Friday, July 29, 2011

Dent: Defaulting Not an Option

Yesterday afternoon, LV Congressman Charlie Dent spoke on the House floor in support of the Budget Control Act, which will raise the debt limit and prevent the country from spiraling into default. (You can see the video here). I have transcribed the speech, adding links to news articles that substantiate what Dent said.
First and foremost, we, the United States House of Representatives, have an obligation to govern. We have a tremendous responsibility to the American people to consider this plan that insures our nation does not default on our nation's commitments, while at the same time places this country on a sustainable fiscal path.


Let me be clear. Defaulting on America's obligations to our creditors, to our seniors, disabled veterans, active military personnel, college students and many others, is not an option.


This Bill prevents a default, and it pays our bills.


Congress must act quickly to deter a ratings downgrade, a downgrade that will affect families and small businesses all across the country. Only a sound, credible plan that places us on that sustainable trajectory will prevent that threatened downgrade, driven in part by an unprecedented spending binge by this administration, which has blown up the fiscal balance sheet.


A previous speaker said a few moments ago that we're playing games. I can assure you, this is no game. This is serious stuff. And speaking of serious, the White House has still refused to offer a serious, specific plan, in writing, that we can review. In fact, in a stinging rebuke of the administration, the nonpartisan Director of the CBO - Doug Elmendorf - said, "We don't estimate speeches."


The Senate's dug in its heels, too. It would be nice if they passed a Bill. Any Bill. It's been 800 days since there's been a budget. It's time for them to act, and to move to prevent this type of fiscal calamity that many have predicted.

I ask my colleagues to support this legislation. It's a step forward. It may not be the final product, but it moves this process forward. I encourage the Senate to take it up. But most importantly, we have a sacred duty and a solemn obligation to lead and act. We do have that affirmative obligation to govern for the benefit of our country and the American people.


The world is watching. Americans are watching. It's time for us to lead and demonstrate American exceptionalism.

Why are Republicans insisting on cuts in spending? As the graph above demonstrates, spending under Obama has been out of control.

Dent's Synthetic Drugs Bill Clears House Energy & Commerce Committee

Legislation introduced by LV Congressman Charlie Dent to combat the growing abuse of synthetic drugs today passed the powerful House Committee on Energy & Commerce, clearing the way for future consideration on the House floor. Called the Synthetic Drug Control Act (H.R. 1254), the Bill has been gaining momentum as a result of a national rise in hospitalizations and deaths related to synthetic drug use. There's a companion Bill in the Senate, too.
“I am very pleased H.R. 1254 has taken another crucial step toward becoming law,” Rep. Dent said in a news release. “I thank Chairman Upton and Ranking Member Waxman for their support and commitment to moving this bill through the Energy & Commerce Committee. I look forward to H.R. 1254 being considered on the House floor soon and anticipate its passage with strong bipartisan support.”

This Synthetic Drug Control Act targets chemical compounds that affect the brain in a manner similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and adds them to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I bans drugs and controlled substances that have high potential for abuse and have no use in medical treatment in the United States. The bill also bans chemical compounds used in synthetic drugs commonly sold as ‘Bath Salts’ or ‘Plant Food’, which have been identified as cocaine substitutes. Abuse of bath salts has recently garnered much public attention in Pennsylvania, where disturbing cases of violent, erratic and dangerous behavior have been linked to recreational use of the substance.

Dent's proposed legislation also enhances the authority of DEA to temporarily ban drugs in the interest of public safety and provides greater time for the agency to prove a chemical is harmful, lacks medicinal or industrial value, and should be banned permanently.

The legislation has twenty cosponsors, both Democrat and Republican.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

To Save Costs, Republicans Will Cancel Christmas

In addition to their evil plans to destroy Medicare and Social Security, House Speaker John Boehner is now apparently working on legislation to cancel Christmas, too. At least that is what some White House officials say.

How Communist China Deals With the Disabled

When House Speaker John Boehner addressed the nation Monday night, he said reforms to our entitlement programs are needed to make sure they are still there for our grandchildren.Suspicious left-leaning Democrats accuse him of wanting to end them completely.

How do Communist countries deal with the disabled? They have a quasi police force called chengguan, which beats the shit out of disabled street vendors.  On Tuesday, they beat a one-legged man to death for selling fruit.

Casilio Concrete Coming to West Union Boulevard

Casilio Concrete through the years, and on Facebook
Casilio Concrete is a fourth-generation family business operating out of Bethlehem since 1938. It now serves in five different locations in a 60-mile radius, but is expanding in the Christmas City at 403 West Union Boulevard. On June 27, Bethlehem zoners unanimously granted James Casilio a special exception for a concrete supply store and showroom.
In a brisk and businesslike presentation, Casilio told zoners the property has been used as a gas station, used car lot, auto parts store and was once a home to Friedman Electric. He argued that his use won't be much different in scope an impact from the previous commercial uses. He will employ six full-time people at the shop, two of whom will manufacture concrete countertops and architectural pieces like fireplace surrounds. He'll also use one delivery truck.

Zoner Bill Fitzpatrick, concerned about the environmental impact, asked Casilio about cement dust and toxins in the dyes being used. Casilio explained that there is no dust because they work with concrete when it is wet. All work at the shop will be indoors, and pigments used are inert materials posing no environmental concerns. He added that the company even recycles its concrete. "We are good neighbors in the City of Bethlehem, and are very proud of our record," he concluded.

After his presentation, Casilio was uncertain whether he should leave the room while zoners deliberated. Zoning Chair Gus Loupos joked, "Stay! We won't talk about you."

In other business, zoners granted several dimensional variances to Marcos and Judith Canos for a 7-space parking lot on their property at 656-658 Shields Street. Attorney Joe Piperato, representing the Marcos', established that there is no parking available on Shields Street, and that the Marcos' family is one of the few willing to supply off-street parking. Engineer David Martin told zoners that an additional 1,000 sq.ft. of black top would have a negligible impact on storm water run-off.

Zoners also gave Audrey Muthard a side yard setback variance so she could build a carport at her 1512 Elayne Street home. She gave all the usual reasons - weather, property value, everyone else has one. But she told zoners this is really for her mother. A carport will enable her to sit in the shade and watch the children play outside. "I hope your mom enjoys her grandkids," remarked Bill Fitzpatrick after the Board granted the variance.

Unfortunately, Monica Cruz walked away from the Zoning Hearing Board disappointed. Seeking a special exception for a family day care at her 2133 W. Broad St. residence, she brought several family members and an interpreter to help her testify. But she also brought the posting billboard, which should have stayed on the property. All properties must be posted before a zoning hearing, and Cruz innocently removed it right before the hearing, thinking she had to turn it in. Although nobody was opposed to her request, Zoning Solicitor Mickey Thompson was concerned an objector could appear after the hearing, and have the entire proceedings invalidated because of this mistake. Cruz's matter was continued until next month, and the billboard will stay posted this time.

Like A Good Neighbor, B. Braun Is There

Thanks to a special exception granted by Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board on July 27, the 330 employees at B. Braun Medical's corporate offices at 824 12th Avenue, will soon have a little room in their parking lot. In addition, their West Union Boulevard neighbors will have more room to park on the street.
This "win win" situation is the result of Braun's purchase of a vacant residential lot next to its parking lot. It will add 44 parking spaces to the 200 that currently exist. Myrna Rivera, Director of Corporate Benefits, told zoners many employees are forced to park along West Union Boulevard or other streets, and is concerned about their safety at night or during inclement weather. In addition, Braun is sensitive to the community. "We want to be good neighbors and we're taking their parking spaces," she lamented.

Hanover Engineering's Andrew Bohl, who did the design work for Braun, noted that the residential lot purchased for the parking lot expansion is right next to Route 378. He argued that a parking lot at that location is a much better use of that property than a residential dwelling.

Conceding that Braun is a good neighbor and that the "whole neighborhood was glad to hear they're adding more parking spaces," West Union Boulevard resident Coleen Giering asked for a speed bump in the alley to slow down delivery trucks and cars. But Zoning Officer Chris Bartleson noted that alley is a City Road, and Braun has no authority to interfere with it. But Chair Gus Loupos nevertheless asked Rivera to work on it. "If there is anything you can do, I think it would be a good idea," he suggested. Riversa agreed. "We have been good neighbors, and will continue to be good neighbors," she said.

Braun was represented in this special exception request by Timothy Charlesworth. "A special exception is not so special or an exception," he argued.

According to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission's 2011 Profiles & Trends, B. Braun Medical is the 7th largest private employer in the Lehigh Valley.

Another Protest Rally at Dent's Office on Friday

In apparent reaction to LV Congressman Charlie Dent's unusually candid newsletter about the debt ceiling, 18 members of MoveOn cascaded into his Allentown office on Tuesday, demanding that he protect the middle class. They call themselves, "We, the People." Dent, of course, was in Washington. He's under the goofy impression he represents everyone, including people of limited means.

Now Dent's still in Washington, working on a debt ceiling solution. But now it's the LV Democratic Coalition's turn to invade. An "urgent action item" from Norco Vice Chair Lorraine Pasquali is calling all Democrats to visit Dent's Allentown office on Friday at 3:30 PM. You're supposed to bring signs that say "Don't be reckless with the economy" and "It's time to compromise."

If Dems want signs like that, they should ask the Republicans. Just before the vote on Obamacare, they had lots of signs that said pretty much the same thing.

Who knows, maybe the Fleckster will arrange for a fringe festival there or bring mimes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hanover Township Salutes Wegmans

It's consistently rated one of the top employers in the country, and Wegmans is a also a good neighbor in Hanover Township. At their July 26 meeting, Hanover Township Supervisors thanked Wegmans for voluntarily installing a sidewalk along Stoke Park Road, which abuts the store.

Supervisor Glenn Walbert noted that, in response to requests from some residents concerned about safety and pedestrian access, the Township had asked this customer-friendly supermarket chain to install sidewalks, although it lacked the authority to require them. Wegmans agreed, and sidewalks were installed in mid-July. Walbert asked the Township for a "letter thanking them for being a good corporate resident." He added, "It greatly improves the safety of pedestrians going down Stoke Park Road."

There was no need for a vote because Manager Jay Finnigan had already sent the letter.

In the past, Wegmans donated and delivered the topsoil for a baseball field at Lehigh Little League's Illicks Mill Road campus.

Meet Hanover Township's EMTs

From left to right: Johnny Cruz, Karen Van Why (Captain), Tracy Luisser, Pat Hogan, Susan Lischner and Mindy George
A state law that will take effect early next year requires every municipality in the state to have an EMS provider. At their July 26, 2011 meeting, Hanover Township's Board of Supervisors unanimously selected Hanover EMS, which is part of the Hanover Township Volunteer Fire Company.

"Hanover had been doing a great job for us for many years, and we felt they could still continue doing a good job for us," explained Supervisor Glenn Walbert, who was part of a committee reviewing different agencies. "We wanted transparency of the finances of the operation to insure that when we buy an ambulance, they will be there to use it," he added, noting that the Volunteer Fire Company has had an excellent working relationship with the Township.

Addressing six black tea-shirted EMS members in the audience, Chairman John Diacogiannis complimented them and Walbert for taking the time to hammer out an agreement. "It seems like it took a long time, but good things take time," he said.

There are currently 8 career EMTs at Hanover Township Volunteer Fire Company, who are supplemented by around 20 volunteers. Led by Karen Van Why, its two ambulances responded to 895 calls this year, as of June 30.

The Fleckster Screws Up Easton "Fringe Festival"


Noel Jones at Easton Neighbors has all the details. Apparently, the Fleckster dreamed up a 16-week long fringe festival in Easton, never bothered to promote it, never bothered to get permission from residents at the original location, and ended up shutting down because it was losing money.

When blogger Jones asked political consultant, crooner, City Council member, actor and college grad Mike Fleck what the hell was going on, this is what she got in response. "You are insane and misinformed and have all the facts wrong. I am done. Good luck and keep on yelling instead of being part of the solution. It is what you do best."

Hey Curly, I'll kick your ass in a 5k.

Who Thinks They Can Beat Me in a 5K?

UGI is busily replacing pipes all throughout Nazareth. Many Borough residents have been reporting tremors since early June. Here's why. I've begun walking again, and even have added some limited running to my regimen. They'll probably have to repave the streets before Summer's done.

Why am I doing it? I can give you all kinds of reasons, but it's basically because I like it. When I was a little boy, I walked with my Grandfather everywhere. I spent a lot of time with him. He walked to work every day, and from time to time, took me with him. I even accompanied him on his evening constitutionals in downtown Shenandoah. You might be surprised, but he was still a sick man. We'd be walking, and suddenly he'd tell me he was feeling ill and needed to see the doctor for a shot.
That happened at nearly every corner. At the end of our evening walks, he'd be feeling pretty good.

I'm ineligible for the shots, but still like to walk and even run.

And I'll bet I'm faster than you.

Now this might surprise you as much as my grandfather's mysterious illness, but here it is. Some of you hate me. In my years as a bottom-feeding blogger, I've received death threats, pictures of dead Nazis and strange homosexual letters with my picture superimposed on gay porn stars. On top of that, some of you like to take shots at me in comments on this very blog.

I have no idea what prompts this malevolence because I'm so nice, but there it is.

So I'm going to give you a chance to get me. On the Saturday before Labor Day, September 3, there's gonna' be a footrace at the Lehigh Parkway in Allentown. Not only am I going to run this race, but I'll give each of you a chance to beat me. I might even let you get ahead of me for a mile or two, before I close in and kick your ass. I'm 60 years old and I'm fat, but you'll still be eating my dust because I'm very fast and you're not.

This race is for a very good cause.

It's in honor of Ashly Moyer, a LV native who sacrificed her life for you and me in 2007 when an IED exploded under her armored vehicle in Baghdad. She had just been promoted to sergeant. Proceeds of the race proceeds will go to a scholarship fund set up in her name at Emmaus High School. The rest will go to Blue Star Mothers, which supports our soldiers here at home and abroad. You can read about it and register at the 5K Race for Freedom site.

The race costs $25, and I'll register on Friday, when I get some dough.

And here's my challenge. If you think you can beat me, challenge me in the comments below. On race day, write "I challenge Fat Ass O'Hare" on your bib, or maybe you could wear a little sign. For every person who beats me, I'll pay $1 to Blue Star Mothers. It's not much, but bottom-feeding bloggers don't make much money.

Here's the twist. If I beat you, and I will, you have to pay $5 to Blue Star Mothers.

Jon Geeting is probably too much of a coward to race me. Lord knows he can't match me mentally. I doubt he can do it physically, either. Molovinsky is even older than me, and uglier, too. He'll probably be in the hospital that day, anyway. Lehigh Valley With Love will probably still be hung over.

Local pols can try to take me out if they dare. Ann McHale, I'd love to see you waddle along in the Parkway. And Lamont McClure, you better get a "wide load" sign. Barron von Footinmouth? You can run in your kilt, you know.

News people like Joe Owens or Bill White would probably make the "It's unethical" argument. But both of them traipse all over the Lehigh Valley, stuffing pizza and cheese steks down their gullets. Do they have what it takes to silence me for once? I think not.

Gracedale Goons? Here's your chance. I'll even let you use your damn battery-powered wheelchairs, but I might accidentally knock them over.

And you anonymous trolls. Why not take me on like real men instead of the little weasels we all know you are. Don't you get tired of writing threats at 3 AM? Here's your chance, George Maniatty, Henry Schaadt, James Schlener, Walt Garvin, Joe Long, etc., etc., etc. (It's a long list).

Don't hate me because you can't be me. I'm fat. I'm old. And I'll kick your ass ... for a good cause.

Can You Give Head Start a Head Start?

Lehigh Valley Head Start had been around for 45 years, but is looking for a new classroom in Easton. Their requirements are 800 sq ft of classroom as well as 1300 sq ft of indoor play area, if possible. They can pay $4500/yr (set by the government). If you can help, contact Easton Planning Commission member Dennis Lieb (email here).

Private donations and government grants help Head Start provide pre-school education, as well as instructions in parenting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Debt Ceiling: Obama Should Practice What He Preaches

When the President and Speaker of the House take the American people away from their boob tubes, it's usually to announce some amazing success, like a new iPad or something. But last night, Barack Obama and John Boehner used the airwaves to announce yet another failure on a debt ceiling increase.

In a 16-minute speech from the White House's East Room, Obama placed the blame for this failure on "a significant number of Republicans" who demand a "cuts only approach." He condemned the "partisan three-ring circus in Washington."
In a shorter speech from the Speaker's ceremonial office, Boehner complained that Obama wants a "blank check" and "would not take Yes for an answer."

Obama and Boehner, behind closed doors, appeared to have had a "Grand Bargain" with $4 trillion in spending cuts and "revenue increases," i.e tax hikes, over 10 years. That fell apart because, after agreeing to $800 billion in increased revenue, Obama wanted another $400 billion. Then, after going back on a deal that would already be a hard sell to sixty or so Tea Parfty House Republicans, Obama goes on national television and announces, "I’m the only mature person in Washington.”

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Now, Congressional Democrats and Republicans have competing plans that call for no revenue increases at all. As Ezra Klein comments, Republicans have already won.

The far left, of course, is demanding that Boehner be tried for treason. And birther Donald Trump wants Congress to reject any new debt ceiling, just to insure Obama's defeat at the polls.

Despite the usual incendiary rants, it seems likely that House Republicans will cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has vulnerable Senators to protect and knows how to count.

Obama preached about the importance of compromise. Perhaps he should practice what he preaches.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dent Speaks Out on Debt Ceiling

LV Congressman Charlie Dent's latest newsletter, which focuses on the debt ceiling, pulls no punches. President Obama will address the nation at 9 PM.

As I write this column on Monday morning, Greece is being bailed out once again by its European neighbors. Italy is on the brink. Global markets are volatile and jittery. And our nation faces a fiscal challenge of enormous proportions. That's the bad news. The good news is that America is blessed and exceptional, and I still believe we have the fortitude and political capacity to meet this unprecedented challenge.


First and foremost, we must deal with the plain truth: Defaulting on America's obligations -- to our creditors, seniors, disabled veterans, active military personnel, college students and many others -- is not an option. Second, a ratings downgrade of the US government must be prevented.


Stopping a default will occur by simply raising the debt ceiling; preventing a ratings downgrade is a much more demanding, painful exercise that will impact us all. Only a sound, credible plan that places America on a sustainable fiscal trajectory will prevent the downgrade Standard & Poors warned of a few months ago and has recently foreshadowed. And just what does a downgrade mean? Higher interest rates for everyone. Interest rates for mortgages, small business financing, car loans, credit cards and yes, the federal government’s debt service payments will increase dramatically, which in turn will dig us into an even deeper hole.


I have spent an enormous amount of time working and meeting with financial experts, ratings agencies, Republicans of all ideological stripes, Gang of Six Senators, and Blue Dog Democrats to find an acceptable resolution.


Based on these discussions, it is clear that a resolution with broad bipartisan support and deep commitment is essential to restoring market confidence, and those same markets will respond much better to a Congressional act of commission rather than an act of omission. Prioritizing our debt obligations, attractive as it may sound, will be extremely disruptive and add more uncertainty to an already fragile situation. If you don't believe me, please read the Bipartisan Policy Center's sobering debt limit/cash flow analysis for the federal government beginning August 3.


So what should be done?


First, the White House needs to offer a serious, specific plan. No more back-of-the-envelope suggestions, leaked from closed door meetings. As the nonpartisan CBO Director Doug Elmendorf stated in a stinging rebuke of the President, "we don't estimate speeches." Carping about the House passed budget and the "Cut, Cap and Balance" legislation because it cuts spending is not a substitute for leadership.


To the Senate, do something. Anything. How about passing a bill? Under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it has been a staggering 800 days since a budget was passed in the chamber. Congress can't clap with one hand. In spite of Senator Reid, the Gang of Six has made an important contribution to the fiscal reform discussion.


To some of my more frustrated Republican colleagues in the House, for the good of the American people, I ask that you remain open to potential solutions beyond Cut, Cap and Balance. And please, focus less on what you will never do and more on what we must do. We have a sacred duty and solemn obligation to lead and act. We have an affirmative obligation to govern for the sake of our country.


The hourglass is nearly empty.


Let’s review the options: 1) Cut, Cap and Balance; 2) a short-term plan based on agreed to spending cuts in recent negotiations; 3) the so-called "Grand Bargain"; or 4) the last ditch plan offered by Senator McConnell.


Or how about an intermediate approach like this: Immediate spending cuts that exceed the amount needed to raise the debt ceiling through January, a binding commitment to: 1) enact comprehensive tax reform that eliminates tax breaks and loopholes in exchange for lower marginal rates that will spur economic growth and create jobs; 2) long term spending reforms, including caps; and 3) budget enforcement mechanisms.


If nothing else, we must bring the process into the open to restore confidence. The American people demand leadership and constructive action. The world is watching. It's time to lead and demonstrate our American exceptionalism.


-Congressman Charlie Dent

Voters Shortchanged by McClure Refusal to Attend Committee Meetings

On Wednesday, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa laid out $20,140,000 for capital improvement projects needed at Gracedale, the County-owned nursing home. The most pressing of these is a new or upgraded sewer line and grease interceptor. It was first installed in the late '50s, and was last upgraded in '71, seven years before Northampton County even had a County Exec.
In 2001, under Executive Glenn Reibman, the County entered into an agreement with Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority (NBMA) under which it (1) promised to stop using its existing sewer pump, which was deemed "inadequate;" and (2) pledged to have a new upgrade within the next three years.

Right now, the County is facing a $1,000 per day fine from the NBMA for failing to do a damn thing since that 2001 agreement. Stoffa had engineers on hand to present Council with four options, all of which are expensive. He hopes to fund it with energy savings generated by switching from oil to gas at the nursing home.

Unfortunately, there are 54 other capital improvements needed at Gracedale, too, meaning that a bond is all bit a certainty.

At Thursday's Council meeting, Lamont McClure introduced a motion to take the money needed for $13 million worth of projects out of the fund balance, which failed 7 to 2. The only Council member willing to join McClure was Ann McHale.

In 2010, McClure failed to attend a single Council Committee meeting. His absence has continued this year, too. Had McClure attended June's finance committee meeting and listened to LarsonAllen, the County's independent auditor, he'd know that there's only $16 million in the County's general fund undesignated balance, which represents 18% (or two months) of general fund expenditures. McClure's motion would leave the County with just $3 million to pay the bills, a recklessly low sum.

Instead of providing Stoffa with a little guidance about Gracedale, McClure chose to pander to the voters with a motion he knew would fail. When Ron Angle noted McClure's abysmal attendance record, he had no shame. "You keep going to Committee meetings, and I'll keep coming up with solutions," he snarked.

But that was no solution. It was instead a fiscally irresponsible maneuver, made solely for the purpose of getting a few votes. He was elected to represent his district, and can't do that if he's not there.

Tony Scott Speaks For the Taxpayers, Not the Trees

Before Thursday night's Northampton County Council meeting, I stepped out in the hall and saw the Nature Conservancy's Ellen Lott and all her supporters, girding themselves for battle. They were there to demand that Council change course ... again, and fund two swampland purchases with dubious appraisals. In addition to speaking for the trees, Lott was instructing various people about when they should speak, and what they should say. She was most concerned about how to counter the damage done by two Upper Mount Bethel Township residents, Carol and Anthoni Scott.
The Scotts were at home, unaware that their efforts two weeks ago were about to be undone. In Upper Mount Bethel Township, they were actually ejected from an open space committee meeting that discussed specific parcels. They've been denied Right-to-Know requests for a list of people who have applied for public money in exchange for a cliff here or a swamp there.

Although the Scotts were bushwhacked, they did it themselves two weeks before.

Now I have no problem buying the occasional swamp, if the price is fair. This deal was unfair to the taxpayers, as Tony Scott himself states below:

"The latest re-reversal of the Northampton County Council's decision to fund acquisition of the Kirkridge and Broad properties without a second appraisal value is yet another example of the spineless lack of leadership in our elected officials who buckle to the weight of numbers, bleeding-heart liberal extremist environmentalists and the like, not logic.


"Mr. and Mrs. Scott and County Councilman Ron Angle, wished ONLY that these properties got a fair appraisal value. As was eloquently stated by NCC's spokesperson, Ms. Ann McHale, 'Someone else's lack of planning should not be someone else's problem'. This statement speaks volumes.


"Mr. Edmond Turtzo ( 1-610-[redacted]) informed me these properties could have been re-appraised at a cost to him of around $350 per property. Mr. Turtzo is a real estate appraiser that lives in the area, has more experience that the Nature Conservancy 'independent' appraiser, and is Pennsylvania State Certified. To spend hundreds of thousands of tax payers dollars on properties without a second appraisal is an typical example of contempt for the tax-payer and is an perfect reason why such monies should be denied to those bodies such as the Open Space Committee and 'Those that speak for the trees'.


"Although there are those that may enjoy the fleeting moment of a victory in a long series of future tax payer battles to come, this battle may be won but their war will be lost. The taxpayer needs to know how his or her tax money is to be spent. Again, the survey respondents will have their EIT tax money wishes spent in the way they wished, not what the Open Space Committee thinks they want, or it will be removed."

Tony and I are probably jealous because the trees don't hug us back.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Debt Ceiling Crisis: A Pox on Both Their Houses

Jonathan Miller's Debt Ceiling for Dummies explains why it's imperative to resolve the debt ceiling crisis on or before August 2, the date we go into default. Failure means a shutdown in many government services, including Social Security and Medicare checks. It will degrade our credit rating internationally. It will even mean higher interest rates on individual credit cards and mortgages. Given these dire consequences, it's a stupid time for either Republicans or Democrats to engage in a game of brinkmanship. But we're Americans, and have proved time and again that we're pretty dumb.

Right now, there are two competing proposals, although details might change by the time you read this. House Speaker Boehner, on behalf of Republicans, would raise the debt limit about $1 trillion, and then would spend seven months on Tax Code reforms, as well as cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. After that, he would raise the debt limit again. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, on behalf of Democrats, would raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion now, accompanied by cuts in that amount over the next ten years.

Both plans avoid a tax hike. Neither plan will succeed. President Obama has already vowed to veto Boehner's plan, while Democrats lack the muscle to push theirs through Congress.

Who's to blame? A pox on both their houses, I say.

This gridlock is precisely why we need more centrists like the Gang of Six, or Charlie Dent or Bob Casey. They are loyal to their parties, but eschew the extremes. Last night, Dent expressed concern about an "adverse reaction" in financial markets, and stated lawmakers must come to an agreement.

We need more bipartisanship and less flame-throwing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Armstrong on Debt Ceiling: Time to Think the Unthinkable

As House Speaker Boehner walks, and President Obama balks, Allentown's Scott Armstrong speaks out:

Considering the dangers involved in a failure to reach a timely agreement on raising the nation’s debt ceiling one is forced to ponder whether a sinister political strategy is behind the brinkmanship in negotiations. The answer may become clear when one considers who presently has the stronger hand for next year’s national elections and plays out the potential winners and losers of a default. Despite the professed confidence of the Whitehouse and the DNC that President Obama and the Democrats are a shoo- in for electoral success in 2012 many experts doubt the claim. It is increasingly likely that year’s elections will be a referendum on the first term of the Obama Administration. If that is the case, we will see a repeat of the 2010 elections that brought voters to the polls en masse to put the Democrats out of power. Despite the brave face, Obama’s team understands big losses are ahead unless the current dynamic of the Democrats’ “owning” the bad economy and high unemployment numbers can be changed. As it is unlikely that any legislative tweaking will help improve the economic numbers, the only option left is to attempt to hand off the blame to the political opposition.


Allowing the country to go into a default is a risky strategy but the Obama team is desperate and by their thinking has little to lose by going for broke. For the first time in our history the nation would go into default and it would do so under Obama’s watch. However, the White House will count on the mainstream press to be an ally and attempt to lay/switch all of the blame unto the Republicans. So when seniors don’t get their social security checks it will be the Republicans’ fault; when interests rates rise and the markets crash, it will be the Republicans’ fault; when the dollar loses even more value and prices and unemployment rise even further, it will be the Republicans’ fault. In short all of the accumulated damage that has been done to the economy these past two and one half years plus all of the additional default harm will be cast by the White House/press as the consequence of the Republicans’ control of one third of the government for the last seven months.


Dare we imagine this could be their plan? If so,this cynical long shot strategy may pay off for the Democrats. However, enabling the default and following through with the consequences will serve to demonstrate the length the Democrats will go to maintain power and control. It should serve as a shocking display of total callousness towards the public good. Rest confident however, that’s not how the press will play it.

Hot But Always Worth It!

Despite the incredible 104-degree temp at game time, my grandson and his friend had a blast, and managed to get a game ball each before the night was over. They were both ready to suit up, too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

CACLV Gets $10,000 From Cash-Strapped Northampton County For Foreclosure Mitigation Program

Alan Jennings had a sinus infection. He couldn't hear what Council members were saying, so he mostly stood up at the dais and smiled. After the state cut funding to CACLV's foreclosure mitigation program, designed to help people in danger of losing their homes, he came to Northampton County Council. His program has saved 252 homes, and he asked for $10,000 to keep it going until other funding can be obtained.
Angle was ready for a fight, but Jennings couldn't really hear him. Angle told Jennings he'd give him $10,000 for the Safe Harbor Homeless Shelter because, unlike the foreclosure program, that helps human suffering.

Jennings smiled.

Peg Ferraro noted that when someone loses his home as a result of a foreclosure, that's human suffering, too.

Jennings smiled.

Lamont McClure, whose re-election campaign is already in full swing, used this issue as a hammer to attack Angle, deriding his "apparent lack of concern for human suffering."

Jennings smiled.

Under normal circumstances, Jennings would be rolling around in the halls with Angle by now, but he was as happy as a salamander on Kitatinny Ridge.

I don't know what drug the doctor gave him for his sinus infection, but I want some of it.

In relatively short order, Jennings got his $10,000 with only Angle and Barb Thierry dissenting.

On his way out, I told him he should be deaf more often.

Another Flip-Flop by Northampton County Council

Last night's County Council meeting included both the "Save the Salamander" crowd as well as the usual Gracedale Goons. They do have three things in common. First, they all pretty much despise Ron Angle, although the green crowd is a lot more sophisticated about it. Second, they're both pretty damn rude. For the zillionth time, Gracedale Goon Mary Ann Schmoyer had to be asked to stop disrupting a meeting. And the tree talkers spent so much time talking loudly in the hall after their portion of the meeting was over, a Deputy Sheriff had to ask them to move on. Third, they are obsessed with their issue, and only their issue.
Sitting in the back, I was unable to hear what was being said, and walked out to ask one of them to move down the hall a little. He told me to move myself.

He's a doctor.

County Council, of course, is intent on setting the world record for flip flops on one issue. Presented with a goofy proposal to buy swampland and steep slopes in Upper Mount Bethel 6 weeks ago, it tabled the matter. Four weeks ago, it untabled the matter and agreed to the purchase even though the only appraisal for these properties came from the Nature Conservancy, and was questionable. Two weeks ago, it halted that purchase and demanded two more appraisals, to be paid for by the seller, after learning that this salamander country is valued more highly than prime farmland. Last night, it reversed course again, and decided to go ahead and buy more swampland anyway, especially after the DCNR dude told them the application is already 91 days late.

Amazingly, the person who decided to go ahead and made the motion was Ron Angle, the person who wanted independent appraisals. He sensed he had a loser, and made the motion with the understanding that open space guidelines about appraisals will be revisited for future swamp land purchases.

The Nature Conservancy's Ellen Lott was there, and told Council she's still speaking for the trees. Northampton County's Federation of Sportsmen's Mike Topping was there, and he claimed he was speaking for hunters. Landowner David Broad was there, and he was speaking for his wallet.

Ann McHale and Ron Angle tried to speak for the taxpayer, but the taxpayer really has no special interest group. So they lost a battle. But if open space guidelines are changed to require truly independent appraisals, and not those from the Nature Conservancy's select group, McHale and Angle will have scored one for the people.

Marcus Paints Bleak Picture of Gracedale, Human Services, in Meeting With State Legislators

Bob Freeman, Marcia Hahn & Julie Harhart in Star Chamber
As a County-owned nursing home, Gracedale gets less money from Medicare and Medicaid than it would if it were privately owned. Last year, it received $4.3 million less. In 2009, it was $3.1 million less than would be paid to a private owner. So after the May plebiscite in which voters decided, 3 to 1, against a sale, one of County Council's first moves was to invite state legislators to discuss those reimbursement rates. That meeting finally happened yesterday, at a combined Intergovernmental and Human Services Committee chaired by Peg Ferraro. And legislators came.
State Rep. Bob Freeman was there, along with Joe Emrick, Marcia Hahn and Julie Harhart. State Rep. Joe Brennan sent Matt Recker, and State Senators Pat Browne and Bob Mensch had aides on hand as well. But instead of turning on the heat on an already hot day, it took Human Services Director Ross Marcus most of an hour just to lay out the problems. Unfortunately, they go well beyond Gracedale and into other areas of Human Services.

Peg Ferraro set the tone. "The more I study this, the less I seem to know," she said at the onset. I thought that was an incredibly ignorant thing to say, but as the meeting progressed, I was forced to agree.

Reimbursement Rate Changes

As Marcus explained it, these changes first occurred when the 2006-2007 state budget was adopted. One reimbursement formula is used for government-owned nursing homes, while another and higher rate is paid to privately-owned facilities. Governments were frozen at the rates that existed in April 2006, although there have been cost of living adjustments.

Private nursing homes tend to get more money, but it's more complicated than that. Their reimbursements are based on their "case mix," in which patients requiring skilled care qualify for higher rates than those whose needs are more basic.

As an example, Marcus mentioned Alzheimers' patients. They do poorly if reimbursement is based on a "case mix" formula because the demand for skilled care is low. As a result, private homes have little incentive to admit these patients. A government-owned nursing home, reimbursed under a different formula, might actually do better for that type of patient. So the argument is that this different rate will enable the County "to remain true to its mission."

But overall, counties are compensated less than privately-owned homes.

Although state legislators spent most of their time listening, Bob Freeman did note that new legislation gives the Secretary of DPW "sweeping power" to set rates, so things could actually get worse. But as things stand, reimbursement rates are essentially frozen, prompting Joe Emrick to ask, "You said this was to protect the County home?"

It's confusing, and after hearing Marcus explain that the County can get a "case mix" reimbursement for certain types of care, he seemed even more mystified. "It's a very complicated thing."

Quality of care at Gracedale Praised

Ross Marcus told legislators that Gracedale budgets 3.2 hours of nursing per resident per day. Bob Freeman noted he deals with many seniors who tell him that if they have to go to a nursing home, they want it to be Gracedale.

Is More Parity Possible?

Before the meeting was over, Mike Dowd asked legislators "to even the playing field. The taxpayers have to have some relief." Ferraro echoed Dowd. "Just bring us a little more parity," she asked. Although legislators do have the power to make changes, Julie Harhart noted that the budget for this year has already been adopted. So even if relief is possible, it's at least a year away.

And is relief possible? After the meeting, several legislators told me the numbers they get are not the numbers they are hearing from the County.

Cuts Extend Beyond Gracedale.

Unfortunately, state funding cuts begin, and do not end at Gracedale. Marcus told Council members and legislators that the Human Services Development Fund has been cut 36-37 per cent in the most recent budget. Over the last few years, those cuts are 70 per cent.

Northampton County, like most other counties, paid for 10% of most human services. The rest was covered by state and federal government. But this year, Northampton County will pick up 26.5 per cent of the tab. And it has to do it or more children will be abused. Harhart seemed especially distressed by this revelation, and told everyone she is sponsoring a resolution to scrutinize C&Y programs

For mental health programs, the county contribution in 2012 will likely double. "It's not good news anywhere along the line," commented Marcus.

The Area Agency on Aging, which provides home health care, senior centers and other services that allow the elderly to remain in their homes, is a shadow of its former self. Marcus told everyone the picture "is bleak," with almost no match to the County. For many year, the County was kicking in $300,000 to 400,000 annually. Executive Stoffa increased the allocation to $800,000, but has been forced to reduce it to $600,000 as a result of other budget demands.

Council members Mike Dowd, Bruce Gilbert, Peg Ferraro, John Cusick and Tom Dietrich particaated in yesterday's meeting, along with Executive John Stoffa.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dent's Testimony Concerning Synthetic Drugs (Bath Salts, Incense)

LV Congressman Charlie Dent's testimony to the Health Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce, delivered at 10 AM today:


“Chairman Pitts, Ranking Member Pallone, members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to testify today on the very important matter of synthetic drugs. I appreciate the committee’s interest in my bill, H.R. 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011.


“The issue of synthetic or designer drugs was first brought to my attention less than a year ago by a constituent whose son had been abusing drugs that went by names like K2 or Spice and acted as legal substitutes for marijuana. These drugs are classified as “synthetic cannabinoids,” artificial drugs which affect the brain in a manner similar to marijuana. However, these drugs can in fact be even more harmful than the substances they simulate, increasing heart rate and blood pressure and producing dangerous psychotic side effects that have led to suicides and accidental deaths.


“Synthetic cannabinoids are just one category of designer drugs. Even more potent substances, such as mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), often sold as “bath salts” or “plant food,” have properties similar to cocaine, methamphetamine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and other hard street drugs. These substances are marketed with innocent sounding names, but these labels are total misnomers designed to facilitate their legal sale. These drugs have no legitimate medicinal or industrial purpose, just as actual bath salts have no hallucinogenic properties.


“Shortly after I spoke with my constituent about her son’s experience with synthetic marijuana last year, the number of news reports detailing horrific stories of individuals high on synthetic drugs virtually exploded. A man in Scranton, Pennsylvania stabbed a priest, and another jumped out of a 3-story window, both high on bath salts. Several deaths from West Virginia to Florida have been attributed to overdoses of synthetic drugs. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa has introduced a bill, with provisions similar to H.R. 1254, named after one of his young constituents who tragically took his own life while high on synthetic cannabinoids. A man in my district was arrested this past May for firing a gun out of his window in a university neighborhood. Police charges indicate he had injected himself with bath salts, and he later told police he had thought there were people on the roof watching him. Finally, I was approached by another distraught mother from my district whose son was hospitalized for over two weeks after suffering liver failure and other complications after injecting himself with bath salts. These substances pose a substantial risk, both to the physical health of the user, as well as to the safety of the user and those around him when these drugs contribute to dangerous psychotic behavior, suicide, and public endangerment.


“The fact that these synthetic drugs are legal in many states contributes to the misconception that they are safe. Additionally, the use of easily recognizable brand names and logos on the packaging promotes the concept of a consistent product. Americans frequently buy their favorite brand-name consumer products, knowing that the familiar label bears the promise of the same user experience time and again. However, the producers of synthetic drugs do not exercise the kind of quality control that manufacturers of legitimate products employ. One dose of a given “bath salt” drug might be significantly more or less potent than the next, even though the packaging is identical. This has led to recurrent users inadvertently overdosing after receiving a much stronger dosage than they were expecting.


“In order to ensure that these dangerous products are removed from retail outlets and their production and sale banned in the United States, I introduced H.R. 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011. This legislation, which was drafted in close consultation with federal law enforcement, has three principle components: prohibition of synthetic cannabinoids; prohibition of other designer drugs such as bath salts; and enhancement of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) existing authority to take dangerous new substances off the street.


“One of the major difficulties in combating these designer drugs is the ability of the producers to use different variations of a chemical to skirt the law. By modifying the formula in some minor way, producers can generate a new compound which circumvents legal prohibitions but has similar narcotic effects. This legislation addresses broad structural classes of synthetic cannabinoids in an effort to form as comprehensive a ban as possible. It also targets some of the most popular designer drugs listed on the DEA’s list of “drugs and chemicals of concern.”


“Finally, H.R. 1254 enhances the DEA’s ability to impose a temporary ban on new drugs. Under current law, the Administrator of the DEA may place any compound into the appropriate schedule of the Controlled Substances Act for up to 18 months. In order to make the ban permanent, DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must prove that the drug is both harmful and lacking in legitimate medicinal or industrial value. If this cannot be demonstrated in time, the ban expires and the substance is removed from the temporary schedule, thus complicating any pending trials involving the drugs in question. For this reason, the DEA has historically been hesitant to use its emergency scheduling authority. H.R. 1254 would simply double the amount of time DEA and HHS have to make their case against a drug, giving them a maximum of three years to make their findings. Because synthetic drugs are usually produced in Southeast Asia and make their initial appearance in Europe before arriving in the United States, American law enforcement is usually aware of which designer drugs are about to hit domestic markets before they arrive. This extended timeframe will better allow DEA to use its temporary scheduling authority to block new drugs from ever being sold in the United States commercially.


“I am proud to say that Pennsylvania recently joined the growing list of states that have enacted bans on many forms of synthetic drugs. This is a good start, but these drugs can still be easily obtained by crossing state lines or, increasingly, ordering them over the Internet. Synthetic drugs are a national problem, as the subcommittee has shown by including them in this discussion on bioterrorism, controlled substances, and public health. A national solution is required in order to prevent further injury and loss of life. I encourage the subcommittee to take up this legislation and report it to the full committee as soon as possible.”

Gracedale In Serious Financial Trouble

Although Northampton County voters have told Council and Executive John Stoffa to keep Gracedale by a 3 to 1 margin, they were never asked whether they'd be willing to approve a tax hike to keep the nursing home in business. So the challenge has been to keep it afloat, but without any County contribution. But that's increasingly unlikely. Gracedale is in major disrepair, and a declining census means there is less revenue to cover fixed costs.
Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursemets

Today, Council has invited State Reps to explain why Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to County-owned nursing homes keep declining, putting them at a competitive disadvantage with private facilities. If Gracedale were privately owned last year, it would have received $4.3 million more money from Medicare and Medicaid, enough to show a small surplus. But what is most likely is that, every year, the County will receive a smaller and smaller reimbursement.

County Money Spent

Because the County expected to have sold Gracedale by now, only $3.5 million was budgeted for the facility. Yesterday, Council learned that $3.4 million was already spent by the end of June, leaving the facility wit just $100,000 for the rest of the year. It is hoped that new management might stop the bleeding, but a dubious Ron Angle remarked, "If they can do a better job and not spend $3.4 million thru the rest of the year, I'd like to buy Gracedale myself."

Closed Wings

Although Gracedale is a 725-bed facility, the daily census is down around 592, according to Stoffa. He and Human Services Director Ross Marcus have closed two wings, and are using the staff that would serve there to reduce overtime. They are hopeful that, once new managmwnt is installed, they can re-open those wings and increase revenue.

Council member Mike Dowd called it a triage situation, and shares the hope that new management will mean an increased census. But Ron Angle doubts it will change much. "The image of Gracedale is that it is the poor house and people do not want to send their relatives there," he reasoned.

$20 Million in Capital Improvements Needed

As Council Prez John Cusick has remarked in the past, the parking lot at Gracedale now resembles a lunar landscape. That, and 54 other projects, need urgent attention.

Pricetag? $20,140,000.

The most pressing needs are a new or upgraded sewer line and grease interceptor. Stoffa tells Council he's been threatened with a $1,000 per day fine by the Nazareth Municipal Authority if he keeps putting it off. An engineering firm presented four options. All of them are expensive.

"We smell up the joint," remarked Stoffa. "We can't delay anymore."

I go through Gracedale several times every week in the course of my daily walks. I always thought that smell was me.

One innovative idea proposed by Stoffa is getting UGI to the site, decommissioning oil burners and using a rented boiler this Winter, fueled with natural gas. Stoffa claims that could save the County as much as $600,000 per year, and those savings could finance the sewer upgrades.

But a bond will still have to be floated for other improvements. And at the current rate, the County is facing an 18% tax hike next year, which is exactly what Ron Angle had predicted.

2001 Bond Proceeds

It is hoped that some of the money left over from the 2001 megabond could be used to fund some of these projects and reduce the tax increase. But County administrators told Council they are still trying to determine what is available.

Labor Concessions

Council President Cusick is hopeful that a new management team will be able to negotiate some labor concessions. Rather than meeting with the unions now, Stoffa thinks it is more prudent to allow a new management firm to conduct those negotiations.

Sarah Cassi has a detailed report from The Express Times here. The Morning Call's Jenna Portnoy has also weighed in here.

Controller Barron Behind Lehigh County in Hotel Tax Audits

Discover Lehigh Valley's Mike Stershic, who handles the hotel tax collected by Northampton and Lehigh County each year, and passes much of it to the LVEDC pursuant to an agreement, told Northampton County Council yesterday that, every year, he receives an audit from the Lehigh County Controller for each of the roughly 45 hotels who must pay hotel tax. Over the past four years, Stershic has received about 5 audits of Northampton County hotels from Controller Steve Barron.

Barron told Cuncil he lacks the resources to audit every hotel. He apparently also lacks the resources to notice that the Grand Eastonian is a hotel. Stershic had to drop that dime.

Barron von Footinmouth might have those resources if he spent a little less time marching with unions on T-Mobile, a little less time doing forensic audits for the DA, and a little more time in the office.

Incidentally, Lehigh County has 349,497 people to Northampton County's 297,735. If their Controller can find the time for these audits, so can Barron.

Elections Office Staff Proposes Elimination of Deputy Registrar

If you ever visit the Northampton County Voter Registration office, you will likely see Amy Birch and Rich Kessler. They are tow of the reasons why that office has become a professional operation. A third reason would be the Registrar herself, Dee Rumsey.

I was surprised to see Amy and Rich sitting together at yesterday's Personnel Committee before Northampton County Council. But I soon found out why they were there. The office has managed well without a Deputy Registrar, and they think it's just a tad silly to hire on an inexperienced Deputy so that three employees can answer to to bosses. So they've proposed eliminating the deputy and using senior election technicians like themselves to perform those functions.
Oh yeah, and give them a raise, too.

Executive John Stoffa told Council he opposes this idea, saying there has to be somebody to answer if the Registrar herself is not there. HR boss Pat Siemiontkowski notes she's already begun the process of hiring a Deputy, and would have to study the recommendations made by Kessler and Birch. Ron Angle liked the idea, but claimed Council should be Kessler's last stop, not his first.

Then Angle and Ann McHale got into a spat over whether the elections office staffers report to the elections commission or the administration. Mike Dowd noted they could argue about that another ten years , but they won't get an answer to that question today.

As someone who visits that office regularly, especially to review campaign finance reports, I think Kessler and Birch should be given a green light. No one can argue that the office is more efficient today than ever, and with a smaller staff. They deserve a raise, and it will still save the County money.

If there's some hesitation, do it on a trial basis.

Council President John Cusick and Peg Ferraro seemed to understand. Cusick noted, "Any time employees come up with ways to save money, they should be encouraged." And Ferraro, after listening to the "I need to do a study" argument, commented that many good ideas "get tangled up in government rules."

This is the smaller government that conservatives claim to like so much. Why not try it?

At Least LVEDC's Phil Mitman Can Laugh

On a Friday in early June, I took a shot at Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). Despite its grandiose name and the bluebloods on its board of directors, it's actually a nonprofit funded mostly by hotel tax revenue from Lehigh and Northampton County. But some of that aristocratic atmosphere made its way to one of its PR people. She tweeted, on their official tweeterer, "We start summer hours today. That means most of the staff leave at noon, many to hit the links. Do you observe summer hours? What do you do?"

I'll tell you what I did. I slammed LVEDC. It's incredibly tone deaf to brag about hitting the links when many LV residents are on reduced wages or laid off.
LVEDC "Business Relations Manager" Steve Althouse predictably took it upon himself, in a mass email, to accuse me (without naming me) of "sensationalism" for accurately reporting what was said. And he got another blogger to dump all over me, which must have been pretty easy.

In most cases, the story would end there. But not this time, Both newspapers sunk their teeth into this story, and ripples were felt all the way to frickin' India.

So LVEDC CEO Phil MItman decided to fix everything by firing the tweeter. That backfired, too. That got the twitterati all lathered up.

Yesterday, I saw Mitman before Northampton County Council's Finance Committee hearing. I was thinking it might be an unpleasant experience, but we both started to laugh when we saw each other. He even introduced me to one of his muckety mucks, who was receiving all kinds of accolades for having lost 45 lbs.

Probably golfing.

"I'm not saying a word to you. It's safer that way," grumbled Phil, who actually started to laugh himself.

"Shouldn't you be golfing?" I asked.

"It's only Wednesday," he answered.

I have to admit that, arisocratic blueblood or not, Phil has a pretty good sense of humor.

Bataan Death March Survivor Finally Gets Some Help ... From Bethlehem Township

Quiet. Unassuming. A man of few words. But Bethlehem Township resident Joe Filko (pictured left) has an incredible story to share with you.

Filko, age 91, is a member of what Tom Brokaw calls "the greatest generation any society has ever produced." Growing up on a farm in Springtown, this athletic young man pitched and played first base for his high school team. Long before soccer was popular, he was a semipro. Even today, he does his own yardwork.
But that's not his story.

Filko worked for over 30 years at PBNE railroad, and after that, ran a gas station from his Easton Avenue home.

But that's not his story, either.

What makes Joe stand out is he is one of the lucky few to survive the Bataan Death March, followed by 3 1/2 years as a POW in both the Philippines and Japan.

Hit by shrapnel and recuperating in a hospital bed, Joe was rousted by Japanese and forced to march the 60 miles from the southern Bataan Peninsula to Camp O'Donnell. Soldiers were beaten, bayoneted and even beheaded by Japanese officers on horseback, testing their samurai swords. "It was pretty rough," Filko quietly states.

For 3 1/2 years, Filko survived on one or two small bowls of rice a day, a food he can no longer eat. He explained that POWs were placed in groups of ten, and if one of them got out of line or tried to escape, all ten were shot.

When Japanese discovered he was a farmer, he was sent to Japan to work in the rice paddies, which might very well have saved his life.

Filko did see General Douglas MacArthur ... once. Ironically, it was on the day MacArthur left Corregidor Island for Australia. "He went for help, but we didn't get it right away," Filko adds, "He left [General] Wainwright, and he was a pretty good man."

General Jonathan Wainwright, who held Corregidor for two months after MacArthur left, is the highest ranking officer to be captured during WWII.

Although he could never bring himself to buy a Japanese car, Filko holds no grudges. "It doesn't bother me," he stoically states.

These days, Filko's battles are with his yard. In addition to his property on Easton Avenue, he has a vacant lot on Flamer Road where trees, instead of artillery, attack. After a recent storm, a few trees went over on what might be the Flamer Road right-of-way, or perhaps Filko's own property. This 91 year-old combat vet was preparing to take them on himself when Bethlehem Township Public Works came by and moved the trees for him.

After seventy years, Filko finally got some help from the government, and right away, too. Bethlehem Township's Public Works Department was unable to do much about Corregidor, but they cleared away a few fallen trees for Filko, who went through hell for us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ron Angle, Jr., NOT Cleared in Shoplifting Case

Earlier today, I told you that shoplifting charges against Ron Angle, Jr., have been dropped. I got it completely wrong. I am very sorry to have misinformed all of you.  I declined to allow anonymous comments on my original post, but will allow them here for those who want to take shots at me

Why Dent Voted For Cut, Cap & Balance Act

Although progress in the U.S. Senate on debt ceiling relief probably makes this nothing more than an academic exercise, LV Congressman Charlie Dent joined his GOP colleagues in the House for a party-line vote to support a Cut, Cap & Balance Act. Here's his reason.

“To ensure this country starts living within its means, Congress must make difficult decisions about the future of federal spending. Returning spending to pre-stimulus levels and capping it as a percentage of GDP will help restore fiscal sanity in Washington. Additionally, the concept of a balanced budget requirement is certainly not foreign to Pennsylvanians. It is now time for the U.S. Senate to act. It is imperative that a resolution on the debt ceiling be achieved before the August 2nd deadline. Our fragile economy demands leadership and action. The American people, rating agencies, small businesses and investors want us to do our jobs by putting this country on a sustainable fiscal path while protecting our AAA rating and creating an atmosphere that leads to more jobs.“

At the time, it also happened to be the only plan on the table to solve the debt ceiling crisis, something that Dent detractors fail to note in their condemnations.

Casey, Dent Unbeatable

From LV Poliblog:

"Charles W. Dent perfectly defines the average Demographic of the Lehigh Valley Voter. He is fiscally conservative but compassionate about social concerns. In all honesty, he and Senator Bob Casey are damn near identical in basic ideology."

That's pretty much the way it is. Dent, and Casey statewide, are both unbeatable. They are centrists who veer away from the extremes in their own party.

If the entire Congress were made up of Dent and Casey, there would be no gridlock and we might actually have some bipartisanship instead of extremist rhetoric.

King Edwin For Congress, Too?

My post about LC Dem boss Rich Daugherty's decision to run for Congress has resulted in a few comments touting Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski for that race, too. Like this. "Ed Pawlowski is the most popular D in this area. He's won elections by wide margins and would win another if held today. He's certainly more electable than the other mayor who was simply embarrassing in his lame attempt. Cunningham is incredibly unpopular and could barely get out of the way of a certified nut. It's easy to understand why the haters should be very afraid of a Pawlowski run. He'd win."

Gotta' love that style, which lauds Pawlowski while trashing both Callahan and Cunningham. I guess that's how it's done in Chicago.

But an inside source tells me King Edwin has his eyes on statewide office. That's why he ran for state committee and is soliciting contributions as far away as Altoona.

Ron Angle, Jr., Cleared in Shoplifting Case

Updated 12:03 AM: THIS POST IS ERRONEOUS!
Back in December, when Ron Angle, Jr. was charged with shoplifting, he was tried, convicted and executed in the court of public opinion. When people can post anonymously and refuse to accept responsibility for what they write, things can get pretty vicious in a hurry. You see, Junior's dad is Ron Angle, and that in and of itself makes him a criminal in the eyes of some. Fortunately, our legal system presumes everyone, even people named Ron Angle, is innocent.

Something about these charges never made sense to me. Most problem shoplifters do it alone. But Ron, Jr., was with his girlfriend at the time. I know her. She's a good girl, if I can say something like that without being a sexist. Her Mom and Dad are good people, too. Ron stealing in front of her would be like me eating a twinkie in the middle of a weight watchers' meeting.
Here's the story as explained by Ron, Jr. He and his girlfriend went shopping at Sears. There were no carts or trays to carry things. While she was doing her thing in one part of the store, he was looking at tools. He saw a toolbox he liked, and decided to buy it. He also saw a tool e wanted to buy and put it in the box because he had no tray.

People inside the store were watching on video, and saw Ron, Jr. put the tool into the toolbox. At that point, they alerted cashiers NOT to open the toolbox when he stepped in line to pay.

Ron met up with his girlfriend, and they began checking out. Ron's toolbox was there, and he forgot about the tool inside of it. Now I know of no store that does NOT open boxes when you are at checkout, and the reason for that is precisely because there might be something in there that slipped your mind. I just bought a pair of shoes, and the box was opened at checkout. But this cashier was under instructions NOT to open the toolbox.

After paying their bill, Ron and his girlfriend were seized after exiting the store. In addition to grilling him, she was subjected to several hours of accusations before being released.

Upon hearing the story, Ron offered to get a lawyer for his son, but Junior refused. He told his father he would just go in there and tell the truth. If a judge refused to believe him, it would make no difference whether or not he had a lawyer. In fact, he told prosecuting attorneys exactly what he told his father.

Every time the case came up for trial, it was continued. Finally, in yesterday's mail, Junior received a notice telling him that the case had been dismissed for lack of evidence.

In his hate blog, the Fake Rev condemned Ron, Jr. the moment these charges were revealed, with absolutely no regard for the facts. "Ron Angle Jr. demonstarted [sic] yesterday that he will probably be just like his father. How deplorable!"

Actually, the straightforward way in which Junior handled this situation reminded me of both his father and mother. How sad to see a young man condemned simply because he is an Angle.

Comments on this post are welcome, but you'll have to identify yourself.
Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa: Turns out I isunderstood what I was told yesterday, and that charges against Junior are still pending. My post is premature.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Justice For Sale in West Easton

On Thursday night, when Northampton County Council takes up a possible work release and treatment center for 100 inmates, we already know there will be questions about the length of the lease, as well as a controversial $150 fee to be paid to West Easton to every inmate housed there. That fee is part of an Ordinance, and Mayor Gerald Gross has told the Express Times it's the Borough's price for something that is unpopular.

But is it legal? How can West Easton charge these tenants a fee when no similar charge is imposed on others?

On top of that, is West Easton's own financial house in order? In response to a Right-to-Know-Law request filed by a local resident, the 2010 independent audit reveals that "the financial statements above do not present fairly, in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America, the financial position of the Borough as of December 31, 2010, or changes in financial position for the year then ended."

This negative audit, prepared by CPA David Kunsman, basically takes the Borough to task for using the wrong accounting method, as opposed to more serious flaws like a deficit. In fact, the Borough could probably impose a tax moratorium for three years and not miss a beat, thanks to a very healthy sewer fund.

But why, then, does it need to impose a $150 per person fee? Is this fair to people who simply are unable to afford it? This really needs more consideration.

The Man Who Cast a Spotlight on Kids-For-Cash

If you ever meet Lehigh Valley Tea Party blowhard Joe Hilliard, you'll only see one arm. No, he did not lose a limb in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, he's never served in the military. He uses the other arm to pat himself on the back repeatedly.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Joe is a "limited government community organizer," and is seeking gigs as a consultant, activist and speaker. He shares no employment history. He did attend Lehigh University for about 1,000 years, but it's unclear whether he ever graduated.

But one thing he has done is prop himself up as the unelected King of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party. And on their forum, from time to time, he shares little nuggets about his past. "It is always amazing when people I don't even know call or email me for advice," he modestly claims.

Joe then modestly takes credit for bringing Luzerne County to its knees, and all over a slice of pizza.

"We are having impacts at the local government level which include defeating illegal bond issues and exposing fiscal 'smoke and mirrors'. In fact, such an effort led to a total collapse of one county government in our state - and exposed a huge nest of corruption which has led to many indictments including a few sitting judges. It is amazing what can be accomplished by following a few simple principles and pulling back the curtain to expose politicians and the games they play. I was there at the beginning of that effort. In fact, it all started with a meeting with myself and one county resident over a couple of slices of pizza."

Yesterday, the Standard Speaker paid tribute to a true Luzerne County watchdog, former Controller Steve Flood. A Democrat, it was Flood, and not Joe Hilliard, who was calling for an investigation into corruption by the local judiciary, and for five years before an indictment was ever returned. He even hired private investigators.

Hilliard is currently embroiled in a debate over the continued existence of the Lehigh Valley Tea party.

And judicial corruption? It's alive and well, as evidenced by a Lancaster County District Judge accused of fixing her own tickets.

Blogger's Note: The photo is a joke ... I think.