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Gov. Corbett Still Refuses To Answer Sandusky Questions!

 

In a speech before the world’s press, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said, “We must keep in mind that when it comes to the safety of children, there can be no margin for error, no hesitation to act.” It was the same authoritative tone he took when chastising Joe Paterno for not doing more to stop Jerry Sandusky.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

It is Tom Corbett himself who is most guilty of hesitating. Hesitating to appropriately staff the Sandusky investigation, and hesitating for years to make an arrest — both of which jeopardized the safety of children. That hesitation, and the stonewalling that Corbett has now employed, has created an intense firestorm around the Governor.

 

Given the unprecedented nature of the Penn State scandal, this issue is not going away. In fact, if Corbett doesn’t come forward with answers, it promises to be the Number One issue in his 2014 re-election campaign.

 

*****

 

Last week, the Governor responded to Freindly Fire’s Open Letter, which had requested specifics on key issues.  But rather than answering any questions, the Corbett response raised even more red flags.

 

The Corbett response stated, “Grand juries take time. Evidence in decades old molestations must be reassembled. A moral certainty of conviction must be reached… Where does Mr. Freind think that decade’s worth of evidence came from? It had to be gathered, reluctant witness-by-reluctant witness, with accompanying corroborating evidence.”

 

Absolutely correct — and precisely Freindly Fire’s point. Corbett is admitting that this high-profile case required a tremendous amount of work. So why were so few investigating it?

 

Here’s the bottom line.  The Sandusky investigation took three years, was reportedly staffed by a single investigator at the outset, and later spearheaded by two narcotics agents, neither of whom had any experience in child molestation cases. Compare to this to the army of investigators Corbett used in the Bonusgate political corruption probe, including, sources say, agents from child predator units.

 

Given those facts, it seems logical that there can be only one of two explanations:

 

1) Politics

It doesn’t take a genius to know that sullying the reputation of the state’s largest university and taking down its legendary football coach would be a monumental challenge to any candidate running for governor. This would have been particularly true in Corbett’s case, given that his opponent, Dan Onorato, was a Penn State alumnus.

And the might of Penn State’s massive alumni network was just illustrated, where 76,000 alumni donated much of the $208 million the university raised this year.

So was the understaffed investigation dragged out in such a fashion that the arrests were not made until after the 2010 gubernatorial election?

 

2) Priorities

 

Or was the Sandusky case mishandled because Tom Corbett did not prioritize catching child predators?

 

If politics played no role, then Tom Corbett clearly prioritized corrupt politicians, who we will always have, over taking a serial child rapist off the street.  One can only wonder how many more victims Sandusky molested while he was under investigation.

 

There are a number of quotes, some by Corbett himself, that are quite telling.

 

Randy Feathers, the head of the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Office in State College who eventually headed the investigation, stated, “During the Bonusgate investigation, we had a shortage of investigators in Harrisburg.” (Altoona Mirror, June 24, 2012)

 

Corbett was obviously proud of the fact that he pulled no one from Bonusgate, stating, “We used a completely different unit from Bonusgate… (the agents working the Sandusky case) were pure narcotic investigators from up in that region.” (Corbett press conferences, July 12, 2012, and July 14, 2012).

And Corbett admitted worrying that Sandusky could still be victimizing boys during the lengthy investigation, stating, “It was a calculated risk.” (CBS Philadelphia/KYW New Radio, June 26, 2012)

So Corbett knew of the risk, and yet decided that investigating a child-victimizing monster was worthy of only two investigators.

 

What’s even more telling is the fact that, upon Corbett becoming governor, he immediately ordered state police resources to the case.  Why wasn’t that done before?  So again, the question has to be asked whether Corbett, as Attorney General, ever requested additional assistance from then-Governor Ed Rendell, himself a highly respected former prosecutor. It’s not a trick question, and only requires a Yes or No answer.

 

And did Corbett ask the Feds for assistance, especially if additional state police resources were denied by Rendell and no one could be pulled from Bonusgate?

 

If the answers are in the negative, as they appear to be, what were Corbett’s motives in choosing to stay with such a bare-boned investigative staff?

 

*****

No one has suggested that Sandusky should have been arrested before evidence was gathered. Common sense dictated that at least two or three solid cases be assembled before an arrest was made, and numerous prosecutors with no ax to grind have stated that strategy would have been a viable one.

But, as has been stated in the media, Corbett waited to have at least 10 cases before making an arrest, which just boggles the mind.

Once several victims were identified and an arrest was made, with the spotlight on Sandusky, more witnesses would come forward. More importantly, Sandusky would have been closely watched and children would have been safe. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, a predator was given three more years to victimize his prey.

No wonder the Governor doesn’t want to answer questions.

So the stonewalling continues.  There are still no answers as to why Bonusgate investigators were not ordered to work the Sandusky case, and why, sources say, Attorney General agents, including those in child predator units, were pulled from other cases to assist with that corruption probe.

*****

Governor Corbett also failed to answer the Open Letter’s other questions, including why he did not consider it a conflict of interest to serve on the Penn State Board of Trustees while simultaneously investigating it, and why he approved the $3 million taxpayer grant to Sandusky’s charity, The Second Mile, when he could have simply done nothing or vetoed it without raising one eyebrow.

The latter is particularly compelling since $640,000 in campaign contributions were made from Second Mile board members and affiliates to Corbett’s Attorney General and gubernatorial races.

*****

The Open Letter received an astounding response from across the political spectrum. It was Facebooked and Tweeted thousands of times, published in media outlets and websites across the nation, and was the hottest topic on talk radio, with Freindly Fire discussing it from coast to coast. Most telling is that 99.9 percent of that dialogue had one common theme: why was there so much hesitation to act by Attorney General Corbett?

 

Rather than invoking “space aliens,” as he did in his response, Governor Corbett would be better served by coming clean with the only thing that matters: the truth.

 

There is no such thing as “fair and balanced.” There is only truth and accuracy.  It is time for Tom Corbett to tell the whole truth — accurately — regarding the very troubling Jerry Sandusky investigation.

 

The best place to start? Answer the questions. And the truth shall set you free.

 

Read the column in the Delaware County Daily Times:

 http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2012/07/25/opinion/doc500ee47ae1559699997615.txt

Gov. Corbett Response to Freind

 http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2012/07/18/opinion/doc5006905ca4fe6470627721.txt

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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July 25, 2012 at 7:56 am Comment (1)

Gov.Corbett Could Have Stopped Sandusky — But Didn’t

An open letter to Pennsylvania’s governor, who refuses to answer disturbing questions about his role investigating the Penn State sex scandal

 

Bursting with righteous indignation, his cheeks flushed with rage, the Governor banged the podium in disgust while berating a journalist — in fact, chastising the entire media — for the audacity to ask questions on the issue.

We’re not talking about New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who gets away with such outbursts because of his stellar track record and pure gravitas.

No, this tantrum came from Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett after being queried about his incredibly long investigation of child predator Jerry Sandusky.

And it backfired in spectacular fashion. Why?

Because Tom Corbett is no Chris Christie.                      

*****

Since questions on this matter remain unanswered, it seems only fitting, on behalf of the media and public, to pen an Open Letter to Mr. Corbett.

For the record, no media commentator in Pennsylvania supported Corbett’s ideas more than Freindly Fire during the 2010 campaign, from increased Marcellus Shale drilling to school choice to liquor privatization. In fact, FF even backed Corbett’s decision to subpoena Twitter during the Bonusgate corruption probe — a highly unpopular position. Bottom line: this isn’t personal, and it’s not partisan.  It’s only about one thing: the truth.

*****

Dear Governor Corbett:

Since there are a number of questions which you have failed to answer concerning your investigation of Jerry Sandusky, on behalf of the media and the public, I respectfully ask for clarification in the following areas:

1) Based on a decade’s worth of evidence of Sandusky’s predatory activities, why did it take the Attorney General’s office three years to arrest him? I fully understand that it takes time to conduct an investigation, but as numerous prosecutors have stated, you could have arrested him quickly and continued building the case.

Tragically, it is probable that Sandusky continued to molest victims during your epic investigation, as predators do not stop preying unless forced to do so.  Had he been arrested early, (standard procedure in many cases with a lot less evidence), Sandusky would have had to post bail, had restrictions placed upon him, and, most important, been under an ultra-intense media and community spotlight — every minute of every day until his trial.

In short, children would finally have been safe. And contrary to your assessment, this would have created a much more favorable environment for additional witnesses to come forward, knowing their bigger-than-life demon could hurt them no more. Arresting Sandusky quickly would have in no way jeopardized the strength of the case.

One of two things seems to be true, as there is no third option. Either A) you were an incompetent attorney general, which virtually no one believes, or B) the investigation was deliberately understaffed and drawn out  because you did not wish to be the gubernatorial candidate who took down fabled Penn State — with its massive and intensely loyal alumni network — and the beloved Joe Paterno. Since doing so would have presented difficult campaign challenges, many are asking if politics was placed above children’s safety.  Which leads to the next question.

2) Why was the investigation so understaffed? Yes, you just now claimed — after eight months — that media reports are wrong that only one investigator was assigned the case for the first 15 months. The real number, as you now state, was a whopping two.  We know you were busy with Bonusgate, but political corruption never threatens anyone’s physical well-being, particularly defenseless children.

And the two investigators assigned were narcotics agents. While Sandusky’s heinous crimes were many, drug offenses were not among them.

Yes, they were former police officers. But wouldn’t the reasonable course have been to assign agents with experience in child molestation cases? Did their inexperience lengthen the investigation more than normal…say, past your election in November, 2010?

Additional resources were available. Upon becoming governor, you placed state police on the case. You could have made that same request to Governor Rendell, and, given the stakes, there is virtually no possibility he would have refused. And since you are a former United States Attorney, you undoubtedly realized that federal assistance was also available.

3) Do you believe ethical and moral lines were crossed when, after investigating Penn State as Attorney General, you then participated as a member of the Board of Trustees upon becoming Governor?  

In other words, knowing full well that the investigation was still in full swing, conducted by your handpicked Attorney General successor, you nonetheless chose to sit on the very Board you had been — and still were — investigating!

Did you ever consider recusing yourself from Board activities until the investigation was concluded? Since governors rarely attend Board meetings, this would have in no way raised suspicions.


4) As governor, why did you personally approve a $3 million taxpayer-funded grant to Sandusky’s Second Mile charity, given your knowledge that Sandusky was under investigation for multiple child rapes?

Your statement that blocking the grant would have tipped people off to the investigation is utterly disingenuous, particularly since the media reported on the investigation in March, and you did not approve the funds until July, 2011.  

Vetoing the charitable grant would have simply been viewed as another financial cutback in a budget full of slashed programs.

So one has to ask if the $640,000 in campaign donations from board members of the Second Mile, along with their businesses and families, had anything to do with your actions?

If not, fine.  But how did such a massively significant point slip your mind — until the media brought it up? And was that question also out of line?

Since these are matters of grave concern, I and many others look forward to your immediate response.

 

*****

 

The media talks about Penn State’s Big Four casualties: Joe Paterno, former President Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz, and Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley. But perhaps they are missing the biggest: Tom Corbett.

He has always claimed to hold himself to a higher standard, and has roundly criticized Paterno and others for not doing more to stop Sandusky. But when it came down to it, when Corbett had the power to put a speedy end to Sandusky, he didn’t.  

If mistakes were made, fine. People can accept that.  But to stonewall reasonable questions on such an important matter, and then stalk off , is something that should not, and will not, be tolerated.

Tom Corbett has a choice, perhaps the biggest of his career.  He can either answer now — or in 2014.

 Link to column in Delaware County Daily Times:

http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2012/07/17/opinion/doc500484c4eef82305964009.txt

An accredited member of the medi\a, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

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July 17, 2012 at 7:59 am Comment (1)

Corbett’s Love Affair With The Democrats: An Election Letter Back At Ya’

 Well, primary election day is almost here, and some of the races have gotten downright nasty. From disingenuous, mean-spirited campaign ads to a Democrat masquerading as a Republican accusing his opponent of being a Democrat (did you get all that?), there’s something to satisfy everyone’s entertainment needs.

 

Perhaps the ugliest race is the Democratic contest for Attorney General (an office that Party has never held), pitting a woman against a whiner: prosecutor Kathleen Kane and former congressman Patrick Murphy.  Murphy certainly can’t run on his record (there isn’t one), so instead has charged Kane with being a millionaire trucking executive. (Note: if you can figure out how being married to a trucking company owner would prevent a career prosecutor from being an effective AG, please let me know. Perhaps she would look the other way on the rampant truck-on-truck crime in Pennsylvania?)

 

Of particular concern to many is that Murphy, who as a congressman perfectly personified the deer-in-headlights legislator (remember the Hardball interview with Chris Matthews on the Iraq war?), is running for the state’s top law enforcement job despite never prosecuting a single criminal case in Pennsylvania. He will need all the help he can get to pull out a victory, and apparently that help has arrived. Sources tell Freindly Fire that elements of the Republican Party have been covertly (and even overtly) pulling out all the stops for the young doe.  And for good reason: they see him as infinitely easier to beat in November than an articulate (and better looking) female prosecutor.

 

And speaking of Republicans helping Democrats, for your reading pleasure we have a letter from Governor Tom Corbett pushing Steve Welch, the Obama-voting, Joe Sestak-supporting U.S. Senate candidate he personally endorsed (and strong-armed the Republican Party to do the same). Unfortunately for the Governor, his letter is being received by an ever-dwindling number of supporters, many of whom are flat-out rejecting his call to back Welch. From elected officials to the grassroots, they are so incensed by what Corbett has demanded of them (akin to Party treason) that they are openly supporting other candidates in the race. Welch is most likely heading for a second-place finish, and maybe even third, either of which would be an incredible embarrassment to Corbett and a severe blow to his ebbing credibility.  

 

Alienating the Party faithful in a mystifying way is not exactly a recipe for influencing people and making friends, a fact lost on this Governor.

 

So in the spirit of accuracy, it is Freindly Fire’s civic duty to correct the Governor’s letter to reflect the truth, though we will leave the bad sentence structure intact. Commentary in bold:

 

Dear Friend,
 
In less than two years we have turned the tide (by being just like Ed Rendell?), and are righting the wrongs of the liberal agenda here in Pennsylvania (yes, that same “liberal agenda” that, in fact, was passed by an overwhelmingly Republican state senate).  We brought a new way of thinking to Harrisburg after inheriting a recession and a $4.2 billion dollar budget deficit in 2011 (Sorry, Guv, but despite the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, those deficits still exist because no one—Republican or Democrat — will address the issues that led to those deficits.  Examples abound, such as the $400 million in I-80 tolls used to “balance” a prior budget — even though that interstate never became a toll road, and the money was never “repaid.”). While we have witnessed others in the past attempt to solve our state’s problems by spending more of your hard-earned tax dollars, I have employed a fiscally conservative approach to our economic issues (Yes, by finishing Rendell’s spending legacy of bailing out the Philadelphia Shipyard to build ships with no buyers, constructing a new stadium for the (obviously poor) New York Yankees’ AAA baseball team, funding the multimillion dollar Arlen Specter library,  spending Delaware River Port Authority funds (AKA taxpayer dollars) on projects having nothing to do with the bridges while tolls continue to increase…we’d love to continue, but column space is limited to 10,000 words).
 
Together with the General Assembly, we have put our state’s economy back on track (uhhh, the natural gas industry is leaving the state, in part because of no political leadership, and the unemployment rate has not measurably dropped), not by demonizing the private sector, but by lowering taxes (Really? The job-killing taxes haven’t been touched, such as the nation’s second-highest corporate tax and the 18 percent tax on every bottle of wine and booze to rebuild Johnstown from the flood — of 1936!), cutting government spending (let’s be honest — that’s only because the federal stimulus dollars dried up), balancing the budget on time and giving businesses the ability to create jobs and drive economic growth. 
 
Unfortunately, we have a government in Washington, D.C.  stuck in the same liberal trap that Pennsylvania was suffering in. (Sorry, can’t help it.  You aren’t supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. Where’s your brain at? Or, to be grammatically correct, Where’s your brain at, Genius?) We started the fight in 2010 by talking about real change and real reforms (Very, very true.  It was, and remains, all talk.) With your help and support, I was elected along with a Republican State Senate and House Majority, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey and 12 Republican congressmen to cut wasteful spending and promote economic growth. This year, we have to continue our efforts and send U.S. Senate candidate Steve Welch to join the fight! (The irony is just dripping here. Pennsylvania elects all those Republicans to stop the “liberal” Obama agenda — and Corbett is pushing an Obama-voter who was, until fairly recently, a Democrat. Go figure).
 
I endorsed Steve because he has the passion and ability to take our shared Pennsylvania values (Another truism, as Welch’s vote for Obama helped the President win Pennsylvania, and Corbett has acted more like a Democrat than Republican) to Washington, D.C. and get our federal government’s reckless spending back under control.  He is a businessman who has worked tirelessly to achieve the American dream, creating a successful living for himself and creating jobs for hundreds of others.  In the private sector, Steve has helped young entrepreneurs achieve their own dreams of launching a successful small business (In keeping with the “dream” theme, who in their right mind could possibly dream that endorsing an Obama-supporter would rally the Republican Party?)
 
Steve is running for the U.S. Senate because he believes in the same values you and I do! (Wait, whose values? Obama’s or Sestak’s? Or both? And do most in the GOP share those values? Admittedly, the Party’s pick for Prez is the architect of government healthcare, but still…). Steve could no longer sit back and watch as President Obama and Senator Bob Casey continue to spend our way into oblivion and add more debt onto the backs of future generations (Damn! If only Welch didn’t vote for Obama, that line may have worked!!). Steve wants to bring fiscal responsibility back to Washington, D.C. and help others achieve the American dream, as he has. (Unfortunately for Corbett and Welch, that’s not going to happen. There are no points for second (or third) place.  Sorry, Bob Casey — it doesn’t look like Christmas is coming early for you.)
 
Remember that we have a great slate of statewide candidates including Steve Welch – David Freed for Attorney General, John Maher for Auditor General and Diana Irey Vaughan for Treasurer – who need your support over the next few days.   You can visit www.pagop.org to learn how you can help. 
 
Most importantly, I hope you will join me on April 24thand cast your ballot for Steve Welch for U.S. Senate and our entire statewide team! (Too bad Democrats can’t vote in the Republican primary, since that would at least give your man a fighting chance…)
 
Sincerely, 

Tom Corbett
Governor (well, at least until 2014…)

 

 

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 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm 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)

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)

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)

Save Sunoco Refineries? Get Politicians Out Of The Way!

Part 1 of a series on saving refinery jobs and getting America working again 

For the tens of thousands whose livelihoods depend on the Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips oil refineries in Philadelphia, Marcus Hook and Trainer, the Grinch arrived early this Christmas, announcing that all three facilities would be closing in the near future.

But unlike the Grinch who delighted in causing misery for the sake of misery, the oil companies seemed to have no choice.  Their hand was forced by a combination of market forces that saw them losing millions every single day.

And now, short of the companies finding buyers, those workers will be thrown out into the cold, unemployed in an America that is plunging further into the abyss. An America that doesn’t make a bloody thing anymore.  An America with the highest corporate taxes in the world.  And an America with trade policies that sell out its own citizens.

Making matters worse, most of the workers will be seeking new jobs in Pennsylvania, one of the least competitive states in the nation when it comes to attracting new companies.

Doom and gloom? No, just the hard truth.  And here’s another one. Short of packing up and moving to refinery-laden Louisiana, most of the laid off workers will never find a job in this region close to the pay scale and skill level which they are leaving.

Welcome to The New America, one that too often puts the interests of its competitors — and even its adversaries — ahead of its own citizens.

Compounding the problem even further (if that’s possible) is the unwanted involvement of those who caused our economic mess in the first place — the politicians.  And, as they continue to demonstrate, they don’t have the slightest clue as to how to right the ship.

Politicians need to be taken out of the equation. Pandering for votes by holding pointless meetings with refinery and union officials isn’t solving anything.  It only gives false hope (while providing them with 30-second sound bites).

But here’s the good news.  There is hope, more than can be imagined. Those refinery workers could not be sitting on a better spot on Earth to reap the rewards of a massive opportunity — the correct utilization of the Marcellus Shale natural gas bonanza. If the politicians do their most important job — and the only one they should be doing — of cutting bureaucratic red tape and slashing stifling regulations, the free market will take hold, creating jobs and wealth of unprecedented proportions.

But that’s a tall order.

*****

Former Governor Ed Rendell, while certainly an affable chap, was never mistaken for a genius, especially when it came to getting Pennsylvanians working again.  His mentality was that a paternalistic government knows best, derived no doubt from the fact that he virtually never held a private sector job in his life. Thus, he was wholly incapable of understanding the difficult decisions that businesses must make to maintain profitability.

So it was no surprise when, in 2009, Rendell inserted his nose where it didn’t belong, publicly excoriating Sunoco for its decision to lay off some of its salaried workforce.  Sunoco officials had stated the move was geared towards remaining competitive, as the company was anticipating a “more difficult economic reality” moving forward.

Taking his criticism even further, Rendell flatly rejected the decision-making of Sunoco’s Chairman and CEO Lynn Elsenhans, arrogantly saying he couldn’t take her at her word. Incredibly, he went so far as to state the “real” reason for the layoffs: “They are solely intended to make a profitable company more profitable and helping pad the dividends paid to shareholders.”

So if Ed was correct (which is always the case – just ask him), Sunoco’s recent decision to shut down its refineries — permanently — must be because it’s just making too much money. 

Or…

Maybe the folks at Sunoco had a slightly better idea than Ed Rendell of the deteriorating market conditions coming down the pike, and maneuvered accordingly to keep its head above water.  Despite their best efforts though, Sunoco did not meet with success, as the closures clearly indicate.

Now the big questions loom — can the refineries be saved, will a buyer be found, can they be converted to refine natural gas, and, of course, what will be the fate of the thousands of families whose livelihoods depend on the refineries?

While Rendell is out of the picture, the involvement of other elected officials still leaves a lot to be desired.

Earlier this week, members of Congress emerged, extremely frustrated, from a meeting with refinery officials, complaining that the company wouldn’t reveal details about highly confidential strategic negotiations with potential buyers.

Earth to Congress: Have We Met? Who do these guys think they are that Sunoco owes them an explanation for anything, let alone sharing privileged information of the highest magnitude? And do we even have to mention that Congress hasn’t been able to keep anything secret in 200 years?

And last month, a bipartisan congressional delegation called on the U.S. Energy Information Administration (along with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to conduct an impact analysis on the potential of the refineries’ closure.

Uh, here’s a not-so-humble message to each member of that delegation: your proctologist called.  He found your head.

Are they serious? Another Blue-Ribbon study to tell us what any sixth-grader already knows? 

It will be bad.  Very, very bad. Jobs will be lost, families thrown into chaos, houses foreclosed, businesses shuttered.  The refining capacity for the East Coast will suffer tremendously (not helped, of course, by the fact that we haven’t built a new refinery in America since 1976). Prices will increase. Volatility will spike. And America will, yet again, find itself bent over the barrel, spending billions more petro dollars buying oil from hostile nations because we (READ: Congress)  will not do the obvious — implement a policy of energy independence.

So let’s save the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on an absolutely meaningless study, and do something novel: solve the problem!

And to reiterate Step One, the politicians woefully short on private sector experience and who lack the necessary vision to turn an unfortunate situation into a positive one need to get out of the way and let business-savvy entrepreneurs do what they do best: create opportunity.

Energy is the single most important industry in getting America back on her feet again.  And retooling the refineries here in our backyard —the right way, for the right product, to fulfill the right vision — is the blueprint to make that a reality.

And what a Christmas present that would be!

(Part Two will specifically examine what should be done to save the refineries and their jobs).

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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December 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm Comments (2)

Corbett’s Credibility Tanks Over His Role In Penn State Scandal

Pop Quiz: What’s the relationship between the following two statements which have appeared in recent news articles: 

1) “Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s national profile rises in the wake of Penn State scandal.”

 2) “Tom Corbett has been mentioned as a possible Vice Presidential candidate.”

Strangely, they are inversely proportional.  When one’s profile rises, that’s typically a good thing. But as the nation learns about some very disturbing actions of Corbett related to the Penn State scandal, his Veep chances are plummeting.  As a direct result, his chances of ever being a heartbeat away are between zero and forgetaboutit.

At this rate, he may be lucky just to survive his first term.

*****

Why the cover-up, and how far up the ladder did it go?  Why the lack of swift action, from not just the University, but from law enforcement?  And how could football — no matter how storied a program — have risen above the protection of innocent children?

These questions were supposed to be answered by a thorough and unbiased investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.  But as more information emerges on that front, the less faith people have that justice has been — or will be — served.

Enter Tom Corbett.

For better or worse, Corbett has been a quiet, behind-the-scenes governor during his first year in office.  Yet he felt compelled to address the state and national media on the scandal.  In doing so, he said more in one press conference than he had in his entire governorship, despite the fact that he declined to answer most questions.

Interestingly, Corbett is wearing three hats.  He is the Governor of a state that contributes millions to Penn State. He is a Penn State Board Trustee who participated in Board decisions, including the firings of Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier. And most significantly, he is the former Attorney General who launched the child molestation investigation of former football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2009.

Corbett has attempted to have the best of both worlds: national publicity where he touts the virtues of morality, and a free pass on accountability because of alleged confidentiality issues.  But that tactic has backfired, as the media spotlight turned on Corbett himself. The more that is learned about Corbett’s actions — and inactions — regarding the investigation, the more his credibility tanks.

Consider:

1) It took substantially longer for the Attorney General’s office to bring charges against Sandusky than it did for numerous politicians to be indicted in the Bonusgate corruption probe. Bonusgate was a very complex investigation involving crafty politicians with the best lawyers money could buy. Since much of what was being investigated in Bonusgate was not run-of-the mill illegalities, the investigators had to overcome a hefty, time-consuming learning curve to understand the subject matter.

So how can such a complicated investigation come to fruition more quickly than a black-and-white child rape case?  And where is the rule against making an initial arrest to get the molester off the street — and warn the public — while continuing to build the case?

Given the appalling nature of the alleged crimes, and the real possibility that more young children were molested during the three year investigation, why did the Attorney General wait so long to make the staffing level as robust as it should have been from the start?

If the answer is that resources were limited — sorry, try again.  As bad as other crimes may have been, such as those committed in Bonusgate, no one was physically hurt and the welfare of children was never an issue.  Giving priority to children who are at risk of rape and molestation is a no-brainer. But inexplicably, that wasn’t done.

The Governor continues to defend his actions — scolding those who dare question him — by stating that it takes time to build such a case and that he can’t comment further, but three years? That’s an insult to everyone, especially the victims.  Again, you can’t have it both ways, grandstanding for political points but clamming up when the questions get tough.

And fair or not, many are now asking if the investigation was delayed so that Corbett could avoid being the gubernatorial candidate who took down Joe Paterno and Penn State — both wildly popular among the hundreds of thousands of alumni living in the state.

2) This one is simply incomprehensible.

In yet another instance of Corbett finishing what former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell started (others being $20 million of taxpayer money to renovate the Yankees’ AAA  stadium, and $42  million to bail out the Philadelphia Shipyard to build ships with no buyers), the Governor personally approved a $3 million taxpayer-funded grant to Sandusky’s Second Mile charity — just four months ago!

That bears repeating.  Tom Corbett, with full knowledge that Sandusky was under investigation for multiple child rapes, still approved the money to his charity. 

How is that possible?  And why on earth is the national media not yet running with this?

In a response that was offensive to any rational person, here’s what his spokesman said, as reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

“He (Corbett) couldn’t block that (grant) from going forward because of what he knew as attorney general…He couldn’t let on to anyone (including the governor’s office) what he knew….”

That is so wrong that it begs the question as to the real motivation behind approving the grant.

First, the fact that so many people had been interviewed by the grand jury made the investigation anything but a secret.  Second, the Harrisburg Patriot News reported on the grand jury investigation —- in March.  Corbett approved the funds — in July!  So not wanting to “let on” was clearly bogus.  The investigation was already well-established in the public domain.

Secondly, there was an incredibly easy way to deal with the grant without tipping off anyone: simply strike it.  After all, the budget Corbett signed cut everything else, so a grant to a charity would have been seen as just another casualty of financial cutbacks. 

Veto the grant (why taxpayers are funding that in the first place is obscene, but that’s another story) and be done with it.  It should have been that easy.  But it didn’t happen.

Why?

Well, consider if the following may have had anything to do with it. According to the sports website Deadspin.com, past and present board members of the Second Mile, along with their businesses and families, have donated more than $640,000 to Corbett since 2003.

That interesting — and massively significant — point seemed to have slipped the Governor’s mind during his press conferences.  Go figure.

*****

Something is rotten to the core about how this whole affair has been investigated.  It’s time for the Feds to take the lead role in uncovering the whole truth, and that includes possibly looking into the Attorney General’s investigation. 

It’s clear the Board of Trustees cannot be counted upon to conduct an unbiased investigation, nor can the local police, and, sadly, even the Attorney General’s office.  And nothing emanating from the Governor’s office on this issue can be taken at face value.

In discussing why Paterno and Spanier were fired, the Governor said, “…the Board lost confidence in their ability to lead Penn State through this time and into the future.”

With all the opportunities Tom Corbett has had to play it straight with the people of Pennsylvania — especially the victims — on his dealings with the Penn State issue, he hasn’t done so.

And that has caused an ever-increasing number of people to lose confidence in his ability to lead.

There is a great scene in the movie The American President where Richard Dreyfuss suggests that being president “was, to a certain extent, about character.” And in classic Michael Douglas style, he replies, “I can tell you, without hesitation, that being President is entirely about character.”

Well, character isn’t limited to the Oval Office. It resides in every one of us — and that includes Governors, Trustees, coaches, police and investigators.

Moving forward, let’s demand that a basic legal and moral principle be followed to the very end:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum  —”Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

The victims deserve no less.

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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November 21, 2011 at 8:14 am Comments (2)

Texas Grows On Pennsylvania’s Woes

In what amounted to a complete non-surprise, Pennsylvania was just ranked near the economic bottom of the nation. Forty-third, to be exact.

Why the dismal showing for what was once the major industrial powerhouse, not just of the country, but the world?

More than anything else, crushing taxes and a hostile business climate.

Shackled with the nation’s second-highest corporate income tax, it is also 15th in personal income tax, 30th in property tax burden, and number one in estate and inheritance tax.  Those figures are bleak enough in their own right, but because Pennsylvania rolls over to organized labor and trial lawyers, it comes in dead-last last in labor competitiveness.

The result?  A mass exodus.  Businesses, and the Pennsylvanians who work for them, flee the state for the greener pastures of employer-friendly states.

And as our children and grandchildren — indeed our future — leave, so too does our political clout.

In the latest census, Pennsylvania has lost yet another electoral vote, giving it just 20. But again, this is nothing new, as the state has seen at least two electoral votes disappear in every census since 1960.

Pennsylvania is not alone in its demise.  Neighboring states such as Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois are in the same boat, with millions voting with their feet to escape ever-escalating taxes and an overbearing government.

While some businesses are outsourced overseas, many relocate to states that believe in welcoming rather than hindering. It is no coincidence that the recipients of Pennsylvania’s brain drain are primarily located in the south and west, states that are free of entrenched, business-as-usual politicians who would rather fall on the sword than make the effort to change the system.

And no state more so than Texas exemplifies the fruits of the strategy to attract the best and brightest. 

Despite America experiencing one of the worst recessions in its history, the Lone Star state is booming. Huge numbers of people seeking opportunity are migrating to Texas, so much so that it just gained a whopping four seats in the Electoral College, bringing its total to 38 — second only to California’s 55.  In stark comparison to its rust belt competitors, Texas has experienced a period of nonstop growth, gaining at least one electoral vote in every census since 1930. (It is interesting to note that California’s economy shrank faster than all but three states over the last ten years; for the first time since 1920, it failed to pick up an electoral vote).

A look at the numbers tells the story:

-         The Texas economy, nearly $1.3 trillion in output, ranks 13thin the world. Some analysts see it eventually eclipsing California in that category.

-         Texas leads the nation in overseas exports, its railroads are ranked at the top, it has more miles of highway than any other state, and has state-of-the-art shipping ports and cargo airports.

-         In Forbes Magazine’s “Best Cities for Jobs” list, Texas cities topped the lists for best big, mid-size and small cities.

-         Nearly 40 percent of all jobs created in the current “recovery” are in Texas, and it is one of only three states have more jobs now than when the recession began in December 2007. The others are North Dakota, Alaska — all, not coincidentally, big energy states.

-         Texas leads the nation with six cities on the top 20 Overall Strongest-Performing Metro Areas, according to the Brookings Institute’s “MetroMonitor” quarterly report.

Texas innately understands that fostering a business-friendly atmosphere pays big dividends.  So it has paved the way for achieving that goal: it is a Right To Work state (where it is not compulsory to join a union as a condition of employment), has no state income tax, and ranks 8th best for business tax climate. And its regulatory environment is not nearly as onerous to business as in many other states.

It has also aggressively passed legal reform measures (reducing litigation costs to historic lows), which is credited as a major factor in the unparalleled job growth Texas is experiencing.

Industries in Texas are quite diversified, from energy and mining, to timber, health care, bio-medical and tourism — industries that parallel those in Pennsylvania.

So why then does the Keystone State, despite its many similarities to Texas, continue to stagnate, seemingly content to limp along while its competitors are thriving?

Because the people, through the politicians they keep electing, are satisfied with mediocrity. Rhetoric aside about wanting to make the state great again, nothing of significance changes in Pennsylvania, no matter what Party controls the Governorship and Legislature.

Tax rates? Among the highest in the nation, especially for businesses, with reductions almost nonexistent. Legal reforms? Few and far between, with no attempt made to pass what is desperately needed: caps on runaway jury awards.  (While the Fair Share Act was just signed into law, limiting liability to one’s responsible share in a lawsuit, it took nine years just to revisit the issue after it passed in 2002 but was thrown out on a technicality).

Regulations? More burdensome than ever.  Educational achievement for the future workforce?  Nearly half of all public school 11th graders cannot pass basic proficiency tests in reading and math.

And of course, Pennsylvania has made absolutely no attempt to rein in the out-of-control public sector unions.

Year after year, teachers’ unions strike more than in all other states combined, with children becoming the victims in the unions’ never-satiated appetite for more taxpayer largesse.  The mere discussion of eliminating collective bargaining was taken off the table by Gov. Corbett prior to entering into negotiations with the state workers’ unions — while getting nothing in return.  And in an era where private sector employees are lucky to keep their jobs, with raises out of the question for most, Corbett just gave the public sector workers an 11 percent raise over four years with lavish benefits and no furloughs.

As far as becoming a Right To Work state, that possibility ended with the Corbett Administration stated it could never pass in Pennsylvania.  Which was true — with Ed Rendell as Governor and a Democratic House.  But with Corbett as leader and major GOP majorities in both chambers, a strong push could well have made that economic godsend a reality.  But it died before it even began.  (And for the naysayers who say it couldn’t pass, just look to Wisconsin for what can be achieved with real leadership.  In arguably one of the most liberal state in the country, collective bargaining was recently eliminated).

The saving grace for Pennsylvania is that it’s sitting atop the second largest natural gas deposit in the world.  Just as energy leads the way it Texas, it could also do so in the Keystone State, as responsible drilling of the Marcellus Shale could pave the way for an unprecedented economic boom.

But given Pennsylvania’s history of chasing away business, the natural gas industry is still (wisely) hedging, waiting to see what the ground rules (no pun intended) will be.  Corbett is right not to impose an extraction tax, as that only would serve to drive a nail into the coffin, but there are many other issues that need to be addressed.  And if the highly-mobile industry does decide to pack it up either because of a hostile business climate or low demand, Pennsylvania, unlike Texas, has no fallback position, pushing it that much closer to the abyss.

Perhaps the most telling difference between the states is not a statistical one, but an intangible.  When in Texas, there is an unbridled sense of pride, a feeling that the American pioneering spirit is thriving, and that nothing is unattainable.

And you see the symbol of that pride everywhere: the Lone Star is embedded in concrete pillars of the modern infrastructure, in buildings, on car bumpers, and even in airport restaurants.  That vibrancy, which is downright palpable, is not just because of Texas’ rich history, but comes from the security that only a booming economy can generate.

Sadly, that feeling has been nonexistent to most Pennsylvanians for decades. Whether we ever regain it will be decided over the next four years.

*****

To Texans, everything they do is not just bigger, but better.  That may seem arrogant to folks in the other 49 states, but as the old adage says, “arrogance ain’t arrogance if you can back it up.”

And looking at the Lone Star State’s success story, it most certainly backs it up.

 

Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

 Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

 Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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July 14, 2011 at 7:16 am Comments (0)

Gov. Onorato — Err…Corbett — Gives Unions A Sweetheart Deal

 How this affects you: the new contracts for unionized state employees will cost $164 million as workers get an 11 percent raise, with no pension reform, while the private sector continues to get rocked.

In case you have been living under a rock, here’s a newsflash: we are experiencing one of the most severe recessions in our history, and there are no greener pastures in the immediate future.

So common sense dictates that with high unemployment, decreased tax revenues, large deficits, and, most significantly, massive pension obligations, governors would take whatever steps were necessary to ensure that their states, and its citizens, remain solvent, especially when it comes to negotiating public-sector union contracts.

That happened in places like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, where true Republicans are in charge. Governors Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels and John Kasich took the heat and did what they had to do, reeling in the out-of-control taxpayer largess afforded to these unions.

But most amazing of all is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s remarkable success. Just last week, he pushed through a monumental union pension and benefit reform package that will save taxpayers over $120 billion — and did so with heavily Democratic, pro-union legislative majorities.  So effective was Christie that alongside him at the bill-signing was the Senate President — a longtime union member.

Contrast that to the deal just reached by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett with the largest state unions. Instead of acting in the best interests of the taxpayers footing the bill, he simply continued the Rendell legacy of keeping the cash register door wide open.

It’s bad enough the Governor rolled over on all the sweeping concessions he was seeking, but he ended up giving the unions a sweetheart deal.

Over the next four years, unionized state employees will receive an almost 11 percent raise and a guarantee of no furloughs.  And remember, this significant bump is in addition to their three percent raise two years ago, four percent raise last year — and three annual step increases which averaged 2.25 percent during that time. Cha-ching!

Must be nice to have such staunch advocates like Governors Rendell and Onorato — sorry, I meant Corbett — fighting for you.

And how do these pay raises compare to those in the private sector?  With such high unemployment and underemployment rates, do you really have to ask?  Most are receiving no raises at all, not even cost of living adjustments.  And those fortunate enough to still have a job have no choice but to hang on for dear life, praying they survive the next round of layoffs.  Making matters worse, many have to also shoulder ever increasing healthcare costs, if they have coverage at all.

In addition to substantial retirement benefits, state workers have guaranteed healthcare, too.  And while they will pay a bit more with this new contract, it’s still at a level way below many in the private sector.

It used to be that working in the public sector was a trade-off.  You wouldn’t make as much money as in the business world, but the benefits were good and contracts were guaranteed.  But all that changed as union contracts exploded upward — at the expense of taxpayers.

Now, in many cases, unionized public employees make more than their peers in the private sector, and retire on pensions and benefit packages that would make Wall Street financiers blush with envy.  Of course, that has come with a price, especially in Pennsylvania, and now it’s time to pay the piper.  State pension obligations go through the roof over the next several years, as annual taxpayer-funded contributions to the two state pension funds increase exponentially, ballooning from $800 million now — to billions per year.

The last Governor and legislature kicked the can down the road last year, but that only gets you so far, and, in the process, devastates the future of our children and grandchildren.

By caving in to the unions, giving them a contact that would be way too generous even in a strong economy, this Governor has chosen not to address the reforms necessary to keep Pennsylvania on solid ground, which will eventually lead to higher state borrowing costs and push the state closer to the abyss.

And while we’re on the subject of the state’s finances, let’s set the facts straight about the current budget. Reducing the budget by four percent is a good thing, but was inevitable after the loss of federal stimulus dollars.  Had he won the governorship, Dan Onorato would have signed a budget almost exactly the same as the one Corbett did.  For that matter, even Governor Spendell, who never saw a spending increase he didn’t like, would have been forced to reduce the budget to close the $4.2 billion budget deficit.

Which, in reality, is closer to $7 billion because no one in Harrisburg wants to address the real fiscal situation.  The budget, which is constitutionally required to be balanced, was passed last year on ghost revenue: $400 million from the tolling of Interstate 80 (which never got tolled);  $800 million raided from the MCARE fund (used to offset high medical malpractice rates) which, in all likelihood, will be ordered repaid by the state Supreme Court; federal Medicaid dollars that were budgeted to be $800 million but in actuality amounted to $595 million; and a $1.1 billion revenue shortfall after ten months of last year’s fiscal year. 

This shortfall seems to have simply vanished off the books.  Of course, do that with your own business — and you go to jail.  So with the looming pension bomb and the real state deficit, it’s not a pretty picture for Pennsylvania’s future.

There was a way to address these issues and begin to reverse the state’s decline.  Governor Corbett could have mandated a situation whereby union members would negotiate with their prospective employer individually, and free market-type incentives would allow for a fair offer — fair for the employee, and fair for the “employer” (the taxpayer).

So an offer would be made — salary, healthcare, benefits — and the individual could choose to accept or decline it.  Which is exactly how it’s done in the free market.  And for those who would claim it wouldn’t be “fair” to the state worker, you know what?  There would be a line a mile long of qualified individuals ready and willing to accept such an offer. Accountability and efficiencies would increase, and unmotivated, bureaucratic sloths would be eliminated in favor of those willing to be good stewards of taxpayer money.

Sound simple and fair enough?  It is, and it’s called the elimination of collective bargaining.  It’s something successfully implemented in other states, but was incomprehensibly taken off the table by Corbett three months ago — while getting absolutely nothing in return. 

The result?  No pension reform, and a lucrative union contract that the Governor says will be a net cost to the taxpayers of $164 million (which means that figure can be safely doubled).

The Wall Street Journal just labeled Corbett as leader of Keystone Cops.  After this latest debacle, it’s hard to disagree.

Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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June 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm Comments (0)

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