Monday, September 30, 2013

Constitution Center Will Remain Open During Shutdown

from the inbox:

 The National Constitution Center, a private, non-profit institution located on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, will remain open, should the federal government go into partial shutdown. The museum will operate under its regularly-scheduled hours, Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. All events taking place at the museum will continue as scheduled. Historic Philadelphia attractions including the Betsy Ross House, Franklin Square, and Historic Philadelphia Center will also remain open. For hours and more information, contact please call visit To stay updated on the government shutdown, visit the museum’s blog Constitution Daily at

That Test We Don't Want to Talk About

A few years ago a man on my street died.  He was about my age and left a widow and three children in high school or younger.  He died of colon cancer.  Today I learned that someone else I know has advanced colon cancer.  He has a wife and two children at home.

The standard test for colon cancer is a colonoscopy and both men and women are encouraged to have it done when they are 50 thereabouts.  The procedure involves inserting a camera into the rectum to examine the colon.  The patient is under sedation during the procedure.  I recently had my baseline colonoscopy, a few years after my 50th birthday.  The procedure itself is not bad, the sedation kicks in immediately and wears off quickly.  Patients stay in the office for a short time afterwards, then they can leave.  A driver / responsible party has to stay in the doctor's office for the entire procedure.  I was out within a couple of hours.

The preparation is the hard part.  The proctologist who performs the procedure wants a patient's colon to be as cleaned out as possible.  The evening before I had it done I had to drink a lot of water and a cup of an unpleasant tasting liquid.  Knowing I would spend a lot of time in the bathroom I downloaded a new novel onto my Kindle, W is for Wasted (no pun intended) and settled in.  It's a little messy but not horrible.  The next morning I drank another cup of the prep liquid.  I went to the doctor's office around 1 and was home in a couple of hours.  No muss no fuss.  The doctor was able to tell me immediately how things looked.  Mine was okay.

Since colon cancer is slow growing a colonoscopy is only needs to be done every 10 years (5 years for some).  So, dear reader, if you are 50 or older (younger with a family history of colon cancer), and haven't had a baseline colonoscopy done, please call and schedule one as quickly as possible.  It's a little undignified but not as uncomfortable as a paper smear or physical therapy.

Save a life (yours) and save your family a great deal of uncertainty and grief, get a colonoscopy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Creepy Uncle Sam Videos

A conservative organization called Generation Opportunity  has been running ads discouraging young people from signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.  There is one aimed at young women and another at young men.  Both go in for a medical exam, and after the doctor hears the patients have signed up for ObamaCare, the doctor leaves the room.  The woman is in a hospital gown lying on an exam table with her feet in the stirrups for a gynecological exam.  The young man is asked to take off his pants and lay on his side on an exam table, clearly being positioned for a rectal exam.  In both, after the doctor leaves the room, someone in an Uncle Sam costume and an oversize mask or head sculpture showing a face frozen in a creepy smile / grimace, who seems to have been crouching behind the patient, slowly rises.  He is behind the young man and between the young woman's legs.  It is clearly the prelude to a sexual assault.  You can watch the videos online.

There has been a political effort to interfere with women's gynecological health but it has not been part of ObamaCare.  It is the result of Republicans, primarily at the state house or senate level, but some congressional or senate action, trying to limit women's access to health care or force them to look at ultrasounds they did not want.  (Remember Gov. Corbett's "just close your eyes" comment?)

Two women's organizations have also chimed in on this; here is the press release via the inbox:

Leaders from women’s rights advocacy group the Women’s Law Project and its action arm WomenVote PA, expressed strong condemnation today about the anti-Obamacare ad from the group Generation Opportunity and has called for its immediate stop.
“We join other women’s organizations today in expressing our outrage at Generation Opportunity’s new online ad ‘Want Creepy Uncle Sam?” said Kate Michelman, co-chair of WomenVote PA.  “This ad represents a profound violation of a woman’s personal privacy and blatantly uses a woman’s most vulnerable situation – an OB/GYN exam - for political purposes.  It left me nearly speechless for the shocking insult it is to a woman’s dignity.  Further, this ad makes the case for removing government interference in health care, yet is brought to you by the same people who work day and night to insert government into decisions affecting a woman’s right to privacy and access to abortion and contraception,” said Michelman. 
Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chair with Michelman of WomenVote PA, said, “This ad is beyond offensive.  The strange Uncle Sam character is not just creepy; it is menacing and, with a leering grin and speculum in hand, it a clear depiction of sexual violence  .  Those media outlets choosing to run this ad should be forewarned: the gender gap will undoubtedly grow larger with ads like this and women will be watching.  We believe this ad should be removed from circulation immediately,” said Tracy.
The ad produced by conservative group Generation Opportunity and funded by the Koch Brothers, depicts a horror-movie version of Uncle Sam rising from between a young woman’s legs at her doctor’s office and assuming the doctor role himself — a satirical jab at President Obama’s government being allowed to “play doctor.” 

About the Women’s Law ProjectThe Women's Law Project joined the fight for women's rights in 1974, founded by a group of feminist attorneys devoted to equality and justice.  Since its establishment, the non-profit organization has challenged sex discrimination in employment, education, athletics, and insurance; advanced the rights of lesbian and gay parents; advocated on behalf of impoverished women; worked for fair and accessible procedures in child custody, child support, and protection from abuse actions; and championed the rights of sexual assault survivors.  For more information, visit

About WomenVote PAWomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project that connects a woman's right to a full-range of reproductive health choices, economic security, and freedom from violence, with the importance of civic engagement, including the exercise of her vote.  For more information, visit  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Capitol All-Stars Softball Game

from the inbox:

Nearly one out of every six Pennsylvanians is at risk of hunger and may not know where their next meal is coming from. Now the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) and the Pennsylvania Legislative Services (PLS) are joining in the fight to combat hunger in the Commonwealth by sponsoring the first ever Capitol All-Stars Softball Game. The game will be held on Monday, September 30th at Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg.

This charity softball game will feature more than 50 state legislators from both sides of the aisle, coming together as East and West teams to benefit Feeding Pennsylvania and Hunger-Free Pennsylvania. Both organizations are dedicated to relieving hunger for the more than two million Pennsylvanians in need through their statewide network of affiliated food banks, food pantries, and other hunger relief organizations.

Among the more than 50 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly giving of their time to participate in this game are: Pennsylvania Legislative Hunger Caucus co-chairs, Senator Mike Brubaker and Representative Jake Wheatley; honorary team captains for the West, Speaker of the House Sam Smith and Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa; and honorary team captains for the East, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi.

The fun-filled, seven-inning softball game will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Metro Bank Park on City Island in Harrisburg. The suggested price of general admission will be a $5 donation or a donation of five non-perishable food items. Food and beverages will be available for purchase at the game. In addition, raffle tickets will be sold at the game for a chance to win numerous items donated by organizations such as the Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. Raffle winners must be present to win.
For those who are unable to join in person, there are still ways that you can catch the action and be a part of the Capitol All-Stars experience. That evening, the game will be aired live on PCN. In addition, donations in support of the cause can be made online at:

September is Hunger Action Month, when food banks across the nation unite to urge individuals to take action to fight hunger in their communities. In celebration of Hunger Action Month, all proceeds from the Capitol All-Stars Softball Game will benefit Feeding Pennsylvania and Hunger-Free Pennsylvania in an effort help those Pennsylvanians in need. According to statistics released in June by Feeding America, based on the most recent data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 1.9 million Pennsylvanians struggled with food insecurity in 2011. This includes nearly 560,000 children – 1 in 5 – living in Pennsylvania.

About Feeding PennsylvaniaFeeding Pennsylvania is a collaborative effort of nine Feeding America-affiliated food banks in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The mission of Feeding Pennsylvania is to promote and aid our member food banks in securing food and other resources to reduce hunger and food insecurity in their communities and across Pennsylvania and to provide a shared voice on the issues of hunger and food access within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more information about Feeding Pennsylvania, please visit, connect with us on Facebook at, and follow us on Twitter at

About Hunger-Free PennsylvaniaHunger-Free Pennsylvania comprises a network of food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, charities and other hunger relief organizations working together to end hunger in Pennsylvania. The network has 21 members serving all 67 counties. Learn more about Hunger-Free Pennsylvania online at or via Facebook at 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rumor Has It: Madam Mayor

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.  The next mayoral race in Philadelphia will be an open race; Mayor Nutter can't run again.  Many conversations among local politicos will touch on who the most likely candidates will be.  Since Philadelphia has never had a female mayor there is speculation on possible female candidates.

Lately I've heard a few new names mentioned.

Earlier this month the Philadelphia Daily News had a brief interview with Renee Hughes Jones, ("From disasters to City Hall?" by Sean Collins Walsh 9/  /2013).  Here is how they described Jones:

Renée Cardwell Hughes is a lot of things: former Common Pleas judge, ex-wife of state Sen. Vincent Hughes, current chief executive officer of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross. And if some observers of local politics get their way, the 59-year-old will add another title in three years: mayor of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Magazine also put her on their list of potential female mayoral candidates.

Another name I've heard floating around is Terry Gillen.  She has been a force in Philadelphia for a number of years, including working on on the Navy Yard Master Plan, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.  For information on her work with the RDA, see Donald Groff's interview with her on Plan Philly in 2009.

I've met both women in passing.  Both are excellent public speakers, though with very different styles.  Both are bright and personable.  Take note, Philadelphia.

Some Health Care Notes

An assortment of health care related items in the inbox today:

The White House has released a 15 page issue brief, Health Insurance Marketplace Briefs, on the Affordable Care Act.  You can also take a look at a state specific infographic on costs (click on the state for detailed information).

There is a new web page in Spanish on the Affordable Care Act: is the first website in Spanish of its kind that provides consumers with the opportunity to take control of their health care through a variety of resources that will help them access quality, affordable health coverage. Leading up to National Hispanic Week of Action, the site will continue to add functionality such as a new online enrollment tool that will allow consumers to create accounts, complete an online application, and shop for health plans that fit their budget and needs - all in Spanish.  

Three Points on PA School Funding

An assortment of notes from the inbox regarding the funding of PA Schools:

"Property Tax Elimination Bill Threatens Long-term Public School Funding" by Sharon Ward, PA Budget and  Policy Center 9/25/2013

first two paragraphs:

Pennsylvania contributes a smaller share of the cost of educating its students than most states, leaving local taxpayers to contribute more. This makes the resources available to public education highly dependent on local wealth and property taxes burdensome for some individuals.
Restoring the state’s commitment to fund 50% of the cost of public schools would go a long way toward solving both problems — ensuring that students who live in modest and lower-wealth districts get the same high-quality education as their wealthier counterparts, and reducing the pressure on property taxpayers.

Property tax elimination proposals, including HB 76 and SB 76, pose a serious threat to stable, predictable education funding.

 State Rep. James Roebuck weighs in:

State Rep. James Roebuck, Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, responded to today's announcement of a limited bill to post school financial data online:
"I welcome more support for transparency in school funding, but we already know that we are overpaying at least $365 million to charter and cyber charter schools. Reform legislation should also return that $365 million to our underfunded traditional public schools to restore services for students and reduce the burden on local property taxpayers. Unfortunately, the House Republican leadership is planning a vote as soon as today on a weak cyber/charter bill (H.B. 618) that would return only about 11 percent of those overpayments. I’ve introduced a more comprehensive reform bill, H.B. 934, that would return the $365 million and has stronger transparency and accountability requirements."

Brett Mandel gives a parent's perspective:

Campus Philly Day

from the inbox:

This Saturday, September 28th the plaza facing Eakins Oval at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will host Campus Philly’s annual College Day festival, welcoming and helping students start exploring Philadelphia. 
For many, this event makes a dramatic impression. “My first Campus Philly College Day was 10 years ago and it was my first experience seeing Philadelphia beyond the borders of Temple University's campus,” says Rashid Zakat, now a Philadelphia-based artist and videographer. “I met friends from other universities and became acquainted with organizations that now I’m involved in. Campus Philly College Day exposed me to Philadelphia's art, culture and opportunities, all major factors that have kept me happy living in Philadelphia.”
College Day features:
  • Free admission to museums along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Old City, including: Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Perelman Building and Rodin Museum, Franklin Institute, Moore College of Art and Design, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia History Museum, African American Museum in Philadelphia and National Constitution Center.
  • Opportunity to sign-up for Open Arts, Campus Philly’s new cultural access program for college students to explore the city on a budget.
  • Local and national partners and vendors connecting Philadelphia’s newest residents with opportunities, special offers, giveaways and games, from foosball to climbing walls.
  • Involvement Fair featuring local non-profits and community organizations with opportunities for students to meet their community and make an impact.
  • More than 6,000 students from 80 schools enjoying music and food on the front steps of the City of Brotherly Love.

“College Day is the best way for college students to kick off their connection to Philadelphia in ways that will shape their experience of the city, of college and their future here,” says Campus Philly’s President, Deborah Diamond. “As an organization, we focus on the three drivers for students to build lasting connections to Philadelphia: involvement in the community; access to internships and the richness of our arts and culture.” 
College Day is sponsored by Campus Philly’s partner colleges and universities, the City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Army ROTC, Bottom Dollar Food, IKEA, and is produced in partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the cultural institutions and attractions of the City of Philadelphia. 
For more details on this event please visit

McCord Makes It Official

It wasn't exactly a surprise but State Treasurer Rob McCord has announced that he is running for governor.  Campaign website:  .  Here is the official announcement:

Today at events in Blue Bell, PA at Montgomery County Community College and in Pittsburgh at the apprenticeship training center at IBEW Local 5, State Treasurer Rob McCord announced his campaign for Pennsylvania Governor.  McCord cited the need to start investing in Pennsylvania families again as well as the importance of prioritizing education, standing up for seniors, and creating jobs for hard-working Pennsylvanians.

“Somewhere along the way Governor Corbett decided to stop investing in Pennsylvania families,” said McCord.  “I think that’s been a terrible mistake and I’m going to make sure we start investing again.  That means reversing the devastating cuts he made to the K-12 system, making college more affordable, protecting seniors’ pensions, helping seniors stay in their homes longer, and prioritizing job creation. Tom Corbett has been a bad governor and I’m ready to get us back on track.”
Raised by a single mother from the age of four, McCord also highlighted his personal story which included overcoming learning challenges to graduate from Lower Merion High School, Harvard, and later the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
“My dad left when I was four and those first few years were tough,” said McCord. “I know there were families that had it worse than we did, but I also knew at an early age what economic insecurity felt like.  My mom, to her credit, never gave up.  She was a teacher and, as you might guess, she believed in education. When I think back on those early years, what amazes me is that my brother and I never had any doubt that we could do anything we put our minds to – so long as we were willing to work for it. Our dreams were never limited by who we knew or how much money we had. I went to public school here in Pennsylvania; got a great education that allowed me to continue on to Harvard and later, the Wharton School of Business. Looking back on it, it was education that opened the door for me. That’s why I feel so passionately about making sure we give today’s kids the same opportunities I had.”
McCord also detailed the ways in which he’s stood up to Tom Corbett when he’s made bad proposals.
“I know a lot of people are talking about taking on Tom Corbett, but I’ve been doing it since he was elected,” said McCord.  “When I became treasurer I knew I’d need to focus on cutting waste, improving efficiency, and making the office more customer friendly, but what I didn’t know was how much of my time would be spent standing up to a bad governor.  When he tried to privatize the Pennsylvania lottery and sell it to a company in Great Britain, I said no. When he tried to pay a website company $5.1 million in a no-bid contract, I refused to pay it. And when he eliminated health care for 41,000 working Pennsylvanians, I stood up and called him on it. The way I see it, the only way we’re going to stop him for good is to make sure he doesn’t get re-elected. And after we beat him, the first thing I’ll do is reverse the devastating, destructive cuts he made to our education system. We owe at least that much to Pennsylvania’s families.” 
 McCord also launched his new campaign website today at

Friday, September 20, 2013

SEPTA Hackathon

modified press release:

This weekend SEPTA will team up with other agencies and the local tech community to develop apps and other online tools designed to provide riders with new options for accessing SEPTA and other transit-related information.  Public participants include Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Philadelphia International Airport, Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority.  
SEPTA’s Developer Network was launched to build partnerships between SEPTA and the local tech community, with the goal of fostering the growth of apps and other online tools. SEPTA data, such as schedules and on-time performance information, has been a keen point of interest in the development of apps and other online tools aimed at giving riders travel and other SEPTA-related information. The Developer Network allows SEPTA IT personnel to work with local tech talent – often through events such as “hackathons” – to provide the data in an easy format. This gives developers easy access to the information they need, and allows SEPTA to make sure they are giving riders accurate information through the applications they create. For more information, visit

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

HB 1576: Endangering PA's Endangered Species

Today's inbox brought a press release from State Rep. Steve McCarter highlighting concerns he has about HB 1576, called the Endangered Species Coordination Act.  McCarter is a good guy so I took a look.  State Rep. Metcalfe is one of the sponsors; I often disagree with his views.  Sadly, State Rep. Tom Murt is also a co-sponsor.  This is not the first time I've looked at legislation, been alarmed at what I saw, and noted that Murt was a co-sponsor.  I have met Murt a time or two at public events; initially I was favorably impressed, these days not so much.

The Act has 10 sections.  The first is a short title; the second defines terms used in the bill.

Section three reads:

No Commonwealth agency may take action to designate or consider fish, wildlife or plants as threatened or endangered unless the fish, wildlife or plants are designated under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-205, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.) or pursuant to this act.  
Any state agency wishing to declare a species endangered must (section 4):

The Commonwealth agency shall provide detailed reasons and a summary of the acceptable data and methodology upon which theproposed designation is base d, as well as the activities that may be affected by such designation, to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and to the standing committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives with jurisdiction over the Commonwealth agency for purposes of this act.
 For those unfamiliar with the IRRC, it's website provides this description:

The General Assembly passed the Regulatory Review Act in 1982 which established the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. IRRC was created to review Commonwealth agency regulations, excluding the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission, to ensure that they are in the public interest.

Note that at present it excludes the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission.  According to IRRC's website it does currently include the Dept of Environmental Protection but there are not regulations listed for that agency.

Section four also includes this note:

Any species designated as threatened or endangered pursuant to 30 Pa.C.S. (relating to fish) or 3 Pa.C.S. (relating to game) prior to the effective date of this section shall be removed from the centralized database after a period of two years unless the Commonwealth agency redesignates the species as threatened or endangered in accordance with the provisions of this act.

Two years seems a rather short time period for a species to be removed from the database.  If every species has to be re-designated every two years that's a lot of work for the IRRC.

Section five states that species must be in danger of extinction" throughout all or a significant portion of its range" and another section states it can only be considered threatened if it is likely to become endangered "in the foreseeable future."

Section eight includes a rather chilling, at least to me, statement.  The section says that information in the centralized database shall be available to the public but:

Persons receiving the information may only disclose the information to other persons with prior written authorization from the department.
Really?  You can't disclose that information to anyone else without written permission?  It should be noted that in the definitions section the definition of person included corporations.  It lists only three acceptable uses of the information and states the penalty for violating the law will be between $250.00 and $5,000.00.

I can't see how this benefits the Commonwealth, its citizens or the wildlife that resides here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Isaiah Thompson's Reality Check on Education Funding

Isaiah Thompson has written a nice article on education funding in Pennsylvania.  Check out "Reality Check:  Corbett and public education funding," 8/30/12 on AXIS:  Philly.

Two Debates at Constitution Center

On Tuesday, Sept. 17th, Constitution Day, the National Constitution Center will host two public debates on current issues.  Admission is free but reservations are recommended.

The first discussion will debate the usage of drones as they relate to issues of personal privacy, public safety, and constitutional rights.It will be at 2:30 pm. The National Constitution Center’s President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen sits down with Georgetown University Law Professor Carrie F. Cordero and University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Claire Finkelstein to discuss the constitutional implications of drones for targeted assassinations and the use of domestic drones for surveillance by U.S. law enforcement.

The second will center around Pennsylvania’s current ban on same sex-marriage in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to throw out part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  Philadelphia magazine editor Tom McGrath moderates a timely and critical conversation on the future of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania with Mark Aronchick and Greg Randall Lee representing both sides of the debate. National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen will provide his constitutional perspective on the issue.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Two Reactions to Corbett's Medicaid Announcement

from the inbox, two reactions to Corbett's Medicaid announcement:

Family Planning Council released the following statement in response to Governor Tom Corbett’s Healthy Pennsylvania plan and Medicaid expansion announcement:
 “We are heartened to hear that conversations about expanding health care coverage are moving forward and that negotiations are in progress.  As a safety-net provider serving the most vulnerable populations regardless of their coverage levels, the details related to implementation and health care access are very important to us.  In Family Planning Council’s network of family planning clients alone, Medicaid expansion would mean up to 32,500 consumers could be eligible for full health coverage under Medicaid.  Without this coverage, significant numbers of people who live in our service area will remain uninsured for critical coverage, exacerbating health disparities in our communities.  
We will review carefully the details of Healthy Pennsylvania and monitor the impact of today’s announcements.  As a member of the Cover the Commonwealth campaign, we will continue our long-standing commitment to advocating for Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.”    
 -          Melissa Weiler Gerber, executive director of Family Planning Council
Family Planning Council advances sexual and reproductive health outcomes to promote health equity for individuals, families and communities. For more information about Family Planning Council programs, visit,


Governor Corbett  has announced his support of expanding health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion.
Antoinette Kraus, Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network issued the following statement in response:
"It is good to see Governor Corbett acknowledge the reality that a majority of Pennsylvanians already understand: Medicaid Expansion is vital to the health of Pennsylvania families, and to our economy. 
Expanding coverage right away will not only protect 613,000 low-income Pennsylvanians who will finally have access to stable, affordable health coverage, it will also generate $522 million in state budget savings in 2014 and keep us on track to create 35,000 new, good-paying jobs across the Commonwealth.
Today’s announcement is a good first step, but that path forward will determine whether or not the Corbett Administration does this in a way that will truly benefit Pennsylvania families and taxpayers.
The governor should not use this opportunity to expand coverage to strip protections and benefits from seniors, children, and people with disabilities who are currently covered by Medicaid. Expanding coverage for some while reducing coverage for others is not a responsible plan. The governor should not put more obstacles in the path of hardworking Pennsylvanians or set the price of coverage so high that it remains unaffordable.
We will continue to work with our partners and lawmakers to ensure Pennsylvania takes full advantage of the cost-savings and benefits under Medicaid Expansion. The time for delay is over."

I Stand Corrected

Last March I wrote a post about the proposed contract for Philadephia schools.  One sentence paragraph from that post read:

What is even sadder is that I doubt these policies, if implemented, will be implemented across the board.  Check back a year from now and see if Masterman High School still has a librarian, textbooks, and desks for teachers.  I'd bet the farm that it will, even if other schools don't. 

I was wrong.  Masterman's library is closed.  "Budget crisis shutters libraries at 2 top schools," by Susan Snyder appeared in the 9/13 Inquirer.  Granted they may be able to re-open it, but the fact that a school like Masterman could lose it's library and its librarian is unthinkable.  Most of the smart people I know in Philadelphia have their kids in Masterman.  It didnt' really matter what the rest of the Philly schools were like because people could figure out a way to get their children into one of the top magnet schools, mini-Princetons and mini-UPenns [see update below].  But a school without a school library can't offer the kind of educational assistance that a school with a library can.  Colleges and universities, especially the kind of schools Masterman students go to, know that too.

This is a disaster.

update:  Well, that was a poorly worded sentence wasn't it?  This is what happens when I blog late at night.  I did not mean to say that it didn't matter what the rest of the public schools were like.  What I meant to say was that as long as the city could point to some top magnet schools the city could attract and keep families with school age children.  If those schools lose their status the overall image of the school system will undoubtedly slip to that of the worse common denominator, and that is not going to bring or keep people here.  Apologies for the previous poor wording.  It is a wonder what a night's sleep and breakfast can do for one's clarity.

The New News

As mentioned in other blog posts, I don't get control of the household television until 9 pm, and then I share it with Mr. J.  News tends to be a late night event for me.  Normally that means CNN because, hey, they're all news all the time.  The even ever excellent Anderson Cooper is a case in point.  But lately they've been doing more "programming."  That means talking head shows where the "experts" yell at and talk over each other.  It's not informative and it's not educational.  There are also hour long issue shows or documentaries, which can be educational and informative but not when they're replayed several nights in a row.

Now there's a new game in town.  If CNN is not providing news when I click on that channel I switch over to Al Jazeera America.  Granted it may not be the most balanced approach but it provides information, often from a different viewpoint.  It also has news on most of the time, and that's what I'm looking for.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

ObamaCare News

A few links about the Affordable Care Act, with specific focus on women's health care:

Planned Parenthood has launched a new website to inform women about ObamaCare and how it will affect them.  Check it out at:

If you have a story to tell there is a site for that as well.  ObamaCare Stories lets women leave messages on how the new health care law has affected them.

The health care exchanges are slated to start on Oct. 1st.

SEPTA's Proposed Service Cuts

SEPTA has announced that without more funding in the near future that it will cut nine of the 13 regional rail lines, the Broad Ridge Spur, and replace trolleys with buses, which will also be reduced.  Preliminary reports like this tend to be "worst case scenarios" with cuts made in the worst possible places.  Nonetheless, even if just a few rail lines are shut down those people will either be on the road or won't be able to travel.  There will be more unemployment if people can't get to their jobs, and the roads (and bridges) will have to absorb the additional traffic.

When I drive in instead of taking the train the roads I'm on are already packed.  More train people added to the load will significantly slow down already slow rush hour traffic.  The wear and tear and the roads will mean either more money spent on repair and more emergency vehicles as the increased traffic will surely lead to an increase in accidents.

Public transit is an economic plus.  Getting people from their homes to existing or potential jobs increases employment opportunities.  Train time increases productivity.  People on the train are often doing something, writing, computer work, knitting, doing crossword puzzles.  Employers of people doing work on the train are the recipients of that additional time.  Train time is community building time.  People see their neighbors and others who take the same train on a regular basis.  Friendships are formed.  Acquaintances are made.

We need the trains.  I'm hoping this will work out.

Eight More Countries Sign Statement on Syria

On Tuesday, eight additional countries – Georgia, Guatemala, Kuwait, Malta, Montenegro, Panama, Poland and Portugal – signed on to the joint statement on Syria that was issued on September 6. That statement condemns in the strongest terms the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on August 21 in the suburbs of Damascus and calls for a strong international response. The statement explicitly supports the efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. 

Free Beer Train on Sunday

As a teetotaller with limited interest in sporting events I view this information somewhat warily but understand this puts me in a small minority.  I encourage readers going to the game to use public transit.

SEPTA has partnered with Miller Lite to provide free rides on the Broad Street Line for this Sunday’s Eagles Home Opener Game.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on game day – Sunday, September 15, 2013 - free rides will available on the Broad Street Line. This includes no charges for regular fares or transfers. The eight-hour free-ride window provides plenty of time for travel to and from Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles and Chargers face-off at 1 p.m.
To accommodate fans, SEPTA will supplement regularly scheduled service with ten extra Sports Express trips on the Broad Street Line. Sports Express trips will run every 10 minutes starting at approximately 10:10am.
The Broad Street Line offers convenient access to Lincoln Financial Field and other Sports Complex venues via AT&T Station. Broad Street Line trains are also easily accessible from a variety of SEPTA travel modes and other transit services (Please note: Regular rates apply to all other transit services during the Miller Lite free ride event). 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Municipal Pension Plan Audits Online

The State Auditor General's office audits municipal pension plans (nonuniform pension plans and police pension plans).  These reports do not necessarily go into a lot of detail; their purpose is to decide if the municipality's plans are compliant with state law.  The ones I looked at were around 10-15 pages long with a lot of blank sheets between sections. 

They are available at:

SEPTA Buses for Lansdale Doylestown Line

from the inbox:

Due to overhead wire work along SEPTA’s Lansdale/Doylestown Regional Rail Line, shuttle buses will replace train service on Saturdays and Sundays between Lansdale and Doylestown stations September 14-15, 21-22, 28-29, October 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27, 2013.

Shuttle bus departure times may differ from regularly scheduled train times, passengers should refer to schedules posted at stations or online at for shuttle bus schedules.

Doylestown Station passengers traveling inbound to Center City will board shuttle buses
approximately 15-20 minutes earlier than their regularly scheduled train times. After leaving
Doylestown station, shuttle buses will make all scheduled station stops before connecting passengers with trains at Lansdale Station. Trains will depart from Lansdale Station at regularly scheduled train times.

Outbound Lansdale/Doylestown trains will operate as far as Lansdale and arrive at regularly
scheduled train times. Passengers bound for stations located between Lansdale and Doylestown will transfer from trains to waiting shuttle buses at Lansdale Station to complete their outbound trips.

Shuttle bus passengers should add approximately 20 minutes onto their trips.

Change to PA Legislature Emails

If you, like me, subscribe to the daily email of legislative happenings in Pennsylvania, you will be receiving a note that the emails will be changing, starting next Monday:

We are pleased to let you know that we're upgrading our current subscription service with a new and improved system called PaLegis Notifications.

Some of the new features will allow you to:
Filter notifications by chamber action.
Receive notifications on committee activity - including upcoming meetings, recent committee votes, and legislation referrals.
Receive alerts when individual bills that you subscribe to are scheduled for a committee meeting and voted on in committee.
Create and manage your own password.
I don't know exactly what this means, but we'll all find out on Monday.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

CDC Report Shows Historic Low in Teen Birth Rate

from the inbox earlier this week:

New CDC Report on Historic Low in Teen Birth Rate Shows Sex Education and Contraception Work, Says Planned Parenthood
A report out today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that teen birth rates have continued to decline across nearly all ethnic and racial groups, reaching a historic low in 2012 — the lowest teen birth rate since 1940 (the year when teen birth data began being collected). The birth rate in the U.S. for teens 15-19 years old was down six percent in 2012. Since 2007, the teen birth rate in the U.S. has dropped almost a third (from 41.5 births per 1,000 teenagers 15-19 years to 29.4 births). Since 1991, it has dropped by more than half (from 61.8). 
“Today’s report underscores the critical importance of high-quality sex education and access to affordable contraception for teens,” said Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania. 
“While this progress is a great win for public health, the U.S. still has the highest teen birth rate of any developed country in the world. It’s imperative that we continue to provide young people with accurate information and access to services to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” Planned Parenthood works every day to prevent teen pregnancy. Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania and other affiliates provide sex education programs in schools and communities across the country to more than a million people including parents.

Cool Cookie Graphic

If you've heard about online data collection, how cookies track your online behavior, but haven't understood exactly how that works, there is a cool graphic that explains all.

Take a look at:

One of the products listed in the tracking scenario is female in nature -- the squeamish have been forewarned.

Home Sale in Montco

from the inbox:

Montgomery County Treasurer Jason Salus, who also serves as the County’s Director of Tax Claim, invites qualified bidders to participate in the Thursday, September 12th Upset Real Estate Tax Sale. Properties offered at the Upset Sale are delinquent for two years on their real estate taxes.
The 2013 Upset Sale process began this July, when over 1,300 delinquent taxpayers receivedtheir first formal notice of the sale proceedings. Since then, more than 700 property owners have made payment or entered payment plans, resulting in $3.3 million of 2011 county, school,township and borough taxes collected. As a result, there are currently 603 properties remainingon the sale list. Typically, property owners make payments up until the morning of the sale toavoid having their property exposed to sale.
The minimum bid for each property offered at the Upset Sale is collection costs, outstandingtaxes and municipal liens. Properties purchased at Upset Sale are subject to all outstanding liensand encumbrances. “The Upset Sale is one of our most effective means for collectingchronically delinquent real estate taxes for the County, our school districts, townships andboroughs. Even after hundreds of property owners have made payment, many good investmentopportunities remain in every corner of the county. Unlike last month’s “free and clear” sale, successful Upset Sale bidders are responsible for outstanding liens and mortgages, making it exceptionally important that bidders do their due diligence before they bid,” Salus stated.A complete list of properties available in this sale is available at Please note that the list is updated daily to reflect additional payments and may change up to the day of the sale.
 “Our Real Estate Tax Sales have seen an increasing number of bidders, which is an encouraging sign for Montgomery County’s real estate market. The Upset Sale is an integral part of our ongoing efforts to collect revenues owed to the County, our school districts, townships and boroughs, while also returning these properties to the tax rolls,” said Salus.
The sale begins at 10 AM in Courtroom A next Thursday, September 12th. Prospective bidders must register with the Tax Claim Bureau no later than the day prior to the sale. Additional sale guidelines and registration information is available at

School Bells Ring

It's that time of year again -- school forms, notebooks, binder, mechanical pencils, all coming in the door like a massive wave of invitations to Hogwarts.  My little snowflakes are settling in to the school routine.  Our schools are pretty good.  One byproduct of that is the ability to keep a copy of a textbook at home, as there is a classroom set at school.  Yes, two sets of textbooks, or at least one set more than there are classes.  Several of the textbooks are new this year, or new-ish (published within the last few years).  The math books are a little older, apparently numerical models don't go out of style, but in good shape for all the wear.  Or perhaps they aren't used as much as they should be.  Hmmmm.  The science books are more up to date.
Several years ago a woman I know had kids in the Philly schools and the encyclopedias in their school library were over a decade old.  Of course that was before everyone looked everything up on the Internet.  I wonder if that school has a library and librarians anymore.  Both are important to schools.  I was lucky enough to flex my schedule and volunteer in our local elementary school for an hour a week for a few years.  It was impressive to watch the school librarians working with the students.  The younger kids heard stories and picked out books, for the older kids the librarians would, sure, recommend books but also talk about plagiarism and how to avoid it, and how to do research for papers.

My school district has one or more librarian, nurse, and guidance counselor for each school, depending on its size.  The teachers are all trained in their subjects.  Some graduated from the same school system themselves and are back on the other side of the desk.  Many came to teaching as second careers -- the science teacher who used to be a lab researcher, the social studies teacher who used to be a prison guard, some are military veterans.  Their prior work experience gives texture to their teaching.  Some are new young graduates full of enthusiasm.  What they have in common is they all seem to want to be there.  They give every impression of being happy in their jobs.  I'm impressed with the work my kids are asked to do.  It's challenging but it's often presented in an entertaining way.  The teachers are good role models.  They apologize if they get something wrong.  Over half the parents show up on back to school night to get a look at the teachers and hear what is in store for the year.  The halls are painted the desks in good shape.  The rooms are decorated.  One hears of little hallway violence.

My schools are good schools.  The kids in them are good kids, the teachers good teachers.  Everyone family in Pennsylvania is entitled to the same thing.  Every year I read about problems in the Philadelphia schools and I do not understand why this cannot be solved.  Oh, well, yes, paying out nearly $1M to get rid of a superintendent no one seemed to think was doing a good job, that was a waste of money, true.  But overall, why can't the schools function.  Paying teachers less than they can get at other districts, especially when they are at greater physical danger from students, won't get you the best teachers.  Laying off librarians, nurses, and guidance counselors won't help either; neither will closing the school libraries.

As an outsider it doesn't seem to be my place to preach solutions about the Philadelphia schools.  I don't know what what the solutions are.  But as a resident of the suburbs I know that my community's welfare is tied to the city's.  There has be to better way than what we have now.

Recent reading on the subject:

"Why Philadelphia schools will close their doors forever," by Jay McClung, Digital Journal, 9/02/13

"Chaos in the public schools," Tom Ferrick, Axis Philly, 9/08/13

Satellite Hours for Painter

from the inbox:

State Rep. Mark Painter said his staff will begin monthly constituent outreach satellite hours at the Pottstown and Royersford libraries.

"These visits will allow people to access the services available through my main office in Sanatoga nearer to their home on a regular monthly basis," said Painter, D-Montgomery. "By holding these satellite hours, I also can save taxpayer dollars by not opening a second office."  
Beginning Tuesday, the satellite visits will be held from 10 a.m. to noon as follows: second Tuesday of every month at the Pottstown Library, 500 E. High St., Pottstown, 19464; fourth Tuesday of every month at the Royersford Library, 200 S. 4th Ave., Royersford, 19468.  
Painter's staff can help with PennDOT paperwork, unemployment compensation, workers' compensation, Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program, PACE/PACENET prescription-drug coverage, unclaimed property searches and any other state-related matter.  
The legislator's main office is in Sanatoga at 600 Heritage Drive, Suite 102, just off High Street in Sunnybrook Village next to Parma Pizza. Regular office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.  

International Support for the US on Syria

from the inbox:

Statement on Additional Countries in Support of September 6 Joint Statement on Syria  
On September 6, the United States and 10 other countries issued a joint statement on Syria, condemning in the strongest terms the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on August 21 in the suburbs of Damascus and calling for a strong international response. The statement explicitly supports the efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. 
Since the issuance of that statement, additional countries (marked by an asterisk) have signed on to the statement and publicly support its content. The countries now formally supporting this statement are:
Republic of Korea
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates*
United Kingdom
United States
We welcome additional countries expressing their support for this statement and our continued efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable and enforce the international norm against the use of chemical weapons. The statement will continue to be updated and can be found at:

Text of Joint Statement on Syria:
The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.  The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere.  Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.  
We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st that claimed the lives of so many men, women, and children.  The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.
We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.
Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council's responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two and a half years.  The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability.  We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
We commit to supporting longer term international efforts, including through the United Nations, to address the enduring security challenge posed by Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  Signatories have also called for the UN fact finding mission to present its results as soon as possible, and for the Security Council to act accordingly.
We condemn in the strongest terms all human rights violations in Syria on all sides.  More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million people have become refugees, and approximately 5 million are internally displaced.  Recognizing that Syria’s conflict has no military solution, we reaffirm our commitment to seek a peaceful political settlement through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique.  We are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.

We have contributed generously to the latest United Nations (UN) and ICRC appeals for humanitarian assistance and will continue to provide support to address the growing humanitarian needs in Syria and their impact on regional countries. We welcome the contributions announced at the meeting of donor countries on the margins of the G20.  We call upon all parties to allow humanitarian actors safe and unhindered access to those in need. 
European signatories will continue to engage in promoting a common European position.

Naughton and Strouse in Midweek Wire

Dueling Democratic candidates for the 8th congressional district, Shaughnessy Naughton and Kevin Strouse, responded to a questionnaire for the Midweek Wire.  It is online at:

(h/t Det Ansinn via Facebook)

Friday, September 06, 2013

Interesting Reading

A few links for your information:

If you've noticed well-placed political ads on your screen lately, political big data is the reason.  Read up on how they know what they know and what they're doing with that information:  "Big Data is Watching You:  Finding Likely Voters in Unlikely Places," by Jordan Lieberman, New York Observer 9/03

Wonder what kind of data is connected to your name?  Now you can check, "Acxiom Lets Consumers See Data It Collects," by Natasha Singer, New York Times, 9/04

Arming teachers?  Maybe not such a good idea.  An elementary school child was able to shoot an officer with his own gun during the officer's school visit.  Read "Lodi Police Officer Shot When Child Pulled TriggerOn His Gun At Reading Event," by Andrea Menetti,  CBS Sacramento, 9/02 

SEPTA Recives $10 Million Grant

from the inbox:

 U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced that 25 rural transportation projects in 23 states will receive a total of $123.4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) 2013 grant  rogram. Under the fifth round of the popular TIGER program, 52 transportation projects in 37 states will receive approximately $474 million in funding. Among these, nearly half support rural areas of the country.

One of the projects is in Pennsylvania:

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
SEPTA-CSX Separation Project

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Book Review: Collision by Dan Balz

Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America Hardcover by Dan Balz.  Viking, 2013

Full disclosure:  I like Dan Balz, his writing and his appearances on Washington Week in Review.  In an era of strident voices he stands out for an even tone and balanced viewpoint.  There are a number of other books on the market about the 2012 election that vilify one or more candidates or sensationalize the events of the campaign.  Balz chooses instead to concentrate on solid reporting.

The author considers this book a sequel to his early book on the 2008 election, The Battle for America, co-authored with Haynes Johnson. 

The books is divided into three sections, with some introductory material.  The first part is called “the pivot” and focuses on this particular point in history with an emphasis on Obama’s campaign strategy and tactics.  There is a specific part on the Obama campaign’s use of microtargeting and digital database.  They make particular use of expanding the campaign’s reach by asking people to reach out to a few of their friends, making suggestions based on the likelihood that each of those friends was categorized as a infrequent voter (and therefore more likely to vote if prompted) or an undecided voter (and whose vote might be swayed by a note from a friend).  This was especially effective when reaching out to younger voters who might not have a landline

The middle section is a lengthy review of the Republican primary contest, examining each of the candidates on a chronological basis, as they seemed to appear and peak one at a time.  Balz also points out that of the Romney family only son Tagg and wife Ann thought Romney should run again.  Even the candidate himself had questions about it.  For me as a reader one of the oddest stories in this section was the mention of an April Fool’s joke.  Romney thought he was going to address a packed room for a pancake brunch.  Instead the room was empty.  (Kindle location 5153).  In an expensive and important campaign how could anyone think there was time for tomfoolery like this?  There is a detailed story about Chris Christie at the Republican convention, threatening to say the F word on live tv. 

The third part was on the general election between Romney and Obama.  The 47% comment by Romney, the poor performance by Obama in the first debate, the Republican’s difficulties in attracting non-white voters (and the reasons for it).  Balz is a gadget guy and he writes about the 2012 election being the first presidential election with twitter in common usage. 

As someone who watched this election closely as it happened, and has read up on it since, I recall many of the incidents that Balz includes in his book. Nonetheless it is reassuring in some way to have Balz sew them all together and smooth them out; it provides closure.  He provides some context and background to things that even armchair politicos don’t know.  For those who did not keep such a close eye on the election the book will be an excellent history of it.  In any event I highly recommend the book.

On a personal note, this is the first book I am reviewing that I read on a Kindle as opposed to print.  Normally I put little post-its in the text to mark things of interest and then jot a quick summary for each chapter on a larger post-it and stick it to the first page of that chapter.  By the end the book looks like a feathered bird.  It is hard to do that on a Kindle, or perhaps I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.  The search function in a Kindle is intriguing and very helpful in finding prior references to people places and things.  But I’m not sure that makes up for effective use of post-its. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

Travel Note: Chesapeake City, MD

Looking for a quick  getaway?  Just south of us, an hour or an hour and a half, depending on traffic and how fast you drive, there is a lovely little town, just perfect for a short trip or weekend.

Chesapeake City, Maryland seems like a town that time forgot, with some exceptions.  The town is split by the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  The town has a number of historic houses, some are currently operated as B&Bs.  A bridge over the canal overshadows the town; the pedestrian walkway provides wonderful views of the area.  Early risers can watch the sun come up over the water. 

There are a handful of restaurants on each side of the canal; the side I was on also had an ice cream parlor.  There are also, of course, a number of small shops.   A tour boat, "Miss Clare," takes people up and down part of the canal.  The couple (Clare and her husband, whose name escapes me) have lived in the area for years and their family for generations.  They have a number of historic photos to show along the tour.  I took the tour one afternoon and we saw some beautiful houses, birds (osprey, heron, bald eagle), some interesting ships, and a lot of breathtaking scenery. 

A modern aspect of this is an app that will list ships going through the canal, not the name of them but some idea of their size.  With advance notice people can wander down the street to the canal and watch the big boats go by.  Very cool.

If visiting relatives have seen all the sites of Philadelphia and you are looking for something new, think about a trip to Chesapeake City.