Have You No Shame, Sir (Plus Mary)?

A blog post by Stephen Herzenberg, originally published at Third and State.

The Central Pennsylvania Business Journal this week published the list of the highest-paid 10 executives in the region in 2010. Nine of these executives are men. The tenth was Mary F. Sammons, the former Chairman and CEO of Rite Aid.

Some of the salary information in The Business Journal is not new. (See, for example, the CEO pay list in Table A1, starting on page 21 of The State of Working Pennsylvania 2011.) What is new is that The Business Journal also published these executives’ pay in 2009, allowing us to look at the change in pay from 2009 to 2010 for a group of Pennsylvania executives. (Earlier, we only had information on change in executive pay from 2009 to 2010 for U.S. CEOs.)

Here’s what we found. The dollar increase in pay for these executives ranged from $2.55 million for Michael Lockhart of Armstrong World Industries to less than a million dollars (about $900,000) for Neil Shah, the President and COO of Hersha Hospitality Trust. The average increase was $1.64 million.

The percent increase in pay ranged from a mere 14% for Peter Carlino, Chairman and CEO of Penn National Gaming Incorporated, to nearly 100% for John Standley, the current President and CEO of Rite Aid.

Philly For Change Endorses Honkala, Oh, O'Brien and 10 Democrats

For the first time ever, Philly For Change, one of the city’s largest progressive political organizations, is endorsing Republicans and a Green. Last Wednesday night the group voted to endorse six candidates in Tuesday’s elections, including Republicans David Oh and Dennis O’Brien, Democrats Bill Green and William Greenlee, all for Council At Large, Republican Al Schmidt for City Commissioner, and Green candidate Cheri Honkala for Sheriff.

Those candidates join the group’s earlier endorsements to form Philly For Change’s slate. Those endorsements include Seventh district Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, At Large Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown, City Commissioner candidate Stephanie Frank Singer, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge candidate Kathryn Boockvar, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge candidates Barbara McDermott and Carolyn Nichols, and Municipal Court judge candidate Joyce Eubanks along with Mayor Michael Nutter.

“We’re responding to our members and the times,” said Philly For Change Chair David Sternberg. “The reality is that Republicans will hold two At Large seats on City Council and a City Commissioners’ seat, and our members want to choose the best people for those critical positions.”

Why I am supporting, and hope you will support Judge Lisa M Rau for Retention on Tues, Nov 8th

I know the election for judges is maddening, especially for folks who do not interact with the courts. And, because most folks know so little, I thought I would take this opportunity to say why I support and will vote for Judge Lisa M. Rau's retention on Tuesday, November 8, 2011.

Judge Rau, before she was a judge, was a labor lawyer who fought and won the right for women to become fire-fighters here in Philadelphia. She worked for Kaires-Rudovski, and The Public Interest Law Center... before becoming a judge, her entire legal life was public interest law.

When she became a judge, she was criticized by the Lynne Abraham's office because she did not automatically, in all cases, assume that police were telling the truth. She listened to the facts, and like a judge should, when she heard discrepancies, she did not ignore them. She then became a target of Lynne Abraham.

In her years on the bench, she has treated everyone in her courtroom with respect and fairness. She truly believes in giving all people their day in court to be heard. She sees the humanity of each and every person that comes into her courtroom. In this day and age where it seems that only those with resources, or privilege prevail in courts, it is essential to have someone like Judge Rau be there for everyone!

I know this about Judge Rau because I know her. I have known her for over 10 years. I work in the legal community by day and am an activist, pretty much the rest of the time. I know how important it is to have good judges, and with Lisa Rau, we do... lets all make sure we keep her. So, please, on Nov 8th, vote for Lisa M. Rau... you don't have to vote for all the judges, just the ones you know you want to support. I hope you will support Judge Rau.

Elections Matter; Support Honkala, Boockvar, Schmidt

This is the email that Neighborhood Networks sent to all of its members earlier today:

You might not know it from the (lack of) media coverage, but there’s an important election coming on Tuesday, November 8. Up for election will be the Mayor, the entire City Council, the City Commissioner’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, the Register of Wills Office, and many judicial offices. There will also be two ballot questions that are being considered.

Neighborhood Networks does not endorse in all of these races. We exist to advance progressive policies, through electoral means and otherwise. We only endorse candidates when their election would clearly advance our larger goals. In this election there are six candidates in contested races that meet that test. They are, Kathryn Boockvar, for Commonwealth Court, Stephanie Singer, for City Commissioner, Al Schmidt for City Commissioner, Cheri Honkala for Sheriff, Blondell Reynolds Brown for Council at-Large and Cindy Bass for City Council in the 8th District.

Only three of these candidates are in difficult races, Boockvar, Schmidt and Honkala. Please do everything you can to help their very important candidacies. Let’s look at them one by one.

Income Inequality on the Rise

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette runs with a story this morning on the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office on income inequality in America (PDF).  

If you thought it took millions to land in the top 1 percent of earners targeted by demonstrators, you should know the actual threshold is $343,927, according to IRS statistics for the calendar year 2009, the latest available ...

After-tax income for the richest 1 percent of Americans almost tripled from 1979 to 2007, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office.

At the same time, people in the middle of the scale saw their incomes grow by just under 40 percent and those in the bottom 20 percent saw a gain of about 18 percent.

"The distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979," the CBO said.

For some additional context, a household income of $349,850 or higher will land you in the top 1% of Pennsylvania tax filers, according to 2009 tax data from the state Department of Revenue. 

Bridges Need Repair and Little Old Ladies Are Homeless but Have We Done Enough for the Top 1%?

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

With unemployment in the construction industry at record highs, interest rates low and a deep backlog of thousands of structurally deficient bridges in need of repair, now is a great time to spend money to fix stuff do nothing!

Actually, it is not really that bad; it's worse. The Pennsylvania Legislature is spending time debating changes to the state's prevailing wage statute, even though a large body of empirical research demonstrates that changes to prevailing wage laws do not lower construction costs.  Anyway, if you find yourself in Pittsburgh, make sure your car seat also doubles as a floatation device.

A report to be issued today says the Pittsburgh metropolitan area has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. ...

[James Corless, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Transportation for America, said:] 'These metropolitan-area bridges are most costly and difficult to fix, but they also are the most urgent, because they carry such a large share of the nation's people and goods.'

There's a reason the Philadelphia Democratic Party gets away with shaking down judicial candidates; it’s time to start connectin

There are real drawbacks to living in a one-party town. Recently the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

The city's Democratic Party organization invited 27 Philadelphia judges to a buffet breakfast this week and asked them to pay $10,000 each to assure party support when they face yes-or-no retention votes in November, according to judges who attended.
The figure is double what the party asked from sitting judges two years ago.
And the request was reportedly delivered with a warning from the party treasurer, former State Rep. Frank Oliver, that Democratic ward leaders would "cut" - withhold support from - judges who failed to pay, according to several witnesses.

Democratic Party Chair Bob Brady, who has a real talent for plausible deniability, left the room when the party treasurer made his pitch.

I don't know what was said at the meeting, because I wasn't there," Brady said Thursday. …. The Democratic Party, for the 25 years I've been there, has never endorsed or unendorsed anybody for monetary reasons. . . . A good-faith effort, that's what the party asks."

Of course nobody believes this. A Daily News editorial asks: "Dem Party courtship of judicial candidates a stickup?" Anyone who pays attention to judicial elections in Philadelphia knows the process is riddled with corruption. But our local press doesn’t connect the dots.

Getting The Story Straight on How Decisions Were Made at The School District

Already the news articles and columns have begun attempting to paint former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman as the victim in recent events. Opinions are being expressed that she must have been telling the truth about her role in the Martin Luther King High School debacle. Annette John-Hall even offered an open apology to Ackerman in her Inquirer column last week.

Before we all appear to have been flashy-thinged by the Men in Black, let’s take a reality check here. We are being asked to believe that all of Ackerman’s testimony in the recent report issued by Mayor Nutter’s Chief Integrity Officer is true. We are being asked to believe that her story, unchallenged by any credible witnesses, is gospel. However, the only others present at meetings described by her—State Representative Dwight Evans and his associates-- refused to give testimony; those present during phone calls were colleagues and staff whose interests lie with Dr. Ackerman.

We don’t need to turn back the pages of recent history too far to remind ourselves of all the prevarications, disingenuous answers and outright lies uttered by Dr. Ackerman during her reign in Philadelphia.

When the story of the backroom meeting with SRC Chair Robert Archie and Dwight Evans broke this past March, Ackerman’s spokesperson maintained that she knew nothing about it. After a month of rumor and speculation, Assistant Superintendent Leroy Nunery finally admitted —through his representative— to being the “unnamed district representative” present at that meeting in Martha Woodall’s April 24 Inquirer story. However, Dr. Nunery’s testimony in the recently published report states not only that he was there but that he immediately reported the events to Ackerman, describing the meeting to her as something out of “the Godfather”. Begging the question: Was she lying then or is she lying now?

Let us recount just some of the incidents over the years in which Dr. Ackerman has been less than honest. Her excuse for not immediately dealing with the crisis at South Philadelphia High School was that an Asian student actually incited the violence by harassing an African-American disabled student, a story for which she offered no proof and which has never been verified. She claimed to be out of town when the attempted silencing and termination of teacher Hope Moffet began; she used that same excuse when the District tried to change the acceptance process for magnet schools without parent notification (she has no phone or email?). She initially denied playing any part in the no-bid contract scandal in which business was diverted from one company, which had already begun the work, to another (non-approved) company. When caught in that lie, she said that she was only trying to help out minority businesses. She held an awards ceremony at Roosevelt Middle School after test scores rose fifty-three points in just two years, a feat which she must known was statistically impossible. She has yet to explain how she allowed several administrators, including South Philadelphia High School Principal LaGreta Brown, to be appointed by the school district without full accreditation. Throughout this past summer, Ackerman insisted that she was not leaving, telling her own supporters “I’m staying” while simultaneously negotiating her exit contract. She violated that same contract by subsequently engaging in public slander against her former colleagues.

Let us not forget the most egregious lie of all: that she did not know that the school district was heading towards a massive deficit which has had a disastrous effect on every school in Philadelphia. She offered her highly questionable explanation in an interview given after she resigned: “I didn’t understand the numbers.”

So when Dr. Ackerman says in the city’s report that she did not know that Melonease Shaw, to whom she paid thousands of school district dollars for “consulting”, was affiliated with Representative Evans, I believe that some skepticism on the part of the public is to be expected. When we hesitate to take seriously her assertion that she never knew that politics was involved in running a major city school district, can you really blame us?

Some crucial questions remain unanswered: how did Mosaica, whose CEO John Porter is a identified in the report as a colleague of Dr. Ackerman’s at the Broad Academy (a privately-funded institution which schools future superintendents according to a pro-charter, pro-voucher curriculum), come to be a finalist on the list of providers at Martin Luther King High? And how is Ackerman shocked, shocked at Chairman Archie’s actions in overriding the wishes of a school community after having done the same herself in more than one instance? When the West Philadelphia High School community protested the unexpected takeover of their school, Ackerman’s response was to accuse the parents of a having a conflict of interest. When students, teachers and parents protested the unjustified giveaway of Audenreid High to Kenny Gamble’s Universal company, their wishes were ignored. Now we are to believe that she found this recent overriding of parents at King “tragic”.

Dr. Ackerman’s account of recent events should be investigated in a follow-up report. The inappropriate, possibly illegal, acts of Chairman Archie and Rep. Evans are brought to light in this report and both should face the consequences for those acts and the subsequent cover-up. Why should we spend the time and energy doing the same regarding Dr. Ackerman’s possible transgressions? First, we must ensure that no future superintendent will be allowed to take on the mantle of royalty and go unchallenged by her own superiors. And the most important reason: because the public has a right to know.

Lisa Haver is an education activist; she recently retired from teaching middle school in Philadelphia.

Picking the right target for Occupy Philly

The Occupy Philly meeting last night was one of the best examples of direct democracy in action I’ve ever seen. We had some serious talk about where and when to being Occupy Philly. People listened to each other and changed their minds as the discussion proceeded. We made a decision. And we did it in less time than expected.

Decisions to come

There is a lot more to be decided and understood. We are just at the beginning of figuring out in detail what this movement is going to be and how it will impact the future of our country. But most of those decisions can come later. We all know what this movement is broadly about—the increasingly unequal distribution of power, wealth, and income in the United States. It’s a movement that aims to reverse the decline in American Democracy which we have all witnessed in the last 30 years.

We don’t know how the protests just now beginning will change our politics. But we don’t have to know that now. The most important thing is to build a movement with the broad goals I just outlined. Such a movement will find many ways to flow into and influenced our day to day political lives. It can’t help but stiffen the spine of the political leaders who claim to be on our side but run away at the first sign of conflict.

Should we have occupied Rittenhouse Square?

But before look ahead, I want to revisit one decision made last night, just because it will be a useful way of thinking about who stand in our way.

There was some substantial sentiment in the meeting to occupy not City Hall but Rittenhouse Square. The rationale was that the people who have gained power and wealth while the rest of us have lost it--the top 1%--live in and around Rittenhouse Square and thus ought to hear us and be inconvenienced by our actions.

Occupy Philadelphia: Wall Street Protest Coming Here

A group of 200+ energetic, enthusiastic mostly (but not exclusively) college age citizens met Thursday night at Arch Street United Methodist Church to plan bringing the Occupy Wall Street protest south to Philadelphia.

Many of the organizers and participants had participated in the protests in New York City and were eager to see rallies "for the 99%," as they call it, here in the cradle of liberty. The event was organized largely through social media.

As Susie Madrak reports on Crooks and Liars, related protests already have occurred in Boston and San Francisco, with broad, clear economic messages aimed at political leaders: tax the rich, stop corporate greed, and create good jobs.

The next planning meeting is scheduled for 6:30 Tuesday October 4 back at Arch Street Methodist, Broad and Arch Streets. The date and place of the actual Philly protest will be decided then.

I heard about the meeting through my friends in Philadelphia's wonderful, nationally-recognized poetry community. I had the good luck and honor of attending with poets Frank Sherlock, Jacob Russell, and Ryan Eckes.

Right now, in the aftermath of the August Tea Party power grab and with next year's elections looming, and some Democrats finally beginning to stand up, it is certainly a critical moment to let people in government and everyone else know that, at a very basic level, we do not accept an economic system and government that is still functioning first of all for the benefit of the rich, or top 1% of wage earners, and to the detriment of everyone else.

That's oligarchy, and that's not what the U.S. or Philadelphia should stand for.

Join Helen Gym and Education Nation on teaching sustainability

Update: You can pick up the panel at the 21:00 mark where we tackle merit pay, TFA, and how to build sustainable teaching careers.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This afternoon at 4 p.m., I'll be on a panel for Education Nation reviewing a new documentary "American Teacher" and discussing sustainability in the teaching profession. The documentary focuses on the struggles of four teachers across the country to remain in a profession which loses almost half its teachers within five years. Locally the numbers for Philadelphia are even more serious, where the PFT says that more than 50% leave by their fifth year.

Expect a strong discussion with folks like Newsweek pundit Jonathan Alter, the teachers featured in the documentary and myself.

The event streams live online at www.educationnation.com. Hope you'll join the conversation!

Census Data: For Record Number of Americans, Recession Is Far From Over

Poverty has been rising for much of the last decade
View more charts
from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, interpreting the Census data

National poverty rate hit 15.1% last year, the highest level since 1993

As the recession took its toll last year, more Americans fell into poverty, saw their incomes decline and joined the ranks of the uninsured, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau released the results of its annual Current Population Survey today in a new report — the first to include a full year of data from the Great Recession.

During 2010, the poverty rate increased to 15.1%, the highest level since 1993, with a record-breaking 46.2 million American adults and children living in poverty. Median household income also declined, and the number of individuals without health insurance increased again, now approaching 50 million.

Public programs continued to play an important role in blunting the full force of the economic downturn. An estimated 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty through unemployment insurance coverage, while public health programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) helped to fill the gap as employment-based coverage declined once again.

School’s Open but There’s Less Funding for Kids

A blog post from Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

Kids are back in school across Pennsylvania and the nation, but many of them are likely seeing the fallout from education funding cuts.

Pennsylvania ranked among the top 10 states to cut school funding this year, according to a recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Center found that 21 of 24 states for which data are available (including Pennsylvania) are providing less funding per student to elementary and high schools than last year (after adjusting for inflation). These states account for about two-thirds of the nation’s school-age population.

Pennsylvania ranked sixth among the 24 states, with an 8.8% cut in per-student, inflation adjusted spending. Only Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, California and Ohio cut school funding more.

Overall, Pennsylvania is doing better than many of the other states, where funding cuts this year come on top of other cuts in state K-12 funding since the recession hit. As the Center’s Phil Oliff wrote:

As a result, 17 of the 24 states studied are providing less funding per student than they did in 2008. (See second graph.) In ten of these states, funding is down more than 10 percent since 2008, and in South Carolina, Arizona, and California, it is down more than 20 percent.

These cuts have serious consequences for students and the broader economy. They slow the economic recovery, hurt education reform efforts, damage the nation’s long-term competitiveness and leave school districts with few choices for restoring the lost state aid.

It all comes down to a question of priorities, as Oliff wrote:

While the state funding cuts partly reflect the economic downturn, which has depressed state revenues and raised the demand for public services, they also reflect choices by state and federal policymakers.  Most states took a cuts-only approach to closing their budget shortfalls for the current fiscal year, rather than using a more balanced mix of cuts and additional revenues.  And the federal government has failed to extend the emergency education aid it gave states earlier in the downturn, which played a crucial role in limiting the funding cuts to schools across the country.

The tone deafness at City Hall

Yeah, so the Mayor was on TV last night showing off a side I’ve never understood, liked, or can even remotely fathom. You know that side. That’s the side that emerges when a complete cluster$%*! has occurred on his watch, and the response is “get over it.”

Mayor Nutter says it’s time to look ahead, now that the Arlene Ackerman buyout drama is over.

Committee of 70 CEO Zack Stalberg suggested if contributors to Arlene Ackerman’s buyout were solicited publicly instead of secretly, maybe the donors wouldn’t have withdrawn and some of the $900,000 in public money could have been saved.

Mayor Nutter, who admitted to calling donors, wouldn’t go there.

“Hindsight is always 20/20 vision. It’s a whole lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda.”

So a “whole lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda” is not what I would describe the complete and utter colossal disaster that made headlines around the state and nation because of a million dollar public buyout of a controversial superintendent. It’s not what I would describe a mindset that could approve solicitations of private anonymous donors as a “favor” to the public. It’s not a phrase I would say when 3000+ people lost their jobs at the school district, including 27 assistant principals who lost their jobs that day because people in charge didn’t do theirs. It’s not a phrase I would use when the issues at stake are basic governance, fiscal responsibility, ethics, and a sense of decency when a city’s been through the ringer on polarizing rhetoric and bitterness on all ends.

A “whole lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda” is not what I would say when the Mayor’s picks to the SRC have been terrible examples of bungling ineptitude, potential ethical compromise, and public disservice. Or when his office has been sitting for five months on an ethics investigation into potential SRC interference in a $60 million contract for Martin Luther King High School.

And it’s not a phrase I would use when the public put up $53M in higher property taxes for our schools, despite a butchered tax system that’s among the worst in the nation from uncollected taxes to uncertified assessors to erratic assessments across the city.

I think we should move on from Arlene Ackerman as well. There’s a whole lot the Mayor could have said to do that. Like laying out a vision for schools, like promising renewed engagement, like acknowledging the failures and weaknesses of the system, like talking about new leadership for the SRC and laying out a plan for new leadership at the district, like expressing some level of humility or reaching out and bringing people together, like being a champion for public ed and governance when so many people are feeling disgust about it.

Fortunately for him, his mayoral opponent is someone who makes “hindsight is always 20/20” sound like an Oxford thesis.

Sizing Up the August Jobs Picture

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

Welcome back from your Labor Day Holiday!

While we were releasing the State of Working Pennsylvania 2011 last week, the good people at the U.S. Department of Labor released their latest nationwide data on the August employment picture. Here is a run down of the main points from Washington's leading labor economists.

Heidi Shierholz notes troubling trends in hours of work:

"The length of the average workweek declined in August to 34.2 hours. Average hours have dropped in the last three months, have seen no net growth over the last year, and have thus far made up just over half of what they lost in the first 18 months of the downturn (the low point was 33.7 in June 2009). One thing this underscores is that the lack of hiring right now primarily indicates a lack of demand, and not an inability by businesses to find the right workers or because of uncertainty or concern about regulatory burdens. If the lack of hiring was occurring for some reason other than a lack of demand, we would see businesses strongly ramping up the hours of the workers they have. As it is, there remains substantial room to meet unmet demand by increasing hours of existing workers; if private-sector employers were to simply restore the hours of their workers back to pre-recession levels, that would be equivalent to adding over 1.2 million jobs at current average hours."

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