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

Saturday, September 02, 2006
Posted 9:49 PM by

Did Pa. ethics directors shame office?

Looks like the top two directors of the state Ethics Commission need to look up the definition of ethical office behavior based on a federal lawsuit filed by a fired employee.A fired former employee of the state Ethics Commission claims the agency's top two administrators harassed him in a federal lawsuit.

And in a bit of a switch, a state lawyer admits the pair did have a little fun at the ex-employee's expense with an ethnic-based joke, but deny there was any real malice behind it.

In a federal lawsuit filed in April, Kollin Harmon, who was fired in July 2004, said his picture was pasted onto a poster of the musical group the Village People and into a pig-shaped frame; writings appeared on his calendar implying he was romantically involved with a female colleague; and he was addressed as "K. Harmonowski."

He blames John J. Contino, the commission's executive director, and Robert P. Caruso, deputy executive director, for most of the acts.

Caruso often added "owski" or otherwise played with the surnames of agency employees, but did not intend any ethnic insensitivity, according to agency's legal response to the suit.

"There was a little bit of back and forth when Harmon first started, but not to the extent of what he's saying," Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Doyle, who represents the commission, told the Associated Press.

"Certainly he was never harassed by anybody, and he never expressed he was being harassed by anybody until he knew his job was at risk because of his performance."

Still, I'm uncomfortable with even the hint that the head of an agency that's supposed to investigate and judge other state officials misdeeds may have committed some of his own.


Friday, September 01, 2006
Posted 8:22 PM by

Christianity is Comcastic too

Comcast moved one of three Christian-themed station off its basic cable package and Christians are pissed. No one asked the rest of us what we think.Christians across Bucks County are up in arms and fighting mad about Comcast's channel realignment which moved the Eternal Word Television Network (ETWN) onto a digital channel.

The loss of the Catholic station from basic analog cable TV has sparked a petition drive and letter writing campaign from church groups countywide.

Noting the $35 per month cost difference between analog and digital cable TV, the Rev. Larry Crehan, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Bristol Township, told the Bucks County Courier Times, "We have some older people who are trying to pay taxes and survive on Meals on Wheels and the generosity of other families. They just can't afford to pay for digital TV."

I'll guess they'll just have to get along with the two other largely Christian-based channels, WBPH out of Bethlehem (Pa., that is) and WMCN out of Philly/Atlantic City.

That's two channels out of the 24 available on basic cable devoted to the same religion.

How fair is that?

I hate subsidizing your Christian programming when I'm not even of that faith. And I especially hate having any religion jammed down my throat.

Where's the cultural diversity in this? At least carry one station devoted to exploring other faiths, from Judaism and Islam, to Buddhism, Hinduism and Secular Humanism.

Or devote one to Atheists and just leave it blank.

For Christ's sake, we're not all Christians. Most of us are just willing to turn the other cheek.

Yet, Comcast is still trying to convert us, using our monthly bill as their collection plate.


Thursday, August 31, 2006
Posted 11:10 PM by

Why is Pa. still protecting bad doctors?

A state-run malpractice insurance program is covering the tracks of bad doctors by insisting on having the public court record sealed. But Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella refused its demand this week.After years of covering both courts and health care as a newspaper reporter, I became convinced that something happens to a lawyer when he first sits on the bench to turn him into a eunuch.

Every once in a while, however, one of the jurists around Pennsylvania must slip through an errant or drunk mohel and doesn't get gelded.

Take for example Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella, who proved himself a cut above this week without lifting his black robe.

Ciavarella refused to seal a $3 million settlement Wednesday in a medical malpractice case at the request of the state's Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund, or MCare Fund.

It's been a few years since I last covered a malpractice trial, but MCare is the new name of a state-required rider on the malpractice insurance fund all doctors and hospitals in Pennsylvania must pay into to cover claims of more than $1.5 million.

Tax money is also used to fund the extra malpractice insurance program, which is a "deputate of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department."

The settlement was filed in the case of Walter Bryk, 42, of Dupont, who died on March 27 after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery at Mercy Hospital in Scranton, according to the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre. In short, he got a bypass.

Bryk's widow, Amanda Bryk, filed suit against Dr. Kenneth Wilcox, the hospital and several other related entities after an autopsy showed Wilcox failed to properly "tie off" sutures he made in Bryk's heart. The sutures ruptured, killing Bryk instantly.

I've covered a similar lawsuit against a cardiac surgeon. What makes this case unusual is that neither the hospital, the doctor nor the widow requested the public record be sealed.

It was attorneys for the MCare Fund who insisted on it as part of the deal.

"I am opposed to any confidentiality and I'm opposed to any sealing of any record in any medical malpractice case," Judge Ciavarella said, according to a hearing transcript. "I believe the public has a right to know - (and) physicians who practice in this area have a right to know what the terms and conditions of any settlement are, and for that reason I will not agree to seal any record for any matters that come before me."

I also think the public has the right to know why the state Department of Insurance is protecting the reputation of bad doctors at taxpayer expense.

The state knows most hospitals bury their mistakes, literally, and let bad doctors continue to work on patients without moving against their medical licenses.Especially so, after Gov. Ed Rendell's malpractice reform task force found in 2002 that almost half of Pennsylvania hospitals did not report any violations by doctors that affected patient care.

By the way, I checked and no disciplinary action has been taken against Wilcox's medical license with the state Department of Health.


To learn how to avoid the worst doctors and lawyers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, click here.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Posted 10:09 PM by

N.J. monkeywrenches Exelon-PSEG merger

New Jersey's refusal to buckle under to Exelon-PSEG's demand for their merger may have nixed the deal. If completed, the company would have controlled more than half of the country's electricity production.The drive to create the nation's largest electric company by merging Exelon Corp., the parent of PECO, and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. is now less likely to happen because New Jersey regulators have refused to approve it.

All I can say is, thank you New Jersey!

Thanks especially to public advocate Ronald Chen, for doing due diligence and not buckling to the company's demand that the merger, which would create a monopoly on electric power generation for the Eastern U.S., go through.

That's something Pennsylvania regulators didn't do before granting their approval last year.

Although a decade of deregulation was supposed to yield more competition and lower prices, Pennsylvanians are paying more than ever before and would have been at Exelon-PSEG's mercy.

The probability of the deal going through now is no longer "more likely than not," Exelon admitted in a federal filing roday as it charged off $55 million in costs asssociated with the $17 billion merger/acquisition.

On a funny election-year aside, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced today that the state will get one-fifth of its electricity from windmills and water-powered renewable sources, doubling the amount of juice it currently buys from Wayne-based Community Energy Inc.

Note, I did not say Exelon, which produces most of its power from nuclear and coal-driven plants.


U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum referred to middle eastern terrorists and extremists as "Islamic fascists" during a luncheon at the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday.

Now the phrase is a national Republican buzzword, being used by even President George Bush.

There's only one problem. The description is completely inaccurate.

If U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum really wants to see a fascist, he need only look in the mirror.Fascists, like the Nazis, are right-wing believers in dictatorial powers. What the muslim terrorists want is more akin to a theocracy like Iran, where religion has the final say on everything and the mullahs rule.

They think their holy war or jihad will restore the international Islamic empire that was lost eight centuries ago.

It won't.

But neither will inaccurately recasting religious zealots as Nazis to the American public. That's a vision of the world more accurately depicting Santorum's ideal, not Osama bin Laden's.


Philadelphia's Committee of Seventy cannot impose city-only fundraising limitation on politicians who have yet to announce their candidacies for mayor, a judge ruled this week.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Gary S. Glazer did not explain his one-sentence decision issued Tuesday. A lawyer for the Committee of Seventy, Marianne Consentino, told the Associated Press the group "will be pursuing the case vigorously" but had not decided on its next step.

Philadelphia's Committee of Seventy cannot impose city campaign financing laws on politicians who have yet to declare their candidacies, a judge found Tuesday.City law says mayoral candidates may not accept more than $2,500 from an individual or $10,000 from a business partnership or political committee. But several people have been acting like candidates and raising money for a campaign without declaring that they are running.

Six potential Democratic candidates for mayor were named as defendants in the suit, but all except U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and labor leader John J. Dougherty were dropped because the others agreed to abide by the limits.

Hey, I give the city gang of 70 props for at least trying.

As I've said repeatedly, Pennsylvania election law currently sets no limits on how much a local or state-wide candidate can raise or where the money can come from, and his few rules on how it can be spent.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Posted 9:09 PM by

New era in whistleblowing

Former Lockheed Martin engineer Michael De Kort says he was left with no choice but to post his safety concerns about new Coast Guard boats on the Internet after government officials refused to heed his whistleblowing calls.Have Web cam, will whistleblow.

Tht could be the new business card for former Lockheed Martin engineer Michael De Kort, who claims the defense contractor is ignoring his safety complaints about a small fleet of boats built for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The ships, which were constructed as part of the Guard's Deepwater program, have blind spots in their on-board cameras and could have problems when faced with extreme hot and cold weather.

I won't venture a guess as to the veracity of his highly technical claims, but it wouldn't be the first time the Pentagon has turned a blind eye to a whistleblower rather than risk funding for a defense program or even worse, a Congressional investigation.

Not knowing where else to turn, De Kort did what no other whistleblower has done before. He came forward publicly, videotaping himself and then placed the video on the popular Web site on Aug. 3.

Is this the future of whistleblowing - Post a viral video on the Internet for the media to pick up and turn into a story about your allegations?"I had gone there to look at entertaining videos and saw that hundreds of thousands of people were visiting the site, and I thought that if there was something that was novel - maybe just the fact that I was doing it would be the story," De Kort said in the video.

It turned into a story today for ABC News, the Washington Post, CNN and more. So far, the video has been viewed 15,000 times.


Monday, August 28, 2006
Posted 11:32 PM by

Phone games

Am I crazy for giving more of my business to Cable TV giant Comcast, even though I'm unhappy with their service, just to get a year of cheaper unlimited local and long distance phone service?

For me switching to Comcast's new digital voice phone service makes cents, but does it make sense?I don't know if I'm a glutton for punishment, but tonight I agreed to switch to Comcast for phone service starting Oct. 1.

I'd love to hear from folks in the Philly area who already have it so I know what to expect from digital voice.

I already know what to expect from Comcast, unfortunately. I've been a customer of their's for six less-than-satisfactory years.

My TV service is fair at best, with frequent ghosting on one set (possibly traceable to the age of the TV's tuner), channel bleed through on other sets, and for the last two months the picture on every channel in my entire area seizes up for about five seconds every 10 minutes or so.

My cable modem has suffered intermittent outages over the years - some lasting for days - and has prompted repeated house call techs to scratch their heads over the poor quality signal making it into my apartment. (They've changed everything in here at least once.)

And unlike Verizon or even an electric company, which immediately notify the media whenever there's an outage, Comcast doesn't publicly admit to any problems - even when their nationwide.

Comcast will send a less experienced outsourced tech to my home at the drop of a hat, but it won't elevate an outage to one of its highly paid in-house techs unless a "tipping point" is reached. In my area, about 20 customers have to be out.

Things got so bad this year, that the company offered me their six-month, $20 new startup deal for Internet service to stay with them.

So why am I throwing more business their way? The answer is price.

Verizon doesn't offer fiber optic (FIOS) service in my area and I won't hold my breath waiting for it because Levittown, Pa., ain't exactly ritzy Newtown (which already has it). Yet, I'm still paying the baby Bell $56 a month for unlimited phone service, instead of the $35 I was promised for taking out the no-frills Verizon Freedom Value plan.

Sure, I could get Verizon's DSL service too, but it really is far slower than cable and locks you in at $30 per month for a year just for up to 3 Mbps downstream. (I get up to three times that with my cable modem and I work online.)

Comcast will offer me all three services for $99 a month total - about $113 with taxes and fees factored in. Without the Internet startup deal I'm getting until the end of October, I'd already be paying $96 a month.

That makes adding the phone service a no-brainer bargain at $17 more a month total. (I'll lose the final month of $20 Internet savings, but more than make it up by not paying Verizon.)

Of course, to get this deal, I had to threaten to switch to Cavalier telephone's DSL and phone service, which is poorly rated despite a great $60 monthly price. I also could have simply dropped my slightly enhanced TV service down to the bare basic minimum for a month in order to qualify ($52 vs. $47 monthly).

I didn't have to do it, though.

I lucked out and got a Comcast customer service representative who actually believes in customer service. She understood that if I switch, I may never come back. I previously had one company rep. refuse to give me the deal even when I threatened to pull Comcast's plug entirely.

As for the phone service, I'm very curious.

My brother switched and loves it. I can't tell the difference between calls from his house. My bro especially likes the feature that lets him forward his calls to his cell phone when he's away from home.

I'm planning on doing the same thing now that I'll be saving enough money to afford a cell phone contract instead of my no-frills, pay-as-you-go cell phone. (Comcast guarantees their $99 deal for a year, but doesn't lock you into a contract - Take that cell phone companies!)

I also would like to get Internet service via the cell phone - mostly to use my laptop away from home and to serve as a backup for when my cable modem goes down. (It's nearly as fast as DSL.)

Or I may just keep my old cell phone and take the estimated $40 monthly savings ($480 for the year) and do something foolish, like bank it.

We've got Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service at the office, so I'm used to its eccentricities. But I am curious what others have experienced with their new Comcast phone service.

Is it worth the price? And would you keep it if you had to pay $40 more next year, or just go out and find another service?


Sunday, August 27, 2006
Posted 11:16 AM by

Top cop: Pa.'s loyalty oath unconstitutional

Which is more unAmerican refusing to take a pledge of loyalty and allegiance or indoctrinating our youth?Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett has declared the state's McCarthy-era loyalty oath unconstitutional and ordered election officials to stop administering it to candidates for public office.

Phew. Finally, we're a safe haven for Socialists like me.

Just kidding.

While I do believe in Socialized medicine as well as a true safety net for the poor, infirm and elderly, I hardly think of those ideas as radical in this day and age, or even "subversive."

I do, however, advocate the use of force whenever possible. The force of public will, that is.

We are a nation of rebels and rejects. After winning independence from England, rich white Protestant men owned everything and set up the ground rules to their own benefit.

That's why I believe the most important document in 230 years of American history isn't the Declaration of Independence or even the Constitution, but the Bill of Rights.

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution took two years to get passed. It marked the founding fathers' true genius - their recognition that freedom is fluid and government will curtail it unless restrained by law.

Somebody should have done that with the loyalty pledge in the 1950s here in the State of Independence. Instead, we had to wait 55 years for the state's top cop to say it's illegal.

Yet, the 1951 law requiring the pledge remains on the books.

So do four bills (HR 227, HR 722, SR 97, SR 236) seeking to declare May 1 as "Loyalty Day," as Ike first declared it in 1958.

There's only one problem with that self-serving holiday.

It comes on "May Day," which isn't a Communist day of celebration as some radical right-wingers would have you think. It marked the beginning of Chicago's Haymarket Riot of 1886, where unionized workers bled for and eventually won an eight-hour workday.

Now that's something worth celebrating. Tell me something more American than the powerless defeating the powerful to gain a better life for themselves and their children?

Speaking of children, why are the kids of Pennsylvania residents still required by some schools to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" daily?

It started out as a Columbus Day tribute in 1892 and wasn't given official sanction until 1942. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a year later that students could not be forced to recite the Pledge as part of their daily routine.

I can see requiring immigrants to take it when they first become U.S. citizens, but to indoctrinate American children with it on a daily basis smacks of Hitler youth training or Communism.

And rather than learn from the mistakes of the past, some politicians are now trying to divide us yet again with a fake immigration emergency, a Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning and constant fear of terrorism.

A little revolution every now and then is healthy for a Democracy, especially when it happens at the ballot box.


This Week's Rants | The Daily Rant Archives

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.