News & Notes December 27,2011

Someone in our household developed a substance abuse problem over the weekend.  Far be it from me to point any paws but I suspect the presence of two catnip toys in a certain cat’s stocking was the cause.  Someone is enjoying being really, really relaxed this week, aren’t you Schroeder?

As gleeful as some are over a proposed Illinois bill targeting Joe Walsh for being a deadbeat Dad it’s clearly unconstitutional.   That document lays out the criteria for Members of Congress and no state can tamper with them.

The Second Mile’s insurance company says it is nor liable for Jerry Sandusky’s legal bills.  This court fight will be interesting.

I need to catch up on several things I sort of put aside over the long holiday weekend.  I didn’t have much time for blogging and I figured no one was taking time away to read online either (at least I hope you had better things to do).  First up is Joe Sestak’s speech on American exceptionalism.  Republicans plan on making this their theme for 2012.  My take on it is somewhat different, more on that as we get through the year.

Delaware Riverkeeper is very good at keeping us up on everything affecting that waterway:

Also last week, the EPA issued new rules governing the burning of mercury laden coal.  It is widely believed that mercury emitted from coal fired power plants causes autism.  We know these plants cause asthma:

Ron Paul’s evil twin was bragging about his newsletters in this video too:

Alabama’s draconian immigration law is going to cripple the state’s economy.  Why is it these southern crackers never learn from their mistakes?  Now they’re proposing using prison labor on the farms because none of those proud racists will lower themselves to do farm work.  Isn’t it funny how conservatives scream about immigrants coming to take their jobs then when they chase them away none of them will take those jobs?

The GOP’s war on voting is taking its toll around the nation.  People are being denied ID’s to vote, now in Tennessee.  This is a perfect example of the type of election fraud conservatives have been screaming about, except it is them doing the dirty deed, as usual.  Not everyone has their birth certificate.  I only got mine two years ago because I wanted to get a passport.  Most Americans really have no need for the document unless they are traveling internationally.  What if your home burns down and it’s lost?  It isn’t always easy for someone to obtain a copy and that requires an expense which makes it a poll tax.

Newt Gingrich has focused his campaign more on getting his signature on books for customers than getting voter’s signatures on primary nominating ballot petitions.  I agree with him this failure is as as catastrophic as Pearl Harbor (said with tongue firmly in cheek) because his campaign has also bombed.

Rick Santorum also failed to make the ballot.  This is more embarrassing for him because it’s his home state.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unjustly discriminates against LGBT couples.  Gays and lesbians are second class citizens who pay additional taxes for fewer rights.  How crazy is this in a land which claims “equal justice under law?”  CNN Money did an analysis showing LGBT couples pay as much as $6,000/year more than straight couples allowed to marry and file jointly.  If we get fewer rights we should be paying fewer taxes, not more.

Sandusky Waives Hearing

In a strange twist Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer waived his preliminary hearing yesterday after dragging hundreds of people, victims, onlookers, court personnel and the media to the Centre County courthouse.  It isn’t like Bellefonte is near to any place, this was downright bizarre.  I know if I’d gone to the expense of traveling to State College, paying for a room and showed up to get my media credentials by 7:15 AM just to have them waive everything I’d be pissed.  So were the victims who feel as if they’d been abused once again.

Joe Amendola, Sandusky’s unconventional lawyer, used the morning to stand on the courthouse steps and address several hundred media.  Apparently this was the true purpose for bringing everyone there.  The defense is referring to the victims as “accusers” rather than victims and are vowing to attack the credibility of the witnesses at trial.  That’s basically all they can do in a “he said,” “he said” trial.  Mike McQueary’s inconsistent statements about what he witnessed will likely demean him as a witness and the janitor who was also a witness is senile and unable to testify.

The line-up of ten young men all testifying to similar behavior will be damning however.  The high school coach who came upon Sandusky lying inappropriately with a high school boy will also need to be explained by the defense.  The investigation didn’t begin because of anyone searching for a fat payday and ask any of these guys if they decided to accuse the powerful and influential coach for a quick payday and I’d expect you’d get a stream of profanity.  That seems to be the defense argument however:  ten young men see dollar signs and so decided to upend their lives, come forward, some involuntarily, and testify to what happened to them as boys.

Jerry Sandusky isn’t helping his case.  He has admitted to disturbingly illicit behavior and accusing the victims of just wanting to cash in is destroying whatever sympathy remained.  Centre County is likely the only place he can get a fair trial since he was revered there and everything Penn State is put on a pedestal.  The entire economy of the area is dependent on the university and some citizens will be affected by that.

Not every aspect of a trial is decided in the courtroom and the public attacks on the courthouse steps yesterday were a desperate effort by the defense to influence the jury pool.

PSU Faculty Senate: No Confidence In Probe

The Penn State Faculty Senate is preparing a vote of no confidence in the panel the Board of Trustees has formed to investigate allegations of child abuse on campus.  There are no outsiders on the panel and even Louis Freeh, the investigator, has ties to the Penn State Alumni Association.  His former company MBNA sold affinity credit cards to members of the Association.  I used to get inundated with those direct mail offers.  The Board is maintaining the investigation will be legitimate.  Perception is reality however and the perception is that this panel is biased.  This is something the Trustees don’t seem to understand.

A fifth man has also come forward since the grand jury presentment was made public adding to the eight included in the report.  It is up to investigators to determine if they are legitimate.  Let’s hope the Governor doesn’t insist on taking another three years to do so.

Jerry Sandusky faces a preliminary hearing next week and six of his alleged victims are set to testify.  The proceeding is open to the public and a lottery will be held for public seating.  I’m on a waiting list for media credentials.

Update:  Sandusky was arrested today on additional charges and remanded to jail after being unable to remit the cash bail ($250,000).

Penn State Trustees Violated State Law

by Walter Brasch

The Penn State Board of Trustees may have several times violated state law for its failure to publicly announce meetings and how it handled the firing of Coach Joe Paterno. However, these violations may be the least of the Board’s worries, as it scrambles to reduce fall-out from the scandal that began with revelations that an assistant football coach may be a serial child molester, and that the university may have been negligent.

The state’s Sunshine Act [65 Pa.C.S.A §701-710] requires all public bodies to publish notices at least 24 hours before their meetings. The purpose is to eliminate secret meetings. Penn State, a private university, which received $279 million from the Commonwealth for its 2011-2012 budget, is bound by the Sunshine Act.

A public notice did appear in the Centre Daily Times, State College’s hometown newspaper, three days before a regularly-scheduled board meeting, Friday Nov. 11. But, the Trustees were caught flat-footed the week before by what eventually turned into the largest scandal in its history. These are events the Trustees should have been aware of for at least two years; certainly, the Board should have known there was a problem when the Harrisburg Patriot-News broke a story in March that the Grand Jury was investigating former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

But, based upon Board incompetence, there wasn’t even a crisis management plan in place when Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5, and Athletic Director Tim Curley; and Gary Schultz, senior vice-president of finance and administration, were charged with perjury and failure to report a crime to police. The Trustees allowed Curley to take an administrative leave, and Schultz to return to retirement. Schultz, who had worked for Penn State for 40 years, had retired in 2009, but had been brought back on an interim basis in July. Both Curley’s and Schultz’s decisions were probably influenced by the Board demands.

During the two weeks, beginning Nov. 5, the Board had conference calls, executive sessions, and emergency meetings, all without public notice.

Conference calls involving a quorum without public notice aren’t allowed. At least one conference call was conducted on Saturday, Nov. 5. A meeting by telephone is just as illegal as a meeting with all persons at a table if it isn’t publically announced.

Several emergency meetings were held the next few days. The Sunshine Act allows emergency meetings. The Trustees conducted meetings Sunday, Nov. 6, Monday, Nov. 7, and Wednesday, Nov. 9. By law, an emergency meeting can be called, without public notice, only for “the purpose of dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property.” [65 Pa.C.S.A §703] Even in the wildest stretch of that definition, there was no clear and present danger. That occurred years ago when the university didn’t contact police to report the actions of a man believed to be a child molester.

Executive sessions to discuss personnel issues and some other items are allowed-if they are announced at public meetings “immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session.” [65 Pa.C.S.S. §708(b)] But, they were not. About 10 p.m., Nov. 9, following an emergency meeting, Board vice-chair John P. Surma, flanked by 21 of the 31 trustees, publicly announced it had fired Paterno and PSU president Graham Spanier.  Surma told the media the decision was unanimous, thus indicating a vote was done in secret and not under public scrutiny as required.

The Trustees also violated both Paterno’s and Spanier’s rights under law. It’s doubtful the Board members, most of them in corporate business, even care. How they handled Paterno’s firing is indicative they have little regard for employee rights and due process. Paterno had previously said he would retire at the end of the season, since he believed, “the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.” The Trustees, undoubtedly, believed firing Paterno immediately would take heat off the university. Again, it was wrong.

Although executive sessions may be conducted in private, the Sunshine Act requires that “individual employees or appointees whose rights could be adversely affected may request, in writing, that the matter or matters be discussed at an open meeting.” [65 Pa.C.S.A. §708(a)(1)] The Board, according to a report in the Easton Express-Times, had ordered Spanier to resign or be fired. He chose to resign. Paterno was not contacted by the Board prior to termination, either to request to be heard or to request an open meeting. Paterno was informed of his termination by a hand-delivered letter that demanded he place a phone call to a board member. There was no indication in that letter of what the Board’s decision was.

Violating the law could result in invalidating decisions made at those meetings, and penalties of $1,000 for each violation; until September, the penalty had been a paltry $100. But here’s a nice twist. The Trustees probably don’t care.

A district attorney must approve prosecution for Sunshine Act violations. Although the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association receives about 1,000 inquiries each year about  what may be Sunshine Act and Right-to-Know law violations, “it’s rare for criminal prosecutions of the Sunshine Act,” according to Melissa Melewsky, media law council for the PNA. Civil actions by individuals are likewise difficult to pursue because of significant costs.

Here’s another surprise. Because of heavy lobbying to the legislature, whose members are feasted at one home game a year and can also receive comp football tickets to other home football games, Penn State is not bound by the state’s Right-to-Know law. This means that innumerable records, including minutes of all meetings- both public and those that are illegal under the Sunshine Act-can still be secret.

Here’s something not so surprising, however. Penn State’s Public Affairs office punted all questions to the Board. The Board arrogantly has refused to answer both verbal and written questions. However, possibly using public funds, it did hire a PR firm to handle crisis management issues. We won’t know the cost-that’s something it doesn’t have to tell the taxpayers.

[Assisting on this story was Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. Walter Brasch, as president of both the Keystone chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Press Club, was active in fighting for a stronger Right-to-Know law and enforcement of the Sunshine Act. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist and retired university professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a mystery/thriller set in Pennsylvania.]

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution


Penn State Notes

The fallout from the Sandusky affair is still reverberating throughout Pennsylvania and likely will for some time.  Gov. Corbett went on Meet The Press yesterday and predicted new legislation.  I hope the state legislature doesn’t over react and go off the deep end as they have with SB 732 and the Gosnell tragedy.  Yes, we need updated reporting laws but I fear these extremists will make it a crime for anyone within a mile of an abuser to be convicted for not knowing about it.

There was an attempt during the last state legislative session to update the laws following the Catholic Church priest pedophilia scandal.  A new law allowing victims more time to pursue civil damages in the courts was buried by then House Judiciary Committee Chair Tom Caltagirone (D-Allentown Diocese).  The church continues fighting such new legislation.  Reporting laws making anyone with direct knowledge have to report to police would be an improvement but part of the issue with the PSU case is that the statute of limitations is currently two years.  Since it took three years just to investigate this case charges couldn’t be brought (though they were).  There remain quite a few questions about the amount of time this investigation took and few answers have been forthcoming.

The Magisterial District Judge who releases Sandusky without bail not only volunteered with The Second Mile he also contributed to it.

The charity helped over 100,000 kids, only a few of whom were molested so the downfall of Sandusky, and The Second Mile, is tragic for the effect it will have on the rest of these kids.

The Big Ten removed Joe Paterno’s name from its championship trophy today.

Update:  Interim University President Rodney Erickson released this statement today:

Dear Penn State community,

This note is the first of many that you will receive from me as Penn State’s president. I will be sending emails periodically as part of my promise to you to provide meaningful and timely updates.

Today I am outlining my promise to the Penn State community, which includes the naming of an ethics officer and a commitment to transparency as the University moves forward.

Right now, the nation’s eyes are upon us, looking at where we will go from here. Many of you already are representing this University’s high standards for honesty and integrity. It is imperative that every member of our community model the best that Penn State has to offer as we begin to rebuild the confidence and trust that has been shaken this past week.

Please join me in this effort to rebuild our community. Below, you will find my promise to all of you.

President Erickson’s Promise to the Penn State Community

This past week has tested the character and resilience of the Penn State community in ways we never could have imagined. Many of you shared my shock and surprise as the reports unfolded. Yet, after this past weekend, I just want to take a moment to tell all of you how proud I am. Our students and athletes, in particular, demonstrated the best of what it means to be a Penn Stater.

On Friday night, our students organized a candlelight vigil for the victims of abuse, and thousands came to express their concern and resolve. It was a meaningful and deeply moving way to show support.

At the Penn State-Nebraska football game on Saturday, tens of thousands of fans supported the Blue Out, a solemn moment of silence, as well as many other efforts to raise awareness and money for this very serious issue.

On the field, the football players demonstrated a level of maturity and determination that was an inspiration. The athletes from both teams came together at midfield in unity, respect and prayer for the victims. Then they played their hearts out. It was remarkable in so many ways.

Thank you for coming together as a community.

Today, we are back to class and the business of running this university. I urge you to refocus on your educational goals and remain mindful of the five promises I have made to the Penn State community as we move forward. Collectively, we need to show the nation and world that Penn State cares, and that Penn State is a community of individuals committed to moving forward with a shared sense of purpose.

If you have not yet seen the five promises, I will share them below.

Again, thank you for your support and the kind words I have heard from so many people. It gives me the confidence to know that together we are moving in the right direction.

1.   I will reinforce to the entire Penn State community the moral imperative of doing the right thing-the first time, every time.

–     We will revisit all standards, policies and programs to ensure they meet not only the law, but Penn State’s standard.  To oversee this effort, I will appoint an Ethics Officer that will report directly to me.

–     I ask for the support of the entire Penn State community to work together to reorient our culture.  Never again should anyone at Penn State feel scared to do the right thing.  My door will always be open.

2.   As I lead by example, I will expect no less of others.

–     I will ensure proper governance and oversight exists across the entire University, including Intercollegiate Athletics.

3.   Penn State is committed to transparency to the fullest extent possible given the ongoing investigations.

–     I commit to providing meaningful and timely updates as frequently as needed.

–     I encourage dialogue with students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the Penn State Community.

4.   We will be respectful and sensitive to the victims and their families.  We will seek appropriate ways to foster healing and raise broader awareness of the issue of sexual abuse.

5.   My administration will provide whatever resources, access and information is needed to support the Special Committee’s investigation.  I pledge to take immediate action based on their findings.

Rodney Erickson

News & Notes 11/11/11

Today is 11/11/11 and I couldn’t resist putting the date in that format for today’s News & Notes.  First of all let’s catch up with the latest Penn State headlines.

Coach Mike McQueary won’t coach tomorrow due to multiple threats against him.  He has become a lightning rod for stepping in to stop the shower rape of a 10 year old boy.  I saw one Tweet last night saying if you saw someone attacking McQueary to go home and tell your father about it…  That seems to be the sentiment.

Joe Paterno has contacted a criminal defense lawyer from Washington, DC and Sens. Toomey and Casey have withdrawn his nomination for the Medal of Freedom.

Penn State students are holding a candlelight vigil for abused children tonight instead of a pep rally.  Tomorrow they will wear blue to show support for abused kids.  Instead of the traditional white “S” in the stands it will be blue.

Sara Ganim of The Patriot News has a good recap of the charges here.  Keith Olbermann called Paterno his “worst person in the world” last night.  Police in San Antonio, Texas are looking into charging Sandusky for raping a boy he took there for the Alamo Bowl in 1999.

In other news the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the repeal of DOMA yesterday.  With six states and DC now legalizing same sex marriage this law violates the 14th Amendment.

I’ve promoted thirdandstate to the front page to focus on their excellent economic reporting.  My friend Kirk Wentzel is no longer writing for the blog.

Another good economic analysis is this one showing how wages are declining as a share of national income.  It is further proof of the income inequality now shaking our foundations.

Former State Senator Vince Fumo was resentenced yesterday.  The Judge added six measly months to his unpardonably short sentence.

State Rep. Curt Schroder announced he will retire after nine terms.

Sen. Jeff Piccola also announced this morning he won’t seek re-election.

Congressman Jim Gerlach endorsed Mitt Romney for President.