Civil Rights Arrive in Pennsylvania: State Rep. Brian Sims Interview

Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D., Philadelphia), the first openly gay candidate to win an election to the state General Assembly, made headlines last week with the passage of a resolution for recognizing the Human Rights Day.

In an exclusive interview with the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, he shared his plans for the next few years, a surprising Jewish connection, and a few thoughts on the House speaker, Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler County).

Q: Where did the idea for the resolution on the Human Rights Day come from?

I had known of the Day for 15 years, since I heard of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Last month, after the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, invited me to speak on advocating for civil rights at local events in honor of the Day, I decided to propose a resolution for recognizing this day in Pennsylvania.

Q: Was it realizing that you were gay that brought you to the civil rights area?

I have first learned of civil rights through feminism. Both of my parents were lieutenant colonels in the Army, so I grew up with a very strong woman and two very equal parents.

Being part of the gay community was one of the reasons that I ran for the House. Pennsylvania has no LGBT rights laws at all, so a lot needs to be done. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the State Senate support such legislations.

Q: Has your being gay hurt you in ways that legislation could have prevented?

Not very often. To my fortune, I live in a city with many laws that protect my rights. In other areas of Pennsylvania, you can get fired from your job or kicked out of your house, and even get bullied just for being gay.

Q: Were you surprised last June, when the speaker of the House, Daryl Metcalfe, did not let you speak on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that it would be “an open rebellion against God’s law”?

Yes. I knew that he did not like me personally, and did not have respect for the House and its members, but I was surprised by the reason for which he did not let me speak.

Anyone can believe in anything they want, and have any motivation for their activism, but “God’s law” has no place in the Government and its voting.

Q: How has being elected changed your lifestyle?

I have always been very busy: Before being elected, I was the president of Equality Pennsylvania, and active in five more civil rights organizations. Now I am just as busy, but have a whole team that helps me.

In the little spare time that I have, I carry lectures, to teach the public on subjects such as saving money and public safety.

Q: What are your plans for the elections to the General Assembly next June?

I will run for the same office again. I need several more years to take care of all of the issues in my district (the 182nd House District, Center City).

Q: Do you have any connection with the local Jewish community?

When I worked as a lawyer, each and every one of my bosses was Jewish. They all understood what it meant to stand up and be an advocate for your community, so working as a lawyer had been connecting me with the Jewish community as well as with the lawyer community.

Last October, politicians from Pennsylvania held a diplomatic trip to Israel, but I could not go. A similar trip is planned for next March, and I would like to join it.

Obama: “Bipartisan Budget Agreement Is a Good First Step”

President Obama called the Congress’s bipartisan budget agreement “a good first step” to grow the U.S. economy and create more jobs in an official statement:

Earlier this year, I called on Congress to work together on a balanced approach to a budget that grows our economy faster and creates more jobs — not through aimless, reckless spending cuts that harm our economy now, but by making sure we can afford to invest in the things that have always grown our economy and strengthened our middle class. Today’s bipartisan budget agreement is a good first step.

This agreement replaces a portion of the across-the-board spending cuts known as “the sequester” that have harmed students, seniors, and middle-class families and served as a mindless drag on our economy over the last year.  

President’s statement continues after the jump along with video of Speaker of the House John Boehner and graphics to help visualize the budget.

It clears the path for critical investments in things like scientific research, which has the potential to unleash new innovation and new industries.  

It’s balanced, and includes targeted fee increases and spending cuts designed in a way that doesn’t hurt our economy or break the ironclad promises we’ve made to our seniors.

It does all this while slightly reducing our deficits over time — coming on top of four years of the fastest deficit reduction since the end of World War II.

And because it’s the first budget that leaders of both parties have agreed to in a few years, the American people should not have to endure the pain of another government shutdown for the next two years.

This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like — and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise.

But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.

That’s the way the American people expect Washington to work. I want to thank Senator Murray, Congressman Ryan and all the other leaders who helped forge this bipartisan agreement.

And I want to call on Members of Congress from both parties to take the next step and actually pass a budget based on this agreement so I can sign it into law and our economy can continue growing and creating jobs without more Washington headwinds.

But, as I said last week, the defining challenge of our time is not whether Congress can pass a budget — it’s whether we can make sure our economy works for every working American.

And while today’s agreement is a good first step, Congress has a lot more to do on that front. In the immediate term, Congress should extend unemployment insurance, so more than a million Americans looking for work don’t lose a vital economic lifeline right after Christmas, and our economy doesn’t take a hit.

And beyond that, they should do more to expand broad-based growth and opportunity — by creating more jobs that pay better wages, by growing our economy, and by offering a path into the middle class for every American willing to work for it.

Obama: “Mandela Showed Us the Power of Action”

President Obama mourned today the former South African president, Nelson Mandela, at the national memorial service at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa:

In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, and persistence and faith. He tells us what is possible not just in the pages of history books, but in our own lives as well.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Mandela was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father.

And we know he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments… a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people,” he said.

Full transcript follows the jump.


Barack and Michelle Obama, George and Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton arrrive in South Africa.

To Gra├ža Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of states and government, past and present; distinguished guests — it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life like no other.

To the people of South Africa — (applause) — people of every race and walk of life — the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and your hope found expression in his life. And your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.

It is hard to eulogize any man — to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person — their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.

Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by the elders of his Thembu tribe, Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.

Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement — a movement that at its start had little prospect for success. Like Dr. King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War.

Emerging from prison, without the force of arms, he would — like Abraham Lincoln — hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. And like America’s Founding Fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations — a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power after only one term.

Given the sweep of his life, the scope of his accomplishments, the adoration that he so rightly earned, it’s tempting I think to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men.

But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. (Applause.) Instead, Madiba insisted on sharing with us his doubts and his fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. “I am not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection — because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried — that we loved him so.

He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood — a son and a husband, a father and a friend. And that’s why we learned so much from him, and that’s why we can learn from him still.

For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, and persistence and faith. He tells us what is possible not just in the pages of history books, but in our own lives as well.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Mandela was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. And we know he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments… a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people,” he said.

But like other early giants of the ANC — the Sisulus and Tambos — Madiba disciplined his anger and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand up for their God-given dignity.  

Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price:  

I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and [with] equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela taught us the power of action, but he also taught us the power of ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those who you agree with, but also those who you don’t agree with.  

He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and his passion, but also because of his training as an advocate.

He used decades of prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and the customs of his oppressor, so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depend upon his. (Applause.)

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough. No matter how right, they must be chiseled into law and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history.  

On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of unconditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.” But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal.

And because he was not only a leader of a movement but a skillful politician, the constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy, true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.

And finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa — Ubuntu — (applause) — a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

We can never know how much of this sense was innate in him, or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small — introducing his jailers as honored guests at his inauguration; taking a pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS — that revealed the depth of his empathy and his understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu, he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.

It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well — (applause) — to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life?  It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President.

We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice — the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day.  Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle. (Applause.)  

But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.

The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.

For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today. (Applause.)

And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.  

There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. (Applause.) And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

The questions we face today — how to promote equality and justice; how to uphold freedom and human rights; how to end conflict and sectarian war — these things do not have easy answers.  

But there were no easy answers in front of that child born in World War I. Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows that is true. South Africa shows we can change, that we can choose a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa and the young people around the world — you, too, can make his life’s work your own.

Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land, and it stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities, to others and to myself, and it set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today.

And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man. (Applause.) He speaks to what’s best inside us.

After this great liberator is laid to rest, and when we have returned to our cities and villages and rejoined our daily routines, let us search for his strength. Let us search for his largeness of spirit somewhere inside of ourselves.

And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach, let us think of Madiba and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of his cell:

It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

What a magnificent soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa. (Applause.)

See No Warming, Hear No Warming, Speak No Warming


DEP acting head, E. Christopher Abruzzo.
Credit: Pennsylvania DEP

— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Yesterday, I heard the following from E. Christopher Abruzzo, Tom Corbett’s nominee for Department of Environmental Protection Secretary:

I have not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude that there are adverse impacts to human beings or to animals or to plant life at this small level of climate change.

While it is absolutely galling that Corbett would have the audacity to nominate someone for the post of protecting our environment who has not read anything at all about the human impact on climate change, it is not unexpected.

However, I was the only member of the State Senate yesterday to hold Corbett’s nominee accountable, ask hard questions, and vote against his nomination.

As an environmentalist, I believe it is of the highest imperative to protect our natural resources, and am willing to stand up to anti-environment politicians like Corbett to do what is right — and that is what I want to do when I am elected to Congress.

More after the jump.
As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Leach was the only senator to oppose moving Abruzzo’s nomination out of committee for consideration by the full 50-member Senate, expected within the next week.

He said he believed Abruzzo, a longtime prosecutor who later served as a deputy chief of staff to Corbett, had “no obvious experience in environmental protection, and that manifests itself in things like not knowing the science behind climate change.”

“This is not a reflection on you,” said Leach. “There are many positions that you would be qualified for. I do not think this is one of them.”

Gubernatorial Candidates Face-Off


Forum starts at 18:00. Please skip first 18 minutes of video.

On November 21, 2013 Philly Speaks Out held a forum at Temple University for gubernatorial candidates.  Candidates attending:

Pennsylvania Governor Jon Corbett was invited to join the forum but did not respond to the invitation. The forum was a non-partisan event, not a debate.

The moderator was Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church — a founding member of POWER, one of the sponsoring organizations.

More after the jump.
In addition to POWER the event was sponsored by:  1199C/AFSCME, 32BJ SEIU, AFSCME DC 47, Action United, Fight for Philly, PA Working Families, PASNAP, PCAPS, and SEIU Healthcare PA

I did not attend in person but watched the webcast of the event. These are my rough notes from the forum. They not intended as a transcript. As always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions. Interested readers are encouraged to click on the candidates’ names above and visit their websites for further information on the candidates’ views and policies. A few personal observations are given at the end.

Rev. Mark Tyler introduced the candidates and instructed them to get right to the issues without taking time to thank the organizers. They had 3 minutes each to answer questions. (2 minutes for the final question.)

The forum covered four issues:

  1. Education.
  2. Retirement Security.
  3. Jobs.
  4. Health Care.

Each segment of the forum began with testimony from an audience member which was then framed with questions posed by the moderator Rev. Tyler. (See video.) The questions and candidate responses are outlined below.

First issue:  Education

Question:

  1. Reversing problems requires bold leadership and policy changes, “equitable” funding formula,
  2. increase revenue for public education and social services, cut corporate tax loopholes, drilling,
  3. charter school accountability,
  4. invest in schools not prisons, and
  5. abolish the School Reform Commission.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

Schwartz: Pleased to be here, not pleased that Corbett is absent. Not a surprise; he has been absent on our values. Pennsylvania has great resources yet Corbett has led us to 49th place in job creation.  We cannot be a great state without leadership, vision, and a commitment to the state.  I have high goals, high expectations, and have always found a way to move forward.  We have to start with public education.  My mother was an immigrant.  She arrived here alone at age 16, and was sent to Philadelphia because the city had great public schools.  She graduated from Girls High and went to Temple but could not afford to finish.  My sons went to Central High School, a public school in Philadelphia.  As governor I would make public education a priority.  I would support your agenda, abolish the School Reform Commission, rein in charters, fair funding, pre-school and full-day kindergarten.  Invest in public education; invest in the future.

Wolf: I am from York County.  How can we allow this (references tweet from parent about no school librarian) to happen.  Tom Corbett has taken education off the front burner, off the stove.  I love learning, and have a PhD from MIT.  Daughters got a great education in York County.  We are all in this together.  Public education is a shared enterprise.  As governor if we are going to have a bright future we must have great schools.  We need fair and equitable funding, tax shale, universal Pre-K, charter accountability, good education equals good jobs, connect higher education with worlds of work.  As an employer I understand we must have an educated workforce.

McCord:   The most important thing for me to highlight is education, not just as policy but it is personal.  Think of a single parent who has a job but a bad job, mistreated by her employer but wants a good future for her kids — that is my mom’s story.  She went through a bad divorce when I was four.  I went from being a slow reader to a scholarship at Harvard.  Some have a poverty of purpose.  This is the #1 reason I am running.  Tom Corbett took $1 billion from the schools.  We need to review the funding system, fully fund higher education, repair the 529 plan, fund community colleges, allow unions to provide associates degrees, fully fund early childhood education.  Yield for decades.

Hanger:  Nothing wrong with public education but the governor is trying to privatize it.  I will stop this cold.  I arrived in the US at age 12 from Ireland.  Public schools prepared me.  We must attack poverty to prepare people for education.  As a law graduate I worked with low income families.  Start with charters, not preparing poor kids, stealing money from public education.  We need to shut down poorly performing charters, including almost all cyber charters.  It is an attack on unions to attack public schools.  I will abolish the School Reform Commission.  We need fair funding.  The real problem is the governor trying to privatize public schools.

McGinty:  One morning in September I was having coffee, reading the paper and saw the beautiful face of 12 year old LaPortia.  She died from asthma attack on a day when the school nurse wasn’t there.  She was the same age as one of my kids. This is not the best for our kids. Problem to solve.  Our kids deserve better. Put the spotlight on what is working. Pennsylvania is 4th in reading, 8th in math. Taking a wrecking ball to public education is not right. Put a tax in place to restore money to public education, fair formula, English language learning, property tax, reform charters so no double dipping. Start early Head Start, pre-day, full day kindergarten, small classes. Let teachers teach and students learn.

Second issue:  Retirement security.

Question: Pennsylvania has the fourth oldest population in the US.  There are fewer employer retirement plans.

  1. protecting pensions for public employees,
  2. retirement benefits available to all workers. California is offering plans all works can join. [blogger’s note, this is the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program] Working Families plan.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

McGinty: Yes I will support this. I am the 9th of 10 kids, dad was a Philadelphia police officer for 35 years. He died last year at 94, and never asked any of us for a penny. He had a pension.  No one gave him anything; he earned that pension. We must insist on these kinds of benefits, make retirement affordable, make health care affordable, can’t have property taxes go through the roof. The Commonwealth is not paying for public education, leaving it to be supported by property taxes.

Hanger: Anyone who has a pension has a legal guarantee that it will be paid. I will not let pension funds be raided. Many in the private sector are not organized or part of a union, and have no pension or retirement. As a legal services attorney I saw retired people living on social security. We need better jobs with higher income while working. Jobs don’t pay for bills today let alone retirement. Rich are getting a bigger piece; you are getting a smaller piece. Raise minimum wage, stand with unions, help people join unions, so we don’t have to choose between heat, food and medicine.

Schwartz: We need a Pennsylvania committed to hard work and achievement, that’s what built the great state we are. I hope to live to retire and reflect on a fulfilling job.  Retirement is under threat.  Pennsylvania does have one of the largest senior populations.  Social security and Medicare are under threat. In DC I have led the fight against privatizing social security.  Imagine if we invested in Wall Street in the recession. We have work to do and I will keep working towards that.  Need to meet our obligations to retirees.

McCord: If retirement and pensions are the issue I’m your guy.  No one in Pennsylvania has spent more time studying this than I have. Proud defender of defined benefit plans.  Unions defend defined benefits, not just for members but for all. Proud of how often I have fought back against Tom Corbett.  Defined benefits are more efficient that 401k’s. Defined contribution associations say otherwise.  We need to embrace the plan in California. It is a “pay me now or pay me later” world.  We can imitate the 529 plan. Retirement is a woman’s issue — women are three times more likely to drop into poverty in retirement. [He mentioned a woman in relation to the California plan but I can’t get the spelling right to find the correct person]

Wolf: I’m an FDR Democrat. We do not have a pension problem. This is something we share. In my company I work to make sure employees [missed this]. Lottery is part of the Department of Revenue, $1 million goes to help the elderly. I worked to improve the lottery.  It went to property tax rebates, prescription drugs.  We need to protect public pensions. Overall compensation issue. If we want good public employees we must compete with the private sector. Health care. I have a 90 year old mom and 91 year old dad. We need to ensure all is done to see that all Pennsylvanians have retirement.

Third issue:  Jobs

Question: Good jobs, raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, like slaves asking Pharaoh for straw to make bricks. End payday lending. Guaranteed sick days. All people receiving tax money must pay workers (including subcontractors) a living wage.  Shift from corporate benefits to public education

McCord:  Everything in the governor’s race relates to jobs.  If we end defined benefits we lose as 90% of that money is spent in Pennsylvania.  Of course we need to increase the minimum wage, increases the wealth of the middle class, need sick days, that an efficient thing to do, protect prevailing wage.  We can trust safety and quality of well-trained Pennsylvania workers paid prevailing wage.  End payday loans.  Everything is about true economic security.  Reasonable wage.  Good benefits.  Protected workplace.

Schwartz:  If we want to build a prosperous economy in Pennsylvania, steel, railroads, hard work and innovations, new cures the envy of the world.  Unions spread wages to workers, building industry, prosperity, innovation.  Rebuild Pennsylvania economy, rebuild and re-grow middle class, cannot succeed without a middle class.  Increase minimum wage, fair pay for women, prevailing wages, sick leave, use carrot and stick.  If public money is given to corporations we must push them to pay fair wages and benefits.  Use all natural resource to benefit all, use money for education, grow economic opportunities across the state.

McGinty:  Jobs.  I’m here to apply for a job.  As Secretary of Environmental Protection I wanted to create new good jobs.  We need clean energy and environment.  Let’s bring these jobs.  We were #1 in bringing solar and wind jobs, good jobs, pay, benefits.   Choosing between the environment and jobs is a false choice, as is saying wanting a good job risks your current job.  To grow the economy we have to put money in people’s pockets.  Living wage.  Increase minimum wage, index it to inflation.  Right to organize.  Invest in the US.  Job training and skills development programs.  These were cut and we need to restore them.  Families need to be able to afford education.  Colleges need to keep costs under control.  Public projects – jobs going to Pennsylvanians.

Wolf:  I’ve created good jobs.  Only PhD forklift operator in York County.  Bought my company, build it into one of the biggest in its field in the country.  Distributed 20 – 30% annually in profits to employees.  Sick days, living wages.  First thing we have to do is invest in education.  We need an educated workforce.  Recognize we can compete, even in manufacturing.  We can compete on price and quality.

Hanger:  More jobs and better jobs need community organization.  If we want paid sick days we need to mobilize.  It begins with education, 20,000 educators lost their jobs.  Expand Medicaid.  We could have four billion going to our hospitals, good paying jobs.  Green energy.  Create solar and wind jobs.  I know how to create these jobs.  People have trouble getting a job because of unfair convictions.  We are arresting too many people for having a joint in their pocket.  We should legalize marijuana.  Stop arresting African American men at  five times the rate we arrest whites.  That’s how we get schools to jails.

Fourth Issue:  Health care

Question:

  1. Expansion of Medicaid,
  2. Invest in family health care and maternity care,
  3. Stop corporatization of health care,
  4. Ensure quality care, and
  5. Ensure long term care.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

Wolf:  This has become about politics and it shouldn’t be.  The governor is trying to destroy the president’s health care plan.  We absolutely need to expand Medicaid.  It is bad for the economy not to have universal health care.

McGinty:  Some issues are hard but when the federal government offers you $4 billion to give citizens health care the only answer is yes.   Increase availability and affordability yes.  All issues on human dignity.

Schwartz:  Hard to talk about health care in 2 minutes.     Personal to all of us.  The governor turned down opportunities, not federal money but our money.  Unacceptable.  Take the money and use it to benefit Pennsylvania.  We have great hospitals, medical schools and nurses.  If you doubt I can do this remember my work on CHIP which became a national mode.  Let’s get it done.

Hanger:  Wrong for people in our state not to have health care.  It is a human right.  Yes to Medicaid expansion but not enough.  We need single payer health care.  My wife is a physician, trained in Philadelphia, and opened a community practice.  We need to include mental health treatment and addiction treatment.  My son committed suicide at age 23 from depression.

McCord:  Human rights, social justice, human dignity, also about efficiency.  Ridiculous not to take Medicaid expansion.  Your movement is fighting a company town program.  [missed something here].  Use new technology, associates degrees, cut costs, seniors able to stay in their homes.  Repair middle class.

Personal observations:  The candidates were very gracious.  In my opinion far too much time was taken up with announcements from the sponsoring organizations and individual comments [“testimonies”] from the audience.  There were a few hecklers in the crowd and at one point two people got onstage with a banner offering their views on a political issue.  The forum stopped for a few minutes while they were escorted off stage.  Of the candidates Rob McCord was the only one to step away from the podium.  Each time he got up to answer the questions he would take the microphone and stand next to it instead of behind it.  He is clearly an experienced and enthusiastic speaker.

Time for Congress to Pass Nuclear Iran Prevention Act


Brad Sherman

— by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks, California)

Despite many positive elements, the deal reached in Geneva has a significant flaw: It allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium up to a level of 3.5%-5%, as long as it converts this from gas to uranium oxide metal.  

Six months from now, Iran will have its current stock of gaseous 3.5% enriched uranium and an additional stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium oxide, which it could convert back to gas relatively easily.  

The United States negotiators in Geneva would have been in a much better position had Congress passed and the President signed the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act earlier this year. The more penalties and the more significant impact on Iran’s economy, the more concessions they could have secured.  

More after the jump.
Congress should act in December to pass two pieces of legislation concerning Iran:

  1. Improve the administrative effectiveness of existing sanctions. One example of this effort would be to make every company doing business with the federal government or any state or city certify that they and their affiliates conduct no business that violates any of our sanctions laws.  
  2. We need to enact a bill providing for massive new penalties on Iran. These penalties would go into effect on June 1 unless the President submits, and Congress adopts, a joint resolution that suspends the penalties because Iran has signed a reasonable permanent agreement.

Our negotiators need more leverage, not less. I look forward to working to enact that leverage next month.

Kerry: I Came to Israel “Without Any Illusions About the Difficulties”

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the Israeli-Arab peace talks at the memorial for Israel’s former prime minister, Itzhak Rabin:

I come here without any illusions about the difficulties, but I come here determined to work with leaders — with the Prime Minister, with the President of the Palestinian Authority — to try to find a way forward so that Israel can live the dream that President Peres and Prime Minister Rabin expressed so eloquently and beautifully in the tragedy of that day here and in many days before that. We will continue to work, and I can promise Israelis that America will stand by the side of Israel every step of the way.

During the ceremony, a protest was held, opposing the release of dozens of jailed Arab terrorists as a precondition for starting the peace talks.

Full remarks after the jump.
Kerry: It’s a great privilege for me and always a sad moment to come to remember the memory of a great man, a great general, a great prime minister, a great leader, a great man of peace. And one can hear his booming voice saying the words — the famous words — “We are destined to live together.”  

Here, just moments before his life was taken and the possibilities of peace were disrupted through an act of violence, he stood up on that balcony with his friend, Shimon Peres, and together, they sang, “Don’t whisper a prayer. Sing a song of peace in a loud voice.” We are now 18 years since that moment, and it is clear that we need voices ready to sing a song of peace loudly, with courage, with the same determination that Prime Minister Rabin showed in his quest for peace. He dared to take the risks for peace because he believed not just that it was important for the sake of peace, but that it was vital for the security and future of Israel, and of the region.

Eighteen years is important because I am told that 18 is important in the Proverbs — the 18th Proverb, it says that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Death and life in the power of the tongue. So what we say with our voices, how we talk about peace, how we prepare the possibilities of peace are really critical to all of us. We need to avoid incitement. We need to sing that song that Prime Minister Rabin and President Peres embraced together.  

Eighteen is also, I am told, very important in Hebrew, because the letters that write the word “eighteen” literally mean life, hayyim. I remember shouting those words once from the top of Masada in my first visit to the Holy Land. And we stood up there and together, as a group, we shouted across the chasm, “(In Hebrew), hayyim.”  Those words meant something to me. And so maybe 18, maybe the word hayyim in life will have a special meaning at this particular moment.  

The Proverbs also teach us L’chaim. That’s something we now need to put into practice. So I come here without any illusions about the difficulties, but I come here determined to work with leaders — with the Prime Minister, with the President of the Palestinian Authority — to try to find a way forward so that Israel can live the dream that President Peres and Prime Minister Rabin expressed so eloquently and beautifully in the tragedy of that day here and in many days before that.  

We will continue to work, and I can promise Israelis that America will stand by the side of Israel every step of the way. We believe this is something that is possible, that is good for all, and that it can be achieved. And I will leave here inspired by being here with Dalia and with members of the family, most importantly by seeing the symbolism of the turbulence, the earthquake that followed that moment of violence. It should rededicate every person in Israel with the possibility of a just and appropriate and fair peace which protects the security of Israel, guarantees that Israel’s security will be protected, but makes possible for people to live the words of the prime minister, “We are destined to live together,” I add, in peace. Thank you.

Tel Aviv’s mayor, Ron Huldai: We appreciate the fact that you took the time to begin your visit here in Tel Aviv, the center of Israeli democracy. In this spot, Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated because of his quest for peace. From here, he spoke. We want to tell you, Mr. Secretary, that the people of Israel and the city of Tel Aviv, therefore, want peace. And the person who will manage to bring peace, will receive our highest appreciation, and it is true.  

So I wish you and all of us good luck in this challenging mission. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  

Kerry: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Rabin’s daughter, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof: Mr. Secretary, Mayor of Tel Aviv, ambassadors of Israel to Washington and Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Ambassador Martin Indyk, and all the staff that joins you, I really appreciate and I am moved — the fact that you came to this painful and tragic spot in Tel Aviv where his life was taken brutally 18 years ago. It’s very symbolic that you came here. It’s the 5th of November.  Yesterday, we marked the 18th anniversary.  

And we all wish you all the best because everybody that stands here understand that this is the only way, his way, that maybe was a little ahead of his time, but 18 years is enough time that has passed by, and it’s time to make peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. We wish you luck and we keep our fingers crossed. And thank you so much for coming over here. (Applause.)

The Death of Democracy in the US

— article by State Senator Daylin Leach, reprinted from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice , 2006.

Voters no longer choose their politicians; instead, politicians choose their voters when they draw the district lines. I have been leading the fight to take the politics out of redistricting.

Redistricting has become a tool used by legislative leaders to ensure that elections are never competitive. As you know, the constitution requires that political boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts. In recent years, politicians of both parties have become increasingly blatant about drawing these lines to ensure that there are as few genuinely competitive districts as possible. As a result, 95 percent of us live in districts where our vote essentially does not count because those who drew the lines have already decided which party will win.

More after the jump.


Current Pa. congressional districts by party.

Though gerrymandering has been a growing problem for centuries, new technology has made it increasingly effective. Let me explain how this works. Say there are two adjacent legislative districts, both of which typically divide their vote evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties. When the next redistricting comes around, the party leadership of both parties will make a deal to swap precincts so that instead of two 50-50 districts, the new map will have one district that is 70-30 Republican and the other that is 70-30 Democratic. People still walk to the polls on election day, but everyone knows who will win before the first vote is counted.

Iowa has actually passed similar reform. As a result, four out of five of Iowa’s congressional districts are competitive. That is more competitive districts than there are in Pennsylvania, New York and California combined. That state’s legislative races are similarly competitive.

The powers that be in both parties oppose this bill because it takes power out of their hands. The only way that reform will ever happen is if there is a public outcry demanding it.

Obama: “Everyone Knows Our Immigration System Is Broken”

President Obama called for an immigration reform in remarks he carried at the White House yesterday:

Everybody knows that our current immigration system is broken. Across the political spectrum, people understand that. We’ve known it for years. It’s not smart to invite some of the brightest minds from around the world to study here and then not let them start businesses here — we send them back to their home countries to start businesses and create jobs and invent new products someplace else.  

The President jokingly explained the difficulty in passing the reform:

Just because something is smart and fair, and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor, and the evangelical community, and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. This is Washington, after all.  

Obama called for continued public pressure on the subject:

There are going to be moments — and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform — where you meet resistance, and the press will declare something dead, it’s not going to happen, but that can be overcome.

Full remarks after the jump.
Thank you very much. Please have a seat, everybody. Good morning, and welcome to the White House. Today I’m here with leaders from business, from labor, from faith communities who are united around one goal — finishing the job of fixing a broken immigration system.

This is not just an idea whose time has come; this is an idea whose time has been around for years now. Leaders like all of you have worked together with Republicans and Democrats in this town in good faith for years to try to get this done. And this is the moment when we should be able to finally get the job done.

Now, it’s no secret that the American people haven’t seen much out of Washington that they like these days. The shutdown and the threat of the first default in more than 200 years inflicted real pain on our businesses and on families across the country. And it was a completely unnecessary, self-inflicted wound with real costs to real people, and it can never happen again.

Even with the shutdown over, and the threat of default eliminated, Democrats and Republicans still have some really big disagreements — there are some just fundamentally different views about how we should move forward on certain issues. On the other hand, as I said the day after the shutdown ended, that’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to work together on the things that we do agree on.  

We should be able to work together on a responsible budget that invests in the things that we need to grow our economy and create jobs even while we maintain fiscal discipline. We should be able to pass a farm bill that helps rural communities grow and protects vulnerable Americans in hard times.

And we should pass immigration reform. (Applause.) We should pass immigration reform.  It’s good for our economy. It’s good for our national security. It’s good for our people. And we should do it this year.

Everybody knows that our current immigration system is broken. Across the political spectrum, people understand that. We’ve known it for years. It’s not smart to invite some of the brightest minds from around the world to study here and then not let them start businesses here — we send them back to their home countries to start businesses and create jobs and invent new products someplace else.  

It’s not fair to businesses and middle-class families who play by the rules when we allow companies that are trying to undercut the rules work in the shadow economy, to hire folks at lower wages or no benefits, no overtime, so that somehow they get a competitive edge from breaking the rules. That doesn’t make sense.  

It doesn’t make sense to have 11 million people who are in this country illegally without any incentive or any way for them to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, meet their responsibilities and permit their families then to move ahead. It’s not smart. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense. We have kicked this particular can down the road for too long.  

Now, the good news is, this year the Senate has already passed an immigration reform bill by a wide, bipartisan majority that addressed all of these issues. It’s a bill that would continue to strengthen our borders. It would level the playing field by holding unscrupulous employers accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers.  

It would modernize our legal immigration system, so that even as we train American workers for the jobs of the future, we’re also attracting highly-skilled entrepreneurs from beyond our borders to join with us to create jobs here in the United States.  

It would make sure that everybody plays by the same rules by providing a pathway to earned citizenship for those who are here illegally — one that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes, paying a penalty, getting in line behind everyone who is trying to come here the right way.

So it had all the component parts. It didn’t have everything that I wanted; it didn’t have everything that anybody wanted; but it addressed the core challenges of how we create a immigration system that is fair, that’s just, that is true to our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And that’s passed the Senate by a bipartisan majority. (Applause.)  

So here’s what we also know — that the bill would grow the economy and shrink our deficits. Independent economists have shown that if the Senate bill became law, over the next two decades our economy would grow by $1.4 trillion more than it would if we don’t pass the law. It would reduce our deficits by nearly a trillion dollars.  

So this isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. Securing our borders; modernizing our legal immigration system; providing a pathway to earned, legalized citizenship; growing our economy; strengthening our middle class; reducing our deficits — that’s what common-sense immigration reform will do.

Now, obviously, just because something is smart and fair, and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor — (laughter) — and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. (Laughter.) This is Washington, after all.  

So everything tends to be viewed through a political prism and everybody has been looking at the politics of this. And I know that there are some folks in this town who are primed to think, “Well, if Obama is for it, then I’m against it.” But I’d remind everybody that my Republican predecessor was also for it when he proposed reforms like this almost a decade ago, and I joined with 23 Senate Republicans back then to support that reform. I’d remind you that this reform won more than a dozen Republican votes in the Senate in June.  

I’m not running for office again. I just believe this is the right thing to do. (Applause.) I just believe this is the right thing to do. And I also believe that good policy is good politics in this instance. And if folks are really that consumed with the politics of fixing our broken immigration system, they should take a closer look at the polls because the American people support this. It’s not something they reject — they support it. Everybody wins here if we work together to get this done. In fact, if there’s a good reason not to pass this common-sense reform, I haven’t heard it.  

So anyone still standing in the way of this bipartisan reform should at least have to explain why. A clear majority of the American people think it’s the right thing to do.  

Now, how do we move forward? Democratic leaders have introduced a bill in the House that is similar to the bipartisan Senate bill. So now it’s up to Republicans in the House to decide whether reform becomes a reality or not.  

I do know — and this is good news — that many of them agree that we need to fix our broken immigration system across these areas that we’ve just discussed. And what I’ve said to them, and I’ll repeat today, is if House Republicans have new and different, additional ideas for how we should move forward, then we want to hear them. I’ll be listening. I know that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, those who voted for immigration reform already, are eager to hear those additional ideas. But what we can’t do is just sweep the problem under the rug one more time, leave it for somebody else to solve sometime in the future.

Rather than create problems, let’s prove to the American people that Washington can actually solve some problems. This reform comes as close to anything we’ve got to a law that will benefit everybody now and far into the future. So let’s see if we can get this done. And let’s see if we can get it done this year. (Applause.)

We’ve got the time to do it. Republicans in the House, including the Speaker, have said we should act. So let’s not wait. It doesn’t get easier to just put it off. Let’s do it now. Let’s not delay. Let’s get this done, and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion.

To those of you who are here today, I want to just say one last thing and that is &mdahs; thank you. I want to thank you for your persistence. I want to thank you for your activism. I want to thank you for your passion and your heart when it comes to this issue. And I want to tell you, you’ve got to keep it up. Keep putting the pressure on all of us to get this done. There are going to be moments — and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform — where you meet resistance, and the press will declare something dead, it’s not going to happen, but that can be overcome.

And I have to say, Joe, as I look out at this room, these don’t look like people who are easily deterred. (Laughter.)

The Vice President: I don’t think so.

The President: They don’t look like folks who are going to give up. (Applause.) You look fired up to make the next push. And whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, I want you to keep working, and I’m going to be right next to you, to make sure we get immigration reform done. It is time. Let’s go get it done.  

Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

Private Sector Employment Rise for 43rd Consecutive Month

The Employment Situation in September

— by Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors

While job growth remained solid in September, there is no question that the focus of policy should be on how to achieve a faster pace of job growth by increasing certainty and investing in jobs, rather than the self-inflicted wounds of the past several weeks that increased uncertainty and inhibited job growth. Today’s delayed report describes the economy more than a month ago. More recent indicators suggest the labor market worsened in the month of October.

5 key points follow the jump.
1. Private sector employment has risen for 43 consecutive months, with businesses adding a total of 7.6 million jobs over that period.

Today we learned that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 148,000 in September, with the private sector accounting for 126,000 of that gain. Private sector job growth was revised down for July (to 100,000) but up for August (to 161,000).  In sum, private sector employment rose by an average of 129,000 per month in the third quarter, lower than we can be fully satisfied with, partially reflecting the effects of fiscal contraction. This underscores the continued importance of taking steps that speed the recovery and boost job creation, while avoiding self-inflicted wounds like a government shutdown and debt ceiling brinksmanship that have the opposite effect.

2. Weekly employment indicators not in today’s report suggest that the labor market situation deteriorated in early October, coinciding with the shutdown and the threat of a possible default.

Today’s employment report provides a snapshot of the economy in September, prior to the shutdown and debt limit brinksmanship. To understand more recent labor market developments we need to rely on other data that gives an initial indication of economic developments in October, including initial unemployment insurance claims and the Gallup Job Creation Index. Prior to the shutdown the four-week moving average of claims fell to 305,000, the lowest level since May 2007. But initial claims spiked in the first two weeks of October and reached their highest level since March (note the claims data do not include Federal employees). Although the precise cause of changes in the number of initial claims can be difficult to discern, the uptick in claims was corroborated by a similar movement in Gallup’s Job Creation Index, which is based on a weekly survey of approximately 4,000 workers. The Gallup index represents the net percentage of respondents who say their employers are adding workers, and has tracked unemployment insurance claims in the past. Both indicators suggest that the shutdown and debt ceiling brinksmanship in the first half of October had a disruptive effect on the labor market. During the shutdown, hundreds of thousands of Federal workers went unpaid, families were unable to travel to national parks, oil and gas drilling permits were delayed, Small Business Administration loans were put on hold, licenses to export high-tech products could not be granted, and documentation required to get a mortgage could not be accessed, to name just a few effects.

3. Local government educational services employment rose by 9,500 in September and is up 56,400 over the last three months – but remains well below pre-crisis levels.

While local education jobs appear to have stabilized and even started increasing in recent months, there is much further to go. Employment in this sector remains 291,700 below its previous peak in July 2008-and given a growing student population this understates the teacher and education jobs gap. It is worth noting that local government educational services employment began to decline around the same time that support from the Recovery Act peaked and began to phase out, and the Administration continues to support proposals to boost the hiring of teachers and other local government workers that play a critical role in communities across the country.

4. The unemployment rate for women ticked down to 6.7 percent in September, the lowest since December 2008 but still above pre-crisis rates.

Industries that employ a larger fraction of men (for example, construction and manufacturing) were particularly hard hit the recession, so the unemployment rate for men rose much more rapidly than the unemployment rate for women. This pattern has been fairly typical of recent recessions. During the recovery, the unemployment rate for men fell more rapidly and the two unemployment rates converged. However, in the last six months the two rates have diverged and the unemployment rate for women has fallen more rapidly to 6.7 percent while the male unemployment rate has come down more slowly and is 7.7 percent.

5. The economy has been adding jobs at a pace of more than 2 million per year.

Over the twelve months ending September 2013, total non-farm payroll employment rose by 2.2 million, similar to the gain in the year-earlier period. While the month-to-month figures can be volatile, the year-over-year changes indicate that the recovery has been durable in the face of several headwinds that have emerged in recent years. The separate household survey is more volatile month-to-month, but over a longer period, it tells the same story. When adjusted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be comparable to the concept of employment used in the payroll measure, household employment has risen by 1.9 million over the twelve months ending September 2013.  

As the Administration stresses every month, the monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and payroll employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available.