Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Whom do you tip, and how much?

Glad to be back among you after an enjoyable visit with the in-laws in Cincinnati (which included watching, in person, a stirring victory by the Bengals over the powerhouse Kansas City Chiefs - Who Dey?). One of my in-laws (she wanted to remain anonymous - oops) suggested that I ask for opinions on the blogosphere about tipping. Whom do you tip? The mailman? Bartenders? The paper delivery person (who is, for the most part, no longer a neighborhood kid, but a guy in a pickup truck)? The person who cuts your hair? The guy who uses one of Ellipses' beloved Shamwows to wipe off your seat at a ball game? I recently had furniture delivered and gave $10 to each of the guys who lugged the stuff in. Is that typical? And once we've determined whom we tip, we have to decide how much. I think a buck is plenty for the guy with the Shamwow, but how much for waitresses and waiters, who rely most on tips? From what I understand, the old 10-percent-of-the-bill tip is so 1970s. If the service is good, I generally tip 20 percent. If it's a place like Shorty's, where the bill is smaller than, say, Angelo's or the Union Grill, I'll tip a higher percentage. Tomorrow, we'll get back to the pressing issues of the day - such as Palin's bastard grandbaby - but for now, what are your thoughts on tipping?


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to give my best holiday wishes to each and every one of you who contribute to the blog, either by your comments or just by being faithful readers. You are all greatly appreciated. I will be making a holiday trip to visit the in-laws in Cincinnati (a buddy is staying at my house, so don't even think about trying to steal my leftover Christmas cookies). The highlight of the trip will no doubt be my attendance at the Bengals-Chiefs game on Sunday (my dad-in-law has season tickets, the poor bugger). I'll try to get on here and keep up with the news of the world, but I make no guarantees. My posts may be inversely proportional to the quantity of Christmas cheer I consume. So, again, whether you be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or celebrate Kwanzaa or Festivus, my sincere wishes to you and yours. Peace and love to you all.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Doppler titillation

Fred Honsberger was talking about one of my pet peeves the other day on his KDKA radio show. Fred was ripping the three Pittsburgh TV stations for making mountains out of molehills when it comes to reporting on the weather, especially wintry weather. I couldn't agree with him more. Fred noticed the same thing I did the other night: "Team coverage" of a "winter weather event" that involved TV reporters standing in a light RAIN as temperatures in the area were RISING. These TV stations sound the bread-milk-toilet paper alert every time there's anything more than a snow flurry in the forecast. It seems to me this weather hysteria started in the early 1990s when the local forecasters badly missed the call on a major snowstorm. They called for a little snow. We got a bunch. Ever since then, they always err on the side of predicting more snow than we actually receive. Here's a pretty good rule of thumb. If they call for 6 to 8 inches, expect 2 or 3. If they call for 2 to 4 inches, expect an inch. If they call for an inch, expect a dusting. And if they call for a dusting, get out a microscope. It's winter. We live in Pennsylvania. We fully expect to see some white stuff. My request of the TV weather folks is to quit making every snow shower seem like Armageddon. Yeah, like that'll happen.


This makes no sense

With Democrat Barack Obama headed to the White House, the unions who heavily supported him in his run against John McCain are looking to call in some favors. According to a recent AP story, their first priority is to win approval of legislation that would compel businesses to recognize labor unions as soon as more than 50 percent of a work force signs union cards. Labor leaders contend employers have relied on secret-ballot elections to arm-twist and intimidate workers into nixing unions. Employers, however, say there's a much greater chance of coercion when all the union has to do is get a sufficient number of signatures on union cards. It seems pretty clear to me that employers are correct on this issue. The reason we have secret ballots in this country is to protect people from being subjected to mistreatment because of the way they vote. It's obvious to me that there's a much greater possibility of browbeating and intimidation if the union-card system were to be approved. With a secret-ballot election, employees can express their true feelings about unions without fear of reprisal. There are plenty of more important economic issues facing the incoming president. He should forget about this one.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

I vote "no"

The parents of John Walker Lindh, the American who converted to Islam as a teenager and ended up fighting for the Taliban, are asking President Bush to show mercy during the holiday season and, before leaving office, order their son released from prison. Lindh is serving a 20-year term after pleading guilty in 2002 to serving in the Taliban army, thus violating the U.S. sanctions that were in place then against Afghanistan. Lindh was captured by Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan in December 2001, was later shot during a prison uprising and was then turned over to U.S. authorities. He's doing his time in a minimum-security prison in Indiana, and I think he should spend a bit more time there to consider the errors of his ways. There are thousands of common and uncommon criminals asking Bush to pardon them or commute their sentences. They include junk bond king Michael Milken, media mogul Conrad Black and disgraced ex-Congressman Duke Cunningham. They may or may not be worthy of the president's mercy, but none of them admitted serving with a military force trying to kill Americans. Lindh's mother, Marilyn, said "John made a mistake in joining the Taliban." A mistake? No, a mistake is locking your keys in your car. It's all well and good to criticize one's government. I've done plenty of that. But to take up arms against your own people? There's no pardoning that.



Say what you will about Drew Peterson, but the man has a deep, abiding faith in the convention of marriage that has not been shaken by the, uh, unexpected endings to his previous couplings. For those who don't recall, Peterson, 54, is the Illinois ex-cop who is under suspicion in the deaths of his third and fourth wives. Potential wife No. 5 is described as a 23-year-old who lives near Peterson's home in Bolingbrook, Ill., and has been dating him for about four months. There is that little problem of Peterson still being married to his fourth wife, Stacy (shown in the photo with Peterson), who vanished in October 2007. Peterson is a suspect in the disappearance, which is under investigation by a grand jury. The panel also is looking into the death of Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio, who was found dead in a bathtub in 2004. Savio's body was exhumed after Stacy Peterson's disappearance, and what originally was thought to be an accidental drowning was reclassified as a homicide. Peterson can free himself from his marriage to Stacy by claiming desertion, but with his track record, what woman in her right mind would marry this guy? As I often say when I see a guy or a gal with someone who, at least on the surface, would appear to be out of their league, perhaps Mr. Peterson has talents of which we're not aware. Also, a woman pondering matrimony with Peterson might think that with two potential murder charges hanging over his head, he might want to avoid any further complications and would comport himself in a way as to not even risk getting a parking ticket. I can't finish this up without first giving you a couple of great quotes from the Fox News story on the pending marriage. From Peterson: "Normally, the media has ruined every relationship I've had." The media drowned your third wife and spirited away the fourth one? And this from Peterson lawyer Joel Brodsky, regarding Peterson's desire to keep his fiancee's identity a secret: "He's genuinely fond of this girl, and he doesn't want to scare her away." A little media attention would make a difference? Love is strange.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No hate cake for you

A couple of goofballs from New Jersey who gave their children hate-based names are miffed that a local supermarket refused to inscribe a birthday cake with the name of their oldest child. You see, these idiots named their boy Adolph Hitler. The folks at the ShopRite store deemed the request inappropriate, so Heath and Deborah Campbell, shown above with the 3-year-old modern-day fuhrer, had to get their cake at Wal-Mart. Hey, they'd just finished doing a Mussolini cake, so what they heck. Just for the record, the Campbells have two other children, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell (well, that's not so bad), who turns 1 in April, and JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell (ouch, there we go again), who will be 2 in a few months. Heath Campbell professes to be amazed by the controversy. Said the dad, "I think people need to take their heads out of the cloud they've been in and start focusing on the future and not on the past." Uh huh. This from a guy who named his kid after a genocidal dictator who has been DEAD FOR 63 YEARS! Yeah, you have a lot of credibility, buddy. Campbell also noted that among the dozen guests at a birthday party for young Hitler were several children of mixed race. "If we're so racist, then why would I have them come into my home?" he asked. Hey, it's one thing to have "them" in your home for an hour of two, but answer me this: Did you throw out the utensils they used when the party was over? Just wondering. Campbell, who during an interview with the AP wore a pair of black boots he said had been worn by a German soldier during World War II, provided the stunning revelation that he had been raised to avoid mixing socially or romantically with people of other races. But, by golly, he's different. "Say (Adoph) grows up and hangs out with black people. That's fine, I really don't care," said Campbell. "That's his choice." So, if Adolph wants to grab a burger with a black kid from school, his dad won't stand in the way. What a humanitarian. Call the Nobel people. You hate to wish ill on anyone, but my thought after reading the AP story about these idiots was that the best thing that could happen to the three kids in this family would be for the parents to be taken out by a well-placed lightning bolt so that the children could be raised by people who are not world-class jackasses.


Throw the book at 'em

Another example of our misguided justice system was on display in Greene County a few days ago. A man appeared before a judge for sentencing on what was at least his third driving-under-the-influence-of-alcohol charge in four years. A month ago, the man was sentenced to 14 to 28 months behind bars for a previous DUI case. In the most recent case, the man was accused of intentionally running his vehicle into two other cars in Jefferson Township. When the cops caught up with him, his blood-alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit. One would think the judge would add considerably more time onto the 14 to 28 months the defendant already was facing. But no, the judge allowed the man into the state's intermediate punishment program, which will have him serve a minimum of seven months in state prison, followed by four months in an "institutional therapeutic program." He will then be on probation. Does this strike anyone else as ridiculous? Does anyone else think he should have gotten the maximum sentence on each of these cases? We can debate whether having a "drinking problem" is a sickness that requires treatment, but there's no debating that on each of the instances when he was arrested, the man in question chose to get behind the wheel of a car, and on one of those occasions, he made the decision to steer his car into other vehicles. I don't care if you down two bottles of Jim Beam nightly in the privacy of your own home. Nothing illegal about that. And I've said before that I think our laws are overly punitive toward people who barely crack the 0.08 limit and haven't done anything else to break the law. But when you choose to get liquored up to the point of being falling-down drunk and get behind the wheel, you should expect severe punishment.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mmmmmm, honesty

In our PC world, it's not all that often that people in general, and especially those in the public eye, express themselves freely and honestly. And when public figures are quoted as saying something that provokes anger or outrage, they usually claim they were misquoted or that their remarks were "taken out of context." Most often, they beg forgiveness. That's why I greatly respect Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola and Tiger Woods' caddie, Steve Williams. Raiola plays for the most hapless team in the NFL and, as one might expect, fans at Lions games are growing a bit disenchanted with the squad's performance. That apparently has translated into some rather rough talk directed toward the players. On a recent Sunday, Raiola said the heckling went too far, so he treated fans to a one-finger salute. When surrounded the next day by reporters, who no doubt were expecting a contrite Raiola to apologize, Raiola had this to say: "I don't take one thing back." Good for you, Dom. Steve Williams' transgression was to speak his true feelings about his employer's chief rival, Phil Mickelson. Williams, in an interview with a New Zealand newspaper, said he wouldn't call Mickelson a great player "because I think he's a prick." After that report came out, another newspaper called Williams about the comment, and instead of claiming he was misquoted, Williams confirmed what he had said. Of course, Woods said he was "disappointed" by the "inappropriate" remarks and that "the matter has been discussed and dealt with." But as Williams noted, "I was simply honest." How refreshing.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Looks like White is right

I'm no expert on the issue of public infrastructure, and I don't know all the ins and outs of the current dispute over the Millers Run sewerage project, but it looks more and more as if state Rep. Jesse White is on the right course to demand more accountability of the officials in Cecil Township. A story in the O-R last week noted that with about 120 households still not hooked into the new sewer system, the supervisors in Cecil Township are now trying to find ways to help residents afford the $6,000 tap-in fees. Township Supervisor Phyllis Zaccarino says her board is now considering setting up joint financial workshops with Cecil Township Municipal Authority in order to help residents find ways to meet that cost. White notes that he had a financial assistance workshop for the same people in the spring, and the township authority refused to get involved. Said White, "The township missed that party by about nine months, and it was a party they were invited to and didn't bother to attend." He said the authority wouldn't even buy the stamps to send out notices to residents about the workshop, something he was not allowed to do because of restrictions on him as a candidate for re-election. The lawmaker suspects that the township's actions now are based more on politics than a true desire to help the residents. He said the township's actions may be too little and way too late, explaining that state funding for infrastructure improvements is administered through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, but only at the start of a project. I spoke with a friend who has considerable knowledge in this area, and he said Cecil Township officials dragged their feet on pursuing public sewerage in that area, refusing to do anything and allowing raw sewage to foul Millers Run until the DEP essentially put a gun to Cecil Township's head and forced the officials to take action. He said if township officials had moved on the project when first pressed to do so, there would have been considerably more public funding available. Now, residents are faced with a $6,000 bill in order to tap in. Zaccarino said the township is "considering financial arrangements" for folks who have financial hardships. That's all well and good, but then "bad cop" Dennis Bell, the township authority manager, added, "We are willing to work with them if they would come in and talk to us. Do they think we are just going to go away?" No, I'm sure they don't think you're going to forget about them. But how many among us can afford to plunk down $6,000 to tap into a sewer system? I know I don't have that kind of money lying about. And setting up a payment play isn't going to cut it for some folks, either. There are a lot of people around here who are robbing Peter to pay Paul just in order to meet the financial obligations they have now. Some of them are falling short, and the last thing they need is another monthly bill. It's a shame they're being put in this position.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

He thinks; therefore, he's out

The Associated Press describes the Rev. Richard Cizik, above, as a Washington, D.C., fixture who "played a key role in bringing evangelical Christian concerns to the political table" over the past 30 years. But now, Cizik has been forced out of his post as vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. It seems that Cizik has been doing a little too much thinking and soul-searching to suit some of the folks in the NAE. Cizik drew some consternation for wanting to add concern for the environment to the NAE's two-pronged menu of hating abortion and gay people. The calls for his head increased when he suggested that he supported Barack Obama for president. But the straw that broke the camel's back was his statement on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program that he was "shifting" on the gay marriage issue and "would willingly say I believe in civil unions." You can't blame the NAE for wanting a lobbyist/spokesman who actually represents the organization's views, but I have to commend the Rev. Cizik for being a thinking person who, rather than spend the rest of his life repeating the same narrow mantra, decided to reflect on his views and change things about himself and his beliefs where he felt it was right to do so. Another factor leading me to respect the Rev. Cizik is the fact that one of his fiercest detractors is James Dobson of Focus on the Family. That's the same James Dobson who recently spent upwards of $600,000 to block gay marriage in California, then almost immediately announced plans to lay off more than 200 of his employees because of financial reasons. Have a Merry Christmas, folks. But back to the Rev. Cizik. It was Socrates who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I think the Rev. Cizik realized that. Dobson never will.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Proud to be an American?

Here's the lead from an AP story that came out late last night:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The physical and mental abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay was the direct result of Bush administration detention policies and should not be dismissed as the work of bad guards or interrogators, according to a bipartisan Senate report released Thursday.
The Senate Armed Services Committee report concludes that harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA and the U.S. military were directly adapted from the training techniques used to prepare special forces personnel to resist interrogation by enemies who torture and abuse prisoners. The techniques included forced nudity, painful stress positions, sleep deprivation and, until 2003, waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.

The chairman of the committee, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, called it "both unconscionable and false" that administration officials tried to blame the abuses on low-level soldiers, or "a few bad apples." Republican Sen. John McCain, perhaps America's best-known former prisoner of war, called the link between the survival training and U.S. interrogations of detainees inexcusable. Said McCain, "These policies are wrong and must never be repeated." Of course, an aide to former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld brushed off the report. But the story goes on to note that the Bush administration continues to use delaying tactics and sometimes has outright refused to allow members of Congress to see key legal documents and memos regarding the detainee program, including an August 2002 memorandum evaluating whether certain interrogation techniques proposed to be used by the CIA would amount to torture. These are exactly the kinds of things that make it tough for otherwise patriotic Americans to be proud of their country. And before you rush to defend the actions as necessary to break down "Godless terrorists," just think for a minute what our nation's collective reaction would be if we found out that some of our troops were waterboarded or stripped naked and physically abused. It's shameful, no matter who's doing it.


Kind of embarrassing

I was walking through the living room today, and the missus was watching something on television. I recognized Melissa Gilbert, but I couldn't figure out why little Laura Ingalls, or Half-Pint as she's also known, was surrounded by a bunch of swarthy immigrants speaking heavily accented English. Did a wagon train break down in Walnut Grove? Um, no. Turns out, it was a movie version of "The Diary of Anne Frank." My bad.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One and done

Children's service agencies typically make it their goal to rebuild troubled families and, if children are taken from parents, to provide help to those parents with the hope that their kids can someday be returned to them. If the allegations pending against a Donora couple prove to be true, they should never again set eyes on their kids, let alone be allowed to have them in their home. Borough police and a Washington County Children and Youth Services caseworker say they found two young children living in horrible conditions Monday when they went to the home of William Edwards, 36, and Shawnte Annette Exum, 30. When a police officer and the caseworker knocked on the couple's apartment door, it was answered by a 5-year-old boy, who eventually allowed them to enter. No adults were present. In a criminal complaint, the officials described the boy as being dirty and having a strong odor of urine about him. In searching the apartment, they said they found a 1-year-old boy who was dirty and wearing a soiled diaper. The children were in the dark. Feces and dirty clothes were on the floor. There was no running water, and the only food was in the freezer. Because the officer and caseworker couldn't find any clean clothing or shoes for the boys, they had to wrap them in blankets to take them to the police station, where officers waited an hour and a half for the mother to show up. She told police that her boyfriend was supposed to be watching the children. When asked for his name, she allegedly lied to police, repeatedly. When police finally found Edwards, they say he told them that he left the apartment to sell his food stamps. And what was he going to buy with that money? Food? I suspect not. Fortunately, the children are in a safe place for now, and their parents were charged with child endangerment and put in jail, which is exactly where they belong. I don't know whether CYS will attempt to "rehabilitate" the two so-called adults, but it's my opinion that they should never get those kids back. In fact, if I had the power, I would order that they be sterilized. There's no reason to take the chance that they'll breed again.


They're blinding us with science

A report out this week shows that nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania's 11th-graders failed the state's new science test. My reaction to that is a lengthy yawn. For the vast majority of the students who fell short of the benchmarks - maybe all of them - this failure on a science test will have absolutely no effect on them later in life. When I was in junior high, I told my teachers, parents, heck, anybody who would listen, that I could pretty much guarantee that algebra, geometry and the like would be of absolutely no use to me in my adult life. I'm 50 now, and I'm still correct, despite the fact that my base of knowledge of geometry consists entirely of the ability to differentiate among circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. I'm not a math and science person, and a lot of young people aren't, either. Those who are will score well on standardized tests in those areas, and they may well pursue careers in which those segments of learning have some importance. State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak says the scores of the 11th-graders in the recent testing show that Pennsylvania needs to impose tougher graduation standards. Yeah, that's right, let's force more children out of school, prevent them from getting diplomas and perhaps cost them employment opportunities just because they didn't meet arbitrary standards in science. That's plain stupid. Here's my suggestion. Quit having your educators "teach to the test" and go back to the days (yes, the Dark Ages when I was in school) when we got a well-rounded education that put history, geography, civics and literature on the same level as math and science. A mind is, indeed, a terrible thing to waste, and with the No Child Left Behind-driven style of "education," we're wasting a lot of them.


Court takes an opposing "stance"

Poor old Larry "Not-Gay-Never-Been-Gay" Craig. The Idaho senator lost another court battle this week in his effort to withdraw his guilty plea in connection with the infamous Twin Cities airport bathroom incident. After his loss before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Craig says he's pondering an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. He needs to let it go. The lawmaker voluntarily pleaded guilty, and he decided that was the wrong move only after the footsie incident became public. Craig, who initially announced his resignation but reneged on that later, is in his final days as a senator. By pursuing the case further, the only thing he accomplishes is keeping it in the public eye. The court of public opinion already has rendered its verdict, and the senator doesn't fare well in that forum, either. Craig has steadfastly maintained that he's not gay, despite mounting allegations to the contrary, and perhaps as a way to reinforce that claim, he has pursued an anti-gay agenda throughout his Senate career. It's one thing if a gay person wants to lead a closeted life. To each his own. But it's quite another to consistently backstab fellow members of an oppressed group. If you are, indeed, gay, Senator Craig, you're more than pathetic, you're a disgraceful traitor.


Monday, December 8, 2008

What's wrong with moderation?

An AP story today says President-elect Barack Obama is running into some resistance as he fills out his Cabinet and other upper-level posts. And the griping is coming from liberals who fear that Obama, flayed by McCain-Palin as the most liberal member of Congress, isn't staying far enough to the left. Because of the state of the economy, Obama has backed away from his promise to immediately repeal tax cuts that benefited the wealthy. He's also taking more of a wait-and-see approach about pulling troops from Iraq. And he hasn't named left-wingers to Cabinet posts. Cue the discontent. "He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right Cabinet. But we do hope that before it's all over, we can get at least one authentic progressive appointment," whined Tim Carpenter, national director of the Progressive Democrats of America. Added OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers, "Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?" Somebody get those fellows some tissues. What would be wrong, really, in having a president who listens to all sides - liberal, moderate and conservative - before charting a course of action? What would be wrong with a president who governs from the middle and actually embraces bipartisanship, instead of spouting hollow words like the soon-to-be-departed resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? Would it be wrong to have a pragmatic, thoughtful person in the nation's highest office after eight years of government by right-wing ideologues who bankrupted our country literally, ethically and morally, all the while treating intelligent discourse and intellectual curiosity like a bad case of the clap? Why not give the guy a chance and see what he can accomplish over the next couple of years? He certainly has enough on his plate without having to listen to a bunch of caterwauling uberliberals.


Catching the ambulance

It took only a couple of days for the family of Jdimytai Damour, the famously trampled Wal-Mart worker from New York, to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the retailing behemoth. The suit claims that Wal-Mart failed to provide sufficient security to handle the mob of Black Friday shoppers who descended on the Long Island store where Damour worked and literally was crushed to death by bargain-thirsty customers. But the suit also contends that store ads touting deep discounts "created an atmosphere of competition and anxiety" that led to "crowd craze." The suit says the store "engaged in specific marketing and advertising techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create an environment of frenzy and mayhem." Now, I think it's fine to argue that security and crowd-control measures were lacking, but I think it's a bit much to chastise a business for trying to attract shoppers. Isn't that their raison d'etre? Whatever the case, I'm sure Mr. Damour's relatives will be financially comfortable for life when this is all over.


Let 'em dangle

Businesses come and go. Some thrive. Others die. It's the nature of capitalism. Those that make goods or provide services that people want, while maintaining sound business practices, will thrive. Those that don't, well, they fail. The Big Three automakers are on the brink of failure, and I'm tempted to say we should let them do so, rather than give them billions to stay afloat. The only thing that gives me pause is the number of good jobs that will be lost, but the United Auto Workers union has to bear some responsibility for the current mess, and if GM, Ford and Chrysler were to be relegated to the dustbin of history, somebody else will make cars in the United States, and will need the skilled labor to do so. The UAW negotiated itself a jobs bank program in which, at last count, about 3,500 workers for the Big Three automakers were being paid up to 95 percent of their salaries for NOT working. At the same time, the bigwigs of the auto companies have been pulling down millions in salaries while running their businesses into the ground. Last week, Fritz Henderson, president and chief operating officer of GM, said bankruptcy reorganization was not a viable option for his company, because GM would lose consumer confidence, "and we want (consumers) to be confident in their ability to buy our cars and trucks." Number one, why shouldn't we just allow consumers to have confidence in buying Toyotas, Hondas and BMWs? They make good cars and trucks, many of them right here in the United States. Number two, many companies have gone into bankruptcy reorganization and emerged to become successful again. That suggests that consumers didn't abandon them just because they needed to get their houses in order. If the hardware store down the street from you goes under, nobody's going to come running from the government to cut them a check. Why should GM, Ford and Chrysler be any different?


Thursday, December 4, 2008

What humanitarians

Our state, like the nation, is in the throes of an economic catastrophe, but never let it be said that our elected officials aren't feeling our pain. Lawmakers, including Rep. Tim Solobay of Canonsburg and Rep. Jesse White of Cecil, are lining up to give back their 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustments. Said White, "It would be a slap in the face if we took this COLA while so many Pennsylvanians are struggling to just get by." Yeah, so they'll just continue slapping us in the face in other ways. Democracy Rising, a watchdog group led by former DeWeese staffer Tim Potts, has an item on its Web site about the per diem payments our lawmakers receive, up to $129 a day. As Democracy Rising notes, if you and I were to travel for work, we would be expected to provide receipts for every penny we spent if we hoped to be reimbursed. But the group notes that our state lawmakers are not like you and I. Here are some examples from the Web site:

- State lawmakers don't actually have to be working to get per diems. Capitol watchers and lobbyists are accustomed to seeing lawmakers show up at committee meetings long enough for a roll call, then leave. For those few minutes, they get a full per diem.
- They don't actually have to have expenses. Many lawmakers go home at night. Many share apartments. Some even buy houses in Harrisburg. Some stay in hotels. Their meals can be covered by lobbyists and their caucus leaders.
- They don't actually have to turn in receipts. Such petty accountability, legislative leaders say, would be a waste of their valuable time.

Democracy Rising says the average lawmaker makes $25,000 a year on per diems, in addition to their base salaries of nearly $80,000. Is it really asking too much of our elected officials to give us a full accounting of how they spend our money? I understand that the lawmakers need a place to stay and a couple of meals a day while working in Harrisburg. But I want to know if they're sleeping in their own beds and using their allowance to buy $100 meals at fancy restaurants. They may tell you they wouldn't do that, but how would we know? And is it too much to ask that the lawmakers actually have legitimate expenses before they get the $129 a day? It's really useless to complain, though, considering we just keep sending the same people back to Harrisburg. As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome. And our state lawmakers probably think that by giving back a cost-of-living allowance, we'll view them as some sort of governmental Mother Teresas. What a joke.


Stay close to the phone, Mary Beth

It's traditional that when a new president takes office, U.S. attorneys nationwide submit their resignations so the incoming chief executive can put his people in place, if he so desires. But Washington County's own Mary Beth Buchanan, an appointee of George W. Bush, isn't planning to step aside voluntarily. Buchanan told the Post-Gazette that if all the top federal prosecutors resign en masse, it's not good for American justice. Really? All those other attorneys in the various offices across the country, experienced people who are professionals in the law, can't keep the ball rolling until they get new bosses? Her critics paint Buchanan as one of the country's most politically motivated federal prosecutors, and she was linked to the Bush administration's political firings of U.S. attorneys nationwide. Kyle Sampson, an aide to then-Attorney General Alberto "I Don't Recall" Gonzales, said Buchanan was consulted before he carried out the whackings. Buchanan claims she wasn't involved, but there's no denying she was a lackey to Gonzales, who was arguably the worst attorney general in U.S. history, other than John Mitchell. But I don't want to be one-sided, so let's also point out one of Buchanan's great achievements during her tenure: the prosecution of stoner comedian Tommy Chong for selling bongs. Wait. Never mind. You see, that grandstanding bit of "justice" had absolutely no effect on drug use in America, except for maybe forcing a couple of potheads to buy more rolling papers. I will understand if President-elect Obama is too busy on his first day in office, what with the inauguration, etc., to attend to the U.S. attorney roster. Buchanan's firing can wait until Day Two. Then she can cry politics. Won't that be rich.


Thanks for nothing

Pittsburgh City Council, in a futile bit of political grandstanding, passed a measure the other day that would require gun owners to report any lost or stolen guns within 24 hours of finding that a firearm is missing. Ignoring the issue of whether the move is legal (It's not), let's focus on the effect it will have. Oh, wait, that would be none at all. Number one, it's totally unenforceable. How are police or prosecutors going to prove when someone knew that a gun was no longer in their possession? Second, explain to me how the law is going to get those missing and stolen guns off the street. Oh, wait, it won't. The guns won't turn up until they've already been used in a violent crime. Criminals who want to obtain guns are going to get them, often illegally, but trying to put the onus on legitimate gun owners is just a dodge. The council members who voted for this mess can go around puffing out their chests and saying they're doing something about street crime. Just one problem: They're not.


Monday, December 1, 2008


This from the AP this afternoon:

The stock market is plunging again, diving along with investors' confidence in the economy. Confirmation that the nation is in a recession and reports of only a modest gain in holiday shopping sales have prompted many investors to resume selling after the market's five-session advance.

Jeez, Louise, even Sarah Palin could have figured out that we were in a recession. It took a government report for the idiots on Wall Street to recognize it? I swear, as soon as stocks get back up to a good level, and they will eventually, I'm taking all my money out of the markets and away from where its value can be manipulated by people with the attention span of a 3-year-old in a store full of penny candy.


Who's minding the Homeland Security store?

Kentucky state Rep. Tom Riner is miffed that the state's Homeland Security office isn't giving God enough props for keeping the fine people of the Bluegrass State safe from terrorists. Riner, also a Southern Baptist minister, secured legislative approval of an amendment in 2006 requiring that God get his due in that regard. The law was passed during the administration of then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who was known for giving God credit in his reports to state leaders. But the AP is reporting that new Gov. Steve Beshear's administration didn't follow suit with a shout-out to God in its 2008 Homeland Security report. "We certainly expected it to be there, of course," said Riner. Here's a little more from the AP report:

The law that organized the Homeland Security office first lists Homeland Security's duty to recognize that government itself can't secure the state without God, even before mentioning other duties, which include distribution of millions of dollars in federal grants and analyzing possible threats.
Included in (Riner's) law is a requirement that the office must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on Almighty God."

Said Riner, "Government itself, apart from God, cannot close the security gap. The job is too big for government."
Um, Rev. Riner, I don't mean to be impolite, but where, exactly, was your God on Sept. 11, 2001? I mean, if we're going to entrust him with the whole Homeland Security thing, don't you thing we should expect a better job than that? Or was your God trumped by the Muslim God that day. Boy, that's embarrassing. And if your God is all-powerful, why spend these millions of dollars on Homeland Security, both in your state and nationally? Why not just rely on the "Big Guy" to handle everything. Surely, after 9/11, he'd be a bit more diligent. But really, we should have a backup plan in case He has another lapse and falls asleep at the switch. Perhaps we also should seek the help of Allah, Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (shown above), Vishnu, Krishna, Haile Selassie and the Legion of Super Heroes. There, that should do it. Sleep tight.


Pig in a poke

There was a brief item on the AP wire the other day about a couple of Chicagoans, Melody LaLuz and Claudaniel Fabian, who shared their first kiss. Why would the AP devote time to that? Because that first kiss occurred after the two were pronounced man and wife on Saturday. The two teach abstinence in Chicago public schools and decided to practice what they preached. She's 28, and he's 30. Was it really necessary for them to abstain from kissing in advance of their marriage? Their story reminded me of a program I saw on TV recently about "purity balls," which are fancy dinner-dances where fathers and their young daughters vow to protect the girls' chastity until marriage. The creepiness factor of these events is off the charts. (See photo above) The people doing the documentary interviewed some of the participants in the ball, and the girls, even those who were adults in the eyes of the law, were allowed to date only boys or men approved by their fathers. Also, they were never allowed to be alone together unless they eventually got married. I don't understand how two people can build a one-on-one relationship if they are never given any time to themselves. I'm totally in favor of couples taking a "test drive" when it comes to sex. Half of marriages end in divorce, and sexual problems and incompatibility are part of that equation. I'm also a proponent of people living together before they tie the knot. One of the truest sayings of all time is that you really don't know someone until you live with them. How many horrible matches could be avoided if people just used the same due diligence they would if they were buying a house or a new car?


More help for the overprivileged

It's bad enough that some athletes who are totally ill-suited for college and have no interest in a degree are allowed to use our institutions of higher learning as, they hope, a springboard to a professional athletic career, but the pandering to and butt-kissing of athletes has really gotten ridiculous at the University of Illinois. The athletes there, according to a recent AP report, have access to a $6 million facility with oversized leather chairs and fancy Oriental rugs. A special club, you might ask? No, it's a tutoring center. The Irwin Academic Services Center is restricted to athletes, meaning only 550 of the school's 37,000 students can gain entry to the educational palace. At the University of Illinois and other schools, folks are raising an uproar about this special treatment and are petitioning for all students to have access. But learning specialist Debby Roberts, who works at the Illinois center, defends the practice of segregating and elevating athletes, saying they need more help to focus on education. "It's a daily battle," said Roberts. "They all want to think they're going to turn pro." Well, fine. Those who do turn pro can make their money that way. Those who are deluding themselves about their value as athletes should be buckling down and hitting the books, and if they don't, they have no one to blame but themselves. Sam Carson, a fifth-year senior who plays linebacker on the Illinois football team and majors in actuarial science, said the mandatory tutoring program at the school helps him by requiring him to put in time on school work. "In high school, parents or teachers keep an eye on you," said Carson. "Here, I might have been tempted to stay in my room and watch television if I didn't have to put in those study hours." Anyone who is that lazy and unmotivated when given the gift of a free college education doesn't deserve to be there in the first place.