Chuck Berry and the Invention of Rock and Roll

In the mid-90s, when I was in my forties, a friend of mine, the late political theorist Jean Elshtain, came to deliver a talk at the university at which I was teaching and hung out for a few days at my house. We talked  gossiped, talked about politics and, as we frequently about music. At that time I was well into jazz and didn’t much listen to contemporary pop or what had become of rock music. But Jean was a still a rocker who loved Bruce, whose music I knew, and a bunch of others whose music was new to me. She asked me if I had been into jazz when I was a teenager. I said, “yes, but rock was what really moved me, then.” She seemed a little surprised. “Rock is the music of angry teenagers and I was an angry teenager,” I replied. I was thinking about … Continue reading

The Russian Connection? It’s Not a Distraction.

I see a lot of folks saying don’t get distracted by the Trump’s “craziness” and / or the investigations of his connection to Russia when the Republicans in Congress are about to pass a series of horrible pieces of legislation. It’s certainly important to keep fighting against all that legislation, especially, the attacks on the ACA and Medicaid which will lead to to thousands of premature deaths and enormous  suffering if they are successful. But… 1. That the President of the United State might have conspired with a foreign power to take power is not a distraction from more important issue. If Trump did what many suspect, he betrayed the core of political life, our republican form of government. Everything else we care about, including our freedom, the future of the earth, and economic justice depends on protecting that form of government. The mere possibility that Trump conspired with Russia … Continue reading

Is this the year Pa. resolves its perennial budget crisis?

Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, December 28, 2016. Many of us who write about budget politics have a keyboard shortcut to enter “Pennsylvanian Budget Crisis” into a document. Year after year, we write in December about the upcoming crisis and again in July (or sometimes far later) about how the crisis has been temporarily averted. It is crisis time again. But perhaps this is the year we can change the script. There are new ways to do something that has eluded us in the past – solve the crisis on a long-term basis without imposing harsher new taxes on working people and the middle class. Before coming to our long-term solution to the crisis, first a word about its dimension and cause. The Independent Fiscal Office has projected that the deficit for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, will be $500 million while the deficit for the next … Continue reading

Combine spending restraint with new revenue

Originally appeared in the Erie Times, December 28, 2016 Pennsylvania has been struggling with persistent budget deficits since the start of the Great Recession in 2008. And we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have been recommending a “balanced approach” to resolving the deficit from the beginning, one that combines restraint in spending with new revenues. But since 2010, under Govs. Tom Corbett and Tom Wolf, the General Assembly has adopted an unbalanced approach. Spending has gone down but revenues have gone down faster. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican governors, the state spent 4.7 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. During the Corbett years that fell to 4.3 percent as spending on education and human services were sharply cut. And while, thanks to Wolf, the state has been able to restore some of those cuts, spending in the last two years remains at the … Continue reading

Pennsylvania needs a fairer tax system

Originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 26, 2016 Our proposal would be more equitable while also helping to close the deficit Pennsylvania faces another budget crisis. The combined deficit for this year and next is roughly $3 billion. It’s time all Pennsylvanians — and especially the members of our General Assembly — recognize that recurrent budget crises won’t stop until we fix our upside-down tax system. Federal tax rates are higher for those with higher incomes than those with lower incomes. However, combined state and local taxes, because they rely on property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes that do not have steeply graduated rates, often tax those with low incomes at roughly the same percentage as those with high incomes. Pennsylvania is worse than most states on this score. It is one of what the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy calls the “terrible 10” when it comes … Continue reading

Time to fix our upside-down tax system

Originally published at the York Dispatch on December 23, 2016. Pennsylvania has been struggling with persistent budget deficits since the start of the Great Recession in 2008. And we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have been recommending a “balanced approach” to resolving the deficit from the beginning, one that combines restraint in spending with new revenues. But since 2010, under Gov. Tom Corbett and Gov. Tom Wolf, the General Assembly has adopted an unbalanced approach. Spending has gone down but revenues have gone down faster. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican governors, the state spent 4.7 percent of the state’s GDP. During the Corbett years, that fell to 4.3 percent as spending on education and human services were sharply cut. And while, thanks to Wolf, the state has been able to restore some of those cuts, spending in the last two years remains at the same level … Continue reading

The rich can take the hit—to fix the budget, they should pay their fair share.

Originally published at Penn-Live on December 23, 2016 Remember how Lucille Ball would work her way into some kind of predicament and then look around and wonder how she got there? That’s how our state legislators seem to look at the budget deficit we are stuck with right now. They are looking around wondering how the current Pennsylvania budget deficit, which approaches $3 billion for this year and next year together, happened. But it didn’t just happen. It was the product of a series of long-term and short-term decisions made by legislators, sometimes with the help of our governors. Let’s start, however, with what did not cause the budget deficit, because too many of our legislators, like Lucy, want to blame someone else for the mess they have made. Growth in state spending is not the cause of budget deficits. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican Governors, … Continue reading

For Hillary Clinton Without Tears

I’m going to try, one last time, to talk without rancor to those of you are thinking of voting for Stein or not voting at all instead of voting for Hillary Clinton. And let me start by saying that every activist I know who has played a role in actually changing public policy in a progressive direction is voting for Hillary. And that includes all of us who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. I know an awful lot of them. I know people have fought for civil rights laws; opposed the Vietnam War; made the Clean and Water Act possible; secured increases in the minimum wage; reformed health care; raised taxes on the rich; expanded funding for education at all levels: pre-k, K-12, higher education; enacted the tax soda; brought supermarkets into food deserts; expanded housing opportunity. We are all, without exception, voting for Hillary Clinton. Some of … Continue reading

Dorothy Stier 1930-2016

My mother came of age in a unique time for women. She went to college at the end of the World War II when, largely in response to the fear of unemployment on the return of servicemen from the war, women were being strongly encouraged to limit themselves to the role of homemaker. And that was perhaps especially true for college educated women. Working class women, even then, often had to work. But as the middle class expanded in the post-war years, the middle class idea of marriage became ever stronger. So women like my mother were encouraged by parents, like my grandparents, who tremendously valued education, to get a very good education. And they were then encouraged to stay at home with their children rather than enter the work world. Despite some appearances, my mother never really fit that mold. She worked almost her entire life. She was a telephone operator … Continue reading

New Data, Good News: Health Care

Most news is bad news. And political campaigns are more likely to flag what is wrong with our country than what is right with it. So, it’s not surprising that in the heat of a presidential election, we are more focused on what is wrong with our country than what is right with it. But as the federal government updates its statistics on income, poverty, and health care this week, we can take a moment to appreciate the good news—government at the federal and state level has been increasingly successful at encouraging prosperity. We start today with health care. The Affordable Care Act remains controversial and even those of us who support it recognize that further reforms are needed to guarantee that quality health care remains affordable to everyone. There can be little doubt that the ACA is working in Pennsylvania and beyond. Between those who bought health insurance on … Continue reading