Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Gore Vidal Delivers State of the Union

I found this over at 2 Political Junkies:

We might give him some idea of our state, which is one of great dissatisfaction with him and his regime. And there's talk of perhaps demonstrating in front of the Capitol or here or there around the country to show that the union is occupied by people who happen to be patriots. And patriots do not like this government.
This is an unpatriotic government. This is a government that deals openly in illegalities.

Now, we’ve had idiots as presidents before. He's not unique. But he's certainly the most active idiot that we have ever had.

I had a piece on the internet some of you may have seen a few days ago, and there's a story about Tiberius, who's one of my favorite Roman emperors. He's had a very bad press, because the wrong people perhaps have written history. But when he became emperor, the Senate of Rome sent him congratulations with the comment, "Any law that you want us to pass, we shall do so automatically." And he sent a message back. He said, "This is outrageous! Suppose I go mad. Suppose I don't know what I'm doing. Suppose I'm dead and somebody is pretending to be me. Never do that! Never accept something like preemptive war," which luckily the Senate did not propose preemptive wars against places they didn't like. But Mr. Bush has done that.

Gore Vidal is one of my favorite writers. His book about our third Vice President, Aaron Burr, changed the way I think about our founding fathers and taught me to look at our politics and history in a more critical way. Love him or hate him, he makes you think. You can hear the whole thing at Democracy Now:


Monday, January 30, 2006

Local blogger in the news

The Times-Leader has a profile of Mark Cour the author of Wilkes-Barre Online:

Blogs seem to be the media flavor of the moment, but in the Wyoming Valley, Cour is one of just a few writing about local politics on the Web. But it was his concern for Wilkes-Barre that first pushed him to the Internet."All I really wanted five years ago was for Wilkes-Barre to get its (stuff) together," he said during a recent interview in his wood-paneled living room. "When the city started spiraling out of control a few years ago and I started writing letters to the editor."

The Times Leader seldom published his letters, and when they made it into The Citizens' Voice, Cour said, his words were so heavily edited that he didn't even recognize the letters as his own. He eventually turned to his computer as a way to circumvent editorial page editors. That was in 2000.

He has been at it for over five years now and is a must read everyday.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Old fashion panhandling or a new fad?

"You know you're getting old when you can't stand the kids music"- Anon

After work today I stopped at the new Schiel's Supermarket in the Parsons section of Wilkes-Barre to pick up some foodstuffs that Mrs. Gort instructed me to retrieve. As I was loading my supplies in the car a kid approached me with a sob story about getting lost and asked me for a dollar. My response was "you're the third person to give me that line in the last 2 weeks." He replied, "I guess that means no." No shit Einstein.

I wasn't lying, it wasn't the first time I heard some variation of that line over the years. But it has made a comeback lately. The difference this time is it is kids in their late teens or early twenties using it. Not the usual drunks and lowlifes. Has anyone else run into this lately?

On another note. With all the robberies of retail businesses lately I was glad to find out Schiel's takes the security of it's customers and employees seriously. CV:

Schiel's Family Market owner Frank Schiel pays more than $80,000 each year for armed security guards for the family's two grocery stores in Wilkes-Barre. With the recent rash of violent crime in the city, he believes it's money well-spent.

Wilkes-Barre City Council's new chairman Tony Thomas Jr. praised Schiel's and other stores that hire security guards. He believes Turkey Hill stores, which are open 24 hours a day and are often magnets for crime, should do the same.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Listening to the people

I had an opportunity to spend some time with Dr. Joseph Leonardi who is seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in the 11th District of Pennsylvania. I'm paraphasing.

The last time I talked with you you said you will be listening, what have you heard?

A lot of discontent out there with not just with the congressman but with a lot of local stuff in general. The crime rate in W-B. What we need to do is find the areas that are having a problem. What I liked to see done locally is especially is this . Get some money for a gang task force. For infrastructure and regionalized police police forces.

"As a congressman I will try I will try to get money for more important things instead of a dam or a $13 mil bus stop."

I went to the Daniel J. Flood Elementary School and Joe has some good objections to that name:

"I don't like naming of buildings after official while they are in office. I find that offensive as a tax payer. It should go against their campaign spending. It's a billboard for an incumbent."

"I don't see the point of building a bus stop and consider it being economic development. The most important thing W-B can do is get rid of the crime."

"There is no economic development as long is there is crime. "

He favors consolidating local police forces to reduce overhead such as multiple buildings and administration. Then use the savings to put more police officers on the street. He believes the W-B police chief is very capable but his department doesn't have the manpower, resources or training to deal with the problem. If he wins he wants to do economic development the "right way." Take some of the money that has been earmarked for the area to fight gangs and expanded SBA loans. "Instead of taking money into what I consider Silliness, a dam.....It's ridiculous to dam up a cesspool, it's insanity."

More to come.

Voting machine help on the way?

Every county in Pennsylvania is under the gun to select new voting machines or risk losing millions of federal dollars to help pay for them. The problem is the state has not certified many machines that satisfy real concerns about security and reliability. Luzerne County is reluctant to pick a new machine and so is Allegheny County. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette :

But the three-member elections board, which includes county Chief Executive Dan Onorato, put off a final decision because of concerns that the machines won't come equipped with paper printouts that voters can use to check their choices. Both Mr. Onorato and County Council have said they want machines with paper trails, but the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections and must certify all machines, hasn't yet approved any touchscreen machines with that feature.

"This is outrageous that we've been put in this position," said County Councilman Dave Fawcett, R-Oakmont, a member of the elections board. "Harrisburg has totally dropped the ball."
Angela Chan, deputy director of administrative services, told the board that Diebold could later equip its machines with paper printers at a cost of $2.6 million.

The state Legislature is currently considering a bill that would mandate the use of paper trails.

These are not the only places having problems with this mandate. Bucks, Westmoreland and many other counties are up against the wall and they are asking for relief. Now a bill has been introduced in Congress to extend the deadline.

Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA8) wants to delay voting machine law. He says time would give counties choices. Federal aid is at stake.

U.S. Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick plans to introduce legislation in Congress next week to delay implementation of the federal law that has caused a scramble among area counties to replace or upgrade their voting machines by the spring primary. Under the act, if counties don't have the new machines in place by the May primary, they risk losing federal aid earmarked to help them buy the new devices. Most counties in the region are assessing electronic models to replace their old lever machines or upgrade electronic machines to meet the law's requirements.

'"If the county commissioners don't have the ability to get new technology and make the right choices, they should not be penalized for it,'" he said.

Fitzpatrick's bill would delay implementation of the law until the November election. Under the legislation, the responsibility for obtaining the delay falls on the state government, which would have to prove '"good cause'" for postponing the effective date. The state would have to make its case to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the panel set up by Congress to administer the act and disburse the federal funds to the states, which in turn make them available to counties. According to Fitzpatrick, "good cause'" could include an insistence by the counties that the available technology is "insufficient'" and they'd prefer to wait until more systems that include paper backups are available.

I do not like this rush into making voting more complicated. My fear is many people will be intimidated by these new machines. Nothing will ever stop me from voting but many times I have heard the phrase "I don't know anything about computers."

I have a novel idea: Use Paper Ballots. It's simple, you have a paper trail and it will cost a lot less than buying electronic voting machines.

Another state legislator hangs it up

I'm starting to get dizzy trying to keep track of who is retiring and the people who want to replace them. The latest is 139th District State Representative Jerry Birmelin.

HARRISBURG - Wayne County Republican Rep. Jerry Birmelin has decided against running for a 12th term in the state House of Representatives, becoming the sixth Northeastern Pennsylvania lawmaker to retire since the pay raise controversy began. He said the public uproar of last year's legislative pay raise, which he supported, did not play a role in his decision to step down at the end of the 2005-2006 legislative session."Two years ago, I almost didn't run again," he said. "So this decision has been almost really two years in the making." Mr. Birmelin would not speculate on whether he might pursue a second career, though he did say he would consider running for U.S. Rep. Don Sherwood's seat if the veteran congressman should decide to retire in 2008 or beyond.

They all deny the pay raise controversy has anything to do with the decision and just want to spend more time with their family. Statewide, 22 lawmakers -three in the Senate and 19 in the House - have decided to step down this year. Groups like PACleanSweep are taking credit for this housecleaning:

PACleanSweep will make history next week when it introduces over 70 candidates for the Pennsylvania General Assembly in the Capitol Rotunda. The non-partisan grassroots organization has been working to raise, interview and approve challengers to incumbent lawmakers across the Commonwealth since it was founded last July."A revolution is about to begin in Pennsylvania," said Russ Diamond, PACleanSweep founder and chair, "and this group of candidates is just the opening salvo. We have a backlog of candidates who are seeking our support. Each is committed to the restoration of honor, dignity and integrity to a legislature which has become self- serving, unresponsive and out of touch with ordinary citizens."

It will be interesting to see if any of the announced Luzerne County candidates are part of this group. There is also some noise about reducing the size of the legislature but it is hard to believe that they will vote themselves out of a job.

HARRISBURG - A push to reduce the size of Pennsylvania's Legislature has lawmakers debating what benefits, if any, might be gained by thinning their own ranks.Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous state, but with 253 lawmakers - 203 in the House of Representatives and 50 in the Senate - it has the second largest Legislature, behind only New Hampshire at 424. It also has the second largest number of legislative staff, second only to New York, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks, is among those who want to trim the numbers. He drafted a bill that would cut the House to 103 members and the Senate to 26 through a Constitutional amendment.

The best comment I read on this idea came from Capitol Ideas:

Is It Too Much A Coincidence ...... that on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oregon's assisted suicide law, Pennsylvania lawmakers held a public hearing on plans to shrink the size of the state Legislature? We couldn't be that lucky.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Car magnet industry upset with Senator

Last week Rick Santorum (R-VA) addressed the Centre County Republican Party and asked them to support him. During the course of his speech Rick actually compared putting a Santorum bumper sticker on your car to serving your country in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Santorum: "And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?"

Click on the link to see the video.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Little Ricky going home to Virginia

The latest Rasmussen poll shows Casey leading Santorum by 15 percentage points, 53% to 38%. For an incumbent to be this far behind a challenger in an election year is unheard of. To get the internals you have to pay a ridiculous amount of money but The All Spin Zone has this tidbit:

Casey has a stronger base, earning greater support from Democrats (78%) and liberals (82%) than Santorum does from Republicans (67%) and conservatives (66%).

Couple this with Bush's latest numbers:

George W. Bush's overall job approval rating has returned to its lowest point in Bush's presidency as Americans again turn less optimistic about the national economy according to the latest survey from the American Research Group. Among all Americans, 36% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 58% disapprove.

The latest joke is they put Ricky in charge of lobbying reform.

The end of the West Wing

It's not like we didn't see this coming. The only network show that I watch has been cancelled. I didn't even watch it when it first came on but got hooked on the Bravo re-runs. The last couple of seasons it seemed to have lost it's way but this year it came back. Last night's episode about a nuclear disaster in California was taken from recent headlines put into a different context as another blogger pointed out:

I thought this season they found a stride again. Last night's episode was a straight-ahead parable about how Katrina SHOULD have been handled.

When the president was advised to put one person in charge of the disaster he replied "I have. You're looking at him." If only.

They are promising a great finish. From Newsday:

The series' presidential election will take place over two episodes on April 2 and 9, Wells said, but he would not reveal the outcome, decided only in the past few days. "We have passionate advocates for both candidates in the writers room, and it's been quite the brawl we've had," Wells said. Subsequent episodes, Wells added, will portray "the transition into the new government and the new presidency," as well as "spending time with the [original] characters figuring out what they're going to do and where they're going to go next." Former series star Rob Lowe has also been asked to return before the show ends.

For more coverage see the West Wing News Blog.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

120th district candidate

I was able to spend a few minutes with a Republican state rep candidate after his announcement. Paul Stebbins is a grad of Nanticoke HS and Bloomsburg University earning a degree in education. He is taking on Phyllis Mundy for the 120th district seat based in Luzerne County's west side. He opposes the state bailing out local local towns who cannot pay their bills and favors property tax reform. He advocates the 3 V's as he calls them. "A person must have a vision on how to make other people feel better about where you are taking them. A person must have a voice that will air their visions. A person must have a vote that will help voice that vision. I believe that I have these three V's. " He is also not an advocate of regionalization.

"I believe that regionalization is a bad idea and that once a community loses its own police forces , it loses it's identity."

He does not agree with school strikes but thinks the question should be left to local districts and opposes the Mellow bill outlawing school teacher stikes. He was adamant in his opposition to slot machines saying you should not tie gambling to education.

"I believe slots will be a losing issue before it becomes a winning one."

His website has more detail:

120th District "Leadership for a Change"

Baseball and politics

It sticks in my craw that the Phillies are moving my baseball team to Allentown. The Red barons website recaps Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle's press conference:

The most plausible is that the Phillies, after nearly two decades, finally got tired of dealing with county ownership. Arbuckle said Wednesday that, at times, trying to deal with the Lackawanna County commissioners and the stadium authority on issues got "confusing" and that "we weren't sure who to talk to, quite frankly" because they'd receive calls from both sides.

Way to go boys, I hope people remember this when the commissioners are up for re-election. The good news in the intersecting worlds of baseball and politics is that Cuba will be allowed to participate in the World Baseball Classic.

U.S. relents and will allow Castro's club to play in tournament

The U.S. government reversed course yesterday and issued the special license necessary for the communist nation to play in the 16-team tournament. Baseball's first application was denied last month in the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, but the commissioner's office and the players' association reapplied Dec. 22 after Cuba said it would donate any profits it receives to victims of Hurricane Katrina. "The president wanted to see it resolved in a positive way," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying. We believe the concerns have been addressed."

Not having the Olympic Gold Medal winner in the tournament would make it meaningless. So Castro will donate the proceeds and the U.S. government is satisified that bat boys will not be taking pictures of air force bases. Let the games begin.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Local tax news

WILKES-BARRE - A preliminary 2006-2007 budget for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District contained a 14-mill tax increase. 'There's a lot of guesswork that goes into this budget," said business administrator Ralph Scoda. "Over the next several months as events occur, and as we watch our expenditures, I have confidence that we can lower this millage." The preliminary general fund budget calls for $84,834,000 in spending. School Board member Brian O'Donnell asked the board how the district could cut expenses. Scoda said increasing revenues will help lower the millage more effectively than cutting expenses. "Cutting costs will be very difficult," Scoda said. "I try to be very conservative with the revenues so it keeps us out of trouble."

So the usual charade begins. First they announce a hefty increase then pat themselves on the back when the actual increase is smaller than announced. With all the talk in Harrisburg about lowering property taxes- by shifting to other sources-no relief is in sight. When the ongoing reassement is completed this year expect all hell to break loose when just about everyone files an appeal.

Property owner warns of reassement errors

RICE TWP. - John Whitonis spent more than 30 minutes showing a reassessment worker his entire Mountain Top property last summer, so he wasn't pleased when a different worker returned Thursday and pointed out two flaws with the first worker's report. The second worker told Whitonis he returned because the wrong photo of the Church Road property was made part of the reassessment company's record. While visiting the Whitonis property, the worker noticed a free-standing garage that wasn't recorded by his predecessor. That puzzled Whitonis, who said he held one end of the measuring tape to help the first worker take the building's dimensions. That worker also shot two pictures of the garage and several of the house, Whitonis said.
"How reliable are all the other appraisals that were done if my property was grossly interpreted?" Whitonis said. "It's a large mistake and it's not like I wasn't home. I was here that day so there would be no mistakes."

He also recounts problems he has had with the county assessor's office in the past. But the good news is that property tax bills have been given a makeover:

Property tax bills will look different this year because Luzerne County has switched to a computerized program billed as more efficient to save the county $100,000 annually.
The county produces and mails bills for school, county and municipal taxes. Under the old system, the county's data processing department printed the tax bills and sent them to municipal tax collectors. Tax collectors stuffed the envelopes, checked the addresses and brought them back to the county to be mailed. The county will eliminate some of that work by mailing the bills directly to property owners. The county will fold and pressure-seal the bills.

Some local tax collectors are not happy with the change because they will lose $4 for each unpaid tax bill handed over to the county at the end of the year. Why do we need tax collectors anyway? One claims that she double checks the addresses to make sure they are correct. Maybe she does but it took me 2 years to get the address right for a rental property we own. After pointing out the mistake to our local yokel several times I ended up going to the courthouse to get it fixed. And I'm tired of hearing it's more convenient for the senior citizens. Seniors get other bills such as utilities, credit cards, etc. and those companies don't have someone down the street collecting their checks. Tax Collector is another one of those offices that should be eliminated

Friday, January 20, 2006

Voting machines and ID's

"I don't think there are any electronic machines that are foolproof, I've heard horror stories that palm pilots can be used to hack into the machines." - Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepnak

The way things are going the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 might turn into the Hardly Anyone Votes Act of 2006.

WILKES-BARRE - The Luzerne County commissioners delayed a decision Tuesday on the selection of a new electronic voting machine, opening the possibility that voters could use the old lever machines in the primary election. Commissioners Todd Vonderheid, Greg Skrepenak and Stephen Urban recessed a board of elections meeting until they learned from the Pennsylvania Department of State if the May 16 primary election is considered a federal election. Vonderheid and Urban said they are dissatisfied with the limited number of manufacturers whose machines have been certified by the Pennsylvania Department of State and by the Federal Election Commission. "The menu is more limited than what we would like," Vonderheid said.

"There is no reason to rush into this, into this mine field," said Robert Caruso, a member of the electronic voting machine committee who voted against the Danaher machine. Caruso said a lawsuit before the state Commonwealth Court filed by concerned residents against Westmoreland County has statewide implications. Caruso said Westmoreland County violated the state constitution when commissioners there decided to purchase nearly 750 electronic machine without first having a referendum on the purchase. "Commonwealth Court will be making a decision for all 67 counties," Caruso said. "There is no reason to rush into this. They (Luzerne County) did the right thing today."

This rush to fix a problem in areas of the country where none exist is going to have some very bad results. Last year, the state decertified UniLect voting machines used in Beaver County after the machines undercounted the 2004 presidential vote. There is also another lawsuit that alleges the state has not performed adequate security testing of these machines.

HARRISBURG - Critics of electronic voting machines have sued Secretary of State Pedro Cortes seeking to block county purchase of the new machines by the May primary and a redo of machine certification. The Coalition for Voting Integrity, a statewide group with origins in Bucks County, says Cortes, as head of the Pennsylvania Department of State, has not applied uniform standards in certifying nearly two dozen new electronic machines. The group argues its constitutional voting rights are being violated because the department has not adequately checked the new machines for their reliability and security. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Commonwealth Court, points to the department's denial in certification of one of Diebold's AccuVote optical-scan machines, in part, because it didn't pass a hacking test done by a Finnish security expert in June 2005. The department did not consider or perform hacking tests on other voting machines before certifying them, the lawsuit contends.

"I don't need a (party) committeeman anymore," said the coalition's attorney, Lawrence Otter. "I'll just have a high school computer geek hanging outside the polling place and fixing votes as I see fit."

Another law is making it harder to register to vote. You now have to provide your drivers license or Social Security number and if you provide one when you should have provided the other your registration may not be processed or you could be charged with perjury! Taken together these changes will discourage people from voting.

Note: After I wrote this I found a very good analysis of this question over at Lou's List.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Around the internets

Simply Left Behind has an amusing tale of what it's like to talk to people who get all their information from Drudge, Rush and Fox News. It reminds me of one of our local bloggers, check out How Conservatives Argue.

I think this guy is an area resident because he comments on the Wilkes- Barre crime wave. He has many observations on the absurdities of modern life at People Say Stupid Things.

Built like Delaware is written by a local college student who uses the handle Mayor McCool has a mix of his favorite babes, movie reviews, pop culture, politics and much more.

I will cross post these last two over at DB Echo's project NEPA Blogs.

Bill Fitz is back

And he has a tease:

Possible Announcement Coming Soon

I have a surprise for my few readers, It will be in a few days, and if it does not come through I will tell everyone what it would have been.

Go visit him at My Take and tell him to put up or shut up. In a non-threatening or ethnocentric manor of course.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

New GOP candidate in the 120th District

In a first for this site a local candidate has informed me of his intention to run for office before it appears in the papers or on any other website. I guess you would call that a scoop.

Paul Stebbins Jr.from West Pittston will enter the Republican primary for the seat held by Democrat Phyllis Mundy. He is the third announced GOP contender joining Forty Fort Borough Council President Joe Chacke and Kingston businessman John C. Cordora in the race. This is a comment he left on an earlier post:

This is a very interesting forum. I would like people to know that this week I have announced that I will be running as a Republican candidate for the seat of State Representative. You can view my page at StebbinsForPA.blogspot.com I feel that I have what the citizens of this great district are looking for. My issues and personal info are located on my page. Feel free to drop by. I look forward to the Primaries. The first thing people need to realize though is that 300 is a lot of signatures. You really need good volunteers and inter-personal skills. I wouldn't say that there are 3 or 4 candidates yet.

The title of his site is 120th District "Leadership for a Change". In his first post he gives some bio info and lays out his platform putting education as his first priority. He also covers crime, property taxes and the the state of middle-class Pennsylvanians .

Monday, January 16, 2006

Faith in Politics

Over a week ago LVDem asked me to take part in a discussion on Values, Religion and Politics. He and Above Average Jane were discussing abortion with all the political and religious implications that come into play and decided to expand the conversation. The challenge is this:

Dems are too often labeled as anti-religion and anti-family values, but we know the truth... that many of us have strong family units, go to church, volunteer in religious communities and hold very strong beliefs of religion and society.

If you feel comfortable in writing about this, please do. If you don't feel comfortable, perhaps you can write about why you don't feel comfortable. How does faith influence your view on issues?

My initial reaction was: I have been thinking how I can contribute to this effort as I'm one of those who is not comfortable discussing religion. In fact I think the misuse of religion has been one of the most destructive forces in human history.

My own background is I was raised in the Methodist church and married a girl of the Russian Orthodox faith. When I was in the Air Force I was exposed to Baptists and Mormans and have always had an interest in religion. Being an open minded person the thing that turns me off to the self proclaimed practitioners of faith is their absolute belief that they have all the answers and everyone else is wrong. You can't be a good member of the flock unless you close your mind to another point of view. In today's climate Dobson, Falwell, Robertson and the rest preach hate for anyone who is different.

The teaching I was brought up with is God is Love not hate. Jesus kept company with the outcasts and low lifes of his day and taught them to do better. When asked what was the greatest of the commandments we all know he replied to love God with all your hearts and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Today I interpret this to help my neighbor if he lives next door, on the next block, in Pottsville or Paris, Texas. We as a people have an obligation to help all of our neighbors, be it in this country or around the world. To paraphrase Golda Meir, if I am only for myself, what am I?

I hope this somewhat weak attempt adds to the discussion as I'm not as eloquent as some others I have read today. Read their views for a better understanding of the issue:

Just Between Strangers

Apartment 2024

Above Average Jane


Another Monkey


the smedley log

Forever a Square Peg

Wilkes-Barre Online

As I was struggling to write something on this and told my wife of my dilemma she wrote this personal note:

I wanted to get married in church. It was important to me to have my marriage blessed in church and by God. My husband, on the other hand, wanted to get married in Tahiti on the beach without all our friends and family. Of course, he didn't get his way, but seemed to enjoy celebrating our special day with all the special people in our lives. However, he still does bring up the Tahiti thing. He is not very religious; however I feel he believes in God, because God brought us together. Another thing I feel very strongly about is having our home blessed by my priest every year. My husband doesn't quite understand why, but he is there with me when the priest comes and does his thing. It doesn't hurt to have holy water sprinkled about your house by a priest. It always makes me feel better. I hope it prevents me or my husband from having an accident in the shower or falling down the steps. So far, it has worked. The worse accident I have had is our cat attacking my hands and causing a lot of bloodshed. Today, however, when the priest came, the cat was under the bed. The priest blessed that bedroom, and I am hoping the cat was blessed well and will have a change of heart when it comes to ripping the skin off my hand. All in all, the point I am trying to make is that my husband and I do not see eye to eye on religion. Yet we do honor each others feelings on the subject. He always supports me on what I feel is important, and I always listen to his feelings on different aspects of religion. He has been to many foreign countries and has experienced many different religious beliefs. He has a heart of gold and has beliefs that are important to him. We love each other, and that's all that matters.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Kanjo and Yudi are arguing again

There is no love lost between U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke and State Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke. The latest dispute is about downtown redevelopment in their hometown of Nanticoke.

A plan was presented to the city officials to remodel the Kanjorski Center and add a parking garage to the tune of $23 million. Many people have doubts about the project.

The Kanjorski Center, cited by city officials as an example of poor planning, does not have parking for its employees. Plans call for the $7.7 million garage to be built with federal transportation funding. Most of the $23 million project will be offset by government grants, the rest, by equity in the form of tax credits. U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, urged the municipal authority to get started on the project, telling the board the money is in place. But State Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, cautioned the board not to rush into anything.He said $11 million of the $23 million is not a sure thing. The state's total $4 million contribution to federal grants is not a certainty, and $7 million in equity and other funding does not yet exist, he said.

A couple of thoughts. First of all how many people get something named after the while they are still around? Maybe it's a local thing as I went to the Daniel J. Flood Elementary School and have had relatives that lived in the Dan Flood Towers. The second and more important one is how long can this area live on pork? If the project makes economic sense then build it. But don't do it because you got an earmark in the transportation bill. Mr. Kanjorski said this is a free building because the federal government will cover the cost. Guess what Paul, we pay federal taxes in addition to local ones.

Northeastern Pennsylvania links

Nanticoke's own DB Echo of Another Monkey fame has a new project.

Check out NEPA Blogs!

I've created a new blog called NEPA Blogs. (Yes, I know the name has already been used elsewhere.) This will be more a link site than a blog, exactly - the primary goal will be to point to blogs and other sites about Northeastern Pennsylvania, or by people from Northeastern Pennsylvania. This is all explained in the introductory post. Check it out!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Tom Tigue retiring?

I heard a rumor tonight that yet another Luzerne County legislator may hang it up. 118th representative Tom Tigue of Hughestown, the Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, may want to spend more time with his family. He has been in the House since 1981 and would be the fourth county lawmaker to retire after this year. Of course this information may be totally wrong but it wouldn't surprise me. To my knowledge no one has made any noise about running against him.

Update: It's true, as reported in the CV. Now the speculation on a successor begins. Former Pittston Mayor Mike Lombardo is the immediate front runner if he is interested. This is sure to be another crowded primary.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Life transition

Our two Luzerne County Commissioners, Greg Skrepnak and Todd Vonderheid, who along with their army of consultants who came up with the Orwellian sounding "Life Transition Plan" hired back a bunch of people who were supposed to be let go. But the kicker is they are not on the county payroll but work for a temp service. So in addition to paying them the same salary the county is paying a premium to the employment service. And they won't tell us the names of the people who are being retained. They floated another bond to finance this plan that will cost $23 million over 15 years in the hope of saving $2+million if salaries are kept in check. How much debt can we take on!

From the TL:

The returning retirees – there are 23 – must receive their old pay rate, so the county is paying OneSource Staffing Solutions that amount plus an additional 19 percent for clerical employees and 30 percent for road maintenance workers. OneSource receives a commission and uses the rest of the surcharge to cover employee-related costs such as workers’ compensation, unemployment tax and Federal Insurance Contributions Act payments.

I said our two county commissioners as the the third one, Steve Urban, is still being shut out of decisions.

Urban voted against hiring OneSource, saying he was not given a copy of the contract as he requested, and he believes it would be cheaper to pay the retirees directly, especially because the county tends to get a good workers' compensation rate through its self-insurance.

"Even I don't know who they've brought back," Urban said.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

120th Legislative District seat

Luzerne County has another candidate running for state representative according to the TL:

Forty Fort Borough Council President Joe Chacke has announced plans to run for Phyllis MundyÂ’s 120th Legislative District seat. He is the second Republican in as many days to state his intention to oppose state Rep. Mundy, D-Kingston. Chacke, 29, works for Commonwealth Telephone Co. as a facility assigner and is a member of the Communications Workers of America Local 13571. He lists himself as a 1999 Penn State graduate with a BachelorÂ’s degree in political science.

He went through the Forty Fort (why isn't that hyphenated?) police crises and helped find a solution. His experience led him to give Mundy an earfull:

"Throughout the entire ordeal, Rep. Phyllis Mundy sat idly by without offering any support or guidance to the borough," Chacke said in a prepared statement. "We need a proactive representative in Harrisburg who is willing to work with local government officials to assist them with these issues and to prevent similar future occurrences."

I'm not sure what a state rep can do to help a town balance it's budget but it sounds good. Small towns eliminating their police forces because they can't afford them has been going on all across the the state for a few years. He makes a few other interesting points:

Chacke mentioned several issues he would address as a state lawmaker: aiding and transforming local governments, health-care reform, education reform and tax reform.
"Health-care reform is a very complex problem facing legislators today," Chacke said in his statement. "There needs to be a vast study of all aspects of the health-care industry to find a solution to this problem. I can tell you, yelling about Blue Cross/Blue ShieldÂ’s surplus won't solve it."

Mundy is a vocal critic of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance companies in Pennsylvania, arguing hundreds of millions of dollars the companies hold in surplus should be used to reduce rates.

The other guy in the race for the Republican nomination John C. Cordora can't be taken seriously. His issue is gay marriage, like that is at the top of peoples agenda:

" My first order of business is to ban gay marriage" the Kingston resident said Tuesday during his official announcement that he intends to run for the seat of state Rep. Phyllis Mundy.

The neat thing is that Joseph Chacke has a web site that has a link to Amnesty International and he is a union official. I did a google search on him and came up with a story from another blogger. He stuck his nose into the Wilkes-Barre redistricting controversy and took issue with councilman Jim McCarthy:

I am offended by the sentiments of Wilkes-Barre Councilman Jim McCarthy, who asserted in a recent letter that "districting" the City of Wilkes-Barre will be a detriment and a step backward...........

My advice to the council members of Wilkes-Barre is to not let the wants of their new districts cloud their judgment when the needs of the entire city are on the line.

Joe Chacke Forty Fort councilman

Markie ate this up:

Hoo! Hoo! Mr. McCarthy, I eagerly await your response. This ought to be good.

Seriously though. Don't these politicos have some sort of unwritten rule barring this sort of thing? When was the last time the embattled mayor of Muckston publicly chastised the mayor of Mucking Grove? If Forty Fort is chugging along very nicely, then why would one of it's elected few feel the need to publicly take serious issue with a council person in Wilkes-Barre? Very weird, but no biggie. We're all entitled to our opinions.

Coming to a blog near you

Joe Leonardi is the only Republican willing to take on Paul Kanjorski for the 11th Congressional District seat of Pennsylvania. He was out of circulation for a while but is ramping up his campaign. He was on the the Sue Henry show on WILK today to state his case. I didn't catch the interview because I was at work and hopefully he will be on again. Look for an interview in the TL with Casey Jones this Sunday.

I covered Joe's announcement and liked the guy. His focus of the campaign is his opposition to the inflatable dam. He has a strong position on ethics which should resonate with people after the news of the last few weeks. He is promising to have web site up shortly.

But the big news is I'm going to interview him next week. Hopefully the first of many talks with the 2006 candidates.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Tom Delay

I usually stick to issues involving Luzerne County or at least try to find a local angle when I comment on national issues but this guy has always given me the creeps. My fellow PA bloggers can say it better than I.

Ol' Froth has this take:

Tom DeLay.

"During my time in Congress, I have always acted in an ethical manner within the rules of our body and the laws of our land."

Who knew he was a comedian?

The All Spin Zone covers his Texas troubles:

Methinks he doth appeal too much

Tom DeLay, denied on both counts. Chortle.

Texas court refuses to drop DeLay charges AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 9 (UPI) — A request by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay to have criminal indictments against him dropped has been denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The court, without comment, also Monday refused DeLay's request to have the case sent for immediate trial, the Houston Chronicle reported. The allegations led DeLay to resign his position as U.S. House of Representatives majority leader. He said he wanted a quick trial to clear his name so he could regain the leadership post, but this past weekend officially gave up that quest. Could this be the extremely belated Karma Express finally rolling though Sugar Land?

There is a local connection. Don Sherwood has accepted over $14,800 dollars from Tom DeLay’s PAC and during the past year has voted over 95% of the time with the majority leader. Earlier this year, Sherwood voted to weaken House Ethics rules in an effort to protect DeLay’s position as majority leader.

It's time for them to go.

A Brilliant Blogger

Brilliant Blog

Best Political Site: Winner: Gort - "Gort42"

Honorable Mention: jamwall, Sarah, Mr. Hand, Meatbag - "The Wicked Truth"

A big thanks to Carl of Simply Left Behind for the nomination and to all who voted.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Loch Ness

The Times of London has an interesting story today:

THE cold war and the aftermath of the miners' strike may have dominated the headlines. But behind the scenes some Whitehall officials were more preoccupied in the mid-1980s by the safety of the Loch Ness monster.
Newly released files show that officials working under the Thatcher government feared that there would be nothing to prevent poachers and trophy hunters killing it, were Nessie to emerge from the depths.

"the hubbub over the rub."

The TL has a critical analysis of the local newspaper coverage of the Don Sherwood-Cynthia Ore saga by Gene Foreman, a former managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and media professor at Penn State University in State College. The long and short of it is that the Times-Shamrock papers didn't want to cover it and the Times-Leader went with the more sensational coverage. In the end it was hard to ignore a police report of assault, a lawsuit and admission of an extramarital affair by a Congressman who runs with the family values crowd.

I haven't written about the 10th district race lately but it is one of the most important in the country. Do we keep sending placekeepers like Sherwood back to Washington or do we look to the future? Do we send our young people into battle without the right equipment because no one thought this out? The United States cannot forever occupy a country whose people do want want us there. The Democratic candidate Chris Carney recently asked:

"Are we going to be there 10 years or are we going to be there two years?"

Sherwood has not answered that question nor has Bush. At least Carney has offered an idea on how to get out but the administration keeps talking about "victory" but can't define it. Sherwood repeats his marching orders and even talks about a permanent deployment:

Sherwood said, "the decision on troop withdrawal is best left up to the president and military commanders."

"When we have a stable peaceful Iraq we can bring all our people home or some of our people home.”

"Some of our people home." What the hell does that mean?

Sherwood's boss Tom Delay gave up the fantasy of a comeback today. He has taken Delay's money and unlike Bush and Santorum he has not returned it.

It's time for them to go.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Phyllis Mundy gets a challenger

The pay raise furor has inspired one person to take on a long time incumbent. The TL has the story:

Kingston man is planning to run in the Republican primary election for state Rep. Phyllis Mundy's seat. John C. Cordora, a freelance business broker, said he will officially announce his candidacy Tuesday. Mundy, D-Kingston, was first elected to serve the 120th Legislative District in 1990 and was unopposed in her last election in 2004.

Cordora said his decision to run for the state House of Representatives was ignited by Mundy's support of last year's controversial pay-raise legislation. State legislators increased their pay by 16-34 percent before repealing the legislation in November in response to mounting public anger.

This is good news as I hate unopposed elections. This seat has been traditionally Republican until Mundy beat a crook in 1990 to put in the Democratic column. She had a couple of strong challengers in 1992 and 1994 but has been winning ever since. She was not even opposed last time and beat the Republican candidates by 5000 votes in 2002 and 2000. Her constituent service has been outstanding and her well publicized battles with Blue Cross have put her on the side of the little guy. Her reaction to the news of an opponent is typically classy:

"I look forward to an in-depth discussion of all the issues. We are elected, not coronated. I understand I face the electorate every other year. If you look at my record, it has been to protect and serve the average person in my district."

Her new opponent sounds like he listens to to much talk radio:

In a news release, Cordora also attacked Mundy for supporting "abortion on demand, higher taxes, gay marriage and all the other liberal garbage."

Friday, January 06, 2006

And God said 'Let there be pork'

"As a good Catholic boy I try to listen to what the priests tell me to do."

- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-VA) commenting commenting on his meeting with the Rev. Thomas J. O'Hara, King's president, in Washington, D.C., and suggested that the college may soon be the recipient of federal assistance.

Ricky was in Wilkes-Barre yesterday to drop off a check to help with replacement of the downtown streetlights. From the TL:

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pittsburgh, and Mayor Tom Leighton spoke about the project Thursday on North Main Street in front of King's College, where streetlights will be replaced later this year. That second phase of the project includes replacing the light standards on North Main Street from Public Square to North Street and should begin within six months.
That portion of the project will be funded by a $1 million earmark inserted by Santorum into the $286 billion federal transportation bill passed by the House and Senate last summer.

W-B can use all the help it can get but it is interesting that Mr. Conservative is running around the state to remind people that he can bring home the bacon. At least he wants to keep it in PA and not send it to New Jersey:

"I will do everything in my power to stop anything beneficial to New Jersey, period. I will use everything I have until New Jersey lives up to their commitments," said U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican and third-ranking official in the Senate chamber. "Every single thing that benefits New Jersey in particular I will do everything I can to make sure that it gets slowed down or stopped."

Add this quote to the Ricky Hall of Fame.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

State Senate update

We now have a 6th candidate seeking the Republican nomination to succeed Charlie Lemmond in the 20th Senatorial District of Pennsylvania. Joining front runners Kingston Mayor Jim Haggerty and Harrisburg veteran Lisa Baker is Karen Boback, a teacher from Tunkhannock. She has an impressive resume:

As a wife, mother, teacher, professor, church lecturer and active community member, Dr. Karen Boback acknowledges she wears many hats. Boback has been a teacher in the Tunkhannock Area School District for 33 years. She also holds an elected position as Harveys Lake's inspector of elections. She has a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in administration and organizational leadership and holds a post doctorate degree in technology from College Misericordia.

As far as as a platform she says all the right things.

"Agriculture is the number one industry in Pennsylvania. We need better laws and regulations to protect our farmers and improve prices," she said. Boback also strongly supports health care and property tax reform. She said the health care system in the state is "broken" and she wants to do more than support reform. "I want to be a part of the reform," Boback said. "It's time for new blood and fresh ideas to continue change in the legislature. Let it begin with me. Your concerns are my platform, and when I win, you win."

Everyone is for property tax reform but the devil is in the details as recent sessions of the legislature have shown. Improve prices for farmers? I thought the market was supposed to set a price for any product and other than health and safety the government should stay out of the way. I do agree that health care is broken and look forward to hearing her solution to the problem.

The other Republicans who announced plans to run for the seat: Russell Bigus, Dallas Township, Ronald Chvotzkin, Jackson Township and Dallas chiropractor David Madeira. The one Democrat that has been mentioned, Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepnak, is playing Hamlet on the Susquehanna and has not made a decision to run or not.

Hasay retires

Another state house seat opens up in Luzerne County. First Charlie Lemmond's retirement sets off a scramble in the Republican Party to replace him in the State Senate. Then Kevin Blaum hangs it up promising a crowded Democratic primary in the 121st House District. Now the longest serving Republican in the State House, George Hasay ( R-Shickshinny) wants to spend more time with his family. From the CV:

George Hasay, R-Shickshinny, said he wants to travel and spend more time with his family while announcing he will vacate his seat after 34 years. Hasay becomes the 11th state lawmaker to decide against seeking re-election in 2006. The decision was a tough one, he said. "Being in the public spotlight for 34 years is long enough," Hasay said. "This is a high-pressure, demanding job. I know now is the time."

Hasay became the youngest member of the House in 1972 when he was elected at age 23. During his time in the legislature, he chaired the Federal-State Relations Committee and the Conservation Committee. He currently serves on the House Committee on Committees, House Commerce Committee and the House Rules Committee. His legislative accomplishments include co-sponsoring the PACE program to bring prescription drugs to senior citizens; supporting legislation (Act 101) that placed stronger environmental regulations on landfills; and passage of the ACRE legislation, which protects farmers' rights.

The 117th is a rural and very Republican district that includes parts of Columbia, Luzerne and Wyoming Counties. So far 3 candidates have emerged to replace him:

Two area school board members and the head of a local political committee indicated Wednesday interest in outgoing state Rep. George Hasay's seat. Crestwood board president Bill Jones, Northwest Area board member Randy Tomasacci and Harveys Lake Republican committee member Edmund Sichler Jr. emerged as potential candidates hours after Hasay confirmed he will step aside after 17 terms serving the 117th District.

I'm not sure what party Bill Jones belongs to but he has close ties with Democratic Commissioner Greg Skrepnak. Randy Tomasacci has been busy trying to figure out a way to teach Intelligent Design in the classroom even after the Dover decision. But there are sure to be more people who will get into this.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Here we go as predicted.

The new Luzerne County Controller Maryanne Petrilla
has her marching orders and will team up with the commissioners and will screw with outgoing Controller Steve Flood as much as possible. Steve had some unflattering things to say about the previous pension fund managers and they sued him. He didn't accuse them of burning down their grandmother's house but pointed out they were not up to the job using some very colorful language. It's a bullshit lawsuit that should be dismissed on first admendment grounds but this is Luzerne County. If you want to silence your critics sue them and ruin them financially.

Then District Attorney, now Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr proved that point when he sued WILK radio host Fred Williams. At the time I thought it was very thin skinned reaction to a radio hothead and would just call attention to his allegations. But he won and Fred is no longer on the radio.

I miss Fred, I didn't agree with him most of the time but he did a good job of covering local issues. The only AM station that is even doing local content is WILK, but not much. I know some people don't like Kevin and Nancy in the morning but it at least gives you a counterpoint to the rest of the shit you hear from Rush and Hannity all day long. Sue Henry's show is interesting but I rarely get a chance to listen.

I know I'm rambling.

One thing I like about Olszewski is the way he holds the DA Dave Lupas to account. Lupas has not done a good job so far in the Hugo Selinski case. Most of the defense attorneys I know say he is not a very good lawyer and Judge Olszewski seems to know that. You remember Lupas, he spent $750,000 to get elected DA promising to lock up all the drug dealers, that's worked out well.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

I've been nominated for a major award

This is flattering, someone noticed my ranting about Luzerne County and Pennsylvania politics:

Congratulations, Gort! Your writing has been nominated for a Best Political Blogsite excellence award at The Order of Brilliant Bloggers, a grassroots group of excellent bloggers dedicated to recognizing and sharing sites and posts of others in efforts to support great work! Please feel free to visit, and to ask your faithful readership to vote for you. Voting begins on January 1st and will last until January 5th at 11:59:59 PM EDT. Again, our congratulations, and we are honored to recognize your work!