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More Thoughts on the Susquehanna Poll

Let me second Alex. Yep…looks like he might.

There are a couple interesting tidbits that indicate that this poll might be for real.

The partisan breakdown is D/R/I 48/42/10. D+6 should be about right for PA in 2012. It was D+7 in 2008 and D+3 in 2010. Independents were underrepresented in this sample obviously, but if Romney is ahead with that group, that would mean his lead over Obama is slightly larger. The poll’s internals also say this:

Lee said Romney has made significant gains in the all-important suburbs of Philadelphia, a ring of counties that helped push Obama to victory in 2008.

“Republicans haven’t been able to do that in 20 years,” Lee said. “Romney has made some major inroads.”

Lee said Romney also gained ground in western Pennsylvania, where socially conservative, blue-collar Democrats have turned their backs on Obama.

In order for any Republican to win statewide, they need to do well in both the collar counties of Philly and the Reagan Democrats in the west. The internals seem to confirm that.

I so very badly want this to be true, so I’m not getting my hopes up. That said, November 6 might be a very short night for Mitt Romney.

October 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm Comments (0)

Convert Oil Refineries To Process PA’s Marcellus Shale Natural Gas

 

Delta Airlines Buying Conoco Refinery Doesn’t Solve The Problem

 

Psst: Don’t tell anybody, but the worst-kept secret in  Pennsylvania is that the natural gas industry — the only economic salvation our dying state had— is leaving in droves, replaced by job loss, budget holes and despair.

 

Like most tragedies, this one was preventable. Only common sense and foresight were required. But those traits were pumped dry long ago, so instead of experiencing a booming economy rooted in the rebirth of American manufacturing, Pennsylvania is now witness to yet another long exodus of our best and brightest.  And the Commonwealth’s march toward permanent mediocrity is accelerating.

 

Natural Gas Industry Exiting PA

 

As with most things, our elected officials couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and now that the gas industry is packing up their mobile rigs and making for greener pastures, (or, more accurately, black pastures, as in Black Gold), the recently passed gas “impact” tax will be as impactful as Mitt Romney’s Position-du-jour.

 

Why is the gas industry leaving? Simple. They are losing money hand over fist, as natural gas is sitting at a ten-year low due to lack of demand.  So let’s get this straight.  We ignore cheap, abundant and clean natural gas while continually getting hosed at the pump from record-setting oil prices. And as a direct result of soaring gasoline prices, inflation is rising unchecked and true economic growth is vaporizing before our eyes.

 

Only in America — literally.

 

No other country on the planet would permit this kind of self-destruction, willfully sending hard-earned money to overseas adversaries while doing everything in its power to bite the (domestic) hand that feeds it. And that paralyzing incompetence comes from being fat, dumb and lazy while aggressive competitors do whatever is necessary to gain an advantage.

 

Because of this choice, the U.S. remains dependent on others for its energy needs.  In addition to the obvious national security concerns (we wouldn’t be expending blood and treasure in the Middle East if we drilled domestically), we are willfully engaged in the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind, as hundreds of billions go to China and Middle Eastern oil barons because we refuse to harness our limitless natural resources.

 

The way out of the recession — permanently — is to keep American petro dollars here.  And by the way, “here” doesn’t mean Canada, since it too is a foreign nation. So Republicans need to stop their grandstanding about the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved, would only re-direct American money to our Canuck friends.  By definition, that neither achieves energy independence nor creates large-scale American jobs. But never let the facts stand in the way of a good political gimmick.

 

America will never compete with Chinese labor costs, but the untold story is that we don’t have to.  We beat them by having the world’s cheapest energy costs, and that, along with reworked trade policies, would level the manufacturing playing field and get America making things again.

 

Just look at Proctor and Gamble’s manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania.  An energy bill in the tens of millions was virtually eliminated after the discovery of natural gas under the plant.  Saving that much money leads to company expansion, additional jobs, more service industries, and a larger tax base. 

 

But instead of embracing that kind of success, our leaders have punted the ball. Why haven’t all state buildings and vehicles been mandated to operate on natural gas? Why haven’t tax incentives been offered to private sector companies willing to invest in natural gas refueling stations? Why haven’t efforts been made to rescind job-killing and innovation-stifling regulations? Why weren’t the success stories of companies like Proctor and Gamble told and sold by our top political leaders? 

 

No vision, and no gameplan. And now it’s getting late in the fourth quarter.

 

Converting the refineries

 

But there is an opportunity that could provide the same type of boom on a much greater scale: convert the Sunoco and ConocoPhillips refineries in Philadelphia to process natural gas rather than the much more expensive crude oil.

 

(Note: While a Delta Airline’s subsidiary just bought the Conoco refinery to make its own jet fuel, we’ll see whether that high-altitude idea flies, since airlines have a hard enough time staying in the air financially.  An airline getting into the fuel business has the right idea, as lower fuel prices will make their bottom line take-off.  But given the industry’s track record, that type of diversification could send Delta into a tailspin, possibly ending in a crash-and-burn scenario. And that would occur for much the same reason that the oil companies themselves are divesting themselves of their refining operations — wild fluctuations in the price of oil and mindboggling regulations make it inherently unprofitable.)

 

However, if Delta really wanted to lower costs over the long-haul, it might consider retooling its refinery to convert abundant natural gas from 100 miles away to jet fuel —rather than relying on oil shipments in a volatile market from across the world.

 

Sure, converting a refinery to process natural gas rather than oil takes a significant investment, but it is one that would pay huge dividends given that America’s insatiable appetite for energy (and in Delta’s case, jet fuel) will only increase.  And that’s a good thing, because increased energy demand means companies are thriving, jobs are being created, people are traveling and the economy would be truly gaining strength (unlike the disingenuous “recovery” claims now made by government and the media).

 

How to do it? After the refinery conversion (and elimination of many energy-sector regulations that drive up costs), immense amounts of “dry” natural gas, primarily from northeastern Pennsylvania, would be piped down to the refinery, utilizing the right-of-way alongside the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike.

 

The dry natural gas would then be converted to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel — at a consumer price point that may well be under $2 per gallon.  Fuel that inexpensive becomes an instant win-win: the rebirth of manufacturing, big job gains, fewer foreclosures, and the satisfaction of knowing that national security is bolstered every time you hit the pump.

 

In addition to Philadelphia’s refineries being in an ideal location for disbursement of those refined products, there is yet another opportunity for economic growth.  To meet what would surely be increased domestic and overseas demand, a pipeline could be constructed down the Delaware River, terminating offshore so that tankers could safely take on their loads out at sea.

 

(A liquefied natural gas tanker explosion, whether accidental or deliberate, would be akin to a small nuclear weapon. While extremely unlikely, that possibility would nonetheless present huge political challenges in allowing large LNG tankers in the Delaware River.)

 

Refine Our Way Of Thinking

 

Despite their good intentions trying to save the refineries, some politicians have missed the boat by only pushing the idea of exporting natural gas from Philadelphia.  That won’t create jobs, as we would merely be shipping the gas to be refined elsewhere.  How ironic that would be, watching Pennsylvania export its lifeblood in the shadow of three refineries, any and all of which could keep all of the economic benefits here, and none of which will likely be profitable refining oil as currently outfitted.

 

Failure to convert the refineries may well kill off the gas industry altogether, making us ever more dependent on foreigners for our vital energy needs while prices continue to soar.

 

But if we rekindle that slumbering can-do American spirit and put America first for a change, the possibilities would be limitless, and we would no longer be bent over a barrel.

 

And what a gas that would be.

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

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May 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm Comments (0)

Corbett’s Colossal Cockiness Castrates His Credibility

Candidate Choice Creates Calamitous Clusterf**k of Carnage

“Stevie Welch sat on a wall (of cards); Stevie Welch had a great fall (winning a mere two of 67 counties). All of King (or is it Joker?) Corbett’s horses (jackasses), and all the King’s men (endorsements by 27 County Commissioners and 35 State Legislators), couldn’t put Stevie’s candidacy together again (4 of 5 Republican voters rejected the Welch-Corbett-Obama “ticket”).

 

And so Freindly Fire’s prediction that Governor Corbett-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Steve Welch would come in a whoppingly-bad third place was proven correct, though it didn’t take a political genius to guess that result.  After all, asking — strong-arming, actually — Republicans to support the Obama-voting, Joe Sestak-supporting Welch was anathema to common sense and political savvy.  And the resulting carnage is everywhere: the endorsement of the state Republican Party is as meaningful as being valedictorian of summer school; getting backed by Corbett now carries substantial negative baggage, and GOP legislators will think long and hard about aligning themselves with the Governor on his signature issues (are there any?), fearing that his promises of support could be akin to political suicide.

 

And all of this occurred just 15 months after being ushered into office with a ten-point margin and solid majorities in the House and Senate. And ironically, so easily preventable.

 

Many insiders will claim the blow to Corbett’s prestige will be a fleeting, short-term event. As is most often the case, those “experts” will be wrong. The political reality is that next month, when the Governor wants his ill-fated and unpopular voucher plan for only low-income families (which ignores the middle class) to pass, he will fall short, as his Party walks away from him. When he attempts to garner support for his proposed education cuts in the budget, he will meet substantial resistance. And should he try his hand at privatizing liquor, many in his GOP caucuses will cut and run.  Very few will risk their neck for a Guv who in the best of times was invisible, preferring the shadows to the bully pulpit. Now, Corbett has become a liability.

 

(Sidenote: Corbett’s low-income voucher allies made that issue the only issue this election, losing all of the races in which they were involved.  In particular, they spent big money trying to defeat West Philadelphia State Representative James Roebuck and mid-state Senator Pat Vance (who only ran again because she was “not going to be pushed out by any Political Action Committee.”). Both won easily — another reason Corbett will have a difficult time with that issue.)

 

Not only is Corbett’s popularity plummeting, but his reputation has been cemented as a lightweight empty-suit who simply can’t deliver.  The fact that he poisoned his own Party and made it a national laughingstock is icing on the cake.

 

In addition to Corbett’s endorsement of Welch (and the fact the he personally recorded the voice vote of every State Committee member during the GOP endorsement process), he went to the mat for his boy through mailers, phone calls, fundraisers and speeches.  Yet his election night was a disaster. Consider:

 

-The Corbett- Welch-ObamaDrama Ticket had all the advantages going into the race. With Santorum out of the presidential contest, many conservative-leaning Republicans did not vote — and low turnout elections almost always favor the endorsed candidate (especially the hand-picked favorite of a Governor).  The Party’s organizational structure and resources are usually sufficient to propel the anointed candidate to victory, but many Party committee people rebuked the Governor by openly supporting non-Welch candidates.

- Even better for Welch, there were two other major candidates in the race (Tom Smith, Sam Rohrer), both of whom would split the anti-establishment, anti-endorsement vote (and the remaining two candidates, David Christian and Marc Scaringi, did the same, taking 18 percent collectively). It should have been an easy “divide and conquer” campaign for Welch. Instead, it was a Kamikaze mission.
-There was a large snowstorm the day before the election across much of western Pennsylvania — Smith’s critical home base. Any dampening of that vote should have proven beneficial to the endorsed candidate, but it was Smith’s supporters who out-performed the once-vaunted statewide GOP machine.
- It should have been a slam-dunk for Welch to raise millions from Corbett and the big GOP donors.  But he took in an embarrassing $150,000 in the entire first quarter —half of Smith’s total and, quite possibly, even less than Smith’s dog. That lack of gravitas is quite telling.
- There was one bright spot: Welch’s campaign consultants reaped the benefits of the $1 million Welch personally gave his campaign.  The effectiveness of how they spent that money is another story, since there was no Philadelphia broadcast TV, limited media, and, come to think of it, virtually no campaign at all — usually not the best way to win an election.

 

-By far the most surreal moment of the night was Welch crying poor, complaining about being outspent 5-1 —even though he is accurately described in every news article as being the self-funding millionaire entrepreneur.  All self-funders claim that they will only spend a fixed amount, and, of course, exceed that after consultants convince them they are “closing fast.”  That never happened with Steve.  The irony is that he was always perceived as a self-funder (and no one wants to contribute to a rich candidate), but he clearly wasn’t able to micturate (look it up) with the big dogs in the tall grass.  Playing the rich-guy card (against a really rich guy like Smith) without having the aces in your hand isn’t just a bad bluff. It’s a dead-man’s hand.

 

Kind of makes you wonder what the hell the point was in going for the endorsement — or running at all.

*****

 

So what happens from here?  Prosecutor Kathleen Kane, who whipped the whining Patrick Murphy despite his endorsements from all the wrong folks (career pols Rendell and Nutter), is in the driver’s seat to become the first Democrat Attorney General. And expect the Penn State scandal to be front-and-center in the fall election, with Kane pounding away about what former Attorney General Tom Corbett knew, and when he knew it.

 

Not only would a Kane victory reflect negatively on Corbett (since the Dems would have captured that prize on his watch, and in doing so, beaten the Governor’s hand-selected candidate in what should be a Republican-leaning election), but his image and effectiveness will be further compromised as more is learned — and publicized —about his role in how the Penn State investigation was handled. 

 

From having it all just a year ago, Tom Corbett will witness his own Party run away from him on the issues and in the election — and helplessly watch as the Democrats make him the issue.

 

It took George W. Bush six years to get to that point.   If Tom Corbett’s goal was to best the former President, well…Mission Accomplished.

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

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April 27, 2012 at 10:08 am Comments (0)

I Was Wrong To Question The DRPA

 Later this year, it is possible — even probable — that the following individuals will all be in jail: former powerhouse Senator Vince Fumo, former House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, Senators Jane Orie and Bob Mellow (both of Leadership), and former Representatives Mike Veon and Brett Feese (also from Leadership). 

 

On the one hand, seeing corrupt politicians brought to justice is a good thing, as is all the money they are giving back to taxpayers via forfeited pensions.

 

But there is a downside. While such offenders should obviously be prosecuted, people’s cynicism toward their government seems to be at an all-time high. Why? Because the rampant corruption still occurring — the kind that directly affects people — just isn’t being tackled seriously. 

 

Despite elements of corruption — both institutional and criminal — so apparent that even a law student could successfully prosecute the violators, nothing seems to get done. 

 

Worst of all are the pols who campaign as straight-shooting, law-and-order reformers, hell-bent on rooting out corruption, yet do nothing of the kind when elected.  Sadly, they often end up as corrupt as those they challenged.  The status quo remains intact, and, save for a bit of window dressing “reforms” here and there, it’s Business As Usual.

 

Nowhere is that more apparent that the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), one of the most powerful — and corrupt — organizations in the entire nation.

 

But wait! Could there be hope after all of reforming the Authority?  Sources say that a report from the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office will be released soon (possibly Monday), and that a gag order has been placed on its contents by the DRPA’s Chairman, Pennsylvania Governor Tim Corbett.  Sounds so cloak-and-dagger that it’s just possible to think maybe, just maybe, this might finally be the time when the bums are kicked out, replaced by honest folks with only one objective: responsible stewardship of the toll payers’ money.

 

After all, on the other side of the river we have firebrand Governor Chris Christie, who, like Corbett, is a former prosecutor.

 

So will this be the day we’ve been waiting for?

 

Fat chance. Very fat.

 

*****

 

Freindly Fire (FF) has been the longest-serving media voice taking on the DRPA and the heavyweights involved with the Authority (Ed Rendell, Jon Corzine, the Ballard Spahr law firm, CEO John Matheussen, and past and present Boards, to name just a few). For much of the past four years, FF has been alone in its quest to upend the corrupt regime, eliminate mammoth conflicts of interest, fire double-dipping executives, and bring accountability to the agency.  Joined by FOX 29 in 2010— and pretty much only FOX 29 — a number of the above objectives were met.  DRPA execs were scrambling (some were canned), a few reforms were instituted (though mostly toothless), criminal investigations were launched, and both new governors promised swift and decisive action.

 

But then it all fell off a cliff.

 

While we have moved in the right direction, it is not nearly good enough.  Quite frankly, this report will probably accomplish nothing.  Sure, there will be press conferences with harsh warnings from Corbett and Christie for the DRPA to shape up, Board members will say all the right things, and taxpayer and reform groups will fall for the same empty promises. And you know what will happen?

 

Absolutely nothing.

 

Therefore, it seems appropriate to take a new position regarding all things DRPA — I am apologizing.  In retrospect, I have been wrong across the board these past few years, and it is only fitting to publicly eat crow for those errors. I am man-enough to admit my mistakes.  Here are some of the most substantial:

 

1) I was wrong to think Tom Corbett would make good on his promise to clean house upon becoming Governor (and making himself DRPA Chair).  Instead, he chose to appoint hacks, lawyers (redundant?), former union officials, large-dollar political contributors and lobbyists to the Board, without so much as one reformer.

 

2) I was wrong to think Christie would use his office as a bully pulpit to demand the Jersey Board members (whom he can’t replace until their terms expire) to fire CEO Matheussen, under whose “leadership” the DRPA has become synonymous with “corrupt.”  This is a CEO, by the way, who has been working without a contract for years, makes more than either governor, and stands to pocket a six-figure sum of toll payer money in accumulated sick/vacation days when he finally leaves. Yet he remains because there has been no political will to remove him.

 

3) I was wrong to think the other media outlets (except FOX 29) would jump on board, exposing the DRPA for what it really is.  And I was wrong to assume they were capable of doing so in the first place, despite time and again giving them an exact roadmap for investigative articles.

 

4) I was wrong to think the Philadelphia Inquirer — both under former publisher Brian Tierney’s failed leadership and the current sell-out ownership — would cover the DRPA as a media watchdog should.  Could such inaction have been caused by Tierney begging Rendell for a taxpayer-bailout of the paper? And let’s not forget that, while R.endell was in power, the acting Board Chairman was John Estey of Ballard Spahr — Rendell’s former Chief of Staff, a major Rendell fundraiser, and a fellow member of Rendell’s law firm.  So obviously, I was wrong to even consider the possibility that the paper could objectively cover the matter.

 

5) I was wrong to expect that over $35 million in “economic development” money —codespeak for political slush funds used for everything under the sun —except the bridges — would be spent on 1) the long-overdue re-decking of the Walt Whitman Bridge; 2) helping offset yet another toll increase; or 3) paying down some of the DRPA’s enormous debt. 

 

And I would be wrong to end my list here, since there is so much more.  So check back next week for even more wrongs.  And who know?  Maybe all these wrongs might somehow make it right…

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm Comments (0)

Blame Impotent Congress – And Yourself – For Gas Prices

 Americans don’t have enough holidays.

 

Unlike our Euro brethren, who take off all of August to refresh themselves after their grueling 25-hour work weeks, those in the U.S. can’t catch a break.  Sure, we have Arbor Day and Wildflower Week, but we need to celebrate more.  So it’s only appropriate to propose a holiday to which we can all relate, one that stays with us for more than just a day.

 

National Colonic Month.

 

No, not the colonic used to flush the body of evil red meat. That would be pointless since, according to a new study, just looking at a hamburger increases the likelihood of death by 900 percent.

 

National Colonic Month would be the collective feeling of having a gas pump forcefully inserted where the sun doesn’t shine by the United States Congress each time we refuel our cars, buy groceries, heat our homes, lay people off, lose our jobs, pull out our hair and contemplate “crimes of opportunity” (aka siphoning your neighbor’s gas tank), all in the name of making Arab sheiks the world’s first trillionaires.

 

Since America has perfected its current position of being bent over a barrel, its posterior wide open and ready to receive whatever comes, what better time for a national colonic of Middle Eastern petroleum?  And here’s the best part.  Given America’s insatiable appetite, National Colonic Month would just roll from month to month. So whether gas is $4 now, $5 in the summer, or $9 when the Washington braintrust strikes Iran, we will never have to worry about a shortage of colonic activity.

 

Of course, as with any procedure, there are side effects.  In our case, it hurts a lot more as the price goes up, hemorrhaging can occur, and decay and disease may soon set in. And since we are the only doctor in town, yet remain impotent to solve, let alone diagnose, the problem, the prognosis for recovery isn’t good.

 

Kind of reminds you of Fletch’s most famous line, “Using the whole fist, Doc?” 

 

In America’s case, it’s a lot more than a fist.

 

*****

It’s really tough to figure out who is dumber: Congress or the people who elect them.

 

Are people up in arms about skyrocketing gas prices? You bet.  My answer? Shut up and take your colonic.  It’s no one’s fault but your own, so deal with it.

 

Oh sure, there are renewed calls for drilling now that gas is $4/gallon — just like in 2008 when it hit $4.50.  But then the economy tanked, oil prices collapsed, and gas returned to “normal” (under $3).  Result? Back to complacency.  The only thing that got drilled was the people, but they were too ignorant to know better.

 

Now that prices have spiked again, we are looking for a scapegoat.  Obama is a convenient target, and while he is partially responsible, so are his blamers, namely the Republicans. Consider:

 

1) It was George H.W. Bush who implemented the moratorium on offshore drilling.  And it was Junior Bush who, rather than being proactive by opening up ANWR and reversing Dad’s mistake while he had significant majorities in Congress (and let’s face it — after 9/11, he could have had anything he wanted in the name of security), waited until gas spiraled out of control to call for drilling.  Too late, as the Democrats slammed the door in his face.

 

2) A local Republican congressman told me during a 2010 interview that he couldn’t introduce a drilling bill while in the minority. Uhh, sorry, but Civics 101 says differently. The bill may not make it out of a Democratically-controlled committee, but it absolutely could have been introduced.  And, by the way, that would have been a coup, since Obama made offshore drilling and nuclear power a cornerstone of his 2010 State of the Union address.  But the GOP response? He didn’t really believe that. 

 

Remember, this is the same president who just green-lighted the first new nuclear power plants since 1978.  A Democrat doing that is akin to Ronald Reagan calling for a ban of all handguns.  But rather than work with the President on a (yes—Republican!) issue, the result was bitter, partisan attacks. Hence, no offshore drilling.

 

3) But Mr. Obama doesn’t get a free pass. He recently ridiculed those who advocate “drill, drill, drill” to lower energy prices. Well, not to be a stickler, but if you produce more of something, the price will, in fact, drop.  Yes, we should all be more energy-conscious. That’s common sense. And alternative energy resources should be developed so long as they are market-feasible. But let’s be real. Oil is the unrivaled king of the energy world. Since that will not change for decades, if ever, it’s time to remove our heads from the colonic area and do what we all know has to be done: drill domestically.

 

Obama delayed the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was a mistake.  But what damn near everybody is missing is that, save for a relatively small amount of product from North Dakota, the oil is all Canadian.  Granted, getting oil from our Canuck friends is certainly better than relying on Middle Eastern nations, but it misses the point entirely.  Why are we not responsibly drilling on our own turf, keeping the jobs and revenue stateside?

 

4) Natural gas just hit a ten year low, while oil (and gasoline) are soaring. Go figure. So the wells that should be tapping the unlimited, clean-burning natural resource literally beneath our feet are being capped, killing jobs and entire industries.  Well, except for colonics.

 

5) Most disturbing is that our local congressional representatives are spending their time holding hearings on the closings of the Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips refineries. No, that’s not a joke. Congressman Pat Meehan and Senator Bob Casey are looking for answers as to how the closings will affect oil prices and impact national security.  (This should be no surprise, as Congress routinely holds hearings on weighty matters such as how the College Football Bowl Championship should be decided).

 

Perhaps I could save a boatload of taxpayer cash by releasing the results of a poll conducted of a sixth-grade class I teach.  The closings will be bad. Very bad. Prices will continue to rise, since if there is less of something, its cost will increase. And we will be less secure. Next hearing?

 

When did we start prioritizing national security anyway? Congress cares infinitely more about the national security of Middle Eastern sheikdoms than it does America, despite some of those nations funding anti-American terrorist groups with our petro dollars.  And all for one reason: their oil.

 

Here’s the bottom line: as long as we refuse to domestically drill, American soldiers will continue to die in Muslim lands.  And no amount of hearings, protests, or political rhetoric will change that. And let’s be honest. Our men and women are not “fighting for our freedom,” nor are they “keeping the war over there.” They are simply doing the bidding of a Congress —and the people who elect them — who are too complacent, or worse, impotent — to do the responsible thing: protect America by harnessing our vast and unparalleled domestic energy resources.

 

And there’s no colonic to cleanse the soul from the blood we all have on our hands.

 

So to be crude, stick it in and fill ‘er up, Sheik.

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

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March 21, 2012 at 7:04 am Comments (2)

Diabetes, Donors—and Determination

For National Kidney Month, the story of one young woman’s fight against a ravaging disease—and time.

 

The difference between tactics and strategy is substantial. A tactic is a method employed to help achieve a goal. A strategy is the long term plan of action to achieve that goal.

 

Four years ago, that distinction was crystal clear a 31-year old Drexel Hill woman who had been ravaged by diabetes.

 

Christine Grosso’s strategy was simple, but far from easy— survive the debilitating disease that had left her nearly blind in one eye, caused her sugar count to frequently soar over 600 (150 is high), and made her a household name in Emergency Rooms from Temple to Shore Memorial.

 

More pressing, however, was the tactic she needed to employ to continue her fight. She needed a kidney transplant, since one of the consequences of diabetes is that the body’s overstressed organs often shut down, placing the person’s life in jeopardy.

 

Christine’s story was bittersweet, since her courage, determination and heartwarming attitude almost made one forget how perilous her situation had become.

 

 

What is Diabetes?

 

Christine’s symptoms first appeared when she was 13, and were noticed by her mother, Toni: increased thirst and appetite (yet the result was weight loss), frequent urination, and mood swings. Grosso’s pediatrician initially thought these changes were related to puberty. Further investigation, however, revealed something different and far more ominous: Type 1 diabetes.

 

Christine realized that her life would never be the same.

 

 “In the beginning, my treatment consisted of insulin injections twice a day; blood sugar tests four times a day and a strict diet— consisting of four meals a day, at specific times,” she recounted.

 

“Basically, I couldn’t eat the junk food that teenagers love. I would have to eat whenever my blood sugar was low, and couldn’t join everyone at a meal if my blood sugar was elevated,” Christine added.

 

Type 1 diabetes results from the lack of insulin production by the pancreas. Since insulin is a hormone required by all cells to utilize glucose for energy, a deficiency results in the depletion of energy stores, such as liver glycogen, fat and eventually muscle mass. This leads to significant weight loss and fatigue, and, left uncorrected, soon leads to the excretion of glucose in the urine and metabolic imbalance (ketoacidosis), requiring hospitalization. The longer-term effects are much more severe— damage to various organs and body systems, notably the kidneys, the eyes, the nervous system and the heart.

 

The need for a kidney

 

Christine’s condition steadily deteriorated over seventeen years. Whereas in high school she was involved in numerous activities, her lifestyle had become hampered. Her body functions had taken a tremendous blow, with the kidneys taking the biggest hit. When the tiny blood vessels (nephrons) in the kidneys become damaged by diabetes, the filtering units of the kidney are less able to filter unwanted substances from the blood. Damaged nephrons are also less able to retain essential substances, such as proteins. In time, as the kidneys continue to fail, the patient will require a kidney transplant.

 

After an exhaustive process, Christine qualified for such a transplant. But that was just the beginning. If a suitable donor was not found quickly, she would be forced to begin dialysis — never a sustainable long term solution. “My transplant time was as soon as possible since I was being evaluated for dialysis. If a live kidney donor was not found, I would have had to wait until a cadaveric source (kidneys of organ donors upon their deaths) was found which matched my tissue type. This could have taken years.”

 

Finding a Donor

 

The need for a kidney transplant is determined by a nephrologist, based on tests of the patient’s kidney function and clinical condition. Once the patient is found suitable as a transplant recipient, he or she is placed on the United Network of Organ Sharing list for a cadaveric source of a kidney.

 

But finding a kidney donor is a very personal process. “In my case, I began as soon as I was informed that I needed a transplant. I composed a Gift of Life letter in which I described myself and asked if anyone would be interested in being tested (to become a compatible kidney donor). Surprisingly, several people whom I did not know contacted me,” Christine explained.  Yet two of those individuals were not a match.

 

“When I found out they were not suitable, I revised the letter and again circulated it to friends, churches, schools, businesses and newspapers. Several more people offered to help. My donor profile was someone between 21 and 60, in good health, same blood type, and without a history of cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure.” Easier said than done. If the potential donor was either rejected by the center or by the recipient, a new potential donor would be tested, and the process starts anew.

 

Christine’s Support Network

 

Through it all, Christine’s parents never left her side. “Our lives changed drastically after Christine became chronically ill. One or both of us is with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” her father Lou explained.

 

Toni elaborated: “Before the transplant, Christine was constantly in the hospital.”  The hospital stays usually were a week to ten days, with Christine’s parents taking turns to always be in her room. “Although not under the best circumstances,” Toni added, “Christine’s illness has brought us all closer together.”

 

Christine’s attitude kept her spirits high. “My faith has helped me to deal with most of my medical problems, by trying to find positive reasons for my condition. Since I was 13, I have been searching for someone like myself to talk to. These people are hard to find, and dealing with diabetes is the hardest thing I have ever done.”

 

Because of this, Christine helps others with similar conditions. “I counsel young diabetics, and this helps me as well as them. It feels good making a difference in someone’s life.”

 

The search for a kidney was difficult but rewarding. Along the way, Christine became reacquainted with old friends, and met complete strangers selfless enough to offer a part of their body. “It is so overwhelming to meet these amazing people,” she reflected.

 

The Guardian Angel and the Transplant

 

Despite the unimaginable heartbreak for Christine and her parents when two donors fell through at the last minute, their undying faith paid off. A donor responded to a Church Bulletin article chronicling Christine’s inspirational story and her need for a kidney. The donor, who did not know Christine or her family (yet ironically lived just four blocks away) and wished to remain anonymous, met all the transplant requirements. Soon thereafter, she placed her own life in jeopardy by undergoing surgery, literally giving part of herself to another in the ultimate act of selflessness.

 

The result? Success beyond expectations. Christine Grosso just celebrated her four-year transplant anniversary — rejuvenated, vibrant and alive.  No longer just surviving, she is once again living. While diabetes will forever be with her, the tables have now turned, with Christine controlling the disease.  Her donor, Marie Manley — who can only be described as a true guardian angel — is also doing remarkably well, living a fully functional life and now working at the Kidney Transplant Program at Lankenau Hospital as a transplant assistant, counseling donors and recipients.

 

In an age where many glibly say they “give back” and “give of themselves” — while making sure everybody knows it — there are still real heroes like Ms. Manley who believe that charity should be altruistic, the only “reward” being the selfless act of giving.  She exemplifies those who truly walk the walk, content with the knowledge that she made the ultimate difference in someone else’s life.

 

In Christine Grosso’s case, Marie Manley’s act of charity was, quite literally, a lifesaver.  Perhaps most amazing is something which will never be known — how many people, after learning of Christine and Marie’s remarkable story, were inspired to themselves become donors — and lifesavers.  

 

There is no greater love than risking one’s own life to save another. In the spiritual, charitable and literal sense, donating a kidney is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

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March 13, 2012 at 9:57 am Comments (0)

Philadelphia Catholic Schools Remain Open— But For How Long?

 Will the Church finally play political hardball?

 

I always try to check my emotions at the door when I begin a column. That’s why I rarely write in the first person. But, hey, I’m also human and a Philly Catholic, so I shed a few tears of joy when it was recently announced that four diocesan high schools and eighteen elementary schools were reprieved from their death sentence and would remain open. I didn’t go to Bonner (mine was the other Augustinian school, Malvern), but a brother, an uncle and a bunch of my friends did. (In fact, my uncle was a member of Bonner’s first graduating class and has three Prendergast—yes, Prendergast—football letters. How’s that for trivia?).And I have an aunt who’s a grad of the school which has, perhaps, the greatest tradition of all—West Catholic.

 

(Quick tangent: I’m a graduate of Annunciation BVM grade school in Havertown, which a niece and nephew presently attend.  Despite meeting or exceeding all of the thresholds laid out by Bishop McFadden in 2009 to remain open, Annunciation is nonetheless being closed. Ignoring the wishes of his congregation, the pastor refused to appeal. Scores of parishioners, encouraged by the 75% success rate of the schools that did appeal, as well as West Catholic remaining open even though it did not appeal, have taken their case directly to Archbishop Chaput.

 

Now that a short-term victory for many schools has been achieved, it’s time to push emotion aside and take an objective look at the situation, where more questions than answers remain.  What changed? What transpired in thirty days that allowed almost half of the schools to stay open? Was it “faulty information” that the Blue Ribbon Commission received, as some readers allege?  Or was it a few deep-pocketed donors stepping up to the plate?  And if so, is relying on a handful of wealthy individuals really a sustainable financial solution?

 

*****

 

It seems quite a stretch that bad information could be the reason for the turnaround. For that to be true, many schools must have submitted data painting a very negative picture — information subsequently determined to be incorrect (hence the reversals).  Outside of a few pastors who lack the desire or energy to further the mission of Catholic education, that scenario doesn’t stand up to the common sense test, since most schools would obviously put their best foot forward in their quest to stay open.

 

So either the Commission did not request the right information, or completely dropped the ball in analyzing the documents it did receive (as referenced in last week’s column). Either way, given that the Commission’s decisions affected the lives of so many, Philadelphia Catholics had every right to expect more, especially given the composition of the Commission. Its members included former top executives of some of America’s largest banks and insurance companies who were familiar with making tough financial decisions. Something just doesn’t add up, and, fair or not, that is fostering cynicism and fear that future closings are inevitable.

Of course, there is another possibility — that the Commission simply never bothered (or wasn’t allowed?) to contact many of the schools in question.  Since more than a few pastors confidentially enlightened me to that situation — why would they lie about something so easily verifiable? — it tends to further cloud the entire decision making process, both closures and reprieves.  And why on earth, if the Commission/Archdiocese realized that the data was incomplete and/or their methodologies flawed, would they not postpone the original announcement in January until they got their house in order?

As a result, many faithful are rolling their eyes (again), wondering how the Archdiocese could look so foolish, while still not communicating any long-term solution. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that, since enrollment has decreased sharply over the last decade while costs have risen, a viable plan must be enacted quickly, or the same situation will arise in the near future.

 

With that distinct possibility looming, how can the Church avoid it?

 

1) Start talking about the positive aspects of the Church, restoring the credibility that has been shattered by years of sex scandals, shredded documents and cover-ups. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the entire world (and second in America behind only the U.S. government) and administers the world’s largest nonpublic school system, yet most people are unaware of those phenomenal achievements — a massive failure in public relations. The Catholic mission is perhaps the most noble on the planet, and the Church’s history, while certainly not without its darker moments, is a storied one.  From its humble beginnings as the church of a fisherman named Peter, Roman Catholicism became the most benevolent and impactful force the world has ever known.  It’s time to tell that magnificent story and educate the world — again — on what it really means to be Catholic, while purging every aspect of the scandals which have rocked the Church to its very foundations. Unequivocally, pride in Catholic identity leads to fuller schools.

 

2) The newly created Faith In The Future Foundation — charged with fundraising and being a guiding force on marketing and recruiting for the 17 archdiocesan high schools and assisting parish elementary schools—- is a good idea, but only if it offers membership to rank-and-file Catholics with ears to the ground.  Much criticism directed at the Church is that it is too insulated from the pressing issues, and too isolated from the parishioners themselves.  If the Foundation is comprised only of millionaires and politically-connected Catholics, it will fail.  That is not to invoke “class warfare,” for having intelligent business leaders is imperative, but by definition, most would not be able to relate to the concerns of the masses (no pun intended).  If “average” Catholics are not given a dedicated platform to offer their perspective, the rigidness, bureaucracy and stagnation that has come to define the Archdiocese will only worsen.  And the exodus of Catholics will accelerate.

 

3) The Church needs to fight. If you want a true long-term solution to keep schools open and thriving, and believe the best way is by returning to parents some of their tax money (vouchers and tax credits) so they can make the best choice where to educate their children, you are absolutely correct. But it doesn’t happen by itself.  

 

It only happens when political muscle is flexed. It only happens when you play hardball.  It only happens when you unabashedly make school choice the Church’s Number One issue in the primary and general election.  And it only happens when you make it crystal clear to all legislators who doubt the ferocity of a newly awakened tiger — one that has shed its paper skin — that they will reap the whirlwind for that miscalculation.

 

Seems common sense, yet the Church has been doing the complete opposite. For over a year, Freindly Fire and others have been successfully battling clueless Church factions who have been pushing “educational reform” legislation (Senate Bill 1) that would neither educate nor reform.  It’s such a worthless bill —written while Ed Rendell was still Governor and not amended to include the middle class (at all) despite an infinitely more favorable Legislature and pro-school choice Governor Tom Corbett — that, had it been passed a year ago, virtually none of the schools slated for closure would have been saved. School choice bills affecting just low-income families are born losers; only when the middle class is comprehensively included will there be light at the end of the tunnel to help Catholic schools survive and prosper.

 

Ironically, the Church — through its lobbying arm, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference —hurt itself by backing the wrong bill and not being truthful that the middle class was excluded from that legislation. Upon learning that the bill would never affect them or help keep their schools open, many Catholics reacted with palpable anger, setting off another wholly preventable firestorm. One step forward and three back is not the way to achieve political success.

 

What can be done immediately? Make an extremely aggressive push to have the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) expansion bill pass the Senate, where “school choice advocate” Senator Jeff Piccola is selfishly letting it languish (calling it “D.O.A.”) because he can’t pass his low-income voucher bill.  Making the sin mortal is that the EITC bill, sponsored by Montgomery County State Representative Tom Quigley, passed the House by an unheard-of bipartisan vote of 190 to 7 —a year ago!  The biggest tragedy is that some of the schools that have been ordered to close might have been saved if this bill had passed last spring.  But because of misguided legislative priorities and a total lack of political pressure by the Church, Catholics — and their schools — continue to suffer.

 

*****

 

All of the suggested solutions will be for naught if the hierarchy doesn’t learn one lesson very quickly. You cannot grow the Church by being inconsistent, and yes, hypocritical, especially to your own people.  The Archdiocese has thus far refused to grant school choice to many in elementary schools, instead dictating what schools children must attend.  That policy has created an immense backlash, with thousands feeling betrayed since they correctly see the Church pushing school choice for others, but denying it to them.  And no amount of spin or enrollment explanations will change that bitter sentiment.  Charity starts at home.

 

Of the countless emails received in the last week — most from loyal Catholics — one message was most common: Keep the faith but fight the corruption. 

 

If grounded Church leaders and reinvigorated rank-and-file Catholics keep that in mind while preaching a positive message and a wielding a political sledgehammer, then prayers for keeping Catholic education alive far into the future will undoubtedly be answered.

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

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February 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm Comment (1)

Is Philadelphia Archdiocese Lying Or Just Incompetent?

School Closings And Appeals Leave More Questions Than Answers —And The Church Isn’t Talking

“I don’t know Chief…this shark is either very smart, or very dumb…”

So was the famous line uttered by the legendary Quint in Jaws, as he was trying to figure out the intentions of the great white. 

After the recent roller coaster ride regarding Archdiocesan school closings — and now the many reprieves — Catholics across the Philadelphia region are wondering the same thing.  Is the Church hierarchy very smart (in a conniving way), or very dumb?

Or are they, and the “Blue Ribbon” school commission deciding the fate of so many, just downright incompetent?

There isn’t a fourth option.

At issue is that a whopping 75 percent of Catholic elementary schools that appealed their closings were successful, meaning that their doors are staying open, at least for now.

Last Friday, it was announced that of the 24 appeals, 18 won.  While it seemed like a “Good Friday” to many, something tells me it may turn into a day of regret, closer in fact to a Black Friday.

This is not meant to rain on anyone’s parade, as there is obvious cause for celebration for many Catholic families.  After all, they had been told last month that their beloved schools — 49 of them — were slated for permanent closure.  While there was an appeals process, based solely on factual errors committed by the Commission, virtually everyone figured there would be very few successful appeals, if any.

And with good reason.

In January, the chairman of the Commission, John Quindlen, former Chief Financial Officer of DuPont, made it crystal clear why schools were closing and consolidating.

“A lot of this should have been done 10 years ago…(but)… naivete and an unwillingness to face reality” kept many pastors and archdiocesan leaders from halting long ago the “death spiral” of declining population and rising tuition at so many schools, he said, according to Philly.com.  “They would say, ‘I can make this work…But we had to come along and finally say, ‘God bless you, but this has got to stop.’ ”

Fast forward one month to the Church’s about-face, and Quindlen’s comments tell a starkly different story. “I celebrate the results and pray they all survive in the long term…Neither the commission nor the Archdiocese was in a rush to close schools. Our focus was on how to sustain them.”

What? Did he seriously say that with a straight face?

How can you make the leap from a “death spiral” to “celebrating the results” and talking about sustainability in less than one month? 

Give the Archdiocese credit for one thing: if they are trying to anger as many Catholics as possible in the most bumbling manner while ignoring all rules of good communication and PR, they are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.

Let’s cut through the emotions tied to school closings and look at this situation objectively.  In doing do, one has to ask: Why the games? Why did the Church say one thing — that in retrospect now seems very suspect — and then almost completely reverse itself, all the while talking in platitudes that didn’t remotely address the questions and concerns of many?

It has left many scratching their heads, and even more seething.

So here are the questions that absolutely must be addressed in order for the Archdiocese to have any credibility moving forward, and to prevent the exodus of loyal, but very bitter, Catholics:

1) Is Catholic education too expensive to sustain in most if not all of the 49 schools that were originally slated for shuttering?  If yes — which is what the Archdiocese has been telling us, and selling us, for quite some time — then how can 3 out of 4 appeals have been successful?  What changed?  Did a billionaire step up and write a big check to keep the schools open?  If so, we don’t need a name, because charity should be anonymous, but we do have a right to know if that happened (extremely unlikely as it is).

2) If the opposite is true — that those schools are in fact affordable — then why have we been told something so radically different for so long?  It’s like being pregnant: you are or you aren’t. Either the Church can operate these schools efficiently, or they can’t.  There is no in-between. But that’s exactly where this situation is — in no-man’s land, and their equivocation has just added to the confusion.

3) Is incompetence to blame for the contradictory messages? We were told that appeals would only be considered if factual errors were made in determining which schools closed.  Well, by that logic, that’s a heck of a lot of errors.  If a student makes “factual errors” on 75 percent of a test, his grade is a 25.  Which, unless you attend a public school in Philadelphia, is an F.  Not exactly a stellar track record.

4) Were we lied to from the get-go? And if so, why? Was the threat of closings a grand conspiracy to flush out big contributors as well as lighten the wallets of the rank-and-file even more? Don’t scoff.  The Archdiocese has a history of not being straightforward.

Just look at its red face regarding its mishandling — and lack of truthfulness — involving one its schools in Philadelphia.  According to a news report, a group starting a public charter school stated that it was assured by the Archdiocese that it could rent Our Lady of Mount Carmel school for that purpose — two months before the Commission recommended closing the school! Mount Carmel appealed its closing. Any guesses as to how that turned out? It begs the questions as to why the Diocese would even allow the school to appeal when its fate had apparently already been determined.

Since we are on the topic of education, perhaps a refresher is in order.  The 8th Commandment tells us that we should not bear false witness against our neighbor.  In layman’s terms, playing loose with the truth — and outright lying — doesn’t bode well for a Church preaching morality and in desperate need of credibility and trust.

5) What about the folks at all the other schools who wanted to appeal but were dissuaded from doing so because the odds were so long for success?  Common sense tells us that if they had known such a large number of schools would win their cases, many others would have appealed.  Now, those parents and students feel even more burned than they did a month ago — a remarkable feat in itself.

6) The appeals have thrown schools that were thought to be “safe” into chaos.  Nativity BVM in Media, for example, was originally intended to stay open, absorbing students from St. John Chrysostom in Wallingford.  St. John’s won their appeal though, and now, in a stunning reversal, Nativity is shutting its doors.

Not only do parents and teachers feel completely betrayed by this out-of-nowhere blindside, but there’s an even more unjust twist: Nativity apparently does not have the ability to appeal like all the other schools did. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

And it’s exactly that type of move, accompanied by virtually no communication, which drives fuming parishoners to leave the Church. Hence the decline in church attendance and school enrollment.

7) How can the Church push for school choice when it does not allow choice for its own members at the elementary school level? So some families in Annunciation parish in Havertown, for example, whose school closed because its pastor refused to file the appeal that so many parents begged him to do, must send their children all the way across town to St. Denis, when in fact they live within walking distance to Sacred Heart?  How ironic that the very Church fighting the image of hypocrisy born from the sex scandal now engages in more hypocrisy: fighting for school choice as long as it doesn’t apply to its own flock. When will they learn?

8.  There are no guarantees in life, but what assurances can the Church give that, in the next few years, those 24 schools, as well as any others, will not close? Since it is impossible to believe that the problems of declining enrollment, rising costs and overall unsustainability have all been solved in the last 30 days, woe to those parents who take the recent reprieves to be a sign of long-term viability, for they may well be revisiting this exact situation in the near future.  And that just isn’t right.

*****

The point of this column is neither to agree with nor criticize the specific school closings and successful appeals, but to implore the Archdiocese to come clean with all the facts. 

Quint had to figure out what the shark was doing and why. For all the blood, sweat and tears Catholics have shed for their Church over the years, they should never have to question the motivations of their Catholic leaders. They only seek the truth, and deserve no less. It’s time to give it to them.

And that’s no fish story.

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

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February 22, 2012 at 8:44 am Comments (2)

Rendell As Inquirer Owner? Might As Well Be Philly Enquirer

A Jerry Maguire-like treatise for how to resurrect the media’s credibility

 

Famed political strategist James Carville once referred to Pennsylvania as two major cities with Alabama in between.  What an insult to Alabama.

 

The folks in the nation’s fifth-largest state — all of them — are the backwards ones, the sad result of refusing to hold their leaders accountable for broken campaign promises and abject failures. All the while, their neighboring states — AKA “the competition” — continue to make gains at Pennsylvania’s expense.

 

Ohio and West Virginia are successfully courting natural gas and oil companies, which are beginning to exit Pennsylvania. Indiana is thriving after enacting comprehensive statewide school choice and becoming a Right To Work state, where compulsory unionism is no required as a condition of employment.

 

New Jersey (yes, Jersey!) can woo companies across the river because of faith that a real leader, Chris Christie, is righting the ship.  Everyone else on the planet can buy liquor easier and cheaper than Pennsylvanians.  And corruption, both criminal and institutionalized, remains rampant, killing optimism and trampling the hope that you can beat City Hall.

 

From Ed Rendell to Tom Corbett (is there a difference?), a lack of leadership has left Pennsylvania on the precipice, its citizens staring into the abyss of permanent mediocrity, paralyzed by fear to take the risks necessary to forge ahead. Such a malaise is anathema to employers looking for economic stability, a less hostile atmosphere and a better educational system.

 

While that lack of leadership is inexcusable, there is another, even more important factor as to why the state finds itself in such a precarious situation: a media that has sold its soul, forsaking its most basic mission of holding everyone accountable, with a “no sacred cows” approach. For far too long, stories that needed to be told were relegated to the dustbin. And unsavory politicians and business leaders counted on that. Without an aggressive press, it was, and remains, the Wild West where bad guys operate with impunity.

 

There is no better example of the media’s fall from grace than that of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Once a paper of national significance that took a bulldog approach to its reporting, it has since become a shell of its former self, an also-ran full of AP feeds and local fluff stories of virtually no interest.

 

The Inky really jumped the tracks was when it was “led” by Brian Tierney, who, along with investors, paid over half a billion for the paper (and the Daily News) in 2006.

Mired in debt, Tierney did the unthinkable — he approached then-Governor Rendell for a taxpayer-funded bailout to keep the papers afloat in 2009, a story that Freindly Fire broke ( http://freindlyfirezone.com/home/item/43-possible-inquirer-bailout-draws-ire ) and was picked up by the Wall Street Journal in its harshly-worded editorial “Bad News In Philadelphia — The Worst Bailout Idea So Far: Newspapers.”

 

WSJ Link

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123353263226537457.html

 

 

Predictably, Rendell was ready and willing to lend that helping hand.  But as negative fallout for the bailout plan grew, the deal fell apart and the papers filed for bankruptcy.

 

Despite what common sense unquestionably tells us — that a taxpayer-funded newspaper would in fact be an “adjunct of the state,” as the WSJ so adroitly described it — the players in that ill-fated bailout attempt saw nothing wrong with their actions.

 

Thankfully, Tierney is out of the picture, having lost the papers to an investor group who held much of the original debt.  But incomprehensibly, the situation has come full circle. Now the current owners want out, and it has been reported that none other than Ed Rendell has been approached to put together an investor group to possibly buy the papers.

 

Really?  Ed Rendell?  How is that even remotely possible?

 

Where is the journalistic integrity in working with the very man who stood cocked, ready to unleash millions in taxpayer funds to bail out an “independent” media entity?  It’s no secret that it has become increasingly difficult for papers to make a profit in the age of The New Media, but having Rendell as your “Go-To” man underscores just how desperate the situation has become.

 

Taking marching orders from elected officials destroys the very essence of being a journalist and jeopardizes the unique constitutional protections afforded to media members.  Sure, Ed Rendell is a private citizen now, but his mentality — how he sees the role of the government working hand-in-hand with the media — has undoubtedly not changed.

 

But the behavior of the Inquirer’s ownership should come as no surprise, given that it recently accepted a $2.9 million loan from the City of Philadelphia to assist the company move to a new headquarters. Yes, the same city, the same Mayor and the same City Council that the newspapers are supposed to be objectively covering.  Is nothing scared anymore?

 

The last thing the region needs is an investor group led by political insiders and ideologically-supercharged individuals with aggressive personal agendas.  As painful as it would be for the thousands of hard-working folks at the those newspapers, it would be better for the entire entity to close its doors than be associated with folks who may, at any given time, make a pitch for public financing.

 

And while past performance is not indicative of future results, it’s a damn good bet.

 

Better to have no paper at all than one that prostrates itself at the feet of the very people it purports to objectively cover.  And since the Philadelphia newspapers have been anything but a watchdog over the last six years, churning out less than a handful of quality investigations, the bad guys would see virtually no difference, since they’re not exactly sweating investigative reporters knocking on their doors.

 

 

Where The Media Went Wrong
The sad reality is that The Fourth Estate has abdicated its sacred responsibility of keeping American institutions honest and true. No longer respected as the entity which holds feet to the fire and follows investigations wherever they may lead, the American media has instead become part and parcel of the Establishment. Too many journalists play the “go-along, get-along” game — some because it’s easy, others because they want to be liked, still others who are afraid they will lose “access” if they ask the tough questions.

 

These people have forgotten that their profession does not lend itself to having “friends,” since nothing and no one should ever be off the table. The result of these close alliances is blatant conflicts of interest, both personal and professional.  Once that line is crossed, it is nearly impossible to return.

 

No medium is immune from this malady.  Those in television, radio, newspaper and internet are all complicit. As an entity, the media has fallen down on its most basic journalistic responsibilities, losing its integrity, and ultimately its credibility, along the way.

Consequently, the public’s view of the media is at an historic low.  And while complaints abound that the media is biased, which to a certain extent it is, this is but a symptom of a much greater illness.  A slant towards liberalism or conservatism is wrong, to be sure, but inherent laziness and, by extension, incompetence, are the first problems that must be rectified. Competence and vision will trump bias every time.

 

Resurrecting the media’s image is a Herculean task. And when the free press reaches the point where it is no longer believed, it stands on the edge of becoming completely irrelevant.

 

Whether it is nauseating nonstop coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s funeral procession or feel-good fluff stories in our nation’s pre-eminent newspapers, the lack of hard-hitting investigative reporting and aggressive interviews with top national and international leaders is appalling. Producers and editors are constantly looking over their shoulders at the competition, choosing to push out content to be like “every other station,” passing on golden opportunities to be different, to be journalists to be leaders.

 

These people spend more time trying to keep their jobs than actually doing them.

 

There is a certain irony here. If media executives produced the quality work that the American people expect, their ratings would skyrocket, and advertisers would pay a premium.  The biggest myth being propagated about the bankruptcy of media companies is that they are victims of the economy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

They are victims of their own ineptitude.

 

Americans still have an unquenchable thirst for the news, but they are increasingly tuning out the mainstream media because the content is utterly lacking of substance.

 

The solution is simple — it’s just not easy. Nothing and no one should be off the table.  Not politicians, government officials, businessmen, media personalities, sports stars, nor celebrities. With no agenda except the truth, the media should pursue stories with no boundaries and no restrictions.

 

*****

Americans don’t gravitate to question marks, but exclamation points.  It’s time to put the exclamation point back in the American press, not through new technologies and gimmicks, but by pursuing the only thing that matters: the truth.

 

As the voice in the classic baseball movie Field Of Dreams commanded, “Build it and they will come.” In the same way, if the media gets off its duff and starts producing content worthy of the world’s best press, readers and viewers will come — in unprecedented numbers.

 

Unfortunately, if Ed Rendell takes over Philadelphia’s newspapers, the ballpark will be empty before the new game even begins.

 

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

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February 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm Comments (2)

No Secret Ballot For GOP Endorsement Is Same As Union Card Check

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), commonly known as “Card Check,” is the misnamed legislation promoted by Organized Labor to stop the hemorrhaging within union ranks.  (From a high near 40 percent after World War II, union representation in the private sector has plummeted to just 7 percent today). It would make organizing a union infinitely easier by eliminating the current secret ballot vote used to determine whether employees wish to unionize.

Common sense tells us that whenever a secret ballot is not employed, many people will not vote their conscience.  Instead, they fall victim to intimidation and arm-twisting, and end up casting a ballot in favor of the person whom they are strongly encouraged —AKA “told” — to support.  The result is a rigged, Banana Republic election, anything but “Free Choice.”

The Republican Party, on both the state and national level, has vigorously opposed Card Check, not only because it is grossly unfair to companies, but much more important, because it would cavalierly discard that most fundamental American bedrock value: free and fair elections.  It is a right that has been held sacred in this nation, and has allowed the people to chart their own course and make their own decisions, free of outside influence and intimidation.

Given this, it seems extremely hypocritical that the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania — while opposing Card Check — jettisons free and fair voting for its own members by refusing to allow secret ballot votes on important issues, such as Party endorsements.

And now, on the eve of the meeting in which the Committee will vote whether to endorse a candidate for the U.S. Senate (or not endorse at all), that issue has become a firestorm that is only growing in intensity.

The big question centers on whether the Party will endorse millionaire Steve Welch, a favorite among several GOP leaders, including Republican Governor Tom Corbett. The problem many have with Welch is that he voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary and supported former Congressman Joe Sestak, a stalwart liberal consistently to the Left of Obama. Welch claims he left the GOP out of frustration that it wasn’t conservative enough, leaving more than a few Republicans perplexed.

(In an email to PoliticsPA this week, Sestak wrote of his meeting with Welch: “He expressed support of me and what I stood for. He seemed nice and, separately, supportive of the Democratic Party and its efforts.”)

So would the Party really risk massive damage to itself by endorsing an Obama-voter, and make the sin mortal by doing so without a secret ballot?

They can’t be that dumb.

But this being Pennsylvania’s Republican Party, all bets are off.

Should they endorse Welch, it will be a double whammy, throwing the entire Party into a quagmire from which it would be difficult to escape.

State Committee would cement the perception that its endorsements are behind-the-scenes deals by inside powerbrokers hell-bent on executing individual agendas — the rank-and-file Party faithful be damned.  More damaging, it would play out — in full public view — exactly how ruthlessly efficient Card Check tactics are, making unions blush with envy.

How could Party leaders possibly explain with a straight face that the process was fair, and that no political pressure and intimidation took place — when Governor Corbett and certain State Committee leaders were openly pushing Welch?  Would it really be plausible to believe that the message “do it for the Party, and do it for your Governor — or else your political career stops here” wouldn’t be made loud and clear?

Even more telling, how could the Party explain Committee members’ change of heart in endorsing Welch after only one of five State Committee regional caucus straw polls voted for Welch as their candidate of choice? In other words, of the five regional “pre-election” votes that took place — voted on by the very same people who are now being asked to change their vote and endorse Welch — only one made Welch a winner. Significantly, Welch’s own Southeast Caucus refused to hold a straw poll, and Corbett was not even able to deliver his hometown Southwest Caucus for Welch.

 

This is by no means an indictment of Steve Welch. It has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the Republican Party. Clearly, in this particular situation, the wisest course of action would be to ignore the Governor’s misguided endorsement and refuse to endorse any candidate.

 

In allowing grassroots Republicans across Pennsylvania to make their choice, free of Party endorsements, a civil war inside the GOP would be averted, and the best candidate — the people’s choice — would emerge to take on incumbent Bob Casey.  And if Welch wins a non-endorsement primary, his victory would not be tainted with the perception that he “bought” his way to the nomination.  Regardless of the outcome, no one can argue with the results if rank-and-file Republican voters make that decision.

Besides gaining immense credibility with many Republicans should it not endorse a candidate, State Committee could score a huge coup by then amending its bylaws to allow for that which is uniquely American: secret ballot elections.

Otherwise, it will become known as Republican State Committee, Local 666.

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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January 27, 2012 at 8:26 am Comments (0)

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