Saturday, July 26, 2008

Quick Friday notes

  • The city reached a one-year contract deal with its largest union of municipal workers this week (see also editorial here), leaving only the firefighters (arbitrated) and a couple of small union agreements to iron out. Everybody hopes that these one-year deals will give the new mayor and his advisors a chance to figure out how to handle the budget, weather the changes in the economy, and still pay for health benefits and other growing expenses. I congratulate everybody on their level heads, and wish the Nutterites good luck with this unenviable long-term conundrum.

  • Following up on Thursday's story about increased presence of the homeless in Rittenhouse Square, the Inquirer looked at how some other major cities handle the same problem in their parks and on their streets. A mix of tough laws and selective enforcement...

  • One consequence of the spike in gas prices has been an increase in regional rail use in the greater Philadelphia region, with the result that SEPTA needs more cars, and more quickly than their planned orders can be delivered. To cover the meantime, they've arranged to buy some NJ Transit cars and spare parts to keep them running until the tonier "Silverliner" cars start to arrive.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thursday bits

Just a few things that caught my attention...
  • Philadelphia's homeless problem has been on the rise, most notably in increased sightings in Rittenhouse Square, including fountain bathers et al., despite increased efforts at finding shelter for people living on the streets. Numbers are down, but I guess they're more visible -- I've certainly been more aware of doorway and underpass clusterings than in years past, but who knows what moves optionless folks from here to there.

  • Plans to institute tolls on I-80 are apparently not dead, with a new scheme recently submitted for federal approval. I certainly prefer this option to the "lease our assets" approach, but it has some hoops to jump through yet.

  • The PA legislature is so stanky that it's attracting think-tank attention: the Brookings is brainstorming ways to get our representatives interested in better public service rather than [insert your deprecation here]. Most depressing quote?
    Barry Kauffman, of Common Cause, said that because of how state campaigns are funded (no limits on donations) and the way districts are drawn, "voters are almost irrelevant."
    Sigh. Wonder whether any of these ideas will leave the drawing board -- we could use an infusion of attention under our local rocks...

  • Regular readers will know that I'm just crushed -- crushed -- to hear that plans to increase the number of Philadelphia's traffic surveilance cameras ten-fold have been delayed by poor camera quality. Another few months before you have to look both ways before you pick your nose (and keep an eye out for relocation of felons to new corners)...

  • Progressive trouble-makers take note: next year's Netroots Nation conference of bloggers and associated folk will be in Pittsburgh. I really enjoyed the first YearlyKos convention (the predecessor of the current series), so if I'm in the country next August (sigh, don't ask), I'll definitely try to make this!

  • Dan at YPP notes that the 10,000 men project has stalled, and lays the blame at the feet of the absence of paid organizers behind the effort. Anybody who's been part of a volunteer activist organization knows how hard it can be to coordinate and sustain efforts in the "free time" of members, but it's a challenge to get enough money to pay a central person early on, when it's most needed. Of course many other issues undermine these kinds of long-term efforts anyway, from the limited free time of the on-the-ground folks to the challenge in keeping everybody motivated and interested in the lulls between opportunities for action (or, in the 10,000 Men case, in motivating them to take personal risks for the cause). No easy answers.

  • I just became aware of a good topical blog called SEPTA Watch, which discusses the ups and downs of our favorite regiona transit underdog. Two classic stories from the last few weeks:
    1. The new 46th Street terminal is open, but shows signs of half-finished workmanship that the blogger calls "good enough for SEPTA" mentality. (The comments devolve into a critique of the city's lack of civic pride and transit upkeep...)
    2. SEPTA debuts a huge new parking complex in Norristown, but then closes it "for the holiday" of July 4, just when lots of suburbanites and other infrequent riders might want to use transit to get downtown for the festivities. Brilliant. Would love to be a fly on the wall at the planning sessions these guys have!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


State Rep. Babette Josephs is depicted as a thorn in the side of reformers in an Inquirer article today for holding up a number of potentially important bills in her committee (most notably to me, the anti-gerrymandering effort). She says they all need improvement, but I think she needs to get moving on those tweaks if she doesn't want her chairmanship to become a drag on her next primary campaign...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Recent bits

Three stories of interest today:
  • The long-brewing Harrisburg scandal over use of legislative staff in campaign capacities (as revealed by unsubtle bonus payments) has reached the indictment stage. The Democrats (staffers, that is) took the hits, although future reviews of Republican behavior are promised.

  • Closer to home, the labor union PAC which deluded themselves that they could make political donations without accounting for their spending just learned otherwise. Sorry, Doc. Should be interesting to see what they were trying to hide...

  • And a small news bit that makes me happy: the city is testing out solar-powered trash compactors, which can hold four times the trash of the litter baskets they would replace, while saving energy on fuel collection. I hope they work out!
Hope you're all having a pleasant summer.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Some bits

  • After our giving Willy Singletary the thumbs-up for Traffic Court (in the absence of having met any other candidates, we will admit), we were a bit saddened by his subsequent troubles over unpaid tickets and the like. Happily, an article in today's Inquirer indicates that he's doing well on the bench, whatever else might be going on. In the end, giving a crap about the job is still worth a lot, and his enthusiasm appears undimmed.

  • Through all the citizen and local-politician fury over casino siting in Philadelphia, Governor Rendell has stood by the current locations and the state's right to pick 'em. Now it appears he's suggesting that the owners reconsider. Ed's a slippery character, so it's hard to know whether he's really had a change of heart or is just doing somebody, say Nutter, the favor of making a sit-down possible, but still it's a climate change for those who still hope that the city can have ultimate say over the future of its waterfront.

  • Interested in getting the break-down of election results after they are tabulated? Apparently you have to be a Big Dog to get one of the magical system passwords to access this public data. (Antique) Commish Marge Tartaglione apparently can't be bothered to modernize the system or really even defend the way it currently works, but the guys over at Young Philly Politics are shining a light under some rocks and getting some press, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Another local activist forced the elimination of a charge to obtain voting lists (also public info), so perhaps there's hope yet that voters can get access to the functioning of their own system.