Should Cuba return to our sphere of influence?

from The Philadelphia Inquirer (Clem Murray)

from The Philadelphia Inquirer (Clem Murray)

An interesting article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer about U.S. students who have been studying abroad in Cuba from before recent Obama Administration inroads. The main subject of the article attends Arcadia University, which is about 20 minutes from here. Personally, I think it’s high time we try something different with Cuba, since it’s not like the previous course was changing anything. Changing something – I think – is important, given the island is barely 90 miles from U.S. shores and has already been the inviting target of one global antagonist. Do we really want that to continue shunning Cuba, especially in light of China’s expanding interests?  What might the reaction be if suddenly China made its own inroad to Cuba? Also, the capitalist in me sees a HUGE market for American goods and an opportunity to change the direction of the Cuban people, once they see what a Capitalist system can provide. Just the market for 50-plus year-old junked auto parts would be amazing! old-cars-of-cuba-dsc_4474-1024But the bigger question is, how do you change the political climate of an island so close to the U.S. if you continue to work to isolate it?

Hillary’s 13 dirty words

2014-06-11t155415z1813105711gm1ea6b1uc101rtrmadp3usa-politics-clintonA group called the HRC Super Volunteers has launched a war on the 13 most sexist words in HillaryWorld.  To lend assistance to this very important mono-partisan message, I provide a sample of the kind of context these sexist words can cut and sting.

Hillary Clinton is a polarizing, over-confident, and insincere candidate. (OK … Soon to be.) She is extremely ambitious. Clinton is secretive, calculating, and disingenuous with the voting public. Her entitled air is only magnified by the thought that she will do anything to win. Hillary considers herself inevitable, but she is out-of-touch and represents the past.

I have two questions …

Question #1. Now, besides the point that I crammed all these words into one poorly constructed paragraph, tell me … What is sexist about those words?

I really want to learn!

Question #2. Who are these people?!?  Their Twitter page is hysterical!

Nelson Mandela and Voter ID

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

I was taking a lot of flack the last few days over a picture of Nelson Mandela (right) I posted on a website thread bemoaning “GOP and tea bagger” efforts to curtail voting rights through calls for Voter ID requirements.

After posted said picture, my observation that Mr. Mandela was perhaps a member of the GOP or a “teabagger” were not universally accepted, let alone recognized for it’s succinct grasp of the prevailing political landscape.

Shocker, I know …

So a few of those opposing voices went off to perform their due diligence, and research the Great Mandela T-shirt Fiasco. No doubt looking for the smoking coals over which to roast my tender flesh.

Funny … I never heard back from them.

So I went to see why they all disappeared. Where they vanished to?

I was concerned for their safety!

Maybe this is why they never made it back:

  • Nelson Mandela apparently wasn’t “forced” into accepting voter ID requirements from his white overlords, as some claimed.
  • The South African Constitution was signed – by Nelson Mandela – in December 1996. (Mandela was elected in 1994.)
  • As the country’s FIFTH constitution, it was written by the Parliament, consisting of those elected along with Mandela in 1994.
  • The Constitution has been praised as one of the most progressive on the planet.
  • That Constitution allows for and supports a rigorous election integrity process far more stringent than anything GOP lawmakers have proposed in this country.

An October story from a South African news outlet explains in advance of the nation’s 2014 elections, “aspirant voters must produce a valid South African identity document when registering to vote and when voting.” That means procuring one of “three forms of official identification.”

One of those identification forms is new: a so-called “smartcard ID.” Although a new addition to the process, one election official said that “accommodating the new smartcard IDs has not been difficult.”

Voter registration in South Africa involves registering to vote on one of a handful of designated days or by making an appointment in advance at a Municipal Elections Office. According to the nation’s governing agency for elections, the Election Commission of South Africa, to register and vote you must meet three criteria:

  • Be a South African citizen;
  • Be at least 16 years old (you can only vote from age 18); and
  • Have a green, bar-coded ID book, ID smartcard or Temporary Identity Certificate (TIC).

Online voter registration and voting are not allows. “You have to apply for registration and vote in person with valid ID,” reads the government’s elections website. Two of the common forms of identification, passports and drivers licenses, do not suffice for election ID purposes.

Now my internet friends of an opposing political persuasion were adamant that Mandela was only “doing what he had to do” to break the iron chains of white oppression. I’m pretty sure they didn’t anticipate that such a freedom-loving figure as Mandela would be the agreeable enactor of a rather sane approach to protecting the sanctity of the voting booth.

I won’t say, “I told you so …”

Oops …

I just hope all my friends are home; safe and sound; and enjoying their crow for dinner!

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.