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Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Local Lens: Philly's Mayor Kenney on a Roll

If Mayor Kenney gets his way, Philadelphia may have the most expensive soda tax in the world.

   Forget former Mayor Nutter’s conservative 2 cents to an ounce soda tax proposal that went nowhere a few years ago. Mayor Kenney wants to raise the tax to an unprecedented 3 cents per ounce in order to fund that ambiguous money sucking vortex known as “the schools,” namely his pre-K plan for low income students.

            To date, the only other city in the nation with an active soda tax is Berkley, California

    The impetus behind the mayor’s financial assault on financially-strapped Philadelphians is the city’s new health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, a 6’2” skinny-as-a-rail marathon running addict with, according to The New York Times, “grasshopper like legs.”   

     Dr. Farley, who likes to exercise 7 days a week and who says he has never smoked a cigarette in his life, also proudly states that he is a lover of veggies. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg hired Farley as New York’s Health Commissioner some years ago and at that time  Farley began mapping out a health reform program for sloppy, obese New Yorkers.  While most health reform programs are voluntary, Farley’s program came down on the city populace like Judge Judy’s gavel. 

    For starters, the good doctor strongly advised that New Yorkers stop smoking in parks and beaches, take the stairs instead of elevators, cut out all salt, lose weight and swear off all soft drinks. This is good advice to be sure, but problems surfaced when he sought legislation to help curtail or reshape the public’s love affair with soft drinks. He got Bloomberg to impose a 1 cent tax on soft drinks and then he wanted to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces. New York City went ahead with the new legislation but, thankfully, a New York State appellate court overturned the law. The soda tax was sent packing.

   As New York City’s Health Commissioner, the no-nonsense Farley also mandated that photographs of cancer ridden brains and lungs be posted next to cash registers where cigarettes were sold. 
    Farley was recruited by Mayor Kenney in February, so now it’s Philadelphia’s turn to experience the Farley shenanigans show.

    Farley and his health reform lieutenants call this forced reshaping of human behavior “curve shifting.” How’s that for radical doublethink Berkley talk! Philadelphia’s tax on sugary drinks, if approved by City Council, would be the most expensive soda tax in the nation, raising the cost of some larger bottles by three dollars. Sweetened iced tea will also be affected as well as those popular mixed fruit drinks, which after Kenney’s tax would cost almost 4 dollars a bottle.

   The new prices will affect Philadelphia’s poor as they constitute the bulk of sugary drink consumers.  Of course, Kenney’s reasoning for the tax is his firm belief in pre-K, a program that has been called a scam by many critics and that was even the subject of a John Tossell on ABC News. It is obvious that Kenney’s mayoral idol is New York’s Bill de Blasio, who implemented New York City’s Pre-K plan shortly after his election in 2013. There’s one difference though. Mayor de Blasio funded NYC’s Pre-K with a so called “millionaire’s tax,” so poor people were left out of the mix.

     While Mayor Nutter’s proposed soda tax was easily defeated, the fight won’t be so easy this time. City Hall is on a major brainwashing campaign to convince the public that Pre-K is essential and worth all those extra tax dollars. The Mayor’s Office of Communications is on a roll and sent out a recent missive announcing 20 or so endorsements of the sugary drink tax. I was not impressed by the names on that list, so it may be that the Office of Communications is scrambling for small potatoes.

   In other political developments, there’s news from the office of Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez.

      Sanchez, apparently, is on a mission to provide municipal ID cards for illegal immigrants. These ID cards would provide access to city services; they would allow illegal immigrants to file police and fire reports and to open bank accounts. They would also provide gym discounts and museum memberships.
   Cross the border illegally and you are rewarded a gym membership! I guess I will have to break a law to finally get my Planet Fitness membership.

   Naturally, the Councilwoman’s bill has the support of the mayor, who sponsored a similar bill in 2013. The bill’s enthusiastic supporters maintain that the bill would help immigrants who are not yet legal participate more fully in society. In the end, it’s all about feeling good.

    The Councilwoman’s bill makes me think of my sister C who now resides in southern California
   C tells me that southern California is overflowing with illegal immigrants and that the situation there is getting dire. The situation is worse than bad, she says, because illegal immigrants are getting all the entry level jobs because the people doing the hiring want cheap labor.  

   The cheap labor epidemic is not so bad in Philadelphia, although an article published by caught recently caught my eye. The headline read: 30 Vetri Employees Lose Job after Immigration and Background Checks. Marc Vetri sold his Vetri Family business to Urban Outfitters, Inc. in November of 2015, never suspecting that the new owners would discover something that he took for granted: that 30 of his employees had entered the country illegally and were working for his company.  Apparently he was not too worried that Urban Outfitters would discover this clink in the Vetri armor. Vetri’s nonchalance proves that hiring illegals over or under the table is as s commonplace as processing job applications. Today it is taken for granted, especially in the restaurant and fast food industry, that many employees are not citizens. Vetri, while expressing shock at the purge, issued this statement: "We wish all these workers could continue to work for us.  They're so loyal, and they're hard workers. Some of them have been over to my house, and I bring my kids to their houses for play dates. It's very sad."

It just sucks,” Marc Vetri told Philadelphia Magazine. He then went on to say, "But this is what America is. My grandfather left Italy when he was 17 years old, stowed away on a ship. He got here illegally. But the war was happening, so they said, 'You can fight for us! You're an American now. We'll waive that whole citizenship thing. Now go to war!”

    Let me tell you what Mr. Ventri was really thinking: “But this is what restaurant life is all about! These play date friends of our family left their home country. Maybe they snuck past the border patrols and got here illegally, but so what! They wanted work, any kind of work, and we wanted cheap labor, so we said to them. ‘You can fight for the life of this restaurant. You’re an American kitchen worker now. We’ll waive that whole citizenship thing. Now go to work!”  

 The Vetri food establishment is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to restaurants that profit from the labor of illegal immigrants.

      I witnessed this myself several years ago when I used to frequent a South Philly restaurant that employed many Mexican and South American kitchen workers. While the wait staff jobs went to “educated neighborhood young people,” the grungy kitchen area was reserved for the cheap labor pool. Mexicans generally are hard working, dedicated employees; food industry managers know this but they take advantage of it.  At this South Philly restaurant the ‘Mexican cheap labor pit’ was an underground, overheated kitchen only slightly larger than a walk-in closet. Customers rarely saw them although near closing time a drenched-in-sweat cook would sometimes make a random appearance. Still, every kitchen worker here was Mexican. Why no Italians, Irish, Polish or black Americans?  Don’t have proper ID, or proof of US citizenship when filling out that job application? That’s okay amigo; have we got a slave labor kitchen for you!  Now get to work!  

   According to an article in The Philadelphia Business Journal, 8 million Americans are out of work today while there are 8.1 million unauthorized immigrants working in the country. “A growing number of unemployed American citizens don’t want to be gardeners, dishwashers or hotel housekeepers,” the article’s author, Arthur Schwartz, writes. “They would rather keep drawing unemployment while looking for a job that pays better, offers a health plan or is closer to home. Scores of the unemployed are simply rejecting the age-old adage that a “dead-end job is better than no job.”
   And cheap, slave labor is the best thing of all,