Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oopsie! Reichley & Browne Give Cardboard Check to Multimillion Dollar Embezzler

In the wake of $2.5 million embezzlement charges against former Lower Macungie Township Supervisor Marge Szulborski, public officials talk about improving accounting controls. But what happened is really no surprise. The surprise is that it doesn't happen more often.

Morning Call columnist Bill White put his finger on the problem long ago. It's the second class township code. "[S]econd-class townships are allowed to hire their supervisors as employees, blurring the lines between management and labor. In the Macungies and other townships, supervisors get to hire and supervise themselves."

But instead of eliminating this obviously abusive practice, politicians like Doug Reichley (a former DA) and Pat Browne (a CPA) are pictured handing out cardboard checks to township supervisors like Marge Szulborski (Gamblers' Anonymous prospect). What the hell could they be thinking? One was a DA and the other's a CPA. Between the two of them, don't you think they'd realize the potential for mischief in allowing township supervisors to hire themselves? And these guys expect to be reelected?

Reichley and Browne are Republicans, but you can point your finger at Democrats, too. House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese maneuvered a secret municipal payraise this summer to give his township supervisor pals even more money. No hearings. The bill was camouflaged as an amendment to the state budget, and passed unanimously. He was brazen enough to do this after Pennsylvanians nearly revolted over the legislative payraise. Hey, it's only your money.

If you've had enough of this baloney, Doug Reichley's opponent on November 7 is Chris "Blue Collar" Casey. And Browne is opposed by affable Rick Orloski. I'm voting for them and I don't even live in their districts! We need some changes.

Lehigh County's Superclerk of Judicial Records? Get Real

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI was always under the impression that Northampton County was the Lehigh Valley's goofy county. I've even been told that Lehigh County's motto is "We're not Northampton County." But now Lehigh County is mounting a serious challenge to Northampton County's title with its proposal to combine Clerk of Courts, Recorder of Deeds and Register of Wills into a single office known as Clerk of Judicial Records. Voters decide this question on November 7.

The Morning Call tells us combining three offices into one will "modernize a portion of county government" and save taxpayers at least $100,000 per year. It will do neither.

What Lehigh County officials propose is actually a throwback to our dark colonial period. During that time, the prothonotary was the county's hot shot. He served as clerk of common pleas court, quarter sessions court, and orphans court, as well as county recorder and register of wills. He also held a commission as justice of the peace and served as judge in common pleas court. It didn't take too long before records were misplaced. About half of Northampton County's colonial records disappeared. Some of them eventually surfaced in Philadelphia. Worse, centralizing all this power in one person led to abuses. And as Pennsylvania grew, the functions in each of these row offices became impossible for one person. These separate row officers are actually the result of a "modernization" that occurred over 180 years ago.

This superclerk proposal creates a new chief who will be hopelessly incompetent to deal with the intricacies of three very different offices that perform different functions and use different systems. It will actually create another layer of bureaucracy that ends up costing money.

I spoke with several Lehigh County title searchers, and they universally condemned this proposal. "You really have to have a particular insight into what each office is used for. The Recorder of Deeds, who specializes in that office, can cater to the public to provide exactly what that office is designed to do. But the further up you go, the less knowledge and insight people are going to have into what the offices must do."

This proposal is being pushed by Commissioner Andy Roman and Executive Don Cunningham, who formed "Citizens for Smarter Government." I'll tell you what's smart about that committee. Cunningham and Roman are both politically ambitious. They see this as a way to further their careers. Even in Northampton County, it's no secret that Roman wants to be county executive and Cunningham wants to be governor. This might be smart for them, but not the rest of us.

Cunningham and Roman will tell you their Superclerk idea has "bi-partisan support." That's because Roman is Republican and Cunningham is Democrat. The truth is that both the local Democratic and Republican parties urge a "NO" vote.

Lehigh County won't get a superclerk. They'll just see the Peter principle in action. And that's not good government.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Congressional Green Greta Browne a Psychotherapist?

On her campaign web site for U.S. Congress, green party candidate Greta Browne tells us she's a psychotherapist in private practice. Well, it must be a pretty damn exclusive practice because it's listed nowhere in the phone book. Even the state's bureau of professional and occupational affairs has no listing for her. According to their records, she has no license as a psychologist, social worker, professional counselor or family and marriage therapist. Most psychotherapists are licensed in one of these areas, but not Greta Browne.

Since the green party claims their candidates are "fully accountable," I asked Browne's campaign to verify her credentials. Did she go to psychotherapy school or something? I was told my question is "an abomination to progressive work." They've been saying stuff like that to me lately. And Browne refuses to lower herself to answer this question.

Last Wednesday, Browne did debase herself long enough to appear on Ron Angle's WGPA AM radio talk show. But she became quite indignant when Angle dared take a long call from Bernie Kieklak, Lisa Boscola's top aide. This gave Browne less time, but that's the way talk radio works. Although Angle offered a return engagement, Browne refused because he could not guarantee she would be the constant center of attention. Geez, she's only running for Congress. You think she'd jump at any opportunity for some free radio time.

Is it me, or are these folks just a little too full of themselves? Maybe Greta should run for Northampton County judge. She'd fit right in.

By the way, Browne has yet to answer concerns about GOP funding of state greens running for Congress. In a comment posted on this blog on October 19, she said, "In the next few days I will post my comments on my website." She still hasn't done so, and the election is only eight days away.

That's accountability, Greta Browne style!

November 2 Update - Browne Continues to Mislead: On her webpage, Browne today denies that she or any of her fellow Congressional greens benefited in any way from the blood money that Romanelli reports spending on their behalf. I've got two problems with Browne's explanation. First, she backdated it. She claims to have released this statement back in October, but it was in fact just released today. Second, her explanation is bogus. She herself admits some of this money went to volunteers for gathering signatures in a pay per signature scheme.

Lower Macungie Supervisor May Have Stolen $2.5 Million, But There's No Evidence She Was a Large GOP Contributor

Margaret Szulborski, a 72 year old grandmother and former Lower Macungie Supervisor, was charged last week with pocketing $2.5 million in sewer fees since 1999. Apparently, her luxurious lifestyle extended beyond her $59,000 salary.

Some suggest that, in addition to buying properties and cars, Szulborski was a frequent and large contributor to Republicans seeking office. I've checked contributions to candidates for state and federal offices, but am been unable to check municipal positions online.

Since 2002, Szulborski has contributed $1500 to the following candidates: $100 each to Jim Anthony and Jerry Snyder (unsuccessful judicial candidates); $100 to Ken DeAngelis (unsuccessful state rep. candidate); $700 to Adam Marles (unsuccessful state rep. candidate); and $500 to Charlie Dent, U.S. Congressman.

There's certainly no evidence any of these folks had the slightest idea that anything was amiss. And I've been unable to uncover any evidence that Szulborski made any large contributions.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Anonymous Blogger Who Outs Foley is Out of a Job

I've told you before about the anonymous blogger who outed former Congressman Foley. Now that blogger is out of a job.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Twenty-three

23. A friend asked me to publish this stark post. What the hell does it mean? I'll explain in due course. I'll give you one hint - it's a prediction.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why vote for the Democrats? Here's why

Friday's Express Times contains a very well-written letter to the editor by Jon Apple in Bethlehem. I've neve met Jon. I tried calling him, but his number is unpublished. His is one of the best political essays I've ever read.

The question has been asked, "Why vote for the Democrats?" So I thought about it. Well, as a 30-year registered Independent, it isn't about fixed and dilated party loyalties. And since I have no allegiance toward corporate America's apotheosis of the illegals, it certainly isn't their position on immigration.

The economy? Both parties have always received too much credit and/or blame for this so that's a push. Gas prices? The last time I looked it was called OPEC, not GOPec. Although I definitely see the resemblance.

Why then? Why vote for the Democrats? It's simple, really. You vote for them, if for no other reason, than to wrest the reins of absolute power from the messianic prom kings and cottontail gunslingers from Planet PlayStation who have exploited the bravery and patriotism of their fellow countrymen and women, willing to sacrifice their lives for a noble cause, and thrown them into a ginned up cockfight that doesn't possess the strategic sophistication of a sandlot football game.

You vote for them to clear the air of the beige miasma called "family values" being pumped into our living rooms by the legions of patrician pols and Cheshire martinets that would choke us with this hot air while ignoring the heavy breathing that is steaming up the windows in their own glass houses.

You vote for them to show the power pimps and the rest of the world that, despite recent evidence to the contrary, this is still a country of the people, by the people and for the people.

That's why.

Jon Apple

Bethlehem

Dent & Dertinger: The Battle for the Bucks

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe last time I told you about the battle for the bucks between Congressional contenders Dent and Dertinger, the ratio was 100 to 1. Dertinger has since made some strides, but Dent still has 21 times more money. Dent raised about $1.2 million by the end of September compared to Dertinger's $56 thousand.

The main source of Dent's income? Individuals living in his district. Dertinger's biggest contributors are nonlocal trade unions. Dent has raked in $620 thousand in individual contributions while Dertinger has pulled in only $11 thousand.

Previously, I questioned Dertinger's heavy reliance on union funds. But Dertinger explained that he is not only a trade union employee himself, but a third generation union electrician proud of his union connections. Can't argue with that.

But how about Dent and all that money he takes from the oil and gas industry? I had asked him to pledge against that sort of money, and complained when he failed to respond to my emails. But Dent did respond. He actually called and even met me. What I did not realize, and what Congressman Dent explained, was that he receives over five hundred emails every day. That's almost as much email as I get, although most of mine comes from admiring females and bill collectors.

And as Dertinger had a good explanation for his union connections, Dent was equally convincing about his "oil and gas" connection. His grandfather was a longtime UGI employee. Air Products, his biggest contributor, is actually headquartered in his district, and so is PPL. Is he supposed to reject contributions from major employers within his own district?

What Dertinger and Dent said about their major contributors is entirely consistent with what they said during their debate before the Pen Argyl Area Concerned Citizens. There were no surprises. I wish I could say the same for Green party candidate Greta Browne. She convincingly misled voters into thinking her campaign was funded on a whisper and a prayer. We have since learned that greens were actually funded with over $150 thousand in money from the likes of war profiteers like Halliburton and Blackwater.

The only candidate whose finances are questionable is the green. Strange world.

Northampton County's Forgotten Liberty Bell Finally Recognized

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBack in June, I first told you about Northampton County's historic Liberty Bell. Its iron tongue announced our Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776, at our first courthouse in Easton's circle. It echoed over twenty-four hours at the end of WWII, when thousands lined Easton's streets to tug at the bell that knelled the end of fascism.

Although this bell is all that remains of the original courthouse, judges just weren't thinking about our heritage when they planned their judicial expansion. If they did, they would never have permitted jackhammers to destroy the beautiful slate slabs that once surrounded our courthouse. Those reminded us of our history in the slate belt, but judges preferred luxurious marble for their crypt. So contractors ripped through those slate slabs day after day. I once saw former county exec Jerry Seyfried staring in disbelief at this pillage. This grizzled old steward had endured many storms in his years of county service, yet this brought him to tears.

Our bell sat in a lonely corner at the end of a unused hallway, with fast food menus and courtroom furniture littered all over it. No provision was made for this county treasure. It didn't match the marble.

After my June report, Mary T. Ensslin, Director of Court Services, proposed the bureaucrat's perfect solution to every problem - a committee. Eventually, it was decided there had to be two committees. And guess what? Two committees were insufficient - she had to form a task force. That's pretty much all Ensslin did before jumping ship for a job at Lehigh Valley Hospital, where she's probably already formed several dozen committees.

When County Exec Stoffa told Judge Moran we needed to move the county's Liberty Bell, Moran nearly exploded out of his black dress. Stoffa was in the very public courthouse rotunda at the time, and everyone walking in or out of the building witnessed Moran unleash an obscenity-laced diatribe against the county's highest elected official. Sheriffs scurried down the hallway in response to public complaints, only to see the waning moments of Moran's moronic moodswings. The bell, a symbol of our liberty, just didn't fit in with Moran's idea of a courthouse. Things weren't looking good for our Liberty Bell.

But then a few strange things happened. Express Times reporter Sarah Cassi wrote about our bell's sad plight, informing the public. And John Stoffa, in his most brilliant appointment yet as county executive, named Bill Hillandrand last Friday as his new Director of Court Services.

Since Bill is a deputy sheriff, you might wonder whether he understands the row offices. He does. This is one deputy sheriff who has spent years studying the most important function of all row offices - records retention. He chairs the county's records retention committee and even has a deep understanding of Northampton County's early history. He could regale you with stories about Northampton County's early history, including the imprisonment of its first lawyer. He's a good choice.

Bill Hillanbrand may have nothing to do with this, but in less than a week after his appointment,the Northampton County Liberty Bell is finally being moved. Its new location is immediately outside the rotunda, where every person entering or leaving the courthouse will be able to view and appreciate this reminder of our liberty. The move will occur today.

I want to express my deepest thanks to John Stoffa and Bill Hillanbrand for their recognition that this county has no future unless it remembers its history. And I wish to thank The Express Times for casting public light on the Liberty Bell's plight.

"Let the Bell speak out the great truth."

Update: The move will occur early next week.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Lehigh Valley's Big Campaign Spenders: They Just Want Good Government

If I offered Northampton County Executive John Stoffa a kickback for hiring me to do all county title searches, I'd be in the can quicker than you could say "stay the course." Bribery's illegal, and unless I pulled off a brilliant escape, I'd probably be tortured, raped and branded by those bastards in black dresses.

Yet there's a small group of people who've become very rich bribing our local pols. But they do it legally. They call them campaign contributions. And they avoid bribery charges by saying they expect nothing in return. No siree. They just do this out of the goodness of their hearts. And guess what? They've made millions and will continue to do so while Nicole Fogel sits in jail.

It's "pay to play," bippy, and it's alive and well in the Lehigh Valley. Throw a few bucks at the pols, and you'll see millions in government subsidies and contracts. And it happens everywhere. Only five states (South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Hawaii and New Jersey) have attempted to impose restrictions on campaign contributions by those seeking government contracts. Pennsylvania, the only state in the nation with no lobbyist disclosure laws, imposes no restrictions at all. Let me tell you about two groups that have benefited from a generous dose of campaign contributions - Teams Butz and Pektor.

1. Team Butz

Alvin H. Butz, Inc., has bragging rights as the oldest and largest construction company of its kind in the Lehigh Valley. But look around and ask this question - is there any large government project in the Lehigh Valley that Butz does not build? Builder of Bethlehem's $65 million Penn Forest Dam? Butz. Northampton County's overbudget judicial Taj Mahal? Butz again. And guess who's slated to do the additions and renovations at Lehigh County's courthouse? You got it, Butz has that deal, too. But does Butz get all these deals because it is good or because it likes to throw its money at local pols?

I've checked campaign finance records at the state (from 2001)and federal (from 1998) level for contributions made by Butz family members. Butz family members have contributed nearly $105,000 to politicians running for federal or state office. And this figure does not include county or municipal pols. They also benefit from Butz largesse, but it is impossible to give an exact figure without going through individual reports.

Team Butz loves incumbents, not political parties. Money is thrown at elected reps in both parties, from $19,150 for democratic Governor Ed Rendell to $16,400 for republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Contributions to office holders in both parties certainly suggest that Team Butz' motivation is not ideology but business - they want some bang for their buck.

And they get it, too. $105,000 is chump change to Butz, which has already soaked Northampton County taxpayers $3.6 million for the judges' new digs on the basis of an illegal and ambiguously worded contract that was never bid. That contract was negotiated by erstwhile exec. and campaign contribution beneficiary Glenn Reibman.

It's funny no one complained about this contract until John Stoffa became county exec. Unlike nearly every other politician, Stoffa refuses to accept contributions from anyone who wants to do business with him in his official capacity. He didn't need a law to tell him that's just wrong.

2. Team Pektor

On September 11, fifth anniversary of the day we were attacked at Twin Towers, the Guv' was in Bethlehem, joined by a wide array of local political hacks like former county exec Glenn Reibman. But they weren't reflecting on the loss of 2,749 lives at our WTC just five short years before. Instead, they were slapping each other on the back in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the Riverport, elegant one and two bedroom condos designed to attract artsy-fartsys and Jersey commuters. Pennsylvania invested $2.5 million to get this project off the ground. Northampton County, whose employees have seen no raises in nearly four years, kicked in another mil. And the center of attention was Lou Pektor, whose Ashley Development Corp. also picked up $1.75 million in state money to redevelop Pomeroy's in downtown Easton.

Sinking all this money into urban areas is justified on the basis that it serves as a catalyst for future growth and revitalization. And this may be true. But it's equally true that Pektor has been very generous to Lehigh Valley politicians, especially incumbents.

In the past five years, Team Pektor has invested at least $70,050 in politicians seeking federal and state office. There's no way of telling exactly how much was spent on pols running for municipal jobs without going through individual reports, but Pektor was a regular Reibman contributor. He's given state senator Lisa Boscola alone at least $20,950.

Like Team Butz, Team Pektor backs incumbents, and their party affiliation is irrelevant.

Now I don't fault either Pektor or Butz for trying to make a buck. They're businessmen. But don't you think it's time to end this legal bribery? In a state that can't even pass lobbyist disclosure laws, that's an unlikely outcome. That's why we really need to take a close look at incumbents seeking re-election to our state legislature.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lehigh County Democrats Increase Their Registration Edge

This is the latest from Rick Daugherty and his pals at The Lehigh County Democratic Committee:

"Allentown, Pa. ­- Democrats in Lehigh County extended their registration edge over Republicans to almost 12,000 during the most recent voter-registration period, as the Lehigh Valley prepares for a potentially pivotal mid-term election on November 7. Between the 2006 primary election in May and the October 10 deadline to register to vote, the Democrats tallied 1,884 new registrants, more than six times the 306 new Republican registrants.

"'Lehigh County is a Democratic county, and we expect some big wins here on November 7,' said LCDC Chair Rick Daugherty. He believes 'that people are fed up with what is happening in our country and are registering as Democrats because our nation needs to change direction.' Daugherty also said that the increase in Democratic voters in the County demonstrates not only the growing strength of the Democratic Party, but also the fact that Republican positions and priorities have moved well out of the mainstream.

"As of the 2006 primary, there were 90,260 registered Democrats, compared to 80,013 registered Republicans. The number of Democratic registrants increased to 92,144 by the voter-registration deadline earlier this month, while the number of Republican registrants increased slightly to 80,319 during the same period.

"The voter-registration advantage enjoyed by Democrats in Lehigh County is not new, but the gap between Republicans and Democrats has more than tripled since the last mid-term election, in 2002. That year, there were 3,391 more voters registered Democrat than Republican in Lehigh County. In 2006, this Democratic edge has increased to 11,825 registrants."
Update: That bastard, LVDem, must have hacked into my damn computer and stole my frickin' post. It's on his blog, too! He's even offered to drive anyone who needs a ride to the polls on election day, especially Republicans. I've volunteered to drive Greens. Blackwater USA is renting me a nice Hummer for the occasion.

Lehigh County Resident Who Refuses to Vote in Mosque Is Denied Absentee Ballot

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLast year, some Whitehall voters were upset at having to vote at the Islamic Center of the Lehigh Valley. Despite complaints, Lehigh County elections officials made no changes. Betty Hillwig, who runs Lehigh County's Voter Registration office, said, "I am not looking to change it.....I think it's a wonderful place. The people there have been lovely, and I'm sorry people are unhappy with it."

I don't blame her. I've voted in churches, schools and fire halls. These locations usually offer ample parking and some elbow room for last-minute electioneering. Most of us don't really mind where we're voting so long as we can get in and out quickly, and grab a cupcake from a bake sale.

But tonight, I'm having second thoughts. I just received a copy of a letter written by a Republican to Bonnie Dodge, telling her "I will not have the opportunity to vote for you or any other candidates this year." Here's why.

"Last year, before the November elections, we were notified that due to growth and redistricting our polling location was changed. We were previously voting at a local high school and now we are to vote at the Islamic Center of the Lehigh Valley.

I am certain that the majority of Islamic worshippers are well meaning and law abiding and I harbor no ill-will toward Muslim's in general. However, I feel it is inappropriate to ask Americans to vote at this location given the events of 9-11. In addition, what happened to the 'division of church and state' as set forth in our constitution? I realize that was meant to not allow religious zealots to control the country and allow for religious freedom, but government (tax) money is being paid to The Islamic Center for use of the space.

Last year was the first time in over 15 years that I did not vote. This year I was determined to not give up that right to vote; I requested an absentee ballot. My request was denied because my reason was 'not a valid reason to receive an absentee ballot.'

I feel that my right to vote has been taken away. I know dozens of other people in my area that feel the same way and will not be voting. I have a friend that works at the polling location on Election Day and she said that turnout was down considerably last year and many stated that their spouse, friends, and neighbors will not set foot in the Islamic Center. "
I'm sorry to hear that so many voters are turned off by the notion of voting in a Muslim facility. They should realize that radical extremists were responsible for what happened on 9/11, and those can be found in all religions. But the Republican (I won't name him) who wrote this letter makes some valid points.

First, when possible, a polling place should be at a religiously neutral site. In Cleveland Heights, for example, elections officials recently reversed a decision to move a polling place from a school building to a Christian church. Orthodox Jews were uncomfortable about visiting a non-Jewish house of worship. Some felt it contrary to Jewish law.

Second, locating a polling place on church property invites abuse of the electoral process. In a recent Texas election, citizens threw their lots on same-sex marriage at a voting station located at a Baptist church. A minister refused to allow signs on church property that promoted gay marriage.

Third, if someone is reluctant to vote in a church or synagogue or mosque, elections officials should readily make absentee ballots available. Refusing this simple solution disenfranchises the voter. That defeats the purpose of the Help America Vote Act. True, elections laws are very strict about absentee ballots, but they are authorized for people unable to attend a polling place for religious reasons. I'm sure the Islamic Center is a wonderful place and I wouldn't mind voting there. It's sad some folks feel uncomfortable, but permitting them to vote by absentee ballot would ensure their voices are still heard and give them time to get used to the idea.

Update:

1) Several commenters tell me Betty Hillwig is now retired. But her successors refuse to supply an absentee ballot to a voter who's squeamish about making his choice at a mosque.

2) The letter in question came from a Whitehall voter and was directed to Bonnie Dodge. She forwarded this letter to numerous media outlets, but didn't write it herself.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Northampton County's Judges Hold Us In Contempt

Attytood tells us the Supreme Court's Antonin Scalia is complaining about the press and their complete inability to understand the important work done by our judges. Scalia is especially upset now that the Internet and blogosphere are in on the action. "This is not just like somebody handing out a leaflet in the past, where a small number of people can see this," he said. "This is available to the world. ... It changes what it means to be a judge. It certainly changes the attractiveness of a judicial career."

Well, Scalia would love Northampton County. Let me tell you about our judges. They have their own little private entrance and exit at the new courthouse expansion so they don't have to mingle with the dangerous public. Unlike the rest of us, their little door is located very close to their reserved parking places. They have their very own floor at the new courthouse expansion, and most of them even have private judicial potties. No one is authorized access to the judges' private floor. That's their turf, baby. And if a fire or other problem breaks out, I've been told sheriffs don't even have keys to this inner sanctum. Each has his own butler, called a tipstaff, who clears the way as judges parade down halls. Two or three deputy sheriffs are assigned to each courtroom. And they have their own little private dining room atop the courthouse rotunda, where they can discuss their trips to Europe. The justification for all of this coddling? Security.

In the process, our judges have become isolated from the very public they are supposed to serve. They've lost touch. The most recent example of this is demonstrated by a judge who recently approached deputies just a few days ago with "security" concerns about a title searcher who frequents the courthouse. This searcher was a recent club fed guest as a result of his anti-war activities. I don't care for this fellow, but he's no security threat. He's a frickin' pacifist. But that scared a judge.

Scalia and our own local judges demonstrate, in attitude and actions, that they have little regard for the First Amendment. And it's time Northampton's judges recognize that the new courthouse belongs to the public, not them.

"Do No Harm" Movement Starts Here in the Lehigh Valley

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs a young pup, I spent a year or so working in a lab, and nearly bankrupted J.T. Baker Chemical Co. with little explosions here and there. One of their few survivors, Chuck Keiser, must have been deeply affected by his near death experiences when he worked with me.

He's just started the Do No Harm movement. Membership is free. Let's hear it in his words.


We seem to be living in a world that is getting meaner every day. We are either oblivious of the harm we cause or we ignore the harm we cause. Could it be because no one taught us otherwise?

Could it be because no one ever asked us to do no harm?

If we look at just about any endeavor our species has engaged in, it would seem we are unaware of the harm we do to others, or we intentionally do harm for our own gain, and sadly in some cases for our own pleasure and enjoyment.

Since we haven't been taught otherwise we see no harm in doing harm. We cause harm and shrug it off. We cause harm and laugh about it. We cause harm and brag about it.

Worse, our children bear witness to our actions and never learn to do no harm. Above all else we must teach our children, by example and instruction, this simple philosophy of life.

If we are to become a more evolved species we must begin to make better choices and treat each other with more respect, and that includes the other creatures who share this planet with us, and this planet we call home.

We believe that the first and most basic moral law is, "Do no harm." Why? Because we can feel pain and suffering, we can imagine the pain and suffering of others. Because we can imagine the pain and suffering of others, we can act accordingly.

What does "do no harm" mean? For some it means arbitrary restrictions of action (not to strike or kill), speech (not to lie or insult), and thought. But what it ultimately means is thoughtful consideration. “Do no harm” simply means to consider how our actions may affect the world we all share, to be compassionate in our dealings with all creatures, and not to despoil our planet.

Doctors are asked to “first do no harm,” why not lawyers, businessmen, religious leaders and politicians? Why not us? Why not now?

The very least we can do is to attempt to do no harm, and leave the world no worse than as we found it.

It sounds like a simple idea, because it is a simple idea, but it just may be effective over the long run. Will “do no harm” solve all the problems in our world? Perhaps not, but this is an effort to decrease the nastiness in the world and to increase the kindness.

We hope that “do no harm” becomes that little voice that guides our actions.

And we hope you will join the movement and spread the message "Do no harm."

Show everyone you care and use “Do no harm” to sign-off in your correspondence in place of "Best Wishes", "Yours" or "Regards."

If you have a web site, be proud of your support and add the words “Do No Harm” to the top of your home page were everyone will see it.

Be bold and creative in thinking of ways to expose as many as possible to the “Do No Harm” message, but please, do no harm in doing so.

Do No Harm!
Chuck, you knew me 35 years ago, when I still could learn. I just have one question for you. Why the frick did you wait until now to tell me this? Do no harm??? My two kids are now in mental institutions (or college), every politician in the Lehigh Valley hates my guts, and just about every woman I've ever met has a voodoo doll with my name on it. Do no harm??

All kidding aside, Chuck proposes a very noble sentiment so long as people don't confuse "do no harm" with "don't get involved." It's easy enough to understand. Even I get it. Thanks, Chuck. I'll try.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Russ Shade Campaign Signs Disappearing

Nearly a month ago, I told you about Russ Shade, Democratic candidate for state rep. in the Northampton area. His opponent, Julie Harhart, is a fixture in an unresponsive state house that has resisted any attempt at meaningful reform. She even voted to suspend house rules to enable career pols to give themselves a midnight payraise. Lehigh County Redneck has her own take on the campaign today, and predicts Shade will win in an upset.

Unfortunately, someone is replacing Russ Shade campaign signs with Harhart signs, particularly in Whitehall. Shade's campaign is asking anyone who sees sign tampering to call his campaign at 484-241-6932. I've got a better idea. Call the police.

Pennsylvania's Mean Green Party

Last week, I had a rare opportunity to do some original reporting. While researching a post about spending in the Lehigh Valley congressional race, I accidentally stumbled on a land mine. Luzerne County's Green party had collected over $150 thousand from conservative republicans, and had used over $40 thousand of this money to promote the campaigns of the four Pennsylvania greens running for U.S. Congress: Dave Baker (Philly), Titus North (Pittsburgh), Derf Maitland (York) and Greta Browne (Lehigh Valley).

Local greens' initial reaction was to ignore me. One anonymous commenter popped on my blog and huffed, "Lay off Greta Browne. ... You know what $200 buys you in a Congressional race? A mention in a blog." And local Green activist Peter Crownfield condescendingly snorted, "sometimes responding to charges like this emphasizes their importance relative to other issues."

This was a mistake. Local greens underestimated the power of the blogosphere, a democratic and authentic media where anyone with an interesting message will be heard. It's a meritocracy of ideas.

Fortunately, my original post spread quickly through cyberspace, but not because of me. Will Bunch, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist, improved on my sketchy essay and reported that $10,000 of this GOP money came from the founders of Blackwater USA, a company that regularly supplies the CIA with mercenaries. From there, the story quickly traveled to Phawker, Nam Guardian Angel, Another Monkey, MLM Liberal, No Capital, Michigan Liberal , MParent7777, TPMMuckraker and even the DailyKos. On Friday, The Morning Call reported this GOP bankroll had tainted Green Party hopefuls.

As gratified as I was to see these stories, what I appreciated most was Bill White's Saturday column. He compared these odd Green-Republican bedfellows to Martha Stewart shacking up with Mongo. But what I liked most were his encouraging words to bloggers, which came at a time when encouragement was definitely apprciated. When a brilliant and wickedly funny columnist like Bill White notices a simple blog by a "nitwit ranting in his underwear," he gives citizen bloggers some credibility.

Either that, or he has no taste. Maybe he had me mixed up with LVDem.

Reacting to these numerous reports in the print media and blogosphere, Congressional candidate Greta Browne has now reversed her original reluctance to comment publicly. She promises a full explanation on her site. This is as it should be. Greens whine that major parties "have increasingly become parties driven by big money, not by the grassroots." So they better explain what the hell they were doing. While they're at it, they'd better justify their decision to pay people by the signature in petition drives, which has a big potential for abuse. The Green's ten key values include a pledge "to ensure that our public representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them." So it's time to account.

Despite these promises, I doubt there will be any real explanation. Greens are just too damn intolerant. Sure, they pay lip service to the principle of respecting diverse viewpoints, but really resent criticism directed at them. I've already been accused of "right wing attack tactics" and acting like Rush Limbaugh. Congressional candidate Derf Maitland: told me [campaign finance] "is none of your business." That ought to get him elected.

But the prize for intolerance goes to local green blogger Pat Rogers, who unloaded on me. Get a load of these messages from the party of peace:

"You are a typical fascist predator Bernie. You offer nothing of substance. Just wild accusations." * * * "You are a typically arrogant and proud fascist." * * * "I would not read your right wing fascist sludge if it were the only blog on the Internet." * * * "Authoritarian thug." * * * "Bernie O'Hare, Bill White and the other Democrat and Republican party hack propagandists are murdering American democracy for their right wing hegemony over America."

Pat Rogers'comments come from The Morning Call community forum, a truly scary place.

I just asked Pat to add me to his blogroll. Now excuse me while I shine my boots and see where I left my swastika.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Northampton County Priorities - Wallpaper & Drapes

Last night's Northampton County Council meeting was a bit longer than the 23 minute meeting held two weeks ago. It took council two hours to go through a light agenda. The reason? Angle was there. Man, that guy questions everything. It annoys the hell out of other council members, but is infinitely preferable to a board of bobbleheads. Those long meetings can be a circus, but they're actually good for government.

Let me give you a small example from last night. Councilperson McHale told fellow members in passing that she was getting bids for a renovation to council chambers, which will probably cost a half mil. All the bobbleheads went up and down except one. Angle was off and running.

Angle: "The windows are leaking all over seniors in Gracedale, the cupola is rotting off the roof, the rotunda where we're going to lay Wayne [Grube] in state is leaking, and we're talking about renovating council chambers? A half million dollars for new drapes and wallpaper? Is this a priority? I just bought a house and that cost only $200,000. I kind of like this the way it is."

Grube: "Well, he [Angle] got in the papers."

Whatever his motivation, Angle is right. The courthouse cupola will probably blow right off the courthouse next time the wind kicks up. Windows at Gracedale do leak all over the place and county still doesn't know why. The brand new rotunda, where Wayne Grube probably will be laid in state after he goes to that big football camp in the sky, does leak whenever it rains. Courthouse employees have seen no raises for nearly four years. Furniture and filing cabinets still clutter hallways. These matters should have a little more priority than wallpapers and drapes for council.

Love him or hate him, he makes his points. And a little thing like that is good government.

Update: Increasing Council Absences - Historically, it is rare for a member of Northampton County to miss more than one or two meetings during the course of a year. That pattern is coming to an end. On September 22, Council squeeked by with a bare quorum, just five of nine members bothered to show up. On October 5, there were two absences at a 23 minute meeting. And last night, Dertinger was a no show.

Charles Dertinger has now missed two of the last three county council meetings. I understand he's running for Congress, but that's no excuse for failing to do the job to which he was elected. Northampton County has a $311 million budget, and needs every one of its nine elected council members. When council members develop a lax attitude towards their responsibilities, the encourage a climate in which mischief can occur.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Green Congressional Candidates: Blackwater Money "None of Your Business"

Greta Browne and Derf Maitland, congressional candidates from the Green Party, want to set the record straight. Greta, Green candidate for Congress here in the Lehigh Valley, tells us this:

"Here's the truth: During the petition drive, Carl Romanelli offered to pay any volunteer collecting signatures for Green Party candidates. A couple of our volunteers accepted and received around the figure Bernie O'Hare quoted. $200 represents 100 signatures @ $2 each. We collected a total of over 4600 signatures. We needed 3417 sigs to get on the ballot. Guy and I personally collected over 600 each and accepted no payment.

At the time the money was offered and paid we had no idea that some of Romanelli's donations came from Republicans. I'm certain no one would have accepted it if we had known.

My campaign received no money from Carl Romanelli. We are proud to be grassroots and firm on our principles.

Sincerely, Greta"


I have serious problems with Greta's explanation.

First, contrary to what Browne claims, it was widely known Romanelli was funded exclusively by Santorum supporters.

Second, the explanation is inaccurate. In addition to the $200 noted yesterday, an additional $855 independent expenditure was paid on her behalf. Moreover, "coordinated expenditures" on behalf of all four congressional greens are reported by FEC records at $40,735. The money came from the Luzerne County Green Party, which in turn was funded with $156,000 from the likes of the founder of Blackwater USA. It was blood money.

Third, Titus North, Pittsburgh's green congressional candidate from Pittsburgh, acknowledges he was aware this sort of money might be coming as part of an informal arrangement with Romanelli. This is inconsistent with what Browne now says, although I have no reason to doubt her honesty and I don't think Titus North expected that such a large sum would be reported.

Fourth, Browne indicates "a couple" of the "volunteers" agreed to accept payment but the $200 check was made out to only one person. And there is no explanation for the $855 payment or the subsequent "coordinated expenditures."

Fifth, during a debate last week in Pen Argyl, Browne said her largest contributor gave her $500, and this was in response to a specific question about her campaign contributors. She did not note that she had actually allowed someone to pay a volunteer $2 for every signature. She did not mention either the $200 or $855 expenditure. She did not mention Blackwater USA. Perhaps she did not know. Perhaps she and her fellow Greens have been set up.
Browne's response now is that people with concerns should contact her privately. That's open and accountable government, Green Party style.

Derf Maitland, the Green candidate for Congress in York, threatened a libel prosecution, and provided an even better demonstration of how Greens really view open and accountable government:

"Whose side are you on? If you are a Green (or a former Green), then bring this matter up to the State Green Party--address it the right way and stop throwing darts. If you are a Dem or Rep, then you are just blowing smoke up my ass. If you are another party or independent, then it's none of your business ... ."

I get it. If I'm a Green or former Green, I should note this little $40,000 problem privately. If I belong to a major party, my motivation is necessarily political. And if I'm independent, it's none of my business! In other words, I have no right to air this dirty laundry publicly.

This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of my rights, not as a member of some political party, but as an American citizen. As a democrat and citizen who cares about my government, I have every right to question the pernicious influence of money in politics. Greens do it all the time. That right is so important the FEC makes finance records available online for all of us.

The Green Party is supposed to be driven by grassroots, not big money, and certainly not Blackwater or Haliburton. Congressional Greens have either benefited from this money or are victims of a charade being perpetuated by Luzerne County's Greens. I don't deny the need to reform draconian ballot access laws. But that does not excuse either the blood money or the deceptive nature of the green party's financial disclosure. And it does not excuse green candidates who tell the public their campaign finances are none of our business.

NorCo Judges Must Think They're Special

Consider this. Let's say you move out of your apartment in April, but refuse to return the keys. Let's say you also walked out in the middle of a lease. And finally, after you walk out, you ignore your former landlord every time he asks either for rent money or his keys.

What do you think would happen when the landlord took you to court? Do you think the judge would have any sympathy with your decision to break your lease?

Pay up, bippy, and return those damn keys!

Northampton County judges must think they're above the law. They're special. Judges Freedberg and Moran walked out on their five year lease in April to move into plush new quarters that have cost us at least $45 million. Not only have they refused to return their keys, but they've ignored the landlord's demands for past rent. Their Chief Butler, Jim Onembo, whines the landlord's insistence on payment is not very "civic minded."

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Thirty Pieces of Silver for Pennsylvania's Greens

I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Yesterday, I told you Greta Browne, Queen of the Lehigh Valley Greens and candidate for Congress, was the recipient of $200 funneled her way by Republicans. Three other Pennsylvania Greens running for Congress received much larger sums.

Well, I was right and I was wrong. In addition to the $200, an $855 independent expenditure was made on her behalf. Browne and three other Greens running for U.S. Congress also benefited from at least some of $42,000 in "coordinated expenditures."

Big Money Republicans with links to mercenary outfits like Blackwater USA channeled the money to Green congressional candidates with a whopping $156,899 in contributions to Luzerne County's Green Party. Attytood tells us how the money was spent.

"What did the conservatives buy with their money? A lot of it -- tens of thousands of dollars -- went to JSM, the Republican-oriented ballot access firm with a highly controversial history, and another large chunk went for lawyers. According to the records, the funds also supported four Green Party candidates running for U.S. Congress -- the 2nd District's Dave Baker, the 14th District's Titus North, the 15th District's Greta Browne, and the 19th District's Derf Maitland. In other words, the Republicans -- desperate not to lose control of the U.S. House, and with Pennsylvania the key swing state -- may be using the Green Party again to rob votes from the Democrats."

I don't blame Republicans. They don't know any better. But I can't help wondering if the Greens' money is still dripping with blood.
Yesterday's report about the "appalling sell-out of the Pennsylvania Green Party" was picked up by Attytood, LiveJournal, Phawker, and even The Michigan Liberal under the "weird news" category. Those bastards don't even know me!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pennsylvania's Green Congressional Candidates Were Funded by Republicans

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingRemember Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli? He's the chucklehead who let big money Republicans pour $66,000 into his ultimately unsuccessful quest for ballot access in Pennylvania's November 7 race for the U.S. Senate. Our draconian election laws are clearly designed to keep minor party candidates off the ballot. But two wrongs don't make a right. Romanelli thumbed his nose at a Green Party ideal that politics should be driven by grassroots, not big money. He sacrificed principle for expediency, and still failed. Served him right. But it may interest you to know that four Congressional Green candidates did the same thing. And guess what? They're the only Greens on the ballot. One of them is our very own "Queen" Greta Browne, who's running for Congress against Charlie Dent and Charles Dertinger.

The Johns

How did Republicans do this? Not directly. They funneled money through the Green Party of Luzerne County. Some of the johns who prostituted Green party candidates include Lehigh Valley bigwigs. Let's list them.

Charles Snelling, venture capitalist, Fogelsville ($1,000);
Anthony Salvaggio, Computer Aid, Allentown ($1,000);
Walter & Marjorie Buckley, hedge funds, Bethlehem ($2,000) ;and
William Grube, nightvision, Fogelsville ($5,000).

Green party contributors? Sure. I see them at LEPOCO all the time. Snelling wanted to be one of the Dent Nine.

The Hookers?

Four Congressional Greens sold their souls. Luzerne County's Green Party made payments on their behalf for "polling" and "ballot access" in its FEC Report. Let's list them, too.

Dave Baker, progressive activist and chess instructor in Philly's 2d District ($4,234);
Titus North, college professor in Pittsburgh's 14th District ($3,811);
Derf Maitland, bookstore owner in Adams County's 19th District ($32,390); and
Greta Browne, Queen of the Lehigh Valley Greens in the 15th District ($200).

Just $200 for Greta? I'd insist on a dinner, too.

I spoke with one of these "progressives," Titus North. He spoke vaguely of an informal arrangement in which Romanelli had promised Green congressionals $2 per signature over the July 4 holiday. North admits depositing two checks from the Luzerne County Green Party in his personal account, and one of his petition workers was also compensated. He knew this money was coming from Republicans, although he didn't know specifically that donors included the likes of a military contractor and a Haliburton subsidiary. It was blood money.

It is often said that prostitution is a victimless crime. But we're all victims in this Green party charade in which Congressional candidates pocket money from the special interests they pretend to hate. Among his final words to me, Titus North said, "We didn't do anything illegal."

Spoken just like any Republican or Democrat.

Afternoon Update: Will Bunch's blog at The Philadelphia Daily News, Attytood, has more on the "appalling sell-out of the Pennsylvania Green Party." Big money Republicans have now funneled over $150 thousand to Pennsylvania Greens through the Luzerne County Green Party. Part of this dough comes from the founder of Blackwater USA, "the shadowy, Virginia-based soldier-for-hire company with roots in the U.S. military intelligence community."

Bunch also notes this blood money was used to support all four Greens running for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania. "Republicans -- desperate not to lose control of the U.S. House, and with Pennsylvania the key swing state -- may be using the Green Party again to rob votes from the Democrats."

I liked Greens much better when they had ethics.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One Small Problem With the H2 Highway Formerly Known as I-78


My son is a pain in the ass. According to him, hydrogen may not be all that safe. "Hydrogen is arguably the most dangerous gas in a lab. If you don't take every precaution there will be an explosion, and it doesn't take a lot of H2 to cause a big bang. Of course when it does combust, it is much cleaner than gasoline, so when an entire station goes up, it's true, it will at least be a clean burn." Picky. Picky. Who 'ya gonna' believe, a Chemistry Ph.D. or a title searcher? He's just saying that so that he looks smart.

All kidding aside, thanks Buddy.

Dent Proposes Converting Interstate 78 to Hydrogen Highway East

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNo one disputes we're running out of gas. Our global gas gauge is flickering on E. We could argue about just when that might occur, but it's a simple fact that oil is a nonrenewable energy source. There's only so much. Another simple fact is that we depend on foreign sources for our oil.

Grassroots groups like Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil (LVBO) have sprung up to address this problem. Charles Dertinger, Democratic candidate for Congress (Pa. 15th), joined LVBO in an oil independence rally early this summer. But it may surprise you to know that Congressman Charlie Dent has proposed a practical solution to ease our diminishing oil supply.

When I met Dent this summer, he spoke enthusiastically about hydrogen as an alternative energy source. I honestly didn't think he was really serious until last week's debate, when he spoke of converting Interstate 78 into a "hydrogen highway." I did some research and was surprised to learn that, although he's only a freshman Congressman, Dent is actually one of the four founders of the House's bipartisan House & Fuel Cell Caucus.

Dent's congressional website tell us "Interstate 78 is uniquely situated and suited to be a gateway to the hydrogen economy - the Hydrogen Highway East." A hydrogen network will (1) decrease our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels; (2) protect our citizens and preserve our environment from the harmful effects of vehicle emissions; and (3) mitigate traffic and congestion. Right now, hydrogen infrastructure is being planned along the highway. Yesterday's Morning Call tells us Lehigh Valley's Air Products is already at work on a permanent hydrogen fueling station as an important link in "Hydrogen Highway East." And Allentown's Da Vinci Center is the recipient of a $400 thousand federal grant to develop hydrogen fueled cars.

But is hydrogen safe? We all remember the Hindenberg. Surprisingly, it is not inherently explosive, and is actually safer than gasoline.

There are also questions about the energy and cost consumed in hydrogen production, the relative difficulty in storage, and a worry that hydrogen will be produced from fossil fuels instead of other sources.

Hydrogen is no silver bullet, but it's nice to see local solution taking shape to combat a global problem. And, as LVDem tells us, Lehigh County is also making environmental strides with its recent purchase of a hybrid.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Esquire's Pennsylvania Endorsements

Esquire is normally considered a men's entertainment magazine for guys who are too chicken to buy Playboy. But in this month's edition, it decided to take "a long, hard look" at 504 races for Congress and Governor. Why? Because "government matters." Let's look at Esquire's Pennsylvania endorsements:

Governor: Rendell (D)

Senate: Casey (D)

Congress:

District 1: Write-in
District 2: Fattah (D)
District 3: English (R)
District 4: Altmire (D)
District 5: Hilliard (D)
District 6: Gerlach (R)
District 7: Sestak (D)
District 8: Fitzpatrick (R)
District 9: Barr (D)
District 10: Carney (D)
District 11: Leonardi (R)
District 12: Murtha (D)
District 13: Schwartz (D)
District 14: Doyle (D)
District 15: Dent (R)
District 16: Herr (D)
District 17: Holden (D)
District 18: Kluko (D)
District 19: Avillo (D)

In twenty-one state races, Esquire endorses fifteen Dems. But Senator Rick Santorum does get a "Cynthia McKinney Award" as one of the nine worst members of Congress. In Esquire's own words, "For the love of God, people, it's long past time that Rick Santorum did his man-on-dog, dog-on-man ruminations on his own time. WWJD? This one's a no-brainer."

If you pick up a copy of the magazine, it also contains a "photo essay" about "The Sexiest Woman Alive," Scarlett Johansson. I just broke up with her a few days ago.

Media Endorsements for Dent

The Express Times and Morning Call both endorsed Charlie Dent on Sunday for re-election as Lehigh Valley Congressman. Even Esquire magazine has jumped on the bandwagon.

Commending Dent, the Express Times notes he is showing signs of an independent streak. "Among those are supporting embryonic stem cell research, backing a ban on the use of torture on prisoners and refusing to join House leaders' attempt to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case." It actually suggests Green Party candidate Browne is preferable to Dertinger for those who oppose our military misadventure in Iraq. That won't please the Dertinger camp.

Personally, I'm waiting to see how Mad Magazine comes down.

Update: Esquire's endorsement - "Largely forgotten amid the right-wing revolution of the past six years is the fact that the majority of Republicans - both voters and politicians - are social and fiscal moderates. Freshman Charlie Dent is one of their best."

Lehigh Valley Whisper Campaigns


Admit it. You love it. If you didn't, we wouldn't have so much of it.

I suppose it's human nature. We love to learn the church organist is getting tuned by her local minister. Or that two workers in our office, each of whom is supposed to be happily married to someone else, disappear for long lunches with each other. Why, we're a regular bunch of little busybuddies, aren't we? Did you know that such and such a candidate for state office may have had an affair? Did you hear that Candidate B was broke? We love those whisper campaigns.

I'm no exception.

A few years ago, however, I saw just how damaging a whisper campaign can be, especially in the workplace. This crisis involved the personal hygiene of a part time title searcher, which was constantly discussed behind the victim's back. The fellow was poor and wore old and tattered clothing, rumpled by constant bus trips and daily walks from the bus stop to the courthouse. He couldn't afford the luxury of a climate controlled SUV. Understandably, he was shy, especially around the women who make up the majority of title searchers.

I didn't speak up for this guy. I usually went along with the latest outrage, whether it was a torn shirt or musty aroma.

One day, matters reached the boiling point when an eagle-eyed searcher spotted a bug crawling on this guy's hair. The alarm bells rang.

"Lice!" The word went out. "That dirty shitball has lice, and he's going to infect us all!"

They had previously complained to his boss. They even wanted the Recorder of Deeds to ask this dude to leave. Finally, they came to me, the nastiest person in the courthouse. I would do something. And I did. I noticed that the louse crawling on this guy's head was just a small leaf cutter that fell from a tree. I was ashamed of myself and told other searchers they should be ashamed, too. After a few unpleasant and very quiet days, these ladies eventually changed their behavior and started being nice to this fellow, who in turn slowly opened up.

And guess what? The guy was a frickin' genius, one of the smartest fellows I've ever met, although unfortunately a conservative. He has since returned to school, and will probably end up a professor in some major university where ladybugs and leafcutters can crawl all over him once he has tenure.

So I don't care for whisper campaigns in the workplace. I don't like it in politics, either. Unfortunately, as election day draws nigh, the blogosphere is increasingly polluted with damaging rumors and innuendo about candidates for state office from the Lehigh Valley. It's very easy to do on the Internet, especially since much of it is anonymous. It's also irresponsible. In some instances, it's downright defamatory.

I love salacious details about a pol's personal life as much as anyone, but anonymous bloggers and whisperers usually lack details to back up their lurid claims. No names. What we get instead are unsubstantiated charges followed by pious condemnations. "Politician A allegedly had an affair with B, although it was never proven." "Politician C is allegedly a wife beater, although I can't prove it." "Politician D picks his nose and eats it, according to unconfirmed sources."

It's really hard to know what's going on in someone's personal life because it is, well, personal.

And when you come right down to it, what goes on in someone's personal life usually has little relevance to his or her fitness for office, with the possible exception of sex with farm animals. (I'm partial to chickens). Whether someone is divorced or has financial difficulties should not be a campaign issue, not even in the Lehigh Valley. Maybe our new AAA baseball team should be called the Lehigh Valley Puritans.

Didn't we just go through this on a national level not too long ago? I admit I was fascinated by that semen stain on Monica's blue dress, but don't think it had much to do with Clinton's presidency.

Don't we have enough real issues to discuss? Let's stick to them and leave the gossip to network news. This is the kind of crap that turns voters off, and it increases voter apathy.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to find out why my head is so itchy lately.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Most LV Dems Support "Brighter Pennsylvania" Initiative

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Wednesday, I told you about Norco Democratic party chair Joe Long. He also chairs Bethlehem's Housing Authority, and apparently treats it like his own little fiefdom. Commissioners must clear all communications through him. And he has encouraged routine violations of the Sunshine Act. That included a private meeting about to be sprung on an unsuspecting Congressman Charlie Dent until he was tipped off by the press.

Fortunately, Long's medieval view of open and accountable government is not shared by local Democrats seeking state office. In the Lehigh Valley, there are eight contested seats. Seven Democratic candidates believe our open records and meeting laws must be strengthened. Only three of their Republican opponents agree.

Why do we need to strengthen these laws? Let me give you two examples from my hometown, Nazareth.

If a serious crime is committed in your community, like a rape, don't you think you have a right to know? Not according to Nazareth police. Last year, they hushed up a rape even though the perpetrator was still at large. Express Times editor Joe Owens told a radio audience Nazareth cops actually accused his paper of being interested only in "sex stories" when a reporter demanded to know what was happening.

When a municipality spends your tax money on a project that was never approved, like engineering plans for a government center expansion in Nazareth, don't you think you have a right to know? You don't. As NewsOverCoffee makes clear, we still don't know what was charged or whether it was paid.


We should all know when a serious crime is committed or how our tax dollars are spent. That's why the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association has initiated "Brighter Pennsylvania," a program that improves both access and accountability in local and state government. Brighter Pennsylvania proposes strengthening our Sunshine Act and Right to Know Law. These fundamental reforms are important to good government.

On Wednesday, Linda Minger, Democratic candidate for state rep. in the 131st legislative district, publicly signed this good government initiative. With her signature and public support, seven of eight Lehigh Valley Democrats in disputed state contests now endorse the simple principle that Pennsylvanians should have meaningful access to government records and proceedings. They're in pretty good company. Governor Rendell also agrees.

Five LV Republicans have refused to join this quest for good government. These include incumbents Doug Reichley, Julie Harhart, Karen Beyer, Rob Wunderling and challenger Eddie Tiburcio.

Reichley, whose campaign is heavily funded by developers, is a union-buster who took the illegal midnight payraise. His opponent is Chris "Blue Collar" Casey.

Harhart has done nothing in her many years in office except do as she's told, and that includes a vote to suspend rules that made the illegal midnight payraise possible. She faces Russ Shade on November 7.

Karen Beyer, who was only recently elected, is nevertheless a Reichley protege. That explains her antipathy to reform. Linda Minger has challenged her.

I wouldn't vote for or against a candidate on the basis of a single issue. But Reichley, Harhart and Beyer are displaying a pattern designed to keep voters in the dark. Their records, finance reports and opposition to open government reveal that they are not here to serve us. Their masters are the special interests who finance their campaigns.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dent Demolishes Dertinger in Slatebelt Slaughter

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI may be a Dem but I've got to be honest. It wasn't pretty. And it wasn't close. On Wednesday night, Congressman Charlie Dent totally destroyed challenger Charles Dertinger during a debate sponsored by the Pen Argyl Area Concerned Citizens at the Lookout Fire Hall.

Before a group of about forty slate belt residents, Dent moved smoothly from issue to issue, displaying a disarming casual manner combined with an impressing command of facts. Although Dertinger himself is no slouch, he simply was no match for Dent. Fortunately for Dertinger, this debate was not televised. I don't think a reporter was in sight. For that, Dertinger can thank his lucky stars. He should not complain too loudly about Dent skipping out on the LVLWV debate. Dertinger is AAA with potential, but Dent is definitely in the show.

It was a terrific evening for the spectators. Each candidate was permitted to make a brief opening statement. After that, a three member panel posed challenging questions, followed by inquiries from the public. After we all had our say, candidates were allowed to cross-examine each other.

There were actually three debates last night. Let me briefly describe them.

1) 15th Congressional District candidates: Charles M. Dertinger (D), Charles W. Dent (R) and Greta Browne (Green):- Dent Wins!

Although I've told you that Dent convincingly won this debate, it's not because I agree with his slightly conservative positions. He explained his negative campaign tactics by saying Dertinger had attempted to link him to convicted lobbyist Abramoff, a person Dent has never met. "One who throws stones should not live in a glass house." He also stressed that, like it or not, corruption has become an issue nationwide.

When questioned about Iraq, Dent responded there's a "right way and wrong way to leave." He opposes immediate withdrawal because that would make the world a far less secure place. Dertinger also opposes immediate withdrawal. "We can't just walk away." But Dertinger would also push hard for Rumsfeld's resignation.

Neither candidate was thrilled about impeaching Bush. Dertinger thought it was mean-spirited and Dent noted that impeaching a president in wartime would send the wrong message to our enemies. (I've got the best reason - if we impeach Bush, we get Darth Vader.)

The biggest surprise to me was Dent's enthusiasm about solving our energy crisis. He's all for using every available source of energy we've got, from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. He is a staunch advocate of hydrogen as an alternative (and cleaner burning) fuel source, and actually wants to convert I-78 into a "hydrogen highway." Is this hot air?

While Dent remained calm, Dertinger was unhinged a few times tonight. When questioned by Ron Angle about a county council vote, he lost his cool. "It's always great to have Ron ponificate on the issue of responsibility." From there, he started deteriorating further until the moderator stopped and reminded him we had all agreed to ask tough questions but remain polite. Dertinger also made the mistake of stating he had been "dragged into this race," and Dent wanted to know who "dragged you in. Sounds like you didn't want to do it. I'm here because I want to be here." At the end of the debate, Dertinger accused Dent of reading prepared answers from a script even though it was plain to all that the responses were extemporaneous. Dent just happens to know a lot, and Dertinger was grasping for straws.

2) 16th State Senatorial District candidates: Richard Orloski (D) and Pat Browne (R): - Orloski Wins!

Although they are both very cordial and unassuming, Rick Orloski was a pleasant surprise. He believes a LV medical school will bring us 450 quality jobs and improve our health care. He also proposes lobby reform, cutting the size of our legislature, and passionately defended unions when a right to work advocate, i.e. union buster, began complaining. He's an old pro at running for office. Will somebody please elect him? He laughed at himself throughout the night and was quite charming. I really regret that until last night, I never heard Orloski. He has terrific ideas and really cares about the community. Rick gets the edge on this one.

3) 18th State Senatorial District candidates: Lisa Boscola (D) and Bonnie Dodge (R): - Dodge Wins! (by default)

On Labor Day, Lisa Boscola personally committed to appear at last night's debate. But late yesterday, her office called the organizers and explained she had a scheduling conflict and would be unable to appear. This is the second debate she canceled this week. As an incumbent with tremendous name recognition and money, she apparently does not want to give her opponent, Bonnie Dodge, any visibility.

As much as I understand the political tactics, I believe Boscola's absence was insulting to the Pen Argyl Area Concerned Citizens and those of us who came to listen. She apparently will do her talking through scripted campaign ads funded by her $200 thousand warchest. This enabled Dodge to tell us, "I want to earn the seat. I don't want to buy it."

Although Bonnie Dodge is a right wing conservative, I don't doubt her sincerity and think her campaign is a breath of fresh air. Lisa is still the better candidate for someone with my views, but she disappointed tonight.
The biggest winners tonight? Us. It was a marvelous display of democracy in action, and I left the place feeling good about this country. That lasted until I got home and checked the bills.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Northampton County Employees Get Shafted ... Again

When the dust finally settles around the recent $100 thousand embezzlement sandstorm swirling in the criminal division, we'll learn that only one employee was involved. Until then, remaining employees are under a magnifying glass. These are hardworking employees. They care about their jobs. One broke out in tears several months ago when she was able to find money to reimburse a crime victim after several years. Like you, they're decent people.

This is where Mary Ensslin, Director of Court Services, enters the fray. On Monday, she told office employees, "We'll work through this. I want you to know I'm there for you. Come to me anytime you have a problem."

Sounds like a caring boss, huh? That same day, Lehigh Valley Hospital announced that Mary had jumped ship for a job with them.

Nice guys always finish last. Ask the folks who work in the criminal division.

They're holding the bag, and it's empty.

She betrayed voters when she forfeited her Council job for a job with the county. So it's no surprise that she'd also betray the people who worked under her.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
How does your garden grow.
"I sell out to the highest bidder."
"That's something you ought to know."

Norco Dem Chair Joe Long Promotes Government in the Dark

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingJoe Long, who chairs Northampton County's Democratic Party, is rated among the worst by PoliticsPa. "Joe Long has become a curse!" I agree. His basic problem? He's one of those who prefers smoke-filled back rooms to an open and accessible government. You can see this in his actions as Norco Dem Chair and as chair of the Bethlehem Housing Authority. He prefers Democrats to democrats.

His own reelection as local party chair is questionable. He was elected by committeemen chosen in the last primary. But his election occurred five days before certificates of election were actually mailed to the elected committeemen. And some elected committeemen were thus denied the opportunity to cast a vote for someone else. He was not democratically elected.

Long was part of the back-room deal that resulted in the appointment of Democrats Lamont McClure and Tony Branco to Northampton County Council, a violation of the state's Sunshine Act.

When I challenged Wally G, aka Walter Garvin, on a WGPA talk radio show over his dual involvement as Democratic area chair and local elections commission chair, it was Joe Long who immediately called the show to proclaim it's perfectly OK for a partisan party officer to head an elections commission. Garvin has since resigned his party positions.

And now, thanks to The Morning Call, we know that the Bethlehem Housing Authority is planning a private meeting tomorrow with Congressman Charlie Dent, a "clear violation" of the Sunshine Act in the view of both a media lawyer and the Authority's own solicitor. An email that BHA Commissioner Larry Kisslinger has sent to a large audience reveals Long as a chronic Sunshine Act offender.

In Kisslinger's own words,

"Chairman Long insisted that 'all' BHA commissioners shall be at the meeting with Congressman Dent, thereby, violating the Sunshine Law, in my opinion. Chairman Long in concert with BHA Executive Director Clara Kendy, has had many similar meetings in the past, repeatedly, ignoring my advice to the contrary....ie. audit reports, budget discussions, and the like. Regarding all said meetings, I have no idea if Chairman Long, and/or BHA Executive Director Clara Kendy ever sought the advice of our BHA Solicitor while doing so...but if he or she did so...and was approved by Solicitor....was wrong advice, in my strong opinion...as I always advised Chairman Long & others to no avail...he is Chairman and we all must listen, is all we are advised by Mr Long."

Kisslinger's email is a violation of a Long policy that bars other commission members from discussing their jobs without first getting his clearance. "Chairman Long ... declares that "any and all" communications from me and any other Commissioners "MUST FIRST CLEAR" any and all communications with him, and/or, our Executive Director, BEFORE any Commisssioner can ever communicate anything to anybody on the planet."
I'd like to know how many junkets Joe Long has taken as BHA chair at taxpayer expense. Long represents everything that is wrong, not with Democrats, but all politicians. He stands for government behind closed doors, and that's where democracy dies. According to the BHA website, commissioners serve at the will of the Mayor. If this is really so, it's time for Mayor Callahan to get rid of this troublemaker. Local Dems should dump him, too.

Update: Dent Refuses to Be Part of Sunshine Act Violation

Late this afternoon, Congressman Dent's office contacted yours truly to let us all know that Charlie Dent will gladly meet with executive director Clara Kendy, the only person he was scheduled to meet with in the first place. He won't be meeting Long or any other BHA commissioners. Dent has made the right call. He had every right to assume that a public board follows the law, and in any event, had no idea that the entire BHA was descending upon him. After reading that the entire BHA plans to appear, Dent has made clear he refuses to be a willing participant in a Sunshine Act violation.

I wonder if Joe Long can borrow some signs from the Dent Nine.

Free the Long Five!