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Corbett’s Love Affair With The Democrats: An Election Letter Back At Ya’

 Well, primary election day is almost here, and some of the races have gotten downright nasty. From disingenuous, mean-spirited campaign ads to a Democrat masquerading as a Republican accusing his opponent of being a Democrat (did you get all that?), there’s something to satisfy everyone’s entertainment needs.

 

Perhaps the ugliest race is the Democratic contest for Attorney General (an office that Party has never held), pitting a woman against a whiner: prosecutor Kathleen Kane and former congressman Patrick Murphy.  Murphy certainly can’t run on his record (there isn’t one), so instead has charged Kane with being a millionaire trucking executive. (Note: if you can figure out how being married to a trucking company owner would prevent a career prosecutor from being an effective AG, please let me know. Perhaps she would look the other way on the rampant truck-on-truck crime in Pennsylvania?)

 

Of particular concern to many is that Murphy, who as a congressman perfectly personified the deer-in-headlights legislator (remember the Hardball interview with Chris Matthews on the Iraq war?), is running for the state’s top law enforcement job despite never prosecuting a single criminal case in Pennsylvania. He will need all the help he can get to pull out a victory, and apparently that help has arrived. Sources tell Freindly Fire that elements of the Republican Party have been covertly (and even overtly) pulling out all the stops for the young doe.  And for good reason: they see him as infinitely easier to beat in November than an articulate (and better looking) female prosecutor.

 

And speaking of Republicans helping Democrats, for your reading pleasure we have a letter from Governor Tom Corbett pushing Steve Welch, the Obama-voting, Joe Sestak-supporting U.S. Senate candidate he personally endorsed (and strong-armed the Republican Party to do the same). Unfortunately for the Governor, his letter is being received by an ever-dwindling number of supporters, many of whom are flat-out rejecting his call to back Welch. From elected officials to the grassroots, they are so incensed by what Corbett has demanded of them (akin to Party treason) that they are openly supporting other candidates in the race. Welch is most likely heading for a second-place finish, and maybe even third, either of which would be an incredible embarrassment to Corbett and a severe blow to his ebbing credibility.  

 

Alienating the Party faithful in a mystifying way is not exactly a recipe for influencing people and making friends, a fact lost on this Governor.

 

So in the spirit of accuracy, it is Freindly Fire’s civic duty to correct the Governor’s letter to reflect the truth, though we will leave the bad sentence structure intact. Commentary in bold:

 

Dear Friend,
 
In less than two years we have turned the tide (by being just like Ed Rendell?), and are righting the wrongs of the liberal agenda here in Pennsylvania (yes, that same “liberal agenda” that, in fact, was passed by an overwhelmingly Republican state senate).  We brought a new way of thinking to Harrisburg after inheriting a recession and a $4.2 billion dollar budget deficit in 2011 (Sorry, Guv, but despite the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, those deficits still exist because no one—Republican or Democrat — will address the issues that led to those deficits.  Examples abound, such as the $400 million in I-80 tolls used to “balance” a prior budget — even though that interstate never became a toll road, and the money was never “repaid.”). While we have witnessed others in the past attempt to solve our state’s problems by spending more of your hard-earned tax dollars, I have employed a fiscally conservative approach to our economic issues (Yes, by finishing Rendell’s spending legacy of bailing out the Philadelphia Shipyard to build ships with no buyers, constructing a new stadium for the (obviously poor) New York Yankees’ AAA baseball team, funding the multimillion dollar Arlen Specter library,  spending Delaware River Port Authority funds (AKA taxpayer dollars) on projects having nothing to do with the bridges while tolls continue to increase…we’d love to continue, but column space is limited to 10,000 words).
 
Together with the General Assembly, we have put our state’s economy back on track (uhhh, the natural gas industry is leaving the state, in part because of no political leadership, and the unemployment rate has not measurably dropped), not by demonizing the private sector, but by lowering taxes (Really? The job-killing taxes haven’t been touched, such as the nation’s second-highest corporate tax and the 18 percent tax on every bottle of wine and booze to rebuild Johnstown from the flood — of 1936!), cutting government spending (let’s be honest — that’s only because the federal stimulus dollars dried up), balancing the budget on time and giving businesses the ability to create jobs and drive economic growth. 
 
Unfortunately, we have a government in Washington, D.C.  stuck in the same liberal trap that Pennsylvania was suffering in. (Sorry, can’t help it.  You aren’t supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. Where’s your brain at? Or, to be grammatically correct, Where’s your brain at, Genius?) We started the fight in 2010 by talking about real change and real reforms (Very, very true.  It was, and remains, all talk.) With your help and support, I was elected along with a Republican State Senate and House Majority, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey and 12 Republican congressmen to cut wasteful spending and promote economic growth. This year, we have to continue our efforts and send U.S. Senate candidate Steve Welch to join the fight! (The irony is just dripping here. Pennsylvania elects all those Republicans to stop the “liberal” Obama agenda — and Corbett is pushing an Obama-voter who was, until fairly recently, a Democrat. Go figure).
 
I endorsed Steve because he has the passion and ability to take our shared Pennsylvania values (Another truism, as Welch’s vote for Obama helped the President win Pennsylvania, and Corbett has acted more like a Democrat than Republican) to Washington, D.C. and get our federal government’s reckless spending back under control.  He is a businessman who has worked tirelessly to achieve the American dream, creating a successful living for himself and creating jobs for hundreds of others.  In the private sector, Steve has helped young entrepreneurs achieve their own dreams of launching a successful small business (In keeping with the “dream” theme, who in their right mind could possibly dream that endorsing an Obama-supporter would rally the Republican Party?)
 
Steve is running for the U.S. Senate because he believes in the same values you and I do! (Wait, whose values? Obama’s or Sestak’s? Or both? And do most in the GOP share those values? Admittedly, the Party’s pick for Prez is the architect of government healthcare, but still…). Steve could no longer sit back and watch as President Obama and Senator Bob Casey continue to spend our way into oblivion and add more debt onto the backs of future generations (Damn! If only Welch didn’t vote for Obama, that line may have worked!!). Steve wants to bring fiscal responsibility back to Washington, D.C. and help others achieve the American dream, as he has. (Unfortunately for Corbett and Welch, that’s not going to happen. There are no points for second (or third) place.  Sorry, Bob Casey — it doesn’t look like Christmas is coming early for you.)
 
Remember that we have a great slate of statewide candidates including Steve Welch – David Freed for Attorney General, John Maher for Auditor General and Diana Irey Vaughan for Treasurer – who need your support over the next few days.   You can visit www.pagop.org to learn how you can help. 
 
Most importantly, I hope you will join me on April 24thand cast your ballot for Steve Welch for U.S. Senate and our entire statewide team! (Too bad Democrats can’t vote in the Republican primary, since that would at least give your man a fighting chance…)
 
Sincerely, 

Tom Corbett
Governor (well, at least until 2014…)

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

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April 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm Comments (0)

Rendell As Inquirer Owner? Might As Well Be Philly Enquirer

A Jerry Maguire-like treatise for how to resurrect the media’s credibility

 

Famed political strategist James Carville once referred to Pennsylvania as two major cities with Alabama in between.  What an insult to Alabama.

 

The folks in the nation’s fifth-largest state — all of them — are the backwards ones, the sad result of refusing to hold their leaders accountable for broken campaign promises and abject failures. All the while, their neighboring states — AKA “the competition” — continue to make gains at Pennsylvania’s expense.

 

Ohio and West Virginia are successfully courting natural gas and oil companies, which are beginning to exit Pennsylvania. Indiana is thriving after enacting comprehensive statewide school choice and becoming a Right To Work state, where compulsory unionism is no required as a condition of employment.

 

New Jersey (yes, Jersey!) can woo companies across the river because of faith that a real leader, Chris Christie, is righting the ship.  Everyone else on the planet can buy liquor easier and cheaper than Pennsylvanians.  And corruption, both criminal and institutionalized, remains rampant, killing optimism and trampling the hope that you can beat City Hall.

 

From Ed Rendell to Tom Corbett (is there a difference?), a lack of leadership has left Pennsylvania on the precipice, its citizens staring into the abyss of permanent mediocrity, paralyzed by fear to take the risks necessary to forge ahead. Such a malaise is anathema to employers looking for economic stability, a less hostile atmosphere and a better educational system.

 

While that lack of leadership is inexcusable, there is another, even more important factor as to why the state finds itself in such a precarious situation: a media that has sold its soul, forsaking its most basic mission of holding everyone accountable, with a “no sacred cows” approach. For far too long, stories that needed to be told were relegated to the dustbin. And unsavory politicians and business leaders counted on that. Without an aggressive press, it was, and remains, the Wild West where bad guys operate with impunity.

 

There is no better example of the media’s fall from grace than that of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Once a paper of national significance that took a bulldog approach to its reporting, it has since become a shell of its former self, an also-ran full of AP feeds and local fluff stories of virtually no interest.

 

The Inky really jumped the tracks was when it was “led” by Brian Tierney, who, along with investors, paid over half a billion for the paper (and the Daily News) in 2006.

Mired in debt, Tierney did the unthinkable — he approached then-Governor Rendell for a taxpayer-funded bailout to keep the papers afloat in 2009, a story that Freindly Fire broke ( http://freindlyfirezone.com/home/item/43-possible-inquirer-bailout-draws-ire ) and was picked up by the Wall Street Journal in its harshly-worded editorial “Bad News In Philadelphia — The Worst Bailout Idea So Far: Newspapers.”

 

WSJ Link

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123353263226537457.html

 

 

Predictably, Rendell was ready and willing to lend that helping hand.  But as negative fallout for the bailout plan grew, the deal fell apart and the papers filed for bankruptcy.

 

Despite what common sense unquestionably tells us — that a taxpayer-funded newspaper would in fact be an “adjunct of the state,” as the WSJ so adroitly described it — the players in that ill-fated bailout attempt saw nothing wrong with their actions.

 

Thankfully, Tierney is out of the picture, having lost the papers to an investor group who held much of the original debt.  But incomprehensibly, the situation has come full circle. Now the current owners want out, and it has been reported that none other than Ed Rendell has been approached to put together an investor group to possibly buy the papers.

 

Really?  Ed Rendell?  How is that even remotely possible?

 

Where is the journalistic integrity in working with the very man who stood cocked, ready to unleash millions in taxpayer funds to bail out an “independent” media entity?  It’s no secret that it has become increasingly difficult for papers to make a profit in the age of The New Media, but having Rendell as your “Go-To” man underscores just how desperate the situation has become.

 

Taking marching orders from elected officials destroys the very essence of being a journalist and jeopardizes the unique constitutional protections afforded to media members.  Sure, Ed Rendell is a private citizen now, but his mentality — how he sees the role of the government working hand-in-hand with the media — has undoubtedly not changed.

 

But the behavior of the Inquirer’s ownership should come as no surprise, given that it recently accepted a $2.9 million loan from the City of Philadelphia to assist the company move to a new headquarters. Yes, the same city, the same Mayor and the same City Council that the newspapers are supposed to be objectively covering.  Is nothing scared anymore?

 

The last thing the region needs is an investor group led by political insiders and ideologically-supercharged individuals with aggressive personal agendas.  As painful as it would be for the thousands of hard-working folks at the those newspapers, it would be better for the entire entity to close its doors than be associated with folks who may, at any given time, make a pitch for public financing.

 

And while past performance is not indicative of future results, it’s a damn good bet.

 

Better to have no paper at all than one that prostrates itself at the feet of the very people it purports to objectively cover.  And since the Philadelphia newspapers have been anything but a watchdog over the last six years, churning out less than a handful of quality investigations, the bad guys would see virtually no difference, since they’re not exactly sweating investigative reporters knocking on their doors.

 

 

Where The Media Went Wrong
The sad reality is that The Fourth Estate has abdicated its sacred responsibility of keeping American institutions honest and true. No longer respected as the entity which holds feet to the fire and follows investigations wherever they may lead, the American media has instead become part and parcel of the Establishment. Too many journalists play the “go-along, get-along” game — some because it’s easy, others because they want to be liked, still others who are afraid they will lose “access” if they ask the tough questions.

 

These people have forgotten that their profession does not lend itself to having “friends,” since nothing and no one should ever be off the table. The result of these close alliances is blatant conflicts of interest, both personal and professional.  Once that line is crossed, it is nearly impossible to return.

 

No medium is immune from this malady.  Those in television, radio, newspaper and internet are all complicit. As an entity, the media has fallen down on its most basic journalistic responsibilities, losing its integrity, and ultimately its credibility, along the way.

Consequently, the public’s view of the media is at an historic low.  And while complaints abound that the media is biased, which to a certain extent it is, this is but a symptom of a much greater illness.  A slant towards liberalism or conservatism is wrong, to be sure, but inherent laziness and, by extension, incompetence, are the first problems that must be rectified. Competence and vision will trump bias every time.

 

Resurrecting the media’s image is a Herculean task. And when the free press reaches the point where it is no longer believed, it stands on the edge of becoming completely irrelevant.

 

Whether it is nauseating nonstop coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s funeral procession or feel-good fluff stories in our nation’s pre-eminent newspapers, the lack of hard-hitting investigative reporting and aggressive interviews with top national and international leaders is appalling. Producers and editors are constantly looking over their shoulders at the competition, choosing to push out content to be like “every other station,” passing on golden opportunities to be different, to be journalists to be leaders.

 

These people spend more time trying to keep their jobs than actually doing them.

 

There is a certain irony here. If media executives produced the quality work that the American people expect, their ratings would skyrocket, and advertisers would pay a premium.  The biggest myth being propagated about the bankruptcy of media companies is that they are victims of the economy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

They are victims of their own ineptitude.

 

Americans still have an unquenchable thirst for the news, but they are increasingly tuning out the mainstream media because the content is utterly lacking of substance.

 

The solution is simple — it’s just not easy. Nothing and no one should be off the table.  Not politicians, government officials, businessmen, media personalities, sports stars, nor celebrities. With no agenda except the truth, the media should pursue stories with no boundaries and no restrictions.

 

*****

Americans don’t gravitate to question marks, but exclamation points.  It’s time to put the exclamation point back in the American press, not through new technologies and gimmicks, but by pursuing the only thing that matters: the truth.

 

As the voice in the classic baseball movie Field Of Dreams commanded, “Build it and they will come.” In the same way, if the media gets off its duff and starts producing content worthy of the world’s best press, readers and viewers will come — in unprecedented numbers.

 

Unfortunately, if Ed Rendell takes over Philadelphia’s newspapers, the ballpark will be empty before the new game even begins.

 

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

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February 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm Comments (2)

Chris Christie Knocks Out Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn had had enough. A festering sore had turned into a gaping wound, and the leader of the fifth-largest state took off the gloves. It was time to fight.

Given Illinois’ battered economy and huge deficits, it would be reasonable to think Quinn was about to wage war on the things that had created the mess.

But that would have required hard work and difficult decisions. 

Instead, Quinn chose to defend the status quo (which, being Illinois, means skyrocketing taxes and reckless spending) by leveling a broadside at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had the audacity to run a marketing campaign in Illinois aimed at winning over that state’s overtaxed companies.

But Christie had just gotten started. Exuding confidence that his state is on the right track, he then traveled to Illinois, meeting with corporate leaders receptive to his vision of bettering a business climate through spending reductions, pro-growth initiatives, and a pledge not to raise taxes.

Predictably, Quinn took issue with Christie’s aggressive approach. “I don’t believe …governors should be kicking each other in the shins,” he said.

Of course not.  That just wouldn’t be politically correct. And making the sin mortal is that Christie’s actions invoked competition among states.

It’s truly a sad note when competition — the bedrock of America which created the most prosperous nation in history — is reduced to “kicking someone in the shins.”

Instead of fixing his state the right way, though, Quinn would rather criticize a governor who dared to put the interests of his people over government; a leader who understands that freeing business from the shackles of government leads to lower costs, increased productivity, and the only thing that can jumpstart an economy — jobs.

                                                                                                        *****

Under Quinn’s reign as Governor and Lt. Governor, Illinois’ situation has become dire.  Its deficit this year alone is $15 billion — so bad that it can’t pay its vendors.  And that doesn’t take into account the incomprehensible $80 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, earning Illinois first place in that category.

So of course, the answer for Quinn and the Democrats in power (who control both legislative chambers by significant margins) is twofold:

1)      Borrow $15 billion to pay the $15 billion owed.  The only problem is that the deficit will still stand at… $15 billion. Maybe that’s Illinois’ “new math,” but the fact remains that even if the deficit is financed at a lower rate, the amount owed hasn’t changed.

2)      Raise taxes at a staggering rate.

To state that Quinn accomplished Point Number Two is a masterpiece of an understatement. He has just signed into law a whopping 67 percent increase in the state income tax, along with similar jumps in business taxes.  When combined with national taxes, Illinois now has the fourth-highest overall corporate income tax in the industrialized world.

The key difference between the two Governors is that Christie can attract businesses to his state, despite New Jersey also having one of the worst business climates in the nation.  Why? Because Christie is turning things around by running his state like a business, mandating that it operates within the same constraints as the private-sector: control labor costs, increase efficiencies, and don’t spend money that isn’t there.

Even though he is vastly outnumbered by the tax-and-spend Democrats who control the Jersey legislature, Christie’s bully pulpit, take-no-prisoners attitude has already paid dividends: the Garden State is moving in the right direction on the business climate list.

 And that has business taking note.

*****

Here’s what leaders like Quinn don’t understand. 

If they were confident in their ideas and vision, they wouldn’t have to whine about other elected officials “poaching” business in their state. It’s why governors in South Carolina, Arizona, Texas and yes, even New Jersey, don’t worry about such things. Their message is simple: we’re in the game all the way, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get — and keep — you here. 

The Founding Fathers inherently knew that competition among states was necessary for the Republic to thrive, and designed the country accordingly.  That vision worked then, and, if we don’t bow to political correctness, it can work now.

Governors can and should be competing with their counterparts, and not just for a meaningless Super bowl bet.  But most don’t, either because their business climate is too hostile, or they are worried about bruising egos.

In either case, that amounts to unacceptable failure. And with the volatile electorate demanding solutions, not excuses, that’s not a good position in which to be. 

*****

“I don’t know why anybody would listen to him,” Quinn said of Christie. I don’t need that kind of advice from that guy.”

But since his state is losing another congressional seat because Americans are finding greener pastures elsewhere — a trend that will now accelerate because of Quinn’s mammoth new taxes — here’s a piece of advice to the Governor:

Maybe you should. 

Common sense dictates that people gravitate to places they sense are on the right track. And for the first time in a generation, Americans are viewing New Jersey as a land of opportunity, not just the butt of late-night jokes.

Which has Chris Christie smiling, because he knows what Pat Quinn doesn’t: the real joke is on Illinois, and New Jersey will be laughing all the way to the bank.

 Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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February 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm Comments (0)

PA Business Leaders Sell Out Orie In Supreme Court Race

PA Business Leaders Sell Out Orie In Supreme Court Race

BY CHRIS FREIND

If there’s one word to describe the Pennsylvania business community, it’s consistent, as in consistently pathetic.

The state’s business leaders — and that description is a stretch— once again dropped the political ball and, in all likelihood, will be the biggest losers after next month’s state Supreme Court election —
one of the most important in decades. With the court deadlocked 3-3, the winner will shape the court’s direction for years to come. Republican Joan Orie Melvin and Democrat Jack Panella, both judges on the Superior Court, are duking it out.

Panella has outraised Orie Melvin by a wide margin, thanks to huge financial support from labor unions and trial lawyers. While Orie Melvin is certainly still a viable candidate, it’s no secret that whoever touts the largest warchest has a distinct advantage.

Why the large gap between the two? Enter the business community, or, more accurately, lack thereof.

Pennsylvania’s business leaders, for the most part, have sat on their hands, preferring the view from the sidelines, as is virtually always the case.

While Orie Melvin struggles to keep pace, Panella enjoys the nonstop support of the archenemies of business. Why?

Because when it comes to politics, the business community is lazy, incompetent, and clueless. That is a broad stroke, to be sure, for there are executives who innately understand what’s at stake (check out those in Luzerne County in northeastern PA) but courageous and politically savvy business folk are definitely the exception.

Pennsylvania business leaders make many excuses for their failures, but most common among their inane babble is that they “just want to run their companies, and don’t have time for politics.”

Two points:

1)That’s a cop-out. Make time. Organized labor and the trial lawyers do.
2)Business is governed by politics. Period. Every aspect of business is conducted in accordance with the political environment: regulations, health care, liability, taxes, etc. The list never ends.

What part of this can’t these guys understand?

Let’s make this simple.

If one candidate is strongly backed by labor and lawyers, then a business leader should support the other person, financially and otherwise. And no, it’s not beneath you to host a coffee klatch, put up a yard sign, form a political action committee, or, God forbid, stuff an envelope. Those “pedestrian” things win elections.

But despite business’ complete disregard for the political process, they are always the first to complain when something doesn’t go their way.

Which, this being Pennsylvania – home of the worst business climate in the nation – is an everyday occurrence.

Newsflash: if you bang your head against a wall nine times, you will get the same result on the tenth try.

But this incomprehensible behavior should come as no surprise.

The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, chaired by David Cohen, one of Ed Rendell’s biggest fundraisers and closest advisers, actually thought the recent 100 per cent increase in the Philadelphia sales tax was a good thing. So much for the Chamber’s stated goal of sensible tax policy.

Where was the business community when the Fair Share Act came up for a vote not long ago (a bill that would have limited a defendant’s liability to only his share of responsibility)? Nonexistent, because they naively believed Gov. Rendell’s campaign pledge that he would sign it. Instead, he vetoed it.

Unlike business leaders, the trial lawyers didn’t need a proctologist to find their head. And guess what? They won.

We own the second highest corporate net income tax in the country. Onerous and often unnecessary regulations placed on our companies by unaccountable bureaucrats with no real-world experience stifle job growth, innovation and productivity. And instead of being phased out, our capital stock and franchise tax has found new life.

But where is the outcry regarding the state’s ever increasing taxes, which, by the way, result in companies and jobs fleeing Pennsylvania in droves? Nowhere to be heard.

And there is barely a whimper at the prospect of taxing to death those companies drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a blossoming industry which, if not destroyed by our politicians, will create thousands upon thousands of good-paying, long-term jobs.

The manufacturing economy is little more than a distant memory, and our hostile legal climate has increased the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania to the point that we are virtually dead last in America for job creation.

The message should be absolutely clear — elected officials will act only when these issues become ones they cannot escape, whether at debates between candidates as they run for re-election, at meetings with community leaders in their districts, visiting a coffee shop, or giving a speech to a service club.

But that won’t happen unless the attitude of business changes. And since attitude reflects leadership, don’t hold your breath.

So if Mr. Panella happens to win, watch for the business community to emerge yelling and screaming after the court upholds its first ludicrous jackpot jury award or company-killing regulation.

And when they do, I have a message for those hypocrites: Look in the mirror, and don’t let the door hit you in the derrière as you fade into oblivion.

Chris Freind, author of “Freindly Fire,” is an independent columnist and investigative reporter whose readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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October 8, 2009 at 1:18 pm Comments (8)

Rendell: Always Sticking His Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong

Rendell: Always Sticking His Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong

Gov. Should Not Try To “Partner” With The Media

BY CHRIS FREIND

Ed Rendell just doesn’t get it.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor has always had a long history of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, but an article in the Aug. 24 New Yorker magazine confirms that Rendell either doesn’t know about the line between government and the media — or just doesn’t care.

It was reported that Rendell had approached billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year to buy the financially ailing Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. Mr. Rendell was quoted as saying, “We discussed a few things, and I tried to convince him to come down and buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News.”

After being questioned on his statement, a Rendell spokesman said the governor was just kidding.

Sure he was.

After all, joking about the Inquirer’s demise ranks among the funniest things in the world.

If Fast Eddie didn’t have a track record of wildly overstepping his boundaries, maybe his “joke” excuse would be believable.

Consider:

Earlier this year, Rendell publicly scolded the Sunoco oil company for its decision to lay off 750 workers, calling the company’s action “unconscionable.” Yet he didn’t say a word about the 3,000 layoffs — four times the number at Sunoco — that Comcast has executed in the past year.

Could that disparity have something to do with the amount of campaign money both entities contributed to the governor?

Since the 2002 election, Sunoco’s political action committee (PAC) contributed $55,000 to Rendell.

During that same time period, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives, have donated $634,350, with Comcast spending an additional $100,000 on the gov’s inauguration festivities in 2007.

But beyond the money trail, the larger question is why a governor is budding into the business affairs of a private-sector company. One of the fundamental principles of this country – at least until recently – is that businesses be allowed to operate free of government interference. Public officials and bureaucrats have no right to force their way into affecting corporate policy because they happen to disagree with a company’s internal business decisions.

Worse than that, however, has been Rendell’s foray into the news media.

The Fourth Estate, as the media is known, is afforded constitutional protections that allow it to be the independent watchdog for America. Once the line is crossed between a media entity and a government official discussing a partnership, all credibility is irreparably lost, on both sides. Attempting to say that such a close relationship would not affect unbiased and objective reporting is simply ludicrous.

But that’s exactly what Rendell has been doing.

Before the current owners of the Inquirer and Daily News bought the papers in 2006, the governor had approached billionaire Ron Burkle, urging him to make a bid. Burkle, a huge player in Democratic politics, contributed $10,000 to Rendell, and another $100,000 to the state Democratic Party. Additionally, he had raised over $1 million for Hillary Clinton.

Oh, and he also contributed $20,000 to the Philadelphia Future PAC, which makes this deplorable situation come full circle.

The Philadelphia Future PAC pumped $471,000 into the Rendell coffers, and is registered at the offices of the Ballard Spahr— the law firm where Rendell worked before being elected governor.

The PAC’s treasurer is David Cohen, arguably the governor’s closest ally, and Executive Vice President at Comcast. Cohen, who has contributed $80,000 to Mr. Rendell, is a longtime Rendell confidant and fundraiser, serving as chief of staff when Mr. Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia. Prior to joining Comcast, Mr. Cohen served as chairman of Ballard Spahr. Cohen’s wife Rhonda donated $156,000 to the governor.

Ballard, which provides legal counsel to Comcast, has come under intense media and legislative scrutiny for the frequency and amount of the secretive no-bid contracts it has received under the Rendell administration. The firm has contributed $481,000 to the governor’s campaigns, with its attorneys donating an additional half million dollars. The address on Gov. Rendell’s campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia — where Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

Mr. Cohen also serves as chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.  Despite Mr. Rendell’s unprecedented intrusion into the private business sector by his attack on Sunoco, a major Philadelphia employer and chamber member, no action was taken by the chamber to defend the company.

See a pattern here?

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when yours truly broke the story earlier this year that Rendell was engaged in talks with Brian Tierney, publisher of the Inquirer and Daily News, for a taxpayer-funded bailout for the papers. At Gov. Rendell’s request, meetings also took place that explored the two largest state pension funds bailing out the newspapers.

After a public uproar, Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the papers, filed for bankruptcy.

Despite criticism from the Wall Street Journal, which called taxpayer-bailouts for newspapers “the worst bailout idea so far,” George Will’s syndicated column, and the Dick Morris’ New York Times bestseller Catastrophe, Mr. Rendell still doesn’t see anything wrong with exerting his influence in the private sector.

Undoubtedly, he would have been better off focusing on the duties for which he was elected. If he had, Pennsylvania wouldn’t be facing a $3.2 billion deficit, and his approval rating wouldn’t stand at a dismal 39%.

The governor’s repeated efforts to be an integral part of the very media charged with covering his performance is repugnant. If he wants to be part of a newspaper upon leaving office, good for him. But until that time, he needs to do his job— and hopefully the rest of the media will do the same.

Chris Freind, author of “Freindly Fire,” is an independent newspaper columnist whose readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. His home publication is The Philadelphia Bulletin. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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August 21, 2009 at 7:26 am Comments (0)

Fire Sale Of State Building Going To Rendell Backer?

Fire Sale Of State Building Going To Rendell Backer?

Auditor General Is Reviewing Rendell Administration’s DGS Sale Agreement
By Chris Freind

Eyebrows have been raised concerning the possibility that some of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s high-dollar donors may be buying state property at “fire sale” prices in a depressed real estate market. The prospective new owner of the State Office Building in Pittsburgh is affiliated with a company whose two top executives contributed $221,000 to Gov. Rendell’s campaigns.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, the commonwealth’s elected fiscal watchdog, announced he was reviewing the Pennsylvania Department of General Service’s (DGS) agreement to sell the State Office Building in Pittsburgh to River Vue Associates for $4.6 million because the transaction amounted to a “fire sale.” DGS is part of the executive branch of the Rendell administration.

River Vue Associates is an affiliate of Millcraft Industries of Canonsburg, Washington County.

Millcraft chairman Jack Piatt has contributed $186,000 to Democratic Gov. Rendell’s campaigns, and Lucas Piatt, Millcraft’s Vice President, has donated $35,000 to Mr. Rendell.

River Vue would acquire the State Office Building early next year and possibly turn it into residential units with some hotel, retail or other types of space, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

In a letter hand-delivered to DGS Secretary James Creedon, Mr. Wagner said the Department of the Auditor General’s Office of Special Investigations would be seeking all available information pertaining to the sale, including lease terms and associated build-out costs at all privately owned buildings where DGS has relocated, or plans to relocate, 800 workers from at least 22 state agencies.

“I continue to believe this is the worst possible deal for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Wagner said. “It makes no sense for the commonwealth to sell this prized asset — the signature building of state government in Western Pennsylvania — for the lowest possible price during the most depressed real-estate market in decades.”

Mr. Wagner asked DGS a month ago to take the State Office Building off the market until economic conditions improve, after another developer, the Buncher Co., withdrew its bid of $4.5 million. As an alternative to selling the building, the auditor general suggested the state investigate the possibility of using federal funds for green technology to rehabilitate the 52-year-old structure.

The 274,000-square-foot building occupies a prime, 1.3-acre location in downtown Pittsburgh, at the entrance to Point State Park, and offers sweeping views of the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Along with the Gateway Center complex, the State Office Building is a symbol of the post-Word War II downtown renaissance envisioned by David L. Lawrence, the late mayor of Pittsburgh, who served as Pennsylvania governor from 1959-63.

“The land alone is worth more than the sale price,” Mr. Wagner said. He noted the state has agreed to purchase the City of Pittsburgh’s Municipal Courts Building, which is one-fifth the size of the State Office Building and is situated in a less desirable location, under the Liberty Bridge and next to the Allegheny County Jail, for $9 million.

The State Office Building sale is a bad deal, Mr. Wagner said, because there would not be enough profits from the sale to offset moving expenses and pay for the first year of leases at multiple locations in downtown Pittsburgh, saddling taxpayers with an additional spending burden.

“During these difficult economic times, with the state facing multibillion-dollar deficits for the next few years, we should not be saddling hard-working Pennsylvania residents with additional financial burdens they cannot afford,” Mr. Wagner said.

“In addition to being financially wasteful, it would be ludicrous for Secretary Creedon to decentralize state offices in Pittsburgh while other government agencies are moving to centralize other functions in order to save money,” Mr. Wagner said. “Under the terms of this sale, the only certain winners are the buyer of the building and the landlords of the office space where state employees will be relocated.”

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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March 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm Comments (0)

Comcast and Rendell: A High-Octane Connection

Comcast and Rendell: A High-Octane Connection

Conflicts of Interest Pervade the Relationship

BY CHRIS FREIND

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s recent decision to criticize the Sunoco oil company for laying off 750 workers raises a number of intriguing questions. While the governor saw fit to hold a press conference solely to excoriate Sunoco, calling the company’s decision “unconscionable,” he has been notably silent concerning 3,000 layoffs — four times the Sunoco amount — which Comcast has executed in the past year.

Since the governor’s election in 2002, SUN PAC, the Sunoco political action committee, has contributed $55,000 to Mr. Rendell, with Sunoco employees donating an additional $2650.

During that same span, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives donated $634,350 to the governor. Additionally, Comcast spent at least $100,000 on Mr. Rendell’s inauguration festivities in 2007, being designated “Benefactor” by the governor, the highest level of contributor.
The David Cohen Factor

The governor’s closest ally at Comcast is Executive Vice President David Cohen, who has contributed $80,000 to Mr. Rendell. Mr. Cohen is a longtime Rendell confidante and fundraiser, serving as Chief of Staff when Rendell was Mayor of Philadelphia. Prior to joining Comcast, Cohen was Chairman of the Ballard Spahr law firm, where Mr. Rendell worked while campaigning for governor. Ballard, which provides legal counsel to Comcast, has come under intense media and legislative scrutiny for the frequency and amount of secretive no-bid contracts it has received under the Rendell Administration. In addition, it received almost $800,000 for work on the Pennsylvania Turnpike without any contract.

Ballard Spahr LLP has contributed $481,000 to the governor’s campaigns, with its attorneys donating an additional half million dollars. Also, the Philadelphia Future political action committee (PAC), registered at the Ballard offices and whose treasurer is Mr. Cohen, pumped $471,000 into the Rendell coffers.

The address on Gov. Rendell’s campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia. Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

Cohen also serves as Chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Despite Mr. Rendell’s unprecedented intrusion into the private business sector by his attack on Sunoco, a major Philadelphia employer and Chamber member, no action was taken by the Chamber to defend the company.

The Comcast High Speed Money Connection

The Comcast money trail doesn’t end with Mr. Cohen. Ralph Roberts, Comcast’s founder, his son Brian, who serves as Chairman and CEO, and several other executives are strong Rendell backers. The elder Roberts contributed $52,500, and the son, $48,500. Comcast Chief Operating Office Stephen Burke donated $32,000.

According to Department of State records, the spouses of Comcast executives also made high-dollar contributions to Mr. Rendell. Rhonda Cohen donated $156,000, and the Roberts’ wives, Suzanne and Aileen, respectively, combined for another $25,250. Gretchen Burke contributed $5000.

The Comcast Corporation PAC contributed $93,500 to Rendell campaigns.

Rendell: On The Comcast Payroll

In addition to his $145,000 salary as governor, Mr. Rendell has also worked as a part-time football commentator for Comcast, earning a reported $20,000 per year. This arrangement has led many to question the apparent conflict, but the governor simply brushes off such criticism. As governor, Mr. Rendell has also collected a paycheck from the University of Pennsylvania, where Cohen serves as the Chairman-elect on the Board of Trustees, for his services as a lecturer. The university is a recipient of substantial state aid.

Comcast Aid: An End Run Around the Legislature

In constructing its new Center City headquarters, Comcast executives lobbied the state government for financial assistance. The firm sought a Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) designation for its building, which would have provided local and state tax relief. Despite the fact that KOZ’s are intended to spur development in areas of blight, not prosperous Center City locations, the $30 billion company almost succeeded with the help of Gov. Rendell. Had the Comcast effort prevailed, the company would have been exempt from state and local business taxes until 2015.

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania legislature defeated the efforts of Comcast and the governor.

The governor then made an end-run around the legislature, funneling nearly $43 million in taxpayer money to aid Comcast and pay for infrastructure near the Comcast building, prompting outrage from many. Comcast’s direct incentives were nearly $13 million.

The economic development funds equated to roughly 10% of the building’s cost.

A Cynical Public

At a time when political corruption trials, pay to play scandals and conflicts of interest are rampant, polls show a public with an increasingly cynical view of their government and elected officials. The Pennsylvania legislature has responded by introducing a number of bills aimed at how state contracts are awarded.

Under the Rendell Administration, over $1 billion in no-bid contracts have been awarded.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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March 28, 2009 at 2:15 pm Comments (0)

A Recap Of Ballard’s $773K No-Contract Legal Work

A Recap Of Ballard’s $773K No-Contract Legal Work
By Chris Freind, The Bulletin
In 2007, Ballard Spahr, Gov. Ed Rendell’s former law firm, performed $773,000 of state legal work without a contract.

Normally, a contract must be negotiated and executed before any work for the commonwealth can be performed. Because no contract was in place,  however, the firm had no way of receiving compensation. Consequently, it had to sign a  “Compromise, Settlement and Release” agreement initiated by the state Department of Transportation to receive payment retroactively.

While state law allows for work of an urgent nature to be performed without a contract, questions have been raised as to how the turnpike privatization initiative qualified an “urgent” matter, especially since the governor’s plan had been met with resistance in the legislature and had little chance of passage.

The hourly rates of Ballard’s no-contract legal work varied based on seniority. Firm Chairman Arthur Makadon billed $637.50/hour, with partners Ken Jarin and Adrian King Jr. billing $531.25/hour and $403.75/hour, respectively.

Mr. Makadon, a close friend of the governor, has contributed $87,500 to his campaigns. Mr. Jarin is listed as the “relationship partner” on the $773,000 project.  He is a longtime confidante and fundraiser to Mr. Rendell, having contributed $90,000 to the governor’s coffers.  He also serves as treasurer to the Democratic Governor’s Association, an entity that has contributed over $1.5 million to Mr. Rendell.

Mr. Jarin is married to Robin Wiessmann, who at the time of the Turnpike leasing project was serving as state treasurer.  Her office issued payments for the Ballard invoices. Adrian King Jr., served as the governor’s deputy chief of staff and as a cabinet member prior to rejoining Ballard as a partner.

The Ballard firm, a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), contributed $481,000 to Gov. Rendell’s campaigns. The Philadelphia Future Political Action Committee (PAC), registered at the Ballard offices in Philadelphia and whose treasurer is David Cohen, former Ballard chairman and former chief of staff to then-Mayor Rendell, contributed $470,000.  Mr. Cohen donated $80,000, and his wife, Rhonda, contributed $156,000 to Rendell campaigns. Ballard associates contributed nearly a half million more dollars to Mr. Rendell.

There is no limit to how much an individual or an LLP can contribute to state candidates.  The majority of law firms are LLPs.

Additionally, on Pennsylvania Department of State campaign filings, the address of Gov. Rendell’s campaign treasurer is the 51st Floor of 1735 Market St. in Philadelphia.  The floor is occupied entirely by Ballard Spahr.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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February 11, 2009 at 9:56 am Comments (0)

Port Authority: $11 Million in Non-Bridge Projects

Port Authority: $11 Million in Non-Bridge Projects

DRPA Still Can’t Afford to Repair Bridges, but Funds 2008 Army-Navy game and historic house

BY CHRIS FREIND

The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) resumed its controversial “economic development” program yesterday, doling out millions of dollars to projects having nothing to do with the Authority’s primary mission of operating and maintaining the four major bridges in Philadelphia. Many politicians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have close affiliations with these projects.

At its Thursday board meeting, the DRPA Projects Committee approved $11 million in grants to be spent on numerous initiatives in the cities of Philadelphia and Camden. The full board is expected to approve the expenditures at its Feb. 18 board meeting.

In Pennsylvania, the authority will spend $3.5 million for the restoration of an historic house in Philadelphia. An additional $2.5 million was allocated for several initiatives in the historic section of Philadelphia, including the development of a “permanent food structure” in Franklin Square and a technology update for the “Lights of Liberty” show. Lights of Liberty was the idea of then-mayor Ed Rendell to add an evening attraction to the historic district’s landscape.

The DRPA also authorized a resolution to give $250,000 to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau “for expenses incurred hosting the 2008 Army-Navy game.” The military academies played the game almost two months ago.

According to the DRPA, Philadelphia hosted its eighth straight sellout Army-Navy game, had a national television audience of three million, and was the recipient of $35 million in “total economic output.” When questioned about why the DRPA felt it necessary to pay out a quarter-million dollars given the game’s economic success, the answer given by CEO John Matheussen was that the Army-Navy game was good for the Philadelphia region.

In New Jersey, the authority passed a resolution to spend $5 million for “educational and infrastructure improvements” in Camden. Projects include the demolition of a city-owned downtown building and recreational improvements related to Roosevelt Park. The DRPA will also be involved in the “site acquisition, demolition, relocation, and other costs in connection with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)’s development of an Academic Research Facility.” According to discussions at the DRPA press conference, however, the decision by the UMDNJ to move forward with the research facility has not yet been approved.

A significant portion of the New Jersey economic development funds will be allocated to public infrastructure improvements along Admiral Wilson Boulevard in connection with the expansion of the Campbell Soup Company, a business with a market value of $11 billion.

The DRPA will also fund the West Jersey Line, a 17 mile private railroad in Salem County. It will primarily serve two companies in that region.

Port Authority Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash, who voted in favor of these projects, also serves as an elected Camden County Freeholder. With the exception of the railroad, all of the New Jersey economic development projects approved at the board meeting are located within Mr. Nash’s district.

Commuters became enraged last year when tolls increased by 33%, a measure taken because DRPA didn’t have the $1.1 billion it needed for bridge repairs. While tolls will rise another 33% next year, the Authority will also be issuing bonds later this year to raise additional revenue for capital improvement repairs. The total bond amount could exceed $500 million.

The Port Authority’s nearly $400 million in economic development grants have come under intense scrutiny in recent months as politicians, the media, and watchdog organizations have increasingly questioned why the Port Authority continues to spend money on non-bridge related projects, especially in difficult economic times.

The Authority has a debt of more than $1.2 billion, and 76 per cent of every dollar is allocated to salaries, benefits and debt service.

Pennsylvania state senator John Rafferty, R-44, Chester and Montgomery Counties, expressed his concern regarding economic development spending by the DRPA.

“They can say all they want that they had this economic development money in reserve, but it should be allocated to rail lines and transportation. The purpose of the DRPA should be to fulfill the same mission of every other government agency— to provide safety, health and welfare to the people for whom they are responsible,” he said. “And you do that by having bridges and rail lines that are up to code and meeting the needs of the consumers. It’s not investing in all these other projects!”, he added.

Sen. Rafferty discussed how much the DRPA changed after being granted economic development authority in the early 1990’s. “We’ve gotten so far away from the scope of what was intended for that agency, that I think the best way to (rectify the situation) is have the federal government eliminate the economic development authority and give us (the state legislatures) the authority to start looking into this,” he stated.

“The DRPA should stop being a wish-list for governors to pull money for projects,” Sen. Rafferty stated.

A spokeswoman for United States Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa, told The Bulletin that Mr. Specter is aware of concerns regarding the DRPA’s use of funds and is monitoring the matter.

The relationship of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the Port Authority’s self-appointed Chairman, to his former law firm Ballard Spahr has also been called into question, as Ballard has received nearly $3 million in legal fees from the Authority since Rendell’s election in 2002. In the three years prior to that election, Ballard received only $25,000 from the Port Authority.

John Estey, former chief of staff to Gov. Rendell who routinely chairs board meetings on the governor’s behalf, is a partner at Ballard. He regularly votes to receive and authorize the DRPA’s monthly bills, including those from his own firm. Ballard’s invoice from December was over $33,000.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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January 23, 2009 at 10:33 am Comments (0)

Congressman Dan Lungren for House Minority Leader


Conservative California Congressman Dan Lungren has decided to Challenge John Boehner for House Minority Leader. I’m proud to endorse him and will be putting in a call to Congressman Charlie Dent’s Office on Monday to ask him to support Dan. You all need to do the same. We’ve had too much Republican “squishiness” on the important issues (like taxes, spending, drilling, bailouts) and we need a leader who’s willing to stand up for Conservative Values. There are many in the party who now think it’s time to tack to the Left. WRONG! If we drift to the Left our Party is lost. It is only with “Bold Colors, not Pastels” that we will once again come back to the Majority. We’re going to need to fight Barack Obama and his massive Democratic Majorities in both houses with strong, outspoken leadership. I do not believe Congressman Boehner has the backbone to stand up for Conservative American Values, I do believe Congressman Lungren has what it takes.

If you’re on Facebook, I encourage you to join the group here.

Please call your Republican Congressman and tell them to support Dan for Minority Leader and perhaps in 2010, with bold new leadership, we’ll be able to call him House Majority Leader (or even Speaker!) Lungren.

The full list of Congress Critters can be found here.

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November 14, 2008 at 9:39 pm Comments (0)

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