Monday, March 28, 2005

What are they hiding in Harrisburg?



It’s not a word to be used lightly. But sometimes it’s the only word that fits, and this is one of those times.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation without a law requiring lobbyists to disclose what they’re spending and doing to influence our legislators and our governor. The only state.

So it’s no coincidence, in our opinion, that Pennsylvania authorized more slot machines than any state but Nevada while our citizens were not protected by a lobbyist disclosure law. It is no coincidence that our legislators and our governor cooked a secret deal and enacted it within 36 hours when there was no way for anyone — ever — to know how much money changed hands and what promises were made.

While we can only guess how much money special interests spent, our guess can be an educated one. Thanks to Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, without whose leadership the public would know nothing at all, the Senate has a rule (not a law) to get some information from lobbyists.

Under Senate reporting alone, lobbyists spent $64 million in just the first half of last year to influence legislation. Recently, Jubelirer told the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association he expects the total for 2004 to be well over $100 million. The Senate has only 50 members. Imagine how much special interests spent in the 203-member House and the governor’s office.

Corrupt? Ask yourself this: If a system of unbridled influence peddling by lobbyists is not corrupt, why have all 49 other states bridled it? Even the federal government has a law.

But the heart of corruption in Pennsylvania is not that legislators and the governor are hiding how they cut deals with special interests, like professional gambling. The heart of this corruption is that it spits on democracy. It spits in the face of the people who have to live with and pay for the laws that special interests purchase under cover of secrecy.

Whether you’re for gambling or against it, the way Pennsylvania authorized 61,000 slot machines was an insult to democracy. Despite a constitution that plainly says bills should be considered on three different days in the House and three different days in the Senate, our gambling law was enacted in just 36 hours.

You and I had no opportunity to see what was proposed — and what we opposed. When we learned that lawmakers could own 1 percent of gambling interests, when we learned that our communities could be colonized by huge gambling parlors over the objection of local residents and officials, we raised Cain. Last fall, facing unhappy voters at election time, the General Assembly passed changes — only to have them vetoed by Gov. Rendell.

All of that could have been avoided if our public officials would stop playing keep-away from the people.

In March, we may hear from the third branch of our government — the State Supreme Court. Opponents of public corruption and opponents of gambling have filed suit to have the gambling law overturned because its passage violated the Constitution.

This month we may learn whether our Supreme Court justices have any greater sense of democracy than the legislative and executive branches. We will see whether our Supreme Court considers the Constitution’s three-day rule a mere how-to manual that can be ignored when the stakes are high, or whether it gives the people real due-process rights so that we can understand and influence proposed laws before it’s too late.

Pennsylvania needs a government — all three branches — that strengthens our democracy, not one that dismantles it. We need the best disclosure law in the country, not the worst. We need a law that:

• Requires lobbyists to register, to disclose their interests, and to report their spending.

• Prohibits lobbyists from giving anything of value, except information, to public officials.

• Requires the immediate, complete and public disclosure of information given to public officials on a dedicated "public integrity" Web site.

• Imposes harsh penalties against violators.

There is no benefit to the people when lobbyists give public officials expensive dinners, golf outings, tickets to sporting events, free financial advice and a thousand other things that we will never know about — but will live with and pay for.
Only our legislators and governor can enact such a law, and we should make sure they do.

In a democracy, "We the People" really do choose our government. The good news is that we can do it. When the politicians know that voters want integrity in public service, they will give the voters integrity in public service. They can’t help themselves; they’re politicians.

It’s hard when a word like "corrupt" attaches not just to institutions but to individuals. Sooner or later, it becomes impossible to separate the two. You can’t have a corrupt institution that’s populated by innocent individuals.

The preservation of democracy is job No. 1 for any public official. If our legislators fail to enact a state-of-the-art lobbyist disclosure law now, it is only reasonable for voters to conclude that legislators who don’t fight to end influence peddling are the ones who benefit from it.

This article was written by Timothy Potts, a former staff member in the Pennsylvania legislature. It was endorsed by Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation; Kathleen Daugherty of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania; Lou Hammann, a retired professor of religion, Gettysburg College; Barry Kauffman of Common Cause/PA; and the Rev. Sandra Strauss, Pennsylvania Council of Churches.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

2 years in Iraq: Is this any way to win a war?

Two years into a war that should have been over in two months, I’m beginning to wonder about U.S. strategy in Iraq.

The United States has been fighting this with one hand and one foot tied behind its back. The result has been 1,500 U.S. soldiers dead and thousands more wounded — most of them unnecessarily. Far too many American soldiers have died at highway checkpoints or guarding buildings or driving in convoys.

When you stand around waiting for the enemy to kill you, invariably, that's what happens. If you're hunting down the enemy, there’s a much better chance you’ll get them before they get you. It's easy to kill the enemy if they're wearing the same uniform and coming at you in an open field. But when the enemy is fighting a guerrilla war and mingles easily with the civilian population, it's nearly impossible to defeat them.

When the enemy has access to ammunition, shelter, food and water, he can drag the conflict out as long as he wants. When the enemy can plan attacks from safe bunkers and can regroup by crossing the border into a neighboring country, you’re in for a long war.

When the enemy can communicate with comrades at will, when the enemy can recruit new members from surrounding countries, when the enemy can use television and the Internet to promote its cause, you’re going to lose the war.

If you want to stop car bombings, stop selling gas to terrorists. Can't tell who the terrorists are? Stop selling gas to everyone in Iraq for a month. Are two guys in hoods going to push car bombs into buildings? Let the terrorists use donkeys to carry explosives. Let them resort to suicide bombing by bicycle.

Insurgents coming into Iraq through Syria and Iran? Close the borders. Have U.S. warplanes and helicopters fly up and down the borders with Syria and Iran around the clock. Shoot at anything that moves across the borders. That will end the flow of terrorists into Iraq.

The problem with how the Bush administration is handling the war in Iraq is that it's trying to fight a war at the same time it's rebuilding a nation. Can't be done. You have to win the war first. Kill the enemy, then worry about rebuilding the country. That’s the way we did it in Germany and Japan. We killed anyone who raised arms against us, then brought Democracy to those nations.

It took years to rebuild Germany and Japan, but you didn’t have American soldiers picked off by snipers or blown up by suicide bombers.

Another troubling aspect of the Iraq War is that the Bush Administration has allowed our enemies to use television and the Internet to recruit new followers and broadcast propaganda to the people of Iraq and the rest of the Arab world.

War is fought not only with weapons but also with words. Military censorship is missing from the Iraq War. Information that could be helpful to the enemy is made readily available by 24-hour news channels, Internet sites and various publications, including the most anti-American of newspapers, The New York Times.

In place of "Tokyo Rose" and "Berlin Betty" we now have the Al-Jazeera network. Undermining the will to fight of your enemy is a crucial stage to victory. Pull the plug on Al-Jazeera, the enemy’s primary means of propaganda. Shut down all pro-terrorist Web sites.

Somewhere along the way, the Bush administration has forgotten what we’re doing in Iraq. This is not a doctrine. This is not a diplomatic initiative. This is not a global test. This is war! You kill your enemy, you win the war!

America has forgotten the lessons it learned in World War II. You destroy the enemy by attacking him ceaselessly.

"There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wound, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum amount of time." — General George Patton Jr.

In three years of combat operations from North Africa to Sicily to France to Belgium to Germany, Gen. Patton never issued a defensive order. His battle plan was simple: attack, attack and attack again. He never gave the enemy time to regroup. He kept them on the run so they could never mount a counterattack. That’s how you win a war.

Where is Gen. Patton when you need him? Today’s generals want to become politicians or diplomats. They want to write books and go on lecture tours. I’m beginning to have my doubts if anyone in Washington has the resolve to win this war.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, March 21, 2005

Sen. Wonderling, Rep. Schroder step up to the plate

Two area state legislators are planning to introduce bills in the next few weeks that would help control skyrocketing health care costs for small businesses and their workers.

I’ve written recently about the lack of checks on insurance companies when it comes to setting rates for smaller employers, many of whom face outrageous annual increases in health insurance premiums. In many cases, those costs have been passed on to workers, who are seeing more of their paycheck going toward health coverage for their families.

State Sen. Rob Wonderling, R-24th Dist., and state Rep. Curt Schroder, R-155th Dist., plan to re-introduce legislation in their respective chambers to address the problem. Wonderling was the primary sponsor of similar legislation in the 2003-04 session, but the bill never made it out of the Senate’s Insurance Committee. A parallel bill introduced in the House also got bogged down in committee.

Meanwhile, small business owners and their employees have suffered double-digit increases — in some cases as high as 25 to 35 percent — to pay for health insurance coverage. Some companies have dropped health insurance for their workers. Others won’t hire new workers because they can’t afford to pay the health premiums.

Although Wonderling and Schroder have worked hard to get dozens of fellow legislators to co-sponsor the bills, there’s no guarantee the legislation will not suffer the same fate it did in the last session. That’s where you and I come in. We have to make sure that our state senators and representatives know we’re watching these bills closely and expect to see them passed and eventually signed by Gov. Ed Rendell.

It’s imperative that everyone call, write or e-mail their elected representatives in Harrisburg to demand these bills don’t end up at the bottom of a pile on somebody’s desk or slip between the cracks.

Wonderling is a fresh face on the Harrisburg scene, first elected to the Senate in November 2002, but he’s risen quickly through the ranks to become chairman of the Senate’s Communications and Technology Committee. He’s sponsored several key bills in the short time he’s been in office and continues to work for his constituents and all Pennsylvanians. He’s been talking up Senate Bill 671 to his colleagues during the current session.

"I’m very pleased by the level of support from my fellow senators," Wonderling said. "The bill has co-sponsors from every geographic region in Pennsylvania and every ideological philosophy is represented — from liberal to conservative."

In addition to contacting our state representatives as individual voters, we must also get organizations such as the chamber of commerce and other business groups to lobby Harrisburg for passage of these reforms. Local government also needs to get behind this bill. Fewer jobs means less tax revenue for municipal coffers.

While Wonderling was disappointed that the insurance reform bill didn’t pass in the last session, he hasn’t given up hope. "Many concepts that challenge the status quo take time for people to hear about them, think them through and finally become comfortable with them becoming reality," Wonderling said. "I am overwhelmed by the number of people who have contacted my office to encourage me to keep fighting to bring down the high cost of health insurance."

Every state in the country — except Pennsylvania — sets some standards in their small group insurance rates, according to Wonderling. "Since Pennsylvania’s rate of uninsured is increasing, it’s time to take action and implement standards that any insurer in the small group market will have to meet. This will make health insurance more available to small groups in Pennsylvania."

The problem with the existing system is that big insurance companies can set rates for businesses based solely on the type of workers in the firm. It’s called "demographic rating." That means that a company with a lot of female employees or older male workers will get hammered with high premiums.

If this sounds like government-sanctioned discrimination, that’s exactly what it is. Left unchecked, about the only businesses that insurance companies will cover will be landscaping firms, which tend to hire young, healthy men.

The proposed legislation would require insurance companies doing business in Pennsylvania to use a "modified demographic" rating to determine premiums for smaller firms and their workers. "Modified demographic" rating will include the following factors: age, gender, family composition, industry and geographic area.

"This will permit a better balancing between risk groups," Wonderling said. "Which is what insurance really does — balance risk. Additionally, modified demographic rating does not advantage either small or large insurance companies in a given market. Uniform rating rules will help to level the playing field for everyone. In addition, the new rating system in the bill also encourages existing carriers to remain in the market and new carriers to come to Pennsylvania to set up shop."

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Big Brother is watching you ... light up

In the fictional world of George Orwell’s "Nineteen Eighty-Four," Big Brother is everywhere, controlling all aspects of a person’s life. Around every corner in the totalitarian state of Orwell’s Oceania, giant posters stare back at you with the ominous warning, "Big Brother is watching you."

If Jim Matthews gets his way, the nightmarish world of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" may soon become a reality in Montgomery County. Jim Matthews is the big brother of maniacal talk-show host Chris Matthews of MSNBC fame. Jim Matthews is also the chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Montgomery County, just outside Philadelphia.

In a move believed to be the first of its kind in the country, Big Brother Matthews floated the idea of adopting a policy that would ban the hiring of smokers for county jobs.

We're not talking about people who smoke during work hours or sneak a cigarette during their lunch break. If you smoke any time, any place — whether it’s in the privacy of your home or at your favorite tavern or in your car — don’t bother applying for any of the 3,200 full-time jobs that Montgomery County has to offer.

Big Brother Matthews, a Republican, says he’s trying to save taxpayers some money by reducing the number of smokers employed by the county. He thinks there’s nothing wrong with banning smokers because their habit is bad for their health and leads to higher premiums paid by the county.

I’m not a smoker. Never have smoked and have no desire to start. And I don’t enjoy breathing in second-hand smoke. But there’s something inherently wrong about government telling people how to live their lives on their own time.

Is there any more punishment we can inflict on the estimated 47 million Americans who smoke? The government already taxes cigarettes to the point where a pack of smokes costs $7.50 in New York City. Let’s be up front about those taxes. The government will tell you it’s trying to discourage smoking by placing such burdensome taxes on tobacco, but it’s just an easy way to tax a group that isn’t organized enough to fight back.

Smokers have suffered much humiliation at the hands of government in recent years. They’ve been chased from restaurants, bars and all manner of public buildings. They can’t smoke in airplanes or taxis or buses. Private employers have followed suit, forcing smokers into back alleys or ledges for a quick drag. You almost feel sorry for smokers.

If you carry Big Brother Matthews reasoning to its logical conclusion, people won’t be able to smoke in the privacy of their own homes. I can’t wait until this case gets to the Supreme Court, which previously plucked the "right to privacy" from the Constitution even though those words don’t appear anywhere in the document. Where is a person’s right to privacy if your boss can fire you for a lifestyle choice not connected to your job performance?

Big Brother Matthews is riding a slippery slope. If smokers are banned from the workplace, who would be next? What about fat people? Obesity is a public health crisis in the United States. Are we nearing the day when workers will have to get on a scale every morning before they start work?

What other undesirables are lurking in the cubicles of offices or assembly lines? If a guy goes home after a hard day at the office and has a few beers, shouldn't his boss know about that? What about a person with tattoos? Shouldn’t Big Brother Matthews be worried about hiring these kind of people? And will the policy cover "elected" county employees, such as Big Brother Matthews, who quit smoking two years ago, but chews nicotine gum to curb his cravings?

There are other "vices" besides smoking. How can you single out one? What about people who buy lottery tickets? That’s gambling, isn’t it? Aren’t gamblers prone to stealing from their employer to feed their habits? Oh, wait. The lottery is government-sponsored gambling. Never mind. It's OK to gamble as long as the government gets the money.

What if someone starts smoking after they’re hired? Will Big Brother Matthews order county detectives to follow suspected smokers after they leave work? Will he set up surveillance of workers on weekends and holidays? Will he round up employees who try to wolf down a Big Mac or a Whopper? Maybe the county should hire only vegetarians.

What if a top county administrator is having an extra-marital affair and Big Brother Matthews' secret police get pictures of the indiscretion? Is the tryst OK as long as the philanderer doesn't light up a cigarette after leaving a motel room? Is there anything wrong with frequenting a strip club as long as you don't smoke?

How far is Big Brother Matthews willing to go to invade the privacy of a worker? And why stop at vices? Shouldn’t Montgomery County impose limits on how many children workers can have? After all, those dependents cost the county money when they're added to the health plan.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

A short story about 3 assholes

News anchors, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Cokie Roberts, along with their Marine aide, were captured by terrorists. They were all to be killed.

The leader of the terrorists asked if they had a last request.

Dan Rather said, "Well, I'm a Texan; so I'd like one last bowlful of hot spicy chili." The leader nodded to an underling who left and returned with the chili. Rather ate it all and said! , "Now I can die content."

Peter Jennings said, "I am Canadian, so I'd like to hear the song "O Canada" one last time." The leader nodded to a terrorist who had studied the Western world and knew the music. He returned with some rag-tag musicians and played the anthem. Jennings sighed and declared he could now die peacefully.

Cokie Roberts said, "I'm a reporter to the end. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what's about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job till the end." The leader directed an aide to hand over the tape recorder and Roberts dictated some comments. She then said, now I can die happy."

The leader turned and said, "And now, Mr. U.S. Marine, what is your final wish?"

"Kick me in the ass," said the Marine.

"What?" asked the leader. "Will you mock us in your last hour?"

"No, I'm not kidding. I want you to kick me in the ass," insisted the Marine. So the leader shoved him into the open, and kicked him in the ass.

The Marine went sprawling, but rolling to his knees; he pulled a 9 mm pistol from inside his cammies, and shot the leader dead. In the resulting confusion, he leapt to his knapsack, pulled out his M4 carbine, and sprayed the Iraqis with gunfire. In a flash, all the Iraqis were either dead or fleeing for their lives.

As the Marine was untying Rather, Jennings, and Roberts, they asked him, "Why didn't you just shoot them from the get-go? Why did you ask them to kick you in the ass?"

"What," replied the Marine, "and have you three ass-holes call ME the aggressor?

Tales from the Secret Service

Got this interesting e-mail today from a reliable source. Can't verify the truth, but it sure makes for entertaining reading.

Secret Service Comments:

We had a neighbor when I lived in DC who was part of the secret service presidential detail for many years. His stories of Kennedy and Johnson were the same as those I heard from the guys who flew the presidents' plane ---

[yes, Kennedy did have Marilyn Monroe flown in for secret "dates," and LBJ was a typical Texas "good ol boy" womanizer. Nixon, Bush 41, and Carter never cheated on their wives. Clinton cheated, but couldn't match Kennedy or LBJ in style or variety.]

The information below is accurate. Former Pres. Bush Sr. and the current president Bush make it a point to thank and take care of the aircrews who fly them around

[When the president flies, there are several planes that also go -- one carries the armored limo, another the security detail, plus usually a press aircraft] and both Bush's made it a point to stay home on holidays, so these Air Force and security people could have a day with their families.



Hillary Clinton was arrogant and vocally abusive to her security detail. She forbade her daughter, Chelsea, from exchanging pleasantries with them. Sometimes Chelsea, miffed at her mother's obvious conceit and mean spiritedness ignored her demands and exchanged pleasantries regardless, but never in her mother's presence. Chelsea really was a nice, kindhearted, and lovely young lady. The consensus opinion was that Chelsea loved her Mom but did not like her.

Hillary Clinton was continuously rude and abrasive to those who were charged to protect her life. Her security detail dutifully did their job, as professionals should, but they all "loathed" her and wanted to be on a different detail. She was hard work because she was so nasty and mean toward her detail. Hillary Clinton was uniformly despised by the Secret Service as a whole.

Former President Bill Clinton was much more amiable than his wife Hillary. Often the Secret Service would cringe at the verbal attack antics that Hillary would use against her husband, the then President. They were embarrassed for his sake by the manner and frequency in which she verbally insulted him, sometimes in the presence of the Secret Service, and sometimes behind closed doors. Even behind closed doors Hillary Clinton would scream and yell so loudly that everyone could hear what she was saying.

Many felt sorry for President Clinton and most people wondered why he tolerated it instead of just divorcing his "attack dog" wife. It was crystal clear that the Clintons neither liked nor respected each other and was true long before the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Theirs was genuinely a "marriage of convenience."

Chelsea was much closer to her father than her mother, even after the Lewinsky scandal which hurt her gravely. Bill Clinton did in fact have "charisma," and occasionally would smile at or shake hands with his security detail. Still, he always displayed an obvious air of superiority towards them. His security detail uniformly believed him to be disingenuous, false, and that he did nothing without a motive that in some way would enhance his image and political career. They did respect him, unlike his wife, but they did not particularly like him and nobody trusted him. He was polite, but not kind.


Al Gore was the male version of Hillary Clinton. They were more friendly toward each other than either of them were towards former President Clinton. They were not intimate, so please don't read that in . They were very close in a political way. Tipper Gore was generally nice and pleasant. She initially liked Hillary but soon after the election she had her "pegged" and no longer liked her or associated with her except for events that were politically obligatory.

Al Gore was far more left wing and very hateful, not just politically opposed, to Republicans than Clinton. Al Gore resented Bill Clinton and thought he was too "centrist." He despised all Republicans. His hatred was bitter and this was long before he announced for the Presidency. This bitter hatred was something that he and Hillary had very much in common. They often said as much, even in the presence of their security detail. Neither of them trusted Bill Clinton and, the Secret Service opined, neither of them even liked Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton did have some good qualities where Al Gore and Hillary had none in the view of their security details.

Al Gore, like Hillary, was very rude and arrogant toward his security detail. He was extremely unappreciative and would not hesitate to scold them in the presence of their peers for minor details over which they had no control. Al Gore also looked down on them in disgust as they finally observed and learned with certainty on one occasion when Al Gore got angry at his offspring and loudly, in their presence, pointed at his security detail and said, "Do you want to grow up and be like them?!?"

Word of this insulting and demeaning verbiage by the former Vice-president quickly spread and he became as despised and disliked by the Secret Service as Hillary. Most of them prayed that Al Gore would not be elected President and they really did have private small celebrations in a few of their homes after President Bush won. This was not necessarily to celebrate President Bush's election, but to celebrate Al Gore's defeat. He was much dis liked. Al Gore was not a good and kind person. That he could have been our President may suggest that God was "answering prayers" and looking out for the country with Al Gore's defeat.


Everyone in the Secret Service wants to be on First Lady Laura Bush's detail. Without exception, they uniformly concede that she is perhaps the most nice, kind, and genuinely good person they have ever had the privilege of serving. Where Hillary patently refused to allow her picture to be taken with her security detail, Laura Bush doesn't even have to be asked, she offers.

She doesn't just shake their hand and say, "Thank you." Very often, she will give members of her detail a kindhearted hug to express her appreciation. There is nothing false about her. This is her genuine nature. Laura Bush really is this kind of a person and her security detail considers her to be a "breath of fresh air." They actually love her as a human being.

They joke that comparing Laura Bush with Hillary Clinton is like comparing "Mother Teresa" with the "Wicked Witch of the North."

Likewise, the Secret Service considers President Bush to be a gem of a man to work for. He always treats them with genuine respect and he always trusts and listens to their expert advice. They really like the Crawford, Texas detail. Every time the president goes to Crawford he has a Bar-B-Que for his security detail and he helps in serving them their meals. He eats with them, sits with them, and talks with them. He always asks about their family, the names of which he always remembers, and he of course, knows each of them by their first name, and calls them by their first name as a show of affection.

They believe that he actually loves his security detail and that he is deeply and genuinely appreciative of their service. They could not like, love, or respect anyone more than President Bush, and most of them did not know they would feel this way until they had an opportunity to work for him and learn that his manner was genuine and consistent. It has never changed in the time that he has been President. He always treats them with the utmost respect, kindness, and compassion.

Please pass this on. It is important for everyday Americans to have a true inside understanding of their President.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Grades are in: Ed Rendell flunks out

It’s report card time for the nation’s governors. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s favorite son, Gov. Edward G. Rendell, didn’t do so well.

I hope you’re sitting down for this mom and dad. Rendell brought home a big red "F" on his report card. Where did we go wrong? I knew he was spending too much time at Eagles games and not enough time hitting the books.

The Washington, D.C.-based CATO Institute has released a new report grading the nation’s governors on taxes and spending policies. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has been following Rendell’s first two years in office to learn that raising the state’s income tax by 33 percent, saddling Pennsylvania residents with a host of other nuisance taxes and funneling money into ratholes like SEPTA and the Philadelphia schools tends to sink economic prospects.

Gov. Rendell was one of only four governors to receive a grade of "F" on the CATO Institute’s "Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors: 2004." The other governors who flunked basic economics are Republican Bob Taft of Ohio, Democrat Bob Holden of Missouri and Democrat James McGreevey of New Jersey.

The CATO Institute is a non-profit public policy research foundation founded in 1977. It has no connection to the Republican Party or the Bush administration. The people behind the study believe that lower taxes, less government spending and minimal government regulations tend to stimulate the economy.

So why did Ed Rendell finish 41 out of 42 governors? (Eight governors were excluded from the study because they just began office). The only governor ranked behind Rendell was McGreevey, who resigned last year.

It appears that Rendell’s plan of siphoning $1 billion a year from working Pennsylvanians to support his massive government spending plan had something to do with his low marks. There’s also those hidden taxes, including higher fees for state inspections and emissions testing. And let’s not forget the $50 tax on workers Rendell pushed through last year, allowing communities to raise their occupational privilege tax from $10 to $52 a year.

And of course, there’s the gambling bill, the worst legislation since Prohibition. Rendell wants to tax Pennsylvania’s elderly even more by bringing slot machines to Pennsylvania so seniors won’t have to go to Atlantic City to lose more of their money.

In return for slots, Rendell said residents might get back a few hundred dollars in property tax relief in three or four years or they might get nothing if seniors don’t gamble away at least $1 billion a year. That’s Rendell’s version of property tax relief. Are you sure an "F" is the lowest grade you can earn?

The CATO study is based on 15 objective measures of fiscal performance. Four governors received "A" grades from Cato: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-California), Gov. Bill Owens (R-Colorado), Gov. Judy Martz (R-Montana) and Gov. Craig Benson (R-New Hampshire). The top-ranked Democrat governors were New Mexico’s Bill Richardson, Washington’s Gary Locke, Maine’s John Baldacci and Tennessee’s Phil Bredensen, all of whom who earned a "B."

Governors who have cut taxes and spending the most received the highest grades, according to according to Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski, who wrote the CATO report. Those who have increased spending and taxes the most get the lowest grades.
"Our analysis shows that states that keep tax rates low and restrain spending growth have the best economic performance and thus the best long-term fiscal health," Moore and Slivinski wrote in the report’s executive summary.

The complete CATO report can be downloaded in PDF format free of charge from the institute’s Web site:

Out of 12.3 million residents in Pennsylvania, is "Fast Eddie" Rendell the best we can do? No wonder Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom of just about every quality of life issue that can measured, whether it's health care, transportation, schools, the environment or job creation.

Can Pennsylvania afford four more years of Rendell’s failed tax-and-spend policies? He’s up for reelection in 2006. It might be time to homeschool our boy Eddie.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Skyrocketing health premiums cost everyone

The inflation rate for 2004 was 2.7 percent. That’s the highest rate since 2000 when inflation was measured at 3.5 percent. Inflation has not been at double-digit rates since 1981 when it was 11.2 percent. The worst inflation rate of the past 25 years was in 1980 when it hit 14.3 percent.

Keep those figures in mind. The costs of health care premiums for employers and their workers have been rising annually from 15 percent to 25 percent in recent years. How can insurance companies raise premiums by 25 percent when the rate of inflation is below 3 percent?

The short answer is because they can. There’s nothing to stop them from raising prices to any level they want. There are no regulations in Pennsylvania to prohibits these outrageous increases by commercial insurance carriers.

Politicians in Harrisburg know about the problem. They just haven’t made it a priority. In the meantime, small employers are forced to pay more to provide health care coverage for their workers or pass those increases onto the workers and their families.

This is especially troubling for companies who have 100 or fewer workers. But this issue hits home with just about everyone. If this trend is not reversed, companies will simply stop offering health coverage as part of their benefits coverage. That means workers will have to rely on taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicaid or CHIP to cover their family’s health expenses. That means higher taxes for everyone to pay for these programs.

Companies may also decide not to hire more workers because of the high cost of providing health coverage. That means more unemployment. And guess who pays more in taxes to cover unemployment benefits?

Two area insurance agents are very familiar with the dilemma in health care coverage. Ronald H. Back is president of the Ron Black Agency in Royersford. Charles A. Laskey Jr. is vice president. They’ve been in the business for decades. They pride themselves in finding the right insurance at the right price for any of their clients. But it’s getting harder to do their job.

Before this starts sounding like a commercial for the Ron Black Agency, let me say that I have no connection to the firm whatsoever. Ron Black asked me if I would write about this issue and provided me with copies of the legislation. That’s my only dealing with the firm.

Black and Laskey feel so strongly about this issue that they devote a portion of their firm’s Web site to educating the public about the current health coverage dilemma. They’ve spoken to business groups, appeared on local television to discuss the issue and traveled to Harrisburg to testify before legislative committees.

Black and Laskey wholeheartedly supported bills in the state House and Senate to remedy the problem. The legislation (Senate Bill 671 and House Bill 1891) was introduced during the 2003-2004 session. Both bills were referred to their respective insurance committees, but neither made it out of committee for a vote.

Passage of these bills wouldn’t benefit the Ron Black Agency’s bottom line. Black and Laskey want to see reform because they care deeply about their customers, including many of the local businesses that provide jobs for area residents. Black and Laskey talk to these business owners regularly and they feel their pain. They want to find affordable health insurance for these firms, but that’s becoming harder to do in Pennsylvania.

The legislation seeks to ban "demographic rating" and medical underwriting in the small employer market. If passed, insurance companies would no longer be allowed to charge a business a higher rate because that firm has older workers or a lot of women working there. The insurance companies would have to use "community rating" to determine what they charge. This is what Blue Cross/Blue Shield does. That would bring rates down for everyone because the costs are spread out over all employers in a region.

One of the more interesting sections on the Ron Black Agency’s Web site deals with the question of what would happen if the Senate and House bills are not passed:

* Rates will rise more drastically. Companies with an average age of workers over 45 could see a 30 percent to 40 percent rate increase.

* Employers may be forced to discriminate when hiring new employees in order to keep their average age down. They’ll hire young men instead of women or more experienced workers.

* Employers may be forced to pass more of the increased health insurance premiums onto their employees (which is what many firms are already doing).

* Employers may be forced to offer plans with higher deductibles and co-pays to their employees in order to keep insurance premiums down. (See above).

* Employers may be forced to eliminate their health insurance plans altogether because of the soaring costs.

This is a complex issue but the solution is common sense. The state Senate and House need to enact legislation to deal with this problem. Since the two bills never made it out of committee, somebody needs to stand up in the Legislature and introduce the measures again.

I urge you to contact your state senator and representative and get them behind this legislation. Every worker and taxpayer in the Commonwealth needs speak up. I will continue to write about this issue until Gov. Ed Rendell signs legislation to curb the skyrocketing costs of health insurance.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

If Syria leaves Lebanon, will Turkey leave Cyprus?

There’s growing international pressure on Syria to end its illegal occupation of Lebanon. Syria has been using its tiny neighbor as a military base since 1976 when it sent 27,000 troops into Lebanon under the guise of establishing order after a bloody Lebanese civil war.

Lebanon was once the jewel of the Middle East, with a thriving economy and tourist industry. It was one of the few countries in that part of the world where Muslims and Christians lived in harmony.

While the Syrian invasion brought an end to civil war, it also marked an end to Lebanese independence. After order was restored, the Syrians decided to stay in Lebanon. They installed a series of puppet regimes and put out the welcome sign for terrorist groups to use Lebanon as a staging area for attacks on Israel.

The recent assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, a staunch opponent of the Syrian occupation, has brought a renewed effort both at the United Nations and the United States to get Syria to leave Lebanon. Syria still has 15,000 troops stationed in Lebanon.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "The Syrians are out of step with where the region is going and out of step with the aspirations of the people of the Middle East." Rice said international resolve was growing that Syria must pull out of Lebanon and allow the Lebanese to choose their own political future. That choice must be independent of "contaminating influences," Rice said. "I think it's one of the strongest statements in a long time about what needs to happen in Lebanon."

Very strong words coming from the Bush administration, especially when the United States has looked the other way for 30 years at a very similar situation in the region.

About 60 miles west of Syria sits the island of Cyprus, a sovereign nation since 1960. It too has endured an occupation by a foreign power. Since 1974, Turkish troops have controlled one-third of the island.

Armed with American weapons, Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974, under the guise of protecting the Turkish minority following an unsuccessful coup against the elected government of Cyprus by forces loyal to the military junta that was governing Greece at the time. Cyprus was another case of Christians and Muslims living side-by-side for decades in relative peace and stability.

In a matter of days, the 40,000-strong Turkish invasion force drove nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes, farms and businesses, turning them into refugees in their own country. With Greece threatening to come to the aid of Cyprus (leaving the U.S. with the unpleasant prospect of seeing two of its NATO allies at war), a cease-fire was arranged on Aug. 16, 1974.

But the damage was done. More than 6,000 Greek-Cypriots were killed by the Turks and another 1,600 disappeared behind Turkish lines. Thirty years later, there has never been a full accounting by Turkey of what happened to the 1,300 men, 116 women and 133 children caught behind the advancing Turkish army.

Since the invasion, some 115,000 "undesirable" Turks from the mainland have been illegally settled in occupied Cyprus. In 1983, Turkey declared the occupied portion of Cyprus as an independent nation. To this day, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus as well as the continuing violation of the fundamental human rights of the people of Cyprus has been condemned by every international body, including the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth, the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe. But Turkey doesn't care about the law.

Fed by billions of dollars in U.S. aid, Turkey thumbs its nose at international law — and U.S. taxpayers. This is the same Turkey that continues to have one of the worst records of human rights violations in the world. The same Turkey that denied the United States use of its military bases and air space to launch a northern offensive against Iraq. Imagine how many more Saddam loyalists and insurgents could have been killed or captured in the opening days of the Iraq War had Turkey cooperated with the U.S.

Turkey keeps 30,000 troops on Cyprus to keep the Greeks from returning to their homes. It has ignored dozens of U.N. resolutions calling for unification of the island. And while the U.S. talks tough to Syria, it permits Turkey to occupy a neighboring country.

Why should American taxpayers finance this rogue nation? Unlike Syria, where the U.S. has little leverage, the Turkish economy would collapse without U.S. dollars. What’s so difficult about insisting that Turkey end its illegal occupation of Cyprus before any more America tax dollars make into Turkish pockets?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at