News & Notes

I don’t care about Michael Jackson.  I didn’t when he was alive and I don’t now that he’s dead.  Good riddance.

I also don’t care about Jon & Kate.  Until they landed in all the media and locals began telling me they really are cheating on each other that I even discovered who they were and the fact they have a TV show.  Now crawl back into your holes and disappear.  We have more important things to discuss.

I miss New Mexico already.  Seeing drivers speeding, running stop signs, cutting me off and so forth instills a hunger within me for the polite, mellow attitudes of the Land of Enchantment.  Can’t wait to return.

Superior Court Judge Jack Panella is our guest this week on Democratic Talk Radio.  He’s running for the state Supreme Court and you can listen through the web with the link here on the blog.  We go live at 8:05 am on WGPA.

I see where 21,000 Pennsylvanians are about to lose their unemployment compensation.  Things are about to get very tough for these folks.  To all those who continue saying the recession is a figment of our imaginations go talk to these people and hire some of them.

Today is the end of the quarterly fundraising cycle for federal candidates.  Go contribute to your favorites including those running next year against incumbents.

Though I didn’t vote for or support Barack Obama even I didn’t anticipate he’d continue the wireless eavesdropping program or the detention of prisoners without due process.  Then there’s the whole betrayal of gay rights…  Every day I see President Obama I’m happier I voted for Cynthia McKinney.

I haven’t made it out kayaking much this year between my hand surgery then our new house.  It’s time to get paddling again!

Promoting Firemen

Five activist Justices on the Supreme Court rewrote Title VII of the Civil Rights Act yesterday and no one on the right wing is screaming bloody murder.  Instead they are claiming the 5-4 vote was actually 9-0 (we already knew they’d flunked math) and that the decision sinks the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Court.

Actually it illustrates that she ruled correctly because she and two other Judges decided correctly that the New Haven firefighters suit violated Title VII as previous Courts had ruled.  She actually upheld precedent rather than creating new law.  It was five Justices appointed by Republicans and whom condemn “activist judges” who do exactly what they did who rewrote federal law yesterday.

It is interesting that Republicans only condemn activist judges when they do so against their wishes but not when they decide something based on race, creed, gender or so on which they desire.  It is time to end this specious argument about the role of judges if the right wing lunatic fringe cannot be consistent.

You Can Balance the State Budget

If you’re wondering why the discussion in Harrisburg is so heated over the state budget Keystone Progress has a new website where you can do it yourself.  Caution:  it is much harder than you think.  Deciding what programs must be cut and/or what taxes to raise is much more difficult when it is put into your own hands.  Do you cut public safety?  Education?  Economic development or children’s health care?

Do you raise the income tax or personal income tax?  Better yet how would you explain your choices to the voters back home?  The state deficit is so large it requires extremely difficult decisions which will affect all of the Commonwealth.  Go to the website and see for yourself.

White House Appoints Bill Wehry as Exec Director for Farm Service Agency

The Obama Administration also named Bill Wehry as Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency:

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2008- The Obama Administration today announced that Bill Wehry will serve as Pennsylvania State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency at the USDA.

“Bill Wehry has a solid understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our rural communities and will help build on the Obama Administration’s efforts to rebuild and revitalize rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Wehry is the Deputy Secretary for Agriculture and Consumer Protection for the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture. He oversees 470 employees and a $120 million operating budget. Previously, Wehry ran Meadow Creek Farms from 1977-2003, where he managed 500 acres of cropland and 250 sow. He is an experienced agricultural producer and agribusiness manager who has worked to create a healthy environment for farms, protect consumer health and preserve the environment. Throughout his career, Wehry has earned numerous conservation awards.  

The Farm Services Agency works to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural Americans. Some of the agency’s efforts include providing direct operating loans for farm equipment, seed and fertilizer, as well as rural housing loans to help rural people buy, build or rent housing. FSA also procures various commodities to benefit low-income families through domestic food assistance programs.  At the same time, the agency creates jobs by funding the growth and creation of rural businesses and cooperatives.

The USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture and natural resources and touches the life of every American. Reflecting President Obama’s commitment to expanding economic opportunities in rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the USDA are working to enhance availability of broadband, promote the development of renewable energy, to conserve, maintain and improve our natural resources and environment, and promote a sustainable, safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply.

White House Names Thomas Williams PA Rural Development Director

From the White House:

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2008 – The Obama Administration today announced that Thomas Williams will serve as Pennsylvania State Director for Rural Development at the USDA.

“Thomas William will be an important advocate on behalf of rural communities throughout the state and help administer the valuable programs and services provided by the USDA that can enhance their economic success,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Williams is currently the District Projects Director for Congressman Paul Kanjorski. He works with local government agencies to help communities and businesses throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania obtain access to funding for development projects. Previously, Williams ran a family restaurant and also served as the Executive Director for the Department of Community Development for the City of Nanticoke. He holds a master’s degree in political science from Bloomsburg University and a bachelor’s from Wilkes University. Williams is actively involved in nonprofit community economic development efforts.

Rural Development administers and manages over 40 housing, business, and community infrastructure and facility programs as laid out by Congress through a network of 6,100 employees located in 500 national, state and local offices. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of over $114 billion in loans and loan guarantees.

The USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture and natural resources and touches the life of every American. Reflecting President Obama’s commitment to expanding economic opportunities in rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the USDA are working to enhance availability of broadband, promote the development of renewable energy, to conserve, maintain and improve our natural resources and environment, and promote a sustainable, safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply.

Congressman Kanjorski issued this statement:

“I want to commend President Obama for choosing Tom Williams for this important position, and I am sure that Tom will prove himself more than capable of fulfilling the President’s mission, as he has been an integral part of my Congressional staff for the past thirteen years.  It is only because of my strong belief in what President Obama wants to accomplish for this country that I would consider willingly giving up Tom’s service in my office.

“I have known Tom since long before I was elected to Congress.  Tom and I learned together how to maximize the use of federal resources for the City of Nanticoke, when I was acting solicitor and he was the director of community development thirty years ago.

“As a member of my Congressional staff, Tom has been a key player in many projects that are close to my heart, including multiple flood control projects such as the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project; land reclamation and infrastructure improvement projects; and countless sewer and water projects throughout the 11th Congressional District.

“His assistance with these projects and many others has been invaluable to my efforts and to the residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania.  His familiarity with the programs and services provided by the Rural Development Administration makes him ideal for the position of Pennsylvania State Director for Rural Development, and I wish him all the best in his new role.”

Sen Eichelberger Refuses to Apologize

Echoes of the holocaust resounded around the state Capitol this afternoon as Sen. John Eichelberger refused to recant, apologize for or explain his recent statement about gays and lesbians:  “we’re allowing them to exist.”

Sen. John “Himmler” Eichelberger met briefly with gay and straight protesters after ducking them twice as a group of twenty people asked for an apology for his horrific statements recently about GLBT people.  The Senator steadfastly refused to apologize or make any explanation for saying “we’re allowing them to exist” in a WHYY debate with Sen. Daylin Leach about gay and lesbian issues.

I asked the Senator if he meant he has the right to deny my existence and he refused to respond while ducking into the Senate chamber and leaving security to bar me.

I’ve heard few more explosive statements from legislators than this one.  It implies the state, especially since this bigot is a State Senator, can deny us our right to exist.  This harkens back to the days of the holocaust and various campaigns of genocide by majority populations against minorities.  Sen. Eichelberger has introduced legislation legalizing discrimination against GLBT people in Pennsylvania and it is a slippery slope to go from there to denying certain people their right to exist.  

Any state legislator co-sponsoring or voting with Sen. Eichelberger stands with him in his statements. Anyone supporting his extremism will be considered as supporting his statements and positions.

I found it incredible that the Senator would offer no explanation for his comments.  The fact he knew we would be at his office at noon and chose not to be there showed his cowardice.  It was not until we waited an hour and returned that his receptionist allowed us a few minutes with the Senator in an additional hour.  Then he refused to spend more than a moment and refused to answer simple questions hiding behind Capitol security.

John Eichelberger has shown his true colors and his true agenda:  he only allows allows gays and lesbians to exist and can revoke that right with legislation.  The fact he is a Senator is frightening because he can introduce such legislation at any time.  Perhaps it is time for every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered person in Pennsylvania to stand up and insist they be allowed to exist.  Perhaps it is time for all GLBT people in America to boycott Pennsylvania.  Why would anyone come here or do business here in this climate of hatred, bigotry and fear?

Update:  Sen. Himmler again showed what a coward he is by not showing up for a second radio debate with Sen. Daylin Leach this evening.  Maybe he was afraid what else he might say…

More video:

This is Mike Morrill of Keystone Progress speaking to reporters including me.

Got news for ya Senator Eichelberger…

…I am straight and you give heterosexuals a bad name, let alone the rest of Pennsylvania and while we’re at it, just for the sake of argument, the human race.  

Also, I wish to disclose I am NOT a member of Keystone Progress, never have been, not really interested.  So, let me set that out from the get go.

Your contention though that Keystone Progress somehow

“intentionally misportray(ed) the truth”, is sadly ludicrous.  

I don’t know of too many people, who when asked for their take on your words, in regards to the idea that you and or the state government allows gay people to exist, could be interpreted for little more than what it was and what you said.  Other than perhaps something as childishly plain a statement or declaration as “See Spot run”, I’d be hard pressed to find your statement much more complex  than that to understand or comprehend in its context, sir.  

I don’t know if you realized it yet or not, or care to or not, but you didn’t just swallow your foot or shoe.  You swallowed the entire shoe store and perhaps a large part of the shoe factory with that little zinger alone.  Let us not forget the rest of your diatribe from that interview, let alone your penchant for seeking to further marginalize and subjugate citizens of this state, who happen to be no different than you or I, but for their particular gender identity.  In every other way, homosexuals in our state, or for that matter our country, or heck even the world, are affected by and capable of being just as fully engaged and productive a citizen as anybody else.  So, where then, sir do you come up with temerity to suggest that simply because they bothered to declare themselves openly homosexual that this somehow suddenly, dare I say magically, alters them into 2nd class citizens?!  I would dearly and sincerely love for you to share that serene wisdom and nugget of indomitable truth of fact that you have found, which would totally refute, undermine, and contravene the mountains of evidence and facts to the contrary of your position.  

If you are so happy and unapologetic about what you say and so convicted to believe and put to practice your views on this subject, then do share with all of us your saged insights, so that we may perhaps come to understand our faults and errors in this most complex situation.  

For my own insight, I might say that you have fallen into the trap of being a legislator who really believes that he can pretty much legislate whatever he wants, if it suits him or doesn’t.  You have fallen far enough into the stupor of power that you really believe that your constituents or the people of this state are so loathe to change their ways or elected officials that you have become the political teflon don of Harrisburg…in case you want to keep having this delusion, please see Veon, Mike, LaGrotta, Frank, and others, who at one time pretty much felt the same way.  Yes, this state is very staid, very slow to change, still filled with a lot of hateful people, who keep getting stuck, generation after generation in the same, tired, ugly, old, and empty traps of bigotry, bias, or prejudice.  So, in a way it doesn’t sadly surprise me to find that one of its higher elected representatives (you) has come forth to somehow attempt, in the awkwardness of trying to bring the past onto the future, where clearly no good fit could be had, the cause of prejudice against those who cause discomfort to minds and personalities too stuck in the past and in so doing, your policy would end up hurting this state more than you realize.  

I’d have pity on you for your words, views, and approach to this situation, but clearly you see no reason to atone for your statements.  So, I shall simply say that from one heterosexual to another, you need to remember the principles upon which this country and state were founded and realize that the founding fathers didn’t give a damn about a person’s convictions or identity, so long as it did not run afoul of allowing others to live as they wished.  We as heterosexuals would be opening the door for the curbing of our own liberty and the shaming of our founders, if we pass laws stating that it is ok to limit the lives of whole class of people, when clearly their lives are not interfering with the ability of others to do the same.  If you don’t believe that, then answer this question please…

…what have homosexuals done thus far, to you or others that you are aware of, which have prevented people who were not homosexual from living their lives according to the dictates of their own conscience, within the social contract of our state or nation?  

Sen. Eichelberger Unapologetic

Sen. John Eichelberger said on a debate on WHYY’s Radio Times about gays and lesbians:  “we’re allowing them to exist.”  This outrageous statement which echoes of the holocaust and genocide of Jews, gays and other minorities is resulting in further embarrassment for Pennsylvania that so many bigoted people exist in our state government.

Eichelberger responded to the outrage over his statement by blasting Mike Morrill of Keystone Progress for publicizing his remark.  That’s always a bad startegy for damage control when one says something truly outrageous:  insult the messenger rather than apologizing.  Here’s what the Senator who is sponsoring legislation to enshrine his bigotry said:

“This group [Keystone Progress] is a politically active group that goes around the country targeting people that are involved in this issue. If this is an example of how they conduct themselves then it’s difficult to continue dialogue and discussion, if people intentionally misportray the truth.”

Tomorrow Keystone Progress will host an event at the Capitol to protest Sen. Eichelberger’s statements and ask for an apology.  It is at noon.

Sestak: Inaction Is Not an Option on Health Care

Congressman Joe Sestak issued this statement today on the Congressional health care debate:

I made the case for health care reform Thursday at the Health Care for America Now (HCAN) Pennsylvania Town Hall, part of HCAN’s “We Can’t Wait” Day of Action. Speaking to 750 union members, community group members, religious members and other activists from Pennsylvania, the Congressman referenced the growing number of uninsured – no fewer than seven million added to the roles this decade —   and the fact that costs in Pennsylvanian have risen more than 80 percent since 2001 while wages have increased only 13 percent.

“With health care costs escalating, millions of Americans are unable to get the care they need and many are being forced into bankruptcy trying to get it,” said Congressman Sestak. “Worse yet, health care costs are taking over our economy and will represent one fifth of our gross domestic product in the next decade. The status quo is unsustainable. We need health care reform now.”

The US health care system is supported by employers, individuals, and the State and Federal governments. In the midst of this economic recession, revenue has decreased for employers, leading to layoffs and reduced health care coverage. This has caused many individuals to lose their employer-sponsored insurance. These lower revenues also put a strain on States, which in turn spend less on care for the uninsured just as their Medicaid roles increase.

Congressman Sestak detailed some of the measures that can reduce costs as we work toward a fair and sustainable system. These include: reimbursing health care providers for quality of preventive care, not quantity of visits; mandating that everyone is covered to drive down cost of premiums; and establishing a health insurance exchange so individuals and small businesses can join together to better bargain for affordable health care. In addition, the Congressman reaffirmed his support for the inclusion of a public health insurance option in the exchange.

“As part of health reform, I support the inclusion of a public plan that competes on a level playing field with private insurers, is subject to the same rules, regulations, and requirements as all other plans; and pays for care from individuals’ premiums and copayments — not general government revenue,” said Congressman Sestak. “Competition and transparency in our health care system will drive down costs and a public plan is an important part of meeting those standards.

“I ran for Congress primarily because of one issue: health care. Several years ago, when my daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, she received some of the best care modern medicine can provide under my military health care plan. We have been very blessed, but many families of hardworking Americans have not been so fortunate. The draft bill in the Education and Labor Committee is examining many ways to reach this goal and I look forward to working to produce legislation in that committee that allows more families to be as fortunate as mine.”

Tarnished Shields: The Morally Bankrupt ‘Family Values’ Republican Leadership

by Walter Brasch

           Some columns are easier to write than others.

           This is one of them.

           Providing all of my research were the “family values” Republicans.

           This week, second term Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina disappeared for six days, leaving the state without a chief executive who could make decisions in an emergency. His Republican lieutenant governor didn’t know where he was, and had not been given any authority to make decisions in his absence. The state police said they had not been informed. His wife told the Associated Press she didn’t know where he was, wasn’t worried about him, and thought he was “writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids” over the Father’s Day weekend. His senior aides said he was walking along the Appalachian Trail to “clear his head.”

           But it wasn’t his head that he was clearing. When he returned, after first lying to a reporter for the Columbia State who caught up with him on his return to the Atlanta airport, he finally admitted he went to Argentina to meet with a long-time lover. His wife, who was not by his side when he held an early afternoon press conference, later said she and the governor had separated two weeks earlier. The State later produced e-mail love letters it had been keeping since December.

           The rising young star of the Republican party who was seen as a presidential contender in 2012, the man who was head of the Republican Governors Association until the day after he acknowledged his extramarital affair, the man who had wanted to deprive his state of $700 million in federal stimulus funds as a political message to President Obama, the man who had established himself as a beacon for the sanctity of marriage and the values of the oh-so-pure Religious right, who a decade earlier as a congressman had strongly condemned Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair, was not only an adulterer, but for at least the second time had left his state at risk since there were no contingency plans of how to reach him in an emergency.  

Alas, Gov. Sanford isn’t the only “family values” philanderer. Slightly more than a week earlier, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted he had a nine month extramarital affair with one of his campaign staff. Ensign, who was contemplating a run for president in 2012, had been chair of the Republican Policy Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Like Gov. Sanford, Sen. Ensign only admitted to the affair after information had been leaked to the media.

           This is the same John Ensign who, as a congressman, had curled his lips in revulsion at Bill Clinton’s affair, and demanded he either resign or be impeached. “He has no credibility,” Ensign told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1998. Six years later, now a senator, Ensign supported a federal ban on same sex marriages by declaring, “Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded . .  . . [M]arriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation.” Ironically, Ensign is active in Promise Keepers, an evangelical group.

           Also vigorously calling for President Clinton’s impeachment, while having had their own extramarital affairs and covering them up or lying about them, were:

            Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chair of the House judiciary committee and the “house manager” for the impeachment, who lied about his own four-year affair with a married woman and then when a newspaper published details in 1998 called the affair in the 40s nothing more than a “youthful indiscretion.” He retired in 2007 after 17 terms in the House.

           Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who was the first legislator in Congress to call for Clinton’s resignation and then became one of the leaders of the impeachment movement. Barr’s background, however, wasn’t family values pure. He never denied committing adultery with his second wife, and later, while married to his third wife, was photographed at what passed as a charity event licking whipped cream off the breasts of two women. Barr left office in 2003, after four terms.

            Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), who was one of the first to call for Clinton’s resignation, told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that God had pardoned her sins for her six-year extra-marital affair. Chenoweth left office in January 2001 after keeping her promise not to serve more than three terms.

            Fourteen term Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind), chair of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, who not only had a long-time affair with a state employee but had fathered a son from that affair. His website once screamed, “Above all, Dan Burton believes the people have a right to principled leadership and that character does matter.”

            Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who told Tim Russert on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” in 1999 that “The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy-a naughty boy. I’m going to speak out for the citizens of my state, who in the majority think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy.” However, Craig himself was a “bad boy.” In September 2007 he pleaded guilty, and then tried to withdraw his conviction on charges that he solicited a man in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Several gay men later told the Idaho Statesman that Craig, who was married since 1983, had previously tried to solicit them or had sexual relations with them. Craig resigned in September 2007, and then reversed himself, staying in office through 2008. He did not run for re-election.

            Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), House speaker from 1995 to 1999, who may have had an affair while his first wife was in the hospital recovering from cancer. Gingrich later cheated on his second wife with the woman who became his third wife during the time he was pushing for Clinton’s resignation.

            Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), who was Gingrich’s designated successor until he admitted his own infidelities and eventually resigned from the House.

            Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who was elected to Livingston’s House seat and served three terms before being identified in a prostitution scandal in Louisiana. In 2004, he was elected to the Senate, three years before Hustler magazine linked him as a client of a prostitution service in Washington, D.C.

            Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa), who had a five year affair with a woman 35 years his junior. She later charged that Sherwood had assaulted her several times. He eventually settled for what AP reported was about $500,000. Among those who supported Sherwood during his primary re-election were Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), one of the leaders of the conservative coalition who in November 2005 said that “Compassionate Conservatism relies on healthy families,” and President George W. Bush who went to northeastern Pennsylvania to help raise funds for Sherwood. However, in the general election of November 2006, Sherwood was defeated for a fifth term.

            Rep. Vito Fossella Jr. (R-N.Y.), who, as a first term congressman with a 100 percent voting approval record from the Christian Coalition, was morally outraged at Bill Clinton’s personal conduct. A decade later, he was arrested for drunken driving in May 2008. Upon intense media scrutiny, he also admitted that while still married he had fathered a girl, now four years old, with an Air Force congressional liaison officer who was the woman who came to his assistance the night of his DUI arrest. After six terms, Fossella chose not to run for a seventh term.

            Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had delivered a passionate plea to the Senate on why he planned to vote to convict President Clinton, citing legal issues. However, McCain had previously acknowledged his own several extramarital affairs in the 1970s, and had accepted the blame for the deterioration of his first marriage and estrangement from his children.

           Add to the list of morally bankrupt Republicans:

            Five term Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) who resigned in September 1995, three years before the Clinton impeachment, after the bipartisan Ethics Committee unanimously recommended his expulsion following charges of sexual abuse and assault by 10 women, most of them either former staffers or lobbyists.

             Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), a six-term congressman, and co-chair of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, who had sent sexually explicit e-mails and text messages to a 16 year-old male Congressional page. Foley resigned in September 2006, two months before the general election, long after the Republican leadership had failed to discipline him, and only after a blog ( and ABC-TV news exposed his hoped-for affairs may have included other staff dating back at least a decade.

            Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.), publicly homophobic founder of Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union, who admitted he had solicited sex with a 16 year old male. Bauman lost the general election in 1980 and later declared himself to be gay.

            Rep. Donald Lukens (R-Ohio), who was convicted in 1989 of a misdemeanor for having sex with a 16-year-old girl. The “affair” may have begun three years earlier. Lukens finally resigned in October 1990, after having lost the Republican primary several months earlier.

           Republican leaders aren’t the only ones who commit adultery, nor are conservatives or members of the Religious Right, including preachers, solely the ones to have violated the seventh and tenth Commandments. Democrats also have a litany of their own scandals. But, it is the “family values” Republican leaders, who have led the party of right wing moral indignation; it is the Religious Right that has overtaken the party and wears the now-tarnished shield of righteousness to protect itself against anyone who doesn’t share their own views of the world, including moderate and liberal Republicans, and anyone belonging to another political party.

           The hypocrisy and moral turpitude of the leaders is just one reason why only 21 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans.

[Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available from,, and other stores. You may contact him at or through his website,]