Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Electronigate, Day One: Wrap-Up

The LED billboard dustup today became a comprehensive (I won't say full throttle, expecting additional revelations soon) scandal, in surround sound, when the Tribune-Review revealed that two of the junior varsity's starters -- development dictator Pat Ford and mayoral mouthpiece Alecia Sirk -- had accepted a series of gifts from the fellow who had arranged a series of irregular concessions from the city in general and Mr. Ford in particular.

Neither Ms. Sirk nor Mr. Ford lasted the day. Ms. Sirk quit the team and the JV captain (boy mayor Luke Ravenstahl) benched Mr. Ford.

Remnants of first-day thoughts:

  • With today's illumination, the aggressive response of the Ravenstahl administration and of Lamar Advertising with respect to the LED billboard dispute is revealed to have been spectacularly inept and counterproductive. Sensible people, when chided with respect to a mistake, advance apologies, suggest misunderstanding and retreat. The Ravenstahl administration lawyered up (poorly, of course), declared the inquirers enemies, and pinky-swore with its co-conspirators; Lamar launched in-your-face applications, subpoenas and a lawsuit. I suspect each will pay dearly for its severe miscalculations.
  • The Tribune-Review should be credited for acknowledging that the blockbuster was a result not of its enterprise reporting but rather of Mr. Ford's slithering into the newsroom with a confession designed to defuse a blogger's revelations. A lesser newspaper (usually the Trib, come to think of it) might have breathlessly reported that "the Trib has learned" of the misconduct.
  • It now appears that George Specter did not become a thoroughgoing dunce upon the junior varsity's taking the field to replace Bob O'Connor's administration. Instead, my diagnosis has become a severe case of dopey client disease. Specter apparently advised against the serial extracurricular accommodations of Lamar's commercial interests, but that advice was ignored. A dopey client puts a lawyer in a damning position, often warping the lawyer's conduct. Specter couldn't reveal that his clients knew damned well that they were acting inappropriately (because he had so advised them, in writing); he also could not endorse their frangible positions or wrongful conduct.
  • I hope Mr. Ford was (as is apparently customary) mistaken when he told the Tribune-Review that "my job is my life." Because his job is over.
  • I know Mr. Ford was wrong when he assured the Tribune-Review that citizens should take comfort from their ability to "see what I'm doing" (in the fishbowl); the transparency defense works only when requisite disclosure forms are properly completed and published.
  • I suppose Mr. Ford could claim that he believed -- in a world in which his boss proclaimed that accepting a spot in a $27,000 foursome from an entity seeking his favor involving "nothing of value" -- that taking the surround sound system, the cigars, and the other booty involved nothing rising above the level of "nonpecuniary gift of nominal value." It won't work, of course . . . but, as Otter told Pinto, 'it's gotta work better than the truth.'
  • Electronic signs, surround sound -- scandal, I dub thee Electronigate.

Seen along Grant Street . . .

(at least, in my mind as I walked along Grant Street), on a t-shirt:

Luke got a 757 jet ride
to Manhattan
and all I got
was some tinny speakers

It takes a handful of hard-shelled nuts to make a sympathetic figure of Cyril Wecht . . .

and Mary Beth Buchanan, Art Schwab and Stephen Stallings are a complete recipe.

Cyril Wecht is many things. A doctor and a lawyer. A world-renowned (and somewhat self-promoted) forensic pathologist. Abrasive, condescending, combative. The most, if not the only, competent and qualified elected official in city- or county-wide politics in decades. A guy who doesn't learn obvious lessons, despite the degrees and accomplishments.

What he is not is someone who deserves to spend months on the barbed end of a legal pitchfork whose three tines are Mary Beth Buchanan, Art Schwab and Stephen Stallings.

Buchanan, the priority-challenged United States attorney, has directed her current myopic prosecutorial focus (which myopia is good news for Republican evildoers and any remaining unincarcerated water-pipe kingpins, although bad news for our system of justice) on persecuting Dr. Wecht Esquire for sending (by taxpayer-funded telephone line) a series of facsimile transmissions whose aggregate value approximates six bucks.

Stallings appears to have abandoned a successful legal practice in Florida upon Bush Jr.'s ascendancy to become a zealous cog in the Bush Jr.-Gonzales-Goodling prosecutorial machine, transplanting to Pittsburgh to specialize in prosecutions of elected Democrats.

Judge Schwab, the result-driven judicial spawn of the Bush Jr.-Santorum era of American justice, has managed the Buchanan-Stallings prosecution of Wecht with a pronounced prosecutorial slant. He also reportedly feels entitled and qualified to instruct dismissed jurors (all of whom, according to the rules, are adults) with respect to how they should exercise their rights of expression.

A jury overcame Judge Schwab's guidance and the prosecutors' zeal -- after an interminable prosecutorial presentation, a 'we don't think we need to say a word' defense and an apparently dicey couple of weeks of deliberation -- by refusing to convict Dr. Wecht Esquire.

After contemplating the equities, the costs (financial and opportunity), and the lessons of the first go-round for, oh, 17 seconds, Ms. Buchanan announced that she wishes to take another swing at Dr. Wecht Esquire. The referee has decreed that the second round will commence next month.

This would be irregular legal procedure -- for the defendant to assist the prosecution with assessment of its case, but in this circumstance Dr. Wecht may be the sole person in the county qualified to assist Ms. Buchanan and Mr. Stallings in evaluating what is left of their case. So far as I am aware, Dr. Wecht Esquire is the only person in this region who has performed 12,000 autopsies.

Top Ten Tips For Spokesgals

Since I originally posted this list at the Burgh Report, the boy mayor apparently has seen (more likely: been shown) the light regarding the sustainability of a mouthpiece who is personally involved in a gathering corruption/conflict-of-interest scandal, and dispatched his blogawkward, best-evah spokeswoman -- but I think it most of these suggestions survive today's "resignation."

Today's top ten tips for anyone suddenly reconsidering that spokesgirl gig:
  1. The next DVD you watch should be Hawaii Five-O (any season, any show). Fast-forward to the "book 'em, Dano" part and then focus intently on what comes next, especially the "anything you say can and will be . . ." part. You probably won't even need surround sound to get the message.
  2. When your lawyer tells you, 'the fact that the ad company arranged for me to help you doesn't mean I won't have your best interests at heart at all times,' it's probably time to find a new lawyer.
  3. When your husband tells you, 'no, honey, you don't need a separate lawyer . . . see, this way, me and my lawyer, we'll BOTH be looking out for you, sweetie' it's probably time to find your own apartment.
  4. When deciding which newspaper to leak a damage-inhibiting scoop to (in hopes of arranging gentler treatment down the road), never pick the Trib.
  5. Recognize that 'It's so amazing and I'm really glad that someone saved the self-incriminating posts from my blog before I deleted them' translates to 'doesn't this dizzy spokesgirl ever know when to just shut her pie hole?' in nearly every known language.
  6. Never tell a prosecutor, "But, like, you know, what I don't get is, like, what's the big deal here anyway, 'cause, I mean, like, they were just, like . . . a few little speakers."
  7. The first person to turn state's evidence customarily (but not invariably) gets the best deal . . plus, the bigger the fish you put into their fryer, the more lenient they are likely to be.
  8. Hitting "delete call record" on a mobile telephone does not erase the telephone company's records (feel free to share this one with your pals).
  9. When the mayor's consigliere pulls you close and whispers that you should stay quiet because he will never let anything happen to you . . . he might not be being entirely forthcoming with you.
  10. Never blog again. Evah.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

That Didn't Take Long

Hours after lamenting that local officials had poorly coordinated their failings with the introduction of my independent Infinonymity, I have been informed that the Ravenstahl administration may have addressed this oversight.

Several reports indicate that city officials attempted to prevent St. Patrick's Day parade participants from displaying signs decrying the recently imposed Allegheny County drink tax. In some cases, I have been told, the censors succeeded.

We need more information before proposing immolation of the offenders, but I have seen persuasive photographic evidence that at least some naughty paraders snuck political signs past any content police dispatched by the boy mayor.

UPDATE: It has been confirmed to my satisfaction that some paraders were required, at the starting line, to remove signs protesting the drink tax. The identity of the censors (and in particular whether they were government agents or, perhaps private "organizers" of the parade), however, has not been established. Censorship of this type -- based on content, because signs plugging candidates were everywhere -- is ugly regardless of its source, but private parties have a much greater right to be discriminatory jackasses than do government actors.

Republican Talking Points (In) Memo(riam)

As the Bush Jr. administration rushed (well, it moved as fast as anyone could while printing $200 billion and toting it to Wall Street) to protect Bear Stearns Cos. from the consequences of swashbuckling mortgage manipulations gone bad this weekend, and after hearing Secretary of the Treasury Paulson proclaim that this government "would do what it takes" to defend Wall Street's titanic banks and brokers, I have been trying to determine which Republican principle(s) this moral hazard-inducing bailout would serve:
  1. limited government
  2. personal accountability ('you're on your own')
  3. fiscal responsibility

Neither an accountant nor a conservative, I am puzzled by the philosophical and political debit-and-credit allocations associated with the extraordinary effort to rescue aggressive (and, until recently, obscenely compensated) broker-dealers. This episode not only doesn't fit into any of the Republicans' ostensible long-term principles, but indeed infringes most of them.

The situation's stickiness is compounded by the chronic "deficits don't matter" irresponsibility of the Bush Jr. administration: The United States has wasted so much money producing quicksand in Iraq, and has so weakened its accounts at the altar of tax-slashing for inheritors (and, to be fair, even the exceptionally wealthy whose income was earned), that the funding for this bailout must be borrowed from foreigners.

I liked Republicans and conservatives much better when they genuinely stood for fiscal responsibility, limited government and, most important, reason-based competence.

Faith-chaste(ned) candidates

Each major candidate for president has a faith-based problem.

Barack Obama is struggling with the fallout of extraorbital, mean-spirited rantings (captured on video, no less, and released by to-be-identified political operatives) of his long-time pastor.

John McCain, who proved his valor at the hands of brutal captors, currently looks silly (to the reality-based community, at least) groveling at the feet of the likes of John ("my fairy tale can beat up your fairy tale") Hagee, Rod ("my fairy tale should nuke your fairy tale") Parsley and the unwitting reprobates of the Council for National Policy ("fairy tales rule -- literally, if we get to call the shots").

Hillary Clinton appears to be severely entangled with the Fellowship, a relationship she and the Fellowship prefer not to illuminate (and not only because the Fellowship claims, for tax purposes, that the boarding house it runs for elected officials in D.C. is a church).

Among the also-rans, Mike Huckabee was a Southern Baptist preacher (imagine the jaw-droppers to have been mined from decades of transcripts from his pulpit?) and Mitt Romney -- well, have you ever researched precisely that which one must believe (or at least claim to believe) in order to be a Mormon?

I am not prepared to derive final conclusions from these circumstances, but I am confident that the majority of Americans that reports to pollsters that it wouldn't consider voting for a non-religious candidate has not considered the issue with requisite care.

Starting with a contentious religious issue was not my plan. A huge local clustermuck (Where's Kevin McClatchy or Tom Murphy when you need 'em?) would have been better point of departure for Infinonymous, the independent venture. But Mayor Ravenstahl apparently is taking the weekend off.