Category Archives: Jessica Weingarten

Court Cases in Pennsylvania: Good vs Evil

by DocJess, Democratic Convention Watch, 8/1/13

Two interesting happenings in the courts of Pennsylvania this week. Both of them relate directly to Tom Corbett and show him to be the kind of person dedicated to personal gain and opposed to human rights. What a governor….

Certainly you remember the Jerry Sandusky case: the coach who was abusing young boys for years and is now in prison for life. When pedophiles are brought to light, it is the obligation of those in charge to DO SOMETHING to prevent further abuse. Tom Corbett, as Attorney General, chose not to, and instead to take $640,000 from Sandusky for his gubernatorial campaign coffers. He’s not being charged, yet, but the three men who oversaw Jerry Sandusky are now going to trial. Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz, and Penn State ex-athletic director Tim Curley are charged with knowing about Sandusky’s abuse, not reporting it to police, and then lying about it to the Grand Jury. Specifically, perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, failure to properly report suspected abuse and conspiracy.

My guess is that Corbett’s complicity will come up at some point. And probably someone will end up mentioning that he’s up there with Bob McDonnell for turning the governor’s mansion into a pay-to-play site. Read this.

So, in the battle of good vs evil, we have a bunch of powerful men putting their own institutions (Penn State and the Pennsylvania Legal System) ahead of the protection of young boys. EVIL.

In the other court case, the Pennsylvania Board of Health is suing Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes. Hanes is the man in charge of issuing marriage licenses. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, he started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples: 34 of them so far.

I know, you don’t understand what the Register of Wills and the Health Department have to do with marriage licenses. This is Pennsylvania, and we’re weird. For example, my mailing address has a zip code that includes part of 3 counties, and is different from my actual township. If I had a landline, it would be in yet another town. In addition, Pennsylvania is one of the only states in the country that does not have a gay marriage or civil union law, and also doesn’t have a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Marriage licenses come from the Register of Wills, which is a county position, and the State Health Department oversees, among other things, marriage and death certificates.

The Attorney General’s office, headed by Kathleen Kane, is refusing to defend the state against the ACLU suit related to the ban on gay marriage. She won’t touch this, either. Under PA law, the Health Department is allowed to sue in Commonwealth Court because marriage licenses are a civil, not criminal, matter. That’s why it’s a suit in lieu of a criminal action.

Further, the Health Department is an arm of the Executive Branch, and Corbett wants to defend against both the ACLU suit, and anything that would allow gay people to marry. Because, again, he’s against civil rights and human rights, and basic moral decency. EVIL.

On the up side, Jerry Sandusky is in jail where he can’t hurt any more boys, and he’s never getting out. Spanier, Schultz and Curley will likely join him there in a year or two. It’s not out of the realm that Corbett will end up an indicted co-conspirator one of these days on either this charge or something else…so many choices. In the end, the PA DOMA law will be struck down, and the Montco marriage licenses will stand, and will end up issued in all the other counties, too. GOOD!

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Filed under Gay & lesbian issues, Jessica Weingarten, PA govt & politics

The Attempted Murder of Public Education

by DocJess, Democratic Convention Watch, 7/18/13

Like many people, I believe in high quality, compulsory, public education. Especially in this day and age, when all vocations require basic knowledge. It’s virtually impossible to function well in modern society without the abilities to read, write, and undertake basic math. In addition, a GOOD education also provides the student with the ability to reason things out, to think, and to draw conclusions.

When I was growing up, parents would talk about living in places with the best school districts, because they valued their children’s education as a means to a better life. Now, with so many childless households, many people still want to live in communities with good school districts. If you are a property owner, you know that the higher-ranked your school district, the higher your property values.

I live in Pennsylvania, where School Board members are supposed to be non-partisan. They crossfile for the primaries, and if a voter doesn’t keep up, he/she has no idea about the politics of the individual candidates. You might think this doesn’t matter, and it really didn’t used to matter at all, because people ran for the school board because they wanted the best possible education for their community’s students.

But it matters now, because the far right contingent of the Republican Party is out to destroy public education in America. Some of what they are doing is blatant, like attempting to teach creationism (often under the guise of “intelligent design”) AS science IN science classes. They even have some sneaky ways of doing this: click here for more details.

An even more brazen example comes from Utah, where a state senator wants to do away with all compulsory public education, because “we need to restore the expectation that parents are primarily responsible for the educational success of their own children.” Source.

Between creationism and the straight-up murder of public education come charter schools. Some are good, but far too many are simply money makers for the owners. And a lot of those owners have political and financial connections to the legislators and school board members who make decisions about charter schools.

In my town, we have a true schism between the school board and a lot of the people who send their kids to school. It’s a cautionary tale about what can happen when people don’t pay attention, and when entrenched  political groups refuse to see the forest for the trees.

My town’s story could easily be your town’s story soon.

My school district is one of the best in the state of Pennsylvania. (Depending on the year, and who is doing the counting, we have ranked in the top 4 for many years.) High test scores, high achievement rates, high numbers of kids going to good colleges.

There are more than 6,400 students. The school district draws from two townships. Per the 2010 Census, one has about 30,000 people with a median household income of $82,258, and the other has about 10,000 people with a median household income of $95,548.

Think about those numbers, 16% of the people who live here attend school. Most families make more than double the national family income.

So what could be the problem, you ask?

A few years ago, some very right wing people started getting on the school board. They started making all sorts of decisions related to cuts JUST to “save money”. This is the Republican guise of “being fiscally responsible.”  Saving money in a rich school district is often penny-wise and pound foolish.

Just because a town is rich, doesn’t mean that everyone who lives in it is financially secure. So, for example, every family cannot afford a computer for each child in school. Some families cannot afford a computer. And computers are necessary for things like homework (teachers post assignments to the intranet, along with announcements), research and email. Thus, many school districts have banks of computers in school libraries for students to use. They’re available in study halls, and sometimes for a while after school. The local school district decided it couldn’t really “afford” computers. Because this is a rich town, there were enough people with money, or older computers from their offices, who were able to donate to the school district.

I’m sure you’re confused since computers are not that expensive, and it would seem to be a simple line item expense….except this is Pennsylvania, and a few years ago, Tom Corbett decided to cut funds to all schools, primary, secondary and collegiate. HUGE cuts. So school districts all over the state had to scramble to either raise taxes or cut costs or both. Or take donations, as it were.

And then, the school board decided against going for additional taxes. They did this in concert with the Board of Supervisors, who prefer to do things like cut police, allow roads to crumble to the point that they cannot be safely traversed, and allow all sorts of storm runoff problems (including flooding) to avoid taxing people an extra ONE DOLLAR A WEEK PER PERSON.

Instead they kept looking for things to cut. For some reason, they didn’t want to cut salaries of, oh, high ranking people, like administrators. Instead, they looked for ways to cut salaries of people like teachers, aides, paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, office workers and janitors. They also look for ways to cut costs related to the most in-need students. That is, if a child has special needs, the school district must answer to those needs. It’s possible to do that on the cheap, or in much better ways.

One of the first things they tried to do was to cut the hourly rate of all teachers who had earned PhDs, because those are the teachers who are paid the most. As a friend of mine said “the idea was to penalize the brightest and the best for going to grad school.” After huge blowback, this idea was dropped. This link will take you to an article on the brouhaha, and if you read it, you’ll see that a school board member claimed a $6 million dollar short fall. Remember that tidbit, we WILL be coming back to it.

Switch gears to 2013. Remember the Affordable Health Care Act? Like most school districts, ours found itself in the position of having to provide health insurance to people like aides, paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, office workers and janitors. What oh what were they to do?

You might think that the answer was to just give them insurance, right? What are you, a Democrat? The school board’s solution was to hire an outside firm, which they did with no RFQ or RFP process, to which they planned to outsource these human beings who do a lot of heavy lifting to keep schools operational. It’s a long ugly story, but in the end, the company handpicked by the board pulled out because they said they had never seen such resistance on the part of the members of the community. We’re talking letters, actual attendance at meetings, and a ton of emails saying “You cannot do this to our kids.”

When that failed, the school board decided to cut people’s hours so that they fell below the number of hours required to provide health insurance. The cut? About 30% of salary. One school board member was heard saying that the money would be made up with “the generous unemployment benefits they’ll be getting all summer.”

After the cuts, the Obama administration announced a one year moratorium on the employer mandate. You’d think that the school board would rescind the cuts. But no. They held a public meeting indicating that they would rescind them, and then a financial subcommittee meeting where they decided against it on the premise that their lawyer wouldn’t approve it.

There’s a punchline to all this. And an action item. First the punchline. Those deficits? They don’t actually exist. In the summer of 2012, the school district had a rainy day fund of $32 million dollars. (Source.) In addition to the rainy day fund, as of June 2013, there is a budget surplus of $5 million. (Source.) Using the old math, I’m thinking the school district can afford the half million or so that insurance would cost. But hey, that IS old math.

So let’s move on to the action item. My town could be your town. While I’ve given a few examples of what the school board is up to, I’ve omitted some other obnoxious, onerous actions, and I’ve left for another day how they walk in the lock step with the Board of Supervisors who do to the overall township what the school board does to the students and employees. The answer is political action. The answer is to vote out anyone and everyone who has voted for these things and elect people who will listen to the residents, the taxpayers, the students. If there are people on your school board, on your Board of Supervisors, on your City Council, who vote conscience over fake “fiscal responsibility”, they should stay, but not others who would destroy the district. What makes a district great is not the buildings – it’s the people who educate and support the kids.

Sadly, most people don’t vote. And even if they did walk into their polling place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (this year, it’s the 5th) they wouldn’t know for whom to vote because they have no idea who the incumbents are. Even if they want to vote, they need help with a sample ballot, and information.

My personal action item is that I’ve been banging doors, taking names, and making lists. I have people who come out with me to get the word out, person to person, and I ask them to help. I have people who cannot canvass who will be making follow-up phone calls. While this is a national political blog, many of you know who I am and where I live. Can you help me? If you live a reasonable distance, would you knock doors with me? Would you make phone calls? Please help me save my town.

Or at least work to save YOUR town. Find out what the local issues are, go to the meetings, learn who is running. When you’re at the meetings: SPEAK UP. They’re public, you’re a taxpayer, and you can be heard. Many places have rolling elections where only a few people are up for election each year. Hopefully, this year will be the first year where we change to more progressive members. If so, there will certainly be others ready to join them next year. I know there are people in my town planning on running next year, in addition to the people who are already running this year.

 

 

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Filed under Education and schools links, Jessica Weingarten

Whither the Workforce?

by DocJess, Democratic Convention Watch, 4/8/13

The workforce participation rate has fallen to 63.3%. It hasn’t been this low since the late 1970’s. Let’s look at some numbers. Below is a chart of the labor participation rate from 2003 to the present. (All data from BLS.)

Labor participation rate 2000

…Here’s the really scary part, which comprises the labor participation rate since 1948, when the BLS started keeping statistics.

Labor participation rate all

The rise over time is understandable. The 60’s, 70’s and 80’s saw a lot of women entering the workforce who would not have worked in prior times. In the 60’s and 70’s, this was primarily women who wanted to work, especially at vocations that weren’t traditionally “pink collar”. By the 80’s, as wages stagnated and manufacturing moved overseas, there became a need for two incomes to support a family. And then came the drop.

It’s not just the 2007-09 crash, it’s something more insidious. The labor participation rate peaked for the first four months of 2000 at 67.3%, and has been falling ever since. There are several explanations for some of the decrease, but not enough to explain all of it….

continue reading at Democratic Convention Watch

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PA Assembly Wants to Steal YOUR Presidential Vote

by Jessica Weingarten (“DocJess” at Democratic Convention Watch), cross-posted from Democratic Convention Watch, 1/22/13

Yesterday, Barack Obama was publicly sworn in as president for his second term. If some Pennsylvania state legislators had passed current legislation making its way through the state process last year, that wouldn’t have happened, and Mittens could be in the White House. (There are similar bills in other states.)

Really.

Here is the text of Assembly Bill 94:

AN ACT

Amending the act of June 3, 1937 (P.L.1333, No.320), entitled “An act concerning elections, including general, municipal, special and primary elections, the nomination of candidates, primary and election expenses and election contests; creating and defining membership of county boards of elections; imposing duties upon the Secretary of the Commonwealth, courts, county boards of elections, county commissioners; imposing penalties for violation of the act, and codifying, revising and consolidating the laws relating thereto; and repealing certain acts and parts of acts relating to elections,” in electoral college, further providing for election of presidential electors.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:

Section 1.  Section 1501 of the act of June 3, 1937(P.L.1333, No.320), known as the Pennsylvania Election Code, is amended to read:

Section 1501.  Election of Presidential Electors.–

(a)  At the general election to be held in the year 1940, and every fourth year thereafter, there shall be elected by the qualified electors of the Commonwealth, persons to be known as electors of President and Vice-President of the United States, and referred to in this act as presidential electors, equal in number to the whole number of senators and representatives to which this State may be entitled in the Congress of the United States.

(b) (1) Two of the presidential electors shall be elected at large to represent the entire Commonwealth and shall cast their ballots for the presidential and vice-presidential  candidates with the greatest number of votes Statewide.

(2)  Each of the remaining presidential electors shall be elected in the presidential elector’s congressional district and shall cast a ballot for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the greatest number of votes in the congressional district.

Section 2.  This act shall take effect in 60 days.

Note the emphasis (mine). While Obama won the state, he won only 7 Congressional Districts. Here’s how it would have worked: I voted for Barack Obama, but because my CD did not, my vote would have gone to Mitt Romney. Possibly yours too.

This is a Republican way to steal elections going forward. There is no other way to interpret it. The Constitution allows for states to set up their own election law, but had the intent of allowing presidential and vice-presidential votes to be counted statewide. This is a complete perversion of the process….

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