Friday Happy Hour: Gin Edition

We start this week’s missive by taking you to Lafayette County, Wisconsin, where some elected officials have lost their damned minds.  Earlier this week, one of the county commissioners filed a new resolution that would criminally charge reporters for the crime of not posting official press releases word-for-word. In essence, normal, everyday reporting would become a crime.  The crime here seems to be that people elected these loon bags to office in the first place.  Gin

Meanwhile, the nation’s eyes were fixed on Congress this week, as the impeachment inquiry of President Trump hit the small screen.  Thus far, the GOP defense of Trump is that the witnesses had no direct contact with the President himself, and therefore we're relying on hearsay.  So we spent the week channeling R.E.O. Speedwagon.  Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you’ve been messing around…  

The President, however, continues to do himself few favors as he spent Friday morning Tweeting at one of the witnesses while she was testifying.  We expect at some point that House GOP will arrive on the South Lawn en masse and demand the President turn over his phone.  

Apparently, there is no end to the list of delusional Democrats who believe they should be the next POTUS.  Joining the field this week are former governor Deval Patrick and current billionaire Michael Bloomberg. 

A lot of lawmakers are diving into the criminal justice pool, and the issue has become a true bipartisan lovefest.  However, the consequence of reform is that the prison populations tend to shrink, which causes prisons to close, which does NOT make lawmakers happy.  Can’t have it all, folks.   

Philadelphia’s Controller this week released a report showing that the city’s soda tax revenue continues to be funneled into places other than Pre-K and Rebuild Philly (i.e. the general fund), and that the entire program lacks transparency.  So, nothing to see here.   

Word around the hallowed halls of Harrisburg is that lawmakers might finally, maybe, kinda raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $9.50 an hour. Grizzled vets that we are, we will believe it when we see it.  We have heard this song before, and it usually gets cut off before the ending. 

The state is lugging around a $1.3 billion structural deficit, we learned this week, although all is not bleak.  A strong economy and better-than-expected revenue numbers are trimming that number each month, making it possible that Governor Wolf might just wrap up eight years with no big tax increase.   

The City of Erie woke up today much the same as yesterday: without a community college and with no green light to build one.  The Department of Education voted this week to continue to study the need for such a community college for at least six months, at which point there might still be snow on the ground.   

A new report was released this week showing that craft breweries are pouring money (we see what you did there) into the Pennsylvania economy.  As such, we give our Shameless Client Plug shout-outs this week to our friends at Yards, Voodoo and Bald Birds Breweries.  

It is a tricky time to be a Democrat in southwestern Pennsylvania, we are beginning to learn.  As more and more elected Democrats are embracing things like fracking bans and the end of petrochemical plants, the more old-school Dems are being beaten about their heads and shoulders for supporting both.  Expect to see these battles move to the ballot in 2020.  

Did you know that Philadelphia has 90,000 more women living there than men?  No?  Well, now you do.  We propose reversing the current city slogan to the City of Sisterly Affection and Brotherly Love.  

An early, extended bear hunting season is going really well, if you’re not a bear.  Hunters are on pace to harvest more bears than ever, which is also good news for wayward hikers and other people who stumble around in the forest. 

In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, we take you to South Africa, where a distillery is now making and marketing gin made partially from elephant dung.  We kinda always thought gin tasted like crap anyway.   

That’s what passes for news around here on this sunny Friday!  The legislature returns for more top-notch lawmaking next week, so tune in!  From all your friends at Team Triad, have a great weekend!  

Friday Happy Hour: Happy Meal Edition

Happy meal

We’ll begin with the most important event of the week, which was the opportunity to exercise our constitutional right to select those who represent us, aka Election Day. We congratulate the winners, console the losers, and thank all of them for their participation in an increasingly rancorous political environment.

There was drama. In the southeast, Democrats continued their recent trend of making gains in suburban Philly, taking control of what was once a GOP stronghold, Delaware County Council, for the first time since the Civil War. They also won a majority on the Chester County and Bucks County boards of commissioners.

The Dems also took control of the nine-member Lehigh County Board of Commissioners for the first time in decades.

On the other hand, out west it was the R’s flipping four counties to their side in commissioner races. The counties of Washington, Armstrong, Greene and Westmorland are now in the red column after trending in that direction for several years.

And, right here in good ol’ central PA, everything pretty much stayed the same, although the vote count in York County was delayed because of snafus with the new voting machines. Several other counties experienced problems with new machines, but as Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick observed, counties that rolled them out for this off-year election can now make adjustments that will enable a smoother experience next spring.

The statewide Superior Court race was very close, although it appears that Philly Dem. Daniel McCaffery and Chester County Deputy DA Megan McCarthy King, a Republican, won the two open seats.

And finally, the proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law, which spells out the rights of crime victims, garnered nearly three-quarters of the votes, but can’t be certified until the state Supreme Court sorts out whether the proposal was constitutional.

Elsewhere, the General Assembly in Virginia went Democratic, as did the governor’s office in Kentucky. Throw in the suburban Philly results and it led to some gleeful speculation on the part of Democrats. PennLive columnist John Baer, often a contrarian, warns that the D’s could end up blowing it, at least in Pennsylvania, if the candidate doesn’t appeal to our moderate-minded electorate.

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke dropped his presidential bid. So, faced with the alarming prospect of a sudden shortage of Democratic candidates, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated he just might be interested in giving it a shot. Although he apparently hasn’t made a final decision yet, he sent some people to Alabama to gather signatures enabling him to qualify to be on the primary election ballot next year.

After weeks of complaining about the closed impeachment hearings, President Trump has now decided that there shouldn’t be public hearings either. The House Democrats will launch the public hearings next week, featuring three witnesses who have already testified privately.

Back here in the Keystone State, the PA Turnpike Commission has decided after a four-year pilot to proceed with converting the tolling system to a totally cashless one by the fall of 2021. About 600 toll collector and auditor jobs would be eliminated, and those employees would either be reassigned to another commission gig or could use the agency’s tuition assistance program to study for a new career.

Faculty for the 14-university State System of Higher Education will vote on a four-year contract. The vote will be held on individual campuses from Nov. 11 to 13.

Seven current and former non-union state workers filed a class-action lawsuit this week against AFSCME Council 13 in an attempt to recoup the estimated $3 million in non-member fees paid to the union by almost 10,000 non-union employees in 2017 and 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that union fees paid by non-union government employees are illegal.

Prominent politicos gracing PA with their presence this week included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke at the Democratic Independence Dinner in Philly and former VP Joe Biden, who traveled to the Steel City to speak at a presidential campaign fundraising event.

Montgomery County DA Kevin Steele has filed a civil complaint against vaping company JUUL, aiming to hold the company responsible for its “illegal, predatory business practices aimed at turning minors into addicts.”

Our We Can’t Make This Up segment takes us to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where a man who ordered a McDonald’s sweet tea wound up “stoned to the bone” when the tea was spiked with cannabis. His theory is that asking for “extra lemon” is code for “hit me up with some reefer, please.” The sheriff’s department didn’t reveal the location, but our crack research team tells us there are only two Mickey D’s on the island.

And that’s pretty much what qualifies for news around here this week! A shout out to veterans, whom we honor on Monday. Have a terrific weekend, and we’ll see you all back here again next week!

Friday Happy Hour: Hash Cake Edition

Hash cake

The U.S. House voted along party lines Thursday to formally launch an impeachment probe into President Trump’s dealings with the Ukraine. House Republicans had been loudly complaining that, thus far, the probe was being conducted behind closed doors, so naturally they all voted against opening it up to the public.

For his part, President Trump decided to move to Florida this week, presumably because he is in his 70s and moving to Florida is required by law once you hit 73. 

Meanwhile, nationwide job growth outpaced expectations, proving once again that the economy doesn’t seem to give much of a hoot about what is going on in Congress. The U.S. added 128,000 jobs last month, after those killjoys on Wall Street predicted a far lower number.

Back here in Pennsylvania, a last-ditch attempt to derail the ballot question on Marsy’s Law got a bit of life, as a Pennsylvania judge ruled that “yeas and nays” shall not be counted after Tuesday’s vote. The Supreme Court will eventually have to decide if the entire General Assembly, Republican and Democrat alike, acted improperly in passing the ballot question, which seems rather improbable. 

If you speed through active work zones in Pennsylvania, you are not only a Grade A chucklehead, you may soon find a citation in your mailbox. PennDOT is unveiling a pilot program that will place automated speed cameras in work zones. So smile, dimwits, you’re on work zone camera!

Governor Wolf this week signed into law a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s election procedures, the first such change in more than 80 years. There were some howls of discontent over the ban on straight-ticket voting, conveniently ignoring the fact that the governor, a Democrat, had to negotiate with the legislature, which is controlled by the Republicans. You know, divided government and all that messy stuff.  

A lower court judge this week tossed the City of Pittsburgh’s new gun control ordinances into the circular file, much as everyone expected. They don’t call Title 18, Chapter 61, Subchapter A the Uniform Firearms Act for no reason, we suspect. The battle over state preemption will once again move to the Supreme Court, and you never know what that band of fun-loving rascals might do!

The federal government this week unveiled 150 pages of regulations governing hemp farming. Since Pennsylvania lawmakers had the foresight to legalize hemp production last year, we have a big head start on the field. So get to it, hempers. Let’s lead the nation in something other than municipal waste importation.

The Supreme Court this week stopped Lebanon County officials from denying medical marijuana access to parolees and probationers, striking a blow for good old common sense. The move by Lebanon County to enact this policy in the first place is a stark reminder that, despite what the states do on marijuana policy, the feds still view marijuana as equivalent to heroin and can act accordingly whenever they damned well choose.

A perfect storm of factors, not the least of which is an overabundance of really excited deer, are causing experts to predict an above-average season of car-to-deer collisions in Pennsylvania, most of which find the deer on the losing end. So be careful, and make sure your auto insurance is up to date.    

Speaking of deer, the legislature is nearing agreement on a bill that would permit Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania, albeit for just three Sundays out of the entire year. The General Assembly has been debating this issue since before guns were actually invented.   

Do you wanna find out how wonderful or crappy your child’s school is? Here is a searchable database where you can find how your district measured up on the most recent round of the dreaded Keystone Exams.

One lawmaker this week announced he will offer a bill to ban flavored vaping products in Pennsylvania. He contends, probably correctly, that cherry and bubblegum-flavored vapes are aimed at getting children addicted. Under his plan, the only flavors allowed will be horse manure and dead skunk. That’ll teach those meddling kids.

Pennsylvania will not be sharing your driver’s license info with the federal Census Bureau, we learned this week. Despite the census folks assuring states that it will keep all the information safe (sure they will) and asking pretty, pretty please, PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards ain’t having any of that noise, thank you very much.

A Pittsburgh Port Authority bus sank into a 10th Avenue sinkhole this week, causing the Internet to break after roughly forty-five million memes were created. For our part, Tenth Avenue Sinkhole reminded us of Tenth Avenue Freezeout by Bruce Springsteen, so we spent the day with it stuck in our heads.  Damned Internet.  

In this week’s Shameless Spousal Plug, aesthetician extraordinaire Sharon Wells (better half of Triad creator and resident mad scientist Roy Wells) was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week for her work at the spa in the venerable Four Seasons, located literally on the roof of Philadelphia. Way to go, Sharon! 

In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, we take you to Berlin (Germany, not Pennsylvania) where 13 people had to be taken to the hospital after eating a cake following a funeral service. As it turns out, the cake had been baked with hashish and was made by an 18-year-old, who was definitely going to a much different kind of party. 

That’s what passes for news as we say goodbye to October and look forward to Election Day next Tuesday, where we will likely see about 26% of you who are registered to vote. Until then, from all of us at Team Triad, have a great weekend!

Friday Happy Hour: Haunted House Edition

Haunted house

Quid pro quo, or not? Impeachable offense, or not? A legitimate inquiry, or not? We don’t know. And just when we thought things couldn’t get much weirder in Washington, a couple dozen Republican members of Congress stormed the office suite where House committees were taking testimony in the Trump impeachment investigation and staged a… we’d call it a sit-in, but sit-ins usually have a point. After disrupting the hearings for several hours, eating some pizza and complaining about the process, the group left, and the hearings resumed.

As we segue back to Pennsylvania, we present you with PennLive/Patriot News columnist John Baer’s latest take on national and local political weirdness.

Last weekend, Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold was nominated as the Republican candidate to replace former state Sen. Mike Folmer. The Dems picked Lebanon Valley College Prof. Michael Schroeder, and rumors abound that unsuccessful Republican hopeful Matt Brouillette will remain in the race as a write-in. A special election will be on Jan. 14.

The U.S. Census Bureau asked states to cough up driver’s license data as part of the Trump administration’s latest effort to compile information about citizenship status. On Thursday, PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said Pennsylvania would not participate, joining a growing number of states that have declined.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery/Delaware, and Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, have introduced legislation that would legalize cannabis for adult use in Pennsylvania. No need to rush out and buy your Doritos quite yet, in our opinion.

Meanwhile, a group of medical marijuana patients staged a demonstration at the PA Department of Health to complain about the high cost of cannabis meds. They called for action to make the drug more affordable and accessible.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro had a busy week, joining his counterparts in several other states in announcing a tentative $48 billion settlement with three opioid distributors and two manufacturers, which is said to offer the best opportunity to get help quickly for people struggling with addiction.

The next day, he joined 46 of his counterparts in supporting an investigation of Facebook to determine whether the social media firm’s dominance is stifling competition, limiting choice for consumers and costing advertisers more money.

In the midst of public debate over a proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law, PennLive provides us with a primer that ties everything together.

Among prominent Commonwealth visitors this week were President Trump, Vice President Pence and former VP Biden. Trump spoke at a shale conference in Pittsburgh, while Pence and Biden visited Luzerne County, aka, Biden’s old stomping ground.

The state Senate this week voted unanimously to transfer control of the lieutenant governor’s Fort Indiantown Gap residence to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, a move that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman called “a win across the board.” Fetterman has chosen not to reside in the official residence. The bill now goes to the House.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the PA Turnpike will no longer accept cash payment for tolls at two new locations, the entry from Ohio in Lawrence County and the Turnpike Route 66 bypass in Westmoreland County. The agency is encouraging motorists to use its prepaid E-ZPass transponder, although for a higher toll, drivers without transponders will receive a bill in the mail.

Although Governor Wolf says he has no intention of signing it if it gets to his desk, a freshman legislator has introduced a bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. More than a dozen states have enacted similar measures, and a heartbeat bill enacted in Georgia has been blocked by a federal judge.

Triad’s own Todd Brysiak weighed in on a national shortage of a chemotherapy drug used to treat pediatric cancer. The father of a cancer survivor who has been cancer-free for more than a year, Todd noted that the drug, vincristine, was an essential part of his daughter’s treatment. The shortage was attributed to a manufacturing delay and is predicted to continue through December.

This week’s We Can’t Make This Up segment arrives just in time for Halloween. The owner of a Tennessee haunted house billed as the scariest in the world offers a $20,000 prize to anyone who completes a tour of the attraction. No one has ever collected. He says he uses hypnosis to scare the you-know-what out of customers and backs it up with a video of every visitor tapping out by uttering the phrase, “You really don’t want to do this.”

And that’s what passes for news around here this week! Be sure to stock up on plenty of candy for all the little goblins, ghosts and witches in your neighborhood! From all of us here at Triad, have a great weekend, and be sure to meet us back here again next week.

Friday Happy Hour: Painted Cow Edition

Painted cow

We’ll begin our weekly adventure in Washington, which was all abuzz on multiple fronts. President Trump had a busy week, cramming at least five days’ worth of stuff into a holiday-shortened week. The fallout from his orders to separate U.S. troops from their (former?) Kurdish allies climaxed with an overwhelming rebuke by the House, including two-thirds of the chamber’s Republicans. The president did not take it well.

But the foreign policy kerfuffle was merely a sideshow to the main event, as House Democrats continued down the path of the impeachment investigation. That peaked on Thursday when Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney undercut his boss’ assertion that there was no quid pro quo involving Trump’s request that the Ukrainians investigate former VP Biden and his son.

Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had another butt-ugly week, what with being fingered as the president’s point man in the shadow foreign policy activities regarding the Ukraine. The man once known as America’s Mayor is having a bad month.

The Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Ohio this week for a three-hour yackfest, with several of the participants homing in on Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a change. We’ll let the NY Times analysis tell you what’s what.

The explosions and fire that destroyed the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in June was most likely caused by the failure of an elbow pipe, according to the U.S. Chemical and Safety Hazard Investigation Board. The pipe had worn to about half the thickness of a credit card, investigators said. The oil refinery was the largest on the East Coast.

A 23-foot Northumberland County Douglas fir will make the ultimate sacrifice in exchange for the honor of being the White House Christmas tree. The tree’s soon-to-be-former owner called it a “most exciting and humbling experience.” The tree, facing its demise at age 16, was not nearly as excited.

Even though he has scaled it back, business leaders still aren’t happy with Governor Wolf’s plan to extend overtime eligibility to thousands more of Pennsylvania workers. His initial proposal would have eventually extended eligibility to 460,000 workers, and the scaled-back plan would limit eligibility to just 82,000. The Democratic controlled Independent Regulatory Review Commission may consider the plan next month.

Republican Sen. David Argall told a gathering of real estate professionals this week that his bipartisan group looking into taxation issues is likely to recommend cutting or eliminating property taxes by raising the sales and income taxes. He said he wants to get recommendations to lawmakers before year-end to avoid having it get caught in election year festivities.

Why does Pennsylvania lead the nation in average student loan debt per resident, with a figure of $36,000? Freshman State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, a Delaware County Democrat who at age 29 is still paying off her student debt, intends to find out, and it began with a hearing this week by the House Democratic Policy Committee.

The relatively nascent Harrisburg University aims to boost its brand awareness by becoming the country’s badass at esports. Who needs a football program anyway? A tip of the Triadvocate cap to HU and President Eric Darr for attracting the attention of the Washington Post.

The PA State System for Higher Education is asking for an additional $100 million over the next five years to help retool the 14-member system by merging some services and support, enhancing online learning and improving technology for students. The system’s enrollment of about 100,000 students is 21,000 fewer than a decade ago, and system officials believe that more online courses will attract more students.

Pennsylvania will become one of the last states to take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow states to collect corporate income taxes from corporations that do business in states, even if they have no offices, employees or property there. Businesses that record at least $500,000 in annual sales will henceforth be required to file tax returns and pony up.

Governor Wolf said thanks, but no thanks to the opportunity to refuse to accept refugees in Pennsylvania. The Trump administration last month issued an order giving state and local governments the authority to turn refugees away, but the governor said they will continue to be welcome here.

A federal tax incentive program passed in 2017 by Republicans in Congress has not proven to be the lifeline for ailing Rust Belt cities such as New Castle, according to a report from Spotlight PA, the new investigative reporting collaboration involving several prominent news organizations.

This week’s installment of We Can’t Make This Up takes us all the way to Japan, where scientists have discovered that painting cows to look like zebras significantly reduced attacks by biting flies and lessened the need to use pesticides. Udderly brilliant.

And that’s what passes for news around here on a suddenly chillier fall Friday. On behalf of your good pals at Triad, have a terrific weekend, and check back in with us next week as lawmakers in both houses return to Harrisburg.