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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Are Lehigh County Comm'rs Bi?

Four years ago, Dean Browning was Dan McCarthy's opponent in a District 4 race for Lehigh County Commissioner. McCarthy easily won, with 57% of the vote. When he was sworn in, Dean was there to shake his hand.

That's bipartisanship.

Now Browning is a Commissioner, too, having won a county-wide race in 2007. On Monday, when the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners reorganize, I am informed Browning will likely be elected Chair of the Lehigh Valley's most collegial legislative body.

Percy Dougherty, who led Lehigh County's Commissioners for an unprecedented six years, is unfortunately passing on the baton to someone else. Dr. Dougherty set a bipartisan tone that, more often than not, resulted in good government.

So who will be Vice Chair? It is rumored that this Republican-controlled Board is seriously considering Democrat Dan McCarthy, who qualifies as one of three workhorses in my most recent rating of Lehigh County Comm'r attendance.

That's bipartisanship.

As word of this has leaked out, Allentown Republican Joe Hilliard has fired off a snotty email to GOP Commissioners. "I hope no Republican would sell out the party and the base with yet another 'bipartisan' 'compromise' by voting for a Democrat for Vice-Chair." He then goes on to insist that McCarthy be forced to publicly disavow President Obama, all support for the Health Care bill, Cap & Trade, the stimulus and card check. He ends with the threat that his "limited government" groups will be tracking all votes, and this is a "critical" one.

That's partisanship.

How Dan McCarthy feels about Obama or Cap & Trade really has no bearing on most county issues. What does matter is his willingness to work. He attended 119 of 135 committee meetings last year. Conservatives Glenn Eckhart and Andy Roman attended just 81 and 76, respectively.

County Comm'rs are elected to do what is in the best interests of Lehigh County, not the GOP. There is little question that, after Dean Browning and Percy Dougherty, the most capable member of Lehigh County's board is Dan McCarthy.

That's good government.
Update: Admitted partisan Joe Hilliard has popped on this blog to justify his "to the victor belongs the spoils" theory, which was first put into practice by Democrat Andrew Jackson. He observes Democrats would never share power. Hilliard forgets one of the mantras of his own party's first Republican President. "With malice towards none, with charity for all ..."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Callahan Wants Your Money

In a fundraising letter sent to a gazillion Democrats yesterday, during the Holidays, Bethlehem Mayor and Congressional wannabe John Callahan makes some interesting claims.

First, when President Barack Obama came to town to listen to all the little people, Hizzoner insists he had a private meeting with the One. Immediately after that little tete-a-tete, the Prez told everyone to vote for Allentown Mayor Ed Pawloski.

Second, he claims Congressman Charlie Dent has "ignored the real issues facing this country." Dent regularly issues news releases to inform his constituents, leading from the front. This year alone, he conducted nineteen town halls all over the Lehigh valley. In contrast, Callahan has consistently ducked questions about health care reform, or anything else. Asked about health care reform, Callahan fearlessly told The Morning Call's Scott Krauss, "That is a difficult question to answer because it is a hypothetical question. I don’t really accept the premise." Huh?

Third, the Bethlehem Mayor charges that "Charlie doesn't want to talk about his dismal record on job creation, out of control deficit spending, and Big Business special interest money." I see. Out of control deficit spending? Bethlehem has more debt than any of the Lehigh Valley's three cities. Even more than Allentown. He has increased spending 34%, has endorsed four tax increases in seven years and even wants to increase sales tax by 16%.

Will Obnoxious Blowhard Preside on Northampton County Council?

"He achieves nothing and only works to get his mug on TV and name in the paper. No one will work with the obnoxious blowhard and he has made Northampton County the laughing stock of the State."

Sounds like my kind of guy! Despite what you may think, this anonymous comment is not about me. It's that other obnoxious blowhard. His Eminence.

Ron Angle.

It's all the evidence I need to make a prediction. Next week, when Northampton County Council reorganizes, Ron Angle will be its new President. Last time Republicans had a majority, they spent most of their time acting like a deer caught in the headlights. One of their biggest adversaries was Republican Ron Angle.

After ten years, they've finally decided to listen to him.

Uh oh.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Big Winners in Health Care Reform? Big Pharma & Insurance Industry

One Senate health care bill proponent has predicted that the legislation passed on Christmas Eve would be bad for my portfolio. "Did you buy some? Looks like that investment would have went [sic] to shit as soon as the bill was passed on the 24th," predicts Rylock. Well, it looks like the entire health care industry - from Big Pharma to health insurers - are big winners on Wall Street. The rest of us? Not so much.

From Market Watch:
Since the lows in early October, stock in WellPoint Inc. (WLP 59.28, +0.10, +0.17%) has rocketed nearly a third from around $44 to $59 as fears about reform have eased. The picture is the same for Aetna Inc. (AET 33.44, -0.34, -1.01%) -- from around $25 to $33.50 -- and UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH 31.12, -0.27, -0.86%) -- from $24 to $31.30. Over the same period the overall stock market rose by less than a tenth.

Lehigh County Comm'rs: 2009's Workhorses and Showhorses

Yesterday, I gave you my annual attendance rating for Northampton County Council members. I look at committee meetings, where the real grunt work is done. This year, for the first time, I have a similar report for Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners.

Like Northampton, Lehigh Commissioners are encouraged to participate in every committee, so it's a pretty accurate gauge of the time and effort each member devotes to government service. The committees that meet often are also a good indication of what is considered important.

Lehigh has eight standing committees, and they met a whopping 135 times last year. To give you some perspective, that's well in excess of Northampton County's total over the past four years. Here's the breakdown, committee by committee: Administrative (24 meetings, Browning - C); Cedarbrook (12 meetings, Jones - C); Development (18 meetings, McCarthy - C); General Services (19 meetings, Raber - C); Human Services (12 meetings, Hamm - C); Intergovernmental & Appointments (18 meetings, Eckhart - C); Judiciary & Corrections (18 meetings, Leiner - C); Planning (18 meetings, Roman - C).

Northampton County has no Planning Committee, which might explain why it has no idea what it will be doing next year. It also has no Comittee devoted to its nursing home, which might explain all that red ink.

Chairman Percy Dougherty has credited those committee meetings for Lehigh County's collegial commissioner meetings, which are completely unlike the circus atmosphere in the People's Republic of Northampton County.

So who are the workhorses, showhorses, jackasses and talking horses?

The workhorses

Dean Browning has that title sewed up. Not only did he attend every one of the 27 Commissioner meetings, he also attended every one of the 135 committee meetings. Now Browning is a busy guy, the Chief Financial Officer of an airline charter company, yet somehow finds the time to dedicate to the County. He's living proof of the adage that if you want something done, ask the busiest guy you know.

Commissioners Sterling Raber (121), Percy Dougherty (120) and Dan McCarthy (119) also qualify as workhorses. Raber, retiring at the end of this year, outworked seven other Council members. Dougherty had added duties as chair, and probably had a cot installed somewhere in the government center. McCarthy is a busy and successful attorney who could be seeing clients, yet obviously takes his role as Commissioner seriously.

Interestingly, these Commissioners are relatively quiet at meetings, saying what they need to say succinctly.


Gloria Hamm (100) and Bill Leiner (98) could easily be workhorses, but Hamm has been plagued by medical problems, and Leiner spends way too much time looking for feral cats in Coplay. Their records, however, are very respectable.

The Showhorses

The three most vocal members of Lehigh County's Band of Brothers (and one sister) are Glenn "Comm'r No" Eckhart (81), Andy Roman (76) and Rev. Dave Jones (64). Those dudes would fit in nicely in Northampton County. On any given Wednesday night, Eckhart might start blasting Allentown, a brooding Roman could deliver another Hamlet soliloquy and Jones could easily preach several sermons. All three are great bullshitters. Very entertaining. All three need to attend more meetings. Davey Jones' attendance record is actually just 47.4%. Now that's still a lot better than Lamont McClure's 26% in Northampton County. But Dave, you need to pick it up.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Obama Reacts to Attempted Christmas day Attack, Violence in Iran

This morning, I published LV Congressman Charlie Dent's reaction to a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a passenger jet carrying 250 innocent civilians. President Obama has now spoken out about that, as well as the recent violence in Iran.

Hey, guys. Good morning, everybody. I just want to take a few minutes to update the American people on the attempted terrorist attack that occurred on Christmas Day and the steps we're taking to ensure the safety and security of the country.

The investigation is ongoing and I spoke again this morning with Attorney General Eric Holder, the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and my Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan. I asked them to keep -- continue monitoring the situation, to keep the American people and members of Congress informed.

Here's what we know so far. On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and had been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. And a full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.

This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane it could have killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends.

The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your families safe and secure during this busy holiday season. Since I was first notified of this incident I've ordered the following actions to be taken to protect the American people and to secure air travel.

First, I directed that we take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the traveling public. We made sure that all flights still in the air were secure and could land safely. We immediately enhanced screening and security procedures for all flights, domestic and international. We added federal air marshals to flights entering and leaving the United States. And we're working closely in this country -- federal, state and local law enforcement -- with our international partners.

Second, I've ordered two important reviews because it's absolutely critical that we learn from this incident and take the necessary measures to prevent future acts of terrorism. The first review involves our watch list system, which our government has had in place for many years to identify known and suspected terrorists so that we can prevent their entry into the United States.

Apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in the system, but not on a watch list such as the so-called no-fly list. So I've ordered a thorough review not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened.

The second review will examine all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel. We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional steps we can take to thwart future attacks.

Third, I've directed my national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country. We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses -- we will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us -- whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

Finally, the American people should remain vigilant, but also be confident. Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans. This incident, like several that have preceded it demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist. As a nation we will do everything in our power to protect our country, as Americans we will never give in to fear or division, we will be guided by our hopes, our unity, and our deeply held values. That's who we are as Americans. And that's what our brave men and women in uniform are standing up for as they spend the holidays in harm's way, and we will continue to do everything that we can to keep America safe in the New Year and beyond.

Before I leave let also briefly address the events that have taken place over the last few days in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detensions, injuries and even death.

For months the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people, who are a part of Iran's great and enduring civilization.

What's taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country -- it's about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away. As I said in Oslo, it's telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Along with all free nations the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people. We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I'm confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.

Thank you very much, everybody, and Happy New Year.

Seems to me that Dent and Obama are pretty much on the same page. If they can do it, can't we?

Dog Killer Michael Vick Gets Courage Award

He's been through a lot, you know? You can read the article here.

Northampton County Council: 2009's Workhorses & Showhorses

Want to know who really works and who showboats on Northampton County Council? Look no further than their committees. That's where the grunt work gets done. This is my fourth yearly rating of the workhorses, show horse and no-show horses of Northampton County Council. Later this week, I'll be publishing a similar report about Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners.

Council has seven standing committees. These are Economic Development (Mike Dowd - C); Finance (Lamont McClure - C); Human Services (Joe Capozzolo - C); Intergovernmental Affairs (Peg Ferraro - C); Legal, Judicial & Operations (Lamont McClure - C); Personnel (John Cusick - C); and Open Space (Charles Dertinger - C). Until this year, there was an eighth committee, Operations and Administration. Having failed to meet even once in the three previous years, it was merged into McClure's Legal & Judicial Club.

Traditionally, the County Council President chairs no Committee. That explains Ann McHale, last year's President, chaired no committees. Ron Angle, irate that no one would listen to him as chair of Finance, stepped down in 2008, and McHale refused to let him chair anything else. She named Lamont McClure to chair what effectively amounts to three committees - prestigious Finance, Legal and defunct Operations.

You'd never know that from his committee attendance record.

Council's standing committees conducted twenty-three meetings last year. Since every member of council is encouraged to participate in every committee, it's a pretty accurate gauge of the time and effort each councilperson devotes to government service. The committees that meet are also a good indication of what council members think are important.

Council's usually busy Finance committee, which met eleven times in 2008 with Angle at the helm, met only four times in 2009 under McClure. It made no difference that the County was facing a tax increase or that there was a state budget impasse.

John Cusick's busy Personnel Committee convened eight times, dealing with a Sheriff appointment as well as a controversial LANTA Board nominee.

The big surprise, at least for me, was Rev. Mike Dowd's Economic Development Committee, which met six times in 2009, twice as often as the previous year.

Human Sevices, under the stewardship of appointed Council member Joe Capozzolo, met four times. Charles Dertinger's Open Space Committee met just once. McClure's Legal and Judicial and Peg Ferraro's Intergovernmental Committee conducted no business.

The workhorses?

Council member John Cusick attended 19 committee meetings last year, making him the hardest working and most dedicated council member for the third straight year.

Following closely behind Cusick, and surprising me again, was modest Rev. Mike Dowd, who attended 17 committee hearings last year, seeking no accolades.

Four other council members - Ann McHale (13), Ron Angle, Peg Ferraro and Joe Capozzolo (all tied at 12) - have solid committee attendance records this year.

The showhorses?

Lamont McClure, who does have a law practice, attended only six committee meetings, equalling his pitiful 2008 performance and just one more than in 2007.

Charles Dertinger, with 5 committee meetings that equalled his abysmal 2008 record, was at the bottom of the heap. Even Jerry Seyfried, who was not even appointed to Council until July, attended 9 different meetings, nearly twice as many as Dertinger.

Naturally, Dertinger and McClure were two of Council's three loudest mouths.

Dertinger undoubtedly blames his Council loss on angry Republicans, mobilized by President Barack Obama's agenda.

But Dertinger's own shoddy record had to contribute to this loss. If I were McClure, I'd be looking over my shoulder.

Blogger's Note: Previous years can be reviewed here: 2006, 2007 & 2008.

Charlie Dent: "Our Enemy Has Not Forgotten Us, and We Should Not Forget Them"

LV Congressman Charlie Dent is a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection. As federal investigators unravel the Christmas Day terror plot that nearly resulted in the explosion of an American passenger jet on flight over Detroit, Dent has issued the following statement:

“The attempted downing of an aircraft and its 250-plus passengers was a foiled terrorist attack, plain and simple. Yesterday’s events show that aviation continues to be a target for terrorists.

“I have serious concerns about our security systems and what more we need to do to assure passenger safety. We need to know what kind of screening was done on the suspect before he boarded the aircraft, including whether he should have been on the no-fly or selectee lists for aviation.

“I want to commend those individuals on the plane who saw something suspicious, acted, and took control of the situation. Would-be terrorists and others who threaten the safety of our homeland should take a lesson from this incident. The American traveling public is not going to sit still and become victims; they are vigilant and prepared to defend themselves and their fellow travelers against attackers.”

“I also want to assure the American public that the men and women of the TSA are doing everything possible to ensure their safe travel this holiday season.

“Travelers can expect tighter security at the airports. We need to be patient with the extra security and remember that if you see something suspicious, say something. Our enemy has not forgotten us, nor should we forget them.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dent:Senate Health Care Bill a Lump of Coal in Christmas Stocking

By the time you read this blog, it's likely the Senate Health Bill will have been adopted, with the reconciliation between Pelosi and Reid versions to take place after Christmas. When it was just Pelosicare, or the House version, it was a left v. right debate, with moderates scratching their heads. With Reidcare, or the Senate version, it is now a left v. left v. right debate, while moderates are getting a headache.

It's a jumbled mess requiring an M.B.A. to understand. That's as it should be because our elected representatives are screwing around with 1/6th of our economy. No matter what they decide, we will almost certainly be wrong. You can take that to the bank, and then bail it out.

My father was a WWII vet. Like most people in his generation, he never discussed the horrors he witnessed. But when drinking, he liked to recount the story of a surly old Wehrmacht soldier, missing both a leg and eye. My father and writer Kurt Vonnegut conducted an extensive tour of German bars twenty years after the war, where they befriended this Superman.

This sullen dude had fought everywhere, from Africa to Russia. He was among the Panzer divisions who spearheaded the Bulge, where my father and Vonnegut were captured. But he was in no mood for talking, at least not until they were all loaded.

Then it started. First, this old soldier flatly denied Germans were anti-Semitic. "We hated everybody," he insisted.

Then, in response to prodding and lots of German beer, he started rating soldiers from different countries. He like the British, who were very professional. He was scared to death of Australians, whom he claimed fought like wildmen. He derided the French as cowards who ran. He had no respect for Russians as fighters, but claimed that eventually, you just run out of bullets.

"What about the Americans?" my dad kept asking.

Finally, he had an answer, and it's a revealing commentary.

"We had a saying about the Amerikaners. Leave them alone, and they'll manage to screw things up all by themselves. But don't put them in a corner or they'll fight like hell."

If you take this old soldier's story, and apply it to the healthcare debate, it's pretty evident what is going on. We're in the screwing up stage. Despite the wide consensus that we desperately need health care reform, we're incredibly busy right now making matters even worse.

Health insurance companies that were supposed to be part of the problem may very well come out ahead. One Nebraska Senator traded his vote in exchange for giving that state a favored status with Medicaid funding. LV Congressman Charlie Dent calls this "flabbergasting," sand flatly states that "[t]his kind of backroom deal-making is not only an affront to the democratic process, but it may violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution."

Dent also observes that the Senate deal exempts some union plans from a tax on Cadillac insurance plans that are supposed to help pay for this reform. "[P]olitical connections were more important than other considerations in crafting this legislation," claims Dent, who contends that the Senate bill would never pass on its own merits.

"This unwelcome intrusion, and the political engineering behind it, is a lump of coal in the stocking of working Americans.”

Leave it to Congress to take an immensely popular idea - doing something to reform our expensive and unfair medical care system - and come up with solutions that are now opposed by a majority of Americans.

We're still in the screwing up stage.

In the meantime, now is a good time to buy health insurance stock.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Voting Registrar Sterner to Pawlowski: Amend Your Campaign Finance Report

Although Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski has insisted his campaign finance reports are "totally transparent," Lehigh County Voting Registrar Stacy Sterner seems to have a different view. In response to a complaint I made with her office on Monday, Pawlowski has been told to amend his December 3 campaign finance report. He has agreed to do so.

As with any campaign finance report, Pawlowski must list his expenditures, indicating the persons paid, their addresses, the dates and amounts. Pawlowski does list an $8,000 payment, on election day, to "misc. canvassers for election day." But he fails to identify the persons paid or where they live. He describes this expense as "money to pay election day canvassers & workers."

That's a lot of loose change to be carrying around on election day.

When I wrote about this last week, I mentioned that the whole point of campaign finance reporting is to enable us, the public, to follow the money. By withholding the identity of persons paid on election day, Pawlowski effectively defeated the public's right to follow the money. Sterner agrees, and a more specific report must be filed.

This will mark the third time that Pawlowski has been caught afoul of campaign finance reporting laws, and the third time I've dimed him. In 2007, Hizzoner actually attempted to get away with using campaign funds to pay a $270 fine for a late report. Sterner ordered him to pay the fine out of his own pocket. In 2008, he was even more deceptive. He filed a bogus report, falsely claiming his coffers were empty, when he actually raised $101,599. He was ordered to amend that report, too.

If his campaign finance report are transparent, I'm the thin man.

O'Hare's WWII Diary: A Final Glimpse at a Time When We Were "Prima"

These are the final entries from my dad's brief writing career, a diary which he started almost immediately after being released as a German POW. My father was a complicated man, and I considered him a cold bastard much of the time. These diaries, and some other letters he wrote to his own "mommy and daddy," opened my eyes in many ways.

I wish I had been a better son.

In addition to the personal impact, these diaries provide a brief glimpse into that greatest generation. Like my father, most WWII vets share very little about the sacrifices they made when the entire world needed them. Sadly, a thousand of them die daily, and with them the memory of a time when Americans were considered "prima."


My lazy senses responded sluggishly to the blare of a bugle that had commenced blowing about 5:30 this morning. Some character dramatically announced that it would be appreciated if everyone fell out. A true count was needed due to the fact that today had been chosen as 'the day' by the powers that be. I did not fall out. Soon after we drew rations and packed. At 11:30 we fell out, were issued cigarettes and were given cigars by the Russkies. Then, after waiting for the usual period, we marched to the exchange lot. As is usual in all these matters nothing went as scheduled. We waited in the exchange lot for almost three hours during which it rained most of the time. The trucks finally arrived and we loaded and were off.

Vonnegut, Dannine and I were lucky enough to get a civilian bus instead of a G.I. truck. Kruse, Jones, Coyle, Watson and Burns also piled into a civilian bus but unfortunately not the same one. After three hours rolled around we arrived in Halle. According to the authorities we will be here three days at the most waiting to be flown via C-47 to LeHavre, France.

I have just digested my first Army food in 6 months - '5 in one' rations consisting of ham and sweet spuds, cheese, crackers, pineapple, rice pudding cigarettes and chocolate. How amazed the limeys were when we told them that the above was for one meal and not one day! We got separated from Jones, Kruse, Coyle, Watson and Burns.


Awoke, washed and drew more '5 in 1' rations of the same unsurpassed American caliber. Before much of the day had passed we moved to a new area of camp. They are separating the English and Americans. I wish they had done that six months ago. Spent the rest of the day on my lazy back reading.


Routine day. I showered, deloused, read, ate and am about to turn in. Red Cross Clubmobile presented itself and I basked in about six doughnuts and a cup of real coffee. Prima.
Blogger's Note: First published 12/17/07.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

LVR Now a Poof Blog

If you follow this blog regularly, and God help us if you do, you know that I really hate when a blogger deletes or takes down a post. I pretty much follow the guidelines established in Rebecca's Pocket, which correctly observes that deleting an entry tends to destroy the integrity of the network. If someone links to one of my ditties, and I then delete it, I make a fool out of the person who refers to my story.

So I'm something of a purist about deleting posts. If I screw something up, and I do, I will add a correction and sometimes even write a separate blog asking for forgiveness. But the post stays.

Like an evangelist, I've even attempted, from time to time, to impose my Do Not Delete Rule on those sinners who sometimes delete a post. I've lectured and harangued them, and even have disparagingly called them "poof" bloggers. I've done it for their own good. For all my kind efforts, I've been slammed as the Pope of blogging, among other things.

How about that!

Well, move over, poof bloggers. I'm joining your ranks.

Earlier today, I posted a blog about three people who've applied for the position of Deputy Clerk to Allentown City Council. It's factually accurate. It reveals some political wrangling and in-fighting over an appointment that really should be made by the Clerk. In fact, I question whether City Council can make any appointment without a public meeting.

This morning, Council Prez Mike D'Amore called me and asked me to take the post down. Since these people are applying for a public position, I refused, and lectured him for about twenty minutes on everything from transparency in government to his poor track record in answering emails. I tried every trick I know to get him to open up about how he really feels about King Edwin. No dice. He really was just concerned about the possibility that these applicants could get in trouble. In a moment of weakness, I told him I'd take down the post if one of the mentioned applicants had failed to inform her current employer. But he had to be certain first.

In the meantime, I reviewed this situation out with several reporters, and every one of them told me to hold my ground. "Once it's out there, its out there," said one. Another told me that if someone applies for a position in local government, he would have to be a moron to really expect confidentiality.

This evening, Mike D'Amore called again. One of the applicants had indeed failed to notify her current employer. I kept my word and took down the post. It has not been deleted, but embargoed until City Council makes its appointment. At that time, my post will resurface in all its glory, along with the numerous comments that you made about this situation.

Even though I'm a miserable bastard, I'd hate to see someone get in trouble or lose her job because her boss learned from me that she is looking elsewhere. At least that's how I felt this morning.

It was a momentary weakness.

Consider this my Christmas present, Michael. Believe me, I will now be called a poof blogger and hypocrite, and will deserve every word of criticism I get. This is contrary to everything I believe about blogging. But it feels right for some reason.

I just hope I can still be called Pope. I kinda' like that.

Ezra Klein Likes Senate Health Care Bill

Yesterday, I posted a link to Firedoglake's assessment of the Senate health care bill, providing ten reason why it should be killed. It's the work of public option advocate Jane Hamsher, who concludes this legislation is little more than a "con job." Naturally, she's been subjected to all sorts of sexually degrading remarks at DailyKos for walking off the reservation.

I thought it interesting that a public option advocate would embrace many of the arguments I've heard from the right, and that's why I linked to her. But blogging buddy Rylock has suggested that if I were really interested in being fair, I'd also link to Ezra Klein's piece, putting out the fire in Firedoglake. Ezra does answer her, point by point, and then lets his readers kick the shit out of her.

Good on him.

Are Lehigh Valley Republicans Circling the Wagons?

Not all that long ago, Allentown Republican Scott Armstrong was embroiled in a bitter and very public dispute with local bluebloods like Charles Snelling. I'm not sure what the hell they were fighting about. Party purity or something.

That's all forgotten now. His new credo is - STOP the Democrats. "America’s largest political party, the Democratic Party, has used its filibuster proof majorities to ramrod radical leftwing legislation through both houses of congress to the awaiting hands of our Marxist President. They have betrayed their conservative campaign pledges of 2008 and have in 2009 made a mockery of our representative government. Large demonstrations, public opinion polls, phones calls and e-mail protests to congressional offices have failed to stem to the Democrats’ wild legislative run to socialist solutions. Clearly the new imperative for those who believe in individual liberty must be to stop the Democrats here and now."

You can read and comment on Scott's blog here. This can't be good news for local Dems.

Lehigh County Gets $2 Million Stimulus Grant for Energy Efficiency

Lehigh County has received a $2 million federal Stimulus Grant to improve its energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and save money. This green technology project includes solar panels at the Government Center and Courthouse, energy efficient lighting, high efficiency boilers, and geothermal heating at Trexler.

County officials are predicting reduced energy costs, but utility rate caps will be coming off od provider PPL in January. It seems possible there could still be a net increase in utility costs, even with these green advances.

“Lehigh County is taking a leadership role in the green movement not just by talking about it, but actually utilizing the renewable energy technology,” said Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham. “This not only creates construction jobs and saves money for taxpayers, but reduces our carbon footprint and is another example of environmental stewardship.”

New energy efficient lighting will be installed in eight county buildings including the Government Center, Utility Garage, Prison, Juvenile Detention Center, Inmate Work Program, Agricultural Extension, Voter Machine Storage and Parking Garage. Motion sensor lighting will be placed in restrooms, pantries, conference and break rooms to reduce usage.

“This will result in annual electrical savings of $78,160 and will reduce electrical consumption by 1.2 million kilowatts as well as carbon emissions by 786 tons,” said Cunningham.

Two natural gas high-efficiency boilers will be installed at the Prison, reducing electrical consumption by 690,000 kilowatts and carbon emissions by 851,000 pounds.

About $169,000 of the grant will be used to install 72 solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system at Trexler Environmental Center at Trexler Nature Preserve in Schnecksville. By replacing a traditional HVAC system with a geothermal heat pumps and constructing a “green” roof, the county expects to save an estimated 52,375 pounds of carbon dioxide a year and 25,000 kilowatts of electricity.

The Trexler Environmental Center will house county park offices, a satellite office for the state Bureau of Forestry and a community room for environmental education. The $1.3 million building is being funded with help from the Trexler Trust, DCNR and the federal grant. It’s expected to be completed by February 2010.

These projects are part of Cunningham’s plan to find ways to reduce energy consumption and position the county to meet future energy requirements.

Most recently, the county completed the first phase of an energy upgrade at its nursing home facilities. The project included changing light bulbs, replacing windows and upgrading the HVAC system. The work is expected to reduce energy consumption at Cedarbrook in Allentown, Fountain Hill Annex, Cedar View Apartments and Cedar Village. Phase two of the energy savings initiative includes the Government Center, Hamilton Financial Center, the Prison, County garage and Agricultural Center.

“The intent is to take pro-active action now to reduce energy consumption and future cost increases,” said Cunningham. “It’s the right thing to do for the environment and taxpayers.”

One idea rejected by Cunningham is the washing machine - john combo, which would have been perfect at either the Prison or Cedarbrook. Used washing machine water could easily flush a toilet bowl, providing spring breeze aromas instead of the usual. As an added benefit, if some senior forgets toilet paper, he can just grab someone's shirt or underwear right out of the machine. Fortunately, that idea is still under serious consideration in Northampton County.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What's Wrong With Senate's Health Care Bill

Firedoglake, hardly known for conservative views, lists ten reasons why the Senate bill should be killed.

1) Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not.

2) If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.

3) Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can’t afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.

4) Massive restriction on a woman’s right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

5) Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.

6) Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won’t see any benefits — like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — until 2014 when the program begins.

7) Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.

8) Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.

9) No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.

10) The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year — meaning in 10 years, your family’s insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now

State Capitol Full of Rats!

After all, isn't the Senate still in session?

From the Inky: "The cafeteria in Pennsylvania's Capitol was shut down and workers scoured the facility yesterday after health inspectors found evidence of a rodent infestation and dishwashing water that wasn't hot enough. The ground-floor cafeteria was closed Thursday after state Department of Agriculture officials made an unannounced inspection."

How Much Did Pawlowski Spend to Buy Allentown City Council

Although Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski insists his campaign finance reports are "totally transparent," the truth is they mislead and fail in their primary mission of enabling the public to follow the money. His most recent report, filed December 3, lists an $8,000 payment for canvassers on election day, without even bothering to identify them. Unfortunately, he has also hidden the money he spent to help elect City Council members Julio Guridy, Mike Schlossberg, Mike D'Amore and Ray O'Connell.

Throughout the last campaign, Pawlowski sent numerous email blasts, advocating the election of these candidates. In addition, he sent mailers on their behalf. But that expense appears nowhere in his post election report. Considering that he does report $6.36 for raingear, that's a tad strange, don't you think.

Mike Schlossberg, one of the beneficiaries of Pawlowski's largesse, lists a Pawlowski mailer as an in-kind contribution, valued at $5,250.00. He tells me Pawlowski paid for a mailer on behalf of all Democratic city council candidates.

Are City Council candidates Julio Guridy, Mike D'Amore and Ray O'Connell at fault for failing to follow Schlossberg's lead? I doubt they can be penalized for failing to list this in-kind contribution when Pawlowski's own report indicates he has no intention of telling the public how much he spent to buy city council.

Pawlowski's report, however, is deceptive. He has bought Allentown City Council, and the public has a right to know the going rate.

Friday, December 18, 2009

ET: Connie Sutton Falk Out

Sarah Cassi at The Express Times has reported that controversial Human Services Director Connie Sutton-Falk, is leaving Northampton County at the end of the year. Vilified by County employees like most Human Services Directors, she was clearly the most unpopular of County Executive John Stoffa's appointments. Her caustic style never helped her win any hearts.

Last year, in a meeting attended by a sea of green T-shirted AFSCME workers, Council member Lamont McClure demanded she step down, knowing he had no right to do so, in a mean-spirited attempt to embarrass Stoffa. A bare majority joined McClure. Although Sutton-Flak was present, she was never given advance notice and was never given an opportunity to defend herself.

Whatever you may think of Ms. Sutton-Falk, that was Council's lowest moment. What they did to her can easily be done to any County employee.

Interestingly, when Sarah Cassi called Sutton-Falk about her departure, she heard back from an attorney.

Lou Hershman, Point Guard

I was at a Lehigh-Dartmouth basketball game with the Allentown Watchdog, Lou Hershman, last night. Our grandsons play for Notre Dame's two 4th grade teams, and they scrimmaged each other at half-time. Parents and kids both had a blast, and even the smallish holiday crowd got into it.

But the real treat came during second half. Lehigh was struggling, and Lou was getting worked up about all the illegal aliens playing for both teams.

"I'll bet they're drinking fluoridated water, too," he grumbled.

He walked out in a huff and I thought he went home, but next thing I know, he was out on the court, playing point guard. He scored 32 points, one for each year of city service, before fouling out.

How Obama Won That Nobel Peace Prize

Seen at a Norwegian taco stand. (I got this from a conservative friend who swears he saw it in Oslo.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Will Tea Party Activist Challenge Dent in Republican Primary?

In a recent letter to the editor, Palmer Township tea party activist Mathew Benol claims that "Our district can provide better leadership than [Charlie] Dent. His voting record proves he is not a conservative Republican."

Apparently, Benol considers himself that leader. According to his own Meetup page, he'll be challenging LV Congressman Charlie Dent in the Republican primary. Local conservative Chris Miller congratulates Benol. "I was happy to see you step up and announce that you are going to challenge Charlie. Charlie has a great smile but he is not a conservative. I do think he has stopped getting invitations to the White House."

I don't know much about Benol, having just found out about him late yesterday afternoon. When I do, I'll let you know.

Son of Stimulus Narrowly Passes House.

The margins of victory are getting smaller.

The final tally last night was 217-212 in support of what has been dubbed "Son of Stimulus," a $174 billion spending measure for "shovel ready" jobs and to bail out state and local governments.

I think they're nuts. As noted in Insanity Defined, the federal government has spent, lent or pledged nearly $13 trillion since December of 2007, when the recession began. That's $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the United States. The net result is that since January of this year, another 3.5 million Americans have lost their jobs, and the unemployment rate has soared to 10%.

Time to fire up those printing presses!

This latest vote could explain why, for the first time, less than half of this country approve of President Barack Obama's job performance.

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent voted against this second stimulus because of its misguided use of recovered Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) funds that should have gone to reduce our deficit. Since the first trillion-dollar stimulus has failed to thwart rising unemployment, to say nothing of those 4 million jobs promised by President Barack Obama, Dent believes this would simply be throwing good money after bad.

“I cannot support a ‘Second Stimulus’ when the first one has not yielded sustainable job creation,” Congressman Dent said. “If the majority wants to create jobs there are a number of ways to restore confidence and boost private-sector hiring. But excessive spending on government growth is the wrong way to go.”

TARP was originally enacted as a temporary plan to address an extraordinary crisis in our financial markets as a result of the collapse of financial firms that the government said were ‘too big to fail.’ The Administration has extended the TARP program to October 3, 2010, which has opened the door to efforts by Democrats in Congress to begin spending unallocated and repaid TARP funds for programs unrelated to the financial emergency.

“It is an irresponsible breach of the public trust to treat the TARP funds repayments as ‘found money’ for new spending,” Congressman Dent said. “If we are going to invest federal money, it should be done sparingly and wisely, and this Congress continues to spend excessively and without consideration for long term consequences."

Bucks County Democrat Patrick Murphy joined Dent in voting NO. He told Pennsylvania Avenue's Scott Kraus, "I broke with the Democrats on the spending bill because it uses bailout money to pay for new spending. That is wrong. Any money returned from Wall Street should be used to pay off national debt."
Congressman Dent also voted against another bill increasing our statutory debt limit to $12.4 trillion. He had earlier proposed that Congress should lower the debt ceiling by the amount recovered under the TARP program.

LV Residents Can Download Free Prescription Discount Cards

Lehigh County’s discount prescription drug card is now available online and can be printed directly from the county web page. Northampton County residents can download a free card here.

These free cards are available to all residents, regardless of age, income or existing health coverage. You can save on average 20 percent off the retail price of commonly prescribed drugs. The card can be used at about 200 pharmacies in both counties.

Pa. House Scholarship Applications Available

State Rep. Rich Grucela, D-Northampton, has aked me to tell you that applications for the 2010-11 Pennsylvania House of Representatives Scholarship are now available.

"It's approaching that time of year when high school seniors are searching for every scholarship opportunity out there," Grucela, a former teacher and member of the House Education Committee, said. "This is a good program that is open to most good students, so please share this information to anyone you think may be interested."

The scholarship is open to all college-bound high school seniors who plan to attend a Pennsylvania college, university or career school on a full-time basis. To qualify, students must have a 3.0 grade-point average, display leadership qualities and a commitment to their community, and exhibit financial need. They also will be scored and reviewed based on a personal essay. The topic of this year’s essay is William Penn’s role in creating the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its representative government. Better that than bonusgate, eh?

The deadline to apply is March 1, 2010.

Two scholarships are awarded each year equal in value to the cost of one semester's tuition at a State System of Higher Education university, approximately $2,500, but scholarship recipients may attend any Pennsylvania public or private post-secondary institution. The scholarship may be renewed each year for four years.

Students also may be eligible to receive matching funds from SAGE Scholars Inc. and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency’s PATH Program. Recipients’ names will automatically be submitted to PHEAA, and a matching award may be given based on remaining financial need.

The House Scholarship is privately funded by individual and corporate donations; no taxes or other public funds are used.

Grucela's constituent service offices are located at 239 S. Broad St. in Nazareth, 610-614-1312 or 1-888-222-2143; and 5 Mt. Bethel Plaza in Mt. Bethel, 570-897-0401 or 1-877-461-9336. You can also apply online.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pawlowski Fails to List Paid Election Workers

The whole point of campaign finance reporting is to enable us, the public, to follow the money. If you're going to sell out, we at least have the right to know who bought you. We also have the right to know exactly how you've spent that money.

Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski has insisted his campaign finance reports are "totally transparent."

In 2007, Pawlowski paid $270, the maximum fine under our toothless elections laws, for filing a late report. He actually attempted to get away with using campaign funds for his penalty. Voting Registrar Stacy Sterner ordered Pawlowski, in March, to pay the fine out of his own pocket.

In 2008, King Edwin was even more deceptive. He filed a bogus report on October 24, 2008, falsely claiming his coffers were empty. He was ordered to amend his report and guess what? Instead of of the goose egg originally claimed, Pawlowski actually raised $101,599 in just the first ten months of 2008, nearly as much money as in 2006 and 2007 combined.

Now he's at it again. In his most recent campaign finance report, filed December 3, King Edwin was required to list expenditures, including to whom paid, the address, the date and amount. He notes a $8,000 payment, on election day, to "misc. canvassers for election day." He refuses to identify the persons paid or where they reside. He describes the expenditure as "money to pay election day canvassers & workers."

Who are these canvassers? ACORN? SEIU? We have a right to know. If he can list his babysitting expenses, he can identify the people he's hired to work on election day.

Looks like it's time for another call to the voting registrar.

Despite a Good November, LV Real Estate Remains at Five Year Low

When we go into a recession, it usually hits the real estate industry first. At least that's been my experience. When we climb out, it is usually driven by those land sales. According to Northampton County records, we may be climbing that ladder right now.

In November, there were 602 deed transfers, fifty per cent more than the same period last year, but still below a five-year average.

Here's November's data over the past five years: Nov. 2009 - 602 deeds; Nov. 2008 - 401 deeds; Nov. 2007 - 579 deeds; Nov. 2006 - 761 deeds; and Nov. 2005 - 930 deeds.

Overall, real estate transfers remain at a five-year low. Here's the data through November for each of the past five years: 2009 - 5,437 deeds; 2008 - 6,132 deeds; 2007 - 7,638 deeds; 2006 - 9,271 deeds; and 2005 - 9,941 deeds.

Overall, there still is a 46% decline over five years.

Why Congressman Dent Opposes TARP II

Last Friday, I offered an alternative to the majority’s “permanent bailout” banking regulatory bill, H.R. 4173. My alternative (known as a “motion to recommit) would have shut down the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), required that all TARP funds repaid to the Treasury be used to decrease our nation’s burgeoning deficits, and reduce the debt limit by the amount saved by ending TARP.

TARP was originally enacted as a temporary plan to address an extraordinary crisis in our financial markets as a result of the collapse of financial firms that the government said were ‘too big to fail.’ Those who voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which created TARP, did so with the assurance that the money would be returned to the taxpayers. The program was set to expire Dec. 31 of this year.

However, the Administration has extended the TARP program to October 3, 2010, which has opened the door to efforts by Democrats in Congress to begin spending repaid and unallocated TARP funds for programs unrelated to the financial emergency.

Click here to watch my Floor speech on my efforts against this plan.

Unfortunately, the banking bill that passed, H.R. 4173, not only fails to end the TARP - even though the emergency in the financial markets has abated — it also turns TARP into a revolving slush fund to pay for the Majority’s political, economic, and social agenda. H.R. 4173 provides for a “permanent bailout” fund, creates yet another federal agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and also establishes a government “credit czar” to dictate which financial products can and cannot be available to American consumers.

The explosion of government growth and spending under this Congress’ Majority is unsustainable, and I will continue to fight against it. If we are going to see our economy rebound and create sustainable jobs, we must restore sound fiscal and economic policies for this country.

King Leonidas, Jim Brown and Jake Towne?

Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent is being assailed on the left by Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. On the right, independent Jake Towne is nipping at his heels. "I am for liberty. I hate war. I love life. And I have no fear." In one of his numerous emails, he egotistically compares himself to Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown.

On his campaign web page, he praises "valiant winter patriots" (he talks that way), who passed out 7,000 flyers in Bethlehem and Easton last weekend. Then he starts quoting from The 300, comparing his campaign volunteers to Spartans.

King of Sparta: "You threaten my people with slavery and death."

Persian, aka the "Two-Party" System: "This is blasphemy! This is madness!"

King of Sparta: "Madness? THIS.... IS.... SPARTA!!"

In addition to being just like Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Jake Towne thinks he's King Leonidas.

Jake, this really is madness.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Table Games Clear Major Hurdle in State House

Last Wednesday night, State Rep. Joe Brennan, D-Lehigh and Northampton, rolled home somewhere around 3 AM. No, he wasn't out bar hopping, but was instead involved in a lengthy debate over table games in the state house. Not only was the state House deadlocked, but Joe had to back in Harrisburg the very next morning.

Fast forward to today, and the state House finally passed legislation to permit tables games like poker, blackjack and roulette at Pennsylvania's 14 licensed slot-gaming facilities, including The Sands Casino-Resort in Bethlehem.

Joe voted for this measure because it presents "a real opportunity to create jobs in our area at a time when so many people are losing jobs or already are on unemployment. It spurs economic development to make possible thousands of new jobs across the state while simultaneously providing the necessary revenues for our budgetary needs."

The bill (S.B. 711), which also addresses a number of reforms to Pennsylvania’s gaming industry, is a component of the revenue package necessary to fund the 2009-10 budget state lawmakers completed in October. The measure is expected to raise about $320 million for empty state coffers over the next two years, Brennan claims.

As amended by the House, the legislation would allow Category 1 and Category 2 licensed slot facilities to operate up to 250 table games at any one time, while Category 3 licensees could operate up to 50. Category 1 licensees include racetracks with slot machines, while Category 2 licensees are stand-alone casinos.

Casinos would pay a one-time fee to be authorized for table games, $16.5 million for racetrack and stand-alone casinos and $7.5 million for resort casinos.

Table games licensees would be required to pay a total tax rate of 16 percent on all gross table game revenues, with 14 percent going to the state, 1 percent to the host county and 1 percent to the host municipality. The state share of table games revenue would go directly into the state’s General Fund for budget needs until the state’s Rainy Day Fund balance surpasses $750 million. After that, all table games revenue would be allocated for property tax relief, along with the revenue from slots.

"Throughout Pennsylvania, the addition of table games has the potential to create more than 10,000 direct and related jobs and provide $1 billion in economic output annually," Brennan said. "It also keeps Pennsylvania dollars at home by attracting customers who otherwise may travel out of state – and continues to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for property tax relief across the state."

Another local state house member, Rep. Doug Reichley, R-Lehigh, opposed this bill. He derided a provision that would benefit Scranton's Commonwealth Medical College, whose board includes Louis DeNaples. Perjury charges were dropped against DeNaples earlier this year. "This is another example of literal game-playing going on with this legislation," says Reichley.

Senate Bill 711 now goes back to the Senate for consideration.

DCCC: We Can Buy Radio Ads, Too!

According to Treehugger, this ad blitz is aimed at five Republicans, including Charlie Dent. Pennsylvania Avenue has a note about this blitz, too. Here's a link to the DCCC ads.

More Bad News for John Callahan: Cook Political Report:

Well, this can't be good news for Democrats seeking control of Charlie Dent's Congressional seat. According to the just released Cook Political Report, Pa.'s 15th is leaning Republican. As noted in The Moderate Voice, the number of "likely" Democratic House seats is down to 218, a bare majority.

NRCC's Christmas Card to John Callahan

Just last Thursday, the Charlie Dent campaign launched its "Bethlehem Deserves a Break" offensive, which included 10,000 robocalls asking Christmas City residents to demand the tax cut that Bethlehem Mayor and Congressional candidate John Callahan promised in 2007. Now, the NRCC is quickly following up with a Callahan Christmas radio campaign, pointing to Hizzoner's penchant for tax hikes.

Although the NRCC declines to say just how much time it has bought for this radio ad (see the video above), its willingness to come out so strong and so early indicates Republicans have no intention of giving up this seat. It also reflects Dent's campaign maxim - run hard or unopposed.

CQ Politics currently rates the general election contest in Pennsylvania's 15th district as Leans Republican.
Update: Scott Kraus, over at Pennsylvania Avenue, is giving this Christmas campaign a sleigh ride, too.

A Little Pre-Game Prayer

Hope you don't mind, but like all grandfathers, I'd like to do a little bragging about my grandson.

Very much unlike me, he's a sports nut who has been playing in one form of organized basketball or another since he's been five. It's the sport he loves above all others, and he plays year round, from hot summer days to icy weekends.

He juggles hoops with baseball and football. Thankfully for him, we're not biologically related. I'm still learning how to dribble.

At this time of the year, he plays on two or three different teams, so he gets around. And let me tell you, there are some very gifted young athletes in the Lehigh Valley. I've seen ten and eleven year-olds from Allentown who could probably hang with some high school teams.

This year, one of the teams Dat (that's my grandson's name) is playing for is the Notre Dame Hoops, where he goes to school. It's a CYO production, coached by Emil Giordano. (Giordano is also a Northampton County judge in his spare time). Dat loves it because he's finally playing with his own classmates. Kids like Grant Hershman, grandson of none other than the Allentown Watchdog, Lou.

Last Saturday, they faced a very good team from Saucon Valley. The game itself was exciting and fun to watch, but what stunned me was what happened before the game. In five years of watching Dat play three different sports, I had never seen it.

Coach Giordano matter-of-factly called the boys together, chewing gum like the jock he is, and suddenly suggested they recite a little prayer. They all dropped to their knees, crossed themselves, and recited the Hail Mary or something. While they did this, Dat looked into the crowd for his mom, and gave her a big smile.

That's an image I'll always remember.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for separation of church and state, and understand the problems that arise when a public school forces kids to pray. The Supreme Court has spoken. On the other hand, I think these little things help ground the kids, and teach that some things are a little more important than a basketball game.

Lehigh County Bags $1 Million for Neglected and Abused Children

Jane Ervin and Don Cunningham, former political foes, will let bygones be bygones this Wednesday. Ervin, now CEO of Community Services for Children, will join the Lehigh County Executive Cunningham for a joint news conference on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 11 a.m. They've received a $1 million federal Recovery Grant to provide developmental assistance to abused and neglected infants and toddlers, as well as support services to their caregivers to prevent future abuse.

During times of recession, the demand for human services generally increases. This might actually save a few innocent lives.

A Christmas Present From Kurt Vonnegut

A biographer has asked me for information concerning the friendship between my father and author Kurt Vonnegut. My brother, a pack rat, produced a letter that Vonnegut wrote to his own family, not long after he and my dad were released from a POW camp at the end of WWII. In many ways, this three-page letter is his first draft of Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut sent my family a copy of that letter, apparently as a Christmas present, in 1996.

Bewildered that he has somehow survived, the young Vonnegut tells his folks, "I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait." Fortunately for us, he got around to it.

This letter is too important to sit in a dusty attic, so I'm sharing it with you. If you'd like to see a pdf copy, just click this link.

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was any­thing other than "missing in action." Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do - in precis: I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight - so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Mont­gomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations - the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical atten­tion and clothing: We wore given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: - one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden - possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to [...] the Checkoslovakian border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39's) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way-through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repat­riation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and - get this - sixty (60) days furlough!

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can't receive mail here so don't write. May 29, 1945

Blogger's Note: First published 12/10/07