An “Inartful” Solution To PA’s Budget Impasse

September 22, 2009

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Given that I rightly dump on the Inquirer and Daily News on a regular basis, it would be unfair of me not to give either paper credit when they do really good work. And that is true of Karen Heller’s column today (the subject is the last-minute deal to slap “an 8 percent surcharge on tickets and membership at arts and cultural organizations in Philadelphia, 6 percent elsewhere, at a time when endowments are down, giving is down, and attendance is down,” as Heller tells us)…

“I don’t know what Gov. Rendell and the leaders of the legislature were thinking,” Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance president Peggy Amsterdam said before launching a “Fight the Arts Tax” movement at last night’s fall meeting. “The really sad thing is we try to make cultural experiences accessible and affordable to everyone. This is going to make it harder.” Increased ticket prices, she argued, will drive away even more patrons already hit by the recession.

Of the alliance’s 390 member institutions, 40 percent are suffering deficits, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, with shortfalls of $3.3 million last fiscal year and a projected $7.5 million this year. It’s like drawing blood from an anemic. Amsterdam says projecting $100 million in annual tax revenues is pure folly: “Our estimates are nowhere near that – maybe $20 million statewide.”

Arts administrators complain there are no details on how much will be redirected or where. What’s to prevent Republican lawmakers from taking Philadelphia Museum of Art revenues and shipping them, say, to the Enchanted Woodlins chainsaw carvings of Elk County?

“If this had been proposed totally across the board on all forms of entertainment, you might say, ‘This stinks. It adds to our challenges, but these are really difficult times and we’re all doing our share,’ ” said Cultural Alliance chairman Hal Real. “But it’s not across the board. And it’s symptomatic of how undervalued the arts are in our culture.”

“Not across the board” indeed: as Heller points out, anyone who wants to pony up some dough to ogle Megan Fox in “Jennifer’s Body” as she cavorts with and then subsequently attacks her boyfriends (apparently she’s a vampire also – I only know about the flick from the commercial that seems to be on everywhere) is free to do so without paying the 8 percent tax on top of the ticket price.

And that also goes for anyone who wants to get drunk at a tailgate party and watch the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense get carved up by a reasonably competent NFL quarterback again (to say nothing of watching slapstick special teams play), as Drew Brees of New Orleans did last Sunday (I’ll admit that Brees is a lot better than “reasonably competent,” though). Also, in the matter of football, don’t you worry, all of you egomaniacs driving around in your Hummers, Jettas and Lexus SUVs with your lion’s paw decals and bumper stickers saying, “If God Isn’t A Penn State Fan, Why Did He Make The Sky Blue And White?”…it looks like your precious Nittany Lions weren’t affected either.

And you want to know who else wasn’t affected by the 8 percent arts sales tax? The warmongering Pattison Avenue Potentate himself, Ed Snider, that’s who. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to watch Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins skate circles around the orange-and-black at the same cost you would have paid otherwise, to say nothing of watching the Sixers get eaten alive by other teams’ big men in the paint.

(By the way, to the Eagles’ credit, I should point out that owner Jeffrey Lurie and Snider are polar opposites politically; the Eagles are big contributors to the Democratic Party.)

Yes, I’m more than a little pissed about this, partly because, as Heller points out, it doesn’t make economic sense. However, the tax does appease the Republican Party for the purposes of doing the deal, which of course is what this is all about.

And with that in mind, this tells us the following…

The philosophical divide between those who see the arts as frivolous and those who see its value is as old as the nation.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal Works Progress Administration paid thousands of unemployed artists to write regional guidebooks, produce plays and organize symphony orchestras. The work of more than 5,000 artists can still be seen today in murals commissioned for schools, post offices and other government buildings.

President Obama has not proposed such a program but supports increased arts funding. Most Republicans oppose spending tax dollars on aesthetics.

“America is a practical nation that comes from very practical roots,” says Robert Lynch of the advocacy group Americans for the Arts. “That practicality … is part of what we’ve had to overcome.”

It was on display in the recent debate in Congress over the economic stimulus package.

The House of Representatives version included $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts to help non-profit arts organizations avoid closing or laying off workers, but the Senate version left it out. The final bill restored the money for the NEA.

“Putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community,” said Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia during the debate.

No word on whether or not Kingston ever found his flag lapel pin, by the way.

But on top of that, anyone who thinks arts spending doesn’t make a positive economic impact (like Kingston) is just plan wrong (I linked to this in a prior post, but it bears repeating)…

In Chicago, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generate $1.09 billion in revenue, support 30,134 jobs, and deliver over $103 million in tax revenue to local and state government, according to the Illinois Arts Alliance. In Illinois, 23,643 creative enterprises employ 132,882 people, according to Americans for the Arts.

And as noted here…

The arts are a prime vehicle for job creation and a valued economic distribution mechanism. The country’s more than 4,000 local and state arts agencies have nearly 50 years of proven history as good stewards of our tax dollars and can ensure speedy disbursement to local projects, along with the excellent direct distribution track record of the National Endowment for the Arts itself. The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities.”

NEA funds, on average, leverage $7 in additional support through local, state, and private donations, for every one dollar in federal support. Fifty million in economic stimulus will leverage $350 million of investment.

And returning to Heller, she concludes with this…

If you were a deeply cynical sort of person, even someone with a fleeting knowledge of the sour feelings Republicans have for Philadelphia and Rendell, you might think this latest culture tax was a spirited flamenco dance atop the city’s fiscal woes.

In high heels, for good measure (to twist the old saying a bit, I guess PA’s Harrisburg poobahs don’t know much about spending money efficiently, but they know what they like…or don’t like in this case).


Some Monday “Byko” Blather on Carter and Race

September 21, 2009

Stu_BykofskyStu (“I’m Thinking Another 9/11 Would Help America,” here) Bykofsky really should have just gulped down a fistful of Xanax and gone over to lie down in a corner instead of spitting out his utter dreck of a column today, but he concocted his idiotic screed anyway.

See, “Byko” is in a lather over President Carter’s recent comment that the anti-Obama sentiment in this country is race-based, something which I think is pretty evident based on this.

So he thusly piled on (I could take time to refute all of it, but this sampling is pretty indicative – and by the way, he makes it sound like Carter and Muammar Qadhafi were buds, but it was Dubya who signed an executive order restoring the Libyan government’s immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing all of the pending compensation cases in the US, not Carter, as noted here – also, if there’s one person Carter would not be friends with, it is Fidel Castro, since the latter played the former like a fiddle in the matter of the Mariel Boat Lift)…

(Carter’s) remark paralleled the equally hair-trigger opinion of the Philadelphians who hung the “racist” tag on anyone who objected to the Eagles’ hiring of Michael Vick.

Uh, I objected to the Eagles’ signing of Vick (here), and I didn’t get any comments branding me a racist (and I most definitely support President Carter in this matter).

Also…

In his latest ramble, Old Mushmouth said the “overwhelming portion” of those loudly opposing President Obama are racists.

He hasn’t created so many waves since he was in a waterborne battle with an enraged swamp rabbit.

In reality, there’s a racial strain in most national discussions involving Obama, but it is irrational to think r-a-c-e is animating all, or even most, of the animosity.

See the prior post on Noel Sheppard for proof that Carter is right, “Byko” (and by the way, I don’t know what the hell “Byko” is talking about with that comment about a “racial strain” that somehow isn’t “animating…the animosity”; “Byko” also introduces more faux equivalency between those who opposed Clinton over a blow job and those who opposed Dubya for lying us into war with an enemy that had nothing to do with 9/11, expanding our country’s policy of rendition beyond all reason or adherence to the law, trashing the environment and civil liberties, staffing his administration with hacks and flunkies in charge of government agencies, acting as if he actually cared about those “values voters” his party plays for fools every four years, etc.)…

Also…

Predictably, anyone disagreeing with Carter was immediately tarred as a racist. That’s what MSNBC’s semi-rational ranter Keith Olbermann bayed last Wednesday. If you diss Carter, he suggested, you are a racist and a right-wing nutjob.

From this transcript (and I hate to admit that “Byko” is partly correct, even though Olbermann was dead-on, but “Byko” left out the rant of a certain Flush Limbore)…

OLBERMANN: Carter and courage: The former president elaborates on his comments about racism being at the core of some of the rage against the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: There is an inherent feeling among many people in this country that an African-American ought not to be president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: And he gets the “all too predictable” reactionary blowback from the racists he‘s talking about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: Jimmy Carter is the nation‘s hemorrhoid folks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Well, I got to defer to him here, the nation‘s (BLEEP) hole would know about the nation‘s hemorrhoid.

Oh, and by the way, Byko, when you decide to actually provide meaningful, factual information to support your ridiculous claim that that “individual rights (are) being usurped by a federal government growing like kudzu,” let me know, OK?

Meanwhile, I’ll breathlessly await word on how much money Philadelphia Newspapers lost this week, or how their brilliant plan to have one group of rich Philadelphians headed by Bruce Toll bail out another group of rich Philadelphians headed by Bruce Toll is progressing.


A Message For Noel Sheppard

September 21, 2009

More Fix Noise propaganda (from here, including the following)…

There is nothing going on at Tea Parties, rallies, or town hall meetings that is at all related to racism and it’s time for the president of the United States to rein in this divisiveness and call upon his fellow Democrats to stop the race-baiting.

Oh yeah?

Tea_Party_Obama_Race_Sign


Three Quick Friday Hits

September 18, 2009

  • Three interesting items appeared in the New York Times today – here is the first…

    Compared with the immense size of the stimulus program, the actual number of arrests so far has been microscopic. Earl E. Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the watchdog for stimulus money, said recently that federal prosecutors were looking at only nine stimulus-related cases, including accusations of Social Security fraud and of businesses improperly claiming to be owned by women and members of minorities.

    “Quite frankly, I’m a little surprised it’s that small,” Mr. Devaney testified recently before the Senate, explaining that his office passes along questionable expenses to the various federal inspector general offices following the money, as well as to the Department of Justice. “I know, from talking to them, they’re very interested in sending some very loud signals early, as often as they can, with this money.”

    The small number of cases is partly a function of how much stimulus money has been spent so far, and how it has been spent. While more than $150 billion of it has been pumped into the economy, according to a recent report by the White House, some $62.6 billion of that was in the form of tax cuts. Of the rest, $38.4 billion was sent to states for fiscal relief; $30.6 billion was spent to help those affected by the recession by expanding unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs, and $16.5 billion was spent in areas like infrastructure, technology and research.

    It should have been about $62 billion in infrastructure and $16.5 billion in tax cuts, but what’s done is done.

    And as noted here, FBI Director Robert Mueller has issued a warning about potential fraud arising in the future over the “stim.” Mueller has also issued warnings about mortgage and white collar business fraud in the past, which is probably the prudent thing to do. Basically, I wouldn’t read too much into his warning today by itself, unless further evidence of “stim” fraud arises of course.

  • Here is the second item, including the following…

    LOS ANGELES — Government auditors reported Thursday that the effort to secure the Mexican border with technology and fences has fallen years behind schedule, will cost billions of dollars extra in maintenance costs and has no clear means of gauging whether illegal crossings have been curtailed.

    Mark Borkowski, who directs the Secure Border Initiative for the Department of Homeland Security, stood by the program as “transformational,” but did not challenge the findings. “We are as frustrated as anybody is” with the setbacks, Mr. Borkowski said in an interview.

    The report, by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog, said the department had fallen about seven years behind its goal of putting in place the technology the Bush administration had heavily promoted when it announced the Secure Border Initiative in 2005.

    And by the way…

    The apprehension of illegal immigrants at the border has fallen to lows not seen in decades, but scholars and Mexican officials say the recession and the lack of jobs in the United States have contributed to the drop.

    So aside from despoiling habitat, there really is no way to gauge whether or not the “fence” is any good, is there? Pathetic.

  • And speaking of environmental disasters, here is the third story…

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating whether a former secretary of the interior, Gale A. Norton, violated the law by granting valuable leases to Royal Dutch Shell around the time she was considering going to work for the company after she left office, officials said Thursday.

    The officials said investigators had recently turned up information suggesting that Ms. Norton had had discussions while in office with Royal Dutch Shell about future career opportunities. In early 2006, Ms. Norton’s department awarded three tracts in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary for shale exploration. In December 2006, she joined Shell as the company’s general counsel in the United States for unconventional oils, a company spokeswoman said.

    The existence of a federal criminal investigation was first reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times.

    Ms. Norton, 55, was President George W. Bush’s first interior secretary. In that job, she was an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney in the administration’s general approach of opening up more federal lands for energy exploration.

    Gaylie, Gaylie, how does your garden grow (I mean, before the ground beneath it is ripped apart for natural gas exploration, leaving it utterly useless).

    By the way, this post celebrating Norton’s resignation from Interior three years ago contains a link to an Inquirer Op-Ed from Norton claiming that it’s “time for the denial to end” on drilling in the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge.

    If Norton is eventually found guilty, I have an idea for her sentencing (speaking of “the mountains she loves so much”). As someone who should have acted as a steward of the environment, I believe she should be forced to parachute into the Rockies with food and water rations for about a week, along with a Swiss army knife. From that point, she’s on her own.


  • A Study In “Victim Blame”

    September 18, 2009

    The latest from Mike Papantonio of Air America Radio…


    Thursday Mashup (9/17/09)

    September 17, 2009

    NN_27obama2

  • Congratulations to President Obama for abandoning the idiotic, let’s-just-light-some-money-on-fire-since-it-would-accomplish-the-same-thing concept of strategic missile defense, as noted here (and somehow, I never understood how getting Russia POed at the expense of some enthusiasm from the Czechs and some half-hearted cooperation from Poland, as noted here, was beneficial to this country).

    And I’m sure Edward Teller is doing disapproving somersaults in Gehenna, where he no doubt resides at this moment.

  • Rove

  • The Murdoch Street Journal allowed “Bush’s Brain” to spew more bilious nonsense today (from here)…

    On Friday, I was at DePauw University in Indiana debating former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. It was two days after Barack Obama’s big speech before a joint session of Congress and Mr. Dean is a strong advocate for his party’s agenda and a medical doctor, so I expected him to defend the president’s idea of adding a “trigger” to health-care reform to ease its passage and thereby guarantee a government takeover of our health-care system.

    But Mr. Dean turned out to be tougher on triggers than I was. He called them a “terrible” idea.

    It’s now becoming clear that Mr. Obama’s speech failed to rally voters and failed to inspire Democrats to follow their president’s lead.

    Nice try, Turd Blossom.

    As noted here, the reason Dr. Dean opposes “triggers” (en route to a “government takeover of our health care system” – waaay too funny) is because they’re “a means by which politicians kick the policy can down the road—maybe forever, and end up, ultimately doing nothing” (actually, David Sirota points that out here). It’s not because Dean opposes health care reform – quite the opposite, actually.

    And as far as whether or not Obama’s speech was a failure, this Gallup poll from today tells us that “Obama’s approval ratings on the economy (46%) and healthcare (43%) are holding steady over the last two months.”

    And if you want to read something REALLY funny, check this out…

    Those Democrats will soon notice that seniors are worried about Mr. Obama’s proposed Medicare cuts and that Hispanics–the fastest growing part of the electorate–are slipping away from the president. Gallup polls reveal his support among Hispanics fell 14 points to 67% over the summer.

    And now, for the reality point of view (here)…

    The Latino vote comprised 9 percent of the electorate nationwide in 2008, a figure that totals over 11 million voters. This turnout represents a jump of over 3 million voters since 2004, when 7.6 million Latinos cast ballots, and is approximately double the Latino turnout of 2000. Ominously for Republicans, the Latino vote broke overwhelmingly Democratic in 2008. After supporting Democratic candidate John Kerry by a 56-44 percent margin against George W. Bush in 2004, Latinos gave Democratic candidate Barack Obama their support at a 67-31 percent margin against John McCain. As the New York Times showed, Latinos’ movement towards Democrats was one of the biggest demographic shifts from 2004 to 2008.

    The reason behind this shift, according to political pundits and strategists of both parties, was the Republicans’ tarnished brand related to the issue of immigration. As Latino polling expert Sergio Bendixen stated, “the debate over immigration started driving Hispanic voters toward the Democratic party, and the economic black hole clinched it.”

    Can the Dems take any voting bloc for granted, particularly for next year and 2012? Of course not (and though I’m glad to see Obama step up immigration enforcement among employers hiring illegals, that could have a “blowback” if not combined with some common-sense immigration reform, a subject upon which the Repugs also played “kick the can” when they were in charge).

    But any non-partisan individual would have to be muay loco to think that addressing health care reform would be negative in any way towards Hispanics in particular (of course, Rove doesn’t have a non-partisan molecule in his body).

  • FOS_thumbnail%20rockwell%20four%20freedoms%20speech

  • I came across the following post from author Thomas Frank (What’s The Matter with Kansas?) at The Huffington Post today, and I thought he made some good points…

    There are few things in politics more annoying than the right’s utter conviction that it owns the patent on the word “freedom” that when its leaders stand up for the rights of banks to be unregulated or capital gains to be untaxed, that it is actually and obviously standing up for human liberty, the noblest cause of them all.

    Equally annoying is the silence of Democratic Party leaders on the subject. They spend their careers hearing this fatuous argument from the other side, but challenging conservatism’s claim to freedom seems to be beyond their powers. Or beneath their dignity. Or something.

    Today they’re paying for that high-mindedness. While Democrats fussed with the details of health care reforms, conservatives spent months telling the nation that the real issue is freedom, that what’s on the line is American liberty itself.

    Any increase in the size or duties of government, the right tells us, necessarily subtracts from our freedom. Government is, by its very nature, a destroyer of liberties; the Obama administration, specifically, is promising to interfere with the economy and the health care system so profoundly that Washington will soon have us all in chains.

    With that in mind, I’d like to propose some of my own personal “freedoms” that, I think, coincide with much of what I try to do here online and elsewhere to support the Democratic Party and promote reasoned, informed discourse:

  • I have the freedom to speak out against right-wing (and occasionally left-wing) demagoguery masquerading as fact, whose sole purpose is to obfuscate, misinform and/or propagandize, in as respectful a manner as I can (though the occasional bad word may slip through – I should allow some “wiggle room” here).
  • I have the freedom to do this at social networking sites such as this one, as well as through any other means of electronic communication using the most up-to-date technological tools at my disposal (I’m not real big on the idea of Twitter, for example, but I suppose I’ll have to “get with it” at some point). Pursuant to that, I have the freedom to disregard comments expressed in response to my stated opinion that only serve to denigrate me personally, as well as comments that do not apply to my stated position and only serve to obfuscate, misinform and/or propagandize on an unrelated topic.
  • I also have the freedom to communicate my point of view in print media and also in conversations with others in an attempt to inform and possibly influence their opinion.
  • I also have the freedom to venture to other online sites or forums where opinions contrary to my own are expressed in an attempt to inform others, in the hope of influencing their opinions as well.
  • In the event that the exercise stated above leads to personal attacks, I have the freedom to thoroughly defend myself against any aggressive act which results from respectfully voicing my opinion.
  • I also have the freedom to listen to respectful voices of dissent and allow for the possibility that my own opinion may be influenced by the reasoned attempt of others to do the same as I would do.
  • I can’t think of any others at the moment. If anybody else wants to chime in, feel free to do so.


  • More On CIGNA’s Health Care Scam

    September 16, 2009

    Some truly malicious stuff, captured by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films…


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