Monday, September 29, 2008

This is shameful

Well, the House, after waiting for days while its so-called leaders and folks from the Bush administration crafted a $700 billion bailout plan, voted this afternoon to reject the proposal. I have no problem with people voting their conscience and either endorsing or opposing the plan. Few people, and definitely not I, really know too much about the nuts and bolts of the plan. But the part that angers me is the partisan, us-against-them undercurrent that accompanied the vote. At a time when our elected officials should have been putting aside their differences to sincerely do what is necessary to stabilize the economy, they degenerated into petty, party-against-party bickering. Apparently, before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, above left, who is the saddest excuse for a House leader in my memory, laid the blame for the financial crisis at the feet of President Bush. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I have plenty of problems with the way the president has led this country over the past eight years, but to saddle him with most of the blame for the meltdown of the finance sector is asinine. Then, after the bill went down to defeat, Rep. John Boehner, above right, one of the saddest excuses for a Republican leader in my memory, blamed Pelosi for his inability to round up enough Republican votes for the measure. "We could have gotten there today had it not been for the partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," said Boehner. That's horse feathers. Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, replied, correctly, that "if that stopped people from voting (for the bill), then shame on them. If people's feelings were hurt because of a speech and that led them to vote differently than what they thought the national interest (requires), then they really don't belong here." Then Frank, who is no stranger to stupidity and controversy, said something very dumb: "The Republicans don't trust the administration. It's a Republican revolt against George Bush and John McCain." C'mon, Barney, that's just ridiculous. Now the so-called leaders in Washington have to get back to work to craft a new bailout plan, hopefully before the stock markets hit zero (The Dow was down nearly 800 points as I started writing this). But they really don't want to do that. An Associated Press story noted that Congress has been trying to adjourn so members can go back home and campaign for re-election (which explains why not enough of them were willing to stick out their necks for a bailout that is unpopular with the masses). When people talk about throwing out all the "bums" and starting anew, I generally consider that a knee-jerk reaction, but when you look at what's going on Washington these days, who can argue with a completely fresh start?


Saturday, September 27, 2008

In the name of all that's holy, set your DVRs!

I've been down with a bad head cold today and watching a lot of college football. I've also been subjected to frequent airings of a promo on WTAE-TV about a "major story" that's coming up on Monday. Sally Wiggin will be talking with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu about ... the fact that he's going to be having a kid. You've got to be joking. If Troy's wife dropped the little bundle of joy in my driveway, I might peek outside to see how things were going. Otherwise, who gives a rat's rectum? It's not like impregnating one's significant other is, in usual circumstances, a major achievement. And even if you have to try and try and try (Hey, what's wrong with that?) or visit a fertility expert, it's still nothing out of the ordinary. For cripe's sake, Clay Aiken and Ricky Martin have kids. If the Polamalu baby is born with two heads, let me know. I'll look for WTAE's five-part series.


And the winner was ...

John McCain and Barack Obama engaged in their first presidential debate last night, and I'm wondering what you think of their performances. The pundits on the left and right fringes, predictably, came out for their chosen candidates, but for the most part, the "experts" considered it a draw. I would tend to share that assessment. George Will, who is a conservative but also, in my mind, one of the more fair-minded political analysts, had this to say: "Is the race now different than it was at 9 p.m. eastern time? The answer, I think, is no. This wasn't a game changer." Agreed. After watching last night's debate, I doubt that anyone who went in as a supporter of Barack Obama was ready to shift to John McCain, and I doubt that any McCain backers were ready to abandon their candidate. Next up: Palin versus Biden. Should be fun.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

To Tase, or not to Tase?

Tasers are all the rage in law enforcement and, frankly, I have some concerns. The electric-shock device is seen as an alternative to deadly force, i.e. guns, but it seems that in some cases Tasers are being employed as the weapon of first resort. We had a case here recently in which a cab driver wanted officers to remove a drunk from the back of his vehicle. When police told the man to get out, he "shushed" them. So they Tased him. Seemed a bit much to me. Couldn't a couple of officers have just dragged the guy out and cuffed him? Then there was the incident the other day on Interstate 70, where a woman was raising hell on a bus. When the police responded, she was outside the bus and causing a commotion. They Tased her. Unless she was 6-4, 250, my guess is that they could have taken her down with minimal physical force. These are some of the more minor cases. On Wednesday, Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams weighed in on the case of Andre Thomas, a Pittsburgh-area man who died after being hit with a Taser by police in the Pittsburgh suburb of Swissvale. Williams ruled that Thomas died "of a direct consequence of the consumption of cocaine," even though Williams admitted that the cocaine in Thomas' system was not considered a lethal dose. The coroner was asked if Thomas would have died from the cocaine ingestion had he not had a run-in with police. Said Williams, "I don't think there's any way of predicting that." So, did the Taser jolt also play a role in Thomas' death? That is the question being asked over and over all across the country. After some basic research, it seems that hundreds of people have died in Taser-related incidents since that sort of thing has been tracked. Were there other factors in some of those deaths? Quite possibly. But there's also the possibility that Tasers, in and of themselves, are potentially - and unacceptably - lethal. One can certainly sympathize with police officers who are regularly threatened with physical injury. If they shoot a criminal, they come in for all kinds of criticism and investigation. What if they gang up on a perpetrator and take him down? In my mind, if the police tell you to get on the ground, and you do not immediately comply, you're asking for an ass-whippin', and I would never criticize the police for administering just that. But in most of those cases, the lowlife who was forcibly restrained will sue, with the help of the always-ready ACLU and the ambulance-chasing wing of the local Bar Association. Many times, they'll win. Rodney King, a sad excuse for a human being, became a millionaire in just that fashion. All things considered, however, there seems to be a clear need for a review of the standards for use of Tasers and their potential for causing unintended deaths.


An incredible waste of time and money

If you had $17.3 million and couldn't spend it on yourself, what might you do with the money? Build a youth center for your community? Help people who are losing their homes to foreclosure? If you're the religious right, you use that money in an effort to prevent gay people in California from having the same rights as heterosexuals. A coalition of the usual suspects - the Mormons, the Roman Catholics, the Baptists, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, etc. - has thus far raised that ungodly amount for a group called Yes on 8, which is trying to win passage of Proposition 8, a ballot issue that would rescind California's approval of gay marriage. A recent AP story said hundreds of pastors in California are calling on their congregants to fast and pray in support of the proposition. Some preachers are suggesting that people go without solid food for as long as 40 days "in the biblical tradition." Hey, if you're really serious, why not go for 100? The gallant Knights of Columbus have led the fundraising charge, piling up $1.3 million for the effort. And individual Mormons, at the strong urging of the central church, reportedly have anted up $6.4 million of the total. Bill May, who leads a group known as Catholics for Protection of Marriage, said, "The sense is that this is the last chance to restore the definition of marriage, and if unsuccessful, it is going to have serious ramifications for California and across the country." Really, Bill? Would it mean that people who love one another would be allowed to exchange vows? No wonder you see Armageddon right around the corner. At Mormon church services, they've been trying to rally the troops with a 1995 proclamation that warns: "The disintegration of the family will bring ... the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets." Do you mean charlatan prophets like Joseph Smith? Just wondering. Here's the crux of the matter: These people are trying to impose their version of morality on all of us. Gay marriages have no effect on their marriages. Gay marriages have no effect on them in ANY way. Nobody is going to "join the gay team" just because a fabulous wedding reception might be in the offing. Yet these folks want to stick their noses into other people's business and relegate them to second-class citizenship. It's not like gay people, if they are denied the right to marry, are suddenly going to turn heterosexual and start marrying people of the opposite sex. And I'm still waiting for someone, anyone, to give me a single, tangible negative effect that gay marriage would have, or provide a reasoning for their opposition that goes beyond "It's just not right" or "It's in the Bible." There are talking snakes and bushes in the Bible, too, and I have yet to see one of those in modern life. The supporters of this proposition are, in a nutshell, trying to deny the rights of gays and lesbians to equal rights. They are bigots. Let me repeat that: BIGOTS! There is some good news here. The latest poll shows the "Vote for Hate" proposition is opposed by 55 percent of likely voters.


Earth to Plaxico

It was with great shock - yeah, right - that I heard a report Wednesday about the dear, departed Plaxico Burress being suspended by his current employer, the New York Giants. It seems Plaxico decided he didn't have to join the other 52 members of the team in some meetings. This is the same guy who just signed a new contract that will pay him about $35 million, with $11 million guaranteed. ESPN's Sal Palantonio (one of the best sports reporters in the business, by the way) said Burress and his agent, the ultra-despicable Drew Rosenhaus, were told during negotiations on the new contract that if Plaxico got his millions, the Giants would no longer put up with his past shenanigans, which mainly involved Plaxico doing whatever Plaxico wanted to do, which very often was nothing. This guy was a pain in the ass during his years with the Steelers, so I shed no tears when he took his act to New York. Some of the blame for this mess is on the Giants. They had to have known what kind of person Burress was when they initially signed him, and then, after dealing with his act over the past few years, they shower him with more millions. Stupid is as stupid does. Burress is a poster child for the me-first, I'm-entitled athletes. I'm sure this is never going to cross Plaxico's mind, but he's a guy who should be thanking his lucky stars every day that he was born with other-wordly athletic skills, because after years of hearing him being interviewed on Pittsburgh TV stations, I don't even think he'd be the star employee at a sheltered workshop. Of course, Rosenhaus already is prodding the NFL players union to appeal on Burress' behalf, and it's fairly likely that his suspension will be overturned. That just sends the message to Burress that he's above the team's rules, and we can all take bets on how long it is before he figuratively gives "the bird" to his teammates again.


Let them keep their junk

Pretty much every day at the newspaper, we get a list from the AP of the latest items recalled by our government because of safety deficiencies, and my unscientific survey finds that about 80 percent of this unsafe stuff comes from China. We've also been reading of late about the tainted-milk scandal in China (empty store shelves shown above), where thousands of children have been sickened by contaminated formula. Several of them died. All the while, according to a story we ran in Thursday's O-R, the political elite in China are serviced by a special government organization that provides them with the "choicest, safest delicacies." They receive "hormone-free beef from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, organic tea from the foothills of Tibet and rice watered by melted mountain snow." The average Chinese person, meanwhile, has been subjected to "vegetables with harmful pesticide residue, fish tainted with a cancer-causing chemical, eggs colored with industrial dye, fake liquor causing blindness or death, and holiday pastries with bacteria-laden filling." The Chinese government, one of the most brutal and corrupt in the world, clearly doesn't give a damn about its own people, so why should we expect them to care about the products that end up on our shores. The Chinese elite are reaping billions of dollars from the garbage they foist upon us. It's time we tell them to keep their tainted trash. There has to be some other Third World country that can put its 8-year-olds to work producing crappy garments, toys and other products for U.S. consumption. Or, and I know this sounds crazy, we could return to manufacturing our own stuff. I know, that's nuts, because big U.S. retailers could no longer buy stuff overseas for pennies and then turn around and sell it to us for dollars.


We, the vultures

Something to consider from our friend Priguy:
Apparently, one of the ambulances that was on the scene of the South Carolina plane crash that burned Travis Barker and that DJ (crash scene shown above)had an on-board video camera that captured much of the scene as it happened. A South Carolina TV station had the video on its Web site for a day or so before removing it. A radio station here in Richmond played an excerpt of the audio from the video, which apparently is very graphic. In fact, this morning show radio host said, “Listen closely and you can actually hear Barker screaming. And the video shows his body on fire.” He tried to sound concerned, but I don’t buy it. I think that if he had any empathy at all, he’d never have played it in the first place. My question is: Why do so many people feel compelled to see or hear this sort of thing? Why do so many people eagerly anticipate the release of 911 tapes (or cockpit audio tapes) after a tragedy? It’s a fascinating dichotomy ... These are likely the same people who have candlelight vigils and bring in grief counselors at the slightest misfortune of absolute strangers, yet they want to have intimate access to horrifying sights and sounds – like actually listening to a man scream in agony as his body burns. Or listening to the heartbreaking last words of someone facing certain death. Don’t these people in the midst of these tragedies deserve a little bit of privacy? I just don’t get it.


Monday, September 22, 2008

How racist are we?

Are black people lazy? Violent? Responsible for their own problems? An Associated Press story the other day pointed out that, in a close election, racism could spell the difference between Barack Obama going to the White House or back to the Senate. An AP-Yahoo News poll conducted in conjunction with Stanford University found that one-third of white Democrats, people who might typically be considered Obama's base, have negative views toward black people. The figures were higher among independents, who could well swing the election to either Obama or John McCain. And the poll said those who harbor the negative perceptions are less likely to back Obama than those who don't. Here are some excerpts from the AP story on the poll:

- Given a choice of several positive and negative adjectives that might describe blacks, 20 percent of all whites said the word "violent" strongly applied. Among other words, 22 percent agreed with "boastful," 29 percent "complaining," 13 percent "lazy" and 11 percent "irresponsible." When asked about positive adjectives, whites were more likely to stay on the fence than give a strongly positive assessment.

- Among white Democrats, Hillary Clinton supporters were nearly twice as likely as Obama backers to say at least one negative adjective described blacks well, a finding that suggests many of her supporters in the primaries - particularly whites with high school education or less - were motivated in part by racial attitudes.

- "We still don't like black people," said John Clouse, 57, reflecting the sentiments of his pals gathered at a coffee shop in Somerset, Ohio.

Sad, but not surprising. Exit polling from the Democratic primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky revealed a significant level of racism among Clinton's supporters, and there's no reason to believe that would change in the November election. That's why you don't see Obama campaigning in those states. It's a lost cause. And if John Clouse is any indication, Obama also may be facing an uphill fight in the key state of Ohio. Personally, I'd vote for a black Muslim communist transgender woman if I thought she/he was the best person to lead our country for the next four years, but I'm going to venture a guess that I would be in the minority. If a person opposes Obama's views and feels McCain better represents their concerns, they should obviously vote for McCain, without fear of being labeled a racist. But if a person supports Obama's positions yet votes against him solely because he's black, they should be ashamed. Perhaps Stanford political scientist Paul Sniderman, who helped analyze the survey, summed it up best when he said, "There are a lot fewer bigots than there were 50 years ago, but that doesn't mean there's only a few bigots."


Shed a tear for these poor kids

Some recent complaining at a school board meeting and on one of the O-R blogs has given support to my belief that we have coddled our children to the point that even the slightest imposition is tantamount to asking them to clean Mount Rushmore with a toothbrush. When I had young children, I'll admit to trying to do what I could to make life easy for them and let them enjoy their youth as much as possible, but some of the comments made at a recent Peters Township school board meeting reflected a level of "nurturing" way beyond anything I was guilty of. At issue is a new district policy limiting student parking at the school to seniors, along with some juniors who meet certain qualifications (such as those who have to get to after-school jobs, I assume). To hear some of the students griping at the meeting, you would have thought they were being tortured in the halls of the high school. Two juniors who spoke to the board said they have to arrive at school "five to 10 minutes early" if they are forced to ride the bus. Good lord. Five to 10 minutes?!?!? One youngster also related the harrowing tale of the time he had to walk home after a school activity, in the rain, no less. He said he had been "deprived" of an hour of his life. Poor baby. Of course, after hearing these heart-wrenching stories, several board members said they would revisit the policy. I didn't drive to school regularly when I was a younster, and I didn't feel especially deprived, even though my parents didn't rush out to buy me a car the minute I turned 16. We now live in a different age, clearly. Close on the heels of the Peters Township meeting came an unexpected loss by the Canon-McMillan football team on Friday night. Mike Kovak's Varsity Letters blog was abuzz with people analyzing how the team had failed. Did they come down on the kids for not playing to the best of their abilities? Not so much. Most of the armchair analysts, including at least one person identifying him or herself as a parent of a football player, blamed the coach for working the poor little ones too hard and leaving them so tired that they just couldn't perform up to expectations. Do you remember being tired when you were 17 or 18? I don't. I'm at a loss for words. Perhaps you have some to share.


Friday, September 19, 2008

A touch of the blue flu

I've always been a big supporter of police officers, and I don't think they get paid nearly enough for the risks they take and the lowlifes they have to deal with. But a story out of Chicago is casting the police there in a horrible light. Compared to last year, arrests in the Windy City are down 12 percent, and the number of guns recovered by police is down a whopping 51 percent. You might see those numbers as signs that crime is falling in Chicago, but you'd be wrong. What's actually happening - and this comes directly from veteran officers - is that some officers, unhappy with department Superintendent Jody Weis, shown at left, are being less aggressive when it comes to enforcing the laws. Lt. Robert Weisskopf, who heads the Chicago police lieutenants union, told the Associated Press, "People are doing just what they need to get through, and not any extra." Monique Bond, a police department spokeswoman, denied there's been a slowdown by police officers. "There is nothing that we have to prove or support a theory like that." She suggested that the drop in arrests can be attributed to officers not spending their time on relatively petty offenses such as disorderly conduct and public drunkenness, and instead focusing on serious crimes. Oh, really. Well, how about this: Chicago had 322 murders through Aug. 21 this year, 42 more than during the same period in 2007. The number of reports of aggravated batteries involving firearms is up 30 percent. Reports of shots fired are up 33 percent, and there have been 4,000 more calls to police about gang disturbances. If the officers are putting a bigger emphasis on major crimes, it sure doesn't seem to be working. Dislike and distrust of Weis appear to be at the center of this blue semi-flu. He was brought in by Mayor Richard Daley because the department was a source of embarrassment as a result of a string of brutality cases. Weis made a nearly clean sweep of district commanders, set up a new Bureau of Professional Standards to oversee the Internal Affairs Division, took officers out from behind desks and put them on the streets and has ordered police cars to be outfitted with electronic tracking devices. Weisskopf, the head of the lieutenants union, seems especially peeved about Weis' decision to seek a federal investigation of an officer who already had pleaded guilty to beating a handcuffed man who was shackled to a wheelchair. "He paid his debt to society," said Weisskopf. "But it was as if that wasn't good enough. 'We didn't get our complete pound of flesh.'" Since that decision, added John Pallohusky, president of the police sergeants union, "Guys feel the superintendent and the administration does not have their back." OK, you might say, why would Weis seek another review of a case that already has been adjudicated? Perhaps it's the fact that the officer involved in the assault got a two-year suspension. In what twisted sort of society does someone who beats a shackled man in a wheelchair get away with a suspension? One that is afraid of angering unions and getting stuck in endless litigation? Maybe. But it seems clear to me that if people like Weisskopf and Pallohusky are angry, Weis must be on the right track. He's not there to "have the back" of law enforcers who act like criminals.


Thumbing their noses

North Korea and Iran have made it clear in recent days that they are going to press on with their nuclear programs, and they can feel pretty secure in the fact that the rest of the world isn't going to do much about it, other than threaten more sanctions. North Korea announced that it is going to restart its nuclear reactor, the same one it started to mothball last year in a deal with the United States and other countries. The North Koreans say they're reversing course because the U.S. has not removed it from a terrorism blacklist. They also claim promised aid has not been forthcoming. We should not be surprised. The North Koreans have been playing the Bush administration for years and, before that, the Clinton administration. It's much the same with Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country has no intention of halting its nuclear program, despite the world's strong suspicions that it's geared toward producing nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad is an absolute nutjob, but he's also a figurehead. The ayatollahs run Iran, and they're not going to drop a nuke on anyone and run the risk that their country would be turned into a parking lot. Which brings me to my main point: What gives the United States the right to determine which countries can and can't have nuclear programs? We allowed Israel to develop nuclear weapons, but we say none of its neighbors can do the same. Also, at the same time we're trying to block Iran and North Korea from nuclear activities, the Bush administration is pressing Congress to give swift approval to a nuclear cooperation deal with India. From what I've read, the agreement would not stop India from developing nuclear weapons because it has more holes than Swiss cheese. Also, we're not dealing with the most stable nation here. This is the country in which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Her son, Rajiv, later because prime minister, and he was blown up by a suicide bomber. India also is wracked with religious violence and has an on-again, off-again conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir. There also was a report the other day in the Washington Post quoting a former U.N. weapons inspector who said India has been seling drawings showing the inner workings of a centrifuge - used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - for as little as $10. That's not a typo. Ten bucks! The ex-weapons inspector, David Albright, told the Post that he shared his information with the U.S. State Department, which wasn't interested. "It didn't fit with their talking points," said Albright. "At the highest level, they were dismissive of our concerns." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rockin' the house

I've been to dozens of concerts over the years. I even remember most of them, though one of our frequent blog contributers could tell you an interesting story about the Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert that I missed in its entirity. Since it's been 30-some years since I started attending shows regularly, I was thinking the other day about what I would consider the best concert I ever saw. Some of my favorites over the years have been shows by Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, the Police and Elvis Costello, Blondie and Rockpile, Jimmy Buffett (1980s era) and Kiss (late '70s, and a major contributor to my eventual hearing loss). But if I could relive one concert experience, it would be the Three Rivers Stadium show in about 1977 featuring Peter Frampton and the Beach Boys. Frampton was at the absolute height of the "Frampton Comes Alive" hysteria, and the Beach Boys were not yet considered a nostalgia act. In fact, the Beach Boys (who I've seen more times than any other group), closed the show and had fans chanting for them even before Frampton finished his set. I was one of them. I guess it was just the fact that when we were 18 or 19 years old, the summers truly did seem endless, and the Beach Boys provided a soundtrack for our lives (even though we didn't surf). I'd like to hear from you about your favorite shows, and even concerts you wish you had seen (My biggest regret is not catching Bob Marley and the Wailers). You can also feel free to share your funny concert stories. Who knows, I might have been that idiot you saw draped over a car hood in the parking lot at the Civic Arena in 1979.

Wanna go to Speers for a ciggie?

Chancellor John Cavanaugh of the State System of Higher Education has provided our latest example of an overreaching bureaucrat who apparently doesn't have enough real issues with which to concern himself. Cavanaugh, in a twisted bit of logic, determined that because the state recently banned most indoor smoking, he should ban smoking on the campuses of the 14 state-owned colleges, not just indoors but anywhere on school property. Some students and the union representing thousands of workers on the campuses are raising heck about the ban, which came out of the blue. If Cavanaugh's concern is the health of the students, then he's not going far enough. He needs to ban Twinkies and pizzas from school property and require that all students receive regular injections of Depo-Provera to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancies. As I've said before, I'm a smoker, but I've always tried to be considerate of non-smokers because I don't want to subject them to the effects of my filthy habit. That being said, the new state law is a joke because of its many exceptions. For example, smoking is banned in restaurants, but bars that make only a small part of their profits from food sales can continue to allow their patrons to light up. Are the bar employees less worthy of protection from second-hand smoke than the restaurant workers? Smokers are an easy and popular target, so perhaps the government, which loves to tell us what to do, should just ban the sale of cigarettes entirely. Of course, with the loss of millions of dollars in cigarette taxes, you non-smokers are going to have to help us fill the budget hole.


Stepping up to the trough

I'm sure that while you pay close to $4 a gallon for gasoline and struggle to pay your mortgage and other obligations, you won't mind that the government is using your tax dollars to finance an $85 billion loan to bail out one of the world's largest insurance companies, American International Group Inc. This comes on the heels of the government's move to take control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which could cost as much as $200 billion. That's right. The government can't find the money to repair or replace the nation's crumbling roads, bridges and water systems, but if multibillion-dollar financial institutions get their tits in a wringer, Uncle Sam is quick to write a check, using our money. It's expected that the feds, who will now have a controlling interest in AIG, will remove the company's chief executive, Robert Willumstad, who has been in the post only since June. But shed no tears for Mrs. Willumstad. His deal with AIG called for a $1 million base salary and a minimum annual bonus of $4 million. He can take a little time to consider his future work options. I also read in recent weeks that American automakers, which just a few years ago were raking in billions in profits while fighting tooth and nail against higher fuel-efficiency standards, are now coming to Congress to seek as much as $50 billion in low-interest loans to help them modernize their plants and develop more fuel-efficient vehicles. It's mind-boggling. But a couple of prominent politicians have said recently that there's no need to worry because the nation's economy is fundamentally strong. I'm no more of an economist than they are, but when a financial sector meltdown costs us hundreds of billions of tax dollars, when the retail sector is contracting and when unemployment is above 6 percent, I'm going to have to say they're wrong.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The joys of alternating current

There are a lot of things in life that most of us take for granted: our health, our car starting every time we insert the key, the love of our family. But one thing that flies way under our radar is electrical service, because it's always there. Well, almost always. The missus and I had friends to the house Sunday for dinner and the Steelers game. We were finishing up our meal and just starting to get into the Steelers-Browns game when, POOF, the lights went out. Fortunately, the missus is all about ambience, so candles already were burning throughout the house. We fired up a couple of old oil lamps and waited for the power to return. Turns out, it was a long wait, until about 4:30 p.m. Monday. I have a generator, but with the price of gas, it seemed more cost-effective to just ride it out and toss some bad lunch meat and milk when it was all over. Some people in our area waited longer than we did for their power to return. But who are we to gripe when people in other locales have it much worse? Imagine being a resident of coastal Texas. I talked to my father-in-law in Cincinnati Monday night, and they had been without power since Sunday afternoon. They got an estimate of two to four days for resumption of their service. So, again, we had it pretty easy. And even though we missed the Steelers game Sunday night, we adapted. We just sat around the table and talked to our friends for several hours, engaging in the lost art of conversation. Fortunately, newspaper people are rarely at a loss for words. And the really good news: Wine-bottle openers are still manually operated.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Time for a different View

Here are the last few O-R headlines related to the Valley View Terrace housing project in Canonsburg:
Brothers jailed in armed robbery
Suspects in assaults at housing project appear for hearings
Two arrested in drug bust
Jailed Bridgeville man facing more gun charges
Woman wounds two with box cutter

Nice, huh? In the most recent case, police said two men from Westmoreland County are accused of robbing another Westmoreland County man as the three exited Valley View after "chilling" there. The two suspects were captured hiding in an apartment at Valley View, and police found a handgun described as the one used in the robbery. In many of the recent cases, the people involved were out-of-towners, as noted by Canonsburg police Chief R.T. Bell, who said, "It seems like the terrace is drawing outsiders like the old days. We are getting more calls up there like shots being fired, and the problems have been with people who don't live there." Now, I'll admit that my knowledge of Valley View Terrace is limited. I've never been there, and I don't know anyone who lives there. I also don't know the layout of the project, especially how many entrances and exits there are, but at the risk of infringing on people's civil liberties, I think it's time that people who want to enter Valley View are subjected to a police check at the entrance(s). The project, as far as I know, provides government-subsidized housing, so our tax dollars are involved here, and I think we who are footing the bill have a right to be assured it does not become, or should no longer be allowed to function, as a haven for druggies and other criminals. I'm even going to go out on a limb and suggest that if a drug-sniffing dog were employed in these vehicle checks, he would earn his food. Said Bell, "The area is starting to be a thorn in our side again. They all seem to find Canonsburg." Well, it's time they all find somewhere else to go.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Placing the blame

It has been seven years since a gang of foreign terrorists launched cowardly, kamikaze attacks on our country. It is a day to remember those who lost their lives, some very heroically. But we are a country that also constantly looks forward, and one thing we have to look forward to is one hell of a mess in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, a day before the 9/11 commemorations, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told Congress that "we're running out of time" to salvage Afghanistan. "I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan," said Mullen. And the blame for that lies squarely on one person, President Bush. It was ultimately his decision to virtually abandon the real war against terror to pursue a trumped-up, ruinous war in Iraq, and now we are reaping the deadly harvest from his horrible decisions. Where does Afghanistan stand nearly seven years after our intervention? The Taliban and al-Qaida are regrouping and regaining power. Opium production continues almost unabated, and the illicit drug trade actually helps finance the resurgence of the people behind the 9/11 atrocities. Hamid Karzai's so-called national government can't exert any real authority once you get a short distance from Kabul. And while the situation in Afghanistan worsened, we lost 4,000 lives and spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq. And all the while, our few allies in these fights are either refusing to send more troops or pulling their forces out entirely. Would those 4,000 American lives that were sacrificed in Iraq have been lost anyway if we had kept the focus on Afghanistan and the border area with Pakistan? Perhaps. But at least Afghanistan might not be the festering hellhole it is today, a place where we might have to spend thousands more of our soldiers' lives to clean up the mess that our own president must bear the responsiblity for creating.


Energy out of thin air?

Texas oilman and billionaire T. Boone Pickens says he's seen the future, or at least what he hopes is the future, in terms of meeting the country's energy needs, and according to Pickens, it's wind power. You can check it out at Pickens' Web site, but Pickens' basic argument is that we need to reduce our reliance on foreign oil - Who can argue with that? - and that greater reliance on wind power, along with natural gas-powered vehicles, is the way to go. Pickens notes that this year alone, based on current oil prices, we will send $700 billion out of the country, and he points out that America, with just 4 percent of the world's population, uses 25 percent of the world's oil production. Pickens has positioned himself to take advantage of a shift to wind power (He says he's building the world's largest wind farm in Texas right now), but hey, he's a businessman. Just because he might profit from it doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. Any thoughts?


Monday, September 8, 2008

Credit where credit is due

Politicians take a beating on blogs, on the radio, in newspapers and on TV, so in the interest of fairness, I think we should praise elected officials when they do a good job. I'd like to throw out an "atta boy" to Washington County's new district attorney, Steve Toprani, who seems to be a breath of fresh air in county politics. I've not directly witnessed any court proceedings since Toprani ousted longtime DA John Pettit, and I've never met Mr. Toprani, but the general feeling I get is that he's a competent administrator, and old cases are being moved through the judicial system. Also, the DA's Drug Task Force has been doing land office business, and Toprani's not even up for re-election. In addition, just last week, the new DA took the first step toward shutting down an alleged nuisance bar in Canton Township. That's the bar being padlocked in the photo above. Toprani said residents in the area of the bar were living in fear, and something needed to be done. It's apparently the first time in more than a decade that such an action has been taken, and Toprani says it's not likely to be the last. Said the DA, "We are putting area bar owners on notice: If you attract or permit dangerous and illicit activity on your premises, we will take all ncecessary legal action to protect our residents." Good work, Mr. Toprani. Keep it up.


Same old double-talk

The presidential candidates and their running mates are lying to you. Take a moment to let that sink in, because I know you must be shocked. Of course, I'm joking. You're not shocked at all. Neither am I. The only time I'm really surprised is when a candidate says something truthful and controversial. Both parties are equally guilty, but the most recent example of the double-speak that caught my attention came from Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. In his speech at last week's party convention, McCain spoke about wanting to reach out to Democrats to find bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems. McCain touted himself as a man with a track record of working across the aisle. The very next day, I turn on the television and see a McCain campaign ad that speaks of his desire to end years of wasteful spending and unbalanced budgets. But the only photos that are used with the ad depict Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and other Democratic Senate leaders. Not a single Republican in there, so apparently the GOP is blameless for the fact that the country went from balanced budgets under Bill Clinton to a projected fiscal year 2008 budget deficit of $407 billion under a Republican president. McCain's ad seems to conveniently forget that for the better part of the past eight years, Republicans controlled the White House and Congress. Why would McCain run an advertisement that so obviously ignores the truth? Because people swallow it, hook, line and sinker. The Democrats do the same thing, painting McCain as a carbon copy of President Bush and showing photos of him subserviently embracing Bush, even though any intelligent person who has been paying attention over the past eight years knows that McCain has not marched in lock-step with "W." McCain and Obama run these ads because they work. And they work because a large percentage of voters are swayed by fear and propaganda, tether themselves to single, easily exploitable issues and make no effort to find out what the candidates really stand for. In short, we are sheep.


It is worth it?

I don't like to belittle the efforts of people who truly are trying to make a difference in our community, but I thought it was kind of ridiculous the other day when local and state officials held a "rededication of the city of Washington" ceremony (shown above) at Patriots Pavilion across from the O-R building. The event marked the near-completion of the $15 million downtown revitalization project. Yes, there are new sidewalks and planters, and the utility lines have been buried underground, but I come downtown pretty much every day, and what else is really different? There's very little commerce, except for perhaps the lunch business at a few restaurants and people coming to the bars in the evenings. For every business that has opened over the past few years, it seems that another one has closed. Officials say the next phase is marketing the downtown to businesses. I wish them the best of luck, for the good of the city, but it's an uphill climb. Remember a few years back when Jack Piatt, I believe, had a major redevelopment of the downtown in mind? It met with opposition from existing businesses in the area and was never heard from again. And by the way, after years of work and the spending of $15 million, the fancy new streelights on South Main still don't work. Was this money well spent?


Friday, September 5, 2008

Wow, what a surprise

I was bitching a few days ago about our justice system that allows people who commit or are accused of drug and other crimes to repeatedly be released back among law-abiding citizens. The main target of my disgust was the arrest and almost immediate release on $10,000 bond of Douglas Yondale Cochran, who was among several people picked up during a crackdown on drugs and guns in the Washington area. Guess what? Mr. Cochran, who also goes by the name Yandell Barfield, didn't obey the law and show up for his preliminary hearing on Thursday. Stunning, isn't it? A state trooper told a district justice Thursday that when Cochran was arrested in a stolen car, he was in possession of suspected cocaine and marijuana that had been packaged for sale. He also had thousands of dollars in his pockets, and while the money on his person was most likely held as suspected proceeds of illicit drug sales, do you really think Cochran was concerned about the relative pittance (generally, 10 percent of a bond is sufficient to gain one's release) he would be forfeiting if he didn't show for court? Also, there's the fact that Cochran was just recently freed from federal custody on drug and escape charges. ESCAPE?!?!?! Certainly no red flag there. Now the police can play "Where's Cochran?". Pittsburgh? Youngstown? Detroit? Philly? Who knows? Maybe it would have been better to just keep him behind bars in the first place.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Um, never mind

It's the nature of politics that people who are fighting one another for a presidential nomination try to tear down their opponents, until one of those opponents wins the nomination. Then they deify the same person they had spent months vilifying. Hillary Clinton called Barack Obama everything but a sack of poop during their primary battles. Now, she's an Obama cheerleader. Mitt Romney once said that Obama would mop the floor with John McCain if the Republicans made the mistake of picking the Arizona senator as their candidate. Now, in Romney's eyes, McCain is the second coming of Brigham Young. In that vein, here's an amusing video of Karl Rove that I caught on the Daily Show last night. He was talking about the possibility, a few weeks ago, that Obama might pick Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as a running mate. Do you think he was blindsided by the Palin pick?


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

This just feels icky

A local woman is hoping that a massage program that got its start in other countries will be coming to Washington County schools. I hope her hopes aren't too high. According to a story in Wednesday's O-R, Nicki Cooke, a registered nurse who runs Nicki's Magic Touch in Burgettstown, says training will take place next month in Pittsburgh for the Massage in Schools Programme. Note the fancy spelling. Ooooh, la la. Cook says the programme, or program, is for kids ages 4 to 12. Teachers can receive massage training, as can kids, with parental permission. The massages would be performed on children's backs, necks, arms and heads, but only through clothing. And, again, permission would be needed before a child could receive a massage. The O-R story says a couple of ladies from Sweden and Canada developed the program eight years ago "as a means of realizing their vision that every child in the world would receive positive nurturing touch every day." If that doesn't sound like New Age mumbo jumbo, I don't know what does. Cooke said that, thus far, no Washington County schools are participating. I'm not surprised. As we all know, it's just a few short inches from "positive touch" to "bad touch," and any school district that approves this program is setting itself up for an incredible liability situation. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the whole thing is innocuous or even beneficial to kids. But it sort of creeps me out. What do you think?


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

McCain's team hits a (baby) bump in the road

When I was out and about over the holiday weekend, people everywhere seemed to be talking about the news that Republican vice presidential nominee-in-waiting Sarah Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter has found herself in the "family way." Palin's camp apparently decided to break the news publicly after Internet rumblings that the Alaska governor faked her own recent pregnancy in order to cover up the pregnancy of 17-year-old Bristol, shown at left with her youngest sibling. In other words, no, she wasn't pregnant then, but guess what, she is now. The Palins say their daughter will be marrying the fella who helped put her in this predicament. Most likely, they will do OK. At least on the maternal side, the parents have money. But 17-year-olds all across the country are getting pregnant every day - hundreds a day, probably - and many of them do not have the resources to properly raise a child. You and I will pay a lot of money to do so, whether now or later, when they end up on welfare or in prison. Perhaps it would have helped some of those teenage girls to have had more information on how to prevent pregnancy. But Sarah Palin doesn't go for that sort of thing. She opposes comprehensive sex education in public schools. You just wonder whether Bristol Palin, if she had been given more information about the risks of pregnancy and disease from unprotected sex, would have taken preventive measures. Also, perhaps if she came from a less rigid home, instead of one in which the only answer to sex questions is a demand for abstinence, she might have felt comfortable telling her parents she was sexually active and asking for their help in obtaining birth-control pills. Palin's running mate, John McCain, has been evasive and vague when talking about the teen sex issue, but he has voted against teen pregnancy prevention efforts in the past. It's funny that Palin apparently expected her daughter to be a responsible person in the area of procreation when she, herself, showed poor judgment with her last pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of a Down syndrome baby a few months back. Women of her age have a much greater chance (about 1 in 40 births) of having a Down syndrome child, and the rate of other chromosomal abnormalities is also highly elevated. It's one thing for the parents to be willing to take the risk that when they're 85, they'll still be providing child care, but the handicapped child is given no choice in the matter. It just seems selfish and reckless to me, especially if you, because of your beliefs, have no intention of terminating a pregnancy, even if early testing shows a severe abnormality. A friend of mine remarked that he heard Sarah Palin say that her Down syndrome son, Trig, had taught her and her husband more than they could ever teach him. Said the friend, "I thought they were talking about a 10-year-old kid. Then I find out the kid is five months old. Gimme a break." Of course, now the McCain campaign is blasting the media for reporting on Palin's family issues, and the Palins are asking the media to respect their daughter's privacy. Perhaps Mrs. Palin should have had some respect for her daughter's privacy, since she knew damn well that all of her family's laundry would be on display once she accepted a spot on a major-party presidential ticket. Perhaps when she was asked to join McCain, the right answer would have been, "I just had a Down syndrome baby, and my 17-year-old unwed daughter is expecting. Now is just not the right time for me take this nomination, based on the needs of my family." Don't "family values" come first?