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The Pennsylvania Progressive

Ryan Costello and the NRA: A Perfect Fit

by: John Morgan

Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 11:32:23 AM EDT

A new school year has begun in Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District.  Children and teachers across the Commonwealth arrived for the year excited with anticipation of a safe, nurturing educational environment.  This is all a charade however as no new gun safety legislation has passed since the Sandy Hook massacre December 14, 2012.  Since then I count 54 school shootings (not including suicides) on school or college campuses.  Will your child be next?  Will your spouse, sibling, cousin or neighbor be the next teacher, principal, counselor or administrator gunned down?

One thing that I know for sure:  this school year will see Americans gunned down while at school.  What will Ryan Costello do as a Member of Congress representing the Sixth should he be elected in November?  Would he support Sen. Toomey's watered down proposal which died because of Tea Party opposition fueled by NRA money?  Even that weak legislation failed.

The NRA has given Costello $4950 thus far for his campaign.  Costello bragged about attending a gun rights rally in Harrisburg while at a taxpayer funded trip to the County Commissioners Association of PA meeting.  His record of giving generous contracts to Chester County firms supporting his campaigns tells us he has a serious penchant for pay to play.  With the NRA supporting his Congressional campaign so strongly the answer to the above is obvious:  you and your children are not safe at Pennsylvania campuses if Ryan Costello is in Washington.

The Second Amendment is clear:  unless one is a member of "a well regulated militia" (e.g. the national Guard) one has no gun rights.  There is nothing on Commissioner Costello's bios, facebook pages or campaign literature showing he is a member of the National Guard.

Be fearful for our children and our educators should this man be elected to Congress.  How many more children must die before we do something?

The Trivedi campaign issued this statement this week about Costello's pay to play record:

RYAN COSTELLO GIVES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN CONTRACTS TO HIS CAMPAIGN DONOR

WEST CHESTER, Pa - During a regularly scheduled meeting of the board of County Commissioners, Chairman Ryan Costello continued to reward his political donors with million dollar contracts.

Even though Chairman Costello has only served as a county commissioner for a little over 2 1/2 years, up until today he has awarded $15.3 million in county contracts to his political donors. But then in his largest demonstration of a pay-to-play operation, during today's meeting Mr. Costello awarded a contract in excess of $14 million to one of the largest contributors to his congressional campaign.

The congressional campaign of Manan Trivedi pointed to this type of political payback system as one of the highest forms of unethical governance.

"It is clear that in a very short amount of time as commissioner, Ryan Costello has played politics as usual by doling out millions upon millions of dollars in contracts to his political donors," said Trivedi spokesperson, Daren Berringer. "With the culture of corruption being what it is in Washington these days, Ryan Costello would fit in nicely, but voters in the 6th District deserve better from their next representative. Manan Trivedi has pledged to fight for stronger restrictions on lobbying because he believes members of Congress should serve their constituents, not the deep pocketed donors that fund their campaigns."

To mark today's meeting, the Chester County Democratic Party held an event outside of the County Courthouse in order to present Costello with a giant check. The check was to symbolize the amount in which Mr. Costello was selling out Chester County taxpayers for his own political gain.

To date, Mr. Costello has awarded close to $29.6 million in contracts to those who have helped to line his political coffers.

With this record of corruption towards his contributors it is safe to assume he'll vote the NRA line while in Congress.

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Travelogue 2014 Part 1

by: John Morgan

Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 13:05:57 PM EDT

We left Pennsylvania July 27th on an odyssey.  Going to Santa Fe the longer way we spent seven days traversing Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas before crossing into New Mexico.  It was only about a hundred miles longer than taking I-70 but much more scenic.  The first day was strictly driving between Reading and Asheville, North Carolina.  Monday was spent touring the Biltmore estate, the lavish mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II, scion of the great Robber Baron Cornelius Vanderbilt.  At 250 rooms and 65 fireplaces it is an ode to excess.  This is how the 1% spend the wealth produced by the sweat of your labor.

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The next day we drove to Nashville and toured President Andrew Jackson's old cotton plantation The Hermitage.  This sprawling land was worked by slaves whose labor enriched the early President and his family.  These two days were an object lesson in how the 1% exploits the 99%.

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That evening was one of the highlights of the entire trip:  a visit to the Grand Ole Opry.  I'm not a country music fan but I thoroughly enjoyed the show.  Numerous singers and bands played three songs apiece including The Charlie Daniels Band doing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."  Then Little Big Town took the stage and brought down the house.  Afterwards we had a backstage tour and I got my picture taken standing on the Circle.

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Music Row:

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We drove down Music Row listening to the music emanating from all the nightspots and saw young people milling all about.  The following morning we went to Nashville's full size rendition of The Parthenon and then had lunch at the famous Loveless Cafe.  Frequently featured on both the Food and Travel Channels they're famous for their biscuits.  I can't say they were much better than the ones we had for free at out hotel breakfasts.  By far the best biscuits we had were at Brother Junipers in Memphis.  Their barbecue was delicious however.

The Parthenon replica in Nashville:

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We did drive to Memphis and stayed at the worst hotel ever.  This Comfort Inn near the airport has owners who don't believe in either cleanliness or maintenance.  After three tries we finally found a somewhat acceptable room.  The second one had a sofa bed which not only hadn't been stripped of its dirty sheets someone's under garments were still in it.  Relatives of the owner were living in the room across the hall.

One room (of two) filled with gold and platinum record awards:

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Afraid to eat anything in a facility whose public areas were a disgrace we had breakfast at Brother Junipers.  Best meal we had on the trip.  Graceland exceeded my expectations.  Folks had warned me it wasn't grand like the Biltmore or The hermitage (for its time) but I really enjoyed the tour.  The home and grounds are still as they were when Elvis died in August 1977.

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We then drove to western Arkansas on the Oklahoma border but not before a brief stop at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.  Built to simulate a bridge (the Bridge tot he 21st Century) next to the Arkansas River, it is filled with documents and memorabilia of the Nineties.  I met a woman in the gift shop who has known Bill Clinton for 39 years.  I met the President when he was in Reading campaigning for Hillary in 2008.

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The Oklahoma City Memorial is a testament to the 168 people killed in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing.  Tastefully done, it is a very moving tribute.

Cadillac Ranch:

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After brief stops at the Cadillac Ranch and Tucumcari NM ( a town still rich in lore from old Route 66) we rolled into Santa Fe.  The second leg of the trip took us into Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

Tucumcari:

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A few selfies and a game:  where am I?

1.

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2

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3.

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4.

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5.

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6.

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7.

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8.

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9.

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House Committee: No Benghazi Scandal

by: John Morgan

Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 11:07:14 AM EDT

by Walter Brasch

The House Select Committee on Intelligence, following almost a two-year intense investigation, unanimously determined there is no basis for what has become known as the Benghazi Scandal.

The Committee consists of 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

The pretend-scandal began Sept. 11, 2012, when terrorists raided the U.S. consulate, and killed the ambassador and three others.

Although there was confusion, and the Obama administration didn't have all the facts when it began to inform the American people about the events and the causes, there was no evidence of anything even remotely linked to a scandal. However, as expected, the blathering mouths of the Extreme Right Wing media pundits and politicians, and those who blindly parrot their "talking points" in bars, on front porches, and hunting lodges, kept caterwauling about scandal.

Among the findings of the House Committee, all of which conflict with the manufactured propaganda by the Extreme Right Wing:

     --There was no stand-down order given to any personnel-military or civilian-who tried to assist. This information is consistent with testimony provided to the House Armed Services Committee.  In contrast, immediate response by the United States prevented additional injuries and deaths.

     --Although Intelligence agencies were warned about a possible threat, there was no advance knowledge of what was planned.

     -- The Extreme Right Wing attacked Ambassador Susan Rice for her initial reports, possibly worried that President Obama would nominate her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was planning to leave the Administration after more than four years.

     --Although there was a lack of coordination between the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, and the White House, the Obama Administration did not deliberately mislead the American people. Committee Member Adam Schiff said evidence suggests, "The initial talking points provided by the Intelligence Community were flawed because of conflicting assessments, not an intention to deceive." As new information became available, the Administration informed the people.

--All activities by the CIA were legal and authorized.

     --There was no illegal activity or illegal arms trading that allowed any weapons provided by the U.S. to get into the hands of the terrorists.

Now, here is also what is known.

     --In contrast to Extreme Right Wing allegations that the Obama Administration has done nothing to find those who killed the four Americans, the person believed to have been the leader of the attacks, Ahmed Abu Khattalah, is in federal custody, awaiting trial. The United States has identified and is conducting operations to bring other terrorists to trial.

     --Ambassador Christopher Stevens five months before the attack had requested additional military security. However, his request was denied. The reason? The Republican-led obstructionist Congress had earlier refused to fund additional personnel and budget for embassy and consulate security.

     --During the George W. Bush administration, terrorists killed 60 personnel in 10 separate attacks at U.S. consulates and embassies. There were no outraged Republicans.
Within a week of the seventh anniversary of 9/11, terrorists killed 16 at the U.S. embassy in Yemen. Americans grieved but did not launch a barrage of lies and half-truths, nor try to politicize the deaths of the 60 Americans.

     --The Extreme Right Wing, apparently worried that Hillary Clinton would become the leading candidate for president, has willfully and maliciously attacked her leadership during this crisis, hoping to tarnish her reputation and reduce the possibility she will become the nation's first female president.

Given the reality that a thorough investigation by a Republican-led House committee shows there is no scandal, you'd expect the rest of the House to drop its $3.3 million investigation that they increased for political purposes months before the November mid-term elections.

You'd also expect Fox News empty heads who have been screeching "scandal!" almost 24/7 for two years to either admit they were wrong or to just shut up.

You'd expect that. But, you won't get it in an atmosphere fueled by hate and prejudice.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the health, environmental, economic, and political issues of horizontal fracturing .]

 

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AIDS Advances May be Compromised by Legislative Inaction

by: John Morgan

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:49:27 AM EDT

by Walter Brasch

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entry-way to the cure for AIDS.

Once the HIV virus enters the body it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS.  But, until now, it could never be removed.

It's far too early to claim an AIDS cure-there still has to be several years of clinical trials- but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.

There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people not the politics.

Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can't get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.

Two hours west of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to "save" about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the other clinics. Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd of 50 states in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking upon the people's health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people's health and their environment.

More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the Act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows the Act has led to better health care and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn't get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage, and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates.

Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fourteen "red" states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything that President Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.) However, the rabid Right Wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled, and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by Right Wing politicians could better be spent on funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, numerous forms of cancers, and dozens of other life-threatening diseases.
This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It's already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior-high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation's homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.

Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call "fact-finding tours." These tours often find facts in tropical island nations.  And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members of Congress don't even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.

It's just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities.

Dr. Brasch's latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, economic, and political effects from fracking.]
 

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Packing Heat in the Brothers' 'Hood

by: John Morgan

Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 17:23:01 PM EDT

Note:  I'll be heading out to Santa Fe, NM Sunday morning until September 10th.  John

by Walter Brasch

A group of white gun-rights advocates plan to sling rifles, shotguns, and semi-automatic assault weapons onto their bodies, and walk through a Black neighborhood in Houston.

What could possibly go wrong with that?!

The march through Houston's Fifth Ward is planned for August 16 to "educate" Texans about their rights to openly carry firearms.

To deflect criticism that the march is racially-insensitive, the testosterone-enhanced group, apparently with straight faces to hide its freeze-dried minds, says all it wants is for racial equality.

It says because the state charges $250 for a gun permit, it unfairly discriminates against Blacks who have twice the poverty rate as Whites, and that's why the Whites are going to march in a Black neighborhood.

Not only are these civil rights leaders going to "help" the Blacks, they even found a Black to march with them.

That Black is Maurice Muhammad, who believes it's acceptable to kill police officers, and who has openly called for a race war in the country.

The leader of the march is C.J. Grisham, who won't be carrying a concealed weapon. Whatever he carries will be out in the open. That's because he has a criminal record that forbids him from carrying a concealed weapon. His conviction stems from an incident in 2013 when he carried an AR-15 on an urban hike with his teenage son-because, you never know when a herd of feral kittens will attack you. His hike occurred not far from Fort Hood where, in 2009, an Army officer launched an assault that left 13 dead and 30 wounded.

A police officer stopped Grisham; he resisted. In Texas, it's legal to openly carry semi-automatic assault weapons; it is not legal to resist arrest and attack police officers.

Grisham was so upset that his most sacred of all rights-the right to openly be stupid-was violated that he created Open Carry Texas. A jury later found him guilty of interfering with the duties of a police officer. He was fined $2,000, the maximum penalty.

Between arrest and conviction, he and his newly-formed posse decided that because Texas allows the open display of weapons of semi-mass destruction they would just go to a few department stores and restaurants, carrying their big boy toys. As expected, customers panicked, and store managers asked them not to take their guns to town. Naturally, CJ and his hole-in-the-head gang had to explain their rights under Texas law, leading to headlines and a PR disaster. A couple of months later, because sometimes it takes awhile to realize the implications of mental derangement, OCT announced it wouldn't unleash its arsenal on Chuckie Cheese. Grisham told the Dallas News the reason was because "the gun-control extremists had hijacked our photos, and it was taking away from the focus of our mission."

Apparently, Grisham didn't mind terrorizing Texas citizens; he did mind that liberals had pictures of what he was doing. Nevertheless, for those who miss being terrorized by nimrods showing off their phallic symbols, they can just show up at the Almeda or Galleria malls near Houston every Saturday morning.

Grisham continued his somewhat uncivil protest at a Veteran's Day celebration at the state capitol in Austin. The Texas legislature and the executive branch oppose all them gal-dang lib'ral gun control freaks who cite statistics like how the more than 330,000 Americans were killed in the first decade of the 21st century, more than 20 times greater than all the deaths in 22 countries that are closest to the U.S. in wealth and population. They dismiss statistics that reveal there is a 22 times greater possibility of death by firearms if a home has a gun as opposed to one that doesn't have a gun. They sneer at the facts there are more pre-school children are killed by guns than police officers killed in the line of duty.

These heavily-lobbied legislators believe everyone has a constitutional right to carry and shoot off their mouths or someone else's legs. But, they also believe there shouldn't be any guns in the Texas capitol. It's a survival issue-if the press, visiting school children, and cantankerous legislators all had guns, within a few months there would have to be new elections to replace those who gave their lives for the cause of gun rights advocacy.

The cost to taxpayers of interim elections is a problem for a state that has willingly accepted being under siege by the Tea Party whackadoodle brigade whose mantra of "no guvmint; no taxes" is its justification for whatever it's trying to justify.

Grisham was politely told three times by police to remove his handgun; three times he explained, in a way that family newspapers can't reproduce exactly, how he had his rights. Grisham is now trying to convince the Texas legislature that openly carrying handguns, just like in the Wild West, is also the citizens' rights.

Would there be the same level of Second Amendment concern if a Black or Hispanic gang strapped on weapons and marched through white suburbia- just peaceful-like, y'know. Just to help educate the folk about the right to carry guns.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall view of the health, environmental, political, and economic issues.]

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Obama Executive Order Will Expedite Infrastructure Initiatives

by: John Morgan

Thu Jul 17, 2014 at 19:21:55 PM EDT

I sat in traffic on I-95 outside Wilmington, DE this afternoon following a short address by President Obama where he signed an Executive Order at the Port of Wilmington.  The Order creates a new federal "Build America Investment Initiative promoting public-private partnerships (PPP's) for infrastructure improvements nationwide.  He chose the Port because it afforded him the backdrop of a closed I-495 bridge which currently is closed to traffic.  Hence the back-up I was in on 95.

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The bridge, which carries 90,000 vehicles a day is causing headaches in Northern Delaware as the bypass around Wilmington is forcing those 90,000 cars and trucks onto regular I-95 instead.  This is the major east coast north/south artery and all I could do was sit there after visiting Capriotti's sandwich shop on Route 141 for a sub after the event.  The sub shop is opposite the Delaware Air National Guard field where Air Force One landed and took off.  One perk of being Barack Obama these days is that he didn't have to get stuck on I-95's traffic as he traveled on to New York for some evening fund raisers.  I did see three Secret Service men in Capriotti's getting nourishment, likely clued in to the place by the Vice President.  POTUS had lunch at The Charcoal Pit on Concord Pike before heading to the Port of Wilmington.  That is one of the VP's favorite haunts, as it was for my grandparents who resided in Wilmington.

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The new federal initiative announced this afternoon is designed to improve communications and smooth planning for PPP projects in transportation.  Congress has stalled in passing a new, comprehensive transportation bill, something that usually is filled with tons of pork for home Congressional Districts.  When the late Congressmen Shuster (the present one's father) was Chair of the House Transportation Committee he used the bill to build a four lane highway to his home in south Central Pennsylvania.  Others have used it to build highways that greatly enriched properties they owned.  Such is the nature of our democratic system.  Delawareans just want their bridge fixed and re-opened.

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The I-495 bridge was closed a bit over a month ago after tons and tons of soil dumped there by a contractor destabilized the bridge supports.  Workers are jacking up the bridge and shoring things up so it doesn't collapse under the weight of those 90,000 vehicles per day.

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The video:

From the White House:

Today, the President will deliver remarks at the Port of Wilmington in front of the I-495 Bridge in Delaware. With 90,000 cars moving over it per day before repairs began, this bridge is a key example of the importance of infrastructure, which keeps the economy moving, spurs innovation, and bolsters our national competitiveness. At the port - and in this Year of Action - the President will announce a new executive action to create the Build America Investment Initiative, a government-wide initiative to increase infrastructure investment and economic growth. As part of the Initiative, the Administration is launching the Build America Transportation Investment Center - housed at the Department of Transportation - to serve as a one-stop shop for cities and states seeking to use innovative financing and partnerships with the private sector to support transportation infrastructure.

The President's visit and announcement today are a part of the Administration's continued push to highlight the importance of investing in our nation's infrastructure so that we can build on the progress our economy is making by creating jobs and expanding opportunity for all hardworking Americans. The steps announced today continue the momentum the President has made using his executive authority - his pen and phone - to invest in modernizing our infrastructure, including speeding up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects to create more jobs.

The President supports the steps that Congress is taking in the short-term to avoid a lapse in the Highway Trust Fund, and he will continue to push for long-term solutions for our nation's infrastructure and the American economy.

***

Investing in a 21st century American infrastructure is an important part of the President's plan to build on the progress our economy is making by creating jobs and expanding opportunity for all hardworking Americans.  Modern and efficient infrastructure - whether moving goods to our harbors and ports or connecting people to services or gigabits to our offices and homes - helps small businesses to expand, manufacturers to export, investors to bring jobs to our shores, and lowers prices for goods and services for American families.

The President has been very clear that we need to do more to improve our infrastructure in order to create jobs, provide certainty to states and communities, help American businesses, and grow our economy.  He has put forth a long-term proposal that would do just that and pay for it by closing unfair tax loopholes and making commonsense reforms to our business tax system, while providing the certainty of reliable federal funding to states and communities.

And while the President is encouraged that Congress is heeding these calls by taking action in the short-term to prevent transportation projects across the country from grinding to a halt, the President will continue to act on his own to promote American economic growth where there is need or opportunity.  And right now, there is a real opportunity to put private capital to work in revitalizing U.S. infrastructure.

That is why today, the President will sign a Presidential Memorandum to launch the Build America Investment Initiative, a government-wide initiative to increase infrastructure investment and economic growth by engaging with state and local governments and private sector investors to encourage collaboration, expand the market for public-private partnerships (PPPs) and put federal credit programs to greater use.  Starting with the transportation sector, this initiative will harness the potential of private capital to complement government funding.

Ø  As part of the Initiative, the Administration is launching the Build America Transportation Investment Center:  Housed at the Department of Transportation, this center will serve as a one-stop shop for state and local governments, public and private developers and investors seeking to utilize innovative financing strategies for transportation infrastructure projects.  Additional details are below.

Ø  Build America Interagency Working Group: To expand and increase private investment and collaboration in infrastructure beyond the transportation sector, a federal inter-agency working group, co-chaired by Cabinet Secretaries Lew and Foxx, will do a focused review with the best and the brightest from the public and private sector.  This group will work with state and local governments, project developers, investors and others to address barriers to private investments and partnerships in areas including municipal water, ports, harbors, broadband, and the electrical grid. The effort will include a particular focus on improving coordination to accelerate financing and completion of projects of regional and national significance, particularly those that cross state boundaries.

Ø  Infrastructure Investment Summit:  As part of the drive toward innovative infrastructure solutions and to highlight the opportunities for infrastructure investment, the Treasury Department will host a summit on Infrastructure Investment in the U.S. on September 9, 2014.  This session will bring together leading project developers and institutional investors with state and local officials and their Federal counterparts, and will focus on innovative financing approaches to infrastructure, and highlight other resources that support project development.

***

Build America Transportation Investment Center: Housed at the Department of Transportation, this center will serve as a one-stop shop for state and local governments, public and private developers and investors seeking to utilize innovative financing strategies for transportation infrastructure projects. This center will provide:

Ø  'Navigator Service' for the Public and Private Sector: Through hands-on support, advice and expertise, the center will make DOT credit programs more understandable and accessible to states and local governments and leverage both public and private funding to support ambitious projects.  The center will also provide private sector developers and infrastructure investors with tools and resources to identify and execute successful PPPs.

Ø  Improved Access to DOT Credit Programs: The center will encourage awareness and efficient use of existing resources at the Department, including the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.  TIFIA provides long-term, flexible financing to highway and transit projects that feature dedicated revenue sources.  Each dollar of Federal TIFIA funding can support about $10 in loans, loan guarantees or lines of credit.  In many cases, the lower cost of capital and flexible terms offered by TIFIA are critical factors in determining whether a PPP is a viable and cost-effective option for a project. The center will also focus on the use of key DOT programs including the Private Activity Bond program (PABs), and the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF).

Ø  Technical Assistance: The center will share best practices from states that are leading the way on private investment to states that have not yet adopted innovative financing strategies, encouraging a more robust national market. Today, the top six states for PPPs have nearly two-thirds the value of all U.S. PPP projects. Twenty states have no PPPs in transportation at all. The center will provide technical assistance to help remove barriers to ensure the public and private sector can come together to complete projects that make sense. Through a website and on-demand technical assistance, the center will provide information about DOT credit programs, case studies of successful projects and examples of deal structures, standard operating procedures for PPP projects and analytical toolkits. It will also help interested investors better understand how DOT credit and grant programs can be used together to support project development.

Ø  Information to Reduce Uncertainty and Delays: The center will work in partnership with the interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement center to provide visibility for local and state governments, project sponsors and investors on the permitting process.

Case Studies and Additional Background

The Build America Investment Initiative taps into the opportunity to increase the pipeline of effective public-private-partnerships and other innovative financing mechanisms:

Ø  High Demand: Institutional investors, both domestic and international, recognize the strength of our economy and want to invest in America. In 2013, the U.S. was the top destination for foreign direct investment with over $230 billion.  The global investment community has over $83 trillion dollars with a growing appetite for infrastructure. That is potentially hundreds of billions of dollars to fund the building of U.S. public-private infrastructure.

Ø  Proven Approaches: Some states and communities have established successful PPPs and have developed strong institutional knowledge of how these projects are best structured and managed.  Expanding that know-how to other states has the potential to increase the flow of capital by tens of billions of dollars over the next few years. Today, for example, the top five states in PPPs have nearly twice the per-capita value of projects as the next 20 best states - and if those states caught up, it could mean up to $30 billion worth of infrastructure projects.

Building on Models of Success: Some states and localities across the country have developed successful track records utilizing PPPs and other innovative financing approaches for infrastructure projects.  The Build America Transportation Investment center will use the lessons-learned from these leaders to help other communities and private project sponsors understand and better use federal financing programs and to structure deals that incorporate best practices and avoid pitfalls.

THE GROW AMERICA ACT      

The Highway Trust Fund - which funds a significant portion of the construction and capital repairs of our surface transportation system - is projected to be insolvent by the end of the summer barring Congressional action.  In addition to preventing the Trust Fund from expiring in the short term, the President has clear that we need long-term action and predictable funding to provide certainty to states and communities, help American businesses, and grow our economy.

Ø  In spring 2014, President Obama transmitted to Congress his vision for a long-term solution.  The GROW AMERICA Act, a $302 billion, four-year transportation reauthorization proposal provides increased and stable funding for our nation's highways, bridges, transit, and rail systems, ends the cycle of short-term, manufactured funding crises and builds confidence in the public and private sector.

Ø  The Administration's proposal is funded by supplementing current revenues with $150 billion in one-time transition revenue from pro-growth business tax reform.  In other words, the President's proposal is fully paid for without increasing the deficit. The President's proposal will also keep the Trust Fund solvent for four years and increase investments to meet the transportation priorities and economic needs of communities across the country.

Ø  The proposal also contains a series of legislative proposals to improve the return on transportation spending and improve safety, including a title on improving project delivery, and the federal permitting and regulatory review process.

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Passing Gas to the Consumer

by: John Morgan

Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 06:53:42 AM EDT

by Walter Brasch

Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.

Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five-BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell-earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it's hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.

"We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That's long enough," President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51-47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.

For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.

This year, the oil companies blamed ISIS, a recently-formed terroristic fringe group composed primarily of Sunni Muslims, who have opposed Shia Muslims for more than 14 centuries. Think of the Protestant-Catholic wars in Ireland. Because ISIS was laying a path of destruction through Iraq, the oil companies found it convenient to declare that oil shipments were threatened, and then raise prices, salivating at their good fortune that terrorists had come to their financial assistance during the Summer holidays.

However, because the oil companies have laid a thick propaganda shield upon the America people to make them believe that fracking the environment and destroying public health, while yielding only temporary job growth, will lead to less dependence upon the Arab nations and lower costs to Americans, the Industry has to come up with some excuses to drill the taxpayers.

Through deft journalistic intrigue and a lifetime of investigative reporting, I was able to obtain insider information from the ultra secret Gas and Oil Unified Greedy Excuse Maker sub-committee (GOUGEM). I have not been able to verify the transcript, but in the developing tradition of 21st century journalism, that doesn't really matter.

"We have a problem," declared the GOUGEM Grand Caliph "We have run out of excuses. Last year, we had to find excuses not only for the Summer vacations, but also to justify our surreptitious funding of the Benghazi investigation."

"There must be a hundred different ways to nail Obama for this year's increase," declared the Sunoco representative.

"What if we claim that Obamacare caused gas prices to go up for ambulances," said a newly-appointed representative from the Hess Corp.

"Tried it last year, but we couldn't get much traction," said the Grand Caliph. "Only Fox, Limbaugh, and some guy broadcasting through a tin cup from his room at Bellevue picked it up."

"Afghanistan!"  shouted the Marathon representative. "We've gotten good mileage from blaming the war for the cost of gas."

"Yeah," said the Tesoro rep sarcastically, "while we've been reaping enough excessive profits to build a water park at every one of our executives' McMansions. I'm afraid the American people after 13 years have finally caught on to that scam."

"If not Iraq and Afghanistan," how about a new war? We invade Switzerland," the ConocoPhillips rep suggested, "and claim we're protecting the world from weapons of mass Swiss Army Knives. Every Republican and a few Democrats will back us on that."

"It only works if there's oil in Switzerland," said the Shell rep, "and since we haven't developed the technology to frack the Matterhorn, we'll have to find another reason to raise gas prices."

The BP rep suggested that the oil companies claim gas price increases were necessary because the price of Dawn detergent, used to clean oil-slicked marine mammals, went up.
The Chevron  rep said they could blame the Treasury Department for their underhanded tactics in locating the companies' tax-free stash in the Caymans.  "How could anyone complain about us needing more income to pay our lawyers?" she declared.

The Valero rep wanted to blame the Veterans Administration. "We say we had to wait so long to get permission to raise gas prices that we had to do it ourselves," he brightly said, and tagged that suggestion with the explanation that the companies could then claim they were being self-sufficient and not dependent upon the government. "The conservatives will love us," he righteously declared.

After a few moments of idle chatter, something committees have perfected, the Exxon Mobil rep spoke up. "We don't need an excuse."

"You been inhaling too many fumes?" the Shell rep asked.

"Slip on a grease spot in one of your garages?" asked the Murphy Oil rep.

"We've always had an excuse," the Shell rep whined. "Without an excuse, the motorist might not buy our gas."

"Oh, they'll buy," said the Exxon Mobil rep confidently. "We've bought out and eliminated most of the alternative fuel sources, public transportation is in the pits, and no one walks. That leaves cars, and they all run on what we decide they run on."

"So what's your point?" asked the BP representative.

"It's as simple as 1-2-3," the Exxon representative stated. "One. We're Big Business. Two. We've already bought the Republican-controlled Congress. Three. We don't need to justify anything."

By unanimous agreement, the gas bag cartel declared there would be a 10-cent a gallon hike by the end of Summer-and no excuse.

[Dr. Brasch's latest books are the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel; and Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health, environmental, economic, and political effects of horizontal fracturing.]

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Gasbag Signs Smoke and Mirrors Budget

by: John Morgan

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 08:52:27 AM EDT

Gov. Corbett finally singed the budget pushed through by Republican majorities in the House and Senate though he showed his innate ability to tick off his own Party members by using his line item veto generously.  Gov. Gasbag cut funding for the legislature as a message that he wasn't happy they hadn't gutted state worker and teacher pensions.

When conservatives use the word "reform" they actually mean "eliminate."  That's what pension reform does and the Guv's plan actually would have cost taxpayers more in the long run while gutting the retirements of thousands of Pennsylvanians.  These pensions were negotiated in good faith by unions in lieu of higher wages.  The Commonwealth refused to adequately fund them (as required by law) until it has become a crisis situation.  Corbett's solution was to simply screw these workers.  A new 401(K) system would just result in higher salaries and other benefits for school districts as teachers sought to recoup these lost wages.  Meanwhile the current system would still have to be funded, somehow, along with the new one.  That would wind up costing more than if we simply funded the current pensions as required by the contracts to which we agreed.

The Governor gave the finger (literally and proverbially) to the State House and Senate by cutting its budget significantly.  No need to worry though since they're sitting on over $150 million in unused prior appropriations.  Heaven help the House and Senate have to do what every other state agency has had to since 2008:  do more with less.

Other items cut in the line item veto gut funding for state parks, medical assistance, lobbying disclosure, gun checks and other important functions of state government.

This is already a smoke and mirrors budget because it depends on one time sources of income which won't exist.  The Pennsylvania constitution requires a balanced budget but we didn't have one this year.  Because of Corbett's vast mismanagement of the state economy, at a time when the national economy is doing well, has resulted in significantly decreased revenues.  He cut corporate taxes and refused to close loopholes.  Jobs aren't being created and we're losing hundreds of millions in potential tax revenues of natural gas extraction.  We still don't tax smokeless tobacco for instance.

This is not a balanced budget because the state liquor store system is not going to be privatized. Corbett didn't have the votes for that in this session or last and he certainly won't get any cooperation from the House and Senate after cutting their own budgets.  This clueless blonde has never learned from his mistakes and refuses to develop any relations with the state legislature even though it is controlled by his own Party.  In a way we're fortunate he's so incompetent because a lot of potential damage to the citizenry was avoided due to his incompetence.

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The Post Office Isn't a Dead Letter

by: John Morgan

Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 14:11:01 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

     Unless your life is centered upon an iPhone, an iPad, and an iEverything else, there is a possibility you may have actually bought a postage stamp, written a letter, and mailed it.
     Contrary to popular opinion, snail-mail isn't dead. Every day, the U.S. Postal Service handles about 660 million pieces of mail, and delivers them to about 140 million homes, businesses, and government offices.
     However, there are a lot of people who wish the Postal Service was a dead letter. Here's some of their claims-and the truth.
     They claim the Postal Service is a burden upon us hard-working taxpayers.
     Here's the truth. The Postal Service is a quasi-government agency that doesn't take taxpayer funds.
     They claim the Postal Service is losing money.
     Here's the truth. That's only because Congress in 2006 made it pre-fund health and pension benefits for 75 years. No other government agency or private company is required to do that. As a result, the Postal Service spends about $5.5 billion a year to meet an unreasonable demand by Congress. Last year, the Postal Service lost about $5 billion. Do the math.
     Here's another reality. The Postal Service has made innumerable changes to improve its financial situation. It laid off 28,000 workers-layoffs are something the right wing loves. But, the Postal Service also wanted to close 3,700 smaller offices to save even more money. That's when Congress got its panties in a knot, and squelched any attempt to close and consolidate rural offices or have larger nearby offices absorb them. After all, you can't close a rural local Postal Service in a Congressional district where the member of Congress has the need to get votes for re-election. That's also why Congress had a collective stroke when the Postal Service adeptly outfoxed it by laying out a plan to cut about $2 billion of costs a year by cutting Saturday service, except for certain services, including delivery of medicines and express mail. Congress, which has spent most of the past six years gazing at their navels and then became blinded by staring into TV lights, didn't want any of that nonsense and protested, forcing the Postal Service to reverse its proposed Saturday schedule.
     The Postal Service has also proposed saving about $4.5 billion a year by stopping door-to-door delivery to about 35 million homes, and replacing it with a more efficient delivery to curbside mail boxes or clusters, such as what exist in apartment buildings. While saving money, there would be a huge disconnect that goes well beyond finances. The average homeowner, even if complaining about the Postal Service for any of a few dozen valid reasons,  usually respects the individual letter carrier who stops by daily, has a brief chat, and moves on to another house. Letter carriers also provide a service few other public servants can-they notice things. If a door is wide open and no one is at home, they may call police; if the resident is always on the porch when the mail is delivered or if mail piles up for two days, the letter carrier might also call police, just in case the resident had a medical emergency. There can be no price too high for the vigilance and the camaraderie these unionized governmental employees provide.
     Nevertheless, the right-wing claims the entire Postal Service staff are overpaid, from your local letter carrier to the postmaster general, who earns about $276,840 a year, significantly below the salary of any CEO with similar responsibilities. The Tea Party-"Don't Tread on Me Cuz We're Rabid"-mob thinks everyone in government service is overpaid. Pick apart the scab that is the right-wing, and you learn they want to turn the Postal Service into a private enterprise without those pesky unions that help assure workers have fair wages, benefits, grievance rights and, most important, decent working conditions.
     Under a private enterprise system, it's quite possible the cost would no longer be upon only those who buy postage and other Postal Service services, but also upon those who receive mail. Persons who live in isolated and rural areas may have to pay larger fees than those in urban areas to receive mail. A private enterprise might increase its profits by accepting advertising-do you want an ad smeared onto your first class letter?-and "donations" from corporations to expedite certain mail to certain individuals. A private corporation, such as what some of the right-wing propose, would probably be more concerned with shareholder dividends than customer service. To maximize profits, the executive staff might resort to another private enterprise way to maximize profits by outsourcing the mail delivery to exploited workers in a third world nation.
     Although the Constitution mandates a lower postal rate for publications, which the Founding Fathers believed was necessary to further the spread of information, the private corporation or corporations that slice up the delivery of mail might even go as far as to want to repeal that Constitutional clause; after all, second class media mail isn't all that profitable and, far more important, the semi-literates who yell for privatization probably don't think there's a need for all them lib'ral left wing propaganda pieces, like Time and Forbes anyhow.
     The Whackadoodle Wing, which has a morbid fear of anything that wasn't created in the previous century, ironically cackles that the Postal Service is behind the times, that it falls well behind the technology of FedEx, UPS, and Ma Hoggworth's All You Can Eat Diner and Firearms Exchange. The truth is the Postal Service, after lagging behind private industry, has upgraded and modernized its technology, and is adapting to the loss of first class mail revenue, which has been declining for the past decade because mankind took a bite of the Apple.
     Nevertheless, no matter how much efficiency and technology the Postal Service implements in the next decade, it will never match what happened in 1775. That's the year Ben Franklin became the first postmaster general and created what, at that time, was the most efficient system in the world for delivering mail.
     If Franklin could see the country today, he would make a few suggestions to improve the Postal Service that others may not have thought about, but would probably approve what his creation had become. He would also recall the pettiness and politically-based lies that enveloped the Dark Ages of the early 19th century American politics, and might shed a tear of how far political pettiness and hatred had developed in the past decade.

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Education Advocates Continue Capitol Sit In

by: John Morgan

Mon Jun 30, 2014 at 18:01:18 PM EDT

Public schools in Pennsylvania have lost over $2.5 billion in revenues since Tom Corbett became Governor.  A billion of this was due to his budget cuts and another $1.5 billion has been lost to charter schools.  Charter schools do not have any oversight, regulation or state controls.  Several charter school owners are under investigation or indictment for fraud and embezzelment and charter school students do not have to take PSSA tests.  Teachers don't have to be certified and cyber charter schools which have drastically lower costs get the same amount of funding per student as brick and mortar public schools are suffocating our public education system.

Education advocates are fed up and have been conducting a sit-in at the Capitol since last week.  Over the weekend they were on the steps out front while the building was closed.  House Republicans have passed a smoke and mirrors budget which isn't balanced because it relies on revenues which won't exist.  The Governor is holding public school students and teachers hostage to his demands that the budget gut teacher pensions.

Pensions have been a negotiated part of teacher compensation plans and school districts have contracted to pay these in lieu of higher wages.  Remember that teachers are substantially underpaid for college graduates (and many have advanced degrees).  These fixed rate pensions have offset some of that wage gap.  The state has neglected to fund these pensions for years and now that the piper is come calling the Governor's solution is to cheat these public service sector workers.  Worse, his solution will only cause higher pension costs down the road. To fund two separate pension systems at once and having to eventually pay vast amounts to the old system as new teachers stop paying into it will be disastrous for future budgets.

The same for Corbett's demand to privatize the state store system.. In return for a one time infusion of cash (which would be far lower than he projects) the state will then lose half a billion dollars every year thereafter.  That is the profit these stores earn for us annually and which goes straight into the general fund.  That lost half billion will only make future budgets harder to balance and force tax increases.  This is especially tough for those of us who don't drink.  Why should I pay higher taxes rather than have those who do drink contribute profits voluntarily?

Neither idea has the votes to pass the legislature so the Governor is trying to force them through.  His bad economic management has resulted in sharply reduced tax revenues already, for cing this $1.5 billion hole in this year's budget.  Interestingly that corresponds directly tot he $1.5 billion in corporate tax cuts he gave out supposedly to create jobs.  This Republican myth that tax cuts create jobs is outright stupid.  All date shows the opposite.  In Corbett's case his tax cuts for business have resulted in Pennsylvania sinking to 49th in the nation in job creation since he took office.

Let's balance the budget the easy way:  repeal those tax cuts, add an extraction tax on natural gas to fund education and let's restore services for the disabled by taxing smokeless tobacco and e cigarettes and ending the 1% of sales tax business get to keep.  In this day of electronic bookkeeping and electronic funds transfers businesses don't have expenses related to remitting sales taxes.  Closing the Delaware Loophole too would make the state flush.

These education advocates sitting in are getting attention but can they stop this ridiculous budget from going through?  We'll see but meanwhile think seriously about whom you'll vote for this November.  Governor Wolf also needs a good legislature with which to work for the next four years so we can right this ship before it sinks.  

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Radical SCOTUS Eviscerates Our Rights

by: John Morgan

Mon Jun 30, 2014 at 17:26:18 PM EDT

The radical right control of the Supreme Court turned the nation sharply right again today with its two final decisions of the term.  Both 5-4 votes they eviscerated more of our rights.  In the Hobby Lobby case they determined that closely held companies have the right to impose their extreme religious beliefs on their employees health care coverage.  The small, family owned stores decided they didn't want to comply with the ACA mandate that their health care cover their employees birth control.  99% of all American women use birth control at some point in their lives.  Many use it because they could die if they get pregnant.  Women have been dying during birth since the dawn of man.  It isn't a matter of choice for these women, it means life or death.

The Supreme Court decided today that their right to life is trumped by their employer's radical religious agenda.  This opens all sorts of slippery slope consequences as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent.  If your employer in such a company doesn't believe in immunizations, blood transfusions or other common medical practices they now have the right to impose those beliefs on you, their employee.  Be very careful if your employer is a Christian Scientist:  they don't believe in medical care for anything.  These folks actually allow their children to die of common viruses rather than seek treatment.

Now, when you interview for a job you'd better ask hard questions about your potential employer's religious beliefs before accepting employment offers.  I imagine this decision will make it very hard for such companies to attract and keep good employees.  I certainly hope so.  The rest of us need to be sure never to transact business with them.

In the second case home health care workers represented by SEIU in Illinois sued because they want to freeload on the system by accepting the negotiated benefits the union gets for them without paying union dues in return.  SCOTUS said they don't.  This decision is a significant loss for unions.  These workers, who are earning higher wages because SEIU negotiated them now don't have to pay dues to SEIU in return for this largesse.  This makes them freeloaders.

Elections have consequences and who we elect President has a direct effect on our everyday lives due to such radical right wing decisions by five Supreme Court Justices.  Chief Justice John Roberts (GW Bush appointee), Samuel Alito (likewise GW Bush), Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Thomas have shoved the nation far rights with sweeping decisions the past few years.  Worse, the two GW Bush Justices are quite young and could serve for decades.  Scalia and Thomas are getting long in the tooth and we have to hope they either die soon or decide to retire.  That isn't likely until, if ever, a Republican gains the Oval Office again.  It is imperative to restore balance to the Court before these five drive America into third world status.  Or before a populist revolution takes their heads.  I'd be very fearful of that latter possibility if I were them or the Koch brothers.

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Senate Committee Says Pigeon Shoots are Animal Cruelty

by: John Morgan

Fri Jun 27, 2014 at 18:20:14 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

 HARRISBURG, Pa.--The Pennsylvania State senate may vote on a bill this week that will make it a first degree misdemeanor to kill a cat or dog "for the purpose of human consumption." The penalty is a fine of $1,000-$10,000 and a maximum imprisonment of five years. Attached to the bill is an amendment proposed by Rep. John Maher (R-Upper St. Clair) to finally end the decades-old practice of organized live pigeon shoots. The amendment was sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Willow Grove), the committee chair; and Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Chambersburg).
     Following a second reading on Friday, the bill was scheduled for a vote, Sunday evening, but was delayed because the Senate is still grappling with the 2014-2015 budget bills, due by July 1.
     The Judiciary committee, Thursday, had voted 9-5 for the amendment, and 10-4 to send the bill to the full Senate. Voting against the bill to ban killing and eating dogs and cats, and to ban pigeon shoots, were Sens. John H. Eichelberger Jr. (R-Hollidaysburg ), John R. Gordner (R-Berwick), Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), and Joseph B. Scarnati III (R-Brockway), the Senate president pro tempore. Gordner later claimed he voted against the bill because he objected to how the amendment was added at the "last minute." However, the amendment, following long-time Senate rules that have applied to legislation for decades, had been circulated to members at least 24 hours before the vote. In the committee meeting, Gordner did not speak out about what he considered to be a problem with "last minute" amendments, and quietly voted "no" on a voice vote. Sen. John C. Rafferty (R-Collegeville) had voted against the pigeon shoot amendment, but voted to send the full bill, with amendment, to the Senate. Also voting to send the bill to the Senate were all five Democrats and five of the nine Republicans.
     The vote to advance the bill came following a furious last-minute lobbying effort by the NRA, which has consistently supported pigeon shoots. The leadership, as opposed to most of the membership, wrongly believes that banning animal cruelty by guns is a "slippery slope" that not only violates the Second Amendment but will lead to gun control bans. Pennsylvania is the last state where pigeon shoots are legally held.
     "The Judiciary committee took the first step to ending this horrifying and cruel practice," says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who has been campaigning to end this practice for almost three decades. "The public favors replacing live pigeons as targets with clay pigeons," says Prescott, who does not oppose trap or skeet shoots.
     More than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to pigeon shoots, according to a statewide survey by the independent Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Co. About four-fifth of all residents say the practice is animal cruelty.
Organizers of this blood sport place pigeons-many of them emaciated-into small cages, and place people with 12-gauge shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded traps open, and the shooters open fire. Most of the birds are shot standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from those who pretend they are sportsmen.
     Even at close range, the shooters don't kill the birds. About three-fourths of them suffer a lingering death, according to data compiled by the HSUS. If the birds fall within the shooting range, teenagers will get the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, and usually stuff them into a barrel; some of the birds will slowly die from asphyxiation in the barrel.
     The teenagers and the clubs that sponsor the shoots consider the birds to be litter. Birds that do not fall on the shooting fields will fly into rivers, streams, and private property, to die a lingering and painful death. Most cannot be saved by HSUS animal rescue staff.
     At some of the shoots, as many as 5,000 birds will be killed or wounded. The remaining shoots, all in southeastern Pennsylvania, are also marked by an excess of drinking and illegal gambling, none of which is enforced by state police.
     Shoot organizers have also been accused, but never brought to trial, for assault and threats against civil protestors from SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), humane societies, and others. DAs in Berks and Bucks counties, adjacent to Philadelphia, have refused to pursue citations filed by humane police officers, who have charged individuals with animal cruelty.
     Pigeon shooting, despite what the NRA and the shoot organizers claim, is not a sport. The only time it was considered a sport was in the 1900 Olympics. Following that competition, the International Olympic Committee declared pigeon shooting was animal cruelty, and banned it from the Olympics.
     Most hunters agree that organized pigeon shoots are a scar upon legitimate hunting. The Pennsylvania Game Commission declared pigeon shoots not to be fair- chase hunting. The birds cannot be used for meat, nor are their feather useful for any commercial enterprise.
     For more than three decades, leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature, most of whom have received funds from the NRA political action committee, have blocked passage of previous bills to ban pigeon shoots. Tom Corbett, in his successful campaign for governor in 2010, received $4,500 in direct contributions and almost $390,000 in in-kind contributions from the NRA Political Victory Fund. The last time a free-standing vote came up was in the House in 1989.
     In addition to the Humane Society of the United States and SHARK, both of which the NRA calls radical extremist organizations, supporting the end of pigeon shoots are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
           [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author of 20 books, the most recent, Fracking Pennsylvania.]

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News & Notes June 25, 2014

by: John Morgan

Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 11:04:42 AM EDT

Pennsylvania isn't doing our part in preserving the Chesapeake Bay.  This vast estuary is a favorite for many in south central PA.  So much so the locals in northern Maryland refer to them as the "Pennsylvania Navy" coming down every weekend.  Now Sen. Toomey along with four Members of the PA Congressional delegation (including Rep. Scott Perry from the south central region) have signed on to a protest of new restrictions on pollution.  How shameful.

Tom Corbett is so disliked he can't even congratulate Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins without getting booed.

In the "not exactly a news flash" segment natural gas money is pouring into Gov. Gasbag's re-election campaign.  Of course that's why I nicknamed him that four years ago.

Fortunately there is one man willing to balance those scales a bit.

In other fracking news retired state Health Department workers claim the Corbett Administration silenced them about the health dangers of fracking.

"There was a list of buzzwords we had gotten," Stuck said. "There were some obvious ones like fracking, gas, soil contamination. There were probably 15 to 20 words and short phrases that were on this list. If anybody from the public called in and that was part of the conversation, we were not allowed to talk to them."

In yet more bad news for Corbett the Kane investigation into his management (as AG) of the Sandusky investigation revealed total incompetence.  Because the Attorney General's office essentially sat on the investigation for a couple of years more boys were molested.  A search warrant after the first complaint was filed and police began investigating the former coach would have revealed the extent of his behavior.  Though it was concluded that no evidence of political calculations were involved in the delays it was political because the delays were caused by his overtly political prosecutions of BonusGate.

I'm not saying those who used state resources for political efforts shouldn't have been prosecuted, they should have, but the manner in which Tom Corbett did it was very political.

President Obama finally took steps against Uganda for human rights violations against LGBT persons.  Certain Ugandan leaders are now barred from entering the U.S. and:

The Obama administration will also discontinue or redirect funds for programs with the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute. The White House also cancelled an American-sponsored "aviation exercise" in the East African country. -  

Sen. Toomey was also targeted by members of Keystone Progress recently:

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran beat his Tea Party challenger in a run off election yesterday.

The United Methodist Church reinstated the credentials of Pastor Frank Schaeffer of Lebanon.  The Appeals Court over ruled the trial outcome following Schaeffer's officiating at his son't gay marriage ceremony.

In other gay news Allegheny County has adjusted its benefits policy to cover same sex partners and spouses.

Isn't it interesting that almost all actual voter fraud is perpetrated by Republicans?  22 states have now restricted voting rights, mostly for Democratic voters, based on claims of widespread voter fraud.  Perhaps Wisconsin Gov. Scott walker should explain how his supporters cheated in his recall election.

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News and Notes June 23. 2014

by: John Morgan

Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 13:44:19 PM EDT

PA Dems re=elected Jim Burn to a four year term as Chair Saturday.  I've lost all respect for the man after he refused to step aside for Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf's choice.  Much as I dislike Katie McGinty and all the energy money she takes she was his choice to lead the Party in November's general election, a privilege most Governor candidates get to make.  I went kayaking instead of going to Camp Hill.  I'm sick and tired of being kicked out of Democratic Party "open" meetings while to give them coverage and get stories.  It's a waste of my time and money.

I've written about Social Security for years, always pointing out that it has nothing to do with the deficit.  In fact the federal government owes Social Security trillions of dollars, not the other way around.  Regardless Republicans have cut its budget to the extent that they're being forced to close offices.  Now many seniors will have to drive (if they can) longer distances to obtain benefits they've paid for over many years.

President Obama issued an Executive Order last week providing employment discrimination against LGBT persons by any federal contractor.  Kudos.

Now we have to pass an ENDA bill nationally and here in Pennsylvania.  No person should be evicted or refused service at a business due to their real or perceived sexual orientation.  From the ACLU:

House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression."

"Even after the historic achievement of marriage equality in Pennsylvania, the struggle for full equality is far from over," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "When Pennsylvanians go to work, they expect to be judged based on their performance.

"But LGBT workers in the commonwealth can still be fired simply for who they are. It is past time to pass this bill and bring a greater level of fairness in the workplace, in housing, and in public services."

The PHRA prohibits discrimination in employment, in housing, and in "public accommodations," such as restaurants and hotels. Seventeen states include legal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination laws, and four additional states include protections based on sexual orientation. In Pennsylvania, 34 municipalities have similar ordinances.

The legislation was introduced this legislative session with a record number of co-sponsors from both parties, with 96 co-sponsors in the state House and 25 in the state Senate. Meanwhile, polling again shows more than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians support this type of legal protection.

"The people of the commonwealth support fairness in daily life," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The public is leading the way for lawmakers on this issue."

HB 300 is currently in the House State Government Committee. SB 300 is in the Senate State Government Committee.

According to HHS the Affordable Care Act has saved 15,000 lives and $4 billion in health care spending:

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that new preliminary data show an overall nine percent decrease in hospital acquired conditions nationally during 2011 and 2012.  National reductions in adverse drug events, falls, infections, and other forms of hospital-induced harm are estimated to have prevented nearly 15,000 deaths in hospitals, avoided 560,000 patient injuries, and approximately $4 billion in health spending over the same period.

The Affordable Care Act is also helping reduce hospital readmissions.  After holding constant at 19 percent from 2007 to 2011 and decreasing to 18.5 percent in 2012, the Medicare all-cause 30-day readmission rate has further decreased to approximately 17.5 percent in 2013.  This translates into an 8 percent reduction in the rate and an estimated 150,000 fewer hospital readmissions among Medicare beneficiaries between January 2012 and December 2013.

These improvements reflect policies and an unprecedented public-private collaboration made possible by the Affordable Care Act.  The data demonstrates that hospitals and providers across the country are achieving reductions in hospital-induced harm experienced by patients.  These major strides in patient safety are a result of strong, diverse public-private partnerships and active engagement by patients and families, including efforts from the federal Partnership for Patients initiative and Hospital Engagement Networks, Quality Improvement Organizations, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration on Community Living, the Indian Health Service, and many others.

 

I don't understand how some folks who call themselves "pro life" can oppose laws which actually save lives.

The White House is hosting a summit today on working families.  Opening remarks this morning were from Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.  Other participants include SEIU, Claudia Goldin, Economics Professor at Harvard, the Center For American Progress, Rep. Martha Edwards of Maryland, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and closing remarks from the First Lady and Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America.

Meet The Press simply isn't  the show it used to be since David Gregory took over.  I won't even watch it any more.  Sunday he allowed Sen. Paul to repeat debunked lies about Benghazi without challenge.  Shameful journalism.

A scientific study confirms that liberals and atheists are smarter.  I suppose this explains why conservatives don't believe in science.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values.  The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years."
"Evolutionarily novel" preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess.  In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are "evolutionarily familiar."

Gov. Corbett says an on time state budget isn't likely to pass by June 30th.  For someone who has ballyhooed the fact he has passed a budget on time every year this is but one more black eye for the vulnerable sitting Governor.  I love the fact he spent $3 million in campaign ads this spring and moved his approval number all the way from 29% to 30%.  Interestingly the Guv has given $1.5 billion in corporate tax breaks intended to create jobs.  Our current fiscal deficit is $1.4 billion.  His tax breaks haven't created any jobs.  We rank 49th in the country in job creation so they obviously aren't working.  Instead of making the state budget worse by privatizing the Wine and Spirit Stores and gutting pensions let's simply repeal those tax cuts.

Meanwhile the Republican Governors Association made an illegal million dollar contribution towards Gov. gasbag's re-election in violation of Pennsylvania election law.  Sheldon Adelson gave the money despite the fact he owns the Sands Casino in Bethlehem.  Casino owners are barred from making political contributions in Pennsylvania.

Radiation from Fukushima continues polluting the Pacific Rim.  Tuna being caught are so radioactive they cannot be consumed.

Surprise, surprise, we're listed as the fifth most corrupt state.

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Hansen on the State Senate Ballot

by: John Morgan

Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 13:00:48 PM EDT

Write-in candidate Jack Hansen received 1506 votes for the 24th State Senate District in the election may 20th.  Now certified by all three counties (Bucks, Berks and Montgomery) encompassing the District, he is an official candidate.  Obtaining ballot status this way is more difficult than going through the normal nominating petition process.  It requires 500 write-in votes instead of going door to door (in freezing weather) and simply obtaining signatures.

Bob Mensch is the incumbent Senator there and he's a right wing mess.  Arrested a couple years ago for flashing a gun at another motorist on I-78 in Berks County in a road rage incident he showed his temper.  He didn't think the other driver was going fast enough.  The only thing which can be fast enough about Bob mensch is the thought of him out of office.

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