Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An unacceptable failure

Since network news has obsessed about the underwear bomber in recent days, I think it's time to offer my opinion on the subject. This -- in my opinion -- is the first major blunder of the Obama Administration. As the president said this weekend, it is an unacceptable failure by our intelligence community to let a man who we knew was being trained by terrorists to board an American-bound flight. This problem was supposed to be corrected after 9/11 when our intelligence agencies did not adequately share information that would have helped us stop the terrorist attacks. Clearly, that problem persists today.

But there also is concern that this is being turned into a politically hypocritical football.

FIRST: Any discussion about the need for full-body scans in the United States is bunk. The alleged terrorist boarded a plane in Denmark, so there is nothing the American-based TSA could have done to prevent the attempted bombing. Although I do not think our airport security is fully adequate, I do believe that a full-body scan is an unconstitutional intrusion of our civil liberties.

SECOND: It amazes me that Republicans are outraged that this 23-year-old joker (who burned his junk off while trying to light the bomb) will be tried through the American justice system. After Richard Reid -- a British citizen -- attempted to detonate a shoe bomb to blow up an American plane in December 2001, he was tried in American courts, convicted and given a life sentence in a U.S. maximum security prison. Where were all the haters back then? So, why are all of these conservatives afraid? Do you really think a jury full of 12 Americans are not going to convict this dude? If we lived by that system, then we should send Richard Popolawski down to Gitmo without trial, because we wouldn't want him to escape.

THIRD: It's becoming increasingly clear that if you enter any aircraft in our post-9/11 world, then you should be fully prepared to defend the plane and your life. The 32-year-old Dutch man who extinguished the bomb (and this Nigerian jackass) is a hero. He reacted immediately -- despite admitting to being scared -- and saved the lives of nearly 300 people. Each and every once of us should not trust any security measure. Whether it was this Dutch hero, or the people who stopped Richard Reid and his shoe bomb, or the 40 brave men and women on Flight 93, we must do everything in our power to care for ourselves and others.

And that is ultimately the answer to our safety conundrum. We must not wait for our government to protect us. We, the People, control more than we think.

(By the way: I would not encourage anyone to Google the words "underwear bomb" because it makes for several very disturbing photos)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of our loyal readers. Hopefully it has been a joyous day for all of you and your families.

With the winter weather ripping through Western Pennsylvania, I think this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story from last year is appropriate. The story is about a winter portrait of a family living in the backwoods of 19th Century Cambria County. One can only imagine what it was like to go shopping for Christmas presents when a Wal-Mart wasn't just a couple miles down the road.

Reporter Patricia Lowry offers another interesting story this year about a different winter scene in Westmoreland County.

Friday, December 18, 2009

And I hope you had a good career

As you might expect with my news background, I have an affinity for journalists. That's why it will be sad to see ABC News anchorman Charlie Gibson retire after his final newscast tonight. While Gibson did not have the same legendary career as Walter Cronkite or others, he was a solid reporter before stepping behind the news desk after Bob Woodruff was seriously injured by an IED attack in Iraq in 2006.

In less than a year, ABC News had lost Peter Jennings to cancer and their current anchor was clinging to life at a military hospital. Gibson steadied the program, and soon made it his own. It trailed in the ratings to NBC, but not by much.

And of course, there was Gibson's tag line. "And I hope you had a good day," he said at the end of each show. It might have been cheesy, but it was a comforting ending to a day of news that often was troubling.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Son of Stimulus"

That's what everyone's favorite sun burned congressman from Ohio dubbed an extension to unemployment benefits.

There has been much commotion on this blog about whether people let go after June 21 will receive an extension on their unemployment benefits. Well, the U.S. House passed a $154 billion jobs bill yesterday to extend unemployment benefits for six months, along with numerous other programs, according to the Associated Press. The bill passed by a 217-212 vote, with not a single Republican voting for the measure (I'm looking at you Tim Murphy).

Now, this is great news and all, but it will not hit the floor of the U.S. Senate until January. And the AP story says this most recent stimulus bill will have a harder time making it through the Senate... God Bless America! Plus, our proud senators are very busy right now watering down health care reform and catering to insurance lobbyists. I mean, we can't expect them to do much-need plans quickly, can we?

Major Items in the Jobs Bill
-$41 billion to extend unemployment benefits for six months
-$36 billion for highways and mass transit
-$24 billion to states for Medicaid for poor and disabled
-$23 billion for teacher salaries to save about 250,000 jobs
-$20 billion to keep Highway Trust Fund solvent
-$12.3 billion for health insurance subsidies for long-term jobless
-$2.8 billion for water projects
-$2.3 billion to extend family child tax credit for poor families
-$2 billion for job training and summer jobs
-$2 billion for housing renovations
-$1.2 billion to put 5,500 cops on the street
-$600 million for improvements to airports and seaports

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UC Exhaustion

I received a wonderful Christmas card in the mail this week. Twas from the lovely people at the state Department of Labor & Industry informing me that my unemployment compensation will terminate at the end of the month. Now, maybe I'm stupid, but I was under the impression that I had at least 52 weeks of welfare before it was exhausted.

Not so.

The letter explaining the process in June passed through several different hands, and we all thought it continued for a year. So, maybe I'm not so stupid after all. Or maybe we were confused that the federal government extended emergency benefits for up to 33 weeks. Too bad that extension ends on Dec. 19, meaning I'm a couple weeks too late to be eligible. According to the state's Web site...

Claimants that have a new regular UC claim for benefits effective on or after June 21, 2009 that are eligible for 26 weeks or claimants with a 16 week claim effective on or after August 30, 2009, may not qualify for EUC benefits under the current phase out provisions.

I spoke to a congressional aide for U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, and he told me that there are three bills in committee to extend the benefits. The previous extension was passed under the stimulus bill, which Murphy opposed. The aide was very helpful, but he would not say whether Murphy would support another extension. Considering he is a Republican, I would say the chances are slim.

I find it hilarious that the good people at the O-R would have done me a favor by laying me off just a few days earlier. If they had, then there wouldn't be a problem. Nevertheless, it appears those of us who lost our jobs on June 24 will be without a steady paycheck in two weeks. Or am I missing something in this convoluted and tangled bureaucratic web?

Lonely times

The New York Times recently conducted a poll of unemployed Americans and found a lot of obvious answers. I should add here that they didn't call me.

"The results of the poll ... help to lay bare the depth of the trauma experienced by millions across the country who are out of work as the jobless rate hovers at 10 percent and, in particular, as the ranks of the long-term unemployed soar.

"Roughly half of the respondents described the recession as a hardship that had caused fundamental changes in their lives. Generally, those who have been out of work longer reported experiencing more acute financial and emotional effects."

Uhhhhh, yeah? That's news?

Well, maybe a story such as this is important because it explains the daily emotional toll experienced by, we, the jobless. That is what I hoped this blog would achieve, although we've definitely taken a few interesting detours along the way. Many of us -- including myself -- are beginning to feel hopeless about the job situation, and we're wondering what the endgame is. All the encouragement in the world won't help until we're punching the clock again. In fact, this quote by a 51-year-old unemployed woman from Wisconsin says it all.

"Everything gets touched. All your relationships are touched by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not employable.’"

The story and poll numbers are a stark look at the emotional toll of being unemployed. Maybe it's just too obvious for me because I feel the same secluded sadness as that woman. But it also heartening to know you're not alone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pop goes DeWeasel

I'm taking this time to announce my intentions to run for the soon-to-be vacated 50th state representative seat of Bill DeWeese. The most powerful lawmaker in Western Pennsylvania was indicted today on charges he hired state employees to perform campaign work, among other shenanigans.

This shouldn't come as a surprise because DeWeese -- among numerous other lawmakers -- has been under investigation by state AG Tom Corbett for some time. Details about Bonusgate have oozed out for the past three years, so it was only a matter of time before something happened. After the 2005 legislator pay grab, the electorate tried to boot as many lawmakers from the General Assembly as possible. We got about 20 percent through elections and retirements. But it's clear that the people who wield the most power to uproot the politicians are the politicians themselves.

It seems logical to think DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, will fight the charges, and try to remain in his seat. However, he will be forced to resign from his leadership Whip position within the Democratic House caucus. And I don't think the good people of Greene County will appreciate their lawmaker representing them under a dark cloud and neutered leadership status.

So, I would like to welcome you to the Bread Line, Bill, but I don't think the state Department of Labor & Industry offers unemployment compensation to alleged criminals.

And I guess that also means I'll have to find a nice piece of land in Greene County. After all, November 2010 is just a few months away.

(The editorial cartoon above was drawn in August 2008 by Rob Rogers of the Post-Gazette. He has to be licking his chops to draw tomorrow's cartoon.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Better, not bitter

“How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.” ~Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

These days, I like to consider myself an opener of doors. Five months ago I considered myself a journalist.

I’ve been busy these past few months applying for newspaper jobs and freelance gigs, and I won’t lie to you: There is a tremendous sense of loss when you get laid off. And it isn’t the paycheck or the embarrassment I’ve come to realize is routine for nearly all of us -- it’s the loss of self.

No capes have ever been required for me to think I could save the day. All I ever needed was a couple ball-point pens and a legal notebook to feel invincible. I proudly extended my hand and introduced myself as a reporter for whatever paper I was scribing for at the time. And I do mean proudly. I have identified myself as a reporter/writer/journalist since I irked the Moon Area School directors by circulating a survey about homophobia way back in high school.

When some people talk about their first loves, names like Dan or John or Matt are whimsically recalled. Mine wasn’t a man, but a publication. And I’ve fallen head over heels with almost every newsroom in which I’ve valiantly battled the deadline. When I signed the separation papers with the Observer-Reporter in June, it felt like the most important -- most identifying -- part of who I am was signed away, too.

Since then, I have spent more time than I’d like to admit mulling over the layoffs, and all it ever does is fill me with a bile and bitterness. I wonder if it ever occurs to the guys doing the pink slipping that they aren’t just eliminating a person’s job. They are eliminating that part of the poor bastard sitting across the desk.

As the weeks tick by with no job offers in sight (and few legitimate jobs to go around in a tremendously competitive market) I’m trying a different plan. Yes, the applications will still be sent. Yes, I will continue to freelance. But I’m going to start using this time to develop the parts of myself I neglected when I was too busy classifying myself as a writer. This month I started a novel, finished part of a professional project and lost 10 pounds. I’ve learned to make a stellar casserole and have become domesticated enough that I am mulling aprons and once again allowed to bake in my home unsupervised.

While the job market rebounds and the newspaper industry learns how to compete in the world of free online content, I’ll be working to make myself more of a Renaissance woman.

I want to work on being better. Not bitter.

And I hope you all do, too.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University and She can be reached by e-mail at