Archive: September, 2010
First thing: There is no blogger tax. Never was. This was an Internet meme that got carried away and blown the hell out of proportion (though, admittedly, some imprecise language on our part may have fanned the flames). But, as we first reported, the city does expect bloggers, freelance writers and âbusinessesâ of all stripes that report any income on their tax forms even if the amount of money is infinitesimal to shell out $300 for a lifetime business privilege license (or $50 for an annual license).
In any event, on Wednesday the city tried to make nice with area bloggers with a happy hour at National Mechanics. I didn't go; basically, I just plum forgot. But local freelance writer Laura Goldman did go, and she filed this report on her newly minted blog, Naked Philadelphian:
To quell the furor over bloggergate, the Department of Revenue and the Mayor's Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy walked into the lion's den and sponsored a Q&A about the city's business privilege tax on September 8, 2010 at the Old City bar/restaurant National Mechanics. Bloggers, freelancers, and small business owners were in the audience. The crowd was small. They probably scared off by the presence of the Department of Revenue. The fact that it was held at the start of the Jewish New Year did not help.
Moira Baylson, the city's deputy chief cultural officer, kicked off the evening with a brief introduction and then opened up the floor to questions. David Dorman, the revenue compliance program director, along with 10-15 officials from the departments of commerce, the managing director's office, the division of finance, and the mayor's office of the arts, culture and the creative economy, was available to answer questions.
Dorman announced, âThe city is reconsidering the tax.â When the crowd got excited about the prospect of not paying the tax, Dorman quickly clarified, âEveryone still has to pay the tax until it is actually repealed. The abolition of the tax is a long time way. It will take a vote of City Council to change the tax. â Lauren Vidas, assistant to the Finance Director, explained, âThe Pa. state constitution would have to be changed to institute a sliding scale fee because of the uniformity de minimus provisions.â
Goldman also breaks down what the BPL means for her and other small-time bloggers and freelancers:
For those that think the city is considering revision of the tax out of the goodness of their heart, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for you. The powers to be think that abolition of the fee will generate even more revenue for the city's business privilege tax. Citizens will be more inclined to start a new business sans the license fee.
Andrew Baer, a lawyer whose clients are smaller hi tech companies, asked, âHow much revenue has the fee generated for the city? The fee maybe generates $1 million in revenue. The city has received many times that in bad publicity.â Baer was not that far off.
Frank Breslin, deputy revenue commissioner, later confirmed that the fee was an insignificant part of the city's revenues (.1%) âThe business privilege license fee generated a little more than $3 million in revenue for fiscal year 2010 ending June 30. The total tax and fee receipts for the city for fiscal year 2010 were just under $3 billion.â The $3 million figure was a little higher than normal due to the city's tax amnesty program, reminded Andrea Mannino, special assistant to the revenue commissioner.
I, a freelancer, complained that the tax also hits âthe grunts of the editorial world.â I continued. âI do not own my own blog. I am not a freelancer by choice but because of the dire economics of the media industry right now. No one can afford to hire me full time. I am already levied a higher tax rate (6.46% vs. 4.9%) on my income because I pay the business privilege tax not the wage tax. I receive no healthcare benefits and also pay double social security tax. (Self employed freelancers pay both the employees and employer's portion of social security). Dorman conceded, âFreelancers were in a tough position but they still receive 1099 income so they have to pay the business privilege license fee.â
Gloria Bell of Red Stapler Consulting asked, âI take in $10 in ads on my blog that pay for my hosting. It is a wash income tax wise. Do I have to pay the business privilege tax?â Dorman said, âUnfortunately, according to the city, you are generating revenue so you have to pay the tax.â The crowd was surprised that the city is insisting that $10 in income would generate $300 bill.
City officials, Goldman writes, say Nutter is mulling some tax reforms over:
While no one wants to pay taxes, the crowd agreed that a $50 lifetime tax would be more reasonable. Vidas sounded promising, âOne of Nutter's main issues is tax reform so he is thinking about this tax.â Gary Steuer, the city's chief cultural officer, reminded, âThe abolition of the tax still has to be revenue neutral. It is hard times for the city.â Due to those hard times, the city did not pick up the tab for the cocktail hour, it was BYOB (Buy your own Booze).
I've e-mailed city officials to get their take on the meeting and to see if I can get confirmation on tax reform proposals. If/when they get back to me next week, I'll update.
Stephanie Johnson here with the return of your morning fix.
A YouTube video shows a bunch of Philly cops beating a West Philly man with their batons while he was lying on the ground. The cops then charged the dude they beat with aggravated assault. âNot every arrest ends with someone saying, âThank you,'â says PPD spokescop Lt. Frank Vanore said. Gee, Philly cops not taking police brutality allegations seriously? Can't imagine. There's an Internal Affairs investigation pending. Take a wild guess how that will turn out.
A Manayunk resident complains that the 3 1/2 ton bell atop the St. John the Baptist church sounding 18 times at 7 a.m. disturbs her quality of life. This bell has, of course, been ringing for most of the past 104 years; long before said resident moved into the area, one presumes. Councilman Jim Kenney, last seen wanting to sue the Internet, has proposed a bill to exempt churches and schools from noise pollution laws.
Randy Bates, president of the National Haunted House Association which is, it seems, a real job wants to turn Pennhurst, a two-decades-vacant state school for disabled youth in Spring City, into a haunted house. Not everyone is pleased with this idea: âThe idea of a fake electric shock room in a place where disabled children suffered unimaginable horrors isn't sitting well with some in the community,â says the CBS story. Bates, meanwhile, says that shit happened 30 years ago and they should get over it.
Down in Florida, the Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville has abandoned his plans to torch a bunch of Qurans (and set off an international incident), based, he says, on the deal he reached with a Orlando Muslim leader to move the so-called "ground zero mosque" in New York City someplace else. Problem is, said Orlando Muslim leader has nothing to do with the New York Muslim community center, so he's hardly in a position to move it (though he did apparently say he'd set up a meeting). Terry Jones is now calling the Orlando imam a liar. The entire world is still calling Terry Jones and asshole.
Breaking: In private email, Pa.'s Homeland Security chief pledges "support" to gas drillers, warns against groups "fomenting dissent."
An email obtained by City Paper suggests collaboration between the state Department of Homeland Security and gas drilling interests.
The email, authored by Pennsylvania Homeland Security chief James Powers, was written in apparent error: addressed to a participant in anti-drilling forums, the letter indicates that Powers mistakenly mistook its recipient for someone associated with pro-drilling interests.
In the email (full text below), Powers warns against distributing information gathered by the Pa. DHS on anti-drilling activities, saying that: "We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies."
The "support" he speaks of consists at least partly of confidential updates on anti-drilling activists and activities. A report yesterday evening by nonprofit investigative journalism outfit Pro Publica broke the news that the Pennsylvania Dept. of Homeland Security included in its regular newsletter, the Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin, descriptions of various activities and gatherings of activists opposed to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
Included in a list entitled "Dates of interest" are a series of local meetings about gas drilling issues a drilling ordinance in Cranberry County, a hearing in Damascus, Pa. on zoning regulations as well as the recent screening in Philadelphia of the "controversial Gasland movie," a documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox on the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.
City Paper emailed Mr. Powers to confirm authenticity of the email and was contacted instead by Governor Rendell's chief spokesman Gary Tuma, who acknowledged that the email was authentic and said that the Pa. Dept. of Homeland Security was sharing such information with certain local interests â including gas drilling companies because of "recent acts of vandalism" against drilling operations.
"There have been five acts of vandalism against Marcellus Shale drilling facilities," in the last two weeks, he said, "including two of which involved firearms ... shotguns fired at equipment."
A third incident involved theft, he said after being asked for details, and the other two were "minor incidents."
Tuma added that "There have been peaceful protests related to MS drilling by people who oppose drilling and the increased amount of drilling certainly no one is trying to restrict the rights of peaceful protest conducted within the parameters of the first amendment."
Asked whether there have been any protests that were not peaceful, Mr. Tuma acknowledged, "There have not been any that I'm aware of."
The full text of the email appears below:
For Your Information & Situational Awareness
Just a short note of clarification regarding the intent of the PIB. The information provided to you via the PIB is not for dissemination in the public domain. As indicated in the caveats on the first page, the PIB is solely meant for owners/operators & security personnel associated with our critical infrastructure & key resources.
Although an internet forum is certainly a great way to spread the word and receive input from forum participants, it's still in the public domain and thus be accessed by both pro and anti-natural gas drilling folks.
Please assist us in keeping the information provided in the PIB to those having a valid need-to-know; it should only be disseminated via closed communications systems.
Thanks for your support. We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.
James F. Powers, Jr. | Director
Office of Homeland Security
2605 Interstate Drive | Suite 380
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9382
717-651-2715 | Cell: 717-307-5335
A little while ago, I was contacted by David Adams, block captain of the 900 block of S. 49th Street in West Philadelphia, who wanted to know why his permit application for a block party was denied this year by the city.
Adams and others say the annual block party is a 45-year tradition, and that this is the first time anyone can remember that their permit request was denied. Adams says he took up the issue with his Council office, but was told by staff at Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's office that the denial was due to a new policy â or new implementation â by the Streets department.
A few days ago, Andrew Stober of the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities confirmed to City Paper that the Streets Department is changing the way it handles block party permits:
Block parties are a great part of Philly culture and we are pleased to be able support block parties. However, the department also has a responsibility to make sure parties are safe and don't have a disproportionate impact on surrounding streets or SEPTA service. The department has begun to implement an existing policy of not issuing block party permits for streets with higher traffic volumes or streets with SEPTA service. An unanticipated closing of a busy street can present a safety hazard to those attending the block party and impact response time for emergency vehicles.
Permit or no, the residents of the 900 block of S. 49th Street were determined, and had their own "stealth" block party anyway â but said it just wasn't the same.
Meanwhile, Adams says new policies haven't been communicated to block captains, and wonders why Senator Anthony Williams was allowed host a "block party" this past weekend. In a letter to Councilwoman Blackwell's office, Adams wrote:
I couldn't help but notice that Rep. Anthony Williams had a a 3-Block Party on September 4th that covered Baltimore avenue from 48th street to 51st street - and Baltimore avenue is a major 'arterial roadway'. Septa routes were diverted until 10pm that night(our Block Parties must end at 8pm).
Mr. Stober, asked about the event, told City Paper in an email that:
Sen. Williams may have described his event as a block party. However, officially it was a festival, since it was held on a major thoroughfare (not a residential street). The Senator applied for and received a festival permit from the Streets Department and Special Events Unit of the Managing Director's Office.
Still, we wonder: if denying block party permits is am issue of safety and traffic ... why should a "festival" be any different?
Updated with response
Maybe it was inevitable: maybe something as good, as fundamentally wholesome, as lamb-like and peaceful to all as the Philly Naked Bike Ride had to be infiltrated by wolves.
But according to PNBR volunteer organizer Clifford Greer, "What we think we know is that a camera crew came to the ride, posing as interviewers to get shots of people's genitals, chests, butts ... [and] They've got this sleazy website."
The website, www.waptvshow.com or "Wild About Philly Entertainment TV show," â hosts such web "TV" segments as "Wild About Philly" and "Philly's Model Showcase." On a page for merchandise promotes a DVD of the Philly Naked Bike Ride, boasting that "you'll enjoy this DVD from [sic] years to come."
Updated: Reg Williams, video editor for Wild About Philly TV responded this evening to an inquiry by City Paper. Williams says the DVD is not pornography, and that Wild About Philly films all kinds of events.
"We have a good reputation, an upstanding reputation as far as covering events in this city," Williams said over the phone, telling CP that all "close-ups" were filmed with full consent from participants and that "the cameraman was also naked."
As to what the DVD consists of: "Whatever you saw out there, that's what it's about."
According to Greer, meanwhile, a team of volunteer lawyers is working on potentially stopping the sale of such a DVD, cautioning that they don't know much about the owners of the site or their motives, "but everything points to sleaze."
"One of the things the Philly Naked Bike Ride does is successfully create an environment that is free, and positive, and respectful ... I don't know what inspires these people."
Stay tuned to The Clog for updates.
Unemployment would be above 14 percent in Pennsylvania and approaching 16 percent nationally if not for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other federal action taken in the wake of the recession, according to a new report released by the Keystone Research Center Thursday.
From the report itself:
First, the last 12 months of data on the Pennsylvania and U.S. economies make clear that the extraordinary interventions in the economy by the Federal Reserve, the Bush and Obama administrations, and Congress were effective in forestalling the free fall of the U.S. economy. For Pennsylvania, the simplest indicator of this is the monthly average change in jobs each month. Before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Pennsylvania was losing nearly 30,000 jobs per month and this number was growing rapidly. This year, Pennsylvania is gaining jobs each month, on average.
As in the early 1930s, many voices, including within Congress, urged policy makers to do nothing in the face of the collapsing economy. Had this point-of-view prevailed, current unemployment in the United States would be about 15% or 16%.
Remember that the next time one of the Republican dunderheads goes on the TV to tell you that the stimulus did nothing/made things worse/whatever bullshit wins elections. They're either lying or have no idea what they're talking about. Either option should disqualify them from power.
More from the report:
The jobs and wage deficits are far more immediate problems for Pennsylvania families than the accumulated debt or annual federal deficit of the U.S. government. Especially in an election year, voters should ask lawmakers at the federal and state level, âWhat are you going to do about the jobs deficit?â and âWhat are you going to do about the wage deficit?â
In the immediate future, the federal government needs to:
- Extend the federal program which provides resources to Pennsylvania's state-subsidized work programs, the "Way to Work" program. This recently implemented program will expire September 30 without Congressional action;
- Continue to extend unemployment insurance benefits as long as unemployment remains so high that it is impossible for many jobless workers to find jobs;
- Provide access to capital for small businesses so that they do not become victims of the recession and the credit crunch.
By the first part of next year, the federal government should allow the Bush tax breaks for the rich to expire and repurpose those funds to activities that have a bigger "bang for the buck" when it comes to creating jobs. Near the top of the list of alternative uses of money saved by not extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich should be:
- Additional revenue sharing with states and localities in the next 12-24 months; and
- A jobs bill that includes investment in infrastructure, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and clean manufacturing.
Longer term, policies also need to more directly address the "wage deficit" by lifting the wages and incomes of middle-class families.
Of course, none of this will have if the Republicans retake Congress this November. Food for thought.
The best lack all conviction/ while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
You see this in the vociferous demonstrations against that Islamic community center in lower Manhattan; in the inchoate and often incoherent rage of the Tea Party groups and Glenn Beck acolytes; in the denunciations of âsocialismâ and dire warnings of some fascist government takeover during last year's health care reform debate the right, and particularly, its fringe, reactionary, conspiracist and stunningly vacuous, uninformed and anti-intellectual base, has been whipped up into a frenzy these last 18 months and is poised to make big gains in November. The 112th Congress, if the polls bear out and this current crop of Republican extremists takes control Rand Paul, Joe Miller, John Boehner, Jim DeMint, Darrell Issa, and, yes, Pat Toomey, among too many others to name we're almost certain to see two years dominated by hyperventilating ideologues, government shutdowns and the sort of endless bullshit "investigations" into nonexistent improprieties that marked the Gingrich "revolution" of the 1990s. Probably worse, because unlike that class of Republicans, these fools have no absolutely no appetite for actual governance, nor any type of discernable agenda beyond cutting taxes for billionaires and bulldozing the small, but important, progress we've made on health care. (On that note, check this out: Were Republicans still in charge, we'd have higher deficits and unemployment than we do now.)
The problem is, while the worst of us the Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins and so forth are frothing over with âpassionate intensity,â as Yeats would say, âThe best lack all conviction.â And that brings us to today's Must Read, from Slate's Jacob Weisberg:
Barack Obama's redecoration of the Oval Office includes a nice personal touch: a carpet ringed with favorite quotations from Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, both Presidents Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. The King quote, in particular, has become a kind of emblem for him: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." For all the carping about his every move, the only big problem with the Obama Presidency is the gap between what's written on his rug, and what's buried under itthe distance between the President's veneration of moral leadership past and his failure, so far, to exhibit much of it himself.
Obama has had numerous occasions to assert leadership on values issues this summer: Arizona's crude anti-immigrant law, the battle over Prop 8 and gay marriage, and the backlash against what Fox News persists in calling the "Ground Zero mosque." These battles raise fundamental questions of national identity, liberty, and individual rights. When Lindsey Graham argues for rewriting the Constitution to eliminate the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, or Newt Gingrich proposes a Saudi standard for the free exercise of religion, they're taking positions at odds with America's basic ideals. But Obama's instinctive caution has steered him away from casting these questions as moral or civil rights issues. On none of them has he shown anything resembling courage.
The whole piece is worth a read, but one particular passage struck me:
With the Proposition 8 fight, Obama has fallen short in a different way, by his reluctance to join an emerging social consensus. Obama had previously criticized California's Proposition 8, the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, as "divisive." But his official positionwhich no one believes he actually holdsis that he is against legalizing gay marriage. Americans are changing their views on this issue with inspiring rapidity. Judge Vaughn Walker's moving opinion provided an occasion for Obama to move to embrace the extension of equal rights to gay people. Instead, he slunk mumbling in the other direction. How dismal that America's first black president will be remembered as shirking the last great civil rights struggle (emphasis added).
The best lack conviction. As I noted last year (at my previous employ), prominent Democrats too often take the right positions when they don't matter. In power, they're cowed by the worst's âpassionate intensity.â And though it shouldn't really matter, there is a political aspect to this: Passionate intensity gets voters to the polls, especially in midterm elections (see âthe enthusiasm gapâ). The president's unwillingness to channel his inner MLK or Truman or LBJ who passed through the Civil Rights Act famously knowing that it would cost Democrats the South for generations, and it did and do the goddamned right thing because it's the goddamned right thing will be part of the reason the Dems will take a lashing in November.
|photo by Patrick Rapa
Riders for the 2nd annual Philly Naked Bike Ride are to meet at 5:30, RAIN OR SHINE, Sunday, Sept. 5, at LEMON HILL (see map below).
Riders will assemble for approximately 1 hour before departing.
The location of the after party will be shared with the riders at the end of the ride.
All riders who wish to attend must provide ID for entrance to the party.
Also, this year, the ride facilitators are releasing a route map, which
we'll have up on the site post-haste you can download as a pdf here.
Filmmaker Josh Fox is in town and will be visiting our own weird, quasi-public venue The Piazza at Schmidts for a screening by Rooftop Films and the Philly Underground Film Festival of Fox's documentary, Gasland.
The film is a disturbing but also, lest you be on the fence, surprisingly entertaining portrait of the natural gas industry and the method of gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." It's already a major, major presence in Pennsylvania and whose environmental consequences deserve, at the very least, a level of scrutiny that has been absent so far.
In the meantime, here's a snippet of my recent interview with Fox, in which he describes the strange phenomenon of people coming from around the state to his screenings ... with jugs of contaminated water!
If you like this teaser, just wait: the full interview will be available next week in ... The resurrection of our long-dead podcast!
Here are show details:
Friday, September 3, 2010
Venue: At the Piazza at Schmidts
Address: North Second Street and Germantown Avenue
Directions at: http://www.atthepiazza.com/find-the-piazza.html
Rain: This event will be held rain or shine.
7:30 PM: Doors Open
8:00 PM: Live Music
8:30 PM: Film Begins
10:30 PM: After Party
This is a free show. For more information, please visit: http://www.rooftopfilms.com/2010/schedule/52-gasland
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