Time to discuss public education funding, not “gang up on lawmakers””

I found the Daily Local News 10/5/14 editorial, “Homeowners, time to gang up on lawmakers,” very perplexing. (You can find the original version online in the Pottstown Mercury, 10/3/14.)

I actually favor state funding for public education, because I think it’s fairer than the current reliance on property taxes, but the details have to be considered carefully, and this editorial does not help at all. It doesn’t even mention that it is talking only about school taxes, not municipal and county property taxes.

“Property tax reform” has a nice ring to it but basically means transferring the financing of public education from local property owners to other types of tax.

As authorized by Senate Bill 76, does the editorial writer favor increasing state sales taxes from 6% to 7% and broadening the goods and services taxed (possibly including online sales)?

How about the proposed increase in state income tax from 3.07% to 4.34%?

And should school districts be able to levy personal income tax or earned income tax for new construction?

How would the proceeds be divided among school districts? If current district funding is locked in as the basis for future budgets, would that perpetuate the current unfairness?

How do we know that an across-the-board inflation-calibrated increase will meet students’ needs?

How would districts with growing or shrinking school populations be affected?

Could state funding become contingent on adopting certain state-approved policies and procedures?

Would the measure help public schools or further disadvantage them against charter and private schools?

Would funding in wealthier areas like Chester County be less than what the local population wishes to pay?

Would businesses and renters gain or lose from the shift in taxes?

Should revenue from any future natural gas extraction tax feed into public school funding?

I can understand that, considering a far-reaching bill, many PA legislators want to wait till next year to finish dealing with such questions, which the editorial writer does not discuss.

Instead, the editorial complains about attention given to issues like same sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. But there is a difference. Those are issues of human rights and freedoms, which should concern us all, not just those affected most directly. But I have not heard about any right not to pay property tax.

What particularly surprises me is the remark “Did you hear more about any other single issue [than same-sex marriage] in 2014?” It seems to me we’ve heard quite a lot about terrorism, Iraq and Syria, and ebola lately.

But oddly, the editorial does not seem to accept that the Daily Local chooses what to put in its pages. In the 10/5/14 issue, the main headline is “Beloved pig shot at animal sanctuary.” It could have been “Public school financing off Harrisburg agenda.” But it wasn’t.

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Ebola and MRSA

When an epidemic starts far away, we tend to be in denial. It couldn’t happen here because we have such an advanced medical system, right?

No man is an island and no country is a gated community.

Do you remember the scary arrival of AIDS in this country 30+ years ago? That also came to us from Africa, while people weren’t paying enough attention here. Doesn’t it make one think that the international community — with mainly the wealthy countries footing the bill — ought to be more active in helping improve health conditions around the world? The World Health Organization is doing what it can, but unfortunately their budget has declined recently.

And now ebola has reached Texas after all and the victim was initially turned away from a hospital. Whatever science can do, it can’t rule out human error.

And in one of the ironies of globalization, the Texas patient boarded his pane in Monrovia, named after our 5th president James Monroe, since Liberia was founded as a country by African Americans from the US in the first half of the 19th century.

The widening circle of ebola victims is to the world community as the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to the US population.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria aren’t a fringe group worry. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says:

…these drugs have been used so widely and for so long that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective.

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

We often hear about hospital infections and deaths due to MRSA. According to the Mayo Clinic,

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.

Most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers….

And why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? In part because of the overuse of antibiotics in industrial meat production. So much has been written about that, and so little improves because the meant lobby has such a stranglehold on Congress.

Here’s just one recent tidbit: “Taking a Health Hazard Home” by Stephanie Strom, New York Times, 9/15/14

A new study of a small group of workers at industrial hog farms in North Carolina has found that they continued to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria over several days, raising new questions for public health officials struggling to contain the spread of such pathogens….

If those workers know what’s good for them, they won’t eat the pork there — but they can’t avoid breathing.

The spread of ebola and MRSA has several lessons, in my view:

The US can’t keep out diseases from other countries (by the way, dengue fever is here too) and global warming isn’t going to help at all.

We and the other wealthy countries need to support third-world countries’ health care more, for their sake and our own.

We need a truly national health care system, so that no one who might have serious symptoms will hesitate to see a doctor immediately — or have to wait in line for hours either. A single-payer health care system for Pennsylvania, as proposed by Health Care for All PA, would be a good start.

Disruptions of populations, as by warfare — think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Middle East now –, spread disease. Read “1918 flu pandemic” in Wikipedia. Brought on by World War I, the so-called (and wrongly named) Spanish flu “infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.”

The world needs to get its priorities straight: less money for war, more for health!

PS: More on the budget: the entire 2014 budget for the CDC, which through the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases is leading US ebola help to West Africa, is $11.3 billion.

Meanwhile, according to the National Priorities Project, the US has spent over $1.5 trillion on wars since 2001, and so far just in 2014 over $18 billion on nuclear weapons.

See also: “Budget Cuts ‘Eroded Our Ability to Respond’ to Ebola, Says Top Health Official” by Gabrielle Canon, Mother Jones, 10/1/14.

In terms of national security, isn’t protection against epidemics a more beneficial expenditure than nuclear weapons?

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The Eye of the Fire, 9/11

The Eye of the Fire

The sky blue

Dresden London Manhattan

the firebrands the airplanes wayward

rise in the sky crazy suns fall

twisting and burning the planets the blue

skin of the buildings the churches

the towers the temples of trade

the people running innocent

the ones burning and fleeing always are innocent

fleeing the flames in the road in the alley the overfilled staircases

innocence always quicker to burn jumping and falling

not understanding the violent hand hasty to act but

trying to undo the image so many have seen and seen and rerun

the gash in the smooth face well-remembered well-photographed

the melting of steel the downfall of stone

that image fought back by the vision of eyes

needing no understanding

the gaze of humanity surpassing the warmth

of the eye of the fire of the sky.

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2010 advice to the President and structural problems

In my files I came across a piece of writing from January 2010 that I don’t seem to have ever posted. I’m going to paste it farther below, because it just shows how slowly things change in our country.

Actually, we’re still trying to sort out some of the issues bequeathed to us by our esteemed Founders: large states vs. small states, executive vs. legislative vs. judicial branches, liberty vs. equality, security vs. freedom from unreasonable searches, the aftermath of slavery, economic injustice, access to education, who controls the military, and much more.

I did post, on 3/27/10, a different set of ideas in “My advice to Obama, 11/30/08,” which you can read here.

Do we still remember those days in early 2010 when the current administration was just a year old, it still wasn’t clear whether or when the country would recover from the great crash of 2008, the Tea Party was just taking shape, the Affordable Care Act was not yet signed into law (3/23/10), the disastrous (for Democrats and in some ways mainstream Republicans and the country) 2010 election had not yet occurred, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (1/10) was just about to lead to the huge influx of political money into Super PACs and “social welfare” organizations?

Despite all that, I still think things move slowly around here.

The piece I just found, dated 1/29/10, shows that structurally nothing much has changed. Even Obamacare, if it stays with us, does not change the basic system of people purchasing insurance health care from private profit-making organizations (except for special groups like veterans and seniors). And that “hands-off dance the administration and Congress have been doing for the last year” has now stretched on to almost 6 years, with no end in sight.

So here are my thoughts, just as written 4+ years ago [plus a few comments added in brackets]:

After the November 2008 election, president-elect Obama asked for advice from the public, and I planned to set out mine in some detail. I know he was quite busy, but someone somewhere might have had time to read it. What I did get around to sending was a brief note that 25% of Americans would always oppose and detest him and that he should proceed to try to listen to and please the other 75%. It doesn’t seem that that advice, which certainly must have come from many quarters, registered on him till this month [meaning January 2010].

What I would have said more fully, according to the page of notes I’ve found, was that it was high time for the government to try to solve some really serious structural problems that are making this country almost non-functional in its domestic policies, and that threaten the people’s future well-being. I’m not talking about tweaks and adjustments, but these critical areas:

1) Economics: too much inequality of wealth, insecurity of families and communities, loss of income, jobs, and homes; too much dependence on consumer spending and imports, not enough on producing needed goods and services; lack of sufficient rewards for hard work; imbalance of expenditures between the military and all other areas [I should have specified discretionary]; corporate overpowering of small businesses.

2) Education: insufficient opportunities for children who need the most help; over-reliance on property tax to fund public schools; decline of public universities.

3) Health care: lack of a fair national health care program; millions with no insurance who are therefore cared for minimally and at public expense anyhow; inadequate care of veterans; poor performance with regard to cost and in comparison to other developed countries.

4) Transportation and energy: over-reliance on cars and trucks; weak mass transportation in most regions; poor progress on alternative energy sources; dependence on foreign sources of oil necessitating expensive military operations [actually, has that changed? I'm doubtful, as long as we are both importing and exporting gas and oil].

5) Political life: need to inspire voters to turn out in the relatively good numbers of Nov. 2008; counteract excessive lobbying influence, corruption, gerrymandering, apathy.

These are issues that need to be solved by total rethinking and recasting, not by little adjustments and compromises. I’d love to think that the public, or the free market, or generous philanthropists, could solve any of this, but honestly, I think these are federal and/or state government questions.

So, how is the government doing? It’s hard to apportion blame in the hands-off dance the administration and Congress have been doing for the last year, but between the two of them, though a few individuals have been trying, the results so far are terrible. We’ll see if any of the energy of the State of the Union message gets spread around, but since the president made some of the same promises before and after his election, I’m not optimistic. We’ve had gridlock, we have gridlock, and things continue to degrade in the five challenge areas listed above.

I’ve been saying for a year that Obama should give up on true health care reform [I meant, table it until later, rather than fighting it through without features than many thought were essential, like the "public option"] and make the 2010 congressional election a sort of referendum on what the public wants. Elections should be referendums, but that works out only if the public is paying attention. It is said that Americans get the government they deserve. If they don’t pay attention, they get terrible government. With the decline in voting from November 2008 to November 2009, what might encourage us to expect sudden improvement after November 2010?
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Posted in Politics, President & candidates, US House, US Senate | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Responsibility in the country, responsibility in the world

How is President Obama like the United States?

Answer: both get blamed whatever they do.

In the continuing antics of the US House of Representatives, the Boehner team wants President Obama to wait for their permission to do anything. After they’ve played about with the federal law-making system till it’s completely broken, they want the President to just leave it lying broken and bleeding in the halls of the Capitol.

So, if the President tries to make the Affordable Health Care Act, which Congress passed in 2010, phase in more smoothly, they sue him.

But they expect him to act when they don’t know what they want. Then it’s the President’s fault for not doing enough. Why isn’t he acting faster to solve the child immigration crisis brought on by a law passed by Congress and signed by his predecessor in 2008?

On the international scene, similarly, other countries sit around waiting for the U.S. to solve the latest problem, and then everyone blames us for whatever we do or don’t do.

We broke Iraq, in Colin Powell’s term, so we own it. and of course we and we alone are responsible for saving people being massacred there.

According to an AP story today,

This is going to be a long-term project” that won’t end and can’t succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad capable of keeping the country from breaking apart, Obama said at the White House….

“We can conduct air strikes, but, ultimately, there’s not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support,” he said.

In other words, the country that Western powers artificially carved out after World War I will be broken till the U.S. finally lets its pieces go their separate ways. Till then, while everyone else watches, we’ll be sending in bombing missions and advisors and security forces to protect our security forces.

Afghanistan–we also broke it, and it’s still broken too. Western Europe broke Ukraine by trying to tear it out of the Russian orbit, and Russia’s Putin rushed in and picked up a prime chunk of it.

And then there’s the 70-year piece of tragic theater playing out between Israel and Palestine. The cooped-up people who have been killed in large numbers recently are inhabitants of Gaza, which is part of Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire, which was broken up by the Western powers after World War I. Even their next-door neighbor Egypt won’t let needed supplies in over the border. Everyone’s waiting for the US to fix that disaster too. 

If we do anything (other than give both sides money and equipment) it’s our fault, and if we don’t, it’s our fault too. Over generations, the US has created a culture of dependency, and now we can’t break the cycle. I don’t mean just the culture of dependency of Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan; I mean the dependency of the world, waiting for us to do something.

It makes you think the people in power better not keep breaking things, doesn’t it? Except the culture of dependency on the US, that is.

When legislators and countries won’t do their job, there is gridlock. Gridlock isn’t good for anyone, at least anyone who believes in democracy.

In the US House of Representatives, the people in power aren’t taking the responsibility to do their job, which is to pass laws for the benefit of the country. If Americans are paying attention, they will go to the polls in November to say what they think about irresponsible legislators.

And the countries of the world aren’t taking the responsibility to do their job, which is to advance their own citizens’ interests while trying for good relations among countries, which is also in the interest of their own citizens and all citizens of the world.

Posted in International, President & candidates, US House | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The secret Boehner memo on Bowe Bergdahl

From: John Boehner
To: Republican Members of the US House of Representatives
5/30/14

Dear Colleagues,

Our friends at NSA, who know everything, have informed me that some sort of deal may be in the works for the release of a US prisoner named Bowe Bergdahl.

A) If the deal goes through, our response will be: Who is this Bergdahl guy anyhow and how did he get captured? Does he speak any foreign languages? Are we sure he is really an American? How dare this administration make deals with the likes of the Taliban? Is Obama releasing terrorists to go back to their wicked ways? His attempts to shut down the detention facility at Guantánamo, like Benghazi and Obamacare (feel free to enlarge on those themes), show the bad faith of this administration.

B) If the deal doesn’t go through, here’s our line: How dare this administration leave this poor American boy in the clutches of the Taliban for 5 long years? Has Obama no concern for the feelings of the Bergdahl parents and the suffering people of Hailey, Idaho, who have never given up hope? Our prayers are with this loyal American whose continued captivity, like Benghazi and Obamacare (feel free to enlarge on those themes) shows the bad faith of this administration.

Please instruct your staffs to choose the relevant argument whenever any news comes through.

For your eyes only.

JB

Posted in Peace and War, Satire, US Senate | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Are the Republicans really afraid of Wolf or just playing games?

This week I received two expensive-looking glossy 4-page mailers (two attached 8.5 X 11″ pages printed on both sides) urging me to vote against Tom Wolf in the May 20 Democratic primary election. You may have gotten those too?

I don’t know to whom the mailers are directed, but I am betting: to Democrats who vote regularly in primaries.

Both mailers are “paid for by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.” Why?

They could have winked at one of their super-rich friends (including corporations and PACs, now that those are human beings too) and gotten the job done by dark money. But they must have wanted the Republican name on the mailer.

They can’t be so naive as to think a regular Dem voter is going to vote for Tom Corbett this year. Even a lot of Republicans aren’t likely to do that. The plan could be to disrupt the Democratic primary. This is why, though I know many disagree, I favor the current PA system of closed primaries. If R’s and I’s could vote in this year’s 4-way Dem gubernatorial primary, they could throw the victory to the candidate perceived as the weakest, or the one least likely to garner real Dem support–if they can figure out who that is; the four still in the race are the ones with the most staying power of a good field of nine.

Of course, the Republican Party of PA knows Corbett is considered the most endangered governor in the country and could take down other R candidates with him, and presumably the strategists are trying to reduce the danger by whatever desperate means they can find.

One’s first line of thought is: as a businessman, Wolf has the money to spend and he can appeal to business owners in a way that Corbett (who can’t appeal to anyone but the oils and gas industry) can’t; and Wolf, unlike his rivals, can’t be described as having a lengthy political background (he was Secretary of Revenue for a year and a half, April 2007 until November 2008).

For several months Wolf has been, as it were, far at the head of the pack. But actually, all the Dems have consistently beaten Corbett in polling so far. It’s not clear to me which candidate the Republicans would prefer. Their two mailers don’t tell me whom they’d like me to vote for. Maybe that one will come soon.

Actually, the PA Republican party has also explicitly attacked Rob McCord. So would they rather their guy run against a woman (McGinty or Schwartz) than a man? I suggest they better be careful what they wish for.

The premises of the mailers are so stupid as to make one wonder if it’s all more subtle than first appears. One ad blames Wolf for raising taxes when he was Secretary of Revenue. By that reasoning, who is the mighty titan who currently determines budgets and taxes in Harrisburg? Dan Meuser that’s who.

But note that his department
, of course, is purely administrative:

The Department of Revenue’s mission is to fairly, efficiently and accurately administer the tax laws and other revenue programs of the commonwealth to fund necessary government services. In addition to tax collection, the department administers the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program, researches and develops revenue projections for the state budget and oversees the Pennsylvania Lottery, which generates funds for programs that benefit older Pennsylvanians.

It doesn’t take much political savvy to know that the General Assembly, not cabinet officials, makes laws and set budgets and tax rates. That’s what it means to have separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

The other mailer attacks Wolf for making a profit in selling his company. That’s odd: isn’t that what businessmen do? Why is the party of big business attacking a businessman for making money from business? Very perplexing.

For more considerations, see Jake Sternberger, “PA Republicans: We Accidentally Lost $87M Dollars. But Here Are Some Lies about Tom Wolf,” Keystone Politics, May 13, 2014.

Wolf could now get a bounce from saying: “The other side is really afraid of me, so vote for me.” Often, in politics, nasty flashy stupid ads generate a backlash. And note that the second ad has a powerful and rather attractive image of a wolf (three times, actually). I like the looks of that wolf better than a bulldog I saw the other day. Wolves have a lot of appeal now among conservationists, as a symbol of the way nature used to be, the balance of powers in the natural world.

Back in February, a neighbor told me: “I really like those ads by that Paul Fox guy.” Foxes, today, are fairly well received animals too (except by chicken farmers). We’ve had foxes (and a coyote) in my neighborhood in the borough of West Chester; they help keep down the four-footed pest population.

Now there’s a potential campaign icon: voters sending Wolf (or fox, terrier, whatever) in to clean up the Harrisburg hen coop. I can see the ads now, the feathers flying, Corbett and the R operatives flapping out the door.

On consideration, I think the Republican Party of PA really handed one to Fox, I mean Wolf.

Perhaps the Republican strategists don’t really care who the Dem candidate is and have given up on Corbett? Perhaps they are just trying to confuse Dems ideologically in order to hold on to the R majority in the PA House and Senate? Perhaps they are really more afraid of McCord, McGinty, and Schwartz and actually want to generate sympathy for Wolf? Do they have something on Wolf they aren’t talking about yet?

Such subtleties, like the apparent preference for Corbett to face a woman, could backfire.

Whatever the case, one can certainly conclude that the Republican party has more money than it knows what to do with. And they are running scared, very scared.

Wolf or no Wolf, Dems should get out to the polls on Tuesday and show that, whoever they vote for, they aren’t intimidated.

Posted in PA Governor | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment