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The Pennsylvania Progressive

A Nation of Millennial Entitlements

by: John Morgan

Thu May 28, 2015 at 16:55:16 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

A student sued Misericordia College because she failed a nursing class. Twice.

She said she suffered psychological problems. Those problems included anxiety, depression, and poor concentration skills.

The college had agreed to allow her to retake the final examination last summer.
It set her up in a stress-free room, gave her extra time to complete the test, and did not provide a proctor. The professor said the student could call her by cell phone. That professor was in another building monitoring another test.

The student again failed the required course.

So now she's suing. She claims the professor didn't answer her numerous cell phone calls. She claims this made it more stressful. She claims it wasn't her fault she failed. It was the professor's fault. The college president's fault. And several others' fault.

So she sued, claiming the college violated her rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

That lawsuit acknowledges she had average to below average grades.

Let's pretend that a federal court agrees with her, and she gets so many accommodations that she now passes that course and somehow earns her nursing degree.

Let's also pretend that when she takes her nursing boards, the state gives her extra time, in a room by herself, without a proctor, makes one available by cell phone to answer questions-and, perhaps, allows her to have whatever notes and textbooks and learning aids she needs to pass that exam.

Assume all this. Now, here's the next question. Would you be comfortable having a nurse who can't handle stress? Who admits she can't concentrate? Who barely passed her college courses and requirements for a license?

Society should make accommodations for persons with disabilities-as long as those disabilities don't directly affect others and reduce the quality of care. Perhaps the student could be a nurse-educator, helping others better understand the need for vaccinations or how to care for young children. If that's the case, why even test for state boards and get the R.N. added to the B.S.N. degree? Perhaps, with psychological help, the student might be able one day to handle the stress of testing and clinical nursing.

Perhaps, the student could become an administrator. But, would nurses be willing to work for someone who suffers stress attacks and has never worked in patient care? Would teachers be willing to work for principals who never taught a class? Would firefighters be willing to take orders from a battalion chief who was never on a fire line or who rescued victims?

There are persons in the health care professions who are blind or deaf or who are paraplegics, and who perform their tasks as well as anyone else. But, almost all of those with physical disabilities probably studied hard, may have even exceeded the expectations and abilities of others who don't have physical disabilities, and are working in areas that don't impact patient care. A neurosurgeon with epilepsy, for example, would be rare, but a medical researcher, psychiatrist, or rheumatologist with epilepsy or mental or physical issues might be highly functional and, possibly, contribute far more than any neurosurgeon.

John Nash, who probably had far more psychological problems than the nursing student, still managed to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton, become a tenured professor at M.I.T., and earn the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on game theory. His story, told in A Beautiful Mind, has a subtle underlying theme-even with his mental issues, he didn't expect society to grant him extraordinary accommodations.

In college, many students resort to excuses to demand special treatment. They complain about the amount of writing required. They complain the professor distracts them because she is too beautiful, too ugly, or wears dated clothes. Black students complain that their White teachers are racist; White students complain that their Black teachers are racist. They claim to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and gobble adderall as if it were M&Ms, taking away time that teachers, counselors, and physicians can work with those who truly have ADHD and who, for the most part, don't use that diagnosis as an excuse.

In a grade-inflated environment, where a "B" is now the "new average," propped up by many professors not holding to rigorous academic standards and the college more interested in pleasing parents, who pay the tuition and fees than in enforcing rigorous academic standards, the student graduates. Perhaps we need to ask who might be more valuable to society-a plumber, an electrician, or a farmer, against an unemployed English major who can write compositions about ethereal subjects or a lawyer whose goal is to amass thousands of billable hours and a country club membership on the way to a partnership.

Our society is saturated with people with college degrees who complain they didn't get the "A" they wanted, and now whine it isn't their fault they have so much debt and no job.

Many of our millennial children believe they are entitled to have what they believe their needs are. After all, the media skewer them with ads, photos, and stories of people who "have it all." Isn't it just logical for teens and those in their 20s to hear the siren call from the media and want the bling that others have?

When all the ephemera are stripped away, we are left with a college generation that believes they are entitled to that high grade, that job, that upscale lifestyle.

Somewhere, there might even be a clinical nurse whose own problems, or perceived problems, affect someone's health.

[Dr. Brasch was an advocate for the mentally and physically disabled, long before he had to use a handicapped parking placard. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

 

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Endorsed Judicial Candidates Sweep to Democratic Victories

by: John Morgan

Wed May 20, 2015 at 11:17:44 AM EDT

The three endorsed Democrats for the PA Supreme Court swept yesterday's primary election.  David Wecht, Christine Donohue and Kevin Dougherty will attempt to fill three seats on that court in November.  I really like the first two candidates but supported Anne Lazarus for the third slot.  Chief Justice Ron Castille reached the mandatory retirement age, Seamus (Shame US) McCaffery resigned in disgrace after getting caught spreading hundreds of pornographic emails and Joan Orie Melvin was convicted of corruption.

As such integrity and trust are major factors in these races.  Kevin Dougherty, whose brother is infamous union boss John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty of Philadelphia's IBEW local, has the potential to continue the shameful record of political Justices who get caught doing nefarious deeds.  I won't vote for him in November.  Instead I'll write in the name of Superior Court Judge Jack Panella.

Alice Dubow won the race for Superior Court over Robert Colville.  Both are well qualified.  Commonwealth Court will have Michael Wojchik as the Democratic nominee.

The three GOP candidates for Supreme Court are Judith Olson, Michael George and Anne Covey.   Covey ran such a shameful campaign last time she was sanctioned for her smears of her opponent, a civil rights lawyer.  It'll be interesting to watch how the Democrats use that against her this fall.  After all, this election is about integrity.

It's unusual for endorsed Democratic candidates to win elections.  The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has a bad record of actually electing its preferred candidates.

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Primary Election Endorsements

by: John Morgan

Mon May 18, 2015 at 10:04:07 AM EDT

My endorsements for Tuesday's primary election are as follows:

Supreme Court:

Ann Lazarus
Christine Donohue
David Wecht

Let's not further politicize the court with another Seamus MCafferry type from Philly (Kevin Dougherty).

Commonwealth Court:

Mike Wojcik

I like Todd Eagen and think it's time for a labor/worker rights attorney on this Court which hears Workmans Compensation cases but I feel Eagen is damaged goods due to his obvious campaigning before it was allowed.  The attacks upon him for that in the general election will make him unelectable.

Superior Court:

Robert Colville

I like Dubow too but voters must pick just one.

Berks County:

Commissioner:  Don Vymazal

Controller:  Sandy Graffius (Republican)

Recorder of Deeds:  Fred Sheeler

Philadelphia Mayor:  Jim Kenney

Magisterial District Judge:
(My home district in Berks County)

BK McDonough

Berks County Court of Common Pleas:

Kelly Kline
Jonathon Kurland

Montgomery County Commissioner:

Josh Shapiro
Val Arkoosh

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Joe Sestak Interview

by: John Morgan

Thu May 07, 2015 at 19:51:38 PM EDT

I sat down for an interview this afternoon with US Senate candidate Joe Sestak.  We covered a wide variety of issues but the conversation kept returning to the issue of trust.  Trust in the integrity of our elected officials.  Towards the end of the interview I accidently knocked the video camera and Joe cracked a joke about it.

I've known Joe since he was in Congress representing Pennsylvania's 7th District in suburban Philadelphia.  I covered several of his events then and also his Senate contest six years ago versus Arlen Specter and Toomey.  Enjoy our conversation.

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Citizen-Journalist Fined for Telling the Truth

by: John Morgan

Mon Apr 27, 2015 at 17:07:01 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., was found to be in contempt of court, Thursday, and fined $1,000.

Her offense? She tells the truth.

Truth is something that apparently has bypassed the court of Judge Kenneth W. Seamans, who retired at the end of 2014, but came out of retirement to handle this case.

The case began in October 2013.

Scroggins, a retired real estate agent and nurse's aide, was in Common Pleas Court to explain why a temporary injunction should not be issued against her. That injunction would require her to stay at least 150 feet from all properties where
Cabot Oil and Gas 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, even if the owner of the surface rights granted her permission.

Before Judge Seamans were three corporate lawyers, a lawyer from the county, and several Cabot employees who accused Scroggins of trespassing and causing irreparable harm to the company that had almost $1 billion in revenue the previous year.

Since 2009, Scroggins has led Pennsylvania and New York residents, celebrities, government officials, and journalists on tours of the gas fields. She often had friendly discussions with the workers-and when management asked her to leave, she did. She has posted more than 500 YouTube videos of fracking operations, documenting what fracking is, what it does, and how there may be unsafe practices.

The state DEP has even used her documentation as part of the evidence necessary to cite and then fine gas drillers.
Scroggins asked the judge for a continuance because she had only received the summons three days earlier, on a Friday, and couldn't get legal representation by Monday.

Seamans told her he wouldn't grant a continuance because she didn't give the court 24 hours notice. "He said that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of the lawyers who had come from Pittsburgh [about 250 miles to the southwest], and I might have to pay their fees if the hearing was delayed," says Scroggins.

That afternoon, Seamans granted Cabot its preliminary injunction.

By March 2014, Cabot and Scroggins were back in court for a hearing to modify Seamans' original temporary injunction. This time, Cabot wanted the buffer zone extended to 500 feet, but couldn't show any reason why 500 feet was necessary.

Unlike her first appearance when she didn't have legal representation, she now had Public Citizen, the Pennsylvania ACLU, and local attorney Gerald Kinchy, represent her when she sought to vacate the order.

The revised order prohibited Scroggins from going within 100 feet of any active well pad or access roads of properties Cabot owns or has leased mineral rights, even if on public property.

Although the judge agreed that his preliminary order may have been broad and violated Scroggins' First Amendment rights, he continued the injunction, which still violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

What Seamans didn't agree about was his conflict-of-interest. He refused to remove himself from the case. On Nov. 9, 2007, he and Elexco Energy signed a mineral lease agreement for 79 acres in New Milford Twp., in the northern part of the county. On April 29, 2008, that lease was transferred to Southwestern Energy. Whether or not that lease proved to be financially lucrative is not in dispute-what is in dispute is that the judge, by signing with an energy company working separate fields in the same area as the plaintiff, even if not Cabot, could benefit, thus compromising his objectivity.

In February, Scroggins and her attorneys were again in court, trying to rebut claims she violated the injunction. This time, Cabot claimed that on Jan. 16, Scroggins, while leading another tour of the gas fields, walked on an access road to one of its operations. It never claimed she was on Cabot property-only that she was on a public access road. "There was no guard on this site," says Scroggins, noting, "it's an inactive site; no personnel; no trucks."

Scroggins argued she had parked in the private driveway of a friend 672 feet from Cabot property, and that the three persons she was hosting, including a French photojournalist, walked to the gate of a Cabot operation, took pictures, and then walked back to the driveway where she waited for them. Scroggins had witnesses who testified under oath she did not leave the driveway or go onto Cabot property.

Cabot produced a worker who backed up the company's claim, and provided a photo of Scroggins. However, that photo didn't show Scroggins on access roads or on Cabot property but, as she had truthfully claimed, on a private driveway 672 feet from Cabot property. The judge believed the one paid-for worker, not the other witnesses.

According to a brief filed by Scroggins' attorneys, "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."    

And that's why the Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. wanted an injunction against Scroggins. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away or protecting worker safety; it had everything to do not only with shutting down her ability to tell the truth but also to put fear into others who might also wish to tell the truth about fracking and Cabot's operations.

Just as important, a judge willingly became a co-conspirator to corporate interests. Seamans had said the fine will go to Cabot to defer some of its legal costs.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., social issues journalist
  latest books:
       Fracking Pennsylvania (investigation)
        Before the First Snow (historical fiction)
                   https://www.youtube.com/watch?...
www.walterbrasch.com
www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

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Toomey Signs Iran Treason Letter

by: John Morgan

Wed Mar 11, 2015 at 10:40:47 AM EDT

Sen. Pat Toomey was one of 47 Republican Senators who violated the Logan Act of 1799 by signing a letter drafted by Sen. Tom Cotton.  Addressed to the government of Iran it attempts t interfere with President Obama's diplomatic initiative to deal with Iran's nuclear program.  Republicans prefer starting a massive war rather than using diplomacy to diffuse the situation.  This was also their policy in dealing with Iraq.

We've seen how well that worked.  War with Iran could provoke a new World War.  Why would anyone seek to undermine what seems to be a promising diplomatic victory?  Sen. Cotton, newly elected from Arkansas, met with major defense contractors shortly after getting his letter published in the media.  Critics assailed the letter for getting the constitution wrong and for the treasonous nature of its contents.  The Logan Act prohibits such conduct and it is a crime known as sedition:  treason.

The fact that Toomey had no problem violating the law plus the edict that domestic politics stops at the shoreline doesn't bode well for his re-election chances.  Former Navy Admiral Joe Sestak is currently on a walking tour across the Commonwealth in his campaign to win the seat.  

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Blog Update

by: John Morgan

Sat Mar 07, 2015 at 18:10:27 PM EST

Soapblox, my host company announced today that they'll be shutting down later this year.  This means The Pennsylvania Progressive will have to migrate to a new home.  If it's possible to export all the content to a platform like Wordpress I'll try that route.  If not I'm not sure at this time what my options will be.  If you use the URL thepennsylvaniaprogressive.com to get here that'll continue working regardless of where we go.  It may be that the blog simply shuts down when Soapblox goes down.  I don't have funds to hire someone to develop a new site so that may be the outcome.
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'Rithmatic Doesn't Add Up in One School District

by: John Morgan

Wed Mar 04, 2015 at 17:29:01 PM EST

By Walter Brasch

The Danville Education Association (Pa.) has been operating without a contract for three years.

Two years ago, the teachers approved recommendations of an independent fact-finder; the board rejected it. This eventually led to a protest strike of five days in  April 2014. Recently, the teachers and the board agreed to submit their proposals to an independent arbitrator.

Working under regulations of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, the arbitrator analyzed the district finances, tax base, and other data before making his recommendations. The arbitrator concluded the district had the money to pay the teachers more-not what the teachers asked, but more than the board was offering. He also recommended increased contributions by the teachers for their health benefits.

The teachers voted to accept the recommendations. The board unanimously voted to reject the arbitrator's recommendations, even though the arbitrator agreed with most of the board's demands.

The board claims it can't afford the teacher raises. The overall budget for the 2014-2015 academic year is about $34 million. In addition, the district also has about $12.2 million in reserve, most of which the district says is for anticipated increases in health care premiums and unfunded mandates to improve the state retirement system; included is an unassigned reserve of about $2.1 million. In 2011, when the Board only had a $6.2 million surplus, the fact finder had recommended a 5.7 percent increase for teacher salaries for the 2015-2016 academic year. The arbitrator two years later recommended raises of 3.5 percent for each of the four years of the new contract.

Of the 17 districts in the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU), Danville teachers are ninth in average salary (about $52,000 a year). The district has the second highest average income of all districts in the CSIU. Teacher salaries and benefits are about 48 percent of the total budget, down from 51.1 percent in the 2009-2010 academic year.

Every teacher pays 7.5 percent of his or her salary into a retirement account, in addition to 6.2 percent for social security contributions. The district, under federal law, also pays 6.2 percent social security contribution, but pays only 3.09 percent into the state pension fund, a slow increase from 1.18 percent in 2008-2009. (The state also pays 3.09 percent.)

Each teacher currently pays $1,453-$1,684 per year, depending on the plan, for health care. The arbitrator recommended the teachers increase their share of the total cost to 12 percent of the health care cost.

Perhaps the board needed the money for its "Community Room." That room, which will be the place for board meetings, includes a new sound system ($31,159), new carpet ($13,242), and new furniture ($8,551.06).

Perhaps the board needed the money for an additional administrator ($69,209), or for the 3 percent increases for its administrative staff, which includes a salary of $133,900 for its superintendent, more than $60,000 higher than the highest pay earned by any teacher.

Because of the teachers, the students have the highest academic scores on the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile; the high school is the only one in the state, one of only 340 in the nation, to have earned Blue Ribbon designation by the U.S. Department of Education. That honor is based upon academic excellence and/or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

The board's performance leaves some serious questions. The major question is why even go to arbitration if you don't plan to listen to what is a fair settlement? Apparently, the board believes that only if the arbitrator agrees with all of its proposals should it accept the recommendations. This is not what arbitration is.

However, there are two deeper issues. Some residents ignorantly claim that teachers work limited hours a day and only 180 days a year, not realizing that outside of class teachers also have preparation, grading, student and parent conferences, extracurricular advising, required training sessions, and meetings; the average worker, if taking into account weekends, sick days, vacation time, and holidays, works fewer hours a year than does the average teacher. The arbitrator said many of the letters he received from the public argued that the teachers are paid more than the general public in the district, and receive better benefits. These arguments are not uncommon in Pennsylvania.

This is not the 19th century when teachers didn't need a college degree, were primarily female-they were often called "school marms"-and worked for low wages and near-nothing benefits.

Today, every public school teacher has a college degree and state certification. Every teacher is required to take additional classes. Most teachers are pursuing or have already earned master's degrees. They are a part of the professional class. But, they are still behind their other colleagues who have similar education and years of experience.

But, this doesn't matter to those who may be envious that others make more than they do, a problem not just in Danville but throughout the state and nation.
Here are two realities. First, high quality teachers-the ones who teach our children who will become our tradespeople, secretaries, physicians, social workers, firefighters, and scientists-are critical to any society, and should be paid well.

Second, if the public is upset the teachers are paid more than they are, then they should do what the teachers have done successfully-Unionize and raise their own wages and benefits, rather than complain about others and try to drag their compensation down.

[Among those contributing facts to this column were Dave Fortunato, president of the Danville Teachers Association; and Allan Schappert, president of the board of the Danville Area School District. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist, a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and the author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, health, and environmental effects of fracking throughout the country. Full disclosure: Dr. Brasch is a former teacher.]

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Contrived Controversy Fomenting War

by: John Morgan

Mon Feb 23, 2015 at 10:41:38 AM EST

A contrived, fake controversy erupted last week when media war mongers attacked President Obama for not using the term "Islamic Extremism" when speaking about ISIS.  These words and the air time devoted to them cause lives.  President Obama held a forum on extremism last week and refused to label ISIS terrorists as "Islamic Extremists."  For this he was vilified by Fox News.  The discussion also spilled over to the Fox Light Network CNN.  

The President refuses to fall into the right wing media's trap of making this war one of Christian versus Muslim.  Ever since President George W. Bush's giant mistake of calling the Iraq War a crusade much of the world has taken that to mean that these have been religious wars.  There have been  countless religious wars over centuries and this should not be one of them.  This is a war against terrorists using ancient forms of torture and terror.  Let's remember that their use of torture, however barbaric, is being justified by them because of our use of torture against Muslims.  We opened this can of worms.

ISIS is no more Islamic and representative of that faith than the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church are of Christianity.  Nothing they stand or fight for is justified in the Quoran.  This is not the Muslim faith practiced and observed by a billion people across the globe.  Demonizing all Muslims for the actions of a few fundamentalist extremists is no different than if we condemned all Christians for the KKK.

Stereotyping people is evil and immoral.

Networks beaming footage of pundits calling for religious war is irresponsible war mongering.  People die from such actions.  The President is doing the responsible thing by recognizing ISIS as terrorists and not simply Muslims.  The term "Islamic Extremism" connotes that we, as a Christian nation (which we are not) are at war with Islam.

The result of such madness is that average Americans are targeted simply because of their faith.  Muslim Americans should not be afraid for their safety because reckless "journalists" choose to put them at at risk.  The fact a once respected network like CNN chose to jump on this topic last week on Carol Costello's program was disheartening.  This is basic war mongering and an attempt to foment hatred not just at ISIS but towards all Muslims.

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They Brand Cattle, Don't They?

by: John Morgan

Mon Feb 16, 2015 at 08:15:14 AM EST

by Walter Brasch

     "Branding! We have to make you a brand!"
     "I'm not cattle," I told my sometimes faux foil assistant Marshbaum, who had just burst into my office. "And if you think I'm getting a tattoo," I replied, "my body isn't a canvas."
     "It's sure wide enough," Marshbaum flippantly replied. Before I could throw sheets of wadded up paper at him, he explained what he meant. "It's not a fire-iron brand," he explained. "It's strategic marketing."
     "I'm a journalist," I reminded Marshbaum, "I don't do that kind of thing."
     "You will if you want to stay in business."
     "I've been in this business four decades, and I've never been branded."
     "That's why we need you to do TV commercials," he said.
     "I'm a print journalist," I reminded him.
     "Yeah, well, not all of us are pretty enough for TV, but you still have to do a commercial! Just like Jennifer Anniston."
     "As if she needs more money," I sneered. "She's got a net worth of something between $100 million and $150 million, depending upon which magazine you believe."
     "You can never have enough," said Marshbaum.
     "Yeah, that and her eight-figure salary for commercials that tell 45-year-old women they can dab junk on their faces and look like ingĂ©nues. She's hawking hair products, beer, and some fragrance Besides, she's taking money from low-income hard-working actors who do need the bucks."
     "You said that before. And before. And before."
     "It's the truth," I said. "A-list actors have branched into TV commercials. Selling everything from eyelash liners to prescription drugs to-"
     "Yeah, yeah, like that sorrowful Blythe Danner who's got some kind of problem that keeps her on stage to break a leg."
     "Exactly!" I replied. "It's what I've been trying to tell you. The rich actors don't need more money."
     "But they do need exposure. TV and film aren't enough. The red carpet isn't enough. Being mentioned in the National Enquirer isn't enough. They want it all, and to get it all, they need to be a brand. Corporate America loves it!"
     "There's a lot that corporate America loves that just doesn't matter to the rest of us."
     "But it does matter. When you see Larry the Cable Guy, you think of bad heartburn. When Brooke Shields appears on the screen, you still think of her wearing Calvin Klein jeans with no underwear. And then you run out to your nearest box store and buy whatever they're selling. Think you'll do that if you see a commercial with some no-name talent?"
     "Some people," I said, "already think I may be a no-name talent."
     "And that's why we need to brand you. Tie you to some product. It'd raise your profile, make you a brand, and make money for all of us."
     "All of us?"
     "You don't think I'd be doing all this for free, do you?! I have expenses. Besides, we'd have to pay for makeup, better clothes, a publicist, marketing manager, and a business manager. Then there's your entourage. TV commercial talent has to have an entourage. That doesn't come cheap."
     "It comes a lot cheaper if I don't do it at all."
     "What?! And be responsible for even more unemployment? A whole industry needs you to brand yourself. You get exposure and money. And that will lead to more commercials. And more commercials lead to better recognition. And the advertisers will be ecstatic!"
     "Will it get me more readers?"
     "Don't be ridiculous. If you get branded, you won't need readers. You'll live off your residuals from commercials."
     "But I'm a journalist," I again reminded him. "I write stories that give people information they need. Stories that affect people's lives."
     "TV commercials affect people's lives. Where would America be if Ellen DeGeneres didn't promote JCPenny's or Michael Jordan wasn't shilling Jockey underwear? Think you'd buy a Lincoln if millionaire Matthew McConaughey wasn't telling you to do it?"
     "If I do this-and I probably won't-what would I be selling? Cars? Watches?"
     "Toilet paper. It goes with your brand. A whole gaggle of conservative readers already say your column is full of-"
     "-great insight and sparkling language."
     "Yeah. Sure. Something like that."
     "Look, Marshbaum," I said a bit testy, "I don't need to be a brand. I do need to write my column for this week."
     "I think you just did," he said smugly.
     [Dr. Brasch's latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, health, and environmental effects of high-volume horizontal fracturing. Rosemary R. Brasch didn't want to share the byline; she says she doesn't like associating with Marshbaum.]
 

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Soapblox Incompetence

by: John Morgan

Fri Feb 13, 2015 at 17:31:14 PM EST

The blog went down yesterday because of a billing dispute with my host company Soapblox.  They continually overbill me and I must check every invoice for errors.  While rehabilitating my torn Achilles I fell behind and made a payment to them which they never credited to my account.  Because of their incompetence they blocked my site.  Never do business with Warecorp (which now owns Soapblox).
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Progressive Summit Sells Out

by: John Morgan

Sun Feb 08, 2015 at 15:57:25 PM EST

Keystone Progress held its sixth annual Progressive Summit Friday and Saturday and this year they sold it out.  800 people gathered at the Harrisburg Hilton for two days of speakers, workshops and parties.   The highlight on Friday was a speech by Cecile Richards of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.  She brought down the house by reminding the audience that although the Koch Brothers want to spend close to a billion dollars in the 2016 elections progressives can counter that with millions of people.

Cecile Richards:

 photo DSCN4020_zpsuqdjhx7s.jpg

The Koch Brothers were also the object of a speech Saturday morning by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  The Independent socialist empowered the full house in a talk about the dangers of income inequality, how we got into the mess and how the Koch Brothers want to make things far worse.  Jim Dean of Democracy For America, based in Vermont, introduced the Senator.

Cecile Richards with Kate Michelman:

 photo DSCN4027_zpsgaftx7kd.jpg

Michael Morrill, Executive Director of Keystone Progress, reminded the progressives that we have to be the conscience of the Commonwealth and hold our elected officials accountable for their corruption even when they are on our side (or so we thought).  That comment only got sparse applause but I salute Mike's courage in saying it.  It was something, in light of the Rob McCord case, which needed to be said.

44 workshops filled much of Saturday and topics ranged the entire spectrum of progressive issues.  Sen. Daylin Leach hosted a party Friday evening and Manan Trivedi hosted a karaoke party into the wee hours.

Jim Dean's introduction of Sen. Bernie Sanders:

Sen. Bernie Sanders:

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'Made in America' Just a Political Slogan to Conservatives

by: John Morgan

Sun Feb 08, 2015 at 15:43:36 PM EST

by Walter Brasch

Conservatives in Congress have once again proven they are un-American and unpatriotic. This time, it's because of their fierce approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline, being built and run by TransCanada, will bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. All the oil will be exported. Major beneficiaries, including House Speaker John Boehner, are those who invest in a Canadian company.

Opponents see the 1,179-mile pipeline as environmentally destructive. They cite innumerable leaks and spills in gas pipelines, and correctly argue that the tar sands oil is far more caustic and destructive than any of the crude oil being mined in the United States. They point out the pipeline would add about 240 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. They also argue that the use of eminent domain by a foreign corporation, in this case a Canadian one, to seize private property goes against the intent of the use of eminent domain. Eminent domain seizure, they also correctly argue, should be used only to benefit the people and not private corporations.

Proponents claim it will bring jobs to Americans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims the pipeline would create up to 250,000 jobs. However, the Department of State concludes that completion of the pipeline would create only 35 permanent jobs.

The Republican-led House has voted nine times to force the President to approve completion of the pipeline. In January, with Republicans now in control of the Senate, a bill to support construction of the pipeline passed, 62-36. Congressional actions appear to be nothing more than political gesturing. The decision to approve or reject the pipeline is that of a recommendation by the Department of State and, finally, that of the President.

However, the conservatives' hatred of American workers became apparent in an amendment to the Senate bill. That amendment, submitted by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) would require, if the pipeline was approved, all iron, steel, and other materials used must be made in America by American companies. That would, at least, give some work to Americans. That amendment should have had widespread approval in the Senate, especially from the conservative wing that thrusts out its chests and daily proclaim themselves to be patriots of the highest order.

But when the votes were counted, the Senate, by a 53-46 vote, rejected that amendment. Voting for "Made in America" were 44 Democrats, one independent, and one Republican. Voting against the amendment were 53 Republicans.

The Republicans' rejection of the amendment was expected. America's corporate business leaders, most of them conservatives and registered Republicans, have freely downsized their workforce, outsourced jobs overseas, and proudly proclaimed their actions helped raise profits. Profits, of course, are not usually shared with the workers who make the product and then were terminated so American companies could use and exploit foreign labor, while the executives enjoy seven- and eight-figure salaries, benefits, and "golden parachute" retirement clauses not available to those whose labor built the companies and their profits.

Corporations have also figured out how to best send their profits to banks outside the United States and, thus, avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Several Fortune 500 corporations, with billions of dollars in assets, pay no federal taxes. For money they keep in U.S. financial institutions, corporations have figured out numerous ways to use loopholes to bring their tax burden to a percentage lower than what the average worker might pay each year.

Congress is a willing co-conspirator because it has numerous times refused to close loopholes that allow millionaires and the corporations to easily drive through those loopholes, while penalizing lower- and middle-class Americans.

By their own actions-in business and, most certainly, in how they dealt with the Keystone XL amendment-the nation's conservatives have proven that "Made in America" and "American Pride" are nothing more than just popular slogans.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and proud member of several unions, is the author of 20 books. The latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of horizontal fracturing in the United States.]

 

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News & Notes January 29, 2015

by: John Morgan

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 12:00:23 PM EST

I had planned on retiring at the end of 2014 but here it's 2015 and I'm still going-sort of.  I kind of consider myself a part-time blogger now-semi-retired.   I'll write when health my health issues allow time and/or topics interest me.

State Treasurer Rob McCord resigned today effective Feb. 12th.  He ran for Governor last year and ran a rather hateful campaign full of personal attacks against now Governor Tom Wolf.  I suppose McCord has some shame left as he seems to feel uncomfortable working with the guy he attacked so shamelessly a year ago.

The problem with making politics personal is that afterwards you can't work together.  Even the worst ideological foes can usually find some common ground where they can work together.  After an intensely personal campaign that's impossible.  McCord made the correct decision to step down under those conditions.

Montgomery County has selected Valerie Arkoosh to succeed new Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards as County Commissioner.  The Doctor ran a good campaign for Congress last year in the Democratic primary to succeed Allyson Schwartz who resigned to run for Governor.  Brendan Boyle won the election and is now a Congressman.  She's a great choice for this post.  I saw Commissioner Josh Shapiro at the inauguration last week and he said a decision would be coming soon to fill the vacancy.

Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus has announced he is seeking re-election.  Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have major citywide elections this year.

The PA Democratic Party will be meeting Feb. 21st in Hershey for its annual endorsement meeting.  Numerous appellate Judgeships are on the ballot and some good people are running.  I know several from past campaigns and am looking forward to meeting the others.

"Guantanamo Diary" is a new book written by a prisoner at the infamous facility written from his own experiences.  This is a must read to fully understand the sub human conditions and torture we subjected these people to under the guise of "liberty."

Beware of Republicans who use the word "reform."  their definition is "to remove."  Pension reform is an issue only because the Commonwealth has failed to fully contribute as required to fund public pensions.  Now that it's at a crisis point they want to use the crisis to gut these pensions.  Let's remember that these pensions were negotiated under collective bargaining agreements and were part of people's compensation packages.  By gutting them we're retroactively voiding those contracts which were entered into in good faith by thousands of workers.  This is called dealing in bad faith and is untrustworthy.  How will we ever attract quality people to public service when we turn around and cheat them?

This is really neat:  pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show the galaxy Andromeda.  It'll make you feel very small.

The Erik Arneson affair is interesting.  He is a Republican political hack who was appointed by Gov. Corbett in the closing days of his failed Administration to head the Open Records Office.  This job requires its head to be rather non-partisan because it decides which requests for public information are allowed and which are not.  The state law creating the office designed it to rule on challenged requests arbitrarily.  I don't see how a hack can do the job impartially.

Gov. Wolf was correct in firing Arneson who I first encountered when he was working for Sen. Chip Brightbill.  I was representing Democracy For America on the Raise the Minimum Wage campaign which succeeded in bring our now outdated $7.25 minimum up two dollars an hour.  As part of that effort we staged a rally outside the Senator's office in Lebanon.  As we were leaving Arneson emerged from the building carrying a sign we'd made with our requests.  He said he was keeping it as a keepsake meaning the Senator never even saw it.  That's when I knew the man was a hack.

Corbett also made several other questionable nominations before scrambling out of the Capital.  Shell Oil flack john T. Hines was appointed to DEP's Citizens Advisory Council.  So Gov. Gasbag, as one of his final acts as Governor, put a gas company guy on the Department of Environmental Protection's Advisory Council.  That's why he's now an ex-Governor.

Sen. Bob Casey has had some bad votes but his yes vote for the Keystone XL pipeline last week gave me indigestion.  This "jobs bill" will only create 35-50 [permanent jobs and the oil it transports will be exported to China and elsewhere.  We take all the environmental risk and they get the oil (from Canada).

Why is it that Fox and CNN (fast becoming Fox Light) only broadcast Islamic terrorism?  Every time a Christian commits terrorism they never blame all Christians but when a Muslim does it all Muslims are painted with the same brush.  Based on that logic all Christians should be blamed for what the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church do.

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A New Progressive Governor Takes Office

by: John Morgan

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 11:55:25 AM EST

I spent yesterday roaming around the Capitol building as Tom Wolf took the oath of office as Pennsylvania's 47th Governor.  Because of my recent Achilles tendon injury I hadn't gotten a ticket or press credentials because I didn't know if I'd be healthy enough to attend.  As it was I limped around using a cane and paid for it by the time I returned to Reading with a very painful ankle.  I applied some medication for the swelling though and all is well this morning.  Being on my feet remains a challenge until it fully heals.

Still it was great to be back in Harrisburg and chat and visit with many friends and legislators.  I got some interesting information, met new Chief of Staff Katie McGinty, congratulated consultant and now Director of Legislative Affairs Mary Isenhour on a spectacular job and watched the inauguration on one of several large screen televisions mounted inside the Capitol.  I remained warm on this grey, cold afternoon though it meant missing out on being able to get many good pictures.  

The former Governors in attendance were clustered in a corner outside the cafe and I got a few pictures of them.

Former Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge:

Tom Ridge photo DSCN4018_zps5553fdbf.jpg

Outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett:

Tom Corbett photo DSCN4019_zps0a07c32e.jpg

I met several of the candidates for state judgeships, chatted briefly with Dan Onorato, the Democratic candidate for Governor four years ago and many others.

Wolf campaigned on the premise that he'd give Pennsylvania a "fresh start" and that he would be "a different kind of Governor."  He already has set that tone by not residing in the Governor's Mansion but commuting from his home in nearby York County.  He will also continue using his own vehicle, the famous Jeep.  He has dictated that no one on his staff accept gifts, heresy in the cesspool of corruption which is our state capital.

He faces a Republican led legislature which increased its majorities in both the House and Senate all the while the progressive Democrat was waltzing away with the Gubernatorial race.  As such he said "We have to respect each other's ideas, each other's values" as his approach to building some sort of consensus with the other Party.

Wolf's two biggest goals are to enact a 5% extraction tax on natural gas to fund education and to change the state constitution to allow progressive taxation.   Both are poison to the many Teapublicans in the legislature.  Sen. Jake Corman dethroned longtime Senate leader Dominic Pilleggi (who may be plotting revenge) to take a harder ideological stance against Democrats.  The outlook for Wolf isn't good under these circumstances and he faces a $2.3 billion state budget deficit left over from Tom Corbett's failed administration.

Something has to get done and the way it does will set the tone for Tom Wolf's success or failure.  A dramatic success might lead him on a path to higher office.  

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