Thursday, December 30, 2004

Gov. Rendell must lead on Social Security, not cede the fight

With John Kerry losing, and then basically doing the disappearing act, Democrats have no national leader, per se. Gov. Rendell, as the Democratic Governor with the biggest state behind him, as well as the former chair of the DNC, is a natural one. That is why shows like Hardball ask him for interviews. However, last night, when I found him, he was doing something awful: essentially ceding the battle to save social security.

Near the end of his interview, the Governor was asked about the Social Security "crisis," and what he thought about privatization. He said, in effect, he was open to the idea of privitization, at least in a test form, if Bush would give Democrats something they want, like an expansion of health insurance for children. It may sound innocuous, but if that is Rendell's true feelings, instead of one of his semi-annual slips of the tongue, we have lost the battle to save social security before it has even begun. I will try to explain...

First of all, if you respond to a question about social security without confidently stating that this "crisis" is a Bush-manufactured problem, and that social security is actually vibrant and healthy, you have lost. Social Security is not in crisis. In fact, Social Security is vibrant and healthy. (This "crisis" in social security must be located somewhere near the huge nuclear stockpiles of Saddam Hussein.) If you buy into White House spin about Social Security, and acknowledge a crisis, you box yourself into a corner from which you cannot leave. Because if there is a crisis, the status quo must be changed, being against change would be indefensible. However, if you simply state the truth, that social security is fine, and this is simply a further right-wing attempt to destroy the legacy of the New Deal, then you help reframe the debate in its true form.

For a good summary of why social security is fine, try this, or any of the columns by Paul Krugman. But, real quickly: Social Security takes in way more money then it gives out. Why? Because 20 years ago, they raised the payroll taxes to insure its future solvency. And, off of the backs of the working class, the regressive tax gave us huge surpluses. So, social security has been paying out far less than it takes in. This "crisis"? Well, at some point, Social Security may take in less then it pays out, for a period of time. But, of course, overall it will still have taken in way, way more than it ever paid out. The real problem? Bush gave away so much money to the rich in his three tax cuts that the general budget "borrows" all the surpluses to make up for the lack of incoming revenue.

Social Security is the most successful anti-poverty program in history. There is absolutely no need to change it. It is popular. It is needed. It is solvent. Let it be.

Now, back to the Governor... I don't understand how he thinks that any sort of compromise with President Bush would work. If Bush has shown anything over the past four years, it is that he greets your compromise with a punch in the face. If we "compromise" over a "crisis" that does not exist, Social Security is dead. As a nationally known Democrat, who represented a working class city and now represents a working class, heavily elderly state, Rendell needs to be a leader for us, and for the large majority of Americans who want to keeps social security as it is: effective, vibrant, and healthy.

Please, sometime over the next week, call the Governor. He listens to reasoned constituent outrage more than almost any other large-scale politician. Tell him we need a leader to fight for Social Security, not cede the fight to the radical right before it even begins.

His number is (717) 787-2500 . Pass it on.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Philly to be smoke free?

Mayor Street held a news conference yesterday to discuss his plans for the upcoming year. First among them? What he calls "pretty much a total ban" on smoking in bars and restaurants on Philly. Councilman Nutter proposed something similar to this a while ago, but the local restaurant and bar lobby killed it, on the basis that people would travel to the suburbs so that they can smoke with their drinks. The trouble with that argument is that NYC has passed a similar ban, and at least one study actually showed an increase in business after the ban was passed. And frankly, I really doubt people are going to travel far just to smoke.

Not that I base this on anything, but I bet this passes. And frankly, as a non-smoker, I will not mind having my clothes not smell like smoke after getting a beer, but that is just me.

The Mayor also said that chief among his priorities was to have the law department examine the SEPTA fare structure, calling it "unfair" to city residents. I suspect we will see a city analysis that says Philly residents heavily subsidize suburban SEPTA. He said he will be more visible, which is a very good thing. The reality though, as we get into 2005, is that Street is fast approaching lame duck status. So he better get some things accomplished quickly.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Minister from Germantown to appeal defrocking over sexual orientation

For all those who did not follow it, Beth Stroud, a minister from Germantown's First United Methodist Church, was recently removed from her post as an ordained minister, after openly declaring that she was gay, and in a committed relationship. In a case that brought national attention, Stroud was convicted of violating the Church's 'book of discipline" which explicitly forbids Gays and Lesbians from being ordained. Stroud lost the case by a count of 12-1, but only 7 of the 13 jurors voted to actually remove her from the post. Now, she has decided to appeal. From the Inquirer:


The denomination's Book of Discipline prohibits the ordination and appointment of practicing gays and lesbians.

Stroud, 34, precipitated the trial when she gave a sermon in April 2003 at First United Methodist Church of Germantown, where she was associate pastor, announcing that she was living in a "covenant relationship" with another woman.

Central to Stroud's appeal is a set of defense arguments holding that the ban on gay clergy violates the spirit of the denomination's constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that a celibacy requirement is inconsistent with Methodist theology.

Stroud's trial judge, retired Washington Bishop Joseph Yeakel, had disallowed those arguments and limited the jury's focus to the specific charge brought against her from the Book of Discipline.

Stroud said her counsel would argue that the celibacy rule is unfair "because it imposes a different burden on gays and lesbians in a committed relationships than it does on heterosexuals." She also will challenge Yeakel's requirement that prospective jurors who could not uphold the Book of Discipline "for reasons of conscience" had to step aside. "That exclusion made it more difficult for me to have a fair process," she said.

I do not know the Methodist Church Law, but it always seems a little odd when people take the position that they don't discriminate against gays and lesbians, as long as they aint having sex. That said, in the end, the Church should be able to do whatever they see fit. Just as the Methodists should not be able to tell others what relationships they can and cannot be in, nor can outsiders tell the Methodists what they must use as their qualifications for clergy.

The conventional wisdom says that gay marriage was a big reason why Kerry lost. But, lets think back to 1950's America for a second. Who doubts that if there had been ballot initiatives, interracial marriage bans would not have been passed all over the place? (And, of course, many states did have bans on it, all the way into the 1990s for one in particular. And many, many black men were lynched because of it.) The difference is that there was no Karl Rove ensuring the issue was put as a ballot initiative back then. But, just as the generation of the 1960's and 70's started to care less and less about interracial marriage, so does ours with gay marriage. It is something that I think young people all over, including many conservatives, would hold as a "live and let live" issue.

The bottom line is that the Government should forget about deciding who gets to marry whom. They should let all have the benefits of "marriage," like the right to pass down your stuff, spousal health insurance, etc. And then individual Churches should be able to do whatever the hell they want. People can then decide what denomination they want to be a part of, and if they feel it is of that importance, can leave or join a Church depending on who the Church will or will not marry.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas, and a letter to Sen. Kerry

I hope everyone has a great Christmas, and holidays, in general. I will start posting again in the next couple of days. I have been recruiting more people to start posting their own stuff, and I may even have been mildly fruitful. So, hopefully some new voices will start popping up on here soon.

In the mean time, not to do with Philly directly, here is a text of a letter I sent to John Kerry two days ago. Any comments?

Have a great night. The letter is below...



Hi Senator Kerry,

Can you believe that almost two months have past since the election disaster? I imagine, like many of us, you still cannot figure out how you lost. If only you read this blog over the past few months, you would have seen a painful, but wonderful debate about how all this happened. (You may want to ask Elizabeth Edwards for an update, she seems to be a reader). Whether the awful result was about framing and values, a war President, a timid candidate (you), a Country gone awry, a billion-dollar right-wing infrastructure, voter suppression, the election simply coming two months too soon, or a healthy mix of all of them, no one can be sure.

What is clear is that voter suppression aside, George Bush did not win a mandate, but still kicked your butt. There is an endless debate as to whether Bush the candidate was spectacular, or whether he was the "worst of the worst," yet still soundly beat you. Senator, I do not pretend to know the answer to that question, and it is not why a write you today. Instead, I write you to suggest a course of action that you take that can help our country, and maybe even help you in the future.

I know that many people are telling you that should you decide to run again, you are probably an automatic front-runner in 2008. Unfortunately sir, those people are simply telling you what you want to hear. We (or I should say the people of Iowa) elected you because they thought you had the best chance to defeat an awful President. Exit poll after exit poll confirmed that you had united people behind one common theme: giving us, in theory, the best shot at stopping the destructive path on which we now travel. Fortunately for all of us, that will not be an issue for us in four years. With a VP who is 106 years old, this administration has no clear successor. Candidates will not be running on legacies, but will be running on ideologies, ideas and values. Do you think you can win a campaign like this? I don't. I do think, Sir, that you now have an opening. It may not take you to the White House. But, the history books, and all of us, may look back onto your decision as one that helped turn the tide against the march towards injustice and destruction.

Have you read the New York Times today, Senator? A few of the headlines, in case you missed it, are "Administration Overhauls Rules for U.S. Forests," "Students to Bear More of the Cost of College" and "Holiday Memories Sharpen the Pain for Families of Soldiers Killed in Iraq." Good day, eh? Only in the Bush Administration can we be reminded of a disastrous foreign policy, a clear desire to destroy the environment and a national policy of keeping more poor kids out of college, all before breakfast!

Would things have been different with you in the White House? Of course. But, as I said before, the question becomes, what do you do now? I suggest, Senator, that you take it upon yourself to call a spade a spade. Call out President Bush, every day, in every possible way. Do not disappear from the radar, a la Al Gore. Instead, be everywhere, pointing out the President's lies. (Can we call them that now?) Find your redemption and ours, by taking a group of kids who would be left out of college to the gates of the White House, and hold a press conference asking the President to tell these children to their face, why college should not be a realistic option for them. Go to New York City, and hold a press conference with thousands of kids with newly developed Asthma behind you, and ask the President why he does not think they deserve clean air. Stand with families of killed soldiers in Iraq, and ask the President why he has a Defense Secretary that cares only about his weekly squash game, and uses an auto pen to sign "death letters."

You are in a unique position, sir. Democratic activists do not see you as the future of the party, and I agree. (Most of them would point to a man on the cover of Newsweek). But, in your position as the most well known Democrat in the land, you have the unique power to remind Americans what President Bush said in the campaign, and what he is doing now. So, follow him around, upstage him relentlessly. When he travels around the country, go there first, remind the local media and the local citizens what the President promised, and what he is now delivering. You cannot be the President, probably ever. But right now, what we need more than anything else, you can fulfil. We need an advocate and an attack dog, a constant counterpoint to Bush lies. No one can fill this better than you.

Senator, as things stand, you will not win another Democratic primary. But who knows, if all goes well, maybe the faithful will reconsider. Either way, do this job for the next four years, and do it well. A nation, at least 48.5 percent of one, will thank you.

I hope you accept.

Your supporter,

Dan

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Hallwatch Posts Scorecard on Zoning Bill

Hallwatch, the creation of Ed Goppolt is the best watchdog in Philly politics. They just posted a scorecard on how our State Representatives and Senators voted on the "Leave No Billboard Behind Act." (The link is embedded in the title of the post, above.) I don't know whether he had already done this, whether he read the suggestion here, or whether we are thinking along the same lines, but I earlier wrote this, after thinking about the awful bill:


In the future, when these types of issues come up, I would like to see if we can at least get our state officials on the record. Maybe we can start a scorecard or something to keep in our pockets for future use? Philadelphia has seen a consistent drop in power in the State House. At the very least, we should make sure our Reps are voting in the right way.

Needless to say, it is a great thing to see someone putting in the time to attempt to get our Reps on the record. This must have been quite a time consuming process... I hope he keeps it up, because there are a lot more bills where we need to monitor how we are being represented in Harrisburg, and in City Hall.

Thank you, Hallwatch. The Committee of Seventy may have the prestige, but for the nitty-gritty of city politics, Hallwatch is the only game in town.

Breaking News: Rendell temporarily bails out SEPTA

As expected, Gov. Rendell gave SEPTA (as well its Pittsburgh counterpart) a few more months to breathe today (link in title above).

From the Inquirer:

The state will contribute $10.3 million in stopgap funding to help the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority avoid raising fares and slashing service in the short term.

Kate Phillips, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ed Rendell, wouldn't say where the money is coming from." It's temporary, it won't tide the transit systems over until March and April," Phillips told The Associated Press. "By itself, this package will only postpone the day of reckoning."

Philips also said Rendell will release a letter asking legislative leaders to meet in a special session Jan. 11 to begin developing a long-term funding fix. The new two-year legislature will be sworn in Jan 4, but is not scheduled to convene until late January.

This is obviously only temporary, but hopefully this delays the crisis enough so that the legislature can actually do something once it is back in session.



Monday, December 20, 2004

Ethics Group looks for new leader; opening for bigger City watchdog to emerge

The Committee of Seventy, the City's de facto ethical watchdog recently announced that their long time leader, Fred Voight, is stepping down. As a result, there is an going search for a new leader, and maybe a new, more assertive attitude. The Daily News (link to the article in the title of the post) wants the Committee to be more like NYPIRG in New York. That, however, is equating a statewide organization with a small ethics watchdog (and we do have PennPirg in some places, but ethical watchdog isn't really its stated purpose.).

The article states:

The prospect of a new director at Seventy may seem like a minor shake-up in a small, private organization, but if Seventy can make the right choices now, the organization that helped clean up Philadelphia's once-corrupt elections in the 20th century could position itself to do the same in the 21st century for pinstripe patronage, skyrocketing campaign costs and overwhelming public cynicism.

"If you've got a clear message coming from the business community and civic community that we expect a clean, efficient, productive, get-your-money's-worth kind of government, then that's what you'll get," said David Thornburgh of the Pennsylvania Economy League. "The Committee of Seventy can have a powerful role in raising that level of expectations, raising that bar."

But who's the right leader? A fearless crusader like Ralph Nader? An experienced insider who can raise money in board rooms and lobby politicians? A research nerd who burrows into the mires of government?


I don't think it is necessary for the person to be a known public figure, because I do not think that this should turn into a platform for a future office-seeker to turn on the guns on a potential rival. I do think that there is a need for the organization to get bigger (and find funding to hire more than 3 people) and expand the organization to take on more than simple election fraud, which seems to be its only public role to this point. And, if they see corruption, they should call a spade a spade, and point it out.

It should not be left up to the FBI to try to change Philadelphia's political culture. A more vigorous Committee of Seventy could help in this battle.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The SEPTA board, T.O, and 2007

Some news from the past week or so:

SEPTA board extends middle finger to City:

So, as expected, SEPTA overrode the City's veto, and scheduled fare hikes that would eventually take the cash fare to the whopping 3 dollars, and further limit the already bare weekend service. Mayor Street did a little tilting at windmills at their board meeting, but has no real power in this situation. He then had the City promptly file a lawsuit to stop the fare hikes. I, unlike others, think the suit actually has a chance to succeed. The fact is that the case is being heard by a City Common Pleas judge, who is an elected official, and is going to be inevitably a little more in touch with the pulse of the city, is a good thing. Even if the fare increase is stopped, it will eventually be appealed, and in the end, SEPTA will win out. There just isn’t much to stand on here, legally.

However, this whole fiasco is instructive in how awful the SEPTA board is. If they cared at all about providing public transit to the people of SE Pa, they would resign. There is simply no way decent public transit is going to be provided without more dedicated funding. They should sign a letter, all 15 of them, saying their job has been made impossible, and that they resign effective one week after the legislature meets. The other bizarre, bizarre thing is that they scheduled the fare hike to go into effect the day before the State House comes back into session. In other words, this is not about them playing chicken with the State, and giving them one more chance to provide more funding, this is about destroying viable public transportation. It is just awful. In the end, I think the Governor will still find some loopholes to give the system a temporary infusion. But, we shall soon see.

Rumors about 2006 Senate and 2007 Mayoral races

None of this is particularly new, but, a source in the Governors office (I have always wanted to quote a "source." I now feel validated) tells me that Bob Casey, Jr. is willing to look at a run for the Senate. He clearly has his eye on the Governor's office for 2010, so I doubt he would even serve one term if he won. I think that he has a very good shot to beat Santorum. I know his pro-life stance does not endear him to a lot of people around here, but, he is also decent on most issues, and the difference between him and Santorum is stark. I hope he runs.

(Meanwhile, Big Al thinks we should draft Gen. Anthony Zinni to run. I am not convinced to this point.)

And, for the 2007 Mayoral race, it looks increasingly like Chaka Fattah is considering a run for office. That, my friends, would be amazing for the City. First of all, he is smart, progressive and dynamic. Second, he would thin the field dramatically, lessening the chance that some hack will sneak through with 22 percent of the vote. He has never really seemed to express interest in running for Mayor before, but maybe he feels like he has hit his limit as a Congressman in a minority party. This would be a huge, huge plus for the City. If he runs, I know I will personally do all I can to help him, and think a lot of others will, as well.

And finally:

T.O. goes down with a severe ankle sprain, and my boss undoubtedly chuckles.

The only thing stopping a sure Super Bowl berth is an injury to the big three (Donnie Mac, B Westbrook and T.O.). All I can say is I hope he recovers within four weeks because this city needs an NFC championship win, and I need to not ever be a registered Republican. So please, Terrell, get better quickly.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Rendell Tries To Move PA. Presidential Primary

(This is the first post from one of our new contributors. Enjoy- Dan)

Governor Rendell proposed earlier this week to move PA's presidential primary voting from April to January or February, in order to give PA a bigger say in who becomes the Democratic nominee. As Rendell noted "We're one of three key states in the general election, and we have no voice in the primary process".

Now, it seems obvious to me that the larger blue states should get a bigger say in the selection of the Democratic Presidential nominee, but I have a few problems with this move. First of all, this would continue the trend of pushing the primaries earlier. In the past we might not have known about the candidate until June. This year we knew Kerry would be the nominee in Early March.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that New Hampshire, since 1977, has claimed the right to have the first primary. This means that whenever another state moves its primary back, New Hampshire moves theirs even further back. Over the course of the last three presidential primaries New Hampshire has moved its primary back almost a full month, from February 20 in 1996, to February 1 in 2000, to January 27 in 2004. If Pennsylvania was to move its primary into late January, New Hampshire law would force the state to move its elections even further back- maybe even into the previous year.

My question is: why shouldn't the national party decide when each state can vote in the primaries? I'm not sure I like the idea of every state voting on the same day, as it would be a logistical nightmare for those trying to campaign, but there has to be a better way to give the bigger states a bigger say without constantly moving the primaries further and further back.

One idea would be to use something along the lines of the Delaware Plan the Republicans came close to using. Basically this plan would create four voting blocks, each block consisting of similar sized states, and would allow the smaller states to vote first, with the bigger states voting last. For the Democrats this seems highly unlikely though, since the bigger states (CA, NY, PA, FL, IL, OH, MI)would continue to vote last.

Another plan, advocated by Chris Bowers of MyDD is the so-called California Plan, which basically still allows smaller states to vote first.

I've seen a lot of ideas with how to fix the primary system being floating around the blogosphere, but the one which seems to make a lot more sense to me is breaking up the country into 'blocs', with each one containing small, medium, a large states, and each bloc voting 1-2 weeks apart. The blocs would rotate each Presidential cycle to allow different states to vote first.

My real hope is that this move by Rendell is a bargaining ploy, to force the states which are resistant to primary reform into a deal. If not, we can expect the backwards march of the primaries to continue.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Two weeks in.

So, this site has officially existed for about two weeks. I thought I would give some quick thoughts into what is happening with it so far.

So far, we have three contributors. As of yet, only I have posted material (not counting comments), but, I hope that can change soon. That said, if you are reading this, you should think about writing something. Seriously. I think there is real potential (and a need)in a site that can network the huge amount of young people in Philly who care deeply about this unique place. But, in the end, the site wont be much if it just one guy posting what he thinks. There are so many people out there with so many interests, with so many unique perspectives, and those voices should be heard. So, if you are interested, email me (DanielUA atsymbol Gmail Dot Com) and I can put you down on the list of contributors.

So far, there have been about 300 unique readers, which I am pleasantly surprised at. Each day, the numbers seem to grow by 20 new people.

In an ideal world, if the place grows like it could, we could have 50-100 contributors, all posting their own material, be it once a day, once a month, or once a year. One of the delusions of grandeur that I have for the site would be to have a week or something where a large variety of people post about about the neighborhood they grew up in or live in now. What is it like? How is it unique in Philly? What are the biggest issues facing it, and the people in it?

So, spread the word, email me to post your own stuff, and, well, stay warm, cause it is about to get cold.

(Just in case I was not clear about my email address it is a gmail.com address. So just put together danielua with the @ and the gmail.com. There are programs the scan billions of webpages looking for email addresses to spam. So I would be wary of posting your address in its correct form, if that makes sense. That is why I don't come right out and give my address in a normal way.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"Our brightest and our best"

There is a very informative article in the Inquirer about the ethics bills before council, and how the big stumbling block is the no nepotism provision. According to the story, Nutter's bill states the following:

"no city officer or employee would be allowed to take or recommend any personnel action involving a relative; and the mayor, city controller, and City Council members cannot do so for relatives applying for city jobs as well as for positions in quasi-public agencies, such as the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority."

In other words, if I am a City councilman, and my brother is going to apply for a job with the Redevelopment Authority, I cannot make a phone call to make sure he gets the job. Gee, how terrible. We would not want the most qualified to end up with the job, would we? Personally, in terms of the whole ethics bill, I could care less if a councilperson hires a family member on their staff. It is their staff, to serve their needs, so let them hire whomever they want. However, for other city positions, there should certainly be a law banning them from ensuring the City government continues to be their own personal hiring service.

Two council quotes either show a total lack of honesty, or simply a sad lack of perspective:

Councilman Mariano: "Would we be losing our brightest and our best if their fathers weren't councilmen?"

Councilwoman Reynolds-Brown, on her sister: "She sweated blood, sweat and tears for five years to help me land the opportunity to get to Council - and she came with impeccable credentials. Why shouldn't she be given the same consideration?"

Again, I don't particularly care if they hire their families for their own staffs. I am more concerned with the placement of family members in other agencies across the City. But there is a clear provincialism in all of this. Every mom thinks their son is handsome, just like every Councilman thinks their relatives desrve jobs with the City. It keeps those who run Philadelphia to a small set of 'clans,' and puts up all sorts of blockades from the truly best qualified from getting a job. To them, it is as if offices and jobs in the City are simply a birth right.

If we think not of what is best for the Councilmen themselves, but purely in terms of the success of Philadelphia, do we want the best person to get the job, or do we want it simply to go to a family member of the well connected? If that person is the same, fine. But being opposed to letting others decide that, not the councilmen themselves, is just plain common sense.

Councilman Mariano says we may be losing "our brightest and our best" if we pass this law. I think the exact opposite is true.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Some more thoughts on SEPTA

I did obtain a copy of the SEPTA lease. I have absolutely no background in contracts,or anything of the sort, but, there are some key things I think are important to take from it, especially this one:

1) Section 1.08: Fares and Other Charges
The Authority shall have the absolute right to fix its fares and other charges.

That, obviously is pretty key in all of this. SEPTA, an organization governed by a 15 person board, of which the City has 2 members, has absolute power in Its fare structures. The City, which pays an approximately 56 million dollar subsidy to the organization a year, gets no say whatsoever, other than a largely symbolic veto that is easily overridden.

The whole issue is pretty complicated, but, I think a good way to think about the City's position is this: We paid for the Subway. I don't know the full details of the funding, but since the system was built before the large federal transportation bills were passed, I would guess that the City paid for a large percentage, if not 100 percent, of the construction. (Unlike today, where a city and state only have to pay a combined 20 percent, with the Federal Government paying the rest.) So, this was a huge system built by Philadelphia for Philadelphia residents. And therefore, we own this asset, and can charge a rent, a large rent, to someone for its use...

So, in 2004, how much does the City project to get from SEPTA in rent? How does zero sound? As far as I can tell, the City gets absolutely nothing for it. (I got this from the city's operating budget for fy 2004 .) The city has generally collected a million or two per year, but it looks like that has gone down to zero this year. When rent was paid from the city, it appears to come out of SEPTA's operating budget. (This point, in of itself is problemtatic. If SEPTA and the state had constructed the system, the money to pay for the tracks and stations would come from a seperate capital budget that includes huge federal infusions of money. But since we built, and they use it, they use operating expenses to rent it. That is why we should think about forcing them to buy it, it can force money out of a seperate money stream.)

So, we let SEPTA rent the subways for zero. And, apparently, we may be able to force them to buy it since the lease expires in December of 2005. How much would they have to pay? I have no idea. But, one aspect of the "worth" of the system of would be the replacement costs of building the same thing over again. Lets say SEPTA did have to start building all over, but SEPTA chose to build something far cheaper than a subway system, such as a light rail. Well, light rail, the cheaper alternative, costs an average of 70 million dollars per mile to construct. We have, between the Broad Street Line and Ridge Spur, the El, and the subway-Surface tracks, what have to be at least 25 miles of tracks. Just replacing these with the cheaper light rail would cost 1.75 billion dollars. That is billion with a B. Now, is it realistic that the State could or would come up with the up to 20 percent of that cost that they would have to contribute, 350 million dollars? No. But, we should just be clear that what we built and paid for is a huge, huge asset. If our reward for that asset is no say on how transit is conducted on those tracks, we have a serious problem.

Do any policy people have any thoughts about this? Do any lawyers/law students want to read the lease?

Friday, December 10, 2004

SEPTA: An expiring lease leads to an opportunity

This is a little out of date (is in, it happened on Tuesday), but Councilman Goode wrote an excellent Op-ed in the Daily news this week discussing the expiring lease of SEPTA. Basically, the city and SEPTA signed a lease 34 years ago that gave SEPTA exclusive rights to the city's transit facilities. (Such as subway and train stations, and probably even the tracks themselves, though I will look into it.) This effectively has made SEPTA the only viable provider of mass transit in the city. Unfortunately for the city, we signed one hell of a bad lease.

As Councilman Goode says, we have a public transit agency that gets most of its local funding from Philadelphia, and most of its farebox income from Philadelphia, yet the city has just two of the 15 members of SEPTA's board. So what you have is a suburban, Republican-dominated board controlling the transit agency of Philly. Not a good idea, as the board's general deaf ear to city concerns has proved.

So now, 34 years after signing a mistake, the city has an opportunity, which I genuinely believe they will seize. According to Goode, if the city so chooses, it can force SEPTA to spend federal capital dollars (different source of income then the failing operating budget) to actually buy the facilities. I do not know how much of a cash infusion this would give the city, but I suspect it would be immense. (For example, in Minnesota, creating just one line of a light-rail system cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.) I think the state, and effectively SEPTA would have to pay 20 percent of the cost, and the federal government would pay the remaining 80. So, you may be able to force the federal government to fork over a ton of money to the City. That said, if there really is some value in it, there probably is a good reason to keep it in our pockets.

Goode states that we can possibly open up the system to competition, which I think sounds nice, but is unrealistic. Lets remember that regional mass transit is not an overall money maker, in terms of fare income vs operating expenses. (The overall economic impact is far different, but don't tell that to state legislators.) If you bring in a competitor with no mandate to provide mass transit to all, they will simply compete on the profitable lines only. So for example, a bus route with a high amount of seniors (who do not have to pay), would be ignored. The end result could be that SEPTA is beaten out on the profitable routes, and is left with only those that lose the most money, meaning its bottom line is even further damaged, they cut service to these routes, and we essentially have a strictly profit-driven, severly shrunken public-transit system- a total disater for the City.

So, what is the answer? Leverage. Leverage SEPTA to fundamentally alter the structure of the board. If Philly contributes the most money, the city of Philadelphia needs more of a voice; a loud, leading voice and votes that can give the transit agency a new direction. If Philadelphia riders pay the most fares, then they deserve a real voice, as well. If they dont agree, we dont sign the lease, and although we owuld have a huge crisis on our hands, SEPTA would be dead for all intents and purposes. They will avoid this at all costs.

I am getting a hold of the lease itself over the weekend, and will post an analysis of it shortly thereafter. I would very interested to hear what you lawyers/law students think of the lease, as well.

The bottom line though, is that the city has a real opportunity here... We must seize it.

UPDATE: Just to be accurate, SEPTA actually gets a fare for each senior citizen- it comes from the lottery proceeds. So in theory, they would be just as profitable for SEPTA. Anyway, the point remains that if you allow just any competitor, the end result may be route poaching, with an weakened shell of mass transit left over.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

When good football players go bad: Former Steeler gearing up for run against Rendell

I don't know how many of you saw this, but, former Steeler and NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann is thinking of running against Gov. Rendell in 2006. While I think Swann will not make it out of the primary, and even if he does, will get crushed by Rendell, this is just another example of celebrity politics. From Ah-nold in Cawi-for-nya, to MSNBC's Chris Matthews being floated as a potential opponent to Santorum, celebrity candidates are a mistake. Our elections and our democracy should not be a big personality cult. (Ie, Kerry is long winded, I can't deal with that for four years! Bush, I don't like anything he has done, but man, he is a cowboy! )

What has Swann done to merit running one of the biggest states in the US, besides the obvious qualification of catching long touchdown passes? Well, he apparently campaigned for Bush in Pa. (I guess he wasn't good enough.) Sorry Lynn, I would assume you keep riveting us from the sidelines, letting us know what the head coach told you at half time, rather than deciding policy for the Commonwealth.

And, why is Swann a Republican anyway? Well, here is what he says:

"They provide platforms, and they don't give people crutches to walk on," he said. "They give them tools to build. "

I can only assume some of those platforms are the following: No public transit. Dirty air. Under funded public schools. No health care. Less overtime pay.

Yeah Lynn, the Republican-driven change from a society that rewards work to a society that rewards wealth certainly does not give people crutches. It gives them chains.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Event Notice: Progressive Forum

This was posted in a comment below, but I figured it was useful to put it on top. I am sure if you go to phillyforchange.com, you can get a better idea of what it is about.

"Southeast Pennsylvania ADA and Philly for Change are sponsoring a Post-Election Blues-Fighting Progressive Forum, Saturday December 11th from 9 am to 1 pm at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. (2125 Chestnut St., Philadelphia)

Network with fellow progressives to build the Grassroots Progressive movement. Facilitated open discussions and guest speakers headline the agenda. Breakfast snacks and coffee provided. Free event. Space is limited, please RSVP to Anne (Adicker@PhillyForChange.com, 215 925 1341)."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

So, what are you doing in 2006?

For the young and connected have to a big impact on this city and state, we need to figure out how to create a huge network of people, who are working both inside and outside the system. Today, we focus on the ultimate insider: the Democratic committeeman. Plainly, it would be transformative to have the Democratic machine infused with energy, and out of the box thinking.

What does a committeeman do, you ask? How do they get elected anyway? This is from the committee of seventy website:

"CITY DIVISIONAL COMMITTEEPEOPLE The division (often called a "precinct") is the smallest political unit of the City, normally comprising between 600 and 800 registered voters. In 1997, however, the Election Code was amended to permit the formation of election districts containing no less than 100 and no more than 1,200 registered electors. The Democratic and Republican party organizations start at this grassroots level with the office of committeeperson. The registered voters of each party in a division elect two divisional committeepeople for four year terms at every primary election immediately preceding the regularly scheduled gubernatorial election (1998, 2002, 2006, etc).
The responsibilities of a committeeperson run up and down the party ladder. Committeepeople transmit to the party leaders the opinions of the people in their division (their neighbors). This process enables the party leaders to remain in touch with the views of the people and adapt accordingly. In turn, the party leadership reaches down to the grassroots level through the divisional committeepeople to seek out and register new voters in the party, to provide a variety of services to voters, and to "get out the vote" at every election in support of party candidates. In this respect, committeepeople perform their duties year-round. Good committeepeople are valuable assets in a division, and at this level, they have an excellent opportunity to participate in local politics. "

Count this as one of a semi-regular feature on our elected offices. But if you want to be involved in the politics of your neighborhood, and you want to work from inside the machine, there is no better place to start than here. And, if you get 200 people to vote, you probably win in a landslide.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Gambling, not a good idea for Pennsylvania, not a good idea for me

Before casinos were legalized in New Jersey, Atlantic City was a pretty depressed place. The schools were in trouble, there was high crime, etc. Now, after years and years of casinos, Atlantic City is a ...depressed place. The magic of casinos has not done too much for them. That, I think, is a similar level of tangible benefits that we will see in Philadelphia. Depending the financial health of your state on a certain percentage of poor and elderly blowing their money on slots seems to be an immoral base for Pennsylvania to stand on. (And yeah, I think it is time we all started talking morals. A lot.)

Basically, what we have is Pennsylvania legalizing gambling to fund economic development in a way that does not involve the word 'TAX!" And, this is not even like the state lottery, where except for the bureaucracy that is involved, the profits at least totally benefit the state. No, this is a system where someone like Caesars will come in, make a huge profit, and throw a portion to the State. How efficient.

Anyway, the is all a long segue into a personal story about my own problem with gambling. I recently made a bet. A bet that I hope I win. It involves our dominant football team, and whether or not they make it to the Superbowl. My boss has the Philadelphia-will-always-lose streak going, so he and I agreed to the following: if the Eagles make it to the Supe, he takes me to lunch anywhere in the City. But... if they lose, I have to register as a Republican. Yikes. And so, with confidence in my team, I accepted. But, boy, I sure hope Brian Westbrook stays healthy. Because as depressed as I will be if the Eagles lose, I will be pretty inconsolable when I get a letter in the mail that says "The Pennsylvania GOP would like to welcome you to our party!"

Saturday, December 04, 2004

YoungPhillyPolitics.com is new web address

Just a quick FYI, www.youngphillypolitics.com (no .blogspot neccesary) will now bring you to this website.

So, when giving people the address of the site, life just got easier.

Some Saturday afternoon thoughts

I don't want to totally focus on elections all the time or anything, but there was a story I heard that I think really resonates with what I (and we) are trying to do. It was posted on dailykos.com, so, you can google for it I am sure. It was an analysis of Howard Dean's differing approaches to New Hampshire and Iowa, and how different the outcome was in each place.

In Iowa, the first election of the Democratic primary, Howard Dean employed a strategy where he spent a ton of money on advertisements, and then based a turnout effort on a few weeks of thousands upon thousands of volunteers busing in from out of state, to be part of the "movement." (This included someone who is a reader, and a future poster on here, so I would like to hear his personal thoughts.) As Dean and Gephart began to destroy each other, Kerry and Edwards started to seize the momentum. However, the Dean campaign seemed confident that with the huge amount of volunteers they had collected, they would still pull through. Instead, they got their ass kicked.

Realistically, the way this campaign season worked (and the way the media loves to horse race things), the election ended on that night. (On a side note, I still wonder what would have happened if Wesley Clark had actually run in Iowa. Oh well.) The combination of the media covering the Kerry victory to no end, along with the next primary being in New Hampshire, next door to Massachusetts, gave him a second state. With the ultra compressed system, others had too little time to ever catch up.

That said, Howard Dean performed better that in New Hampshire then was predicted. As the article on DailyKos said, much of this was due to the completely different tactics that they used in NH. Instead of bringing in outsiders to get out the vote, they relied on supporters having small house parties, and directly speaking to their neighbors. Instead of a 23 year old kid from Germantown telling you to vote for Dean, you had your neighbor ,who you know, trust, etc. This proved to be much more effective...

How does this relate to Philadelphia? Well, our city is certainly the cliched "city of neighborhoods." And each neighborhood has its own characteristics, and is somewhat wary of outsiders, be they from the other side of the state, or the other side of the city. That said, there is a huge level of trust that I think Philadelphians have in their neighbors and their friends. Whether it is politics or coming over for dinner, a middle age woman from South Philly is going to trust me a lot more if I meet her through her a family friend, then if I just meet her randomly. (Or in the case of politics, if I just knock on her door.)

How does this relate to this site? I think it is important to keep in mind that if we want to be effective in the long run, we need a lot of places where we can eat dinner. We need a lot of families that we can talk to, and talk with their friends. We need to make sure that we get the whole city involved, from North to South, and West to... Well, not East, but lets say Northwest, or Southwest. So, if you are reading this, and you plan on getting involved, think about how we can expand beyond the neighborhoods where we come from. Because if we can do that, then we then will truly have an amazing amount of power.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Call City Council, ask for hearings on Ethics bills

I will write more on this later, but, there are two bills in City Council that deal with ethical reforms in the City. At the very least, they should have a full public hearing, so we can see where the councilpeople stand.

City Councilmen (and women) are extremely responsive to constituent phone calls. So, if you have a chance, call yours, and state unequivocally, that the ethics bills must be debated- publicly. Make sure to let them know that you are a constituent.

Find the number of your councilperson at http://www.phila.gov/citycouncil/.

Also, if you have the time, call one or two of the at-large members, and let them hear you as well.

The Daily News wrote a good piece on reform. They have a bully pulpit, and when they use it correctly, they can be pretty effective. I will go into their specific proposals later...

Do or die day for SEPTA. Call the Gov to express your support.

Very good article in in the inquirer today about SEPTA, and the imposing cuts and rate hikes they are threatening to impose if the state does not come through with cash. The State has failed again to give transit here and in Pittsburgh, the money that it needs. So now Gov. Rendell must decide whether or not to infuse SEPTA with some highway money that he can transfer from other projects. Not as a long term solution, but as a way to stave off disaster.

The article (link embedded in the title) is very well written and it raises some points that must be pressed:

1) SEPTA depends more on fares than most public transit systems. In other words, other states view public transit as a vital cog that they should and must support, for both public policy and pure moral reasons. (IE, policy: less cars on road: good. Morals: The poor being able to get where they need to go, without breaking the bank: good.) Why does PA care less about mass transit than other States?

2) SEPTA has continually cut costs. Officials have cut 1200 jobs from the system recently, and have saved an estimated 420 million dollars in cost reductions. This is not an agency with out of control spending. Which brings us to point number three....

3) The State has continually contributed less money to SEPTA then they projected. Whether because of over optimistic tax collection estimates, or because of willful negligence, the money coming into to SEPTA has been far less than promised. The State expects SEPTA to make budgets when the State is not giving the amount of money it projected?

We should be clear on a few things... Yes, Philly has its problems. But, is there any question that our City is the economic engine of the SE PA region? And, is there any question that that SE PA region is currently the engine of the Pennsylvania economy? Philadelphia is the linchpin for the state, and SEPTA and workable mass transit in general, is vital to the city. Especially in a place depending more and more on a service economy (like hotels), mass transit is a must to get workers to their jobs, to shuttle tourists around, and hell, to take me home when it is raining.

Hopefully, Governor Rendell will at least temporarily stop the bleeding, while the State Legislature takes its good ol time deciding when to finally help out.

You can call the Governor's office and express your support for SEPTA funding at (717) 787-2500. Obviously, he is on our side with the fundamentals of this issue. But call him and make sure that he does what he can now, to prevent massive layoffs, service cuts and price hikes.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Leave No Billboard Behind Act is signed into law.

Dear Governor, dear Representatives, thanks for...Nothing.


I don't know how many of you have been following the billboard saga. But, a quick run down is this:

There is a law in Philadelphia that says there are limits on the amounts of billboards within the City. Rendell, who has always been on the wrong side of this issue, ignored the bill, and let the zoning board approve billboard after billboard up and above the limits set out in the bill. Street continued the Rendell philosophy of ignoring the bill (wouldn't you like to have that option?).

Thankfully for Philadelphia, there was a constant thorn in the side of the billboard companies- SCRUB, run by Mary Tracy. SCRUB would, as taxpayers of Philadelphia, routinely appeal zoning decisions to court. And, since the billboard companies were clearly in violation of the law, SCRUB would win, over and over. So, you know, the billboard people did not exactly like SCRUB.

Over the past few years, City Council passed an anti-SCRUB law, that Street vetoed after much successful lobbying by Philadelphia activists. John Perzel, that wonderful humanitarian, tried something similar, as well. But when word got out about it, the law was abandoned... Until...

Rep. Josephs (Center City) and others sponsored a bill upping the fines for illegal dumping in the City. However, in the last minute session of the past week, late in the night, an amendment was passed to the dumping bill that changed the law to kill the efforts of SCRUB. The law changed the City Charter to say that only those who lived within 500 feet of the billboard could challenge a zoning decision in court. Without any debate, the law passed. Unanimously, because no one was paying attention.

First of all, we should thank Gov. Rendell for signing this. Thanks for doing what he used to so resent: allowing the State to routinely change the home rule charter to suit their needs (and their wallets). Also thanks for giving us the Bush-like explanation that we really needed the dumping law, so this was worth it.

Second, the law refers to all zoning decisions, not just billboards. The state has fundamentally changed the way Philadelphia residents are able to contest unwanted developments in their city, all to line the pockets of Clear Channel (yes, that Clear Channel) and other billboard companies.

A thanks is also in order to our glorious State Representatives. This is clearly another instance of a bill being passed that too little people read. So while I feel for someone like Rep. Josephs, who had her bill totally changed, why didn't she speak up sooner? Say, before a vote occurred? Am I that naive that I think someone should read an amendment to their own (small) bill?

In the future, when these types of issues come up, I would like to see if we can at least get our state officials on the record. Maybe we can start a scorecard or something to keep in our pockets for future use? Philadelphia has seen a consistent drop in power in the State House. At the very least, we should make sure our Reps are voting in the right way.

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