About Philadelphia Apartments

Welcome to the Philadelphia Pennsylvania blog. This blog contains a wealth of information about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Apartment living, and housing opportunities in our great city and other metro areas of the U.S.. Learn about efforts at restoring architectural relics of the past - former factories, warehouses, schools, hotels, hospitals, train stations - into first-class houses and apartments, and in preserving these distinguished residential communities for future generations. Please enjoy your stay on our Philadelphia apartments blog and feel free to share your stories on life in Philly and the city of brotherly love. In addition, we welcome all commentaries regarding building remodeling, home remodeling, kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling, and house hunting. Thank You!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vilsack Confident Farm Programs will Help Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Meeting with regional anti-poverty strategists at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack shrugged off mounting Congressional criticism of his farm programs while applauding local efforts to feed tens of thousands of hungry Pennsylvanians.

Flanked by his wife, Christie, Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, also told the planners that the federal government was prepared to spend heavily to prop up the price of milk but declined to say how much he thinks a Congress reeling from budget deficits should buy. With Pennsylvania dairy farmers now getting less than $1.25 for a gallon of milk — below the cost of producing it — producers predict more family firms will go bust without federal help.

Agreeing that it was a "stressful time" for dairy farmers, Vilsack, 59, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, said prices might have stabilized had producers not increased the size of their herds, flooding the market with milk. He wants to forge a national dairy policy to level out the peaks and valleys of milk pricing and hopes to receive "sometime in 2010" a list of recommendations from a special advisory committee holding ongoing meetings.

Vilsack continues to spar with mostly GOP congressmen in farm states over the direction of federal agriculture policy. Last week, House Agriculture Committee Republican leader Frank Lucas of Oklahoma blasted Vilsack's emphasis on nontraditional farm issues such as regional food systems, organic vegetable cultivation, community gardens and other initiatives as threats to turn rural America into "bedroom communities."

GOP U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Pat Roberts of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote Vilsack last week accusing his "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program of helping "small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets" instead of traditional producers who grow most of America's food.

"Well, it's really an unfortunate circumstance," Vilsack told the Trib. "These senators have not taken the time to understand and appreciate our 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' program."

Calling their letter "inappropriate" because they "didn't take the time to find out" key parts of the program such as trimming the distance traditional livestock ranchers need to drive their herds to slaughter, Vilsack said he would continue to promote community gardens, farmers markets and other initiatives as a means to find new markets for all producers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pa. Newspapers' Layoff Notice Called 'Procedural'

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Employees of Philadelphia's two major newspapers have been sent a letter warning of possible layoffs, but the lenders who won the newspapers at a bankruptcy auction last month say the notice is "procedural" and no such action is planned.

The letters, sent Friday on letterhead of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, say the new owners "will continue as the employer of all employees" but also note that the letter would serve as notice under a federal law that requires employers to give 60 days' notice in the event of mass layoffs.

"The letter is a procedural letter. It was agreed they would send it out up at the auction in New York," said Robert Hall, named chief operating officer by the new owners. "The old company goes out of business that day and we start anew."

"Our intention is still exactly the same as it was before," Hall said. "There will be no massive layoffs when we take over the company."

Creditors last month won a frenzied bankruptcy auction for the two newspapers and their website over a local group's bid. Greg Osberg, who has been named publisher and chief executive officer, has said he expects the sale to close in late May and hopes to complete contracts with the newspapers' unions by the end of June.

In a note accompanying the letters, outgoing publisher Brian Tierney said he was sending them "with a heavy heart, but at the direction of the prospective owners."

"Issuing this kind of ... notice does not happen in every sale," Tierney said. Such notices weren't issued when the previous owner, Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, bought the newspapers nearly four years ago, he said.

Dan Gross, a Daily News columnist and president of the union that represents newsroom and advertising employees, said he had been assured that no job cuts are planned at the newspapers, which have about 4,500 full-time and part-time workers.

"They reiterated their commitment to offering employment to all current employees," Gross said.

Gov. Ed Rendell said a company lawyer had given him similar assurances and told him the letters were required because of "an entity change."

Rendell said he would have no problem if there were no layoffs or unilateral reductions in wages and benefits, but "if they unilaterally offer ... wages at 75 percent or 50 percent benefit cuts, that would be absolutely wrong and a betrayal of the process."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Philadelphia Hosts Nation's Finest Young Legal Eagles

Philadelphia Inquirer

After the witnesses had been grilled, the evidence entered, and the defendant himself had taken the stand in a dramatic, if theatrical, bid to win acquittal, it all came down to closing arguments.

Prosecutors contended a web of circumstantial evidence led inescapably to the conclusion the defendant had committed aggravated assault when a flash mob gathered on Independence Mall. The defense attorney countered that the charges against high school student Maddox Hale were more guesswork than police work.

"It is the prosecutor's task to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt - what you saw today was only doubt," said Matt Caponigro, of South Bend, Ind., who led the defense team.

In the end, though, the jurors kept the verdict to themselves - at least for a little while.

That's because the case was fictional, part of a national mock-trial competition playing out in Philadelphia on Friday and Saturday, with the Pennsylvania Bar Association as its host. The winners were to be named only at the end of the competition Saturday evening.

The mock trials were conducted in City Hall courtrooms and the Criminal Justice Center, which hummed with students, family members, and lawyers.

About 750 students from 41 states, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and South Korea competed in 89 mock trials to see who thought fastest on their feet, made the most powerful arguments, and had the most unshakable command of the legal issues.

Each of the teams had finished first in state competitions. Lawyers from around the country volunteered to judge, write case materials, or to help out in other ways. Among the jurors in the final round was Judge Marjorie Rendell of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Representing Pennsylvania was Scranton Preparatory School. Mendham High School in north Jersey represented New Jersey.

The pressures of the last few weeks have been intense.

"The teams are spending 20 hours a week preparing for this; it really is a journey for the teams that make it," said one of the organizers, Jane Meyer, a lawyer and clerk for Dauphin County Judge Jeannine Turgeon.

The case centered on the fictional high school senior, a rabble-rouser with a revolutionary bent who made it his mission to undermine the authoritarian principal of John Peter Zenger High School, a troubled inner-city school near Independence Hall.

The case draws much of its inspiration from the Revolutionary War era. For added measure, Meyer and others who wrote the case material, including Paul Kaufman, an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, crafted a tortuous fact pattern open to multiple interpretations.

The facts, as outlined in the case materials, were these:

School principal Carter Braxton took over in 2007 promising to restore order after a period of violence and gang activity. He banned gangs, greatly increased the number of security guards, installed security cameras, and sharply restricted movement of students in the building.

The students chafed under the new discipline, none more so than Maddox Hale, who, during debate club meetings, fulminated against the principal.

As part of his campaign of agitation, Hale organized a student rally across the street from the school on Feb. 27, 2009.

Days before the rally, an anonymous message was posted on a social-networking Web site called Jitter urging students to join the rally and begin pelting security guards with rock-filled snowballs when Hale, in a speech, uttered the legendary words of John Paul Jones, "I have not yet begun to fight."

Hale and another student were arrested when the event played out as advertised.

To some expert outside legal observers, the thin skein of facts tying Hale to the snowball throwing or urging others to act violently made the prosecution case a bit of a stretch.

"My first instinct would be that in Philadelphia, of all places, where the Constitution enshrined the right of free speech, this is a perfect example of someone exercising that right," said Robert C. Heim, chairman of the litigation department at Dechert L.L.P. "He can't be held responsible for the wayward acts of some unnamed person."

Hale, according to the case material, took his revolutionary role so seriously that he adopted Revolutionary-era speech.

In the first round, David Kern of the South Bend High School team, played the role of Maddox Hale with exaggerated theatricality, fulminating about his constitutional rights in a convincing, colonial-era accent, and explaining that he had wanted to peacefully pursue his dispute with the principal by running for student body president.

"I decided to follow in the footsteps of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln," he testified in a booming voice.

It was a passionate performance, for sure. But under the terms of the competition, he would have to wait until the awards dinner Saturday night to find out whether he had been acquitted.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pennsylvania Fireworks Store Owner Recalls Bombing-Suspect

NY Times

Around 12:30 on a Monday afternoon about seven weeks ago, Faisal Shahzad pulled into the parking lot at the Phantom Fireworks store in Matamoras, Pa., said Bruce Zoldan, the owner of the company.

Mr. Shahzad hopped out of his vehicle and walked into the 20,000-square-foot store, Mr. Zoldan said, offering an account of Mr. Shahzad’s visit based on a review of security videos and conversations with employees.

The company requires every customer to register with a database, used for marketing purposes. Mr. Shahzad showed a clerk his Connecticut driver’s license, but, when signing a registration form, he inverted the order of his name, writing his first name as Shahzad and his surname as Faisal.

Mr. Shahzad, clad in jeans, was the only customer in the store, and he spent 30 to 45 minutes browsing in the aisles, calmly examining various types of fireworks. There were about 20 clerks in the store, and he declined an offer of help from an assistant manager in the aisles.

Mr. Shahzad eventually took his items to a cashier. He asked a few questions — the nature of which Mr. Zoldan would not disclose, saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation had asked him not to — headed back into the aisles and returned with more merchandise.

Mr. Shahzad eventually settled on a package of M-88 Silver Salute fireworks, a Phantom Fireworks brand that sells for $10.99 for a 36-count box. He also bought a red canister-type firework that, when ignited, flies several feet into the air and bursts into colors while emitting popping sounds.

A small red cylinder, sawed in half, would later appear in a photograph of an F.B.I. technician scouring Mr. Shahzad’s home in Connecticut after the failed Times Square car bombing last weekend.

The M-88 firecrackers are about an inch and a half long and an inch in diameter. Each contains roughly 50 milligrams of explosives, about the size of one-quarter of an aspirin, which Mr. Zoldan said was the maximum allowed in consumer fireworks.

Mr. Shahzad spent several minutes chatting with the cashier and returning to the aisles before settling up with his purchases, about five items, including the M-88s, and leaving the store.

If Mr. Shahzad hoped that M-88 fireworks would ignite one another, he was in error. The M-88s are about 98 percent paper, Mr. Zoldan said, and each fuse has to be ignited individually.

“He certainly didn’t know what he was doing with the igniter part,” Mr. Zoldan said by telephone Wednesday from the company’s headquarters in Youngstown, Ohio.

“One going off won’t set off another one; that’s why they’re legal for consumer firework sales,” Mr. Zoldan said. “He miscalculated. Thank God.”

Mr. Zoldan said he was driving back from the Kentucky Derby with his son on Saturday when he learned about the attempted bombing on the radio. He called the chief of national security for the company, Bob Kroner, who Mr. Zoldan said was a retired special agent for the F.B.I.

“Bob, I have a gut feeling that if those fireworks were consumer fireworks, they could be Phantom Fireworks,” Mr. Zoldan said.

Mr. Kroner contacted the F.B.I. and got a call back about 18 hours later asking the company to identify its eastern Pennsylvania showrooms. The F.B.I. also identified the firecrackers used in the attempted bombing as M-88 Silver Salutes.

The company, which operates 55 pyrotechnic stores across the country, looked through its intake records and found Mr. Shahzad’s name. On Tuesday, the company found the security video showing him making his purchases and, while the cashier was ringing him up, gazing calmly in the direction of the security cameras.

Pennsylvania Races Clock to find 30,000 Jobs

Philadelphia Inquirer

At Keepsake Carpets in North Philadelphia, technician Robert Ringgold binds mats. His boss wants to hire a sales force through Way to Work, which could lead to permanent jobs for them.

As enticements go, bottled water and oatmeal raisin cookies, even very good ones, don't seem too alluring. But Patrick Bokovitz, the executive director of the Chester County Workforce Investment Board, had something better than refreshments to offer 35 local employers crammed into a meeting room Thursday outside West Chester:

Expand your workforce now, Bokovitz told them, and the federal government will pick up most of the tab.

Starting next week, Pennsylvania will pump $78 million of federal stimulus funding, plus an additional $19.5 million of its own money, into Way to Work, a statewide subsidized-job program.

The federal money, funneled through the state's Department of Public Welfare, will underwrite wages of up to $13 an hour for adults and minimum wage for youths.

The goal is to employ 20,000.

Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen, because the program requires a tight turnaround.

The money goes away Sept. 30, and Pennsylvania is already late in implementing a program that some other states, including Delaware, started a year ago.

That means Pennsylvania has to recruit employers for all of them, answer many complicated questions about who is eligible for the jobs, and tackle some thorny issues, such as whether employers who had planned to hire and advertised an opening can now use the money to finance that same position.

Then, the job-seeker needs to get on the job and get in some weeks of paid work before the program expires Sept. 30 and the government stops paying the bill.

The hope is that this will encourage companies on the cusp of hiring to take the plunge, expecting that, as the economy improves, many of the funded jobs will become permanent.

Anthony Hudgins, for example, would like to use the funds to staff a sales force to sell personalized rugs manufactured by his company, Keepsake Carpets, in North Philadelphia. If the sales force succeeds, it will lead to permanent work for the employees, he said, and require him to hire more manufacturing help.

That, in turn, will help to relieve unemployment in Pennsylvania, which stands at 9.4 percent, with 582,000 out of work.

"In Pennsylvania, 30,000 have already burned through their unemployment benefits," said Sharon Dietrich, an employment lawyer with Community Legal Services Inc., of Philadelphia, and a major advocate for the program.

"Right now, this is the best answer we can give them," she said. "It's critically important that we develop as many opportunities as possible for desperate people to feed their families.

"My assessment is, it is going as well as it can be given how much had to be done and how quickly," she said, acknowledging that the program was complicated and logistically challenging.

Funding comes from Pennsylvania's share of $5 billion in stimulus money funneled through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the nation's main welfare program.

Of the $5 billion - which, if unused, goes away - Pennsylvania was eligible for $359.8 million. So far, it has received federal approval for plans to spend $46.1 million and is awaiting approval for $59.7 million more. The money can also be used for other types of assistance.

By contrast, Delaware has already been approved to spend its entire allocation of $8.4 million. New Jersey has approvals for $154.2 million of its $202 million share.

In Pennsylvania, "the biggest challenge is to develop as many work sites so people can get work," Dietrich said. "That is our focus right now."

Philadelphia has the biggest load, seeking to provide subsidized jobs for 5,000 teenagers, 3,500 adults in one program, plus an additional 1,500 through a related welfare-to-work program.

"We know we have a ticking clock through Sept. 30," said Jennie Sparandara, the city's director of human capital investments. "We're going to do everything in our power to get employers engaged."

One tactic the city plans is to use staffing agencies.

"We haven't selected the firms yet," said Andrew Rachlin, deputy chief of staff for the city's commerce department. "Whoever we partner with has to have the capacity to move quickly to identify large numbers of job slots" through their existing connections with area employers.

The city itself plans to hire 500, with the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board and the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp. pledged to find other slots.

Strictly by coincidence, the Bucks County Workforce Investment Board and Bucks County CareerLinks sponsored a job fair Wednesday in their Bristol office.

"This couldn't have happened at a more opportune time," said CareerLinks director Norman Brewer, who buttonholed the 31 employers in his lair for four hours.

SEPTA recruiter Jim Barnshaw didn't need to be sold. "I want it," he said. He sees it as subsidized training, especially for SEPTA's new fleet.

Frank Carey, executive director of the Delaware County Workforce Investment Board, promises coffee and doughnuts for the 200 county employers he has invited to a workshop next week at the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce building in Media.

Like Bokovitz, Carey can finance 65 jobs for adults. In Montgomery County, Gerald Birkelbach is scrambling to find good jobs for 30 people.

"We have some well-meaning organizations who would want to take somebody on, but they need to have meaningful work for months, not just for two weeks," said Birkelbach, executive director of the Montgomery County's Workforce Investment Board.

Elizabeth Walsh, who heads Bucks County's Workforce Investment Board, said employers might worry that a welfare-funded program would provide only untrained and inexperienced workers.

Not true. "Let me tell you, honey, with this economy, the face of [welfare] has changed, and there are skilled people out there," she said.

There are some tricky issues. Employers that have laid off staff in the last six months cannot use subsidized workers to refill those jobs.

Even among workforce executives, there seems to be some confusion about whether these workers can be used to fill open positions. The state advises that "local workforce investment areas must be vigilant to ensure that . . . funds are not simply subsidizing activity that would have occurred in the absence of the subsidy."

Nor is the program free. "The reimbursement is for gross wages only," Walsh explained. Employers need to pick up federal and state taxes and provide supervision - costs that could add 15 percent to 25 percent per hire.