Friday, March 30, 2007

BMW's Hydrogen Cars For Hydrogen Highway: Now All We Need are Hydrogen Pumps

No one disputes our global gas gauge is flickering on E. When we go dry is not exactly known, but oil is a nonrenewable energy source. There's only so much, and it's mostly foreign. Even the prez wants us to reduce gasoline consumption, and is proposing, for the first time in twenty years, that we improve mileage standards for our cars, SUVs and trucks.

Local Congressman Charlie Dent is a co-founder of the House Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Caucus. He wants to convert Route 78 into a hydrogen highway. 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.

BMW is betting on hydrogen, and has produced 100 factory-made hybrids. Leave it a foreign car company to come up with another alternative fuel. Here's some details from Pogue's Posts.

I asked if hydrogen could explode (think Hindenburg). The engineers responded that in Germany, they’ve tried shooting bullets at the tank, slamming a construction girder into it, and so on; liquid hydrogen may burn, but it doesn’t blow up. In that regard, it’s actually safer in a spill situation than gasoline.

Now, I’m well aware of how hostile some critics are to the concept of hydrogen cars. Their primary objection, of course, is the amount of energy that’s consumed (and pollution generated) in producing hydrogen in the first place.

BMW agrees that hydrogen cars are pointless unless the hydrogen itself is produced using clean, renewable energy sources: solar, wind, geothermal and so on. “At the beginning, some of it’s going to be nonrenewable,” said Dr. Ochmann, “but the percentage will increase.” (In the meantime, even if fossil fuels are used in the short term, at least the byproducts of burning them can theoretically be controlled at a single source.)

Another objection raised by an audience member: What about getting fillups? Our government is making a big push toward ethanol as a new fuel (despite dubious environmental prospects), but there are still only several hundred ethanol filling stations in the entire country. Isn’t the situation even worse for hydrogen pumps?

BMW reiterated that moving to hydrogen will be a long-term proposition. At the moment, in fact, there are only three hydrogen pumps in the U.S. (California and Washington, D.C.) “It will be a difficult process,” Dr. Ochmann said: “station by station, gas company by gas company.”

The point is that, as he put it, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Many pieces have to be put in place: governmental, public, technological and legal. “We all have to move together at the same time,” he concluded.

But BMW’s point, and I agree, is that at least the technology part of the auto-fuel problem has been solved.

Yes, yes, of course, taking hydrogen to the mainstream still requires staggering amounts of investment, legislation, policy, and political will. But from a purely technological standpoint, using today’s renewable power sources and liquid hydrogen, the balance sheet for the entire cycle, from hydrogen production to driving the cars, could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by at least 90 percent, by BMW’s calculations.

Of course, BMW’s way isn’t the only way. There are many approaches to using hydrogen in cars, each with pros and cons, each exhibiting both recent breakthroughs and significant obstacles. (The Wikipedia.org entry on “hydrogen cars” offers an excellent, balanced and up-to-date presentation on the issue.)

Most car companies, in fact, are pursuing hydrogen fuel cells instead; they transform hydrogen into electricity, which then powers the car–or, in their current incarnation, underpowers it.

Plenty of people positively spit on BMW’s approach (here’s an example). But people like this are completely ignoring the fact that all of these experiments are in their earliest stages, and will improve.

Meanwhile, the biggest obstacles are presented by people’s attitudes, not technology: “Oh, that’ll never work.”

Guess what? It’s going to have to work. Sooner or later, hydrogen, or something like it, is all we’ll have to work with
.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Will's Power Point - Even Pols Can Be Frugal

Will's latest Power Point deals with the importance of frugality.

Now he tells me!

The lessons he's learned in becoming such a cheap bastard are evident in his county council campaign - he won't spend a dime. Other pols, who spends gobs from campaign contributors, will have no trouble raising your taxes.

Rendell's Six Point Reform Plan

I told you yesterday about Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal to select, instead of elect, our judges. Today's Morning Call commends Rendell, not for any of his specific reforms, but because he has the political clout to get something done. A transcript of Rendell's proposals is here.

An Epistle From Joseph of Bethlehem: Dem Boss Long Denies Elections Problems

After six very public meetings, the Northampton County citizens' advisory committee decided to take its show on the road. It has been soliciting opinions in surveys mailed to candidates, poll workers, party officials and voters.

Northampton County Dem Chair Joe Long, who calls himself Boss Long, likes things the way they are. He's a machine politician used to smoke-filled back rooms. That's the way he ran meetings at the Bethlehem Housing Authority, until member Larry Kisslinger blew the whistle. Long was miraculously "reelected" as party chair before committeemen were even certified. And he clearly has an inside connection to the local elections office. First, his daughter worked there. She was hired by former county exec Reibman as a part-time employee in April 2002, and stayed on board until July 26, 2006. Second, when Congressman Dent called with some information about HAVA, the elections office actually referred Dent to Long! Third, the goofy lawyer used by voter registrar HRH DePaul as "a buffer" from "the falsehoods and basic lies," was actually recommended by Long. Fourth, he uses strongarm tactics against elections office critics. That may work in totalitarian regimes, but has little place in a democracy.

Boss Long has responded to the citizens' panel with a snotty letter. I pulled it out of a garbage can. Really! I thought I'd share Joe's thoughts with you.

At the last "Citizens meeting", it was discussed to do the surveys, but, they would not be anonymous, they would be signed. It should be in any minutes, if they in fact were recorded. [Minutes were taken and are posted on this blog. There was no agreement to require that the surveys be signed.] Why does it state that "The results of this survey will be made public during a meeting of the Northampton County Citizens Advisory Committee? If comments on the survey are mentioned, they will be used anonymously. There is no need to sign the survey." Please don't accept unanimous [I think he means anonymous] responses to the survey you sent out. People should be accountable just as you wish the voter registration office to be.

As I stated before, this is nothing but a witch hunt. If there are personnel issues to be addressed, they should be done privately and only with those it affects, not in a public venue. John Stoffa stated he was upset because the results were not ready sooner, and they were not correct. I told him the law takes precedent over what he is upset with. He stated he didn't care what the law said in our meeting with Larry Otter and Bill White, March 15th. I guess he thinks he is above the law. I have attached the election calendar for 2007 and if you check, results are unofficial thru May 22nd, and then they start the count of absentee ballots. June 4th is the last day to file with the State the returns from the primary election. The time frame is the same for the General Election in November and has been the same for a number of years.

I have been involved in the election process for over forty years, and understand that all counts are unofficial and in most cases over those same years, inaccurate. Official results are not required until 3 weeks after the election. This gives the election board time to certify the election properly. This is why I didn't have a problem with the registration office, as I understand the election laws and knew the "official results" took some effort. Perhaps those that are complaining should study the laws before they start their witch hunts.

I did not and do not have a problem with the voter registration office, because as a County Chair, it is my responsibility to be in that office more than the average citizen, in order to get absentee ballot requests, voter files, street lists, voter registration cards, verify addresses for polling places and any other need I would have for the election process.

I don't know what the opposing party chair does as far as his responsibilities are concerned. Perhaps if he spent some time in that office, he would know instead of get second hand information as to how that office functions.

I have attached the election calendar for 2007, perhaps some of us should study it and they would not have to form committees to do the job that they are responsible for.


Joe Long, Chair
Northeast Caucus, PA Democratic Party
Northampton County Democratic Party

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

USDA Loans For Low-Income Homeowners

Nazareth blogger Ross Nunamaker has the second best blog in the Lehigh Valley. If you're wondering why I make this bold statement, check out his informative post about some USDA loan programs for low-income homeowners. As Ross explains, Rural Development will lend as much as $20,000 at a 1 percent interest rate for repairs and home improvements. "These loans are limited to households whose income falls below 50 percent of the area's median income. For example a family of four, in Northampton County, with an adjusted household income earning approximately $32,950 could qualify for this program. For applicants that are 62 years of age or older, who have very low income and do not have repayment ability for a loan, the possibility of a grant exists. To determine eligibility visit this Rural Development site page." Gosh, this should cover more than a few county employees.

Norco Councilman Tony Branco: "I Won't Compromise My Ethics or Beliefs For Anybody"

I told you yesterday that Northampton County Councilman Tony Branco has lost his day job as Douglass Township manager in Berks County. I spoke with him today. He could not go into details but said this, "I won't compromise my ethics or beliefs for anybody." I suspect there's much more to this story.

Instead of Feeding Hungry Pols, Why Not Feed a few Kids?

Will's Power Point today deals with campaign finance. Instead of taking your money, he's asking you to contribute to Feed the Children. He'll match any contribution made up to $7,000, his annual salary once elected to county council. Very classy.

Rendell the Reformer? Appointing Judges is Reform?

He comes from the rough and tumble world of Philly politics. He had no qualms accepting $100,000 contributions, and raised $32 million in his reelection bid. He has opposed term limits in the past. He still opposes the idea of a constitutional convention, something promoted by state rep. Craig Dally. So there must have been a few snickers from cynical reporters at the Pennsylvania Press Club yesterday when Governor Ed Rendell tried to reinvent himself as a reformer.

One of his "reforms" is the proposal that judges be appointed instead of elected. He calls it "merit selection." It's a crock. All this does is remove people from the politics. Judges will still be selected politically. It just won't be democratic. The decision will be made by aristocrats appointed by other aristocrats. Not a good idea. In fact, even the term "merit selection" is misleading. It creates the false impression that judges who are democratically elected are somehow inferior to those who play politics with elitists.

Our judges have already become too isolated and arrogant. Don't take my word for it. Consider this passage from John Morganelli's recent book.

If anyone tries to tell you that judges are apolitical, tell them to call me. In my 26 years as a practicing lawyer, I have learned that judges are probably the most political animals in the political and legal jungle. Not all of them, of course. But many come to their positions with the same prejudices and bias that we all have from our life experience. The donning of the black robe allows them to hide behind the law while forcing their own ideas of how things should be. They usually use a tortured interpretation of the constitution to legislate and impose their thinking on the rest of us. This is especially true in the federal judiciary where all judges are appointed for life and have absolutely no accountability.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Norco Councilman Tony Branco Loses His Day Job

Northampton County Councilman Tony Branco has complained, even to me, of his long daily commute to and from his job as Douglass Township manager in Berks County. Unfortunately, he lost his job there a few days ago. I don't know any details. He does have a commanding knowledge of township and borough laws, and is a likable fellow, so this surprises me. I hope he finds a new job closer to home.

Will's Power Point - McClure's Law & Order Committee

In today's Will Power Point, we peek at Lamont McClure's "Law and Order" committee, and its trouble with that pesky Sunshine Act.

Morganelli's "D-Day Bank Massacre," A Riveting Must Read

I admit it. When I first heard Northampton County DA John Morganelli had written a book, I dismissed it as little more than a vanity project. John's a great prosecutor, but how the hell does that qualify him as an author? Also, as a death penalty opponent, I have little enthusiasm for the ultimate remedy.

I was wrong. D-Day Massacre is a terrific if terrifying book - a detailed, behind the scenes, account of a Lehigh Valley monster. Twenty years ago, Martin Appel viciously executed three bank employees during a planned bank robbery near Bath. Morganelli's chilling account of this triple homicide and bizarre aftermath are eerily reminiscent of Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter. Because it depicts events close to home, Morganelli's book is even more frightening for LV residents. His dispassionate and detailed narration contrasts starkly with Appel's inhumanity and a disinterested state government.

A defiant Appel had warned that, unless executed, "Guards are going to die and I will escape." He also taunted a bank employee who had miraculously survived three 9mm bullet wounds, including one right through her head. Here's part of his letter to her from hell. "Don't be stupid all your life. Why waste your time and [what] little money you have by suing me. You'll only give yourselves more headaches. Besides, I don't have a penny to my name. And now I know where you live. Real dumb move on your part. Bye Bye. 9mm."

When Governor Casey refused to sign Appel's death warrant, Appel's letter was sent to him. "I'm sure Appel would have been tickled to death knowing the effect it had on me."

Amazingly, Casey never had the courtesy even to acknowledge this victim's plight, a disgusting display of insensitivity that has now become all too commonplace in the land of midnight payraises.

D-Day's a good read, even for folks like me who oppose the death penalty. It's a dark and vivid reminder that evil exists, and can't be exterminated. Morganelli intends to share any profits with Turning Point of Lehigh Valley and the Crime Victims Council.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Norco Rocked By Another Embezzler

Just last week, Northampton County Executive Stoffa told a county committee investigating a theft that people will always find ways to steal. "Sooner or later it's going to happen again because people are smart." Amazingly, by the end of the week, another theft of county money proved Stoffa right.

I didn't confirm anything with the county big wigs. They're a little miffed with me right now. They'd like to know how I got my grimy little hands on that secret VanSickle email, and aren't buying my story that I got it from my pal, Joe Long.

But here's the deal, according to my listening devices. Late last week, Lafayette Ambassador Bank made an unpleasant admission to Northampton County. Property taxes are deposited there, and a foolish bank employee decided she deserves the money as much as the county. She added her name, as a payee, to checks made out to the county. Maybe she has a few open space projects, too. She's been caught and fired, and I suspect her problems are just beginning.

To its credit, the bank will make good on any damages sustained by the county. Maybe Lamont McClure should have this matter reviewed by a forensic accountant, too! Property owners should check and keep their canceled checks, which will clear them if a dispute arises.

In related news, the low-level county employee who embezzled approximately $125 thousand from the criminal division over the past five years, was spotted this weekend. She was whooping it up at the Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse. I wonder who picked up the tab. She should have invited Larry Otter and he could just bill the county.
Update: Both The Express Times and Morning Call have detailed accounts of this theft. The Express Times also has this advice for taxpayers: "Any resident who paid property taxes via check by Feb. 22 but has not received a copy of a cashed check should call the Northampton County revenue department at 610-559-3102 to confirm the bill was paid."

Norco Council Candidate Will Power Has a Campaign Blog!

Will Power, candidate for Northampton County Council District 3, has started a campaign blog! He's swimming upstream against the local party machine, which will endorse Lamont McClure this Saturday. McClure plans to buy your vote with a flood of negative ads designed to make Power look as bad as a middle school principal. That's no surprise because McClure has established himself as a bully.

McClure's not really interested in what you think. He'd rather follow the marching orders of Abe Atiyeh and the DA, who contribute heavily to his campaign. Power has no money and refuses to accept a dime. He won't even ask his sister, a powerful state senator, for help. But he's got a message. Perhaps the Internet, our great equalizer, can even the odds. I've signed on as a contributor, and you can look forward to regular postings from me about McClure's shoddy record on council. And Power will post his own blogs on county issues. So get a breath of fresh air from time to time and check out Will's blog.

State Apparatchiks Won't Certify Norco Voting Machines In Time For Primary

Last week, I told you Northampton County's elections last November were conducted with machines the state never certified. Incredibly, it's about to happen again! Advanced Voting Solutions, the county's voting machine vendor, has just realized now that it needs to install a "patch" to its software. Reason? The current design simply lacks the capacity to handle the large ballot for all those municipal offices in this Spring's primary. This requires changing the source code in the software, and that requires a recertification from the state. Take a gander at this email from Rip VanWinkle, 'er Harry VanSickle, the state's elections commissioner.

[A] "patch" is proposed by Advanced [Voting Solutions] to cure a capacity problem when the ballots are huge, such as the election coming up in May 07. This would require a change in the source code which by law must go to an ITA, now known as VSTL, and be recertified by the state. There is no way that could be accomplished in time for the May, 07 election, and we at the Department will not certify a version change without it first being qualified at the federal level. I will be happy to discuss this with each of you. The company disagrees with the Department and feels we should allow the change without federal approval, but our law will not allow it and the Department does not know what other areas this change in code will affect. AVS is going to go through the federal process in time for the fall election and we feel it is prudent to include this patch in that build. . . .

The Department and Advanced are both striving to help counties make each election better than the preceding one. We may not always agree, but we never shut down the lines of communication.
VanSickle is the communicative dude who ignored so many calls from the citizens' elections panel and county executive they finally had to send a registered letter. If state bureaucrats can't certify our voting machines in time for an election, they don't belong in office. They mock our most important right - the right to vote.
Update: The Express Times has an outstanding report, with more details on this latest elections mess.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Norco Citizens' Election Panel Chair Resigns

Peg Ferraro, chair of the citizens' elections task force, has resigned. Now that she is an active candidate for county council, she has stepped down to keep the keep politics out of the elections panel. Although this committee is purely advisory, its work will have no credibility unless its membership avoids becoming participants in this year's elections.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Three Reasons to Boot Judge Baratta

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown!"

Sixty-two state and local judges must ask voters to keep them on their thrones for another decade this November. Judges are too important to stand for election. That's supposed to be too political. We simply retain them.

One judge seeking retention is Northampton County's very own Steven Baratta. He's a beneficiary of the midnight payraise enacted by our state legislature, and is raking in nearly $150,000 a year. He appeared on a radio show a few months ago, saying he wished he could take you all on a tour of his new Taj Mahal. Right. Stop by his office sometime and watch what happens. Baratta should be booted. Here's why.

1. Our judges think they're aristocrats. This is what I asked Baratta a few weeks ago. Hey Steve, where were you when county employees were getting sick? Did you speak up when over 100 positions were eliminated to help pay for your over budget Taj Mahal? Where were you when your $15 thousand judicial lunch table had to be sawed in half just to get it in your new building? Where were you when judges decided that all members of the public had to be searched when they entered your new building, even if their business took them nowhere near a courtroom? When did you announce that you would refuse the new pay raise? How could you take a nickel when the people who work under you have seen nothing for nearly four years? Why couldn't you open your mouth about any of the judicial excesses? These are just a few questions Baratta should answer if he expects to remain on the bench. I asked them before, way back in November. His silence is deafening. It's common knowledge Baratta wants to be our next president judge. That's why answers to these administrative questions are important.

2. Our judges promote class distinctions. On Wednesday, while Baratta was off doing judgely things, his court administrator was demanding that a council committee approve a 21% payraise for our minijudges, the law clerks. It didn't matter that court-related employees are only getting 3-4% raises, something pointed out by County executive Stoffa. Or that the residual unit, which serves some judicial functions, doesn't even have a contract. Both Stoffa and Councilman John Cusick think this will hurt morale. Stoffa asked the judges to wait until he finishes a job classification study, but they refuse. They don't give a damn what impact it has on morale. After all, they're judges. The rest of us can eat crab cakes. Amazingly, council will roll over for them. They always do, and it's disgraceful. People have to send a message they will no longer tolerate this judicial arrogance.

3. Baratta snubs Democracy Rising Pa. Democracy Rising PA is a grassroots movement working for integrity, value, transparency, and citizen confidence in government. It is one of nine similar groups that prepared the Roadmap to Reform. It recently prepared and forwarded a candidate questionnaire for Judge Baratta, and asked him to return it by March 6. Barrata thumbed his nose at them. He didn't even have the courtesy to respond.

I think it's time to bring our judiciary back down to earth. They best way to do that is by booting a few of them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rage Against the Machine in Northampton County!

Norco Dem chair Joe Long wants the local party to endorse his picks, even for offices with contested primaries. So a few weeks ago, he scheduled a meeting of Northampton County Democratic committeeman, inviting only his chosen ones. It's the same scam he's used to get himself elected. Will Power, who's running for county council and is himself a committeeman, was among those snubbed. The meeting wasn't even listed on the local webpage.

Enough complaints were made that an embarrassed Long had to reschedule. This time, there's even an announcement on the democratic website.
The Northampton County Democratic Committee will meet March 31, 2007 at the Nazareth Jacksonian Democratic Club, 119 S. Main Street, Nazareth, PA 18064 at 11:00 AM. Park in rear @ bank parking lot. We anticipate endorsing candidates for County offices. I invite all County candidates for office to attend this meeting and to please submit a resume prior to the meeting, as you will have the ability to address the committee. Please make every effort to attend as we will have an ambitious agenda.
I've been told the machine intends to endorse Lamont McClure over Will Power and John Maher over Bill Hall. It's time for Big D Democrats to start acting like little d democrats and let the people decide these things.

Charges of Political Bias at Morning Call Refuted

On Tuesday, I posted a blog about two Lehigh Valley legislators at the head of their class. They lead the entire state in spending taxpayer money on public service ads. That's an easy way for an incumbent to increase name recognition at our expense.

How did I learn about this? A friend emailed me a link to a story in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, of all places. I also saw a reference in John Micek's Capitol Ideas, a Morning Call blog. So one of my sources is The Morning Call, like it or not.

After posting my blog, I read all kinds of accusations that The Morning Call was a Republican paper out to suppress this story. It would never see the light of day. I expressed some reservations. But lead prosecutor Bernie Kieklak, who doubles as Lisa Boscola's chief of staff, insists that The Morning Call has an "obvious BIAS against reporting anything negative about any Republican state legislator." He even went so far as to promise to kiss both Ron Angle and Jolly Joe Timmer should the paper ever decide to run a story. Here's just some of what he says.
It would ONLY be news to the Morning Gall IF it involved a Democratic legislator. Charlie Dent could fart tomorrow and he'd get accolades on the front page. If a Dem did that, the paper would blast him or her for causing global warming!

This is not the ONLY time this has happened. This is a pattern that is premeditated and predictable. And it's bullshit. I bet Reichley is laughing his Nazi ass off right now!

I was taught in Journalism School that "Newspapers are the lamps that light the truth." More like lapdogs that lay down and look the other way.

I'll double your bet and raise you! The Morning Gall will NEVER print a single word about Reichley and Harhart's PSAs for this entire year. Double or nothing?
Bernie's a funny and persuasive writer. He's also completely wrong. Here's why. First, in Wednesday's Morning Call, Bill White has a scathing column, branding Doug Reichley as the "Babe Ruth of PSA sluggers." Second, Micek tells me he started writing a story about PSAs last week and intends to finish it. He was disrupted by an unavoidable family emergency. Third, editor Pete Lefler notes The Morning Call has published detailed investigative reports about leadership accounts in 2003 and 2004, when Republicans were in charge.

I've learned to be careful about throwing around media bias charges. A few years ago, antiwar advocates were arrested for handing out leaflets on a public sidewalk near the Palmer post office. Both local papers eloquently condemned these criminal prosecutions, and District Attorney John Morganelli was so moved he dismissed the charges on his own motion. You don't see that every day. That's just one example of the important role an independent press plays in a democracy.

Bernie, pucker up!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lamont McClure's Law & Order Committee Strikes Again ..., With Another Sunshine Act Violation

Yesterday was Lamont McClure's day to shine. He convened his first Norco law and order committee meeting of the year. Its purpose? To make Controller John Schimmel look like an idiot.

McClure prepared by spending $1,000 of your money to have a forensic accountant review the practices of an embezzler, a low-level deputy who may have pocketed $125 thousand from the criminal division over five years. She was finally caught when she deposited her own checks for $300 and $45 into a bail bond account, presumably to cover an earlier theft.

Her folly has already resulted in an explosion of audits and criminal charges. It has hurt colleagues in the criminal division, hard-working people who really care about their job. We already know what happened. We even know why - a county worker simply had too much control over too many things. But that didn't stop McClure. He's got an election to win and had $1,000 to burn.

Armed with his $1,000 letter, McClure summoned Schimmel. The controller patiently explained his small staff follows directions from an outside auditor under contract with the county. McClure was having none of that. "You should come to council if you don't like something instead of taking the ostrich approach." When Schimmel quietly noted he has two less employees than he did twenty years ago, McClure accused him of wasting resources by doing "political audits" for previous councils. Really? Which audit would that be, Lamont? The one correctly predicting that a $111 million megabond would result in a tax increase? Or how about that silly audit revealing rampant countywide cell phone abuse, including a DCED director who rang up $1,388 in personal calls to arrange wife-swapping trysts? Shall I go on and start talking about those political bribery indictments?

After admonishing Schimmel, McClure demanded to speak with Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC, our former external auditors. They agreed with Schimmel. "The controller can't dictate the scope of our audit or it will actually be an impairment." They also made clear that internal controls are a county responsibility. "It's your obligation to set policy."

Fortunately, that's now happening. Acting Director of court services Bill Hillanbrand has made certain that internal controls are in place. "The buck stops with me." He handed the committee a list of actions taken (sorry, I don't have the list), and introduced our new clerk of the criminal division.

Finally, a weary John Stoffa approached the podium. He looked tired tonight. He wasn't playing politics. He wasn't worried about his job. He just spoke the truth. "We collect cash in thirty-three different places. It's crazy. ... Sooner or later it's going to happen again because people are smart. ... I welcome auditors. But an audit is no good unless you follow up on it."

Stoffa's right. If someone wants to steal, he'll find a way. People are smart that way. I don't care whether it's Northampton County or Fort Knox.

Because audit recommendations were never implemented in the criminal division, a theft occurred. Did we need a $1,000 forensic auditor for that?

Soon after Stoffa spoke, McClure ended the meeting with another Sunshine Act violation. He never bothered to offer the public an opportunity to speak, and I pointed it out. McClure has that legal obligation. Fellow council members, Diane Neiper and John Cusick, should recognize this as well.

McClure's Sunshine Act violation reinforces what I already knew. His motives for last night's meeting had nothing to do with accountability or good government. It's just politics, bippy.
Update: The Express Times has a well-written and more objective account of yesterday's meeting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bus Trip From Pittsburgh to Chicago For Just $1, Thanks to the Internet

Publicly subsidized LANTA will soon raise bus fares in the Lehigh Valley to $2 for a one-way trip. At the same time, private carrier Megabus is offering rides from Pittsburgh to Chicago for as little as $1. Based on a similar system in Britain, these low fares are awarded to someone who plans ahead. CEO Dale Moser explains why fares are so low.
"I don't have a terminal, so I don't have bricks-and-mortar ... I don't have the staff that maintains it. Everything's back room -- it's all computer sales. I have nobody handling cash. I have nobody handling any kind of transactions at the bus. The bus driver is focused on taking care of the customers and driving safely."
Yeah, and they're probably fueled by peat moss stolen from the Irish. (My thanks to Jason Slipp at LVBO for telling me about Megabus.)

For Dirty Pols Like Reichley and Harhart, We Need Clean Election Laws

Under cover of darkness in 2005, greasy hands made their way into your wallets. These thieves weren't worried about the law. They WERE the law. I'm referring to our friends in the land of midnight pay raises, who gave themselves a nice legislative raise less than two years ago.

Since that time, some of these miscreants have jumped ship for jobs as lobbyists or in some goofy state bureaucracy. But many bandits remain. These include two Lehigh County state representatives - Douglas Reichley and Julie Harhart. Both were overwhelmingly reelected, along with 88% of their pals. And I know why.

A Pittsburgh paper reveals Harhart ($190,805) and Reichley ($216,380) spent more of your money than anyone else in the state house over the last two years for "public service ads." These supposedly promote government services. But let's face it. They're just thinly disguised campaign ads. When a newspaper asked them to explain, you'd think they'd jump at the chance. After all, this is free advertising. But this is what we learn from Pittsburgh. "Reichley and Harhart could not be reached for comment."

Maybe they were taping.

By now, they've probably had time to cook up a story for the Morning Call, but I like their first answer.

Since candidates are already spending your money to get reelected, why not let them? That's the beauty of the clean elections laws. How does it work? A candidate collect a set number of small dollar qualifying contributions ($5 or $10), agrees to strict spending limits, and refuses further private money. Her campaign will be publicly funded. Participation is voluntary, which makes it difficult to claim an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

Once elected, an incumbent can actually concentrate on issues instead of endless fundraising.

Six states have already adopted some form of clean elections laws. Last week, New Jersey's state senate extended its pilot project another year. Campaigns are also underway in nearby New York and Maryland.

Pennsylvania, which has so many problems, is a far cry from clean elections. But a movement is afoot.
There was a time when people understood that, even if they didn't pay close attention to what our elected officials were doing, they could expect to be treated, more or less, fairly because our system, our democracy, is a fair system.

But right now our democracy in not working. People rightly feel that their government no longer belongs to them - that their representatives are no longer working for them. Bringing Clean Elections to our state and national governments is the first step toward re-establishing our democracy.
If you think clean elections laws are worth pursuing, why not drop a line to reform@pahouse.net?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Coming Soon, to a PC Near You, Norco Council Minutes!

It's finally happening. If you take a gander at Northampton County's webpage, you'll notice something new. An agenda for its most recent council meeting is actually posted on the web!

Minutes will soon be available, too. Council could post them now, but some lowlife with a blog might alter transcripts. So they're waiting for pdf software, which they think will protect them.

Lehigh County only posts meeting agendas.

Don't tell anyone, but I can alter pdf files, too! Shhhh!

State Never Certified NoCo Voting Machines: Too Busy Plowing Snow?

When Northampton County voter registration employee Howie Erney demonstrated the WinVote system to our citizens' election panel on February 7, he smugly told them it's easier than those pesky levers, and is getting "better and better." But then Erney made a mistake. He was willing to answer questions, even from the people like me in the peanut gallery.

Unfortunately for Erney, I had spent that afternoon looking at documentation obtained from BlackBox Voting. I already knew the Pennsylvania Department of State had reluctantly certified WinVote Version 2.0.2 in February, 2006, noting twelve specific problems. But when Howie Erney confidently booted up his system, I was shocked to see that the system we had used was WinVote Version 2.0.3 instead of the certified version. When I started questioning this, the elections office suddenly didn't want any more questions. Fortunately, citizen panel co-chair Russ Shade had the same questions. And he wanted answers both from the state and vendor Advanced Voting Solutions. "They have this nasty habit of not returning phone calls."

In addition to this software problem, there are allegations that what we see is not what we got. According to BlackBox Voting, machines with identical appearances have completely different components "under the hood." Cheap Chinese hardware may have been substituted for what was approved.

When the panel met again on February 13, 21 and 28, there still was no response from our state apparatchiks. I know they weren't busy plowing snow. Astonishingly, HRH DePaul actually insisted at one point that the state would only speak through her. Fed up, the citizens' election panel finally sent a letter to state elections commissioner Harry VanSickle, asking to see "the certification of the specific machines used in the last two elections. The Committee wants documentation that the hardware shipped by Advanced Voting Solutions is, in fact, what was approved."

Instead of speaking through his oracle, HRH DePaul, or just answering the damn questions, the state elections commissioner ran to the Morning Call editorial board in an obvious effort at damage control. It was beginning to appear that we had voted with machines that were never state certified.

Now, thanks the The Express Times, we know that is so. VanSickle has finally answered the county elections panel, and guess what? The machines used in November's election were never certified by the state. For all the state cares, we could have been voting on copy machines. Let's face it. A state bureaucracy willing to strand pregnant women for over twenty hours on a freezing highway could care little about whether our elections are run properly.

The state elections commission couldn't even be bothered to list campaign finance reports for online viewing until well after the election, completely defeating the very reason for online access. Government has no problem posting all kinds of personal information about us on the net, but can't be bothered to let voters know who is funding a candidate until after an election, when it is too late to do any good.

Elections? We don't need no stinkin' elections!

Problems in the land of midnight payraises extend well beyond its legislators. An arrogant and unresponsive bureaucracy, on both state and local level, is increasingly becoming the norm. Our Lehigh Valley delegation to the state house and senate should be all over this. Why, for example, is PennDot Secretary Biehler still on the public payroll? Why is VanSickle still at the public trough after permitting an election to occur with uncertified voting machines? What gives him the right to ignore calls from a county executive? Why can't he get expense reports online until after an election is over?

Attitudes like these are what make Katrinas possible. New Orleans is not the exception.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Lehigh Valley: Home of Taxpayer Heroes

Thanks to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, we know our Lehigh Valley delegation to the state house has two true taxpayer heroes. State reps. Julie Harhart and Doug Reichley spent $406,000 of your money for "public service" ads in 2005 and 2006. That's more than anyone else, bippy. These ads have been criticized as little more than another way to increase name recognition at taxpayer expense. But guess what? Both Harhart and Reichley were easily re-elected in 2006. Advertising pays!
Update: A reference to the Trib story did appear Friday in John Micek's Capitol Ideas. But I never knew two of our very own locals led the pack! To put this in some perspective, consider this from Bernie Kieklak, chief of staff to state senator Lisa Boscola.
Sen. Boscola (and every single member of the State Senate) is ONLY allowed to spend $4,800 per year on public service announcements (PSAs). So, if EVERY single one of the 50 State Senators spent the MAXIMUM amount on PSAs, all 50 of them would still spend less than ONE State Rep. (Reichley) did over the course of a year!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Online Living Memorial to Iraq Veterans Unveiled

On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, Brave New Foundation has unveiled the first-ever online living memorial for Iraq vets. It contains 60-second video testimonies from friends, co-workers, and the military colleagues of those killed. Robert Greenwald, the filmmaker who conceived this project, says "No matter what you think about the war, the memorial is a place to honor the brave men and women who have been killed in Iraq serving our nation."

The Iraq Veterans Memorial will be shared across the world via the internet and added to over time, with those wanting to contribute having the ability to upload testimonials to YouTube. For the past two months, Brave New Foundation has been working with numerous Iraq veterans groups to create the memorial.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Lehigh Valley AntiWar Advocates Will Mobilize This Sunday:

Dan Agshen at The Lehigh Valley Peace Coalition has asked me to spread the word.

"The fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq -- Monday, March 19 -- is fast approaching, and an end to this quagmire seems nowhere in sight. With President Bush continuing to insist on escalating the conflict and Congress dragging its feet on finding a real solution, there is still a great deal of work to do to bring our troops home."

COMMUNITY PEACE VIGILS at 18 locations across the Lehigh Valley. Sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Peace Coalition.

SUNDAY, MARCH 18 2:00 - 3:00 pm

Four Years After the Start of the War in Iraq
Out of Iraq Now!


ALLENTOWN, Cedar Crest & Tilghman, Judy Woodruff 610-437-5314

ALLENTOWN, The Armory, 15th & Allen, Curt Day 610-865-9838

ALLENTOWN, Emmaus Ave.& 4th St., Michelle Mecham 610-351-6815

BANGOR, S. 4th & Market Sts., Anna Maria Caldara 610-599-9985

BETHLEHEM, L.V. Friends Meeting, Rt. 512, 1/2 mile north of Rt. 22, Donna Hartmann 610-865-5204

BETHLEHEM, 3rd & Wyandotte Sts., Guy Gray 610-865-9050

BETHLEHEM, Main & Broad Sts., Mimi Lang 610-866-2407

BETHLEHEM, Unitarian Church, Center & Wall Sts., Crafford Harris 610-253-2306

BETHLEHEM, 8th Ave. & Broad St., Jim Walton 610-868-6878

EASTON, 3rd St. & Larry Holmes Drive, Reggie Regrut 908-859-5632

EMMAUS, Main & Keystone Sts., The Emmaus Public Library, Karen Poshefko 610-965-5086

HELLERTOWN, at the fountain, Main St., Melissa Moser 215-307-7861

JIM THORPE, outside Carbon County Courthouse, Jill Robbins 610-509-2544

NAZARETH, Center Square, Rev. John Clint Fowler 610-746-5013

NEW TRIPOLI, Decatur St., the post office, Peter Crabb 610-298-8289

PENNSBURG, at Rts. 29 & 663, Joyce Moore 610-966-6127

PHILLIPSBURG, Main St. & Free Bridge, Emil Brisson 908-454-9455

Funny thing. A lot of local pols, including a few congressional wannabes, are stepping over dead bodies in Iraq to further their political careers. Where are their names? Do they really care? This is my problem with both major parties. The only time they want to be heard about Iraq is when they're looking for a few votes. The rest of the time, they cower from "national" issues like this. And the local body count grows.

"Madness? This is Northampton County!"

Before last night's meeting of Northampton County council, I bumped into Express Times reporter extraordinaire Sarah Cassi. I blocked her way into council chambers, regaling her with tales from my blog.

"Did you know my blog is worth $10,518?"

After she escaped, I latched onto county exec John Stoffa. I always dazzle him with my intellectual superiority. Lsat night, it was the details from 300. I saw that five times last weekend with groups of teenage boys who share my love for classic Greek history.

"Those Persian arrows will blot out the sun tonight, John."

"Huh?"

"Don't worry, John. We'll fight them in the shade."

"Bernie, what the hell are you talking about? It's night and it's raining."

Stoffa would probably have talked with me all night, but the meeting was starting and deputies were coaxing me away. I found my usual seat in the peanut gallery, and furiously began taking notes of the entire meeting. Citizen journalism! How many members of the public were there? 23. Impressive, huh? I've got loads of stuff like that.

I scribbled six full sheets of paper, covering every detail. I've got Council Prez Grube'e groans about council's decision to transfer Veterans Affairs to Human Services. "At the rate we're going, in another two years we'll be a replica of Lehigh County." And they all moaned over a simple resolution to study the possibility of a bi-county health department. "At the rate we're going, in another two years we'll be a replica of Lehigh County."

Council also approved four union contracts for the judges' slaves. After that, Councilman Lamont McClure wanted to go into secret session to consult the oracle about the residual unit. Solicitor Lenny Zito cautioned against going to the back room. "At the rate you're going, in another two years you'll be a replica of Lehigh County."

Council finally agreed to spend $1.5 million to buy Gus Milides' vacant law office, across the street from the courthouse, for our new archives. Councilman Ron Angle was vehemently opposed. He thinks land is cheaper in upstate New York. "At the rate we're going, in another two years we'll be a replica of Lehigh County."

After council had adjourned, I sat in the back with Al Jordan, our computer geek. I was impressing him with my knowledge of voting machine software when county lawyer Chris Spadoni rudely interrupted.

Spadoni squealed that HRH DePaul's dad, toupee and all, had just ripped into Ron Angle. I had missed the whole frickin' thing! Apparently, King DePaul had to be led away by an 18 foot tall deputy sheriff who would make a great Xerxes in 300 II. I have six pages of frickin' notes, and missed the biggest story of the evening!

I tried to find out what really happened by talking to Angle. That's like asking Dick Cheney to explain why we really invaded Iraq. According to Ron, the Debbie Dad approached the dais and started threatening Angle for giving his daughter a rough time. That much I believe. He apparently also told Angle he was going to kick his ass and would be waiting outside. When Angle started talking about High Noon again, I tuned him out. One thing is certain. Angle was taking no chances. He put on his Persian outfit and left the building with an escort of Immortals, all on their way to Tic Toc Diner.

Geez! Angle only attended one of the six task force meetings. I've been to all of them. And I've been much nastier. Uh oh. Time to go.

Outside, on the way to my jeep, it happened. Some old fart with a lousy looking toupee walked up to me and snarled, "Are you Bernie O'Hare?"

"No, he left. I'm Bernie Long, Joe's good-looking kid brother."

The geezer turned to leave, but then he saw an old Angle bumper sticker on my jeep. Busted! I had tried to rip that off years ago, but it's embedded like a tattoo. Damn! I better get the hell out. I turned the ignition and ... nothing. My battery needs a charge. The dude was moving towards me like one of the Immortals, but wasn't quick enough. I let the clutch out, rolled down the hill and jump-started my jeep. He ran down the hill after me, screaming, "This is madness."

As I rolled away, I shouted to the old dude, "Madness? This is Northampton County!"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Norco Voter Registration Office: Out to Lunch?

Chris Casey, the Buddha of blogging, recently commissioned four friends to do a comparison of the Lehigh and Northampton County voter registration offices. Two men and two women interacted three times with each office. I knew nothing about this survey. The grades are in, and it looks like Northampton County is going to summer school. Here's an excerpt from Chris' report.

Northampton County? The best grade awarded was an A. they got 1 A. One of our "Secret Voters" had an excellent phone experience when she called for information on where and how to register. The young woman who helped her even suggested that our secret voter, who has just moved her from New Jersey, could register to vote when she gets her PA driver's license, and save herself a trip. I know when I renew my license, they always ask the vote question, I think that's a great idea.

The above experience is the good news, because all the other grades are D or lower. 4 D's. and 7 F's. First off, they don't answer the phone at Lunchtime, between 11 AM and 1 PM, the line is busy. Visits to the facility were a nightmare. That's not really their fault, that parking is such a disaster, but thankfully, they are located in the Wolf building, and you aren't subjected to the body cavity search over in the Rotunda. Their attitude about serving voters is best described as "why are you bothering me?" Granted, they got 4 of their F's for not answering the phone, but visits to their facility on subsequent days during lunchtime literally found the staff "out to lunch".

Hey, you guys ever hear of staggering lunch breaks? I really wanted to cut these guys some slack, that's why I had others with open minds execute simple tasks to tests their services.

I had very simple guidelines, make 3 separate contacts on 3 days, 2 by phone to ask questions, and make one visit to the office to request a simple commonplace request (I.E. change parties or register at a new address)

Northampton county failed miserably. I don't know what is going on in their leadership, but if they were a store, and their service that bad, I would replace the management. I'm also sure that there are people who have dealt with the Northampton Voter registration office and had positive things to say, and the fact that one caller had such a good experience belays that.

But one of our visitors asked the staffer if she could tell him where he would be voting, and the woman huffed, told him, "I don't have time for that, you will find out when you get it in the mail." and walked away.

I have to take my survey people on their word they are being truthful, but none of them knew what the others were doing, so unless they ran into each other at the Wolf building, they didn't know. You guys decide
.
In fairness to the Northampton County voter registration office, I visited that office myself a few times. My most recent experience was a few weeks ago and at lunch. Everyone was there. Everyone was helpful. I also just called the office myself, at 11:43 AM. The phone was answered on the first ring. Sometimes, people who call the courthouse do wait an inordinate amount of time for the operator to answer. Perhaps the Casey crew was calling the main number instead of the voter registration office. I am highly critical of that office, but have no complaint with its staff. They seem like a dedicated and hard-working group to me.

Norco Judges Lack Authority to Order Citizen Searches

If you ever visit the judges' new palace in Easton, be prepared for a rude awakening. First, you'll circle the campus, searching in vain for a place to park. Eventually, you'll just run out of gas and abandon your car. Then, you'll walk all over the place, trying to figure out how the hell to get in. Although there are thousands of doors, you can only enter at the most inconvenient place, the rotunda. That's located atop a steep hill that will make you feel like you've just conquered Mount Everest. Once you step in and put out the fire in your lungs, you'll be funneled into a search center. There, deputies have the thankless task of looking through your belongings to make sure you haven't come to kill anyone.

Once I make it to the recorder's office, I hear the same tired complaints daily."They rooted through my purse!" ... "I had to spread my arms out like a criminal." Personally, I have no gripes with the deputies. They're just doing their jobs. The real villains are our paranoid judges, who illegally ordered these searches in the first place.

Illegal?

That's something I wouldn't say until today. Back in October, President Judge Freedberg just issued an edict, a court order, regulating how the building would be entered. It was thumb tacked to a few bulletin boards. No public hearing.

Our judges are terrified of the commoners. They have reserved parking with a private entrance, closed dining room and their very own judicial potties. Their "chambers" (a classy word for office) are located on a locked floor, guarded by vicious wolves. (OK, I made up the part about wolves). They're isolated and out of touch, a paranoid bunch. But I still wouldn't call Freedberg's manifesto illegal.

Until today.

That's because yesterday, our Commonwealth Court handed down its own ruling on those point of entry searches in Jefferson County. What they say trumps Freedberg. They outrank him.

Jefferson County, like Northampton County, has metal detectors, too. They're perfectly legal, and anyone screaming about an unreasonable search is wasting his breath. But a judge has no Godlike authority to determine unilaterally how people enter the government center. In Jefferson County, that power comes from an ordinance adopted by county commissioners. "[T]he County Code allows county commissioners to adopt ordinances regulating the affairs of a county. ... [T]he County Code allows county commissioners to prescribe fines and penalties for violations of a 'public safety' ordinance."

In Northampton County, this means county council. They are the body that adopts ordinances, but only after hearing from the public. They are also the residual power in the county and public access to row offices should be regulated by them. They are the only body with authority to impose penalties (in an ordinance) for persons who ignore requests to be searched.

President Judge Freedberg's October order usurps the authority that properly belongs with county council. It also denies the public the right to be heard. We peasants have rights, too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

BillyBytes Bites LVRamblings

Anyone who reads this blog regularly has stumbled, from time to time, into a BillyByte. Alabama transplant Billy Givens, a one-man wrecking crew, has murdered many a comment thread with his off topic tirades.

In a recent post about Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Billy huffed and puffed with five lengthy comments on topics extending from State Theatre Executive Director Shelley Brown to the evils of casino gambling. But it doesn't stop there. He also sends emails, sometimes five a day, with copies to nearly one hundred people.

I deleted a few of his comments yesterday and sent him a snotty email. This morning, Billy fired back in an epistle entitled, "Bernie O'Hare, Please Stay Off Your Bicycle, Even If Your Ass Is As Wide As You Are Tall." Then he unloaded on me and, for no particular reason, Easton's college hill elite.
I know you're running away from me, but you're not going to be able to hide forever.

Up here in Easton's silk-stocking neighborhood of College Hill, where I live with my blue-blooded, Brahmin neighbors like Phil Mitman, Danny Cohen, and Sandy Woodring, they have their noses stuck so far up the ass of Lafayette College that if it made an abrupt left or right turn without signaling it would break their noses.

I'm from Alabama, the home of fomer heavyweight boxing champion of the world, who used to say of his opponents in the ring: "You can get on your bicycle and run, but you can't hide."
Like Joe Lewis, Billy is a brown bomber, but those aren't punches he's slinging.

Norco Elections Task Force Meeting Cancelled

Tonight's meeting of the Northampton County citizens' elections task force has been cancelled. Director of Administration John Conklin informs me that surveys were just sent to candidates, poll workers and voters. Not enough time has elapsed for a meaningful review.

Sounds plausible, but I know the real reasons. First, the county simply can't absorb another Larry Otter bill. Second, Morning Call columnist Bill White had threatened an appearance, and task force members have fled the county.

Pay No Attention to Lehigh Valley Earthquakes - It's Just Fat Man on a Bike

Just two years ago, I rode my bike to the courthouse nearly every day. Contrary to what you may think, most drivers were nice. They'd laugh when they saw me. I loved it. It helped me stay fit. One less car.

Then it happened. One morning, I woke up with terrible pain in my shoulder blade. My cycling and running days were at an end. I couldn't even turn my head. I'm an old fart. One more car.


That was seventy pounds ago. Yesterday, I started again. I rode my bike to work. I'll only be able to do this twice a week until I get in better shape. I walked hills. People still laugh. But other cyclists don't. They're in their own little zen world, listening to their breathing or the noise of a car coming behind them. It felt good to be out. One less car.

I have a heavy duty bike with racks, fenders, headlights, reflectors and Kevlar tires. I call it my BUV. Don't need to gas it up. The only fuel I need is water. One less car.

At the courthouse, where parking is at a premium and people drive for a half hour to fight over a spot, I parked right by the rotunda and chained my bike to a railing. No bike racks. A wind-sensitive fountain at our $45 million judicial palace, but no one thought of a bike rack. I washed off in the men's room, even though it offends prudish council members like asbestos lawyer Lamont McClure. He wants me barred from changing in a frickin' men's room. It might violate his Code of Civility. I can only sit on the crapper. Hey, hairballs have rights, too! That's OK. In a few weeks, when I'm fit enough to drive every day, I'll strap a Lamont McClure sign on my back, and give every driver I see the finger. One less Lamont McClure.

After work, I took an empty LANTA bus part of the way home. Thanks to visionary people like Steve Schmitt and his Coalition for Alternative Transportation, our buses come equipped with bike racks. I rode the last few miles. I was a real sore ass, but there was one less car.

I'm baaaaack. Lance Armstrong, look out! I may never race at the Velodrome, but I'll be one less car.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Is LVRamblings a Rag Blog? Is it Ethical to Report a Rumor?

Last week and yesterday, I reported a rumor concerning Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. I never elevated the story beyond rumor status, and it was eventually denied by information officer Joe McDermott. But was it ethical for me to have reported a rumor? You wouldn't see that in a newspaper.

Two of my fellow bloggers, and I respect their opinions, think I went too far. House of Crayons from EastonUndressed had this to say. "Reporting on rumors is never a good idea. A man's character is a bit more valuable than an innuendo. As it stands now we went from questioning the Mayor's character to questioning Wiess's. You wield a mighty shotgun my friend." LVDem had a problem with my headlines. "I know the nature of a blog is editorializing, but reporting on these matters creates an obligation, especially if you are reporting first news. Continue to cover, but on breaking news items like this, tone down the headlines is my suggestion. Don't stop the reporting, but recognize that headlines have some power in the world."

They may be right.

Wait. Are those dudes calling me unethical? Hey, I went to catholic school! I majored in philosophy!

CyberJournalist has a "bloggers' code of ethics." It's based on a similar code for mainstream news reporters. But blogs and newspapers are completely different forms of media. In Blogistan, the weakness of the blogosphere is also its strength - it's an uncensored, unmediated, uncontrolled voice

It's also immediate. Unlike the print media, blogs are real time. We have a unique opportunity to get to the heart of a matter, and quickly. Thanks to the comments feature on most blogs, we get instant feedback. We can learn quickly whether a rumor has any validity. And if something we publish turns out to be wrong, we can note the error and correct it immediately.

That doesn't justify publishing every rumor we hear. It's no excuse for publishing a rumor as fact. In this case, there was an allegation that the Mayor of the Lehigh Valley's largest city was playing favorites with campaign donors. It was already out on the radio. Chances are it was circulating in other circles, too. I first tried to find out what was going on from both the mayor's office and the employee involved, and probably should have tried a bit harder. I thought it important to get to the heart of the matter, and the best and quickest way was with this blog. It worked.

Although I won't be bound by any code of ethics, I do try to follow these guidelines from Rebecca's Pocket.

1. Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true. (If your statement is speculation, say so.)

2. If material exists online, link to it when you reference it.

3. Publicly correct any misinformation. (These corrections would appear in the most current version of your blog and as an added note to the original entry.)

4. Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry. (Changing or deleting entries destroys the integrity of the network. I will correct a spelling or grammatical error anytime I discover one. And I have a fifteen minute rule for changing posts. Once it's up for fifteen minutes, it's there for the entire world to see even if I know I'm dead wrong. At that point, I have to do a correction.)

5. Disclose any conflict of interest. (This is particularly important for an anonymous blogger.)

6. Note questionable and biased sources.

I think I followed those rules when I reported the Pawlowski rumor. But let's face it. Uncensored, unmediated and uncontrolled voices end up being unread voices if they lack credibility. Although I don't think bloggers should be equated with journalists for many reasons, no one will read a reporter or blogger who is untruthful. Now excuse me while I make up my next story - Stoffa wears diapers. Really!

Lehigh Valley Ramblings Appraised at $10,518, and Worth Every Penny!

Al Kratzer at The Express Times spends his evenings "drinking coffee and surfing the Web in search of the new and unusual." That probably explains why he's launched a new blog - Lehigh Valley 2.0. No politics for him. No, siree. He instead shares "new trends" on the net with us.

Northampton County exec John Stoffa wants to do a reassessment? He doesn't have to spend zillions to hire some suits that drive goofy vans and take pictures. He can just pop on Zillow and find out what every home is worth, complete with satellite photos. Problem solved.

Or how about this! My blog, believe it or not, is worth $10,518! That's right, bippy. My blog is worth four Larry Otter bills. How do I know this? That's thanks to DomainNameScoop, another site that Lehigh Valley 2.0 describes. I asked a few folks whether they agree. "Bernie, I read your blog every night before I go to bed so I can think of you. It's priceless." That's what Joe Long said, blushing as he spoke.

Let's find out what some other local sites are worth.

My elections' panel minutes blog? $0! Hey, that's not nice.

Northampton County? A paltry $14,364, and overpriced at that.

Lehigh County? $15,660. Lehigh County always has to be better than Northampton. Ever notice that? It's sickening.

Keystone Politics? This baby is valued at $69,781. I know that seems like a lot, but it was worth $690,781 before LVDem and Chris Casey started posting there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Allentown's Pawlowski Administration Denies Favoritism to Political Contributors

I posted last week and again today concerning swirling rumors that Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is showing favoritism to property owners who make political contributions. This morning, I heard from public information officer Joe McDermott. Joe's a distinguished former Morning Call reporter who has covered both Easton and Northampton County.

He flatly denies that Mayor Pawlowski plays favorites. In a telephone conversation this morning, he also asked me to relay his message to other bloggers who have posted this topic. I appreciate Joe's prompt response, and am posting it here.

Bernie,

I'm sorry you weren't referred to me when you called the mayor's office. Next time, ask for me by name. As you note in an earlier comment, there are some things we can't comment on, such as personnel decisions, for legal reasons I'm sure you understand.

However, I want to make it clear on behalf of Mayor Pawlowski that he values integrity above all else.

He does not and will not play favorites. It doesn't matter who you are, whether you are a contributor or not, if your building is unsafe you will be cited and taken to court, if necessary, to ensure the safety of the people of Allentown. This is why the city is hiring seven new inspectors this year.

Again, I will not because of potential litigation name any specific building owner on this blog, but as for the allegations that charges were dropped in the case cited on-air by Mr. Angle, that is untrue. The case was continued and as of today is scheduled to be heard April 4 by DJ Karen Devine. I'm sure that if you ask this particular property owner -- who, yes, made a contribution to the mayor's campaign -- he will not have many pleasant things to say about the mayor right now because the codes are being enforced.

Finally, please remember that this is an election year. There will be all sorts of mud flying before November ends, and much of it will be thrown by people who have nothing better to do because they can't come up with any solid criticism. I urge you to consider the source before publicizing these allegations.

This administration is focused on integrity, on the positives, on the things that need to be done to make Allentown a city we can all be proud of.

I enjoy your blog and I enjoy many of the other local blogs. Bloggers often report what the mainstream media either ignores or cannot get to. But like any reporter, you have an obligation to find the truth before publishing. I will always respond to your calls, and if I cannot give you the answer you seek, I will do my best to tell you why I cannot.

Allentown: A City of Two Tales

Last week, I reported a rumor concerning Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. A letter read on Ron Angle's WGPA 1100 AM talk show complains that Pawlowski plans to fire Code Enforcement Officer Eric Weiss, a thirty-year city worker and executive committee member of Pennsylvania Building Officials. I've left a message for Mr. Weiss at his city office, but he has not returned my call. The Mayor's office did confirm that Pawlowski is trying to dump Weiss, but can't disclose why.

Whenever a thirty-year city or county employee is shoved aside by the top dog, it's important to know what is going on. Over the past week, I've heard two versions.

Version #1: Hizzoner gave Weiss two lists. The first included those to be prosecuted for code violations, like Americus owner Mark Mendelson. The second list, a leave alone list, is supposed to include owners who are really trying. They also just happen to be Pawlowski campaign contributors. Weiss refused to play nice.

Version #2: Evidence is mounting that Weiss accepts "favors" from some of the property owners he's supposed to be regulating.

What's really going on? When running for Mayor, the "Pawlowski plan" included a promise of "better communication" between residents and city hall. Now would be a good time for that. The Mayor must remain silent about personnel matters. I understand that. But he has an obligation to disclose whether a campaign donor or anyone else, for that matter, is getting special treatment.

This matter has also been discussed at Keystone Politics, LVCurmudgeon and LV Political Blog. It's time we hear the Mayor tell us it isn't so. I'm sending this blog to his office.