Pennsylvania: The worst of the worst

By Christopher Harper

Next Tuesday, I have the honor of voting for a representative on arguably the most corrupt and incompetent political institution in the country: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states where judges run on a political ticket for 10-year terms. Over time, this formula has created one of the worst assemblies of jurists both Democrat and Republican.

Here is just the top of the pops:

Cynthia Baldwin served on the high court in 2006 and 2007 as an appointee of then-Gov. Ed Rendell. She later became chief counsel for Penn State. Baldwin received a reprimand in February by the high court over a complaint that she violated professional rules for lawyers by testifying about university officials accused in the Sandusky scandal when before that she represented them.

In 2010, two sisters of Justice Orie Melvin, Pennsylvania state senator Jane Orie and Janine Orie, were arrested and charged with theft of services and criminal conspiracy after a Pittsburgh grand jury investigation. They were accused of using Jane Orie’s Senate staff and office resources to help run their sister’s 2009 campaign for the State Supreme Court. Three years later, the justice also was charged and convicted on similar charges. Nevertheless, she didn’t spend a single day in prison.

Seamus McCaffery, another Supreme Court judge, sent e-mails with sexually, racially, and ethnically objectionable images and language. He apologized for sending the e-mails and confessed that it was “coarse language.” He was suspended from the bench for the e-mails and investigated for referral fees directed to his wife from personal injury law firms. He retired in 2014 with a full pension of $134,000 a year.

Michael Eakin resigned in 2016 from the bench after being suspended for sending e-mails containing pornographic material to his colleagues on the court, attorneys, and lower court judges. According to news accounts, the e-mails also featured sexual, racial, and ethnic humor that many found objectionable.

Eakin insisted that his “humor” and “sexual preferences” did not interfere with his ability to decide cases before the court fairly. By resigning, Eakin was able to escape a hearing before the ethics board and any punishment. He retired with a full pension.

Kevin Dougherty, the brother of union boss John Dougherty, reportedly got his snow shoveled and house repaired from an illegal union slush fund, according to federal prosecutors trying John for corruption charges. Justice Dougherty has not been charged.

When Kevin was elected to the court in 2015, it raised more than a few eyebrows because his brother was arguably the most powerful man in Philadelphia politics before his indictment for corruption.

But the court isn’t just about unethical and illegal acts; it also makes bad law. 

As you may recall, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a neck-snapping decision to allow ballots to be submitted three days AFTER the presidential election in 2020.

The law unambiguously stated that voters must “fill out, date and sign,” yet the state Supreme Court said the ballots should be counted, in a one-time exception for 2020. Earlier in the case, Judge Kevin Brobson had ruled the opposite. “To remove the date requirement,” he wrote, “would constitute a judicial rewrite of the statute.”

It will take a long time to get rid of these meatheads, but at least I can vote for Judge Brobson, a Republican whose website says he’ll defend “the law as it is written.”

Help Wanted!

By Christopher Harper

As you drive throughout central Pennsylvania, it’s difficult not to notice something other than fall foliage: Help wanted signs abound throughout the region.

On Route 11, which snakes along the countryside near my home, more than 70 signs seeking employees dominate the highway. 

Fred Gaffney, executive director of Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce, told a local newspaper that he’s at a loss to say why. “This is a workforce crisis unlike anything I’ve seen in my years at the Chamber,” Gaffney said.

Recently, a local job fair featured more than 500 openings from 25 employers. But only 40 people attended, Gaffney said. Businesses in the area have raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour and higher. 

What’s happening near my home is occurring throughout the country. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 67% of small businesses reported hiring or trying to hire in September, and 42% raised compensation. But a record 51% still have openings they couldn’t fill.

The Wall Street Journal postulated in a recent editorial: “So what’s causing the worker shortage? One possible culprit is government and employer vaccine mandates that set ultimatums for workers. President Biden’s vaccine order first applied to nursing homes, which lost jobs in the month. Many states and school districts have also imposed mandates, and state and local education employment fell 161,000. The White House claims its vaccine mandates will boost job growth, but not if unvaccinated workers quit.”

The lack of workers has clearly become a drag on the economy. Ships are backed up at ports partly because there aren’t workers to unload and transport goods to where they need to go. Labor and material shortages are delaying projects and increasing prices in the home-building sector.

Another factor is that it doesn’t pay to work in some cases when the government provides enough money to keep people off the job. 

For my wife and me, it’s meant postponing work on our new home because there aren’t enough painters and other tradespeople to perform needed maintenance. For example, we can’t get anyone to paint the exterior of our house until next spring.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration seemingly has no strategy to solve the problems.

In an interview with Business Insider, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has a lame analysis:

–People are afraid to go back to work because of the Delta variant.

–People have moved out of areas where employers are hiring.

–People are rethinking their attitude toward work—what one psychologist has called the “the great resignation.”

“I think a lot of people are re-imagining or rethinking about what’s next for them,” Walsh said. The pandemic has changed people’s views about work, causing them to “ask existential questions about their purpose and happiness,” Business Insider noted. 

Whatever the case, it would appear that the labor conflagration won’t be solved anytime soon, particularly under this administration.

I guess I may have to get out the work clothes and ladder to ponder the existential question of whether to paint or not to paint.

Arson, climate change, and wildfires

Blogger at Denali National Park

By John Ruberry

Is it a wildfire if an arsonist sets it?

It’s been a brutal season for wildfires in the west. Climate change of course is usually blamed for these fires but what about arson?

The Fawn Fire in northern California, which has burned about 13 square miles, is fully contained after two weeks of destruction. It has destroyed 185 buildings.

How did it start?

A former San Francisco Bay Area yoga teacher, Alexandra Souverneva who claims to be a shaman on her LinkedIn page, is accused of accidentally starting it while trying to boil water to remove bear urine from it. But a California newspaper says that Souverneva may be connected to other fires.

Gary Maynard, a former college professor, is being held without bail for allegedly setting several fires near the Dixie Fire in northern California. He is not accused of starting the Dixie Fire, but the cause of that blaze, which is still undetermined, may have been caused by Pacific Gas and Electric equipment. 

This year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, over 100 people have been accused of wildland arson.

Conditions are very dry in California–it is suffering from drought conditions. If an arsonist attempts to start a fire in one of the forest preserves near where I live in Morton Grove, Illinois, it will likely be a slow burn, as we’ve had a wet summer here. In California the results will be horribly different. 

If you haven’t heard about arson as the cause of wildfires it’s probably because the mainstream media, to protect another of its narratives, in this case that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, is minimizing arson’s role in wildfires. 

But CNN sees the arson angle of wildfires as a serious enough of a threat to that narrative that it published an article in August debunking it. 

Arson-caused wildfires is something to keep your eye on.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

The Supremes are back

By Christopher Harper

This term for the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened yesterday, may be the most compelling in our lifetimes, particularly for conservatives.

Poised with a relatively solid five-vote majority, the justices have an opportunity to make some significant changes in the law. Please note that I have excluded Chief Justice John Roberts from this majority.

At the center of this new-found power, Justice Clarence Thomas came out firing rapid questions in a case involving a dispute between Tennessee and Mississippi. Justice Thomas had been known for saying few words during oral arguments, mainly because he was often a sole voice of reason in years past.

It will be refreshing to see Justice Thomas at the forefront of arguments.

On its first day, the court sent a clear warning to the left when the justices issued a terse decision NOT to grant congressional voting rights for the District of Columbia. The ruling was clear: DC isn’t a state!

The court has agreed to hear appeals that explicitly call for overruling Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that women had a constitutional right to end pregnancy.

The case surrounds Mississippi’s “Gestational Age Act,” which was passed in 2018 and allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality.” If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law, they could have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines. The state’s attorney general has argued that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong” and should be overturned.

In September, the court declined to block an even more restrictive Texas abortion law, on a 5-4 vote. Chief Justice Roberts found himself in dissent along with the three liberal justices.

Another case, which is set for arguments in November, challenges a New York state law limiting concealed weapons permits. The court could expand Second Amendment rights to allow handguns in public. In 2008 and 2010 decisions, the court recognized a constitutional right to keep a handgun at home for self-defense.

Several cases reflect the court’s concern for religious expression. In November, the justices will consider a condemned Texas inmate’s claim that the state must let his pastor lay hands upon him while he is executed.

A December argument challenges Maine’s public education system, which relies on state tuition vouchers for private schools. Half the state’s school districts don’t have enough students to justify schools of their own, so the state reimburses tuition at secular private schools. Parents who prefer religious schools argue that the program is discriminatory.

The court also agreed recently to consider whether the city of Boston, which allows outside groups to fly their banners from flagpoles outside City Hall, violated the First Amendment by rejecting a cross-bearing “Christian flag.”

The hollering from the left started even before the court convened, with abortion advocates protesting in front of the court’s building. Moreover, the media have renewed their rumblings about the rightward tilt of the court. For example, The News York Times has declared that the court is “off the rails.”

I guess it’s time buckle up for what is likely to be an interesting year!

Liberals vs. the left

By Christopher Harper

Even classic liberals are starting to understand just how dangerous the left has become.

In a recent cover story, the classic liberal magazine, The Economist, raised comfortable questions about the “illiberal left.”

For more, see

The analysis takes a few jabs at Trump and the right, but the central thesis focuses on how liberals and leftists have less and less in common.

“As young graduates have taken jobs in the upmarket media and in politics, business, and education, they have brought with them a horror of feeling ‘unsafe’ and an agenda obsessed with a narrow vision of obtaining justice for oppressed identity groups. They have also brought along tactics to enforce ideological purity, by no-platforming their enemies and canceling allies,” the magazine notes.

“Superficially, the illiberal left and classical liberals like The Economist want many of the same things. Both believe that people should be able to flourish, whatever their sexuality or race. They share a suspicion of authority and entrenched interests. They believe in the desirability of change.

“However, classical liberals and illiberal progressives could hardly disagree more over how to bring these things about. For classical liberals, the precise direction of progress is unknowable. It must be spontaneous and from the bottom up—and it depends on the separation of powers so that nobody nor any group is able to exert lasting control. By contrast, the illiberal left put their own power at the center of things because they are sure real progress is possible only after they have first seen to it that racial, sexual, and other hierarchies are dismantled.”

The magazine chooses Ibram X. Kendi, a self-proclaimed “anti-racist,” as the poster child of what’s wrong with the left. Kendi, a National Book Award winner, is the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.

“[H]is blunderbuss approach risks denying some disadvantaged children the help they need and others the chance to realize their talents,” the magazine argues. “[I]lliberal progressives think that equity requires the field to be tilted against those who are privileged and reactionary. That means restricting their freedom of speech, using a caste system of victimhood in which those on top must defer to those with a greater claim to restorative justice.”

The Economist makes no bones about its call for liberals to battle leftists. 

“The ultimate complacency would be for classical liberals to underestimate the threat. Too many right-leaning liberals are inclined to choose a shameless marriage of convenience with populists. Too many left-leaning liberals focus on how they, too, want social justice. They comfort themselves with the thought that the most intolerant illiberalism belongs to a fringe. Don’t worry, they say, intolerance is part of the mechanism of change: by focusing on injustice, they shift the center ground.”

It’s noteworthy that these classic liberals see the problem. Is Joe Biden beholden to the center or the left? As he gets shouted down from the left, it seems he shifts more that way than to the center.

I hope the liberals ignore the entreaty to push back the leftists. To me, liberal or leftist has become a distinction without much of a difference. Both philosophies are bankrupt.

Covering the cop shop

By Christopher Harper

Over the past few years, my students’ attitude toward the police have changed dramatically. Even though a few of the students still profess some trust in cops, the vast majority have a distinctly hostile attitude, primarily based on recent reports about brutality rather than first-hand experiences.

“It doesn’t take much to see the absolute racial injustice with the police, so, if I were to cover a story with the cops, calling out that racial injustice might seem biased because I would be highlighting the negative, but it really is just shining some light on the cruelty and brutality that has been caused by the police,” one Black woman wrote on the class discussion board. 

A white woman responded: “I hear a lot about the ‘bad apples’ metaphor or people stating that there are good cops. My question is, if there are these good apples, what’s eventually going to happen to them when they are hanging around the bad apples? You turn into the people you surround yourself with. Again, the whole system is corrupt. There are no good cops in a racist system.”

Interestingly, a Black woman from an affluent neighborhood was one of a few students who defended the police. “My attitude towards cops is respectful. In general….I think highly of police because they have made it their purpose in life to protect others and to uphold the law. I know that at the end of the day if I am in trouble, I am calling 911 to help me.” 

Not only is it troubling that many of my students don’t respect the police, but somehow the budding journalists think they can get past their biases if they had to report about crime. Nearly all of the students think they should be fair and balanced in their reporting except when it comes to the police.

One woman justified her bias. “I would be reporting on police-adjacent topics through the lens of historically documented racism, corruption, and hyper-toxic masculinity,” she wrote. 

Historically, cops and journalists haven’t mixed well together. Cops don’t trust reporters to get the story right; journalists think the police try to cover stuff up. 

Now, however, a new chasm has occurred—one that I have been unable to bridge despite my best efforts. In the past, I’d bring in a police officer to talk to the class. But few students no longer want to listen.


By Christopher Harper

My 9/11 story started 20 years before the attack on the World Trade Center.

On Sept. 11, 1981, President Anwar Sadat expelled me from Egypt because I reported about his troubles with Islamic fundamentalists.

After he signed a peace treaty with Israel, Sadat faced various threats from his fellow Arabs, but the most serious one came from the mosques in Egypt.

Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, better known as the “blind sheik,” issued a fatwa against Sadat, who imprisoned about 1,500 of the sheik’s followers from a group known as Al-Jama’s al-Islamiyya, or “The Islamic Group.”

As a reporter for ABC News in Cairo, I interviewed some of Abdel-Rahman’s followers, who began widespread demonstrations after the arrests in September 1981. At a news conference shortly after that, Sadat told me, “If this were not a democracy, I would have you shot!”

The next day, I was ushered to the airport, where I boarded an Egyptian Air flight to Rome. I was the only passenger.

Less than a month later, Sadat died in an assassination carried out by Islamic fundamentalists.

The Egyptians arrested a lot of bad guys but eventually left them go free. Among the Islamists jailed after the Sadat assassination was Ayman al-Zawahiri, a confidante and colleague of the blind sheik. Together, he and Abdel-Rahman, who spent three years in Egyptian jails, spread the beliefs to the prisoners of what would become al-Qaeda.

Although many of al-Qaeda’s followers came from the war with the Soviets in Afghanistan, many more came from the prisoners held for the assassination plot against Sadat.

Al-Zawahiri received a three-year sentence for dealing in weapons and left prison in 1984. As a top leader in a key Islamist terrorist organization in Egypt, al-Zawahiri eventually joined forces with bin Laden and served as the second-in-command of al-Qaeda. He rose to head the organization when bin Laden was killed in 2011.

After Abdel-Rahman was found not guilty in the trials that accompanied the investigations into the attack on Sadat, the sheik made his way to Afghanistan, where he became a spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden. In 1990, Abdel-Rahman set up shop at a mosque in New Jersey. There, he helped plan the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center for which he was convicted and spent the rest of his life in a U.S. prison.

I saw the 1993 attack as a significant escalation of radical Islam, and I tried to convince my bosses at ABC News to create an investigative team to look at the bombing. “Only four people died,” the executive producer of 20/20 told me. That disconnect between my analysis and that of ABC started me thinking that it was time to leave journalism, which I did a few months later.

As it turned out, the organizer of the 1993 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, was so frustrated by the mission’s failure that he became obsessed with trying again. That’s one of the reasons he chose the World Trade Center on 9/11.

I often wondered if it would have done any good if ABC had backed my desire to investigate the 1993 bombing.

So, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story.” At least my little piece of the story.  

More friends gone too soon!

By Christopher Harper

I never really understood why my father turned first to the obituary page in his later years.

Now I get it.

I have seen many friends die in the past few months, including four remarkable women who played significant roles in my youth. It’s worth noting that none died from COVID-19. Although I don’t have any proof, it’s conceivable that they couldn’t get the proper treatments because so much of the medical community focused on the pandemic and not other illnesses.

Lynn Langway served as my teacher at Northwestern University and helped me get a job at Newsweek. She worked Newsweek for more than a decade, rising to the level of senior editor. Later, she became executive editor of Ladies’ Home Journal. Although we kept in touch over the years, we parted company over the 2016 election. I’m sorry that politics stood between us upon her death.

Ann Bartsch, the wife of the best man at my wedding, was among the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University—an honor I also held from a far less competitive university. Ann attended law school at the University of Chicago, where he met Doug Blomgren, my roommate in Chicago. 

Ann worked mainly with low-income and elderly clients in Oregon, her home and where Doug also practiced law. She served as the chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Legal Services for the Poor. See her obituary here.

I wrote about two others who died recently in my 2011 book, Flyover Country, which chronicled the lives of my high school class, which graduated in 1969 from Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Barbara Sidlo Hughes was my first girlfriend. We dated in our sophomore year, but she tired of my endless weekends on the road with my rock ‘n’ roll band. 

Upon graduation from Drake University, Barbara became a flight attendant for TWA, where she met her husband, Don. Eventually, the couple and their children moved to California, where she cared for her daughter, whose health issues kept her in a wheelchair much of the time. When her daughter was able to attend college, Barbara started teaching elementary school, where she helped students—many the sons and daughters of immigrants–for more than 20 years. See her obituary here.

Mary Hrdy Kaczmarek was my second girlfriend. We dated in our senior year and later at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. We broke up after two years—a parting that angered Mary for many years. Alas, that divide never narrowed, and I blame myself that we never reconciled. 

She met her husband Norman, a physician, in Danville, Pennsylvania, which ironically is about a 30-minute drive from where I now live. 

Mary first worked as a medical social worker, then helped establish and manage her husband’s medical practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. See her obituary here.

All of these talented women are gone far too soon! 

A proud slice of Americana

By Christopher Harper

Vietnam veteran Bill Poulton stood on the bandstand erected on his farm in Muncy, Pennsylvania, and asked the several hundred spectators to stand.  

With almost military precision, the assembled crowd rose, placed their hands over their hearts, looked upward to the American flag nearby, and said the pledge of allegiance. 

I hadn’t seen such a display of unity and patriotism in many years. It was a striking reminder that my wife and I had chosen well when we decided to leave the woke environment of Philadelphia and move to Muncy, a town of 2,500 people in central Pennsylvania. 

After the pledge, the crowd settled back into their lawn chairs to listen to The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra perform a collection of old American tunes from around the turn of the 20th century.  

Nearby, Boy Scouts sold hot dogs to raise money for their troop, and the Muncy High School band and choir offered burgers at another stand. The Muncy Historical Society provided free popcorn. 

“It was a slice of Americana,” one of the organizers told us. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have put it any better, and the scene just a few blocks away from our home was reminiscent of a Rockwell drawing.  

Rick Benjamin, the orchestra leader, provided background about each of the songs, including tunes from Scott Joplin, John Philip Sousa, and some lesser-known composers. Our neighbor, talented soprano Bernadette Boerckel, sang some of the selections, such as “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” by Gus Edwards. She led the crowd in a rendition of The Pan Alley Song Medley, which included “The Sidewalks of New York,” “Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” “A Bicycle Built for Two,” and “The Band Played On.” Muncy Ragtime Band 

As twilight merged into nighttime, the orchestra erupted into an encore by John Philip Sousa, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”  

On a cloudy, summer evening, this verse seemed particularly appropriate: 

“Let eagle shriek from lofty peak 
The never-ending watchword of our land; 
Let summer breeze waft through the trees 
The echo of the chorus grand. 
Sing out for liberty and light, 
Sing out for freedom and the right. 
Sing out for Union and its might, 
O patriotic sons.” 

And I didn’t see anyone wearing a bleeping mask! 

Olympic overload

By Christopher Harper

For years, like many other Americans, I enjoyed the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat at the Olympics.

This year, like many other Americans, I have made it a point NOT to watch any of the Olympics.

Although politics has played a role in many Olympics, particularly the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, the antics of this year’s athletes have been over the top.

At its opening match with Sweden, the U.S. women’s soccer team knelt in protest. Not only was I happy the team lost to Sweden but ultimately got knocked off its perch by losing to Canada. I hope Subway passes on Megan Rapinoe in its next round of commercials.

American shot-putter Raven Saunders stepped off the podium during the medal ceremony, lifted her arms above her head, and formed an “X’ with her wrists.

“It’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet,” she said when asked what her protest meant. It’s a rather mediocre protest when you have to explain the meaning!

Moments after Saunders’s protest, American fencer Race Imboden had a circled “X” written on his hand as he went to the podium at a different venue after the U.S. men’s foil team earned a bronze medal. That protest came after his teammates wore pink masks to embarrass a colleague accused of sexual harassment. The teammate hasn’t been formally charged and was cleared by authorities to compete in the Olympics.

I guess the notion of innocent until proven guilty doesn’t have any meaning when you’re planning protests!

I marvel at the abilities of athletes and how they do something few can. I couldn’t care less about what they think about the state of the world unless they have some overarching knowledge of international and national events.

These political statements turn me off, and it’s readily apparent that others think the same as I do. People aren’t tuning out because of time differences and multiple delivery platforms. People are turning out because Olympians should be proud to represent the United States—not preach to others about political matters they know little about.

I hope that Olympic ruling body stands by its intention to punish those who protest. But that’s likely to generate yet another protest. It’s best to convince NBC, which is likely to lose a lot of money from the poor viewership, that few people really care about the Olympics, particularly because of the growing number of protests.