Archive: August, 2011
As reported last month, the Philadelphia school district, facing a $664 million budget gap, will force the closure of 26 full-service kitchens. The move will make up $2.3 million in savings, but eliminates jobs and drastically changes the food that students had received for lunch.
Come next school year 70 percent of the district's 315 service locations will be under what they call a "satellite program," where nearly all of the food distributed at lunchtime is packaged off-site and shipped into the school. This leaves hungry children, affecting mainly those in elementary and middle school, at the whim of distributors who provide plastic-sealed white paper trays filled with pre-made sandwiches, fruit cups and a smattering of processed goodies.
The meals come from a distributor named Maramont Corp, a large food shipping, freezing and processing company based in Brooklyn, NY, with an office and warehouse in South Philadelphia. Maramont Corp. is responsible for all the pre-packaged meals in the "satellite program" delivered to Philadelphia public schools, and also has contracts with other school districts and prisons in New York and New Jersey.
Maramont's history is not without troubles. In 1997, over 3,000 cases of frozen USDA commodity turkey nuggets were stored improperly in their Philly warehouse and subsequently thrown out. And in 2007 the company had to recall over 88 pounds of beef patties en route to Jersey City schools because of a listeria scare — listeria is a potentially fatal bacterium. Like other large food distributors, this isn't necessarily uncommon.
But complaints about the food quality go back to the beginning of their presence in the schools — as early as 1996 the Daily News began reporting complaints from parents and students, some even claimed sickness from the food.
This is about consistent with what I witnessed first-hand. Students hated the food. Whole meals were thrown out. Our classroom offered mayonnaise and mustard packets on sandwich days as a saving grace, but it was futile. They didn't want to eat their lunch from a big box of pre-packaged trays even though many of these students rely heavily on school lunch, and sometimes breakfast for daily meals.
Richie Antipuna, a Green Party candidate for City Commissioner (who was not endorsed by the Green Party), will be dropping out of the race following legal challenges to his petition, the Kenzington man announced today from the comfort of his backyard swimming pool, according to a press release from his campaign today.
The release states:
"Following his withdrawal, Richie Antipuna, who was interviewed while relaxing in his back-yard pool in Kensington, said, “I feel like the Ralph Nader of Philadelphia,” referring to the 2004 Green Party candidate for President of the United States. Ralph Nader’s name was never allowed to appear on the ballot, and Pennsylvania’s voters were never free to vote for him or against him. ...
... The Democrats and Republicans use the law to slap the little guy in the face,” charged Antipuna. “Anyone who leaves a major party to run for election is punished for leaving their party. Political parties in Philadelphia are like posses, street gangs from the 1980s. If you pull out of one posse, you get beat up by all of them."
This will certainly come as bad news to supporters of Antipuna for City Commissioner — but, perhaps, as good news to fans of the Richie Antipuna Show, a web video show about Kensington. If you haven't checked it out yet, you really need to. Here's a sample quote:
"It has been widely reported that School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who recently laid of 1,500 school workers and ... came ... and ... injunction? What the fuck does that mean? 'Came and injunction?' You gotta stop this shit."
Philadelphia participates in a controversial immigrant deportation program called Secure Communities because then-Governor Rendell signed an agreement because local officials signed an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) saying we would (in most states, the governor signed). Or, that was the story until last week, when ICE said that they were canceling the agreements with states, called Memorandums of Understanding.
We are canceling the agreements, they said. And we will continue the program.
“Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part. For this reason, ICE has decided to terminate all existing Secure Communities MOAs,” ICE Director John Morton wrote in a letter to governors.
(More from activists here.)
Secure Communities gives ICE access to the fingerprints of arrestees that states have long already shared with the FBI. But the program is controversial: it is ostensibly focused on dangerous criminal aliens but has resulted in the deportation of large numbers of non-criminal or low-level criminal immigrants.
As I discussed at the Guardian, ICE had long promoted Secure Communities as a voluntary program. But then local, state and congressional officials began to protest. New York, Massachusetts and Illinois pulled out. And then ICE said: well, I know you thought that this agreement was a prerequisite to implementing the program that we agreed to together, but it’s actually not voluntary.
As long as states were happy with the program, it was voluntary. Now that states are protesting Secure Communities, the federal government has the authority to implement the program unilaterally. The thing that we agreed to do together is no longer an agreement now that you don’t like it: we are imposing it.
Sorry for the confusion.
Though Secure Communities is not subject to local control, Philadelphia does voluntarily participate in a separate ICE program: the city gives ICE real-time access to the police’s computerized arraignment system (called PARS)--sort of like a Secure Communities-plus.
The Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning Secure Communities and calling for the city to deny ICE access to PARS. Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky was, of course, grouchy. But Mayor Michael Nutter barely responded.
The PARS contract expires on August 31, and activists are ramping up pressure on Mayor Nutter. Yesterday the story got picked up in the Huffington Post, which reports that Tea Party activists are lobbying the Mayor to stay in the program.
The conflict pits immigrants, who made it possible for Philly to grow for the first time in half a century, against the Tea Party, which has almost no presence here. But when it comes to immigration, Mayor Nutter appears to be more attuned to White House pressure than to the demands of any local constituency.
Three-way race for mayor? Looks like it: radical activist Diop Olugbala will likely be on the ballot.
Unless a sudden (and successful) challenge to his filing petition emerges, International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate Diop Olugbala, also known as Wali Rahman, will be on the ballot with Mayor Nutter and Republican candidate Karen Brown this November, affirms Tim Dowling of the City Commissioners office.
Rahman will hold a press conference tomorrow to "respond to Mayor Nutter’s announced escalation of aggressive police action targeting black youth, including 9pm curfews with threats of fines and jail time for youth and parents," according to a press release from his campaign.
Philadelphians might know the of the Uhuru Movement because of its Center City furniture store, which raises money for the group. City Paper freelancer Tom Dreisbach wrote about the group, and its controversial stance on shootings of police officers, a couple of years ago. (Uhuru members called Daniel Giddings, the alleged killer of police officer Patrick McDonald, a "warrior.")
Or you might remember Olugbala from an incident, also a few years ago, in which he was arrested after allegedly attacking a security guard inside city hall.
In response to articles in the Philadelphia City Paper and Salon, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has launched an online ad campaign demanding that Rep. Daryl Metcalfe and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai return public funds given to the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC), “an extreme right-wing organization funded by shady conservative third parties, including the infamously far-right Koch brothers. They are dedicated to giving Big Business a direct role in crafting legislation that will benefit themselves, then urging state legislators to pass those exact bills.”
The ad links to this petition.
On Thursday, I wrote about new Brown University study findings that the Philadelphia area is by many counts the nation’s most separate and unequal. Regardless of class, black and Latinos attend much worse schools than their white counterparts and live in far more impoverished neighborhoods.
Two articles on the front page of this week’s Sunday Inquirer--one moving, the other mundane--offer a sad if unintentionally sardonic illustration of the different worlds Americans live in. In Camden--one of the country’s poorest and most violent cities--a nine-year old boy was blinded by a stray bullet that missed his brain by millimeters. In suburban Doylestown, the news was this: a small number of neighbors are grumpy about the town's First Friday art walk, charging that “the 6-year-old event has exploded beyond the town's capacity, drawing thousands of outsiders who make noise, clog sidewalks and streets, gobble up the locals' parking, and unleash ‘roving bands of teens’ who wander unsupervised.”
Are gangs walking the streets, carrying out violent flash mobs? No, there haven’t been any crimes committed or anything. A handful of locals just, you know, find it a bit too noisy, and so they founded a Facebook group that now has, umm, 41 members (journalists included).
U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Ludwig, who moonlights as president of the Doylestown Historical Society, sees the event as manifesting a dark, suburban underbelly. The town center, he writes, “sometimes seems like a ‘war zone’--to be avoided by those who have a right to be here.”
Our hearts go out to Judge Ludwig and the others who brave the mean streets of Doylestown during their afterwork shopping. Meanwhile, Camden is a war zone.
“Jorge, who prefers the Anglo pronunciation ‘George,’ was walking home through East Camden to feed his pet parakeets when a bullet sliced through his temple, damaging optic-nerve fibers behind his right eye and exiting through his left.”
He panics waking up blind in the hospital. “Where’s my eyes? Where’s my eyes? I can’t see!”
“On the afternoon of Monday, June 27, Jorge became one of the 103 people who have been shot in Camden in the first seven months of 2011--up 24 percent for the same period last year.”
The two front-page stories say a lot about each place. But together, the suburban and urban articles tell a bigger story about what’s gone wrong with our region--and, probably, with America.
Vera Scroogins, an anti-drilling activist in Sesquehana County, says she was intimidated by employees of Laser Northeast Gathering Company, the firm building a pipline to carry gas across Pennsylvania.
Earlier this week, the pipline spewed thousands of gallons of muddy drilling fluids into the Laurel Lake Creek, a creek near Scroogins, and which she visited a few days ago to film the mud spill. After posting those videos online, Scroogins says she was called by a neighbor who said two pipline workers knocked on his door at 7:30 A.M., giving a description of Scroogins, — "Gray hair and a red prius," — and asking for her contact information.
Then, she says, she was stopped while driving by the spill site by a pipline worker who mentioned the videos and told her she was "in trouble" for posting them:
"He wouldn't tell me who he was, and then he took off," Scroogins tells CP.
Scroogins says she spoke with Laser CEO Thomas Karam, and that Karam assured her that she was welcome to continue filming work on the pipeline as long as she didn't cross the right-of-way.
Here are the videos Scroogins posted. The first shows mud seeping into the creek, along with a few bales of hay placed in it apparently to filter the mud. The second, taken the next day, shows the creek filled with a thick layer of mud. The hay bales, apparently, weren't sufficient.
The next day:
Mayor Nutter announces much-anticipated strategy against flash mobs: enforce a curfew that already exists.
Pretty much everyone agrees that something needs to be done about the violent mobs of youth who've been descending on Center City and committing assaults and robberies. Early this week, Mayor Nutter announced that his staff was working with various city agencies and public stakeholders to come up with a new strategy. Today he unveiled at least part of it: enforce a curfew already on the books in the first place.
States a press release sent out a few hours ago from the Mayor's Office of Communications:
This weekend, the Philadelphia Police Department will strictly enforce the city’s current curfew law, which states that children under the age of 13 must be home by 10:00 p.m., and young people between the ages of 13 and 18 must be home by 12:00 a.m. There are penalties for minors and for parents who ignore this curfew.
“I want to strongly encourage parents and guardians to be vigilant and to look out for their children this weekend. There is no excuse for young people to be able to participate in coordinated, violent behavior if parents are doing their job. It is your responsibility, not the government’s, to watch your kids.
The press release also notes that we may expect to see increased police presence in Center City and people wearing "iPledge" tee-shirts, which, despite their resemblance to Apple branding, apparently indicate "community leaders who have given their time to help ensure the safety of our city."
iDon't quite get it either.
This morning, a coalition of religious leaders and unions arrived at Sugarhouse headquarters to deliver a letter informing management of a number of workers' intent to become or join a union, expressing their support and asking that Sugarhouse not intimidate or retaliate against the organizing employees.
Unions present: Unite Here!, Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (these unions represent casino workers at Harrah's, Chester and many casinos in Atlantic City).
Religious leaders present: Rev. Robert Shine, of Berachah Baptist Church; Rev. Darrell Cook of Prince of Peace Baptist Church; Bishop Dwayne Royster of Living Water United Church of Christ; and Rev. Robert Shipman of Prince of Peace Baptist Church.
The group presented the following letter to Sugarhouse communications director Leigh Whitaker:
We represent a network of clergy and congregations across Philadelphia. Today we stand beside the workers at SugarHouse Casino as they demand the company respect their signatures and agree to a fair process whereby they may organize a union freely and without management intimidation or retaliation.
We expect you to instruct your managers to obey Federal law regarding the right to organize a union. Let it be known that if any of our sisters’ or brothers’ rights are violated there will be repercussions from the community.
Workers are organizing to hold SugarHouse to its promise of good, family-supporting jobs and to secure respect for themselves, their coworkers, and families.
Today, August 5, 2011, workers are publicly announcing their organizing campaign. The signatures below are the founding members of the SugarHouse Casino Organizing Committee. We have delivered a copy of this letter to the Philadelphia office of the National Labor Relations Board.
Inside the casino, CP observed a small number of casino employees — the only ones we saw were working as cashiers — wearing "Unite Here!" buttons.
What wil happen next isn't clear: The workers could file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board, but that process would likely take months, if not longer. They could also ask Sugarhouse to extend voluntary recognition.
Communications Director Leigh Whitaker, who received the group at Sugarhouse offices (manager Wendy Hamilton was out today), told the group that "We don't intimidate or retaliate against our employees," but had no immediate comment for CP on the surprise visit except to say that "We're on notice now."
Four Philadelphia faith leaders just delivered a letter to SugarHouse manager Wendy Hamilton informing her that casino workers are organizing, expressing their support for the effort and asking SugarHouse not to "intimidate or retaliate against" employees organizing, as Reverend Robert Shine put it.
Follow me on twitter for live updates: @isaiah_thompson
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