Act 13 Struck Down

The state Supreme Court this afternoon declared Act 13 unconstitutional.  This law was passed for the Marcellus shale gas industry to bypass local zoning regulations and force every community to permit gas drilling.  The Court held that it violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania constitution.  Chief Justice Castille was joined in the majority opinion by Justices Todd, McCaffery and Baer.  My friend Jordan Yeager was the attorney who argued the case before the Court.  A press release says the following:

“The Court has vindicated the public’s right to a clean environment and our right to fight for it when it is being trampled on. Today the environment and the people of Pennsylvania have won and special interests and their advocates in Harrisburg have lost. This proves the Constitution still rules, despite the greedy pursuits of the gas and oil industry. With this huge win we will move ahead to further undo the industry’s grip of our state government,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

“This is a great historic victory for local democracy, for public health, and for the health of our environment. The shale gas industry overreached, greedily wanting to operate without respecting local concerns and without playing by the same set of rules everyone else has to play by. The Corbett Administration and the General Assembly went along with it and tried to give away our rights to the gas industry. The Supreme Court has made it clear that what they were trying to do violates our state Constitution. It’s a great day for the Constitution and the people of the Commonwealth”, said Jordan Yeager, counsel for the plaintiffs.

“The gas industry tried to take over every inch of every municipality in Pennsylvania for drilling, regardless of the zoning rights of local governments and the residents they represent. The industry and their backers in Harrisburg overreached when they thought they could literally takeover the state, turning it into one big drilling and gas infrastructure site. We fought this law because it was illegal and because it spelled ruin for public health and the environment, even though we, as plaintiffs, didn’t have nearly the resources our powerful and well-funded opponents had. This proves, when you have the law and environmental rights on your side, it’s worth fighting and you can win,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

America’s Political Twerks

by Walter Brasch

When Muhammad Ali proclaimed, “I am the greatest,” we knew-and he knew-it would psyche out his opponents, get media attention, and receive a bigger box office. But, in the sport of boxing, Ali probably was the greatest.

When Howard Stern proclaims himself to be the “King of all Media,” he knows-and we know-it’s simply a case of hyperbolic promotion, something some celebrities do to get even more promotion.

But when rapper Kanye West proclaims he’ll be the next Nelson Mandela, and that by the time he’s 95, he’ll be a bigger hero than Mandela ever was, we know it’s a case of arrested development.

On a radio show in Chicago during memorial services for Mandela, West declared he was worshipped around the world, that he liberates minds with music, which he declared is more important than liberating a few people from apartheid.

He also declared that standing on a stage prop during his current tour was “putting my life at risk.” Disregard the reality that designers, handlers, and all kinds of professionals have no desire to see a multi-millionaire attraction get injured-at least in a performance-West added to the hype by adding that appearing on the magic mountain on stage, and the fear it generated in him, “is like being a police officer or something, in war or something.”

The fiancé of Kim-Look at how famous I am for doing nothing-Kardashian may have been puffing. But nothing in his background suggests he was doing anything less than what he normally does-places whatever talents he has under the shield of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion. In that arena, he is truly an outstanding performer.

Most of the best creative artists don’t need to resort to huffing and puffing and blowing down the doors of credibility to get attention. Their work speaks for itself. George Clooney, Bill Cosby, Gloria Estefan, and thousands of other talented people in the creative arts, never needed to twerk to make themselves seem to be more important than they are.  However, some celebrities do have to brag, and commit outrageous acts of stupidity to get media attention to keep their luster before the fans-who often believe anything the media tell them.

That’s the world of a few celebrities. It shouldn’t be the world of politics.

Rep. Henry J. Radel (R-Fla.), a former TV host and media entrepreneur who willingly accepted an invitation to the Tea Party, declared himself to be a “hip-hop conservative.” We don’t know what that means, but we do know he’s a coke-head who was convicted in October for possession.

This past year, Rep. Ted Yoho, a fellow Republican from Florida, compared himself to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lech Walesa in his fight against the “evils” of Obamacare.

Rep. Mike Kelley, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said Speaker of the House John Boehner could be like Jesus on Palm Sunday. Fortunately, Boehner himself claimed no such thing.

Sarah Palin and several dozen super-patriots, all of whom show a lack of knowledge about American laws, culture, and history, declared that Obamacare was just like slavery.

Former Pa. Sen. Rick Santorum suggested there were parallels between Nelson Mandela fighting apartheid and he and the Tea Party fighting against Obamacare.

Maybe if politicians would stop trying to sound like some celebrities and act like the representatives of the people who elected them, they could raise their popularity to a level higher than a dead end on a muddy road.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and the author of 18 books. His latest is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the economic, health, and environmental effects of fracking.]


News & Notes December 19, 2013

We’ll start with some good news.  Justin Bieber announced he is retiring from music.  In other good news Gov. Gasbag says he’d sign a comprehensive employment non-discrimination bill.  He admitted he was wrong thinking LGBT citizens were protected by federal law.  No, Governor, a tiny bit of investigation (have you heard of something called Google?) would have told him that ENDA has not yet passed.  Still, we thank him for his evolving stand on equality issues.

In holiday news WestJet made tons of goodwill by its giving.  Their unique program is caught in this video:

Katie McGinty’s marital ties to the energy industry, the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking may severely hurt her chances in next spring’s primary.  Of course John Hanger, a strong progressive on other issues, still has the spectre of Gasland hanging around his neck.

Even as we bundle up against an early winter freeze I’m reminded how climate change is affecting all of us.  Communities are already planning ahead for water shortages.  Some experts are predicitng the extinction of our species unless we make drastic changes quickly.  What good will all of this economic activity do us when we’re all gone?  Perhaps our species will evolve quickly into beings which breathe CO2 instead of oxygen.

Women in Harrisburg have introduced a package of bills designed to protect women’s rights.  Representatives from Pennsyltucky have been eroding these rights for years.

A federal Judge (appointed by GW Bush) ruled the NSA spying program unconstitutional.  Edward Snowden should be the Person of the Year for disclosing the vastness of this web of lies.

Rick Santorum is still saying enormously stupid things.  This time he says that forcing people to have health insurance is a plot to kill those who don’t vote the right way (liberally).  Maybe his ideology is actually the one doing that.  Forcing people to live without health care shortens lives.  18,000 Americans die each year because they lack access to health care.  Many other lives are shortened.  This has nothing to do with ideology, it is about a basic human right.

Why is this book still for sale?  Responsible retailers wouldn’t carry it in their inventories.

Another round of austerity was passed in Congress this week.  This time it was a bipartisan, team effort.  Expect President Obama to sign the bill.  No wonder his approval rating is at a lowly 40%.

Gov. Nikki Haley (SC) violated people’s rights when she had Occupy protesters arrested.  These judicial decisions after the fact are nice but they aren’t bothering those elected officials who regularly violate our constitution.  As long as they got their short term solution:  getting rid of the Occupy Movement, they’re happy.  Until we have serious repercussions, for example the immediate removal from office, we don’t really have constitutional protections.

Speaking of outrageous police state actions our City of Reading allowed police officers with lights flashing to intimidate drivers being stopped by a firm doing an NHTSA study to question people and take DNA swabs of their mouths with no warrants, no probable cause and no rights.  Even when drivers objected to the unconstitutional stops and searches the participants continued harassing them with questions.

86,900 Pennsylvanians will lose their unemployment benefits before the end of the month.  Most will go onto the welfare rolls and our economy will suffer.  Sounds like another stupid move by conservatives in Washington.  These “pro-life” legislators have no problem taking food from children and veterans or forcing people out of their homes just as winter arrives.  Tell me again about the sanctity of life.

I love how conservatives are always claiming personal responsibility as one of their hallmarks then passing the buck for their failed policies onto liberals.  First they refuse to regulate industry and commerce, crash the economy as a result, then blame Blacks and liberals for their mess.  Newt was the latest to try this tactic but was corrected by Robert Reich.  By the way go see “Inequality For All.”

If you had your health insurance canceled you should be blaming the corrupt insurance industry rather than ObamaCare.  It would have been grandfathered under the ACA but your insurance company altered your policy so it wouldn’t be and they could then cancel you.  Facts matter.

Marjorie Margolies is being haunted by her past in her quest to succeed Allyson Schwartz in Congress.  Her husband was convicted of fraud and her own ethics are also questionable.  She also voted to cut Social Security benefits when last in Congress and thinks some seniors should give their benefits back.  Politico did an expose on her also.

Sexual Inequality Raises Its Ugly Cheek

by Walter Brasch

It took a lot of outrage by scientists, physicians, and the public, but a gynecologist in Boston will not lose her board certification.

           The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology had planned to remove Dr. Elizabeth Stier as board-certified.

           Now, you may think that Dr. Stier has a string of malpractice suits after her name. Or that she didn’t pass critical examinations for her specialty. Or that, maybe, she just didn’t take required courses to keep her certification.

           Actually, Dr. Stier is an extremely competent physician. She’s also an associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. Her problem is that in the course of some of her ground-breaking research about anal cancer, she treated men.

           That’s right. The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology had said that to get its stamp of approval, its members must treat only women. It magnanimously allowed a few rare exceptions-emergency care, family planning, fertility testing for man and woman couples, and the treatment of a sexually-transmitted disease, but only if the male was a partner of a female patient already being treated by the gynecologist.

           Every other medical specialty board in the U.S.- there are 24 of them-can treat men and women. That includes proctologists and urologists.

           Anal cancer is primarily a sexually-transmitted disease, usually transmitted by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Although anal cancer is rare, it is present in persons-men and women, straight and gay-who are infected by HIV.  The Board’s strong opposition also put at risk a $5.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. That grant would have been used by gynecologists to conduct clinical studies to determine the best way to detect and treat anal cancer-in woman and men.

           Dr. Stier had begun treating men as part of her practice as a gynecologist after she modified techniques used to treat women for cervical cancer in order to detect and possibly treat those with anal cancer. She is one of the nation’s leading specialists in this area.

           An officer of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology told Dr. Stier more than two months ago she would lose her right to be a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist if she continued to treat men. The Board’s decision was firm. In a separate letter, three other officers, including the executive director, explained the Board’s position. According to Medscape, the officers told Dr. Stiers: “There are currently too few doctors to provide care for pregnant women, too few to manage female cancer, and too few to provide necessary preventive women’s healthcare.”

           After absolutely saying that Dr. Stier would lose board-certification, the Board this past week modified its woman-only rules to allow obstetricians and gynecologists to treat men with sexually-transmitted diseases.

            Three decades ago, almost all obstetricians and gynecologists were men-treating women. Today, about 80 percent of OBGYNs are women, according to the Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

           All five of the Board’s executive professional staff are men. Five of its six officers are men. Ten of the 15 members of the board of directors are men.

           Perhaps, if the Board of  Obstetrics and Gynecology is so determined that there be a gender-specific clause in its rules for certification, it might wish to examine its own officers and staff-and possibly require, with rare exceptions, that only women can be officers, members of the board of directors and, especially, be employed as an executive staff professional.


Holy Ghost Prep Fires Gay Teacher

Michael Griffin, a gay teacher at Holy Ghost Prep School was fired this week after applying for a New Jersey marriage license.   The school said it could no longer keep someone who was acting in opposition to Catholic Church orthodoxy.  The Church would rather keep Griffin living in sin than see him wed his loving partner.  This is rank hypocrisy but we’ve come to expect no less from an institution which abused children, covered it up for decades then spent millions trying to keep our state legislators from acting to further protect children from molesting priests.

This is exactly why we need to pass employment non-discrimination laws.  This case received national press as it spread virally on social media and Holy Ghost became a pariah.  

The 10 Percent Solution to Expensive Weddings

by Walter Brasch

There are a number of great mysteries in life.

Where does the Abominable Snowman live?

Where was the Garden of Eden?

Do any of the Kardashian cabal have any discernible skills?

Kim Kardashian is engaged. Again. This time it’s to rapper Kanye West. They plan to spend $5 million for a Mediterranean honeymoon. There’s no guess of how much the wedding will cost. But, it’s bound to cost far more than the $10 million for Kardashian’s previous wedding and 73 day marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries.

That wedding included $2 million just for flowers and $20,000 for a cake.

It also included $50,000 for a facelift for matriarch Kris Jenner because-well-when you look like Kris Jenner you should have a facelift for a wedding.

Now, if we were absolutely honest, most of us would say we wouldn’t mind living like a Kardashian, surrounded by money and gifts of all kinds. Being famous for having been on TV reality shows appeals to the lowest part of our cerebral cortex.

Many of us try to get close. Here’s one way.

The average wedding now costs almost $29,000, according to the website The Knot, which tracks those kinds of amazing statistics.

Here are some of the costs that make up that average wedding.

First, there’s the engagement ring. Figure an average cost of $5,431, according to The Knot.

Once the ring is secured, it’s time to send invitations. Cost is a mere $453.

Because weddings are like live theatrical performances, there’s a rehearsal dinner-that one averages $1,135. The cost of hotel rooms and amenities is not figured into the overall wedding costs.

Wedding gowns, worn once and stored in mothballs, average $1,211, according to The Knot. Some gowns for the financially-avaricious can top $20,000. The groom’s tuxedo, which is rented and returned, is only about $230.

Because weddings are often more about vanity than love, there is an average cost of $2,379 for the photographer and commercially-produced prints. But you can’t just have still photos. You need video. Add another $1,619 for a videographer.

The average cost for the florist is $1,997. These would be the flowers and arrangements that will wilt two days before the honeymoon is over and the newly-wed couple are sparring about why the groom spends more time watching football than the bride does shopping.

If there are musicians at the ceremony, add an average cost of $554 for a singer and a pianist, organist, or even chamber trio to play soothing music and the “Wedding March.”

The average combined cost of the ceremony and reception sites is about $15,000. The good news is that includes the seats and decorated tables. But, it doesn’t include the minister, rabbi, or lawyer who prepares the pre-nup and seven years later the divorce papers.

Catering, which costs about $63 per person, is usually a buffet of prepared foods that can be picked up at the local supermarket for about ten bucks. Favors at the reception tables average $289, the smallest cost, says The Knot. For dessert, there’s a $560 wedding cake, a piece of which the bride and groom feed to each other if they’re civilized, or smash into each other’s face for that one special photograph that will be framed as a remembrance of downright stupidity.

A small combo, which has memorized “The Hokey Pokey” and “The Chicekn Dance,” will cost $3,084. But, the average DJ and sound system is only $988.

Add a $708 rental for a limousine, because what else says love more than an over priced car to show one’s importance?

Just figuring the average cost, the couple begins their marriage with a $28,000 deficit. Honeymoons, in reality an extended Spring Break, can add at least $2,000, with many over $10,000, an expense that  credit card companies encourage.

Here’s a reality-the cost of a wedding has no relationship to the enduring love of the couple, and all of the wedding gifts won’t even come close to the cost of the wedding, even if the bride’s financially-strapped parents pay for much of it. So, there’s no need to show off your have-not wealth in order to impress others at how wonderful you are or how much they think they are.

Why not just use that $28,000 and the cost of the honeymoon for a down payment on a house? Or for a cushion to pay necessary household expenses? Or to help raise that child who was so inconsiderate that she decided to be born three months after the wedding.

But there is one way to impress others. If you are determined to spend about $30,000 for a wedding, why not take 10 percent of everything you plan to spend, and lower your expectations. Instead of $2,000 for flowers, why not just $1,800? No one will notice.

For the average wedding, you’d save about $3,000 total. Now take that $3,000 and donate it to something that really really matters-like the Humane Society . . . or the Red Cross . . . or the local Food Cupboard . . . or the Free Medical Clinic . . . or maybe to an organization for the homeless.

They can all use that money far more than your $1,847 wedding planner.

[Walter and Rosemary Brasch, who have been happily married three decades, spent less than $500 for a nice wedding and home-made reception. Walter Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

The Mandela Legacy

I was watching the news last week when word came that Nelson Mandela had passed away.  A giant of a man and leader he changed the way people think and he changed South Africa.  Once a repressive state ruled by a tyrannical white minority under a system of segregation called Apartheid, Mandela led the African National Congress’ opposition and he spent 27 years as a political prisoner.

Influenced by the non -violent philosophy of Ghandi he successfully led the movement to dismantle Apartheid peacefully and then courageously established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose mission was not to punish or take vengeance.

I’m old enough to remember the movements here for divestiture.  This was a way to put pressure on South Africa by forcing investors, pension plans and endowments to sell their investments in South Africa.  Students on college campuses led sit-ins and demonstrations to convince their Boards of Trustees and others to divest themselves of stock, bonds and other South African related investments.  When legislation was passed in Congress enacting trade sanctions the bill was vetoed by President Reagan and leading American racists like Jesse Helms and Dick Cheney led the fight for the white government of South Africa.

Justice prevailed however and Nelson Mandela was elected President of that nation after it reorganized.  He passed away after a long and very distinguished life having touched souls all around the globe.  Rest well Mandiba, you’ve earned it.

Guzzardi to Challenge Corbett in GOP Primary

Philadelphia area businessman Bob Guzzardi is preparing to challenge Gov. Corbett in next May’s GOP primary.  The incumbent Governor has historically low poll numbers and even his fellow Republicans think he doesn’t deserve a second term.  With at least eight Democrats vying for the possibility of toppling him Guzzardi is asking people to circulate his nominating petitions early next year.

Guzzardi has become a major player in the PA GOP after selling his 12th Street Gym in Philadelphia.  That fixture in the City’s Gayborhood became a flash point when gays began boycotting it because of Guzzardi’s conservative politics.  He solved the situation by unloading it and then began using his wealth to support various Republicans statewide.

It’ll be interesting to see if other major players and people of influence abandon the sitting Governor to back the insurgent.  That can be risky but with Corbett’s abysmal approval ratings and inability to work with fellow Republicans in Harrisburg some may decide to take the gamble.  The other sign to watch will be fund raising.  If Guzzarrdi can attract major donors away from Gov. Gasbag it could signal a sea change in support.

PCCC, DFA Attack Schwartz’s Wall Street Connections

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee today attacked Gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz for her ties to Third Way which attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren yesterday.  Third Way, for which the Congresswoman acts as a Co-Chair, is funded largely by major Wall Street firms.  Sen. Warren is known for her opposition to Wall Street and the Too Big To Fail banks which crashed our economy in 2008.  Democracy For America joined the attacks on Schwartz and candidate John Hanger has also chimed in.  

From the PCCC:

Wall Street is trying to marginalize Elizabeth Warren, and we need to bolster her.

Third Way — a Wall Street-funded group that poses as a “progressive” think tank — blasted Warren and her bold economic agenda yesterday in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.

They wrote that Warren’s “economic populism [is] disastrous for Democrats,” including the growing consensus that we must expand — not cut — Social Security benefits.

Shockingly, Rep. Allyson Schwartz is Honorary Co-Chair of this group that’s attacking Elizabeth Warren!

Can you call Allyson Schwartz today and tell her to drop her affiliation with Third Way immediately? Click here for the number.

Third Way receives a ton of money from Wall Street, but they don’t publicize this on their website or in their attacks on Warren’s economic agenda that stands up for the little guy.

Polling shows Warren’s ideas are popular in red, purple, and blue states. In fact, expanding Social Security is popular by 2 to 1 in Kentucky and 3 to 1 in Texas!

Third Way has no grassroots support — they are just a tool for Wall Street and big corporations to attack popular, progressive ideas.

DFA’s Jim Dean had this to say:

“Pennsylvanians already have an unpopular Governor who supports cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits, they don’t need another one who does the same thing by providing cover to the Wall Street-funded front group Third Way.  If Allyson Schwartz opposes cutting the benefits that seniors and working families rely on and earn with every single paycheck, now is the time for her to say so publicly and resign from her position at Third Way.”

John Hanger:

“Third Way’s attack in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on Elizabeth Warren, Bill DeBlasio, and other Democrats who are fighting for working people was misguided and unacceptable. Sen. Warren has captured Americans’ imagination and Bill DeBlasio won the mayoralty of New York City because they effectively and unapologetically challenge the political elites and the big money interests just as we are doing in our People’s Campaign for Governor in Pennsylvania. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz can undermine Third Way’s unacceptable attack on good Democrats and important ideas by resigning as Third Way’s Honorary Co-chair. I hope Congresswoman Schwartz joins my call to strongly disavow and rebuke this right wing attack on Senator Warren, Mayor-elect DeBlasio, and progressive policies.”

I’ve been saying all along that as much as I admire Congresswoman Schwartz, she is no progressive.  Yesterday’s attack on these progressive Democrats and her leadership position of Third Way should disqualify Schwartz from consideration by liberals and progressives.  In addition to Hanger Rob McCord and Tom Wolf are strong progressives in the race for Governor.

Sen. Warren today sent a letter demanding that Wall Street firms be forced to open their records about how much they fund think tanks and which ones they finance.