<![CDATA[NBC 10 Philadelphia - Philadelphia Political News and Philadelphia Politics]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC10_40x125.png NBC 10 Philadelphia http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com en-us Thu, 17 Apr 2014 06:06:43 -0400 Thu, 17 Apr 2014 06:06:43 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Jaywalking Stops in NYC]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 05:30:40 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/bratton+high+rise+fire+protocol.jpg

Less than four months after officers started cracking down on jaywalkers in New York City, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is telling officers to use more discretion when stopping people who cross the street illegally, according to law enforcement sources.

The memo, first obtained by the Daily News and confirmed by NBC 4 New York, tells officers to “use discretion when issuing a summons,” and asks that elderly and special-needs jaywalkers be warned instead of ticketed if there is no safety risk. The memo also tells officers to only make arrests as a last resort.

Jaywalking summonses have exploded this year as the city tries to lower the number of traffic deaths. Already, more than 900 people have been ticketed for the offense, compared with 532 in 2012, according to the Daily News.

One of those collared, 84-year-old Kang Wong, is suing the NYPD and the city for $5 million for the way his arrest was handled. Wong alleges that officers pushed him against the wall, beat him and threw him to the ground after he crossed an Upper West Side street Jan. 19. Wong said he lost consciousness and was hospitalized after the arrest.

Earlier this month, prosecutors opted not to prosecute Wong’s case.

<![CDATA[Philly Closes City High-Rise Due to Broken Pipe]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 05:54:10 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/One+Parkway+Center+City+High+Rise.JPG

For a second day, city workers won’t be heading to work at a Center City high-rise today as crews continue to deal with a broken pipe that flooded elevators.

A broken pipe flooded the elevators of the 18-story One Parkway Building located at 1515 Arch Street, according to city officials.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s office announced Wednesday morning that the 18-story building will remain closed until further notice due to mechanical issues with the elevators.

Crews spent the day trying to get the system working again but couldn't get it back online in time.

The City Planning Commission, Department of Human Services, Law Department, Labor Relations, Parks and Recreation and other city offices are housed in the One Parkway high-rise.

The city urged non-essential employees to not report to the building today and to instead get in touch with their supervisors for further instruction.

Essential employees can stop by the building between 7 to 11 a.m. to pick up belongings, according to the city.

Click here for more news from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[Bridgegate: Christie Under Fire]]> Sun, 26 Jan 2014 13:06:14 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/christie+gwb+scandal+inset.jpg

Photo Credit: Getty Images/AP Images]]>
<![CDATA[Spoofing the Mayor's Pope Trip]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:40:16 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/mayor+nutter+liberty+bell+pope+francis.jpg

No, it's not true.

Philadelphia councilman Mark Squilla did not upstage the mayor and entire delegation that traveled to Rome last month.

Although, you might have thought so if you pay attention to Councilman Jim Kenney on social media.

On Tuesday, Kenney, who has been critical of the Vatican trip, mocked the mayor's meeting with Pope Francis.

"We were spoofing, having a little fun," Kenney said, pointing out that the conversation was even more fun on his personal Facebook page, in the comment section of this post:

My friend and colleague Mark Squilla told me he had a great PRIVATE audience with Pope Francis and Francis told Mark that he is coming to Philly and can't wait to have lunch with him at El Vez! The Pope loves Stephen Starr!

Councilman Squilla is actually in Rome on a family vacation, visiting one of his kids who is studying abroad. But he did not plan for, or get any one-on-one time with the pope.

"Before he left, we were kind of laughing and talking about what it'd be like if that did happen and we figured Mark would bring like a South Philly flair," Kenney said, which probably inspired this answer to some of the comments by his followers:

Sorry, Mark and the Pope have really hit it off! Squilla didn't bring some microscopic Liberty Bell as a gift. No, Mark brought a bottle of home made limoncello, a home made sopressata from one of his aunts and an autographed book, "You Only Rock Once" by the Geator! The Pope was thrilled! He remembers tossing Blavat out of a club in Buenos Aires in 1960.So, Councilman Squilla has sealed the deal! Thanks, Mark!

"Sarcasm is sarcasm," Kenney said, insisting that he's not taking jabs at the mayor.

Mayor Michael Nutter and his Chief of Staff, Everett Gillison, traveled with more than a dozen other delegates to the Vatican in March to meet the pope and help plan for 2015 World Meeting of Families which will be held in Philadelphia next year. Kenney views the trip as a waste of time and money. (A non-profit paid for the trip, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

"That trip was unnecessary. I think it was just like a 'make work' trip. The pope was always coming and all the machinations -- is it going to be a private meeting with the pope or a public meeting with the pope -- was just a sideshow," Kenney said.

When the Mayor was in Rome, he addressed that criticism, explaining why he felt it was important to meet face-to-face, not just with Pope Francis, but with members of the Pontifical Council for Families, which is the Vatican organization responsible for planning the World Meeting of Families.

"Look, we're going to be working closely with them for the next year-and-a-half. Now when we call them to talk about logistics or facilitating something, when they pick up the phone here they'll know exactly who they're talking to, and when we're talking about an event this size and what it will mean to our great city, I believe that does make a difference," Nutter said.

Make no mistake, Kenney said, he's excited about the event itself, which is expected to draw more than a million people to the city, and have an economic impact of $100 million.

"It's one of the best events we could have in the city, especially in light of our city conventions being down until the year 2017. I wish the mayor was as enthusiastic about the DNC (Democratic National Convention) as he is about the pope," Kenney said. "We're in a downward trend and there are a lot of smaller events that we're working right now to fill hotel rooms with."

Photo Credit: Vatican TV]]>
<![CDATA[Washington Monument Gets May Reopening Date]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 12:41:13 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Washington+Monument+Scaffolding+030713.jpg

The National Park Service began accepting ticket reservations to visit the Washington Monument Wednesday.

The monument will reopen May 12, nearly three years after an earthquake rocked the region.

Tours for opening day will begin at 1 p.m., with tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Washington Monument Lodge (15th Street between Madison and Jefferson drives).

But you now have the chance to snap up tour tickets for May 13 and beyond. Those tickets became available online at the NPS reservation page, www.recreation.gov, at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

"I would imagine there's a lot of people who are eager to get in," said Carol Johnson of the NPS.

The monument will offer extended hours, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, through the end of summer.

When the monument reopens, it will have been 32 months since tourists at the top of the 555-foot obelisk were captured on surveillance video running for the stairs as an earthquake shook the observation room — and the rest of D.C. — on Aug. 23, 2011.

The monument was closed after many stones near the top were discovered chipped or cracked, and mortar was shaken loose during the 5.8-magnitude quake.

Crews determined the monument was structurally sound, but workers have spent the time since then chiseling, hammering and repointing, In the process, they repaired more than 150 cracks.

"It's just as good as new, and it's going to be there for generations to come," Johnson said.

The massive repair project cost an estimated $15 million. Washington businessman David Rubenstein pledged to pay half the amount, with Congress allocating the rest.

Normally the Washington Monument has about 700,000 visitors a year who ride an elevator or climb stairs to the top. The monument was completed in 1884 and was the world's tallest structure for five years until the Eiffel Tower was built.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington.com]]>
<![CDATA[Paying for the Pope's Visit to Philly]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 19:54:36 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Bob+Moul+Artisan+Mobile+WMOF.jpg

Tell an entrepreneur that they can be a part of a $100-million dollar venture that may give them exposure to at least a million people?

That's enough to get them in the door, and so it was for Bob Moul.

"I got a very nice and kind letter inviting me to this event. I really don't know what to expect, so I'm here to listen and learn more than anything," said Moul, who runs a tech start-up company called Artisan Mobile, based in Old City, Philadelphia.

So Tuesday, a tad after 7 in the morning, Moul found himself in a room full of the city's business elite, all assembled at the Union League for a power breakfast with the papal dream team -- the organizers for the 2015 World Meeting of Families (WMOF).

The goal was simple but critical: to influence. The WMOF organizing team had an hour of precious time with some of the deepest pockets in the region -- people who also have a financial stake in the community.  They needed to get them excited enough to help pay for perhaps the biggest event ever hosted in the City of Philadelphia.

One by one, the front folks took the podium, covering areas of education and persuasion. They recapped the recent planning trip at the Vatican and outlined what to expect during the World Meeting of Families, which begins Sept. 22, 2015.


Donna Crilley Farrell, Executive Director for the WMOF:

"To give you a sense of how significant an event it will be for Philadelphia, there will be more than 150 countries represented...We expect 15,000 to 20,000 delegates for the convention. More than a million, maybe two million attendees expected for these events. Five thousand to 7,000 media members (including 2,000 international media members). Up to 7,000 volunteers needed."

"It's a very significant undertaking, but also an extraordinary opportunity," Farrell said.


Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is leading the WMOF effort:

"Our ability to deliver the World Meeting of Families is truly about the gathering and support of many. And that's why we've asked you to be here today. . . We have many needs."

Time. Talent. Fortunes.


Governor Tom Corbett, Honorary Co-Chair. Catholic school boy:

"It doesn't matter what creed, what politics, what nationality, what race. He [Pope Francis] is a leader of people who has demonstrated his compassion, his wisdom, his spiritual leadership..." "We need the help of every citizen, especially in the business community. Please consider." "I think it's a wonderful opportunity for us to show our best side."


Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Honorary Co-Chair. St. Joes' Prep alum:

"Great efforts don't just happen. They happen because of a lot of great people." "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience." "The focus of course is on families and the complexities of the family life."

P.S. THE POPE LIKES US. "Pope Francis was in no rush. There was no hurry. There were 100K people out in the square in the rain. No one moved. He spent personal time looking you in the eye and talking to you." "This is a singular and spectacular moment for Philadelphia and the world."


Dan Hilferty, CEO Independence Blue Cross and delegate for WMOF. St. Joe's Univ. alum:

"What I'm here to do is close and ask you for your hope. To ask you for your help and your hope." "Regardless of whether it's your time, your talent or your fortune, we need your help." "We will be in touch. We just task you to please take our call. Please agree to meet with us. Please agree to have an open mind."

The WMOF delegates say they still don't have an actual number on how much it will cost to host the event. Estimates have ranged from $15 million to upwards of $50 million. But the economic impact numbers are out there: approximately $100 million.

It was a lot to digest in a short amount of time, but Moul liked what he heard.

"I was impressed at how transparent they were about the cost that it's going to take to put this on, but also the economic benefit it will bring to the city," Moul said, wondering aloud how he might be able to both help and to benefit.

"I think it will be a daunting task, but the sense I get is that not only us, but I think the whole community is eager to get involved. I think it could be transformational, and I think everybody recognizes that in order to make that happen, you know, you've got to make the investment as well."

Some big companies have already committed to donating money, although they're not ready at this point to be named publicly. But for start-ups, the help may have to be in time or talent because they're still chasing their fortunes. Moul, who was recognized as the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Person of the Year, also chairs Philly's Startup Leadership group.

"I think companies like mine and others in the startup community could volunteer in other ways to help with the logistical challenges, maybe the technological aspects of an event like this," Moul said. "I think we're all still kind of getting our heads around, 'What is this really going to look like,' but when you hear the estimates of $100 million of economic impact to the city, I think that can only be good news to the city. How that ends up translating down into the small businesses, especially on the tech side, we'll see."

Photo Credit: NBC10.com]]>
<![CDATA[Drive Like Biden? Guy Says He's Selling VP's Caddy]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:30:46 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Biden+Cadillac+Sale+combined.jpg

If you want to ride like a Vice President, a Delaware man says he’s got just the car for you.

Jeff Finkle is selling a 2005 Cadillac STS on Craigslist, which he said was leased by Vice President Joe Biden from 2005 to 2008. The 23-year-old tells NBC10.com he purchased the luxury car in 2008, his senior year of high school, and realized it belonged to Biden when he was setting up the Bluetooth phone connection.

“When I was going through the Bluetooth and recognized the names. It had Jill’s number, his two sons Beau and Hunter. It had Philadelphia numbers, Wilmington numbers,” he said on Wednesday.

Finkle said he then checked the warranty information and called the dealership where the car was originally leased – both of which confirmed that it was Biden’s car. Finkle said he never called any of the numbers stored in the car, worried about what might happen.

“At that point, I was scared to touch any of them because if a call went through, I thought I would get in trouble because he was the Vice President,” he said.

A few months after his inquiries about the vehicle’s past, Finkle said the numbers disappeared from the car’s touchscreen computer.

A report on the car’s history does not show the name of the owners, but does list that it was previously registered as a commercial vehicle.

A spokeswoman for the vice president said they had “no comment” on the car. Calls to the dealerships where the cars were sold were not returned.

Finkle, who recently moved to South Carolina, says he figured highlighting the alleged Biden connection to the car would help the sale. He's offering the car for $15,000.

As for why he’s selling, he says it’s politics.

“Since now I’m in The South, driving around in Joe Biden’s car wouldn’t be the best thing with all the Republicans.”

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

<![CDATA[Bloomberg to Spend $50M to Fight Gun Violence]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 22:32:46 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/mayor-bloomberg-budget.jpg

In his first major political investment since leaving office, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to build a nationwide network aimed at curbing gun violence and battling the National Rifle Association, according to published reports.

Bloomberg told the New York Times that he is planning to spend $50 million this year to establish the grassroots gun control lobbying group, called Everytown for Gun Safety.

The new organization will encompass two other Bloomberg-funded gun control groups – Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – and will first take aim at expanding background checks for gun buyers both at the state and national levels, according to the Times. 

Everytown for Gun Safety will borrow from some of the NRA’s field operation tactics to grow influence, targeting mothers and other women that might be swayed on gun issues. The group has already targeted 15 states across the country with varying views on gun control, with the goal of recruiting 1 million new supporters.

“Right now, women, when they go to the polls, they vote on abortion, they vote on jobs, they vote on health care,” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts told the Times. “We want one of those things to be gun violence prevention.”

Bloomberg said he wanted work with both parties on gun control efforts and assembled an advisory board of Republican and Democratic officials, philanthropists and investors.

The former mayor's $50 million contribution would more than double the NRA’s $20 million in annual spending on political activities, the Times reports. Bloomberg hinted that his contributions to the cause could grow.

“I put $50 million this year, last year into coal, $53 million into oceans,” he told the Times. “Certainly a number like that, $50 million. Let’s see what happens.”

Bloomberg and Watts appeared on NBC's TODAY show Wednesday morning to talk about the group.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
THE ALTERNATIVE PRESS OF NORTH PENN]]> <![CDATA[Painting Over a 30-Year-Old Legacy]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:35:36 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Lansdale+Mural+Arts+Program.jpg

Painting over the legacy of 30-year-old murals in Memorial Park is in the hands of the Lansdale Parks and Recreation Committee.

The Lansdale Mural Arts Program — coming off the success of a completed mural on the side of Chantilly Floral in the parking lot off West Main Street, and a soon-to-be-completed mural on the side of Wes Carver Electric at Jenkins Avenue and Broad Street — has its sights set on beautifying another part of Lansdale: Memorial Park.

Parks and Recreation Director Carl Saldutti said he had met with LMAP co-organizer Ellen Foulke last week about more murals in the borough, specifically painting over the existing ones along Line Street. LMAP is a beautification program sponsored by Lansdale Business Association and funded by donations. A May 8 fundraiser and meet and greet for the program will occur at Lansdale Tavern at 5:30 p.m., complete with food, soda, beer and wine.

"We have talked about that location (at Memorial Park), about ideas, but there is nothing that LMAP would 'do' without approval from the parks and recreation committee, just like last year," Foulke told TAP. "Just like last year, we are in the process of learning who has interest in the program as a 'host' for any work. We are scouting two locations on two installations this year."

Committee Chairwoman Mary Fuller said the committee originally thought the plan was for a refurbishment of the existing murals.

"Now, they are talking about doing an overhaul of everything, including getting a volunteer for stucco work and painting," she said. "We are not giving a go-ahead until we see a plan first. I'm not in a hurry to cover up what's already there. it has special meaning from several different angles, including the students that did it and the teacher that oversaw it."

In 1984-1985, this writer's aunt, the former Renee Bartol, and several students completed four murals behind the grandstand at Memorial Park in Lansdale along Line Street, depicting sports scenes of tennis, football, baseball and soccer.

"The community has felt, over the last 30 years, those muruals have served them quite well," said Saldutti. "By all means, nothing is forever. If something made sense, the parks and recreation committee would take another look at it."

Saldutti said LMAP has requested the parks committee consider painting over the murals.

"They asked if the committee would consider fresh images on all panels. If not, then would we consider putting images on the three panels that are bare right at the moment," Saldutti said.

Fuller said there could be a plan that appeals to the committee to have the entire grandstand refurbished.

"We wouldn’t want it to be obvious that some is refurbished and some is not, but I'm hesitant to cover up the old," she said. 'We could look at a compromise: Keep the four panels there and paint three new ones and not worry about refurbishment."

Saldutti said the existing murals depict sports that are played or were once played in the park. He said Memorial Park is the site of many activities, including the Festival of the Arts and the annual Memorial Day celebration.

He said LMAP could find a local mason to donate time and effort to restore the stucco on the grandstand, should the committee recommend an overhaul. There is also a local Sherwin Williams representative that may donate materials and time to put a fresh coat of paint on the grandstand, Saldutti said.

Saldutii said the existing four murals have been there for 30 years; many consider them a landmark in Lansdale.

"Renee worked with us on the mural, and she had art students from the school there and they did the work," he said. "They have sentimental value to some, and aside from football and soccer, those are activities that take place in the park. The community is sensitive to that."

Saldutti said the committee would continue to visit the requests, consider the most tasteful ideas and possibly take one for consideration and recommendation.

As with the first two murals, LMAP is not a success without the call for artists, Foulke said. The call for artists comes after the mural host sites are chosen, she said.

"It really helps the artists to look at the façade and its setting before producing their work, so we would like to have the actual site determined before we do so," she said. "Once ... we have done a call to artists, we can offer actual designs for owners or committees to consider. You may recall that the placement of the murals changed through the course of the season and that may happen again. It is exciting that new connections are being made and conversations are happening."

In their 30 years, the murals have never once been vandalized, Saldutti said. He said studies have shown that graffiti artists shy away from damaging such works of art.

"Graffiti artists have respect for that," he said. "Our history with the murals has been great. They have held up remarkably well. They are something that the community can identify with."

Photo Credit: The Alternative Press of North Penn]]>
<![CDATA[Minimum Wage from Both Sides of the Issue]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:31:52 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000006742421_1200x675_226269251559.jpg NBC10s Renee Chenault-Fattah discusses minimum wage with Mark Price from the Keystone Research Center and Alex Halper from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.]]> <![CDATA[NBC10 @ ISSUE Minimum Wage Discussion Continues]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:55:29 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/230*120/Minimum+wage+seg+2.jpg NBC10s Renee Chenault-Fattah discusses minimum wage with Mark Price from the Keystone Research Center and Alex Halper from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.]]> <![CDATA[Coast Guard Offloading $110M in Cocaine]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:55:48 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/041514+coast+guard+cocaine+miami+beach.jpg

About $110 million worth of cocaine was offloaded by the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami Beach Tuesday morning.

The cocaine, about 6,000 pounds, was offloaded at Coast Guard Base Miami Beach by the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Legare.

The cocaine was seized during two separate drug interdictions, Coast Guard officials said.

Officials said about 2,400 kilos of the cocaine were found floating a hundred miles south of Jamaica after a Coast Guard crew rescued some sinking fishermen.

The rest was found off the coast of Colombia when guardsmen shot out the engine of a go-fast boat that wouldn't slow down.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Meaghan Gies said the seizure was part of the Coast Guard's Operation Martillo, an international effort targeting cocaine shipments heading to the United States, usually through Miami.

"On the streets typically wholesale value we see, that's probably gonna triple, so we're looking at around $350 million street value cocaine that's coming in today," Gies said. "It's huge."

In January, the Coast Guard offloaded about $37 million in cocaine that was seized during a drug bust just south of the Dominican Republic.

Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[NBC10 @Issue: More Pay- Good or Bad?]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:44:16 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000006733878_1200x675_225360963688.jpg NBC10 @ ISSUE discusses minimum wage with Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center and Alex Halper of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. The show also covers the topic of equal pay with Marianne Bellasorte as well as e-cigarettes in Philadelphia. Plus, the deadline is looming to file your taxes but good news is that Americans are saying it's becoming easier. The show runs in it's entirety.]]> <![CDATA[Red Cross Spending on Sandy a Mystery]]> Fri, 11 Apr 2014 20:43:33 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/red+cross+sandy.jpg

Following Superstorm Sandy, donors gave $312 million to the American Red Cross. How did the aid organization spend that money?

A year and a half after the storm, it's surprisingly difficult to get a detailed answer.

Red Cross officials told ProPublica the organization has spent or committed $291 million on Sandy through the end of February 2014. But the organization has not given a breakdown showing how, where, and when the money was spent.

"The Red Cross is too big and too important to be allowed to be this secretive," said Doug White, a charity expert who has written extensively on nonprofit finances.

White said such a lack of transparency is common among charities. Like other non-profits, the Red Cross is required to disclose only top-line numbers on its fundraising and spending, which it publishes in an annual report and a standard tax filing.

But the Red Cross stands out both for the scale of its operations and the unique role it plays in domestic disasters.

It is the first call for many people moved by images of a tornado, flood, or fire ravaging a community. The organization is also a strange hybrid: a nonprofit charity, it also has a congressional charter. It gets little money from the federal government but it has an official role doing disaster relief in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. President Obama is its honorary chairman.

In contrast to the Red Cross, there is a wealth of information available about Sandy relief money that has flowed from the federal government to states and towns. (That has allowed for attendant media scrutiny.) 

Despite its beloved name, the Red Cross has had a rocky decade and a half.

Allegations of mismanagement of funds and poor performance followed both Sept. 11 and Katrina.

A series of CEOs were forced out -- one after Sept. 11, another after Katrina, and a third following an affair with a subordinate. Congress in 2007 imposed a set of governance reforms, including reducing the size of the organization's 50-member board.

Appointed as CEO in 2008, former AT&T executive Gail McGovern has had a longer run than her predecessors and won praise as a competent manager. But the Red Cross faced familiar criticism after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The Red Cross weathered more criticism almost immediately after Sandy hit in October 2012. As donations poured in, partly on the strength of appeals from Obama and a star-studded televised benefit concert, residents on Staten Island and the Rockaways complained the Red Cross was missing in action.

When it comes to its Sandy spending, the Red Cross gives a dollar-figure breakdown in only the broadest of categories: Food and Shelter, Individual Casework, Housing and Community Assistance, and Relief Items are the four biggest.

The Red Cross also gives raw numbers of services provided in a different set of categories: emergency vehicles activated; relief items distributed; overnight stays in shelters provided; health and mental health contacts provided; meals and snacks served; and workers and volunteers mobilized.

Because the spending isn't categorized in the same way as the numbers of services provided, one can't calculate, for example, how much it cost for the Red Cross to provide 74,000 overnight shelter stays or what exactly it purchased for the $85 million it spent on individual casework.

Citing its finance tracking system, the Red Cross said it could not match up the categories for us.

"It would be helpful to know where people received assistance and how much, and when," said Ben Smilowitz, the founder of the Disaster Accountability Project, who has tracked the Red Cross since Hurricane Katrina. "You might actually see that some neighborhoods received more than others in equal need."

"Aggregate data does not tell you a whole lot," Smilowitz added. "If the data was open, they would be inviting a lot of scrutiny."

Red Cross spokeswoman Anne Marie Borrego said the group continually updates its website with stories about how it is spending disaster donations.

"The Red Cross issues regular reports about our spending and programs for disasters such as Sandy," she said.

Another obstacle to tracking Red Cross spending lies in the phrase "spent or committed." The Red Cross generally combines the two activities in its totals. The amount that it commits, rather than spends, can be considerable. When the Red Cross "commits" funds, that typically means it has made a decision to grant money to a smaller organization, such as a local soup kitchen. The Red Cross then usually parcels out the money over time. The money hasn't immediately been put to work helping victims.

Critics argued after Sandy the Red Cross wasn't spending donor dollars quickly enough. But the way the organization releases figures makes it impossible to judge how fast money has been getting out the door. The Red Cross declined to give a breakdown over time of money spent and committed versus money spent.

Among other new details in response to ProPublica questions:

  • The Red Cross counts as Sandy spending some amount of overhead -- specifically a portion of the annual cost of maintaining "permanent disaster response infrastructure." It wouldn't say how much money.
  • While the Red Cross says it spends an average of 91 cents of every dollar on programs and services, a bit less may go to actually help victims. That's because, the Red Cross told us, it keeps 9 percent of total Sandy donations for "general operations support" even on the $78 million it has passed on to other organizations, which in turn have their own overhead and other expenses.
  • The Red Cross said it limits a grantee's administrative costs to just 3 percent because the groups it gives money to are already up and running. The 3 percent allowance "is designed to account for the incremental cost" of particular Sandy projects, the Red Cross told us.

  • The Red Cross acknowledged that it produces after-action reports following disasters like Sandy to figure out what went well and what didn't. But the organization said they are for "internal use" and declined to provide copies.
  • If you have experience with or information about the American Red Cross, including its operations after Sandy, email justin@propublica.org

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
PROPUBLICA.ORG]]> <![CDATA[Rocky Mountain High or Reefer Madness? ]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 09:51:50 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Marijuana-clinic-10-14.jpg

This story was co-published with The Denver Post's The Cannabist

I walked through clouds of marijuana smoke Friday night to get to the Denver Nuggets basketball game. The sweet smell lingering in the air reminded me less of a family event and more of the time I saw AC/DC on "The Razor's Edge" tour at the old McNichols Sports Arena.

I grew up in Colorado, but it's been a while since I lived in the state. When I returned for a recent conference, I found that a place settled by the Gold Rush is now mad about reefer. In 2012, Colorado voters became the first in the nation to approve recreational pot use. The good times rolled out Jan. 1, when stores started selling it.

I've never tried pot, but I graduated from the University of Colorado 2014 Boulder, which is famous for its annual "4/20" public pot parties. At CU, you can practically get a contact high walking to class. But I saw more public pot use in my two-day visit to Lower Downtown Denver than in years spent at Boulder.

It's supposed to be illegal to smoke or consume pot in public. But then the day after the game, while jogging down the Speer Boulevard bike path, I passed a guy lounging under a tree lavishing his affections on a joint.

Anyone over 21 can walk into a dispensary and load up on bud, marijuana baked goods and candy.

The presence of legal pot right outside our hotel made people giddy at the conference I attended 2014 a meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists. At a reception, one woman passed a friend gummy bears infused with THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in pot.

And then there was a friend of mine at the conference 2014 I'll call him "Dude" because he shared his story on condition I didn't name him. He had a bad reaction after eating too many marijuana gummy bears.

There's a running debate about whether pot should be legal for recreational use, but the Colorado experiment is rapidly unfolding, and it could help determine whether other states follow or shy away. (Washington voters also have approved recreational marijuana, and the state expects to begin licensing retailers in July.)

Two things stand out after my visit.

First, legal pot is attracting new and possibly naïve users 2014 creating risks that some don't bargain for. Second, the public health system's desire to protect people may be well-intentioned, but regulation and efforts to track the health effects have a ways to go.

Dude had only smoked pot twice in his life, about 25 years ago, but he got curious and tried some pot gummy bears from a shop called the LoDo Wellness Center. Other than being infused with THC they looked and tasted like ordinary candy. Dude and his buddy paid $20 for a pack of 10.

Dude ate a bear before dinner but felt nothing. So he popped another during the meal. Nada. Ripoff, he assumed. So he ate a few more 2014 five total, he said 2014 but still felt nothing. He fell asleep in his hotel room at 11 p.m.

Two hours later, Dude awoke feeling like he was on a roller coaster. His entire body tingled, and he was light headed. He tried to stand, but his left leg was so numb he couldn't walk to the bathroom. His pounding heart strained his rib cage as waves of euphoria and anxiety washed over him.

He was terrified.

Was this the high? An overdose? A heart attack? A stroke?

Totally debilitated, Dude thought about calling an ambulance but feared ending up in the E.R. or a police station. So he stayed put, guzzled water, pulled a blanket over his head and clutched a pillow. The symptoms lasted two hours, but it took a full day to feel normal again.

Dude's experience and the open pot use I saw made me wonder about public health aspect of legalization. I called some experts to find out if there have been safety problems, how pot and gummy bears are being regulated and whether consumers are being educated about the risks.

The foods with pot 2014 typically baked goods but also sodas, candies and even lasagna and pizza 2014 cause the most unpredictable highs because the effects aren't immediate and potency varies, I learned.

In the case of gummy bears, one is considered a single serving. But Dude kept eating them because he didn't feel anything.

Haley Andrews, manager of the LoDo Wellness Center, said about half the shop's customers are marijuana novices, so the staff takes time to educate everyone who buys. Users should start with one 10 mg gummy bear, she said, and never consume more than 20 mg at a time.

Andrews said the gummy bear bottle's label listed the number of 10 mg servings inside and advises users to consume with caution because the product had not been tested for contaminants or potency. There is no mention of a delayed response, she said.

The Denver Post recently tested edibles and found that potency labeling was often inaccurate.

Accurate or not, labels are often ignored.

Dude said his buddy held onto the package so he never looked at it. He claims no one at the shop gave him any warnings about the gummy bears.

There were signs in the shop about how the different strains of pot would make users feel 2014 "calm" or "excited" 2014 but Dude said he saw no displays with advice for novice users, how many gummy bears are too many, or warnings about a delayed response.

Andrews said the staff makes every effort to ensure people use the products safely, but that it's possible Dude somehow slipped through the cracks.

Generally, using too much pot isn't life-threatening. But a reaction like Dude's could contribute to a heart attack or stroke for someone who has health problems, said Dr. Tista Ghosh of the Colorado Department of Public Health. She said recreational pot has been unexpectedly popular with the older crowd.

"There's a lot we don't know," Ghosh said. "I feel like in some ways we're like tobacco 50 years ago. More research needs to be done on this from the public health and individual health perspective."

Looking back on it, Dude said he was glad to be in his hotel room when the reaction hit him and not in a place where he could endanger others. According to reports in the Denver Post, pot use has contributed to car crashes and the recent death of a Wyoming college student, who on a spring break visit to Denver, began acting strangely and jumped from a fourth-floor hotel balcony.

Though ruled an accident, a coroner's report said "marijuana intoxication" from eating several pot cookies was a significant contributor to the 19-year-old's death, the Post reported.

Children are especially at risk. It's illegal to make candy or fruit-flavored cigarettes in the United States, but pot candies and cookies in Colorado have been some of the best-selling products. Although the packaging is child-proof, it doesn't stop kids once it's open.

Dr. Andrew Monte, a medical toxicologist at the University of Colorado Medical School and Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, didn't have hard numbers but estimated that there is a poison control call every few days about a child accidentally eating marijuana products.

There also are reports from emergency room doctors, though no official numbers yet, of children showing up to hospitals in extreme states of drowsiness after accidentally consuming THC products, Monte said. Some end up getting expensive diagnostic work-ups like CT scans and spinal taps, he said.

"What kid doesn't want a brownie or a gummy bear?" Monte said.

So far there are no mandatory tests of the potency or purity of recreational pot or THC food products, but they are scheduled to roll out in the coming months under the rules to implement the new law.

The process is more complicated than it would be in other cases because state regulators have not been able to rely on the federal health agencies. The federal government deems marijuana an illegal substance, so it's not participating in the oversight, Ghosh said.

Ghosh said the Colorado regulators have had to start some things from scratch, including finding labs that can be certified to test pot products.

Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, which represents marijuana centers, growers, and infused products manufacturers in Colorado, said there are clean kitchen standards in place now, and licensing of facilities, financial disclosures, security and more.

He said the industry is committed to robust regulation.

Elliott, Ghosh and Monte agree that more needs to be done to educate consumers.

The state has put up a website with information about the law and advice for parents and is running a "Drive High, Get a DUI" campaign, efforts that Elliott says are supported by the marijuana industry.

Included on the website is a page titled "Using Too Much?" aimed at people like Dude.

Public health also depends on people using common sense. My friend Dude is a smart guy, but he knows he was a dumb consumer when he gobbled the pot gummy bears. Now, he regrets assuming that because marijuana was legal nothing could go wrong.

"I was ignorant about the whole thing," he told me later. "I am embarrassed to admit that I just ate the gummy bears because it seemed like fun.

"It was not."

<![CDATA[Clinton "Thinking" About 2016 Run]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 11:21:33 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/04-08-2014-hillary-clinton.jpg

Will she or won’t she run? Hillary Clinton appears to be inching closer to an answer.

After months of speculation and sidestepping, Clinton tackled the big question with a maybe, telling tech innovators she is "thinking” about a 2016 run.

“I am thinking about it, but I am going to continue thinking about it for a while,” Clinton said Tuesday at a conference for marketing professionals in San Francisco.

Looking very much like a presidential candidate, former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton kicked off a series of West Coast appearances with a keynote speech addressed to several thousand people at a customer conference hosted by Marketo, a Silicon Valley maker of marketing software.

Following her speech, Clinton participated in a question-and-answer session with Marketo chief executive Phil Fernandez.

Clinton told Fernandez she’ll have to weigh some difficult questions before she decides whether to run for president in 2016.

“I’m not going to make a decision for a while because I’m actually enjoying my life,” Clinton said. “I’m actually having fun doing ordinary things like seeing my friends and going on long walks, playing with dogs.”

Back in 2011, Clinton told NBC's Today show a 2016 run for the Oval Office was not "in the realm of possibility."

Clinton’s keynote speech included comments on clean energy, the immigration debate, and education and unemployment.

“I see the small and the large changes we can make right now that will put us on the path to the kind of success that I know awaits us if, individually and together, we make the right decisions,” Clinton said.

Clinton travels to Portland Tuesday night to speak to the World Affairs Council of Oregon. Then she’ll make a stop in Las Vegas and then it’s back to the Bay Area.

Clinton, who ran for president in 2008, is widely expected to run again in 2016.

Political analysts say Clinton has been doing a great job keeping herself relevant and in the public eye since she left her post as secretary of state 14 months ago.

“Barack Obama showed that it was very effective to try and bring new voters into the system and to really target young voters, so I think that Hillary Clinton is following that same playbook,” said Melinda Jackson, associate professor of political science at San Jose State University, where Clinton will speak Thursday night.

Clinton is scheduled to appear on the SJSU campus as part of a lecture series featuring prominent women. As of Tuesday evening, StubHub had 67 tickets left to see Clinton at the 5,000-seat SJSU Events Center.

Clinton stepped down as secretary of state at the end of President Barack Obama's first term. Before that, she served as a U.S. Senator from New York from 2001-2009.

She is married to former President Bill Clinton and was first lady from 1993-2001.

San Mateo-based Marketo was founded in 2006 and produces marketing automation software. Its annual summits attract thousands of participants, with 3,500 people expected to attend this year.


Lisa Fernandez, the Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Vape While You Can, E-Cig Ban Is Coming]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 08:58:33 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/182*120/184769106.jpg

Vaping, or puffing on an electronic cigarette, will soon be banned in indoor public places in Philadelphia.

On Wednesday, Mayor Michael Nutter will sign recently passed City Council legislation that bans the use electronic cigarettes in restaurants, bars and workplaces and bars minors from purchasing the devices.

The legislation basically categorizes vaping the same way the city categorizes smoking a traditional cigarette.

Last month, every member of Philadelphia City Council said using an e-cigarette is no better than smoking a regular cigarette and should be banned in public places. Council members voted 15-0 to categorize e-cigarettes the same way that regular tobacco cigarettes are treated -- meaning the vapor-producing products would be banned in most public places and those under 18 would be prohibited from buying them.

After Nutter signs the bill today vaping in public will remain public until the law goes into effect in July.

City Councilman Bill Greenlee introduced the legislation that bans e-cigarettes in public under the "Public Places-Prohibited Conduct" section of city code and restricts the sale of the devices to minors.

New York, Chicago -- and the entire state of New Jersey -- are among the municipalities that have already banned electronic-cigarette vapor from public spaces.

Greenlee says the sale of electronic cigarettes to children needed to be banned citing potential safety concerns.

Those caught selling the e-cigarettes to minors could be fined $250 or have their business shut down for some time if several violations are uncovered, according to a copy of the bill obtained by NBC10.com. The bill also requires those under the age of 27 to be carded.

The battery operated devices heat flavored liquids and produce a vapor which is inhaled by the user. The process is called "vaping." The liquids could contain nicotine or simply flavoring.

Not everyone is happy with the ban. Vaping advocates say there isn't enough research on e-cigarettes and that this new measure would be nearly impossible to enforce.

Vaping advocates let their voices be heard when City Council voted to ban the devices.

Minors have been increasingly been using the devices. A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found e-cigarette use has doubled among middle school students. Use by high schoolers has also jumped.

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of Pediatrics found that vaping is a gateway for teens to use regular cigarettes.

Opponents of the devices say their use by children and teens mimics cigarette use and could instill bad habits. Medical professionals have also highlighted concerns about a lack of regulation and testing to understand what is actually in e-cigarette liquids, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

"Based on the limited data that we have seen, I think it is imperative that we keep these devices out of the hands of minors now. We need to protect people, especially minors from the deadly smoking habit.” Greenlee said in a statement.

Once law, Philadelphia will become the first city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to regulate the sale of the devices. A state senate bill, currently making its way through the legislature, would also ban the sale of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products like nicotine gum to minors.

Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Philadelphia: Boom Town for Big Events]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:32:17 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000006697810_1200x675_220312643854.jpg Former Gov. Ed Rendell discusses Philly's bid for the Democratic National Convention. The head of the World Meeting of Families answers the question: Is Philly ready for a possible visit from the Pope.]]> <![CDATA[The Push for Equal Pay for Women]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 06:34:57 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/paycheck1200.jpg Women are urging lawmakers to pass an equal pay bill that will help bridge the gap between men's and women's wagesin the United States. Tracie Potts of NBC News reports from Washington, D.C. with the details.]]> <![CDATA['Speak English' Controversy Inspires New Play]]> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:37:24 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/160*120/genosblurb.jpg Playwright A. Zell Williams and actress Alex Keiper talk about the new play that was inspired by the Geno's Steaks "order in English" controversy titled "Down Past Passyunk."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Keeping Millennials in Philly]]> Fri, 04 Apr 2014 19:29:39 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/student+millennial+competition+winners.jpg

Students from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University were named winners of Philadelphia's first Public Policy Case competition at City Hall today.

The competition, which was managed by Mayor Nutter's Office of Policy Planning and Coordination, and the Philadelphia Youth Commission, invited undergraduate and graduate students in the Philadelphia region to submit proposals in response to the prompt What can the City of Philadelphia do to further attract and retain millennials?

The City received a total of 16 submissions from students attending Arcadia University, Drexel University, Philadelphia University, Rutgers University, St. Joseph’s University, Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences, Ursinus University, and Widener University.

"All of the ideas were great and I believe that we could do just about all of them, but we really did want to see answers to the prompting question, which was how do we keep millenials here," said Councilwoman María Quiñones Sánchez. She was among several local leaders who served as judges for the competition.

The winning proposal recommended the establishment of lease-to-own options on select Land Bank properties and affordable student-oriented housing cooperatives for students and recent graduates.

Philly's newly-created land bank became a reality earlier this year. Land banks streamline the process of managing, selling and rehabbing vacant properties that have become community eyesores. Right now, the city has about 40,000 properties that fall under that umbrella.

The winning team, which included Eileen Divringi, Matt Steele and Ellie Devyatkin from the University of Pennsylvania, and Maxwell Cohen from Temple University, met with Mayor Michael Nutter to discuss their proposal and were awarded tickets to the Mayor’s Box for a Phillies game.

Sánchez, who was a big supporter of establishing a land bank, said the winning team created a smart proposal that directly responded to the competition prompt.

"In the case of the winner, they clearly focused on the issue, and considered all of the planning that is going on with Land Bank, and the fact that Universities have problems with housing. We thought they really responded to the prompting better than anyone else, and in a simple way. You want young people to stay, they need a place to live. Simple as that."

Photo Credit: NBC10.com]]>