Law and Order and Racism

While at the Democratic State Committee meeting last weekend I had an exchange with a candidate who bragged his Republican opponent would not be able to “out law and order me.”  I wasn’t pleased to hear a Democratic candidate using a racist policy as a campaign platform and said so.  He thought I was calling him a racist and got upset.  I wasn’t, I said the policy was racist and he needed to read “The New Jim Crow” to understand why it is racist.  Simply supporting a policy isn’t racist unless you understand it is racist.  Only if you do and remain supportive are you racist also.  This is an important difference.

Law and order platforms are racist because they have been used to justify the mass incarceration of minorities.  Michelle Alexander lays it out quite thoroughly in her book and, rather than re-write her book here I urge everyone to read it and understand this important issue.  Further you can watch the two hour discussion we had on the book and issue on a recent BCTV segment of “Community Conversations.”

Democratic State Committee Wrap-Up

Pennsylvania Democrats met today in Hershey and narrowly endorsed Philadelphia Judge Joe Waters for Superior Court.  They also passed a resolution supporting President Obama’s common sense gun safety measures and sent one supporting a fracking moratorium back for revisions.  A proposed by laws change requiring all 67 county committees to adopt a uniform procedure for removing elected Committee persons is advancing.  I was told to leave the By Laws Committee meeting where it was discussed.  That, again, was a violation of the DNC Charter.

Numerous candidates held receptions last night.  Max Myers and John Hanger, both announced candidates for Governor next year, spoke with various State Committee persons for their long shot efforts.  Both Judicial candidates wined and dined the crowd and Lt. Governor candidate Brad Koplinski joined with the Young Dems for a late party in the lobby.

Former Congressman Tim Holden showed up today but wouldn’t say why.  When someone like that suddenly shows up it normally means they’re contemplating a run for some office.

Gubernatorial A-list candidates Rob McCord, Tom Wolf and Ed Pawlowski all milled around the hallways talking about their candidacies.  Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, while not availing herself of the chance to begin gaining valuable endorsement votes for next year, announced she is a candidate.  She hired State Party staffer Aubrey Montgomery immediately for her campaign.  Joe Sestak didn’t make an appearance.  If you’re a serious candidate you needed to be in Hershey this weekend.  The last two years there were only two meetings a year due to circumstances and a golden opportunity to begin talking to those who will be casting the endorsement votes in a year was critical.

Should Schwartz capture the nomination in what appears to be a strong field she wouldn’t run for re-election to Congress.  While legally able to do so from a practical standpoint she really can’t.  That’ll open that seat for State Sen. Daylin Leach.  While wholly supportive of Allyson Schwartz whatever she decides he is poised to succeed her if the opportunity arises.  Obviously it would be premature for him to come out and say so publicly.  Rep. Tim Briggs might be the obvious successor for his seat.  

When the Party went through its list of recently deceased members I half expected them to memorialize the current Governor’s deathly approval ratings (now 26%) and his chances for re-election.  Of course that’s why there’s such a strong field of contenders lusting for his position.

I was disappointed in Judge Waters.  He spent Friday telling people his opponent was anti-labor because some members of his law firm are.  In a large law firm you’ll have that.  What Waters did was guilt by association and showed me flaws in his character.  That would be akin to Mr. Wozcik saying that since Philadelphia Traffic Court Judges were indicted last week therefore Waters is also corrupt.  

Mayor Ed Pawlowski chatting with fellow Gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wolf:

Pawlowski and Wolf photo DSCN2521_zpsa47df23a.jpg

Democratic State Committee Friday Afternoon Sessions

I got to Hershey around 2 PM and sat through two Deminars which discussed circulating candidate’s nominating petitions and issue advocacy.  Election law attorney Adam Bonin conducted the first one on petitions and did a very good job.  That entire process is filled with land mines for candidates and though about fifty people attended I didn’t see many candidates there.  If you can’t get on the ballot winning an elected position is very difficult.

The second seminar had to do with building a campaign around a single issue and the battle over Voter ID was their focus,  It basically became a session where the State Democratic office staff gave themselves a (well earned) pat on the back for their efforts last year.

I milled around and spoke and chatted with numerous people.  There are some interesting ideas being tossed around for the early morning caucuses tomorrow.  A resolution against fracking is on the agenda and proposed by laws change which goes to the issues I had with Berks County Democrats in 2007 is proceeding.  Brad Kirsch from Bucks County is concerned about senior issues and Roger Lund of Gettysburg is concerned about the lack of openness of last year’s LGBT convention delegates.  I’ll be pursuing those two latter issues in more depth this weekend.

The Governor’s privatization of the lottery affects senior citizens directly and I haven’t seen much discussion over that point as yet.  Right now profits from the lottery fund programs for seniors.  The Guv is proposing using the billion dollars he expects to get from selling the state stores for education but that puts a $500 million hole in his General Funds budget.  The obvious place to get those funds would be the lottery.

The Women’s Caucus held a candidates forum between the two men looking for tomorrow’s endorsement for Superior Court.  With but 30 seconds to answer three questions there wasn’t much to discern from them other than individual styles.  The event was so short as to be useless.

Tonight receptions are being held all over the Hershey Lodge by various candidates.  That’s usually when things get interesting and people talk after downing a few drinks.

Rob McCord Sounds Like A Candidate

I had a few minutes to chat with Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord and asked the obvious question:  is he running for Governor next year?  He replied that he’s at State Committee to celebrate last year’s sweep of state row offices and a talk about the Governor’s race was premature.  He and the other two Democratic state Row Officers Kathleen Kane and Eugene Depasquale were joining McCord in a celebration of last year’s victories.  Of course everyone here is really more interested in next year’s race than last year’s.

McCord definitely sounded like a candidate as he mentioned Tom Corbett’s dismal job record.  The Commonwealth has lost so many jobs under Gov. Gasbag that we’re now over the national unemployment rates.  This after he promised a wealth of new jobs from fracking.  Unless you’re a truck driver most of those are filled by temporary transplants from Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas here staying in fleabag motels.  The Treasurer speculated to me that a Democratic nominee with a proven track record of creating jobs (him) would make a good candidate to go against Corbett.  That’s an issue not much of the state’s press has covered yet and I asked if this was an issue on the radar yet.  He responded that economic issues are slower to get on the public’s consciousness as other more scandalous ones.  He intimated that it will.

If you’re a serious candidate for the 2014 Democratic endorsement you need to be in Hershey this weekend.  Last year there were only two State Party conferences due to Hurricane Sandy.  A serious candidate needs to be in Hershey this weekend beginning to talk with those who will be voting next year.  These twelve months will fly past quickly.  If you aren’t here you aren’t a serious candidate.

I haven’t seen any other of the major names being bandied about but Allyson Schwartz stickers are being handed out with no office printed upon them.  John Hanger is hosting a reception tonight as well as Max Myers.  Neither one has much chance of being the nominee.

PA Dems Meet This Weekend

Pennsylvania Democrats are meeting tomorrow and Saturday at the Hershey Lodge.  The winter meeting is always interesting because it is their endorsement event.  Judicial races on the ballot this year means Friday night receptions as the candidates attempt to wine and dine the State Committee members.  The ones with the best (and freest) booze and food usually win.  I’ve actually overheard Committee people say they vote based on who has the best spread.

A lot of potential 2014 candidates should be found roaming the halls, chatting people in the bar and in the restaurant.  Tom Wolf is about ready to launch his gubernatorial effort and this week Brad Koplinski commenced his campaign for Lt. Governor.  Brad is a good guy but if Dems want to oust Gov. gasbag another unbalanced (east/west) ticket might doom them.  Not having anyone from SE Pennsylvania helped put Corbett in the Governors Mansion.

There will be interesting resolutions coming up for a vote.  I expect a lot of talk about fracking this weekend.  Snow is also expected though not enough to cause the problems they had a few years ago in Lancaster.  

I’m wondering if the Democrats are ready to apologize to me for kicking me out of the Southwestern Caucus meeting last summer.  As a result of this breach of Party rules I stopped covering their candidates.  It was the third time it happened in violation of the DNC Charter and, well you know, three strikes and you’re out.

I plan on asking various officials how they feel about the Party being so closely tied to predator priest protector Rep. Thomas Caltagirone.  Here’s a nifty quiz for them:  explain how Graham Spanier is to Jerry Sandusky as Tom Caltagirone is to child molesting priests?  How much do they want to be compared with The Second Mile?  How close do they want to be to the guy who blocked reform legislation that would have gone after those predatory priests?

Gov Gasbag Proposes Gutting Pensions

As if he hasn’t done enough damage to the state’s economy in his first two years Gov. gasbag proposed today gutting state employee pensions.  In his annual budget address he called for a choice between either educating our children or providing for our seniors.  How about a third choice:  raising taxes on corporations so we can do both.  The Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans released a statement from its President Jean Friday:

Pennsylvania Seniors are growing weary of Governor Tom Corbett’s false choices. As we enter another state budget season, we continue to hear that our state must choose between critical investments in our future and honoring our past obligations, between economic prosperity and social justice, between maintaining the institutions that serve our citizens and providing services that are worthy of the 21st Century.  Put another way, the Governor justifies bad ideas with manufactured crises.  Invariably, senior citizens get caught in the crossfire when the Governor plays these games that pit Pennsylvanians against one another.    

“In 2013 the Governor is putting the most classic false choice of all front and center – children vs. seniors.  After two years of harmful cuts to our public schools, the Governor threatens even more cuts if the state pension system is not ‘reformed’.  He knows that further cuts to public education will throw our school districts into crisis mode, forcing them to cut vital programs, lay off more teachers and hike property taxes.  He is counting on seniors like me, living on a fixed income, to abandon my belief that strong public schools are essential for our communities; and instead clamor for whatever solution he suggests, which in this case is an attack on pensions.  But who knows better how important pensions are than senior citizens?  Here at PARA, we know the facts.  We know that the state neglected its obligation to the pension for many years, leaving it unable to weather the economic downturn.  We know that significant cutbacks were made to future pensions in 2010.  We also know that any switch to a 401(k)-type system will make the pension’s funding problems WORSE, not better.

“The Governor offers another false choice on the issue of Medicaid, telling us that in order to maintain the program’s sustainability, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians will have to continue to go without Health Care coverage.  The Governor is rejecting Millions of Federal dollars and harming the quality of life for many Pennsylvania families while imperiling the fiscal health of many of our state’s hospitals, just to satisfy ideological concerns. This misguided decision will drive the cost of health care to continue to rise for ALL Pennsylvanians, as the uninsured use the emergency room as their primary care option; costing citizens and the state more money in the long run.

“But cutting back on schools, cutting back on pensions and keeping people uninsured aren’t our only options.  The Governor created this false choice by steadfastly refusing to afford the state with all the resources that are available.  There are several reasonable ways that the state could raise revenue without impacting the sales and income taxes that Pennsylvanians pay every day.  We could tax Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction at the same rate that our neighboring states of Ohio and West Virginia do, instead of the pittance we charge now.  We could adopt combined reporting of corporate income tax, so that 75% of the for-profit companies that operate in Pennsylvania can’t avoid paying any taxes at all to our state by opening PO Boxes in Delaware or using other loopholes.

“As if these revenue-starving measures weren’t enough, the Governor wants to make things worse by selling our Wine and Spirit Shops – an asset that provides $500 Million to the Commonwealth each year – for a one-time payoff.  In other words, he gets cash to soften the blow of his own budget ahead of his re-election campaign, while setting up more false choices down the road.

“The end result of another Corbett Budget, if it is allowed to become law, will be more job losses – teachers, liquor store workers, lottery workers – and reduced retirement security for the workers who are left.  All of that is bad news for PA businesses that depend on their local community for customers.  On top of that, it means less investment in the schools and colleges that are critical to making sure our future generations can compete in the global economy.  Maybe the false choices offered by Tom Corbett aren’t choices at all – since Pennsylvanians lose either way.

Umemployment in Pennsylvania is higher than the national average and while other states are crawling out of the fiscal hole created by failed Republican economic policies Tom Corbett is firing tens of thousands of our teachers, creating budget crises for local school districts and passing on higher property taxes to everyone.  His gutting of K12 and higher education in his first two years as Governor doesn’t seem to have been enough to whet his malicious appetite for destroying Pennsylvania’s economy as he now wants to go after teacher’s pensions.

Pensions are an integral part of public employee compensation packages, something negotiated with between PSEA and the school boards.  If the state thinks they can arbitrarily take away the fixed benefit pension plans like they took away their right to strike who will want to be a teacher in this state?  Public employees are already woefully underpaid compared with private sector college graduates and screwing them again will further destroy our public education system.


Numbering the Super Bowl

by Walter Brasch

    There are a lot of numbers for this weekend’s Super Bowl. Let’s begin with ticket prices.

    Tickets are $850 to $1250. That’s right. $850 to $1250 per ticket. That’s if you can find one. Most tickets are bought by the super-wealthy and corporations, and then deducted as business expenses.

    If you’re desperate, scalpers can get you a ticket for the upper decks for somewhere between $2,000 and $5,0000.

    A suite in the 400 level goes for between $100,000 and $300,000. It’s also tax-deductible for most who want to bring a few of their closest friends and business associates. The first Super Bowl tickets in 1967 maxed out at just $12 a seat.

    Hotel rooms cost a minimum of $400 a night, and escalate into the thousands. Want to rent a house near the game? Several are going for $10,000-$15,000 for the week.

    If you want to place a bet, that’s just between you and your friendly neighborhood bookie. If you plan to do it legally in Vegas, you’ll be among thousands who spend $90 million.

    Let’s say you want to just stay home and join 110 million others watching the game on your TV. All of them will watch a plethora of 30 second ads, each one costing almost $4 million. And that does not include production costs. In contrast, the first Super Bowl ads cost about $42,000 for 30 seconds.

    As in most Super Bowls Anheuser-Busch leads the league in ad placement. This year, it bought four and one-half minutes of air time, as hefty a buy as its much-loved Clydesdales.

    About eight million TV sets will be bought in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. Probably 10 percent or more big-screen TVs will be returned to the store in the week after the Super Bowl.

    The fans will buy about $1 billion in snacks. This includes about 53 million cases of beer and 1.2 billion wings. Domino’s alone will be delivering about 1.4 million pizza on game day. Americans-even racists who don’t want any more Hispanics in the U.S. – will dip millions of pounds of nacho chips into 80 million pounds of guacamole.

    About 5,200 media credentials have been issued. That’s 5,200 persons from the media whose newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, and even Internet websites, have paid a small nation’s gross domestic product so they can cover the Super Bowl.

We recognize that the Super Bowl is America’s party. A time to forget the blizzards and winds of war. But wouldn’t it be nice if the rest of the year we could get 5,200 members of the media to better cover poverty, homelessness, social injustice, education, labor issues, the economy, and even improve their coverage of politics?


Pennsylvania Among ‘Terrible 10’ Most Regressive Tax States

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Working families in Pennsylvania pay a far higher share of their income in state and local taxes than the state’s wealthiest earners, according to a new study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

Pennsylvania’s tax system scored so poorly that it made the list of the “Terrible 10” most regressive tax states in the nation.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) co-released the report, Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, with ITEP. PBPC Director Sharon Ward made the point in a press release that “No one would deliberately design a tax system where low-income working families pay the greatest share of their income in taxes, but that is exactly the type of upside-down tax system we have in Pennsylvania.”

Middle-income families in Pennsylvania pay more than double the share of their income in taxes than the very wealthiest Pennsylvanians, while low-income families pay nearly three times as much as top earners, the report found. Get more details on the report, including a Pennsylvania fact sheet, here.

PA State & Local Taxes: Shares of family income for non-elderly taxpayers

The report should bury once and for all the myth of the makers vs. the takers. Low-income families in Pennsylvania are paying much more of their income in state and local taxes than the top 1%.

Families who qualify for state personal income tax forgiveness still pay large shares of their earnings in sales, local income and property taxes, the report found. At the same time, wealthy taxpayers benefit greatly from tax laws that allow them to write off property and income taxes from their federal taxes. This is, at best, a modest benefit for middle-class families and no benefit to very low-income earners.

Pennsylvania’s flat income tax contributes to its regressive tax ranking. Without a graduated tax rate that rise on more affluent earners, the state’s income tax does little to offset more regressive sales and property taxes. 

That’s why Pennsylvania should amend the state Constitution to enact a graduated personal income tax. Even without a constitutional change, the state could set a higher income tax rate on investment income, which goes primarily to wealthy Pennsylvanians, without raising the rate on wage earners.

“The New Jim Crow”

Last evening I participated in a panel discussion of the book “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander on BCTV.  

Book photo TheNewJimCrow_zps30c53226.jpg

Alexander presents a strong case that the mass incarceration of people of color is an intentional, organized effort to replace slavery and Jim Crow with a new system to subjugate African-Americans and Hispanics.  Ronald Reagan decalred a War  On Drugs in 1982 and shortly thereafter cocaine and crack began flooding American cities.  Mass media dwelt on the new problem of crackheads and crime in inner cities although facts show white suburban residents use and sell as many illegal drugs as minorities in urban areas.  Federal funds poured into police departments and stop and frisk raids became routine subjecting young Black men to illegal searches.  Eventually we filled our prisons with minorities labeled felons for minor drug convictions.  Mandatory minimum sentencing laws were enacted and the Supreme Court closed the courthouse doors to appeals based on racial discrimination.

Today our prison industrial complex, including for profit privatized prisons, are incarcerating two million souls, most for minor drug offenses.  At a cost of $30,000/prisoner/year taxpayers are shouldering a burden many of them openly support.  Politicians who ran on “tough on crime” platforms sent code words to their racist supporters that they’d incarcerate Black Americans.  Once out of prison the system was changed to deny them not only the right to vote or sit on juries but to food stamps, subsidized housing, welfare and jobs.  Ironically the only way left for them to support themselves was in the underground, illegal economy.

The book is intriguing and upsetting.  The picture it paints of racist America made me angry that we allowed this to happen.  This is an important book which I urge everyone to read.