Anything from current events, campaign finance reform, sports (especially baseball), corporate/political/legal ethics, pop culture, confessions of a recovering comic book addict, and probably some overly indulgent discourses about my 3-year old daughter. E-Mail: sardonicviews -at-
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Saturday, April 17, 2004

Smelling Blood

It looks like the attention from the president of the Pittsburgh fire fighters' union claim that the last contract was a deal to give Mayor Tom Murphy a close primary victory, may have been more than intended. The firefighters' union boss, Joe King, admits he wants to derail Act 47 and -- more specifically -- any chance of undoing the firefighters sweetheart contract.

King's union has reason to fear the Act 47 team and try to get rid of it.

The team has greater powers than the city's separate five-member oversight board to control city spending on future union contracts, and the team has already announced it plans to cut fire bureau staffing

You now have the Pittsburgh City Council wanting an investigation. Not to mention the state attorney general, and the US Attorney's office in Pittsburgh (taking a break from their porn investigations) looking into the matter. All these people looking at the claims, seems to now have King a little more circumspect in what has happened.

"If some politician took drastic measures like that again, I would question the authenticity of the revenue and expenditures," he said. "I won't let that happen to me again or the city again. I don't think it would be prudent on my part to grab all these economic conditions and starve everybody else."

What a noble soul.

Mayor Murphy has yet to directly address the issue, but his flaks have denied the claims that he gave the contract for the endorsement. His flaks also "welcome and encourage an honest, independent investigation of the malicious and irresponsible allegations."

This is so much more fun than the endless arguments in Cleveland for a convention center.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Merits Closer Scrutiny

Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio) has been named co-chair of the Democratic National Committee with Senator Dick Durbin (Ill). As the article notes, she only faces a write-in candidate for reelection, so she has time to spare.

I doubt she is widely known outside of Northeast Ohio, so she is going to face more attention than she has had. She has been a part of the Democrat machine in Cleveland politics since the 70s, steadily climbing the ladder. I wonder how she is going to like the new scrutiny she will get as a prime Democrat spokesperson?

Her voting record is staunchly, party line -- just under 98% from 1999-2003. This is not a big surprise. She has big union support and gets high marks from them. Again not a surprise.

Her lack of contribution disclosures, according to could be the source of some embarrassment.

My question for Rep. Jones:

What, Who and Where is this "Jihad Filmworks" for which you list as being a jointly held asset on your Financial Disclosure sheet for 2001 (PDF, page 2), submitted May 15, 2002? It's also on the 2000, 1999 and 1998. What is your association with them?

A Google search of the name revealed nothing. A search of Business names in Virginia and Ohio came up empty. It's probably nothing, but it just seems like that is not the name of a business any politician would wish to have a connection.

UPDATE: Instapundit supplies the answer for the film company question. It's a misspelling. It should be "Jihaad," after the last name of a young filmmaker, and friend of the Jones family, who converted to Islam. With the correct spelling I found it on the Ohio Secretary of State Business Name finder (and so much for the fuzzy language search function). According to the information, though, the Secretary of State cancelled the company's license to do business in 1998, due to its failure to file any tax reports.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Words or Action

I ran out of time last night, then the day got so hectic that I'm only now getting to the subject of Israel's redrawing its borders on the West Bank and Gaza. Now, with the news today, I'm kind of glad I was delayed.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial Board (PDEB) has always been against the security fence in Israel (near bottom of the post), just as it was recently against the assassination of one of the founders of Hamas. The PDEB has always been fixated on the "cycle of violence" storyline and how both sides merely need to understand the other and talk if there is to be real peace.

The PDEB has refused to acknowledge that the Palestinian side has never gotten beyond words.

Israel performed actions -- they pulled out of the West Bank and Gaza, allowed elections and the return to the West Bank for Arafat. Israel allowed for Palestinian police and security forces. They allowed financial institutions and plenty of investment and funding from the EU, released hundreds of captured terrorists as a sign of good faith. All during the 90s peace process. In return, Israel got words from the Palestinians. Words that they recognized the State of Israel (while all the Palestinian terror groups did not), words that Arafat no longer supported terrorism (please ignore the Karine A ship that was smuggling weapons and explosives with Arafat and his Palestinian Authority's control), words that they wanted a two-state solution (but refused to give up their "right of return), words of condemning suicide bombers in Israel (but then naming streets after the suicide bombers, and only condemning insofar as it hurt the peace process), words of stopping the Palestinian terror groups.

At some point actions have to back up the words, even the PDEB acknowledged that when it was Americans killed by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip last October.

The Palestinian leadership issued its usual weak condemnation, disavowing ownership of the deed, which took the life of three American security personnel and grievously injured a fourth. Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat vowed an intensive hunt for the culprits.

But this time it was the Americans listening skeptically.

Where were the vows to root out the miscreants, seize their arsenals, deny their ability to operate? Where were the expressions of outrage from average Palestinians, who know most U.S. diplomats who come through the region are sincerely committed to helping them escape a hard life of isolation?

There have been no arrests to date, beyond one man a few days after it happened.

Why does the PDEB feel that words are enough for Israelis, but not for Americans? There is also some information suggesting that the attack had Arafat's (tacit) approval, and it was not a mistaken attack.

So, the PDEB's editorial from Wednesday condemned in advance President Bush's support for Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza with non-1967 borders.

U.S. officials must forcefully oppose any unilateral Israeli moves - no matter how popular among average Israelis or Palestinians - that close off options for a future Palestinian state.

Umm, why would Israel pulling out of the areas, and leaving the Palestinians to fend for themselves prevent a Palestinian state?

The United States also must resist the temptation to issue specific declarations on borders, refugees or hot pursuit rights that would prejudge America's positions on such key issues in future negotiations.

Right. Leave the main sticking point issues until the end. Work out the easy stuff first. That worked so well in December 2000. You may remember it. That was when Arafat walked away rather than give up "right of return," and the second Intifada was launched.

[A little side story. About a month after the Passover Massacre in 2002, I was at the barber. The guy cutting my hair was about my age. There was a TV with CNN on, showing some clips from the Israeli raids. The guy cutting my hair commented that it was a mess. I agreed. Then he asked me why the Israelis wouldn't give the Palestinians their own state. I don't like to start long discussions that could potentially turn ugly -- especially when he was holding all the weapons. So, I simply asked him if he knew about the Palestinian claim for "right of return." He said no. I briefly outlined the position. My barber looked at me incredulously and asked, "Really?" I said, "Yes." He paused, and stated, "Well they can't have that."]

As David Adensik at Oxblog noted in the NY Times coverage

As the NYT correctly states halfway through its coverage, Bush's position represents a

Clear shift from a longtime United States position that issues such as borders, the "right of return" for refugees and the status of Jerusalem be resolved in final-status talks.

In other words, what's changed isn't the substance of the American position but the articulation of it. But when it comes to diplomacy, articulation matters. That's why today's announcement really is a big story. By staking out a clear position in advance of final-status talks, Bush is essentially saying that important aspects of Israel's demands are simply non-negotiable. If the Palestinians negotiators accept those demands, they will now come across as giving in to American pressure rather than compromising in the name of peace. Thus, if you think that only a negotiated accord can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then Bush and Sharon really have thrown a wrench in the works.

Of course Israel would never accept "right of return" and everyone knows it. Bush is simply acknowledging in advance that this is not even a pretend negotiable item in future peace talks. The PDEB seems to believe that keeping the illusion is essential or else "It will erase America's ability to continue as honest broker in the peace process."

This is what Bush said:

The goal of two independent states has repeatedly been recognized in international resolutions and agreements, and it remains a key to resolving this conflict. The United States is strongly committed to Israel's security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

The borders are negotiable. Right of return is not. That actually simplifies the peace process.

The Israelis are already taking steps to freeze the accounts of settlements that are seeking to keep expanding in West Bank and Gaza. Naturally, the Palestinians are upset about the US and Israeli actions (again, perpetually, as usual)

Arafat said in a televised speech Thursday he would never give up the "right of return" of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of their homes during the 1948 Mideast War, as well as their descendants - about 4 million people.

"Our destiny is to defend our land and sacred places and our rights in freedom and independence and the return of the refugees ... to their homeland," he said.

That sounds like Arafat really bought into the whole 2-state solution.

So, just to finish with PDEB, what do they think the US should do? What should Israelis do?

That said, it would be wrong and counterproductive to punish Israel for measures it feels it must take to provide security for its residents and to lift the cloud of fear under which all Israelis live. Palestinian terrorists have themselves to blame for forcing Israel to consider such a radical move to improve its security. No progress on peace is possible unless Palestinians shut down the bombers and give reformers real ruling power - and such a development is not likely in the short term. Should Israel proceed with the Gaza pullout plan, which still must survive a confidence vote among doubters in Sharon's own Likud Party, the United States should raise cautions but not withhold aid or consider other sanctions.

That's right. Nothing. The US should keep seeking meaningless words from the Palestinians. Israel should not pull out of the areas and not build a security fence. Israel should just consent to allowing more civilians be killed. For more than 3 years since Arafat walked away from the best deal possible, Israel has been told to be content with words from the Palestinians that they will do something. Just more empty words from the Palestinians is what the PDEB wants. Why?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Look for the Backstory

The City of Pittsburgh's financial woes have certain leaders scrambling to salvage their credibility, their jobs and careers, and/or their supporters. Pittsburgh was found to be "financially distressed" under Pennsylvania's Act 47 at the end of December 2003. Act 47 is a state law to assist municipalities avoid bankruptcy. A team is set up to figure out a plan to get the municipality out of its problem. The state provides planning and financial assistance if the plan is adopted and enforced.

The Mayor of Pittsburgh, Tom Murphy, has taken a beating since he has been in mayor since at least 1994. He narrowly avoided being defeated in the Democratic primary in 2001 -- by 699 votes. What was widely credited with his surviving was a last minute endorsement from the 850 member Fire Fighters Local No. 1. The endorsement came just after a sweetheart deal of a union contract was signed by the mayor, days before. The contract contained guarantees of no layoffs and plenty of raises.

Well, Act 47 could very well undo that contract, and the fire union chief has decided to take down the mayor.

Fire Fighters Local No. 1 President Joseph King sent a letter to Murphy on Monday saying the mayor should resign from office because of the deal Murphy made with the firefighters on the eve of the 2001 Democratic primary.

According to King, Murphy promised the union $10 million to $12 million in contract goodies -- including no-layoff provisions. Then, to hide the deal from other unions, he and the fire union agreed to say third-party arbitrators awarded the spending, not Murphy himself.

"If you have any credibility, tell the truth about 2001, where you had me diversify $10 [million] to $12 million in my contract," King wrote. "The only condition was to have the contract awarded by arbitration, so as you stated: The other unions cannot know that I/you agreed to these economic conditions.
The votes-for-jobs deal has long been public, but this is the first time someone involved in the deal has spoken openly about how it was structured. King said he is talking about it now as part of his plans to derail the Act 47 team, which has already announced that its recovery plan will likely include calls to cut staffing in the Fire Bureau.

I'm sure there is even more to the story. Hopefully, it will all come oozing out in the next few weeks.

Sad News

One of my favorite bars is in Pittsburgh. The Squirrel Hill Cafe, aka, the Cage. I've mentioned it before. I went there regularly in college -- after I was legal. It was never a bar for the underage drinker.

It is the one bar I still manage to have a few rounds at least once during college football season.

There were nights near the end of college, when a bunch of us would just meet there after night classes and part-time jobs.

My friend Howard and I would grab a cheap burger there along with a couple pitchers when we would meet to bitch about not having a job. Howard became infatuated with rye whiskey after spying it on the shelf there one night.

When I first started coming back to Pittsburgh for Pitt football games -- when it was just Pat and I -- we would usually start out the first couple rounds at the Cage. Well, Pat went so he could hit on a pretty law student who tended bar there.

Sadly, the owner of the Cage, Ron DeLallo, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (via Dave Copeland).

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

We'll Need to Look for That Fatwa

If it was anyone else but the Cleveland-area Imam, Fawaz Damra, of the Islamic Center of Cleveland who was ensnared in this, I'd chalk it up to a plain-old money scam.

Dozens of unsuspecting Arab-Americans thought they were investing in a profitable business wholesaling spices and cooking oil, only to fall tens of thousands of dollars into debt, according to court records and people familiar with what happened.

No one has been charged, but two lawsuits have been filed against a pair of men suspected of launching the get-rich-quick scheme - Rashied Hassan Mohammad and Mukesh Chokshi.

But some who lost money say they also blame Imam Fawaz Damra.

Damra didn't profit from the scheme, they say, but he spoke of it three years ago during Ramadan, an especially holy time when Muslims fast, pray and gather to strengthen family and community ties.

During one of these gatherings, Damra approached a group of people at the mosque in Parma and told them about the business plan, several people familiar with the case said.

The deal seemed simple: Hand over your credit cards to Mohammad and Chokshi, who would use them to buy cooking oil, spices and other commodities at bulk prices. In exchange, they would not only pay your monthly credit-card bills but give you several hundred dollars a month for taking the risk.

It might have seemed like a shaky proposition - building a business on high-interest cash advances - but Damra said it would work, according to three people familiar with the arrangement. Because he is the mosque's prayer leader and the community's adviser on Islamic law, many of his parishioners believed him, they said.

Damra who had to try and overcome the bad PR of being on video tape calling Jews "pigs and monkeys" while acting as a fundraiser for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 1991; and now facing federal charges from his activities "for lying on his immigration forms a decade ago to conceal his ties to terror groups."

Barely a month and a half later, he tried to get permission to leave Ohio to go to Virginia to attend a meeting hosted by a group that the feds say have ties to Hamas.

Now he is being linked to credit card scams in his own Mosque. With his alleged support, you have to wonder where at least some of the money was going. Even the Takfiri doctrine limits the criminal scams to Jews and Christians, not other Muslims.

Redefining a Binge

I have a fondness for the drink (NO? Really?). In my college and law school days, it would be fair to say I drank a lot, and quite often. Naturally, the level of drinking, influenced how I would define things like "binge" and "bender."

So, in recent years, when I learned that public health officials defined a binge as 5 or more drinks at one occasion -- but the occasion didn't have any time frame or context. This meant that if you sat on your couch and watched football all day -- roughly 6 hours -- and had 5 beers, it counted as a binge.

Another study warned of the danger of college students drinking 20 or more alcoholic drinks in a month -- again no other time frame; and was one of the first times I noticed an attempt to create something called "second hand effects" of drinking.

The last time, was on how "binge" drinking was linked to rape on college. Other factors, not so sensationalized included, "were being under 21 years old, white, residing in sorority houses, using illicit drugs and binge drinking in high school."

Now, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) National Advisory Council which did use that definition of binging, has made a change in the definition. According to Radley Balko, who also makes the additional observations.

It now defines a binge as five drinks in two hours or less for men, four in two hours for women. Seems more plausible, and seems like a definition that would at least put most people over .08.

I wonder how many college students now qualify as binge drinkers?

More to the point, I wonder how many strident anti-alcohol laws enacted due to inflated statistics effected by the old definition will now be revoked because of the new one?

The NIAAA-NAC was actually busy.

A "binge" is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours. Binge drinking is clearly dangerous for the drinker and for society.

*In the above definition, a "drink" refers to half an ounce of alcohol (e.g., one 12?oz. beer, one 5?oz. glass of wine, or one1.5?oz. shot of distilled spirits).

*Binge drinking is distinct from "risky" drinking (reaching a peak BAC between .05 gram percent and .08 gram percent) and a "bender" (2 or more days of sustained heavy drinking).

*For some individuals (e.g., older people or people taking other drugs or certain medications), the number of drinks needed to reach a binge?level BAC is lower than for the "typical adult."

*People with risk factors for the development of alcoholism have increased risk with any level of alcohol consumption, even that below a "risky" level.

*For pregnant women, any drinking presents risk to the fetus.

*Drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal.

With these new definitions, the numbers definitely drop. I would still quibble on the definition of a "bender." A real bender takes at least 4 days.

The Closed Toilet

Lots happening the last few days. Some good -- wedding anniversary. Some bad -- back-up in the main line. Passover has ended, and I toast it's end with a Jim Beam on the rocks. The kid and I are over the cold, and the wife seemed to have escaped unscathed. Even though the weather is brutish -- wet and windy -- and at least 10 degrees below average, the ants still seem to be finding their way into the house.

Angie has suddenly decided that oatmeal is no longer acceptable. She buries her head in her hands and screams like I am trying to poison her if I come too close with a bowl of it. Cheerios are no longer making it into her mouth. Instead, she is trying to see how far across the kitchen she can chuck them. I blame her in part for the ants. Sure they appear around this time of year, but while cleaning over the weekend, certain foodstuffs were found in places and forms not seen prior to her arrival.

Our house's plumbing has a clay tile line running to the sewer line. We have two, firmly rooted trees in the front yard. Over the years, the trees' roots have worked their way through the clay tile. The result, of course, has been the roots completely blocking the line and a back-up in the basement. The first time it happened was in January 2002 -- a Sunday. I remember it because the Eagles-Rams NFC Championship game was that day, and the wife insisted I take care of the plumbing problem. Just because she wanted a shower. How selfish. Our landlord actually got a plumber out there that day. When they snaked it out, they told me that I could expect this to happen again in about 2 years. They weren't lying. They came again this morning and cleared it out once more.

As an additional bonus, the wife just got back from dinner with her mother. The check engine light flashing vigorously, and the car idling violently. Joy.

On the brighter side, last night was the 2nd anniversary with my wife. 2 years married to me, 4+ years living with me, and 8+ years since we started dating. Obviously, she is insane. I love her very much despite that.


(Copyright © 2002-2005 Chas Rich All rights Reserved.);
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