News & Notes November 25, 2011

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.  Please remember not to shop anywhere which forced its employees to work yesterday.  Let’s give thanks to those responsible retailers who allowed their workers to enjoy the holiday with their families.

In that regard also join the Occupy Black Friday boycott of corporate, publicly owned retailers who are beholden to Wall Street.  Chain stores bleed money from your community.  When you shop at locally owned stores all of your money remains in the community.  Chains, franchises and other non-locally owned businesses send 45% of your money to their headquarters locale.

Companies like Wal-Mart urge its suppliers to outsource their manufacturing in order to cut prices.  When you enjoy those “good buys” you’re actually kissing your job good-bye.  Then you get to wave good-bye to your home, savings and retirement.

The most powerful tool we each have is our money.  Every day, where you shop and where you bank can have an impact.  The sum total of all of us acting responsibly can bring down the corporate tyranny.    For an example of what individual actions can do go to this Amazon page where they sell the pepper spray used at UC-Davis and see the ridicule being heaped upon it by person after person in the product review section.  The things people have posted are hilarious and poignant.

You know, if this is for sale publicly perhaps we all need to start buying Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray ourselves.  Imagine the shock on the cops faces when they target the next Occupy group and discover they have their own pepper spray to use in their defense?  It might put an end to scenes like these:

Gary Johnson is mulling over leaving the Republican presidential field for an independent effort with the Libertarian Party.  What’s that, you didn’t know the former New Mexico Governor was even in the race?  No matter because he wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen.

In state news Rep. John Payne wants a license plate available for sale which says “In God We Trust.”  The way the idiots around here drive they’ll need it.  At least when I see one of these it’ll tell me there’s a moron behind the wheel.  Thanks for the hint.

The folks in Dimock who had their wells poisoned by Cabot Energy are now on their own.  The DEP has given the gas driller permission to stop providing them with water.  First they pollute their water source with methane then they tell the people to go f*ck themselves.  All the while Cabot has drilled without paying a red cent in extraction taxes for destroying an entire community for their profit.  Welcome to the new Pennsylvania people, get out while you still can.

If anyone was still under the illusion that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection existed to protect us from polluters this is your wake up call.

Republicans in Harrisburg are slashing welfare payments and services for the poor claiming there isn’t any money to fund them.  Programs for the developmentally disabled were cut by 40%.  Curiously though there’s enough money for 3% pay increases for state legislators.

Obviously inspired by the University of California campus police a shopper in an LA Wal-Mart pepper sprayed other shoppers to keep them away from the bargains she wanted.  In a way if you are shopping at Wal-Mart maybe you deserve to be pepper sprayed.

Welcome to Pennsylvania, land of the “castle doctrine” which mandates a death penalty now for burglary.  A homeowner in Philly shot and killed two burglars and wounded two more.  Next summer it may be open season on Mormon and Jehovah Witness missionaries.  Bag limit is four.

Pennsylvania’s Gibson Guitars is under fire for importing wood from India in violation of Indian law.  No other guitar makers seem to need to break the law as Gibson has done.  What makes them exempt?

Former Senator and now Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has thin skin.  He had a high school student sent to the principal’s office because he didn’t like a Tweet she sent about him at an event.  Grow up asshole.

A $56 million ‘Oops’: PA Revenue Department Updates Marcellus Shale Tax Estimates

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

Tim Puko at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review uncovered a $56 million mistake in the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue’s reporting of personal income tax (PIT) collections attributed to Marcellus Shale drilling for last year.

Back in May, the Department estimated that taxable Marcellus Shale royalties generated $102.7 million in PIT collections in 2010. Now the Department says that figure is a tad lower – $46.2 million, a decrease of $56.5 million or over 55% from what was reported six months ago. To quote Britney Spears, “Oops!”

How does this happen? By rushing too fast and using incomplete data to make a policy point, as I noted in the Tribune-Review story. This type of cheerleading report for a single industry is highly unusual for the Department of Revenue. There isn’t a report of taxes paid by snack food manufacturers, steel producers, or even dairy farms.

The updated Marcellus tax data included another interesting tidbit –  how little is paid in PIT from income flowing through to oil and gas company owners. In 2009, the Department reports $9.9 million in PIT from these taxpayers.

Our review of oil and gas drillers in Pennsylvania found that more than 70% of the companies were structured as limited liability companies (LLCs) or some other type of flow-through entity. The owners of these companies are likely a combination of corporate and individual owners, but getting less than $10 million from the individual owners of a booming industry is pretty eye opening to how little drillers are taxed in Pennsylvania.

The gas industry has been very effective in arguing that it is contributing a “game-changing” number of new jobs and tax revenue, and uses these claims to beat back efforts to enact a meaningful drilling tax. We have made the case for some time that these claims are well overstated. The Department of Revenue data, particularly the paltry PIT numbers for 2010, seem to back up our case.

The Department of Revenue’s $56 million oops also should call into question some of the other industry estimates it made for 2011.  In particular, the Department is forecasting that corporate net income taxes will jump from $82.3 million in 2009 and $96.7 million in 2010 to $254.2 million in 2011. We shall see. This figure is based on estimated tax payments the drilling companies, pipelines, and other tangentially-related companies have made – and are subject to change. Often, companies will overpay their estimated taxes and get a big refund when the returns are settled. So it is not unreasonable to think this figure will come down when all the returns are settled.

The Department of Revenue is usually very conservative about reporting data. The latest PIT statistics are from tax year 2009; the latest corporate tax stats are from tax year 2004. Why? Because it takes time to make sure all of the returns are properly filed, tax liabilities settled, and that glitches in the data are fixed.

Additional Victims In Sandusky Case

Reports say two additional victims of Jerry Sandusky are credible and are being investigated.  Both boys are still under 18.  If either of these happened while Tom Corbett was dragging his feet investigating he should resign as Governor.  Corbett cannot castigate Penn State when he’s almost as responsible as they.  The Guv is under heavy fire for his decisions in the case.  It is apparent he was more concerned with the politically volatile BonusGate cases than this one.  Trying Jerry Sandusky and getting Joe Paterno fired would have done nothing for his gubernatorial campaign.  BonusGate won him the election and we all understand that was his priority.

Corbet insists the grand jury was the way to go.  Let’s see how these new allegations are investigated:  grand jury or traditional methods using detectives.

Other news reflecting JoePa in a bad light are coming out.  Reports of racism on campus and his interference in criminal and misbehavior cases involving his athletes led the university disciplinarian to resign.  Paterno’s players increasingly got into trouble and were faced with criminal charges.  One even committed murder (Lavon Chesley).  It appears that the more they got away with the more they got into trouble.

Racism on campus has been an issue at University Park for decades.  It was there when I was an undergraduate.  The campus is lily white with few minorities.  If it weren’t for athletes there would be far fewer Blacks.  Part of the problem is the location in a rural area.  Urban kids feel uncomfortable there and prefer someplace more familiar such as Temple or Pitt.  Part of it are the attitudes.  Its too bad JoePa was part of the problem.

Paterno’s fall is the result of his decades long “holier than thou” attitude.  He did it right (very right politically) and ran a clean program.  Now we know it was so clean the coaches showered with the boys.  If you claim the moral high ground you’d better be moral yourself.  Paterno forgot that and thought he was above it all.  I bet it doesn’t appear so great now.

News & Notes November 23, 2011

I had a small accident yesterday driving along Rt. 100 north in Pottstown.  I went to brake for a traffic light and the car began skidding like I was on an ice rink-until I hit the vehicle ahead.  it was slow enough not to do any damage to the Escape but my hood and grill were bashed in by its trailer hitch.  The first cop responded also crashed on the bridge and the next ones told me there are accidents there every time it rains because the bridge surface is so bad.  Sitting in the car we could feel the bridge swaying constantly from the traffic (there was no wind).  It seems the surface is so worn it becomes an ice rink when wet.

Should I sue the state for not properly maintaining this road?  Several people have suggested that course of action.  Meanwhile I’m out a car so can’t go anywhere.

I kept waiting for that UC-davis cop to come out and pepper spray the presidential candidates last night.  It’s just a food product after all according to Fox.

Mitt Romney says it’s alright to use comments out of context and pretend they’re that person’s instead of someone they’re quoting.  It seems he’s using a tape of Barack Obama quoting John McCain and implying they’re Obama’s words.  Think Progress decided two can play that game:

Conservatives are all in a lather over the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income taxes.  Of course they’re OK with 50% of corporations paying none but the rest of us are tax deadbeats.  Perhaps what should have them bothered is the obvious fact that 47% of Americans earn too little to pay taxes.  That’s the issue.

Barack Obama got mic checked in New Hampshire and is coming to Scranton next Wednesday.  I can’t cover that due to a Board meeting in Harrisburg.

The balls those folks at AIG have must be legendary.  They are suing to get more another $25 billion in bailouts.  This is the company which insured all those worthless mortgage securities (knowing they were junk) without putting any funds aside to pay the coming claims.  That fiduciary failure bankrupted the company and we bailed them out.  Now they want more.  I say let’em hang.

Being late November let’s take a moment and recall the last true liberal to serve us as President:

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Social Security:

The AG’s office has dropped the prosecution of John Zimmerman the final target in ComputerGate.

The GOP Clown Show Drags On

The Republican presidential road show rolled into DC last night for a show under the Big Top.  They rolled out their clowns for a performance on national security hosted by CNN, The Heritage Foundation and AEI.  Wolf “Blitz” Blitzer hosted.  Since the poll came out illustrating how folks who watch no news know more than those who watch Fox News I understand why these candidates are so ill informed:  they watch Fox in addition to being on the network.  The clear winner was Barack Obama because Jon Hunstman is the only sane person on these stages and he has no chance at the nomination.  You have be either insane or act it to get the modern day GOP presidential nomination because what’s left of the Grand Old Party are the crazies.

Michele Bachmann bragged about “winning the peace in Iraq.”  We lost that war and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.  That isn’t “winning the peace” because it will come to haunt us in the future.  Asked what unmentioned threat could loom before us Rick Santorum mentioned Central America.  That was a veiled reference to Hugo Chaves who is no threat but his brand of populist socialism is.

Santorum seemed to take credit for every bill sponsored in Congress while he was a Senator.  Herman Cain was almost as laughable as Rick Perry in his lack of knowledge and non responsive answers.Calls were made to invade both Iran and Pakistan among questions from Bush war criminals David Addington and Paul Wolfowitz.  Cain said terrorists have entered the country through Mexico, several agreed we should put a no fly zone over Syria (why, they aren’t using aircraft?), Bachmann confused billions with trillions, and all agreed that when generals ask for more troops never question them.  Lincoln would still be sitting around waiting for George McClellan to do something if that were the case.  At the onset Newt asked about the rules because he wanted to play by them.  That’s a first.

For Some, Reading Is Hard

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Recent commentaries by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s editorial board and the Allegheny Institute in Pittsburgh offer a good lesson for why you should really try to read all the way to the end.

Both offer up critiques of the Keystone Research Center’s recent policy brief detailing the economic impact of public-sector job cuts in Pennsylvania. Here is the Tribune-Review:

What the Keystone researchers don’t say in their report, ‘Public-sector Job Losses Put Brakes on Pennsylvania’s Recovery,’ is that to increase government hiring, the state, school districts and municipalities would have to raise taxes.

The editorial above appears to be based on commentary by the Allegheny Institute which begins:

How to speed job growth in Pennsylvania? According to the latest offering from the Keystone Research Center (KRC), the Commonwealth and local tax levying bodies should raise taxes and hire more employees.

They don’t directly say ‘raise taxes’ but how else can the state, school districts and municipalities already facing budget deficits afford to keep all their employees-never mind hiring more?

Both of these quotes got one small thing correct: we don’t, in fact, call for school districts or municipalities to raise property or income taxes. Our main recommendation is that state policymakers spend more of the state’s revenue surplus. As we explain:

Pennsylvania’s 2011-12 General Fund budget made deep cuts to education and health care while leaving unspent $620 million from a revenue surplus last year and other unused funds. Our best estimate is that the failure to spend that revenue will by itself translate into the loss of 17,714 jobs (including private jobs lost due to the ripple effects of public job cuts) over the course of the 2011-12 fiscal year …

In the last year, Pennsylvania lost 21,000 jobs in the public sector. Some 13,000 of those losses were education-related jobs. Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania experienced the sixth-largest decline in state and local jobs in the last year. The concentration of public-sector job losses in Pennsylvania helps explain why Pennsylvania job growth recently has stalled relative to other states.

Seems the Tribune-Review and the Allegheny Institute missed that. In their defense, we did bury those details on page 3 of the brief.

Read to the end before unleashing your criticism, you say? Who has time for that?

On a serious note, I should add that the best way to limit further local property taxes increases and public-sector layoffs is for Congress to pass a jobs bill that includes additional aid to state and local governments. 

As a special favor to the Tribune-Review and the Allegheny Institute, the CliffsNotes version of our policy recommendations:

Pennsylvania needs a jobs policy that will strengthen the private and public sectors. There is no shortage of practical ideas for how to create jobs. Options include:

  • Spending more of the state’s revenue surplus;
  • Enacting a natural gas drilling tax that supports shared statewide priorities like education as well as the environment and local communities;
  • Maximizing the potential for Marcellus Shale development to create jobs for Pennsylvania workers; and
  • Bond-financing infrastructure, school construction and energy efficiency investments at a time when borrowing and construction costs are both low.

What is missing in Harrisburg (as well as Washington, D.C.) is the political will needed to enact effective policies to create jobs. How many more months of failed austerity economics must Pennsylvanians suffer through before we get a needed change in direction?

The Super Committee’s Gridlock

Congress’ self appointed Super Committee announced its failure to come to an agreement on a deficit reduction plan after the markets closed yesterday.  The Dow had already plunged 2% on reports there would be no agreement.  The closed door Politburo was appointed last August as part of the debt ceiling deal to find $1.2 trillion in additional budget cuts and revenue enhancements.  Pending no agreement a clause in that bill kicks in mandating an across the board 10% cut across federal programs.  The Pentagon is having a hissy fit saying they won’t be able to defend the country on a budget which allowed them to do so in 2007.

Pat Toomey tried pushing through an agenda calling for $1.5 trillion because he wasn’t happy just cutting $1.2T.  The cuts done earlier are already impacting the poor and these new ones will result in being dying.  Winter looms with substantial cuts to LIHEAP, food stamps, WIC and other social safety net programs for the poor, unemployed and disadvantaged.  These cuts do real damage to real people.

Republicans refused to budge on tax increases and the closing of special interest loopholes.  They proposed about $3 billion in tax increases compared with $500 billion in budget cuts and, still,t hat wasn’t enough.  Democrats put sharp cuts to both Social Security (which doesn’t add a cent to the deficit) and Medicare on the table but conservatives wouldn’t play ball.  This is the Tea Party, a fringe minority of Americans, pushing its extreme agenda on the rest of us.

Had the Committee proposed serious cuts to these critically important programs while leaving millionaires and billionaires untouched the 99% movement would have been outraged and the people taking to the streets would have been awe inspiring.  Not to mention chaotic.  Fox would have had more to pontificate about than trying to explain that pepper spray is actually a food product and so not dangerous.  In that case I’d like them to line up and allow me the pleasure of emptying a canister in their faces.  Of course perhaps they’d also allow me to serve them some mushroom soup from some food products I collect in the wild.

The real solution is called The People’s Budget:

Our Budget Eliminates the Deficit and Raises a $31 Billion Surplus In Ten Years

Our budget protects Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and responsibly eliminates the deficit by targeting its main drivers: the Bush Tax Cuts, the wars overseas, and the causes and effects of the recent recession.

Our Budget Puts America Back to Work & Restores America’s Competitiveness

• Trains teachers and restores schools; rebuilds roads and bridges and ensures that users help pay for them

• Invests in job creation, clean energy and broadband infrastructure, housing and R&D programs

Our Budget Creates a Fairer Tax System

• Ends the recently passed upper-income tax cuts and lets Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of 2012

• Extends tax credits for the middle class, families, and students

• Creates new tax brackets that range from 45% starting at $1 million to 49% for $1 billion or more

• Implements a progressive estate tax

• Eliminates corporate welfare for oil, gas, and coal companies; closes loopholes for multinational corporations

• Enacts a financial crisis responsibility fee and a financial speculation tax on derivatives and foreign exchange

Our Budget Protects Health

• Enacts a health care public option and negotiates prescription payments with pharmaceutical companies

• Prevents any cuts to Medicare physician payments for a decade

Our Budget Safeguards Social Security for the Next 75 Years

• Eliminates the individual Social Security payroll cap to make sure upper income earners pay their fair share

• Increases benefits based on higher contributions on the employee side

Our Budget Brings Our Troops Home

• Responsibly ends our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to leave America more secure both home and abroad

• Cuts defense spending by reducing conventional forces, procurement, and costly R&D programs

Our Budget’s Bottom Line

• Deficit reduction of $5.6 trillion

• Spending cuts of $1.7 trillion

• Revenue increase of $3.9 trillion

• Public investment $1.7 trillion

Of course our real crisis and our first deficit problem is one of JOBS.  This budget situation was caused principally by three factors, all created by conservatives:  unpaid for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts and the failure of conservative trickle down economics.  The refusal to properly regulate markets, prosecute criminals on Wall Street and raise revenues by taxing the rich created the current deficit.

Conservatives (both Republican and Democrats) created this problem and are focused on it rather than the other one in jobs.  They have nothing to create jobs and, in fact, have made it worse by laying off hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs which support private sector employment.  The ripple effect is strangling growth and preventing a systemic recovery.

Congress needs to repeal the part of the debt ceiling agreement mandating cuts and also repeal the Bush era tax cuts for the rich.  Then they need to pass a significant stimulus designed to build infrastructure.

News & Notes November 22, 2011

Tonight’s GOP debate on national security should be interesting.  What great tidbits will we learn this time?  How much pounding of the war drums towards Iran will occur?  How many gaffes can Herman Cain make in one night?  Newt’s advantage tonight is that it’ll be tough to spin his adultery and ethics issues in a discussion of foreign policy.  Someone will try however.

Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have yet to gain their moments in the spotlight as front runners.  The former Senator is aghast at this as it would mean people would be Googling him.   Paul is afraid his white supremacist past will show up in internet searches.  What these guys need is a good white sheet.  Paul to wear and Santorum to contain all of that spreading stuff.

Ron Paul got mic checked in New Hampshire.

A Farleigh Dickinson poll shows that New Jerseans who get their news from Fox are less informed than those who don’t follow the news at all.  This, of course, is a result of their programming which feeds its viewers lies and propaganda instead of facts.

Rush Limbaugh called Michelle Obama “uppity.”  It seems she had the audacity to attend a NASCAR race.  The entire issue of being “uppity” is what fuels all the racist hatred against the President and First Lady.  Having those titles is the height of being uppity for African-Americans of course.  How dare they think they’re as good as white people?  At least conservatives no longer feel any obligation to hide their true feelings.  They do know there’s an election next year though, don’t they?

And, by the way, Obama didn’t call Americans lazy.  Check the context folks.

If corporations insist on being persons then their executives need to go to prison for the same offenses as you and I would.  Three executives from West Chester discovered this the hard way this week.

When Mitt Romney left the Governor’s mansion he had all of his aides wipe their hard drives so no documents were left.  He says he did this to prevent his political opponents from getting any dirt to use against him.  What, exactly was Mitt doing there in Massachusetts that necessitated such a grievous attack on open and transparent government?  More importantly what does that say about the type of president he’d be?

Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law has snared someone who may come back to haunt them:  a high executive of Mercedes-Benz.  Daimler Benz has a factory there and the German didn’t have all of his “papers” with him so was arrested.  hmm, will Alabama soon kiss all of those good jobs good-bye?  Serves them right for their bigotry.

Republicans are blaming the President for Congress’s failures.  Haven’t they read the constitution about all those separation of powers?  The Executive Branch is actually separate from the Legislative.  Of course Cain feels that, as president he can simply override the Supreme Court.  How, by assassination?  Perhaps he’d simply feed them some Godfather’s Pizza, give them an offer they can’t refuse.

The idea of proportioning our presidential electoral votes is finally dead.  It finally occurred to Republicans it could cost them several Congressional seats.

Rioting in Egypt is collapsing yet another government.  The military regime which took over hasn’t allowed democracy to the people took Tahrir Square once again.  Today they are engaging in a million man sit-in.  Imagine if a million Americans sat down on Wall Street or Capital Hill?

Occupy Philadelphia has decided to move.  The city wants to rebuild the plaza and the folks camped there decided not to stand in the way of good jobs.  Philadelphia gave them an ultimatum:  no more tents and protesting can only happen from 9 AM to 7 PM.  We’ll see how that flies…

Opponents of gas drilling rallied in Trenton yesterday.  The Delaware River Basin Commission postponed a controversial vote so people decided to have a rally anyway.  Gasland director Josh Fox called Gov. Corbett from the steps and got…no answer.  The lights are on at the Governor’s Office but no one’s home.

A report from NEPA about the dangers and risks of gas drilling hit the newspapers over the weekend.  This is must reading for anyone considering signing a lease.  This whistleblower tells what happened at one site near Dimock.  Cabot is now refusing to supply water for the people’s whose wells they poisoned.  What good are jobs and royalties if they’re going to kill us?

Why has New Mexico had relatively safe hydrofracturing for thirty years without all of these accidents, explosions and spills?  Regulations and taxes which fund the proper regulation and inspection of wells.  When I was in santa Fe last August I had a conversation with Dan Fuqua, the state geologist.  I simply walked into the offices of the New Mexico Land Commissioner and asked for an appointment.  They took me right up to see Mr. Fuqua.  Would that ever happen in Harrisburg?  No.

By the way he said if anyone from Pennsylvania wants to learn about what they do they’re welcome to come to Santa Fe and see him.

Penn State Trustees Violated State Law

by Walter Brasch

The Penn State Board of Trustees may have several times violated state law for its failure to publicly announce meetings and how it handled the firing of Coach Joe Paterno. However, these violations may be the least of the Board’s worries, as it scrambles to reduce fall-out from the scandal that began with revelations that an assistant football coach may be a serial child molester, and that the university may have been negligent.

The state’s Sunshine Act [65 Pa.C.S.A §701-710] requires all public bodies to publish notices at least 24 hours before their meetings. The purpose is to eliminate secret meetings. Penn State, a private university, which received $279 million from the Commonwealth for its 2011-2012 budget, is bound by the Sunshine Act.

A public notice did appear in the Centre Daily Times, State College’s hometown newspaper, three days before a regularly-scheduled board meeting, Friday Nov. 11. But, the Trustees were caught flat-footed the week before by what eventually turned into the largest scandal in its history. These are events the Trustees should have been aware of for at least two years; certainly, the Board should have known there was a problem when the Harrisburg Patriot-News broke a story in March that the Grand Jury was investigating former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

But, based upon Board incompetence, there wasn’t even a crisis management plan in place when Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5, and Athletic Director Tim Curley; and Gary Schultz, senior vice-president of finance and administration, were charged with perjury and failure to report a crime to police. The Trustees allowed Curley to take an administrative leave, and Schultz to return to retirement. Schultz, who had worked for Penn State for 40 years, had retired in 2009, but had been brought back on an interim basis in July. Both Curley’s and Schultz’s decisions were probably influenced by the Board demands.

During the two weeks, beginning Nov. 5, the Board had conference calls, executive sessions, and emergency meetings, all without public notice.

Conference calls involving a quorum without public notice aren’t allowed. At least one conference call was conducted on Saturday, Nov. 5. A meeting by telephone is just as illegal as a meeting with all persons at a table if it isn’t publically announced.

Several emergency meetings were held the next few days. The Sunshine Act allows emergency meetings. The Trustees conducted meetings Sunday, Nov. 6, Monday, Nov. 7, and Wednesday, Nov. 9. By law, an emergency meeting can be called, without public notice, only for “the purpose of dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property.” [65 Pa.C.S.A §703] Even in the wildest stretch of that definition, there was no clear and present danger. That occurred years ago when the university didn’t contact police to report the actions of a man believed to be a child molester.

Executive sessions to discuss personnel issues and some other items are allowed-if they are announced at public meetings “immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session.” [65 Pa.C.S.S. §708(b)] But, they were not. About 10 p.m., Nov. 9, following an emergency meeting, Board vice-chair John P. Surma, flanked by 21 of the 31 trustees, publicly announced it had fired Paterno and PSU president Graham Spanier.  Surma told the media the decision was unanimous, thus indicating a vote was done in secret and not under public scrutiny as required.

The Trustees also violated both Paterno’s and Spanier’s rights under law. It’s doubtful the Board members, most of them in corporate business, even care. How they handled Paterno’s firing is indicative they have little regard for employee rights and due process. Paterno had previously said he would retire at the end of the season, since he believed, “the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.” The Trustees, undoubtedly, believed firing Paterno immediately would take heat off the university. Again, it was wrong.

Although executive sessions may be conducted in private, the Sunshine Act requires that “individual employees or appointees whose rights could be adversely affected may request, in writing, that the matter or matters be discussed at an open meeting.” [65 Pa.C.S.A. §708(a)(1)] The Board, according to a report in the Easton Express-Times, had ordered Spanier to resign or be fired. He chose to resign. Paterno was not contacted by the Board prior to termination, either to request to be heard or to request an open meeting. Paterno was informed of his termination by a hand-delivered letter that demanded he place a phone call to a board member. There was no indication in that letter of what the Board’s decision was.

Violating the law could result in invalidating decisions made at those meetings, and penalties of $1,000 for each violation; until September, the penalty had been a paltry $100. But here’s a nice twist. The Trustees probably don’t care.

A district attorney must approve prosecution for Sunshine Act violations. Although the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association receives about 1,000 inquiries each year about  what may be Sunshine Act and Right-to-Know law violations, “it’s rare for criminal prosecutions of the Sunshine Act,” according to Melissa Melewsky, media law council for the PNA. Civil actions by individuals are likewise difficult to pursue because of significant costs.

Here’s another surprise. Because of heavy lobbying to the legislature, whose members are feasted at one home game a year and can also receive comp football tickets to other home football games, Penn State is not bound by the state’s Right-to-Know law. This means that innumerable records, including minutes of all meetings- both public and those that are illegal under the Sunshine Act-can still be secret.

Here’s something not so surprising, however. Penn State’s Public Affairs office punted all questions to the Board. The Board arrogantly has refused to answer both verbal and written questions. However, possibly using public funds, it did hire a PR firm to handle crisis management issues. We won’t know the cost-that’s something it doesn’t have to tell the taxpayers.

[Assisting on this story was Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. Walter Brasch, as president of both the Keystone chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Press Club, was active in fighting for a stronger Right-to-Know law and enforcement of the Sunshine Act. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist and retired university professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a mystery/thriller set in Pennsylvania.]

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

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

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

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News & Notes November 21, 2011

Today is my TBI anniversary.  I’d forgotten until I got a reminder from our TBI-Survivor group.  It’s been 27 years.  Either it’s a good sign that I don’t focus on it any more or it just shows my short term memory issues remain…

The PSU Board of Trustees announced today that former FBI flunky Louis Freeh will head its investigation.  Who opened that hole and allowed this snake to escape again?

In October and November 690,000 people have moved their money from big banks to local ones.  Estimates are that $185 billion in assets will leave the “too big to fail” banks which swindled and defrauded Americans into a global financial collapse.  This is called voting with your dollars.

Why is it that park rules can be enforced but not banking laws?

Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) has a chellnger from the Tea Party.  Interestingly Jackson Eaton switched parties to the Democrats to do so.  Think he’ll fool many Dems?  I bet he does, some of them are as stupid as the Tea baggers.  There won’t be enough to win a primary however.  

The AG candidates are lining up to use the Sandusky case as a campaign issue.  Until someone gets a rational person in the House Judiciary Committee who isn’t beholden to protecting the Catholic Church there won’t be any chance of legislative reforms however.  Patrick Murphy has a concrete set of reforms to implement:

Here are four things we can do to help make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

   Tighten the mandatory reporting requirements. Rep. Kevin Boyle introduced a bill that would do just that. If you are aware that a child is being abused, you should be legally obligated to report that immediately to law enforcement, not just your supervisor.

   Establish a secure, statewide criminal intelligence database for sex crimes against children. If law enforcement officials in one jurisdiction have intelligence about a suspected child sex offender then officers across the state should have immediate access to that information. A criminal intelligence database would give law enforcement that ability.

   Eliminate the statute of limitations on the sexual assault of children. It might be difficult to put cases together as time goes by, but things like shock, depression or repressed memories make it difficult for victims to come forward. That shouldn’t be a license for criminals to go free.

   Expand Child Advocacy Centers in Pennsylvania. Right now, we have 13 – we need more. These centers bring law enforcement and other stakeholders together so that victims only need to be interviewed once. That way they don’t have to relive the horror of what happened over and over again.

The awe and shock of the media brainwashing campaign stirring up war fever against Iran is the same used to invade Iraq.  Are Americans so stupid as to fall for the same trick twice?  You betcha.

The man in charge of coordinating the attacks on Occupy encampments is named Chuck Wexler at the Police Executive Research Forum.  Anonymous brought their website down and published all of his personal information.  You can email him at cwexler@policeforum.org.

I think I’m going to do an article about all the extreme nonsense the GOP presidential candidates are spouting but isn’t it nice to see they aren’t pretending to be “compassionate conservatives” any more?  No more nonsense about not wanting poor children condemned to being school janitors instead of students, an end to child labor laws, the minimum wage, overtime, environmental protections, the whole extent of government meant to protect us from predatory business practices and all that other nonsense?

And isn’t Rick Perry’s promise to do away with civilian control of the military just a wonderful idea?  Just what I always dreamt of:  generals in charge!

Rick Santorum says this:  “Now, unlike Islam where the higher law and civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws but our civil laws have to comport with the higher law.”  Of course the two are identical which means he supports Sharia law and wants to impose it here.

Sam Rohrer jumped into the field to challenge Bob Casey today.  This is the guy who proposed replacing school property taxes with an expanded sales tax on most everything.  Besides being extremely regressive his numbers didn’t add up.  Why elect someone to the Senate who can’t count?  After all we already have Pat Toomey who keeps saying his Super Committee was tasked with cutting $1.5 trillion (it was actually $1.2T).

UC Davis Chancellor Katehi walked to her car through a large group of silent protesters.  It was a powerful moment.  The cop who needlessly pepper sprayed all those students must be arrested on assault charges.  One count for every time he sprayed someone.

The NYPD, those unique American terrorists, announced the arrest of one yesterday.  Funny but the FBI didn’t take this guy seriously enough to get involved.  Of course I think the Fibbies don’t get involved unless they can entrap people into doing what they otherwise wouldn’t.  Still, I kept waiting for Bloomberg to announce the guy was targeting Zuccotti Park which is why he emptied it.  Lost opportunity there Mike, now you have no defense for all the upcoming civil rights lawsuits.

Here’s a reason to oppose the internet censorship bill in Congress:  it means any website owner can be held legally liable for anything someone else posts to their site.  That means blogs will no longer be able to have comments for example.  You wouldn’t be bale to upload anything to any website which isn’t yours.  No one can afford the legal liability otherwise.

DeSean Jackson’s new nickname should be Bonehead.