Thursday, January 30, 2014

Life of the Party

Liveleak copy of the most recent Snowden interview.

Last week, Politico reported that the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution condemning the 'unconstitutional' policies of President Obama.

Yes, your first thought is probably "of which unconstitutional policies of President Obama does the RNC speak, there are so many!"

No, it wasn't his unconstitutional appointments, his unilateral re-writing of laws, or his exemption granted to Obamacare for members of Congress and insurance policies.

It was his spy programs.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SOTU 2014

Tonight President Obama will deliver his state of the union address.  The issues of illegal immigration and a minimum wage increase will likely take a prominent role, sewn together with class warfare. Don't be terribly surprised to hear a call for a clean debt limit increase as well.

Following the speech, progressive politicians will release their platitudes.  Calls for legislation to address those demands that even President Obama will not make by executive order will be made.  And, all of this will likely be done with the willful blindness and hypocrisy that has come to define progressives.

Friday, January 24, 2014

USPS: The Mix Tape

Remember making mix tapes?  You could either record from the radio while your favorite songs were playing or, if you were really lucky and had a boom box with two cassette decks, you could pull a song from one onto the other.  Some of you reading this, may not even have owned a cassette deck.  The mix tape, and cassettes for that matter, have become obsolete.  The combination of CDs and the proliferation of computers which could burn CDs, doomed the poor cassette.

But what really happened here is that the market demanded a new product that was more convenient, gave the user more control, and produced a better quality and cassettes simply couldn't meet the demand.

The United States Postal Service is going through a similar situation.  This venture is losing money despite being the only show in town.  Year after year, they cannot meet their obligations or they raise rates or both.  Part of their loses can be attributed to online communication - people simply do not send letters to communicate like they used to.  They don't even pay bills like they used to.  But that is no excuse for a business to not operate in a monopoly environment.

When a normal business is losing sales volume, they typically do something new.  They improve their products, make doing business with them easier for the consumer, or maybe lower rates.  In short, they improve service.

The knee-jerk reaction of the Postal Service has been to increase cost.  And, as any thinking person would expect, people have responded to the increased costs by continuing to take their business elsewhere.  Unable or unwilling to adjust their prices, they are now seeking to improve availability of service.  They are testing ways to make their product more available and more convenient to their customers, which has earned a rebuke from big labor.

The United States Postal Service should resist the union's attempts to preserve a failed system that simply no longer works.  There is no clearer evidence needed than the weak balance sheets of the USPS despite having a complete and total monopoly on sending regular, first-class mail.  If they bend to the antiquated thinking of big labor, the market will respond and eventually send the postman the way of the mix tape.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Economy of Shale

The Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, and Linde Corporation are hosting a forum entitled The Economy of Shale.  It will be moderated by Robert F. Durkin, Chamber President and include the following panelists:

  • Vince Matteo, DPA, President & CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce
  • Rayola Dougher, MA, Senior Economic Advisor, American Petroleum Institute
  • Patricia Acker, Linde Corporation and Chair of the Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Corporation (SLIBCO)

The event will be held at Lackawanna College, Angeli Hall, Ground Floor, 501 Vine Street, Scranton, PA at 6:30 pm on January 29th, 2014.

For information on how to RSVP, please consult their invitation.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Insurance Company "Bailouts" Under Obamacare

Obamacare is likely to be the premiere issue in the 2014 federal elections.  Following the unmitigated disaster of the Obamacare website launch, intense scrutiny has continued to follow the law.

One area which has drawn attention is the "bailout" of the insurance companies with the reinsurance fund and the risk corridor provisions of the law, sections 1341 and 1342, respectively.  Conservatives have proposed legislation to strip these provisions from the law.

Obamacare demands massive enrollment figures.  Absent these high enrollment numbers, particularly from healthy young people, the program will collapse under its own fiscal weight.  This exacerbates the problem of the bungled website launch.  And that, coupled with President Obama's continue use of "exemptions" for favored special interest groups, is a prescription for failure.

But what would failure mean at this point?  Some, like the Galen Institute, argue it could be a catalyst for the progressive's favored system of single-payer.  The liberals have said as much.  Galen's analysis is worth the read.  It raises several good points that seem to be missing from the debate.  Not the least of which is whether conservatives are being played by progressives in DC.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bob Casey Jr. Scores 7 out of 7

Politico has a story about Hillary Clinton's "Hit List."  What they describe as a "favor file of saints and sinners," which is basically lifted from a new book: HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton.

In this list, people that helped or hurt Mrs. Clinton's efforts during the 2008 campaign are recorded.  1 is for the most helpful of supporters, 7 is reserved for the most treacherous of politicians that betrayed her.

Scranton's own Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey has earned himself a 7 with his March, 2008 endorsement of BHO when he said:
“This campaign is a chance for America, a chance for America to chart a new course …  I believe in my heart that there’s one person who's uniquely qualified to lead us in that new direction, and that is Barack Obama.”
What does that mean for Casey Jr?  Probably not much.  If Mrs. Clinton does actually run for president in 2016, that will give the Senator plenty of time to kiss butt and mend fences.  There really is no road to victory for Clinton (or any Democrat, really) that doesn't run through Pennsylvania and that will be Casey's get out of jail free card.



Friday, January 17, 2014

Police in Wilkes-Barre

A troubling story is emerging in Wilkes-Barre dealing with the behavior of off-duty police.

Recently, an off-duty police officer, presumably in his personal vehicle given that it was a pickup truck, issued two citations to a woman driving in Wilkes-Barre.  She was able to beat one of the charges at the Magisterial level, but was found guilty of another.  She has since filed a complaint against the officer involved.

Law enforcement is permitted to file citations for crimes they witness when off-duty and no one appears to be disputing that in this situation.  But, based on the description the woman gave of the incident, it appears as though the police officer should perhaps be cited himself.

Wilkes-Barre is a dangerous city that is leading the region in murders.  Given that backdrop, law enforcement should not expect anyone to stop for an unmarked vehicle in the city.  And really, police officers should not be using unmarked vehicles to perform traffic stops nor should they be giving chase to traffic violators in vehicles that are not only unmarked, but do not have the benefit of lights and sirens.  Doing so puts the public at greater risk than someone making a minor traffic violation.

This incident should be evaluated by the administration and some type of resolution make public to the citizenry of Wilkes-Barre.  Giving the impression that motorists should stop for any vehicle that flags them to pull over is a dangerous precedent that needs to be resolved immediately.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Melanie Madeira for State Representative

Melanie Madeira has announced her candidacy for State Representative in Pennsylvania's 114th Legislative District.  The District is current represented by Democrat Sid Michaels Kavulich.

From her about page:
Melanie was born and raised in North East Pennsylvania and has raised her six children here with her husband of 21 years, David.  She is very concerned about the fundamental transformation that America is undergoing and has been involved in pubic advocacy for our Constitutionally protected rights for decades. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Independent?

Gallup has an interesting new statistic: 42% of Americans self-identify as Independents.  Republican ID is down to 25% and Democrat to 31%.  They also posit that most of that attrition is at the expense of Republicans.

Republicans, hit a recent high of 34% in 2004 and have basically fallen since then.  Democrats hit their high in 2008 with 36%.  The 2004 GOP high was on the heels of GWB's successful re-elect and the Democrat high ran in tandem with the Hope-N-Change election of 2008.

Truly, there is no mistaking a growing dissatisfaction with the two major parties.  Dissatisfaction with Democrats because they are becoming more and more progressive with little tolerance or patience for any politician that isn't hard left (remember Tim Holden?) and dissatisfaction with Republicans after they abandoned positions of individual empowerment, freedom, and fiscal restraint to become Democrat-Lites.

A major policy correction in the GOP occurred in 2009/2010, giving them sweeping victories in 2010 and started their return in popularity...until it became clear that they could neither deliver on their promises (largely due to only capturing the House) nor effectively communicate with the American people.

If Republicans want to register new voters, they must pursue policies that empower individuals to succeed, protect individual freedoms, and return true fiscal sanity to government but they also must be fearless in advocating for these policies.  (Note to GOP: the mainstream media is not going to support you or your efforts, deal with it by talking directly to the people.)

The Democrats, on a similar trajectory as the 2005/2006 GOP, will be forced to go through a major policy correction, as the Republicans did, or will continue to hemorrhage centrists until they find themselves in a similar position.

Before Democrats can attract new voters, they must resolve their identify crisis.  Will they be the party of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" or will they once again realize their primary challenge is "not how to divide the economic pie, but how to enlarge it."

Until both major parties figure this out, the ranks of Independents will continue to swell.

Monday, January 13, 2014

DEP Seeks Public Comment in Williamsport

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Environmental Quality Board has proposed changes to regulations that govern environmental protection performance standards associated with oil and gas activities in the Commonwealth.  As part of that process, hearings are being held throughout Pennsylvania to receive public comment on the proposed changes.

One such hearing will be today at the Pennsylvania College of Technology's Klump Academic Center, One College Avenue, Williamsport, PA 17701.

Williamsport is a perfect place to hold such a hearing, given the massive economic growth they have experienced from the natural gas industry.

The drilling industry helped give the Williamsport area the seventh fastest growing economy the United States in 2010.   It also helped stem the population loss Williamsport had been experiencing.  For decades, the city was losing a few thousand people every ten years.  For the first time in ta long time, those losses were cut in half.  Impact fees have also been helpful to the County, bringing in $4.3 million in Act 13 Impact Fees in 2012.

Economic considerations should not drive the debate when evaluating regulatory changes, but they should be part of the discussion and it is encouraging that DEP is holding so many hearings across the Commonwealth to hear from the public.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Will Transparency Take a Hit in Scranton?

Scranton's financial problems are arguably the most pressing issue facing the city.  The seriousness of the issue demands that the solutions to its financial crisis be negotiated in the full view of the public, and under the conventional ethics that bind all public officials.

Incoming Democratic Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, with the assistance and financial backing of the Scranton Chamber of Commerce, is considering hiring a financial consultant from New Jersey to help navigate the troubled waters before Scranton.  Under the deal, the consultant would be hired by and paid by the Chamber to perform these otherwise official duties.

The contractual duties of this consultant will be to assist in budgets, provide support and guidance to the administration, develop and model new sources of revenue, meet with other officials at the City's direction, work with the city's departments and the administration toward various analyses.

PEL, the City of Scranton's Act 47 Recovery Coordinator, likes the plan and the partnership with the Scranton Chamber of Commerce.

But what of transparency?

The Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Act covers public officials, public employees, candidates, and nominees for confirmation.  Reviewing the definitions of each, it would appear as though this consultant that will be performing unquestionably official actions for the City of Scranton may not be covered by the act.

With respect to the open records law, the actions of a private contractor performing work for a private organization would also likely not be covered - even though these actions would be for the city.

If an employee of the City of Scranton performed these same duties, they would be covered under the ethics act and be bound by the same transparency requirements as any other governmental agency.

While it is laudable that the Scranton Chamber of Commerce would act as a participant in Scranton's recovery, it should not be done with opacity.  If accountability and transparency is to be preserved, the consultant should be hired directly by the city.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Abuse of Workers/Taxpayer Dollars?


Should it be legal to only hire people for a job if they agree to join a particular organization and should your taxpayer dollars be used to collect dues for that same organization?

The Commonwealth Foundation is banking on most people answering with a resounding "NO!" to that question.  Efforts appear to be underway to get the Pennsylvania legislature to address this issue.

The argument is simple and intuitive: no one should be forced to join an organization in order to get or keep a job and taxpayer resources should not be used to support these organizations.

An added hook to the argument is that some of the resources used to collect dues for these organizations are actually used for political expenditures in the millions.  This is particularly problematic for these organizations, given the freshness of Bonusgate.