Former Editor Sues Philadelphia Police for Constitutional Violations in Her Arrest

Editor’s note:  The owner of OpEDNews Rob Kall, is a personal friend.  John

by Walter M. Brasch

A former managing editor for the online newspaper, OpEdNews, has sued the city of Philadelphia and eight of its police officers for violating her Constitutional rights.

Cheryl Biren-Wright, Pennsauken, N.J., charges the defendants with violating her 1st, 4th, and 14th amendment rights. The civil action, filed in the U.S. District Court, Philadelphia, is based upon her arrest during a peaceful protest Sept. 12, 2009, at the Army Experience Center (AEC) in the Franklin Mills Mall.

According to the complaint, Biren-Wright, who was not a part of the demonstration but at the mall as a reporter-photographer, was arrested and charged with failure to disperse and conspiracy, second degree misdemeanors. The charges were subsequently dropped by the Philadelphia district attorney.

The Philadelphia police also arrested and charged six protestors with conspiracy and failure to disperse-Elaine Brower, 55, New York, N.Y.; Richie Marini, 35, Staten Island, N.Y.; Joan Pleune, 70, Brooklyn, N.Y.(one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961); Beverly Rice, 72, New York, N.Y.; Debra Sweet, 57, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Sarah Wellington, 26, Piermont, N.Y. Two months after Biren-Wright’s case was dropped, the six protestors were found not guilty in Philadelphia Municipal Court.

Paul J. Hetznecker, who represented the six defendants in the criminal trial, and Biren-Wright in her civil suit, believes that police over-reaction to protestors, as well as their lack of knowledge or appreciation for Constitutional protections, may be “a systemic problem throughout the country.” Hetznecker says under Constitutional and state law, “There can not be an arbitrary and capricious decision to end the civil rights of the protestors.”

The civil suit complaint charges that police violated Biren-Wright’s First Amendment rights to “gather information . . . to cover a matter of public interest including the law enforcement activity in public places.” Actions by the police deprived her of 4th and 14th amendment rights that, according to the complaint, protect against “unreasonable search and seizure,” “loss of physical liberty,” and “freedom from excessive use of unreasonable and justified force.”

The suit lists six separate counts:

         * Abridgement of her rights under the First Amendment to observe and record news in a public place.

         * False arrest and imprisonment

         * Use of excessive force by the police.

         * False arrest under state law

         * Common Law Assault under state law

         * Failure of the City of Philadelphia to adequately train and supervise its police. The complaint charges that because of accepted practices, the defendants may have believed “that their actions would not be properly investigated by supervisory officers and that the misconduct would not be investigated or sanctioned, but would be tolerated.” The policy, according to the complaint, “demonstrates a deliberate indifference on the part of the policymakers of the City of Philadelphia, to the constitutional rights of persons within the City, and were the cause of the violations of the Plaintiff’s rights. . . .”

Named in the suit in addition to the City of Philadelphia are Lt. Dennis Konczyk, officers Tyrone Wiggins, John Logan, Robert Anderson, Donald West, William Stuski, and two unnamed John Does.

The Philadelphia Police Department refused to comment about the suit as a matter of policy regarding “issues in court,” according to Jillian Russell, Department spokesperson.

In August 2008, the Army opened the AEC, a 14,500 square foot “virtual educational facility” with dozens of video games. The Center, deliberately located near an indoor skateboard park, replaced five more traditional recruiting offices, and was designated as a two-year pilot program. The initial cost was $12 million.

Army recruiters could not actively recruit children under 17, but could talk with the teens and answer any of their questions about the Army. Among the virtual games was one in which children as young as 13 could ride a stationary Humvee and shoot a simulated M-16 rifle at life-like video images of Muslims and terrorists.

Because of the emphasis upon war, and a requirement that all persons had to sign in at the center, thus allowing the recruiters to follow-up as much as four or five years later, peace activists began speaking out against the AEC.

To counter what was quickly becoming a public relations problem, the Army sent out news releases, picked up by the mainstream media, and established a full social media campaign to explain the “benefits” of the AEC. The protests continued.

Elaine Brower, whose son was in Iraq on his third tour of duty, told OpEdNews a day after her arrest: “The AEC is giving guns to 13-year-olds, drawing them in with violent video games. As more and more Afghan civilians and U.S. military are being killed in the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, we’re saying ‘no’ to these wars. We’ve got to stop the flow of youth into the military, where they’re being used to commit war crimes in our name.”

With a police permit, and escorted by officers from Philadelphia’s Civil Affairs Unit, about 200-250 protestors-most of them middle-aged or senior citizens, many of them veterans-had come to the AEC, believing their First Amendment rights were being protected. The protest, although noisy at times, was peaceful; the counter-demonstration wasn’t.

According to the complaint, “The counter-demonstrators [members of an organization known as The Gathering of Eagles] yelled, jeered and taunted the AEC protestors. At no time did [the police] direct, or attempt to limit the First Amendment activities of the counter-demonstrators,” nor were they ever told to disperse.

Throughout the demonstration, the protestors had not given any indication that they posed any physical threat to others. However, about 45 minutes after the demonstration began, the police, under direction of Lt. Konczyk, ordered the protestors to disperse.

At that point, Biren-Wright, according to the complaint, “placed herself outside the immediate area . . . so as not to interfere with the police activity.” She continued to photograph and report on the demonstration. The complaint charges that Lt. Konczyk, “without just cause or legal justification,” directed several officers to arrest her, walking past several protestors and counter-demonstrators. She says she told the officers she was a member of the press. At no time, she says, did she participate as a demonstrator nor verbally or physically threaten anyone. The officers, says Biren-Wright, arrested her without any warning. The arresting officer’s “degree of anger-he was clearly red-faced-was inappropriate,” she recalls. The police, says Biren-Wright, “were clearly targeting me, trying to keep me from recording the demonstration and their reactions.”

One officer, says Biren-Wright, “unnecessarily twisted my arm.” Another officer seized her camera and personal items. One of the officers put plastic cuffs on her wrists “so tight that it caused significant pain, swelling and bruising, and an injury that lasted for several weeks,” according to the complaint.

Biren-Wright’s 15-year-old daughter was shopping in the mall during the protest, but had reunited with her mother shortly before the arrests. Her daughter, says Biren-Wright, “came closer upon the arrest and I told the officer she was my daughter and a minor and would be alone.” The officer, says Biren-Wright, snapped, “You should have thought of that before.” At the processing center that police had previously set up at the mall, Biren-Wright told several officers that her daughter was alone in the mall and was from out of state. “None of them did anything to ensure her safety,” she says. The daughter, unsupervised, eventually found Rob Kall, OpEdNews editor, who drove her to the jail to take her mother’s keys and then drove her home, where she spent the night alone.

Outside the mall, counter-protestors shouted obscenities as those arrested boarded the police bus. “They were standing at the door to the bus,” says Biren-Wright, “and posed a safety issue to us since we were in handcuffs.”

The six who were arrested and Biren-Wright were initially taken to the 15th District jail. Richie Marini, the lone male arrested, was kept at the district jail. The six women were transferred to the jail at the jail of the Philadelphia Police headquarters, known by locals as the “Roundhouse,” where a nurse took each woman’s vital signs and asked if there were any injuries. “I showed him my wrist and thumb that were already red and swollen” from the restrictive handcuffs, says Biren-Wright. His response, she says, was “That doesn’t count.”

Biren-Wright, along with the other five women, was held for 14 hours. At 5 a.m., she says, they were released from the “Roundhouse” onto a dark and barren street-there were no taxis anywhere near-and locked out of the police station. Although the women had cell phones, they had not been allowed to call for rides while in the jail area. Outside, they called friends, but waited until help arrived. Marini was released from the district jail later that morning.

The only reason Biren-Wright’s pictures of the demonstration survived is because she had secretly removed the memory chip during the arrest. When the camera was finally returned, “all of the settings were messed up and the lens was not replaced properly.”

The Army closed the AEC at the end of the pilot program. It had claimed that because of increased enlistments nationwide, the Center was no longer needed. It never acknowledged that the protestors and the public reaction may have been a reason for the closing.

In an unrelated case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in October 2010 [Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle] that recording police activity in public places is protected by Constitutional guarantees. This month, the ACLU settled a case, for $48,500, in Pittsburgh when a University of Pittsburgh police officer arrested Elijah Matheny and charged him with felony violation of the state’s Wiretap Act for using a cell phone to record police activity. Matheny spent a night in jail following his arrest. [See: Matheny v. County of Allegheny, et al.] The ACLU charged that the district attorney’s office “had engaged in a pattern of erroneously advising law enforcement that audio taping police officers in public violates Pennsylvania’s Wiretap Act.” Following the Third Circuit’s decision in the Kelly case, a conviction against Matheny is expected to be overturned.

The arrests in Philadelphia, Carlisle, and Pittsburgh underscores two major problems, both prevalent throughout the country. The first problem is a lack of understanding and respect for the Constitution by a large number, although not a majority, of police officers. For that reason, all police forces and district attorneys offices, from small isolated rural communities to the largest urban departments, need to have constant education about civil rights and Constitutional guarantees-and the penalties for violating those rights.

The second major problem is inherent within the mass media. Reporters need to know how and when to challenge authority to protect their own and the public’s rights. A camera crew from the PBS “Frontline” series was at the protest, but abruptly stopped recording the demonstration after Brower was arrested and either before or during Biren-Wright’s arrest. Rob Kall later said that a member of the “Frontline” crew told him the police informed them they would be arrested if they continued to film the demonstration.

Police threats, which violate Constitutional guarantees, place a “chilling effect” upon the media to observe and record actions by public officials. Even without a direct order by a public official, reporters may do what they perceive to be what others want them to do. The media, like police and public officials, also need constant education to know when police orders are lawful and when they are not. An order to move away from a scene may be lawful. An order to stop filming a scene upon threat of arrest is not.

In federal court, in the case of Biren v. City of Philadelphia, et al., these issues, and others, will be raised. But had there been an understanding of the Constitution by the police, the case would never have gotten to the point of a federal civil suit.


Census Local Data: Poverty Rises Sharply in Most Areas of Pennsylvania

A blog post by Michael Wood, originally published at Third and State.

Poverty has risen sharply in most areas of Pennsylvania, according to new data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The report highlights the widespread impact of the recession and the need for policymakers to protect struggling families and invest in building a stronger economy.

Overall poverty in Pennsylvania rose by a statistically significant margin, going from 11.6% in 2007 to 13.4% in 2010. Most Pennsylvania metro areas also saw statistically significant increases in poverty from 2007 to 2010.

The number of Pennsylvanians living in deep poverty – the share of the population with incomes below half the poverty line – rose to 5.9% (726,102 people) in 2010. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, Pennsylvania was one of 40 states to see a statistically significant rise in deep poverty.

Deep Poverty Rose in 40 States Between 2007 and 2010

In urban areas of Pennsylvania, poverty rose to 14.7% in 2010 with 1,360,202 urban residents currently living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey. That is up from 12.7% in 2007, before the recession started. The picture is similarly bleak in rural Pennsylvania where 9.5% of residents (287,982 people) lived in poverty in 2010, up from 8.1% in 2007.

The number of Pennsylvania children living in poverty continued to increase last year amid the recession, according to the Census data. In 2010, 18.8% of Pennsylvania kids lived in families that fell below the poverty line, up from 15.9% in 2007. The Pennsylvania rate was lower than the national child poverty rate of 21.2%.

As poverty increased nationwide, African Americans and Latinos have been hit particularly hard by the recession, with 28.4% of African Americans and 33.5% of Latinos living in poverty in Pennsylvania last year. Just under one in 10 non-Hispanic whites in Pennsylvania lived in poverty in 2010.

Click here to view a table highlighting increasing poverty rates by Pennsylvania metropolitan/micropolitan area.

Did Georgia commit murder today?

Troy Davis, a man that has always maintained his innocence was put to death today despite a number of witnesses and jurors saying they were wrong an a disturbing lack of physical evidence.

Davis offered to subject himself to a polygraph test to prove his innocence.

Naturally the officer he was accused of killing was white and Mr. Davis is not white. There’s no way to prove it but I strongly suspect that if Mr. Davis had been white, he would have had a new trial.

There are a great number of people and a fair amount of evidence to suggest that Georgia murdered an innocent man today and the real killer of Officer Mark MacPhail is still at large.

I am sorry for the loss the family of the slain officer has suffered but no amount of grief should outweigh justice. If there was a reasonable chance this man was innocent the case should have been re-tried.

I understand the case was reviewed by several courts I also understand they the testimony of witness and jurors was deemed “insufficient” to justify a re-trial. Given the number of people that came forward to say they were wrong I find those rulings a bit suspect.

IN the end though, we’ll never really know and that’s the real problem with the death penalty. Death is final and if you find out later you were wrong, there’s nothing you can do to correct the error. You can’t bring someone back to life.

The death penalty doesn’t deter anything. It’s a barbaric vestige of a less advanced society and it should be universally outlawed.

Free Trade Isn’t Free

Free trade has cost Pennsylvania 100,000 jobs.  Millions of Americans have lost their good, middle class supporting jobs and careers to that great sucking sound aptly described by Ross Perot.  As crazy as he was he was right about NAFTA.  Free trade has destroyed America by transferring our manufacturing base overseas.  China is opening fifty new plants a day and employing people in sweatshops.  

Of course one need not go overseas to work in a sweatshop.  Right here Hershey Foods is using foreign students as low wage employees and people slaving at’s distribution center in Lehigh County are being worked to death.  The subcontractor for Amazon hires folks then when they show up for work (after leaving another job) they’re told there’s no job.

Farm worker’s life expectancy is now 49 years and the rich have begun class warfare against poor people blaming them for the country’s problems.  Eight million Americans lost their jobs because of our trade and economic policies and 4.5 million of them lost their homes to foreclosure.  Seven billion was drained from pension funds and retirement accounts wiped out for most working people.

Globalization should have meant raising the standard of living for those in third world countries but instead it is making the U.S. a third world country.  15% of Americans now live in poverty and millions go hungry each day.  Free trade has cost us the American dream.  You can no longer grow up in a small town and have a career working in a neighborhood plant somewhere.  Anywhere.  It used to be every town had its industry:  shoes in New England, furniture in North Carolina, farm equipment in Iowa, autos in Michigan and Ohio and so on.  

When I grew up outside Pottstown, PA we had Firestone, Dana Corporation, Mrs Smith’s Pies, Bethlehem Steel and a myriad of other manufacturing plants.  They are all long gone even the pies.  Each manufacturing job creates four more, two on the supply side and two in distribution.  High tech manufacturing creates 16 additional jobs for every one in a plant.  As we’ve shipped these jobs overseas in a quest for higher corporate profits we’ve wrecked the middle class.  No middle class means no consumers for these products.  It is an endless cycle spinning our civilization into oblivion.

Does it have to be endless?  Why don’t those workers organize?  Perhaps because organized labor has become part of the problem.  Long gone are the days when the Wobblies wouldn’t just strike they’d shut everything down.  It used to be being in any union meant not crossing another’s picket line.  No one even strikes any more and unions are battling each other for dwindling members.  Workers see union leaders coddling management, getting fat and lazy on dues and not fighting for them.

The result is a toothless movement not truly representing working people.  Labor cozies up to a Democratic Party which sold out to corporate America and which is constantly screwing Labor.  They’re just waking up to this fact but have nowhere else to go because they refuse to start their own Labor Party.  So workers are getting screwed while yet another Democratic President is pushing even more free trade deals through Congress.

Free trade isn’t free.  It has cost us our economy, cost millions of hard working people their jobs, homes and retirements, cost us our quality of life, cost us the future for our children.  It’s time someone paid for this debacle.  There can be no more free trade deals and those in force should be eliminated.  The U.S. must withdraw from the WTO and begin rebuilding our manufacturing in a way which also protects workers.  Labor needs to grow some balls and picket places like  Have there been any union people outside that warehouse this week?

Just try and buy something not made in China, it’s damn near impossible.  China keeps manipulating its currency and there’s little we can do about it because they’re our banker.  We can begin building some protections for our industry without becoming protectionist.  When high tech companies such as Solyndra go under because they aren’t competing on a level playing field with subsidized Chinese solar plants we need to step in and do the same thing as China or place suitable tariffs on Chinese goods.

Trade wars aren’t pretty but starving kids in our towns aren’t either.  Seeing homes for sale on every block isn’t doing anything either while millions of Americans go homeless.  Let’s begin taxing Wall Street for their greed in crashing our economy and use that money to put people back to work rebuilding our infrastructure.  Let’s insist that all materials be American made and American sourced.  Stop shopping at Wal-Mart and other corporations shipping our jobs overseas and build a new political movement truly dedicated to working America.

Free trade isn’t free and we must begin working to make it too expensive for corporate America.

National Weakness in Economy Spreads to PA in August

A blog post by Sean Brandon, originally published at Third and State.

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate rose to 8.2% in August but remains below the 9.1% national rate. Pennsylvania has been below the U.S. unemployment rate for 40 consecutive months, and at or below the U.S. rate for 58 consecutive months. This trend is in jeopardy, however, as Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has risen eight-tenths of one percentage point since May.

Government and Information industries performed very poorly in August, while the Manufacturing and Professional and Business Services sectors showed employment growth. In the last two years, Pennsylvania saw the third highest rate of job growth out of the 50 states by volume and the 11th highest in percentage terms.

However, Pennsylvania’s jobs deficit, or the difference between the number of jobs the state has and the number it needs to regain its pre-recession employment rate, is 240,700. That number includes the 126,000 jobs Pennsylvania lost plus the 114,700 jobs it needs to keep up with the 2% growth in population that has occurred in the 44 months since the recession began. Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, needs a jobs plan to meet the vast challenges our economy currently faces.

News & Notes September 20, 2011

I’m officially pissed at Firefox.  It doesn’t remember any of my user names and passwords and now seems to be crashing every day.  I need a new browser.

How many MontCo courthouse security guards does it take to change a lightbulb?  None, they’re too stupid to realize you can change them.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell officially expired today.  Thank you Patrick Murphy!

Protesters have descended on Wall Street all week but you wouldn’t know it if you only get your news from the lamestream press.  

Dan Hirschhorn (formerly of PA 2010) has an excellent analysis of the 2012 PA GOP Senate field in Politico today.  I think Sam Rohrer has the inside edge in a crowded field but can he raise money?

The hubbub over dividing the state’s electoral votes shows how stupid Republicans can be:  Obama is tanking badly in the Keystone State but they’d hand the Dems four or five electoral votes they wouldn’t otherwise get.

Rep. Paul Ryan thinks it’s class warfare when we want to raise taxes on the rich.  Hey he finally got something right!  When we fight back it’s class warfare but when these mega rich bankers stole our pension funds, crashed the economy, cost 4.5 million families their homes and 8 million their jobs that wasn’t class warfare?  Now they’re blaming everything on the poor.  That isn’t class warfare however.

There will be a huge rally in Harrisburg next week (Sept 27th) to support women’s health.  Be There!

We finally understand the Tea Party’s warped definition of freedom.  It’s when you die because you don’t have insurance and cannot get medical care.

From his Mouth to Lawmakers’ Ears: Governor Corbett Calls for Gas Drilling Fee

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally posted at Third and State.

Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signaled his support for  enacting an impact fee on Marcellus Shale gas drillers. His plan would use fee revenue to pay for statewide environmental cleanup and local impacts, such as road and bridge damage, the Governor said on his new radio show. He plans to release more details as early as this week.

This is a significant development for Governor Corbett, who was initially skeptical of a drilling tax or fee. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week:

He had stuck to a pledge made in last year’s gubernatorial campaign to oppose any new taxes – or fees – on anyone for anything. Since taking office in January, Corbett has softened that stance, saying at first that he would consider a local impact fee on the drillers, then saying he was in talks about one with GOP legislative leaders. His Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission studied the issue and recommended an impact fee.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will have an update when the new fee proposal is introduced.

On a related note, the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission is coming to Northeastern Pennsylvania this week. The Commission will hold public hearings in Williamsport on Wednesday, September 21 and Towanda on Thursday, September 22 for hearings. The public is welcome to attend. (Click on the previous links for more information or to register to speak.)

If you live in the area, come out to tell your side of the Marcellus Shale story.

The Mugging of SpongeBob SquarePants

by Walter Brasch

SpongeBob SquarePants may be hazardous to your mental development-if you’re a four-year-old. At least that’s what two psychologists at the University of Virginia claim, based upon a study they conducted that may have as many holes as the average sponge who lives under the sea.

In the first paragraph of an article published this week in the academic journal Pediatrics, Angeline S. Lilliard and Jennifer Peterson set up their study with a pick-and-choose somewhat slanted view of television. According to these psychologists, “correlational studies link early television viewing with deficits in executive function . .  . a collection of prefrontal skills underlying goal-directed behavior, including attention, working memory, inhibitory control, problem solving, self-regulation, and delay of gratification.” Translated into English, we conclude that psychologists don’t speak English.

To make sure no one misreads the study as anything but pure empirical science, they toss in “covariant assessment,” “covariate,” “posthoc analyses,” “backward digit span,” “encoding,” “cognitive depletion,” and something known as the “Tower of Hanoi,” not to be mistaken, apparently, for the Hanoi Hilton, or the Tower of Babel, which this study seems most likely to emulate.

For their subject group, they rounded up four-year-olds from “a database of families willing to participate.” Three groups of children were given the same four separate tasks. Those who watched a truncated version of a “SpongeBob” cartoon, which has scene changes an average of every 11 seconds, fared worse in the measurements than did the groups that watched a more “realistic” and “educational” PBS cartoon (“Caillou”) that had an average scene change of 34 seconds. The third group (known as a “control” group) drew things and participated in all the tasks. On all four tests, “SpongeBob” lost. The fact the researchers labeled “Caillou” as educational could reveal pre-conceived bias; even a cursory look at “SpongeBob,” although primarily entertainment, reveals numerous social and educational issues that could lead to further discussion.

The pre-schoolers were mostly White, from middle-class and upper-class families. Thus, there was no randomly-selected group, something critical in most such studies. The researchers do acknowledge this, as well as a few defects in the study itself. Possibly salivating over future grants, they tell us that “further research . . . is needed.”

The reality may not be that four-year-olds who watch “SpongeBob” and similar cartoons had developmental defects but that they are far more interested in the cartoon than in other activities and temporarily suspend those “good quality” activities while they remember the cartoon and think of other events or issues that SpongeBob and the cast got into. The researchers measured the students’ responses shortly after watching the cartoons; perhaps measurements a few hours or a week later might have given different results.

Nevertheless, the researchers-hung up on standard deviations, regression analysis, and Cronbach’s Alpha, among other empirical tests-didn’t do the most basic of all research. They didn’t ask the children what they thought about the cartoons, nor any questions leading to why the children who viewed “SpongeBob” may not have performed as well the other two groups on tests that may or may not be of value. It’s entirely possible that watching fast-paced well-written tightly-directed animated cartoons may be more fun-and more productive-than watching slower-paced educational cartoons. But we don’t know because the research was quantified.

The wounded response by Nickelodeon, which airs “SpongeBob Squarepants,” isn’t much better than the academic study. Squeezed into a sentence, the comment is that the cartoon is for 6-11 year olds, not the four-year-olds who were tested. The Nick PR machine wants us to believe that even if everything the researchers said was true, it doesn’t matter because the cartoon isn’t aimed at four-year-olds.  Apparently, even if older siblings are watching “SpongeBob” or their parents are watching horror, adventure, or war movies it doesn’t matter because those forms of entertainment aren’t for four-year-olds.

For more than eight decades, animated cartoons have come under fire by all kinds of academic researchers and certain “we-do-good” public groups. From 1930 to 1968, the Hays office, ensconced in Puritan ideals of morality, censored films and cartoons for all kinds of reasons. By the 1960s, academic researchers began questioning the violence in cartoons, focusing primarily upon the Warner Brothers characters. For a few years, television programmers, either believing themselves to be great pillars of morality or afraid of losing sponsors, forcibly retired many of the most popular cartoons from the screen.

At least half of the studies concluded that watching violence could be one of the factors that lead to violent acts. Another group of studies showed little correlation. But, stripping away the academic verbiage, the most logical conclusion of all the studies that denuded a small forest was that persons pre-disposed to violence may become violent if exposed to violence in cartoons. Certainly, watching Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons won’t cause a Quaker to go out and mug Baptists.

The mugging that SpongeBob (and other characters in quick-sequencing action) got is another attempt to quantify life by exorcizing a small part of life, running tests, and trying to explain human cognition and development without understanding humans.

[Walter Brasch has a Ph.D. in mass communication. That means during his career he has been subjected to more than his fair share of annoying academic studies. Among his 16 books, he is the author of Cartoon Monickers: A History of the Animation Industry, and Before the First Snow, a novel about the history of America and its counter-culture between 1964 and 1991.]


Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution



VP Biden Speaks on the Constitution and Citizenship

Vice President Joe Biden, probably the University of Delaware’s second most famous alumnus (after QB Joe Flacco of course), spoke to an audience at Mitchell Hall on the constitution and citizenship for Constitution Day.  The inaugural Jim Soles Speaker he reflected on his days as an undergraduate at the University and how the professors there mentored him, including Professor Soles.  He recalled the agony of his life following the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter and how some giants of the Senate convinced him to continue his career.  Yesterday he donated 38 years of U.S. Senate records, papers and documents to the University library.

He spoke at length about the constitution, the Founding fathers and the vitriol which engulfs our political system,, both then and now.  He challenged the young people attending to grasp a brighter future with less divisiveness.  

As he spoke about various trials and tribulations he went on some about the Fourth Amendment and the right of government to search and seize communications.  He used this to illustrate how the constitution is not a place of certitude but of principles.  The Founders could not have envisioned, he said a device which can be pointed at a window and used to intercept voices.  Neither, would I argue, could they have envisioned a government, Biden’s government, using satellites to intercept people’s telephone conversations, the tapping of communications trunk lines to intercept everyone’s telephone calls and internet traffic and sort through them using super computers.

I thought it highly hypocritical that Biden would criticize the illegal and unconstitutional wiretapping without probable cause or search warrants when his own President is currently doing exactly that to the people.  He made no critical statement in regard to the practice.

As I approached Mitchell Hall on the University’s Quad a large group of protesters were there calling for an end to the tar sands pipeline proposed to run from Canada to the Gulf.  I expected to see a Tea Party organization out front but instead the sight of liberal protesters having to demonstrate outside an event by a Democratic Vice President tells us what we need to know about the politics of the Obama/Biden White House.

Biden Visits Flood Ravaged Pennsylvania

Vice President Joe Biden visited his roots in Scranton yesterday touring areas ravaged by recent flooding.  Hurricane Irene soaked the region then was followed by torrential rains from Tropical Storm Lee to send waters into homes and businesses.  Duryea, a small town along the Susquehanna River saw residents deal with five feet of water in their houses.

From the White House pool reports:

Mr. Biden rounded the corner and met Jimmy Pliska, 47, 100

Chittenden St., whose double-block family home took on five feet of

water on the first floor far worse than the 1972 Hurricane Agnes flood

that is a benchmark to many Luzerne County residents. In 1972, Mr.

Pliska only had a few inches of water in the basement. This time, the

water rose to a five-foot level just below a picture of Mr. Pliska’s

grandparents, who owned the home before he did. The home has been in

the family since 1914.  Because of the flooding, the insides have been

stripped down to the beams with all the walls removed.

Before the vice president arrived, Mr. Pliska, an auto mechanic for

Scranton Dodge in nearby Scranton, Pa., Mr. Biden’s native city, said

the family took furniture from the front family room and moved it into

the rear of the home, figuring the water might reach the front of the

house, but not the back.

The flooding was so bad he and his wife, Kathleen, have decided to

sell the house and move themselves and their children, James, 12, and

Julia, 11, elsewhere.

“We’ll probably board it up and maybe a contractor will buy it and

turn into apartments,” he said. Though he had flood insurance, which

would not cover all the damage, he would not rebuild because of the

cost, the possibility of a repeat and the mold could exacerbate his

daughter’s asthma.

“It’s going to happen again,” he said. “And I’m going to be at work

and hear them say the river’s rising.”

When asked how tough it would be to move because of home’s family

history, Mr. Pliska began to choke up. He pointed to a wallet-sized

photo lying on the kitchen counter. The photo was of his father,

Anthony, as a youth, “sitting on the stoop.”

His parents discussed his decision to abandon the home.

“Him (Anthony) and my mom (Nancy) sat down and talked last night and

said, ‘Can’t do it, can’t do it,'” said Mr. Pliska, who was born and

raised in the Minooka section of Scranton. he said.

Mr. Pliska then went outside to await Mr. Biden, who talked with him

briefly outside and relayed his visit to the region for the Agnes

flood in 1972. Most of what he said was inaudible.

Mr. Biden entered the double-block home and said, “Wow.”  Mayor Moss

showed him how high the water reached.

“You know when this happened I had my house struck by lightning and it

burned and what happened is … it does a lot more damage than just

where it does the damage. It affects the whole house,” Mr. Biden said.

“I know,” Mr. Pliska said.

“Oh, man, I’m sorry,” Mr. Biden said, putting his arm around Mr. Pliska.

Mr. Pliska showed the vice president photos of the home before the flood.

Mr. Biden relayed the story of his local ties and his

great-grandfather, state Sen. Edward F. Blewitt, who represented

Scranton between 1906-1910.

“And he was an engineer. And one of the things he worked on was

dealing with the sewer system and the flooding and all the rest,” he


As Mr. Pliska began to show the photos, he started to choke up again

and the vice president embraced him with his left arm.

“You’ll redo it again, man. You’ll redo it again,” he said. “You will

do this again, we’ll help you.”

“I can’t come back,” Mr. Pliska said.

“Yeah, you can come back. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can come back,” Mr.

Biden replied. “I’m telling you you could comeback,” he said, as a

teary Mr. Pliska shook his head.

“We’ll work with you,” Mr. Moss said.

“There’s a lot of help,” Mr. Biden said. “So hang on. This is no time

to give up. Would he (Mr. Pliska’s grandfather) give up?”

“No,” Mr. Pliska replied.

“He’d be back building it so you’ve got to come back and build it,”

Mr. Biden said. “And besides, look at this guy, he can help you,” he

said pointing to Mr. Pliska’s son, James, 12.

“He can’t even pull a weed,” Mr. Pliska said.

“Oh sure he can, sure he can,” Mr. Biden said. “His generation’s even

better than ours.”

They kept looking at the photo album of the home and Mr. Pliska showed

the vice president the wood features of the home.

“You don’t want to move down to Delaware with me, do ya?” Mr. Biden

asked James, 12, drawing laughter. “He don’t want to move, he wants to

stay here .. You did this once, you could do it again.”

Later, Mr. Pliska remained doubtful at best about rebuilding.

After leaving the Pliska home, Mr. Biden met with Gertrude Yachna, 79,

and her sister, Johanna, 75, of 105 Chittenden St., who live across

the street. Their home was devasted with several feet of water on the

first floor. They live their with their other sister, Loretta, 81, and

Johanna’s mentally challenged son, James, 44, who does not speak. He

stood on the porch out of earshot, but put his hands on Gertrude’s

shoulders and spoke seemingly reassuringly to her. He left the porch

and spotted boxes and albums of Topps baseball cards lying in a heap

of trash on the sidewalk in front of the Yachna’s home.

He urged the Yachnas, who had thrown the cards away because they were

in the flood, to rescue them and to sell them on eBay.

“Don’t throw them out, they’re worth money,” Mr. Biden said.

“You want us to gather them up for you,” a friend of the Yachnas said.

“No, no, no, all kidding aside. These are worth more money than you

can possibly imagine,” he said. “I’m serious, not a joke.”

The Yachnas wound up pulling the cards off the pile.

Next, he ran into Barbara Miller, 35, of 99 Chittenden St., a customer

service rep. for a local bank, who later said she moved from West

Scranton last year to get out of what she said was becoming a

“tougher” neighborhood. Their conversation was inaudible, but she said

later she was crying as he reassured her help was on the way. He put

his hands on her shoulders, leaned over and again spoke reassuringly

to her.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, help is coming.’ But we need the help now,”

she said later. “People are facing mold growing.”

“I’m glad that he’s here, I just hope that we do see what we need,”

she said of Biden’s visit.

Later, after he left, she said she moved into the home last September

and had four feet of water on the first floor. She lost her brand new

furniture and was dealing with spilled heating fuel oil all over her

basement and first floor. The water line in her home is marked by fuel

oil remnants.

“The whole downstairs was remodeled by the prior owners and all of

that is gone,” she said later. “We just need the help we need to know

what to do next … I would like to stay here if there’s something

they can put into place to protect us and prepare us.”

I doubt those baseball cards will be worth anything after getting wet but the VP meant well.  They were worth something before the flood.