Archive: September, 2011
The final dying utterance of Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet — "O, o, o, o," in a certain lesser-known edition of the play — have long been the subject of existential intrigue and speculation: What mysteries, what revelations lie behind the dark impenetrable veil of those words? Scholars have long pondered the question.
Those scholars may, however, want to just give up and focus instead on a recent remark by 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.
Hall Monitor: A look at the swirling fight for the Council presidency behind the recent redistricting bill
Since City Council is not in session today, we bring you this special edition of Hall Monitor.
Two Thursdays ago, a funny little scene played out on the fourth floor of City Hall.
Before Philadelphia's City Council that day were two redistricting plans — one introduced by a working group appointed by Council President Anna Verna, the second proposed by Council members Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney, who had not been part of the working group. Before the bills were brought up for a vote, Verna called for a two-hour recess. The break would, in fact, last more than four hours, during which time Council members, aides and a roving band of men in suits scurried between closed-door meetings and huddled in small blobs around various Council members.
At one point, Kenney, apparently frustrated with the pace of negotiations, leaned over to Councilman Darrell Clarke, who holds the title of majority whip ― a leadership position below that of Majority Leader Marian B. Tasco and president Verna, both of whom had disappeared into backroom negotiations.
"Are you de facto leadership?" Kenney asked Clarke, nodding to the dais from which Council's affairs are led, usually by the president.
"Are you de facto leadership right now?" Kenney repeated, adding ― joking, sort of ― "Let's just call a vote. Let's pass this thing."
Clarke glanced at the empty dais: "You're talking about some kinda of freaky stuff?" he asked.
“CHAOS: THOUSANDS LINE UP IN PHILLY FOR FOOD STAMPS...”
It turns out the genius journalistic sleuths at Drudge were linking to a misleadingly titled CBS 3 news report about people who had suffered flood damage lining up to get food stamps from FEMA. But wow: crowds of poor black people in a downtrodden place like Philadelphia makes for a better news hook when you’re trolling for web traffic.
(CBS 3 already has one thousand likes--do not encourage them!).
An editor friend of mine emailed me to ask, “Is this a big story in your neighborhood? Drudge seems to think so!” No, no, no.
Mountaintop removal mining is a mining method that involves, well, using dynamite to blow the top of mountains off to get at the coal underneath. The industry prefers the more benign term "surface mining."
This, as you might have suspected, causes local problems: the blown off mountain bits bury the streams and creeks below and pollute the local water supply with arsenic. And it matters for the rest of us too: coal-fired power plants, of course, are a major driver of global warming.
Environmentalists, including many people in Appalachia, have waged a long campaign against mountaintop removal. (The industry probably didn’t make many friends when they suggested that birth defects allegedly caused by pollution were caused by inbreeding. Plus, the highly-automated process is not much of a job creator).
Now activists in Philly and nation-wide are targeting one the industry's major financial backers: the Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank. Last November, PNC told activists they would pull back on funding mountaintop removal. Activists say that PNC pulled a fast one: they promised to not invest in an energy company only if "a majority of its production from MTR mining."
"The problem is that not a single major coal producer gets the majority of its production from MTR," says organizer Zachary Hershman. "So PNC adopts this policy and it doesn't do anything meaningful to curtail their investments, because it doesn't even apply to the companies they finance."
Press release from the Earth Quaker Action Team below.
Quaker Environmentalists Hold Trial Inside PNC Over Investments in Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Bank branch closed for three hours as PNC refuses to meet with Quakers
PHILADELPHIA – 25 environmentalists and members of the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) held a public trial inside the main lobby of PNC Regional Headquarters on Thursday, charging PNC with “Impersonating a Green Bank”.
“PNC promotes itself as an environmentally responsible bank, but the truth is they are the nation’s #1 financier of corporations that practice mountaintop removal coal mining, which has destroyed over 500 mountains and led to thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act.” said Jonathan Snipes, acting as lead prosecutor in the case.
The trial, which featured a robed judge, prosecution, defense, and a full jury, caused the bank to close its customer branch for the duration of the event, which lasted a little over three hours. Four members of EQAT, acting as bailiffs for the court, stood in front of a row of management elevators and refused to leave the bank when directed to do so by PNC Security, demanding that the Regional President J. William Mills come down to the lobby and answer the charges on behalf of the bank.
“We committed this act of civil disobedience today to send a message to PNC Bank – that there can be no business as usual while children are being born with birth defects thanks to PNC investments. If PNC wants to be the green bank they claim to be, they need to stop all financing for any company involved in this criminal practice,” said Lina Blount, a student at Bryn Mawr College and one of the EQAT bailiffs.
At the close of the trial, the group held PNC Bank in ‘contempt’ for its refusal to send a representative to the Court, and delivered a verdict of Guilty, pledging that the seriousness of the charges and the requirements of justice would warrant further action.
This has been a busy week for gay rights legislation in Pennsylvania: inheritance rights, gay marriage and protection from discrimination. The general public--yes, even in Pennsylvania--supports gay rights legislation, including a remarkable fifty-percent that favor same-sex nuptials. But the Republicans who control the governor’s mansion and the entire state legislature disagree: they don’t like the gays.
Indeed, as I noted in July, far-right State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is now a major power in Harrisburg, anchoring the right wing of a fantastically conservative GOP caucus:
He opposed Philly's program to market the city to gay tourists, saying that tax dollars should not be used to "promote immoral behaviors"; he tried to cut state funding to universities such as Temple because they offer domestic-partner benefits; he sued a gay New Hope couple for attempting (and failing) to get a marriage license; and he opposed Domestic Violence Awareness Month, calling it part of "the homosexual agenda" to support a "sinful lifestyle" because it recognized male victims of rape.
But as State Senator Daylin Leach told Will Bunch in a recent Daily News article, the political shift is generational--and thus inevitable.
“Every day a supporter of equality is born,” he said, “and an opponent of equality goes to heaven.”
So while this legislation is unlikely to pass right now, it’s worth taking a look at what sort of protections a future legislation is likely to enact.
- Rep. Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh has re-introduced legislation that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the state’s non-discrimination law.
Rep. Metcalfe, objected, telling the Inquirer that “Rep. Frankel's obsession with putting sexual behavior into law is offensive to people.” Metcalfe, of course, harbored no such obsessions when he introduced a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriage. He doesn’t even really think about gay dudes, really.
- State Rep. Babette Josephs, the progressive firebrand who represents parts of Center City that include the Gayborhood, has introduced legislation that would include domestic partners along with married couples on the list of people exempt from paying state inheritance taxes.
- Josephs’ bill would be somewhat moot, however, if gay marriage were legalized (I say “somewhat” because it would be nice if non-married families of all sexual orientations could maintain legal rights). So Rep. Josephs also introduced legislation to legalize gay marriage.
In other news, our former senator and current presidential candidate Rick Santorum is complaining about his “Google problem” again: sex columnist Dan Savage repurposed “Santorum” to be a word for the frothy byproduct of anal sex to punish Rick for his relentless homophobia.
Santorum says that he bets Google would have solved the “problem” if it were happening to Joe Biden. Santorum is not Joe Biden, the crucial difference being this: unlike Santorum, Biden is well known for a number of things that are not homophobia or butt sex. That Google algorithm has its ear to the ground. Don’t shoot the messenger.
When, how, and whether a neighborhood should tax itself extra: the case of Callowhill / Chinatown North
Here's a question: when, how, and why should a neighborhood voluntarily tax itself? And what happens when not everyone in it wants to be taxed?
In this week's City Paper, I took a look at the heated debate over whether the "Callowhill" or "Chinatown North" neighborhood will become a "Neighborhood Improvement District."
While several areas around Philly have set up Business Improvement Districts, which excise a tax on local businesses and use the money for services like extra street cleaning, this would be the first one encompassing every residential address in a neighborhood, according to Center City District CEO Paul Levy, who first suggested the idea of the NID during a presentation on the viability of a park on the defunct Reading Viaduct.
A bill introduced by Councilman Frank DiCicco would impose a 7% assessment fee on almost every address in the area.(Buildings facing Broad Street, which would bring in higher assessments, have been excluded, apparently because they already belong to the Center City District — a fact which has not sit well with critics of the proposal).
My article this week focuses mostly on the divide in the neighborhood between those who favor the NID, those who don't, and those who are somewhere in between. Calling it taxation without representation, opponents worry they won't have sufficient say in the quarter million dollars collected annually — and that it represents the funding of a pet project for a vocal few: the viaduct park. Proponents say that the money is vastly insufficient to fund the building of a park and that it will be used primarily for on-the-street improvements to the blighted neighborhood.
But another interesting question is whether it makes sense for neighborhoods to tax themselves to provide themselves services that the city apparently can't. It doesn't take a long walk through the neighborhood in question to see that dumping and litter are rampant. Residents complain that streets are dark and dangerous. A quarter million dollars a year in improvements could go a long way.
On the other hand, whatever you thin of how your city taxes are being spent now, you can always (theoretically, at least) vote out of office the people spending them. The governance structure of this NID is little more confusing: a steering committee will appoint a board of directors, and members of the current active steering committee say it's open to anyone who wants to get involved.
But that's not the same as an election — and how much room there would be for dissent isn't at all clear.
City Council will hold a hearing on the bill tomorrow.
As this post goes up, City Council is preparing to vote on up to two redistricting bills — one the product of a committee appointed by Council president Anna Verna; and one introduced by Councilmembers Frank DiCicco and James Kenney.
The maps created by each look about the same: the only significant difference is the distribution of the politically powerful 56th ward which no Council person seems to want to represent (see Daily News reporters Jan Ransom and Catherine Lucey's coverage of why).
The committee version of the bill splits the 56th between the 10th (Councilman Brian O'Neill, Republican) and the 6th (Councilwoman Joan Krajewsky, likely to be replaced by democratic nominee Bobby Henon).
You might think of it as "screw the Republican" versus "screw the Republican ... and the new guy."
According to sources, the potential for Council's easily voting through one of the bills today was fairly high; so was another possibility: that a majority for either would implode and dissolve into day-long closed-door negotiations.
The latter appears to be the case: At noon, Council recessed and Council members spend the last 3 hours in intense, closed-door negotiations. At one point, Councilman James Kenney indicated that the co-sponsor of his bill, Councilman Frank DiCicco, was no longer with it. About ten minutes later, Kenney informed CP that that was no longer the case.
One magic key winding the clock of internal dischord: The mysterious battle for the future Council presidency, which seems to be incrasingly influencing the outcome of contentious Council votes.
It's possible that Council will vote on, even approve BOTH bills — which would effectively leave Mayor Nutter to decide.
Yesterday, the Inquirer reported that the Nutter administration has rejected a grant of an undisclosed amount for anti-obesity programs from the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP).
The reason, said Health Commissioner Donald Schwartz, is that the money originates from a $10 million grant to CHOP from the American Beverage Industry — an industry that lobbied hard to kill Mayor Michael Nutter's proposed tax on sweetened beverages, which the administration hoped would help curb obesity.
The administration characterized the decision as a matter of principle. Schwartz told the Inquirer that "We should not be receiving funding from the beverage industry to fund a program in the city ... because we wouldn't take funding like that from other industries, like the gun industry or the tobacco industry ... We have taken a stand that opposes the products that they sell." Shortly after the news broke, Nutter tweeted the following: "Taking money from Big Soda to fight obesity is like taking money from the NRA to fight guns. You can't buy this City Hall."
Yet Nutter has received substantial donations to his own campaign fund from Big Beverage, as recently as this year — long after he began pushing for the industry-hated tax. Local soda magnate Harold Honickman, who lobbied hard and heavy against Nutter's bills, has donated generously to the mayor, along with family members.
A painting of Jesus presenting the Founding Fathers and fellow Americans past and present with the Constitution is a creative solution to the nagging problem of the separation of church and state, according to a press release someone named Julie sent me.
It is also the perfect representation of the fused Tea Party libertarianism and religious right conservatism that we see in the persons of Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. This painting is not, however, running for president.
"One Nation Under God" was painted by Jon McNaughton, a guy who is “an established artist whose new paintings have attracted the international attention of millions over the last two years. This painting video has over 3.3 million views on YouTube alone! Highly detailed religious and patriotic subjects are the focus of his paintings.”
Aside from Jesus gifting us the Constitution, the painting features proud soldiers, a black college student reading a weird book favored by Glenn Beck called the 5,000 Year Leap, a Supreme Court Justice ashamed that he is a baby murderer, and a liberal media reporter “biased towards the left and try[ing] to shape the thinking and actions of Americans in that direction.”
One of the soldiers pictured is a black man who "happens to have the last name of 'King' on his body armor. He could stand as a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. - a great leader of American Civil Rights." He could. McNaughton's not sure.
McNaughton is available for interviews, and is eager to discuss his “hopes for America’s youth and the symbolism behind his painting.” You can take an interactive tour of the painting at his website, but please do think about where the money is going before you make a rash and ironic decision to shell out $29.95 for a piece of Tea Party kitsch.
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