Thursday, September 3, 2015

Army Engineers: The Pork Barrel Soldiers

The civilian branch of the Army Corps on Engineers embodies everything wrong with government.  It builds projects of dubious value, it is arrogant, it wastes taxpayer money, and yet it continues to receive the support of Congress members who can point to federal dollars coming into their districts to build unnecessary dams and “flood control” projects.

I’ll admit I have a personal bias, and I just realized this posting might have to be divided into two parts to get everything out.  The Corps was the agency that built the Beltzville Dam.  Our farm, which supported three families, went from 460 acres to 29 acres, and my Dad, a lifetime farmer, became a hired hand at a chicken farm, then a plumber’s helper, and finally a janitor.  He watched while our farm buildings were bulldozed and burned and the Wild Creek flooded.

Actually, not one of our fields was flooded.  They became part of the “park.”  Within a decade of the fields being seized under eminent domain, they were rented out for farming.  (By that point in time all our farm equipment had been sold at auction and the Christman Brothers were not able to rent back our fields.)

The price offered for the farm was minimal--$200 an acre.  (This was in 1967, but that was still a very low offer.)  After a battle in federal court, the Christman Brothers were awarded approximately $800 an acre, although I should point out that the attorney received approximately 1/3 of that amount.

The representatives from the Corps who dealt with the local farmers were arrogant, imperious, and so out of touch with the local residents that they even mis-named the project as “Beltzville,” a non-existent village on Route 209.  

Today the land in Beltzville State Park is not owned by the state.  It is still under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps.  In the Nineties I started an abortive campaign to have the Corps turn the land over to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, but I never had much support.  

And while I have had some good relations with Beltzville Corps managers, (Bob Greene springs to mind), when I recently stopped in to get the Corps’ support against the PennEast Pipeline, the phrase “blown off” comes to mind.  

OK, I need two posts.  Upcoming:  The Corps an environmental agency, why DCNR is so much better, a look at the Corps’ threat to pallid sturgeon, and why I really like the Cato Institute’s study of the Corps.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It's what God wants

I am always amazed at the number of people who know what God wants them to do.  The people from ISIS know Muhammed wants them to destroy archeological treasures.  Hindu fundamentalists know that god wants them to kill a scholar who opposes idol worship.  And a county clerk in Kentucky knows that God wants her to deny marriage licenses to gay couples.

At times like this I really wish there was a God who could come down from heaven, release some thunderbolts, and intone from a burning bush, “Do your really think you are doing my will, you stupid cow?”

The amazing thing about the Kentucky clerk is that she was married four times, although to only three husbands, one of whom evidently changed his mind and agreed to marry her for the second time.  I guess Jesus doesn’t really care much about divorce or multiple bed partners, as long as they are heterosexual.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Liquor Control Board kickbacks

I am a firm supporter of the present system of “State Stores” in Pennsylvania.  First of all, they provide a steady source of revenue to the state, millions of dollars, year after year.  

Secondly, state stores do not add to urban blight.  If you live in most states, you know that your local liquor store is often a hangout, a location that attracts winos, alcoholics, and other disreputable people.

Third, the state stores decrease alcoholism.  Clerks have no reason to sell to drunks.  They have no incentive to sell to teenagers or people who are obviously inebriated.  

Fourth, they provide good paying jobs.  If you think that liquor stores will be paying union wages, think again.

Finally, I like the whole idea of state stores.  There is something old-fashioned about it.  It is one of the things that makes this state unique.

Unfortunately, there is another state tradition–that of the kickback, the payment under the table.  Why is this state so goddam corrupt?  Why would a LCB marketing director, knowing that the State Store system is under attack by Republicans, take cash and gifts from suppliers?  Why would he undermine the system that some of us are working so hard to retain?

This is not a borderline moral issue.  This is not a grey area.  You take money from suppliers, you KNOW that is illegal, immoral, and ammo for the anti-state store forces.  

There are times I’d like to move back to California or move to Oregon or Minnesota, where the political culture emphasizes honesty and correct behavior.  It is about time we change the political culture of this state.  The current way of behaving is no longer acceptable.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The irritating Kathleen Kane

I’ve been a big supporter of Kathleen Kane.  The kind of charges leveled against her are small beer stuff, and it is obvious she poked the hornets’ nest of the old boys and riled them up.  They should take their porn pics and jokes and go to their rooms.

So why am I irritated with Ms. Kane?  Way back on July 25 I wrote about a decision by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel that Pennsylvania law restricted minor parties from organizing and speaking.  

Libertarians and Greens are required to gather as many as 10 times the number of signatures as Democrats and Republicans, and if the petitions are challenged, the third party candidates must pay the legal fees, which can run over $100,000.

This is blatantly discriminatory.  Judge Stengel did democracy a favor by invalidating the law.  The Philadelphia Inquirer urged the state not to appeal.  On August 21 Attorney General Kane announced that her office would appeal the decision anyway.  She evidently wants the discriminatory law to stand.  

Incidentally, here is how bad things are in Pennsylvania.  On August 18 a state trial court removed the Green Party nominee for Philadelphia Commissioner from the November 3 ballot, using the same process for checking signatures that had been declared unconstitutional in federal court in July.  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Voting Rights

On Saturday Linda and I drove to Manhattan to see an exhibit on political posters at the New York Historical Society’s museum on 77th Street across from Central Park.  The posters were wonderful, but we also saw an exhibit of photos by Stephen Somerstein of the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights for African-Americans.

It was shortly after that march that the Voting Rights Act was passed, a bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

Now Ari Berman has written a book about recent attempts to roll back those rights.  It is entitled “Give Us the Ballot:  The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.”  It details the attempts by conservatives and racists and the U.S. Supreme Court to roll back the guarantees of the Voting Rights Act.  

Battles to extend freedom in this country are never final.  We must always refight them, always push back against the forces of racism and bigotry.  I am tired of fighting, but we don’t have a choice.  We have to battle back.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Planned Parenthood videos

It turns out that those videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood was violating the law and selling”baby parts” were deceptively and misleadingly edited.  Planned Parenthood broke no laws.  

Public funds cannot be used to pay for abortions.  They were not used.  Now Republicans in Congress want to strip Planned Parenthood of the approximately $500 million it gets annually to care for low-income women.

Once again we see women’s health sacrificed on the altar of right-wing ideology.  It is so obvious that Republican presidential candidates care nothing about women, or babies for that matter.  What they are about is winning elections, no matter how many innocent women will suffer. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Born in the U.S.A.

The 14th Amendment is one of three amendments passed after the Civil War.  The 13th said no more slavery.  The 15th gave the right to vote to males regardless of color or condition of previous servitude.  The 14th, a long amendment, guaranteed equal protection of the laws, and it also said that anyone born in the U.S. was a U.S. citizen.

President Andrew Johnson opposed the 14th.  He was quoted as saying that under the provisions of the amendment, “even the Chinese will become citizens.”  The 14th has unified and strengthened this country.  When California passed laws that Japanese aliens couldn’t own land, they put their deeds in the names of their children, who were born here and,therefore, U.S. citizens.

Turkish immigrants who have lived in Germany for three generations and speak only German are not necessarily citizens of Germany.  The Germans don’t have the equivalent of the 14th Amendment.

We have always been an inclusive country.  In 1908 Israel Zangwill wrote a play about our mixing and blending entitled “The Melting Pot.”  Many social scientists think we are more of a stew with some large chunks, but we are still in the melting process.  As I often told my students at San Jose State, a real melting pot, “If you are born here, you are one of us.”  Us.  Inclusive.  Together.

Now Republican candidates, and not just Trump, are proposing to change the 14th Amendment.  Citizenship would no longer be a birthright.  We’d have two classes--citizens and a permanent underclass.  People like Walker are whipping up xenophobia.  Even Jeb Bush is talking about “anchor babies,” a silly paranoid fantasy of the far right.  I’m telling you, this is getting serious.  People of good will and common sense and a knowledge of our American heritage need to speak up.