Governor Fighting Gay Rites

I have a new, expanded nickname for Tom Corbett:  Gov. Cyrano de Gasbag.  He is now tilting at windmills with dual announcements that he will fund, via taxpayers, legal fights against marriage equality.  First he’s going to Commonwealth Court to stop Montgomery County Register of Wills Bruce Hanes from continuing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.  Thus far 34 such licenses have been granted and six couples have wed turning gay rights into gay rites.

Secondly Cyrano de Gasbag has decided to spend more tax dollars contesting the ACLU lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the Commonwealth’s DOMA law.  The U.S. Supreme Court recently determined that such discrimination is unconstitutional and the ACLU was hoping our idiot Governor would take the bait and fight them in court.  They hope to make this the test case which will overturn all state DOMA laws nationally.  Corbett took the bait and now the ACLU will set the hook and reel him in.

Congressional conservatives wasted $2.5 million defending the indefensible DOMA in Washington and now Corbett’s Pennsylvania conservatives will spend millions on legal fees here just to lose.  The constitution is clear about every person being equal under the law.  As badly as we’re speeding towards becoming a third world country we aren’t there yet and, until we do, we still stand for one thing:  we’re a nation of laws.

News & Notes July 26, 2013

When Florida passed its Castle Doctrine law I said on this blog I wouldn’t travel there again because anyone could kill anyone else they didn’t like and claim it was justified.  George Zimmerman and his jury have proved me correct in this regard.  Boycott Florida.

Voting with one’s dollars has always made sense and the neanderthals who have taken control in North Carolina are further proof.  Stay out of there too.  When these idiots see their travel and tourism economies hit perhaps they’ll rethink some of their anti-people policies.

Berks County Register of Wills Larry Medaglia Jr. says he won’t follow Montco’s example and begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex partners.  He claims to be upholding the law.  The Supreme Court has ruled such laws are unconstitutional.  Passing the county line from Montgomery to Berks means going back in time, to prehistoric eras.

Tea Party State House candidate Jim Billman (126) ran on a platform of homophobia but it seems his own “family values” leave much to be desired.

I wonder if Rep. David Maloney would support the Violence Against Women Act.  My guess, based on his own personal behavior, is no.

I wonder how the House Republican Caucus legal team sleeps at night covering up for men like Maloney.

Gov. Gasbag is a corrupt man who trades campaign contributions for state contracts.  Shouldn’t an Attorney General investigate him?

Louisiana has some new chicken hawks.  I hope no one ate the evidence for dinner.

Pennsylvania law doesn’t define sex with a same gender partner adultery.  Perhaps men like Larry Medaglia Jr. should have cheated on their wives with other men instead of women.  Oops, let’s keep that “traditional” definition of marriage alive.  You know, the one which says you have to marry your sister-in-law if your brother dies, or the one allowing you to sell your daughter into marriage for fifty goats.  The Bible is full of

traditional Marriage” definitions which have long since been abandoned.

Schuylkill County Policeman Mark Kessler has given our entire state a black eye with his profanity laced video tirades against liberals.  He calls us “libtards.”  (Listening to too much Rush Mark?)  He overtly threatened Nancy Pelosi but the other neanderthals in Gilberton see nothing wrong with his behavior.  

First LGBT Couple Weds in PA

Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrizzi of Pottstown were married yesterday after Montgomery County announced it would begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.  Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes with approval of Commissioners Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, decided that recent Supreme Court decisions rendered Pennsylvania’s state level DOMA law unconstitutional and decided not to await court orders outlawing the ban.

The Pennsylvania ACLU has sued the Commonwealth of the law representing a dozen carefully chosen plaintiffs.  They hope to take this case all the way to SCOTUS and overturn all of the state laws banning marriage equality.  Montgomery County chose not to wait and yesterday the lesbian couple from Pottstown got a waiver of the three day waiting period and wed immediately.

Diversion Politics and Factual Errors with ‘Americans for a Tiny Sliver of Rich People’

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Jennifer Stefano, the Pennsylvania director of Americans for Prosperity, published an op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News Friday – the latest salvo in an organized right-wing assault on nutrition assistance and other safety net spending.

The op-ed claims that the number of Americans who receive some kind of subsidized food assistance is at more than 101 million and “has surpassed the number of full-time private-sector workers in our country.” Actually, there are 114 million private-sector workers in the United States, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data for June 2013, but who’s counting.

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative advocacy group funded in part by the Koch Brothers. It is the 1% looking out for the interests of the 1%.

As I noted, Jennifer Stefano’s op-ed is part of a larger campaign to cut safety net spending. Food stamp spending in the current slow economy has temporarily risen to about 0.5% of GDP, from about 0.33% of GDP in the early 1980s recession. Of course, that recession was much shorter and shallower nationally than the recent Great Recession.

Today food assistance remains well targeted: 85% of households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, have gross incomes below the poverty line; 98.5% have disposable (or “net”) incomes below the poverty line. SNAP provides only $1.50 per person per meal and is scheduled to drop to $1.30 per person per meal in November. (Stefano has nothing to say about the preservation of farm subsidies for agribusiness – the most generous “food program” in the United States.)

Stefano presents the temporary growth in food assistance as a “kitchen table” issue. Let’s put it in perspective. Another kitchen table issue is the dramatic decline in the share of the economic pie going to the vast 99% of Americans – because the share going to the top 1% has risen by about 10 percentage points, The temporary increase in food stamps spending is thus about 1/50 the size of the not-so-temporary increase in the share of income going to the Koch Brothers and, I’m guessing, other funders of Americans for Prosperity.

Stefano’s piece is part of a well-oiled effort to distract middle-class families from the real cause of their economic struggles. When you look at the facts, that cause is not rising taxes or spending on social programs. It’s the rise in economic inequality (and, to a lesser degree, the fall in taxes paid by the more affluent).

Here’s hoping that Pennsylvanians and Americans will keep their eyes on the ball and not fall for the obfuscations of groups like Stefano’s.

The Last Great American Journalist: Helen Thomas

For decades I could count on Helen Thomas to ask the hard questions on her beat as White House correspondent.  The questions which were burning inside me to ask always got spoken by this great American journalist who spoke truth to power fearlessly.  She died yesterday and American journalism will go to the grave with her because there is no one else on the beat who can replace her moral courage.  Rest in peace Helen, a grateful nation mourns.

Practicing Un-Medicine

by Walter Brasch

     Clutching a sheaf of newspaper clippings in one hand and a medical bag in the other, Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, knocking down pregnant ladies, students, the elderly, and even two burly construction workers who were waiting for a bus, rushed past me, leaving me in a close and personal encounter with the concrete. Since he had given up medicine to invest in a string of service stations and an oil distributorship, I assumed what was in his medical bag was the morning’s take from obscene profits.

     “Medical emergency!” Comstock cried out. “Gang way!”

     “You’ve returned to medicine?” I shouted after him.

     “I’m going into un-medicine!” he shouted back. “I’m getting the big bucks not to operate!” This was a story too good to let by, so I gave up any hope of the 7:11 “D”-line bus arriving by 7:30, and chased after him.

     “Slow down!” I panted. “You’ll kill yourself!”

     “No time to slow down,” he said widening the distance, leaving a trail of broken bodies. “There’s money to be gotten!”

     “If you kill yourself before you get there-” I didn’t know where, I just knew it was somewhere-“you’ll never see a cent of it!” That stopped him, giving me time to catch up, catch my breath, and catch Comstock’s latest scam. “Now, Comstock,” I said, the air returning to my lungs, “if you’re not going to operate, why the medical bag?”

     “That’s so I can get money from the Department of Agriculture,” he replied.

     “You’re going to hold up an Ag Stabilization office?”

     “In a way,” he said, shoving a sheaf  of the newspaper clippings at me. Some said that when doctors didn’t operate, the death rate dropped.”

     “O.K., so surgeons kill patients. Tell me how that’ll help you make a mint.”

     “Don’t be so impatient,” said Comstock. “Here! Read this!” This was a newspaper article that reported a study by the Centers for Disease Control showed that of 35 million people hospitalized last year, almost two million got worse because of exposure to unsanitary hospital procedures. “See! Even if we get them through surgery,” said Comstock, “They’ll die in the hospitals anyhow! Isn’t that wonderful!” Wonderful wasn’t exactly the word I had in mind.

     “Aren’t doctors supposed to make people healthier?” I brazenly asked.

     “I guess we can do that too while we’re making money,” said Comstock, thoughtfully stringing out his scheme. “But making people healthy isn’t as financially productive as not growing crops.” He thrust yet another newspaper article at me. During the past decade, the Department of Agriculture paid more than $200 billion in subsidies to farmers, about three-fourths of them agricorporations; about $2 billion of that was for subsidies to individuals and corporations not to do any farming. Farmers and agricorporations merely had to prove they once farmed the land. They could even sell 40 acres to a sub-developer to build houses, and entice future homeowners with seemingly eternal payments for not having race paddies in their basements. Comstock even showed me governmental data that revealed that dozens of members of Congress were getting annual six-figure subsidies. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Tea Party Republican from Tennessee, even took more than $3.3 million in farm subsidies, while calling for a significant decrease in the food stamp program for the poor.

     “So, that’s the scam,” I said. “You’re not going to grow rice so you can make more money?”

     “You fall off the turnip truck?” he asked. “I’m not doing surgery!”

     “That’s good news,” I sighed.

     “Darn right!” he patriotically exclaimed. “With every doctor wanting to get the big bucks from surgery, there’s a glut of surgeons. Because of competition, us surgeons can’t make as much from one surgery as before, so we have to do more surgeries just to stay even. That’s more work for us. More time in hospitals. More deaths from surgery. More deaths from hospital care. Higher insurance rates. That forces us to do even more surgeries to keep up. That’s definitely not in the nation’s interest.” I agreed.

     “But the government can fix it!” said a beaming Comstock, former surgeon-turned-oil-entrepreneur. “All the government has to do is pay us not to perform surgery, and you’ll see happier doctors. There might even be a few lives that are saved in the process.”

     A noble thought, I agreed. A very noble thought.

     [Dr. Brasch isn’t a physician or a farmer, but he has asked his editor to pay him for not writing his weekly column. He claims there are already too many people who think they’re columnists, and overproduction diminishes his value-so a subsidy is the best solution. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, available at local bookstores, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com]

     

Kane Gets Blowback on DOMA Decision

Attorney General Kathleen Kane is getting blowback this week on two separate issues.  First is her shameless wrangling to evict Judge Barry Feudale from his responsibilities overseeing central PA grand juries.  The second is over her decision not to defend the state’s Defense of marriage law in a suit filed by the ACLU.  Right wing ideologues are scorching her for this claiming she must because it is her duty to uphold the law, in this case, a law which has been declared unconstitutional on the federal level.

How can a law which has been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court be defended on a state level?  It is no longer lawful and therefore indefensible.  Why is it these idiots, blinded by their bigotry, cannot understand that she is defending the law of the land by not defending this state one in court?

Toshi Seeger and Respect for the Working Man and Woman

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Toshi Seeger's obituary last week in The New York Times brought a smile to my face.

Toshi provided her husband, the folk singer Pete Seeger, with the organizational skills without which he would have not been so influential or commercially successful.

Toshi also kept him grounded. “I hate it when people romanticize him,” she said. “He’s like anybody good at his craft, like a good bulldozer operator.”

That simple sentiment works in both directions. It helped make sure Pete Seeger would not become too big for his britches. It also communicates deep respect for the bulldozer operator — and for hardworking people more generally.

One of many problems with the obscene income inequality that has emerged in the United States since the 1970s is that too many people in the "1%" (and the smaller groups at the very, very top) seem to have convinced themselves that they are not only deserving but also somehow different than — better than — other people.

Economic elites and the broader culture have also come to respect much less the hard work of regular folks — the nurse's aide and the sanitation worker, the back hoe operator and the warehouse worker, the truck driver and the child-care teacher. Legislators and advocates for local government communicate this, for example, every single time they seek to cut the state's prevailing wage for construction workers.

Along with their serial refusal to look at the ample evidence that paying construction workers decently does not increase construction costs, these proponents of weakening prevailing wage laws imply, again and again, "anyone off the street can do construction work just as well as experienced crafts workers." It's not true. It's deeply offensive. And it's sad that the people being so dismissive of other people's skills don't even realize how insulting they are being.

Maybe a few folks reading Toshi Seeger's obituary will pause briefly to reflect on the moral compass that led her to equate her phenomenally successful folk singer husband and a good bulldozer operator. That would be a good thing.

Kane Won’t Defend Pennsylvania Marriage Ban

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced yesterday her office will not defend the state’s DOMA law in a legal action entered into federal court by the ACLU of PA on behalf of two dozen same sex couples.  The Commonwealth passed the law limiting rights and we just saw the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the federal law as unconstitutional.  If the federal law is unconstitutional because its violates couple’s rights then each state law is also unconstitutional.  Unfortunately they will need to be litigated on a state by state basis.  Ours is the first such challenge to be filed nationally.

I called for such action the day the SCOTUS decision was issued, challenging my peers in committed relationships to seek marriage licenses then hire civil rights counsel to challenge the law.  This is what the ACLU is doing.  There’s no way, following the SCOTUS decision, that a Judge can go against that momentous, landmark decision and uphold these discriminatory laws.

Meanwhile State Reps Brian Sims and Steve McCarter  have co-sponsored a marriage equality bill in Harrisburg.  Sims is the first openly gay person elected to that body in Pennsylvania.  McCarter issued this statement yesterday following the Kane announcement:

I’m extremely proud of Attorney General Kane for doing what is best for Pennsylvanians and agreeing that we must not stand in the way of progress and true marriage equality for all,” McCarter said. “The law banning gay marriage is obsolete and frankly, a violation of the rights of thousands of LGBT citizens.

“It’s the right thing to do and is a fundamental civil rights issue,” McCarter said.

The lawsuit challenging the gay marriage ban was filed in federal court on Tuesday by two dozen Pennsylvania residents seeking to force Pennsylvania to allow them to marry or recognize their same-sex marriages performed in other states.

“Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that does not allow either gay marriage or civil unions, which only acts as a detriment to our state,” McCarter said. “I’m honored to be working with Representative Brian Sims to gather support in the legislature for a bill that would legalize gay marriage and finally bring true marriage equality to all Pennsylvanians.”

 

Pennsylvania’s Unremarkable Private-Sector Job Performance

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Philadelphia Daily News Columnist John Baer is right to suggest that Governor Corbett’s jobs performance since January 2011 is less than “remarkable.”

Baer’s critique comes in response to the Governor’s first re-election campaign ad touting “a remarkable 116,000 new private-sector jobs” since he came into office in January 2011. Not so fast, Baer writes:

When one looks at net jobs here since January 2011, the picture is less than “remarkable.” The current net jobs gain is not 116,000. It’s 75,100.  Among the 10 largest states, of which we’re sixth, we gained the fewest jobs. … data on the four states with less population (Ohio, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina) show each gained double the number of jobs we did, or more.

Governor Corbett gets to 116,000 by limiting his count to private-sector jobs only, not the tens of thousands of teachers, police officers and other public servants who lost their jobs following years of state and local budget cuts.

Even if you restrict your analysis to the private sector, Pennsylvania’s private-sector job growth has almost stalled since about a year into the Governor’s term. To see that, take a look at the chart below.

The chart shows cumulative private-sector job growth in Pennsylvania since January 2011, the month Baer uses as his point of reference. We rely on data from a survey of employers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics known as the “establishment” survey. There is another employment survey of households done monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau, and over short periods of time, the two can differ – but as Mark Price has explained, both surveys typically tell the same story about the health of the labor market over the long haul.

Looking at data from the establishment survey, Pennsylvania’s private-sector job growth was relatively robust in 2011, yielding a total of 100,000 net new private jobs by March 2012. In the 14 months since then, however, the state has seen private jobs growth of less than 5,000; private job growth is less than 20,000 even if you use a three-month moving average for the same period.

Another way to gauge how “unremarkable” the state’s private job performance has been is to compare it to the national level. We do this by first computing percent job growth for the U.S. since January 2011 and then computing what private job growth in Pennsylvania would have been if the state’s percent job growth had kept pace with the national average. The gap between what Pennsylvania’s job growth would have been if it matched the national rate and actual Pennsylvania job growth is labeled “Pennsylvania’s growing private job gap” in the next chart.

What explains Pennsylvania’s private-sector job growth trends since early 2011 relative to the nation?

One hypothesis for Pennsylvania’s strong showing in 2011 is that the robust job growth that year partly reflected the policies of outgoing Governor Ed Rendell. A related hypothesis is that the policies of Governor Corbett, most prominently the impact of budget cuts and public-sector layoffs, took a year or so to have an impact on the private-sector economy.

Yet another factor could be the natural gas industry. Although the impact of drilling on Pennsylvania jobs has been exaggerated, it did have some impact. Since 2011, however, drilling and natural gas employment have ebbed. The flat-lining of private-sector job growth in Pennsylvania since the first quarter of 2012 makes abundantly clear that the natural gas industry alone never amounted to an adequate jobs strategy for the state.

A final factor is slow population growth in Pennsylvania. From April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011, population growth in Pennsylvania was 0.5% compared to 1.7% nationally. When the economy is at full employment, the growth of the working-age population has more impact than any other factor on job growth – as a result, job growth in states with slowly-growing populations should not be expected to keep pace with that of the nation. However, when unemployment rates are well above full employment, as at present, then state job growth rates are more likely to cluster close to the national average and less likely to be impacted primarily by relative rates of long-term population growth.