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Freindly Fire’s Biggest Losers Of 2011

 

Although Freindly Fire has never been known for sarcasm and negativity, it feels compelled as a civic duty to point out this year’s biggest losers. 

So with very little pleasure (okay, maybe a little), here are some of 2011’s notable wankers: 

Philadelphia Phillies

A colossal failure. Period. End of story.

But this being Philadelphia, further explanation is, of course, warranted. Yes, they won the (ridiculously weak) National League East Division for the fifth time in a row. Yes, they set a franchise record for regular season wins. Yes, there was one World Series Championship three years ago. And yes, they will probably win the Division again in 2012. So what?  All meaningless. 

And for anyone who actually believes any of those achievements mean squat, well, you’re delirious from being an Eagles fan.  

The team — the only one in the nation’s top four markets which does not share its city with another franchise — was billed as having the best rotation in baseball history and a powerhouse lineup of battle-tested veterans.  But when you enter Yankee territory, as they claimed they did, anything short of a Championship must be viewed a total failure, as there are no points for second place.

The blame should be laid at the feet of the players, several of whom refused to hustle and play fundamental baseball, and more importantly, the coaches who didn’t address those problems.

So while the Phils are still a dangerous team, their window of opportunity is closing fast. Time to lose the ‘tude and play ball the way Little Leaguers and consistent World Series Champs do. Otherwise, Charlie Manual will become the city’s next Andy Reid. (Alright, that’s a stretch. Andy’s in a class by himself.) 

NBA

Speaking of sports, shame on the NBA for ending the lockout.  If they really cared about Fan Appreciation, they would have continued the impasse for the next decade. It was leaps and bounds more exciting than anything the 12 people watching a typical NBA game will see.

Jerry Sandusky, His Wife Dottie, Penn State, Tom Corbett, Joe Paterno, and Mike McQueary

At the very least, all failed the test of moral leadership, permitting small, defenseless children to live a nightmare from which they may never awaken — because no one would help. How could Happy Valley seem more like Yemen, where child sex trafficking and molestation is an accepted fact of life?  Even if Penn State turns into the State Pen for those who may have done wrong, it will be little solace to the victims.

And all the folks on this list, whether directly or indirectly, have blood on their hands. For shame.

Mitt Romney

Is Romney the most intelligent candidate running for President? Probably. Is he a successful businessman? Undoubtedly.  But what does it tell you when, after campaigning for five years and spending hundreds of millions, Romney still can’t even muster 30 percent of the GOP base? In other words, seven of ten Republicans simply don’t like him.

And it’s not rooted in his issue positions (though his Romneycare law in Massachusetts doesn’t help), but that he has no core convictions on…anything.  The man is the very embodiment of an articulate politician without a soul, one who will say whatever it takes to get elected.   So prevalent is his flip-flopping that he couldn’t even decide whether to campaign in Iowa. Contrast that to Congressman Ron Paul, whose support is surging for the opposite reason — because he has been steadfastly consistent throughout his entire political career.

It’s a lesson totally lost on Mitt.  He’s so out of touch that he doesn’t understand the peoples’ yearning for a leader who stands for something and sticks to his guns.  Instead, Romney’s “be all things to all people” approach has him foundering, and will make him an inviting target for Obama should he win the GOP nomination.

Romney is the best Christmas present the GOP could give the Democrats. 

Hollywood Movie Studios

Fewer Americans went to the movies this year than at any point in the last 16 years. Sure, the economy is in the toilet, tickets are expensive, and you need to take out a second mortgage to buy Raisenets, but they are all symptoms of a much greater illness: Hollywood’s product continues to decline.

Most flicks are flat-out horrible, but Hollywood execs don’t care. Their formula of hiring a star and throwing in some special effects is enough to dupe Americans into opening their wallets.  And despite the dismal box office numbers, don’t look for that to change anytime soon.  As long as they can make enough money to get near breakeven in North America, they’re still be laughing all the way to the bank because the foreign box office is providing the big haul. In fact, it was a record year for overseas profits. Which means that folks in Indonesia who are still starstruck will ensure more of Hollywood’s mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

Or here’s an idea: maybe Hollywood could stop looking for the easy way out of making remakes of remakes and using the same musical score ad nauseam —just listen to Pirates of the Carribean (2003), Gladiator (2000), and The Rock (1996) — and reinvent itself.  Sure, it takes effort to be creative, but that’s what made Hollywood the most powerful force in the world.

Most people couldn’t name one U.S. Senator, nor do they care.  But when Hollywood produces a creative, classic movie, it touches the soul, inspires, motivates, and enlightens (Remember the Titans meets all that criteria and then some).  It makes people think in a way they normally wouldn’t, and more often than not, produces a smile.  When was the last time Congress did that?

The slogan of the G4 network is playing “Movies That Don’t Suck.” Since that list is growing thin, let’s hope Hollywood regains its footing and returns to its glory days by putting blood, sweat and tears ahead of the easy buck.

 Jim Matthews, Joe Hoeffel, and Montco Residents

Even in its most creative mode, Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this soap opera. Four years ago, the GOP won control of the County Commissioners, but Jim Matthews forsaked loyalty for power and sided with Democrat Joe Hoeffel, giving the Chairmanship to himself and power, effectively, to the Democrats. Top vote getter Bruce Castor was left out in the cold.

So (in)effective was the dynamic duo of Matthews-Hoeffel that both got the boot from their respective Parties and were forced into retirement.  And for the first time ever, the Democrats took control of Montgomery County.  So once again, Castor will be the only voice of reason as the Dems will most certainly raise taxes and get cozy with the unions.

But in a most fascinating twist, Matthews was recently arrested on perjury and false swearing charges for allegedly lying to a Grand Jury about his relationships with county vendors.  The Grand Jury found that “Matthews lied with such ease and frequency, that he acted as though, as Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, he is above the law.”

When you’re arrogance knows no bounds, what goes around comes around. And for Jim Matthews, the red and green colors of the season may well turn to jumpsuit orange.  So in the spirit of giving, Freindly Fire will send Jim a belated Christmas present, just to be safe: Soap-On-A-Rope. 

Pennsylvanians

Maintaining the status quo simply isn’t good enough when the state has an effective unemployment rate above ten percent. So to solve that problem, what did Republican Governor Tom Corbett and the GOP-controlled legislature achieve? Pretty much zilch.

Sure, the budget wasn’t increased, but that wasn’t due to political courage but the fact that the federal stimulus funds had evaporated. And yet, despite many good programs going on the chopping block, the “fiscally conservative” Republicans still spent money on a lavish union deal, the Yankees’ AAA stadium, a bailout of the Philadelphia Shipyard to build ships with no buyers, and —while not ultimately spent — a grant to Jerry Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation.

What of the signature issues that will be ignored in the upcoming election year? School Choice? Dead as Marley’s Ghost. Liquor privatization? Forget it. Reducing the second highest corporate tax in the nation — a certified job killer? Not going to happen.

And how about the virtually limitless cheap natural gas under Pennsylvania? It still hasn’t dawned on the Governor to mandate that state buildings and vehicles utilize that gift — which would be an economically and environmentally sound policy.

So because the demand for natural gas remains so low, the industry will cap their wells and move out of state, and we won’t have them to use as a convenient punching bag anymore. Brilliant.

So Pennsylvanians will suffer as more opportunities to bring the state into the 21st century are squandered.  The politicians change, but the dismal results stay the same.

Happy New Year!

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm Comments (0)

Save Sunoco Refineries? Get Politicians Out Of The Way!

Part 1 of a series on saving refinery jobs and getting America working again 

For the tens of thousands whose livelihoods depend on the Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips oil refineries in Philadelphia, Marcus Hook and Trainer, the Grinch arrived early this Christmas, announcing that all three facilities would be closing in the near future.

But unlike the Grinch who delighted in causing misery for the sake of misery, the oil companies seemed to have no choice.  Their hand was forced by a combination of market forces that saw them losing millions every single day.

And now, short of the companies finding buyers, those workers will be thrown out into the cold, unemployed in an America that is plunging further into the abyss. An America that doesn’t make a bloody thing anymore.  An America with the highest corporate taxes in the world.  And an America with trade policies that sell out its own citizens.

Making matters worse, most of the workers will be seeking new jobs in Pennsylvania, one of the least competitive states in the nation when it comes to attracting new companies.

Doom and gloom? No, just the hard truth.  And here’s another one. Short of packing up and moving to refinery-laden Louisiana, most of the laid off workers will never find a job in this region close to the pay scale and skill level which they are leaving.

Welcome to The New America, one that too often puts the interests of its competitors — and even its adversaries — ahead of its own citizens.

Compounding the problem even further (if that’s possible) is the unwanted involvement of those who caused our economic mess in the first place — the politicians.  And, as they continue to demonstrate, they don’t have the slightest clue as to how to right the ship.

Politicians need to be taken out of the equation. Pandering for votes by holding pointless meetings with refinery and union officials isn’t solving anything.  It only gives false hope (while providing them with 30-second sound bites).

But here’s the good news.  There is hope, more than can be imagined. Those refinery workers could not be sitting on a better spot on Earth to reap the rewards of a massive opportunity — the correct utilization of the Marcellus Shale natural gas bonanza. If the politicians do their most important job — and the only one they should be doing — of cutting bureaucratic red tape and slashing stifling regulations, the free market will take hold, creating jobs and wealth of unprecedented proportions.

But that’s a tall order.

*****

Former Governor Ed Rendell, while certainly an affable chap, was never mistaken for a genius, especially when it came to getting Pennsylvanians working again.  His mentality was that a paternalistic government knows best, derived no doubt from the fact that he virtually never held a private sector job in his life. Thus, he was wholly incapable of understanding the difficult decisions that businesses must make to maintain profitability.

So it was no surprise when, in 2009, Rendell inserted his nose where it didn’t belong, publicly excoriating Sunoco for its decision to lay off some of its salaried workforce.  Sunoco officials had stated the move was geared towards remaining competitive, as the company was anticipating a “more difficult economic reality” moving forward.

Taking his criticism even further, Rendell flatly rejected the decision-making of Sunoco’s Chairman and CEO Lynn Elsenhans, arrogantly saying he couldn’t take her at her word. Incredibly, he went so far as to state the “real” reason for the layoffs: “They are solely intended to make a profitable company more profitable and helping pad the dividends paid to shareholders.”

So if Ed was correct (which is always the case – just ask him), Sunoco’s recent decision to shut down its refineries — permanently — must be because it’s just making too much money. 

Or…

Maybe the folks at Sunoco had a slightly better idea than Ed Rendell of the deteriorating market conditions coming down the pike, and maneuvered accordingly to keep its head above water.  Despite their best efforts though, Sunoco did not meet with success, as the closures clearly indicate.

Now the big questions loom — can the refineries be saved, will a buyer be found, can they be converted to refine natural gas, and, of course, what will be the fate of the thousands of families whose livelihoods depend on the refineries?

While Rendell is out of the picture, the involvement of other elected officials still leaves a lot to be desired.

Earlier this week, members of Congress emerged, extremely frustrated, from a meeting with refinery officials, complaining that the company wouldn’t reveal details about highly confidential strategic negotiations with potential buyers.

Earth to Congress: Have We Met? Who do these guys think they are that Sunoco owes them an explanation for anything, let alone sharing privileged information of the highest magnitude? And do we even have to mention that Congress hasn’t been able to keep anything secret in 200 years?

And last month, a bipartisan congressional delegation called on the U.S. Energy Information Administration (along with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to conduct an impact analysis on the potential of the refineries’ closure.

Uh, here’s a not-so-humble message to each member of that delegation: your proctologist called.  He found your head.

Are they serious? Another Blue-Ribbon study to tell us what any sixth-grader already knows? 

It will be bad.  Very, very bad. Jobs will be lost, families thrown into chaos, houses foreclosed, businesses shuttered.  The refining capacity for the East Coast will suffer tremendously (not helped, of course, by the fact that we haven’t built a new refinery in America since 1976). Prices will increase. Volatility will spike. And America will, yet again, find itself bent over the barrel, spending billions more petro dollars buying oil from hostile nations because we (READ: Congress)  will not do the obvious — implement a policy of energy independence.

So let’s save the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on an absolutely meaningless study, and do something novel: solve the problem!

And to reiterate Step One, the politicians woefully short on private sector experience and who lack the necessary vision to turn an unfortunate situation into a positive one need to get out of the way and let business-savvy entrepreneurs do what they do best: create opportunity.

Energy is the single most important industry in getting America back on her feet again.  And retooling the refineries here in our backyard —the right way, for the right product, to fulfill the right vision — is the blueprint to make that a reality.

And what a Christmas present that would be!

(Part Two will specifically examine what should be done to save the refineries and their jobs).

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

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December 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm Comments (2)

ABC’s “Made In America” Shows Network Is Clueless

After watching the latest segment of ABC World News’ “Made in America” series, several thoughts come to mind:

1) Don’t view it on a full stomach;

2) Once again, the media has failed to ask the right questions because they, like our elected officials, don’t understand the problem, and

3) Spending more money on a problem sounds great but is never the solution.

The series illustrates the astronomical amount of goods that are made in China, and postulates how great it would be if only we could “buy American.”

Gee, Diane Sawyer and Company, tell us something we don’t know.

Perhaps if the network did a little research as to the real reason why America manufactures virtually nothing anymore, thus identifying the problem, it could then report on the ways to bring back American companies, and the jobs and products they create.

But that would take foresight and initiative.  And when it comes to the American media, those traits are in short supply.

In the latest segment, Sawyer states that the average American family will spend $700 this Christmas season, and that if each just spent $64 on American-made goods, over 200,000 jobs would be created.

If that’s the recipe for success, then why stop at just $64? Well, ABC thought of that. Reporting that total Christmas spending would total more than $465 billion, it stated, “..if that money was spent entirely on U.S. made products, it would create 4.6 million jobs.”

Great idea, if you’re playing make-believe.  But in the real world, things don’t work that way.

First, we live in an ever-increasing global economy, which is perfectly fine, as world trade is a good thing.  But things don’t work out so well when a country owns a mammoth trade deficit, which, in our case, is north of $500 billion per year and exponentially growing.  You don’t need to be an economist to understand that when manufacturing plants move overseas, exports drop significantly while imports shoot skyward.  That trend will only continue until the problem is identified, let alone solved.  But stating a pie-in-the-sky wish that all products should or could be purchased in America is just plain insulting.

Second, throwing more money at the problem won’t solve anything, and in fact makes it worse by masking the real issues. Yet that’s a lesson lost on America, as we continue to fall for the duplicitous line that if we just open the wallet and increase the budget, all will be well.

As a case in point, what do we do about the nation’s abysmal academic achievement, in which U.S. students rank near the bottom of every category compared to their global competitors?  Spend more on “education” — a lot more.  Of course, we’ve been doing that every year at the local, state and federal levels, yet the scores continue to go the wrong way, but so what?  That just means we need to spend even more money!

Too much crime on our streets?  Hire more cops, despite the fact that most municipalities are going under just trying to pay current salaries and exploding pension and benefit costs.  Give no attention that even the most militarized police states still have crime, and that more money (and thus more police) won’t deter crime. Smarter policing, and infinitely more important, smarter kids, will.  But since we still aren’t “spending enough” on education, we continue to open the coffers for more cops.

Not enough jobs?  Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if we had an educated workforce and a solid manufacturing base.  But since we have neither, and refuse to make any meaningful attempt to change that situation, we create money out of thin air, throwing trillions in “stimulus” (aka, “taxpayer”) money at the problem. The fact that it didn’t work has not deterred the politicians, as they seek yet another round of stimulus spending.

And now, ABC would have us believe that spending $64 is the panacea to America’s chronic unemployment problem, and one that will help manufacturers stay in business.

When will we ever learn?

Such news reports only serve to divert attention from the real problems that need addressing: our atrociously unfavorable trade policies, the highest corporate taxes in the world, and the complete lack of an energy policy.  By understanding these problems, we could begin to stave off the total loss of manufacturing.  And here’s a newsflash: no nation has ever prospered, let alone survived, without a healthy manufacturing base. Without that, it’s lights out, and that’s not conjecture, but mathematical certainty.

So what to do? 

-Trade policies need to be wiped clean and re-written from scratch, with one overarching element above all else: America’s interests come first. Period. China looks out for its own interests, as it should.  We need to do the same.  At some point, we may not have that leverage to call the shots, but we do now.  So let’s do it.

-An immutable law of economics is that if you want less of something, tax it — a concept lost on most elected officials. Hopefully that will change with a new Congress that will incentivize companies to keep jobs — and revenue — stateside by slashing the corporate income tax.  It’s easy to paint the CEO who moves operations to more favorable tax environments overseas as greedy, but when faced with the highest tax rates in the world, combined with shrinking profit margins, it becomes a sound business decision. Given the choice, most would rather stay in the U.S., but the government has taken that choice away from many.

-By far, the most effective solution to give manufacturing a permanent rebirth and a competitive edge is simple and easy. It’s energy independence. But it seems that drilling for oil and natural gas, mining clean coal and expanding nuclear power is just too politically incorrect for ABC’s focus. 

America will never compete with the lowest labor costs in the world. So the only way to offset that is to have the lowest energy costs in the world.  And more than any nation on Earth, America can do that, because it possesses the greatest concentration of energy resources on the planet.

Lower fuel costs give manufacturing companies an edge, and that means greater commerce and more jobs. Businesses can take the billions in savings that cheap energy offers, and reinvest it so that operations are expanded, more workers are hired, and new manufacturing doors in America are opened.  

And when all of the ancillary benefits are realized, the economy goes into overdrive — homes are bought, restaurants thrive, small businesses no longer face closure, and untold new ventures spring to life.  All of which leads to higher tax revenue.

Incomprehensibly, too many major media outlets and the majority of politicians in both Parties do not recognize these root causes of America’s economic crisis.  And you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is.

Connect the dots, and America thrives again.  Keep the same policies in place, and we go the way of Europe.

And what a story that would be.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

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December 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm Comments (0)

Euro Debt Crisis? Not Greek To Me!

Greece.  What a country!

From its storied history as the cradle of democracy to leadership in modern security techniques (allowing stray dogs to sleep atop airport x-ray machines —no joke), from novel solutions to reduce speeding (traffic lights and stop signs are routinely ignored, resulting in a seven, yes, seven, miles-per-hour average speed in Athens) to having a good old-fashioned rivalry (hating the Turks), there’s something for everyone in Greece.

And to top it all, the legendary Greek work ethic (clock in, coffee, siesta, set up construction cones, break, coffee, siesta, lunch, siesta, ouzo, siesta, afternoon break, double shot ouzo, siesta, remove construction cones, baklava (with ouzo), siesta, clock out) has resulted in Greece being the catalyst for the coming Dark Age in the West. Far be it for anyone to expect Greek workers to put in an honest day’s work, and to suggest increasing retirement age to something beyond what seems like 37.  

Pay no attention to the fact that those asking for commonsense reforms are the ones footing the bill for the Greeks’ lavish, and ultimately unproductive, lifestyle.  That list of benefactors includes countries (such as the United States), financial institutions, investors, and, ultimately, hard-working citizens around the world.

Oh, to be Greek!

*****

Because of the immense entitlements bestowed upon Greek civil service workers, such as lavish holiday pay and early retirement (achieved through Social Security-type compensation packages that blow away those in the States), the Greek government has a problem. The Piper finally came calling, but the government couldn’t pay.  It ran out of money several years ago.

Not wanting to leave a fellow European Union (EU) member twisting in the wind, the EU’s braintrust decided to send a bailout package Greece’s way.  It was a combination of increasing the Euro money supply (contributing to inflation) and using OPM (Other People’s Money). 

And in return for the sacrifice others made for the “greater good” of Greece (such as being asked to forgive 50 percent of Greece’s debt), what was asked of that nation?  Reforms that would, in theory, get Greece back on solid financial footing, if that is even possible for a nation whose debt exceeds an unfathomable 180 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

But the bailout was made, with self-congratulatory, albeit clueless, Euro-technocrats preaching that all would be well again.

And things were great, at least in Greece, as the message of austerity was received loud and clear — with a wink, of course. Translation: “we’ll just continue with Business As Usual.”

And as any fifth grader could have deduced, the Greeks ran out of money — again and again and again. Not willing to cut their losses, the EU did exactly what Greece knew it would  — open up its coffers … again and again and again.

We are on the sixth installment of the bailout, still predicated on austerity measures that simply aren’t happening.

And how are the Greek politicians doing in their quest to enact reforms that, while not popular, are necessary if Greece is to avoid default?

Uhhh…put it this way.  Predicting that Kim Kardashian would be divorced after just two months was an infinitely better bet than thinking the Greeks would do the right thing.

The latest development, which has been mistakenly called a “bombshell” but was an obvious next step to all but the Euro-geniuses, was the Greek government deciding to pass the buck (again), calling for a voter referendum to see if the Greek people favored  austerity measures.

So let’s see.  The Greek people, who have been violently rioting for years because they don’t want the party to end, are now being asked if they will voluntarily turn off the free-money spigot. Sure they will.

To be fair, the vote won’t be unanimous.  There are probably 30 Turkish expats who will vote Yes just for spite.

Oh to be Greek!

*****

The European Financial Stability Facility (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and the European Central Bank continue their insane polices of bailouts and bond-buying initiatives (where they buy bonds of financially weak countries). In addition to the black hole called Greece, Portugal and Ireland have both received bailouts, and, not surprisingly, neither worked.  So more Other People’s Money will be heading their way.

Not to be left out, Italy and Spain are next.  And since they are some of Europe’s big boys, their bailout needs are exponentially greater than those of Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined.

Where does it end?

The most significant, yet least discussed, issue in this entire debacle is that no one is offering solutions to fix the problem. Instead, they are merely buying time so that the can is kicked down the road again, praying the implosion occurs on someone else’s watch. Throw more imaginary money at the problem, say the right things to keep sheep-like investors duped, and don’t get caught holding the bag.

While that plan has worked for decades, too many fundamental economic principles have been violated for far too long to keep the Piper at bay much longer. The Ponzi scheme of socialist-leaning Western economies is quickly approaching implosion status, and when it blows, the 1929 Great Depression will look like a walk in the park.

The crisis certainly cannot be attributed only to Greece; they just happen to be the poster boy for what happens when socialism and laziness trump free markets and personal initiative. 

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s push for a referendum is being labeled a high-stakes gamble, described as a bet that the Europeans’ prior bailouts have them in so deep that even if the Greek voters reject austerity, the bailouts will continue. The alternative, we are told, is far worse: no more bailouts will result in default. 

But the truth, which no one seems willing to admit, is what transpires in Greece doesn’t matter.  Given the complete lack of will of America and Europe (and the absence of an even basic understanding of economic principles), an unprecedented crash and massive social unrest is inevitable.

This is no longer conjecture, but reality grounded in cold, hard facts. 

Ultimately, even Bernie Madoff was forced to confess to a Ponzi scheme.  When will reality force our leaders to do the same? 

The writing is on the wall, and it is anything but Greek.

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

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November 3, 2011 at 11:20 am Comments (0)

Hey Chris Christie: Time To Get Off The Pot!

Here’s a message to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: take care of business or get off the pot.  This “will you or will you not run for President” story has to end — now. Your indecision is hurting the Republican Party, and, ironically, giving Barack Obama a much needed reprieve. The time for games is over…it’s In or Out.

*****

Republican Christie is a firebrand, an extremely effective governor who has done what few thought possible in Jersey: reform bloated pensions, institute public-sector union reforms, and balance the budget without raising taxes. And all that was accomplished while dealing with solid Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers — and a Senate President who is a card-carrying union member. It doesn’t get any more bipartisan, and miraculous, than that.

But more than anything, Christie’s hallmark is his brusque, straightforward style. He truly tells it like it is, from state finances (“the state is going to go broke” without reform) to yelling at people to “get the hell off the beach” before an impending hurricane.

Sure, his style is interpreted by some as in-your-face bullying, but the reality is that Christie is far from a rude person.  He is simply expressing himself and his beliefs in a concise, matter-of-fact way.  And in politics, that is extremely rare.

Most endearing to folks is that Christie speaks from the heart — no teleprompters or note cards. Because of that passion, his sometimes aggressive style belies an extremely articulate leader, one whose charisma has won over more than a few adversaries.  People may not always agree with Chris Christie, but they always know where he stands. As a result, he has become a national figure precisely because he embodies what the American people crave: a leader refusing to dance the Political Two-Step and avoid tough issues.

Until now.

The Governor made a keynote speech this week at the Ronald Reagan Library in California — an event that was covered extensively by the national media.  It provided the golden opportunity to end speculation, once and for all, about presidential ambitions for 2012. In one fell swoop, Christie could have told the country of his intentions, and, in that unmistakable Christie way, put an exclamation point on his decision so that no one would question him again.

But he didn’t.  Instead, he left the door wide open.

In doing so, for the first time, he looked…political. Dare we say it, but it almost seemed like he was doing the Trenton Shuffle.

And that’s not the Chris Christie we know.

His past statements that he is not running for president are meaningless.  All politicians say such things, and it was too early in the process for even Chris Christie to be wholly believed. But it’s a totally different ballgame now. The primary elections begin in just four months, which is barely enough time to raise money, organize a campaign team and execute a ground game. 

Could Christie overcome such obstacles this late in the game? Absolutely — but only if he announces within the next few days. Should he ultimately not run, however, the problem with his non-decision is that it’s hurting the only two Republicans with a shot at the nomination: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney (as no other Republican could realistically enter, and win, the race).

Because of the Christie-factor, significant uncertainty remains among Republican powerbrokers, donors, elected officials, GOP-leaning organizations and grassroots Party faithful. Instead of a clear-cut race, the battle lines remain blurred, so many of these folks are waiting it out on the sidelines, withholding money, effort and endorsements until Christie makes a decision.

As a result, the frontrunners have lost momentum as donations and support are stagnating, and they have been taken “off-message.”  Because of the Christie buzz, anything Perry and Romney say and do is simply white noise.

Most damaging to the GOP, however, is that Barack Obama has been given a reprieve. As President, he is driving the ship, which, given never-ending stream of bad economic news, is listing badly.  So any opportunity that takes the political focus off of himself and the economy is greatly welcomed.  Until the Christie rumor mill is emphatically shut down, the President will be able to regroup and attempt to stabilize his situation. It’s not a panacea, but it certainly helps him.

While that was definitely not the intention of Christie, it is in fact reality.

So one of several things is true:

1) Christie has no intention of running, but is badly underestimating how closely people are hanging on his every word,

2) Christie is definitely running, taking advantage of millions in free media coverage while quietly putting together an organization. While a brilliant strategy, its shelf life is measured in days, and will backfire if played too long. One cannot run a stealth campaign for president.

3) He really hasn’t made up his mind yet.

The last scenario is most troubling, because if a candidate’s heart is not in a race, but chooses to run anyway, he will be a total failure.  The American people can sense that type of insincerity immediately.  Need proof? Ask Fred Thompson. (And conversely, a tip of the hat to Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels, who both admitted that they were lacking the fire in the belly in deciding not to run).

I have been fortunate to have had a front row seat covering some of Governor Christie’s triumphs, seeing firsthand the progress one man can make. It would be a shame to see that legacy tarnished by indecision.

So with all due respect, Mr. Christie, given the impending political hurricane, let me paraphrase a popular Governor by saying, “Get the hell in or out of the race!”

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

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September 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm Comment (1)

Labor Day: Time For Unions To Get Real

Oh the guilt.

For all us unlucky folks who aren’t part of Organized Labor, how can we not feel at least a little conscience-smitten? After all, we are taking full advantage of that end-of-summer holiday honoring “the working class,” aka Labor.

And nowadays, if your goal is to join a union, you would indeed be “lucky” to achieve that, since only 12 percent of the workforce is now unionized, and when you factor out the public-sector workers, that number plummets to 7 percent. Far from the heyday when nearly 40 percent of the nation’s workforce belonged to the union.

It would seem, then, that for the 9 out of 10 Americans who aren’t considered “working people” —which must mean they don’t work — every day is a holiday. So taking advantage of Labor Day just seems like another way to put the screws to the unions. 

But what else is new? Public sector unions have seen their pay scales, benefits, and pensions under constant attack recently from dastardly Republicans trying to stave off bankruptcy.  The nerve!

Think about it. For some teachers’ unions, that might mean giving up paying…absolutely nothing towards their healthcare, such as those in the Neshaminy district, where their Rolls Royce plan, courtesy of taxpayers, costs $27,000, per teacher, per year. How could any taxpayer or elected official be in favor of making teachers pay five or, God forbid, ten percent of that cost? Disregard the fact that for most in the private sector, contributing ten percent towards guaranteed healthcare in a virtually guaranteed job would be a dream, since they pay far more, if having coverage at all.

Far “worse,” some Republicans, in an effort to get their states back in the black, have made it possible for public sector union members to negotiate with their prospective employer individually, with  free market-type incentives allowing for a fair offer — fair for the employee, and fair for the “employer” (the taxpayer).

An offer would be made — salary, healthcare, benefits — and the individual could choose to accept or decline it, just as it’s done in the free market. Accountability and efficiencies would increase, and unmotivated, bureaucratic sloths would be eliminated in favor of those willing to be good stewards of taxpayer money.

Sound simple and fair enough?  It is, and it’s called the elimination of collective bargaining, but union leaders have demonized all who support such a plan, instead fighting to continue a system that is completely broke.

And when it comes to retirement issues, voracious union opposition rears its head at any attempt to replace costly and antiquated pension plans — which are draining government coffers at an exponential rate — with 401k retirement plans for new public sector employees.

So why all the “unfairness” towards the public sector unions?

Because they are such an inviting target, and it’s just — fun to attack them!

Or so many union leaders would have you believe. But the reality is entirely different.

Truth be told, it’s not the GOP that is putting the screws to the unions.  They just happen to be the ones cleaning up the mess, especially in states like Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. (Noticeably absent is Pennsylvania, where it’s Business As Usual).

For decades, unions have been reaping the rewards of promises that were ultimately empty and could not possibly be kept. But those Ponzi scheme “pay-me-later” deals, made between corrupt union bosses and gutless politicians (from both Parties) only interested in self-preservation, have now finally come due. It’s time to pay the piper, and kicking the can down the road just isn’t an option anymore. That  “strategy” is a dead end.

Math doesn’t lie. There is simply not enough money to continue paying such high wages and, in many cases, extremely lavish benefits and pensions. 

*****

The way the system was originally intended, joining the public sector was a trade-off: while one wouldn’t make as much money as someone in private industry, he would receive a healthy pension and job security.  But all that changed, in large part because millions in union dues (taxpayer money, no less) were allocated to defeat any politician who dared cross the unions.

Now, many public sector union workers make more than those in the private sector, and their pensions are so extravagant that Wall Street-ers blush with envy.

But with the economy in shambles (and no, we are not headed into “another recession;” we never got out of the first one), tax revenue is down and the pension obligations are simply unaffordable.  The current system is unsustainable, and no argument can be made to the contrary.

Is it right? Don’t public sector union members deserve what they were promised?

Not to be callous with people’s livelihoods, but those questions are irrelevant. If there is not enough money, there is not enough money.  Unlike the feds, states and municipalities can’t print cash, so governments have to cut back and reform everything, including the big-ticket items like labor costs.

If they don’t, the alternative is far worse: bankruptcy.  And yes, municipalities can and are declaring. From Rhode Island to Alabama, the message is simple: agree to cuts, or risk losing everything.

Obviously, it’s not fair.  The rank-and-file union member who worked hard his whole career was promised an unattainable bill of goods by now long-gone hacks who don’t have to answer for their irresponsibility. But as Jack Kennedy once said, anyone who believes in fairness in this world is seriously misinformed.

And before we hear the clamor that unions are being singled out and targeted, look at the private sector, which has experienced even greater losses. Pensions there have been battered too, with some retirees receiving just pennies on the dollar. And private industry job losses are hemorrhaging at a much higher rate than those in the public unions.  That’s not fair, either, but it’s reality. Deal with it.

So what now?

Instead of engaging in a full assault against politicians trying to clean up the mess left by their predecessors — fighting for monies that just aren’t there —, union leaders would do well to realize that the rules of the game have changed, and they are never going back to what they were.

Tone down the hype, stop the personal attacks, and come into the real world.  The new reality is that reforms of the public sector unions are imminent, and not because of political will or the (mistaken) perception that Republicans are anti-Labor, but because there is simply not enough money to fulfill those long-ago promises. There are no other options.

Failure to agree to common sense reforms will only result in a protracted battle that the unions cannot win, virtually guaranteeing an (unnecessary) level of pain and suffering to rank-and-file union members.

Union bosses would do well to remember that their job is to represent the best interests of their members, and it would behoove union members to hold their leaders accountable — something they have not done particularly well over the years.  On three big issues that mattered to the rank and file — defeat of NAFTA, defeat of Most Favored Trading status for China, and stemming job-killing and wage-depressing illegal immigration — the union leaders have batted zero.

Only common sense and a genuine willingness to work together for fair solutions will resolve the difficult situation facing public unions, states, and taxpayers. 

While that will never be a perfect “union,” anything less will result in a Labor Day— with no Labor.
An accredited member of the media, Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

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September 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm Comment (1)

Curfew Doesn’t Address Why Flash Mobs Riot

The televised images of violence and looting triggered one recurring thought in many people— that this isn’t supposed to happen in our civilized cities.

No, we’re not just talking about London, but right here in Philadelphia, as flash mobs have grown more frequent — and more violent.

To deal with mobs — which keep residents barricaded in their homes and visitors out of the city — Mayor Michael Nutter has instituted a citywide curfew.  Areas around Center City have been targeted with an extra police presence.  

Common sense tells us there will be a drop in flash mobs with the curfew, although violent incidents have still been occurring just outside the targeted zones.

In and of itself, the curfew isn’t a bad idea, but that seems to be the Mayor’s only answer, and that’s the real problem.

It should be obvious that a curfew can’t solve the underlying reasons as to why the uprisings are taking place.  But given the fact that flash mobs have been plaguing the city since early 2010, the Mayor has shown himself to be unable or unwilling to address the root causes.

So the problem only worsens.

*****

Curfews Aren’t A Panacea

Curfews are short term, reactive tools of government, a tactic rather than a strategy.  While people feel safer — which is important to keep society functioning — the false sense of security that a curfew provides often evaporates when the situation doesn’t stabilize or the curfew is lifted.

They are simply too expensive and resource-intensive to be permanently maintained. Police become bogged down in the menial work of processing curfew violators and contacting their parents (who will be hit with fines they can’t afford), instead of focusing on the real criminals prowling the city.

And that is simply not the most effective use of our crime-fighting resources.

The other downside is that curfews create resentment among those affected — most of whom are law abiding citizens — because an entire group now becomes classified as criminals for doing something that two weeks ago was perfectly legal.  The majority are punished for the actions of very few.

Measures which are perceived to unfairly target people based on age, skin color and gender will only enflame tensions, not soothe them. And as a result, people take on the persona of that which they are accused of being.

Curfew aside, perhaps the focus should be on targeting actual crime, and concentrate on arresting actual criminals, (not curfew violators).  If the police catch the bad guys, the prosecutors gain convictions, and judges hand down tough sentences, we’d be light years ahead of where we are today.

Here’s the bottom line: you don’t solve a crime problem by making something a crime that is now not a crime.

So why do we do these things? Because they’re easy and make good 30-second sound bites.  While the Mayor wants us to believe that the curfew will make everything right, in reality we are left with a city that is no safer in the long run.

Beyond the curfew, what does the Mayor suggest to solve the problem? That parents and children need to “get their act together” and that there will be a “zero tolerance” for this type of behavior.

Some parents absolutely need to get to get their act together, but for many, they are doing all the right things yet are still swimming against the tide. Things that would improve their situation are out of their control, and the person who could fix the problems — the Mayor — chooses not to.

Too bad Michael Nutter doesn’t employ a zero-tolerance policy where it’s needed most: educational failure and businesses fleeing the city.

Solve the Problem

Sure, there is an element in every society that is violent and lawless, and nothing can ever change that. The only solution for those thugs is a life in prison.

But for the majority of others, crime doesn’t have to be a way of life, but often is because of the lack of opportunities, both educationally and professionally. That’s where bold leadership comes into play, the ability to reverse years of decline with real solutions to the toughest problems.

Unfortunately, this Mayor is totally lacking in that category.

As Freindly Fire has repeatedly noted, the core reason for our situation is the horrendously bad educational system, which directly results in the lack of hope for young people.

There is simply no possibility of receiving a quality education in Philadelphia, despite taxpayers spending more than $17,000 per student, per year.  Some schools are deathtraps and, incomprehensibly, many sport graduation rates in the 20’s and 30’s — and that’s after a huge number have already dropped out. Despite all the rhetoric promising to turn things around, they have only gotten worse.

When the most basic life skills are lacking, the prospects for a decent job are virtually nonexistent, so many of our youth see the dream of a stable and prosperous life as nothing more than an illusion. Faith is lost.

If young people feel they have nothing to live for, they resort to criminal activity. The youths committing these crimes figure that, before they are thirty, they’ll either be dead or in jail. The “I’ve got nothing to lose” attitude turns them into predators, and law-abiding citizens become their prey.

When education is trumped by survival, everybody loses. But no one wants to fix the problem, instead pretending that more money is the solution. Wrong — it isn’t.  Only educational competition — school choice —can turn things around. But it isn’t happening, so another generation will be lost while gutless politicians continue their inane babble which accomplishes nothing.

And speaking of competition, is it any wonder why Philadelphia can’t compete with the nation’s cities that are growing? Could it have something to do with the fact that, cumulatively, it’s the highest taxed city in the country? And that the situation is only worsening?

Under the Mayor’s watch, property taxes have gone through the roof, the city portion of the sales tax has increased 100 percent, pension payments have been deferred, and numerous other taxes and fees have been instituted or proposed. And that’s in addition to what was already a crushing tax load.

It’s a simple cause and effect.  Businesses flee the city or refuse to relocate here. The resulting lack of opportunities in turn triggers despair and increased crime.

As the recently released Pew survey showed, residents who can depart Philadelphia do, leaving behind an underclass with scant opportunities and even less hope.

You wouldn’t treat a heart attack victim by giving him an aspirin, since that would only be treating a symptom. In Philadelphia, curfews and feel-good fairy tale rhetoric have become the “cure” but do nothing other than speed up the city’s deathspiral.

*****

Until leaders with a true understanding of the problems — and how to solve them — take control, citizens will continue to be held hostage to terrorizing thugs, and brazen crime sprees will increase.

Whether its flash mobs, riots, brutal subway attacks, or cops in the crosshairs, it’s clear that respect for authority is waning, and no one is off-limits to the predators.

Create opportunity, and you create stability.  People with good jobs buy houses, have families and become productive, law abiding citizens with an incentive to keep their neighborhoods safe.

Ignore the problems, and you have a powder keg ready to explode. With nothing to lose, all bets are off — and society takes a hit.

Anything less than real solutions will make flash mobs more than just a flash in the pan, but an unfortunate part of everyday city life.  

An accredited member of the media, Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

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August 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm Comment (1)

Texas Grows On Pennsylvania’s Woes

In what amounted to a complete non-surprise, Pennsylvania was just ranked near the economic bottom of the nation. Forty-third, to be exact.

Why the dismal showing for what was once the major industrial powerhouse, not just of the country, but the world?

More than anything else, crushing taxes and a hostile business climate.

Shackled with the nation’s second-highest corporate income tax, it is also 15th in personal income tax, 30th in property tax burden, and number one in estate and inheritance tax.  Those figures are bleak enough in their own right, but because Pennsylvania rolls over to organized labor and trial lawyers, it comes in dead-last last in labor competitiveness.

The result?  A mass exodus.  Businesses, and the Pennsylvanians who work for them, flee the state for the greener pastures of employer-friendly states.

And as our children and grandchildren — indeed our future — leave, so too does our political clout.

In the latest census, Pennsylvania has lost yet another electoral vote, giving it just 20. But again, this is nothing new, as the state has seen at least two electoral votes disappear in every census since 1960.

Pennsylvania is not alone in its demise.  Neighboring states such as Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois are in the same boat, with millions voting with their feet to escape ever-escalating taxes and an overbearing government.

While some businesses are outsourced overseas, many relocate to states that believe in welcoming rather than hindering. It is no coincidence that the recipients of Pennsylvania’s brain drain are primarily located in the south and west, states that are free of entrenched, business-as-usual politicians who would rather fall on the sword than make the effort to change the system.

And no state more so than Texas exemplifies the fruits of the strategy to attract the best and brightest. 

Despite America experiencing one of the worst recessions in its history, the Lone Star state is booming. Huge numbers of people seeking opportunity are migrating to Texas, so much so that it just gained a whopping four seats in the Electoral College, bringing its total to 38 — second only to California’s 55.  In stark comparison to its rust belt competitors, Texas has experienced a period of nonstop growth, gaining at least one electoral vote in every census since 1930. (It is interesting to note that California’s economy shrank faster than all but three states over the last ten years; for the first time since 1920, it failed to pick up an electoral vote).

A look at the numbers tells the story:

-         The Texas economy, nearly $1.3 trillion in output, ranks 13thin the world. Some analysts see it eventually eclipsing California in that category.

-         Texas leads the nation in overseas exports, its railroads are ranked at the top, it has more miles of highway than any other state, and has state-of-the-art shipping ports and cargo airports.

-         In Forbes Magazine’s “Best Cities for Jobs” list, Texas cities topped the lists for best big, mid-size and small cities.

-         Nearly 40 percent of all jobs created in the current “recovery” are in Texas, and it is one of only three states have more jobs now than when the recession began in December 2007. The others are North Dakota, Alaska — all, not coincidentally, big energy states.

-         Texas leads the nation with six cities on the top 20 Overall Strongest-Performing Metro Areas, according to the Brookings Institute’s “MetroMonitor” quarterly report.

Texas innately understands that fostering a business-friendly atmosphere pays big dividends.  So it has paved the way for achieving that goal: it is a Right To Work state (where it is not compulsory to join a union as a condition of employment), has no state income tax, and ranks 8th best for business tax climate. And its regulatory environment is not nearly as onerous to business as in many other states.

It has also aggressively passed legal reform measures (reducing litigation costs to historic lows), which is credited as a major factor in the unparalleled job growth Texas is experiencing.

Industries in Texas are quite diversified, from energy and mining, to timber, health care, bio-medical and tourism — industries that parallel those in Pennsylvania.

So why then does the Keystone State, despite its many similarities to Texas, continue to stagnate, seemingly content to limp along while its competitors are thriving?

Because the people, through the politicians they keep electing, are satisfied with mediocrity. Rhetoric aside about wanting to make the state great again, nothing of significance changes in Pennsylvania, no matter what Party controls the Governorship and Legislature.

Tax rates? Among the highest in the nation, especially for businesses, with reductions almost nonexistent. Legal reforms? Few and far between, with no attempt made to pass what is desperately needed: caps on runaway jury awards.  (While the Fair Share Act was just signed into law, limiting liability to one’s responsible share in a lawsuit, it took nine years just to revisit the issue after it passed in 2002 but was thrown out on a technicality).

Regulations? More burdensome than ever.  Educational achievement for the future workforce?  Nearly half of all public school 11th graders cannot pass basic proficiency tests in reading and math.

And of course, Pennsylvania has made absolutely no attempt to rein in the out-of-control public sector unions.

Year after year, teachers’ unions strike more than in all other states combined, with children becoming the victims in the unions’ never-satiated appetite for more taxpayer largesse.  The mere discussion of eliminating collective bargaining was taken off the table by Gov. Corbett prior to entering into negotiations with the state workers’ unions — while getting nothing in return.  And in an era where private sector employees are lucky to keep their jobs, with raises out of the question for most, Corbett just gave the public sector workers an 11 percent raise over four years with lavish benefits and no furloughs.

As far as becoming a Right To Work state, that possibility ended with the Corbett Administration stated it could never pass in Pennsylvania.  Which was true — with Ed Rendell as Governor and a Democratic House.  But with Corbett as leader and major GOP majorities in both chambers, a strong push could well have made that economic godsend a reality.  But it died before it even began.  (And for the naysayers who say it couldn’t pass, just look to Wisconsin for what can be achieved with real leadership.  In arguably one of the most liberal state in the country, collective bargaining was recently eliminated).

The saving grace for Pennsylvania is that it’s sitting atop the second largest natural gas deposit in the world.  Just as energy leads the way it Texas, it could also do so in the Keystone State, as responsible drilling of the Marcellus Shale could pave the way for an unprecedented economic boom.

But given Pennsylvania’s history of chasing away business, the natural gas industry is still (wisely) hedging, waiting to see what the ground rules (no pun intended) will be.  Corbett is right not to impose an extraction tax, as that only would serve to drive a nail into the coffin, but there are many other issues that need to be addressed.  And if the highly-mobile industry does decide to pack it up either because of a hostile business climate or low demand, Pennsylvania, unlike Texas, has no fallback position, pushing it that much closer to the abyss.

Perhaps the most telling difference between the states is not a statistical one, but an intangible.  When in Texas, there is an unbridled sense of pride, a feeling that the American pioneering spirit is thriving, and that nothing is unattainable.

And you see the symbol of that pride everywhere: the Lone Star is embedded in concrete pillars of the modern infrastructure, in buildings, on car bumpers, and even in airport restaurants.  That vibrancy, which is downright palpable, is not just because of Texas’ rich history, but comes from the security that only a booming economy can generate.

Sadly, that feeling has been nonexistent to most Pennsylvanians for decades. Whether we ever regain it will be decided over the next four years.

*****

To Texans, everything they do is not just bigger, but better.  That may seem arrogant to folks in the other 49 states, but as the old adage says, “arrogance ain’t arrogance if you can back it up.”

And looking at the Lone Star State’s success story, it most certainly backs it up.

 

Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

 Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

 Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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July 14, 2011 at 7:16 am Comments (0)

Gov. Onorato — Err…Corbett — Gives Unions A Sweetheart Deal

 How this affects you: the new contracts for unionized state employees will cost $164 million as workers get an 11 percent raise, with no pension reform, while the private sector continues to get rocked.

In case you have been living under a rock, here’s a newsflash: we are experiencing one of the most severe recessions in our history, and there are no greener pastures in the immediate future.

So common sense dictates that with high unemployment, decreased tax revenues, large deficits, and, most significantly, massive pension obligations, governors would take whatever steps were necessary to ensure that their states, and its citizens, remain solvent, especially when it comes to negotiating public-sector union contracts.

That happened in places like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, where true Republicans are in charge. Governors Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels and John Kasich took the heat and did what they had to do, reeling in the out-of-control taxpayer largess afforded to these unions.

But most amazing of all is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s remarkable success. Just last week, he pushed through a monumental union pension and benefit reform package that will save taxpayers over $120 billion — and did so with heavily Democratic, pro-union legislative majorities.  So effective was Christie that alongside him at the bill-signing was the Senate President — a longtime union member.

Contrast that to the deal just reached by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett with the largest state unions. Instead of acting in the best interests of the taxpayers footing the bill, he simply continued the Rendell legacy of keeping the cash register door wide open.

It’s bad enough the Governor rolled over on all the sweeping concessions he was seeking, but he ended up giving the unions a sweetheart deal.

Over the next four years, unionized state employees will receive an almost 11 percent raise and a guarantee of no furloughs.  And remember, this significant bump is in addition to their three percent raise two years ago, four percent raise last year — and three annual step increases which averaged 2.25 percent during that time. Cha-ching!

Must be nice to have such staunch advocates like Governors Rendell and Onorato — sorry, I meant Corbett — fighting for you.

And how do these pay raises compare to those in the private sector?  With such high unemployment and underemployment rates, do you really have to ask?  Most are receiving no raises at all, not even cost of living adjustments.  And those fortunate enough to still have a job have no choice but to hang on for dear life, praying they survive the next round of layoffs.  Making matters worse, many have to also shoulder ever increasing healthcare costs, if they have coverage at all.

In addition to substantial retirement benefits, state workers have guaranteed healthcare, too.  And while they will pay a bit more with this new contract, it’s still at a level way below many in the private sector.

It used to be that working in the public sector was a trade-off.  You wouldn’t make as much money as in the business world, but the benefits were good and contracts were guaranteed.  But all that changed as union contracts exploded upward — at the expense of taxpayers.

Now, in many cases, unionized public employees make more than their peers in the private sector, and retire on pensions and benefit packages that would make Wall Street financiers blush with envy.  Of course, that has come with a price, especially in Pennsylvania, and now it’s time to pay the piper.  State pension obligations go through the roof over the next several years, as annual taxpayer-funded contributions to the two state pension funds increase exponentially, ballooning from $800 million now — to billions per year.

The last Governor and legislature kicked the can down the road last year, but that only gets you so far, and, in the process, devastates the future of our children and grandchildren.

By caving in to the unions, giving them a contact that would be way too generous even in a strong economy, this Governor has chosen not to address the reforms necessary to keep Pennsylvania on solid ground, which will eventually lead to higher state borrowing costs and push the state closer to the abyss.

And while we’re on the subject of the state’s finances, let’s set the facts straight about the current budget. Reducing the budget by four percent is a good thing, but was inevitable after the loss of federal stimulus dollars.  Had he won the governorship, Dan Onorato would have signed a budget almost exactly the same as the one Corbett did.  For that matter, even Governor Spendell, who never saw a spending increase he didn’t like, would have been forced to reduce the budget to close the $4.2 billion budget deficit.

Which, in reality, is closer to $7 billion because no one in Harrisburg wants to address the real fiscal situation.  The budget, which is constitutionally required to be balanced, was passed last year on ghost revenue: $400 million from the tolling of Interstate 80 (which never got tolled);  $800 million raided from the MCARE fund (used to offset high medical malpractice rates) which, in all likelihood, will be ordered repaid by the state Supreme Court; federal Medicaid dollars that were budgeted to be $800 million but in actuality amounted to $595 million; and a $1.1 billion revenue shortfall after ten months of last year’s fiscal year. 

This shortfall seems to have simply vanished off the books.  Of course, do that with your own business — and you go to jail.  So with the looming pension bomb and the real state deficit, it’s not a pretty picture for Pennsylvania’s future.

There was a way to address these issues and begin to reverse the state’s decline.  Governor Corbett could have mandated a situation whereby union members would negotiate with their prospective employer individually, and free market-type incentives would allow for a fair offer — fair for the employee, and fair for the “employer” (the taxpayer).

So an offer would be made — salary, healthcare, benefits — and the individual could choose to accept or decline it.  Which is exactly how it’s done in the free market.  And for those who would claim it wouldn’t be “fair” to the state worker, you know what?  There would be a line a mile long of qualified individuals ready and willing to accept such an offer. Accountability and efficiencies would increase, and unmotivated, bureaucratic sloths would be eliminated in favor of those willing to be good stewards of taxpayer money.

Sound simple and fair enough?  It is, and it’s called the elimination of collective bargaining.  It’s something successfully implemented in other states, but was incomprehensibly taken off the table by Corbett three months ago — while getting absolutely nothing in return. 

The result?  No pension reform, and a lucrative union contract that the Governor says will be a net cost to the taxpayers of $164 million (which means that figure can be safely doubled).

The Wall Street Journal just labeled Corbett as leader of Keystone Cops.  After this latest debacle, it’s hard to disagree.

Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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June 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm Comments (0)

City Council Needs To Fizzle Out Nutter Soda Tax

You have to give credit where it’s due.

Thanks to Mayor Nutter, folks have laughed more over the last two weeks than at any time in recent memory.  If laughing is good for the soul, Philadelphians are in great shape.

What was so funny?

Watching Nutter keep a straight face while proposing another ten percent hike in property taxes (which would be in addition to last year’s “temporary” ten percent increase and the 100 percent increase in the city portion of the state sales tax), higher parking fees, and yes, the resurrected sugary drink “soda” tax, which would  impose a two-cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks.

But Philadelphians’ collective rage at the Mayor’s ideas was downright priceless.

If it wasn’t so funny, it would be pathetic.

*****

The fact that there is any outrage or surprise is inexplicable. What did these people expect?

“These people” being  the 80 percent who just voted for Nutter in last month’s primary election.

No, that’s not a typo.  A whopping eight of ten Philadelphia voters ushered Nutter back into the Mayor’s office (a done deal, since he cannot lose in November), welcoming him back for a second term with open arms.

To those folks, a suggestion: stop doing drugs.  They make you hallucinate.

What part of The Nut’s sham did you buy?  That he would make the city’s business climate better so that it could attract more companies, thus creating more jobs?  Freindly Fire is no economist, but it knows that when you want less of something, you tax it.  That’s fact, not opinion.  So based on the crushing levies being proposed, how exactly the Mayor plans to incentivize companies to stay in the city, much less locate here, remains a mystery.

But how could anyone oppose the soda tax, since its objective is to combat obesity? Oh wait, that was last year’s pitch, which was so disingenuous that the proposal landed in the drink.

This time, the Mayor is taking a different tack, presciently pointing out that no businesses — even the beverage retailers — will really be harmed by the tax.

“These are individual business people who will make individual business decisions,” Nutter said.

Of course, the Mayor failed to explain how paying a mandated soda tax — a certifiable job-killer — would be an “individual business decision,”  since failure to comply would unleash the city’s Gestapo Tax Squad.

When asked if businesses would leave the city, he stated, “No, that’s laughable. I mean, that’s just a cruel joke… they’re trying to scare people with these tactics.”

Spoken like a career politician who has never held a private-sector job in his life, and has absolutely no clue how devastating the soda tax would be on the city’s businesses.

Here’s what the Mayor doesn’t want you to know: a soda tax, while a burden to all, would be especially harmful to the poor, who can least afford another tax. Remember, these people are already living in what is, cumulatively, one of the highest taxed cities in the nation.

More important, there’s no such thing as a “tax on soda.”  It’s a tax on people. Period.

Which is why the Mayor is dancing the Philadelphia Two-Step, doing everything in his power to distract the voters and avoid the real issues — such as taxpayer money going into the city’s coffers every time someone drinks a cold soda on a hot summer day.

Mayor Nutter incorrectly believes that government and “government money” creates jobs and wealth, when in reality, the exact opposite is true.

Government creates nothing, nor should it.  Rather, it’s free people in a competitive environment who are the engine of a thriving democratic society.   Government should be there to serve the people, not the other way around.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in once-great cities like Philadelphia, where the economic lights are on their last flicker.

Math doesn’t lie.  Two plus two will always equal four — whether one chooses to admit that or not.  Out-of-touch politicians like Michael Nutter can promise an empty bill of goods to our citizens. But just because he chooses not to acknowledge the real problems doesn’t mean they’re not there.

*****

The ball is now in City Council’s hands.  They have the sole power to approve or reject the Nutter tax proposals.  While conventional wisdom says the votes aren’t there for passage, nothing is certain, especially with so many retiring Council members with “nothing to lose” if they anger the voters.

Sure, the city is facing fiscal problems, but breaking the backs of citizens to fix problems not of their making is simply wrong.  Retiring or not, what politician really wants his or her only legacy to be a tax-raiser who presided over a violent, insolvent city with vastly deteriorated city services?

It is rare that a City Council vote holds so much importance.  In this instance, the significance is  not just whether a sugary drink tax is passed or defeated, but the message behind that vote:

Will Philadelphia continue its decline by engaging in more of the same failed policies?

Or will it finally turn the corner, firmly stating that it will no longer look to the state and federal governments for bailouts which only serve to pass the buck on accountability? And that, instead, it will pull itself up by its own bootstraps, embracing the spirit of its citizens rather than crushing it?

*****

Here’s the truth. Residents are leaving Philadelphia in droves— some to make purchases across county or state lines to avoid city taxes, and hundreds of thousands who are just leaving altogether.

If Philadelphia is to ever put the brakes on this exodus, and begin the long road back to respectability, it is mandatory for City Council to step up and resoundingly reject the Mayor’s sugary drink tax proposal.

Anything else will just be “sugar” coating a tragic situation — forcing residents to pour a drink much stronger than soda.

City Council, your fifteen minutes are upon you.

Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigativereporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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June 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm Comments (0)

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