Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another round

The House has passed another jobless benefits extension. The bill now awaits Senate approval.

Regardless, I don't see how I could possibly accept it.

I've lived the "American dream" long enough. It's time to make my own name regardless of what happens with my labor situation. I have received benefits for 26 + 20 weeks (not counting the Census gig) but why would I accept any more time? The government allowed me 11 months to find a new job, but that plan has clearly failed. I recently had an interview with a local company for a public relations position and still await to hear if I have been hired. But if not, I know that McDonalds and The Home Depot are hiring.

This, in my opinion, is the fallacy with the employment situation. We can suck off the government teet for a while, but we never have any real sustainable options. Want to start a new business? Too bad you can't get a bank loan because you don't have a steady income. Want to relocate to an area that has jobs? Too bad you're stuck with your mortgage you just bought a year ago.

This jobless spell has been one of the most difficult situations of my life. Although I have tried to make extra money working odd jobs for the past 11 months -- newspaper freelancer, NRFU census enumerator -- I don't see how any employer would want to hire me with that gap in my resume.

And so this vicious cycle continues. I can keep accepting government benefits, or I can make a name for myself. Unfortunately, that name might be written on my apron at your nearest home improvement store.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A time to tax

I've broached quite a few touchy subjects on this blog over the past 11 months, but I suspect this entry will strike a nerve... It's time for the Pennsylvania state legislature to raise the gas tax by 10 cents. There, I said it. Now feel free to scroll down to the comment sections and start ranting.

But seriously, our roads are crumbling and bridges becoming impassable. The state legislature tried to correct the problem in 2007 with passage of Act 44 that would allow the state to either lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike or toll Interstate 80. Either plan would have raised about a billion dollars each year to fund transportation costs. But both plans were rejected. Now the state is facing a $500 million budget gap in road funding that will have to be made up elsewhere.

So rather than raising the rates for people using the Turnpike or I-80, let's spread the costs around to the entire motoring public. It's the fairest "user fee" that could ever be devised. And it wouldn't be as costly at the pump as you might think.

Think back 10 years ago when gas was $1.29 per gallon. The state gas tax was roughly 30 cents per gallon, which meant it was about a 23 percent tax on fuel. Flash forward to today when gasoline is hovering around $3.00, and that same tax percentage drops to just 10 percent. So while gasoline prices have more than doubled, the state (31.1 cpg) and federal (18.4 cpg) gas taxes have remained stagnant.

Why not implement a 15 percentage tax based on the wholesale price of gas? If the wholesale cost is $2.00, then the tax would be 30 cents and the price at he pump would be $2.30 before the federal tax is applied. If gas rices to $3.00, then the cost would be $3.45.

I'm not suggesting that the public would not be infuriated by an gas tax increase. But would it really be that burdensome to tie the tax to inflation rates or raise it a measly dime to ensure better roads and bridges? Now, I don't expect the state legislature to enact an increase because, after all, this is an election year. But I do think they should stop paying lip-service to the need for better roads while not having the political spine to find a solution to the problem.

UPDATE: Transportation experts agree that a gas tax increase is needed to fund road improvements. One expert estimates a 25-cent increase would provide $1.5 billion in additional revenue, so my measly dime suggestion would bring $600 million. Isn't that just about the same number we need to fill the budget gap? What say you, Harrisburg?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A busy election night

Fellow breadliner Amanda Gillooly and I rushed around Western Pennsylvania as we covered a couple races for Below, I have included clips of our stories about the Democratic gubernatorial race and Republican primary in the 4th District. Also, PA2010 editor Dan Hirschhorn filed a story about the Senate primary that pitted Arlen Specter against Joe Sestak. Click on the headlines to read the full stories.

Onorato cruises to Dem gubernatorial victory
PITTSBURGH—Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County Executive who started plotting a path to the Governor’s Mansion years ago, took a big step toward getting there Tuesday, easily winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary in a race he was favored to win from the start.

Rothfus beats Buchanan by a wide margin
WEXFORD—Keith Rothfus said he just might be able to sleep Tuesday night. “Relieved is how I feel right now,” he said about an hour after he was declared the winner of the 4th District Republican primary. “But now we have even more work to do.”

Sestak crushes Specter in primary

WAYNE—Joseph A. Sestak, the former Navy Admiral and second-term congressman who challenged his party’s political establishment, won the Democratic Senate primary Tuesday, riding a wave of anti-incumbency and a brilliantly-run TV campaign to a victory that ended the 45-year political career of Senator Arlen Specter.

Wagner: 'Some things don't work out the way you want'
PITTSBURGH – As rain fell across Pennsylvania for most of Tuesday, Jack Wagner's gubernatorial campaign held on to a glimmer of hope that a lower state turnout coupled with the intense 12th District special election just might be enough for an upset victory in the Democratic primary. But as results came in from Allegheny County—a critical base shared by both Wagner and eventual winner Dan Onorato—it became increasingly clear there would be no surprise endings.

Rothfus: 'I'm not worthy'
WEXFORD—Before the polls closed Tuesday night, Republican Keith Rothfus said that win or lose, he was feeling one thing: Not worthy. "I am humbled by the support I’ve received,” the Edgeworth lawyer and 4th District candidate said with a smile here. “I know it sounds cliché, but—I’m not worthy. The people I have met on this campaign—they are just people who believe in this country and believe in what this country can be. And I struck a chord with these people.”

Arlen Specter's perfect storm
The political world watched almost stupefied as the national melodrama played itself out. The pre-primary polls told the startling story while the astonished pols read the increasingly clear tea leaves: Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania’s longest serving U.S. Senator, arguably the state’s most skilled and luckiest politician, was losing. And he was losing to an opponent few had heard of just about a month earlier, losing despite substantial advantages in money and party endorsements, losing despite support from the president, the vice president, and the state’s governor. Specter was losing despite anything he or anyone else could do to stop it.

(Photos by Michael Jones/

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


It's 7 a.m. and the polls have officially opened in Pennsylvania.

So go out and vote in your respective primary elections... or don't complain about the results. And if you're a registered independent, well then I'm sorry Pennsylvania's convoluted closed primary system won't allow you to have your say.

Regardless of party affiliation, today's elections offer a number of interesting races, including two that are garnering national attention.

The one that has the most immediate impact will be the 12th District race between Democrat Mark Critz and Republican Tim Burns. The district, which looks like a kangaroo jumping into the mouth of a pit bull, was vacated earlier this year when longtime congressman John Murtha died due to complications from gallbladder surgery. The special election is a dead heat and could predict what will happen with the rest of the congress in the fall. Although I don't live in the district, I've seen plenty of the commercials from both the campaigns and their party affiliates. Most have ranged from stupid to bizarre: The 50-foot Nancy Pelosi monster and Critz telling voters he opposed the Democratic health care law and is pro-gun/pro-life are the first that come to mind.

The other race could shakeup the D.C. political establishment. Sen. Arlen Specter is teetering on the edge of losing the Democratic primary to Joe Sesetak, a two-term congressman from eastern Pennsylvania. Sestak has hammered Specter about his party switch and whether Democrats can trust him. Specter has responded by slamming Sestak's military record. It will be a monumental upset if Sestak wins. And with recent polls showing a statistical tie, the incumbent should be very concerned.

But the election that I will be following closest is the Democratic gubernatorial race. I don't care who wins, but I will be reporting on two of the candidates, Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner, from their campaign parties tonight in Pittsburgh. The stories will appear at, a political website that will serve as a dragnet for every major competitive race in Pennsylvania. Thirteen reporters from across the state will file updates via the PA2010 blog, upload candidate videos and write stories while embedded at campaign victory (or sulking) parties.

So get out and vote today, and then follow up-to-the-minute election night coverage on

UPDATE: BLB Guest Columnist Amanda Gillooly will be following the 4th District Republican primary race between Mary Beth Buchanan and Keith Rothfus for PA2010. She will be reporting throughout the night from both campaign parties in Wexford, Pa., so make sure to check out the District-4 race as well.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dislodged with a crowbar

By now, you've probably listened to this audio recording of Sen. Arlen Specter thanking Allegheny Republicans for endorsing him in this Tuesday's Democratic primary. Laughs emanated from the audience packed full of Allegheny County dems the first time he made the blunder. The second time, though, was no laughing matter for the party elite trying to defeat challenger Joe Sestak.

My mother and I watched the story explode on television, prompting us to wonder if the 80-year-old Specter is all there. "I kinda feel bad for him," my mother said. "He just looks so sad all the time."

"Feel bad for a politician?" I said. "Puuuuuuhlease!"

These people don't care about you or me. They care about the power. They care about the lobbyist kickbacks. They care about the pay, perks and pensions.

And they are hopelessly entrenched in a system that is broken. From municipalities to the state and federal government, these politicos are destroying our democracy. But that might be changing in a non-partisan fashion. Pols from both sides are losing their primary bids to a new generation of people who will probably be no more noble than their predecessors. But at least it's a start.

As Gail Collins of The New York Times wrote yesterday: "The war on insiders does not seem like all that bad a development. The problem with American politics is less that incumbents are being upset than that they usually cannot be dislodged with a crowbar."

This storyline was punctuated on The Daily Show last night when Senior British Correspondent John Oliver opined on the recent prime minister elections across the pond. The Briton explained that voters there don't have the same cuddly feelings for their politicians, like Gordon Brown, when they leave office. As Oliver explains 5:15 into this clip, "it's one of the few things we have to look forward to."

Instead, he said, the British "treat our political leaders like the disposable bureaucrats that they are."

Here's hoping we do the same with our "leaders" this election year.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bureaucracy at its worst

I certainly hope you filled out your Census information and mailed it in. Because if you didn't you're going to get hounded by a census taker again and again and again. And when you finally do cooperate and give them the needed information, it's very possible ANOTHER census worker will drop by your door to hound you again and again and again.

Unfortunately, the latter position is my new job. I'm a Non-Respondent Follow-up Reinterview Enumerator, or NRFU-RI-ENUM for short. I'm basically quality control for the original enumerator.

Not only does it seem redundant, stupid and wasteful, but it also sounds really dangerous. These people probably aren't happy to give their information to an enumerator in the first place, so they'll be even less thrilled when I come knocking on their door to make sure the first census taker didn't forge the information.

Now, we are not doing this for the entire population that didn't respond, just 20 percent of those. It's designed to be a quality control measure, but it sounds like a big fat waste of time.

For the 2020 Census, I'm suggesting we give each household $50 to respond to the original mailing. And if that doesn't work, start airing commercials informing non-respondents that an army of census workers will be hounding you for months if you don't Mail It Back.

It would probably be cheaper -- and safer -- that way.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Drinking on the job

There are few job postings that really stick out. Most of them look basically the same with bland details about what your bland job duties will be. But this posting for a "public relations" position on Craig's List really caught my attention...

Beer Pong Promotional Reps Needed (Pittsburgh)

World Beer Pong Tour is looking for promotional reps to promote upcoming events at Buckhead Saloon in Pittsburgh May 22-25.

Reps sign teams up and sponsors for the tournament. Please fill out a job application for Promotional Rep at

More info on World Beer Pong Tour at

Uhhh, there are no words to describe that position. As expected, the job is part-time and workers are paid by commission. Now, I'm no salesman, but how hard can it be to get a bunch of drunk frat bros to sign up to play a little beer pong? On the other hand, if this blog suddenly disappears from the tubes of Internet, you'll be happy to know that I've found my calling in life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Leaving class to horse around

By Michael Jones
For the Tribune-Review

Anxious stares quickly gave way to wide smiles Tuesday morning as 13 students from Bethel Park High School's special education program visited a Washington County horse farm for the ride of a lifetime.

The activity gave the students a hands-on experience with horses after they recently finished reading "Black Beauty" for class.

Sherry Parise, an autistic support teacher, could barely contain her enthusiasm watching 16-year-old Hannah Dibble prepare for the first ride of the day at the Horse 'N Soul farm.

"This is so exciting," Parise said as Hannah climbed atop a brown equine named Nash.

Parise said Hannah is usually quiet in class, so she was encouraged as Hannah responded to an instructor's direction to tell the horse to "walk on." With that command, Nash began moving forward with an instructor guiding the horse around the ring.

Parise was just as excited a few moments later when Jimmy Tosic, 19, mounted the next horse and gave the same instructions. Flashing a wide smile, Jimmy waved to her and other students while riding Rocky in the pen.

"Just to see him so relaxed on that horse," Parise said. "He's not going to want to get off.

"I love animals and kids, so this is the perfect place for me."


(Photo by Keith Hodan/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The phone interview

I've interviewed hundreds of people for stories over the phone, but this was the first time someone was asking me questions using the ole rotodial. A local college called a few days ago asking me if I would be interested in interviewing by phone for a public relations position I applied for months ago. Of course, I was excited and wasn't about to turn them down.

My cell promptly rang at 9:30 this morning and we moved right along with the questions. But it felt strange talking to three potential bosses sitting miles away speaking through a conference call. It was impossible to gauge their reactions or feed off their enthusiasm, which I think makes personal interviews so interesting. They asked the standard answers and I gave them the standard responses, hoping I would eventually be elevated to the next group of applicants that get the one-on-one treatment.

Of course, I don't blame them for conducting phone interviews to narrow the list. It surely saves time as they move forward with the hiring process. It just was a very different -- and probably very useful -- experience on this winding road of unemployment.