Wednesday, August 31, 2005

After The Flood

In the wake of the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration decided to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to help Gulf Coast oil refiners who are struggling with shipment losses. The timing couldn't be much better; the economy would be in much worse shape without some form of relief for the oil industry, and while I'd like to see gas prices fall a bit more, this is better than nothing. (It doesn't help that us West Virginians have to deal with an additional gas tax, but that's another issue altogether.) The tapping is a loan, meaning that the companies will be required to give an equal amount back to the government later

One thing that will probably get environmentalists in an uproar is that the EPA is going to temporarily lower diesel fuel sulfur restrictions and gasoline evaporation rules nationwide. Also, the agency will temporarily allow the sale of higher-polluting gasoline in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana because the hurricane states can't fulfill the Clean Air Act and still provide consumers fuel. Personally, I figure that this can't hurt too much in the short run and will likely help stabilize the gas situation. Considering that there isn't any electricity to get the refineries up and running in some locations right now, every little bit helps.

Also, it looks like one reason Bush hasn't tapped more oil is that the world is willing to do the work for him. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pledged to boost output to 11 million barrels (from 9.5 million, insert pointless Michael Moore conspiracy theory here), and European nations are considering releasing their own stockpiles to help the markets.

But of course, the whole AP article underscores the gravity of the devastation in New Orleans. Towards the end of the story, a rather eerie quote from Bush to his advisors pops up in reference to the city:
It's totally wiped out.

I haven't had much time to watch live TV coverage of this, but what I have seen and heard is unreal. For more information on Hurricane Katrina, these are the best three places I've seen online for coverage: Drudge, Fox News, and the Washington Post. Fox and the Post both have links that will help you to help those in need.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Singing Of The President

`Monica` the musical ready to go

Yes, they're doing a musical about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And yes, former American Idol contestant Frenchie Davis will play White House secretary Betty Currie. It's going to be a satire, but I can't help wondering about the songs: how many words can rhyme with "perjury"?

Don't Go Back On The PROMISE

According to recent reports and editorial discussions from around the state, West Virginia's government is considering ways to revamp the PROMISE scholarship. For those of you who don't know what that is, the PROMISE (the word itself is an acronym for a trite statement of its mission-Ed.) was designed to keep West Virginian students in-state for college in hopes that they would stay and become part of the state's workforce. It pays full tuition to any public college in the state (or partial to any private college) for 8 semesters. Currently, the state government is trying to decide what (if anything) to change about the scholarship. A report from the AP states that PROMISE Director Lisa DeFrank-Cole expects funding costs for the scholarship to reach $39 million this year, rising to $42 million by 2008. In the same article, PROMISE Scholarship Board member Frank Calabrese is quoted as saying, "The Legislature will not watch this go from $40 million to $60 million to $100 million. They won't do it."

Hold the phone and stop the presses, because I've got a reality check coming in: There is no need to "fix" the PROMISE. After all, nothing is broken.

Why do I say that? Well, the PROMISE has only been around for four years. In other words, this is the first year that it is paying out to seniors and freshmen alike. The only way that the costs will increase beyond this point is if the number of scholars increases drastically (which is not projected to happen) or if tuition increases. A word of advice to colleges across the state: If you're going to raise tuition, it would be best to make the raise more drastic for out-of-state students. PROMISE has had some real benefit for academics in this state. I personally believe that it has helped curb WVU's party school image and raise its academic standards; a lot of the better in-state students used to pass on WVU because it was so expensive in comparison to other schools, and the hardest-partying out-of-staters used to come here because of its infamous status. Thanks to PROMISE, I can go to WVU for the same money as (if not less than) Shepherd University, which doesn't offer journalism but used to be the only feasible option for Eastern Panhandle residents.

Some people reportedly believe that capping the scholarship's payout at $3,000 would be a good idea, but WVU's tuition is about $4,200, so that would be ineffective. Still others want to see lesser awards for students whose families make $100,000 a year or more, which basically turns the PROMISE into a need-based scholarship and totally defeats its original purpose. Why would you not want to see higher-income students - who most likely have been given more resources for future success - stay in West Virginia? Besides, scholarships aren't exactly free; you really don't want to know what I had to pay in taxes on them last year.

As for what Frank Calabrese said, it'll be a very long time (if ever) before this scholarship starts costing $100 million, especially when you think about the hard economics of the situation. I know his quote sounds all dramatic and serious, but I hope the state media stops quoting him, because it's a radical exaggeration of the truth. Even if it were that costly, we shouldn't have any trouble affording it. PROMISE is funded by the state video lottery, which was a billion-dollar industry this past year. The state's net profit from all lottery games was $563 million, a 10 percent increase over 2004-05. If the state can't find the funding to keep PROMISE running, then someone needs to look into where exactly that money is going.

The current percentage of West Virginians age 25 and older with a college degree is 16.3. That's a full 8 points lower than the national average of 24.7. If you value the future of this state and of its students, then you have a PROMISE to keep.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Off The List, On The List

Despite burning couches, overturned cars, and general chaos in the streets after a basketball game last March, West Virginia University has successfully fallen out of the top 10 party schools. The Princeton Review now ranks my school at #14, which is definitely a good thing because it isn't a major black mark on a WVU degree the way Top 5 status was.

On a side note, the ranking for marijuana use ("Reefer Madness") shows us at #19, one place higher than last year. After feeling like I could taste the air during a smoke-filled Cypress Hill concert from a few hours ago, I know why. The beer use ranking has fallen to #16 (surprising), and hard liquor is down at #19. But the real surprise is how well our library (#19, Best College Library) and the DA (#10, Best College Newspaper) did.

This doesn't mean the DA has room to rest on its laurels; the ranking is based on how popular the paper is, not how good it is. The paper has improved thanks in part to a changing of the guard and sharper writing as of recently, however, so I must give credit where it's due. It's just that the Princeton Review apparently never asked any students what they thought of their school newspapers, which seems odd. Correct me if I'm wrong here. Anyway, congrats to the DA; the only "fix" I'll push for at this moment (emphasis on "this moment") is something on your front page acknowledging your new Top 10 ranking!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Guess Who's Back?

After an unplanned month-long hiatus, yours truly is back on the blogging job and raring to go! My sabbatical can be attributed to two things. One of them is my aforementioned schedule, which got ridiculous right as I was preparing to do a full write-up on the Miller/Cooper story. I haven’t even had time to research it, and the piece was much too ambitious for me to blog with my home’s dial-up connection (the second excuse). The posts you saw in spurts during July took at least two hours apiece; one of the most link-intensive posts took most of my day to make! I have never had to take a break from working on a post before, but I did that time. It was ridiculous, and from now on, if I’m going to a dial-up situation, I will most likely take a short break from blogging. I just can’t do what needs to be done for this otherwise.

Anyhow, full-fledged posting starts anew late Monday. I have new news-gathering techniques that should speed things up a lot on my end, so even though WVU will keep me a little busier this year, I can make do. Keep checking back…I have a lot of site changes to make and even more to talk about.

By the way, the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram should have had an article about West Virginia bloggers in it today. If anyone sees it, let me know; I was one of the bloggers that was interviewed for the story!