Radical SCOTUS Eviscerates Our Rights

The radical right control of the Supreme Court turned the nation sharply right again today with its two final decisions of the term.  Both 5-4 votes they eviscerated more of our rights.  In the Hobby Lobby case they determined that closely held companies have the right to impose their extreme religious beliefs on their employees health care coverage.  The small, family owned stores decided they didn’t want to comply with the ACA mandate that their health care cover their employees birth control.  99% of all American women use birth control at some point in their lives.  Many use it because they could die if they get pregnant.  Women have been dying during birth since the dawn of man.  It isn’t a matter of choice for these women, it means life or death.

The Supreme Court decided today that their right to life is trumped by their employer’s radical religious agenda.  This opens all sorts of slippery slope consequences as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent.  If your employer in such a company doesn’t believe in immunizations, blood transfusions or other common medical practices they now have the right to impose those beliefs on you, their employee.  Be very careful if your employer is a Christian Scientist:  they don’t believe in medical care for anything.  These folks actually allow their children to die of common viruses rather than seek treatment.

Now, when you interview for a job you’d better ask hard questions about your potential employer’s religious beliefs before accepting employment offers.  I imagine this decision will make it very hard for such companies to attract and keep good employees.  I certainly hope so.  The rest of us need to be sure never to transact business with them.

In the second case home health care workers represented by SEIU in Illinois sued because they want to freeload on the system by accepting the negotiated benefits the union gets for them without paying union dues in return.  SCOTUS said they don’t.  This decision is a significant loss for unions.  These workers, who are earning higher wages because SEIU negotiated them now don’t have to pay dues to SEIU in return for this largesse.  This makes them freeloaders.

Elections have consequences and who we elect President has a direct effect on our everyday lives due to such radical right wing decisions by five Supreme Court Justices.  Chief Justice John Roberts (GW Bush appointee), Samuel Alito (likewise GW Bush), Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Thomas have shoved the nation far rights with sweeping decisions the past few years.  Worse, the two GW Bush Justices are quite young and could serve for decades.  Scalia and Thomas are getting long in the tooth and we have to hope they either die soon or decide to retire.  That isn’t likely until, if ever, a Republican gains the Oval Office again.  It is imperative to restore balance to the Court before these five drive America into third world status.  Or before a populist revolution takes their heads.  I’d be very fearful of that latter possibility if I were them or the Koch brothers.

Senate Committee Says Pigeon Shoots are Animal Cruelty

by Walter Brasch

 HARRISBURG, Pa.–The Pennsylvania State senate may vote on a bill this week that will make it a first degree misdemeanor to kill a cat or dog “for the purpose of human consumption.” The penalty is a fine of $1,000-$10,000 and a maximum imprisonment of five years. Attached to the bill is an amendment proposed by Rep. John Maher (R-Upper St. Clair) to finally end the decades-old practice of organized live pigeon shoots. The amendment was sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Willow Grove), the committee chair; and Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Chambersburg).

     Following a second reading on Friday, the bill was scheduled for a vote, Sunday evening, but was delayed because the Senate is still grappling with the 2014-2015 budget bills, due by July 1.

     The Judiciary committee, Thursday, had voted 9-5 for the amendment, and 10-4 to send the bill to the full Senate. Voting against the bill to ban killing and eating dogs and cats, and to ban pigeon shoots, were Sens. John H. Eichelberger Jr. (R-Hollidaysburg ), John R. Gordner (R-Berwick), Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), and Joseph B. Scarnati III (R-Brockway), the Senate president pro tempore. Gordner later claimed he voted against the bill because he objected to how the amendment was added at the “last minute.” However, the amendment, following long-time Senate rules that have applied to legislation for decades, had been circulated to members at least 24 hours before the vote. In the committee meeting, Gordner did not speak out about what he considered to be a problem with “last minute” amendments, and quietly voted “no” on a voice vote. Sen. John C. Rafferty (R-Collegeville) had voted against the pigeon shoot amendment, but voted to send the full bill, with amendment, to the Senate. Also voting to send the bill to the Senate were all five Democrats and five of the nine Republicans.

     The vote to advance the bill came following a furious last-minute lobbying effort by the NRA, which has consistently supported pigeon shoots. The leadership, as opposed to most of the membership, wrongly believes that banning animal cruelty by guns is a “slippery slope” that not only violates the Second Amendment but will lead to gun control bans. Pennsylvania is the last state where pigeon shoots are legally held.

     “The Judiciary committee took the first step to ending this horrifying and cruel practice,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who has been campaigning to end this practice for almost three decades. “The public favors replacing live pigeons as targets with clay pigeons,” says Prescott, who does not oppose trap or skeet shoots.

     More than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to pigeon shoots, according to a statewide survey by the independent Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Co. About four-fifth of all residents say the practice is animal cruelty.

Organizers of this blood sport place pigeons-many of them emaciated-into small cages, and place people with 12-gauge shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded traps open, and the shooters open fire. Most of the birds are shot standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from those who pretend they are sportsmen.

     Even at close range, the shooters don’t kill the birds. About three-fourths of them suffer a lingering death, according to data compiled by the HSUS. If the birds fall within the shooting range, teenagers will get the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, and usually stuff them into a barrel; some of the birds will slowly die from asphyxiation in the barrel.

     The teenagers and the clubs that sponsor the shoots consider the birds to be litter. Birds that do not fall on the shooting fields will fly into rivers, streams, and private property, to die a lingering and painful death. Most cannot be saved by HSUS animal rescue staff.

     At some of the shoots, as many as 5,000 birds will be killed or wounded. The remaining shoots, all in southeastern Pennsylvania, are also marked by an excess of drinking and illegal gambling, none of which is enforced by state police.

     Shoot organizers have also been accused, but never brought to trial, for assault and threats against civil protestors from SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), humane societies, and others. DAs in Berks and Bucks counties, adjacent to Philadelphia, have refused to pursue citations filed by humane police officers, who have charged individuals with animal cruelty.

     Pigeon shooting, despite what the NRA and the shoot organizers claim, is not a sport. The only time it was considered a sport was in the 1900 Olympics. Following that competition, the International Olympic Committee declared pigeon shooting was animal cruelty, and banned it from the Olympics.

     Most hunters agree that organized pigeon shoots are a scar upon legitimate hunting. The Pennsylvania Game Commission declared pigeon shoots not to be fair- chase hunting. The birds cannot be used for meat, nor are their feather useful for any commercial enterprise.

     For more than three decades, leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature, most of whom have received funds from the NRA political action committee, have blocked passage of previous bills to ban pigeon shoots. Tom Corbett, in his successful campaign for governor in 2010, received $4,500 in direct contributions and almost $390,000 in in-kind contributions from the NRA Political Victory Fund. The last time a free-standing vote came up was in the House in 1989.

     In addition to the Humane Society of the United States and SHARK, both of which the NRA calls radical extremist organizations, supporting the end of pigeon shoots are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

           [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author of 20 books, the most recent, Fracking Pennsylvania.]

News & Notes June 25, 2014

Pennsylvania isn’t doing our part in preserving the Chesapeake Bay.  This vast estuary is a favorite for many in south central PA.  So much so the locals in northern Maryland refer to them as the “Pennsylvania Navy” coming down every weekend.  Now Sen. Toomey along with four Members of the PA Congressional delegation (including Rep. Scott Perry from the south central region) have signed on to a protest of new restrictions on pollution.  How shameful.

Tom Corbett is so disliked he can’t even congratulate Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins without getting booed.

In the “not exactly a news flash” segment natural gas money is pouring into Gov. Gasbag’s re-election campaign.  Of course that’s why I nicknamed him that four years ago.

Fortunately there is one man willing to balance those scales a bit.

In other fracking news retired state Health Department workers claim the Corbett Administration silenced them about the health dangers of fracking.

“There was a list of buzzwords we had gotten,” Stuck said. “There were some obvious ones like fracking, gas, soil contamination. There were probably 15 to 20 words and short phrases that were on this list. If anybody from the public called in and that was part of the conversation, we were not allowed to talk to them.”

In yet more bad news for Corbett the Kane investigation into his management (as AG) of the Sandusky investigation revealed total incompetence.  Because the Attorney General’s office essentially sat on the investigation for a couple of years more boys were molested.  A search warrant after the first complaint was filed and police began investigating the former coach would have revealed the extent of his behavior.  Though it was concluded that no evidence of political calculations were involved in the delays it was political because the delays were caused by his overtly political prosecutions of BonusGate.

I’m not saying those who used state resources for political efforts shouldn’t have been prosecuted, they should have, but the manner in which Tom Corbett did it was very political.

President Obama finally took steps against Uganda for human rights violations against LGBT persons.  Certain Ugandan leaders are now barred from entering the U.S. and:

The Obama administration will also discontinue or redirect funds for programs with the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute. The White House also cancelled an American-sponsored “aviation exercise” in the East African country. –  

Sen. Toomey was also targeted by members of Keystone Progress recently:

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran beat his Tea Party challenger in a run off election yesterday.

The United Methodist Church reinstated the credentials of Pastor Frank Schaeffer of Lebanon.  The Appeals Court over ruled the trial outcome following Schaeffer’s officiating at his son’t gay marriage ceremony.

In other gay news Allegheny County has adjusted its benefits policy to cover same sex partners and spouses.

Isn’t it interesting that almost all actual voter fraud is perpetrated by Republicans?  22 states have now restricted voting rights, mostly for Democratic voters, based on claims of widespread voter fraud.  Perhaps Wisconsin Gov. Scott walker should explain how his supporters cheated in his recall election.

News and Notes June 23. 2014

PA Dems re=elected Jim Burn to a four year term as Chair Saturday.  I’ve lost all respect for the man after he refused to step aside for Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf’s choice.  Much as I dislike Katie McGinty and all the energy money she takes she was his choice to lead the Party in November’s general election, a privilege most Governor candidates get to make.  I went kayaking instead of going to Camp Hill.  I’m sick and tired of being kicked out of Democratic Party “open” meetings while to give them coverage and get stories.  It’s a waste of my time and money.

I’ve written about Social Security for years, always pointing out that it has nothing to do with the deficit.  In fact the federal government owes Social Security trillions of dollars, not the other way around.  Regardless Republicans have cut its budget to the extent that they’re being forced to close offices.  Now many seniors will have to drive (if they can) longer distances to obtain benefits they’ve paid for over many years.

President Obama issued an Executive Order last week providing employment discrimination against LGBT persons by any federal contractor.  Kudos.

Now we have to pass an ENDA bill nationally and here in Pennsylvania.  No person should be evicted or refused service at a business due to their real or perceived sexual orientation.  From the ACLU:

House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.”

“Even after the historic achievement of marriage equality in Pennsylvania, the struggle for full equality is far from over,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “When Pennsylvanians go to work, they expect to be judged based on their performance.

“But LGBT workers in the commonwealth can still be fired simply for who they are. It is past time to pass this bill and bring a greater level of fairness in the workplace, in housing, and in public services.”

The PHRA prohibits discrimination in employment, in housing, and in “public accommodations,” such as restaurants and hotels. Seventeen states include legal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination laws, and four additional states include protections based on sexual orientation. In Pennsylvania, 34 municipalities have similar ordinances.

The legislation was introduced this legislative session with a record number of co-sponsors from both parties, with 96 co-sponsors in the state House and 25 in the state Senate. Meanwhile, polling again shows more than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians support this type of legal protection.

“The people of the commonwealth support fairness in daily life,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The public is leading the way for lawmakers on this issue.”

HB 300 is currently in the House State Government Committee. SB 300 is in the Senate State Government Committee.

According to HHS the Affordable Care Act has saved 15,000 lives and $4 billion in health care spending:

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that new preliminary data show an overall nine percent decrease in hospital acquired conditions nationally during 2011 and 2012.  National reductions in adverse drug events, falls, infections, and other forms of hospital-induced harm are estimated to have prevented nearly 15,000 deaths in hospitals, avoided 560,000 patient injuries, and approximately $4 billion in health spending over the same period.

The Affordable Care Act is also helping reduce hospital readmissions.  After holding constant at 19 percent from 2007 to 2011 and decreasing to 18.5 percent in 2012, the Medicare all-cause 30-day readmission rate has further decreased to approximately 17.5 percent in 2013.  This translates into an 8 percent reduction in the rate and an estimated 150,000 fewer hospital readmissions among Medicare beneficiaries between January 2012 and December 2013.

These improvements reflect policies and an unprecedented public-private collaboration made possible by the Affordable Care Act.  The data demonstrates that hospitals and providers across the country are achieving reductions in hospital-induced harm experienced by patients.  These major strides in patient safety are a result of strong, diverse public-private partnerships and active engagement by patients and families, including efforts from the federal Partnership for Patients initiative and Hospital Engagement Networks, Quality Improvement Organizations, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration on Community Living, the Indian Health Service, and many others.

 

I don’t understand how some folks who call themselves “pro life” can oppose laws which actually save lives.

The White House is hosting a summit today on working families.  Opening remarks this morning were from Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.  Other participants include SEIU, Claudia Goldin, Economics Professor at Harvard, the Center For American Progress, Rep. Martha Edwards of Maryland, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and closing remarks from the First Lady and Robin Roberts of ABC’s Good Morning America.

Meet The Press simply isn’t  the show it used to be since David Gregory took over.  I won’t even watch it any more.  Sunday he allowed Sen. Paul to repeat debunked lies about Benghazi without challenge.  Shameful journalism.

A scientific study confirms that liberals and atheists are smarter.  I suppose this explains why conservatives don’t believe in science.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values.  The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.”

“Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess.  In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”

Gov. Corbett says an on time state budget isn’t likely to pass by June 30th.  For someone who has ballyhooed the fact he has passed a budget on time every year this is but one more black eye for the vulnerable sitting Governor.  I love the fact he spent $3 million in campaign ads this spring and moved his approval number all the way from 29% to 30%.  Interestingly the Guv has given $1.5 billion in corporate tax breaks intended to create jobs.  Our current fiscal deficit is $1.4 billion.  His tax breaks haven’t created any jobs.  We rank 49th in the country in job creation so they obviously aren’t working.  Instead of making the state budget worse by privatizing the Wine and Spirit Stores and gutting pensions let’s simply repeal those tax cuts.

Meanwhile the Republican Governors Association made an illegal million dollar contribution towards Gov. gasbag’s re-election in violation of Pennsylvania election law.  Sheldon Adelson gave the money despite the fact he owns the Sands Casino in Bethlehem.  Casino owners are barred from making political contributions in Pennsylvania.

Radiation from Fukushima continues polluting the Pacific Rim.  Tuna being caught are so radioactive they cannot be consumed.

Surprise, surprise, we’re listed as the fifth most corrupt state.

Hansen on the State Senate Ballot

Write-in candidate Jack Hansen received 1506 votes for the 24th State Senate District in the election may 20th.  Now certified by all three counties (Bucks, Berks and Montgomery) encompassing the District, he is an official candidate.  Obtaining ballot status this way is more difficult than going through the normal nominating petition process.  It requires 500 write-in votes instead of going door to door (in freezing weather) and simply obtaining signatures.

Bob Mensch is the incumbent Senator there and he’s a right wing mess.  Arrested a couple years ago for flashing a gun at another motorist on I-78 in Berks County in a road rage incident he showed his temper.  He didn’t think the other driver was going fast enough.  The only thing which can be fast enough about Bob mensch is the thought of him out of office.

Scientists Predict Increased Rain, Floods for Pennsylvania

by Walter Brasch

Pennsylvanians will experience increased rainfall and floods if data analysis by a Penn State meteorologist and long-term projections by a fisheries biologist, with a specialty in surface water pollution, are accurate.

Paul Knight, senior lecturer in meteorology at Penn State, compiled rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895-when recordings were first made-to this year. He says there has been an increase of 10 percent of rainfall during the past century. Until the 1970s, the average rainfall throughout the state was about 42 inches. Beginning in the 1970s, the average began creeping up. “By the 1990s, the increase was noticeable,” he says.  The three wettest years on record since 1895 were 2003, 2004, and 2011. The statewide average was 61.5 inches in 2011, the year of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused 18 deaths and about $1.6 billion in damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, especially along the Susquehanna River basin.

Dr. Harvey Katz, of Montoursville, Pa., extended Knight’s data analysis for five decades. Dr. Katz predicts an average annual rainfall of about 55 inches, about 13 inches more than the period of 1895 to 1975. The increased rainfall isn’t limited to Pennsylvania, but extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

Both Knight and Dr. Katz say floods will be more frequent. The industrialization and urbanization of America has led to more trees being cut down; the consequences are greater erosion and more open areas to allow rainwater to flow into streams and rivers. Waterway hazards, because of flooding and increased river flow, will cause additional problems. Heavy rains will cause increased pollution, washing off fertilizer on farmlands into the surface water supply, extending into the Chesapeake Bay. Sprays on plants and agricultural crops to reduce attacks by numerous insects, which would normally stay localized, will now be washed into streams and rivers, says Knight.

Pollution will also disrupt the aquatic ecosystem, likely leading to a decrease in the fishing industry because of increased disease and death among fish and other marine mammals, says Dr. Katz.

Another consequence of increased rainfall is a wider spread of pollution from fracking operations, especially in the Marcellus Shale.

Most of the 1,000 chemicals that can be used in drilling operations, in the concentrations used, are toxic carcinogens; because of various geological factors, each company using horizontal fracturing can use a mixture of dozens of those chemicals at any one well site to drill as much as two miles deep into the earth.

Last year, drilling companies created more than 300 billion gallons of flowback from fracking operations in the United States. (Each well requires an average of 3-5 million gallons of water, up to 100,000 gallons of chemicals, and as much as 10 tons of silica sand. Flowback is what is brought up after the initial destruction of the shale.) Most of that flowback, which once was placed in open air pits lined with plastic that can tear and leak, are now primarily placed into 22,000 gallon steel trailers, which can leak. In Pennsylvania, drillers are still allowed to mix up to 10 percent of the volume of large freshwater pits with flowback water.

In March 2013, Carizo Oil and Gas was responsible for an accidental spill of 227,000 gallons of wastewater, leading to the evacuation of four homes in Wyoming County, Pa. Two months later, a malfunction at a well, also in Wyoming County, sent 9,000 gallons of flowback onto the farm and into the basement of a nearby resident.

Rain, snow, and wind in the case of a spill can move that toxic soup into groundwater, streams, and rivers. In addition to any of dozens of toxic salts, metals, and dissolvable organic chemicals, flowback contains radioactive elements brought up from deep in the earth; among them are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and radium, which decays into radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic gases. Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, after cigarettes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A U.S. Geological Survey analysis of well samples collected in Pennsylvania and New York between 2009 and 2011 revealed that 37 of the 52 samples had Radium-226 and Radium-228 levels that were 242 times higher than the standard for drinking water. One sample, from Tioga County, Pa., was 3,609 times the federal standard for safe drinking water, and 300 times the federal industrial standard.

Radium-226, 200 times higher than acceptable background levels, was detected in Blacklick Creek, a 30-mile long tributary of the Conemaugh River near Johnstown, Pa. The radium, which had been embedded deep in the earth but was brought up in flowback waters, was part of a discharge from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Increased rainfall also increases the probability of pollution from spills from the nation’s decaying pipeline systems. About half of all oil and gas pipelines are at least a half-century old. There were more than 6,000 spills from pipelines last year. Among those spills were almost 300,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil from a pipe in Arkansas, and 100,000 gallons of oil and other chemicals in Colorado.

Increased truck and train traffic to move oil and gas from the drilling fields to refineries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has led to increased accidents. Railroad accidents in the United States last year accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Many of the spills were in wetlands or into groundwater and streams.

A primary reason for increased rainfall (as well as increases in hurricanes, tornadoes, ocean water rises, and other long-term weather phenomenon) is because of man-made climate change, the result of increased carbon dioxide from fossil fuel extraction and burning. It’s not a myth. It’s not a far-fetched liberal hoax invented by Al Gore. About 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree we are experiencing climate change, and that the world is at a critical change; if the steady and predictable increase in climate change, which affects the protection of the ozone layer, is not reduced within two decades, it will not be reversible. Increased rainfall and pollution will be only a part of the global meltdown.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and emeritus professor. He is a syndicated columnist, radio commentator, and the author of 20 books, the latest of which is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the effects of horizontal fracturing. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and multimedia writer-producer.]

Wheatley Not Suitable For State Vice Chair

Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf has selected Katie McGinty as his choice to lead the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and Rep. Jake Wheatley to be Vice Chair.  Traditionally the sitting Governor or Gubernatorial candidate gets to appoint the State Chair who is then elected by State Committee.  He/she gets to have the team they want going into the general election and on.  Current Chair Jim Burn however is refusing to go quietly and next weekend the PA Dems will wind up fractured because of Burn’s decision.

The selection of Wheatley as Vice Chair is interesting due to his anti-public education record and a past felony conviction in Michigan.  From PennLive:

Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr., D-Allegheny, pleaded guilty in 1992 to felony larceny and misdemeanor assault charges related to a fight in the parking lot of a Pontiac, Mich., shopping mall when he was 20 years old. He served two years of probation, and two newspapers reported in early 2003 he had the charges expunged shortly before he was sworn in.

He told the New Pittsburgh Courier in 2002 that he threw two punches and took someone’s coat, calling it a heated argument that turned into a brawl.

Wheatley, now 38, also was charged with assault on a female in Guilford County, N.C., in 1995, but that charge was dismissed, according to the district attorney’s office. A 1996 misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge in Guilford County had been “dismissed with leave” in 1998 after Wheatley did not appear in court, said Joe Davis with the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office in a recent interview. But on Oct. 27, after the AP raised questions about the case, the charge was fully dismissed, Davis said. Wheatley did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

Why is he even in the State House?  Past Supreme Court decisions have determined that anyone convicted of a felony is to be barred from any elected office in the Commonwealth.

Wheatley has also voted for Republican anti-education bills supporting vouchers and, just this week, to deny seniority to teachers in the layoff process.  Republicans in Harrisburg have eviscerated K12 public education to such an extent that Mr. Wolf has a 20-25 point lead over Tom Corbett in the race for Governor.  Allowing our experienced educators to be layed off in spite of their seniority and in violation of negotiated contract agreements is shameful.  Some are already hesitant in supporting Wolf over education issues so backing Jake Wheatley for the post of Vice Chair will only exacerbate those misgivings.

I contacted the Wolf campaign for comment and their decision is to stick with Wheatley.  The Vice Chair must be male if Katie McGinty is Chair and they wanted someone from western PA and someone who could add some diversity to leadership.  They say the Representative is embarrassed by his past but has moved past those times.

Of course not all his transgressions are in the distant past.

The Phillies Are Not Phigments of Imagination

by Walter Brasch

Newspapers are often a “court of last resort” for our readers whose problems can’t be dealt with elsewhere.

Thus, it was no great surprise to receive a letter from a young girl who was confused about the Philadelphia Phillies. In her short life, she had never seen the Phillies.

Her little friends, so she wrote me, said that the Phillies were a figment of her imagination, a team that was made up so that there would be something to anchor the National League basement. She says she was told that sportswriters went along with it because they always wanted to write fiction and needed something to do between calls from irate Little League parents.

Well, Virginia, your friends are wrong. They have been affected by the cynicism of reporters and the skepticism of a nation with no direction. They think nothing can be that bad unless it was made up. But, Virginia, the truth is that there are Phillies and, unfortunately, they are that bad. But, it wasn’t always that way.

The first game ever played in the National League was played in 1876 in Philadelphia. Of course, the Philadelphia team didn’t last a season, but if it did, it would have been a great team. In 1883, the Phillies showed up and never left-even if it seems that way now and then. In fact, since 1900, the Phillies have earned six of the top 20 spots of the worst records of any baseball team. That may or may not be why the Phillies tried to disguise themselves under aliases-the Philadelphia Quakers (1883-1889) and the Philadelphia Blue Jays (1943-1949). The Quakers, of course, are a peaceful people who don’t believe in battle; blue jays can be vicious. Neither name helped the team.

Your little friends may tell you the only reason the Philadelphia A’s and Connie Mack of the American League eventually left the City of Brotherly Love, whoich has the most rabid sports fans in the nation, was because they were tired of competing for tickets against a team that sold about as many tickets for losing as did the A’s for winning. But, you must believe that even in losing, the Phillies are real.

Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in their seven league championships, in the Whiz Kids of’ ’50, or the great collapse of ’64 when they were leading the league by six games with just two weeks to go, and then finished in a tie for 2nd. Only a Philly could pull that off. You might as well not believe in the Phillies of ’80 who won the World Series, the only time in a century that happened.

Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to not believe in Mike Schmidt, maybe the greatest third baseman ever; you’d have to forget Garry Maddox, the “secretary of de-fence” who covered the outfield better than snow in February. You’d have to give up believing in Ed Delahanty, the first Philly to enter the Hall of Fame, or Chuck Klein who entered the Hall with a .326 average and statistics that would choke even the Nielsen ratings.

If there were no Phillies, there would have been no Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, who was sold because the owner needed the money. You’d not hear about Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts or Tug McGraw, no Richie Ashburn, Bob Boone or Del Ennis, no Larry Bowa, Granny Hamner, Jim Konstanty, or even “Puddin’ Head” Jones. Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Bunning, Curt Schilling, and Lenny Dykstra.

If there were no Phillies, there’d be nowhere for Jimmy Foxx, Pete Rose, and Dale Murphy to have gone at the end of their careers.

You’d have to forget about managers Dallas Green and Paul Owens. And, you’d have to not believe in Charlie Manuel, the manager with the most wins for the Phillies and who led the team in 2008-the year after it racked up its 10,000th loss in its history-to its second World Series title, only to be fired three years later.

Not believe in the Phillies? How could someone not believe in Harry Kalas, the Voice of the Phillies for almost four decades.

Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to not believe that owners are poor judges of talent who can take great teams and trade them away, and then spend millions for a pitching staff that proved it could be competitive at the Little League World Series.

Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to suspend your disbelief that a beer and hotdog can cost $11.50, and the cheapest seat, with a view of-well, actually, nothing-is $20.          Your little friends with their little minds can’t comprehend the vastness of a team that is again about a decade or so out of 1st. In this great playing field of ours, we are but mere synthetic fibers on the Astroturf of life, unable to grasp the universe, let alone the origin of the Phanatic.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Phillies. It exists as certainly as injuries, dropped balls, and parking lot jams. No Phillies? Thank God it exists, and will exist forever. A decade from now they may even again win a championship, and continue to make glad the heart of frustrated fans everywhere.

Somewhere, Virginia, the sun is shining bright. But, there is no joy in Citizens Bank Park, for the anemic Phillies have once again struck out.

[Assisting on this column was Francis Church of the New York Sun. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigative analysis of the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of fracking throughout the country.]

Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus Unveils Phase 2 of Legislative Agenda

News from Harrisburg:

HARRISBURG, June 3 – Members of the legislature’s bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus today unveiled the second phase of their “Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health,” which includes seven new pieces of legislation.

The caucus is co-chaired by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Sens. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Frankel said, “I’m pleased that we are continuing to build on the original Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health to represent an even wider cross-section of issues and concerns facing women today. This is truly a comprehensive collection of bills based on what women want in regard to their own health and issues we can address to help women in the commonwealth live longer, healthier lives.”

Schwank said, “The issues women face, and that are vital to us, our families and our communities, are as different from each other as our faces and lives are. These bills reflect real differences in women’s lives. But we need to work on them together because success will improve all our lives.”

McIlhinney said, “The purpose of social programs is to help families acquire the basic necessities of life until they can afford to meet these needs on their own, but current program guidelines can make reaching this goal difficult or even impossible when working families lose access to valuable benefits based on minor increases in income. Ensuring access to services such as health care, child care and nutritional assistance is an essential component of protecting the overall health and welfare of women in Pennsylvania.”

The bills in phase two of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health include:

·       Patient trust: H.B. 2303, to be introduced by Frankel; Senate version to be introduced by Sen. Mike Stack, D-Phila. This legislation would protect patients and providers from inappropriate, unscientific legislative intrusion into medical decision-making. It would protect the patient-provider relationship from statutory directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with the standard of care.

·       Requiring a “cliff effect” study: S.R. 62, sponsored by McIlhinney, would require the nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the “cliff effect,” where working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for various programs that allow them to work such as child care assistance, transportation, food stamps and free and reduced school lunches. The phenomenon often creates disincentives for poor families to achieve self-sufficiency.

·       Creating a task force on women veterans’ health care: S.R. 262, sponsored by Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Phila./Montgomery; House version to be introduced by Reps. Pamela DeLissio, D-Phila./Montgomery, and Kevin Schreiber, D-York. The task force would submit a report by Nov. 30 on health-care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans.

·       Increasing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits: H.B. 2305, sponsored by Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery. This legislation would increase the maximum TANF grant amount to 50 percent of the poverty guidelines published annually in the Federal Registry. Grants to families under the TANF program have not been increased in over 24 years, while inflation has dramatically eroded their buying power.

·       Exempt more earned income from TANF income limits: H.B. 2306, to be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee, D-Phila.; Senate version to be introduced by Schwank. This legislation would raise the exemption from 50 percent to 75 percent to encourage people to work, acknowledging that low-income working families’ expenses use up a large percentage of their take-home pay. At the current level, families in Pennsylvania often find themselves in roughly the same spot financially after they start working as they were before they started working, taking into account taxes, transportation, clothing and child care co-payments.

·       Ensuring fair pensions for widows of state and municipal employees: H.Bs. 2307 and 2308, to be introduced by Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks; Senate versions to be introduced by Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Phila./Montgomery. This legislation would require that a public employee obtain spousal consent for any benefit payment structure that does not provide at least a 50 percent survivor benefit to the employee’s surviving spouse. The federal government and 27 states have a spousal consent requirement to protect spouses, usually women, from being blindsided after a spouse’s death when they discover that they are not entitled to any of their deceased spouse’s pension benefit.

·       Protecting all employees from sexual harassment: H.B. 2300, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh; and S.B. 475, sponsored by Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. These similar bills would end the exemption from state sexual harassment law for those who employ three or fewer people.

Bills from phase one of the Women’s Health Caucus agenda that have advanced include:

·       Equitable protections for domestic violence victims: H.B. 1796, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery. This legislation would ban municipal ordinances that penalize crime victims for calling for help. This bill passed the House 197-0 in January but has been delayed by an unrelated issue in the Senate.

·       Stop intimate partner harassment (ban “revenge by invasion of privacy”). The Senate version, S.B. 1167, sponsored by Schwank, passed the Senate 49-0 in January and awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee. This legislation would ban publishing any photo or video identifying another person, who is naked or engaging in a sexual act, without that person’s consent.

More information about the phase-one bills can be found at http://is.gd/PaWomenPhaseOne.

The Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of legislators partnering with interest groups and advocacy organizations seeking to develop and implement legislation and social policy that protects and respects a woman’s right to make private, personal medical decisions.

So glad to see my State Senator Judy Schwank making a positive impact in Harrisburg!

Brasch Recognized By Pennsylvania Press Club

News about our colleague Walter Brasch:

Walter Brasch, whose weekly column appears in the Pennsylvania Progressive, recently won awards for both his column and his radio commentary.

Brasch won first place in commentary (general) and second place in commentary (humor) from the Pennsylvania Press Club, against statewide competition. During the past decade, he has also won multiple awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, National Federation of Press Women, Society of Professional Journalists, Pennsylvania Press Club, and the Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association.

At the annual Pennsylvania Press Conference, held in State College this past weekend, he won his second consecutive first place for commentary, presented by the Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcasters Association.

Dr. Brasch has been a journalist more than 40 years, specializing in social issues and investigative/public affairs reporting. He is also a multimedia writer-producer and the author of 20 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, health, and environmental effects of fracking, as well as the ties between politicians and the oil/gas industry throughout the country.

Congratulations Walter!