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Archive for August, 2009

Having spent 6 years in the Delaware Legislature gave me an appreciation of the power of the legislature versus that of the Executive. While the Executive has a strong ability to “define the playing surface” (i.e. what are the policy ideas and initiatives that get worked on), the Legislature has the ability to decide many of the specifics within those confines. Governor Minner basically abdicated the role of the Executive branch during her tenure to disastrous effect for Delaware. Governor Markell learned (I hope) how to define the “surface” a little better after this first session where he put all his “chips” (pun intended) into gambling and an 8% salary cut. He lost both of these bets. Being a pretty bright guy, I expect that his second legislative session will be more successful.

At the federal level, the President has been following the Minner approach by allowing Pelosi & Reid define not only the specifics, but the whole playing surface, and it has been brutal on the President’s popularity and his effectiveness. But even worse, it has destroyed his future flexibility because the budget is shot. According to the CBO,

CBO released updated economic and budget projectionsa [August 28], showing baseline (i.e., current law) budget deficits of about $1.6 trillion for the current fiscal year that ends on September 30 and roughly $7.1 trillion for the 2010-2019 period. That 10-year total is about $2.7 trillion higher than the baseline projection CBO published in March 2009. As noted in our report, about half of that revision is attributable to legislation enacted since March (primarily from extrapolating the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009), while the other half stems from technical factors and updates to our economic forecast.

So, from March to today, the Democrats have passed Supplemental Appropriations that have increased the deficit by $1.3 trillion (a 20% increase in the deficit and also a stack of $1,000 bills over 80 miles tall). The economy itself has added another $1.3 trillion. These numbers are before the CBO has “updated [its] analysis of the President’s budget to reflect our new economic and technical assumptions”. The OMB’s estimate of the impact of the Administration’s proposals added $2.8 trillion to the baseline budget, so I think that it is safe to assume that the CBO estimate of the Administration’s proposals will be at least $2.8 trillion more. That would bring the total 2010-2019 budget deficit to $10 trillion. Note that in 2008, the total US GDP was about $14 trillion.

By allowing Pelosi & Reid to drive the policy bus, the President is now fiscally stuck. Maybe he should go back to what got him elected… tax cuts for 95% of Americans and fiscal responsibility.

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Seventy Years Ago

Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 1, 2009, marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.

Appropriately enough, foreign dignitaries are gathering in Gdansk, Poland to commemorate  the beginning of hostilities between Poland and Nazi Germany. Most history books record that the shooting started at dawn when the obsolete German battleship Schleswig-Holstein turned its guns on the small Polish military garrison located on the Westerplatte peninsula. That garrison’s brief, but heroic, seven-day resistance in the face of overwhelming odds has, rightly, become a point of Polish national pride.

Some in Poland, however, believe World War II began not with the shelling of a legitimate military target, but rather, with the purposeless bombing of a civilian one.  According to residents of Wielun:

On the road into this community of 24,000, a “Welcome to Wielun” sign looms large. Three numbers stick out: “4:40″.

That was the time the Luftwaffe bombs rained down, five minutes before the battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire at a Polish garrison in Danzig (modern-day Gdansk), triggering six years of warfare around the world.

“We want people to remember that the barbarity started here,” Mieczyslaw Majcher, Wielun’s 53-year-old mayor, told AFP.

“But we have the impression people ask: ‘What’s Wielun?’”

Eugeniusz Kolodziejczyk, 82, knows only too well.

“I remember standing right by this tree. That’s when I saw the planes coming in,” he said, gesturing skywards to a flight-path branded into his memory.

He was at the station seeing off his father, who had been called up by the army as war clouds gathered.

“I can still see it clearly. I shouted to him: ‘I can hear a loud noise! I can see planes!’ Then the bombs started falling,” said Kolodziejczyk, one of 42 remaining eyewitnesses.

“They fell on the hospital, the synagogue, the church, the houses. I remember the rubble. The whole place was on fire, stinging our throats. It was like fog, you couldn’t see more than five or ten metres (yards).

“I’ll never forget it until the end of my days. We didn’t stand a chance.”

Further raids hit around 7:00 am, 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.

Three-quarters of Wielun was destroyed. Around 1,200 of its 15,000 inhabitants were killed and many more were injured. Half of the dead were Jews, who made up around a third of the population and mostly lived in the centre.

Regardless of where the shooting commenced, Poland arguably suffered the worst fate of any European nation during the war.  Conquered and then divided by Nazi Germany and the USSR, her towns and cities lay in ruins, and over 6,000,000 of her citizens (including at least 3,000,000 Jews) where killed before the shooting in Europe stopped on May 8, 1945.    Poland was also the site of some of the Nazi’s worst atrocities, including the death camps of Auschwitz, and  Sobibor.

Sadly, liberation from the Nazi’s did not bring liberty for Poland.  Sacrificed at Yalta, Poland exchanged one brutal totalitarian despotism- National Socialist occupation, for another- the long night of communist oppression.  In many ways, dawn did not break in Wielun or Gdansk until 1989 and the end of communist rule.

Tomorrow,  pause and remember the barbarity that began seventy years ago on this day.

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This was a great segment from Friday’s 20/20.  John Stossel shows how insurance has made healthcare more expensive.   Includes interviews with John Mackey (co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods), a couple doctors and Mark Horn (a father of four from North Carolina who unsuccessfully tries to shop for the best price from doctors).

When insurance companies pay the tab for everything — down to flu shots and sprained ankles — it makes health care more expensive for everyone. Why? Because when someone else pays for your health care, you aren’t likely to ask, or even care, how much it costs.

Good argument about Lasik eye surgery – rarely covered by insurance and the price has dropped 30% over the years because people shop around for the best deal.  This is worth watching, no matter what side of the debate you are on:

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As some of you may be aware Vance Phillips is the President of Sussex County Council and for the past 14 years has hosted a crab feast that usually attracts 300 plus supporters. In fact, it is a must event for any GOP candidate running statewide to appear at.

Well this year he changed the flavor with all proceeds going to a youth substance abuse progam in Sussex.

Many Democrats came out in support and the crowd hit 400 and the food table soon looking like the locusts from the Ten Commandments had swarmed in.

There was very little left.

The Councilman has done a good thing and deserves recognition.

Oh, there were no government entities involved and the program kept all the money which at 400 x $35.00 a piece isn’t too bad.

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Ah, the Wild West where gun fights, saloons, and more were part of what won the West for America. Men were men and if they wanted to back up a remark be sure to have your hand on the pistol.

However as communications went from morse code and smoke signals a new more sophistocated form of verbal sparring arose especially in the news paper business between them and politicians.  

As a rule when a newspaper sparred with an elected official the elected official would call the managing editor and they would have ‘words’.

Nothing public and most assuredly nothing that would ever constitute a new story because then the fight goes public. Just remember the National Enquirer is the nation’s best selling paper.

People love dirt and brawls. Ask Jerry Springer if you don’t believe me.

Well in Neveda Sen. Harry Reid seems to be unaware of these facts thanks to his blasting of an employee paper who doesn’t report, he’s on the business side.

His stridency has created even more stories which is selling even more papers all decrying his boorish behavior.

Real elected officials know how to win in the long run whereas he apparently doesn’t. I predict he will lose his seat.

The good news is that Tom Daschle will get him a lobbying job complete with chaueffer.

And don’t forget only in Congress due you get a lifetime pension for only having served one term.

So while Harry will lose he’ll be doing just fine.

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Are table games going to go the way of sports betting?  I know, I know, the parlay betting could still be done but who would really want to do that.  It failed before and it will fail again.

Not every legislator who voted to expand gambling in Delaware was in favor of adding table games.  While they swallowed the pill of sports betting, due to the financial emergency brought on by years of profligate spending, they might feel that the table games idea was thrown into the mix at the last minute and with no debate.  But what can be done now?

Don’t forget that they still have to vote to approve the regulations and the split that was negotiated by that table games committee that the Sec. Finance, State Controller General and Ed Sutor of Dover Downs.  The legislators who did not want the table games in the first place could use this debate and vote as the ones that they never had on the subject,  now that they have heard from their constituents.  Maybe as a stand alone issue, some might not want to stick their neck out and vote for table games.

There will be a lot of pressure to approve the regs since construction has already begun and planning for the associates degree in card dealing at Del Tech has started (if this does come to pass, I actually believe that they are more likely to employ experienced dealers from AC rather than providing jobs to locals).

What happens if they won’t vote to approve any deal presented?  Are table games out?  Now that they are talking about lots of new state eyeballs to watch the casinos, the net take to the state will be impacted.  Or maybe the split may have to go much higher to allow unhappy legislators the political cover to approve this.  “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”  And if the casinos have already built the table game facilities, they might be more flexible as well.

One benefit (unintended I am sure) about passing the gambling expansion bill was that it allowed the phantom revenue to be counted toward the required balanced budget.  This allowed us to pass a deficit budget with no real programs being cut and hope to deal with the problems next year without running afoul of the law.  Who could have imagined the sports teams would sue, that we would need to train dealers and inspectors, develop a regulatory scheme and a casino control commission and that it might take more than a few months?  Why this would be enough to even make a cabinet secretary resign.

This is not done yet.  At the very least there is going to be some renegotiating.

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Seven months and counting.

If cuts to Medicare are so important to paying for the Progressives “single-payer, government-run” health care plan, why has the President still not filled the position of Director of CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services)? To quote from the New York Times (the whole article can be found here):

The agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is the largest buyer of health care in the United States. Its programs are at the heart of efforts to overhaul the health care system. If it had an administrator, that person would be working with Congress on legislation and could be preparing the agency for a new, expanded role.

So, the “largest buyer of health care in the United States” is without an appointed and confirmed leader. The President has proposed that cuts to Medicaid and Medicare would pay for $313 billion of the needed $1+ trillion to pay for his system. Wouldn’t you think that 1) If you could cut $313 billion without effecting service levels that we ought to do that right now? and 2) that someone should be in charge of these agencies that affect the healthcare of tens of millions of Americans if healthcare were truly important to the Administration?

Dozens of blue dog Democrats have gone home to get beaten up over the set of proposals being laid forth in the Pelosi Congress, but there is no one running CMS. Even Sen. John Rockefeller, no blue dog, is quoted as saying, “You need a general. It’s a big problem. I can’t explain it.”

Ouch!

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Back to school.

Ah late summer, the trees are full, people are tanned and the yellow bus is gearing up for the first day back. 

In addition the teachers are gearing up for the following:

in service on how to be diverse. (diverse? addition and subtraction are the same everywhere)

inservice on how to make their classroom a place where the student wants to be ( few kids want to be in school. Life is not about where you want to be as a rule)

inservice on how to teach 14 differant types of kids so they ALL succeed. (why didn’t the U of D have this? Accounting 207 – sigh…………)

inservice on how to grade properly. ( a scale is a scale)

inservice on lesson planning. ( good teachers take pride in their lessons)

and inservice on how to allow parents to berate you and students to accost you. (in some districts all parents meetings must be held at a round table so the parent doesn’t feel intimidated)

You see in today’s world all of the societal issues we face – ARE the teachers fault.

In DE the average newly hired teacher quits after 5 years. Quits.

Most teachers want to work with kids. They like kids. And most have a heart for kids.

Yet the &^*(^^*(&)(() wears them down. Weak kneed-ed administrators desperate to get to main office throw teachers under the bus every day.

DSEA tries but it’s a mixed bag at best for they to have their own agenda.

A little state like ours should have the world here looking at how we educate kids.

Instead we have 22% of our kids in private school.

The state that started a nation and this is what we have become.

Where is the shame?

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I have been contacted by many people regarding the Caesar Rodney Institute’s recent report on continued problems in the Delaware Corrections Department because of my history of fighting for criminal justice reform in Delaware.

Some background: When I was in the State Senate, I was very critical of the Minner Administrations lack of response regarding the clear history of healthcare problems in our prison system. I toured Howard Young Correctional Institution, met with many community activists, and tried to get the Senate Majority to move on the issue. (Note that the House of Representatives series of hearings on the Delaware Psychiatric Center led by House Minority Leader, Dick Cathcart, was exactly what should have been done for the Corrections problems). Eventually, the Bush Administration’s Justice Department came in to do its own investigation; found that Delaware was violating inmate’s civil rights; and required the State to sign-off on a 60+ point plan to improve prison function. The poor conditions within our prison endanger the lives of our corrections officers and citizens (when sick inmates come back into society). The poor conditions within our prisons cost money (for critical care of inmates released back into society with advanced, untreated conditions). The poor conditions within our prisons make a mockery of justice when a non-violent, drug offender dies from poor healthcare.

When current Corrections Commissioner, Carl Danberg, came before the State Senate for confirmation, I was the only Senator to not support his nomination when I went “Not Voting”. I chose this vote because I know that Commissioner Danberg wanted (and wants) to fix the problems, but I knew that the Minner Administration had a callous disregard for any improvement. Honestly, I doubt that I could have supported any nominee that Governor Minner brought forth for that position.

Since leaving elective office, I have become the President of the Board of Stand Up for what’s Right and Just (SURJ).  We have been watching Governor Markell’s Administration very closely with regards to criminal justice reform and inmate treatment. The Governor has made some impressive first steps by initiating a project being led by 5 cabinet secretaries (Labor, Education, Health & Social Services, and Corrections). This group has made some very significant progress in addressing Delaware’s poor record on successful prison reentry into society. By beginning to break down the employment barriers, education barriers, housing barriers, human services deficiencies, and corrections barriers, the Markell Administration is making positive steps for a long term reduction in recidivism in Delaware. I applaud the Governor’s efforts in this area, and SURJ is ready to play a positive advocacy role as proposals become plans and plans become operational.

Given the Markell Administration’s strong start in addressing reentry, I hope that now that a broader set of issues has re-asserted itself that the Governor will take the next step. I have faith that given the right support, he will.

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Three weeks ago State Rep. Greg Lavelle submitted a FOIA regarding former DHSS Secretary Vince Meconi’s current consulting engagement with the State.   Apparently there has been no response and Rep. Lavelle issued another press release today:

According to the Delaware Department of Justice, the state Freedom of Information Act requires that a response to a FOIA request be made within a reasonable amount of time.
 
“It’s been three weeks since I asked for information the administration should have been able to supply in less than an hour,” Rep. Lavelle said.  “In my estimation, we’re way past ‘reasonable.’”
 
The News Journal recently reported Meconi is being paid $6,093.75 monthly for his consulting services in addition to $7,633.56 he is receiving each month from his state pension.  Combined, Meconi is reaping nearly $165,000 in state money annually – topping the salary he made last year as DHSS secretary by more than $20,000.
 
“The taxpayers of this state deserve to know the answers to the reasonable questions I asked on their behalf,” Rep. Lavelle said.  “This foot-dragging by the administration casts doubt on the governor’s claim to be committed to responsive, transparent government.”
 

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