Monday, October 31, 2005

Parties Today, Strike Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will be venturing out into the commuting nightmares I've heard so much about due to the SEPTA strike. (I support the SEPTA workers, by the way.) Today, though, I took a vacation day and spent most of it in my kids' school for Halloween parties or preparing for them. Contrary to popular belief, if you set out fruits and vegetable (along with the brownies and cookies) they will be eaten. You always read about kids not wanting their parents to be around but the little Janes (and other school kids, if they their parents are to be believed) really like it when their parents are in evidence at school events. No special skills required just show up. Amazing. I'm sure that this too will pass but I want to enjoy it while is lasts.

As a word to the wise, if anyone gets temporary insanity next year and invites more than a dozen costumed children to their house for a party some weekend in October, make sure you check weapons at the door.

weekly legislative update

Sorry this is late. When I tried to compile it over the weekend the legislative web server wasn't responding.

As I mentioned in the previous posting, the governor called a special legislative session to look into property tax reform. Information from that session is included here as well. Standard caveats apply (resolutions not generally included, list of sponsors deleted if it was too long – three lines in the originally formatting).

Our accountants friends at PICPA have updated their legislative page as well.

These bills were introduced, or referred to a committee, not voted on. The descriptions tended to be pretty much the same, with only a few variations.

Monday 2 bills referred to finance committee; 5 to appropriations (House)
Tuesday 1 bills referred to finance committee (House)
Wednesday 5 bills referred to finance committee (House)
Thursday 2 bills referred to legislation committee (Senate)

Regular Session


Last week I commented on a resolution to inventory and catalog historic barns in PA. It has now passed both houses.

While most Something Day/Week/Month resolutions are passed a few days prior to the named day/week/month, but both houses passed a resolution naming February 2006 as Economic Literacy Month. A noble effort.

There were 6 resolutions honoring fallen soldiers.



HB 1967 By Representative McILHINNEY. Prior Printer's No. 2700. Printer's No. 2885. An Act amending the act of November 20, 2004 (P.L.886, No.121), entitled "An act authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority and to Robert L. and Karen N. Doutt, Leona B. Disbrow, Louise F. Waller, Mary Schabacker, Paul D. and Mary Ann Brugger, and Ralph and Janet Toland, Sr., certain lands situate in the City of Erie, County of Erie; authorizing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Derry Township Municipal Authority a certain easement for sanitary sewer purposes, together with an existing sanitary sewer line and appurtenances, situate in Derry Township, Dauphin County; authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Summerdale Associates, L.P., certain lands situate in the Township of East Pennsboro, County of Cumberland; and authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Governor, to grant and convey to the Borough of Doylestown certain lands situate in the Borough of Doylestown, Bucks County," further providing for conveyance to the Borough of Doylestown, Bucks County.

HB 1955 By Representative PYLE. Printer's No. 2669. An Act designating the bridge carrying State Route 66 over Garrett's Run and the J. Franklin Graff Bridge in Manor Township, Armstrong County, as the 1/112th Infantry Alpha Company Bridge.


SB 854 Prior Printer's No. 1101. Printer's No. 1231. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, further providing, in personal income tax, for medical and health savings accounts; and repealing provisions relating to taxation of medical and health savings accounts.

HB 1179 Prior Printer's Nos. 1385, 1870, 2298, 2365, 2855. Printer's No. 2953. An Act amending Title 51 (Military Affairs) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, establishing the Military Family Relief Assistance Program and the Military Family Relief Assistance Fund.

HB 1717 Prior Printer's Nos. 2174, 2572. Printer's No. 2918. An Act amending Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 23 (Domestic Relations) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms, for firearms not to be carried without licenses, for licenses, for loans, lending or giving of firearms, for definitions, for jurisdiction, for full faith and credit and foreign protection orders, for responsibilities of law enforcement agencies, for commencement of proceedings, for hearings and for relief; providing for return of relinquished firearms, other weapons and ammunition, for relinquishment for consignment sale or lawful transfer, for relinquishment to third party for safekeeping and for registry or database of firearm ownership; further providing for emergency relief by minor judiciary, for arrest for violation of order, for private criminal complaints for violation of order or agreement, for contempt for violation of order or agreement and for procedures and other remedies; and providing for immunity, for inability to pay and for limitation on warrantless searches.

SB 932 By Senator CONTI. Prior Printer's No. 1220. Printer's No. 1270. An Act amending the act of November 20, 2004 (P.L.886, No.121), entitled "An act authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority and to Robert L. and Karen N. Doutt, Leona B. Disbrow, Louise F. Waller, Mary Schabacker, Paul D. and Mary Ann Brugger, and Ralph and Janet Toland, Sr., certain lands situate in the City of Erie, County of Erie; authorizing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Derry Township Municipal Authority a certain easement for sanitary sewer purposes, together with an existing sanitary sewer line and appurtenances, situate in Derry Township, Dauphin County; authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Summerdale Associates, L.P., certain lands situate in the Township of East Pennsboro, County of Cumberland; and authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Governor, to grant and convey to the Borough of Doylestown certain lands situate in the Borough of Doylestown, Bucks County," further providing for conveyance to the Borough of Doylestown, Bucks County.

HB 746 Prior Printer's Nos. 837, 1913. Printer's No. 2136. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for the offense of luring a child into a motor vehicle or structure.

SB 4 Prior Printer's No. 842. Printer's No. 1263. An Act establishing spending limitations on the Commonwealth; providing for the disposition of surplus funds; and making a repeal.

SB 193 By Senators RAFFERTY, WONDERLING, D. WHITE, TOMLINSON, COSTA, ROBBINS, O'PAKE, PILEGGI, WOZNIAK, PICCOLA, EARLL, KASUNIC, THOMPSON, LOGAN, BOSCOLA, STACK, WAUGH, ORIE, WENGER and C. WILLIAMS. Prior Printer's No. 182. Printer's No. 1271. An Act amending the act of June 3, 1937 (P.L.1333, No.320), known as the Pennsylvania Election Code, further providing for the meeting of election officers on election day.

SB 693 By Senators PILEGGI, LEMMOND, ERICKSON, EARLL, RAFFERTY, FERLO, C. WILLIAMS, D. WHITE and BOSCOLA. Printer's No. 830. An Act amending the act of June 3, 1937 (P.L.1333, No.320), known as the Pennsylvania Election Code, further providing for affidavit of circulator.

SB 875 By Senators RAFFERTY, ORIE, ERICKSON, CORMAN, M. WHITE, WENGER, EARLL, PICCOLA, LEMMOND, WONDERLING, RHOADES, REGOLA, ROBBINS, JUBELIRER and BRIGHTBILL. Prior Printer's No. 1130. Printer's No. 1284. An Act amending Title 4 (Amusements) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for the prohibition of emergency procurement.

SB 884 Prior Printer's No. 1169. Printer's No. 1264. A Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, providing for spending limitations on the State and for disposition of surplus funds.

Friday, October 28, 2005

More on Lewis "Scooter" Libby's Philly Connections

I ran across this article, explaining how Lewis Libby and his Philadelphia lawyer, Joseph Tate, crossed paths. They both worked at Schnader Harrison when Libby was here, and at the Dechert law firms (Libby in DC, Tate here). Interesting stuff.

My previous Libby postings are here and here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Another Interesting Idea

Via GrassrootsPA, here is an interesting idea from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

If you like your state rep, and he/she didn't vote for the payraise and isn't taking the unvouchered expenses, don't agree to vote for them unless they promise not to vote for the current house leadership (of either party).

I like that idea. Nothing will change as long as we have the current legislative leadership. While only Perzel's constitutents can vote him out of office, he stays in his leadership position only as long as the other reps vote him in each session. Let's not. And let's kick out the Dem, too. I don't think very highly of Bill DeWeese or Mike Veon, either.

Project HOME event tonight

Please remember the Project HOME event this evening (for details click on the image on my sidebar or go to I am in motion today (Hither. Yon.) and not sure when I will get home. I would like to attend and hope to see some of my blogger buddies there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One Tired Community Activist

October was a busy month for me, at least for my community activist persona. There were a lot of deadlines, a lot of consultants to talk to, a lot of plans to make, a lot of meetings, a lot a lot a lot. This kind of work does not have the immediacy and sizzle of the coming federal indictments (presumably for Rove, Libby, et al), the Philly city council indictments, and so on, but it is the necessary prep work for knitting the community fabric. It is tedious and always has to be paid foreward. You work on something for years and suddenly it is an overnight success.

The hardest part of it for me is the social face required. I stop by a local government office to drop something off, pick something up, or ask a question, and have a oh-so-friendly chat with an official that would just as soon I fell off the edge of the world or into a fissure in the earth. It isn't personal. I could be anybody. They probably don't remember my name as soon as I leave the room. I stop at construction sites and say "Hey, guys, how's it going?" and they smile and nod and wonder how much fun it would be to run over me with a backhoe. Again, it isn't personal. They know I'm there to check up on them or see if things are being done as Organization X or Group Y that I have been working with wants things to be done. They would rather not have the oversight and suggestions and the nagging that is sure to come if things aren't being done as they should be. I know it and they know it and yet we smile at each other and exchange pleasantries even as we are both eyeing the "must be saved" tree their machinery has just girdled and therefore killed.

Government says it wants citizen involvement and, in theory, it does, but we are always, to some extent, trouble, or at least present extra work. I know that. The official shaking my hand and telling me how wonderful my work is would rather be home with his/her family or somewhere, anywhere, else. Actually, so would I. And yet, these encounters are necessary for things to get done.

It is one of the odd dances we do in this life, and one of my least favorite. And yet, tomorrow I will be doing it again (somewhere in between the job and the family and hopefully some meals and sleep).

The New Cats

Last May I wrote an entry called "Catless," on adjusting to life without a cat and mentioned the possibility of getting another one. We adopted two kittens, sisters, not long after. I've never had two kittens at the same time and it has been fun watching them interact with each other, as well as with the kids and Mr. Jane and myself. They look quite a bit alike but have very different personalities.

When they were very small and got scared one would hide under something, the other would sneak over and hunker down between my shoes as I stood. Apparently I am viewed as a safe place. As they have gotten larger they have become more adventurous and leap on top of the bookcase and the fireplace and curl up in dresser drawers for naps. One likes to go fishing in the aquarium, something we are trying to discourage. One doesn't like to be kissed on the head the other one doesn't care.

Starting over with new kittens has given me a chance to correct a few bad habits I formed with my first cats. I used to feed the cats first thing in the morning. What this meant was that if I dozed past the first rays of sun breaking over the horizon one or both cats would come and wake me up (a cold wet nose in the ear will do it every time). With the kittens I started feeding them just before I went to bed, which means they are fairly content overnight and everyone can sleep undisturbed. If I start upstairs without feeding them one will run over and smack me on the leg as a reminder.

The previous cats lived 15-18 years each. With that as a guide, it is likely that the next time I am in the market for a cat the kids will be in college (or already graduated) and Mr. Jane and I will have retired (hopefully). It feels odd to think so far ahead and I wonder what journeys I will have with these new household creatures.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Labor Policies: Whole Foods vs. SEPTA

I saw this in the October issue of Fast Company and could not help contrasting it with the current labor woes at SEPTA:

Whole Foods nurtures democracy, putting their health plan to a company-wide vote. The outcome: satisfied workers and ultimately happy customers. On Whole Foods' heavy roster of employee-friendly policies--for instance, no executive atWhole Foods makes more than 14 times the average hourly employee's pay--nothing stands out as much as the company's employee-designed benefits plan. In 2003, the granola set's grocery chain of choice decided to put the entire package, from medical plans to vacation time, out for a companywide, 25,000-person vote. After three rounds of voting (and an 87% turnout) employees voted for a health plan that takes nothing from their paycheck and offers cash to cover out-of-pocket expenses. (Dependents get the same treatment after five years.)

The trade-off: Vision and dental care come with heftier charges, and perks like childcare reimbursement were voted down. Even in a time of spiraling health-care costs, Whole Foods is again handing over the purse strings to employees, putting the benefits plan out for another vote in February. "Happy team members make happy customers," says Walter Robb, Whole Foods' copresident. "Our job as management is simply to make that a reality."

This and That

News from all over (well, from PoliticsPA anyway, since that is where I found all this info.):

GrassrootsPA has a copy of a letter sent by Ken Davis, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Committee telling the state Republican committee to knock it off already with the pay raise complaints. Davis made the news in June, 2004 when he was elected to his position by one vote (with some contention that only 656 votes should have been cast and he won with voter #657) and his opponent went court to contest the election.

Chris Cizzilla writes in a blog for the Wasington Post that Jim Gerlach is on of the country's more endangered congressmen. Good news for Lois Murphy who lost to him last time in a 51%/49% election and is taking him on again/

Congresswoman Melissa Hart gets my "dumb idea" vote of the day with her (and two other representatives') introduction of legislation "creating a program within the Center for Disease Control (CDC) dedicated to the study of the full impact media is having on children." Furthermore:

Congresswoman Hart added that research will also help parents make informed decisions on how to shield their children from potentially dangerous influences. "While the digital explosion has introduced incredible opportunities for our youth, it also presents parents with difficult challenges. Television, text and picture messaging, the Internet and video games all pose specific challenges to parents and this legislation will provide a fuller understanding of how we can best shield children from the darker side of these new technologies," said Hart.

Aren't there enough social scientists out there studying this now? And, come on, I've got small kids, it's not rocket science. You don't let them watch "Sex and the City" or "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" when they're in elementary school (or middle school, etc). You get them the "Zoo Tycoon" computer game (a fave in my house) and not the one where you shoot the hooker and take your money back. Do we need to spend more time and money on this? It's not where I want my tax dollars going.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

What’s sign language for “dollop”?

I have an approachable face. Not in a “Hey, baby, what’s shakin’?” sort of way but in a “Do you know where the soup is?” sort of way. When I was single young men tried to corner me a few times but lechery was not their motivation. One asked me how to wash tennis shoes and the other, after pulling me aside, asked in sultry tones how to make a pie crust. (I told him to go to the frozen foods section of the grocery store and buy one.)

Being approachable is helpful to me at work, and it sometimes puts me in challenging situations. One evening this week I stopped at a CVS on the way home to see if they had contact paper (don’t ask). An older woman in ethnic dress rushed up to me and waggled a traveler sized bottle of Pert Shampoo Plus Conditioner in my direction. “Yah!” she said. I stood there trying to figure out what she wanted. She repeated the gesture and the word. I was still blank. She rubbed her hair with her fingers.

“Yes,” I said. “shampoo. Shampoo PLUS conditioner” and also rubbed my hair with my fingers. She nodded, happy with this. Then she held up one finger. Again, I was confused. She held up one finger again and then rubbed her hair. Aha! How many shampoos in the bottle. I flashed all my fingers at her twice.

“Many.” I said, and flashed my fingers at her again. Now she looked confused. I held out one hand and tapped a finger of the other hand in the center of my outstretched palm. Then I held a finger and thumb close together. Then I tapped my finger in my palm again. How do you sign the concept of a dollop to someone who does not speak your language? We gestured back and forth, the same gestures, a few times. I was exaggerating the number of shampoos but I wanted to express the general idea. She seemed satisfied and headed for the checkout counter.

When I left two women were trying to help the checkout clerk tell her it cost $1.06.

[update: Dang it! Does you suppose she was asking if it cost $1.00? I wish people came with instructions.]

weekly legislative update

As I mentioned in the previous posting, the governor called a special legislative session to look into property tax reform. Information from that session is included here as well. Standard caveats apply (resolutions not generally included, list of sponsors deleted if it was too long – three lines in the originally formatting).

Our accountants friends at PICPA have updated their legislative page as well.

Special Session

These bills were introduced, not voted on. The descriptions tended to be pretty much the same, with only a few variations. If I actually looked at the full wording of the bills I would fall into a deep deep pit of big confusing words so if you are interested you will need to look them up yourself.

Monday 21 bills referred to finance committee (House)
Tuesday 3 bills referred to finance committee (House)
Friday 3 bills referred to finance committee (House)
3 bills referred to legislation committee (Senate)

Regular Session


A number of resolutions were pass this week, most naming a day or week or month as Something Day or week or month. There were also some resolutions honoring individual Pennsylvania soldiers who died while on duty.

Two struck me as interesting for purely personal reasons.

Serial No. 463 Printer's No. 2788. A Resolution urging the Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to take an inventory and catalog historic barns in this Commonwealth.

Serial No. 468 Printer's No. 2793. A Resolution urging PEMA to review emergency preparedness.

I like barns and have actually done some reading on the folkways that barns represent. Sometimes the ethnic settlement patterns of an area can be mapped solely by barn design. Even so, this seemed a little unusual. I hope the legislature is going to fund this effort. As it is a lot of graduate students will be driving around looking at barns. It would be nice if their gas costs were reimbursed. It would also be nice if this resulted in a nice coffeetable book on Pennsylvania’s barns, in addition to a lot of dense academic articles.

As for the second resolution I’ve pulled out, I certainly hope PEMA would do this without legislative urging. Again, I hope some money goes along with the resolution.


As you browse through here, if you do, and it is dry reading, take note of HB 893, regarding shutting off water and sewer service for nonpayment of services. I hope there are some loopholes here for special circumstances. Please also note HB 1329 on snakehead fish. I actually looked at the full text of HB 859 and this amendment takes out several paragraphs on the private use of cars that dealers later intend to sell. I didn’t understand it all but those who follow used car sales might want to review that one carefully.


HB 1733 By Representative J. TAYLOR. Prior Printer's No. 2200. Printer's No. 2852. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for the offenses of possessing instruments of crime and of aggravated assault and for criminal history record expungement.

HB 1687 Prior Printer's No. 2183. Printer's No. 2850. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, further providing for exclusion from the sales tax.

HB 1559 Prior Printer's No. 1934. Printer's No. 2110. An Act providing for unannounced inspections of certain facilities and persons that provide child day care; and conferring powers and duties on the Department of Public Welfare.

HB 1455 By Representative WILT. Printer's No. 1753. An Act designating the intersection of State Route 18 and State Route 58 in Greenville, Mercer County, as the Joseph J. Lininger Intersection.

HB 1401 Printer's No. 1691. An Act designating a bridge on State Route 150 crossing the Beech Creek in Clinton and Centre Counties, Pennsylvania, as the Beech Creek Veterans Memorial Bridge.

HB 1320 Prior Printer's No. 1568. Printer's No. 2175. An Act amending Title 30 (Fish) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, restricting the transport, sale, importation or release of snakehead fish.

HB 1281 By Representative HARRIS. Prior Printer's No. 1525. Printer's No. 2849. An Act designating a portion of State Route 104 in Snyder County as the Timberwolves Memorial Highway - 104th Infantry Division, United States Army.

HB 372 Prior Printer's Nos. 399, 2203. Printer's No. 2241. An Act amending the act of June 23, 1931 (P.L.932, No.317), known as The Third Class City Code, further providing for residency requirements for vacancy appointments.

HB 11 By Representatives SEMMEL, PETRONE, LEH, TIGUE, CALTAGIRONE, CAPPELLI, CORRIGAN, DALLY, GEIST, GRUCELA, GRUITZA, KOTIK, McCALL, SAINATO, SAYLOR, SOLOBAY, WILT, BUXTON, BEYER and GEORGE. Prior Printer's No. 910. Printer's No. 2400. An Act amending the act of December 19, 1988 (P.L.1262, No.156), known as the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act, further providing for prize limits, for limited sales and for recordkeeping; repealing certain provisions relating to advertising; and further providing for eligible organizations' use of locations for conducting small games of chance and for separate individual prize limitations.

HB 10 By Representatives SEMMEL, PETRONE, LEH, TIGUE, BELFANTI, CALTAGIRONE, CAPPELLI, CORRIGAN, DALLY, GEIST, GRUCELA, HARHAI, KOTIK, McCALL, PALLONE, PAYNE, SAINATO, SANTONI, SAYLOR, SOLOBAY, WASHINGTON, WILT, BUXTON and GEORGE. Prior Printer's No. 909. Printer's No. 2399. An Act amending the act of July 10, 1981 (P.L.214, No.67), known as the Bingo Law, further providing for rules for licensing and operation.

SB 74 By Senators GREENLEAF, RAFFERTY, WONDERLING, KITCHEN, TARTAGLIONE and BOSCOLA. Prior Printer's Nos. 64, 1108. Printer's No. 1150. An Act amending Titles 23 (Domestic Relations) and 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for contempt for noncompliance with visitation or partial custody order and for child custody; and making conforming amendments.

HB 1069 Prior Printer's Nos. 1228, 1867, 2683. Printer's No. 2762. An Act amending Title 51 (Military Affairs) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for leaves of absence for certain government employees; and making a repeal relating to military leaves of absence.

HB 859 Prior Printer's Nos. 982, 2232. Printer's No. 2853. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, clarifying provisions relating to imposition of certain realty transfer taxes.

HB 816 By Representative FEESE. Prior Printer's No. 849. Printer's No. 2854. An Act amending the act of July 7, 2005 (P.L., No.6A), entitled "An act making an appropriation from a restricted revenue account within the General Fund and from Federal augmentation funds to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission," making an additional appropriation to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

An Act amending the act of May 29, 1956 (1955 P.L.1804, No.600), referred to as the Municipal Police Pension Law, further providing for payments under existing pension plans for service increments to pensions of police officers.

HB 893 Printer's No. 1016. An Act amending the act of April 14, 1949 (P.L.482, No.98), entitled, as amended, "An act authorizing and requiring cities, boroughs, townships, municipal authorities and public utility companies engaged in the supplying of water, to shut off the supply of water for nonpayment of sewer, sewerage, or sewage treatment rentals, rates, or charges imposed by municipal authorities organized by counties of the second class, by cities of the second class, by cities of the second class A, by cities of the third class, by boroughs or by townships of the first or second class; authorizing and requiring them to supply to such authorities lists of metered water readings and flat-rate water bills and other data; authorizing them to act as billing and collecting agents for such authorities; and conferring certain powers upon the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in connection therewith," further providing for shutting off water if sewer charge not paid, for notice and for statement of defense; and requiring certain procedures to be followed in residential buildings.

HB 58 By Representatives MAHER, BROWNE, GERGELY and BEYER. Prior Printer's No. 236. Printer's No. 2674. An Act providing a bonus to Pennsylvanians who are United States Merchant Marine veterans who served during World War II; imposing certain duties on the Adjutant General; providing penalties; and making an appropriation.



HB 1435 Prior Printer's No. 1729. Printer's No. 2109. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for the offense of computer-assisted remote harvesting of animals.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Would You Want This Job?

You may or may not be aware of this but Gov. Rendell called a special legislative session on property tax relief (then the legislature promptly disappeared for a week or so).

Today they actually did something. They appointed committee chairs:

State Rep. Josh Shapiro has been appointed Democratic chairman of a newly created House subcommittee that will examine tax reform proposals during the special legislative session on property taxes.

Shapiro, D-Montgomery, will chair the Subcommittee on Property Tax Reduction, one of five new subcommittees under the House Finance Committee. Shapiro is the only freshman member of the House who will chair a subcommittee during the special session, and one of just four to receive appointments to the panels. He will also serve on the Subcommittee on Sales Tax Initiatives.

Rep. Shapiro seems like a bright fellow that we can expect to seek higher office at some point. In the meantime, from what I hear, he does well by his constituents. That's sort of what puzzles me. I mean, isn't being named committee chair here sort of like being named captain of the Titanic? Do we really expect anything to come of all this? I'm sure Shapiro knows what he is doing. He also seems to wear teflon suits. He voted against the pay raise, isn't taking the unvouchered expense money, and, unlike Greg Vitali and others, he is getting named committee chair instead of losing leadership positions. I can't keep track of the wheels within wheels of politics and the strategems employed are beyond me, but this not a job I would want. Let's hope he can turn this sow's ear into a silk purse.

A Miscellany of Links

Some interesting information I have seen recently on blogs or web sites:

America's Hometown tells us what to look for when deciding on the validity of polls.

Joe Hoeffel has continued his fight to increase the minimum wage.

Just Between Strangers brings up the sticky and intriguing concept of personal geography. When I was a kid and asked someone if they "grew up around here," they would say yes if they were anywhere within a 30 mile or so radius. Where I live now if I ask that question they will say no if they were outside a 5 miles radius. For another example, ask people what part of the country Pennsylvania is in (Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, Midwest) and see what they say. Or, what constitutes the South, the Midwest, and what should we do with those Dakotas anyway?

Anderson Cooper was a child model until someone propositioned him and he quit. In the same essay, how many words into a phone conversation with your mother are you before she becomes irritating? (My mother reads this blog so let me say that she, for one, is never irritating on the phone.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What Does This Mean?

This noncontroversial resolution passed this week. It sounds harmless enough, even though I don't quite understand what it means, but I have a terrible feeling that the vague language allows all sorts of nefarious things to happen.

Does any out there know what this means?

A Resolution memorializing the Congress of the United States to allow subsequent consolidation loans.

INTRODUCED AS NONCONTROVERSIAL RESOLUTION UNDER RULE 35, Oct. 17, 2005 Adopted, Oct. 17, 2005 (194-0)

Lois Murphy in the Money

Capitol Ideas had this to say today, regarding campaign finance reports:

New Federal Campaign Finance Reports ...
... show why the 6th Congressional District rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, and Democrat Lois Murphy could be one of the hardest fought in the country next year. Murphy turned in one of the strongest showings of any Democratic House challenger during the third quarter, coming within $170 of Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach. Murphy raised $330,236 for the period that ended Sept. 30, while Gerlach brought in $330,406. But Gerlach still had a substantial advantage in cash on hand, with $912,000 compared to $350,000 for Murphy.

Be afraid, Rep. Gerlach, be very afraid.

The Inky had this to say recently:

Unlike most of those Northeastern Republicans, Gerlach has an uneven
record on environmental and energy issues. Why? It's rarely a failure to
grasp issues. But he's in a closely divided district, where he almost
lost the last election. In the bare-knuckle world of partisan politics,
that tends to make a representative more dependent on party leaders for
election-time help and thus more susceptible to arm-twisting by the
DeLays of the world.

This is also the guy who said this past July that he doesn't think his constituents know who Tom DeLay is. While that is likely to be, in part, true, it isn't something people running for office usually say. It just doesn't look good in the opponents ads. (For example: Jim Gerlach, friend of indicted Tom DeLay, and under investigation Karl Rove, thinks the voters in his district are ignorant of current events. Lois Murphy doesn't.)

The possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lend a Hand Where You Can

The Philly Future team is asking area bloggers to consider posting a note on homelessness, and to spread the word on an event next Thursday. For more information see the excellent first person account on the philly future home page.

In my blogger profile I refer to myself as a community activist but I haven’t talked much about it. Homelessness is a big problem and it is easy to ignore it because it isn’t something you can solve with research or marches or ribbons. It is a problem that is solved person by person, one at a time, one hand helping another. It requires not only money but also personal involvement. A lot of people I know have a homeless guy, someone they look after to some degree, if only to take note of on their daily journeys.

Last May I wrote a post about my homeless guy. In it I refer to some volunteer work a group from my office does. About six years ago someone from the office signed us up and one or two days a month we take a couple of hours and open cases of canned goods and boxed mixes and put them in paper bags to be distributed to the working poor and street people. Many people can remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001. I am one of them. It was our day to bag. After hearing the news the team decided to go ahead to the church to work because unless the world ended people would be wanting their food on the regular distribution day. Someone else from work came to find us to tell us our building, heck the whole town, was shutting down and we needed to collect our stuff. I was, in fact, holding a box cutter when the person told us how the planes were hijacked. I didn’t use one again for years, preferring to tear the boxes open.

One of the street guys who has worked with the program longer than I have, went through rehab again last year. It seems to have taken this time. He’s in an efficiency apartment now, and trying to track down his grown children, whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to for years. It is amazing to watch the transformation in him.

City street people are easy to see but the suburban homeless are more furtive, sleeping in their cars, or part of a network of informal shelters. Many churches participate in a traveling homeless shelter. They band together by geographic areas to house homeless people who seek help from a particular group that sponsors the effort. For a week or two or a month the church will host one or two or three individuals or families (usually a woman alone or with children). Church people will sign up to bring in the evening meal and eat with the guests, two other people will stay in the church that night with the guests. During the day they go to a day shelter or work or school. I can’t easily do either of those services, but I sign up for the laundry team. A few weekends each year I wash the guests’ bedding and towels.

Some quilters make “ugly quilts” to distribute to the homeless. Other formal and informal groups make contributions in whatever way they can. I know people who simply make an extra sandwich a few times a week when they make their lunch and hand it out to whomever they see on the street. Sometimes simply meeting someone’s eyes and saying “hello,” can make a difference.

A fast food chain near where I live has adopted a local homeless guy. He sweeps up around the store and keeps his stuff on the store grounds. You can often see him at a table in the corner. I assume he gets some food in return for his work. The kids like burgers and fries so we take them to that store once a week. Someone told me I should write the manager a letter telling them why I picked that place, to make sure there are some positives to balance out the negative letters they surely get for befriending this guy.

What I am trying to say here is that everyone, regardless of their relative talents and financial status, can do something. Find a way that you can reach out to someone or provide some support to someone else who does.

Here is one way you can help:
The Young Friends of Project HOME are holding an important event, this Thursday, October 27, 5:30pm to 8:00pm. It's an opportunity for young professionals in Philadelphia to learn about its efforts and to network with one another. It's a chance to connect and to help.

Lick Rick

VotebluePA has a great button (lapel not html) graphic you can download. I have it here but you should visit their site for more information.

Quarterly Campaign Finance Reports

Politcspa has a nice chart giving an overview of the quarterly campaign finance reports form PA congressional races. Interesting stuff. Allyson Schwartz and Bob Brady, among other incumbents, are sitting on big pots of money for people with no formally announced competition as of Sept. 30th. Granted the elections are a year away, but given the other good causes out there it seems almost a shame for all that moola to be spent on tv ads and mailers. On the other hand, I think everybody ought to sent Patrick Murphy a check, however small.


Today I was late for a meeting because I had trouble getting the egg salad out of my shoe. Don't ask.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

weekly legislative update

The PA House and Senate were not in session this week, so no bills passed, although some were shuffled to committees and two resolutions passed. Things should be livelier next week. Our accountant friends at PICPA have updated their legislative page.

Scooter and Judy Overview

For those who have been wondering why I am writing about Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Blinq has a good overview of the entire Judy Miller / Lewis Libby / Karl Rove situation. Lewis' connections to Philadelphia aren't germane to the Plame leak but I thought they were interesting nonetheless, as well as the prior leak the he was involved in.

Friday, October 14, 2005

More Scoop on Scooter, or, Libby Leaks Again

As promised, I read through part of the senate hearings on Lewis "Scooter" Libby. In one of them, Libby is called on the carpet over a leak to the Washington Post and the New York Times, of a Department of Defense Document that Congress had requested but been denied. As you can see, tempers flared a little. Keep in mind that this testimony was given in 1992, so, although many of the names are the same, it is the first President Bush in office, not W.

These are lengthy excerpts but I didn't want to take anything way out of context. If anything on a page is left out there a dotted line to signify it. I encourage those interested to find the full hearing and read through it. There is a lot of good stuff there.

Defense Planning, Guidance and Security Issues (Hearings before the committee on Armed Services United States Senate, 102nd Congress, 2nd session, June 3, 10, 16, and 18, 1992). (Y 4 AR5/3:SHRG 102-834)

[begin p. 15]

Chairman Nunn: The Defense Planning Guidance is a classified document is that right?
Mr. Libby: That is correct sir.
Chairman Nunn: How highly classified is it? What is the highest classification?
Mr. Libby: I believe the highest classification in it is at the secret level, sir.
Chairman Nunn: At the secret level. Does the committee have a copy of the Defense Planning Guidance?
Mr. Libby: The Committee does not have one, sir.
Chairman Nunn: Do you not furnish that to Congress?
Mr. Libby: It has not ever been furnished to Congress, nor has its predecessor, the Defense Guidance, been furnished to Congress.
Chairman Nunn: So the only place we can read it is in the New York Times. Is that right?
Senator Cohen: The Washington Post
Mr. Libby: Well, sir, actually you cannot read it there either. It is a quite lengthy document. It has a lot more to it than what appeared in a few excerpts from early drafts. So far the final guidance has not appeared, fortunately, in the press.
Chairman Nunn: Do you believe the entire document has been leaked?
Mr. Libby: It is the claim of the reporters who reported it that the entire document of the two different drafts have been leaked.
Chairman Nunn: Has there been any investigation started as to who leaked the document, how it was leaked?
Mr. Libby: As I responded to the committee, and you noted earlier, I know of no investigation being done. I have consulted the appropriate officials and been advised that none is underway.
Chairman Nunn: None is underway
Mr. Libby: Correct, sir.
Chairman Nunn: Can you tell us why not?
Mr. Libby: By its nature, the Defense Planning Guidance is circulated widely throughout the building; that is the purpose of it. The professionals in the field of investigating these matters have concluded that it is not a productive use of resources, given the wide number of people who have had access to it, to try and track down which particular office or person it came from, given the current lack of any specific indication of where it might have come from.
Naturally, if we get, at a future time, some indication, of where it came from, I am told by these professionals that they would then reassess whether it would be a productive use of resources.
Chairman Nunn: How are you going to know whether you have a productive use of resources if you are not going to investigate to being with? I mean the way you find out whether you have any evidence or whether you can pursue something to its ultimate, is to begin at least a preliminary investigation and then you make a decision about whether it would be fruitful to go forward with a full investigation.
To make a decision you are not going to investigate at all seems to me is just encouraging this kind of conduct. And it makes you wonder if this is not something that the Department of Defense does encourage.

[begin p. 16]

Mr. Libby: Well, let me begin by saying it is certainly not something the Department of Defense encourages.
Chairman Nunn: Well, no, this is too much of a coincidence for me to believe, that if the first document leaked, perhaps without DOD’s approval, perhaps with out high-level official approval, then we requested a copy of that. We went though a series of exchanges back and forth and reached some kind of, I guess, accommodation, although we never got a copy in our possession.
And then the second document is prepared and it leaks out too. And Mr. Libby, that strains credibility. Did you have anything to do with either leak yourself?
Mr. Libby: No, sir, I did not.
Chairman Nunn: Do you know who leaked it, yourself?
Mr. Libby: No, sir, I have no idea.
Chairman Nunn: Do you have any evidence of who leaked it yourself?
Mr. Libby: No, sir, I do not.

[begin p. 22]

Senator Levin: All right. Is the guidance – does your testimony tend to exactly reflect the new guidance?
Mr. Libby: My testimony very closely reflects the strategy and thinking of the Department, as it is also reflected in the new guidance.
Senator Levin: Some of your testimony, as you presented it, your written testimony, is precisely word for word the guidance this I printed in the papers. Is that intentional?
Mr. Libby: That is correct, sir.
Senator Levin: So that chunks of the guidance, literally big chunks of the new guidance, which is supposed to be a classified document, appear verbatim in your testimony here today.
Mr. Libby: I would put it slightly differently. The guidance is a classified document, but within it, under the system used in the Department, many individual paragraphs are classified or unclassified. Great portions of the guidance were designed to reflect the Secretary’s testimony. And we did not intend to seek to artificially classify thoughts and strategies (a) that the Secretary had already presented to the Congress, and (b) that we very much would like to have before you in debate.
Senator Levin: Do you submit to the Congress the unclassified portions of that guidance? Have you submitted that?
Mr. Libby: No, sir, we have not.
Senator Levin: Well, there is a real inconsistency here then. I think we have a right to the entire guidance. Now we are told that big chunks of the testimony here today are verbatim portions of the guidance, which they are, because I have checked the newspaper articles against the testimony.
And the then the answer is, you have a classified internal document form which today’s testimony is stating verbatim. How then can you argue it is an internal document? The answer is that parts of it are unclassified and parts of it are classified. And then when you ask the question, well, do we get the unclassified parts, the answer is no, except in the New York Times, Washington Post and in testimony today.

Chairman Nunn: You have convinced me, Senator Levin. Mr. Libby, we have a real problem here. It was a problem on the first leak. The second leak, which I have to say seemed to me to be very convenient on behalf of those who would like to correct the first leak, makes the problem even harder.

[p. 29]

Senator Levin: Has the document now been approved – the guidance?
Mr. Libby: yes, sir.
Senator Levin: So it is final. Cheney and Powell have signed off on it?
Mr. Libby: The Secretary signs it, sir.
Senator Levin: And so he signed off on it?
Mr. Libby: yes, sir.
Senator Levin: And how many pages is it?
Mr. Libby: I would say, roughly 60.
Senator Levin: Sixty?
Mr. Libby: Sixty.
Senator Levin: It is all an internal document?
Mr. Libby: Correct, sir.
Senator Levin: How much of it is unclassified?
Mr. Libby: I have not done a calculation.
Senator Levin: A significant portion?
Mr. Libby: I would say that in the portion that relates to the overall strategy – as opposed to the scenario portion where I doubt almost anything is unclassified – in the portion that relates to the overall strategy, which might be in the first tenth of the document or so, there is a substantial amount of unclassified material. And it tracks the general line of thought with the presentation that the Secretary made to this committee on January 31.
Senator Levin: To say it is unclassified does not mean that the public can read it, then. Is that it?
Mr. Libby: That is correct.
Senator Levin: That does not mean that the public can read those unclassified sections?
Mr. Libby: That is correct, sir. That is my understanding, because the lawyers have a term for it.
Senator Levin: I think it s a whole new definition of unclassified. I have never heard that definition, where something is unclassified, but it is not open to the public.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I. Lewis Libby in Philly and Beyond

Any standard biography of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby you find will say that after graduating from law school he worked in Philadelphia before being asked to go to Washington by Paul Wolfowitz. (another example here)

Roughly two hours of searching around in newspapers and the Internet did not turn up the name of the firm where he worked. The names of the firms he worked at in DC are relatively easy to find, but that Philly firm...

In the name of curiosity and cats everywhere I decided to make it a mission to track it down. A week and a half and some time with Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearings, and I have it.

Are you ready?....

He was an associate at Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, a respected firm celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

Interested in more trivia?

Mr. Libby's wife, Harriet Grant, is also a lawyer. In fact, according to an article in the 2001 New York Times ("Cheney Aide Will Eat Horse Guts Before He'll Spill Beans," by Eric Schmitt, April 30, 2001):

Mr. Libby is married to Harriet Grant, one of the senior Democratic lawyers to interview Anita Hill during the Senate hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas.

Sen. Joe Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the Thomas hearings. Want more trivia? Earlier in the same article we learn his first name and how he got his nickname:

(It takes a phone call to Mr. Libby's older brother, Hank, to learn that the "I" stands for Irv. His nickname derives from the day Mr. Libby's father watched him crawling in his crib and joked, "He's a Scooter!")

I congratulate the NYT for having taken the time to find that information. On Friday I hope to read more of Libby's nomination hearings and will let you know if there is anything else interesting in there.

One last tidbit -- Mr. Libby does have an artistic side. In between governmental stints he wrote a novel, the Apprentice, that was well reviewed. A multi-faceted guy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Penn vs Penn State

Like most people with young children, Mr. Jane and I spend a certain amount of time thinking about the cost of college (when we're not worrying about getting the kids through elementary school or, cringe at the thought, junior high). We're both first generation college students and went to a big state university. So, you can imagine my relief when I read an article in the Oct. 10th New Yorker that touches on the relative merits of paying for an Ivy League school. The complete article, by Malcolm Gladwell, "Getting In: The Social Logic of Ivy League Admissions," is on pages 80-86; this exceprt is on pages 83-84.

“As a hypothetical example, take the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State, which are two schools a lot of students choose between,” [Alan] Krueger says. “One is Ivy, one is a state school. Penn is much more highly selective. If you compare the students who go to those two schools, the ones who go to Penn have higher incomes. But let’s look at those who got into both types of schools, some of whom chose Penn and some of whom chose Penn State. Within that set it doesn’t seem to matter whether you go to the more selective school. Now you would think that the more ambitious student is the one who would choose to go to Penn, and the ones choosing to go to Penn State might be a little less confident in their abilities or have a little lower family income, and both of those factors would point to people doing worse later on. But they don’t.”

Kruger says there is one exception to this. Students from the very lowest economic strata do seem to benefit from going to an Ivy. For most students, though, the general rule seems to be that if you are a hardworking and intelligent person you’ll end up doing well regardless of where you went to school. You’ll make good contacts at Penn. But Penn State is big enough and diverse enough that you can make good contacts there, too. Having Penn on your resume opens doors. But if you were good enough to get into Penn you’re good enough that those doors will open for you anyway.

The full study:

Dale, Stacy Berg and Alan B. Krueger. "Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College: An Application of Selection on Observables and Unobservables." December, 1998.

is available as a 54 page pdf file here.

For discussion on the topic see this article from MSN Money and this one from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

One of the little Janes attended a week-long summer class at a Penn State campus and has declared intentions of going to college there. Mr. Jane and I are encouraging any attachment to any college, if only as a carrot to wave when it is time to write book reports ("if you don't finish it on time, you'll never get into Penn State..."), but we are also very aware that Penn State is far more in line with our budget than anything with ivy on it. And so, being proud state school alums ourselves, we are pleased to see that the student makes the college experience as much as the choice of college does.

Monday, October 10, 2005

PA Property Tax vs Sales Tax

IssuesPA has two interesting articles on proposed legislation to replace the school property tax with an increased sales tax. One article discusses how the change would affect businesses, the other on how it would affect individual households. There is clearly an agenda at work here but it is a throught-provoking read nonetheless. (For example, while property owners will pay less tax, renters will pay more.)

Bad News for Many PA Kids

Keystone Politics is reporting that come January many single parents will be receiving less child support. The PA Supreme Court is changing the standard amount to be paid, adjusting it downward. While I understand the difficulty for lower-wage workers to pay child support, it won't be any easier for custodial parents to make do with less.

Philly Voter Registration Deadline

There is a reminder at A Smoke Filled Room for city residents to register to vote by tomorrow. Read here for information on important matters on the ballot.

Small Things That Make Me Happy

Every now and then I see something or something happens, something relatively ordinary, that lifts my spirits and makes my day.

Here is a list of recent small things that made me happy

1) A grocery store clerk was really helpful to me a year ago this summer. The store has a photo of the manager up so next time I saw the manager I made a point of telling him how helpful this kid (high school?) had been. A few weeks ago I saw the young man wearing a tie instead of an apron (a sure sign that he was being promoted to management). He looked a little nervous but determined. I wish him well.

2) In August I took the Little Janes plus some friends bowling. It was a good way to fritter away an afternoon and did not involve me wearing a swimsuit. When we arrived most of the groups bowling were parents with young children. Somewhere in our second game the family next to us left and we found ourselves sharing a circle of seats and a ball return with four young men, early 20's. Two were tall. Two were short. Two were African American. Two were caucausian. Three were thin. One was not. A mixed group in many ways. Initially I thought "oh, no," worried about language, rowdiness, and rough talk about women. I imagine they were equally thrilled sharing a space with us. But they really surprised me. They bowled quietly, talking among themselves and sharing a pizza. One slipped and fell but got back up without a single curse. They others teased him a little, but in a good natured way. We left before they did and I was tempted to go back and thank them for presenting such a good example to the boys in my group, but figured they would find that very odd. I made a point of talking to the kids about the young men bowling next to us, how they had encouraged and teased each other, and how they probably got together once a week or a couple of times a month to go bowling, and the importance of making and keeping good friends.

3) Last week I was going through the express line at the grocery store. The woman behind me had a loaf of Italian bread and some grapes. "How very European," I said, "all you need is some cheese." She laughed and we chatted a little. Then we both looked at my purchases, two bags of baking chips, a Mt. Dew, and some butter. "Hmmm, I don't come off so well, do I" I asked her. She smiled and said, quite truthfully, "No, I'm afraid not." It was just one of those quick, transient conversations, pleasant but passing, that helps me be optimistic about people. I tuck these memories away to be reviewed on those days when it seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Weight-y Matters

Finally realizing that I am never ever going to go to a gym on a consistent basis, about 2 months ago I started an at-home exercise routine. For upper body strength I am lifting weights. To avoid buying expensive equipment until I had stuck with it for a while I just used what we had at home. I began with cans of hominy (15 oz, about a pound) then graduated to Bush's Baked Beans (1 lb 12 oz, close to two pounds). Today, in recognition of my progress so far, I went to Target and bought 3 lb weights. Not exactly earth shattering, but this is the longest I have ever stayed with any sort of regular workout (except for daily walks, or the jogs during the failed dog experiment, but that's another story). Any day now those veins are going to start popping out on my biceps, I just know it. ;)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

weekly legislative update

While some bills were shuffled to committees this week, nothing was voted on.

Our accountant friends at PICPA have updated their weekly legislative report.

Financial Planning Week #5: Keeping Track

As I've mentioned the PA legislature declared this Financial Planning Week so I've been posting bits on the subject this week.

Today's post is a big shout out for good record keeping and knowing where you stand, financially speaking. Mr. Jane keeps a spread sheet of our car loan and mortgage, as well as our various investments. Each table is taped inside the door of the pantry, so every time either of us is rooting around for a can of soup or taco mix packet, we see those numbers. I can track our progress month by month, crossing off each payment as the first of the month passes. Sometimes when I'm looking through those pretty catalogs that come in the mail, I open the pantry door and look at our debt and investment numbers. I have to ask myself, where do I want our money to go? Do I need another sweater? Would it be better to send someone a gift basket, at an exorbitant price, or create and mail my own? It does make me stop and think.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

House Dems Highlight Schwartz

The House Democrats web site is highlighting Rep. Allyson Schwartz. Her parentage is impressive. Her father was in the Korean War. Her mother survived the Holocaust.

Schwartz is in her first term and next year will be facing her first re-election fight, often a critical point. A recent fundraising letter said "the Republicans have spent the summer courting potential opponents to try to unseat me." Apparantly all they have come up with so far is a former "Apprentice" candidate who has never held office. That can only be encouraging for Schwartz.

Financial Planning Week #4: Spend Saturday Night with Suze

All this week I've been honoring the state legislature's designation of this as Financial Planning Week. Today's tip is to watch the Suze Orman show on Saturday night. It's one from 8 p.m. onward for several hours (off and on). Yes she can be a little overbearing and arrogant, but given the number of overbearing arrogant pretentious self-righteous windbag men on tv, I find it a little refreshing to see a woman, even if she is a little annoying sometimes, too. And she does try to have a little fun. And she is helping people out with their finances. I like watching people talk about how they solved their money problems. She regularly has updates. Last week we saw the "KFC Woman" again. Mr. Jane has a regularly scheduled threesome on Saturday nights, with Suze and me.

Bermuda Triangle: Gerlach, Rove, DeLay

How much are we judged by the company we keep? In politics your friends and enemies can be a fundraising bonanza or a millstone around your neck. Possibly both at the same time. Rep. Jim Gerlach, of PA’s 6th district is having that trouble even as we speak. He squeaked through the election last time and faces Lois Murphy on the ballot again a year from November. (Read here for a description of the district.)

Gerlach has seen some controversy lately over his associations with Karl Rove and Tom DeLay. This past July Karl Rove headlined a fundraiser for him. Just getting in cost $1000, but a lucky few paid $2500 to sit in on a round table with the two. (Events like this, held by most in office, are, in my opinion, part of the reason for voter apathy. How can what I think make a difference if I don’t have $2500 or am not willing to pay $2500 to get a politician’s attention?) The event happened in the midst of the Valerie Plame affair and Rove’s name was coming up in the grand jury. Oddly enough, the CAFTA vote came up just days later (Gerlach voted for), and not long afterwards Laura Bush came to the area to help raise funds for Gerlach, too.

(Read here for a description of the event, here for a description of protests outside, here for a more general description).

While that might make some fodder for Lois Murphy’s campaign, it might not have long enough legs to last until next fall. Fortunately for Murphy, Gerlach also have close ties to Tom DeLay. In fact, he is ranked (by someone who sits down and does such things) as among the congressmen closest to DeLay. He voted in favor of weakening ethics rules to keep DeLay in power, and to allow him to stay in power even if indicted. For those working people who can be fired for so much as a bad urine test or being late on the job a few times, the idea that you can keep a position even after being indicted might seem a bit much. Gerlach has received a lot of money from DeLay’s PAC. Last October (these figures are old, you can get more recent ones from Open Secrets, see resource list on this blog), the only Pennsylvanian to receive more was Pat Toomey. Plus, Gerlach was the only congressperson from Pennsylvania to contribute to DeLay’s legal defense fund.

In an article from the Houston Chronicle, Gerlach discounted the idea that DeLay’s problems could make problems for him:

Gerlach said the Texan's ethics controversies would have little impact in the district, saying that most voters here "don't know who Tom DeLay is."

At the same time, Gerlach said the House ethics investigation should proceed and "let the chips fall where they may."

Indeed. I’m sure there are many voters in PA-06 who might take some offense at his suggested that they don’t know who DeLay is. Even if they don’t, his cavalier attitude towards their knowledge of current events might lead them to look it up. We’ll have to see.

While researching this piece, I ran across two quotes, which put side by side, show politics at its most offensive. John Brabender, Gerlach’s media consultant, a service he also provides to Rick Santorum and serves as godfather to one of Santorum’s children, said this in reponse to the Rove controversy:

"In this country we respect people's rights and until a time that some court or somebody proves that somebody has done something wrong, that we treat people with respect," Brabender said.

And yet, the first Gerlach / Murphy campaign was most noted for Gerlach’s campaign literature that tied Murphy to the Taliban (quote from a campaign volunteer):

Campaigning in late October for Lois Murphy, who challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania’s 6th district, I experienced the power of a lie. Gerlach campaign telephone message ads linked Murphy to the Taliban (MoveOn supports her, MoveOn “supports” the Taliban, ergo Murphy = Taliban-lover). Who would swallow that, I thought, especially since Murphy is a feminist? But…it worked. “Are you with the Taliban lady?” said a potential voter when I approached his door. He threatened to set his dog on me.

Somehow those two just don’t seem to match up. I hope Gerlach is wrong and that voters in his district do know who Tom DeLay is and how closely they were associated. I hope that Gerlach doesn’t resort to such awful tactics. I hope that Lois Murphy wins.

Katrina Blog

This is the blog of someone who had family in Mississippi, a town hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. The blog follows his attempts to contact his mom and little brother, and what he found when he went down to get them. Lots of photos, some hard to look at. Keep Kleenex handy.

(via Clublife)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Background on the Newspaper Situation

Many local bloggers have been following the recent announcement of cutbacks on the Inky's reporting staff. For some background on the newspaper biz generally, with some references to the Inky thrown in, read "Fault Line" in the Oct. 10 New Yorker (pp. 51-61). The story is on the Los Angeles Times but some of their top editorial staff worked at the Inky in the past and there is a mention of the newsroom cuts at not only this paper but at others. Very interesting and informative.

Financial Planning Week #3: Changing Your Mind

This being Financial Planning Week in Pennsylvania I am trying to have a daily financial post. (Lawyer note: I am not trained in financial planning and this information is presented for entertainment purposes only.)

A few years ago I read a book that really helped me chance my views on money. I used to see a big house and think "Wow! Those guys must have a lot of money." Now I think "Wow! Those guys must have a lot of debt." Trot over to your local library or bookstore and check out "The Millionaire Next Door." For a follow-up try "The Millionaire Woman Next Door." (For contrast, most of the men were married with a stay-at-home spouse. Most of the women were divorced. Women were more philanthropic than men.)

Most of the people with money, as outlined by these books, do not live in mansions or even McMansions. They live in more modest homes, have one major credit card and one department store card. They clip coupons and don't drive flashy cars.

Once you begin to think in these terms the trappings of wealth become all the more obviously the trappings of debt. It is very liberating.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Another Blogger Sued

PoliticsPA links to this Pittsburgh article outlining the story of another blogger being sued for not only the postings but the comments on his blog.

Financial Planning Week #2: Bankruptcy Rules

As mentioned yesterday, this is Financial Planning Week in Pennsylvania so I hope to have a daily financial post. (Please note that I have no training in any form of financial planning. These posts are offered for entertainment value only. Consult a trained financial planning professional for advice.)

Bankruptcy laws change on October 17th and it will become harder to declare bankruptcy. See this information from the fine folks at Nolo for more information. Wondering how this happened? Check here and here for information on how your congressional representative voted on this issue.

Groceries for Votes?

Capitol Ideas is reporting that state Rep. Peter J. Daley (D-California) is using his unvouchered expenses funded pay raise to hand out grocery gift certificates to senior citizens living in his district. Isn't that like robbing Peter to pay Paul?

A year or so ago I read about a small town mayor who used to take the money he received for officiating at weddings and give it to local charities. He had to stop because it was ruled a violation of some political finance regulation.

Monday, October 03, 2005

An Effort to Save the Children

This week the House passed a resolution to form the Katie Elise Lambert Commission, to study the causes unintentional injuries to children and recommend changes in state law. Sponsors were Josh Shapiro (D-153) and Jerry Birmelin (R-139). The commission is named after a young girl who lived in Shapiro’s district who was killed by toppled furniture. The Senate will hear testimony and vote on it this month.

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, the leading single cause of death for those in the 1-4, 5-14, and 15-24 age ranges is an accident of some kind. (The second leading cause for those 15-24 is homicide, followed by suicide, equally if not more alarming.)

The word “accident” covers a broad range of causes. Parents are always told not to look away from their young children for a second. I remember a frightening afternoon when the youngest little Jane scooped detergent out of the dishwasher while I was putting dishes away. When I turned around all I could see was a little mouth covered with green. We had the poison control hotline number of the fridge and a quick, frantic call told me how to take care of the situation.

Accident could also mean a fall, a drowning, eating something toxic, taking a parent’s medication that looked like candy, and any number of other things. This commission will take a look at what types of accidents occur in Pennsylvania most often and what can be done about them.

When I heard about this commission I was a little skeptical. It is easy to point fingers at big faceless corporations and say they are to blame. I was pleased to see wording in the commission that implies other factors will be viewed. I wonder how many accidental deaths could be prevented if, for example, parents or caregivers knew CPR. Or had the poison control hotline number on the fridge. Or just had a phone to call someone (the rural poor may not have access to a phone to call for help). You may have read how the simple act of putting babies to sleep on their backs instead of the stomach has cut down on crib deaths. Those little round bald spots they all get on the backs of their heads now are badges of honor, showing they sleep on the backs instead of tummies. Perhaps there are other simple things we can do to further cut down on child accidental death.

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz has introduced similar legislation at the federal level. This is an excellent example of state and federal officials working in concert on an issue.

Congrats to Reps. Birmelin and Shapiro, and Congressman Schwartz for these useful bits of legislation. I will follow this and let you know what happens.

Financial Planning Week #1: Roth IRA

Whiel PSOTD would like to remind us that this week is Pandemic Flu Awareness Week, in Pennsylvania it is, among other things, Financial Planning Week. In keeping with that I hope to post a daily financial planning tip, with relevant links. I missed Sunday and may miss a few more days this week, but here is today's: (Lawyer note: I am not trained in financial planning or any other aspect of financial work. These tips are to be read for entertainment value only. The intrigued should consult trained professionals before doing anything with their money.)

A Roth IRA differs from other IRAs in that you pay tax on the money as it goes in. People often try to find ways of investing money without having to pay tax on it now, but that usually means you have to pay tax on it when you take it out. There are pros and cons. Those earning good money now may prefer to pay taxes on retirement money when they are no longer working and in lower tax brackets. On the other side, we currently have a relatively low tax rate generally and there is no telling what will happen in the future.

This is one difference. There are others. For more information, talk to a financial planning specialist. For more background, look here and here.

Missing Monday

Other bloggers who highlight Missing Monday (see the Philly Future node for a list) will pick one or two people to feature. This week I'd like to highlight a site, which I will add to my template in the next few days, which keeps a database on missing Pennsylvanians. They are arranged oldest to newest sto see those who have gone missing recently, go to the end of the list.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

weekly legislative update

Here are a list of bills passed in either the house or senate this week. I'm starting to look at resolutions as well as the bills. If the resolution has substance other than "Tuesday is Gay Indian Liberation Day" I will include it. (Fans of the old WKRP tv show might recognize that phrase).

As always, the list of sponsors was deleted if it went over 3 lines in the original formatting.

Please note that spyware and privacy concerns show up a couple of times. Some good resolutions passed. More on one of them later.

Our accountant friends at PICPA have also updated their weekly update.


HB 1688 By Representatives BARRAR, KILLION, BALDWIN, RAYMOND, BOYD, SAINATO, BASTIAN, HARPER and SCHRODER. Prior Printer's No. 2150. Printer's No. 2687. An Act amending the act of June 3, 1937 (P.L.1333, No.320), known as the Pennsylvania Election Code, further providing for canvassing of official absentee ballots.

HB 1743 By Representatives MUSTIO, TURZAI, . STEVENSON, DeLUCA, FRANKEL, MARKOSEK, PETRONE, WALKO, BOYD, CALTAGIRONE, DENLINGER, FAIRCHILD, GODSHALL, HERSHEY, LEH, REED, ROHRER, TIGUE and YOUNGBLOOD. Prior Printer's No. 2230. Printer's No. 2741. An Act amending the act of July 28, 1953 (P.L.723, No.230), known as the Second Class County Code, further providing for assessment limits on counties of the second class; and providing for effect of appeal, escrow and payment under protest.

Serial No. 161 Prior Printer's No. 1179. Printer's No. 2744.
A Resolution directing the Public Employee Retirement Commission to study the feasibility of providing State premium assistance to surviving spouses of State Employees' Retirement System members who participated in the Retired Employee Health Program through the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund.

Serial No. 357 By Representatives SHAPIRO and BIRMELIN. Printer's No. 2246. A Concurrent Resolution establishing the Katie Elise Lambert Commission on Child Safety in this Commonwealth.

HB 761 Prior Printer's Nos. 923, 1920, 1992. Printer's No. 2761.
An Act amending Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for the offense of invasion of privacy; and providing for actions involving products or services used to invade privacy.


Serial No. 160 By Senators GREENLEAF, COSTA, LEMMOND, ORIE, EARLL, RAFFERTY, O'PAKE, FERLO, ERICKSON, ARMSTRONG, WONDERLING, WASHINGTON, BOSCOLA and STACK. Printer's No. 1112. A Concurrent Resolution directing the Joint State Government Commission to establish a bipartisan task force with an advisory committee to conduct a comprehensive review of the current status of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services within the panoply of methods of conflict resolution available in this Commonwealth, to identify relevant best practices in the delivery of ADR services locally and nationally and how to improve conflict resolution in this Commonwealth by incorporating these best practices, to develop a plan for educating the citizens of this Commonwealth about conflict resolution in general and the use of ADR services in particular, as well as ensuring access to all needed ADR services, utilizing best practices and to propose legislation as may be required to implement the proposed plan and advance the use of innovative conflict resolution methods Statewide in the civil courts and in schools, businesses, government, criminal and juvenile justice systems and other community settings.

HB 1261 Printer's No. 1487. An Act amending Title 51 (Military Affairs) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for deferred motor vehicle insurance coverage.

SB 711 Prior Printer's Nos. 858, 897. Printer's No. 1110. An Act providing for the protection of consumers from having spyware deceptively installed on their computers and for criminal and civil enforcement.

Serial No. 158 By Senators BROWNE, O'PAKE, M. WHITE, EARLL, BOSCOLA, COSTA and ERICKSON. Prior Printer's No. 1086. Printer's No. 1118. A Concurrent Resolution establishing a task force to study the current system for providing services to indigent criminal defendants, to review how other states provide these services and to make recommendations to the General Assembly.

HB 761 Prior Printer's Nos. 923, 1920, 1992. Printer's No. 2761.
An Act amending Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for the offense of invasion of privacy; and providing for actions involving products or services used to invade privacy.

SB 358 Prior Printer's No. 420. Printer's No. 1141. An Act amending Title 51 (Military Affairs) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, defining "combat zone;" and further providing for limitations in educational assistance program.

SB 682 By Senators KITCHEN, MELLOW, FUMO, LAVALLE, HUGHES, MUSTO, KASUNIC, WOZNIAK, BOSCOLA, FERLO, STACK, COSTA, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, O'PAKE, LOGAN, TARTAGLIONE and FONTANA. Prior Printer's Nos. 819, 1116. Printer's No. 1143. An Act amending the act of April 9, 1929 (P.L.177, No.175), known as The Administrative Code of 1929, providing for eligibility for subsidized child day care.

SB 867 By Senators TOMLINSON, D. WHITE, LOGAN, COSTA, BOSCOLA, RAFFERTY, RHOADES, ORIE, ERICKSON, GORDNER, WONDERLING, O'PAKE, WAUGH, BROWNE, LAVALLE and PIPPY. Printer's No. 1132. An Act making an appropriation to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for the purpose of funding grants under the act of July 31, 2003 (P.L.73, No.17), known as the Volunteer Fire Company and Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Act.

HB 761 Prior Printer's Nos. 923, 1920, 1992. Printer's No. 2761. An Act amending Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for the offense of invasion of privacy; and providing for actions involving products or services used to invade privacy.