Pennsylvania Observer

A blog for progressive people in Pennsylvania. Greens, Democrats and others who want to comment on current news items in the Keystone State.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Shop Union

Shop Union. It’s hard enough to buy holiday gifts if you don’t care about how the products are made. For those of us who want the workers who make the goods to be treated properly, it’s nearly impossible. One place to try is the AFL-CIO’s Union Shop. The Union Shop has clothing, books, games, music and more. You won’t find thousands of options, but you can be assured that every product is made by union workers who get a living wage, decent benefits and a say in how their workplace is run. If you order by December 17, they will guarantee delivery by December 24. For Chanukah, better get moving. It starts next week. (NB to our more cynical readers. No, we don’t get a cut. We just want to promote union shops.)

We're Number Two! (In Voting Irregularities)

We’re Number Two! (In Voting Irregularities). A coalition of non-partisan public interest groups created a national hotline and website to report and track election irregularities, called the Election Incident Reporting System (EIRS). EIRS had 36,896 incident reports nationwide (see tables below). Pennsylvania had 4,328 incidents or 11.7% of the nationwide total. That makes us second only to Florida (4,586). Ohio was number three with 3,349 incidents. Problems included incidents such as absentee and provisional ballot problems, machine problems and voter intimidation.

Eleven counties in the U.S. were identified by EIRS as having “notable incidents” or “clusters” of incidents. Three of those counties were in Pennsylvania—Dauphin, Mercer and Philadelphia. In fact, Philadelphia alone had more incidents (1,617) than 44 states.

Stalin is apocryphally quoted as saying “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." If democracy is going to succeed, the problems in this report will need to be addressed soon. Voting rights advocates in Florida and Ohio are taking these issues seriously. Both states are at least giving lip service to the concerns raised by the report. In contrast, Pennsylvania’s elected officials are biting their lips, hoping this problem will go away.

For the complete report, go to:

National Incidents by State
Alabama (381) Alaska (19) Arizona (1763) Arkansas (146) California (3250) Colorado (1506) Connecticut (53) Delaware (42) District of Columbia (248) Florida (4586) Georgia (828) Hawaii (31) Idaho (49) Illinois (1398) Indiana (364) Iowa (35) Kansas (63) Kentucky (181) Louisiana (636) Maine (46) Maryland (327) Massachusetts (149) Michigan (924) Minnesota (49) Mississippi (87) Missouri (776) Montana (23) Nebraska (82) Nevada (260) New Hampshire (39) New Jersey (1461) New Mexico (671) New York (2449) North Carolina (610) North Dakota (3) Ohio (3349) Oklahoma (34) Oregon (122) Pennsylvania (4328) Puerto Rico (2) Rhode Island (25) South Carolina (486) South Dakota (9) Tennessee (332) Texas (2263) Utah (77) Vermont (19) Virginia (681) Washington (505) West Virginia (37) Wisconsin (853) Wyoming (13) State not known (226)

PA Incidents by County
Adams (3) Allegheny (971) Armstrong (3) Beaver (24) Bedford (1) Berks (178) Blair (7) Bradford (3) Bucks (92) Butler (12) Cambria (6) Carbon (6) Centre (14) Chester (82) Clarion (2) Columbia (3) Crawford (3) Cumberland (16) Dauphin (130) Delaware (191) Erie (20) Fayette (13) Forest (2) Franklin (3) Greene (3) Huntingdon (1) Indiana (11) Jefferson (3) Lackawanna (19) Lancaster (37) Lawrence (8) Lebanon (6) Lehigh (157) Luzerne (30) Lycoming (3) McKean (4) Mercer (41) Mifflin (1) Monroe (31) Montgomery (218) Montour (3) Northampton (35) Northumberland (2) Perry (2) Philadelphia (1617) Pike (7) Schuylkill (7) Snyder (1) Somerset (3) Susquehanna (4) Tioga (1) Union (1) Warren (1) Washington (49) Wayne (5) Westmoreland (72) Wyoming (1) York (30) County not known (129)

From the Cheney School of Civil Discourse

From the Cheney School of Civil Discourse. If you do contact Rendell, you might want to be gentle. Fast Eddie has had a rough week. Legislators from both sides of the aisle are angry at the Rendell Administration's sloppy and schizophrenic management of the just-concluded legislative session. Republicans consider Rendell duplicitous, while many Democrats think his team is incompetent.

"How bad is it?" The (Allentown) Morning Call asked of the relationship between Rendell and the General Assembly. They suggested that it is "verging on open warfare." At the end of the session, in a late-night meeting, the Morning Call reported that Senate Pro Tem Robert C. Jubelirer yelled at Rendell, "Fuck you, governor. You're liar. You're a liar. Your staff are liars. Fuck you."

Rendell Prepares for his First Execution

Rendell Prepares for his First Execution. On Thursday, for the first time since the death penalty was reinstated, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is scheduled to execute a man against his will. Governor Rendell, a strong supporter of state-sponsored executions, is unlikely to lift a finger to stop this killing.

George Banks was convicted of killing 13 people in Wilkes-Barre in 1982. He has been on death row since 1985. His case is particularly heinous. Of the 13 people he killed, 7 of them were children. Five of them were his own. Justice demands that Banks should pay for his crime. But executing Banks is not justice. "The execution of George Banks, now 62 years old, will provide nothing for the citizens of Pennsylvania," said Kurt Rosenberg of the Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. "His killing will be an empty act of state-sponsored murder and revenge, disguised as justice."

Many death penalty opponents are urging opposition to the Banks execution on the grounds that he has serious psychological problems, questioning his ability to stand trial. They point to his frequent delusional behavior, including writing to Jesus Christ whom he believes live in Washington, DC, six suicide attempts and prolonged hunger strikes.

Other abolitionists say that his metal health status does not matter. They say that a civilized society should not intentionally kill anyone. The Observer agrees. As the old chestnut goes, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?"

There will be demonstrations across Pennsylvania on Thursday from 5:00 until 7:00 PM if the execution has not been stayed.
Locations and contact info:
Philadelphia: 200 South Broad Street (near Broad and Walnut). (215-724-6120)
Pittsburgh: 300 Liberty Avenue. (412-241-8154)
Harrisburg: Governor's Residence, 2nd and Maclay Streets. (717-514-2747)
Erie: Location TBA. (814-453-4955, ext. 228)
Lehigh Valley: Location TBA. (610-691-8730)

While you’re contacting Rendell about the Teamsters’ Turnpike strike, send him another message. Urge him to stop the execution.
Contact Governor Rendell:
Governor Edward G. Rendell's Office
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120
(717) 787-2500

Teamsters Strike the Pike

Teamsters Strike the ‘Pike. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Locals 77 and 250, went on strike last week on Thanksgiving Eve against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC). IBT Turnpike workers have been without a contract since October 1, 2003. The issues are typical for workers today; job security, healthcare and a decent, livable wage. The PTC management has refused to bargain in good faith, drawing the negotiations on for 14 months past the expiration of the last contract. What makes it worse is that management is giving raises (averaging 4%) to non-union workers. Now the PTC has hired scab workers to replace the striking Teamsters. The PTC has also implemented a flat-fee of $2.00 for cars and $15.00 for commercial vehicles, regardless of the distance driven.

The Teamsters have asked people to not use the Turnpike during the strike. If that is impossible or overly burdensome, the Observer is suggesting that you send the difference between the flat fee and what you would have paid under the normal toll structure to the Teamsters’ strike fund (see any Teamster link above). We are also urging readers to contact the Turnpike Commission to express your support for the Turnpike workers. The PTC can be reached at 1-800-331-3414 or Governor Rendell is the de facto head of the Commission and could bring the negotiations to a positive conclusion for the workers if he desired it.
Contact Governor Rendell:
Governor Edward G. Rendell's Office
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120
(717) 787-2500

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Vote Count Problems in PA

Fayette County Race Exposes Vote Count Problems. One needn't go to Florida or Ohio to find vote count problems. There are serious problems right here in the Keystone State. The numbers reported on election night in Fayette County's 51st House District race bear little resemblance to the numbers that the County's Election Bureau reported this week. Incumbent Rep. Lawrence Roberts (D, photo, left) gained 237 votes in the updated count, moving from 7,505 to 7,742 votes, but independent challenger Tim Mahoney's count changed by 1,464 votes (4,454 to 5,918). The other three candidates in the 5-way race also had triple digit changes in their tallies. Republican Harry Albert gained 207 votes, while independents Gary Gearing and Terry Janosek lost 529 and 601 votes respectively. None of these changes in totals affected the order of finish.

Fayette County uses lever machines, which produce a paper trail. This enabled county officials to get a more accurate total. What would have happened if Fayette used electronic voting machines? Actually, this begs the question, "What DID happen in counties across the country?"

DeLayed Justice

DeLayed Justice. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R, TX) is facing possible federal indictments over some fundraising scandals in Texas. So what did the party of morality do in light of this? They overturned the rule that required an indicted House leader to resign his or her post. The rule was put in place by Republicans in 1993 to embarrass Democrats who were having legal problems with their House leaders. To make matters worse, this vote was taken behind closed doors, with no recorded vote. Most GOP House Members refuse to say how they voted. Most PA Members of Congress refuse to divulge how they voted, so we must assume that they voted to keep indicted leaders in positions of leadership--specifically, Tom DeLay. Todd Platts is the only Member who says he didn't support DeLay. John Peterson (5th CD), Jim Greenwood (8th CD) and Patrick Toomey (15th CD) said they didn't vote. Here is the contact information for all PA GOP Members:

Phil English (3rd CD) 202-225-5406, 814-456-2038

Jim Gerlach (6th CD) 202-225-4315, 610-458-8010

Jim Greenwood 202-225-4276, 215-348-7511

Melissa Hart (4th CD) 202-225-2565, 412-492-0161

Tim Murphy (18th CD) 202-225-2301, 412-344-5583

John Peterson (5th CD) 202-225-5121, 814-827-3985

Joe Pitts (16th CD) 202 225-2411, 610 444-4581

Todd Platts (19th CD) 1-877-902-1919

Don Sherwood (10th CD) 202-225-3731, 1-888-366-7210

Bill Shuster (9th CD) 202-225-2431, 814-696-6318

Pat Toomey (15th CD) 202/225-6411, 610/439-8861

Curt Weldon (7th CD) 202-225-2011, 610-259-0700

Santorum Forced to Pay for Kids' Education

Santorum Forced to Pay for Kids’ Education. The Observer reported last week that Sen. Rick Santorum was suspected of cheating by having the Penn Hills School District pay for the education of his children at the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (Santorum Scamming Taxpayers?). It seems Little Ricky got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. School district officials ruled that Santorum's children did not live in the district, so the taxpayers should not be forced to pay $38,000 a year to educate the junior Santorums. Upon learning of the ruling Santorum immediately withdrew his children from the charter school. Now is Santorum, he of the party of superior moral values, ready to repay the more than $100,00 the Penn Hills taxpayers have already shelled out for his kids' education? We'll keep you updated, but don't hold your breath.

Senate Special Elections Update

Senate Special Elections Update. The race to replace Senators Schwartz, Wagner and Dent has begun in earnest. The special elections will be scheduled by the presiding officer of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll. The elections could be scheduled from mid-March on, but will most likely be held on May 17, the day of the off-year primary.

Political parties choose their nominees for special elections through their party committee structure. The Democrats and Republicans are considered major parties, and the Greens and Libertarians are currently considered minor parties under state law. All four are eligible to place nominees on the ballot without petitioning. The Constitution Party also obtained minor party status in the November 2 election and also would be eligible by the spring. Other parties and independent candidates would be able to run by gathering enough petition signatures.

In the Lehigh Valley, Rep. Mann is the clear favorite to get the Democratic nod to replace Sen. Dent.
In Pittsburgh, the Democrats could have more of a donnybrook. Allegheny County Councilman Wayne Fontana, Pittsburgh City Councilman Jim Motznik and Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein have all publicly declared interest in running.

Four names have come up so far on the Democratic side. Rep. LeAnna Washington (photo, left) is the early favorite, with the majority of the district in the city of Philadelphia. Congressman Chaka Fattah is pushing one of his aides, Cindy Bass who was also a former Schwartz staffperson. If Schwartz and Fattah strongly back Bass, there may be a real battle within the city Dems. But more that 40% of the district is in Montgomery County, the suburbanites have a couple of contenders as well. Rep. Larry Curry, a longtime Schwartz ally, is rumored to want to move to the upper chamber. County Commissioner Ruth Damsker is also considering throwing her hat in the ring. The Observer's money is on Rep. Washington, but Bass may be the dark horse in this race. On the GOP side, Jon Fox wants to get back into an elected position, but he's getting a much-deserved reputation as a loser. The Greens are also actively looking for someone to run in the race, and may find a quality candidate. The only neighborhood-based Green chapter is in the district and they're fairly active. This is a safe D seat, though. The real action will be in the committee meetings that choose the Democrat's nominee.

Sine Dies a Quiet Death

Sine Dies a Quiet Death. The General Assembly has gone home, according to reports, without accomplishing most of their major goals for the lame duck, Sine Die session. The Philly-area and Greater Pittsburgh transit authorities didn't get the money they said they needed to stay afloat. Both will immediately enact drastic service cuts and layoffs. The Welfare for Comcast bill was killed. That legislation would have given them a multi-million dollar tax break for their new Philly skyscraper. Lobbyist disclosure also failed to pass, as did a ban on mandatory overtime for nurses and other healthcare workers. On the positive side, the Birmelin anti-gay legislation failed due to a lack of support, and the pay raise for legislators was quashed.

They did pass the renewable energy bill that mandates the use of more solar and wind power. However, this bill also increases the use of trash burning and waste coal for energy. Green washing at its best.

In toto, not a good session for progressive legislation. But it could have been worse. Wait till next year.

PA Local Economies Continue to Founder

PA Local Economies Continue to Founder. The Milken Institute's "Best Performing Cities Study" was released yesterday to deafening silence in the Commonwealth's media. The survey looks at economic data for the nation's 200 largest metropolitan areas. Once again, the 10 Pennsylvania cities included fared poorly.

Only one of the ten cities (Philadelphia) was in the top 100 in wage and salary growth for the five year period in the study (1997-2002). Philly was number 85 (see chart below). Reading (174), Johnstown (176) and Erie (186) were near the bottom nationally, making PA one of the nation's most economically distressed states.

5 year Wage and Salary Growth 1997-2002

Metro Area Score Rank
Philadelphia PA-NJ 99.34 85
Lancaster PA 97.75 108
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton PA 97.25 114
Pittsburgh PA 96.14 125
Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle PA 95.42 133
York PA 94.07 143
Scranton--Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton PA 92.85 155
Reading 90.82 174
Johnstown PA 90.48 176
Erie PA 89.43 186
(100= US avg.)

There were similar numbers in job growth. Only the Lehigh Valley and Lancaster cracked the top 100.
5 year Job Growth, 1998-2003
Metro Area Score Rank
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton PA 101.75 75
Lancaster PA 101.39 85
Philadelphia PA-NJ 100.46 102
Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle PA 99.61 112
Pittsburgh PA 98.68 128
York PA 98.54 129
Scranton--Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton 97.86 137
Erie PA 96.03 161
Johnstown PA 95.99 165
Reading PA 95.69 170
Milken Institute Best Performing Cities Study

These numbers are frightening. But what is really scary is the nearly total lack of reporting by the corporate media. These are numbers that the public should know.

(Note- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did publish a story about some of the SW PA figures.)

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