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

Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Posted 5:58 PM by

Situation Normal All Fouled Up

So much for freedom. Congress re-approved the Patriot Act, gave President Bush a Get-out-of-jail-free card for spying on Americans and shot down lobbyist reform all in one day's work. I'd ask who elected these guys, but I think we all know it wasn't us.It seems kind of fitting that in the same 24 hours Congress passed a barely limited version of the Un-Patriot(ic) Act, the Senate shot down a possible lobbyist reform bill and gave President Bush a pass for spying on Americans.

The House renewed the USA Patriot Act in a cliffhanger 280-138 vote Tuesday night, just two more than needed under special rules that required a two-thirds majority.

Despite its passage, the Patriot Act still has staunch congressional opponents who protested it by voting 'no' even on the part of the bill that would add new civil rights protections.

Meanwhile, after weeks of negotiations and closed door meetings, moderate Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee will propose legislation giving President Bush's controversial surveillance program the force of law. The move also blunted Democratic calls for an investigation of the U.S.-based eavesdropping operations.

"We should fight the enemy. We should not fight each other," said Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The Senate on Wednesday defeated a Democratic proposal to prohibit all gifts, including meals, and to ban acceptance of almost all privately funded travel.

The vote was 55-44 against the amendment offered by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who argued that the lobbying and ethics bill now on the Senate floor doesn't go far enough to restore public confidence in the integrity of Congress.

For that, somebody would have to fire them all.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Posted 5:20 PM by

Smoking mad

Cigar, cigarette, iron lung? Guess I have to work in a casino now.Call it the revenge of the strippers.

A coalition of New Jersey bars, restaurants and bowling alley operators filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to strike down the state's new indoor smoking ban as unconstitutional because it exempts Atlantic City's 12 casinos.

The New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, which goes into effect April 15, bans smoking in restaurants, bars, private office buildings and other public indoor spaces. Establishments that violate the ban could face fines of between $250 and $1,000.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Trenton by the New Jersey Hospitality Industry for Fairness Coalition, the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association, the New Jersey Restaurant Association, bowling alley owners and several bars and restaurants, all of which say the smoking ban will cost them business.

"What's happening here is that the state of New Jersey is giving an unfair advantage to the Atlantic City casinos," said Armando Frallicciardi Jr., proprietor of Lorenzo's Restaurant in Trenton.

"They already have the monopoly on gambling, and on giving drinks away at less than cost. Now they're going to give them another monopoly, letting them be the only place in the state you can smoke indoors?"

Robert Gluck, a lawyer for the groups, said, "For the life of us, we can't figure out why the casinos are exempted, except politics."

I saw this coming two months ago. Casinos lobbied for the exemption, saying a universal smoking ban would drive business away, lead to job losses and, in the process, cut into the state's share of casino revenues.

God forbid that happens. After all Gov. Jon Corzine is already turning his first budget plan into a road show in order to sell deep cuts necessary to offset a $4 billion deficit despite the state's piece of the casino action.

State Sen. John H. Adler, a sponsor of the law, said the exemption for casinos was needed to get some measure enacted after a decade of effort.

"It's pathetic that these restaurant and bar owners have the gall to try and keep poisoning the bodies of their workers and customers," said Adler, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There's only one problem with Adler's logic.

Casino employees were furious with the ban, saying it turned them into second-class citizens by failing to protect their health. Assemblyman James Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, has introduced a bill that would extend the ban to casinos.


Monday, March 06, 2006
Posted 5:39 PM by

Casey: They're all crooks

State Treasurer Bob Casey mentioned the elephant in the livingroom Monday by saying the pay raises the Legislature approved last year were illegal.State Treasurer Bob Casey earned a few brownie points Monday with voters and good government advocates by saying Pennsylvania's Supreme Court and the Legislature broke state law last year in awarding its members pay raises ranging from 16 percent to 54 percent.

Lawmakers approved the raises on July 7, in the middle of the night and without hearings or debate. The law, which also included raises for judges and top executive branch officials, pushed Pennsylvania's base legislative salary to $81,000 - the second-highest in the nation.

Casey, a Democrat who is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, filed a legal brief Monday which says "In large part, these questions go to the legislative procedures that culminated in the passage" of the pay raises. "In following these procedures, the General Assembly repeatedly violated Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution."

No duh, Bob.

Now I happen to like Casey. But perhaps he'd also like to explain why, as Treasurer, he doled out the raises any way in the form of illegal "unvouchered expenses" for four months until the raises were repealed?

Or as Stephen C. MacNett, general counsel to state Senate Republicans, put it, "I think it is incredibly crass. I guess what he's doing is admitting that he committed an unconstitutional act."

Casey denies flip-flopping on the raises, saying he was merely responding to a lawsuit brought by activist Gene Stilp.

Now if only somebody would stop the Legislature from violating state law by inserting laws into unrelated bill so they can bring them to the floor for a vote without discussion.

Lawmakers have done that at least twice in recent years to legalize slot parlors throughout the state and to prevent shareholders of Sovereign Bancorp Inc. from being able to oust the bank's directors. The shareholders are now suing the state because of it.


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