News & Notes January 5, 2011

Republicans officially took over the PA State House yesterday with the swearing in of new Members.  On their agenda will be the privatization of the state controlled sale of alcoholic beverages, an Arizona style anti-immigration law requiring all of us to carry either our birth certificates or passports everywhere (papers) and another marriage amendment.  They also want to insure no woman can access abortion services in any of the new health care exchanges.  This will reintroduce Pennsylvania to back alley butchers and cost many mothers their lives.  So much for being “pro life.”  

John Boehner was just elected Speaker of the House as the GOP also took control of the U.S. House.  First on their agenda is repeal of the health care law.  Of course they cannot do it but they’ll waste time and money for some political theater.  If they actually were serious about jobs and the deficit they’d strengthen the Affordable Care Act.  Eleven Blue Dog Democrats voted for Heath Shuler as Speaker rather than Pelosi.  No wonder they took a special shellacking in November.  This move was a fumble.  Both Tim Holden and Jason Altmire showed the yellow streaks on their backs.

Robert Gibbs announced today he is leaving the White House.  With 2012 looming Barack Obama’s top aides will be heading for the campaign office.  The anticipated arrival of Bill Daley os CoS is troublesome as the Prez keeps careening towards the right.  So much for all this nonsensical “socialism” hysteria.

The President’s left hand must be sore today after signing a slew of bills yesterday.  I have the list if anyone is interested.

Tom Corbett’s CoS will be Bill Ward from Pittsburgh.  His team is beginning to come together as the inaugural of January 18th comes into view.

If Larry Medaglia is serious about running for Mike O’Pake’s State Senate seat he sure is slow getting things together.  It seems someone else has already registered the domain name larrymedaglia.com.  Getting your name protected is the first thing you do when considering a race.  

Speaking of that remember the battle royal I had with the Berks County Democrats over my use and ownership of the domain BerksDemocrats.com?  They actually passed a resolution (which is still active) to sue me for doing so.  I used to have a local political blog with that name and so owned the domain.  The blog had a prominent disclaimer on its masthead that it wasn’t affiliated with the County Party.   Well, just for fun I allowed the url to expire last July to see if they’d purchase it.  They haven’t and so six months later I’ve repurchased the domain.  I want to see Tom Herman try to sue me now since I gave him ample opportunity to buy the name and he failed to do so.  Whatever flimsy case he thought he might have had against me just flew out the window.  What an idiot!

Mike Morrill and Keystone Progress have revealed that far right wing corporation Chick Fil A, a restaurant chain, is sponsoring anti gay marriage rallies in Pennsylvania.  It sounds like public demonstrations outside their outlets is in order.

As the Afghan government disintegrates, the Iraqis continue trying to form one nearly a year after elections a major Pakistani moderate was assassinated yesterday.  Extremist elements in that dangerously unstable nation (sound familiar?) are threatening what stability remains.

President Signs Landmark Food Safety Bill

President Obama was set today to sign a landmark food safety bill passed late last year.  According to the FDA on a conference call yesterday this is the most sweeping reform in over 100 years pertaining to the safety of people’s food.  Before this law the government had no power to force recalls of poisonous or dangerous food.  As a result 1 in 6 Americans caught a food borne illness, 3000/year died and 128,000 people are hospitalized each year.  Cases of bad food recalls rose from 100/year in the early 1990’s to 350/year today.  

Much of this contamination comes from factory farms and the methods used which seem to spread e coli and other pathogens in the food supply.  The growing use of sewage sludge on fields has increased dramatically along with an amazing level of contamination of vegetables.  Since e coli comes only from the guts of animals having it show up on spinach, lettuce and other produce is disturbing.  The obvious source of this contamination is sewage sludge.

One sixth of our food is now imported and the new law requires that all importers verify the safety of their food.  The FDA, for the first time, can now mandate safety methods for food production and order recalls.  Instead of being a reactive force it will be pro active.  Doing so however means Congress funding its enforcement activities something Republicans are saying they will refuse to do.  

How can anyone be in favor of poisoning children with bad food?  The peanut recall alone cost that industry $60 million a few years ago and currently bad food is resulting in losses of $152 billion/year not counting the value of those 3,000 lives.  If its your life or your child’s life I bet you don’t care what the cost/benefit analysis is.  If the GOP Congress refuses to fund this new FDA enforcement and another food recall happens with loss of life they will be fully responsible.  It is absolutely unconscionable that the Tea Party extremists dictate policy which will negatively impact thousands of people each year.

Betsie Gallardo: We’re Doing Great So Far, But January 5th Is Key

Since Christmas we’ve been talking about the story of Betsie Gallardo, a woman who is dying of cancer in a Florida prison.

When we last met, she was being starved to death, literally, at the direction of the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC), who had decided not only to withhold further treatment for her inoperable cancer, but to withdraw nutritional support as well.

Her adopted mother is fighting to have her discharged from prison so that she can die at home-and the DOC have recommended that she be released.

On December 9th, Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency (“the Board”) chose to ignore the DOC advice.

Since then, thanks to a whole bunch of outside pressure, things have changed, for the better, which we’ll be talking about today.

On January 5th, the Board meets again-and if we do this right, we can bring some closure to this story.  

The clouds dispell’d, the sky resum’d her light,

And Nature stood recover’d of her fright.

But fear, the last of ills, remain’d behind,

And horror heavy sat on ev’ry mind.

–Taken from Theodore and Honoria, from Boccace, by John Dryden

In our two previous stories we’ve discussed how Betsie Gallardo came to be in the position of facing intentional starvation while a prisoner of the State of Florida and how a variety of people who are in similar situations have been granted either clemency or a pardon by the very same Board, even as she has not.

Today we want to talk about what’s next-and since we want to keep a sense of balance in our work, we’ll also acknowledge some of the folks in Florida who are working hard to do the right thing for all concerned.

Best of all, we get to present some very good news-and this is one of those times when I’m happy to give you the good news first…and I’ll give it to you directly from Betsie’s adopted mother, Jessica Bussert.

She commented on the last story, which is posted at The Bilerico Project (it was Bil Browning, by the way, who got me to pursue this story in the first place)…and here’s part of what she had to say:

“As of the other day Betsie has finally started IV nutritional therapy and is already responding wonderfully.”

That’s right: thanks to all of your efforts-and those of a lot of others besides–Betsie has in fact been moved to a local hospital after nearly four weeks of no feedings, which is a fantastic victory in itself, even if it’s not the whole story.

So here’s what’s next: tomorrow, January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission has another meeting-and among the questions they may choose to decide is if they’ll accept the DOCs recommendation that Gallardo be released to die at home…and naturally, we want to influence that decision in her favor as best we can, so if you haven’t yet, today is the day to get in contact with the members of the Board, and I’ll give you the information you need to do that a bit farther down in the story.

But before we do that, let’s recognize some of the do-gooders in this story:

Jessica Bussert wants me to remind you that Commissioner Frederick B. Dunphy, of the Florida Parole Commission, was an early advocate for Betsie, and that he helped to get her case a badly-needed rehearing.  

She also wants us to be aware that State Representatives Daphne Campbell and Hazelle Rogers and State Senator Christopher Smith (who Chairs Broward County’s legislative delegation) were among a group of seven Florida legislators who formally requested her compassionate release, and that they’ve also written to the Governor, Charlie Crist, with the same request.

The fine folks at Haitian-Truth.org have been spreading the story within the local Haitian community-and in South Florida, that’s a fairly sizable community.

Bil Browning also has a story up that gives a lot more credit where credit is due and also points you to a petition you can sign…so have a look there as well.

Now, with the Parole Commission meeting tomorrow, you’ll want the appropriate email and other contact information for the three Commissioners, so here we go:

Chairman Tena M. Pate

(850) 487-1980

Fax (850) 414-2627

Vice Chairman Monica David

(850) 487-1978

Fax (850) 487-1220

Commissioner Frederick B. Dunphy

(850) 488-0476

Fax (850) 414-6031

Emails can be sent to the Commission’s public affairs representatives at publicaffairs@fpc.state.fl.us

So that’s where we’re at: Betsie is being fed, which, thanks to all y’all, means half the battle is already won; tomorrow is the next chance to obtain a decision that would get her released-and public pressure has been working rather well so far.

So let’s make one last push and see if we can’t start a new year by bringing this story to an end…and if we can, it’ll be a good day for not only Betsie and Jessica, but for Florida as well.  

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State Senate 11: The Scramble Begins

Now that Sen. O’Pake is laid to rest the scramble for his seat begins.  I saw Judy Schwank Sunday morning and she was quite definite that she has no interest in the position.  This leaves it wide open for Democrats.  Manan Trivedi seems to be a favorite for many but the pathetic campaign he ran for Congress causes some to pause.  Who runs for a major office on a message of a Congressional pay raise which is an issue on no one’s radar?  Tom Gombar told me that with three young children he isn’t in a position right now to run for the office.  Tom was O’Pake’s Chief of Staff for many years and ran his local district office.

Larry Medaglia is definitely running on the Republican side.  Berks County Register of Wills and former County Chair he is a moderate Republican, a good guy and someone who can definitely win this seat for the GOP.  His does face some obstacles.  His local Party is extremely divided and the Berks County Patriots have made that schism much deeper.  While County Chair he openly ran the Berks GOP from his County office and in this post BonusGate atmosphere that could come back to haunt him.  He was at the viewing the entire day yesterday and again today.  I watched him speak to as many folks as possible and the obvious campaigning while at the Senator’s funeral service was distasteful.  Larry did tell me if he becomes Senator he intends to work hard in O’Pake’s stead because “whoever succeeds him will forever be compared to him.”  That is true.  Just wait until after the funeral to begin campaigning Larry.

The date of the special election may be announced tomorrow when the State House and Senate reconvene and Members are sworn in.  The election must be at least 60 days away which puts it somewhere in March, the 8th or 15th.  This gives candidates only two months to gain their Party’s endorsement, organize staff and mount a campaign during the coldest part of the year.  There aren’t many major local events to attend in January and February other than petition organizing efforts conducted and hosted by other local officials.  They aren’t likely to be thrilled to have a Senate candidate step on their toes but it’ll have to happen.

Who will step up and run for the Dems?  Right now its an open field.

Update:  I’ve gotten two phone calls saying the special election is scheduled for March 15th but I called Sen. Scarnati’s office and they say nothing has been released as yet pertaining to a date.

Mike O’Pake Laid to Rest

I paid my last respects to Mike O’Pake this morning among hundreds of similarly minded citizens, dignitaries, elected officials and clergy.  BARTA ran a shuttle between St. Margarets RCC and First Energy Stadium while VIP’s parked nearby on Robeson Street.  Following the service a reception was held in Laureldale for the dignitaries at a local convent.

A hearse and two SUV’s stood vigil in front of the church as VIP’s drove up to disembark and a school bus filled with Central Catholic High School students, the Senator’s alma mater, emptied its cargo for several pews already reserved for these very important guests.  Another SUV pulled up with St. Joseph’s University plates, Mike’s other alma mater, and the President of the University stepped out to participate in the service.  Local and state officials filled the church including Congressman Tim Holden and a place was reserved for Governor elect Tom Corbett.  Ed Rendell didn’t attend.

Mike’s Senate staffers all wore red carnations and all appeared still shocked at their mentor’s passing.  His partner was especially teary eyed.  

My personal memories of Mike O’Pake are many though several stand out.  I remember, of course, the County Committee meeting in Muhlenberg when he called me out to the courtyard for a frank discussion about something written on the blog.  It was a very civil discussion however and he respected my insistence on not revealing the identity of the article’s anonymous author.  That turned into a long talk about current politics and every time we ran into each other he tried to pick my brain about the pulse of the people.  He always wanted feedback.

Two years ago while running for re-election I walked with him in the Boyertown Halloween parade although I went there only to cover a possible story.  When Mike asked you for something it was very difficult to say no.  I spent that evening on the parade route with him handing out little notebooks.

Whenever I was at the Capitol I’d pop into his office to say hello and he generously allowed me to keep my laptop there so I didn’t have to haul it everywhere.  Once he heard me and came out and put the computer right next to his own desk for safe keeping.  Perhaps he thought while it was there I couldn’t write anything, lol.

Mike was a consummate gentleman.  He was the very ideal public servant, someone who devoted his entire life to his work which was helping others.  Few people go to their graves with the remarkable achievements of a Mike O’Pake.  The love and respect paid him this two days by people of every persuasion, of every political stripe, commoners and Senators alike, are a tribute to his legendary devotion to public service.  We may never see his like again in Berks County.  Rest in peace Mike.  You are finally at rest.

I am done with the PA Turnpike

The rates went up 10% for non-EZ Pass people. 3% for EZ Pass people and the ticket debacle is still a problem for 3 months, because they printed enough of the non-fare tickets to last that long, so they put those in the machines now and in 3 months, the person who I handed my last ticket to tonight, said they will have the properly printed fares on them by then.  

So, the problem was NOT solved, go figure, I wonder if this state could solve a shoe-tying problem with a 5 year-old these days.  

So, I am done with using the toll road anymore.  It has to be an absolute emergency and even then I’ll protest it to the hilt for me to use the turnpike anymore.  It is time that we turned in our EZ Pass devices, stopped driving on the pike, until they make it a toll-free road and a regular highway.  If you can’t toll Route 80, then stop tolling I-76 as well.  

The Turnpike Commission is a joke and a sick one at that.  If you are going to charge any vehicles for use of our highways, charge only commercial traffic that beat our roads to death with their incessant heavy loads.  There’s got to be a better way and until there is, I’m done with using the PA Turnpike and if they toll 422 I’m done with that one too.  Come one TEA Party people, let’s hear some bitchin’ support here for this move.  You all ought to be as pissed a soused drunk about this!

The Dawn of a New Decade

Today not only marks the beginning of a new year but the dawn of a new decade.  The past one was one of the worst in American history.  Apprehension about Y2K opened it and then George W. Bush and five robed politicos on the Supreme Court launched America on an eight year journey through hell.  9/11, deregulation, two wars, massive deficits, soaring health care costs, wild speculation in markets and a crashed global economy later our world is in a shambles.

What didn’t go wrong in the first decade of this century?  Not much.  Global climate change continues unabated as more and more people are killed by extreme weather.  Financial cutbacks are so bad New York City can’t even dig itself out of a blizzard after laying off 400 sanitation workers.  Yes Virginia public employees are valuable and perform critical services for the public.

Thousands of Americans died overseas in unpaid for wars with no end while the military-industrial complex reaps huge profits from their bloodshed.  All this while no one seems to care.  A few lonely vigils exist here and there but most Americans don’t give a damn.

Eight million Americans lost their jobs and the country’s leadership doesn’t give a damn about that.

59 million Americans don’t have health care and no one seems to give a damn about that either.  Meanwhile the costs for those who do have coverage keeps escalating so working folks barely have disposable income left for other items.

Looking at the positive aspects we have made gains in wind and other clean energy sources, more and more people have become skeptical of religion and its scams (like promising people if you just bear your misery on earth you’ll be rewarded after you die, this is the greatest scam of all time), electric cars are finally on the market and young generations are far more tolerant than any other in history.  Americans continue to have comfortable lives compared with the standards of the world and enjoy riches for which most can only dream, we are learning more and more about the universe through science and technology continues to fascinate us with its potential.

Today dawns a new decade.  Let us endeavor to make it far better than the one past.  Be the change you want to see.  

New Year’s Predictions & Thoughts 2011

Ok kiddies, 2011 the year the gloves come off & I’m swinging for the fences with just about everything I’m going to put here this year.  Some of it is going to be well-received, some of it is going to hit some of you like brick walls, some will feel like you just got smacked with a full-sized tuna upside the head, and some of it is just going to be vastly different than some of the things you’ve probably seen me write here before.  

Larry “The King” is gone, Carlson is Tuckered out, and the Rush for more Limbaugh cheese is no longer all that tantalizing but still really smelly.  So, I am going to offer up something new to feast  on and enjoy for y’all out there.  

I may only pen one article per week at first, depending on the news and inspiration I get, but again, I’m swinging for the fences this year; getting my Ryan Howard on, so to speak.  I’m tired of sitting on my hands, mincing my words, worrying about what impact I have to say or write will have.  As I see it right now, as a person, I’ve got relatively little ability to impact much through traditional political channels, because of how awfully podunk and backwards the politics are done around here.  I still can’t really stand either major party, that didn’t change for 2011 folks.  So, I’m going to play from my own deck and I’m dealing from this one right here.  

So, here’s something to chew on while you’re choking down the pork and sauerkraut or whatever other meal, besides alcohol makes it to you this New Year’s Day 2011.

Ten things that need to change in America starting this year (in no particular order):

1) Every person who can, needs to step up in their community and begin to really ask themselves what it is that they do for their community, what they can do for their community ,given where they’re at in life, and how much you can have an impact.  

2) After completing #1, dare to actually start to find out how to become more involved and when you hit a brick wall, don’t stop, don’t just give up, find out how to remove that wall and press on.

3) People of America who would rather wait around to see if they can get disability benefits when they know they can actually work, need to get  off their duffs and keep looking for work, or better yet, find out how to make your own work, aka get into business for yourself, legally of course.  We have many folks who really need disability and are truly disabled, but you are NOT doing anything positive for those who truly disabled by simply waiting around to go through appeal after appeal until someone says uncle at Social Security.  In the meantime, you get evicted, you beg for help, but you don’t even consider getting a job and after a while you really believe you can’t work.  Knock that crap off, and get back to work!

4) Elected officials in every town and city in this nation need to be held accountable to the fullest by each of us and not just when the ballot box comes calling.  We need to clearly let our selected leaders know what matters most and when they are wasting time and money on things that don’t really matter.  Of course there’s one caveat to this, if we let every whim and latest fad be our guide as to what we think we need or want from our leaders, then we are NOT doing ourselves any good there either.  It cuts both ways folks.  

5) Religious factions of all walks need to work more on realizing their common grounds and look beyond the polarizing differences that do not serve to spread the overriding message of Love and honoring one’s particular spirit, god, deity(ies).  There’s no way you can truly be honoring something so awesome and grand as that while being so petty or harmful with your fellow human beings.  It just can’t comport with each other.  

6) We need to turn to the market and our own financial planners and let them know that the continued frenzy of profits is not helping anyone but the relatively select few in our society and that if they continue to act in such a manner, we will pull our retirement savings out, no matter the penalty, en masse.  It may be the only way to return sharp sanity and reality to Wall Street, when Main Street and the working stiffs who fund their incomes pull the proverbial plug on more cash flowing into their ivory towers.  

7) Education in America needs a huge overhaul, because having a federal effort that is then parsed out in 50 states, with separate state education laws and regs and then local subdivisions of that policy is more than wasteful, it is an exercise in extreme insanity.  I don’t care how much you want to hang on to your precious local control of education because you all think you’re school board members as parents and what not.  If you want to be that good at it, home school your kids and be done with it and shut the hell up about it.  Otherwise, stop being a hinder to your own children and future generations and let the unification of educational administration go forward.  If you’re really tired of outrageous property taxes and outrageous salaries for teachers and administrators, then having a more centralized and uniform way of dealing with these issues should solve those problems a good bit better than continuing to elect and choose people who eventually have to raise taxes or cut your favorite programs because you don’t want to pay more or can’t.  

8) Policing agencies should become more regionalized as well, from a state or local perspective.  This goes back to what I said in #7 and it is ridiculous to have such separations in our policing efforts these days.  Criminals don’t operate with such restrictions, why should our police departments?  Because someone feels it’s their turn to be chief or because of some other prideful thing?  are you serious?!  If you want to get a handle on crime, then you need to do some things that might be unfavorable to some, but if you don’t, then crime will continue to soar in some areas as solutions and ability for solutions lie idle.  

9) People need to get the hell away from some of the media circus out there.  It is not news much anymore, but flat out political theater and really it is sad to watch so many of you just hawk at it and then parrot it back in arguments and fail to think beyond what you were told or to even give a damn to realize that you’re spewing out some of the most crazy talk that is so far removed from what matters.  The media and its hold on peoples’ views has become quite dangerous and yet, many still hold onto what their favorite media talking head told them to believe about something, even when the facts and reality of the situation doesn’t match that at all.  

10) America needs to get over the whole problem with gay people.  We saw some of this loosen up in recent times, but the view still persists as shown by many angry and hateful outbursts in the public eye by officials and others caught on camera or in print.  These people are our fellow Americans like it or not and they are our children, relatives, loved ones, and parents, and like it or not, they aren’t going anywhere and they shouldn’t have to hide who they are, anymore than any of us should.  It is ridiculous and it is time that this crazy way of viewing people who openly declare themselves to be who they are, suddenly turns them into someone to revile or dislike, when 2 minutes before you liked them or thought well of them.  If your mind changes when you hear of a friend, loved one, or someone else openly declaring themselves as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or trans-gendered, then you are the one with the issue that needs to be resolved not the person who is being who they are.  Challenge your misconceptions about this and let them pop like the balloon phantom that it is.  

So, there’s my first big offering of swinging for the fences.  I hope you chew it over and over and get ready for more to come.

Happy New Year!