Pennsylvania’s New Welcome

On Tuesday I drove from Columbus to Pittsburgh.  As I crossed the state line between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, I noticed that Pennsylvania had a new sign welcoming motorists.  It had “Pennsylvania” written in a kind of kicky script, with the lowercase slogan:  “pursue your happiness.”

pa-signpng-dbea1948237525b4Pennsylvania used to have a more sober sign saying that Pennsylvania welcomes you and referring to the Keystone State as the “State of Independence.”  Now Pennsylvania has taken a decidedly different approach.  Before, it was content to simply be known as the “State of Independence,” referring to its historical status as home to the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration of Independence  Now Pennsylvania has lifted a line from the Declaration’s reference to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and issued a directive that motorists must “pursue your happiness” there.

With the use of the kicky new script Pennsylvania and slogan, it’s almost as if Pennsylvania is trying to use road signs — road signs, of all things — to project a cooler, more youthful image.  No doubt the new sign was the product of a long, costly, consultant-filled campaign to pick a new look and slogan . . . and this is what they got.

Who knows?  Maybe the signs will work, and every driver crossing into Pennsylvania will resolve to change their ways and relentlessly pursue happiness with every fiber of their being for so long as they are in the state.  The Pennsylvania sign really puts a lot of pressure on the driver, when you think about it.  If a visitor would just like to get to their hotel, get a quick bite, and then crash, which is what I did, they’re not exactly living up to the command on the road sign, are they?

I suppose it’s tough coming up with road signs welcoming drivers to a new state.  We’re long past the straightforward “Welcome to Ohio” days.  Now, everybody’s got to have a slogan.  When I drove back to Columbus last night, I checked out Ohio’s welcome sign at the end of the bridge spanning the Ohio River, and it says “Welcome to Ohio.  So much to discover!”  It’s pretty bland and forgettable, I guess, but at least it’s not instructing me on how to live my life.

 

The Future In The Past

They opened a coal mine in Pennsylvania last week.  It’s the first new coal mine opened in the area in as long as people can remember.

The Corsa Coal Company decided to open the Acosta mine, located about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh, last August.  It made the decision to open the mine because demands for metallurgical coal used by the steel industry, and cuts in coal production in China, have caused the prices for such coal to skyrocket.  Metallurgical coal is a special kind of coal, distinct from coal used for other purposes, and represents about 5 to 10 percent of the coal industry.

1024x1024Even though the decision to open the mine came before the last presidential election, President Trump has touted the opening of the mine as reflective of the new approach taken to coal in his administration.  Corsa’s chief executive said that Trump’s election has made the whole coal industry more optimistic.  He said “The war on coal is over,” and added that “Easing the regulatory burden, lowering taxes, stimulating infrastructure spending, balancing out the interest of economic growth versus environmental policy — it’s very good for coal.”  Corsa believes that if it can keep its costs low, it can compete with any company in the world in coal production.

I view the opening of a new coal mine in Pennsylvania with mixed emotions.  The past practices of the coal industry have left real scars in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia, both on the landscape and, in some instances, on people.  At the same time, I am happy for the people of rural western Pennsylvania who have been desperate to find work and some cause for optimism.  It’s no surprise that the new mine has been bombarded with hundreds of job applications for the 100 positions that will be created, and that the mine is being praised as a lifeline for the local economy.

It’s odd that, even though we have moved well into the 21st century, the American economy is still looking at things like coal mining — work that has been going on for centuries — as a element of future job production.  I just hope that the coal industry has learned from the past as it moves forward into the future.

The Costs Of A Porous Border

We’re learning more about the costs — direct and indirect — of the mass influx of unaccompanied minors and other illegal immigrants across our southwestern border, and the news is becoming more and more concerning.

At a closed-door briefing with members of Congress earlier this week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson disclosed some of the direct costs.   According to members of Congress who attended, Johnson said the federal government is spending between $250 and $1,000 per day, per child, to house and feed the minors.  When you are talking about more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors already in the country and needing assistance — and U.S. officials predicting that another 30,000 will cross the border by September — you don’t need a calculator to see that the ongoing and future costs are enormous.

As everyone knows, our federal government is cash-strapped.  Some people may say we’ve been racking up huge budget deficits for years, and these costs will add just a little bit more to those deficits.  That reaction ignores the reality of our financial situation.  Every dollar of our deficit is financed through the issuance of U.S. government bonds and notes.  Do we really want to have to issue more bonds and notes to pay for these services, and pledge the full faith and credit of our country for them?  With our current budget situation, the inescapable reality is that we will be borrowing more in the future to pay the interest on these bonds and notes — which means that we’ll be paying directly out of pocket for our border problems for years to come.

There are indirect costs as well.  The U.S. government can’t house all of these minors on military bases, and already we’re seeing governors and mayors raising questions about whether these minors are coming to their states and communities — where they will need more housing, and food, and medical care, and attention.  Who will pay for it?  The NIMBY (not in my back yard) phenomenon is in full swing.  Pennsylvania’s governor has expressed concern about whether the illegal immigrants have infectious diseases, says there should be enough room on military bases in Texas and Arizona to house them, and wonders how he will pay for the needed services if they are sent to Pennsylvania.  Officials in other states are saying that the federal government has resettled some of the immigrants in their states without providing adequate notice to local authorities.  And officials in cities as far away from the border as New Bedford, Massachusetts are concerned that an influx of impoverished, non-English-speaking immigrants will further strain governmental and school budgets that are already stretched to the breaking point.

Massachusetts sheriff recently said, “we are all border states now.”  There’s some truth to that.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that our porous border is creating huge problems for communities and states across the country.  As we figure out how to deal with these unaccompanied minors, we also need to pay attention to the root cause of the problem — a border that sometimes seems to be little more than a line on a map.  We can’t afford to pay $250 or $1,000 a day to care for every child that crosses illegally into our country, and we also can’t afford the security risks of a border that permits them (and adults, too) to do so.  The Obama Administration and Congress need to figure out how to close that border and do it before the costs and consequences become overwhelming.

Fire The Groundhog!

IMG_3441Punxsutawney Phil might be cute, in all his plump, furry, buck-toothed, rodentine glory, but he should be called Suxutawney Phil in view of his pathetic weather prognostication abilities.  Overnight, we got several inches of heavy wet snow — when the Punxster predicted that winter would end several weeks ago.

No longer will I trust the forecasts of the furry fiend emerging from his burrow on February 2!  From now on, I’ll rely on the weather auguries of Rochester Ralph, the floppy-eared rabbit forecaster who foretells the length of winter based on whether he eats lettuce or carrots on January 26, and Hanover Hal, the happy hedgehog who rolls into a ball when prodded with a stick on February 5 and veers right or left to predict how much snow will fall in the next two months.

In the meantime, Kish and I have declared that we just can’t take much more winter weather.  When spring finally gets here, we’ll return from a quick trip to Pennsylvania and celebrate with a delicately flavored, nourishing groundhog stew.

Crow Woe

Once, life was pleasant in the college town of California, Pennsylvania.  Then, the crows came, and kept coming, until the town was home to thousands of the large black birds.

Now, residents wake up in the morning, look out the window, and see crows everywhere.  They hear the harsh caws of crows all night long.  They feel the oppressive presence of crows in the trees.  They walk out to their cars and find them covered with crow droppings, and when they venture outside they have to dodge falling crow bombs.  A local TV crew sent to get footage of the pests reported that the plopping of crow poop outside sounded like raindrops.  Local business owners say that the crow infestation is hurting sales.  No kidding!  Imagine what the crow infestation has done for home sales!

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds always scared the hell out of me, because the everyday phenomenon of birds in the sky became a bizarre, horrifying menace for no apparent reason.  The plague-like conditions in California, Pennsylvania sound like that.  I’m not the superstitious type, but if I lived in California I’d get the heck out of there before birds started coming down the chimney or the locusts and frogs appeared.

Straub – Highly Recommended

Before the late, much-lamented Corner’s Beverage Shoppe closed its doors, and Richard went off on his European adventure, on Fridays he and I used to pick out a six-pack or two of new beers to sample over the weekend.  One day we picked out a six-pack of Straub, and I’ve been a fan ever since.  (Since Corner’s has gone away, I’ve been glad to learn that Straub also is carried by the New Albany Giant Eagle in its enormous “beer cave.”)

The label on the bottle advertises Straub as “honestly fresh,” and I think that is a very fair description.  The brew is a light, quite tasty lager with good body, a clean, smooth taste, and no aftertaste.

Although I’ve only discovered it recently, Straub beer has been around since 1872.  It is brewed in Pennsylvania — hey, I thought only Rolling Rock and Iron City came from the Quaker State! — and is a good example of the quality microbrewery offerings that can be found throughout America.  And, in these days of high gas prices and penny-pinching economic uncertainty, when six-packs of some microbrew offerings are priced at $10 and above, Straub’s reasonable price is as refreshing as its beer.  I’m glad Richard and I decided to try it during one of our weekend beer samplings.