News & Notes August 31, 2011

For a while it seemed like everything was breaking loose in Pennsylvania yesterday.  Jane Orie, John Perzel, are there any Republicans left in Harrisburg who don’t have mug shots?  Calls on Sen. Orie to resign after being charged with perjury and forgery are being heard.  How about Justice Orie?  Jane’s corruption allowed her sister to become a Justice after all.

I spoke yesterday with a geologist with New Mexico’s Land Management office about hydrofracking.  I learned a good bit in the time he generously devoted to my queries.  Fracking has been going on here for thirty years and I want to find out how they’ve managed and regulated it successfully.  I think there are lessons to be learned here.

In other news a Judge restored funding for Kansas Planned Parenthood yesterday.  Removing someone’s right to medical care should always be condemned.

Twenty five companies paid their CEO’s more than Uncle Sam last year.  They also spent more on lobbyists than they did on taxes.  Do you think there just might be a connection there?  Meanwhile conservatives keep complaining about corporate taxes.   The statutory rate is irrelevant.  What matters is the effective rate:  what they actually wind up paying.

The latest talking point on conservative media seems to be that jobs have been lost under President Obama.  I may disagree with many of his policies but this simply isn’t true.  Obama turned around the economy from losing 700,000 jobs per month under Bush to creating them every month since he took office.  To date the Obama Administration has seen 2.4 million jobs created.  Had they been able to do a proper stimulus and followed that up with another one this economy would be much better off.  Of course since 8 million people lost their jobs to the deregulation ideology creating 2.4 million is still somewhat bad news.  Just don’t go around making false accusations.

Campaign For America’s Future (I write for them also) has issued three charts to send to your right wing friends who keep swallowing the lies.   Be careful though, facts can make their heads explode.

Speaking of heads exploding Dick Cheney said his new memoir would do that.  Cheney, of course, doesn’t need to write a book to do that all he needs do is start a war under false pretenses or go hunting with friends.

Eric Cantor, the guy who doesn’t want FEMA to help you after a natural disaster, sent a memo to GOP Members of Congress saying they will begin rolling back regulations this fall.  The bid to begin repealing laws which protect us from predatory business people is downright dangerous and is what led us into this recession.  Republicans reaction to a financial collapse caused by deregulation is to do more deregulation.  Sure, that makes sense, in The Twilight Zone.

Finally news out of Washington is that the Justice Department will block AT&T’s proposed purchase of T Mobile.  Concerns are the merger would drive up prices because T Mobile is a low cost provider.  They are also virulently anti-union.

Nevada Broadens Suit Against BoA

The State of Nevada has acted ahead of a proposed settlement agreement allowing crooked bankers to get off with a slap on their wrists and a timeout by broadening its suit against bank of America.  BoA bought Countrywide Financial as the financial meltdown of 2008 took institution after institution to the cleaners.  Unfortunately for BoA it couldn’t cleanse itself of the toxicity of Countrywide’s massive fraud (or its own).

I’ll give you a basic breakdown of some of what was happening in the wild and crazy mortgage market left unregulated.  Countrywide’s mortgage brokers were paid according to how much business they generated.  The toxic mortgage derivative securities developed by investment banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch were desperate for more mortgages to package into securities for hungry investors.  Since rating agencies (Standard & Poors and Moody’s) told investors these were AAA buys pension funds seeking higher gains were flooding their portfolios with them.  The banks knew they were toxic and hedged their bets by buying insurance against their collapse with AIG.  Unfortunately AIG didn’t reserve any of the cash they were collecting as premiums to pay off potential losses.

So say, for example, you were purchasing a home.  You went to a Countrywide office and filled out an application.  You had good credit and qualified for a prime rate mortgage.  The Countrywide broker got paid a commission based on selling you a higher rate mortgage and one with flexible terms instead of a fixed rate.  He may have forged your application to inflate your credit credentials (changing your annual income for example, very commonly done) and thereby qualify you for more house.

When you went to closing thinking you had a 30 year fixed rate mortgage for 5.75% interest you signed the papers and got your keys.  Later you discovered you had an adjustable rate mortgage at 5.75% but which increased suddenly to 8% then 10%.  As your mortgage payment kept increasing you could no longer afford your home.  Unable to sell it because it had now lost 30% of its value you chose to walk away.  Then BoA foreclosed on you by filing fraudulent documents at your county courthouse.

This is how the mortgage boom rose and fell.  It was fraught with fraud from start to finish.  Now the major banks involved are negotiating to settle all civil and criminal claims for a measley $20 billion.  That doesn’t even qualify as chump change for these people.  They already gutted all the major reforms from the Dodd-Frank bill and now are using their thousands of lobbyists to walk away from any harm.

It is time to fully prosecute these criminals for the damage they caused through their fraud.  Homeowners cheated by fraudulent mortgages, collapsed pension funds, lost jobs and lost homes deserve justice.

Barletta Linked to Nativists/Neo-Nazis

Congressman Lou Barletta who rode immigrant bashing to Washington has linked himself to Jim Gilchrest of Minuteman infamy and through that relationship, to Neo-Nazi groups surrounding Gilchrest.  The heated rhetoric created by Barletta resulted in the beating murder of an undocumented Mexican in Shenandoah, not far from Lou’s home in Hazleton.  Words do have consequences and besides using his inflamed rhetoric to get to DC the Congressman got there by attaching his coattails to some very unsavory souls.

Jim Gilchrest formed the Nativist, racist group Minutemen and eventually was forced out when he was accused of stealing donations.  He then formed a webiste largely devoted to promoting himself and has appeared at rallies and events supporting Congressional candidates.  Everywhere he goes he is surrounded by Neo-Nazis.  He also was a strong supporter of murderer Shawna Forde who conducted a brutal home invasion in Arizona and killed a 9 year old Hispanic girl and her father.

Congressman Barletta received an award from Gilchrest while attending the CPAC conference.  Why would a Pennsylvania Congressman associate himself with someone who defends racist murderers, is surrounded by Neo-Nazis in full regalia, and who constantly demeans minorities?  Attending the presentation were several virulent white nationalists:

William Johnson

Jared Taylor

The Council of Conservative Citizens

Timothy P. Dionisopoulos

Lou Barletta is openly associating with white supremacists and accepting an award from nativist Jim Gilchrest.  Is this what we as Pennsylvanians want associated with our Commonwealth?  What this says about Congressman Barletta is obvious.

Georgia O’Keefe Country

Famed artist Georgia O’Keefe made New Mexico her home following the death of her husband/collaborator Alfred Steiglitz.  She first began painting in the northern region in 1929 and moved here permanently in 1949.  Her home at Ghost Ranch provided her with stunning visuals and inspiration.  Famous for her paintings of the Pedernal mountain overlooking her home she also composed many pieces of flowers.  Today the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe displays her work along with a gift shop where prints, calendars and other memorabilia are for sale.

I drove up through O’Keefe Country as it is known here and the views are spectacular.  I recognized the Pedernal instantly from her many works of it and also enjoyed the views of Abiquiu Lake across Route 84 from Ghost Ranch.  The Rio Chama flows through here and provides rich greenery in a desert landscape.  The lake dams this river providing electricity and a reservoir to a parched region.  Today Ghost Ranch is a 21,000 acre conference center.

Here is a picture of her mountain:

The Rio Chama:

More pictures are below the fold…

The entrance to Ghost Ranch now:

and then:

Scenery surrounding O’Keefe’s cabin:

Here you can see part of Lake Abiquiu:

Pelosi Vows to Protect Medicare & Social Security

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi visited Santa Fe, New Mexico yesterday and told an audience at the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center she will not allow the Congressional Super Committee “to be a chopping block for” the programs.  She ridiculed Texas Governor Rick Perry for calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme and said Social Security shouldn’t even be used in the same sentence with deficit reduction.  Social Security has nothing to do with the federal deficit.

The unannounced visit with local Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and others provided a forum for the former Speaker to condemn those who were silent while the deficit was being amassed by former President Bush with tax cuts for the rich and two unfunded wars.  I do recall Speaker Pelosi voting to fund the Iraq War however.  

Social Security was put on the negotiating table by President Obama during negotiations on the debt ceiling even though it is self supporting, is safe until 2037 and can be expanded by lifting the cap on contributions.  In these harsh economic times the program should be expanded instead of cut back and as more and more Americans lose their pensions more of us are dependent on Social Security.  Lifting the cap on incomes subject to taxation would solidify Social Security and allow an expansion of benefits.

Medicare is in trouble because of runaway health care costs.  The President’s bill will do little to rein them in and does nothing to provide a public option for those mandated to buy insurance from for profit, private corporations.  Expanding Medicare by adding benefits and making it a national single payer plan solves those issues, gives access to quality medical care to every person and ends the runaway costs adding to the deficit.

The solutions to both deficit reduction and health care costs adding tot he deficit are real and actual and reasonable.  They can be accomplished by passing The People’s Budget and help Americnas rather than hurting them.  Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Santa Fe was welcome and her words important.

Note:  I am visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico.

News & Notes August 30, 2011

The Phillies have finally joined the “It Gets Better” effort begun by Dan savage to encourage teenage LGBT victims of bullying:

Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Hunter Pence appear and we thank the Phillies for their commitment to our youth.

When Congressmen Tom Marino and Lou Barletta began prohibiting the use of cameras and video equipment at their town hall meetings I condemned their actions as illegal.  Now the federal courts have agreed saying it is an unconscionable act of free speech violations.  The First Amendment, according to the court, guarantees citizens the right to record or take pictures of their government officials at public functions.  It’s too bad these Tea Party morons who got elected while clinging to the constitution forgot to read the document.

The Amendment was intended to provide the people with oversight and accountability of our government officials and prevents them from interfering, in any way, the dissemination of information about how they are performing their duties.  This was also extended to police in a case from Boston where police were taped during an arrest.

I want to drive up to the area where wildfires devastated an area near bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Santa Clara Indian Reservation earlier this year.  The southwest has had a major climate change related drought for several years and Arizona was the scene of a major fire.  At the time Fox News blamed the inferno on illegal immigrants.  Now, it turns out, they were wrong.  Two Arizona residents have been charged.  Both are U.S. citizens.  Gee, Fox News caught making up stories…again?

Eric Cantor thinks the storm damage from Hurricane Irene should come from cutting other government programs.  This is just after an earthquake centered in his District was felt all over eastern states.  I wonder how everyone thinks about having something like Pell grants dissolved, LIHEAP for heating your home next winter or food stamps for those unworthy poor the right wing is demonizing will feel about this?  How about if we cut Congressional salaries and perks instead?

Non Profits Form Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission

A group of non profit institutions across Pennsylvania has formed a Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission to, as they say, “try to bring some balance to the discussion.”  Gov. Corbett appointed an inudstry centered Marcellus Shale Commission which delivered its report earlier this summer.  Little direct citizen input was contributed to that discussion and all of their hearings were held during business hours in Harrisburg.  

The organizations involved in this effort are Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, Clean Water Action, Keystone Progress, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, Penn Environment, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and the CLEAR Coalition.  They each nominated individuals to serve on the Commission and former State Representatives Dan Surra (D) and Carole Rubley (R) are the Co-Chairs.  They will conduct five regional hearings around the Commonwealth  during evening hours so people can attend and will also accept written comments and testimony through their website.

The scheduled meetings are:

Southwestern Pennsylvania

Aug. 31, 2011, 6-9 pm: South Fayette Middle School, 3640 Old Oakdale Rd., McDonald, Pa

Southeastern Pennsylvania

Sept. 6, 2011, 6-9 pm: The Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., Philadelphia, Pa.

Northeastern Pennsylvania

Sept. 13, 2011, 6-9 pm: Lycoming College, Academic Center on Mulberry Street, Room D001, Lower Level, Williamsport, Pa.

Sept. 14, 2011, 6-9 pm: Wysox Volunteer Fire Company, P.O. Box 2, Lake Rd., Wysox, Pa.

Central Pennsylvania

Week of Sept. 18, 2011, Harrisburg, Pa. (Details TBA)

The Citizens Commission hopes to send a report by mid October to the Governor, state legislators and the people of Pennsylvania designed “to supplement and add to” the Governor’s Commission.  Most of the testimony taken by that body was from industry people and/or experts hired and paid for by the energy industry.  As one participant said in a conference call this morning, this is too important long term to the state to not be done properly.  While profits are privatized the long term environmental costs will be socialized, a bill delivered to taxpayers down the road.

Broader focus of the Citizens Commission will include the social costs of drilling, impacts on hunters and fishermen, the impact of potential extraction taxes or fees, and the impact on Pennsylvania”s animals.  Some hunters have found themselves confronted by armed security guards while using state lands.  

Anyone unable to attend a hearing can contribute comments or testimony to the Commission via its website.

Sen. Orie Charged With Perjury, Forgery and Other Charges

State Senator Jane Orie was arraigned yesterday on a slew of new charges related to her mistrial on political corruption charges.  The legal proceeding was ended when it was discovered that documents submitted by her defense had been forged.  They were sent tot he Secret Service for examination and now she has been charged with altering them and having her attorneys submit them as authentic during her defense on charges she used state funds, staffers and resources for political campaigns.  Included was the campaign to elect her sister Joan Orie Melvin to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The new charges as enumerated by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are as follows:

5 felony perjury counts (from her testimony)

6 tampering with evidence

1 obstruction of law

various forgery counts

The following statements made by the Senator at her trial have been charged against her as being perjury:

“I never had a campaign office across the street;”

“I have never had an office other than the La Casa Blanca;”

“I have no relationship with the realtor across the street to be able to rent an office space,”

“Yeah. That’s the office that’s behind — in the same complex that I am in but behind the building.”

A new trial based on the original charges is scheduled for this fall.

Perzel to Plead Guilty?

Philly.com is reporting that former House Speaker John Perzel will plead guilty to corruption regarding the ongoing BonusGate prosecutions.  The plea, expected Wednesday, follows several of his former key aides pleading and agreeing to testify against the Philadelphian who finally lost his seat to Democrat Kevin Boyle last year.  Perzel, along with Bill DeWeese, shared the Speaker’s Chair during an era of intense political corruption in Harrisburg.  Attorney General Tom Corbett rode the cases all the way to the Governor’s Mansion.