Archive: August, 2012
A lawsuit over whether a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, violated the religious freedoms of Muslim inmates has made national headlines this week, thanks to the inclusion of John Walker Lindh — a.k.a. the American Taliban — among the plaintiffs in the case. Meanwhile, a similar case against the City of Philadelphia and its Philadelphia Prison System has been more quietly winding its way through the federal district court here in Philly. At issue: Whether the city violated the First Amendment rights of the inmates, who were all at the city's largest jail, the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, by allegedly preventing them from praying in communal spaces, denying them the right to return to their cells to pray, and limiting attendance at weekly group prayers.
Judge Norma Shapiro of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania this week denied motions for summary judgment both from the city and from lawyers for the four men: Olaf Sutton, Oba Jackson, Kevin Pickard and Troy Daniels. A court-appointed lawyer for the four, Gerald Williams, says that means the case could go to trial, possibly as soon as October.
The men, who all are also among several hundred inmates who have filed civil suits for damages over conditions of confinement related to overcrowding, say their First Amendment rights were violated because they were denied the ability to perform Salat — prayer to be performed five times per day, individually, upon a prayer mat — and to join in Jum'ah, the weekly communal service held on Fridays. Both rituals are obligatory for religious Muslim men.
On the list of utterly petrifying places to ride a bike in Philadelphia — the City Hall roundabout, say, or the place on Baltimore Avenue where a bunch of trolley tracks intersect — Delaware Avenue barely ranks. It has bike lanes, after all (except in the places where they have worn off almost completely, which are many), and someone recently went around sprucing up the lane lines in places. Except, what the hell is going on just south of Spring Garden Street? For about half a block, the bike lane disappears as the road and sidewalk seemingly veer toward one another. Worse, a new lane line actually runs over the poor ghost of a cyclist icon, in what we hope SugarHouse-bound drivers will not take as encouragement.
This one right here is just a victim of bad timing. Though fully-approved, this kickass-looking condo set for the 200 block of Race Street was just too damn good in too bad of a time. Too bad this sucker couldn't get out of the ground.
For most of its existence, this plot of land consisted of the same type of ancient residential and commercial structures you see all over Old City. Clerks, umbrella makers, brush makers, china merchants, furniture stores, among others, all inhabited the site at one point or another. These buildings lasted all the way into the 1960s.
Filed Under: News
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Mitt Romney's non-fact-based accusation that President Barack Obama “gut[ted] welfare reform by dropping work requirements” takes place against the backdrop of states nationwide making severe cuts to an already-tattered safety net. But the candidates' racially charged political sparring has received far more media attention than the actual reduction in aid to poor people.
States have cited either fiscal crises or moral concerns for the ethical shortcomings of the poor in implementing punishing new welfare work requirements, slashing benefits and forcing recipients to undergo drug tests since the beginning of the recession.
In Pennsylvania, the debate over welfare work requirements is about to play out in real time. That's because Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients will now be forced to apply for three jobs per week as soon as they submit their application for benefits, thanks to a provision quietly slipped into Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's new budget. Previously, work requirements only kicked in once cash assistance ― and the childcare support often necessary to actually go to work ― had been approved.
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It's set: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week announced that it will decide whether the state's controversial voter ID law is constitutional. And in Philadelphia! Come on down: Sept. 13, City Hall.
A Republican Commonwealth Court judge upheld the law, which requires voters to present one of a set of valid forms of ID to vote and could disenfranchise thousands, earlier this month. The Supreme Court is split 3-3 because Justice Joan Orie Melvin was suspended after being charged with corruption, and a 3-3 split automatically upholds the lower court's ruling.
One legal expert is not optimistic the Supremes will overturn the law, but court watchers are waiting to see whether Republican Chief Justice and former Philly DA Ron Castille might switch sides to join Democrats, as he has before.
The Philadelphia Schools Partnership (PSP) yesterday announced that it has raised half of the $100 million goal for its Great Schools Fund. What readers might not glean from press reports is that PSP is an integral part of a broad and well-funded campaign to privatize public education in Philadelphia.
PSP received $15 million from the William Penn Foundation, as City Paper first reported, at the same time that the foundation appears to be cutting off groups like the Philadelphia Student Union that have been critical of privatization. And PSP's board is loaded with key wealthy figures in the privatization movement: Real estate developer Michael O’Neill, whose brother Brian O’Neill, according to a Daily News investigation, is close to a major Catholic Church-aligned pro-vouchers PAC; Janine Yass, wife of conservative Bala Cynwyd hedge-fund manager Jeffrey Yass, is among the state’s most high-profile voucher supporters who has together with his business partners spent millions to support pro-voucher candidates.
And PSP helped launch PennCAN, the state affiliate of the national reform group 50CAN. PennCAN embraces privatization more explicitly than PSP does, and supported an expansion of the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), a voucher-like program that pays corporations back via tax credits for private-school-tuition donations. But the organizations work hand-in-glove: PennCAN executive director Jonathan Cetel works out of PSP’s Philadelphia office.
PSP has not invested in a single traditional public school, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan noted to the Inquirer.
After an unusually large water-main break flooded the area around 21st and Bainbridge a month ago, the Philadelphia Water Department was on the scene quickly, residents said. But with more than 70 — some estimate more than 100 — houses flooded with six inches to six feet of water and mud, not everyone was able to receive the same immediate assistance.
Now, some are worried that the money they laid out for emergency repairs — or the funds they still need to rebuild finished basements that were made unlivable in the flood — will never be paid out. That's because, while the PWD sent out workers to clean up basements, replace hot water heaters and fix damaged basement walls all at its own expense, other residents who undertook such repairs on their own will have to submit claims to the city's Office of Risk Management. And because of statewide tort limits, the maximum amount of those claims the city can pay out in a single incident total $500,000. So if the total claims submitted exceed $500,000, a court will decide who gets paid back what — and some homeowners may be out of luck.
Confused? So were area residents at a meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church at 20th and Christian streets last night, organized by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, South of South Neighborhood Association, the city's Risk Management Office and the PWD. There, residents learned that the city won't even declare whether that $500,000 limit will be surpassed until Jan. 22, 2013, the claims deadline they've imposed. "I lost a lot, and I need to know whether I will ever be able to rebuild," said a resident of the 2000 block of Kater Street, who didn't want her name used. She said her daughter's basement bedroom was destroyed in the flood, and she doesn't know how much rebuilding might cost yet since even getting estimates has been a challenge. Another resident, Alissa McLaughlin, who lives at the corner of 21st and Pemberton, said she lost $32,000 worth of electronics and personal possessions, none of it covered by insurance. "They waited so long to clean the basement that there was a lot of mold. We lost everything," she says. The city, like any insurance company, will adjust each claim.
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As presidential hopeful Mitt Romney blazes his campaign trail, he’s been calling on Republican governors from New Jersey’s Chris Christie to Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal for help. Not, it seems, invited to the party: Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett.
A new Franklin & Marshall College poll might hold a clue as to why: Corbett isn’t winning any popularity contests these days. The proportion of Pennsylvanians who view him unfavorably has shot to 42 percent; just 32 percent hold favorable views. His job approval fell below 30 percent for the first time.
Corbett's public relations difficulties have prompted an early discussion of which Democrats might run against him in 2014 (it's a long list). It also means the governor might not be a helpful advocate for Romney's presidential campaign in this much-watched swing state. If Corbett does appear on behalf of Romney, Democrats might focus attacks on the governor's unpopular cuts to education and the safety net (the Democratic National Committee has already run an ad slamming Corbett's social conservatism, highlighting his infamous comment that women, who under a now-shelved bill would be forced to undergo a pre-abortion ultrasound, “just have to close your eyes”).
Next time you order a pulled-pork sandwich in your suite at Citizens Bank Park, you can feel a little better about it. No, they still haven't figured out a way to make it a low-fat food. But at least the pigs (from which, we're told, pork does tend to be made) will have been produced in a more humane fashion.
Philadelphia-based Aramark, the largest corporate food-services provider in the country, has agreed to stop selling pork produced by way of gestation crates, the factory-farming set-ups that keep pregnant pigs in a cage so small they can't turn around. "They're virtual iron maidens," says Josh Balk, director of corporate policy for the Humane Society of the United States, which helped convince Aramark to adopt the reform. He says breeding pigs are kept in the crates pretty much for life, except for a few weeks off every four months to give birth and wean their young.
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