The silence is deafening--our broken politics and the schools

Under tremendous financial pressure that is the result of recession and drastic cutbacks in funding from Harrisburg, the SRC is about to blow up our school system. The SRC plan reshuffles the chairs on the Titanic but as far as I can see does little to stop the ship from sinking.

They Mayor tells us we have no choice (and by the way, support my property tax proposal.) And so far, not one politician in this city, not one member of Council, not one State Representative or State Senator has made a public statement about this devastating news.

Why not?

A Decade of Deep Cuts in PA. Don't Let It Happen.

Deep state cuts have already put health care at risk for kids and denied help to families struggling in this economy. They have put thousands out of work in schools, colleges, nursing care facilities and hospitals.

Think that’s bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Pennsylvania House may vote as soon as next week on a bill that will cut corporate taxes by close to a billion dollars by the end of the decade. More cuts to schools and health care will be next.

House Bill 2150 would close some corporate tax loopholes in Pennsylvania, but it is paired with big tax breaks for businesses. Even after counting new revenue from closing loopholes, this bill is a big money loser for the commonwealth.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and Better Choices for Pennsylvania has an Action Page where you can send a message to your House lawmaker to reject this bill as is and to take steps to close tax loopholes more responsibly. Closing loopholes should not come at the price of budget deficits for years to come.

We’ve all seen the state budget headlines in recent months. 88,000 kids have had their public health coverage cut off. 14,000 Pennsylvanians have lost their jobs in schools and colleges. College tuition is rising, and help for families struggling in this economy is harder to come by.

Closing corporate tax loopholes could help Pennsylvania turn things around, but not if lawmakers pair it with business tax cuts that will cost us now and for years to come.

Inequality and Infrastructure

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

U.S. funding of infrastructure has declined dramatically since the 1960s, and Congress appears to be moving in the direction of even more cutbacks in the years ahead.

There is a bit of irony to this. With borrowing costs still very low and the market still somewhat depressed, now would be an ideal time for government to step up investment in infrastructure. In other words, it costs a lot less to build roads and bridges today than it might down the road if we hold off on the billions of dollars in needed repairs.

Sam Pizzigati laments this irony in a recent op-ed in The Star Ledger of Newark, N.J. And he has an interesting take on why infrastructure is getting short shrift: blame income inequality:

The cost of borrowing for infrastructure projects has hit record lows — and the private construction companies that do infrastructure work remain desperate for contracts. They’re charging less.

Yet our political system seems totally incapable of responding to the enormous opportunity we have before us. Center for American Progress analysts David Madland and Nick Bunker blame this political dysfunction on inequality.

The more wealth concentrates, their research shows, the feebler a society’s investments in infrastructure become. Our nation’s long-term decline in federal infrastructure investment — from 3.3 percent of GDP in 1968 to 1.3 percent in 2011 — turns out to mirror almost exactly the long-term shift in income from America’s middle class to the richest Americans.

You're not speaking to me, Mr. Knudsen

It's election day. Vote! But let's remember we vote for the key issues we care about. Top of the list is the bomb out of 440 that the District faces a billion dollar cumulative deficit by 2017, will close 40 schools next year and another 24 by 2017, and put 40% of students in charters by 2017. Doing so would result in an 85% academic success rate, the District predicts. Tom Knudsen is the gas industry exec now heading up Philly schools as a short-term "Chief Recovery Officer." Recently the District contracted with Boston Consulting Group for $1.4M to develop a turnaround plan for schools. Knudsen announced the plan yesterday and made it public today.

Dear Mr. Knudsen:

I am a mother of three children in District and charter schools in this city. I have been actively involved in stopping good schools from decline and helping low-performing violent schools turnaround. I believe in the essentialness of a quality public school system and have fought for its vision. My 7th grade son will soon outlast four superintendents including yours. And I’m here to tell you that you’re not speaking to me.

You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested and drastic action couched as “solutions.” You’re not speaking to me when you invoke language like “achievement networks,” “portfolio management,” and right-sizing our schools – and say not a word about lower class sizes or increasing the presence of loving support personnel or enriching our curriculum.

You’re not speaking to me when you plan to close 25% of our schools before my son graduates high school. You’re not speaking to me when you equate closing down 64 schools – many of them community anchors – as “streamlining operations” yet you’ll expand charter populations willy-nilly despite a national study showing two thirds of Philly charters are no better or worse than District managed schools.

You’re not talking to me when your promises of autonomy come minus any resources, and when the best you have to offer parents is “seat expansion” – which just means larger class sizes without extra funds. You’re not talking to me when you say all schools are public schools. They are not.

You’re not talking to me when you’ll go out of your way to spend more than a $1 million for six week consultants with whom you’ll boast of an “intimate, hands in glove” relationship yet exclude community and public voices till you’re ready to drop the bomb. You’re not speaking to me when you’ll go to any extreme to radically transform “education delivery” yet the most basic things parents and staff and students have called for – more teachers in our schools, bilingual counselors, nurses in every school, librarians, fresh food in the cafeteria, new buildings and playgrounds – are completely and utterly absent from your “plan.”

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been around the block a few times.

Will the Mayor lead a movement to save our schools?

Michael Nutter talked a great deal about education during his reelection campaign. His inaugural speech focused on education. He said he wanted to take on responsibility for the schools.

But today the SRC announced that the School District in Philadelphia is going to be drastically downsized. Many schools will be closed. More students will attend charter schools. In a school system that has already suffered devastating cutbacks, even if some of these changes make for a more efficient use of resources, the overall consequences for our kids cannot be good. None of the suggested administrative changes deal with the fundamental problem--we don't have the resources to provide our kids with the minimal requirements of a decent education. We don't have money for enough quality teachers, teacher training, school books, and counselors.

And the financial problem we face comes from Harrisburg and Governor Corbett's relentless attack on school funding. That has me wondering if Michael Nutter has forgotten his top priority or is simply unwilling to do what it takes to address the funding problem schools face at its source, that is, in Harrisburg.

Vote: Patrick Murphy and Other Important Races Out There in Philly

Today is Election Day. Please vote.

There are a couple very important races today.

1) First and foremost: The Democratic Primary for Attorney General. I strongly support Pat Murphy. Please spread the word for him. A win there would be huge.

The other big races are primaries for State Representative. There are some heated races out there.

I will just give my take on a couple.

2) If you live in West Philly, ignore the crap, and vote for Jim Roebuck. Roebuck is one of Philly's better State Reps, and he is being targeted because he does not want to destroy public schools through vouchers. His opponent, Fatimah Loren Muhammad, is being bankrolled by big money pushers of vouchers, and other far-right groups.

The money of these groups is the reason that she is able to run a credible campaign, and, when elected, she will owe them.

3) If you live in much of Center City, you have probably received a bunch of stuff in the race between Rep. Babette Josephs and Brian Sims. I know them both personally, like them both personally, and I think they will both represent the values of the district well.

Babette has been a decent representative, warts and all, for a long time. Meanwhile, Brian would give Harrisburg something that it sorely needs: an openly gay legislator.

So, if I were voting, I would go with Babette. She is far from perfect and no one gets to hold on to a seat forever. When things are close calls, as I think this is, I don't think we need to prioritize beating our allies. (Brian used to agree, since two years ago, he was her campaign treasurer.)

Truthfully, when there is not much policy-wise between two people, you start focusing on the little stuff. And so, the thing that in the end sealed the deal for me, and made me want to at least mention the race: Brian's most recent mailing attacking Babette was absolutely disgusting, basically implying that Babette supported child molesters. We could go through the logical fallacies of the ad, but, let me just say that I think it was a shameful piece of campaign literature, targeting a 70 plus year old woman who-- whatever you want to say about her-- almost always sits on the right side of issues. So, I hope Babette wins for that alone.

That is my take. Please vote!

Philadelphia NOW 2012 Primary Election Newsletter

Please see Philadelphia NOW 2012 Primary Election Newsletter with profiles of candidates and articles re urgent issues.

Welcome Ron Paul (the new Ralph Nader) to the Liberty Bell today Sunday April 22

This was my past suggest toward smorgasbord approach to politics,

Romney kicked Occupy Philly members out of a fund raiser despite paying admission. With Ron Paul if an Occupy Philly member wanted to ask about gun control and Trayvon Martin, a discussion would follow,

If someone would pay my admission to his fundraiser this morning or this evening, despite admiring him more than Ralph Nader, I would ask about bee hive collapse, and business rights. Sick bees fly away from the hive preventing epidemics in their crowded hives, and even wild bees find corn syrup in discarded soda cans. Corn around the world has become infected with genetically produced insecticide. My question to Paul, “Should the Feds prevent local farmers and labs from making a new breed of genetically altered bees to return to the hive despite being sick, and let bee doctors monitor the hive instead of the bees. Send troops if need be to a country like Chile to prevent such experiments or lobby the UN to do it?

Anyway with Ron Paul, politics can get back to discussing the issues instead of arguing who is or is not evil.

Over 200 years ago a cracked bell represented a bunch of crackpot ideas on Liberty. Ron Paul by coming to the Liberty Bell continued his constant effort to prevent any more new cracks in that bell.

Rather than Ralph Nader I like to compare Ron Paul to Johnny Appleseed, Every time Ron Paul talks he spreads contemplating new ideas to the political process. A rule in politics is never say too much. This is one more thing Ron Paul refuses to be part of.

March Job Numbers For Pennsylvania and CEO Pay

By Mark Price, Third and State

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry released new data for March on Pennsylvania's employment situation. According to the household survey, the unemployment rate edged down slightly to 7.5%, and the survey of employers showed healthy growth in nonfarm payrolls of 7,800 jobs.

As always, caution should be exercised in interpreting a month change in employment statistics.

In terms of levels, there were big gains in Leisure and Hospitality (7,000), Trade Transportation and Utilities (4,000) and Manufacturing (2,100). We will not have full information until the fall whether the job losses in the public sector will put a drag on employment growth in 2012, but the March data shows we are off to an uncomfortable start, with 2,500 jobs lost.

Over the last several months, Pennsylvania nonfarm payroll counts have been particularly volatile, showing big one-month gains and losses thanks to a combination of unusually warm weather and some technical issues. On average over the last six months, Pennsylvania has added just under 6,000 jobs a month. We need about 10,000 jobs a month to move back to full employment by March 2015 (three years from now).

While unemployment remains high today and for the foreseeable future, the distance between CEO pay and the pay of the typical worker reached an all time high in 2011.

Keeping Promises: Patrick Murphy for Attorney General!

I met Patrick Murphy in 2005, when as a new Congressional candidate, he spoke to a room of about 12 students at my law school. His resume and bio—the handsome, young, progressive, JAG officer, who sounded straight out of Northeast Philly and who was going to lead our 2006 Democratic wave—led Democrats everywhere to swoon.

In that meeting, I vividly remember that a student immediately asked him about LGBT rights, and the Defense of Marriage Act. If I recall correctly, I think it was asked in that familiar law-school assertiveness/hostility that makes us all so lovable to our friends and families. And, given the image of military men, this was a pretty interesting question.

Patrick responded to that question quickly, stating that he occasionally taught con law, and that in his opinion, DOMA was unconstitutional, and needed to go, and that he would be an ally for LGBT rights on that and other issues. In that little circle, his forceful, responsive answer really made an impression.

And what did Patrick do when he won? He followed through. He spent the next four years— right up until the moment he left office—leading the successful fight to end DADT, an outdated, bigoted piece of American policy. Patrick, a young Iraq-war veteran, used his face and voice to the issue, and gave the fight an immediate boost.

Don’t take my word for it-observe the Obama-led standing ovation that Patrick received when the policy was finally repealed (13:10 mark if the edit doesn't work):

While the slow lurches of progress would have forced an end to DADT sooner or later, it is unclear if that would have happened anytime soon without Patrick. Think about this: If Obama really wanted legislative approval for the repeal, and Patrick didn’t spearhead this process, it very well may not have happened in 2010. And if it didn't happen in 2010, it certainly would not have happened this year, as the GOP House would have kept the legislation bottled up forever.

Instead, we have change. And while progressives often have a complicated relationship with our military, there is no question that, like the Truman ordered desegregation, our armed services can be powerful tools for larger societal acceptance of change:

Patrick was not a perfect Congressman. (For example, he supported a terrible piece of immigration legislation.) But overall, he was a good Congressman from a very tough district. He fought for healthcare for all. He fought for the public option. He fought for women to be able to control their own body. And, he led that fight on a piece of the civil rights struggle of this generation, leading on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He was an ally and a doer, and despite not being totally polished, he was a leader.

That is why I was so happy to hear that Patrick was running for Attorney General. That same leadership, when applied to things like consumer issues— for which he has spoken frequently about— will be a sea change for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. (And, by the way, the handsome, Iraq War JAG Captain, will be the perfect person to run alongside President Obama, and be the first Democrat in PA to ever win the office.)

His opponent is Kathleen Kane. She was a mostly unknown prosecutor in the Allegheny Lackawanna County DA’s office. And she is running a campaign that is largely funded by her family’s trucking business. She seems fine. However, despite the need for women in PA higher offices, I simply don’t think she compares to Patrick.

There are different reasons that you can vote for a politician. You can read the questionnaires that they submitted, see if they agree with you on the issues, and then hope that they will stick to those positions, and advocate for them. You can look at someone’s bio, and look for clues there. But, there are other times when you can look at a body of work. Where you can look at how someone’s words have been reflected in their actions. That is where we are with Patrick. When Patrick tells us that he will be a strong advocate for Pennsylvania familes targeted by predatory mortgage companies, I don’t really have to wonder. His body of work tells me that he will follow through.

This is a real opportunity here. Let’s support the people that have followed through on progressive fights, and get the word out on this race. Please, please, please: vote, and spread the word. Let’s not waste this chance.

High CEO Pay Comes Under Fire from Shareholders

By Michael Wood, Third and State

In the news today, a couple of instances of CEOs being taken to task by shareholders over excessive pay.

USA Today reports that at Citigroup, 55% of shareholders rejected or abstained from rubberstamping a $25 million payday for their CEO Vikrom Pandit. The vote is only advisory, unfortunely, but is still described as being "historic" for Wall Street firms in the aftermath of the recession. The report notes:

Wall Street's massive compensation packages have raised the ire of shareholders for years, especially when they appear to have little relation to the performance of specific executives. ...

"Citigroup is one of most egregious example of disconnect between incentives of top management and value creation of shareholders," said Mike Mayo, bank analyst at brokerage firm CLSA and author of the book "Exile on Wall Street."

"The owners of the big banks, namely the shareholders, are finally taking a greater amount of responsibility by speaking up."

Closer to home, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a story this morning about discontent at Pittsburgh-based EQT's annual shareholder meeting. Again, executive compensation seems to be at the heart of this dispute — as well as unease about natural gas production. 

Philadelphia NOW Celebrates Local Women Leaders Thursday, April 19, 2012 5:30-7:30 pm Philadelphia Ethical Society

Philadelphia NOW Celebrates Local Women Leaders

Thursday, April 19, 2012
5:30-7:30 pm
Philadelphia Ethical Society
1906 Rittenhouse Square

Please join us as we honor:

Gloria Gilman

Tracey Gordon

Sue and Hal Rosenthal

Jocelyn Morris

$35 at the door. Sponsors donate a minimum of $100. This includes two event tickets and a listing in our event program. Click on the Donate button at Or send your contribution by check payable to Philadelphia NOW to 1211 Chestnut St., Ste. 700, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Please contact us at for further information or call Kathy Black at 215-893-3770

Vast Majority of PA College IDs Not Valid for Voting

A recent study released today by PennPIRG and a broad coalition of voter protection groups found that Pennsylvania’s new photo ID voting law could potentially disenfranchise more than 80% of the state’s college students.

While the law states that it will allow college IDs as a valid form of voting ID, it also includes language requiring that all IDs must have expiration dates, which the study found very few colleges in the state actually print on their issued IDs.

Out of the 110 surveyed colleges and universities only 15 schools have student identification cards for all students that meet the requirements of having a photo, name and expiration date on the card [1].

The recent survey was conducted by a diverse coalition of voter protection groups in the state, including PennPIRG, the ACLU, Committee of Seventy, Project H.O.M.E, the Lawyers Committee and Project Vote.

“Voter fraud isn’t a problem in Pennsylvania: Voter engagement is,” said Alana Miller of PennPIRG. “It’s estimated that only 74% of all eligible Americans are registered to vote and in 2008, a year that saw one of the highest turnouts in recent history, only 63% cast their ballot. Lawmakers should be looking for solutions that encourage full participation in democracy, not creating laws that set up hurdles for committed voters.”

Stefano Fuchs, a junior at Muhlenberg College, a school with IDs that will not be valid for voting, said, “It’s often hard as a college student to vote because of the transient nature of our living situation. However, elected officials should be doing what they can to increase voter turn out, not stifle it.”

The state legislature did not make sufficient effort to accommodate students by including college IDs as they are issued at most schools in the state as a valid form of identification for voting.

Bring out beer & champagne, celebrate even if the ceasefire is just for a moment

Something worth celebrating.

It amazes me, the ceasefire in Syria is actually holding for the time being. A peace effort similar to in the 50's when there were international peace conferences sponsored by Womens International League for Peace and Freedom and others, or when World War II ended.

Bring out the old hippy garb from the attic. Bring out the beer and the champagne. I shocked the official peace movement by cheering when bin Laden was stopped. I wish he had lived but feared him returning to script and asking his followers to blow up his trial site. In hindsight, I kick myself for not splashing champagne and beer when the Chilean miners were rescued, but instead remained glued to my TV set.

Maybe I can go down to the local Occupy Philly site at the Liberty Bell with pizza and ginger ale, since I might be arrested if I brought beer, or could afford champagne.

Come on everyone join me. We have let ourselves get far too grim and cynical.

Bringing noisemakers and soda to the local campaign offices would cause confusion but perhaps even some politicians would join in. Too bad today's date isn't April 22 when Ron Paul is coming to the Liberty Bell where I could squirt soda and non-alcohol beer near the stage. Michelle Obama spoke this morning at the University of Penn, I could have had noise makers soda and a sign in front of the building where she spoke, or even squirt it a few hundred feet from the President if he comes to Philadelphia or a probably annoyed Romney.

A Recovery for the 1%

By Jheanelle Chambers, Intern, Third and State

Even in a Down Year, Top 1% Have More Total Income Than Bottom 50 Percent CombinedWhile many middle-class Americans are still struggling in a down economy, the 1% is doing quite well.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has an eye-popping chart (right) showing that in 2009, despite the weak economy, the top 1% of households captured $1.32 trillion in gross income while the bottom 50% earned $1.06 trillion.

Economist Chuck Marr explains further at Off the Charts:

The long-term trend in the United States has been towards much greater income concentration at the top. But the trend isn’t perfectly smooth: high-income people tend to benefit more from economic expansions than other income groups but tend to get hit harder by recessions. The swings are particularly pronounced in financial booms and busts...

At the height of the previous expansion, in 2007, the top 1 percent had 87 percent more total [adjusted gross income] than the bottom 50 percent. But even the 2009 gap of “only” 25 percent — the difference between the $1.32 trillion earned by the top 1 percent and the $1.06 trillion earned by the bottom 50 percent — is pretty staggering.

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