Archive for July 2015

What’s The Difference Between New York City and Philadelphia?

July 29, 2015

Philadelphia is a grand city well known for its role in history. Our Country can be traced to Philadelphia for starters. Sports teams, the symphony orchestra, universities, and museums rank among the best in the nation. So why the question about comparing Philadelphia to New York City?

The Pope is coming and with the Pope, lots of people, that’s why.

Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia on September 25 and 26. The Pope will also visit Washington and New York City too. While both of those cities will certainly want to put their best foot forward, the Pontiff’s visit is no big deal. Washington and NYC are used to foreign dignitaries of all types caravanning through town. But not Philadelphia.

Philadelphia enjoys large tourist crowds through out the year.  The question is how large is “large”/   The local tourist bureau estimates that on average 100,000 or so visitors come to the city each day. That’s a lot of people but is about one tenth or one twentieth the number anticipated to visit Philadelphia during the Pope’s visit. Hmmm.

City officials are clearly panicked over the prospect of crowd control, emergency services, and public conveniences. Subway access will be limited to those holding a lottery pass.  This will limit the use of public transportation to those lucky few. Officials have hinted at wide areas of street closures and even wider swatches of no parking. Many Philadelphians, however, have seen this visit as an opportunity to rent their home or apartment and make some money. Hmmm.

Philadelphia is much more like Boston as large cities go. Both are relatively small compared to NYC and feature residences snuggled along side of major tourist attractions. After business hours, Philadelphia becomes a “bedroom” community while New York remains alive 7/24.

It is possible that city officials are making too much of “what can go wrong” possibilities but better safe than sorry, I suppose.

For my money, I think I will just go to Baltimore and escape the crowds.

Pennsylvania’s Conundum

July 28, 2015

Pennsylvania has a Democrat Governor and a Republican controlled legislature. The State is largely conservative with two progressive islands centered in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Elections are usually close indicating a voter balance, not a geographical balance. A political conundrum is playing out now but it is uncertain whether Pennsylvania will take a step forward or slip further to the rear.

At issue is the pledge Governor Tom Wolf made during his 2014 campaign. Wolf said he would tax the shale gas producers and use the proceeds for education. Pennsylvania has a broken formula for funding public schools. In general, the GOP is against any further State aid because the aid would mean an increase in taxes.

The larger cities (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) desperately need more funding and respond well to politicians who promise it. Wolf promised aid and now he’s trying to deliver.

The GOP legislature leader has offered a compromise. He would consider new taxes if Wolf would support privatization of the State Liquor store system. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is the largest purchaser of wine, beer, and liquor in the entire United States. The system offers Pennsylvanians rude and disinterested service with shoddy stock levels and high prices. Just what one would expect from a government controlled bureaucracy.

So what could be the resistance to such a trade, school support for private liquor stores?

The Pennsylvania liquor stores employ a lot of people and those people vote. There is also the issue of who would get the privatized stores once they were offered to the public (the underlying issue being which party would benefit). A second issue is who would inherent the pension and severance responsibility if the stores were privatized. Both of these problems are solvable.

The high price of Pennsylvania purchased booz is a matter of taxes primarily. In any move to privatize, the State will have to think this one through. New Jersey and New York have comparable tax levels but Delaware and Maryland are lower. A private system should bring better service to Pennsylvanians and competition should improve price and selections, Sounds like a winner to me.

My guess is that this offer of “school aid” for “liquor privatization” will slowly die and in the end the State will look the other way with respect to public school funding.

For those who don’t drink or live near the State boarders, who cares? For those who live in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, there are always private or charter schools, so who cares here too. Hmmm.

Tell me again what a “bi-partisan” solution looks like?

2016 Presidential Race – What’s Important?

July 26, 2015

With 21 announced candidates for the Democrat and Republican Presidential nominations, once again we are reminded of what a great job POTUS is. These 21 Americans are willing to spend millions (of other people’s money) and rendered themselves naked though constant scrutiny from the media. Truly their lives no longer belong to them as they are steadily sucked into the public light. Why do people go down this path?

The candidates usually offer in one form or another the message that America has been good to them and they now wish to give back. Some candidates dress this basic statement in a dire description of today’s America. With a serious look each candidate tells America that they are the most qualified to become commander in chief and lead Americans towards the American dream. Hmmm.

None of the candidates, however, relay how much money they are spending, or at what type of expenses they are throwing their money at. Candidates almost never reveal the sources of their campaign donations and absolutely never discuss what they have promised (or what implied policy choices they will make) in order to gain a donors’ money.

And candidates leave no hint of how much time they spend on raising money versus how much time they spend thinking about policies. Hmmm.

The GOP hopefuls have been particularly vocal in the early primary stages. When not wrapping themselves in the flag, many have made it their business to tout their own qualifications by tearing down those of their competitors.

I wonder whether these candidates think that in the unlikelihood they were to become President that they could conduct foreign policy by pointing out how short sighted the French economic policy might be or how meager the effectiveness of British military efforts?

Sooner or later, all the candidates will address subjects like the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Defense Spending, Balancing the Budget, and keeping US interests abroad well managed. The GOP will see domestic issues as costs and foreign issues as national security concerns. This generally means less domestic services and more defense spending.  Democrats will propose robust support of domestic programs if not increasing their coverage and cost.

The GOP will shrink costs without revealing the people and places which will obtain less while the Democrats will sing the virtues of more without confirming the “more” will also cost “more”.

More fundamental discussions such as really reforming healthcare and lowering the amount of money America spends will be absent.  Making healthcare available to everyone (as in Europe) could have profound impacts upon the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid. The two dozen or so healthcare models around the world deliver better health outcomes than the US at about one half the cost. If America put its mind to it, a Universal Healthcare System would eliminate the need for the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid themselves.

Investments in infrastructure, education, and poverty reduction could enable America to become more competitive on a global stage and in doing so, provide better jobs for more Americans. More competitiveness will translate into a rebirth of the American dream. Hmmm.

So, when we hear candidate “X” speak of fixing Medicare by vouchers or Medicare by block grants or the Affordable Care Act by eliminating mandatory enrollment, you can be sure this candidate is really about rationing these services on ability to pay. This candidate has no interest in how to provide the service in a more cost effective manner.

If each of us had a magic wand, and when one of these 21 candidates began to speak we could raise a hand and say “stop, I have a few simple questions to ask”. For example,

  • How much time are you spending raising money
  • Who are the major contributors to your campaign
  • What have you promised or implied in order to gain this money
  • How can healthcare be made available to all Americans in an affordable manner
  • How can American workers aspire to better paying jobs
  • Where should America invest in order to improve our national productivity
  • How should any improvements in national productivity be shared

In such an imaginary discussion, we would quickly separate the pretty face and slick one liner candidates from those of substance.  Hmmm.

Christie – Chutzpah or Gall

July 25, 2015

All’s fair in love and war. Hmmm. So goes the old saying. One wonders whether Governor Chris Christie’s desperate efforts to make the cut for the first GOP televised debate was the inspiration of this phrase, or whether he was inspired himself by these well known words?

Christie’s problem is actually quite simple. In a field of 16 candidates, how can the Governor gain the name recognition necessary to garner a top 10 rating. With Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio already sucking most of the oxygen from the room, the remaining field all appear lackluster and undifferentiated. Why Christie and not Kasich or Santorum or Carson or etc?

Christie has elected to show us his “chutzpah” (or was it his gall). He has launched an ad in Iowa calling President Obama a liar. Hmmm. The lie, Christie says relates to how the President described the nuclear deal with Iran. Hmmm.

The bad taste Christie has displayed is jaw dropping. President Obama is, of course, President and even if someone disagrees strongly with the President’s actions, there are civil ways to express those feeling without debasing the office. For those who disagree with everything the President does or says, Christie’s words flow like honey.

Ironically Christie has some baggage of his own. He embraced the President after super storm Sandy racked the New Jersey coast. President Obama and Federal aid could not come in big enough quantities. Governor Christie was effusive over the President’s help. Oh yes, earlier in Christie’s term the Governor withdrew New Jersey’s support for a new rail tunnel to New York City. Christie said the tunnel was too expensive and wasn’t needed. Here’s another, The Governor also made a deal with the Democrat controlled legislature over fixing the Pension Fund deficit. I wonder how these decisions have turned out?

Three years after Hurricane Sandy, many communities have still not recovered. Federal money has been spent for all sorts of other pet projects while many residents who suffered Sandy losses wait. Hmmm.

The Northeast rail corridor which runs from Washington to Boston is creaking. Delays getting into and out of New York City have become routine events. Oh, it would be nice to have a new tunnel. Christie’s decision, however, has pushed this project back and when inevitably it is restarted, the price tag will be much larger for tax payers… the bill, however, will also come due on someone else’s shift.

Like many States, New Jersey has underfunded its State employees pension. Hmmm. Christie struck a deal with the legislature which involved changes to future obligations in exchange for Governors promise to make specific yearly contributions. This year when the bill came due, Christie reneged on his promise and short changed the State pension payment. Hmmm.

Christie is not alone in his Iran nuclear arms deal opposition. Being for a better deal is the popular view of most GOP Congressional members. And that was Christie’s problem. How could he campaign on “me too”?

It just seems a bit short sighted on Christie’s part. New Jersey residents have no problem confusing “Honest Abe Lincoln” with their Chris Christie. My guess is soon so will the entire country and they will see most of the GOP Presidential hopefuls in the same light.

Finding A Serious Person

July 23, 2015

Senator Mitch McConnell said yesterday that “no serious person truly believes” that the US faces the dilemma of either accepting the “deal” with Iran or going to war over Iran’s nuclear program. This is a brilliant statement which is literally correct but irrelevant to the question now before Congress. Should the Congress approve the deal negotiated with Iran or find a “veto proof” majority necessary to reject it?
Of course, McConnell’s statement is correct. There is no requirement for the US to go to war with Iran in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (even though Congressional leaders and the President have said the US should). And, the likelihood of war would be even lower if the US manned up and asked the country to pay “war taxes” and “ agree to a draft” as conditions to go to war with Iran.   But that isn’t the question on the table.

The question Congress must address is “is the specific agreement reached with Iran (and accepted by the UN) in America’s best interest?

Opponents of this agreement have long said the agreement is not good enough. They demand “a better deal”. While “a better deal” is often described as containing a Iran pledge to acknowledge “Israel’s right to exist”, there is nothing in the current agreement which supports Iran’s current denial of Israel’s right to exist either. This agreement is silent on that issue.

There are several aspects of the proposed agreement, however, which make one wonder. For example, the agreement is a 10 year one. Why 10 years and not longer? Why accept a reduced number of centrifuges instead of requiring all centrifuges be destroyed? Why are inspectors not free to go anywhere in Iran at any time and look for possible Iran cheating?

All of these “whys” might make a better deal. Does it require a “serious person” to understand that? Hmmm.

The real world is far more complicated than Senator McConnell would let on. Iran has its views on what its best interests look like. The deal negotiated was the “best” deal available given the efforts of 6 world powers and Iran. The proper question is rather “is this agreement good enough to delay by 10 years Iran’s development of nuclear weapons”? And “a serious person” needs to look closely at the agreement and ask that question.

Alas, Senator McConnell is really asking for “serious persons” to look the other way and let the alliance of GOP Congress members and Israel stop any agreement.

Worse than just stopping the agreement, Senator McConnell has no clue as to how to obtain a better one. And even worse than that, with a rejection of this agreement, Iran is free to resume its nuclear development program immediately and head towards the ultimate deployment of nuclear weapons.

Presumably if this path is followed either Israel or the West will decide to intercede with military force.


Lessons From The Iran Deal

July 21, 2015

The UN today voted unanimously to approve the nuclear weapons deal negotiated by the six major powers and Iran. The UN is now poised to remove its sanctions and will be joined quickly by the rest of the world… except probably the US. The tentative deal still requires a sign off from Iran’s Supreme Leader and a review by the US Congress. Either a veto proof rejection by Congress or a “no thank you” by Iran will be necessary to put the agreement back in the bargaining phase. Hmmm.

Israel and GOP Congressional members seem aligned and opposed to the deal. They argue, without much rationale, that the deal is a “bad one” and the West should hold out for a “better” deal. Unfortunately, “better” is left either poorly defined or containing some suggestions which are obviously non-starters. Why do these groups want to keep the current status quo when it should be clear that Iran will proceed with nuclear development and eventually weaponize its technology? At that point there will be no alternative than military intervention with a nuclear capable country.

The US has already said it will not tolerate a “nuclear Iran” and that can only mean (with no agreement) that the use of force will be necessary to prevent Iran from developing or deploying nuclear weapons. This is a terrible outcome.
To be sure, the US cannot be afraid of war and sign just any agreement. On the other hand, a well crafted agreement should be able to set clear boundaries and detect Iran violations of the agreement. At such a point, sanctions could be returned and the use of force could just as easily be applied as in the caae where there had been no agreement. The main difference is that with no agreement, the outcome is clear. With an agreement, there is a chance to avoid war. Hmmm.

So why again are the GOP, especially the Presidential candidates, so outspoken about rejecting the agreement?
Certainly on one level the disagreement is about politics. How can GOP candidates who have openly sided with Israel against President Obama suddenly embrace this agreement. Also from a certain perspective, being against the agreement is a subtle bet that the Iranians might cheap as Israel has predicted, and more importantly, the Iranians might get caught in this trickery. Wouldn’t it be great next year, as a GOP candidate, to say “see I told you so” and “you can’t trust Democrats with national security” The price of poker just went up.

No one knows at this point whether the tentative agreement is a “good one” or not. If the agreement is a “good one”, there is no way at this time to know whether the Iranians will try and “cheat” anyways. The only thing certain is that with no agreement, war is inevitable or the world will have to accept another nuclear capable country, this time Iran.

Sadly, just as with Saddam Hussain, the world is not going to be a better place with a nuclear free Iran. War with Iran over its national nuclear aspiration interest is not going to make the world a better place. What about North Korea or Pakistan or India or China?

The post cold war world is a different place than when the West wore the white hats and the Soviets wore the black ones. The public needs to think more deeply about what their politicians are saying, compare their words to the facts, and especially to what they have said in the past.

The lessons here show the GOP playing the same “Remove Saddam Hussein” tune in the face of the historical record which clearly shows the invasion and occupation of Iraq to have been a devastatingly bad decision.

There may be 16 GOP candidates (today). Listen carefully to see whether any of them get it right.

(Note – There is a rational position GOP members could hold against this agreement which says war may not be inevitable.  Tough sanctions held in place long enough might weaken Iran so much that events lead to a natural Iran regime change.  So the better course of action now, this argument goes, would have been to keep sanctions in place while negotiating and allow time to pass (no deadlines).  If you believe Iran will not weaponize their nuclear technology or won’t socialize it among the many Iranian client radical groups, then this might be a defensible option.  It is, however, not a low risk option.)

Trump Update Thanks To John McCain

July 19, 2015

The news headlines yesterday were emblazoned with “Trump calls McCain no war hero”. Oh, how could he say that? We all know that John McCain was a prisoner of war held and tortured by the North Vietnamese. How could Trump say such a thing? And more to the point, why would Trump say such words?

Most polls are showing Trump the leader amongst the many GOP Presidential primary candidates. His lead is small but the mere fact that someone totally unqualified to be President is leading the GOP pack is both disturbing and mind blowing. How could this be?

The Trumpster may wake up one of these days and begin to think he has a chance to be the 21st century Ronald Reagan. When that happens, we will see whether Donald regrets any of these brash comments he has made. Given his present approach, Trump is not likely to say publicly he regrets anything.

So what’s Trump’s message in attacking McCain?

IMO, there are two messages. The first is aimed at any GOP member who chooses to attack Trump, especially any candidate who labels Trump as unqualified. The McCain attack was “pay back” and a warning to Bush et al about what might await them if they were to criticize the Trumpster.

The second message is to reaffirm with the public that he, Donald the Trump and him alone is brave enough to say the king has no cloths (tell it as it is). In fact John McCain was not a war hero in the sense of Audie Murphy. John McCain was a pilot who got enormously unlucky and got shot down and captured. From all accounts, McCain acted with great courage and honor during his captivity and suffered grievous injuries at the hands of his captors. While McCain should be held with high respect by the public for his war time service, his political career mark his as is just another Republican or Senate member. Trump used this unusual method to remind the public of that.

Trump’s supporter got the message while those against Trump became outraged. The big question is what message did Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker receive?

Trump’s appeal appears to lie in the fact that at least part of what he says is considered true by his supporters and “politically” incorrect by his detractors.  More and more people are getting tired of “political” correctness.  I wonder whether anyone is thinking about whether the Trumpster is making a case for his qualification as President?

What Trump Is Teaching Americans

July 14, 2015

The GOP heavy weights are beside themselves with Donald Trumps high poll numbers. No only is the Donald not their pick for the GOP nomination, he is on a path to put many holes in the Republican ship… below the waterline. Hmmm.

Political pundits are writing much about his run for the GOP prize. Most everyone is sure Trump has no chance and that his extreme views are likely to hurt the Republican cause. And if the polls hold, the Donald will be one of the top ten candidates when the first televised “GOP debate” comes along, ahead of other far more credible candidates like Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and George Pataki. Hmmm.

Trumps’s apparent success has been attributed to pandering to minority groups. Hmmm, tell me something all the GOP candidates have not tried to do. Other observers have postured that Trump is a celebrity and therefore Americans are attracted to him regardless of his public statements. Neither seem sufficient to explain his reception given his divisive statements.

A more likely explanation for Trump’s success is that he is saying exactly what the other candidates want to say to the early primary voters (who tend to be extreme in their views)but are afraid to. In addition, Republican voters believe Trumps means what he is saying while they view the words of the other candidate as typical politician words (I mean this today, I mean that tomorrow). Polls have long indicated the broad disillusionment voters have with elected officials. Trust is a quality in short supply.

So, to the question, what is Trump teaching Americans, my guess is his candidacy will be just a blur in a few months. Since voters have become resistant to requiring candidates to offer complete and logical explanations for their public positions, a spark of truth (maybe only anidotal at that) will for a moment or two, especially if it appeals to ones preconceived ideas, carry the day.

Donald Trump is on a path to become the Herman Cain or Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman of 2016.  Long live the Donald.

Religious Tolerance?

July 9, 2015

A suburban Philadelphia private parochial school is making news. The school, located in the wealthy Marion neighborhood, dismissed (fired) their popular (from students and parents perspective) director of religious studies. No specific reason was given since the school does not comment on personnel matters. Hmmm.

Margie Winters, an employee at the Waldron Mercy Academy since 2007, was notified in late June of her dismissal. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said it had no involvement. I wonder why they felt the need to comment?

Oh yes, Margie and her wife are in a same sex marriage.

In a time when the law of the land approves same sex marriages, this particular religious school seems to think it is better to follow older and more conservative rules. The school must feel students should understand that it is ok to discriminate and treat some others as if they are second class humans for “religious” reasons, even though the nation (just recently) has decided not to discriminate. Christian charity? Hmmm.

Waldron Mercy may not be over this “forced error”. While the Academy is a private institution and has broad justification to claim it was just following Catholic teachings, they have also been more than willing to accept State financial aid. With the acceptance of State aid, Waldron Mercy falls under the State anti-discrimination laws. Hmmm.

Think about it, someone can be qualified to be a director of religious education but those qualification cease upon open knowledge of a same sex marriage. Hmmm.

Hillary, Bernie, and The GOP’s Worst Nightmare

July 8, 2015

Bernie Sanders is drawing large and enthusiastic crowds, and attracting generous campaign donations. Problems for Hillary Clinton? Maybe, but most likely a greater problem for the GOP.

Sanders strength seems tied to his populous themes, income inequality and how big business and big banks are linked to the loss of the American Dream. The response to Sanders and his message has surprised most pundits as it unleashes the energy of millennials. So why isn’t this a problem for Hillary?

In political contests, of course, anything is possible. Hillary could become over confident or arrogant and ruin her appeal to most Democrat voters. Iowa, New Hampshire, and Maine, however, do not represents the heart of the Democrat Party.  Mainstream Democrats, while sympathetic to Sanders’ message would still see Hillary as more qualified to become President, Accordantly, Clinton would seem still the overwhelming favorite to gain the Democrat nomination.

So where do the nightmares come in?

Sanders is speaking to a core issue for many Americans for which no GOP candidate has offered a believable answer. Sanders’ supporters will not jump to a GOP candidate should Sanders inevitably lose out to Hillary. While there might be the tendency for Bernie’s helpers to stay home on election day and avoid support for Hillary, the Paul Ryan budget which more or less all GOP candidates salute, will stand in such stark contrast to Sanders’ message that his supporters will hold their nose and vote for Hillary.

When Sanders first announced his candidacy, the GOP hopefuls thought what a blessing to have him nipping at Hilary’s heels. They will soon be waking up to the prospect that Bernie Sanders is their worst nightmare.