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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Don't Be So Quick to Tie Charlie Dent to Mayor Betty

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingElizabeth Fields, Bath's Democratic mayor, was recently charged with stealing more than nine thousand dollars from her church's collection money. Fields had been a Democrat for Dent, and three local bloggers have been lightning quick to note the connection. Lehigh Valley Common Sense irresponsibly slimes Dent by calling him "as crooked as all others." LVDem suggests, in a much more subdued post, that Dent "may not be such a good judge of character." LVAddict also makes the Dent connection, and it's ruining his Christmas.

During the congressional campaign, Dent attempted to link Dertinger with former campaign consultant Michael Solomon, who recently spent some time at a club fed for bribery. Although Solomon did some work on one of Dertinger's council campaigns and they obviously met a few times, Dertinger had no reason at that time to suspect Solomon of anything. Dent was mudslinging. Politics is a dirty game.

Now the mud is being tossed at Dent. No one can logically conclude Dent is a "crook" simply because he happened to know or was friendly with Fields. Bath residents call Mayor Betty "a good-humored official who attends local events, supports businesses and throws out the first pitch each year for the Little League team." Thief is not a term they use.

Ah ha! Are Bath residents crooks, too? Are they poor judges of character?

The same "logic" being applied to Dent could condemn an entire community. Bath residents, who know her better than anyone, have elected her to office for over twenty years. So I must part paths with my blogger buddies on this one.

Good people often make mistakes. Fields will have to account for what happened. But I would not be so quick to condemn either her or those who call her a friend. Twenty years ago, I lost my license to practice law as a result of alcoholism. Much of what happened in those days is still a blur. But those people who stood by me probably saved my life. And I would never associate them with my sins. And it is wrong to associate Dent with those committed by Fields.
Update: I don't know what the hell is going on. LVDem's original post on this subject is gone. Poof! I'm innocent.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Should Morning Call Identify Race of Easton Bus Driver Assailant?

Today's Morning Call and Express Times both tell you that a LANTA bus driver was recently assaulted in Easton by a disgruntled passenger who was asked to take his feet off a seat. The Morning Call provides no description of the assailant while the Express Times tells us he is black, between 20 and 25 years old, 5 feet 8 or 5 feet 9 inches tall, 165 pounds, and wearing all-black clothing.

Easton police today released a raw surveillance video to WFMZ and asked viewers for help in identifying the suspect.

Fear of racial stereotyping has led many papers to shy away from use of racial identifiers. The Roanoke Times, for example, will "not mention a person's race in describing criminal suspects or fugitives unless the rest of the description is detailed enough to be meaningful. Sketchy descriptions are often meaningless and may apply to large numbers of innocent people."

In this case, where a suspect is at large and police are asking for the public's help in finding him, race is relevant. This is especially so since there is also a description of the person's height, weight and age. Given this detail, there is little risk of racial stereotyping. And racist commentary was still plentiful in The Morning Call's online forum, a truly scary place. One enlightened reader states the driver should have "axed" the assailant to put his feet down.

Chris "Blue Collar" Casey Planning Run for Lehigh County Commissioner

Chris "blue collar" Casey, told me today that he intends to run for an at large commissioner seat in Lehigh County next year. Some may question another run so soon after Casey's loss to Doug Reichley for state rep., but I'm glad he's doing it. Two Republicans may not be seeking reelection, and Casey is certainly gaining name recognition in the Lehigh Valley.

In Casey's words, "We need citizens on the Board of Commissioners who will work to improve our county's many communities with an eye on what economic and social conditions we can reasonably expect to exist in the next 20 to 30 years, not for how our economy and society function today." Although Casey thinks county exec Don Cunningham is a leader, he believes "Lehigh County Judges and the 7 to 2 Republican edge in Commissioners is more obstructionist and backward thinking than progressive."

Too bad he can't run here.

Northampton County Judges Throw Us a Bone

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIf there is any doubt in your mind that Northampton County judges are running this county, look no further than today's Express Times. Judges are now planning to decorate a plaza near the giant crayon sharpener rotunda with a simple memorial to area veterans. Cost? Ten or fifteen thousand bucks. Well-paid court administrator James "the snake" Onembo hissed, "That amount may not be necessary. We're trying for something simple."

I've got an idea! Why don't the judges dig into their own pockets? They've dug in ours long enough. How's that for something simple?

Why is a court administrator, and not County Exec Stoffa, doing all the talking? According to the court's own website, Onembo "is responsible for the long and short-term judicial planning, interaction with the other branches of county government, day-to-day operations of the Court as well as the oversight of the various court divisions and district justice offices." He's not there to decide what to do in a plaza near the rotunda. We elected someone to make those decisions. But the court is still trying to run this county.

And the sole reason for a ten or fifteen thousand dollar memorial is to placate you. They're throwing us a bone, bippy. Judges are betting that people will love that memorial so much they'll forget President Judge Freedberg's promise not to exceed $43 for the Taj Mahal. That project is now at least $3 million over budget and nearly a year behind schedule.

As veterans salute each other and give somber speeches, judges hope the public will forget about the once ample parking chewed up by their expansion. Total disregard for courthouse furniture and jackhammered slate slabs will be a hazy memory. No one will mind the judges' private dining room and private floor to which keys are denied to all, even deputy sheriffs. Employees made ill by all the Fiberglas particles and asbestos removal are just crybabies who should suck it up like our vets.

Look at our beautiful memorial!

Best of all, this memorial will be dedicated right around the time that Judge Stephen Barrata seeks retention. What a coincidinky!

Northampton County officials were not happy yesterday, when I suggested that no Northampton County judge should be retained. One of them told me I was a "little tough" on poor Judge Barrata. Admittedly, he's not President Judge and it would be difficult for him to come out against the court's official position.

But then he shouldn't be telling WGPA's radio audience that he wishes he could take them all on a tour of the new complex. He can't have it both ways. Is he prepared to state it's wrong to pay a court administrator over $102,000, and then allow him to work part time in Franklin Township and engage in a questionable real estate deal near the new courthouse complex? Will he reject a payraise when courthouse employees have gone without for nearly four years? He has taken no affirmative steps to distinguish himself from Freedberg/Moran/Onembo.

These are not questions about abortion or some other legal issue that a judge must refuse to answer. These are questions about perks and the people who work under him.

I'm waiting to see if Barrata answers these questions. If he tolerates an Onembo, he doesn't deserve retention. We deserve fair judges, not people who use political hacks to call the prothonotary to discover how I paid for my lawsuit against the county.
And so the battle rages.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mass Transit Advocates Suffer Setback in Easton

Most of us look down our noses at people who ride the bus. They're full of the dregs of society and we might catch a disease or something if we get close to "those people." So we stick to our Ford Explorers.

Here's just part of the reason why Eric Snider won't take a bus anywhere.

I was sitting in the bus station, which was very large and almost empty, when a very unpleasant-looking man came in. He had a scroungy beard, dirty clothes, and he smelled like the shores of Lake Elsinore on a hot day. Naturally, he sat down next to me. There had been nothing in my demeanor or appearance to suggest that I wanted company, but he sat next to me anyway.

He said, "Are you going northwest?"

"No," I said. "Just north."

There was a pause, and then he said, "I got hit by a car yesterday."

That's when I decided to walk over to the mall and hang out there for a while. Call me a snob -- go ahead, do it now, I'll wait -- but any place where strangers frequently begin conversations by mentioning recent personal injuries is not a place at which I care to spend a great deal of time.
So he had a bad trip. I guess I upset him.

Boo hoo.

Now Snider and car snobs can now claim they've been right all along. A LANTA bus driver was recently punched six times in the face for telling an Easton passenger to take his feet off a seat. Although LANTA's Executive Director can recall no similar incident, a nitwit from Easton has just given us a little more reason to stay in our cars.

Who Let the Dogs Out? Bethlehem's Dog Park

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBethlehem proudly proclaims its 72,000 residents have a "rich colonial and industrial history." George Washington actually did sleep there. The Christmas City is home to the oldest Bach choir in America. Its August Musikfest draws a million visitors every year. And Bethlehem's Liberty Hurricanes are district football champs for two years straight. But what really sets Bethlehem apart, at least in my view, is that it is the only municipality in the Lehigh Valley with its very own dog park. I spent several days there during the Thanksgiving holiday. It's a real treat for both canines and their human companions.

I'll be honest. The very notion of a dog park initially struck me as decadent - just another sign that we're going to the dogs. Why can't people just walk their frickin' dogs? What's next? A cat park? Hamster playground? Well, as is the case with so many other things, I was completely wrong. I pretty much spent the weekend there. It was both more fun and a lot cheaper than a day trip to Philly or NYC, although I am scratching myself a lot.

What you do is walk inside the damn enclosure, pretend you're from Bethlehem by doing a chicken dance or something, take your dog off the leash, and watch her romp. She's a completely different animal than the one who yanks at your leash. Most dogs are completely social. They run, jump, play bite, growl, dump, growl again, run around some more, dump again, and generally have a good time. I swear they're smiling. In addition to the dog, I also let a seven year old boy off his leash, but he had to clean up his own dumps. I had as much trouble extracting him from the park as I did with the dog.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOver the past three days, he met greyhounds and whippets, and saw firsthand why they are rated the fastest dogs in the world. Man, do they fly! He saw everything from lumbering English mastiffs, the world's largest dogs, to chihuahuas, the world's smallest. He can tell you about an intelligent German Shepherd who stole his sandwich as he was walking towards the park, a gigantic Bernese Mountain Dog who played gently with a three pound jack-a-poo pup, and basset hounds , who perpetually patrolled to bark at dogs stepping out of line.

What also amazes is just how damn nice people can be. I've wasted years running bike paths throughout the Lehigh Valley, especially along Sand Island and in Palmer Township. Most people just don't want to say hi when they're out for a walk or run, even with their dogs. But at the dog park, people actually spoke to me, even though I now have ridiculous gashes on my forehead and nose. Maybe they thought I was one of the dogs. I did get a milkbone.

A few people came with no dogs at all. They liked being around those rolling fur balls.

Obviously, a little puppy or sick dog would not do well in a dog park, and you have to keep an eye on your pet at all times. It's basic common sense. One fellow decided to test whether the Doberman he picked up at a shelter three days earlier was social by bringing him to the dog park. Guess what? He wasn't. I would suggest checking out the park for a few minutes to make sure there are no problems and to leave if a dog or its owner starts acting strangely. Must be why I ended up alone.

There are only 29 dog parks in Pennsylvania, but the Lehigh Valley may soon have its second canine playground. Nazareth approved the concept back in July.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Northampton County's Judges Should Not be Retained

Northampton County Judge Steve Barrata appeared two weeks ago on a local radio talk show, telling listeners that the new courthouse expansion is just magnificent. And it's true. It's great for judges. It's just everyone else who suffers. The expansion is at least $2 million over budget and way behind schedule. Contractors are milking this project for as long as they can. I'd love to know the labor costs for landscaping and hand cut stones for the wind sensitive fountain. I'm sure they are at least twice what was budgeted. Taxes increased 66% over two years and over 100 positions were eliminated to pay for this monstrosity.

So why was Judge Barrata on the radio, and why was local lawyer Don Russo kissing his derriere? Elementary, my dear bippy! Barrata is up for retention next year and he wants the masses to know he's a swell guy.

I don't think a single judge should be retained. Hey Steve, where were you when county employees were getting sick? Did you speak up when over 100 positions were eliminated to help pay for your expansion? Where were you when your $15 thousand judicial lunch table had to be sawed in half just to get it in your new building? Where were you when judges decided that all members of the public had to be searched when they entered your new building, even if their business took them nowhere near a courtroom? What talk show were you on to announce that you would refuse the new pay raise? How can you take a nickel when the people who work under you have seen nothing for nearly four years? Why couldn't you open your mouth about any of the judicial excesses? How can you put up with a court administrator who is paid $102,705 per year as a full time administrator, but who is nevertheless allowed to supplement his salary by working as both constable and zoning administrator in Franklin Township, New Jersey? These are just a few questions that Barrata should answer if he expects to remain on the bench. I'm not holding my breath.

Murphy's Lesser Known Dictums

We're all familiar with Murphy's Law. "If anything can go wrong, it will". Most of us have personally experienced some of the necessary corallaries, such as "Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse."

A friend has just sent me some of Murphy's lesser-known dictums, so I'll share them with you.

1. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some pols appear bright until you hear them speak.

2. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

3. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine or borough council.

4. Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

5. Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

6. The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

7. If you lined up all the cars in the world end to end, someone would be stupid enough to try to pass them, five or six at a time, on a hill, in the fog.

8. If the shoe fits, get another one just like it.

9. The things that come to those who wait will be the things left by those who got there first.

10. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat all day drinking beer.

11. Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries.

12. The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.

13. A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

14. When you go into court, you are putting yourself In the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bush Spares Turkeys But Humans Aren't so Lucky

GW participated yesterday in the usual ritual of sparing the Thanksgiving Day turkey. As we all know by now, he loves turkeys. Too bad his love does not extend to fellow human beings. As of today, 2869 Americans have died in Iraq, and another 21,778 have been wounded.

And he was very reluctant to use his pardoning power when he was governor of Texas. Born-again Bush mocked murderess Karla Faye Tucker. "Please ... please don't kill me," he mimicked as he ignored the condemned woman's petition for clemency. And when he argued against hate crimes for people who murdered their victims, the "compassionate conservative" proclaimed (with a sneer),"It will be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death."

Happy Thanksgiving! See you Monday.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Problem in Norco' Voter Registration Office? Here's Why

On Monday, I told you about Dent's final numbers in Northampton County. Instead of losing the county by 100 votes, he actually won by over 3,000 votes. Green Dog notes these discrepancies extend to other races as well. Today's Morning Call tells us state senator Pat Browne had 2,000 more votes than was originally reported.

Congressman Charlie Dent today told WGPA 1100 AM that voters are entitled to an explanation for the growing problems in Northampton County. I agree. And this is not just a Republican problem. After the primary, it took six weeks to come up an unofficial total for the write-in races, and that had to hurt candidates like Democrats Charles Dertinger and Russ Shade.

A few weeks ago, Registrar Debbie DePaul suggested some voters seeking absentee ballots were lazy. When I told DePaul that her staement insulted voters, this was her response.

"I seem to not understand your point other then you wish to find negative in every possible thing that I or my office does. It matters not the countless hard work and effort, the dedication, worry, stress and concern to make every Election the very best for everyone most importantly the voters. You seem to have failed to notice and appreciate that the person in charge of the Election Office is intelligent, dedicated, fair and non-bias and holds her office to the same standards. With every positive effort to hold a good and fair election I seem to be fighting a very negative, nasty wave from a group that seem to wish bad upon the office or the election. Yes, Mr. O'Hare there are some that do not wish to go to the polls believe it or not their have been several making those comments in my office in front of staff. It's not the majority and for your information I have many friends and family using the absentee due to medical illness and not being in the municipality. I look to uphold every area of the laws of the election process and I wont apologize for that and I certainly do not look for praise or a pat on the back I am just doing my job. I do what the laws and my conscious tell me I am suppose to do. I would suggest you try to be a more positive person and see the good in people as there is much good in most. I wish you the best."

When she speaks about the election office, Depaul refers to herself. I'm no expert, but her response clearly reveals why her office is a mess. She's a hardworking and dedicated worker, but clearly is stressed.

The Bad Date - A Penn State Student's Tragedy

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBelieve it or not, I have a few young readers from the Lehigh Valley who are away at college. One of them, a PSU student, recently sent me a summary of one of his more recent dates.

Remember dates?

I've decided to share this entertaining summary, written from the male's perspective, with you. Times have changed. I just used a club.

What to Expect on a Date with a Chemical Engineer, from a Chemist’s Perspective

No matter how early you are, you’re late.

She'll tell you a chemistry degree is a booby prize, because an engineer can do anything a chemist can, but not vice versa.

She will talk about her ex non-stop and tell you every reason it wasn’t going to work for her.

She will order a full dinner even though the date was for “drinks”.

She will demean your research work in every way imaginable, and tell you flat out that you are wrong.

Anything you do, or can do, she can do better and already knows more about it than you do, so it’s best to just shut up and let her talk.

She knows everything there is to know about relationships and emotions because she read about it in some Gloria Steinem book.

She will try and get you to read that dumb ass book so you can understand about relationships.

She will talk mostly about herself and really doesn’t even care if you pay attention or not.

Her degree in chem. Eng. is a fall back plan because she is probably writing a 9 book series about leprechauns. DO NOT ask about it, I can’t stress that enough.

She may tell you you’d look much more attractive if you’d shave your head, because obviously, you look like shit now.

She will tell you you’re uneducated if you don’t have a favorite art piece, but honestly, she probably thinks you’re uneducated anyway, so who cares?

She will tell you that even though she’s never painted she knows she will be good at it, and will be a professional painter someday.

She will tell how much of a feminist she is, but will let you to pay for everything, without even the slightest argument.

If you ever used match.com or some internet dating service, DO NOT tell her, even if it comes up in conversation. She will belittle you and tell you how she has never felt so in need of a relationship to go looking for one on the computer.

She will tell you that she needs to have more degrees than her father, that’s why she is doing chem. Eng.

She can count cards, even up to 8 decks, but doesn’t believe in gambling.

She read the DaVinci Code in three hrs. Just accept it.

She tells you it takes her six months to feel attracted to someone (dumb ass book strikes again) so don't touch her. You might as well open the door while the car is rolling and give her a swift push.

There will be not one thank you at all, even if you paid for everything. You should be thanking her.

She will tell you your driving makes her sick, even though you’re only going a few blocks, and demand you slow down before she throws up in your car. Too late!

She will tell you at the end of the night she had a good time, and that you should catch up sometime again, and will actually call you.

I'll lay odds he marries her.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Lehigh Valley's First Conservative Blog

This is a week of firsts for the blogosphere. Just yesterday, I told you about the Lehigh Valley's first Latino blog, South Side Script. And now the Lehigh Valley has its first conservative blog, Right from Lehigh Valley.

Many of you must be shocked. Conservatives rely on talk radio and Fox news as their source for all information because they can't read or write. But Julian Stolz must be an exception. He does a nice job. His focus is Emmaus, an area that could definitely use attention. But today he tells us Congressman Dent may face a challenge from the right because he supports hate crime legislation and is pro life.

It's nice to know local Dems don't have a lock on insanity.

Correction: Dent is pro choice. I apologize for the error and thank Bernie K for pointing it out.

Northampton County Council Investgating Wrong Office

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAt last Thursday's council meeting, Lamont McClure announced his law and order committee will soon investigate the embezzlement of at least $83,000 in bail money by a former deputy clerk. Her office has not been fully audited since 1992.

Although this matter is being investigated by both the District Attorney and Auditor General, McClure wants to play detective, too. He even wants to hire a "forensic accountant" to tell us what we already know - a five year theft was possible because county officials were asleep at the switch.

So why the big "investigation"? Elementary, my dear bippy. Its purpose is to cast the Eye of Mordor in the direction of Controller John T. Schimmel, a Republican whose term expires next year. Blame for the $83,000 theft will be laid at his doorstep. Schimmel can expect a Democratic opponent should he choose to seek reelection. McClure's investigation is designed to stoke the flames from time to time.

Voter registration is one office where a complete investigation is really needed. Touch screen machines froze. Elections officials failed to inform voters who weren't on poll books about provisional ballots. Elections workers with questions would call the office but the phone would just ring and ring. Voting machines were not evenly divided among precincts. The ballot was designed to encourage straight party voting. Votes were not tallied until the next morning. And the large discrepancy between unofficial and official results, both with the congressional and other races, is inconsistent with Lehigh County, where there was little difference. The employees in these offices are dedicated and hard-working, but they could use a little help.

Councilman John Cusick noted some of these problems last Thursday, but county officials seem reluctant to take a hard look at an office designed to protect our most important right. It might interfere with the witchhunt.

The Lehigh Valley's New Love Muffin

Late last week, Naked Lehigh County Blogger released her "top ten" list of the Lehigh Valley's sexiest bloggers. She admits the "list is pretty pitiful, but remember, it consists mostly of men who spend way too much time on their computers, so personal hygiene might not be their highest priority."

Well, of course, she had to rate her husband as her number one guy. But guess who's Number 2?


That's right, bippy, I'm a hunka hunka burnin' love! If there's any doubt in your mind, these are the sensual words Naked Lehigh County Blogger uses to describe me. "One of my favorite foils. Yes, he is a mean old ornery goat, but I'm sure there is a soulmate out there for him somewhere, perhaps in a Russian bride catalogue. The picture he puts up of his physical injuries do induce feelings of pity....NOT!!! All I can say is, Damn, that is one big SCHNOZZ!! Jimmy Durante would be jealous!"

I've been called number two daily now for many years, so this is no surprise to me. I've promised LVDem I'd be nice to him for a few days, so I won't tell you he didn't even make the cut.

And I don't have to look through a catalogue. I've already have an offer from the beautiful woman whose picture is attached to this post.

Lehigh Valley's Blogosphere Continues its Expansion

The Lehigh Valley blogosphere keeps growing and growing. Two more blogs have appeared on the scene. Look Out Lehigh Valley is community-focused blog aimed at "the young, forward thinking, awesome residents of the area in the hopes that we begin to come together and engage each other." Looks like I'm out! No room for miserable old bastards there.

But another new blog is right up my alley. LVCurmudgeon is a nasty old fart whose latest complains about the new Playstation 3 and the couch potatoes who "line up like spuds in a field to find something else to keep them isolated, unsociable and ignorant." You said it, bippy! If they want to be isolated, unsociable and ignorant, they could blog!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Say Hola to South Side Script, the Lehigh Valley's First Latino Blog

It's finally happened. We're going to be hearing a different perspective, that of a young professional from south side Bethlehem "who happens to be Puerto Rican." Say Hola to South Side Script, the Lehigh Valley's newest blog.

I remember the first time I realized that not everyone eats rice and beans 90% of the week, I was in high school.

I remember the feeling I had when people looked at me funny in stores outside my neighborhood, or when I was followed and watched, although I was never into shoplifting. I remember the feeling of anger as I waited for at least a half an hour at the perfume counter to buy my Greek girlfriend a bottle of Escape. I remember hiding in the car every time we dropped that same girlfriend off at her house. I remember being instructed by my next girlfriend to say my name was Bob if her Shakespeare Road parents ever answered the phone.

NorCo's Thursday Night at the Fights: Dertinger and Angle

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"I won Northampton County, you know. I won Northampton County."

"Then why aren't you a Congressman?"

This is just a small part of the exchange between councilmen Charles Dertinger and Ron Angle following Thursday night's council meeting. They had sparred earlier over who gets credit for an ordinance adopted months ago. I thought their little tiff was over. I thought wrong.

At the end of Thursday's lengthy meeting, Express Times reporter extraordinare Sarah Cassi beelined right to Dertinger, and began asking questions. Unlike most public figures, Angle is drawn to the press like a moth to the flame. It was only a matter of moments before Angle and Dertinger were together.

Now I don't know exactly what Ron said or how he said it because I was in the peanut gallery, but Dertinger exploded. He launched an obscenity laced tirade as Angle tried to leave council chambers. He cornered the more diminutive Angle, pointing fingers in his face, getting closer, louder and redder. Deputy sheriffs were nowhere in sight. Council members were practically running out of the room, pretending not to notice what was going on. Lamont McClure gave me a little smile, and ran.

Thanks a lot! So much for his frickin' Code of Civility!

"I beat you Angle. And I can beat you again."

"Get out of my personal space. You're in my personal space."

I kept trying to put myself between the two, but only succeeded momentarily. It was a silly exchange, the kind of thing that might happen in grade school recess. I was beginning to think Dertinger would deck Angle when the lava flow suddenly stopped.

At this point, Angle turned to me and smiled, "Hey Bernie, I think I'll ask Charles to join us at Tic Toc Diner."

Now there is no doubt in my mind that Angle instigated whatever happened. And Dertinger is just coming off a congressional loss. But frankly, Dertinger demonstrated he is a not ready for prime time player. First, he lost control and let Angle get to him. Second, he acted like a schoolyard bully. Third, he was petty. This was no passionate argument over Iraq or our economy, but was instead over who is more wonderful. Did Angle behave badly? You bet, but he never claimed he belonged in congress. Last, Dertinger is wrong. He lost Northampton County, his home township, and even his own precinct.

Contrary to Popular Belief, Dertinger Lost in Northampton County

Northampton County's unofficial results show Charles Dertinger as a 127 vote winner in his congressional race against incumbent Charlie Dent.

Northampton County released their final results on Friday. Contrary to popular opinion, Dent actually won Northampton County by over 3,000 votes. And although Democrats have seized control of congress with a net gain of at least twenty-nine seats, Dertinger lost his home township and even his own precinct.

Last time the House changed control was in 1994, when Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America promised all sorts of reform. In that election, Democrat Paul McHale escaped with a 471 vote margin of victory. Now the tide has turned and Democrats are screaming for reform. Dent is swimming upstream. Yet, unlike Paul McHale, he still achieved a near 20,000 vote margin of victory. This is certainly no landslide, but the race was never so close as originally believed.

Anyone who minimizes Dent's ability to draw votes is making a mistake. To beat him, Democrats are going to have to produce a serious candidate, like someone who just drew 72% of the votes in her race for state senate.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Allentown Times Features Lehigh Valley Unfiltered Bloggers

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe Allentown Times today published a story about our local blogging community. Kristen Ziegler's article features Damien Brown's Allentown-oriented Our West End Neighborhood, and Vanessa Williams, whose Afterwork Chronicles is targeted at younger professionals in the Lehigh Valley. For comic relief, Ziegler also spoke with me.

Steve Ibanez, editor-in-chief for the Express Times on line edition, claims bloggers' "different perspective" is changing mainstream media. "We are not just a news organization grinding out the news," Ibanez said, "it's going to be newspapers and the community."

Blogs tend to be unfiltered and raw sources of information. For accuracy and objectivity, we don't come close to mainstream media sources. But blogs also invite more honesty. A perfect example of that came yesterday, when Bernie Kieklak, Lisa Boscola's chief of staff, took on all comers in a brilliant exchange of gonzo politics. He ignored conventional wisdom, in which government officials are cautioned against saying anything except things like "We are studying all options" or "We understand your concerns and they are very important to us." Instead, he called a Democratic blogger a "lying bastard" and also imparted pearls of wisdom like this:

I've seen rubber turds that have better political instincts than you do.

I define a "lazy ass" as someone who only managed to help their candidate get 44% of the vote, lazy ass.

Blessed are the meek, but that shit doesn't win elections.

You're just not going to read any public official saying things like that to the mainstream media. Democratic party officials were probably jumping off bridges last night. But I love it. It's honest. It's in your face. It's pure gonzo. It goes against conventional wisdom, but I think Gonzo Kieklak scored points for his boss last night.

Northampton County Council Agrees to Sunshine Act Training

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSince I've started this blog, I've written twenty-eight posts concerning different aspects of the Sunshine Act. I've even filed lawsuits against both Northampton County Council and Nazareth Borough. It's safe to say that I'm a little nutty when it comes to the Sunshine Act.

But open and accountable government is actually more important than politics. Democracy depends on it.

A status conference is scheduled next week in my suit against Northampton County. That's no biggie. You just tell the judge the case is moving along. It lasts about ten seconds. Notices are usually sent only to the county's lawyer.

But someone screwed up.

Every member of council was provided with a notice. And they went ballistic, not really knowing these status conferences are just bullshit. Council Prez Grube, who had just started talking to me again, turned his head away as I walked into council chambers. Before the meeting started, he told county lawyer Karl Longenbach that something had to be done.

Although I filed this case nearly a year ago, practically nothing has happened. I believe Council appointed council members Branco and McClure behind closed doors, but am not really interested in pursuing the harsh remedy of having them removed from office. They will face the voters soon enough. I just want them to agree to follow the law. Council has five new members, none of whom has been trained in the Sunshine Act. One of them has already violated the Sunshine Act unintentionally since his appointment, and he's a lawyer.

Council went into executive session last night to discuss this litigation, and Karl Longenbach and Leonard Zito worked a miracle. Council has agreed to undergo Sunshine Act training. County lawyers will prepare a Sunshine Act manual for each council member, and they have agreed to read and abide by it, to the best of their ability. Council is not completely happy because I might gloat. But I'm not happy either because I have no judicial determination they violated the law.

Since this proposal makes both of us miserable, it must be fair. So I'll end my Sunshine Act litigation against the county. I won't even wait for the manuals and the training. I'll take them at their word, as relayed to me by a county lawyer. And I commend Council for doing the right thing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Congesswoman Lisa Boscola? Does She See "Blood in the Water"?

Bernie Kieklak is state senator Lisa Boscola's fiercely loyal chief of staff. A few weeks before the election, he told me he had a poll showing his boss would win 71% of the votes in her senatorial dispute with Bonnie Dodge.

Yeah, right! I was born at night, but not last night. The dude was obviously playing me, and I'm too smart for that. I went to college.

Boscola won her race with 72% of the vote.

Last night, Kieklak popped on my blog, and started reciting poll numbers again. This time I'm paying attention.

"Our internals showed that Lisa would have beaten Charlie by 5%. Now that the blood is in the water, stay tuned for '08! It's Lisa's mid-term, she won with 73% of the vote, and she won 63% of the Republican vote! Can you say, "Exploratory Committee" early next year?"

Blogger Knocked Off High Horse Again

On Tuesday, I told you about being knocked off my high horse. Today, when I reported to have my stitches removed, I was whisked away by a team of laughing proctologists. At least I think they were proctologists. They kept saying, "We'll fix your ass, bippy." Then some guy named Mad Batter started whaling away. "You want pictures of my wife? I'll give you pictures. Blog this, asswipe!" I just woke up in a strange room with some guy named Bruno and I don't like the way he's looking at me.

Fortunately, I can still blog. I'm using my tongue to peck away this message from my stupid cell phone. I feel like Stephen Hawking. Maybe now I can write about black holes or something.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Big Name Dems Stayed Away From Dent Congressional Race

On Monday, I posted an analysis of the Dent-Dertinger congressional campaign that includes the thoughts of an insider, PaProgressive and Smitheus. They all make good points.

But the best analysis I've seen is at Lehigh Valley Common Sense, with all kinds of inside information you just won't find anywhere else. The biggest shocker, at least to me, is that the DCCC had originally intended to fund this campaign. But no local Dem with name recognition was willing to take on Charlie Dent. "Now I know with 100% certainty that Emmanuel called State Senator Lisa Boscola, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, and State Representative Jennifer Mann about running for the seat. All three declined his invitation, for very good, and personal, reasons."

Unfortunately, this race was over before it started. I wonder if the Lehigh Valley is the home of yellow dog Democrats.

The Lehigh Valley's Real Main Street - Its Blogosphere

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingA business coalition has hired two political consultants to tell you why you need a wider Route 22. They call it the Lehigh Valley's Main Street. Some Main Street. Unless you barrel along near the speed of light, someone will run you off the road.

There's another Main Street in the Lehigh Valley, a place where people can say Hi as they tool by, exchanging both ideas and insults. It's the Lehigh Valley blogosphere. And since my last report, it has grown. Time to fill you in, from the politically oriented to one containing some pretty good poetry.

The new local political blogs

Green Dog Dem: What the hell is a green dog Democrat? A green-dog Democrat is a cross between a yellow-dog Democrat and a blue-dog Democrat -- a moderately progressive, thinking Democrat who is liberal on some issues, moderate on some, a little conservative on some, ambivalent on some. What the hell does that mean? Beats me. I heard the Lehigh Valley Greens are suing for copyright infringement. The only thing I know for sure about this Green Dog Dem is he turns red whenever he sees anything that ends with cc, whether it's DCCC or HDCC. This dog should focus his anger on the SPCA and get a distemper shot. He knows a lot about the state house and its Machiavellian ways.

True Democrats of the Lehigh Valley: Right after losing a race for a state house seat against a well-financed Doug Reichley, Chris "Blue Collar" Casey took no time off to lick his wounds. Instead, he started a new blog. It was originally called True Democrats of Lehigh County, but there aren't any. So he renamed the blog, and invited a core of eight bloggers to participate. He even invited me, although I change parties more often undies. In a matter of days, there have already been twelve posts from very different people. This blog has potential and Casey would probably add you to his team of bloggers if you'd like to do an occasional post without having to go through the hassle of setting up a blog and preparing regular posts.

Lehigh Valley Crack Addict: But he's not addicted to crack. He craves blogs, and has passionately blogged topics ranging from the U.S. Congressional races to The Morning Call, which he's convinced is being run by pod people. His latest entry, Allentown Love Feast, is his best effort to date. He's proposing that Mayor Ed "Ironpig" Powlowski and Allentown city councilman Lou "I only sprechen zie English" Hershman duke it out in a charity boxing match to reduce city debt. Although I doubt this would bring in a dime, we all like to see pols beat each other up.

Naked Lehigh County Blogger: This isn't really a new blog but it gives me an excuse to say naked. Actually, Lehigh County Redneck is downsizing, and has decided she will only blog as Naked Lehigh County Blogger. In the interest of citizen journalism, we need someone who can find out if she really blogs au naturel. I want pictures!

J. Spike Rogan at Large: Sixteen posts on election day. In addition, this Easton blogger was broadcasting on internet radio and posting comments on all the locals. Need I say more? I wonder if he sleeps.

Some Local Blogs that Don't Give a Rat's Ass About Politics

Retro Riot: Were you looking for vintage Halloween gear? Stuck in the 60's? Vanessa Williams has answers.

Fab Finds: This is yet another Vanessa Williams production - a virtual guide to local antiques in this area.

Zen Dinosaurs: Anyone who can devote a post to a discussion of Spongebob Squarepants is OK in my book.

He says things like that a lot.

What's Better than This?: This is an uplifting and iconoclastic photo blog.

Revelation Park: Poetry with a hint of zen.

My father sat up in his hospital bed surprised
and dropped dead light as a feather.

Already in his youth before his head
hit the pillow.

Update: I missed a political blog. It's Lehigh Valley Common Sense, a collection of timely posts by a semi-normal white guy who likes to work out and go to the beach. He may be a Democratic committeeman but welcomes conservative voices. His blog is oriented mostly to national issues. His latest, however, deals with our new Democratic leaders. Like the rest of us, he just loves Bill DeWeese.

Pennsylvania State Dems Thumb Noses at Reform

Morning Call Columnist Bill Rutherford White gives us an omen of things to come from the brand new state house. The same payjackers who ruled with an iron fist in the land of midnight payraises are still in control, at least among the Dems.

Bill's words: What this tells me, and should tell you, is that the culture remains unchanged, despite a lot of lip service about reform. Rank and file members who play ball with the party leaders will be rewarded. Members who don't vote the way they're told will be punished. Decency and ethics be damned.

Salty Dawg's words: the sheeple have spoken.

My words: Bend over, bippy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lehigh Valley Underdogs Fail to Use the Great Equalizer - the Internet

Is technology really changing politics? Not in the Lehigh Valley. Not yet.

Most challengers rely on press conferences or press releases to announce daily epiphanies or fill us in on their opponent's latest outrage. Those tactics rarely work against heavily financed incumbents. Ask Charles Dertinger. Ask Bonnie Dodge.

Morning Call columnist Bill White gives us the newspaper's perspective. Reporters and their editors just don't consider these press conferences newsworthy. Yet challengers often waste precious time and limited staff trying to engage mainstream media. Heavily financed incumbents don't need press conferences. They can simply buy their own newspaper and broadcast ads. They can afford mailers and are always good for a few of those giant cardboard checks come election time.

Most lesser known candidates could easily use the Internet to even the odds. But few Lehigh Valley politicians have done so. Instead of wasting time on poorly reported press conferences, a politician could leapfrog mainstream media and post his ideas on a blog. It serves as both "ultimate cyberspace soapbox" and gives politicians an unfiltered avenue to potential voters and constituents. A real blog, in which a candidate posts unvarnished views on a regular basis, would be certain to attract a large audience, including mainstream media. It's also a wonderfully organic way to relate with voters.

But blogs are just the beginning. Email chains and podcasts with candidate's messages are useful tools for spreading a message. Blogs and websites can also be anonymously used for those nasty little attacks, like the one nailing Senator Santorum for parking in handicapped spots.

Despite these obvious advantages, few Lehigh Valley candidates have yet to make full use of the Internet. Bonnie Dodge, who ran for the state senate for nearly a year, could easily have filled a blog with daily posts. Charles Dertinger, who did publish a blog, was far too cautious in his very infrequent posts. Get a load of this.

"I hope all of you reading made it through the flood safely. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who've been affected."

Seriously, what the hell is up with that? Instead of thirteen posts throughout an entire campaign, an insider could have flooded the blogosphere with posts pointing out the differences between Dertinger and Dent. Instead we got blessings from the Royal We.

Most politicians are justifiably concerned their words can come back to haunt them if they later change their views. So their blogs are blogs in name only. You won't catch them talking about setting their hair on fire. I'm no political consultant but I can't help feeling that Dertinger could have made far better use of his blog, if only to contrast himself with Dent. What the hell did he have to lose?

Chris "Blue Collar" Casey's introspective and heartfelt essays opened a window to his soul, something a prospective voter didn't see in a Reichley's numerous campaign fliers or TV ads. Despite his originality and eloquence, no one knew Casey's blog was out there. A blog must be combined with email campaigns so people know about it.

I receive several thousand emails daily telling me about Viagra (how the hell do they know?), penis enlargement (it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog), and breast enlargement (my boobs are already 36DD). But I received no email promoting any of the local campaigns, excepting the occasional press release sent my way as a blogger.

The Internet had no impact this election cycle, but that's only because underfinanced underdogs failed to use it. If they do, they might find it is a great equalizer. There are some positive signs. Lehigh County's Democratic Party has just revamped its website, with links to candidates, events, and volunteer opportunities. That's grassroots democracy. And they did it without money from Blackwater USA, too!

The cost of a blog, candidate's website, and email? Nothing! But not a single candidate in the Lehigh Valley took advantage of this opportunity. This is not their fault. It's mine. I should have been spreading the word and offering my services.

Geez, I'm already one of the biggest spammers in the Lehigh Valley. Ask any news reporter. Ask any pol.

The only problem is that, every time I become actively involved in a campaign, it goes in the tank. I'm not particularly good going door to door, where some guy just handed me his wallet, and a woman once told me I was a little too old for trick or treat. And my bicycle campaign for Karl Longenbach probably backfired. People on their way to work just didn't appreciate a 4'x6' sign on the back of my bike, slowing them down. But this time I've got the solution. Yes, siree.

Hooray for our team!

Blogger Knocked Off High Horse on Hexenkopf Road

Yesterday a reader suggested I was up there on my high horse. But sadly for me, I was actually knocked off that high horse on Friday night.

I had dinner at a friend's home on Hexenkopf Road in Williams Tp. Yes, this is the Hexenkopf that translates to "witches head." Hexenkopf Road just may be the scariest place in the Lehigh Valley. It leads to Hexenkopf rock, reputed "meeting place of witches, who congregated to sing, dance, and plot vengeance against the townsfolk. The rock has a number of legends connected with it, covering everything from ghosts to disappearances to suicides."

Sometimes I walk along that empty road, and it's pretty damn scary. I've seen menacing turkey buzzards refuse to leave a carcass in the middle of the road as I pass by. And it becomes eerily quiet as I force my way up a steep hill. Abandoned homes can be seen here and there, and I start wondering why these folks left.

My friend's home is nothing like that. It's warm and cheery and the meals are always great. But when I left the house to get to my car on Friday night, it was so pitch black I couldn't see. And as I trudged my way up a hill, I lost my footing, and smashed both head and nose against one of the many Hexenkopf rocks. Before I lost consciousness, I thought I heard a cackle and glanced at the black robes of a coven. Or were they judges? Or the Lehigh Valley Greens? Or Nazareth Borough Council? Or Northampton County Council?

Actually, I just tripped. Fortunately, my head broke my fall. Doctors thought my nose was broken until I told them it was actually that large before I fell. Now I'm going to have a nice Frankenstein scar, which I actually think is pretty cool. And I have an excuse for being ugly.

I can also tell people I got my scar sword fighting or something. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an unusual urge to eat raw meat.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Dent-Dertinger Campaign: A Major Opportunity Lost

In the Lehigh Valley race for U.S. Congress, Charlie Dent's margin of victory was 16,662 votes. What does this mean? Would more money have helped? Rendell and Casey had commanding margins in the Lehigh Valley, yet Dertinger fell short.

Charismatic Charlie Dent, despite his ties to Team Bush, managed to prevail in a battle that proved closer than many local pundits predicted. He told Channel 69 TV his reelection is proof of the adage that "all politics is local."

But deep pockets don't hurt.

The following is an analysis of the numbers and what they mean. Because this is intelligently written, you'll know it's not my work.

To put Charlie Dent's 16,662 vote margin of victory in perspective, look at the previous election. During a presidential year (when campaigns cost more and more votes are cast), Democrat Driscoll lost by 55,988 votes.

In the 2004 campaign, Driscoll paid $15.88 per vote ($1,820,280 spent divided by 114,646 votes). Dent spent $11.54 per vote ($1,958,631 spent divided by 170,630 votes). Dent got more bang for his buck, for sure, and Driscoll would have had to spend $889,089.44 more to just pull even based on these numbers (55,988 votes he was short times $15.88 per vote as calculated above).

Now look at Dent-Dertinger race. Although it is a non presidential year, what you are about to see will shock you.

Dent spent about $700,000 on his campaign, much less than last time. This is only $6.92 per vote. No one can know what Dent actually spent until December 7th or so, but this is a good conservative estimate.

Charles Dertinger only spent about $75,000 (and a lot of that was in-kind stuff). This translates to $0.89 per vote. Less than $1.00 per vote!

Considering that Dertinger lost by 16,662 votes, Dertinger could have drawn even with Dent with only $14,892.18 from the DCCC. If the DCCC kicked in $115,301.04, that would give Dertinger the same funding per vote as Dent.

So do you think the DCCC and the State Committee missed the boat on this race??? I think the answer is YES.

We all need to work (I know Rob [Hopkins] is going to be doing this) to make sure that the DCCC targets our race next time around so we make this district blue once again. In 2008 it will be 10 years since McHale was our congressman. Lets get this thing done.
I'm not convinced more money means more votes. The problem is a bit deeper. Smitheus at Daily Kos gives us his low down.

PA-15 (Allentown/Bethlehem) is an example of what might have been, a classic demonstration of the arterial schlerosis of the old Democratic Party and above all the need to fight hard in every single district. It has been a slight-majority Democratic district for years. Unions still mean something around here. The district has seen its fair share of bad economic times, and workers have paid a steep price for Republican policies.

Just ask the retirees from the now defunct Bethlehem Steel, whose pension plans were sold out a few years ago in the bankruptcy terms for that industrial giant. There exists a vast well of discontent with the way workers have been treated by corporations and by the federal government.

And our first-term Congressman, Charles Dent, is not wildly popular with working people. He styles himself as a social moderate, but he's a friend of business rather than labor. He's reasonably popular personally; he affects an easy-going air. But he's also slightly dim, and his Congressional office is unresponsive to constituents.

It ought to have been relatively simple to tag Dent with his first-term legislative record. As it became clearer that the Democrats had not found a credible challenger, Dent's voting record become more extremist. His was a classic go-along-to-get-along Republican record. He even travelled to Iraq in 2005 and declared himself satisfied that things were getting better. Dent was, in other words, the typical Republican rubber-stamp.

And yet the local Democrats never bothered to identify a candidate to run in the primary. At the last moment, the County chairman urged one of his acolytes, Charles Dertinger, to run as a write-in candidate in the primary, which he won.

From there, things fell apart in a predictable fashion. Dertinger, a county commissioner with almost no political experience, raised barely any money and could scarcely even get a campaign office open since he had almost no supporters. He received no help from the national Democrats. His campaign was virtually non-existent right up to the end. His positions remained vague. I never got the impression that he was particularly well-liked among Democrats, either.

And yet, very surprisingly, Dent managed to get less than 53% of the vote (a Green candidate garnered several percent). Dent's margin in 2004, against a self-financed candidate from Philadelphia, had been 19%.

It's clear that voters were fed up with Republicans and even with Dent personally. He was highly vulnerable for a range of reasons. In fact, sensing that, Dent had even waged a campaign to win the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate, hoping to preclude Dertinger's challenge. Talk about tying a bulls-eye to oneself.

You would have thought that local, or state, or national Democrats could have found a way during the last year to nourish a credible, or at least a competent, candidate and have a real go at Dent. Instead, what we ended up with was a protest candidate--who came much closer to winning than I expected.

The Democrats in large areas of Pennsylvania are pretty disfunctional. My wife and I have tried repeatedly to get in touch with our County Democratic party leadership; it doesn't respond, and is in the hands of people who don't want 'help' from the grassroots. The state party has for many years been tied up in knots by the personal agendas of the Democratic leadership in Harrisburg. Gov. Rendell has ameliorated the situation only slightly because he's eager to get his own agenda passed.

So the state in many ways really needs help organizing from the national Democrats. Here in largely urban/suburban PA-15, just north of Philadelphia, in a majority Democratic district, the party machinery is virtually non-existent. A major opportunity was lost here this year.
More money? Better organization? They're both right. I have a suggestion myself, but I'll spare you my pearls of wisdom until Tuesday.
Another Country Heard From: John Morgan at Pa Progressive rates the Dertinger campaign as one of the three worst in 2006. Why?
Dertinger never raised the money necessary to run an effective campaign. Rob Hopkins did a wonderful job with the resources at his disposal but they were too few. There was no candidate until after the primary and that's too late in the cycle for serious fund raising and establishing name recognition. Why can't we run a competitive campaign in the Lehigh Valley?

Bethlehem's City Council Prez - Highways? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Highways

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingJ. Michael Schweder, President of Bethlehem's City Council, is leading a press conference 3:00 PM today at Bethlehem City Hall to announce his public opposition to LVPC's proposal to expand Route 22. The LVPC and Lehigh Valley Partnership have been clamoring to add more lanes to Route 22, although this will simply invite more driving, congestion and traffic deaths. Instead of encouraging us to conserve fuel (and increase safety) by reducing our speed, officials have increased speed limits to 65 mph along Route 33.

Maybe it's an attempt at population control.

LVPC's transportation study deals with peak oil and global warming by ignoring them. In a lengthy discussion of factors affecting travel demand, these very real problems don't merit a whisper. The report blissfully and mistakenly assumes we will remain the beneficiaries of a bountiful oil supply. As a result, light rail and other alternative transportations options are peremptorily dismissed.

This type of thinking comes from the mistaken belief that our diminishing oil supplies and increasing temperatures are "political questions" or "global issues." But as local light rail advocate Pratima Agrawal asks, "Is the Lehigh Valley not part of the world?"

The Lehigh Valley's three mayors think so. Mayors Ed Pawlowski of Allentown, John Callahan of Bethlehem and Phil Mitman of Easton have all endorsed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. And the Lehigh Valley's two county execs, John Stoffa and Don Cunningham, recently followed suit, committing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, greener building operations, reduced urban sprawl and the use of cleaner, alternative energy. They apparently think the Lehigh Valley is part of the world.

Other Lehigh Valley officials are expected to join Schweder today when he condemns LVPC's myopic plan, but we'll have to wait and see.
Update: I've just been informed today's press conference will be at Bethlehem's Public Library, 2nd Floor, Family Place (instead of City Hall). Schweder will be joined by Easton City Council Prez Sandra Volcano and Allentown City Council Prez Dave Howells.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Nazareth Official Claims Open Meetings "Too Unwieldy"

"Sunshine Act? We don't need no stinkin' Sunshine Act!"

That's the sentiment reflected in the latest from Nazareth. Unelected borough councilman Conrad Bowers has been conducting weekly meetings at Lafayette Ambassador Bank. These include two other council members, the mayor, chief of police and borough secretary. I don't really know what this committee calls itself because it's listed nowhere on the borough's web page.

What do they talk about? Beats me. We're not welcome.

Today's 2 P.M. meeting was closed to the public. Admitting the riff raff would make these sessions "too unwieldy," according to comments Bowers made to Express Times reporter Courtney Lomax. It's just "not going to work out." He actually admitted that, although he doesn't know what the Sunshine Act requires, the people's business will nevertheless be conducted behind closed doors.

On Tuesday, Nazareth lost a round in Sunshine Act litigation filed in August. Its officials have seen first hand how upset they made citizens by meeting privately. They nevertheless insist on government secrecy. Maybe they're interrogating terrorists.

A few of these shrouded council members must face the voters in 2007. These include Conrad Bowers. They also include Larry Stoudt, who arrogantly told a Morning Call reporter, "if officials had to alert the public every time a couple of them got together, no business would ever get accomplished."

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant." Unless they come to their senses soon, Bowers and Stoudt must be rejected next time they seek office.

Don't Count Santorum Out

One Pittsburgh nun has a slightly different view. And the National Catholic Reporter concludes most of Santorum's "more controversial thundering from on high about moral matters has nothing to do with Catholicism, or any expression of Christianity, for that matter." But religious extremism is acceptable in this country so long as it doesn't come from Muslims ... or Jews ... or Buddhists ... or anyone who isn't a God-fearing Christian.

So don't count Santorum out! In fact, if you act fast, you can pick up a 10-pack of "Santorum for President 2008" campaign buttons for just $12.99.

How to Rig a Northampton County Election

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingA few months ago, I ranted here and at Northampton County Council about Walter R. Garvin, aka Wally G, and his multiple roles as local Democratic party officer, partisan radio show host and elections commission chair. I argued there's an appearance of impropriety when the chair of a quasijudicial body like the elections commission is actively involved in local party politics.

Councilman Lamont McClure disagreed, and challenged me to state specifically how an elections commission chair could rig an election. Fortunately, Garvin came to his senses and resigned his position in the local Democratic party. But Tuesday's election demonstrates several ways in which an elections chair, with a little help from elections officials, could easily rig an election.

First, you can manipulate the number of machines available at different precincts to ensure that you can vote quickly in one and stand in line in another. In Palmer, for example, one precinct with over a thousand voters waited in long lines to vote on only two machines while another precinct with fewer voters had twice as many machines. Why is that? If someone wants to suppress a heavy Democratic or Republican vote in a particular precinct, he can just make sure it doesn't have enough machines.

Second, the Palmer poll worker who told me about turning people away, also told me that the Advanced Voting Solutions touchscreen voting machines kept freezing. I repeatedly asked whether any votes were lost and he just doesn't know. But he told me he constantly had to slip some white card into these machines to reactivate them. This is disturbing. And when these machines constantly break down, voters walk away. That's another great way to suppress the vote, and may even have the added benefit of losing votes already cast.

Third, the Northampton County ballot on Tuesday was designed to encourage people to vote a straight party ticket. David Strout, in a letter to the editor, explains why this is so. "The initial screen just has a large blue 'Democrat' box and a large red 'Republican' box. In the upper left corner is a short phrase about voting a straight ticket. In the lower right corner, there is a 'next' button. Instead, there should be the phrase, 'If you do not want to vote a straight ticket, push the next button.'" On Tuesday, a Democrat who may have intended to split his ticket to vote for Dent may have actually voted for Dertinger as a result of this confusion. Democrat Dertinger actually beat Republican Dent by 127 votes in Northampton County. Is this because Northampton is that much more liberal than Lehigh or because its confusing ballot made it difficult for voters to split their ticket?

Finally, as noted in my earlier post, is the refusal to make provisional ballots available to those whose names fail to appear on the list. You could provide provisional ballots in precincts that are going your way, and just not mention them elsewhere.

Last Tuesday, all the conditions existed to permit a rigged election. Now, don't get me wrong. The problems I noted were pure happenstance. But real election fraud is only a matter of time unless (1) we insure that elections commission members are completely impartial, (2) provide for better training of poll workers, and (3) correct the completely foreseeable problems with the Advanced Voting system. I'll tell you about them in another post.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Nazareth Loses a Round in Sunshine Act Lawsuit

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIn early August, I sued Nazareth over its practice of using borough council committees to make decisions behind closed doors. It's a blatant Sunshine Act violation. All this unnecessary secrecy has resulted in animosity whenever Nazareth tries to do something. That's what happened this summer when it met secretly to decide on a new location for its government center.

I had hoped I could persuade Nazareth and its solicitor to err on the side of public inclusion, not exclusion. But I was wrong. After filing suit, Nazareth answered with bizarre allegations of fraud, failure of consideration and contributory negligence. These defenses might help in an automobile accident or a bad real estate deal, but have nothing to do with the Sunshine Act. So I filed objections to Nazareth's answer, and the matter was argued in court on Halloween, of all days.

Tuesday, Judge Smith ruled against Nazareth, sustaining my objections. Nazareth has twenty days to file a proper answer.

Nazareth is beginning to learn it is not the sole arbiter of the Sunshine Act. It will ultimately have to answer to a judge. Having lost its first round, I really hope Nazareth comes to its senses and agrees that committee meetings must be public. News Over Coffee has made some constructive suggestions. No council member should participate in a council committee that violates the Sunshine Act.

Sounds like a plan, eh? Somebody needs to tell Nazareth. According to both Express Times and Morning Call, a new committee of three councilmen, the mayor, chief of police and the borough secretary meets every Friday to discuss plans to move the police station and borough offices. This committee, like so many others, is behind closed doors, where democracy dies.

The Help America Vote Act is Not Helping in Northampton County

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThanks to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) shoved down our throats by the feds, we've been cursed with electronic touch screen voting machines susceptible to hacking yet leaving no paper trail. One of these machines was murdered on Tuesday by an Allentown voter convinced the machines are rigged. But one of the very few things I like about HAVA is its insistence on provisional ballots.

What the hell is a provisional ballot?

That's a way to record someone's vote when some question arises concerning his eligibility. He may have no ID, or his name may not appear on the electoral roll. He's provided with a ballot to vote until things can be sorted out. In Pennsylvania, a provisonal ballot must be provided to anyone who claims to be properly registered and eligible to vote in the election district, but whose name can't be located. And those ballots must be reviewed within seven days after the election.

But that's not happening in Northampton County.

Yesterday, I spoke with a poll worker in Palmer Township who told me he sent four people packing when they tried to vote. Their names weren't in the poll book, so he called the voter registration office in Northampton County, but no one was answering the phone! This happened not once, but at four different times during the day. When I asked whether he supplied these folks with a provisional ballot, he told me no one had asked for one.

Excuse me?

How the hell are these folks supposed to know about provisional ballots? And the Department of State clearly requires they be given the opportunity.

I thought this might be an isolated incident until I spoke with a county employee today. She is an immigrant from Yugoslavia, and has been a U.S. citizen for thirty years. She takes voting seriously, unlike many of us natives.

On election day, she and her husband patiently waited in line at a Washington Township polling place for forty-five minutes, only to be turned away. No one could find her name in the polling book. Her husband's name was located, but not hers. As she explained, her surname is easily misspelled by Americans. But she was denied the right to vote and no one provided her with an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot. And in her case, someone actually spoke to the voter registration office. Yet no one offered this voter a provisional ballot. She didn't ask for one, either. She didn't know about provisional ballots.

That's not surprising. Even FAQ at Northampton County's voter registration website says nothing at all about provisional ballots.

Governor Rendell has noted, "With voter participation in our country dropping to alarming levels, the government should not be taking action that will turn away bona fide voters from our polls." Yet that is precisely what is happening in Northampton County.

It's called voter supression. And it's not the result of some vast right or left wing conspiracy. It is the result of indifference.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bloggin' on WGPA 1100 AM With State Rep. Rich Grucela

Pennsylvania Democrats needed to gain eight seats to take control of the state house. It increasingly appears they will gain only seven, leaving Republicans with a very slim majority. But this new state house, chastened by voters' rebuke after its midnight payraise, should prove to be a much more responsive body.

Although most are furious with their state legislators, a few have escaped public wrath. One of these is state representative Richard T. Grucela, who represents the 137th legislative district that meanders from Bangor into Palmer Township. He ran unopposed. (I was going to wage a write-in campaign, but forgot how to spell my last name. The poll workers kept teling me it was A-S-S - something, but that didn't seem right).

Rich is my guest tomorrow between 9 and 10 AM on WGPA 1100 AM. Your calls are welcome at 610.866.8074, and you can even livestream the show. If you have any questions for Rich and can't call, feel free to post them on my blog as a comment, and Rich will have answers.

What is the status of impact fee legislation Rich has sponsored for land developers? Will the state house deliver meaningful property tax reform? Are they going to strengthen our Sunshine Act and Right to Know law? Will they finally end the practice of ghost voting? Will Rich insist that leadership accounts be available for public inspection? Tune in tomorrow, and Rich will tell you how he feels, and he's not running for anything.