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The Pennsylvania Progressive

The Business of Wall Street

by: John Morgan

Tue Jun 23, 2015 at 21:42:03 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

     If you don't mind working hard-and partying even harder-why not get a business degree, take a couple of state and federal tests, and become a Wall Street trader?
     These are the people who are the current crop of Gordon Gekkos-you know, the pretend-fictional character portrayed by Michael Douglas in Wall Street. The men spend thousands of dollars on suits, ties, and cocaine. The women spend thousands just to own a closet of Jimmy Choo shoes.
     But their existence is shrouded by a coop they call an office or cubicle. Their tools are multiple phone lines and computer screens.
     The chase for money-and perhaps the excitement in getting people to give up a chunk of their earned income after hearing a finely-tuned pitch-drives these college graduates.
     But, the rewards are high.
     Last year, Wall Street paid $28.5 billion in bonuses. That's an average of $172,000 per person. Some got more. Some less. But, overall, those who worked on Wall Street made, just in bonuses, about $172,000. Summer interns in investment banking earned about $6,000 a month for their summer. The salaries and compensation rise significantly after they get their business degrees and begin a career of the search for the holy grail. In their case, the holy grail is nothing less than a pile of luxuries that the rest of us only know about because of ads in Fortune Magazine.
     Why these people earn 6, 7- and 8-figure incomes is because business and the greed for piling up stock options, not service to mankind, dominates the American workforce. More important, they know they can not just enter the gray area of ethics but step over it; almost none of them were fined or jailed for leading the country into the housing crisis and Great Recession that began near the end of the Bush-Cheney administration.
     Now, let's take a look at the rest of us. The ones who don't get corporate welfare, government bailouts, and golden retirement bonuses.
     Last year, about one million Americans worked full-time for minimum wage. Their combined earnings were about $8 billion. A full-time worker making the federal minimum wage earns about $7.25 an hour. That's about $15,080 a year. The nation's poverty threshold is $11,770. Thus, the worker, if she or he has no dependents, earns only about $12.70 a day more than the poverty guidelines.
     If the worker has one dependent, the poverty guideline is $15,930; thus, the worker is earning less than what the federal government says is a poverty wage.
     Now, let's pretend the employer is generous and pays $10 an hour-that's $20,800 a year. Figure rent, utilities, car expenses to get to the job, car and health insurance, and the usual local, state, and federal payroll deductions, and the worker would have to borrow the funds to go to a movie and buy a soda and popcorn.
     But, business owners say they can't afford to increase minimum wage. It'd ruin the economy they say. It'll bring down capitalism, they claim. $7.25 an hour-maybe even $10 an hour-is fair. But, a minimum wage of $15 an hour-like what Los Angeles recently passed-and which won't take effect for five years-well, that's just unreasonable.
     With the support of the local Chambers of Commerce, employers declare that raising wages would mean an increase in retail prices. What many small business owners don't fully understand is that their customers are usually from the lower- and middle-classes. When wages are depressed, purchasing is diminished. By paying their own employees sub-standard wages, the owners, no matter how good employers they may be, cause fewer purchases for all community businesses.
     For megacorporation retailers, the situation is slightly different, one based upon a corporate philosophy of "maximizing profits" and paying bigger dividends to investors than wages to the people who actually do the work.
     At Walmart, the six Walton family owners have a combined worth of about $160 billion. Management just raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and then complained it was costing $65 million a month. Assume even a $1 billion a year increase for Walmart's workers, that would still leave a net profit of about $15 billion a year.
     McDonald's CEO Dan Thompson earned $9.5 million last year; his full-time workers earn an average of $16,000-$19,000 a year. A pay increase would affect the owners of 30,000 franchise locations, but increase the price of a double quarter-pounder cheeseburger only pennies. Anyone willing to pay $6.79 for a fast-food burger probably won't notice a $6.85 charge.
     A study conducted by Dr. Kathleen Maclay of the University of California revealed that American taxpayers contribute about $7 billion a year in welfare payments to the low-paid workers in the fast-foods industry. In contrast, McDonald's had about $5.7 billion in net profits in 2013.
     Back on Wall Street, brokers and traders would be apoplectic if all corporations improved wages, benefits, and working conditions. There would be less return on investment, and clients might not invest as much. Clients who don't invest as much also means the Wall Street Zoo will receive less income, since much of their own wages are determined by commissions.
     So, Wall Street needs to make sure they hustle customers and keep them pouring money into corporations.
     It's just "good business practices." After all, they and the million-dollar company executives they support deserve it. They studied business in college.

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ObamaCare Is Helping Pennsylvanians

by: John Morgan

Tue Jun 09, 2015 at 17:20:12 PM EDT

The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as ObamaCare, is helping Pennsylvanians as the Supreme Court readies a major decision which could eviscerate the health program.  Congressional Republicans filed suit and SCOTUS is prepared to rule on that litigation before the end of this month.  If it rules that subsidies are illegal millions of people could lose the coverage they've now had for a year and a half.

This is such a stupid lawsuit even GOP Sen. John Thune saw fit to condemn and end to the subsidies as he condemned the ACA.  He got pilloried on Twitter for his stupidity but stupidity hasn't prevented millions of Americans from voting these morons into office.  Perhaps what we really need is a plan which prohibits stupid people from running for office.  With all this talk of bringing literacy tests back for voters we should require one for office seekers.

The White House sent this fact sheet today showing how ObamaCare has helped Pennsylvania:

After Health Reform: Improved Access to Care

·         Gallup recently estimated that the uninsured rate in Pennsylvania in 2014 was 10.3 percent, down from 11.0 percent in 2013.

·         Prohibits coverage denials and reduced benefits, protecting as many as 5,489,162 Pennsylvanians who have some type of pre-existing health condition, including 656,877 children.

·         Eliminates lifetime and annual limits on insurance coverage and establishes annual limits on out-of-pocket spending on essential health benefits, benefiting 4,582,000 people in Pennsylvania, including 1,769,000 women and 1,136,000 children.

·         Expands Medicaid to all non-eligible adults with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level.  153,468 more people in Pennsylvania have gained Medicaid or CHIP coverage since the beginning of the Health Insurance Marketplace first open enrollment period.

·         Establishes a system of state and federal health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, to make it easier for individuals and small-business employees to purchase health plans at affordable prices through which 427,454 people in Pennsylvania were covered in March 2015.

·         Created a temporary high-risk pool program to cover uninsured people with pre-existing conditions prior to 2014 reforms which helped more than 7,106 people in Pennsylvania.

·         Creates health plan disclosure requirements and simple, standardized summaries so 7,586,200 people in Pennsylvania can better understand coverage information and compare benefits.

After Health Reform: More Affordable Care


·         Creates a tax credit to help 348,823 people in Pennsylvania who otherwise cannot afford it purchase health coverage through health insurance marketplaces.

·         Requires health insurers to provide consumers with rebates if the amount they spend on health benefits and quality of care, as opposed to advertising and marketing, is too low.  Last year, 90,485 consumers in Pennsylvania received $5,198,874 in rebates.

·         Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for preventive services like immunizations, certain cancer screenings, contraception, reproductive counseling, obesity screening, and behavioral assessments for children.  This coverage is guaranteed for more than 6,127,383 people in Pennsylvania including 2,511,285 women.

·         Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for 1,801,768 Medicare beneficiaries in Pennsylvania for preventive services like cancer screenings, bone-mass measurements, annual physicals, and smoking cessation.

·         Phases out the "donut hole" coverage gap for 297,058 Medicare prescription drug beneficiaries in Pennsylvania, who have saved an average of $948 per beneficiary.

·         Creates Accountable Care Organizations consisting of doctors and other health-care providers who share in savings from keeping patients well while improving quality, helping 289,927 Medicare beneficiaries in Pennsylvania.

·         Phases out overpayments through the Medicare Advantage system, while requiring Medicare Advantage plans to spend at least 85 percent of Medicare revenue on patient care.  Medicare Advantage enrollment has grown by 152,265 to 1,009,759 in Pennsylvania since 2009.

After Health Reform: Improved Quality and Accountability to You

·         Provides incentives to hospitals in Medicare to reduce hospital-acquired infections and avoidable readmissions.  Creates a collaborative health-safety learning network, the Partnership for Patients, that includes 157 hospitals in Pennsylvania to promote best quality practices.

We're not done.  Other legislation and executive actions are continuing to advance the cause of effective, accountable and affordable health care.
This includes:

·         Incentive payments for doctors, hospitals, and other providers to adopt and use certified electronic health records (EHR).  In Pennsylvania more than 53.2 percent of hospitals and 41.8 percent of providers have electronic health records systems.

·         A new funding pool for Community Health Centers to build, expand and operate health-care facilities in underserved communities.  Health Center grantees in Pennsylvania now serve 680,017 patients and received $189,115,545 under the health care law to offer a broader array of primary care services, extend their hours of operations, hire more providers, and renovate or build new clinical spaces.

·         Health provider training opportunities, with an emphasis on primary care, including a significant expansion of the National Health Service Corps.  As of September 30, 2014, there were 208 Corps clinicians providing primary care services in Pennsylvania, compared to 62 clinicians in 2008.


 
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The Politics of Disaster Relief

by: John Morgan

Sat Jun 06, 2015 at 16:57:35 PM EDT

by Walter Brasch

     More than 150,000 Texans sent a petition to the White House, demanding the union allow Texas to secede.
     This was not 1861 when Texans wanted out of the union. This was two years ago.
     Among those who threw around the idea of secession was conservative Republican governor Rick Perry, who has re-entered the race for president-not of the Confederate States of America, but of the United States of America.
     About a month ago, the U.S. military announced a two-month long large-scale drill, known as Jade Helm 15, to begin July 15. The training exercise will spread over Texas and four other states.
     But that's not what a large chunk of Texans-and especially a chunk of rabid patriotic right-wing talk show pundits and almost all of the Tea Party believe. They put on their tin foil caps-apparently to stimulate their two brain cells-and determined the military training exercise is a prelude to the U.S. seizing Texas and stripping its citizens of their guns and their Constitutional rights. Not that many of them ever read the Constitution. And, certainly, not federal and Supreme Court decisions.
     They said the military, in civilian clothes, would be blending into the local populations of more than 15 cities in preparation to imposing martial law.
     Normally, when you have paranoia this deep, it's time to allow open admissions to the psychiatric wings of major hospitals. But, the new governor, Greg Abbott, a conservative Republican, like the governor before him-and the governor before him-ordered the Texas National Guard to monitor the exercises to make sure that the damn Yankees didn't emasculate Texas statehood. No one knows how much that decision to mobilize the National Guard will cost Texas taxpayers.
     While complaining about the Invasion, Texas suffered from heavy rains and floods. Almost three dozen died. Hundreds have lost their homes. The Red Cross and numerous disaster relief organizations are in Texas to help. They don't care what the victims' social, religious, or political beliefs are. They care about helping people who need help.
     Gov. Abbot and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz-Texans, Republicans, and on the far right side of conservative politics-have begged for federal assistance, including a large dose of federal funds. Both Cornyn and Cruz had previously voted against giving federal assistance to New Jersey and the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
     President Obama responded quickly, and ordered humanitarian assistance for the people of Texas. That assistance includes significant manpower and federal funds. The President didn't say-like Cornyn and Cruz had once said about New Jersey-there wasn't enough money to help Texas. The President didn't say-like Cornyn and Cruz had once said-that even if there was enough money, they wouldn't vote for assistance until the President yielded to them on a completely unrelated political matter. The President didn't even worry about whether Texans liked him or not, even though a majority of that state's politicians think of him as incompetent, evil, and-horrors!-a firebreathing Muslim who is the anti-Christ deploying forces to take their guns and all their rights. He made sure the people got the help they needed.
     When the people of another state experience tragedy, like the people of New Jersey and Texas did, perhaps Sens. Cornyn and Cruz will remember this is, still, a United States of America, and will not make inane political speeches and block federal disaster funds.
     [Dr. Brasch covered numerous disasters when he was a reporter; after leaving newspapers, he was involved with emergency preparedness and emergency management. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed best-seller Fracking Pennsylvania]

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RIP Beau Biden

by: John Morgan

Sat Jun 06, 2015 at 16:53:40 PM EDT

Delaware bade farewell to one of its own today.  Last weekend Beau Biden, son of VP Joe Biden and a two term Delaware Attorney General, died of brain cancer. The front runner for the Gubernatorial race next year he succumbed to this virulent cancer just short of two years after being diagnosed.  Being a former Delawarean I followed Beau's career ascent with interest.  I've covered his father numerous times as Vice President and Joe was also my U.S. Senator for the 18 years I resided in Newark.  I've always had admiration for the Bidens and Beau looked to have an impressive future.  The fact this cancer robbed us all of him so soon, at age 46, is a loss to all of us.

I have to wonder if his service in Iraq caused his illness.  The use of depleted uranium is causing many illnesses in both American service people and Iraqis.  Biden spent 14 months serving in Iraq with the Delaware Air National Guard.  He signed up for service after 9/11.  He leaves a widow and two children.

President Obama eulogized him today at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington.  The famous Italian Festival begins this week and the sense of revelry will definitely be muted this year.

Delaware is a small family.  Originally the Lower Three Counties of Penns Woods the First State broke off in colonial times and has had its share of remarkable leaders.  Pennsylvania, with 67 counties has lagged behind IMHO.  In a state where everyone knows everyone I recall a time when I was driving north from Dover and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's state car (always identifiable by its license plate Delaware 1) was speeding.  We were going pretty much the same direction and when it pulled into the state Democratic headquarters in Stanton I pulled in behind and commented tot he Governor that her driver (a State Trooper) had been speeding and that it set a bad example.

There aren't a lot of places where you can do something like that.  Gov. Minner was friendly and apologetic and she knew that in such a small state word of something like that could spread quickly and she reprimanded her driver before I departed.

I recall many times seeing Gov. Pete DuPont's Lincoln Town Car on its way to Dover from Wilmington when I was frequently driving the same route down Route 13.  In a big state like ours it's difficult to imagine how intimate politics can be in a place like Delaware.  Joe Biden served the state for 36 years as U.S. Senator and in that time many, many Delawareans were touched by him and his family.  He frequently eats at the Charcoal Chef which also a favorite haunt of my grandparents who lived in Wilmington.  He raised his family after losing his first wife and daughter in a car accident.  I never passed through that intersection (which I did frequently) without thinking about them.

Losing Beau before his time has affected everyone in Delaware and everyone who has lived there for any period of time.  He promised to be someone who might even surpass his father's accomplishments and was well on his way on his own terms.  Not only will Delawareans miss Beau Biden but we all are at a loss for his passing.

My heart goes out to the Biden family.  May Beau rest in peace.

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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 ingénues. 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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