cutting jobs, reducing services, or raising taxes on their citizens.

That is why I offered an amendment to H.R. 1 to reinstate a General Revenue Sharing program.  More than 30 years ago, as our country experienced another period of prolonged economic stress, we put in place a General Revenue Sharing grant program.  Between 1972 and 1986, $83 billion was transferred from the federal government under this program.  This funding provided localities with a needed source of revenue for undertaking job-creating infrastructure projects and maintaining public safety networks.  I am disappointed that this amendment was not allowed under the rule.

In closing, I support a recovery package that creates jobs and builds our infrastructure.  Americans and our economy are struggling and we must act to help them.  But, I strongly believe that we can make improvements to this bill so it will be as effective and efficient as possible in restoring our economy and helping Americans.

Where’s The Bet?

I was disappointed we didn’t have an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl.  I had an entire satirical article planned wherein Gov. Rendell would make a wager with himself and they’d move the game to Beaver Stadium.  Maybe the Guv should just go ahead and make a bet with himself because the new Governor of Arizona has yet to agree to terms.  The game will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals for those non sports fans among our blog community (Kirk).

In the absence of a bet I will offer this proposal:  if the Steelers win Arizona has to give Larry Fitzgerald to the Eagles.  He did go to school at Pitt so its time for Philadelphia to enjoy the gifted wide receiver.  Arizona gets another shot at the Phillies if the Cardinals win.  Aside from the serious side of the bet we should involve food, the traditional bet.  Rendell, of course, can bet some Iron City beer (that’ll teach them to win) and cheese steaks, pretzels, and faschnacts.  Arizona can send…what, exactly, do they eat in Arizona?  Sand?  OK, a bucket full of sand sprinkled with hot sauce.

Maybe Arizona should just pound sand.

Pennsylvania Settles With Countrywide Financial

Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced a settlement with Countrywide Financial which could save 10,000 Pennsylvanians from foreclosure.  The $150 million will go towards those with sub prime and pay-option borrowers.  Predatory lending was a major cause of the economic meltdown which began in the Poconos and shifted across the country.  Saving 10,000 homeowners from foreclosure will help though it will not solve all the problems.