Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin, Vogue Model


Yes, she might be our next VP. No, this is not a doctored photo. She actually did pose for Vogue.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: Thank goodness for my readers. Although Sarah Palin did pose for Vogue, the picture above is apparently doctored. Here's a link to the actual pictures. My apologies.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dougherty Resigns as Allentown's Managing Director

Francis X. Dougherty, Allentown's $89,500 Managing Director, has resigned after just two years on the job. Previously, spent five years in Philly as an assistant managing director.

No one is certain whether he ever lived in the Lehigh Valley, let alone Allentown. But in 2007, Dougherty kicked $500 into King Ed's coffers, so Pawlowski asked no questions. During his brief stint, Dougherty once pressured city workers to push through all the necessary approvals for an indoor pool at some bigwig's house because it "means money from air products later."

Dougherty is obviously well acquainted with the "pay to play" game, but two years of King Ed must be enough.

Dougherty's replacement? Ken Bennington, the bobblehead who heads the city's unevenly enforced code and standards department.

The Peter Principle in action!

Friday, August 29, 2008

US Newspaper Leaving Downtown Nazareth

PhotobucketIn yet another sign of bad times for local newspapers, the US Newspaper is leaving downtown Nazareth. Northampton County's largest weekly, the US is a publication of the Express Times. Although the paper will continue to publish, it will be from Easton instead of Nazareth. The doors will closed by September 12, leaving Nazareth with yet another vacant business.

Over the past twenty years, the US has handled a lot of walk in business for Nazareth seniors and yard sales. It always contains interesting little stories about kids in Nazareth area sports programs. Whether that will still continue, when the paper is published in Easton, is questionable.

The 56 S. Main Street office has also provided a quiet haven for reporters covering Nazareth and Slate Belt beats. I often say JD Malone and Doug Brill in there, writing late at night. Will reporters have the same understanding of the Nazareth community when they have to come up from Easton?

Don Cunningham's Delegate Report

What's it Like as a Delegate? Don Cunningham Reports

Thanks to Keystone Politics and Rob Hopkins, I have an answer to that question. Don Cunningham's report will be posted as I get it posted to youtube.

Siobhan & Charlie, Sitting in a Tree, .......

It's not quite Labor Day, but as the Morning Call's Darryl Isherwood has noticed, we already need hip boots in the contentious congressional race between incumbent Charlie Dent and challenger Siobhan Bennett.

In apparent reaction to Isherwood's 'tsk 'tsk, both camps decided to be sunny in yesterday's Battle of the News Releases. The Bennett bunker issued a statement claiming she would watch last night's Democratic convention with "hundreds of Lehigh Valley voters." Must be one damn big TV. She's calling for unity.

Not to be outdone, Dent's denizens declared that the six hundred member Le-Hampton FOP has endorsed his re-election. He's committed to law enforcement. I wonder if he got a badge.

Here's the problem with positive campaigns.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

God, I hope they snap out of it.

Lehigh Parkway Bridge to Reopen Next Thursday

Next Thursday, Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham will be joined by other county and Allentown officials to open the new Klines Bridge in the Lehigh Parkway. The new span replaces a 1902 vintage through truss bridge, closed since 2000.

The new span is a pedestrian and light vehicle bridge. Plans are to turn the bridge over to the City of Allentown. It will be open to pedestrians and will be available under the City’s control for use by their parks maintenance vehicles.

The type and design of the new bridge, weathering steel truss with wood deck was chosen for its compatibility with a park setting, its low maintenance characteristics, and its cost effectiveness. The entire project came in at $280,000.

WHO: Don Cunningham, Lehigh County Executive, Lehigh County and City of Allentown Officials

WHAT: Kline’s Bridge Opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

WHEN: Thursday, September 4, at 2:00 pm

WHERE: Kline’s Bridge, Lehigh Parkway, Allentown, Pennsylvania

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Joe Biden's Northampton County Connection

Barack Obama's selection of U.S. Senator Joe Biden as running mate is very welcome news to Northampton County Controller Steve Barron. You see, Steve knows him. If you walk into Steve's office, you'll see the photographic evidence, too. Inscribed on one of these pictures, in Biden's handwriting, is this nice remark. "Thank you for all your help. You were an asset to our Senate office."

Steve worked for Biden. As a 1995 college freshman, Steve met Pennsylvania's third senator for the first time, and came away mesmerized. "Meeting him instilled a lot of values in me." One year later, Steve wrangled an internship in Biden's office. He returned in 1998 for a second stint as a college junior. In 2002, when acting as controller for the Delaware State Democratic Party, Steve worked again with Biden, raising funds for Democratic candidates.

What values did Biden instill in our county controller? As Steve tells the tale, Biden likes to say that every day, when he gets up, he puts his two feet on the ground and says, "Today, I'm going to make a difference in somebody's life." Instead of pushing himself, "He's always looking out for the little guy."

Steve also had a few interesting stories.

As Senators advance in seniority, they can advance closer and closer to the front. Elected in 1972, you'd think Biden is front and center. But he's stayed in the rear. You see, his desk was once occupied by Senator John F. Kennedy, and Biden obviously likes the ambiance.

The office that Biden maintains at the Senate Office Building is, amazingly, the former Vice Presidential suite. Dixiecrat James Eastland, a bitter foe of civil rights legislation, had a stranglehold on those chambers. But when he retired, Eastland "willed" those offices to Biden. Another Dixiecrat, Senator John Stennis, gave him the huge oval table that southern senators used to plan their filibuster strategies to extend Jim Crow. Stennis told Biden, "It’s time this table goes from the possession of a man against civil rights to a man for civil rights."

If Biden could have such an impact on bitter foes of civil rights on what is called "Confederate Row," he just might have an impact on some dubious Yankees in the Keystone state.

Are Pennsylvania's College Republicans Being Led by a Racist?

Adam LaDuca, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans, is in hot water.

Why?

LaDuca, on Facebook, called Barack Obama "a dumbass with a pair of lips so large he could float half of Cuba to the shores of Miami (and probably would.)" He then went into a bizarre series of explanations that just dug him deeper and deeper.

Pennsylvania Progressive dropped the dime.

According to an email from state chair Anthony Pugliese, "The Pennsylvania College Republicans will not allow or accept racism on the state board or from members in our organization." They're supposedly looking for a new Executive Director, and LaDuca is gone once they find one.

What's strange about this is that LaDuca opposed an "affirmative action bake sale" conducted at Kutztown University in 2006, in which white students paid more for cookies than anyone else. He even apologized, publicly, in a meeting with black students.

Bethlehem Township Zoners Kill County Work Release Proposal

Without listening to a word of testimony, Bethlehem Township's five-member Zoning Hearing Board has already dismissed Northampton County's application for a work release center. It did so unanimously after lawyers sniped at each other for about an hour in front of forty-five onlookers. Most burst into applause when the decision was announced, but it's a hollow victory. The application will simply be refiled.

If one thing is clear, it's that Bethlehem Township wants nothing to do with anything that houses prisoners. That's no surprise from a municipality that refused to contribute a dime towards homeless shelters.

If anything else is clear, it's that this dismissal was pre-ordained. Let me tell you how that happened.

Shortly before tonight's hearing, Bethlehem Township Commissioners authorized solicitor Tom Elliott to act as an objector. He sent the county a subpoena that essentially asked for the production of all documents since it was formed in 1752. Although the county responded with over 800 pages of documents, that wasn't good enough for Elliott. He also argued that, because there was no parking study or site plan attached to the application, it is void on its face.

Now the county intends to build a treatment center in Bethlehem Township, but does not own it. Who does? That would be Abe Atiyeh, dubbed the Rajah of Rezoning by Morning Call columnist Bill White. However loud-mouthed he may be on other occasions, he was strangely silent tonight. He sat quietly, munching on a bag of penny candy, while lawyers hurled terms like "equitable estoppel" and "ab initio" at each other.

Atiyeh's mouthpiece, Jim Preston, was actually pretty impressive. When Elliott complained about the inadequate response to his subpoena, Preston started ticking off some of the sixteen separate items requested. He also charged that deputy zoning officer Howard Kutzler had deliberately misled them and asked for a thirty-day continuance so he could supply the parking study and site plan.

This is when it became apparent that this result was arrived at in advance, not by the board, but its solicitor. Solicitor Larry Fox just happened to have a copy of an appellate decision concerning faulty zoning applications. That's just a little too much of a coincidence. "I'll be happy to supply a citation if you like," is what Fox told Preston.

While the board deliberated, you could see Fox was very hard at work, going from board member to board member, showing them the decision and making his points. Clearly, Fox had his marching orders.

I predicted the board would grant the continuance anyway. Northampton County Exec John Stoffa, who sat next to me in the cheap seats, said no. Stoffa was right.

Bethlehem Township won a round, but it's going to lose this war. The area proposed is zoned to permit precisely the kind of facility the county desires to build. It does have the power to regulate the types of prisoners allowed to occupy this treatment center, and should be focusing its efforts in that direction.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bennett Defends POM Salary

On Tuesday, I posted LV Congressman Charlie Dent's observations concerning Sam Bennett's salary at non-profit POM. Kathryn Seck, Bennett's Campaign Manager, has the following reaction:
It’s no surprise that Dent is trying to run from his own record. Dent takes taxpayer funded health care but votes against increasing health care funding for our veterans, and he voted with George Bush 100 percent of the time on Iraq.

Sam Bennett did not take any salary at POM for the first seven years she ran the program. Once the successful program went statewide, the board of directors established her salary. After it became clear detractors wanted to use the salary as a political football, Sam asked her board to halve her salary effective a year ago. So, in fact, her average salary there has been $13,000.

When people make up their minds in November, it will be on issues like the economy, jobs, how we take care of veterans, food and gas prices, and who will change the way Washington works. People will be looking to the candidates to see who shares their views. But when they look to Dent, they’ll just see baseless attacks and politics-as-usual.
I'm not sure how halving a $110,000 salary results in a $13,000 average, but there it is.

Stop the Presses! Dent Attends Great Allentown Fair! Has Good Time!

ALLENTOWN - The Charlie Dent for Congress campaign has confirmed that LV Congressman Charlie Dent attended the Great Allentown Fair late Monday night and had a good time, too. He even helped cut the ribbon to start the festivities.

Inside sources, who ask not to be named, claim Dent will be back, possibly with another woman - his daughter. They are reportedly considering an intervention to help Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski deal with his unfortunate addiction to funnel cakes.

“I hope everyone will join me in visiting the Great Allentown Fair and take in the wonderful agricultural traditions of our community,” said Charlie. “There are a ton of great acts and amusements. I know that my daughter is especially looking forward to the Jonas Brothers concert.”

Congressman Dent sent this release to preclude another nasty salvo from his opponent who bizarrely and falsely accused him of failing to attend Musikfest this year – after the Congressman had already attended on two separate occasions.

Oh yeah, but what about the Slate Belt's Blue Valley Farm Show?

Charlie claims he was there, too, and enjoyed himself and the Jacktown ice cream immensely.

These announcements follow his startling appearance at church on Sunday, where he made sure to stay thirty-three seconds longer than candidate Siobhan Bennett.

Racial Assault Victim Kari Holmes Calls For Justice

In late April, I told you a racially motivated assault reported by Allentonian Kari Holmes. Her mom, Dr. Karen Holmes, is pastor at Deliverance Evangelistic Church International. One month later, there was no arrest, even though police identified the attackers. Four months later, the story's the same. In fact, the victim has been asked to take a polygraph. Her statement is below.

"As you may already know, on Thursday, April 24, I was brutally assaulted by three individuals. I made a quick run to my area supermarket to buy a birthday cake and card for my brother and was on my way back home. Around the corner was a hate-filled group of individuals waiting for me. They were spewing out racial slurs and making vile gestures. They cornered me in a back lot and forced their way into my car through a faulty lock on my door. Screaming violent sexual threats and racial slurs, they drug me from my car, threatening to kill me, as they kicked and punched me repeatedly. At one point, I looked up and saw the male driver go to his car and pull out a long white pole-looking object. I began to fight the woman off who was beating me with everything I had before the man could get any closer. Eventually they all fled. Bloody and gasping for air, I climbed back into my car and somehow made it home. My mother thought I had been in an automobile accident. I could barely breathe enough to tell her what happened. The police were called immediately, dispatched an officer to my home, and we turned the page on what has now become another nightmare.

"The APD proposed that I submit to a polygraph, which is highly unheard of that a victim of a violent assault be requested to do so. Even with the audacity of the request, I intended to comply, but a lawyer intervened and suggested further counsel. The evils of prejudice, racial biases and hate manifested themselves repeatedly, and in some very unexpected paces. But our voices calling for justice can be louder and stronger. When I shared with many of you that the attackers corroborated a story saying I chased them, you forwarded letter after letter, from PA all the way to GA confirming my character, truthfulness, and integrity. These notarized letters have aided in further proving that the attackers accusations can be nothing more than a corroborated lie to defend their barbaric actions and stand in strong contrast to the APD's questioning my credibility. [Please continue to furnish these letters, as the difference is made when more people speak up]."

Bethlehem's First Labor Day Parade in Fifty Years

Democratic Talk Radio blogger Stephen Crockett reports that the United Steelworkers will sponsor a Labor Day parade, starting at 10:30 am at Main and Spring Streets in Bethlehem. According to Crockett, it will be the Christmas City's first Labor Day parade in over fifty years.

He wants to turn his '97 Ford Explorer into a "rolling billboard" for the union movement, and is asking for union stickers to plaster all over his ride. If you have a bumper sticker for Steve, you can drop it off at USW Local 2599 Hall in Bethlehem, PA (53 East Lehigh Street) or The Mailroom union print shop in Allentown, PA (1231 Airport Road).

Obama's Real Problem is Not McCain, It's Us

About a month ago, patriots were outraged when it was discovered there was no American flag emblazoned on the tail of Barack Obama's campaign plane. Gee, that's just like John McCain's campaign plane.

That manufactured scandal has died down, but a new smear is making the rounds. Yesterday, my email box included this picture. I'd let this slide, but this is one of many emails I've seen that attack Obama because he is black person with an unusual name. A lot of them come from Democrats, not McCain or his supporters. It's been so bad that the Obama camp has had to launch a web page to counter the sleaze.

The Wall Street Journal dismisses this "imagined racist America." "Do Democrats really think so little of their fellow Americans?"

The Wall Street Journal should look at my in box.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clayton Stine's Stump Dump Finally Sold

For years, Clayton Stine has stymied efforts to sell his Lower Mount Bethel farm, more accurately described as the "stump dump." Over 100 acres were strewn with tree stumps 20- to 30-feet deep. Every now and then, they'd erupt in flames.

Today, Stine's dump took a lump. The federal frumps sold this clump of land to a grump from New York, Gerald DiDomenico.

He picked up this property for under $250,000.

DiDomenico is no chump.

What's his line?

Solid waste, baby.

Everybody jump!

The Morning Call's Blogger Tuesday

I don't know if any of you have actually ever met Glenn Kranzley. He's the Morning Call's opinion pages editor. I had breakfast with him once. He's got this big beard that makes him look real serious like he's a professor or something. And if truth be told, he is a very thoughtful and gentle man. But I'll let you in on his dirty little secret.

He likes scrapple.

Since the academic world is mostly vegan, Glenn is stuck in the newspaper business, where carnivores eat politicians for breakfast.

They taste like scrapple.

Facial hair is quite the rage at this paper. Columnist Bill ("the love doctor") White sports a little goatee, probably to drive the ladies mad. Paul ("I don't need no steenkin' helmets") Carpenter, of course, is a manly handlebar moustache type These are the elites of local journalism - at the top of their game. But if you're an indie blogger like me, they are the enemy - corporate slaves, establishment press, yada, yada, yada. They may prey on pols, but only those sanctioned by their entrepreneurial sponsors.

Blogging is my passion - I love to write, am so opinionated I actually argue with myself and can only get one letter to the editor published every month no matter how many false names I use.

What's a blog? Technically, it's a web log, a diary in reverse chronological order. In the Lehigh Valley, there are over fifty. Most, like Keystone Politics or Pamela Varkony's Perspectives, are political. But there's something for everyone. Want a restaurant review? Check out Beyond Scrapple - LV Ethnic Foods. Need a laugh? Look in The Junk Drawer or Dot Penn.

In contrast to journalists, we present raw and unfiltered information. Read us at your own risk. We have no editors, and in some cases, no ethics. But Blogistan is a meritocracy. The cream rises to the top while the bad ones disappear pretty quickly.

Poof!

We polibloggers are the most dangerous, preying on everyone, including each other. We taste like scrapple, too.

Bloggers and mainstream have serious disagreements. For example, I'm appalled by the disgusting hate speech at The Morning Call Reader Forum. I was horrified by a corporate decision to lay off reporters at a paper that still turns a profit. But we're no replacement. A recent study does show an increasing number of people (59%) consider blogging a significant source of information, but most of us (87%) still readily concede the importance of professional journalists.

Instead of competing with the mainstream, we actually complement them and each other. We'll often focus on a particular topic (LV Black News Network) or a specific geographical location (News Over Coffee: Nazareth News). A newspaper, which has a larger and more diverse audience, is simply unable to do this. Another advantage is real time interactivity. I exchange comments with readers on a regular basis, something the papers are reluctant to do. If I'm wrong about something, and I often am, my readers gobble me up pretty quickly.

They say I taste like spam.

When are we at our best? For poliblogs, it's election time, baby. That's when newspapers head for the hills. Candidates are encouraged to buy ads or have supporters send letters to the editor that may or may not get published. Scant coverage really hurts poorly funded candidates. Incumbents and well-funded candidates win the day. Once the election's over, the mainstream media will emerge from their bunkers and charge us with voter apathy.

That's a crock. Bloggers always have a big jump in daily readership at election time. That's actually when readers are most hungry, and not for scrapple.

Last election cycle, things began to change. I was covering all the mudslinging in the Northampton County municipal races. Real pros like Bill White, Joe Nixon, Sarah Cassi and the editorial board at both local papers joined in the fun. I then posted Northampton County Council campaign finance reports online, something that local government only makes available in their offices. People just devoured them, noticing names and connections that I would have missed. Blogs, readers and both local papers presented a better picture of the issues and people running for office. Befuddled incumbents actually began filing 24 hour reports, something they had never done before. This improved coverage made a big difference.

Not everyone likes that. Northampton County Dem boss Joe Long had a hissy fit when John Stoffa once let me tag along to a news conference. Mayor Pawlowski's office refuses to return my calls. Maybe I should invite him to lunch and promise to tip the waitress.

But for every pol who looks down his nose at us, there's another who views us as another way to communicate with constituents. Many elected officials - Congressman Charlie Dent, Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham, Easton Mayor Sal Panto, DA John Morganelli and Commissioner Browning - routinely include us in their news releases. Panto's first post-election interview was with a blog, Easton Undressed. In fact, three local blogs - Inclusion (Mike Donovan), The Tatamy PA Blog (Chris Moren) and LV Throwdown (Julian Stolz)- are published by elected officials.

The people who've been nicest to us? Reporters. It's clearly an accident, but we somehow make the mainstream better and more responsive. That's why, nearly a year ago, Glenn Kranzley decided he wanted to link to some Lehigh Valley blogs.

In a few short weeks, Blogger Tuesday has already had an impact. Michael Molovinsky's post about deplorable conditions at Fairview Cemetary resulted in a news story and a meeting with the owner. Instead of banging his head up against a tombstone, he made a difference.

That's why most of us write - to make a difference. Blogger Tuesday gives us an opportunity to do that while spicing up the standard fare at The Morning Call.

Yes, scrapple can be spicy.
Mea culpa. I said three locally elected officials maintain blogs, but forgot Northern Lehigh Valley Logic, published by Lynn Township Supervisor David C. Najarian, Esq. I think he's suing me.

LV Congressman Charlie Dent: Trust an Issue in any Campaign

LV Congressman Charlie Dent, at a news conference today, expands on his complaint concerning Siobhan Bennett's $110,000 salary at Properties of Merit. I have forwarded his statement to the Bennett camp for reaction.

In a recent interview Siobhan Bennett falsely accused me of using my position in Congress to enrich myself. When confronted by the press about her false charge she was completely unable to substantiate her absurd claim.

Siobhan Bennett should be the last person hurling accusations regarding personal finances, given her abuse and waste of taxpayer money at Properties of Merit (POM). She’s trying to deflect attention away from her own significant problems that she created. But, it won’t work – and she knows it.

My opponent already has a record of handling taxpayer money and it is not one she should be proud of. POM is largely funded with state and other public money.

In other words, money from us – the taxpayers.

It has been well-documented that Siobhan helped set her own salary at $110,000 – an excessive amount for her job by any standard – whether measured against the salaries of other non-profit executives in our community – or more importantly, by the standards of the IRS.

In fact, State Senator Pat Browne, a CPA and Chair of the Senate Finance Committee protested against this abuse and said Bennett’s salary was excessive and in violation of IRS rules. Lehigh County Executive, Don Cunningham, a Democrat, held up all county funds for POM after learning about Bennett’s abuse of taxpayer money.

After her salary scam was uncovered in the media, Bennett said she would cut her salary in half to $55,000. But, her financial disclosures indicate that she still collected $88,000 of our money in 2007. Newsflash: That’s not half of $110,000.

Frankly, it is amazing that she’s still being paid anything at all. She should have been held to account and fired for her gross misconduct.

Ms. Bennett has dismissed this issue and wants the taxpayers to believe that everything is okay. But, it is not.

In fact, the reason I’m discussing this matter today is because of a well-publicized, similar situation that has occurred in Western Pennsylvania. As it happens another politically-connected individual set herself up as the executive director of a non-profit called the Volunteer Action Center. Like POM, this group received hundreds of thousands of state taxpayer dollars thanks to her political ties to Harrisburg politicians. Like Bennett, she also took part in setting her own six-figure salary, taking over one-third of the charity’s budget. And, only when questions were made public about her excessive compensation did she try to defuse the situation by cutting her salary by $50,000.

Sound familiar?

The only real difference is that the attorney for this woman’s non-profit demanded that the salary be reduced retroactively and the excess money be returned to the charity.

In other words, the woman in Western Pennsylvania not only had to cut her pay but also had to pay back her excessive salary.

Less than two weeks ago the woman involved, Darla LaValle, the wife of a state Senator, was indicted by the state Attorney General for other crimes relating to her actions at the non-profit.

Isn’t it interesting that Ms. LaValle is headed to court while Siobhan Bennett thinks she deserves to go to Congress?

Siobhan Bennett should pay back the money that she owes to Properties of Merit and then she should step down from her position until this matter is actually investigated.

Trust is an issue in any campaign. Public officials are expected to meet high ethical standards. I have done my best to be an honorable, trustworthy public servant and I don’t appreciate it when my opponent takes cheap, false shots at my family and our finances. For your inspection, here are my financial disclosures for this year and my opponent’s for the past two years.

And, with all the problems we’ve witnessed in Harrisburg, like Bonusgate, and in Washington, DC from both parties, can we really afford to elect someone like Siobhan Bennett?

In my view, her conduct at POM should disqualify her from holding any position of public trust.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sam Bennett Gave Me Her Phone Number

On Saturday night, I took a little trip to the Blue Valley Farm Show near Bangor. Tinkerbell, a regular reader, had entered her daughter in a baby picture contest. I decided to stuff the ballot with pennies and nickels.

Yes, it's voter fraud, but I'm a Democrat. It's what we do.

Now I only had one clean shirt left, a gigantic orange T-shirt with a big hole in the armpit. But who the hell would notice that in the slate belt? I might actually be a bit overdressed because I still have most of my teeth. I rambled on up to Angle country in my rusty Jeep and was walking all over the place in flip flops and my tattered big orange shirt.

I fit right in.

Well, I ran out of change at the baby picture display pretty quickly, so I figured I would get something to eat, and pour all my change into the selection of baby #64. I got a big, greasy cheesesteak loaded with fried onions, sauce and hot peppers. In the course of trying to eat it, I spilled about half of the sauce and onions all over my bright orange shirt.

Who the hell cares? Nobody even knows me up there. I threw the change into the slot.

Well, it wasn't quite enough change, so I decided to get a taco salad, too. As I walked away with it, some little brat banged into me, knocking those chopped tomatoes and little pieces of ground meat all over me. Now, little flies were following me as I shoved the change into the slot.

I was going to leave for home and take a shower, but saw waffles and ice cream. I had to get some of that, too. As I was putting the change into the slot, stuffing the ballot, I heard someone shout out.

"Bernie O'Hare!"

I turned around, and it was LV congressional candidate Sam Bennett. There she was with an aide, not campaigning at the Blue Valley Farm show, just like she was not campaigning at Musikfest.

I had just finished a week of pretty tough posts about her candidacy, so my first instinct was to run like hell. But that sauce, taco chunks and ice cream had slowed me down. So there I was, cornered like a big orange slob.

To make matters worse, Northampton County council member Charles Dertinger was with her, too. I slammed him at least once last week.

I was expecting a lecture or worse, but Bennett was actually very nice to me. She even told me where to get a really good Lutheran sausage sandwich. She also gave me her cell phone number and told me to call her. Her campaign finally started including me in their press releases, and she told me that was her doing. I believe her, too.

As she left to not campaign, she shook my hand, saying, "Nice seeing you." Her aide did the same thing. "Nice seeing you." Dertinger just looked at me and said, "Seeing you."

Deringer was probably a little miffed because I kept calling him "Charlie" and he prefers being called "Charles." Also, I'll bet Sam didn't give him her phone number.
I called Sam today and this is what I got.
Create free ringtones at Phonezoo

Mike Welsh: Answer to Allentown Crime is More Cops, Not Ice Hockey

Republican Mike Welsh is Jennifer Mann's official challenger for her state house seat. Mann's legislative district is located almost entirely in troubled and crime-ridden Allentown. Instead of dealing with the Queen City's serious crime problem, caused mostly by a 50% spike in center city poverty during her time in office, she's used her seat as a springboard to something - anything - else. She's already run for the state senate, state auditor and state treasurer. In her most recent attempt to flee Allentown, she ran for the state house and state treasurer, two incompatible offices, simulataneuosly.

Her solution to the center city's poverty and high crime? Ice hockey.

Yeah, that should do it.

Mann gets a free pass because she's in a heavily democratic district and is, as she likes to brag, "union made." Her dad was a union organizer. That might give her some understanding of labor issues, but she's hopelessly out of her element when it comes to Allentown's working poor - her real constituency. A Republican like Welsh seems more in tune with their problems than Mann.

On Friday, Welsh conducted a news conference designed to draw attention to Allentown's poverty and crime. I was at work, but here's the text of Mike's statement.

Good afternoon and thank you for coming. I chose this location to spotlight the need for greater policing in Allentown and to address Jennifer Mann’s failed leadership in improving the situation.

The Nineteenth St Card & Gift Shop was for many years one of the delightful small businesses in Allentown’s West End. It provided members of the community the opportunity to purchase a card or small gift for someone special and as a post office annex it served many of the postal needs of the community. Upon arrival you could expect to see a neighbor or engage in a friendly conversation with the owners. Unfortunately, this has all changed.

This shop was burglarized on two occasions in 2007. After the first burglary in April 2007, despite sustaining a significant loss the owners were able to remain open. After an additional burglary in August, things changed dramatically. The burglars not only stole merchandise but were capable of removing the postal safe and dragging it over 4 blocks unimpeded in the 19th St corridor one of the premier business districts in the city. This forced the owners to limit their hours of availability, sustain great financial loss and has made them all too fearful as no suspect or suspects are in custody. This has become all too common in Allentown. In fact, according to Pennsylvania State Police, Allentown’s solved crimes, commonly known as “clearance rates,” have
dropped from 76% in 2000 to an appalling 33% in 2007.

As a long time resident of Allentown and now Republican candidate for State Representative in the 132nd district, I believe that incidents like this are occurring with greater frequency. I have attended many neighborhood watch meetings and have heard numerous complaints of incidents of graffiti, theft and vandalism. Many of these complaints reference frustration that the police do not adequately respond or are not called due to a perception that the police are overworked, over stretched and compelled to handle more serious crime in downtown Allentown.

I must ask the question though; did it have to be this way? Many, if not most of you, are now familiar with the Allentown police pension agreement realized during the Afflerbach administration. While we could argue extensively about the settlement, I believe we would be better served to examine what we could have done differently following the event and how best to move forward. Let’s examine a recent use of state monies in the Lehigh Valley. In 2004, Jennifer Mann, along with local leaders, worked together to bring baseball to our area. In October 2004,
Governor Rendell requested an effort on their part to match an initial state grant of $12,000,000. Working together they achieved that goal, but I believe that Representative Mann should have moved to abruptly halt the initiative in 2005 and instead request emergency funding to replace the 53 officers who retired under generous pension terms. As a representative whose district encompasses nearly all of West Allentown and downtown Allentown, I believe this would have been appropriate and demonstrated her leadership in ensuring a safe Allentown but also an Allentown with a sustainable economic future based upon the assured safety of our residents. Even half of this $12,000,000 grant would have been significant in addressing the emergency need of our community.

Now Jennifer Mann is active in pursuing another sports venue,
a hockey arena in the Lehigh Valley rather than searching for ways to increase the police presence in Allentown. I was surprised to learn that, as of this date, she is not a co-sponsor of HB1189. That's a legislative initiative to bring nearly $6 million to Lehigh County for additional policing. While it is difficult to determine the exact number of officers Allentown would receive, it offers an opportunity for this district to pursue state resources to address its policing concerns and I believe that this should be the priority rather than the pursuit of another sports venue.

Perhaps the reason Jennifer Mann has not adequately addressed our district’s policing need rests in three failed efforts to achieve higher political office. An unsuccessful bid for Auditor General in 2004, an unsuccessful bid for State Senator in 2005 and this year an unsuccessful bid for State Treasurer. It is clear Jennifer Mann no longer desires to serve as our State Representative.

As the next State Representative for the 132nd district, I will work to make sure Allentown’s police department reaches 300 officers. This would represent a 30% increase. It would also more
accurately reflect the number of officer’s 2006 FBI statistics show that communities our size should possess in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic United States.

I will work with local and county leaders to make the achievement of this goal a priority. I will not place economic development initiatives ahead of personal safety. I believe that increased crime is not a perception in Allentown but a reality. I believe that many crimes go unreported and I believe that there can be no significant economic development in Allentown without first addressing this goal.

Thank you.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Democratic Convention: Pa. Delegation 25 Miles Outside of Denver

Pennsylvania Democrats may have voted for Hillary, but is that any reason to house Keystone delegates twenty-five miles outside of Denver? I understand each Pa. delegate has been given a week's supply of trail mix and mountain bikes to make it to the convention floor. I have yet to hear from my friends at Keystone Politics, the official Pa. blog.

Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham's Budget Address

The following is the actaul text of the budget address delivered by Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham to the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce.

The 2009 budget message and financial outlook address I present today is slightly different than my last two.

As you know, we are living through a changed economy, not only across our nation but here in the Lehigh Valley. We are in a recession. There is nothing else that it can be called. The seemingly unbridled growth of the previous five to eight years in the Lehigh Valley has slowed, and in the residential markets, it has ground to a halt. Along with that, the cost of living here has continued to rise. Home heating, energy, gasoline, food, milk, and most other staples of life have risen at rate that far exceeds growth in wages and the increased cost of an individual’s health care. People simply have less money.

This means two simple things to local and county governments: 1) tax revenues will be down and 2) now, it’s even more important than ever to keep tax rates stable – and not take more money from our residents and businesses.

That translates to one simple thing: we need to do more with less. Now, is not the time to let government employment grow or to increase spending on non-core functions of government. We don’t have the luxury this year to grant costly pension increases or borrow money to increase capital spending. It’s imperative that we keep our operating costs well below the rate of inflation, which is about six percent here.

The budget I present today reflects the changing economy of Lehigh County. It projects no revenue growth for next year – that means no overall increase in our real estate tax base. That is the first time in at least a decade that a Lehigh County budget has forecasted that outlook.

Understand, we budget conservatively. For the last three years, we’ve beaten our projections, saved money and created surpluses or fund balances. That work will help us next year. So, will our approach to live within our means, squeeze out unnecessary costs and keep spending in check.

Our proposed 2009 budget is 405 million – or just 1.1 % higher than this year’s budget of $400 million. Most importantly, it contains no tax increase.The tax rate will remain at 10.25 mills for the fourth straight year – and county taxpayers will get their sixth year without a tax increase.

Also, despite the changed economic times, I continue to believe we can meet our 2006 five-year financial plan forecast that predicted stable tax rates through the life of the plan. It is my belief that tax rates should be kept stable for as long as that can be done without imposing a burdensome increase when the period ends. This county can never again repeat the debacle of 2003 when it raised taxes 70 percent.

We are able to keep our spending in check and taxes stable for two reasons: 1) a very conservative and diligent management team led by Director of Administration Tom Muller and Budget Director Brian Kahler, and 2) the help and support of all the elected officers of this county’s government, its employees and its union leadership.

County government is a large and diverse operation. While I oversee many of its functions and oversee and present a consolidated budget, the government has many independently elected officials who share a commitment to fiscal responsibility in managing their operations. The Judiciary led by President Judge Bill Platt, District Attorney Jim Martin, Sheriff Ron Rossi, Clerk of Judicial Records Andrea Naugle, Coroner Scott Grim and Controller Tom Slonaker. All of their work is represented in this budget that now goes to the Board of Commissioners for review and adoption. I want to thank all of them – along with our unions, AFSCME, SEIU, UFCW and the Deputy Sheriffs Association – for their work. This budget is truly a partnership.

It is a budget that overcomes many challenges. As I said, it reflects the recession that has begun. Since we have the earliest local budget cycle, this may be the first governmental indicator of what is happening in the Lehigh Valley economy and how it will affect government revenues.

We project lost real estate tax revenues of $2.2 million and another $325,000 in losses from the drop-off in real estate deed transfers. In addition, the state’s budget cuts at least $2.6 million in support of our nursing home and our child welfare system. In total, this is lost revenue of about $5.2 million.

At the same time, a weaker stock market has made it impossible to fund pension costs with just fund growth. We need to budget $6.3 million to subsidize the pension fund next year, along with $5.4 million to cover lifelong, fully-paid health benefits that most of our retirees enjoy. Fortunately, those medical benefits were eliminated for new hires nearly 20 years ago. This county could never continue to afford that benefit.

In total, legacy costs in 2009 will be about $11.7 million next year for the roughly 1,300 county retirees. While realizing the pressure of inflation on county pensioners, it’s simply not possible to increase pension benefits under these conditions, as had been requested. That said, we will continue to fund the commitments made to our retirees who gave us their service and we will not back down from it.

Much has been said of Lehigh County’s budget reserves. Let me bring some clarity to that.

We hold $20 million in untouchable reserves. This money can’t be touched without Commissioner approval – a rainy day fund, if you will. This is a fiscally responsible practice and gives us reserves consistent with public accounting recommendations for a budget of our size. This is the county’s true reserve fund.

In addition, the last Administration and Board of Commissioners created a Tax Relief Fund in January 2006 for the sole intent of keeping taxes stabilized during periods of declined revenues. For the last three years, we haven’t used any money from that fund. Although it was projected to be depleted by 2009, none of it has been touched. Next year’s scenario changes that. We budget $5.5 million from that fund – interestingly, just about what we lost in tax revenues and state subsidies this year. And, as I said earlier, fortunately, our conservative budgeting and spending control during the last few years resulted in us not spending $7 million during those budgets. Those savings will come in handy this year. The Relief Fund and our savings will help us manage this “no revenue growth” budget.

In the end, the 2009 budget projects that Lehigh County will have $31 million in total reserves. Our fiscal house remains on solid ground. And, as I said earlier, we build our budgets with a conservative eye and we aim to, once again, beat our projections.

A government budget is much more than numbers, however. And, I’d like to take a moment to highlight my focus for Lehigh County next year.

I believe in government that focuses on the basics: excellence in all operations, investing in infrastructure and fixing what’s broken, improving public safety and quality of life.

While it’s true that we have a $405 million budget, about $245 million comes from the state and federal governments for required and designated operations, much of which is in the Human Services area, or for reimbursements, particularly for residents in our nursing homes. The other $160 million comes from local revenue streams such as real estate taxes, lease payments, licenses, and fees.

And, about 70 percent of this budget is spent on what we call Law and Order – the operations of the Courts, the District Attorney, the Coroner, our jails and juvenile detention centers and our anti-crime and anti-recidivism efforts. Nearly 70 cents of every Lehigh County tax dollar goes toward these operations and handling the result of crime.

Unfortunately, this is also a growth business. It is by far the biggest cost in our budget. So not only is it our duty to help from a moral perspective, but also from a dollars and cents perspective. That’s why for three years, we’ve been advancing projects to help our police departments and DA to try and prevent crime and not just adjudicate criminals.

Together with our DA Jim Martin, we proposed and have created a Central Booking Facility that now processes all bookings in Lehigh County, allowing police officers to get back on the street quickly instead of spending hours on paperwork.

We partnered with the DA and the Police Chief’s Association to give $1.2 million to local police departments to buy a common records management system. This will allow them to share data more quickly so we can one day realize a Crime Date Center in Lehigh County and, hopefully, the Lehigh Valley, where crime data is analyzed in real time across all police departments, creating a one-stop virtual police operation for data while each local department remains.

And, that’s why last year, I proposed making available $1 million in matching grants to local police department to hire community police officers to snuff out crime in hot spots. They are needed in Allentown and Bethlehem but they are also needed in Emmaus and other communities across Lehigh County. The “Safe Streets” program did not receive approval from the Board of Commissioners.

This 2009 budget once again proposes $1 million for police officers. We have taken a look at the commissioners’ objections and re-introduced the program in a way that I believe will allow them to support our efforts.

Community policing works, short and simple. The presence of a cadre of community police officers on bicycles and foot patrol will do more than another office building to bring people back downtown and to feel safe in all areas of our county. And, there’s no better way we can help our cities and towns than to give them the resources to put community police on the streets.

Employees are the key part of any government and one of its largest costs. We are blessed with a truly dedicate workforce in Lehigh County – and next year’s budget will provide an across the board 4% increase in wages, which is still below the rate of inflation in the Lehigh Valley. Increased employee contribution to health care has continued to help us maintain no overall growth in health care spending, which is a crucial advantage for next year’s budget.

Next year’s budget also continues no growth in our overall employment level of 2,197 employees, but it does shift positions through attrition to targeted areas. We will reduce 19 positions from vacancies and create 16 new positions, all in the area of law and order and public safety.

We are proposing 6 new deputy sheriffs, two adult probation officers and two new positions in the district attorney’s office and domestic relations, along with three grant funded positions in corrections. This continues a trend. In the last three years, we have added a total of 44 positions in public safety, while reducing slightly the county’s overall headcount.

In this area, next year’s budget also:

Creates the first phase of an advanced forensic investigations facility for Coroner Scott Grimm, moving the coroner’s operation our of crammed office space in the Old Courthouse and onto county-owned property near Cedarbrook.

Although budgeted over the last few years, it’s significant to note that 2009 will see the completion of our new, upgraded, state-of-the-art 9-11 communications and emergency management center, expected to open during the first quarter.

An expanded and upgraded men’s and women’s community correction facility will be built on the current site in Salisbury Township that will see an increased effort at training and preparation to reduce recidivism rates to our prisons

Equally important to public safety in maintaining our quality of life is the continued investment in our farmland preservation, open space and park programs. Last year’s shift of $12 million of reserve money to the Green Future Funds program will continue to pay dividends. Lehigh County now ranks as the third leading county in Pennsylvania for the number of preserved farms and in the top ten with our 18,222 preserved acres. Our Administration has directed more money to farmland preservation in the last three years than in all the previous years of the program.

This commitment includes development of a passive recreation park on the 1,100-acre Trexler Nature Preserve, scheduled to be complete by December of 2009. Next year’s budget also targets $245,000 to begin developing an 11-mile county-owned walking trail along the Lehigh River and building a boat launch at the Lehigh Gap in the process.

Next year will see us launch an agricultural incubator located at the former Seem Seed Farm that will be cost the county very little but will ensure that there will continue to be a training ground for new farmers for the Lehigh Valley.

In 2009, we will begin and complete the first $5 million phase of our energy savings projects at our nursing homes. This marks the first step in a series of projects to renovate and add new technologies to our facilities to reduce energy usage, upgraded our facilities to newer technologies for more efficient energy consumption during these difficult times of utility and energy cost increases.

With oil topping out at more than $150 per barrel, it’s clear we need to do more in the area of mass transit. Consumers are speaking with their feet or bus tickets. LANTA has seen a marked increase in riders as gas prices skyrocket. Once again, we have budgeted an increased operating subsidy. In addition, we have budgeted $75,000 for a feasibility study to explore the possibility of developing a passenger rail line from New Jersey into the Lehigh Valley. Therefore, mass transit will see more than $100,000 more in 2009.

Next year’s budget also continues our record breaking commitment to maintaining and replacing the worst of our 47 long-neglected bridges in Lehigh County. Well before the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota, we embarked on an aggressive bridge program. It will continue next year.
Over the next few months, we will open 2 new bridges---Lyon Valley Bridge in Lowhill Township, and Kline’s Bridge in Allentown. In fact, by the end of 2009, I am proud to say that all of the Lehigh County-owned bridges that were closed or partially closed when I took office will be fully open and fully functioning. Next year, we’ve allocated $750,000 for continued work on a number of bridges, mainly the Pine Street Bridge over the Jordan River, the Bittner’s Corner Bridge and 4th Street Bridge over the Jordan River. This adds to the more than $10 million we’ve spent fixing bridges the last three years.

While our residential growth has slowed, creating flat tax revenues much continues to happen with commercial development and quality of life/recreational growth.

Just yesterday, we hoisted the last steel beam into place on the renovation and expansion of the County Courthouse, a scaled back project to be completed in 2009, which shaved a very important $20 million in cost from the previous plan.

And, although I’d rather see them winning a little more often, the IronPigs already have become a cherished regional treasure as they play in Lehigh County-owned Coca-Cola Park. Another county-owned regional treasure, the Veledrome, got a new investment this year when we resurfaced the track at our world class bicycle racing facility. We are hopefully that we can lure the United States bicycling hall of fame to be built right next door on county land.

And, despite the disheartening announcement last week of the loss of the Mack Trucks corporate office, this year has been a growth year in the private sector that continues to bring jobs and new business. International Battery chose Lehigh County for a $20 million manufacturing facility as did Boston Beer, creating its largest brewery for the production of Samuel Adams, bringing life back to a dormant facility.

B. Braun Medical decided to expand its medical equipment manufacturing right here as did Nestle Water with the expansion of its bottling facility. And, Amgen pharmaceutical chose us for an advanced climate–controlled storage facility bringing nearly 50 jobs and another major corporation to Lehigh County.

Right now, Lutron is in construction on an expansion of its regional headquarters -- a $60 million dollar project that will create five hundred jobs. And, as you know, just recently Olympus America chose us for its new national headquarters, an $84 million dollar project that brought 750 jobs to the Lehigh Valley.

And, the silver lining in the Mack Trucks announcement is that the Macungie plant will see an expanding workforce and be the only Mack assembly plant in North America.

So, while we may go through some rough times as the residential economy slows and we see the results of lost tax revenues, Lehigh County remains a vibrant place for new business and a great place to live. I’m optimistic that we will continue to weather this national recession better than most places in Pennsylvania and America – and we will see improvements again in growth projections. In the meantime, we will continue our focus on keeping our community safe, our quality of life preserved, working to create new jobs and keeping our budgets balanced and our tax base stable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lehigh County Exec Cunningham: No Tax Increase Next Year

Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham unveiled next year's budget today. It will be tax increase free while promoting public safety inititatives. He makes a complicated job look easy. Of course, he has a dedicated board of commissioners, too. At a glance, here are a few Lehigh County initiatives.

* Re-introduction of the “Safe Streets” community policing program to help municipalities combat crime by hiring community police officers.

* Adding positions to meet the growing needs of the District Attorney and Sheriff. This brings the Cunningham Administration’s total to 44 new public safety positions over its three years in office.

* Funding the purchase of records management software for police departments to allow every department in Lehigh County and many beyond to share real-time crime information.

* Additional funding for a Crime Data Center to help share crime tracking and analysis information across municipal lines.Completion of a new 9-1-1 communication center and the first phase of a forensic investigation facility for the coroner that will allow more advanced investigations.

* Additional funding for mass transit, including $75,000 for a feasibility study to explore the possibility of extending rail lines from New Jersey into the Lehigh Valley.

Northampton County Council Visited by Roman Deity

Before I get into last night's group therapy session at Northampton County Council, I have to mention my own harrowing experience. Last night, when I sat in the peanut gallery, there was a very distinguished-looking and well-dressed older gentleman sitting next to me. In fact, I saw him at Wednesday's Finance Committee, too. I thought he must be one of those highly paid consultants who fly in from all over the place, look smart and make outrageous promises. He might even be a Big Oil rep or a Lehigh Valley Partnership spy. He had that look.

But I was mistaken. I was actually sitting next to a Roman deity.

When I noticed the county employee name tag, I dropped my pen and bent over to take a closer look. Emblazoned on the tag is "Janus."

Holy canoli!

He's the divine being I just snarked for getting hired here after being fired at Beaver Falls. I decided to introduce myself. Maybe I could get an autograph.

"Hey, Mr. Janus, how are you? Perhaps you've heard of me. I'm the second most popular blogger in Nazareth, A.J. Cordi."

- "I know who you are, Bernie."

"I see, perhaps you read my blog about you today."

- "Oh, I read it alright."

"How do you like that bit about Janus being the god of beginnings? Pretty good, huh?"

- "I'll tell you what. Janus is the god of endings, too, blogger boy."

Janus is actually a very nice god, and told me Beaver Falls dumped him when the composition of city council changed. Politics. Even the gods have trouble with that. I sat with this immortal all through the meeting. He cringed when council member Ron Angle called colleague Charles Dertinger a "blithering idiot" and winced when Dertinger threw his usual twenty minute hissy fit. Those two just think they're gods.

Welcome to Northampton County, Janus! Do you think Jupiter could spare a few thunderbolts?

Norco Council VP Grube: "Can't We All Just Get Along?"

If there is one office that really detests Northampton County exec John Stoffa, it is the Sheriff's Department. He stopped the previous practice of allowing deputies to drive county cruisers home every night. Their union contract ended up in arbitration.

Last night, the arbitrators' award was approved unanimously by Northampton County Council. VP Wayne Grube, who is well aware of the hard feelings on both sides, had this to say.

"I sure hope that we throw aside our differences. . . . I hope we can get together and work for the goodness of Northampton County. As far as the Sheriff's Department is concerned, the Sheriff's Department is very important to Northampton County. I hope that we pass this tonight, go forward, so that the administration, sheriff's department and sheriff's deputies are now working as one."

Stoffa Expelled From Higher Education by Norco Council

At last night's group therapy session of Northampton County Council, Exec John Stoffa was up for re-appointment to the Higher Education Authority. Personnel chair John Cusick explained that, as a matter of principle, he was against re-appointment.

"I don't believe that an elected official should serve on county authorities. That was the basis for my no vote. The other two members of the personnel committee expressed similar concerns. So I guess if you bang your head up against the wall long enough, cracks start."

- "In your head or the wall?" asked fellow council member Lamont McClure.

I think it's Cusick's head. As Council prez Ann McHale explained, "Anytime there's taxpayer dollars involved, we should have representation, whether it's us or from the executive branch." That's the only way to prevent a shadow government from subverting the will of the electorate. Even Angle agrees with her. Packing a board with unelected officials who control any kind of money is a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, McHale made her argument after the vote had already been taken. By a five to four vote, Stoffa was expelled from Higher Education. I suspect two of those NO votes (McClure and Dertinger) were intended as just another jab at Stoffa.

After the meeting, i asked him how he felt about the obvious slight. He looked at me, smiled, and said, "Crushing defeat."

Chalk one up for shadow government.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Community Policing Deal Struck in Lehigh County

Last April, Lehigh County Commissioners were reluctant to go along with Executive Don Cunningham's $1 million, three year, community policing program. The program was funded, but only with $1.

When Lehigh County's budget for next year is revealed, you'll see that the $1 million program has been reinstated.

Cunningham now has something he did not have before - five votes.

Congressman Charlie Dent's Energy Policy in One Word - Diversification

In his controversial "Energy Update" congressional mailing, LV Congressman Charlie Dent spells out his energy policy very clearly. He advocates oil and gas exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf as well as ANWR. He supports alternative and renewable energy sources to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions as well as our dependence on foreign oil. He also supports conservation measures like increased CAFE standards. His approach can be summed up in one word - diversification.

LVRamblings: The big one is your energy policy. I know your policy is spelled out pretty well in your op-ed, your web page and that mailer. But this young lady wrote a question. You talk about researching new technologies that will spur the development of renewable and alternative energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. How to expect to implement your own plan when you voted against ending oil company subsidies to invest in renewable energy incentives . . .

Congressman Dent: "What Siobhan Bennett refers to is this - she doesn't want to treat oil and gas companies as manufacturers. They are treated as manufacturers under the law and they are manufacturers. They get the same deduction that every other manufacturer gets.

"I think it would be unwise to raise taxes on American energy production. What I think we should do is take the federal royalty revenues that we will collect off of Alaska and the Outer Coastal Shelf, and invest those into eighteen different alternative renewable areas.

"So I absolutely do support alternative renewable research."

LVRamblings: I think your view is the Paris Hilton view . . . She's running for President, you know?

Congressman Dent: "Just yesterday, you know, I was at a demonstration of some of this renewable research - hydrogen infrastructure for shuttle buses . . . plug-in hybrids.

"I support extending these credits in a number of areas for appliances, for hybrids. I also want to put money into the plug-in hybrid technology."

LVRamblings: How about the CAFE standards?

Congressman Dent: "I voted to increase the CAFE standards. You have to deal with this on the demand side and the supply side and I've always said that I like wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, clean coal. I like it all but not one of those sources, by themselves, will be the solution. We need diversification."

LVRamblings: You know that's exactly what Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil has been saying? There is no silver bullet.

Congressman Dent: "There is none. There is none. Siobhan Bennett keeps saying, falsely, that I oppose alternative renewables, which couldn't be further from the truth. But as I said before, if Siobhan Bennett and the truth ever came into contact, it would be a mighty collision. This is another area where she has collided with the truth.

"One subtitle of the Energy Act that I supported contains all kinds of tax incentives, tax credits - I cosponsored this Bill - tax credits for new, plug-in hybrid vehicles, extends the credit for alternative fuel vehicles, tax credits for costs associated with installing alternative fueling through the end of 2014. It provides a $500 million prize for U.S. automobile manufacturers to produce and sell 50,000 economically feasible, super fuel efficient vehicles that reach 100 mpg. So, we're trying to create prizes, too.

"Plug-in hybrids, we're leading that here in the Lehigh Valley. We have a lithium ion battery sitting over here at International battery - I've been in there. They've designed a battery that can take a charge for 250 miles."

LVRamblings: I didn't know that.

Congressman Dent: "Yeah. It's over at Snowdrift Road in the Industrial Park. They have sixty people, they'll be up to a few hundred soon. They're out of New Jersey, they're manufacturing here, and I've been through the plant. I'm trying to get them engaged with the Department of Energy about some issues that I think they should hear.

"There's also incentives for businesses and homeowners to improve their efficiency, credits for energy-efficient appliances. I voted for these in the past.

"They always refer to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Barack Obama and I voted for it, John McCain voted against it.

"I remember I had a guy who called me and said, 'Vote against that bill! Vote against that bill! It's bad. It's bad' Right after the bill passed, he was the first guy to call and say, 'Now how do I take advantage of that tax credit?'

[Laughter].

"We disagree with Siobhan Bennett on how we fund alternative renewables."

LVRamblings: She doesn't believe in drilling, correct?

Congressman Dent: "Siobhan Bennett has limited our options on energy. She does not believe in exploration in areas where there are actually resources, whether it's on the outer coastal shelf or 2,000 acres of the Arctic coastal plain. 2,000 acres! Then they go out horizontally - a term called fracking. Not fragging, fracking. She's opposed to that. She's opposed to oil and gas exploration, even though her grandfather was in the oil business. And she is opposed to coal technologies. I never hear her talk about coal. She opposes nuclear energy. Well, she is limiting our options. What she will do is make us more dependent on unstable parts of the world for our energy needs. In the process, we will be exporting environmental challenges. She is opposed to American energy companies and she is opposed to American energy jobs. These are jobs.

"Many of these jobs in the production sector for gas, oil and coal, are high paying jobs. Many are in organized labor. Others are not. These are good jobs that people want.

"I am not going to outsource our energy industry to state run companies like ARAMCO, the Iranian company, the Venezuelan company. I don't know why she wants to incent them to do work and punish American workers and American businesses."

LVRamblings: One person wants to know if you would visit ANWR.

Congressman Dent: "I tried once, but I couldn't get there because it conflicted with an Iraq visit. I tried."

LVRamblings: Every government agency of relevance states that drilling offshore will not produce significant drops in gas prices. They also say it will take several years to produce anything usable anyway. In light of this, do you support any of the Democratic ideas as well as drilling? I think you've said you do.

Congressman Dent: "You know, I voted for the Conservation Bill, the Energy Bill that passed at the end of 2007. It imposed the CAFE standards and also some alternative fuels. It also incented the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs and all kinds of efficiencies."

LVRamblings: It's the F.D.R. approach - whatever works.

Congressman Dent: "Look, Republicans are accused of being completely focused on supply and production. Democrats are accused of being solely focused on demand and conservation. The truth is, we have to do both. And I voted to do both. All these things we are talking about are part of the solution. There is not a single solution. There is none. Diversifying our portfolio is critical. America's energy portfolio is critical.

"You talk about the Outer Coastal Shelf. Look, if we increase production in this country, in all likelihood it will put a downward pressure on price because you're increasing supply. Now, that said, I completely understand that if we increase our output here, and OPEC reduces theirs, there may not be a price change because oil is a globally traded commodity."

LVRamblings: Correct.

Congressman Dent: "But that is not a reason for us not to do anything or not to drill. That's wrong. We are trying to make ourselves more self-sufficient, not more dependent on OPEC. My opponent, Siobhan Bennett, wants us to be more dependent on OPEC for our oil. We have to live in the here and now, so we have to deal with oil and natural gas.

"Now I believe that if you drill and get natural gas, we can affect the price of natural gas. The price of natural gas is set on a regional basis, not a global basis.

"We pay, in the United States, some of the highest prices for natural gas in the world, among the developed nations. A lot of other countries go off shore for natural gas. The Scandanavian countries, the British, they do this. They drill off shore. They don't have these prohibitions like we do. Canadians don't. We pay more than they do. That price is set regionally.

"You see Boone Pickens out there talking about compressed natural gas for cars, but you have to go get the gas - the natural gas. We can affect prices of natural gas, which is a big issue not just for American consumers, but for American manufacturers. I agree with Boone Pickens on this point, I think we use too much natural gas to generate electricity. He thinks we can replace it with wind."

LVRamblings: Do you like nuclear?

Congressman Dent: "I like wind and nuclear, and I like clean coal. They're all part of the solution."

LVRamblings: Would you support building a nuclear power plant in the 15th Congressional District?

Congressman Dent: "The truth is that we have a nuclear power plant at the gates of the 15th Congressional District, and that is the Limerick plant. It's literally across the street from Lower Pottsgrove Township, which is the extreme southwestern portion of this congressional district. That does service some of my constituents and is owned by Exelon and PECO.

"The only nuclear application I'm aware of that would service this area would be one that PPL was considering . . ."

LVRamblings: Berwick?

Congressman Dent: "Yeah, and if you were to site another reactor, it would be sited there. That's where it would be. Not in downtown Allentown, not at 6th & Hamilton. You have to site these where - you need transmission lines, too. There probably aren't a whole lot of sites that would be available.

"If John McCain has his way, he's talking about 45 nuclear plants. That would be less than one per state if you think about it that way. It's still twenty-four less than the French. The point is, you would in all likelihood expand nuclear energy capacity where you currently have other nuclear plants. In this case, around Berwick, we have a lot of land and transmission capacity. That's where you would end up expanding a nuclear facility. It makes sense. i suspect a lot of people out there would want it too, because it's worthwhile up there. That would service the needs of the 15th District. We don't need to site a nuclear plant in Lehigh or Northampton County.

Northampton County Exec Stoffa Proposes Moving All Admin Offices to Gracedale

During a lengthy finance committee hearing yesterday, Northampton County council members were supposed to hear details of a $30 million bond for a new parking deck, among other things. But county exec John Stoffa, at the last minute, pulled that item. He told council members there's a more pressing problem - the prison.

Northampton County's prison, built in 1871, has "outlived its usefulness," according to consultants from Highland Associates. It's a "problem waiting to happen." Six unpleasant and expensive options were presented for bigger prisoner warehouse, one that can pack in around 1,488 inmates. The county could simply abandon the site and start out fresh somewhere else. $130 to 136 million. Cha ching! It could rip down the old prison and build a seven story monstrosity that Eastonians are sure to love. $128 to $132 million. Cha ching. And, of course, it could split operations up and still spend gobs of money.

As consultants laid out the proposals, exasperated Finance Chair Ron Angle questioned where we could build a new prison or even have a split operation. "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

To make matter worse, John Stoffa informed Angle's committee that once a new judge is legislated, the brand new courthouse will be full.

Stoffa suggested that all administration offices should be concentrated at Gracedale, which is the geographical center of the county. The Bechtel and Governor Wolf buildings would be sold and the vacated government center would be left for the courts. That would leave more room for both the judges and the people they send to jail. It might even eliminate the need for a $30 million parking lot. It might even reduce the cost of a proposed prison expansion.

Whether Stoffa is right or wrong, it's clear the county is suffering from a lack of long-range planning. In 2001, when the first prison expansion was proposed, everyone knew it would be full the moment it was built. It was a $29 million band aid.

Instead of planning how to embarrass Stoffa, council members should help him plan the county's long range needs.

It's called governing. What they've been doing is called politics.

Allentown East Side Trash Transfer Station: Does This Idea Stink?

In last week's conversation with Allentown city council VP Tony Phillips, he told us that the city was approached over a year ago concerning a trash transfer station. Not long after the Phillips interview, The Morning Call broke the story, which effectively ended the Mayor's efforts to keep things hushed up.

Allentown East Side activist Dennis Pearson is wary. Here's what he says.

"The plan is not neutral if it impacts on Kimmet's Lock --- A boat ramp into the Lehigh River.

"The plan is not neutral if it impacts on Coca Cola Park.

"The plan is not neutral if it creates an odor.

"Being a leader of a neighborhood which admittedly has not met much this year, I think the Mayor should not take it for granted that we have lost heart to fight the big fight.

"Trust me Mayor, we will fight hard to undo decisions that potentially impact negatively on the East Side ...

"Also I find it interesting that the Developer of the Hanover Acres Reconstruction, now known as Overlook Terrace, seeks to use leftover Lehigh County money from a State Grant to rehabilitate 20 homes on the East Side for residents who have mental problems and who suffer drug abuse. You make the call. Is this another type of dumping on us? In addition, the County is debating whether to add more money to its reconstruction of the Linden Street Bridge. If they don't, the East Side will be continued to be inconvenienced with detours.

"Our neighborhood will need to meet about all these issues ... If we were considered lately to be sleeping ... We're now awake ..."
Photo credit - Dennis Pearson

Fired Beaver Falls City Manager Hired by Northampton County

According to The Express Times and Morning Call, Northampton County has hired Bethlehem resident Richard Janus to act as its "economic development administrator." He apparently was the unanimous choice of unnamed local business leaders, and will be paid a salary of $47,270.

That's about $10,000 less than Janus was making as Beaver Falls city manager. Unhappy with his performance, city leaders asked him to resign in December, offering him three months' salary as a severance package. Janus accepted the deal, then promptly filed for unemployment.

In Roman mythology, Janus is the two-faced god of new beginnings.

For Northampton County's sake, I hope this is a new beginning for Richard Janus.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Congressman Dent Favors "Responsible Drawdown" in Iraq

LVRamblings: How do you see America responsibly handling the War in Iraq and America's growing debt at the same time? What condition are we going to leave the country in for our children? This question is posed by one of your supporters.

Congressman Dent: "It's a reasonable question. As we all know, the war began before I arrived in Congress. I was briefed recently in the situation room on the Status of Forces Agreement. The Status of Forces Agreement is something that I urged well over a year ago. There are over 70 Status of Forces Agreements around the world. We have them in Germany, Korea, Iceland. They state the terms and conditions under which our troops maintain a presence. We have one in the Philippines. They don't want us to be there so we're gone. The same thing is happening in Iraq. We are very close to initialling a Status of Forces Agreement.

"I believe you will see a significant drawdown of our troops, based on conditions on the ground, and that is a good thing. The Iraqi government has talked about time horizons and that is being discussed as part of a Status of Forces Agreement that will be flexible. The good thing about that is that the Iraqi government now feels that they have enough control of the security situation and political situation to basically encourage a lessening of our combatant presence. That is a good thing. That is a very good thing.

"Remember, if the state of Iraq fails, the people who are negotiating this Agreement will be the first ones who will be lined up against a wall and shot. And they know that.

"The problem with Congress on Iraq is we've always talked about congressionally legislated timelines. If we had adopted the timelines that Siobhan Bennett had advocated, she would have in effect have legislated defeat."

LVRamblings: And possibly genocide?

Congressman Dent: "And possibly genocide and unspeakable atrocities. Had we done what we wanted to do, we would be having a very different conversation today about a Status of Forces agreement and a time horizon agreed to by both governments. This is being driven by the Iraqis and that's a good thing. it means the security situation has improved as has the political situation. That is encouraging.

"The problem in Congress is that the debate has always been very narrow. We've been debating very narrow aspects. Pro-surge or anti-surge. Timelines. Mandatory rest periods. By the way, if we had done what Bennett wanted to do on the rest period, she would have in effect extended the deployment of troops currently serving in Iraq and treated people serving in Iraq differently than people serving in Afghanistan. That's what she wanted to do. She would have extended their deployments because if you couldn't move people in, you wouldn't be able to move people out. She would have extended them."

LVRamblings: You mean, my daughter would have stayed there a little longer?

Congressman Dent: "Yes, that is correct. If we had done it the way Bennett wanted to do it, your daughter would be staying there longer. She would have had a much longer deployment than she would have liked.

"The goal is to go to one year rest for one year deployment, but the way she proposed it . . .

LVRamblings: It would have been inequitable . . .

Congressman Dent: "It would have been inequitable and it would have extended deployment of our men and women serving in Iraq. It would have been a fiasco.

"By the way, I was one of the guys - there were a handful of us on both sides of the aisle - who always, when these Iraq votes came up, said we have this bi-partisan document, the Iraq Study Group. We wanted to present it as a comprehensive policy. The truth is, the Bush administration wasn't thrilled about it, Speaker Pelosi didn't like it, Speaker Pelosi refused to allow it to be considered. I went to the Rules Committee on two separate occasions, trying to present this to the whole House for a vote. They said No. I think that was in February of 2007. I went back again three months later - I think it was in the summer of 2007 - and they told me I should have brought it up months ago. I said, well I did, but you said no then. Remember? They said No."

LVRamblings: I think I remember blogging about that . . .

Congressman Dent: "But that';s the way i tried to work. Sestak was there . . ."

LVRamblings: Sestak is a Democratic Congressman . . .

Congressman Dent: "He was there. He sat in the Rules meeting with me . . ."

LVRamblings: He is the first one to announce candidly that "immediate withdrawal" means 18 to 24 months . . . that there's no way you can withdraw troops any quicker without exposing them to danger . . .

Congressman Dent: "And Joe Sestak, who served in the Clinton administration, said it took six months to move 10,000 people out of Somalia. You can't move 160,000 people out of Iraq in six months. It's just impossible."

"That's the problem with Siobhan Bennett's timelines. They would have legislated defeat, would have led to enormous safety problems for our troops, many of whom would have died in that kind of ignominious retreat. That's really what she would have prescribed. I think that's the reality.

"I've always voted to fund our troops. I believe Senator McCain always has, and Senator Obama has on most occasions. There's one occasion when he did not. But Siobham does not support funding our troops. She has been in opposition to any funds going to our troops, who are in harm's way.

"All she ever wanted to do is establish operational controls on our troops. I've been to Afghanistan, I've been to Iraq. What really disturbs me about Bennett's position is what I see with NATO allies who impose very strict operational controls on their troops. I've seen this. That puts very heavy pressure on other NATO forces, especially us, to do what they are unable to do because of the controls placed on them. That's what Siobhan wants to do to our troops and commanders in Iraq - place operational controls so they cannot do what they need to do.

"It's one of the challenges and this gets back to the Russia-Georgia issue. I am very concerned about NATO. I believe in NATO, but NATO is not a club. It is a collective defense organization. If this collective defense organization fails, we'll all be the worse for it. So we have to be very careful when we talk about admitting new nations into NATO, whether it be Georgia and that obligates us to their . . ."

LVRamblings: It obligates us to defend them . . .

Congressman Dent: "That's correct. Or the Ukraine or whoever.

"We have to have a very sober conversation about what membership means. Our nation spends nearly 4% of its GDP on defense. Many of our good friends in Europe spend about 1%. So this defense obligation will fall most heavily on The United States of America. So we have to think about this. We have to consider or revisit the membership criterion of NATO. Maybe nations should be required to invest more in their own security. This is an American guarantee for their defense. At the end of the day, we are providing so much of the leadership in NATO, whether it be in Afghanistan or Europe, that this is something we have to think very hard about.

"Last night, I wrote up my feelings about Iraq. You can have this if you want."

LVRamblings: Sure, I'll load it up on my blog. (Congressman Dent's condensed views about Iraq are portrayed in the blog below).