Thursday Mashup (6/14/12)

  • So the Federal Election Commission is going after Former Senator “Wide Stance,” huh (here).

    Here is my question: why not the Department of Justice?

    As TPM tells us…

    The case stems from the Idaho Republican’s embarrassing 2007 arrest by an undercover cop in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport bathroom stall. The cop said Craig made sexual advances toward him by tapping his feet under the stall divider.

    The senator quietly pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct three months later. But after his case hit the media, Craig reversed himself and hired a team of attorneys to get his guilty plea thrown out.

    On Monday, the FEC alleged that Craig used campaign donations from supporters as his own personal piggy bank to try to reverse his plea. The commission said he paid $139,952 to the Washington, D.C. law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan and another $77,032 to the Minneapolis firm of Kelly & Jacobson.

    “These legal costs were not made in connection with his campaign for federal office or for any ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in his connection with his duties as Senator,” FEC lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

    Sooo…Craig will not have to undergo the criminal prosecution meted out to another disgraced former Senator?

    Craig won’t be called “a cheating, lying, disgraceful, husband…and human being,” as a certain ex-North Carolina senator was here?

    Why not? Is it because John Edwards was accused of squirreling away $1 million in campaign funds for Rielle Hunter and the baby he fathered with her, and Craig is accused of using only about $200,000 of his campaign funds for his self defense?

    Really, do the dollar amounts matter? If that’s all that determines whether or not someone rich and powerful is prosecuted in this country for alleged illegality, then we’re worse off than I thought.

    No, this just confirms that the John Edwards trial had very little to do with matters of law. However, it had everything to do with trying to create salacious headlines and “news” tidbits about a photogenic individual guilty of admittedly seamy conduct in an attempt to manufacture a guilty verdict that lawyers for the Department of Justice, due to lack of evidence or incompetence, could not actually win on their own. And I’d really like to hear someone try to explain why Larry Craig should not be prosecuted in a similar manner (maybe because Craig looks like your granddad after too many highballs and the notion of sex with men in bathrooms is too icky for Eric Holder, and he’d like to keep it out of the headlines any way possible?).

    God Bless America.

  • Also, this item is a bit “off the beaten track” for me, but I feel like I should respond anyway (never stopped me before :-))…

    Making good on its threat, the new leadership of the Philly Pops filed a motion Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking to end the organization’s relationship with Peter Nero, its music director of 33 years.

    Nero’s contract, the Pops said in its filing, is “simply too economically burdensome.” The Pops “can no longer afford to compensate Nero at the levels provided for in the employment agreement while simultaneously hoping to continue its existence in the future.”

    The Pops has begun the search for a replacement for Nero for the 2012-13 season – even as tickets have already been sold for concerts billed as being led by Nero – and will import guest conductors for lower fees, the filing states. The motion requests an expedited hearing in court, with a rejection of the contract by June 30.

    Nero is fighting the move.

    “We don’t think it’s Peter that needs to go, but the board that needs to go,” said Nero’s lawyer, Albert A. Ciardi 3d. Ciardi said he had only briefly looked at the motion, but was preparing a strategy that would keep “Nero performing with the Pops. We don’t believe they have a very good business justification for doing this.

    “Peter is the Pops, and the Pops is Peter.”

    If successful, the rejection would end an institutional personification that has been Philadelphia’s answer to other rarefied pops partnerships such as Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops and Erich Kunzel’s Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Nero has characterized the move as a “takeover attempt” of the ensemble he has led since its founding in 1979 by impresario Moe Septee.

    The move to oust Nero, 78, comes after an unsuccessful attempt to renegotiate his contract in the middle of its term. The Pops has sought to impose a 40 percent pay cut on Nero, whose most recent annual compensation was $513,000, according to Frank Giordano, the Pops’ president and chief executive. Nero has disputed that figure, saying it included office space, storage, transportation, and other expenses related to his job as both conductor and the artistic chief.

    The effort is being led by Giordano, who started as a volunteer before beginning to pay himself a $1,000-per-week salary in January.

    How noble on Giordano’s part, until you read the following later in the story…

    One solution, which (Walter D. Cohen, chairman of the board overseeing Philly Pops) said he argued for at the board meeting, would be delaying the hiring of a new chief operating officer to save money. Giordano has prepared a budget for next season that calls for hiring that additional administrator, plus raising his own salary to $91,000 a year. Cohen called that “a problem.”

    Uh, yeah – I would say that a raise for the COB of about 910 percent while this same person cries poor mouth over the compensation owed to Philly Pops’ most recognizable talent constitutes “a problem” also.

    For another point of view on this, I give you the following from here (concerning the original bankruptcy filing by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association in a story dated from May 2011…it should be noted that the Pops is in bankruptcy as a result of formerly being part of the Association)…

    The Philadelphia Orchestra is not insolvent and it is nowhere near insolvent. According to its IRS filing, it ended Fiscal 2009 with an endowment of over $129,000,000 (down from $143,580,000 the year before) and this sum is more than three times its liabilities as of the filing date of the Chapter 11 proceeding. To the extent that there is a genuine problem it is cash flow. A cash flow crunch, and a nasty desire to stick it to the musicians who make the music which is the alpha and omega of the orchestra’s reason for being is what’s motivating this bankruptcy filing…

    The 700 pound gorilla in the room is the Orchestra Association’s obligation to the musician’s pension fund. This was an obligation it negotiated and now wishes to go back on. In common parlance (and at the risk of insulting Bryn Terfel) it wishes to welch on its debt. The orchestra argues “this is worse than it appears.” And indeed it is, but not in the way the orchestra claims.

    Management no longer wishes to have any part of the agreement it solemnly entered into. The pension obligation is roughly $3,000,000 per year, and if it withdraws from its obligation it is contractually committed to make a one-time $25,000,000 payment to the pension fund. The Orchestra Association argues on the one hand that by welching on this and other debts it can save $40,000,000 over five years. This is fascinating in that management’s last audited financial statement estimated pension costs over the next five years at $16,340,000. It is little wonder that the musicians’ union does not believe the Philadelphia Orchestra Association’s numbers since they are simply made up.

    Worse, years ago the Orchestra Association went to the musicians and in effect said “Look, we have a cash crunch. Please allow us to issue an IOU to the pension fund instead of cutting a check.” The union agreed and a series of memoranda of understanding were entered into, creating an unfunded pension liability. That accrued pension liability, which was $18,984,000 at the end of FY 2009, was $22,895,000 at the end of FY 2010 according to the Orchestra Association’s audited statement. So if I am reading this right, the orchestra is in the hole to the pension fund to the tune of $22,895,000 as of the end of FY 2010 and, if it opts out of the agreement, it owes another $25,000,000 on top of that (instead of $3,000,000 or so per year going forward). It is this debt that the Orchestra Association wants the Bankruptcy Court to say may be skipped out on. In fact, it was the short-sighted, greedy decision by the Orchestra Association to try to avoid this debt that motivated the bankruptcy filing. The musicians bailed the Orchestra Association out by accepting $22,895,000 in IOUs instead of cash on the barrel-head and this is the thanks it gets. Sort of restores your faith in human gratitude, doesn’t it Mr. Scrooge?

    The lesson for any group covered by a pension plan when the non-sovereign employer (that is, an employer not possessed of the power to lay and collect taxes) says “We need to create an unfunded liability due to our cash situation” is “Absolutely not unless you bond the obligation.” One assumes that the musicians’ union will know for next time.

    Of course, throughout all of this the orchestra members have done 100% of what they were contractually obligated to do: Play music to the best of their estimable, world-class abilities. The Orchestra Association had 100% of their effort and 100% of their skill, on time and in the manner required. The Orchestra Association responded to this by providing zero good faith and zero professional competence.

    Oh, and by the way, it looks like the Orchestra Association also exceeded its limits on “fees and expenses for public relations during the past 15 months as it worked its way through the Chapter 11 process,” as Peter Dobrin of the Inquirer reports here (in addition to his coverage on the Peter Nero story).

    And who was one of the beneficiaries when the limits were exceeded?


    Brian Communications, that’s who (a PR company founded by the former head of the Inquirer and Daily News, which is expected to be paid $780,000 through the end of the bankruptcy process, according to a forecast provided to The Inquirer).

    Sooo…$780,000 in PR for Tierney is OK, but $513,000 for a world renowned talent like Peter Nero is a problem.

    Tell you what – how about if they take some of Tierney’s dough, use it to “comp” Nero the amount the Board doesn’t want to pay, and if Tierney still wants the money he’s owed, he can earn it cleaning the mouthpieces of the woodwinds and the brass instruments, and maybe tidying up in the orchestra pit at the Kimmel too.

  • Finally, turning to our backyard, I haven’t said anything about the PA State House race in the 31st district between incumbent Dem Steve Santarsiero and Repug challenger Anne Chapman, so please allow me to do so here.

    As noted in this story from a couple of months ago…

    “I believe that my campaign message resonated with the voters who are tired of the burdensome taxes, the waste in government and the piling up our debt,” Chapman said in an interview with BucksLocalNews.com.

    Spoken like a card-carrying member of the bunch that ran up the debt in the first place – continuing…

    She lauded her campaign manager Rob Ciervo, a Newtown Township supervisor, for his continued hard work on her behalf during the primary election cycle. She also thanked her donors and the voters who came to the polls and gave their support.

    And for a reminder about “Self” Ciervo, I give you this

    Chapman, a described life-long conservative, entered the race to promote and enact job growing intiatives (sic), reform to save tax dollars and end property taxes. She said that her ideas are met with concrete solutions.

    She said House bills such as the Property Tax Independence Act will eliminate pesky property taxes by providing a “more equitable tax that would be fair to all and based on ability to pay.”

    “The act would fund our schools by an increase in the sales and usage tax of one percent on non-essential items and a less than one percent increase in state income tax, which would fund our schools in a revenue-neutral way and adjust for changes in pupil enrollment,” she explained.

    To her knowledge, she said the act would share the responsibility for funding schools with residents and out-of-staters who visit and use products and services in Pennsylvania.

    Really? As noted in a recent Santarsiero mailer (can’t find an online link yet)…

    The proposal (HB 1776) would raise the personal income tax by 0.94%. So, as an example, for a family with a household income of $100,000, state income taxes would rise by $940.

    Under the bill, the state sales tax would increase from 6% to 7%. Even worse, the bill would expand the sales tax to include many goods and services that are not currently taxed. For example, clothing over $50 would now be taxed at 7%. Moreover, all food and beverages other than some meats, milk, cheese, eggs, produce and certain cereals would be taxed at 7%.

    (Also), individuals and families would have to pay a tax on most legal, accounting, architectural and even parking services, while corporations would be exempt from doing so.

    Despite its authors’ claims, HB 1776 does not eliminate property taxes. Property taxes would still exist for county and municipal services. They also would remain to pay for school debt. The bottom line is that about 30% of your property taxes would remain, in addition to the new taxes listed here.

    And speaking of that, here are items that would be taxed at 7% under HB 1776:

  • Non-prescription medicines
  • Most toiletries
  • Newspapers and Bibles
  • Textbooks (another burden for our students)
  • Candy and gum
  • Services rendered in the construction industry, including home repair and remodeling (which would undoubtedly hurt our already-ailing housing market)
  • Flags of the USA and Pennsylvania (presumably you could buy a flag of a foreign country without paying a tax)
  • Caskets, burial vaults and grave markers/tombstones (a new twist on the “death tax”)
  • And here are services and activities that would be taxed at 7% under HB 1776:

  • Barber/hair styling (what, no tanning beds or yachts, Repugs?)
  • Dry cleaning
  • Pet grooming
  • Veterinary services
  • Sporting events (Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, Sixers, etc.)
  • Golf, tennis, bowling, skiing, fitness, facilities, etc.
  • Theatre, movies, music, dance
  • Museums, parks, zoos, historical sites
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Psychologists services
  • Chiropractors
  • Air and ground transportation
  • Television
  • Waste disposal
  • But wait, there’s more!

    One of the big reasons why our property taxes are high right now is because the state does not adequately fund its share of costs for school districts like Pennsbury and Council Rock (despite a constitutional mandate to do so). To fix that problem, we need to change the formula by which state funding is given to school districts so that we get our fair share.

    Unfortunately, HB 1776 would give the sole authority to decide educational funding to Harrisburg.

    Hey, Simon Campbell and his minions in charge of the Pennsbury School Board may be nuts, but at least they’re our nuts, people!

    If state revenue for all the new taxes mentioned above falls because of a downturn in the economy, our schools will get shortchanged even more than they do already. How does HB 1776 propose to address that problem? It lets school districts impose a new, local Personal Income Tax (on top of any existing local Earned Income Tax and the state Personal Income Tax).

    Under HB 1776, most residents of the Newtown-Yardley area will pay more in taxes. At the same time, we would lose local control over our school boards and the quality of our schools. That is not a good bargain.

    Oh, but Anne Chapman and Rob Ciervo like HB 1776. What could go wrong?

    Only everything.

    Please click here to support Steve for another term, so sanity will prevail in PA-31 for the foreseeable future.

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