Government at its Most Irresponsible

More than a week ago the Pennsylvania state legislature passed a fiscal year 2018 budget and sent it to the state’s governor for his signature.  Pennsylvania’s fiscal year began on July 1.

The budget includes only a spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year.  What makes that unusual is that normally, government budgets detail both how money will be spent and how that money will be raised, but this budget excludes the latter.

That’s especially noteworthy in Pennsylvania because the state fiscal year that just ended on June 30 did so with a revenue shortfall of about $1 billion.  In other words, by the end of the state’s 2017 fiscal year, the Pennsylvania spent about a $1 billion more than it received in revenue.

Which is some serious shortfall.

Another reason the lack of a revenue plan is important:  because the 2018 budget the legislature just passed, based on taxation levels from the year that just ended, would leave the state just a little short of revenue to pay for its new fiscal year of spending.

How much short?

Somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion.

State legislators, though, thought it was more important to beat it out of town for the fourth of July weekend than it was to finish the job, so they said, in effect, “Don’t worry.  We’ll come back to the capital next week and finish the job by passing a bill with all of the revenue the state will need for the new fiscal year.”

Did that happen?

Would The Curmudgeon be writing about this if it had?

Of course it didn’t.  As a result, the situation today is that the legislature passed an unbalanced budget, in violation of the state’s constitution, and sent it to the governor to sign – as of this writing he hasn’t signed it yet – and hasn’t lived up to its promise to finish the job of deciding how to raise enough money to pay for the spending it authorized.

Leaving Pennsylvania with a revenue shortfall of somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion.

And if that’s not incredibly irresponsible then The Curmudgeon doesn’t know what is.

An Often Overlooked Challenge for Public Schools

While accompanying his mother on a visit to the ophthalmologist recently The Curmudgeon fell into casual conversation with the receptionist and discovered that she was raised not far from where mom currently lives.  Knowing the area, he thought he’d inquire about where she went to high school.

“Washington or Ryan?” he asked.  “Washington” is George Washington High School, not the school The Curmudgeon attended but close enough to where he grew up that he took his SATs there and performed, a few years before that, at a regional public school music festival (along with his entire fifth grade class, playing plastic flutes).  “Ryan” is Archbishop Ryan High School, a Catholic high school that serves the same general area.  In Philadelphia it’s always a mistake to assume someone attended public school.  Back when The Curmudgeon was of school age the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was reputed to operate the tenth-largest school district of any kind, public or private, in the entire country.

“Both,” the woman replied – and smiled.

The Curmudgeon immediately knew what she was saying.

“You were one of those, huh?” he asked.

She nodded.

What the woman was saying was that she attended Archbishop Ryan, the private school, until she was thrown out, at which point her family enrolled her at George Washington, the public school.

That’s part of one of the major, frequently overlooked challenges public schools face:  they don’t get to say “no thanks” to kids who pose special challenges.

In the case of the medical receptionist, it apparently was only bad behavior.  The Curmudgeon is familiar with this:  when he was in junior high school several boys entered his grade mid-year and we all knew they were neighborhood kids who had attended not the neighborhood’s public school but St. Matthew’s, the neighborhood’s Catholic school.

Until they were thrown out for misbehavior and became a problem for the neighborhood public school instead.

New mid-year classmates fell into three general categories:  classroom behavior problems, girls who had gotten pregnant, and kids who had gotten into some kind of trouble with the law.

There’s another reason kids leave private schools and enter public ones:  the 1973 federal law that assures children a “free appropriate public education” – a concept that took years to define and is still evolving but didn’t have much of an impact on what was going on in the classroom at the time of The Curmudgeon’s graduation from high school in 1975.  That law eventually sent a whole new stream of kids from private to public schools:  those who were more challenging to educate than the typical kid.

And costly, too.

So as the interpretation of that law started to take effect and take shape over the years, schools of all types learned they had students who would be more challenging to teach.  Serving them would take more teachers, more teachers with special training, special materials, special equipment – what many of us today know as “special education.”

A lot of schools and a lot of school systems didn’t much like this:  didn’t like the added cost, didn’t like the added work, didn’t like the added responsibility.  Public schools had no choice:  some of them are still kicking and screaming over this, forty-five years after the law passed, and still resist the costs, the work, and the responsibility and shirk them as much as they can, but in general, they understand that theirs is to do, not to question.

But non-public schools don’t feel that way.  Parochial and private schools, when they realize they have students with such special needs, are generally free to call the parents of those children and tell them to pick up their kids at the door because they’re no longer welcome.  Even Friends schools do such things.

Not very friendly, is it?

Charter schools funded by public money?  Well, they do special education, but inasmuch as pretty much anyone can teach at many charter schools, it’s hard to expect them to be good at much more than babysitting.

So for the most part, the vast majority of challenging students, and more expensive students, end up in public schools.  Some of those schools and some school districts do a better job of educating such children than others.  Smart parents often make decisions about where to live and raise their family – if they’re in a position to be selective – based on how well a town’s school district handles these special challenges.

The point here is that when people attempt to compare the effectiveness of public schools with that of charter schools, parochial schools, and private schools they often forget – or intentionally ignore – that those charter, parochial, and private schools either want nothing to do with students who pose special challenges and leave those challenges instead to public schools or don’t employ people really capable of serving those kids.  The people who run these schools – with the full support of their communities – throw up their hands and say “No way.  Stay away from us.”

And when people compare the cost of private, parochial, and charter schools to those of public schools they also overlook the extra financial challenges those public schools face every day after other schools turn tail and run away from them.

Like the woman at the doctor’s office.  She attended a pretty good Catholic high school, and when she acted out or did whatever she did, the neighborhood Catholic school kicked her out.  They couldn’t be bothered with her,

She became the neighborhood public school’s problem instead.

When we look at public schools and attempt to evaluate their effectiveness and their cost, we need to remember that:  they take on the challenges no one else wants and that no one else will even consider tackling.  They do a job that needs doing and that many others either refuse to do or intentionally do poorly.

Hey, Did You See the White House Press Conference the Other Day?

Oh, that’s right, of course you didn’t.

You couldn’t.

Nowadays, reporters are required to turn off their television cameras, they’re sometimes required to turn off their tape recorders, and favored reporters are invited to ask questions while reporters who might ask difficult questions are silenced.

“You should watch this video. I haven’t watched it, I don’t know if anything in it is true, but every American should watch it, take my word for it.”

Oh, and the press secretary urges all reporters and all Americans to watch a video created by a reporter who’s known for deceptive videos while admitting that she can’t even vouch for the accuracy of that video.

Welcome to the New World Order.  Contrary opinions will not be tolerated, questions will not be welcomed, dissent will be repressed.

The Latest in Vote Fraud Efforts

We may now have a better idea of what the president and Republicans had in mind when Agent Orange created his Commission on Election Integrity.

It looks like they’re going to try to figure out the best ways to interfere with the integrity of our elections.

How else to explain creating a commission to look into vote fraud that consists entirely of members of only one political party?

How else to explain why Kris Kobach, the leading proponent of voter ID laws in the entire country, is the guy calling the shots for that commission, which certainly reeks of “I’ve already made up my mind about this and the facts be damned”?

How else to explain why Kobach is still in charge of that commission even though a federal judge recently fined him for “presenting misleading arguments in a voting-related lawsuit”?

How else to explain why that commission asked the 50 states and the District of Columbia for extensive data on all of their registered voters:  not just routine stuff like our names, addresses, and date of birth but also our party affiliation, our felony conviction records, our voting history for the past ten years, our social security numbers, and our military service records?

What business do they have asking for our party registration?

What business do they have asking for our felony conviction records?

What business do they have knowing how often we choose (or choose not) to vote?

What business do they have knowing our social security numbers?

What business do they have asking about our military service records – and of what value could such information possibly be other than to create mayhem?

What business do they have even asking for such information?

The Curmudgeon is far from alone in raising these questions – and in replying that it’s none of their damn business.

As of yesterday, election officials in more than half the states have indicated that they either will not comply at all with the commission’s data request or will reply only partially, with data that is already publicly available. This isn’t, moreover, a partisan response:  among those who have rejected the request in some form are officials in the red-red Republican states of Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and – hold onto your ten-gallon hats, folks – Texas.  Also part of the resistance:  Kansas, Kris Kobach’s home state, and Indiana, home of vice president Mike Pence, the official head of the commission.  Officials in some states still haven’t decided.

Despite its alleged dedication to rooting out vote fraud, this commission is apparently not looking into what a lot of people think is a very real aspect of vote fraud:  how the Russians hacked into the election systems of 39 – 39! – states prior to the 2016 presidential election and determining what they may or may not have done.

Because this commission is apparently interested in looking only for vote fraud that may have hurt Republicans, not vote fraud that helped Republicans.

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the real purpose of this effort is to learn more about how states conduct their elections so that in the future, Republicans – the only ones involved in this commission and the only ones who will have complete access to everything it learns – will have a better idea of how to prevent those pesky minorities and poor people from voting.  In fact, cybersecurity experts believe that compiling such information in one place, combined with the commission’s pledge to make all of the information it collects publicly available, would be a bonanza for hackers, schemers, and criminals, increasing the vulnerability of our fellow Americans and endangering the integrity of the American electoral system.

Agent Orange, of course, couldn’t resist weighing in on this controversy – the man has no filter at all, not even the slightest inclination toward self-restraint – and tweeted that

Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?

Which is, of course, exactly the question many of us ask when he continues his ham-handed efforts to prevent federal investigators, including the special prosecutor, from figuring out what role the Russians may have played in his election to the presidency and whether he won that election with a little help from his friend-skis or they were just doing it on their own.

What are they trying to hide?  Turn that around:  What is he trying to hide?

And let’s look again at the president’s tweet:

Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?

Which also, of course, is exactly the question many of us ask when he continues to refuse to make public his tax returns.

What are they trying to hide?  Again, turn that around:  What is he trying to hide?



Happy Fourth of July!

Knobs ‘N Knockers

No, The Curmudgeon isn’t going all Donald Trump and Billy Bush on you.  There will be no references to grabbing, well, you know…

Just in case you thought The Curmudgeon was just making this up

Actually, “Knobs ‘N Knockers” is a store in the small Pennsylvania town of Lahaska.  The Curmudgeon and Mrs. Curmudgeon are redoing their kitchen, and while Lowe’s and Home Depot have a perfectly fine selection of kitchen cabinet drawer handles and door pulls and other decorative home hardware, it seemed prudent to explore all possibilities by visiting a store that specializes in such merchandise.

And specialize it certainly does:  The Curmudgeon hasn’t seen so many knobs and knockers in one place since…well, he promised he wouldn’t go there and he’s a man of his word.

Persistent Loons: The Anti-Vaccine People

Vaccines are good.  Not getting vaccines?  Bad.

Very bad.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming.  There’s not a shred of evidence, not even a scintilla (The Curmudgeon assumes a scintilla is smaller than a shred), that vaccines cause any harm – unless by “harm” you mean an absence of disease that harms the financial performance of the greedy health care industry.

Yet there persists in this country a lunatic fringe that associates vaccinations with all sorts of bad things, most notably autism.

And the lack of evidence of such a link does nothing to deter them.

Nor does the undeniable proof that vaccines are good for all of us.  (Full disclosure:  The Curmudgeon got a shingles vaccine about a year ago.  While you’re not necessarily encouraged to get one until you’re sixty years old, which The Curmudgeon most decidedly is not (at least not until later this year), his brother and two cousins have come down with shingles in recent years, none of them were anywhere near sixty at the time, and that was, in The Curmudgeon’s view, reason enough to get to the doctor for his shot.)

The Curmudgeon has written about vaccines before, including here and here, and he suspects he will again because this nonsense – and the people behind it – is just too good to ignore.

A lot of people have called public attention to this problem, most notably Jimmy Kimmel (well worth the five-minute video), and the latest is John Oliver, the Jon Stewart protégé who now has his own show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, on one of those cable networks for which you have to pay (which is why it gets no free plug from this blogger).  Oliver took on the anti-vaccine nuts last Sunday and was both entertaining and informative, and The Curmudgeon encourages you to give it a watch.  Find it here.



A Guide to Voting in Texas

Living in Texas?  Want to vote on election day?

Be ready with your voter ID because them thar Texans are serious about combatting that state’s long, long history of vote fraud.

None of which has ever been documented.

But Texans aren’t going to let a little thing like that get in their way.

So here’s the deal, especially for you young, educated ones.

Student ID card?

No go.  Won’t get you into a voting booth.

Gun permit?

Welcome to the polls, friend!

Only in Texas.


Surely He Didn’t

But surely, it turns out, he did.

The “he” is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, and what he did was ask the federal government for disaster aid after…

…it snowed in Pennsylvania…

…in March.

Yes, Governor Wolf, it snowed in March.  You know why?

Because it snows in March.

Happens every year in Pennsylvania.

And it did this March, too, in the northeastern part of the state – a place where, well, it often snows in March.  In fact, there are even ski resorts in this area.  They kinda like snow, want snow, even need snow.

But with a rare show of sound judgment the Trump administration rejected Wolf’s request for federal disaster aid, prompting Wolf to kvetch that

It’s unfortunate that the President didn’t grant our request for a declaration, and the citizens of northeast Pennsylvania will be the ones to suffer the financial impact of this decision.

Is he suggesting that the state and the nine counties for which he sought aid have no snow removal capabilities?  That their budgets don’t include money for snow removal?

Or that to cut corners the state and those counties skimped on snow removal money in their budgets?

Or is it just a matter of Pennsylvania’s governor and the heads of nine counties trying to con the federal government into paying for something that everyone in the state expects to happen many times every year?

Nice try, governor.  Now try growing yourself a pair.

In High Places, a New Enemy of Working People

On the high court, to be precise.

Catching up on his backlog of New Yorkers – he’s up to mid-April! – The Curmudgeon uncovered this unpleasant anecdote about then-Supreme Court nominee and now Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

His predilection for employers over employees is such that it yielded a circuit court opinion of almost Gothic cruelty.  When subzero temperatures caused a truck driver’s trailer brakes to freeze, he pulled over to the side of the road.  After waiting three hours for help to arrive, he began to lose feeling in his extremities, so he unhitched the cab from the trailer and drove to safety.  His employer fired him for abandoning company property.  The majority in the case called the dismissal unjustified, but Gorsuch said that the driver was in the wrong.

Working people who land in front of this guy are in deep s—

And this is the guy who, for the next thirty years or so, will be meting out justice through the highest court in the land.

Or injustice, it seems more likely.

He is certainly no friend to working people:  he quite literally expects us to risk life and limb(s) for our employers…or else.