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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Should State Prisons Remove Guards From Watch Towers?

Orloski To Remain on Ballot For State Senate

Four years ago, Allentown lawyer Rick Orloski and State Senator Pat Browne squared off in the state senate race. Pat come out on top, but I was very impressed by the good will that both of them had for each other, along with their humility. They are both class acts who seemed to have a genuine regard for each other.

This year, Rick is challenging Pat again, and I was really looking forward to their dialogues. Ideologically, they are much different, but it's so refreshing to see candidates who can actually be nice to each other.

Unfortunately, a Pat Browne proxy challenged Rick's nomination petition. Had that succeeded, there would be no race at all. There would be no dialogue. Voters would be denied a choice.

On Monday, I told you about an email that Orloski had sent to Browne over the weekend, asking him to reconsider his challenge. Rick's best argument? "Elections are for voters, not judges." It was a powerful message.

I doubt I'll ever know whether Orloski's email had the same impact on Browne that it had on me. I can't really call him at his Senate office to discuss politics or the Attorney General will arrest both of us and throw away the key. But I'd like to think that Pat was moved by Rick's email. What I do know is that, late yesterday afternoon, Browne's proxies withdrew their challenge to Rick's nomination petition.

They did the right thing.

I spoke with Rick late this afternoon, and he told me it's really unfortunate to see so many nomination challenges this year. "Politicians are taking elections out of the hands of the people and putting them in the hands of judges." Judges don't like it, either. One Commonwealth Court judge, who shall remain nameless, complained "We're overwhelmed. We need to work on other cases."

Rick credited his legal team, the Allentown law firm of Crosslis & Brennan, for their work on his behalf. That firm also represented Mike Horton, the state rep candidate who was tailed by a Karen Beyer PI. Tim Brennan, one of these legal eagles, was reluctant to discuss details of either case, and instead told me he's doing a lot of Equine law these days.

Equine law? Well, his experience in these nomination challenges definitely exposed him to few horses' asses, including me.

New Jersey Considers Hunting Feral Cats

... according to Change. Fish and Game Chair Jeannette "Tweety" Vreeland wants to lifet a hunting ban. Geez, I thought we were the state clinging to guns and religion. Can't NJ be a little more civilized like us, and stick to pigeons? Nobody likes pigeons.

Feral cats might understand our delicate eco-system, but they can't be any worse than us. So I'm against hunting feral cats or serving them at Chinese buffets.

There's a petition movement afoot here.

Jack Wagner Unveils Reform Agenda For Pa.

"The train is off the tracks. Voters know that government is politically paralyzed and not serving people well or efficiently. Structural reform is urgently needed. It is essential to growing jobs and the state economy, while keeping taxes low. Voters want competition, transparency, and accountability to improve government performance."

That's how Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Democratic candidate for Governor, sees things after visiting all 67 Pennsylvania counties. We're going the wrong way.

Today, at a Harrisburg news conference and follow-up news release, he made the following proposals to reform state government:

· Hold a constitutional convention to empower citizens to bring fundamental reforms to state government

· Reduce the size of the General Assembly by 1/3

· Eliminate bonuses in state government

· Get state government spending under control

· Pass state budgets on time

· Bring competition to every single contract in the state procurement process

· Ban local governments from attaching risky derivatives/"swaps" to their debt

· Ensure that taxpayers receive property tax relief promised by gaming

· Enact campaign finance reform and end pay to play

· Allow independent voters to participate in Primary Elections

· Take the politics out of the redistricting process and promote nonpartisan, compact, and contiguous redistricting

Pretty impressive. You can read more detail at his campaign webpage.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

LV's Tea Party: Democracy Too Dangerous To Be Left to the People

"The whole reason that there is so much impetus to get a third party candidate on the ballot is because many people don't believe the Republican Party is running principled candidates. ... If the Republican Party was running, supporting and endorsing principled candidates, there would be no need for a third party."

Call me crazy, but that sure reads like an indictment of Republicans. If those words were published in the Lehigh Valley, they would be a stinging rebuke of all local Republicans, including Congressman Charlie Dent. They would also be a tacit endorsement of the candidacy of independent Jake Towne.

It just so happens that those words were published locally, in Saturday's Morning Call. The person quoted is Kim Schmidtner, identified in the account as the Lehigh Valley's 9/12 Tea Party leader.

Dean Browning, a Republican who chairs Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners, certainly believes that Schmidtner's remarks are a slam at Dent and endorsement of Towne. "Kim's comments in Saturday's article gave no indication that there is any separation between any of Towne's views and those of [the LV Tea party]. On the contrary, one of Kim's quotes gave the distinct impression that Towne was 'principled' and that his third party candidacy was a necessary response to Congressman Dent's decision to seek re-election."

All this got me thinking. Just who the hell is Kim Schmidtner, anyway? Every time the local tea party is mentioned, her name pops up as their "leader." She's also identified on their web page as their organizer. But who is she? How did she become their leader and local spokesperson? Should she be panning Republicans and endorsing third-party candidates when her group is supposedly a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) corporation?

Kim Schmidtner, Queen of the Tea Party

Schmidtner is no Lehigh Valley native. She's actually from Pittsburgh, and only moved here from Pipersville in 2002. She quickly became angry when I asked her about her LV roots yesterday.

"This is personal. What difference does that make? Should I organize in Pittsburgh?"

I explained it does make a difference to readers, who would be interested in the background of the LV's Tea Party Leader.

Then I got even more personal.

"You're a Republican, aren't you?"

After getting another blast, I explained to Kim that her voter registration is a matter of public record. When she moved into the Lehigh Valley in 2002, she registered here as a Republican. She fessed up, and admitted her interest in politics was sparked by the 9/11/01 suicide attacks on the U.S.

That sounds very noble, but it must have been a slow-burning flame. Kim failed to vote at all in 2002, 2003 or 2005. In 2004 and 2006, she did vote, but only in the general elections. Kim explains that primaries were somewhat meaningless at that time in her life, but now she knows better. For the last three years, she's voted in every election.

I'm sure the 9/11 tragedy had an impact on Kim, as it did on us all, but an $83,000 federal tax lien filed against her in 2003 probably got her attention, too. Little things like that would make a Communist wish for more limited government. That lien, incidentally, was just satisfied.

So how did Kim, who has no LV roots, end up in command of an 1127-member group? I reviewed the minutes of all their monthly meetings to answer that question. They did vote to follow Robert's Rules of Order, but never conducted elections. All of the people who hold themselves out as Tea Party leaders, from Kim Schmidtner to Joe Hilliard, are self-anointed royalty.

How ironic that a group interested in restoring democracy and "We, the People," could never be bothered to conduct one election.

LV Tea Party Violates IRS Ban on Political Activity by 501(c)(3) Nonprofits.

Schmidtner told me yesterday that her group incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in January.
Nonprofits are barred from endorsing or panning candidates, whether done explicitly or implicitly, or from participating in political campaigns. But that's exactly what they've been doing all along.

In addition to her implicit Towne endorsement, Schmidtner has organized a tea party protest to President Obama's LV visit and has promoted independents over major political party candidates.

The local tea party has sent out an exhaustive questionnaire top candidates and elected official. One of the questions, at least initially, was "Do you believe Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen?" If this group has no political agenda, then why ask candidates and incumbents to answer 28 pages of questions?

"So we can rate them, just like the League of Women Voters," answered Schmidtner. No LWV does that anywhere.

But the best examples of political activity come from their meeting minutes:

"Scott Ott. Is running in Lehigh County Executive. ScottOtt.org. Scott’s message is 'Government should be limited, effective, frugal and totally focused on the customer.' We are a strong 'Constitutional Republic.' People in communities are coming together. We need to take things off the books to get back our Liberties. 9/12 Tea Parties are making things happen. Defeat them with 'We the People'."

"Guest Speaker: Jake Towne Spoke on sound money and our economic future. Jake is running for Congress as an independent for the 15th District against Charles Dent. Learn about Jake at TowneForCongress.com"

"Mat Benol Announces he is stepping down as an Executive Board Member as he is running for Congress in the 15th District against Charles Dent in the Republican Primary. It’s not about Repubs or Dems. It’s about right and wrong, not politics and let’s get back to The Constitution."

"Introducing Joe Hilliard who speaks on our Precinct plan, stating it’s most effective starting at the local level. Building and informing from the bottom up, one person at a time. We are organizing and developing people to campaign in their precincts. It takes 10 signatures to get put on the ballot to run for committee person. Counties are broken down into municipalities. Precincts are the smallest voting neighborhood entities that vote at the same voting place. We are organizing and developing people to campaign in their precincts. . You must be a registered party member to run for committee person in your precient.[sic] Party leaders make decisions on who they indorse [sic] and put on the ballot. School taxes up 30% in the near future. We are making great strides across the country. In Fla. The State Chairman was asked to step down as he did. The higher up in government you get the less they care about the little guy."

That sure sounds like political activity to me. Self-anointed leader Hilliard even has them organizing in precincts, building the tea party movement from the bottom up.

There's even advice on how to deal with snoops like me.

"Supply no target to the opposition. No leaders. No group names. No money exchanging. No meeting minutes. Share ID information with no one. Learn the art of effective communication.."

Name, rank and serial number, eh? Too late!

I've been highly critical of my party because I believe our current party chair was illegally elected. But that's better than no election at all. So if you're a local tea party member, you're being led around the nose by people you never elected. You are being organized, from the bottom up, as their personal political machine. You are no nonpartisan group, despite all the protests to the contrary.

We the people? Bullshit.

Rob Hopkins Undefeated in Nomination Challenges

He has no money to hire PIs to follow people. He even lacks the funds to hire a lawyer. But so far, Rob Hopkins is undefeated in his fight against defective nomination petitions in the Democratic state committee race.

Lehigh County contributes seven seats to the Democratic state committee. This year, seventeen candidates filed nomination petitions. Nine were full of glaring deficiencies, like Republican signatures or the same person signing every name.
Hopkins would probably agree that a close case should be resolved in favor of keeping someone on the ballot, allowing the voters to decide. But should an unregistered voter or a Republican have a say in a Democratic state committee person?

Hopkins, himself a member of the state committee, is stepping down at the end of this year. He needs a break from politics, but still dug into his own pocket to challenge the nine petitions. Three of these candidates - Joseph E. McAndrew, Carlos Salas and Nancy I. Rodriguez - have voluntarily withdrawn. Another two hopefuls - Shelly Lee and Mariah Simpson - were ordered removed from the ballot yesterday.

That's five down, with four to go, starting tomorrow.

Corbett, Wagner, Hoeffel & Rohrer Pass Inky Transparency Test

These gubernatorial candidates complied with an Inky request to release recent personal income-tax information. Onorato claims it's in the mail, along with his contributions to Morganelli and Panella. He had been using carrier pigeons, but they were all shot over Lancaster County. .

Geoff Brace Helps Kutztown Put On a Happy Face

Yep. That's the same Geoff who comments at LV blogs.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Judge Franciosa Reverses Beth Tp Decision Against Work Release Center ... Again

Senior Judge Michael V. Franciosa has spoken. On Friday, he reversed a Bethlehem Township ZHB decision rejecting an Abe Atiyeh request for a 300-bed county treatment and work release center, located nearly a mile from the nearest home. He also approved the use. He has remanded for imposition of reasonable conditions of use.

I have not seen the decision, but the ruling was confirmed by Bethlehem Township's Zoning office.

More details will follow later.

Afternoon Update: I have seen Judge Franciosa's written opinion. He has REVERSED the ZHB, has APPROVED the special exception use and has REMANDED to the ZHB so they can impose reasonable conditions on the use that are rationally related to the health, safety and welfare of Bethlehem Tp residents.

Franciosa finds four instances in which the ZHB committed both errors of law and abuses of discretion. First, it attempted to force the County (through Atiyeh) to provide a very specific listing of the types of residents, well beyond what is required by the Ordinance. Second, it rejected the County's estimate that it would need 3 or 4 corrections officers on duty at all times.l based on the mistaken notion taht the staffing needs at a treatment facility are the same as at a prison. Third, the ZHB relied on traffic concerns based on testimony that they, themselves, had ordered stricken. Finally, their insistence on a lease with the County can be found nowhere in thew Ordinance.

Will Democrats Show for LV Tea Party Candidates' Forum?

Lots of groups host candidates' forums. Usually, there are more candidates than concerned citizens. That's why I'm surprised that, so far, there are 122 RSVPs for a Lehigh Valley Tea Party candidates' forum on April 9th.

When I attended one of their meetings last month, I was shocked by the 320 plus crowd packed into Palmer Township's Chrin Community Center, especially since they were listening to a relatively dry speaker. These folks are obviously very conservative, and as I've noted before, lilly white. But it would be a mistake to marginalize them. Are they angry and frustrated? Yes. Would they abolish Social Security, Welfare and Medicare? You betcha'. But are they out on a pass from Allentown State Hospital? No.

Their forum on Friday, April 9th, is at the Chrin Community Center, and starts at 6 PM. All candidates on the Primary Ballot for US Senate, US Congress (15th District), and PA Governor have been invited.

Bobby Gunther Walsh, the LV's Glenn Beck, will emcee the festivities. So far, the following candidates have agreed to appear:

Congress: LV Congressman Charlie Dent and his Republican opponent, Mat Benol.

Senate: Peg Luksik (R), Joe Vodvarka (D), and Joe Sestak (D) (maybe).

Governor: Sam Rohrer (R) and a surrogate for Tom Corbett (R).

No word yet from Democrats John Callahan, Arlen Specter, Jack Wagner, Dan Onorato and Joe Hoeffel? Are they turned off by some of the threats and violence directed at Democratic members of Congress over the federal heath care overhaul? What's really sad is that some of this is coming from Republican Congress members:

Rep. Michele Bachmann: "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous….having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.”
Rep. John Boehner: "Take [Democratic Congressman] Steve Driehaus, for example. He may be a dead man. He can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati.”
Rep. Steve King: "Let's beat that other side to a pulp! Let's take them out. Let's chase them down."
Maybe it's just me, but I doubt many Democrats will be showing at this forum. They're in no mood to Join the Angry Mob.
How about Pat Toomey, darling of conservatives everywhere? He probably wants a check.

Beyer Had Horton Followed After Mother's Funeral

If you file a nomination challenge asking a judge, instead of the people, to decide whether someone belongs on the ballot, you better win. Otherwise, it is difficult to escape the accusation that you are anti-Democratic, especially when you have a private investigator follow your opponent for ten days.

Amazingly, that's exactly what state rep. Karen Beyer just did. A judge tossed her residency challenge to Michael Horton on Thursday. She filed her challenge through Democrats Ernest Kaiser and Janet Keim.

In a news release, Horton describes himself as a "newcomer" who "never expected Beyer to go as far as having me followed while mourning the death of my mother and planning my wedding. The voters are going to have to decide if this is the kind of conduct they expect from their elected officials.”

Beyer had Horton followed by a PI for ten days. This private dick also interviewed his neighbors and even contacted his fiancée’s ex-husband, who was then dragged into court.

Horton has been the elected constable for Allentown’s 12th Ward since 2003 and has continuously resided there since 2002. His current address is at a home he purchased in 2008 and he just purchased a much larger home in the district, where he and his fiancée will reside after their wedding in June.

Beyer complains that Horton has “a lot to learn about the 131st district.” That may be, but she has a few things to learn herself about nomination challenges and depriving voters of the right to make their own choices.

Rick Orloski: Elections Are For Voters, Not Judges

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Allentown lawyer Rick Orloski has waged campaigns for Congress, state Attorney General, state treasurer and state senate. Having heard him debate State Senator Pat Browne four years ago, I really have to wonder why he's never won. He is personable, downright funny and really cares about his community.

Dragged into a challenge against Pat Browne late this year, he is willing to give voters a choice, something we should have in a democracy.

Pat Browne is challenging Orloski's signatures, hoping to avoid the cost of an election this Fall. But is it really fair to leave voters with no choice at all?

Orloski copied me on an email he sent to Senator Browne this weekend, and I am sharing it with the rest of you.

Dear Pat--

Elections are for voters, not judges

As you are aware, I am the only Democrat currently on the ballot for the State Senate from the 16 district. Democracy is messy. You do not own the State Senate seat. The electorate gave it to you for four years. The four year term is almost up. Elections make you accountable to the people. The people should determine the State Senator from the 16th district by their ballot for the 2011-2014 term. It's antithetical to democracy for judges to be issuing Orders prohibiting voters from having their say. I am calling upon you to direct Donald Hunsicker [2409 S 19th St, Allentown]and Mr and Mrs. Joseph D'Annibale [202 S Jane St, Allentown] to withdraw their ballot challenges to my Nominating Petitions.

It's a matter of ethics

As I am sure you also know, it is illegal for you as a Republican to file a Nomination Challenge to a Democrat. Given that reality, the ethical question is whether or not you can do indirectly what you cannot do directly. My investigation reveals that the three Objectors are not the real party in interest in the Nomination Challenges. They simply do not have the resources to finance the exhaustive legal challenge being waged. If you cannot file a nomination challenge directly, can you do it indirectly and arrange for straw parties to do it for you? The answer seems obvious. Again, I call upon you to do the ethical thing and direct the straw parties to withdraw the Nomination challenge.

Fatal defect in your challenge

By now, I am sure you heard about the conference call with the Commonwealth Court Judge, where Attorney Tim Brennan of Croslis and Brennan was representing me. There is a major defect in the challenge. Your Objectors never served the Secretary of the Commonwealth with the challenge, creating a jurisdictional defect mandating the dismissal of the challenge. Given this jurisdictional defect, I am again asking you to do the ethical thing and direct your Objectors to withdraw the challenge.

The Merits of the Challenge

The Petition filed by your Objectors concedes that I have 829 signatures. Your Objectors attached eight exhibits as follows:

Exhibit B 30 signatures;
Exhibit C 107 signatures;
Exhibit D 66 signatures;
Exhibit F 16 signatures;
Exhibit G 30 signatures;
Exhibit H 4 signatures; and
Exhibit I 42 signatures.

TOTAL: 295.

Even assuming arguendo, that you won all of the challenges in your exhibits, I would still have 534 registered Democratic voters asking the Secretary of the Commonwealth to put me on the ballot. Is it ethical for you to ask the Court to give you a free ride in an election when you know that, under your Objector's Petition, 534 registered Democrats want me on the ballot? Again, I ask you to do the ethical thing and direct your Objectors to withdraw the challenge.

Your Exhibits B thru I are wrong... at best, only 159 bad signatures

Counsel for the Objectors and I spent six hours in the Lehigh County Election Bureau going over the Objector's Exhibits. Kindly check with him. He conceded numerous errors in the Exhibits. By my count, you have not found 295 bad signatures. At best, you have 155 and some of those are arguable. 165 MINUS 829 = 665. Is it ethical for you to ask the Court of give you a free ride in an election where 665 registered Democrats want me on the ballot?

Read Buckley vs, Valeo, 424 U.S. 1

In order to get out of the box that the Objector's Exhibits put you in, the Objectors allege certain facts to try to strike valid signatures. Fortunately for democratic theory, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Buckley that such objections are unconstitutional under the First and Fourteen Amendments.

In this country, voters, not judges, decide elections.

Time to do the right thing ... and let the voters decide

As Winston Churchill observed, democracy is messy. It's time for you to accept the fact that State Senators are elected by voters, not anointed by judges. Do the right thing. Tell your Objectors to withdraw their challenges. The lawyer failed to serve the Secretary of the Commonwealth on time. The challenge is dead. Your Petition agrees that I have 500+ signatures. The challenge is dead. The First and Fourteenth Amendments support the inclusion of candidates on the ballot. Do you really want me filing a Complaint in Federal Court to enjoin this unconstitutional challenge. Do the right thing.

Democratically yours,

Richard J. Orloski

One Wingnut Down, One to Go, in 136th State House Race

According to an updated listing of nomination challenges in Pennsylvania, womens' rights advocate Heidi Markow is no longer a candidate for the 136th state house seat held by Bob Freeman. She's the victim of a Court Order removing her from the ballot, probably signed by a man.

That leaves Ron Shegda as the only Republican running. Here's his campaign theme song. How can he lose with a jingle like that?

Linden Street Bridge to Open Officially on Wednesday

Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham will open the new, $6.5 million, Linden Street Bridge on Wednesday, March 31 at 1 p.m, accompanied by a bungee-jumping exhibition by his former opponent, Scott Ott.

Used by thousands of drivers daily, Linden Street is the fourth new bridge Cunningham will have opened since taking office in 2006. Construction began on the bridge in October 2008.

By the end of this year, major repairs will have been completed or underway on 17 other bridges and another four are scheduled for replacement. This means that more than half of the county’s 47 bridges are being upgraded.

WHO: Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham

WHAT: Linden Street Bridge Opening

WHERE: Linden Street Bridge

WHEN: 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 31

Directions: From Linden Street turn left on North Race Street (across from Banana Joe's Dance Club) into the RJ Corman Railroad Yard

Do We Need Census Reform, Too?

At the one and only Tea Party meeting I attended, an attractive mother was given the floor to deride the upcoming census, warning that we'll be asked personal questions about how many flush toilets we have, as well as the names and ages of our children. Similar objections are raised by The New American. Libertarians, shrieking that we'll all be asked whether we have trouble "learning, remembering or concentrating," are urging an outright boycott.

Well, since that time, I received my form, which took about two minutes to complete. If I was asked whether I have problems remembering things, I must have forgotten.

Having voted for Obama, I must have received the short form.

Congress is specifically directed to do a head count every ten years, in "such manner as they shall by Law direct" (Article I, Section 2).

LV Congressman Charlie Dent has agreed to co-sponsor the “Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act,” a piece of bipartisan legislation designed to help prevent operational problems that have emerged on the eve of the censuses in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010, in part from a lack of steady leadership and management due to changes in Presidential administrations.

All seven living former Directors of the U.S. Census Bureau, including those who served under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, have endorsed this overhaul. Census Directors include Vincent P. Barabba (1973-1976; 1979–1981), John G. Keane (1984-1989), Barbara Everitt Bryant (1989–1993), Martha Farnsworth Riche (1994-1998), Kenneth Prewitt (1998–2001), Charles Louis Kincannon (2002-2008), and Steven H. Murdock (2008-2009).

In a news release about this bipartisan bill, Dent stated, “The Constitutional duty of the United States Census Bureau is primarily a scientific one. Successfully enumerating a population as large and diverse as ours is a difficult but critical task, one which must not be tainted by partisan politics. It is vital that the work of dedicated Census Bureau employees is not affected by whichever party controls the White House. The bipartisan Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act will provide greater transparency and accountability to ensure that the Census Bureau has the resources to provide a count that is truly fair and accurate.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Northampton County Executive's Report

At every Northampton County Council meeting, Executive John Stoffa provides a brief report concerning different projects, and answers questions raised by Council members. This is what he told Council on March 18th. (Yes, I'm a llittle late with this one).

1) Gracedale. - There are four proposals by different consultants to study inefficiencies at the County's nursing home.

2) Archives' Needs. - The state has interviewed 58 department heads and have a "pretty comprehensive analysis of our needs. It looks like we need between 25,000 and 30,000 cubic feet of storage. Stoffa has asked that Council member John Cusick be appointed to a committee to decide how the County will address its storage needs.

3) Bethlehem Township Work Release / Treatment Center. - The County is still waiting to hear from Judge Franciosa.

4) Human Relations Department. - Interviews are being conducted, and Stoffa hopes to have someone in the next two weeks.

You can view the meeting yourself here.

Ned Donovan, Vampire Slayer

Allentown City Council VP Michael Donovan, is a lover, not a fighter. His blog, Inclusion, promotes mutual respect, hugs and kisses. He refused to raise a hand last year when some Allentown punk, mistaking him for Ron Angle, punched him in the face.

Son Ned is nothing like the old man. He's actually a vampire slayer, just like Buffy.

Don't believe me? He's been caught on tape, both here and here, kicking some vampire ass. Gotta' admit I love the sound effects, too.

Allentown Fire Department Over the Years

Has Pawlowski Invaded $4.8 Million Lockbox Without Council Approval?

That's what Morning Call reporter Jarrett Renshaw suggests today, in a disturbing account about Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's controversial $10 million loan in 2006. $4.8 million was deposited in a "lock box" that could be invaded only for emergencies, and only with prior Council approval.

But it now looks like Pawlowski broke into that piggy bank to plug holes in his 2009 budget, and without city council approval. He claims he's in the clear because he hasn't done it officially. ''The money will be used on paper to cover the 2009 deficit and will be reimbursed by the proceeds of the property sales.'' That's kinda' like a bank robber claiming he's innocent because he never "officially" announced his intentions. If this is just a paper transaction, why does Hizzoner have to reimburse the lock box with sale proceeds that the city has yet to receive?

He's playing games.

Update: I've just been informed that th lock box bank account still shows a balance at or higher than the $4.8 million required, even though overall cash reserves for the city dipped below that number.

How is that possible? Here’s how:

The Mayor took a short-term borrowing from the EIT (earned income tax) escrow fund to cover the city’s cash needs and to keep him from having to actually dip into the lockbox account. By taking this short term “loan”, he was able to technically avoid tapping the “lockbox” account. Still, the cash on hand (all accounts, including the lockbox account) at year-end will show a combined balance below what the lockbox is supposed to hold (and presumably a related liability to replenish the EIT escrow fund).

Either way, the Mayor has lowered total cash reserves below the lockbox amount, or he’s done some borrowing without proper approval. To my knowledge, borrowing from the escrow fund was never approved by council, and I’m not even sure if it is legal to do so (I always thought escrow funds were untouchable). If council were acting responsibly, one would think they’d be holding public hearings on the matter since they might all be held responsible for raiding an escrow account.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Emmaus Everyman Recounts WWII Experience

"I thought I would always be a spectator. I would always be sitting on a bench while others were out on the playing field."

That's what swirled through 18-year Bob Kauffman's mind as he lay in a Normandy ditch, waiting to be evacuated with other wounded soldiers after a failed assault. He was, after all, a replacement. Second team. But this young Emmaus man had just discovered that he was very much part of the action, and he'd be returning for more of the same. He issued no orders. He followed them, and against Germany's most elite military unit.

Kauffman spoke at last night's LV Veterans History Project Roundtable, attended by about 80 people. Once a month, this group invites a vet to share his personal recollections with the Roundtable, although they conduct and tape private interviews, too. They then forward this first-hand oral history to the the Library of Congress' Veterans history project.

This diminutive grandfather, with a soft voice and unassuming demeanor, is the last person I'd expect to see as a combat soldier, but was actually wounded twice during WWII.

After recuperating from his first wound, he rejoined his unit just in time to be greeted by the Battle of the Bulge.

"When you give the Germans two months to get ready for you, you're going to pay a hell of a price."

And that's exactly what happened. On his first night back with his unit, he could hear a German machine gun firing in the distance, at an amazing 1,200 rounds per minute. "That's a sound you don't forget."

Also unforgettable is the unit he faced the very next day, known as the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, an elite unit that had been Hitler's personal bodyguard and whose soldiers had just executed 150 American POWs in the Malmedy massacre. "We got the crap kicked out of us," he bluntly admitted. The Germans eventually ran out of fuel and were surrounded, but Kampfgruppe Peiper (whose picture accompanies this blog) was still able to escape with 800 men.

Guess who was next? That's right, it was the 2d SS Panzer Division, which Kauffman described as "notorious."

Kauffman's company. which originally consisted of 200 men, was down to 14. They had one tank. That's when they got the orders to take a village.

It was in this village that Kauffman was shot again. He had seen two German soldiers, barked out that they should surrender, and their hands went up in the air. What Kauffman did not realize at first was that, while one of these German soldiers may have raised his hands in surrender, he was holding a pistol in one of them. By the time Kauffman noticed that little detail, he was shot. He grabbed the German and the two bear-hugged each other until one of Kauffman's fellow soldiers shot the German.

Now you might think this guy would end up hating the Germans. But like many WWII vets, he befriended many of them. One of them, a German officer, always referred to Kauffman as my "dear half brother," and paid his way to Europe for five visits.

Kauffman visited the Normandy cemetery in 1999, above Omaha beach, and was chilled by the relentless pounding of the waves along the nearby beach, which he called "God's eternal reminder of the enormity of the price we paid." Thinking of his fellow fallen soldiers, he said they were robbed, "but we were robbed, too. We lost their friendship, their children, their grandchildren."

Unlike most WWII vets, who rarely talk about their experience, Kauffman has also written a book called The Replacement.

The only negative feature about last night's Roundtable was the presence of Congressional candidate Jake Towne, who was there with his clipboard and pamphlets, trying to drum up support. If he was there to hear this story, I'd have no problem. But he was there to tell his own.

Give it a rest and come up for air, Jake.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

ET Editor Jim Deegan Zings Lisa Boscola

State Senator Lisa Boscola was on a roll, talking about her love-hate relationship with the press.

"I've been on the front page of the news with a photo, a really great photo, with a really great issue, and I thought the article just explained exactly what I'm trying to do. ... However, I've been on the flip side of it with a lousy frickin' picture, and I'm like, 'Where'd they get that, and why dd they use that. That was done intentionally.'"

At this point, Express Times Editor Jim Deegan quietly interjected, "The camera never lies."

You can see Jim Deegan's video here.

CACLV's Alan Jennings Laments Decline in Investigative Journalism

CACLV's Alan Jennings is an advocate for the poor. He is a powerful voice for those who would otherwise be swept under the rug. His most important partner is the newspaper.

MC Publisher Tim Kennedy Debunks Myth Newspapers On Way Out

In his presentation at Northampton County Community College, Morning Call publisher Tim Kennedy talks about a paradox in the newspaper business. Its reach is greater now than ever, but the economics have never been worse. He then declares that the commonly held belief that newspapers are dead or dying is a myth.

According to Kennedy, journalism is supported by advertising revenue. At one time, newspapers had a near monopoly, but that has changed in recent years.

* Over the past five years, most newspapers have lost about 35% of their advertising revenue.

* The Morning Call has lost half of its profitability.

* Since 2005, The Morning Call has lost $13 million in revenue from "Help Wanted" ads alone.

* That $13 million figure is higher than his budget for newsroom operations today.

Journalism has had nothing to do with this failure. Craigslist yes, but not journalism.

Kennedy likens The Morning Call today to a start up company.

Will Morning Call Be Charging For Online Access?

That's what Morning Call publisher Tim Kennedy hinted at during a Northampton County Community College forum about the newspaper industry today.

In response to a question about online content, Kennedy noted, "We do not currently charge for online access." He later repeated himself, stressing the word "currently," noting it would make sense to provide the content for free while the paper feels its way around the Internet.

Three LC Comm'rs Play Hookey

Last night's Lehigh County Comm'r meeting was uneventful and brief. The weather was nice, too, and three members decided to play hookey. VP Dan McCarthy, surrounded by empty seats, looked like a member of the lonely hearts' club.

Can you guess who was MIA?

A few weeks ago, I suggested that LC Comm'r David Jones should resign. Sure, he can deliver a great sermon from the dais, but his abysmal 47.4% committee attendance record last year is an indication he's unwilling to work.

This year, instead of trying to improve his attendance, he snubbed a distinguished group of twelve fellow Democrats who had applied for appointment to a Comm'r vacancy. Having failed to participate in any of the interviews, you'd think he'd recuse himself from voting. He even ignored four applicants who called or emailed him about the job.

But guess what? After dissing those people, Jones finally did show up at a meeting to vote for William Hansell, Don Cunningham's preferred candidate, twice. Of course, Hansell got the appointment.

At last night's meeting, Jones was MIA again, insulting the East Side Allentown residents who voted him into office. I'm beginning to think I attend more meetings than him.

Also MIA last night was Comm'r Andy Roman. His committee attendance record last year was just 56%, and he justified it, saying "the REAL WORK for 2010 begins with doing research, phone calls, on-site visits, interviews with County workers, conference calls, communication with other counties, acting on Home Rule Charter responsibilities, and other 'leg work' to get something done."

So where you doing research and on-site visits last night, Andy? Your Home Rule Charter responsibilities require you to attend meetings, not to make up responsibilities as you go along.

The third no-show last night is the person who was just appointed, William Hansell. Bill was in Florida last night, and that's where he was on the night he was appointed.

Now Hansell, who claims to have written Home Rule Charters and probably had a hand in the Federal Health Care Reform Act, might consider reading one of those documents. They require him to attend meetings.

Northampton Has More Drunks than Lehigh County

PSP reports 1439 DUIs in Lehigh County last year. Despite Northampton County slightly smaller population, there were 1448 DUIs.


Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail Continues to Grow

On Saturday or Sunday mornings, if you're up early enough, you can see plenty of marathoners doing their weekend "long runs" of ten to twenty miles. The place they frequent the most is simply called the "towpath." You can pick it up in Allentown''s Canal Park, Bethlehem's Sand Island, Freemansburg's mule barn or in Easton's Riverview Park. It runs along the Lehigh Canal and is part of 165-mile Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. It's the old route once used to deliver anthracite coal, and might be the most beautiful part of the Lehigh Valley.

I used to be one of those early morning runners. My brother and I illegally spray-painted mile markers between Sand Island and Allentown (4.4 miles) , and between Sand Island and the Bethlehem Boat Club (6.2 miles). A round trip run was exactly 21 miles. Once we could do that, we knew we were highly conditioned, well-trained athletes, ready for a marathon.

Stay away from the towpath south of Easton. On my first run there, I was nearly run over by some warhorse that delighted in shitting every time it breezed by me. The last time I went, I was nearly killed by a psycho goose. The damn thing started chasing after me when I got just a little too close to a gosling. Don't ever piss off a goose. It was hissing like a snake, snapping at my ass and was actually gaining on me even with its little webbed feet. That's when my foot jammed into a root, and I tumbled down the river bank.

Goose - 1, O'Hare - 0.

"Honk, Honk, Honk," the bastard laughed.

Later that day, I returned with a shotgun, but the goose went into hiding. Every now and then, I'd hear a "Honk," but all I could find were little goose feathers and those ugly green shits they leave all over the place.

Between Bethlehem and Allentown, there are no horses, and the geese are all on drugs, although they shit all over. There used to be a friendly beaver. He never bothered me, but loved to torment my brother's dogs. He probably moved to Easton when the canal dried up.

These days, the only wildlife you might find on the "towpath" is 18' tall state Rep. Joe Brennan. As a word of warning to my Republican friends, Joe is out of season until sometime after Labor Day.

We pretty much take these things for granted, but if truth be told, local officials do a lot of work to make those long runs and other forms of recreation possible. On Monday, at 11 AM, Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham and state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary John Quigley will officially open the newest section of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor trail, a 2.8 mile stretch between Cementon and Laurys Station. Pricetag? $230,000. Costs are shared by Lehigh County, DCNR, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and Emmaus-based Wildlands Conservancy.

My brother, the beaver and I supply the spraypaint for free.

CACLV Recognized by Nat'l Community Reinvestment Coalition

The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) was honored last Friday by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition for its work in promoting fair and equal access to credit and capital. CACLV Executive Director Alan L. Jennings accepted the award from Reverend Jesse Jackson and, for once, he looks speechless.

NCRC’s National Achievement Awards are given to individuals and organizations revered as leaders in expanding financial access for working families and communities. Nominations for these awards are invited from NCRC members across the country and, after a thorough review process, the most deserving are selected to be honored with awards in their respective category.

CACLV and its three community development subsidiaries - the Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown, the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem and The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund - have a wide array of initiatives that have distinguished themselves for promoting “fair and equal access to credit and capital,” including the following:

Providing entrepreneurial training and technical assistance to hundreds of microenterprises;

Making $1.4 million in microloans to nearly 70 borrowers, only four of which have been written off totaling less than $40,000;

Creating neighborhood partnership programs in Allentown (Allentown Neighborhood Development Alliance), Bethlehem (Southside Vision 2014) and Easton (West Ward Neighborhood Partnership) that have brought more than $7 million in private grants and leveraged millions more in government grants to the poorest neighborhoods in those cities;

Convincing Lehigh and Northampton counties to establish Housing Trust Funds by increasing recording fees on deeds and mortgages, generating more than $500,000 per year over roughly 20 years for affordable housing projects;

Organizing campaigns to generate more than $60 million for parks, farmland and open space through the Green Future Fund, with more $15 million available for urban municipalities;

Negotiating four community reinvestment commitments with banks as part of mergers that resulted in more than $500 million for urban communities and low- to moderate-income residents, including mortgage and community development lending, protecting urban branches from closure;

Raising over $750,000 from suburban municipalities for urban homeless shelters.

In receiving the award on behalf of the agency, Jennings told the 300+ people in the audience, “Our communities are being devastated, we are falling further and further behind. Whether it is our anger, our compassion, our pride or our faith that drives us, we all just have to keep finding motivation to fight back every day.”

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition is an association of more than 600 community-based organizations that promote access to basic banking services, including credit and savings, to create and sustain affordable housing, job development and vibrant communities for America’s working families.

Ron Angle's Final Resting Place


This just in, from of Ron Angle's former Northampton County Council colleagues:

With all the hoopla about estates and wills lately, I thought you might enjoy this humorous story at the expense of my friend, the Northampton County Bulldog.

Ron said to his wife, "Honey, I just came to the realization that some day I will no longer be with you and it seems appropriate that I have an eternal resting place." His wife agreed and found Ron a beautiful spot on an Upper Mount Bethel hillside, with plenty of sunshine and a fantastic view.

"Looks great," said Ron. "How much?"

"Four hundred thousand dollars," answered Ron's wife, Sharon.

"What? Four hundred thousand dollars!" cried Ron. "I'm only going to be there three days!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lehigh Tp Will Seek AG's Protection From Federal Health Care Reform Act

Nestled along the Blue Mountain Ridge in northwestern tier of Northampton County is thirty square miles known as Lehigh Township, home to 9,700 people. Unless a gigantic hog farm is proposed, it's pretty quiet up there.

They don't like lots of hogs, even with lipstick. They don't like them up there, or in the nation's capitol, either. Last night, supervisors unanimously approved advertising an ordinance condemning the Federal Health Care Reform Act as unconstitutional, and calling on AG Tom Corbett "to protect the citizens of Lehigh Township from any and all effects of the Federal Health Care Reform Act."

According to Township Secretary Treasurer Alice Rehrig, Corbett has been invited to attend the April 13 supervisors' meeting.

The text of this proposed ordinance is below:

WHEREAS, Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution establishes the specific powers of the Congress of the United States; and

WHEREAS, The 10th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States establishes the powers and authority not granted to the Federal Government are belonging to the States and the People respectively; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Supervisors of Lehigh Township recognizes that the Federal Health Reform Act violates the limitations duly imposed on the Federal Government; and

NOW, THEREFORE, it is hereby ENACTED AND ORDAINED, and it is enacted and ordained by the Board of Supervisors as follows:

1. The Board of Supervisors of Lehigh Township, on behalf of the citizens of Lehigh Township, do fully support and encourage Pennsylvania Attorney General, Tom Corbett, in joining with numerous Attorneys General in several States, in challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Health Reform Act.

2. A letter of support shall be crafted and sent, to Attorney General Tom Corbett, on behalf of Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors, and the citizens of Lehigh Township, requesting that the full power of the Office of the Attorney General be utilized to protect the citizens of Lehigh Township from any and all effects of the Federal Health Reform Act.

3. This Ordinance shall become effective immediately.

County Gov't Gone Bad

RIP: Sheena Villa, 3/23/81 - 3/24/06

Rob Hopkins Challenges 9 LC State Dem Committee Hopefuls

Pennylvania' Democratic State Committee includes seven seats from Lehigh County. This year, there are an unusually large number of candidates. Seventeen people have filed nomination petitions, including Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski.

Some people believe Pawlowski is already too powerful and partisan. I've previously questioned whether his election would violate Allentown's Home Rule Charter.

Interestingly, many of those running have been encouraged to do so by Walter Felton. Remember him? He just lost a close race for District Judge in Allentown, and is himself a candidate. Is Walter trying to become a state-wide political force?

But there's a problem. A lot of these nomination petitions have glaring problems, like Republican signatures or the same person signing every name. They've bothered Rob Hopkins enough to challenge nine of these petitions on his own.

Is Rob doing Pawlowski's bidding? Since he managed Hizzoner's campaign four years ago, that would be my first guess. But Rob would like to get out of politics for awhile. A member of the state committee himself, he's stepping down, and had no involvement in Pawlowski's most recent race. In a conversation with me a few months ago, he told me he'd like to be another Steve Shaack, an erstwhile political consultant who gave it all up for the glamorous world of ... abstracting titles.

So why'd he do it? Maybe because the petitions are just that bad. He was bothered enough to dig into his own pocket to pay the necessary challenge fees. Nobody funded him. He'll have to pay to have these served, too. These bills alone will cost him over $1,000.

Acting pro se, he'll be spending a lot of time in court the next few days. The petitions he has challenged are those filed by Shelly Lee, Mariah Simpson, Joseph E. McAndrew, Fulton T. Thornton, Veronica Clemons, Carlos Salas, Cecilia Gerlach, Nancy I. Rodriguez, and Barbara L. Redmond.

Some of these challenged candidates have already played the race card. But Hopkins is an active part of the Pa. Diversity Network.

Maybe he's just a guy who likes to see things done the right way.

Update: LVPoliblog has an interesting post about Lehigh County Dems. It's a blue county, but they continue to get clobbered in the 'burbs.

Under Fire, Cory Miller Withdraws From Race For Dally's Seat

A few weeks ago, I asked "Who the hell is Cory Miller?" He was supposedly circulating nomination petitions for the vacant 138th House District held by Craig Dally, who recently was elevated to the judicial stratosphere.

Well, Cory must have stopped circulating. Democrat Joe DiGerlando, who's not running for anything, has challenged Cory's nomination petitions. Cory simply withdrew on Monday.

As a result, Northampton County Democrats have no candidate. Republican Marcia Hahn, a legislative staffer to Dally with 25 years of public service, will square off against Republican Nick Sabatine, a Wind Gap lawyer.

The Battle of the Wingnuts in the 136th

On April 1, when the LV Conservative Voice Pac next meets to conduct human sacrifices and howl at the moon, perennial candidate and wingnut Ron Shegda has already volunteered "to tell the audience why this is called 'April Fools' Day.'"

No need, Ron, no need.

For those of you on Planet Earth, Ron Shegda is the sacrificial lamb usually sent by the GOP to go up against popular Pennsylvania state representative Bob Freeman in the 136th (Hellertown, Williams, Easton). Trounced in his last two efforts, he does entertain.

Back in 2006, when Shegda first appeared in cyberspace, his website proclaimed "Ron Shegda for Public Office." His ambition was to run for the U.S. Senate now, this year, because he's as wise as a serpent.

"Yet we are wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We will use the power of a Senate seat to defend our nation. Observe the Great Seal of the United States on the back of every dollar bill. The eagle clutches both arrows and olive branch; but it gazes at the olive branch. Will you join this campaign?"

As you've probably surmised, not many did, so now he just runs against Freeman every two years. On the bright side, he's got the support of right wing kooks like Berks County-based state representative (and Governor candidate) Sam Rohrer, a graduate of Bob Jones University. Rohrer actually sends letters instructing judges that Pennsylvania's Vehicle Code only applies to commercial vehicles.

He entertains, too.

Unfortunately for Ron, Domestic Violence Advocate Heidi Markow is running, too. At this time a year ago, she was busily sending me emails about several women who would very soon be killed by their husbands. When that failed to happen, she lashed out at a Northampton County Judge and DA who refused to follow her advice. Then, surrounded by cardboard silhouettes of domestic violence victims and whirring cameras, she called a news conference to request Governor Rendell and the Attorney General to take over a domestic abuse case because she opposed the plea agreement.

Amazingly, when the DA went ahead with that plea agreement anyway, she responded, "We're getting somewhere."

She entertains, too.

Well, Shegda has challenged Markow's nomination petition. She probably thinks it's because she's a woman. They'll duke it out this morning in Commonwealth Court.

Join the Angry Mob?

I first met Wind Gap lawyer Nick Sabatine, who's running against Marcia Hahn for Criag Dally's seat,
when he and his father were promoting Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign. Nick eventually became the national chairman of the Patriot Party, but eventually reached the conclusion that third parties are ineffective.

I do his title work, so I'm officially Switzerland in his race against Marcia.

But I can tell you this much. Nick is a very nice guy, but he's also very dry. An intellectual who likes to deliberate. And pontificate. His four years on Northampton County Council lasted four decades.

These days, Nick's something of a tea party activist. I can understand that because he's always been very conservative. But what blows me away is that he's formed a rock band. With guitars and everything. Not one violin or harp. Get this name: "Join the Angry Mob." If you click on the link, you can order CDs and buy T-shirts. Here are some lyrics from his first cut.

"All you grandmas and grandpas too/ You better watch out cuz' they're after you / making such a fuss at those rowdy town halls / soon you'll be staring at four small walls / People in Congress aren't used to being told if you don't do your job you'll be thrown out in the cold / it's news to them that they work for us / it's time they learn, so get on the bus / come join the angry mob / if you're mad as hell and can't take it any more / join the angry mob / grab 'em by the neck, show 'em to the door."

Grab 'em by the neck? Angry mob? Nick, what the hell are you doing? Are you going to hit them with legal pads?

I wonder whether Ron Shegda is playing bass.
Update: The Express Times' Tony Nauroth also has a piece on Nick Sabatine's musical debut.

Lehigh County to Host Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Luncheon

In recognition of Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Month, Lehigh County is cosponsoring a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 25 at the Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel and Conference Center in Bethlehem.

Hosted by the Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Steering Committee of Lehigh and Northampton counties, the event celebrates the accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities.

WFMZ-TV Chief Meteorologist Ed Hanna is the master of ceremonies.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tom Corbett Just Elected Governor

Deputy AG Frank Fina: “Veon’s been convicted of stealing over a million dollars of taxpayers’ money in the form of bonuses. And we think it’s a good day. We hope it sends a strong message to the rest of our elected officials.”

House Unanimously Passes Grucela Bill to Grant HS Diplomas to Viet Vets

It's unanimous!

When I first told you about Operation Recognition for Vietnam veterans, proposed by State Rep. Richard Grucela, D-Northampton, one of you snarked that "populist proposals in the run up to one's election are easy to identify." Grucela decided to retire at the end of his term this year, but continued to pursue legislation that would recognize Vietnam War vets who left school early to serve their country. Today, the House unanimously agreed they should be awarded High School diplomas.

Under this bill, school boards may establish a program identical to what has already been used in the past for World War II and Korean War veterans.

"Some veterans may have felt uncomfortable returning to school at a later age or simply needed to work full time to support themselves," Grucela said. "Whatever the reason, a high school diploma is a mile marker in life that provides a sense of accomplishment and should not be denied to them. My legislation would offer a small, but important show of appreciation to all those who sacrificed their education to ensure our freedoms."

Any honorably discharged veteran who served in the Vietnam War between Feb. 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975, would be eligible for a diploma. The veteran would have to have attended high school between 1958 and 1975 and have been a member of a graduation class during the years 1962 through 1975.

School boards would also be able to award a diploma posthumously to an eligible veteran.

Grucela is a former teacher and a member of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

John Callahan: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Callahan leads from the rear.

Inside Pelosi's Sausage Factory

Neatly outlined in the WSJ article linked above is everything I thought was wrong with the Bush administration and Republican control of Congress. "Never before has the average American been treated to such a live-action view of the sordid politics necessary to push a deeply flawed bill to completion. It was dirty deals, open threats, broken promises and disregard for democracy that pulled ObamaCare to this point, and yesterday the same machinations pushed it across the finish line." Hope and Change? Let's review.

1. The Slaughter Rule, aka Political Cowardice. - A procedural trick to give wavering House Democrats political cover in November's election, abandoned only at the last minute as a result of public outcry and the good sense of Democrats like Stephen Lynch.

2. The Wishing Well. - California Jim Costa's vote bought when administration decides to increase water supplies to thirsty Central Valley farmers in his district. (Costa denies a quid pro quo).

3. Tennessee Two-Step. - Bart Gordon's vote bought in exchange for an extra $100 million in Medicaid money. Just a coincidence?

4. Cornhusker Kickback. - This extra Medicaid money for Sen. Ben Nelson was pulled out of the reconciliation bill, and guess who's threatening to vote against final reconciliation? Ben, Obama giveth, and Obama taketh away.

5. Louisiana Purchase. - Newsweek swears this really isn't a dirty backroom deal, but an additional $300 million in Medicaid for Louisiana, one of the few states that voted against Obama, sure made it easier for Senator Mary Landrieu to support Obamacare. This stays.

6. Gator-Aid. - This deal, cut by Senator Bill Nelson (no relations to Ben), would allow Florida Medicare recipients signed on to Medicare Advantage to stay there, while retirees everywhere else would lose that option. This has been removed in the Final reconciliation. Obama must not like guys named Nelson.

7. Medicaid Money for Everyone! - "Oregon's Pete DeFazio threatened to lead a revolt unless changes were made to Medicare payments to benefit his state. On Saturday Mrs. Pelosi cut a deal to give 17 states additional Medicare money."

8. What About the Unborn? - The President agrees to sign a completely ineffective executive order, banning the use of federal money for abortions, winning the votes of pro-life Dems.

Barack Obama promised change, and he sure has delivered. He's made things worse.

No Liberty Belle in Philly

Last month, I told you about Pia Varma, a Republican challenger to Congressman Bob Brady in Philly. Despite an electrifying video, she's been booted off the ballot, the victim of a petition challenge waged by Brady. His attorney mockingly referred to her as the "Sarah Palin of Philadelphia."


Monday, March 22, 2010

Inmate Population Drops Nationwide, But Rises 4.3% in Pa.

Pennsylvania's Congressional Delegation Evenly Divided on Health Care Overhaul

According to PaIndependent, nine Pennsylvania House members supported it, but two Democrats (Altmire and Holden) broke ranks and voted with seven Republicans against the Bill.

Now Wilkes-Barre Wants to Ban Cell Phones, Too!

Corbett to Sue Feds Over Healthcare

States rights and all that.

Thinking the Unthinkable, No Newspapers

That's the subject of a panel discussion that will be conducted at Northampton Community College this Thursday, March 25, at 11 AM. The program has been put together by Journalism Professor Rob Hays, with a little help from Adjunct Professor Eric Chiles, who was a member of the Morning Call's editorial board.

Who are the panelists?

1) State Senator Lisa Boscola, who knows how to get ink better than any LV legislator I know, except maybe Ron Angle.

2) CACLV's Alan Jennings, who represents those who would otherwise have no voice.

3) Democracy Rising's Tim Potts, one of Pennsylvania's biggest civic activists.

4) Express Times Editor and columnist Jim Deegan, who will be selling subscriptions cheap.

5) Morning Call Publisher Tim Kennedy, who will introduce the paper's brand new, one-page, format.

This discussion will take place in the Reed Community Room, College Center Room 220. That's the main building on campus. Questions are welcome, and I believe both pols and bloggers will be on hand to provide them.

Dent's Speech Against Trillion Dollar Health Overhaul

LV Congressman Charlie Dent is one of the House Republicans who unanimously opposed the trillion dollar health care overhaul passed last night. Because of the limitations on debate, he was unable to deliver a floor speech in person, but was permitted to submit a statement explaining his opposition.

Undeniably, health care reform is needed. Families and businesses are struggling to keep up with rising insurance premiums. Thousands of constituents in my district do not have access to affordable insurance because of skyrocketing costs. An increasing number of Americans are impacted by policies that preclude individuals with pre-existing conditions from securing insurance. Patients are frustrated with the difficulty of navigating the health care system and insurance bureaucracy. We have all experienced our doctors practicing defensive medicine – ordering unnecessary tests and procedures in an effort to ward off frivolous lawsuits. Poor reimbursement rates mean that doctors cannot afford to place an emphasis on prevention and wellness.

The consequences of reform are profound for families, our economy and the future of our country. Reform policies will have a direct impact on the lives of all Americans and the budgets of every household. These changes will affect one-sixth of our economy. Done right, we will lift burdens that are holding employers back from growing and revitalizing our economy. Done wrong, jobs will be lost and 10 percent unemployment will become the norm rather than the exception. Health care expenditures make up an increasing percentage of state and federal spending. Addressing health-care costs is vital to the long term economic health of the United States.

I support reform. I have advocated for deliberate policies that will reduce the cost and increase the quality of health care, provide all Americans with the opportunity to obtain affordable health insurance, give patients more control over their health care decisions, and promote innovations and wellness initiatives that lead to cures.

I oppose the bill before us today because it will increase health care costs for Americans and bend the curve of health care spending in the wrong direction; it will create a new trillion dollar entitlement program that the bill does not realistically address how we will afford; and it will impede economic growth, particularly in our district.

Above all else, health care reform must address the escalating health care costs that are crippling American families and overall, slow our nation’s healthcare spending. This bill does not accomplish those critical objectives. According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), premiums will increase by 10 to 13 percent for families who are purchasing health insurance in the individual market. This amounts to more than $2,000 a year for a family. In addition, the CBO indicates that H.R. 3590, which will be the law of the land if we pass it today, will increase the federal budgetary commitment to health care by more than $200 billion over the next decade. If the reconciliation package (H.R. 4872) is also signed into law, the combined budgetary impact on health care spending will be $390 billion. American families can’t afford that increase and neither can our country.

Moreover, this bill creates an unsustainable new entitlement program at the expense of seniors who will be impacted by more than half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts and all Americans who will pay higher health care costs and more than half a trillion dollars in increased taxes, fees and penalties. The bill uses ten years of taxes and Medicare cuts in order to pay for six years of programs. Overall, in the first ten years of full implementation (2014 to 2023), the health care package will result in more than $2.6 trillion in spending. Although the CBO estimated the overall deficit reduction will be $124 billion over ten years, in its analysis the CBO cautioned that its long-term deficit projections
“reflect an assumption that the key provisions of the reconciliation proposal and H.R. 3590 are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation. For example, the sustainable growth rate mechanism governing Medicare’s payments to physicians has frequently been modified to avoid reductions in those payments, and legislation to do so again is currently under consideration by the Congress.”
House Leadership has already said it will consider a bill to address the physician payment issue. Just that policy alone will cost $200 billion, which is not reflected in the CBO score.

Finally, this bill will have an immediate impact on economic growth. New taxes and regulations will lead to lower wages, lost jobs and decreased investment. Employers with more than 50 employees who do not provide health insurance coverage that is deemed “acceptable” by federal standards will be saddled with a tax of up to $2,000 per employee. The bill will levy a tax of as much as 2.5 percent of household income on Americans who do not comply with the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to maintain acceptable coverage. Many investors will face a new tax of 3.8 percent that will be imposed on capital gains, dividends, interest, rents, royalties and other investment income. This tax coupled with scheduled rate increases will lead to a top rate of 23.8 percent for capital gains and 43.4 percent for dividends.

We will feel the impact close to home. A 2.3 percent medical device tax will increase the cost of medical devices – everything from tongue depressors to wheelchairs – and discourage the development of critical new medical innovations. Specifically, this tax will impact businesses in our district imperiling jobs; curtailing advanced research and innovation; reducing purchasing from Pennsylvania vendors; and hampering investment in capital equipment. The ripple effect on our economy and on working families will be far greater than the sum of the tax. And ultimately, patients will see increased costs as a result.

Just yesterday, I offered two amendments to the Rules Committee that would have reduced the negative impacts of H.R. 3590. The first amendment would have inserted common-sense medical liability reforms. Specifically, the amendment would enact nationwide reforms aimed at ending the costly practice of defensive medicine and encourage states to adopt effective alternative medical liability laws that will reduce the number of health care lawsuits that are litigated and the average amount of time taken to resolve lawsuits, and reduce the cost of malpractice insurance. The provisions would save our country billions of dollars and reduce national healthcare spending. The second amendment would have struck the ill-advised medical device tax that a company in my district has dubbed the “death tax” because it will increase their tax burden by 77 percent, raising their effective tax rate to over 73%. This is an innovation tax that will mean less investment in research and development that leads to medical innovations. Unfortunately the leadership of the House would not allow these important amendments to be debated on the House floor today.

I regret very much where we are today and wish that bipartisan efforts to address the shortcomings of our system – access and affordability – while building on our strengths – choice, quality and innovation had prevailed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

House Health Care Debate Live Blog

It's a beautiful Sunday, but if you're nutz like me, you'll be checking in on the House health care debate today. Will it pass as expected, or will it fall apart under the withering criticism it is sure to receive this afternoon? The fur starts flying around 1 PM, and I'll be following on C-Span. Feel free to join in.

Procedure: Democrats appear to have (thankfully) dropped "deem and pass." There will be three major votes: First, the Rule, which will determine the debate process and number of amendments; Second, the Senate Bill; and Third, the reconciliation package. The magic number is 216.

C-Span Links: Flash Player and Windows Media Player.

10:43 PM: The House is voting now, but the debate is over and we know this is going to pass. So after nearly ten hours, I've had enough.

10:20 PM: Speaker Pelosi takes the stage. We tonight will make history for our country and progress for the American people. We will honor the vows of our founders. This legislation will lead to healthier lives. It is an American proposal that honors the traditions of our country. We would not be here tonight without the extraordinary leadership and vision of President Obama.

This legislation tonight, if I had one word to describe, would be opportunity. This legislation will unleash tremendous entrepreneurial power. You can change jobs without worrying that you lose health insurance.

The present health insurance system is unsustainable and is bankrupting the country. The best action we can take is to pass health care reform. The best way to create jobs is to pass health care reform.

32 million more Americans will have insurance and current insurance holders will be protected from higher costs. This bill will create millions of jobs while saving $1.3 trillion.

When it comes to health care, all politics is personal. It's personal for women, and after we pass this bill, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition. It's personal for seniors and for families who are forced into bankruptcy or unable to afford health insurance.

She notes there may be no Republican votes, but there are 200 Republican amendments.

10:09 PM: Minority Leader John Boehner said that we should be working together, If you like the health plan you have, you can keep it? No, you can't. In this economy, with this unemployment, is this really the time to raise taxes and create more government. Won't cuts to Medicare really weaken that program? Was this Bill done openly, with transparency and accountability, without back room deals. Have you read the Bill? Hell no, you haven't. If we vote to defy the will of the American people, we should at least stand ansd announce our votes, one at a time. Boehner asks the Speaker to grant his request for a call of the roll. The speaker calls it a rhetorical question and then says it will by electronic vote.

Boehner said the process is broken, the institution is broken, and that's why the bill is flawed. Americans ask Congress to slow down, not spend money we don't have, it instead focus on jobs. What they see is one political party closing out another from what should be a national solution.

Shame on us. Shame on this body.

This is the people's House, and the moment a majority forgets that, they start writing themselves a ticket to minority status.

10:00 PM: "The Chair is not obligated to inform members of the rules of the House. ... The Chair does not respond to hypothetical questions." (Sounds like Callahan!)

9:51 PM: Republican Whip Eric Cantor notes health care is a "very personal issue," but this overhaul will have a huge impact on everyone. The President has refused to listen, but we hear the American people. This government must stop raising taxes on small businesses and families, but this "trillion dollar overhaul" will do the opposite. Families and patients should have the freedom to choose their own doctors, but this trillion dollar overhaul will begin to take it away. It is the latest part of an agenda to seize more control over our economy and lives. "Listen to the people and vote No to this legislation"

9:30 PM: Clymer calls this a "defining moment in our nation's history," and recites the 700th anecdote of the night. The reform included in this bill will decrease our deficit. It will also create 80,000 jobs. "This is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century."

9:24 PM: "Only in Washington, DC, can you say you're going to spend a trillion dollars and save the taxpayers money." ... "The American people don't want a government takeover of health care." ... "This really is about freedom." ... "We can reform health care by giving people more choices, not more government."

9:15 PM: Rep. Paul Ryan states that "There's a lot wrong with this bill. It is full of gimmicks and hidden mandates." He calls the philosophy behind this bill "paternalistic" and "condescending." "We have seen this movie before and we know how it ends." ... "On this issue, more than any other issue we have seen here, the American people are engaged."

9:10 PM: Dem. George Miller notes America has waited 100 years for health reform. Never again will Americans have to worry about losing health insurance if they lose their job. This will also make college more affordable. "We can side with America's families ... or we can side with insurance companies and the banks."

9:05 PM: Though the debate has gone on 17 months, Republicans complain the bill is being rammed through. - Democrat Gwen Moore.

9:03 PM: "There exists one simple truth, and that truth is that the current system is unsustainable." (NY Congressman)

9:00 PM: A commenter notes that Rep. Ruben Hinojosa(D-TX) "reminded me of the SNL character the Indian Stand up Comic."

8:40 PM: Dr. Tom Price (Georgia) notes health care is a "moral endeavor," but this bill is bad for patients. It will destroy the trust between patient and doctor. "We trust patients and families. They trust government." ... "The bipartisan vote on this bill is a No."

8:30 PM: Things are beginning to get a bit testy.

7:50 PM: Embattled Congressman Charlie Rangle, under ethical clouds, said he's privileged to be a part of this legislation. "Thank God, I'm on the right side." (Hmmm).

7:44 PM: "You may be getting your pre-natal care from turbo tax," huffs one Republican upset that the Bill provides for between 17 and 18 thousand new IRS auditors.

7:11 PM: John Dingel, whose father slammed the gavel when Medicare was adopted, noted this legislation will expand health care to an additional 32 million Americans. "It gives Americans the same health care that we here in Congress have." ... "It is the patient's bill of rights on steroids."

7:05 PM: Thirty-eight states have said they will sue to challenge the constitutionality of the unfunded mandates in this measure. Nathan Deal, who is leaving the House to become Governor of Georgia, just pledged he will join them.

6:50 PM: Majority leader Steny Hoyer characterizes opposition to health care reform as a "campaign of fear", but notes that a "healthy America is a stronger America." He notes Republicans had called Medicare "brazen socialism" and social security the "lash of the dictator."

6:30 PM: House OKs the Rule in a 224-206 vote, well beyond the 216 votes needed.

5:40 PM: David Dreier, ranking member of the Rules Committee, argues a $1.2 trillion billion with job-killing tax increases and 18,000 new IRS agents is unnecessary. He'd rather expand health savings accounts, pooling to deal with pre-existing conditions, allow purchases across state lines and adopt meaningful lawsuit reform. But Rules Chair Louise Slaughter contends that a vote against this Bill is a vote for insurance companies. Right now, a vote to suspend the rules is being tabulated.

5:21 PM: About a gazillion "I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in opposition to this flawed health care bill" requests. When debate is limited, I guess that's the only way.

4:28 PM: After killing the second point of order, the House is now debating the Rule.

4:13 PM: Pro-lifer Bart Stupak announces he's now supporting the package, based on a promise from Obama to issue an Executive Order prohibiting what is authorized under the Bill. Undecided House Democrats like Kathy Dahlkemper are joining him. (Obama's proposed Exec. Order is here).

Turn out the lights, the party's over.

3:35 PM: Louise Slaughter and David Dreier begin mixing it up, accompanied by cheers and jeers from other House members, pounding of the gavel, etc. It's like Northampton County Council! NYTimes reports that Republican House members are flirting with the protesters outside and are waving their own "Don't tread on me" flags from a second-floor balcony. (Barney Frank may have mooned them). Jesse Jackson, Jr., who is acting as Speaker, sure has his hands full.

3:12 PM: Point of Order made that Bill is packed with earmarks, called bribes, in violation of the earmark identification rule. Louise Slaughter claims necessary documentation has been filed.

2:47 PM: Vote on the Point of Order that resolution violates unfunded mandates law. Fails 228-195.

2:39 PM (Sheila Jackson Lee): She brings up Teddie Kennedy and John Kennedy, too.

(Nobody brings up Bobby).

2:33 PM (Patrick Kennedy): The late Edward Kennedy's heart and soul are in this bill. "Healthcare is not only a civil right, it is a moral obligation."

2:20 PM: House has finally introduced the Rule. Congressman Barney Frank reports someone shouting "Kill the Bill!" from the gallery was carted away by cops as House Republicans actually cheered the disruptor. He called them a "bunch of clowns."

"This Bill is the mother of all unfunded mandates."