Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Review: A Time to Lead by Wesley Clark

Book Review: A Time to Lead

A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and County, by Wesley K. Clark with Tom Carhart. NY: Palgrave, 2007.

This book doesn’t really have a tie to Pennsylvania politics but Gen. Wesley Clark did some campaigning for candidates in the Commonwealth and I was on a conference call he participated in sometime during the 2006 campaign season.

Wes Clark is a military man by inclination as well as occupation. There is little personal introspection in the book and it is more a career biography than a personal biography. While he certainly mentions his wife we learn little of how he spent his time when off duty. It may have been intended as a campaign biography; if so there is much to admire but little to endear him to the reader, no emotional attachment is formed. To be honest I didn’t really warm up to the General until chapter 7 or 8, about halfway through the book. It is, however, a good book, a well-written book. It would be a great gift for an uncle with military experience or interest, or some other male relative for whom one does not know what else to buy.

In the acknowledgements Clark thanks several relatives for helping him with the chapters concerning his youth. One cousin mentioned is Mary Steenbergen. Yes, it’s that Mary Steenburgen, the actress. There is only one other real mention of her in the book. Tom Carhart, who helped Clark with the book, was a West Point classmate.

The preface (pp. 1-11) sets the stage for the military focus by opening in 1970 with Clark being wounded in Viet Nam. He was out with some of his men on the trail trying to pinpoint the enemy. He was shot and medevac’ed out. His son, whom he had not yet seen, was three months old at the time.

The introduction is truly just that; Clark sets the tone by discussing the importance of leadership, a major theme of the book. He says leadership is about performance, knowledge and skills. The taciturn tone is set, and his life story is given in condensed form, in one and a half pages (14-15).

With the tone and theme put in place Clark begins with a staccato outline of his youth and family background, as he knew it growing up. Chapter 1 (pp. 16-31) covers his life up to high school. His father died when he was not quite four and it was not until he was an adult that he learned Benjamin Kanne was Jewish and the son of Russian immigrants. Veneta Kanne moved back home to Arkansas. Victor Clark was his mother’s third husband and their courtship and early years of marriage were somewhat rocky, in part due to Victor Clark’s drinking. Wes Clark writes about the limitations on women in the 1950’s and the hardships single mothers face. Two quotes stood out for me. The first is a paean:

The bonds of love that build up between a single mother and her child can become the bark on the tossing sea of life that will carry those young souls safely to a future port of success and happiness. And your high expectations matter enormously to your youngsters; they are a force that can have a truly life-changing effect on them. (p. 24)

The second seems to me a bit clumsy:
But I worry that not every single mother has the kind of family network my mom had. As a nation, we need to help our single moms with child care, cooking, cleaning, the opportunity to advance their skills, and all the other support that’s so easy to take for granted. (p. 25)

Little Rock in the late 1950’s was in the throes of desegregation. In 10th grade he went to a private military school because the public high school was closed to avoid complying with the Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs Board of Education. This is outlined in the second chapter (pp. 33-41). Clark discusses his continued interest in swimming and the swim team, as well as visiting a nearby college library to try to each himself Russian. His leisure time reading is Plato and Toynbee. He writes about his first real leadership responsibilities as a camp counselor. One dream, to become an astronaut, is lost when he started wearing glasses, but he finds another when he decides he wants to go to West Point. He takes the initiative to contact his elected officials asking for their recommendation but is turned down the first year; the next year he is accepted. Even with the upheaval going on when he was young, Clark has this to say about his education:
Public schools are the crucible of the nation. Training and testing grounds where standards are set and norms established, they are crucially important in shaping and solidifying the personalities and character traits of the young people who pass through them. (42)

Clark’s description of West Point may be accurate but I’m not sure it will help with recruitment. He is in his first year (which does not sound like fun) before he realizes that “the purpose of the army is to kill” (p. 48) and later mentions “the raw power that gorges your body and floods your senses as you spray bullets at an enemy” (p. 62). He also shows his age a little when he refers to the cadences troops sing when running as “gay, bawdy ballads” (p. 50). Clark survives his first year and continues in his studies. Some of the faculty encourage him to think about trying to become a Rhodes Scholar. After a trip to Russia he again shifts his career focus, this time from physics to international relations. A trip to New York brings another life change when he offers to buy a young woman a drink in a bar; she will later become his wife. He ends the chapter with a long discussion of what “duty, honor, country” means to him.

After graduating he goes to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His first few years after West Point were tumultuous, full of surprises, good and bad. He proposes to Gertrude Kingston, known as Gert, and they take a long drive along the European coast. A car accident puts a damper on the trip. After his first year in Oxford they married, honeymooned in Puerto Rico, and spent the summer in Arkansas where they “cuddled and cooed” (p. 75). This was in the late 1960’s and Clark presented the military’s point of view at some meetings on the Vietnam War. He also learns his father is the son of Russian Jewish immigrants.

In July, 1969, Clark left for Vietnam; Gert was four months pregnant. At first he was given an administrative job, preparing daily briefings for commanders, but he was eager for a command of his own. In January, 1970, he was put in command of A Company, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry (Mechanized). On February 19th he was wounded in the shoulder, leg, hand and buttocks. He was sent back to the states, to a hospital in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and met his four month old son for the first time.

After recovering he took command of an armored brigade at Fort. Knox, and stayed with them from May through September, 1970. Their primary job was fixing tanks. Following that he went to a nine month program to learn tactics, logistics, and leadership, and then to the Pentagon for three months. Following that he went back to West Point, this time as a teacher, and stayed for three years. Clark questions some of Pres. Nixon’s decisions regarding Vietnam. One summer he worked on a report regarding energy and defense and the Persian Gulf. Clark writes about his West Point years as family-based as his son grows from toddler to pre-schooler.

He was sent to Ft. Leavenworth, to the Army’s Command and Staff College. Those who had been in the war didn’t discuss their experiences. “There were no good war stories from Vietnams. Not anymore” (107). Clark wrote a master’s thesis on contingency operations since World War II. Studying military theory and thinking about the Vietnam War, he decides the most important lesson was this “Don’t commit American forces unless you commit enough to win” (109). Following his education at Leavenworth, Clark was selected for a White House Fellowship, as a special assistant to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. This was during the first Bush administration and Clark’s view of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld is not always complimentary. However, he did have the opportunity to travel to the Middle East with the OMB. Later he had an assignment in Germany, another tank battalion, and then on to Belgium, to work for Gen. Alexander Haig.

In 1980 Clark again found himself in command of a tank battalion. His earlier experience came in handy; it is clear he knows the inner workings of tanks. The unit was in trouble, flunking inspections, and his job was to improve their performance. He discusses the change from a draft army to an all volunteer army. In part this continues his understanding of leadership, learning to motivate those in his command, and how to try to make everyone winners. He compares this to the organizational leadership in the corporate world. In 1982 he is promoted to colonel and selected to run the training and evaluation system for the army’s new training center.

There is a death in each of the first three rotations under his command. Reviewing what happened he comes to the realization that only soldiers win battles. Leaders can lose them but only soldiers can win them (136). Another realization is that people only see the faults you are looking for and only correct the mistakes you anticipate (137). After a quick rise through the ranks Clark is passed over twice before being promoted to brigade commander. The Army selected him to create a Combat Training Center. After promotion to Brigadier General he is placed in command of the National Training Center.

Finally Clark begins to discuss some of his personal life. In May, 1986 his mother dies and he writes: “No one can love you the way your mother does, and you can’t really love anyone else the way you love your mother” (138). Early in his military career Clark had noted that the military does not support military families the way it should. He writes more about it at this point and his experience as a parent of a child in base schools. He also acknowledges the efforts of his wife in volunteer and community activities. At the National Training Center he held town hall meetings to learn what people who lived there wanted. He heard about lines at the local Burger King and the base rule against planting flowers, among other problems, and made efforts to fix these types of problems.

When Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait he offered to go but was asked to stay stateside at the NTC. After Iraqi forces leave Kuwait Clark is in the Pentagon and talks with Paul Wolfowitz who says “we screwed up and left Saddam Hussein in power” (150). Clark also takes note of the ethnic strife in the Balkans.

The years 1991 and 1992 were busy one for Clark and his family. He was promoted to two star general and sent to the Training and Doctrine Command in Virginia. Within weeks he was given command of the 1st Cavalry Division. His personal life also had ups and downs. His stepfather died but his son graduated from Georgetown. In discussing his work with the 1st Cav, Clark again brings up the importance of supporting military families. As one example he made it possible for parents to be given time off work to meet with school counselors if a child or teen got in trouble at school. One of the military lessons he lamented had to be learned over and over is that “When you deploy, send cohesive units, don’t pick units to pieces, and don’t go into combat, or near combat, with patchwork outfits” (157).

He also writes about his interaction with Bill Clinton. Clark left Oxford a few months before Clinton arrived so they did not meet there, but had once had dinner when both were in Arkansas. However, in October 1993 when Clark was in Washington, Clinton invited him and his wife to dinner and some other people from Arkansas, including Mary Steenbergen. This is the only time Clark mentions his cousin, other than including her name in the acknowledgements. The dinner may have led to the rumor that he was on close terms with the president (164).

In 1994 he went to work for John Shalikashvili at the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his position was called the J-5, the Director of Strategic Plans and Policy. The work required him to be informed on issues around the world. He writes about Rwanda, Haiti, Croatia and other “hot spots.” Since many of these conflicts were within countries rather than between countries it was difficult to construct a military strategy to replace the Cold War strategy that had been in place. In regards to Rwanda, Clark writes (169):
We couldn’t go halfway in and fail. When the United States did something, it had to do it right, I believed. If there was one single principle to hold on to, the major lesson of Vietnam, this was it: Be slow to go in, and make sure you have enough power and capabilities to do the job. Otherwise, don’t go in!

On the political aspects of his job, Clark says this (173):
This is the way our political system works: The opposition party spots vulnerabilities in the presiding government and offers the electorate an alternative. In this case, the Republicans found what they believed was a glaring weakness, and they would exploit it. That’s elementary in principle, but in practice, it is often not so clear.

The weakness he is referring to is Clinton’s foreign policy and the sequential military problems of civil unrest in the countries mentioned above, as well as others. Clark takes his first trip to the former Yugoslavia to meet with Bosnian and Serb leaders. The political aspects of working in Washington also come into play when Trent Lott sends around a memo saying Clark is not to be trusted (174), might have tried to have him fired. Since Clark’s family had been stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, his wife volunteered in Rep. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office, on military family issues.

As the situation in the former Yugoslavia deteriorated, Clark went to that area as part of a delegation led by Tony Lake, the National Security Advisor, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bob Frasure. One of their vehicles hit a mine and some of their delegation were killed. On this trip Clark spent a lot of time with Slobodan Milosevic and says of him “for all his evil, Milosevic was a keen observer of human nature and as astute practitioner of power diplomacy” (184).

In further coming to grips with the limitations of military solution he writes (185-6):
We could restore a government, and even organize elections, but we couldn’t seem to heal a broken society, transform a social order, or create self-sustaining economic development. And when we intervened, we inevitably became responsible, not just for installing a new government, but for the enduring welfare of the whole society from which a functioning government should draw its support.

Clark is sent to Panama to become the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command and promoted to full general. He learned Spanish and looked into the effectiveness of the U.S. counter-narcotics program. Here also he noted that (191):
There were not national deployable “reserves” of doctors, lawyers, accountants, auditors, city planners, forestry experts, agricultural extension exercises, or police trainers.

However, he was not in South and Central America long before being transferred to Europe as the Commander of Chief, U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, which put him in charge of NATO forces as well. This would be his last military command, and much of it was taken up with Milosevic and Bosnia. He had to not only try to persuade American politicians but also European ones as well. Eventually Clark sent in bombers, some of which inadvertently hit civilians. Chapter 12 is primarily concerned with this part of his life, for anyone interested. The amount of political muscle he exercised had its drawbacks and he was asked to retire three months early.

He and his wife moved back to Little Rock and he took a job at an investment bank. Although he had converted to Catholicism the couple attended a Presbyterian church. He kept in touch with friends in Washington and was told by one general shortly after 9/11 that Bush planned to attack Iraq (231). While Clark, like many in the military, was not registered in a political party, but there were complaints when he appeared as a commentator on CNN that he was an unannounced presidential candidate. After some thought he does decide to get into the race but the campaign is short-lived.

The final chapter of the book discusses his philosophy, a discussion of the Iraq War and policy suggestions on a variety of issues.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Budget Rant: Spitting Nails Edition

Last night I was out getting some school supplies we missed the first few times around. My sympathies to the mom who got to the store after me since I dug around and found the last folder with clasps inside. Tonight I have to write a note acknowledging that one of the kids turned in homework one day late.

The schools around here are very big on teaching kids responsibility early on. Late papers are a matter of concern and are often not accepted, depending on the teacher. Parents hear it over and over -- the kids have to learn to take school and homework seriously and turn things in on time.

Alas, the state legislature would get a giant F on this one. It's the end of September; the state budget ran out at the end of June, and in the intervening three months our state government has not been able to get their act together enough to come up with a new one.

There is, of course, what is being called the Frankenbudget, a hodge podge of bizarre revenue choices -- tax on cigarellos but not cigars or chewing tobacco, tax on museums and the arts but not on movies or sporting events (now, who paid for that stadium?). John Baer has a nice list of what's in the budget and what's not:

Tax gum, candy, soda, Marcellus Shale extraction, and all tobacco products. Just do it.

But to be perfectly honest, I know that eventually the state will pass a budget and the schools will start getting state funds again, along with other social services. There will be scars, many unnecessary. It's just that it's too late. This is the kids showing up with homework not just the next day or the next week but after the marking period is over.

Even if it were the most wonderful budget ever, it's just too late to matter. There's no excuse for it to have drug on for this long. Schools out, guys, you failed.

Scranton Mayor in WaPo

In case you missed it, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty was profiled in the Washington Post's blog The Fix, written by Chris Cillizza.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Special Election Tomorrow in 24th State Senate

Those who live in the 24th state senate district please remember that there is a special election tomorrow, and please go out and vote.

Democratic candidate is Anne Scheuring.

Fitzgerald and Micek Named Best State Political Reporters

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post's The Fix blog has released his list of the best state political reporters. On the list for Pennsylvania: Tom Fitzgerald of the Inquirer and John Micek of the Allentown Morning Call and my personal favorite political blog, Capitol Ideas.

Fed Transit Money for Erie

From the inbox:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood and FTA Administrator Rogoff Announce $1.9 Million in Federal Recovery Act Funds for

Transit Improvements in Erie, PA

The Obama Administration today announced $1.9 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds for transit improvements in Erie, PA.

“Through the Recovery Act, we are creating jobs today in Erie and across America while building a better, more sustainable economy moving forward,” said Secretary LaHood. “Rebuilding the nation’s transportation infrastructure is a key part of a prescription for economic strength.”

The Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority will use the funds to replace five buses.

Since President Obama signed ARRA into law on Feb. 17, 2009, grants totaling more than $7.2 billion have been made available for transit improvements throughout the nation.

“These funds are creating jobs now while improving the quality and availability of transit service in the future,” said Administrator Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). “The public’s demand for transit options continues to grow, and these dollars will help meet that need.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation is making $48.1 billion available for highway, road, transit, bridge and airport construction and repairs nationwide. Of that, $26.5 billion already has been obligated to fund more than 8,500 approved projects in 55 U.S. States and Territories.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Note on Jonathan Jenkins

The campaign of Jonathan Jenkins brought itself to my attention this weekend; any candidate I have followed closely will tell you that my attention is a mixed blessing. However, it's not that often that a Republican candidate will jump in front of my digital window and yell "yoo hoo, over here!" Of course there's always the chance that they were confusing me with someone else. In any case, I took at look at their campaign website and have these comments based on the information there, without doing any further research.

Mr. Jenkins is running for the 26th state house district, which "consists of Chester County’s only city, Coatesville, as well as the municipalities of East Coventry, East Nantmeal, East Vincent, Elverson, Honey Brook Borough, Honey Brook Township, North Coventry, Spring City, Valley, Wallace, Warwick, West Caln, and West Nantmeal."

I had no idea that a town called West Nantmeal existed in Pennsylvania, but it somehow seems fitting that it should be close to Honey Brook.

Currently the 26th district is represented by Tim Hennessey, a Republican. Yes, that is correct, Mr. Jenkins is challenging an incumbent from his own party. Depending on your perspective that's either very gutsy or very dumb.

Mr. Jenkins is a veteran. He served as an air traffic controller in the Marine Corps. and went into the Reserves after leaving active duty. He was recalled after Sept. 11th 2001 and eventually promoted to Gunnery Sergeant. For those not familiar with the Marines, "gunnies" are generally people you don't want to mess with. Jenkins was sent to Iraq in 2008 and is now, again, back in Pennsylvania in the Reserves. He has been active in Republican politics in a variety of roles.

Looking at some of his policy statements, here are a few thoughts.

Under "Right to Work" we read:

Coming from a union family, I obviously respect and recognize a place in industry for them. With my father being a lifetime member of a union, my sisters and I certainly benefited from all they offered.

But he doesn't like "forced unionism," requiring those in union shops to pay a portion of union dues whether they belong to the union or not. Here I will confess a prejudice -- I'm currently an officer in my local union. People who work at a union shop benefit from the contracts. If everyone earns the union salary and gets the union benefits I think they should pay part of the dues. And Mr. Jenkins is correct, he benefited from growing up in a union family. Trying to close off that opportunity to young families now bothers me.

Mr. Jenkins has several statements on health care. This is one of them:
Healthcare mandates have their place and can be beneficial to some groups of people but the majority are not measured and managed. It is unfair for the forgotten taxpayer to pay for mandates that show no value or no data to allow us to know the success or failure of programs. We need to remove the emotion from healthcare legislation and replace it with tangible measurable and sunset dates.

However, he has this to say about veterans benefits:
Military members disabled in the course of duty deserve benefits to appropriately meet their needs.

Disabled Veterans Real Estate Tax Exemption Program
I will advocate for the lowering of the required disability percentage from 100% to 75%. This is a more appropriate way to treat our wounded warriors.

Special Housing Adaptation
The Veterans Administration has a terrific program to help offset cost for adapting the house of a military member to meet any special needs deriving from a service related disability.

Since there is an eligibility criteria based on type and severity of a disability I will advocate from the study on the number of military members denied access to this program and appropriate specifics to determine if follow-on legislation must be sponsored to support our defenders of freedom.

Free Fishing Licenses for Disabled Veterans
It is my opinion that we should encourage disabled veterans to enjoy Pennsylvanias parks and waterways. One way to accomplish this is to lower the disability percentage from the 100% requirement in existence currently to 25%

I see some conflict here but the voters in the 26th might not. Certainly, as someone who is from a military family and who benefited from the medical coverage provided to military dependents (at least for the years I was a military dependent), I support veterans benefits. But I'm not sure you can support this and downplay health care mandates generally. And the fishing license thing seems a little strange but maybe it's an issue in the 26th.

Mr. Jenkins' website has a number of policy statements on it. The site is well-designed and informative. I thank Mr. Jenkins for his service to our country and for his willingness to run for office. Not knowing him, let's take the high road and assume he will run an honest and efficient campaign -- that takes a lot of energy and diligence.

Let the best Republican win.

Update on Croydon Station

Last June I attended the groundbreaking for the Croydon Station (Bucks County) renovation). The post generated a few comments and since then I've received a few emails asking if I knew how the project was going.

To be honest I haven't been to the station since then and so have no first hand knowledge but the nice people at SEPTA were kind enough to give me an update. Here is what the official word is on the progress so far:

Since the ground-breaking of the Croydon Station Revitalization Project in June 2009 several important elements have been addressed:

* Cedar Avenue has been realigned with Rt. 13 to improve traffic safety and volume in the area.

* The elevated pedestrian walkway on Cedar Avenue is nearly complete.

* An 8ft. high, 700 ft. long privacy wall has been constructed on the outbound lot for the residents on Magnolia Avenue whose homes boarder the station.

* A storm water detention system beneath the station outbound parking lot has been completed.

The two-year $12 million construction project will revitalize the current Croydon Station with a new state-of-the-art transportation facility.

Thanks to SEPTA for the information.

DOC Invests in Ben Franklin Tech Partners

From Friday's inbox:

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra visited Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania at Lehigh University today to discuss job creation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Obama Administration’s strategy to spur American innovation.

“ America 's creative thinkers and innovators will lead the way to economic recovery,” Locke said. “President Obama is taking historic steps to lay the foundation for the innovation economy of the future. Earlier this week he laid out a strategy for American innovation that builds on more than $100 billion of Recovery Act funds that support innovation. Today we move that strategy forward.”

Locke and Chopra also announced a significant new Recovery Act grant for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania to expand Ben Franklin TechVentures, its incubator/post-incubator facility. The $6 million grant, from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), will increase Ben Franklin’s ability to deliver to early-stage technology companies hands-on support, guidance and connections to key resources during the economic recovery. The construction of the facility’s addition will also create jobs in the short term.

“Ben Franklin TechVentures is an award-winning facility that now stands as a leader in Pennsylvania 's tech industry, providing space and expertise for the businesses of the future,” Locke said. “This project creates jobs and fosters a favorable business environment for high-growth companies.”

Under the Recovery Act, 4.8 million Pennsylvania families have benefited from $2.5 billion in tax relief under the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. An additional 10,868 Pennsylvanians have taken advantage of the First Time Homebuyers Credit, receiving $87 million in tax relief. All told, more than $9.5 billion has been obligated to Pennsylvania under the Recovery Act.

“I am pleased to see stimulus funds at work for Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Ben Franklin TechVentures,” U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said. “Support for this economic development initiative advances the role of market success through technology, ensures cutting-edge industry in the Lehigh Valley and helps hasten economic stability for Pennsylvania .”

Responding to aggressive goals set out by President Obama and Vice President Biden, Secretary Locke directed the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration to act expeditiously to deliver Recovery Act funds to communities where they were needed most. Across the country, the department has made vital investments in initiatives like workforce development and training centers, regional business incubators and transportation projects to connect communities to key markets.

With the delivery of today's grant, EDA has dispersed all $150 million of its Recovery Act funding one full year ahead of schedule.

“This grant should help promote economic development in the eastern part of the Commonwealth, and I am glad that the U.S. Department of Commerce is announcing this award today,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said. “This project is another example of how the Recovery and Reinvestment Act is delivering targeted investments that will help Pennsylvania ’s economy turn the corner.”

President Obama’s strategy for American innovation seeks to harness the inherent ingenuity of the American people and the dynamic private sector to ensure that the next economic expansion is solid and broad-based. It focuses on critical areas where sensible, balanced government policies can lay the foundation for innovation that leads to quality jobs and shared prosperity.

The administration’s strategy has three parts:

1. Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation. Ensure that our economy is given all the necessary tools for successful innovation, from investments in research and development to the human, physical, and technological capital needed to perform that research and transfer those innovations.

2. Promote Competitive Markets that Spur Productive Entrepreneurship. It is imperative to create a national environment ripe for entrepreneurship and risk taking that allows U.S. companies to be internationally competitive in a global exchange of ideas and innovation. Through competitive markets, innovations diffuse and scale appropriately across industries and globally.

3. Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities. There are certain sectors of exceptional national importance where the market is unlikely to produce the desirable outcomes on its own. These include developing alternative energy sources, reducing costs and improving lives with health IT, and manufacturing advanced vehicles. In these industries where markets may fail on their own, government can be part of the solution.

“Ben Franklin TechVentures will bring together technology entrepreneurs, Ben Franklin staff and Lehigh University faculty and students to their mutual advantage,” R. Chadwick Paul, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, said. “This 47,000 square-foot building addition will accelerate growth and innovation in our technology economy as more space becomes available in our expanded incubator/post-incubator facility.”

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania is part of a four-center, state-funded economic development initiative that links companies with business and technical experts, universities, funding, and other resources to help them prosper through innovation. The organization’s strategy encompasses three key areas: developing early stage, technology-oriented companies; helping established manufacturers creatively apply new technologies and business practices; and promoting an innovative community-wide infrastructure that fosters a favorable business environment for high-growth companies. It also operates Ben Franklin TechVentures, an award-winning incubator/post-incubator facility, on Lehigh’s campus. Ben Franklin Technology Partners helps clients to achieve and sustain market success and competitive advantage through technology. For more information, visit:

Solar Powered Wine

From Friday's inbox:

State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger today held a news conference at Crossing Vineyards and Winery to underscore the need for clean-energy legislation currently in the state House, while promoting the benefits of adopting clean-energy practices.

"Two years ago, the winery embarked on a project to install solar panels that would help reduce energy costs and fossil fuel consumption," Santarsiero said. "The project will last for 30 years, saving 12.5 barrels of oil per year. For just one project, the energy savings implications are profound – the winery will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 8,600 pounds a year."

The winery aims to be completely off the electric grid in five or fewer years. Santarsiero said that, in doing so, it would be consistent with the goal of H.B. 80, which would increase Tier I requirements in Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards beginning in 2014 to 18 percent by 2024. Tier I requirements delineate the proportion of electricity that electric distribution companies must purchase from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

"With this energy-saving technology in place, one of many that businesses can explore, Crossing Vineyards produces more than enough energy for its operations, leaving any excess available for purchase by electric utilities," he said. "This mutually beneficial relationship is exactly what House Bill 80 would forge between alternative energy sources and utilities."

Additionally, Santarsiero successfully amended the bill to ensure that alternative energy tax credits would not be awarded to coal plants that do not use carbon dioxide capture and sequestration, or CCS. The bill also would add incentives for new and existing coal-fired power plants that conduct CCS, which would prevent the harmful gas from being released into the atmosphere.

Santarsiero urged homeowners and businesses to explore the energy- and cost-savings benefits from weatherization, solar, wind, geothermal and other energy projects. Information and tips are available on the Department of Environmental Protection's Web site at

Thursday, September 24, 2009

DVRPC Connections

Those zany folks at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) are like wackamole -- you never know where they'll pop up. According to their press release they were at the Camden waterfront today, announcing the release of their new long range planning document, "Connections -- the Regional Plan for a Sustainable Future."

Among those in attendance were Philly Mayor Michael Nutter, Chester Co Commissioner Carol Aichele, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, and DVRPC executive director Barry Seymour, and an assortment of other elected officials.

There is a very attractive summary brief with a lot of fold out pictures and some nice statements like this:

The Connections plan puts forth a bold but achievable vision for the Greater Philadelphia region, a plan that will guide us in creating a vibrant and thriving region with improved opportunities for residents and businesses. The long-range plan is a blueprint that allows us to capitalize on our strengths and become a model of sustainability, prosperity, and productivity; a map to guide the growth and development of our region; a compass to help us find our way to a promising future.

The actual report is a 200+ page pdf. I skimmed it this evening and -- yowza!!! This is some interesting reading with some even more interesting graphs and pictures. If you are involved in planning of any kind in the greater Philadelphia area, you really need to take a look at this. There are some specific goals here -- like reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2035, and some interesting maps showing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per population and employment. The full report has other maps showing other environmental impact factors, greenways, percentage of developed land, and other items.

It's worth the time to at least skim through it. Those involved in planning need to take a closer look.

The Big Doin's in Pittsburgh

If you want to read a street's eye view of the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, follow Scott Detrow, of PA public radio, on twitter: Keep tissues handy, the teargas seeps through the tweets.

PA State Police Commissioner Supports MAIG

From the inbox:

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski sent a strongly-worded letter of support to each of more than 100 mayors in the PA Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, supporting the mayors' work across the Commonwealth in helping police keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

“As Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, I want to thank you for stepping forth and speaking out concerning this important issue, and to pledge my support for your efforts as you advance an agenda for commonsense reforms to reduce access to illegal guns across Pennsylvania,” Commissioner Pawlowski wrote in his letter to every mayor in the PA coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Commissioner Pawlowski's letter specifically cited the mayors’ coalition for its work on the Tiahrt amendment - making available crucial crime gun trace data to local law enforcement agencies, as well as group’s vocal opposition to the Thune amendment which would have stripped Pennsylvania of its right to set guidelines for distributing concealed carry permits.

In addition, the Police Commissioner’s letter endorsed the coalition’s work in support of lost or stolen handgun reporting - a common sense measure to help police reduce trafficking in illegal guns.

“Lost or stolen handgun reporting is a simple reform that does not infringe on the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms,” Commissioner Pawlowski wrote in his letter. “Nine municipalities have already enacted the law within their own borders. The local ordinances are a step in the right direction; however, to be most effective reforms such as Lost or Stolen must be applied statewide.”

PA mayors in the coalition, many of whom rely on the State Police in their own communities, were happy to receive support from the Commissioner. Coalition chairman and Reading Mayor Thomas McMahon said, “We are proud to be working closely with the State Police and other law enforcement agencies across PA. Police are the first line of defense against gun violence and we rely on their recommendations to create sound policy to reduce access to illegal guns. Police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. In the last seven years, 18 Pennsylvania officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty - more than half with illegal guns. That is an unconscionable toll and we have to do something about it.”

Commissioner Pawlowski’s letter was received by scores of mayors across the Commonwealth, just as a nationwide misinformation campaign against the coalition was launched by the National Rifle Association. A postcard was mailed to NRA members claiming that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is in fact an “anti-gun” group in disguise, and emails have circulated purporting to expose the “real purpose of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.” The cards were unsigned and cited no data.

“Mayors Against Illegal Guns has always supported the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and never has nor will we ever support a policy that would infringe on that fundamental right,” said Mayor McMahon. “We believe that upholding the Constitution and apprehending criminals who choose to flaunt the law by purchasing, selling, or using illegal guns are not mutually exclusive.”

Commissioner Pawlowski is the latest in a string of law enforcement officers to weigh in on the growing problem of gun violence in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and numerous local police chiefs and prosecutors have also voiced support for reasonable measures like lost or stolen handgun reporting to help police crack down on the trafficking of illegal handguns.

SEPTA Rides Sports Express

I have finally been accepted by the Cool Kids -- SEPTA has added me to their press release list!!!

The first offering:

Will Donovan McNabb play? Is Brian Westbrook healthy enough to line up in the backfield? Will Coach Andy Reid continue his “Wildcat” ways?

While the Eagles face a myriad of questions heading into Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, fans can count on one thing: SEPTA is ready with extra service to get them to and from Lincoln Financial Field.

Sports Express trains on the Broad Street Line will run every 10 minutes starting at 10:10 a.m., ensuring fans will have plenty of time to get to their seats for the 1 p.m. kickoff. Sports Express trains depart at the Fern Rock Transportation Center, then stop at Olney, Erie, Girard, Spring Garden, Race-Vine, City Hall and Walnut-Locust, before reaching the Pattison Avenue Station at the Sports Complex in South Philadelphia. An average Sports Express trip from City Hall to Pattison Avenue takes just 8 minutes. When the game is over, customers will find Express and Local trains waiting for them at the Sports Complex.

There will also be additional service on the Market-Frankford El, which provides a quick and easy connection to the Broad Street Line at City Hall. A number of bus and trolley routes also provide convenient connections to the subway. Extra SEPTA personnel will be on hand at subway stations to assist customers.

Riders can take advantage of free Sunday parking at Regional Rail stations, then take trains into Market East or Suburban stations to connect to the Broad Street Line. From South Jersey, make the trek over the Ben Franklin Bridge on the PATCO High Speedline, exit at the 12th and 13th and Locust station, then follow the signs in the concourse to the Broad Street Line.

For those making transfers from Regional Rail and other SEPTA services to the Broad Street Line, SEPTA’s Independence Pass offers unlimited one-day travel on all modes at a big savings. An Individual Independence Pass is just $10, while a family of five can travel together for just $25 with the Family Independence Pass. Also, SEPTA customers with weekly and monthly TransPasses and TrailPasses can use their passes for game day travel.

For more information on SEPTA’s Sports Express service, and for full schedule, trip planning and fare information, visit

Update from Hoeffel

Part of blast email sent out from the Hoeffel campaign:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your emails, support, and encouragement.

Pennsylvania deserves a progressive Democratic governor who will keep fighting for good jobs, affordable health care, quality public education, and civil rights for all Pennsylvanians. That is why I’ve decided to run for Governor of our commonwealth.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Toomey, Spector, and Sestak in the New Yorker

In the Sept. 28th issue of the New Yorker, there is an article entitled "Getting to no," by Peter J. Boyer. It isn't freely available online -- you have to either pick up a printed copy or have a digital subscription. The focus is on the Republican base, as framed by the Pennsylvania senate race. Pat Toomey, his conservative roots, and shift toward the center are a prime focus, as is Arlen Spector's party shift. Joe Sestak just sort of peeks out from the wings now and then.

I find these two points from p. 33 on Toomey hard to reconcile:

"Toomey did not mention abortion, which he thinks should be prohibited, or gay marriage, which he opposes."


"That unifying idea -- personal freedom, and its corollary, limited government -- is not only Toomey's creed but his strategy as well."

So, personal freedom for everyone except pregnant women and gay people, and limited government except in medical decisions and social issues?

Ridge on Daily Show

Former Gov. Tom Ridge was on the Daily Show this evening to talk about his new book, The Test of Our Times. He isn't quick with the quips but did a good job, sounded knowledgeable and reasonable. Catch it on tomorrow.

Shapiro WAM Bam

A note from today's Inky editorial on WAM's (walking around money, "Taking care of No. 1,":

Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery), chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee, said there is "presumably substantially less" money in the accounts now because leaders used some of it to pay aides' salaries during the budget impasse. But whatever is left should be returned to the state's general fund to ease the impact of budget cuts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hoeffel on Comment Please (July 14)

On Tuesday, July 14th, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel was a guest on Comment Please with host Darryl Berger, on WNPV, AM 1440. Berger talked with Hoeffel about the governor's race and whether Hoeffel intended to jump in, as he has now done. These are rough notes from the show. As always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions. The sound file is on the show's website so you may listen for yourself.

DB: On this day when congressman Jim Gerlach made it official we are talking with Joe Hoeffel about his consideration of running for gov.

JH: No formal announcement yet, a long way from making a decision on this. Some folks have asked me to think about it but I am as leery as I am interested. It has its pluses and minuses. I am going to think about it.

DB: You ran against Arlen Specter 6 years ago. You know what it is like to run statewide, raise money, etc.

JH: It will take quite a bit of money. 5, 6 or 7 million dollars to run in the Democratic primary. My experience in 04 was invigorating. It was a thrill to run, not a thrill to lose, but proud of race and glad I did. Not afraid of a statewide race but it does take a tremendous [missed this]

DB: In Pennsylvania the governor's office switches party every 8 years; it is time for a Republican gov?

JH; That has been the history, no question about it. I just don’t think the voters actively thinking that through, might be just tired of party in power. Voters made decisions based on what is happening in their lives in October, Nov.

DB: Fumo sentencing, Mellow rent scandal. Voter irritation with goes on in H’burg, pay raise. Disappointed that Rendell never picked up banner of ethic reform

JH: we need tremendous ethic reform in H’burg. It is a backwater politically and ethically. Candidates have to be prepared to address it. That’s what voters want. Mellow violated rules of senate. Fumo will pay quite a penalty for his actions. Voters frustrated with ethics, I tried to fight for stronger ethics at county level, and all manner of reform when in Congress.

DB: You've been a county commissioner and a congressman in between. You've also been a state representative. You’ve been to H’burg and know how it works

JH: very deep, culture, politicians because laws are inadequate, relationships with lobbyists that are too cozy, need election law, make state law closer to federal, fuller disclosure. Lobbyists need to be more transparent, more restrictions on what political folks can take. From Bob Casey, Sr on a number of governors have imposed ethics codes on their own employees, including Rendell, but needs to be put into the law and cover all the folks. A lot of work to be done in the area of ethical reform

DB: Rendell has not championed reform in a strong way, hard for gov to do if needs to work with legis?

JH: Very challenging, if perceived as lecturing legislature can meet resistance. Rendell has set high ethical standards for his own behavior. Have not pushed legislature to do those things. That has to be a priority next time. At the same time the gov has had a difficult time with the legislature. Put blame for that on Republicans, seem to like to fight with him. Rendell thought he could dominate legislature as he dominated city council in Philly, generated a lot of ill will early on that has hurt him. What I bring to the table is a clear ability to work with the other side, bipartisan coalition with [GOP county commissioner] Jim Matthews, not political allies but work together. Believe as gov could break legislative gridlock, partisanship and obstruction.

DB: talking with Gerlach on running for gov, statement today that he will run is not a surprise. Gerlach said months ago that he needed to make decision early. What about your time table?

JH: it is late. Thinking about running for gov, primary next May, that is coming up quickly, three announced candidates already. But the three candidates, Dan Onorato, Jack Wagner, and Tom Knox, all of whom are good men with real accomplishments, but none are progressive democrats. I am socially liberally and fiscally conservative. Advocating strong role for gov but with adequate safeguards, only raising tax dollars that are really needed to provide good service, have to balance budget have sustainable fiscal approach that the public can support. I have to make a decision by early fall and what I sense and what people are telling me is that there is a spot for a SEPA Dem and progressive Dem. Would people rally around my campaign, if not mine then someone else’s.

DB: We'll stay tuned and wait to hear.

Health Insurance Premiums in PA

From the inbox:

White House Report: The Burden of Health Insurance Premium Increases on Pennsylvania Families

Average Pennsylvania family premium growth is 110 percent, compared to just 50 percent wage growth

WASHINGTON – Today, speaking to a group of State Insurance Commissioners, Vice President Biden highlighted a new White House report documenting the burden of health insurance premium increases on Pennsylvania families.

Health insurance premiums for American families continue to skyrocket. In the past year, the national average annual family premium for employer-sponsored health insurance rose to $13,375 in 2009 – a shocking 5.5 percent increase during a recession when inflation actually fell by 0.7 percent.

"The status quo of rising premiums is simply unsustainable," said Vice President Biden, "for families, for businesses, for state budgets, and for our national economy."

In every state, premiums have increased far faster than wages and are consuming increased portions of family budgets. The White House's analysis found that families’ premiums in Pennsylvania went up 110 percent, outpacing wage growth of just 50 percent.

“The State Insurance Commissioners understand firsthand the health care crisis - and are fighting every day to combat it and reduce unjustified premium increases,” Vice President Biden said. “But these numbers are just one more piece of evidence that the need for nationwide reform is urgent.”

To read the full White House report, please click here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gridiron Dinner on 10/05

If you are going to be in Harrisburg on Oct 5th, please consider buying a ticket to this event:

Tickets are now on sale for this year's 79th annual Gridiron Dinner, which benefits the Capitol pressroom's summer internship program. We're informed that ticket sales have been massively sluggish thanks to the lousy economy and this year's budget mess.
Things are so bad, in fact, that we're giving serious consideration to pulling the plug on this year's gala if things don't pick up soon.
And that would be a real shame, since this year's Oct. 5 bash at the Harrisburg Hilton promises to be one of the best ever. Three of the four legislative caucuses are participating. We're told Gov. Ed has something special in mind. And Washington journalist Ana Marie Cox (of Wonkette fame) will be the emcee.
Once again, this is all for charity, folks. Every dime we make from the dinner goes back into the intership program so we can train the next generation of journalists.

See Capitol Ideas for more details

State of Working PA

The State of Working Pennsylvania 2009, a report published by the Keystone Research Center, is now available. Here are a few items from the overview:

Just six months ago, the U.S. and Pennsylvania economies appeared to be plunging off a cliff, spiraling down at a rate unmatched since the 1930s. Now, these economies have pulled back from that cliff. Unemployment has stopped rising as rapidly and the number of jobs has stopped falling so fast.

The reason is simple: The actions by the federal government to stimulate the economy are working. That is one bottom line of this report: Whatever qualms you may have about the details of federal economic policy this year—and we have our share of qualms—decisive government action has slowed our economy’s free fall. Looked at through the lens of history, economic policy makers have taken to heart the failure of their counterparts—the Federal Reserve and the Hoover Administration—to act decisively to counter the collapse of the private sector economy at the beginning of the Great Depression. Both federal and state governments need to keep their feet on the economic accelerator at least this year and next, because it will take at least that long for private-sector demand to rebound.

The second theme of this report is that the government has not yet taken decisive action on a longer-run challenge that lies just below the surface of the current recession—the erosion of the middle class that helped trigger the economic crisis by leading families to finance their consumption through unsustainable debt (sometimes in the form of subprime mortgages). This report documents that wages for the broad middle class in Pennsylvania are now falling, in some cases quite rapidly. In the 1930s, in addition to stimulating the economy through increased public spending, the government took decisive action to build the middle class so that middle-class consumption could keep the economy growing for the long term. That second part of the New Deal, needed today to rebuild the middle class, is not yet on the radar screen. It needs to be.

Fed Money for Lancaster Transit

From the inbox:

Transportation Secretary LaHood and FTA Administrator Rogoff
Announce $2.5 Million in Recovery Act Funding for
Lancaster Project to Reduce Energy Consumption

Transit Agency Competed for a Share of New $100 Million Program For Green Projects

The Obama Administration today announced that Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Red Rose Transit Authority (RRTA) was among the transit agencies awarded a share of $100 million in Economic Recovery Act funds for pursuing cutting-edge environmental technologies to help reduce global warming, lessen America’s dependence on oil and create green jobs.

“Red Rose Transit Authority is showing how investing in green transportation not only helps the planet and strengthens our economy, but also creates jobs in Lancaster,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Red Rose Transit Authority will use the $2.5 million grant to add energy improvements to the planned upgrade of Red Rose Transit's main operations facility in Lancaster. Energy improvements include geothermal for heating and air conditioning, skylights and light tubes to reduce lighting fixture needs, solar panels on all available roof surfaces to produce electricity, a green roof on the new office addition, two waste oil burners to heat the vehicle storage building using waste oil generated by RRTA from the vehicle fleet, and energy efficient fixtures throughout the facility.

“These grants will put Americans to work now while improving our environment in the future,” said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. “The transit industry continues to be at the forefront of reducing pollution and creating a cleaner, safer environment for the nation.”

RRTA’s proposal was among 43 winning projects selected in nationwide competition for $100 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds. In addition to being evaluated on their anticipated reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, proposals were also rated on their return on investment, readiness to implement, the capacity of the applicant, the degree of innovation, and their national applicability.

Transit agencies began submitting their proposals after the FTA announced rules for the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) grant program as part of the Recovery Act last March.

Since President Obama signed ARRA into law on Feb. 17, 2009, grants totaling more than $7.2 billion have been made available for transit improvements throughout the nation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has made $48.1 billion available for highway, road, transit, bridge and airport construction and repairs nationwide. Of that, $26.5 billion already has been obligated to fund more than 8,500 approved projects in 55 U.S. States and Territories.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Patrick Murphy in Parade Magazine

True confession -- I read the questions in Parade Magazine every Sunday (it's that glossy magazine tucked in with the ads that come with the Philadelphia Inquirer). Politics doesn't show up there very often but today it did, and one of our own was mentioned. Someone wrote in to ask the status of "don't ask, don't tell" and the answer quoted Congressman Patrick Murphy. Here's the Q&A:

Q What’s the latest on the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy?—Sue Powers, Boston, Mass.

A Opposition to gays serving openly remains persistent—especially, insiders say, in the military’s top ranks. But Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), the first Iraq War veteran in Congress, is a leading proponent of overturning the Pentagon’s 1993 policy. He tells us: “I’m a straight, Irish-Catholic, former altar boy of the year. But I’m fighting so hard on this because we’re implementing this wrongful policy at a time when we need every qualified man and woman to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

You can read more on the issue at

The 2009 Center for Progressive Leadership Fellows

The Center for Progressive Leadership runs a Pennsylvania Political Leaderships Fellows program each year. It is a nine month part-time program for emerging leaders in politics and advocacy. Previous fellows are an impressive group and this year's class looks equally promising. These are folks to watch for. A special shout out to a few, though all are worthy:

Rebecca Cesarz does great blogger outreach.

Matthew Goldfine is the chief of staff for State Rep. Tim Briggs. Someone in Briggs' family makes the best rice krispie treats in the world and I'm blatantly sucking up in hopes of getting a chance to eat another one.

Kelly Green has done a wonderful job as the president of the Board of the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia.

Andrea Lawful-Trainer is a dynamo. Do NOT get in this woman's way.

Hoeffel in for Governor reported this morning that Joe Hoeffel is tossing his hat into the governor's race. Read the details here:

A Rare Sports Related Post

A few things crossed my screen recently that are all related to the NFL. Granted the players earn outrageous salaries, but their careers are usually extremely short and within a few years they are often broke with severe health problems.

Take a look:

"Concussions may cause long lasting brain injury," by Terry Zeigler

"New sign of brain damage in NFL," by Alan Schwartz, New York Times, 1/27/09

"Why do so many NFL players go broke?" by Chris Chase 9/18/09

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Holiday Note from Anne Lazarus

From the inbox:

Tonight, at sundown, followers of the Jewish faith will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the New Year. With each year comes a new beginning and the opportunity to turn the page.

As we begin this new year, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to move on from the past and look forward to a promising future in our judicial system. To that end, I am asking for your continued support as a judge that stands for ethics, integrity, and equal access to justice.

In recent history, Pennsylvanians have endured lapses of judicial ethics and abuses of power from our judiciary. Too many have lost faith in our judicial system, and nothing is more important to me than restoring that faith.

For four years, I have served as the Chair of the State Conference of Trial Judges’ Ethics Committee. I have always been a voice that speaks for the rights of all Pennsylvanians, and I have held firm in my belief that it is absolutely critical for our judicial system to act in the best interests of their clients, the law and our society.

To all of my friends who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, L’Shana Tova. I wish you a sweet, healthy, and good year.

Anne Lazarus

Lazarus is a candidate for Pennsylvania Superior Court

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Daily Budget Rant: Foaming at the Mouth Edition

We already know that the state legislature is not willing to start add items like cigars, smokeless tobacco, candy, and gum, let alone legal fees, to the list of things and services that are charged a sales tax.

However, this week I learned that if my local elementary school parents' organization makes a profit on a fundraiser, it has to charge sales tax on the items sold. (Just a note: if anyone needs wrapping paper, let me know.)

So cheroots and bon bons are exempt, the money we raise that goes back into the school, that pays for the Weekly Reader, playground equipment, t-shirts for the Reading Olympics teams, and so on, that's taxable.

It sort of goes along with the idea that libraries and school budgets can be cut but there no need for a severance tax for drilling Marcellus Shale, or cutting back on legislative spending.

I cannot begin to tell you how peeved I am.

Lentz Endorsed by Delco AFL-CIO

From the inbox:

Lentz Receives Early Endorsement from AFL-CIO

~Unanimous early vote is unprecedented~

SWARTHMORE, PA —State Representative Bryan R. Lentz announced today that the Delaware County American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) unanimously endorsed him for Congress, despite the fact that he has not formally announced his candidacy yet and the election is still a full thirteen months away. This is a key endorsement this early in the process and it demonstrates Lentz’s strength as a candidate as he continues to build his campaign organization.

“On Wednesday night, we unanimously endorsed Bryan Lentz for Congress,” Obie O’Brien, ALF-CIO President, stated. “It was an unprecedented vote because not only was it unanimous, it also came early in the process. We wanted to get behind Bryan quickly because we know him, we trust him and have complete confidence that he will continue to fight for the men and women who are the backbone of our economy when he goes to Washington .”

The Delaware County AFL-CIO has over 7,000 members and family members living and working in Delaware County . The AFL-CIO is a voluntary confederation consisting of over 56 national and international labor unions. The union represents a total of 11.5 million workers, ranging from teachers and firefighters to doctors and laborers.

Representative Lentz had been an advocate for working families in the State House. A prime sponsor of the Construction Workplace Fraud Act, Lentz cracked down on construction industry employers who denied workers benefits by misclassifying their status.

“America's workers must share equitably in our nation's prosperity and I will fight hard everyday to ensure that our working men and women have good wages, affordable health care and access to quality education for their children,” Lentz stated. “I am honored to receive the unanimous endorsement of the AFL-CIO and I will always stand with the American workers in Congress.”

Fed Funding for PA Transitional Housing Programs

From the inbox:


More than $1.1 Million to Support Programs in Clearfield County, Chester County, and Wilkes-Barre

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder today announced that $1,162,713 in Recovery Act funds was awarded to three Pennsylvania organizations by the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Recovery Act Transitional Housing Program. The funds are being awarded to Central Pennsylvania Community Action in Clearfield County, Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, and Domestic Violence Service Center in Wilkes-Barre.

“The most vulnerable in our society too often bear the greatest burden in times of economic hardship, which is why dedicating these funds to help survivors and their families get back on their feet is a concrete example of the Recovery Act at work,” said Attorney General Holder. “Providing viable temporary housing options and services that promote self-sufficiency are critical and proven steps toward violence-free lives.”

The Department of Justice is awarding $248,500 to Central Pennsylvania Community Action (CPCA) to provide transitional housing units to move victims from shelters into housing, provide short term rental units for permanent housing and conduct safety planning with all clients, including inspection of new housing units to ensure safety devices are properly installed. The organization will also provide employment counseling to address economic issues for victims promoting self-sufficiency, assist with transportation to ensure survivors can access counseling, legal options, supportive services and employment, provide training for personnel working with survivors and address child care issues so survivors may work and continue to live safe, productive lives. CPCA will provide transitional housing to victims in Clearfield County, a rural county located in central Pennsylvania.

The Department of Justice is awarding $428,286 to Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (DVCCC) to enhance services for victims of abuse in DVCCC’s transitional housing units. The funds will support counseling, advocacy and childcare services, increase the availability of transitional housing through renovations of existing housing and provide short term rental and utility assistance. In addition the funds will be used to create and maintain jobs for personnel that assist victims and assist victims with credit repair and other economic issues and increase the availability of victims to obtain jobs.

The Department of Justice is awarding $485,927 to Domestic Violence Service Center in Wilkes-Barre to provide transitional housing and post-residential follow up services to a total of 54 victims of domestic violence and 63 dependent children during the three year grant period. The center will ensure that participants will successfully complete the program and achieve and sustain safe permanent housing while enrolled in the program. The center will create and retain 2.5 positions to support the program.

The landmark American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed into law by President Obama, provides the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) with $43 million for the Transitional Housing Assistance Program to provide holistic, victim-centered support services that move individuals into permanent housing.

Transitional housing programs meet the goals of the Recovery Act through employing victim advocates and other personnel to assist victims, renovating housing for victims, offering additional housing units, and increasing job opportunities for victims through training, education and other support services. The award period for these grants is 24-36 months.

OVW, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence against women through the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and subsequent legislation. Created in 1995, OVW administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

More information is available at

Reading Material

Some interesting things to read:

"Baby Boomers Dominate in State Legislatures," by Morgan Cullen, from the Thicket

"My Mistake: How a factual error in Slate ended up in a White House speech," by Timothy Noah from Slate

"Do Women Make Better Congressmen?," by Amanda Marcotte, from DoubleX

Patrick Murphy Teletown Hall Meeting on Health Care

Patrick Murphy
Teletown Hall Meeting
September 16, 2009

I was taking notes by hand and could not catch everything. If you have questions on the congressman’s views you should contact his office. Apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Pat Walker, editor of the Bucks County Courier Times and the Doylestown Intelligencer, moderated the call. Ray Landis of AARP joined Murphy on the call.

Murphy started with the story of a woman whose father died because he couldn’t get private insurance and so was waiting for treatment until he was old enough to get Medicare. Murphy mentioned an article in today’s Inquirer on a new report from the Kaiser Foundation [blogger's note: I think it is "Health-care costs still outpace inflation, study shows," by Stacey Burling)

There are 60,000 people in Bucks County with no health insurance. The proposed legislation would provide an annual and lifetime cap on out of pocket expenses, prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and close the donut hole. These reforms will protect seniors.

Q1: If a scientific poll showed that the majority of the residents in the 8th congressional district were against the bill would you vote against it?

PM: I am keeping track of the comments coming in to the office and so far most want reform.

Q2: Caller is on social security disability. Has a young adult daughter but can’t put her on my medicare.

PM: I found funding for a clinic near where the caller lives. It would cost over a thousand dollars if your daughter went to the ER but only about $50 for her to go to a clinic for an appointment.

Q3: tort reform

PM: I want tort reform. Only claims that have merit should be brought.

Q4: Does AARP support this bill?

PM: AARP has endorsed components of the bill. Defer to Ray Landis of AARP.
Ray Landis: The AARP wants to close the donut hole; parts of HB 3200 are very good. We are closely examining the bill and will continue to look out for our members.

Q5: small business owner. Will my costs go down if I don’t have to pay for the uninsured.

PM: Yes, small business tax exemption, up to 50%. The average cost is $1300, would be a $600 tax credit.

Q6: question on caller’s insurance coverage

PM: health insurance companies should be able to compete across state lines.

Q7: Families that earn over $60K, a family of 4, would not get a subsidy. How will we afford insurance?

PM: There is a small business tax incentive. The northeast has a higher cost of living so the cut off for subsidies is $88K for a family of 4; it isn’t free but a subsidy.

Q8: Is Medicare affected?

PM: The bill actually makes medicare more sustainable. It closes the donut hole, preserves choice of doctor, silver sneaker program for preventive health care. The AARP would not support a bill that would hurt seniors. Cut waste and abuse (refers to IMPROVE bill)

Q9: Will this create more bureaucratic agencies? Heard there would be more than 50 new ones.

PM: changing and tweaking; making voluntary boards more efficient. Blue Dog Democrats want government to work more efficiently.

Q10: believe in health care reform but don’t see the need for rush

PM: Fighting against special interests. Did not want to vote on the bill before the August recess. Closing the donut hole is a priority. The country has been debating health care for decades.

Q11: Need tweaking of system but illegal aliens should not have access to the system and we should have hearings with insurance companies.

PM: On insurance companies – met with [name] of Independence Blue Cross, want to work with them but they have to play fair. He agreed that we need reform. On illegal aliens, the bill specifically states that no federal funds will be used for illegal aliens.

Q12: Explain how paying for this by raising taxes on the wealthy doesn’t hurt small businessmen, whose taxes might be raised.

PM: If a company has under $750K in payroll and doesn’t provide health care there wouldn’t be a problem, but if more than 25 employees, would get a 60% subsidy to provide insurance. In 8th congressional district up to 1800 small businesses could get help with coverage.

Q13: small businessman. Love a lot of reform but public option is an obstacle

PM: The Senate bill doesn’t have a public option and still all the Republicans voted against it. Insurance companies need to give in here. Have only a limited number of federal dollars. Only $2 million for public option, over 10 years. Congressional Budget Office says only 5% of the population will go into it.

Q14: The issue is jobs not health care.

PM: We have great medical schools, great doctors, need to keep it in private market. Businesses struggle because of medical costs. Lockheed pays $14K per employee for health care; they can’t afford it with co-pays, etc. We need tort reform, to close the donut hole, help small businesses. It costs over a thousand dollars for someone who is uninsured to go to the emergency room.

Ray Landis: on local school board. Property taxes affect everyone and the costs of providing health insurance to school employees increases property taxes.

Q15: Money taken from Medicare but won’t affect Medicare?

PM: Doctors have to use direct deposit to avoid fraud. The majority of the funding for the bill is from private industries. The pharmaceutical industries are providing 10% of the total. Hospitals are stepping up because of reducing Medicare costs. Lower Bucks County gives away an average of $10 million in medical care to the uninsured. They would like to reduce this.

Ray Landis: Medicare costs – cut hospital readmissions would save Medicare millions a year. Require hospitals to give some after care but more would be saved by preventing hospital readmissions.

Q16: Why are people opposed to the public option?

PM: Some people are afraid of government, and want to keep the status quo. The public option is a choice, funding at $2 million over 10 years. Health care is a personal and emotional issue.

Q17: Problem with Obama saying you can keep your insurance if you like it. Can an employer pay an 8% payroll tax and force me into the public option?

PM: Employers right now have a choice to cover you or not. Some do, some don’t. We need an incentive to help small businesses and say to large employers, you have to provide health care or pay.

Closing remarks: thanks Pat Walker and Ray Landis.

The only thing not on the table is the status quo. We must achieve this reform together.

Allyson Schwartz Teletown Hall Meeting on Health Care

Allyson Schwartz
Teletown Hall
Sept. 16, 2009

There were more than 1200 people on the call. I was taking notes by hand and could not catch everything. If you have questions on the congresswoman’s views you should contact her office. Apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Congresswoman Schwartz gave welcoming remarks while waiting for all calls to be made. She said we need meaningful health care reform with transparent language. People should not be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. 59 million people don’t have health insurance. We need affordable care and more primary care physicians, and for doctors to use up to date medical technology. While health care is a topic of interest, questions on other areas are also welcomed.

Q1: Is controlling cost referring to the cost of insurance premiums or the cost of providing health care:

AS: This is a great question. Premiums are decided by each state. We want to limit overhead costs to 15% of the cost of an insurance company’s spending.

Q2: nurse practitioner. If the uninsured get insurance we will need more primary care workers.

AS: That is part of the current bill, and nurse practitioners are included.

Q3: Do you think a bill would pass that allows companies to discriminate for pre-existing conditions?

AS: No.

Q4: Government option (not a public option but a government option), should this compete with insurance companies?

AS: I would like a public option with premiums, at a fair price, paid by those insured. This would not replace employer plans. Small businesses, etc., would have access to the public option exchange. Right now in many areas there is only one insurance company, which does not provide any competition.

Q5: Will there be cuts to Medicare?

AS: Basic benefits will not be cut and the donut hole will be closed. We want to keep it strong.

Q6: NYT editorial on obesity and heart disease.

AS: Preventive care is important. We need to provide incentives to people to, for example, stop smoking.

Q7: donut hole

AS: We will do away with the donut hole.

Q8: This was a question about accrediting independent pharmacists and the caller was urged to contact the congresswoman’s office.

Q9: Senate Finance Committee’s bill

AS: It is quite a different bill from the House bill; it has no public option but has co-ops. AS does not view that as a substitute. Hope to bass a bill in the House and then go to a conference committee.

Q10: Vietnam veteran, veterans care, goes to Horsham clinic

A: The Horsham clinic is a good clinic. This bill doesn’t address veterans care but we do need to meet the needs of vets.

Q11: The caller complimented the congresswoman for being so well-versed.

AS: Thanks the caller. Has been in over 100 hours of meetings on this.

End of call: AS thanks those who listened in on the call and asked questions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Groundhog Day: PA Budget Version

Please note this from a Capitol Ideas post earlier today on the state budget fiasco:

The Inquirer eulogizes a long-sought levy on the sale of stogies and chaw this morning, reminding us that Pennsylvania is one of the few states not to collect an excise tax on products beloved Fat-cat by fat-cats and truck drivers alike.

The levy would have generated $38 million in new tax revenue this year -- nothing to sneeze at when you consider lawmakers are trying every trick in the book to raise money and close a $3.25 billion deficit. So how did it die? Johnna Pro, a spokeswoman to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, has a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek explanation:

"Because the majority of people negotiating the budget are cigar-chomping men," she said. "It's sexism."

Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said leaders dropped the cigar and smokeless-tobacco tax because of its minimal effect on closing the budget deficit, the Inky reported.

"The amount which would be raised . . . is so relatively small that it is immaterial to producing a balanced budget," Arneson said.

I have not the words.

CI's tweets indicate that legislators are still in a closed door meeting on the budget. If it goes past midnight do they all turn into pumpkins?

Uninsured in PA

From the inbox:

The New Numbers: Health Insurance Reform Cannot Wait in Pennsylvania

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today released a new analysis of last week’s U.S. Census numbers regarding the uninsured. The results are sobering and confirm that health insurance reform cannot wait another year. Nationwide, the number of uninsured increased from 39.8 million in 2001 to 46.3 million in 2008.

“These numbers only serve to further confirm a reality that far too many American families live with every day,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Our health care system has reached a breaking point. The status quo is unsustainable, and continuing to delay reform is not an option.”

The analysis below underscores the urgency of health insurance reform for residents of Pennsylvania.

* The status quo is not an option. The number of uninsured in Pennsylvania has increased from 1.0 million in 2001 to 1.2 million in 2008. The percent of non-elderly adults without insurance increased from 10.8% to 13.2%. And this number only considers people who are uninsured for an entire year – it does not include people in Pennsylvania who have more recently lost coverage through the recession, or who had shorter gaps in their coverage.

* Private coverage is eroding under the status quo. The percentage of people with employer-based coverage decreased from 80% of the population in 2001 to 74% in 2008.

* More workers are being left without protection from health care costs. Too many workers in Pennsylvania do not have health coverage, at 74,000 in 2008. And the proportion of workers from Pennsylvania without insurance has increased, from 9.8% in 2001 to 12.5% in 2008.

* The problem of the uninsured is a problem that crosses income brackets. The new Census numbers also drive home the fact that everyone in Pennsylvania is vulnerable to losing health insurance. An additional 46,000 people from high-income households are now uninsured.

“In states across the country we’ve seen the health care coverage situation go from bad to worse,” Secretary Sebelius added. “And it’s clear that losing insurance isn’t a problem that plagues only the poor or the unemployed – it could happen to anyone.”

For additional information on health insurance reform, visit and click on your state.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Once in a Lifetime Sight

A training session kept me off my beloved trains today, and on the road, even worse, the Schuylkill Expressway. Knowing the president was going to be in town I was expecting rush hour to be bad and made appointments at times to hopefully miss the problem area. As it turned out I got to the highway entrance just as it was being reopened for traffic. It was a surreal view -- completely empty lanes on both sides of the highway. Someone should have gotten it on film for the next post-apocalyptic sci fi movie. Reality set back in when we reached the point where traffic was still being held on the other side of the highway. The backup went on for miles; some people had gotten out of their cars and were sitting on the median walls. I hope they all got to wherever they were headed eventually.

Fed Funding for PA Health Programs

From the inbox on Friday:

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced awards totaling $33 million to expand the training of health care professionals. The funds are part of the $500 million allotted to HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to address workforce shortages under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“President Obama is committed to passing health insurance reform and we’re closer to reform than ever before,” said Secretary Sebelius. “The Recovery Act will help ensure we grow our health care workforce and give our aspiring doctors, nurses and health professionals the tools and training they need to provide top-quality care to more Americans,”

“As we mark 200 days since President Obama signed ARRA, HRSA has moved quickly to distribute most of the $2.5 billion assigned to us,” said HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N. “These funds are helping us rebuild the infrastructure needed to produce more skilled health professionals, and they are expanding essential primary care services to hundreds of thousands of additional Americans through our health center system.”

Health Professions Awards by Program

Scholarships For Disadvantaged Students

Cedar Crest College / Allentown PA / $9,038
Pennsylvania College of Optometry / Elkins Park PA / $68,405
Community College of Philadelphia / Philadelphia PA / $63,378
Drexel University / Philadelphia PA / $24,647
La Salle University / Philadelphia PA / $13,145
Northeastern Hospital / Philadelphia PA / $22,534
Temple University / Philadelphia PA / $201,023
Thomas Jefferson University / Philadelphia PA / $28,721
Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania / Philadelphia PA / $245,642
University of the Sciences in Philadelphia / Philadelphia PA / $99,590
Community College of Allegheny County / Pittsburgh PA / $19,953
University of Pittsburgh / Pittsburgh PA / $36,215
Marywood University / Scranton PA / $56,435

Public Health Traineeships

University of Pennsylvania / Philadelphia PA / 11,861
University of Pittsburgh / Pittsburgh PA / 51,930

Koons' Site Hacked

The campaign of Nancy Rhoads Koons, Democratic candidate for Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, reports this:

As many of you have found out, yesterday, the "online donation" aspect of our web-service and website were shut down without authorization by a hacker. Conveniently, this came on the last day for donations in this reporting cycle.

According to the security department of the company handling our online donations, the hacker's purpose was not to seek credit card information, which the service does not keep on file. The purpose was to prevent donations from being made. This is a direct assault on democracy and the democratic process. Unfortunately, it is also politics as usual.

CREW Report Includes Murtha

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has released it's 2009 edition of CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress. The full report is over 100 pages long. One Pennsylvania official, Rep. John Murtha, is among the 15 congressman and senators highlighted (8D, 7R).

The full report is available at:

A summary is available at:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Another Reason Why People Don't Like Politics

Jim Gerlach, current congressman for the 6th congressional district and candidate for governor twitters. Late last week he tweeted a link to an oped he wrote in the Pottstown Mercury on health care. Being a curious soul I read it. Here is an excerpt:

One option that I have been working on with Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Ron Kind would give the self-employed and small business owners — groups that often struggle to maintain coverage due to rapidly rising premiums — two ways to lower insurance costs.

Employers would receive tax credits of up to $1,800 per year for each employee they cover under the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Act that Congressman Kind and I support.

In addition to tax credits, the legislation would allow small businesses to form statewide, and eventually, national pools to use their buying power the same way larger corporations do to get better rates on premiums.

Gerlach later writes:

Republicans in Congress have introduced at least a dozen bills to address health care reform. Most, including the bill I have sponsored along with Rep. Kind, have not even received a hearing.

That is an interesting proposal. The bill is HR 1470. It was introduced in March and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. So far a number of other PA congressional representatives have signed on as co-sponsors, including Altmire, Dent, Pitts, Platts, and Allyson Schwartz, who is on the Ways and Means committee. Here is the entire text of the bill:

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide that the deduction for the health insurance costs of self-employed individuals be allowed in determining self-employment tax.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Equity for Our Nation's Self-Employed Act of 2009'.


(a) In General- Subsection (l) of section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (relating to special rules for health insurance costs of self-employed individuals) is amended by striking paragraph (4) and by redesignating paragraph (5) as paragraph (4).

(b) Effective Date- The amendment made by this section shall apply to taxable years beginning after the date of the enactment of this Act.

That's it. Replacing paragraph 4 with paragraph 5. Now how is the average person supposed to be able to tell if that gives tax credits of up to $1800 a year?

So, on to the tax code. Here is subsection L of section 162 of the 1986 tax code:

(l) Special rules for health insurance costs of self-employed individuals
(1) Allowance of deduction
(A) In general
In the case of an individual who is an employee within the meaning of section 401 (c)(1), there shall be allowed as a deduction under this section an amount equal to the applicable percentage of the amount paid during the taxable year for insurance which constitutes medical care for the taxpayer, his spouse, and dependents.
(B) Applicable percentage
For purposes of subparagraph (A), the applicable percentage shall be determined under the following table:

For taxable years beginning in calendar year— The applicable percentage is—

1999 through 2001 60
2002 70
2003 and thereafter 100.
(2) Limitations
(A) Dollar amount
No deduction shall be allowed under paragraph (1) to the extent that the amount of such deduction exceeds the taxpayer’s earned income (within the meaning of section 401 (c)) derived by the taxpayer from the trade or business with respect to which the plan providing the medical care coverage is established.
(B) Other coverage
Paragraph (1) shall not apply to any taxpayer for any calendar month for which the taxpayer is eligible to participate in any subsidized health plan maintained by any employer of the taxpayer or of the spouse of the taxpayer. The preceding sentence shall be applied separately with respect to—
(i) plans which include coverage for qualified long-term care services (as defined in section 7702B (c)) or are qualified long-term care insurance contracts (as defined in section 7702B (b)), and
(ii) plans which do not include such coverage and are not such contracts.
(C) Long-term care premiums
In the case of a qualified long-term care insurance contract (as defined in section 7702B (b)), only eligible long-term care premiums (as defined in section 213 (d)(10)) shall be taken into account under paragraph (1).
(3) Coordination with medical deduction
Any amount paid by a taxpayer for insurance to which paragraph (1) applies shall not be taken into account in computing the amount allowable to the taxpayer as a deduction under section 213 (a).
(4) Deduction not allowed for self-employment tax purposes
The deduction allowable by reason of this subsection shall not be taken into account in determining an individual’s net earnings from self-employment (within the meaning of section 1402 (a)) for purposes of chapter 2.
(5) Treatment of certain S corporation shareholders
This subsection shall apply in the case of any individual treated as a partner under section 1372 (a), except that—
(A) for purposes of this subsection, such individual’s wages (as defined in section 3121) from the S corporation shall be treated as such individual’s earned income (within the meaning of section 401 (c)(1)), and
(B) there shall be such adjustments in the application of this subsection as the Secretary may by regulations prescribe.

Unless you specialize in a certain type of law or accountancy I don't think that makes any sense.

How are people supposed to keep track of all this stuff and understand it, and how does it get boiled down to "Employers would receive tax credits of up to $1,800 per year for each employee they cover"? [sigh]