Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pelosi: Economic Crisis Snuck Up on Little Cat's Feet


When I'm not throwing hatchets into my wall late at night, I listen to C-Span. Last night, I heard Speaker Pelosi's speech that ostensibly supports the bailout. She called the $700 billion figure "staggering" and "alarming." Of course, everything was the Republicans' fault. Yet the crisis snuck "up on us so silently, almost on little cat's feet."

Did she go to the Ron Angle School of Diplomacy? Seriously, why didn't she just throw a frickin' grenade?

Bennett Would Have Supported Bailout

Shortly before the news broke that LV Congressman Charlie Dent had voted against a $700 billion bailout, challenger Sam Bennett issued a news release supporting this legislation as "a patch, not a permanent fix." She provides four reasons.

"* This is not a blank check for the Bush Administration, the plan provides for oversight and transparency as taxpayer money is spent.

"* It contains major efforts to prevent foreclosures that threaten home values, including expanded eligibility for FHA refinancing programs and loan modification.

"* It limits excessive compensation for the executives who got us into this mess.

"* Taxpayers will be protected, with financial institutions sharing the burden for losses and ensuring that taxpayers will benefit from any future growth that companies participating in the program enjoy."


Incidentally, these are the same four principles that Barack Obama previously established as a guide.

Noting that Charlie Dent has accepted $643,000 from the financial sector in the last four years, Bennett goes on to claim that "he owes his political career to the very people who created the meltdown."

Gee, I thought it was Big Oil.

If Charlie is in the pocket of Big Finance, then why did he trash this bailout as a "Wall Street insider solution to a problem created largely by bad business decisions on Wall Street"? Why would he care that this is "a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense"? And why on earth would he give a damn about increasing FDIC limits from $100,000 to $300,000?

If anything, Dent's vote is contrary to the interests of Big Finance.

Asking both parties to "step up to the plate," Obama reminds Congressman "We cannot forget who this is for. This is for the American people. This shouldn’t be for a few insiders.”

It seems to be that Dent was thinking of the American people while Bennett is just thinking about votes in the face of a major economic crisis.

Paul Marin: Why the LV Needs Passenger Rail

True to his word, LV passenger rail advocate Paul Marin has answered some tough questions from those of us who have our suspicions about the viability of this mode of transportation. I appreciate Paul's willingness to share his views with a skeptic. His writing skills are an added bonus, but I hope he doesn't start blogging.

1) Please explain how you plan on benefiting personally as the result of passenger rail in the LV. Do you intend to run for Lehigh County Exec?

I will personally benefit from rail in the Lehigh Valley because I will save gas money. Of course, so will thousands of other people. I am not considering running for County Executive, besides I would be a terrible politician. I would make statements like "Homeownership is a Privilege, not a Right" or some other politically incorrect thing.

2) Is your wife the same Joyce Marin who was appointed CED director in Allentown?

Yes, last time I checked. She’s fantastic. Hi Honey!

3) Federal dollars only support half the cost of these projects. The challenge is finding the local funding. The State has already told Marin that there is 'no money' for this project, therefore, the Counties will have to fund the 50% share. Is anyone ready to support a local dedicated tax for passenger rail service from Easton to Phillipsburg? The Counties might consider $75,000 a small amount to throw at this effort just to keep Joyce and Paul happy, but it is the tip of the iceberg. Do you expect the counties to pay for this?

There is serious discussion at the federal level about a national infrastructure bank. Both houses of Congress have passed bills to provide grants for rail construction. Governor Rendell has personally appealed to Congress to add infrastructure to the economic stimulus package, because this will help get our economy back on track. So I think there is going to be new money coming down the pike.

Regardless of the exact federal funding used, however, there is almost always a local match required. Funding for rail is going to take a lot of discussion, research, and outreach to taxpayers to talk about their preferences. No one is going to advocate for robbing Peter to pay Paul, and no one expects the taxpayers to write a blank check! But I believe there is going to be an equitable way to fund rail infrastructure where the taxpayer gets their money's worth.

The Fed can find billions of dollars to bail out Wall Street firms. Think about it. Money for rail is small potatoes, but it benefits you a lot more directly.

4) If one really wanted to improve commuter access from the Valley to New York, wouldn't exclusive bus lanes for express services along I-78 and Expanded park and ride lots do the trick?. Luxury bus coaches could easily make the Trip in a little over an hour.

Both buses and trains have a role to play in the transportation system. There will continue to be buses in the I-78 corridor, but rail is a cost effective addition, because so much of the infrastructure is already in place. Of the ninety miles of track between Allentown and New York, 55 miles are already used by passenger trains. We are just building on the system that is already in place.

In contrast, constructing bus lanes on I-78 would be a massive highway construction project that would cause delays to commuters for years. You would have to rebuild bridges and overpasses and design special interchanges. This would be extremely expensive, if it is even possible. The federal Highway Users Trust Fund is already in a deficit. Congress had to inject $8 billion in general funds just to pay the bills on time, so more highway funding is less and less likely.

Let’s talk about capacity of buses and trains. Trains can carry more people. You would need 15 luxury coaches (or 11 regular ones) to carry the same number of people as a six car commuter train, which can carry over 600 people!

The train can be highly efficient.

Let’s also talk about what people actually want. All things being equal, most people would prefer to ride a train over a bus. But things are never equal. The bus cannot equal the comfort of the train, for one thing. And compare the typical bus station to the typical train station. Buses are a very efficient mode of transportation, but rail just plain makes sense in certain corridors, especially when most of the rail line is already in service!

You also asked about speed. As mentioned above, constructing HOV lanes would cost more than rail, would cause construction delays on the highway for years, and is not likely to happen. Without any special lanes, the bus sits in traffic with everybody else.

5) Who is really benefiting? Who is really behind this? I'd like to know whether you've been approached by any developers or any of the folks in the Lehigh Valley Partnership?

Who benefits? That is an excellent question. Who benefits from less congestion on highways? Who benefits from easy and fast access to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Wilmington, Reading, Harrisburg, New Haven, Hershey, etc.?

Who benefits from saving gas money to get to medical appointments, college courses, work, shopping, major airports, entertainment, etc?

Who benefits from revitalizing downtowns?

Who benefits from giving people access to jobs?

Who benefits from encouraging companies to locate in the Lehigh Valley because of easier business travel?

Who benefits when college graduates decide to stay here because they feel they are connected to the whole northeast?

I think everyone benefits from a better transportation system. It benefits the
local economy, creates jobs, and it reduces our dependence on driving and oil. The rail system will give people options for how to make their trips — more and better choices than they have today. We all win.

When I give my rail presentation to people, 99 out of 100 are enthusiastic supporters. This isn’t coming from the top down — it’s from the bottom up.

6) We're all willing to pay taxes to benefit education or to fund health care. But why should a senior citizen on a fixed income pay a dime so that a commuter can go to NYC more quickly? Isn't that a bit unfair to those of us who do not receive the wages paid in NYC and Jersey?

Seniors ride trains just like everybody else — maybe even more. They travel to medical appointments. They visit family. They go shopping. They go to shows. They do all the same things that everyone else does — and they get a senior discount! Does your senior citizen like driving everywhere? Can they drive? Do they feel safe on the road? Do they have a disability? Can they afford gas? This is about making public transportation work for everyone — especially those who need it the most.

The senior on a fixed income also benefits from the economic impacts of the rail system. Commuters pay into Social Security. They pay property taxes in the Lehigh Valley. They pay sales taxes. In essence, commuters are "importing" money from the metropolitan economy and spending and investing it in the Lehigh Valley. Those imported dollars circulate through the local economy, as they are dropped into stores, banks, teacher's salaries, etc.

The dollar that passes through my hands has been through many hands before me. So anyone should be excited to bring more dollars into the region to circulate through our economy.

This is not just about commuters — it is about transportation for everyone, and it is about making the Valley a better place to live and do business. Imagine — you could travel by train for meetings throughout the northeast and be home by dinner. That kind of access is a powerful thing for selling the valley as a good place to do business. More businesses equals a better economy. A better economy means benefits for everyone, including seniors.

7) We already know that it won't solve congestion, but won't it exacerbate it? With a train to NYC, we will bringing in more commuters to the Lehigh Valley. These people will sprawl into the suburbs as they did in the last housing rush. How the hell does that help the rest of us?

Unfortunately, highways contribute to sprawl. When you build a highway but you don't protect the agricultural land, you have to expect the land along the highway to get built up. That is just capitalism at work. The highway provides access, and shopping centers and subdivisions are worth more to the land owner than a field of corn.

But trains are different than highways — they can reduce sprawl. We will, of course, build park and rides, but we will also build stations downtown. In downtowns we can expect landowners to build new housing and to rehabilitate older buildings, because this has happened in other places. As new downtown residents move in, they will then create demand for restaurants and stores that revitalize the business district. The revitalized business district will attract other new businesses. It is a virtuous circle where investment begets investment, leading to local economic growth.

In other words, trains draw people in, they don't spread them out.

Fuel prices ain't what they used to be. And they will get higher in the future, because we import 70% of our oil. We will need to “drill, baby, drill” just to stay in the same place. The era of long distance driving is waning. Americans drove 5% fewer miles in June versus a year ago. If that trend continues, don't expect a lot of demand for subdivisions far away from everything. Expect more people to want to live where they can walk, bike, or take transit to get where they need to go.

8) Why are you making no effort to change zoning laws? Without that, people are going to ruin what little open space is left in the Lehigh Valley?

We should change zoning laws. We need to make it easy to build around the train station! We need to allow for mixed uses, so people can walk where they need to go. I would love to solve all the problems in the Lehigh Valley with one silver bullet, but it is going to take all of us pulling together to improve local planning, and I am glad you are signing on to work for better zoning! Other regions have created plans to preserve open space and agriculture, so there is no reason why we can't follow their example here.

Let's do it!

9) What about the schools? Won't all these people bring or produce children, and won't they stress our school systems? Once again, why should my taxes pay for that?

A Rutgers University study shows that for each 100 apartments constructed around a train station, you might expect about two school students. Why so few children? Because the development at rail stations appeals to "empty nesters" — parents whose kids have grown up and left. It also appeals to young people who do not have children yet. These demographic groups want a more urban lifestyle with lots of entertainment options, so they opt to live downtown and near the train station so they can zip to activity centers. Demographics also tell the story. In the coming years, millions of baby boomers are going to retire, and many of them will look to downsize their housing. Many of them will conclude that they don’t want five bedrooms and a big yard anymore. Some of them are going to want to live downtown where they can walk to restaurants, movies, stores, etc. So ask yourself: if the baby boomers are downsizing, who is going to buy their old houses? The answer is (hopefully) young families. We will be closing the loop.

We already have highways running everywhere. So in terms of attracting people to the region, the genie is out of the bottle. At this point, we need to redistribute whatever growth is going to happen anyway so that we develop inwards, rather than outwards. Ultimately, this means lower taxes because we will not need to build so many new schools, water and sewer systems, fire stations, etc. because the existing communities already have those things.

Just to conclude the discussion, let me emphasize that we are still several years away from trains running. I encourage people to get in touch with me and with your local officials to share ideas and thoughts and to get involved in the discussion.

McHale Walks Out on Michelle Obama

Last week, Michelle Obama was at Allentown's Cedar Crest College for a standing room only roundtable discussion with military spouses. Naturally, the pols were there in force, including none other than Northampton County Council Prez Ann McHale.

McHale has a well-deserved reputation for being imperious. Last year, she was the council member who dismissed County Executive John Stoffa's attempts at civility with a mean-spirited council.

"Nice guys finish last," she snarled.

According to three people at last week's Obamarama, McHale was in regal form. She insisted on plopping down in the front row, even though it was reserved for military families.

"We'll see about that!" she reportedly huffed, and trampled off to speak to someone. After a time, McHale returned and sat in the second row. Then some hapless volunteer told her she had to move again.

"I don't have time for this!" she exclaimed, and stormed out.

Three different people confirm this is what happened, but they won't let me identify them for fear they might have their heads chopped off or something.

Well, I decided to call McHale myself. As she explains it, she only asked to be seated at an end seat because she had to leave early and she did end up leaving before Obama even arrived.

"Who did you speak to?" she purred. I can't tell her that. My informants might get their heads chopped off.

I can say this. Nobody drives from Bethlehem to Cedar Crest to see a possible future First Lady, and then suddenly bolts twenty minutes after getting there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dent Votes to Reject Bailout

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent is among those who voted to reject the $700 billion Wall Street bailout today.

“I spent this past week meeting with experts, other members of Congress and the Administration to discuss the details of this legislation. I also sought counsel from our local community bankers and listened to my constituents. I heard good arguments for and against this legislation, but ultimately determined that this package was not something I could support.

“I believe that Congress needs to take steps to stabilize the financial markets and bolster consumer confidence. However, this bailout plan would have exposed taxpayers to a risk of $700 billion to buy toxic assets at inflated prices. The Treasury would then sell those same assets to investors at possibly lower prices. It seems to me that under this plan Wall Street would benefit at the expense of the taxpayers. That is not acceptable. This proposal was a Wall Street insider solution to a problem created largely by bad business decisions on Wall Street, at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and elsewhere.

“Additionally, this legislation could have resulted in billions of dollars being used to buy the toxic assets currently held by foreign investors. Again, this is unacceptable to American taxpayers.

“This legislation would have granted the Treasury Secretary unprecedented authority. I was not prepared to grant this much power to this or any other Treasury Secretary.

“Furthermore, this legislation failed to reassure depositors that their money is safe. I believe one immediate step Congress should take is to increase the FDIC limits from $100,000 to $300,000 so all Americans know that their money is protected and backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government.

“As was stated in a letter by nearly 400 economists questioning the fairness of the plan, the proposal was ‘a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry… without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.’

“Although this legislation failed, I am committed to working with my colleagues to pass measures that will stabilize the markets, restore consumer confidence, and protect taxpayers.”

Troll Attack Escalates to Criminal Harassment

According to the Pa. Crimes Code, "A person commits the crime of harassment when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another, the person: ... engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose."

A spam attack, on this and other blogs, is being engineered by Bill and Angie Villa. In addition to the comments I've deleted, there are now at least 350 comments on my blog alone, all of them made between 7 AM and 12:00 PM. The comments are coming too frequently, and on too many different blogs, to be Villa alone. He's getting some help from his wife.

Their course of conduct serves no legitimate purpose. It is intended to harass, annoy and alarm others.

The purpose of this post is to make Villa aware that he has committed a criminal offense. I will no longer delete his comments. I consider them evidence.

Troll Attack! Troll Attack!

My post about Bill Villa and his supposed boycott of this blog has resulted in a troll attack from . . . Bill Villa. He's posting the same comment over and over on various blog posts. So far, there are over 150 of them.

The guy is nutz.

I have spent much of the last two hours deleting entries, but he's spamming comments faster than I can delete them. As a result, comments will be temporarily disabled while I take out the garbage.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but there is no way for me to prevent this sort of thing from happening now and again. I will enable comments as soon as I get rid of the spam. Be sure to thank Bill and Mrs. Dottie over at Lehigh Valley Nobody.

Update: Mission accomplished! I value your opinions and will now enable comments after about having to turn them off about thirty minutes. I know this means another annoying spam attack from the Villas, which really just diminishes them. I will delete as time permits, but comments will now remain open. Neither Villa nor his wife can stop you from discussing matters that you consider important.

Nazareth Officials Recognize . . . Themselves, But Who's Paying?

On Friday, Nazareth's present and former governments, along with wives and hubbies, will march on down to Easton's exclusive Pomfret Club for The Lord Pomfret Filet or perhaps, The Pavillian Cold Water Lobster Tail. No Pott's doggies here, baby.

Who is paying for this shindig? Not council members.

Among those being honored are appointed former borough councilman Conrad Bowers, whose sole claim to fame was his botched attempt to close Nazareth's skateboard park. This beacon of transparency, who claimed open meetings were a tad "too unwieldy," finished dead last when he finally ran for the job.

Another honoree? Fred Daugherty, another appointed councilman who refused to state his position on the controversial government center expansion at Nazareth Hall Park. He was appointed without discussion, but voters rejected him when he ran for the job. Now he apparently is eyeing the mayor's seat, and it's a pretty big seat.

A third honoree includes J. Michael Davis, a former borough council member who bragged about spending hundreds of hours spent in secret meetings over that same government center expansion, which would have ruined a park dedicated to children since 1898.

Who is paying for this shindig? Not council members.

I suspect we are paying for meals at some swanky non-Nazareth restaurant to honor people the voters rejected at the polls. Does this make any sense?

Marin Will Try to Sell Railroad on Ramblings

Last week, I questioned the folly of passenger rail in the Lehigh Valley. Unfortunately for me, I made the mistake of expressing those concerns during a meeting among rail advocates in downtown Easton on Tuesday night.

I would have been thrown in front of a speeding locomotive, but they're aren't any right now. They'll have to wait.

Actually, most of the people were quite nice. In fact, moneyman Paul Marin, contacted me after reading my blogs last week. I was getting ready for the usual libel claim, but Marin instead asked to meet me and we briefly discussed his intentions late last week. To the extent that I was suspicious of Marin's motives, and I was, I was wrong. He's asked for an opportunity to express his own views and he is most welcome.

Marin has agreed to answer a number of tough questions about passenger rail, many of which come from the concerns expressed by you. As soon as I get his answers, I'll post the interview unedited.

Dent & Bennett to Debate at the Slate

The motto of Pen Argyl Area Concerned Citizens? "Democracy is not a spectator support." Annually, that nonpartisan group proves it by hosting the Lehigh Valley's finest series of debates.

They're doing it again, and will host a candidates' night between Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent and challenger Sam Bennett on Wednesday, October 15, from 7:00 to 9:30 PM at Pen Argyl Borough Hall (Lookout Fire Hall).

It's a great format. Each candidate is permitted to make a brief opening statement. After that, a three member panel poses challenging questions, followed by inquiries from the public. After we all have our say, candidates are allowed to cross-examine each other.

No one who attends this debate can be accused of ducking tough questions.

If you can only attend one debate, this is the one to visit. This is where I first became a Charlie Dent, realizing how passionate he was in 2006 about our energy crisis. Even back then, he was a forceful advocate for renewable energy sources. Last year, this is the venue in which relative newcomer Steve Barron, a Bethlehemite, did so well against twelve-year controller John Schimmel, who was on his own turf.

In the slate belt, there are only three TV sets, and Ron Angle owns all of them. So people eat and drink local politics. They tend to be informed. Candidates actually appreciate the tough but respectful questions. It's democracy in action.

Hey, I Thought I Told You This Blog is Verboten

Last week, the Goebbels of the blogosphere, Bill Villa, commanded you to stop reading this blog. You haven't been listening.

Naughty, naughty.

Uberfuhrer Dottie actually issued the edict at her foo-foo blog for the arts and artists and grants for artists and dinners about artists, Lehigh Valley Somebody. Northern Lehigh Valley Logic, Molovinsky on Allentown and AJ's Weblog were added to this list, too, because those bloggers are too damn nice to me. Micek's Capitol Ideas and Pam Varkony, whom Villa inexplicably likens to Anita Bryant, have also been bashed today.

John, I don't know what the hell you've done out there in Harrisburg, but you're on Villa's shit list too, baby. Pam, face it, you write too well.

As I warned last week, nothing makes people want something more than when someone else tells them they can't have it. This week's BNN ratings are in, and Goebbels must be crying in his little pillow right now. Despite his best efforts, look at what's happened!

Lehigh Valley Ramblings is #2.

Pamela Varkony's Perspectives is #8.

AJ's Web Blog is #9.

Northern Lehigh Valley Logic is #13.

Molovinsky on Allentown is #14.

Micek's Capitol Ideas is #16.

Ruh roh!

All the blogs Billy was boycotting are now in the top twenty. Gee, thanks Bill! Trash us some more. In exasperation, Villa has now challenged me to a fistfight.

But he wears glasses.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama Passes Commander in Chief Test in Dull Debate

Tonight's debate between Presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain, conducted at Ole' Miss., was supposedly focused on foreign policy. I'd rate it a tie in a game where Obama seems to be ahead.

Moderator Jim Lehrer spent the first forty minutes of the debate focused on the Wall Street meltdown, where Obama clearly has the edge because no one can tie him to our failed economic policies. McCain was much more forceful than I would ever have predicted. Also, I don't see what the hell earmarks have to do with our failed economy.

When the conversation turned to foreign policy, where McCain clearly shines, Obama still passed the Commander in Chief test. McCain constantly accused Obama of not understanding, but he did.

Both candidates, in my view, clearly failed to hit any resonating notes that connect with voters. In that respect, they both failed. McCain came closest, and distinguished himself from George Bush at the same time. Bush has previously claimed to be able to see Vladimir Putin's soul when he looks into his eyes. But McCain claims he only sees three letters - a K, a G and a B.

A CNN snap poll gives the win to Obama.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's Zito!

I feel like Carnac.

Back in June, I told you Attorney Leonard Zito would return to Northampton County's bench for a second time, filling the vacancy created when President Judge Robert A Freedberg ascended to the heavens of Superior Court. I also told you that this time, he can run for the job next year.

Most of you greeted this news with skepticism. I got this "Burne, your information is bad. There is no way Zito gets the appointment a second time." and this "There's actually no chance that he will be appointed."

Oh yeah? "May a crazy holy man set fire to your nose hair."

According to Express Times sleuth Sarah Cassi, the Guv' has just nominated Zito for that coveted black dress. Although Sarah was unable to confirm whether any strings are attached, there aren't. Zito will be free to run for the seat when Freedberg's term expires next year.

While I'm on a roll, let me give you another prediction. In the next few days, our friends in the land of midnight payraises will create a new judgeship in Northampton County. Three seats will be open next year because Judge Moran is retiring.

I'll give you the latest rundown on those seats next week.

J Street Gives Sam Bennett a Big LeChaim!

During Sunday's Dent-Bennett debate at Allentown's JCC, two Gentiles stumbled over each other to prove they are the better friend to the Jew. Charlie Dent touted trips to Israel, while Sam Bennett actually mangled a "LeChaim" when speaking about health care.

It's the thought that counts.

A former chugalug, I've heard and uttered that phrase many times, which I've always pronounced something like this - "lick hind." (I'll let you guess what I would say after a few drinks.) Obviously no boozehound, Sam said something more like "Cain," which really threw me off.

I was waiting for her to mention Abel.

A Jewish friend who also attended Sunday's debate and read my translation, straightened me out. He thought Sam was just trying to fit in.

Well, Charlie didn't try to say "LeChaim," but he did say this. "I'm a strong friend of Israel and I find it amazing that my opponent talks about supporting Israel when she lists on her web page the support of a group called J Street, whose stated purpose is to undermine AIPAC, which is the preeminent bipartisan pro-Israel group in America."

So who's behind J Street? Iranian supporters? America's Arab communities?

Worse. It's apparently a group of Jewish liberals who think AIPAC has tilted too far to the right. Its stated purpose, as it appears on its webpage, is to act as the "political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement."

Representatives Bob Filner (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) issued statements praising Bennett's "strong belief in increased American diplomacy throughout the Middle East and a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians." In a news release, JStreet also condemns "hawkish, hard-line positions expressed by many established Jewish organizations and leaders."

In fact, according to JStreetPAC Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, the whole damn country's behind her. Sam Bennett is supported by "the vast majority of American Jews and Americans as a whole.”

Game over. I guess we can cancel the elections. Maybe she should run for President!

Mazel tov!

AIPAC and JStreet are just two different groups of Jews squabbling with each other.

Just like Gentiles.

Mmm', PETA Wants Human Breast Milk in Ben & Jerry's

PETA demands that Ben & Jerry's start using human breast milk in their ice cream. Apparently, milking cows is very stressful to bovines, who eventually die and are turned into disgusting hamburgers.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure this human breast milk idea would be just fine with Hooters.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Is Now a Good Time to Rise Above The Politics?

Sarah Palin has told Katie Couric we may face another Great Depression unless we quickly find a solution to our current economic crisis. Lightweight or not, she may very well be right. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke believes a major reason for those dark days is the Fed's failure to support to support the banking systems, which resulted in public panic, stock market crashes and restrictions on the money supply. Hence, his proposed $700 billion bailout.

I'm certainly no expert on high finance or any finance, if truth be told. But it's very clear that we are in serious trouble. Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning, who does understand high finance, calls it a "raging fire."

Now might be a good time to forget about the politics.

I could see that yesterday in Congressman Charlie Dent's hastily arranged telephone press conference. He believes Congress should remain in session to resolve this matter instead of applying a quick fix on Friday. He's running in a Democratic district, but politics was the last thing on his mind.

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have issued a rare joint statement. "Now is a time to come together - Democrats and Republicans - in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail."

McCain has actually suspended his campaign to return to Washington, something Obama is strangely unwilling to do. David Letterman, miffed that McCain exalts governance over an appearance on late-night TV, snarks "You don't suspend your campaign. This doesn't smell right. This isn't the way a tested hero behaves."

Actually, it is.

Obama and McCain have been running for President for two years. We've been inundated with ad after ad from both of them, sitting U.S. Senators who were elected to govern. The nation is in turmoil. Both of them belong in Washington right now. We need them both.

Believe me, we'll survive with a week's less campaigning. But if we go into another Great Depression, people will die.

Is Corbett Too Soft on Bonusgate Republicans?

Mired as he is in the land of midnight payraises, it's no surprise to me that John Micek has been peppered with emails from an anonymous pen-pal who clearly has no love for AG Tom Corbett. Since the state's top crime dog has indicted half of Harrisburg, this is no shocker.

An email is circulating among "strong" Democrats, urging us to fight back against Tom Corbett. I'm a weak Democrat, but a strong Democrat sent me a copy of the email, which I'll share with you. If the writer refrained from phrases like "partisan Republican liar Corbett," or bothered signing his real name, his claims would have a lot more credibility. But even though the author obviously has an axe to grind, he makes some good points. I suspect hometown favorite John Morganelli will be making them himself when he debates Corbett.

House Democrats:

Just like Sara Palin and her bridge to nowhere, Tom Corbett is a liar.

Tom Corbett is lying about the conduct of his bonusgate investigation and Tom Corbett is lying about his motivations behind his latest decision to not bring charges against Republicans before the Election.

First, the conduct that partisan Republican liar Corbett ignores.

Corbett told the Morning Call yesterday, "I, and the career lawyers in my office, are conducting this investigation as thoroughly, fairly, honestly and as quickly as we can."

Simply not true.

Four times as many Democratic staff as Republican staff have been subpoenaed. (AP 7/31/08; Patriot 8/14/08). No Republican members have had to testify or have even been interviewed. (Post Gazette 8/16/08) The schedule of the investigation has given the Republicans ample time to destroy evidence, most notably their hard drives and servers. (Patriot News 8/3/08)

Corbett strategically timed his investigation in order to give his Republican friends an opportunity to destroy evidence and prepare for what little window dressing of an investigation he felt he needed to do politically. This timeline clearly illustrates Corbett's foot dragging:

4/16/07 – Corbett empanels Grand Jury (Tribune Review 4/12/07)

8/23/07 – Corbett raids Democratic offices (AP 8/30/07)

9/10/07 – Corbett compels House Democratic staff to testify before Grand Jury (Patriot 9/12/07)

10/22/07 – Corbett issues first subpoenas for House Republican documents (Post Gazette 10/24/07)

2/12/08 – Corbett issues first subpoenas for Senate Republican documents (Patriot 2/13/08)

Circa 8/1/08 – Corbett interviews first Republican House staff (Post Gazette 8/7/08)

This morning Pete DeCoursey with Capitolwire put it best:

"Corbett oversaw an investigation that managed to take nearly 19 months so far, and only charged House Democrats before a re-election, where he, a partisan Republican, is running for re-election. And in an election where many believe he could lose, especially if eastern Republicans dumped him, because, say, he just indicted a bunch of their pals, again, the smell here isn't quite right."

Now, let's discuss partisan Republican liar Corbett's motivation behind his decision to not bring charges before the election.

Corbett told the Tribune Review yesterday, "I know this investigation very well," Corbett said. "I know that my office cannot present to the grand jury in that one week ... all of the testimony and other evidence that will be necessary to complete the next phase of the investigation."

Again, Corbett is fibbing about his real motivation.

Corbett's own office has been illegally leaking to Dennis Roddy at the Post-Gazette that his supposedly fleet-footed investigators are looking at the huge political operation John Perzel, Brian Preski and John Hanley ran from the House Republican Caucus:

"Yesterday, several aides to former Republican Speaker of the House John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, were interviewed by prosecutors, according to a source close to the probe." (Post Gazette 9/23/08)

Corbett is lying about being overwhelmed with evidence as his reason to not bring charges. In reality, he succumbed to the pressure from Republican power brokers who understand that charges against Republicans before the election would hamper the GOP's chances of taking back the majority in the House. It is the same kind of pressure Dennis Roddy buckled under to when he erased his coverage of Brian Preski's Fumo-esq use of Republican IT staff to wire his home. (Post Gazette 9/11/08 original; 9/12/08 changed)

And, it probably doesn't hurt that John Perzel and Brian Preski have contributed over $50,000 to Corbett's campaigns. (3/4/04 $25,000 from Citizens for Government Reform to Friends of Tom Corbett; 4/2/04 $1,219 in-kind from Friends of John Perzel to Friends of Tom Corbett; 10/18/04 $25,000 Friends of John Perzel to Friends of Tom Corbett; 12/31/07 $500 Brian Preski to Friends of Tom Corbett)

An even more blatant untruth is partisan Republican liar Tom Corbett's assertion that he couldn't begin investigating Republicans because he had no probable cause:

"Corbett responded that investigators must have probable cause for a search warrant, meaning they must show a judge evidence of wrongdoing." (Tribune Review 9/23/08)

This is where partisan Republican liar Corbett is trying to close the sale of his bridge to nowhere. And, he is hoping everyone will buy it.

Republican campaign activity in the Capitol has been known and written about for years. Corbett is just choosing to ignore it. Just refer to Mario Cattabiani's item "A tangled web at statehouse" from 2/18/07 (yes, 2007, 20 months ago):

"[An animated Perzel political commercial] was parked online by the state House Republican Caucus, on a Web site funded by tax dollars. So, too, were other campaign materials: photos of Perzel going door to door in his Northeast Philadelphia district, and a 20-minute video tribute narrated by his wife, Sheryl. There was even a 487-page primer on how to run legislative campaigns, produced by the Republican National Committee…. The site containing the campaign-related material was registered and paid for with state money by the House Republican Caucus."

Even Steve Miskin admits it was blatantly illegal. "It's wrong. It should not have happened, and it should never happen." (Inquirer 2/18/07)

This isn't enough probable cause for Corbett to seize documents, issue subpoenas and begin his investigation?!?!?!

Instead, the Republicans were given ample time to purposefully and systematically destroy their hard drives over the summer of 2007. (Patriot 8/3/08) Thus, eliminating evidence for Corbett to follow (even though he has shown no propensity to aggressively do so.)

There is still time to return this bridge to nowhere back to the partisan Republican liar Tom Corbett!!

He is slapping all of you in the face with not even a whimper from you. Many of you are being battered in your campaigns because of Corbett's bonusgate charges against Democrats.

Demand that he stop this partisan charade and bring charges against Republicans!!!

Corbett has the evidence. Corbett has the probable cause. But, just like Sarah Palin and her bridge to nowhere, he is hoping that if he lies enough times to you that you'll all start believing him.

Have Northampton County Unions Become the Bad Guys?

"I'm a hamburger."

"What?"

"You are what you eat."

That was the way Michael talked. It got him fired.

He's one of the colorful characters I met in my very first real job at J.T. Baker Chemical Company. I worked there for about two years in the lab as a college senior and while waiting to go to law school.

Michael was a hard worker, but an undeniable oddball. For one thing, he always pissed in a beaker and actually kept a notebook where he could make his observations.

Was he nutz? No. He never forgot a birthday. That's my fail safe cRaZy test. Nut jobs are so into themselves they forget birthdays all the time. Anniversaries, too.

I always forget birthdays.

If Mike knew he was getting to someone, he'd really turn on the cRaZy schtick, especially with the suits. They were freaked out by his long hair alone. The bigger the boss, the more outrageous he'd get. When he'd see them coming, he'd walk by in his crisp lab coat, talking to a beaker full of piss. They were convinced he intended to blow the place to Kingdom Come, even though the only person among us who actually ever blew up the lab was me.

That's a story for another day.

Now that I'm an old fart, I can see that Mike probably went too far. But he was hilarious while he lasted.

When we first began hearing rumors that the suits intended to dump Mike, we confronted them. They denied it up and down, lying through their teeth. One lonely midnight shift when Mike had off, a group of us stole into the personnel office and began looking through Michael's files. One of us was an ex-Marine fresh from 'Nam. He loved slinking around in the dark. "Cat's eyes," he bragged. A few years later, he was lying in a pool of blood, a victim of Martin Appel's D-Day massacre in Bath.

That's a story for another day, too.

When we found Mike's file, we learned they really did plan to fire him. And the bastards did it, too.

Michael took it in stride. "You are what you eat. I'm a scrambled egg today" is the last thing I ever heard him say.

The rest of us decided we needed a union. I filed all the papers. Others did the talking. Days after the union was certified, I was finally off to law school, lost touch and never learned the rest of the story. But that incident convinced me unions are necessary to help save jobs and make sure workers are treated fairly, especially the odd ones.

Historically, Northampton County has been largely union free. The pay sucked, but the benefits were great. It was a happy place. Everybody knew everybody.

The county's first Republican council started screwing things up, taking benefits away here and increasing co-pays there. But when Democratic County Exec Glenn Reibman decided to freeze wages and slash the workforce, county workers did what I did when working at J.T. Baker.

Now, there are eleven unions.

I thought that was a good thing, and it probably is for some of the unions. But instead of protecting workers, they have been hurt.

You couldn't find a nicer guy than Sam Senneca, a Deputy Sheriff about 18' tall who spent most of his time in the bullpen. The ladies all adored him.

A union forced him out.

The same is true of Joe McPeake, a gentleman and former police officer who spent most of his time searching people who entered the building.

A union forced him out, too.

Both of these class acts are still working for the county, and that's thanks largely to county exec John Stoffa, who found them a spot at the Governor Wolf building.

Last Thursday night, the union initiated a putsch against another county worker, Connie Falk Sutton, engineering a motion through friendly council members to demand that she resign. She was afforded neither notice nor opportunity to be heard, a blatant due process violation.

The person who told her to ignore county council? John Stoffa.

What I've seen, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, are unions that try to sweep human beings away. Sometimes in embarrassing ways. I've also seen is a county exec who has looked out for these people.

I've also been told things. Union hotshot Lorraine Parry, the Robespierre of Northampton County, is the person behind the failed execution of Northampton County's Director of Human Resources. But if what I've been told by one county worker is right, she still has a "hit list" with a few other names.

Is one of them yours?

I confronted her after work on Monday, as she ran out of the building at exactly 4:29 PM, cancer stick in hand.

"Are you proud of what you've done, Lorraine?"

She scampered away, looking for a rock. Or a group of sixty green T-shirts. Maybe she should file an unfair labor practice against me.

Northampton County's union for row office workers has hurt people, not helped them. It took unreasonable positions during contract negotiations, delaying a contract well beyond what was reasonable. The pay raises granted were no greater than what the county had been offering all along. Health benefits are lower than what the count was willing to provide. Now, union dues are exacted from a work force unable to afford those payments. Aside from the green T-shirts, it has been useless.

Bad unions can be decertified. If thirty per cent of a bargaining unit sign a petition seeking a decertification election, for any reason, the NLRB is bound to schedule an election. Here's a sample form.

If any of you would like to rid yourselves of a group that has no interest in protecting workers, let me know. I can generate the form and will even hold onto it so it does not disappear like it did the last time.

Yeah, I know about that, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dent: Congress Needs to Stay in Session Over $700 Million Bailout

In a telephone press conference with reporters late Tuesday afternoon, Congressman Charlie Dent called on Congress to stay in session next week to decide on the best course of action to solving the nation's Wall Street crisis. He's wary about issuing a $700 billion "blank check" to the very financial markets who caused the Wall Street meltdown in the first place. He's unhappy that only one package is on the table. "Let's look at some other options."

"There's going to be some painful solutions," he told Express Times reporter Jessica Coomes. "The question is, who's going to feel that pain?"

Dent stated resignations should be sought from those responsible, as well as limits on executive compensation packages. "There should absolutely be no golden parachutes, but there should probably also be some terminations."

Noting that Congress is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, Dent believes "it is absolutely imperative that we remain in session until we have reviewed all of the options and crafted the most effective plan to stabilize our economy. We must not let the upcoming election dictate our response and supersede our responsibility to the American people to enact a systemic response to the challenges facing our economy."

Dent noted this bailout, if approved, will increase the federal debt limit to $11.3 trillion.In July, he voted to reject a similar bailout for Freddie Mac and Fannie May, which ended up in a federal conservatorship.

Dent told Morning Call reporter Josh Drobnyk there is a philosophical discussion about capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down. He said there's only one option on the table right now and we need a few others. "I want to make sure that whatever is done is done deliberately."

While Dent was meeting with reporters and speaking to colleagues in the House, as well as the Vice President, Sam Bennett's camp issued a press release noting that Dent has previously accepted $643,009 from the financial sector "and has been silent on this issue." That's about one-third the amount of money the financial sector donated to Speaker Pelosi. It's significantly less than the $2. 8 million the financial sector donated to Democratic Congressman Paul Kanjorski.

Candidate Sam Bennett stated, “We need reasonable reforms to make sure this never happens again. But no more blank checks for the Bush Administration. No more multimillion-dollar parting gifts for top executives."

That's pretty much what Congressman Dent was saying, too.

Mea culpa: As one of my readers points out, this bailout is $700 billion, not $700 million. Once again, I have demonstrated my finance prowess.

John Morganelli: I'm Behind in the Dough, But Trying Harder

Thanks to a John Micek special report, as only he can make them, we now know that AG Tom Corbett has nearly twice as much cash ($1.8 million) to spend on juicy TV ads than hometown favorite John Morganelli ($1 million).

Asked for comment, John cried, "Help!"

Actually, Morganelli, a product of south side Bethlehem, is quite satisfied. "Just today we raised and have in hand an additional $100,000 and more money is coming in every day. We can never compete with the hundreds of thousands of dollars Mr. Corbett is getting from gambling interests and oil executives, but we will have enough to run a good TV campaign."

Big Oil gives to Corbett, too? Those sluts. Don't tell Charlie Dent. It'll break his heart.

John also noted that AG races are historically close, decided by between 1-1.5%. This year, Morganelli claims Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1.2 million. "This race will be razor close."

Contributions to John Morganelli's campaign can be made online at www.johnmorganelli.com or by mail at Citizens for John Morganelli PO Box 1426 Bethlehem, Pa. 18017. If you'd rather give to Corbett, please make a check payable to Citizens for John Morganelli.

John will make sure Corbett gets it.

Honest!

Paul Marin Wants $75k From Northampton County and He Wants it Now!

I got lots of advice before going to last night's passenger rail presentation by former Wall Street money manager Paul Marin, who also chairs the LVEDC's Transportation Committee and is a LANTA board member. Look Out Lehigh Valley cautioned me to keep "an open mind to learn about what is being proposed."

When I walked into Easton's Third Street Alliance meeting room, the place was packed with about seventy proponents of passenger rail. Marin was preaching to the choir. Marin is promoting the extension of an existing rail line from Clinton, NJ, to Easton and further west. I learned there are already rails from Clinton to Phillipsburg, NJ, the western border of New Jersey. New Jersey has even designated areas for stations and parking lots.

Marin has persuaded the publicly-funded LVEDC to pay $100,000 towards a $250,000 railroad study. He expects to get the rest of the money from Northampton and Lehigh County, $75,000 each. In other words, the public is expected to pick up the entire tab.

Joyce Marin, Paul's wife, told the assembled masses that "Lehigh Valley Commissioners" have already approved the idea. I think she was referring to Lehigh County. She also claimed Paul even made a very favorable impression on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, with the exception of two or three of those damnable naysayers.

"And we all know who they are," laughed Paul Marin, as the rest of the crowd joined in and yukked it up.

So much for having an open mind.

Lots of New York accents, by the way. Not one elected official was in the room. Nor were there any news reporters.

At this point, I asked the rail apostles whether there's something wrong with people who have questions. Isn't that the reason for this meeting in the first place? Marin stopped laughing.

I also asked a few other questions. Who is really benefiting? Should all of us be expected to pay for rail lines to bring more commuters in from New Jersey and New York? Who is really behind this? We already know it won't solve congestion, but won't it exacerbate it? Aren't these commuters going to gobble up what little open space we have left? Where's the zoning proposals? What about the schools? Won't they be overburdened, too?

Heresy! I got dirty looks the rest of the night.

About the only answer I got from Marin is that he himself is not a member of the Lehigh Valley Partnership, an unelected aristocracy that operates like a shadow government. According to Blue Coyote's description of a good study, we won't see those questions answered there, either.

As Blue Coyote explains it, 330 projects are already under consideration for federal funding. For all practical purposes, this is already dead.

Undaunted, Marin is moving forward. He made a pitch to Northampton County and was told the county would consider his request in next year's budget. Unwilling to wait in line like everyone else, Marin wants his money NOW. He plans a pitch next week before Northampton County Council.

After the meeting, I called the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, who just happens to chair Council's finance committee. This was news to him.

Incidentally, Angle is one of the two or three LVPC naysayersl - the ones Marin was laughing at earlier this evening.

I told Angle that, too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

VI. Bennett Falsely Claims Authorship of Iraq Withdrawal Plan

If you could only read one part of the Bennett-Dent debate, this is the part I'd recommend. Nowhere is the difference between these two candidates so striking. One is knowledgeable while the other was ill-informed and deceptive.

When she discussed Israel, Sam Bennett betrayed a serious weakness on matters of foreign policy. That weakness was magnified even more when the subject turned to Iraq. I was shocked when she claimed, falsely, to have written "A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq." According to Arianna Huffington, that document is actually the work of "national security experts and retired military generals such as Major Gen. Paul Eaton, the officer in charge of training the Iraqi military immediately after the invasion."

Bennett certainly has endorsed this plan, but it was wrong for her to claim authorship.

Congressman Dent, in contrast, demonstrated a surprisingly commanding knowledge of foreign affairs. Often called an "empty suit," he displays keen insight into our relationships around the world.

Question: Please describe your position and any evolution thereof towards the conduct of the Iraq-Afghanistan operation.

Sam Bennett: [Initial comment included a complaint about Dent's campaign, covered here.] "By the way, Charlie, if you voted one way on bills, it would be very simple. But everything we have said about your voting record is true, and we have the documentation for it.

"But onto Iraq. I've said this before. I'm from a military family. I lived in Saigon. I'm grateful to the men and women that have served this nation. With fourteen hundred casualties coming from Pennsylvania alone, this is a serious matter.

"My opponent went to Washington knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction and still voted with George Bush 100% of the time on the war in Iraq. A hundred billion tax dollars later, and he votes against mandatory rest periods for veterans. When those veterans come home, he votes against health care and job training for those same veterans.

"So what is my plan?

"Well, I believe actions speak louder than words and I wrote A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq and now, fifty-three other challengers have joined me.

"We need to get out of Iraq immediately with a phased drawdown of troops. Those troops that we leave behind in order to fight terrorism and help the Iraqi forces there, they need to be given adequate body armor and adequate rest periods.

"9/11 showed us that we faced a threat without borders and post-Iraq shows us that we cannot go it alone. "

Charlie Dent: "A few things again. My opponent has a hard time with facts. She just said she wrote a book about how to get out of Iraq. Well, when she was asked by a local blogger who the President of Syria was, she couldn't name Mr. Assad. She couldn't name the President of Afghanistan, President Karzai, with whom we deal quite a bit. So I really don't believe you wrote a book on how to get out of Iraq.

"I have read a book - the Iraq Study Group, written by [Democrat] Lee Hamilton, with whom I talk on a fairly regular basis, and James Baker, a Republican. That actually provided a blueprint to get out of Iraq.

"You said you supported it, too, but you support the polls that completely contradict what's in that document, whether it is arbitrarily legislated timelines for withdrawal. You talk about rest periods for our troops. It's not for our veterans, it's for our troops. To impose that kind of a rest period - twelve months - at that time, would have extended the deployment of men and women currently serving in Iraq. That's not fair to them. It would have treated men and women serving in Afghanistan differently than in Iraq.

"A few other things I need to add. We need to draw down that presence in Iraq, the combatant presence, and we will. The question is the pace.

"I met with General Petraeus for an hour and a half in Baghdad. I've been to Iraq twice. We are making gains in the security front. We are seeing some political reconciliation there. i was there the day they passed the debathification law, which was absolutely essential. Iran and Syria continue to be a problem in Iraq, particularly Iran.

"With respect to Afghanistan, I've been to Afghanistan and I'll tell you very clearly that we need more help from NATO. NATO is an alliance; it is a collective defense organization. If we fail in Afghanistan, NATO will fail. That would be disaster.

"I believe in NATO, I believe in it so strongly. My opponent likes placing operational controls on our troops. That's what she wanted to do in Iraq. Well, that's what NATO governments do to their troops operating in Afghanistan, whether it be the Germans or the Spaniards. We can't let the Americans and the Canadians and the Australians and the Polish and the British and the Dutch do all the fighting. We need to have less operational controls on our troops in Afghanistan, not more from NATO governments. It is time that we put more pressure on some of our friends in NATO to pick up the slack. We're going to have to add more troops and so will they.

"We can win this thing, and I believe we will."

Bennett's Ties to Embattled Charlie Rangel

This comes from the Charlie Dent campaign. When I get a response from the Bennett camp, I'll post that too.

Congressman Charlie Dent today called on Democratic Congressional Candidate Siobhan Bennett to renounce the endorsement she received from ethically challenged Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel and return the donation he sent to her campaign.


As reported in the national press, Rangel has a host of ethical charges lined up against him. Rangel reportedly rented four Harlem apartments at reduced cost and used one for a campaign office, allegedly in violation of New York law. It has since been discovered that he has failed to report twenty years’ worth of rental income from an offshore rental property he owns either on his state and federal tax forms or on his Congressional financial disclosure. The New York Times also reported he received an interest-free mortgage for the beachfront property. Through it all, Rangel refuses to step down as chairman of the powerful committee that, among other things, writes the tax code.

Rangel donated $2,000 to Bennett’s campaign and he is listed on her Web page as an endorser.

“Charlie Rangel’s ethical lapses are extremely serious, and Sam Bennett clearly counts him among her friends in Washington,” Dent campaign manager Shawn Millan said. “By taking Rangel’s money and proudly proclaiming his endorsement, Bennett obviously sees nothing wrong in her association with one of the most entrenched power brokers in Congress -- someone who doesn’t think the rules apply to him; someone who would raise your taxes while he doesn’t pay his own.”

“Washington does need change – and people like Sam Bennett’s endorser and benefactor Charlie Rangel are the reason why,” said Congressman Dent’s campaign manager, Shawn Millan.

Millan explained that the Dent campaign was issuing the following challenges to Bennett:

* Return any Rangel campaign contributions she has received either from his campaign committee or from his leadership PAC.
* Remove Rangel’s name from her list of endorsers.
* Publicly call for Rangel to step down from his Chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.

In Bennett’s commercials, she claims to oppose “more of the same” from Washington. “Unless she follows through and renounces Rangel and returns his contribution it’ll be yet another example that Sam is the same,” said Millan.


Although not mentioned in the news release, Rangel also recently referred to VP candidate Sarah Palin like this - "You got to be kind to the disabled."

Don't Get Caught Reading This Blog!

Animal Farm. The Catcher in the Rye. The Grapes of Wrath. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Lehigh Valley Ramblings?

Wait a 'tic!

What does my online rag have to do with those masterpieces? Not much, really. But I have now joined the ranks of publications that others have tried to suppress.


Lehigh Valley Somebody, an artsy-fartsy blog aimed at foo-foos, is actively encouraging readers to stay far, far away from this evil place. Two of its last three blogs have pretty much told readers that if you spend more than five minutes here, you'll turn into a Republican or worse, a Democrat. Apparently, I suppress "healthy dissent," and we all know the best cure for that is even more suppression.

The campaign against me is being called "Boycott Bernie."

Lehigh Valley Somebody, a moderated blog, is a Bill and Angie Villa production. They started the Chen Arts Group.

It's called CHARGE.

Months ago, I supported Villa's quixotic quest for a Morning Call meeting. Alas, I was unwilling to support him as much as he would have liked.

No good deed goes unpunished.

This is actually good news for me. Nothing makes people want something more than when someone else tells them they can't have it.

So thanks, Bill and Angie. I appreciate all the traffic you're steering this way. Be sure and tell all your friends NOT to stop here.

I'm going to become a little more refined, and plan on forming a "Free Arts" program.

I'm calling it FARTS.

Easton Johns Getting Their Cars Back

Judge Emil Giordano recently sent an Easton streetwalker to prison for two years. It was her fourth offense. "I told you this had to stop. It's ridiculous. The city of Easton is fed up with the prostitution trade and I don't blame them." Easton Johns are getting a much happier ending.

In the wake of barrister Gary Asteak's lawsuit, which challenges Easton's new seizure ordinance as cruel and very unusual punishment, the city has decided to play it safe. Every car seized so far is being returned. Mayor Sal Panto confirmed late today that, after meeting with the police chief and city lawyer, he decided this is the safest way to proceed as Asteak's lawsuit meanders its way from tribunal of first guess to court of final error. "Let the lawyers duke it out."

Hizzoner insists, however, that the city's new "No Humping" signs are still being installed at strategic locations.

At least I can get my bicycle back!

Monday, September 22, 2008

V. Bennett's Israeli Statements Belie Misunderstandings and Weakness

Question: With support from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has nearly tripled the rocket inventory it had before the 2006 war, directly violating numerous elements of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended that war and called for Hezbollah to be disarmed. Do you view this as a threat to American interests in the region and what role should our country take in attempting to resolve the multi-dimensional issues of Israel, the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Hamas?

Congressman Charlie Dent: "Well, first, there should be no negotiation with Hamas until Hamas renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist.

"With respect to Iran, Iran is a rogue nation led by an awful man,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a very bad man. I am committed to a missile defense program for Israel's benefit as well as ours. It's in our interest to protect Israel from that missile threat and Iran does represent an existential threat to Israel. I met with Prime Minister Olmert. I met with who I think will soon be the Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, as well as many others. We have a very clear understanding and we have an unshakable alliance with respect to this Iranian threat.

"It is unfortunate that in the United States of America, some leading newspapers think it is in the national interest to splash some of our best methods in dealing with how to impose tough sanctions on Iranian banks on the front pages of their newspapers or some of our best methods to electronically intercept some of the communications of our enemies operating overseas with al-Qaeda. They splash it on the front pages of their newspaper.

"We work closely with Israeli intelligence. They're our partners. They don't deal with some of the same problems that we deal with here, in terms of having to protect their country. They understand the threat. I think most Americans do, too. But we have to be better.

"One thing on Hamas and Hezbollah. I'll tell you I've met with Mr. Goldwasser, who lost his son, who was abducted during the Israel-Lebanon war. I'll tell you, you really understand what the Israeli people are facing. You can stand in Tel Aviv and see the West Bank as well as the Mediterranean Sea. It's a small country, and those rockets raining in from the Gaza and from Lebanon are a real threat to Israel. I think we have to do our best to work with our partner, Israel, in mitigating that very real threat and understanding where the problem originates. it originates in Iran and Syria.

"We must stand by Israel."

Sam Bennett: "A strong U.S.-Israel relationship is not only important to Israel and the United States; it's important to the world. U.S. and Israel have a strong, historic relationship based on common values - that of respecting individual rights and both having strong democracies.

"We have to respect that Israel is not only our strongest ally in the Middle East, it is our strongest ally in the world.

"What is the biggest threat we face today for our way of life? Quite simply put, it's terrorism. Let me be perfectly clear. A threat to any democracy is a threat to all democracies.

"In Iran, we have a President who has sworn to destroy America and has sworn to destroy Israel. He is building up nuclear armaments as we speak and he is funding Hamas and he is funding Hezbollah. This must end.

"First, we need to engage in fierce diplomacy. They must behave.

"Finally, we need to isolate and contain, particularly Iran. We need to make sure that countries no longer export to Iran. We need to discourage banks that invest in Iran. Iran is the problem. We have to be willing to invest in humanitarian aid and empower those peoples in all of these countries that truly desire peace.

"Finally, we as a country must be prepared to stand up and be counted and take military action if needed. If we find out, through actionable intelligence, that Iran has had any action against Israel, our country or any ally, we absolutely must respond. Period."

Blogger's Note: Although there is abundant evidence that Iran is currently engaged in nuclear activity, no one has yet established that it is actually "building up nuclear armaments as we speak." Once that is clear, I suspect Iran's nuclear program will be ended very quickly by Israel. Bennett's dangerously false claim about Iran's nuclear capability, coupled with her suggestion that we engage in "fierce diplomacy" and that Hamas "must behave", betrays a serious weakness in foreign policy. That's something that we we can't permit.

IV. Bennett promises Dental Hygienist in Every School, Three Month Check Ups

This is the third in a series of questions posed to LV Congressman Charlie Dent and challenger Sam bennett during last night's JCC debate.

Question: Forty-six million Americans are estimated to be without health insurance. How do you view the current health care system and what approaches, if any, would you take to better the system?

Bennett: "I have a friend in Bethlehem, and her daughter, Helen, died of ovarian cancer. Why did she die? Because she never had a check up? Why did she never have a check up? She didn't have health care. She left two teen-aged children behind and her husband.

"Right now, we have 200,000 children right here in Pa. that don't even have any health care. My opponent receives free lifetime health care paid for by the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. Apparently, what's good enough for him isn't good enough for the rest of us.

"When it came to expanding coverage for children, for veterans, for national reservists, and national guard, my opponent voted No. When it came to voting for seniors to go to Canada to buy low cost prescription drugs or to allow us to negotiate prices for Medicare, he voted No.

"I say Cain [?]. I say Yes to quality health care for every American irregardless [sic] of your income, irregardless [sic] of your pre-existing condition and irregardless [sic] of your employer. Of you can't afford health care coverage or are overpaying right now, we're gonna' put you on the same plan that sitting members of U.S. Congress currently enjoy.

"Right now, we only spend 3% of our health care dollar on prevention. So let's put a nurse practitioner and a dental hygienist at every school in America so every American child has a chance for a three month check up.

"Right here and now in front of you today, I'm making a pledge. I will not accept any government health care until every American has health care every bit as good as sitting members of U.S. Congress."

Dent: "First, before we get to the health care issue, I want to address about four or five false statements my opponent just made. She said I voted against protecting pensions. That's absolutely false. I voted for the Pension Protection Act to make it easier to shore up defined benefit programs . . . . So she's completely wrong. I actually voted for the bill.

"I oppose privatization of Social Security, unlike what she said.

"With respect to Veterans' benefits, I want to be very clear. I voted for record increases in veterans' health and other veterans' health benefits. That is a fact. That is on the record. I'd like to point out, too, that I just voted recently for legislation to create a new GI Bill in educational benefits for our veterans who served after 9/11/01 so they can go to college. Also, listening to those men and women in Afghanistan, who I met, they wanted to make sure that if they didn't use the education benefit, that it could be used by their spouse. We included that into the law. So I've been very good on veterans' benefits, on veterans' health. She simply doesn't understand the issue.

"With respect to health care, I'd like to point out a few other things. First, access, affordability and quality are the things we need to focus on.

"I believe an individual should get the same favorable tax treatment we give businesses in terms of providing access to health insurance. It's true we have 47 million uninsured Americans. We have to break that number down. We have to make sure that if an individual wants to buy insurance, give him that tax credit. If they don't have enough income to realize that credit, give him a refundable tax credit so that they can buy a policy for themselves or their families.

"With respect to - - -, we need medical liability reform, we need tort reform to help drive down costs and in a bipartisan way.

"We can deal with the issue of health IT, electronic medical records. We can save hundreds of billions of dollars if we do this right. We have to drive down costs.

"I voted to expand the children's health insurance program. I voted twice to override the president on that particular piece of legislation.

"Finally, with respect to bailouts, I'll say once again, I voted against George bush and Sam Bennett on the Fannie Freddie bailout. You were for it. I was opposed to it."

I. Bennett & Dent Refuse to Agree at JCC

Allentown's beautiful Jewish Community Center was the setting for last night's televised debate between LV Congressman Charlie Dent and challenger Sam Bennett . A giddy crowd of nearly two hundred people (and one miniature French poodle) waited for the show to start, munching on cookies and swilling down bottled water and coffee. We are mutants, people who actually prefer a congressional debate to an exciting Eagles-Steelers game.

We probably should all be committed.

Two Allentown cops were on hand in case a blogger started rolling around on the floor or foaming at the mouth. Since nobody was actually willing to throw a punch, the cops slipped off to a side room to watch the game.

So who won?

Judging from the applause in the beginning, during eight minute speeches from each contender, I'd say most of us miscreants thought Sam came out on top. They're already posting comments on my previous blog about tonight's festivities. By night's end, however, it was Charlie Dent who was swarmed by spectators while Sam Bennett was forced to wander the room, hoping for a few minutes with different people.

Dent was clearly the better debater, informative and extemporaneous. Bennett, on the other hand, was actually reading off cheat sheets. When Dent spoke, instead of listening with the respect that Dent gave her, she would smile and shake her head "No" the entire time. Don't believe me? You can make your own call, thanks to a webcast done by Channel 69 .

This debate will also be rebroadcast on Channel 69, making it the first of three televised face offs between the two candidates. There will also be two non televised showdowns.

So much for Bennett's debate ducking charges.

Candidates answered seven audience-prepared questions, vetted by a panel of three rabbis, about energy independence, job creation, health care, Israel, Iraq, immigration and our local economy. I will transcribe two of their answers below, and hope to have a few more by Tuesday. Three of these questions concerned foreign policy and national security, playing into Dent's strength and Bennett's weakness. Nowhere was that more apparent than when she declared Hamas "must behave."

These are not elementary school children, Sam.

One thing's very clear. There's no love lost between these two. Before the night was over, they were both accusing each other of personal attacks. They may belong to the same church, but I'll bet they sit in different pews.

Bennett teed off with this, after the question about Iraq. "While we're talking about war, I would like to point out - Charlie, I guess there's no more Mr. Nice Guy anymore. I have to tell you I've been disappointed that everything you've done in this campaign has been a personal attack upon me in TV, radio and mail. Our country is in a terrible state, our finances melting and we are at war. Charlie and I actually go to church together and I have to ask you a question, Charlie. Are you proud of the way you've been conducting this campaign?"

"Yes, if you want an answer," responded Dent. She didn't. "Onto Iraq."

Dent responded at the end of the evening. "I want to say something about personal attacks. During this campaign, she accused me of using my job to enrich myself without one shred of evidence or substantiation. When she was called on it, she said, 'Big Gas, Big Oil.' That's a bunch of hot air. It was offensive and insulting to me and to my wife, especially to my wife. We don't like that. That's a personal attack."

"This summer, in July, she talks about nasty campaigns, I was burying my aunt at Arlington National Cemetery. . . . The Democratic Congressional Committee on that day started attacking me falsely and calling me names."

Blogger AJ Cordi served as cameraman and beautiful Pam Varkony was color commentator, passing me hilarious notes at different points. She's already posted her Perspectives. Blogger Michael Molovinsky, who earlier today called Rendell a "reluctant Jew," is hiding in some bunker somewhere.