Unanimous Resolution to End PA Gerrymandering

Map displaying the PA 7th Congressional District is a convoluted example of Gerrymandering.

Convoluted example of redistricting.

-by Kathy Haley, Founder, New Horizons Club 

The Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution calling on the State Legislature to enact redistricting reform in Pennsylvania. In a dramatic show of non-partisanship, Republican Commissioner Phil Rosenzweig managed amendments to the resolution and then moved it for a vote. Democrat Josh Grimes seconded. The 14 member Lower Merion Board of Commissioners, which is known for careful policy-making that is often emulated by other townships in the state, amended the resolution advanced by Fair Districts PA, adding the request that state legislators consider either a constitutional amendment or a legislative solution to end gerrymandering in PA. [Read more…]

Deciphering the Federal Budget

President Trump spoke about his budget plan in his wide ranging address to Congress last month. However, it is rare that Congress actually passes a budget (the last time was in 2015, and that was the first time in six years) and rarer still that the presidential framework made it through the process.

So, let’s take a look at what was proposed, where it falls apart, and then what the process actually involves. Go get a cup of coffee, you’re going to need it.

First, the good news. Appropriations come from Congress, not from the Executive branch.  Per the Origination clause in the Constitution, all appropriations bills must start in the House, although the Senate may concur and/or offer amendments. In real life, normally this leads to negotiations between the Chambers prior to anything being enacted. Thus, nothing is happening quickly. That means there is time to lobby your reps for things that matter to you.

Next, the massive increase in military spending. It’s pretty obvious from what Trump says about this being a “Nationalistic” budget and how we need to win wars, that he’s committed to getting a lot of Americans killed for no reason. To get the money through Congress would be a hard slog as we are a war-weary nation. Further, it would require 60 votes in the Senate (think: 8 Democrats) to remove the existing cap, and legislation to work around sequestration.  However, and this is the scary part, there is something called “overseas contingency operations” spending.  That’s how they fund war. And it is, de facto, a black hole of your tax dollars that don’t get accounted for in the budget. It’s a backdoor into funneling money to defense without having to deal with the caps.

But assuming that the increased defense funding would come via the budget process, there is still the need to make cuts to stay within the requirements of sequestration, and to go with the “spend a dollar, cut a dollar” logic that avoids ballooning the deficit.

So where does money go from the Federal budget? A great source for information is the National Priorities Project, which not only tracks this information, but provides a great deal of background to help people understand the process.

The budget  is divided into three parts: mandatory spending, discretionary spending, and interest on the debt. Approximately 65% is mandatory spending: While the Bannon Administration can make some cuts, today’s promise is that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will remain untouched, and assuming that Veteran’s Affairs will likewise be left alone means that only about 8% of the mandatory part of the budget can be touched, and that would encompass food, agriculture, transportation and “other.”  Likewise, it would be pure insanity to refuse to cover interest on the debt.

Source: National Priorities Project. Reprinted with permission.

So let’s take a look at discretionary spending, from whence the cuts would come. The chart on the left shows the 2015 numbers, the last year for which data is available.

The number for the military is about $54 billion.  The likeliest target is that orange “Government” pie piece in the lower part of the chart.  Cutting that pie piece will mean firing a lot of government workers. Will the administration really want to raise unemployment? Further, a lot of the money from Government, Education, Housing and Community, Energy and Environment, etc., goes to big companies with government contracts. Will they be willing to throw all those people out of work also?

You may be wondering how some things are both Mandatory and Discretionary spending. Take Social Security. The monies paid to recipients are mandatory, the employees that process those checks and do the rest of the work are considered discretionary. It will be difficult to keep the program operational if there is no one to run it.

President Trump spoke about cuts to the federal budget and criticized adding to the federal debt. Interesting factoid on that:

March 15 of 2017 will be a crucial data for all Americans on the planet. On this day, the debt ceiling “holiday” put together by Obama and Boehner expires. Moreover, the debt ceiling will freeze at US$20 trillion, which is the same number it is at today. From that point forward, no more debt can be created by the US economy. Considering the country burns through US$75bn worth of cash every month, the US may find itself out of tangible money by the Summer of 2017. Although it is unclear if this will happen, it is a rather troublesome idea. Source

Source: National Priorities Project. Reprinted with permission.

Another leg to this stool is where the money comes from that funds the Federal government. Yes, taxes is part of it, but what’s interesting is how much more money comes from individual taxpayers compared to corporations. People say that they pay too much in taxes, but most people pay a far lower rate for Federal taxes than they think they do. Honest. It’s the math. But you can see all income sources in the chart on the right.

Listen carefully when President Trump talks about the need to cut taxes: every plan I’ve seen from the GOP has included cuts for corporations (who are currently taxed at an effective rate about 10 – 15% of what they paid back in the 1950’s and 60’s when our economy was growing at a much faster rate than it is now) and the very wealthy, who also pay far less than they used to pay, viz effective rates.

One thing that Trump has mentioned is the “simplification” of the tax code, which would mean doing away with many tax breaks. One of the largest would be the home mortgage deduction. Think what that might do to the housing market. Hmm. The flat tax would, greatly extolled by failed presidential candidate Steve Forbes, mean that people would pay a flat percentage of their income. No deductions, no exemptions, but at a supposedly lower effective rate than people are paying now. Don’t believe it. The only way to keep this revenue neutral would be a VAT system, where taxes are paid at every step of a purchase from raw material to what is bought at the store.

As a final note, the speech to Congress is a Constitutional requirement. In most years, it’s called “The State of the Union” address, but when a president is in his first year, it’s called an address because normally the State of the Union looks back on the prior year, which is the previous administration. (Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.)

Hate Has no Home in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery. Photo: 6abc.

Philadelphia Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery. Photo: 6abc.

An anti-Semitic desecration of a cemetery has come to Philadelphia. The Mt. Carmel Cemetery in North East Philadelphia was vandalized with over 100 headstones were toppled. This is an empty act of cowardice, hatred, and stupidity. But more important than the acts of these thugs is the outpouring of love and support in our community. People joined at Mt. Carmel to witness the acts and begin the process of restoration. A vigil was held Sunday night in Narberth to express solidarity.

What you can do to demonstrate that “Hate Has no Home Here:”

Please donate what you can to aid in the cemetery restoration.

You can sign up to help clean up the cemetery. There will be a rally at Independence Mall on Thursday, March 2, at 12 pm.

Also, the Daarus Salaam Mosque in Tampa was burned this past Friday. Please make a donation to help the Islamic Society of New Tampa community rebuild.

hhnhh-sign-blue-original-curves-PRINTTogether we stand, a bit shaken but unbowed, committed to the values of love and unity that make our country great. No acts of domestic terrorism or hatred will dampen our commitment to each other and the country we love.

Never Again!

Never again.

Since early January, over 50 JCCs have received almost 70 anonymous bomb threats, forcing the evacuation of babies, children and staff in 26 states. Proliferating anti-Semitic acts are reported on an almost daily basis, including broken synagogue windows, as well as Swastikas defacing holy places of prayer, the New York subway and private Jewish properties. In a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, a Jewish cemetery was desecrated, with more than 100 headstones knocked over or broken.

Screenshot from an AP video of the desecrated Jewish cemetery in Missouri.

Screenshot from an AP video of the desecrated Jewish cemetery in Missouri.

What is wrong with this picture? Is this our new “normal,” and are we simply to adjust to and accept this frighteningly unacceptable reality? [Read more…]

Kellyanne Conway Struggles to Explain Handling of Flynn Scandal

by Jen Hayden of the Daily Kos

Speaking with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show,” White House deflector Kellyanne Conway struggled to get through an interview about why Donald Trump didn’t fire Michael Flynn the moment the Justice Department informed him that Michael Flynn had not been truthful about his comments to the Russian ambassador in December and was “potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.” In fact, that Flynn had been actively undermining President Obama as he levied new sanctions against Russia for their role in the U.S. elections. [Read more…]

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Responds to Ruling by Ninth Circuit

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision to uphold the suspension of President Trump’s immigration ban: [Read more…]

“You’re Fired!” Attorney General Sally Yates Removed for not Defending Immigrant Ban

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

President Trump has fired the head of the Justice Department for the second time in ten days. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for not supporting the Immigrant Ban. Earlier in the day she had sent a letter to her staff directing them not to defend in court the ban on immigrants.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had approved Trump’s immigration ban before he issued it on Friday. However Yates wrote that as head of the Justice Department she had a broader responsibility “to always seek justice and stand for what is right.” She went on to state that she is not convinced that the ban is lawful. [Read more…]

Anti-Trump Rallies

Protest Poster: "First they came for ..."

Protest Poster: “First they came for …”

Editor’s Note – Events are moving quickly. This initial story will be expanded on over time.

At Philadelphia International Airport and locations throughout the U.S., on Saturday and Sunday thousands of protestors demonstrated against President Trump’s ban on immigrants. There were frequent developments in Washington and the rest of the country as well.


Time Line, in Reverse Order


Tuesday, January 31st

Tuesday, 8 pm: Trump scheduled to announce his pick for the Supreme Court. This justice could be the crucial vote that decides the legality of Trump’s immigration ban.

Tuesday, Morning/Afternoon: Senate Democrats spoke at length about former Acting Attorney General Sally Yate’s courage in defying Trump. The Republican majority allowed them to speak, even though it delayed the vote to confirm Jeff Sessions as the new Attorney General. That vote is expected to take place on Wednesday, February 1.

Monday, January 30

Monday, Late evening: Yates is replaced by Dana Boente, who immediately reversed her directive. Meanwhile, Yates is still packing up her office after a 27 year career with the Justice Department.

Monday 9 pm: Attorney General Sally Yates has been fired for refusing to defend the ban. Earlier she had sent a letter to her staff explaining the she thought the ban was illegal and unjust. She wrote that the Justice Department would not defend the ban in court. [Read more…]

The Fraudulent Voter Fraud Schadenfreude

The inaugurations of  Donald Trump, 2017 (left) and Barrack Obama, 2009 (right).

The inaugurations of Donald Trump, 2017 (left) and Barrack Obama, 2009 (right).

Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference centered on “alternative facts” about the attendance at Trump’s inauguration. There is no crime in having a sparsely attended inauguration. Lyndon B. Johnson had only 27 people on hand, including himself, yet that was sufficient for him to lead our country. Indeed Trump had a decent attendance at his inauguration by historical standards. However, to claim that this inauguration was the most well attended in history is simply counter-factual. Attendance was only one-third of Obama’s first inauguration. In fact, Clinton’s first inauguration, both of Obama’s inaugurations and the Women’s March on Washington all had higher attendance than Trump’s inauguration.

However, if Trump is consistent about one thing, it is inconsistency.

In the next press conference (referred to by the White House as the “first official press conference,” suggesting that the previous one somehow didn’t count), instead of re-litigating the inauguration, the administration decided to re-litigate the election. Although Trump won the electoral vote, his inability to win the popular vote remains a sore spot for him. [Read more…]