Sunday, January 31, 2010

Trying our virtues

How do Americans deal with criminals? Whether they be alleged robbers, murderers or suspected terrorists, we hold courtroom trials to decide their guilt or innocence. And regardless of how guilty they may appear, we give them fair trials despite the costs. This is the way it is done in America, and how we are different than many other nations.

Yet, there is a clamoring in New York City about why we should not hold the accused 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accountable for his alleged crimes in civilian court. The Republicans say that he is far too dangerous to be tried in federal court, and instead should be under the jurisdiction of a military tribunal where he supposedly has fewer rights. Yet, the 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, were both found guilty in civilian courts with no terrorism ramifications. So why is there such a fear with KSM?

There are now reports that Western Pennsylvania -- specifically Pittsburgh -- could be the location for the terror trials because hijackers crashed Flight 93 into a Somerset County field. Why is there so much fear over a trial here? To quote a former president, "Bring em on." We should be hungry for a trial for the man who is accused of orchestrating the worst act of terrorism in history. We should believe that our justice system will give him a fair trial and deserved punishment. I welcome this judgment and the impending security restrictions in my hometown that might accompany such a proceeding.

We hold ourselves to a higher standard, regardless of the inherent dangers. What has changed since we proudly wore T-shirts after 9/11 that read... These colors don't run. So why are we still living in fear? Why should we be afraid to hold a man accountable for his actions? Instead, I think the terrorists should be frightened that we are keeping to our ideals rather than stooping to their barbaric level. We are ruled by law, and that is a powerful force that should not be broken.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter doldrums

Another snow shower has blanketed the region, making for a beautiful scenic scape but also keeping us indoors. I've found this winter to be the worst part of unemployment because it is much too cold to go for a walk around the block or a bike ride on the trails. Those daily exercises were good for the muscles and soothing for the soul. The bike rides, especially, gave me time to ponder what my next moves would be to find a job.

However, I've found that the winter weather has allowed me to become much more productive in searching for work. And there seems to be more jobs available now that the holidays have passed and companies are more willing to add payroll. That doesn't mean it seems more likely to find a job, but it does appear that more companies are advertising.

So the occasional glance out my office window gives me a gorgeous reprieve from the automated job applications I've been filling out for more than seven months.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The rescuer and his dog

There are only so many jobs to search for and resumes to send via e-mail. So it would seem only natural to click on a cable news network to see what is happening around the country. Of course, MSNBC was broadcasting President Obama's town hall meeting, which held my attention about as much as boiling water.

But then it happened! At 2:53 p.m., the anchors decided to move onto a riveting flood story out in California. Were rescuers rushing to save a child from a home as flood waters inched closer and closer to his doorstep? Not even close. Instead, the cable news station broadcast rescuers standing atop a tall bridge and throwing a life preserver... to a dog.

No joke. Then the anchors made comments questioning the importance of this rescue, or if the dog even knew what was happening. The one anchor mentioned that dogs have the mentality of a 2-year-old, so they were unsure how it would know to swim to the life preserver. Well, that and dogs don't have thumbs to grabs things, like the rope.

After keeping up on the story for about a half-hour later, they finally found a development in the action. A helicopter was lowering a rescuer into the raging waters to pull the dog to safety. As the rescuer made his way over to the dog, the mangy canine started biting the man. I couldn't contain myself anymore and burst out laughing.

So, the dog was saved and all the world's wrongs were righted. And the next story on MSNBC? Britain raised its terror warning threat level. Don't worry guys. MSNBC already spent the past 43 minutes terrorizing the journalism community.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When pink pigs fly

WAYNESBURG, Pa. - It didn't take long for Gene Stilp and Dennis Baylor to attract quite a bit of attention in front of Bill DeWeese's district office.

The two political activists arrived in Greene County this morning to call for the embattled state representative to forgo running for re-election this year. They did it with a little flare, too, by blowing up an inflatable pink pig and placing it directly in front of DeWeese's district office.

The event -- and pig -- attracted a few newspaper and television reporters, but several people continued to stream into DeWeese's office for constituency services. A sign on one side of the pig read, "DeWeese: Time To Resign." One woman -- appearing dumbfounded by the sight of an inflatable pig the size of a cow blocking her way into the office -- asked a reporter if she was permitted to walk into the office.

Some motorists paid little attention to the pig as they drove along Elm Drive. But several honked or waved to Stilp as he spoke to reporters. While discussing the Bonusgate charges against various state lawmakers, a guard driving an armored truck stopped and gave the crew a thumbs up. As Stilp reciprocated the greeting, the guard briefly blared the truck's siren and continued on his way. Stilp then went on with the discussion about how the greedy ways of Harrisburg need to be changed.

"The pig is angry," Stilp said, "because the state legislature gives him a bad name."

Stilp, of Harrisburg, started touring the state nearly five years ago following the illegal paygrab in 2005. Tugging around a 15-foot-tall inflatable pig -- too large for the small strip of grass in front of DeWeese's office -- he and others pushed state lawmakers into giving back the pay raises. The activists were able to stoke the voters' anger a year later by forcing a 20 percent turnover in the state legislature, either through elections or retirements.

The Bonusgate investigation and subsequent indictments have brought him out of the woodwork once again with his group, Taxpayers and Ratepayers United. Numerous lawmakers, including DeWeese, and some of their staffers have been charged with using public funds to campaign. Others have been charged with giving staffers large bonuses with tax money.

So moments after Stilp and Baylor set up the pig, they walked into DeWeese's office and asked to speak with the representative. He was not around, though, so Stilp instead spoke to a receptionist. She nodded her head and tapped at the computer keyboard as Stilp apologized "for the fuss outside" and asked her to pass on a message that he wants the Democrat to resign. The receptionist and a few other staffers barely paid any attention to Stilp as he made his remarks.

"The people of Greene County and the people of this state deserve better," Stilp said.

Stilp suggested a resident living inside the 50th District should gather the 300 signatures needed to run for election and challenge DeWeese. After an hour, Stilp and Baylor pulled the plug on a generator feeding air to the pig and packed the wrinkled swine into a duffel bag. The duo was heading north to greet another lucky politician in Erie, Pa.

(Photos and story by Michael Jones/Bread Line Blog)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brown v. Bored of Democrats

Most would think the stunning election of Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's old senate seat in Massachusetts should bring Democrats to their knees. Instead, it seems to me that liberals have been done a great favor by ditching the super-majority albatross that has been swinging from their necks since last year.

Make no mistake, last night's victory by the GOP clearly is a harbinger for November. But it also should be a positive wake-up call to Democrats. Rather than living by the premise that liberals need 60 votes to pass any legislation in the Senate, they now merely must round up 50 senators, with Vice President Joe Biden breaking the tie. This is good news because gone are the whiny slugs like independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Nebraska's raider-like Sen. Ben Nelson. Their votes -- among others -- have been neutralized because they are no longer needed.

Of course, the real problem is whether Republicans will filibuster each and every piece of legislation the Democrats propose. To Senate "leader" Harry Reid, I offer one piece of advice: Dare them to do it. I dare the Republicans to stand in the Senate chambers and read the Holy Bible or the telephone book or My Dog Spot while America endures 10 percent unemployment and 30 million people are without health care.

The last time a serious filibuster was used happened in 1964 while debating the landmark Civil Rights Act. But it wasn't the minority party that threw a fit and threatened to block the legislation. Rather it was the southern Democrats that had to be neutralized.

So while the health care debate is effectively over -- with absolutely no indication about what will happen next -- it should be noted that other legislation CAN pass with 51 votes. This notion that 60 senators are needed for ALL legislation is absurd. And proof of that is in 2003 when President Bush pushed through the Medicare Part D legislation that essentially was a multi-billion dollar boon for the prescription drug companies. The vote on that monstrosity?

Yea: 54
Nay: 44

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UC should not be an endless trough

Found an interesting column in Time Magazine arguing that unemployment compensation benefits should not be extended for eternity. Nina Easton, a Fox News contributor, thinks that the numerous extensions create a continuous cycle of unemployment.

I agree with her argument. Although I am thankful for the unemployment extension we received recently, I do not believe that we should be allowed to keep spinning the welfare wheel. At some point, the benefits have to end and we must make difficult decisions on how to proceed. Whether that be taking a lower paying job, slashing every non-critical expense or selling the house.

But I'll let you read Easton's column and decide...

A Limit to Compassion

By Nina Easton
Jan. 19, 2010

Have a heart. It's what Democrats like to think they do best. So President Obama's reaction to the economic crisis has been a predictable spending of trillions to soften the blow. But compassion can have consequences that aren't so compassionate — a nettlesome economic truth that now needs to be applied as Congress plans to extend unemployment benefits for the fifth time since the dark fog of recession settled in.

Continually easing the pain of jobless Americans, it turns out, can contribute to high jobless rates by warping incentives to look for work. "The consensus estimates show that unemployment benefits do prolong unemployment spells by quite a bit," says University of Chicago economist Bruce Meyer, who has produced academic studies on the issue dating back to the recession of the early 1980s.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

The bread line gets longer

An old college buddy called me Friday night with some news. We've remained close over the years -- I was in his wedding party in June 2008 -- so I was hoping for the best. Instead, Dan told me that his engineering firm outside Scranton, Pa., had let him go... just days before Christmas. This wasn't a surprise to him, though, because business had dropped off as the economy continued to sour. But the questions of what he would be facing still were upsetting.

Then I received a text message this afternoon from my step brother, Tony, saying he would be joining me "in the bread line on Monday." He heard from his boss today that the office supply company for which he has worked for nine years will be letting him go after the weekend. Tony spent most of his time working there to earn enough money to pay for his business degree at a college near his home in Jacksonville, Fla.

I explained to both of them the steps to file for unemployment, and the process for registering for COBRA. They both have expressed interest in sharing their stories through this blog. But it is still unsettling for me to know how many in my generation are without work. Dan, Tony, Amanda, Greg and others are hard workers and they deserve better. It is very upsetting that this supposed world super power has turned into a joke. We want to work, America, and are waiting for a fair opportunity with sustainable wages.

The ball is in your court.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

401,000 scrooges

It was a long and winding road to change my 401k employee contributions from the Observer-Reporter's account to my personal investment portfolio. With no one left at the newspaper to help me figure out how to transfer the money properly, it took about six months to finally complete the process.

Then I received an update of my portfolio, only to find that I had lost more than $1,000 from the account. Was it taxes or fees or a miscalculation? None of the above.

Instead, it was the O-R's share of the 401k because I wasn't fully vested with the program. I had been with the newspaper for nearly three years, so I can only assume that I earned only 50 percent of the money (it takes four years to become fully vested). This was not a decision I made. This was a decision the Observer-Reporter made to release me and the 401k obligations. They should be ashamed for withdrawing this money, and I urge them to restore our full 401k contributions to 100 percent.

Because while I was putting my money into the market and trying to plan for that retirement years away, the Observer-Reporter was making dividends off my contributions. I hope they'll be able to buy plenty of new laptop computers and/or coffee machines with my money. Enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rantings of a sane man

Three items caught my attention this morning as I perused the morning newspaper. Each was more laughable than the next, and shows the sheer greed and stupidity that runs rampant through this great country of ours. After today's headline trifecta -- in sports, entertainment and politics -- let there be no more questioning why our country is so screwed up.

SPORTS: Football coach Lane Kiffin has a thoroughly unimpressive resume. Sure, he served as offensive coordinator for the USC Trojans in the early 2000s and helped develop a crop of star athletes. But after spending less than two years as the Oakland Raiders' head coach (in which he compiled a mammoth 5-15 record) he was fired by owner and true raider Al Davis. A couple years later, he landed a posh gig as head football coach at the University of Tennessee. There, he alienated the Vols from the rest of the SEC, ripped Florida coach Urban Meyer for, well, winning and racked up NCAA violation after NCAA violation. Oh, and this was before leading his team to a 7-6 record last season that included an embarrassing bowl loss. Yet, ole Lame Kiffin bolted the Vols this week for the open coaching position with the Trojans. Then Kiffin has the audacity to claim in a 40-second farewell press conference that he left the football program in better shape than when he arrived 14 months ago.

ENTERTAINMENT: It's hard to determine what cog in this comedic wheel deserves the most blame. With "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" and "The Jay Leno Show" both floundering on NBC, the peacock station has decided to alienate everyone. They want to bump Conan back to 12:05 a.m. and give Leno his old time slot after the local news. So, let me get this straight: Conan O'Brien waits 17 years for Leno to retire, then is given just seven months when the job is finally his? I don't necessarily feel bad for Conan or his wallet, but there are certain ways of treating people, and this is obviously not one of them. At least he's still having fun on his show, ripping NBC with just about every joke during his nightly monologue.

POLITICS: With our wonderful state legislators in Harrisburg continuing to suck pints of blood from the taxpayers, it should only be assumed that they also have a golden parachute when they retire. In this case, House speaker Keith McCall announced that he will retire when his term expires at the end of the year. Great! One more legislator is dethroned as we continue our march to slay the bloated General Assembly. But, whoops: The 50-year-old McCall will receive a $90,000 pension from the state. I don't know of ANYWHERE (except maybe on Wall Street) that offers that kind of compensation for doing nothing. Obviously this is not shocking news, but that does not mean we don't have to be outraged. So I'll challenge our local representatives, Matt Smith, Nick Kotik, Jesse White, Tim Solobay, Pete Daley, Mark Mustio, John Maher, David Levdansky, Bill Kortz and others to introduce legislation extending pension eligibility to at least 35 years of service and/or slashing the annual payments to something more in line with Social Security checks. Will you please vote AGAINST your personal interests just once?

Thanks, and have a nice day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Former liquor store filled with new spirit

By Michael Jones
For the Tribune-Review
Jan. 7, 2010

Members of the Swissvale United Methodist Church found an unlikely place to reinvigorate the spirit of their congregation.

With the 80-year-old church on South Braddock Avenue becoming too large and expensive to house the decreasing membership, the congregation and church leaders decided to move services to a former Wine & Spirits store in the Swissvale Shopping Center.

"Most of us just love the irony," said the Rev. Dai Morgan.

Morgan said that when he arrived as pastor in 2006, many in the congregation thought the church would have to close eventually. The antiquated church required a lot of resources and money, which were estimated to run dry by late 2009.

As the congregation pondered what to do early last year, Morgan said the Pittsburgh Mennonite Church contacted it about purchasing the building. The sale was finalized in June, leaving the Swissvale congregation in limbo for the next few months.

The 50 active members spent four months sharing worship services with nearby Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, which Morgan said was an "excellent experience" for all sides. There were low points, though, he said, as the members discussed a different direction.

"We needed to envision a new image for the congregation, and that was a hard thing to do," Morgan said. "Being an old and traditional congregation, there was no way we would grow. We needed to change ourselves."


(Above photo by Philip G. Pavely - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Shoddy reporting at its best (or worst)

My cell phone buzzed early Tuesday afternoon with a text message from a buddy asking, "Why is everyone happy about the Steelers firing Bruce Arians?" This was news to me, because I had heard nothing about the Steelers cutting loose their enigmatic offensive coordinator. A few minutes later, I received an e-mail from another friend asking if Christmas had come late for Yinzer Nation?

What was going on? Where were these "news" reports coming from?

Then I found a Tweet by ESPN Radio 1250 reporter Ken Laird signaling that Arians would be fired... eventually... maybe. Ahhhh, yes: Twitter... where all shoddy reporting goes to die (unless it resurrects itself as the truth a few days later).

His Steelers Blog was no more definitive. The headline shouted "Bruce Arians OUT". But when you clicked on the link, Laird merely reported that he was "hearing strong rumblings that the Steelers are going to let go offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. As to when this will officially be announced by the team, I am not sure (presumably by the end of the week)."

Splendid reporting, Ken. So, BA might be fired, and if he is, it might happen on a day that ends in a Y. That's like me saying that I might have a job offer, and it could come at the end of the week (or not at all).

Of course, this sent the Pittsburgh media into a tizzy trying to locate the source of these rumors. And by the end of the day, not a single media outlet had any information. They only could cite Laird and his "strong rumblings." How lazy can the media be to report a single reporter's hunch/inside source that something might happen. Everyone was so concerned about getting the story before another competitor, they seemed to disregard the fact that Laird could be wrong.

Now I watch from the sidelines as a bunch of purported professions stoke the rumor mill fires. If Laird's report is correct, then he will be seen as a veteran reporter getting the story right before anyone else. And if he's wrong... well, what was that Tweet about again?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another interview

This applying for jobs stuff is for the birds. For the second time since Pink Slip Paradise began in June, I have been called to interview for a job in which I never applied. So, now I'm 0-for-2,153,048 on applications, yet 2-for-2 on out-of-the-blue interviews. Strange.

This time, it's with a little weekly newspaper based in northern Allegheny County, but under the Trib Total Media umbrella. The editors at the Trib sent my name to this newspaper editors when they inquired about possible reporters. The interview is Thursday morning at the old Clark Building on the North Shore, so I'll get to take a nice day-trip downtown. I figure I'll also be able to drop by the Tribune-Review newsroom and introduce myself to the Trib editor for whom I've been freelancing.

Should be fun times.