jennifer's blog

Hey Pennsylvania: How dare you try to give poor-but-not-the-very-poorest kids doctors!

When your head hurts from wishing everything you read in the New York Times was an Onion article:

The White House just adopted restrictive standards for CHIP, the program that insures poor children across the United States. They tried to block expanded funding for the program, because--god forbid--this would mean taxing the tobacco industry. Cigarettes versus children's health? Easy choice for this president.

Congress passed the funding anyway, and now the White House has promulgated strict federal standards that keep states including Pennsylvania from providing free children's health insurance to anyone but the very poorest people. The idea is that if a state wants to raise the eligibility bar to insure more children, they must first prove that they have enrolled 95% of the children in the state at below 200% of the line, practically speaking, a very difficult task. Don't take my word for it:

Cindy Mann, a research professor at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University, said, “No state would ever achieve that level of participation under the president’s budget proposals.”

If unchallenged, this would mean that many children who are currently eligible for CHIP in Pennsylvania, which says that anyone at 300% of the poverty line is eligible, could be knocked off the books and back to being uninsured. Well, the president says that they'd be encouraged to re-enter the private market. But that takes money, and even 300% of our ridiculously low official poverty rate ($20,650 for a family of four!) doesn't give you all that much. Not to mention that the president's chosen bugbear, the threat to private insurance, is not supported by evidence:

In New Jersey, which has a three-month waiting period, Ms. Kohler said, “we have no evidence of a decline in employer-sponsored coverage resulting from the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

From the states:

After learning of the new policy, some state officials said today that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children by imposing standards that could not be met.

Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey, said: “We are horrified at the new federal policy. It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.”

Stan Rosenstein, the Medicaid director in California, said the federal policy was “highly restrictive, much more restrictive than what we want to do.”

Currently Pennsylvania covers those at 300% of the poverty line, recently raised from 200. California is at 250 and wants to go to 300. New York is at 250 and has legislation introduced to raise it to 400. New Jersey's been at 350.

For administration conservatives to make this move to cut off state-approved expansion of CHIP is shameful. Aside from tossing federalism out the window whenever convenient (medical marijuana, children's health coverage), no one wants this. No one except politicians bound to serve the interests of the insurance and tobacco lobbies before that of among the most vulnerable citizens.

This kind of thing makes real bad headlines. It's somewhat amazing that fact isn't enough to stop such a callous move, even if basic human emotions like shame do not seem to kick in.

What Happened at Willard Street Near G in Kensington, or, Women Criminals Are "Revolting"

"Violence isn't unusual on the gritty blocks around Willard Street near G in Kensington." But it maybe could have been prevented.

Today the Daily News opens its depressingly lengthy homicide-shooting-violent crime rundown with this sickening story:

Violence isn't unusual on the gritty blocks around Willard Street near G in Kensington.

So when Gary Caldwell began scuffling with his son's mother outside her rowhouse late Thursday, several neighbors relaxing on their stoops nearby merely looked on curiously, if a bit cautiously.

"He smacked her in the face three times, and she said: 'If you hit me again, I'm going to kill you,' " neighbor Tysheka Moore said.

The woman disappeared into her house for a moment and re-emerged, announcing: "Go ahead, hit me again!" Moore recalled.

Oh please let them actually build a new Family Court

The outdated and insufficient family court facilities have long been the cause of consternation among lawyers and women and children's rights advocates, and the cause of suffering and frustration among the many, many Philadelphians who must navigate them.

In 2003, the Women's Law Project released a damning report that illustrated the many structural and bureaucratic problems with the court:

The report finds that Domestic Relations Division falls short of national court performance standards in a number of ways including: significant underfunding, insufficient resources and staff, unreliable public access, inadequate information and assistance given to pro se litigants, enormous caseloads, untimely processing of cases, and insufficient security.

The Philadelphia Bar Association called for significant increases in funding and personnel. Everyone recognized that the building was a big part of the problem, it was "too small, difficult to navigate, and unsafe" (and split between two buildings blocks apart), making these often-traumatic domestic cases even more harrowing to deal with.

Now we are taking steps to build a new court, which is totally great and absolutely necessary. The question is, where? And, is there will to actually get it funded?

Today the Inquirer reports a familiar-sounding tale. There's a pretty damn good-sounding and convenient site at 15th and Arch, on Parking Authority land, and the Parking Authority is happy to negotiate. Transit comes in to there from every direction--trains, subways, and buses--making it easy for the many poor litigants to make their hearings and access the court's resources.

There's another, politically-connected, redevelopment site at 4601 Market St:

That is the home of a 15-acre complex currently owned by a nonprofit organization named the Center for Human Advancement. The nonprofit's board members, who include State Sen. Vincent Hughes and developer Michael Karp, have proposed joining the Family Court and the Youth Study Center, and placing it on their site.

Detailed plans call for a restaurant, retail shops, and a tunnel that would connect the study center and the court.

The $93 million project - developed by Renaissance Properties and the TrammellCrow Co. - would include a fitness center for judges and staff, a private dining hall and parking.

Supposedly this site could be "tens of millions" of dollars cheaper than the center city one. And redevelopment is good. But is this the best place for the court? Other huge questions remain:

Will Jannie Blackwell let it be built?

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, whose district includes the Market Street site, said she was briefed on the proposal two weeks ago. She was unfamiliar with the Parking Authority site.

"I'm not for or against anything," she said. "It still comes down to community support."

And will anyone actually appropriate the funds for this?

But Rendell is yet to be convinced of its economic feasibility. "We are looking to see how the construction and the operation of the site will be funded," he said. ....

Rendell said the West Philadelphia site also was acceptable, but added that it too has questions about the economic feasibility.

If he's going to leave us with casinos, I'd sure like if somehow he could pull a functioning family court out of his Phillies cap.

The Most Beautiful, Detailed, and Surprising Blog in Philadelphia

No, not this one. Though if we are tossing out superlatives, YPP is probably the most righteously indignant.

"The Necessity for Ruins" will tell you where Francisville got its name and where in its still-decaying streets William Penn's vineyard was located. You can read a revealing paper-length history of SEPTA's bureaucratic formation:

Inheriting infrastructure from cash-strapped private railroad companies, SEPTA bore public scorn for running trains on deteriorating infrastructure. Rolling stock—some dating to the 1930s—were often filled with acrid smoke as their motors caught fire. In some cases riding SEPTA in the early 1980s was a participatory event. One passenger helped a conductor throw seat cushions under the wheels of an out-of-control trolley careening down a city street. Nearly all physical and functional elements of the system suggested both SEPTA’s incompetence and the increasingly anomie of Reagan-era Philadelphia. Notoriously unsafe subway stations became ad hoc art galleries for graffiti taggers. Exasperated SEPTA patrons soon lowered their expectations, decline to ride, and generally accepted SEPTA’s condition as hopeless. But this study rejects the popular notion that SEPTA’s has appeared ex nihilo in an arrested state of decay—as if it were handed down broken from on high.

But the most rewarding moments on this site are where the Philadelphia landscape that we all pass through semi-un-thinkingly is revealed in its unexpectedly full, layered, historical complexity. And there are dozens and dozens of these moments.

Drafting the Rules for [Philadelphia] Radicals: What the hell are we organizing for anyway, and how are we trying to do it?

One of the things that struck me during the election and those voluminous conversations about "reform" and "progressive" "movements" (sorry for abusing scare quotes) was the relationship between reform groups like PFC and community organizing. Does an interest in reform and progressive politics define and create a community, which PFC then represents?

In my mind, reform of city-level politics would--above all--aim to bring the isolated and effectively abandoned people and communities and their interests fully into the political process. Basic community organizing. You'd figure out who the system is failing and how and why, and work to increase their political power--electing real representatives of those populations as well as pushing the system to respond to them.

I was thinking about this reading about Saul Alinsky's work in Chicago, in the "Back of the Yards" neighborhood in the 1930s and 1940s. I'm reading Rebuilding the Inner City: A history of neighborhood initiatives to address poverty in the United States. (I totally fail at picking beach reading. Don't even ask what else I brought.) The first chapter describes the evolution of the settlement house charity-based reform system into a community-rooted organizing model. This is no small shift, but its not the type of problems that changed: it was who was holding the reins in identifying the problems and proposing the solutions.

Filming the "shadow world"

David Kessler is a Philadelphia artist of many talents.

He is a filmmaker, recently making a documentary about Zoe Strauss, taker and seller of beautiful $5 photographs under I95. A collaboration between the Institute of Contemporary Art and the City's DHS, eight foster children worked alongside David to shoot the film. Their self-depiction of their experiences led to conflict with DHS, delaying the wildly successful screening of the movie.

He can paint and draw, sketching portraits of the overnight customers of the Broad and Christian Dunkin Donuts night after night in fine-lined pencil.

He designed crazy "Crazy Straws" (a Philadelphia product, who knew?).

And now he is posting a year's worth of gorgeous, intense, moving, challenging conversations with people who work, live, pass through, and spend time under the El train.

You can watch them here at his website "Shadow World: An intimate look at a place where time is measured not by the movements of the sun but by the rumbling of the el train. Philadelphia, Front St./Kensington Ave".

Bill O'Reilly puts his finger on Philadelphia's real crime problem: lesbian gangs sporting pink pistols

Okay, so I'm generally uncomfortable with the whole blogging thing. The "blogosphere." And I sense that the only thing worse than blogging by just sitting around putting up blockquotes from New York Times or Inquirer sitting around putting up ridiculous Fox News clips to make fun of.

I can't help myself.

Bill O'Reilly opens this segment by referring to a nation-wide problem of armed lesbian gangs, attacking people and recruiting school-age kids to sexual lifestyles they don't want. He says there's one of these gangs right here in Philadelphia.

In Tennessee, authorities say a lesbian gang called GTO, Gays Taking Over, are involved in raping young girls.

And in Philadelphia, a lesbian gang called DTO, Dykes Taking Over, are allegedly terrorizing people, as well.

(Paging Lynn and Sylvester, when you get done accepting all those invitations to people's houses to confiscate their guns and any other illegal activities you stumble across, here's clearly an equally pressing issue to focus on. And it has the benefit of being sensationalistic enough to distract the local news for a few minutes from the hundreds of people already dead in this city this year.)

PS what do you think the credentials are for "Fox News crime analyst"?

Solutions causing problems: "Come on, LET us search your house"

Another commemorative moment for the rising homicide toll, and an announcement from Lynn and Sylvester:

The police will increase their efforts to get illegal guns off the streets by relying on citizens to let the police into their homes to search for them.

I don't think I am opposed to a 'throwing initiatives to the wall to see what will stick' approach to the gun violence problem. And doing something is doing something.

...And I'll admit that this plan is sort of the opposite of stop-and-frisk, so by rights I shouldn't be allowed to complain. It's like the Antioch approach to sex applied to police investigation.

However, it's hard not to read this kind of article on that kind of day and not be the plaintive person (always criticizing, never proposing) that Sam hates. So, I can't help myself: this is what they come up with? Really?

Boy/Girl Revolutionaries: SEPTA's Gender-marked TransPasses Challenged

Right now, TransPasses are marked to identify whether the holder is male or female. SEPTA employees then get to exercise their refined gender-identification skills to figure out if the rider holding the pass is the 'right' gender. This hasn't always worked so smoothly.

Now, a transgender rider has filed a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, challenging the "gender marker policy." The rider is being represented by the Equality Advocates (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Center for Human Rights).

Riders who have experienced problems with the gender identification policy are being asked to report their experiences:

In order to ensure that the complaint is not treated as an isolated incident, we want to submit stories from other individuals who have had similar experiences

*If you have been denied the use of a transpass (or have been harassed when using a transpass) because of the gender marker policy, and are willing to come forward, please contact us! * In addition, please distribute this notice to *anyone* you know who may have had problems as a result of SEPTA's gender marker policy.

If you contact us, a law student advocate will take down your name and draft an affidavit based on the information. We will then ask for you to come in to our office to sign and notarize the affidavit. Please note that this does not create an attorney/client relationship, and will not result in a formal complaint being filed on your behalf. If you want to file a claim of your own, please ask us about this, and we can discuss how you can do so

Please contact Katie Eyer at (215) 731-1447, Ext. 12 if you are willing. to share your story! If you receive voicemail, please list your name telephone contact information, a good time to call, and indicate why you are calling.

As a semi-aside, legislation's been introduced in Harrisburg to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to PA's current anti-discrimination law.

Credit to Huggy Bear lyrics for the title and Philebrity for the original link, as well as for getting there first with the inevitable "TransPass" joke.

Vern: a real community leader and the sort of partner our new mayor needs on City Council

If you are in the first district, you should vote for Vern.

The Anastasio/DiCiccio race hasn't had the highest profile on this site lately, but it is an important one: big issues, big problems (hey, casinos!), and a truly worthy challenger.

Violent crime has moved to the foreground of all of our attention. It is crucial that we figure out how to stop the bloodletting, and it is understandable that the late stages of this election focus on it. I know Vern is committed to working hand in hand with the communities in his district and across the city to fight crime.

But Vern brings other skills that the district crucially needs. As we look to short term solutions, we have to keep the long-term health of the city's neighborhoods in mind as well. Vern has visionary ideas about development, affordable housing, zoning reform, and city planning--and he has the experience to lead City Council forward in these areas.

Philadelphia Police Fail To Investigate Suspicious Death of a Transgender Woman



On March 22nd of this year, Erica Keel, a 20-yr-old African American trans woman, was fatally run over at Broad and Thompson streets in North Philadelphia. According to witness accounts, the driver in question intentionally ran over Erica four times after ejecting her from his car. A medical examiner's report supports these accounts. However, the police have ruled Erica's death an accident and have refused to conduct an investigation. The driver, Roland Button, fled the scene but was later apprehended by police. He has yet to face criminal charges, including "hit and run." When friends of Erica, who are themselves trans, questioned police officials about the classification of Erica's death as an "accident," they were asked to disclose their "birth" names and were told they were "trying to make something out of nothing."

Engendering The Mayoral Race: Report From The Bar Association's Civil Rights Committee Panel On Women's Issues

So, further fulfilling my mandate as a voice for the supposedly silent girl readers of this website, I went to yesterday's Philadelphia Bar Association's panel: "Advancing Women’s Equality and Empowerment: Women's Policy Issues the Next Mayor Must Champion."

From what I could tell, no one from the campaigns was anywhere around. I'm not sure why, and not sure how to read the statement that specifically gendered issues have been absent from the race so far. What formal communications and connections are there between the candidates camps and the represented organizations? Is there some concerted plan to engender the race that is failing or are these errors of omission from a field of all-male candidates? Some highlights:


The most interesting conversation involved analysis of the gender dimensions of the crime wave. Crime (from violence to prisons to reentry) has gotten tons of attention, but not so much the question of how it affects women and children, possibly because recent studies have allowed us to pinpoint a specific group of people (who are men) who are statistically most likely to be involved in homicides.

Homicide. Cynthia Figueroa, Executive Director of Women Against Abuse, spoke about the huge proportion of homicides that are domestic violence related. She identified the power the new mayor will have through his commissioners to set an agenda across agency divisions. Specifically, they've been able to identify repeat calls to 911 that are coded as domestic violence, creating an opportunity to target resources to those individuals. there needs to be a coordinated response, including within the court system, where rulings in family and dependency court are often in tension.

Domestic violence. Jennifer Dickson Keith presented data from the Philadelphia Women’s Death Review Team Report (a public/private project released last year). The report examines all women's deaths in Philadelphia, focusing on 2002 - 2003 and describing trends between 1997 and 2003. Among other findings, 27% of female homicide victims had known domestic violence histories. 40% of the total deaths were caused directly by "intimate partner violence." This is another facet of the homicide problem that has maybe been marginalized in the current discussion. That data also suggests that at least some of those deaths could be prevented by effective intervention when the domestic violence problem is identified.

Prisons. Ann Schwartzman, Director of Policy of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, described the huge effect the incarceration rate has on women and their families. Since 70% of women in the city system have children and are heads of household, their incarceration effects those children, the neighborhoods, and the social services system. She advocated a wide range of reforms at all levels, from sentencing alternatives for women (including early release, alternative incarceration in the community, drug treatment programs for those only charged with low-level offenses) to reentry programs helping women with employment and--essentially--housing (many of these women find themselves ineligible for public housing).


Surprise! Radical Expansion Of Subprime Mortgage Loans Maybe Hurts Investors Too (Not Just The Poor People Who Default)

There is a fascinating, long, analysis piece in the Sunday Times about a growing "crisis" tied to the incredible expansion of subprime mortgage loans. In short: these loans, availability of which has grown exponentially in the past ten years, provide mortgages to low-income people at somewhat higher rates typically with little or no money down. Wall Street gets excited at the prospect of aggregating and securitizing these risky loans to trade them on the market at great potential profit. Now, lots of people are defaulting on mortgages they could not really afford, and investors and business reporters realize there's maybe a problem here.

Continued, with a lot of excerpts and some clunky analysis...

Looking Back At Local Connections: The Justice Department & Politically-Motivated Investigations

This week the Senate and House held hearings to look into a series of allegedly politically-motivated firings and pressured resignations of U.S. Attorneys.

Former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico testified to October telephone calls from a New Mexico Senator and U.S. Representative questioning him about "investigation of a local Democrat." Five others testified, out of eight recently fired.

The Washington Post on the alleged link between the firings (all but one had positive evaluations):

In addition to Iglesias, four other fired prosecutors were conducting political corruption investigations of Republicans when they were dismissed. Carol S. Lam of San Diego, for example, oversaw the guilty plea of former Republican representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and brought related indictments against a former CIA official and a defense contractor.

On the Justice Department's side:

The Justice Department said initially that the prosecutors had "performance-related" problems, but more recently it asserted that they had not adequately carried out Bush administration priorities on immigration, the death penalty and other issues. The department has also acknowledged that Cummins, the Little Rock prosecutor, was asked to resign solely to provide a job for a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.

The White House approved the firings. "The list of prosecutors was assembled last fall, based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers, administration officials said."

The background: a 2006 rule-change that permitted the Gonzales Justice Department to fire U.S. Attorneys and appoint interim replacements without Senate oversight. Previously, replacements were chosen by local federal district courts.

At the time of the bug in Mayor Street's office, Fattah and Brady among others proclaimed political motivation behind the drug-cum-corruption investigation. That claim has been debated and dismissed here (cf. "dirty tricks" and "spinning the shit").


"Ghost Pupils," $1.6 million, And A Mayoral Candidate Who Says He Will Get Edison Out Of Philadelphia

This week, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a great independent newspaper focused on the city school system, reported that Edison was paid for $1.6 million worth of students it doesn't educate, based on a per pupil rate of $750. Today the Daily News picked up the story.

In 2005, the School Reform Commission preserved Edison's compensation at 12,591 students, "even though the combined enrollment at the company's schools had been dropping since the contract began in 2002." Currently, Edison educates 10,395 students in Philadelphia. The $1.6 million is a decent chuck of the total contract, which is currently $9.44 million.

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook's Spring issue--just out--also reviews February's RAND study showing that the privately managed schools "were doing no better or no worse at raising student achievement than were schools in the rest of the District." The report's co-author states, "There is no evidence to proceed with the diverse provider model as it is...."

In this morning's Inquirer, Larry Eichel writes that Michael Nutter has unequivocally come out in support of ending Edison's involvement in school management in Philadelphia. "Over the next four years, we will have to have a discussion, and we will have to have a transition back to local control."

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