The Fox Guarding the Henhouse

As if the budget wasn’t bad enough—slicing $2 billion out of basic and higher education funding, which is precisely the last thing this state needs to do to shake its reliance on the blue-collar jobs that aren’t coming back, while declining to impose the same tax on his natural-gas-drilling patrons that every other state imposes—check this out: Per ProPublica, Corbett wants to hand over control of environmental permitting to none other than C. Alan Walker, a big-time Corbett benefactor ($184k in donations) who owns Bradford Energy and Bradford Coal, and who also holds interests in a central Pennsylvania oil and gas company and a trucking company. Read more »

I Fought The Water Department And …

Problem 1: Getting the water department to open my account.

This would, you’d assume (at least I did, because I’m hopelessly naive), be a simple matter. I would show up at the PWD’s office, write them a check, set up some sort of automatic withdrawal from my checking account (I am, admittedly, horrible at remembering to pay bills on time), and we’d be all set. Easy enough, right?

Hahaha. Right. Read more »

Tom Corbett’s Moral Decision

Governing, at its core, is about making moral decisions.

It’s easy to lose sight of that, in all the talk of budget deficits and spending cuts and entitlements and unemployment and all the rest. When the House Republicans cut $1.5 billion in global AIDS programs that might save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives, while insisting that millionaires can’t afford to pay the same marginal tax rates they paid in the 1990s, that’s a moral decision. When the Nutter administration defers $235 million in payments to the city’s woefully underfunded pension program over two years, thus nudging us ever closer to fiscal crisis, that too is a moral decision. And when the Corbett administration, along with the Republican legislature, eliminates Pennsylvania’s adultBasic health care program for low-income adults, thus leaving as many as 41,000 people without access to affordable coverage, while at the same time insisting that the megabillion-dollar energy companies who are mining the Marcellus Shale and even state forests for natural gas should not be asked to pay a tax on those extractions—those same companies that funneled millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of the governor and his pro-drilling allies last year—just like they do in every other natural gas state, even as hydraulic fracturing, the process by which gas is extracted from the ground, is shown to present a larger environmental risk than originally thought, this is a moral decision as well. Read more »

Why It’s Time to Shake Up How Philadelphia Elects Its Leaders

By rights, Michael Nutter should be on the ropes.

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In 2007, after all, he won just 37 percent of the Democratic primary — not a majority, not even close, but enough to secure his mayoralty — and since then, he’s hardly been what you’d call effective: The city revolted at many of his budget-cutting ideas; City Council laughed off his soda-tax proposal; and he couldn’t even force a vote on that lowest hanging of populist fruit, the city’s DROP program.

But he’s not in any real danger; indeed, his reelection is almost a foregone conclusion. That’s less a testament to his political skill than an indictment of a system in desperate need of fundamental reform — change that would not only make our elections more competitive and intellectually rigorous, but also kneecap our self-serving (Democratic) and comically incompetent (Republican) political parties, and maybe eradicate the last vestiges of patronage in the process.

Let’s make this a nonpartisan city.

It’s a simple proposal: The May primaries for mayor, council and other city positions would be free-for-alls, all comers welcome, after which each race’s top two finishers — if no one secures an outright majority — would move on to the November election. Had this been the case in 2007, Nutter would have faced Tom Knox in the general election, instead of whatever sacrificial lamb the Republicans had offered up. This year, Knox is set to run as an independent, which means we might get an actual battle of ideas in November, rather than a noisy primary followed by a coronation. But shouldn’t we be able to count on such an election every year?

It works elsewhere: Seventy-seven percent of this country’s municipalities, including seven of the 10 biggest — Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix among them — have nonpartisan elections. And with good reason: Local governments need innovation and dynamism, not leaders beholden to party kingmakers. Besides, when just 13 percent of registered voters are Republicans, party labels don’t help voters make decisions — the question isn’t whether a Democrat will win, but which one will. All our current regime does is reduce the Republican hacks to protecting their patronage jobs at the parking authority, while bestowing inordinate power upon Democratic hacks to muscle out anyone who poses a threat to the status quo (while securing their own patronage gigs, of course).

Meanwhile, no Philadelphia mayor has lost a second-term bid since 1952, and our current council members have served an average of nearly 16 years — that’s four full terms — the longest of any legislative body in a major city. This isn’t a democracy of which Ben Franklin would be proud.

Sadly, this discussion is probably academic. Amending the city charter — which turns 60 this spring — is a Sisyphean task: Two-thirds of City Council (or a majority, if someone rounded up about 43,000 signatures first) has to agree to put it to a citywide referendum, and since they all benefit from the present state of affairs, that doesn’t seem likely.

But given the city’s seemingly intractable problems and the inability of our leaders to solve them, perhaps it’s time we think about trying something new.

Known Unknowns (And the Lying Liars Who Lied Us Into War)

Seeing as how former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will be at the Constitution Center tonight hocking his memoir, Known and Unknown, I figured it’s as good a time as any to direct your attention to this September 2002 memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Rumsfeld, declassified last month, on Iraq’s WMD program (h/t The Monkey Cage). You know, thing that ran the absolutely certain risk of utter calamity and maybe nuclear war if we didn’t invade a sovereign country and start a war that would last seven years, cost thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of lives and trillions of dollars? Let’s give it a quick read, from page 1: Read more »

Just Die Already

A couple weeks back, I told you about New Jersey Republican Chris Smith’s plan to redefine rape in service of his anti-abortion agenda. The idea, you’ll recall, was to only allow the victims of certain “forcible” rapes—statutory and date rapes don’t count, ladies—access to abortion (which is, I should note, an entirely legal medical procedure) under Medicaid. That plan died a quick death, thankfully.

But! This being the U.S. House of Representatives, which is now dominated by anti-choice (male, of course) Republicans, you’ll no doubt be shocked to learn that the right wing is taking another bite at the anti-choice apple, this time via a proposal from Chester County Congressman Joe Pitts—a first-class theocrat who chairs the Values Action Team, a subset of the far-right Republican Study Group that takes its marching orders from homophobe/dog abuser James Dobson—that would allow hospitals that receive federal funds to refuse to perform abortions in any and all circumstances, even when the mother’s life is in danger.

A bit of backstory: currently, all hospitals in America that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are bound by a 1986 law known as EMTALA to provide emergency care to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay or other factors. Hospitals do not have to provide free care to everyone that arrives at their doorstep under EMTALA—but they do have to stabilize them and provide them with emergency care without factoring in their ability to pay for it or not. If a hospital can’t provide the care a patient needs, it is required to transfer that patient to a hospital that can, and the receiving hospital is required to accept that patient.

In the case of an anti-abortion hospital with a patient requiring an emergency abortion, ETMALA would require that hospital to perform it or transfer the patient to someone who can. … Pitts’ new bill would free hospitals from any abortion requirement under EMTALA, meaning that medical providers who aren’t willing to terminate pregnancies wouldn’t have to—nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.

The hospital could literally do nothing at all, pro-choice critics of Pitts’ bill say.

Pitts, of course, doesn’t see what the big damn deal is.“NARAL and other abortion rights groups have vigorously opposed any conscience protection legislation, it is no surprise that they would attack the Protect Life Act with the same old talking points,” a Pitts spokesperson told Talking Points Memo.

He’s pro-life, you see. For fetuses. Less so for endangered pregnant women who want access to a perfectly legal, lifesaving medical procedure.

A Nation of (Fundamentalist) Idiots

For all 13 years of my elementary and secondary education, I attended a religious school. And not just a religious school, but an ardent, protestant, southern, fundamentalist-aligned religious school, wherein not just drinking and drugging could get you suspended or expelled (although, of course, everyone did that anyway), but also dancing, listening to secular music and (for girls) having your skirt fall more than two inches above the knee. Read more »

You Live in the Moonshine Capital of the World

My mother, God bless her, has a hookup.

For Christmas, she gave me a Mason jar of real, legitimate, 100 percent illegal, North Carolina-made peach moonshine—a clear liquid that smells like paint thinner but is surprisingly quaffable, the kind of drink you take in sips, with a subtle flavor that warms, but doesn’t burn, your throat on the way down. It was a hit at the New Year’s Eve party I attended. And there’s still a good third of the bottle in my freezer, waiting on a special occasion. Or, whenever the mood strikes. Read more »

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