The Zimmerman Trial

The defense is expected to rest today in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial in Florida.  This man is claiming self defense after stalking the young Black man, making racial slurs about him, presuming him to be a criminal then accosting him while carrying a loaded gun.  But he claims self defense.

How does the aggressor get to claim self defense?

The Egyptian Mess

The mess in Egypt tested our principles and found them failing.  Restless over massive unrest directed at democratically elected President Muhammed Morsi the Egyptian military exercised a coup arresting him and hundreds of leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood political party.  Democracy in Egypt was dealt a quick and painful death.

It doesn’t matter if you are with the president or against him, democracy demands that a process be used to change governments and that process must be performed at the ballot box on election day.  Like Morsi or not a majority of Egyptians elected him in a democratic election.  He should have remained in office until either his term ended and someone else was elected or he chose to resign.

Make no question about this:  the military engineered a coup which now requires the Obama Administration to cut all non-humanitarian aid to that country.  This means the massive welfare program given to the American defense industry be cut.  Of course we can’t cut these welfare programs so the President is pretending it wasn’t a coup.  It is pure hypocrisy as tens of thousands of federal workers are furloughed under budget cuts, valuable programs are cut back but the arms industry hums along.

ACLU, Couples Seek to Overturn Marriage Ban

The Pennsylvania ACLU is suing to overturn the state’s ban on same sex marriage in an action representing four couples denied equality under the law.  As I predicted after the SCOTUS decision on DOMA there is now legal precedent that denial of equal justice under law is unconstitutional and a gateway towards overturning state marriage bans.

If DOMA is unconstitutional then so is Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage.  This lawsuit will take this case to federal court where the Supreme Court decision will be the basis of the decision.  The Court made very clear that gay couples cannot be denied the same benefits provided heterosexual couples who are allowed to marry and given rights denied under the law to LGBT couples.  The law of the land now says this is illegal.

Final Pa. Budget Fails to Make Up Lost Ground

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has released a full detailed analysis of the 2013-14 state budget plan spending $28.376 billion, roughly $645 million (or 2.3%) more than in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Governor Tom Corbett signed the budget into law late in the evening of June 30, 2013. Overall, the plan is $64 million less than the Governor proposed in February, reflecting nearly $113 million in reduced spending for public school pensions and school employees’ Social Security payments along with a shift of $90 million in General Fund spending off budget to other funds.

2013-14 General Fund Summary

The plan includes a small increase to basic education funding, $122.5 million overall, with $30.2 million allocated to 21 school districts through a supplemental allocation, on top of the $90 million increase in the Governor’s proposal.

After many years of cuts, most programs received small increases in the Governor’s proposed budget, which remained in the final plan.

Changes to pension benefits for current employees, the cornerstone of the Governor’s original budget proposal, did not occur. The Legislature does not seem inclined to tamper with benefits for current employees. A proposal to move to a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new employees gained traction later in the session but was not adopted. This proposal may return in the fall.

Also abandoned was an $800 million education initiative to be funded through the sale of state liquor stores. While the privatization vs. modernization debate held center stage until the last week of the session, the school funding component was quickly abandoned and was not part of legislative proposals. Privatization is likely to be considered in the fall, as well.

For the first time in two years, there were no major cuts to services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians; however, a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage in 2014, a state option under the federal Affordable Care Act, was left undone. Legislation including the Medicaid expansion won bipartisan support in the Senate, but the House stripped out the expansion provision from the bill. When the bill returned to the Senate, a last ditch effort to restore the Medicaid expansion provision failed in a dramatic Senate committee vote on July 3.

Finally, a transportation funding package that would repair crumbling infrastructure and give a much needed shot in the arm to Pennsylvania’s flagging job growth failed to pass the House, despite overwhelming support in the Senate.

Get all the details from PBPC's budget analysis.

Regulating Men’s Sexuality

Ohio State Senator Nina Turner has introduced SB 307 which would require all men seeking prescriptions for erectile dysfunction to go to sex therapists, undergo cardiac stress tests and submit notarized affidavits confirming impotency before getting the drugs.  The bill is in response to a conservative onslaught against women’s reproductive rights.  I don’t think it goes far enough however.

Let’s make public, on government websites (ala Meghan’s List and others) every man who has documented that he can’t get it up.  We all should be able to know who cannot perform adequately before wasting our time over dinner, drinks or a movie.  While we’re at it let’s also rank these men according to size (length and girth), stamina,  and amount of ejaculate.  After all, these same conservative extremists want to restrict marriage to only procreation so if they don’t have a female wife of child bearing age and not using contraceptives they don’t qualify for the drugs.  

I propose we begin with every member of a state legislature, each Governor and then every member of the House and Senate in Washington.  Voters have a right to know who can perform and who cannot.

You Can’t Hide From These Prying Eyes

by Walter Brasch

     The government’s knowledge of the lives of individuals is little more than the equivalent to a children’s coloring book compared to the library that private companies have on everyone.

     Doubt that? Just open your mail any day; chances are good you’ll have more junk mail-the corporations prefer to call it “direct mail”-than anything else. Check your email; if you’re not being spammed hourly, you are probably one of the few people in the U.S. who is living in an underground bomb shelter with no access to the outside world.

     And don’t complain. You caused this.

     Americans routinely fill out myriad forms that ask all kinds of personal information. Buy an appliance-or just about anything-and some database company learns not just the name, address, and where and when the customer bought that item, but also family income, what pets the family has, and the family’s hobbies. Some “warranty” cards ask more than five dozen questions, the data coded and stored on computers accessible by junk mail advertisers.

     Although the data helps companies notify customers about product re-calls or new products, most Americans don’t know they aren’t required to fill out the cards to get warranty protection.

Answer your telephone and respond to someone who claims to be from a “marketing survey company,” and dozens of offers will soon be yours to explore.

     The marketing departments of the mass media use databases not only to identify potential subscribers, but also to identify the demographics of their own readers and viewers to potential advertisers.

     The first thing scanned at registers in most supermarkets, department stores, discount stores, drug stores, and chain stores of all kinds is the bar-coded membership card that alerts a computer to record and analyze inventory, and track each purchase a customer makes. These cards lure customers to believe they are getting special deals in exchange for giving up their privacy. At its best, it may mean special coupons from manufacturers. At its worst, it means the store sells the data to a health insurance company that raises rates because it determines the customer bought too many bags of potato chips.

     With the ubiquitous use of computers, every person who ever bought anything online, or even searched for anything online-product or information-can now be identified, their web addresses stored for use in target marketing campaigns.

     Microtargeting, essentially vacuuming every piece of data about every person, is what allows corporations, marketing departments, and sales people to find specific groups of people to add to direct mail and telemarketing campaigns.

     Certain groups won’t sell their membership lists; others, including most U.S. colleges, are all too happy to get a few hundred dollars by supplying names and demographic details to the marketing companies.

     The Republicans, using a program they labeled Voter Vault, mastered the use of the technology to give them the tools they needed to reach donors and score decisive “get out the vote” strategies in 2002 and 2004 elections. So sophisticated had been the program that they could individually pitch every household with a message crafted to that family.

     By 2006, having lost two consecutive presidential elections and having been the minority party for a decade, the Democrats caught up, creating first DataMart and then Data Warehouse.

     Two years later, all candidates for presidential office had developed and used databases, with the staff of Barack Obama having the greatest technological skill not only to use social media to get its message to the people, but also to be able to specifically target even the narrowest demographics with specific messages.

     Legally, anyone can obtain voluminous data about anyone who has ever registered to vote, owned property, sued, been sued, arrested, served in the military, been married or divorced, licensed by any governmental agency, or attended a public school. The databases are what help reporters develop stories, some exposing corrupt governmental and business practices.

     Almost every American consumer now has a Fair Isaac score. The scores are based upon dozens of reports about a person’s credit history, and are available to Equifax, Experian, and Trans-Union, the three major credit reporting companies. FICO reports that 90 percent of the largest U.S. banks use the Fair Isaac scores. About three-fourth of credit reports contain errors, with about one-fourth of all credit reports containing significant errors that could result in denial of credit, according to the California Public Interest Research Group.

     If you’re using any social medium or search engine-Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Google, Pinterest, or anything that is composed not of carbon atoms but bits and bytes-you have been identified.

     If my publisher wished to target audiences for my current book, Fracking Pennsylvania, she might first get a direct mail list of all environmentalists. Then a sub-set of environmentalists in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, she might also want a tighter list, so she asks for Pennsylvania environmentalists who have purchased at least five books in the past year. She could ask the direct marketing company to drill down even further and get those in select ZIP codes who have a certain income range and are members of certain societies. I suppose it’s possible to target Pennsylvania environmentalists who live in the Marcellus Shale who bought at least five books last year, have a college degree and incomes above $45,000, and drive red convertibles on Sundays. A list of all Pennsylvanians might be a few cents a name; a highly targeted list could be $1 a name.

     You’ve been warned.

       Dr. Brasch’s current book, Fracking Pennsylvania, is available, or your local bookstore.

Gettysburg Marks 150th Anniversary of the Great Battle

There was a new invasion of Gettysburg this week as thousands of civil war aficionados poured into Adams County to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle which decided the Civil War.  On July 1,2, and 3rd 1863 the forces of Confederate General Robert E. Lee entered Pennsylvania in an attempt to bring the war tot he North and break the Union Army of the Potomac led by General George Meade.

General Lee:

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I drove to Gettysburg this morning to participate in a commemorative march of Pickett’s Charge, the final, desperate attempt by Lee to break the Union Army and forge a peace.  I’ve been to the battlefield many times and often stood near the monuments and wondered what it was like for 12,000 Rebel soldiers to cross those fields and walk into Federal cannons and muskets.  Today I walked the same hallowed ground where so many brave men fell and died.  While most of those participating whooped and hollered as they crossed the terrain I took a few moments simply to stand on the ground and remember what happened here 150 years ago and all of the lives which were lost on that ground.

I met Americans from all over the nation and thanked the southerners for, this time, bringing real dollars with them.  150 years ago the Confederate script which they spent in Gettysburg was worthless.  This week they spent quite a bit more, all (I hope) of it legal.

I also met people who traveled there from Great Britain and Australia.  If they could come that far to commemorate this American battle my two hour drive out the turnpike was more than worth it for an avid history buff.

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Corbett’s Budget Policies Fail…Again

Gov. Corbett signed an incomplete budget into law last night raising spending by over $700 million over the last fiscal year.  It also includes yet another round of tax cuts for businesses ($300 million) while cutting services and programs for the poor.  We continue prioritizing prisons over schools so twenty years down the road we won’t have an educated workforce to keep businesses in the state and our young people will be forced into burglary and prostitution for existence.  Those prisons will come in handy then.

Though the Senate passed both a transportation bill and Medicaid expansion the House refused to go along with those priorities.  They are expected to strip the Medicaid expansion out and so there really, actually is NOT a budget as yet.  The Governor’s promise of a balanced, on time budget was not kept.  That actually requires agreement between the House and Senate, something still being worked on today July 1st.

Republicans in Harrisburg kept school board members quite busy all June attempting to hammer out austerity budgets for schools in the face of $2 billion in lost revenues from the Commonwealth.  When you add the billion Corbett and his cohorts in the legislature cut and the billion they’ve siphoned for failing charter schools we see teachers, support staff and curriculums being cut statewide while local property taxes rise at the maximum rate.  You’re paying more for less and those conservatives you keep electing because they want to end your property taxes are the ones sending them through the roof.  Stupid is as stupid does and stupid is continuing to vote for these idiots.  They won’t pass any tax increase because then they can’t campaign on continuously cutting taxes.  

News flash:  taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.  Civilized societies don’t sacrifice their children’s futures on an altar of personal greed.

Meanwhile all of Corbett’s major initiatives for this budget failed:  liquor privatization, gutting public pensions and selling off the lottery.  A Republican Governor with a GOP controlled legislature, again, could not get his agenda passed.