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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In the Lehigh Valley, It's How Much Justice Can You Afford?

He's at it again. John Morganelli, Northampton County's DA for the past 7653 years, is frothing at the mouth over undocumented workers. Recently, he rounded up a bunch of them doing construction work at a future Holiday Inn Express in Hanover Tp. He was tipped off by unions, who contribute heavily to his campaigns for DA and state attorney general. Now, as usual, he's railing at federal immigration authorities for letting things get out of hand. This should get him a few votes in his next election.

Well, John has no trouble rounding up thousands of illegal aliens at pallet companies, Walmart and construction sites. But he's never arrested any of the real criminals - the people who hire them. Of course, those people have money and connections, and undocumented workers can't even afford to go to Mayfair.

John's not alone. His counterpart in Lehigh County, Jim Martin, has determined he won't prosecute an Allentown cop who shot another officer with a plastic BB gun. His reasoning? The gun's only a harmless toy. Why, then, was it confiscated in the first place? And why was a kid, who was caught messing with it, placed under arrest and taken to HQs? Well, this cop has plenty of connections and dough while the juvenile is part of Allentown's large low-income population.

In the Lehigh Valley, like the rest of the US, it's always a question of - how much justice can you afford?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Vonnegut & His Mothers' Day Card For My Mom

Rowhouse Logic today ran an excerpt from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. It's a little story about my mom. If I wasn't such a shitty son, I would have run this ditty myself on Mother's Day.

Kurt Vonnegut:

Mary admired the two little girls I’d brought, mixed them in with her own children, sent them all upstairs to play games and watch television. It was only after the children were gone that I sensed that Mary didn’t like me or didn’t like something about the night. She was polite but chilly.

“It’s a nice cozy house you have here,” I said, and it really was.

“I’ve fixed up a place where you can talk and not be bothered,” she said.

“Good,” I said, and I imagined two leather chairs near a fire in a paneled room, where two old soldiers could drink and talk. But she took us into the kitchen. She had put two straight-backed chairs at a kitchen table with a white porcelain top. That table top was screaming with reflected light from a two-hundred-watt bulb overhead. Mary had prepared an operating room. She put only one glass on it, which was for me. She explained that O’Hare couldn’t drink the hard stuff since the war.

So we sat down. O’Hare was embarrassed, but he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. I couldn’t imagine what it was about me that could burn up Mary so. I was a family man. I’d been married only once. I wasn’t a drunk. I hadn’t done her husband any dirt in the war.

She fixed herself a Coca-Cola, made a lot of noise banging the ice-cube tray in the stainless steel sink. Then she went into another part of the house. But she wouldn’t sit still. She was moving all over the house, opening and shutting doors, even moving furniture around to work off anger.

I asked O’Hare what I’d said or done to make her act that way.

“It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t have anything to do with you.” That was kind of him. He was lying. It had everything to do with me.

So we tried to ignore Mary and remember the war. I took a couple of belts of the booze I’d brought. We would chuckle or grin sometimes, as though war stories were coming back, but neither one of us could remember anything good. O’Hare remembered one guy who got into a lot of wine in Dresden, before it was bombed, and we had to take him home in a wheelbarrow. It wasn’t much to write a book about. I remembered two Russian soldiers who had looted a clock factory. They had a horse-drawn wagon full of clocks. They were happy and drunk. They were smoking huge cigarettes they had rolled in newspaper.

That was about it for memories, and Mary was still making noise. She finally came out in the kitchen again for another Coke. She took another tray of ice cubes from the refrigerator, banged it in the sink, even though there was already plenty of ice out.

Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. “You were just babies then!” she said.

“What?” I said.

“You were just babies in the war — like the ones upstairs!”

I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.

“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.

“I — I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”

So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.

So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: “Mary,” I said, “I don’t think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.

“I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it ‘The Children’s Crusade.’ ”

She was my friend after that.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Mayfair Unfair to Allentown's Low Income Population

Driving through the heart of Allentown to attend Mayfair, I was impressed by its large and lively Latino population, who seemed to enjoy the warm Saturday evening. Families promenaded along Hamilton Street, and a "gang" of about 5 kids pelted each other with buckets of water.

Well, those kids had more fun than me. Like Team Bush, Mayfair officials seem intent on keeping out the very Latinos I saw in inner city Allentown. Team Bush wants to build a 7 million mile fence around the US, and Mayfair officials surrounded their fair with an ugly chain link fence. They also charged $5 admission. I can't tell you whether they made you speak a few English phrases or produce citizenship papers because I hopped the fence as well as Jim Gregory, not too shabby for an old fart. I'm used to evading metal detectors at Easton's courthouse, so this was a snap!

I walked from one end of the fair to the other, saw about 7 or 8 Latinos, and they were the ones picking up garbage. Way to go, Allentown! In the spirit of diversity, "English only" Allentown was serving tacos served by cute blue-eyed blondes and did have a Caribbean stand with fake palm trees. Now you're going to say, "Wait a tic! There was a Latino radio station on Friday night!" To this, I respond, "Yeah, and some of my best friends are black."

The National Guard was one of Mayfair's heralded "artisans," with a rock-climbing wall for the kiddies. I think they were setting up a machine gun firing range as I left. For some reason, no stands were set aside for the artisans from LEPOCO, our local peace group. They probably couldn't afford the entrance fee.

In its heavy coverage of this event, the normally progressive Morning Call failed even to hint this festival might discriminate against Allentown's large low-income population, much of which is Hispanic. Well, its reporters may not have noticed. But as The Morning Call itself acknowledged in an editorial promotion, it's also a corporate sponsor, which explains its heavy positive spin. And let's face it, Allentown's Hispanic population reads some Spanish paper anyway.

What really kills me is that, not only did The Morning Call sponsor an event that was fenced to keep out the peasants, but the state also kicked in $50,000, thanks to two state reps. anxious to keep their jobs.

If Mayfair officials want to make money next year, I have a suggestion. Charge people who want to leave; they'll pay anything.


Mateo Braccili, who owns the Lehigh Valley's only Hispanic radio station, WHOL 1600 AM, was kind enough to assure me that, at least on Friday night, Mayfair had a large Hispanic contingent.

"As the owner of the largest and only full-time Spanish media, WHOL "Hola 1600am," I wanted to respond to your comments. MayFair dedicated an entire day to Hispanic's on Friday. Our radio station was the host for several Latino acts beginning at 4:00 pm - 10:30pm. Even though the weather did not cooperate, we managed to attract nearly 1,000 local Hispanics to our main concert event. MayFair also reached out to us to coordinate other events for the weekend as well.

"MayFair was at risk of not happening at all this year. It has become too expensive for the city and festival coordinators to present. The difficult decision of charging admission was necessary in order to continue the event. This was the case last year as well. Our radio station was among only a few chosen to help MayFair with entertainment.

"My suggestion for you is to attend MayFair next year on the day they dedicate to Hispanics. You will feel much better!

"I appreciate your thoughts and concerns. You obviously share the same passion about the Hispanic culture as we do."

I thank Mr. Braccili for his comments.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Northampton County Council: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Follow the money. That's what they tell you. If you want to know how you're government rep feels about runaway development or corporate welfare, look at where he's getting his campaign contributions. Under the influence of now convicted campaign consultant Michael Solomon, former Northampton County Exec Reibman developed a highly refined system under which thousands of dollars from county contractors and employees poured regularly into his campaign coffers. Things had become so obscene that, when he ran for exec, John Stoffa shunned these legal bribes and won, which certainly tells us how Lehigh Valley residents feel about this practice. But what about the members of Northampton County Council? Do they spurn big money from special interests, like Stoffa, or do they believe in business as usual?

I've looked at the campaign finance reports for each of our illustrious County Council members. It's a tale of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

Surprisingly, most of them are actually good. Wayne Grube, John Cusick, Ann McHale, Ron Angle, Mike Dowd and Diane Neiper all rely on their own funds, and a scattering of small contributions, mostly from individuals. Their reports make clear they owe nothing to anyone.

The Bad

Charles Dertinger wants to be your next U.S. Congressman. But if you look at his campaign finance report, you'll soon realize that he won't be your Congressman at all -- he'll instead be a union puppet. In his successful quest for a Council seat, almost all of his campaign funds came from union PACs. They gave him over $15,000! He also managed to get $500 from the King of Special Interests, Glenn Reibman.

Most of this money isn't even local. Come to think of it, neither is Charles! He himself happens to work for a union, and is based in Flushing, NY How convenient! I guess Charles can think about County business while burning fuel during four hour commutes.

Now don't get me wrong. My own sentiments are strongly pro-union. We need them. But when one candidate not only works for a union, but gets almost all of his campaign funds from them, he's obviously their slave. Hey unions, why don't you let us elect our own guys with our own money?

The Ugly

I put Lamont McClure and Anthony Branco in the "ugly" category because, even though both relied heavily on money from special interests, the voters still rejected them. They lost. Yet they both now sit on Council, thanks to back room shenanigans.

Anthony Branco didn't raise as much money as Dertinger, but most of it came from special interests. Developers Atiyeh, Tuskes and Pektor were major contributors ($2,400), and I'm sure Tony will remember that when they ask for TIF financing or to place a property in the KOZ.

Lamont McClure is the strangest of them all. In a losing campaign, he managed to pull in about $10,000 from lawyers, most of whom are big city lawyers. Unions kicked in $3,440. DA Morganelli, who employs McClure's wife, donated $1,500, and one of his detectives provided an additional $500. Reibman sweetened the pot with $1000 gathered from his pool parties, and even Grube provided $500.

This guy owes nothing to us -- remember, we rejected him. But pals like Council Prez Grube and DA Morganelli wanted their boy on Council, and that's what they got. He's not our Councilman: he belongs to unions, lawyers, the DA's office, and Grube.

Incidentally, many of these nonlocal attorneys who gave to McClure, and McClure himself, work for Mr. Baseball, Peter Angelos. Although Angelos has pretty much destroyed the Orioles, his control of Maryland's legislature is legendary. His measures are simply called "Angelos bills." He's a heavy campaign contributor. He now spreads his tentacles to Northampton County. Maybe he wants to buy the Lehigh Valley Dawgs!

The Need For Reform

County Execs and elected officials like the DA should not be permitted to donate to candidates who decide their budget. And just as the Home Rule Charter prohibits a Councilman from being employed by the County, the same argument should apply to a Councilman's spouse. Even if Morganelli didn't give McClure a dime, do you really think McClure could give an objective evaluation of the DA's budget when the DA is Mrs. McClure's boss?

In addition to the possible conflict of interest presented by accepting money from elected officials, the dangerous influence of NONLOCAL political money is being felt, especially with Dertinger and McClure. Council will have to approve 11 union contracts. How can we expect Dertinger to look at them fairly when he himself is a union puppet? And will McClure, beneficiary of all kinds of money from big city lawyers, try to steer swaption deals or bond work their way? To prevent Philly or New York special interests from deciding what happens in Northampton County, politicians should be barred from using nonlocal money to run a campaign.

The best way to minimize the influence of special interests in elections is to make them irrelevant. How do we do that? Adopt publicly funded clean elections laws. In this system, candidates are provided a flat sum by the government to run their campaign if they pledge to seek no money from private sources. This system is up and working in six states.

This proposal has not been considered in the land of midnight legislative payraises, where local write-in results are available to the press on election night, but are shrouded from the public ten days after an election, and where campaign finance reports in the hotly disputed 133rd legislative district are still not posted on the net.

Do we want reform or business as usual? Business as usual is what we'll get from Dertinger, McClure, and Branco. That's what their little publicized campaign finance reports tell us.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bloggin' on WGPA AM this Monday!

If you have a chance, tune in to WGPA 1100 AM on Monday morning. I'll be guest-hosting "At Issue" between 8 and 10 AM. Fellow blogger Damien Green (Our West End Neighborhood) will join in a discussion with LVBO (Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil) about Light Rail in the LV, rising prices at the pump, peak oil, and what we can do about our energy crisis. But the show is for anyone who wants to talk about anything. Call in at (610) 866-8074. You can also livestream the show on the web.

How to Destroy Employee Morale - Easton Won't Pay Funeral Bill For Cop Slain on Duty

Easton's a walking contradiction. It's citizens are bright and concerned, but they constantly elect leaders whose attitude, at best, is parochial. Example? Motivated citizens went all out recently to preserve the Eddyside pool, raising over $3,000. Simultaneously, its city council rejected the funeral bill for a police officer tragically slain on duty, worried that payment might "set a precedent." Yeah, I can see that happening every day. The bill was inflated because all the pols had to get in on the action, and now they won't pay the tab.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Eight Days After Election, Write-in Tallies For Dertinger Campaign Still Unavailable

On election night, Northampton County Democratic Chair Joe Long bragged to both papers that Charles Dertinger, his last-minute write-in candidate, had garnered over 3,000 votes in Northampton County alone, three times the number he would need to be placed on the ballot for U.S. Congress.

On Northampton County's election results website, however, there is no write-in tally. Yesterday, I asked to see the write-in results, and was told they were not yet available. "Unofficial results" aren't ready, either.

"Check again in a week," is what local voting officials tell me.

Part of the reason for the Help America Vote Act, which requires use of touchscreen voting machines, is to restore confidence in our voting system. But how can this happen when local voting officials are still unable to produce, even unofficially, a vote tally for the county's 160 precincts? Results in war-torn Iraq are quicker.

Techonological advances like the Internet and touch screen voting do not improve our system if local and state voting officials fail to do their job. By the way, how does Joe Long know that Dertinger has over 3,000 write-in votes in Northampton County? Why was Channel 69 displaying numbers on election night if it is impossible to do so 8 days after an election? When elections officials tarry in a vote tally, suspicions will arise.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Gaming Board's "Public" Hearings Are a Charade

I don't like government interfering with my personal liberties. For that reason, I resent government telling me when and where to gamble, drink, pray, or smoke. On the other hand, gambling never really appealed to me. So I was not among the gaggle waving signs that either supported or opposed gambling in the Lehigh Valley. It doesn't much matter to me. But I'm always bothered me when a government body conducts sham public hearings. And that's what happened yesterday in Allentown's Crowne Plaza. The Board is considering whether to award a casino license in Bethlehem, Allentown, or Limerick. The charade continues today.

Yesterday, only three of the Board's seven members bothered to show up. Members of the public who addressed the Board did so only because they were invited to make a three minute presentation after making an application months ago. Of course, many of the "public" members selected are actually an assortment of local politicians.

One of these local pols, Lamont McClure, is a political hack who was defeated when he ran for Northampton County Council. His political pals managed to get him appointed to the job in a backroom deal that incidentally violated the Sunshine Act. He's one pol who was allowed allowed to speak yesterday. Guess what? He loves gambling

Another local pol, Ron Angle, is a political hack who has twice been elected to Northampton County Council and has a popular radio talk show. Love him or hate him, he's probably the closest thing we have to a populist in the Lehigh Valley. He applied twice to address the Board, but received no invitation. Guess what? He hates gambling. Hmmm.

A board that sends only 3 of its 7 members to a public hearing obviously has no regard for what you think. Don't you think there's something wrong with being required to present a written outline of your presentation in advance? And isn't it strange that it would shun local watchdog Angle and invite local lapdog McClure?

Let's not forget that Pa.'s Gaming Control Board, one of our newest bureaucracies, was formed by our midnight pay-raise legislature. So far, four of its employees have been arrested for charges ranging from homicide to falsifying official background information. This is the group that will regulate casinos. Who's going to regulate them? Do you think they want you watching them? And do you really think this nonelected Board really cares what you think about where it puts its casinos?

Wednesday Update:

Angle crashed yesterday's Gaming Board hearing. Guess what? The Board allowed him to speak.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bless me Father For I Have Sinned - I saw The Da Vinci Code

Bless me father, for I have sinned. Last night, I actually enjoyed The DaVinci Code.

Let me explain how this happened. I usually only attend matinees like Ice Age II or, most recently, Over the Hedge. I spend most weekends on baby-sitting duty, and can tell you anything you'd ever need to know about Curious George or RV. But both yesterday and today, as I ran yellow lights along Rte 248, I saw something I thought I'd never see at a shopping center -- protesters. At the entrance to this gigantic shopping center, which includes a SuperWalmart and Starbucks, three protesters stood in their Sunday best with signs I couldn't read. I was actually forced to stop at a red light so I could read one of the signs, telling me that fiction "is no excuse for blasphemy."

Two things bothered me. First, what the hell were they protesting? Over the Hedge wasn't really that blasphemous, except for that wired squirrel who kept talking about his nuts. Second, in this current age of terrorism, why didn't the Colonial Region Police shackle and use their stun guns on the miscreants who dared exercise their First Amendment rights?

I soon realized these folks were protesting The Da Vinci Code, a really lousy book. The story was great, but author Dan Brown is no Shakespeare. Of course, he has several best-selling books while I have this blog, so what do I know? But having read the book, I had pretty much decided against seeing the movie.

Those protesters changed my mind. Not too long ago, several LEPOCO members were actually arrested for distributing antiwar literature on a public sidewalk outside the Palmer Post Office. And I was kicked off the shopping center grounds myself a few years ago when I tried to distribute information about the child labor used to make those cheap bras and panties sold at Walmart and Kohls. Yet for some reason, those smiling bastards who looked like Stepford Wives with cheap bras and panties, were permitted to stand on the same sacred private property with their protest signs. I immediately decided to see the movie.

Now the movie itself is actually pretty good, and I'd recommend it to all of you, if only because I don't want to be lonely in hell. I won't go into any more detail than that about the movie itself. Ian McKellan is blah, blah, etc. See it yourself. You know the movie's good because most critics gave it lousy reviews.

So then, why am I writing this review? It's not about the movie, but the audience. I told you earlier that my movie experience over the past several years is confined pretty much to kids' movies, and that's pretty much during the afternoon. Let me tell you, those movies are pretty damn good. I saw Madagascar about five times, and King Julian deserves an Academy Award. Also, there wasn't a dry eye in the house when the lion died in Narnia. But what's really great about those movies is that most of the audience actually arrives on time and becomes silent as soon as the previews start.

Not so for the "adult" audience. I had to get up about five times during the previews and the first 15 minutes of the movie so that stragglers could move down my aisle and find a place to sit. About every 5 minutes, someone would check his cell phone, which made it seem like lightning bugs were all over the theater. And because everybody ate at a ton of popcorn and drank a gallon of soda, I had to get up about 10 times after the movie had started so that people could go to the bathroom. Most kids have the courtesy to just pee in their pants. On my left were two guys who insisted on talking to each other during the entire movie. On my right sat Jaba the Hut, and I thought he was going to eat me when he ran out of popcorn.

So although I liked the movie, we adults could learn a few lessons from our kids about how to behave during a movie. If we followed their example, we might actually experience some of their joy of life.

Now I'm going to look for some of my old Walmart flyers. They're in my underwear drawer.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime - Weekend Movie

Anticarb has recommended "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime 1.0," a one hour movie for your viewing pleasure this weekend. So forget about the video store or long lines at the Carmike for the Da Stinki Code. Find out what really happened on 9/11. Everybody's gotta learn sometime.

Excuse me, Officer, Can You Tell Me How to Get to 78?

Lately, it seems as though local police may need additional manpower just to police themselves. We've had police shootings in Easton and Allentown, one cop pointing a loaded revolver at another in Bethlehem, and a bizarre police cover-up in Moore Township. But if you think we've got problems, check this out!

Where's Charlie? Is He the Invisible Man?

Like Johnny Appleseed, our Guv is popping up all over the state. But instead of apple seeds, Rendell is scattering checks - a half million for a Bethlehem bistro and nearly 2 million to redevelop the old Pomeroy's in downtown Easton. His official campaign doesn't formally kick off until today, and he's got a 22 point lead in the polls. But he's been out there for weeks, running hard, as though he were the underdog. He'll win and he deserves it.

Now compare this to Charles Dertinger's Congressional campaign. He mounted a last minute write-in campaign to get the Democratic nomination for a Fall face off against Republican incumbent Charles Dent, who incidentally has a $700,000 warchest.

As results trickled in and it became apparent that Dertinger had the necessary write-in votes, a hungry candidate with a message would sound his trumpet. Why is he running? Is it the war? Concern over rising health care costs? Our shrinking middle class? Exactly what is his message? He does have a webpage, but it tells us nothing except how to give him money.

The Express Times had this report on Election night: "Dertinger could not be reached for comment ... ." The following day, The Morning Call told us, "Dertinger could not be reached for comment ... ." They should have looked in Jersey.

A candidate who snubs the press will ignore his constituents. This explains why it took Dertinger three tries to get elected to Northampton County Council. It also explains why Dent will win in the Fall. Dertinger is a Democratic Lynn Swann, hand-picked by party leaders, whose real message is personal advancement.

Don't we deserve better?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

New to the Blogosphere: "Our West End Neighborhood"

When you get a chance, check out the new blog in town, "Our West End Neighborhood." Although its focus is Allentown's West End Theatre District, blogger Damien Brown has a great post about Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil. This is a grassroots community group whose Herulean task is to persuade our regional planning commission to endorse light rail instead of widening every highway it sees. Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil has been getting advice from an unusual alternative energy advocate - Northampton County Executive John Stoffa. When he ran for exec, Stoffa warned we need to look for alternative energy sources. Most politicians forget promises once they're elected. But not so with Stoffa, who quietly met with a group that just might get something done.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Low Voter Turnout: Is it Really Our Fault?

It will happen. It always does. In the next day or so, one or more newspapers will piously condemn yesterday's poor turnout, and blame everything on voter apathy. They do have a point, but let's look at some other reasons for the lousy turnout:

1. State Elections Officials: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

In the Lehigh Valley's most contentious race - the battle for the 133rd state rep. seat being vacated by T. J. Rooney, state officials have yet to post the campaign finance reports filed by the four candidates. Rybak's report became a major issue, but practically no one saw his report. Government has no problem posting all kinds of personal information about us on the net, but can't be bothered to let voters know who is funding a candidate until after an election, when it is too late to do any good.

2. Local Elections Officials: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

What's going on in the Boscola race? Who's been elected to state committee in Northampton County? We don't know because, as of the time of this post, most of the results are not in. Northampton County has just started using computerized voting, which supposedly makes things easier. Yet as of the time of this post, most of the results are not even tabulated. In the 21st century, this is unacceptable.

Local elections officials also need to be trained in the requirements of the Campaign Finance laws they supposedly administer. Both Lehigh Valley counties mistakenly believe that a candidate seeking a state office need only file a campaign finance report with the state. The law, however, also requires candidates seeking state office to file reports in their home counties. That law must be enforced, especially when the state can't be bothered to post a candidate's finance reports on the net until after the election.

3. Local Elections Officials are Destroying the Private Ballot

The right to cast a private ballot is central to our democratic form of government. It's why lever machines were replaced with computerized voting machines in Pa. Yet yesterday, as I attempted to cast my ballot, I had to do so with an election official hovering around my shoulder. He was only trying to help, but I didn't want his help or appreciate his proximity. Elections officials should not be within five feet of a voting machine while it is being used unless the voter asks for help.

4. Negative Campaigning

Tony "the Hatchet" Rybak attempted to get himself elected by falsely portraying Joe Brennan, the eventual winner, as some kind of jailbird. This deceptive campaign practice deters potential voters, who become disgusted by the whole process.

5. Lousy media coverage

No newspaper has reported the state's failure to post campaign finance reports on the Internet, which might embarrass state bureaucrats into doing the right thing. The vote yesterday reflects a genuine desire for more disclosure and transparency. Those media failed to take state officials to task for its poor performance in online disclosure of campaign finance reports. If the media doesn't care, why should we?

6. Political Hacks

How can we prevent voter apathy when we have a serious case of candidate apathy? Republicans are reeling from the many missteps taken by the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Delay, etc., etc. They are vulnerable. But the 15th U.S. Congressional District presented no Democratic candidates to face off against Republican Dent. Instead, Charles Dertinger, a county councilman who was also running for the state Democratic committee, waged a pitiful, last-minute, write-in campaign. He had such little regard for the voters that he wouldn't speak to the public through the press last night, leaving political boss Joe Long to claim victory.

The Silver Lining.

Despite the poor turnout, there's reason for hope. Here's why:

1. Voters cast out a number of the heavyweights who supported the midnight legislative payraise, including Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill, R-Lebanon, Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer, R-Blair, and local state rep. Paul Semmel.

2. We met a few class acts seeking office. One of them is Jose Rosado. He was defeated by another class act - Joe Brennan. Here's what Rosado had to say about the eventual victor in the 133rd: . ''I thought the race was tough on Joe. It was a difficult situation for he and his wife. That's unfortunate. In addition to congratulating him, I was expressing my feelings that it had to be difficult for him to endure some of the things that were brought out in this race.''

I hope we see Rosado's name again.

Monday, May 15, 2006

In race for T.J. Rooney's Seat, Brennan Fires Back!

In the past few days, Tony "the Hatchet" Rybak has gone negative in the race for the seat being vacated by T.J. Rooney, flooding voters with mailers falsely portraying Joe Brennan as hardened criminal. Former County Councilman Joe Brennan has taken the accusations in stride, posting humorous remarks to this and other blogs, and appearing on Angle's radio talk show as recently as yesterday. He's a class act who spoke highly of his remaining opponents, Jose Rosado and Dennis Pearson.

But Tony could not stop with character assassination. First, he claimed on his finance report (which is not so readily available) that he was somehow able to send out 40,000 pieces of mail for around $7,700.00. Yeah, right. Second, he ignored campaign laws that require his reports to be filed both with the state and in his own county, too. Third his mailings falsely tell voters that he paid for them when in fact it was his PAC. Strike three, you're out of here! He'd fit right in with the current crop in the land of midnight legislative payraises.

Today, Brennan calmly fired back with a letter to the Attorney General, who just happens to be the main man for enforcing our campaign finance laws. He must be busy these days.

Election Eve Update

Tony "the Hatchet" Rybak tells us on election eve that he's for "honesty and common sense in state government." That's nice. But his campaign finance report tells a different tale.

Rybak's campaign finance report still is not published on the state's Internet site, and he failed to file a copy with the county until late last week, well after the deadline. As Joe Brennan points out, sending out 40,000 pieces of mail for $7,700 defies common sense. And in a Morning Call article published yesterday, Rybak would have us believe that, although he uses a campaign consultant, he does not have to report that expense because he was not charged for the service.

Wrong answer, Tony!

If Rybak uses a campaign consultant who does not charge for services, it's a reportable "in kind" campaign contribution. But as it develops, Tony WAS charged. He acknowledges in the same story that he bought mailing lists, and that expense is not listed on his campaign finance report.

Also not listed, either as in kind contribution or paid expense, is the cost of Tony's web site or his AOL mailing address.

If Tony can't be honest in his campaign finance report, do you really think he'll be honest as a state rep?

Dertinger the Carpertbagger

On his third try, Charles Dertinger was finally elected to the highly dysfunctional Northampton County Council. He's that guy with campaign signs that simply said, "Charles," as though he was a member of the Royal family. Remember them? I still see a few from time to time, languishing in cornfields. Those signs remind me of Charles I, and the one thing I remember about him is he lost his head.

Well, those signs aren't going to help Dertinger in his next election. Within months of his election to County Council, he's now facing another "Charles," i.e. Charles Dent, in a battle to become the next U.S. Congressman from the Lehigh Valley. He's waging a write-in campaign because, astonishingly, no Democrat is running in the primary.

The Morning Call calls Dertinger a "faithless politician," and for good reason. He's deserting 17,000 people who voted for him in the vain hope he would actually spend some time on County Council.

Dertinger's few months on Council have been a betrayal of all the principles of the Democratic party. He engaged in back room shenanigans to make appointments to Council vacancies, violating the state's Sunshine Act. He stabbed County Exec Stoffa in the back by rejecting his selection for Director of Administration. He supported a nonsensical code of civility that actually muzzles citizens and provides for suspension of any Council member deemed to be bad boy, effectively disenfranchising those who voted for him. His actions betray a basic misunderstanding of democratic government.

I might be inclined to overlook these glaring defects if Dertinger actually had an agenda other than his own advancement, but he does not. He never spoke out against the Iraq war. He has taken no positions on any national issues. There are no letters to the editor penned under his name. He is very much a Democratic Lynn Swann, hand-picked to do the job by party bosses.

On top of everything else, he's a carpetbagger. He's a New Yorker who still works in Jersey, and only 17% of the contributions to his county council campaign are local. Even the affidavits to his campaign finance reports are acknowledged in Jersey.

I'm sure he'll be able to get 1,000 union write-in votes, but he stands for nothing except his own unbridled ambition. It's a shame that this is the best that local Dems have to offer against Charlie Dent. It's an indication that local party leaders are completely out of touch with the people who put them there. And who's running for the Democratic state committee? Why, none other than Charlie Dertinger.

Greta Browne is also waging a write in campaign, but she's the same person who betrayed Greens in the last Congressional race by throwing her support to Driscoll when it was too late for Greens to offer another candidate.

Charlie Dertinger or Charlie Dent? I think I'll write in "C.D."

Friday, May 12, 2006

To State Elections Officials: Thanks - for Nothing!

Election Day is only two business days away. In the Lehigh Valley, there are only 3 contested elections for state office. In two of those three districts, state elections officials have still not listed the campaign finance reports on the net.

This certainly defeats the purpose. Why bother at all?

State campaign finance laws clearly require state candidates to file copies of their reports in their home districts, but astonishingly, most local elections officials don't seem to know that. In Lehigh County, I was flatly told that state candidates need not file reports. And in Northampton County, I was told they only do so as a courtesy.

Instead of running around the Lehigh Valley with cardboard checks, local and state officials should spend a little money to make sure that campaign finance reports are listed on the internet within hours of being filed, and should take a little time to make sure that local elections officials understand the laws they supposedly administer.

Election Eve Update

With the election now only a few short hours away, the campaign finance reports for the 133rd state rep. race have not yet posted on the Internet. Given the controversy concerning Rybak's report, this is a completed abdication of responsibility by state elections officials.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Political Money in the 133rd: Where's the Sunshine?

Tony Rybak's at it again. He first brandished his hatchet a few years ago during a televised mayoral debate. Now he's flailing away at former county councilman Joe Brennan in the 133rd state rep. race. Rybak has aimed two mudslinging mailers at Brennan, including one with a photo of Joe behind bars. Chop! The photo's a phony, of course. Whack! Neither mailer tells us that, although a summary offense was once filed against Joe, the charges were actually dismissed. Thud!

Tony must want to stand out. After all, the race is a 4 way free-for-all that also includes Jose Rosado (he's an assistant principal, not the pitcher) and Dennis Pearson (a substitute teacher "sounding forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat.")

And I think Rybak has succeeded. He's willing to mislead voters and step all over another person to get what he wants. You think we'd get any meaningful reform from this guy? Dream on.

Both The Bethlehem Blog Times and Caseyhasabat have already condemned Tony's campaign tactics, so I don't think he's picked up any votes in the blogosphere. But why did he do it? What prompted Tony, who never took himself that seriously, to adopt suddenly the attitude of a pit bull in an Allentown dogfight?

Ron Angle has a theory. According to the talk-show host, Rybak has hired Precision Marketing, or one of its clones, as his campaign consultant. This firm, owned by Tom Severson, has a reputation for going for the jugular. And it does most of its work for Republicans. So Rybak may have let himself be used to weaken Democratic candidates in the 133rd to make it easier for Republican Dawn Berrigan to win in the Fall.

Clean up, Aisle 133!

The best way to find out what's going on is to follow the money, so I went yesterday to the Northampton County voters' registration office to look at candidates' expense reports, which must be filed 2 Fridays before the election. But when I got there, there were no reports at all. State house candidates file their reports in Harrisburg.

Does this mean ROAD TRIP? Not at all. I could get these reports online and from the convenience of my home. So I popped on the web to look at the reports filed by all 4 candidates for the 133rd. But despite repeated requests, the only report that popped up was the one filed for Jose Rosado. I decided to call Harrisburg.

When I got through, I learned that although all 4 candidates filed timely finance reports, elections officials have not had time to put these items on the net. They'll try their best to get the reports online in about a week, which will of course be AFTER the election. This could explain why Pa.'s online access to campaign finance reports gets an F from The Campaign Disclosure Project.

Follow the money? It's not so easy in the land of midnight payraises. I do know that Rosado got almost all of his campaign money from gazillionaires Beall & Marlene Fowler, who seem like nice people very interested in educational projects. Did I mention I have a few educational projects?

Road trip, anyone?

If not, then perhaps we can persuade state legislators to tighten campaign finance disclosure laws. Reports, once filed in Harrisburg, should be made immediately available to local voting offices so that they are readily accessible. And for all the histrionics involved in getting a finance report available for on line inspection, I have one word for state elections officials -- scanner. As things stand now, Tony Rybak can hack away, and it's difficult for us to know where he's getting his money or who is running his campaign.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Latest Victim of Global Warming: Santa Claus

NORTH POLE - Global warming claimed its latest victims this weekend when Santa Claus and his entire team of reindeer fell through thinning ice at the North Pole, plunging to watery deaths. President Bush did send condolences to Mrs. Claus, but disputed claims that global warming caused St. Nick's demise. "Let's face it, Santa was fat. I loved the guy, but he was no Lance Armstrong. Maybe he should have spent a little less time eating Christmas cookies, and a little more time riding a mountain bike. Besides, the science is not in on whether the globe is warming."

Homeland Security officials actually breathed a sigh of relief. Secretary Chertoff explained, "This guy in a goofy red suit was dropping stuff off at millions of homes every year without so much as a 'how do you do' to customs. How do we know he wasn't dropping chickens infected with Avian flu? Ever think about that? Ho. Ho. Ho. What's so funny about that? And what's up with all that peeping through bedroom windows at little kids?"

ExxonMobil reacted to the news by immediately dispatching oil exploration teams. Drilling is expected in the next month, and oil industry officials predict big savings at the pump, possibly as much as a penny per gallon. One energy expert noted, "We don't have to worry about preserving reindeer habitat with Santa out of the way. Now they're as useless as an appendix." When asked about the dwindling polar bear population, an oil industry official said, "That's why we have zoos. And if people really need to see white bears, we can just grab a few grizzlies and spray paint 'em. Conservationists must learn to think outside the box."

Most world leaders did express grief, but this sentiment was by no means universal. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for example, released the following remarks: "I dance on his grave - Santa Claus is a silly myth - we will wipe the North Pole off the map - right after we're done with Israel - arrrghh." Tehran officials privately acknowledged that Ahmadinejad was miffed after being placed on Santa's "naughty" list last year.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Are You Ready to Rumble?

Ever listen to talk radio? Conservative extremists delight in this format because - well - most of them can't read or write. Although only semiliterate myself, I confess a weakness for some of these shows.

The Lehigh Valley has its own increasingly popular talk radio program on WGPA Sunny 1100 AM. The show broadcasts Monday through Thursday between 8 and 10 AM, and is hosted by the always controversial Ron Angle. Yep, he's the County Councilman. Yep, he's the same guy who was tossed off another station for making insensitive remarks that offended every minority in existence as well as some that have yet to be created.

Ron's loud, obnoxious, insensitive, and uses horrible grammar. He's also funny, intelligent, and much more moderate than he pretends. Some call him a populist: others a demagogue. Take your pick. Personally, I like the guy. I can't help it.

Long before newspapers or blogs reported Dertinger's Congressional write-in campaign, Angle was talking about it on his show. He finds out what is going on and tells his listeners. He also brings in a lot of local pols from both sides of the aisle, from Charlie Dent to John Stoffa. It's rather informative, and Angle occasionally surrenders the reigns to me as guest host. I once gave most of his listeners massive heart attacks when I introduced Ramona Africa as a guest. Hospitals were busy that day.

Unfortunately, the show may be coming to an end. Angle and Polka King Jolly Joe Timmer have been feuding for months, and on the air. Jolly Joe just happens to own the station and thinks Ron's too greedy. Ron thinks Joe is too cheap.

On Monday, at 9 AM, there will be an ON AIR showdown. I wish I could tell you this is just shtick, but these guys are really after each other. Retired Bethlehem Police Captain McLaughlin has been reinstated to maintain order, but will only be issued a squirt gun. There are rumors of a cage match.

If the show does end, we will all lose. I can think of no other forum in which we have such easy access to our local leaders.

Not Ready to Rumble Yet? Then get a load of this.

Billy Givens, a Bill White Hall of Famer and civic activist who has spent years wandering the streets of Easton with bullhorn and boltcutters in hand, has turned in his megaphone to invade the blogosphere with billybytes.

This guy's the real deal. He's been tossed out of more public meetings than I've ever attended. He and Ron Angle (see above) are widely believed to be the reasons why a terrified county council has adopted its "Code of Civility." I've watched him turn candlelight vigils into near riots with Iraq war supporters. (I watch from a distance because I run when Billy goes into overdrive.) Here's how he describes himself:

"With relish, Billy Bytes takes chunks out of those who hold themselves up as models of probity but are venal, be they officials such as mayors and school board members, political parties, or the mainstream media. Billy is mesmerized by the political process and serves it up in all its radiant, rubbishy, riotous detail as played out on the stage of Easton, a river town half way between Philadelphia and New York."

"Billy began with a newsletter distributed in downtown Easton, peddled to local merchants, shoppers, and passers-by. Occasionally, he used a megaphone to get his message out. With the launching of billybytes.com, the newsletter, once a toy boat in the bathtub, unfurls heroic sails to the powerful world-wide winds of the Internet. Those mainsails will catch readers' comments and the reflections of guest writers from the four corners of the globe."

Billy is a must-read, if only for the colorful language. But I don't think Billy really bites. He sure does bark, though. Did I mention he's running for governor?

Ready to Rumble Now? If not, check your pulse.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tax Relief? You've got to be kidding!

They call it tax relief, and will continue doing so until someone actually believes it. But no matter how often you call a pig a princess, it's still a pig. The state Senate is patting itself on the back, and the House will start congratulating itself later today. Soon, Governor Rendell will join the chorus, and they will all hail a "historic" tax relief package, hoping to con all of us long enough so that the real beneficiaries of this relief package - incumbents - can keep their jobs. They'll probably succeed, too.

The reality? No one will see any relief until next year at the earliest. Those who do will be low income seniors who will get a pittance of $250. The rest of us will have to wait for gambling bucks to roll in from seniors and addicts who play the slots. And by the way, school districts will still be able to increase taxes pretty much at will, no matter what they say about "back end referenda."

Unfortunately, the property tax reform package is nothing more than a glitchy re-election gimmick, as gaudy as the casinos we will soon see throughout the state.

If the state legislature were truly interested in real property tax reform, it would start with how properties are assessed. If a property is not properly assessed, it doesn't matter what kind of reform package is adopted.

Let's look at Northampton County. In 2003, a resident did an analysis of what was paid for property and how it was assessed. It appears that the more expensive the property, the lower the assessment! Look at the following table:

Owner Purchase Price County Assessment
#1 $1,750,000 $516,500
#2 $1,350,000 $293,400 (?)
#3 $1,210,000 $546,800
#4 $1,040,000 $772,500 (Brand New Home)
#5 $982,500 $506,500
#6 $919,000 $608,300
#7 $878,000 $420,000
#8 $870,000 $420,000
#9 $850,000 $621,400
#10 $799,000 $453,600
#11 $750,000 $524,700
#12 $741,650 $531,700
#13 $725,000 $428,700
#14 $695,000 $277,000
#15 $650,000 $400,000

It's a system designed to benefit the wealthy minority at the expense of the rest of us. Until it addresses that basic inequity, the state legislature is gambling. It's playing the odds that it can fool us yet again. And the House usually wins.


The Guv is "outraged," but the state House did the right thing yesterday when it refused to vote on a re-election gimmick for incumbents that it laughingly labelled property tax reform. The package endorsed by the Senate does provide a pittance to seniors, but that's pretty much it. Runaway spending in school districts can continue under the current plan, which also fails to address inequities in current property assessments, the basis of all property taxes. Incumbents can no longer pretend they've delievered tax relief.

Now the true motive for rejecting the reform package is NOT some altruistic concern for the taxpayer, but a desire by House Republicans to embarrass Rendell. They've succeeded, but ALL of them are in trouble if they don't come up with a true tax reform package that addresses skyrocketing property taxes. So far, they haven't come close.


Morning Call state house reporter and blogger John Micek has a hilarious take on the re-election gimmick being foisted upon us as property tax reform. Gotta' love it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Cell From Hell

Scientists call it the cell from hell. It's a one-celled organism that can morph from plant to animal to attack anything in the water, even you. It lurks in sewage infested water to release a toxin that shreds flesh while destroying both immune and nervous systems. Fish gladly hurl themselves ashore, preferring suffocation to the agony inflicted by this little monster.

As horrifying as this indiscriminate killer may be, it's not what most of us think of when we hear the expression -- "cell from hell." We think of cell phones, the latest technological success to enslave us.

Joe Brennan is a man on a mission. You see, he's in a 4 way fight to get the Democratic nod for the state assembly. And even if he wins, he'll have to face Dawn Berrigan in the Fall. So now he's promised that, if elected to the state legislature, he'll introduce legislation to ban people from using hand held cells while driving. Who knows, maybe Northampton County Council will amend its Code of Civility to regulate cell phone use.

I'll admit I used to detest people who are always on their cells -- at restaurants, movies, in cars, even on the john. Ever stand in an express checkout line behind some lady with 48 items who talks nonstop on her cell while fishing for a minuscule credit card inside the bowels of a 100 lb. purse? Or overhear some guy telling some girl from his cell what a nice night he had while he's sitting on the throne of a public restroom?

But now that I have my own cell from hell, I realize those poor slobs, like me, are really just slaves. I got my cell about two years ago, convincing myself I need it for my business as a title searcher. True, the Recorder of Deeds office already has about 1,000 phones and I don't get any calls in the middle of the night for emergency title searches, but you never know. Now, three cell phones later, I actually have 4 separate cell accounts for various family members. And I can see now that it's really important to answer that ring, even on the john. Yes, I am plugged in, even when I am plugged on. I have Internet service and even had one of those earpieces that make you look like a Secret Service agent, but lost it.

Here's the problem. Once you make the mistake of getting a cell and giving someone your number, you better answer that phone when whatever goofy ring tone you've preset starts to go off. (For me, it's the Mexican Hat Dance.) If you don't, be prepared to get the third degree from whoever called you.

This explains why so many women talk on their cells while they're driving. Unlike men, they don't wish to be rude, and feel compelled to answer when that phone rings. They go through stop signs, turn without blinkers, and commit numerous other traffic offenses, completely oblivious to the dangers of the highway. The other day, I decided to count them as I approached my job. EVERY woman on the road was talking up a storm. And then a fellow title searcher, who happens to be male, drove by and screwed up my entire theory about unsafe women drivers.

He was reading the newspaper!

I'm not sure whether talking on the cell phone while driving is as unsafe as some of the other things we do on the road, whether it's reading Bill White's latest column, gobbling down a slice of pizza, or singing along with the Beastie Boys. But Joe Brennan still has a great idea because it gives me an excuse to ignore that phone.

"Where were you? I called 28 times!"
"Sorry, Joe Brennan made it a crime for me to answer the phone while driving. I could be executed."

Anyone who gives me an excuse for ignoring my cell phone gets my vote. Now I don't live in Joe's district, but I'm voting for him anyway. I'm a Democrat and we do that sort of thing.