"What's black and white and read all over?"

Saturday, December 10, 2005
Posted 1:36 PM by

Crapping out?

The push is now on to either repeal or expand Pennsylvania's legalized gambling.

Does state Rep. Paul Clymer enjoy tilting at windmills by trying to repeal the state's slot machine law?It surprisingly didn't make major headlines here, but state Rep. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks County) introduced a one-page bill this week to repeal Pennsylvania's slot machine law.

Clymer and I clashed on the reasons why the law (Act 71 of 2004) should be repealed when I was still writing my "Pave the grass" column for

Legislative leaders used a loophole in the state Sunshine Law to move the measure to a floor vote over the July 4th weekend last year without giving the public a say and with no debate.

On that basis alone, it should be repealed and the loophole closed, I wrote. Instead, lawmakers used the same method to pass their pay increase this year, which has since been repealed.

Clymer, however, is against legalized gambling on moral grounds, saying, a repeal is needed to "restore the social values that have made Pennsylvania the state we love to call home."

He also claims, "This repeal is necessary due to the lack of foresight in the creation of the law, which leaves Pennsylvania nearly defenseless in its ability to oversee the gambling operation and protect its own citizens from crime associated with this particular form of recreation."

I agree with his second point, but not his first. People are going to gamble no matter what. I just don't want the social ills it causes in my state. Let 'em drive to Atlantic City if they want to lose their life savings.

Clymer's bill, House Bill 2298, has 32 co-signers, but reportedly no support among House Republican leadership and no Senate counterpart, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Gov. Rendell's office has already vowed a veto if Clymer's bill ever gets to his desk.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese and Democratic Whip Michael R. Veon - the only two lawmakers to vote against repealing the pay raise - said they introduced a bill in February to expand legalized gambling so it includes roulette, blackjack and poker as well. (I have yet to find its House number or if it was wedged into another bill as an unrelated amendment - the way Act 71 was passed, but they issued a press release.)

To counter it, Clymer and 26 other legislators in August introduced H.B. 1909. a two-page bill which would prohibit further gambling expansion except by a voter referendum or two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.

If gambling expansion succeeds, it will be due to the efforts of state Reps. Bill DeWeese (left) and Mike Veon - the only two idiots who voted against repealing the pay hike lawmakers gave themselves.Nevertheless, DeWeese and Veon keep pushing hard for gambling expansion and Veon introduced another measure in July (House Bill 1876) that would prevent local zoning boards from prohibiting slots parlors.

"We started with slot machines and now we should complete the job because there is no practical difference between putting $10 in a slot machine and putting $10 on a blackjack or poker table," DeWeese said.

"Expanding gaming means more revenue to lower property taxes, more well-paying jobs at casinos and surrounding businesses and more tourism and related economic development dollars. By introducing this legislation, we are looking to start the debate," Veon said. "We want the appropriate committees - Tourism and Recreational Development, Finance - to take a long, hard look at this plan during the 2005-06 session and we think it will be clear that this is a smart investment in Pennsylvania's future."

Tell that to New Jersey. That state has had legalized gambling for 25 years now but will start next year $4 billion in debt. Meanwhile, Atlantic City is still a corrupt cesspool.

Pennsylvania's slots plan (pdf) already calls for 35,500 machines at 14 parlors raking in $2.94 billion in revenues a year, from which $1 billion in taxes would be used to lower property taxes state-wide.

By comparison, Atlantic City's 13 casinos have 37,067 machines producing revenues of $3.1 billion a year. (The casinos take in an additional $1.16 billion from table players).

By the way, Veon made headlines this week, when he asked Rendell to remove harness racing commissioner Richard J. Bolte Sr. on behalf of Centaur Inc., an Indianapolis-based developer seeking permission to build Valley View Downs in Veon's Beaver County district.

Centaur filed an appeal Thursday for reconsideration of its application, which was rejected last month because the site wasn't suitable. In the appeal, Centaur said Bolte should have recused himself because two drivers who have raced horses owned by Bolte testified in support of Bedford Downs, another proposed harness track. The winner of the state's last harness-racing license will be a shoo-in for a slots license.

It seems more than a little hypocritical for Veon, a member of the House Ethics & Official Conduct committee, to argue that Bolte has a conflict of interest, when Act 71 lets Veon or any other state legislator own up to 1 percent of a slots parlor.

One final note, another investor group this week removed the word "Gettysburg" from the title of its proposed gambling hall, hoping to counter criticism that the site is on top of the Civil War battlefield, or trying to cash in on the soldiers' sacrifice.


Friday, December 09, 2005
Posted 12:33 PM by

Snow business

Don't believe the TV hype, read my weather page instead to track storms.There's an old truism that goes something like, if you go to bed at night and the ground is clear and wake up in the morning and there's snow on the ground, then you can infer it snowed overnight.

Not anymore.

Not in an age of 24-hour news, where broadcasters issue warnings days in advance as if the sky was about to fall and the apocalypse is near.

Take for example the early morning storm that hit the Mid-Atlantic states Friday while most of us were still sleeping. We heard about the potential for that coast-hugger since Tuesday with storm tracks plotted and snowfall totals all predicted.

It led all local broadcasts on radio and television for days. We saw pictures of PennDOT trucks prepping to "combat" this impending threat.

And when it finally came, we actually got about five inches of slop covered by a little ice. By noon on Friday, though, most of it has melted away.

My only preparation for this storm, however, was to update the weather page on this site. It now includes several more sources - the National Weather Service, AccuWeather, and - as well as local and national radar images.

If you live near Bucks County, Pa., and watch the weather like I do, I suggest using my weather page before the next "big one" comes. Far more fact, far less hype than you'll get from the older media.


Thursday, December 08, 2005
Posted 7:07 AM by

Don Ho injected with stem cells

Can you afford to be a Ho, like Don, and travel to prolong your life?"Tiny bubbles" in his blood may help keep Hawaiian crooner Don Ho alive, but can you afford to do the same?

Ho, 75, known for his signature tune, had an an experimental stem cell procedure performed at a hospital in Thailand on his ailing heart on Tuesday. It involves multiplying stem cells taken from his blood and injecting them into his heart in hopes of strengthening the organ, according to Ed Brown, a close friend.

The new treatment has not been approved in the United States.

Afterwards, Ho's vital signs were excellent, but he remained seriously ill and was in the hospital's intensive care unit, Brown said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press from his home in Malibu, Calif.

This is one of my nightmare scenarios come to life.

Not that Ho may live a few more years. But that the rich will be able to travel to countries with lesser restrictions to prolong their lives, while the poor simply die.

The phenomenon of medical tourism has even caught the eye of CBS News' 60 minutes.In the U.S., a tiny but vocal religious minority, led by Pres. George W. Bush has hampered the development of stem cell lines and research, for fear cells from aborted fetuses might be used.

That hasn't stopped other countries from doing it, though, which has helped to create a new form of medical tourism for aging baby boomers, even to countries once long considered third-world, such as the Dominican Republic. (I've been to that tiny island, and let me tell you it's still largely a cess pool.)

How many of us wouldn't give everything, though, to go there when the time comes just for the chance to live?

Or as Eddie Murphy's character Velvet Jones once jokingly shilled on Saturday Night Live, "Be a Ho."


Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Posted 5:39 PM by

Pa. gavel pounders turn money grubbers

Judges are suing to free their own Unconstitutional pay raises from those of the state Legislature and executive branches.A second judge in as many days challenged the Pennsylvania Legislature's repeal of its own pay-raise law as unconstitutional Tuesday.

Both challenges revolve around a passage in the state constitution designed to prevent the Legislature from docking the pay of judges as punishment for unfavorable rulings, and both ask the state's appellate courts to reinstate pay raises for the more than 1,000 state judges.

"We earnestly believe that the public interest is served by restoration of the judicial salary increase and elimination of the dependence of the judiciary on the Legislature for pay increases in the future," Judges John W. Herron and Albert W. Sheppard Jr. said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Just how does giving them more money serve the public interest, they didn't say. But I do agee with their latter point, that lawmakers should not be involved. How about simply tying wages to inflation, the way most private sector companies do it?

Unfortuantely, these robed thieves don't seem to have gotten the point voters tried to make last month when they failed to retain a Supreme Court justice over this very issue for the first time in state history.

For more about the pay raise repeal, click here.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Posted 12:48 PM by

Last victim of the Browser Wars

Just like Nomad from Star Trek, the W3C Validator says my coding errors must be analyzed or I will be steralized.This Web site is obsolete even before I finish building it.

Its design - which purposely looks rather bland to emphasize its content - is outdated and so, I'm afraid, is its creator.

What took me hours to figure out a few years ago, by combining Photoshop's ability to splice an image with Frontpage and my hand-coding knowledge of HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 1.0 and Javascript, is now very much passe.

The source code of this page, which was designed to work in both Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape 3.whatever, no longer validates.

I am a final victim of the browser wars - a Web builder who's design skills have been supplanted by newer technology. I didn't know it until this morning when I stepped on that forgotten land mine while seeking validation.

A veteran of the late '90s tug-of-war between Netscape and Microsoft, I learned to "build" pages that were bastard children of both. It was kind of like constructing a house. I used nested tables and images to force the page into shape - the way a carpenter uses nails and wood.

That way, no matter how people came to my Web sites, they could see what I wanted to show them.

From their perspective, its more like eating morning sausages. As long as it tastes good, do you really want to know what's in it or how it was made?

A week on the Internet, though, is like a year in real-life, and I have fallen several decades behind Web-wise.

A friend of mine says not to worry because I'm a content guy. That its impossible to keep up with the Joneses, and reminded me of the golden rule of professional coders - only learn what you really need to know and can't steal from someplace else on the Web.

So that's what I did this morning.

Using borrowed CSS 2.0 code that I tweaked, I was able to reproduce a nearly identical copy of this site's index page using one image only, far fewer lines of code and no tables. All in about 15 minutes.

Now I know why John Henry died. But unlike him, I plan to go on driving virtual steel by continuing to pump out pages in my old HTML template.

Its not that I'm too lazy to port the site over to a new template. I just moved it and had to re-do many things. ("Thing globally, build locally," still rules the day. Thank God.)

The new CSS/XHMTL page may have more bells and whistles and be easier to change. But it fails if the browser is shrunk too small. I also have no idea how it looks in Netscape, AOL, or on a Mac, or at various screen resolutions.

So, you can pry my tables from my cold dead fingers or until they no longer render, whichever comes first. Quirked or not, old HTML still works for the most part, no matter the screen resolution, browser, computer or ISP.

Meanwhile, the weight of the new page is about the same - 8K vs. 9.5K for my existing index page. I'm pragmatic. If you think 1.5K makes a difference in an age of broadband and compressed-and-over-hyped 56K Web browsing, then you can byte me 1,500 times.

It should take a fraction of a second.


Monday, December 05, 2005
Posted 8:58 PM by

Justice DeLayed along with reform

Why is this guy smiling? You would be too if you were indicted and people still gave you $2 million.A judge dismissed the conspiracy charges Monday against Rep. Tom DeLay but refused to throw out the money-laundering counts.

The former House majority leader is basically accused of playing kingmaker with his political action committee.

He allegedly diverted about $200,000 in corporate donations from his own PAC through the Republican National Committee and then into coffers of state legislative races in Texas. It's kind of like what drug dealers do - only they get their money back clean.

In the process, DeLay skirted federal and state campaign finance laws to help his party capture a majority in his native state.

With his help, the GOP took control of the Texas House for the first time in 130 years, then pushed through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that resulted in more Texas Republicans going to Congress.

I won't delay my point any further than this. If he had been out of office when he did this, it would have been perfectly legal under federal law for him to give the money directly to other candidates.

But under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns. It can be used for administrative purposes, which covers a lot of ground.

I've seen worse violations of campaign finance laws, but none perhaps as brazen. By the way, DeLay's PAC has raised more than $2 million in the last year.


Sunday, December 04, 2005
Posted 5:46 PM by

Surprise! Corrupt candidate an FBI informant

West Virginia, Connecticut, and even Philadelphia are making strides towards fighting corruption. But not Pennsylvania.Thomas Esposito may have been the perfect candidate for the West Virginia state Legislature.

He was a true phony, corrupt as hell and didn't mind spending a little moola to buy some votes. He even lied convincingly to get out of the election - saying he was bowing out because of his sick mother-in-law.

There was only one catch.

Esposito was working undercover for the Feds. The FBI planted him among the field of candidates to help find evidence of vote-buying in southern West Virginia. And the sting worked.

Federal prosecutors allege Esposito gave $2,000 in government-supplied money to a resident who had offered to bribe voters on his behalf.

It was a good idea, but I haven't seen an entrapment case this bad since John DeLorean opened up the suitcase filled with cocaine. He was later acquitted. Esposito still faces corruption charges of his own after he testifies.

Sure it could travel back in time, but the DeLorean didn't have enough trunk space for John's suitcase filled with cocaine.The fallout from this should prove interesting. Had Esposito, a former mayor, been running in Pennsylvania he might have even won.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, the Legislature passed some of the nation's toughest campaign finance laws early Thursday, placing strict limits on contributions.

It comes in the wake of a corruption scandal last year that sent former Gov. John G. Rowland to prison and led his former co-chief of staff and a major state contractor to plead guilty in federal court

The measure also created a $17 million publicly funded election system for all statewide races - something New Jersey is trying with little success.

No similar experiments in campaign finance reform are underway in Pennsylvania, where lawmakers still aren't naming who took a Legislative pay raise in advance and now won't pay it back after it was rescinded.

The very idea of reform seems foreign to them.

Across the river in Philadelphia, though, council is finally trying to reform the city's corrupt ways. On Thursday, it established the city's first independent ethics board.

The board's job will be to investigate complaints, conduct ethics training (in the voice of South Park's Mr. Mackey say, "Stealing is bad.") as well as to publish data online about campaign finances.

This after the biggest federal probe and pay-to-play scandal in recent city history has forced plenty in Mayor John Street's administration from office and put some high ranking officials in jail.

Establishing the panel requires a change to the city's charter, so voters must decide whether to approve it in a referendum this spring. If they vote it down, does that mean the city is still, as muckraker Lincoln Steffens put it, "corrupt and contented"?

What do you call a circle jerk? How about a committee of 70 people trying to fight corruption in Philly.Wasn't this the idea behind forming the relatively toothless Committee of Seventy a hundred years ago?

How about just empowering the city's independently-elected controller to empanel grand juries on his own, rather than just doing audits?


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