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

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.

 

PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane indicted on criminal charges!

Now admit it … How many of you were expecting an brutal excoriation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder?  If you did, you obviously do not live in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!

If you did, you might have immediately associated the above title as one of the traits now commonly attributed the Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Kane won election to the post of AG quite handily in 2012, even receiving an in-person endorsement appearance by former President Bill Clinton. Heck, even I crossed party lines to vote for her, in my long-held belief that having an qualified opposition party member holding certain positions in government (e.g. AG, Comptroller) is not a bad way to keep an eye on the majority party hen house.

In this case, it was a monumental mistake in judgment on my part!

Kane has served only as an Assistant District Attorney in Lackawanna County.  That does not – in and of itself – preempt the possibility that she was qualified and could serve admirably.  But there other rumblings during the election about just how much litigation experience she had, which also by itself does not predict incompetence.

Regardless, the important thing now is that she has proven to be so far in over her head that even PA Democrats, including fellow Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, are looking in her direction with WTF? looks on their faces!

Almost immediately after taking office, Kane shut down a years-long PA AG investigation into political corruption in the Democrat bastion of Philadelphia.  The probe, using a turned informant, caught five local pols, including four State Representatives and a Traffic Court judge, taking cash payments or jewelry, on 400 hours of TAPE (!) for votes or contracts!

The problem?  Kane was in a feud with the investigation’s former prosecutor, Frank G. Fina, who, having identified a conflict-of-interest for Kane’s management of the case, had bundled up the evidence and forwarded it to federal prosecutors for their consideration.

Fina was already in Kane’s crosshairs for his connection the Jerry Sandusky (Penn State University football) pedophilia investigation, which Kane used as the pointy spear in her campaign for the state AG job.  She alleged politically-motivated foot-dragging by the State AG’s office at the direction of Governor Tom Corbett, who sat on the PSU Board of Governors. (Those allegations were independently disproved in a subsequent probe commissioned by AG Kane.)  When Kane took office she had her staff appropriate the hard drives and all files in Fina’s possession, then took the unprecedented steps of interfering in Fina’s professional interactions after he left and joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

And this is where it gets really juicy!

When pressed by critics and the media for an explanation for dropping what appeared to be a pretty solid chance for prosecutions, Kane first claimed the probe was racially targeted (All the subjects were black.); then she claimed other prosecutors had told her it was “unprosecutable” then she simply said that anyone who challenged her view was “sexist”, playing the “good old boys” network.

The only findings supporting the “unprosecutable” claim came from the federal prosecutors’ undefined decision not to accept the case as forwarded by Fina and another DA’s opinion that was based only on a summary prepared by Kane’s office!

The most egregious claim was the one on racism. Kane claiming that the lead prosecutor, an African-American, had advised that he was directed to target member of the city’s black caucus.  Claude Thomas, the investigator said no such thing was ever said; and the only “evidence” Kane would supply was a memo prepared by her staff AFTER she had made the claim.

At this point, Philly DA Williams, a fellow Democrat, came to the defense of his new employees, Fina and Thomas, who had come to work for him after Kane had let Fina go.

Williams challenged Kane’s claims on all counts.  So Kane threw the challenge back at Williams, daring him to take over the case and attempting prosecutions.  Williams promptly did, and so far has brought charges against two of the probe’s targets, with the Traffic Court judge accepting a plea deal for accepting a $2,000. Tiffany bracelet.

In another attempt to nail Frank Fina, Kane released a confidential grand jury memo on financial investigation into J. Whyatt Mondeshire, former head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.  Mondeshire was never charged or publicly acknowledged as a target of the grand jury; but that didn’t stop Kane (or her staff) from releasing the information to newspapers.  As a result, a grand jury, commissioned by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille, is looking into the matter and the potential for criminal charges.

Kane’s worrisome defense?  She was a stay-at-home mom at the time of the Mondeshire probe, so the curtain of confidentiality didn’t apply to her!  Yep, that’s a top-flight legal mind right there!

Of course, Kane – for all the legitimate questions and challenges thrown her way – continues to double-down on her defense of her head-scratching, almost unconscionable positions by attacking even more!  Her latest foible was to conduct a full review of the Corbett Administrations e-mail archives, after it was revealed that inappropriate and pornographic content was shared among some working in the AG office and in other segments of the State’s justice system.

Not necessarily a bad initiative to take, even if it ensnared a few Democrats along the way, such as tough law-and-order Supreme Court Justice, Seamus McCaffrey.  The only problem is that many viewed the effort as a thinly-veiled attempt to silence critics by threatening to reveal the details of their e-mail histories.

Yet Kane even managed to muff the punt once again, by claiming her review found instances of child pornography, which were quickly walked back by her own staff spokesperson almost as soon as Kane uttered the words.  Media reviews did in fact find memes and pictures of children, but they were clearly not pornographic in nature!

For a State, recently depicted as one of the most corrupt state governments in the U.S., yet which rarely considers the removal of officials from office under almost any circumstances, it is quite telling that the State Legislature is throwing around the “I word” …

And now today, the grand jury convened to review the actions of Kathleen Kane’s Attorney General’s office has returned an indictment for criminal charges of perjury and contempt of court.  The meteoric rise of the politically gifted is often only exceeded by the speed of their fall!

 

 

 

Glancing through the morning papers

Happy New Year, all!

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundA few observations on interesting articles from today’s morning papers.

Foreboding in Kabul

Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan

Washington Post columnist, Pamela Constable, braves the desolation of a Kabul, Afghanistan largely abandoned by both Westerners and affluent Afghans as the Taliban closes in on what can only be described as a city waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Taliban terror attacks, suspicion, and dread of the potential return of extremist Islam has emptied a city still showing signs of its foreign-driven capitalistic Western influences. Constable braves suspicious stares as she takes a look behind the capital’s facade of urban bustle.

If you read the book, The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), you develop an appreciation for how vibrant a city Kabul once was … before the Taliban rose to power the first time, before 9-11 and our just war to oust them, and 13 years of foreign occupation in attempts to prop up a government that most likely never had a chance to unify a “nation” artificially created out of tribal and religious chaos.

The natives, always the ones with their ears closest to the ground, are fleeing, if they can afford to flee, because they sense what’s next. All this to the surprise of absolutely no one!

.

All about the frack … and taxes

One of our local Pennsylvania State Representatives, Madeleine Dean (D, Montgomery County) penned an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the State’s “obligation to tax gas extraction”. This was a big issue in PA during the recent Governor’s race, where Democrat Tom Wolf ousted incumbent Republican Tom Corbett.

Of course many here – even Republicans – take the bait on making the natural gas industry (NGI) pay more for the privilege of extracting natural gas and – oh, by the way – providing Pennsylvania with a future of fuller employment in high-paying technical jobs and off-shoot business opportunity in support industries.

What many fail to realize is that the NGO already pays Impact Fees intended to offset the costs to infrastructure and to help local communities take full advantage of these developing opportunities. And let’s not forget, like all Pennsylvania businesses, they are saddled with the highest Corporate Tax Rate (9.99%) in the country!

The State faces a $2 billion deficit, a big chunk of which results from the loss of federal stimulus funding that former Governor Ed Rendell had specifically devoted to education funding. This damaged Corbett in the Governor’s race, despite not being of his doing.

Now I’m all in favor of Big C corporations chipping in to resolve fiscal problems in the state in which they may do quite well. But if you price the NGI out of production profits, all those cool, high-paying jobs and business opportunities will move elsewhere.

The current price of oil in the international market will be a huge influence in those decisions, a lesson not wasted on Saudi Arabia’s oil market decisions. Which also brings us to …

.

We all scream for ice cream … especially in Venezuela

Another Washington Post piece by Nick Miroff looks at the “rocky road” of ice cream in Venezuela’s “melting economy”. The Heladeria Coromoto, an shop that boasted 863 flavors (!), including trout and mushroom in wine sauce (Yeah, I don’t get it either.), and a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records (undoubtedly for most bizarre flavors) closed in Merida.

The owner claims milk shortages as the cause; but of course the Madura Government blamed the owner’s status as an “opposition supporter .. in a low-intensity war against the present government.” This on the heels of a toilet paper panic (always a sign of impending social collapse) and shortages in basic food stuffs.

Hugo Chavez (left)

Hugo Chavez (left)

Of course it’s difficult to imagine a capitalist, even one in Venezuela, resorting to closing down a successful money-making venture in a “low-intensity war”.

What’s odder in all this is Venezuela’s status, sitting on the world’s largest petroleum reserves. How does such wealth, often used to sling barbs at U.S. foreign and domestic policy (See Citgo), become such a wasted commodity?

The HUGE Hugo Chavez socialist spending spree is raising it’s ugly head. Falling oil prices aren’t helping either, with Venezuela’s oil going for less than $50 a barrel, most likely the result of Saudi Arabia’s determination to drive the oil market’s value down and capture a much bigger market share.

Saudi Arabia?!?

That’s karma, baby!

Our Post-Election Quandary

election2014

Another Election Day is in the books.  We can stare at the carnage, the breakthroughs, the piles of cash thrown into the winds of political expediency … or we can look ahead to the challenges that will determine the political future.

I choose to look forward in this post, although those piles of cash … estimated at $4 billion for the 2014 general election … is a disturbing image in my rearview mirror.

Nationally, it was a bad day for the Democrats.  Losing control of the U.S. Senate (52-45 Republicans, 2 Independents, Louisiana’s race into a runoff) and now facing a 65-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

No doubt this was a referendum on President Obama and his administration, most particularly his Leadership or more appropriately the lack thereof.  In some parts of the world, such polling would result in a coalition-busting dissolution of Government and the forming of new coalitions.

OK … So maybe I am glancing back at Tuesday’s carnage.  Maybe in a bit of satisfaction … but you have to know where you are to get where you want to go.

My post-election quandary can be stated quite succinctly:

My kingdom for a Leader!

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the same storyline – described above – played out in the Governor’s race, only this time in favor of the Democrats.  No confidence in Governor Tom Corbett led to a loss of support across all demographic groups except those over the age of 65.

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

Now that he’s been elected, the real problem for Tom Wolf is he is faced with the same Republican-dominated legislature that denied Corbett some of his most cherished legislative initiatives, like liquor privatization and taking action on the State’s unsustainable public pension problem.

How will Mr. Wolf provide Leadership for a legislature completely controlled by the opposition party?  (Hint: Don’t look to The White House for an example!)

Leadership … a quality many believe our President fails to possess in any way, shape, or form.  From his refusal to get acquainted even with the Democrats in Congress, his hands-off management style, an administration fumbling the basic functions of government, and his failure to take quick, decisive action in times of international crisis, President Obama set out the finest silverware when inviting the poll whooping Democrats received last Tuesday.

Leadership … the one trait you want any Chief Executive to demonstrate regardless of whether you voted for them or against.

Tom Wolf will have his opportunity to show what kind of Leader he can be.  Can he work with those across the aisle, as he must to be successful?  Will he be able to build relationships with his powerful political opposition?  Can Wolf set a tone of Leadership that will allow him to cultivate alliances with a Republican Legislature and get things done?

Wolf’s off to a rocky start, choosing divisive Katie McGinty, Pennsylvania’s former Environmental Protection Secretary, as his Chief-of Staff and throwing down the gauntlet on Medicaid expansion, which the PA Legislature is all too aware will only be partially funded by Washington after the first years.

Not exactly your political olive branches …

Cats are plain creepy!

Creepier only on the face of a politician …

The President, given what we have seen over the past six years, most likely will not even try leading with the fully Republican-controlled Congress.  He will give lip service to working together and the fine Art of Compromise.  But in the wake of an election where most Congressional Democrats treated Obama like he himself was Ebola-infested, it’s doubtful the message from Tuesday’s shellacking will resonate with the country’s Chief Executive.

No, it’s far more likely he will give Congressional Republicans his best Cheshire cat smile while all along fingering the nuclear option … government-by-executive-fiat.

Now despite my proclivity to criticize Democrats, nothing here absolves our esteemed Republican representatives in Harrisburg or in Washington, D.C. from showing a bit of Leadership themselves.  In fact, it would be a breath of fresh air if perhaps we can expect the same kind of across-the-great-divide behavior from our legislative majorities!

As a close admirer (?) of mine recently cautioned, taking those first steps should never require that one abandon core principles.  And I agree.  But core principles rarely get anything accomplished on their own.  They are anchors that should define one’s approach to policy.  It’s the recognition of those principles as a foundation for making sound decisions and – when appropriate – suitable compromise that result in getting The People’s work done.

And somewhere in between perhaps the twain shall meet!

As I searched for a pithy way to wrap this up, I wanted something that would best characterize the implications of what occurred in voting booths this week and how it defines our political near-future, particularly for Mr. Wolf and our Pennsylvania State Legislator.  (Unfortunately, I have given up on the D.C. crowd.)

Instead of referring to the wisdom of Aristotle, Benjamin Disraeli, or Napoleon Bonaparte, I stumbled on this little gem written just weeks ago by a Lt.Col. Stacy Clements, Deputy Commander, 821st Air Base Group in a commentary on Leadership from the cozy confines of Thule Air Base, Greenland.

To me, it says it all …

Leadership: It’s not about you, it’s up to you!

Some relevant excerpts:

As a leader, you need to take the initiative to solve problems, take action to get results, and take ownership of the responsibility for getting things done.

As a leader, your actions can inspire and influence others – or can create a toxic environment where work may get done, but not as effectively as it could be. To help and influence others, you need to be trustworthy and approachable; try to understand those you lead, what motivates them, and be open to helping them achieve their goals.

Don’t focus all your attention on the image in the mirror – focus your efforts on making things better and helping people become better. Remember, it’s not about you, but it is up to you.

Hopefully, someone will take the advice!

Beware the Tax Wolf in sheep’s clothing!

2013-01-30-wolf1Had a great idea for a Tom Corbett campaign commercial that highlighted the Tax & Spend philosophy of Tom Wolf, the Democrat’s candidate in the Pennsylvania Governor’s race.  Wolf looks to unseat Corbett in this November’s election that is chock full of Republican opportunities locally, state-wide, and across the country.

The setting for the commercial is some nondescript social event … a party, fund-raiser, art exhibit, etc.  Men and women are socializing – shown on camera from the neck down – in relaxed conversation, distracted somewhat from the goings-on around them.

The female narrator describes the plans Mr. Wolf has for Pennsylvania’s fiscal and economic future under a potential Wolf administration.  As she does, a man in a business suit, haphazardly cloaked in the pelt of a woolly sheep, circulates among the distracted party-goers.

As the announcer intones …

“Tom Wolf wants to fully fund the poorly managed Philadelphia School District.”

The man in sheep’s clothing slips a hand into a woman’s pocketbook and pulls out a wad of cash.

“Tom Wolf defines the taxable rich as any individual who earns more than $90,000 per year, and he targets them for significant income tax increases!”

The sheep-Wolf adroitly slips a wallet from a male patron’s back pocket.

“Tom Wolf wants to add severance tax for natural gas job creators who already pay Impact Fees.  But guess who will really pay that tax in higher retail prices?!?”

And the Wolf extracts a money clip from a man’s jacket pocket.

Tom Wolf's economic plan for Pennsylvania

Tom Wolf’s economic plan for Pennsylvania

Then the camera pans up, to reveal a smiling sheepskin-clad Tom Wolf, gloating over a thick wad of cash.

The wolf-in-sheepskin concept is particularly apropos, given Tom Wolf’s repeated attempts to portray himself as one of us; caring about our jobs and home finances; and fretting over property taxes and pensions, when in fact, he’s more a 1%’er than even Allyson Schwartz!

Certainly you can slip a few more warnings into this message, such as Wolf’s plans for significant increases in personal income tax rates, or what higher taxes might mean in fewer employment opportunities (i.e. jobs), or how Wolf’s failure to acknowledge the Public Pension problem will continue to exert upward pressure on local Property Taxes.

By the time the commercial fades to ” … and I endorse this message”, you have a political crime spree to challenge the legends of Bonnie & Clyde and Henry Hill’s buddies from Goodfellas!

Unfortunately, this Wolf commercial never made it from Cranky Man-conception to Tom Corbett’s campaign, but they created several good Wolf-themed ads of their own.  Their most effective ad portrayed Pennsylvania citizens “longing” to pay more in taxes.  Effective because it focuses on working people. who scrimp to make every dollar last just a bit longer, and highlighting what a Tom Wolf-led State administration would cost them.

Getting Tom Wolf to give details on his taxing and economic plans for Pennsylvania is like trying to nail down smoke.  He claims that only after a detailed look at Pennsylvania’s financial books will he be able to tell you how high he will raise your taxes!

10600602_10152686691675862_3330359001644274492_nBut wait!  Didn’t Tom Wolf serve as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Revenue?!?  Has he not kept abreast of State financial conditions before he decided to run for Governor on a higher-taxes-are-fundamental platform?  How believable is it really that Tom Wolf has insufficient information to form a rudimentary picture of Pennsylvania’s economic health?

What exactly is Tom Wolf afraid of???

He’s afraid that Pennsylvanians will get a look at the real Tax Wolf under all that fluffy Professor Middle Class sheepskin!

To figure out the high cost of a Tom Wolf Pennsylvania start by adding up the Democrat’s Wish List:

  • Raise the Personal Income tax rate for everyone from the current 3.07% to potentially 5% since Pennsylvania’s constitution prohibits charging one group – i.e. The Rich (i.e. anyone making over just $90,000 a year) – more than anyone else.
    • This means, if your Employer withholds State Income Taxes and you fit under the anticipated $90,000 Rich Bracket, you might have the “pleasure” of watching The State earn interest on YOUR money while you wait until Tax Season to recoup what you can through the refund process!
  • Replacing $1 billion in “education cuts” the Democrats disingenuously claim Governor Corbett imposed on Pennsylvania schools.
    • You must – of course – ignore The Big Lie of the Democrat’s campaign vs. the truth of the loss of federal stimulus funding.
    • Also turn a blind eye to the fact that Governor Corbett has increased Education funding by $1 billion since taking office in 2011.
  • Accepting the Affordable Care Act “deal” to expand Medicaid, despite the fact that the federal government will only fund the added obligation to 90% of costs after 2016.
    • No doubt Tom Wolf will break a hip jumping onto the Obamacare Medicaid-expansion wagon!
    • Projected cost: $1 billion in FY15-16; climbing to $4.1 billion by 2021.
  • Fully fund the poorly managed School District of Philadelphia:  Despite the approval of a cigarette tax increase and changes (Finally!) to the financing of the teacher’s union healthcare program, the SPD still faces an $8 million deficit that remains from the 2014 fiscal year and $70 million shortfall for fiscal year 2015.
    • All this after SDP borrowed $300 million over the past 2 years.
    • What are the chances this problem goes away even if the SDP is “fully funded”?
  • State-pensionsRefusing to address the Public Pension crisis, which currently consumes 63% of all State revenues to cover EXISTING State and local pension obligations!
    • Wolf says he will make up the $50-65 Billion in pension shortfall by “rearranging budget priorities” (i.e. less money for things the State really needs, then raising taxes again in the future to cover any shortfall in services funding)
    • Cost of bridging the Pension Gap: $1300. per Pennsylvanian!

So what is Tom Wolf’s plan for paying for this Wish List?  Higher taxes, of course!  As early as 2007, Wolf – as Rendell’s Secretary of Revenue – testified about the need to raise State Income Taxes.

Tax increases seem to be a constant Tom Wolf theme.  Yet aside from raising severance taxes for the Natural Gas Industry (NGI), Wolf is actually committed to reducing Corporate Tax Rates.

Huh?

That’s right!  While Wolf is raising Income Taxes on you, he will look to reduce the tax burden of Corporations!

Consider then who will actually pay for that natural gas Severance Tax!  (Hint: It won’t be the NGI!)  The NGI will simply pass those costs on to you – the Consumer – in the prices you pay for natural gas in your home and for those products that rely on natural gas for their manufacture!

Taxes, taxes, taxes … More paid by you and less paid by most Pennsylvania corporations!

Tom Wolf as Governor?  Not exactly Pennsylvania’s Middle Class Dream now, is it?!?

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PA Attorney General Kane gets taken to the wood shed

woodshedThe story of Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane and the political corruption case she punted for reasons, which – if nothing else – have not as yet been explained to the satisfaction of anyone, just gets juicier and juicier.

Bad enough Kathleen Kane is being subjected to much second-guessing, her decision a head-scratching confusion; now she’s taking fire from a much disgusted fellow Democrat in Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Willliams.  In an opinion piece published in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Williams comes out swinging in defense of those who now work for him.

It’s a telling piece that throws even more doubt on the decision and Kane’s behavior in reaction to what should have been predictable and anticipated criticism.

Among Williams points revealed in Sunday’s op-ed (my editorials):

  • Williams confirms that the corruption case’s lead investigator, an African-American (such a distinction should not be necessary in almost any other situation) confirmed to Williams that racial targeting was never a direction of the sting operation.
  • Kane’s office was not in possession of the case files when she took office.  (Appearances suggest that Kane specifically demanded return of the files from the FBI before summarily acting to destroy the investigation and trove of case work.)
  • Kane’s reasoning for dumping the case due to the questionable deal given to undercover informant, Tyrone B. Ali, suggests the State AG has little appreciation for how such cases have been prosecuted successfully over-and-over again.  (How can that be the case for someone who acted as Assistant D.A. in Lackawanna County for 12 years?!?  Hmmmm … Maybe only if you never actually prosecuted anything?)
  • Williams is incredulous that Kane would hire personal lawyers that would keep her from answering any questions the public is rightfully entitled to hear.  (Why the veil of protection if a public servant is confident and – most of all – honest about her motivations and judgement?  Not to mention the fact that Kane … is …. a … LAWYER!  This among all the other mysteries connected with this fiasco reeks to high heaven in my humble opinion.)
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Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams

Perhaps Williams’ most damaging observation is that Kane has now sullied a tried and true technique used time and again by prosecutors ferreting out political corruption in the public arena.  She has stated for all the world to hear that turning a criminal into an informant, where some quid pro quo to the operative is normally a condition of their cooperation, renders any subsequent testimony suspect.

This is not at all an unusual view on the suspect motivations for a criminal turned informant and expected to testify against those further targeted.  Normally this would be a strategy for Defense Attorneys to attack at trial, not denounced in general as an investigative tool by those that prosecute.  

As a defendant’s strategy it should be analyzed; weighed; and judged by criminal magistrates and juries of one’s peers.  To have a State’s lead criminal prosecutor admit to such as a precursor to pressing any current or subsequent cases based on the same sort of ugly but sometimes necessary dirty work is simply incomprehensible!

Then to top off Kathy’s Day of Reckoning: Part 1 Frank Fina, the former State Prosecutor now working for Williams in the Philly D.A.’s office, challenges Kane to sit with him and The Inquirer to answer any and all questions posed in an effort to put this ridiculous episode to rest.

Fina fortifies his challenge by stating, “I have been a lawyer for 22 years, and a public servant for almost all of that time. I have not retained an attorney to advise me to speak, or to remain silent. I am an attorney.”

The question of course is exactly how large will Kathleen Kane’s legal entourage be … assuming she has the professional integrity to even show up?
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Part 2 of Ms. Kane’s reckoning should rightfully occur when next she runs for re-election.  She has already lost this vote from her first campaign!