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Whatever happened to the power of positive thinking?

All my life I was disgusted with and at times fought positive hype, Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie, and Third Parties claiming they are going to win instead of getting clout and permanent ballot access to win in future elections. Now suddenly I feel more positive than many around me and see hope at this point of being a positive catalyst for change.

Two months ago there was dread, not hope, that the poor wouldn’t vote or wouldn’t be allowed to, or be swayed to vote against their interests by shady campaign ads, and fear that blacks, Hispanics and young people in general would stay home, The hate movie of Prophet Mohammed as a porn star was feared to lead to massive tit for tat revenge killings, But Ambassador Chris Stevens’ relatives and the relatives of the other Americans killed in Benghazi emphatically spoke out against using their loved one’s deaths to spread hate, Ironically and sadly Buddhists and Muslims in far off Burma engaged in tit for tat revenge killings.

Suddenly, elsewhere, there was a massive realization that those who hysterically warn of danger are often the one’s who are actually baiting it, as those US politicians warning of a Muslim danger lost in the November election.

Also losing were two right-wing Miami Cubans. Orthodox Jews used to be in the habit of voting Republican, so much for the 5th column accusations. Those who thought gay marriage and pot would destroy the nation once voted without fail in every pertinent election. The Republican base didn’t pull through, or is in taters.

Counsel for a Liveable World candidates won most of their races. Kathy Boockvar didn’t qualify for their endorsement, but progressive Eastern Pennsylvania was heart broken. However Mike Fitzpatrick campaigned under the theme he, not Kathy, would end Obama’s wars. Let’s make him prove it.

The new "philanthropy": Private money shaping public policy in Philadelphia's education reform

Jeremy Nowak is out as president of the William Penn Foundation. In light of his abrupt departure, deeper questions emerge about the role the foundation played under his tenure.

For months, Parents United for Public Education has raised questions about the Foundation’s role in funding and directing the work of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Two weeks ago we sent a letter to the William Penn Foundation and Boston Consulting Group asking them to respond to a legal analysis we commissioned from our lawyers at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which argued that the Foundation’s unusual arrangement with the Boston Consulting Group may constitute lobbying.

In February the Boston Consulting Group, a multinational corporation with an educational strategies division, arrived with the stated purpose of creating a District blueprint and a five year financial plan. Instead they parachuted into Philadelphia with a polarizing agenda that called for mass charter expansion, closing dozens of schools, and forcing schools into education management networks.

While many know the plan was paid for by the William Penn Foundation, most people may not realize the significance of WPF contracting directly with BCG without the District being a party to the contract. William Penn Foundation solicited donors specifically for the BCG contract and then oversaw a fund at a separate agency that disbursed donations exclusively to BCG. This structure allowed the identities of many of those who paid for BCG’s work to remain secret, along with any economic interests they may have had in the policies and decisions being advanced. For example, among the donors are a prominent real estate developer and individuals and groups with direct interests and ties to religious and charter organizations. The Foundation funded a separate communications strategy for the District without the public ever knowing what public communications came from William Penn and what came from the District.

Perhaps most significantly, BCG’s contracts with WPF explicitly stipulated that BCG’s work would promote charter expansion, management networks, identify 60 top candidates for school closure and impact labor negotiations. Specific mention was made in their contract about influencing the SRC before an important May vote. Not surprisingly, the report BCG delivered to the School District was nearly identical to the contract agreement BCG had with the Foundation and, by extension, the donors who funded the work.

As a third party entity, BCG had unprecedented access to District data and financial information all made unavailable to the public. They had unprecedented access to high-level decisionmakers and private forums to push their plans. While the rest of the public had to settle for limited information and public processes, BCG circumvented a public process with its unique status as a philanthropic consultant.

From our viewpoint as parents, this is not education expertise at play. After all, BCG avoided almost any public contact or dialogue. It was not acting as a philanthropic entity – not when private dollars and private interests promoted a singular and narrow agenda and enabled BCG to forego public processes in favor of private audience.

It was for this reason that Parents United for Public Education requested a legal opinion from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia about whether the Foundation was engaged in lobbying and had violated city lobbying laws by failing to register as lobbyists and disclose its donors and activities. PILCOP concluded that the third party contracting and the clear intent to impact policy and high level decisionmakers all constituted lobbying. Our letter to the Foundation two weeks ago detailed these concerns, included PILCOP’s legal analysis and requested a response in two weeks time.

On a national level, a number of public education observers and public interest advocates have raised serious concerns about the role of “philanthropic” investments into education reform. From the Broad Foundation to the Waltons and Gates Foundations – what we’re seeing across the country is an unprecedented level of private money shaping public policy under the guise of philanthropy. Too often that agenda has centered around a radical dismantling of public education, increased privatization, and disruptive reform that has sent many districts spiraling into chaos and sustained turmoil.

We have no idea whether our complaint about lobbying had any influence on Mr. Nowak’s departure. Whether or not it did, foundations and “reformers” everywhere need to sit up and look critically at practices that risk substituting private agendas for true public purpose.

11-22-12

Five years ago, Thanksgiving, I wrote this. I knew I had found something good (though I didn't yet know that included someone who would love me, justice, and Philadelphia sports teams with more or less equal burning intensity).

This fall Dan and I got married. And this morning we were up in Bucks County, seeing the movie 'Lincoln' with my parents. To count just some blessings:

Getting to see that movie with my dad, who now lives at home despite sudden severe disability, thanks only to our still-present social safety net that gives him the choice to live in his own home with my mom instead of being trapped in a nursing home.

The fact that in this election enough Americans used their votes to make clear they want a country that sees us all having a stake in each other.

That there are advocates who fight for a fair shot for all who are treated as expendable: those working to restore lifeline state 'general assistance' benefits after they were torn away earlier this year through cowardly political maneuvering, as today's important piece sharply reminded us; those who are trying to cut through the many financial and political agendas in order to actually focus on what makes schools work for their students; and, always, those who daily devote themselves to people suffering addiction and trauma, giving a small or large beacon of kindness and understanding to people in the darkest places.

Thank you. These are "the ripples of hope" that travel out through the world, to quote Bobby Kennedy via that video where our president cried while saying thank you to the people who worked to elect him in hopes of moving us towards a more just world.

There's no Fiscal Cliff; It's An Income Cliff

While the national focus is on a make-believe deficit “crisis”, Philadelphia is facing an all too real income crisis. Too many families, including many with at least one full time worker, simply can’t meet their basic needs.

Of course our entire State includes huge numbers of struggling families, 840,000 families to be exact, including 2.3 million individuals, according to a recent study by Pathways PA. But Philly is tops in “income inadequacy” with 42% of our entire population not able to meet basic needs such as housing, child care, food, health care and taxes. Yes, the poor and the marginally poor do pay taxes.

During the Presidential campaign, the problems of these folks, and the cities like Philadelphia that are home to so many of them, fell off the cliff. Instead another cliff engendered all the conversation, and continues to, the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

The fiscal cliff is what we’re all supposed to fall off of if Congress doesn’t act on tax and budget policies by midnight on December 31. At that point all the Bush tax cuts will expire and massive budget cuts will take place. All of this because both parties have been laser-focused for two years on the need to cut deficits, and to that end have created their very own emergency to force themselves to act.

But as Paul Krugman repeatedly points out, there is no deficit crisis. We need no spending cuts (except in the bloated Defense Department budget.) We are told that deficits are threatening to create uncontrollable inflation and sky high interest rates. But the reality is that as deficits have grown, interest rates and inflation have fallen. The only real deficit is the income deficit.

GOODE becomes Founding Board Member of Local Progress

City Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr. traveled to the nation’s capital this weekend to discuss innovative ways that elected officials around the country are strengthening their local economies. Councilman Goode joined dozens of other officials from over thirty small towns and large cities to participate in the creation of Local Progress, a new national municipal policy network dedicated to “broadly-shared prosperity, equal justice under law, sustainable and livable cities, and good government that serves the public interest effectively.”

Goode serves as a Founding Board Member of Local Progress, and moderated the first policy discussion.

“I had a tremendous weekend meeting passionate public servants from around the country,” Goode said. “I was excited to both moderate and participate in a panel discussion on Economic Justice and to present my policy work. We had an exciting exchange of ideas on issues such as living wage jobs and community benefit agreements.”

Participants began the gathering with the discussion on the creation of good jobs. “We kicked it off with lively presentations about how cities can foster smart economic growth,” said Nick Licata, the Seattle City Councilmember who is chairing the Local Progress network. “Everyone agreed that we have to build an economy where workers are paid a living wage with adequate benefits, sick leave, and the security they need to support their families.”

The municipal legislators spoke optimistically about their vision for the coming decades. “A broad coalition of voters sent a powerful message on election day,” said Faith Winter, a councilmember from Westminster, CO. “Voters want government that works in the public interest – not just the interest of multinational corporations – and that treats everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Pennsylvania Private Job Performance Through the Looking Glass

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

In the 1890s, scientist George Stratton reported that, after four days of wearing a lens that inverted his vision, his brain reprocessed what he saw and flipped everything back up the right way.

John Micek’s Friday article brought this experiment to mind. Micek quotes Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith summing up the accomplishments of the House of Representatives in the 2011-12 legislative session: "We … focused on the economy and private-sector job creation." Majority Leader Mike Turzai echoed Smith saying: "We kept our commitments on fiscal responsibility and private-sector job-creation."

Let’s take a look at some actual job numbers.

Between January 2011 (the start of the current legislative session) and September 2012 (the latest data available), the number of private-sector jobs in Pennsylvania grew by 87,000, an increase of 1.8%. In this period, Pennsylvania ranked 31st out of the 50 states for private job growth by percentage. National private-sector job growth equaled 3%.

If you look at the last 12 months, from September 2011 to September 2012, Pennsylvania’s private-sector job ranking falls to 35th, with the state’s private-sector job growth equal to about half the national rate.

Now, compare that to job growth between January 2010 and January 2011, when the commonwealth ranked 12th among the 50 states with job growth of 1.8% (compared to the national rate of 1.3%).

Will Pennsylvania Take Full Advantage of Health Reform?

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

With the election decided, it is now clear that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. That’s great news for Pennsylvanians, some of whom have already begun to benefit from the health reform law, and many others who will see more gains as major provisions take effect in 2014.

As Judy Solomon writes at the Off the Charts Blog, a key provision of the law will allow states to expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults earning up to 133% of the poverty line, with the federal government covering most of the costs:

The question now is whether some states will squander this opportunity to cover millions of uninsured Americans.

Coverage for more than 11 million poor, uninsured adults is at risk if states don’t expand Medicaid, according to the Urban Institute.

Status of Health Reform Medicaid Expansion

As you can see in the chart above, Pennsylvania is among the states that have not made a clear decision on the Medicaid expansion. 

Pennsylvania Tax Giveaways and an Island in the Sun

By Jamar Thrasher, Third and State

A few weeks ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly fast-tracked a bill in the waning days of the legislative session to allow certain private companies to keep most of the state income taxes of new employees. News reports to follow indicated the new tax giveaway was designed to lure California-based software firm Oracle to State College.

Well, it turns out the CEO of Oracle, which will benefit from the largess of Pennsylvania taxpayers, recently bought his very own Hawaiian island, as CNN reported back in June.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the third richest man in the U.S., purchased about 98% of Lana'i, the sixth largest of the Hawaiian islands. Forbes reported that the deal was rumored to be worth $500 million.

As CNN tells us:

The island includes two luxury resorts, two golf courses, two club houses and 88,000 acres of land, according to a document filed with the Public Utilities Commission.

Which bring us back to Pennsylvania, where Governor Corbett recently signed House Bill 2626, allowing qualifying companies that create at least 250 new jobs within five years to pocket 95% of the personal income taxes paid by the new employees. 

When you go to the polls on Tuesday, check to see if there is a well-functioning election board.

When you go to the polls on Tuesday,check to see if there is a well-functioning election board with a Judge of Elections and Majority and Minority inspectors running the election. This is also an opportunity to find out if the incumbents intend to run again. There will no doubt quite a few openings for new election board members in 2013!

The Voter ID law has drawn attention to what has been a very low profile position—the Judge of Elections. In each division, the Judge of Elections resolves disputes and makes determinations about voter eligibility in areas where the law is ambiguous. For example, if the name on a voter’s photo ID (Mary Jane Smith) doesn’t match the voter’s name as recorded in the voter rolls (e.g., M. Jane Smith), the Judge of Elections determines whether the names are “substantially the same;” if so, Ms. Smith can vote. Some cases as to what is “substantially the same” are clear-cut; others are not. What is clear is that with that the Voter ID law, the position of Judge of Elections has become much more important.

Fortunately, the new Voter ID law will not be implemented for the November election. However, it will be back for the 2013 primary and, absent a change in the state legislature, this law is unlikely to go away. The Voter ID law makes it more important than ever that we have fair-minded, well qualified judges of election at every polling place.

Phila NOW and Phila CLUW will hold a workshop on January 14 2013 from 5:30-7:00 at 1606 Walnut to educate members about running for Judge of Elections and Majority and Minority inspectors in 2013,and for committeeperson in 2014. The principal speaker will be City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who will present information about the 2013 Judge of Elections election.

Scary Holloween Extra: Ryan and his Budget could Win . . . along with that Romney Guy

Bottom line to this too long essay: we’ve all got to get out and work as hard for Obama as we did in 2008. Or maybe harder because the Republicans are crazier. Here are some ways how:

1) First the Obama campaign is organizing door-to-door canvasses throughout our area. To find the ones nearest to you, go here.

2) One of the few good things about Citizens’ United is that it allows unions to collaborate with community folks to do joint work. Presto! Workers’ Voice was created and it's canvassing swing and apathetic voters in the City’s swingiest area, the great Northeast, in the final days. On Saturday the canvass will jump off at 9 AM. On Tuesday there will be three shifts, 9, 12 and 3. Each of those shifts will gather at the Sprinkle Fitters Union, 14002 McNulty Rd. You can just show up, or you can contact either of the following with questions or to let them know you’re coming:

Liz McElroy, 267-455-8191, emcelroy@philaflcio.org.
Nick Alpers, 215-518-8760, nalpers@philaflcio.org

3) Workers’ Voice also has a calling tool that you can use to call your Facebook friends. You can find that here.

4) Fight for Philly is also organizing weekend canvasses, in the Spring Garden area of the City. To sign up with them, click here.

Not Exactly a Mahogany-paneled Corporate Boardroom

By Kate Atkins, Third and State

Montgomery County Budget ForumA hundred days after passage of the state budget, it is too soon to fully assess the impact of cuts to human services, Montgomery County's administrator for behavioral health and developmental disabilities told a group of 50 consumers and social service providers at a budget forum last week.

Still, Administrator Eric Goldstein told the forum at the Norristown Recovery and Education Center that he has concerns about the state's move toward block grants for human services funding. Unlike Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties, Montgomery County did not apply to be part of this year’s new pilot block grant for the Human Services Development Fund.

Eric Goldstein was joined by speaker after speaker who testified to the importance of the modest dollars invested in prevention and community supports for people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.

One speaker, Troy, a solidly built man with a confident manner and a winning smile, said people call him a “success story,” but he remembered the days when he struggled with drug addiction. He described how he would walk into the Norristown Center and feel a lift from the friendly and familiar faces of the staff, who would ask him how he was doing.

“I’m looking for a job,” he would tell them.

“Really?” they would reply.

“No,” he would admit. “Not really.”

Ballot Questions . . . Be Ready to Vote BEFORE You Enter the Booth

Along with the headline races for President, Senate, Attorney General, Auditor General, and Treasurer, there will be questions on this year’s ballot in Philadelphia. I recommend that you vote as follows:

Question 1) Yes
Question 2) No
Question 3) Yes
Question 4) Yes

Let me say that none of these are a slam dunk. One can make a decent case for a thumbs up or down on each of them. But I urge this: please make up your mind BEFORE you enter the polling place, especially if you vote during the busy hours in the morning or evening. WE NEED EVERYONE TO VOTE IF OBAMA AND OTHER DEMOCRATS ARE TO WIN. If there are huge lines caused by people reading and analyzing the text of these ballot questions in the booth, the main effect may be to defeat Democrats by causing voters on line to get tired and go home. That would be a tragically unintended consequence of having these issues on this year’s ballot. Council should have delayed all of them.

On to my views. You can get the Committee of Seventy’s here.

Question 1:

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to allow for the establishment of an independent rate-making body for fixing and regulating water and sewer rates and charges and to prescribe open and transparent processes and procedures for fixing and regulating said rates and charges?

Yes. Right now water rates are proposed by the Water Commissioner, put through an arduous hearing process before a referee appointed by the Commissioner, and then approved or disapproved by the Commissioner. That’s a mockery of accepted due process standards that require the decision maker to be different than the proposer. This amendment would allow Council to establish a process ensuring that final water rate decisions be made by a neutral arbiter, much like electric rates are decided by the PUC.

More Than 180 Voter Suppression Laws Proposed

By jamar Thrasher, Third and State

We have written a lot about Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law, which has been put on hold by the courts for the upcoming election. Turns out we're not alone when it comes to voting suppression.

That may not be news to you, but you may be surprised to know that more than 180 voter suppression laws were proposed in 2011 and 2012, according to The New York Times. These are laws defined as restricting or limiting voter access based on a myriad of qualifications.

Among the voter suppression laws enacted over the past two years: reductions to early voting, tougher voting rules for ex-convicts, limitations to voter registration drives, and (drum roll, please) voter identification requirements. The data were collected and analyzed by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

From the Times report:

A Rare Victory In The Endless Fight Against Corporate Welfare

By Mark Price, Third and State

In a rare victory against corporate welfare in Pennsylvania, Ahold USA has withdrawn its request for property tax breaks for a meat-packaging facility it is building in Lower Allen Township, Cumberland County.

As Michael Wood explained before the request was withdrawn:

Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Best We Can Get in Presidential Politics 2012

I would love Green Party candidate Jill Stein to be President since I agree with almost all her proposed policies and programs. I would also like myself to be President because I like all my proposed policies and programs. Here’s the problem. Jill Stein and I have an equal chance of being elected President. That chance, of course, would be zero.

So why would anyone engage in the futile act of voting for Jill Stein, or no less usefully, writing in their own name for President? Five reasons are usually offered.

First, of course, is the well-worn cliché that there is no difference between Romney and Obama; therefore there’s no reason to vote for either one of them. That is just patently false. Here are just a few obvious differences:

• Obama would keep Obamacare, and Romney would repeal it. Romney’s win would mean that tens of millions of low wage workers who would otherwise have health insurance would not get it. Their only health care provider would be the emergency room. Many of them would die of diseases diagnosed too late for them to get the medical care that would save them.

• Romney would voucherize Medicare, making it unaffordable for millions of seniors. He would also do everything in his power to privatize, i.e., destroy, social security;

• Romney would raise taxes on working people, cut them for the rich;

• Romney would appoint judges intent on repealing Roe v. Wade, and eliminating affirmative action;

• Romney would attack the ability of unions to exist;

• Romney budgets, if they follow the lead of his running mate and other House Republican leaders, would decimate food stamps, education funding, and federal aid to cities of all sorts;

• Romney would make the EPA into something as fierce as a big slice of pumpkin pie.

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