Friday, August 22, 2014

Under Attack? Climate Change Raises PA's Pesky Insect Population

Tom Joseph, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: A new National Wildlife Federation report says climate change is prompting bigger populations of familiar pests and insects, as well as some not seen before in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Charles Rondeau/publicdomainpictures.net
PHOTO: A new National Wildlife Federation report says climate change is prompting bigger populations of familiar pests and insects, as well as some not seen before in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Charles Rondeau/publicdomainpictures.net
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Many forms of wildlife in Pennsylvania, from trees and plants to fish, have suffered the dangerous effects of climate change, but insects are thriving in the state's warmer climate, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

The evidence is clear, said Ed Perry, Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the federation's Global Warming Campaign. He pointed to the Asian tiger mosquito, which first surfaced in Texas in the mid 1980s and now calls parts of south-central Pennsylvania home - bringing with it an arsenal of harmful diseases.

"Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile, yellow fever. This thing, unlike other mosquitoes, it's out in the middle of the day," Perry said, "so when you're out mowing your yard, you're liable to be attacked by this mosquito."

Perry said tick populations are higher and more varied as well. He said they have infested the moose population so badly that some animals are scraping off their fur against trees in an attempt to rid themselves of ticks. That behavior leaves the moose susceptible to hypothermia and death in the colder months.

Despite almost unanimous consensus among scientists that climate change exists and is worsening, Perry said the concept still has its naysayers.

"It's beyond question that things are happening. Every species of plant, animal and insect that can move north or up in elevation is trying to do so," Perry said. "So, there's no 'deniers' in the natural world."

The report said solutions to global warming are within reach, although some are controversial. Perry said the Obama administration has taken a promising lead in cleaning up the air with the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to curb carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent in the next 15 years.

"Reduce carbon pollution from future and existing coal-fired power plants; by increasing the gas mileage requirements for cars and light trucks," he said. "We need our elected representatives to speak out loudly in support of the president's plan."

Opponents of the EPA plan say it will cost jobs, especially in coal-producing states, and pinch the budgets of all Americans through higher utility costs.

The full report is online at nwf.org.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

NEW SPAMALOT DOCUMENTS REVEAL DISCREPANCIES IN OFFICIALS’ STATEMENTS

Right To Know Law Request Reveals Discrepancies and Inconsistencies by South Williamsport Area School District Officials

WILLIAMSPORT, PA – On July 10th and July 28th, 2014, Keystone Progress submitted Right to Know requests for all public records concerning the “Spamalot” controversy at South Williamsport High School. A controversy erupted in north-central Pennsylvania in late June, when a local television station aired a story about the South Williamsport Area School District’s cancellation of the spring 2015 musical planned by the drama department, Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” WNEP-TV later retracted part of its story, based on statements by school district officials, but left many questions unanswered.

In response to Keystone Progress’s RTK request, the organization received 63 pages of documents from South Williamsport Area School District Superintendent Mark Stamm.  (ALL VIEWABLE HERE)

These documents reveal clear discrepancies between statements made by school district officials to the media and the public in July.

1.  The school district asserted that the play was not canceled because of its homosexual content but because of inappropriate language and adult themes.  In his emails to Drama Director Dawn Burch, Principal Jesse Smith clearly says he is opposed to the production of “Spamalot” because it portrays a “gay wedding” and has “homosexual themes.”

2.  School district officials asserted that "Spamalot" was only one of several plays under consideration and had not actually been put on the schedule, so therefore it had not really been canceled.  But the documents show that Smith signed a check from the High School to Theatrical Rights Worldwide on May 12, 2014, to pay for the license agreement to produce "Spamalot" at the High School March 12-14, 2015.

Keystone Progress research shows yet another clear inconsistency between school district officials’ statements and the public record.  At a July 27 press conference at New Covenant United Church of Christ organized by Keystone Progress in partnership with Equality Central PA, Superintendent Mark Stamm and School Board President John Engel, Jr. both made statements to the effect that bullying is a natural part of growing up, that bullying occurs all the time in their schools, that every child is subject to bullying, and that school officials and teachers can’t do anything to stop bullying (video from the event of Stamm is herevideo of Engel is here). That responsibility, Engel said, lies with parents at home.

A search of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Safe Schools site shows that over the past five years, SWASD has reported zero instances of bullying at schools in the district. (SCREENSHOTS OF REPORTS FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS AVAILABLE HERE) If bullying happens there every day, why were none of these instances reported, as required by law?

“Keystone Progress believes that schools should be safe havens for all young people, including those who are questioning their sexuality.  The South Williamsport Area School District owes parents, students, and taxpayers an explanation of their actions and words. Why did district officials feel it necessary to cover up the principal’s remarks about ‘homosexual themes’?  Why did they assert that 'Spamalot' had not been agreed upon when nearly two thousand taxpayer dollars had gone to purchase the license for performances of the play? And why do they allow bullying to continue in the schools and yet fail to report it as required by state law?” said Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill. 


“The more information we get, the more questions that are raised.  It’s clear that the administration would like this to be brushed under the rug, but they owe it to their students, the parents and the taxpayers in South Williamsport to be fully transparent.  This is about making sure all children feel that they can trust school administrators and feel safe in their schools. This is about a school administration’s responsibility to the community to be honest and upfront about how they run their schools.”

Keystone Progress PAC announces more endorsements

(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Keystone Progress Political Action Committee (KPPAC) announced its next round of endorsements today.  This included three candidates running for seats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
  • Frederick Sheeler, (D, H5, Berks County)
  • Rep. Stephen McCarter, (D, H154, Montgomery County)
  • Susan Rzucidlo, D, (H158, Chester County)
Here is the list of current prior 2014 endorsements:
State Senate
Christine Tartaglione (D, SD 2, Philadelphia)
Linda Small (D, SD 28, York County) 
State House
Rep. Ed Gainey (D, HD 24, Allegheny County)
Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D, HD 132, Lehigh County)
Vince Rongione (D, HD 163, Delaware County)
Rep. Mike O’Brien (D, HD 175, Philadelphia)
Rep. Brian Sims (D, HD 182, Philadelphia)
Liz Forrest (D, HD 189, Monroe, Pike Counties)
Rep. Mark Cohen (D, HD 202, Philadelphia)
Each of the endorsed candidates is a strong supporter of quality public education for children; supports a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; will fight to close corporate tax loopholes; supports a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices; supports marriage equality; and will work to protect our environment, our economy and our democracy.
“Keystone Progress has grown to be one of the most powerful progressive organizations in Pennsylvania.  Our board of directors has recognized that we can have an impact beyond our usual issue-based work by getting actively involved in electing progressive candidates,” said Michael Morrill, speaking for the PAC. “We can’t win on our most important issues if we keep electing people who don’t share our values.”

Keystone Progress has hundreds of thousands of members who frequently take action on a variety of progressive issues.  Keystone Progress members will be encouraged to support endorsed candidates through their votes, volunteering for campaign work and by making contributions.