Wednesday, December 28, 2005
How mad are Pennsylvania voters at Rendell and the other Harrisburg Hogs? The legislators are even less popular with constituents today than they were before they repealed the outrageous pay raise they gave themselves in July.
The poll by Strategic Vision was taken before Christmas, which means voters expressed their distaste for Rendell and the larcenous legislators before the Harrisburg Hogs packed it in for their holiday vacation having failed to agree on property-tax relief during the 11-week special session Rendell called back in September.
Not only did the legislature fail for the 30th consecutive year to deliver property-tax relief, but a package of tax breaks to help businesses, coupled with a slight reduction in the personal income tax, was vetoed by Gov. Rendell right before Christmas. Ebenezer Scrooge has nothing on Ed Rendell when it comes to sending a Bah, Humbug! to beleaguered Pennsylvania taxpayers.
Here’s a brief recap of Rendell’s first three years in office. Rendell signed a $1 billion increase in the state income tax in his first year. Rendell pushed through slot gambling in his second year (which is a form of regressive taxation because senior citizens who can least afford to lose money will be the ones turning over their quarters to the one-armed bandits when Rendell’s slot parlors open in 2007.)
And let’s not forget the $52 occupational privilege tax that Rendell imposed on just about every worker in the state. It’s called something like an emergency services tax, but it’s just another way for Rendell to lift $52 from your paycheck for the privilege of having a job in one of the most heavily taxed states in the union.
The Strategic Vision poll, based on telephone interviews conducted between Dec. 16-18 of 1,200 likely voters in Pennsylvania, ages 18 and up, shows that voters have long memories when it comes to the pay-jackers. The numbers do not bode well for Rendell, the 203 members of the House and half of the 50 state Senate members, all of whom face reelection in 2006.
Saying I’m sorry apparently isn’t good enough for furious voters, who are tired of empty promises by Rendell and the legislators.
Rendell’s failure to keep his campaign promise of tax relief for the third year in a row and the legislature’s unwillingness to reform Pennsylvania’s onerous property taxes appear to be the ingredients for a perfect storm that will sweep aside some of the biggest political names in the state in 2006.
Even Teflon Ed Rendell is losing his luster with voters. Less than half of the voters sampled -- 45 percent -- approve of Rendell’s job performance, while 37 percent disapprove and 18 percent are undecided.
The Strategic Vision poll has the GOP field down to a two-horse race, with NFL Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swann and former Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton way ahead of the other two candidates, Jeff Piccola and Jim Panyard. Strategic Vision asked voters "If the Republican primary were today, whom would you vote for?" This is how Republican voters responded: Lynn Swann, 39 percent; Bill Scranton, 36 percent; Jeff Piccola, 15 percent and Jim Panyard, 5 percent.
More troubling for Rendell was head-to-head matchups with the two leading GOP candidates.
If the election for governor was held today, and the choice was between Rendell and Swann, Rendell finished with 45 percent of the vote, followed closely by Swann at 41 percent. Not bad for a former football player who hasn’t formally announcedthat he’s running for governor. It appears Swann could clean Rendell’s clock in western and central Pennsylvania, leaving Philadelphia and its suburbs for Rendell’s last stand.
Scranton also matches up well against Rendell. If the election for governor was held today, and the choice was between Rendell and Scranton, here’s how the numbers shake out: Rendell 45 percent to Scranton’s 42 percent.
Rendell was leading Swann and Scranton by double digits just a couple of months ago.
The most telling numbers involve the hapless state legislature. Asked if they approve or disapprove of the Pennsylvania legislature’s job performance, only 18 percent of voters said they approve. A whopping 64 percent disapprove and another 18 percent are undecided. Hint to incumbent state legislators: When only two out of 10 voters think you’re doing a good job, you’d better start checking the help wanted ads.
The full poll results are posted on the firm’s Web site, www.strategicvision.biz
Just to show that Pennsylvania voters blameRepublicans and Democrats equally for the sad state of affairs in the commonwealth, the final question in the poll was, "Do you think Pennsylvania is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?" Only 32 percent said Pennsylvania is headed in the right direction, while 55 percent said the state is headed in the wrong direction and 13 percent were undecided.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, December 24, 2005
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth — His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.
This excerpt was adapted from a sermon by Dr. James Allan Francis in "The Real Jesus and Other Sermons," a collection published in 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia.
I devoted space to the same essay last year and received a tremendous response from readers who are upset that so much of Christmas has been subverted by the secularist movement.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and American Atheists Inc. have worked hard with their liberal allies in the mainstream media to subjugate the celebration of Christmas.
This year marks a turning point in the secular war against Christmas and all things Christian. The vast majority of Americans who consider themselves Christian — 85 percent of U.S. residents — are fighting back.
Facing such an overwhelming counterattack, the secular left has resorted to its tried-and-true diversionary tactics — denying it launched a war on Christmas in the first place.
Left-wing newspaper columnists and TV pundits have received their marching orders from their nefarious leaders (Screamin' Howard Dean?) and have dutifully written columns or made the rounds on TV news shows rejecting overwhelming evidence of the assault on Christmas. This amounts to a surrender by the left.
Christmas is not a winter festival. It is not a designation of a retail season. It is not about Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, red-nosed reindeer or colored lights. It is the celebration of the birth of the most influential figure in the history of mankind, Jesus Christ. It is both a federal holiday and a religious holiday in the United States, which today is the most populous Christian nation on Earth.
Christmas is not part of a triumvirate of equal December celebrations. Hanukah is a separate observance for Jewish people. It commemmorates a miracle, but it is not Christmas. Kwanzaa is a harvest festival invented by a California college professor in 1966.
Why Kwanzaa is considered in the same breath as Christmas or Hanukah is one of the great mysteries of the universe. (The truth is that Kwanzaa is a favorite holiday for the secular left because it does not involve paying homage to a deity. So the liberals can take some comfort in going around saying, "Happy Kwanzaa," which sounds a little better than "Joyous Winter Solstice" or "Happy Festivus," the fictional holiday from TV's "Seinfield.")
Those of us who grew up bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas did not see the true threat to the holiday posed by the secular left, which has been planning its all-out assault on Christmas for years.
I took my family last week to a well-known seasonal attraction that brags of having the largest display of Christmas lights in the world. For the first time in seven annual visits, I spotted a "Kwanzaa Tree" on sale in the gift shop. What exactly is a Kwanzaa tree? If I wanted to see a Kwanzaa tree, I would have visited Kwanzaa Village instead of Christmas Village.
To their credit, the owners of Christmas Village near Reading, Pa., have made no attempt to remove religious symbols from the celebration of Christmas at their attraction. There are crosses and mangers and Bible passages throughout the exhibit. I fully expect ACLU protesters next year demanding the removal of such Christmas traditions.
There are 256 million Christians in the United States. It’s time their voices are heard.
It’s time for parents to demand that schools celebrate Christmas again. If school administrators won’t allow Christmas back into their buildings, go to your local school board and demand action. If the school board members are too timid to act, vote them out.
If there’s a concert in your community and the organizers won’t play Christmas carols, walk out and never patronize the group again.
If your local department store wants to sell you "holiday" merchandise, pass on it. Tell the store manager you’ll come back to do your Christmas shopping when the store recognizes Christmas again.
The secular left, which quotes the Bible when it suits its sinister purposes, likes to remind Christians that they should be meek and turn the other cheek when they’re offended.
But there’s a time for Christians to stand their ground. I say stop turning the other cheek and fight for the restoration of Christmas to its proper place in American society.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at email@example.com
Columnist, The Mercury
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Until this summer, the biggest response I received from readers was for a series of columns leading up to the November 2004 presidential election, culminating in my companion columns stating 30 reasons why George Bush deserved reelection and 30 reasons John Kerry should not be elected president.
Karl Rove may have gotten all the credit for Bush's victory, but let's not forget that George Bush carried 16 of the 24 municipalities where The Mercury has widespread readership. Rove delivered 51 percent of the vote to Bush nationally, but I delivered two-thirds of The Mercury's coverage area to the president. I’m still waiting for my Christmas card from the George and Laura.
Since July 7, when the House of Lords convened under cover of night to approve pay raises for themselves, the governor and state judges, I’ve received about 200 e-mails from readers thanking me for helping expose the greed and corruption that pervades Harrisburg. Every single person who wrote said they plan to carry their anger at their legislators into the 2006 elections. And I’m not even counting the 10,000 letters from readers that The Mercury delivered to the state capitol in September demanding that the Harrisburg Hogs give back the money.
The politicians aren’t going down without a fight.
Here’s a good example of the incestuous relationships our political class has established. The Democratic Party chairman in Berks County, William G. Evans, took offense to my recent critique of two of his cronies, career politicians named Mike O'Pake and Dante Santoni Jr.
The party boss believes the Republicans should be blamed for the pay raise fiasco. Never mind that legislative Democrats went along with the pay raise. Never mind that Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, signed the pay raise into law. Evans would have you believe that Democrats were innocent bystanders in the raid on the public treasury.
The problem with ideologues like Evans is that they will excuse the behavior of politicians as long as they’re in his party. Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for the sad state of affairs in Pennsylvania. The people’s revolt crossed party lines. What this state needs is a fresh start. Political hacks like O’Pake and Santoni must go. Rendell must go. And the entire GOP leadership in the legislature must go.
Evans conveniently neglected to mention in a recent letter of indignation that he is also a candidate for the state legislature in 2006. There appears to be plenty of room to feed at the public trough. I would be curious to see if Messrs. O'Pake and Santoni will be contributing to Evan's campaign.
It's also worth nothing that Evans (unlike his GOP counterpart) has not uttered a single word of condemnation about the Great Pay Heist of 2005, blaming it on the GOP-controlled leadership in Harrisburg even though every Democratic state legislator from Berks voted for the pay raise and accepted the money as "unvouchered expenses." Evans appears on a weekly public access cable show in Berks County and so far has not been willing to admit that his Democratic buddies are equally at fault for the mess in Harrisburg.
So if you're a voter in the 129th District, don't be fooled again by electing another self-serving politician to represent you in 2006. As the great British philosopher Pete Townshend once said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
And did you see the story about how much money the two state Supreme Court justices poured into their Nov. 8 retention vote when it became clear that voters would going to oust them to send a message to the legislators, who won't be on the ballot until 2006?
Justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman spent $800,000 between them to try to save their jobs. Newman, a Republican, managed to narrowly retain her job. Nigro, a Democrat, became the first state judge ousted by Pennsylvania voters.
Where did Nigro and Newman get $800,000? From the party bosses at the county and state level who control the Republican and Democratic parties in Pennsylvania. These warlords don't care about the average Pennsylvanian. They crave power and influence. That's why they supported the judges. They're the ones propping up nincompoops like John Perzel and Robert Jubilerer.
The key is now to continue the work started in 2005 but turning out as many incumbent state legislators as possible in the May primary and November general election.
We've got them on the run. We can take back this state. But we must remain united and focused on the ultimate objective: Restoring representative government in the birthplace of American democracy.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
To all of those who have taken it upon themselves to remove any vestiges of Christmas from the holiday season I politely suggest you take a flying leap.
To the ACLU: The time has come for us to limit your "free speech." It is not the National Rifle Association we fear, but you. You are an outlaw organization. You do nothing productive.
You do undermine the foundations and traditions of my country, and my country is the most powerful, most successful, freest, most open-hearted, open-minded and humane society to evolve since humans poked heads out of the darkness of caves. You are fouling it. You suck, get out.
To all the professors, judges, do-gooders, left-wing whackos, politically correct retailers, school administrators, elected politicians, members of various governmental agencies and just plain dunderheads who are fortunate enough to live in this glorious nation but who work to destroy its foundations and traditions because you have no idea what we are really about; to those of you who take our money with impunity and then fail to serve us; I say get off our backs. Keep your useless hands off of Christmas, "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God," Nativity scenes, the "Ten Commandments," my church, my schools and my kids. It is time for you to go. Go now while you still have time.
I am declaring war on all of you, and I expect rational, proud, God-fearing, fun-loving citizens in this city, state and nation have also had enough and will join me.
To all of you. Your days are done. Not one step further will you take. Today I commit to take back my culture, freedoms and beliefs from those of you who think it is your "right" to remove anything that offends you.
You offend me, and I have had it up to here with your activities.
Here are the facts: 86 percent of Americans believe in God, family, baseball, apple pie, Christmas and the fundamental underpinnings of the goodness of the United States. I believe Americans are aching to join me and to take action and tell the other 14 percent of you who are not so disposed to pack up and get out. We are no longer going to tolerate your nonsense.
We are taking back Christmas, our schools, our government and our values. Go start your own country.
Finally, those are not "holiday trees;" they are "Christmas trees." It is not a "holiday pageant;" it is a "Christmas Show." It is not "holiday infant;" it is "the Baby Jesus." It is my Pledge of Allegiance, my prayer in school, my money and my country. And oh yeah ... have a Merry Christmas!
Monday, December 19, 2005
The Internet is a wonderful thing. Here I am in my little cubicle in Pottstown and somebody halfway around the world is reading this after it's posted online. A member of the Air Force stationed in the Middle East sent me the following e-mail regarding the Democratic Party's call to surrender in Iraq:
"Bravo. You are correct (about the Democrats' defeatist drumbeat). For the safety of our families and country, we must vote them out of Congress in 2006. We need to send a message to the terrorists — and their Democratic allies. Also, we must hasten the demise of the mainstream media. The American people need to wake up to the facts and the lies of the liberals."
It turns out that not all teachers have to sign a loyalty oath to the radical left. A history professor at a prestigious private school sent these comments about the same column:
"I just finished reading your article and it is right on and brilliant! As a history instructor for 20 years at the high school and college level, it is so refreshing to see reason/wisdom about the war we are in! As you can imagine, the (political correctness) in my job is pervasive and destroying America. Keep up the great writing!"
And still another response to the same column from the founder of the Web site, www.peoplepolitical.org:
"What a great article. Keep reminding the left about other wars. God bless your talented words and skillful writing abilities. I'd love for you to become part of our growing family of conservative writers."
Some readers have been writing me on a regular basis for nearly two years. Here's proof that great minds think alike from one of my favorite regulars:
"Virtually every time I read one of your columns, I am prompted to sit down and write a brief note complimenting you on your efforts. Such was the case again a few days ago after my intentionally brief letter to the editor was published in The Mercury. It was relative to your column, which likewise touched on "wounded Eagle" Ed Rendell minding the constituents' store instead of concentrating on his seemingly full-time job as a TV commentator! After I make certain my name is not in small type on page 2 (that's where The Mercury publishes a list of the day's obituaries), I immediately go to the editorial page to check on your efforts to enlighten the liberals!
I seem to be attracting a growing international audience. In addition to the Air Force veteran stationed in Qatar, I've received e-mails from Australia, Canada, Cyprus, Greece and Great Britain. Another great thing about cyberspace is that columns I wrote months ago are still floating around out there. This note came just a couple of weeks ago from a fan in Plymouth, England, on a column I wrote in the spring:
"Just a quick note to say well done on the article titled 'If Syria leaves Lebanon, shouldn't Turkey leave Cyprus?' I am a Greek Cypriot born in the U.K. and have fond memories of the golden beaches of Famagusta and not a day has passed where my heart does not ache for the return of our ancestral homes."
I've had a big fan in the Pittsburgh area ever since I was interviewed on a radio talk show about one of my columns. He writes frequently.
"I am always amazed at how the liberals or should I say the socialists are always on the wrong side of American history and I think I have figured out why — they are un-American. They want America to be something different than the principles this country was founded on. The anti-American state was already tried and failed, it was called the Soviet Union."
I also received a nice e-mail from someone who works for the Rendell administration. For the record, I am willing to go to jail to protect the writer's identify should Gov. Rendell attempt to weed out the last remaining conservative in Harrisburg.
"God bless America and God bless you, sir. Please continue to write this very important and very powerful stuff. It is imperative that we get this message out as a constant reminder to all real and true America-loving Americans. These Democrats are play flat-out American-bashing nuts."
Well, there you have it. Just a sampling of fan mail from the past couple of weeks. And you thought I was a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy?
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at email@example.com (and you too might make it into his next column if he doesn't feel like working too hard that day).
Thursday, December 15, 2005
If you haven’t heard about the secular left’s assault on Christmas by now, you must be living in a cave. From John Gibson’s best-selling book, "The War on Christmas" to nightly updates on Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated news show to front-page articles in newspapers, Americans are starting to realize how sinister the secular left is as its hidden agenda is exposed.
Three groups — the American Civil Liberties Union, American Atheists Inc. and Americans United for Separation of Church and State — are the Grinches behind the attacks on Christmas.
Isn’t it ironic that all three have the word "American" in their names, as if they represent a large segment of Americans? That couldn’t be further from the truth. The largest member of the anti-Christmas Axis of Evil — the ACLU — boasts 400,000 members, but they’ve been caught in the past exaggerating their membership rolls. The other two groups don’t like to say how many members they have, which is a sign that they can have their annual conventions in a broom closet.
At least 85 percent of Americans are Christians, making the United States the largest Christian nation on Earth. Many Jews observe Christmas. Polls say that 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. So where does that leave the secular left?
If Michael Newdow, America’s most famous atheist, wants to lock himself in his room on Christmas and eat a bowl of gruel while rooting for Ebenezer Scrooge, let him. But don’t deny the rights of 255 million Americans to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
And speaking of holidays, I’m sure Newdow, who has sued the government to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance and the motto "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency is working on his next lawsuit, forcing the government to stop designating Christmas as a federal holiday.
That’s what we’ve come to in this country. A few atheists able to deny the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States.
Who is fighting on behalf of the majority of Americans who treasure Christmas and look forward to celebrating this special day? Until recently, there was no organized opposition to the anti-Christmas brigade. But thanks to the Alliance Defense Fund and to the Rev. Jerry Fallwell, there is a wealth of information available on the topic. Go to www.saychristmas.org or to American Defense Fund’s Web site at www.alliancedefensefund.org or to The Liberty Alliance Web site at www.fallwell.com to learn more about joining the battle to save Christmas.
Even political leaders are developing a backbone when it comes to defending Christmas. Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert presided over the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree last week in Washington, D.C. It had been known as a holiday tree since the start of Clinton administration.
Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis of Virginia recently introduced House Resolution 579, urging that the symbols and traditions of Christmas be protected, and that references to Christmas supported.
"Who would have thought that we would live in a society where the display of Santa Claus and the mentioning of a Christmas tree would bring out the speech police?" Davis asked in a press release announcing her resolution. Davis said retail chains have banned workers from wishing people "Merry Christmas" and the Christmas tree has become a "holiday tree. "This is political correctness run amok," Davis said.
But it’s more than just political correctness or not wanting to offend anyone. I’ve never been one to believe in conspiracy theories, but when columnists and editorial writers at large newspapers across the country simultaneously defend the ACLU’s attempts to suppress public celebrations of Christmas, I’m beginning to sense a vast left-wing conspiracy at work.
The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to name a few, ran almost identical opinion pieces in the past two weeks defending the radical left’s assault on Christmas.
If you are one of the 255 million Americans who believe Christmas should be celebrated in its full glory — and not just as a retail season — then it’s time to go on the offensive. Religious free speech is protected just like political free speech. It is your constitution right to celebrate Christmas as the religious holiday that it is. Start wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas." Tell store managers that you’ll take your business elsewhere if they keep up the "Happy Holidays" drivel or refuse to display a Christmas tree in favor of Frosty the Snowman or Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
"Efforts to morph Christmas into this generic 'winter celebration' go beyond the secularization of the day," Rep. Davis said. "Santa effectively took the Christ out of Christmas years ago, but this new effort looks to replace Christmas and even its secular symbols with the celebration of nothing. Christmas symbols symbolize Christmas, and Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Therefore, the purge of Christmas is the goal."
Will we allow it happen? I’m willing to fight for Christmas. Are you? Allow me to be among the first to wish you a Merry Christmas. God bless us, every one.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, December 08, 2005
ED RENDELL: The governor took a page from John Kerry’s flip-flop book and came out with at least five different positions on the payjacking issues, depending on how much public anger the polls showed. Exposing himself as a craven political opportunist, Rendell is as culpable for the Great Pay Heist debacle as the legislature. Rendell could have put a stop to the entire sorry episode by refusing to sign the pay raise bill. But he didn’t. He turned his back on working Pennsylvanians and that state’s struggling elderly population. Voters should get the last say in 2006 when Rendell is up for reelection. Rendell has as much chance of returning to the governor’s mansion as the Eagles have of playing in the Super Bowl.
SPEAKER JOHN PERZEL: Republican Perzel goes from the Kingpin of Pennsylvania government to a court jester in four short months. I’ve seen him on TV presiding in the General Assembly and I’m waiting for Perzel to walk into the House chamber wearing a white suit and hat while chomping on a cigar, a la "Boss Hogg" from "The Dukes of Hazzard." Was it the fact that Boss Perzel fled the country the day after he pushed the House into voting the pay raise? Was it that he feigned ignorance of the public outcry when he returned? Was it when Perzel lied to a fourth-grader about arriving at a school in a limousine when the kids saw the limo parked in front of the school? Was it his refusal to allow the repeal bill for a vote until his own party threatened to stuff an apple in his mouth and serve him on a platter? Buy him a red nose and oversized shoes. Perzel should be performing with the circus.
RALPH "HERE COMES THE JUDGE" CAPPY: The previously unknown chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court won’t face voters until 2009, but you can stick a fork in Justice Cappy — the maestro who orchestrated the pay grab is done. Only in Cappy’s world can judges sue taxpayers to force them to raise the judges’ salaries, as a couple of Cappy’s minions did this week. The state Supreme Court needs an overhaul. Two more justices will be on the November 2006 ballot. Doesn’t matter what their names are. Just vote no to regal justices.
THE ROYAL FAMILY: Let’s say you’re one of 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, the largest state legislature in the country. You’re making about twice as much money as the average Pennsylvania worker. Your state consistently ranks at the bottom in almost every measure of economic vitality. You put in about 77 days a year in Harrisburg and receive incredible benefits. You have job security for life — 90 percent of legislative incumbents win reelection. You can retire at a young age with a full pension and health care benefits. Why mess with a good thing? Greed? Pride? Arrogance? All of the above? Not everyone voted for the pay raise, but far too many legislators have been corrupted by the Dark Side. Too many lawmakers stood silently as the band of merry men robbed from the poor (taxpayers) to give to the rich (themselves). A clean sweep of the cesspool that is Harrisburg is the only hope for Pennsylvania.
GOP LEADERSHIP: "Boss Hogg" Perzel, House Majority Leader Sam Smith, House Whip David Argall, Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill led their troops to ruin and may have found a way to hand majority control back to the Democrats in 2006. They promised their lackeys there would be no backlash from the pay raise vote. And Custer told the Fifth Cavalry the Indians were friendly. If the rank-and-file don’t revolt and start serving up the heads of legislative leaders on a platter, voters will finish the job in 2006.
BILL DEWEESE: The Democratic leader in the House found a bipartisan issue he could join with his GOP counterparts in supporting — fattening their own bank accounts. DeWeese cracked the whip on House Democrats so they’d vote for the pay raise. When 14 Democrats refused, DeWeese demoted them from committee chairman posts and promoted 14 yes-men in their place. So where does this leave DeWeese now that nobody is getting a pay raise? If he admits the pay raise was a mistake, how can DeWeese justify demoting 14 legislators who refused to vote the pay raise in the first place? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Bill.
MIKE VEON: The Last Man Standing. The Senate voted 50-0 to repeal the pay raise. The House voted 197-1 to repeal. Veon, the dapper House Democratic whip, stood his ground and voted against the repeal. I predict Veon will be the only person voting for Mike Veon when his name appears on the ballot next May.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: She’s a bit player on the Harrisburg scene, but who could forget the "Let Them Eat Cake!" attitude of Rep. Jacqueline R. Crahalla, 150th Dist., who was asked by a reporter in August if she would be willing to heed constituent pleas to repeal the pay raise. "I’m staying the course," said an incredulous Crahalla. "The nastier people get, the more stubborn I get." If you live in Crahalla’s voting district, you may want to clip this and take it to the voting booth in May as a reminder of what Mrs. Crahalla thinks of the people she was elected to serve. Other sponges who need to be permanently retired include Senate Democratic leader Robert J. Mellow and Senate Minority Whip Mike O’Pake.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at email@example.com
The greed in Pennsylvania hit another milestone this week.
Earlier this week, two Philadelphia trial judges filed lawsuits within a day of each other seeking to reinstate the unpopular government pay raises, claiming the legislature violated the state constitution when it repealed the increases two weeks ago.
The possibility of a lawsuit being filed by a judge has been rumored since lawmakers, worried about their re-election prospects next year, began publicly considering a repeal of the pay raises in early November.
The repeal became law on Nov. 16, after legislators endured four months of heavy public criticism that followed the July pay hike. The furor among citizens focused on the size of the legislative raises, the secrecy with which they passed the legislation, and the legal maneuver that allowed lawmakers to skirt a constitutional ban against midterm raises and collect the money right away.
The pay-raise fallout inspired movements to sweep legislators out of office, but without any lawmakers up for election this year, voters demonstrated their anger on Election Day by rejecting Supreme Court Justice Russell M. Nigro, who was running for a second 10-year term. Similarly, each of the state’s approximately 420 Common Pleas Court judges are elected to 10-year terms.
However, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert W. Sheppard Jr., who filed the suit this week, will soon reach the mandatory retirement age of 70, meaning he will not face voters again before he retires from his elected spot on the bench. So, it seems he had nothing to lose by suing to get back his raise. That is, nothing to lose except respect and a semblance of decency in this commonwealth, where greed and ineffectiveness are the rule instead of the exception.
The second suit was filed by Judge John W. Herron. Both suits cite a portion of the constitution that prohibits the legislature from lowering the salaries of judges during their terms of office “unless by law applying generally to all salaried officers of the commonwealth.”
The passage was created to stop state legislators from punishing judges by docking their pay. The suit seeks to reinstate the raises for all three branches of government. House and Senate leaders stressed that the repeal was not intended to punish judges, and that they believed it complied with the constitutional definition of “all salaried officers.”
“This is not intended to be punitive,” the Senate’s Republican leader, David J. Brightbill, said on Nov. 16 as he introduced the legislation on the Senate floor. “This is intended to rectify a mistake.”
Voters across Pennsylvania have made it clear they were not satisfied by the repeal; they are still smarting from the arrogance and greed displayed by the pay-raise vote in July and the ensuing reluctance among legislators to be held accountable. Judges are not above voters’ ire, as the ouster of Nigro demonstrated.
The vote represented the first time since retention votes were instituted that a sitting state Supreme Court justice has failed retention. Sheppard may not have cause to worry about his own retention since he will be retiring, but the integrity of public office and of judges is at stake.
The lawsuits demonstrate the pervasive qualities of greed among elected officials. They may have been filed by just two individuals, but voters have proven they are ready and willing to take out other elected officials to prove their point.
Sheppard and Herron have done a great disservice to their colleagues on the bench.
Copyright 2005 The Mercury
Monday, December 05, 2005
"Today I am signing a bill that will, for all intents and purposes, put this debate behind us," Rendell said. "In this Capitol building, far too many days have passed without focusing on important issues. I urge the Legislature to return to the people’s business and hope that by signing this bill, we can channel the great interest and energy that was focused on this issue for the good of the citizens we serve." Yada, yada, yada.
It’s been 18 days since the Legislature got back to the "people’s business" but nothing much has been accomplished in that time. We still don’t have property tax relief, no increase in the minimum wage, no relief for small businesses struggling with skyrocketing health care insurance costs, and we’re still waiting for the Legislature to provide life insurance for Pennsylvania soldiers stationed in combat zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.
I know what you’re thinking. Let’s give these hard working legislators some slack. After all, they did take a 12-day Thanksgiving vacation during the past 18 days. I don’t know about you, but I only got one day off for Thanksgiving. And if you eliminate weekends (when Harrisburg is a ghost town), these exhausted public servants only managed to put in a couple of hours at the office in the past three weeks. Oh, but they did give themselves a pay raise on Dec. 1 when their automatic 3.6 percent cost-of-living increase kicked in.
Your entry-level Pennsylvania legislator now makes around $30,000 more than the median income of a Pennsylvania worker. And you should know this magic number by now: Pennsylvania legislators have averaged 77 days in Harrisburg in each of the past five years. That compares to the 245 days most Pennsylvanians put in at the office. Sure they tell you they work hard when they’re not in Harrisburg, but posing for a photo with a giant check or eating eggs at a Kiwanis breakfast is not what I call work.
And unlike state lawmakers, we have to pay for our own gas and provide our own vehicle to get to work. We have to pay for our own lunch. We have to contribute thousands of dollars a year to cover our health insurance and if we want to put a few bucks away for retirement in a 401(k) plan, our employer takes it out of our paycheck each week. State legislators get a big fat pension, courtesy of Joe Q. Public. They can retire in style at age 50 while you and get the bill for their pension … and their life insurance … and their long-term disability care insurance.
Some might say I’ve developed an unhealthy obsession about the Harrisburg Hogs, but I’m not ready to forgive and forget, especially when my own legislators — Sen. Michael A. O’Pake and Rep. Dante Santoni Jr. — a couple of sponges who’ve been living on my dime for most of their adults lives, have yet to apologize for their conduct.
O’Pake never met a camera he didn’t like — up until four months ago. Prior to that, his mug was in the newspaper or on local TV almost every night. If two or more people gathered anywhere in Berks County, O’Pake would find them and pose for a photo. He’s been keeping such a low profile since voting for the July 7 pay heist that I forgot what he looks like.
I predict Sen. O’Pake will serve out the remaining three years of his current term and retire. A couple other area Harrisurg Hogs (Sheila Miller in Berks County and Robert Flick in Chester County have already announced plans to retire instead of facing the voters in 2006) In four short months, O’Pake went from being the best-known and most popular politician in Berks County to somebody who is unelectable. And all he did was vote himself a big fat pay raise and thumb his nose at constituents for four months. Imagine that.
Santoni’s career in the House has been so indistinct that he’s been mistaken for a potted plant on more than one occasion. The guy has been in Harrisburg for a dozen years and hasn’t sponsored a bill or chaired a committee meeting. I guess the Democratic party bosses want to bring him along slowly.
Santoni’s claim to fame is following orders from the bosses by voting for the pay raise and accepting a low-level committee chairmanship when one of his fellow legislators was demoted for voting against the pay hike. Santoni represents a safe Democratic district, but all voters need is a choice and they’ll send Santoni a strong message about obliging the Harrisburg party bosses at the expense of the folks back home.
I received a mailing from Santoni in the spring that I’m thinking of having framed. In it, he claims credit for helping Gov. Rendell pass property tax reform by supporting the ill-fated Act 72 legislation. If that’s the best Santoni can say about his record in Harrisburg, he’d better update his resume. He’ll be looking for a real job after the 2006 elections.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, December 02, 2005
Christmas comes early — and often — for the members of the Pennsylvania legislature. You didn’t think that an angry mob of voters was going to keep the larcenous legislators from lining their own pockets, did you?
Sure they repealed the July 7 pay raise as the noose tightened around their political necks, but they do not intend to part with the 3.6 percent pay raise they refer to as a cost-of-living increase. And where else but in the Pennsylvania legislature can you be on a two-week Thanksgiving break when your pay raise kicks in? They don’t even have to show up for work and they still get paid more for it.
The latest pay raise was put into place 10 years ago — the last time the legislators raided the public treasury — giving themselves immediate pay raises of 18 percent and enacting an automatic cost-of-living increase every year unless the legislators vote not to accept the higher pay. For the 10th year in a row, the legislators forgot to vote against the automatic pay raise. What’s in your wallet?
The legislators promised in 1995 that they would never seek or approve another pay raise for themselves as long as they could get an annual cost-of-living increase based on the inflation rate in Philadelphia. That "promise" apparently came with an expiration date. The July 7, 2005, pay raise vote by many of the same politicians who pledged 10 years ago never to give themselves a pay raise shows you can’t trust anything the Harrisburg Hogs say.
Our lawmakers have morphed into a permanent class of professional politicians, a legislative aristocracy if you will. Sadly, more than 90 percent of these freeloaders are reelected year after year. Two-thirds of them didn’t even have an opponent the last time they ran. That must change in 2006 or Pennsylvania is doomed.
Have state legislators enacted property tax reform in the past 10 years? No. Have they addressed Pennsylvania’s declining infrastructure? No. Are they willing to pass up donations from insurance industry lobbyists to place controls over skyrocketing health insurance premiums for Pennsylvania workers? No. Have they found a way to adequately fund public education, mass transit and libraries? No, no and no! Have they doubled their pension, upgraded their perks and given themselves pay raises for 10 consecutive years? Yes, yes and yes!
In the past decade, the legislature’s cost-of-living scam has increased base legislative salaries by 25 percent. As of Dec. 1, the base pay for a Pennsylvania legislator jumps from $69,647 to $72,300. Not bad for a part-time job (an average of 77 days a year spent in Harrisburg). Compare that to the median income in Pennsylvania of $42,950.
And does anyone buy the "we’re on call 24/7" rubbish that many of these arrogant public servants are spouting? When was the last time a state senator was called out at 3 a.m. to fight a fire? They’re not police officers. They’re not firefighters. They don’t work round-the-clock unless you count attending Kiwanis or Rotary breakfasts as work. Let’s just say there’s no heavy lifting involved in being a state legislator — if you don’t count picking up their big fat paychecks or their $129 daily meal allowance.
If you believe the legislators are truly contrite about the four-month pay-heist fiasco, you deserve the next tax increase Ed Rendell will sign into law if he remains in the governor’s mansion beyond 2006.
If you pull a bank heist and drop the money as police are chasing you down the street, you’re still going to go to jail for robbing the bank even though you didn’t get to keep the money. If you kidnap someone and have a change of heart, returning the hostage unharmed, you’re still facing kidnapping charges.
And don’t forget that more than 100 legislators have refused to pay back the extra money they reaped over the past four months as "unvouchered expenses" when they circumvented the state Constitution to collect the pay raise early. That’s about $4,000 per legislator.
Just because they voted to repeal the pay heist doesn’t mean they still didn’t stick up every Pennsylvania taxpayer in the middle of the night on July 7. Sorry won’t cut it. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Would you take a convicted criminal into your home? So why keep the larcenous legislators in the people’s house any longer?
The only way to reform Harrisburg is to run 99.9 percent of the current legislators and the governor out of town. That’s the only way you can protect you and your family from future assaults.
All 203 members of the House face reelection in 2006. At least 200 of them don’t deserve to return to Harrisburg. And 25 of the 50 state senators face the voters next year. At least 22 of them should be voted out. I’ll let you know soon which legislators deserve another chance in 2006. And let’s not forget Gov. Ed Rendell who signed the pay heist into law on July 8 and defended it for months before caving to public pressure. Pennsylvania has no future with Fast Eddie Rendell at the helm.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at email@example.com
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
The county's threat to implement a ban on hiring new employees who smoke has been reduced to ashes, like a half-smoked cigarette left to smolder in an ashtray.
County Commissioners' Chairman Jim Matthews, a former smoker, announced recently that he's going to allow the controversy to blow away — at least for now. "This does not mean we have shelved the idea," Matthews emphasized in an article published in the Nov. 26 edition of The Pottstown Mercury. "We just need more answers."
It's not clear what prompted Matthews to drop his missionary crusade to prevent chain smokers from getting their foot in the door of the county's personnel office. Perhaps Matthews' intention to run for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in 2006 has something to do with it. What politician in his right mind wants to kick off a campaign by alienating a large segment of the voters?
This debate started because Matthews, a Democrat turned Republican, was attempting to promote himself as a fiscal conservative. Montgomery County pays about $24 million for health care benefits for its 3,200 employees.
When Matthews first floated the smoking ban idea in March, he said the county's insurance company promised significant savings in premiums if the county didn’t hire smokers. (Current county employees can continue to smoke to their heart’s content, or until their hearts give out).
According to the Nov. 26 article by reporter Margaret Gibbons, some of the statistics provided to Matthews by the county’s insurance advisers, include the following:
• Smokers are 50 percent more likely to be hospitalized than nonsmokers.
• Insurance companies pay out an average of $300 more a year in claims for every smoker than claims from nonsmokers.
• Smokers are absent from work 50 percent more of the time than nonsmokers, with 80 million work days lost each year in the United States because of smoking-related illnesses.
There's nothing wrong with trying to save taxpayers some money, but is going after a personal habit — something a worker does away from the job — the right thing for government to do?
Jim Matthews is the younger brother of loudmouth liberal commentator Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," but for purposes of this column, it’s appropriate to refer to Jim Matthews as "Big Brother."
We all get the message that smoking is bad for you. But where do you draw the line in the government dictating personal habits? Drinking too much alcohol is bad for you. Will Big Brother Matthews go after alcoholics next? What about a recovering alcoholic? Can they ever get a job with Montgomery County?
Gambling is bad, and so is adultery. And let's not forget that heart disease is the biggest killer in the United States. What about gluttony? What if you want to eat a pound of bacon and a box of doughnuts for breakfast or a couple of Big Macs for lunch? Will Matthews install scales at the entrances of all county facilities and force workers to reveal their weight each morning?
How far will Big Brother go to enforce restrictions on personal habits? It's one thing to ban smoking in a public building or at public gatherings. But what if a worker smokes on his way to work or on a lunch break away from the job site? Will Big Brother Matthews hire spies to follow suspected smokers around? Will he install cameras in rest rooms? Is there such a thing as smoke-sniffing dogs? Will Big Brother Matthews hire K-9 units to patrol county property for wayward smokers? Release the hounds!
What is the ultimate goal of Big Brother Matthews in order to save on health care costs? Get rid of any worker who turns 40? Shades of "Soylent Green." Older workers tend to get sicker than younger ones. What about women? They have medical conditions that men don’t have to deal with. Is the goal to hire only men in their 20s to work for government?
What about people with allergies? Who wants to sit next to somebody who sneezes all the time? And we all know people who tend to get more colds than the average person. How do we go about weeding out the sickly from our employment rolls?
If Matthews' anti-smoking crusade is carried to the extreme, what's to stop government from genetic testing to single out people who may have a proclivity to certain diseases?
Matthews even came up with a couple of good reasons why the smoking ban is a bad idea.
He told Gibbons that a smoking ban could reduce the opportunity for the county to "hire the best and the brightest" as department heads or for the solicitor, district attorney or public defender offices. "Do we want to deny ourselves from hiring top people just because they smoke on their own time?" Matthews wondered.
Wrapping himself around the American flag, Matthews told Gibbons he didn't want to deny war veterans an opportunity to work for county government. "I am not about to turn down someone who has been sloshing around in Baghdad, dodging bullets and explosives on behalf of our country," said Matthews, adding he’s aware that there’s a "smoking culture in the military."
I'm not a smoker. Never have smoked and have no desire to start. And I don't enjoy breathing in second-hand smoke. I don't allow anyone to smoke in my house. Big Brother Matthews doesn't own the county administration building. There's something inherently wrong with government officials telling people how to live their lives on their own time and in their homes.
America can't abandon 27 million Iraqis to 10,000 terrorists
By JOE LIEBERMAN
Published Tuesday, November 29, 2005
in The Wall Street Journal
I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.
Progress is visible and practical. In the Kurdish North, there is continuing security and growing prosperity. The primarily Shiite South remains largely free of terrorism, receives much more electric power and other public services than it did under Saddam, and is experiencing greater economic activity. The Sunni triangle, geographically defined by Baghdad to the east, Tikrit to the north and Ramadi to the west, is where most of the terrorist enemy attacks occur. And yet here, too, there is progress.
There are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones in Iraqi hands than before. All of that says the Iraqi economy is growing. And Sunni candidates are actively campaigning for seats in the National Assembly. People are working their way toward a functioning society and economy in the midst of a very brutal, inhumane, sustained terrorist war against the civilian population and the Iraqi and American military there to protect it.
It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making. We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American national and economic security priority.
Before going to Iraq last week, I visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has been the only genuine democracy in the region, but it is now getting some welcome company from the Iraqis and Palestinians who are in the midst of robust national legislative election campaigns, the Lebanese who have risen up in proud self-determination after the Hariri assassination to eject their Syrian occupiers (the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias should be next), and the Kuwaitis, Egyptians and Saudis who have taken steps to open up their governments more broadly to their people. In my meeting with the thoughtful prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, he declared with justifiable pride that his country now has the most open, democratic political system in the Arab world. He is right.
In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence, eight million Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January, almost 10 million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for a full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them. Most encouraging has been the behavior of the Sunni community, which, when disappointed by the proposed constitution, registered to vote and went to the polls instead of taking up arms and going to the streets. Last week, I was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it.
None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the country.
The leaders of Iraq's duly elected government understand this, and they asked me for reassurance about America's commitment. The question is whether the American people and enough of their representatives in Congress from both parties understand this. I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead.
Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.
The leaders of America's military and diplomatic forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey and Ambassador Zal Khalilzad, have a clear and compelling vision of our mission there. It is to create the environment in which Iraqi democracy, security and prosperity can take hold and the Iraqis themselves can defend their political progress against those 10,000 terrorists who would take it from them.
Does America have a good plan for doing this, a strategy for victory in Iraq? Yes we do. And it is important to make it clear to the American people that the plan has not remained stubbornly still but has changed over the years. Mistakes, some of them big, were made after Saddam was removed, and no one who supports the war should hesitate to admit that; but we have learned from those mistakes and, in characteristic American fashion, from what has worked and not worked on the ground. The administration's recent use of the banner "clear, hold and build" accurately describes the strategy as I saw it being implemented last week.
We are now embedding a core of coalition forces in every Iraqi fighting unit, which makes each unit more effective and acts as a multiplier of our forces. Progress in "clearing" and "holding" is being made. The Sixth Infantry Division of the Iraqi Security Forces now controls and polices more than one-third of Baghdad on its own. Coalition and Iraqi forces have together cleared the previously terrorist-controlled cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Tal Afar, and most of the border with Syria. Those areas are now being "held" secure by the Iraqi military themselves. Iraqi and coalition forces are jointly carrying out a mission to clear Ramadi, now the most dangerous city in Al-Anbar province at the west end of the Sunni Triangle.
Nationwide, American military leaders estimate that about one-third of the approximately 100,000 members of the Iraqi military are able to "lead the fight" themselves with logistical support from the U.S., and that that number should double by next year. If that happens, American military forces could begin a drawdown in numbers proportional to the increasing self-sufficiency of the Iraqi forces in 2006. If all goes well, I believe we can have a much smaller American military presence there by the end of 2006 or in 2007, but it is also likely that our presence will need to be significant in Iraq or nearby for years to come.
The economic reconstruction of Iraq has gone slower than it should have, and too much money has been wasted or stolen. Ambassador Khalilzad is now implementing reform that has worked in Afghanistan--Provincial Reconstruction Teams, composed of American economic and political experts, working in partnership in each of Iraq's 18 provinces with its elected leadership, civil service and the private sector. That is the "build" part of the "clear, hold and build" strategy, and so is the work American and international teams are doing to professionalize national and provincial governmental agencies in Iraq.
These are new ideas that are working and changing the reality on the ground, which is undoubtedly why the Iraqi people are optimistic about their future--and why the American people should be, too.
I cannot say enough about the U.S. Army and Marines who are carrying most of the fight for us in Iraq. They are courageous, smart, effective, innovative, very honorable and very proud. After a Thanksgiving meal with a great group of Marines at Camp Fallujah in western Iraq, I asked their commander whether the morale of his troops had been hurt by the growing public dissent in America over the war in Iraq. His answer was insightful, instructive and inspirational: "I would guess that if the opposition and division at home go on a lot longer and get a lot deeper it might have some effect, but, Senator, my Marines are motivated by their devotion to each other and the cause, not by political debates."
Thank you, General. That is a powerful, needed message for the rest of America and its political leadership at this critical moment in our nation's history. Semper Fi.
Mr. Lieberman is a Democratic senator from Connecticut.
Copyright © 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, November 28, 2005
At the top of the list is "Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild" by Michelle Malkin. This is the most entertaining book out there about your favorite cast of liberal characters who've gone off the rails on a crazy train. Malkin pulls no punches in going after the usual suspects: Screamin’ Howard Dean, John Forbes Kerry, Ward Churchill, Ted Kennedy and Sen. Dick Durbin, who compared American soldiers fighting to liberate Iraq to Nazis. But Malkin also exposes dozens of lesser-known liberal loons who are leading the assault on American values and politics, including pseudo-celebrities, so-called pundits and front-men for a gaggle of radical left organizations. Malkin also defends herself from vicious personal attacks launched by left-wing flame-throwers who frequently resort to name-calling when they can’t offer any intellectual rebuttal to conservative arguments. Some of the insults include aspersions on Malkin’s Asian-American heritage. Have you noticed that it’s OK for liberals to insult a conservative’s ethnic and racial background? That old liberal double-standard at work again.
Another excellent book is "Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror" by Richard Miniter, the veteran investigative reporter and frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal. Miniter's previous books — "Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror" and "Shadow War: The Untold Story of How America is Winning the War on Terror" — were equally provocative. This is a serious look at the successes and failures in the War on Terror. "Disinformation" is a quick read and a book you don't have to read chronologically, so if you like to jump around chapters, you'll enjoy this one. Miniter doesn't just expose the attempts by the mainstream left-wing media to distort the progress of the war in Iraq. He also goes after the right for perpetuating myths about the war that has hurt its progress.
Here's some more gift ideas for the conservative reader on your shopping list:
"The War on Christmas: How the Conspiracy to Subvert Our Most Sacred Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought" by Fox News anchor John Gibson. Yes Virginia, there is a war on Christmas and Americans better wake up before the secular movement, in league with militant atheists and the ACLU, turn the wondrous celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ into a winter harvest festival. Don't let Scrooges like Michael Newdow get away with their full-scale war on Christianity and Christmas. Gibson, who works at Fox News, offers dozens of examples of how Christmas is being banished from the public square by a vocal minority.
"Pants On Fire: How Al Franken Lies, Smears and Deceives" by Alan Skorski chronicles the lies of the American left's version of Pinocchio. Franken, for those lucky enough not to know him, is the "star" of the Air America liberal talk radio "network." I put "star" and "network" in quotes for a reason. It's hard to think of Franken as a "star" anything when so few people listen to Air America and can you really call it a "network" when his show is heard on about a dozen stations? Most of the big-time conservative radio talk show hosts are carried by 300 to 400 stations daily. Back to Franken, a one-time "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer. What can an unemployed comedian without any skills do for a living? Franken became a Democratic pundit. "Pants On Fire" details the numerous tall tales Franken has been caught telling over the radio and in books. Franken has threatened to sue Skorski over the book, but doesn't dispute any of the reporting in the book. Isn't it ironic that Franken has a book out called "The Truth (With Jokes)" when Franken wouldn't know the truth if it slapped him in the face?
"Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy" by Peter Schweizer also takes jabs at Al Franken, but expands its scope to detail the private lives and financial dealings of Bill & Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore, George Soros and the denizens of the Hollywood's Left Coast. Information on how Soros hides his money in offshore banks to avoid paying U.S. taxes and a history of how the Kennedy clan has managed to hide most of its $400 million fortune in overseas trusts to avoid paying taxes is worth the price of the book alone.
"100 People Who Are Screwing Up America" is Bernard Goldberg's recounting of a rogue's gallery of familiar left-wing politicians, entertainers and people like Al Sharpton (does anyone know what this guy does for a living)? Goldberg, who worked for CBS News for a quarter-century, wrote the best seller, "Bias," which exposed the liberal slant in network television news. This is a more humorous look at the influence liberals have on American society. The only question I have is why stop at 100? There’s at least 100 liberals in Congress alone who are screwing up the country.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Congress joins the bandwagon for raises without cause
Just when we thought we had reeled in one group of lawmakers over a pay-raise fiasco, another group — Congress this time — gives itself more money.
Congress voted itself a $3,100 pay raise on Friday, then postponed work on bills to curb spending on social programs and cut taxes in favor of a two-week vacation.
In the final hours of a tumultuous week in the Capitol, Democrats erupted in fury when House GOP leaders maneuvered toward a politically-charged vote — and swift rejection — of one war critic’s call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
On another major issue, a renewal of the Patriot Act remained in limbo as an unlikely coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans sought curbs on the powers given law enforcement in the troubled first days after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Both the House and Senate were in session after midnight Thursday, working on the tax and deficit-cutting bills at the heart of the GOP agenda.
The cost-of-living increase for members of Congress — which will put pay for the rank and file at an estimated $165,200 a year — marked a brief truce in the pitched political battles that have flared in recent weeks on the war and domestic issues.
Lawmakers automatically receive a cost-of-living increase each year, unless Congress votes to block it. By tradition, critics have tried to block increases by attaching a provision to the legislation that provides funding for the Treasury Department.
(Although information was not readily available from the Associated Press or any other source on how members of Congress voted, a spokesman for Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-6th, said the area congressman voted against the raise. No wonder, after witnessing how his constituents felt about the Pennsylvania pay grab.)
The actions of Congress follow the same spirit of arguing over the business at hand, then agreeing on a financial benefit to themselves before leaving town for a vacation that set off a furor among Pennsylvania taxpayers last summer.
The state legislature finally saw the error and repealed the raise just days ago. Was anyone in Washington paying attention?
The raise voted in Congress was not as egregious as the July 7 raise in Harrisburg, but it was still a raise they voted for themselves without finishing the job at hand and on the way to a two-week vacation. Remember this the next time a politician tells you how tough they have it.
Copyright 2005 The Mercury
Thursday, November 17, 2005
SO WHAT EXACTLY HAVE THE LAST FOUR MONTHS BEEN ABOUT? WHY DID THE LEGISLATORS WASTE SO MUCH OF OUR TIME AND ENERGY TO FORCE THEM TO GIVE BACK THE STOLEN LOOT?
AREN’T THERE MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES (PROPERTY TAX RELIEF, HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM, JOBS FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE) THAT THEY COULD HAVE FOCUSED THEIR ATTENTION ON?
THIS EPISODE CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES THAT NOTHING SHORT OF FUMIGATING THE STATE CAPITOL CAN RESTORE TRUST IN PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNMENT.
AT LEAST HALF THE HOUSE AND SENATE AND THE GOVERNOR MUST BE SWEPT OUT OF OFFICE IN 2006. THE JOB IS NOT DONE!
By The Associated Press
Quotes on the Senate's vote to approve a repeal of the July law raising salaries for more than 1,300 state officials, including lawmakers and judges:
"We are here to correct a mistake. As one of the people who exercised poor judgment, I would like to apologize." — the Senate's Republican leader, David J. Brightbill of Lebanon County, as he introduced the repeal legislation on the Senate floor.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Your letters made the difference
By Nancy March
Editor, The Mercury
Newspaper editors and reporters lean toward the cynical.
So forgive us if we doubted that Pennsylvania’s lawmakers would ever really give back the pay raise they voted for themselves on July 7. The gig state legislators have going — double-digit raises on top of inflation indexes, paid health care, a generous pension plan, per diem reimbursements, and a tax break allowed for a job that only requires showing up at the office some of the time — is too good to be true. We didn’t really expect them to give anything back.
Our cynicism about the will of the legislators to do the right thing did not give us pause, however, to tell them just how angry we were when they voted themselves a pay raise in the middle of the night without public notice or debate.
Our dismay at the legislators’ hefty pay raise also raised our hackles because of the abysmal job they have done in fixing the problems of Pennsylvania. Issues surrounding local schools funding, Act 72, the need for property tax reform and the lackluster economic growth of the Commonwealth are frequent topics of our views on the Opinion page. Since the problems don’t get fixed, we often say it appears no one is listening.
I wrote the first editorial about the July 7 pay raise for the July 10 Opinion page, "Legislative salaries raised while state’s numbers are in the cellar." We followed with additional editorials on every Sunday in July. We published editorial cartoons drawn by Mercury illustrator Alan MacBain depicting thieves in the night and the "Harrisburgers" super-sized takeout paychecks.
We were helped in our efforts to keep the pressure on by the Associated Press, which we rely on for Harrisburg news coverage. It seemed each day AP reporters discovered yet another cause for outrage. Stories flowed on the secrecy of the vote and the trick to collect money early with the now well-known concept of "unvouchered expenses." We learned about the lawmaker who told one of his constituents to stop whining and about the move to demote from legislative leadership posts those who voted against the raise.
Legislators reacted with arrogance. Some of our own area representatives went on the defense, blaming newspapers for dwelling on the pay raise and insisting they deserve the money because they work hard.
The editorials were soon joined on the Opinion page by columns and letters to the editor. Readers made it clear they wanted more than just to complain; they wanted action and results.
The furor didn’t let up in the first few days or weeks, as legislators smugly predicted. Instead, the movement to take on Harrisburg gained momentum, and local people said they were looking to us to lead the charge.
Well, we may be cynical, but we’re not cowards.
When a caller asked if we could print "a simple petition" on the front page of the paper for people to pass around and sign, the idea took hold. Sunday editor Charles Pitchford and graphics editor Bill Coldren designed a front-page graphic, featuring a parchment letter to legislators imposed on the dome of the capital surrounded by dollar bills. City editor Tony Phyrillas wrote the text of the letter to express our readers’ outrage. We titled the letter, "The Buck Stops Here."
"Operation Giveback" was a natural title for the project. I wrote a front-page editorial to state our position as a newspaper on why legislators needed to hear the voice of the people on this issue.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Letters poured in. On the Monday after we published the letter, a severe storm front — prophetic perhaps — moved through the region, and we expected it would keep people indoors. To the contrary, readers ventured out to deliver both originals cut from the Sunday front page and signed photocopies to our front door.
Readers called to thank us. Others stopped by with questions. Reporters from the Delaware County Daily Times, which is a sister paper of The Mercury, and the Associated Press called to interview me about the idea. The Daily Times featured our petition in a story in their own paper and even got reaction from legislators.
Some would say the numbers — 1,500 letters in the first three days, 8,909 by the end of the campaign — were insignificant in a state the size of Pennsylvania. They paled in comparison to the tens of thousands of people who called into radio shows or logged on to Web sites to protest the pay raise.
But that was the point. Our campaign was not about quick phone calls or pushing a button on a computer. In order to register displeasure with legislators, we asked voters to pick up a scissors, cut something out of the paper, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and mail it. Of course, we received many photocopies and many dropped off in bulk. But the vast majority were in hand-written envelopes with notes tucked inside from individuals. One letter included a tea bag symbolic of the Boston Tea Party revolt.
Many, many people included notes thanking us for giving them the means to have their say. Many applauded our leadership role.
Throughout history, newspapers have worked to keep government honest. The press is called the Fourth Estate for that role as an extra arm in the three-pronged democracy of checks and balances. But in a world where broadcast and online journalism have grabbed a larger share of the public’s attention, newspapers are not looked to as often to lead the people in a charge against government.
Our petition drive, Operation Giveback, let us take that role back. We did not embark on this letters drive to sell papers or to make money from advertising. We didn’t do it to win awards or to further our own careers. We did it because it reminded us of what brought us as reporters and editors to this business in the first place.
The letters campaign was our chance to represent the people of our community by sending a message to elected representatives. This was never about our editorial stance on the pay raise, although we had a lot to say about it. It was about us gathering your opinions and using our power — the power of the press — to carry that message home.
State Sen. John Rafferty told me the day after the repeal vote that The Mercury letters made a difference. "Thanks for keeping us accountable," he said.
The Mercury front page on Nov. 4 declared, "Pay raise repeal stuns public — Voters’ voices heard." That afternoon, a reader stopped by The Mercury office to comment and leave us with a gift. He presented a bag of 121 candy bars at the front desk and offered an observation about the day’s headlines:
"How sweet it is," he said.
We could not have said it better.
Copyright 2005 The Mercury
Pay raise repeal or no, lawmakers to see fatter paychecks
By Marc Levy
Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG — If lawmakers repeal the unpopular pay raise they approved in July, a 1995 law will kick in and provide them with a cost-of-living increase this year, whether or not they pay back the extra money they reaped over the past four months.
The 1995 law gave lawmakers an immediate 18 percent boost in pay and introduced an annual cost-of-living adjustment that was supposed to end the uncomfortable practice of giving themselves an occasional pay raise.
Nothing in the pending repeal legislation — which is poised for a Senate vote on Wednesday — will prevent an individual lawmaker from both keeping the pay raise money and receiving the cost-of-living increase that will take effect Dec. 1 for all 253 lawmakers, House and Senate officials said.
The pay raise law in July gave lawmakers a choice. Under it, the Dec. 1 adjustment applies only to the lawmakers who did not take the "unvouchered expenses," a tactic lawmakers used to get the extra compensation right away and skirt a constitutional ban on midterm pay raises.
The state's more than 1,000 judges also would get the cost-of-living increase along with a four-month pay raise, House and Senate officials said.
Some lawmakers are signaling their intention to pay back the pay raise, but it is not clear whether judges will follow suit.
A spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, which provides payroll services for the state's judiciary, said the agency is still reviewing the legislation.
Lawmakers weary of criticism over the pay raise shrugged at questions over whether lawmakers who accepted the extra compensation right away should also receive the cost-of-living increase. Sen. Robert J. Thompson, the
Chester County Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said he believed the pay raise was fair when he voted for it. And besides, he has spent much of his four-month salary increase on charitable contributions, he said.
"I don't really have a lot to give back," Thompson said.
Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, D-Philadelphia, said the monetary expense of the pay raise is minor compared to the loss of time spent on the legislation and the damage the controversy has caused to the fabric of the Legislature.
"In the end, the people of Pennsylvania are going to suffer far more than the pay raise has cost them," Fumo said.
In total, 158 lawmakers at some point accepted unvouchered expenses. House and Senate officials said Tuesday that 21 lawmakers have signaled their intention to pay back the unvouchered expenses.
It is not yet clear how big the cost-of-living adjustment will be.
The adjustment is based on the 12-month change in the price of consumer goods around Philadelphia as determined by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The salary adjustment for lawmakers is based on the October figure, but the bureau has not publicly disclosed it yet. Through August, the latest available figure, the 12-month increase stood at 3.8 percent, but the figure was determined before hurricane damage caused a spike in energy costs.
"That's going to go up," said Matthew Martin, a senior economist for Economy.com, an economic research firm in West Chester. He predicted it would be over 4 percent.
The repeal legislation would return a rank-and-file lawmaker's salary to $69,647. A 4 percent increase would push that up to more than $72,400.
July's pay raise, which nearly half of the Legislature did not take immediately, boosted base salaries by 16 percent to $81,050, but it also delivered larger increases of up to 54 percent for the scores of lawmakers who hold committee and leadership posts.
Judges received pay raises of 11 percent to 15 percent under the July law. It boosted pay for county trial judges to $149,132 and for Supreme Court justices to $171,800.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press
Monday, November 14, 2005
To Sen. Rafferty:
I would like to express my thanks for your vote against the recent Pennsylvania Legislative pay raise, your decision to not accept the raise before your next term begins and, also, for your stance against having the suburban population subsidize the inefficiencies of SEPTA. Unlike my state representative, Dennis Leh, you realize you represent the will and best interests of your constituents, not cronies in the Legislature.
Now we need your help once again to finally secure real property tax relief for the citizens of Pennsylvania; not the crumbs Gov. Rendell tried to give us in order to pass his gambling legislation. It’s obvious that Fast Eddie is pandering to the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in hope of getting re-elected and couldn’t care less about the rest of us. We need substantial property tax relief, not a someday hoped for $300 accompanied by an increase in local taxes.
The Commonwealth Caucus Plan seems to be very fair in that it abolishes real estate taxes by simply expanding the sales tax to many now exempt items and at a rate lower than the current 6%. This type of consumption tax is equitable in that you only pay according to what you spend. Please help pass this legislation or something very similar.
RICHARD J. MARTINO
Ever since that infamous night when our unscrupulous legislators voted themselves and other government officials a huge pay raise, we have seen a growing grass-roots effort by the good people of Pennsylvania to take back our government from the lying and corrupt politicians who are using the power of government for their own benefit.
The Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania (www.LPPA.org) agrees with PACleanSweep (www.pacleansweep.com) and other groups around Pennsylvania that it is time to clean up our state government. The career politicians who make up the Republican and Democratic parties have abused their positions in government, shown us they cannot be trusted, and have created a situation where it truly is "us versus them!"
It is time for "us" — the good people of Pennsylvania — to start getting rid of "them," the arrogant and out-of-touch politicians in Harrisburg.
Repealing the pay raise? Maybe! But what’s to prevent them from drafting new legislation after the election? And since the law states that the salary of judges is linked to the Legislators, they can really make out. Apparently, the state Constitution prevents legislators from cutting the salary of judges. So this raise remains and, if the legislators pass a new raise, the judges will get another increase. Looks like the judges are going to have their cake and eat it too.
As Yogi Berra once said, "It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!" We, the taxpayers, haven’t heard the end of this fiasco.
I’m glad the pay raise for Pennsylvania legislators, governor and judges, no, strike that, for some Pennsylvania government employees has been repealed. I don’t object to these people getting a raise. I object to the exorbitant raise that they voted for. I object to them using "unvouchered expenses" to circumvent the law so that they could receive the money now. I object to the "new" problem with the judges. The law states that when judges receive a raise, no matter how they got it, it cannot be taken back. Spare me! If the "officials" can circumvent the law to get their raise now, I’m sure they can find a way to get it back (from the judges).
While working for a company for 30-plus years, my highest raise was less than 15 percent (I consider promotions to be in a different class). During my tenure, the average raise was 5 percent, not 16 percent to 54 percent that these "officials" granted themselves.
Although the company I worked for paid for a portion of my insurance, I had to pay the rest including deductibles; dental and glasses were additional! Indeed, the year I retired, my company restructured the insurance programs. Of course, the increased costs were passed on to the employees. There was no raise to compensate for any portion of this. The costs of insurance to these "officials" is free including dental and glasses (and drugs?). I object vehemently to this free insurance ride.
To state Rep. Ray Bunt:
I received your latest "Newsletter." It appears you are using this propaganda to make your constituents think you are doing something for them and also for that fat raise you got.
You stated, "although I have reservations about this year’s budget…", you didn’t have too many reservations because you did vote yourself a 16 percent to 54 percent raise only to decide not to take it in advance after pressure from the voters.
I’m glad to see that $210 million will be borrowed every two years for six years totaling $625 million to be spent on environmental projects. Sounds real good but where is the money coming from to repay the loans? Could it be property tax increases!? I’m sure it’s not from your pay raise or gambling proceeds (ha! ha!).
The back page is very important. You stated, "I have recently drafted legislation that would protect consumers from computer lemons." I was under the impression that that’s what warranties were for.
The entire newsletter tries, unsuccessfully, to make you look good and is an attempt to make me and the other voters, your bosses, forget how you shafted us to line your pockets. Not one word was mentioned about your raise and if you would support a repeal vote.
I would also like to know how many taxpayer dollars were used to print up this piece of propaganda. How much was used for postage? Since you represent all the people in your district, did you send this to everyone? I know voters who have not received it.
You are calling on all veterans of WWII to return a postcard to you. Since many tax dollars were used to send out this piece of garbage, why couldn’t you pay for the postage to have these hero’s return the card? I am sure you can afford it better than them.
To state Sen. Robert J. Thompson:
I am writing to you in an effort to facilitate property tax reform. With the recent outrageous pay raise grab of July 7, 2005 in the wee hours of morning, I wish to add my protest to the mounting number of your constituents who feel that this is a violation of trust to the people of Pennsylvania who entrusted you and your fellow legislators to work in our best interests.
The property taxes in Pennsylvania are beyond outrageous! What is being done about it? Promises, promises! The school boards are holding the property owners hostage! They refuse to accept any plan to reduce property taxes and give relief to the senior citizens who worked their entire adult lives to have a happy (or at least comfortable) old age. Now, many of us on pensions and social security, and whatever savings we have managed to accrue for old age, face losing everything to the unreasonable greed of our school boards who will not release a stranglehold on the helpless property owners of Pennsylvania!
You, Mr. Thompson, as our elected spokesperson, should put more effort into relieving these persons of unnecessarily high taxes, even if it should take a closed door, middle of the night session of legislators!!
I am writing to beg you Mr. Thompson, to help your constituents! Taxes should be distributed more fairly! A sales tax, at least, would be more fair; people could have some control at least. How can we control our school board’s unremitting refusal to listen to reason?
Mr. Thompson, we seniors raised our children by the sweat of our brow, some of us through war times and depression times; it is unfair to force us to finance the demands of other people’s children after raising our own.
We want a fair tax distribution — something other than on our homes! This is unfair — help us, Mr. Thompson!
MARY ELLEN SCHNOVEL
Someone you employ embezzles your money in the middle of the night, then takes off for a two month vacation to spend it. On his return, far from being contrite, his response is a defiant "I’m in charge of your money, and if I want to take some, whaddya going to do about it?"
Then, when the heat gets too intense and he thinks he’ll lose his job, he promises to return the loot, no hard feelings, OK? I don’t know about you but I’d fire him, and I wouldn’t care how many judges he promised to divide the swag with.
So don’t let up on the pressure on our lawbreakers — I mean lawmakers. Reversing the pay grab is just the start. Let’s also insist that the job of governing the state, which a few of us think is an important responsibility, will be a full time one. If they demur, let their pay be in proportion to the time they actually spend on the job, and the bills they actually pass — you know, like the millions of hourly-paid workers who don’t get paid if they don’t show up or don’t produce. Let’s plant the novel idea in their heads that we expect them to actually do something, not just talk, endlessly. How many years has property tax relief been yammered about in Harrisburg, without any result?
Let’s insist that they pass laws to make it illegal to vote for someone else, or jam your voting machine to pretend that you were actually there. Or to have outside business interests that are affected by legislation they vote on. Or draw expense money above their actual expenses. And make them buy their own damned cars, like the rest of us, and pay the same proportion of their health plans we poor schleps have to.
Above all, let’s continue to press for a complete restructuring of the whole legislature, eliminating some 50 percent of the superfluous seats so that we have the same ratio of legislators to residents as the average for the country. We could use the money saved on, say, property tax relief.
And if they wave away such demands like a man shooing flies, if they continue to act like arrogant aristocrats and treat us like the peasantry, placid fools who can be ignored except at election time, next year let us invoke Oliver Cromwell’s denunciation when he dismissed Parliament 352 years ago: "You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing…Depart, I say; and let us be done with you. In the name of God, go!"