Sunday, December 31, 2006


Rocco Palmo has an interesting post with some great photos at his blog "Whispers in the Loggia" about the Mummers parade in Philly.

Feast of the Holy Family

Today, the Sunday after Christmas, Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The Gospel reading at Mass (Luke 2:41-52) was the story of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple:

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.

After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.

When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?"

But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

In The Rough

Last night, we saw "Blood Diamond," a film about the illegal diamond trade and civil war in Sierra Leone in West Africa.

It is an important movie to see -- to learn more about conflict diamonds and how First World brides encourage their flow. But, with some iffy acting and contrived action sequences, the film itself comes up short.

I had trouble with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role of the diamond mercenary. Except for a good final scene, I was never able to accept him in the part. Maybe it was the accent.

Jennifer Connelly, playing an American journalist, saves every scene in which she is featured.

Djimon Housoun was excellent as the father dragged away from his family and plunged into the chaos. I would not be surprised to see him receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the part. (Although, some might argue it's another MAAF role.)

Michael Sheen had a bit part at the end of the movie as a London-based diamond merchant. While he has only a few lines here, be sure to check him out as Tony Blair in "The Queen."

Saturday, December 30, 2006


The juxtaposition in today's news of the execution of Saddam Hussein and the funeral services of Gerald Ford is telling.

Saddam Hussein was an absolute dictator who achieved and maintained executive power through mass killings, repression and fear. His decades of tyranny came to end via a spider hole and a hangman's noose.

Gerald Ford was a true democrat who had executive power thrust upon him by constitutional means. After less than three years of service, he lost an election and peacefully exited. He died surrounded by his family and is now honored by a grateful nation.

May God bless democracy. May it spread peacefully throughout the world and improve the quality of life for all people.

Putting Out Fires

Terri Johnson penned an article in yesterday's O-R about discussions at a Washington City Council meeting on understaffing at the WashPA Fire Department -- and the effect of the all-paid FD on the city's troubled finances.

Also, there is a letter to the editor from City Councilman Bob Nicollela in today's paper about financing for the city's downtown revitalization project.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Long But Good

Last night, we saw the new spy movie "The Good Shepherd." It stars Matt Damon as an operative in the formative years of the CIA.

It was a bit too long but overall worth seeing.

I thought director Robert De Niro did a good job showing connections between World War II and post-war intelligence gathering and Cold War intelligence gathering. (The fictional relationships in the movie specifically make a connection to the botched 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.)

Several big names had supporting roles. Joe Pesci had an unnecessary cameo. Michael Gambon, who portrays Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, played an old English spy masquerading as a Yale poetry professor.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


As democratic as we Americans like to consider ourselves, I think there will always be in our national psyche some Old World fascination with the high and powerful among us -- our modern-day royalty if you like.

This fascination and interest is often seen in regard to American presidents. It's likely one of reasons The West Wing was such a popular television program.

The death yesterday evening of Gerald Ford brings this point home. In his case, however, I think President Ford will be more remembered for his times than for his own life -- but his impact upon those times was great.

Had President Ford not pardoned Richard Nixon for his Watergate sins and been elected in 1976, it's impossible to know what America would look like today. Perhaps we would not have known the Reagan era and the Clinton era -- and all the changes those times entailed for our body politic and our American culture.

To borrow words from John Henry Newman, President Ford was "a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons."

(The photo above is from the National Archives via wikipedia. Pictured are Presidents Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter and Ford with their wives at the April 27, 1994, funeral of Richard Nixon.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

From the Gospel of Luke 2:1-14:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.

This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid. For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

(Image above from Catholic Online.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Because Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, many Christian traditions consider today both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve.

In the last week of Advent, many Catholics pray what are called the "O Antiphons." These ancient prayers speak to an increasingly urgent longing for the coming Messiah:

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.

O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.

O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay.

O key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.

O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Last night, ABC re-aired the Barbara Walters special "Heaven: Where Is It? How Do We Get There?". The special included interviews with several religious leaders, among them Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Dalai Lama and Pastor Joel Osteen. According to ABC:

Osteen's televised sermons attract about 7 million viewers on Sunday mornings, and 36,000 evangelicals pack his Lakewood church in Houston every week, the largest weekly religious gathering in the country.

There is much to appreciate in Pastor Osteen's message -- which is positive and hope-filled. We need more of this in our world. But, I do have a critique.

Early in the interview with Walters, Osteen states he believes in the Bible literally. Later in the show, he speaks favorably of prosperity and is seen praying for people to get promotions, raises and bonuses.

From my reading of the Gospels, seeking material wealth is what Christ says we are not to do -- if we are taking a literal interpretation of Christ's words. I am specifically thinking of the following passages from the Gospel of Luke:

Luke 6:24-26; 12:13-21; 16:13-15, 19-31; 18:9-14, 15-25; 1:50-53.

This is from Luke (18:18-25):

An official asked him this question, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother.'"

And he replied, "All of these I have observed from my youth."

When Jesus heard this he said to him, "There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich.

Jesus looked at him (now sad) and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."

Road Trip to Cleveland?

As unlikely as it seems to be saying this, I think it may be time for a road trip to Cleveland.

Purpose? To visit the "A Christmas Story" House. The wood-frame house in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood has been restored to how it looked in the movie. It's now open to the public for tours. They even have the "major prize" illuminated in the window.

CNN and NPR and the P-G have already been there. Marylynne Pitz of the P-G called the house "a kind of glowing, Midwestern Taj Mahal."

(Photo from which credits Scott Shaw of The Plain Dealer via the AP.)

Friday, December 22, 2006


Last night, I bought one last Christmas present while shopping at J.C. Penney at the old Washington Mall. I'm pleased to report that there were some Christmas shoppers at Penney's and there were a decent number of cars in the parking lot (in front of the remaining stores).

It was good to see activity at the Washington Mall, which these days is usually a ghost town. The mall's wikipedia entry refers to it as "ailing" and notes that Penney's will move in 2007 to a new site less than a mile away.

The photo above of an empty corridor in the Washington Mall is from an article at, "the retail history blog." The article provides background on the mall's demise.

I was once a more frequent shopper at the Washington Mall. As a kid, it's where we went back-to-school shopping. I shopped there when I was first out of college and working in WashPA. But, like others, as so many of the food outlets and stores left the Washington Mall, I found myself headed more often to the other newer retail centers in the vicinity -- as well to Robinson Town Center and The Pointe at North Fayette.

In fact, I only went there last night because I was in the area and wanted to use a Penney's gift card. (I admit it. I was re-gifting. Don't hate me.)

In Washington County, we have many elected officials and bureaucrats (at the county, state and local levels) who talk a good game about economic development projects and all that they have done for job creation... blah...blah...blah...

Here's hoping one of these Masters of the Universe steps forward and pushes/assists the owners of the Mall toward the reinvigoration of this once-vibrant retail hub. It has an excellent location adjacent to I-70 and Route 19. Instead of applauding the development of more green space for new retail activity, why not actively encourage the revitalization of this existing mall?

Speaking of economic development and government officials ... on to the topic du jour in Southwestern Pennsylvania:

Sick of the cheesy carols that dominate so many radio stations this time of year, I was listening to talk radio in the car after leaving the mall.

The show was about the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's decision to award the City of Pittsburgh's only stand-alone slots casino license to a location on the North Shore -- and the bleak outlook for the Penguins franchise in Pittsburgh due to the losing bid for the slots parlor attached to a new arena Uptown.

One caller, who identified himself as a union carpenter, said something provocative.

This caller suggested that perhaps there is a behind-the-scenes (and he implied sinister) connection between the award of the license for the "Majestic Star" casino and the construction of the North Shore connector (a the light rail line soon to be built between Downtown Pittsburgh and the North Shore underneath the Allegheny River).


Thursday, December 21, 2006

No Synergy

The AP's Alan Robinson has an article in today's papers about the displeasure of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates organizations with the decision of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to locate a slots casino on the North Shore west of the Carnegie Science Center.

The Penguins wanted it and didn't get it. The Steelers and Pirates don't want it -- and they got it. So much for synergy and coordinated efforts among Pittsburgh's major league sports franchises.

If the Rooney family and the McClatchy/Nutting group didn't want a casino on the North Shore why didn't they put their significant political and economic clout into stopping it?

(Hat-tip: Chris Lilik of GrassrootsPA.)

Sleeping in Airports

Website of the Day: Sleeping in Airports

Be sure to check out what stranded sleepers have said about PIT.

Hat-tip: NPR's Marketplace. They featured this site in a segment on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Patricia Lowry on the slots parlor

For many years, I have enjoyed the writing and perspectives of Patricia Lowry, the P-G's architecture critic. Yesterday, her column was about the three proposals for the slots casino slated for the City of Pittsburgh.

She gives a nod to the "Majestic Star" casino proposed for the North Shore. But didn't Dan Rooney say he doesn't want it there? The Steelers owner probably knows the Northside better than anyone.

Ms. Lowry references an op-ed piece in last week's P-G by Pittsburgh-based architects and urban designers Dan Rothschild and Ken Doyno in which they endorse the North Shore plan.

A majority of PUMP members favored the Isle of Capri plan for the Hill District that would include building a new arena for the Penguins.

If the Isle of Capri plan were to be successful, I wonder its impact on Epiphany Catholic Church (pictured below). Being across the street from the site, a casino there could pose a challenging but unique opportunity for ministry.

According to an article in today's P-G, the successful applicant will be announced this a.m.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Last night, we went to see the new Will Smith movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness." (They talk about the incorrect spelling in the movie.)

It was pretty good. Look for Smith to get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Chris Gardner.

Take some tissues.

The film references the phrase "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" from the Declaration of Independence.

Update: Yesterday on NPR's Fresh Air, David Edelstein called "The Pursuit of Happyness" an "economic cliffhanger." He used the same term in his New York Magazine review. It's a very apt description.

People of Spirit

Sometimes obituaries are the most compelling part of the newspaper:

In today's O-R: Stella Olesky, 84, who played Championship Girls B'Ball at Wash High in the late '30s and then served in the Air Force during WWII and Korea.

In yesterday's P-G: Rev. Benjamin Walker, 76, a Benedictine priest who loved God and the Steelers.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Letters on WashPA's debts

Dueling Letters to the Editor appear in today's O-R about the City of Washington's financial problems. The first was penned by Councilman Matt Staniszewski and the other by former Councilman Lou Waller, Jr.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Tom Collins for Toronto

The newly-announced archbishop-designate of Toronto has an appreciation for John Henry Newman and "The Lord of the Rings."

Sounds like a good guy to me.

Hat-tip: Whispers in the Loggia, a blog about Catholic Church-related matters by Rocco Palma, age 23, of Philadelphia. Rocco also writes for

Rejoice!: The Third Sunday of Advent

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, or what Catholics call "Gaudete Sunday," when the pink or rose-colored candle is lit on the Advent wreath. ("Gaudete" translates from the Latin as "rejoice" -- reminding us to be joyful as we contemplate the coming of the Messiah.)

The second reading at Mass today was from the Letter to the Philippians (4:4-7):

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Friday, December 15, 2006

No Trans Fats in Philly?

Big Brother Government Alert:

The Associated Press is reporting that Philadelphia Councilman Juan F. Ramos has introduced legislation to ban food products with trans fats from the city's restaurants.

Exposing the health detriments of trans fats is a good goal. But, how can banning the use of legal food products (just for not being healthy) possibly be considered the proper role of a city government?

Shouldn't there be a "non-trans-fats section" first?

(Hat-tip: Chris Lilik at Grassrootspa)

A Witness of His Own

Can/should judges be able to call their own witnesses?

Bill Toland penned a piece for today's P-G about one Allegheny County judge who yesterday did just that.

Paraphrasing an attorney, Bill said the move was: "...if not unprecedented, at least pretty darned unusual."

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Here's one for the "never would have known this" file:

Associated Press brief in the P-G on the intersection of faith customs and fire protection in Lancaster County.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod notes today:

Tenor leaves La Scala stage amid boos

Upset by a herald of boos, tenor Roberto Alagna walked out of a performance of "Aida" at Milan's La Scala opera house Sunday.

Alagna shocked the audience by walking offstage after he was booed during his singing of "Celeste Aida," the Associated Press reported. It was not clear why he was being heckled, but Italian audiences often have factions that support their favorite singers.

The exit put the opera house in a bind, and Alagna's understudy ran onto the stage still wearing his blue jeans.

Photo above by Marco Brescia taken from PlaybillArts.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Our Lady for the Americas

For Catholics in the Western Hemisphere, today (December 12) is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

To read about our belief in this appearance in 1531 of Mary to St. Juan Diego on a hill outside present-day Mexico City, visit this site or, for a more scholarly look, check out this entry at wikipedia.

The Gospel reading this morning at the Feast Day Mass was from the Gospel of Luke (1:39-47). It tells of Mary's visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth after learning that she was to be the mother of Jesus:

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said:

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Excluded From The Process"

Another punch landed today in the very public fight taking place over the City of Washington's fiscal woes.

Former WashPA mayor / current city treasurer L. Anthony "Sonny" Spossey penned a letter in today's Observer-Reporter going after Councilman Matt Staniszewski for incorrectly stating the amount of the city's 2006 collected tax revenues. He also defended the tax office staff and claimed that he and other members of the city government were wrongly excluded from development of the WashPA's 2007 budget.

Problems with the Machines?

There recently have been several items in the local media about the 2006 General Election performance of the new touch-screen voting machines:

Dave Brown had an article in last Tuesday's Tribune-Review coming out of an Allegheny County Elections Board meeting with citizen complaints about vote "flipping."

Bill Toland at the Post-Gazette also has been reporting on these complaints. Here is an article he co-wrote with Jerome L. Sherman in last Tuesday's P-G about the same Elections Board meeting and a public hearing of a National Institute of Standards and Technology advisory committee.

Barbara Miller has a story in today's O-R about the equipment at the Washington County Elections Office used to tabulate precinct results and what caused the long delay to get the county's results on November 7. (It also includes AP background on the NIST committee hearing.)

(Photos above from

Waiting for a Shepherd

Ann Rodgers has an article in today's P-G about speculation on who will be the next Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

I wonder if the wait means the Vatican wants to make the announcement as a Christmas present?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Prepare the Way

For many Christian traditions, today is the Second Sunday of Advent. The Gospel at Mass was from the Gospel of Luke (3: 1 - 6). It quotes an Old Testament passage:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Reading the Report

One of the hot topics this week was the Iraq Study Group Report. Go here to download it and read it in full.

Something I didn't know until just now: The U.S. government funds an Institute of Peace, which facilitated the Iraq Study Group.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Do Not Be Afraid

For Catholics, today (December 8), is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. We mark the day to celebrate our belief that the Virgin Mary was sinless to prepare her for her role as the mother of Jesus.

Tonight, at Mass, the Gospel reading was from the Gospel of Luke (1: 26-38):

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said,“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Related Aside: One of my favorite places is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the grounds of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. They recently completed the installation of a mosaic on the interior of a dome in basilica's Upper Church. It's called the Redemption Dome.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Date that Lives in Infamy

Today is the 65th Anniversary of the December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor. The attack brought the United States into World War II.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Over at Life in Progress, Heidi Price has a post about her stop at one the slot machine parlors that now dominate the small towns of the West Virginia Panhandle.

I can't find the article online but Heidi's post put me in mind of the item that appeared some time ago in one of the papers about how many of the ice cream shops in and near Chester, West Virginia (home of Mountaineer Park), had closed to become slots parlors.

Could this be a sign of things to come in the Pennsylvania of Governor Rendell (free drinks) and a Speaker DeWeese (table games)?

Being the Christmas season, I guess all of this also put me in mind of the George Bailey-less Pottersville in "It's A Wonderful Life." Will slot machines change our own versions of Bedford Falls?

Photo of George Bailey in Pottersville from

Finger-Pointing in WashPA

Finger-pointing. Passing blame. That's how officials of the City of Washington are addressing WashPA's financial meltown.

See Christie Campbell's article in today's O-R for the play-by-play.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Teen Struggles

Heidi Price has penned a two-part series on childhood depression and bipolar disorder for the Observer-Reporter.

"Another Bad Day" appeared on Sunday. It included the story of one local teenager, a chart with suggestions on how to identify the signs of childhood depression and a list of questions to ask about depression medications.

"When Will I Get Better?" appears in today's paper with a chart that includes suggestions on how to identify bipolar disorder.

Also in today's paper was Amanda Gilooly's accompanying article "Sorting out symptoms: Is it normal teen angst or something more?".

The source of the charts is the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. There are also these other resources.


Jerry Lewis in France.

David Hasselhoff in Germany.

Lionel Richie in Iraq and Libya.

Go figure.

(Hat-tip: NPR's Day-to-Day. I would link to Andrew Corsello's original GQ article but it's only in print. Photo by the AP's Richard Drew.)

Not Our Bag, Baby!

The Christian Coalition doesn't care about poverty?

From Elizabeth Fisher's article in the Bucks County Courier Times (hat-tip: Chris Lilik of GrassrootsPA):

The Rev. Joel Hunter was president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, but he won't be taking up the reins. Not after raising issues that have divided the 2 million-member organization and led the Bucks County Chapter to sever ties altogether.

Hunter had hoped to expand the coalition's agenda of opposing abortion and gay marriage to include poverty and the environment, calling the last two “issues that Jesus would have cared about.” But his plans were shot down at a Nov. 21 board meeting in Orlando, spurring his resignation of the position he had not yet assumed. ...

Hunter's resignation was a blow to the national organization, whose power seems to be deflating because of friction about its finances and plans by some members to push for nontraditional policies.

“[The board] pretty much said, "[poverty and the environmental issues] are fine, but they're not our issues; that's not our base,' '' Hunter said.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

First Sunday of Advent

Many Christian traditions recognize today as the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is the season of preparation for our celebration of Jesus Christ coming into the world.

The first reading at Mass today speaks of the coming Messiah:

From the Book of Prophet Jeremiah (33: 14-16):

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: “The LORD our justice.”

(Photo from

Saturday, December 02, 2006

WashPA's woes

Christie Campbell has an alarming article in today's Observer-Reporter about the City of Washington's cash flow problems. It has become increasingly obvious that WashPA's tax base is no longer able to sustain the city's government operations and services.

The city's officials should approach the leadership of the neighboring municipalities and begin taking serious steps leading to municipal consolidations or at least some consolidated services. WashPA is bordered by East Washington Borough, South Strabane Township, North Franklin Township and Canton Township -- one or more of which could join with the city to realize economy-of-scale savings.

It's also time for Washington County Commissioners Bracken Burns, Larry Maggi and Diana Irey as well as State Senator Barry Stout and State Representative Tim Solobay to spend some of their political capital to push the city officials and the leaders of the neighboring municipalities to come together in support of such municipal consolidations and/or shared services agreements.

These county and state-level officials need to push these hard decisions to be made. They need to push the municipal officials to make some unpopular decisions and possibly lose their fiefdoms for the greater long-term good.

There have been enough meetings. There have been enough studies. It is time for action.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Defined Benefits

Tracie Mauriello of the Post-Gazette's Harrisburg Bureau has an article in today's paper with a good accompanying chart that shows the expected pension benefits for the local legislators who won't be returning to Harrisburg in January due to retirements and election defeats.

While it's good to know that the legislators are contributing to their pensions, it would be better if they were moved out of a defined-benefit pension system into individualized 401k plans -- so that they have a real-life appreciation for the dynamics of modern retirement planning facing most Pennsylvanians.

Fifty-three legislators from throughout PA won't be returning next year -- an incredibly high number for the modern General Assembly. It's not quite a clean sweep, but probably a step in the right direction.

For some new analysis of this from outside the state, check out these posts at and wonkette.

Home with the flu?

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Mario F. Cattabiani and Angela Couloumbis have an interesting article at that outlines possible ways John Perzel could remain PA House Speaker even if the Democrats become the chamber's majority party by a count of 102 to 101. How?:

He could try to lure a Democrat to turn Republican. And he implied last week that efforts were under way to do just that.

Or he could attempt to go where few lawmakers have gone: run for speaker in January, and try to get a few Democrats - possibly from the Philadelphia delegation -to vote for him. Or even to convince them to stay home with the flu on the day of the election, ensuring that Republicans outnumber Democrats that day.

Whatever path he takes, those who have worked with him or observed him over the years say it is unlikely he will let go of his leadership position, and all the power and perks that go with it, without a battle.

"Perzel will fight to the last dead dog to hold on because that's the nature of power," said political analyst G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College.


A Pittsburgher for President?

In March 2005, during my brief stint as a local Congressional staffer, I attended a breakfast gathering of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The chapter's speaker that morning was Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, a native of Pittsburgh who grew up in Squirrel Hill. In his remarks, Governor Vilsack came off as friendly and very knowledgeable about sustainable economic development and smart growth.

Today, Governor Vilsack announced he will be a candidate in 2008 for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.

Not that I expect many Democrats to take this Republican's advice on who should be their nominee for President -- but I think they would do well to give consideration to this native son of Western Pennsylvania.