Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's not just Arizona. Is PA next for "legal discrimination?"

It's not just Arizona.

Republican State Rep. Gordon Denlinger wants to pass a “legalize  discrimination” bill in Pennsylvania.

The PA GOP bill is just like the controversial bill in Arizona that will allow people to discriminate based on "sincerely held religious beliefs."

Don't like gays?  Kick them out of your restaurant.
Hate Jews?  Don't let them stay at your motel.
Think blacks and whites shouldn't marry?  Don't rent your apartment to them.

All of this will be legal under Denlinger's bill.  As long as you can "justify" it by your religious beliefs.

This GOP bill will roll the clock back to before the Civil Rights Era.

We can't let this happen. Tell your legislators to oppose legalized discrimination.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Groups Say Nutter Order on Immigrant Detention Policy Doesn't Go Far Enough

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Michael Nutter is preparing to sign an order pulling back on an agreement to let undocumented immigrants who are arrested in the city be detained by federal agents. 

Still, immigration advocates say it doesn't go far enough.

Nutter’s expected action on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, would end the detention practice except in cases where the crimes committed were violent felonies.

Nicole Kligerman, a spokeswoman for the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, says any level of the practice is too much.

"ICE holds are non-mandatory requests from federal deportation agents to local law enforcement to hold people in local law-enforcement custody who would otherwise be released, and this is exclusively because of their immigration status," she points out.

The ICE agreement in Philadelphia began six years ago, giving federal agents access to local arrest records.

By law, even immigrants here legally on green cards can be deported if they are found guilty of a felony.

Opponents say it penalizes immigrants in instances where they would otherwise be free on bail.

Kligerman says the arrangement also boils down to Philadelphia taxpayers subsidizing federal deportation programs.

"Budgetary issues are moral issues and the city of Philadelphia has decided that deportation is an essential service, while cutting other actual essential services to Philadelphians," she stresses.

Advocacy groups such as New Sanctuary also say they want more input on decisions like this that have such wide-ranging impact on the immigrant community.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Consumer Groups Concerned About Comcast Conquest

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
PHILADELPHIA - It's a $45 billion deal that would make Philadelphia-based Comcast the driving force in cable TV. But some groups have concerns about how the company's merger with Time Warner Cable will affect broadband Internet access, especially in underserved areas, according to Craig Aaron, president of the media watchdog group Free Press.

"Comcast is the country's largest Internet service provider, and adding all of Time Warner Cable's Internet customers is going to make them a huge, huge force when it comes to high-speed Internet."

Aaron said the newly formed media giant also would have added sway in Washington to push forward an agenda that enhances its bottom line.

"They spend a lot of money on lobbying. They lobby both parties. President Obama has spent time golfing and socializing on Martha's Vineyard with the CEO of Comcast, and the chairman of the FCC used to be a cable lobbyist," he pointed out.

Comcast claims the deal would be beneficial to consumers as the company rolls out more cloud-based services to Time Warner Cable customers, and that it will eventually be able to provide higher broadband speeds.

Critics of the deal say it should be blocked because it would ultimately result in decreased competition, higher rates and, potentially, compromised service. In addition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a lobbying organization focused on digital rights, has accused Comcast of slowing users' broadband connections.

Friday, February 14, 2014

National Survey Shows Strong Support for Carbon Pollution Limits

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Despite the political backlash in Pennsylvania and other coal states, a new national survey says there's strong public support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

The poll, commissioned by the Sierra Club, finds that 57 percent of those questioned support the idea, and that more than three out of five support investing in clean energy sources and energy efficiency instead of the traditional mix of coal, oil and gas.

"These results serve as a strong reminder that when we make choices about which path we're going to take, the voices of American families are loud and clear,” says Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

“They want clean energy, and they want it right away."

The National Mining Association ranks Pennsylvania as the fourth highest among states in terms of coal production, with just under 5.5 percent of total U.S. coal production in 2012.

Alex DeSha, a Sierra Club member, counters that coal is, in his words, no longer cheap.

And he sees the EPA's push for stricter rules on carbon emissions as a chance to broaden the nation's energy mix.

"We've seen the coal industry lose its competitive edge to other resources,” he points out. “Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency is, you know, the direction the nation as a whole is going.

“I look at the carbon rules as an opportunity for us to be innovative."

The poll found 44 percent of those questioned had a favorable opinion of the EPA, compared with just 27 percent who rated the agency unfavorably.

Pollster Andrew Baumann, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, calls those very solid ratings from a cross-section of Americans.

"So, you know, the EPA – unlike some would have you believe – is not at all the bogeyman,” he says. “It's actually quite popular, and trusted."

Critics of the new poll claim it comes from what they see as an anti-coal polling firm, and say the coal industry has to do a better job of communicating its value to the public.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Educators Say Corbett Funding Needs Formula

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Education advocates say Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed funding of a $241 million education block grant is a significant dollar amount, but they still question whether it is the best way to use the money. 

Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, says it remains to be seen what conditions are attached to the one-year Ready to Learn grant program and whether or not districts can use the money for the most critical needs.

"Since we don't have a funding formula,” Gobreski stresses, “the big question is going to be does that drive out money to where it's needed, the school districts that are really struggling to be able to meet the needs of kids right now, and are these the right programs to focus on?"

Gobreski says more important than new funding is to restore what was lost through nearly $1 billion in cuts to public schools.

She points out districts haven't yet recovered from the program cuts that were implemented.

Gobreski says there is also some good news in a $20 million increase in special education funding, which had been flat for more than five years.

"The Legislature formed a commission to study the issue of special education funding and has made a set of recommendations,” she says. “And I think the important point there is that when legislators lead, we can start actually taking positive steps to address some of these issues."

Gobreski adds while the governor's education-funding proposal this year marks a major improvement from the past several years, the money is only a one-time grant, not an ongoing increase and not being directed where it is needed.

"If we aren't going forward on basic education funding, we're going backwards,” she maintains, “because it means we have to use the same pot of dollars for programs that have increased costs, which means we have to cut somewhere else to keep up."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Budget Hearings Put Corbett Proposal to the Test

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA 

HARRISBURG, Pa. - On the heels of Gov. Tom Corbett's just-released spending plan, budget hearings are under way in Harrisburg, a process that sets the stage for how the Commonwealth spends money in the upcoming fiscal year.

A lot is at stake for Pennsylvanians, said Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, adding that the prominent question is whether the Corbett proposal gets the job done. She said one of the important elements to watch is the governor's call for more corporate tax cuts.

"We've put into place about a billion dollars worth of tax cuts over the past four years,” she said, “and those tax cuts make it harder for the state to pay for education, help for children with disabilities and other improvements over the long haul."

Ward warned that the proposal relies too heavily on “one-time” funding sources and uncertain savings projections.

"But when you're talking about public education or health care, you really shouldn't hold your budget together with Scotch tape and string,” she said, “and that's the budget that we have this year."

Moving forward, she said, steps can be taken to bolster the spending plan and help Pennsylvania gain some traction in terms of job growth and a healthier bottom line.

"There's another tax cut that's scheduled; that one has to be delayed because it's simply unaffordable,” she said. “The state can also take advantage of expanding Medicaid and the federal dollars that will come along with that."

Ward noted that Corbett requests an additional $241 million for a "Ready to Learn" block grant but recommends no increase for basic education funding. The budget proposal also makes changes that will increase the state's pension debt and delay a $394 million payment to Medicaid managed care.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tom Corbett killed 4 people today.

In fact, as of today, February 11, he has killed 168 people.  That’s according to a new study by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the City University of New York.

According to the study, Tom Corbett’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act will result in 1,491 deaths this year.

Why is Corbett turning down federal funding for Medicaid expansion? Because he is playing politics over Obamacare in an election year. He wants to turn Medicaid over to his corporate insurance friends and impose illegal restrictions on who can be covered.

Every day Corbett delays the expansion of Medicaid in Pennsylvania 4 more people will die.

Expanded Medicaid coverage will not only prevent deaths, it will increase employment in Pennsylvania. A Families USA study showed that expanded coverage will result in over 40,000 new jobs in PA.

It’s time for Tom Corbett to stop playing politics with our lives.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Report: Cost of Textbooks a Roadblock To Learning

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The rising costs of college tuition, room and board aren't the only financial obstacles to higher learning, according to a new report, which finds that soaring textbook prices are keeping some Pennsylvania students from getting the most out of college education. 

According to Ethan Senack, higher-education associate with the Public Interest Research Group, the average cost of a college textbook has risen 82 percent in the past decade, to nearly $200 per volume, which, for students, can mean $1200 per year.

"When students are doing their best to earn a degree within four years, they should be focused on taking the classes they need to earn their degree, not tapped out because they have to choose between a textbook and rent," Senack declared.

The report says that despite the increased prevalence of rental programs, used books and e-books, 65 percent of students have opted out of purchasing a book for a class, with nearly all reporting they suffered academically as a result. The full report is available

Senack said the good news is that students are ready for alternatives to the traditional textbook model. The report proposes more universities embrace the use of "open" textbooks, which are faculty-written and peer-reviewed, but published under an open license. They're free for students to read online or download and print.

"There's a tremendous potential to save students money and give them the access they need to the textbooks they're required to buy for their course, without breaking the bank," he said.

Open textbooks typically cost from $20 to $40 to purchase a hard copy. Legislation to authorize grants to create and adapt more open textbooks has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House, but the bills face stiff objections from the traditional publishing industry and haven't made it to the floor of either chamber.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Closing Offshore Tax Loophole Would Bring $57 Million to PA

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania lost more than $1.4 billion in corporate tax revenue to offshore tax havens in 2011, according to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. 

The study focuses on a so-called water's edge exemption – meaning that U.S. taxes on income are exempt for money generated inside another country.

Dan Smith, a tax and budget advocate for U.S. PIRG, helped to write the report. He explains that it's as simple as a corporation setting up a post office box in a low-tax country, such as the Cayman Islands, and claiming the exemption.

"That income wasn't made beyond the water's edge,” he says. “It's not like companies are putting up factories or doing research and development in the Cayman Islands."

The report points out that while federal action could be taken to close the loophole, states can do it, too – and Montana and Oregon already have taken that step with bipartisan support.

It also says Pennsylvania could have collected an additional $57 million in taxes in 2012 if the loophole were closed here.

Corporations argue it's perfectly legal for them to keep the profits they make in another country overseas and pay the local taxes.

Smith counters it's also perfectly legal for the states to demand a fair share of the money hidden in known offshore tax havens – and it doesn't take complicated legislation.

"It's literally adding a line to the tax form that corporations already file,” he explains. “And for the corporation, it's just taking something they report to the federal government and adding it in that line."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mondays with ALEC: Immigration and Opportunity

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) claims to have a prosperity agenda, but in fact it has long fought to keep millions from earning the American Dream through draconian anti-immigrant laws.

ALEC legislation has:

·      Mandated local enforcement of complex federal immigration law, requiring that law enforcement demand the papers of anyone who may look “illegal” -- resulting in ethnic/racial profiling;
·      Promoted harmful stereotypes of aspiring Americans as “illegal gang members” and “terrorists” and misled lawmakers and others that federal immigration reforms would allow people who have committed crimes of violence to become citizens when federal law consistently bars that;
·      Sought to deny U.S. citizenship to American children born here if their parents are undocumented;
·      Sought to increase the number of immigrants detained, even if they committed no crime, which would benefit the private prison industry that paid for ALEC corporate membership for years;
·      Sought to punish local police by subjecting them to fines if they did not prioritize investigating claims that a worker might be undocumented above investigating other crimes like murder

It’s Time to Stand Up to ALEC’s Legacy of Anti-Immigrant Bills

Actions You Can Take
·       Join the campaign at and tell your local legislators commit to supporting common sense immigration reform.
·       Ask your Facebook and Twitter followers to join the campaign on Twitter via @StandUpToALEC and at
·       Tweet: Use the hashtags #ALECimmigration and #StandUpToALEC
·       Share the attached images on Facebook and Twitter

Want to Do More?
Interested in outreach about ALEC’s agenda? Contact Anthony DeAngelo at

ALEC Has Done Nothing to Undo Its Anti-Immigrant Bills
In 2012, ALEC dropped immigration bills from its library, but it’s done nothing to undo the damage done.

SB 1070 – The bill that put ALEC’s anti-immigrant agenda on the map

In April 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070, the notorious “papers please” law that legalized and encouraged racial profiling and mandated local enforcement of federal immigration law. The bill encouraged racial profiling, invaded citizens’ constitutional civil rights, and put new burdens and restrictions on local law enforcement. Before that bill was introduced in the state house, it was secretly pre-approved at a closed door ALEC meeting where state legislators, corporate lobbyists, and special interest groups voted for it.

The year before the bill was introduced in Arizona, then-Arizona Senator Russell Pearce secretly collaborated with ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force to advance ALEC’s “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act” as a “model” for the nation.  That task force included Corrections Corporation of America, which had identified immigrant detention as a profit center, and the trade association for the bail bond industry, which also profits from immigrant detention. (CCA has claimed it did not vote on the bill, and merely observed.) The bill was then introduced in statehouses in Arizona and other states. In 2011, Pearce was recalled by his constituents, largely due to his support of SB 1070.  In 2012, the law was largely struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Restricting a pathway to citizenship and the American Dream

ALEC adopted a “Resolution on the 14th Amendment” declaring that—contrary to the plain language of our Constitution—American children born here to undocumented immigrants should not be citizens.  Other resolutions passed by ALEC falsely claimed that the immigration of undocumented workers cost taxpayers “billions” and misleadingly equated a pathway to citizenship with “amnesty” for “illegal gang members and terrorists.”

Forcing Our Cities to Choose Between Criminals and Aspiring Americans

Instead of helping aspiring Americans prosper and help our country grow, ALEC has fought to target them through local law enforcement, forcing already resource-depleted local police to focus on those who simply want to build a better life rather than Americans or others who commit violent crimes.

USGS Scientists Uproot Long-held Beliefs about Trees

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
PHILADELPHIA - A long-held belief about old trees has been uprooted. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey finds that trees' growth rates do not slow as they get older and larger. Instead, they keep putting on mass along with their years.

According to the study's lead author, Nate Stephenson, a forest ecologist with the USGS, if people did the same, we'd weigh well over a ton by retirement. For trees, the finding changes what we know about how they store carbon, and has implications for forest management.

"About for every pound of mass a tree puts on, it's absorbing and sequestering about a half-pound of carbon," he said, and added that old, large trees are better at storing and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

Stephenson pointed out that the rapid absorption rates mean old trees are the star players within forest carbon dynamics. And that's also of interest in terms of the changing climate.

"Change is going to happen no matter what, and if we want to project how forests are going to respond to that, we really have to get some of these key pieces right."

Trees around the world were studied for the report, more than 600,000 of them from 400 species, on six continents.

The study has been published in the journal Nature at