Tom Wolf, The Terrible

Tom "The Terrible" Wolf

Tom “The Terrible” Wolf

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has followed up his first blundering month in office with something a bit different …  Putting a stop to all forms of disagreement from within the Executive Branch of State Government!

Of course, when this happens you must have that first sacrificial lamb; and that lamb was the unfortunate, now former Chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, Bill Green.

Green was quickly and unceremoniously dumped from the chairmanship last week by Tom Wolf, The Terrible for crimes against the State, Education, and children of all ages.

His crime?  Disagreeing with Tom The Terrible (aka Triple T) on charter school applications in the Philadelphia School District!

You see, Triple T wanted the SRC to deny completely any and all applications for new charter schools in the beleaguered Philadelphia School District (PSD) for which the SRC has maintained oversight since December 2001.  The SRC resulted from frequent turmoil over school funding and poor performance, finally provoking the State to take over the schools.

Over the years, the situation became so bad in the school district that parents clamored for choices and a way to ensure quality educations for their children.  Part of the answer became privately run charter schools.

From the School Reform Commission website:

Charter Schools are independently operated public schools that are funded with federal, state and local tax dollars.  These schools are established to provide families with more educational alternatives for their children. Charters are non-profit, non sectarian, organizations that are approved by the local Board of Education   (the “authorizer”) or the State Appeal Board. Each charter has its own Board of Trustees and administrative staff and operates as a separate, independent  local educational agency (LEA) within Intermediate Unit 26 (IU 26).  The Pennsylvania Charter School Law – Act 22 of 1997 – set up charters to operate free of many of the local and state requirements that apply to traditional public schools.

Bill Green  He never had a chance!

Bill Green
He never had a chance!

The problem for the PSD is that the district – any school district, since charter schools are found throughout the state – must apportion any funding it receives to any charter school that enrolls district students.

Disagreement abounds about exactly what that cost is.  Current requirements state that a charter must be funded to $2000. per child enrolled.  The PSD asserts that the cost to the District is closer to $7000., but support for the figure is questionable.  Currently, the PSD faces an $80 million funding shortfall.

All this led to Triple T insisting that the SRC not approve ANY new charter school applications, despite parent pleas for more choices from even more charters, so long as they were properly overseen and provided quality education opportunities.

In February, faced with 39 applications for new charter schools, the SRC approved 5.

Yes, that’s right … just 5!

Many were disappointed in the SRC’s conservative approach.  Many expected 21 of 39 approvals.  Some were pushing for all 39!  The SRC approved 5.

No one was happy.  Not the Parents, not the State Legislature, not the school district.

Apparently Triple T was apoplectic!  So, just days later Triple T swung his mighty claymore and dislodged the Head of the SRC.

Tom's Terribly swift sword

Tom’s Terribly swift sword

Of course, the demoted – though yet to be completely vanquished – Bill Green should have seen this coming for miles from across the moor.  He should have seen Triple T’s armies amassed in the foggy distance.  Mighty steeds puffing hot breath in the cold, damp morning air.  A vista of cold steel held aloft by the minion army gathering and peering towards his vulnerable redoubt.

Or he could have just asked Eric Arneson, vanquished appointee to the Office of Open Records!

Those minions off in the distance?  Nothing more frightening than the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers!

You see, Triple T’s power – as a Democrat – rises and falls with the fortunes of public unions.  This is why Pennsylvanians will not see much-needed initiatives to quell the Public Pension problem from Triple T, nor changes to the anachronistic system of State Stores in the distribution of liquor products.  But you will see plenty of tax increases to keep the minions happy, their horses mobile!

Tom's Terribly swift Union minions

Tom’s Terribly swift Union minions

Triple T needs them!  He needs them badly!  And he will behave badly if it means keeping the minions in truncheons.

Perhaps the darkest visage however, delivered by that terrible swift Triple T sword, is that our state employees, managers, directors and commission members have now gotten the message.  Don’t cross the boss …

Not even when you are certain he is wrong … No matter how much experience, expertise, and value you bring to your job.  Don’t even suggest that your boss, Tom the Terrible, might be wrong.

You may just lose your head!

Tom Wolf’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month

wolf03z-601New Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is off to a rip-roaring start! In just one month on he job he has …

  • Fired a well-respected Republican staffer appointed by Former Governor Tom Corbett to manage the Office of Open Records.
  • Advised that he will refuse to issue death penalty warrants until the State Legislature files an anticipated report on its use. Anticipation is the moratorium will morph into a full ban, displeasing law enforcement personnel who saw two State Troopers gunned down – one fatally – in a pre-meditated ambush last year.
  • Scrapped Healthy PA, scrapping negotiations with the Obama Administration to expand Medicaid coverage – in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – that sought more favorable terms for a State already paying the highest costs for any state for Medicaid coverage.  The Medicaid ACA expansion mandate will not be fully funded by the Federal Government in future years.
  • Reversed a policy allowing for the removal of natural gas assets lying beneath State Park lands.
  • Announced plans to tax natural gas extractions by an effective rate of 7.5% while doing away with the State’s Impact Fees that went to compensate local communities for wear and tear on local infrastructure.

As the chief executive of a cabinet-making company, Wolf would be expected to have the patience of a mayfly.  In a private, for-profit industry, who could blame a responsible manager?  Sloth makes for poor reaction times; and an overabundance of forbearance can render one an unimportant player in private industry where competition for resources is keen.

But what does one make of Mr. Wolf’s propensity for shooting from the hip, and over the heads of the very legislative bodies from which he will no doubt expect cooperation some day?  When will he realize he needs them to cash the checks his actions are writing?

It’s an interesting conundrum for the new Wolf on the block! But it only gets better – maybe scarier is the better word – if you’re a hard-working Pennsylvanian watching your disposable income shrink each and every year.

Rumor has it, Governor Wolf will propose an assortment of tax increases on top of those tax increases already announced on the natural gas industry.  Pennsylvanians could be looking at increases in the state income tax (currently 3.07%) and in the state’s 6% sales tax.

The tradeoff might be a reduction in Property Taxes, although certainly not a dollar-for-dollar offset of any potential increases in the income and sales taxes.  The result?  Higher taxes for working Pennsylvanians!

One winner, however, would be corporations, which might see the 9.9% corporate tax rate cut in half!  This move could be in response to the corporate raiding party Florida Governor Rick Scott led into Pennsylvania last week, as he smelled blood in Pennsylvania’s business tax pool.

States are always looking to purloin businesses from other states, especially where the business environment isn’t quite as favorable.  That’s a sad statement on views of the state from outside Pennsylvania, especially when the new Governor has made it quite clear that he intends to raise taxes, but will not consider needed public pension reform or the sale of Pennsylvania’s antiquated state store liquor distribution system.

carterAnd as if that’s not enough to curl your checking and savings account, consider this:  You are the reason Pennsylvania is not a better run, more self-sustaining, attractive place to live!

Why?

You have very low self-esteem!

Oh my God, I just realized … We may have elected the second coming of Jimmy “Malaise” Carter … former Governor of Georgia and perhaps the weakest President to serve the country since James Buchanan!

Sure, it’s bad enough that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker can be heard snorting a laugh at Governor Wolf’s self-esteem assessment at the National Governor’s Association (NGA) no less.  Baker undoubtedly made note to organize a job-raiding party into Pennsylvania as soon as he gets back to Boston!

Check out the video below and note Baker’s involuntary snort.  It’s always a bad sign when the new guy in the NGA has to declare “That wasn’t a laugh line.”

Uh oh ….

http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4528850/tom-wolf-2015-national-governors-association

Governor Jerry Brown Moonbeam-1

Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown (CA)

If it wasn’t bad enough that our fledgling Governor made those remarks in front of a roomful of other Governors, he added this little tidbit:

If a space alien visited the United States and was given a list of the assets of each state, “that alien would look at the 50 sheets of paper and say, ‘Pennsylvania must be the dominant state. Obviously it’s the dominant state.’ “

Wonderful … Governor Malaise and Governor Moonbeam all rolled into one! Well, if I didn’t have low state-esteem before, I certainly have it now …

The Inconspicuous News: Philly’s secret sauce?

Has Philadelphia stumbled onto the Secret Sauce?

art729-handout1-620x349Candidates for Philadelphia’s 2015 mayoral race are having major issues raising campaign funds due to a change in the City Code that prohibits entities from receiving no-bid City contracts if they exceed campaign donation limits to a SUCCESSFUL candidate.

It may sound like twisted logic … If you candidate loses, no problem! If they win, you are SOL.

But the change in The Code resulted from a very long list or sordid scandals known collectively as “pay-to-play”, a problem not only in the Big City but throughout a state known as one of the most politically corrupt in the country.

How does this having such a large effect? Because most of those who receive “no-bid” contracts tend to be lawyers! So those big money law firms in the City, so use to manipulating the political landscape in the hope of backing the Winner – and the potential for those no-bid legal contracts are being forced to sit on their hands once they reach the prescribed campaign limitation.

This certainly isn’t the Big Aha solution for our bigger elections – at least not entirely, but it’s not a bad start!

The fragile coalition

600px-Roundel_of_the_Royal_Jordanian_Air_Force.svgKudos to Charles Krauthammer, who once again takes our nice, comfy way of looking at things, in this case our satisfaction in Jordan’s response to the brutal immolation of pilot, Muadh al-Kasasbeh, and asks, “What if …?”.

Krauthammer cautions that despite Jordan’s relative strength a stability, it would not take very much to instill a measure of instability through those in Jordan who might be a bit more sympathetic to ISIL because they simply aren’t all that invested in Jordan.

From Syrian refugees to those Palestinians preferring the relative safety of Jordan over life in the territories, the threats to Jordan from inside might just be as big or bigger than those on the outside.

Be that as it may, it is still a positive sign that nation-states in the Middle East are rising – even if it had to be forced – to meet the real threat to regional stability … brutally violent radicalized extremists.

A “Marine” heads for desertion trial

In a case that may parallel the challenges of successfully prosecuting Bowe Bergdahl for his desertion, a Marine (loosely defined here as one who was enlisted as a Marine, eve though they hardly acted like one) will go on trial for his bizarre desertion adventure.

The case of CPL Wassef Hassoun is a bit more ridiculous than Bergdahl’s. Hassoun disappeared in 2004, appearing days later blindfolded in a photo with a sword positioned over his head; only to reappear unharmed a few days later at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

No one believed his kidnap scenario, and he was sent immediately to Camp Lejeune, where he promptly disappeared again for a few days before another hearing. (Not sure how one “in custody” disappears again, but the article is unclear as to the circumstances.)

I’m not buying that this case parallels much the Bergdahl situation since Hassoun had disappeared numerous times. However, in such cases where American military personnel were unnecessarily put at risk looking for “kidnapped” soldiers, who appeared to have left assigned duty stations of their own accord, must be dealt with severely if the evidence supports a willful desertion of duty in hostile environs.

The inconspicuous news

The stories that might escape your attention for any number of reasons.

A Greek warning to Peace and Democracy

alexis-tsiprasTracy Rubin, a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board, posted an interesting article on the recent election in Greece and its potential ripple throughout the European Union.  Rubin phrases her warning as one to the European elite, but the effects of widespread dissatisfaction throughout Europe, largely due to financial struggles and large-scale disenfranchisement, should be am alarm to every EU citizen.

Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, won the government’s top post by promising to renegotiate the austere economic measures imposed by the EU and International Monetary Fund in its 2010 bailout of the bankrupt country.  The causes of the collapse are not much different from those in the U.S. in 2008.

Free-wheeling borrowing and lending were the primary cause; but Greece’s overly generous public benefits programs were also a huge factor in the collapse.  Unfortunately austerity measures imposed on Greece in the bailout left many without jobs and even without heat .  Youth unemployment, always a catalyst for populist revolt and even the attraction of political extremism, reached 60%. Many of the same conditions can be found in Spain, Italy, France and other less well-off countries.

One only need refresh their 1920-40s European history to understand what the potential is for such widespread austerity, and the disillusionment it breeds, and to realize the kind of extremist behavior can result.

Boys and our toys

Yes, Virginia, some of us never, ever grow up completely.  Let’s just get that fact out of the way!

So what could be more appropriate on a Superbowl Sunday, than to relive one of those epic memories from those days before animated electronics and computer-generated graphics!  Those days of wiffle ball, street hockey, and electric football!

20150201_inq_fitz01-aThe game was tabbed as the closest a kid could get to real football without the risk of concussion or the need for future hip replacement surgery.  Until you flipped on the power and – as the author notes, the field looks like “a jarful of crickets had been released onto a hot skillet.”

Good memories surround the hours needed to properly set up one’s squad and maybe play a full quarter of football.  More time was wasted than in any other childhood activity that fascinated for reasons that puzzle us to this day.  But the memories? Irreplaceable!

Now for some really crazy numbers.  In 1947 over 40 million sets were sold.  But if you think interest in the game has died in those 70-plus years … An electric football newsletter currently has over 20,000 subscribers.  In 1999 a group from Philadelphia hosted an electric football competition and attracted 1500 participants!

Yep, us boys are loyal to our toys!

Moderates start pulling GOP a bit their way

The political reality in the Philadelphia suburbs is that, if you are a Republican looking for wide, cross-party appeal and win elections, you must present a more Moderate political view.  The same probably holds true in a lot of suburban communities surrounding large concentrations of urban Democrats.

Charles_W._Dent,_official_photo_portrait,_color

Congressional Rep Charlie Dent (PA-15)

Such an approach helps to explain the popularity of such local talents as Congressional Representatives Charlie Dent and Patrick Meehan.

But another factor to consider is the political weight these Moderates might pull in a Republican Congressional caucus looking to grow their national appeal.  In recent weeks, Moderates in the delegation have been able to blunt some controversial legislation and political moves.

As Dent mentioned in a recent debate, “Week One, we had the vote for Speaker. Week Two, we debated deporting children. Week Three, we’re debating rape and incest. I can’t wait for Week Four.”

The rise of the Moderates might be worth watching.

Death of a President (2006)

death_of_a_presidentI have avoided watching this movie for years, because I thought it such a disrespectful way to portray a standing President, especially at a time when some were probably wishing him dead … until they realized Dick Cheney would have become POTUS!

So the other night I’m skipping around my 800 channels looking for something, anything worth watching before I turn to tried-and-true On Demand.

And there it was …! Death of a President on one of the movie package channels.

A 2006 docudrama, produced in Britain (I had thought it was a German production.) as a “high concept” political thriller.

Not so sure about the “high concept” thing, but nonetheless … The question was should I swallow my Sense of Propriety; watch it; and see what value – if any – it offered. Or should I continue to avoid it like I do the Michael Moore: Outraged activist while I’m making all this money spectacle?

I decided to watch it.

Should have held onto my Sense of Propriety just a bit longer.

Sure, I get it. If you want to do a docudrama right, you must have some Docu in the Drama! You have to have a hook to connect the theoretical subject with reality.

I’m sorry. No … You really don’t have a whack a President, no matter how unpopular he is, in order to sell an entertainment concept. His inclusion added nothing to the subject matter of what happens in a theoretical situation. POTUS could have very well have been played by some formless, off-camera subject.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The fact that George W.Bush was so roundly hated in 2006 simply made the concept more palatable to a large section of the population … both here and abroad.

If you don’t believe that, just answer the following questions honestly.

If it was the current President being portrayed in this way – simply to sell a docudrama concept as being relatable, up-to-date, and credible – what do you think the reaction would be in this country?

Do you think – at a time when Kim Jong-un could stop a comedy dead in its tracks – the movie would have a chance at seeing the bright lights of the local Bijou???

I don’t … not for a second.

The inconspicuous news

Yuengling-Logo4The Politics of Beer

Pennsylvania’s Governor-elect, Tom Wolf, will take the State’s oath-of-office this Monday.  As is the practice for such lauded events, there will be much partying and the consumption of a few adult beverages.  But one truly Pennsylvania product, renown the oldest continuously operating brewery in the United States, will not be invited to the party!

Yuengling, the pride of Pottsville, will be excluded from the inauguration festivities for the first time in the State’s collective memory.  And this despite the brewery’s long-standing tradition (along with those of other established Pennsylvania breweries) of providing their suds free of charge.  Even President Obama dispatched a case of Yuengling to the Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, in 2010 after the Canadians topped the U.S. hockey team in the Olympics!

280x425Why is Yuengling being excluded?  Well, apparently Yuengling’s isn’t “union enough” for our new governor, who is in big hock to organized labor.  Richard Yuengling, Jr., president of the brewery is – not surprisingly – a vocal proponent of Right-to-Work laws, and the unions that backed Tom Wolf with money contributions for both his campaign and to foot the bill for his inauguration festivities ($50,000 maximum) – not surprisingly – aren’t.

So what’s wrong with such a decision?  For one thing, several other Pennsylvania breweries will be represented; but none of them represent the rich fabric of Pennsylvania’s business and economic legacy like Yuengling.  Secondly, Wolf is at least supposed to APPEAR to be a man of all Pennsylvanians, not just those to whom he is in debt and not just those who agree with his take-care-of-the-unions approach to governance.

None of this holds out much hope for any progress at all in solving Pennsylvania’s crushing public pension obligations, which of course involves a lot of public union interest.  So much for this Man for Pennsylvania, eh?

The Politics of a Pipeline

George Will posted an insightful article on the constant stalling by the Obama Administration on the Keystone XL pipeline.  Will really sharpened his keyboard this time, illustrating just how naïve, uninformed, and unreasonable President Obama is being about a project which his own State Department has projected the creation of over 42,000 jobs, most in various temporary stages during construction.  (Still … That’s a lot of even temporary employment!)

Will takes the President to task for pretending to take the pipeline construction under consideration, while the Nebraska courts sorted out a lawsuit attempting to block construction.  Now that the Court ruled in favor of the pipeline, the President suggests further study, despite that the pipeline has been under study for six years!

keystone-pipeline1-300x204Will really nails the President on his naiveté about how global oil prices might affect the cost of oil and gas in the USA.  It appears the President doesn’t think much of Canadian oil being shipped through the U.S. as having any impact on American economics.  Apparently there is confusion at The White House over how a global market affects domestic pricing.

Oy vey …

But Will really gets me when he addresses the concerns of the “infantilism” of the environmentalists.  After all, as Will claims, there are over 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines and 175,000 miles of pipeline moving any number of hazardous liquids.  Can we really be so frightened about 1700 miles of Keystone?

I guess only if you really believe gas prices are going to permanently stay below $45/barrel.  If you do, I have a unicorn ranch I’d like to speak to you about buying …

The politics of Joe Pa

imagesAfter two years of contention and lawsuits filed by both the family of legendary Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno and the PSU alumni association, the NCAA reached settlement with the university that restored 111 vacated victories and Paterno’s place as the winningest coach in NCAA Division 1 history.  Although the $60 million fine will remain in place, agreement was reached to allow the entire fine to be spent on child protective services within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The sanctions handed down by the NCAA as the result of the Jerry Sandusky serial child abuse case have been a major source of anger in the PSU community, particularly its alumni association.  The alumni reactions included a backlash against outgoing Governor Tom Corbett, who also served on the PSU Board of Trustees, and likely contributed to the failure of his reelection campaign.

At the heart of the successful NCAA challenge, which was filed jointly by the alumni association and the State Treasurer Rob McCord, was focused on the NCAA’s internal deliberations, revealed in e-mails obtained by the plaintiffs that suggested the NCAA wanted to set an example as “the new sheriff in town”.  The primary goal was to restore the Joe Paterno legacy, a man still revered across the Commonwealth for his efforts in PSU football and for his donations to the university over his 60-plus years there.

If nothing else, the settlement puts an entirely sad and frustrating episode in the university’s rearview mirror.  The Paterno family still intends to push its own lawsuits against the NCAA forward.  In addition, criminal trials are pending against university officials accused of covering up Sandusky’s despicable crimes.

The best part – in my opinion – is restoring the reputation of a man, who positively influenced the lives of so many, before the horribly managed Sandusky affair.  Add to that keeping that $60 million in the Commonwealth to fight the abuse of the most innocent seems like a win-win result out of a lose-lose situation.

 

Inconspicuous news

The video he wishes he never shared

Ahmed Merabet

Ahmed Merabet

The most disturbing piece of video shot during the Charlie Hedbo massacre was perhaps that shot by man across the street from the assassination of French police officer, Ahmed Merabet, a 42-year-old Muslim himself.

Engineer Jordi Mir described the terror and panic he felt after having just witnessed the cold blooded, merciless shooting as Merabet lay obviously wounded on the sidewalk. Alone and feeling isolated in his flat, Mir fled to his computer and posted the video to Facebook.

After but 15 minutes, he thought better of his decision and took the video down; but it was too late. Within an hour he was mortified to see it being replayed across the world on hundreds of media sites and broadcasts.

No one – in my opinion – could blame Mir for what he did, given that moment in time and the terror he must have felt. The story does not go into why he felt posting it was a mistake he regrets. But it is a lesson in the unforgiving nature of today’s instantaneous “share it” culture.

Krauthammer: Boost the gas tax

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer, never one to be mistaken for a “tax and spend” liberal, is championing a $1.00 boost in the national gas tax. But he’s not pushing it as a way to fix the transit infrastructure.

Krauthammer wants the tax boosted to continue the psychological pressure on the consumption of petroleum products and as a way to relieve the pressure – even if only a little – on those consumers living day-to-day in everyday America by reducing Social Security taxes among other options.

He makes several valid points on the both the psyche of the American automotive consumer and his fickle relationship with overseas oil. lying just below the surface is the same mistrust all should feel about the obviously selfish motives of the Saudis, who are driving down the cost of oil (now below $50 a barrel) in a blatant strategy to corner market share and render economically less feasible the hunt for and development of alternative energy sources.

If, as some sources suggest, this artificially low price of foreign oil persists for two years, exactly how much damage will be done to efforts to wean us from the oil nipple?!?

Louie and the Quarterback

If you know the story of Louie Zamperini, you know of the extraordinary trials he went through in his early life. I haven’t yet seen the movie, “Unbroken”, but I plan to. I did thoroughly enjoy Lauren Hillenbrand’s book by the same title. If you haven’t read it, you really should, especially if you can squeeze it in before seeing the movie!

From all accounts, Zamperini is an extremely likeable man. A close family member had several chances to meet Zamperini at public events in a law enforcement role in his native home of Torrance, CA. He had nothing but praise for the old WWII hero.

Zamperini died this past July.

But another interesting friendship Zamperini encouraged was with former USC quarterback, Matt Barkley. Barkley, third string QB for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, met Zamperini as a USC freshman in 2009.

Barkley describes how no one know who this “old guy” was as he addressed their class. But by the end, Barkley was listening intently and was so struck by his story that he hung around to talk to “Unbroken” hero afterwards.

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

And a friendship was born.

Barkley shares that “Louie embodied what it means to push through your mental limits and even the physical limits of what your body can do.”

It was a lesson that served Barkley well in his struggles to make the transition to the NFL. The two men, roughly 70 years apart in age, conversed regularly. Zamperini even invited Barkley to watch the U.S.-Canada 2010 Olympic Games hockey matchup in his home.

Spoiler alert: Zamperini became such a gracious man in his later years, when he was given the opportunity to carry a torch for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan he sought a media-arranged meeting with the former Japanese soldier who tormented him in the WWII prison camp. The offer was rejected by Mutsohiro Watanabe.