Tuesday, May 13, 2014

There's liberal, there's extreme liberal, then there's Allison Schwartz

Thank you Governor Tom Corbett for explaining the political spectrum to us and who sets tax rates in the Commonwealth.  We were not aware that if you keep going left on the political spectrum that you end up at Congresswoman Allison Schwartz.  We also were oblivious to the fact that Pennsylvania's Secretary of Revenue sets tax policy and rates and is responsible for job creation.

In a series of negative advertisements in Corbett's re-election campaign, Corbett has decided to play fancy and loose with the truth.  We sort of expect this with politicians, especially when it comes to negative advertising.

In a quote generally attributed to the late Senator Hiram Johnson (CA-1917-1945,) Johnson said the truth is the first casualty of war.  Buzz and I believe that the truth is the first casualty of negative advertising.

The comments about the Schwartz are obviously political hyperbole aimed at ginning up the conservative base.  Conservatives hate liberals, and the more liberal someone is the more reason to vote against them, give money, and tell all your friends that a real God-hating, high taxing, criminal coddling, over regulating, Obama loving socialist is out to destroy the country again.  The problem with the Tom Wolf characterizations are they are a little more than political hyperbole.  They are at the very least incredibly misleading, if not outright lies.

The realclearpolitics average has Tom Wolf leading the Democratic pack by about 27 points, at just under 40 percent, with Allison Schwartz a distant second, just over 10 percent.  The other two Democrats, Rob McCord, is in the high single digits, and Katie McGinty, is close to the margin of error.  Although the November match-up polling is a bit dated, Corbett is losing badly to all four Democrats in hypothetical match-ups.

We have to give Corbett credit.  Even though Schwartz has little chance of winning the primary, starting off his radio ad with the word "liberal" gets the conservative GOP base buzzing.  If you can, it's always good to start off your ads with something that's going to get the listener listening.

The radio ad then hits the other conservative hot button --- taxes.  Although the Department of Revenue's own web site states the department's purpose as  "The department’s mission is to fairly, efficiently and accurately administer the tax laws and other revenue programs of the commonwealth to fund necessary government services," that doesn't stop Corbett from implying that the Department of Revenue sets and lobbies for tax rates.

 "Our taxes went through the roof" when Wolf was the "state's top tax collector," says the ominous voice on the radio.  Not actually true.  No broad-based taxes were raised during Wolf's 18 months in office.

Corbett doesn't stop there.  He then explains that Tom Wolf, as Secretary of Revenue killed jobs in Pennsylvania with his "high" taxes.  Wolf was Secretary of Revenue from April, 2007 until November, 2008, a time when the national economy was in a free fall as a result of the collapse of the home mortgage industry. Corbett then takes credit for creating jobs (at least in the television ad) during his term in office, a time when the entire national economy began to climb out of the recession.

Politifact rates the ad Mostly False.  USA Today says this about the ad.  "Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett compares his record on taxes and jobs with that of Democratic challenger Tom Wolf in a new TV ad called "Toy Story." It should be called "Tall Story" for its multiple deceptions."

Can we expect more?  To quote Bachman Turner Overdrive, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Obamacare is here to stay, so get over it ODS sufferers

Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is here to stay, so why can't the GOP get over it?  It may not be the perfect fix for our ridiculous healthcare insurance now in place, but it is a good start.

Too many people just couldn't afford healthcare coverage under the old system, so something had to be done.  We do have a safety net for the very poor (Medicaid) and the elderly (Medicare,) but the working poor are shit out of luck.  Democrats have been trying for 60 plus years to get something done, only to be thwarted time and time again by the GOP.  And, the crazy part about it is the GOP has never proposed a realistic alternative.

The World Health Organization has ranked the United States 37th among nations of the world in overall health care quality, behind countries like Malta, Andorra, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Chile, despite spending more per capita than any other nation.  These countries all have universal healthcare systems.  The United States does not.

It's been said sarcastically that we do have universal healthcare in the United States:  it's called the emergency room.

The problem is not that we don't have some of the best hospitals, some of the best doctors, and certainly some of the best hi-tech equipment, procedures, and techniques.  The problem is that we have a great health system if you can afford to pay for it.  Everyone else is stuck in emergency rooms and health clinics.

When someone with healthcare insurance gets sick, they go the doctor's office.  When someone without healthcare insurance gets sick, they tough it out and only end up seeking care when the problem has worsened to the point of seeking care in the local emergency room.  Sometimes the tough it out path works, after all, whatever doesn't kill ya, makes ya stronger.  The problem is many illnesses can't be toughed out and do end up killing you, but usually only before involving a lot of expensive end of life medical procedures that cost a fortune.

Buzz and I have heard many times from our conservative friends that if we provided free healthcare coverage for everyone, all those "takers" in society would be filling up doctors' offices for unneeded treatments.  After all, if colonoscopies were free, who among us wouldn't be getting one a week, or who wouldn't be asking their doctor to perform invasive, exploratory surgery every time they had an ache or pain.  Come on, if you really like going to the doctor and been probed inside and out, we have a few websites to recommend.

Quite to the contrary, if healthcare were free to all, we would be a healthier nation as a whole.

We've also heard from our conservative brethren the "who's gonna pay for it" line.  Well Obama Derangement Sufferers, that's what Obamacare tries to fix.

While the program is not perfect, single payer is the real answer, it is a good start.  If you are poor and are fortunate enough to live in a state with an enlightened governor or legislature who have accepted the Medicaid expansion, the poorest of our citizens (133% of the poverty level) qualify for medicaid.  If you make less than 400 percent of the poverty level, you qualify for some kind of subsidy.  If you make more than that, guess what?  You can afford insurance and you should have it.

Healthcare costs and health insurance costs have skyrocketed in this country over the last 50 years, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that hospitals and healthcare providers have to charge more to make up the difference for those without health insurance and the fact that preventative care is a lot cheaper than last resort care.

A doctor's office visit may cost you a hundred bucks, and if you need a prescription a few dollars more, but emergency room care when your little problem has turned into a big one costs thousands.  And, if you don't have insurance, guess who pays for that?  The people with insurance.

So ODS sufferers, let's try to do what a majority of Americans want to do with Obamacare, keep it and make it better.

Buzz did not take part in the preparation of this column, he is in Harrisburg lobbying for medical marijuana use in Pennsylvania in hopes of curing his cannaphobia.

See an interesting article with a bunch of facts on the American healthcare system. Why change? The US has the 37th best health care system in the world.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Obama not the first to use comedy to promote his agenda

Millard Fillmore
There has been a lot of criticism on the right about Obama appearing with Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns in a comedy interview to promote Obamacare, even prompting Fox's Bill O'Reilly to say Abraham Lincoln wouldn't have done it.  Well, Bill, we think Lincoln would have done just about anything to save the Union, but Funny or Die wasn't around back then.

We had Buzz run some searches on the Univac 3000, and he found some interesting historical promotions by former Presidents.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford posed nude for a number of low circulation women's magazines in order to promote his WIN or Whip Inflation Now program.  His promotion included an eight page pictorial in the now defunct coupon magazine the Frugal Shopper.  Unfortunately, no copies of the November 15, 1975 edition of the magazine are still in existence.  Apparently, the late Katharine Hepburn purchased all the known remaining copies of the magazine in 1986, but it is not known whether she was a big fan of Jerry Ford or just a very frugal shopper.

Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, actually started a milk carton campaign, not dissimilar to the missing children campaign popularized in the 1980s.  Instead of children, Fillmore and members of his cabinet appeared on milk cartons, with the slogan "Have you seen this man?"  Fillmore discontinued the campaign when it turned out that Postmaster General Samuel D. Hubbard became the most popular milk carton, even surpassing Attorney General John J. Crittenden and himself.

Calvin Coolidge, a man generally regarded as our funniest American President, appeared in the early days of television on a variety show hosted by Henry Ford entitled Spot the Jew Among the Gentiles.  Ford realized the new medium of television would take off someday, but his antisemitic views greatly influenced his attempts at humor and programming.  Coolidge, not much of a campaign strategist didn't realize that there were fewer than 1000 television sets in the country, so his "Keep Cool with Coolidge" campaign failed in helping him secure a third term in the Oval Office.

Abraham Lincoln did in fact promote a "Save the Union" campaign in an early vaudeville act with then General Ulysses S. Grant.  Lincoln played straight man to the often hilarious and irreverent Grant.  The show had moderate success during some of the darker days of the Civil War, but the show fell apart after a performance in Nelson County, Kentucky, when Grant discovered the Jim Beam distillery.

And, finally, Thomas Jefferson, our third President appeared in public service pamphlets promoting abstinence with Sally Hemings.  The public service campaign was in response to a syphilis outbreak after Lewis and Clark returned from exploring the new lands of the Louisiana Purchase.  Jefferson was a widower at the time, so he posed for the pamphlet photo with one of his domestic servants.  The irony of choosing Hemings was that Jefferson fathered a number of children with Hemings.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Where have you gone Mr. Baker?

"What did the President know and when did he know it?" was the phrase that made Howard Baker famous.  The former Tennessee Senator, Chief of Staff, and Presidential candidate was a member of a Congressional committee when a real Presidential scandal took place.  

Today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is desperately trying to find a Watergate type scandal in the form of the IRS targeting conservative and Tea Party 501(c)(4) groups for extra scrutiny when they attempted to get tax exempt status as "social welfare" groups.  The problem for Issa is that his committee has spent almost a year investigating this "scandal," only to find that there was no scandal, just some bureaucratic mismanagement.

In addition to Issa not finding what he hoped for, the FBI concluded its investigation and said the actions of the IRS did not warrant criminal charges.using words such as "incompetent, flawed, lazy, confused, and mismanaged," the FBI concluded that no criminal charges would be pursued.  The investigation also did not find any link to President Obama or the White House.

If we want to see what a real IRS scandal looks like, we have to hearken back to the days of Senator Howard Baker in the 1970s.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. did an excellent piece for the Huffington Post, in which he outlines how a "real" President uses the IRS to harass his enemies. In Obama and Nixon: A Historical Perspective, Kennedy summarizes some of the Nixon excesses.

"On September 27, 1970, Nixon ordered Haldeman to get the IRS to investigate my Uncle Ted who was then the presumed frontrunner in the 1972 presidential contest, sharing the field with Edmond Muskie and Hubert Humphrey who Nixon also ordered audited."

This certainly answers Howard's question as to what the President knew and when did he know it, as does the following.

"On October 6, 1971, Nixon ordered Haldeman to have the IRS audit Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler who had transformed the Times from a right wing rag into a universally respected paper by recruiting top journalists from across the nation. Chandler and his very large family were close friends of my family and had spent the summer prior to my father's death running the Colorado River with us. "I want Otis Chandler's income tax," Nixon told Haldeman. Nixon then called his Attorney General and former law partner, John Mitchel, and ordered Mitchel to fire the Los Angeles Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "The fellow out there in the Immigration Services is a kike by the name of Rosenberg." The President explained to Mitchel, "He is to be out." Fulminating on, Nixon told Mitchel, "I want you to direct the most trusted person you have in the Immigration Service to look at all the activities of the Los Angeles Times... let me explain as a Californian, I know everybody in California hires them... Otis Chandler... I want him checked with regard to his gardener. I understand he is a wetback. Is that clear?" When the Attorney General replied, "Yes, sir." Nixon crowed triumphantly, "We're going after the Chandlers! Every one, individually and collectively, their income taxes... every one of those sons of bitches."

Now that's a scandal!!  Nixon may be long gone, but his utter disregard for the law ("When the President does it, that means it's not illegal") is what makes a Presidential scandal. 

Obama can't even hold a candle to Nixon when it comes to arrogance and disregard for the law.  Obama's truthful answers to Baker's multi-part question just aren't Nixonian.  "What did the President know?"  Nothing.  "When did he know it?"  When he saw it in press reports.  Nixon would send someone to Congress to lie about what HE knew and Nixon never read anything in the news, because he hated everyone in the press.  (Although, if he were alive today, bet you he'd be tuned in to Fox News.)

For those of you who say, "well, he should have known," we have news for you.  If you assign an obligation on the President to know what every low to mid level career, non-political civil servant  is doing, you have a gross misconception of what the Presidency is all about. 

Nixon never would have left to chance or relied on a low level guy in the IRS to implement his vendettas.  He gets the Attorney General or his Chief of Staff  to lean on the head of an agency and pass them an envelope with the exacts names, addresses, and social security numbers of the people he wants to screw.  

Since it is apparently in vogue for some conservatives (see Rudy's man crush on Putin) to praise a thug and strongman like Vlad Putin, maybe it's time they can look back admirably at Richard Nixon, and say "C'mon Obama if you had any real balls, you woulda called up the IRS yourself and told them to put the thumb screws on your enemies.  Why don't you just go back to wearing your "mom" jeans and throwing like a girl on opening day of baseball season."

Let's get a guy like Nixon back in the White House, so 88 year old Howard Baker can make a cameo appearance at some Congressional committee and famously ask, for one last time, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

OVC Oscar picks

Buzz and I have been hard at work screening movies in the back of the ole VW Microbus, and with the help of the Univac 3000, we are ready to make some fearless predictions.

The 86th Annual Academy Awards will air live from the Thomas Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday night on ABC starting at 7pm EST.  Why a Hollywood theater would choose to name itself after a washed up British musician from the 1980s is beyond me, but Buzz is looking into it.

Best Picture

Since 2009, the Academy has been nominating up to 10 movies for best picture.  Up until that time, and since way back in the early days of the awards, they only nominated five, so that probably explains why none of the Police Academy movies were ever nominated.  They were on the cusp, so they didn't make it in the days of only five nominations.  I guess it also explains the Steve Guttenberg snubs.

This year nine pictures were nominated (again if Police Academy 8 were released last year, we're sure there would have been ten nominees.)  The nominees are "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena," "12 Years a Slave," and "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"American Hustle" is loosely based on the late 1970s early 1980s ABSCAM sting operation, wherein the FBI tried to entrap a number of politicians by using a convicted con artist to hook politicians up with a phony "Arab Sheikh" in order for the Skeikh to bribe the politicians to receive political favors. Clearly the best part of this movie is Amy Adams in her revealing 1970s outfits, and her acting aint that bad either.  We also loved Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito

"Captain Phillips" is the story of an American container ship that gets hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa.This is also based on a true story, although from what we understand although Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips is a warm, caring, sympathetic character, the real Captain Phillips was a bit of an ass.  You know how this movie is gonna end even if you don't remember it from the headlines of a few years ago.  It's all over when you hear the call for the Navy Seals.  Kick ass, pirates dead, Captain Phillips safe.  But even though you know it's coming, the climactic scene still blows you away.

"Dallas Buyers Club" is also based on a true story.  It follows the life of a rodeo star Ron Woodruf, portrayed by Matthew McConaughey after he is diagnosed with AIDS in the mid 1980s.  Woodruf is basically told that he's gonna be dead in 30 days, so he seeks treatment in Mexico and ends up surviving and controlling his illness.  He then sets up a "buyers club" where he sells smuggled drugs in from Mexico to help treat AIDS patients who have given up on the American Medical system.  He battles with the FDA and American doctors, but his smuggled drugs work better than the traditional hospital treatments at the time.

"Gravity" is a 90 minute space odyssey which is about 80 minutes too long.  Although the concept is kinda kool and the cinematography is really good, how long do you really want to watch Sandra Bullock "lost in space."

"Her" is a movie Joaquin Phoenix plays a dork who works in a place where he writes romantic "letters for hire."  This first class nerd falls in love with a sexy voiced (Scarlett Johansson) computer operating system.  Yes, that is really that plot.  Although the movie does have it's endearing moments, it's hard to get over the really stupid storyline.

"Nebraska" is the story of an old man's (Bruce Dern) quest for a million dollar sweepstakes prize.  The Montana guy has to get to Nebraska to claim the prize he thinks he won, which he didn't.  Buzz and I have agreed that the only way we would travel to Nebraska was to claim a million dollar plus prize, but we'd be damn sure it really existed before we gassed up the Micro bus.  We had considered going there to see Johnny Carson's birthplace, but then found out he was really born in Iowa.

"Philomena," contrary to popular belief is not just the name you make up to tease your little brother Phil when you were in grade school, but it actually is a movie starring Judi Dench.  It follows her quest to find her child who she gave up for adoption to the local convent.  She begins that search 50 years after she gave up the child.  This is also based on a true story.

"12 Years a Slave" is based on a biographical novel of a free African American man who lives in Saratoga, New York in the 1840s.  He gets hoodwinked into traveling to Washington, D.C., where he ends up being kidnapped and sold into slavery.  The story is compelling and dramatizes the evils of an institution which ruled in the Southern states for hundreds of years.  As the title implies, there is a happy ending.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is Martin Scorsese's latest movie.  Its stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, an unscrupulous stock broker who lives a lavish and extravagant lifestyle in the 1990s.  Belfort, who is alive and well today, was the consummate salesman who ended up doing some time in federal prison.  He crosses the line numerous times in this story of gratuitous sex and excess.

After watching the movies and running the numbers through the Univac 3000, we came up with different results in a number of the categories, so we're gonna list who Buzz and I believe should win and who the Univac 3000 says will win.

Which movie should take home the best picture Oscar:  Buzz and I narrowed it down to "American Hustle," "Dallas Buyers Club," "12 Years a Slave," and "The Wolf of Wall Street."  "Her" and "Gravity" are entertaining, but really aren't Best Picture material.  For Buzz and me, the Oscar goes to "12 Years a Slave." The Univac 3000 agrees:   "12 Years a Slave."

Best Actor:  Leo has come a long way since being the "Oliver" on "Growing Pains." Wish we could say the same about Robbie Rist (the true Oliver.)  Leo does a hell of a job in The Wolf, just as he did in "The Aviator" and "J. Edgar."  Bruce Dern really isn't acting, because Bruce Dern really is a confused old man.  Christian should get courage credits for showing off his gut and that horrendous haircut, but tht doesn't get you enough points to win.  Chiwetel Ejlofor's name is just too hard to pronounce to get a win.  Matthew McConaughey really deserves the Oscar for this one.  He probably deserves a Oscar for the weight he lost just to play the role. Should win:  Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club"  Univac 3000 picks Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Actress:  What can we say to Meryl, but "this aint your year."  Come on, you already won a Oscar two years ago after a 19 year drought.  We'll see you at the victory podium around 2030.  Sandra Bullock was excellent in "The Blind Side," for which she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2010, but just because she's on screen in "Gravity" 98.6 percent of the time, doesn't mean a best actress nod.  Judi Dench, we love you but if the didn't give you an award for the Bond movies, they aint gonna give you one now.  That leaves Cate and Amy. Should win:  Amy Adams for "American Hustle"  Univac 3000 picks Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine"

Best Supporting Actor: We loved Jonah Hill, but this aint his year.  Bradley Cooper was very good, but nope.  We don't really remember who Michael Fassbender played.  Barkhad Adbi, Bradley Cooper, and Jared Leto all put in tremendous performances, but Leto really shined in "Dallas Buyers Club" and deserves the award, despite Adbi being an early favorite. Should win:  Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club"  Univac 3000 picks Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Supporting Actress:  The early favorite was Jennifer Lawrence, in a role we didn't particularly like, but Lupita Nyong'o has picked up steam, and we agree.  Sally Hawkins, Julia Roberts, and June Squibb are also nominated. Should win:  Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years a Slave"  Univac 3000 picks Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years a Slave"

Best Director:  Sixty two times out of eighty five the best movie and best director have matched up.  It should happen that way again this year, but it probably won't.  We thought Steve McQueen died in 1980, but apparently this director is a different guy.  David O. Russell and Alexander Payne were nominated to fill out the category.  We believe that Alfonso Cuaron was a filler, too, because as we said before, this was a 90 minute movie that was 80 minutes too long.  About Martin Sorcese, what can we say.  He is excellent and deserves to win, but he won't.  Should win: Martin Sorcese "The Wolf of Wall Street"  Univac 3000 picks Alfonso Cuaron "Gravity"  (Get those circuits checked on the Univac, Buzz.

Don't look for us on the red carpet.  Buzz and I never go, because we really don't like all the attention.  Judi Dench offered us some tickets this year and wanted Buzz to be her escort, but Buzz said he wasn't going without me.  I'm still waiting for my invite from Amy Adams.