The Pennsylvania Progressive

The Pennsylvania Progressive discusses progressive politics, issues, and candidates with a particular emphasis on Pennsylvania. All rights reserved. We have moved so please click on a link below.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Diebold Voting Machines are Designed to Facilitate Fraud

There have been doubts about the integrity of Diebold's electronic voting machines ever since their former CEO vowed to deliver Ohio for George W. Bush in 2004. There followed persistent reports of voting fraud in Ohio. Now reports these machines are spcifically designed to facilitate fraud. They even made it quite easy, all you need is a screwdriver and a flash drive loaded with the cheat software. Oh, and a few minutes alone with the machine.

If your county spent millions buying these machines you'll never be able to trust the integrity of your elections again. Secretary of State Pedro Cortes refused all efforts to warn him of these issues before mandating that counties abide with HAVA and replace their old, reliable systems. In fact, he was quite obstinate.

Smith-Bowen Visitors

Our blog has had quite a few visitors lately from the blog Smith-Bowen and an article about The comment posted there is true though I have no idea who posted it. I got an email last week about the article and the fact my blog was mentioned and, so far, we've had over 20 visitors because of that link. We've also had a few visits from Working Assets, closely affiliated with Markos (they distributed his book).

Yes, The Pennsylvania Progressive was created because I was banned from Dailykos where I blogged as PAprogressive (hence this name). If you're interested in the story click on the first set of archives and look for an article titled "Lawyers." Am I angry at Kos? No, starting this blog has been great and he was the catalyst. Do I think he's an asshole? Yup.

While here feel free to look around and even leave a few comments.

See it With your Own Eyes.

For those of you concerned with the goings on in the Middle East may I suggest that you take a trip to Yahoo's Hot Zone site.

Kevin Sites, an internationally recognized war correspondant, has been travelling the globe in collaboration with Yahoo to visit and report from every "hot zone" on the planet over the course of a year.

His reports from Lebanon are compelling. Watching CNN is one thing, seeing it up close and uneditted is something else. Kevin has 2 reports from Qana. If your familiar with the Bible you'll recognize the name. Jesus turned water to wine in Qana according to the Bible. Because of the attacks in Qana, Lebanon has refused to engage in further peace talks until a cease fire is reached. The attacks in Qana broke a roughly 48 hour cease fire.

The Israeli PM has apologized for the deaths of civilian women and children in Qana but his comments that they "were not sought out" fall on deaf ears in Lebanon. Mr. Sites shows us the grim reality of a U.N. backhoe, ripping what's left of a building down as they search for more bodies. Use of heavy equipment, he says, implies that officials believe nobody else will be found alive. From the looks of it, I dare say he may be right.

As if that wasn't bad enought the Israeli's killed a Lebanese soldier in his car outside Tyre. Again they apologized. Perhaps the Israelis should spend less time apologizing and more time paying attention to what it is they are doing.

Still our President refuses to call for a cease fire. All he talks about is the terrorists. Terrorists this and terrorists that. From the way George talks about terrorists, you'd think we all had one under our bed.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army has moved to a heightened state of readiness and reserves are reported to have been called up (well can you blame them?). Both Syria and Iran are said to have quiety entered the diplomatic effort in Beirut with Lebanese and French officials. Wisely Egyptians officials, except to call for a cease fire and calm, are staying as far out of this as they can.

As if all this weren't enough, today the U.N. Security Council has announced an edict against Iran and has given that country until the end of August to stop pursuing its nuclear ambitions (by the way George, there's only 1 'U' in Nuclear...I swear if I hear "nuc U ler" one more time I'm gonna scream.) The threat of unspecified economic sanctions hangs over Iran.

Now think about this for a moment, you're Iran. To the east is an American occupation force in Afganistan and operational black-op units in Pakistan and the US Navy is off the southern coast in the Indian Ocean. To your west is an American occupation force in what used to be Iraq supported by US Navy units in the Persian Gulf. Beyond that the Israelis are fighting your spiritual brothers and occupying the southern portion of Lebanon. Syria, also your ally, is poised to get involved with that conflict. Now comes the U.N. and to you they say, please give up your ambitions with regard to nuclear power because we think its really about nuclear weapons or we will impose economic sanctions on you. Having seen what "economic sanctions" against what used to be Iraq turned into, what do you think the Iranian response is going to be?

If I were them and I were working on a nuclear weapon I would rush my butt off to accelerate the project and I would take that research underground.

These actions are leading us down a very dangerous path. The U.S. is already being blamed for the offensive in Lebanon and we are not even involved in any direct action (at least I hope we're not). If it even looks like we are going to take action in Syria or Iran, I would think that every ally of any magnitude in the Muslim world will turn against us and we will truly have an unmanagable situation.

The fighting MUST stop. Hezbollah must stop kidnapping people and return the people they have captured safely and by stop raining missles down on Israel. Conversely, Israel must immediate stop the attack and allow the international community to put a multi-national peace keeping force in the field with the power to enforce it's mandate.

After 4,000 years or more of war, one would think we'd all be sick it by now. And we have the audacity to call ourselves "civilized".


Diamond Throws in the Towel

WFMZ is reporting that independent gubernatorial candidate Russ Diamond has announced his failure to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. The report says he only obtained about 37,000 petition signatures of the 67,000 required.

I haven't supported Mr. Diamond and have criticized him but I support the concept of a democracy where people like him can run for office. Requiring that many petition signatures is bad law and bad government. 37,000 petition signatures should have been plenty.

Santorum Smear Backfires

Senator Rick Santorum's campaign, elated over an apparent coup, has egg on its face today. It seems they found a website endorsing their opponent and thought it was the Arab media company Al-Jazeerah. Tricky Ricky mentioned it on an episode of The O'Lielly Factor on the GOP News Network, broadcast by Fox. The only problem is that Ricky again failed failed to check his facts. This wasn't the Qatar based news network but a differently spelled organization based in Georgia.

This has been a recurring problem for the Senator. He frequently gets his facts completely wrong. Whether it's the bogus wmd's, man on dog sex, facts about stem cell research, privatization of Social Security or Terri Schaivo's health status, our man in Washington is a complete embarrassment. He can't get anything correct and the voters are fed up with his incompetence.

Santorum's Joint Fundraising Cited by FEC

The Federal Election Commission has sent a letter to the Santorum campaign regarding their joint fundraising operation Santorum Victory Committee. As reported here last week Rick Santorum has accepted 38 contributions over the legal limit through joint fundraising. These donors each gave his committee three checks for $2100 each on March 31, 2006.

The FEC limits individuals to a maximum of $2100 each election cycle. Three checks is one too many.

House Candidate Reed Cannot Do Math

Billy Reed, GOP candidate in the 130th District (formerly represented by Dennis Leh) has filed campaign finance reports with the state which don't add up. Normally it can take quite a bit of work to determine this except in cases such as this where there's so little to report. Mr. Reed only has accepted two contributions and one was for in-kind services. The other was for $100. His total reported income is $ 764.25.

The in-kind donation of $664.25 from a Glenn Reed of Reading is listed as a newspaper advertisement. I'm assuming this was for the comical ads he ran in the Reading Eagle prior to the primary. Comical because they identified him as a candidate in the 126th House District instead of the 130th.

In his expenditures he also lists ads placed in The Pottstown Mercury costing $571.21 and another $980.82 for yard signs, business cards and a few other items. This means a total campaign expenditure of $1552.03 against income of $100 (assuming the $664 was in-kind for the Eagle ads). The interesting item missing in this equation is any information on loans to the campaign or any disclosure of debt. In short, the numbers on his reports don't add up.

The reason for campaign finance reporting is to disclose who pays for these campaigns. Billy Reed has failed to disclose who has paid for his campaign expenditures and is a violation of the law. Where did the money come from to pay for these yard signs? He also fails to disclose his campaign debt and to whom he owes these funds.

Not that any of this surprises me. Reed also supports Sam Rohrer's Commmonwealth Caucus tax shift plan that doesn't add up. That has a $10 billion funding hole. Granted his campaign debt, unreported, is much smaller, but shouldn't someone wanting to be my next State Representative at least be able to do simple math?

This race is of particular interest to me because I live in this district. Please, please save me from having another idiot representing me in Harrisburg! Go to Dave Kessler's website and give generously.

Perzel Supports Mantz in 187th

Speaker of the House John Perzel, he of the imperial hubris pay raise fiasco, has contributed 37% of 187th House District Carl Mantz's campaign war chest. The Speaker, whose insane comparisons of state Representatives incomes with cow milkers and tattoo artists has so lost touch with working Pennsylvanians I'm surprised to see anyone accepting his dirty money. Newspaper articles about his lavish, and possibly illegal, campaign expenditures have shocked observers.

It isn't like Mr. Mantz doesn't need the $700 John Perzel gave. After all this is a Republican who has only raised $1175 from everyone else. His opponent Archie Follweiler has raised over $12,000 from numerous individual contributors. Is Mantz so desperate for money he'll accept John Perzel's pay raise cash? What strings will go along with this contribution? The voters of this district just ousted incumbent Paul Semmel for his 2 am vote for the raise and now his Republican successor on the ballot has already sold his soul to the GOP House leader. Meet Carl Mantz, the reincarnation of Paul Semmel.

Unions Blow House District Endorsement

The AFL-CIO, in its list of endorsed candidates, lists David Argall of Schuylkill County's 124th Legislative District as one it supports. Not only is Argall's opponent Bill Mackey a lifelong union member and supporter, Argall did something this spring to alienate all the unions in Schuylkill County.

The Yuengling brewery company in Pottsville is seeking to get rid of the Teamsters representation of their transport workers. They're essentially trying to bust the union. Argall showed up at a public event during the primary season, just after this began, proudly wearing a Yeungling sport shirt. His endorsement of Yuengling at that crucial juncture was interpreted as supporting the company and alienated union members all over the county.

How does the AFL-CIO explain this endorsement to those Yuengling employees?

Seniors Furious Over Doughnuts

As more and more senior citizens encounter the "doughnut hole" in their Medicare Part D(isaster) prescription plans they are getting furious and desperate. Too many depend on these medications to remain healthy or even alive. The legislation, which was spearheaded in part by Sixth District Congressman Jim Gerlach, forces seniors to pay all of $2850 in the midst of the year, for many, before coverage kicks in again. That's a lot of money for people on fixed incomes and comes right after these seniors had to ante up for their property taxes.

For all patients, Medicare covers 75 percent of the first $2,250 worth of drugs. But after that, coverage drops to zero — and doesn't resume until the patient hits $5,100 in expenses. Then Medicare kicks in again, paying 95 percent of costs. But it's this gap — of almost $3,000 — that many sick and disabled seniors call unaffordable.

"You wouldn't have to have that doughnut hole, that gap in coverage, if Medicare were allowed to buy its drugs in bulk and therefore negotiate the price down, said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

For more anecdotes (horror stories) go here and here. This plan was written by and for the drug and insurance industries. The fact it expressly forbids Medicare from negotiating lower prices is proof of whom it was written to benefit.

Jim Gerlach was a champion of this legislation in Congress but is running from it now. There isn't a word about it on his website. Last October he stood before a roomful of constituents in Cumru Township, Berks County to show off the Plan and was almost run out on a rail. The only was he saved his sorry butt was to lie about his support of the bill. Unfortunately for the Congressman I got him on tape. I caught him lying about that and about the fact the bill was lobbied for heavily by these two industries.

As seniors enter the doughnut hole I urge them to contact Congressman Gerlach and ask why he pushed this awful program upon them. Then ask him why he lied about it last fall.

Casey to Pander to Extreme Right?

Bob Casey is scheduled to address the extremist Pennsylvania Pastors Network, a group dedicated to ending separation of church and state. Begun by Colin Hanna, who fought in court to keep a religious display on the Chester County courthouse, the group is strongly supporting avowed theocracy advocate Rick Santorum (R-VA). The Leesburg, Virginia resident is seeking re-election to the United States Senate from Pennsylvania. Casey is his Democratic challenger.

We exposed how Bob Casey pandered to the glbt community by saying he supported issues he was already on record as opposing, and have also shown how he has pandered to the Neo-Christian extremists in his first interview as a candidate for the Senate. Of course some say he was speaking honestly in this interview but pandering to secular Democrats during the primary.

It will be interesting to see what Casey says to this group. His mere desire to do so says quite a bit to me.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Immigration Mania

The manic panic settling over Pennsylvania lately is indeed disturbing. Incumbent politicians hoping to quell the anger of the state of the nation are putting all the blame on immigrants and it's taking hold with racist voters looking for someone to blame other than themselves. After all, these are the same "angry white men" who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 based on his campaigns of fear. They actually voted against their own economic interests and have paid the price. Now, to ward off accountability, the GOP is trying to blame illegal immigrants for all the problems their failed policies have created.

And residents all over northeastern Pennsylvania are buying the argument. The sad part is that they are, again, voting against their own economic interests in so doing. These new ordinances are going to result in numerous, costly lawsuits against small towns like Shenandoah. They are going to devastate them financially and then these same angry white men will get even angrier and find someone else to blame. Who's next on their list, Jews, African Americans, women? This ugliness has to stop.

Wages and Paris

What do frozen wages and Paris Hilton have in common? A bill that just passed Congress and is in the Senate. This bill would finally raise the minimum wage nationally for the first time in a decade. While raising America's working poor further out of poverty Republicans inserted a poison pill provision eliminating the inheritance tax on people like Paris Hilton. This country has frowned on the passing of great fortunes from generation to generation and taxes these huge estates appropriately. GOP leaders like Joe Pitts and Melissa Hart hate this tax because it hurts their constituents. Pitts cringes at the thought his people in Chester County horse country with their vast equestrian estates might actually have to pay taxes when they die.

If you didn't believe this was class warfare this bill proves the point. In order to pass any sort of raise the poorest of our working people Republicans are tying it to a tax giveaway for the richest of the rich. I have a better idea: return estate taxes to their level 25 years ago and use those funds for increased tax credits for the working poor. This is the only income group that has fared well under Bush's voodoo economics and they've done extremely well. It's time for some social responsiblity instead of 200 foot yachts.


Bush, Condi and Olmert have indeed begun creating a new Mid-East. I fear though it isn't what they visualized. Of course nothing Bush touches seems to come out as he intended. Israel has lost this war. They lost it when they killed those UN observers at an outpost that's been in the same spot for 40 years. They lost it in the media frenzy that's now known as Qana. They lost it with the grossly disproportionate response to tit for tat exchanges.

Israel lost the support of progressives by adopting the Bush doctrine. They lost the war mostly though, by radicalizing dozens of new Hezbollah guerillas with each bombing of Lebanon. Every Arab in the region is now sworn to destroy Israel and the strides toward democracy and statehood being made in Beirut went up in flames. It doesn't matter what they've accomplished militarily because you don't defeat insurgencies militarily.

That is the failure of the Bush doctrine.

UN Criticizes US Over Human Rights Abuses

The Associated Press reported the United Nations Human Rights Committee has told the US to close its secret prisons. They say this country is violating the terms of a 1966 treaty called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. United States violations of this agreement violate the rights of detainees and their families. This is one more black eye for America as we surrender the moral high ground.

If we're going to refuse to honor these treaties why don't we simply withdraw from them? It isn't like Bush hasn't done so with other international obligations. What's one more? Oh yes, the symbolic significance of telling the world human rights are no longer important to Americans..... Like they haven't already come to that conclusion over the past six years?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mercury Rising Update

I wrote about the issue of mercury poisoning a few days ago and said how regreful it was that a number of Democrats voted the wrong way. I hope the Governor's public hearings on the matter begin to open their eyes. The public seems very concerned and is packing these hearings in support of the legislation.

“Pennsylvanians spoke up loud and clear for their environment and public health at this week’s hearings. Now let’s hope Harrisburg was listening,” said Nathan Willcox, energy and clean air advocate for PennEnvironment.

Only ten state Senators voted against the bill that would allow increased mercury poisoning of our environment. Here are the ten. If your Senator isn;t listed you need to contact them and let them know how important this issue is and that they need to change their vote.

The ten senators courageously voting against SB 1201 today were Sen. Jay Costa , Sen. Andy Dinniman, Sen. Jim Ferlo, Sen. Vince Fumo, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, Sen. John Rafferty, Sen. Robert Tomlinson, Sen. Patricia Vance, Sen. LeAnna Washington and Sen. Connie Williams. PennEnvironment applauded these Senators for their vote.

Swann Seeks to Stem Freefall with New Manager

GOP gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann hired a new campaign strategist and manager the other day. Fervently opposed to gambling, Mr. Swann seems to be trying a Hail Mary play before time runs out on his failed effort to win the statehouse. Walter Breakell, whose former company represented gaming operation GTECH, will take over the fledgling Republican's campaign from Harrisburg and word is all bets are on the table concerning this contest. The oddsmakers are continuing to make Swann the long shot bet.

Breakell's slot in the chain of command comes at the expense of Ray Zaborney who seems to have been dealt out of the game. Whatever the new player tries to do however, he's already many lengths behind the leader, Gov. Ed Rendell, who is way ahead in both polls and money.

It's interesting that Swann, a receiver and stern anti-gambling advocate, would top out his staff with someone with ties to a company with ties to Pennsylvania's new slots industry.

Before that, Breakell headed the New York office of DCI Group. The national public affairs firm's clients include GTECH, a leading gambling technology and services company based in Rhode Island.

GTECH is one of the companies licensed by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to manufacture slots machines for Pennsylvania's fledgling casino industry.

Is Swann catching up? Rumors are that his campaign finally turned the corner simply to find they've done nothing for six months but chase their tail. It's too late in the game to play catch up from this far back. All Eddie has to do is raise the stakes by running another slew of ads every time Swann threatens to up the ante. Swann doesn't have the chips to stay in this game.

Any concerns that this could potentially corrupt a Swann Administration are unfounded since the odds of that are so long the bookies aren't taking the bets any longer. My tarot reader says it isn't in the cards for Lynn.

Rolling Rock Bids Adieu

The AP reports that the last, final case of Rolling Rock beer came out of the plant in Latrobe this week. Budweiser has purchased the manufacturing plant and the classic beverage will be no more. It's a big loss to many college kids who couldn't afford to drink good beer. I was never a fan of Rolling Rock. Though it was a cut above Iron City, when I was at Penn State (in a decade long, long ago) Rock was something I definitely tried to avoid. Those who knew me in those days will attest there weren't many beers I wouldn't partake of, but RR just left this terribly bitter taste.

I recall going to Skull and Bones meetings at The Rathskellar (is that still there?) where we'd buy a couple cases of Rolling Rock and get a couple "church keys" to pass around to open them (I'm really dating myself now). I'd always go to the bar and get a couple real brews to drink first so by the time I drank the Rock it didn't matter. Yes, those were the days and the only reason I'll miss Rolling Rock is because it always reminds me of those days. Truthfully, is anyone going to miss this crap?

Oversight, Schmoversight

One of the absolute hallmarks of the Bush Presidency has been the total lack of oversight and accountability. Congress and the courts have been effectively bypassed and the press was neutered by the threat of being denied access. Boy, that sure stopped Sey Hersch didn't it?

Persistent reports have been in the press about the regular use of no bid contracts. I'm not simply speaking about Iraq and Halliburton. This issue began springing up before the war. It seems there's an exception about contracts under $10,000 so agencies have been doing contract after contract at that level so as to bypass the bid process. Maybe Bush compares the bid process to diplomacy: it takes too long. No, he'd rather "expedite the process." Of course this is simply a term that means "we give the contracts to our friends and supporters regardless of costs." And without accountability and oversight.

Congress held a hearing last week because Bush actually wants to make new policy legaling this pathway to corruption. Guess whose Committee is examing this? Good old Tom Davis (R-VA) who is written about directly below. A former government procurement officer testified though that the new process:

.... called the Services Acquisition Reform Act, contains provisions that would loosen federal oversight on contracts and allow practices that are susceptible to abuse and fraud.

She described 13 of the legislation's 29 provisions as "problematic" and said they would result in "policy changes that the administration cannot support." Among them: a plan to allow more contractors to bill the government for their "time and materials" with no fixed cap on the total amount.

Now this came from someone who was a staunch Bush ally and appointee. Heck, she's even from Texas. If she's worried we all should be worried.

How This Congress Works

Many people, including me, call this the Do Nothing Congress. It is a fitting name but another might be the Line My Pockets Congress. Corruption has hit levels unprecedented since pre-war (WWI) days. Duke Cunningham and his $2.5 million in bribes, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and Jack Abramoff and Santorum's K Street Project....the list keeps getting longer as new indictments and stories become public.

Too many Congressmen's spouses are working on K Street. One would be too many. The Washington Post is reporting about another example of how influence is being sold in this manner. First a little background, the Congressman from Virginia is Tom Davis and his friend Don Upson formed a "consulting" firm called ICG after he was elected. Congressman Davis' wife works for ICG.

ICG's relationship with Davis has played out on a number of levels. The firm has arranged for clients to meet with Davis in his congressional office. Upson has set up dinners and receptions with the lawmaker for his clients. And ICG has arranged for clients to testify before Davis's committee. In one case, Upson's team wrote the testimony. Some of those clients, who pay ICG about $8,000 per month, have told The Washington Post that their testimony was a part of marketing strategies developed by ICG to bolster the clients' "clout" and "visibility" on Capitol Hill and with government contracting officials.


Davis's wife, a part-time ICG consultant, has contacted senior government technology officials on behalf of clients, including an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Upson paid her $78,000 last year for working "10 to 20 hours a week," primarily at home on her cellphone, she said. She makes $18,000 a year as a Virginia legislator.

This incestuous relationship between lobbyists, consultants and Congress has become common. If you recall the first act passed by this Congress after being sworn in was to defang the ethics rules. That was the first vote many new Republicans cast in January 2005. It was designed to shield Tom DeLay and set the tone for lax ethics standards.

So what is being done to reign in these abuses? Has the public indignation at so much corruption finally prompting Congress to deal with these issues? No. Another Post article the other day reports no progress on serious lobbying reform.

Unable to agree on major lobbying and ethics legislation, Senate and House leaders have made plans to adopt vastly scaled-back versions of the measures as part of their rules so that lawmakers can claim that they responded to recent congressional scandals.

"It's on life support," Jan W. Baran, a leading Republican ethics lawyer, said of the final bill.

In November voters can pull the plug on these lawmakers and put them out of their misery.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Coup d'Etat in Berks County

Reading, Pa. (Humor) With County Commissioner Chair Judy Schwank away in Washington the Berks County Commissioners found themselves in a political upheaval yesterday. Commissioner Tom Gajewski, who was out last week and was unable to vote on approving that week's meeting minutes. With only Republican Mark Scott then able to do so he announced a takeover. Saying "things would be much easier if this were a dictatorship and I was the dictator" he proceeded to stage an old fashioned coup d'etat.

He issued a decree approving the minutes and then proceeded to announce several new appointments to various boards around the County, finalizing each with a special "signing statement." The entire coup was rather bloodless except for the damage done to a few Keith Haring art pieces on display at the Reading Public Museum.

Once Commissioners Schwank and Gajewski returned the County government back to the normal order of things a Haring mural was draped from the side of the Services Center and Mr. Scott was seen leaving for the nearest hotel with his assistant.

Hazleton's Racism Giving State a Black Eye

At least, so far, it's only Hazleton...... Read this column about Mayor Lou Barletta's effort to twist facts and play on voters' fears. Don't we have enough real problems and issues to deal with without making complete jerks out of our entire state? Let's keep Pennsylvania from becoming just another Mississippi.

Casey Won't Help "Spreading Santorum"

Last week we wrote a piece about a columnist who recently discovered the website and was aggrieved at its content. The sex columnist who coined the term and its definition on his popular radio show, Dan Savage (Savage Love) sent Casey a contribution check. After initially agreeing to accept the $2100 the Democratic Senate hopeful returned the money afraid of what spin Santorum would put on the contribution.

I don't really see Rick Santorum making an issue out of this. The last thing he wants is more publicity about the definition of his name and reminders about the infamous AP interview which spawned the entire controversy. Maybe we need a definition for casey. Something along the lines of "no balls."

Stagnant Wage Growth and Food Shortages, Coincidence?

Economic reports are saying that real wage growth for Americans has been stagnant and many middle class families are losing ground. At the same time we have a report that southwestern Pennsylvania is a pocket where many people have serious shortages of food. NPR had an interview with economics writer Paul Krugman of The New York Times yesterday who related that the nine year freeze on the minimum wage has seen real wages sink to a level not seen since World War II.

The enormous squeeze on the lower and middle classes is having a serious negative effect. Meanwhile yacht manufacturers and diamond merchants cannot keep up with demand for their goods from the richest 1% who have profited tremendously from Bush's tax policies. We have a class war going on in this country and the numbers back it up.

John Bolton: Wrong Priorities

John Bolton, appointed to be United Nations Ambassador but never approved by the Senate has succeeded in uniting the rest of the world in one universal belief: they all depise the man. It is a remarkable achievement. How has he managed to do this in so short a period? By screwing up his priorities. When the UN hald a global summit in the Sudan to address the genocide issue John Bolton decided it was more important to go to Britain where he would be paid to speak before a right wing think tank.

Bolton's take no prisoners and give no quarter style of "diplomacy" has hurt this country and made it more difficult to deal with the world community. He has yet to travel on a single UN mission abroad.

AFL-CIO Endorsements

The AFL-CIO announced they are endorsing Governor Ed Rendell for re-election along with the following candidates:



38 JIM FERLO * (D)


14 MIKE VEON * (D)
20 DON WALKO * (D)
34 PAUL COSTA, JR. * (D)
58 R. TED HARHAI * (D)
75 DAN SURRA * (D)
103 RON BUXTON * (D)
106 JOHN PAYNE * (R)
122 KEITH McCALL * (D)
125 TIM SEIP (D)
146 P. J. McGILL (D)
180 ANGEL CRUZ * (D)
201 JOHN MYERS * (D)
202 MARK COHEN * (D)

SOURCE Pennsylvania AFL-CIO

Thursday, July 27, 2006

They Made HOW MUCH?

This is a guest column.

They made HOW MUCH?

By Kirk Wentzel

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been an accountant for 25 years now. I don’t claim to be an oil industry expert but I do understand accounting and how Income Statements and Balance Sheets work.

Exxon Mobil reported second quarter 2006 profit of $10.36 billion 36% higher than in the same period in 2005 when Exxon Mobil reported a miniscule $7.64 billion.

Royal Dutch Shell posted $7.3 billion.

British Petroleum announced profit of $7.3 billion.

ConocoPhillips said they added $5.18 billion to their coffers.

The last of the big 5, Chevron announces tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. and you can expect another huge number.

Exxon’s profit number was, simply put, staggering. Remember this $10 billion is profit AFTER all expenses are accounted for. Exxon spent $4.9 billion on capital and oil exploration and another $7.9 billion in dividends and stock buy-back and still made $10 billion.

To put this in a perspective lets look at it this way:

There are 91 days (well 91.25 but most economist and accountants use 91) in a quarter so Exxon earned $113,846,153.84 per day, that’s just under $114 million per day.

There are 2184 hours (91 days x 24 hours) in a quarter so Exxon earned $4,743,589.74 per hour, or a little over $4.7 million an hour.

There are 131,040 minutes (2184 hours x 60 minutes) in a quarter so Exxon earned $79,059.83 PER MINUTE.

How many of you make $79,000 PER YEAR????

What I make in a year, Exxon earned in 37 seconds during the second quarter. Color me impressed!!!

Sure companies are in business to make money…believe me I understand capitalism. I’m OK with capitalism but really, how much is too much?

And lest we forget, I’m not JUST talking about gasoline for cars. The same oil gets used to make diesel fuel, jet fuel and home heating oil. So when prices go up, transport costs for EVERYTHING go up which add HUGE numbers to the inflation equation.

The pre-purchase price for winter heating oil in the northeast is between $2.30 and $2.70 per gallon and in some places, even higher. Tell me how people on fixed incomes and working in minimum wage jobs are going to afford to heat their homes this year.

According to Exxon, the average price of a barrel of oil during the second quarter was in the $65 range. How much MORE are things going to cost when the $75 and $80 barrels of oil reach the marketplace?

We are going to inflate ourselves out of economic stability unless someone puts a stop to these price increases. The world oil markets are unstable because of all the warfare and political tension in the oil-rich Middle East. That drives the price of crude higher, trust me, I understand the economics and the mechanics.

However, the oil companies and their shareholders don’t need to make this much money on the backs of Americans already struggling to make ends meet. Oil prices like this are inflationary and then the Fed increases interest rates to keep inflation in check. Fact is that the core inflation is not that bad. It’s the Food and Energy segments that are driving the numbers.

It’s all inter-related folks. One topic leads to another to another to another. I could go on for days debating economic theory with myself and even longer with a learned economist. That’s not the point.

The point is that there is a limit as to how much is too much. And even though we Americans pay far less for gas than people in other countries around the world, this is too much, too fast. Other countries also have programs to take care of their elderly and poor that we do not. Other countries are actually integrating new fuel resources into their infrastructure, we are not. (Oh yeah, they’re not doing it by ripping up their national parks either so I don’t EVEN want to hear about the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge…leave something for nature.)

I’ve heard the argument, “when gas gets too expensive people will switch from the cars to public transport and that will bring the price down under the law of supply and demand”. OK, but I don’t see a supply issue. Are gas stations running out of gas? Are there supply problems? Is it REALLY short supply and large demand that’s driving the price up? Can you say “NO”?

Sorry guys, but to me this really does seem like price gouging and there should be SOME limits on how much these can charge. What is a fair profit? It’s a hard question and I don’t claim to have an answer bit $10.36 billion.

Oh, and one final thought. ExxonMobil’s dividend is 32 cents per share paid on 9/11 to shareholders of record on 8/14.

32 cents, how much gasoline will that buy?

Why Your Gas is $3+ Per Gallon

ExxonMobil reported quarterly profits of $10.3 billion today. That used to be a great YEAR for the biggest corporations. Now it's simply a quarterly performance benchmark. This is the second highest on record surpassed only by another earnings period by Exxon last year.

So, this is where your gas money is going. Also where your tax money is headed. The Bush Energy Policy provided billions of your tax dollars for the energy industry last year. Good to see them putting the cash in a desperate industry instead of Katrina relief. There's nothing like having your priorities straight.

Pittsburgh Area Soldier Killed in Iraq

A soldier from the Pittsburgh area was killed in Iraq. Captain Jason M. West, 28, was attacked in Ar Ramadi. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. Why? For what noble cause did this young man have to die?

Lawmaker Goes Ballistic at Immigration Hearing

It appears the immigrant bashing strategy being employed by Republican candidates this year is beginning to blow back upon them. To all those demagogues claiming this isn't a racial issue I have one question: if these were Norwegians coming across the Canadian border would this be an issue? Wrap this anyway you please but it's core issue IS racism. Please stop insulting my intelligence by denying it.

The House Republican Policy Committee has latched onto the issue in an attempt to get voters focused on anything except the pay raise. They're using this as a smoke screen to cloud those other issues. These folks held a public forum yesterday in the Lehigh Valley and State Representative Mario Civera wound up exploding like a volcano when the 800 pound elephant (no pun intended. Really, I didn't mean ANY connection to the GOP here) in the room made its presence known.

Hispanic witnesses spent their allotted time condemning the candidates for fanning the flames of bigotry and racism to win re-election. The result? Civera went ballistic on them. Gee, what did he expect? I like this line:

''If I had seen [these remarks] beforehand, like hell you would have testified,'' the Delaware County Republican shouted, accusing Nix of offering insults instead of solutions to the fact-finding committee that is traveling the state, gathering testimony on immigration during the Legislature's summer recess.

In other words Civera wouldn't have allowed a member of the public to testify at a public hearing on an issue important to that individual. What did he think this was, a Bush event?

No terrorist has been discovered entering this country through Mexico. Some have been caught coming from Canada however. So far no terrorist cells have been found operating in Mexico. There have been in Canada though. Those trying to frame this debate in national security terms are only concealing their own agendas. That dog doesn't hunt though and people see through the rhetoric. That was clear yesterday.

Immigration is a federal issue. Communities like Hazleton aren't doing anything but invite massive litigation expenses to their taxpayers. The first time a resident from Puerto Rico is denied work, housing or services their next stop is going to be a local attorney's office. All these ordinances do is fuel the hysteria created by some people to mask their racist agendas. Other politicians fan these flames in a cruel hoax to fire up their racist voters. I know a few who fall into that category. I asked one last year if he realized that his comments actually have real consequences for real people. His answer: I don't care.

Mercury Rising

No, this isn't a movie review. It is a horror story however. Pennsylvania is second in the nation (to that environmental wreckage known as Texas) in mercury pollution. Mercury is a by product of coal burning power plants. Pennsylvania, of course, is coal country. One of my grandfathers was a coal miner in Wilkes-Barre and died from black lung disease. There's no such thing as "clean coal" folks. That's all industry propaganda. Mercury escapes into air from these plants and pollutes our waterways and ground. It's a very dangerous heavy metal.

How bad is mercury? Go here and read what the Centers for Disease Control says. One of the problems with mercury is its absorption by fish. Eating fish contaminated by mercury transfers that poison to the person.

An effort by industry to derail recent legislation in Harrsisburg to toughen the state's controls was recently successful. The pro-pollution lobbyists were victorious and Pennsylvania will continue to be the second worst state in the nation for mercury pollution. The real horror of this are these: many Democrats voted to allow this pollution and because we have no lobbying disclosure laws we'll never know how they were persuaded by the energy and coal industries. One thing is for sure though; I bet none of those voting for coal had autistic children.

One more point to make here. There is technology available to "scrub" coal so most of the mercury is removed before it is burned. Isn't the common sense approach to be mandating this instead? This is a classic "pay me now or pay me later" issue. The costs of removing the mercury are far less to our society than dealing with the aftereffects of the pollution.

I regret to say my own state Senator was on the wrong side of this vote. Shame.

Rape Victim Denied Medical Care in Lebanon

A doctor at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon refused to prescribe emergency contraception to a rape victim. The doctor, a mennonite, refused the medical treatment on religious grounds. She then went to her doctor and received the prescription. When she tried to fill the prescription locally the pharmacy said it didn't have the medication in stock. The rape victim, now thrice defiled, had to travel to Reading for her medication.

It's insane that we force victims of rape to go through unnecessary ordeals such as these after they've already been traumatized by the crime. The laws that allow doctors, hospitals and pharmacies to deny necessary medical treatment to victims of violent crime are immoral. They are nothing but rapist protection laws that result in too many women having to give birth and raise the children of men who rape them. Between this and the laws severely restricting access to abortions this country has become a haven for these violent men.

What if no pharmacy in Reading was also willing to dispense this drug? What if this victim of violent crime had to drive 100 miles? That's very possible in a state like ours. What if she didn't have access to transportation to get to Reading? It isn't like there's any mass transit around these parts. This is an outrage.

The Shell Game

Republicans are very good at fund raising and swift boating. Swift Boating is a term that's come to mean (according to Wikipedia):

"Swift Boating" or "swiftboated" to describe any attack on a person that they see as using "cherry-picked" half-truths taken out of context, innuendo, and lies; particularly if such an attack is against critics of the Bush administration.

Congressman John Murtha was "swiftboated" after calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq for example. What's interesting is the shell game Republicans play with all the money they raise. The GOP is quite adept at using fear for fund raising. Contributors get regular letters and emails demonizing Democratic leaders like the Clintons, Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore (who isn't even a Dem) and Nancy Pelosi. These campaigns claim that voting for a Democrat means the Bible will be banned, homosexuals will take control of the local schools, terrorists will blow up your town, etc.

People respond to the fear mongering as they always have. The GOP has always had someone to hate and bash. For fifty years it was the awful Commies. Once the Cold War ended they needed new whipping posts and chose gays and immigrants. They regularly whip their base into a frenzy creating the fear and then use this to raise money. It's very effective. But where does all that money go?

The Abramoff investigations illustrated how much goes into the pockets of lobbyists and people like Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist. This article in The Huffington Post goes into great detail about one such GOP consulting operation in California. The Republicans, infamous for their campaign dirty tricks like the phone jamming in New Hampshire (still being investigated and now connected directly to the White House), bury these operatives in layers of organization. Those push poll calls being made in the Seventh CD? One company is paid by another company which got paid by a campaign or Party committee. Nothing shows up directly on the FEC reports.

Read Dave Johnson's fine piece of reporting and see where some of this cash went.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Paul Lang Comes Out Firing

It appears the honeymoon is over for one of the candidates in Bucks' 6th State Senate District race. It doesn't appear to be the newly betrothed Paul Lang. With a guest column in the Bucks County Courier Times today he fired back at incumbent Tommy Tomlinson for various attacks the lawmaker has been making at campaign appearances. Here's what Paul has to say:

If I have been out of town, Tomlinson has been out to lunch

A Guest Opinion by Paul Lang
Bucks County Courier Times - June 26, 2006

Since the announcement of my candidacy for state senator to replace Tommy Tomlinson, the senator and his political operatives have used the Bucks County Courier Times to make an issue of my being “out of town” and that I am inexperienced by calling me a “kid.” Instead of discussing issues, policies, and reform, the Tomlinson team has taken a page out of the Rove-Bush playbook.
I would like to set the record straight on how I have been “out of town.” First, I have lived in Bucks County for close to 20 years. I left Bucks County to serve in the military and I am proud to be the only candidate in this race with a military record. I am a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy.
While Senator Tomlinson was chosen as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and vocalized his unity with George Bush, I was wearing a 9 mm on my hip, stopping drugs and protecting our borders. I became a disabled American veteran following a line of duty law enforcement accident. I also became a founding member of the Department of Homeland Security and gained valuable legislative experience with the Coast Guard’s Congressional Hearings Team.
After eight years of active duty service, I was given the honor of being retired due to my injury. Upon retirement, I studied my tail off, earned a law degree and an MBA in between countless rehabilitation visits to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Now I work in Bucks County. I am getting married this month, and wish to serve the people of the 6th Senatorial District. Above all, I am proud of what I have done and am unapologetic for being “out of town.”
I, like many other veterans, have looked death in the face and fought back harder than most ever have. The physical pain I feel every day reminds me that I am lucky to be alive and that what I have done with my life so far certainly has made me a man.
Of course, I do give credit where credit is due. When Tomlinson’s people say I’m inexperienced, they are partly correct. Unlike Tomlinson, I do not know what it is like to vote myself a 50 percent pension increase like he did in 2001. Unlike Tomlinson, I never voted against a minimum wage increase as he did in 1996. Unlike Tomlinson, it hasn’t taken me over 4,000 days to finally pass property tax relief (despite having a governor, House, and Senate of the same party for many previous years). Unlike Tomlinson, I didn’t fail to follow the state ethics rules by not reporting the $22,200 he made after selling stock in IGA Federal Savings (Philadelphia Inquirer, May, 16 2005). Finally, I have never been a member of a legislature with one of the worst records for lobbying and special interests.
So, Tommy, you have a fight on your hands and I will not back down from pointing out your legislative history as a career politician. But, it isn’t just me who has a lack of faith in your leadership. Your own party has continually refused to appoint you chair of every important committee you have sought to lead. I understand that your team will be writing letters and bad-mouthing me from now until Election Day. My hope is that we can discuss leadership, reform, and what is best for Pennsylvania. I broke my back for my country and I am willing to do it again for the residents of the 6th Senatorial District and there is nothing you or your smear operatives can do to stop me. If I have been “out of town,” you have been out to lunch and I look forward to having the middle class help you collect your 50 percent pension increase earlier than you expect come Election Day.

Paul Lang,, is a graduate of Council Rock High School and currently resides in Bensalem. He is a retired Lieutenant from the U.S. Coast Guard. He received his Bachelors of Science (cum laude) from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and his JD/MBA from the University of Maryland. Paul is now a vice president at an investment bank in Bucks County.

Domestic Violence Group Endorses Carney

An organization dedicated to curbing domestic violence has endorsed Chris Carney in the 10th Congressional District. Vote Against Violence made the obvious choice in this race against Don Sherwood who attacked his mistress last year in her Washington apartment and was then sued by her for assault. No man should tolerate any other man who tolerates violence against women and no man should vote for Don Sherwood this year if he has any respect for women.

PACleanSweep Being Swept Away?

Five of the ten Board members of PACleanSweep have asked a judge to dissolve the organization, according to the PennLive news service. The group founded by independent Gubernatorial candidate Russ Diamond so he could raise his profile for his run for office split in two after he announced his campaign. Internal strife over all that has seemingly destroyed the organization. Gee, and I predicted all this way back when they approached the statewide DFA organization about signing on. What a surprise....

Pennsylvania Political Parties in Turmoil

Both the GOP and the Dems have seen some interesting battles taking place for control. The direction each Party takes in the future depends on the outcome of these squabbles. The Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania (YCOP) are in the forefront of an effort to swing the Republican Party from centrist moderates to a decidedly more rightist philosophy. In the Democratic Party the liberals and progressives are trying to gain control from their centrists and "DLC machine" oriented leaders. It should prove to be interesting.

Chris Lilik, who write the blog is one of the leaders of the young conservative movement. They are primarily upset over taxes and spending. These are the GOP right wingers who never saw a government program or tax they liked. They favor minimal government. The Republican Party in Pennsylvania definitely has two different wings. Around metropolitan areas such as the southeastern area of the state you have many pro-choice Republicans for example. The "T" has many evangelical, very conservative members of the Party who are anti-choice. Who gains control will largely determine the types of candidates and campaigns voters will see in the future.

Democrats are in a similar situation. Their split isn't geographical however. The liberal/progressive wing seems spread throughout the state. Many county Party reorganization votes this summer were almost evenly split between the progressives and the centrists. The DLC Dems have been in control for many years and are entrenched in places such as Philadelphia. Groups like Neighborhood Networks, Progressive Democrats of America and Democracy for America are fighting for more influence and gettingit in many counties.

The liberals/progressives want candidates and campaigns that better reflect their values, just as the YCOP Republicans are doing. This could be interesting. If both upstart wings gain more influence the voters would likely see more differentiation between the people both Parties put forth for office. Now there sometimes seems like little difference. Both conservatives and liberals are jockeying for more influence and candidates that better reflect what they feel their Parties stand for, so this could actually be good. I often think we need more candidates who aren't afraid to actually say what their beliefs are. Too many consultants come into the state to run campaigns and tell candidates to fudge on the issues and don't say what they really believe.

I think voters are more likely not just to vote for whom they feel supports their issues but they'll also work and contribute to those campaigns. I keep going back to the 2004 presidential election where exit polls in some key Ohio precincts showed people voting for Bush because they knew where he stood on the issues. They had no idea where Kerry was. Many didn't even agree with Bush on these issues but they said the fact he actually stood FOR something got their vote.

At a recent press conference in Chicago one reporter asked Bush how to win elections. His answer: believe in something. I seldom agree with the man on anything but he nailed that one. These two wings of Pennsylvania's major parties are in struggles because their people want them to believe in something again. That can't be bad.

The Moniker of "Activist Judge"

If you think that the title of "Activist Judge" hasn't scared the shit out of judges around the country let me clue you in.

Today the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples do NOT have the right to marry. As part of their opinion the judges said this:

It is important to note that the court’s role is limited to determining the constitutionality of DOMA and that our decision is not based on an independent determination of what we believe the law should be.

This statement makes it VERY clear that these judges were actually thinking about being labled as "activist judges" which is exactly what the nut-ball right would have called them had they ruled the other way.

Excuse but isn't it the role of a judge to determine what the law actually says? So much for equal protection clauses, so much for due process, so much for representation in exchange for taxation.

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This section of the 14th Amendment to the FEDERAL Constitution is meaningless to gay and lesbian citizens and is becoming more and more meaningless to the rest of Americans. Certainly precious few Americans care enough about it to make sure that it's enforced for ALL Americans.

That being the case, we should stop deluding ourselves and repeal Section 1 of Amendment 14.


Santorum Votes to Protect Incestuous Fathers

Senator Rick Santorum (R-VA) voted yesterday to protect fathers who have impregnated their daughters through sexually abusive relationships. The Child Custody Protection Act makes it a crime for anyone (grandparents?) to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion. This means a teen girl being abused by her father must get his permission to make that "short ride" (as Joe Loserman calls it) to another state in order to receive appropriate medical care.

Rick Santorum and the Republicans rejected an amendment which would have protected these girls.

This is one more attack on women's rights by the neo-christian right. Bob Casey said he also would have supported this legislation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gerlach Is Proud of His Energy Act Vote

....and the oil industry is forever indebted to him for doing so. Congressman Jim Gerlach sent a franked letter to his constituents in the Sixth CD last week bragging about his vote for Bush's (Cheney's Energy Task Force wrote it) Energy Bill. The bill gave the oil industry something like $10 billion of taxpayer funds since they were in such woeful condition (just joking there).

BP has now announced their quarterly sales and profits:

BP, one of the world's largest oil companies, posted a net profit of $7.3 billion for the three months ended June 30, up from $5.6 billion a year earlier. Revenue rose 24 percent to $73.5 billion from $59.3 billion.

That's a pretty nice return for the money the industry spent to buy Jim Gerlach. According to this press release:

According to the AP, "The five oil behemoths releasing quarterly results
[this] week - BP (BP), ConocoPhillips (COP), Chevron (CVX), ExxonMobil (XOM)
and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) - earned an estimated $33.6 billion, 32% more
than a year earlier, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial."
[Associated Press, 7/21/06]

Meanwhile, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Jim Gerlach has
taken $53,000 from oil and gas interests during his numerous campaigns for
Congress. [Center for Responsive Politics,]

Since he was elected Gerlach has voted time and time again in favor of his
big oil donors and against the interests of Sixth District families.

Gerlach has also supported the Bush foreign policy failures which have led to $75/barrel oil. He has supported the wholesale destabilization of the Middle East. This instability has created the panic over oil supplies and resultant $3.17/gallon gas prices in his district. He's proud of his votes, though.

Poll Shows American Idiocy

The Harris Poll released results from its latest survey of beliefs and attitudes about Iraq. It illustrates an alrming idiocy on the part of Americans along with revelation about the success of George Bush's brainwashing before the onset of that war. We all know there were NO wmd's in Iraq. We know Bush knew that six months before he began that war. We know there were no connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda. How then do you explain these numbers? Well, we'll get to that.

U.S. adults believe that the following are true about the war in Iraq:

  • Seventy-two percent believe that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein (slightly down from February 2005 when 76 percent said this was true).
  • Just over half (55%) think history will give the U.S. credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq (down substantially from 64% in February 2005).
  • Sixty-four percent say it is true that Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda (the same as 64% in February 2005).

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded


The figure showing 50% now believing Saddam had wmd's is obviously the result of Rick Santorum's insane media show recently when he claimed we'd found 500 wmd's. Folks, those weren't the weapons of mass destruction Bush said Iraq possessed. What's more President Bush knew those and ALL OTHER wmd's Iraq had were destroyed in 1991 (see the Iraq War Forum storied below). Santorum knows this but staged an elaborate hoax in an attempt to jump start his failing re-election effort.

One hundred Iraqis are being killed daily just in Baghdad in sectarian civil war. Prime Minister Maliki doesn't rule or control anything beyond the Green Zone of the capital. Turkey is treatening to invade the Kurdish region and the Shias are ruling the southern third of the country through strict Sharia law and their own militias. There is no government, no law and order, no security in Iraq. Anyone who continues believing the fantasy that things were not better under Saddam should go live in Baghdad for a week. That's all it'll take assuming they survive.

As for this continued brainwashing about Iraq being "the central front on the war on terror" and Saddam being responsible for 9/11, that's absolute brainwashing by the White House. They adopted the old Nazi strategy that the bigger the lie the more likely people will be to believe it. After all, the rationale goes, no one would make up such a monstrous lie like that would they? Yup, it happens. George W. Bush is a master at this, uttering the name of Saddam Hussein in his next breath after talking about the tragedies of September 11th. He's brilliant at this tactic. I've watched him do so repeatedly. No one can say he definitively says Saddam did 9/11 but he instills that belief in American's minds constantly with this method. The result is that people think we're in Iraq to avenge Sept. 11th. There should be a special place in hell reserved for President Bush.

Another reason for these poll results is the American media. If one really wants to discover what's going on in Iraq you need to read and listen to sources like the BBC. You need to visit websites that provide comprehensive coverage. You also need to visit Arab media and understand how our atrocities are feeding increased hatred against us everywhere from Beirut to Baghdad and then to every Muslim community around the globe. Americans are blissfully ignorant about all this and this poll illustrates that point. Americans won't awaken to the long term influences of these lies until we suffer more 9/11's. I fear we'll have many.

Will Regola Support Gun Safety Laws Now?

State Senator Bob Regola (R- Westmoreland) is a member of the National Rifle Association. The NRA has steadfastly fought common sense gun safety laws in Pennsylvania. It doesn't seem to matter that the rate of violence on Philadelphia streets is out of control. Monica Yant Kinney just had a column in the Inquirer reflecting on the eight weeks it took her to get approval in New Jersey to purchase a hand gun. It took her colleague less than a day to buy one in PA. Since then 70 people were killed by gun violence in the city. The following day three more victims were added to the tally.

None of this has moved any of the rabid gun supporters to action in Harrisburg however. Now a 14 year old boy apparently used Sen. Regola's unlocked handgun to commit suicide. The young man was caring for the Republican's pets and gained access to the pistol. One must wonder if a trigger lock may have prevented this tragedy. Perhaps a law requiring guns be kept in secured (locked) places might also have allayed this event. We'll never know because Mr. Regola serves in Harrisburg and supports the organization which prevents common sense gun safety laws from being enacted.

People like Regola should be sued for allowing things like this to happen. Tragedies such as this are too preventable and legislators like Regola are to blame.

Update: Regola's 9mm gun was not locked in a secure place and did NOT have a trigger lock. A second gun was also found unsecure during a police search.

Federal Patronage Losing Ground

I've written about the policy undertaken by the Bush team to reinstate patronage to the federal bureaucracy by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In its usual union busting mentality George Bush decided to go back to the days before civil service and gut federal workers of their collective bargaining rights and protections. They even swift boated a true patriot, Max Cleland in the process.

The Washington Post reports today courts are rolling back these extreme provisions. Also, researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School have issued a study examining how this became policy. Some of their conclusions:

The White House bill creating the new department "was drafted in secret," the study said. It adds that "concerns of interested parties were not addressed until the issue was in the public domain where the debates took on a more strident and uncompromising tone."

"The price of secrecy and generality in the design and enactment phases," the study notes, "may very well be delay and discord during the implementation phase."

As usual with this Administration important public policy was developed in great secrecy. Remember Cheney's energy policy task force which resulted in the legislation giving billions of tax dollars to the oil industry recently? Jim Gerlach is actually bragging about voting for that bill as Exxon reports $10 billion/quarter profits and gas hits $3.17/gallon. This obsession with secrecy is hurting Americans.

The other major point to be made is how this Administration manipulates fear to shove through policies that are anathema to what is America. The Patriot Act, the Authorization for Use of Force in Iraq, the current debate over NSA spying on Americans without court orders, it all goes down with a spoonful of fear.

Bush uses fear as a battering ram on the electorate. Do what I say or the terrorists will come to your town and blow up everything! Implement this or you'll be sorry! As Ray McGovern pointed at last weekend these are classic examples of creeping fascism. Use fear to keep them in line, implement your policies limiting rights, expanding executive power, and destroying civil liberties until there's nothing the people can legally do to undo them. If they ever awaken to the reality, that is.

America is better than this. We CAN do better and we will after the November elections.

Snow Jobs in the White House Press Room

Tony Snow, who was promoted from the White House propaganda section (Fox News) to be Presidential Press Secretary, is being accused of lying to the White House press corps. It's never a good idea to lie to the press. Tony ought to check with Scott McClellan about how hostile they can be once you've done so. But did he?

Last week Mr. Snow explained Bush's first ever veto by stating the President considered stem cell research as comparable to murder. Now he's saying he mis-spoke. Saying you "mis-spoke" is the modern equivalent of admitting you lied. No one admits lying anymore, they simply "mis-spoke." That's a bit "disingenuous." Lying is lying and the press corps understands. Now we may have the spokeman lying about whether he lied.

Here's what Snow said last week:

"The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He's one of them," Snow said from the White House. "The simple answer is he thinks murder's wrong."

Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten got more than a bit of heat over the statement from Tim Russert on Meet the Press Sunday. It was actually pleasant to watch him squirming as Russert kept pinning him down for an answer. Equating the destruction of a few blastocysts in a petrie dish with slaughtering Aunt Millie or shooting a nine year old Iraqi boy in his own home, or dropping American made bombs on Americans visiting Beirut, now that's murder.

It seems Tony Snow got confused and forgot he was speaking officially for George W. Bush. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he thought he was still doing commentary on Fox and thought the symbols behind him were simply props. It's more likely he was saying what Bush actually thinks and shouldn't have been so blunt about saying so. After all, if you think these cells are human beings and controlling them is equal to slavery, comparing their destruction to murder actually makes sense.

The opposition to stem cell research is just this: life begins at conception and these embryonic stem cells are human lives so destroying them is murder. Why won't the President stand up for what he truly believes? Why are they backing down from these statements? If Bush truly believes life begins at conception why is he making Snow back off his statement?

It appears Bolten got so much ridicule on the position during the MTP interview they realized how much political damage such an extremist view can produce and decided to back off the position. If so I want to know why the President is afraid to stand up for one of his core beliefs. Either he believes life begins at conception or he doesn't. Which is it? Bush and other Republicans on the fringe are out of step with what most Americans believe and support and may now be awakening to that reality.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Save Me from Operation Save America

The following is a guest column.

Save Me from Operation Save America

By Kirk Wentzel

I had heard of Operation Save America when they went by their former name Operation Rescue. I’d heard of them as an anti-abortion group and while I support choice I also support people peacefully protesting. I think that’s part of America’s core value.

So I was a little shocked the other day when I read a piece online from a Jackson Mississippi newspaper that said Operation Save America (OSA) was in Jackson burning the Qur’an and the Gay Pride (rainbow) flag.

A quick review of OSA’s website site told me they referred to this as “the burning of the abominations” and usually it also included a copy of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Since I have no problem with burning the American flag as a way of expression I certainly wouldn’t have a leg to stand on by opposing the burning of the gay flag and I don’t. Oh, and just for the record I am gay and I don’t make a secret of it so nobody needs to ‘out’ me.

I often email organizations and churches when I read something that they’ve done that moves me strongly. I’ve written groups to praise them for their action and to express my opinion when I think they are wrong about something.

I must admit that I RARELY get a response regardless of whether my email was praise or scolding. So when I read the OSA burned a copy of the Holy book of Islam I was shocked. I was shocked that people who claimed to be following the teachings of Jesus would desecrate that which was held dear by millions of members of a sister belief.

So, as is my custom, I wrote to OSA. Here is what I said:

Ladies & Gentlemen:

To hear that members of your organization burned a copy of the Qur'an, a book held in deep reverence by millions of the worlds Muslims, is unbelievable.

It's no wonder that supportive churches in Jackson began "bailing out" as you put it. The leaders of these churches obviously understand that different people believe differently and that your actions had nothing to do with stopping abortion and were simply mean-spirited.

I wonder what kind of reaction you would have if people came to one of your rallies and burned a Bible, a book sacred to Christians?

You should be ashamed of yourselves. What's next the Tor'ah and Talmut? Or shall it be the Sutras of Buddhism? Or the Shastra of Hinduism?

You should re-read your Bible, you've obviously missed Jesus' real message.

Thank you for your time.

Kirk Wentzel

By reading this email you might guess that I know a little about world religions. I do. It’s one of my hobbies. I believe that religion is the single worst idea mankind ever invented and it is singularly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people throughout history. I dare say that history continues to back up that statement.

Nevertheless, I support the idea of freedom and I believe all people should be free to believe and worship as they each see fit.

I received a response from someone named Brenda at OSA this morning. Ms. Brenda did not have the courtesy to sign her last name. (What is it with people and manners these days?)

Brenda’s response begins as follows:

Hi Kirk,

I appreciate your polite statement of disagreement with Operation Save America.

Operation Save America has taken a strong stand against Islam for the following reasons:

Islam is a liar and the spirit of the Antichrist. Adherents of that religion suggest Allah and Jehovah are the same God, yet deny that Jesus is Lord.

“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23)

Islam has said that Jesus was a prophet, not the Son of God, and certainly not God! Muslims become extremely angry when Christians suggest that there is a triune God (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). However, the Bible tells us that when Philip asked Jesus to show the disciples the heavenly Father, Jesus responded, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”(John 14:8-9)

Of Islam it can truly be said: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

The fruit of Islam is death and destruction. From its beginnings when Muhammad was having people assassinated, forcing them to pay tributes and initiating countless battles, to this present day, Islam has always been a violent religion.

Islam is beginning to exact its toll on Europe. See See photos of Muslims marching in the streets of London (sent in a separate email). Our government officials seem unwilling to shut the doors to Muslim immigrants and our country is practicing the religion of Tolerance. 9-11 was the fruit of Islam. We can expect more of the same.

In more than two dozen countries where Islam is the majority religion, Muslims are persecuting, imprisoning, torturing, raping, bombing, and beheading Christians and members of non-Islamic religions in the name of Allah. See list below.

Kind regards,

Her email goes on to list various countries and what Islam is alleged to have done:

1) Afghanistan 99% Islam. Before the U.S. stepped in, Muslim Taliban government had declared it the responsibility of eldest son to kill family member who converts to Christianity. Many restrictions were placed on Afghan men and especially on women who were not allowed to leave their homes for work or education.

2) Algeria 99.5% Islam. Members of Islamic Salvation Front have been known to march through town and slit the throats of anyone who has not lived up to their call to Islamic extremism.

3) Bangladesh 88.3% Islam. Christian believers are often denied access to public water wells by Muslims, and many have been forced from their homes and beaten by Muslim mobs.

4) Brunei 67.2% Islam. Christian leaders expelled 1991, Christian literature banned 1992. It is illegal to evangelize Muslims.

5) Comoro Islands 99% Muslim. All religious expression, other than Islam, is forbidden.

She lists a total of 27 countries and examples. I found #5 interesting since the burning of the Qu’ran essentially sends the same message. In fact, Brenda’s entire email leads me to believe that if OSA had its way, these examples would be turned around completely. Perhaps it would be the Muslims denied access to water in Bangladesh by Christians.

Unfortunately I have seen the kind of vitriolic hatred before as I see in the first part of Brenda’s reply. I see it today in Christians hatred and fear of gays. We’ve seen it in the early Roman’s hatred and fear of early Christians. We’ve seen it in the crusades of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries when Christian soldiers hunted and murdered Muslims in the Holy Land. History is replete with example of one religious group hating and murdering a different group.

We see religious intolerance toward other religions and toward anyone who does not believe the way this group or that group believes every day and I submit to you that NONE of these “believers”, be they Christian, Jew, Muslim or whatever, have absorbed the true message of their religions. If they had they would not embarrass and denigrate themselves with this ugly display of intolerance.

To quote a popular bumper sticker “HATE IS NOT A FAMILY VALUE”. It’s also not a value that either Jesus or Mohammed endorsed. I did not check all 27 of Brenda’s round the world assertions but I’ve no doubt that she may well be correct. Islam is not exempt from being intolerant to people who believe differently any more than OSA and its members are. The worldwide epidemic of hatred blinds many people to the fact that we have to find a way to live with one another on this tiny oasis in space.

Gandhi is credited with having said “an eye for an eye making the whole world blind”. Gandhi was a wise man…a great proponent of peace. He was murdered for that belief.

I wrote a reply to Brenda this morning:

Dear Madam:

Thank you for your reply. Would it were more fact and less preaching. I appreciate your beliefs as you stated them but please realize that not everyone in the world believes as you do. And that doesn't make them bad people. It makes them people that believe differently and that's all.

You list all of the Islamic countries and what they have done and yet you seem to wish to become just like them by burning their books and denying their right to believe as they choose. How quickly we seem to have forgotten the days of the crusades when Christian warriors murdered thousands of Muslims in the Holy Land, all in the name of God. I grant you that happened hundreds of years ago, but you sound as though you wish those days to return. One could argue, considering current events, that the world is seeing the resurgence of the crusades. Would that not make us as bad as them?

I would submit to you that according to the Bible, your place is not to judge, that right is reserved to Jesus and God. I understand the feeling the events that you've described must imbue. I understand the anger and hurt caused but God has his own way and his own warriors.

As for 9/11, those Muslins lost the true lesson of Islam just as you have lost the true message of the Bible. I'm sure you disagree with me. In this country you are free do to so. However, I do not see you as a bad or evil person because you believe differently than I. I speak to all organizations (and I've written hundred of emails like this) when they show intolerance and hatred toward their brothers and sisters. Judge me if you must but in the end you should know that your judgment does not matter.

I bid you peace.


I doubt my words will get through to Brenda. I don’t expect them to. But if I had one wish, it would be that we stop seeing the differences and start seeing the similarities. I know that sounds utopian and naïve. I’m not stupid, mankind is built on mistrust, hatred, war but if there is a message in the religions of the world I seriously doubt those vices were meant to be their key tenets.

I bid you peace.