Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Scranton Times Needs an Ombudsman

Most newspapers have an editorial slant. In the old days, it was more apparent. Papers would proclaim their political ideology in their title. The valley of Scranton hosted papers such as The Daily Democrat, the Scranton Republican, Scranton Daily Republican, Tribune Republican, etc. They all wore their political persuasion on their sleeve.

Some papers still preserve that identity throughout the country but many of our area papers have moved away from it…that does not however prevent them from being blindingly partisan on occasion.

Today was one of those occasions.

Contained in the opinion page of today’s Scranton Times was an editorial about the current struggle in the legislature over how best to extend the tax cuts that expire at the close of 2011 in the Making Work Pay legislation passed previously. Also contained in the editorial, was an outright lie. The lie goes as follows:

“Those intrepid anti-tax men of the people, U.S. Reps. Tom Marino and Lou Barletta, voted Wednesday to impose a major tax increase on 160 million working Americans.”

Marino and Barletta did nothing of the sort.

What the House did was oppose the band-aid proposed by Democrats that will cut Social Security contributions for the first 60 days of 2012. And they didn’t just say no. They proposed and passed their own bill that would extend the tax cuts for one year instead of just 60 days as the Democrats proposed.

Republicans also called for the formation of a committee to continue negotiations with the Senate and reconcile the bills. Republicans recognize and are trying to avoid the predictable replay of this exact same fight, over the exact same tax issue, with the exact same people, just at a later date. Presumably round two would occur in February or whenever the Senate decides to return from its current vacation.

Republicans rightly wanted a full one year extension of the payroll tax cut to offer more stability, certainty, and ease of use of the tax code for employers – something sadly missing in today’s economy.

There is nothing stable about a tax code that has the potential to change every two months. Yet, that is exactly what the Democrats proposed. Employers should have at least the certainty of knowing what payroll calculations need to be for the year. They should also not have to undergo the added expense of reprogramming their accounting software every time the government decides to get in a fight with itself.

Common sense dictates that tax codes be uniform, consistent, fair, and workable. Upon careful examination of the Democratic proposal, the National Payroll Reporting Consortium found that the Democratic proposal is so bad that it cannot be implemented properly. And this is from an independent, non-partisan group.

In short, Republicans did not vote to increase taxes. The claim that they did by the Scranton Times editorial today is so far from accurate that it can only accurately be described as a lie.

Even a casual reader of the Scranton Times would come to the conclusion that it is a Democratic paper, even if their masthead doesn’t declare it to be a Democratic paper as was the tradition in years past. There is nothing wrong with a paper having an editorial slant. Most of them do. It becomes problematic when the pursuit of the truth becomes clouded by the pursuit of partisan politics as it was today.

It is even more problematic when there is only one daily paper in town, the offending paper, with no competition to keep them honest.

Given their propensity to veer from the truth into propaganda and the absence of any real competition in the market, perhaps it is time for the public to demand an ombudsman at the Scranton Times.

One can only dream.

In the interim, the editorial staff of the Scranton Times should at least apologize to their readers and these members of Congress for allowing their writing to be blinded by partisan politics as well as a correction of the record, which they carelessly allowed to be distorted to serve the aforementioned partisan political pursuits of their staff.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Senate State Government Committee to Consider PA Voter ID Bill

The Pennsylvania Senate’s State Government Committee will meet today at 12:30 p.m. to consider House Bill 934. 934 is controversial to Democrats in that it changes Pennsylvania’s Election Code to require that voters show a valid form of identification before voting.

The bill requires an elector to produce a photo id issued by either the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the United States Government that contains their name as they are registered to vote, has an expiration date. For those that do not possess a valid ID, the bill further orders PENNDOT to issue one at no cost to the applicant. A new form would be created for these requests and disseminated to every county voter services department across the state.

Some of the IDs that would be accepted are:

  • Valid PA Driver’s License
  • Valid PA ID issued from another government agency
  • Valid US Government ID
  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Student ID Card
  • Valid Employee ID Card
  • Valid Armed Services ID Card

If someone does not have any of these, they can bring with them to the polls any of the following:

  • Valid non-photo identification issued by the Commonwealth or any agency thereof
  • A Non-photo identification issued by the United States Government, or agency thereof
  • A firearm permit
  • A current utility bill
  • A current bank statement
  • A paycheck
  • A government check

So, if you don’t have a valid form of ID, the Commonwealth will give you one for free and you can get the application for the same in your local county voter registration office. Assuming you cannot travel there, you can call and they would certainly mail one to you. If even that is too much for you, you can still bring another document that you should get weekly or monthly if you have a bank account, pay utilities, have a job, or are on some form of welfare or government assistance.

Still, the Democrats oppose this bill.

A supermajority of the Democrats in the House and Senate passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009. President Obama signed it. Among the many federal regulations it advanced, it allowed the Federal Government to “establish a minimum age of sale of tobacco products to any person older than 18 years of age.” That is accomplished by producing ID.

So, Democrats believe you should have to produce ID before you buy a pack of smokes but not before you vote. It is just bizarre.

You shouldn’t be selling tobacco to kids. The way you stop that is by asking for identification and refusing the sale if they cannot produce it. You shouldn’t be perpetuating voter fraud. The way you stop that is by asking for identification and refusing them the vote if they cannot produce it.

It seems simple enough.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Casey's Crusade Against Social Security

Social Security, as a system, is funded by taxes collected from employees with an equal match paid above and beyond salaries paid by employers. It is tough to find, sometimes hiding with Medicare taxes under the designation FICA on your paystub.

That tax, which directly pays Social Security benefits, is what US Senator Bob Casey and President Obama are trying to cut.

Social Security is in serious trouble. The most recent downward spiral began in 2010 when the Social Security Trust Fund began collecting less than it was paying out. Obviously, if you pay out more than you bring in, it is unsustainable. In August of this year, it was widely reported that new projections could have the Social Security Trust Fund begin to be insolvent by 2017.

A big part of the problem is the ratio of workers to recipients of Social Security. If you look at the ratios maintained by the Social Security Administration, you see in 1940, there were 159.4 workers for every one recipient. In 1960, there were 5.1 workers to every one recipient. In 1980, 3.2 workers to every one recipient. And, in 2010, there were only 2.9 workers paying into the fund for every one recipient.

Again, it is unsustainable. It will completely collapse when the ratio approaches 1:1.

Unemployment is also wrecking Social Security. If Americans aren’t working, they aren’t paying into the system. If Americans aren’t paying into the system, the ratio falls lower.

But, to listen to the Democrats over the years, you would never believe this to be true. Al Gore famously spoke about the “lock box” for Social Security during his failed presidential run. Others have said there was a $2.6 trillion dollar surplus that can cover us. Well, it’s time for a reality check. Democratic assertions that the funds were in an inviolate “lock box” and that there was a multi-trillion-dollar surplus are a complete fraud.

There is no surplus. This was proven during the debt ceiling debate. As you should recall, President Obama would said that if the debt ceiling was not extended, he could not guarantee Social Security checks would be sent. But, how could that be if there is a $2.6 trillion surplus? Yes, Social Security alone eats up about 20% of the budget, but our federal budget is around $3.5 trillion. In FY 2010, we spent $707 billion on Social Security. For Obama to suggest that we couldn’t pay a $700 billion bill with $2.6 trillion in the account, something doesn’t add up. And that something is the surplus. There isn’t one.

For decades, Social Security collected more than what it paid out. It was easy for that to happen when the worker to recipient ratio was higher as demonstrated above. Congress, being Congress, would take the surplus money each year from the “lock box” and leave meaningless IOUs in their place. Now that the ratio is smaller and deficits are being produced, Congress has to pay the money back. That is why Bob Casey’s bill also transfers $185 billion from the general fund into Social Security – to pay back some of the money the politicians like him raided from it. Again, why would we have to transfer money from the General Fund into the Social Security Trust Fund if, in fact, there was a surplus?

The Social Security Trust Fund is broke. Casey’s bill will make it worse.

By lowering the contribution rate, Casey’s bill will give American workers more money in their paychecks. That much is true. But at the expense of driving the final nail in the coffin of Social Security.

Casey and the Washington crowd know that. It is the reason Casey and Obama are only talking about this Social Security tax rate reduction in terms of a payroll tax reduction. They want people to believe it is merely a tax cut. They fear the blue-haired furry it will stir up if people catch on to what Casey is taking money from.

So why go forward with killing social security? These guys love a crisis.

The crisis of Social Security’s collapse would allow them to do things they would not otherwise be able to do politically. Rahm just said as much above. For instance, a serious threat to Social Security’s solvency could cause Democrats to initiate a massive increase in taxes or impose an entirely new VAT-like tax. If Social Security was held in the balance, wouldn’t the largest voting demographic (elderly voters) support saving it?

If Casey is going to continue his crusade to defund Social Security, he should begin to describe it accurately and fairly so that the American people can make a fully informed decision on this bill. If the Democrats persist in inaccurately describing what they are cutting, the Republicans should do it for them.

Democrats have used the issue of Social Security as a wedge to drive normally conservative elderly voters to their side for decades. Democrats, year after year, claimed that Republicans would destroy the program. That Republicans would leave the elderly only enough money for a steady supply of cold cans of cat food to live on. Republicans would then recoil in fear at being labeled as anti-social security or pro-privatization and run from the issue.

No more. This is the perfect opportunity for Republicans to engage the American people in a serious conversation about Social Security and what can be done with it. Republicans finally have an opportunity to talk about Social Security in a way that won’t drive the elderly away because they can talk about it in terms of what can be done to make it healthy again and all within the context of the cuts the Democrats want to make to its funding.

Republicans need to man up, have the courage to take advantage of this opportunity, and start to lead on the issue. The alternative is to be complicit in the further erosion of the program by capitulating to Casey’s crusade against Social Security. The Republicans must go on the offense and lead.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chuck Woolery: Un-Occupy Wall Street

The Voice of Revisionist History

Revisionist history has no place in a newspaper. Yet, that is exactly what was used to make a point about flooding and flood relief in their paper.

The premise is that Republicans have no problem entering into wars and funding them but won’t take care of people at home when they get flooded with the same vigor that they will enter war with.

Since the Voice seems to have forgotten, let’s remind them…in the House, 81 Democrats (including Paul Kanjorski) voted to send us to war with Iraq. In the Senate, 29 Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Vice-President Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and former presidential nominee John Kerry, voted to send us to war with Iraq.

There was bi-partisan support to send us to war with Iraq and the war continued to be funded with bi-partisan support. As a matter of fact, President Obama as a Senator, voted with Hillary Clinton for some $300 billion in war funding since entering the Senate in 2005. You might remember, it was a campaign issue.

The flood projects that Kanjorski actually put together took years to develop and secure funding for. Kanjorski started service in Congress in 1985 and it took until 2002 to get the flood control portion of the Wyoming Valley flood project completed. Solomon Creek flooded three times between 2004 and 2007, when Kanjorski finally got the legislation together to authorize the Army Corp to protect some 300 homes. It took Kanjorski years to get flood relief in Scranton.

In other areas, like Bloomsburg, he never substantially delivered. He got around to making a big push in the 2009 even though he acknowledged in his own statements that the area was prone to flooding for over sixty years.

Barletta and Marino have been in Congress for months, not years. And, by any fair measure, they have been working very hard to bring flood relief to the people hurt by this most recent disaster and to change the way the federal government deals with disasters such as these in the future.

Barletta brought the Speaker of the House to NEPA so that he could see first-hand the damage that was left in the wake of the flood. He led the fight to get low interest rate loans for businesses and homes damaged by the flooding. Barletta also fought to get farmers the help they need to recover from these natural disasters.

Marino led on the Hurricane Irene Coalition to have NEPA flooding added to the scope of its commission and to ensure that FEMA had necessary funding to participate in the recovery efforts. Marino is being proactive to make sure the federal response to flooding in the future is improved.

Both members of Congress distributed emergency disaster kits and made their staff available to the victims of the flood to help them navigate the ridiculous, circuitous process that flood victims have to go through to get federal help.

Both of these men have done an excellent job in responding to this disaster. They are fighting the good fight. Instead of attempting to score political points based on a false premise (which can only be described as ignorance of history, political bias, or perhaps a little of both) they deserve our thanks for their responsiveness and leadership in a time of crisis.

Monday, December 5, 2011