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Friday, June 24, 2011

Fringeville Edition #6, June 24 2011

It's 2:06 AM. Why the hell am I still up???? This is what working gonzo shifts does. You get so tired you can't sleep!

So... I blog, but this post will be brief.

I've decided not to tell folks about this blog for now. I'm just going to wait to see who finds it on their own. Maybe no one. Maybe it will just chug along forever without followers until I go to that big chicken wing restaurant in the sky. Or maybe it will be "the little blog that could" and pick up a bazillion readers. We'll see.

But I think I enjoy this, so who knows where it will go from here?

Now... off one last time to try to get some sleep....


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fringeville Edition #5, June 23 2011

Slipping and Sliding Down Devolution Road

While I was working yet another double-shift last night, it occurred to me that our nation’s economy is in a state of devolution. What the heck, why be selfish? We’re living in a period of global economic devolution.

Of course, I recognize that I may simply be seeing the state of things through eyes focused narrowly on my own uncertain future.

But I don’t think so. Really I don’t.

What got me pondering the devolution of our economy wasn’t statistics. It was the intangibles. There’s a sense of things slipping away. It’s something you feel in your gut, you can’t chart or graph it. I heard this consistently during my door-to-door campaigning last year. People feel uncertain. They don’t see a brighter future for themselves or their children. They had a general sense that the wheels were loose or already coming off.

And what about the “tangibles?” Well, they’re certainly not pretty. A double-dip housing recession. Persistent and unacceptably high unemployment. Slowing growth as all the sugar that’s been pumped into the economy wears off.

And then, today, I see yet another sign governments are getting a tad desperate. 60 million barrels of oil are being released from global strategic reserves. About half of that comes from US stockpiles. This is being released at a time when prices are slowly falling already.

It’s another stimulus, folks. It’s meant to drive down oil and free up disposable income to drive the great economic engines of the world. But strategic reserves are meant to address severe interruptions of supply. They weren’t designed to function as a stimulus.

But yes, campers, there is a bright side: lower gas prices will make the trips to the unemployment office a little cheaper.

And you thought this was note of pessimism!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fringeville Edition #4, June 22 2011

The verdict's in. Sitting County Commissioner A.J. Munchak and former Commissioner Bob Cordaro were convicted of multiple counts in their Lackawanna County corruption trial.

According to the Citizens' Voice, Munchak is facing up to 93 years in prison, and Cordaro up to 229. Appeals will follow.

Others will take apart the nuts and bolts of this trial far better than I can. My angle on this fact on all the corruption in Northeastern from the point of view of someone who tries to do it right way. I've been a local GOP committee member and Treasurer for some years now. I've run for office. I make every effort (to the point of driving people buggy) to conduct finances in the spirit and to the letter of campaign finance law, despite how toothless that law seems to be.

Quite frankly, you can drive a bus full of cash through the holes in campaign finance law, and do so cheerfully and without fear. In short, if you are honest and do things the right way, you are at a disadvantage in these parts.

I had the dubious honor of being selected by lottery for a campaign finance audit last year when I ran for state representative. I was a one-man show and the campaign was a low-budget vehicle. The auditors asked for detail that I am sure many campaigns simply do not have. The audit showed me what a Treasurer should be doing. I had no issues because I'm anal and had everything they required. (So perhaps I've a brighter future in bookkeeping instead of politics).

I do believe the bulk of candidates do things the right way (or at least try to). But those who don't or won't can do so with impunity.

Which brings me back to the trial in Lackawanna County. My favorite quote was from A.J. Munchak, who claimed he thought all the cash was "accounted for on the cash line" of the forms.

Yes, there is a line for the "cash balance" on a Campaign Finance Report. But you have to account for all contributions and expenses before arriving at that balance. And the most anyone can give in CASH is $100 for a reporting cycle. You can only "account for" cash if you report it somehow on the form.

How can you do that if the size of the contribution was illegal? One way is by willfully reporting it as a bunch of "unitemized contributions." Those are contributions which are supposed to be $50 or less per contributor. You hide it there. This is assuming, of course, that you intend to report the illegal contribution and aren't, in fact, picking a big-screen TV at Best Buy on your way home. Or saving the moolah to buy a couple cars with cash.

So if you're a candidate and someone hands you an envelope with $1000 cash, here are your legal options:

1) Refuse the cash
2) Accept up to $100 and refuse the rest. Give the contributor a receipt, book the contribution properly, and note the origin of the cash contribution on the bank deposit slip. Educate the contributor on what the law allows, then help them up off the floor when they're finished rolling around and laughing hysterically.

Here are some of the illegal options:
1) Thanks! (And put the money in your back pocket)
2) Thanks! (And report the money as unitemized essence saying it wasn't one illegal contribution but twenty legal ones.) Of course, you're supposed to keep names and addresses of the contributors, and you should note the contributors on the bank deposit slip, but hey, whoops, I thought the Treasurer had all that stuff. Here's my hand, slap it. Ouch! Ouch!

So ...can you "win honest" in NEPA? Well sure you can. You just have to work harder. But you'll enjoy sleeping like a baby after you file your campaign finance reports.

What scares me is that those who violate the law willfully seem to have no problem sleeping at night either.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fringeville Edition #3, June 21 2011

In a perfect world, I would post every day. My world is decidedly imperfect. When I got in from work last night it was after 10pm. I ate and went right to bed.

This morning, I submitted a second entry to Glimmer Train’s June fiction open. I’ve been writing a long time now, and it’s critical that I start getting things out there.

Of course, odds are always against publication. But the key is perseverance and staying positive. One thing I’m planning to do on my submission-tracking spreadsheet is call any rejections a ‘pass’ by the editors. It sounds a lot better than: REJECTED. It sounds more like an opportunity got by them. And that makes it easier for me to keep at it.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fringeville Edition #2, June 19 2011

It’s Father’s Day. It’s a somewhat typical Father’s Day for me. I’m working, which has been the rule, not the exception over the years. I have a long string of holidays and special family days going back across two careers where I had to work. That’s not a complaint. If you work in health care or information technology, the careers that consumed 32 years of my life, you either accept that as a fact of life or go and do something else for a living.

What’s different this year is that I won’t see my family until late tonight. The womenfolk are all in New England for a bridal shower. My brother Bill wisely escaped the estrogen pit and fled to Pennsylvania, and I’ve been able to spend some time with him the past two nights.

Father’s Day has been at the forefront of my thoughts since Tuesday, when I learned my position is being eliminated come November. I’m trying to think through the lessons of my father’s premature end to his career. In his case, it was health issues (and mostly damage he’d done to himself over the years) but I saw the wreckage that followed when he stopped working.

He didn’t do well with free time, my father.

That meant none of us did well with his free time, either. Everyone in my family picked up some scars from that period of my father’s life. Deeper scars for some of us than others, and probably less so for me, because I was nearly grown up and “out of there.”

He was a good man, my father. A moral man. A man with his own demons, though, and when he wrestled with them it could be ugly.

In his last years, we grew closer. Not that there was a wall between us, but I was entering that stage in young adult lives when we realize that our parents, while often infuriating, weren’t as pigheaded or stupid as we thought they were. We are beginning to have to face our own shortcomings, and suddenly theirs seem less glaring.

A year or two before he died of emphysema, he said something to me which I’ve never forgotten. We were driving somewhere together, just he and I, and he said: “I’ve got five kids, and I worry about you all. But I worry about you the least. You somehow always land on your feet.”

I’ve been pondering his words since learning my career is hitting a wall. Like everyone, I’ve had challenges to overcome in my life. But what lies ahead is the toughest nut yet. I’m trying to take a lesson from my father, who didn’t handle the end of his career well. To a degree, he just spun off out of control. He didn’t really cage his demons again until he found a job as a cemetery caretaker. It gave him purpose, and purpose is crucial for many men.

The lesson I’m taking is to be prepared for what is to come and to start planning now. I’ve set a goal for myself: Not to collect a single day’s unemployment. I saw how lost my father was when he stopped working. I’ve seen that hollow-eyed look in some of my friends who’ve lost jobs. I know I may not achieve that goal, but I’ll be damned if I won’t try everything I can to avoid collecting. I need to work. I need purpose. Just like my Dad.

Last night, I drove through Swoyersville on the way to my brother-in-law’s place. By chance, I passed the house my parents were renting until my father passed away. As I drove by, I glanced at the corner room where he died. He’d been in out of coherence for a few days, but a few hours before he died he was remarkably lucid, and we had a long talk, just the two of us. I’ve forgotten every word, and I hate myself for that. All I could think while I sat there was: I’m losing my father.

In the end, I didn’t lose him at all, really. I still have him in my heart. As flawed as he was, I loved him. And I learned from him, from his own missteps as well as his successes. He was human: deeply, deeply human with all the contradictions and frailties that come with our species.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I’ll try once again to land on my feet.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fringeville Edition #1, June 18 2011

This blog has been sitting out here utterly unused since I first created it back in 2008. I suppose you could say I've just been waiting for the right chain of events to get me to that first post.

This past week was the last link in that long chain. I find myself at yet another turning point in my life. At 53, I'm looking at a career change later this year. I've been an over-achiever the last sixteen years of my life. It's time to see if that will bear any fruit.

Scared? Sure. It's the worst economy since the Great Depression. People far smarter and with much more education than me have been unable to find decent work after losing a job. But my attitude is that this is perhaps the last chance to re-invent myself. I'll be 54 when the page turns and I start over. It's one last chance to do what I want to do with my life.

And that's where I'll leave this brief first post... on a note of optimism and hope.

God Bless from Fringeville, America....