Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee in a narrow vote approved Senate Bill 975, opening the door to thousands of predatory payday lenders to come to Pennsylvania and charge fees on short-term loans that equal an annual interest rate of over 300% on a typical two-week payday loan.
In April, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal agency charged with reining in the abusive financial practices, released a white paper that examines payday lending. Based on data collected from payday lenders in 33 states, the paper provides a very basic picture of the key characteristics of the people using these products. As Figure 1 below illustrates, the CFPB found that the overwhelming majority (84%) of borrowers have incomes of less than $40,000.
With incomes this low, the typical customer actually falls farther behind in their bills after using a payday loan - a point we argued last year using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditures Survey (CES).
Table 1 shows conservative two-week spending patterns for an average household making $25,000, $35,000, or $45,000 per year. These three family budgets are based on surveys of actual family spending patterns (drawn from the CES) and include expenses such as food, housing, utilities, transportation, and basic health care. They do not include additional costs such as child care, clothing, and previous debts, including credit cards or car loans.
A borrower who takes out a $300 payday loan in one two-week period must repay the $300 in principal plus $38.22 in interest and fees during that same period. Based on the CES, families earning $25,000 or $35,000 would be unable to make up the cost of the payday loan and meet other basic expenses. These examples demonstrate why the majority of borrowers are repeat borrowers, taking out loan after loan as fees force them to fall further and further behind.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau came to the same conclusion after examining data provided to them by the payday lenders:
However, these products may become harmful for consumers when they are used to make up for chronic cash flow shortages. We find that a sizable share of payday loan and deposit advance users conduct transactions on a long-term basis, suggesting that they are unable to fully repay the loan and pay other expenses without taking out a new loan shortly thereafter. Two-thirds of payday borrowers in our sample had 7 or more loans in a year. Most of the transactions conducted by consumers with 7 or more loans were taken within 14 days of a previous loan being paid back - frequently, the same day as a previous loan was repaid.
Supporters of SB 975 will argue that it establishes a limit of eight "consecutive short-term" loans, which is an acknowledgment that rapid, repeat borrowing is at the core of the payday loan product. But this limitation is effectively meaningless because the bill allows a borrower to simply wait three business days to borrow again, so the eight-loan limit would never really apply.
As the CFPB data make clear in states with laws like SB 975, the typical borrower of what is supposed to be a 14-day loan is indebted for more than half the year. In other words, the typical consumer borrows $350 and ends up paying $457 in just interest and fees in places where these types of products are legal.
High interest and fees plus repeat borrowing are the keys to payday lender profitability and why this product is ultimately harmful to consumers driving some into bankruptcy.
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party is convening Friday and Saturday in nearby Lancaster but I won't be covering their activities. A lot of resolutions and business are on the agenda but the powers that be (primarily the corrupt Bob Brady) will block everything once again. I won't be there however. I'm fed up with Democrats violating their national charter by closing public meetings. I've now been kicked out four times including at the last meeting when Fadia Halma evicted me from a By Laws Committee meeting.
In previous Party meetings Jack Hanna has thrown me out of the Southwest Caucus twice and Berks County Chair illegally closed a County Committee meeting and I was told I had to leave.
The DNC national Charter says that ALL Democratic Party meetings are open to the public. That includes the press. Closing these meetings tot he press or kicking me out of them is direct violation of their national Party rules. I'll no longer spend my time and money going to their meetings simply to be tossed out. No more.
The By Laws Committee meeting at the last Party conference was very important. The Progressive Caucus had proposed a by laws change prohibiting County Chairs from unilaterally dismissing duly elected committee people because they don't agree with their politics, the Democratic candidates they choose to support (in unendorsed campaigns) or because they simply don't want them. Philadelphia County Chair Bob Brady and Berks County Chair Tom Herman have both been guilty of such actions. I left the Democratic Party five years ago because of Herman's actions against me when I chose to support Mike Morrill for the 126th State House seat against turncoat Tom Caltagirone.
So this by laws change was personal for me and I went to the By Laws Committee to witness and report on what transpired. Ms. Halma told me the meeting would be closed and I had to leave. Then Bob Brady killed the proposal behind closed doors. I presume there was smoke leaking from under that closed doorway. Doing business in smoke filled rooms continues in today's Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
An unconstitutional search is an unconstitutional search. The Fourth Amendment is very clear: the government shall not conduct a search without a probable cause based warrant. George W. Bush began the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and we liberals all called for his impeachment. Barack Obama has continued the practice and possibly expanded it. These are impeachable offenses. It makes no difference to me which Party the perpetrator of these crimes is from: they are high crimes and misdemeanors conducted against the American people and in violation of the constitution.
The Supreme Corporate Court of John Roberts disagrees in its incapacity to properly read the constitution (they are also incapable of understanding the Second Amendment as written). They claim to be "strict constructionists" except when it suits their purposes not to. It is impossible for any reasonable person to read and comprehend the Fourth Amendment and approve the actions of the NSA and the CIA.
Edward Snowden, a real patriot, agreed with this assessment and was appalled at what he saw as both an NSA employee and a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton. BAH is a giant private corporation which grew at an astounding rate after 9/11 as President Bush poured trillions into the national security apparatus. As such Snowden discovered that any analyst with a security clearance could access any and all communications made by any American citizen. Without suspicion of criminal conduct brought before a Judge for a warrant such eavesdropping and surveillance is unconstitutional. Bush and Obama have done it anyway. Bush should be prosecuted and Obama impeached.
For strange reasons though two thirds of Americans have determined they;d rather be safe than free and in a poll support the wiretapping. Every telephone call, email and internet search is collected and stored in federal databases. You have absolutely no privacy unless you're either a Luddite or Amish. We no longer live in a free society.
This is the magnitude of what The Guardian exposed with documents provided by Snowden who is now running for his life from the American government.
New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away this morning. A gentleman and unabashed liberal he championed the Garden State's poor and working families in Washington. I met him briefly in last year when he journeyed to West Chester, or, as he humorously termed it, "our western suburbs" to speak outside a Paul Ryan rally. I recorded his comments that day:
NJ Gov. Chris Christie will appoint an immediate, short term successor meaning Democrats lose yet another Senate seat until a special election is conducted to fill the remainder of Lautenberg's term (through next year).
Our Keystone State is now the target of famed animal lover Bob Barker. He has done a video condemning the cruel events which continue to occur, especially here in Berks County. This is not sport. The caged birds are disoriented and already easy prey when let out of their cages for the amusement of perverted "hunters."
Berks County District Attorney John Adams, a Republican who turned Democrat to run for the seat, refuses to prosecute under the state's cruelty to animals laws. He claims to be Judge also by deciding himself what laws apply and which do not. That is a judicial responsibility and not a prosecutor's.
David M. Jacobson wanted a transcript of a public hearing conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), May 2. The public meeting was to allow persons to discuss a proposal by National Gypsum and En-Tire Logistics to build a tire burner plant in Union County that would burn about 100 million pounds of shredded tires each year, and convert part of that to electricity to benefit National Gypsum, with the rest taken to landfills. Jacobson is a member of Organizations United for the Environment (OUE), which objects to the plant because of the amount of pollutants that would be sent into the atmosphere.
The DEP was happy to provide the transcript. All Jacobson had to do was drive the 25 miles from his home in Lewisburg to the Williamsport regional office between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The transcript was not available online, nor would DEP send him a print copy.
He could view the transcript only at the regional office. He could take notes. But he couldn't copy it, photograph it, or scan it because, said Dan Spadoni, community relations co-ordinator, the transcript was copyrighted. State law allows individuals to copy, scan, and photograph public documents, and to request copies. Agencies, if requested, must provide documents by electronic means if possible, and may not charge more than 25 cents per page for a printed copy.
Jacobson says Spadoni, who had conducted the hearing, told him the DEP "has a master contract" with Sargent's Court Reporting Service of Johnstown; Spadoni had requested Sargent's to record the public meeting. However, Spadoni claimed he didn't know any of the details of that contract.
The DEP has two levels of transcript payments-a higher payment by DEP to Sargent's, which allows DEP to publish the transcripts and make them available to anyone who wishes a copy; and a lower fee, where Sargent's retains all rights. For the May 2 meeting, DEP paid the lower fee.
Sargent's, which has a good reputation for accurate transcriptions, quoted Jacobson a fee of
$192.85 for the 70 page transcript-about $2.75 a page.
Jacobson then called Spadoni back. "It didn't set well with me that DEP would give up ownership to that transcript," says Jacobson. Spadoni abruptly responded, says Jacobson, "That's the way it works." Spadoni did not return several calls to explain reasons for the Department's policies.
Sargent's provided a copy of the transcript to the press at no charge-"It's at my discretion," said Sally Sargent, owner of the company. It later provided a copy by email at no charge to Jacobson because, "We decided to make a special exception and give you a free copy." On the cover of both transcripts is the warning: "Access to this email by anyone other than the intended addressee is unauthorized." The next day, Sargent's told Jacobson he could distribute the transcript without restriction. The issue, however, is that the DEP-not Sargent's-established the system that restricted free access to what should be a public document.
Terry Mutchler, executive director of the state's Office of Open Records (OOR), says in the five years since the creation of the OOR she has "never had a case in which an agency" contracted with a private company to take transcripts of a public meeting, and then, with the agency's approval, copyright the transcripts, limit its distribution, and charge fees higher than the state requirements for a public agency. "If this case comes to us," she says, "we'll have to examine it."
Jacobson could file a Right-to-Know request. From filing to final determination by the OOR, the process could take almost three months. Even if the OOR rules against a public agency, it can take the issue into court, using taxpayer-funded attorneys to challenge the Right-to-Know request, and can appeal to the state supreme court unfavorable decisions from county and state appeals courts.
The delay in being able to get proposals for building or waivers of rules is also a problem. Individuals who wish to view a company's proposal must first give DEP a two week notice, and then go to the DEP office during regular business hours. Those proposals are not online. Although DEP has posted a lot of information online, DEP told Jacobson, president of American Technology Partners, it will be 10 years before DEP completes plans to put all company proposals online. Jacobson says he asked several persons at DEP why the files were not available, and the most common answer was that the proposals were too many pages to convert files on the web. "If the proposals are too long," says Jacobson, "why not just split the large file into multiple smaller files; there are even free programs that will automatically split large files." He wonders, "why are we wasting money paying for the storage space for all these documents?"
Vera Scroggins and Iris Marie Bloom, both of whom are active in researching and analyzing oil and gas company filings and DEP documents, also question the DEP's reluctance to scan documents and make them available online in an easy to search and understand manner.
Scroggins, who was one of the first to demand specific information from inspectors' reports that could connect fracking operations with water pollution, says to get some of the information she has to drive more than two and a half hours from her home in Susquehanna County to the DEP Williamsport office-and, even then, finds much of the critical information buried in paper files.
Scroggins and Bloom say it was easier to get information from the DEP prior to Tom Corbett becoming governor in 2011 and proclaiming he wanted to see Pennsylvania become the Texas of the natural gas industry. Bloom, executive director of Protecting Our Waters, Philadelphia, calls DEP actions, "incredibly inappropriate and incredibly frustrating."
The DEP also routinely includes the data of only certain possible contaminants, not all contaminants, in reports it provides to homeowners who question water pollution on their property. Bloom has worked with numerous people who "told me they often waited a year or more just to get results, or just partial results; in many cases, there wasn't even a response." Environmentalists have questioned DEP's research methods and attacked the agency for this lack of transparency.
The DEP has also refused to meet with any group it doesn't agree with or like. The DEP refused to send representatives to a hearing scheduled in February by State Reps. Jesse White (D-Cecil) and Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster ) to discuss DEP's water testing policies. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in an editorial published two days after the hearing, observed: "By refusing to attend, DEP merely confirms its own arrogance in the minds of some, divides Pennsylvanians further and encourages the suspicion that the agency may be not only a poor enforcer of regulations but also too cowardly to face its critics."
The DEP had scheduled and then cancelled a meeting with 11 organizations that focus upon water issues. Bloom says the DEP cancelled the meeting because it wouldn't discuss anything if representatives from Clean Water Action, one of the nation's largest and most effective environmental groups, were present. No meetings have been scheduled since the November request.
Like Scroggins, Bloom, and many others, the media have also found recent DEP information policies to be difficult and frustrating. CNN reporter Erica Fink says DEP refused several requests for interviews. To get any information "required a visit to the regional DEP office [in Williamsport, Pa.], which had to be scheduled weeks in advance" and the information was "largely in legal and technical language."
The Times-Tribune of Scranton, Pa., had requested the DEP to provide records that could disclose water contamination from fracking operations of natural gas companies. The DEP, reported Laura Legere, "repeatedly argued in court filings . . . that it does not count how many determination letters it issues, track where they are kept in its files or maintain its records in a way that would allow a comprehensive search for the letters, so there is no way to assess the completeness of the released documents." The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in July 2012, almost 11 months after Legere and her newspaper first requested DEP records, ruled the DEP must provide that information; the DEP, after the Court rejected its argument for reconsideration, eventually complied. Judge Anne E. Covery, in writing the court's majority opinion, dismissed DEP's argument that getting the requested data was burdensome. "[T]he burden on DEP comes not from some vast array of documents requested by Legere," wrote Judge Covery, "but from DEP's method of tracking its records." The court determined that "an agency's failure to maintain the files in a way necessary to meet its obligations under the RTKL [Right to Know Law] should not be held against the requestor. To so hold would permit an agency to avoid its obligations under the RTKL simply by failing to orderly maintain its records."
The failure to maintain records in an easily searchable method continues to allow the DEP to withhold public information from the public by burying the requested data within piles of irrelevant documents, most of which need interpretation from scientists.
Eric Shirk, Gov. Corbett's director of communications, and Kevin Sunday, DEP deputy press secretary, did not return several phone calls inquiring about DEP public disclosure policies.
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, a syndicated columnist, radio network commentator, author of 17 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, available at amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or your local bookstore.]
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.