It was a pretty progressive primary election in Pennsylvania yesterday. Bill Peduto finally will become Mayor of Pittsburgh on his third run at the office. Eric Papenfuse, owner of the very progressive Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg will become that troubled city's next Mayor (these are heavily Democratic cities in which the primary is, essentially, the election) replacing the controversial and polarizing Linda Thompson.
Jack McVay showed once again how worthless the Pennsylvania Democratic Party's endorsement is as he beat Joe Waters. Bob Brady once again failed to turn out the vote in Philadelphia. His "vaunted" and corrupt machine only seems to work in presidential election years and is toothless in all others.
My friend Liz Randol lost in the Scranton's Mayoral race and Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan will be the Democratic nominee for Northampton County Executive. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is unopposed for re-election by either Party this year.
This morning I mourn for the twenty children killed by a massive tornado which swept through the Oklahoma City metropolitan region. Moore, OK, just south of the City, was the hardest hit area by a twister which was two miles wide and went for twenty miles.
I don't mourn for the adults. These are idiots and morons who continue voting for the likes of Tom Coburn, James Inhofe and Dan Boren. Folks, if you refuse to believe in science, in the facts of global warming then you get what you deserve. This is classic evolution evolving: stupid people dying from their own stupidity.
I've been in Oklahoma City twice while driving to Santa Fe. Going through Oklahoma is a challenge when you're gay and liberal: it is the reddest state in America and these morons just keep voting for men like Inhofe who is owned by the fossil fuel industry and reject the overwhelming science of climate change. The result are more and more extreme storms and more devastation killing more people. If you're too stupid to accept science then you'll die. Hopefully before you can reproduce. That's simple evolution.
Julia Trigg Crawford of Direct, Texas, is the manager of a 650-acre farm that her grandfather first bought in 1948. The farm produces mostly corn, wheat, and soy. On its north border is the Red River; to the west is the Bois d'Arc Creek.
TransCanada is an Alberta-based corporation that is building the controversial Keystone Pipeline that will carry bitumen-thicker, more corrosive and toxic, than crude oil-through 36-inch diameter pipes from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, mostly to be exported. The $2.3 billion southern segment, about 485 miles from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast is nearly complete. With the exception of a 300-mile extension between Cushing and Steele City, Neb., the rest of the $7 billion 1,959 mile pipeline is being held up until President Obama either succumbs to corporate and business pressures or blocks the construction because of environmental and health concerns.
When TransCanada first approached Crawford's father in 2008, and offered to pay about $7,000 for easement rights, he refused, telling the company, "We don't want you here." He said the corporation could reroute the line, just as other pipeline companies in oil-rich Texas had done for decades. TransCanada increased the offer in the following years, but the family still refused. In August 2012, with Dick Crawford's daughter, Julia Trigg Crawford now managing the farm, TransCanada offered $21,626 for an easement-and a threat. "We were given three days to accept their offer," she says, "and if we didn't, they would condemn the land and seize it anyway." She still refused.
And so, TransCanada, a foreign corporation exercised the right of eminent domain to seize two acres of the farm so it could build a pipeline.
Governments may seize private property if that property must be taken for public use and the owner is given fair compensation. Although the exercise of eminent domain to seize land for the public good is commonly believed to be restricted to the government, federal law permits natural gas companies to use it. To get that "right," all TransCanada had to do was fill out a one-page form and check a box that the corporation to declare itself to be a "common carrier." The Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas in Texas, merely processes the paper, rather than investigates the claim; it has admitted it has never denied "common carrier" status. In the contorted logic that is often spun by corporations, TransCanada then declared itself to be a common carrier because the Railroad Commission said it was, even though the Commission's jurisdiction applies only to intrastate, not interstate, carriers.
On Aug. 21, 2012, the day before Judge Bill Harris of Lamar County rendered his decision on Crawford's complaint, the sheriff, with the judge's signature, issued a writ of possession giving TransCanada the right to seize the land. The next day, Harris issued a 15-word decision, transmitted by his iPhone, that upheld TransCanada's rights. In Texas, as in most states, the landowner can only challenge the settlement not the action.
Crawford's refusal to sell is based upon a mixture of reasons. The Crawford Farm is home to one of the most recognized Caddo Nation Indian burial sites in Texas, and the 30 acre pasture that TransCanada wants to trench represents the southern most boundary of this archeological site. Both the Texas Historical Commission and TransCanada's archeological firm concur that the vast majority of this 30 acres pasture in question qualifies for the National Registry of Historic Places. An archeological dig undertaken after TransCanada showed up to seize the land recovered 145 artifacts in just a 1,200 foot by 20 foot section, and three feet deep. But the executive director of the Texas Historical Commission recently sent a letter stating that no new artifacts had been found in the slice of land TransCanada planned to build.
Another reason Crawford refused to be bought out was that she didn't want TransCanada to drill under the Bois d'Arc Creek "where we have state-given water rights." That creek irrigates about 400 acres of her land. "Any leak, she says, "would contaminate our equipment, and then our crops in minutes." It isn't unreasonable to expect there will be an incident that could pollute the water, air, and soil for several miles.
During the past decade, there were 6,367 pipeline incidents, resulting in 154 deaths, 540 injuries, and more than 56 injuries, and $4.7 billion in property damage, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. A report released a year ago by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute concludes that economic damage caused by potential spills from the Keystone pipeline could outweigh the benefits of jobs created by the project. In the past three years, there have already been 14 spills on the operational parts of the Keystone Pipeline.
Crawford and her attorney, Wendi Hammond, have challenged TransCanada's right to seize public property, arguing not only is TransCanada, which had net earnings of $1.3 billion last year, a foreign corporation, but it also doesn't qualify as a "common carrier" since the benefit is primarily to itself. However, the Texas Court of Appeals may not rule until after the pipeline is laid down and covered. And even if it does rule for Crawford, TransCanada is likely to appeal. "They have far more lawyers and funds than we have," says Crawford, who held a music festival last month to help raise funds. Additional donations have come from around the world, many from those who aren't immediately affected by oil and gas exploration, transportation, and processing, but who understand the need to fight a battle that could, at some time, affect them.
"The company basically goes to court, files condemnation petitions, says, 'We are common carrier, have the power of eminent domain, we are taking this property.' And that's all there is to it," says Debra Medina, of WeTexans, a grassroots organization opposed to the seizure of private land by private companies.
At least 89 Texas landowners have had their properties condemned and then seized by TransCanada. Eleanor Fairchild, a 78-year-old great-grandmother living on a 300-acre farm near Winnsboro, Texas, also protested the seizure of her land. She and her husband, a retired oil company geologist now deceased, bought the land in 1983. TransCanada planned to bisected her farm, which includes wetlands, natural springs, and woods.
In October, Fairchild and activist/actor Darryl Hannah raised their arms and stood before bulldozers and heavy equipment that were about to dig up the farm. Both women were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. Hannah was also charged with resisting arrest.
TransCanada isn't the only oil and gas company that uses and bends eminent domain laws.
Chuck Paul, who lost about 30 of his 64 acre horse farm because of required easements by the natural gas industry, told the Fort Worth Weekly, "The gas companies pay a one-time fee for your land, but you lose the right to utilize it as anything more than grassland forever. . . . You can never build on those easements. They took my retirement away by eminent domain."
In Arlington, Texas, Ranjana Bhandari and her husband, Kaushik De, refused to grant Chesapeake Energy the right to take gas beneath their home, although Chesapeake promised several thousand dollars in payments. "We decided not to sign because we didn't think it was safe, but the Railroad Commission doesn't seem to care about whose property is taken," Bhandari told Reuters. Chesapeake seized the mineral rights and will capture natural gas beneath the family's homes. Between January 2005 and October 2012, the Railroad Commission approved all but five of Chesapeake's 1,628 requests to seize mineral rights, according to the Reuters investigation.
The Texas Supreme Court, in Texas Rice Land Partners and Mike Latta v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas (2012), had previously ruled, "Even when the Legislature grants certain private entities 'the right and power of eminent domain,' the overarching constitutional rule controls: no taking of property for private use." In that same opinion, the Court also ruled, "A private enterprise cannot acquire unchallenged-able condemnation power . . . merely by checking boxes on a one-page form and self-declaring its common-carrier status." However, Texas has no public agency to set standards for seizing property by eminent domain.
Texas isn't the only state that has a broad eminent domain policy that allows Big Energy to seize private property.
Most states' new laws that "regulate" fracking were written by conservatives who traditionally object to "Big Government" and say they are the defenders of individual property rights. But, these laws allow oil and gas corporations to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property if the corporations can't get the landowner to agree to an easement, lease, or sale. In Pennsylvania, Act 13 allows the natural gas industry to "appropriate an interest in real property [for] injection, storage and removal" of natural gas.
Sandra McDaniel, of Clearville, Pa., was forced to lease five of her 154 acres to Spectra Energy Corp., which planned to build a drilling pad. The government, says McDaniel, "took it away, and they have destroyed it." According to Reuters, "McDaniel watched from the perimeter of the installation as three pipes spewed metallic gray water into plastic-lined pits, one of which was partially covered in a gray crust. As a sulfurous smell wafted from the rig, two tanker trucks marked 'residual waste' drove from the site."
In Tyrone Twp., Mich., Debora Hense returned from work in August 2012 to find that Enbridge workers had created a 200 yard path on her property and destroyed 80 trees in order to run a pipeline. Because of an easement created in 1968 next to Hense's property, Joe Martucci of Enbridge Energy Partners said his company had a legal right to "to use property adjacent to the pipeline." Martucci says his company offered Hense $40,000 prior to tearing up her land, but she refused. Hense says she had a legal document to prevent Enbridge from destroying her property; Enbridge says it had permission from the Michigan Public Service Commission.
This week, heavy machinery rolled onto Julia Trigg Crawford's farm. Crossing an easement and into a barbed wire enclosure that separates the land TransCanada seized from the rest of the farm, the bulldozers and graders are peeling away the topsoil of a 1,200 foot strip. Hundreds of wooden ties, now stacked like matchsticks a story high, brought by 18-wheelers crossing the agricultural land that Crawford and her family work, will be placed as tracks for more equipment.
On the farm is an old and creaky windmill, ravaged by time and a few shotgun shells. "But it's still standing there," says Crawford who may be a bit like that windmill. She's a 6-foot tall former star basketball player for Texas A&M who is now standing tall and proud in a fight she says "began as a fight for my family," but has now become one "for the people, for the landowners who wanted to stand up and fight for their rights but didn't think they could."
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and professor emeritus of mass communications and journalism. Some of the information in this column appears in Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth overview of the effects of the fracking process upon health, the environment, agriculture, and worker safety; the book also has a broad discussion of the collusion between the energy industry and politics, and presents the truth about the economic effects.]
Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.
Latest Books: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution
Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster
On Thursday, May 2, 2013, I witnessed a clerk in a Pittsburgh 7-Eleven (Western Avenue on the Northside) using the word "tranny" at the register while telling an anecdote to a coworker and at least one customer. This was after a lengthy conversation about "fat women" and gastric bypass surgery that took place while I was in line.
As I approached the exit, I heard this employee say, "...and this guy, you know the 'tranny' who comes in here..." I immediately turned around and said loudly, "Did you just say tranny?"
He responded with a mumbled "sorry" and a smirk. The entire store went silent. I told him that "sorry" isn't sufficient when accompanied by a smirk. I also said that the term "tranny" is offensive and demeaning and not appropriate in a business setting. He turned around and ran into the back office. I asked the other clerks for his name, and they told me it was "Bee." I then asked if a manager was around, but there was none, so I left.
After getting home I tried to find the franchise information. I left a voicemail at the restaurant, then contacted 7-Eleven's corporate offices and filed a complaint. The franchise called me within an hour and said that they were not sure it was one of their stores - she said it looked like that particular store had been sold and that I should work with corporate.
Corporate emailed me the next day and said they would need a few days to investigate. On Tuesday, May 7, I followed up with corporate and they expressed surprise that the franchise owner, whose name is Liz Ulstott, had not called me back. They followed up with her, and she claimed she had addressed it. The employee - I learned that his name was actually Brandon -- acknowledged he used the word but said it was a private conversation.
I politely requested that the franchise owner meet with me and two members of the community to discuss the situation and my other concerns regarding the preceding conversation and the response by Brandon's coworkers. I wanted to bring local trans advocate (and Northside resident) Eli Kuti and local Unitarian-Universalist LGBTQ minister (and Northside resident) Rev Dave McFarland together with the owners of this franchise to discuss the incident and the surrounding events, and consider how we can ensure that this store is welcoming and safe to everyone. They refused, and I was told that 7-Eleven would have no further comment on the issue.
Tomorrow is primary election day and most races are for local and county offices.
In the primary for Superior Court Judge I endorse Jack McVay. At the last Democratic State Committee meeting Judge Joe Waters smeared his then primary opponent directly to my face. Guilt by association can work two ways, something a Philadelphia Judge a week after nine Philly Traffic Court Judges were indicted for corruption should have been more considerate of. Just because some of 600 attorneys at a large law firm represented clients against organized labor did not mean his opponent, managed by a state AFL-CIO leader, was anti-labor. Using guilt by association would have been bad enough coming from his campaign staff but coming directly from the Judge told me some very negative things about Judge Waters' character. Please do not vote for him.
In the Pittsburgh Mayoral race I endorse progressive Bill Peduto. I've always like Jack Wagner but I could never vote for someone who is anti-choice.
In the hotly contested Philadelphia City Controller's contest progressive reform candidate Brett Mandel. The corrupt Philly political machine led by Bob Brady needs to be squelched.
In the Northampton County Executive race I support Lamont McClure who was a steadfast supporter of Democratic Talk Radio when we were on the air in Bethlehem. Mayor John Callahan wouldn't even appear on our show even though we broadcasted just a block from his office.
In Berks County I endorse M. Theresa Johnson for Common Pleas Court Judge. No other candidate meets my criteria for support.
I apologize for the lack of posting the past three weeks. Our old house went under contract a month ago and the last weeks were hectic and frenetic going through all the hassles and wrinkles of preparing to close. The deal did finally close last Friday so my time will begin reverting back to normal.
Things have been rather quiet on the state level with only one statewide race so there hasn't been a lot about which to write and comment. Since I no longer interview or cover Democratic candidates thanks to that undemocratic Party constantly throwing me out of their required "open" meetings things have quieted down considerably. If you're wondering why I'm not attending and covering your events ask Fadia Halma why she chose to block me from the By Laws Committee meeting at the last Democratic State Committee meeting. Jack Hanna has kicked me out of two of his Southwest Caucus meetings and Berks County Chair Tom Herman tossed me out of one of his "open to the public" meetings.
The DNC Charter requires that ALL Party meetings be open to the public.
More than 14,000 teachers lost their jobs because Gov. Tom Corbett cut K12 funding by a billion dollars so he could give massive tax breaks to businesses. He blames that on the end of the stimulus money but he found enough funds for prisons and for those corporate tax breaks so his excuse doesn't fly. Now, on a radio program, he blamed the state's dismal jobs numbers on unemployed folks on drugs:
CORBETT: The other area is, there are many employers that say we're looking for people but we can't find anybody that has passed a drug test, a lot of them. And that's a concern for me because we're having a serious problem with that.
Aren't you tired of Tom Corbett's excuses for his poor job performance?
Under Gov. Gasbag Pennsylvania has gone from 7th in job creation to 49th. Maybe we can all kick our drug habits now so he can get re-elected.
The history of energy exploration, mining, and delivery is best understood in a range from benevolent exploitation to worker and public oppression. A company comes into an area, leases or buys land in rural and agricultural areas for mineral rights, increases employment, usually during a depressed economy, strips the land of its resources, creates health problems for its workers and those in the immediate area, and then leaves.
It makes no difference if it's timber, oil, coal, nuclear, or natural gas. All energy sources are developed to move mankind into a new era; all energy sources are developed to bring as much profit to corporations as quickly as possible, often by exploiting the workers.
Before the settlement of Pennsylvania in the 1680s, more than 20 million acres of forests covered almost all of the land. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the lumber industry had clear-cut several million acres, leading Pennsylvania into an era that rivaled even the Gold Rush in California. By World War I, the companies had stripped the land, taken their profit, and then moved on, leaving devastation in their wake. Only when the people finally realized that destroying the forests led to widespread erosion and flooding did they begin to reforest the state. Almost a century after the lumber companies denuded the forests, the natural gas industry, with encouragement from the state, have leased more than 150,000 acres of forests for wells, pipelines, and roads.
Between 1859, when an economical method to drill for oil was developed near Titusville, Pa., and 1933, the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal," Pennsylvania, under almost continual Republican administration, was among the nation's most corrupt states. The robber barons of the timber, oil, coal, steel, and transportation industries, enjoying and contributing to the Industrial Age of the 19th century, essentially bought their right to be unregulated. In addition to widespread bribery, the energy industries, especially coal, assured the election of preferred candidates by giving pre-marked ballots to workers, many of whom were immigrants and couldn't read English.
When the coal companies determined underground mining was no longer profitable, they began strip mining, shearing the tops of hills and mountains to expose coal, causing environmental damage that could never be repaired even by the most aggressive reforestation program. Pennsylvania is the only state producing anthracite coal, and is fifth in the nation in production of all coal, behind Wyoming, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Texas.
John Wilmer, an attorney who formerly worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in a letter to the editor of The New York Times in March 2011, explained that "Pennsylvania's shameful legacy of corruption and mismanagement caused 2,500 miles of streams to be totally dead from acid mine drainage; left many miles of scarred landscape; enriched the coal barons; and impoverished the local citizens." His words are a warning about what is happening in the natural gas fields.
Every method of extracting energy from the earth yields death and injury to the workers and residents. More than 100,000 coal miners were killed, often from structural failures within the mines, gas poisonings, explosions, and roof collapse. Long-term catastrophic effects from mining also include pneumoconiosis, also known as Black Lung Disease, the result of the inhalation of coal dust within the mines. Worker and resident protection often don't occur until decades after a new energy source is mined. For coal mining, although there were several protections brought about by the United Mine Workers, it wasn't until 1969 when the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act became law that health and environmental protection advanced. Congress improved the Act in 1977 and 2006.
The nation's first commercial nuclear power plant to develop peaceful uses of energy was the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, along the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pa., about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The plant went online in December 1957 and stayed in production through October 1982. During the last four decades of the twentieth century, the nation built 132 nuclear plants, with politicians and Industry claiming nuclear energy was clean, safe, efficient, and would lessen the nation's ties to oil. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima Daiichi, and thousands of violations issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, have shown that even with strict operating guidelines, nuclear energy isn't as clean, safe, and as efficient as claimed. Like all other energy industries, nuclear power isn't infinite. Most plants have a 40-50 year life cycle. After that, the plant becomes so radioactive that it must be sealed. Pennsylvania is second in the nation, behind Illinois, in production of electricity from nuclear reactors.
In the early 21st century, the natural gas industry follows the model of the other energy corporations, and uses the same rhetoric. The Heartland Institute, a think tank which says it exists to "promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems, claims, "Shale extraction has proven remarkably safe for the environment and the newfound abundance of domestic natural gas reserves promises unprecedented energy prosperity and security."
Well-paying jobs have become plentiful; however, most are temporary, ending when the gas companies declare a site no longer profitable. But, high-pressure horizontal fracturing (known as fracking), the process the companies are using to get to the gas more than a mile beneath the surface, is leaving in its wake health and environmental issues that could be as serious as those that surrounded the timber, coal, oil, and nuclear industries.
But there is one major difference. Several federal environmental protection laws don't apply to the natural gas industry.
Dick Cheney, whose promotion of Big Business and opposition to environmental policies is well-documented, as vice-president had pushed for Big Energy's exemption from the Safe Water Drinking Act. His hand-picked "energy task force," composed primarily of industry representatives, had concluded that fracking was a safe procedure. Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton, one of the world's largest energy companies; the exemption became known derisively as the Halliburton Loophole. That legislation, says Al Gore, "put the whole industry in such a privileged position, it disadvantages the advocates of the public interest, which was the intention."
Among other federal environmental laws that the natural gas industry is exempt from are National Environmental Policy Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the nation's SuperFund law, which requires companies that pollute the environment to take a fiscal responsibility.
The first Earth Day was in 1970. The people demanded, and eventually got, Congress to enact legislation not only to protect the air and water, but to create a federal agency to enforce those regulations. Today, more than four decades later, it is important that the people push a weak-willed Congress, inflated by Big Energy political contributions, to do what is right, eliminate all loopholes and exemptions, and force the natural gas industry to be accountable for all laws that protect the public health and environment.
Seven years ago when this blog began we ran a series of articles about the corruption surrounding Wilkes-Barre's Hotel Sterling. Now, after millions in public funds were dropped into this black hole what remains of the building is going to be demolished and CityVest, the center of that corruption, is going out of existence.
On the other hand we also keep going backwards: the House today voted to ban abortion coverage in the new health care exchanges under the ACA. Rep. Brian Sims had this to say during debate:
Earlier this month Texas Gov. Rick Perry bragged about his state's lax corporate regulatory environment. Ten days later a fertilizer plant exploded destroying most of West, Texas. Then the area's Congressman, who voted against federal aid to Hurricane Sandy victims, demanded full federal help for West. If you look up "hypocrisy" in the dictionary you'll find his picture.
Oh, and Gov. Perry? Remember when he suggested Texas secede? He wants all that federal money too.
Baylor basketball star Britney Griner, the first selection in the WNBA draft, came out this week. No one thinks it's a big deal.
Maryland approved medical marijuana.
Sen. Max Baucus, one of the worst Democrats ever to serve in the U.S. Senate, announced he will retire. Yea.
The U.S. Senate this afternoon filibustered universal background checks for gun buyers. I don't know a gun owner who doesn't believe this isn't a good idea. In fact 90% of Americans support expanded background checks. The following list of Senators do not. After the next massacre when some crazy guns down scores of people these are the people to blame:
Yesterday's terror attack at the Boston Marathon hit home. In addition to a nephew residing in the Boston area another one runs marathons, including Boston. A few years ago we were in Philadelphia when he ran a half marathon there. While nowhere in size and scope compared with Boston the atmosphere is similar. We were at the start of the race as Chris' segment began and at the end when he crossed the finish line. This is the routine for family and friends at these events. Due tot he sheer number of runners they begin in different segments based on their previous times.
The timing of the bombs yesterday at the four hour mark seem to have been planned to have the most devastating effect on ordinary people. This is when the recreational runners were approaching the finish near Copley Square with their families and friends gathered to watch them finish the grueling contest. All of the world class runners had long since finished.
If I may speculate I believe this will prove to be another Tim McVeigh style domestic terrorist attack. The fact no group has claimed responsibility indicates that no international terrorist group was responsible. The number of hate groups has exploded since Barack Obama was elected and the gun rights nuts are apoplectic since Sandy Hook. White supremacists are assassinating law enforcement officials out west and this seems a logical extension of these other activities.
No evidence as yet has implicated anyone or group but the extent of video and still camera coverage of such a major event means that whoever planted these bombs was likely caught on camera.
Meanwhile we keep the victims and their families in our thoughts. Thanks to the excellent work of all the first responders and volunteers who saved lives.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was mad. Not the kind of mad you get when your favorite team blows a big lead and loses its eighth straight game, but Red-Faced-Exploding-Blood-Pressure Mad.
"This is what you get from the political Left in America," McConnell bellowed to the media. "That is what the political Left does these days."
McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, added his opinion-"We've always said the Left would stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell." They demanded the FBI launch a criminal investigation. The FBI response to the media was, "[W]e are looking into the matter." Not long after, McConnell approved a campaign slogan, exhorting voters to "Stand with McConnell against the liberal media's illegal and underhanded tactics."
What McConnell and Benton were furious about was a leaked tape that revealed possible tactics they would use against movie star Ashley Judd if she were to oppose McConnell in the 2014 Senate race.
McConnell had no evidence there was any liberal plot or that the tape was the result of a bug deliberately planted in campaign headquarters, but tried to spin in circles to make people believe it was a liberal invasion of his soul.
David Corn of Mother Jones, which this week published a transcript of the tape that was made Feb. 2, said the tape was not the result of any bugging operation. It is entirely possible that the tape was made by someone in that room, not unlike the videotape of Mitt Romney who told a fundraising meeting of wealthy supporters that 47 percent of Americans were takers. However, unlike McConnell's fury, Romney took the high road and tried to dance around his words rather than blame the liberals for leaking the tape that may have been the turning point in the campaign.
But the tactics of a five-term senator and his senior staff may be just as damaging to their campaign as the "47 percent tape" was to Romney's. McConnell said he and his campaign should launch a "whack-a-mole" campaign-"when anybody sticks their head up, do them out." In this case, McConnell's team planned to attack Judd's mental health, her political activism, her loyalty to President Obama, and that she is an "out of touch" Hollywood liberal.
"She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced," said one of the staff, emphasizing the campaign could go after Judd for past bouts of depression that led to her being hospitalized. Laughter about her depression could be heard on the tape. Judd readily acknowledged that time in her life, even including it in her autobiography, All That is Bitter and Sweet.
A staff aide called Judd "critical . . . of traditional Christianity [and] anti-sort-of-traditional American family." What the aide meant was that Judd opposes sexism in the Christian church, supports the Affordable Care Act, is pro-choice, believes in the rights of gays to marry, is an animal rights advocate who spoke against Sarah Palin's campaign to eradicate wolves by shooting them in their dens, and opposes the use of coal and other fossil fuels to try to avoid climate change that could destroy the earth's ozone layer.
McConnell and the staff also didn't say that while McConnell has led the "Party of No" into blocking almost all major appointments and meaningful legislation, Judd is a recognized humanitarian who has worked vigorously to expose the wrongs committed against society's most vulnerable. They also didn't mention she is a Phi Beta Kappa honors graduate of the University of Kentucky, and earned a master's in public administration from Harvard. They seemed more focused upon sliming her personal life and the fact her cell phone has a San Francisco area code.
In a subsequent story, Mother Jones revealed that some of the staff in the room when the recording was made, and that others who did the research about Judd, were Senate staffers. If they did the work on their own time, did not use any federal resources (including telephones and other communications devices), and did not do their work in any federal office they would not have violated the Senate's own ethics standards. However, as Mother Jones reported, the three senior McConnell staffers they contacted "did not respond."
Bound in a political black hole from which truth never escapes, McConnell and his staff launched a "scorch-earth" attack to divert the public from the facts on the leaked tape was the far greater sin than what was said.
Innumerable politicians, especially in the past decade, have proven that dirty politics has become the politics of choice. By attacking how the information was obtained and disseminated, unable to defend his own words and tactics, McConnell has made it obvious that truth and decency no longer have a place in either his campaign or his elected position.
[Dr. Brasch's current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the controversial practice of hydraulic horizontal fracking. The book looks at the health, environmental, worker safety, and economic impact of fracking, and also discusses the collusion between politicians and Big Energy.]
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz officially launched her campaign for Governor yesterday. Tom Corbett is rated the most vulnerable incumbent Governor in the country and prominent Democrats are lining up to evict him from Front Street in Harrisburg. Schwartz joins former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf, former DEP Secretary John Hanger and evangelical fundamentalist preacher Max Myers in the field. State Treasurer Rob McCord will enter the race soon and rumors continue to circulate around Admiral Joe Sestak.
Gov. Gasbag's painfully low approval numbers (26%) and high disapproval (49%) have led to a strong field of challengers. Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor has launched a website in preparation of a GOP challenge and another Montco Commish Josh Shapiro is also considering a run.
The fact Corbett slashed education funding while giving those funds to corporations as tax breaks has driven his poll numbers to the basement.
Schwartz is progressive on social issues but not economic social ones. Her record is something of a corporate Democrat and would normally allow the Pennsylvania progressive community to get behind such a candidacy. In this race however both Wolf and McCord easily outpace her in progressive credentials. With another strong turnout of women voters however she could win the primary. There is substantial doubt about her ability to win statewide due to her past ties to a Philadelphia abortion clinic. Though that should not actually hurt her (abortion is a constitutionally protected right) it will in western Pennsylvania where even the Democrats are conservative.
I hope you enjoyed PoliticsPA's April Fools extravaganza yesterday as much as I did. My favorite: the one about Congressman Keith Rothfus voting against VAWA because he thought it was about Wawa. He'll have to defend justifying domestic violence against women next year ass he faces a female challenger.
The Pittsburgh Mayoral primary keeps getting more and more interesting. Michael Lamb dropped out and endorsed Jack Wagner to the scorn of the Bill Peduto campaign. Peduto has long been the darling of Steel City progressives. Wagner, the former Auditor General, is anti-choice.
Tom Wolf officially announced his candidacy for Governor and pledged $10 million of his own fortune to back his effort. That should provide the name recognition needed to counter the campaigns of opponents Allyson Schwartz, Rob McCord, Ed Pawlowski and others.
Sen. Daylin Leach officially kicke doff his campaign for Congress in the 13th CD where Schwartz will abandon her seat for her run for the Governors Mansion.
What Rendell's passionate plea failed to note was this: since stepping down as governor in 2011, he has worked as a paid consultant to a private equity firm with investments in the natural gas industry.
Costco isn't the only company which finds that paying good wages and benefits is good business. Trader Joe's, my favorite place for groceries, also has discovered that happy, healthy employees are good employees and more productive. The lower turnover also saves considerably on training costs.
Authorities suspect a white supremacist group is behind the recent assassinations of law enforcement officials in Texas and Colorado. Remember all the outrage when hate group experts predicted a rise in such domestic terrorism after Obama was elected. Well, it's here.
As more Senators back marriage equality (thank you Tom Carper) Rick Santorum is blaming "Will and Grace." FYI Senator, it is because LGBT people have been coming out, not because of a TV show. Though positive role models like that portrayted on TV are swell the fact more and more people know someone who is gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual or transgender has much more to do with changing attitudes.
PoliticsPA is reporting that Pennsylvania GOP Executive Director Mike Barley will take over Gov. Gasbag's re-election campaign. A thankless job I can just give him one piece of advice: just close your eyes when the returns begin coming in.
I stand corrected. I said anyone hoping Sen. Casey would change his mind and support marriage equality had best not hold their breath waiting. Today he reversed his long standing position and not only supports it but says DOMA should be repealed.
Thank you Senator.
A statement today from Equality Pennsylvania:
Equality Pennsylvania Applauds U.S. Senator Bob Casey's Leadership
Harrisburg - Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey announced his support for extending the freedom to marry to all loving, committed couples. His announcement follows weeks of pressure from Equality Pennsylvania and its partners, including Keystone Progress and Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania.
"We applaud Senator Casey's courage and leadership," said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania. "Marriage matters for all families, and Senator Casey's support for marriage for all committed couples puts him squarely on the right side of history."
Over the past several weeks, fair-minded Pennsylvanians flooded the Senator with more than 10,000 calls and e-mails. They were urging the Democratic Senator to join with the majority of his colleagues in the Senate and endorse marriage for all couples. Senator Casey had been one of less than 10 Democrats in the Senate who hadn't voiced support for extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.
"Across the country, we've seen an incredible sea change in public opinion on this issue. As Americans come to know their gay coworkers and neighbors, they're coming to support the freedom to marry for all loving couples," said Martin. "Like most of us, Senator Casey has given the issue a lot of thought, and he's realized how much it hurts committed same-sex couples to be denied the protection, dignity, and respect of marriage."
From Rep. Brian Sims who sent the Senator a letter last week on the issue:
April 1, 2013 (PHILADELPHIA): Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims (D - Phila.) today applauded Senator Bob Casey for coming out in support of same-sex marriage. Rep. Sims had just last week penned an open letter to the Senator urging him to stand up and voice his support for LGBT equality.
"Senator Casey is a thoughtful and contemplative man who today not only listened to the millions of voices of Pennsylvanians calling for him to support same-sex marriage, but strongly voiced that support as well," Rep. Sims said. "I am pleased to see Senator Casey responding to the voices of his constituents and am eager to work with him in reaching out to the hundreds of thousands of LGBT Pennsylvanians who can now count on his support for LGBT equality."
On Thursday of last week, Rep. Sims, Pennsylvania's first openly gay elected state legislator, penned an open letter to Senator Casey urging him to take a stand and voice his support for LGBT equality.
"Senator, the same people who voted for me, voted for you, and I am so excited to report that a vast majority of them now support LGBT equality." Rep. Sims wrote in his open letter. "So too do a majority of your Democratic colleagues. In fact, as of [March 28] you are one of only nine Democrats in the Senate who does not support marriage equality."
Along with Rep. Sims, a chorus of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians flooded Senator Casey's offices with letters and phone calls asking him to support same-sex marriage in efforts led by Equality Pennsylvania, Keystone Progress, and Moveon.org.