Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rendell, cronies do not deserve another pay hike

Seven months after abandoning a plan to raise their own salaries by nearly 20 percent, Gov. Ed Rendell and the Republican-controlled state Legislature are making noises about — you guessed it — hiking their pay.

Rendell and the Legislature left so much undone in the waning days of 2004, but one thing they desperately tried to pass was a pay raise for themselves. This would have been a pay hike on top of the automatic 5.2 percent cost-of-living increase the Legislature previously approved for itself, ensuring that the most bloated legislature in the country also remains one of the highest paid.

Since 1995, the last time Harrisburg politicians had the courage to debate their salaries publicly, the lawmakers passed legislation that gives them automatic pay raises each year based on the cost-of-living index in the Philadelphia region (which is a lot higher than the rest of the state).

So while most workers received 1.5 percent to 3 percent cost-of-living adjustments, our voracious public servants saw their pay rise much higher than the rate of inflation.

Another trick the politicians like to play is to tie their salaries to those of state judges or cabinet officers so they can piggyback their salaries and watch them go higher each time another state officials gets a raise.

Fresh off the fiasco of Act 72, unable to solve the state's growing health-care crisis and unwilling to deal with the issue of chronic underfunding of public schools, our esteemed lawmakers have the nerve to bring up the topic of lining their own pockets again.

Rendell's latest proposal — to tie an increase in the state's minimum wage to pay raises for politicians — is the height of hypocrisy. It's bad enough that so many of the state's working poor struggle for a meager existence. Don't use them as a stepping stone to boost your own pay, governor.

At $155,572 a year, Rendell already makes more than 3.5 times the average salary of a Pennsylvania worker ($42,000) and Rendell gets to live rent-free in a mansion paid for by the taxpayers. He also gets to drive around in a state car (which has been clocked at 100 mph on state highways) and judging from the governor's growing waistline, is treated to free food everywhere he goes.

Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, who doesn't appear to have much to do, makes $130,679 and gets to live in a state-owned home. State Treasurer Bob Casey, who abandoned his job three months into it so he could run for U.S. Senator, makes $129,436.

The 203 state House members and 50 Senators make $69,647 for a part-time job and enjoy numerous perks, including a top-of-the-line health insurance package paid by taxpayers, a $127 daily meal allowance and a state car or $650 per month for a privately leased vehicle, plus a pension. The Republican leaders of the House and Senate each earn $108,722 a year.

Rendell and the rest of the career politicians in Harrisburg should be grateful they're able to cash their current hefty paychecks. If they want to make more money, they're welcome to return to the private sector.

Based on their dismal job performance over the past two years, Rendell and the Legislature should be ashamed to even mention pay hikes. They should consider pay cuts instead.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Liberal media excuses Dick Durbin's Nazi rhetoric

Are there any consequences to a Democrat spewing out the most ridiculous, hate-filled rhetoric imaginable? The double standard is evident in the case of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, who compared U.S. solders guarding terrorists in Guantanamo to Nazis.

Daffy Durbin also accused the United States government of operating a Soviet-style "Gulag" in the military detention center on Cuba. He also compared treatment of terrorists at the hands of U.S. soldiers to the slaughter of 2 million Cambodians by Pol Pot's Communist regime.

With Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean ranting about "white Christians" and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid calling President Bush "dumb" it should come as no surprise that demoralized Democrats would escalate the name-calling to new levels.

Durbin’s Nazi and Gulag and Killing Fields references are so over the top, so far from any semblance of political criticism, that you have to wonder if we shouldn’t require mental health screening as a prerequisite to running for public office.

Is there anything a Democrat can say publicly that crosses the boundary of decency, taste and decorum? How far will the liberal media go to excuse the behavior of such irresponsible people?

While the liberal media is busy these days with its witch-hunt against John Bolton ("he was mean to coworkers") Tom Delay (questionable financial dealings) and the impeach George Bush movement by the lunatic left, it can’t seem to find much air time to cover the Durbin travesty.

Perhaps Sen. Durbin should personally inspect the Guantanamo facility, with its air conditioned cells, recreation yards, prayer areas, library. Perhaps he would like to sample some of the catered meals provided three times a day to the terrorists who would like nothing more than to kill every member of Durbin’s family if turned loose.

Is Durbin playing with a full deck? Is his rhetoric part of a planned campaign at the highest echelons of the Democratic Party to undermine the U.S. war effort? Those are the questions the media should be asking and pursuing.

For the record, the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during World War II and were responsible for another 3 million deaths. For the record, the Communists in Cambodia murdered 2 million people, mostly women and children. For the record, the Soviet Union imprisoned, starved and murdered millions of its own citizens in the Gulags.

This kind of mass murder has nothing remotely to do with the capture and imprisonment of 600 enemy combatants taken off the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq while attempting to kill American solders.

Durbin may be stupid or insane or a little bit of both. But where is the condemnation from his fellow Democrats? Does he speak for the Democratic Party? Why hasn’t the Senate censured Durbin for such inappropriate remarks?

Where are the liberal talking heads on CNN and ABC and MSNBC or the left-wing scribes at the New York Times? Why aren’t they forcing Durbin to explain exactly what he meant by his incendiary comments?

Durbin stood by his remarks for days despite an outcry from constituents, military families and other senators. Then Durbin issued a message of "regret" on his Web site, still refusing to apologize for the comments, but regretting that so many people were upset by them.

Finally, Durbin started issuing half-hearted apologies, but they’ve all included the word "if" as in "if you took what I sad the wrong way, so sorry." That’s not good enough. Durbin has insulted every American in uniform.

He was given our enemies propaganda to use to recruit more terrorists in the global campaign to destroy the U.S. Durbin is the new poster boy for Al-Jazeera, the same Islamic propaganda machine that gleefully televised images of American hostages being beheaded by terrorists.

It’s one thing to oppose the war in Iraq or criticize the Bush administration’s handling of the war. Making comparisons of the United States to three of the most brutal regimes in the history of the world goes beyond the boundaries of fair criticism.

The Senate should impeach Durbin for his treacherous comments and his treasonous efforts to undermine the U.S. war effort.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Saving the Supreme Court from itself

"The Court, in addition to the proper use of its judicial functions, has improperly set itself up as a third house of Congress — a super-legislature, as one of the justices has called it — reading into the Constitution words and implications which are not there, and which were never intended to be there. We have therefore reached a point as a nation when we must take action to save the Constitution from the Court and the Court from itself. We must find a way to take an appeal from the Supreme Court to the Constitution itself. We want a Supreme Court which will do justice under the Constitution and not over it. In our courts we want a government of laws and not of men."

Care to venture a guess who made the above remarks? You’re probably thinking it was a conservative commentator rallying troops for the pending battle to control the Supreme Court. Sorry. Not even close.

Those words were spoken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a March 9, 1937, "fireside chat" on the radio as he attempted to rally Americans to support his plan to expand the membership of the Supreme Court beyond the nine justices who were declaring major portions of Roosevelt’s New Deal as unconstitutional.

The Constitution doesn’t specify the number of justices who sit on the court. Congress originally decided the court should consist of six justices. It wasn’t until 1869 that the court reached nine members. What is the ideal number of judges on the court? It’s an interesting debate. How is it that five people can say they see a "right" to abortion in the Constitution but four others can’t find that same language, but it becomes the law of the land?

Why trust the judgment of five people? Why not have 17 Supreme Court members with a majority of nine needed to rule on Constitutional questions? If nine people came to the same conclusion, wouldn’t that be more reassuring than just five?

Roosevelt’s proposal was to have Congress pass legislation allowing the president to appoint new justices for every justice who stayed on the court past the age of 70, up to a total of six new justices. Had he gotten his way, Roosevelt would have had 14 justices on the court. And by appointing six liberals, Roosevelt would have gotten his way on the New Deal.

Roosevelt’s attempt at "court packing" didn’t work. Americans don’t like change. The sitting Supreme Court justices at the time fought against it. After all, who wants to share power?

Something has to be done to bring some balance back to Supreme Court, which has run amuck in the past 50 years, finding bogus justification for social reform that is not included in the Constitution. Just as Roosevelt complained in 1937, today’s court — at least the four liberal judges who serve on it — considers itself a super-legislature, able to rule on matters such as abortion, immigration, same-sex marriage and campaign financing reform.

In his best-selling book "Men In Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America," constitutional lawyer Mark R. Levin argues for term limits as a way to rein the runaway judiciary. Levin makes a convincing case, noting in his book that associate justices of the Supreme Court serve an average of 17 years while 11 justices served 30 years or more. Can you imagine a president serving that long? Of course, there are no term limits for Congress, so you have many members serving for decades or in the case of Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, about a century.

"Perhaps Supreme Court justices should be appointed to fixed, staggered terms of 12 years, with three years intervening between terms," Levin argues. I would go one step further. Lower-court judges face mandatory retirement (usually at age 70). So why allow Supreme Court justices to serve into their 80s or 90s? I’d like to see a mandatory retirement age of 75 for all Supreme Court justices.

Levin also makes one of the most daring proposals to curb judicial activism. He would like to see a Constitutional amendment establishing a congressional veto over Supreme Court decisions, an extension of the power Congress now has to override presidential veto of legislation.

"The framers worried that a president might amass too much authority. Today, the problem is an oligarchical Court, not a presidential monarchy, supplanting the constitutional authority of the other branches," Levin writes in his book.

Under Levin’s plan, a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate could override a Supreme Court decision. Imagine that. Elected representatives of the people actually getting to decide important issues. Of course, it will never happen. The people getting a say in what government does? The Supreme Court will undoubtedly rule it unconstitutional.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Can Democrats do more to help the terrorists?

Congressional Democrats are up in arms over the treatment of terrorists being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba.

If only the Democrats could show as much concern for working Americans who don’t have health insurance and face the prospect of Social Security going bankrupt. If only they could bring as much attention to the growing dominance of China as an economic power at the expense of American jobs. If only congressional Democrats would stop bottling up President Bush’s energy bill and do something about rising gas prices that are choking the U.S. economy. If only Democrats would do something … anything … except complain.

But it’s easier to grab headlines in the liberal press (New York Times, Newsweek, Time, CNN) by blasting the Bush administration and making wild accusations for the way terrorists are treated in Guantanamo.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, an ultra-liberal who has maple syrup for brains, took the lead this week in giving aid-and-comfort to our enemies by calling the prison "an international embarrassment to our nation, to our ideals and remains a festering threat to our security."

Had Leahy been in charge during World War II, the East Coast would speaking German and the West Coast would be speaking Japanese.

The truth is that the 600 terrorists held at Guantanamo are treated better than many American citizens held behind bars. The captured terrorists get three catered meals a day, unlimited access to health care and recreation and unhindered ability to worship their God.

These are enemy combatants. They are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as American citizens. You don’t stop in the middle of a battlefield and read the enemy his Miranda rights. You kill him before he kills you. If you capture him, you put him in a place where he can no longer harm you. If the Democrats are so upset about these terrorists, they can take up a collection and hire Michael Jackson’s lawyer now that he’s done with Jackson’s trial.

I have my own suggestion on what to do with the Guantanamo detainees. Congressional Democrats should take them in over the summer as foreign exchange students.

I'm sure Sen. Ted Kennedy would be the first to sign up for the program because he is so concerned about the welfare of his Muslim brethren.

Kennedy was quoted by the Associated Press the other day as saying that the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo stained the nation’s reputation on human rights, inflamed the Muslim world and had become "a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists."

"Closing Guantanamo makes sense," Kennedy added. I’m sure Kennedy can house at least a half-dozen detainees at the family compound in Hyannisport, Mass., this summer.

The captain of the Chappaquiddick Swim Team could instruct the terrorists on water safety and Kennedy wouldn’t have to worry about his guests getting into his liquor cabinet because Muslims don’t drink alcohol.

And let’s not forget Howard Dean. Although he’s no longer holding elected office, I’m certain the chairman of the Democratic National Committee is willing to help out. His disdain for "white Christians" will surely lead him to take in a few of the Muslim terrorists. Dean could pull a few strings and get them jobs at the Ben & Jerry ice cream plant in his home state of Vermont.

Hillary Clinton could add some of the detainees to her presidential campaign staff as she prepares for a 2008 run for the White House. The detainees could make buttons or campaign signs for Hillary. And they could give her campaign an edge with Muslim voters. Since Hillary won’t win a single state below the Mason-Dixon line, her detainees/political operatives could help win support with Muslim voters in the Northeast and West Coast.

Americans don’t want to turn 600 terrorists loose so they can have another try to kill us. For most Americans, Cuba is too close for comfort to house these terrorists.

According to the Associated Press, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway told a Senate panel Wednesday, "America is at war. It is not a metaphorical war. It is as tangible as the blood, the rubble that littered the streets of Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001." Of the detainees, "We are holding them humanely," Hemingway said. Asked how long they could be held, Hemingway said: "I think we can hold them as long as the conflict endures."

That was not what Sen. Leahy wanted to hear. "All of us know this war will not end in our lifetime," Leahy said. All the more reason to keep Guantanamo in operation for as long as necessary as a matter of national security.

Shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay would be a significant victory for terrorists. Why would any sane American want that? And what does that say about the Democrats in Congress?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, June 13, 2005

Silence is costing your family $900 a year

We all nod in agreement when we hear the story of the Good Samaritan, but how many of us go out of our way to help a stranger? How about a co-worker? Or even someone who lives in the same town?

I’ve written extensively in the past six months about the growing crisis in health care in Pennsylvania, especially skyrocketing insurance premiums for workers at small firms. It’s an issue that hasn’t exactly galvanized the public what with Michael Jackson on trial, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston getting a divorce and Paris Hilton stripping down to her itsy-bitsy bikini to wash a car while eating a hamburger. So I’m going to appeal to your selfish interests today.

Before you say that it’s not your problem if your neighbor doesn’t have health insurance, here’s something that will hit you right where it matters — in the pocketbook.

A new study says that providing health care for the uninsured increases the annual cost of insurance premiums for the average worker by $341 and for the average family by $922.

The report, by the advocacy group Families USA, concludes that the lack of health insurance affects everyone because those with health insurance subsidize the cost of care to the uninsured. The study, prepared by Emory University Professor Ken Thorpe, states that $1 out of every $12 spent on health insurance premiums indirectly pays for health care provided the uninsured, according to an article by The Associated Press.

Someone is trying to address the problem in Pennsylvania. State Sen. Rob Wonderling recently introduced Senate Bill 671 to level the playing field when it comes to insuring workers at small companies. State Rep. Curt Schroder introduced a companion bill, House Bill 1240.

The legislation would prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against small companies. The bills would require insurers to spread the cost of health care over a larger population so smaller companies are better able to afford coverage for their employees. The bills also expand benefit options for workers.

Unfortunately, both bills are languishing in committee. Many bills never make it out of committee, where powerful chairmen (aka, career politicians) decide what measures are voted on by the full House and Senate.

The chairman of the House insurance committee is Nick Micozzie, who has spent the past 25 years collecting a paycheck from Pennsylvania taxpayers. The chairman of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee is Gib Armstrong, who has served in the state Senate for the past 20 years. Before that, he served in the state House for eight years. That’s a total of 28 years on the public payroll.

Pennsylvania is one of only two states that do not regulate “for-profit” insurance companies. That means these companies can legally discriminate on the basis of age, gender and health history. The only opposition to the proposed reform has come from the insurance lobby, which has deep pockets, thanks primarily to the exorbitant premiums they charge Pennsylvania workers and their families.

Wonderling and Schroder have done their part in sponsoring their respective bills. It’s time for voters to hold politicians accountable.

Sen. Gibson E. Armstrong, a Republican who represents portions of Lancaster and York counties, can be reached at his district office, 120 S. Queen St., Lancaster, PA 17603. His telephone is 717-397-1309. You can also write to him at Senate Box 203013, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3013, or call his office at 717-787-6535. You can also send him an e-mail at

Rep. Nicholas A. Micozzie, a Republican from Delaware County, can be reached at 6 S. Springfield Road, Clifton Heights, PA 19018 or House of Representatives, Room 45, East Wing, Harrisburg, PA 17120-2020. His Delaware County office number is 610-259-2820. His Harrisburg phone number is 717-783-8808. You can also e-mail Micozzie through his Web site at

This comes down to a choice of helping working Pennsylvanians or continuing to line the pockets of big insurance companies.

Please take a few minutes to contact your state representative and senator and ask them to put pressure on Armstrong and Micozzie to bring the bills to the floor for a vote. I also urge you to contact Armstrong and Micozzie directly to demand that these public servants put the interests of Pennsylvania residents ahead of the insurance lobby.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Howard Dean's winning strategy: Open mouth, insert foot

Howard Dean, who ran up an impressive losing streak in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 but did manage to get himself elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is living proof that Democrats still don’t get it.

The party has lost seven of the last 10 presidential elections, but its leaders still think it’s a bad luck streak that will end soon. President Bush won 96 percent of the counties in the United States in 2004, but the Democrats still think they’re the party of the people.

The reality is that the Democratic Party is becoming snootier by the day — the party of eastern liberal elites, the media giants and Hollywood radicals. Take away the West Coast and the New England states and Democrats couldn’t find the real America if they had Lewis and Clark as guides. And the closest party bosses like Howard Dean come to the Average Joe is the waiter who fills their water glass at party gatherings.

After a 70-year run as the dominant political party in Washington, D.C., the Democrats should be starring in the ABC show "Lost." They lost control of Congress in 1994 and have lost ground to the GOP in every subsequent election. But they still think they’re an election away from regaining the majority. And I’m just a Powerball ticket away from retirement.

I watched Howard Dean’s speech last week to a gathering called "Campaign for America’s Future." It was billed as a political conference to get the Democrats energized for the 2006 mid-term elections, but the crowd (looking like extras from "The West Wing") wasn’t exactly mesmerized by Dean’s speech. Good thing Dean is a medical doctor. I thought Dr. Dean might have to perform CPR on some of the audience members as they passed out from boredom.

Dean kept throwing out lines like: "We need a president who understands working people in this country." I guess he was referring to someone like John Forbes Kerry, who is still getting an allowance from the Widow Heinz. Or maybe John Edwards, the smooth-talking Southern lawyer who got rich suing doctors and hospitals.

Did you know that more millionaires contributed to the Democratic Party in 2004 than to the Republican Party? This is not your granddad’s Democratic Party. The blue collar Detroit Democrats of the past have been replaced by caviar-eating blue bloods from Boston.

And all this talk about reaching out to moderates is just talk. Dean insulted about 50 million potential voters when he said he’s never met a Republican who has done an honest day’s work in his life. He wasn’t talking about politicians. He was referring to every single registered Republican in the country.

Dean tipped his hat on what the main theme of the Democratic Party will be in 2006. They’re going to blame George W. Bush and the Republicans for corporations reneging on pension plans for retired workers. "Pension plans ought not to be controlled by companies," Dean said. "They ought to be controlled by the people who those pension plans belong to. That’s the working people of America."

Wait a minute. Dean wants you and me to have more control of our retirement savings? Isn’t that what President Bush is trying to do with Social Security? Is Dean endorsing the Bush plan to allow Americans to have a say in their Social Security investments or is he just talking out of both sides of his mouth? Just like pension plans, Social Security withholdings don’t belong to the government. Why can’t I decide what to do with my money?

Another whopper from the mouth of Dr. Dean: "(The Bush) administration is beginning to erode the core of our Democracy." Is that so? Isn’t it the Democrats who threatened to shut down the Senate with filibusters if they didn’t get their way in blocking President Bush’s judicial appointments? A minority party obstructing the will of the voters who elected the majority from another party seems to me to be the real erosion of the core of Democracy.

Dean also said, "We need to be the party of campaign finance and election reform."
That’s an odd thing for Dean to be saying when just a few weeks ago, the Democratic National Committee and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (a mouthpiece for the Democrats) agreed to pay $200,000 in civil fines for campaign finance violations in the 2000 elections. Imagine that. The Democrats tried to cheat their way to victory in the 2000 election, but still couldn’t get Al Gore elected president.

I’d like to wish Howard Dean continued success in his effort to keep winning elections — for the Republican Party.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Men in Black: Darth Vader isn't the only threat this summer

Judging from the front cover of Mark R. Levin’s latest book, "Men In Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America," Darth Vader isn’t the only villain dressed in a flowing black robes who is bringing terror to a galaxy not so far away.

Levin’s best-seller warns about the danger that liberal judges pose on American society and foreshadows the epic struggle we will witness this summer for control of the Supreme Court.

"It’s difficult to find any aspect of society where the federal government doesn’t have some role or influence," Levin writes. "And the Supreme Court, more than any other branch or entity of government, is the most radical and aggressive practitioner of unrestrained power. The purpose in creating a branch of government not subject to election, and whose members are appointed for life, was to ensure that it would undertake its responsibility to interpret the Constitution and arbitrate disputes in an almost ministerial fashion. There was no expectation the courts would assume the functions of the legislature or executive branches."

At a brisk 212 pages, "Men in Black" should be required reading for every American.

The book examines how activist judges have taken over the role of elected legislators in our system of government. Minority groups (including the Democratic Party) get around the will of the elected majority by going to the courts to rewrite laws or strike down legislation that reflects the wishes of most Americans.

That’s why we have abortion-on-demand for 13-year-old girls, same-sex marriages, a ban on the death penalty for 17-year-old killers and the right to free public education and health care for illegal immigrants. And there’s also a dangerous new precedent of courts granting legal rights to captured enemy combatants during a war.

The Constitution was written to protect the rights of U.S. citizens — not terrorists whose goal is to kill every man, woman and child in the United States.

Regardless of how many laws elected legislators pass, the radical left can count on an army of unelected, unaccountable judges ready to impose their radical views on our society. Levin calls it exactly what it is: "judicial tyranny."

With Chief Justice William Rehnquist fighting cancer and advancing age (he’s 80), there’s a strong chance he won’t return to the Supreme Court this fall. The departure of Rehnquist, who has served as chief justice since 1986 and has been a member of the court since 1972, would open the way for George W. Bush to begin reshaping the Supreme Court.

Reshape may not be the right word. As John Leo wrote in a recent issue of U.S. News & World Report, Republicans have a historic opportunity to "repair a damaged Supreme Court." The damage has been caused by 50 years of judicial activism, primarily at the hands of Democratic appointees to the nation’s highest court.

While the president can nominate a chief justice directly, many believe Bush will promote a conservative justice to the top spot and nominate a replacement for the associate justice’s seat. The only candidates Bush would consider on the current court are Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Two other Republican appointees (Anthony Kennedy and David H. Souter) have been major disappointments to the conservative cause, often joining the liberals on the court to form 5-4 voting majorities on a variety of social issues.

O’Connor would be a bold pick. She would be the first female chief justice in the court’s 216-year history. The first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, O’Connor has served with distinction over the past quarter century. But the drawback is her age. At 75, O’Connor is unlikely to serve more than a few more years on the court. Bush is looking for somebody who could lead the court for the next 10 to 15 years. So the contest for chief justice comes down to Scalia and Thomas, the only black justice on the court.

My choice would be Scalia, who has emerged as the most commonsense jurist the court has seen in decades. Scalia understands the Constitution, something I can’t say about half the members of the Supreme Court. I’ll explain why Antonin Scalia should be the next chief justice in a future column.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at