Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Look at Rich Costello

Richard B. Costello is the Democratic candidate for the 172nd state house, currently held by Republican John Perzel, Speaker of the House from 2003 to 2007. Those familiar with the Philadelphia political scene will remember Costello as president of the Fraternal Order of Police (Lodge #5) from 1988 to 1990 and from 1994 to 2002.

Costello is not a physically imposing man but he has a very authoritative voice. If he yelled “Stop!” most people would stop. He also sounds confident and reassuring. You can hear him talk in an introductory video on his website (www.richcostello.com) but he sounds more rehearsed than he does speaking in person. If you have a chance to talk with him or hear him speak you should.

He is a study in contrasts in a number of ways beyond the contradiction between his appearance and his voice. Unlike many police officers Costello wasn’t born blue. In the documents I reviewed, he never mentioned having relatives in the force. Also unlike many police officers his age, he graduated from college before joining the force. He was a student at St. Joseph’s University, with a 3.8 gpa majoring in political science and considering law school when, while working as a desk clerk at a Howard Johnsons, he helped the police catch someone using a stolen credit card (Bowden).

A few months after joining the force, in 1973, he was shot in the head twice while patrolling in Northeast Philadelphia (Gibbons); the shooter has never been found. The injuries have permanently affected his hearing, but not his wit or thinking. Like many people in life threatening and stressful jobs, Costello’s home life suffered. His first marriage ended and he struggled with alcoholism. After serving as recording secretary for the FOP he ran for the top job in 1988 and won. He worked at rooting out corruption and getting a good union contract signed. However, after two years on the job he was voted out:

His membership voted him out in 1990 in a bitter three-way race, reelecting former union head John Shaw. Costello says he had just spent the better part of a decade working seven-day weeks trying to uproot longstanding corruption in the FOP, only to see Shaw go right back to looting the place (for which he would be sentenced to five years in prison). During those years Costello was back in his police captain's uniform, exiled to the night shift, watching the sun rise over the Belmont plateau from a patrol car.

"I left here with nothing but my AA coin in my pocket," he said. "I'd lost my family, my youth, and everything I'd worked for here. It was a good lesson in humility."

He remembers it now as a four-year period of personal growth, capped by his reelection in 1994. He tried to repair the relationship with his first five children, sacrificed to his alcoholism and the headlong commitment he had made to the union. He and his new wife, a former city cop, were raising a child of their own. And though he was sure his bosses had handed him a night command as punishment, it was the kind of work that had drawn him to the force in the first place. (Bowden)

His return followed turmoil in the union:
He replaced Michael Lutz, who had been named by the FOP board of directors in 1993 to replace John Shaw, who was kicked out of office that year and later indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of looting the union. Lutz, chosen by the directors as FOP head until the next election, chose not to run for the office. (Gibbons)

During the next eight years Costello handled issues like health care (McDonald, “Street”) and arbitration (Boyer, “Arbitration”). He supported measures to provide police officers with more training and to encourage them to finish college and to encourage people with college degrees already to join the force (McDonald, “Wanted”). Working to reform the system he also disciplined officers, saying “Little men with a lot of power are dangerous. People that mistake position for power are kidding themselves.” (Landry). He supported efforts to keep a convicted ex-officer from collecting a police pension:
The state law barring corrupt public employees from collecting pensions ``is not one that any honest cop would have a problem with,'' said Fraternal Order of Police President Richard Costello. ``And this is one fight I can't blame the city for waging.'' (Marder)

He also supported new rules to keep city employees from joining the force for a short time to collect better retirement benefits:
A law that becomes effective today stops civilian city workers from manipulating pension plans so they can collect retirement benefits intended for police and firefighters who risked their lives on the job. Mayor Street signed legislation yesterday to close a loophole in the city's pension rules that allowed civilian workers to collect retirement benefits for uniformed workers even though they never wore a badge or served a single day on the beat.

"We're very grateful," said Rich Costello, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents the 7,000-member Police Department. "We were 150 percent in support of that legislation." (Boyer and Fazlollah, “City”)

These are all issues that the state legislature deals with.

Like all who serve in elected and leadership positions his term was not without some criticism. While he spoke in favor of disciplining officers:
Although the commissioner and the union president bitterly dispute issues surrounding arbitration, they agree that officers derelict in duty and dangerous to the public should be taken out of uniform and fired. (Boyer, “Arbitration”)

There is some question of whether or not he always followed through, as when he described two police employees who altered an accident report as “a minor mistake," (Angeles).

During his tenure as head of the FOP he was described as “feisty and often contentious” (Gibbons), and having “tongue as sharp as a ripsaw” (Daughen), but also as possibly, “the only union chief in America who, in anger, invokes Shakespeare” (Bowden).

A 1995 article gives a small glimpse into other facets of the man:
He's a 44-year-old man with a beefy big-jawed face, graying mustache, and widening gut. He has six kids, five from his first marriage, one from his second. He's almost deaf in his left ear from a bullet he took to the face when he was a 22-year-old cop. He's a recovering alcoholic. Every Sunday, when he goes to Mass, he stays in his pew when the others go up for Communion. He probably could go up. He wants to. But the Catholic Church says that until his first marriage is officially annulled, he's living in enough sin to disqualify him from the sacraments. He fears that applying for an annulment would be like telling his first five kids they're a mistake. So he stays in the pew and says the prayer of the pious centurion: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, say but the word and my soul shall be healed. (Bowden)

Part of his philosophy on police work, which, in my view, could also be extended to those who work for the public in other ways, can be found in a 1995 City Paper interview, answering the question “Who is the best police officer in Philadelphia?:
This job tends to downplay all-stars. Police work is one of the occupations that demands teamwork and, to a large extent, interchangeability. When you find somebody who has built a reputation for themselves, generally, you'll find that they're not a very good cop. The best police officer out there is probably nameless and faceless. It's the cop who is doing his or her job, the cop that you'll probably never hear about. But I wouldn't want to put a name on it, because on any given day, it could be any one of 5,900 men and women. (Eden)

In 2002 he decided not to run for re-election:
Costello said part of him "wanted to stay in office forever," but he recognized that time and a desire to see more of his family dictated his departure. And in announcing his planned departure, Costello did so with his own little aphorism:

"Power must be denied to those who actively seek power and must be placed on the shoulders of those who recognize what a terrible burden it is." (Daughen)

After sitting on the sidelines retiring from the police force, he has taken up this new challenge, running for the state legislature. He defeated a primary opponent 57-43% (Brennan). His campaign to unseat Perzel will be a tough one but Costello has been in tough situations before. It will be interesting to see what happens in November.


Angeles, Mark, “DA: Media pressure led to charges,” Daily News 1/17/2002

Bowden, Mark. “For Costello, a key role in the city’s police saga,” Inquirer, 12/17/1995

Boyer, Barbara, “Arbitration seen as major thrust of police report,“ Inquirer, 10/29/2001

Boyer, Barbara, and Fazlollah, Mark, “City plugs diversion of police pensions, Inquirer 2/22/2001

Brennan, Chris, “Its 10 and done for Rep. James,” Daily News 4/23/08

Daughen, Joseph R., “FOP leader is passing the gavel,” Daily News 7/02/2002

Eden, Ami, “20 questions: Richard Costello,” Philadelphia City Paper October 5–12, 1995
Gibbons, Thomas, Jr., “Costello says he won't seek reelection as FOP leader,” Inquirer, 07/02/2002

Landry, Peter, “Back on the beat force former FOP president Rich Costello returned to police force after a nasty re-election loss,” Inquirer 7/08/1993

McDonald, Mark, “Street frets over cops' health care - New contract award ups their benefits,” Daily News 7/26/2002

McDonald, Mark, “Wanted: cops with higher education,” Daily News 4/10/1997

Marder, Diana, “Convicted ex-officer now seeks a pension,” Inquirer 10/20/1997

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bread and Roses Tribute to Change

Mark your calendars, Oct. 16th is the annual Tribute to Change event:

Bread & Roses' Tribute to Change is the annual event where Philadelphia-area progressives come together to celebrate our advances for social justice. The Tribute to Change is our opportunity to honor the accomplishments of community organizers and activists whose work inspires and creates real change.

The Tribute to Change honorees are nominated by the Bread & Roses community of supporters through an annual call for nominations and then reviewed and selected by the Tribute to Change planning committee.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Interview with John Linder

John Linder is the Democratic candidate for the 9th state senate district, which encompasses the city of Chester, Chadds Ford, and areas in between. He describes it in this way:

In many ways, the 9th District is as diverse as America itself. It is home to farmers, to working class families, inner city residents, and suburban households. The diverse lives of our community-members are reflected in their diverse needs. This means that representing the 9th District poses unique challenges. I believe, however, that the right candidate can turn these challenges into opportunities, opportunities to address the issues that cut across our differences and unite us as Pennsylvanians and as Americans.

Mr. Linder is an educator and community activist. If you would like more information, there are issue statements, photos, and video on his website, www.linder08.com. He kindly took time out of his schedule to answer some questions.

What in your background would make you an effective state senator from day one?

I hold a Bachelors degree in Behavioral Sciences from Widener University and a Master’s in Higher Education and Counseling from Kutztown University. My professional work includes extensive experience in human services and human resource development--and, of course, as a Professor of Social Sciences. I believe that what all this means practically is that I work with people well. I believe I will be able to listen to and understand the needs of those in my district, and that I will be able to negotiate with leaders in Harrisburg to have those needs met.

You served on the Chester Redevelopment Authority for four years. What are one or two of the outcomes of that service that you are most proud of?

I was appointed the the Chester Redevelopment Authority specifically to address H.U.D.’s decision to take federal funding away from Chester. H.U.D. did this because the administration before us was very corrupt and was using the money inappropriately. H.U.D. initially said it was supposed to take at least five years for us to do what we needed to do to win the trust and money back. We did it in one year. In one year we reestablished the credibility of our government agencies for economic development and reestablished guidelines that increased minority contractor participation. Not only did we get the money back into the city, but we saw to it that the local community benefited from and was able to take advantage of the funds.

Tell us about the radio show you used to have, "It's All About Chester."

“It’s All About Chester” was meant to give the public a voice on the airwaves. It was centered around specific issues relating to Chester and the surrounding area. The format was a talk show with interviews and call in guests--similar to the show Marty Moss-Coane does out of Philly--”Radio Times”. I had a great time as its host.

Is the Village Charter School you helped found affiliated with other schools with the same name?


As a school administrator, what do you think of statewide tests, such as the PSSA? Are teachers "teaching to the test" and emphasizing subjects on the test (such as reading and math) at the expense of subject areas that aren't (such as history)?

PSSA, while I believe it succeeds as an objective measure of how well our schools are teaching our children, we must use caution in our interpretation of its results. The test is able to tell us if students have or haven’t learned a particular subject, but it can’t tell us why they have or haven’t. To truly interpret the results, you must take into account socioeconomic factors, cultural factors, family-life factors, etc.

Preparing students to take the PSSA takes many forms and levels of intensity. Teachers in some districts must “skill and drill,” and expose students to the test. However, there must still be a focus on other areas and and grade appropriate content.

You are an educator also trained in family therapy, what can the government do to improve the strength of families in the 9th state senate district?

While I am not a family therapist, I have had some training and lots of experience working with families--especially in education. I see some consistent issues for many working families. If a student has special needs or is having behavioral problems, the parents need time to come to the schools and meet with educators. They need training to learn how to deal with their children’s needs. It’s difficult for families with two working parents to find the necessary time and money. I believe the state and federal gov’t can build incentives such as tax credits for companies and businesses to assist parents who need to acquire family therapy for their children.

What are you learning from residents as you go door to door?

People want to be listened to by their legislators. Reciprocal communication is very poor and even nonexistent in some cases. “This is the first time anyone has ever come to my door,” I hear over and over. People want to be heard. Whether people are from West Nottingham or Marcus Hook there is a common bond of issues: people want affordable health care, strong schools and some kind of relief from increasing energy bills.

You are a professor at Delaware County Community College and also a school headmaster. How do you manage both jobs?

Very well, thank you! However, I’ve taken a leave from the Headmaster role so I can campaign.

The 9th state senate district is very diverse, with wealthy areas and areas with low incomes. How do you represent such differing priorities? (See map)

My campaign over the past 9 months has been an educational opportunity for me. Traveling to each area, speaking to the residents about their concerns is the only way to truly find out what people need from their government. As Senator, I would continue this dialogue by holding a town hall each month in a different municipality.

What don't you like about campaigning?

For a challenger running a grassroots campaign, fundraising can be difficult. At times I find it counter productive to what I think ought to be my first task: learning what future-constituents want and planning how to meet their needs.

Nepotism and conflict of interest are often tripping points for candidates and elected officials. Are any of your family members employed by any government bodies within the 9th state senate district or by the state?

Not to my knowledge.

If all things were possible what you like to see happen in the city of Chester?

While I appreciate that the question is specific to Chester City, as Senator I must focus on the people of the entire 9th Senatorial District. The people are bound together by needs, some cutting across the district, some area-specific. I would like to see quality education be a priority everywhere, and I would like to see the state pay its fair share of the funding. I would like to pass PA-ABC and find ways to provide affordable health care to even more Pennsylvanians. I would like the people of the 9th to have a Senator that will respect them, listen to them, and work hard for them.

When I was born and raised in Chester it was a beautiful, thriving city full of opportunity. Chester can be that way again, but the city needs leadership that is willing to put human development at the forefront. It must occur either simultaneously or prior to economic development. Right now the latter is all we have happening. It isn’t and won’t be enough. Right now what you have is a stage set for gentrification, not revitalization.

Flooding is a serious issue for parts of the 9th state senate district. What, if anything, do you think the legislature can do to help prevent personal loss and property damage from floods?

As Senator I would work with local municipalities to support “buffer zones” around all waterways throughout the entire 9th District. Also, “Run-off” has to be dealt with better in all community/municipal planning.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities?

1. Help establish a consistent, long-range funding plan for public education in PA.
2. Help continue initiatives for quality affordable health care beginning with PA-ABC.
3. Environmental and energy issues ranging from HB2200 to land usage.

What question didn't I ask that you would like to answer?

Campaigns are often viewed as more difficult for the challenger than the incumbent. Is your race competitive?


I receive this question often and I understand where it comes from. My opponent is the Senate Majority Leader, arguably the second most powerful person in the state after the Governor. This year, he has used that power to block health care for working adults, to block energy reform that would save families money, and to block a future of fair education funding for our children.

His position also means that he has the ability to run a very expensive campaign--which is exactly what he's doing. I take that as a great compliment. He now has a TV ad for the first time in any of his campaigns. He is buying up full page ads in newspapers. He has purchased many, many billboards here in Chester City. Not only do I consider my bid competitive - he does.

What he hasn't been doing is spending time with the public, meeting voters and connecting with his constituency. I have. My staff and I have knocked on thousands of doors and made thousands of phone calls. We are working tirelessly to make sure that when I get into office, I will know what is on the minds of voters from Chester City to West Nottingham, from Parkesburg to Media.

There is a difference in the way we are running our campaigns, not only because there is a difference in our resources, but because we are different kinds of candidate. I encourage everyone concerned about local politics to come see how much of a difference at our first debate at Riddle Village in Middletown. Time and date tba - please visit www.linder08.com for future updates.

Thank you, Mr. Linder!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Santarsiero Endorsed by Clean Water Action

Steve Santarsiero, Democratic candidate for the open 31st state house seat, has been endorsed by Clean Water Action:

At a brief press conference near the banks of Newtown Creek in Newtown, Santarsiero received the endorsement of the environmental watchdog group Clean Water Action and also of Lower Makefield Environmental Advisory Council Chairman Jim Bray, a Democrat.

Bray said his endorsement was a personal one.

“I don't speak for the entire EAC,” he said.

Santarsiero is running against Republican Pete Stainthorpe, who also said he would emphasize environmental issues if elected.

Read the entire article "House candidate touts environmental record," by Chris English, Bucks County Courier Times.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Report from the Bucks County Big Canvas Forum

This was the first in the second round of Big Canvas forums, was held last Saturday at Pennsbury Manor in Bucks County, William Penn’s recreated country home. While all of the other forums are held at 6:30 p.m., this one started at 10:00 a.m. Those attending were invited to bring their families and children as activities and tours of the grounds would be available. The event did not pull in a huge crowd. The Pennsbury Manor website says directions provided on more standard directional sites are incorrect. I had been to Pennsbury twice before, as a group chaperone, and it is well worth finding.

While a Rand study of arts and culture and Southeastern Pennsylvania found that public support of arts and culture is high, government and private support is low. Bucks County provides more support than the other collar counties, with a dedicated funding stream from a hotel tax.

But, as said earlier, it was a relatively small group at the Big Canvas forum. There were introductory remarks from the director of Pennsbury Manor, and from group organizers, Chris Satullo of the Inquirer and Harris Sokoloff of the University of Pennsylvania, and an overview of the process. At the first round of forums, the five held in July, we were asked to brainstorm about what the arts contributed to the region. Those comments were grouped into four different approaches. These are spelled out on the Big Canvas website in the issues guide

Participants are given a 24 page printed guide as well as a four page brief version. After the introductions we went into a different room for small group sessions. With the relatively small turnout we all made one slightly large group instead of breaking into smaller ones. As might be expected, most of the group had some connection to the arts and cultural community in some way. I encourage those with a more tangential connection, or simply those who attend artistic or cultural events, to attend one of the other forums so more diverse voices are heard.

We walked through the four approaches, going over the components of each one, as well and the arguments for and against. The first approach is sort of “art for arts sake,” and the group did not seem overly enthusiastic about it. The second has a child focus, with the rationale that children who appreciate the arts grow up to be adults who appreciate and support the arts, as well as thinking that if children want to go to events, their parents will take them, so the entire family will attend. Most of the group thought this had merit, but most of the group looked to be in the prime parenting years; others spoke of grandchildren. A group made up of young twenty-somethings or those with no direct contact with children might have a different view. The third approach is built around the creative economy. The group seemed to like that one also. The fourth approach is concerned with community and the place of the arts in everyday life. This sparked some interesting conversation.

One theme that came up across the approaches is the importance of having a diverse group making funding decisions. The purse strings should not be held by one small homogenous group of people.

As a finale we were each awarded 20 points and asked to use those points to vote for one or more of the four approaches, plus one surprise fifth option. We could divide the points evenly across all options, giving each four points, but it sounds like people tended to favor some of the approaches more than others. Some even divided their points down to fractions.

The voting results from the forums will eventually be posted to the Big Canvas website. All of the feedback will be compiled and put into a final report, which will be presented to civic and political leaders on Dec. 6th at a public event in the Valley Forge Convention Center beginning at 1:00 p.m. Yes, this is right next door to the King of Prussia Mall so you can do some holiday shopping before or after.

The forums are very interesting events, a chance to hear what others in your community think. Please consider attending one of the remaining discussions.

Remaining forums (all start at 6:30 p.m.):

10/02 Greater Plymouth Community Center

10/05 Moore College of Art & Design

10/06 Narberth Borough Hall

10/14 Swarthmore College

[disclosure: bloggers are compensated for their time in attending and writing about these events]

Kanjo on C-Span

Congressman Paul Kanjorski, from Pennsylvania's 11th district, and chair of the Capital Markets Subcommittee, is live on C-Span's Washington Journal. he is talking about and taking calls on the current financial crisis. The level of discourse is above my understanding so I can't provide rough notes. Kanjo sounds very knowledgeable about the issues involved and he is presenting a dark view. For example:

Contemplate, at the end of the month, if the bank failures are huge, and as a result all lines of credit would be called in across the country. You go to your bank and can't get any money out of the ATM. That's not a far-fetched thing. General Motors has now exhausted their line of credit. And if they don't have enough money from sales or payroll they take it out of their line of credit. If there's no line of credit there's nothing to draw on. So GM employees would go to their ATM to withdraw their direct deposited paycheck and nothing will come out. Those are the personal implications. [blogger's note: not an exact quote, but the gist]

He says the problem is that the American people don't believe the President when he tells them what is happening.

We've been so successful over the past 60 years at having soft landings, that when big banks like Washington Mutual fail, we don't think there will be ramifications, but there will be. [ditto]

He uses the analogy of a healthy person saying he doesn't want to support hospitals because he's healthy. But if his neighbor gets an infectious disease it is likely to spread to the healthy. The banking crisis is like an economic infection. Interesting.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Schwartz Statement on Bailout

From the inbox:

This afternoon, U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz released the following statement concerning the economy.

“During the past eight years, President Bush pushed economic policies based on a house of cards – failed oversight; excessive, uncontrolled debt; irresponsible spending; and a belief that wealth trickles down. His policies left us with a broken economy and one of the worst financial crises seen in generations.

“Right now families throughout Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County, as well as across this country, are terrified about what this all means to them.

“I hear their fears and concerns, and let me be clear.

“Time and again over the last eight years the Bush Administration has abused the trust of the American people. To now give a blank check to this Administration, as they requested, is simply unacceptable.

“There are enormous inadequacies in the original proposal presented by Secretary Paulson, and the economic plan will not go forward as presented by the Administration in this Congress.

“I will not support any proposal that does not ensure taxpayer interests are protected and that executive compensation is severely limited. There must be full transparency, oversight and accountability for use of any of these public dollars, and any gains on investments be returned to the public treasury.

“The American public deserves nothing less than a plan that includes these core principles. “

Sign up for SEPA Emergency Alerts

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Task Force is implementing an emergency notification service for Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties as well as Philadelphia.

Sign up at www.ReadyNotifyPA.org:

ReadyNotifyPA is a system that helps local officials in Southeastern Pennsylvania send emergency text alerts and other important notifications to you quickly. ReadyNotifyPA can send these to your cell phone, pager, BlackBerry, PDA and/or E-mail account. You decide how you’d like to be notified. These alerts are free; however, your cellular provider may charge for text messaging.

Receiving text messages is easy and not just for kids. You will receive emergency alerts and may choose to receive other alerts, such as weather warnings, transportation delays and crime information. Other alert options may also be available in your county.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Costello News

Last week's City Paper had a nice article on Rich Costello, running for the 172nd house district. See "Pestering Perzel" by Tom Namako.

In other news, from the inbox:

Rich Costello, candidate for the State House of Representatives in northeast Philadelphia, called on his opponent, former speaker John Perzel, today to answer for the pattern of unethical practices that surrounds his term in office.

Former House candidate Lowell Gates filed a lawsuit against Perzel and Michael Karp, a political ally of Perzel’s and his appointee to the Commonwealth Financing Authority. Gates alleges that Perzel and Karp caused numerous illegal “robocalls” to be made during the run-up to this past April’s primary election. According to the suit, the calls were made from a pirated number, lacked the required legal disclaimer and contained false and slanderous information about Perzel’s political enemies.

“This is just another example of how John Perzel is using his office to accumulate personal wealth and power, not to serve his constituents,” said Costello. “This is only the latest evidence in a long list of Mr. Perzel’s abuses of power. The claims made by Mr. Gates exemplify a disturbing pattern of underhanded tactics used by former Speaker Perzel.”

Costello is referring to his campaign’s recent discovery a contract between the Republican caucus and Aristotle International Inc, overseen by John Perzel during his term as majority leader and as Speaker of the House. While the contract was supposed to be for constituent service software, the contract makes explicit reference to elections, voters and yard signs. The evidence shows clearly that the computer system was used for political purposes. One section of the contract explicitly states, "The [Republican] caucus will provide the necessary staff to provide for the proper editing of the address lists for all districts so that all districts will be properly loaded and ready for use in the elections."

“Over his thirty years in Harrisburg, John Perzel has changed from a responsible legislator into a man consumed with his desire for personal power and wealth without regard for legal or ethical guidelines or for the concerns of the neighborhood” said Costello.

Interesting City Paper Articles

In case you missed it, The City Paper has had some interesting articles lately:

Interview with Howard Dean

Interview with Joe Biden

Knight Commission Forum This Saturday

This Saturday the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities is having a daylong forum in Philadelphia. Stop by if you have the chance.

Here's the description:

Are Philadelphia citizens getting the information they need in order to solve community problems, coordinate civic activity, maintain public accountability, and foster the human connectedness that is the backbone of both community and democracy?

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy (www.knightcomm.org) is conducting a year long study to identify the information needs of communities in a democracy, assess how and whether those needs are being met, and recommend steps to improve the fulfillment of those needs.

In addition to reviewing research on information access and trends, including media developments, new technology, and innovations in civic and government communication, the Commission is soliciting testimony from national experts and holding community forums to hear from local citizens and practitioners about the "information ecosystems" in their communities.

The Commission will issue a report in 2009 offering recommendations for achieving the news and information environment that democratic communities need in order to thrive.

They have assembled an impressive group of local leaders for the Saturday event. The only oversight I noticed is that libraries are not represented and I've always gotten a lot of my information there, along with the newspapers. Daniel UA of Young Philly Politics represents the blogging community.

Report on Broadband Policy

From the inbox:

It is well documented that the United States lacks a clear national broadband policy, but on the state level there have been significant efforts to increase the United States' access to high speed Internet.

The Communications Workers of America and the Alliance for Public Technology have the first comprehensive, searchable database of state government initiatives for advancing broadband deployment.

During the 2008 presidential election, the public and mass media are talking about the need for high speed broadband networks more than ever before. Regardless of who is elected, states across the nations and the federal government will have to focus on improving the state of the nation's broadband.

This report aims to provide policymakers who want to encourage investment in and adoption of high speed broadband networks with a checklist of possible solutions.

Take a look at this fascinating report here:


There are three plans listed for Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Win $25,000 For Your Favorite Park

You can help win $25,000 for park improvements for your favorite park. Oh, and Eagles fans, you can also meet Brian Dawkins. This is part of the Staples Dream Park Challenge with the Eagles.

READ the rules carefully -- there are ways to make your vote count more.


It's free money, people, start clicking. And thank you to our friends at Staples.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Corbett Says GOP Grand Jury After Election

Today at the Pennsylvania Press Club, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett made this announcement:

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett will not file any new charges in the public-cash-for-political gain scandal known as "Bonusgate," until after the Nov. 4 election.

"You all know that this is a grand jury investigation. The grand jury will sit for one more week before the election," Corbett said in a speech before the Pennsylvania Press Club this afternoon. "I know this investigation very well. I know that my office cannot present to the grand jury, in that one week, all of the testimony and other evidence that will be necessary to complete the next phase of the investigation. ("Corbett: No more 'Bonusgate' charges until after Nov. 4," by John Micek, Morning Call 9/22)

Earlier this month the rationale was a little different ("Charges in 'Bonusgate' may wait until after the election," by Peter Jackson, Inquirer, 9/10)
Corbett told the Associated Press that, to avoid undue influence on the balloting, his office would not charge anyone in the Capitol scandal between Oct. 1 and the election. He said the self-imposed moratorium was modeled on a policy that was in force when he was a federal prosecutor in Western Pennsylvania.

"It's just an abundance of caution," he said. "It might affect my election by not doing it. I don't know."

Taking the election of those who might be under suspicion is one thing but thinking of his own election is worse.

In July about 12 people associated with the House Democratic caucus were arrested; their preliminary hearing is set for Oct 7th, less than a month before the elections.

Biden Gets NAPO Endorsement

Vice Presidential candidate and Sen. Joe Biden received the endorsement of the National Association of Police Organizations.

From the inbox:

Founded in 1978, NAPO is now the strongest unified voice supporting law enforcement officers in the United States . NAPO represents more than 2,000 police unions and associations, 238,000 sworn law enforcement officers, 11,000 retired officers and more than 100,000 citizens who share a common dedication to fair and effective crime control and law enforcement.

Senator Joe Biden is the former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who wrote and passed the landmark crime bill that put 100,000 new police officers on the streets of America.

Today in a conference call with Tom Nee, NAPO president, and Sen. Biden both men spoke on the importance of supporting local law enforcement community. One theme was the number of national issues handled by local authorities, such as immigration and drug use. The use of reserve units in Iraq is also impacting law enforcement as many people in law enforcement also serve in the reserves. Both agreed that local law enforcement needs support and funding.

On the Air: Patrick Murphy

Freshman Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania's 8th district, has a new television commercial. It's a very upbeat, positive ad.

On the Air: Matthew 25 Network

The Matthew 25 network has a new radio ad. It was the subject of a Washington Post article last week.

On the Air: Rick Taylor

Rick Taylor, freshman Democrat for the 151st state house district in his first re-election race, has a new television commercial. You can view it on ActBlue.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Big Bloggy Welcome to Commonwealth Confidential

Our friends at the Inquirer have started a new blog to cover state politics. The Commonwealth Confidential , written by Mario Cattabiani, Angela Couloumbis, and Amy Worden, will hopefully shed a little light on whatever is going on in Harrisburg, as the legislature is so stingy with information.

I've added it to my sidebar blogroll and my bloglines account.

legislative update problems

I wish I could resume the regular Friday evening "weekly legislative updates" but there really isn't much to report. The daily legislative emails stopped a few days before the state legislature broke for the summer. This fall I've received one, for Sept. 12 and that was just a list of bills introduced. The most recent issue of the House Journal available online is from March! Why does it take six months to get those up on the web? Many are only a few pages long.

Our accountant friends at PICPA do have an update on what happened in Harrisburg.

It is just exasperating that we get so little information out of our state government.

PA in the WSJ

This is a list of articles regarding Pennsylvania in this week's Wall Street Journal. Chances are I missed something, but these are the articles that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I routinely do not read the editorials in the WSJ. So any discussions of the state, its elected officials, businesses, or citizens, in editorials will not be mentioned here.

PA Politicians

The only Pennsy politician this week is Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., mentioned in “Democrats highlight their religion in voter outreach,” by Douglas Belkin (9/18)

Two mentions of political ads running in PA, in “Campaign ads about abortion proliferate,” by Amy Chozick (9/18)

Now we know what Mark Zandi has been up to lately. In “McCain, Obama jockey for position on economy,” (9/19) says that he is an adviser to the McCain campaign.

The most popular Obama video on YouTube is his 37 minutes speech on race delivered in Philadelphia. See “Video of Iraq veteran boosts McCain online,” by Christopher Rhoads (9/19)

PA Businesses

Mark Zandi of Economy.com is quoted in “Loan delinquencies rear their ugly head again,” by Ruth Simon (9/20)

Gordon Folwer, chief investment officer of Glenmede Trust of Philadelphia is quoted in “Dow jumps another 368.75 points, ends wild week nearly unchanged,” by E.S. Browning and Annelena Lobb (9/20)

Comcast mentioned in “Tech guru riles the industry by seeking huge patent fees,” by Amol Sharma and Don Clark (9/17)

Homestead steelworks of Pittsburgh, now a section of suburbia, mention in “Jobs unwanted,” by Timothey Aeppel (9/16)

Brief mentions: General Nutrition Centers of Pittsburgh (9/18)

Other PA

The clostridium difficile, c. diff, virus was identified at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2000, as discussed in “Rising foe defies hospitals’ war on ‘superbugs’,” by Laura Landro (9/17)

Erie guitarist Eric Brewer tried out for the 4th annual Guitar Superstar Competition, see “A guitar contest with a winning surprise,” by Jim Fusilli (9/16)

Penn State prof Gary Cross is the author of Men to Boys, reviewed in “Man and sillyman,” by Kay Hymowitz (9/20)

Other Interesting Tidbits

Some interesting Sarah Palin articles:

“Creamery case has Palin critics taking aim at fiscal-conservative claim,” by Jim Carlton (9/16)

“Palin’s project list totals $453 million,” by Laura Meckler and John R. Wilke (9/15)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Million Doors for Peace

The local Million Doors for Peace (milliondoorsforpeace.org) canvass, sponsored by Penn Action and the BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action, will meet at the UCC of Levittown Saturday morning around 9 a.m.

eRobin has blogged about it, if you would like more info.

Friday, September 19, 2008

PA Kids to Study Aviation Energy Use

How cool is this?

Pennsylvania is among the first 10 states to announce a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy on the Real World Design Challenge, which will be initiated in the 2008-2009 school year. Eventually, all U.S. states and territories will be invited to participate.

The Real World Design Challenge enables high school students to take on engineering challenges in a team environment by asking them to address an issue facing one of the nation’s leading industries. This year’s challenge focuses on more efficient energy use in aeronautics.

Teams of students and a teacher will develop solutions to the challenge, and those solutions will be evaluated by scientists, engineers, college and university faculty and teachers. The best solution in each state will be announced by each governor at an awards ceremony, and the winning team in each state will compete in a national challenge held in Washington, D.C.

To aid the effort, high school teachers trained in design and global engineering will each receive approximately $1 million worth of professional engineering software donated by the Parametric Technology Corporation and Flomerics Inc. The Department of Energy and the Federal Aviation Administration will provide science and engineering mentors, and Hewlett-Packard will provide computer servers to host the software and facilitate collaboration between participants.

Read the whole thing here.

Rick Taylor Receives Environmental Endorsements

From the inbox:

State Representative Rick Taylor (D-151) was recognized today by leaders in the Environmental community who have endorsed him because of his leadership on alternative energy, his success in cleaning up hazardous waste sites for re-development, and his role in fighting for sound policies for all of Pennsylvania. The endorsements took place at the at the Wetlands Restoration Project in Fort Washington, a project that would not have gone forward without the advocacy of Representative Taylor.In addition to these endorsements, Representative Taylor was recognized for a 100% Environmental voting record by Penn Environment.

Susan Curry, an environmental champion from Ambler, was on hand to talk about Representative Taylor's role as a broker for local issues. "Rick Taylor has been a consistent advocate for environmental issues, during his campaign and in legislative actions" said Curry, "He supported funding for Ambler to develop a downtown tree management policy, and he joined with local citizens in a successful request that EPA list the Bo Rit asbestos site in the National Priorities List for Superfunds. He listens carefully and then acts decisively."

Brady Russell, the Eastern PA director of Clean Water Action, was on hand today, to speak to Rick's role in the Democratic Caucus on the environment.

"Rick Taylor understands the connection between public health and natural spaces and is willing to stand up for them. People who care about environmental issues should know that Rick Taylor is always willing to be a leader, both within the Democratic Caucus and on the floor of the House, whenever we have a high priority. "

In offering their endorsement, Mark Schmerling of the Sierra Club also recognized Representative Taylor's commitment to alternative energy sources.

"Today we're happy to endorse Rick again, this time for an even better reason than in 2006, his perfect voting record on environmental issues during his first term in Harrisburg. He voted for a bill to allocate $650 million over five years to renewable energy; for a bill to require utilities like PECO to teach people how to use less electricity; for a bill to require utilities to install smart meters in people's homes, so they'll know to use less electricity at times of the day when it's most expensive; and for a bill gradually to increase the percentage of cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel in vehicle fuels. Rick is a future environmental leader, and we urge people to vote for him."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Election Protection

From the inbox:

Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition representing more than 100 organizations and the full spectrum of American citizens, is launching its 2008 general election efforts, including: a free and nonpartisan hotline (1-866-OUR VOTE) connecting voters with problems or questions to legal experts that can offer impartial advice; ads featuring Hollywood star Tyler Perry urging voters to use the free, confidential and nonpartisan 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline; and a comprehensive web resource at www.866ourvote.org featuring real time voter information and extensive instructions and advice on how voters can make sure their voices are heard.

The coalition also has a toll free bilingual hotline 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota (Go Vote), to assist the millions of Spanish speaking voters expected to vote in November. The 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota will be featured nationally by Spanish language media companies Univision, Entravision, and impreMedia.

Video From Radnor Event

Video of two speakers at the Radnor event I attended this weekend is not available on YouTube. You can now view remarks by Bryan Lentz and Tom Quinn. Take a look.

Shapiro and Corman on the PCN Call-In Show

Yesterday State Rep. Josh Shapiro and State Sen. Jake Corman discussed the presidential race on the PCN Call-In Show. It is now available online. These are rough notes and not intended as an exact transcription. As always, apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

PCN Call-In: Presidential Race & PA
Rep. Josh Shapiro, PA House Deputy Speaker
Sen. Jake Corman, John McCain 2008, Central PA Campaign Chair

Host: Kat Prickett

H: How important is Pennsylvania in the presidential race?

JS: It is a key state and will be a close race.

JC: Very important. Republicans have not carried PA in some time. Energized by the selection of Sarah Palin.

H: What are the major issue?

JS: Economy. Recent poll said 51% said economy most important, Iraq second.

JC: Agree with importance of economy. But more important Washington DC is broken, nothing is getting done. Bipartisan effort, D in charge of Congress, R in White House. In PA Senate GOP disagrees with Governor but get work done. If you can’t get anything done in DC and work with other side then you can’t get anything done. McCain can reach across the aisle, had the courage to say we have to govern, say to his political base that he can’t be with them on some issues.

JS: One of the key reasons people have been attracted to Sen. Obama is that he brings the change needed. He has a history of working with both parties in Illinois, has not been in Washington for over 20 years. Can be a transformational leader.

JC: Agree, Sen. Obama has been a breath of fresh air, gives wonderful flowery speeches, gets me excited sometimes. McCain has voted against his own party at times. When has Obama done that?

JS: McCain did stand up on immigration and campaign finance but as a candidate has flipflopped. Obama has exhibited some real maverick qualities. When he came to dc attacked culture, went after lobbyists.

JC: Rank and file D’s would like that, where has he gone against D’s? McCain has done that.

JS: He won his primary because he changed his positions on Bush tax cuts and immigration. He certainly was a maverick senator but not as a candidate.

H: poll, Obama 48%, McCain 45%, undecided 5%. Contrasts with other poll. What is reason for difference.

JC: Sarah Palin. Putting her on the ticket energized the party, appeals to swing voters. She took on establishment and won. When GOP got into power we lost our way. She challenges that.

JS: What the numbers show is that it is a close race. It will remain close through election day. At the end of the day it will be decided on the economy. Obama wants to cut taxes on 95% of the people. If people are ready for a change they will vote for Obama.

H: What does Sen. Biden do for Obama?

JS: Scranton’s own. In NE Philly he excited the crowd, brings a lot of experience in foreign policy. Been in DC a long time but never a part of the culture.

JC: Biden part of status quo, DC outsider. McCain went for a change. Picking a vp is the first presidential decision. It is an indicator of where he is going to go. McCain shows he is serious about change.

JS: Glad you brought up judgment. Obama picked someone ready to step in and be president. McCain trying to assuage conservatives.

JC: She may be appealing to conservative but she is a real change agent. Excited base and centrists. She has cross appeal. Central theme of campaign, all issues are important, if you can’t make DC work you won’t be successful. McCain has a record of reaching across the aisle. Obama doesn’t have that record yet.

C: impending retirement of between 40 and 50 million Americans. Will be 62 soon and will retire. How will you build a viable economy with so many retirees? Santorum wanted to privatize social security – that would have been a disaster.

JS: Good points. Seniors and retirees. McCain wants to privatize social security. Obama wants to preserve it. His tax plan would also help seniors. On Wall Street, McCain boasted to WSJ back in April that he is not in favor of regulation. Now says need commission to study regulation. Obama would get Wall Street under control.

JC: If given a choice to invest his own social security his way or leave it as is, would want to invest. Reagan raised taxes on social security, unpopular. Fewer people working per retirees. McCain says lets keep all options on the table to solve problem. Like the energy issue, disgraceful that they haven’t drilled more and invested in alternative energy. Come to a compromise and make it happen. McCain will do that.

JS: McCain may bring perceived strength. Obama has a plan, even taken a page out of Reagan plan, tax social security on higher earners.

JC: Must be a bipartisan plan, must compromise, McCain has that experience and strength.

C: Disappointed in everyone on the panel. Both support REAL ID Act. Both neocons. Ron Paul only one standing up for the people.

JC: Caller is right that there is a lot of information out there and people should research issues.

C: Social security. In 1984 when social security was adjusted survivors lost some benefits, college benefits.

JC: I remember that change very well. Many of my friends who had lost parents left high school and enrolled in college to get those benefits. To keep the traditional model you have to reduce benefits and raise taxes. Could stop raiding it, which would be nice. McCain rails against this.

JS: Jake is right we need to have a much larger conversation. McCain continues to talk about privatizing social security. It was rejected but he keeps supporting it.

C: Believes in getting the most out of your money. Thinks if he had been able to invest his own retirement he would have a nice nest egg. His mom doesn’t have enough to live on.

JS: Not sure that is true, given behavior of markets. We need to give Americans comfort and confidence of social security. Perhaps it is not offering enough of a benefit. Investing that money in the stock market is not the answer.

JC: The state pension fund is invested in the stock market. Done well, perhaps not this past year. Better return than social security. I don’t know of any retirement fund that isn’t invested in the market. Over the long haul you are ahead of the game. Maybe we need a board to oversee investments like is done with state workers retirement.

H: Do either candidate have a plan for social security?

JS: Obama will ask those earning over $250K a year to pay more taxes for social security.

JC: Again, raising taxes, doesn’t solve structural problem. Short term fix.

JS: If you’re going to raise revenue and cut spending, where do you come up with extra revenue. Not relying on risky privatization.

JC: Raising taxes and cutting benefits. People are living longer, to increase benefits you have to increase revenue.

C: McCain has criticized Obama for saying he is going to cut taxes for 95% of people. McCain will veto all earmarks. But that won’t make up deficit. If he won’t raise taxes how will he cut benefits?

JC: McCain critical of Obama for cutting taxes for 95% is because 95% don’t pay taxes to the federal govt. Investment in our communities is important but earmark process is hidden, sticking earmarks into bills. You will have to grow the economy. Be efficient in spending and grow the economy. We did a lot of tax cuts in PA and have had a revenue increase. Grew the economy. Invest in small business, and infrastructure. Bring war in Iraq to a close. Efficiency is important but not the only way. Lower taxes and will raise revenue.

JS: Growing the economy requires a recipe for doing that and not continuing the same. McCain says economy strong on day when market dropped. Obama talks about green collar jobs. He’s come up with new economic plans for Americans struggling to pay energy bills. War in Iraq – Obama has a clear plan to get out troops out in 16 months. We need to do that and do it soon. Bush administration has come around and adopted this plan. McCain has not come up with a timeline.

JC: On Iraq, when McCain said be in Iraq 100 years he meant maintain bases as we do in Germany and Korea. The reasons Bush talking about timeline is because they got on McCain bandwagon with surge, to get Iraqi government to take over their own country. It was irresponsible to talk about a timeline months ago. Because we invested in surge the area is now stabilized. We can leave seeds of democracy. Terrorism and crime driven by poverty. If we can leave the seeds of democracy and then economy comes in, with money from oil wells. Look at central Asia and Eastern Europe. If that happens McCain will deserve a lot of credit for that.

JS: It is important to note, when Gen. Petraeus comes back and reports. A lot of what you are talking about isn’t happening. In 2002 Obama said going into Iraq was the wrong thing to do. Should focus like a laser beam on terrorism. We have a responsibility to finish the job we started in 2001 in Afghanistan.

C: If Obama and McCain are elected, could they turn economy around?

JS: Obama has said on the gas prices that he would put $1000 in every American’s pocket to deal with prices and invest in green jobs and alternative energy. Talking about making sure Wall Street looks after Main Street. McCain has said we don’t need that much regulation, even though we lost 500 points on the Dow. Obama has clear plans.

JC: McCain said fundamentals of economy strong, meaning he still believes in the American dream and American workers. Crisis we can solve. Need a leader who can compromise. Energy independence, solution so obvious, need everything. Biden has worked with McCain for years.

JS: Biden has said he loved working with Sen. McCain but candidate McCain has changed his positions.

C: Economy. Obama given an advance to write a book about a book about social culture, etc. He did not finish it but instead wrote a book on his life. When he went to Europe he used his campaign money. Taking money from other sources and using it to showboat. Obama has said he can reach across the aisle but couldn’t convince Pelosi to bring congress back to vote on drilling.

JS: If she found info on Wikipedia might want to find other sources of info. Both candidates use campaign funds to travel. Look at numbers of people who have registered to vote to be a part of the change Obama is talking about. When you can get Republicans and independents to change their registration it shows he can get everyone to work together. Obama’s plans on health care far superior. So many issues where Obama has been able to bring both sides together.

JC: Most of those changing must have done so to vote for Hillary Clinton since she won PA by such a margin. Look at close polls, not a big move for Obama in PA. McCain does have a history of brining people together.

C: For Corman, going back to social security. When you privatize social security, when most people can’t make ends meet, where will they get money to invest?

JC: Same place social security comes from, FICA tax, 12% combination of social security and medicare, goes into social security trust fund. You can continue to raise taxes, raise age of retirement. Doesn’t know of any other retirement plan that isn’t invested in the market. Social security fund being raided.

C: Social security, money going into general fund

JC: Ultimately any social security fix must be done in a bipartisan way, must compromise and that is as it should be. You need a president that can forge that compromise. McCain has better experience and background to do that.

JS: Caller has a good point in how much money we borrow from China to buy oil from Saudi Arabia. Another indicator of how the American economy is not sound or strong. We are borrowing too much money. Obama has a clear plan.

H: Where are hot spots in PA?

JS: Biden is in Del Co this evening. Southeast is a hot spot. Obama will probably win in Philly with a big margin. The Philly suburbs will be a clear battleground. Still registered in favor of GOP but voting Democratic. Obama’s plans gibe with plans of SE.

JC: Haven’t seen McCain or Palin’s schedules. Want to energize the T as D’s want to energize Philly, go for the base. Doing better in polling than is registered. Focus also on SouthWest

JS: Not conceding Southwest.

C: No child left behind. Funding for struggling schools just isn’t there.

JC: The amount spent during the Bush years is significantly more than what was spent before he got there. Let parents decide where money is spent. Have to have strong public schools but allow other options.

JS: Obama has brought a lot of other options to the table. NCLB is a good idea but not funded to the level needed.

Rep. John Perzel and GEO

The Inquirer reported earlier this month that the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut), which currently manages a correctional facility in Delaware County, is ending it's contract. This facility is the only state owned facility the group manages. From “PhillyDeals: Geo Group Inc. pulls out of Delco prison,” by Joseph Di Stefano 9/03

Last week, the Boca Raton, Fla., company formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp. (for its founder, George Wackenhut, who grew up in Upper Darby) said it would stop running the 1,900-bed Delaware County prison it built in 1996 at the end of this year - halfway through a two-year, $38-million-a-year contract extension.

That left the county scrambling to find someone else to manage the inmates, many with costly health and mental-health problems.

State Rep. John Perzel (R., Phila.) joined publicly traded Geo's board in 2005, when he was the influential speaker of the state House of Representatives. He's now speaker emeritus, a less powerful position.

Perzel collected $154,000 in director fees, stock and other compensation from Geo last year, according to Geo documents. That's more than double his state salary of $76,000.

Another Pennsylvania blog, checking the balance, notes that Geo also manages a facility on Guantanamo (this is easily confirmed by visiting the Geo website). That's interesting, Perzel and Gitmo.

Newspaper blogger Dave Ralis noted in 2006 that Perzel missed a property tax reform vote because he was in Florida at a Geo board meeting.

If you review the list of Geo's board of directors:
Wayne H. Calabrese, Pres, Geo Group
George C. Zoley, CEO, Geo Group
Norman A. Carlson, Former Director Federal Bureau of Prisons
John M. Palms, Pres Emeritus Univ of South Carolina
Richard H. Glanton, CEO Philadelphia Television Network
Anne N. Foreman, Former Under Secretary USAF
John M. Perzel, former speaker PA House of Rep

You might notice another familiar Pennsylvania name, Richard H. Glanton, who worked in the Thornburgh administration (PA Gov. Richard Thornburgh) and also served on the board of the Barnes Foundation and Lincoln University. For a company with such far flung business interests and only one client in Pennsylvania it seems odd to me that two of the seven board members live and work in Pennsylvania, especially considering that two of the remaining five are executives with the company, so only five of the seven are outsiders. Wackenhut was founded in the Philadelphia area but, still, it seems odd to me. I could be wrong, though.

I do find it interesting that he earns more than twice his legislative salary for serving on the Geo board.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Good Jon Stewart Clip

One of my email buddies sent me the link to a Jon Stewart Daily Show clip, featuring Karl Rove and a few other noteworthy names. It provides some good perspective. Worth a view

Vashti and Charlie Dent's Toes

If you watched the Democratic National Convention you might remember, just after Michelle Obama’s speech, that her husband, Sen. Barack Obama, joined the convention on video from Missouri and told his daughters that their mom (a Harvard Law School grad) looked “cute.” You might remember all the talk about Joe Biden’s wife Jill (a PhD college professor) being gorgeous. If you are old enough you might remember a televised event during Bill Clinton’s presidency at which he brought out his wife (currently the junior senator from New York) and said “Doesn’t Hillary look wonderful tonight?” (or something like that). I do. And while I am all for a married couple having a robust and satisfying personal life, I don’t think the American viewing public should be asked to watch.

Where does Vashti come in? You probably won’t remember this, but it is what comes to my mind often when watching or hearing the events listed above. Many of you will have heard of the Biblical Esther, wife of King Xerxes of Persia. She doesn’t actually come in to the Book of Esther until chapter 2, though. In chapter 1 Vashti is the queen. Xerxes throws a feast for his officials and servants, princes and nobles. Vashti hosts a similar event for the women of the palace. Towards the end of the week long party Xerxes and his buddies get a little buzzed and he sends an order for Vashti to come over so they can all see how beautiful she is. She refuses and gets demoted. End of chapter 1. I do wish that every once in a while a political wife would refuse to participate on some of these rituals but perhaps Vashti’s example still resonates.

If Hillary were the nominee would Bill have come out on stage in a baby blue tux, nipped in at the waist, with a match cummerbund and done a little twirl? I kind of doubt it. If Sen. McCain is elected can we expect Todd Palin to parade around in evening wear? Not likely. Note this paragraph from the Wall Street Journal (“Cindy McCain to introduce herself,” by Elizabeth Holmes and Jonathan Kaufman, 9/05):

Thursday, before her speech, Mrs. McCain attended a lunch in her honor. She entered the room with a surprise escort: Todd Palin, the husband of her husband’s running mate. Wearing a red dress, her platinum blonde hair pulled back and four strands of pearls around her neck, Mrs. McCain beamed as the crowd jumped to its feet.

What was Alaska’s “First Dude” wearing? Posterity will be left to wonder as no mention is made of his clothes, though we presume he was wearing some.

Where do Charlie Dent’s toes come in? Well, more than one media outlet has reported that at the Republican National Convention Gov. Palin wore red shoes that showed some of her toes. Furthermore, this brand of shoes, Naughty Monkey, is also favored by Paris Hilton. Something to add to her list of credentials. I call sex discrimination though. If you look at the campaign website for the incumbent Republican congressmen from Pennsylvania’s 15th district, and click on the “Meet Charlie Dent” tab, you will see a photo of Dent and his family. Note that he is wearing sandals and almost all of his toes are in clear view. Yet there’s been nary a peep about his piggies. No word on what kind of pedicure, if any, he had, or what kind of sandals he’s wearing, or whether any celebrities favor the same brand. What gives? Are political toes newsworthy or not?

That's my literary and political mashup for the evening. You are now free to return to your previously scheduled broadcast.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Palin / Hillary on SNL

If you are looking for the opening Saturday Night Live skit on Sarah Palin / Hillary Clinton, it is no longer available on YouTube. However you can find it on Hulu. You have to watch a short ad but it is well worth it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pennsylvania Democrats New Website Design

The state Democratic party has revamped their website, www.padems.com. Take a look. I like the election countdown clock. Their new blogger is posting frequently so it is worth going back on a regular basis.

Meeting the Candidates in Radnor

This afternoon I went to the Radnor Democrats (Delaware County) “Meet the Candidates” picnic. The Radnor Dems know how to put on a good show. The people were nice and there was a box of cookies on each table. At the end of the event Bruce Bikin, boss D, said there were guards at the exits and no one would be allowed to leave until all the hotdogs were eaten. Smart man, and clearly a veteran of group picnics.

A number of candidates did come out to meet the residents of Radnor. First up is a quick look at what they had to say, followed by some personal observations. Bikin and John Fisher, township commissioner for Ward 7 and one of two Democrats on the township board, introduced the speakers. Each candidate spoke for just a few minutes and my notes are sketchy, just jotting down a few things each said. Quite a few spoke on how important it is to make sure Barack Obama wins the presidency. Please refer to their websites for more information on their biographies and stands on the issues.

John Morganelli, candidate Pennsylvania Attorney General
He wants to be the first Democratic Attorney General since the position was made elective 28 years ago. To date all elected AG’s have been Republicans.
He went over his record (see his website for details). His agenda is to protect our communities. One particular change he would like to see is the mandatory reporting of lost or stolen handguns.

Rob McCord, candidate Pennsylvania State Treasurer
Thanks those working on campaigns
Pennsylvania invests $120 billion a year
Raised by a single mom, a teacher, then worked on Capitol Hill in budget and regulatory matters before becoming a financial executive
Hold our opponents accountable, [examples on the presidential race, mostly economic policy]
Hold him accountable
Hold yourself accountable, every time you gripe about something in politics, volunteer another hour, watch the grip vs work ratio

Daylin Leach, currently state representative in 149th district, candidate for 17th state senate district
Thank Radnor for the welcome
The newspaper said he was the most progressive member of the State House
Vote Obama, mentions that the next president will likely nominate one or more new Supreme Court justices. He says we want to avoid justices who follow the “Constitution in Exile” theory.

Joe Sestak, Congressman for the 7th district, running for re-election
His team is making over 1200 phone calls per day.
He emphasized the need to elect Sen. Obama as our next president.
He mentioned that his opponent, W. Craig Williams, grew up in Alaska and that Williams’ brother is Sarah Palin’s speechwriter.

Greg Vitali, state representative for the 166th state house district, running for re-election
Palin is an example of McCain’s poor political judgment
Keep the focus on McCain

Bryan Lentz, state representative for the 161st state house district, running for re-election
In 2010 the state house will redraw congressional and state districts in response to the 2010 census.
We need to keep and increase the Democratic majority in the state house.

Tom Quinn, candidate for the 165th state house district
He is a teacher and has an outsider’s perspective on government
We need politics where people vote for someone instead of against someone.
Harrisburg needs change.
Obama talks about hope but also about justice.

Personal observations:
The Radnor folks are very welcoming. The food was good and the water was cold. As for the candidates, it was the first time I had seen many of them in person, or watched them interacting with the public.

Morganelli is low-key and personable. People seemed to find him easy to talk with.

McCord is focused and very smart. I imagine he keeps track of money very well and in great detail.

Bryan Lentz seemed to be in great demand as he was always in a discussion with one or more people there. Several people sought him out.

Greg Vitali, long one of my favorite state representatives, was also very at home with the crowd and also frequently sought out by residents.

Tom Quinn is very comfortable with people and they seem very comfortable with him.

Congressman Sestak was trying to visit with a number of constituent groups today and was in and out rather quickly though I did see him talking with a few people.

Daylin Leach mentioned that he would be debating W. Craig Williams, who is running against Joe Sestak, over which presidential candidate would be better for the Jewish community.

[h/t and thanks to the gentleman who made sure I knew about this event and sent me directions; they were excellent]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More Slimy Election Tactics

The Associated Press is reporting that one of the novelty items being sold at the Values Voter Summit, co-sponsored by American Values and Focus on the Family Action, was a box of "Obama Waffles" mix. According to "Forum sells 'Obama Waffles' with racial stereotype," by Joan Lowy:

While Obama Waffles takes aim at Obama's politics by poking fun at his public remarks and positions on issues, it also plays off the old image of the pancake-mix icon Aunt Jemima, which has been widely criticized as a demeaning stereotype. Obama is portrayed with popping eyes and big, thick lips as he stares at a plate of waffles and smiles broadly.

Placing Obama in Arab-like headdress recalls the false rumor that he is a follower of Islam, though he is actually a Christian.

On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, above a recipe for "Open Border Fiesta Waffles" that says it can serve "4 or more illegal aliens." The recipe includes a tip: "While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?"

I don't know what it is about politics that brings out the worst in people.

PA in the WSJ

This is a list of articles regarding Pennsylvania in this week's Wall Street Journal. Chances are I missed something, but these are the articles that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I routinely do not read the editorials in the WSJ. So any discussions of the state, its elected officials, businesses, or citizens, in editorials will not be mentioned here.

PA Politicians

State Sen. Vince Fumo does the honors this week. See “Trial begins for senator accused of misusing funds,” (9/08)

PA Businesses

“Retails reprogram workers in efficiency push,” by Vanessa O’Connell (9/10) has a Langhorne, PA byline and focuses on Ann Taylor stores.

According to “For fliers, cuts in service bring a little relief,” by Scott McCartney (9/09), about 73% of the flights to Philadelphia arrived on time.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is one of the papers whose digitized backfiles Google will host. See “Google offers to archive newspaper articles” (9/08)

Last week I forgot to include a quote from Mark Zandi. This week I made sure to note it. Mr. Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com is quoted in “Housing’s biggest woes are left untreated,” by Michael Corkery (9/08)

According to the graphic accompanying “Exports bolster local economies,” by Timothy Aeppel (9/11), Pennsylvania has areas with a good relatively good percentage of local gross domestic product over the past two years.

Boeing is mentioned in “Boeing worker pleads guilty to damaging helicopter” (9/12)

Gamesa is mentioned in “Siemens increases it’s windmill push,” by Alexander Becker (9/12)

Other PA

“Wharton students linked to exam web site,” by John Hechinger (9/13)

Arthur Hellman at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law is quoted in “Federal judge suspended on misconduct charges,” by Nathan Koppel (9/13)

David Graff of the Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania is quoted in “Making every word count,” by Carl Bialik (9/12)

Other Interesting Tidbits

Joe Biden has released ten years worth of tax returns confirming that he is “a man of relatively modest means.” His campaign said this was to encourage Sarah Palin to do the same. See “Biden releases tax returns, prodding Palin” by Christopher Cooper and T. W. Farnam (9/13)

This is a little scary. Picasa will now help you label the people in your photographs by trying to match up the people in new images you post to those previously labeled, and also by isolating the images of people in your photos to help you label them. See “Improved Picasa puts a name to a face,” by Katherine Boehret (9/10). You know, I thought it was overkill when someone posted a note on LinkedIn saying they thought all these headshots people were putting on their social media pages were being scanned into a big facial recognition software database somewhere that would be used for law enforcement, airport security, and other purposes. Now, I’m not so sure. People really need to think about the long term implications of having identifiable photos of themselves plastered all over the internet. Now Picasa makes it easier for people to identify the photos of others that they plaster all over the internet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

PA in the WSJ (8/02 - 8/06)

Either it was a slow week or I missed some things. Almost caught up.

This is a list of articles regarding Pennsylvania in this week's Wall Street Journal. Chances are I missed something, but these are the articles that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I routinely do not read the editorials in the WSJ. So any discussions of the state, its elected officials, businesses, or citizens, in editorials will not be mentioned here.

PA Politicians

Not politicians, but politics. Chatham poli sci prof Karla Cunningham is quoted, as is Hillary Weiss, a Philadelphia accountant, in “Palin candidacy exposes divisions among women,” by Jonathan Kaufman and Elizabeth Williamson (9/03)

In “Republicans falter in outreach to Blacks, Hispanics,” by Jonathan Kaufman (9/05), we learn that: “In 2004, Mr. Bush received 11% of the black vote nationally, but about 16% of the black vote in Pennsylvania and Ohio – swing states that could tip the election.” The same article points out that only 1.5% of the delegates at the Republican National Convention were black, -- the lowest percentage in 40 years. At the Democratic National Convention, 24% of the delegates were black. That is a noticeable difference.

PA Businesses

“Toll CEO’s views could undermine stock,” by Michael Corkery (9/04)

“Toll Brothers swings to loss for quarter,” by David Benoit and Michael Corkery (9/05)

Other PA

Al Harris’s time with the Philadelphia Eagles is discussed in “The NFL’s nonconformist,” by Reed Albergotti (9/05)

Other Interesting Tidbits

“Palin’s hockey rink leads to legal trouble in town she lead,” by Michael M. Phillips (9/06). Interesting. Never a good idea to start building roads, etc. before you have clear legal title to the land.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Energy and Green Jobs Reports

A few more reports for those interested in energy independence and green jobs. A second report on the economic opportunities of investing in clean energy, specifically in Pennsylvania, has been released. See:

Green Economic Recovery Program
Impact on Pennsylvania
Part of a National Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy
By Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, James Heintz, and Helen Scharber

To see how this dovetails with Governor Rendell’s Energy Independence Strategy, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us and click on the “Fueling Energy Savings” icon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Interview with Robert Traynham (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third and last part of my three part interview with Robert Traynham – Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief and Host, “Roll Call TV with Robert Traynham” – CN8, The Comcast Network. Part 1, general questions, appeared in August. Part 2, on the Democratic National Convention, appeared earlier this month. These questions pertain to the Republican National Convention.

On the Sept. 5th Washington Week in Review Gwen Ifill said that at the Republican National Convention people actually shook their fists at her in anger at the press. Did you see or hear anything similar?

I did not see that. There were however a ton of people at the Republican National Convention who openly talked about their disdain for the press. They mentioned one network in particular in chants. It’s probably not appropriate for me to go any further.

How well do you think the Republican vice presidential candidate was vetted before the announcement was made?

I don’t know, and it will be interesting to see how much interaction Senator McCain actually had with Governor Palin. I suspect that we will find out sooner rather than later. But hey, there is a thing called love at first sight and for some people, there is an instant connectivity when you first meet someone. I suspect that Senator McCain and Governor Palin hit it off instantly.

Were there any questions at the convention on the background image used during McCain’s speech? (It was of a middle school in California.)

Yes, there where a ton of questions about the backdrop – why the school? Why the cornfield? I must admit it was distracting for the first 3 minutes of the speech.

Renee Amoore, Pennsylvania businesswoman and current deputy chair of the state Republican party, spoke at this year’s RNC, chaired the state delegation in 2004, and conducted the roll call of the states in 2000. Is it unusual for someone with her position in politics to have had such national exposure? How much national influence does she wield? (“Clout” Philadelphia Daily News 9/04/08)

Renee is a very talented and savvy person. She is connected and she has the right touch when it comes to playing in the politics sandbox and also being a savvy businesswoman.

At one of the conventions you were televised having a conversation with someone in French. How many languages do you speak?

Really? I did not know anyone picked up on that. I can read and speak French conversationally. I understand Spanish but cannot speak it very well. I also speak some Italian.

What surprised you the most about the Republican National Convention?

The reaction to Sarah Palin. Many think she is the next Margaret Thatcher. We shall see.

Community Information Needs

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has established a Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

A well-informed citizenry is critical to democracy. News, journalism and other information conduits play a central role in informing society. Yet, at a time when the problems facing American communities are arguably unprecedented in number, scope and complexity, the nation’s news and information systems, both commercial and not-for-profit, are in the midst of a technological revolution that is dramatically changing flows of news and information.

The digital revolution is driving this new look at the role of news and information in our society. As the Hutchins Commission did in the 1940s, and the Kerner and Carnegie Commissions did in the 1960s, this Knight Commission will formulate a national agenda calculated to improve the flow of news and information in the nation’s communities. The Commission’s research-based work will focus on three large questions:

What are the information needs of communities in our American democracy?
What are the current trends affecting how community information needs are met?
What changes will ensure that community information needs will be better met in the

The commission will be holding three community meetings:
Mountain View, CA: September 8
Philadelphia, PA: September 27
Missoula, MT: October 25

If you are in town on the 27th it might be worthwhile to attend and speak your mind.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Head and Heart (Again)

Once again we find an interesting contrast in rhetoric. One day last week, same day, two fundraising letters arrived, one from 7th District Congressman Joe Sestak and the other from 8th District Congressman Patrick Murphy. Both are freshman Democrats in their first re-election campaign. Both have Republican opponents and both have been targeted by outside groups like Freedom's Watch.

So how did the letters compare? One went head, with reason and logic, one went heart, with references to past victory and current challenges.

Sestak starts out with facts and figures, with eight bulleted points. Here are a few of them:

Of all the 19 Congressional Districts in PA, our District has not only the highest number of registered voters, but also the highest number of registered Republicans (53%) and the lowest number of registered Democrats (36%) in the state. There are 236,041 Republicans versus 177,266 Democrats.

I am only the 2nd Democratic Congressman in our District since Abraham Lincoln was President.

Our District has been the most visited Congressional District -- of any in the nation -- by Senator McCain in this presidential election cycle.

This is followed by the "ask," where the reader is thanked by name for past support and asked for a donation.

Murphy uses a more emotional appeal. The letter starts out with:

We have always known that this race could be a priority for the right wing establishment, but now we know for certain that it is. In the past few weeks they have turned my district into a "who's who" of D.C. Republicans. Over a matter of weeks, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Arlen Specter, and House Minority Leader John Boehner have all made visits to Bucks County, and all to stump for my opponent.

but the money shot comes later:

My opponent has his allies, but I have mine. I have you.

Oh, whoa!!! That got me.

So, there you go. You can decide if either approach leads you to part with a campaign donation. In additional to their own campaign site, they are listed on ActBlue.

Check on FactCheck

If, like me, you are trying to make some sense of all the things zooming across the Internet and flowing into your inbox, remember www.factcheck.org. It is a good place to confirm or deny the rumors and stories you are hearing and seeing.

PA Critter Quest

If there are Zoo Tycoon fans in your house, they might also enjoy Critter Quest, an interactive mapping system that lets you see what amphibians, birds, and mammals are located in Pennsylvania.

Check it out at http://pcee.org/critterquestpa/index.html

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Hazard Trees?" What Are Hazard Trees?

From the inbox:

Hazard Trees / Tree Planting & Establishment Workshops
October 21-22, 2008
Philadelphia area: 1015 Bridge Rd, Collegeville, PA 19426

The Penn State School of Forest Resources is one of seven regional
organizations cooperating with Arbor Day Foundation to bring two
full-day tree care workshops to Pennsylvania this October. A complete
agenda and registration is available at: arborday.org/treeplanting. If
you register, please record your priority code as 7028.

These workshops will help you:
* Assess risk associated with defective trees
* Select proper tree species and cultivars for your area
* Determine impact of pruning and other cultural practices on tree
defense systems
* Evaluate soils and site conditions
* Develop proactive programs and policies to mitigate risk of tree
* Overcome transplanting problems

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Interview with Robert Traynham (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second part of my three part interview with Robert Traynham – Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief and Host, “Roll Call TV with Robert Traynham” – CN8, The Comcast Network. Part 1 appeared in August. These questions pertain to the Democratic National Convention.

There were several caucus meetings, Hispanic caucus, women’s caucus, etc., at the convention. Do these meetings serve any real purpose or accomplish anything other than a venue for networking?

I think first and foremost these caucus meetings serve as a venue for networking. I stopped by a couple of caucus breakfasts where you can break bread with people you haven’t met before, get to know one another, discuss strengths of the candidates and campaigns and brainstorm future initiatives. Especially when the caucuses are topical—for example, the women’s caucus was very relevant due to the Hillary-to-Obama shift. That being said, networking at caucus meetings does prove to be fruitful when it comes to the general election in the fall.

Did you hear any interesting rumors about or plans for people to run for Senate in 2010 against Arlen Specter or statewide or national offices in Pennsylvania?

I did. But they’re only rumors, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable commenting on them at this time. It’s to be determined!

Were you surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, by any of the speeches made at the convention?

I was surprised by how articulate and poised Michelle Obama was delivering her speech at the Convention. She was very comfortable speaking to the national audience about her husband and his accomplishments, and she exceeded my highest expectations.

What percentage of delegates attending the convention actually sit through several hours of speeches from the podium every evening?

I would say probably a little less than half. Conventions are highly-orchestrated with a large number of parties and networking events where attendees get to know each other. Convention speeches really are for the people at home, rather than those in the halls.

Is there really a significant number of Hillary Clinton supporters who are considering not voting or voting Republican?

Not sure if the word significant is accurate, but there are some that clearly are opposed to voting for Obama and are considering voting for McCain in November. Now that Palin is on the Republican ticket, it gives them an additional reason to think seriously about voting for McCain.

My thanks to Robert Traynham. I look forward to the third part of the interview.

PA in the WSJ (8/25-8/30)

Still catching up.

This is a list of articles regarding Pennsylvania in this week's Wall Street Journal. Chances are I missed something, but these are the articles that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I routinely do not read the editorials in the WSJ. So any discussions of the state, its elected officials, businesses, or citizens, in editorials will not be mentioned here.

PA Politicians

Republican Congressman Phil English gave up his spot as a national convention delegate, as mentioned in “Some fighting for congressional seats will skip convention,” by Sarah Lueck (8/30)

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter gets a mention in “Democrats nominate Obama, as Clinton delegates fall in,” by Laura Meckler and Amy Chozick (8/28)

Obama supporter Stephanie Campbell is mentioned in “Rethinking racial progress,” b Jonathan Kaufman (8/28)

Three women Pennsylvania delegates are quoted in “The Hillary watch,” by Amy Chozick and Laura Meckler (8/27)

“Biden’s birthplace looks to be as much a keystone state for Democrats as ever,” by Gerald F. Seib (8/27). Three or more other articles mention Biden’s Pennsylvania roots in passing and were not listed here.

Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., and Rev. Tony Campolo (of Philadelphia) are mentioned in “From prayer to ‘faith caucuses,’ party to show religious side,” by Suzanne Staline (8/25)

PA Businesses

“Comcast limits download volume,” by Vishesh Kumar (8/30)

More bad news for newspapers. From “Stop the presses,” by Robert Cyran and Lauren Silva (8/29):

This is better than some competitors, such as Journal Register, a Pennsylvania publisher whose interest expense mopped up more than 70% of second-quarter operating cash flow, a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests.

“Urban Outfitters fashions growth plan,” by Jennifer Saranow (8/27)

American Eagle Outfitters mentioned in “Results for retailers remain a tale of contrasts,” by Andria Cheng (8/27)

Ambit Funding of Wilkes-Barre is mentioned in “Hedge funds help fill gap in lending for property,” by Lingling Wei (8/27)

Brief mentions: Univest Corp of Pennsylvania (Souderton) (8/29)

Other PA

It’s all about us in “Leading of landmark turnpike puts state at policy crossroads,” by Craig Karmin (8/26)

Going against the grain, a doctor moves TO Pennsylvania because of a bad business climate elsewhere, as mentioned in “Nonprofit hospitals flex pricing power,” by John Carreyrou (8/28)

“Pittsburgh puts robots to work, and some can even be eaten,” by Clare Ansberry (8/27). Umm, no thanks. I’ll stick with chocolate.

Campbell Soup is dumping it’s Team Mom commercials for Chunky Soup. Wilma McNabb, mother of Donovan, is among the Moms. Originally an actress was hired to play the part but Mrs. McNabb said she could do just as well. Since then the real mothers of football players appeared in the commercials. Campbell’s new ad line features men fixing their own soup (or at least no one is seen fixing it for them). See “Campbell Soup sacks NFL’s mothers,” by Russell Adams (8/27)

In 2004, Pennsylvania ranked 6th in the nation in the number of residents with a net worth of $1.5 million or more. See “The ranks of the ultrawealthy grow,” by Tom Herman (8/27)

Carnegie Mellon economist Allan Metzer is quoted in “Fannie, Freddie woes vex experts and leave U.S. hard choices,” by Sudeep Reddy (8/25)