Monday, November 30, 2009

Quagmire redux?

President Obama will speak to the nation tomorrow night about his decisions regarding the ongoing conduct of the war in Afghanistan. According to an Associated Press report, the president is expected to commit to an escalation of the war that will involved perhaps 35,000 more U.S. servicemen and women. That, the AP said, would take the number of troops in Afghanistan to more than 100,000, at an annual price tag of $75 billion. I've made clear in the past my disgust over the war in Iraq, and the toll it took on our efforts in Afghanistan. Admittedly, I bashed Bush over his war decisions, and if Obama is going down the same path, committing who knows how many American lives and billions of our tax dollars to a military engagement with a highly uncertain outcome, I won't hesitate to criticism him. What I'd like to know from you folks is how you feel about a massive troop buildup and what you might do differently.

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Smart move?

There's no doubt that Tiger Woods is well within his legal rights in declining to talk with police about the car accident outside his mansion late last week, but one wonders whether he's doing himself any favors by not being upfront about what went down. At this point, the facts appear to be as follows: In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Woods reportedly mowed down a fire hyrdrant and hit a tree with his Cadillac Escalade while leaving his driveway. When emergency personnel arrived, they found him bleeding from the mouth and going in and out of consciousness. His wife reportedly used a golf club to bash out the back windows of the Caddy and help him from the vehicle. Woods initially gave indications that he would talk to police about the wreck, but after putting them off for a couple of days, he sent his attorney out to give officers his driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. Legally, that's all he has to do. But from a public relations standpoint, his refusal to address the details of the wreck publicly are leading to the very kind of speculation he'd be better off without. "This is a private matter, and I want to keep it that way," Woods said in a statement. He may very well wish that it were a private matter, but Woods happens to be the most famous athlete in the world, who puts himself front and center with multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, and when he starts slamming into fire hydrants and trees with his luxury vehicle, it's big news. Especially since it follows by mere days a National Enquirer report that Woods had been seeing a nightclub hostess and that they were together in Australia when Woods played in a golf tournament there. No one has suggested that Woods was drunk when the wreck occurred, but some certainly are left to wonder whether he was speeding away from his house after a go-round with the missus. Others have suggested that the mouth injuries the golfer suffered might have been inflicted by an angry spouse, not the steering wheel of an Escalade. Still others question how Woods could have had a wreck such as he reported being involved in and not have the airbags of the Caddy deploy. And is it remotely possible that Tiger’s bride bashed out the windows of the SUV before the wreck, perhaps as her hubby was hightailing it out of the driveway? As the AP asks in a story today, if Woods just made a driving blunder, why wouldn't he simply talk to the police and tell them that? Hmmmmmm.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Best wishes

Wishing a happy Thanksgiving to one and all. I'm thankful for a lot of things this year, including the people I've come to know (and argue with) on this blog. And I actually plan to have some new content soon. Been a busy week. Take care, all. Travel safely and eat hearty.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hitting bottom

There was a time when Don Cannon was one of the most popular television personalities in Pittsburgh. The longtime news anchor, whose tenure here was marked by troubles with alcohol, is in hot water again. Cannon was a longtime newsman at WTAE before an embarrassing onscreen meltdown in the mid-90s ended his career there. He relocated to Philadelphia but returned to Pittsburgh a few years later to work as an anchor and reporter at KDKA before losing that job a couple of years ago following a pair of drunken-driving arrests in the South Hills. Cannon subsequently relocated to California, where he was supposed to serve his house arrest and probation sentences for convictions on the two Western Pennsylvania DUI charges. But Allegheny County authorities say he failed to do so, and Cannon was picked up Tuesday by police in the San Diego area. He also reportedly faces a new DUI charge in California. I understand that some people have problems with alcohol that they can’t control, but those people are well aware of their problems, and some of them still make a conscious decision to drink and get behind the wheel of a car. In Cannon’s case, he did it multiple times. I can sympathize with a person who makes a one-time mistake, gets pulled over and blows a .08. And I give young people a little bit of slack, because I remember (barely) being a young and irresponsible kid, myself. I don't mean that young people should not be held responsible if they violate the law, but I have some understanding of their actions. However, I don't understand it when a 69-year-old man doesn't have the good sense to drink at home.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unenlightened rogue

This won’t come as much of a surprise, but I won't be among the huddled masses trying to get Sarah Palin to scrawl her name for me inside her new book at an event Saturday at the Sam’s Club in South Strabane Township. For one, I generally try to avoid that entire traffic-challenged plaza. Second, I think Palin is a jackass. But there no doubt will be throngs of people lining up to get a coveted wristband that will make them one of 1,000 people who will get Palin's signature on a copy of "Going Rogue." As best as I can recall, I only have two books signed by an author, and they’re two cookbooks by the same chef/writer. If Christopher Hitchens came to town, I'd probably get in line to have him sign my copy of "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." Other than that, probably not. I'd like to hear from folks who do plan to attend Saturday's event. I have two questions: 1) What is it that attracts you to Palin? and 2) What makes you think she'd be a good president? Don't waste everyone's time by telling us all the horrible things Obama is doing. Stick to making a case for Palin as a leader of the Republican Party or even its next candidate for the White House.

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Big Brother debate

A borough in suburban Philadelphia is debating whether to install surveillance cameras in public places in an effort to catch lawbreakers. It brings up an interesting debate. Opponents of the move claim it could be an infringement on civil liberties, but supporters see it as a way to cut down on crime. I tend to believe that if you're a law-abiding citizen, you really have no need to fear the cameras. We already have them in stores and at ATM machines, among other places. Private citizens position them on their homes to keep an eye out for those who might do them harm or take their property. Even the O-R has them for security purposes. It's not as if the cameras proposed by Newtown Borough would be peering into people's homes. Does anybody see a problem with this that I'm not recognizing?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Windbag of change

Lou Dobbs has called it quits at CNN. On the rare occasions when I came across his show while flipping through the channels, he struck me as a pompous windbag – and another kind of bag that I won't mention here – but since I don't watch any of the talking heads on the TV news networks, I can't say that his departure will leave a hole in my viewing lineup. For those who also pay little attention to the pontificators of evening TV, Dobbs was initially a business journalist at CNN, but he gave his own career a boost when he decided to refashion himself as the Howard Beale of the anti-illegal immigrant movement. He also gave credence to the birthers, those dimwits who are convinced that President Obama was born in Kenya or Winston Churchill’s basement or the Planet Zoltron – pretty much anywhere but Hawaii. Dobbs hasn't announced his plans, other than to say that he intends to chase new opportunities and be a leader in the "national conversation." I wouldn't be surprised to see him run for public office, and I have a suggestion: Dobbs should try to reclaim for the Republicans the House seat they just lost in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. Then he could mount a campaign to stop those darned Canadians from swimming across the Saint Lawrence River and stealing the Zamboni-driving jobs of good, honest Amurkuns.

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Pre-existing issue confronts Dems

Alexander Burns of Politico wrote an interesting piece about how a flare-up of the abortion issue has affected the current push for passage of health-care reform legislation. The crux of the story is that Democrats are finding themselves split over what restrictions, if any, should be imposed on abortion funding in whatever health-care bill emerges from Congress. The centerpiece of this clash is an amendment offered by Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak and approved by the House that would, essentially, prevent money from being spent on abortions through a proposed national health insurance exchange or a public-option plan. The real question is, should the government be in the business of paying for abortions? While I would never support a complete ban on abortions, I don't see why the government, or any insurance program connected to the government, should be paying for them. I wouldn't object to coverage of abortions in the case of rape, incest or threats to a woman's health, but I think it's highly distasteful for the government to have a role in providing abortions to people who use the procedure as birth control, often because they were too stupid, lazy or irresponsible to take precautions against pregnancy in the first place. At the same time, I could make the argument that people's tax money is used all the time for things they oppose or object to on moral grounds. For instance, I think the proposal to spend $300 million to build a maglev people-mover at Cal U. is ridiculous. And I've been sickened by the horrible waste of Americans' tax dollars to finance the war in Iraq. But no matter what abortion-funding restrictions are included in the health reform legislation, women will still be able to undergo the procedures. They just might have to dig into their own pockets to do so, and abortion-rights advocates can feel free to help those who are short on funds.

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Self-inflicted damage

We still have people among us who believe climate change is a hoax or some sort of natural cycle of the Earth, despite overwhelming and unrelenting evidence to the contrary. Another brick in the wall of reality was put in place this week with the release of a federal study showing that nearly half of the lakes and reservoirs across our country contain fish with potentially harmful levels of mercury, a metal that is toxic to us humans. An AP story notes that mercury is a pollutant "primarily released from coal-fired power plants." Coal is a valuable fuel resource in our country, and the industry is a provider of a great many jobs in this area, but it galls me that when someone suggests that we need to do more to control emissions from coal-fired power plants - at some additional cost to consumers - the climate change deniers and energy industry apologists start shrieking as if their hair were on fire. The new EPA study on lake and reservoir pollution is yet one more sign that we need to quit poisoning the world in which we live. It amazes me that with all the technological advances and brilliant minds we have in this country, we are still burning rocks for fuel, but if we are going to do so – and we clearly are for at least decades to come – we must find ways that do not kill us in the process.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Security before political correctness

Sen. Joe Lieberman and I don't end up on the same side of issues much these days, but the senator is absolutely correct in calling for an investigation into whether the government and/or the military missed indications that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged gunman in the Fort Hood shootings, held potentially dangerous extremist views. An Associated Press story today said that classmates of Hasan’s in a 2007-08 master’s degree program at a military college told members of the faculty about Hasan’s apparent anti-American beliefs, including a presentation he made that justified suicide bombing and remarks to classmates that Islamic law overrode the U.S. Constitution. At that point, the faculty members should have reported Hasan to his military higher-ups, and if the allegations against him were found to be true, he should have been removed from the military without delay. As Lieberman said, "If Hasan was showing signs ... that he had become a Muslim extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance. He should have been gone.” The military, or the populace at large, should not be in the business of discriminating against Muslims solely because of their faith, but if a soldier shows any signs of favoring another country or his religion over the United States government and his fellow servicemen and women, appropriate action should be taken immediately. As the facts emerge, it's likely to become clear that people in positions of authority had multiple opportunities to, at the very least, kick Hasan out of the service. Their failure proved deadly.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Go ahead and protest, but think a little, too

As I was driving to the grocery store after work Wednesday, I noticed some young folks who I assume were W&J students protesting at the corners of Lincoln and Beau in Washington. It appeared they are not pleased with the president and were taking considerable pains to point out that unemployment is currently very, very high. The impetus for the protest, I assume, was the first anniversary of President Obama's election. Yet, it's been only about nine months since Obama took office, and blaming him for the country's high unemployment rate is shortsighted and rather thoughtless. Certainly, the jobless rate is painfully high and will, no doubt, creep higher in the coming months. At the same time, however, it should be noted that other economic signs are trending in a better direction. We've recently seen encouraging reports about housing. The national economy actually grew in the last quarter. And just today, there was positive news about retail sales, giving businesses hope that this holiday sales season won't be a huge downer. Also today, there was even a report that the number of new jobless claims was lower than expected. The overall unemployment rate is expected to hit 10.5 percent in the coming months, but analysts expect that to start improving by next summer. A little history, semi-ancient and recent, might be in order for the campus protesters. The jobless rate was close to 11 percent during the first term of Ronald Reagan, but I doubt anyone who currently is pillorying Obama wants to be reminded of that black mark on the record of the hero of modern conservatism. To Reagan's credit, the rate got better. Under Obama, it's likely to do the same. I'd also remind the demonstrators that when George W. Bush took office, the rate was 4.2 percent. At the beginning of 2008, it was still only 4.9 percent, but it was 7.6 percent when Bush left office and already well on its climb to where we sit today. I have to confess that when I saw the protesters Wednesday evening, I wondered to myself how many of them come from wealthy homes from which Mommy and Daddy dispense checks for more than $40,000 annually so that they can enjoy college life at a top-notch school. I also wondered how many of them had heard their parents griping that Obama wants to tax them into the poorhouse. Young people are very impressionable. But at the same time, this group apparently was paying no attention during the previous eight years when "W" took a strong economy and ran it right into the ground, in part thanks to his "war of choice" in Iraq. No one could fix in 10 short months the economic devastation that Obama faced on the day he took office. He deserves more time to see if his policies can help to lift us from our current mess. If he fails, those protesters at W&J will have plenty of company in voting Obama out of office in 2012. Bottom line, I'm glad that the young demonstrators were taking an interest in our government and exercising their freedom of speech, but it's a shame that they seem to be taking their marching orders from Fox News.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What does it mean? Not much

If there are signs today that the problem of global warming has increased, the main culprit was most likely all the hot air spewed into the atmosphere by the so-called experts (there were at least eight of them on CNN at the same time) trying to analyze what happened in Tuesday’s off-year election. And the answer, after all the pontificating is, really, not very much. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele declared that the victories by GOP candidates in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey proved the Republicans are "a transcendent party" with a future so bright they’re gotta wear shades. Leading Democrats say those same results were in no way a reflection of overall dissatisfaction with their party or its leader, President Barack Obama. The truth, as the old saying goes, is somewhere in the middle. There was really little doubt that Virginia would choose the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and there were few people in New Jersey less popular than incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. But at the same time, it would be foolish to say that the results bear no connection to dissatisfaction with Obama, even if that dissatisfaction comes mainly in the form of angry Republicans who are now energized to get revenge. For the Democrats, it's a valuable wake-up call before next year's really important midterm elections. If they want to maintain their advantages in the House and Senate, they're going to have to work very hard to motivate voters – especially young people and minorities – who turned out in droves to elect Obama but stayed home in droves on Tuesday. You can try to pick apart Tuesday's races to conjure up trends, but none really exist. In very large part, next year's elections will hinge on one factor: the state of the economy. If people have more money in their pockets, if jobs are being created and if people feel optimistic about their futures, that bodes well for the Democrats. If the economic recovery stalls out, Republicans could make major strides toward proving that reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated.

A few other thoughts:

– The special congressional election in upstate New York, which filled a vacancy in a seat held by Republicans since sometime close to the Bronze Age, didn't go quite like far-right conservatives such as Sarah Palin had in mind. The right-wingers forced the Republican candidate from the race because she wasn't "right" enough, leaving an ultra-conservative to take on the Democratic nominee. The Democrat won, but again, don't read too much into that. There's an election for a full term representing that district next year, and there's a good chance the Republicans will reclaim it.

– It personally saddens me that voters in Maine chose to overturn that state's law allowing gay marriage, but a struggle such as this, for the hearts and minds of a people, isn't won in short order. Thirty years ago, a proposal to allow gay marriage probably would have been defeated by a 90 percent to 10 percent margin. Today, the votes are much closer, and eventually gay marriage will be the law of the land. The good news, from my vantage point, is that voters in Washington state appear poised (votes are still being counted) to expand the state's domestic-partnership law to give gay couples all the rights of heterosexuals. It would mark the first time a gay-rights measure had won statewide approval in this country. It's far from a major victory, but it's a small step.

– While switching over to watch the 10 p.m. local news last night, I happened to catch the last few minutes of the new "Melrose Place" on the CW network. If you are a fan of terrible, over-the-top acting, I urge you to tune in sometime. It was cringe-worthy.

– Is it just me, or is political commentator James Carville, above left, looking more and more like Skeletor from Masters of the Universe?

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We're not that interested

The other morning, ABC's “Good Morning America” heavily promoted and gave considerable attention and air time to a story about the start of the trial of a man accused in the beating death of a woman in Little Rock, Ark. Oh, the woman just happened to be an anchorwoman on a Little Rock television station, which also just happens to be an ABC affiliate. As murders go, there was nothing especially spectacular about this one. Somebody gained entry to Anne Pressly's home, sexually assaulted her and fatally beat her. It's a very sad case, but it doesn’t stand out from hundreds of other murders that occurred across the country last year. So why does ABC think the average American is especially interested in the trial? Could it be that Pressly was blonde, attractive and a member of the local celebrity class? It certainly wouldn't be the first time that the media virtually ignored the killing of a poor, black woman while lavishing attention on the similar death of an attractive, white woman. But I don't think that's it. I think Pressly's case is in the ABC spotlight simply because she was a fellow TV news person. If she had been a bank vice president in Little Rock, would we have seen the extensive coverage? Not likely.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

An incredibly bad memory

Republicans, and some Democrats, correctly took President Clinton to task for his prevarications and equivocations during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I wonder how many from the GOP will be bashing former Vice President Dick Cheney, who it turns out was very Alberto Gonzalez-esque in an FBI interview amid the investigation of the Valerie Plame affair. Plame, as you might recall, was allegedly outed as a CIA agent by the White House after her husband, an American envoy, accused the Bush administration of manipulating evidence to support its push for a war against Iraq. During the probe, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said there was a "cloud over the vice president.” And late last week, the FBI provided some support for that statement by revealing the summary of Cheney’s answers during a May 2004 interview. During that questioning, Cheney relied on the old "I can't recall” approach on 72 occasions. That’s six dozen times. Most notably, Cheney was asked whether he might have revealed the CIA status of Plame, whose married name was Wilson, to his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who ultimately was convicted of perjury, obstruction and lying to the feds. According to the FBI interview summary, "It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president ... but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation." Now, if they asked Cheney what he had for lunch on the Tuesday six weeks earlier, I wouldn't blame him for issuing an "I can’t recall.” But when it comes to a central issue in the outing of a CIA operative, I'm a bit skeptical of Cheney's answer. It's a shame they couldn't have hooked him up to a lie detector when they conducted the interview. I'm guessing the machine would have gone through a lot of ink.

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Free speech comes first

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has, in my opinion, correctly overturned a Pittsburgh ordinance that all but prevented anti-abortion protesters from providing leaflets or other information to people entering abortion clinics. Pittsburgh enacted a measure that banned protesters from coming within 15 feet of clinic entrances while also requiring them to stay at least eight feet away from clinic clients within a 100-foot zone around the entrances. Basically, it all but barred the protesters from exercising their free-speech rights. I'm pro-choice on abortion, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with abortion opponents expressing their views to the contrary. If they go beyond leafletting, holding signs and trying to talk to clinic clients, then we have a problem. In other words, those protesters cannot block entrances, physically accost clinic clients or otherwise impede people from having legal abortions. But when they do those things, they're already breaking existing laws that can be enforced by authorities. They can, and should, be arrested and sentenced accordingly. But they should not be punished for, or prevented from, speaking their minds.

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New name, same stuff

It was only a matter of time. And that time was Friday night, when a man police identified as Percy Lee Dudley Jr. allegedly fired shots inside and outside the former Cabaret West on Chestnut Street in Washington after an argument with other patrons. The bar was temporarily shut down in February after two men were shot to death there. District Attorney Steve Toprani wanted it closed permanently as a nuisance, but Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky allowed it to reopen with certain restrictions, and owner Catherine Bayus said it would become an Italian restaurant known as Isabella’s. Well, you can change the name as often as you wish, but the place still seems to be attracting a certain criminal element, as evidenced by Friday’s events. Bayus laid the blame on Dudley’s probation officer and city police for “letting him walk around the city with guns in his pocket.” Does she really expect probation officers and policemen to provide 24-hour monitoring of everyone who's out on parole? That's ridiculous. My thinking is that Toprani was correct in the first place, and if someone else gets shot to death there in the future, it’s on Pozonsky’s head.

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