Sunday Punch: Did some local Democrats sell us out on the Pipeline?

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Minus a gallbladder and feeling moderately human for the first time since before the Super Bowl, in the first Sunday Punch of April, we look at lots of fun stuff: wind turbine cancer, jumping to conclusions, how we all hate social media but can’t quit it and of course, the impressive ability of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

We’ll start with that first, off of a blockbuster report in The Guardian, that if accurate, explains the age old question: Why is Tom Wolf the Mariner East II’s biggest cheerleader?

Spoiler alert: The Guardian says it’s because of money.

What I can tell you is Wolf might not be the only Democratic political leader whose alleged acquiescence to the pipeline was bought with cash and favors — potentially leaking down into former party officials and even current candidates for office here in Chester County. I do not see any indication that any current elected officials were involved, though.

And while The Guardian lays out some of the detail, there may be more coming as this year as there are indications that it may be intertwined with decades of Democratic Party corruption in the state, including John Dougherty (Johnny Doc) — the powerful IBEW 98 leader under indictment — and a cast of characters right out of a Steve Lopez novel. There are suggestions that the ongoing probe is looking at individuals in the collar counties, including Chester County — with money being moved, allegedly, under Johnny Doc’s reputed penchant for using fake invoices to drop cash in the pockets of individuals, right here — more on that below.

I’m hearing that the grand jury remains empaneled and is looking into the matter — which could prove to be explosively bad news for local Democrats in the 2019 elections.

The exact details continue to be fuzzy, beyond The Guardian’s reporting, but it is clear that something has been going on, with money and politics taking center stage — in Democratic circles — to keep the ill-fated and increasingly unpopular pipeline project moving.

For those of you who are legal types, let me be clear in this: this is my opinion, informed heavily by multiple conversations with people in a position to know, but this is not straight news reporting. I’m literally telling you what I think happened — but like most opinions, it could be completely off base, so take it as such.

As head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, I’m told by multiple people that Dougherty made it clear that he wanted the pipeline built — and strongly so. Word went out inside certain political circles that Democratic officials and candidates who publicly opposed the pipeline wouldn’t get cash or political support for their races. On the surface, this is understandable, as Dougherty was looking to protect the jobs of Pipefitters Union workers.

But was something more sinister at play here?

We know of one case where money appears to have been funneled to one former county party official, more than $16,500 during 2017-18, with funds apparently passing from IBEW98 through a political PAC to the individual (not her committee or other organization, but her specifically), which is confirmed in state campaign finance records. Various political functions were ascribed to the payments — but as noted in Dougherty’s 159-page indictment, Johnny Doc was alleged to use phony invoicing to send union cash to people he favored or wanted something from, so it’s fair to question whether this happened here and why — although I increasingly believe it was to quash opposition to the pipeline among Chester County Democrats, which was actively going on during 2017-18, a fact many can attest to being true.

It is a question for investigators to look at — I’m told the Eastern District Federal Grand Jury that indicted Dougherty is still active — as well as the ongoing investigation by Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.

But if a handful of corrupt Democrats sold out their neighbors — and the vast majority of the rank and file of Democratic voters who oppose the project — it’s sure there will hell to pay when the details come out. Those with clear and documented ties to Johnny Doc need to answer questions, now.

***

Maybe Joe Biden — Chester County’s former third senator (it’s hard not to enjoy a spring weekend day without seeing the former Vice President tooling around in his old Corvette on our roads) — is the wrong guy at the wrong time, but Democrats need to be careful about eating their own and further alienating one group of potential voters in order to curry favor with another.

Democrats have to be very careful about not creating a party where straight, white males no longer feel welcome. We saw the beginnings of that in 2016 as the party started to bleed blue collar white males.

In this era of #metoo, Biden’s long-standing propensity for being a close talker and very tactile in his method of connecting emotionally with people is now an issue. Let us be clear: it’s not sexual and it’s not gender-related. He is an equal opportunity touchy-feely guy which makes some people uncomfortable — although others appreciate it.

Just so we’re painfully clear on this: Biden doesn’t grab women by their genitals (and brag about it), doesn’t cheat on his spouse with adult film stars and Playboy centerfolds and then offer six-digit hush-money payouts.

He just likes to use physical contact to connect emotionally — sort of a Dale Carnegie approach on steroids. He’s far from the only political type I’ve known over the years with the same approach.

But here’s the problem: in this isolated, social media bunker world, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are not overly touchy-feely people as a group, as our most recent ancestors were. Boomers to some extent and their parents generation were more tactile and this was something folks were generally more comfortable with.

And yes, motive matters, here. While Biden makes some people uncomfortable, his intent is to connect, to comfort and engage, not exert power. The entire #metoo issue is about power — not really sex — and the ability of a powerful person to use that power against another.

Biden does not do this. Intent has to matter.

There are many arguments why Biden might not be the right man now — but this shouldn’t be one of them.

***

It’s nice to know I’m not alone in being troubled by the behavior of social media companies. According to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, most of us really, really don’t like Facebook Google and Twitter — yet can’t quit them.

Yes, all three platforms have aided the spread of fake news and division, while gutting the revenue stream of legitimate publishers. Interestingly in this time of political polarization, the dislike of these three companies is something both the left and right agree about.

As such, it would be nice to see the U.S. government — on a bipartisan basis — start looking at both the regulatory and copyright issues that social media companies have exploited to generate massive profits, while wrecking various media segments.

1. They need to be seen under the law as publishers, making them legally responsible for their user-provided content. If I, as a small business operator, can be held morally, if not legally responsible for the user posted content on my site, they should be as well. As most of you know, comments are moderated here and I’ve taken down offensive comments. These companies need to start curating their content — a responsibility countless thousands of professional publishers have managed for more than a century.

2. They need to compensate publishers for publishing without permission snippets of content. The old arguments of trading a link for allowing two paragraphs of content is no longer fiscally operable — most folks in the smartphone era just read the two graphs and don’t follow to read the whole story. Content creators spend resources to create original content, while social media sites (and other publishers, who largely run links to other content) just generate revenue and eyeballs off other people’s copyrighted material. That needs to stop — and arguably, back payments should be instituted for all “shared” content.

3. All of these companies need to be upfront about their use of user data. Again, we don’t share or sell any of our user data (as spelled out in our user agreements). If companies are doing so, they have allow people to positively “opt in” before doing so and make clear what data is being collected and sold.

4. They need to open up their algorithms for content sharing to regulators. Someone needs to make sure these companies aren’t intentionally steering content for certain partners and blocking it for others. If it can’t be fair and open, people need to know about the biases.

In a perfect world, we’d break these companies up — Google, as an example, should be five to six companies — but it’s clear there is zero chance of that happening. These four steps would go a long way to help better regulate and manage social media.

***

President Trump’s claims about windmills causing cancer is just another case of someone spitballing and saying whatever comes to mind to justify bizarre bad behavior — and yes, it’s been a fun Internet meme. It’s nothing new on his part, but you have to ask, where is the line for people to say “enough is enough” and break with him?

This is eerily reminiscent of The Emperor’s New Clothes — people are frightened to call Trump out, no matter how crazy things get. As much as you might be frustrated by Trump, his behavior is enabled by others, from Fox News to the Republican establishment.

At the end of the day, you have to hold them accountable, from top to bottom, if you want to see change.

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