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The Pennsylvania Progressive

Arsenic-Laced Coffee Good for You

by: John Morgan

Fri Sep 19, 2014 at 10:40:55 AM EDT

by Walter Brasch

You're sitting in your favorite restaurant one balmy September morning.

Your waitress brings a pot of coffee and a standard 5-ounce cup.

"Would you like cream and sugar with it?" she asks.

You drink your coffee black. And hot. You decline her offer.

"Would you like arsenic with it?" she asks.

Arsenic? You're baffled. And more than a little suspicious.

"It enhances the flavor," says your waitress.

"I really don't think I want arsenic," you say, now wondering why she's so cheerful.

"It really does enhance the flavor-and there's absolutely no harm in it," she says.

"But it's arsenic!" you reply. "That's rat poison. It can kill you."

"Only in large doses," she says. "I'll add just 150 drops to your coffee. It tastes good and won't harm you," she says, still as cheery as ever.

"But 150 drops is deadly!" you reply, looking around to see if you're on "Candid Camera." You're not, and she's serious.

"It's really nothing," she says, explaining that 150 drops, when mixed with five ounces of coffee is only 0.5 percent of the total. She explains that 99.5 percent of the coffee-about 2,800 drops-is still freshly-brewed coffee.

Ridiculous?

Of course it's ridiculous.

But the oil and gas industry want you to believe that 99.5 percent of all the fluids they shove into the earth to do horizontal fracturing, also known as fracking, is harmless. Just fresh river water. Move along. Nothing to see here.

As to the other half of one-percent? They tell you it's just food products. Table salt. Guar gum (used in ice cream and baked goods). Lemon juice. Nothing to worry about, they assure you.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, identified about 1,000 chemicals that the oil and gas industry uses in fracking operations, most of them carcinogens at the strengths they shove into the earth. Depending upon the geology of the area and other factors, the driller uses a combination of fluids-perhaps a couple of dozen at one well, a different couple of dozen at another well. But, because state legislatures have allowed the companies to invoke "trade secrets" protection, they don't have to identify which chemicals and in what strengths they use at each well. Even health professionals and those in emergency management aren't allowed to know the composition of the fluids-unless they sign non-disclosure statements. Patients and the public are still kept from the information.

What is known is that among the most common chemicals in fracking fluids, in addition to arsenic, are benzene, which can lead to leukemia and several cancers, reduce white blood cell production in bones, and cause genetic mutation; formaldehyde, which can cause leukemia and genetic and birth defects; hydrofluoric acid, which can cause genetic mutation and chronic lung disease, cause third degree burns, affect bone structure, the central nervous system, and cause cardiac arrest; nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which can cause pulmonary edema and heart disease; radon, which has strong links to lung cancer; and toluene, which in higher doses can produce nausea, muscle weakness, and memory and hearing loss.

Each well requires an average of three to eight million gallons of water for the first frack, depending upon the geology of the area. Energy companies drilling in the Pennsylvania part of the Marcellus Shale, the most productive of the nation's shales, use an average of 4.0-5.6 million gallons of water per frack. That's only an average. Seneca Resources needed almost 19 million gallons of water to frack a well in northeastern Pennsylvania in 2012; Encana Oil & Gas USA used more than 21 million gallons of water to frack one well in Michigan the following year. A well may be fracked several times (known as "restimulation"), but most fracking after the first one is usually not economical.

After the water, chemicals, and proppants (usually about 10,000 tons of silica sand) are shoved deep into the earth, most have to be brought back up. Flowback water, also known as wastewater, contains not just chemicals and elements that went into the earth, but elements that were undisturbed in the earth until the fracking process had begun. Among the elements that are often present in the flowback water are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and Radium, which decays into Radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic of all gases.
Wastewater is often stored in plastic-lined pits, some as large as an acre. These pits can leak, spilling the wastewater onto the ground and into streams. The waste water can also evaporate, eventually causing health problems of those living near the pits who can be exposed by inhaling the invisible toxic clouds or from absorbing it through their skin. In the eight years since drilling began in the Marcellus Shale, about 6.5 billion gallons of wastewater have been produced.

Many of the pits are now closed systems. But that doesn't prevent health problems. Trucks pick up the wastewater and transport it to injection wells that can be several hundred miles away. At any point in that journey, there can be leaks, especially if the truck is involved in a highway accident.

Assuming there are no accidents or spills, the trucks will unload flowback water into injection pits, shoving the toxic waste back into the ground, disturbing the earth and leading to what geologists now identify as human-induced earthquakes.

Now, let's go back to the industry's claim of innocence-that 99.5 percent of all fluids shoved into the earth are completely harmless. Assuming only five million gallons of pure river water are necessary for one frack at one well, that means at least 25,000 gallons are toxic.

Would you like cream and sugar with that?

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning social-issues journalist, is the author of 20 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster, an overall look at the economics, politics, health, and environmental effects of fracking.]

   

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News & Notes September 17, 2014

by: John Morgan

Wed Sep 17, 2014 at 10:12:13 AM EDT

I've been busy since my return from New Mexico.  You'd think it was campaign season or something.

The NFL is beset by scandal involving the violent dispositions of several star players.  How is it we're shocked that a violent game is played by violent men?  Our society celebrates their violence on the field then we're surprised that they can't turn it off when they're at home.  Still, there is no excuse or apology for hitting either a woman or a child and hitting a four year old with a stick is no worse than cold cocking a woman in an elevator.  We shouldn't need a video to be outraged by someone's behavior.

It's easy for misinformed people to jump to conclusions about those receiving entitlements.  The myth, for example, that folks on welfare are all drug addicts has been dispelled by expensive programs requiring them to be drug tested.  Not only do these tests violate their Fourth Amendment rights they show how very few welfare recipients actually use drugs.  Reality check:  people on welfare don't have the money to buy drugs.  This article is by a woman on food stamps who gets pre-judged.

Tom Wolf's ad explaining he'd pay for education by imposing an extraction tax on gas companies boils this race down to two key issues that Tom Corbett can't counter.  One simple ad and it dooms Gov. Gasbag.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC endorsed Wolf on Sunday.  It is spending a cool million this year on state races to remind women of Corbett's dismal record.  Just close your eyes and vote Wolf.

Speaking of the gas industry two recent reports support fracktivists claims.  The first has been misinterpreted to say that fracking isn't causing ground water contamination.  It says that methane is getting into water due to problems in the actual wells rather than from the explosive hydrofracturing process.  We know that half of all wells will fail at some point allowing methane to migrate into aquifers.  The fact it happens from well casing failures rather than the actual fracking is irrelevant because you cannot separate one from the other.  The other study shows the harmful health effects from fracking on people in close proximity to the gas wells.

The idea that teachers should carry guns was stupid on its face.  As we see guns going off accidentally in schools where the bad policy was enacted I have to wonder how long it'll be until a child is killed.  This horrible idea has no place in our schools Sen. White.

Seven of the 18 most expensive colleges are here in PA.  Topping the list are Pitt and Penn State.  As state government has slashed spending on higher education year after year this burden has shifted to students saddling them with massive student debt which will cripple our economy.  Adults burdened with tons of student debt will not be buying cars, homes and major appliances.  They are doomed with debt for most of their adult lives.  This issue must be addressed if the Commonwealth is going to have a healthy future.

Misinformd Americans are everywhere.  There's a guy at my gym who is constantly harassing me with misinformation he gets from Faux News and Rush.  This study informs us about the extent of Fox's lies.

An example of their outright lies is this one where they blame President Obama for releasing the leader of ISIS.  Unfortunately for Fox the man was released in 2004, long before Barack Obama was President.  I think we all know who was in the Oval Office at the time.  Another is this idiot who thinks marriage equality will lead to man-dog unions.  Instead of channeling Rick Santorum this guy ought to find a brain somewhere which can actually function.  How in the world do you convert "two consenting adults" into the twisted belief that it means bestialty?

The most shameful lies being spread on Fox lately however have been the victim shaming of the young Black man murdered in Ferguson and Janay Rice, wife of football player Ray Rice.  Victim shaming seems to be Fox's favorite sport.

The Realtor PAC has given Congressional candidate Ryan Costello $320,000 according tot he Trivedi campaign.  Given the Chester County Commissioner's proclivity for corruption what do the realtors expect to get in return?

If you read my recent articles about pigeon shoots this news is interesting:  Comcast has rejected a commercial paid for and narrated by Bob Barker which was set to run in Harrisburg.  The commercial urging an end to these barbaric animal cruelty events was deemed "too graphic" by the television carrier.  I thought this was the whole point:  these pigeon shoots are inexcusable and all the video evidence is very graphic.

Kevin Strouse has his first commercial on the air in PA-08:

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Pigeon Shoots: Pennsylvania's Shame

by: John Morgan

Mon Sep 15, 2014 at 21:01:06 PM EDT

As the state legislature reconvened today for a final eleven day wrap-up to the two year session several matters remain to be resolved.  Banning pigeon shoots and making the consumption of cats and dogs illegal aren't at the top of most lists but the Humane Society brought it to their attention this morning.  At a rally in the Capital Rotunda six speakers decried the fact Pennsylvania is the only state still allowing these barbaric exercises in "sport."

There is nothing sporting about shooting dazed and confused birds as they are released from crates onto the ground.  This isn't hunting, it is target shooting and is cruel treatment of birds, many of which are left to die for days after these events.  Wing Pointe in Berks County is the last place still conducting these shoots.  Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has deemed these as animal cruelty Berks DA John Adams refuses to enforce the law and bring charges.  Is that because Berks County Common Pleas Court Judge Adolph Antanavage has been filmed attending one of these events and caught shooting birds under a Confederate flag?

Here is what a pigeon shoot is like:

The only thing which should be dazed and confused are the members of the NRA who are opposing this bill.  For some crazy reason the NRA seems to think banning animal cruelty is an assault on gun rights.  Call your State Senator and State Representative and insist they vote to end this practice.  Bill 1750 has already passed the House as a bill to end the consumption of dogs and cats.  The Senate amended it to ban pigeon shoots so after it passes there it has to return tot he House for another vote.

For some reason Pennsylvania has never passed a law protecting cats and dogs from being used for human consumption.  At this morning's event the Humane Society brought three kittens and a dog along for emphasis.  Perhaps the cats could have been used to hunt down the rats in the Capitol who would oppose this bill.

Today's event:

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No Safe Haven for Obstructionists

by: John Morgan

Mon Sep 15, 2014 at 07:29:37 AM EDT

By Walter Brasch

     Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, is not a happy man.
     He didn't like it when Barack Obama was elected president. Just about the first thing McConnell said was that his main responsibility was to make sure that Mr. Obama was a one-term president.
     That vow drove McConnell's and the Tea Party's politics. They didn't worry about the nation or the people. They worried about how to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
     They failed.
     But, in the past six years, McConnell managed to block almost all constructive legislation in the Senate.  And it's not even a fair fight. McConnell manipulated and wheeled and dealed so that the majority no longer can do anything. It now takes 60 votes to pass almost anything in the Senate. That's because the Republican obstructionists have threatened to filibuster anything of substance.  Important bipartisan legislation that would normally pass with a majority of 51 to 59 votes out of the 100 possible are now scuttled by backroom politics and the blind hatreds that some have for this nation's president who was elected by the people and by the Electoral College-twice.
     And now comes Mitch McConnell to again obstruct the people and the government. He vows if the Republicans win the Senate in November, he will shut down the government if President Obama doesn't agree with the Republicans.
     McConnell told the alternative media site, Politico, if he becomes majority leader, he plans to attach riders or block legislation from coming to the floor on critical legislation that protects the environment-unlike almost every scientist, he denies the existence of climate change and opposes broader regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.  He says he will bring riders or block legislation on health care improvements if any are proposed by the President. He will add riders or block legislation to bills improving the nation's infrastructure, housing, unemployment. Name a bill and if McConnell and his Tea Party faithful don't support it, they will, if they are in the majority, continue to obstruct moving the nation forward. If they are in the minority, they will continue to threaten to filibuster any bill they don't like, disregarding the will of the majority.
     Either the President goes along with McConnell or he'll shut down government. Take the game ball and leave. Kick some dirt on the way out. Maybe curse the Democrats.
     Remember last October? The House Republicans didn't get their way, so they shut down government.  Closed the national parks and forests.  Stopped assistance to families on military bases. The action blocked imports of steel and lumber, and slowed construction. It caused layoffs of more than two million federal workers, including those who provide needed social services to everyone from infants to the elderly. Not laid off were members of Congress who continued to draw their salaries and benefits.
      The two week shutdown cost American taxpayers more than $20 billion. Apparently, those who screeched the loudest about reducing the deficit-President Obama's policies, not those of the Tea Party, led to a reduction of the deficit from $1.5 trillion to about $500 billion-had no problem charging that $20 billion expense because it was done to make a political statement.
     On their report cards, the American people gave the Tea Party wing that caused the shutdown a terse statement-"does not play well with others," and gave Congress an overall 15 percent approval rating, lower than any previous Congress. With only slightly more than 100 bills passed into law, this is the least productive Congress in history. The House Republicans have blocked meaningful legislation. The Senate Republicans have consistently blocked the majority will.
     During the summer, Congress told President Obama to deal with ISIS, that he has the authority to send American forces against the terrorist threat. It was a marked contrast to previous claims that Congress needed to have a say if the President used military forces anywhere. But this is an election year, and members of Congress didn't want to lose any votes. They put their fingers in the wind, saw that anything they did could have consequences, and punted to the President. The President, within his Constitutional authority, launched air strikes against ISIS.
     This week, McConnell demanded that President Obama develop a plan to deal with ISIS-of course, he and much of Congress didn't have any plans, and almost anything the President proposed would be met with whiny objections. One of those objections came from McConnell who declared the President had to get Congressional approval to go to war against ISIS.
     President Obama, after meeting with his advisors and Congressional leaders, developed a four-point strategy. McConnell, in a close race for re-election, now realized his Kentucky constituents, by a large majority, support aggressive actions against ISIS and the President's strategy. His response was now to say he would support the President.
     The President has requested Congress to come back into session to discuss the strategy and, if necessary, vote for increased military action. This would be a major discomfort to Congress; it was scheduled to be in session only 12 days between Aug. 1 and the Nov. 4 election.
     With the election of Barack Obama, the reactionary right wing of the Republican party has driven the clown car, and made a mockery of everything this nation was, is, and should be. They may not be the terrorists that the President was referring to when he told the nation, Thursday, "If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven." But in their own way, the obstructions, by threatening to shut down government, threaten America.
     One of the best ways to stop the nation from descending into further stagnation would be for the people of Kentucky in November to deny Mitch McConnell a sixth term as senator and the possibility he will become majority leader.
    [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has covered social issues and politics, from city halls to the White House and Capitol, for more than four decades. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, a broad look at the economics, politics, and environmental and health impacts of fracking throughout the country.]
 

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Humane Society PAC Targets Pigeon Shoots

by: John Morgan

Wed Sep 10, 2014 at 13:35:52 PM EDT

The Humane Society is attempting to pass legislation in Harrisburg which would finally end inhumane pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.  This practice is barbaric and involves releasing caged pigeons onto the ground where "sportsmen" proceed to unload their shotguns at them. Many of the birds are simply winged and hobble around tortured.  There is nothing sporting about the events and thus they have been outlawed in most surrounding states.  In fact the only remaining shoots are here in Berks County where I reside.

Wing Pointe outside Fleetwood has been host to most of the recent pigeon shoots.  The facility is on Route 662 and recently a video emerged showing a County Judge shooting birds under an unfurled Confederate flag.

Last evening the PAC hosted an event in Leesport featuring two State House candidates they are supporting.  David Kessler is running in the 130th, a District he represented for four years.  The incumbent Rep. David Maloney is a Tea Bag Republican with extreme views, even on issues of animal cruelty.  Kessler helped pass a puppy mill bill when he was in Harrisburg.

Fred Sheeler is running in the realigned 5th District which was moved here from the Pittsburgh area in legislative reapportionment.  He is currently Berks County Recorder of Deeds and cleaned up an office which was a mess following his predecessor's conviction for embezzelement.  His opponent is former Berks County Sheriff (disgraced former Sheriff) Barry Jozwiak, an extreme gun nut.

Hosted by Karel Minor in his capacity as a private citizen and former State Senator Roy Afflerbach the event attracted a nice crowd to The Hitching Post outside Leesport.  Funds raised will go towards electing the two candidates and tipping the balance in Harrisburg towards those who oppose animal cruelty.  One would think animal cruelty wouldn't be a partisan issue, that it would be something every compassionate person would support but that is not the case.  Too many legislators oppose animal cruelty bills.

Right here in Berks County the Democratic District Attorney refuses to bring animal cruelty charges for pigeon shoots.  Perhaps the fact a local Judge participates is clouding his judgment.  In any event it is shameful chapter in Berks County history that it is the last bastion for these barbaric shoots.

 photo DSCN3949_zpsb397b4f2.jpg

Left to right:  Karel Minor, Roy Afflerbach, David Kessler, Fred Sheeler

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A Quacked-Up Strategy to Stop Terrorism

by: John Morgan

Sun Sep 07, 2014 at 14:01:06 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

Just about everyone has an opinion of what President Obama should do about the ISIS threat in Iraq. Many of the suggestions have come from the architects of America's latest invasion of Iraq who claimed the nine year war that led to more than 25,000 deaths and 110,000 injuries among American and coalition troops would last not more than six months.

Whatever the President does or doesn't do, a rabid minority will attack him and stuff their suggestions with the vileness of hate and politics. Most suggestions are based on ignorance and are easily dismissed.

But, there is one possible suggestion that may have merit.

On Sean Hannity's Fox TV show, Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch and one of the world's greatest military and diplomatic strategists, suggested that America tell ISIS fighters either to convert or be killed.

Millions of Americans-who called radical Muslims who preached such a doctrine, "barbarians" or "terrorists"-don't seem to have a problem with converting Muslims to Christianity, the one true religion.

While Robertson had a good idea, he didn't explain any way to implement it.

I do.

First, take a couple of Marine infantry regiments. Place them into Iraq. Make sure each soldier has an M-16, which in fully automatic mode can fire 800 rounds a minute and is one of the weapons the NRA believes all Americans should have a right to possess but only, they caution, as an AR-15 in semi-automatic mode. After all, those deer can be quite elusive.

Next, make sure every soldier also has a duck call. I recommend Duck Commander's Homeland Security duck call. It's only about $150 each, or about $1.5 million retail if both regiments are at full strength. This sale will help spur the American war economy. The soldiers will use the quackers to lure and mesmerize the ISIS fighters.

The Robertson clan needs to be on the front lines as decoys. Because the clan looks like terrorists, the ISIS terrorists will think long-haired, bearded scarf-wearing camouflaged Robertsons are kin-folk.

When the terrorists are rounded up, bring out the support troops-a company of white Southern Baptist preachers. The terrorists will be given a choice. Allow the preachers to dunk them into the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, the source of what we believe is civilization, or face hell-fire-and-brimstone from M-16s.

Some may suggest that Islam, primarily a peace-loving religion whose Koran shares much of the Old and New Testaments, is tainted by a minority of radical terrorists. They may claim that to even suggest a convert-or-be-killed philosophy is in itself not just the reflection of bigotry and hatred but can be seen as little more than a terrorist threat. Nonsense. Isn't it no less than treason to doubt the wisdom of a millionaire duck call manufacturer and his legions of followers who drool over Reality TV and the "fair and balanced" network that gave air time to present the best suggestion that Fox News ever transmitted?

History suggests the convert-or-be-killed strategy that the Chief Duck Caller proposed should be effective. After all, Roman Catholics during the Inquisition converted about 100,000 Jews, most of whom took Christian names. The ones who weren't "convinced" that Christianity was the one true religion were burned at the stake or exiled.  Of course, most of the converts also practiced Judaism secretly, but as long as they pretended to be Christians, that's all that matters. Naturally, the Jews weren't alone-there were and still are many pretend Christians.

Certainly, Jesus, who was born, lived, and died a Jew, would want everyone to be killed who doesn't believe in the religion that others founded in his name. Disregard the fact that the Koran and the Bible share much of the same wisdom and history embodied within the Jewish Torah. Disregard the reality that that Islam and Christianity are brother religions, descendants of Judaism. This is 2014, and Christianity is the one true religion.

The convert-or-kill philosophy, espoused by the duck callers and millions of others, is just what the American democracy needs to wipe out terrorists, Muslims, and all non-believers.

Quack. Quack.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning columnist and satirist, is author of 20 books that combine history and contemporary social issues. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

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Guv Race Update

by: John Morgan

Thu Sep 04, 2014 at 11:52:50 AM EDT

The incumbent Governor seems poised to win a second term in spite of her repeated mis-steps, scandals and Tea Party backing.  Her?  Yes, since Pennsylvania's race has been over for some time and since I've been in New Mexico for the last month we're discussing The land of Enchantment and Susana Martinez.  

Spoken about in GOP circles as a possible 2016 VP candidate it's important for us to get to know who she is and why she's cruising to re-election.  Her Administration is under federal investigation for a Racino scandal which should derail any chance of federal office but as always in politics, timing is everything.

The First Husband of New Mexico is creating enough scandal for locals to (almost) forget the last man who resided in the Governor's Mansion and kept getting in trouble (he has a serious zipper problem).  Often traveling out of state Mr. Martinez keeps a large contingent of escorts along-State Police who stay with him in high end hotels at taxpayer expense.  All this in one of the poorest states in America.  From CREW:

the FBI appears to be examining whether the state improperly awarded a 25-year lease to the Downs at Albuquerque racino, a major donor to Gov. Martinez's campaign and PAC, to continue operating the state fair despite past performance problems. Leaked emails revealed communications between the governor's staff and lawyers for the Downs during the selection process.

She has also used private emails to conduct official business, an often used ploy to keep secret communications officials don't want subject to public disclosure.  The only reason to do so is to hide corruption.  She also cut education and tried to make public the names and addresses of all of New Mexico's public school teachers.

Susana then had the gall to complain about a former staffer "stealing" her emails.  There is a serious pay to play aspect to this state's governance under her leadership so I understand why she's upset about this stuff getting out.

So why is she cruising to re-election?  Democrats have been unable to mount an effective challenge, that's why.  Gary King is the unimpressive candidate running as her opposition.  After a month in Santa Fe I can't say I've seen him do anything except put up a couple billboards on I-25.  Martinez is all over television lying about their records.  King was able to get an article in The New Mexican telling voters she's lying but how does that counter a commercial being run ad nauseum statewide?

Susana Martinez has enough baggage to mount a world vacation tour but New Mexico Democrats are either unable or unwilling to bury her with all of it.  Not that statewide TV is terribly expensive here.  The Albuquerque stations essentially broadcast statewide and their rates are nowhere near what Philadelphia's are.  Susana will cruise in November because the Democratic Party here couldn't recruit a powerful candidate or raise the money to get their message to voters.

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News & Notes September 1, 2014

by: John Morgan

Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 20:22:35 PM EDT

This is my final week in New Mexico and I'll miss the clear, deep blue skies, the soaring mountains and high pressure systems.  It hasn't been over 82-83 degrees the four weeks I've been here and the low desert humidity is wonderful.  I've done some hiking in addition to the trips and sightseeing.  Sitting on the back portal watching flocks of hummingbirds, magpies and wren jays against this deep blue sky is enchanting.

My laptop has been overheating constantly and periodically shutting down so I haven't spent much time online.  Still, things have been going on in spite of all my efforts to tune out.

The latest F&M poll shows Tom Wolf with a 25 point lead in the Gubernatorial race.  I suppose we really can't call it a race since that would connote some semblance of a contest.  Gov. gasbag's numbers remain stubbornly around 24% in spite of every effort he makes to nudge them upward.  Instead he opens his mouth and makes yet another gaffe, this time about how only women, it seems, make dinner.

While I enjoy the convenience (if I drank) of being able to go to any store here and purchase whatever alcohol I would want the ugly side of that is New Mexico's serious problem with alcohol.  DWI's here are a persistent problem and the liquor industry owns the state legislature so no meaningful bills restricting access to booze get passed.  I was listening to a conversation about these issues one one of my trips here.  KSFR, the local public radio station had an expert on air discussing the problems.  I recall her saying the state sport here in New Mexico is tossing empty bottles against the canyon walls while driving drunk.  These are lessons we need to keep in mind before changing our laws.  Even if it means it takes the little woman a bit longer to get dinner on the table Governor.

The Saudi King was on TV this week trying to scare Americans into saving his sorry ass.  He did so by warning that ISIS could strike terror here or in the UK if we don't destroy them.  I'm sorry but ISIS has no capability to do any such thing.  Heck, Saddam didn't have that capability despite the lies told by the Bush/Cheney crew.  King saud is worried ISIS might topple his corrupt regime and that's his real concern.  He wants to incite Americans into forcing the President to "bomb ISIS back to the stone age."  I'm sorry but they never left.

Now people are criticizing President Obama for not having a strategy for destroying ISIS.  Effective foreign policy strategies take time to develop and should not be rushed.  Interesting though that the only credible argument against the President lately seems to be the color of his suit.  That's all they have to complain about?

Congressman Chaka Fattah seems to be in deep trouble with an FBI investigation swirling around his family, staff and campaigns.  The liberal lion has long been a leader for progressive causes in Washington and his fall will be hard to accept.  Corruption in government should never be tolerated however whoever is involved.

Today is Labor day and we salute all of our working men and women.  When conservatives call for an end to minimum wage laws, child labor prohibitions and workplace safety we must remember the sacrifices working people and Labor made to advance these principles.  When we again have strong unions we'll rebuild the middle class and start reversing income inequality.

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Ferguson

by: John Morgan

Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 19:50:37 PM EDT

Michael Brown's remains have been interred.  With him go any pretense that racism in America is past us.  Any sense that electing a Black President put a four century old record of slavery, segregation, lynching and racism behind us is blasphemy.  Michael Brown was shot dead while unarmed and holding his hands over his head by a racist Ferguson, Missouri cop.  He was summarily executed for walking while Black in the middle of a street.  Unfortunately there have been hundreds of Michael Browns and dozens of Fergusons in America.  This particular one set off an entire community and ignited a sense of outrage among African-Americans tired of being targets of over militarized, racist police.

It has also revealed the depth of racism in America's right wing.  The cop who committed the murder has been the recipient of $250,000 contributed by white racists who think he did the right thing.  Fox News went so far as to broadcast a fake story trying to raise sympathy for the man and excuse his actions.  The Ferguson Police Department released a partial video purportedly showing Brown shoplifting cigars.  Watching the entire, unedited video shows him paying for the items.

Such is America post-Ferguson:  a nation awash in unmitigated racism and a right wing unashamed in illustrating its racial hatred.  Right wing media has fanned the flames and cops stating virulently racist things in videos gone viral have fueled weeks of protests by Blacks in the suburban St. Louis town.

Ferguson is a predominantly African-American town ruled by white racists.  Because only 12% of its residents turned out to vote in the last Mayoral election it has a racist Administration and police department.  Our silence at the polls translates to the type of community in which we reside.  When a Black American, a poor American, a Union card carrying American doesn't vote they have no voice.  They have no rights to a representative government truly seeing to their needs and protecting their rights.

The Michael Browns of Ferguson dug their own graves by neglecting to vote, by deciding not to participate in the system.  This is what they get in return and no amount of looting, protests or cries of anguish and remorse will atone for their sin of not voting.  Democracy is a wonderful thing:  we get what we deserve and we deserve what we get,  When we opt not to vote we then cannot turn around and complain at the outcome.  Ferguson is simply the latest example.

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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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