Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maps, Research, and More!!!

I discovered something wonderful today. I don't know how I've managed to overlook it until now. The Pennsylvania State Data Center has state house and senate district maps, a lot of census data, and all manner of other assorted goodies. Check it out!

Some Travel Notes

A brief break from Pennsylvania politics: To those going to South Carolina for the GOP presidential candidate events this weekend and in the future for the South Carolina primary, let me recommend a few places to visit. Belk is a regional department store and a great place to shop. There are stores throughout the south including a number in South Carolina.

In the greater Columbia area, Sammy Jo's in nearby Winnsboro (Fairfield Co) has wonderful pizza, sandwiches, etc. My favorite item on the menu are the raw fries. It is sort of a lightly fried potato slice. You can't get them here. To those hanging around Iowa for the caucus, if you are on the western border of the state, slip across the state line to Nebraska City, Nebraska. There is a Pendleton's Outlet there. Across the square there is (or at least there used to be) a diner (Shirley's? Sylvia's? something like that) with a great chocolate cream pie on the menu. After a few hours of shopping there is nothing better than a good slice of pie. We now resume our regularly scheduled programming.

More on Montco GOP

Earlier this week I mentioned an article in the Sept issue of Philadelphia Magazine on the Montgomery County GOP. Jeremy Roebuck in the Inky's Montco Meme provides a little more background on some of the key players and fueds.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Delco Candidates by Gender

Having previously looked at county-wide candidates in Bucks and Montgomery Counties by gender, it's time to take at look at Delaware County. This information is taken from the Delaware County Democrats website ( and the Delaware County Republican Party website (

Delco does things a little differently from the other two. In Bucks and Montco the minority party is guaranteed one of the three county commissioner positions. On the Delaware County Council it's winner take all, those who receive the highest number of votes win, regardless of party, and for many years all of the county council has been Republican.

This year each party is running three candidates for county council. The Republicans are running two men, Thomas J. McGarrigle and John P. McBlain, and one women, Colleen P. Morrone. The Democrats are running one man, Keith Collins, and two women, Lin Aramethy Floyd and Jayne Young. McGarrigle is an incumbent; the others would be new to the office.

The District Attorney's race is open; there is no incumbent. The Republican candidate is male (currently chair of the County Council); the Democrats are running a woman for the office.

There are currently 18 judges on the county Court of Common Pleas; six of them have traditionally female names. (Photos of the judges indicate that their genders match their names.) The Republicans are running five candidates, one of whom is female. The Democrats are supporting one of the men running on the Republican ticket. They list three other candidates, two men and one women.

Right now there are four men and one woman on the County Council. One of the men and the one woman are running for other county offices. The woman's term is up and she is running for Court of Common Pleas in lieu of re-election. The man would have to give up his seat if elected District Attorney. However, a third county councilor does not appear to be running for re-election. If, as usually happens, all the Republican candidates win, the gender breakdown of the council would remain 4 to 1. If one or more of the Democrats win that balance would change but it could be a 5-0, 4-1, 3-2, 3-2, depending on which of the Democrats won and which of the Republicans did not, if that makes sense.

We'll have to wait and see.

Bloomies Helps Women Thrive

from the inbox:

On Thursday, September 8th, Women Thrive will join the Eileen Fisher clothing company and Bloomingdale’s, including 2 stores in Pennsylvania (locations below), for an unprecedented in-store and online partnership to help women around the world lift themselves out of poverty.

EILEEN FISHER will donate 3% of the day's in-store and online national sales and Bloomingdale's will contribute an additional $5,000 to Women Thrive, the leading DC-based org advocating for U.S. international assistance and trade programs for the poorest women in the world.

The global population will reach 7 billion in the next two years. The enormous challenge of feeding the world falls upon small-scale, subsistence farmers — the majority of whom are women. Yet women farmers often lack the rights and resources they need to be productive. Women Thrive is calling on Congress to protect critical programs supporting the world's poorest citizens.

Participating Pennsylvania Bloomingdale’s stores:

King of Prussia, 660 W. De Kalb Pike, King of Prussia
Willow Grove, 2400 Moreland Park Rd., Willow Grove

The Eileen Fisher website will let you preview the new fall line (sweaters ....). Short women take note -- there is a petites section.

So, mark your calendars! It's a good time to start your holiday shopping,

Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission

from the inbox, a note about the new Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission. The meeting schedule is on their website:

A new commission launching this week will give the citizens of Pennsylvania an opportunity to tell their side of the story about drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Former state Representatives Carole Rubley and Dan Surra will co-chair the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission, which will hold hearings across Pennsylvania to gather citizen perspectives on the Marcellus Shale and produce a final report for policymakers. The first of five hearings will take place Wednesday in Southwestern Pennsylvania (see full schedule of hearings below).

“Marcellus Shale development will have a huge impact on our Commonwealth and it is critical that we get it right,” Surra said. “This commission will give citizens an opportunity to add their voice and bring some necessary balance to this critical debate.”

“The Commission will give the people of Pennsylvania an opportunity to weigh in on this important issue,” said Rubley. “Their input should inform state policies to ensure gas drilling is conducted in a responsible manner.”

The Citizens Commission was formed by eight leading civic and environmental organizations to give Pennsylvanians living with drilling in their backyard a place to speak out and recommend action.

Earlier this year, Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, heavy with industry representatives, produced a report and recommendations on shale drilling. The Citizens Commission is intended to supplement that work and delve deeper into a variety of issues, including water and air quality, social impacts of gas drilling, the drilling tax, and impacts outside Marcellus communities.

“The Governor’s commission told part of the story,” said Thomas Au, Conservation Chair for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The citizens of Pennsylvania have a different story to tell.”

The Commission will hold five hearings across Pennsylvania in August and September. Each hearing will be held from 6-9 p.m., with the first hour reserved for expert testimony and the remaining two for public input.

In early October, the Commission will produce a report documenting the opinions and concerns of citizens to be delivered to Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Rudnick Tours Germantown Town Hall

from the inbox:

City Council Candidate Rudnick Tours Abandoned Historical Site
Sees Hope for Germantown Town Hall

PHILADELPHIA, PA Last Thursday, Brian Rudnick, Green Party Candidate for Philadelphia's 8th City Council District, assembled a group of community leaders to tour Germantown Town Hall, a nationally registered historical site that has sat vacant for 17 years. The 36,000 square foot building, located in the heart of Germantown, served as a hospital during the civil war and later a municipal services building until 1994 when it was abandoned by the city.

"I was shocked to see the state of disrepair that the city has allowed this property to reach," said Rudnick. "Once an integral part of Germantown, Town Hall has the potential to return to the vibrancy of its past. Leaders in our community have already taken large steps toward making the vision of a repurposed Town Hall a reality. I call on the City to partner with the private sector, restore the building using the best green practices and engage building contractors and workers from the Germantown community. Together we can turn Town Hall into a multi-purpose store, office and education center, in collaboration with Germantown High School across the street. Town Hall can also house the 8th District Council office. Here, residents could conduct business with the City during the day or on convenient weekend or evening hours."

As part of his campaign, Rudnick has highlighted the need to collect the more the than $400 million the city is owed in back taxes and to auction off abandoned properties so they can be restored and begin generating tax revenue. The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) is now actively marketing Town Hall, asking $400,000. Rudnick brought together architects, association leaders and business people to assess the building and brainstorm ways it can be kept from declining further. His campaign has released photographs both to demonstrate the extent of the Hall?s decay and its great potential for restoration.

Brian Rudnick is an educator, activist, attorney, and parent running for Philadelphia?s 8th District City Council seat. For the last two decades he has lived in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, raising his family and working to better his community. The father of three children, one who graduated from and two who attend public schools, he is committed to giving schools the resources our children need and deserve. As an attorney, Rudnick represented single mothers in child support cases and helped restore social security disability benefits to people who had lost them. Rudnick graduated from Northeast High, received a B.A and J.D from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a Masters in Library and Information Systems from Drexel University. He is committed to building a sustainable, green economy and as an adjunct professor of information systems at area colleges; he has been training the next generation of our city?s leadership.

Nutter Wants to Drop DROP

Mayor Nutter is asking Philadelphians to sign a petition asking City Council to do away with the DROP program.

Partial text of email:

The Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) has cost Philadelphia taxpayers at least $100 million since its creation in 1999. That's way too much, and that's why I have called upon City Council to eliminate DROP.

But rather than end DROP, City Council passed a bill in June that would have amended the program at an additional cost of $15 million to $20 million. I vetoed that bill, and I refuse to sign any bill that stops short of fully eliminating the DROP program.

City Council will be back in session in early September, and they may try to override my veto. If you agree with me that the DROP program has already cost the city too much and must be eliminated, then I need you to make your voice heard loud and clearly in City Hall.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jenny Brown's Electoral History

Yesterday I posted rough notes from an interview Jenny Brown, one of the Republican candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner, did with the Kitchen Table Patriots, a regional tea party group. In that interview she mentioned that she had been elected to the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners with support from Democratic voters as well as Republican voters. That was intriguing so I went back and looked at a history of Lower Merion Township Ward 2, and the election results. Links are to the actual election results, which in 2005 are pdfs that run 300 or so pages, and more workable files in 2009.

When Brown first ran in 2005 it was an open election. For the previous 15 years Ward 2 had been represented by Republican Ken Davis, who did not run in 2005 (see his Wikipedia entry for a detailed biography).

It is true that the Lower Merion Township Ward 2 Democrats did not run a candidate in 2005 or in 2009. Looking at the list of committeepeople for that Ward at present the Democrats do not have a committeeperson for all areas of the Ward so it is possible that the party does not have a strong presence there, though I have no personal knowledge of the matter and that is pure conjecture.

In the 2005 primary, on the Republican side Brown was voted the party’s candidate with 317 votes (see p. 20 of the election results). She received 31 votes to be the Democratic candidate (p. 57 of the election results). There were no other candidates on the ballot and I think it is possible that she was a write-in on the Democratic side but I’m definitely not certain of this.

In the 2005 general election she received 685 votes. There were no other names on the ballot and there were no write-in votes (p. 13 of the election results).

In the 2009 primary election, listed as a Democrat, Brown received 134 votes, and there were 19 write-in votes (presumably for other people, though I am not positive of this). As a Republican she received all 320 of the votes cast.

In the 2009 general election she received 1032 votes, and there were 3 write-in votes.

Someone very kindly looked up the current voter registration numbers for me. At present in Ward 2 of Lower Merion Township Montgomery County there are 1,590 Democrats, 1,324 Republicans, 393 Independents, and 18 Other.

While Jenny Brown may be a lovely person she hasn’t had any real electoral experience. She stepped into the shoes of a strong Republican predecessor and has never had an opponent on the ballot. The hotly contested county race is an entirely different level of play. It will be interesting to see how the fall campaign goes.

Obama Signs PA Emergency Declaration

from the inbox:

The President today declared an emergency exists in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ordered federal aid to supplement commonwealth and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from Hurricane Irene beginning on August 26, 2011, and continuing.

The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Sullivan, Wayne, and Wyoming.

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.

DelcoDems Revamp Website

The Delaware County Democrats have a logo and a redesigned website. Check it out at:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jenny Brown Interview with the Kitchen Table Patriots

This past February the Kitchen Table Patriots, a regional tea party affiliate, posted a you tube video of an interview with Jenny Brown, a Republican candidate for Montgomery County commissioner. (I've written about the Kitchen Table Patriots before).

The video is about 7 minutes long. I watched it and took some rough notes. Below my interview notes are a few personal observations. The notes are not intended as a full transcript and I encourage people to watch the video for themselves. As always I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Introduction: Hi Jenny, my name is Kate Wright I’m a committee person from Ambler. Why do you want to be a Montgomery County Commissioner?

Jenny Brown: I want to be a county commissioner because I see the county going down the road to excessive spending, excessive borrowing, and leading to excessive taxes if we don’t have certain fiscal policies in place. We need county commissioners that have ideas for how to deal with the fiscal issues the county has. I am a strong candidate because of my background, my political and professional and personal background. I’m married, a mom and wife, married for 18 years, two children both adopted. We are, as you can imagine, big proponents of adoption because we know the blessings involved. We take the political stuff as a family, take children with us, turn it into a family walk. My husband spends about 20 hours a week helping the Republican commissioners working against the detrimental policies of the Democrat majority. Having those resources helps. I’ve been an attorney for 20 years, and have my own law firm. All we do is represent municipalities. We do tax information, with respect to local business taxes. That involves a lot of knowing tax information, showing our benefits to our clients, a lot of analysis for our clients. That municipal background will help. Politically for the last 5 years I’ve been a commissioner in Lower Merion Township, and work at that 30 sometimes 40 hours a week.

I’m trying to bring fiscal common sense. Unfortunately since Republicans lost control our debt has doubled, taxes have gone up, so I spend a lot of time trying to get good policies in place. I’m a fiscal conservative and have 5 years of newpaper clippings to document that. I don’t believe in borrowing for the sake of borrowing. I spend a lot of time with finances. I also spend a lot of time on transparency. When I came on the board there were a lot of back room deals. Initially they would continue to have the meetings and I would go out in the public and tell what had happened. It has not been easy or pleasant. After 5 years, we now have the budget and other business being done out in the open. I have the background to address those issues. I’m a good candidate because I had a lot of Democrat support. We have to realize that in Montgomery Count we need candidates that can attract Democrat support. I’m honored to have been twice elected in my ward with Democrat support. I also received Democrat nomination from write ins. Its one thing to have Democrat support when you tax and spend like a Democrat. It’s another thing to have Democrat support when you’ve held fast to our Republican principals of restrained spending and smaller government. I have a lot of support township wide, while still being true to our principals. That’s the kind of candidate we need, to attract support from all parties.

Personal observations: I notice that Ms. Brown has adopted the recent Republican habit of referring to the Democratic Party as the Democrat Party. She is also up front about working against the Democrats who are on the township commissioners board with her. I write from a Democratic perspective so perhaps these things jumped out at me more than they would for independent voters, certainly more than they would for Republican voters. Later this week I'll post an entry looking more closely at Mrs. Brown's electoral history.

Montco GOP in Philly Mag

Jason Fagone has an interesting article in the new Sept. issue of Philadelphia Magazine. Check out What Would Ronnie Say About Montco Republicans Now?. Fagone traces the factions within the Montgomery County Republican Party, what led to the various splits, and how they are affecting this year's county electoral races.

SEPTA Update for Monday

received at 8:37 p.m. on Sunday:

Anticipated SEPTA Service
Monday Morning - August 29, 2011

SEPTA is currently operating normal service on the:

Market-Frankford Line
Broad Street Line
City Transit Trolley lines.
City Bus Routes - (with detours)
Rt.102 - Sharon Hill Trolley
Suburban Bus Routes – (with detours)
CCT Paratransit

We expect to have the following back in operation, although with delays and occasional disruptions:

Regional Rail:
• Airport Line
• Chestnut Hill East Line
• Chestnut Hill West Line
• Lansdale/Doylestown Line
• Fox Chase Line
• Media/Elwyn
• Warminster Line
• West Trenton Line
• Wilmington Line
Norristown High Speed Line (running with extra service)
Rt. 101 – Media Trolley

The following lines are not expected to be restored in time for Monday’s morning rush due to flooding, downed trees and overhead wires and signal problems:

Regional Rail:
• Cynwyd Line
• Norristown Line
• Paoli/Thorndale Line
• Trenton Line

For up-to-date information on the status of all SEPTA service, visit

Friday, August 26, 2011

Casa Jane Prepared

We're as prepared as we can be. If the power and water go out we have enough food to eat for 2 or 3 days, canned veggies and tinned meat, bread, some fruit, bottled water and juice.

Patio furniture is stored or secured. In case of flooding on the lower level of the house we've moved some of the furniture to higher levels and cleared out a lot of loose stuff and junk.

I talked with the neighbors on both sides and everyone seems ready. We all compared notes on who has what so we can swap or share if needed. Tomorrow morning I might do some baking just to use up eggs, etc., and also to have more ready to eat food on hand.

The big worries are falling trees and damp or flooded basements.

Everyone is juicing up electronics. Mr. J and I are working out way through George R. R. Martin's "Ice and Fire" series (perhaps better known as the Game of Thrones series) so being inside with for a long stretch will give us a chance to do some reading.

I hope you all are inside safe and sound. Remember to check on your friends and neighbors.

Hurricane Irene Update: Transit Stoppages

from SEPTA:

In the interest of public safety, with a hurricane of historic proportions approaching the region, SEPTA will cease all transportation operations at 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

In addition, due to Amtrak Northeast Corridor shutdown, service will be suspended at approximately 5 p.m. Saturday on the following SEPTA Regional Rail lines: Wilmington/Newark, Paoli/Thorndale, Trenton, Chestnut Hill West, and Airport. All other SEPTA Regional Rail trips and other services scheduled after 12:30 a.m. Sunday will be cancelled.

Service is not expected to resume on any SEPTA modes of travel until at least mid-day Sunday, following damage assessments and repairs. Operations will resume on a route-by-route basis, based on conditions.

from PATCO:
PATCO President, John J. Matheussen, has announced PATCO will be suspending service late Saturday night into early Sunday morning with the last train leaving Lindenwold at 11:30pm on Saturday, August 27, and the last train leaving 16th & Locust at 12:05am on Sunday, August 28.
Depending on the severity of the storm, PATCO hopes to resume service Sunday Afternoon, August 28.
Matheussen points out SEPTA and New Jersey Transit have also suspended service because of the Hurricane. New Jersey Transit rail service will be suspended at 12 pm Saturday, August 27, New Jersey Transit Bus Service and Light Rail Service will be suspended at 6pm on Saturday, August 27, and SEPTA will cease operations at 12:30am on Sunday, August 28.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Info from FEMA

from the inbox:

As Hurricane Irene moves closer to the East Coast of the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working closely with states up and down the East Coast to ensure they have the resources they need to prepare. FEMA strongly encourages all East Coast residents to take steps now to prepare for severe weather in the coming days and urging them to listen to and follow the instructions of their state, tribal and local officials.

The National Hurricane Center has issued a Hurricane Watch for the North Carolina Coast from North of Surf City to the North Carolina-Virginia border. A Hurricane Watch means hurricane conditions are possible in the area within 48 hours. For more forecast information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center, click here.

Under the direction of President Obama and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, the entire federal family, coordinating through FEMA, is leaning forward to support our state and territorial partners as Hurricane Irene continues to threaten the east coast, having already impacted Puerto Rico. FEMA through its regional offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are in constant contact and coordination with state, tribal and local officials that could be impacted or have already been impacted by this storm, to ensure they have the support they need to respond. FEMA's regional response coordination centers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta are operating at heightened levels to ensure federal coordination and support to states that may be affected by severe weather.

Since the federal government first began monitoring the storm, FEMA officials have been regularly updating President Obama and Secretary Napolitano on the federal efforts to support storm response and preparation needs. Earlier today, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Secretary Napolitano briefed President Obama on the latest preparation efforts with states and major metropolitan areas, including the pre-positioning of staff, teams and commodities across the entire East Coast.

"All residents along the East Coast should be paying close attention to this storm and listening to their state and local officials for key updates and information, including evacuation orders," said Administrator Fugate. "Now is the time to prepare your families, homes or businesses, so if you haven't already, visit or"

In advance preparation for the storm, FEMA National Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMATs) are on the ground in North Carolina and Virginia and arriving in South Carolina, today in anticipation of further deployment to potential impact areas along the east coast of the U.S. In addition, Regional IMATs are being deployed to Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, to coordinate with state, tribal and local officials to identify needs and shortfalls impacting potential disaster response and recovery efforts.

FEMA has also placed liaison offers in state emergency operations centers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and with New York City emergency management officials. Liaisons are also deploying to New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland. These liaisons will coordinate with the state for any support needed and requested.

At all times, FEMA maintains commodities, including millions of liters of water, millions of meals and hundreds of thousands of blankets, strategically located at distribution centers throughout the United States and its territories. In Atlanta, for instance, FEMA has more than two million liters of water, more than 1.3 million meals, and more than 16,000 cots and 56,000 blankets. These resources may be moved to Incident Support Bases (ISBs), which are distribution centers located closer to the impacted areas, allowing FEMA and federal partners to proactively stage commodities closer to areas potentially affected by severe weather, allowing supplies to quickly be moved throughout nearby affected states, should they be needed and requested. Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for example, has been designated as an ISB to support federal operations, and ISBs are being set up in Massachusetts and New Jersey, to support states within the regions.

These commodities are meant to supplement state resources if needed, but it's critical that individuals and families build their own emergency supply kits so that in the event of a disaster, state and local resources can be focused on the most vulnerable citizens.

In Puerto Rico, federal personnel are joining commonwealth and local officials to conduct joint preliminary damage assessments, as weather permits. These damage assessments are the first step in helping a governor determine whether the scope of the damages are beyond what the commonwealth is capable of handling, and if additional federal assistance is needed. This past weekend, FEMA proactively deployed regional IMATs to the Caribbean to coordinate with territory and local officials to identify needs and shortfalls impacting potential disaster response and recovery, and on August 22, President Obama signed an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, making federal funding available to supplement commonwealth and local response efforts in the area.

FEMA is coordinating across the federal government to ensure territorial and state officials have the support they need as they respond to or prepare for Irene. New actions as of today include, but are not limited to:

NOAA's G-IV research jet is scheduled to fly surveillance missions today and tomorrow. The G-IV flies at high altitude (40,000'+) to measure the steering currents surrounding the hurricane, improving forecasts of the hurricane's track. Additionally, the agency's WP-3D is also scheduled to fly multiple research missions into Hurricane Irene today. Flying through the eye of the storm at low altitudes, this aircraft collects research-mission data critical for computer models that predict hurricane intensity and landfall.

· The Department of the Interior units affected by the storm, primarily national parks and fish and wildlife refuges along the coast, are taking all appropriate actions and informing the public through local announcements as actions are taken. In the Washington, DC area, the National Park Service (NPS) is coordinating closely with FEMA other federal partners to monitor the storm.

· The U.S. Coast Guard will identify and track all vessels in port, establish contact with emergency management agencies at the local, state and federal levels, and work closely with port and industry officials to minimize damage in the event the storm impacts key shipping ports and facilities.

· The U.S. Department of Agriculture is releasing information on food safety tips in advance of severe weather. Visit for more information.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has begun preparing its facilities along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. in advance of potential landfall of Hurricane Irene. Although all VA facilities remain under normal operations at this time, the Hampton, Va. VA Medical Center will be conducting a partial evacuation of its facility, sending some patients requiring advanced care to the Richmond and Martinsburg, Va. VA Medical Centers.
The American Red Cross is mobilizing disaster relief workers and relief supplies for an East Coast response. The Red Cross is opening shelters in North Carolina as local evacuation orders begin to go into effect. Additional shelters in North Carolina and other states are being prepared along the east coast. More information is available about open Red Cross shelters at

Click here for the previous update on these activities.

FEMA encourages everyone, regardless of whether they live in a hurricane-prone area, to take steps to ensure their families, homes and businesses are prepared for a possible emergency. As a reminder, the month of September is designated as National Preparedness Month (NPM), an opportunity to encourage Americans to be prepared for disasters or emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities. Individuals and families can learn about events and activities, and groups can register to become a NPM Coalition Member by visiting NPM is sponsored by the Ready Campaign in partnership with Citizen Corps and The Ad Council.

FEMA's ongoing support of disaster response activities in Puerto Rico and its proactive support for East Coast storm preparations, does not diminish its focus from critical federal disaster response and recovery operations that continue, across the nation, including flooding in the Midwest and the ongoing recovery from the southeastern tornadoes. Every disaster is a reminder that they can happen anytime, anywhere. Now is the time to prepare--visit or for tips on creating your family emergency plan and putting together an emergency supply kit.

Follow FEMA online at,,, and Also, follow FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate's activities at

The social media links provided are for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies or applications.

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Reader Feedback Plugin

Two entrepreneurs have developed a new plug in for blogs and websites. It scans the text for names of politicians and / or celebrities, athletes, etc.. A link on those names will allow readers to vote up or down on that name and leave comments. Votes on that name are reflected on all posts mentioning that person to give real time results of that person's popularity.

Read more about at You can also read more about the two men who started the company on

If you run a website or blog you might want to check it out.

Auditor General Jack Wagner on School Superintendent Buyouts

from yesterday's inbox:

Auditor General Jack Wagner said today that he was initiating a new policy of immediately auditing school superintendent separation agreements so that full details of buyouts would be available to taxpayers.

Wagner announced the enhanced policy after the School District of Philadelphia and the Allentown School District relieved their superintendents of their duties within the past week. Wagner said he was particularly disturbed because these two districts have announced significant classroom cutbacks because of declining financial support from state government. According to media reports, the outgoing Allentown superintendent is receiving a $50,000 contract buyout and ongoing employment at the school district at the same $195,000 salary and the outgoing Philadelphia superintendent is getting a $905,000 severance package, with $500,000 coming from taxpayers and $405,000 from anonymous private donors.

Wagner said his auditors would contact the Allentown School District and School District of Philadelphia in the next few days to obtain complete information on the details of their superintendent buyout agreements.

“Public school districts in Pennsylvania are grappling with their greatest financial challenge in a generation, and they are working hard to make sure that every taxpayer dollar is being spent wisely and prudently,” Wagner said. “Superintendent buyouts send a message to the public that the leadership in these school districts are out of touch with taxpayers and are not careful stewards of taxpayer dollars. Superintendent severance packages are questionable not only because they appear to waste money, but because the full terms of the secretly negotiated severance packages are seldom made available to the public for scrutiny. As the state’s independent fiscal watchdog, I want to help taxpayers understand what they are paying for.”

The superintendent buyouts in Allentown and Philadelphia are the latest that Wagner has highlighted during his 6 ½ years as auditor general. Other school districts previously cited by Wagner’s audits were:
• Mt. Lebanon School District (Allegheny County): Buyout in excess of $420,000
• South Allegheny School District (Allegheny County): Buyout in excess of $375,000
• Lehighton Area School District (Carbon County): Buyout in excess of $150,000
• Pittsburgh Public Schools (Allegheny County): Buyout in excess of $150,000
• Derry Township School District (Dauphin County): Buyout in excess of $126,000
• Warren County School District (Warren County): Buyout in excess of $101,000
• Coudersport Area School District (Potter County): Buyout in excess of $73,000

Wagner previously made specific recommendations to the General Assembly in August 2005 to amend state law to reduce or eliminate the need for buyouts. Wagner has recommended:
• School districts should limit their potential liability by granting future superintendents to the three-year minimum contract term permitted by state law,
• Future superintendent employment contracts should contain adequate provisions from the outset of the employment relationship to address premature termination of employment, and
• Superintendent contracts should not contain confidentiality clauses that prohibit public disclosure of the reasons for the termination of superintendent to justify the school district’s expenditure of public funds to buy out the superintendent’s contract.

“Because the General Assembly and school boards have has failed to take action and rein in these wasteful buyouts, the Department of the Auditor General will step up efforts to keep taxpayers informed,” Wagner said.

Wagner sent a letter on August 9 to Robert L. Archie Jr., chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, informing him of the Department of the Auditor General’s concern that “negotiated buyouts of school officials are frequently not made transparent to the public.”

“I urge you, as stewards of tax dollars for the citizens of the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia School District, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to do the right thing on behalf of the taxpayers concerning salary and compensation packages for School District of Philadelphia administration leaders,” the letter concluded.

Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the commonwealth’s elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts thousands of audits each year. To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department’s website at

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Note on Logos

I’ve noticed some interesting campaign logos recently. The majority of campaign logos are some combination of red, white, and blue, with stars on it somewhere. Fonts can vary (see long ago blog post on the logos and fonts on campaign thank you letters), as can placement, size, and color of the stars. Want some examples? Take a look at:

At two recent political events (both for the Shapiro / Richards campaign) I noticed logos for township candidates that buck the trend.

Heidi Morein, running for Conshohocken Township Commission, Ward 7, studied for a year at Moore College of Art and Design. It shows. The logo has some novel lines and shapes on it. At the other end of the artistic spectrum John Spiegelman, candidate for Abington Township Commissioner, Ward 11, has a blue, green, and white grid pattern. Spiegelman, a graphic designer by trade, has helped some of this fellow township candidates develop logos.

I’m not saying there is anything significant in this, just that I noticed.

The Day The Earth Didn't Stand Still

"Michael Rennie was ill ...."

Whoops, sorry, wrong post.

This morning I was in South Jersey for a training session. Afterwards I went out to lunch with an old friend. So, there we were, around 2:00 p.m. sitting at an outdoor table at a Cherry Hill restaurant. I was enjoying the nice weather and the good company when things started to feel odd. At first I looked at the ground thinking there was something wrong with the concrete under my feet. No, that looked okay. Maybe I was having some sort of medical problem? Then I looked over at the cars in the parking lot. The cars were shimmying back and forth sideways, just bouncing a little like backup dancers.

I looked at my friend. We looked at the other diners. They looked at us. What is a blogger to do? I grabbed my phone, tapped into twitter and typed Earthquake!!!. And apparently that is what it was. Hopefully that was my first and only. There are certain things one wants to take for granted, such as solid ground that does not move around.

PA "Champion of Change"

from the inbox:

Last week, Susan Gregg Koger was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” for her work to strengthen the local economy and help create jobs. Susan was not able to attend the ceremony at the White House because of a prior commitment.

The White House Champions of Change initiative profiles Americans from all walks of life who are helping the country rise to the challenges of the 21st century. These Champions of Change are doing extraordinary things in their communities to innovate, educate and build a better America. For more, please visit

Koger hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is the Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of ModCloth, an eRetailer selling independent designer fashion and decor. Susan started ModCloth when she was just 17, taking her love of thrifting and starting an online business. Today ModCloth has grown into a thriving business of close to 200 employees, and the company has quickly gained attention for its dedication to customer engagement on the site and for its rapid growth. Susan was recognized by Inc. Magazine as the #2 "Top Entrepreneur under 30” and named to BusinessWeek’s 2010 list of the “Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs.”

My Introduction to Class Action Suits

Several years ago, before Facebook had really burst onto the scene, someone asked me to join My high school experience was not one of continuous bliss but, eh, I signed up for the free version. That meant that every now and then I get an email telling me someone has "signed my guestbook" and to see who that might be I have to upgrade to the paid version. To date I have resisted the temptation and haven't checked the free account for, probably, years.

Thus I was somewhat surprised to get an email telling me I am part of a class action lawsuit against Classmates. One email arrived last October but I didn't pay much attention to it. Something about how if I objected to something I had to file a written objection that includes some legal gobbledygook and say whether or not I intended to be at the final settlement, and so on and so forth. I ignored it.

Saturday another email arrived telling me that a settlement was in the offing and:


Yes, I could receive $10, or possibly less if a lot of people sign up for the cash award. What do the lawyers get? Their $1 million in fees is separate from the money set aside for the "claimants." If I read it correctly (and that is iffy), more may be paid towards court costs.

I had no beef with Classmates and do not understand what they did that was worth them paying out something like $3 million total. Mostly I just deleted the classmates emails when they arrived. Of course, there may be far more to the matter than I know. But my immediate off the cuff response to the lawsuit notice is that I didn't want any part of this and don't like being included with only an opt out possibility. Shouldn't this be an opt in decision? Maybe there an earlier email, since deleted, that explains further. It just struck me as an odd email to arrive out of the blue.

Clearing the Record

I've had to correct two posts in the past few weeks.

Yesterday I posted a blog entry on Montgomery County candidates. I mentioned Eileen Behr had won a special election to become current county sheriff. A reader left a comment correcting me. Past sheriff John P. Durante died in office in February, 2010. Alfred Ricci served as acting sheriff until April, 2011 when Gov. Corbett recommended Ms. Behr to be appointed sheriff until the Nov. 2011 elections. Later in April the State Senate approved Ms. Behr's appointment. In May, 2011 she won a contested primary and will be on the ballot in the fall election as the Republican candidate for office. I knew the previous sheriff had died in office and Behr was filling out his term. I saw mentions of the primary and confused it with a special election. My mistake.

On August 15th I wrote a blog entry describing an event held at Roman Delight in Abington. I raved about their deep dish pizza, which is fine except what I had eaten was Sicilian pizza not deep dish. I consider these sophisticated foods and often get this mixed up. Again, my mistake and the entry has been corrected.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Montgomery County Candidates by Gender

Some time ago I looked at the history of women on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. To take a current snapshot of the candidates for county wide office, I looked at the websites of the Montgomery County Democrats ( and Bucks County Republicans (

In the county commissioner race each party runs two candidates, the three who get the greatest number of votes are elected. Only one of the current three commissioners is running for re-election. Incumbent Republican Bruce Castor is running with Lower Merion Township Supervisor Jenny Brown. The Democratic ticket is State Rep. Josh Shapiro and Whitemarsh Township Supervisor Leslie Richards.

Incumbent Republican District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman is running unopposed.

Diane Morgan, the incumbent Democratic Controller is running against Republican Stewart Greenleaf, Jr.

For Prothonotary incumbent Democrat Mark Levy is facing Republican Bill Donnelly.

Two women face off for Recorder of Deeds: incumbent Republican Nancy Becker and Democratic challenger Linda Hee.

In the race for Clerk of Courts, incumbent Democrat Ann Thornburg Weiss is running against Republican Moon Ahn.

Two men are running for coroner, incumbent Democrat Dr. Walter Hofman and Republican Dr. Gordon Clement.

Republican Sheriff Eileen Behr, who won the office in a special election was appointed by the governor and confirmed by the PA Senate shortly before winning a contested primary election in May of 2011, faces Democrat Will Holt, Jr. The previous sheriff died in office in February 2010. Alfred J. Ricci was acting sheriff from Feb, 2010 until April, 2011.

Current Register of Wills, Democrat D. Bruce Hanes is running against Republican challenger Patricia Mosesso.

Two men are running for treasurer. It is an open race, neither has the benefit of incumbency. Republican Chuck Wilson is up against Democrat Jason Salus.

Like the commissioner race, each party is fielding a man and woman for county Court of Common Pleas. None are incumbents. Democratic candidates are Richard Haaz and Cheryl Austin. Republicans are running Daniel Clifford and Maureen Coggins. Of the 20 judges listed on the county’s judicial website, five has first names that traditionally or frequently are used by women.

So, if you are keeping score, there will be a woman on the county Board of Commissioners; we just won’t know until November whether it will be Jenny Brown or Leslie Richards. The District Attorney’s office will be retained by Risa Vetri Ferman. The Recorder of Deeds will be a woman. The coroner, prothonotary and treasurer will be male. The races for Controller, Clerk of Courts, Register of Wills, and Sheriff each have one male and one female candidate.

The Court of Common Pleas could have two new male or two new female judges, or one of each.

This is a very diverse ballot, at least by gender, and the parties are to be commended for recruiting women to run for office.

Prez-O on Libya

from the inbox:


Blue Heron Farm
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
2:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I just completed a call with my National Security Council on the situation in Libya. And earlier today I spoke to Prime Minister Cameron about the extraordinary events taking place there.

The situation is still very fluid. There remains a degree of uncertainty and there are still regime elements who pose a threat. But this much is clear: The Qaddafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people.

In just six months, the 42-year reign of Muammar Qaddafi has unraveled. Earlier this year, we were inspired by the peaceful protests that broke out across Libya. This basic and joyful longing for human freedom echoed the voices that we had heard all across the region, from Tunis to Cairo. In the face of these protests, the Qaddafi regime responded with brutal crackdowns. Civilians were murdered in the streets. A campaign of violence was launched against the Libyan people. Qaddafi threatened to hunt peaceful protestors down like rats. As his forces advanced across the country, there existed the potential for wholesale massacres of innocent civilians.

In the face of this aggression, the international community took action. The United States helped shape a U.N. Security Council resolution that mandated the protection of Libyan civilians. An unprecedented coalition was formed that included the United States, our NATO partners and Arab nations. And in March, the international community launched a military operation to save lives and stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks.

In the early days of this intervention the United States provided the bulk of the firepower, and then our friends and allies stepped forward. The Transitional National Council established itself as a credible representative of the Libyan people. And the United States, together with our European allies and friends across the region, recognized the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.

Qaddafi was cut off from arms and cash, and his forces were steadily degraded. From Benghazi to Misrata to the western mountains, the Libyan opposition courageously confronted the regime, and the tide turned in their favor.

Over the last several days, the situation in Libya has reached a tipping point as the opposition increased its coordination from east to west, took town after town, and the people of Tripoli rose up to claim their freedom.

For over four decades, the Libyan people have lived under the rule of a tyrant who denied them their most basic human rights. Now, the celebrations that we’ve seen in the streets of Libya shows that the pursuit of human dignity is far stronger than any dictator. I want to emphasize that this is not over yet. As the regime collapses, there is still fierce fighting in some areas, and we have reports of regime elements threatening to continue fighting.

Although it’s clear that Qaddafi’s rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for the sake of Libya.

As we move forward from this pivotal phase, the opposition should continue to take important steps to bring about a transition that is peaceful, inclusive and just. As the leadership of the TNC has made clear, the rights of all Libyans must be respected. True justice will not come from reprisals and violence; it will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its citizens to determine their own destiny.

In that effort, the United States will be a friend and a partner. We will join with allies and partners to continue the work of safeguarding the people of Libya. As remaining regime elements menace parts of the country, I’ve directed my team to be in close contact with NATO as well as the United Nations to determine other steps that we can take. To deal with the humanitarian impact, we’re working to ensure that critical supplies reach those in need, particularly those who have been wounded.

Secretary Clinton spoke today with her counterparts from leading nations of the coalition on all these matters. And I’ve directed Ambassador Susan Rice to request that the U.N. Secretary General use next month’s general assembly to support this important transition.

For many months, the TNC has been working with the international community to prepare for a post-Qaddafi Libya. As those efforts proceed, our diplomats will work with the TNC as they ensure that the institutions of the Libyan state are protected, and we will support them with the assets of the Qaddafi regime that were frozen earlier this year. Above all, we will call for an inclusive transition that leads to a democratic Libya.

As we move forward, we should also recognize the extraordinary work that has already been done. To the American people, these events have particular resonance. Qaddafi’s regime has murdered scores of American citizens in acts of terror in the past. Today we remember the lives of those who were taken in those acts of terror and stand in solidarity with their families. We also pay tribute to Admiral Sam Locklear and all of the men and women in uniform who have saved so many lives over the last several months, including our brave pilots that have executed their mission with skill and extraordinary bravery. And all of this was done without putting a single U.S. troop on the ground.

To our friends and allies, the Libyan intervention demonstrates what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one -- although the efforts in Libya are not yet over. NATO has once more proven that it is the most capable alliance in the world and that its strength comes from both its firepower and the power of our democratic ideals. And the Arab members of our coalition have stepped up and shown what can be achieved when we act together as equal partners. Their actions send a powerful message about the unity of our effort and our support for the future of Libya.

Finally, the Libyan people: Your courage and character have been unbreakable in the face of a tyrant. An ocean divides us, but we are joined in the basic human longing for freedom, for justice and for dignity. Your revolution is your own, and your sacrifices have been extraordinary. Now, the Libya that you deserve is within your reach. Going forward, we will stay in close coordination with the TNC to support that outcome. And though there will be huge challenges ahead, the extraordinary events in Libya remind us that fear can give way to hope and that the power of people striving for freedom can bring about a brighter day.

Thank you very much.
END 2:27 P.M. EDT

Schwartz on Hikers

from the inbox:

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz issued the following statement today after two U.S. hikers detained in Iran were sentenced to eight years in prison.

“It is deeply troubling that Iranian justices have sentenced Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer to eight years in prison. My thoughts and support are with them and their families.

“As a representative of Montgomery County, where Josh’s family resides, I join with them in calling on Iran to immediately free Shane and Josh. I remain in close contact with the U.S. State Department as it works to seek their release and safe return home.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bucks County Candidates by Gender

Some time ago I looked at the history of women on the Bucks County Board of Commissioners. To take a current snapshot of the candidates for county wide office, I looked at the websites of the Bucks County Democrats ( and Bucks County Republicans (

Both parties list incumbent Court of Common Pleas James McMaster. Of the 13 judges listed on the court’s website, three have traditionally female names, including the president judge.

For county commissioner, the two Republican men (Charley Martin and Rob Loughery) and one Democratic woman (Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia) are running for re-election (or in Loughery’s case election, as he was appointed to fill out the term of now Lt Gov Jim Cawley). Det Ansinn, president of the Doylestown Borough Council and local businessman, rounds out the Democratic ticket.

Register of Wills is an open office. Republican Don Petrille is facing off against Democrat Donna M. Caracappa.

Clerk of Courts is currently held by Republican Mary Smithson. She is being challenged by Democrat Mary A. Whitesell. This is going to be a challenge for campaign workers, since the candidates share a first name and have similar sounding last names.

Incumbent county Treasurer Republican Bill Snyder, who has held the office for 32 years, faces Democratic challenger Tom Kearns, former Middletown Township tax collector and Middletown Supervisor.

Republican Dr. Joe Campbell has served as the county’s coroner for 12 years. He faces Democrat Dr. Umar Farooq.

Regardless of who wins, the offices of Treasurer, Coroner, and Court of Common Pleas judge will be held by men. The Clerk of Courts will be a woman. The Register of Wills will either be a Republican male or Democratic female.

Since three of the four candidates for County Board of Commissioners are men, at least two of the 2012 commissioners are guaranteed to be male. If Commissioner Ellis-Marseglia is re-elected there will be one woman on the board; otherwise it will be all male.

Does it matter? Depends on your point of view. Certainly men can and have represented the interests of all their constituents. I just like to keep track of these things. Over the next few days I’ll be doing the same analysis of Delaware and Montgomery County candidates.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Meehan, Medicare, the Ad, and the Letter

For those who have missed it, there was a brouhaha today about a political television ad, and it isn't even election season? The ad took Congressman Pat Meehan to task on his Medicare policy position. Accountability PA, an organization run by two people who used to work for Meehan's opponent in the last election, is behind the ad. Meehan's office sent a "cease and desist" letter to networks airing the ad. You can read all about it at PoliticsPA.

Redistricting Website

If you want to follow the redistricting process for congressional, state senate, and state house districts, there is a handy new tool for doing so. Check out

The map overlays are very illuminating. Take a look at your district and others. You can also leave comments for the redistricting commission. (Please be civil and polite.)

Karen Heller of the Inquirer wrote an informative column on redistricting and how political concerns come into play. Read "Less clout, not more, with redistricting," (8/17)

Riddle Me This Penn Museum

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is hosting a lecture series on the Great Riddles of Archaeology on the first Wednesday of every month, October 2011 through June 2012.

General Admission is $5 per event in advance or $10 at the door. Subscriptions to all nine events are available for $40. Penn Museum members will receive free admission to these lectures with advanced registration only.

Topics include King Arthur, Stonehenge, Ozti the Iceman, Atlantis, Jamestown, the Maya and 2012, and others.

It sounds interesting. To give you more of a taste for what the talks will include, here is the description for the Noah's Ark presentation:

Of all bible stories, perhaps the story of Noah's ark and the world-ending flood are the most widely known. Modern scholars have noted the resemblance of the story to one which appears in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh dating back to the seventh century BCE. While believers and adventurers try to find proof of the ark itself on Turkey's Mt. Ararat, scientists instead look for evidence of the localized flood that inspired the stories. Dr. Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic Explorer was part of a team that discovered evidence of man-made structures 300 feet below the surface of the Black Sea, adding credence to theories that this was the location of the flood that inspired the biblical and Babylonian stories. Dr. Hiebert will discuss his discoveries and other modern evidence helping to shed light on the story of Noah's ark.

How cool is that? If you're in the area, this would be an inexpensive, educational, and entertaining way to pass a Wednesday evening. Remember to register in advance.

EPA Chief Visited Lancaster County

from a press release last week:

EPA: On August 3, Administrator Jackson traveled to Lancaster County and visited Jeff Balmer, owner of a 60-head dairy farm that is using a variety of best management practices to protect water quality in the community and further downstream in the Chesapeake Bay. The Administrator toured Jeff's farm and he explained how these practices allowed him to prevent runoff and retain soil, making his operation more efficient and sustainable. The Administrator also participated in a roundtable discussion with around 50 area farmers and leaders about ways to protect rural air and water quality and strengthen rural economies. The Administrator pledged to continue communicating directly with farmers and other stakeholders in rural communities about the shared goals of clean air, clean water and increased economic opportunities rural America.

Rudnick Survives Challenge

from the inbox last week:

Today, Brian Rudnick, Independent/Green Candidate for Philadelphia?s 8th City Council District, announced that his nomination papers survived a Court challenge by Independent candidate James Foster. The Court also upheld Rudnick's challenge that Foster's papers contained gross irregularities and ordered Foster's name be removed from the ballot for the 8th District race.

"When I learned through news sources that Jim had collected 875 signatures in merely six days, I became suspicious," said Rudnick. "I was saddened to see that, in his haste, Jim had collected so many signatures of voters outside the district. I regret having to be the one to address these issues but until we change the system, the burden of uncovering these deficiencies rests on the other candidates. Notwithstanding my success in Court, I am hoping Jim will join with me in opening one small crack in the Democratic party machine for which he has advocated so long and well."

Brian Rudnick is a librarian, video journalist, homemaker and activist making his second run for City Council. He earned Bachelor and Law degrees from Penn and a Masters in Information Systems from Drexel. For the last 20 years he has lived in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. A married father of three children, one grown and married, the other two who attend public schools, Rudnick is personally and publicly committed to giving schools the resources our children need and deserve. He has devoted himself to creating jobs and a sustainable green economy.

Rudnick announced his candidacy in July and, after their August recess, is seeking formal recognition from his local and state Green Party chapters at their September meetings.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Center for Child Advocates Golf Outing

Mark you calendars, those of you who play golf. This year Support Center for Child Advocates is 'Going Green on the Greens'! On October 3rd is the 6th Annual Child Advocates Golf Classic at Huntingdon Valley Country Club.

According to the press release:

New this year, our partners at Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic (CAMA) will present a fascinating morning program, Green Building and Environmental Responsibility, where we will all learn the science of clean energy and green development moderated by Kathleen McGinty, Senior Vice-President and Managing Director, Strategic Growth, Weston Solutions, Inc. and former Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Murphy Minutes

Patrick Murphy, Democratic candidate for Attorney General, and his campaign have been posting short videos of the campaign trail. You can find "Murphy Minutes" on the campaign website:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

PA State Treasurer Rob McCord at PA Press Club

On July 25th, Rob McCord, Pennsylvania Treasurer, spoke to the Pennsylvania Press Club. A video of his remarks and the question and answer session is available on the PCN website (, select PCN+, then Public Affairs; you need QuikTime to watch it.)

I watched the presentation and took rough notes. It is not intended to be a full transcript and there are several sections where Mr. McCord was discussing complex topics with terms I am unfamiliar with, and mentioning numbers I could not record quickly enough. Thus, interested voters are encouraged to watch themselves. As always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

[intro by John Baer]

Remarks by McCord:

Thanks. I am grateful to everybody. I thought with the rain and it being the dog days of summer, it would just be John, the waiter, and me. I am grateful to the Press Club, PCN, and John Baer. Like most smart people I had some fear of coming here. John said it would be a piece a cake and have no fear which I thought meant “I’m going to die.” Quasi-prepared remarks and questions. It’s okay to be wrong just don’t be dull. Had all of 30 months now as an elected officials. Wharton MBA, a couple decades in business, elected to be state treasurer at age 49. Learned while campaigning most voters did not know state treasurer was elected. In some states appointed or elected by legislature but here independently elected, off cycle from governor.

Some observations from a business point of view. This office can be a great profit center. That’s what makes it really fun from my point of view. Large and important role for treasurer to play as a fiscal watchdog. Some people think auditor general is a fiscal watchdog. Absolutely right, but they catch people after things happen, we catch before. Important to avoid making a mistake before it happens and not to catch it later. Treasurer can do a pre transaction audit. We’ve dropped from more than 500 employees to 409. We process $70B in transactions. We tripled audits, saved 45M, just doing pretransaction audits. We paid for ourselves just in pre-transaction audits. If you think of us as a profit center, we run a lot of important programs. Before I took office the trailing 5 years avg of largest pool of capital for which the treasurer is the sole [missed this word] is 1.9% sort of expect that because of bias towards near term capital. Taking advantage of secured debt, in year one returned 13.5%, in year one become billion dollar boy in terms of actual capital return. I had people from my side of the aisle said what are you doing, just put in t bills and don’t lose any money. You do that you got a good name. Just say McCord McCord McCord and you get name recognition equals re-election. I didn’t run just to get re-elected. I’m not interested in that I’m interested in rightsizing and doing good things. In addition we have these two large pension funds. The Psers largest driver of proterty taxes in PA, what happens there really matters. Not about pay. We need great leaders and career investors in those positions. It’s about gains and losses. You look at Psers and Sers they lost in 2008 and we’ve largely mended what happened there with strong years in 2009, 2010, and so far in 2011. We’re not losing 30B in a year we’re making 10B a year. A lot of times people ignore -30 or +10.

I’m COO; it’s a ton of fun. I’ve memorized a lot of names. People say I’ve worked here 20 years and no elected official has ever remembered my name. When you’re asking people to do three times as many audits and do all nighters to make up for payless paydays and work late to pay day care centers after budget debacle of 2009. A lot of people acted selflessly to get that done. I used to get bored hearing about Bureau of Unclaimed Property. But there are 100 employees there. Used to be a patronage place. I’m the anti-patronage pol. It’s a system where if you run it well you either win or you win. You’re either returning property to people who lost it or you’re returning it to the state in positive cash flow (sold on Ebay). (Look on to see if you have any unclaimed property). General fund got $115M last year. Cost 23M (?) but bring in $115M. Very excited about what we are able to do.

I’m often asked if the audits are worth the brain damage. Used to such an obsession with fraud. We’ve been able to increase collections by 96% decrease the time 64%. By using business logic and risk profiling we’ve been able to quantifiable yield higher returns with lower costs. With pension and other funds. We can be shareholder activists. We were an effective part of shareholder movement that changed Massey after mining disaster. Get a lot of press and make a real human difference. Similar with BP. What did get covered? When it bleeds it leads. Remember the DRPA? We think some upcoming audits will improve accountability there. Bond offering. In terms of local press, when we sued the gaming board. I got to serve on a lot of boards when I was in private equity. I was involved in a lot of turnaround. One of the key questions is “am I on the board” and “what kind of voting rights do I have?” Sometimes you just take observer rights, just to be in on the conversations. I was shocked when the gaming board, which has 10 members, 3 non voting who should be activist board members including treasurer, 7 voting, said non voting board members. Gaming board said non-voting can’t attend meetings. I wanted to represent the shareholders and also, sometimes in politics, the fix is in in closed meetings. So we sued.

We got positive returns for the taxpayer, driven up transparency, we’re already driving up return on investment. We commissioned a marketing study. There’s talk of maybe doing an auction. How do you auction it without knowing location. How do you decide the location without marketing survey. The last market service was done in 2003. That was before casinos here now we have ten and all sorts of stuff happening near us – Delaware, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, all of which is relevant. In a month or two we will have that data for you.

Core observations: treasury can be a profit center and watch dog. Need to beware of rhetoric. I believe we are getting painfully close to govt by talking points, policy by taking pledge loses context. Very unwise. Talking point -- we don’t have a tax problem we have a spending problem. Imbedded in that is all govt spending is bad. We need govt resources. To say there is no such thing as a profitable investment form the public sector is boneheaded. Just not true. We pay for ourselves 4 times over at least before taking investments into account. In private equity had to do with internet, traffic, life sciences, and medical sciences. Internet invented by DRPA, fed made grants to MIT to commercialize it. Govt largest or only customer of semiconductors throughout 1970s. Over the long run semiconductors and internet have created their fair share of jobs. Similar with traffic. Think about Chicago without O’Hare airport. Same with life sciences, if you didn’t have appropriate investment in incentive, regulation, and review, everyone would be a snake oil salesman.

Q: if there is a federal debt default what is impact on state govt
A: Very bad in general. Drives up cost of capitol. Impact on credit cards or mortgages. People get badly badly hurt. Depression in equity markets which hurts returns in large pension funds. On and on. Good quotes from Reagan – bad idea to play chicken with debt limit

Q: planning on state level, advice for us?
A: Planning office by office. Planning over at Psers and Sers. I’m an old capitalist, sit around with CIO and ask how can we make money for this place. In terms of advice diversity, have rainy day fund, avoid having to buy, sell or borrow at bad time.

Q: What is situation on state debt?
A: General debt situation in PA is at worst medium. I worry about unfunded liability in pension funds and off budget debt, particularly things like acid run off from coal mines. Main thing we need to do is stop governing by talking point. I as a business person want to ask what is our ROI and cost spread on return. In early 2009 I said we ought to consider pension obligation bond. This would bring the debt on to the budget. What gets dangerous is people saying all debt is bad. No real business leader would say all debt is bad. Look at terms and conditions of debt. For example, in infrastructure if it yields a long term benefit, it’s good.

Q: selling liquor stores
A: Let’s calculate the numbers. Is it a one time windfall? Not always a good thing. Want to wait for PFM review. Leary of selling long-term assets, wants to look at price. If you look at business models, consumer might spend more and consume less in a monopoly. I’m not sure average Pennsylvanian wants to increase amount of booze used. Some don’t want a gas and go culture with booze. We’re more a resource than a vote in this.

Q: How do you get cities off financially distressed list?
A: I don’t know enough about Act 47 to say. The rolling problems in 3rd tier cities, like old saying, all happy families happy in same way, all unhappy cities are different. We’re going to have a lot of tough questions but you can’t ignore vital organs of a Commonwealth. You can’t say I’ll hang out in my malls and exurbs and not worry about smaller cities but we can’t do that. We can’t be like Detroit and have a donut hole and limp along. We all have a stake in reversing some bad decisions in the past.

Q: What is biggest diff between private sector and public sector management?
A: I try to bring a business sense of govt, which is not the same as privatizing. A little harder to recruit quickly and make decisions quickly.

Q: Any sense to take no tax pledge?
A: It’s a bad idea – policy by rent a pledge. I think Tom Ridge was right to get into a battle with Grover Norquist. Transportation Dept had good ideas for long term investment. Pledges constrain your ability to make decisions.

Baer: [Thanks McCord.]

PA Pension Funds in New Yorker

Catching up on reading, this dovetails nicely with another post this evening on the state treasurer. In the July 25th New Yorker, John Cassidy writes a long article on Ray Dalio who started and runs Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund. "Mastering the Machine" is available online.

What does this have to do with Pennsylvania?

Of the roughly one hundred billion dollars invested in Bridgewater, only a small proportion comes from wealthy families. Almost a third comes from public pension funds, such as the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement Systems; another third comes from corporate pension funds, such a those at Kodak and General Motors; a quarter comes from government-run sovereign wealth funds, such as the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore.

SEPTA Changes to Regional Rail

from the inbox:

PHILADELPHIA, PA (August 16, 2011) — SEPTA’s new Regional Rail schedules go into effect on Sunday, August 28. New schedules are available now at locations system-wide and online at Schedule changes include:

Lansdale/Doylestown Line:

Service to Colmar Station has been increased by almost 50 percent, with 18 additional trains serving the station on weekdays. Passengers choosing to board at Colmar can take advantage of the station’s almost 300-space parking lot. Rail passengers commuting from Center City to Doylestown will benefit from a quicker trip. Travel time to Doylestown will be up to six percent faster and the wait time for inbound trains from Doylestown to Philadelphia after 8 a.m. weekdays has been reduced from 77 to 52 minutes. Changes have also been made to the line’s weekend schedule, and trains from Center City to Doylestown will operate 20 minutes later.

Fox Chase Line:

Due to improvement projects along the Fox Chase Line, shuttle bus service will be used for midday, weekday trips, Monday, through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., beginning Monday, August 29 through Friday, November 18, 2011. Shuttle buses traveling to Fern Rock Transportation Center will replace Regional Rail Service at Fox Chase, Ryers, Cheltenham, Lawndale and Olney Stations. Passengers should allow up to 20 additional minutes to complete their commute to Center City and up to 25 minutes to complete their trips toward Fox Chase.

Paoli/Thorndale Line:

Paoli/Thorndale weekday train #516 to Center City will now depart Malvern at 5:44 a.m. and train #3505 to Paoli will leave Temple University Station at 6:59 a.m. Weekend departure times on this line have also been adjusted and trains traveling to Center City will depart 20 minutes later.

Passengers can visit to view changes to their train lines and download new schedules.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shapiro Richards Meet and Greet, Spiegelman Version

This evening I went out to a “meet and greet” for Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, the Democratic candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner. First the politics then a few personal observations, but I encourage you to hang on till the end because those personal observations pertain, in part, to food.

The event was held at Roman Delight in Abington and sponsored by John Spiegelman, candidate for Abington Township commissioner (Ward 11). Other candidates in attendance while I was there:
Richard Haaz – Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas
Josh Shapiro – Montgomery County Commissioner
Leslie Richards – Montgomery County Commissioner
Linda Hee – Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds
Will Holt – Montgomery County Sheriff
Jack Kessler – Magisterial District Judge
Daniel Kaye – Abington School Board

Remarks by candidates:
Leslie Richards – as a civil engineer (at a women-owned firm) she has worked to make lives better, by building bridges and parks. On the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors she has done the same thing, without raising taxes.

Josh Shapiro – There are 800,000 people in Montgomery County, and it is the 3rd largest county in Pennsylvania. In the last presidential election 70% of eligible voters voted, but in the last county commissioner race 70% stayed home. The bickering in DC and Harrisburg is similar to the bickering in Norristown. Elect Shapiro and Richards to get things done. Remember that you get to vote for two names for county commissioner. Two Republicans and two Democrats will be on the ballot. Vote for both Josh Shapiro AND Leslie Richards.

Shapiro (introducing Spiegelman): I met John Spiegelman on my first campaign for state representative. He was interesting in winning but also in what happens after the election.

John Spiegelman: Ward 11 is indeed the heart of Abington, encompassing the hospital, the public library and several of the township’s schools. Spiegelman wants to put together a comprehensive "quickest possible way to contact" list for the entire ward and will use this list to send out township board agendas, etc. before the meetings so people can share opinions, decide whether or not to come out to speak, and work together. He wants to keep the Abington dollar in Abington, for instance creating a small-business-friendly environment to help turn empty, blighted commercial areas into business that will draw from within Abington and beyond to neighboring communities, creating Abington jobs and a thriving community while keeping taxes low. He also thinks the township commissioners should take a stand against developers and other outside forces.

You can find the entire Democratic slate for county races at www.montco2011.com

Personal observations: It is an unfortunate truth that the food at many political events is unexceptional. I don't know if it is the presence of candidates or bloggers or what, but sometimes even the carrots are bad. So I hadn't planned on eating at this event and planned to heat up some leftovers when I got home. But one look at the deep dish Sicilian pizza at Roman Delight changed my mind. It was GREAT! I haven't had deep dish Sicilian pizza in awhile, living in a thin crust household. Roman Delight makes great pizza. This cannot be said too many times. Roman Delight makes great pizza.

Even better, Spiegelman, the host, had an unusual, but very welcome, parting gift. Forget refrigerator magnets, palm cards, the like. Spiegelman gave out chocolate bars in the shape of his yard signs, complete with his name embossed on it. It's the first time I've seen that. The chocolate bars were made to order by Lores Chocolates of Philadelphia.

As the movie Babette's Feast so clearly pointed out, good food can make good company. The room at Roman Delight was packed and people had to squeeze past each other to move around. I found a chair in a corner to people watch. It was very much a community meeting, a neighborhood get together. Everyone I saw seemed to be having a good time.

Schwartz on Veterans

from the inbox, a note from Congressional Rep. Allyson Schwartz:

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, I am very passionate about the country’s responsibility to help provide veterans with the medical, educational and career benefits they need. As a member of Congress, I have led the way on legislation to improve benefits for our service men and women.

Last week, President Obama announced new initiatives to provide greater job opportunities to the young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. I strongly support his efforts to lower veteran unemployment through hiring tax credits, private sector commitments, and reforms that improve the way we prepare, train, and educate service members for life after the military. I commend the President for these initiatives to strengthen our commitment to our brave men and women in uniform. These veterans bring a set of unique skills and training that would add value to American companies.

This proposal is similar to legislation introduced in my first year of Congress. The Veterans Employment and Respect Act (VERA) offered tax incentives to employers who hired unemployed veterans. This bill was signed into law in 2007 by then-President Bush and strengthened by President Obama in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

My district offices can also provide many resources for veterans and has successfully assisted more than 1,500 veterans with VA benefits.

Through the Wounded Warrior Program, I employ a Marine and Iraq War Veteran, Mike Gabriel, on my staff as a full-time veterans' constituent service representative.

Mike assists constituents with obtaining official copies of separation documents, replacing medals, questions related to the Washington Crossing Cemetery, and issues with the Veterans' Administration or military. He can also provide resources to veterans seeking assistance in areas related to education, employment, training and business opportunities.

To provide even more assistance, my Philadelphia office began offering an exciting new service in May. Joseph Buckley, an accredited veteran service officer from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is available every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to assist you or a loved one with the submission of new VA claims. He is also able to answer eligibility and paperwork questions for constituents. Veterans do not need a membership with the VFW to participate in this service.


Like many families here in the Commonwealth, my household is staying close to home this summer. Now that I've visited many of the region's amusement parks and cultural amenities, as well as taken in a few movies, it will be back to a more standard schedule. And now that I've changed internet service providers it should be easier to blog more often.

A few notes:

The wave pool at Camelbeach is higher and more forceful than the one at Dorney Park / Wildwater Kingdom. Like the waltz, both seem to work on a 3-beat system. So if you are in the wave pool count 1, 2, jump to keep you head above water

Jammed (or possibly broken) toes hurt like the dickens and there really isn't much you can do for them

For a good overnighter, try combining Hershey Park with either a visit to the state capitol and some of the area museums, or with a visit to Gettysburg. The refurbished cyclorama is really interesting.

The original "Planet of the Apes" movie is available On Demand and makes a good contrast / counterpoint to the new "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" movie.

If you didn't like the Smurfs back in the early 1980's you won't like them now either.

"Julie and Julia" is a good movie about blogging.

It's true, rainy days are great baking days.

You never know what you will find if you actually clean off your dining room table.

If Mom is on vacation you can only expect 2 cooked meals a day. It's either cold cereal for breakfast or sandwiches for lunch. Possibly both.

It is possible that people who are in their 50's and have a bad shoulder, a bum knee, and sore toes should not go rock climbing.

The Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (the first book, "Game of Thrones" was on HBO earlier this year) is worth reading. I got through the first 2 books and hope to tackle the third over Labor Day weekend.

Short women should always own a sewing machine so they can hem up pants because staples and safety pins might work for a few hours, but stitches are needed for longer periods of time.

I had forgotten I owned hats until I cleaned out the bottom of my closet.

So, hopefully tomorrow I will have a good meaty post about state treasurer Rob McCord's appearance before the Pennsylvania Press Club. Later this week there may be some event posts. It should be back to suburban Philly politics for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

An Open Letter to Lowell McAdam, Verizon CEO

Dear Lowell McAdam, Verizon CEO,

I saw your ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer today and wanted to offer you a few suggestions. Most of these will be relevant for the next time you are in this situation, as the ship has sailed for them this time around.

Your ad, in my view, was aimed at the general public, trying to show what a great company Verizon is. No offense here but the general public, by and large, does not give you any money. Current Verizon customers do, and potential new customers do. Potential customers are more likely to seek out the opinions of friends and neighbors than remember an ad in the paper.

The ad took up a full page in the paper and probably cost a good amount of money. I think there would have been better ways to spend it. Right now many of your technicians and customer service representatives are on strike and you seem worried about how people will view the company. You should be more concerned with how that strike will affect people who are or want to be your customers. Here’s what you could have done when it was clear that the contract might end without a new one in place:

1) Have a contingent of temporary customer service representatives ready and trained. Either make arrangements with a temp firm or find a company whose customer service workers are in the slow part of their annual cycle. Companies do sometimes share workers if their seasonal workflows are opposite (they are busy when you are not and vice versa). Make sure these people understand your products and can speak English off script and understand idiomatic English. A lot of people are out of work right now and might be very interested in a temporary job.

Have deals thought out and ready to go. Here are some suggestions:

1) Contact people who had scheduled new Verizon hookups and offer them one or two months free service if they are willing to delay their installation for a week or two until things settle down. Not everyone would take it but perhaps enough would that the technicians you do have in the field can handle new installations in a timely fashion.

2) Check to see if current customers who are having connectivity problems are also Verizon wireless customers. If so, offer to let them use their Verizon cell phones to create temporary “hot spots” to ensure as much connectivity as possible until your few technicians in the field can get to them. Hot spots are normally a for fee service. Offer it free with unlimited usage until regular service can be restored. Again, that won’t work for everyone but some people will take you up on it and allow you some breathing room to get the labor dispute settled and experienced technicians in the field.

3) Temporarily remove that really annoying phone tree and make sure when people call they get a real person on the phone who has a good command of English (with people who speak other languages on hand or accessible if needed) can immediately route their calls to the appropriate department.

4) Take out a newspaper ad announcing these and other measures you are taking to ensure current and new customers are happy with their service. Tell people you know they might be inconvenienced and you appreciate their patience, and that delivering a good service with problems handled promptly and correctly is your top priority.

What you absolutely don’t want is to have people who want to buy your service, and current customers with service problems, sitting around waiting for technicians who never arrive or for promised callbacks which never happen. You don’t want people waiting for nearly 20 minutes on the phone to talk to customer service and then get cut off before they are connected. You don’t want one customer service rep telling customers one thing will happen and another customer service rep that something else will happen. You don’t want your company represented by people who appear to be working from a script and can’t respond to questions that don’t follow the script.

I’ve read in a number of places that you make over $50,000 a day. That’s a lot of money; you must be extraordinarily smart and have tiptop organizational skills. So I’m kind of surprised that your top priority at the moment is taking out an ad talking about what a great deal your employees have. Shouldn’t you be focused on customers right now?

Anyway, I hope these suggestions help during the next strike. Or, hey, you could just not ask your workers to accept reduced pay and increased benefits costs. Or, if you do, lead by example and take out an ad telling everyone that you reduced your own pay and increased what you personally pay for benefits. That might go further in raising the company’s public perception than the ad you ran today.

Good luck in all your endeavors,


[posted with borrowed wireless from my neighbor, as I haven't had home Internet service in over a week]