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

Saturday, December 17, 2005
Posted 5:07 PM by

Bush eavesdropping violates us all

George Bush says flouting the Constitution in order to protect Americans is right. It isn't.Is it really so surprising that George W. Bush has turned the National Security Agency, our country's chief apparatus for spying abroad, internally on the U.S. and us?

After all, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I mean his party controls the White House, the House, the Senate, and now the Supreme Court. Isn't that what we call a dictatorship in other countries?

Bush admitted in his radio address today that he violated some Americans' civil liberties in order to protect those same liberties. But all W. did really was add the suede-leather secret police and unapproved taps on our phones.

Why should you care that this administration already had unprecedented legal power to spy internally and could have simply obtained a subpoena after the fact?

Why should you care that this administration doesn't mind smearing its political opponents - e.g. Valerie Plame and Richard Clarke - so long as its convenient?

Why should you care that the same force being used for the "War on terror" can now be pitted against ordinary citizens based solely on presidential discretion?

For that alone, not just getting America into a war under false pretenses, he should be impeached. But he probably never will be because the Democrats lack the balls and the Republicans who aren't idealogues still tow the party line.


Friday, December 16, 2005
Posted 5:03 PM by

Crimes like these

Michael Capellas took scandal-plagued WorldCom and straightened it out to the point where Verizon wants to buy it. Now he stands to make $39 million on the sale. So crime does pay, just not for the criminal.In these unethical times it was comforting to read the words of MCI president and CEO Michael D. Capellas in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer.

Capellas was the keynote speaker at the opening of Drexel University's Center for Corporate Governance, a new think tank promoting business accountability.

Pulling a card from his pocket, Capellas said all MCI workers carried one like it, with a list of guidelines that include "Build trust and credibility," "Uphold the law," and "Avoid conflicts of interest and perceptions of conflict of interest."

Rather than rules, he said, "this is the way you live your business day in and day out."

Capellas should know. He inherited the remnants of scandal-plagued WorldCom Inc. after his convicted predecessor, Bernard Ebbers, cooked the books. MCI emerged from bankruptcy in April 2004 and is now being acquired by Verizon Communications Inc.

He said MCI pulled off a turnaround by making its executives accountable to a hands-on board of directors, improving communications throughout the company, generating employee enthusiasm with pep rallies and other gimmicks, and drilling workers on the dos and don'ts of corporate conduct.

It's paid off for him.

If the Verizon-MCI deal gets approval, Capallas stands to receive $39 million. He defended the money by saying his compensation is performance-based and the product of a "fully disclosed process" at MCI that has been monitored by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a federal judge.

Just when you thought government couldn't match business in such a move, state Sen. Vince Fumo, of all people, has joined together with Common Cause to produces a reform bill.

It may be a Faustian pact for the good-government group. After all, Fumo isn't called "the Vince of Darkness," for no reason.

Under his proposal, as few as five senators - one tenth of the Senate - would be needed to force a public hearing on any bill.

Fumo said the time for change is ripe.

"The pay raise debacle was a really sobering moment in this General Assembly," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

Ironic, considering Fumo, a 28-year legislative veteran who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, supported the pay raise and accepted unvouchered expenses.

Even more ironic, Fumo has sponsored legislative to prevent companies from lending money to state residents in advance of their pay checks.

An AP story about Fumo's reform bill didn't mention whether he will pay back the raise and neither did Fumo's Web site,


Thursday, December 15, 2005
Posted 7:33 PM by

Broken pipeline? It's Comcastic

This is the message Comcast's Web site posted as of noon Wednesday, even though there was an outage in my area since 8 a.m.Sorry this blog wasn't updated sooner, but my broadband connection to the Internet, which is advertised as always being on, has been broken for the last few days.

You didn't read about it in your local newspaper, though, because despite its monopoly, Comcast is under no obligation to announce its mistakes publicly.

In fact, the only mention of yesterday's outage - which lasted from 8 a.m. until 1:30 this morning, was hidden on a "help" page deep inside the company's Web site and wasn't posted until mid-afternoon.

Therein lies the rub.

Burying the notice on a help page for Comcast users doesn't really help customers who have no access to the site. Nor does the company's phone system, which merely announces that engineers are working on the problem and that you should go pound sand until they're done.

With cable TV monopolies like Comcast now selling phone and Internet services, its time to consider re-regulating this industry.

Not because of the unjustified and highly suspect six percent increase in TV rates Comcast has requested.

Nor for its refusal to provide customers a la carte TV channel selections (Do I really need two televangelist stations and three Spanish channels?)

But for its failure to provide reliable service while acting very much like AT&T before its federally mandated breakup in 1984. Take for example, a pair of national outages in April, which were not even publicly acknowledged until days later.

I've had a Comcast cable modem for four years now, and let me tell you, their service sucks.

The only way to get your point across to the company is to consistently demand that your calls are escalated to a manager, and then demand that they give you a rebate for that day's service.

Which is what I've done for the last five days. I hope other customers did too.

Thanks to Juno and Netzero's free hours on a dial-up modem Wednesday, here are yesterday's postings on Comcast's Web site (


General Outage - Resolved at 12/14/2005 11:07:28 PM EDT

(PA Metro/Bensalem - RDC - Connection to the Internet is currently unavailable. Our technicians are aware of the situation and are working to resolve the issue. This outage was logged at : 12/14/2005 7:09:00 PM EDT.)


Scheduled Maintenance

(Comcast Engineers will be performing network maintenance in your area. This may temporarily affect your Internet connection. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. This outage was logged at : 12/14/2005 8:00:00 AM EDT.)

Scheduled Maintenance - Completed at 12/14/2005 6:40:34 PM EDT

(Comcast Engineers will be performing network maintenance in your area. This may temporarily affect your Internet connection. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. This outage was logged at : 12/14/2005 8:02:00 AM EDT.)

Scheduled Maintenance - Completed at 12/14/2005 6:40:13 PM EDT

(Comcast Engineers will be performing network maintenance in your area. This may temporarily affect your Internet connection. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. This outage was logged at : 12/14/2005 8:04:00 AM EDT.)

Scheduled Maintenance - Completed at 12/14/2005 6:14:08 AM EDT

PA Metro/Levittown - Comcast Engineers will be performing network maintenance in your area. This may temporarily affect your Internet connection. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. This outage was logged at : 12/13/2005 11:14:00 AM EDT.)


Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Posted 5:27 PM by

Pay to play lesson of the day

This is why it takes money to make money in Philly and Atlantic City.When seeking to do work with the school board in Atlantic City please make sure to have its president fill out the application, then give him a nice payoff.

That's why district president Cornell Davis, 31, now faces two counts of bribery. Davis allegedly told one bidder for a small job skills training program that it was "pay to play in Atlantic City," and when the vendor refused, he helped a competitor win the contract.

Davis then solicited $3,000 for his help and the winner eventually coughed up $1,800 "to keep him happy," Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz said.

Apparently bribery is a job skill for that elected post.

Likewise in Philly, where attorney Leonard Ross, a close adviser to Mayor John Street and his former law partner, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of fraud and one count of conspiracy. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 33 months in prison.

Street appointed Ross to chair the committee that was to pick a developer for Penn's Landing, a 13-acre parcel on the Delaware River that the city has been trying to develop for 20 years.

Instead of helping the region grow, Ross admitted he helped himself and Street.

Ross used his position to secure more than $50,000 for Street's re-election campaign from developers; to obtain a $150,000 line of credit for himself from Commerce Bank; and to seek business for his wife, prosecutors said in a 41-page plea memorandum.

Ross also allegedly partnered with the late Ronald White, another close Street adviser who was indicted before his death, to shake down another potential developer of the site.

Oh well, at least entrepreneurial spirit in the region isn't as dead as civic virtue, or the push for reform.


Monday, December 12, 2005
Posted 5:14 PM by

Sunshine or lights, camera, inaction

An arrogant state lawmaker wants the TV cameras shut off so that legislators can discuss property tax reform more freely. Too bad.After flubbing their own pay raise and legalizing slot machine gambling in the dead of night and with no public debate, the Pennsylvania Legislature struck a new all-time low Monday.

Now, elected leaders of the Commonwealth want the TV cameras in their chamber turned off while they try to figure out how best to divvy up the common wealth.

House Republican leader Sam Smith said shutting off Pennsylvania Cable Network's television cameras in the chamber would allow members to speak more freely about competing plans to cut property taxes - a hot political issue that has sharply fractured the 203-member body.

Poor babies. Didn't we fight a revolution about 230 years ago for taxation without representation?

The legislators have already legally locked the public out of the real negotiations - in smoke-filled caucus backrooms - by omitting themselves from the Sunshine Law, which covers every other elected body in the state.

Now they don't even want their votes shown live to their constituents and recorded for posterity - and potentially an opponent's election commercials?

Those folks wanted the spotlight and their own TV station, they got it. Now squirm under those hot lights on camera.


Sunday, December 11, 2005
Posted 3:59 PM by

Habay case shines light on legislative arrogance

If state Rep. Jeff 'Baby face' Habay get convicted of theft for stealing his staffers office work for his re-election campaign, who's next?There's a lovely little soap opera going on across the state that has implications here.

State Rep. Jeff Habay, a sixth-term Republican from Allegheny County, is on trial for allegedly forcing his office staffers to help his re-election campaign on taxpayer time.

Habay is facing felony charges of theft of services and conflict of interest. He denies any wrongdoing, of course, saying he always instructed his staff not to do politics while at work.

In his defense, Habay argued in part on Friday, "I voted no on the pay raise. I voted no on the last pay increase and, in fact, I gave both of them back."

However, the state Ethics Commission last year found he did violate state laws and ordered him to repay $13,000 for the campaign work. The Commission then referred the case to the state Attorney General's office, which pressed the charges.

Prosecutors and some of his staffers say he ordered workers to stuff fund-raising envelopes, compile list of potential donors from state Department of Transportation records and to plan campaign events when they were supposed to be helping constituents.

Even if he beats the state rap, Habay also faces a second trial next year on 21 counts filed by county prosecutors, including charges that he made up a story about receiving a suspicious white powder in the mail and that he directed his staff to investigate his adversaries on state time.

Why the heck should you care about any of this?

Because legislators across the state often use their staffs to do campaign work, arguing the practice is legal so long as the work is done after-hours.

In the course of their jobs, staffers also have access to all kinds of sensitive information about constituents - not just PennDOT records, which can be used for "opponent research," what President Richard Nixon used to call rat fucking.

One high-ranking Democrat once got into a shouting with me over the issue, arguing his staffers were able to deduce that his "fiscally conservative" Republican opponent was on multiple government programs. All this while they were working after hours for the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

There was only one catch.

Federal and state laws prevented me from doing the same work as a reporter and a private citizen after I had set up a Chinese firewall.

That type of information could only be garnered under false pretenses during regular business hours, my reporting showed.

You do the math. Somebody's lying. Chances are, a lot of somebodies.


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