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 …

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.

Breaking up is hard to do

Mashed-heartDear Chuck,

I know this will come as a shock to you, but it’s over!

Breaking up is always hard to do.  And I’m certain you will be surprised at this unfortunate turn of events.  But you have to ask yourself how you missed all the changes.

You should have noticed that I wasn’t coming around as much.  You should have noticed that I rarely ever called.  You should have noticed how quiet and unsettled I was around you.

To be honest … it’s not you, it’s me.

Every other month simply does not a relationship make.  And yes, I’m sorry.  I have been cheating on you!

It didn’t start out that way.  At first, I was just being lazy … not wanting to put in the time or effort for our usual thing.  I was desperate once and needed a quickie.

From there it progressed so rapidly, I was – I think – caught off guard.  It was too simple, too easy, too addictive.  And once I started, it seemed impossible to return to you.

Ours has been a healthy and productive relationship.  We have been through so many life events, personal problems … Good times and bad.

You were always there to tell me I looked nice.  And I was always happy to give you my advice, although frankly, I suspect you very rarely took it.

I heard you on the phone one time after I pleaded with you to follow your heart.  I heard you on the phone with that other guy … in the other room … whispering so I wouldn’t hear.  That time it hurt, but it convinced me that all I was to you was a means to an end.

Well, let’s not rip the scabs off old wounds.

Fact is, I really don’t need you anymore.  I really don’t need anybody!  I can do all this myself.

norelco_kitWhen you offered me the Low Volume Hair Discount, I knew it was over!  So I jumped into a relationship with a damn fine Norelco …

And the next time you need a tip on a football bet, go ask that idiot who told you to take the Cowboys and the points!

I hope we can still be friends …

Mike

My troubles with the IRS

IRS-telephone-scamWell, it’s finally happened.  I have run afoul of the IRS!

After decades of diligently paying taxes and filing returns so simple I choose to do them myself, I must have done something very, very, very wrong!  ‘Cause now I have The Man pounding on my door (phone) demanding that I respond to their verbal warnings and threats of imminent “legal proceedings”.  Yet I don’t recall getting any official notices and threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service, filled with mind-numbing bureaucratese, enumerating my heartless transgressions against the People of America that surely should have proceeded my run-in with the IRS’s latest crop of bird-dogging bounty hunters!

It’s a bit of a puzzle.

Most confusing is the IRS’s reliance on a bunch of poorly spoken “English majors” apparently based in either West Africa or the Indian sub-continent.  It’s kinda hard to decipher their dialects.  The first call was from the latter, the latest from the former.  Don’t these hunter-killer IRS units speak to each other?!?

The second Special Agent, who called himself “Don” with an Anglo-Saxon last name spoke in a heavy Punjabi or Urdu accent (I can never tell the two apart.), was much more pleasant than the previous Special Agent, who sounded much more African (if I can be so bold as to characterize his geographical-cultural orientation).

phone-scam“West Africa” didn’t leave a name, but he was very forceful and full of implied threats.  He made sure – in no uncertain terms – that we knew the serious of our crimes against America, Apple Pie, and Motherhood.  He demanded immediate redress from our answering machine!  (The greatest invention since the brewery!) Aggressive legal action was dangling by a single hair – like the Sword of Damocles – above our heads.  I was almost convinced a S.W.A.T. team was sitting out on our back deck awaiting the word to breach the doors and drag us all off to Debtor’s Prison.

OK … So it’s a scam.  A scam of the worst kind, intended to prey on the elderly, the disconnected, the easily spooked in nothing more than any of the other usual methods of stealing from the weak.

A coworker, who also received the dreaded Tax Man Cometh scam, had the opportunity to answer the phone before he realized the call was a baited fish-hook.  Once the gig was up, he simply asked the “agent” his name, identification code, and location so he could call back after reviewing his tax return.  He heard a rustling of paper in the background, undoubtedly as the “agent” checked for this unexpected turn in the prepared script.  Then the line went dead …

But you really do have to laugh at the desperation, the obvious inattention to detail, the amateurish attempts to portray Big Bad government agent, and the huge clues they drop that are almost as good as being caught with an exploding dye pack in the getaway car while still sitting in the bank parking lot!

For me, I had to laugh at Don of The Sub-Continent when he ended his call of dire warning and imminent legal and financial ruin with the following salutation:

“Good night and God bless”

Imagine that … An IRS attack dog that signs off saying, “God bless”!?!

Game, set, match …

Jefferson Station and the thing about Healthcare Reform

20140905_jeff_1024The acquisition has become quite commonplace in recent years, from sports stadiums and entertainment venues to infrastructure basics like roadways and railway stations.  Naming rights, long reserved for notable philanthropists placing a family name on hospitals, university halls, museums and libraries, are now a convenient – though costly – method to promote brand recognition and consumer confidence.

Earlier this month SEPTA announced the naming of Market East Station to Jefferson Station in a deal between the regional transportation provider and the Jefferson Health SystemThomas Jefferson University Hospital is only two blocks south of Market East.

The naming deal follows an earlier arrangement to rename the Broad Street Subway station at Pattison Avenue “AT&T Station” and previews a future naming rights deal with their Verizon or Comcast for Suburban Station.

http-planphilly-com-sites-planphilly-com-files-dsc_0027_2-jpg.752.502.sFacility naming deals are an easy way for cash-strapped or opportunistic entities to raise funding from wealthier, healthier corporations.  In the overall scheme of things, it’s a no-brainer for a constantly short-funded regional utility, like SEPTA, to use its captive commuter audience as a way to raise needed capital.

SEPTA’s five-year deal with AT&T cost the communications company $5.4 million, although SEPTA only received $3.4 million.  It’s advertising agent made out very nicely, pocketing $2 million in the deal.

But what of a hospital spending $4 million to buy branding rights all in the name of product recognition?  To me, it speaks to several interesting questions and one Big Duh observation.

First off, the obvious question … Is it prudent, necessary or progressive for a medical provider to seek publicity of this sort at what most would consider a sizable chunk of cash?  Arguments could be made that such attempts at name recognition promote Jefferson as a top-class service provider, educational institution, and research facility.

Yet, I would think that’s a tough nut to crack since Jefferson is already a renown regional name.  Once you get outside the Philadelphia region it’s hard to figure exactly what naming a railway station adds to the Jefferson brand.   How many prospective medical students or established medical professionals would actually be swayed by a name on a subway marquee?

artmax_178They might even look at such largesse as a needless and wasteful expenditure in a research-heavy profession where funding often determines how much a dedicated research professional can accomplish.

On another level, it’s difficult to ignore what equipment, expansion of service, or community involvement could be financed with that $4 million marquee grab.

Jefferson’s argument might be that all testing, diagnostic and treatment equipment is sufficiently updated and in top-level performance condition.  Yet I would be willing to bet you can find a few areas of their network that might very well be begging for additional investment, updating, and manpower.  From that point-of-view, buying a railway station would seem like an unnecessarily extravagant expense to anyone who consumes Jefferson medical services.

Which brings me to my real reason for making so much more out of a relatively small ball approach to the Naming Rights Game …

Healthcare reform … REAL healthcare reform … The kind of healthcare reform we did not get in the Affordable Care Act.  The kind of healthcare reform that would make a difference to those who consume and those who are forced to pay big premiums, big deductibles, and large shares of those Usual, Customary, and Reasonable costs.

Affordable was supposed to be the key word ...

Affordable was supposed to be the key word …

My Big Aha Moment was in the realization that if the Jefferson Health System has $4 million to spend on a subway station, they certainly have a lot of other money available for a lot of other non-medical investments!

This is not an attack on JHS alone though.  This I’m certain is the same financial truth that can be found in any large, successful medical system, be it in Philadelphia or Dallas or Nashville.  I have never hidden my contempt of the ACA, mostly because of the way it was birthed … forced in hurried fashion through a brow-beat Congress.  And as “healthcare reform” it wasn’t real reform at all … Not even close in any way, shape, or form.

Real healthcare reform would have addressed the REAL problem with healthcare … The Cost!  All the SEPTA-JHS deal did was highlight the crux of the healthcare problem … Medical services that are so expensive that a hospital has a few million lying around to buy a subway station name.

All the ACA did was dump more people into a system that costs way too much.  Logic would dictate that if you want to provide medical coverage to more people the trade-off should be reducing the costs – if at all possible – of the services to be provided.

Can anyone imagine saying that medical costs in this country were affordable prior to the passing of the ACA?  Obviously not, since “Affordable” was the first word they thought of when they created the Affordable care Act!  Yet no significant action was taken to make healthcare more affordable prior to adding millions to the Well-Care portion of U.S. healthcare (i.e. that segment of healthcare that the uninsured COULD NOT AFFORD to use, resorting to Emergency Rooms as their sole source of healthcare once they became sick).

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take a long, deep look into the cost structure and profit margins of American healthcare BEFORE adding a significant new market for services that would only see demand and usage skyrocket with the passage of the ACA?  Would it not have seemed a reasonable approach to restructure medical costs in a way that potential savings might have paid for many new ACA subscribers?

The SEPTA-Jefferson Health System deal suggests that it would have been on both counts.  Not that we were ever given the chance to find out …

 

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly ...

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly …

 

 

9 Circles of Ikea

images-1

Something to do on a Sunday afternoon … Rain in the forecast … Remodeling projects in various stages of completion …

Perfect setting for the four words every red blooded male longs to hear, “Let’s go to Ikea!”, dear Carol exclaims.

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

Ikea was founded by a 17-year-old (which explains a lot) in 1943, and is renown for it’s architectural designs of furniture and appliances and an eco-friendly approach to interior design.

This was the First Time for me, although Carol insists I had been there before.  But no, I would have remembered this experience had I lived through it before.

The store was inviting; painted in bold Blue and Yellow – the national colors of Sweden, the visuals reminding me of a favorite U.S. icon, the Blue Angels.  What could possibly be more inviting?

systembolagetYet something was gnawing at the pit of my stomach like a yellow worm with teeth (Ween).  What is wrong here?  What about this makes sense? Didn’t the Swedes also create Systembolaget, a government-controlled alcohol monopoly?

Danger, Will Robinson …

We walk into a bright but spartan lobby that invites you to ride the escalator to the retail floor.  This was an oddity in the Land of Good and Plenty.  Nothing to sell while rendering first impressions?  No impulse-buying enticements?  Primary retail space on the second floor?  Not even one store greeter … no Nordic blondes playing Abba music on nyckelharpas?

But they do have plenty of these over-sized eco-harmonizing shopping bags.  And large enough to fit a Volvo

My shopping psyche is a strange amalgam of wonderment and an anxiety of what lies beyond … I was in Limbo.

And violà!  We arrive on the retail floor!

Immediately you realize the Swedes ain’t no dummies!

We are immediately driven to Lust for the quirky, practical designs of Äpplarö, Falster, Arholma.  This is going to be an epic quest to furnish that unique space in our home.

Did I mention, I’m not a big fan of Quests?

And just then I see the store map …

Rule of Thumb:  Any store that requires a map for you to figure out where you are and to find what you want, can use the same device to make sure you can never leave!

Can you get to the cheese?

Can you get to the cheese?

I’m struck by the resemblance the Ikea store map has to those primitive maze tests used to measure the learning habits of lesser species.  This causes one to wonder, who exactly is the “lesser species” in this Nordic inspired ecosystem?

We push on with our journey, moving right into Gluttony as we peruse the quirky, imaginative shapes and functions of the Artichoke Pendant Lamp, Befintlig candles, Smörboll bedding, and Ödmjuk coffe cups.  Hours seem to have passed in minutes, I am aware of a foggy, detached feeling as though floating through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, barely tethered to the Earth.

When I am able to roust myself from this peculiar state, Carol is nowhere to be seen and the cart I am pushing is overflowing with abstract Swedish home appointments.  I must find her before we descend any further into the bowels of Scandinavian home furnishings Hades.

And then I see her!  Not Carol exactly, but that head looks familiar …

Tallemaja - seductive Scandinavian forest creature

Tallemaja – seductive Scandinavian forest creature

She appears from out of the flimsy veil of the Åderblad window treatments.  She appears to be unclothed with what looks like the tail of a cow.  When I ask her name, she replies in a foggy voice that sounds so very far away, “Tallemaja”.  She beckons me to follow.

An overwhelming sense of pressure and heaviness … When I look down I am holding three of those enormous Ikea saddle bags crammed full of sheets with artsy patterns and ingenuously designed table lamps.  I absently reach for my wallet …

The Circle of Greed!

I fight the urge and set out once again to find Carol.  I find her sorting through a clutch of Gräddig wall decorations, semi-catatonic and mumbling incoherently.  I warn her not to fall for the charms of Tallemaja.

She looks at me, her head cocked to one side.  “Who the hell’s Tallemaja?!?  I was talking to some guy named Nykkjen.  I don’t think he’s an Ikea employee; but he seemed to know a lot about this place!”

Cue the spooky music …

I urge Carol to dump her load of Riktig Ögla and Malma mirrors so we can make a hasty retreat.  I glance nervously over my shoulder half expecting her to morph into a pissed off naked forest nymph.

We need to get out of here … Now!

Heresy!”, she shouts in Anger.  I look around embarrassingly at the mumbling shoppers nearby, displaying those same blank stares, speaking gibberish …

No one here can hear you scream …

zlatan-ibrahimovic-wallpaper-586742-3-s-307x512

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Swedish futboler, shape shifting nicker

But finding an Exit in this place would be as likely as stumbling upon Zlatan Ibrahimović picking through a collection of Bild posters.

Desperate to escape this madness I prod Carol along.  We manage to move but a few steps when Carol calls over her shoulder to a figure bent in appreciative study, “Hey, Nykkjen, let’s go!  We’re outta here.”

So of course Zlatan Ibrahimović – Carol’s tricked out psyche version of Nykkjen – unfolds slowly to his feet triumphantly holding his latest acquisition … a Bild poster!  

Stunned momentarily I stumble in confusion, the Home Furnishings Department spinning dizzyingly.  I reach out and steady myself against the Norwegian soccer nicker’s shoulder, and – true to his Euro fùtbol tradition – collapses like a gunshot victim, grabbing at his ankle in fairy tale agony …         

 Wonderful …

Fraud and Violence in the blink of a referee’s eye … And stand perilously close to the boundary of the 9th – and final – Circle de Dantè!

I convince Carol that we should concentrate on the table and cabinets she wants for her craft room and leave this Den of Temptation before it’s too late.  She agrees and we race through the remainder of the retail floor, heading downstairs to the furniture warehouse.

By now I’m a nervous wreck, with my wallet shoved down the front of my pants and a terrified look on my face.  Carol – always quick to pick up on this sort of thing – asks me what’s wrong.  And I tell her we were oh so close to joining the lost souls in Hades, crossing 8 circles out of Dante’s 9.

Treachery - I tell her – was all that remained.

She rolls her eyes and glances around almost seekingly.  I swear she’s really searching for Zlatan that hunky Nykkjen.  “Well then, let’s get out of here, Mr. Treachery.”, she says, “You know you have to put all this crap together when we get home.”

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo  ……

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Worst trade ever …

BergdahlSo after five years Bowe Bergdahl is heading home.  But there is hardly unrestrained joy and relief outside of the small community of Hailey, Idaho, where Bergdahl grew up.  In fact, Hailey decided to cancel its planned celebration in the face of much doubt over his circumstances and the deal to exchange five Taliban military leaders for his freedom.

For the time being, you will not hear me calling him by service branch and rank.  From what I have read, he doesn’t deserve it.  I do not take this position lightly, even as one who never wore the uniform.

Normally, I stay silent in cases where an investigation is clearly warranted.  It’s not for me to judge.  But this situation truly makes my skin crawl.

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and ...

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and …

By all reports, accepted as truth by those who served with Bergdahl, he willingly; knowingly; and worse of all recklessly relative to the safety of his fellow troopers, walked off his duty station to “start a new life“.

Bergstrom did not simply walk out the gate or go under the perimeter wire; he may have even hid in a contractor’s vehicle to secretly exit his outpost.  He went out of his way to send many personal belongings home before abandoning his unit.

Bergdahl’s desertion is unforgivable for no other reason than the danger in which it put other troops once he was listed as missing.  When that happens, the U.S. military – whether you are on land, in water, or missing from the air – is going to try to find and recover you. They will not leave a man behind if at all possible.

That puts a number of military personnel in an order of magnitude several times greater than your personal worth in harm’s way; exposing themselves to all the dangers of that theatre of operations; going into dangerous and volatile situations they would normally avoid just to find you.  Bergdahl’s actions in this regard were unconscionable.

... Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

… Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

Certainly Bergdahl deserves his day in court, privileged by the assumption of innocence as provided by those very principles he decided to leave behind when he so clandestinely worked to melt into the Afghan countryside.  Hopefully the truth will come out, though I doubt he will receive more than a dishonorable discharge if found guilty.

Of course, that assumes he doesn’t receive a White House pardon.

The troops who served with him and who lived closest to him before he deserted his post are very free in their feelings towards Bergdahl.  They are – to say the least – angry at his selfishness and furious at the losses incurred on his behalf.  They knew him to be a loner, though no sin in itself.  They knew he didn’t want to be there.  They saw him gaze into the mountains near their base, wondering if he could reach China by heading in that direction.

They are the ones to whom we should be listening.  They are the ones who knew him best.  They could tell whether he was with them in duty or looking for a way to salve his disillusionment with his chosen profession.

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel went to Afghanistan and announced the release and repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl, his announcement was met with stony silence from the American troopers in attendance.  Don’t buy the story line of young American troopers showing “reluctance to display emotion in front of the Pentagon chief”.  That never seems to be a problem with emotion when the Commander-in-Chief shows up.

Their lack of reaction and none-so-fond memories of Bergdahl’s fellow unit members are good enough for me.