Monthly Archives: August 2014

Have it Their Way

Author’s note-This is the first web only Thoughts from Under the Hat written since I left the news business.

To some, it was a way to expand options and purchase a profitable company.
To cynics, it was a way to hide corporate profits from the American tax man.
Either way, it was big business news this week when Burger King announced a three billion dollar purchase of the Canadian Tim Horton’s chain of donut and coffee shops.
We, of course, have both chains operating in our area.
The company took the standard approach of saying that it was a good opportunity to acquire a good business that had grown with a number of stateside openings in recent years.
But it also marks a growing corporate tradition of making money in the United States and then investing those dollars in a foreign company and in the process by-passing a heavy tax burden of as much as 35 percent.
This is by no means an isolated incident. Many corporations, including our friends at General Electric have invested billions overseas and reaped those rewards.
It’s even drawing the ire of President Obama who stated publicly that losing taxes on all that money leaves the burden for the rest of us.
And no, there wasn’t any mention of the government spending less.
So while it’s easy to blame the big, bad corporate monster we should realize companies are only doing what’s allowed by law, the same as you or I would do every April.
So the next time you pop a Tim Bit with a sip of Joe, remember that for now at least, they’re having it their way.

Goodbye for Now

Author’s note-The following was the goodbye column when I left WSEE after 31 years.

I must admit to a wide range of emotions as I tell you that this is the last time we will meet under this circumstance.

My company and I could not reach an agreement on how to move forward together so we decided to part.

This is my last day and tomorrow will be the first time in more than 30 years that the name Scott Bremner won’t be associated with the WSEE call letters.

As I think back over those three decades I remember a very young and fairly clueless intern who was asked to cover a man with a gun holding a woman hostage.

I got out of the vehicle and was promptly told by police that I was standing in the line of fire. As I crouched down behind the police cruiser two thoughts came to mind: that I could be shot and killed doing something for which I wasn’t even being paid, and that this had to be the coolest job in the world.

From there I was hooked and over the ensuing years I have done just about every job there is to do in a television newsroom.

I have interviewed presidents and kings; listened to titans of industry and met dozens of sports stars and celebrities.

But those moments fade, because the powerful stories were always, always ordinary people in extraordinary moments.

Like a family in Albion vowing to rebuild after the 1985 tornado or a young heart transplant patient walking down the aisle with her father on one arm and the father of her heart donor on the other.

Or an extended family home for the holidays that loses the family house to fire, yet there they are, laughing and exchanging old stories while pulling mementos from the rubble. They were just thankful to be together and happy to be alive.

But my highest honor may well be this place and the ability to talk to you like this each week.

Reporters are good with the “who” the “what” and the “where” but the “why” can be elusive. What are the forces that bring us to this place? If I have even nudged the discussion that way then our time together has been a success.

This space has won three Emmy’s and yes, they came from thoughts from under this hat. But it’s also true that it happened because there was a management willing to give it a try and people like you willing to listen.

One of the great advantages (and perhaps the great curses) of all this technology we now have is that there is always room somewhere for someone who wants to spout off.

I’ve been at it too long to stand idly by forever. So this is not goodbye but rather so long for now.

And thanks.

Can’t Speak for Herself

The story around a 13-month old Erie girl has captured the attention of much of the nation and beyond this week.
Her name is Nevaeh; that’s heaven spelled backwards.
In her pictures on Facebook the description seems fitting; a bright beautiful and by the visual evidence a happy baby.
She’s being raised by a single mom and that’s not an easy road, but many successful lives have been built on just such a beginning.
Imagine the shock when the nursing staff realized that Nevaeh arrived at the hospital with a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal adult limit.
She was quickly transferred to a hospital in Pittsburgh, where we hear it was more serious than originally reported.
She could have died; fortunately she didn’t and has now been released into foster care.
We don’t know yet about any possible long-term implications.
This has been a tough case for investigators. Mom Jessica swears it was a one-time accident that happened when she pulled an unmarked bottle of water from the fridge to make the baby’s formula.
Turns out it was filled with vodka which she says she missed because her work in a plastics plant has robbed her of the ability to smell.
Also in the mix is a man who was babysitting. He’s an admitted daily drinker, but why would he transfer vodka from its bottle to a water bottle kept in the fridge?
Was this an accident? Is it part of a pattern for Mom to give her baby alcohol as a quick fix when a case of the crankies shows up? And why so much?
Investigators are gathering it all up now and will soon meet with the District Attorney. They will decide on charges from there.
But they’ll be moving forward without what otherwise would be a key piece of evidence…a statement from the victim.
Because at the center of all this is a 13-month old baby girl, not yet able to speak for herself.

Eye of the Beholder

There is a fine line between what is historic and what is simply getting old. My mirror has a nagging habit of reminding me of that each morning.
But the recent razing of two homes in Erie, that some believe had historic significance to the region, is renewing that debate and even prompting City Council into action.
Council member Dave Brennan, a devout preservationist, is using the two sudden demolitions to ask if Council would want to create a waiting period between when a permit is obtained and when the actual work could begin.
It’s not a new trick to quietly get a permit and then start the work before the public outcry can begin.
This would address that and might even go the step further of notifying the Historical Society and others when such permits are sought.
But like many ideas, the devil here remains in the details.
A waiting period just delays the inevitable unless the extra time leads to action.
Should Council then revoke a demolition permit if others argue that a building has historical significance?
Who decides what is historical? What criteria would be used?
Does society even have the right to supersede the wishes of a property owner for the sake of a greater cultural heritage?
It is called private property, after all.
All the major players downtown, whether it be Gannon University, Hamot Health or Erie Insurance have all torn down nearby houses for their campus footprints.
How would they be affected?
And what about ongoing efforts in the city to raze blighted housing?
Is one person’s blight another person’s heritage?
These are all questions that will have to be part of the process down at City Hall.
The result could be…well…historic.

Happy Erie

Many of us spend our entire lives trying to unlock the secret of being happy. It’s so important that it was written into the founding thoughts of our nation; that this new country we were building would protect the rights to life, liberty and even the pursuit of being happy. But happiness is a moving target.

What makes my wife happy, like a clean house, holds limited appeal to me. And what made Scott happy in his 20’s is certainly a far different animal from what makes Scott happy today.

So it was something of self-fulfilling prophesy that many people here became unhappy to learn, that a survey from Harvard had listed Erie as the third unhappiest small city in the United States.

So much so that the tourism bureau VisitErie started a counter-campaign getting neighbors to go online to extol the virtues of why they are happy living in Erie.

It’s a smart move.

Looking at the half-empty side of the glass long enough can grow into a real perception crisis if left unattended.

In fairness the majority of the cities that made the list are in the cold, northern states.

Few cities were listed from the south, southwest or west coast. Bad weather clearly affects our mood, and the Harvard researchers may have picked a bad year to collect data given the monstrous winter we just had.

I’m happy to tell you that I’m happy living in Erie.

The beaches are great, the sunsets historic and despite the headlines it’s mostly a safe place to live and raise kids. The people are hardworking and straight talking; in other words they are real and we’ve done hundreds of stories on those who will bend over backwards to help a neighbor in need.

And if it makes you happy to hear that, good, the more the better.