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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this edition of Counterpoint PA's homage to Keith Olbermann, the Worst Pennsylvanians of the Week, the winner is a conservative Republican state representative who is seeking cosponsors to introduce a bill that would literally legalize discrimination. While he wants to exempt businesses from a wide range of anti-discrimination laws, he also claims he's not endorsing discrimination. I'm not making this one up. I put the reality of this proposal in historical perspective and emphasize that it is, in fact, an endorsement of discrimination.

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/...

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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this edition of Counterpoint PA's homage to Keith Olbermann, the Worst Pennsylvanians of the Week, the runner-up is a so-called "policy analyst" for a conservative advocacy group who, after calling Medicaid expansion under Obamacare "immoral" because it was supposedly poor insurance, also criticized Obamacare for canceling private insurance plans for not meeting minimum coverage standards. I explain how this self-contradiction shows that the group's opposition to Medicaid expansion in PA is purely ideological and should not be masked as "policy analysis."

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and stay tuned tomorrow (as long as the storm doesn't knock my power out!) for this week's WORST in PA!

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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this edition of Counterpoint PA's homage to Keith Olbermann, the Worst Pennsylvanians of the Week, the bronze goes to Democratic state Senator Vincent Hughes for voting to pass a bill out of committee that would give the fracking industry the same liability immunities for using abandoned mine drainage (pretty nasty stuff) to frack that volunteers get for trying to clean it up and giving an embarrassingly bad reason for doing so. In my commentary, I address my issues with his excuse both on the merits and in terms of his capacity to get campaign donations from the fracking industry.

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and stay tuned for the rest of this week's worsts in PA!

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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this video, I share and explain some details from a briefing paper by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center that show how corporate tax cuts in the state over the past decade have been a root cause of Pennsylvania's budget deficit, along with some help from some handy graphs that were part of the report. I end with a bit of my own commentary on those who say we don't have the money for education and other budget priorities yet continue to spend more and more on corporate tax cuts every year.

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and stay tuned throughout January for the rest of this month's show!

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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this video, I explain recent Pennsylvania court rulings on voting rights and environmental rights that are significant victories for progressives in the state. The first comes from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which struck down one of the most egregious parts of the state's fracking law that allowed corporations to frack virtually anywhere and blocked municipalities from using local zoning laws to stop them, and the second comes from Commonwealth Court, which ruled that the state's voter ID law is so harsh it amounts to voter disenfranchisement. I offer some of my own commentary on conservatives' record of pushing hard for and vociferously defending these laws and how progressives can use that to their advantage.

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and stay tuned throughout January for the rest of this month's show!

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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this video, I present an interview I did with Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hanger, who portrays himself as "the most progressive candidate in this race on all issues." We discuss his marijuana reform proposal which starts with medical marijuana and phases-in full legalization, his stance on fracking as a former head of the PA Department of Environmental Protection which I pushed him to convince progressives isn't impacted by his ties to the fracking industry, and his campaign finance challenge to the other Democrats running in the gubernatorial primary.

Clarifications:
* this was recorded in 2013, hence references to the election being "next year" (I'm not sure why I said the interview was "live" in the beginning, obviously this video is prerecorded)
* I stated that polls show PA vastly in favor of both medical marijuana and legalization, which is right for medical, but wrong for legalization
* some provisions of Act 13 (PA's fracking law) Hanger references have since been struck down by the PA Supreme Court, more on that coming soon from Counterpoint PA
* sorry that my feet-shuffling led to me standing in a visually awkward position for some of the video, I was filming alone so no one was there to tell me!

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and stay tuned throughout January for the rest of this month's show!

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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this video, I discuss rival abortion access proposals in Pennsylvania that both have Democratic support. One imitates a Texas law that shut down a third of that state's abortion clinics by requiring doctors who provide abortion services to get admitting privileges from a hospital, and the other would protect abortion access by creating "buffer zones" around clinic entrances and exits where anti-choice protesters couldn't harass women on their way in and out. I close with my take on PA Democrats' ongoing division over this issue.

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and stay tuned throughout January for the rest of this month's show!

Discuss

This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this video, I explain some recently announced major reforms to Pennsylvania courts including a ban on judges hiring family and campaign donors, a requirement that judges disqualify themselves from cases involving campaign donors, and a ban on judges serving on corporate boards, providing some often hard-to-believe context along the way of examples of real judicial behavior in the state that these reforms would have prevented (or at least punished).

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and stay tuned throughout January for the rest of this month's show. For those who have watched before, you may have noticed that in the past I have always put out an entire show (at least four PA Headlines, plus the more in-depth The Breakdown and Olbermann-style Worst Pennsylvanians of the Week) in the span of a week. I'm loosening up the schedule now to spread the videos out more, so now videos will come out throughout the month. For more details on format changes to the show and why I made them, check out this post from the show's site.

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These are videos from the latest edition of my show, Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics. In this very special edition of the show, I present footage I took of the October 29 “Believe in ESU” rally, where students, professors, union activists, and others protested against education funding cuts and the resulting planned faculty and programs cuts at East Stroudsburg University right in my hometown.

PA Headlines for this special edition of the show consists of a series of speeches given at the rally culminating with the protesters' march.

The show starts with the two speeches from professors that launched the rally:

This next video features several students speaking about the importance of quality education in their lives and the importance of activism in fighting for a quality education:

Two student poets wrote poems about the budget battle to read at the rally that really riled up the crowd:

An ESU professor and union activist shared her convictions about quality public higher education with the crowd at the rally and encouraged the students to continue raising awareness about the ESU budget battle among their as-yet-uninformed peers:

Next, these students shared extremely personal stories, but were no less fierce in their defense of quality education. One asks, "Has ESU now become a welfare program for administrators at the expense of students and faculty?":

And this is the protesters' march from the site of the rally to an administration building, chanting "no more cuts":

This special edition of The Breakdown features two interviews I did while at the rally with people who organized it. We talked about how the event was organized, the reasons so many people showed up, ESU's place in the community, and the state of public education in Pennsylvania:

And finally, fear not fellow Keith Olbermann loyalists, there is even a special "Believe in ESU" edition of the Worst Pennsylvanians of the Week. First I show the speech of a local Democratic state representative candidate who informed the crowd that their local Republican state representatives voted for the education cuts, followed by the speeches of spokespeople of said local Republican state representatives who claimed to champion education funding but carefully avoided countering the Democrat’s claims. Then there’s a short interview I did with another Democratic state representative candidate who was there about the discrepancy between the Republicans’ words and actions, and I end with some of my own commentary.

Tell me what you think about this edition of Counterpoint PA on Twitter @CounterpointPA or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/... and for those keeping track that interview with Sean Kitchen of Raging Chicken Press about the PA bill that would gut the state's endangered species list is still on its way soon as a bonus video.

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On October 12, people across Pennsylvania and around the world hit the streets to protest against the food mega-corporation Monsanto. Their production of genetically engineered (GE) foods or genetically modified organisms (GMO's) was a chief focus of the protests both within and without the borders of the commonwealth. Over 60 countries have mandated the labeling of genetically manipulated food products, but the United States is not one of them. We don't have those laws on the national level or, so far, any statewide level. But the latter is about to change.

A small fraction of the states in our union are seemingly on the verge of requiring GE foods to be labeled as such, and while Pennsylvania isn't as close to passing ours as they are, we have our own statewide proposal that is steadily gaining momentum. To be able to know and choose what we put into our bodies ought to be a human right. Of course, if all these activists that came crawling out of the woodwork in PA to join the worldwide Monsanto protest also hit the streets for the political campaigns of candidates that support their position on GE food labeling, that momentum could culminate in enacted law a lot sooner than it otherwise would.

October 12 was the second worldwide protest against Monsanto organized by the group March Against Monsanto. Millions of people participated in protests in over 50 countries and over 400 cities, which according to their official list included seven different protests in Pennsylvania. They were in Bethlehem, Harrisburg, Indiana, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and my own stomping grounds of Stroudsburg (though I very regrettably was not able to make it).

Susan Koomar wrote a piece called "Protestors 'March Against Monsanto' in Bethlehem: March Against Monsanto in Bethlehem protests the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)" for the Bethlehem Patch, but it didn't contain any Bethlehem-specific information that couldn't be gleaned from the sole picture it contained:

photo by Kim Fallon / Bethlehem Patch
They're a little hard to make out, but you can see several signs with anti-GMO messages here, some with messages demanding labeling.

Betsey Piette reported for Workers World that hundreds of people participated in the Philadelphia March Against Monsanto, and you can see plenty of anti-GMO signs in this video of it from YouTube's Fenstermaker Films:

You'll notice a lot of the anti-GMO signs in Philadelphia have messages calling for mandatory labeling as well. There are already a whopping 64 countries that require GMO labeling, including such human rights luminaries as China and Russia. The people in these countries effectively have the human right to know and choose what they're putting in their bodies, but right now no one in the United States does. So, for example, if you don't want to eat Monsanto's US-grown-and-consumed NK603 GE corn that the controversial Seralini study (whose research methods were recently validated by the European Food Safety Authority) showed gave rats at least a 50% chance of premature death and a 200% - 300% increase in large tumors, pictured here:

...and you want the human right to know if the food you're buying and consuming has been genetically manipulated, GMO labels give you that knowledge and that choice. Without labels, you can't tell if a food product has GMO's when you look at it in the supermarket, and consumers can't choose whether or not to risk winding up like these rats.

According to Right to Know GMO's map of US states' progress on GMO labeling, it looks like Washington, Connecticut, and Maine are very likely to be the first. A statewide ballot initiative to mandate GMO labeling will be voted on in the election coming up very shortly on November 5 in Washington, while both chambers of the respective state legislatures of Connecticut and Maine have all passed GMO labeling bills but neither state has yet seen a bill signed into law. Pennsylvania isn't moving anywhere near that fast right now, but we're at least on the radar thanks to Daylin Leach, a Democrat who describes himself as "Pennsylvania's leading progressive state senator."

I blogged about his GMO labeling bill, SB 653, when he introduced it in the PA Senate earlier this year. I recently reached out to his office to ask how he thinks the Seralini study being validated by the EFSA impacts the fight for his bill here in Pennsylvania, and this was Daylin's response:

I think that there is a lot of back and forth about the science, and instead of wading into this particular discussion -- and as a non-scientist -- it is all the more important that we label GMO food. [SB 653] will allow consumers to decide for themselves whether or not they want to take the risk of eating something that may be hazardous or cancer causing as one study suggests.
And this is the updated list of the bill's cosponsors they provided me with:
1. Senator John Wozniak
2. Senator James Brewster
3. Senator Wayne Fontana
4. Senator Stewart Greenleaf
5. Senator Lawrence Farnese
6. Senator Timothy Solobay
7. Senator Jim Ferlo
8. Senator Vincent Hughes
9. Senator Matt Smith
10. Senator LeAnna Washington
11. Senator John Yudichak
12. Senator Anthony Williams
13. Senator Andy Dinniman
This list is looking really solid because of the numbers and because of the names. The PA Senate is made up of 50 state senators, and right now there are 27 Republicans and 23 Democrats. So over half the Democratic caucus in the PA Senate has now cosponsored the GMO labeling bill, and if every Democratic state senator supported it, it would only need a tiny fraction of the Republicans' votes for it to pass. I think it's a realistic possibility that this could be supported by every Democratic state senator because the current list already includes the names of pure progressives and people with some conservative positions. Jim Ferlo is about as solid a progressive as they come, having introduced bills in the PA Senate for a statewide universal health care system and a moratorium on the natural gas drilling process fracking, while Vincent Hughes and Anthony Williams proved themselves to be more conservative when they signed a letter to the PA Democratic Party chairman opposing a resolution calling for a moratorium on fracking that the state party officially adopted.

That's a great start, but we've still got quite a ways to go before we've achieved mandated GMO labeling. The good news is that the Pennsylvania activists who took part in the March Against Monsanto can help us get there. I'm sure there are some among them who already recognize the importance of other forms of activism, but I'm equally sure there are others who don't. Now don't get me wrong, it's certainly not an either/or proposition and I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from making their voice heard by storming the streets in peaceful protest, but there are other forms of activism people can also participate in to push along GMO labeling in PA even more forcefully. Or, for that matter, those of us who are passionate about the issue but didn't make it out to one of the protests.

The first step is something you can do right now. Contact your state senator, tell them why you think GMO labeling is so important, and pressure them to support SB 653. Admittedly, even if a majority in the PA Senate supported it, right now the Republican governor and much bigger Republican majority in the PA House we have would still make it very unlikely to pass. But building that momentum each step of the way is crucial to attaining the desired final result. That's where the second step comes in.

Governor Corbett's dismal-and-still-sinking reelection prospects are making the chances of a Democratic sweep of state government in 2014 seem more likely all the time. (Far from certain, but definitely more likely.) The second step is finding state legislative candidates that support GMO labeling where you live and helping them get elected next year. That's a lot more complicated and takes a lot more effort than making a phone call, but it's really not much more demanding than participating in a protest. Candidates are always trying to get their names out there and taking all the help they can get. If you can find your local GMO protests, you should also be able to find your local candidates who support labeling, and if you can spend an afternoon marching, you can spend an afternoon knocking on voters' doors or calling them on the phone.

I believe marching in the street can make a difference, but I know this kind of electoral activism can make more of a difference. Similarly, I believe Pennsylvania will eventually have mandated GMO labeling whether or not there's a surge in electoral activism around the issue, but I know if there is such a surge, that eventuality will be upon us much sooner.

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It's not unusual for part of a political narrative to be over-simplified to better fit the whole, but when a Republican governor proposes using federal funds from Medicaid expansion under Obamacare for private health insurance instead only if the federal government agrees to restrictions they want to put on the Medicaid program, reporting that as proposing Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is not an over-simplification, it's a falsehood. But that is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's Medicaid proposal, and MSNBC has nonetheless reported it as Medicaid expansion under Obamacare on multiple occasions.

Governor Corbett's Medicaid restriction proposal is the most conservative alternative to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) in the United States. Arkansas recently became the first state to get approval from the federal government to spend Medicaid expansion funds from Obamacare on private health insurance, allowing those who would have been newly eligible for Medicaid to shop for private health insurance on the new state-based insurance exchanges. Of course that's better than a state completely refusing the Medicaid expansion funds for any kind of health insurance for its uninsured people, but it's not the same as Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

The amount of money a state receives for Medicaid expansion or an alternative to it doesn't change depending on the particular plan. Since private health insurance is more expensive than Medicaid, using the funds on private plans rather than the public Medicaid program means you can't give as many people health insurance. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has estimated that Medicaid expansion under Obamacare would allow 600,000 - 800,000 currently uninsured people to get on the program.

According to Corbett's own estimates, his Medicaid expansion alternative would cover up to 520,000 people. So there would be at least 80,000 and as many as 280,000 people who would get public health insurance if Corbett went with Medicaid expansion but will remain uninsured even if Corbett's alternative is approved. That number could be even higher if Corbett's plan doesn't enroll the maximum of 520,000 people.

And that's just the part of Corbett's plan that's similar to the Arkansas plan. Corbett has the most conservative alternative to Medicaid expansion in the country because in addition to insisting on insuring fewer people to avoid having the government be the insurer (gasp!), he is only willing to do even that much if the federal government allows him to add restrictions to the state's current Medicaid program, kicking some people off of it.

I think the hostage-taking comparison is way over-done in political discourse, but since health insurance is a life-or-death issue for so many people, I'm okay with using it here. Corbett is holding the 520,000 uninsured people who would be eligible for his plan hostage, insisting that they remain uninsured unless he's allowed to take Medicaid away from an as-yet-unknown number of Pennsylvanians. Sorry, you have to lose your government-run public health insurance or hundreds of thousands of others like you will remain uninsured.

According to Mary Wilson of WITF:

The proposal includes replacing Medicaid co-pays with monthly premiums that will range from zero to 25 dollars a month per person based on a recipient's income. The governor also wants to require working-age Medicaid recipients, with some undefined exceptions, to show they're looking for work or getting job training.

A separate program extending private health insurance to low-income Pennsylvanians will hinge on federal approval of such reforms.

If you can't afford a co-pay, you can't use your insurance to go get health care right away, but you're still insured, so you can go as soon as you can afford the co-pay. If you can't afford a premium, you lose your health insurance altogether. For people living paycheck-to-paycheck, that means the constant threat of losing their health insurance looming over them if they can't pay their Medicaid premium. As if that's not bad enough, the more frightening thing to me here are the "undefined exceptions" for the work-search requirements.

First, it says the work-search requirements will be for working-age Medicaid recipients, but it doesn't define exactly what that means. People can take smaller Social Security benefits at a younger age or larger Social Security benefits at an older age, so how exactly is working-age defined according to Corbett? How far into your golden years do you have to be for Governor Corbett to not force you to hit the streets looking for work to qualify for Medicaid under his restrictions of it? 60? 62? 65? That's undefined right now.

Another thing that's undefined is what the exceptions for people with mental and physical disabilities will be. How severely disabled will a person need to be to not be forced to hit the streets looking for work to qualify for Medicaid under Corbett's restrictions? What kind of documentation will they need to prove their mental and physical disabilities? These are restrictions that would undoubtedly reduce the number of people on Medicaid in Pennsylvania.

But even for people old and disabled enough for Governor Corbett to abide them getting health insurance without a work-search requirement, this is not Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, this is the most extreme anti-government alternative to it in the country. It is a Medicaid restriction plan, and that's what it should be called. And yet, MSNBC has used Corbett's new proposal as an example of a Republican governor finally accepting Medicaid expansion under Obamacare as part of a narrative suggesting the policy is inevitable even in the states controlled by Republicans.

The September 24th edition of MSNBC's Politics Nation with Al Sharpton featured a map titled "Republican Governors Cave on Medicaid Expansion":

There's Corbett's head right on Pennsylvania, but no matter what someone on Sharpton's staff read from the AP and interpreted as Corbett accepting Medicaid expansion, Corbett has not caved on it. Say it with me now, everyone: His plan would restrict Medicaid, not expand it. Calling his plan Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is at best a misrepresentation and at worst a lie. They pushed the same misrepresentation or lie the following week on MSNBC's Now with Alex Wagner:
Last month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett became the tenth Republican governor to back the expansion of his state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.
No. No, he did not. Corbett does not support expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania as part of Obamacare. Everybody in with me one more time: His plan would restrict Medicaid, not expand it.

I'd like as much as anyone to be able to say Governor Corbett's finally on board with expanding Medicaid under Obamacare in Pennsylvania. But that's simply not the case. Pretending that any Medicaid plan counts as expansion even when it literally does the opposite just to fit a convenient narrative defeats the purpose of advocating for it, because then you're really not. You're kind of advocating against it. If Corbett's Medicaid restriction plan was accepted by the federal government and became a normalized alternative to real Medicaid expansion, it would reduce Medicaid access, replace some of it with private insurance, and leave the rest of the people uninsured. That's not momentum making Medicaid expansion seem inevitable for even the most conservative governors, that's an attack on Medicaid to shrink its roles.

Full credit goes to MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry and Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for accurately including Pennsylvania on maps of states that are still rejecting Medicaid expansion in the past couple weeks. You can go here for more wonky details about Corbett's Medicaid restriction plan. And next time you hear someone refer to it as Medicaid expansion, please, refer them to this blog.

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This is a video from my show Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics.

In this edition of Counterpoint PA's homage to Keith Olbermann, the Worst Pennsylvanians of the Week, I take on Capitolwire's bureau chief who attacked Keystone Progress' report revealing that PA Independent is funded by a far-right group actively trying to manipulate state news without trying to disprove any facts in the report, a right-wing blogger who suggested that one public school's financial scandal means PA needs more private cyber and charter schools even though private schools are less accountable than public schools (as proven by another story I share to make the point), and four Republican US Congressmen from PA who sponsored a bill with "Saving the Environment" in its title that would kill new coal plant mercury and air toxics regulations from the Environment Protection Agency.

For a transcript, links to the sources used in this story, or to browse the show's categorized video archive, go to http://counterpointpa.org. (Go here if you want to go right to the post for this video.)

Check out the Counterpoint PA YouTube channel for the rest of this edition of the show.

Stay in touch on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/....

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