Dan U-A's blog

Specter v Sestak: Specter barking up the wrong tree

At the Joe Sestak fundraiser I went to, Sestak referred to Arlen Specter as a "flight risk" from the Democratic party. It was a pretty funny line, and he started to use it a lot, and true Democrat Arlen Specter didn't like it one bit (h/t OpenLeft):

Despite campaigning across the state as a “true Democrat” ready to run against Senator Arlen Specter, Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7) did not register as a Democrat until shortly before running for Congress three years ago, according to voter registration records.

Specter’s campaign pointed out Sestak’s registration history, first in a message to supporters Monday, later in follow-up messages to a reporter and again in a fierce statement against Sestak Thursday. After more than two months of remaining largely silent while Sestak attacked him at every turn, the remarks amounted to Specter’s first retaliation, and turned up the heat in a Senate primary that is likely to get far more contentious in the coming months.

“Congressman Sestak is a flagrant hypocrite in challenging my being a real Democrat when he did not register as a Democrat until 2006 just in time to run for Congress,” Specter said in the statement. “His lame excuse for avoiding party affiliation, because he was in the [military] service, is undercut by his documented disinterest in the political process.”

Na na na boo boo, eh? Well, Sestak hit back:

"Let's be clear," Sestak said, "I voted for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama while Arlen Specter was voting for George Bush and Bob Dole and John McCain. My question to Arlen Specter is this: do you regret voting for George Bush and John McCain? Why should Democrats support someone like you who actively campaigned - as recently as last year - for politicians with values like George W. Bush?"

.....

"Like Colin Powell (who was also registered as an Independent while he served), I believe that military officers should be nonpartisan," Sestak said. "The military depends on cohesion and unity, and the defense of this nation must never be political. I'm proud that I was an Independent during my 35 years in the Navy, and I was proud to register as a Democrat as soon as I retired from active duty. "

I really don't think this is a winning argument for Specter. Specter's best bet is basically to put his head down, to be a strong advocate for Healthcare, to walk back his opposition to EFCA, ettc. What he sure does not want to do is have a discussion about 1) his history as a Republican or 2) criticize Joe Sestak for not (in the tradition of military officers) registering with a political party.

Post Racial Philadelphia

This morning, I was all set to write a sarcastic post about how we are truly in a post-racial era in the city and region. The reason? The School District settled its 40 year old school desegregation lawsuit.

The lawsuit has morphed over the years, but, if have ever looked at the racial makeup of Philly schools, what you will see is a city where black kids are almost completely segregated. If the goal was integration, we have totally and completely failed.

Luckily though, we are living in a post racial world though, so none of that really matters any more, right?

Right?

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

Kids at Creative Steps Day Camp were thrilled to go swimming once a week at the Valley Swim Club. But after only one trip to the private club, they were...

"I heard this lady, she was like, 'Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?' She's like, 'I'm scared they might do something to my child,'" said camper Dymire Baylor.

....

The next day the club told the camp director that the camp's membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded.

But, at least they got an honest answer as to why they were kicked out:

"There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club," John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

There really isn't much to add to that response, and to the explanations the kids give on the video.

The Daily News looks at the Mayor's Office of Community Services

Ben Waxman has an article today about the Mayor's Office of Community Services that I would encourage everyone to check out.

PRESIDENT LYNDON Johnson's notion of a "Great Society" was embodied by his 1964 speech that declared the "War on Poverty."

That war was abandoned long ago, but a legacy lives on in City Hall in the Mayor's Office of Community Services (MOCS).

MOCS is expecting a huge influx of new money into its $12 million budget, set to come from President Obama's recovery act. It could receive up to $6 million for local agencies charged with fighting poverty.

But, according to an "It's Our Money" analysis, more than $1 million of the agency's current budget is being spent on salaries in other departments. And very little data is being collected to ensure that those being served by MOCS-financed programs are actually in poverty.

MOCS is supposed to be the city's primary anti-poverty agency. It's mostly funded through a program called the Community Services Block Grant.

The MOCS is in theory supposed to be the poverty fighting agency of the the Mayor' office. But it seems to be somewhat of a dud. While good people work there and everything, the article points out that much of money that should go to the office is is simply funneled elsewhere, to places such as the Rec Department. And, because it often times simply funds departmental salaries, the impact of office is often times unclear. (And of course, the reality is that funding someone at the Rec Department in many neighborhoods in Philly means you are serving an overwhelming majority of poor people.)

I don't particularly know what goes on in City Hall, but, when I talk to people who have been inside the City, including people from that office specifically, the MOCS is frequently brought up as one of the last patronage-type offices that the Mayor controls. The article hints at that here:

Until last year, federal block grant dollars were being used to partially fund the Mayor's Action Center, which was responsible for answering information requests about city government and services. State officials responsible for oversight raised concerns because the majority of people being served by the Mayor's Action Center were not poor.

"It was our impression that the last administration was using funds to essentially answer phones for people who were complaining about city government," said Ken Klothen, who served as deputy secretary for community affairs at the Department of Community Economic Development before resigning in May. "We didn't think that all of that activity was sufficiently related to Community Services Block Grant goals. We viewed it as casting too broad a net."

I am going to guess that the people on the other end of the line were probably not your every day, unconnected people. It is good to see that that piece of the office appears to have ended. And the Mayor has also acknowledged that the office isn't really doing what it is supposed to do. That is a good start. But after 1.5 years in office, it is time to get past talk, and see real, concentrated reforms.

Stuff I am reading from around the interwebs

1) Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) has launched a blog called Childwatch, where they wil "report on breaking news and stimulate discussion about how local and state policies affect children," and cover "child health, child care, education, family economic security and child welfare." Check out their post giving a side by side comparison of the Governor's budget versus the insanity that is the PA GOP's Senate Bill 850.

2) From yesterday's Daily News, we see that AJ Thomson is up to no good:

FISHTOWN native A.J. Thomson hunkered down in deep left field and scooped up a fistful of the small, sharp stones that cover the unforgiving playing surface of Shissler Recreation Center's baseball diamond, on Blair Street near Berks.

"This is what my 4-year-old daughter, Julia, plays T-ball on," he said.

"This is the last place in the city of Philadelphia where kids have to play on cinders. We've been trying for years to get the city to turn this into a grass-and-dirt field. We're still trying."

3) At SEPTA Watch, Mike Froelich gives a good example of why SEPTA needs to make sure that the schedule and locatin information of their vehicles must be free and public.

4) The Notebook's Erika Owens talks about the effort to get stimulus funding for broadband in Philadelphia, which is being led by the Media Mobilizing Project's Digital Justice Coalition.

The access is to broadband Internet and the speaker is Vice President Biden, who unveiled the rules for $7.2B in stimulus funds for broadband in Erie County, PA. The announcement was made in a rural part of the county, but the county is also home to the fourth-largest city in the state (and to my family - hello!).

Video of Biden shows him speaking about broadband access in the context of jobs and basic utilities like electricity, for people across the state.

Of the total, $2.5B of the funds are slotted for rural development, but that leaves the balance, $4.7B, available to "underserved" areas, including cities like Philly. Last week a variety of stakeholders met to discuss Philly's priorities in applying for those stimulus funds. The Notebook joined several organizing groups, other nonprofits, businesses, and numerous city workers and officials to outline our thoughts about the possibilities for this funding.

The Philadelphia Digital Justice Coalition drafted a set of core principles that helped direct our discussion of the funding. The four principles focus on connecting disenfranchised groups, building access in the home, working from a broad definition of digital inclusion, and ensuring access in the places where people already are.

5) Also from the Notebook, Dale Mezzacappa details the tensions between Arlene Ackerman and public school teachers, after she demanded that they each sign contracts for the first time in 20 years.

Supreme Court Hands Tom Corbett an Enourmous Amount of Power to Protect Pennsylvanians. Will he Use it?

Lost in the shuffle of a couple big decisions of the Supreme Court this week was a Antonin Scalia(!) authored opinion that will give Attorneys General an enourmous amount of power to go after absuvie banks. The NYTimes Editorial lays out how the case came about:

As the current mortgage crisis was building, banks engaged in a wide array of bad practices. They lent to borrowers who could not afford to pay off the loans. They misrepresented loan terms, and they employed deceptive “teaser” rates to mislead their customers.

State attorneys general opened investigations and filed lawsuits. In 2005, then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York asked several national banks about lending practices to determine whether blacks and Hispanics had been charged higher interest rates than whites — and whether the banks had violated fair lending laws.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, part of the Treasury Department, sued to block Mr. Spitzer. It claimed that a regulation it issued under the National Bank Act barred the states from enforcing state fair-lending laws. Two lower courts agreed.

Basically, Eliot Spitzer saw Bush and Co weren't acting to curb abusive lending. And so, when he tried to do it himself, Bush's regulators sued to stop him. After Spitzer lost, that was pretty much the end of states being able to force national banks to follow their own fair lending laws. Luckily, that decision didn't matter, because we live in a world of perfect markets, with the less regulation the better. So, as a result of that decision, the US was set on a course of happiness, candy canes, and endless prosperity...

But then a crazy thing happened this week. The Supreme Court, with Scalia as the deciding vote, decided Spitzer was right. All of a sudden, Attorneys General all across the Country were back in the business of protecting the residents of their state from national banks.

Which brings to our Attorney General, Tom Corbett. Thus far, at a time of an incredible economic calamities, Corbett has shown little interest in actually protecting consumers in PA, no matter who is causing their suffering. But with this decision, he just lost one more excuse why he cannot be more active.

Corbett wants to be Governor. I hope that he knows that a smart Democrat in 2012 will point to his time as AG, during this once in a generation downfall, and ask him why he didn't stand with ordinary Pennsylvanians.

The Shrinking of our Shrinking: Will Philly Grow Next Year?

Every year I look at the Census population estimates, and every year, I am somewhat surprised that Philly continues to lose population. This year is no different. As New York, and Chicago grow, Philly (along with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and others) keeps shrinking.

However, while it sucks to keep losing people, the trends really are starting to look pretty good:

Picture4

The graph is the percent population growth for the 15 biggest cities. Philly is... at the bottom in blue. Look, for example at the first point in the graph, which is population growth from 2000 to 2001. Philly is well below everyone, except Detroit. But, if this trend keeps going, we appear to be on the verge of actually gaining population for the first time in quite a while. To otherwise see what I mean, look at the graph with the axes blacked out:

popgrowthbyyear2

That is probably not the most statistically sound way of looking at things. But the point remains that relatively speaking, we a)started off the decade in just about the worst position of the cities shown, and b) we are consistently improving. As Ray has pointed out, population growth is not the end all of economic success for Philadelphians. But, it sure would be nice to stop hearing us referred to as a shrinking city, wouldn't it?

As an aside, for all of the Joey Vento's of the world out there, it is worth noting that without the dramatic influx of immigrants- most recently Mexican immigrants- we would still be shrinking quite a bit, as no one would be left to take ol Joey's place, after he took his Hummer to South Jersey.

Federal Court Enjoins Confidentiality Provision of Ethics Act. Philly Repercussions to Follow?

The PA State Ethics Act, like the Philly one, has a confidentiality clause that makes it a violation of the Act to publicize when you make an ethics complaint. So, if I file an Ethics Act violation against Marc Stier and Sam Durso for boring us all to tears (wait, that isn't covered?), and then I tell all my friends on the twitters and youtube, I have violated the Ethics Act. In Philly, the confidentiality clause has ensnared many people, including the Director of the Board of Ethics.

And yesterday, after the Board fined an activist for violating the confidentiality clause, a Federal Judge granted an injunction against the enforcement of the Act's confidentiality provisions.

District Judge Christopher C. Conner granted the injunction to Middle Paxton Township activist Gene Stilp, who was charged with violating the act after he announced he filed a complaint against former House Majority Leader William DeWeese based upon a newspaper article that accused DeWeese of spending $290,000 in tax money on political polls.

Within a day, the State Ethics Commission ruled there was not enough evidence in Stilp's complaint to conduct an investigation and instead charged Stilp with violating the act by publicizing the filing of his complaint. On Oct. 16, Stilp entered into an agreement with the commission in which he admitted violating the act and agreed to pay a $500 fine. Stilp then filed suit in federal court to enjoin the commission from enforcing that provision of the act, saying it was a violation of his right to free speech.

The Federal Judge's ruling doesn't have any power over our own Act. But, by basically the same logic, I think it is likely that we will see a challenge to the Philly Act if it isn't modified. And if this is any indicator, the challenge will succeed.

Watch out world, here we come

It had to happen eventually, but, YPP is now on Twitter. Apparently, it is what all the kids are using these days.

Follow us: @yppdotcom.

Investing in our Future

The Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board released a study today that, somewhat unsurprisingly, has some pretty depressing findings. For example, from the report's release, we see that:

The report notes that Greater Philadelphia is able to lure good, high-paying employers to the area, but faces a growing gap between the essential needs of businesses and the skills of the workforce. The problem is especially acute in Philadelphia, where 52.2 percent of the population falls below the literacy standard required by businesses – meaning more than half of all adults struggle to follow written instructions or complete a form, such as a job application. That compares with 37.9 percent throughout Pennsylvania.

Half of Philadelphia cannot do something like adequately fill out a job application... That is a surreal number.

We go through these debates about taxes, and how much they matter. The point isn't that taxes make some sort of difference. Sure they do. But, there is little question that there are a whole host of other factors that are just as, or more, important, including things that lower city revenues make impossible to fulfill. For example, as this report makes clear, investing in an educated workforce is vitally important to real, sustainable, and widespread economic growth. But to make that investment, we have to collect money to pay for it, one way or another.

And, it is a smart thing to do. Because besides the basic morality of helping adults join the workforce, there is a clear payoff for that sort of investment:

An $84 million investment ($12 million annually for the next seven years) in adult literacy programs would produce $370 million in taxes and savings. How?

Investing in adult workforce literacy produces increased dollars for our community in two ways:

1) Increased tax revenue: The more people who work in Philadelphia, the more the City collects in wage taxes. And, statistics show that the higher education one has, the greater their likelihood of gaining employment and the higher their salary.

The result: a $12 million a year investment in literacy programs with proven results will impact roughly 3,117 additional people each year – producing $423,818 in tax revenue for each group of students each year for the City.

Over 7 years, this will amount to $11,866,904 in additional tax revenue.

2) Decrease in social service spending: High school drop-outs cost our community money, as it has to pay for services such as cash assistance, food stamps, the probability of using unemployment insurance, the probability of incarceration and court costs, among others…

  • The Center for Labor Market Studies estimates the annual cost per high school drop-out per year in Philadelphia is $6,799.
  • The investment in literacy programs often helps people who were once dependent on government services, and significantly increases their probability of achieving employment and wage gains.
  • The result is our community saves an estimated $21,130,143 a year for each group of students who enroll in adult workforce literacy classes.
  • 3,117 (amount of workers no longer needing benefits) * $6,799 (average cost our community pays in benefits)
  • Total benefits: $370 million = (total increase in wage taxes over 7 years) + (total eduction in costs over 7 years) – (investment of $84 million).

12 million dollars a year equals 370 million dollars in savings down the line. That is a pretty big number. Of course, some of the above savings wouldn't be realized by Philly's budget itself- it would come in the form of Federal or State programs. But this is the type of program (along with many other things, such as helping people complete college that they have already started) that we have to spend money on if we want Philadelphia to be a vibrant place for all of its residents.

Good Jobs Gone? Blame Arlen Specter?

From Twitter user @Kalahn, we see the poster that seems to be everywhere in Philadelphia these days:

33rd & Market: "Good Jobs Gone? Blame Arlen Specter" #efca on Twitpic

As Chris Bowers noted, while some of labor may have fallen in line with Specter, there is a real understanding by many that Specter has sold them out, and if he wants their support, he needs to start singing another song on the Employee Free Choice Act.

PA Senate Summary

A lot has happened in the past week in regards to the PA Senate race:

First, a new Keystone Poll shows Arlen Specter is not all that popular:

The strong backing of Democratic Party leaders has done little to change slumping public support for the party's newest convert, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Only 28 percent of all those surveyed say that he deserves re-election, according to the latest Keystone Poll, and double that number say it's time for a change.

....

Back in March, before the switch, roughly half the voters in each party said that Specter was doing an "excellent" or "good" job in the Senate.

Those numbers have plunged in the latest survey. Whereas 57 percent of Democrats gave him good or excellent ratings in March, only 46 percent rate him as highly now. Among Republicans, 49 percent rated his job performance as good or excellent in March, and only 18 percent gave him those ratings last week.

The support that is he somewhat holding onto is that of Democrats. If there is a real primary, or if Arlen doesn't come out strong for the Obama agenda, those numbers will sink, too. Further, in a match up against Sestak (with a very big MoE), the poll has it at 33-13. For an ultra incumbent like Arlen, being that much below 50 percent is very, very dangerous, and adds to worrisome trend lines in polls of the race:

And that is without Sestak doing any campaigning... Sestak is edging ever closer to a run. Word is that he will not announce for a month or two, but, he has made it pretty clear that he is in.

While that Keystone poll was in the field, Arlen was supposed to speak at the convention of the United Steelworkers. They dis-invited him. (Read this whole post, because it is pretttty funny.) If labor leaves him, he is really screwed.

Given all of that, and in an attempt to head left, he recently said that he is for a public health care option, after scoffing at it right after he switched parties. No one said Arlen wasn't good at making you a little dizzy.

On the Republican side, ultra-right Pat Toomey has effectively been cleared for the general election, as local Congressman Jim Gerlach has said he will not run.

Stop me if you have heard this before...

And the beat goes on...

SEPTA has postponed for a third time its deadline for a "smart-card" fare system.

The latest deadline is Aug. 18, five months later than the original March 17 requirement for manufacturers to submit proposals for an electronic system to replace tokens and paper tickets for its buses, subways, trolleys, and trains.

With a smart card, passengers would be able to wave a card at a sensor on a turnstile or fare box and be on their way.

SEPTA says it wants a system that will allow passengers to use credit cards, prepaid SEPTA cards, and even cell phones to pay for their trips.

And the beat goes on...

What is another few months among friends?! SEPTA should delay implementing a smart card system until the smart card system tells you how far away the train is, gives you movies reviews, and does your laundry.

Small Businesses, and their Savior: Cutting Business Taxes

Remember this sheet?

It shows the amount of Philadelphia business taxes paid by business size. We have talked about it a lot. Just as a reminder, it shows that for taxpaying businesses, the average amount paid in the gross receipts tax by businesses taking in less than 100k for 2006 is a whopping $54. The average amount for businesses taking in between 100k and 500k is $435. That doesn’t seem like a ton of money, right? Yet from every news story, editorial, and blast from the Chamber of Commerce, Philly Forward and others came the idea that this tax was the invention of Satan himself. Why so evil? You have to pay it whether or not you earned a profit or not. (Remember this point, please.)

As Stan has pointed out, the devlish GRT actually does some good stuff. While we always hear the tiny, Lucifer-like GRT forces businesses to move outside of the city, it turns out the incorrigible tax already hits businesses outside of the city for any business they do inside of it. So, if Exxon-Mobil, or Coca-Cola does business in the city (which they do), then they actually pay the tax. So, unless you think that eliminating the troll-ish GRT will make Coca-Cola run to set up shop in Philly, then getting rid of it might be sort of dumb. In effect, we are disarming and giving up money for businesses outside of the city. So in response, the Coalition for Essential Services made a proposal that would increase the GRT, then exempt the first 500k for all businesses, effectively making taxes more progressive in the city.

Now, let’s contrast that proposal with what is actually happening in our city, where taxes are actually becoming more regressive. We spent years lowering business taxes, with the idea that this would be sooooo great for small businesses. And yet, what did we learn from the city?

Philadelphia's free trash-collection service for small businesses will come to an abrupt end July 1, when merchants will be forced to pay $500 a year for the privilege or else hire private garbage-haulers.

Letters notifying business owners of the fee began arriving this week, taking many by surprise.

"It came like a slap to the face. Businesses are scratching and clawing to stay open, and you're putting another $500 on top of that?" said Rita deVecchis, owner of a South Street framing shop.

Although the fee was mentioned in Mayor Nutter's March budget address and passed by City Council as part of last month's budget accord, the $500 fee was largely overshadowed by the budget debate over property and sales taxes.

The fee will be levied on about 15,000 small businesses, and could raise more than $7 million a year for the city, said Deputy Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams.

Ooops. That is right. IF you are a small business, you may a few bucks less in taxes... but you will instead pay for your services, in the form of a $500 flat fee for trash pick up. And, remember that point above, about what makes the GRT so evil- that you pay whether you make a profit or not? Oh, yeah, you pay this whether you make a profit, too. What a sweetheart deal! Comcast, Cigna and others get a huge tax break every year and taxes are lowered. Small businesses get a tiny tax break, and then immediately give that tax break back in a trash fee. And as a byproduct, when Comcast and friends (and Coca-Cola and Exxon) no longer pay, the city’s treasury is further shrunken, preventing the city from providing other services.

Small businesses, like the majority of people in the city, have been sold a false bill of goods with respect to tax cuts. If anything can show what this has really been all about- breaks to big corporations- it is this.

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As an aside, as we approach what I would consider the defining moment of Obama's first term, and maybe of progressive politics- the ability to enact real universal health care when the public wants it and we have huge majorities- it was pretty nice that our Junior Senator from PA is out there saying things like this:

The last thing the American people "want us to do is to wait and delay for 2010 or 2011, because this is the economic threat to our country," Casey said. "If we don’t get this right and get it done, American families are going to pay far too much."

Open Thread: The Board of Ethics Attacks... Maria, NYC knows we have the best ideas, and Ice Cream

1) The Board of Ethics Attacks… and this time they ping the best Councilperson we have- Maria Quinones Sanchez. Basically, what is comes down to is that during the 2007 campaign, there was a PAC that was running ads supporting a bunch of candidates- including my dad, Derek Green, Marc Stier and Maria. Because the PAC was running a bunch of ads, they got a bulk rate.

Then, the Councilwoman’s campaign wanted to used the discount the PAC got on the ads for some more Maria-only ads, and so they got the PAC to run them, and then paid the PAC. The BoE decided that violated the campaign finance law, in that she was effectively controlling more than one PAC. So, basically, the campaign saw a chance to get a discount with the Inq/Daily News, and paid money through the PAC to make it happen. She has she messed up, and accepted responsibility.

The rub comes that she says was willing to settle with the BoE, but is pissed that she didn’t have a chance to make her case with the BoE about a specific provision of the settlement agreement(holding her personally liable).

Quinones-Sanchez and her campaign treasurer, Peter Winebrake, acknowledged "a technical violation" of the campaign-finance law, based on their use of an independent political-action committee to save $2,500 on a series of newspaper ads.

Quinones-Sanchez said that her campaign organization had been prepared to settle the matter by paying a $4,500 fine. But she said that she balked at the terms of a settlement agreement proposed by Shane Creamer Jr., the board's executive director, fearing that it would expose her to lawsuits challenging her seat on Council.

"We wanted an opportunity to make our case in front of the Ethics Board, but that was denied," Quinones-Sanchez complained. "We were just flabbergasted that we would be denied."

I will contact the Councilwoman, and let her explain what she means. If there is a chance to improve the BoE procedures, great, let’s do it. This is still new. Improving it, constructively, if there really are some problems, sounds fine. That is a lot different than trying to get rid of someone with silly grandstanding….

2) Mayor Nutter got props for the Philly Foreclosure program. That is really awesome. Its great to see a good program like that being lauded. Let’s also make sure that the other people who got this thing going get their props- people like Judge Annette Rizzo, John Dodds of PUP, various attorneys from CLS, ACORN, and others.

3) Last week it was announced that Philly’s school food program has been spared. Score one for santity. And now Fattah, Sestak, et. al. are trying to enshrine this change into law, so a future doofus at the USDA cannot kill it.

4) Buy Local! Yesterday at the Public School Notebook birthday party, I had some excellent locally made ice cream from Chilly Philly, a Mt. Airy based company. It is sold at Whole Foods, at Weavers Way in Mt. Airy, etc. It is slow made, and awesome. Buy it. Eat it. Enjoy it. Support a local business.

What else is going on?

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