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

Saturday, April 01, 2006
Posted 6:07 PM by

The fool who follows

Who's the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him? That seems a great question to ask on this of all days.

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy...

Tony Rudy, Rep. Tom Delay's former chief of staff, leaves court Friday after pleading guilty to helping convicted briber Jack Abramoff in exchange for perks and money.Take for example Tony Rudy, Rep. Tom DeLay's former deputy chief of staff. He pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff while working for the Texas congressman and after he left to become a lobbyist.

He is the second former DeLay staffer to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the lobbying probe. Rudy faces up to five years in prison but could get less based on cooperation.

Beginning in 1997, Abramoff, his clients and others plied Rudy with expensive meals, trips, sports tickets, golf games and clubs, according to the plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Rudy also received payments through Abramoff to a consulting firm that he created and his wife, Lisa, ran. Liberty Consulting received $86,000 in payments from or at the direction of Abramoff and others while Rudy worked for DeLay.

In exchange, Rudy worked to get federal money for the Northern Mariana Islands, got DeLay to oppose a postal rate increase that was opposed by magazine publishers who were represented by Abramoff, persuaded DeLay and other leading Republicans to defeat legislation that would have restricted Internet gambling.

Dean of cover-ups calls for Bush censure

John Dean, President Richard Nixon's former White House counsel, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday that President Bush's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program exceeded the wrongdoing of his former boss.John Dean, Richard Nixon's White House lawyer who served four months in prison for his role in the Watergate break-in coverup, told senators Friday that President Bush's domestic spying exceeds the wrongdoing that toppled his former boss.

"Had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented," Dean said. "Hopefully the Senate will not sit by while even more serious abuses unfold before it."

The hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was held in conjuction with Sen. Russell Feingold's censure resolution. Republican members chalked it up to posturing in a year of midterm elections.

"If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking," Feingold, D-Wis., told the panel. "The resolution of censure is the appropriate response."

Feingold summoned Dean to the hearing because after The New York Times revealed the NSA program in December, Dean wrote that "Bush may have outdone Nixon" and may be worthy of impeachment.

"Nixon's illegal surveillance was limited; Bush's, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope," Dean wrote in a column for in December.

In another column last week, Dean wrote, "In some two hundred and seventeen years of the American presidency, there has been only one President who provides a precedent for Bush's stunning, in-your-face, conduct: Richard Nixon."

He told the Senators on Friday, "The president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers."

Bush lackeys on both sides of Pa.

Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy national intelligence director, told a crowd in Pittsburgh Friday that some civil liberties have to be weighed versus the need to know infomation in a time of war.In Pittsburgh, Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy national intelligence director, told a crowd Friday, "We want to be safe and free. This is a tension all democracies wrestle with."

But Hayden lamented that open discussion was difficult given the "super-heated" nature of American politics.

Across the state in Kutztown, former Secretary of State Colin Powell warned a crowd Thursday that the country should not lose its sense of openness and still welcome both newcomers and foreign students to its shores.

"Terrorists can bomb our buildings and down airliners in Pennsylvania fields, but they cannot change us," he said. "Only we can do that.

"We must remain the open, embracing country the world wants to believe that is still America. If we do that, we will win over terrorism."


Friday, March 31, 2006
Posted 8:19 PM by

Jubelirer just as crooked as the rest

Don't let the smile fool ya, folks. State Sen. Bob Jubelirer is playing both sides of the fence on the slots issue to his advantage.I used to think Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer was one of the few bright bulbs in Harrisburg. Turns out he's just as screwy and dim as the rest of the pack.

Although Jubelirer, R-Blair, voted against the bill that legalized slot machines last July, his Political Action Committee accepted $20,000 last year from companies owned by Scranton-area businessman and slots parlor hopeful Louis A. DeNaples, who owns Mount Airy Lodge in the Poconos.

Jubelirer's PAC then gave nearly $13,000 to a pro-slot machine PAC.

Talk about playing both sides of the fence.

Here's my favorite part, folks. Jubelirer recently praised the formation of a new anti-corruption task force by state Attorney General Tom Corbett, saying, "Gambling has never proved to be a corruption-free enterprise, no matter which state tries it, and no matter how strong the regulatory oversight is designed to be. So there is no question there is trouble ahead for Pennsylvania. The only questions seem to be when, where, and how much trouble hits."

DeNaples' D&L Realty in Dunmore gave $10,000 to the PAC Jubelirer chairs, Citizens for a Better Pennsylvania, on March 14, 2005, campaign finance records show. His PAC in turn gave $12,386 in two payments - $4,886 on March 22, 2005 and $7,500 on March 25 - to Citizens Against Higher Taxes and were the group's largest contributions by far last year.

Chaired by James Broussard, a Lebanon Valley College history professor, Citizens Against Higher Taxes supported the legalization of slot machines because it also promised property tax reform.

The slots vote occurred in the early morning of July 2, before both the House and Senate adjourned for the July 4th holiday. The 146-page bill was slid into an unrelated two-paragraph measure about background checks for harness racing track employees, then brought to the floor for a vote without public debate.

The Friends of Senator Jubelirer, another PAC, gave Broussard's organization $200 on Aug. 18, 2005.

Two months later, another DeNaples-owned business, RAM Consultants of Sturges-Olyphant, gave Jubelirer's Citizens for a Better Pennsylvania another $10,000 on Oct. 14.

Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge was once known for its heart-shaped tubs and as a getaway for lovers. Now it's the subject of political chicanery as its owner, Louis DeNaples, vies for a state slots parlor license.Jubelirer does not have a vote on who gets a license. But he did have an appointment to the state gaming board, which will make the final decision after series of public hearing that start next week.

And he's not the only one to have taken money from slots applicants. Gov. Ed Rendell, House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese and House Speaker John M. Perzel also accepted tens of thousands in campaign contributions before making their appointments to the gambling board.

In trying to explain why lawmakers had trouble passing the slots legislation and property tax reform last May, Broussard told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "A lot of the problem is the same thing we saw in 1989: a high level of generic public suspicion of anything that comes out of Harrisburg."

Is hindsight, is it any wonder why the public was suspicious?

By the way, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the paper which first connected the dots between Jubelirer's PAC and Broussard's, also reported Friday that five of the seven gambling board members are driving around in state-leased cars at taxpayer expense in addition to collecting their $145,000 salaries.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006
Posted 8:34 PM by

N.J. bans WAMs, Pa. keeps 'em

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine froze all payments from a state Assembly slush fund this week that is similar to the Pennsylvania Legislature's Walking Around Money grant program.Facing a large tax hike and funding cuts to schools and social programs to offset an estimated $4 billion deficit, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine froze $25 million left in a political slush fund used by state assemblymen this week.

That's all that's left of the $128 million which once filled the Property Tax Assistance and Community Development Block Grant program lawmakers set up two years ago.

Corzine agreed to halt payments from the program earlier in the week, his spokesman said. However, the decision wasn't announced until after David Robinson, an attorney from Cranford, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Mercer County on Thursday.

Robinson's suit characterizes the program as "nothing more than a state-funded piggy bank for the politically connected. ... Almost all of the grants have ties to some lawmaker."

Some of the projects given one-time grants include: $200,000 for a Newark day care center; $125,000 for a New Brunswick teen center; $16,000 for equipment at a dog park in East Brunswick and $25,000 for a wrestling club in Paulsboro, according to extensive records cited in Robinson's lawsuit.

The program is identical to the Community Revitalization Program grants or WAMs (Walking-Around-Money) Pennsylvania legislators have been using for decades on their pet projects and then touting as political capital.

Legislative leaders lined up the votes for their illegally self-imposed pay raise last year by promising special WAMs to legislators who "cooperated," Robert Morris University professor Ralph R. Reiland wrote in Capitalism Magazine.

If a program is worthy, it should be able to stand public scrutiny and win grant money on its own merit. Yet, Pennsylvania legislators continue to dole out nearly $50 million worth of checks at their own discretion as a political plum.The unpopular pay raise, which caused an uproar across the state, was repealed months later, but the WAM program continues unabated.

Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed 2006-07 budget doesn't include $48 million spent this year on WAMs, but a budget proposal from House GOP leaders fully funds them.

"While cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in needed funding for essential state programs, the House Republican Leadership proposal maintains every dollar of funding for all of the legislative additions (popularly called WAMs) that the General Assembly inserted into the 2005-06 budget at the end of last year's budget process," Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Michael J. Masch said two weeks ago.

Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware County, has been railing against WAMs since 1993. He has posted lists of all WAMs awarded since 1996 on his Web site.

That information only became public in 2000 when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review won a right-to-know lawsuit in Commonwealth Court declaring the grant applications public records.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Posted 8:47 PM by

Zero-sum game: One going in, one getting out

I'm sorry I took the money. I'm awfully sorry. I'm very sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm Soooorrrrrrrryyyy!Lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for fraud, but will remain free while helping prosecutors with a bribery investigation that could snag up to 20 members of Congress.

Abramoff and former business partner Adam Kidan admitted in January they faked a $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they were contributing their own money toward buying the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet for $147.5 million. Based on the fraud, lenders gave them $60 million.

A few days after his guilty plea in the fraud case, Abramoff pleaded guilty in Washington to defrauding Indian tribes and other lobbying clients out of millions of dollars. He also agreed to cooperate in a corruption probe that may snare former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

Standing before U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck, Abramoff appeared remorseful, saying he was becoming a new man and addded, "I can only hope that the almighty and those whom I have wronged will forgive me my trespasses."

God might. However, Congress is already turning the other butt cheek and mooning America.

A few hours after Abramoff got judged, the Senate passed an ethics bill Wednesday - its first overhaul on lobbying rules in a decade - that focused on disclosure but went light on punishment.

The legislation would bar lawmakers from accepting gifts or meals from lobbyists or moving quickly to lobbying jobs after retiring. But members of Congress could still use corporate jets for the price of a first-class ticket with pre-clearance of the ethics committee. They also could still accept free lodging, travel and meals from non-lobbyists.

On Tuesday, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have created an independent Office of Public Integrity to probe charges of ethics violations.

"Trust is the foundation of our democratic government," Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said in an apparent alzheimers moment, forgetting the Delay and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandals, minutes before the Senate voted 90-8 to pass the bill.

Meanwhile, federal prison authorities have found real estate magnate Charles B. Kushner fit for early release after less than a year in jail over the objections of the federal prosecutor who put him there.


The hardcover memoir of gay, disgraced former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, "The Confession," is being pre-sold on before its Sept. 19 release for $16.98. To buy a copy, click here.

Kushner was the largest campaign donor to former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey and gave millions of dollars to the Democratic National Committee. He was sentenced to two years in the slam for campaign finance and tax law violations as well as for retaliating against a witness - his own brother-in-law - by having him seduced by a prostitute.

Kushner also sponsored the work visa for Golan Cipel, the Israeli whom McGreevey appointed to head New Jersey's Homeland Defense efforts after 9/11. McGreevey later claimed Cipel tried to extort up to $50 million from him to keep secret their alleged gay sexual tryst.

As for McGreevey, the first gay governor ever outted while in office has penned a memoir called "The Confession," due in bookstores on Sept 19. The publisher, Regan Books, previously printed the tell-alls of steroid-abuser Jose Canseco and sex-crazed political operative Dick Morris.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Posted 5:50 PM by

Pa. fences solen property

You can't get items confiscated from your carryon bags back, unless you buy them from the state of Pennsylvania on eBay.If I stole something from you while you watched, chances are you would probably call the cops and they would charge me with theft.

Say I didn't steal the item, merely obtained it from the person who did and then re-sold it for a profit. I could be accused of fencing a stolen item and possibly criminal conspiracy.

The same, however, does not hold true if I work for the governor of Pennsylvania and the people doing the stealing are employees of the federal Transportation Security Administration.

Instead, I'd get publically praised for running "a business efficient government" as Gov. Ed Rendell did last week during the Democratic State Committee's endorsement meeting.

The purely political session was re-broadcast last night on Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN), which I happened to channel surf to while suffering insomnia. Instead, of putting me to sleep, it got me good and pissed.

Rendell said the TSA had simply been stockpiling the tons of knives, scissors, lighters and other banned objects they confiscated from airline passengers at Philly International and airports around the state.

That is, until somebody in Pennsylvania's Bureau of Supplies and Surplus Operations came up with the idea of taking those confiscated items off the Feds hands and then re-selling them on auction Web site eBay.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is boasting the state raised $100,000 last year by selling items confiscated at airports.The idea drew a laugh from the politicos present until Rendell said the brisk business generated $100,000 in new state revenue last year. He also said the program has since started taking confiscated material from as far away as New York City's LaGuardia airport.

"Ladies and gentleman, government is serious business and when it's done right people's lives can be changed forever," Fast Eddie said.

Somewhere Fiorello LaGuardia, the fiery and progressive former mayor who was that airport's namesake, is probably spinning in his grave at the thought of Pennsylvania making a profit from the illegal search and seizure of personal property.


Monday, March 27, 2006
Posted 5:38 PM by

April fools

How foolish is it to turn residents into slot machine junkies and hook the state on gambling revenue for a short-lived reprieve on property taxes that benefits nobody but the teachers' unions at their next contract negotiations?State gambling regulators will begin public hearings next Wednesday on where to place 10,000 slot machines at 14 venues, including racetracks and freestanding locations.

Their decisions could make Pennsylvania one of the biggest slot-machine states in the country. Slots could be up and running at the racetracks as early as the fall.

Already the big gambling companies are drooling to sucker state residents out of their quarters, silver dollars and nickels, despite a state tax of 52 cents on every dollar the slots parlors earn.

"We think there's tremendous market potential," said Jan Jones, a senior vice president for Las Vegas-based Harrah's Entertainment, which is involved with two separate license applications. "For people that may like to gamble but don't like to go to Atlantic City, there's not a lot of product available in the East."

He's not the only one salivating. Most of the new tax revenue raised by the slot machines - estimated at $1 billion - is supposed to go to lower property taxes levied by 501 school districts across the state.

That is, if the Legislature can come up with a way to spend it that lawmakers and the school districts can live with.

Senators on a committee negotiating a compromise bill on residential property-tax cuts persuaded their House counterparts Monday to schedule a vote next Monday on a plan that closely resembles a solution favored by the Senate.

That means in one week's time, the logjam on differing plans on how to spend the largesse will have to end.

The House has supported expanding property-tax cuts by raising state sales and income taxes, but the Senate has resisted the idea.

Meanwhile, fewer than 100 of the school districts opted in for tax cuts because the program also limited their ability to raise property taxes in the future.

Too bad both the hearings and the Legislature's vote aren't being held on Saturday, April 1.

For how foolish is it to turn residents into slot machine junkies and hook the state on gambling revenue for a short-lived reprieve on property taxes that benefits nobody but the teachers' unions at their next contract negotiations?


Sunday, March 26, 2006
Posted 5:32 PM by

Comcast execs make hay, fight choice

It's good to be the king of cable TV and broadband Internet. Comcast executives keep making more bonus money while shareholders get less and customers pay more for lousy service and to have Christianity foist upon them.I have no idea who Robert D. Morse is, but I really like the guy.

Morse, of Moorestown, N.J., wants to limit the total compensation of executives at Comcast Corporation - the nation's largest cable TV and broadband Internet company - to just $500,000 a year.

And because Morse holds 1,105 shares of stock, the Philadelphia-based company was forced to put his proposal up for a May 18 vote by its shareholders at the Wachovia Center.

His suggestion comes after Brian L. Roberts, Comcast's chairman and CEO, received a 36 percent increase in salary, bonus and other compensation in 2005 even as the company's shares fell 22 percent and Comcast imposed a 6 percent hike on cable TV subscribers.

Roberts took home $12.8 million last year - including a salary of $2.37 million, a bonus of $7.7 million and $2.7 million in other compensation. In 2004, he received $9.4 million total.

He wasn't the only Comcast executive to make more while shareholders earned less and cable customers paid more. The company's annual prospectus also lists five other officers who also received higher compensation.

Morse's reasoning for setting a ceiling for executive compensation is simple.

"It is possible for a person to enjoy a profitable and enjoyable life with the proposed amount, and even to underwrite their own retirement plan," he wrote.

"Assets are being constantly diverted for management's gain," he added. "Most asset gains are the result of a good product or service, produced by the workers, successful advertising, and acceptance by the public market. Just being in a management position does not materially affect these results...."

Ford Motor Co. and Coca Cola have already made similar changes in the way they pay their executives, Morse wrote.

Comcast's board of directors, as you might have guessed, is asking shareholders to reject the proposal, dredging out the age-old argument that it "would severely limit our ability to attract, motivate and retain senior executives."

Instead, the directors want to give their top officers even more money and have proposed a bonus package that could triple Roberts' $2.5 million base salary this year and more than double the salaries of other officers. Meanwhile, Comcast employees may get bonuses of as little as 2.5 percent.

Why should you root for Morse to win if, like me, you don't own a single share of Comcast stock?

Call it subscribers' revenge.

If you live anywhere near Philadelphia you are forced to be a Comcast customer and deal with its lousy service because it has a regional cable TV monopoly.

Comcast gets its monopoly in each Pennsylvania municipality in part by enlisting local governments as patsies. The municipalities get to levy a cable TV tax called a franchise fee based on a percentage of subscriber revenues - ostensibly to afford equipment for their own public access channels.

So whenever the cable company wants to raise its rates, the local government can't object without risking the loss of tax revenues. Comcast also has the nasty habit of hiring relatives of government officials, according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, my TV bill jumped nearly $3 a month this year for what Comcast calls "standard cable" - having ESPN, CNN and the like, not HBO or other premium and digital channels - from $47.45 to $50.40. The package include three ultra-right wing/fundamentalist Christian religious channels and two Spanish-langage channels, which I don't want but have no choice but to pay for.

As a liberal Jewish American, I resent being forced to subsidize religious channels I won't watch and foreign language channels that don't even offer English subtitles.

But that's just the way Comcast executives and others in the industry want it. They claim letting consumers choose their own channels won't lower rates and may force some stations out of business.

Think of the administrative headaches they would have if they had to create custom cable TV packages for each of their 21 million customers, then get all the monthly bills right, they've argued.

A recent national poll, however, found most cable subscribers want to pick their channels a la carte. The Federal Comunications Commission favors it as well.

Why have Comcast's top suits donated twice as much this year to federal political candidates and parties as their own trade association?So far this year, Comcast executives and Political Action Committees (PACs) have donated $680,000 to federal election campaigns and parties - more than double what the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has contributed.

Comcast also spent $490,000 lobbying last year, down from $3.24 million in 2004.

How much the company is spending in Pennsylvania politics is anybody's guess. Although the state requires political contributors to list their employers, its Internet database of donations does not let users sort the files that way. There is no database for lobbyist expenses.

By the way, Comcast shareholders defeated an ill-worded question last year that would have required the company to spell out in newspaper ads how much it spent in lobbying and campaign contributions at both the federal and state levels.

The directors argued against the measure, noting PAC and political contributions were made by executives as private individual donors not as corporate officers, which would be illegal under federal law. However, the directors did not address the corporation's direct lobbying costs in the proxy statement.


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