1st congressional district has the most dramatic change in racial composition of any of the state's 19 congressional districts

Thanks to Azavea, the web-based software design firm that developed the Redistricting the Nation project, we now have the demographics of the old and new Pennsylvania congressional districts.

The first congressional district, represented by Bob Brady, has the most dramatic change in racial composition of any of the state's 19 congressional districts. Brady's district is currently 31.8% White and 48.0% black. His new district will be 46.9% white and 35.5% black. (The Asian and Latino percentages have changed very little.)

Across the state, most of the changes in racial composition were relatively small—generally no more than a few percentage points. The only other district which had significant change was the 14th congressional district, which contains the entire city of Pittsburgh. In the 14th, the percentage of white voters was 69.4% % in the old district, 77.37% in the new; the percentage of black voters was 24.5% in the old district, 16.53% in the new. The shift in racial composition in the 14th is not as dramatic as in the first congressional district and it does not change the racial dynamics of the race. The 14th district was and remains a district which favors the election of a white candidate. The first district has gone from a district which was very favorable terrain for a black candidate to one in which a black candidate would be significantly less competitive.

News reports suggested that Brady may have had something to do with this. Cris Brennan reported in the Daily News on 8/20/11:

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee in Philadelphia, says that one hot rumor circulating in Harrisburg about his 1st Congressional District is way off the mark.

If you haven't read Helen's op-ed on Bykofsky...

... do so now.

The Daily News, like many papers, has passionately decried the abuse of vulnerable children by a child predator in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. There should be no double standard when one of its own columnists witnesses, then justifies, acts of comparable magnitude and casts it as a "journey" of healing.

Federal law prohibits sex tourism. Laws in Thailand prohibit prostitution. Nothing could be more stark than the hypocrisy of a columnist known for ranting about illegal crossings into the United States simultaneously crossing national borders to leer about illegal activity - all the while ducking and weaving about whether he himself engaged in such acts.

It isn't OK in State College, Pa. It's equally sickening to crow about it in Thailand.

Meanwhile, I sent Larry Platt, Editor of DN a list of follow up questions, building on this. I will post them, along with any response, tomorrow.

Déjà vu All Over Again: Mid-year Cuts and a Budget Shortfall on Tap for 2012

A blog post by Sharon Ward, originally published at Third and State.

Governor Tom Corbett will announce a new budgetary freeze before the end of the year to help resolve what the administration expects to be a $500 million revenue shortfall, according to Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, who gave the annual mid-year budget briefing on Tuesday.

Secretary Zogby painted a grim picture, as expected. The current revenue shortfall of $345 million could grow even beyond the $500 million current estimate, according to Zogby, and growth in mandatory spending for pensions, debt service and the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) will contribute to a budget for 2012-13 that is short about $750 million.

The Commonwealth plans to resolve the revenue gap with additional cuts. The secretary did not anticipate having "any revenue options" on the table and said he would look for further cuts in "waste, fraud and abuse" in DPW, controlling growth in corrections spending, and scaling back capital spending to make up the difference.

He did acknowledge that the Governor would rather reduce prisons than schools or higher ed and that making cuts was not something the administration relishes — suggesting that the work advocates have done this year may be penetrating.

In a nutshell, the persistently anemic economy is hurting tax collections, and growth in 2012 will be lower than previously estimated, making the 2012-13 budget more difficult than one would expect coming out of a recession.

Secretary Zogby rightly identified areas of built-in growth that will contribute to a structural budget deficit moving forward.

Press Release Journalism: Tobacco and Pharma Group Publish Report, Local Media Jump

Ah, press release journalism.

As the proprieter of a blog-- even a tiny little one like this-- you get sent many press releases, usually from a 'new media consultant,' letting you know of a very important product announcement, or report that was issued.

I guess we know who was emailing yesterday, because it appears that a horrible Big Industry group named "The American Tort Reform Association" issued a report calling Philadelphia Courts 'hellholes.' And, our local media, including the Inquirer and Philebrity, ate it up, copied some text, and voila, Big Tobacco and co. gets what it paid for, under these ridiculous headlines:

Philebrity: "Philadelphia Is Nation’s Top “Judicial Hellhole” For 2nd Year In A Row"
Inquirer: Top ‘judicial hellhole’ is Philadelphia, study says."

The articles that follow have the same amount of critical analysis as the headlines.

The Inquirer, today:

Flames leap from the gavel on the cover of a new report that declares Philadelphia No. 1 among the nation's "Judicial Hellholes."

...

The report, released Wednesday, focuses on perceived abuses in civil courts, not criminal ones, and comes from the American Tort Reform Foundation, which represents businesses, municipalities and professional associations.

The article then details all of the problems that this mysterious professional group has found.

Amount of analysis about the group behind the report? Zero.

Amount of analysis about the conclusions behind the report. Zero.

And then there was Philebrity, yesterday, talking about the same report. I mean, you can call something press release journalism, but, uh, seriously, read the press release, and then read what Philebrity published.

Press release:

Philadelphia hosts a disproportionate share of Pennsylvania’s lawsuits and, as demonstrated by the report, forum shopping for plaintiff-friendly courts within the state is primarily a “Philly phenomenon.” Of greatest concern is the Complex Litigation Center (CLC) in Philadelphia, where judges have actively sought to attract personal injury lawyers from across the state and the country.

Philebrity:

The report said Philadelphia, “‘hosts a disproportionate share of Pennsylvania’s lawsuits’ and … forum shopping for plaintiff-friendly courts within the state is primarily a ‘Philly phenomenon.’ Of greatest concern is the Complex Litigation Center in Philadelphia, where judges have actively sought to attract personal injury lawyers from across the state and the country.” Ouch again.

Ouchie! He links to the full report, which he promises is "a big-time bummer," and ends the post. (What would you put the odds at that he read the report? I am going to guess about 1 percent. Bummer!)

The full extent of any critical analysis in either article/post is... well, there isn't any.

However, both the substance of the report and who actually published it should make anyone think twice about simply passing it off as news.

First, who published it? Well, I broke out the google, and found that this faux grassroots group has been funded by those true protectors of American society, Dow Chemical, Exxon and the like. What else could you find out about them in the interweb tubes? How about that one thing this group does is file amicus briefs in the Supreme Court on behalf of everyone's favorite little guy, Big Tobacco.

Ok, then, so clearly a source we should trust.

What about the conclusions of the report itself? Ironically, one of the things that Sweeney and the Inquirer highlight from the report as 'bad' is that Philly has a complex litigation center, which aims to handle cases in under two years. The horrors!

Could you guess why it is a 'bad' thing for these guys to have cases settle reach a conclusion in two years? Because the strategy of big companies who have done horrible things is often to simply destroy plaintiffs by fighting and fighting and fighting, for as long as possible at as much of a cost to the Plaintiffs as possible. (See, for example, how Merck fought against claims that Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes, and that Merck knew it would happen...) In other words, Philadelphia tries- in some small way- to bring cases to a conclusion within a few years, and as a result, big industry cannot properly crush them under a sea of lawyers. Ouch, again!

"Tort reform" is a joke. Yes, there are bad plaintiff's lawyers out there, just like there are bad teachers, policemen, baseball players, crossing guards and bakers. However, this 'reform' is nothing more than a way to shift wealth from consumers to horrible companies-- including the supporters of this stupid, transparent report.

It would be really helpful if our local media stopped accepting things like this, lock, stock and barrel. Phillip Morris, Big Pharma and their friends really don't need the help.

Stu Bykofsky: Law is law, and must be followed. Unless it involves exploitative sex tourism.

In August, in one of his xenophobic, anti-immigrant rants, Stu Bykofsky argued against humane immigration policy for the city:

Some ideas are too simple for the high-minded to comprehend. Illegal immigration is illegal. They don't seem to get it.

Stu Byskofsky, man of laws!

Fast forward to today, where Sheriff Bykofsky let fly a rambling, bizarre column about his friend’s fun times with sex tourism in Thailand. In it, Stu says this:

My journey reconnected me with my college friend Paul DeCeglie, who ran here to something, not from something. It's now his permanent home.

He ran to weather he liked, a lower cost of living, a laid-back Thai lifestyle and low-cost, no-guilt sex.

Ah, what?

He continues:

An endless supply of girls with no marketable skills, but rentable bodies, heads for cities to work in the sex trade. Although prostitution is officially "illegal," it flourishes and Thais tolerate it.

So, to recap: Sheriff Bykofsky doesn’t care if a poor Mexican was sleeping on a dirt floor or if NAFTA destroyed much of the ability of Mexican farmers to earn a living farming, making them "head for cities" to work really hard to make their lives better. He doesn’t care that immigrants- undocumented and documented- are now revitalizing entire sections of Philadelphia. He doesn't care if families are being ripped in half. Laws are laws!

However, when an illegal but accepted practice involves Stu’s college pal having his way with vulnerable Thai women? Pass the blue pills, because this sex is guilt free, baby!

Next, re-read this passage:

If you want contradictions, Thailand doesn't disappoint.

DeCeglie finds Thais simultaneously friendly and infuriating, polite and cunning, sometimes shiftless and lacking intellectual curiosity. He'd been inviting me to visit for a long time, and for a long time I couldn't or wouldn't. Finally, to help heal, I ran here.

Thai women tend to be slim, with soft features and thick black hair.

Does the Daily News even have editors anymore? Did they really read this and say “sounds good!”?

Let’s have a little thought exercise here. Take that above passage, and instead of his friend authoritatively discussing Thai people, imagine him instead describing Africans as ‘shiftless and lacking intellectual curiosity.’

How would that be received?

Or, instead imagine Stu channeling his ‘friend’s’ visit to Israel, saying something a little like this:

Israelis are walking contradictions. They are both a generous people and stingy with their money. Their women are pretty, with prominent noses and dark, olive skin.

Would either of those fly? I don't think so. Stu would be fired. Yet he gets away with the above, because it is apparently more socially acceptable to use bizarre, crazy, racist imagery when discussing Asians, or Mexican immigrants.

How does this continue to happen? It is time for the Daily News to answer why this man still has a column, and how something this horrible even made the paper's pages. Stu Bykofsky, friend of sex tourists everywhere, needs to be relieved of duty.

Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus Letter to Bar Association re Recommendation of Thomas Nocella

The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus
135 S. 19th Street Suite 200
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103
215-568-4990
gmgilman@igc.org

December 9, 2011

Rudy Garcia, Chancellor
John Savoth, Chancellor Elect
Richard Seidel, Chair, Judicial Commission
Ken Shear, Phila. Bar Association

Re: Judicial Recommendations
Dear Sirs:

I am the Chair of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus and the Chair of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks. These are both organizations of citizens interested in local politics who try to make reasoned, educated decisions when they enter the voting booth. As such, we may interview certain candidates or hold open forums to explore candidates’ positions or demeanor. But as you know, this is extremely difficult when it comes to judicial candidates.

We are terribly concerned about how the Philadelphia Bar Association has been making determinations of recommendation for judicial candidates as many of our members attribute significance to the Bar’s conclusions. I understand that your explanation for the endorsement of Thomas Nocella in the recent general election was partly due to a short time to process his candidacy and partly because he had previously been recommended by the Bar when he ran previously. Both of those explanations are problematic. It would be better not to make a determination if your committee does not have sufficient time to do a proper consideration of the candidate’s qualifications. I would hope that you also would reconsider your policy that a recommendation stands for three years as new information is likely to prove fruitful in many situations. I also cannot understand how Mr. Nocella received a positive recommendation in 2009 when there was already substantial evidence of seriously inappropriate behavior by him that could have been uncovered by your committee.

The Fight to Restore the Rights of Tracey Gordon and her Constituents Moves to the Courtroom

PHILADELPHIA DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS
135 S. 19TH STREET SUITE 200
PHILADELPHIA, PA 19103
215-568-4990

MEDIA RELEASE: For Immediate Release
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Contact: Gloria Gilman, Acting Chair 215-568-4990 gmgilman@igc.org

CLASS ACTION LAW SUIT FILED ON BEHALF OF UNSEATED PHILLY DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEEPERSON AND CONSTITUENTS TO ENFORCE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

Today Tracey L. Gordon filed suit against the Philadelphia Democratic Party for outrageously and illegally barring her from taking office as Democratic Committeeperson in the 40th Ward after she was duly elected to that position by the voters in her division. Ms. Gordon has done nothing that would remotely authorize the Party to dislodge her from her position, nor does the Party have any legal standing whatsoever to even attempt any such thing.

Tracey L Gordon was duly elected by her Southwest Philly neighbors as a Democratic Party committeeperson in Ward 40B at the primary held in May, 2010. The Party first tried to deny Gordon her right to even run in that election, but Judge Idee Fox ordered her name put on the ballot. Escalating their illegal campaign to bar Gordon, a perceived adversary of her ward leader Anna Brown, the Party had Gordon physically evicted by two Philadelphia police officers from the first Ward Committee meeting that occurred after the election. The eviction did more than harm Gordon, it trampled on the rights of the voters who elected her. They are left without any representation, particularly the representative of their choice.

PA Liquor Privatization Findings Too Good to Be True

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

The privatization of Pennsylvania's wine and spirits shops will not do much for state revenues but will usher in alcohol-related social problems.

Those were the key takeaways offered by researchers working with the Keystone Research Center at hearings of the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee last week in Philadelphia.

University of Michigan researcher Roland Zullo, who has worked with Keystone on privatization issues, presented the results of his analysis of a pro-privatization study commissioned by Governor Tom Corbett's Budget Office. As Zullo's written testimony shows, the study, performed by Public Finance Management (PFM), was very open about its assignment: show how privatization will maintain annual wine and spirits revenue for the state, while maximizing upfront fees from privatizing.

As Roland shows, this is an impossible assignment. Consequently, PFM was forced to make implausible and incompatible assumptions. To maintain revenue neutrality, PFM assumed very high taxes on wine and spirits, a high annual fee from franchisees, and low price markups by private wholesalers and retailers.

These same assumptions, however, would make wine and spirits franchises a dud as a business opportunity - companies would make low profits or lose money, and they sure won't give the state a big upfront check for the right to lose money. As Roland said, "I can't square this circle."

The PPD is Devoting Countless Resources to Protect us from the Tyranny of Rambling 12 Hour Meetings

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. Unless the people assembling are annoying. If so, then it’s cool.
-First Amendment to the US Constitution

There has been a lot to like about the way that the city has responded to Occupy Philadelphia. Rather than the violent reactions of Oakland, California, the 3 AM- press-blocked police raid in New York (in the surely joking words of Paul Davies, "quick, easy and painless"...), or casually dumping pepper spray in the eyes of kids, the City has been fairly relaxed and reasonable about everything. There is no question that everyone from Mayor Nutter and the Managing Director, to the rank and file cops, has mostly done this right.

However… the last week or two has taken a turn to the absurd, and I hope that the City changes course before this gets too ridiculous.

What has happened? First, in the attempt to get the protestors to move, the Mayor’s Office posted notices telling people to leave 'immediately.' Then, when people moved, almost immediately, the Mayor told them no one was evicting them yet, and that they had to ‘just follow the process.’ But, as Occupy Philly was doing that, the City tried some weird divide and conquer thing, by granting a permit to a small, buffoonish splinter group, all the while pretending that these guys were anything other than a couple of clowns who wanted to feel important. Despite knowing that the clowns represented only themselves, the City even posted a photo album with them, signing their permit in the Managing Director’s Office. (And the City continues this fiction, pretending that they are dealing with Occupy Philly, rather than a few yokels.) On a smaller level, there was the discovery of what appears to be a city cop, gleefully taunting the Occupiers with pepper spray jokes. (Hahaha! Police brutality is hilarious!)

But, nowhere is this turn for the worst better demonstrated by the fact that the Philadelphia Police Department is currently ‘protecting’ virtually every corner in Washington and Rittenhouse Squares, with police cars and vans squatting square in the middle of each entrance to the parks.

Rittenhouse (1:00 PM today):

Police blocking Rittenhouse Square

Washington Square (12:45 PM today):

Police Blocking Washington Square

Apparently, the city has determined that we need to put 15-20 cops at each park, round the clock, with their engines running, to protect us against the potential danger of people like this:

Newsflash: It is not illegal for 200 people to go sit in the park on a weekday afternoon. People do it all the time. Its called lunch.

The notion that we need these officers there constantly is really stupid, and calls into question the city’s entire calculus on the ‘costs’ of Occupy Philly. Let me give you one example of why this annoys me: In my currently-on-hold professional life, I spent much of my time dealing with scam artists that went after vulnerable people, oftentimes the elderly. While I represented people on the civil side of things, many of these scams were clearly crimes… if someone would arrest and prosecute the offenders.

Thankfully, the forty-officers-assigned-round-the-clock-to-block-people-from-public-parks Philly PD has a taskforce for investigating these exact kinds of crimes. Great! Last time I checked, can you guess how many detectives were assigned to it, for the entire city? That would be... one. Meanwhile, Seth Williams has made virtually no changes in the way economic crimes are prosecuted in the city. The party line for both the police and the DA is that the city does not have the manpower to devote resources to something like that, in a city with 300-plus murders a year.

So, to recap, no resources to fight economic crimes against the vulnerable, but many resources to protect us from the threat of people protesting… economic crimes and inequality.

Really, just practically speaking, is this really a good use of resources? If Occupy Philadelphia—which is already flanked by cops 24/7— decides to go on a march to Rittenhouse Square, they won’t be going there through some stealth maneuver. They will probably vote on it during a rambling, live streamed, 16 hour general assembly meeting, and then announce it in a press release beforehand, all while six different reporters livetweet updates. And then they will go on foot. I am pretty sure the police can react in time.

I thought the Bar Association could be counted on to insure a judicial candidate met minimum qualifications, but apparently not

I thought the Bar Association could be counted on to insure a judicial candidate met minimum qualifications, but apparently not.

I’ve never been a fan of electing judges, and sure don’t want Bob Brady deciding who gets to be a judge. However, I thought that at least we have the Bar Association to certify that the candidate has the minimum qualifications for the office. I had also assumed that the Bar Association could be counted on to certify that the candidate was of good character (at least no major scandals or ethics violations). I was wrong.

Just in case you missed it, a very troubling article about Judge Nocella appeared in Monday’s Inquirer at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/133784758.html?viewAll=y

Newly elected Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas M. Nocella credits U.S. Rep. Bob Brady - Philadelphia's Democratic Party boss - for intervening with ward leaders to put him on the ticket.

"He is the one in control," said Nocella, 67, rated qualified for the bench by the Philadelphia Bar Association, despite having been sanctioned by the city Ethics Commission in 2009.

He pointed out that he had done years of free legal work for the party and said the judgeship was his reward. "That's the way it's done in Pennsylvania," he said.

On Jan. 2, he will begin drawing a $165,000 judicial salary. Nocella welcomes the new income because there is a $358,000 IRS lien against him, the state says he ignored local taxes for years, and he has more than $1 million in debts listed in a bankruptcy case.

He is also embroiled in a Common Pleas Court lawsuit accusing him of fraud and deceit in 2005, when he helped sell off property for $507,500 that was owned by a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Manayunk.

Nocella was totally unapologetic about getting a judgeship as his reward for doing free legal work for the Party. No wonder so many young people today want nothing to do with electoral politics.

We are the 99%! Join the Solidarity March Thursday 11/17 at 3:45!

We are the 99%, and no middle-of-the-night/media blackout raids can stop us from fighting intolerable economic inequality and the government collusion that consents to it. You cannot evict a movement. You cannot evict the truth.

Stand in solidarity with the movement that changed the narrative and forced politicians and the media to confront, for the first time in decades, America's greatest threat: oligarchy. Join the We Are the 99% March:

WHEN: Thursday November 17 at 3:45

WHERE: Meet at Municipal Services Building, 1417 JFK Blvd, across from City Hall. March to Market Street bridge

Leave work early. Better yet, take your co-workers! Take your boss! She's probably part of the 99% too.

It's critical that we show Philadelphia and the world that once the truth is out, it isn't going to go away. Democratic elected officials are especially welcome, by the way.

What is Pat Toomey Doing? Inequality and America's Future

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

Let me connect three dots for you. Draw your own conclusions about the impact of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey’s proposal in the super committee to reduce the federal deficit.

Dot Number 1 — The American middle class is shrinking: The New York Times reports this morning that the middle class is shrinking in America — based on where people live.  In 2007, the latest year studied, 44% of families lived in middle-income neighborhoods, down from 65 percent of families in 1970. A third of families lived in very high-income or poor neighborhoods now, up from just 15 percent of families in 1970. The case example used to illustrate this national trend — the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

An open letter to Mayor Nutter about Occupy Philadelphia

Dear Mayor Nutter,

In the last few months, the Occupy Movement, of which Occupy Philadelphia has been an important part, has had a dramatic impact on politics in America. At a time when most Democratic politicians have shied away from raising critical issues of inequality in income, wealth, and power, the movement has moved them to the forefront of our public debates. Democratic legislators in Harrisburg and Washington have recognized that this movement has already made a difference. It promises much more for the future.

Thus, while we have been proud of your response to Occupy Philadelphia to this point, we were terribly disappointed to read your recent statement about Occupy Philadelphia. It is disrespectful to the movement and the people who have created it. It raises complaints about Dilworth Plaza with regard to public safety and cleanliness that are exaggerated about that site yet true of too many neighborhoods in our city, where men and women suffer from dangerous and unkempt streets.

We understand that a renewal project, which will create much needed jobs, is in the future of Dilworth Plaza. We have and will continue to encourage Occupy Philadelphia to work with the city to find an alternative location when that project is ready to begin. However, our understanding is that the city has not been forthcoming in discussing, in any detail, alternate sites with Occupy Philadelphia. Nor has the city been transparent in offering details about when construction will begin at Dilworth Plaza.

So we encourage you and your administration to continue to be supportive of the broad goals of this important populist movement and to put aside bluster and threats and, instead, work with Occupy Philadelphia to address the issues that have arisen at the current site and a possible move to a new location.

Above all, we encourage you to avoid any precipitous actions that might lead to unnecessary and perhaps violent confrontation.

Sincerely,

Putting the Brakes on Pennsylvania’s Recovery

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

Public-sector job losses are putting the brakes on Pennsylvania’s economic recovery, endangering private-sector job gains

Those are the findings in a new Keystone Research Center policy brief that I co-authored with Mark Price. (You can read the press release here.)

Over the last year, Pennsylvania has lost 21,000 public-sector jobs, including some 13,000 education jobs. The impact is being felt well beyond the public sector, slowing the pace of private-sector job growth as the ripple effects of out-of-work teachers and laid-off government workers take a toll on the broader economy.

As a result of these public-sector job losses, Pennsylvania is squandering a job growth advantage that it enjoyed over other states coming out of the recession.

Between September 2009 and September 2010, the commonwealth ranked fourth among the states in the number of jobs created and seventh by job growth percentage. During the five months between April and September 2011, however, Pennsylvania’s job growth ranked among the bottom 10 states.

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