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The Pennsylvania Progressive

Health Update

by: John Morgan

Wed Apr 02, 2014 at 17:15:54 PM EDT

I'm sorry I haven't been writing much lately but I've been dealing with various health issues and they must come first.  Two weeks ago I had a tonsillectomy and am now feeling fine following some extreme pain and discomfort.  Having a tonsil removed at my age wasn't a walk in the park though I did get some good painkillers lol.  My type II diabetes is coming under control as I'm losing weight and changing my diet.  I've been going tot he gym most every day (I lost the two weeks after the surgery though) and that's really cut into my writing time and ability to cover events.  The last two weeks the doctor forbid me from leaving town in case of bleeding so I was unable to cover some important events such as the PA-13 debate last Sunday.  Hopefully as I get in better shape and my health continues to improve things will open up a bit more.
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Casey Supporting Nomination of Tea Partier For Federal Bench

by: John Morgan

Wed Apr 02, 2014 at 17:08:08 PM EDT

Sen. Bob Casey is supporting the nomination of a radical Tea Party member for the federal bench in a secret deal with Sen. Pat Toomey.  David J. Porter is in the mold of a Samuel Alito and has extreme ties to right wing organizations such as The Federalist Society and the Center For Visions and Values.  The nomination would have to be approved and made by President Obama.  This can only be stopped by contacting both the White House and Senator Casey's office.  The nomination could be announced as early as Thursday.

Keystone Progress has a petition page set up where you can also express your shock at this move.  For some reason the President has been nominating Republicans to the federal bench here in Pennsylvania.  Do you think George W. Bush nominated any liberals?  No.

Why Casey would accede to Toomey's extreme ideological leanings is a question only he can answer.  Normally federal judicial nominations go through a state's U.S. Senators for approval before being announced by the White House.  Casey can stop this move.

Porter has written an op ed for the Post Gazette calling for the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act which just provided almost 15 million Americans with health care.  The Center calls for the Supreme Court to find for Hobby Lobby in the recent religious discrimination case.  Such a far reaching decision would allow companies to deny you any health care they considered offensive according to their personal religious beliefs.  In fact if you worked for a Christian Scientist you could be denied health care for any conditions at all.

The views expressed on the Center For Vision and Values are far right extremism at its worst.  David J. Porter is an extreme ideologue who isn't fit to sit on a federal bench.

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TV Secrets vs. Washington Leaks

by: John Morgan

Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 16:03:24 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

For almost a year, the people of the critically-acclaimed and popular CBS drama, "The Good Wife," kept a secret, one so powerful that viewers were shocked by the abruptness of what happened on screen, March 23.

Will Gardner (portrayed by Josh Charles), one of the major characters, was killed by his client during murder trial. Within seconds, even before the show's conclusion, viewers were texting and tweeting, shocked and confused and angry and upset and sad, all at the same time. There was no hint in the entertainment media that Will would be killed off.

Charles wanted to be dropped from the show after his four year contract expired at the end of the 2012- 2013 season, but didn't want to do anything to harm the show. So he, the producers, and writers decided to extend the contract for a 15-show arc in the 2013-2014 season that would take his character and those around him, including Alecia Florrick (portrayed by Julianna Margulies) spinning in another direction, one that would change the characters' dynamics and interactions.

What's amazing is not that Will Gardner was killed-several major TV characters have been killed off abruptly-but that dozens of people working on "The Good Wife," as well as some of their immediate families, knew about it and revealed nothing. In addition to the major characters, producers, and writers, anyone involved with the filming of the episode, which concluded about a month before its air date, knew. That would be dozens of crew members, including camera operators, sound and lighting technicians, and digital editors. They knew how important it was to keep the secret. Although some might have liked to alert their favorite reporters, perhaps to get favorable personal publicity later, they did not. That's because they are professionals.

Now, let's contrast the cast and crew of "The Good Wife" with the cast and crew of "Washington Follies."

There are no secrets in Washington, D.C.,-and it has nothing to do with what the National Security Agency knows or doesn't know about Americans.

The reason there are no secrets is because the nation's capital has more leaks than all the antiquated gas pipelines in the country. It's good there are no secrets-but, many of the "secrets" have as much integrity as a junk bond trader.

There are "whistleblower leaks." These come from individuals who believe that a politician, staffer, lobbyist, or a corporation has committed and then hid an illegal act, and violated the public trust.

The second kind of leak comes from individuals who have a self-interest in alerting the media to what may be scandals. These leaks could come from political candidates, elected and appointed officials, and those in corporate business who want to eliminate a competitor, but don't want to have their hands dirtied by the revelation. Most of these leaks fall into the sub-category, Gossip. Far too often, the media take the allegations, do minimal investigation, publish their findings, but never ask the critical question-"Why are you telling me this?"

A third kind of leak is the "trial balloon." A government official or corporate executive wants to find out what the public thinks of an idea or plan, but doesn't want anyone to know who is behind it. Often, the media will report something to the effect, "Rumors abound in Washington that  . . ." If opinion leaders and the public like the idea-and politicians spent millions of dollars to have polls tell them what to think-then the proposal is implemented. If there's a negative reaction to the trial balloon, the plan is locked into obscurity, and the source is exonerated from all negative feedback.

A fourth leak, a variant of the trial balloon, is the veiled news source. Reporters and politicians love this kind of leak, which takes the form of, "Sources close to President Obama say . .  ." or "A highly-placed source close to the House Speaker says . . ." Readers' first questions should be, "Who are these people? And is the reporter just making up this quote out of whole cloth?" It's for that reason that veiled news sources should be rarely used. But, reporters still think they should be channeling the thoughts of presidents, corporate executives, and bartenders.

Unlike Washington, D.C., where the left hand doesn't even know there is a right hand, all involved on "The Good Wife," from the newly-hired production assistants to the show runners, work as a team, dealing with their conflicts and solving the problems. In the nation's capital, solving problems doesn't seem to be on anyone's bucket list.

For "The Good Wife," secrecy was important to maintain artistic integrity. For the daily "Washington Follies," secrets are just rumors and a few facts that are leaked for political reasons.

[Rosemary Brasch assisted on this column. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and health and environmental effects of horizontal hydraulic fracturing to mine gas.]

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Anti-Fracking Activist Can Now Go to the Hospital

by: John Morgan

Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 16:02:35 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

     Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, and the place where she goes for rehabilitation therapy. She can also go to the county's recycling center, which is on 12.5 acres of land the county had leased to Cabot Gas & Oil Corp., one of the largest drillers in the country.
     Common Pleas Court Judge Kenneth W. Seamans, Friday, revised a preliminary injunction he issued in October against the anti-fracking activist. That injunction had required the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse's aide to stay at least 150 feet from all properties where Cabot had leased mineral rights, even if that distance was on public property. Because Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County, about 300 square miles, almost any place Scroggins wanted to be was a place she was not allowed to be. The injunction didn't specify where Scroggins couldn't go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.
     The injunction, says Scott Michelman of Public Citizen was "overbroad and violates her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of movement." Public Citizen, the Pennsylvania ACLU, and local attorney Gerald Kinchy, represented her Monday when she sought to vacate the order. At that hearing, Cabot wanted the buffer zone extended to 500 feet, but couldn't show any reason why 500 feet was necessary.
     Seamans' revised  order prohibits Scroggins from going within 100 feet of any active well pad or access roads of properties Cabot owns or has leased mineral rights. Land not being drilled, but which Cabot has mineral rights, is no longer part of the injunction. That 100 foot separation is still far more than most injunctions call for; even abortion clinics typically have 15 feet exclusion zones to prevent violence, according to the brief filed in Scroggins' behalf. Although Seamans agreed that his preliminary order may have been broad and violated Scroggins' First Amendment rights, the revised injunction probably still violates her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
     When Scroggins first appeared in court in October, she didn't have lawyers. She had been served papers to appear in court only the Friday before the Monday hearing. That day, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot. She asked for a continuance, but Seamans refused to grant her one. Seamans told Scroggins that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot's lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.
     And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.
     The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to herself and to the workers.
     Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, she has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But, with rare exceptions, she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.
     Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot's lawyers objected, and Seamans struck Scroggins' testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a "nuisance."
     Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot's objection, and struck her testimony.
     And that's why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.
      The original injunction, and possibly the revised injunction, violated her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that violated both the public trust and the environment, according to citations filed by the state's Department of Environmental Portection. According to the brief filed on her behalf, "The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you'll pay for it."
     The preliminary injunction also violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights of association and the right of travel; Scroggins couldn't even go to homes of some of her friends, even if they invited her. That's because they had leased subsurface mineral rights to Cabot. However, Cabot never produced a lease, according to what her attorneys presented in court, to show that "it had a right to exclude her from the surface of properties where it has leased only the subsurface mineral rights."
      Not everyone agrees with Scroggins or her efforts to document the effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing, known commonly as fracking. Many consider her to be a pest, someone trying to stop them from making money. Hundreds in the region have willingly given up their property rights in order to get signing bonuses and royalties from the extraction of natural gas. Their concern, in a county still feeling the effects of the great recession that had begun a decade earlier, is for their immediate financial well-being rather than the health and welfare of their neighbors, or the destruction of the environment.
     The anti-fracking movement has grown from hundreds slightly more than a half-decade ago to millions. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to mount a multi-million dollar media campaign, the people who proudly call themselves "fractivists" have countered by effective use of the social media and low-budget but highly effective rallies. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to pour millions of dollars into politicians' campaigns, the fractivists have countered by grass-roots organizing and contacting government officials and politicians, promising them no money but only the truth.
     Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there. Cabot's "take-no-prisoners" strategy in trying to shut her voice has led to even more people becoming aware of what fracking is-and the length that a mega-corporation will go to keep the facts from the people. No matter what Seamans did to reduce the sweeping impact of the original order, or what will happen May 1 when Scroggins and Cabot will again be in court, Cabot has lost this battle.
     [Dr. Brasch's current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and effects of horizontal fracking, and the collusion between politicians and the oil and gas industry. The 466-page critically-acclaimed and fully-documented book is available from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; Amazon.com; Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores.]        

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An Injunction Against the First Amendment

by: John Morgan

Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 11:08:41 AM EDT

by Walter Brasch

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will be in court, Monday morning.

This time, she will have lawyers and hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the country. Representing Scroggins to vacate an injunction limiting her travel will be lawyers from the ACLU and Public Citizen, and a private attorney.

The last time Scroggins appeared in the Common Pleas Court in October, she didn't have lawyers. That's because Judge Kenneth W. Seamans refused to grant her a continuance.

When she was served papers to appear in court, it was a Friday. On Monday, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., one of the nation's largest drillers. Seamans told the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse's aide that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot's lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.

And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.

The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to the workers.

Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, Scroggins has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.

But now, Cabot executives decided to launch a mega-attack, throwing against her the full power of a company that grosses more than $1 billion a year and is the largest driller in the region.

In court, Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot's lawyers objected, and the judge struck Scroggins' testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a "nuisance."

Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot's objection, and struck her testimony.

And that's why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins, one that would forbid her from ever going anywhere that Cabot has a lease. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.

Four days after the hearing, Seamans issued the temporary injunction that Cabot wanted. It forbid Scroggins from going onto any property that Cabot owned, was drilling, or had mineral rights, even if there was no drilling. The injunction didn't specify where Scroggins couldn't go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction violates her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that may be violating both the public trust and the environment. According to the brief filed on her behalf, "The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you'll pay for it."

The injunction also violates her Fourteenth Amendment rights of association and the right of travel. Scroggins can't even go to homes of some of her friends, even if they invite her;  that's because they had leased subsurface mineral rights to Cabot. However, Cabot never produced a lease, according to what the ACLU will present in court, to show that "it had a right to exclude her from the surface of properties where it has leased only the subsurface mineral rights."

Because Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County, about 300 square miles, almost any place Scroggins wants to be is a place she is not allowed to be. That includes the local hospital, supermarkets, drug stores, several restaurants, the place she goes for rehabilitation therapy, and a recreational lake. It also includes the recycling center-Susquehanna County officials leased 12.5 acres of public land to Cabot.

The injunction establishes a "buffer zone." Even if Scroggins is on a public street or sidewalk, if it is less than 150 feet from a property that Cabot has a subsurface mineral lease, she is in violation of the court order.

The injunction, says the ACLU of Pennsylvania, "is far broader than anything allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court or Pennsylvania courts."    

Not everyone agrees with Scroggins or her efforts to document the effects of horizontal fracking. Many consider her to be a pest, someone trying to stop them from making money. Hundreds in the region have willingly given up their property rights in order to get signing bonuses and royalties from the extraction of natural gas. Their concern, in a county still feeling the effects of the great recession that had begun a decade earlier, is for their immediate financial well-being rather than the health and welfare of their neighbors, or the destruction of the environment.

The anti-fracking movement has grown from hundreds slightly more than a half-decade ago to millions. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to mount a multi-million dollar media campaign, the people who proudly call themselves "fractivists" have countered by effective use of the social media and low-budget but highly effective rallies. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to pour millions of dollars into politicians' campaigns, the fractivists have countered by grass-roots organizing and contacting government officials and politicians, promising them no money but only the truth.

Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there. Cabot's "take-no-prisoners" strategy in trying to shut her voice has led to even more people becoming aware of what fracking is-and the length that a mega-corporation will go to keep the facts from the people. No matter what Seamans does to correct his unconstitutional order, Cabot has lost this battle.

[Dr. Brasch's current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and effects of horizontal fracking, and the collusion between politicians and the oil and gas industry. The 466-page critically-acclaimed and fully-documented book is available from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; Amazon.com; Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores.]      

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Lettuce Look at Some Prices

by: John Morgan

Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 08:44:54 AM EDT

by Walter Brasch

     I was resting at home when Marshbaum called to ask if I wanted to go with him to look at the lettuce.
     "The supermarket's got lettuce for less than two bucks a head," he said enthusiastically.
     "What's so unusual about that?"
     "Because it's going to be extinct in a few weeks."
     "You're buying up lettuce and selling it on eBay as antiques?" I sarcastically asked.
     "Don't be ridiculous! I'm buying the best heads, storing them, and selling them for four bucks in a couple of months."
     "What makes you think anyone would pay four bucks a head when they can get them now for less than two bucks?"
     "Weren't you listening, Ink Breath? I said, I'll be selling them in two months. I'm buying futures. You know, like pork belly futures."
     "Your future looks like Chapter 11," I said.
     "California and the Southwest are in the worst drought in decades. Wiped out much of the agricultural land. Drought's almost as good as winning the PowerBall. Prices have to rise."
     "But California and the Southwest got heavy doses of rain a couple of weeks ago," I replied.
     "I'm being patient with you since you are a city boy," said Marshbaum, "Drought left the land barren. Rain wasn't enough to solve the problem, and what there was of the rain destroyed what was left. Picking season is almost here, and there's not a lot to pick."
     "Even if farmers have to raise their prices to four bucks a head to survive, they should be able to break even."
     "You think farmers get even a third of that? Wholesalers mark it up, then distributors, and then the supermarkets."
     "I hope the farmers survive," I said.
      "With the drought and heavy rains, the farmers are having trouble making their mortgages, and are selling what's left of their crops at a loss." Marshbaum thought a moment, and then brightly said, "They can always get food stamps."
     "Congress sliced and diced the food stamp program," I reminded Marshbaum.
     "There's always welfare."
     "Governors have been cutting that to show they care about expenses-and because they don't think people on welfare vote."
     "At least the farmers will make some money after the banks and corporations buy them out at a fair market value."
     "Banks? Corporations? Fair market? You must have been smoking some of that lettuce. Besides, what's a bank going to do with a farm?"
     "Turn it into a shopping mall. Better yet, they sell it to the some fancy-suited gold-chained MBA dudes who sneak in, undercut the family farmers, and in a year or so, they're growing 15,000 acres of lettuce in Oklahoma."
      "Suits with business degrees aren't going to pick lettuce. They have the farm workers to exploit," I said. "If the banks and corporations take over, the bosses will sit back, order high quantities of everything from seed to tractors at bargain basement discounts, buy mountains of cheap pesticide to dump on the land, hire out a few dozen 18-wheelers to deliver the crop, and get an overpriced ad agency to promote new-and-improved lettuce."
     "You finally have it right," said Marshbaum. Lettuce goes up. My profits increase. Corporate America will rule."
     "They'll be ruling from a skyscraper in New York," I said. "There will be board meetings, corporate expense accounts, bottom lines, cash-flow, liquidity, and stock options, with MBAs and lawyers worried more about puts and calls than fertilizer and seed. They'll plan annual conferences on Bermuda beaches, eat salads with spiny lobster, and write off everything as business expenses. When they have taken over all the family farms, they'll raise prices when there isn't any drought or flood. They'll charge whatever they want, whenever they want. Just like the oil companies."
     "And what's so wrong with that?" asked Marshbaum. "God bless the U-S-of-A!"
     "When do you think all this will happen?" I asked.
     "It already has."
     Sadly, I asked Marshbaum if we could immediately go to the supermarket. "I think I'd just like to stand there and look at our future."
     [Dr. Brasch's current book, Fracking Pennsylvania, includes an in-depth discussion of the effects of fracking upon the nation's food supply.]
 

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Wages to Food Banks to Slaves...the neo-colonial dynamic

by: Jamoca

Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 10:14:53 AM EDT

It used be Molasses to Rum to Slaves and so on and so forth back in Colonial American days of old, but today we see a new version of a horrid classic.

On my way to work this morning, I happened upon a truck turning onto the street I was driving upon and I gazed upon its decals and noted the following:

It was a Greater Reading Foodbank truck, emblazoned with Sam's Club & Wal-Mart emblems as well.  

The sign of this truck stirred in me a great pain of deep, sickening irony and anger, for it was plain as day to me what is afoot among our community here and likely elsewhere.  The feifdoms and feudal times of old and the colonial era of slave trade and goods for bodies and cheap labor is upon us once more, but in a more sophisticated and condoned manner.  

You see, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club love to pay their people low wages, so low that they can't possibly afford to sustain themselves and their families on them, so they end up on programs like food stamps and using local food pantries to supplement their food to survive on which Sam's Club & Wal-Mart are all too happy to donate to the local bank that supplies these pantries.

In turn, for their substandard wages and subsistence way of making people live, while affording them little, if any healthcare or job security, with intolerable work conditions, to atone and make their grievous sins somehow mollified in their minds, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart donate foodstuffs and such.  Of course, all of these acts of largess come at the price of a tax write-off for the donation, so they get to not pay taxes on the wages they don't pay and on the food they donate to keep their slavish labor and the slavish labor of others like them from starving, but not good enough to actually earn and keep a living for them and their families.

Meanwhile, firms like Sam's Club and Wal-Mart belong to a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council that pains itself on trying to squeeze even more out of the poor and bring about more poverty while decrying the effect of said poverty upon the wealth tax-payers who don't really pay a measly fucking dime half the time because they are too busy writing down losses, hiding profits, and taking big chunks of public money to provide jack-squat products and services in return, while still complaining they can't hire or keep people or raise wages, but oh they can somehow do a little jig and convince you that they have to raise prices again, while passing near none of that onto their workers.  

Are you sick, do you taste the harsh irony as I have, do you see the pathetic, and absurd and cruel jokes for what they are...I sure as hell hope so, because we must work together to put a final stop to this at any and all cost.  To allow this type of conduct to continue will totally ruin our nation and leave us all for want of survival and nothing to show for our hard work but a big fat zero!  

Welcome to the neo-colonial period of American history...King Greed I is on the throne of Wall Street and it is time to dump his TEA into the harbor and east river permanently!

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Disposable Assets in the Fracking Industry

by: John Morgan

Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 12:20:28 PM EST

by Walter Brasch

The oil and gas industry, the nation's chambers of commerce, and politicians who are dependent upon campaign contributions from the industry and the chambers, claim fracking is safe.

First, close your mind to the myriad scientific studies that show the health effects from fracking.

Close your mind to the well-documented evidence of the environmental impact.
Focus just upon the effects upon the workers.

The oil and gas industry has a fatality rate seven times higher than for all other workers, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control. (CDC). According to the CDC, the death rate in the oil and gas industry is 27.1; the U.S. collective death rate is 3.8.
"Job gains in oil and gas construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable," said John E. Perez, secretary of labor.

Not included in the data, because it doesn't include the past three years, when the oil/gas industry significantly increased fracking in the Marcellus and other shales, is a 27-year-old worker who was cremated in a gas well explosion in late February in Greene County, Pa. One other worker was injured. Because of extensive heat and fire, emergency management officials couldn't get closer than 1,500 feet of the wells. Pennsylvania's Act 13, largely written by the oil and gas industry, allows only a 300 foot set-back from wells to homes. In Greene County, it took more than a week to cap three wells on the pad where the explosion occurred.

The gas drilling industry, for the most part, is non-union or dependent upon independent contractors who often provide little or no benefits to their workers. The billion dollar corporations like it that way. That means there are no worker safety committees and no workplace regulations monitored by workers. The workers have no bargaining or grievance rights; health and workplace benefits for workers who aren't executives or professionals are often minimal or non-existent.

It may be months or years before most workers learn the extent of possible injury or diseases caused by industry neglect.

"Almost every one of the injuries and deaths you will happen upon, it will have something to do with cutting a corner, to save time, to save money," attorney Tim Bailey told EnergyWire.

"Multiple pressures weigh on the people who work in this high-risk, high-reward industry, including the need to produce on schedule and keep the costs down," reports Gayathri Vaidyanathan of EnergyWire.

Tom Bean, a former gas field worker from Williamsport, Pa., says he doesn't know what he and his co-workers were exposed to. He does know it affected his health:

 "You'd constantly have cracked hands, red hands, sore throat, sneezing. All kinds of stuff. Headaches. My biggest one was a nauseating dizzy headache . . .  People were sick all the time . . . and then they'd get into trouble for calling off sick. You're in muck and dirt and mud and oil and grease and diesel and chemicals. And you have no idea [what they are] . . . It can be anything. You have no idea, but they [Management] don't care . .  . It's like, 'Get the job done.' . .  . You'd be asked to work 15, 18 hour days and you could be so tired that you couldn't keep your eyes open anymore, but it was 'Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.'"

Workers are exposed to more than 1,000 chemicals, most of them known carcinogens. They are exposed to radioactive waste, brought up from more than a mile in the earth. They are exposed to the effects from inhaling silica sand; they are exposed to protective casings that fail, and to explosions that are a part of building and maintaining a fossil fuel system that has explosive methane as its primary ingredient.

In July, two storage tanks exploded in New Milton, W.Va., injuring five persons. One of the injured, Charlie Arbogast, a rigger and trucker, suffered third degree burns on his hands and face. "You come to the rigs, you do what you do and you don't ask questions," Diana Arbogast, his wife, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"In Pennsylvania, workers have reported contact with chemicals without appropriate protective equipment, inhalation of sand without masks, and repeated emergency visits for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, yet many of the medical encounters go unreported," says Dr. Pouné Saberi, a public health physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The oil/gas industry, the Chambers of Commerce, politicians, and some in the media, even against significant and substantial health and environmental evidence, erroneously claim there are economic benefits to fracking. Disregard the evidence that the 100-year claim for natural gas is exaggerated by 10 times, or that the number of jobs created by the boom in the Marcellus Shale is inflated by another 10 times. Focus on Greene County, Pa.

Included in the "economic boom" is a small pizza shop that was contracted by Chevron to provide large pizzas and sodas to about 100 families living near the gas well explosion that cost one man his life. Apparently, workers, like pizza boxes, are just disposable items.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist of more than four decades. His latest of 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth documented exploration of the economic, health, and environmental effects of fracking, with an underlying theme of the connection between politicians and campaign funds provided by the oil/gas lobby.]
 

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Ostrowski Petitioner Accosted by Cop in Hazleton

by: John Morgan

Fri Mar 07, 2014 at 19:11:53 PM EST

Congressional candidate Andrew Ostowski (PA-11) is suing the Hazleton Police Department and City because one of its on duty police officers accosted one of his petition circulators, conducted an unlawful search of her person and confiscated three nominating petitions containing 67 signatures.  The Hispanic woman is a resident of Hazleton and was getting signatures to help Ostrowski get on the ballot to run against former Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta who now holds the seat.

Congressman Barletta made his name using Hazleton as his vehicle to run for higher office through discrimination and bigotry.  The City's harsh anti-immigrant ordinances were struck down by the courts.  This uniformed police officer falsely told the circulator she needed a permit per city ordinance to gather nominating petition signatures.  There is no such ordinance and if there were it would be unconstitutional.

Of course the constitution has never stopped the City of Hazleton from being a national disgrace before.

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The Progressive Summit 2014 Style

by: John Morgan

Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 16:37:51 PM EST

Keystone Progress, with its partners, put on the fifth annual Pennsylvania Progressive Summit (not affiliated with this blog) Friday and Saturday in Harrisburg.  This is the final year of the organization's Board Chair Eileen Connelly who is relocating to our eastern suburbs of New Jersey for family reasons.  Mike Morrill continues as Executive Director and Berks County's own Jane Palmer organized the event once again.

Friday the Progressive Change Campaign Committee held a day long field training for candidates, campaign workers and interested parties.  PSEA kindly provided the space and President Mike Crossley made an appearance to talk with the 25 or so participants.  Kayla Wingbermuehle did the training which consisted of a pretty thorough (for one day) run through of determining win numbers, targeting precincts and voters, analyzing how many voter contacts to do to win and calculating the number of volunteers needed to do that.  She then went into a session about recruiting and training volunteers and how best to use them and keep them happy.  The final segment was about training the group in actual voter contact.  There were a lot of "do's and don'ts" and considerable role playing mixed with exercises.

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Kayla Wingbermuehle

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State Rep. Erin Molchany, Keystone Progress PAC's first ever endorsement, held an event Friday before the Gubernatorial debate.  Following the debate Keystone Progress held its annual event fund raiser.  Only two f the candidates for Governor attended that and I heard quite a few people in attendance wonder why the others weren't there.

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Rep. Erin Mulchany

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Jim Hightower

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Jim Dean of Democracy For America

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John Hanger

More pictures are under the fold...

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Lt. Governor Debate

by: John Morgan

Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:13:22 AM EST

Six candidates for Lt. Governor debated Saturday at the 2014 Pennsylvania Progressive Summit.  There was little public disagreement except on the issue of fracking.  Brenda Alton and Brad Koplinski were vocal in their opposition and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith was out of his element in his strong support of the practice.  Bradford County is on the state's Northern Tier and is the most drilled county in the Commonwealth.  Alton was very good n the issues but no one knows who she is and she has no traction in the race.  She acknowledged there are some economic benefits but asked "At what cost?" which is the heart of the issue.  Koplinski mentioned New York's moratorium then cited Pennsylvania's many mistakes and said perhaps New York is waiting to learn from how we are screwing it all up.

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Brad Koplinski

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Jay Paterno

Jay Paterno, a recent entry into the race showed up and was very knowledgeable on the issues.  I didn't agree with everything he said but he surprised me with his breadth of information.  State Sen. Mike Stack was impressive though he did mis speak about spending more on prisons than education.  We're spending more on prisons than we are on HIGHER education, not education in total.  The straw poll came out with Koplinski on top with 59.7%, Mike Stack at 22.7%, Brenda Alton 10.4%, Mark Critz 4.5%, Mark Smith with a paltry 1.3% and Jay Paterno 0.6%.

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Sen. Mike Stack

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Mark Smith

Here's a chunk of the debate before my battery ran out:

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Jim Hightower a Hit At Summit

by: John Morgan

Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:05:31 AM EST

Jim Hightower photo DSCN3288_zps571c845e.jpg

Radio host Jim Hightower was the keynote speaker Saturday morning at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit.  Mixing wit, humor and a progressive take on things he stood at the podium in his Texas cowboy hat and wooed the 700+ people in attendance.  His radio show is based in Austin, Texas and he has also written several books along with publishing a monthly newsletter.  I began taping as he was talking about Tom Corbett and reviewing some of his most clueless remarks:

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No Merit Badge for This Scout

by: John Morgan

Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 20:22:21 PM EST

by Walter Brasch

     Rex W. Tillerson, a resident of Bartonville, Texas, like many of his neighbors was upset with his city council. That's not unusual. Many residents get upset at their local governing boards. And so they went to a city council meeting to express their concerns that the council was about to award a construction permit.
     The residents were upset that the Cross Timbers Water Supply Corp. planned to build a 160-foot tall water tower. That tower would be adjacent to an 83-acre horse farm Tillerson and his wife owned, and not far from their residence. The residents protested, and then filed suit to stop construction. The tower would store water to be sold to companies that needed it for high-volume horizontal fracturing of oil and gas wells, the process known as fracking. Each well requires three to nine million gallons of water, up to 10,000 tons of silica sand, and 100,000 gallons of toxic, often carcinogen, chemicals. The process of horizontal fracking, about a decade old, to extract oil and gas from the earth presents severe health and environmental problems; although it is touted as "clean energy," it still contributes to global warming.
     But, the residents of Bartonville weren't concerned about the health or environmental impact, or that the protective casings that surround the pipes that go more than a mile underground have a documented failure rate of more than six percent. They weren't concerned that the pressure of the toxic water that fractures the underground shale can cause earthquakes. They didn't seem to be concerned that the fluids then brought up from deep in the earth contain radioactive elements, that the storage of these fluids in open-air pits can itself lead to ground and air pollution. They didn't care that trucks that carry the toxic waste fluids can leak, or that there have been increased derailments, with explosions and fires, in the past year of trains that carry crude oil and natural gas from the fields to processing plants.
     The residents, all of whom are in the visual distance to the water tower, said that construction of the water tower would impact their views. They argued that during construction and after the tower was built, there would be excessive traffic and noise.            Michael Whitten, who represents Tillerson, told the Wall Street Journal his client was primarily concerned about the impact the tower would have upon property values.
     Rex W. Tillerson isn't your typical resident. He's the CEO and the chairman of the board of ExxonMobil, the third largest corporation in the world, and the company that leads all others in exploring, drilling, extracting, and selling oil and gas. It's also a company that has had more than its share of political, social, and environmental problems. Tillerson was an engineer when the Exxon Valdez fouled the western shore of the United States in 1989. By 2004, he was the company's president.
     In 2012, Tillerson earned $40.3 million in compensation, including salary, bonus, and stock options, according to Bloomberg News. His company that year had $453 billion in revenue, and a net income of about $45 billion, according to Bloomberg.
     When you have that much money, every million or so dollars matters, especially if a large ugly tower impacts not just your view but your quality of life and the value of your property.
     Large ugly rigs, the kind that go up when ExxonMobil and other companies begin fracking the earth, also affect the people. The well pads average about eight acres, all of which have to be cut mostly from forests and agricultural areas. Access roads, some of which upset or destroy the ecological balance of nature, need to be built. Other roads receive heavier-than-anticipated damage because of the number of trucks, often more than 200 a day, that travel to each well site. As early as 2010, a PennDOT official told the Pennsylvania state legislature that the cost, at that time, to fix the roads was over $260 million. Increased diesel emissions, concentrated in agricultural areas, also affect the health and safety of the people.          
     The noise from the traffic and from around-the-clock drilling affect the people, causing stress and numerous health issues, according to psychologists Diane Siegmund and Kathryn Vennie, both of whom live in the Marcellus Shale part of Pennsylvania.
     When the rigs go up, property values decrease. Banks and mortgage companies are refusing to lend money to families who wish to take out second mortgages or who wish to buy property that has wells on it or is even near a well pad. Insurance companies are not writing policies, even if the homeowner opposes drilling but whose home is near those well pads.
     In 2012, Rex W. Tillerson said that opponents of fracking are manufacturing fear, and then laid out a corporate truth when he said that his company has in place "risk mitigation and risk management practices . . . to ensure [oil and gas development] can be developed in a way that mitigates risk-it doesn't eliminate it, but when you put it into the risk versus benefit balance, it comes back into a balance that most reasonable people in society would say, 'I can live with that.'"
   Thus, the energy industry is telling the people there will be accidents. There will be deaths. There will be health and environmental consequences. But, they are acceptable because "mitigation" allows a corporation to accept errors, injuries, illnesses, environmental destruction, and even death if they believe there is a "greater [financial] good" that outweighs those risks. It is the same argument that Ford used in the 1970s when it decided not to recall and repair the Pinto because it estimated the cost to pay compensation for injuries and deaths from faulty construction would be significantly less than the cost of a recall.
   There is something more about Rex W. Tillerson. He's proud of his association with the Boy Scouts. He's a former Eagle Scout and was president of the national Boy Scouts of America. (Both the Boy Scouts and ExxonMobil have their headquarters in Irving, Texas.) Part of the Scout Oath is to "do your duty to God and your country." A partial interpretation of that is "by working for your country's good and obeying its laws, you do your duty to your country." Within the past six months, ExxonMobil has paid more than $5 million in fines and penalties for not obeying the country's laws.
   The 12th part of the Scout Law is to be reverent. A widely-accepted interpretation of that law, according to Scouting Trail, is: "As a Scout experiences the wonders of the outdoors, stormy weather and calm blue skies, pounding surf and trickling streams, bitter cold and stifling heat, towering trees and barren desert, he experiences the work of God. . . . We need to play the role of steward rather than king-tending and caring for our world instead of taking all we can for our own comfort."
   Protesting the construction of a water tower because it might lower property values, even for selfish purposes, is Tillerson's right as a citizen. But, destroying God's world to maximize your profits is not his right.
   [Dr. Brasch, an Eagle Scout and an award-winning journalist, is the author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of fracking.]
 

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The Summit Debate

by: John Morgan

Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 07:48:06 AM EST

Six Democratic candidates for Governor debated last evening at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit here in Harrisburg.  Jack Wagner jumped into the race too late to participate.  Jo Ellen Litz's comments about growing up in a hunting family and eating wild game resulted in many squirrel jokes in the lobby afterwards.  And here I thought she only ate chocolate!  There was no mention from the other candidates about her anti-choice positions.  No one went after Katie McGinty for her close ties to fracking either.  All in all it was a rather collegial discussion more than a debate.  Most of these candidates obviously like one another.

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Jo Ellen Litz

Following a question on fracking (they don't support the official Democratic Party position for a complete moratorium) a large group stood up in the center of the ballroom holding signs saying "Ban Fracking Now."

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Rob McCord

John Hanger was clearly the most liberal candidate repeatedly saying he'd legalize marijuana to raise revenues and save costs.  McGinty turned the common sense gun safety issue (I loved everyone using a term I coined) into a discussion of her renewable energy record as DEP Secretary.   She appeared to be a one trick pony.
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Katie McGinty

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John Hanger

Wolf was also clearly progressive and McCord raised some eyebrows when he mentioned pragmatism instead of progressivism at one point.

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Tom Wolf

I spent the day at a campaign field training seminar put on by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (more on that later) so by the time the debate began both my video camera and iPhone batteries were low.  I did manage to capture a considerable amount of video.  I expect to see a lot of Allyson Schwartz's comments about running a women's health clinic this fall if she is the nominee.

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Allyson Schwartz

Update:  John Hanger won the straw poll at 31.5% and the others as follows:  McCord 24%, Wolf 22.8%, McGinty 10.9%, Schwartz 9.4%, Litz 0.4% and Jack Wagner 0.1%.  None of the above received 0.7%.  Allyson Schwartz hasn't attended either of these Summits since she announced except for appearing at this debate.  Only Hanger and McCord attended the Keystone Progress fund raiser following the debate and that was noticed by many of those in attendance.

The room was packed and, all in all, the debate was a two hour live show on PCN showcasing progressive issues and values.  In that regard I thought it a huge success.

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Gov Race Heating Up

by: John Morgan

Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:46:43 AM EST

One man in, one man out.  For six months I've been surmising that Pittsburgh's Jack Wagner would jump into the Governor's race.  This he did by beginning to circulate nominating petitions.  Since the state is extremely parochial when voting in Democratic primaries the fact there was no candidate from the west left that door wide open for a Wagner to jump into.  Meanwhile Max Myers, the radical Pentecostal preacher, left the race because he cannot raise any money.

New polls show Tom Wolf running away with the vote.  The election remains almost three months away and anything can happen but his blitz of media ads has established himself as the man to beat.  The Wolf TV ads are tremendously well done and are defining him positively in the minds of voters.  One poll has him at 40% and the other at 36%.  Those are enough to win in a large field.

I spoke with John Hanger at the recent Democratic State Committee meeting and he said he was remaining in the race despite low poll numbers and lagging fund raising because he felt he could get 15% of the vote and win with that.  These polls show him to be a non-factor.  Heck, they should Rob McCord and Allyson Schwartz to be non-factors.

Yesterday Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC endorsed Congresswoman Schwartz.  McCord has many major labor endorsements.  Regardless Wolf is running away with this race.  We'll see how firm those numbers are when the other two major players get on TV.  Wolf has the money to outspend his rivals however.  Schwartz is burning through money paying staff.

Tom Wolf has been my number one choice since he announced (I also like Rob McCord).  At the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit a year ago I was one of only two participants who voted for him in the straw poll.  I suspect he'll have a lot more support there tomorrow evening when the candidates debate.  I'll be there.

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