News & Notes February 24, 2012

The PBPC’s State Budget Summit was as great as usual yesterday.  This is the fourth or fifth year I’ve attended and I always learn a lot.  More on it later.

I also had a great conversation with Harrisburg City Councilman Kelly Summerford whom I met on my out of the Hilton.  I look forward to continuing that dialogue.

SEIU endorsed Patrick Murphy for AG while Dan McCaffery’s campaign staff has joined Kathleen Kane.  I think both candidates are excellent.

Sen. Vince Hughes spoke at the luncheon yesterday and, as usual, kept mincing his words.  Just once I’d like to hear him speak his mind.  LOL, what I love about the Senator is how he tells it exactly as it is.

Maryland is the latest state to legalize gay marriage.  Gov. Martin O’Malley will sign the bill.  Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, in a Politico debate with his Maryland counterpart, claimed gays make bad parents.  Of course there’s absolutely no factual basis for this claim,it’s simply bigotry.  What is factual is that Republicans make bad Governors.

VotePA announced that all six DRE type electronic voting machines used in the Commonwealth will be tested, finally.  Gov. Rendell steadfastly refused to do this in spite of extensive evidence they can be hacked and reprogrammed.

A Superior Court decision throwing out three foreclosures due to continued fraud by bankers means some justice is coming to the fore.  Mortgage holders are required to do the proper paperwork prior to taking people’s homes and have been violating the law.  It’s time to put a freeze on all foreclosures until something is done to stop the abuses.

Is Rick Santorum the ultimate angry white man?

Republican Congressman John Sullivan told an Oklahoma town hall Democratic Senators should be shot so the radical Ryan budget can be passed.  That’s the one which ends Medicare as a government program and guts Medicaid.  Most Medicaid recipients are the elderly and disabled.  Conservatives have gone off the deep end advocating assassination especially following the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.

Republicans keep talking about the “failed stimulus.”  It didn’t fail and our two year budget slashing is proof.  Even Gov. Gasbag admits his billion dollar cuts to K12 education are the result of the stimulus funding ending.  ARRA pumped a ton of money into Pennsylvania as I reported as the funds were announced.  The Center For American Progress put together this video showing how successful the stimulus was.  Liars like Mitt Romney can’t ignore the facts:

A judge has determined a John Edwards sex tape be destroyed.  Such a horrendous travesty!

Pittsburgh Pirates President Frank Coonelly is facing four drunken driving charges.  Maybe this explains why his players can’t seem to find home plate.

Berks County DA John Adams finally found something other than massage parlors to raid.  No, it wasn’t pigeon shoots.

Tanness, Anyone? Oscars and the Bronze Beauties

by Walter Brasch

           It’s the end of February, and one of my friends is still sporting a summer tan. I know it’s phony-and she knows I know it’s phony-but I have long ago stopped teasing her about it. In her never-ending quest to appear to be beautiful and healthy, she has slathered skin tanning lotion into every pore of her body, laid out on roofs and beaches to catch whatever ray was passing by, and goes to a tanning salon once a week. I’m not sure she’s ever stepped into the surf.

           For decades, I have endured the scorn of these fake-skin friends, their skin tanned to the color and consistency of obsidian, as they sweat their lives away. Nevertheless, I have always been content to know I don’t need to cremate myself on a rooftop to be healthy.

           Once, women desperately wanted to look pale. Ashen was to be admired. Pallid was wonderful! The lighter the skin, the healthier they believed they were, even if it meant hiding in a basement and fighting any attempt by Vitamin D to force its way into their lives. These women would read Macbeth and admire the ghost.  Any darkness of the skin reflected that they weren’t women of leisure, but (horrors!) working women-the kind who go out of doors and have to (shudder!) do things.

           Then, in the 1920s fashion designer Coco Chanel became bronze, and the Western world decided that suntanned bodies identified women of leisure and privilege. When they couldn’t find enough sun to char their skin and fry their brains, they bought sunlamps, reflectors, and gallons of sprays, gels, powders, and amino acids, guaranteed to make their friends believe they had just returned from a decade in Bermuda-or Nigeria.

           In the late 1970s tanning salons became popular in the United States. In the semi-privacy of a casket, people could pay a few bucks for a few minutes of UVA rays, slather on even more lotion, and look even healthier! Have you ever seen what a couple of hours a day in the sun can do to an unprotected body over a few years? If you don’t have to chase knife-wielding scouts from the Tandy Leather Factory from trying to skin you, then you have a chance to live until a ripe old age of at least 50. And if Tandy doesn’t get you, there’s a pile of melanoma waiting. Ever see what cancer of the eye or ear looks like? Ever see a jellyfish on a rotting log?

           Cancer scare? There’s still sunblock. Just pick a number. Any low number. You’ll “protect” yourself and darken up just like that Bain de Soleil model-and look just as good. After all, would advertising agencies lie?

           While many people desperately want to have dark skin, they aren’t willing to appear to be “ethnic.” So, just in case someone could confuse them with being Black, Hispanic, Jewish, or any other genetically dark-skinned type, they dye their hair screaming saffron blonde. Just as they believe that the advertising agencies wouldn’t deceive them, they believe blondes have more fun. If that great American philosopher Lady Clairol said it, it must be so. And, of course, there are about 65,000 solutions on the market just designed to make you have fun while you lose every follicle in your genetic pattern.

           I’m content that because of genetics-and wise use of suntan lotion-I can spend hours splashing in the ocean and not have to endure boiling red skin, peeling off in painful layers, and spend half my week visiting expensive suntan parlors and dermatologists.

           Sunday, at the annual Academy Awards show hundreds of women will have spray-tanned and baked themselves into looking like brownies. They will have hair styles and colors as natural as what passes as reality on the “Jersey Shore.” Having already gone on extreme diets to look more photogenic, they will stuff what’s left of themselves into designer dresses and designer shoes, and decorate themselves with jewelry that could finance a revolution in a small Asian country. Every woman nominated for an Oscar is talented, but they exist in an industry forged by hype and image.

           The day after the awards ceremony, TV shows, both entertainment and news, will feature the stars; newspapers and magazines will open full pages to show tanned women in their $10,000 dresses.

           Throughout America, giggly and awe-struck pre-teen girls, their lives fixated upon Disneyesque princesses, will be absorbed by what the mass media show as rich and successful. And they will want to look just like the stars, fake tans and everything else.

           [In a 40-year journalism career, Walter Brasch has covered everything from the presidency to awards shows in California. His current book is Before the First Snow, an autobiographical novel set in the counter-culture.]

                       

HB1077: Pre-Abortion Ultra Sound Comes to PA

( – promoted by John Morgan)

It might just be me, but I have noticed the Republican strategy of late to push woman voters away with their attack on woman health is not politically wise. Gov. McDonnell of Virginia has recently, and wisely backed off his support of Virginia's controversial ultrasound bill. In an attempt to try to save face after great backlash from the bill, Gov. McDonnell stated:


    “No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.”(http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0223/Abortion-wars-Virginia-retreats-on-invasive-probe-in-ultrasound-bill)

After this wise retreat in the latest attack on woman's rights how does Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Kathy Rapp respond? With HB1077; The Women's Right to Know Act. Obviously a playful use of the lexicon, I ask myself who could be against a Woman's Right to Know?,  Well when you read the bill you see, it is more about letting a woman know that the Republican party is after their right to choose. Not openly of course, not many Republicans are that brazen these days, even though it wouldn't surprise me. The wording in the bill just puzzles, and amazes me.

   

“In recognition of the importance of a woman's dignity in making an informed choice, the factual information provided by an ultrasound test should be provided to a woman as an integral part of the informed consent necessary to undergo an abortion.” ( http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&sessYr=2011&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=1077&pn=3047)

I don't understand what factual information an ultrasound will give the woman, I do understand it is an unnecessary medical procedure that has little bearing on the abortion. Furthermore, in a 2010 article for Salon, by Anna Clark, entitled “Can better ultrasounds prevent abortions” she could find little to no research that ultrasounds even stopped one abortion:

   

“there have been no studies done in the United States that measure the affect of sonograms during abortions, and few done internationally. There was one study done in British Columbia that found that 73 percent of patients (254 people) wanted to see their sonogram if they were offered the chance. But eighty-four percent of those who viewed it said it did not make the experience more difficult, and none changed her mind about receiving an abortion. (http://www.dev6.salon.com/2010/06/15/abortion_michigan/)”

The only change from the attacks on woman's rights of late, is this bill is sponsored by a woman. I guess the PA House Republicans are learning from the all male panels on woman's health issues in the US House. With all the pressing matters that the PA General Assembly could be dealing with, the GOP is trying their hand at another unnecessary wedge issue that won't jobs, improve the common good of the commonwealth, nor protect a woman's right to know as they claim. Pennsylvanian's from all political persuasions need to contact Rep. Rapp, and her co-sponsors and tell them the war on a woman's right to choose is not the path for Pennsylvania. We need solutions from our legislature, not divisive toxic bills. I will be contacting State Rep. Godshall (R-53) who happens to be my rep and one of these unfortunate co-sponsors. I do not know how much it will do, but I can always try to remind the Right that their overreach will not help anyone. However, I for one hope, the Republicans never learn.

The full text of HB1077 can be found here http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&sessYr=2011&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=1077&pn=3047

Random Thoughts

There’s a lot happening today and since I’ll be in Harrisburg all day Thursday we’ll do a final wrap up.

The radical right wing is now going after the Girl Scouts.  Is no group immune from their hate?

The lottery is killing off Gus the Groundhog.  I think they’re going after the wrong rodent, it’s that one in Punxsutawney that’s always wrong.  I enjoyed the Gus commercials and can’t think of a better, more entertaining way to promote state sanctioned gambling.  Gus was great, long live the groundhog.

In the early days of this blog six years ago I wrote about the scandal in Wilkes-Barre surrounding the Hotel Sterling and millions in tax money which went to CityVest.  Now there’s nothing but a shell left and the city is debating what to do with the white elephant.  $6 million was dumped into this black hole and it likely will now be demolished.  It’s been yet another black eye for Luzerne County which can’t seem to do anything right.

Former state Sen. Bob Mellow used over $738,000 of campaign funds for legal fees and Gene Stilp has filed a formal complaint against him for improper use of the money.  The FBI raided Mellow’s offices and he likely faces charges of corruption in the future.  Using OPM for his legal fees is not only unethical but illegal.  Put this one under the category of going from the frying pan into the fire.

A judge has ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional.  It’s about time.

How stupid is this country?  Here are the two leading Republican candidates for president:

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has lost her hair stylist over her opposition to gay marriage.  It’s great to see gay men holding bigots personally accountable.

Some Hope for PA Revenue in January but Corporate Taxes Still Lag

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

Pennsylvania’s revenue performance has been pretty uneven this fiscal year due in part to a stubbornly slow growing economy and to policies that have cut the tax bills of big profitable corporations. After months of significant revenue shortfalls, however, January provided some hope.

General Fund collections came in close to estimate in January – falling $10.2 million, or 0.5%, short of monthly targets. This is a marked improvement over the previous several months, when revenues fell between 3% and 6% short of estimate. Get my full analysis of the January revenue numbers here.

January is an uneventful month for most revenue streams, with personal income tax collections being the exception. January is second only to April, when tax returns are due.

Corporate collections continued to fall significantly short of estimate in January and account for more than half of the General Fund’s revenue shortfall so far in 2011-12.

Revenue collections for the 2011-12 Fiscal Year are $497 million, or 3.5%, below the Corbett administration’s revenue estimates. The administration is now projecting a year-end revenue shortfall of $719 million, although the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) believes this to be too pessimistic, based on recent economic trends. The IFO expects the year-end shortfall to be in the $500 million range.

But comparing revenue estimates to actual collections tells only part of the story. Most tax revenue has been growing over the previous year, but not quickly enough to offset the cost of business tax breaks like bonus depreciation.

To make matters worse, Governor Corbett has proposed a state budget that moves Pennsylvania in the wrong direction. His budget maintains deep cuts to public schools that hit the poorest districts the hardest. It sharply reduces funding to public universities that could stifle innovation and drive up college tuition when many families can least afford it. Rather than closing tax loopholes and ending special tax breaks, the budget is balanced by cutting health care for children and adults.

Pennsylvania came out of the recession strong, ranking among the top 10 states in job growth. Our unemployment rate was a point lower than the national average and we were making investments in our schools, hospitals, and workforce that were creating real jobs.

We have since reversed course – increasing class sizes, limiting access to care, and cutting workforce training opportunities. As a result, we have seen our job growth advantage slip. Pennsylvania actually created more new jobs in 2010 than in 2011. If we continue on this course, Pennsylvania will be more likely to fall behind our competitors as the economy grows.

News & Notes February 22, 2012

Six State House seats remain open as several of them were elected to other posts around Pennsylvania.  Chelsa Wagner is now Allegheny Controller, Josh Shapiro MontCo Commissioner, Doug Reichley is now a Lehigh County Judge, Kenyatta Johnson a Philadelphia City Councilman, etc.  Thus far Gov. Gasbag has refused to call for the special elections required to fill the seats and time is quickly expiring to do so in April.  That would mean additional election costs for either counties or the state and low turnouts.  This is inexcusable and is a basic function of the Governor for which he is failing.

Nathan Kleinman, the first Occupy candidate for Congress, is challenging incumbent Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz in PA-13.  Unhappy with her votes on issues like indefinite detention, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the PATRIOT Act, tax cuts for the rich and free trade deals which have cost millions of jobs he is contesting her attempt to throw him off the ballot.  Kleinman says he will run as a write-in candidate if necessary.

In PA-01 Bob Brady continues to refuse to debate his primary opponent Judge Jimmie Moore.  There’s no reasonable reason to duck the issues in an election.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is opening a special 3-1-1 telephone line for residents unhappy with their property tax assessments.

The American Taliban:

Gas Prices An Election Issue Again

Four years ago high gas prices worked against Republicans running to succeed George W. Bush.  Now as fuel costs get close to $4/gallon again (predicted for summer) it’s arising again as an issue.  There’s a lot of disinformation about the cause of high gas prices however.  Demagogues like blaming easy targets and Obama is getting some heat for them.  It seems like just a couple months ago I was paying $3.39 and now it’s $3.59 or more.  Each increase means fewer miles I can travel to meet candidates, cover campaigns and attend meetings because I’m on a fixed income.

What actually happened was deregulation of commodities markets.  It used to be a small amount of speculation was allowed in commodities markets to manage the situations between buyers and sellers.  Only a portion of these markets were assigned to speculation however to control prices.  It simply isn’t needed to moderate the markets.  Gasoline is a basic commodity, no gas is really different from any other.  What happened was the Republicans, under George W. Bush, deregulated these speculators and huge pension funds and other major investors began pouring money into the markets.  This is also why food prices have risen.  The effect has been to increase consumer costs.

President Obama has not addressed this issue.  In fact few of the abominations passed by Bush have been addressed since Obama took office so some of the blame does sit at his feet.  There is no shortage of gas and demand has actually decreased.  Refineries continue to be closed so the argument by some idiots that what is needed are new and additional refineries is insane.  Look to Delaware County where several refineries are set to be closed costing up to 15,000 good jobs and you get an idea that this isn’t the problem.

Under Obama oil and gas production has actually soared.  We now have more wells than the rest of the world combined.  Obama has been very good for the oil industry yet gas prices keep going up.  If you use heating oil you’re going bankrupt trying to heat your home.  Be sure to thank Republicans for this state of affairs.

LCB Privatization Stalls

The effort by Gov. Gasbag to privatize the state liquor store system has stalled in Harrisburg and appears to be dead.  This was a major initiative by Corbett and its defeat is a singular failure of his radical agenda.  The Wine and Spirits Stores bring $500,000 per year into the Commonwealth’s general fund and that loss, especially in a severe economic downturn, has generated enough fiscal opposition to the move.  Republicans have wanted to privatize this retail operation for years and sell the rights to individual store owners the way liquor is sold in most states.

Those of us who lived elsewhere really hate the state store system here.  Selection has always been suspect, service poor, locations sometimes difficult to find and prices a bit higher than in Delaware or Maryland, for example.  Many Pennsylvanians still shop for their booze in border states.  UFCW employees have been fighting the privatization very hard to keep their good union jobs and the fact no one proponent of the action can come up with a factual way to replace the revenues has doomed the effort.

Discussion instead seems to be transitioning to modernizing the system to make it better, more convenient and competitive.  My pet peeve is that employees don’t appreciate my business enough to even say “thank you” when I make a purchase.  This is a serious pet peeve of mine and I won’t return to store which don’t appreciate my business enough to thank me for giving it.  Here I don’t have that alternative because there’s no other place to go.  I don’t drink but now and then purchase wine or liquor for parties or gifts.  If I lived near the state line I’d be doing it elsewhere.  These stores do desperately need modernization.

Obama Issues More Directives

Still unhappy with a Do Nothing Republican Congress which refuses to fund government programs or enact needed programs President Obama has been issuing Executive Orders as head of the Executive Branch as much as possible to move the nation forward.  He issued three new directives this week:

Promoting A Bioeconomy:  President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum today directing the Federal Government to take decisive steps to dramatically increase the purchase of biobased products over the next two years, which will create jobs and drive innovation where biobased products are grown and manufactured.  The Memorandum will also result in a 50 percent increase in the number of new products that are designated as biobased.  Biobased products include items like paints, soaps and detergents and are developed from farm grown plants, rather than chemicals or petroleum bases. The biobased products sector marries the two most important economic engines for rural America: agriculture and manufacturing.

·         Rural Jobs Accelerator: The Rural Jobs Accelerator is a national competition that will provide about $15 million for projects that promote innovation-fueled regional job creation.  The competition will combine funding from the USDA, the Economic Development Administration (EDA), Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission.   Additionally, this approach will require multiple agencies to coordinate technical assistance and grant / loan programs so that potential rural customers have a single access point within the Federal government to mobilize the resources of the government to help a region of the country. USDA will utilize the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) program to support this effort and provide technical assistance and training funds to qualified intermediary organizations to develop their capacity to undertake housing, community facilities, and community and economic development projects in rural areas.  The Federal Funding Opportunity will be released in the next few weeks.

·         Rural Health IT Workforce:  The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor signed a memorandum of understanding to connect  community colleges and technical colleges that support rural communities with the materials and resources they need to support the training of Health Information Technology (HIT) professionals that work in rural hospitals and clinics.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the needed HIT workforce will increase by 20 percent by 2016.

 

Critz Challenges Altmire Petitions

Congressman Mark Critz is challenging Congressman Jason Altmire’s position on the April primary ballot by contesting 942 of the signatures of his nominating petitions.  Altmire filed 1651 signatures and 1000 are required for the federal office.  If successful Critz would eliminate his opponent without firing a single shot in a heavily watched race.  Because of reapportionment Pennsylvania lost a Congressional seat and Republicans controlling the process (along with Democrats Bob Brady and Mike Doyle) pitched these two incumbent Democrats against each other.

The rules for gathering petition signatures are strict and every candidate is provided with a list of the rules when filing to run with the Pennsylvania Department of State.  In addition these rules are listed on its website.  There’s really no excuse to violate them as widely as it appears Altmire did.  Critz alleges that a staffer for his opponent circulated petitions while not residing within the District.  That would disqualify every signature on those petitions.  In this instance that would mean 610 signatures.  Subtracting that figure from the 1651 filed and he’s perilously close to being disqualified.  Only 42 additional ones need to be disallowed.

Here’s the list as supplied by the Critz campaign:

610 Defective Circulator’s Affidavits

115 Line Information Omitted

87 Illegible

85 Nicknames or Initials

79 Not Registered

66 Omitted or Incorrect Municipality

64 Line Information in the Hand of Another

38 Not Registered at Address

33 Not Registered Democrats

24 Invalid Dates

22 Duplicate Signatures

17 Struck Before Filing

16 Struck by Pennsylvania Department of Commonwealth

12 Signed After Circulator’s Affidavit Dated

8   Printed Signatures

1   Printed and Signed Different Names

Judges often won’t disqualify for minor mistakes such as listing the wrong municipality or dates depending on the individual case.  They tend to define their decisions based upon the intent of the voter.  If that is clear they’ll uphold the signature.  There certainly appear to be enough justifiably contested signatures here to threaten Congressman Altmire’s career.  If, indeed, one of his staffers not living in the District filed as the circulator he has no legitimate legal recourse to uphold those 610 signatures and his career will be over.  There’s no excuse for such a mistake but a confidential source told me earlier this week there, indeed were, problems with a circulator.

Most of the new District lies in Altmire’s old District so most of the voters there know him better than Critz.  That could also work to his disadvantage in a Democratic primary though because his voting record shows he’s actually an elephant in a donkey costume.  Critz hasn’t been in office long having succeeded the late John Murtha in the old PA-12.

I’ve had my problems with both of these conservative Congressmen in the past, particularly with the way Critz was selected by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party after Murtha died.  He’s far superior to Altmire, in my estimation and should be the choice for Democrats in this election.

Update:  From the Critz campaign:  “Actually, the 610 number is attributed to multiple circulators. His staffer accounts for 385.”

This means there were more circulators not eligible to do so for Altmire.  Really bad judgment by someone high up in that campaign if true.