Two thoughts from Sinclair and Hightower

Upton Sinclair said in 1935:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Do we need to know more to see, in the age of Citizens United and scientific gerrymandering, why the US Congress doesn’t want to understand about global warming?

It is difficult to get Congress to understand something, when its reelection depends upon not understanding it!

Jim Hightower asked, in “The Hightower Lowdown,” July 2014: “If the government says that money is speech, and more money can buy more speech, doesn’t that mean that speech is not free?”

That would be the Supreme Court, those nine immortals who are almost the most important part of the government, because they can tell the other two parts what they can and cannot do.

Corporations run on the principle that the more shares you own, the more votes you own. So the more money you have, the more votes you have for Congress? Now there, Mr. Roberts, is an idea whose time is rapidly coming, if you and your friends give it a push.

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Now what do I do with yesterday’s political signs?

I’m going to update this from a year ago. “Recycle, reuse, reduce,” right?

‘Tis the season when winners exult, losers lament, and all of us wonder what to do with our growing collection of political signs and their metal support rods (AKA wickets).

Yesterday they were so important to sway voters’ minds… maybe… and now??

If your candidate might ever run again for the same office, 6 months or 2 or 4 years from now, save the sign in garage or basement. A little rust won’t hurt; in fact, it makes them more secure in the ground and less easy for evil-doers to pull out. I was guilty on this count this year: I found a sign for one of this year’s candidates… covered with paint, alas.

Be sure to keep one sign as a memento of each campaign of historic importance… like last year’s bipartisan team victory in the West Chester Area School Board race.


• The sign, perched on its wicket and slanted at a judicious angle, is great for shading delicate plants and transplants.

• It can also temporarily block holes in picket fences where rabbits and rodents might otherwise enter your back yard (e.g., while you’ve removed pickets for repainting).

• The paper or plastic part of signs makes a good paint drop cloth. Add more signs to cover more area. Or cut the plastic signs at the sides and fold them out to twice as large.

• Lay plastic signs on the ground under your eaves to prevent water infiltration, and cover them with dirt or stones.

• In messy weather, use signs to protect carpet underfoot in your car (just be sure not to give a ride to the candidate in question during that time).

• The wicket is excellent for propping up floppy bushes and flowers.

For lower plants, cut or bend the wicket supports. For really tall ones, straighten the metal out.

The collapsible type of wickets, whose two legs come off, are a terrible pain in political use (because the legs keep falling off), but the components serve well as individual plant supports (with ties or string).

The type of wicket that looks like a ladder with two prongs extending up into a corrugated sign are great for supporting plants, which are held in place by the arms.

• Here’s a remedy for those clothes hangers that dry cleaners send back pants hanging on, and whose sticky cardboard crosspiece always sags on reuse: cut a piece of wicket to the right length and insert it inside the cardboard. That one won’t ever sag again!

• I’ve used a wicket folded triple ply to insert inside a bamboo pole and then into a flag holder whose opening was too small for the bamboo. The metal made a strong and (I hope) permanent link where wood and thinner bamboo had collapsed under the strain. (Still experimenting on this one.)

• To stitch together segments of chicken wire or garden netting to keep off birds and rodents, whether vertically or horizontally: straighten out a wicket (they are surprisingly long in a straight line) and thread the resulting steel rod through the two adjoining segments.

• In art works. No kidding, I’ve seen in museums what looked to me like vertical clumps of campaign wickets with pieces of wood or corks jammed onto them. Adaptive reuse at its most esthetic. I keep meaning to try this one.

How to cut regular metal wickets by repeated bending? Be careful; use gloves and eye protection. It can be done by brute hand strength, or by pliers, to bend repeatedly until the metal fatigues and breaks. Hack saws take too long; this is tough metal! I guess a bolt cutter would work.

How about campaign buttons (pins)? Save them for future use or collect them. Yes, buttons are collectibles. Just think of the value if one of your candidates ever becomes president! You can get most presidential pins for a few dollars on Ebay (search “vintage political pins” but wouldn’t a button for the future president running for, say, town supervisor be worth a lot? Have you seen a “Coolidge for Mayor of Northampton Mass.” button lately?

You never know who is going to be famous later.

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The President and the Price of Gas

In February 2012, Newt Gingrich pledged that if elected president he would reduce the gas price to $2.50 a gallon.

Not to be outdone, his Republican colleague and intended presidential candidate
Michele Bachmann had already promised in August 2011 that she would bring us $2 gas.

Of course, the Republican line was that the high gas prices back then were all president Obama’s fault.

According to the “full history” download at the US Energy Information Administration, the highest average price ever for retail gas at the pump was $4.054 (week of 7/14/08), which was when George Bush was president.

The highest price in 2012 was $3.87 (week of 4/9/12).

The price now is around $3.015 per gallon. If we factor in about 8.2% of cumulative inflation since the 2008 high, today’s price is about $2.77 in 7/08 dollars. Thus the price of gas in real terms has fallen by 32%, almost one-third, since the Bush high.

So are Gingrich, Bachmann, and the potential 2016 aspiring presidential candidates giving Obama full credit for bring down the price of gas?

Yes, that’s what is known as a rhetorical question.

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PA Senate: Protect pigeons not people

Never let it be said that Harrisburg lacks a sense of irony:

“Pa. Senate votes to ban pigeon shoots” by PETER JACKSON, AP,, 10/15/14:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Guns were a hot topic Wednesday in the Pennsylvania Senate, which voted to back a ban on pigeon shoots and for a bill to give groups like the National Rifle Association legal standing to sue municipalities over local gun laws.

Senators favored outlawing pigeon shoots by a 3-1 margin and sent the measure back to the House for consideration.

The shoots, which involve launching the birds from spring-loaded boxes to be shot at close range, were derided by senators who called it inhumane and a throwback to “another age.”…

Photo from at philly.com091514-pigeon-shooting-600

That bill, HB 1750, passed the Senate on Oct. 15 by a vote of 36-12.

The same day, the Senate voted 32-16 to add the Alloway amendment, expanding HB 80 from a bill about sale of metals into one that penalizes municipalities for restricting the sale of guns and ammunition.

HB 80 by a passed the next day by a vote of 34-14. Henceforth, any local gun-restricting ordinance can be taken to court by organizations such as the NRA; a municipality will not only have to defend the case but also pay damages and the NRA’s or other plaintiff’s expenses. So much for the pretense that the conservatives who dominate in Harrisburg are against “big government.”

So the majority of the PA Senate put itself in the interesting position of prioritizing the protection of pigeons over the protection of people.

A week later, though, the PA House refused to take up the pigeon bill, thus letting it, like the pigeons, expire. See “NRA claims 11th hour victory in battle over live pigeon shoots” by Amy Worden, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/22/14. By then, though, the House had approved the Senate version of HB 80, which the current Governor will no doubt sign before his day of reckoning with the voters on Nov. 4.

So, chalk up two more for victories the NRA and its message: Pigeons, people, whatever.

photo from “151 Victims of Mass Shootings in 2012: Here Are Their Stories,” Mother Jones, 12/19/12





PS How did Senators representing Chesco vote?

HB 1750: Dinniman (D), Erickson (R), Pileggi (R), Rafferty (R) for

HB 80 Alloway amendment and final bill: Erickson (R), Pileggi (R), Rafferty (R) for; Dinniman (D) against

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Women candidates and the two parties

On 9/8/14 the Daily Local News published a letter from me under the title “More women would be good for state and country.”

Though I don’t doubt that that title is literally true, what I really said is that “a record number of women and supporters of women’s rights elected to office in Harrisburg and Washington this year would be good for Pennsylvania and the country.”

As it happens, it would be good for Democrats too, as they have more women running. I’m going to say more here.

On August 26, Women’s Equality Day, people across the country celebrated the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote.

As president Obama’s August 25 proclamation began by saying:

On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was certified, securing for women the fundamental right to vote. The product of decades spent organizing, protesting, and agitating, it was a turning point on the long march toward equality for all, and it inspired generations of courageous women who took up this unfinished struggle in their own time. On the anniversary of this civil rights milestone, we honor the character and perseverance of America’s women and all those who work to make the same rights and opportunities possible for our daughters and sons….

As the president goes on to say, women deserve equal rights, treatment, pay, and opportunities. Shouldn’t that be obvious to every one of us?

So how are we Pennsylvanians doing in equality of women among our elected legislators? Not so well, unfortunately.

According to the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, there are 37 women (21 R’s and 16 D’s) in our State House, and 8 (3 R’s and 5 D’s) in our State Senate.

Doing the math: in the PA House 21/111 = 19% of the R’s are women and 16/92 = 17% of the D’s are women. In the PA Senate, women are 3/27 = 11% of the R’s and 5/23 = 22% of the D’s.

The total of 45/253 means that only 18% of our General Assembly are women.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (as of November 8, 2013, but figures should be about the same today), Colorado ranks first at 41% women and Pennsylvania ranks 35th. Put differently, only 15 states (most of them in the South) have less representation of women in the state legislature.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women comprise 18.5% of the US House and 20% of the US Senate. PA has just one woman representative (Allyson Schwartz) out of 18 House members, or 6%, and no female senators.

So what can be done about Pennsylvania?

On August 26, eight Democratic women candidates for PA Senate and House from Chester County joined in the rally in Harrisburg, celebrating the record number of women running this year for the state Legislature. To be precise, in Chesco, 7 women are running out of 10 Dem candidates and 1 woman out of 11 R candidates.

As local Democratic candidate Susan Rzucidlo (158th House district) pointed out, “In order to have a truly representative government our Legislature should reflect the diversity of our state.”

Tom Houghton, Dem candidate for U.S. Congress PA-16, said that “It is unfortunate that in 2014, ‘women’s issues’ such as access to health care, equal pay and equal opportunities are still matters of political and policy debate.”

And where do elected Republicans stand? Among many other possible examples:

Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16) voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act when it passed Congress last year.

In April of this year, Sen. Pat Toomey (PA) voted to filibuster the Paycheck Fairness Act, which still hasn’t passed the Senate, though the House passed it in 2009. In fact, not a single R senator voted for it. According to “Senate Republicans Block Bill on Equal Pay,” New York Times, 4/9/14:

Supporters of the bill, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, say it would bring transparency to worker pay by making it illegal for employers to penalize employees who discuss their salaries and by requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect pay information from employers.

Rs v. equal pay for women













The D’s routinely accuse the R’s of waging a “war on women.” Maybe “war” is a bit strong? Putting it more genteelly: Too many elected R’s just don’t seem to care about what American women care about.

But I want to emphasize, these are not issues “for women.” Fairness in representation, fairness in pay and job access, fairness in legal protections are good for all Americans. And electing a record number of women and supporters of women’s rights to office in Harrisburg and Washington this year would be good for Pennsylvania and the country.

Wouldn’t it be great if this year’s PA Dem women candidates (pictured below with Katie McGinty, head of Tom Wolf’s Fresh Start Campaign, all got the chance to start changing the outmoded political culture in Harrisburg, as of January 2015?

Equality Day











So Chester County could help Pennsylvania along. How does the County, long under R domination, currently rate in terms of representation of women?

US Congress: 0/3
PA Senate: 0/4
PA House: 1/9
Chesco Commissioners: 1/3
Chesco row officers: 3/8
Chesco Court of Common Pleas: 4/17

Though these are very different categories, adding the figures does give us an idea of the underrepresentation of women: 9/39, or 23%. Isn’t this strange, when women comprise slightly over half of all who vote?

November 4, 2014, we can start doing something about it.

PS Summary of the % of women:

6% in the US Congress from PA
0% in the US Congress from Chesco
16% in the PA Senate
0% in the PA Senate from Chesco
18% in the PA House
11% in the PA House from Chesco
29% of Chesco countywide elected officials
0% of current Republican candidates for US Congress to represent Chesco
33% of current Democratic candidates for US Congress to represent Chesco
9% of current Republican candidates for PA Senate and House to represent Chesco
70% of current Democratic candidates for PA Senate and House to represent Chesco

Posted in PA politics, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Time to discuss public education funding, not “gang up on lawmakers””

I found the Daily Local News 10/5/14 editorial, “Homeowners, time to gang up on lawmakers,” very perplexing. (You can find the original version online in the Pottstown Mercury, 10/3/14.)

I actually favor state funding for public education, because I think it’s fairer than the current reliance on property taxes, but the details have to be considered carefully, and this editorial does not help at all. It doesn’t even mention that it is talking only about school taxes, not municipal and county property taxes.

“Property tax reform” has a nice ring to it but basically means transferring the financing of public education from local property owners to other types of tax.

As authorized by Senate Bill 76, does the editorial writer favor increasing state sales taxes from 6% to 7% and broadening the goods and services taxed (possibly including online sales)?

How about the proposed increase in state income tax from 3.07% to 4.34%?

And should school districts be able to levy personal income tax or earned income tax for new construction?

How would the proceeds be divided among school districts? If current district funding is locked in as the basis for future budgets, would that perpetuate the current unfairness?

How do we know that an across-the-board inflation-calibrated increase will meet students’ needs?

How would districts with growing or shrinking school populations be affected?

Could state funding become contingent on adopting certain state-approved policies and procedures?

Would the measure help public schools or further disadvantage them against charter and private schools?

Would funding in wealthier areas like Chester County be less than what the local population wishes to pay?

Would businesses and renters gain or lose from the shift in taxes?

Should revenue from any future natural gas extraction tax feed into public school funding?

I can understand that, considering a far-reaching bill, many PA legislators want to wait till next year to finish dealing with such questions, which the editorial writer does not discuss.

Instead, the editorial complains about attention given to issues like same sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. But there is a difference. Those are issues of human rights and freedoms, which should concern us all, not just those affected most directly. But I have not heard about any right not to pay property tax.

What particularly surprises me is the remark “Did you hear more about any other single issue [than same-sex marriage] in 2014?” It seems to me we’ve heard quite a lot about terrorism, Iraq and Syria, and ebola lately.

But oddly, the editorial does not seem to accept that the Daily Local chooses what to put in its pages. In the 10/5/14 issue, the main headline is “Beloved pig shot at animal sanctuary.” It could have been “Public school financing off Harrisburg agenda.” But it wasn’t.

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Ebola and MRSA

When an epidemic starts far away, we tend to be in denial. It couldn’t happen here because we have such an advanced medical system, right?

No man is an island and no country is a gated community.

Do you remember the scary arrival of AIDS in this country 30+ years ago? That also came to us from Africa, while people weren’t paying enough attention here. Doesn’t it make one think that the international community — with mainly the wealthy countries footing the bill — ought to be more active in helping improve health conditions around the world? The World Health Organization is doing what it can, but unfortunately their budget has declined recently.

And now ebola has reached Texas after all and the victim was initially turned away from a hospital. Whatever science can do, it can’t rule out human error.

And in one of the ironies of globalization, the Texas patient boarded his pane in Monrovia, named after our 5th president James Monroe, since Liberia was founded as a country by African Americans from the US in the first half of the 19th century.

The widening circle of ebola victims is to the world community as the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to the US population.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria aren’t a fringe group worry. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says:

…these drugs have been used so widely and for so long that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective.

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

We often hear about hospital infections and deaths due to MRSA. According to the Mayo Clinic,

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.

Most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers….

And why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? In part because of the overuse of antibiotics in industrial meat production. So much has been written about that, and so little improves because the meant lobby has such a stranglehold on Congress.

Here’s just one recent tidbit: “Taking a Health Hazard Home” by Stephanie Strom, New York Times, 9/15/14

A new study of a small group of workers at industrial hog farms in North Carolina has found that they continued to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria over several days, raising new questions for public health officials struggling to contain the spread of such pathogens….

If those workers know what’s good for them, they won’t eat the pork there — but they can’t avoid breathing.

The spread of ebola and MRSA has several lessons, in my view:

The US can’t keep out diseases from other countries (by the way, dengue fever is here too) and global warming isn’t going to help at all.

We and the other wealthy countries need to support third-world countries’ health care more, for their sake and our own.

We need a truly national health care system, so that no one who might have serious symptoms will hesitate to see a doctor immediately — or have to wait in line for hours either. A single-payer health care system for Pennsylvania, as proposed by Health Care for All PA, would be a good start.

Disruptions of populations, as by warfare — think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Middle East now –, spread disease. Read “1918 flu pandemic” in Wikipedia. Brought on by World War I, the so-called (and wrongly named) Spanish flu “infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.”

The world needs to get its priorities straight: less money for war, more for health!

PS: More on the budget: the entire 2014 budget for the CDC, which through the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases is leading US ebola help to West Africa, is $11.3 billion.

Meanwhile, according to the National Priorities Project, the US has spent over $1.5 trillion on wars since 2001, and so far just in 2014 over $18 billion on nuclear weapons.

See also: “Budget Cuts ‘Eroded Our Ability to Respond’ to Ebola, Says Top Health Official” by Gabrielle Canon, Mother Jones, 10/1/14.

In terms of national security, isn’t protection against epidemics a more beneficial expenditure than nuclear weapons?

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