News & Notes January 31, 2011

Joe Hoeffel announced this morning that he will not run for re-election as Montgomery County Commissioner.  He astutely allied with fellow Commish Jim Matthews to be in the majority following Bruce Castor’s implosion four years ago.  That began when he ran Matthews under the bus for accepting campaign contributions from convicted felon Bob Asher.  That story broke here on The Pennsylvania Progressive.  Hoeffel had gotten into some hot water when it was revealed that he and Matthews routinely met for breakfasts.  That was an apparent violation of the sunshine law because they formed a quorum of the County Commissioners by meeting.

Josh Shapiro, Hoeffel’s former Chief of Staff when he served as a Congressman, announced he will run to succeed Hoeffel.  Josh is a State Representative and a leading reformer in Harrisburg.  He is a brilliant young man who impresses everyone.  He has a great future and will make a fantastic Commissioner.

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Tucson gun sales there continue unabated.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent undercover agents to a recent gun show in Phoenix where they were able to purchase firearms in spite of telling dealers they wouldn’t pass a background check.  New York, like many other cities, is wrought with gun violence perpetrated by criminals able to buy guns and extended magazines at gun shows and from unscrupulous dealers.  Yes, guns kill people.  Countries which severely restrict gun sales and ownership have a fraction of the gun deaths we do.  That’s proof that it isn’t the people but the guns.  Let’s begin taxing ammunition heavily and we’ll cut the number of senseless deaths substantially.  I like Chris Rock’s idea:  if bullets cost $5,000 apiece these fools will think twice before pulling the trigger.  Nothing in the constitution says anyone has a right to ammunition.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to decide on the role judges play in determining whether minor girls can obtain permission for abortions from the courts.  The state’s Abortion Control Act, one of the most restrictive in the nation, requires such permission if a young woman cannot obtain parental permission.  The issue of parental consent is a hot button issue.  Responsible parents understandably want to be involved but in too many cases they are the problem.  Until we live in a perfect world where incest doesn’t occur this is a serious issue.  Young women should not be forced to obtain permission from an abusive and incestuous parent for an abortion.

A federal judge in Florida ruled the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.  So far some judges have agreed and others disagreed.  Until this is ruled upon by the Supreme Court nothing will be settled.  While I feel the Interstate Commerce Clause provides sufficient legal basis for the law I’ve never felt comfortable with the Act forcing Americans to buy insurance from private corporations with no public option alternative.  This amounts to a giant governmental underwriting of private business at taxpayer’s expense.  That is a purely Republican position and it mystifies me why they’d oppose such legislation.  The mandate is the part of the health insurance bill I dislike so this thrills me.

Demonstrations continue throughout Egypt today while the government successfully shut down Al Jazeera.  The Arab network had been broadcasting video of the revolution sweeping the country against President Hosni Mubarack.  Here is a picture Tweeted from Cairo today:

a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/20915586@N00/5405178073/” title=”Cairo Demonstration by morgan_2408, on Flickr”>Cairo Demonstration

I wonder where Fox News sent their correspondents?  Back in 2009 they broadcast this map of the Middle East:

Fox's Egypt

President Obama will speak at Rec Hall on the campus of Penn State Wednesday at noon.  I have White House press credentials but a major winter storm set to hit us tomorrow night may make that impossible.  Didn’t anyone in Washington check the forecast first?

The Koch brothers, major financiers of the Tea Party and the Heritage Foundation held their annual Billionaire’s Caucus in Rancho Mirage, California to be met by hundreds of protesters.  They were met by police in riot gear.  Isn’t it nice to know the Koch brothers billions are going for a good cause???

House Republicans in Harrisburg backed off a vote today stripping Democrats of a member on each committee.  Protests over the weekend and a press conference by good government groups in the Rotunda this morning may have given them pause.  They got tons of bad publicity over the weekend.  Democrats robo called for support yesterday.

Where’s Judy?

We’re now over a month since State Senator Mike O’Pake died and the only tangible evidence a special election is happening is Larry Medaglia’s new website.  Remember the children’s game “Where’s Waldo?”  I feel like that is what both candidates are doing in this short time span to March 15th.  Larry and Judy Schwank both do understand the election is then don’t they?  Why have they wasted so much valuable time doing…what???

The selection processes for both parties took agonizingly long costing both of them critical time.  Regardless there was much they both could have done:  organize staff and volunteers, print basic materials, schedule fund raisers and public events and build websites.  I’m dumbfounded Judy didn’t have her campaign ready to roll out on the 22nd.  It isn’t as if she had to raise money, she had $24,000 in the bank.  Where were the volunteer sign up sheets, buttons (not ones someone else made at their expense) and website?

Both Schwank and Medaglia stumbled out of the gate and fumbled the ball.  Luckily for them the other was just as incompetent.  The chance to bury the other under a flurry of initial radio spots defining the opponent was golden but missed.    Larry’s website is awfully basic but at least he is up.  Where’s Judy?  She wasn’t at Drinking Liberally last week and the next one isn’t for several weeks.  In a short campaign window time is of the essence but one wouldn’t know it watching this mess.  Does Judy even have any staff or an office yet?  Why wasn’t she at DL for crying out loud?

Revolution In Egypt

Egypt and Tunisia serve as warnings to any government which serves only its elite:  the people have the power and know now how to use it to overthrow repressive regimes.  Hear that Wall Street?  The power of social media to spread information in the information age is toppling governments in Africa.  Who will be next?

Rioting Egyptians have gathered in the main square in Cairo while others protest in Suez and Alexandria.  President Hosni Mubarak who took control following the assassination of Anwar Sadat is beginning to look like a former dictator.  Recent crooked elections spurred unrest then when Egyptians witnessed the takedown of a corrupt regime in neighboring Tunisia they became emboldened enough to topple their own government.  Mubarak’s Cabinet resigned this morning but this will not placate the anti-government rioters.  Al Jazeera is reporting upwards of 90 protesters killed through government action which now means deploying the army on the streets of Cairo.

This can only end when the President flees the country and leaves his people to form a new government.  How long the generals continue to support him in the face of such violent opposition is the key ingredient at this time.  When they abandon Mubarak he needs a ticket out of Cairo.  I’ve been following this on Twitter and its fascinating to see how powerful such media are and how they can transform lives.

After Egypt who is next?  America?

Pennsylvania Progressive Summit 2011: Rebuilding Alliances, Shaping New Messages

This is a guest post by Carl Davidson

By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

Nearly 500 progressive and liberal organizers gathered at Pittsburgh’s Sheraton Station Square over the sunny but bitterly cold weekend of Jan. 22-23 to drawn out the lessons of their setbacks in the 2010 elections and shape a new course for the future.

Under the theme of ‘Taking Pennsylvania Forward,’ the two-day meeting was mainly pulled together by four ‘Organizing Sponsors’-Keystone Progress, a popular online communications hub for the state; SEIU, representing some 100,000 PA workers; the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a coalition between the United Steelworkers and advocates for new manufacturing enterprises; and Democracy for America, the outgrowth of the Howard Dean campaign in the Democratic Party.

A large number of unions other than the USW and SEIU also took part, as well as many local political, civil rights, women’s rights, youth and environmental groups from around the state. Beaver County was represented by a delegation from the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America.

Eileen Connelly of SEIU chaired the opening session, and started off making an assessment of progressive gains and losses. When she got to ‘we have to continue pressing for and end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she got a spontaneous round of loud applause. Her main task, however, was to introduce PA’s Senator Bob Casey.

“I want to focus on the future,” Casey began. “We need to put hope in the lead, and fear behind us. But hope comes from hard work and tough debates.”

Casey has been a liberal voice in the Senate on most issues, most recently around the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation beneath Pennsylvania and surrounding states. The shale contains immense quantities of natural gas, but it can only be released by a process of ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or ‘fracking’. Gas drillers go 4000 feet or more and then outward horizontally in a spoke-like array for up to a mile. Then a toxic brine is exploded underground, releasing the gas and bringing much of the brine back to the surface with it. There is great danger of polluting water supplies and toxic spills, among other hazards, and an insurgent movement critical of the process has been erupting through the region.

Casey noted that oil drilling and strip mining in the past had ‘left scars on the land, our communities, and our workers.” He pledged to work for gas extraction that was ‘done in a way protective to the environment, and the health and safety of workers and communities, too.” He ended by saying that, although he had to be a Senator for everyone, he always posed the question, ‘For whom do you fight, who do you put first? It’s the workers and their families that come first, especially the people without a voice in high places. They come first.”

That comment served as a perfect transition to the next speaker, Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steel Workers. He started off by noting the presence of a number of young people in the room, noting that the bleak future and high unemployment of many young workers was posing “basic questions about what kind of society do we want to become.”

“In the Bush years,” Gerard continued, “some 50,000 U.S. factories were shut down and moved abroad. We don’t have a deficit crisis; we have a jobs crisis. And we better face up to the fact that we have to hit the streets, kick some ass, and mobilize to do something about it. We know we can’t do it alone. The labor movement can’t work in isolation from the environmental movement, in isolation from the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and so on.”

Gerard indicated that the road ahead would be tough. “In my own naiveté,” he explained, “I was dumb enough to assume that a Democratic Congress and a Democrat in the White House would put us on a different path.” But in order to rebuild a new clean energy and green technology manufacturing base, the only thing that will turn the jobs crisis around, he went on, it was going to taken a lot more organizing and developing our strength at the base and in the streets.

“I’m sick and tired of us whining about what the Democrats didn’t do,” he explained. “The tougher question is what are we doing, and do we have what it takes. Don’t worry about attacking Obama; attack the money! It’s Wall Street and the banks blocking a recovery and shipping our manufacturing abroad.”

Fired up by Gerard, the participants headed out for the first round of eight workshops sessions, with a total of some 72 workshops over the two days. The topics were wide ranging-the Marcellus Shale, gun violence, medical marijuana, hip-hop politics, social media, coalition building, green manufacturing and the economy, immigration reform, dealing with racism, marriage equality, women’s rights in society and the workplace, ending torture, running for office, winning elections and many more.

DFA ran a series of workshops over the two days focusing on grass roots organizing, campaign organizing, precinct organizing, and ‘get out the vote’ organizing. Attendees of the DFA workshops received a certificate and a handbook for organizing to run for office.

‘Building a 21st Century Economy’ was chaired and presented by two young women from the Blue-Green Alliance, Hillary Bright and Lauren Horne. “If we got the $100 billion Obama wants for Green jobs,” said Horne, introducing their PowerPoint presentation, “that would mean $4 billion for Pennsylvania, and that could turn into 86,845 jobs around the state. In addition to advocating new green energy manufacturing startups, the presenters also stressed the important of setting and enforcing regulatory standards, especially the Renewable Energy Standards and Clean Energy Standards.

“We also want to invite all of you to attend the upcoming annual ‘Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in DC Feb 8-10 in DC,” said Bright, wrapping it up. “We had over 3000 people come over the past three years, where we go into all of this in much more detail.”

Five different workshops over the weekend focused on pollution dangers from the Marcellus Shale drilling and coal-fired energy plants. Particularly outrageous was the dumping of fly ash and other waste in ‘Little Blue’ lake near Hookstown, PA, next to the West Virginia border and above the nearby Ohio River. It has become a giant toxic waster cesspool, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on the impact Dec, 16, 2010:

“The Post-Gazette’s ecological study of mortality rates for heart and respiratory disease and lung cancer shows elevated rates for the combined area of Greene Township, Hookstown and Georgetown. Heart disease deaths there were 46 percent higher than the national rate. The total of 88 deaths from all three diseases is 42 percent higher than the predicted number of 62 deaths, based on national rates.”

“This is my hometown and these are my people,” said Tina Shannon, president of PDA in the 4th CD, and a workshop participant. “There’s only so much people can take. First they had to worry about their water. Now their kids are getting sick from playing outside when the wind’s blowing. We’ve got to draw the line and people are starting to get organized about it.”

Two back-to-back workshops, ‘Social Media 201’ and ‘Social Media Metrics,’ were especially interesting to those making use of internet technology in political campaigns. The main focus was on the use of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, both as ways of getting your message out and challenging the messages of your opponents and adversaries. In the lively back-and-forth between the presenters and attendees, dozens of tips and links were passed around on how to measure the impact of various efforts, and much more.

But economic problems remained as a center of gravity pulling on all discussions. One major workshop was pulled together by the Steelworkers: ‘Growing a Manufacturing Economy in the 21st Century.’ It featured Mickey Bolt, a USW member and a staff member of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and Ike Gittlen, USW’s AAM liaison chief.

Gittlen led off by posing the question: ‘Why should progressives care about manufacturing?’ He then projected a number of PowerPoint bullets: 1) necessary to create real wealth, 2) good jobs = strong communities, 3) good tax base = a more just society, and 4) social mobility = part of the American Dream.

“The hollowing out of our economy, the deindustrialization we see everywhere around here, the closing of factories and shipping them overseas,” Gittlen explained, “if we can’t fix these, you can forget about fixing everything else. And to fix this, we need to change and reshape industrial policy-and you can’t change policy with getting political power. That’s what it all boils down to.”

Gittlen’s points were reinforced by Bolt, who comes from Mercer County, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh. “We have small towns like Greenville and Sharon that were centers on manufacturing. Today it’s mostly gone, and when the guts are taken out of these small communities, everything else begins to fail-the schools are under funded, the parks aren’t kept up, people stop going out to clubs and socializing-all sense of community begins to fade away as people become isolated and fearful.”

Both Gittlen and Bolt talked a good deal about China’s monetary and trade policies as a cause of the problem, and the need for U.S. officials to fight against them. One questioner from the floor challenged the emphasis: “Naturally, we want everyone to keep their trade agreements, ourselves as well as the Chinese, and we are doing unfair things that need correction, too.  But isn’t the main source of the problem with finance capital right hear at home? Shouldn’t we be mainly fighting for, say, a tax of the export of capital or a financial transaction tax to fund new startups. That might be a tougher bullet to bite, but it gets to the heart of the matter.” Gittlen responded by agreeing that the problems weren’t just on one side, but insisted that ‘all of the above’, including a focus on China, had to be carried out.

The main feature of the evening was a keynote address over by Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow/PUSH, who was an early fighter against plant closings as well as civil rights, and thus warmly welcomed by this crowd.

Jackson began by recasting today’s political categories of progressive, liberal and conservative in terms of the fight against slavery.

“The conservatives of that day wanted to maintain and expand slavery,” he stated, “while the liberals wanted to make it less harsh and nicer. But the progressives of that time, those that claimed the moral center, were the abolitionists who wanted to do away with slavery altogether.

“The engine of change in our country,” he continued, “rides on two rails. One rail is the Democratic Party, the other is the Republican. But the train draws its power of movement from the third rail. That’s what we progressives are, the third rail, carrying the energy of change. We can’t just join the Democratic Party; we must change the direction of the party. We are not liberals. We are liberators.”

Jackson went on to stress the importance of new alliances. “We must really penetrate Appalachia. The region’s rural poor have a huge moral authority. No one can challenge their work ethic. No one can challenge their military commitment. No one can challenge their commitment to America.”

Republicans won their majorities, Jackson explained, by pledging to close budget deficits through spending cuts. “Their answer to a fire is a gas distribution plan.” This would lead to public sector layoffs while unemployment remains above 9 percent. New Deal-like projects were needed and the spending required should be offset by tax increases on the wealthy and by ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

After Jackson speech, which drew a long ovation, the conference organizers gave out a number of awards. The most moving was to Anne Feeney, a widely loved Pittsburgh-based labor and folk singer. Feeney has been waging a person battle with cancer, and is now recovering. Her poised ability to take the stage and thank everyone was itself an inspiration.

A popular workshop on the final day was ‘Hip-Hop, Social Media and the Future of Organizing.  The presenters, who worked as a team, practically completing each other’s sentences, were Pittsburgh’s famous rapper, Jasiri X, and his elder co-worker, Paradise Gray. Jasiri got everyone energized by playing his rap video, ‘What If the Tea Party Was Black?’, which has gone viral, made the major news and irritated the Tea Party to no end. It must be seen to be fully appreciated; just Google the title.

“I must mention,” said Jasiri, “that I was inspired to do this by an essay by a white dude, Tim Wise, who wrote a heavy piece with the same title.” Then Jasiri and Paradise went on to discuss the evolution of hip-hop as spoken word poetry into the music video genre as well as live performances. ‘With a simple digital camera and a computer, you can put your piece on YouTube, then Tweet announcements around. If it’s good, it’ll take off, and on YouTube, they track the number of viewers and allow them to write feedback comments.” Jasiri went to explain how John Stewart and Stephen Colbert gave him the idea of writing and filming a weekly video rap about everything that went on in the news that week. He sustained the project for three years, and made a name for himself as a progressive and independent multimedia artist and rapper. But exhausted from the energy required, he decided to do more periodic pieces-that’s when ‘What if the Tea Party was Black?’ was born.

Some of these lessons continued intro one of the final workshops. It was a small one, titled ‘Blogging as a Tool for Communicating Progressive Ideas.’ Chaired by blogger Tom Waters, the panel included John Morgan of the PA Progressive blog, Maria Lupinacci of 2 Political Junkies, Lisa Kaneff of An Average Jane, and Barbara White Stack, blog editor for the Steelworkers.

What was interesting was the variety of approaches and tasks involved. “I pick a subject I’m interested in, like gay teen suicide,” said Waters, then I do Tweet searches to see what everyone else has to say, then I pick an angle that hasn’t been said, and write on it.” Morgan explained that he started his day with a disciplined reading of national and Pennsylvania newspapers to see what the hot topics and especially the new trend were, then to write, repost and link pieces from there. Lupinacci said she start simply by writing letters to the editor, the watching the Pittsburgh City Council on TV: “Some thing would just get me mad, some I set up a blog, and just started writing and posting every day on what got me annoyed or angry.

Stack had a different discipline. “I have to make sure everything on the site reflects the views of the Steelworkers. That means I have to keep up to date on all of our positions, what our leaders are thinking, and what issues need discussion. It’s not easy, but I really enjoy it, especially when I see our stuff getting bounced around the internet or mentioned in Congress or the major media.”

The conference wrapped up just in time. The hotel lobby was filling with crowds, mostly wearing black and gold, the colors of the Steelers football team. A few brave souls were in the green and white of the New York Jets. All were warming up for the big game that would decide whether the Steelers went to the super bowl. Most of the conference attendees were in no mood for the bitter cold of the stadium, making a beeline for home, and the pre-game TV specials and the high spirits of victory that followed later that evening.’

[Carl Davidson is a writer for BeaverCountyBlue.org , a member of Steelworker Associates in Beaver County, a national board member of the Solidarity Economy Network, and a national co-chair of CCDS, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.]

News & Notes January 28, 2011

The Judge in Sen. Orie’s corruption trial ruled yesterday that evidence collected through search warrants can be presented when her trial begins February 7th.  This is one day later than originally scheduled due to the Super Bowl game on the 6th.  I suppose they’re assuming the jurors will all be hung over.

President Obama is coming to central Pennsylvania next Wednesday.  I don’t have any further information as yet but I will be on a White House conference call about it at noon.

Update:  The President will be at Penn State University.

WASHINGTON- On Wednesday, February 2, President Obama will travel to the Penn State Campus at University Park in State College, Pennsylvania.  As part of the Administration’s strategy to win the future through new investments in research and development, the Department of Energy has launched Energy Innovation Hubs across the nation.  Penn State will provide overall leadership for the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for energy-efficient buildings that will be located at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia.  

While at Penn State, the President will tour labs focused on energy-efficient building solutions and deliver remarks on the importance of  investing in innovation and clean energy to put people back to work, grow the economy, and win the future.

State House Republicans are acting like schoolyard bullies after Democrats tried to add many amendments to their reform legislation.  In a snit fit they closed the session, went into caucus and decided to punish the Dems for using normal, regular parliamentary tactics.  As a result all committees now will have one less Democrat.  Instead of a ratio of 15 Republicans to 10 Dems it will now be 15-9.  Of course adding amendments is a time honored tradition and is part of governing.  In fact House Republicans did it constantly to slow down or stop the Democratic majority the past four years.  

Speaking of reform Gov. Corbett finally presented his plan for reforming state government.  Let’s just say we’re quite underwhelmed.  After all that hot air last year it amounts to little.  No blanket campaign finance reform or lobbying restrictions.  Until those are implemented anything else is window dressing.  C’mon Tom this is the best you can do?

Sen. Pat Toomey again embraced the Tea Party when he met with them in the Senate and provided his stamp of approval.  If you walk like  tea bagger, talk like a tea bagger, meet with the tea baggers, court the tea baggers and embrace the tea baggers guess what?  You’re a tea bagger Pat.

Campaign for America’s Future has a great blog post up at OurFuture.com (I’m paid by CAF to blog there) about reality checks.  Filled with informative graphs it is must reading.  Go take a gander.

Egypt is on fire as protests and demonstrations rock the nation in the wake of the takedown of the government in Tunisia.  Planning events through social media people have taken to the streets and faced down water cannons, billy clubs and every other violent measure concocted by the government to suppress their rights.  Now the internet has been silenced and Mohammed El Baradei arrested.  It’s time for Hosni Mubarak and his repressive regime to fall.

Sen. Rand Paul is proposing legislation outlawing the 14th Amendment.  He wants to restrict birthright citizenship.  Of course any sane person would understand you cannot void a part of the constitution by simply passing a law.  Amending the constitution is a rather laborious process and his futile attempt, while pathetic, tells us the man is simply a fool.  The acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak.

The Senate has defeated attempts at filibuster reform.  That hope and change you worked for in 2008?  Republicans filibustered it to death.  The remains are rotting in the Oval Office.

The number of Wall Street thieves, bank fraudsters and others prosecuted so far for collapsing the economy?  None.

New accounting rules enable banks to keep tricking investors into thinking they are solvent.  Instead of valuing assets at their actual value they can pretend mortgages and the real estate backing them up are still worth what they were in 2008.  Anyone investing in the markets right now is a fool.  The Fed is buying so many stocks to prop up the market they’re creating another bubble.

As if being gay in Uganda weren’t already horrible thanks to people like Joe Pitts and The Family an activist there has been murdered.  Words and actions do have consequences Congressman.

Of Football Teams, Fraternities, and Other Important Intellectual Concerns

by Walter Brasch

           The $50 million Burton Family Football Complex at the University of Connecticut may be nameless soon. Robert G. Burton, who had donated about $3 million to help fund the stadium, wants his money back and his family’s name erased from UConn football. He also informed UConn he will cancel his $50,000 a season suite in the stadium.

           What upset Burton, who had donated about $7 million to UConn, mostly for its football program, was that the selection committee for a new football coach didn’t take his suggestion. Not long after Burton’s tirade, the chairman of the Board of Trustees reached out to “mend fences” to keep money where it belongs-in the football program.

           While athletics drives many universities, a few consider sports as supplemental to the academic mission. I believe this is how a conversation went at one college located somewhere in America, where the accreditors were questioning the president.

           “How did your football team do this year?” asked the chairman of the accrediting team.

           “We were 3-and-6, and very proud of our team,” said a beaming president.

           “This is serious. What steps have you taken to replace your coach?”

           “We hadn’t thought about it,” said the president, mystified by the inquiry. “Coach Samuels is one of the nation’s most respected organic chemists, teaches a full load of courses, then works out the team an hour or two in the evenings.”

           “An hour or two?” said the accreditor, mockingly. “No wonder your school has such a dismal record! Most colleges have twice-a-day drills for two or three hours at a time. The students don’t even go to class in the Fall. Your coaching staff must be lazy.”

           “We have only two assistant coaches. One teaches sociology, the other is a speech pathologist.”

           “Most colleges have a dozen coaches,” said the accreditor. “How can you not have assistant coaches for ends, backs, and nose guards?”

           “We have a good staff in our anatomy and physiology labs,” said the president, adding that with additional assistant directors in Music and Theatre, the college  produces some professional-class musical comedies.

           “Who cares? How many of your athletes went on to professional NFL careers?”  The president diverted the question, and excitedly told the accreditor about alumni who went into the creative arts, others who are leaders in social work and environmental science, and of graduates who are among the nation’s leaders in almost every field of scientific research.

           “Business!” roared the Chairman. “How many of your graduates are in high paying business jobs!”

           The president thought hard, but could think of only three of his recent graduates who went into corporate business, and then only because they couldn’t get any other job. “Of course,” said the president, “a few dozen of our graduates enter law and med school every year.”

           The accreditor’s face finally lit up. “Oh, so you do  have wealthy alumni! Why didn’t you say so!”

           The president shook his head. “Most of our alumni lawyers are into consumer law, and our med school graduates usually become family physicians or work with the poor.”

           “Not a good sign. Not a good sign at all.” Also not a good sign was the social atmosphere on campus. “I didn’t see any fraternity or sorority houses on campus. In fact, hardly anyone even knows where the nightly parties are.”

           “I guess that isn’t helping our cause for reaccreditation, is it?” asked the president. He didn’t have to ask since the accreditor was now writing furiously.

           “Your building fund? Any new recreation or student union buildings?”

           “We’re planning a new building to house our community service programs.” The accreditor hardly looked up he was so disgusted. “We had two Rhodes Scholars and one Danforth fellowship last year! One of our profs just won a Pulitzer. Ninety percent of our faculty hold the doctorate!”

           “Any of them all-Americans?”

           “Our Intercollegiate Debate Team was national champion last year! The Student Social Welfare Club led the fight against conversion of apartments into condos!”

           “Redeem yourself with committees,” shouted the accreditor. “Do you have more committees than scholarships?”

           “We believe most committees are wastes of time that encourage their members to act in irrational and arrogant manners.”

           The accreditor’s aide calmed him down long enough so he could ask a final question. “How much of your budget is spent on sending your administrators and faculty to phony academic conferences to pat each other’s behinds?”

           “None,” wept the president, “most of our budget keeps students and faculty current in their fields.”

           The accreditor slammed his notebook shut and walked away. The president called after him, “When will we know whether we have been reaccredited?”

           The accreditor stopped a moment, turned around, and shouted back, “When you become a real educational institution.”

           [You may contact Walter Brasch, recently paroled from a term as a university professor, at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

Another Brutal Winter.

Scientists are telling us that this is our new norm.  Climate change is altering our weather patterns and now we must accept snowy, brutally cold winters.  Santa Fe is calling…  My iPhone tells me its 50 degrees there as it has been for weeks.  We got somewhere around a foot of snow yesterday and its the heavy type which kills your back shoveling.  We’re plowed in by the road with about two feet of it.  I’ll be outside shoveling for two days if someone doesn’t come along with a plow…  I’m ready for spring are you?

Why the (re)election of Pgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus matters to the LGBT community

Adapted from posts at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and Pam’s House Blend

In 2011, Pittsburgh faces an exciting opportunity to support our first openly gay City Councilman in his bid for a second term. Councilman Bruce Kraus was elected in 2007, unseating the incumbent in a race in which his identity as an openly gay man was not a significant issue.

Since then, Councilman Kraus has made his mark addressing quality of life issues in his district, including vandalism and other criminal conduct by patrons of the district’s very significant strip of bars and late night establishments. District residents applaud Bruce’s commitment, noting that he himself is out picking up litter nearly every weekend.

From 2 Political Junkies, a Pittsburgh political blog, District 3 resident Maria Lupinacci writes

Bruce Kraus is seeking a second term on Pittsburgh City Council for District 3. This is my district and I’m a longtime supporter of Kraus (poll watcher, heck, I’ve stuffed envelopes at his house) and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. He’s a solid member of the progressive alliance on Council. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen him walking my district. I also greatly appreciate his efforts to get a handle on the vandalism and violence that have unfortunately become features of the South Side’s nightlife.

A few days ago, someone posted a comment in another post at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, questioning my claim that Bruce Kraus, City Councilman for District 3, is a “champion” for the LGBTQ community, simply asking “What has he done for us?”

Rather than respond in a buried comment, I thought this question was worth an entire post. I also think it is worth contemplating across the nation – why is it important to elect (or reelect) openly LGBTQ candidates on the local level?

With regard to what he’s done for Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, I would put forth the following:

 · Bruce spearheaded the passage of the Pgh Domestic Partner Registry which has created a mechanism for LGBTQ families to achieve some level of recognition on a City level. While it has its restrictions, Bruce has shown a willingness to discuss these, at least with me, and brainstorm solutions to make it more useful to all families.

 · His presence on council seems to make a difference in how his colleagues act, vote, and perceive LGBT issues. It has historically been considered a step toward equality to elect an openly LGBT individual. (Think Council President Doug Shields’ response to Sally Kern)

· It is important for LGBT people to see someone like us in a leadership role, especially youth (think bullying)

· It sends a signal around the nation for a gay man to have the courage to be out as a public servant (think Sally Kern)

· He holds his fellow Council members to walk the walk when it comes to equality and insists the gay community be included (think Ricky Burgess who wants to parse the myth of gay affluence to leave us out of his tirades about socioeconomic equality)

· He brokered a meeting between PA State Senator Daylin Leech and community leaders to discuss Senator Leech’s legislation to legalize same sex marriage in Pennsylvania. We (I attended) would not have that access without Bruce’s credibility as an elected official and status in the LGBT community. Bruce made sure Southwestern PA was part of the dialogue around this issue.

· The fact that he’s more well known for quality of life issues on Pittsburgh’s Southside shows that an openly gay elected official doesn’t come with a gay agenda, but can be effective in addressing a range of issues just like any other elected official from a minority group (see below)

· He is paving the way for electing an out lesbian or an out transgender man or women to achieve political office throughout the region (think we have to start somewhere)

· Bruce serves the community as a board member of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh and the Shepherd Wellness Center (think Pittsburgh community institutions)

 · Openly gay elected officials are considered indicators of how LGBT friendly a community can be (Advocate recent City rankings)

The crux of the matter is that Bruce is not the gay City Councilman, he’s a Councilman who is gay. I have enumerated some of his “gay” credentials, but it is important to note that Bruce is a qualified, engaged Councilman who sincerely works to improve the quality of life for his District, particularly the Southside.

Agree with him or not, you cannot deny he is active and that he strives to connect with the residents and the business owners. His volunteer staffed satellite office in an economically struggling neighborhood is further proof of a creative solution to engage his District. He also is embracing social media to share information. (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and more)

On a national level, I think this is exactly the race people should be monitoring. The Mayor of Pittsburgh has tepid at best support for the LGBTQ community and there are few openly LGBTQ individuals in his Administration. Bruce does not vote the Mayor’s way, unless he believes it is the right way, so there is a possibility that the Allegheny County Democratic machine will not support Kraus in the primary (which is where the action is in Pittsburgh’s one party town). This is not the kiss of death the Mayor like us to believe and most of it swirls around the issues of addressing quality of life issues regarding the bars, restaurants and residents of the Southside neighborhood, not the fact that Bruce is a gay man.

But I can’t help but wonder if they will go there? I think the best defense is to put the would be foes, some of whom are gay, that we are watching and we will not tolerate playing the “gay card” in this race. Bruce is rightly proud of his accomplishments as the regiona’s LGBTQ leader (my words, not his), but he’s running this race for all Pittsburgh residents, not just the LGBTQ community. We owe it to him to have his back and demand that the Mayor, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and any potential opponents in the race denounce homophobic campaign tactics with vigor.

For lesbians and queer women, the question of supporting a white gay male business owner is fair. The truth is that Bruce is a good man who has demonstrated to me that he understands the nuances of gender oppression within the gay community. He’s willing to listen to me discuss how to improve or enhance the Domestic Partner Registry which disproportionately impacts lower income families which, we all know, dispropotionately impacts women. I think Bruce is the type of man to understand and appreciate differences, while striving to represent everyone whether it be in City Council or during a board meeting of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center. He understands the inequity within the community and I think we can count on him to do his best to seek guidance.

Then there is the simple matter that we have to start somewhere. Pittsburgh lore is rampant with tales of closeted elected official, but I say the time for innuendo is done. We need to move ahead to the race where an openly lesbian female candidate is viable. That will not happen if we allow Bruce to lose this race. His fight is our fight. The election of a queer woman is not going to happen on a statewide level. It is going to happen on a school board or some other local level. We need to work hard now to lay the foundation and I am positive we can count on Bruce and his allies to keep it solid.

As a City resident who does not live in District 3 (I’m in District 6 across two rivers), I appreciate the contributions Bruce has made to the City and to the LGBT community. I might go as far as to say that it is imperative we all stand behind Bruce and do our part to support his bid for a second term. You can donate $5, $25 or $100 here. Every bit helps.

I hope this answers the question of “what has he done for us?” for my anonymous commenter. Another anonymous commenter (same person?) came back to challenge my facts which I was able to robustly defend. The fact is that Bruce has given a lot to us in four years and now it is our turn to give back.

Nationally? Eyes to need pay attention to the dynamics within the Democratic party as candidates who are openly gay seek endorsements and funding to attain and maintain their seats at the table. It matters to everyone reading this what the Mayor of Pittsburgh does with regard to Bruce’s election. He may oppose him, but we have every right to insist he does so based on issues, not his sexual orientation.

Thinking long term, Bruce is one a few statewide who may eventually pursue a state level seat as an openly gay man. This foundation of a second term could have far reaching consequences for the future of our Commonwealth on LGBTQ issues. Do we expect much to happen with so much Republican control? Maybe not, but there are issues where we need his leadership now and his access — getting domestic partner benefits at the County level before any further City-County consolidation discussion occurs, continuing to bring a diverse array of Western PA voices to the table on statewide issues that do come up such as strategizing against the anti-marriage equality amendment, solidifying the progressive alliance across levels of government to keep our needs front and center.

Lesbians and queer women should watch this race even more closely. If the race stays focused on issues and qualifications, that bodes well for a woman to step forward sooner rather than later. If the mud is slung, we know we have work to do. Women are suffering from the lack of employment & housing protections, the lack of domestic partner benefits in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh. This is changing one municipality at a time. The momentum will be dealt a serious blow if we can’t mobilize as a community to get involved in this critical race.

Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community are better off with Bruce serving us on our City Council.

Democratic Talk Radio 2010 Heroes and Villains Awards

by Stephen Crockett

This year we had great difficulty in making our selections. We had multiple winners in both categories.  We could have given many more awards but finally narrowed it down to just these few.

Heroes are former Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) and former MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann. Both won because they routinely spoke truth to power even when it was unpopular.

Grayson was targeted by huge amounts of corporate and Far Right money in the 2010 elections because of his honesty. He has not gone silently into the night. Like the true hero he remains, we can count on Alan Grayson to continue speaking out on behalf of working Americans being abused by corporations and the super wealthy interests who control the Republicans in Congress and state governments around the nation.

Many of us learned about Grayson’s efforts on the cable news commentary program run hosted by Keith Olbermann. In the darkest days of the Bush Administration, Olbermann was really the only voice on TV willing to expose and condemn the creeping fascism of the Republican Right. He defended the American Dream when nearly everyone else was fearful and silent.

Democratic talk Radio hopes he will quickly return to our television screens. American Democracy needs Keith Olbermann.

While nearly every Republican in Congress qualifies for the DTR 2010 Villain Award along with Fox News, the Koch brothers and the Tea Party movement, the winners are the 5 Supreme Injustices on the Supreme Court. They are Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Kennedy.

With their crazy and evil Citizens United ruling, they created out of thin air the greatest legal/political threat to our American Dream that has ever existed. They have ruled that corporations are people with the ability to spend unlimited amounts of shareholder money to influence politics. They did not even require in the ruling that shareholders must approve the way is spent or the amount of money by corporate executives.

Corporate executives run corporations. Corporations are organizations of money not people. Corporations do not die like all people do.

The 5 Injustices deserve to be impeached for abuse of office. Since corporations were able to buy Congress in the last elections because of the Citizens United ruling, this will not happen this year if ever. The best we can do is give them our Democratic Talk Radio 2010 Villain of the Year Award.

John:  I co-host DTR.

On Done Deals, Or, Sometimes Losing Is How You Win

( – promoted by John Morgan)

We have been talking a lot about Social Security these past few weeks, even to the point where I’ve missed out on talking about things that I also wanted to bring to the table, particularly the effort to reform Senate rules.

We’ll make up for that today with a conversation that bears upon both of those issues, and a lot of others besides, by getting back to one of the fundamentals in a very real way…and today’s fundamental involves the question of whether it’s a good idea to keep pushing for what you want, even if it seems pointless at the time.

To put it another way: when it comes to this Administration and this Congress and trying to influence policy…if Elvis has already left the building, what’s the point?

Bachmann response now on CNN. Turn to SAP Channel 3 for English captions.

–A Tweet posted by pourmecoffee, immediately following the 2011 State of the Union address

If you have been in any way awake and alert over the past 18 months or so, you’ve noticed that this President is having some trouble with the most fervent of his November ’08 supporters, who feel-with some considerable justification-that they’ve either been sold short, used as a target of political convenience, or ignored altogether in their calls for a more Progressive agenda.

It has come to the point where many who gave money to Democrats in the ’08 cycle did not donate in ’10-and it’s also suggested that many of that ’08 voting coalition chose not to vote Democratic as well, exacerbating the Party’s electoral troubles in this cycle’s contests.

And there are numbers to back this up: I’ve been looking at a CAF/Greenberg poll that’s about a week old, and even as those who oppose Obama’s policies (particularly his most strident opponents) have been warming to his approach over the past six months or so, the number of voters who support him the most strongly has never been lower-and it’s stayed that way since about June of ’10.

So a long-running theme of my work is that this is the time to try to influence one thing or another; most recently that’s been an effort directed at trying to impact the discussion around what might happen with Social Security.

A long-running response to that work, in the comments that some of my friends post on the sites where these stories appear, is that there is just no purpose in trying to change the direction of this particular Ship of State, as it has already sailed. This Administration is too corrupt and too feckless to be forced into change, they will tell you, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either deluded or carrying water for the DCCC.

But I don’t agree, and I’ll tell you why:

Right off the bat, you might be surprised how often you can win, even when you did not think you would; the fights over DADT and Elizabeth Warren’s nomination are a couple of recent examples that come to mind.

Beyond that, losing a political fight, and doing it well, helps to move the conversation incrementally over the longer term; I would suggest that it took two political cycles before the tide turned on the war in Iraq, and now it’s beginning to look like the military’s plan for “Victory In Afghanistan Through Massive Force” is a proposition that’s tougher and tougher to sell every day-even within the White House.  

Conservatives know this well, and efforts to advocate for gun rights, to advance “pro-life” policies, and to radically change the form and function of government have extended over decades, with incremental changes often being the incremental goal (“let’s create these temporary tax cuts today…and let’s try to extend them forever another day…”).

Ironically, another good reason to “fight the good fight”, even in an environment where you might not see victory as possible, is one that is very familiar to the most fervent of Obama’s ’08 supporters: the very fight, in and of itself, is often a way to create political capital-even if you lose.  

How many of us have wished this very President would have stood up and fought for things that he might not have thought he would get?

Would you support this President more if he had demanded that Congress pass a single-payer plan, or if he was pushing harder to end renditions and close Guantanamo, even if Congress was blocking him? I bet you would.

And it makes sense: if you support single-payer, and you see someone out there fighting hard for the idea…that’s a good thing, and that’s someone you’re likely to come back and support later.

It worked for three Congressional Democrats who lost elections this fall: Feingold, Grayson, and Patrick Murphy are all in a great position to seek support from the very people who are the most frustrated with pretty much all the other Democrats today.

Some of those supporters aren’t even waiting for the future candidates; the “Draft Feingold for President” movement goes back to at least 2004, Grayson and Murphy also have supporters ready and willing to go.

So…if it’s true that if this President would fight like Bernie Sanders, even in a losing cause, then we would treat him with the same degree of affection and respect we feel toward Bernie Sanders…is it also true that we should, maybe, apply that lesson to ourselves?

There is an argument to be made that trying to move your opponent when you don’t think you can, and in the process showing how they appear to be either intransigent, or ignorant, or corrupt by comparison…or just plain wrong about something…can regularly end up moving voters, instead-and that the result of that movement is that your opponent sometimes has to move your way as well.

I would submit that the 2005 effort to “reform” Social Security, when we had a Republican President, House, and Senate, went exactly nowhere fast because being wrong did move a bunch of voters to say…well, to say that all those Republicans were wrong.

So there you go, folks: I’m here today to suggest that, even when we might not feel we have a good chance of winning a political fight-or even a fair chance-you still have to get out and fight the fight, if only to advance the cause for another day.

It’s also a great way to accrue political capital that can be used to your advantage later-and if the resistance from the other side is perceived as being too heavy-handed, they can suffer from a sort of “attrition”, as their own political capital is diminished.

And even if you lose, there’s still a lot to be gained in the effort, although you might not see the results until further down the road.

As we said at the top of the story, there are lots of battles left over, including what is going to happen to Social Security and the potential for reforming Senate rules; but win or lose, it’s probably a better idea to be trying to fight these fights, loudly and logically, just as we wish the President would, then to find ourselves hanging back and doing nothing at all today…and then voting for Jack Box for President 2012 as a way of expressing our frustration.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

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