Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now that's rich

John McCain is a funny guy. Not intentionally, but funny nonetheless. As you might have heard, President Obama made a dozen or so recess appointments over the weekend. In layman's terms, that means he waited until Congress was out of session, then appointment people to various government posts after Republican senators refused to allow votes on those nominations, sometimes for many months. Republicans in the Senate were, predictably, running around like their hair was on fire after Obama’s decision, especially as it regarded the appointment of union lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. The funniest lines came from McCain, who is quickly becoming the Senate’s angry old man. Any day now, I expect him to wave a cane at a bunch of kids outside the Capitol, telling them to pick up those dadgum skateboards and get the hell out. On Obama’s recess appointments, he had this to say: “Once again, the administration showed that it had little respect for the time-honored constitutional roles and procedures of Congress. This is clear payback by the administration to organized labor.” Pardon me, but I sure don’t recall McCain bitching and moaning when George W. Bush used recess appointments 170 TIMES during his tenure, including seven times to put people who thought like him on the National Labor Relations Board. And does McCain really want us to believe that Obama is the first American president to reward groups or individuals who support him and his party? Obama naming a union lawyer to the NLRB is no different than Bush, his dad or Ronald Reagan naming rich white guys to various posts. Those who win elections get to make the appointments. The opposition can fight them tooth and nail, but sometimes presidents use the recess appointment method to go over senators’ heads. Republicans in Congress have done pretty much everything in their power to obstruct the president since the moment he took his hand off the Bible at his swearing-in, with one GOP lawmaker even bragging that his party would make health-care reform Obama’s Waterloo. When Republicans are back in control of the White House, Democrats will no doubt assume the obstructionist role, and the GOP president will do exactly what Obama has done. But then, as far as McCain is concerned, that’ll be OK.

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Really, was this necessary?

Those who know me recognize that I'm not a religious person. In fact, I often point out the failures and hypocrisy of religious organizations. But it really rubbed me the wrong way when I read in Rob Owen’s “Tuned In” column in the Post-Gazette that WPXI television in Pittsburgh is booting from Channel 11 a Catholic Mass that has been broadcast on that station for decades on Sunday mornings. Owen reported that the program will be shifted to the over-the-air RTV channel and WPXI’s cable station, PCNC. But anyone who gets their television signals via a satellite dish won’t be able to see the Mass. The reason for the change, according to WPXI, is that it will allow the station to begin its Sunday morning newscast at 5:30 a.m. rather than 7 a.m., in order to directly compete with WTAE’s morning news program. Here was the explanation offered by WPXI program director Mark Barash: “We were feeling like there was an audience looking for news on Sunday mornings, and our viewers were kind of saying, ‘Where’s your newscast?’ and we didn’t have one.” Yes, Mr. Barash, you did have one. It started at 7 a.m. Does he really expect us to believe that the station was being inundated with calls from people saying, “Dammit, I got up at 5:30 a.m., and you people didn’t have a rehash of yesterday’s news and video from a couple of overnight car crashes!” I'm not buying it. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm willing to entertain the notion that ratings and money somehow enter into this equation. And the needs of shut-ins and others who faithfully watched the broadcasts of the Masses? Hmmm, maybe not so much.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

And life goes on

President Obama signed the health-care reform legislation into law yesterday, and today the sun came out as usual and the United States was not sucked into a huge black hole. To hear some people talk, you might have thought the country would have disappeared from the face of the Earth the moment Obama's pen touched paper. Is the health-care legislation perfect? Far from it. Is it better than doing nothing? Almost certainly. Is it better than what the Republicans were proposing? It has to be, because they really weren't proposing much of anything, other than to squawk “TORT REFORM" in unison at almost every turn. I believe I read somewhere that tort reform might actually cut health-care costs ... by 1 percent. Not really the big-picture answer. The past few days saw teabaggers using racial epithets against black lawmakers, another black lawmaker being spat upon, more teabaggers mocking a crippled man and a Republican congressman calling Rep. Bart Stupak a "baby killer." Stupak, some of you might recall, is staunchly anti-abortion but agreed to vote for the health-care bill based on Obama's pledge to reaffirm a ban on use of federal funds for abortions. The funniest comment came from Sen. John McCain, who, upset over the procedures used to pass the health-care bill, vowed that “there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year.” To quote Joe Biden, BIG #@$%^&! DEAL. There hasn't been any significant cooperation by Republicans since Obama took office. More and more, McCain is starting to sound like a nursing home resident miffed that his daily dose of Metamucil wasn't delivered fast enough. That said, I'm not overly impressed with the new law. I have my doubts that it will result in any real savings. The best that can probably be said for it is that it should provide coverage to more people and might - might - restrain increases in health-care costs. I'm also not thrilled about the mandate that people buy coverage, but mainly because I favored a system that would render that unnecessary. It's called single-payer. Essentially, you just extend Medicare to cover everybody in the country. Would it be expensive? Of course. But should it be a priority for a country of our wealth and power to make sure everyone has equal access to quality health care? I think so. I hear a lot of crying about government-mandated insurance. It's funny how many of those doing the crying never utter a peep about paying for government-mandated car insurance and government-mandated license plates for their vehicles. And the worst of this crowd were the senior citizens at the town hall meetings who shrieked, “Keep the gubmint outta my health care.” Never mind that their health care is provided through a government program. Those people, and the other ones mentioned above, make me think that death panels might actually be a good idea. The health-care bill might not be the greatest piece of legislation passed by an American Congress, but I have to admit it was enjoyable watching horse’s behinds like Mitch McConnell, Joe Wilson and John Boehner lose and cry like little girls.

On another topic that never gets old to me, there’s a new poll out about beliefs held by Republicans in our country. The national Harris poll finds that 57 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, and 45 percent are still clinging to the stupid notion that the president was not born in this country and is ineligible to be our leader. That's nearly half of the Republicans polled who are ignoring facts and common sense in order to side with the "birthers." But here's the best part: Nearly one in four Republicans surveyed agree that Obama “may be the Antichrist.” I'm sorry, but that’s beyond dumb. It's imbecilic. Responsible Republican leaders should call a major news conference and denounce this lunacy. They should outline their policy differences with the president but make it clear that if someone believes Obama is a Kenyan Muslim who just might be the Antichrist, they’re not welcome in the Grand Old Party. But on the other hand, brain-dead sheep like those folks are pretty easily manipulated by lies and scare tactics, so they might come in handy this November.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

The weird world of sports

A few non-March Madness thoughts on sports:

– People who know me are well aware that I'd rather have a painful medical procedure than watch figure skating on a regular basis. Now I see that they have created a "reality show" based on pairs figure skating called “Thin Ice.” It sounds really dramatic, but here's what it is: Figure skaters will be skating with other figure skaters who are NOT THEIR REGULAR PARTNERS! Oh ... my ... God. The missus is convinced that this is a major deal and super challenging because they're not used to skating with different people. I think it's a lot like taking major league baseball players and seeing if they can play slow-pitch softball, or taking football running backs and seeing if they can also run fast without their pads on.

– Another sport that I try to avoid like the plague because I find it about as exciting as watching grass grow is soccer. But it's pretty clear that somebody high up in the company at ESPN is a really, really big soccer fan. Because on ESPN News, when they run the crawl across the bottom with scores and sports news, scores from the English Premier League, the Italian Series A league, etc., are part of the regular rotation. I think I can say with great confidence that the overwhelming majority of ESPN's viewers couldn't give less of a $%^# about Italian soccer scores. But one of the big honchos at ESPN or its parent company must really want to see them, so the rest of us are subjected to them.

– The folks at ESPN were also nearly breathless over the weekend about their "exclusive interview" with illustrious golfer and serial adulterer Tiger Woods. Well, one would think it must be a lengthy, in-depth examination of Tiger's travails and his pending return at the Masters. Uh, not so much. ESPN and the Golf Channel got five minutes with Tiger. Yeah, five minutes. It took them more time to fire up the cameras and get people's microphones pinned on that it did for the interview itself. Apparently, the same interview offer was made to CBS, which said it would be delighted to conduct an in-depth, no-restrictions interview with the golfer. When Tiger's handlers told CBS they would get five minutes, the network told Tiger's lackeys to pound salt. Good for CBS. The only thing ESPN and the Golf Channel accomplished was to be used by Tiger. They were the pawns in his game, which will enable him to go to the Masters and claim, "I already did an interview about the other stuff, and I'm only going to talk about golf." The folks from ESPN and the Golf Channel should never, ever be able to claim again that they are professional journalists. They're media whores for Tiger Woods.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

’Tis the season

There were some interesting goings-on lately in the bid to succeed the late Jack Murtha in Congress. When Democratic Party leaders met to choose their favored candidate, the two leading contenders were Mark Critz, an aide to Murtha, and veteran political figure Barbara Hafer. The Dems favored Critz, by a wide margin. Perhaps they believe Critz could keep at least a shorter version of the Murtha pork train rolling into Western Pennsylvania. Maybe they just believed he'd be a better candidate. Despite the rebuke, Hafer filed nominating petitions to run for the seat in the May primary (the party primaries and the special election for the remainder of Murtha’s term will be contested at the same time). Then, a day later, Hafer announced she was dropping out of the race in deference to Murtha’s widow. There also were concerns that Hafer’s nominating petitions might not pass muster. This is not the first time that Hafer, a former state treasurer and auditor general, has expressed interest in running for a post, from governor to Congress, before backing out. When it comes to the quick surrender, Hafer seems to be the French army of political candidates. On the Republican side, party leaders had a choice between Eighty Four businessman Tim Burns and Bill Russell, who lost to Murtha two years ago. Their vote was nearly two-to-one in favor of Burns, who will be the GOP candidate in the special election. Russell is still a candidate in the primary, and he was none too pleased about his treatment by state Republican leaders. In remarks to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Russell assailed Burns’ supposed inexperience. I’m not sure what he’s talking about. Is it life experience? Russell was a career military man. While that military experience might be useful in Congress, is that more valuable than what Burns brings to the table? I don’t know a lot about the man, but I do know that he’s regularly described as a “self-made millionaire.” This sounds like a guy who knows how to keep more money coming in than going out. Would that kind of approach be good in Washington right now? Or maybe Russell was talking about political experience. Well, Burns is a political novice. But Russell’s experience would seem to consist of being a carpetbagger who moved to Johnstown solely for the purpose of running against Murtha, then had his butt handed to him, despite raising more campaign cash than the incumbent. That's really not much of a resume. Maybe, just maybe, the Republican powers that be thought that Russell wasn’t exactly a ball-of-fire candidate the last time around, and they decided to try something different. Whatever the case, it makes for an interesting race.

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Wandering down to West Virginia

A few thoughts from a quick trip over the weekend to The Highlands, the shopping development just over the state line on I-70 on the way to Wheeling:

– The missus and I paid a visit to the Books a Million store at The Highlands, and after browsing for quite a while, I walked out without making a purchase. The reason: They didn't have a single thing that I couldn't buy online and have delivered right to my front door. At a cheaper price. I'm pretty sure that retail bookstores are about to go the way of record stores. The Books a Million Store was very nice, as are the Borders and Barnes & Noble stores up by South Hills Village, but when a person can buy a book from the comfort of their own home and save money in the process, what's the incentive for folks to drive to one of these stores? When the Borders Express store closed at the Franklin Mall, it meant nothing to me. I hadn't been there a half dozen times over the previous few years. One reason is that there just weren't very many books there. My online bookseller of choice offers thousands more titles than the traditional bookstore, as well as CDs, DVDs, clothing, etc. Plus, I can order used books from vendors affiliated with this particular online retailing giant, saving myself even more money. And I'm not one of those “techies” who wants to read books on a Kindle or some other such electronic apparatus. I like reading a good, old-fashioned hardbound book. I like the smell of them. I like the heft of a good book in my hands. I like falling asleep with one open on my chest. In short, I love books. I just don't love bookstores anymore, at least not enough to make a regular trip.

– I also stopped by Quaker Steak and Lube for lunch. From what I understand, their wings are their pride and joy. Maybe I just hit them on a bad day, but the wings I had were nondescript, tough and dry. I must say that the cheesy, bacon-sprinkled fries I had on the side were outstanding, and from the looks of the menu, I think I'd like to try their burgers and soup, but the wings. Meh. I've had better wings as several establishments much closer to home, including my favorite (and the closest), Breezy Heights Tavern. I think I'll stick with the locals from now on when I want some tasty chicken extremities.

– One of the (typically false) arguments used by those who favor keeping the Soviet-style Pennsylvania liquor sales system is that the clerks at our state stores are the only thing standing between us and private businessmen forcing booze into the hands of drunks and schoolchildren. They paint a horrible picture of unfettered sales by unscrupulous wine merchants interested only in making a buck. Well, it’s certainly not that way with the private-enterprise system in West Virginia, at least based on my experience Saturday. I went into a Target store to buy a couple of bottles of wine – buying wine conveniently, what a concept – and when I approached the young girl at the cash register, she asked to see my ID. Now, I'm 51 years old. On my best day, and with a cashier suffering from extreme astigmatism, I might pass for 40. Nevertheless, the young lady wanted to see my identification. She then took my driver's license, made sure the photo matched my face, and swiped the magnetic strip on my license through a slot in her cash register. Whether that's to make sure that the license was legit or to keep a record of who is buying booze, I'm not sure, but I am sure that West Virginia isn't the Wild West when it comes to alcohol sales.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

From the people who brought you slavery …

You can always count on the folks in Mississippi to try to drag the country back into the Dark Ages (or, in their case, maintain the status quo). A rural school district in the Jackson area has canceled the prom at Itawamba County Agricultural High School because a lesbian student wanted to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend. The cowardly school board wouldn’t even admit the reason for its decision, saying only that the action was in response to “recent distractions.” But Constance McMillen, shown above, is certain that the board was targeting her for trying to upset the apple cart. McMillen told The Clarion-Register newspaper that “a bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this, so in a way it’s really retaliation.” The district issued a statement expressing its hope that “private citizens” will organize a prom. It didn’t mention whether the district hoped that those private citizens will harbor a deep and abiding hatred for gay people and keep them from mingling with the "normal" kids. We'll just have to read between the lines. I'm also guessing they have no objection to banjo-plucking inbreds coming to the prom together. First cousins? Fine and dandy. Brother and sister? That's just family togetherness. But gay people? No freakin' way. What’s sad is that most of Constance’s fellow students probably couldn’t care less whether she brings a female date. It's the adults who are making a mess of this. It’s like canceling recess for the whole class because one kid spoke without raising his hand. The district statement said board members made their ruling after “taking into consideration the education, safety and well-being of our students.” Say what? Education? Are they afraid that the students might learn that not everyone in the world is exactly like them? Safety and well-being? Are they afraid Constance or her date are going to pull a gun and force everyone to listen to Indigo Girls CDs and ditch their heels for more sensible shoes? Constance said the district told her that she and her girlfriend could not arrive at the prom together, that she couldn’t sport a tuxedo and that the couple might be asked to vacate the premises if their attendance at the prom made any other kids “uncomfortable.” What about students who might be uncomfortable with bigotry? I guess that’s not a concern.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What a laugh

I find most television commercials to be either boring or stupid, or both. But I've always gotten a few laughs from the E*Trade ads featuring the talking babies. Actress Lindsay Lohan doesn’t share my opinion. She’s suing E*Trade for $100 million because of the company’s latest ad, which features one baby girl referring to another as “that milkaholic Lindsay.” Lohan, who has a history of substance abuse, claims the character in the ad, who pops onto the screen at the end of the commercial and says “Milk-a-what?," is clearly based on her, and that her right to privacy has been violated. It seems ridiculous to me that someone like Lohan, whose party girl behavior has landed her on tabloid magazine covers and those parasitic syndicated TV shows about the entertainment industry, can claim any right to privacy. But it gets funnier. Lohan alleges in her suit that the character in the ad had to be named after her because she has the same “single-name” public recognition as Oprah and Madonna. Sure, that’s right. Anytime I'm ticking off the world’s biggest female celebrities one might recognize by their first names alone, it's usually Oprah, followed by Madonna and then, of course, Lindsay Lohan. Unless she or one of her family members is getting arrested or going into rehab, does anyone even think of Lindsay Lohan these days? I suppose if you're a fan of the aforementioned TV shows or the trashy tabloids, you might see her every once in a while. But I doubt the average American has given her much of a thought in ages. I mean, for the past five or six years, the woman is more famous for her bouts with substance abuse and photos taken with a camera lens pointed up her skirt or down her blouse than she is for her acting career, such as it is. Does she really want to draw more attention to herself at this point? Never mind. Of course she does.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's long past time to grow up

Unless you've been living underground for the past few days, you're well aware that the beloved “Big Ben” Roethlisberger is in hot water again as a result of his alleged conduct with a member of the fairer sex. In this latest case, a 20-year-old college student is accusing the Steelers quarterback of sexually assaulting her inside a nightclub in Milledgeville, Ga. This comes just months after Roethlisberger was sued by a woman who claims the athlete raped her at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2008. In the earlier case, I was inclined to believe Roethlisberger. The woman who sued him never made a criminal complaint, and the whole thing had a funny "smell" about it. We don't know yet, and may never know, what happened in the latest case, but Roethlisberger’s "people" are sure taking it seriously. Almost immediately, they suggested that the woman involved had an ulterior motive and said the fact that no charges were instantly filed indicated no crime was committed. For those of you counting, that's one piece of character assassination and one outright lie. Police in George continue to conduct their investigation, and once they have talked to everyone involved, including Roethlisberger and his "posse,” and have examined all the evidence, including surveillance video, they'll make a decision about whether a crime did, in fact, occur. That’s the correct way to proceed. The fact that Roethlisberger wasn't immediate cuffed and taken to jail means nothing. And the hiring Monday of high-profile defense lawyer Ed Garland, whose past clients have included rapper T.I. and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, suggests to me that Roethlisberger and his handlers think, or fear, that criminal charges might be forthcoming. But even if no charges are filed, Roethlisberger’s image has taken another savage beating. Most people were willing to forgive the stupidity of his helmetless motorcycle crash and to overlook the Lake Tahoe incident, based on what became known about the case. But this stink isn't dissipating as quickly, and some fans are finally questioning the lifestyle choices being made by their football hero. I've always thought of Roethlisberger as an egotistical, insincere jerk. And apparently I'm not alone. The AP reported the other day that Roethlisberger has become known for “occasionally inelegant behavior in Pittsburgh.” The story said the quarterback has been the target of complaints from restaurant owners in the ’Burgh who say he has tried to skip out on bills on the grounds that he brought business to the establishments by gracing them with his presence. In Georgia, a college girl who was in the bar where the sexual assault allegedly took place said she was one of the young ladies allowed into the VIP area with Roethlisberger and his contingent. According to the AP, the young lady, Amber Hanley, said she asked Roethlisberger to take a photo with a friend whose boyfriend was a fan, but Hanley said Roethlisberger seemed disappointed that the girl wasn't interested in “something more.” Hanley told the AP that when she rolled her eyes at Roethlisberger, he cussed her and walked away, only to begin “aggressively hitting on another girl.” Based only on my perceptions of Roethlisberger and anecdotal evidence, I’m not inclined to doubt her. I’ve also heard very disturbing stories from young women I know about the nightclub behavior of other Steelers players, some of whom reportedly developed temporary amnesia about the wife and kids back home. There are plenty of people in other professions who behave badly, but professional athletes have to know they’re in the spotlight, and that their actions can reflect badly on fellow players and the franchise. And Roethlisberger clearly doesn't get it. At age 28, he’s no longer some deer-in-the-headlights-of-fame kid fresh out of college. In the Nevada case, I don’t recall him ever denying he had sex with the woman in question, just that he didn’t rape her. I think it’s fair to question his morality if he bedded down with a virtual stranger, even though that doesn't seem to bother a lot of people these days. Nevertheless, after the civil case was filed, you would think that any intelligent person would modify his behavior so as not to put himself in such a position again. Not Roethlisberger. His love of the nightlife apparently lives on unabated, and you have to believe that the Steelers’ brass are not very pleased about the attention he‘s getting. There’s an incredible level of irresponsibility about all this. Not that Roethlisberger is the worst offender. I saw a story over the weekend about cornerback Antonio Cromartie of the Jets, whose contract apparently had to be restructured to account for his child-support obligations. He’s 25 years old, and he already has seven children by six different women. Nice. Fortunately for the NFL, there are quality people like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Donovan McNabb playing in the league. Unfortunately for us Steelers fans, we have the quarterback with the moral, intellectual and emotional development of a 14-year-old.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Now or never?

In a matter of weeks, we will know whether significant reform of the nation’s health-care system will pass in Congress. With their ability to stop filibusters in the Senate eliminated by the recent Massachusetts election, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress faced a decision: scrap everything they had done on health care over the past year, or use a filibuster-exempt process known as reconciliation. There really was no decision to be made. Reconciliation is the only option, because Republicans have never and will never negotiate in good faith on health care. If, at the beginning of the reform process, Obama had offered legislation that was an exact replica of what the GOP is now touting as its “plan,” the Republicans would have been unanimously against it, solely because it was proposed by Obama. They have no interest in real health-care reform, offering only piecemeal approaches that would likely do little to make health care significantly more affordable or cover very many of those currently without insurance. Nevertheless, Obama has offered to include several of the GOP proposals in the final health-care bill. Republicans, of course, are not satisfied. And, of course, their idea for how health-care reform should proceed is for Obama and the Democrats to totally kill every bit of what they've done to this point and start over, start over, start over, start over. Why did I just type "start over" four times. Because that's how the Republicans sound, like a broken record. Apparently, they received a script from GOP headquarters telling them that anytime they are asked a question about health-care reform, their reply must be, like a trained parrot, to squawk, “START OVER!" If the Democrats did agree to start anew, does anyone really believe that Republicans would engage in good-faith negotiations on health care? Of course not. They would do as little as possible, as slowly as possible, while filibustering each and every item that showed any sign that it might hurt the big insurance companies. And the Republicans still may get their wish. Democratic unity is a non-entity. There are a lot of Democrats in Congress who are clearly more interested in their re-election prospects than pondering whether the reform bill would be good for their constituents. There's no doubt that they are facing an angry electorate. It's not surprising, considering that the economy is still struggling to rebound, and that Republicans have spent the past year spreading misinformation and outright lies about the health-care measures, including false claims about abortion funding and the “death panels.” But at some point, people who claim to be leaders have to have the courage to cast unpopular votes, if they believe those votes are in the best interest of the people they represent. The key objections raised by opponents of real health-care reform are the cost of such an effort and the government involvement. Well, doing nothing clearly isn't working in terms of controlling costs, and if not the government, who is going to put a stop to the mess that exists today? I'm pretty sure that insurance companies and drug-makers aren't going to cut us all a break out of the goodness of their hearts.

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Here's a “Guy” who should be fired

Here's the background: A couple of football players at Division II Texas A&M-Commerce were arrested on drug charges. The campus newspaper printed an edition with the story of the drug bust on the front page. A couple of fellow football players went around campus stealing all the newspapers from racks to keep people from reading about the drug arrests. Now, one would expect that the football coach would immediately denounce the thievery of 2,000 newspapers. But no. Coach Guy Morriss had this response: “I’m proud of my players for doing that. This was the best team-building exercise we have ever done.” We? Was Morriss or someone else connected with running the football program behind the thefts? One has to wonder, because when campus police notified athletic director Carlton Cooper of the crime, he said he “didn’t think (the players) were smart enough to do this on their own.” James Bright, editor of the campus paper, estimated the loss from the theft at $1,100. In a lot of places, that qualifies as a felony. Yet Morriss thinks it was a “team-building exercise.” This guy should be fired immediately, because he clearly doesn't have the morals necessary to be a leader of young people. Cooper did say that Morriss and the players involved in the thefts (they were identified from surveillance video) had been disciplined, but he wouldn’t elaborate. But Cooper also seemed to be downplaying the severity of the incident, calling it an “error in judgment.” Do adults, even young adults, have to ponder the question of whether stealing is wrong? It’s not a judgment call. If administrators at the school are able to exhibit good judgment, Morriss will have coached his last game there.

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