Archive for the ‘pennsylvania’ category

So Much The Same, Yet So Different

October 27, 2016

The past three days I have been traveling across Pennsylvania. First was a visit to the Flight 93 Memorial, then onto Farmington, PA (southwest corner of Pennsylvania) to overnight. Next on to Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright designed home) and then in the afternoon to Kentuck Knob (another Frank Lloyd Wright home). That evening and the next day was spent in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This swatch of middle Pennsylvania displays almost exclusively Donald Trump signs, something I am not used to seeing in Philadelphia.

In fact, I am at a loss to understand how anyone can be a Trump for President supporter. His nature and life preparation seem totally unsuited for public office at any level, let alone President. On top of Trump’s qualifications, his basic platform (coupled with the Republican Platform) seem so out of touch with average Americans actual needs. How could anyone be enthusiastic about Trump or the GOP?

Now, back to my travels. The local people were terrific, kind and helpful. They possessed no horns or tails and their eyes were blue, brown, or hazel. Just normal.

These middle and western Pennsylvanians had their own political beliefs, and it would appear these beliefs were not mine. Never the less, their hospitality and willingness to perform their jobs in no way reflected any disdain for someone not a nearby neighbor.

What strikes me as important about these observations begs the question, why is the political discourse so much like Agamemnon?

Why do the political parties imply that the sun may not rise tomorrow should the opposition candidate win?

Why is it that the political parties are so content to make the election a black and white subject with no room for fact filled policy discussions?

During my recent travels, I did learn a lot about a great architect and two wealthy families who had the wisdom (and the money) to retain his services, a plane load of average Americans who said no to hijackers, and a conservative farm oriented city quite at peace with being the home of a key turning point battle in America’s Civil War. From my perspective I met Americans quite content with their lots in life and in no way representative of the vitriol I hear from close supporters.

Yet all the Trump/Pense poster I saw represented sincere supporters of Donald Trump. How could, otherwise normal friendly Americans feel so moved?

The truth probably lies in how people form their beliefs. The Civil War Memorial offered a hint. Both the Constitution and religious teachings should have convinced Americans in the 1850’s that slavery was both immoral and against “all men are created equal”, yet Americans were deeply divided over slavery. Where’s the logic?

Once one considers, as many did, that negroes were not equal to Caucasians, and were in fact inferior, then it is easier to make the leap that “all men are created equal” does not include negroes.

In a sense, I suspect, a similar type of logic is at play with ardent Donald Trump supporters who by day are contributing community members while still carrying a Trump sign. Forget about experience, temperament, or public policy. Forget about the impossibility of “building a wall” or deporting 11 million, forget about repealing Obamacare and leaving millions without healthcare insurance. Forget about snapping ones fingers and global terrorism will disappear or that the US can bluff Russia or China into actions favorable to American interests. Forget about tax cuts design to benefit wealthy as on the pathway to a stronger US economy and good jobs galore. And forget about dozens of testimonies and a video tape of Trumps views about women.

Trump supporters simply have to make the mental leap that he is different and he can make their life better.

America will get an imperfect 45th President come November 8, regardless of who wins. Whether it will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, will be revealed in time.

What I do know is that the people in middle and western Pennsylvania will be as hospitable and welcoming as they are today. They will be so much the same, yet so different.

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Feeling Uncomfortable

December 31, 2015

Recently Friends Central, a Suburban Philadelphia private Quaker High School removed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its teaching curriculum. The school said the book, with its wide use of the N-word, made some of its students uncomfortable. The school went on to say it thought removal was not censorship but rather a testament to listening “to our students”. Hmmm.

Any school’s teaching curriculum can only be so big. All the possible important pieces of literature cannot be included, simply due to teaching time. So one must assume that Friends Central had included the classic Huck Finn for an academic reason. To remove it because some students felt uncomfortable must raise eyebrows. Aren’t students in school to learn from those who presumably have the benefit of greater knowledge and experience?

Huck Finn is considered important because it describes a segregated America which current white generation have not experienced. While the text may make some African American students uncomfortable, do these students (and their adult supporters) recognize that Huck Finn does not endorse segregation. Rather Mark Twain uses the book in an attempt to open the minds of white Americans to a period of insensitivity and hypocrisy. Hmmm.

This past year has also seen a number of college protests (Missouri, Ithaca College, Virginia Commonwealth, Yale for examples) where African American students have alleged school policies were not inclusive enough and racial insensitivity made them feel uncomfortable. Some of these “uncomfortable” situations lead to the resignation of senior Administrators. These incidents, however, differ markedly from removing a classic text from the curriculum. The college incidents involved the overall learning environment while the Friends Central involved learning materials.

Feeling uncomfortable in the learning process is a natural by-product of education. Feeling uncomfortable in a social setting is not a necessary condition. Improving the University level social setting could spell a more productive learning environment. At the end of the day, however, the burden to learn still falls back to the student.

Feeling uncomfortable with the teaching curriculum begs the question of whether the material was academically worthy in the first place. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a well established reputation.

If Friends Central felt there was a book more important than Huck Finn and used the new book to replaced Finn in the curriculum, the decision could be tested on the basis of academic merit. Removing a book for “comfort” reasons begs the question of whether Friends Central has “dumbed down” its curriculum in an effort to achieve comfort.

Is that what learning is about?

Byzantine Pennsylvania

December 2, 2015

Shortly after , Kathleen Kane, the first woman (and Democrat) Attorney General was elected and took office, the wheels began to come off the wagon. What has transpired will some day make a good read or maybe even present Hollywood with a story too good to tell.

Ms. Kane was a political animal and had little or no trail experience when she elected to run for office. Following a bruising primary, she went on and won the Attorney General position in the general election. The people had spoken, so is that not the end of it?

Apparently Ms Kane saw political enemies behind every tree and when she began to act upon her campaign promise to open review of the State’s investigation into the Penn State Jerry Sandusky trial, the “villains” began to multiply.

Kane countered this group of “enemies” by passing selective information on.  The leaks of confidential information to State newspapers lead to a grand jury being empaneled in which Ms Kane was summoned to testify. As a consequence Ms Kane was held in contempt for lying to the grand jury and is now awaiting trial.

A State level judicial board met and decide to revoke Kane’s law license making her an Attorney General without an approved license to practice law. Hmmm.

Kane has refused to resign and claimed she could carry out the Attorney General duties without holding a license.

If this is not complicated enough, add to this soap opera Kane’s claim that she was the target of an old boys network and that she could prove it.  Hmmm.

Kane then proceeded to gain permission to release emails held on State servers from and to members of the State Supreme Court. The release lead to the term “porn-gate” when the released emails showed many of the Supreme Court Justices happily exchanging off color emails which contained references to nudes, sex, racial, and homophobic themes.

One Justice has resigned and the Chief Justice now is under pressure to resign.

One can question what’s wrong with these emails since “everybody does it”. What puts porn-gate over the top is that the Justices exchanged and received these emails from practicing attorney who came before them in court… sleeping with the enemy?

As Kane’s trial is drawing closer, the State Senate and House are trying to impeach Kane. Allegedly impeachment is sought because Kane no longer has her license. Hmmm.

Kane, however, has other plans. She has appointed a Special Prosecutor who will be asked to review all emails held on State servers and look for a wider pattern of email messages unsuited for State business.

It does not take much of a stretch to guess that many State legislators, ready to impeach Kane (as well as those not ready), are breathing heavily now worried about what juicy emails lie in their accounts.

Most of the off color and insensitive emails when put in sunlight reflect on the frailties of our elected public servants. What is far more troubling is the open buddy-buddy relationships between various branches of State Government and State Agencies. Where are the checks and balances. Where is the impartiality we expect from our public officials?  And, what other “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” type emails will emerge?

Stay tuned, the best may yet  come.

Money Speaks, But Does It Think All The Way Through The Problem

April 2, 2015

In the upcoming Philadelphia mayoral race, big money is making its presence felt. What is surprising is that the big money (from three investors in Susquehanna Investors) expect something in return. What, how can that be?

The three investors are not reticent to acknowledge they expect the potential Mayor to be sympathetic to their cause – more charter schools in the impoverished section of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, like other large cities, has a huge problem with K-12 education, especially in the 9-12 grades. By this age, the poverty condition from which many of the students come, has subverted the high school’s educational mission into simply survival from gang-like dysfunctional behavior. How can students who want to learn attain an education in this type of environment?

The answer, these investors have said is to syphon the brighter, willing to study students from public schools and put them into charter schools. For parents who fear for their children, this is a very appealing alternative.

The growth of charter schools in other large cities has already answered similar needs for parents so the idea is not novel. The political battle pitting teacher’s unions, school administrators, educational experts, and local residents, however, has settled on a certain number of charters. These investors want to target the poorest sections of Philadelphia and increase the number of charters in these districts. What’s wrong with this?

The Philadelphia situation is close to desperate with graduation rates hovering around 50% and institutional poverty only getting worse as so many young men and women enter the work force with no degree and no skills. Worse, Pennsylvania State legislature has no interest in sending more money for Philadelphia school and the Philadelphia City Counsel is reluctant to raise taxes to close school budget gaps. The conditions of schools in the poorest districts are just getting worse. So again, what’s wrong with charters?

The short answer is charters lead to the increasing the concentration of disciplinary and special needs students in the already dysfunctional schools. More charter schools is equivalent to throwing less fit people out of the life boat so that those more educationally competitive can survive. Hmmm.

If charter schools were required to accept the same population as the public school it replaced, and the non-union, the highly motivated teachers and administrators were put to the task of out performing the current union teachers and legacy administrators, this experiment would soon determine whether “selectivity” or “charter/public was the route to better schools.

Regrettably, more charters shed no light upon what to do with those students who are not taken into a charter school. Maybe these investors “money” has some ideas about that too.

Judicial Respect

October 23, 2014

There is an important but almost farcical drama playing out in Pennsylvania. This “too good to be true” situation involves a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice being suspended for conduct detrimental to the good image of the court. Hmmm.

Justice Seamus McCaffery was suspended from the high court because he had been implicated in an exchange of “X” rated emails with other top Pennsylvania officials. At first attention was focused upon the recipients of McCaffery’s emails and whether the exchange  represented fraternization with prosecutors. Subsequently the judicial review board has settled upon simply “conduct which would lower the publics respect for the judiciary”. Hmmm.

One might reasonably think that McCaffery would have reached that same conclusion and simply apologized and retired voluntarily. That, however, was not going to happen.

McCaffery had already been publicly reported to have hired his wife as an aide. No legal problem in Pennsylvania but nepotism is normally a warning sign about governance. But that’s not the issue.

McCaffery’s wife, a well known lawyer on her own, took the opportunity to refer potential clients to other law firms while serving as McCafferty’s aid. Hmmm.

And, yes his wife received substantial (but customary) fees for each referral. Hmmm.

The law firms receiving the referrals often represented matters which made it to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and could be expected from time to time to actually come before Judge McCaffery himself.  Hmmm.

This conflict of interest was quickly overlooked because it was legal to refer and hiring family members was an old practice. Hmmm.
For the most part, “X” rated emails are protected speech and if sent on private computers would also be viewed as perfectly legal (although probably embarrassing just as pictures of bedroom activities might be seen if made public).

IMO, the judicial review board acted properly in suspending McCaffery but showed a huge blind spot for justification.

I cannot image anyone who would stand for election to the Supreme Court (or any elected government position) just to get a chance to exchange “X” rated emails. I certainly can understand the desire to attain these offices in order to benefit in some personal way.

The real issue with McCaffery should not be the emails, he should have been suspended long ago due to nepotism and potential conflict of interest.

The world goes around sometimes in ways we cannot predict. McCaffery, who might be a great jurist, carried too much baggage and risked creating a negative image towards the entire judicial system  He had to go, even if for a marginal issue.

I Wonder Why?

September 28, 2014

In November, Pennsylvania will hold its Governor’s election along with the mid-term Congressional Representative’s race. Most of the attention, however, is focused upon the Governor’s job. Will incumbent Republican Tom Corbett retain his position or will Democrat challenger Tom Wolf prevail?

If polls are any indication, Corbett ought to be looking for his next job. I wonder why?

Try four simple positions.

  • Education. In 2010, Pennsylvania was still in the throws of recession and tax revenues had fallen. On top of lower tax revenues, a one time “Federal stimulus” grant had not been replaced so balancing the Pennsylvania State budget would require new or increased taxes. Corbett’s campaign pledge of “no new taxes” (sound familiar) meant he would need to create a budget on less money than his predecessor. Hmmm. Result: cuts of over $1 billion in State aid to education.
  • Voting Rights. Following a GOP nationwide script, with the Governor’s support, the Republican controlled legislature passed a “voter photo ID” law aimed at guarding against voter fraud. Despite the fact that there were no instances of voter fraud, the new law required Pennsylvanians to present an authorized photo ID in order to vote. The Governor maintained his support claiming the law was “constitutional” rather than necessary.
  • Gay Rights. Again following a conservative national campaign, the Governor staked out his position in opposition to gay marriage. He supported the State’s ban on same sex marriage providing a familiar argument that same sex marriage was like the marriage of a brother and sister. Subsequently Courts struck down the Pennsylvania law.
  • Healthcare. Oh, and yes once again like other GOP Governors, Corbett refused to expand Pennsylvania’s Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The usual reasons were provided (too costly, there was a better way). To date, Pennsylvania’s Medicaid roles have not been expanded despite the demographic need.

With the election a little over a month away, Governor Corbett is grasping at campaign positions that might revive his chances. His opponent is a little known business executive who has simply promised to do better. Corbett’s ploy is “tell us how”.

The truth of the matter is there is no evidence that Wolf could or would be a better Governor. Corbett, however, chose some very short sighted goals and voters have concluded he is a mean spirited person.

For sure Healthcare and Education are complicated issues. Opening the checkbook and simply doling out money may not be the right answer. Turning ones back and not sincerely trying to find genuine compromise makes for an uncomfortable bed to sleep in.

Voter Photo ID and opposition to gay marriage are, on the other hand, straight forward unkind and discriminatory positions. In a closely divided red-blue State, it should be no surprise that swing voters will pile on the Wolf bandwagon.