Friday, September 30, 2011

New Health Care Poll

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post's "The Fix" blog wrote a post today on the Supreme Court and the Affordable Healthcare Act ("The Supreme Court and the politics of health care ").

In it he points to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken this month, Sept. 2011. The poll is a 7 page pdf and the full questions and methodology is linked if you want to follow up on the details. The 7 page poll results have some interesting results.

For example, on the health care law:

And as has been the case since the beginning of this year, more than half (52 percent) want Congress to keep the law as is (19 percent) or expand it (33 percent), while fewer than four in ten (37 percent) want it repealed and replaced with a Republican‐sponsored alternative (16 percent) or repealed outright (21 percent).

In answer to the question How much do you trust each of the following to make the right recommendations about ways to reduce the federal budget deficit?
For Pres. Obama 23% said a great deal, 29% said a fair amount
Democrats in Congress, 13%, and 30%
the Super Committee 5% and 28%
and Republicans in Congress 8% and 23%
The President's approval rating isn't great but it's significantly higher than any of the other three groups.

There are other questions about the social contract programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as questions about what should be changed to cut the budget deficit.

Seth Williams Endorses Analisa Sondergaard

According to the Mainline Media News, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has endorsed the campaign of Analisa Sondergaard, candidate for for District Judge in Tredyffrin Township. Williams served with Sondergaard when they were both Assistant District Attorneys in Philadelphia.

After graduation from Temple University School of Law Sondergaard served as a prosecutor with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for seven years. She has been in private practice since 2002 and currently works at McDonnell & Associates in King of Prussia. The majority of her practice involves the defense of retailers against premises liability, premises security, products liability, and pharmaceutical liability claims in state and federal courts. She also represents employers in race, gender, age, disability, and pregnancy discrimination claims filed in the PHRC, EEOC, and federal court. Analisa lives with her husband and two sons in Tredyffrin Township.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Visit from Koch

I tend to review sitemeter statistics on a fairly regular basis. That's the application that lets me track blog usage, etc. As a rule I don't say much in public about what sitemeter tells me. However, something unusual showed up yesterday afternoon. Someone using a pc with an ISP associated with Koch Industries was searching Bing for harold lenfest politics. Sometimes the ISP doesn't give an accurate indication of where the computer (and computer user) really are but, even so, there was some entertainment value in seeing that flash across my screen. If anyone knows Mr. Lenfest they might give him a heads up.

Brown and Castor on Comment Please

A few months ago the Republican candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner appeared on radio show Comment Please. I always enjoy listening to these interviews because host Darryl Berger is a superb interviewer. He weaves his comments and questions so subtly throughout the conversation that it is sometimes difficult to separate them from the answers. When taking notes while listening I tend to just note his most obvious questions -- the follow-up questions are just absorbed into the answers. Remember this is not intended as a full transcript, just rough notes. Voters are encouraged to listen to the interview for themselves on the Comment Please site. The show itself is listed as being 90 minutes long but the interview takes up only the first 45 minutes or so.

Comment Please by Univest, with host Darryl Berger
July 6, 2011
Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown

DB: Today on the program we are joined by the Republican candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner, Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown. We have to talk a little bit about what has been going on the last 3.5 years. Republicans Bruce Castor and Jim Matthews won, but Matthews formed a coalition with Democrat Joe Hoeffel.

BC: When you run for office and tell voters you stand for a series of principles and you do that [missed this part] . Matthews and Hoeffel did that and then didn’t follow through. This isn’t what the people voted for. The ultimate slap in the face to democracy is when voters select people and then get the exact opposite of what they were promised. Both parties realized their standard bearers were disasters and Matthews and Hoeffel are not running. They announced they were but not supported by party.

DB: What things did you and Matthews talk about that they haven’t been done

BC: living within your means is the primary one. We were sitting in these seats in January of election year when Mathews said you can never spend your way back to posterity. He’s right about that. Historically you’ve never been able to do that. [Joe] Hoeffel and Ruth [Damsker] promised $50M fund and we got a 4150M fund. Spent cash reserves down and now in record level of dept. Montco around since 1780s and only taken a couple of years to get us into record debt.

DB: what is relationship like from your perspective, you and Matthews

BC: To say we don’t care for each other, as far as my job as commissioner is to advance the concept I told the public I was for and the public put me in office to do. Anyone who tries to contradict me on that I try to point out the error of their ways. The idea that I give Jim Mathews any thought is foreign to me. I don’t give him any thought at all. When at the beginning of their term when I voted no on all their spending and hiring cronies. I was called obstructionist. Now my votes seem to make sense. Both men are 3 term commissioner and were standard bearers for their party. They were so badly received by their parties they couldn‘t even get out of the starting block.

DB: what is your observation on how county govt has been doing

JB: I’m happy to talk about that a little but mostly we are focused on the future. We don’t want to get distracted by what happened in the past. Castor has been the sole voice for fiscal sanity. Now I think the voters understand the necessity of implementing some of his decisions. It’s too critical to get distracted by a soap opera. What Castor has been trying to do I’ve been trying to do in Lower Merion. Democrats in majority on board of Lower Merion. Spending and taxes gone up, debt gone up. We want to make sure the county does not go down that same path. We’ve seen where that path leads, in other municipalities and at the state and federal level. Castor and I want to ensure the fiscal stability of the county.

DB: is this a comfortable team? Maybe Castor wanted to run with someone else?

BC: I think it’s a great team. Four years ago I knew Matthews was a dishonest man. I wish I had known Jenny longer than I have. I barely knew her when we decided to run together. There is some value in historical perspective. In 1999 and 2000 we were in precisely the same condition we are now, in debt. Then Mike Marino and Jim Matthews running against Mario Mele who was a traitor for having made a deal with Joe Hoeffel. They won and brought the county back where is needed to be. All those things have happened again and now we need to bring it back. Now we have a disaster just like Hoeffel and Mele had before. We need a great deal of belt tightening before we can get back to doing the good things that govt can do. See the things Jenny and I have done will be vindicated. Need to get debt down. Neither one of us, the Republican or the Democrat ticket, is going to say we’re going to keep going with Hoeffel Mathews plan.

DB: Does it complicate message since Republicans have always controlled govt? Since Republicans have the majority if you call for a change, isn’t that the Democrats?

BC: Well we have to change. Just because Mathews calls himself a Republican doesn’t make him one. The county party threw him out of the party org and said he was no longer a Republican. Our opponents are going to say Republicans won the election and screwed it up. We say Mathews isn’t an Republican and it’s really a Democrat administration.


DB: proposal to toll 422, future use of Willow Grove Naval Air Station, but back to finances. If taxes aren’t going up most people won’t pay attention. What is really importance of triple A bond rating. What is as stake?

JB: The reason the taxes haven’t been going up isn’t that spending and borrowing haven’t been going up. They’ve been spending down their reserve to the point where the rating agencies have given the triple A rating a negative outlook, that’s 18 months to get act together. We have about 5% reserve, 20M, in bank. The question is how much should you have. What you need is a policy in place where we keep 15-18% of prior year spending. What matters is you have a policy and follow it. Last 2 years they’ve been following a whim. Just spending down reserve, no principles beyond decisions.

BC: started off administration with over $100M in bank, spending over $20M each year more than we bring in. When you run out you have to raise taxes. Hoeffel and Mathews trying to run out the clock and hand over disaster to new admin, just like Rendell did to Corbett.

JB: do you want a team that is ready to deal with that

BC: With triple A you don’t have to buy insurance when you buy. We are really seeing the downside of borrowing, borrowed a ton of money for econ development. We borrowed a lot to repair roads and buildings that don’t belong to us. We’ve used up that money now we need a new radio system for the police and need to repair the courthouse before it falls down. These are all multi-million dollar fixes that we would have had if we hadn’t spent it. They’ve spent it immediately for political gain, primarily in Democrat communities, hire engineers, works, that then give political contributions. Hoeffel’s governor campaign almost all contributions from people who got contracts from him via the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. If cronies first and govt second then a disaster. They didn’t have support to run again because I told everyone what they were doing. I had more “no” votes than another other county commissioner combined.

DB: what is debt level at

BC: at $400M, the highest Montco has ever been. When Hoeffel was commissioner before it took him 7 years to bankrupt county now he’s done it in 3. You have a mortgage on your house and then take out a home equity loan. You keep borrowing, your out of pocket goes up each month. Whenever we borrow money we have to pay interest. The single largest line item that has gone up since I’ve been commissioner is debt service. Are all these projects bad? No. I want parks and trails and repairs but you have to ask if we need it. The courthouse is falling down and needs to be repaired. We don’t know how much it will cost. We made two horrific mistakes. We should never have bought Sacred Heart Hospital and never bought One Montgomery Plaza. If you rent it is the landlord’s problem if the window leaks. One Montgomery Plaza is where county offices are. Sacred Heart is where we put people before they went to geriatric center. No one checked to see if we needed it.


DB: future of Willow Grove Naval Air Stations, Castor opposed to any use of air field?

BC: I had reservations from literally the first day. The other two called it a priceless asset which to my prosecutor’s ears sound like nonsense. I think the people who live there ought to have the most to say. In fact that’s the law. Talking with State Sen. Greenleaf and he said if there is any sort of non-military use of that airport it comes under FAA administration and there is no local control. The FAA makes the call on what kind of plane goes in there. You can say only corporate jets but FAA can land 747s there. Jenny and I came up with a joint position that local people should have a say.

DB: tolling of 422, overcrowded when opening in mid-80s.

JB: the question is whether we believe in tolling it and the answer is no. Difficult to toll existing roads. People feel they already paid for it and reluctant to pay for a road that was free. We have made very clear that we are against the toll. The question is not to toll or do nothing.

BC: Look at it in a linear fashion. When this came up I phoned Joe Rafferty, GOP Montco State Senator on transportation committee. Asked if we have the authority to toll 422 and he said no. He said legislature would have to create authority and give you the authority to appoint people to it. To my lawyer’s mind you then stop talking about or thinking about it. Why spend time worrying about something you have no control over it. I said at a public meeting if only on the Chester / Montco border so only those in Chester pay for it.

DB: mandate that radio system upgraded?

BC: There is a mandate from feds that we change the frequencies to the radios. There’s no upgrade or equipment mandated. You have to change frequency because cell phone companies need more frequencies. No equipment upgrade. Just like change radio station frequency. Called rebanding. That is free. Our people tell us we can get 3 or 4 more years out of equipment. Eventually equipment will have reached its useful life and then we will have to decide if we are going to upgrade equipment or buy new equipment. People have connected them by saying now is a good time to do both.

DB: $50M, big project

JB: if there’s an option that doesn’t cost the county any money because the providers will do an upgrade that will last 2 or 3 or 4 more years. Let’s wait and see if the economy is better.

DB: are they gaps in current system?

BC: there is trust in communications since we used call boxes but there will be gaps no matter what you do

JB: that is true in Lower Merion. We have gaps. We do our own dispatch. However one of the questions that should be answered before county commissioners spend $50M is whether the system will adequately cover Lower Merion. Ten additional towers but no one knows where they will go.

DB: had Mathews and Hoeffel on about a month ago. If they go forward with this 50M vote you won’t support it?

BC: he said he wants a unanimous vote so unless he goes back on his word again he won’t have it. Overriding all of that is that there is only one provider putting a $50M price tag on it. I have a rival company that does this sort of thing for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and it was dramatically smaller than Motorola bid. DB: competitive bid?

BC: A competitive bid is required unless its’ an emergency. It’s not an emergency. What I said when Hoeffel & Matthews wanted to raise taxes last year and the year before and I said if it’s that important then go ahead and out-vote me and they wouldn’t do that.


DB: first run for county wide office, how is process?

JB: The nice surprise is that is such fun. Had a good time riding in parades with Bruce. People get into public service for different reasons. The campaign website is

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rally Today for Women's Access to Health Care

from the inbox:

As legislators publicly argue the merits of school vouchers, taxes on gas drilling companies, and redistricting, a cadre of anti-choice legislators are quietly working hard to chip away at women’s access to reproductive healthcare in Pennsylvania. In an effort to combat these covert efforts, hundreds of Pennsylvanians gathered to share their disgust and collective concerns over Senate Bill 732 and Senate Bill 3, two bills aimed at restricting access to necessary health care for women in Pennsylvania. “We’ve Had Enough!” is the message legislators heard loud and clear earlier today at a rally in the Capitol Rotunda.

Rally goers have “had enough” of the state legislature’s full-scale assault on women's health and unnecessary attacks on women’s reproductive health care sweeping across both Pennsylvania and the nation. In the first six months of the year, the Pennsylvania legislature spent roughly 30% of their voting days in Harrisburg attacking women’s healthcare, in particular, a woman's right to access abortion care. The most imminent threat, SB732, would require burdensome and unnecessary regulations, including architectural and staffing changes, though abortion services are already among the most highly regulated and safest procedures in the Commonwealth.

“If signed into law, Pennsylvania will follow the lead of Kansas and Virginia, both of which enacted similar restrictions earlier this year,” said Dr. Willie Parker, a second trimester abortion doctor at Philadelphia Women’s Center. “The measures – not supported by a single medical group – are solely meant to eliminate access to safe, legal abortion and could cause a public health crisis by making abortion care in Pennsylvania inaccessible.”

The rally, co-sponsored by dozens of grassroots and healthcare advocacy organizations, is part of the We’ve Had Enough campaign launched this summer to combat the legislation and a growing national trend aimed at chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. Organizations and supporters alike are united in an effort to defeat these bills and expose the true motives of those individuals pushing them.

Organizations include Pennsylvania Clergy for Choice, a group of clergy members from across the state who feel it’s vital to recognize the immorality of interfering in such a personal decision. “Abortion is a private decision to be made by a woman and her doctor, in the context of her own faith,” said Reverend Beverly Dale who leads Pennsylvania Clergy for Choice. “Any legislation that prevents that private decision is immoral and will put women's lives in jeopardy.”

As the fall legislative session gets underway, rally participants called on the legislature to focus on the issues they were elected for - creating jobs and stabilizing the economy - not wasting time and taxpayer money pushing an extreme ideological agenda to make safe abortion less accessible and affordable in the Commonwealth.

“Anti-choice forces throughout the U.S. are no longer chipping away at Roe, they are undertaking a full scale campaign to outlaw abortion through unnecessary regulation and will continue this campaign to deny women access to birth control. The bills proposed in Pennsylvania are in many ways worse than the provisions of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation as she led the energized crowd of local physicians, patients, clergy, and reproductive health advocates. “Make no mistake – this is not about protecting women’s health – it is about controlling women’s lives.”

McCaffery Announces AG Bid

from the inbox:

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania - Daniel McCaffery announced his candidacy last night for the Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania. A former Assistant District Attorney and Army Cavalry veteran, McCaffery brings over twenty-years of court-room experience to this office along with the courage necessary to enact real reform in Pennsylvania.

"I am running for Attorney General because I know what I'm doing. I have spent every day of the last twenty years in a courtroom; I've never backed down from a fight and never will." Said McCaffery.

"Over the last five years, we've witnessed a financial meltdown as a result of fraud and greed by Wall street. Millions of families have lost their life savings. These are good hardworking men and women, Pennsylvania families, American families who have lost their life savings, retirements, pensions and their homes. No one is standing up for them."

"As Attorney General, I will create the most aggressive law enforcement agency in the nation, hold these offenders accountable, and bring them to justice... This is about protecting Pennsylvanian Families from financial crimes and rooting out fraud against taxpayers, Political corruption is rampant and white collar crime goes unpunished." Said McCaffery.

website: facebook: twitter: @DanMcCaffery

Teva Groundbreaking in Philadelphia

modified press release:

Today Teva Pharmaceuticals broke ground on a new distribution center in Northeast Philadelphia. Currently, Teva Pharmaceuticals has a facility on 1090 Horsham Road in Montgomery County. Last year, Teva officials announced they would be opening a new facility on Red Lion Road in Philadelphia. Both facilities will remain open and both are located in Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz’s congressional district.

Schwartz worked extensively with city and state officials and Teva representatives to ensure that this global pharmaceutical company could expand and continue to thrive in her district. This new project will bring an additional 200 jobs to Philadelphia and retain over 200 existing positions. In addition, the new facility will generate more than 600 construction jobs.

The new state-of-the-art building is planned to be operational in the second half of 2013 and will consist of three adjoining buildings, measuring 1.1 million square feet. This project will be the largest brownfield redevelopment and stormwater management project in the history of the City of Philadelphia.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. is a global pharmaceutical company, based in Israel, which specializes in the development, production and marketing of generic and proprietary branded pharmaceuticals, as well as active pharmaceutical ingredients. Teva is among the top 11 pharmaceutical companies and among the largest generic pharmaceutical companies in the world.

In addition to Rep. Schwartz, Mayor Michael Nutter, Teva CEO Bill Marth, State Senator Mike Stack, State Rep. Brenden Boyle, and City Councilman Brian O’Neill were scheduled to be at the groundbreaking.

U Penn Prof Receives National Medal of Science

President Obama today named seven eminent researchers as recipients of the National Medal of Science and five inventors as recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors. One of the seven is in Pennsylvania: Ralph L. Brinster University of Pennsylvania For his fundamental contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice. His research has provided experimental foundations and inspiration for progress in germline genetic modification in a range of species, which has generated a revolution in biology, medicine, and agriculture.

The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics Wants to Be Your Friend

The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, affiliated with Chatham University is now on Facebook and Twitter (@PCWP_Chatham) and would like you to "friend" them and follow them. The Center recently held the Pennsylvania 2012 Project held its Western Pennsylvania Inaugural Conference and plans to hold other events around the Commonwealth.

There are some really cool graphics on their website. It's well worth taking a look. Lots of other useful information there as well.

A and Z Law Ads on the Train

You see a lot of things riding SEPTA trains. Some good, some bad, some out the window, some on the train. You can read, talk (but not on the Quiet Car!), look on the window, sleep, what have you. SEPTA sells ads on the trains so one option is to look at the flyers, posters, etc. advertising events, organizations, and companies. One area law firm has been buying ads throughout the SEPTA system off and on for a couple of years. Ahmad and Zaffarese, LLC initially ran an ad showcasing the two lawyers who named the firm after themselves, Wadud Ahmad and Joseph Zaffarese. They stared out at the world with sort of smiles. To me they looked like fairly serious lawyers, a little fierce even. If I saw them on the street at night I might cross to the other side. If I found myself at the table opposite them in the courtroom I would be tempted to empty my pockets on the table and room. Going by the photo I'd say these are tough lawyers, slight smiles or no.

Then the ad changed, and a waifish blonde woman joined the group. It gave the ads a Mod Squad look. I looked at their website ( Angie Halim was listed as a Rising Star in Pennsylvania’s Super Lawyers Magazine, Rising Stars Edition and an Outstanding Practitioner in South Jersey Magazine. She has some other impressive credentials as well.

In the next incarnation of the ad only Mr. A and Mr. Z appeared. I was concerned. What had happened to Ms. Halim? I checked the firm's website again. A fourth lawyer had been added. Maybe they thought the picture was getting too crowded. The new lawyer doesn't have a photo on the firm website so perhaps he's shy. In any event they used the same photo that was in the original ad. Mr. Ahmad is wearing the same yellow gold tie. They've also added a paralegal in her last year of law school. She speaks Cambodian as well as English.

While it might seem odd to follow a law firm ad so closely, these guys (and occasionally Ms. Halim) have been staring down me over a long period of time, or at least a photo of them has. So it seems only fair that I should look back. Just to avoid any nasty emails coming my way from the aandzlaw server, let me say that my comments are in no way intended to reflect on their legal abilities -- only on ads they have posted in a public place.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Three PA Scientists Awarded

President Obama today named 94 researchers as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Three of those given an award are affiliated with Pennsylvania institutions:

Dr. David J. Brumley, Carnegie Mellon University
Dr. Lasse Jensen, Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Claudia R. Valeggia, University of Pennsylvania

Sunday, September 25, 2011

PA: Incubator of National Conservative Leaders

Sen. Pat Toomey is well-known as having led the conservative Club for Growth but he isn't Pennsylvania's only national conservative leader. This weekend Mike Allen's Politco Playbook linked to a story in the National Review which features Colin Hanna. He is the president of the national conservative group Let Freedom Ring and the person who came up with Cut, Cap, and Balance.

The New Republic article is titled: "The New Norquist: Meet the GOP’s Latest Hardline Power Broker," by Michael Fitzgerald. Hanna is a Chester County, PA, native. The article notes:

But Hanna’s big break came less through Washington social climbing than by chance, when, in 2003, while waiting in line to get an autograph from Karen Santorum (wife of long-shot presidential candidate and avid pro-lifer Rick Santorum), he crossed paths with John Templeton Jr., the son and successor of eccentric, devout billionaire investor and philanthropist John Templeton. The two connected over their outrage about George Soros’s, and Templeton agreed to seed Hanna with $1 million to start Let Freedom Ring.

Roslyn Film Festival Nominations Open

from the inbox:

It's that time of year again! The Roslyn Film Festival Committee is once again seeking your original short film submissions for screening during our 6th Annual Roslyn Film Festival. Regardless of your experience as a filmmaker—pro, semi-pro, amateur, or hobbyist—the Roslyn Film Festival is one of our community's most popular events, and a great way to get your work seen by a live audience. We encourage you to submit your film today!

This year's screening will take place on Saturday, March 31, 2012. The early entry fee is only $15 for submissions received by February 1, 2012. (The standard entry fee is $25 for all films submitted from Feb 2 until March 1, 2012.) Proceeds from the entry fees, ticket cost, and sales of raffle tickets and concessions at the event benefit the Roslyn Volunteer Fire Department.

All submitted films will be viewed by a selection committee, and films selected for screening will be voted on by the audience, with prizes for the top 3 audience favorites. All submitted films should be less than 30 minutes, and since our screening is open to all ages, only PG/PG-13 type films will be considered. More details and the entry form for submission(s) can be found here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Increase in Philly College Grads

In February 2010 Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter launched an initiative, PhillyGoes2College, with the goal of doubling the percentage of college graduates in the area in the next 5 to 10 years. Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on "brain gain." The article "Select cities see brain gain," by Conor Dougherty and Rob Barry tracked which US cities saw an increase in the percentage of residents with college degrees between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Cities with a larger number of college graduates have a higher household income. As the article says "The upshot is that regions with the most skilled and highly paid workers continue to widen their advantages over less well-endowed locales."

The article lists the 20 cities with the greatest increase in college graduates. There were three Pennsylvania cities on the list. Coming in 8th overall is Pittsburgh with a 5.7% increase, nearly a third (29.1%) of its residents now have a college degree. Philadelphia came in at #12 and Allentown at #17; the WSJ article did not list the percentage increase or the total percentage of graduates in those areas.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Eagles Go Green

The Sept. issue of Fast Company had an article that featured the Philadelphia Eagles. "Growing the green team," by Luke O'Brien starts with this paragraph:

Sports in America will always be an indulgent birthright. You don't go to the ball game to worry about whether the world will melt. You go to escape. You go to eat a hot dog and drink a beer and possibly (or probably) curse at someone on (or off) the field--especially if you're in Philadelphia, where spectating is its own contact sport. But here's what else Eagles fans can expect at Lincoln Financial Field: scoreboards powered by solar panels; cooking fat from the kitchens recycled into biodiesel; 80 wind turbines on their way.

Huey and the Banjo CD

I wrote earlier this fall about a music group playing in the train stations, the White Cheddar Boys. The day before one of the big floods I heard them playing in a station as I went to work. This time the group had a cd for sale. The first song is "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues." I bought it. What could be better than listening to that as the waters rose? A few other tracks are "Same Old Man Sitting at the Mill," "Doggett's Gap," and "Little Sadie." My family very patiently listened to it with me but have suggested that perhaps I would enjoy the "mountain music" more in my office at work. [sigh] The cd is labeled Huey and the Banjo. Huey is part of the White Cheddar Boys. You can hear them for yourself at The cd was relatively inexpensive (I don't remember how much) and the music is good. If you hear then in the train station think about picking up the cd, either as a holiday gift for friends or family, or for yourself.

Schwartz on Hikers' Release

from the inbox:

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz issued the following reports today two U.S. hikers detained in Iran were released from prison.

“The release of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer marks the end of a two-year ordeal these innocent young Americans and their families had to endure. Their imprisonment was unwarranted and their release is long overdue.

“As a representative of Montgomery County, where Josh's family resides, I speak on behalf of all my constituents in extending our most sincere congratulations to Josh, Shane and their families, and in celebrating with them as they return home.”

Scenes from the Deluge

A few scenes from being out and about recently:

* One day between the earthquake and the hurricane as the train I was on went past a station I saw a woman sitting with her back to a pillar, facing away from the other people at the station.  She was quietly sobbing.  Her body was slightly shaking and she had one hand over her face.   A young man, doo rag on his head and pants sagging, walked down the platform.  When he saw the crying woman he stopped and asked her if she was okay (that's an easy phrase to lip read).  She nodded.  My train went on and I didn't see what happened next, but I thought it was very nice of him to stop and check on her.  It would have been all too easy to just turn around and go back the way he came.

* Looking at the pictures, there was an awful lot of water out there.

* Around 9/11 there was a more visible police presence on public transit.  One day there were two extremely serious looking feds or swat team members near the ticket turnstiles.  What's the difference between standard officers and feds / swats?  Standard police wear polished and shiny street shoes, usually with blue-ish pants.  Feds / swats wear black clothes with pants tucked into polished but non-shiny combat boots.  They  had an equally serious dog with them who seemed intent in telling me in particular something very important.

* Like many people in the area I stocked up on non-perishable food in case the weather knocked out power for a few days.  My regular grocery store was packed so I stopped at a discount grocery store that had some unoccupied spaces in their parking lot.  I didn't think there would be a lot of difference in brands of things like crackers but, yowza!, there most certainly is.  My definition of middle class now includes the ability to buy Ritz crackers.  They are worth the money. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prez O on Repeal of DADT

from the inbox:

Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed.  As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love.  As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.

I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans.  Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to Members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform who showed that they were ready to move forward together, as one team, to meet the missions we ask of them. 
For more than two centuries, we have worked to extend America’s promise to all our citizens.  Our armed forces have been both a mirror and a catalyst of that progress, and our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans.  Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals.

$4,312,084 in Affordable Care Act Grants for Pennsylvania

from the inbox:

U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced Affordable Care Act grant awards of $4,312,084 to Pennsylvania that will help fight unreasonable premium increases and protect consumers. Today, HHS also released a new report entitled Rate Review Works detailing how previous rate review grants are fighting premium hikes and helping make the health insurance marketplace more transparent. 
“We’re committed to fighting unreasonable premium increases and we know rate review works,” said Secretary Sebelius. “States continue to have the primary responsibility for reviewing insurance rates and these grants give them more resources to hold insurance companies accountable.” 

As of September 1, 2011, the Affordable Care Act requires health insurers seeking to increase their rates by 10 percent or more in the individual and small group market to submit their request to experts to determine whether the rates are unreasonable.  The Affordable Care Act also requires insurance companies to publicly justify unreasonable premium rate increases. These provisions will bring greater transparency, accountability, and, in many cases, lower costs for families and small business owners who struggle to afford coverage. 

The Affordable Care Act provides States with $250 million in Health Insurance Rate Review Grants, $48 million of which has previously been awarded to 42 States, the District of Columbia and five territories. As outlined in the new report, these grants and other State rate review efforts are already making a difference in PennsylvaniaThe Pennsylvania Department of Insurance created a Rate Level Index Database to internally house and further analyze all rate filings.  The Department used grant funds to create consumer comparison charts and post rate filings on its website.

The grants awarded today help to create a more level playing field by improving how States review proposed health insurance rates and holding insurance companies accountable for disclosing information about unjustified rate increases. 

Pennsylvania is proposing to use Cycle II grant funds in the following ways:
·         Introduce legislation: Pennsylvania plans to acquire authority over commercial small group rates through legislation.
·         Expand scope of rate review: Pennsylvania plans to acquire authority over commercial small group rates by modifying Act 159.
·         Improve rate filing requirements: Pennsylvania proposes building the framework for an enhanced rate review process by contracting with actuarial and other expertise, and acquiring software tools to enhance internal reviews.  The State will use funds to establish new rate review procedures.
·         Improve transparency and consumer interfaces: Pennsylvania proposes to build upon the comparison guide on its website by developing a web-based interactive tool and data repository to allow consumers to view and compare product offerings and rates to make the best decision. The website will also include additional transparency enhancements including consumer comments, summaries of approved rate filings, and the final rate determinations.
·         Hire new staff: Pennsylvania proposes training for current staff.
·         Improve IT: Pennsylvania will develop a database for market analysis and consumer assistance tools.  

A summary of how each State will use the new resources can be found in the report released today.
“The proposals from the States overwhelmingly demonstrate the need, and desire, for new resources and tools to hold insurance companies accountable,” said Steve Larsen, Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, States will have more of the tools they need to crack down on insurance companies that want to pass unreasonable premium hikes on to hard working families.”

Information about significant State achievements with previous rate review grants can also be found in the report

Rate review builds on other provisions in the Affordable Care Act to help make health insurance more affordable for individuals, families, and businesses.  Other steps the law takes to help make insurance more affordable include:
·         Insurers are generally required to meet a medical loss ratio standard to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health care and quality-improvement activities as opposed to overhead, advertising, and executive bonuses.  Insurers that fail to meet that standard must either reduce premiums or pay rebates to consumers and employers;
·         Small businesses are eligible for Federal tax credits of up to 35 percent of the cost of coverage for their workers. That amount rises to 50 percent by 2014; and
·         In 2014, the Affordable Insurance Exchanges will use competition and transparency, including information on excessive or unjustified premium increases, to help make insurance more affordable.
The Affordable Care Act includes a variety of provisions designed to promote accountability, affordability, quality, and accessibility in the health care system for all Americans, and to make the health insurance market more consumer-friendly and transparent.  Some of the provisions are already in effect, including prohibitions on pre-existing condition exclusions for children; prohibitions on lifetime dollar limits in all health plans; extended access to insurance for many young adults; and an unprecedented level of transparency about health insurance through

For the full Rate Review Works report, please visit:
For a fact sheet on the awards announced today, please visit:

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Site on PA Women's Health Legislation

There are two bills moving through the state legislature that will dramatically limit the access Pennsylvania women have to reproductive health.  A new website, We've Had Enough, provides fact sheets for the two bills.

SB 732 would force free-standing abortion providers to be regulated as Ambulatory Surgical Facilities (ASF) which require burdensome and unnecessary structural and staffing changes.   

SB 3 would ban insurance companies participating in the yet-to-be established state health insurance exchange from offering abortion coverage. 

There will be a rally in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Sept. 27th, at 11:30.

The website points out that in the first six months of 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers spent 30% of their days at the Capitol working to restrict access to safe, legal abortion.

Healthy Food Financing Initiative for Philly

from last Friday's inbox:

U.S. Reps. Allyson Schwartz (PA-13), Bob Brady (PA-1) and Chaka Fattah (PA-2) announced today that Philadelphia will receive $6 million in grants to provide underserved communities with fresh, healthy food options. The U.S. Department of Treasury announced this week that Philadelphia will receive two-$3 million grants through the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Program as part of the multi-agency Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI).
Reinforcing the CDFI Program’s commitment toward economic development in distressed and low-income communities, 12 grants totaling $25 million were awarded to institutions across the country that are focused on developing solutions for increasing access to affordable, healthy foods. In Philadelphia, the Opportunity Finance Network and the Reinvestment Fund will each receive $3 million in grants to work towards this goal.
Brady, Schwartz and Fattah have long been advocates of the HFFI, which works to provide low-income urban, rural and suburban areas with access to affordable, more nutritious food choices. The trio has worked to encourage supermarkets and other fresh food retailers to open new stores or expand their fresh food offerings in these underserved communities. These efforts could lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans living in “food deserts,” as well as stimulate local economic development.
“By providing healthier food options in underserved areas, we can give millions of Americans the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives; save billions in health care costs; and create good-paying jobs across the country,” said Schwartz, who spearheaded the effort to create the HFFI in 2009. “With a growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes in America, particularly in children, it is imperative that families across the country have access to more nutritious food.”
“This new federal healthy food initiative is the result of my colleagues Representatives Schwartz, Fattah and I working together with the White House to look for fundamental long-term solutions to the multi-layered problem of hunger and poverty,” Brady said. “This is an important and continuing collaboration for a growing and complex issue.”
“These significant federal resources for two major nonprofits in our city underscore Philadelphia’s creative leadership in addressing the related challenges of hunger and obesity. These new funds will further expand access to nutritious food options for more families,” Fattah said. “More than just strengthening family health, these grants will also support neighborhood revitalization and address the acute economic challenges facing too many Philadelphia neighborhoods.”
In 2009, Schwartz introduced a bipartisan resolution to recognize the need for a national program to provide an effective and economically sustainable solution to the problem of limited access to healthy foods in underserved communities.
In November 2010, Schwartz introduced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, H.R. 6462, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) to help grocery operators overcome the hurdles of high start-up costs or limited access to credit, which prevents many grocers from opening new outlets in these areas.  
Because of these efforts, President Obama included funding for the HFFI in the FY 2011 budget. The HFFI is an interagency initiative involving the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HFFI represents the federal government's first coordinated step to eliminate “food deserts” by promoting a wide range of interventions that expand the supply of and demand for nutritious foods, including increasing the distribution of agricultural products; developing and equipping grocery stores; and strengthening producer-to-consumer relationships.

Tribute for Robert Gates this week at NCC

from the inbox:

Some of the biggest names in politics will join stars of the screen and stage, as well as those who have served in the armed forces, to celebrate the legacy of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates during the National Constitution Center’s 2011 Liberty Medal ceremony.  The event will take place on the Center’s front lawn on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 7:00 p.m.

Patrick Murphy Update

Patrick Murphy, Iraq War veteran, former 8th district congressman, and 2012 candidate for state attorney general has been in the news lately.

He was on Newsworks Tonight on the 16th.  You can listen to the audio or read the article, "Iraqi interpreter's story sheds light of those left behind," by Maiken Scott.  Murphy didn't forget the Iraqi woman who acted as an interpreter for him and the soldiers he served with.  One of his colleagues at Cozen O'Connor, Elena Park, who heads the firm's immigration practice, agreed to do the legal work on a volunteer basis.   Park was named a Rising Star in 2008 and this year was given the Pro Bono Publica Award for outstanding service by the American Bar Association.

Murphy is also featured in a new HBO documentary on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which he worked to overturn, and was the lead sponsor in legislation to end it.  The documentary airs at midnight on the 19th and at 8 p.m. on the 20th.

A Few Assorted Links

Like most parents of school-aged children I've been filling out forms, buying school supplies, attending back to school nights, and getting back into a rugged morning routine. The first part of September is always a blur, this year moreso than usual.

Here are a few articles I ran across this week:

"U.S. targets drug execs," by Vanessa O'Connell and Michael Rothfeld, in the Sept. 13th Wall Street Journal. The gist being:

U.S. authorities are stepping up enforcement of a little-used law -- the so-called "responsible corporate officer doctrine" -- to hold executives personally responsible for corporate violations of U.S. food and drug laws.
West Chester-based Synthes Inc. is mentioned in the article.

From the Sept. 17-18 WSJ, "Who killed private pensions?" by Ellen E. Schultz. The article is based on her book, Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers. The killer paragraph:
As their pay grew, executives deferred more of it. Supplemental executive pensions, which are based on pay, also ballooned. These executive liabilities account for much of the "spiraling" pension costs many companies complain about.

The WSJ also picked up on the PA GOP plan to split the state's electoral votes. "State GOP pushes to alter 2012 math," by Danny Yadron, Sept. 17-18.

White House Honors 2 with PA Ties

from the inbox:

The Agentes de Cambio/Agents of Change Latino Youth Roudtable is part of a series of Hispanic Heritage Month events the Administration is hosting throughout the months of September and October. The youth chosen to be highlighted as Agentes de Cambio/Agents of Change were recognized by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation for their outstanding leadership and service to the community. In addition to receiving a White House Tour, the Agentes engaged in a youth roundtable with Administration officials to share their perspective on issues affecting Latino youth today and to ask questions about how they can continue to be solution-oriented leaders in the Latino community. The Agentes de Cambio youth were also recognized by MTV T3r, MTV’s bilingual affiliate with short 45 second segments that will air on the MTV T3r channel.
Two of those honored have times to Pennsylvania, one with a Swarthmore degree:
Andrea Cornejo is a Research Assistant at KNG Health LLC, where she conducts empirical research projects to analyze the social and economic impacts of annual US health policies and regulations on various health sectors, and a LOFT Foreign Affairs Fellow for the LOFT Institute, for which she has organized the First Annual Foreign Affairs Bootcamp in Washington D.C. earlier this year. Previously, she was a Scholar at the Center for Progressive Leadership while serving as a Research Assistant at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, where she published four academic and journalistic articles on economic and political developments in the Latin American region. Prior to joining Partners of the Americas, Andrea interned at France Amerique Latine, a human rights NGO focused on Latin America based in Paris, France. There she organized several fund raising events and cultural fairs with the Latin American immigrant population. Andrea graduated with a B.A. from Swarthmore College in 2010 with a degree in Economics and Political Science, with a concentration in international development. At Swarthmore, she was the recipient of the Talisma Nasrin Community Building Award. In her free time, Andrea loves to dance salsa, read, travel, and visit her family in Miami and Peru. Andrea was born in Newark, New Jersey, and was raised in New Jersey, Miami, and Chimbote, Peru.

Her most amazing accomplishment so far has been during her time with Partners of the Americas, where she worked closely with the Partners Chapter in Texas and in Lima, Peru to build and implement a library for the Viña Vieja elementary public school in Ica, Peru. Andrea first discovered Partners of the Americas early 2008 through a Swarthmore College alumni connection. Through the Partners network later that year, she teamed up with Peruvian Texas Partners Director Iliana Diaz that same year to found and direct Project Viña Vieja (PVV) with a team of college student from Lima and support from the international NGO Partners of the Americas. PVV consisted of the implementing a school library and community center in a small, rural community in Chincha, Peru. Since then, she has ensured it’s sustainability and growth by ensuring continuous community participation and an annual group of US and local volunteers coming together to head micro-enterprise workshops, the rehabilitation of the community clinic, and successfully soliciting financial support from the local agricultural business to provide the Viña Vieja Community with running water as well as regional collaboration to promote reading and educational program in the library and community.
The other is a Carnegie Mellon student:
Rocio Garay: Rocio Garay is a rising Undergraduate Junior at Carnegie Mellon University. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Hispanic Studies. Ms. Garay’s active involvement in the Society of Hispanic Engineers has led to her election as External Vice President her sophomore year and as President for the upcoming year. She now leads collaboration between 10 Executive Board members. Already, she has outlined the organization’s schedule for the school year and coordinated two events with corporate sponsors and a leadership workshop with the local professional chapter that will be held within the first two months of classes. Other extracurricular involvement includes the Ballroom Dancing Competition Team and Dancers Symposium. Rocio S. Garay has been honored as a LOFT ExxonMobil Fellow, a NASA MUST Scholar, and a Carnegie Odyssey Scholar. She was recognized on the Carnegie Institute of Technology’s Dean List twice thus far. Ms. Garay’s long-term interest is focused in joining the GREEN Revolution through the manufacturing of everyday products. Taking advantage of her love of science and mathematics, she dreams to specialize in natural and sustainable technologies in continuing her education to the completion of a PhD. In her path toward a high level of expertise, she hopes to build experience in the development and application of such technologies through research and experimentation. In fact, Rocio conducted research in a nanotechnology and sustainability laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center this summer. Ms. Garay means business, in the engineering sense.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

KRC on August PA Job Numbers

from our friends at the Keystone Research Center:

August Job Numbers: Weak National Economy Being Felt in Pa.

HARRISBURG, PA (September 15, 2011) — Keystone Research Center Labor Economist Mark Price issued the following statement on the August Pennsylvania jobs report:

“The weakening national economy is being felt in Pennsylvania as the unemployment rate climbs to 8.2 percent. Declining public-sector employment continues to be a drag on the economy, as private-sector job growth limps along. On a positive note, manufacturing was one of the healthiest sectors in the last month and over the past year. Still, the August report demonstrates the dire need for a jobs plan to meet the vast challenges our economy faces.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

American Jobs Act: PA Impact

from the inbox:


The American people understand that the economic crisis and the deep recession weren’t created overnight and won’t be solved overnight. The economic security of the middle class has been under attack for decades. That’s why President Obama believes we need to do more than just recover from this economic crisis – we need to rebuild the economy the American way, based on balance, fairness, and the same set of rules for everyone from Wall Street to Main Street. We can work together to create the jobs of the future by helping small business entrepreneurs, by investing in education, and by making things the world buys. The President understands that to restore an American economy that’s built to last we cannot afford to outsource American jobs and encourage reckless financial deals that put middle class security at risk.

To create jobs, the President unveiled the American Jobs Act – nearly all of which is made up of ideas that have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans, and that Congress should pass right away to get the economy moving now. The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans. And it would do so without adding a dime to the deficit. The American Jobs Act has five components:

1. Tax Cuts to Help America’s Small Businesses Hire and Grow
· The President’s plan will cut the payroll tax in half to 3.1% for employers on the first $5 million in wages, providing broad tax relief to all businesses but targeting it to the 98 percent of firms with wages below this level. In Pennsylvania, 230,000 firms will receive a payroll tax cut under the American Jobs Act.

2. Putting Workers Back on the Job While Rebuilding and Modernizing America
· The President’s plan includes $50 billion in immediate investments for highways, transit, rail and aviation, helping to modernize an infrastructure that now receives a grade of “D” from the American Society of Civil Engineers and putting hundreds of thousands of construction workers back on the job. Of the investments for highway and transit modernization projects, the President’s plan will make immediate investments of at least $1,373,300,000 in Pennsylvania that could support a minimum of approximately 17,900 local jobs.
· The President is proposing to invest $35 billion to prevent layoffs of up to 280,000 teachers, while supporting the hiring of tens of thousands more and keeping cops and firefighters on the job. These funds would help states and localities avoid and reverse layoffs now, and will provide $1,155,300,000 in funds to Pennsylvania to support up to 14,400 educator and first responder jobs.
· The President is proposing a $25 billion investment in school infrastructure that will modernize at least 35,000 public schools – investments that will create jobs, while improving classrooms and upgrading our schools to meet 21st century needs. Pennsylvania will receive $944,000,000 in funding to support as many as 12,300 jobs.
· The President is proposing to invest $15 billion in a national effort to put construction workers on the job rehabilitating and refurbishing hundreds of thousands of vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses. Pennsylvania could receive about $20,000,000 to revitalize and refurbish local communities, in addition to funds that would be available through a competitive application.
· The President’s plan proposes $5 billion of investments for facilities modernization needs at community colleges. Investment in modernizing community colleges fills a key resource gap, and ensures these local, bedrock education institutions have the facilities and equipment to address current workforce demands in today’s highly technical and growing fields. Pennsylvania could receive $113,200,000 in funding in the next fiscal year for its community colleges.

3. Pathways Back to Work for Americans Looking for Jobs.
· Drawing on the best ideas of both parties and the most innovative states, the President is proposing the most sweeping reforms to the unemployment insurance (UI) system in 40 years help those without jobs transition to the workplace. This could help put the 211,000 long-term unemployed workers in Pennsylvania back to work.
· Alongside these reforms, the President is reiterating his call to extend unemployment insurance, preventing 97,500 people looking for work in Pennsylvania from losing their benefits in just the first 6 weeks. And, across the country, the number saved from losing benefits would triple by the end of the year.
· The President is proposing a new Pathways Back to Work Fund to provide hundreds of thousands of low-income youth and adults with opportunities to work and to achieve needed training in growth industries. Pathways Back to Work could place 4,700 adults and 16,000 youths in jobs in Pennsylvania.

4. Tax Relief for Every American Worker and Family
· The President’s plan will expand the payroll tax cut passed last December by cutting workers payroll taxes in half next year. A typical household in Pennsylvania, with a median income of around $48,000, will receive a tax cut of around $1,490.

5. Fully Paid for as Part of the President’s Long-Term Deficit Reduction Plan.
· To ensure that the American Jobs Act is fully paid for, the President will call on the Joint Committee to come up with additional deficit reduction necessary to pay for the Act and still meet its deficit target. The President will, in the coming days, release a detailed plan that will show how we can do that while achieving the additional deficit reduction necessary to meet the President’s broader goal of stabilizing our debt as a share of the economy.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Obama Speech Links

If you missed the President's speech this evening or want to read a transcript, visit the White House blog at: There is also an enhanced video with additional graphics (charts, etc) included. That post also has a link to download a fact sheet to go along with the President's proposed legislation.

SEPTA Hopes to Be Back on Track On Friday

After a day with several regional rail lines suspended due to flood damage, SEPTA hopes to be back on schedule on Friday. If you are wondering whether the service outage was justified, take a look at the pictures they have on their website. Yeah, I think that needs to be fixed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

New Introductory DePasquale Video

State Rep. Eugene DePasquale is running for Auditor General. The election isn't until Nov. 2012 so he's got quite a head start. If you're thinking "Eugene who?" don't feel bad. He's from the other side of the state and not well-known in this area. His campaign has put together a 3 and a half minute video introducing him. There are the standard character references and basic biographical information. DePasquale says he was the first state rep to put his expense accounts up on the web. I can't vouch for that but I can tell you he is among the very few who have them up now. (And shame on those who don't).

SEPTA Driver Shot

A SEPTA bus driver was shot last night. The transit organization is backing proposed legislation, PA Senate Bill 1149 that would add bus operators to the protected class of workers such as police officers and firefighters, and upgrade assaults against them to aggravated assaults. I don't know if this would include train operators as well. As a long-time SEPTA rider let me add that I'm not only dependent on the transit workers but think the great majority do a great job.

Penn Grad Named White House Fellow

The White House released the names of the 2011-2012 White House Fellows today. One is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania:

Debra Kurshan, Brooklyn, NY. Debra Kurshan most recently served as a consultant with the Recovery School District in New Orleans, Louisiana. She worked directly with the Superintendent to develop the strategic vision for the district. Prior to that, she served in a variety of leadership roles at the New York City Department of Education, including the Executive Director of the Office of Portfolio Planning, the office responsible for opening new schools, closing under-performing schools and planning the portfolio of the city’s 1,700 schools. She also served as Chief Operating Officer for the Office of Innovation, the office responsible for the District’s first large scale online learning platform. Debra served on the board of Minds Matters, a nonprofit dedicated to preparing low-income students for college and is also a member of the Columbia Business School Social Enterprise Program Alumni Circle. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana where she worked with the community to create and implement a technology center. Debra received her M.B.A. from Columbia Business School where she was honored with the Board of Overseers fellowship, and her B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Placement: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Huntsman Miscellany

Jon Huntsman is one of the Republican candidates for president. Chris Cillizza, who writes The Fix blog for the Washington Post, listed Huntsman as one of the winners in this evening's GOP debate:

After a nonexistent performance in the August Iowa debate, the former Utah governor was much more part of the conversation this time around — delivering jabs to Romney and Perry as he tried to contrast his record in the Beehive State with theirs. Huntsman also looked like he belonged on the stage tonight — a major change from his August showing. His biggest problem remains that his tonal approach to the race — sensible moderation — still doesn’t seem to fit the Republican primary electorate. But, for tonight, Huntsman did himself proud.

If you'd like to know more about Huntsman, you might enjoy the video of his appearance on PBS's News Hour. It is an interview with Jeffrey Brown and covers a variety of issues, including taxes, tax code, foreign policy, and some biographical information. The PBS site has video and a transcript.

Wondering how his candidacy might affect the Philadelphia region? Michael Smerconish have his views this past Sunday.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Leslie Richards's Electoral History

Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards ( are the Democratic candidates running for Montgomery County Commissioner this year. Shapiro is fairly well known, Richards less so. Since I took a look at the electoral history of one of the Republican candidates last month it seemed prudent to look at Richards's as well.

She was elected to the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors in 2007.

Three Democrats ran in the primary (# votes in parentheses): Sara Erlbaum (895) Leslie S. Richards (863) David E. Brooke (850)

In the general election the three Democrats ran against three Republicans. Vote totals for the Democrats were all higher than the Republicans. Vote totals for the Dems and the percentage of overall votes is listed below:

Leslie S. Richards 2,421 (18.56%) Sara Erlbaum 2,344 (17.97%) David E. Brooke 2,280 (17.48%)

The Republican with the highest number of votes was Richard Cutler with 2,032 (15.58%). He was only about 250 votes behind the lowest Dem vote getter, but nearly 400 behind Richards.

There is always a higher turnout in a general election than a primary so comparing the two is a little difficult but I did notice that while Richards came in second in the D primary she came in first in the general, not only getting more votes than all the Republicans but more than all the other Democrats.

I haven't been able to find out much about the campaign but one might assume that Richards was out hustling for votes during the summer and fall of 2007. In any event she has some experience with a contested election, has worked with a team of candidates, and can draw broad support from the community.

[Source note: if you want to review the returns yourself, they are at:,a,1459,q,66459.asp

Shopping for a Good Cause

from the inbox:

EILEEN FISHER, a brand known for beautifully simple clothes, is partnering with Bloomingdale’s, America’s only nationwide, full line, upscale department store, to support Women Thrive Worldwide (Women Thrive) and their Help Women Feed the World campaign during the store’s bi-annual Hot@ event on Thursday, September 8, 2011. Women Thrive is the leading Washington-based organization shaping U.S. policy to help women in developing countries lift themselves out of poverty.

Through this innovative partnership, the three organizations hope to raise awareness about the challenges women face in regards to feeding themselves and their families. A centerpiece of the Help Women Feed the Worldcampaign challenges participants to cook one of the $2-or-less recipes listed on Women Thrive’s website or create their own recipe. "If you teach a woman to fish, everybody eats. Women all over the world are the center of their families and communities and are key to lifting them out of poverty," said Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide. "We are proud and grateful to EILEEN FISHER and Bloomingdale's for supporting us as we ensure that we as Americans are supporting women as they find their own paths out of poverty worldwide."

When looking for a partner for the fall HOT@ event, EILEEN FISHER sought an organization that addresses the vital issues women around the world are facing. “Women Thrive advocates for systemic change while providing tools and resources to women. They also take a collaborative approach and forge relationships with community based women's organizations to get things done. We love that!” says Reisa Brafman, Leader of Community Partnerships and Women's Initiatives at EILEEN FISHER.

Bloomingdale’s and EILEEN FISHER have partnered during the bi-annual HOT@ events to raise awareness and funds for organizations that support mutual community interests since March 2010. “With a network of stores across the country, we’re in the unique position to directly engage our customers with causes that are important to them and our partners,” says Anne Keating, senior vice president of public relations, special events and corporate philanthropy. “This campaign allows us to take part at the customer level and behind the scenes.”

EILEEN FISHER will donate 3% of the day’s sales at 32 Bloomingdale’s locations as well as on-line sales on The brand’s three EILEEN FISHER departments (petite, missy and women’s) will participate and Bloomingdale’s will contribute an additional $5,000 to support WTW’s campaign. Representatives from EILEEN FISHER and Women Thrive will be on site in select Bloomingdale’s locations throughout the day.

Participating Pennsylvania Bloomingdale’s stores:
King of Prussia, 660 W. De Kalb Pike, King of Prussia
Willow Grove, 2400 Moreland Park Rd., Willow Grove

Arne Duncan and Others in PA on Wed.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 7th Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will start the Department of Education's "Education and the Economy" bus tour with stops at schools in Pittsburgh and Erie. Under Secretary Martha Kanter will be in Pittsburgh and Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Alexa Posby and Senior Advisor for Early Learning Jacqueline Jones will also be in Pittsburgh or Erie to highlight different educational issues, reform, special needs programs, and the positive impact of high-quality early learning programs. Sen. Bob Casey may participate in some events, though not in person, but via Skype.

Citizens Marcellus Shale Meeting This Evening

from the inbox, this group is having a hearing this evening, from 6 to 9 p.m. at The Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., Philadelphia:

A new commission launching this week will give the citizens of Pennsylvania an opportunity to tell their side of the story about drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Former state Representatives Carole Rubley and Dan Surra will co-chair the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission, which will hold hearings across Pennsylvania to gather citizen perspectives on the Marcellus Shale and produce a final report for policymakers. The first of five hearings took place last week in McDonald, PA, near Pittsburgh.

“Marcellus Shale development will have a huge impact on our Commonwealth and it is critical that we get it right,” Surra said. “This commission will give citizens an opportunity to add their voice and bring some necessary balance to this critical debate.”

“The Commission will give the people of Pennsylvania an opportunity to weigh in on this important issue,” said Rubley. “Their input should inform state policies to ensure gas drilling is conducted in a responsible manner.”

The Citizens Commission was formed by eight leading civic and environmental organizations to give Pennsylvanians living with drilling in their backyard a place to speak out and recommend action.

Earlier this year, Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, heavy with industry representatives, produced a report and recommendations on shale drilling. The Citizens Commission is intended to supplement that work and delve deeper into a variety of issues, including water and air quality, social impacts of gas drilling, the drilling tax, and impacts outside Marcellus communities.

“The Governor’s commission told part of the story,” said Thomas Au, of the Sierra Club, Pennsylvania Chapter. “The citizens of Pennsylvania have a different story to tell.”

The Commission will hold five hearings across Pennsylvania in August and September. Each hearing will be held from 6-9 p.m., with the first hour reserved for expert testimony and the remaining two for public input.

In early October, the Commission will produce a report documenting the opinions and concerns of citizens to be delivered to Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Citizens can sign up to participate at these hearings at the Commission’s web site:

Monday, September 05, 2011

Disaster Aid for PA

from in the inbox:

September 3, 2011

President Obama Signs Pennsylvania Disaster Declaration

The President today declared a major disaster exists in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ordered Federal aid to supplement commonwealth and local recovery efforts in the area affected by Hurricane Irene during the period of August 26-30, 2011.

Federal funding is available to commonwealth and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Hurricane Irene in the counties of Chester, Northampton, Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures for all counties in the Commonwealth.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Thomas J. McCool as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said that damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Wagner to Audit Superintendent Buyouts

from the inbox:

Auditor General Jack Wagner today notified four Pennsylvania school districts that his department will audit provisions of their recent superintendent contract buyouts.

Receiving notification letters were the School District of Philadelphia, the Allentown School District in Lehigh County; the Central Dauphin School District in Dauphin County; and the Gettysburg Area School District in Adams County.

Wagner's two-page letter said the audits will be conducted in accordance with applicable government accounting standards, and would cover the period from June 2007 through conclusion of the auditors' field work.

Preliminary objectives will include, but will not be limited:
· To determine whether employment contracts with administrators contained adequate separation provisions sufficient to protect the interests of each school district, its students and its taxpayers in the event the employment of administrators ends prematurely for any reason;
· To determine whether the school districts provided as much information as possible to taxpayers explaining the reasons for the separation of the superintendents and justifying the school districts’ expenditure of funds to buy out the contracts;
· To determine whether the school districts entered into employment contracts with the superintendents at the three-year minimum provided by state law in order to limit potential financial liability by the districts and taxpayers in the event financial liability was not adequately limited through contract provisions;
· To determine, to the greatest degree possible extent, the total financial cost of each superintendent contract buyout or other administration official’s contract buyout; and · To determine whether the separation agreements were transparent and without confidentiality clauses so taxpayers are made aware of the buyout occurred.

The letters followed Wagner's announcement last week that the Department of the Auditor General had changed its policy and would conduct immediate audits of superintendent contract buyouts. Previously, the Department of the Auditor General examined terms of superintendent buyouts as part of its routine school audits, which are conducted roughly every three years.

The policy change was in response to the terms of recent buyouts in the Allentown School District and the School District of Philadelphia. The outgoing Allentown superintendent is receiving a $50,000 contract buyout and the outgoing Philadelphia superintendent is getting a $905,000 severance package, which includes $405,000 from anonymous private donors.

The superintendent buyouts in Allentown, Philadelphia, Central Dauphin and Gettysburg are the latest that Wagner is scrutinizing. The seven other school districts previously cited by Wagner’s audits, whose buyouts cost taxpayers almost $1.4 million, were:
· Mt. Lebanon School District (Allegheny County): Buyout in excess of $420,000
· South Allegheny School District (Allegheny County): Buyout in excess of $375,000
· Lehighton Area School District (Carbon County): Buyout in excess of $150,000
· Pittsburgh Public Schools (Allegheny County): Buyout in excess of $150,000
· Derry Township School District (Dauphin County): Buyout in excess of $126,000
· Warren County School District (Warren County): Buyout in excess of $101,000
· Coudersport Area School District (Potter County): Buyout in excess of $73,000

Wagner said that public school districts in Pennsylvania are grappling with great financial challenges, and superintendent buyouts send the message that they are not careful stewards of taxpayer dollars.

“Superintendent severance packages are questionable not only because they appear to waste money, but because they often lack transparency. As the state’s independent fiscal watchdog, I want to make full details of buyout available to taxpayers,” Wagner said.

Wagner made specific recommendations to the General Assembly in August 2005 to amend state law to reduce or eliminate the need for buyouts. Wagner has recommended:
· School districts should limit their potential liability by granting future superintendents to the three-year minimum contract term permitted by state law, rather than more lengthy contracts,
· Future superintendent employment contracts should contain adequate provisions from the outset of the employment relationship to address premature termination of employment, and
· Superintendent contracts should not contain confidentiality clauses that prohibit public disclosure of the reasons for the termination of superintendent to justify the school district’s expenditure of public funds to buy out the superintendent’s contract.

Chester County Candidates by Gender

At a reader's request I'm stepping just a bit out of my usual geographic boundaries and taking a look at Chester County candidates, as I've done with Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. The information listed here is taken from the Chester County Democrats website ( and the Chester County Republicans website ( Incumbent information from the Chester County site (

Chester County follows the same system that Bucks and Montco does, with three county commissioners, two from one party, and the third spot reserved for the top vote getter from the minority party. All three sitting commissioners are running for re-election (or in Costello's case election as he was recently appointed to the Board). Two Republican men, Ryan Costello and Terence Farrell, and one Democratic woman, Kathi Cozzone are the incumbents. Cozzone is joined on the ballot by Susan Bayne. If all incumbments win the gender balance stays the same. If both Democrats win it will shift to two women and one man.

The District Attorney position is open. There is no incumbent. Democrat Sam Stretton is facing Tom Hogan, both men.

Incumbent Republican prothonotary Bryan Walters is running unopposed.

Recorder of Deeds Ruth Huganir was appointed to serve out the term of Ryan Costello who was appointed to the Board of Commissioners in 2011 to fill out the term of Carol Aichele who is now the Pennsylvania Secretary of State. Is everyone following? Huganir is not running for the office. Both parties have male candidates, Republican Rich Loughery and Democrat Russ Phifer.

Incumbent Republican sheriff Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh is running against Democratic challenger Alex Caton. According to the bio on the county's website Welsh "is the first woman to ever be elected Sheriff of Chester County. She is the only female sheriff in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and one of only 22 female sheriffs in the nation."

The current Register of Wills, Paula Gowen, does not appear to be running again. Republican Terri Clark is facing Democrat Dan Tyman.

To recap the row offices, the District Attorney, Prothonotary, and Recorder of Deeds are guaranteed to be male. Sheriff and Register of Wills could go either way, though "Bunny" has the edge as an incumbent.

There are currently fourteen judges on the Court of Common Pleas, three have traditionally female names. There aren't any photos with their bios so names are all we have to go on. This year both parties are running two candidates, one male the other female. So that could result in any combination of new judges.