News & Notes August 23, 2013

I’m likely to be flying to Santa Fe sometime in the next few days.  I’ll be there for 3-4 weeks.

Both the President and Vice President will be in Scranton today speaking at Lackawanna College.  Due to my impending trip I won’t be able to cover the event.  It is rare for both POTUS and VPOTUS to attend the same event outside of the beltway.  Obama has been met with fracking protesters all along his route through New York.

In Arizona he was met with blatantly racist Tea baggers (sorry for the redundancy) singing Bye Bye Back Sheep.

Commonwealth Court will conduct a hearing on the Health Department’s lawsuit against MontCo Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes in two weeks.  It will decide if it has jurisdiction, if the Department of Health has legal standing to sue, and whether the matter of issuing marriage licenses is a judicial matter.  In that case the Court lacks jurisdiction.  In any event this case will be decided by the Supreme Court.

Thus far Hanes has issued marriage licenses to 143 couples, 73 of whom have wed.

Meanwhile New Mexico has its own similar situation.  Dona Ana County is following Montgomery’s lead and began issuing licenses to same sex couples.  Their state AG also decided not to sue to stop the action (the Democrat is running against Gov. Susana Martinez next year).  Now Republican State House leaders are preparing to sue to stop the action though, like here, they may have trouble proving standing.

Chelsea, nee Bradley, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.  Why is it the whislteblower who revealed war crimes gets prosecuted but not the war criminals?

On that front Glenn Greenwald’s partner was  detained for nine hours by British security while traveling through Heathrow Airport.  The blatant attempt of harassment and intimidation will backfire though because the reporter then vowed to release documents he has from Edward Snowden about Great Britain.  Oops.

Rep. Dave Reed is doing a poverty tour around the state.  This after his colleagues gutted anti-poverty programs for three consecutive years.  Is someone going to hang him by his own petard?  Isn’t this just rubbing people’s noses in it?

The Pennsylvania College Democrats are ticked off because Keystone Politics slammed Rep. Brendan Boyle for hiring a twenty year old to run his Congressional campaign.  Rightly so.

Fukushima continues being a nuclear hot zone.  300 tons of radioactive water have leaked from the contaminated site.  There’s nothing to worry about however, just don your hazmat suit and go walk your glowing, green dog.

Tea Partiers got some of their own venom on immigration from this Native American:

So far $2.5 billion has been cut from public schools in Pennsylvania.  Corbett cut the first billion and the rest has been funneled to charter schools.  Some of those are public, some private, for profit, and many are religious based which violates separation of church and state.  73% of charter schools have failed AYP and have no accountability.  Now one charter school founder has been indicted.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a report critical of a Chester Charter School.

Arizona’s law defunding Planned Parenthood has been struck down.  All these laws do is waste taxpayer money and time.  The lawyers love them however.

An atheist group also won in court this week.  Their lawsuit against the IRS for failing to prosecute religious groups openly advocating for partisan politics will proceed.

Truth is always stranger than fiction when it comes to insane conservatives (sorry for the redundancy).  Public Policy Polling discovered that 29% of Louisiana Republicans blame Barack Obama, a first year Senator at the time, for the failed Katrina response.  These folks live in some parallel universe where reality is suspended.

Sen. Daylin Leach is proposing a 2 cent per bag tax on plastic bags.

Corbett Revamps Staff, Hires Extreme Whackjob

Gov. Gasbag has appointed key new personnel to his staff after failing to get his three major initiatives through the legislature.  In fact Corbett hasn’t accomplished much in his tenure except gutting our system of public education, laying off 14,000 teachers, and throwing hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians off health care, food stamps and welfare.

One of those appointments is whackjob tea bagger from Bucks County  Ana Puig.  Her Bucks County Kitchen Table Patriots is one of the most extreme bunch of crazies in politics.

In a 2009 interview with the Village Voice, Puig said Obama was advancing his health-care plan just as Hugo Chavez had taken over Venezuela, by “infiltration of the education system, political correctness, class warfare ideology, voter fraud, brainwashing through the mainstream media.”

An interesting statement considering how far right wing fascists like Puig are taking over our educational system by channeling our tax dollars to religious schools intent on brainwashing children into their myths, lies and fabrications.  She supports a conservative agenda which had waged war on women, minorities, gays, kids and the poor on behalf of the richest 1%.  But it’s us who are waging class war.  She obviously has been nrainwashed by Faux News and the Koch brothers, her previous employer.

Government Should Not Define What a Reporter is-or Isn’t

by Walter Brasch

Sen. Diane Feinstein and a horde of members of Congress of both parties want to decide who is and who isn’t a reporter. Sen. Feinstein says a “real” reporter is a “salaried agent of a media company.”

She mentions the usual suspects-New York Times, ABC News. She dismisses part-time staff. She dismisses freelancers. She dismisses those who write, often without pay, for the hundreds of alternative publications, and often break news and investigative stories well ahead of the mainstream media. She dismisses anyone who, she says, “have no professional qualifications.”

The reason she wants to define what a reporter is or isn’t is because there’s a proposed federal Media Shield Law that would protect reporters from revealing their sources. Forty states and the District of Columbia currently have shield laws. Sen. Feinstein wants to amend the federal bill to take away existing First Amendment protections from anyone not involved in-apparently-salaried establishment media.

There are people who have minimal qualifications to be a reporter. Many write nothing but screeds. Many have problems with basic language skills. Many have little familiarity with the AP Style Book. Many have an inability to ask probing questions of government officials; many merely transcribe what they’re told, whether from the president, a council member, or a local reader who is the focus of a feature. Some of them are paid salaries and are agents of media companies, which Sen. Feinstein believes are acceptable requirements.

There are also those who frequently allow “deep background” and “off-the-record” comments. Many news media won’t allow sources to go “off-the-record.” If the information isn’t available to the general public, it shouldn’t be available only to reporters. Access to news sources is something reporters enjoy that the average reader doesn’t; but there is a responsibility to the reader and viewer and listener not to hide information.

There are those who overuse the “veiled news source,” which is a part of the Shield Law. A veiled news source could be someone whom the reporter identifies as, “Sources close to the Governor state . . .” Often, the reporter doesn’t question a source’s motives for why she or he wants to give anonymous information, or if it is merely a “trial balloon” to use the media to put out information; if the people agree, sources become identified; if the public disagrees with a proposal, no one traces the “leak” to politicians or their staffs.

On more than a few occasions, reporters-whether “salaried agents” of a media company, part-timers for that company or for any of thousands of alternative publications or electronic media, or freelancers-have filled in holes in their stories with false identities-“A 55-year-old housewife in Podunka, who asked not to be identified, says . . . ” Good reporters seldom  use a veiled news source and then have to protect them should there be a court order to divulge the source of information.

On rare occasions, however, a reporter, in consultation with an editor, will allow a news source to be anonymous. Granting veiled news source status should not be given unless a source’s information and identity puts her or him into significant personal jeopardy-and the information can be verified.

But, even if there are reporters who are lazy, who plagiarize, who abuse the veiled news source privilege, there are no enforceable ethics rules in journalism. Reporters aren’t licensed-such as physicians, social workers, teachers, contractors, and cosmetologists. Only an editor can discipline or terminate an employee.

Nevertheless, whenever the government says it wants to define what a reporter is or is not-and the public, outraged over something a reporter or news operation did or did not do demands licensing and enforceable codes of ethics-a huge red flag should be in everyone’s face. Not one part of the First Amendment determines who or what a reporter is, or what is or is not news. The Founding Fathers didn’t forget to include that; they deliberately didn’t want to include that. They believed government shouldn’t be making those decisions, and the news media, even the media that base their news upon lies and scandal, must be independent.

And, yet, government and the news media often wink at the intent of the Founding Fathers and cozy up together.

The only thing more outrageous than reporters and sources playing golf or tennis together is reporters schmoozing at political receptions, the women dressed like they were movie celebrities on the Red Carpet, the men in tuxedos. And the reason why they go to these receptions? They claim it’s because they “get their information” there.

But, “socializing” isn’t the only thing that violates the intent of the Founding Fathers. It probably isn’t a good practice for Congress to appoint news correspondents to determine who is or is not qualified to receive press credentials-subject to the oversight of House and Senate leaders. Until recently, the establishment press of “salaried agents” refused even to acknowledge that members of the alternative press, even those who have won awards for investigative reporting, should be allowed the privileges that mainstream reporters are allowed.

It violates the First Amendment when police agencies and governments at all levels decide who can or can’t cover its activities. Usually, the ones excluded are reporters who are not “agents” of an establishment media company.

Until recently, it violated the intent of the First Amendment when the Federal Communications Commission determined what percentage of each day’s programming should be devoted to which category because of a law Congress created that decided electronic media, unlike print media, are required to meet the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

Under Sen. Feinstein’s belief of who and what a reporter is, Ben Franklin, who wrote hundreds of articles under the byline of Silence Do-Good, and was never paid for it, would not be considered to be a reporter.

[In a 40-year professional career, Dr. Brasch has been a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines, a multimedia writer-producer, and university professor. He writes a syndicated weekly social issues column and is the author of 18 books, most of them fusing history with contemporary social issues. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]


Government Planning to Ban Junk Food

by Walter Brasch

     Usually when I get a phone call at 2:13 in the morning, it means someone is in trouble. Sometimes, especially when Marshbaum is at the other end, it’s better to have had the prescience to have unplugged the phone.

     “Know anyone with a vacant 200,000 square foot warehouse?” he asked.

     “Not at this hour,” I replied. “Call me in the morning.” By morning, Marshbaum has either forgotten his latest scam or been arrested.

     “I need it now,” said a flurried Marshbaum, “or I’ll have to send the trucks into a holding pattern on the Beltway.”

     “What trucks? I asked, lost by Marshbaum’s reasoning.

     “The 72 18-wheelers that are highballing it into town with full loads of soft drinks, potato chips, and Twinkies.”

     “Don’t you know that junk food is bad for your health? Schools have banned sugary drinks and snacks. Mayor Blumberg in New York tried to ban those Big Gulp drinks. Michelle Obama is fixated on a campaign of exercise and healthy living. Government is spending millions to publish dozens of pamphlets and put ads on TV to emphasize junk food is bad.”

     “That’s why I’m getting as much as I can.”

     “You don’t like the government? This is your method of retaliation?”

     “This is my way of securing my retirement. I’m buying low and selling high.”

     I suspected that high was today’s operative word. “If junk food is bad, why are you buying truckloads of it?”

     “This is capitalism. The free market. I’m in on the cement ground floor.”

     “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but something’s ground your brain.”

     “The value of junk food is lower than it’s ever been. That’s because of the government messing in people’s lives.”

     “Maybe it’s because junk food is bad.”

     “Worse than the banks that overcharged homeowners when it handed out high-interest mortgages like it was candy? Government didn’t mess with them. Just slapped them on the hand and let them go.”

     “What does buying junk food have to do with any of this?”

     “Government thinks worse of junk food than it does of the white-collar thieves on Wall Street,” said Marshbaum. “That’s good news.”

     “That’s good that Congress and the Justice Department haven’t punished the white-collar crooks?”

     “Good that it pompously pontificates about junk food. It’ll let a hedge fund crook go, but it’ll soon be banning junk food.”

     “If it bans junk food, your 200,000 square foot warehouse will be nothing more than four walls of rotting vermin.”

     “Everything the government bans becomes gold. It banned booze in the ’20s, and we got speakeasies, crime, and millionaires. It bans marijuana, and college kids pay off student loans from buying and selling. It bans prostitution, and we get call girls who can afford to drive Lexuses-or is it Lexi?”

     “Are you selling the junk food to prostitutes?”

     “Listen, Ink Breath, it’s obvious that no one requires journalists to take Economics. Didn’t you hear me? This is the free market economy. Government says junk food is bad. People buy less junk food. Manufacturers cut back on production. Stores stock less junk food. Value of junk food goes down. I buy junk food at its lowest price. Coca Cola is launching a national campaign just to say that diet soda is healthy! But people don’t believe that because Michelle and the Mini-Minds of government and consumer groups don’t want us to eat and drink certain foods.”

     “So you’ve still got truckloads of food rotting in your warehouse-which you don’t have!”

     “I’ll have it. The Great Recession must have left thousands of buildings vacant. I just have to find one. Now, let’s get back on track. People stopped eating carbs because some idiots on TV said carbs cause you to gain weight. They stopped eating eggs and steaks because idiot reporters who think they’re nutritionists said that cholesterol is bad. Less consumption means less production. Less production means higher prices. Value of what’s left is greater than-”

     “Marshbaum!” I interrupted, “you’re contradicting yourself. And you’re making no sense.”

     “That’s what I do,” said Marshbaum smugly.

     “The government may be dense in many ways, but it’ll never ban junk food.”

     “Doesn’t have to. I’ll just put some suggestions onto the Internet, tweet a few things, mention a possibility on FaceBook. Newspapers will pick up on this and run stories beneath a headline-‘Government Planning to Ban Junk Food.’ In a day, people will believe junk food is being banned-and that it’s all some kind of government conspiracy. They panic, and then they become outraged. They re-tweet, and then they buy junk food. There’s already a shortage because the government and a few quack videoheads told us junk food was bad, manufacturers cut back, and stores don’t have as much. People will rush to the stores. They’ll buy everything on the shelves. Soon, others will go to the empty shelves. When that happens, they’ll become desperate. They’ll want a fix. They’ll crave it junk. Guess where they’ll get it?”

     “In back alleys on dark nights?”

     “From the Marshbaum Box Store Super-Center for Juicy Junk. But now, instead of paying 50 cents for a bag of snack chips, they pay a buck. Maybe two bucks. I hire more people who hire more people who lure teens into selling Twinkies to pay for their car insurance. My network spans the country. I become fat with the obnoxious wealth of conspicuous consumption. Gold chains. $2,000 suits. Sixty-foot yacht. Ten-bathroom mansion with chandeliers in all of them. Entourage of hangers-on whose only value is they hold onto my every word, knowing I’ll allow them to be seen with me. Only one problem.”

     “What’s that?”

     “I still need that warehouse.”

     [Walter Brasch still eats junk food-while it’s available-and proudly says he hasn’t gained weight in at least a week. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which explores the connections between politicians and corporations, and looks at the impact of gas drilling upon health and the environment.]


KU Polling Place Change Stirs Controversy

Kutztown University isn’t actually in Kutztown but Maxatawny Township and students there have been voting on campus for a number of years.  The poll has been in the lobby and hallway of an athletic building with ample parking just outside.  It seems numerous complaints over the years from voters and poll workers prompted the Berks County Elections Commissioner Deb Olivieri to finally move the precinct four miles away to the Township building.  This happened when a suitable polling place became available for Maxatawny 1 which had been in the township building (out of the precinct) and now is in a church within its precinct.

Olivieri notified Tom Herman, Chair of the Berks County Democratic Committee, of the proposed switch on July 19th and on August 8th the County Commissioners (two Republicans and a Democrat often referred to as “the third Republican”) sitting as the Board of Elections approved the change.  Since then allegations of voter suppression arose as local Democrats saw the switch as an attempt to limit voter participation by KU students.

On the surface that might appear so as registered voters in Maxatawny 3 are comprised of 72% students at the University.  However when one looks at actual voter turnout it is abysmal except in presidential years.  In 2010 227 voters turned out but only 3 in that year’s primary.   2011 had 2 primary voters and 5 in the general.  2012 had 10 primary voters and 943 for the presidential general election.  This spring just one voter turned out for the primary.

As Commissioners Chair Christian Leinbach correctly pointed out college students generally have no interest in local municipal elections so those turnouts are very bad.  They do have interest in presidential races however and that is when KU students do turn out in large numbers.  Moving the precinct off campus and four miles away will have an effect in those races.  KU President Javier Cevallos has promised the Board the University will provide shuttle service to the polling place.  As long as the students are adequately informed about that availability I don’t this being a huge issue.

I’ve known Olivieri for years and she is a thorough and capable elections director and doesn’t do things on a partisan basis.   The thought that a Democrat would decide to disenfranchise fellow Democratic voters doesn’t make sense.  Berks County Democratic Chair Tom Herman had ample notice of the proposed change and had no reaction until after the fact and then shamelessly accused Olivieri of voter suppression.

The facts show that over eight years only 33% of the voter turnout in Max 3 were KU students.  If they really want a campus polling place perhaps they should vote more often and be more involved in the process.  I visit this polling place on election days because a local GOP committee person is known to practice active voter suppression there (like telling students if they vote they’ll lose their student aid) and I want to report on it if and when it occurs.  I never have trouble finding parking but have no personal knowledge of the physical facility because I don’t enter it.  I do know a lot of foot traffic into and out of the building are football players reporting for practice and other normal student activity not related to voting.  If this presents problems for poll workers moving the poll might make sense.  Olivieri obviously sincerely thought this change would be good.  Time will tell.

Update:  The numbers provided by Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach, which I quoted here, are NOT accurate according to the County’s own website.  For example, in the 2011 primary election Leinbach himself garnered 94 votes at Maxatawny 3.  I am trying to contact him for an explanation.

Update II:  Leinbach is claiming his numbers were for registered students on campus only.  He presented them as voter turnout figures.  I will check the video for exact quotes.  If he intentionally misrepresented these numbers at a public, televised meeting to justify previous actions this is a serious matter.

NY Stop and Frisk Struck Down

The racist stop and frisk programs which result in high numbers of African-Americans being targeted by police, arrested, imprisoned then stripped of their rights has been declared unconstitutional in New York by a federal judge.  The fact these programs, funded largely by federal dollars, seem confined to minority neighborhoods when facts show illegal drug use is the same across all ethnic and class barriers, illustrate their racist nature.

Michelle Alexander did a wonderful job exposing this in her book “The New Jim Crow.”  These cops never go into wealthy or gated communities and randomly stop people and search them for drugs.  The outrage that would unleash exempts them from the programs making them unjust.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling stems from a class-action lawsuit claiming that the city’s police officers routinely stopped minority men, particularly blacks and Latinos, without legal reasons.


Blog Update

It’s been a quiet year for statewide political coverage.  I imagine that’ll change as the gubernatorial election heats up later in the year.  Meanwhile there hasn’t been a lot to report on or analyze so the blogging has been intermittent.

I normally head to Santa Fe right about now but my friends are in the midst of a familial situation and I could wind up going anytime.  It’s likely going to be either this week or next.

News & Notes August 10, 2013

Montgomery County passed the 100 mark in same sex marriage licenses Friday.  103 couples have now secured the document and 33 of them have wed.

Almost every day I see some pick-up truck with illegal, oversized tires.  Pennsylvania doesn’t allow any tires to be wider than the vehicle’s fenders.  They tend to kick up stones and rocks which crack other people’s windshields.  Is there no enforcement of this?  Who is inspecting these when it’s an automatic fail?

August 24th is the 50th commemoration of the March on Washington.  Buses are organized to transport those wishing to participate.  One is going from Reading and is $30.

Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz is the third woman to enter the Gubernatorial race.  With former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty also in Allyson Schwartz cannot wrap up the lady’s vote for herself making it a real race.  Look for Rob McCord’s official launch next month.

Westmoreland County Dems launched an effective attack ad in their row office races:

With th eannual Congressional recess in gear go to your friendly, neighborhood Tea Party Congressman’s town halls and ask why they insist on wasting money on meaningless repeal votes on ObamaCare instead of creating a single job.  Remind them this was their #1 promise in the 2012 elections and ask when they intend to begin working on the issue.

Another summer and another year when climate change is wreaking havoc in the western states.  How bad does it have to get before they realize this is real?

I’m never shocked at the ignorance and stupidity of conservatives.  They manufacture lies, myths and tales to convince themselves they are correct in spite of reality (facts).  Here are 20 of them assembled by Addicting Info.

For example they’re mad as hell about this bit of truth telling by actor Ed Asner:

A while back I wrote a piece about Paula Deen.  Since then I’ve read more on her and realize she really is a racist asshole.

Tom Corbett, the Guv who took free trips and other gifts then gave lucrative state deals to those folks swears he isn’t corrupt.  Lying to us when the facts are indisputable won’t get you re-elected next year Gov. Gasbag.  If this isn’t corruption I wonder how he defines the term?  Cash in a bag slid to him under a table in a Harrisburg pub?

Will Bunch fried Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz after her horrid vote on NSA spying.  It’s a must read for anyone considering supporting her because she’s progressive (she isn’t).

Health Law Saves Consumers by Requiring Insurers to Spend Premium Dollars on Medical Care

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Medical Loss Ratio ExplainedA key reform in the Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to spend 80% to 85% of premium dollars directly on medical care or quality improvement expenses as opposed to other administrative costs, marketing, or profits. If an insurer does not meet the standard, it must provide rebates to consumers or businesses.

Insurers issued $1.1 billion in rebates to nearly 13 million consumers for 2011, the first year the rule was in effect, and are expected to return more than $500 million in rebates to 8.5 million consumers for 2012. The 2012 figures include nearly $6.9 million that will be returned to 123,581 Pennsylvania consumers — an average of $77 per family.

These rebates are among the more tangible ways that consumers have benefited from the law so far, but it is important to remember, as researchers with the Kaiser Family Foundation recently noted, that rebates represent only a portion of the savings to consumers from this provision, known formally as the "Medical Loss Ratio" Rule (MLR):

The primary role of an MLR threshold is to encourage insurers to spend a certain percentage of premium dollars on health care and quality improvement expenses (80 percent in the individual and small group market and 85 percent in the large group market). The MLR rebate requirement operates as a backstop if insurers do not set premiums at a level where they would be paying out the minimally acceptable share of premiums back as benefits…

Consumers and businesses, therefore, can realize savings in two ways as a result of the MLR requirement: by paying lower premiums than they would have been charged otherwise (as a result of lower administrative costs and profits), or by receiving rebates after the fact.