Sunday, March 30, 2008

This Bud's for you, youngsters

I have long been of the opinion that the decision by the federal government to force states to raise their drinking ages to 21 was a mistake. People can get married, vote for our president and get their asses shot off in Iraq at age 18, but they can't legally buy a six-pack of beer. This all grew out of the hysteria whipped up in the 1980s by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with the complicity of lawmakers who saw this as a can't-lose issue, and while I feel for anyone who has lost someone close to them to a drunken driver, I think we've gone overboard. In the vast majority of other countries, the legal drinking age is 18, even 16 in some places, and they don't seem to have any more problems with alcohol than we do. In fact, in my visits to foreign lands, I've observed that the young people, when allowed to have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, seem to have a much better grip on dealing with drinking. It isn't made into some sort of taboo, and they learn at home how to drink responsibly. A group called Choose Responsibility, led by former Middlebury College president John M. McCardell Jr., is advocating a return to a legal drinking age of 18. The group contends that setting the drinking age at 21 has "failed utterly at its goal of protecting young people from the dangers of excessive alcohol use." The organization says fewer young people are drinking, but those who do imbibe are binge drinking. Choose Responsibility also debunks the frequent claim of supporters of the 21 drinking age who suggest the change is the primary factor in the decline in alcohol-related traffic deaths. The group points to social disapproval of drunken driving, safer vehicles, air bags in cars, the use of designated drivers and the huge increase in seat-belt use as other significant developments that have cut the death rate. Changing the drinking age to 21 was like what happened to a lot of us in kindergarten when one child misbehaved and the entire class got punished. Instead of coming down hard on those who drink to excess and drive or otherwise misbehave while overindulging in alcohol, we punished all people between the ages of 18 and 20, including millions and millions who would responsibly have a few beers in their homes or a glass of wine with dinner in a restaurant. We do nothing about the threat posed by people jabbering on cell phones while they drive and very little about people driving under the influence of prescription drugs, but God forbid we let a 20-year-old have a beer.


Friday, March 28, 2008

The ballad of John Pettit

Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named John. The poor ex-D.A. says his story was all wrong. Remember when he told us that the money was all gifts? Well, that's all changed since the marital rift. Loans they were! Gotta repay! But not to her!

Let's start with a little history. Way back in the late '80s, a guy named Fred Brilla was arrested on drug charges, and police seized a bunch of his property and $50,000 in cash. After Brilla did his time, he went to court to get his property back. When the property was not produced, Brilla sued, and then-District Attorney John Pettit was found personally liable for failing to return Brilla’s stuff. In 2003, county Commissioners Diana Irey and John Bevec voted to bail Pettit out and pay the judgment, but controller Michael Namie balked. A legal battle ensued, but in the meantime, Pettit came up with the $75,176 he needed to pay the estate of Brilla, who had since been murdered. That’s a whole 'nother story that Pettit would rather forget. Anyway, Pettit said he put in a little of the cash, but most of the money came from about two dozens of his friends. And he was very clear that there were no strings attached to the money they gave him. Said Pettit in August 2004, "It’s important what we call these funds: They are gifts, not loans. We researched it, and an individual can give another individual up to $11,000 a year without any tax indication." Pettit has never identified the friends who showered him with cash. Fast-forward to 2008, and Pettit has finally prevailed in his legal battle with the county, with the commissioners deciding to end their appeals and pay the former DA about $140,000 to cover the Brilla judgment and Pettit's legal bills. Just one problem for Pettit. He's also embroiled in a divorce action brought by his wife, Sandra, who wants a chunk of the $140,000 for herself. This is where it gets interesting. John Pettit now claims that the money he raised from friends back in 2004 came in the form of loans that he has to repay. So, it appears that the gifts were only gifts until the point at which Pettit got his hands on enough of someone else's money (our tax dollars) to pay back his pals. It should make for some interesting explanations when the divorce case goes back before Judge Janet Moschetta Bell on April 3. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Serpentine! Serpentine!

There's a great scene in the hugely underrated movie "The In-Laws" (please rent the original, not the remake) in which characters played by Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are waylaid by snipers in a South American country. As they run toward a car to escape, Falk's character, a CIA agent, tells Arkin's character, a dentist, to run in a serpentine fashion to avoid getting shot. Maybe Hillary Clinton saw that movie and got that scene confused with reality when she recently claimed to have scrambled across the tarmac to escape sniper fire when, as first lady, she visited Bosnia in 1996. When the evidence mounted that Clinton's story and the truth were not one in the same, the Democratic presidential candidate initially stonewalled. But CBS News trotted out video showing Mrs. Clinton and daughter Chelsea getting off their airplane without a care in the world and being greeted by local officials and a young girl who read them a poem, above left. Faced with irrefutable footage, Hillary decided that she "misspoke." In her book "Living History," Mrs. Clinton never brought up the tale about running from sniper fire. Maybe she should re-read the book so that in future remarks about her foreign policy experience, she can accurately recall her own life.


This is sickening

There are any number of stories in the paper every week that cause one to wonder whether common decency is headed toward extinction. The latest such incident occurred last weekend when a couple of low-life thugs broke into the home of a 60-year-old Washington woman, stuck a gun in her face, tied her up and then dumped food and soiled cat litter on her. The two pieces of scum got away with $70 and the woman's credit and bank cards. Washington Neighborhood Watch is offering a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the robbers' arrests, and because crooks like the ones who attacked this poor woman are generally stupid dopeheads, word about who did it is likely to circulate. There's a good chance that the people the perpetrators confide in about their crime are also drug addicts who would be glad to take $1,000 for ratting out their fellow scumbags. "I'm hoping someone will flip on them. Money talks," said William Reihner, who coordinates the watch program. Let's hope so. My only regret is that if these people are caught and convicted, they'll most likely get away with a relative slap on the wrist. Crimes like this make me think that perhaps those countries that publicly cane or horsewhip criminals like these two have the right idea.


The tiff over TIF continues

Citizens Against Tax Increment Financing is continuing its legal fight against the TIF for the Tanger Factory Outlets-Bass Pro development adjacent to The Meadows Racetrack & Casino. Washington County Court initially tossed the group's lawsuit against South Strabane Township, Trinity School District and Washington County, and Commonwealth Court, which heard CATIF's appeal, upheld that decision. However, Commonwealth Court was sharply divided on the issue, so CATIF has taken its fight to the state Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case. The central issue in the court battle is whether the three taxing entities improbably issued a blight designation for the land where Tanger and Bass Pro intend to set up shop. Whether you agree or disagree with the common practice of issuing tax breaks to businesses in order to lure them in, it seems preposterous that the land on Race Track Road, adjacent to a racetrack that now offers slot-machine gamling and, no doubt, will someday offer table games such as poker and blackjack, was blighted. It is very clearly in a corridor that is highly ripe for development. It's not some rundown, abandoned mill site or slum that can in any way be called a blighted area. An unbiased look at the case would suggest that CATIF should have no trouble prevailing. However, big businesses and their supporters seem to have a way of winning these fights. In a dissenting opinion as part of last year's Commonwealth Court decision, Judge Dan Pellegrini had this to say: "TIFs are not granted so that a developer can develop a project more profitably - they are granted so that the public purpose of the elimination of blight can be accomplished. If a TIF is granted for property that is not blighted, the public is not receiving the 'bargain' to which it is entitled." Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Please stay away

PNC Park is one of the nicest ballparks in the country. There, that pretty much sums up the reasons to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game this season. When are baseball fans in Western Pennsylvania going to wake up and do their part to put an end to the worst string of baseball seasons any of us has ever seen? Last year, the Pirates completed their 15th consecutive losing season, finishing the year at 68-94. The response of the Nutting family, owners of the Pirates? They did virtually nothing. The Pirates actually lost valuable contributors in the bullpen and will have the same starting lineup as the one that came close to losing 100 games last year. They will have Matt Morris, who was signed last year to a massive contract that eats up a huge chunk of the Pirates' meager payroll, despite the fact that he gives every sign of being washed up. That act essentially was the farewell "up yours" from since-fired general manager Dave Littlefield. There's a good chance this year that the Pirates' new "brain trust" will be looking to unload the team's few valuable veterans - Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Jack Wilson - as quickly as they can get a decent offer. My question is, what would management do if the Pirates somehow got off to a good start and remained in contention for at least a wild card spot as the trading deadline approached? Would they then decide to keep the three veterans and actually add another player that could help them down the stretch? I'd have to see it to believe it. In the meantime, until the Nuttings provide some tangible evidence that they are committed to putting a winner on the field, I beg good baseball fans to stay away in droves from PNC Park. There are other ways to spend your entertainment dollars. If you really love baseball, go to a Wild Things game. Go swimming. Take the family on a picnic. Go to Kennywood. But for God's sake, don't give your hard-earned dollars to people who are doing the equivalent of spitting in your face, year after year after year. Maybe, just maybe, if the Pirates play in front of a couple thousand fans every game, and the profits go down as the national embarrassment goes up, the Nuttings will sell the team to someone who would spend what it takes to put a winner on the field. Winning isn't everything, but winning once in a generation would be nice. My son is a grown man, and he's never known what a winning Pirates season is like. I just don't want to be saying the same thing when my grandchildren are adults.


What to do about China?

China is in the midst of its latest crushing of human rights. This time, the target is Tibetans who had the audacity to express their opposition to Chinese rule. The Chinese laid the blame for the violence at the feet of the Dalai Lama, left, a well-known symbol of peace. Nobody's buying that one. The Chinese government also forced out foreign reporters from the affected regions and told tourists to stay out of regions stretching across four provinces. Wouldn't want the outside world to really know what's going on there, would we? On Friday, China signaled that it might rescind earlier permission for NBC and other international networks to broadcast live during the Olympics from Tiananmen Square. We all know what happened there. I'm no expert on China, but I really haven't seen any improvement in their human rights record in recent years. The Bush administration, however, recently removed China from the list of the worst human rights offenders. How convenient, what with the Olympics coming up this summer. And just to get ready for the Olympics and its moment in the world spotlight, the Chinese have forcibly relocated citizens and diverted water from farmlands to stockpile it for the Games. Who cares if thousands of farmers starve, as long as a pole vaulter from Uzbekistan can take a shower? The world is amid a debate on what, if anything, to do about the Olympics, in light of the Tibetan crackdown and other signs that China's human rights record remains putrid. Our president, as recently as the other day, said he still planned to attend the Olympics. To me, that shows support for what is going on in Tibet right now. This administration has a history of removing a "brutal dictator" in another country, but we'll cozy up to a government that has killed many more of its own people. I'm not suggesting that a total boycott is the way to go. But our president does not have to attend the Games, and our athletes don't have to take part in the glitzy ceremonies that are part of the Olympics. The 1936 Olympics gave Hitler a stage to disseminate his Nazi propaganda and began a string of appeasements that led to the annexation of the Sudetenland and, later, the invasion of Poland that started World War II. China has released statements from such world pariahs as Sudan and North Korea that support its crackdown in Tibet. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the statements offer "clear proof that the international community is on the side of China." Let the Chinese athletes march in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics with North Korea and Sudan, and without most of the rest of the world. That would be "clear proof" that the international community is not behind them.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

He was expendable

The Steelers told wide receiver Cedric Wilson today that they will no longer require his services. The dismissal came a day after Wilson was accused of punching his ex-girlfriend at a Pittsburgh-area restaurant. Your initial reaction might be to applaud the Steelers and team Chairman Dan Rooney, but don't praise them too soon. You see, the Steelers take the moral high ground on violence against women only when it suits the overall needs of the team. Cedric Wilson was the team's No. 4 receiver, a guy who caught, on average, about one ball a game for them last year and had one measly touchdown. He is easily replaced, whether by a cheap free agent or a lower-round draft choice. And, frankly, he was embarrassing the team. A few weeks ago, the same woman involved in the restaurant incident went ape-crap, armed herself and held police at bay at Wilson's home. Now this. But the Steelers were not so quick to act - heck, they didn't act at all - when two players who are much more important to the team's on-field success were accused of assaults on women. Last fall, in the midst of the season, running back Najeh Davenport (do a Google search sometime for the words "Davenport" and "closet") was arrested on domestic violence and other charges following an incident involving the mother of his 5-year-old son. The Steelers did nothing. The reason: Davenport was highly valuable to a team that was thin at the running back position, as evidenced by his play when Willie Parker later went down with an injury. The Steelers had another chance earlier this month to show their zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence, and they whiffed again. Linebacker James Harrison was charged with assaulting his girlfriend in her home. Police say the girlfriend, in fear of bodily harm, locked herself in a bedroom to call 911, but Harrison broke down the door, destroyed the cell phone and slapped the woman in the face. In fact, police say Harrison, when they caught up with him later, admitted busting through the door and assaulting the woman, who was left with red marks on her face. The Davenport case was a he said-she said type of affair, but surely the Steelers couldn't ignore an incident in which police say their player came right out and told them he smacked a female. Sure they could. Harrison is a star linebacker, voted the team's Most Valuable Player last year, and the Steelers have no one of his caliber to put into the position if they were to cut Harrison. Rooney tried to explain the double standard, telling the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette that "we don't condone these things, we don't, but we do have to look at the circumstances." He told the P-G that Harrison was trying to take his son to be baptized when the fracas broke out. "He was doing something that was good," Rooney explained to Bouchette. So here's how I read the Steelers' policy on domestic abuse: If you're a scrub whom we can do without, we will not tolerate abuse of women. But under the right "circumstances" - like if you're a star linebacker and there's a religious ceremony involved - whacking a woman in the face is a forgivable offense. The Steelers should be ashamed, and fans with any shred of decency should refuse to support a team that takes such an inconsistent and self-serving approach to the abuse of women, but of course that's not going to happen, because they're "Our Stillers," and they can do no wrong.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mission still accomplished?

It has been five years since the latest U.S. invasion in Iraq, so it seems as good a time as any to review where we stand there and what we have accomplished. President Bush made a speech today in which he called the Iraq war "noble, necessary and just." The president also said there will be no troop withdrawals beyond those already scheduled because he doesn't want to "jeopardize the hard-fought gains" made in the last year. Most observers agree that the security situation in Iraq has improved in the past year, but as Bush, himself, makes clear, those gains would disappear in a heartbeat if we so much as reduce our troop levels. One reason is that, despite five years of attempts at recruiting and training, the Iraqi police and military remain woefully unable to handle security in their own country. Bottom line: If we pulled all our troops out today, Iraq would descend into anarchy tomorrow. The so-called Iraqi government has made little real progress toward solving the problems facing the country. There is no real reconciliation among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and the moment we leave them to their own devices, it's open warfare time. Bush also asserted today that the troop surge of the past year has set the stage for a major victory in the broader anti-terror war, and that "we are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising" against Osama bin Laden and his legions. Really? This proclamation, we must remember, is from the same administration that gave us the prediction that American troops would be "welcomed as liberators" in Iraq. How did that work out? In basic math, it's worked out this way: About 4,000 American servicemen and women dead. About 30,000 wounded, many horribly maimed for life. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi civilians dead. We now have al-Qaida in Iraq, thanks to the fertile ground our invasion tilled for them. We also have a member of the "axis of evil," Iran, exerting ever-increasing influence on the Iraq government. The spending of billions upon billions on the war has ravaged the economic foundation of our country, unless you're from Halliburton or Blackwater. And we can expect to spend billions more caring for those tens of thousands of soldiers who came back from the war with no legs, no arms, blinded, burned and brain-damaged. Those soldiers almost always say that they support what we're doing in Iraq. To say otherwise would mean that their lives were ruined for nothing, and that's a hard concept to accept. But it may be the truth.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Can he overcome?

Sen. Barack Obama made a speech today in Philadelphia calling for racial unity and making it clear he does not agree with the incendiary statements from the pulpit by his now-former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. There also have been attempts recently to link Obama with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and he's had to deal with the Chicago corruption trial of longtime political supporter and benefactor Tony Rezko. Then you have the nut jobs who trot out photos of Obama in traditional African garb and, by pairing that with his middle name, Hussein, suggest that he must be a radical Muslim. Obama has been forced to repudiate Wright and Farrakhan, and he gave to charity money that Rezko raised for him. These are not developments that a candidate welcomes, but it's also unlikely that they will totally derail Obama's candidacy. The Clintons have a few skeletons in their closet, as does Republican nominee-in-waiting Sen. John McCain. There is an old saying in Southern politics that the only thing that can really kill a candidate is getting caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl. Unless it's found that Obama's dealings with Rezko are more serious than currently known, or someone finds a video of him helping the Rev. Wright denounce white America, he'll probably survive this recent surge of bad press. Ultimately, he's no more responsible for the statements of a preacher than Hillary Clinton is for the remarks by Geraldine Ferraro that were taken by some as racist. But he had better be prepared for more attacks, because it appears Clinton's best hope to capture the nomination is to persuade the all-powerful superdelegates that Obama is unelectable. Attack politics have been around pretty much as long as there have been elections in this country. One would hope that someday we could rise above this and focus on the major issues facing the nation, but it doesn't look as if that day is coming anytime soon.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

That old-time hatred

Forget about al-Qaida. Crazy South American dictators? Not to worry. Psycho president of Iran with a nuclear program? No big deal. Osama bin Laden? Hah! He's a lightweight when you compare him with the real threat to the very future of our great land - the homosexuals. That's the word from looney-bin Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern, who is telling any of her fellow Republicans who will listen that the "homosexual agenda" is a bigger threat to America than terrorism. The former schoolteacher - thank heavens she's no longer warping tiny minds, like hers - claims that gay activists are indoctrinating the nation's schoolchildren in some sort of nefarious plot. (Note: If you want to see something really, really scary in terms of indoctrination, rent the movie "Jesus Camp") "We're not teaching facts and knowledge any more, folks," said Kern in a speech that has made its way onto a YouTube audio clip and was reported on by the Associated Press. "They are going after our young children, as young as 2 years of age, to try to teach them a homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle." Those bastards, teaching acceptance, inclusion and equality. What happened to the good old days in this country, when we could just tar and feather or string up people who didn't look or worship or think like us? Kern also has gathered "intelligence" showing that gays are "infiltrating city councils" across the country. Ah, the old grass roots approach to overthrowing the government and forcing everyone to listen to Judy Garland records. Don't think Kern doesn't recognize their evil plot. "It spreads, OK, and this stuff is deadly and it's spreading and it will destroy our young people," she said. "It will destroy this nation." Kern also has access to some "studies" that show "every society that has totally embraced homosexuality" has disappeared from the Earth within a few decades. That's certainly bad news for Western Europe, where pretty much every country has embraced civil unions or outright marriage for homosexuals. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, so even though our neighbors to the north seem to be doing OK, someone should let them know they're on the clock. It would seem that Kern gets plenty of support for her views at home. Her husband, Steve, is a Baptist preacher who is described on his church's Web site as believing "the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God." Not a lot of wiggle room there. I'd like to tell Rep. Kern that it's not gays and lesbians, but her and hate-filled people who think like her, who pose a threat to our country. Hate is corrosive. It eats away at the fabric of the notions of equality that our country was founded upon. I do have an idea to help Kern. In many Islamic-dominated nations, homosexual acts are punishable by death. She might feel more comfortable living there, and I would certainly feel comfortable getting rid of her.

Note: If you would like to share your feelings with Kern, you can call her office at (405) 557-7348, or e-mail her at


These guys should be really worried

For once, I'm thankful that I don't look like Brad Pitt. From the information I'm getting, Brad and his partner, Angelina Jolie, might be the most at-risk people in the world when it comes to genital herpes. And, thankfully, average-looking folks like me apparently have no risk. Of course, I'm kidding, but you wouldn't know that if you've seen the TV commercials for Valtrex, the drug that pledges to help genital herpes sufferers reduce their outbreaks and cut their risk of passing the disease to their partners. Every guy I've seen in these commercials looks as if he should be on the cover of GQ, and every woman looks like a runway model. I had no idea that good looks carried such a disease risk. So, if you happen to run into one of the "beautiful people" while running on the beach or riding a horse through a meadow, express to them your deep sympathy about the herpes gantlet they have to run, and slip the poor folks a couple of condoms.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Protecting the community comes first

Police in Durham, N.C., did a great job of tracking down and arresting Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., above, one of two suspects in the recent shooting death of Eve Carson, the 22-year-old student body president at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The real question is why Lovette was even on the streets when Carson was gunned down near the UNC campus. Lovette, 17, became a suspect when police reviewed surveillance videos taken at several ATMs and convenience stores in the area after Carson's murder, videos that police said appeared to show Lovette behind the wheel of Carson's SUV. And it probably didn't take them long to recognize him. He's been a frequent "guest" of local authorities. The arrests of Lovette and his co-defendant, 21-year-old Demario James Atwater, have raised serious questions about the work of the Department of Corrections, probation officials and judges in North Carolina. Lovette, who also is a suspect in the January shooting death of a Duke University graduate student, was on probation at the time of Carson's murder. In the months between the two killings, according to the Associated Press, he had been arrested several times on felonies that included burglary and car theft. Yet each time, he was allowed to post bond and hit the streets again. The handling of Atwater wasn't any better. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that Atwater, on March 3, appeared in court for revocation of his probation, but the hearing was postponed because of a paperwork foul-up. Two days later, Carson had a bullet in her temple. The Raleigh paper said Atwater originally was on probation for 2005 convictions on breaking and entering and larceny charges. In June of last year, he pleaded guilty to a new charge of possession of a firearm by a felon. One would suspect that his original probation would have been revoked immediately, and he would have been taken directly to jail. Instead, he was sentenced to probation again and was back on the streets. Finally, last November, authorities sought to have his probation revoked, leading to the recent botched hearing. The first responsibility of our legal system is to protect law-abiding citizens from the scum in our communities. When they fail in that regard, the consequences can be deadly.


Police know best?

"Hardened criminal" Treffly Coyne, shown above with her husband, Timothy Janecyk, has been cleared of child endangerment charges filed against her by police in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood. Her crime: Briefly leaving her 2-year-old asleep in her car, within clear sight, while she and her older kids dumped some money in a Salvation Army kettle outside a Wal-Mart store last December. We've all heard horror stories about mothers or dads who leave their kids in a sweltering vehicle while they get liquored up in a bar or play slots at a casino. This was clearly not the case here, and the police just as clearly overreacted. Coyle had locked her car, activated the alarm system and turned on her emergency flashers, and she was never more than 10 yards away from the vehicle. Turning on the flashers was probably a mistake, because it drew the attention of police officers who spotted the toddler and started interrogating Coyne. Coyne called her husband, who told her not to say anything to the officers until he could get to the scene. She said she was afraid and just wanted to wait for Janecyk to arrive, but before he could get there, she was under arrest, and police added an obstruction charge because she wouldn't immediately cooperate with them. A prosecutor dropped the charges before trial, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services found no evidence that Coyne was abusing or neglecting her children. It's another case where a smidgen of common sense could have saved people a lot of time, money and embarrassment.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

More stupidity in education

Eighth-grader Michael Sheridan now understands very clearly that the school system in New Haven, Conn., doesn't pull any punches when a student's actions threaten the very fabric of the education process. Young Michael was removed as vice president of the eighth-grade class, barred from a dinner for honor students and suspended for a day after his heinous transgression. What did he do? Bring a gun to school? No. Threaten a classmate with bodily harm? No. Put a cherry bomb down a toilet? No again. Michael, who I am sure is now feeling much shame, purchased a bag of Skittles from a fellow student. Not crack. Not marijuana. Skittles. Damn him! The school system took its high and mighty action against Michael because he violated a ban on candy sales imposed a few years back as part of the district's "wellness policy." Since he's an honor student, I'm guessing Michael is a bright fellow. Do you think he might have been able to comprehend a simple warning, rather than this ridiculous punishment?


How much waste is too much?

The latest word out of Washington, D.C., is that the Capitol Visitor Center should be ready for visitors in November, after an expenditure of about $621 million. You should believe it when you see it. You see, the 580,000-square-foot facility originally was supposed to open in January 2005, and it was supposed to cost $265 million. As with most everything else the government touches, the project went to hell in a handbasket. But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, is now on the case. "We can't grow complacent, even with construction nearly complete," said Wasserman in an Associated Press story. "Anything later than a November 2008 opening or more than a $621 million price tag isn't going to cut it." Well, it's good to see that after the cost of the project more than doubled and the opening date has been delayed by nearly four years, Schultz is assuming a watchdog role. Glad she's looking out for us taxpayers now that the project's nearly done.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On second thought ...

It's not good to be delusional, especially when one's future hangs in the balance. Perhaps that's sinking in now for Jessica Rizor, who faces life in prison without parole after her conviction for the November 2004 suffocation death of her newborn daughter at her Washington home. You see, Rizor had the opportunity to take a deal from prosecutors that would have netted her a sentence of five to 30 years. She already has been jailed for three-and-a-half years awaiting trial, so it wouldn't have taken her much longer to get to the minimum end of the sentence. Rizor's attorney, Bob Brady, reportedly counseled her to take the deal while the taking was good, but she refused. So Brady, who is recognized as one of the area's best criminal defense lawyers, was left with the unenviable task of getting a jury to believe his client's story, which was pretty much unbelievable. Rizor claimed she didn't know she was pregnant, even though people were asking her if she was pregnant because of her obvious weight gain, and she apparently lacked the sufficient curiosity to grab one of those home-pregnancy tests on her next trip to the drugstore. She then told police that on the day of the birth, she was stunned - stunned, I tell you - when an 8-pound baby hit the exit ramp. She thought the labor pains were menstrual cramps. Yep, that was her story. Now, I've never had menstrual cramps or a baby, but you women out there might be able to attest to the fact that there's a pretty big difference on the pain scale. And an 8-pound baby doesn't just shoot out like a greased pig on a water slide. Rizor also claimed the baby was dead on arrival, which a medical expert testified was not the case. And even if she believed the baby was not breathing, wouldn't you think she might call 911 to get some medical help for the child? The whole story was bullcrap, and the jury didn't take long to recognize that. It appears their only question was whether to convict Rizor of third-degree murder or first-degree, premeditated murder. They wisely chose the latter. And Rizor, barring a successful appeal, can spend every day of the rest of her life in a prison cell, thinking about her actions and wishing she had taken the deal.


What smells funny?

It's good to be Timm Mackley. The erstwhile leader of Peters Township School District is sitting at home in Ohio, waiting to cash school district checks that will add up to about $170,000. All for NOT working. The district on Tuesday made public a "separation agreement" with Mackley, laying out the terms for the payoff. He needs to get his stuff out of his office by April 25, but his duties already have been divvied up. The question is why Mackley is leaving, more than two years before his contract with the district was supposed to expire. Mackley has no comment, and neither do members of the school board. The settlement agreement, which bars Mackley, board members and the district from expounding on the superintendent's departure, says Mackley is shuffling off because of his "strong desire to rejoin his family in Ohio, and to enable him to spend time with his son during his senior year or high school." Gee, don't you think an educated fella like Mackley would have realized when he signed his four-year deal with Peters Township that his son would be a high school senior in Ohio before that contract was up? Call me a skeptic, but I think there might be more to this story. The shame is, the people of Peters Township aren't getting the details. If Mackley committed offenses that warranted dismissal, or even if the board members just lost confidence in his being the right person to lead the district, that should have been discussed publicly, with appropriate action taken. And, yes, the district, one way or the other, was going to have to pay Mackley on his way out the door, or face an expensive lawsuit. But at least the public would know the reasons the board was willing to shell out $170,000. If Mackley simply wanted to go home to Ohio, he could have resigned, not entered into a "separation agreement." And if the only reason for his leaving is the one stated in the agreement, why in the world is there a need to gag the board members? Am I the only one who smells something fishy here? I know Peters Township is a wealthy area, but $170,000 is not exactly chump change - especially when you just got done paying nearly $500,000 to settle lawsuits filed by high school principal Tom Hajzus. And, by the way, the district reportedly is working to settle yet another lawsuit, this one by former high school football coach Keith Hartbauer against Hajzus and the district. The money flows. Do the taxpayers care?


Monday, March 10, 2008

Nonsense from the Vatican

Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, described as the Vatican's second in command in the area of sins and penance, recently spoke in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano about the "new" sins that Catholics should avoid, and one of his major thrusts in the area of modern transgressions is "ecological" offenses. As a Reuters report put it, "Thou shall not pollute the Earth." I'm just wondering if the good archbishop had gotten the memo about overpopulation being one of the chief causes of environmental damage, such as destruction of the world's rainforests, above. Let's think about this. How could we help control the world's population, and perhaps reduce the strain on our environment, especially in places like South America, where the Catholic church holds considerable sway? Maybe people could use condoms or birth control pills. Oh, wait, the Catholic church considers that a sin of major proportion. It would prefer to continue living in the dark ages. Fortunately, most Catholics in the United States and other developed nations have the good common sense to ignore this church law. But Archibishop Girotti wants it both ways. He wants good Catholics to continue producing more good Catholics, while at the same time expecting less strain on the environment. Does this make sense?


Sunday, March 9, 2008

I'm as mad as hell ...

The fact that the state controls the sale of wine and liquor in Pennsylvania is a bad deal, in and of itself. It's a highly annoying inconvenience that, unlike in other states, when I go grocery shopping here, I can't simply pick up a bottle of wine to go with my dinner. I have to make a side trip to the state store, where I have the "privilege" of availing myself of a woefully inadequate selection of wines and spirits, providing I don't get there too early in the morning or too late in the evening. And that's at the "good" store in Washington. The ones on South Main Street and Jefferson Avenue border on worthless. Their selections are pitiful, as are their hours of operation. Of course, with a free-market system, liquor stores, if they wanted to be successful, would stock their shelves and set their hours to be of the most benefit to their customers. The Liquor Control Board has no such incentive. They have no competition. And with some of our lawmakers determined to protect the union jobs at the state stores, and others equally determined to keep "demon rum" in check, I'm afraid this stupid, archaic system will exist long after I'm residing on the wrong side of the grass, so I've tried my best to make do with a bad situation. However, I am no longer going to let them add insult to injury by demanding my zip code every time I make a purchase. You see, the LCB has deemed the state store behind the Washington Mall a "border store," with extended hours and other supposed perks. Hence, they want to know where the store's customers are coming from, and so the clerks ask for your zip code every time you make a purchase. Well, that's not really my concern, and I told that, nicely, to the clerk who waited on me the other day. She noted that the clerks are just as tired of asking for our zip codes as we are of being asked. I understand that. Like the Gestapo in World War II, they're just following orders. But that doesn't mean I have to answer, or give a correct answer. So when I was asked for my zip code the other day, I replied, "56789." The clerk gave me a sour look and punched in something, probably not 56789. That's going to be my personal non-zip-code zip code from here on in, and I urge each of you to make up your own special code for our friends at the LCB.


More government waste

I'm convinced that someone could spend every waking hour of every day going through the spending of our state and federal governments and never cease to discover stupid and wasteful spending. Whether it's a bridge to nowhere in Alaska or financing of a study on a question that a 5-year-old could readily answer, our government "leaders" have shown they have no peers when it comes to squandering our money. The latest example is the IRS spending $42 million to send letters to millions of Americans to let them know they'll be getting an economic stimulus check in a couple of months. Duh! The story was in the news for weeks as the White House and Congress worked on the stimulus package, and when they came up with their plan, it was widely reported in the media exactly who would be getting the checks and how much they could expect. In other words, the IRS is spending $42 million of OUR DOLLARS to tell us something we ALREADY KNOW. Just brilliant.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Where's the justice?

Let me start by saying that I'm a dog lover and the proud "father" of three great "boys." (That's a "baby" picture of our youngest, above) Pretty much every day, I read things in the newspaper that turn my stomach, but there isn't much that sickens me more than stories about people mistreating defenseless animals who rely on them for food and kindness. The latest such story, about James and Lore Massey of Centerville, was especially disturbing. The facts of the case were revolting enough, but the relative slap on the wrist these criminals received multiplied my outrage. The Masseys, who admitted to denying food to 60 dogs and allowing 25 others to die at the illegal kennel at their Old National Pike home, pleaded guilty Wednesday and were ordered to pay $2,651 in fines and court costs. What about their jail sentences, you might ask? Yeah, I had the same question. The answer: They aren't doing any jail time. Not a single day. The Masseys were allowed to walk out of the courtroom and go home and eat dinner - something the dogs in their care apparently didn't get to do very often. The heroes of this story are Dan and Kathy Hull of Carmichaels, who alerted authorites after they went to the Masseys' home last November to buy a dog and were confronted with the sights and smells of starving and dead dogs. "There was a blind dog chained up and starving," Dan Hull said after the Masseys' court appearance. During the subsequent search, state and county dog officers seized many Jack Russell terriers that had been offered for sale by Lore Massey's company, Calico Creek Critters. Dachau for Dogs is more like it. Here are the next few lines from reporter Scott Beveridge's coverage of the Massey hearing: "Also discovered were dead or starving dogs in the couple's vehicles and basement, as well as in a makeshift kennel in a tent. Some animals were in cages filled with feces or the remains of dead dogs." And the appropriate punishment for that sort of inhumanity is $2,651? Here's another bit of insanity. The Masseys were allowed to keep three of their dogs. Why?!? These people haven't shown the fitness to own a goldfish. Let's stop for a minute and just think about the suffering of the dogs at the Masseys' "kennel" as they waited day after day for the people they were relying on to bring them food and water, or maybe even show them some love. Dogs have an unconditional trust and affection for their "people." We can only wonder what they feel when that trust is so cruelly crushed. It hurts to think about it. But the Masseys can just write a check and, as their attorney said, "put this unfortunate situation behind them." Unfortunate situation? These people starved other living beings. There's a scene in the great Al Pacino movie "And Justice for All" in which Pacino's character, an attorney, goes nuts in the courtroom and screams, "Let's make a deal! Let's make a deal!" Well, the Masseys got their deal, one they certainly didn't deserve. If it were my decision, I would slather them in A-1 sauce and put them in a cage with hungry wolves, but at the minimum, a little jail time would have been appropriate. Then they could experience how it feels to be stuck in a cage, dependent on someone else to feed them.


Common sense in Harrisburg

It's not often that I see this, so it definitely caught my attention the other day when I saw an Associated Press story in which members of our Legislature were making good sense when talking about the handling of our money and state assets. The subject was a House Democratic study of a proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private company. The idea is to raise money to repair the state's crumbling roads and bridges, and perhaps provide some funding for mass-transit programs. The House study found significant risks involved in a turnpike lease and suggested that an alternative plan to place tolls on Interstate 80 is a better way to go. "I think the analogy is a very simple one," Majority Whip Keith McCall, D-Carbon, told the AP. "If your house needs a new roof, you don't sell your house to the roofer. You find what equity you have in your home and you borrow against that equity at the lowest financial rate you can find." The House study also pointed out that any company paying billions of dollars to secure a turnpike lease would likely have to impose "aggressive toll increases" in order to recoup that money. That means higher costs to transport goods on the turnpike and, in turn, higher costs for us when we buy those goods. The I-80 tolls would have a similar effect, but most likely to a lesser degree. Also, what are the odds that the folks in Harrisburg would spend those up-front billions wisely? Rep. Joseph Markosek, an Allegheny County Democrat, doesn't think that's a good bet. "There are many areas that I can cite in my 25 years here where we have not been very good stewards of a large amount of cash sitting around." Amen, brother. Now, if we could just get them to use some of that common sense to get the state out of the alcohol business.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Meet the new neighbors

If you're already suffering from "primary fatigue," the ailment that causes you to avert your eyes from the television when you see Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Mike Huckabee on the tube, your life just got worse. By virtue of her victories in Ohio and Texas, Hillary Clinton has had her campaign rejuvenated, and Pennsylvania is the next target of her and Obama's affections. With no other major races on the primary calendar between now and our April 22 vote, the Democratic candidates can turn their full attention to us, the lucky voters of the Keystone State. Both contenders have millions upon millions to spend on television ads, direct mailings and phone calls to us while we're trying to eat our dinners. They also will be appearing here in person, again and again and again. And don't expect them to be very friendly about it. In the run-up to Ohio and Texas, Clinton rolled out a TV ad essentially saying that if we vote for Obama and he becomes president, the terrorists will eat our children. If she thinks that worked, we'll be having that message force-fed to us over the next six weeks. You and I will be able to recite the Clinton and Obama stump speeches after unavoidably absorbing them through aural osmosis. But when the vote in our state is over, the political landscape is likely to be virtually unchanged. Obama, even after the setbacks in Ohio and Texas, maintains about a 100-delegate lead over Clinton, and it would be virtually impossible for her to catch him by the time the primaries are over, barring a major disaster for the Obama camp. (Recommended reading: Jonathan Alter's piece on "Hillary's Math Problem" at Clinton will continue to beat the dead horse on the seating of non-delegate delegates from Florida, where no one campaigned, and Michigan, where she was the only candidate on the ballot. It's hard to imagine that happening, barring a Bush 2000-style legal battle. So, then, it comes down to the superdelegates. Clinton will lobby them with the argument that she's won all the big states and is the only one who can win them against McCain in November. Obama will counter that he's the guy who has collected the most delegates through the actual voting process, and the superdelegates should follow the "will of the people." It should be fun to watch, even more so when the candidates are no longer pestering us.


Monday, March 3, 2008

What a "tragedy"

The Associated Press had a story the other day about the reopening of New York's opulent Plaza Hotel. The $400 million project resulted in the creation of 282 hotel rooms, which start at $1,000 a night, and 181 apartments. All but one of the apartments has been purhcased, and someone paid $50 million, yes $50 million, for one of them. Amid all the hoopla of the reopening, the Plaza already is dealing with one very unsatisfied customer. Joanna Cutler, who is subletting one of the apartments, apparently got stuck overnight in a room where garbage is disposed of when a door became stuck. If it were me stuck in the garbage room, I probably would have curled up on the floor and sacked out when it became apparent I was going to be there awhile. I also might ponder the fact that being forced to spend a night in the garbage room of a fancy hotel might not be quite as bad as living under a bridge, camping on a heating grate or living in tenement squalor surrounded by thieves, drug dealers and killers. It seems that did not occur to Ms. Cutler. When she was freed the next morning by a worker who heard her hollering, she wasted no time in hiring an attorney to help her handle her immense pain and suffering. Cutler's lawyer, one Susan Karten, says a lawsuit is forthcoming. Gee, what a surprise. My secret hope is that while Cutler and Karten are crossing the street to attend the first court proceeding on their lawsuit, they fail to see a taxi hurtling toward them. Then maybe they'd really have something worth suing over.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

A little common sense, people

Friday's rain/snow mix proved very inhospitable to folks who were out and about on our highways and byways. There were wrecks aplenty, the police scanner buzzing with reports of cars over hills and into telephone poles. Yet for many on our local roads, inclement weather is no reason for concern. They continue to drive as if the roads were dry as a bone. Aggressive drivers are bad enough in perfect weather, but when the idiots fail to recognize, or care, that conditions are less than optimal and continue to drive like jackasses, they're putting the rest of us in danger. I had one such boob following me as I went to work on Friday. The speed limit on the road in question was 45 mph, and I was cutting through the ice and slush about 5 mph below that. The guy behind me apparently wasn't happy about that, because he was driving so close to my back bumper that it looked as if I was towing his vehicle. When a passing zone presented itself, he roared around me, well above the speed limit, and damn near wrecked himself when he got back into the right lane. I had a brief, secret wish that he would slide into the ditch so I could wave at him as I motored by. Alas, he and his car were unscathed. And, I'm ashamed to report, most of the people who drive like this in the foul weather are men. (The women are too busy talking on their cell phones to drive aggressively.) It's the lowest form of common sense that when the roads are bad, drivers should proceed with caution. It would probably cut in half the number of accidents if drivers traveling in ice and snow would follow this one simple rule: DON'T BE A DUMBASS!!!

What do you mean it's not true?!?

A story this week by Melissa Trujillo of the Associated Press detailed the crumbling facade of one Misha Defonseca, author of the international best-seller "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years." In the book, Defonseca, a Belgian now living in Massachusetts, related her story of becoming a virtual orphan when the Nazis seized her parents, leaving her, as a child, to wander nearly 2,000 miles across Europe in search of them. Along the way, Defonseca said she was trapped in the Jewish Warsaw ghetto, had to kill a German soldier in self-defense and was taken in by a kindly pack of wolves who looked out for her. Yes, wolves. Turns out, there was no pack of wolves, just a pack of lies. Finally, after the tale was translated into 18 languages and made into a movie in France, an American genealogical researcher dug up the truth about Defonseca, who isn't even Jewish. Turns out Defonseca's parents were Belgian resistance fighters who were arrested and killed by the Nazis, at which point Defonseca, whose real name is Monique De Wael, was adopted by relatives. Not quite as exciting as hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier. Defonseca had this to say about being outed as a liar: "This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality." Not actually reality. I don't know what that means in Belgian, but in English, we call it bull@#*%. The really amazing thing in all this is that as the story was being published again and again, apparently not a single editor or publisher looked at the tale and thought, "Maybe we should check this out." The whole "dancing with wolves" thing might have been a tipoff.


Do people really wear this stuff?

It's Fashion Week in Paris. One would expect that to mean that models would be walking down the runways wearing very fashionable clothing. One would be wrong. The only people on Earth who might look more ridiculous than these models are circus clowns, and they're trying to look like idiots. I must admit here that my personal fashion choices are nothing to brag about. In the winter, I have a rotation of three sweaters that I like, and I attempt to match them with a pair of neutral-colored slacks. In the summer, it's loud, Hawaiian-print shirts, pretty much every day. But I'm not posing as an expert, as these so-called "designers" are. That's not to say I don't keep close tabs on the fashion shows. Every night, I check out the photos from the shows that appear on the Associated Press photo wire. It's not because I'm looking for a frock that I might want to buy the missus. It's that some of these models, underfed as they may be, are half naked, and even at my age, that sort of thing appeals to me. But I can't help thinking that these shows are just an excuse for rich people to get together and look down on us peasants. Again.