Friday, August 1, 2014

Toomey BS Form Email Update: The Unnamed Second Report

You may recall that two weeks ago I wrote about a b.s. form email that I received from Senator Toomey's office.  In the email, two studies were referenced to support Sen. Toomey's claim that raising the minimum wage would be horrible for the economy.  The first study he cited was the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office study which stated that in the short term as many as 500,000 jobs could be lost.  Then, the email goes on to cite another study, the provenance of which is noticeably absent, which claims that Pennsylvania alone could lose 100,000 jobs.  Yes, those two numbers were put together and the effect is to not-so-subtly suggest that one fifth of the jobs that could maybe be lost (here again, in the short term) could be in Pennsylvania.  If that makes no sense at all to you, then we're on the same page and that's why I emailed the Senator's office to ask what the second study was called and who did it. 

Today, I got a phone call from the Senator's office and was told that the study was done by the NFIB (The National Federation of Independent Business), and it was titled, "Economic Impact Analysis of Three Proposed Changes to Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Laws: HB 1039, HB 1057, and SB 326."  So, for starters, let's please notice that the CBO study looked at a change in the federal minimum wage and that this study by the NFIB looks only at Pennsylvania and at proposed changes to Pennsylvania's minimum wage.  The bills in question would raise the minimum wage to a paltry $8.75 or $9.00 an hour (respectively, in the case of the House bills) and basically just add cost-of-living increases in the case of the Senate bill.  Of course, an interesting difference is that a proposed changed to Pennsylvania's minimum wage laws might result in businesses saying "hey, I can just move to another state where the minimum wage is lower", whereas if the federal minimum wage changes this is not at option.  I also love how the study notes that none of the PA bills address tipped minimum wage, but then goes on to assume that the tipped minimum wage would go up.  You know, the way that it's gone up in PA to a whopping $2.83/hr. 

Let's also notice that NFIB is most definitely not a non-partisan organization.  According to, the NFIB donated over $400,000 during the 2014 election year (so far), and all but $5,000 of those dollars went to Republican committees or Republican candidates. 

No wonder Senator Toomey didn't note the provenance of his second study.  In any case, at least the Senator's office got back to me in less than a month.

Friday, July 11, 2014

In Which I Get A B.S. Form Letter From Pat Toomey...

I was checking my email just now when lo and behold, I had an email from Senator Pat Toomey.  "That's weird," I thought, "why am I getting an email from Pat Toomey?"  The no reply email in question was about why he won't be voting to raise the minimum wage.  Here's the letter:

Did I contact him about the minimum wage?  Jeeze...when was that?  I can't even remember.  So for starters, I know you have the money and the tech: send your b.s. form letter replies faster.  For example maybe don't wait so long that people have - without exaggeration - forgotten they had written you. 

Second, and this is the truly important thing: stop wasting my time.  Stop wasting my time and stop wasting the time of whatever poor staffer had to tap the keys to make this - what my maternal grandmother would so generously have referred to as - horse pucky happen.  Since, however, you've chosen to waste my time, let's spend a moment talking about what raising the minimum wage would not do. 

Raising the minimum wage would not inhibit job growth.  In fact, many economists expect that it would actually cause job growth over the long run because so many people who currently live on their minimum wage jobs have to have two and three of them just to survive.  If your one job, however, pays enough money for you to live on, suddenly you've just freed up a job or two for someone else who will now also be capable of living on that job. 

But, you might say, if employers have to pay people more money they'll eliminate those extra positions so there won't actually be any job growth.  Intriguing point you make, and I'd like to counter that by pointing out that when low-income workers make more money they do something really fascinating with it: they spend it.  They spend it on groceries and gas and household necessities and maybe, just maybe, a night at the movies or dinner out with the kids.  Hell, they might even go on a short vacation the thought of which they might otherwise have laughed hysterically at had you suggested such a silly thing.  "So what's your point, gabby," you may well ask.  Well, my point is that when low-income workers have more money they spend it in the economy in which they live which creates...come on, you can do it...demand!  Demand is one of those things that means employers need to do more work for which they need more employees and more employees means?  You guessed it.  More jobs.

The next issue I have is with the term "low-skilled workers".  It's true, you may say that I'm arguing semantics.  How hard can it be to work retail or wait tables (where, by the way, the federal minimum wage is still $2.13/hr)?  In answer to this, I would suggest that you ask a retail employee or a waitress/waiter or any other "low-skilled workers" how easy their jobs are.  Do they need high-level degrees to be employable in these fields?  No, but that doesn't mean that their jobs are simple or could be done by anyone who chose to take them up.  You may not think so, but putting up with customers all day is a skill.  The ability to turn on a smile for people even though your feet are tired and you're on-call all week because your place of employment doesn't have to give you your hours in advance and you're sick but can't afford to take time off, is a skill.  It is not something that every person has within them to accomplish.  And yes, you may argue that you aren't trying to diminish the dignity of the people who do these jobs, but when you follow up with "too expensive to employ" you're doing just that.  What you just said is that the people that work these jobs, who go home tired and demoralized and over-stressed and then have to deal with a pay-check that may just barely make rent, aren't worth paying enough that they can live.   The effects of raising the minimum wage aren't "perverse", your argument that human beings who work minimum wage jobs aren't worth paying a living wage is "perverse". 

Here's another thing that I'm noticing as I look through your letter.  You cite two studies.  One of the studies says that the US could lose 500,000 jobs and a second that says Pennsylvania could lose 100,000 jobs.  It's a good thing you pointed out that these are two separate studies, because I would otherwise be worried that if we raise the minimum wage a full fifth of all projected job loss could come from Pennsylvania alone.  Do you see how these two numbers seem kind of silly when you put them together like that?  Oh, and by the way, I didn't miss how you cited the first study as being from the "non-partisan Congressional Budget Office" and then conveniently failed to tell me from whence the second study hails.  I tried some Google searching, but came up empty on what this second study might be, but I think I may email you back and ask because I have some thoughts on its provenance.

In closing, I look forward to helping unseat you in 2016.  Pennsylvania deserves better than you.

If you want to learn more about why raising the minimum wage is a good idea, check out the National Employment Law Project's Raise the Minimum Wage site.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Language of Politics: Why Every Word Counts

This morning I came across this article in my Facebook feed, about funding for Philadelphia schools.  School funding is a hot-button issue right now, especially in Philadelphia, and rightfully so.  The lack of funding in schools across Pennsylvania, and probably Philadelphia worse than anywhere else, is just one more blight on the disastrous first (and hopefully only) term of Governor Tom Corbett.  This isn't necessarily to say that school funding was awesome before Corbett, only that the financial situation of schools have gotten much worse.  If schools were people and you gave them that perennially ridiculous "are you better or worse off now than at the beginning of <insert name here>'s term?" poll that goes around at reelection time, it would likely be a loud, angry "worse".

School funding isn't what I want to talk about, though.  I want to talk about the words that we use when we talking about government.  Whether you want to admit it or not, the specific words you use are important.  They have implied and concrete meanings that we may not always think about when we speak, but we should.  I'd like to focus on one specific sentence:

"It's time for the state to help us out."
No, it's not.  The state doesn't need to help you.  The state needs to fulfill its obligations, in this case, to the children of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania at large.  
"The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth." - Article III, Sec 14, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Constitution
 The government, be it federal, state, or local, does not "help", "hand out", or "give".  What the government does or does not do is to fulfill its obligations to its citizens.  We have got to stop saying that the government needs to "help" us and we have to call out that language when we hear other people using it.  The government isn't doing us a favor, it's operating the way it's supposed to (or, in this case isn't).

I know this language all too well.  I try very hard not to use it when I'm talking about my spouse doing chores around the house.  He's not helping me, by doing his share around the house.  He lives in our home as much as I do and we're both equally put-upon during our day to accomplish things other than housework.  When he takes out the garbage he isn't doing me a favor, he's doing something that we agreed would be his particular purview.  The same logic applies in government.

The state doesn't need to do Philadelphia a favor.  The state needs to step up and get something done because our government is failing our children right now.  School funding isn't the only place this applies, though.  "Help" language gets used all the time for every kind of funding imaginable.  Don't do it.  Don't treat our legislators like they're giving us some sort of special treatment any time they deign to fulfill their obligations to us.  Saying that we need their help gives them the rhetorical option of not helping.  Hold them responsible.  Tell them that it's time to do their job and we will accept nothing less.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The New Chair of the Blair County Democrats

I've been extremely busy lately and I hope you'll understand why when you check this out...

Click on the picture to go to the full blog article.
So yes, I am the new Chair of the Blair County Democratic Party.  I hope to be able to work more regular articles into my schedule and I hope that - especially if you're in Blair County - you'll come check out the Blair Dems' Facebook page and give us a Like and/or follow us on Twitter.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Republicans Talk Abortion in PA's US 9th District

Friday evening I published a summary of my notes from that evening's Republican debate between the candidates for the Republican nomination to run for the US 9th District seat.  Today, after a little time to take in everything I saw and heard, I wanted to focus on the things that I heard about abortion from 3 middle-aged to older white men.

Abortion is never great for Republicans when it comes up.  As I noted, an audience member asked a moderator afterwards why the questions -- essentially -- were so rough for Republicans.  Personally, I would have loved to see those candidates answer a question about unions, but that particular audience member probably wouldn't have liked that question either.  I'm sure it would have been way more comfortable for Republicans candidates and audience members alike if the questions had been about Benghazi and the (so-called) IRS scandal or whatever Republican smokescreen of the week they'd care to name, but those weren't the questions.  The candidates were asked six substantive questions which, with the possible exception of the foreign policy question, touched on topics that affect American's daily lives.  Like it or not, the intense restriction of a woman's right to control her own body is one of those topics and the answers that we received are the reason that we need to dig deeper on this issue.

By way of reminder, the wording of the question was something to this effect: Regarding abortion, in what, if any, of the following cases would you allow abortion: rape, incest, life or health of the mother?

As an experienced politician, Bill Shuster probably gave the least offensive answer of the bunch.  Presumably he's learned the lesson from the outrage caused by Republican politician after Republican politician saying heinous and horrifying things about women, rape, and abortion.  Rep Shuster proclaimed his pro-life status which has been lauded by organizations like National Right to Life.  He then said that he would make exceptions for all three of the cases listed.  Cutting away the fluff, that was really all he said.  I would never accuse Bill Shuster of being an intellectual heavy weight, but he's also not an idiot. He clearly has learned something from the public debacles of Republicans politicians past and present (and probably future).

On the other hand, Travis Schooley and Art Halvorson were very much a replay of Republiblunders past.  Schooley's answer was, frankly, creepy.  It only really dealt with the rape exception and basically argued that a rape exception wasn't really necessary.  He first declared that when someone became a victim of a "vicious rape" (you know, as opposed to gentle rapes), they would go immediately to the ER.  After running directly to the ER after this "vicious rape", the victim is examined and then a rape kit will be done.  Now, he says, if she's already pregnant...well she can't get pregnant from her rapist.  Seriously.  If I hadn't been there I would have a hard time believing that happened, but it did.  If, however, she's not pregnant already -- as indeed many women are not -- she could be given a shot or a pill or whatever to prevent pregnancy.  So I suppose, at the very least, Mr. Schooley isn't against contraceptives for rape victims.  At this point, he seems to realize that his scenario isn't really addressing the question and he adds that - he guesses - the only reason abortion would be necessary in the case of rape is if a women is held captive and can't get to a hospital.

As if this wasn't enough, Mr. Schooley ended his answer with a parting thought for the audience.  When we're thinking about abortion we have to imagine, he said, if there were about 45 million more people in this country.  What would our economy look like with 45 million more people working?  And there it was, women who have abortions are responsible for the condition of our economy.  If only American women were dutifully bearing children that Republicans want no part of caring for outside the womb, our economy would be booming.  Blissfully, Mr. Schooley's time was up and we moved on to Art Halvorson.

The word Mr. Halvorson wanted to stress was "compassion".  You see, he told us, in the instance of pregnancy from rape we have to remember that there are three parties involved: the rapist, the woman, and the fetus...excuses me, unborn baby.  Sure, rapists have to be punished to the full extent of the law.  Of course, Mr. Halvorson didn't address the fact that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.  He moved directly on to the woman, upon whom we should shower compassion, the kind of compassion that demands that she bear a child she may not want or be prepared to raise.  Mr. Halvorson then went on to say that he and his wife had personally helped young women through unplanned pregnancies.  Yes, I said unplanned pregnancies.  Does that remind you of anyone?

Unplanned pregnancies in or out of wedlock are not in any way the same as pregnancy from rape.  An unplanned pregnancy between two consenting individuals is in no way the same as the violation of a rape.  We have been over these arguments -- if we're going to be so generous as to call them that -- time and time and time again.

Let me be clear, I'm not saying that Bill Shuster is the reasonable alternative in this bunch.  He's not.  Despite claiming to make exceptions for incest, rape, and the life or health of the mother, Bill Shuster has voted time and again to restrict women's access to necessary health care.  Bill has voted for providing funding to health care providers who don't mention abortion, for banning federal health coverage that includes abortion, and voted to bar funding for abortions on federal "Obamacare" plans (which is to say healthcare plans on the federal exchange).  He also voted against the reauthorization of the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2007 and against the Infant Mortality Pilot Program (which would allow the Secretary of Health to award grants to the counties with the highest infant mortality rates in order to promote healthy pregancies) in 2010.  This is not a man who cares about protecting lives; this is a man who cares about forcing his personal religious beliefs on you and your family members.

All of these men's answers were utterly unacceptable.  When it comes to it, the question laid a totally unacceptable framework in that its very premise allowed that men like Bill Shuster should be allowed to control how women care for their bodies.  If you don't understand the devastation of a world where abortion is illegal, then I encourage you to read a book called The Worst of Times: Illegal Abortion: Survivors, Practitioners, Coroners, Cops and Children of Women Who Died Talk About Its Horrors.  Instead of demonizing women who have had an abortion or patronizing to women about the strictly confined instances when society will accept (albeit reluctantly) their decision, it's time that we asked the Bill Shusters, Travis Schooleys, and Art Halvorsons of the world if they believe that women are human beings who deserve to be able to control their own bodies.  If their answer is yes, then women have a right to choose when and how they become mothers.  The honest answer for these men, though, is no.  No, they don't believe that women are equal to men with equal rights to control their bodies, and that is the bottom line.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Republicans Say The Darndest Things

Let me kick off by saying that I've been away for awhile.  It's been a busy semester, but I'm back because I just sat through the US 9th District Republican Primary debate sponsored by the Bedford Gazette and the Penn State Altoona Political Science Department.  It was...I'd say there are no words, but there are.  There are many words.

To begin with, let me paint a scene for you.  The debate took place at the auditorium of the Devorris Downtown Center in Altoona.  This debate featured incumbent Congressman Bill Shuster and Tea Party Republicans Travis Schooley and Art Halvorson.

The debate began, as all do with the candidates taking two minutes each to introduce themselves.  We began with Travis Schooley who rambled incoherently about how our country used to be so much better and he wanted to make a better country for his children.  We then moved on to Rep. Shuster who said "I've got my family here...they're my biggest critics."  No, Bill.  They are definitely not your biggest critics.  Then Bill goes on to brag about voting to defund or repeal "Obamacare" 50 times.  Moving on, Art Halvorson was in the military, he knows some conservative platitudes and then my notes say "blah blah Bengazi blah blah Fast and Furious" that's how things kicked off and I think you'll agree it can only possibly get better from there.  

Let's take all the questions in turn.  Please know that I am paraphrasing the questions and that they were all very clear and well worded.  

Question 1 - The Affordable Care Act has helped tons of people to have heath insurance, but you all don't like it.  How would you replace it and what would you do about people with preexisting conditions?
Schooley - He rambles incoherently some more, moves off topic and then says that people should be able to buy their insurance on a market place.  Hm...where have I heard that before?  Insurance marketplace...nope.  Not ringing any bells at all. 

Shuster - He desperately wants to repeal the ACA and then claims that he has proposed an alternative to the ACA.  Do you remember when that happened?  I don't. 

Halvorson - He disputes the numbers that the moderator used which came from the Congressional Budget Office.  Halvorson said that the numbers just didn't sound right and basically said that he didn't believe them.  He then said that, although the CBO has said that the ACA will shrink the budget deficit, that "Obamacare" was the biggest tax ever levied.  If you can't understand why the two halves of the previous sentence went together then you can now understand my frame of mind listening to this crap.  Oh but wait!  Then Halvorson said that people should be able to buy their own insurance and choose whether they want a cheap insurance or a "Cadillac" type plan. could we possibly manage that? 

At this point the moderator called bullshit, saying that neither Schooley nor Halvorson had actually answered his question.  Schooley rambled again and Halvorson addressed the preexisting condition issue saying that insurance companies shouldn't have to cover people with preexisting conditions.  The government should handle those people in a separate pool.  Go ahead and soak that in for a minute.

Question 2 - The minimum wage, living on it is impossible.  Would you raise it?  
Schooley - Wait, I have to answer a question first again?  That's not fair, I don't wanna.  

Halvorson - He says that the minimum wage wasn't intended to be a living wage.  He called it "reimbursement" and said that we need to "get the economy going".

Shuster - Basically, no.  Again "get the economy going".

Schooley - He doesn't agree with raising the minimum wage because then prices of things would go up and we'd all have to pay.  Let's "get the economy going".  

Question 3 - Foreign policy.  Should we be the world police or what?
Shuster - His buzz lines were "smart involvement" and then he quoted Reagan's "peace through strength" line.  He also then said that China spends three times as much on their military as we do (noticeable pause) by GDP.  Just, so we're clear, that was Bill Shuster using a really manipulative line to make people believe something patently false.  

Schooley - I'm going to be really honest with you.  This guy made Bill Shuster look like a genius.  He was in the military and he thinks that we shouldn't be involved with the U.N.  

Halvorson - Yes.  Let's blow it all up.

Question 4 - Coal v. Natural Gas.  Which do you support?
Schooley - Is apparently basically a geologist.  He thinks that people need property protection because people can't possibly afford to accurately test their groundwater.  Also the government should stop its war on coal. 

Shuster - He wants to use all the resources.  Although, let's keep using lots of coal.  I mean, some people say it's not good for the environment but China and India are doing it so we might as well too.

Halvorson - If only Art Halvorson could go to Washington he would "shake things up" and tell Obama to get those gas prices under control (did this guy go to the Donald Trump school of running for political office?)  He said that he hoped when Bill Shuster said he'd support all energy sources that he didn't mean wind power because as we all know wind power is totally dumb.  Also, the Obama administration should give more permits for drilling on federal lands. ...wait...didn't we settle this six years ago with Sarah Palin?  Oil companies aren't drilling on the federal land they're allowed to and until they do there is no point in giving them new permits.  Does "conservative" mean they conserve their talking points for as long as possible?  If Bengazi is any indication I'm guessing yes.

Question 5 - Student Loans: they're growing out of control, what do we do about it?
Halvorson - This man seriously thinks that it's too easy to get a student loan and that kids are living high on the hog on federal student loans.  He thinks federal student loans are like the mortgage industry and they're ruining our economy because people are just getting student loans willy nilly even when they maybe shouldn't be in college.  And sure, if you work and go to school that's okay, but some kids just take out more student loans instead of working.  

Shuster - We need to fix the economy.  Tuition is to high.  His son is about to graduate college and already had a good job lined up?  No, seriously.  A Congressman's son has managed to find a job right out of college?  You don't say.  Maybe you don't want to go on about how you managed to scrape together the money to manage the skyrocketing cost of you're gonna do that?  Oh, okay. 

Schooley - I just started to feel bad for him.  He was so out of his depth it was really pretty sad.  

Final Question - Abortion! Would you make exceptions for any of the following: rape, incest, life of the mother.
Shuster - He's 100% pro-life, except when he's not.  He would make all of those exceptions.  How very generous of him. 

Schooley - He says if you're "viscously raped" then sure you should take precautions against getting pregnant or you know I guess then after that if you didn't go to the hospital right away like if you were "held in captivity" then maybe an abortion would be okay.  I no longer felt bad for him.

Halvorson - Let me sum up Halvorsons point of view by telling you that he equated pregnancy from rape to unplanned pregnancy.  

And now the wrap-up:

  • Shuster talks about how great I-99 is.  
  • Halvorson blathers on about crony capitalism.
  • Schooley's closing went something like this: middle class, America, country in jeopardy, freedom, George Orwell, surveillance, my ancestors fought in the American Revolution
I'm not really sure how to follow that except: wow.  At least one spectator I heard felt that the questions weren't very Republican and that Bill Shuster got to rebut personal attacks too much.  I guess maybe if Art Halvorson hadn't attacked him personally so often he wouldn't have had to have so much rebuttal.  As a student of political science, this was a magical night.  As a Democrat, it was a nightmare.  Nevertheless, I felt it was important to pass on.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Early Casualties of the Primary Season

Anyone paying attention already knows that candidate filing deadlines have already passed in Pennsylvania and some candidates have fallen by the wayside.  Jo Ellen Litz didn't make the filing requirements, failing to collect enough petition signatures to meet the 2,000 signature (with 100 in each of five counties) requirement. With so many names on the gubernatorial and lt. gubernatorial ballot there is no doubt that a few more people will step aside even before the primary in May.

The first such bow-out is gubernatorial candidate John Hanger.  In an email to supporters he wrote:
"Since there is no longer a path to victory in the Democratic primary, I am withdrawing my candidacy for Governor of Pennsylvania. This decision disappoints my great campaign team and me, as well as thousands of our supporters. But we have tried every possible means to find a way to win and so avoid the necessity of making this decision. With no path to victory, to press on could cause damage to the issues and people for which we campaigned." -- John Hanger, Special Announcement -- Ending the People's Campaign
Hanger received the most media attention for his support of legalizing marijuana, starting with medicinal marijuana and moving towards legalization over a period of years.  His principal platform, however, was education reform and ridding Pennsylvania of the redundant system of charter schools which siphon money away from Pennsylvania's (constitutionally-mandated) public school system.  Hanger recently won the Pennsylvania Progressives straw poll, showing his street cred among the left of the left.  I think giving Pennsylvania Democrats a slightly narrower field to choose from isn't necessarily a bad thing and for that reason I commend Mr. Hanger.  I can certainly think of at least one other candidate who could probably stand to bow out of the campaign before the primary (*cough* Jack Wagner *cough, cough*).

Now that the gubernatorial field has narrowed -- albeit ever so slightly -- one wonders if the field for Lt. Governor will narrow soon as well.  The field currently contains six and possibly seven candidates for Lt. Governor.  For name recognition value no one is beating Jay Paterno, but with only 1,117 petition signatures (the requirement for Lt. Gov is 1000 including 100 in each of 5 counties), he's wide open to a legal challenge that could well knock him out.  I don't think Paterno dropping would be any kind of loss to the field since we've yet to see a clear policy platform from him and in any case he only jumped into the race just over a week before the filing deadline.

Name recognition aside, though, I think that for Lt. Governor the best option is Harrisburg City Councilman, Brad Koplinski.  Koplinski came to speak to the Blair County Democrats just a few weeks ago and made quite an impression.  Though it seems that only the wonkiest of wonks care about the Lt. Governor's race, I would argue that it really is important. And while many will argue that the Lt. Governor's position is an unimportant one, noting that the vast majority of people not only don't know the current Lt. Governor's name (it's Cawley, by the way) and likely even less could pick him out of a line up, the Lt. Governor's relative invisibility doesn't mean the job isn't an important one.  I don't know the name of every civil servant in state government, but I know that the affairs of the Commonwealth would grind to a halt without them.  The Lieutenant Governor's job is one that is largely behind the scenes, yes, but not unimportant.

Before taking on the position of Lt. Governor, however, the Lt. Governor nominee's most important job will be campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.  No candidate is as well-prepared for that as
Brad Koplinski who, in addition to legislative experience on Harrisburg's City Council, has a great deal of practical campaign experience.  Once in the position of Lt. Governor, our potential nominee will become the Chair of the Pennsylvania Local Government Advisory Board, a board which a City Councilman is uniquely well-equipped to head.  I've heard others argue that we should vote for Mark Critz because he's got name value, but the truth is that once the primary is over the big name is the gubernatorial candidate.  In the general election people voting for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate are likely to vote for the Democratic lt. gubernatorial candidate whoever they may be.  Our best chance at good governance is voting for the person who is best equipped for the job, and that's Brad Koplinski.

Clearly, I know who I'm voting for in the Lt. Governor field, but who's my gubernatorial candidate of choice?   To be quite frank, I haven't decided.  I'm leaning towards Katie McGinty, who has a good environmental record.  She's got well laid-out policy positions on everything you could ask for from civil rights to the economy and everywhere in between.  Some would argue that, like the other candidates left in the field, she wouldn't stop fracking in the Marcellus Shale.  She would, however, like the other candidates, call for a severance tax and environmental protections.  Those who say that the remaining candidates are very similar are not wrong.

The differences between the remaining gubernatorial candidates are now quite limited, and so the race may be more about who has the best marketing campaign (so far, Tom Wolf) and who's got the best personality, and possibly experience.  I'm willing to be wrong about that, but I don't think that I am.  Hopefully we'll see at least one more debate before the May primary in order see if we can't see the cracks between the candidates and make a better decision about who's best suited to be our next Governor.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the news and do your candidate research.  Encourage your friends and relatives to vote because there is nothing more important than making your voice heard.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Every Student Apartment Is Not Nittany Pointe

Nittany Pointe made the Altoona Mirror again.  Logan Township is apparently considering a student rental inspection program that consists of things like this:
"In the rules outlined in a 25-page document, the township declares that landlords renting to two or more unrelated students in a dwelling will be responsible for disruptive conduct that occurs on their premises." - Kay Stephens, Altoona Mirror
If you check out the Altoona Mirror article you'll see that Logan Township supervisors keep saying "landlords", but it always comes back to Nittany Pointe, and indeed it always will.  Unlike State College, which is a college student's paradise, Altoona has just the one absentee-landlord-student-house-mega-complex: Nittany Pointe.  Hardly a semester, leave alone a year, goes by that there isn't some unseemly fracas up at "the Pointe", as it is colloquially known.  A cursory search at the Altoona Mirror's website associates Nittany Pointe with binge-drinking, rape, riots, and general uproar.  It's hard to imagine how a town like State College, where you can hardly turn around without seeing one of these places, hasn't burned to the ground yet.  And yet, it hasn't.  

While it's certainly true that places like Nittany Pointe should face scrutiny over the unruly behavior of their tenants, it's worth pointing out again that it is the only student focused apartment complex of its size in the Altoona area.  It has, according to the Mirror article, 156 units of much-needed student housing space.  I say much needed because it is not easy to find student housing in Altoona.  On-campus housing has a mile-long wait-list and certain local supervisors always seem to be looking for ways to penalize students just for being students.  

Quick question, do you know why the Happy Valley has such a happy economy?  It's because students have lots of disposable income.  State College knows how to milk them for it, and it's time that Altoona figured it out too.  Unfortunately, some local supervisors are entirely too focused on penalizing all landlords (except let's be honest, students) for unruly tenant behavior at one mega-location.  

Should we give students a pass on unacceptable behavior?  No, absolutely not.  Just because some students engage in this behavior doesn't mean that Logan Township should punish every student that lives in off-campus housing, not to mention every future student that comes to Penn State Altoona.  If smaller landlords have to deal with the threat of extra penalties for renting to students, it's likely that they'll stop renting to students or raise rents.  Either way, students lose and the area loses.  Every extra dollar that students have to pay in rent is a dollar that they won't be spending at local businesses.  Logan Township and Altoona need to work on embracing Penn State Altoona along with its students.  It's best for Penn State Altoona, and it's best for the greater Altoona area.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Altoona Nurses Stand Up For Standards

Since last spring, I've had the pleasure of standing with people like Paula Stellabotte and Maria Wickstrom doing my very small part to help bring community awareness to the impact that UPMC would have on our community.  Yesterday, I stood proudly on the picket lines with Altoona RNs, and numerous members of other unions to show UPMC that the community stands with Altoona nurses.

The crowd was really amazing and it wasn't just Altoona nurses.  Locked out UWUA workers - from Penelec - came down with fire wood and burn barrels to help keep picketing nurses and supporters warm.  AFSCME workers came and the AFL-CIO was represented too.

Union laborers of every stripe stood out in the cold, alongside Altoona RNs to show UPMC that Altoona nurses and our community will not be bullied.  We will stand together and we will stand strong.

Altoona's nurses voted, because of UPMC's insistance on totally unacceptable terms including lower levels of staffing, to have a one day strike on February 11.  They chose a one day strike because, as SEIU Healthcare PA President Neal Bisno said at a rally this evening, "Nurses do not go on strike lightly...Nurses go on strike and nurses went on strike to protect our community and to protect our patients."
SEIU Healthcare PA President,
Neal Bisno
Today Altoona RNs were still on strike because UPMC, rather than coming to the table and bringing their nurses right back to work, contracted with a staffing agency to bring in non-union nurses from as far away as Florida - for four days. UPMC was willing to spend millions of dollars to bring in nurses from outside this community who don't know Altoona or the people of this community, and as Mayor Bill Schirf said tonight, "We don't want substitute nurses."  UPMC is willing to do all this rather than deal fairly with the dedicated nurses that are here in this community.  This isn't surprising though considering that recently the National Labor Relations Board has opened a hearing with UPMC over unfair labor practices in Pittsburgh.  And because UPMC is unwilling to deal in good faith, Altoona RNs were on the picket lines again today and this evening held a highly-attended and high-spirited rally at the Altoona Area High School auditorium.

Altoona RNs, labor, and community supporters heard from a number of speakers, including some of their own.  I can't wait to see the Altoona Mirror's article on the rally.  I wonder if they'll call anyone primitive?  Go ahead, click that link and look for it.  I promise, it's worth it.

People filing into AAHS auditorium

I don't think I'd offend anyone in declaring the everyone's favorite speaker of the evening was Dominic Sgro, Director of AFSCME Disctric Council 83.

Dominic Sgro, AFSCME
 Mr. Sgro brought the room to its feet saying, "As long as you walk that line, AFSCME will walk it with you!"  He decried the upper echelons of UPMC making millions of dollars on the backs of labor, a sentiment echoed by many.

I admit that I've got a couple chapters to catch up on for my Political Opinion class and I need to study for a Spanish test, but being at this rally tonight was well worth my time.  Any time we can stand by nurses who stand by us when we most need support, it's worth it.  If you're not in this fight yet, standing by Altoona's RNs, it's time to get in it.  Look at what UPMC is doing in Pittsburgh and understand that no matter how independent they say that UPMC Altoona's president and board are, they're still a part of UPMC.  It's time to stand up to UPMC and make sure that they understand that we won't let our nurses and our community be bullied.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The "Former First Lady" and Her "Shadow Campaign"

I get a lot of email updates from various news outlets.  One of them is Politico, and this evening I got this update -
"In a special report, POLITICO offers a behind-the-scenes account of the extensive shadow campaign that has sprouted up around Hillary Clinton in recent months to lay the groundwork for a 2016 presidential run. Some of the activity has the former first lady's (emphasis mine) tacit approval. Some involves outside groups that are operating independently, and, at times, in competition with one another, to prepare a final career act for the former senator and secretary of state, whose legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure.
More than two dozen people in her orbit  described a virtual campaign-in-waiting - a term that itself makes some of Clinton's supporters bristle - consisting of longtime Clinton loyalists, as well as people who worked doggedly to elect her onetime rival Barack Obama." - Politico
The fall semester kept me pretty busy (*cough* 4.0 *cough*) and I've been trying to take a break, but I just wanted to take a moment to call bullshit on this update.  There's nothing wrong with being a former first lady or a current first lady.  I do not look lightly upon what a total bundle of insanity that job...and let's be real, it's  a job...must be like.  All that said, what the hell, Politico?  I'm not sure if you remember this, but before Hillary Clinton was the First Lady she was a very capable and well-compensated lawyer.  After being the First Lady she was elected a United States Senator from the state of New York, following which she was herself a Presidential candidate and then the Secretary of State of the United States of America.  Perhaps former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton?  

What I'm saying is, given all the things that Hillary Clinton has done with her life, need we identify her by the powerful person to whom she was married?  I don't think we do.  

And "shadow campaign"?  Really?  I'm not entirely sure that the "shadow campaign" surrounding Hillary Clinton could be any less shadowy if it tried.  Is it extensive?  Yeah, it is.  I can think of nothing more to say to this than, duh.  The article is a rehash of everything you've heard about Clinton's prospective run including this tidbit:
"Why put herself through the campaign pulverizer again and risk ending her groundbreaking career on a low note? She could still wield plenty of influence from the outside ­— and enjoy a normal, fulfilling family life for the first time in who knows how long." 
Let's say she runs and loses, why does that mean it's the end of her career?  

Look, I'm trying not to pay too much attention to the Clinton campaign until the Former Secretary of State announces herself, but I'm also gearing up for sexist onslaught.  Unlike Hillary Clinton, sexism has already announced itself.