Archive: November, 2012
Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir
Politicians and journalists, breathtaking egos notwithstanding, depend mightily on research undertaken by outsiders: organizations, think tanks, academics. This is probably true now more than ever as legislators spend much of their time raising money and reporters fight to survive in shrinking newsrooms. Information and ideas have serious political consequences. The American conservative movement understood this first, the resource-poor left much later.
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a progressive research and advocacy group based in Harrisburg, is throwing its five-year anniversary celebration today in Philadelphia (details below). PBPC grew out of the Keystone Research Center, founded in 1996 to combat The Commonwealth Foundation, the Pennsylvania branch of a powerful conservative brain trust that stretches from coast to coast.
In the 1960s and '70s, conservatives became fixated by the perceived liberal dominance of universities and foundations. Corporations and wealthy donors began to pour money into the think tanks, academic departments and, of course, media to promote the agenda of reaction.
Today's a great day and a sad one for City Paper: We put out the culmination of reporter Isaiah Thompson's six-month-long investigation into the civil asset forfeiture program that allows the Philly District Attorney's Office to keep millions of dollars police confiscated on Philly streets from alleged criminals — whether or not they were convicted of (or, indeed, charged with) any crime.
And, we also said goodbye to Isaiah, who has officially left CP after four years of paddling around in his inflatable kayak, enraging the city administration, bringing light and perspective to undercovered issues, disappearing into the Pine Barrens, playing his home-made banjo around the office, sampling mysterious cuts of meat and winning numerous awards for investigative reporting and news writing along the way.
Fortunately, Isaiah will still be inciting havoc in Philly: He's heading to the Philadelphia Public Interest Information Network.
In addition to penning the beloved (at least, to him) column, Man Overboard!, Isaiah's reporting here also included exposing the issues around police shootings of people with mental illnesses; the potential impact of casino gambling on the city; and the daunting problem of the wasteland that is the Lehigh viaduct. It also includes one of my all-time favorite moments in Q&A-style article, with Mayor Nutter.
CP: Let's talk about casinos. You didn't ask for the casinos, you didn't pass the law establishing casinos. But as mayor, you have the power to lobby — [At this point Nutter — suddenly and loudly — crushes his plastic water bottle between his hands, slowly twisting the plastic and mashing it between his palms into a ball which, finally, he tosses on the table. Nutter does all of this without blinking.] — uh, you have the power to lobby to influence these laws. For example, the current table game bill lets casinos extend credit to slots players. Why not lobby against that?
MN: I have a fairly regular amount of contact with our Philadelphia leaders.
Please join CP in wishing Isaiah good luck.
(You can keep in touch with him on Twitter).
Those speaking out against the city's plan, passed in Council this morning, to take by eminent domain 17 privately owned properties in Point Breeze (including some owned and supposedly set for ground-breaking by an active area developer) argued that the scheme represented a flawed and inefficient approach to affordable housing in Philadelphia.
"Bill 120755 is not a housing bill: It's a vacant property bill," developer Ori Feibush, who has said he owns some of the properties in question — but who is not on record as owning any of the properties, according to Yvette Ousley, director of communications at Councilman Kenyatta Johnson's office. "You keep saying the word, 'affordable,'" Feibush said. He told Council if they meant it they should attach a maximum sale value to the bill, ensuring the houses developed on the land would actually be affordable. He pointed out that four "affordable" houses in the neighborhood are currently on the market for $250,000 or more.
Among the drastic budget cuts Harrisburg has sent down the turnpike to Philly in the past couple years, the reduction in funding for tourism marketing has been among the least remarked upon. Maybe that's because, despite deep cuts under Gov. Tom Corbett, both day visitation and overnight visits to Philly were, in 2011, at the highest they've been in the last 15 years, according to Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp. statistics. Depite that success, Philly City Council could soon hike hotel-room taxes to pad the GPTMC budget going forward.
The reduction of state funding from $6.6 million in 2007 down to a projected $128,700 in 2012 means GPTMC's budget has been cut by more than a third in the past five years, despite significant gains in hotel tax revenues.
Councilman Jim Kenney made headlines for blasting the gay-marriage-hating president of Chick-Fil-A earlier this year. But now, he is set to introduce legislation that could make a real difference for LGBT Philadelphians — and make Philly a more appealing option for LGBT couples. "These are not special rights, these are equal rights," he said. "We must do everything we can to stimulate population growth, attract high caliber talent, and encourage families to plant roots. Being named the most LGBT-friendly city in America will only help achieve this critical goal."
The reforms include the nation's first "Equality Tax Credit," to allow employers to deduct the cost of health care benefits for life partners of employees as they do for spouses, and, just as importantly, guarantee hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights for life partners. It would also provide them with an exemption to the real-estate transfer tax (a move that the state Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional when City Council attempted it previously). The reforms extend to "all uncommitted married couples." Kenney's legislation would also require the city to offer the same health benefits to partners of employees that it offers to employees' spouses — another initiative that state courts previously ruled against.
Kenney said he's hoping the courts will change their approach this time: "We're going to pass what we think is appropriate." If there is a legal challenge, "We'll see if the court is in the frame of m ind after so many years to do the right thing this time."
The Marcellus Shale Coalition and Community College of Philadelphia, with some fanfare, recently rolled out plans for a "virtual" Energy Training Center at CCP — one that would theoretically gear Philadelphians up to take on the employment boom the gas-drilling industry has been promising to bring to the state for several years now (and to accelerate the benefits the industry has been insisting will spill over to Philadelphia with striking results).
Apparently not consulted in this plan: The CCP faculty. They released a statement today protesting the move.
Without consulting the faculty, the CCP administration announced -- via an email on November 14, just one day before an opening ceremony -- that it had entered a partnership with the shale gas industry to provide "career, certificate, and academic programs in the energy field." Many in the college community learned of the fossil fuel industry connection the following day from an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. According to the article, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, representing the fracking industry, donated $15,000 for student scholarships.
The announcement took everyone by surprise. Faculty -- even those teaching courses in related areas -- had not been consulted beforehand. "Normal college procedures for instituting new academic curricula were completely sidestepped," said Miles Grosbard, RA, head of the Department of Architecture, Design and Construction. "There is no information available about the proposed unit's mission, student audience, administrative structure, budget, facilities or educational objectives, apparently because none exists. Moreover, $15,000 is an impossibly tiny endowment to even begin a training center."
Margaret Stephens, a professor of environmental conservation and geography, pointed out, "Of course we are pro-job. We want to prepare our students for safe, fulfilling work in the expanding fields of sustainability, from architecture to sustainable transportation to renewable energy R&D to food production, distribution, and consumption."
But CCP faculty say they want no part of an environmentally destructive industry that continues to cause many documented health problems. Across the academic spectrum, informed faculty have come to the inescapable conclusion that there is no safe way to extract "natural" gas via fracking and that the practice makes for a boom-bust short-term economic bubble. "Perhaps most critical," Stephens added, "at a time that we are witnessing such catastrophic weather events related to human-induced climate change, it is short-sighted and foolhardy to promote fracking. We now know that shale gas drilling actually accelerates climate change." Thousands of municipalities nationwide and worldwide have banned or severely curtailed fracking and related heavy-industrial activity. A growing movement among colleges and universities is calling for complete divestment from fossil fuel industries.
The William Penn Foundation and Jeremy Nowak "mutually agreed that he should step down as its president," according to a short post this morning on the Philadelphia Business Journal website.
Since taking over the $1.9-billion foundation in June 2011, Nowak pushed to support charter school growth and sideline traditional public school advocates. He announced plans to stop funding progressive groups like the Philadelphia Student Union while funneling millions of dollars to a controversial Boston Consulting Group study for the School District of Philadelphia, which initially called for increased outside and potentially private management of schools, school closings, and privatization of much of the District's blue-collar workforce.
He directed $15 million to The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), a two-year-old pro-charter organization that exercises increasing clout in local school politics.
"It became clear that the Foundation and Nowak have differences in approach regarding implementation of the [new strategic] plan and both agreed that a change in leadership at this time made sense," according to a William Penn press release.
City Paper profiled Nowak in a July cover story. It sparked, and continues to spark, debate.
Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir
Vision for Equality, which provides services and advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, is this morning set to thank Republican Governor Tom Corbett and Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander "for their efforts to increase funding to programs that help individuals with intellectual disabilities," according to a press release from the governor's office.
Disability rights activists with the organization ADAPT, known for performing civil disobedience in wheelchairs, will be protesting the governor's large-scale cuts to programs for people with disabilities outside the event (10:45am, 718 Arch Street, Philadelphia).
"We're pretty upset," says ADAPT organizer Nancy Salandra, who first heard about the event yesterday afternoon. Among other things, Corbett has eliminated cash assistance for people with disabilities and kicked tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians off Medicaid. "Because what he's done to people with disabilities is outrageous."
"We're going to be talking about some positive things with Vision for Equality. Those topics aren't on the agenda," says DPW spokesperson Anne Bale when asked about the funding cuts. Corbett's 2012-13 budget, she says, provides additional funding for the thousands-long waiting list for people with intellectual disabilities who need funding for community-based services."They have a right to protest, and we respect that. But today's going to be a positive event."
No one from Vision for Equality could be reached for comment.
Disability rights and service organizations have spent the last two years protesting Governor Corbett. Last year, the administration quietly kicked about 130,000 Pennsylvanians off Medicaid, prompting a public outcry and federal investigation. Many could be reinstated thanks to a recent legal settlement, but it's unclear whether the payments will be retroactive. Corbett also eliminated the adultBasic insurance program, which covered 40,000 poor Pennsylvanians who weren’t quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
This year, Corbett and legislative Republicans slashed funding to county-administered social services by 10-percent and instituted a block grant program that activists say will pit them against each other in a desperate fight for funding. And he eliminated General Assistance, $205 in monthly cash assistance that overwhelmingly served people with disabilities.
"He hasn't done a damn thing for people with physical disabilities," says Salandra. "People that got cut off of General Assistance, $205-a-month. People are getting evicted from their apartment, can't pay for drugs. It's crazy. So I'm shocked at what Vision for Equality is doing."
Indeed, disability rights groups across the state are currently suing Corbett to block the elimination of General Assistance and the county block grants, including: Disability Rights Network of PA, Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers' Association, the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania, the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Alliance, the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Community Providers Association.
Now, Corbett is flirting with the idea of refusing a large-scale Medicaid expansion, largely paid for by the federal government, under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). That could deny care to up to 682,880 currently ineligible poor Pennsylvanians,
"He's going to destroy people on Medicaid, which includes people with intellectual disabilities...So we don't know what's going on," says Salandra. "He doesn't come to Philadelphia much because most people hate him here. He should just be prepared."
A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
|What a sad-looking piece of fuck.|
This is one of those empty lots that doesn't seem like that big of a deal: It's small, it's mid-block. Nonetheless, after walking/biking/driving/canoeing past this lot day after day, it grates at your nerves. This is a high-density area — why should there be such a shitty surface parking lot here? Worst yet, why should there be a shitty surface parking lot here for SEVENTY-FOUR YEARS!?!?!
This location started its development life as another kind of empty lot — someone's lawn. A double-wide rowmansion once inhabited the site, along with a surrounding lawn that filled the rest of the property. Though the place went through many owners, its most interesting owner was a fancy gentleman named Samuel B. Thomas, who lived there for its final four decades. Thomas must have been pretty good because he was the Secretary and Treasurer of the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad Company while at the same time acting as Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Once Thomas died, his house and property went up for sale and was acquired by the African Protestant Episcopal Church, which was looking for its second-ever location. The church was founded by Absalom Jones in 1792 and had its first location, at what is now 5th and Saint James Sts, built by 1794. By 1889, that little church was overcrowded and unable to serve all parishioners. The rector, John Pallam Williams, understood that new house of worship would be needed and knew that this one would have to be special.
Williams organized and fund-raised to get this new church built. The congregation commissioned a plucky young 26-year-old architect, the mysterious T. Frank Miller, to design a new and fancy church that would be the tallest building on the block. The new place would take over a year to build and would bear the same name as the first location: the African Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. It would be an important place for the African-American community in Philadelphia and the country. Owen Meredith Waller, second rector of the new church, was one of the founding members of the NAACP.