Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuesday roundup

Monday belated

Feeling crappy this week, meh. Would ordinarily skip days where I leave early, but there were some interesting things yesterday:
  • There's a PATCO station underneath Franklin Square, the reopening of which is becoming increasingly attractive in light of renewed tourist activity nearby and the lure of Northern Liberties (and, unsaid, casino) traffic. If SEPTA doesn't have the bucks to build, perhaps PATCO will fill the gap...

  • DanUA notes problems with conversion of public housing, not because low density doesn't feel more civilized, but because waiting lists for subsidized homes get longer every year. Difficult problems, not nearly enough solutions being thrown at them!

  • Inga Saffron notes that excavations at Washington's house are winding down, with the space being filled in with dirt until the possibility of reworking plans for the site can be thought through.

  • Philadelphia Will Do makes a good point (in a pleasantly snarky way) about SEPTA's decision to eliminate transfers (starting tomorrow).

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday bits

  • Most interesting article of the day is one looking at Philadelphia's city charter and specifically asking whether, given the spate of recent amendments (not that common in other eras), the whole thing should be overhauled. Gives some background on why the document was created (basically to rein in corrupt politicians), how some mayors have worked around it, and what topics might get discussed were the issue to get serious consideration. Worth a read for general civic clue.

  • SEPTA in the news again today, with two pieces: one in which Street argues (belatedly) against the elimination of transfers [also noted is a public meeting, at which other changes got some protest], and a second focused on rider ire about such issues as the surcharge for buying tickets on the train (even if no tickets are available at that station) as well as the transfer issue:
    Butkovitz said that eliminating transfers would effectively turn the 11 percent fare hike into 36 percent for riders using two tokens and 54 percent for riders paying two cash fares. Lance Haver, the mayor's consumer advocate, accused SEPTA of not providing the public with any details of how much - if any - money would be saved by eliminating transfers.
  • Editorial | Setting Judicial Salaries -- better to leave the legislature out?

  • Letter: Gun violence is a statewide problem

  • Philly for Change is having a picnic Sunday in Clark Park...

  • Ray Murphy solicits solutions for gun violence.

  • A poster at PhillyFuture notes a new system that allows gunfire to be localized even before anybody reports it -- something that might be of use here?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

In other Thursday news...

SEPTA funding hitting a road bump?

SEPTA logoTwo US legislators from rural areas of Pennsylvania, oblivious to the fact that cities subsidize their entire way of life (see here), have taken issue with the idea that the state should help fund Philadelphia's transit system and thrown a wrench into the approved plan: they attached an amendment to federal legislation to prevent the addition of tolls to I-80, the critical component that allowed this deal to pass. Thus the fight must now move to the US Senate, as though state politics weren't obtuse enough... Rendell has also countered by resurrecting his intent to lease the turnpike instead, yay; more of his justifiable crankiness here. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quick bits

Back in town, the summer news is so slim I've got only weeklies and blogs to bring to your attention...
  • From last week's CityPaper, an interesting speculation about a new effort to revitalize Philadelphia's Republican Party, headed by a new ringer brought in from DC (the GAO). Of course, they want to start by wooing back party members who switched registration to vote in the Democratic primary (probably for Knox or Brady).

  • The new Philadelphia Weekly takes a look at the city's wireless network and its progress toward long-promised citywide access. Short answer: Users are finding that using the service is anything but easy. Why should this industrial network need a local signal booster, when I can easily access some 10 networks in my neighborhood that are emitted by regular end-user devices?

  • America's Hometown takes a tour of the Navy Yard and developments underway there.

  • AAJane offers a close reading of a scholarly paper by one of the candidates for Supreme Court Justice on this fall's ballot. It looks at sexual offenders, and offers a number of statistics and other insights (although many are grim).

  • A flurry of interesting posts at Young Philly Politics includes:

    1. Thoughts on how SEPTA might spend money (current or future) improving its system.

    2. Dan U-A notes that current approaches to anti-snitching culture are a bit misguided.

    3. Ben Waxman wonders whether community organizing could help prevent crime. Councilman Wilson Goode suggests that economic disparity (especially in lending and employment) leads to despair and thence to violence.

    4. Sam Durso notes some recent developments in riverfront planning, including the release of Penn Praxis' long-awaited recommendations, as well as some speed bumps for the Foxwoods casino et al. Man, I'd love to see organic city neighborhoods such as Praxis envisions! Leverage what makes Philly great, don't torpedo it!! Not clear whether this arrives in time, but perhaps there are a few signs of hope...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wednesday trickle

Extremely slow day -- couldn't even bring myself to blog half the links I had bookmarked...
  • John Baer is not impressed by the budget deal, which sidestepped as many issues as it resolved.

  • The PW thinks it's news that some local activists are calling for impeachment of Cheney and/or Bush. Bigger news might be how many people can't stand to watch the national news anymore.

  • Inga Saffron tracks the fate of sidewalks in newer city plans. Maybe developers need to hear how many groups at the Great Expectations meetings mentioned "walkability" as one of the best things about Philly...

  • Inky Editorial: slim state school aid will make the job of the new Chief even more challenging.

  • The DN wants your opinions on what SEPTA should do with its new funding.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday headlines

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday showers

Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer doldrums Friday

There's really less and less news as July progresses. Perhaps all the news (and/or all the journalists) are down the shore...
  • Apparently the lack of Serious Bidness over in Harrisburg has caused a warp in perspective, as discussion of a state-wide smoking ban brings some lawmakers nearly to blows. Unclear whether the two houses will manage to get a proposal to Rendell anytime soon.

  • Former Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode is working to help kids with parents in jail through the a new program allied with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, that enlists black men to support and encourage these at-risk youth.

  • State Rep. Rosita Youngblood is making a cause out of renaming Negro Mountain, a peak in southwestern PA -- it appears to have been named to honor a regional 18th-century hero, but she thinks his name, not his race, should be used.

  • The Daily News asks whether State Sen. Vince Fumo might be vulnerable to a challenger in next spring's primary, noting the likely suspects.

  • Speaking of primaries, Marc Stier (who stealthily reopened his blog this week) notes that a proposal to move up Pennsylvania primaries to February could have serious drawbacks, not least making challengers try to raise money and get petitions signed almost immediately after the November general elections, when most people would like a break from politics (not to mention, are overrun with holiday activity). He makes a number of other good points -- I recommend the whole thing.

    I should say that I thought they were only going to move up Presidential primaries, which would at least limit the damage to every fourth year's races and few at the local level...

  • Another Stier piece looks at the recent deal to provide some transit funding, and talks about what more is needed to ensure the health and fairness of a system that so many depend on (and that helps keep our city from drowning in smog).

  • Riders of the Market-Frankford line should be aware that the el will be closed between 40th and 69th for the next 9 days, with shuttle buses filling the gap. Adjust your travel time estimates accordingly.

  • Inga Saffron notes that the court case involving the developer theft of South Street sidewalk was settled in the hallway, although the results have not yet been made public...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Slow news Thursday

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quick Wednesday roundup

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Quick Tuesday roundup

  • The budget crisis that was

    • Main story: state leaders worked out some of their differences last night such that furloughed workers could return to their posts after only one day out -- in fact, they are even likely to be paid for that one day. Apparently the compromise involved the legislators' promising that they would have a special session in the fall on Rendell's alternative-energy proposals; sounds like the Governor was the one to blink. Meantime, everybody claims victory...

    • Some retrospective analysis of the standoff (and of Rendell's time in office) is offered by the Inquirer. Interesting linkage of this year's woes to pay-hike-related fallout.

    • Ronnie Polaneczky offers some apt snark about the fact that casinos remained open while other offices and services were shuttered yesterday. The DN opinion page adds some bitter analysis of the issues as well. And AAJane thought the legislature was a bit unseemly in its lighthearted handling of the day.

  • In other news

Monday, July 09, 2007

In other Monday news...

  • The Inquirer takes a look at Michael Nutter's advisory team, the likelihood of adding more folks, and the challenges in learning to delegate more from the mayor's office than he might be used to.

  • The Daily News goes on the campaign trail with Nutter and Taubenberg and compares the rather different sensibilities of their efforts. Nutter has to keep reminding people there's still an election in November, while his opponent tries to convince them that it will actually be a contest...

  • The DN notes the case of another negligent property owner, tracing the collapse of his buildings and their negative impace on the neighborhood. Residents of the area have been trying to get the city to take over the properties and get them back to life, but to no avail; perhaps a little sunlight will spark some action.

  • Those who think that "civil unions" are the answer to the question of gay marriage may be dismayed by a recent development in New Jersey, in which a firm (UPS) says that the state statute's differentiation of such unions from the institution of marriage put them in a legalistic tangle such that they couldn't provide health benefits to same-sex couples, even though they are happy to do that in Massachusetts, where gay couples can actually marry. Basically, even though the intent of NJ legislators was to create an equivalent insitution, federal law has the "only a man and a woman" clause that complicates rules for interstate companies. As one UPS driver complained,
    "We were told this law was going to give us the same benefits as everybody else, even though they weren't calling it marriage. It just goes to show when something is separate, it's never equal."
    Indeed . . .

  • Metro: Even top students in Philadelphia’s inner-city schools struggle to find way to afford staggering college costs

  • An Inquirer opinion piece looks at the debate over developments proposed in Valley Forge National Park (where there's apparently an island of private property). I knew about the idea of the museum (or at least a prior proposal to have one), but had no idea that a hotel, mall, conference center, and food emporium were part of the plan! Surely the site deserves better, and the experience of other historic battlegrounds shows the way.

  • Both major dailies have editorials aimed at Harrisburg's attempt to unravel a part of Philadelphia's campaign finance reform efforts: Inky and DN. Dan at YPP takes a closer look at who's sponsoring the bill and what their interests might be.

Monday budget-blogging

Today is the start of a partial state government shut-down triggered by ongoing budget battles between Governor Rendell and the state legislature (especially Senate Republicans).
While apologizing to state workers and residents for the action, the first furloughs in recent history, Rendell said he hoped that it was only a one-day situation. He said meetings would resume today between his office and key legislative leaders to try to reach an agreement.
Casinos were kept open by a special court order (every article cites the $1.7 million per day that closing their doors costs the state), but a hearing tomorrow will determine whether they continue to be exempted from the furloughs. "Shuttle diplomacy" between state leaders is ongoing, but apparently the current single sticking point is an electricity surcharge (averagine $5/year for most households) to help fund research into alternative energy sources. [This article ends with a list of services that will be open or closed during the furlough, so you can check before running any possibly fruitless errands.] More on the story here and here.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

ACORN's Presidential forum

I was invited to last Monday's ACORN forum, but at the last minute couldn't be there in person -- luckily, the entire thing was webcast in real time, so I was actually able to see more of it at a distance than I would have been able to stay for in person, given travel time et al. (it was still going when I took off around 5). I'm glad I tuned in, because some good issues got discussed and because it was my first time to see either Edwards or Kucinich in action, and especially because it renewed my feeling that the Democratic field is a strong one, any one of whom would give me hope that the crazy tilting course of our country might yet be made rational and given a human, moral basis again.

The event itself was a funny mix of tones, with a large agenda of serious national issues (and, obviously, guests of national stature) bracketed by what I can best describe as a sort of highschool pep-rally feel, with various folks up on stage leading the crowd in chants (“Who are we? Acorn! What do we want? Justice! …” and “Everywhere we goooo / People want to know / who we are-re / So we tell them / We are Acorn / Mighty, mighty Acorn….”) for 10-15 minutes at a stretch, in both English and Spanish. The mics were pretty good at picking up the stage and not the crowd, so I couldn’t hear for sure, but it seemed like the crowd was pretty into all the chanting and self-celebration. To me, it served as a reminder that I was watching a webcast of a local event, rather than a televised national event, but it’s hard to begrudge anybody their enthusiasm.

First up among the politicians was Michael Nutter, Philadelphia’s presumptive next mayor. After thanks to the hosts (and a reminder that there’s still an election in November), he spoke a bit about the future of Philadelphia. He noted that cities have traditionally been places where people came for opportunity, but that over time we’ve evolved into two separate cities: one where the rich can do anything, and one where the poor are short of options. A variety of points on addressing that – the importance of education, fighting crime, and creating jobs (“the best anti-crime program is a job!”) and the need to fully fund the affordable housing trust fund. Then Acorn had some questions for him, one on predatory lending (I missed most of this, but he mentioned the housing trust fund again as well as federal mortgage assistance), one on support for home repair (he agreed that repair was better than letting properties fall apart, and we should improve the speed of response to repair logs and get rid of the backlog, and a third on gas bills and support for weatherization (he said we need to protect those who get a bill and can’t pay, while pursuing those who get a bill and won’t pay). Nutter wrapped up by noting that he had endorsed Acorn’s complete platform and supported efforts to make more people aware of available subsidies and to prevent cutoffs.

Next up was Rep. Chaka Fattah. He seemed a bit less on the wavelength of the event, referring to candidates who weren’t on the schedule, talking about Iraq and other national woes. It did work as a sort of rallying cry for the need for new national leadership (and thus an intro to the Presidential candidates to come). He didn’t get formal questions, but did talk about predatory lending and then applauded Acorn for its history and encouraged it not to “lower your voice.”

Then there were a series of Acorn representatives from around the country talking about their ongoing projects – one on paid sick days (which they note are not available to ¾ of low-wage workers), another about English as a second language and attempts to obtain citizenship, another about voting rights, another about predatory lending and the foreclosure crisis. [Each of these would subsequently be the topic of a formal question addressed to each of the Presidential candidates.] Then it was announced that Sen. Clinton was running behind schedule, and so they filled another half hour or so with a parade of Acorn folks giving personal testimony to their experiences with cruel immigration enforcement, forclosure, childcare woes, and other tribulation. Oh, and some more crowd chants.

At about 3pm, Sen. Hillary Clinton took the stage to great applause. She started with a series of religious invocations inspired by the setting, as well as a few hat-tips to Acorn for its work through the years. She then talked about the recent increase in the minimum wage and promised to be a partner with Acorn in years ahead. She reminded everybody that “elections matter,” citing the last six years as offering plenty of proof – calling Katrina a national embarrassment (“nobody should be in a FEMA trailer for two years”) and promising to make the rebuilding of New Orleans a priority, and arguing that the poor and uninsured are “invisible to Bush, but not to Acorn, not to me, and not to the next President.” Good speech, good crowd response. Then the questions (note that each involved a substantial speech of its own by the questioner, summarizing the issues and facets, which I’ve boiled down radically; the questions repeat for subsequent candidates, so I just tag them by keyword thereafter):
  1. Aid to low-income folk is currently a patchwork of programs (LIHEAP, EIC, foodstamps, etc.) . . . (a) will you work to make a program to help hook people up with the right services, and (b) other thoughts on better system/linking? Answer: the example of post-9/11 emergency medicaid – it was cheaper to sign up everybody in NYC than to set up a beauracracy to put everybody through strict hoops. We should definitely lower barriers to access. And universal healthcare! Yay!!

  2. Predatory lending – we need more governors on the Board at the Fed, better counseling support, etc. Answer: yes, all of those!

  3. Helping immigrants become citizens – (a) what can you do for undocumented workers already here? (b) What to do now that the Senate didn’t pass the bill? Answer: Very dismayed at bill’s defeat and at general level of demagogery that this issue is attracting around the country. Part of problem is that working people feel there’s not enough for them – more support would ease their concerns…

  4. Rebuilding America’s cities – programs, schools, other issues… Answer: we need an urban agenda, housing programs, and community development (including supermarkets in cities, diversity), and universal pre-kindergarten…

  5. Poverty prevention… Answer: We need to raise incomes and “get back to shared prosperity for everyone!”

  6. Katrina… Answer: we need to take FEMA seriously, as well as rebuilding New Orleans with a plan (including stores, etc.)

  7. Protecting the right to vote – (a) Will the Justice Department enforce the National Voter Registration Act, (b) Do you support the Feinstein-Dodd ballot integrity act (to keep voter registration drives open), (c) What to do about games played to restrict minority votes? Answer: I support the Count Every Vote Act – a reliable vote is critical to democracy!
At the end of her Q&A, a lot of people left – I couldn’t see the remaining crowd, but the shuffling around created enough chaos that they had to wait before proceeding…

Next up was Rep. Dennis Kucinich. He was right down with the chanting motif, spending his first few minutes getting everybody saying “The people united will never be defeated” again and again. He started out talking about universal healthcare and how it shouldn’t be provided through insurance companies (“they profit by not providing care”). We need to reclaim control. He also said we need to teach children, not to take tests, but many things, including a love of learning – we need pre-K for everybody, and college available tuition-free (get the money from the Pentagon budget!). We need to learn to work with other nations. [The crowd is quite worked up and in his pocket as he makes these points.] We need to stop with silliness like cutting down of big trees after 9/11 – “I know what weapons of mass destruction look like. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction!” etc. His building refrain brought the crowd to its feet… Questions:
  1. Patchwork poverty programs. Answer: Personal story to show his awareness of the importance of “maximal eligible participation.”

  2. Predatory lending. Ans: He has plenty of experience with the problem. He would sign an executive order to put a moratorium on foreclosures. He expressed concern about the Federal Reserve as a private entity with its own interests (and those of banks but not people) and advocated unraveling it. He told the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo here – I’m not clear why – something about having faith in a solution coming through… Also suggested a new WPA.

  3. Immigrants. Ans: He gave an answer partially in Latin and then in Spanish, so I think I missed something. There are no illegal human beings. Exploitation is a the core of the debate. NAFTA was a lie sold to the American people – he would cancel it early on in his Presidency (and tell Mexico to improve its worker conditions – unionization, safety, etc.).

  4. Cities. Ans: He had a variety of experiences as Cleveland’s mayor. He understands the city, lives in the city, etc.
Kucinich finished with a last burst of something in Spanish, followed by another round of his opening chant.

Last was Sen. John Edwards. He didn’t come up until 4:30p, so I heard only his opening speech and not any of the questions that followed. He started by noting the recent passage of a new federal minimum wage, but promising that when he became President, he’d do much more – take the MW to $9.50 and index it to inflation. He said “your agenda is basically my agenda.” He said that the cause of his life is poverty, and strategies for ending it: (a) expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, (b) strengthen laws protecting unionization efforts, (c) educate people about finances (e.g., saving) to fend off predatory and payday lending effects, (d) establish real universal healthcare, (e) make available a million new Section-8 housing vouchers, (f) give free tuition from students with a promise to work… Edwards also had the crowd’s sympathy, and his sincerity about this issue was convincing. I wish I could have stayed to hear him answer the group’s questions, but I had family in town and needing my attention.

Overall, an interesting event, and I’m glad to see the candidates pushed for specifics (and able to provide them) on a range of issues facing working-class people. The organizers did a pretty good job working with the ever-shifting schedules of national political figures, but the fact of the matter is that a 5-hour event on a weekday is unwieldy for working folks, bloggers, and most other people who might have genuine interest in the issues. I hope that future events can have tighter schedules and/or be at times of day/week that make them more accessible. Meantime, thanks to Acorn for putting this forum together, to the Bright Hope Baptist Church for hosting it, and to the organizers for inviting me along!


Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday round-up

  • For those who've been busy elsewhere, the state of PA is in a budget crisis, with talks about furloughing state employees next week if they can't pull it together. The latest here, which seems to revolve around casino employees, as though that were the most important function of state government (and maybe to the GOP it is!). An Inquirer editorial implies that the real disagreement is over an alternative energy program that Rendell wants too see put into action.

  • Speaking of Harrisburg, they really seem to have their sights set on unraveling any attempts that Philadelphia makes to regulate itself -- not just the schools and parking systems, which it took over some years back, but the smoking ban, which is weakened by the recent state law (see prev. here and new PW story here), and now our recently minted campaign finance laws. The latter is made harder to enforce by a measure exempting city candidates from any need to file electronic financial reports with the Board of Ethics (making it harder for them to use the information, and nearly impossible to make records publically available, as required by local law).
    In interviews, both Sabatina and Youngblood said they were responding to complaints from campaign treasurers - particularly those of Philadelphia ward committees - about the time it took to file the electronic reports and the complications that went with it.
    Waaaahhhh. Perhaps the requirement that candidates and organizations have some minimum computer competence would help the party learn to treat its younger members as something other than "fungus" (to quote Tom Ferrick). Anyway, the Senate still hasn't voted on the measure, and some in the House feel they were unaware of its impact, so there may yet be some resistance to this latest attack on Philly's clean-up efforts. More on the story here, along with grumbling at YPP here.

  • While we're looking at Philadelphia's treatment by Harrisburg, I should note that the Parking Authority promised that a state takeover would mean tens of millions of dollars per year for the school system, but in fact only a single $4 million payment has ever been made. This discrepancy has led to a call for an audit of the PPA and what it's been up to. Perzel, a PPA defender, counters that the agency is audited every year and that such audits are publically available -- perhaps we just need to see where the imagined revenues are going instead. (Taxi GPS systems, anyone?)

  • Also in the category of frustrating tangles: student groups asked not to feed homeless folks in Philadelphia, even though they are motivated by all the right ideas. The problem is that free lunches make it hard to direct the chronically homeless into shelters, counseling, and other systems that could help them improve their lives and get off the street.

  • An NEA conference has been in Philadelphia for the last few days, and it has attracted a number of Presidential candidates to talk about plans for education. Edwards (at least) was there the same day as his appearance at the ACORN forum, and apparently Obama was there yesterday, along with a handful of others (only one Republican among them).

  • This week's CityPaper features a cover story about an Iraq veteran who finds his old Philadelphia neighborhood nearly as dangerous as the place he left behind and as frustrating to deal with.

Thursday smattering (belated)

Just a few -- there were stories about Independence Day and about the slave quarters underneath Washington's house on Independence Mall, as well as incremental updates on the Fumo case and other local stories. Most interesting to me, however, were these:
  • The State House unamimously passed a bill to protect breastfeeding mothers from getting hassled in public places. (Philadelphia has had such a law locally for ten years.)
    In children, breast milk protects against infectious disease, obesity, sudden infant death syndrome, and diabetes, among other illnesses. Breast-feeding mothers recover more quickly from giving birth and have a lower incidence of breast and ovarian cancers. Yet, despite its numerous health benefits, public breast-feeding remains contentious.
    . . .
    Mothers with young infants often breast-feed every two hours, so in many cases they're forced to feed the child while out in public, Lawrence said. "No woman who has a young baby heads to the mall to breast-feed," she said. "They're there because they have to be."
    Since the Senate already approved the measure, it's headed for the governor's desk. Great news for families.

  • DN columnist Phil Goldsmith had a funny column paralleling the Declaration of Independence in tracing the woes of life under Harrisburg's tyrranical thumb and citing various ways that local entities are kept from exercizing their own judgement on a wide range of issues. Amusing and serious both.

  • Ben Waxman takes the soapbox to argue that young conservatives are suggesting poor solutions to the state's financial decisions.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Worth a read

An unfamiliar poster at YoungPhillyPolitics has an interesting piece about the recent creation of a new Philadelphia Redevelopment Zone at the southern end of the Italian Market and how well-meaning attempts to get a vacant property developed are turning into a strange dismissal of successful and flourishing nearby businesses. (Also featured, the two faces of Councilman Frank DiCicco.)

Strange week

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday -- I might get back here and insert all the headlines later, but I also might not (all pretty tame). I also watched the ACORN forum yesterday and took a bunch of notes, which I hope to post this weekend. Meantime, spouse away, mother in town, short and disrupted workdays, and a bit of recurrent nausea mean I'm not really in a bloggy way. Should be back by next week, at the latest, or post few bits here and there...