2-27-2005 American cheese is destroying the world???

Everything gets dumped down on the cities where there is almost no leeway to work out economic solutions. We don't print money. We can't pass budget cuts down to somebody else. We have to be accountable in our own communities and people see us and our services directly.--Don Plusquellic, Mayor of Akron, Ohio, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors

Last month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called on Congress not to make any cuts to the block grant program, saying it serves as the "foundation upon which cities have revitalized their downtowns, developed affordable housing, stabilized neighborhoods, and provided important public services for the past 30 years."

Donald Plusquellic, the Democratic mayor of Akron, Ohio, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that in recent years, Congress has been cutting back once-popular programs such as the Urban Development Action Grant and federal revenue-sharing.

"The Community Development Block Grant is one of the last programs still in existence from the days when the federal government realized there should be a partnership" between cities and Congress, Plusquellic said. "We hear there is going to be a significant cutback in our last major program, and that just isn't fair."

This Internet thingie provides us with all sorts of wild publishing opportunities that were not even remotely possible just a dozen years ago or so. Thanks to the explosion of the 'net, you've been forced to tolerate prolific and notorious idiots such as myself. And if you thought that things couldn't possibly get worse than putting up with moi, just wait'll you see what my kids have bothered to post on the internet.

If you want to experience these "G.I. Joe meets Barbie at Linda Lovelace's bungalow" videos, lemme know and I'll send along the password necessary to view this groundbreaking cinematic genius on parade. Okay, they told me to say that for a nominal fee.

Jan, please don't bother. You will not like this in the least, unless you've already seen Buzz Lightyear gets his pipes cleaned.

Marque & Scott Productions

From the e-mail inbox Hey...

I agree with you that this program has done a lot of good for a lot of communities...but the program has also been taken advantage of. I feel that it desperately needs to be reformed. For instance, aren't you sick of all these podunk coal patch towns getting money so they can get their one shiny new police car every 3 years? Meanwhile, a town with actual need (e.g. W-B, Hazelton, Pittston, Kingston etc.) gets the shaftola. Its a joke. The program is a means to build political capital, nothing more. Look at Hughestown. (If you've ever even heard of it). The town literally consists of two streets, yet somehow they need a police K-9 unit??? Why do they even need a police department for that matter?? (Rhetorical question, of course. They need it so mayor coal cracker knows who to lean on when his buddy gets a ticket). Thats our tax dollars being wasted man!!! It pisses me off. Perhaps the program can be reformed and the government can actually consider need before they open up the goody bag. I for one am hoping that this is a springboard to forced consolidation.

Take care...

Since 1974, federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) have provided a flexible source of annual funding to communities nationwide. The CDBG program offers local governments, with citizen participation, the opportunity to improve development priorities, provided these projects:

1. Benefit low- and moderate-income persons,
2. Prevent or eliminate slums or blight, or
3. Meet other urgent community development needs.

I forget where I snagged that snippet of info from. I think it was from the Housing and Urban Development site. I think. Anywho, that short but sweet snippet aptly describes what the entire CDBG program has been all about since it's inception.

Is there some waste in the mix? I think it's probably safe to say that some degree of waste in every federal program has to be all but inevitable. They tend to be enormous in scope and in some respects next to impossible to follow up on after the fact.

Is the mayor of Armpit Falls more concerned about consolidating his miniscule power base rather than administering to his lonely podunk in a proactive and forward-thinking way? In most cases, the answer is likely to be a resounding "Yes!" According to the federal Office of Management & Budget, "the CDBG programs now are susceptible to fraud by local officials who administer the program."

Does that mean the program should be scaled back to any meaningful degree? Should cities face significant funding cuts, or the loss of CDBG funding altogether? If so, I think we can make the case that our military should be eliminated. Or at the very least, after a very brief review of Congress' pay, perks, and bennies; our career politicians should be run out of town well after the beatings begin. There are literally thousands of places the feds could save some chump change, but this program is not where they should be starting.

You did make an interesting point at the tail end of your e-mail:

Perhaps the program can be reformed and the government can actually consider need before they open up the goody bag. I for one am hoping that this is a springboard to forced consolidation.

In fact, I had thought of that. What if the CDBG bucks dry up just a little bit, and these boroughs no bigger than the head of a pin lose the last of their goody money? Would that eventually squeeze 'em dry financially and get 'em leaning towards consolidation and not this stop gap regionalization bullspit? That might just happen, but I think these tin horns would resist it to the very end. Or, until their teeny towns were in such financial dire straights that no neighboring community would see it as being in their best interests to absorb the floundering tiny town. That's speculation on my part, but I can't see these pot-bellied mayors recognizing the writing on the wall and then reacting to it in a progressive manner. And even if some of them did, when proposing that Armpit Falls be absorbed for the greater good, their angry constituents would probably rush right off to a taxidermist if their mayoral nuts in hand.

Reform? Yikes! Can something as gargantuan as this leviathan of a federal government of ours be reformed without having some deserving communities falling through the financial safety nets? I'm not so sure and I don't want to be living in the city that gets screwed due to some bureaucratic red tape or wrangling among competing politicos.

Here's some CDBG numbers from 2004:

Miami $10 million

Nashville $6 million

Boston $23 million

San Jose $12.1 million

Toledo $8.5 million

San FranFreakShow $24.4 million

I refused to invest the time necessary to find the numbers on the internet this morning, but how much do you figure Philthydumpia and The"Pitts"burgh is currently receiving in CDBG monies? How about Harrisburg? Or Allentown? Scranton? Do we think there's any chance that Wilkes-Barre could get passed over for the larger cities that get practically everything in this state?

The numbers here in Wilkes-Barre fluctuate, but we receive an annual CDBG shot in the arm to the tune of $2.5 million to $2.8 million. Now, that may seem like a helluva lot of freebie money to the politico honchos in nearby Armpit Falls, but it doesn't really go that far in a financially-strapped city with an aging, if not failing infrastructure, and tons of long-term debt. Forget possible cuts. We need even more than we're getting now. Right! We can forget about that.

Let's say Wilkes-Barre does lose a percentage of it's CDBG funding. Okay, then what should we do with less of? Less street paving? No more support for local non-profit groups? No more acquiring and demolishing dangerous eyesores in the name of public safety? No more matching funds necessary to purchase new firefighting apparatus? What can we afford to do with less of?

During this 2005 fiscal year, HUD expects to deliver $5.7 billion in CDBG funding to municipalities all across these fruity plains. As per Dubya's '06 budget that transfers the CDBG from HUD to the Department of Commerce, only $3.7 billion will be available as part of G. Dubya's "Strengthening America's Communities Grant Program." So...unless my drunk, we're going to reduce waste, reduce corruption, spend $2 billion dollars less on the program and still strengthen America's communities? That's what Dubya's currently selling, and I ain't buying it.

There's certainly no shortage of internet news stories detailing how this budget proposal will stifle community and economic development programs all across the country, but I thought I'd post the much more rosy version direct from the good folks at our friendly fedrule govmint.

Bush Proposes Plan to Aid Communities in Transition

US Fed News
February 4, 2005


The U.S. Department of Commerce issued the following press release:

- America's changing economy is strong and getting stronger. But America's economic strength is not felt equally throughout the Nation. In low-income communities and in communities where traditional industries do not employ as many workers as they did a generation ago, opportunity can appear out of reach. President Bush believes that communities can make the transition to vibrant and strong economies because of the entrepreneurial spirit, vision, and hard work of those who live there. The job of government is to inspire, to help remove barriers to growth, to be accountable for taxpayer dollars, and to ensure results for programs aimed at making a difference in peoples' lives.

- Building on existing economic and community development efforts, the President will propose a new initiative to help strengthen America's transitioning and most needy communities, while making better use of taxpayer dollars by reforming and restructuring many of the existing Federal economic and community development programs. The President's initiative, to be proposed in his Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget, will consolidate 18 existing programs, simplify access to the Federal system, set new eligibility criteria, and establish strong accountability standards all in exchange for the flexible use of the funds so that communities most in need will be assisted. The new $3.71 billion unified grant-making program will better target assistance and achieve greater results for low-income persons and economically-distressed areas.

Current Problems Facing Federal Economic and Community Development Programs

- Seven Federal agencies currently provide $16 billion through 35 grant, loan, and tax incentive programs for economic and community development efforts. The current system forces communities to navigate a maze of Federal departments, agencies, and programs in order to access economic and community development assistance programs, each imposing a separate set of standards and reporting requirements. In addition, some programs duplicate and overlap one another, and some have inconsistent criteria for eligibility and little accountability for how funds are spent.

- Many communities no longer in need of assistance continue to receive funding, undermining the purpose of some programs - to help distressed communities. For example, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created to serve distressed communities, but 38 percent of the funds currently goes to communities and States with less poverty than the national average.

- The goal of Federal economic and community development programs is to create the conditions for economic growth, robust job opportunities, and livable communities, thereby encouraging improvement and reduction of a community's need to rely on perpetual Federal assistance.

- Most of these programs lack clear goals or accountability measures, and thus cannot sufficiently demonstrate their measurable impact on economic and community development, as determined in a review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The President's Current Efforts to Help Communities in Transition

- President Bush has introduced a new approach to economic and community development by highlighting the need to help communities transition to a 21st century economy. His plan includes:

* Creating new Opportunity Zones to assist America's transitioning neighborhoods, which are areas that have lost a significant portion of their economic base as a result of our changing economy and are now in the process of transitioning to a more diverse, broad-based, 21st century economy, as well as communities with persistent poverty;

* Establishing new education and job training programs to help workers develop the skills needed to succeed in today's economy;

* Introducing tax incentive proposals for the development of single-family housing in low-income areas; and

* Revitalizing former brownfields, which are abandoned or underutilized industrial properties where redevelopment is hindered by possible environmental contamination and potential liability. Redevelopment of these properties is creating jobs and returning productive property to local tax rolls.

- The President's Action to Strengthen America's Communities

- The President will propose to provide flexible funding to those communities most in need in exchange for meeting strong accountability measures. In addition, he will propose to provide incentives to communities that are already reducing barriers to economic development. The Administration will make better use of taxpayer dollars by consolidating programs and funding into a unified and targeted program.

- President Bush will propose to consolidate a subset of the Federal government's economic and community development programs, transforming them into a new, two-part program: (1) The Strengthening America's Communities Grant Program, a unified economic and community development grant program, and (2) The Economic Development Challenge Fund, a bonus program for communities, modeled after the Millennium Challenge Account. Funding from duplicative and ineffective programs would be used for the new, two-part program. The combined economic and community development programs (as well as the separate Opportunity Zones program) will be administered by the Commerce Department.

Strengthening America's Communities Grant Program

* This new $3.71 billion consolidated grant-making program will provide funding to communities most in need of assistance by setting new eligibility criteria determined by job loss, unemployment levels and poverty.

* Through this program, communities will be required to meet specific accountability measures to track progress towards the program's goals. These measures include increasing job creation and new business formation rates as the real drivers of economic development. In addition, community development outcomes that measure progress will include increasing homeownership, including first-time and minority homeownership ownership, commercial development, and private sector investment.

White House Office of Management and Budget 2/3/2005

* If communities do not show progress in meeting accountability measures, the Commerce Department will work with the community on a plan of action and will provide technical assistance to ensure that future funds are used wisely. Communities that are consistently unable to use taxpayer dollars to meet the accountability measures would stand to lose future funding.

Economic Development Challenge Fund

* As part of the $3.71 billion, the President will propose a bonus grant program for low-income communities that have already taken steps to improve economic conditions and demonstrate readiness for development, similar to the President's Millennium Challenge Accounts.

* A development-ready community is one that is already taking steps to improve conditions in ways that have been proven to attract businesses, including:

Improving schools by meeting No Child Left Behind adequate yearly progress goals;

Reducing regulatory barriers to business creation and housing development; and

Reducing violent crime rates within the community.

* The Economic Development Challenge Fund would build upon the President's Opportunity Zones initiative by rewarding communities that have already taken steps toward economic development. The Opportunity Zones program focuses primarily on those transitioning communities that set concrete, measurable goals toward economic and community growth by developing a community transition plan.

Sounds completely workable, don't it? Or does it sound too good to be true? Me? I'm for eliminating the millions and millions of dollars in tax incentives and expensive infrastructure investments regularly offered to the billionaires known as the Walton family to lure those predatory Sprawl-Marts to former farms near you. Then we'll talk about strengthening America's communities by cutting the funding of America's cities.

Although, it would be interesting to watch what might develop if the mayor of Backwoods Township had to press onwards towards an untenable financial future without CDBG funds. The only thing that gives me pause is, while Backwoods Township may struggle to pay it's two full-time employees and it's twelve part-time elected officials, Wilkes-Barre's streets will still need to be paved.

Hughestown? How about the Hughestown section of Pittston?

Look at it this way. If our tiny borough loses it's identity, we can blame it on Bush. Awesome! He lied. He was awol. He likes waging war for oil. He ate my children. And he all but forced poor Hughestown to embrace consolidation.

That ought to get Sean Penn's panties in a knot again.

I ran across this letter to the editor's of the Voice a couple days back and I gotta be honest here, these environmentalists need to find a constructive hobby already. At the rate they're going, the lot of them need to be lured into congregating at the same green locale so that we can launch an "errant" cruise missile or two. Or three.

Anywho, this whacked-out letter was titled Fight global warming by making good choices at the supermarket. As soon as I read that much, I knew where we were headed. Santa-freaking-Maria! Now...now the ankle-grabbing closet commies of the world that prefer Castro, or Chavez, or Ortega over Bush are presuming to tell us what we should and should not eat. When will this incremental lunacy end? Now the F-ing breakfast buffet at Mark II is destroying the Earth???

Here's a snippet from your commie nutritionist who needs to try the Cour Beach diet:

Yes, our diets. According to Cornell University Professor David Pimentel, production of animal-based foods accounts for 8 percent of the national consumption of fossil fuels-nearly as much as driving our cars. It requires nearly ten times as much fuel as production of plant-based foods.

The additional fuel is used to grow animal feed, to operate factory farms and slaughterhouses and to process and refrigerate meat and dairy products.

We can show our support for the Kyoto Treaty and planetary survival each time we visit our supermarket.

The Cour Beach diet? C'mon, get with it. That's the one where you are limited to eating phalanges five at a time.

I am officially calling on the management of the Luzerne County Transportation Authority to find this guy and introduce him to the front of one of our heavier buses. And right after that violent collision takes place, I would fully expect the offending bus to immediately back over our latest heir apparent to Tokyo Rose. Or Kyoto Rose. Whatever. You know. Someone hostile to the interests and sovereignty of the United States.

American cheese is destroying the world???

Meanwhile, Heights residents are making noise, and stand a chance of getting their station back. Itís time for North End residents to do the same.--The Times Leader's Casey Jones calling for a revolt in the Nord End.

The constant "Save our firehouse" drumbeat in the newspapers is starting to smell somewhat suspicious to this casual observer. Consider this headline from the Citizen's Voice this past Friday, Wilkes-Barre residents voice concerns over fire protection. RUTRO! The folks are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore! So I went on to read the article. Who exactly was voicing these concerns? Hmmm. The article mentions council (gender neutral) person Kathy Kane, WBFD union boss Tom Makar, Davis Place resident Mason Gribble, council person Phil Latinski, and our former building inspector Bob Mosely. Again, hmmm. While these folks may in fact be residents of Wilkes-Barre, I think their being listed by the Voice as residents voicing concerns needs a giant asterisk involved there somewhere.

This has been consistent ever since East Station was first shuttered by the city's administration. I keep hearing about the legions of upset Heights residents, but for the most part, those upset residents seem to be the figments of the imaginations of a few folks with the political will of a raging structure fire.

There's a committee of concerned Heights residents fighting to save their neighborhood firehouse, but that committee could easily fit in the back seat of a Yugo. These folks passed out hundreds of fliers on election night asking folks to get involved and ended up with a committee small enough to be confused with the police force in Nanticoke. Who else? Some council folks facing some real competition for the first time come the next election brouhaha. One said to be considering a run at the mayoral spot. Another two who appear to be the odd men out when we again vote for council folks. The son and daughter-in-law of one of those council folks. A former building inspector. And a vocal resident said to be considering a run at a council seat. Like I said, I keep hearing about all of these angry Heights residents, but so far, they're laying pretty low despite being so darned upset.

I'm beginning to suspect that this entire issue has been little more than a cleverly manipulated political Jihad that barely resonates with the average folks purported to be providing it with fresh souls ready to martyr themselves in an attempt to damage Mayor Leighton's image in the Heights. That's where I'm leaning. This isn't about public safety as much as this is about scoring political points with the Heights folks as part of a long-range political strategy. That is, if thinking a whole eighteen months ahead can be called long-range political posturing.

And, then, right on cue, today's editorial from the Voice throws even more accelerant on the non-existant fire that can help to shape an upcoming election and sell lots of newspapers in the well-publicized process. That editorial, W-B needs long-term plan for fire dept. was so much to effing do about effing nothing, I was left to assume that the really good editorialists at the Voice were on vacation this week. Whatever. Here's the part I found the most comical:

The city should commission a new, comprehensive, independent study to determine who is right. The bottom line is that neither the mayor, the fire chief nor members of council have the expertise to know how many fire stations the city truly needs and where they should be located. The study should also evaluate manpower issues.

Before any new construction is done, the mayor and council should have a long-term plan in place for the city's fire department. The alternative is for them to continue waiting until small problems become crises and spending all their time "putting out fires."

The city should commission a new, comprehensive, independent study to determine who is right. The bottom line is that neither the mayor, the fire chief nor members of council have the expertise to know how many fire stations the city truly needs and where they should be located. The study should also evaluate manpower issues. (???????)

These folks are kidding, right? A commission? A f**king study? Like the one tabled to decide how many millions of dollars we should spend to replace an ancient bunker of a nursing home we no longer need? I may be snorting inexspensive balsa sealer way too often, but I was under the impression that we were paying our elected folks, and our fire chief, to make the important decisions whereas fire protection is concerned. The findings of a comprehensive, independent study may be nifty and all, but when it's all said and done, safety concerns have to be weighed against budgetary constraints.

And our mayor has been forced to do exactly that, while some of our council folks have made some noise about vetoing a budget ten months away from even being presented to them. It seems to me that the folks at the Voice are encouraging the folks in the Heights so as to keep those negative headlines coming. In the news business, sowing the seeds of discontent and rancor sells. And in the political business, sowing the seeds of discontent and rancor can easily perpetuate one's standing as a leader of ignorant voters.

We balanced a single budget, one budget, the '04 budget, because this new administration of ours protected the bottom line of this city more steadfastly, more unbending as it pertained to pressure for more spending from some of us than the average bedraggled father of a teen-aged daughter would protect her virginity.

I don't care what the Citizen's Voice thinks. I don't care what the Times Leader thinks. I don't care what a suddenly politically vulnerable council person thinks. I don't care what any commission might think. I tend to pay more attention to what the folks at AMBAC say. And if they say we can't afford something just yet, then we can't afford something just yet.

We may not want to hear it, but we really do need to listen to the bean counters before we start paying attention to what any commission might have to say. And our council folks are quickly heading for that special political purgatory-like place where I'll begin to tune them out to a large degree if they can't deal with the financial realities they are being presented with and be a bit more straightforward with their constituents.

I mention this because the proposed remedy to the falling-down-fire-station phenomena doesnít help my neighborhood much. The replacement station at Hollenback Park would be 1.6 miles from my house, just like the station that serves me now.--Casey Jones again.

1.6 miles? Ross Street or Hollenback Park to Thompson Street? Or in Casey's case, Ross Street or Hollenback Park to North Washington Street? How long might that response take? All of four minutes? Five frickin' minutes? Is this really a worrisome development, or are we trying to sell some newspapers?

The Heights residents are making noise, and may stand a chance of getting their station back. But us Nord End residents are not as easily manipulated by self-serving politicos and newspaper folks.

1.6 miles?

Big freakin' whoop!

Wifey and I attended my nephew Rory's wedding on Friday night. As he was about to ship off to Iraq with Bravo Battery, he and his honey got married by a magistrate. And now that he's returned from Iraq, they decided to have their marriage blessed in a Nord End church, throw a monster of a wedding reception, and then jump on a jumbo jet headed for the Bahamas. Yepper. That's right, the Bahamas. More freaking sand. You figure it out.

It was a great event and I was struck by how happy Rory seemed to be while mixing it up with his hundreds of guests. I wondered to myself about how utterly great an upbeat wedding reception must have felt after a year spent sucking sand in Iraq. I was really happy for the kid and I told him as much when we said our goodbyes near the end of the event.

I'm happy for you.

That just about sums up what went through my mind last night while consuming copious amounts of Coors products.

Oh, yeah. I was experimenting with the numerous settings on my camera and took some of the worst pictures ever taken since Courtney Love first appeared on the mutated scene. I'll post of a couple of the better ones. Scary.


How 'bout this pic? The average guy on the street will stomp on you while screaming "Faggot," or "Homo" if you happen to look at him funny while he's camped out in front of a urinal. Yet...yet, whenever those same guys get a gallon of beer in their belly, they can't help but to gyrate whatever little they've got under the belt all over the place to the Village People's "YMCA." Hmmm.

All I know is, I've never gyrated anything to anything spewed by the Village People and I never will. Make of that what you will.

Then again, if I spent a year doing what the boys in Bravo Battery did, the Village People might look pretty damn good right about now. Well, anyway, for a couple of drunken minutes.

Rory goes Village People on us

Whatever, man.

Rory served his country, he's back home and he's married now. Good for him, er, them: Rory and Melissa.

Gotta go.

There's another NASCAR race about to get underway.

Blogistan 10-7.