Sunday, December 31, 2006

Yes, There Are Shenanigans in the PA Speaker Mess

Yesterday I reported that Democratic state representative Thomas Caltagirone had sent a note to his fellow Democrats announcing his intention to support current Republican Speaker of the House John Perzel over the probably Democratic speaker Bill DeWeese. I suggested there were likely shenanigans involved. VoicePA has put together a money trail. I haven't gone through and verified their research but it looks believable to me.

Want to know why people are cynical about government? This could be exhibit B, right after the payraise exhibit A. DeWeese doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me either, but Perzel is no reformer either.

What I want to know is why Caltagirone would announce his intentions in public. Why also wouldn't he suggest a Democratic alternative? It's all fishy to me and what VoicePA has come up with makes sense.

Update: The Inky has set up a blog, run by state govt reporter Mario Cattabiani, to report on the situation. See

Saturday, December 30, 2006

More Speaker Drama

Both PoliticsPA and the Inky are reporting that Reading's Democratic Rep. Tom Caltagirone has notified his colleagues that he intends to vote for GOP John Perzel to retain his Speaker of the House position even though there is now a Democratic majority in the House. Stay tuned. I suspect shenanigans.

A Toast for the Sergeants

Sorting through the "to be blogged about" pile, I've discarded many items whose timeliness has passed. One did catch my eye. It is customary this time of year to offer toasts and remembrances and no doubt many a glass will be raised for our soldiers and veterans. A passage from an article in the Dec. 11 Wall Street Journal really struck me, probably because my father spent most of his 20 years in the army as a sergeant (primarily drill and platoon) and one sibling served as a supply sergeant before going to college and emerging as an officer (much to my father's great pride and chagrin). As we celebrate the victories and mourn the losses of 2006, let us remember the sergeants.

“Escalating Tab: Despite Its $168 Billion Budget, The Army Faces a Cash Crunch, by Greg Jaffe, WSJ Dec. 11, continuation on p. A4

One of the most pressing personnel problems is the lack of sergeants, the enlisted leaders who do most of the day-to-day supervising of the rank-and-file soldiers.

At Fort Hood, Texas, the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which returned from Iraq in March, has about 75% of the soldiers it needs to fill its ranks, but only about half of its sergeants. The 5,000-soldier unit likely will go back to Iraq in the fall of next year, and leaders in the regiment say they will get more sergeants before they deploy, but not as many as they would like.

“The sergeant is the one that the soldiers take after,” says First Sgt. James Adcock, who oversees about 30 of the unit’s soldiers. He can make or break how effective the privates are.”

Friday, December 29, 2006

PA in the WSJ

I finally finished reading this week's Wall Street Journal and found a few interesting Pennsylvania-related items:

Mullins, Brody, "Strings Attached: As Earmarked Funding Swells, Some Recipients Don't Want it," Dec. 26, p. A1+. This is from p. A10:

Leaders in both parties use earmarks to reward lawmakers. For example, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who will be chairman of the defense spending panel, won't allow members to add earmarks to the defense-spending bill unless they agree to support it, according to aides on the appropriations committee. This year's defense bill, which included nearly 3,000 earmarks took a mere 20 minutes to pass the House in October.

Megan Grote, a spokeswoman for Mr. Murtha, says that "members of Congress who appreciate the synergy between local communities and the [Department of Defense] are much more likely to support the bill, and that is the essential goal -- to get members to support the defense bill."

According to the article about 4% of the nation's budget, about 40.8 billion dollars, goes to earmarks.

In the Saturday/Sunday, December 23-24 issue, a front page article, "By the Bedside: In Nursing Homes, A Drug Middleman Finds Big Profits," by Sarah Lueck, a Pennsylvania company gets a mention on the p. A7 continuation:

Omnicare isn't the only company in the field receiving rebates. AmerisourceBergen Corp. of Chesterbrook, Pa, which has a subsidiary supplying drugs to nursing homes, also gets them. "It's part of how we get paid," says AmerisourceBergen spokesman Michael N. Kilpatrick, adding that the rebates are for medically beneficial drugs.

Since 1994 Omnicare has hired he College of Pharmacy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia to compile an annual book -- now running to about 800 pages -- that lays out the best drugs to use in the elderly based on research. The company says the book is the basis for its drug recommendations. "This book is scrutinized by people who have no vested interest in helping Omnicare financially," says Catherine Dragon, driectory of the guidelines project at the university, describing the editorial process.

I found the entire article a little alarming. In the interest of full disclosure let me mention that the investment club I belong to owns Omnicare stock.

Reading Obama's Audacity of Hope, Part III

This is the last part of my review of Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope.

Chapter Seven: Race

As the only American senator with known African ancestry, Obama is in a unique position to discuss race. He talks, for example, about the importance of the support he received from wealthy African Americans early in his political career and senatorial campaign, and how, in past years, there simply wouldn’t have been that many people of color with that kind of money. But, even so, the gaps in income, education and net worth that exist today between racial and ethnic groups defy the notion that we have or are becoming a racially blind society. To be sure, he talks about individual responsibility in regards to education and family stability, but contrasts these issues with ways that public policy could help reduce the income gaps among differing groups of people. One example he gives is the possibility of scholarships for minority students in math and science graduate programs where the number of African American and Latino students is comparatively miniscule.

Consider this excerpt from p. 259:

What would that be worth to all of us – an American in which crime has fallen, more children are cared for, cities are reborn, and the biases, fear, and discord that black poverty feeds are slowly drained away? Would it be worth what we’ve spent in the past year in Iraq? Would it be worth relinquishing demands for estate tax repeal? It’s hard to quantify the benefits of such changes – precisely because the benefits would be immeasurable.

He also talks about the hard working parents trying to keep their kids out of trouble and teach them good values and a work ethic. He mentions a man in Chicago who owns a number of businesses and hires young men off the street to teach them job skills. His turnover is high but those who stay with him for any length of time start talking about college or trade school.

In this chapter he also touches on illegal immigration. On pages 265 and 266 he recounts a conversation he had with a Republican senator on an immigration bill. I wish he had named names because the senator in question says “These Mexicans are just willing to work harder than Americans do.”

Chapter Eight: The World Beyond Our Borders

This is the foreign policy chapter and Obama discusses in detail the years of his childhood spent in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather. Again, he gives a brief overview of American history in this area. He discusses in depth his visits to Iraq and the former Soviet Union. There are a number of pithy statements in this chapter but none that I thought were representative of the entire thought pattern. It is interesting to read and difficult to summarize or excerpt from.

Chapter Nine: Family

The family chapter is perhaps the most personal chapter in the book. He recounts meeting his wife and their courtship. He expands this to discuss the American family in general. Like many people today he was raised by a single parent and he talks about the issues involved in his childhood and in single parent families more broadly. He touches on marriage and child care. It is almost a requirement for politicians to write or talk about how wonderful their spouses are and Obama is no exception. His wife is lawyer and the two of them have the money to afford good reliable child care. In addition his mother-in-law lives nearby. He writes of knowing how fortunate they are to have family close at hand and the means to fill in the gaps where needed, as well as some flexibility in work hours, and of how many American do not have these luxuries. Again he brings personal responsibility into the discussion but also some ideas on ways that public policy could ease the day to day existence of many people.


Obama recounts the two times he attended the Democratic National Convention, one with more fanfare and success than the other. He ends the book by going back to a theme in the prologue, that of value of public service.

Source Notes

While the book is primarily a personal narrative he does include some facts and other information that should be cited. In lieu of a standard bibliography or list of footnotes, source material is available on a website for the book, Sources are primarily reports, magazine, and newspaper articles; many if not most are from within the past few years. It is difficult to have too many sources but the list Obama (or, according to the acknowledgements, someone else) has put together is more than adequate to document what he says.

Overall Impression

As I said at the beginning of this review, I enjoyed this book immensely. He has a gift with words and writes beautifully, almost lyrically in places. Yet he writes with substance and I often had to stop and think about what he had said. He has that rare knack to talk about something significant and sometimes painful without being overblown or melodramatic about it. Some of his discussions on race, of people throwing their keys at him outside restaurants, assuming he is a valet, are loaded with emotion but presented in passing. Someone else describing an upbringing similar to his could easily do so in the harsh and jagged tones of deprivation and victimization. Obama talks of it in simple nonjudgmental terms of acceptance. I found it impossible to read the book and not maintain or increase my opinion of him. I did not walk away with a clear understanding of the specific policy measures he would like to see put into place, but I do think I have a better idea of what general goals he has for the country, and I like them.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Michael Nutter in the Philadelphia Magazine

I had been, by and large, blissfully ignoring the Philadelphia mayor's race, but it landed in my inbox yesterday so I should probably start paying attention. In one of those serendipitous finds, while perusing the magazine rack while in the checkout line of the grocery store last night, I noticed that the January issue of Philadelphia Magazine has a nice long article on declared candidate and former city councilman Michael Nutter. When fate thumps you it's a good idea to take the hint so I bought the magazine and read the article. It's well done and provides a political history of Nutter and how he came to be where he is, complete with reputation as a reform candidate. For local netroots fans, city activist Hannah Miller, who served as state representative-elect Rick Taylor's campaign manager, is quoted in a couple of places.

The article, "Michael Nutter's Dilemma: Is this man too much of a reformer to be mayor? Or so hungry to be mayor that he can't be a real reformer?," by Jason Fagone, is available on the magazine's website:, at least for now, so click quickly.

Reading Obama's Audacity of Hope, Part II

Picking up where the previous post left off, here are my thoughts on chapters 3-6 of Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope.

Chapter Three: Our Constitution

In this chapter he discusses the senate and the separation of powers. He also goes into detail on laws, and the devil being in the details. Those wanting a brief description of partisanship in relation to judicial nominees and the “nuclear option” regarding filibusters will find this chapter particularly interesting. As a former professor of constitutional law his lengthy and heartfelt review of the Constitution, its history and the development of current interpretation of it. Here are two comments, the first from p.86

And yet for all our disagreements we would be hard pressed to find a conservative or liberal in America today, whether Republican or Democrat, academic or layman, who doesn’t subscribe to the basic set of individual liberties identified by the Founders and enshrined in our Constitution and our common law: the right to speak our minds; the right to worship how and if we wish; the right to peaceably assemble to petition our government; the right to own, buy and sell property and not have it taken without fair compensation; the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; the right not to be detained by the state without due process; the right to a fair and speedy trial; and the right to make our own determinations, with minimal restriction regarding family life and the way we raise our children.

And this from p. 96 on slavery:

How can I, an American with the blood of Africa coursing through my veins, chose sides in such a dispute? I can’t. I love America too much, am too invested in what this country has become, too committed to its institutions, its beauty, and even its ugliness, to focus entirely on the circumstances of its birth. But neither can I brush aside the magnitude of the injustice done, or erase the ghosts of generations past, or ignore the open wound, the aching spirit, that ails this country still.

Throughout the chapter, but especially at the beginning (the third page in) and ending he mentions Sen. Robert Byrd, who wrote a multi-volume history of the senate. I won’t give it away, but Byrd’s discussion of one of his few regrets in life is one that must have touched them both.

Chapter Four: Politics

This is my favorite chapter in the book. It is a bluntly honest description of fundraising and campaigning and how those things change people, specifically candidates and elected officials. If you haven’t ever seen the inside of a political race, this will provide a good introduction. It was so well-constructed that I found impossible to pull out any one paragraph or group of sentences that were any better than the others or able to stand on their own without including more of an excerpt than I thought people would want to read. Just go through the whole thing; it’s only 35 pages.

Chapter Five: Opportunity

Obama opens and closes this chapter with stories of what happens when you do and don’t fly on private jets. This comparison was my favorite anecdote (or connected series of anecdotes) in the entire book. I won’t spoil it for you by including any of those stories here. Again, read it yourself. In between he gives a brief history of the role of government in business, education, and energy. Doing so in such a short space means it is only the most cursory of overviews, to provide the structure needed in setting the stage for what is happening today. Later he takes on social security and health care, acknowledging the complexity of these issues and not pretending to come up with quick and easy solutions.

Here is a paragraph from p. 187

Americans are willing to compete with the world. We work harder than the people of any other wealthy nation. We are willing to tolerate more economic instability and are willing to take more personal risks to get ahead. But we can only compete if our government makes the investments that give us a fighting chance – and if we know that our families have some net beneath which they cannot fall.

He wraps up the chapter with a story about meeting Warren Buffet and talking with him about tax policy. They agreed on the need for the wealthy to pay more, as noted on p. 193:

And perhaps I possess a certain Midwestern sensibility that I inherited from my mother and her parents, a sensibility that Warren Buffet seems to share: that at a certain point one has enough, that you can derive as much pleasure from a Picasso hanging in a museum as from one that’s hanging in your den, that you can get an awfully good meal in a restaurant for less than twenty dollars, and that once your drapes costs more than the average American’s yearly salary, then you can afford to pay a bit more in taxes.

Chapter Six: Faith

It has been something of a fad for some Democrats to wear their religious beliefs on their sleeve. Obama doesn’t do that. Instead he gives the development of his own faith and how it has informed his politics. I like this statement as a good summation of what he has to say, from p. 221:

In judging the persuasiveness of various moral claims, we should be on the lookout for inconsistency in how such claims are applied: As a general rule, I am more pronte to listen to those who are as outraged by homelessness as they are by the indecency of music videos. And we need to recognize that sometimes our arguments are less about what is right than bout who makes the final determination – whether we need the coercive arm of the state to enforce our values, or whether the subject is one best left to individual conscience and evolving norms.

He does argue in favor of inviting people of faith into the Democratic Party, and not simply letting the conservative Republicans lay sole claim to votes who profess religious beliefs.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Reading Obama's Audacity of Hope, Part I

Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. NY: Crown Publishers, 2006. 375 pp.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Obama writes very well. No co-author is listed anywhere and he writes much as he speaks so I assume these are all his words. It took me longer than I expected to finish the book. The writing is a pleasure to read so it wasn’t a matter of having to slog through. Quite the contrary, much of what I read was sufficiently engaging and thought-provoking that I would have to stop and savor or absorb what he says.

There are nine chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue (also acknowledgements and an index).


As any good prologue does, this one introduces the book, why he is writing it, and so on. He provides a very succinct overview of his political philosophy on pages 1 and 2, as a response to those who ask why he, or anyone, would want to get involved in anything as nasty as politics. He says:

“In response, I would usually smile and nod and say that I understood the skepticism, but that there was – and always had been – another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country’s founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve very problem, but we can get something meaningful done.”

He lays out his overarching policy statements in a very simple way. Each of these items opens up a huge can of worms but finding common ground to start with is the best beginning and we can wrestle with such things as merit pay for teachers versus seniority and health care plans a few steps down the road. But this is a good start:

If anything, what struck me was just how modest people’s hopes were, and how much of what they believed seemed to hold constant across race, region, religion, and class. Most of them thought that anybody willing to work should be able to find a job that paid a living wage. They figured that people shouldn’t have to file for bankruptcy because they got sick. They believed that every child should have a genuinely good education – that it shouldn’t just be a bunch of talk – and that those same children should be able to go to college even if their parents weren’t rich. They wanted to be safe, from criminals and terrorists; they wanted clean air, clean water, and time with their kids. And when the got old, they wanted to be able to retire with some dignity and respect.

Okay, I can sign on to all of those things. He isn’t calling for free tuition at Harvard, just the ability to go to college, not free health care, just options other than bankruptcy.

One of the things I like best about this book is his repeated discussion of finding common values and working from those. His book is not, as many political works are, divisive or aimed to incite one particular base (or, if it is, I’m part of that base and don’t see it).

He addresses some of that in this passage from p. 7:

”You don’t need a poll to know that the vast majority of Americans – Republican, Democrat, and independent – are weary of the dead zone that politics has become, in which narrow interests vie for advantage and ideological minorities seek to impose their own versions of absolute truth. Whether we’re from red states or blue states, we feel in our gut the lack of honesty, rigor, and common sense in our policy debates, and dislike what appears to be a continuous menu of false or cramped choices.”

It is almost impossible to separate our beliefs from our life experiences and Obama acknowledges that, by calling himself a prisoner of his own biography (p.10).

Chapter One: Republicans and Democrats

The first chapter gives an overview of partisanship and a general political history of the country, especially in his lifetime and devoting a lot of space to the Reagan and Clinton years. He talks especially about the increase of incivility and partisanship. In such a small number of pages there is only so much he can cover and his goal is not to provide a complete history, but to provide a structure to his discussion, mixed in with his own views and philosophy. For example, this section from p. 22 struck me because, I too, become weary of pronouncements that we live in the worst of times:

”When Democrats run up to me at events and insist that we live in the worse of political times, that a creeping fascism is closing its grip around our throats, I may mention the internment of Japanese Americans under FDR, the Alien and Sedition Acts under John Adams, or a hundred years of lynching under several dozen administrations as having been possibly worse, and suggest we all take a deep breath. When people at dinner parties ask me how I can possibly operate in the current political environment, with all the negative campaigning and personal attacks, I may mention Nelson Mandela, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or some guy in a Chinese or Egyptian prison somewhere. In truth, being called names is not such a bad deal.”

He declines to return partisanship for partisanship, spelled out on p. 41-42.

”There are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way – in their own lives at least – to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves.”

He provides a very thought-provoking list of examples that I would encourage you to read.

Chapter Two: Values

On page 45 he has an excellent description of the president. Having met George W. Bush I would agree with his observations.

Again, a theme in this chapter is that the dividing lines in American society are products of political parties and the media more than easily found lines in residential and business communities. He talks about the things we as citizens of this county hold dear, regardless of our political, religious, sexual, or other orientation. He quotes from the Declaration of Independence and talks about how American values have become clearer to him for having lived and visited with family in Indonesia and Kenya. As one example of starting from common values when working on contentious policy he discusses a bill he introduced into the state legislature to require the videotaping of interrogations and confessionals in capital cases. In sitting down with all the parties involved, police, prosecutors, public defenders, death penalty opponents, and others, they started with the view that no innocent person should end up on death row. All were agreed on that, and worked their way down into the specifics. In places the bill was modified. Against the odds and predictions, it passed.

From here he ventures into dangerous waters. I agree with him on what he said but understand why it gets him into trouble. He says that Democrats should not be afraid to discuss social values and preferences, even when we do not think these values should be written into law. The examples he uses are advertisements on television during sports events that families might watch together and the mores of television characters, whether real or imagined. He is not suggesting that we legislate what is shown but that people show better judgment. As a contrast he points out the conservative blind spot when it comes to executive pay.

He ends the chapter with a discussion of values on the campaign trail and some remembrances of lessons learned from his mother and grandparents and how some of his values evolved as he matured. He ends with some very good points (p. 68):

When I was a community organizer, way back in the eighties, I would often challenge neighborhood leaders by asking them where they put their time, energy, and money. Those are the true tests of what we value, I’d tell them, regardless of what we like to tell ourselves. If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.

Reading Presidential Hopefuls

Last year over the holidays I read Rick Santorum's book. This year I decided to get a head start on the 2008 presidential race by reading books by some of the hopefuls. This post will serve as an aggregation of relevant postings over the next few weeks or later as more material become available and as more people announce their intentions.

Barack Obama. The Audacity of Hope.
Part I (prologue through chapter 2)
Part II (chapters 3 through 6)
Part III (chapter 7 through the epilogue)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No Returns, All Sales Final

One of the fun things about coming home after being away a few days is going through several newspapers at once. I haven't gotten completely caught up with the Inky yet, but a story in Saturday's paper (For 2 new lawmakers, giving back pay raises is hard to do," by Mari A. Schaefer) got my attention. I tried to find a good holiday-related title for this blog post, something about the Grinch or no good deed goes unpunished, but nothing really seemed to fit.

In any event, two newly elected state representatives, Bryan Lentz (D-161) and Tom Murt (R-152) don't want their salaries to reflect this year's cost of living increase. They want their salary to be what it was when they ran for office. Apparently there is no way to do that. They can contribute the amount of the increase to charity, but they will still be taxed on the full amount.

Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin ran into the same problem in October and has been refusing to accept her paychecks, sending them back to the state until the issue can be resolved.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

weekly legislative update

As might be expected not much happened in the state house and senate this week. In fact the only action reported was something that happened in the house in July (sometimes, for some reason, it takes months for these things to show up in the daily emails).

HB 471 Prior Printer's Nos. 510, 2280, 4761, 4885, 4923. Printer's No. 4947. An Act amending the act of April 9, 1929 (P.L.177, No.175), known as The Administrative Code of 1929, providing for transfers of appropriations and for notice of transfers and loans between funds; extending the time period covered by an application considered for the Merchant Marine World War II Veterans Bonus and the expiration of the Merchant Marine World War II Veterans Bonus Act; establishing the Cardiovascular Disease Advisory Committee and a Statewide stroke database; providing for biennial renewal of certain licenses for volunteer health services; and making inconsistent repeals relating to the Merchant Marine World War II Veterans Bonus Act.

The governor vetoed it in late November.

No idea why reporting this was so delayed.

I'm taking a few days off. Back the 26th or 27th.

Friday, December 22, 2006

PA Dems Have House Majority

The Inky's wonderful blog on the count and recount in the Chester County house race reports yesterday that Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith is the new representative from the 156th district. That puts the Democrats in the majority (just barely). Kudos to the Inquirer for running the temporary blog,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sestak on "This Week"

These are rough notes from Rep-elect Joe Sestak's (D-07) appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Dec. 17, 2006. It was the second segment of the show, with Sestak and Ret. Army Gen. Jack Keane. At one point it was available online at As always my apologies for any errors or misinterpretations.

GS: plan for more troops

JK: security plan is part of the comprehensive situation. In terms of the strategy itself, theessence of it is the security of the people in Baghdad. Never taken this on before. Put in a 24/7 force and do not go back to bases at night.

GS: how many new troops and how long will they stay

JK: additional 4 or 5 brigades, 25K people, in Al Ambar, mission to keep insurgents off base in Baghdad, 2 marine regiments, another 10K, go into fall of year. Then move focus to Al Ambar. Another 6 to 7 months

GS: what’s wrong with this strategy

JS: We’re on the road to nowhere. 1) We had troops in Al Ambar, no effect, in fact violence increased. 2) letting Iraqis have more political & military dependence on us 3) hurting here at home, army strained. Not a military issue but a political issue. Need a date certain [for withdrawal].

GS: if we give date certain will there be an increase in violence

JS: without a doubt. No perfect strategy. They don’t have to take action because we’re there doing it. What’s the overall strategic issue for America? We need to look at North Korea, Afghanistan. We need to redeploy. Leave some special forces there.

GS: previously the joint chiefs agreed with some of JS’s points

JK: His argument is choice, can we do something in the intervening year or just cut our losses. What we didn’t do militarily in the past is see this as a security mission. There is a value in seeing this as a regional issue and want regional powers involved. Use economic incentives.

GS: Why are you convinced it can’t work?

JS: We‘re imposing what we want on the county; polls show they don’t want that. Another illusive ever changing goal. Not a military solution. Real loss not Iraq but loss in overall world security. Mentions Afghanistan again. Taliban back in southern provinces. We aren’t able to pay attention

GS: Gen, Sen Reid said Dems support an additional few months

JK: impossible. Need to clear insurgents and death squads and then bring in protection forces and don’t have them go back to bases and then bring in economic incentives. Problem in past never put secure forces into areas. Iraqi forces not capable yet.

GS: Doesn’t that mean when we leave the insurgents come back

JK: The people will isolate insurgents and they don’t come back. Over relied on political solutions throughout, never saw this as a military problem

GS: Will the president accept this?

JK: doesn’t know.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Three Letters Thanking

This week I received three letters of thanks from three congressional representatives (or representatives elect), Patrick Murphy (D-08), Allyson Schwartz (D-13), and Joe Sestak (D-07). One was dated November but it was new to me. The three candidates have either an exact or slightly alerted text of the letter on their websites so link away if you want to read what I'm writing about. I looked at them from four viewpoints: writing, unique characteristics, typography / design, and fundraising.


Looking at the words used and how the letters were structured you do see three different styles. Schwartz was running for second term in office so hers was a bit different. Here are the paragraphis I thought were the most well-written from each:

"Across the nation this November, we made history. We called for an end to cronyism and crooked politics and demanded real change from our government. Now, with a new Democratic Majority, we can move this country in the right direction – working to ensure affordable healthcare, to put on the path to energy independence and to strengthen and secure our nation." (Schwartz)

"Now begins the real journey – not just for me, but for all of us here in the 8th District. We are going to bring back optimism. We are going to bring back hope. And we are going to bring back possibility." (Murphy)

"I believe the voters most want a coming together to bring about a better America, a “commonwealth” approach to solving our nation’s challenges of the future. I intend to bring people together – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – to work hard on the issues that are most important to us all: to raise our children well; to own a home; to provide quality education for our children; to have a comfortable retirement; and to live a healthy life in a safe and prosperous America." (Sestak, with points taken off for overuse of semi-colons)

Most tortured paragraph (enough with security already):

"I entered this race this past February because I believed our country was headed in the wrong direction, and we needed a new course. Congress seemed to have forgotten that true national security begins at home, in the economic, health, and educational security of our citizens. These securities, along with our defense security, were being eroded by the failures of this Congress to act on the issues most important to Americans, and by the tragic misadventure in Iraq. But I believe that if we properly invest and solve our challenges in these four pillars of security, then we have true national security." (Sestak)

Words of Gratitude:

Sestak is thankful and indebted and hopes to live up to our expectations. Murphy is thankful, grateful, and promises to make us proud. Schwartz is humbled. She takes much more of a “we worked together” approach, perhaps indicative of her incumbent status, while the other two were challengers who ousted incumbents.

Unique characteristics:

Schwartz mentions that she is only the second Democratic woman from Pennsylvania to be elected to a second term and the only woman congressional representative from the state. Murphy mentions his army service in Iraq. Sestak mentions his margin of victory – 56% to 44%. Sestak and Murphy sign their first and last names; Schwartz just signs her first name.

Typography / design:

This section involves verbal descriptions of graphics. If you find this annoying, skip to the next section. One of these days I’ll figure out how to use the scanner on the new printer or maybe Santa will bring me a digital camera.

Years ago I took a graduate seminar in printing; we learned to throw type (being able to read upside down and backwards is very useful in typesetting) and I’ve had an interest in typography ever since. It was interesting to note some of the design qualities in the logos and typefaces used. The gentlemen used blue for their logos, both put their surnames in all caps. Sestak used only a surname; Murphy included his first name, also in capital letters. Both used stars – Murphy had one at the end of the Murphy06 logo; Sestak had three, one above and below the initial S and the other to the left of it. Both had “for Congress” under their name, in italics and mixed case for Sestak, Murphy had all caps. Both used sans serif fonts (read about serifs). I couldn’t quite place them (gotten rusty over the years, time was I could name a type face right off). Sestak looked like Eras Demi ITC but that isn’t quite right. Murphy used a thicker font, something similar to a Gill.

Schwartz used red for her logo. She also used a more traditional font. I don’t see anything similar in the Microsoft font list. It looks like an old typewriter font but the serifs on the A are unusual – the serif on top of the capital A is very large and flat. She doesn’t have “for Congress” but instead “U.S. Representative” under her name. Her letter is almost a page and a half; the other two take up the front of the paper only.

All three have a union logo at the bottom of the sheet.


Schwartz is known for her fundraising abilities and her talents in this area show in her letter. For one thing, she includes a donation card and envelope so you can make a contribution to help with her next election. She even includes this paragraph:

"The end-of-year filing deadline will be used as a measure of my strength. A strong fundraising report on December 31st will send a clear signal that I will not be defeated. Please consider a contribution … to kick off my re-election campaign.”

To make the point even clearer she says earlier in the letter:

"But the truth is victory did not come easily. We helped ensure our success by running a smart campaign and working hard for my re-election right out of the gate. By raising the money early that I needed to run a strong campaign, I sent a message that I was going to have the resources necessary to defend my seat.”

Ummm, as I recall, she didn’t have any real opposition to speak of. She is very adept at fundraising though. Neither Murphy nor Sestak make an outright request for money (take note, fellahs, the GOP is already gunning for you) but their letterheads include campaign website URLs and contributions can be made there. They also include postal addresses and phone numbers. Schwartz’s letter does not have those, but they are included on the donation card and self-addressed envelope. The donation card has an “Allyson Schwartz for Congress” logo on it that has many of the characteristics of the other two – blue color, all caps and use of stars. I’m sure a lot of lawyers have gone over all these details to make sure they conform to FEC regulations. Schwartz is a smart cookie.


Okay, this is an odd thing to write about, but all three letters arrived within a day or so of each other. As much as I like to tell you my dining room table is clean and uncluttered, it would be a lie. When I was clearing the table off the letters ended up in a pile together and that just naturally suggests comparison. Plus, other than casinos in Philadelphia, there isn’t a lot going on right now. Take note graduate students, there is a thesis somewhere in the study of thank you letters; I'm sure of it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Congressional Committee Assignments So Far

We don't have a full list of congressional committee assignments yet but here is what is known so far about area Democrats.

Chris Carney (D-10) -- Transportation and Infrastructure
Patrick Murphy (D-08) -- Armed Services
Allyson Schwartz (D-13) -- Ways and Means
Joe Sestak (D-07) -- Armed Services

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bruce Almighty, Part III

It appears that incumbent Republican Montgomery County Commissioner Tom Ellis plans to run for re-election, even after the release of a poll paid for by incumbent Republican Montgomery County Attorney General Bruce Castor showed him to have some serious negatives in the eyes of the public.

Vowing he will not be "bullied," Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Thomas J. Ellis says he intends to seek re-election next year despite his poor showing in a controversial poll commissioned by fellow Republican, county District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.

"It is my belief that polls will say whatever you want them to say, depending on who is paying for it," said Ellis, a lawyer from Cheltenham who will be seeking a second four-year term as commissioner. ("Ellis will pursue re-election despite negative poll," By Margaret Gibbons, Times Herald 12/18/2006)

Okay, so let's all keep in mind that, in his view, no polls are reliable. He plans to pay for one himself, which he expects to be favorable but equally unreliable. Good use of money there. Further into the article it says that State Rep. Kate Harper (R-61) may jump into the race. It will be very interesting to see who the Democratic candidates are, other than incumbent Ruth Damsker.

An Interview with Sy Snyder

We’ve all read about the upcoming sale of PoliticsPA and there are likely to be some changes in the site that I, and many of you, consider as much a part of our mornings as breakfast and the newspaper. To give a look back as well as forward, the site’s anonymous editor, Sy Snyder, took the time to answer a few questions. I’ve mentioned this before but it is relevant to mention again, in the interest of full disclosure, it was at Sy’s suggestion that I started blogging. Our email correspondence has been ongoing for over 4 years and while I have barked at Sy, Sy has always been civil to me. My thanks to Sy for the opportunity to post this interview. I hope my readers enjoy it.

[Update: GrassrootsPA also has an interview with Sy Snyder. Read that interview here.]

In your time as editor of the site what do you think is the most
significant event to have happened in Pennsylvania politics?

I think nailing down one single event over the last five years is impossible. But overall, the gains by Democrats in southeast Pennsylvania is dramatically changing the dynamic of how things happen here. Southeast PA used to be a bastion of moderate Republicans, but that’s changing fast.

What change would you most like to see in the campaign process, both
federal and state?

Politics is fun and artful. I think that severe gerrymandering can distort the process and be bad for public policy, but even worse, it ruins the game. The money doesn’t bother me like it does others. If someone like Frank Ryan wants to spend $545,648 to garner 9,026 votes, good for him.

What change would you most like to see in voter behavior?

I’d like to see more people involved in the process. Young people don’t vote… and they wonder why social security will go broke.

How has use of the Internet changed state politics?

When we launched PoliticsPA in the fall of 2001, we were the only ones out there. Blogs didn’t exist. RSS didn’t exist. Flash ads were too much to handle. We had a dial-up connection. The technology was so primitive. But now, the news cycle has sped up so fast that newspapers are now forced to have their own blogs just to keep up with us. How does this change state politics? Ask any opposition researcher what their #1 tool for releasing the fruits of their labor. Ron Harper, we love you.

On the continuum of enjoying being the all-powerful Oz and being a
little lonely back there behind the curtain, where do you fall most days?

Wasn’t Oz a little lonely?

What are you going to do with yourself now? How long do you plan to
continue being involved with PoliticsPA and what will you do afterwards
(generally or as far as you can say)?

I’m very happy to be working with my new partners Larry Ceisler and David Urban. Over the last five years I have taken PoliticsPA as far as possible without losing my anonymity or sanity. I’ll be involved with PoliticsPA until I’m asked to leave or Patriot News reporter Brett Lieberman finally outs me.

Any regrets?

I should have been tougher on bad reporters. There is one reporter who could double as Worf at a Star Trek convention who still hasn’t gotten what she deserves. I am tough on people who deserve it. I don’t regret any of the shots I’ve taken with perhaps the exception of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission when they unsuccessfully attempted to force us to remove an image from our website until State Representative Mike Veon intervened.

What do you consider your notable successes, other than just the site itself?

It’s rarely noticed, but as a policy, we never attack lower level staffers and operatives. I’m proud to have protected budding talent and helped foster their growth and success, regardless of party.

What did you enjoy most / least about running PoliticsPA?

I enjoy the private correspondence with my readers. There’s something about the anonymity that really lets people open up, and I’m grateful to have been trusted with some serious secrets. On the other hand, PoliticsPA is updated every business day… that’s required me to anonymously log on to a computer in the early morning hours for nearly 1800 consecutive days, occasionally from very public places and once from Europe. (Cal Ripken’s got nothing on me.) We receive about one thousand press releases per month. It’s an important service to post them all, but it can be tedious. Otherwise, this is an absolute pleasure.

You must have a ton of blackmail material squirreled away somewhere.
What are you going to do with it? Is there a memoir in the works?

My secrets will always be secrets. Anything less would be a betrayal of the friendships I value.

Have there been primarily one or two Sys or have a host of people
reading all the emails we’ve been sending over the years?

Despite rumors, there has been virtually no internal turnover behind the curtain. The people you heard from in 2001 are the same today.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Rep. John Peterson in the WSJ

I'm catching up on this week's Wall Street Journal issues and noted this reference to Pennsylvania's 5th district congressman. ("Democrat's Energy Policy to Stress Cutting Demand," by John J. Fialka 12/11/06, p. A14):

Leaders of the coalition that pushed the last energy bill through Congress -- the offshore-drilling measure passed early Sturday morning -- had hoped to pen a much larger area before Republicans gave up control. But they celebrated victory nonethless. "When it comes to passing important legislation around here," said Rep. John E. Peterson (R., Pa), "you learn to shoot for the stars in the hope that you might land on the moon. I don't know that we even approached the stratosphere with this bill, but I do believe it represents an important first step."

Off Topic: Gift Suggestions

For those last minute gift shoppers, here are a few ideas:

Books: This year during the holidays I hope to post reviews of books written by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I’m working on the review for Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope now. It is a fantastic book. It look me longer than expected to read because I had to keep stopping to think about something he wrote or just absorb what was read. The writing is powerful but not overwhelming or heavy-handed. Appropriate for almost everyone, those interested in politics, current events, values, social commentary, biography, and so on. He writes like he talks. ‘Nuff said.

Computer Games: Zoo Tycoon is a favorite in our house, with everyone that plays computer games (everyone but me). It allows you to create a zoo, exhibits, amenities, hire workers, set admission prices, and so on. Players start with a certain amount of money and it decreases as they build and buy and increases as people pay to attend. Teaches a lot of valuable lessons, from environmental awareness to sound business practices. One of the little Janes came running up to me one day and said “All my workers are happy and the bathrooms are clean.” What could be better? The program tells you when the animals are unhappy and why, so turf can be replaced, exhibits enlarged, and so on. In an early outing one of the little Janes had purchased all of the animals in the same gender and they were unhappy about this. It lead to one of those “teachable moments.” Good stuff all around.

Gadgetry: Someone in a pr firm hired by Best Buy sent me an email about an online feature they had which helps people select gifts. No money changed hands and no offers of freebies were made. The person left a name. I checked into her and the firm and they seem legit. I gave the feature a test run and someone at work did the same. Neither of us made any purchases based on it but we found it interesting and useful. If you aren’t sure what to get someone but you know they’d want something techie, try this out:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Missing Monday Update

One of the children I featured in a Missing Monday post earlier this year has been found. I don't have any details other than the name, which I won't post to let the family have some privacy. For those unfamiliar with it, some bloggers in the region highlight a local missing persons case on the first Monday of each month. Most of the time we don't know if the case is solved afterwards. In this case I noticed a flash of hits in sitemeter for the missing child's name and looked into it to see why there was sudden interest. A quick google search found a report of the recovery. Welcome home, young one!

[Update: Curious, I went back through other Missing Monday posts and found three other cases that have been removed from the missing persons databases I use. So those cases were resolved, one way or another. This is interesting. In the future I will keep closer watch.]

weekly legislative update

There was no activity in the state legislature this week.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Same Old Same Old

I’ve been reading a lot about outgoing state Senator Joe Conti being named CEO of the state’s liquor board. There has been a lot of discussion and some outrage. Here are a few excerpts from newspapers:

Pennsylvania's 643 liquor stores have been racking up record sales in recent years, but it was concern about the system's rising expenses that led to the hiring of a just-retired state senator to fill the newly created job of chief executive.

Bucks County Republican Joe Conti, also a Penn State trustee, was hired Wednesday by a 2-1 vote, with a strong dissent from Liquor Control Board Chairman Jonathan Newman.
Newman said Conti's salary of $150,000 -- more than twice what Newman makes -- is too high, and the process by which he was selected was too secretive. (“Ex-senator hired as new CEO: Secretive selection, $150,000 salary draws criticism,” Mark Scolforo Centre Daily Times 12/14/06)

In another article, one of the liquor control board members, Thomas Goldsmith said this:

"It's a bargain price. This is a $1.7 billion business," he said. "In the private sector, a CEO would be making $1 million a year."

[Board member T. J.] Stapleton called the salary "peanuts," adding that Conti "is very knowledgable about the operation of the agency. And this isn't an agency that's easy to understand."

If I remember correctly, we the voters are supposed to be tickled pink to be getting a few hundred dollars back on our property taxes. I don’t think that was called peanuts before the election. The article goes on:

Conti becomes the third known retiring state lawmaker to quickly parlay his legislative career into a lucrative job in state government. Many others in the General Assembly's large outgoing class are trying to do the same.

Last week, Mark McNaughton, a Republican who represented the Harrisburg suburbs in the House for 10 years, was nominated by Speaker John M. Perzel to the Gaming Control Board. He would replace outgoing member Joseph W. "Chip" Marshall III in a job that pays $145,000, more than double the $72,187 McNaughton was making as a legislator when he left office Nov. 30.

Brett Feese, who represented Lycoming County for 12 years in the House, the last two years as the Appropriations Committee chairman, began work as chief counsel to House Republicans Dec. 1, the day after his term ended. He is making $155,000 annually. (“$150,000 LCB post for retired legislator: Joe Conti will become CEO, a new position. The liquor board's chair said he was "very disappointed" by the move.” By Mario F. Cattabiani Philadelphia Inquirer 12/13/06

Conti has owned at least two restaurants and held a liquor license himself as well as having served on the senate committee that oversees liquor control issues. No one can doubt that he his qualified. It is the process that is unseemly. He is the only person interviewed for the job and that just never looks good.

I wish I could muster a little outrage but the whole thing just makes me tired. It never ends. Could we at least ask for a little window dressing? Couldn’t the governor bring in a few courtesy interviews? Humor the electorate at little bit, go through a process.

I spent part of this evening at a PTA meeting where the conversation swirled around the school district budget and the restrictions placed on it by that bit of wording the governor stuck into the property tax reform bill. The possibility of losing music and art weigh heavily in the air. Classes are likely to be larger next year in at least one grade. We are trying to find someone to volunteer to run our major fundraiser of the year, which brings in about $10,000. It pays for classroom and playground balls and lets us buy all the teachers a $50 gift card to help pay for the things they buy for their rooms and students. As a family we are preparing for the holidays. It is just too hard sometimes to watch everything that needs to be watched, but it does not mean that it isn’t noted. This incident and other similar incidents are noted and they leave a bad taste.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Off Topic: Milestone

Apropos of nothing, this is my 1000th post.

News Round Up

This note from Rick Taylor's campaign:

Excited to begin offering services to the constituents of the PA 151st Legislative District, Representative-Elect Rick Taylor announced today that his District office will be located at 701 Horsham Road in Horsham , PA. The office, which will open just before the holidays, will be a full service center to accommodate the needs of all constituents in the District. “My number one goal is to provide excellent constituent services for everyone. I ran for public office with the promise of taking care of our families and I will follow through with that promise – one constituent need at a time” Taylor said. In addition to the office in Horsham, Taylor plans to have a mobile “office” to accommodate those who may not be able to travel due to medical or other reasons. “My staff and I will travel to all parts of the District in order to insure all constituent needs are handled quickly and efficiently.” Taylor added.

For those in the city limits, check out this event:

You are invited to the opening event of Local Politics Matter! We're holding a toy drive for families in South Philly, who are in need during the holiday season. Mayoral and City Council Candidates are expected to attend and show their support for the community. Please join us at 1601 on Tuesday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. It's located at 1601 South 10th Street, on the corner of 10th and Tasker streets. You can also visit the events calendar at for more details. There is no cost to attend, and all we ask is that you bring a new, unwrapped toy. The toys will be distributed to children through a church a couple of blocks away.

Bruce Almighty, Part II

This bandaid is being pulled off very slowly. More information has been released from the poll Mclaughlin & Associates did for Bruce Castor, Montgomery County Attorney General. The telephone poll was of 300 likely voters in Montco. Note this paragraph from the executive summary (from politicspa):

In a divided political environment such as this, it appears the domestic violence scandal affecting [Republican county commissioner]Tom Ellis not only hurts his candidacy but could also have a damaging affect on the campaigns of other Montgomery County Republican candidates. Trying to inoculate Tom Ellis from the scandal would be very expensive due to his low name recognition. Republicans would have to spend a lot of money upfront to raise Tom Ellis’ favorables and positive profile before the Democrats define him with the scandal. Even then, Tom Ellis would most likely be looking at a tough race. If defined by the Democrats and the news reports of his scandal, Republicans would have an extremely hard time rehabilitating Tom Ellis’ campaign and run a serious risk of polluting the campaigns of other Republicans.

This could be a very long year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Watching "Taking the Hill"

This evening I watched "Taking the Hill," which followed four veterans running for congress. These are only my impressions and rough notes. I encourage you to seek an opportunity to watch it yourself.

Taking the Hill (12/12/06) Discovery Times channel

2/08/06 Band of Brothers meeting. Mike Lyon director of the Band of Brothers. Eric Massa watches himself at the rally on tv. Over 50 veterans running as Dems. Only 1 Republican. Massa and Cleland on Air America. “I wore a uniform almost all my life so other people could become millionaires and now I’m calling those people for help.”

Patrick Murphy in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “When I got back [from Iraq] I thought I’d live a normal life but when your country needs you your country needs you.” Follows Murphy’s parents campaigning for him. When he first decided to run he talked with Sen. Max Cleland to get his advice. Scenes from a bbq in Bristol (Paul Lang in the background). Murphy talking to Gwen Ifill. Says he is there to make a change not to keep a seat.

Rick Bolanos from Texas, dad came from Mexico. His family had four brothers serve in Vietnam. Campaigns with two of his brothers against VA cuts.

Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Says the bridesmaid at her wedding is now flying helicopters in Iraq. Duckworth lost both her legs in Iraq.

Eric Massa fundraising in NY, dialing for dollars at the dinner table, talking about how difficult it is. Meeting with professional fundraiser. Massa talks about all the advice he gets, such as not being so outspoken.

Bolanos of Texas. Has a truck with an MIA flag on it. His Texas flag was stolen. Running on passion not on money. Doesn’t have money to mail out brochures so takes them and hands them out at grocery stores, etc. National Dems say “if you raise a million dollars we’ll give you a million dollars.”

Congressman Rahm Emanuel, chair of DCCC, goes to meet Eric Massa. RE says you have to raise $200K every month. Don’t be so angry, be more likeable. Don’t let your family down.

Murphy, Duckworth, Duck (MD), and another veteran candidate in Chicago for Vanity Fair shoot.

Duckworth in Wheaten Ill for 4th of July parade. Sen. Durbin campaigns with/for her.

Murphy at debate with Fitzpatrick at the Intelligencer. After the debate Murphy says he won. “Paratroopers call it like it is.”

Massa says he raised more in this congressional race than in his entire military career but D’s say he is a fundraising failure. Has a tv ad. D’s say too Republican. Asks Cleland who says too warm and fuzzy.

Bolanos checks on rally. Says if it’s an anti-war rally he can’t stay because we need to support the troops. Visits home of young woman soldier who died in the war. He speaks to her parents.

Murphy at a fundraiser with Stephen Stills.

Massa looking at the Red to Blue website. He is not on the list. He debates the incumbent, Rep. Randy Kuhn. Says in debate that he would not ban flagburning. Massa thinks it will cost him the election.

Murphy in his campaign headquarters, talking about incumbent Fitzpatrick’s press conference where Murphy’s service was questioned. Clinton campaigns for Murphy.

Bolanos says his family is spending every cent on his campaign. Drops out of the race.

Duckworth debates Republican Peter Roskam.

Massa says if he wins it won’t be with DC’s help. Cleland and Clinton campaign for him. Massa wonders where Rahn Emanuel is that day.

Murphy at a union meeting. "23 hours away from greatness (election)."

Duckworth at rally. Focus on getting the vote out. Barack Obama campaigns for her.

Massa on election day. Says he loves campaigning on the street, much more than calling people and asking for money.

Murphy the day before election day. Fitzpatrick is a the same train station as Murphy, says Murphy is a one issue candidate. Murphy says he has been at the station every single work day and Fitzpatrick’s last minute campaigning won’t help.

Massa watching the returns. Gets annoyed when Rahm Emanuel says he found veteran candidates. Massa says if he wins it is against all the odds.

Murphy showing his 82nd airborne cufflinks. Hearing returns. Murphy wins. Promises to make supporters proud. Won by 1521 votes.

Duckworth concedes to Roskam.

Massa gets 49% of the vote.

Only 4 of the original 62 Band of Brothers elected. The 2007 congress will have the fewest number of veterans since World War I.

Monday, December 11, 2006

PoliticsPA News

Brett Lieberman of Pennsyltucky Politics and the Patriot News is reporting the PoliticsPA, the statewide political website may be sold to a bipartisan group of investors.

A Report from Neighborhood Networks

ACM over at A Smoke-Filled Room has an excellent post on last week's Neighborhood Networks event for those seeking city council seats. Worth a read.

A Bevy of Announcements

A number of political industry announcements in the inbox recently:

Campaigns & Elections is having a seminar on All Things Ethical / Political in Las Vegas on March 15 and 16. Topics they plan to cover include:

Handling Ethical Dilemmas
Fund Raising Ethics and The Law
Direct Mail Standards – How far can you go?
Internet Ethics: Changing Concepts, Changing Ethics?
Negative Television Advertising – Is negative the new positive?
Religiously Incorrect? The Appropriate Role of Religion in Politics
Polling – Defining your message

Progressive States has an agenda and they want your help with it:
With you, we can win the fight for paid sick days, ensuring that workers don't have to choose between taking care of their sick kids and having the money to pay rent. We will win the fight for election day registration and expanded vote-by-mail that ensure every eligible voter can cast a ballot easily and that all the ballots are counted fairly. We will win the fight for renewable energy development, freeing us from foreign domination of our energy economy while creating clean jobs here at home.

On our own, the Progressive States Network is just a handful of people with some good ideas. With you and your friends on our team, we can be a force to change America.

The man who developed a campaign finance software for Russ Diamond's independent campaign for governor is making his product available to the public. Details here.

Taking the Hill Correction

Sorry, folks, "Taking the Hill" airs tomorrow, Tuesday, at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Times channel. TV channels are like math -- you really should double check me on stuff like that.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Taking the Hill" Airs Tomorrow

Tomorrow (Monday) at 9:00 p.m. "Taking the Hill" airs on the Discovery Times Channel. It follows the races of select veteran candidates including PA-08's Patrick Murphy.

I hope to watch and blog about it. DSL has been very sketchy this past week. The nice people at Verizon has said a new modem/router will arrive tomorrow. In the meantime Mr. J. and I watch the modem/router we have for elusive five lights needed for a connection. However, usually as soon as you touch the keyboard one of the lights go out. It's maddening. Hopefully tomorrow all will be well again.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pennsylvania Society Dinner on PCN

PA Society Dinner
Re-broadcast on PCN

I started watching when the rebroadcast came on at 10:00 p.m.

Passing notes:

Sen. Specter tripped slightly, or took a wrong step, when walking on the dias.

James Nevels stood out as being the only non-white person on the dias.

Judge Rendell wore a very zippy blouse but carried it off with dignity and style.

PA Society now has a website:

Gov. Rendell speaks, good news on PA’s economy. Asks for a moment of silence to honor Pennsylvanians serving their country.

There were two musical groups, the University of Pennsylvania Glee Club and a string trio called Time for Three (I think, this may be wrong).

It's 11:30 p.m., the awards are being given out, and I'm going to call it it a night. Every now and then the camera pans the audience. I don't recognize a single solitary soul.

The post-election drop in readership is appearing as expected but my old blogposts on the Pennsylvania Society are keeping me afloat. More than half of all the visitors directly to the blog today were looking for information the organization.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Live Blogging from the Pennsylvania Society

Our friends at The Next Mayor are live blogging from the Pennsylvania Society. You can put on your party hat and play along from home. The truly inventive can make their own scorecards or a boardgame with Fattah, Brady, Evans, Johnny Doc, Nutter and Knox tokens. What could be more fun?

weekly legislative update

No bills were passed in their the Pennsyvlania House or Senate this week. One was shuffled off to committe but that was about it. A slow week; perhaps everyone was getting ready for the big doins' at the Pennsylvania Society in New York.

Our accountant friends at PICPA did prepare their weekly update last week but I missed it. My apologies.

Now They Tell Us.....

From today's Inquirer ("As Congress Winds Down, It's Time to Get a Move On," by Darlene Superville), I note this paragraph:

Thanks to the election, the Senate will have a new candyman or woman next year. [Rick] Santorum was the keeper of the desk that is traditionally the source of sweets for senators coming into the chamber. He stocked it with Hershey chocolates as well as jellybeans and candy corn.

Let me get this straight, an incumbent senator faces an uphill re-election battle and is especially having trouble getting traction with woman voters. He has a secret stash of chocolate and he's doling it out to old white men in the senate!!! I hate to play into stereotypes but where is the logic in giving chocolate to people who can't vote for you? He should have been throwing bags of the stuff at every public appearance. I swear.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bruce Almighty

Oh me, oh my! The poll alluded to earlier this week, of Montgomery County commissioners, done at the request of county Attorney General Bruce Castor has been released, or at least leaked. See the full results at PoliticsPA.

Republican County Commissioner Jim Mathews has a favorable rating of 21.1%, with 38.2% having no opinion and 36.4% never having heard of him. Ouch!! He just ran for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Lynn Swann. Fellow Republic commissioner Tom Ellis has a 10.1% favorable rating, 36.7% have no opinion and 50% have never heard of him. Lone Democrat Ruth Damsker has a 12.1% favorable rating, with 32.4% having no opinion and 52% have never heard of her. Yowza!!!! That is not good.

Even worse, of those polled 51.8% said they would be less likely to vote for Ellis if they knew about a protection from abuse order filed against him in recent years.

Castor, by comparison, comes up roses. 44.2% have a favorable opinion of him, 27.5% have no opinion and only 20.8% have never heard of him.

Castor held a meeting for GOP officials to show them the poll results. Going by this memo, it sounds like Ellis, the county party chair, and a (if not the) primary party power broker skipped the meeting.

The poll's methodology was not included in the information provided. McLaughlin & Associates conducted the poll.

I say it again, oh me, oh my!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pennsylvania Society News

This weekend is the annual Pennsylvania Society meeting in New York City, where Pennsylvania officials, politicos, and the monied political elite gather. If, like me, you have some interest in what will be happening there, you might want to review the schedule of events currently available on PoliticsPA. Please note that they are invitation only.

If, like me, you weren't actually invited to any of the events, and would be too cheap to spend the money for travel, hotel, and taxi or train expenses, you might want to watch Saturday's Annual Dinner on PCN live at 7:00 p.m., replayed at 9:00 p.m. and again on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. (or so their schedule, subject to change, says). I plan to put on my sequined bunny slippers, sweet talk Mr. J into making cinnamon toast, and watch in style from the comfort of Casa Jane's media room (otherwise known as the den or the basement, depending).

Philly Mayoral Resources

I'm watching the Philadelphia mayoral race from a distance, but trying to keep some level of current knowlege. Here are my three primary information resources, in addition to the local papers (which seem to not be going on strike. Hooray!!!!)

1) The Next Mayor. This project is an innovative, two-year multimedia partnership to focus on the issues - not just the personalities - leading to the 2007 mayor's race. It was created by the Daily News, WHYY and the Committee of Seventy. The project is funded in part by a $330,000 grant to WHYY from the William Penn Foundation. URL: (yes, they do have a blog and it is updated regularly).

2) A Smoke-Filled Room. City blogger ACM does a great job annotating and linking to news stories relating to the race, in addition to her usual daily news round up. URL:

3) Young Philly Politics. This vibrant, youth-oriented city blog has enticed some of the city elders, including possible mayoral candidate Rep. Bob Brady to join in the fray. URL:

There are doubtless other reputable resources out there. These are just the ones that come to my mind the quickest.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Joe Sestak on the PCN Call-In Show

Joe Sestak, Congressman-elect from Pennsylvania’s 7th district was the guest yesterday on PCN’s Call-In Show. The video is currently available on PCN’s website Francine Schertzer is the host. These are my notes from the show. As always, my apologies for any errors or misinterpretations. In two places the video stalled (with interesting face melting effect) and I wasn’t able to capture Sestak’s entire answer. This was more likely my dsl line that PCN’s feed.

Q: What issues do you anticipate working on?

JS: Democratic party was not given a mandante but an opportunity. Issues: 1) Iraq 2) affordable health care 3) education pre-k through college, 4) pay as you go economy

Q: Which is nearest and dearest to you?

JS: health care. His daughter spent 4 months in the oncology ward. Tells the story of the boy on the other side of the curtain on the ward whose family had no health coverage, and of overhearing social workers talk with the parents about whether he could stay. Also economy, cannot keep mortgaging our future, tragic misadventure in iraq

Q: health care, how to make it more affordable

JS: shared responsibility between individual and society as well as business. It can only be done if bipartisan, looked at the Massachusetts plan closely. It mandates everyone participate, with the healthy participating it brings premiums down. Small businesses join together to make larger pools, competition makes costs go down

Q: how to prevent insurance from raising premiums

JS: competition. Massachusetts plan takes 20 or so insurance plans, allows small businesses to join together to negotiate among 20 or so plans for the best price.

Q: how would the MA plan differ from European and Canadian social medicine?

JS: There is a significant difference. The European model has a single payer. We should rely on competition to ensure that everyone sees what each plan offers and negotiate for best price.

Q: reward practitioners for quality not quantity?

JS: called fee for service in medicare. When he was looking for doctor for his daughter the military gave him information so he could tell what docs were better. Having an IT revolution would help individuals see where they might get the best performance for their medical care. Then shift from fee for service to preventive care and early diagnosis.

Caller: Congrats. America is lacking a good energy policy, need to be more energy independent

JS: Agree. Time to move towards energy independence has come. Need strategic plan. Change tax incentive structure. Not to oil companies to drill more but to companies that use alternative energy. Nation should shift towards alternative and renewables. Incentives to consumers to buy hybrids, etc. that help us have clean and alternative energies. Can be good for business. When JS was endorsed by the Sierra Club, he invited people from a venture capital company in Radnor with many investments in alternative energy to attend. We cannot continue to be dependent on other countries.

Caller: pay as you go, besides health care, what are 2 or 3 other examples

JS: First, cap on discretionary spending, Clinton established a cap on discretionary spending, Any new program must include the revenues to pay for it or shift them from another program. Will allow inflationary rise. Need discipline and accountability

Q: Would programs or services cut?

JS: No, but they would be challenged. Forces us to prioritize, not borrow and spend. Is it more important to spend $8 billion on a tragic misadventure in Iraq or here on homeland security? Over 50% of our debt is owned by foreign nations. Not good.

Caller: Pres. Bush indicates he wants to add troops to Iraq. Can this be reversed?

JS: Disagrees with Bush. Recently moved more troops to Baghdad and violence increased. Congress must argue, compel, and provide oversight. Citizens of this nation do not want increase in troops. Military people in Congress like JS can add experience and background (mentions his own service in the military and the Clinton administration). Mentions redeployment 2007. Encourage Iraq to accept responsibility

Q; withdrawal plan

JS: We must provide a timetable, at least a year in advance, to give parties in that country time to ask surrounding nations in region to come together, with us at the table if they want us, to work toward resolving political issues in that country. The US can call an international conference to pursue peaceful resolution to challenges there. We would redeploy to other parts of the region. Iraq must accept responsibility. Every day we are in Iraq our own security is less. The Taliban is growing again in Afghanistan. Iran and nuclear weapon. Middle East. We need to pay attention to the entire global neighborhood not just one house, Iraq. We must have a date certain.

Caller: How to bridge the gap in our country divided?

JS: If voters gave one message is that they want a coming together to address problems. JS did not running on the left or the right but to fix problems. Wants to fix problems. Spent time since elections reaching out across the aisle, meeting with local leaders, mentions names, chambers of commerce, met with union that supported Weldon. Coming together to address our problems. That’s why he is taken with MA health care plan – a bipartisan coming together of a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature. Must tactically work together.

Caller: You ran a great classy campaign. Caller recently lost his grandfather to Parkinson’s. Stem cell research?

JS: 110% in support of stem cell research. 3000 individuals (sympathies to caller) die prematurely that might have lived if stem cell research successful. Mentions daughter’s chemo (daughter now doing well). How can JS not be for it?

Caller: Voted for you. What will you do with elderly with drugs and cost of high heating oil?

JS: Prescription drugs issue, wants to address early to change approach. Should have federal government negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to get best price, like veterans administration does. Median drug price at VA is 46% less than that via medicare. Current law does not permit the federal government to negotiate drug prices. Donut hole could be closed if can get fair prices. It is wrong if a drug made here can be sold overseas for less than here but cannot be reimported. JS recognizes how imp the pharmaceutical industry is (daughter) and how important R&D is, but wants to be fair to seniors. Donut hole can cost seniors an additional 18% of their income.

Caller: jobs going overseas. Your thoughts on outsourcing?

JS: One short-term, change tax incentives that reward companies that move off shore or move jobs offshore. Second, key is to tie knowledge to innovation. America’s educational system allowed us to get competitive edge. Economists believe that if things don’t change China will be #1 world economy by 2050 with India #2. Education is key. China admires not only Harvard but community colleges that produce artisans (welders, etc). E.g. working with businesses for clean energy. Imagine wind turbines made here. Must work with businesses to keep us competitive. Make sure worker rights and environmental standard are included in trade agreements.

Caller: environment, global warming

JS: When we had 16 EPA administrators this past year say global warming is real and a challenge, plus all the scientists saying the same thing, how can we not believe it? Supportive of Kyoto treaty, and further in long term. Increase CAFÉ standards. Must change how we measure mpg. Detroit made cars lighter to get better mpg, Japan made more efficient.

Q: district?

JS: Great district. Born and raised here. Left for Navy for 30 years. Came back to visit family. Middle class working family is primary component of district. People are just comfortable with one another.

Caller: ethics and accountability. Did election speak to those demanding great accountability?

JS: public concerned about reality and perception of influence by lobbyists on votes. JS could vote for any ethics, lobbying or campaign finance law, none would be too strong. All JS needs to know he learned in the Navy : don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal. The government’s loss of credibility is tragic. At orientation week, Nancy Peolosi said ethics was her highest priority (said it 4 times).

Q: what was orientation week like?

JS: Good, Republicans were together with Democrats for part of it. JS had been so focused on his own race he did not know about other races, enjoyed meeting other new congressional reps. Learned about staffing requirements, protocols. Met with Democratic caucus. Looking forward to getting back to DC when Congress reconvenes in January.

Q: Have committee assignments been made yet?

JS: Not yet. JS would like defense security, intelligence, armed services, or appropriations, but really most wants to serve on a committee that concerns domestic issues mentioned in this show. Believes in investing in people.

Caller: public education, underfund schools but implement programs like No Child Left Behind?

JS: Must establish pay as you go economy, then say if NCLB is of value then need to invest $40 billion needed to achieve it’s potential success. Need to change it, fully fund it but also change type of testing. Must judge a school if scores go up depending on where the kids start not judge them all together (if kids start with lower scores, must take improvements into consideration, not just one standard for all). Watching his daughter, he is more appreciative of accessible pre-k for those who want it. $1 in pre-k gets $7 in more productivity when that child is an adult, less crime and less time in jail. Affordable accessible college or training. Tax credits to college or training school or grad school. Knowledge and innovation undergirds the economy. Parallel investment in health of individuals.

Caller: Congrats. Health care. Plans for health care for young people. College grads but jobs don’t provide health care and can’t afford it indivdually.

JS: Spoke today at Chester Co Industry and Business Council and at chambers of commerce. 4-5 years ago 60% of companies with 200 or more employees offered health care, now much lower. Small businesses provides most new jobs. But can’t offer health care. Shared responsibility between individuals and companies. Mandate that all must participate and company must be in pool with other small companies to leverage negotiating power. Premiums will go down. Healthy people in plans, premiums go down. Preventive care means lower taxes because public spending goes down. We are close to $9 trillion in debt but when Clinton left office we had a $5 trillion surplus. We have to reverse that.

Caller: Congrats. Grad student, worried about interest rates on Stafford loans, and also pell grants which haven’t gone up in 5 years.

JS: We should take student loan interest rates back to where they were. Cut interest rates in half to where they were. We need to take all tuition assistance programs (6 of them) and combine them into a simple $3000 tax credit per year that you are in college. More parents are investing in college savings plan. Often that will cover costs of public college. In PA, public university tuitions risen over 50%, JS would love to be on Education committee to work on disciplining costs. [choppy video]

Caller: 73 years old. Best economy in his lifetime. Limo driver. Sees help wanted signs and stock market going up. How come public didn’t know that.

JS: GNP gone up 3% each year, unemployment at an all time low. But real wages gone down 1800$. Productivity has gone up. Real wages have declined. Fruits of that has gone to the wealthy. Tax credits for top 1% wealthy. If you earned $42K, you got $16, if you were a millionaire you got a Lexus. In first 2 years of Bush administration over 2 million jobs were lost. Jobs have come back but median wage of jobs lost was app. 34K, new jobs at app. 30K. Add in a 70% increase in health costs, college tuition gone up 50%, but tax credits for wealthy? Not good.

Caller: Congrats. Privatization of social security.

JS: opposed to privatization. [choppy video]

Caller: Congrats. Tax reform. Alternative minimum tax.

JS: Surprised and disappointed that this congress has not addressed alternative min tax. Meant to address millionaire and multimillionaires and now encroaches on middle-class.

Caller: term limits. Also, as a congressman are you required to pay for health care?

JS: Will not be taking congressional health care, sticking with what he has. Does not like term limits. There would be no need for campaign finance reform if all candidates, even incumbents, had a certain amount of money to spend. Incumbents would run on record. Need more even footing. The current need to raise money in campaigns is harmful to the process. A lot of good men and women donated to his campaign. Those who have vibrant ideas and integrity should stay in office.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Translation Quiz for Presumed State House Speaker DeWeese

Just in time, Alison Hawkes of the Intelligencer has published an article called "New House speaker needs a translator," which provides a list of comments by presumed new Pennsylvania Speaker of the State House Rep. Bill DeWeese, with options for their meaning. I didn't do so well. You can try your luck. Maybe the house will appoint a speaker who doesn't believe in secret leadership slush funds and doesn't need a translator and didn't demote people for voting against the July, 2005 pay raise?

September Senate Journals

For the month of September the Pennsylvania State Senate met in full session for five days, the 19th, 20th, 25th, 26th, and 27th. As promised, when the fall journals were made available I am starting to note when senators were on legislative or other types of leave. If it becomes too much trouble I’ll stop. It will also probably take a few months for me to get the hang of all the different types of leave. But, here, goes, as always, since bills passing the state house or senate are reported in the weekly legislative update, I look specifically for interesting debates or comments in the journals:

Sept. 19 (46 p.): legislative leave for Sens. Kitchen, O’Pake, and Anthony Williams. Not much of interest was reported in the journal itself. On pages 45-6 of the pdf, 2013-2104 of the print, Sen. Fumo talks about Iraq (again).

Sept 20 (7 p.): legislative leave for Sens. Fumo, Kitchen, and Mellow. Nothing of interest in the journal itself.

Sept. 25 (12 p.): legislative leave for Sens. Greenleaf (later cancelled) and Mary Jo White. Temporary leave for Sens. Kasunic (later cancelled) and Punt. Leave for personal reasons for Sen. Fumo.

Sept. 26 (17 p.): Legislative leave for Sens. Scarnati (later cancelled), Mellow and C. Williams. Temporary leave for Sen. Punt

Sept. 27th (11 p.): Legislative leave for Sens. Mellow, Washington, C. Williams, Wozniak, Stout, Mary Jo White and Kasunic (later cancelled). Temporary leave for Sen. Conti. On pages 8-0 of the pdf (2060-2061 of the print) Sen. Fumo talks about Iraq (again). Later, on pages 9-11 of the pdf (2061-2063 of the print), Sen. Hughes talks about gun control and violence.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Missing Monday

It's the first Monday of the month, time to highlight a missing person's case.

Case Type: Endangered Runaway
DOB: May 28, 1992
Black Male
Missing Date: Oct 4, 2006 (age 14)
Height: 5'2" / Weight: 100 lbs
Hair: Black / Eyes: Brown
Circumstances: Kristopher was last seen on October 4, 2006. He may still be in the local area, or he may have traveled to Washington, DC. Kristopher's left ear is pierced, and he has a scar on his left forearm.

Tom Ellis, Bruce Castor, and a Poll

Bruce Castor, Montgomery County District Attorney, commissioned a poll to see how incumbent Republican officials are viewd by the electorate and it came up with a few surprises. The only name leaked so far is county commissioner Tom Ellis, who "fared poorly." This information, and more, is provided in an article from the Times Herald, "Poll: Ellis' re-eleciton chances 'real low," by Margaret Gibbons (12/01/06). It isn't online but both GrassrootsPA and PoliticsPA have a pdf copy.

And here I thought things might be boring out here in the 'burbs in '07. Guess not.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

News Round Up

A few tidbits from the inbox, the mailbox, and things tucked inside the screen door:

The folks at Clean Water Action would like you to write your congressperson and urge them to pass the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act when they reconvene in January.

Pro-Choice America has released a report called Winning the Pro-Choice Swing Vote: NARAL’s Pro-Choice Positive Impact on the 2006 Elections which includes data on PA-08 and PA-07.

Evan Bayh's All America PAC is conducting a short survey to give online activists an opportunity to weigh in on the issues they care about the most. I looked at the first page and wow! are they on target for collecting useful data. They do ask for your opinion on issues but they also ask how you were active in the last election (wrote a letter, attended a fundraiser, hosted a house party, etc) and your email. Useful data to have if you hope to build a grassroots movement.

Friday, December 01, 2006

weekly legislative update

No bills passed the Pennsylvania House or Senate this week, though a few were shuffled around to committees or reviewed and laid on the table.