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

Saturday, March 25, 2006
Posted 3:16 PM by

Eerie and stupid times in Pa.

Former Erie, Pa., mayor Rick Filippi admited he was stupid for speculating on land for a new slots parlor, but was acquitted of criminal charges.I've long argued that Pennsylvania lawmakers can and probably should legislate stupidity, not just legislate stupidly.

A jury in Washington County proved my point Saturday when they acquitted former Erie mayor Rick Filippi, his former campaign manager, Eric Purchase, and law partner, Rolf Patberg, of using inside information for a proposed slots parlor to benefit from real estate deals.

State prosecutors alleged the trio used information gleaned from Filippi's role in economic redevelopment negotiations in hopes of profiting from properties bought near the site of a proposed casino and racetrack.

The properties were bought by Aiko Acquisitions, a company run by Purchase and Patberg. Filippi had invested $8,000 in Aiko, a fact he did not reveal publicly. The Erie Times-News uncovered Filippi's link to Aiko, which sold the properties at no profit after the disclosure. Plans for the racetrack eventually fell through.

All three were charged with conflict of interest, speculating or wagering on official action, and criminal conspiracy. Filippi also was charged with two financial conflict of interest statement violations.

Filippi testified last week that his secret participation in the land deal made him guilty of stupidity, not a crime.

He said he didn't did not disclose his investment on his state-required Statement of Financial Interest because his investment was below 5 percent.

"I should have done things differently," Filippi said during cross-examination this week. "... But I still don't think I did anything wrong. It was politically stupid." The indictment cost him re-election to a second term as mayor.

Not as stupid as passing a state law legalizing slot machine gambling by slipping it into an unrelated bill in the middle of the night, with no public debate on a July 4th holiday weekend.

You reap what you sow, and this is just the kind of corruption we can now expect on a regular basis. Attorney General Tom Corbett must suspect that too, hence his new anti-corruption task force.

I just hope the end result isn't more acquittals.


Friday, March 24, 2006
Posted 5:36 PM by

Philly saves money by cutting city-owned cars

Hard to believe, but Mayor John Street actually saved money by getting city workers to give taxpayer-funded cars.Talk about political necessity being the mother of invention.

A program in Philadelphia, you know the city that Lincoln Steffens called "corrupt and contented," was named among the nation's 50 top innovations in government for the year this week for eliminating hundreds of vehicles from its fleet and replacing them with a program that rents vehicles by the hour.

Philly hasn't been know as a city for inventions since Ben Franklin died. But it became the first municipality in North America to use a car-sharing program, according to an institute at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in cooperation with the Council for Excellence in Government.

In the process, the city cut 330 cars from the fleet of more than 400 non-police sedans and sport utility vehicles it had in 2004.

Previously, city employees who drove during the course of their work had to use city-issued cars requiring routine maintenance and costly insurance and parking. Now many of those workers reserve a car through PhillyCarShare, a nonprofit that has fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles in dozens of locations citywide.

A car sharing program has elminated what many city workers think of as a political perk of their job.The cost? Just $3.90/hour and 39 cents/mile to cover gas, insurance, parking, and child seats. Heck, that's less expensive than just parking in Philly.

The city previously spent an average of $6,200 per vehicle for gas, parts, parking, labor and amortized acquisition costs, so Philly saved $1.7 million annually without sacrificing services.

I think the true innovation here was Mayor John Street getting city workers to give up their taxpayer-funded cars, normally a political plum that's used for personal as well professional purposes.

I'd love to know how they did that. An even bigger innovation would be to get state lawmakers to give up their taxpayer-funded cars too.

In other interesting car news, Pennsylvania's program to encourage motorists to buy hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions and conserve energy has been so successful that the state expects to run out of rebate money in April. Buyers have six months from the time they buy an alternative-fuel vehicle to apply for a $500 Hybrid Electric and Alternative Fuel Vehicle Rebate.

The state has granted about 2,600 rebates over the last 12 months, according to DEP spokesman Charlie Young.

One thing I've learned from this state, though, is if a program is innovative and saves taxpayers money, it won't last. Just look at what happened to "Tax-Free PC" week.


Thursday, March 23, 2006
Posted 4:41 PM by

Where do you stand politically?

You are a

Social Liberal
(61% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(13% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test

Believe it or not, I'm not a socialist.

In reality, I'm a progressive - I'm hesitant to add the word liberal - and a fiscal conservative, which means I believe in government intervention when appropriate to keep the free market fair.

I believe in equality as well as social and legal justice. I believe in opportunity as well as a hand up for those who can't make the climb on their own.

I believe in a woman's right to choose, for we all should have the divine right to govern our own bodies - from before birth to the grave.

I believe in separation of church and state, which was a founding principle of America. No religion should hold sway over legislation that's supposed to govern us all.

I believe in term limits. The founding fathers - mostly farmers and merchants themselves - never envisioned a permanent privileged class of lawmakers.

Above all, I believe in honesty, integrity, truth and honor.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Posted 5:36 PM by

The Buck stops nowhere

Who's minding the billions being spent domesticly in the name of Homeland Defense?If the first victim of Pres. George Bush's war on terror was truth, the second and less-obvious thing to fall by the boards was accountability.

With all branches of the federal government "safely" in Republican hands, and the idea of checks and balances put out to pasture, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney felt no compunction to find the lowest bidders for anything.

Instead, they've simply handed many contracts to their political friends, like Haliburton, and stamped the agreements "Confidential" because they're for self-defense.

They've also thrown billions at local governments since 9/11 too, but not on an as-needed basis. Lord knows New York City will always be a bigger terrorist target than Poughkeepsie, but not the way our federal government thinks.

Instead, every state got a share of the riches, which were funneled down to the local level. And like hungry pigs at feeding time, normally underfunded area police, fire and emergency service departments lined up and fought for their share of the trough.

The late Harry S. Truman, who watchdogged spending during World War II, must be rolling. I know Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner is less than pleased.

Wagner said Wednesday his office found the program administrator of one of nine Pennsylvania regional counter-terrorism task forces misappropriated $2,250 of federal homeland security funds and his actions went undetected due to inadequate state and local oversight.

The same task force spent more than $700,000 for training programs without seeking competitive bids, spent $650 a month for just two cell phones and used grant funds to purchase $151.42 of alcoholic beverages at a state-sponsored symposium in State College in June 2004.

Those sums seem trivial, I know, compared to the $3.3 million in grants that awarded to the northwest central task force, which includes Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson and McKean counties - some of the least populated counties in the state.

However, few have really scrutinized what authorities have spent the money on legitimately.

For instance, I live in Falls Township, Bucks County, where some of the Homeland Defense funds were used to purchase a hovercraft. I see firefighters practice driving it occasionally on a lake while I'm out for my daily run.

I don't dispute the device will be handy to rescue fishermen and kids who fall through the ice each winter, but is this the best use of money that's supposed to fight terrorism?

Is it any wonder why I'm worried about the potential for another emergency like Hurricane Katrina.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Posted 5:55 PM by

Guilty Philly councilman can stay in office

That isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card convicted Philadelphia City Councilman Rick Mariano is holding, so why can he still hold public office?He's been found guilty of accepting bribes and may have threatened to jump from the top of City Hall in an O.J.-like standoff, but convicted Philly Councilman Rick Mariano is still in office.

Mariano, convicted last week of 18 counts of fraud, bribery and money-laundering, remains in a federal detention center pending a psychiatric evaluation slated for Wednesday. The judge could consider bail after that.

"It is his intention to stay until sentencing, and it is his intention to attend council sessions," Mariano's chief of staff, Jay McCalla, said Monday.

During Mariano's trial, Vincent DiPentino, a real estate agent, acknowledged he helped Erie Steel Ltd. disguise a $10,900 payment toward Mariano's personal credit-card debt; in exchange, he sought Mariano's help obtaining city properties.

In exchange for laundering another payment from Erie Steel toward Mariano's credit-card bill, councilman Joseph Pellecchia sought the councilman's help with city agencies and the Philadelphia School District, including assistance in obtaining a $225,000 consulting contract with the district, prosecutors said.

Yet, Mariano can still stay in office and collect his $102,000 public salary because the state ban on felons in elected office doesn't kick in until after his July 6 sentencing, according to an opinion issued by acting city solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr.

It was one of Diaz's last acts in that role, before ceding the position to Pedro Ramos.

Mariano chairs council's Licenses and Inspections Committee and also serves as a member of its Ethics Committee. On Tuesday, McCalla wrote to Council President Anna C. Verna that Mariano would be dropping all his committee assignments.

That cannot and should not be enough.

Mayor John "I've been bugged, not indicted" Street called on Mariano to resign minutes after his conviction Friday. But most council members said they would not support a nonbinding resolution asking him to step down.

Councilman Frank DiCicco suggested council should adopt a policy to stop paying members who have been convicted of crimes. Having a convicted felon on the council is "basically a slap in the face to the citizens of Philadelphia," DiCicco said.

Maybe one of the state lawmakers in Philly should consider changing the state law too.


Monday, March 20, 2006
Posted 5:21 PM by

AccuWeather: Big one could hit Northeast

Is Pennsylvania really prepared for a disaster of this magnitude?The Northeast United States is "overdue" to be hit by a powerful hurricane and will likely be a target of a pinwheel of death sometime in the next five years, experts from AccuWeather Inc. said Monday.

The meteorologists at Accuweather likened current weather cycles and water temperatures to those in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, particularly the pattern that led to the 1938 hurricane that struck Providence, R.I., and killed 600 people.

A hurricane-related "disaster of historic proportions" could occur as early as this season, the experts said. Believe it or not, I'm preparing already and have started gathering a disaster kit.

I've got hand-powered radios and flashlights. Some medical supplies. A few simple tools. Even food - if that's what you can call Powerbars and some leftover MREs. Add to that two tents and assorted camping equipment and I'm nearly set to live on my own for a few days.

It's not that I think terrorists will suddenly disrupt my life. But after watching how our government failed us in New Orleans last year, I felt it was pruden to take a few precautions.


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