Pennsylvania Observer

A blog for progressive people in Pennsylvania. Greens, Democrats and others who want to comment on current news items in the Keystone State.

Friday, April 29, 2005

PA Publisher Sees Drug Link in Missing DA Case

PA Publisher Sees Drug Link in Missing DA Case.
Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar disappeared in what can only be called a bizarre case. Police have no leads at this time, but the strangeness of the case has led to wild speculation, and has brought the conspiracy theorists out of the closet.

The facts surrounding the case are indeed strange. Gricar had just busted a drug ring, leading to the arrest of nine alleged heroin and cocaine dealers. On the morning of April 15, Gricar called his girlfriend and said he was taking the day off to go on a drive on Route 192 near Bellefonte. His car was found in a rural parking lot. His cell phone was found on the seat, but his laptop computer was missing. He has not been heard from since, although people have claimed to see him in Lewisburg and Wilkes-Barre in the nearly two weeks since his disappearance.

On of the most intriguing theories to emerge has been posted by Bill Keisling, an author who last year wrote a book about an eerily similar case. "The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna" describes the disappearance Baltimore-based Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Luna in December of 2003. Luna was found murdered in Lancaster County after making an unscheduled trip to rural PA in the midst of a major drug investigation.

In an article posted on Yardbird Books' website, Keisling makes the following observations comparing the two cases:

“-- At the time of their disappearances, both prosecutors were involved in high-stakes heroin cases.-- The drug suppliers in both cases were from the New York city area. "Bricks and bricks from foreign dudes up top," as Luna's FBI informant, Warren Grace, explains.
-- Both men disappeared on car rides, while they were alone.
-- Both men vanished without their cell phones. Luna's cell phone was found on his desk, while Gricar's was in his car. This seems to indicate misplaced trust, or perhaps a sudden interruption that called them away from their routine or expected activites.
--Gricar's laptop, police say, is missing. Luna's laptop was found on his desk at work. At the time of Luna's death, Lancaster County, PA, coroner Barry Walp suggested that some of the 36 stab wounds inflicted on Luna's body appeared to have perhaps been intended to make him talk. "You would think they were perhaps after information from the guy when you see something like this," Coroner Walp told a local paper in December 2003. Gricar's disappearance follows on the heels of a widely distributed DVD titled, "Stop Snitching," in which retaliation is promised for those cooperating with drug prosecutions.
-- Both Luna and Gricar seem to have set out, for reasons unknown, perhaps to predetermined, out-of-the-way destinations, as if on a rendevous [sic] with someone they trusted. Phone records apparently offer no clues. Or, both men may have been waylaid by a stalker or stalkers; Luna, driving home, and Gricar, while shopping for antiques.
-- The press coverage of both disappearances also bear striking similarities. Unreliable or illogical sightings may offer false clues. The Centre Daily Times, in an April 20, 2005 article, reports Gricar's car was seen by employees of the Street of Shops antique market between 5 and 6pm on Friday evening, the day of his disappearance. The paper then quotes mall owner Craig Bennett, 48, as telling police investigators he witnissed [sic] a man fitting Gricar's description, wearing a blue fleece jacket, waiting in front of an uncompleted mall storefront about noon the following day, Saturday. "It appeared as though he was waiting for someone," the CDT quotes Bennett as saying. "It had all the look as if he was waiting for someone." It seems unlikely though that DA Gricar would leave his car overnight in the mall parking lot, not use his cell phone, and not check in when he was already reported missing on Saturday, April 16. Similar supposed sightings in the Luna case later failed to pan out.
-- Both men were subjected to unlikely suicide theories in the press.”

While the theory is intriguing, it has not convinced local investigators. "There's no connection between the two [cases]," Bellefonte Police Chief Duane Dixon said, according to the Centre Daily Times. Dixon had no alternative theories, although he hinted at the suicide angle, reporting that Gricar’s brother had killed himself. But, as Keisling points out, who brings a laptop to a suicide?

Who Said It? Santorum or Casey?

Who Said It? Santorum or Casey?
The Democratic establishment is trying to convince us that Bob Casey is really more progressive than Rick Santorum. So who said the following in an interview with the Gar Joseph of the Philadelphia Daily News?

Iraq. "Once it was under way, like a lot of Americans, I was supportive of what our troops were trying to do there, based on what we were told by our government. We found out later the intelligence was, at best, faulty and, at worst, misleading. We can learn a lot of lessons from that, but the key thing now is to finish the job."
Terry Schiavo. "I think you should err on the side of life. I think some kind of congressional review was appropriate. But I don't think our elected representatives should've been going to the site. The last thing they needed there, with all the tragedy, sadness and controversy, was a politician in either party to go there. It's very difficult for an elected official to judge or second guess what a family does in those circumstances. That situation shouldn't have been used to divide people for political purposes."
Defense of marriage amendment (which would ban same-sex marriage). "I support the Defense of Marriage Act [passed in 1996, it defines marriage as a union of a man and woman] and a number of states have passed similar measures. But to have a great constitutional debate about this issue is completely unnecessary. This is used to divide people and appeal to bigotry."Ten Commandments. (The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to ban displays of the 10 Commandments in government buildings, as a violation of separation of church and state.) "I don't oppose [such displays]. I do think politicians spend a lot more time talking about that question than trying to live the 10 Comandments [sic]. No matter what your religious beliefs, there are some universal truths in those commandments that we all ought to live by."

Armstrong Still Stonewalling

Armstrong Still Stonewalling.
Rep. Gib Armstrong (R, 100, Lancaster County) still refuses to identify where his alleged instances of liberal proselytizing and the stifling conservative speech on the campuses of state-supported universities. As we reported earlier this month, Armstrong alleged that students have been forced to chant "abortion, abortion" against their will and view Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, among innumerable instances of academic bias.
The Observer asked Armstrong for:
1) Names of the instructors in whose classes the alleged incidents took place;
2) Titles of the classes;
3) Dates and locations of the incidents;
4) Copies of any correspondence which documents the alleged incidents; and
5) Names of any witnesses of the alleged incidents.

He ignored our requests. Last month we urged our readers to ask Armstrong to document his allegations. He ignored written requests from a number of readers. He also had a face-to-face encounter with an Observer reader who said Armstrong refused to answer her questions. According to our reader, Armstrong got nasty and "asked me who I voted for."Armstrong's neo-McCarthyism should not stand unchallenged.

Contact Armstrong and ask him to tell the whole truth about his claims. 717-783-6424 or

If a Tree Falls in the Forest Dept.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest Dept.
Now it’s a three-way race for the Democratic nomination to replace Santorum. Alan Sands, who calls himself “one the nation’s leading attorneys and advocates for working people in the field of pensions and medical benefits,” has thrown his hat in the ring. We don’t know anything about him, but in an effort at fairness, we provide you with contact information:
For Our Future
One South Broad Street
Suite 1840
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107-3418
Telephone:(215) 219-3170 or (215) 825-4017

Some people are dissatisfied with the choices of Casey, Chuck Pennacchio and Sands for the Democratic nomination. They may want to check out the mass movement (okay, 82 people if you count the anonymous posts) working online to get Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball to challenge Santorum. The online petition is the brainchild of Dianne Herrin whose petition reads:
“Dear Mr. Matthews: Rick Santorum's extremist views are completely out of step with mainstream Pennsylvanians. We are concerned that his continued ascension of power is a growing and serious threat to the ideals of most Pennsylvanians, and most Americans. We also realize that he will be difficult to beat in 2006 because he is beholden to Big Business and enjoys all the privileges of incumbency, including franking privileges and the "bully pulpit" of a US Senator. That is why we are writing to you. We will not stand by and accept "politics as usual" when it comes to candidate selection in this critical race. We are asking you to take on Rick Santorum as a candidate for US Senate, representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in 2006. Unlike other potential candidates, you have name recognition and an independent, clear, rational progressive voice. You have charm and intelligence and the unique ability to capture the public imagination. You have great depth of experience. You are a Philadelphia native with a bully pulpit of your own! Mr. Matthews, you are in a unique position to help our country, and we will harness all of our energies and resources to support you. We ask that you respectfully consider our request.”

Also, Rep. Tim Hennessey (R, Chester) might want to watch out. The Socialist Party is running a challenger for his Twenty-Sixth District House seat next year. Jeff M. Brindle hopes to become the first Socialist Party member to carry the red banner on a state ballot since…Eugene Debs? Brindle promises a “Socialist Values Campaign to promote values of justice and oppose the values of injustice promoted by the Bush administration and the capitalist system it supports.”


ClearChannel’s Anti-Tax Lobby Day was a dismal failure. The (Harrisburg) Patriot reported that there were only about 200 people in attendance. Estimates of ClearChannel’s expenditures, counting donated ads, were in the $200,000 range. That’s about $1,000 per attendee for this “mass” rally… Rick Santorum may be looking past next year’s US Senate race in anticipation of the 2008 presidential race. The Hill reports that Santorum allies have reserved “a slew” of domain names, including, and President Santorum? Now there’s a reason to move to Canada…The Morning Call reports that Sen. Lisa Boscola (D, Northampton) is considering switching to the Republican Party. Boscola got into hot water with Democratic Party leadership when she attacked fellow Democrat Rep. Jennifer Mann’s ads in this month’s special senate election. Mann ran attack ads pointing out her Republican opponent’s (Rep. Pat Browne) drunk driving record. Boscola, who has her own drunk driving conviction, publicly chastised Mann. Many pundits claim this gave the election to the GOP…

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Gib Armstrong Grandstanding Without Facts?

Gib Armstrong Grandstanding Without Facts? Rep. Gib Armstrong (R, 100, Lancaster County) has been getting a lot of mileage in conservative circles charging that Pennsylvania’s institutes of higher education are crawling with liberals. He has made this claim in numerous press releases and speeches in the last month. He has also harangued university leaders in public hearings before the House Appropriations Committee. The sum of his complaint is that professors and administrators are making a concerted effort to stifle the speech of conservative students.

To bolster his argument, he misquotes and mischaracterizes studies that show there are more Democrats than Republicans teaching in the humanities and social sciences by a ratio of seven to one. (Big surprise, there. And what is the D/R ratio in business schools?)

Armstrong’s solution to this problem is passing his Students’ Academic Bill of Rights, similar to bills being considered throughout the nation. The purpose of these bills is to give students legal standing to sue. In Florida, the prime sponsor of his state’s bill, Rep. Dennis Baxley, brazenly said that it would allow students to sue when professors refuse to teach creationism in biology classes.

Opponents fear that other suits will include Holocaust deniers wanting their position taught in history classes, racial superiority proponents and even people who believe the moon landings were hoaxes.

Armstrong’s bill is a serious threat to academic freedom. But like much of the right’s agenda, they have twisted reality that would make Orwell proud. Armstrong has made audacious claims, supported by apocryphal anecdotes that support his proposition. Among Armstrong’s accusations are the following:

"Yesterday I was in my Women Studies class where one group of students decided to give presentations on abortions. The next thing I know, we were spending the whole period learning about how abortion should be completely legal, that it is a good thing for society to abort babies, and that people need to learn how to positively say the word 'abortion' because women should be proud of the fact that they had one. The professor made us start chanting 'abortion, abortion' and to be honest I started to cry because there seemed to be no room for my pro-life opinion.”

"My professor interrupted his lecture…following the presidential election to read a [radio talk show] hoax that made the false accusation that the average intelligence of ‘blue’ states was higher than that of ‘red’ states. After passing this list off as factual and making jokes about ‘rednecks’ and ‘uneducated hicks,’ he got profane and concluded by saying ‘Thanks for messing [expletive deleted] up my country.’"

"I had to watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11 in science class. What does that have to do with science?"

If true, these accusations are troubling, but not unexpected. After all, there are 80,000 students in the Penn State system alone. It wouldn’t be difficult to find a handful of incidents like those cited by Armstrong.

The real problem with the accusations is that only Armstrong has heard about them. The Observer randomly checked with administrators, students and professors at Penn State and no one has any knowledge of these incidents. No other legislators that we talked to have had similar reports come to them.

We wrote to Armstrong immediately after his accusations first became public, on March 3. This is the text of our letter:

Dear Rep. Armstrong:

We were at the Appropriations Committee hearing when you raised your allegations about academic freedom. We have since received your press release which expands on those allegations. We were shocked by the allegations and would like to expose the lack of diversity of thought on campus at PSU if these allegations are true. In order to determine the level of thought control we would like the following information:

1) Names of the instructors in whose classes the alleged incidents took place;
2) Titles of the classes;
3) Dates and locations of the incidents;
4) Copies of any correspondence which documents the alleged incidents; and
5) Names of any witnesses of the alleged incidents.

Thank you for raising this matter in public. We also thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

We followed with a phone call requesting the same. To date we have not heard from Armstrong or his staff. Nor do we ever expect an answer. This appears to be the right’s updated McCarthyite accusation, “I have in possession the names of…” It’s easy to make accusations when no one challenged them. The corporate media and legislators on both sides of the aisle have let Armstrong make these accusations unchecked.

Contact Armstrong and ask him to tell the whole truth about his claims. 717-783-6424 or

Then again, maybe Armstrong is right about academia being dominated by liberals. After all, philosopher John Stuart Mill observed in the 19th century that “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people… it is true that most stupid people are conservative.”

Clear Channel Lobby Day

Clear Channel Lobby Day. Will they report their expenses? Clear Channel’s WHP Radio (580-AM) is holding a lobby day on the Capitol steps this Wednesday. They have been heavily promoting this event on the air for months, especially on the Bob Durgin Show (M-F, 3:00-6:00 PM). The value of the promotions alone probably runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Clear Channel will also spend money for the event itself, which is designed to send a message to legislators. PA has one of the weakest lobbying disclosure laws in the nation. But even our weak laws must require some reporting on Clear Channel’s expenditures. Let’s see if the Senate President’s office makes any effort to find out what Clear Channel is spending to influence the General Assembly. By the way, Rep. Gib Armstrong will be speaking.

Coulter-geist to Haunt Harrisburg

Coulter-geist to Haunt Harrisburg. Right wing media darling Ann Coulter is the keynote speaker at this year’s Pennsylvania Leadership Conference . Coulter is the author of such books as "Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism," and "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right." Coulter is known for outrageous, dare we say, neo-fascist remarks such as:

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity."

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors."

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

There was a time in the not too distant past when even the far right would distance themselves from such remarks. Now Coulter is a spokesperson for the "mainstream" of the GOP. Joining Coulter at this event are the two presumptive leading candidates for the Republican nomination for governor, Jeffrey Piccola and William Scranton III. also joining Coulter will be Susan Staub (PA Right to Work), numerous state legislators, and RJ Harris of Clear Channel Communications,

Coulter is speaking on Friday, April 15 at 6:00 PM at the Holiday Inn Harrisburg East, situated ¼ mile off Exit #247 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Her event is sold out, but progressives might want to send her a Keystone State welcome anyway.

The Pennsylvania Leadership Conference is co-sponsored by Harrisburg news-talk radio program WHP-580-AM. Another branch of the "liberal" media owned by Clear Channel. Oh, and Gib Armstrong is speaking there too.

Drinking Liberally

Drinking Liberally. The Observer is proud of its reporting of new movements and new progressive organizations. We have never been more pleased to announce a new organization as we are of this new discovery—Drinking Liberally. Drinking Liberally describes itself as “promoting democracy one pint at a time.” The concept is simple, “Raise your spirits while you raise your glass, and share ideas while you share a pitcher,” proclaims its website. “Drinking Liberally gives like-minded, left-leaning individuals a place to talk politics. You don't need to be a policy expert and this isn't a book club - just come and learn from peers, trade jokes, vent frustration and hang out in an environment where it's not taboo to talk politics.”

· There are 65 Drinking Liberally sites in the U.S., with five of them in PA—Doylestown, Lewisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and State College. Check out the links for locations or for instructions on setting up your own Drinking Liberally chapter.

Every Tuesday, 7:00 pm
Chambers, 19 North Main Street (in the front, near the window by the bar) (map)
Hosted by Betsy Tomlinson and John, doylestown (at)

Every Thursday, 8:00 pm
The Towne Tavern, 600 Market Street (map)
Hosted by Nancy Hazlinsky, Jim Buck and Jordi Comas, lewisburg (at)

State College:
Second and fourth Tuesday of each month, 7:00-9:00 pm
Cafe 210, 210 West College Avenue (map)
Hosted by Joe, statecollege (at)

Every Tuesday, 6:00-9:00 pm
Ten Stone, 2063 South Street (at 21st Street) (map)
Hosted by Peter Baker and Will Weltman, philadelphia (at)

Every Tuesday, 7:00 pm
Finnegan's Wake, 20 East General Robinson Street (on the North Shore, across from PNC Park and the Warhol Museum) (map)
Hosted by John Tadler, pittsburgh (at)

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