Panel Orders Orie Melvin’s Pay Stopped

Justice Joan Orie Melvin will no longer collect her $195,000+ salary while on trial for corruption.  The Court of Judicial Discipline determined her conduct was so “egregious” to necessitate the action.  While a Superior Court Judge she ordered and berated her staff to conduct campaign work in her chambers, on state time and with state resources.  Many legislators and staffers in the State House went to prison for doing the same thing yet, even during those BonusGate trials Orie Melvin had the hubris to do the very same thing while running for her Supreme Court seat.

Sister Janine Orie is also on trial for orchestrating the scheme and sister Jane Orie is in prison after surrendering her Senate seat after her conviction.  A few things seem common to the Orie sisters:  greed, hubris and corruption.

Clint Eastwood Acts Bizarre

Clint Eastwood took the stage last night and made himself a fool.  Doddering and rambling he acted as if he were debating President Obama, represented by an empty chair.  Eastwood wound up as an empty suit as he acted as if the President were telling him to go f*ck himself.  Very undignified, very callous and very unprofessional.  The entire schtick reminds us why he was a dramatic actor and doesn’t do comedy.   If this were a comedy club he’d have been booed off the stage.  Instead I felt sorry for him and for whomever came up with this piece of crap to highlight the final night of the Republican Convention.

This is how they chose to climax their biggest night?

After Paul Ryan was roundly criticized for his string of lies and misrepresentations Wednesday the GOP needed to re-establish some credibility yesterday.  They rolled out Clint Eastwood, a lifelong Republican and former Mayor of Carmel, California but should have rolled him into a nursing home instead.

Mitt Romney then took the stage to accept the nomination and forgot who the President of Russia was while fueling a conspiracy theory based on something taken out of context.  Back in 2000 Al Gore was accused of being a liar by conservatives.  One writer has now counted 533 lies told by Mitt Romney and we aren’t even at Labor Day.  If Romney were in the Olympics for lying he’d win the gold.  When he began politicizing Neil Armstrong I couldn’t take it any longer and turned him off.  Armstrong spent his life avoiding the public glare so as not to cheapen his famous deed.  Mitt Romney did it for him.

Maybe nothing better signified the modern day GOP than an incident where a CNN camera woman was pelted with peanuts because “this is how we feed the animals.”  She’s African-American.

GOP Celebrates the Oppression of Big Business

The Republican National Convention has been nothing short of a huge celebration of the power of Big Business.  Fueled by about a dozen billionaires, one of whom has pledged to give $100 million to defeat the President, they have orated for two days about the horrors of Big Government.  That’s because Big Government is the only check to Big Business.  The Gilded Age II is what they want to restore, a time of monopolies, no worker rights, massive profits and oppression of the people.

Paul Ryan spoke last night about crowning the Reagan Revolution.  Its aim was to starve the federal government through massive debt until they could justify cutting all social programs for the poor, minorities, the elderly and children.  Ryan’s Budget does just that:  30 million thrown off health care by repealing ObamaCare, another 30 million tossed out of Medicaid, veterans benefits slashed, food stamps, home heating and housing assistance would all see the chopping block.  

They say they’re doing this because we have to.  Wrong.  By ending the wars, repealing the Bush Tax Cuts and reviving the economy we can afford to take care of the poor.  We do not need to rob from the poor to further enrich the rich which is what Paul Ryan’s policies do.  As many have labeled it Romney Hood, these folks want to take away the safety net, give more tax cuts to the 1% and explode the deficit once again.  Ryan does not pay for his latest round of tax cuts which give the rich a 1% tax rate.

Conservative prevaricators have been flooding the letters to the editor columns with lies about the Ryan Budget plan for Medicare.  He slashes it by $716 billion to give more tax cuts to the rich.  No one age 54 or under will get Medicare even though they’ve been paying into the program for years.  Those over 54 get to remain in the successful and popular program but when they die off it disappears.  That’s getting rid of Medicare.  One you attain the age of 67 (yes, that age of eligibility increases under Ryan) you get a voucher for $6,000 to go out and purchase a policy costing $12,400.  Maybe they’ll accept your pre-existing conditions but probably not meaning you’re on your own.

The theme of the convention is “We Built This.”  Yes, Republicans built this disaster.  Even as Paul Ryan bemoans the fact his Party caused all the problems he doesn’t want to take personal responsibility for it.  Ryan voted for the unfunded wars, he voted for the Bush Tax Cuts and he voted for Bush Budgets which exploded the deficit.  He voted for failed economic policies but he won’t accept responsibility for those actions.  So much for personal responsibility in today’s Republican Party.

They have a huge Deficit Clock going in the Center, built with 62% government funding.  A banner saying “we built this” should hang over it because the GOP created this deficit.  Ronald Reagan increased the debt by $1.9 trillion, George H.W. Bush by $1.3 trillion and George W. Bush by $5.1 trillion then passed along a failed economy which created another $5 trillion hole.  They want to blame Barack Obama for their mess though.  We’ll see exactly how stupid America has become on November 6th.

Tom Smith Equates Rape With Getting Knocked Up

Tom Smith told an Associated Press interviewer that getting impregnated by rape is comparable to getting pregnant out of wedlock.  The Pennsylvania U.S. candidate running for Bob Casey Jr’s seat was asked how he’d tell a woman who was raped that she must keep and raise that child.  He replied that he’d gone through the same thing when a family member got pregnant through pre-marital sex.

Getting laid isn’t the same as getting raped Mr. Smith.

Rocky Anderson Runs For President

Rocky Anderson, the progressive former Mayor of Salt Lake City, brought his presidential campaign to Harrisburg and Philadelphia yesterday.  I covered his event at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg where around 15 people came to hear his stand on the nation and issues facing voters.  He began by citing both major Parties for ballot access issues and their refusal to allow third party candidates into debates.  As he says this does stifle democracy because the people are given only two real choices for president.  The PA GOP is challenging Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s petitions.  Green Party candidate Jill Stein will be on the Pennsylvania ballot this year.

A lot of progressives have been talking about Anderson so I thought an opportunity to see and meet him was in the cards since he’d be nearby.  You can always tell a fledgling campaign when the candidate is helping put up his signs and banner.

Anderson was friendly and personable, maybe too personable.  A Cumberland County Republican committeeman hijacked the Q&A portion of the event to give his own speech for about fifteen minutes.  No one opted to cut him off and explain that this wasn’t his event.  At that point my two hour parking window closed and I had to leave.

Anderson spoke about how voting for a third party candidate is not throwing your vote away if it means voting for someone who shares your values and beliefs.  He said voting for the lesser of two evils means you’re part of the problem.  Of course many people think voting for someone other than a major party candidate is just that:  throwing your vote away but I slept well the past four years knowing I hadn’t thrown mine away voting for someone who kept Gitmo open, signed a bill allowing the President to unlawfully arrest and detain citizens indefinitely, used drones to kill thousands of women and children in countries with which we aren’t at war, continue rendition and torture policies and commit warrantless wiretapping domestically.  There’s a lot not to like abut Barack Obama on national security and civil liberty issues.

These were Anderson’s strong points as he laid out the case for not supporting Obama this year.  He went through the litany of crimes for which most presidents (including George W. Bush who began all of this) should be impeached.  The bottom line is that most progressives and liberals will hold their noses and vote for Obama because the risk of having a Romney/Ryan administration is simply too dangerous.  The paradox is that by everyone voting for the lesser of two evils we’re always stuck with an evil in the White House.  That’s democracy, you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get.

My Sony Bloggie bugged out on me again about half an hour into Rocky’s speech so just move on to Part 2.  I’m not sure why it sometimes shuts itself off but I won’t buy another one (the software sucks too).

Chaos at the PennDOT

(Charging for an ID makes this a poll tax. – promoted by John Morgan)

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Now that Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has given the green light to Pennsylvania’s strictest in-the-nation Voter ID Law, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians will have to make their way to their local PennDOT office to get a photo ID. We can tell you, it won’t be easy.

This summer, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center recruited volunteers to visit PennDOT offices across the Commonwealth and tell us about their experiences trying to obtain free photo ID under the new law. The results of that survey are in our new report, Pennsylvania’s Identity Crisis: Rushed Implementation of Voter ID Law Puts Voting Rights at Risk.

Volunteers visited 43 PennDOT centers in 27 counties across the commonwealth, representing three-quarters of the state’s population. They completed a survey that looked at very simple things: whether there was signage, if forms were available, if there was information that the IDs could be available for free, if volunteers got accurate information. We were surprised just how difficult it was for our volunteers to get the right information and the right forms – and they knew exactly what to ask for. 

The report finds that voters are likely to be frustrated in their attempts to secure a free ID from PennDOT. Some volunteers found the offices weren’t open the first time they visited and they had to return another time. There was no signage and limited information in half the sites, and the forms needed to secure a free ID were not available most of the time. In almost half the cases, voters received information that proved to be incomplete or inaccurate from staff at the centers. Problems were as likely to occur in Franklin and Luzerne counties as in Philadelphia or Allegheny County.

Providing a free ID to anyone who needs it is one of the key constitutional tests of the validity of a state’s voter ID law, and we found Pennsylvania is not making the grade. Most volunteers were not told they could have an ID for free, and in 30% of the visits, they were told incorrectly they had to pay.

Few Informed that Voter ID Could Be Obtained at No Cost

We report on a man who took 16 people from his church to the PennDOT at 8th and Arch Street in Philadelphia, where they were told incorrectly they had to pay for a photo ID. Twelve of the 16 didn’t have the money with them and left empty-handed.  

The Department of State is rolling out a new Commonwealth ID next week, which may end up creating more problems than solutions. 

The bottom line is that the Commonwealth isn’t ready to get an ID to everyone who needs it for the November election, and unless we put on the brakes, people will be disenfranchised. They sure ain’t making it easy. 

Pennsylvania’s Natural Gas Tax Giveaway Exceeds $500 Million Mark

By Michael Wood, Third and State

The state’s Department of Environmental Production (DEP) recently published a biannual report on Marcellus Shale production in Pennsylvania. (Most states require monthly reporting, but that is a different story.) In the data, we can now see how much the state has really given away by refusing to put a robust gas extraction tax in place – and the sum is staggering.

From July 2009 to June 2012, over $8 billion worth of natural gas was extracted from Pennsylvania’s share of the Marcellus Shale. The Commonwealth would have collected more than $500 million had we had West Virginia’s natural gas tax in place. Instead, we got $0.

The recent DEP report was incomplete, as the Associated Press highlighted. Production from Chesapeake Energy (likely the state’s largest gas producer) wasn’t included nor disclosed as being missing in the initial release. Add in the production from Chesapeake over the last six months, and the lost tax revenue figure would be even bigger.

You may remember the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s “drilling tax ticker,” which tallied up the lost revenue to the state from not having a meaningful drilling tax in place. Those figures were based on conservative estimates of per-well Marcellus Shale production. We now have real production data (well, all drillers but Chesapeake) to analyze – giving us more accurate estimates.

Gas producers will pay an annual drilling impact fee beginning September 1, 2012, but the proceeds from the fee are expected to be lower than a modest drilling tax would bring in – even at today’s low natural gas prices.
Click to enlarge

How could this foregone $500 million over the last three years been used?

  • Rehire 3,000 teachers;
  • Save General Assistance for 68,000 needy Pennsylvanians;
  • Restore funding for parks and environmental protection; or
  • Help the state meet growing pension obligations.

Pennsylvania continues to lose out on this one-time resource and may possibly be turning our natural bounty into a resource curse. These new data give us an idea of how much we are giving away.

Romney Tax Return Provides a Window to His Soul

by Walter Brasch

When a craven of buffoons and bigots disguised in the bodies of Birthers figured that anyone with dark skin and a foreign name had to be born outside the U.S., Barack Obama provided a birth certificate. Not just the usual “short form,” but a state-certified copy of the “long form” that detailed he was born in Hawaii, which some birthers apparently think is a foreign territory, to a mother who was a natural-born U.S. citizen.  

That, of course, was not enough for the whackadoodles who claimed, among other things, that the President’s birth certificate was altered or forged. All of their claims have been debunked by scientific evidence. Of course, they produced their own poorly-forged birth certificate that they said “proved” President Obama was born in Kenya.

In February, billionaire Donald (Look-at-How-Wonderful I-Am) Trump, an unabashed Birther, stood next to multi-millionaire Mitt Romney in a Las Vegas casino and endorsed him for the Republican nomination. A few months earlier, Trump had gotten significant face-time in the media while flirting with the idea of running for the presidency while whining about Romney. “He’d buy companies. He’d close companies. He’d get rid of jobs,” Trump crowed. But now, with Romney running well ahead in the primary contests, Trump was trying to be relevant and stay in the political spotlight. Romney, for his part, smiled and said nothing to suggest that Trump could be wrong about pursuing the birther argument. Trying to have everyone like him, one of the most unlikable presidential candidates refused to repudiate Trump’s birther views.

Unlike Barack Obama, Mitt Romney does have a secret. This one is buried within what he either did or did not report to the IRS.

It’s traditional, but not required, that presidential nominees release copies of their tax returns. Most people have no idea how to read a tax return, especially one with dozens of amendments, filings, and schedules. But, the posting of the returns is a form of trust.

Barack Obama has released his returns. Romney’s father, George, former governor of Michigan and presidential candidate in 1968, released 12 years, thus setting a standard for future presidential candidates.

At first the flip-flopping Romney said he didn’t plan to release the returns. Then he said, “Maybe.” Then he declared he’d release only the previous two years’ returns. Then he said that because of the complexity of the return, he filed for an extension from the IRS so he could file after the April 15 deadline for the 2011 return. Then this past week before a fundraiser he said he “never paid less than 13 percent. . . . So I paid taxes every single year.” He expected us just to believe him. He never defined whether that was just income taxes, or included all taxes paid, including social security, local, and state taxes, thus making the federal income tax even lower.

Let’s pretend he meant income taxes. Even at 13 percent, it’s one of the lowest tax rates. In 2011, Romney had a gross income of about $21 million, according to a partial return Romney finally allowed to be posted. The effective tax rate for persons with incomes over $1 million, according to the Tax Foundation, averages about 25 percent.

But, most of Ann and Mitt Romney’s reported income in 2011 was based on capital gains. In 2003, the Bush-Cheney administration had lowered capital gains taxes to only 15 percent, primarily benefitting the wealthy. If the Romneys did not take most of their money from investment capital, their tax bracket would be 35 percent.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered.

The first questions are about that extension for the 2011 taxes. With a fleet of lawyers and accountants, why did the Romneys need at least a five month extension to file a return? Was it to massage the data for public consumption? Equally important, if he needed this extension to file a personal income tax return, what does that say about his ability to govern a nation with a $2.3 trillion budget?

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints tithe to the church. The Romneys acknowledge donating $2.5 million in cash to the church in 2011. Were they overly generous? Or, does that contribution reflect that the Romneys’ income may have been about $25 million. If that is the case, where did the rest go? Ann Romney told NBC News, “We also give 10% of our income to charity.” According to a partial return in 2011, the Romneys claim they donated about $4 million to charity. If Ann Romney is a accurate, that would be a $40 million income, twice what is claimed.

Why Romney won’t release tax returns prior to 2010 may be because secrets are buried in 2009. According to BuzzFlash’s Mark Karlin, citing Lawrence O’Donnell’s pointed queries, “Romney may have taken advantage of a 2009 IRS amnesty period to disclose hidden income in offshore accounts but subject to US taxation. The amnesty offer allowed such persons to escape potential criminal prosecution for tax evasion.” It would be nice to know how much income was diverted to off-shore accounts in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Switzerland, and into various tax-shelters the average American has no idea even exist.

That leads to an obvious question. How much of the Romneys’ income over the past decade, not just the two years when he was planning to run for president, had deductions that might be questionable to the average person who doesn’t have lawyers and accountants on retainer? Certainly, taking a $77,000 write-off in 2010 for a show horse isn’t something the average American can do. Working with an onerous tax code, loaded with myriad special interest loopholes, the Romneys know how to take everything wealthy Americans are entitled to receive. It may be legal, but is it ethical?

Frankly, it doesn’t make much difference how much Romney earned, how he earned it, what he did with it, or how he and some extremely bright tax advisors took advantage of the system created by lobbyists and Congress. What does matter is that by stonewalling, obfuscating, and refusing to give full disclosure, he appears to have something to hide. And upon that-and that alone-the people and the media need to pursue why Romney is reluctant to release financial data. It’s a matter not of how rich he is, but a matter of trust and a window into his soul.

[Walter Brasch has been covering local, state, and presidential political races for almost four decades. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the American counter-culture and media of the ’60s as a base to understand today’s social issues.]


Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(… Protests Ryan organized a protest outside the Paul Ryan event in West Chester this afternoon.  Quite a few women showed up protesting Congressman Todd Akin, a close ally of Ryan, and New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg told the crowd he disagrees with “Lyin’ Ryan.”  Congressional candidates Manan Trivedi and George Badey also appeared.  A plane paid for by Move.On flew overhead:

This sign sums up the Ryan Plan for Medicare:

Sen. Lautenberg:

A number of Republicans engaged the speakers rather rudely.  You can hear them in the video.  A tracker for Congressman Meehan asked Badey about ObamaCare.  The video:

Stupid Republicans

Paul Ryan came to the Keystone State today with two stops.  I went tot he one this afternoon outside West Chester at the Helicopter Museum.  The venue was appropriate since many of those in attendance seem to be high on something because they sure aren’t living in the real world.  As usual for GOP events the crowd I saw was entirely caucasian.  No overt racism was evident but I did find one man who I saw berating the protesters.  I engaged him since I knew he was mouthy and he didn’t disappoint.  He blamed Obama for the bad economy instead of the Republicans who caused the mess.  I suppose his solution to the problem is to go back for more poison because the antidote is taking too long to work.

Here’s a graph of job losses under Republican Bush and job gains under Democrat Obama:

Our second Stupid Republican (am I being redundant?) of the day was wearing a shirt condemning the out of context remark about Obama saying to businessmen “you didn’t build that.”  Of course the “that’ to which he was referring was all the government infrastructure which aids their businesses, not their businesses.  Context and grammar are critical.  I asked him about his shirt then told him that, perhaps, he should go look at the entire quote:

Here’s the full quote:

OBAMA: [L]ook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That’s how we funded the GI Bill.  That’s how we created the middle class.  That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

Of course this businessman didn’t build the roads and bridges, the electrical grid, the water and sewage systems, the internet, the court system protecting his contracts, the police and fire departments protecting his business, the foreign markets to which he can export etc.  As the President said business success is a public/private cooperative enterprise.  Government is here to support businesses.  The businessman didn’t build those things.