Tuesday, June 30, 2009

DeJuan Blair Is Now His Own Rebound

I like DeJuan Blair.

I therefore disliked DeJuan Blair's original decision to hire an agent legal counsel for marketing, and disliked his erratic behavior with respect to erratic advisors, and even disliked certain aspects of the "glowing reports" from his pre-draft workouts.

Now, I especially dislike the disaster that was draft day for DeJuan Blair.

Happy Walters, the agent who has been working volunteering (because it ain't work 'less you get paid --right, Happy?) for Blair most recently, calls the drop to the second round a 'blessing in disguise.' That strikes me as the caliber of thinking that could lead to being found (after going missing for a few days) wandering the streets incoherent, naked, shaved, covered by cigarette burns, amnesiatic and (at least when police are within earshot) mute.

Being drafted in the second round by the Spurs (just after the Grizzlies drafted Sam Young) guarantees Blair nothing. Not a first round pick's automatic roster spot; Blair must make the team. Not a signing bonus. Not a million-dollar salary (he will earn the NBA minimum, nearly $500,000 -- if he makes the team). Blair lost several million dollars in a few hours when he fell to the second round, and smart money knows that the first couple of million are the most important.

Blair had claimed he was "guaranteed" to be a first-round selection, and some local newspaper articles about Blair were mentioning the 13th pick (Indiana) in the week preceding the draft, but after some inquiries I had a hunch Sam Young might be chosen before Blair (as the Propositions Board reflected). I still expect Young -- who exhausted his collegiate eligibility, worked hard on his game throughout his Pitt career, engaged in no pre-draft razzle-dazzle, and has a playing style much better suited to the NBA at 6-5 and a fraction -- to have the better NBA career.

But this doesn't necessarily mean DeJuan Blair's athletic career must end bitterly. I hope he rebounds.

That may involve arranging some better advisors, catching some luck with the Spurs, reconsidering his football prospects, continuing to pursue a Pitt degree . . . and learning some expensive lessons from recent events.

P.S. The NBA has been in Memphis for nearly a decade, and a couple of friends have been associated with that team, but I still can't get accustomed to "Memphis Grizzlies" and "NBA" as related concepts. Same with the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers . . . my first thought is always "semi-pro jai alai?" or "lingerie football?" and my second thought is usually 'why are the Penguins playing a minor-league team in January?'

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rethinking Theresa Smith's Role On Council

The Reverend Ricky Burgess has pulled ahead of Theresa Smith in the race to replace Jim Motznik in the Motznik Chair In Advanced Mayoral Fealty on Pittsburgh's city council (see Propositions Board, far right column). This unexpected development derives not only from Rev. Burgess' curious performance with respect to the amended revised amended and revised Act 47 "plan," but also from a hunch concerning Ms. Smith. Also surprising is the increasing prospect that Mr. Motznik's sewer boots role as reflexive mayoral lapdog may not be filled next year.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Heather Arnet, Good Public Official, Resigns

Heather Arnet, one of the better elected officials in Pittsburgh, has resigned.

Heather has always struck me as someone who stayed in Pittsburgh and became involved in civic affairs by civic-minded choice. She could have left, and could have successfully devoted her skill and effort in other directions, yet she stayed, and chose to use her time and talent to try to make the city's schools better.

What's worse? That Heather Arnet is leaving the school board, or that the likes of Ms. Colaizzi and Mr. Ravenstahl will choose her replacement? Things just got worse for every student in the city schools, most of whom already come to bat with a couple of strikes against them, often through no fault of their own.

The city needs more Heather Arnets. I hope they find it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Board Games: The Last Word Not Yet Heard?

Others have noticed that the two most recent Ravenstahl appointees are lawyers whose mortgage payments rely on the good graces of the Rooney family; some public illumination may be directed at this issue next week.

Could Kirk Burkley bolt the planning post even quicker than his wife dumped her ethics spot? Could a public analysis of S. Manoj Jegasothy's relationships (and their implications for zoning decisions) cause discomfort for him, his firm, his clients and the mayor pulling his strings? Stay tuned.

Boy Mayor Reworks Zoning, Stadium Boards

Mayor Ravenstahl has replaced several members of the Stadium Authority and Zoning boards.

The departed include Alice Mitinger, who voted against the boy mayor's BFFs Lamar Advertising concerning the electronic billboard for the Greyhound station; David Toal, who recused himself with respect to the Lamar application; and Debbie Lestitian, who objected to the Rooneys' (also the mayor's BFFs) pillaging of the publicly owned land near Heinz Field. Wrenna Watson (left), whose nearly incoherent writing favored Lamar, has been reappointed to the Zoning board.

Newly appointed are S. Manoj Jegasothy (right), a Rooney law firm partner who has represented UPMC and consequently is familiar with all relevant constituencies that might come before the Zoning board, and Kirk Burkley (far right), whose wife, Penny Zaccharias, is a Rooney firm lawyer whose appointment to the Ethics Board produced a memorably surreal episode recounted by Bob Mayo.

Mayoral mouthpiece Joanna Doven praised the new Zoning board members for their "diversity": "I think you'll find that compared to past administrations this is a more diverse group of appointees," she said, apparently referring to the fact that one member is a Rooney lawyer and the other is the spouse of a Rooney lawyer.

(Can anyone confirm whether Ms. Zacharias is related to Sam Zacharias, who is associated with longtime city political and financial hub Gateway Financial, Dave Malone's firm?)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The GOP's "Family Values" Tour Continues

Today's stop is in South Carolina, where Gov. Mark Sanford issued a minor correction to his staff's reports (which had been issued in response to inquiries from reporters who noticed that the governor had abandoned the state) that he had been hiking the Appalachian trail to clear his head: 'Insert "banging my mistress" for "hiking in solitude," and "in my Argentinian love nest" for "along the Appalachian trail," and I think that about covers it.' (That he abandoned his family for the homewrecker on Father's Day was a particularly deft touch for this Bible-thumping chump.)

I haven't heard a correction like that since Lionel Hutz explained his relationship with Judge Snyder (it's number seven on this the countdown -- numbers seven and one are the only good ones, but they're worth it):

Inscrutable Council Vote On Amended Revised Amended And Revised Act 47 "Plan" : 5-3-1

Bob Mayo's tweetings include this summary of a council vote expressing some sort of approval or something concerning the amended (by council) revised (by the overseers) Act 47 "plan" to kick Pittsburgh's battered can down the road a piece address the City of Pittsburgh's insolvency.

For: Burgess, Harris, Kraus, Smith, Peduto. Against: Dowd, Motznik, Payne. Abstain: Shields.

Burgess for, Motznik against. Smith for, Peduto for. Peduto for, Dowd against. Motznik against, Dowd against. Payne against, Kraus for. Shields neither.

Watching people (including members of council) try to untangle the perplexing strands of this vote should be fascinating, regardless of whether anyone tries to figure out what the hell they were voting on or how it might be expected to influence the city's course.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mayor Appoints Stadium Authority Replacement

Mayor Ravenstahl, after excommunicating Debbie Lestitian for the crime of questioning the most recent giveaway of land, money and time to the Rooneys and Continental Real Estate on the North Shore, has appointed Michael Danovitz (right) to replace Mrs. Lestitian.

Mr. Ravenstahl moved quickly, obviously concerned that the privately funded ampitheatre at Station Square might succeed unless a redundant, highly subsidized facility were constructed by his campaign contributors -- at their leisure, of course.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What Happens When The Rooneys Say "Jump?"

Debbie Lestitian jumps gets pushed.

The Propositions Board will be has been adjusted accordingly.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog . . .

for a very important public service announcement.

DeJuan Blair: We Apparently Never Knew You

Today's Tribune-Review provides the most recent glowing report concerning DeJuan Blair's transformatory preparation for the NBA draft. Blair reportedly has shed 30-35 pounds and gained substantial muscle through fitness training and a sensible diet, reducing his body fat percentage from 16 to 9.7.

In other words, it appears Blair shortchanged his team and himself by being junk-food flabby on reconstructed knees for two Big East seasons. This conclusion would be congruent with other accounts from inside the Petersen Events Center, depicting a Panthers team not positioned for its highest achievement, a team run by the players as much as by the coaches, with players carousing until the wee hours of the morning the night before an NCAA tournament game.

I continue to root for DeJuan Blair. His mistakes in lurching toward a professional career are understandable for a 19-year-old without a solid framework of support. His contributions to Pitt were great and he is a pleasant, gifted young man. As the Propositions Board signals, I still like Sam Young better for NBA accomplishment -- the pre-draft data indicating that Young's height equals Blair's (6-5 and a shade) is disconcerting for an aspiring strong forward, better for a prospective slasher -- and continue to believe Blair's professional success may come on a football field.

Blair's most likely first-round destination, it has been reported, is Indiana . . . which was the second stop along Mel Bennett's professional journey. Blair plainly hopes to emulate Charles Barkley instead of Bennett, like Blair a City League product who left for the NBA after a brief Pitt career. Blair would have improved his chances had he road-tested his chiseled physique at Pitt before trying professional athletes. That he never had that opportunity reflects poorly on him and, perhaps more intensely, on the Pitt program.

The good news is that Blair appears to be working diligently and impressing professional evaluators, suggesting he may be gifted enough to overcome his missteps and perhaps follow the path established by another Pitt star, Billy Knight, who spent seven productive seasons in Indiana during an all-star career.

Decency -- And Authoritarianism -- Under Fire

Reports indicate an Iranian girl named Neda has become a rallying symbol for Iranian protest by dying from a bullet fired by a government gun.

The death of Neda, said to be 16 and to have been protesting in the presence of a pro-government militia, evokes a similar event that occurred 29 years and 100 miles from today's Pittsburgh, when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on college students (some of whom had been protesting the United States' invasion of Cambodia, others of whom had been walking to class) at Kent State University. One of the four students killed by government bullets was Allison Krause, 19, of Churchill, an honors student shot in the chest by a soldier coward standing 330 feet away.

Iran's theocrats are easy to ridicule, natural to despise. But before Americans become too sanctimonious in decrying the Iranian government as a remnant of the Dark Ages, it would be worthwhile to recall the relatively recent lessons and circumstances of Kent State.

Ohio Gov. Rhodes was the type of easily frightened, authoritarian loser who sends battle-armed soldiers to deal with unarmed students he labels un-American . . . "worse than the Brownshirts and the communist element and also the Night Riders . . . the worst type of people that we harbor in America." (Demonstrating his lack of familiary with the War Of Independence, Rhodes also called the sophomores and juniors of Ohio's campuses "the strongest, well-trained, militant revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.")

As governor, Rhodes once responded to a winter storm by conducting, as governor, a 15-minute prayer service in which he "beeseech[ed] God to relieve the storm."

Our country has not entirely atoned for the shameful abuse of power that killed innocent students at Kent State: The Ohio State Office Tower is, to this day, named for Gov. Rhodes.

There is nothing to like about theocrats or brutal authoritarians, and when those two concepts converge the result is ugly: 'My fairy tale can beat up your fairy tale.' I hope the Iranian regime falls quickly, and that Iranians -- who have suffered under brutal clerics and a brutal shah for too many decades -- are able to arrange a government that is representative, modern and just.

While mourning the death of Neda -- Farsi for "voice" -- Americans should direct a thought toward Allison Beth Krause (1951-1970), buried in Wilkins Township. whose voice has become a gravestone: "Flowers are better than bullets."

Sometimes, four voices can be as powerful as one:

Gubernatorial Oddsmaking: Art, Not Science

A reader inquires:

Why do you have Corbett and Meehan with the same odds? And why do you have Wagner and Onorato with the same odds?
Corbett-Meehan: Corbett has early backing (in some cases genuine, in others perhaps more perceived) among party pillars; reasonable fundraising ability; and the 'it's his turn' position that seems valuable in the Republican Party. Corbett also has an uninspiring presentation and personality. Meehan can rely on the more populous and prosperous side of the state (a point often overlooked by westerners), and is generally considered the better candidate behind a microphone.

A major wild card is Corbett's handling of Harrisburg corruption prosecutions; a collection of Democratic pelts could help, but the partisan prosecution angle (Veon was Perzel's pupil, yet no Republican has been charged) could complicate Corbett's candidacy. If Corbett charges a Republican or two soon, that could defuse a general election issue but alienate some Republicans (for example, indictees and their pals). While Corbett is boasting about a pile of guilty pleas from Democratic staffers, Meehan can answer with Vince Fumo's head on a pike. I see neither Republican candidate with a marked advantage over the other.

Onorato-Wagner: Wagner v. Onorato is tortoise v. hare. Onorato is far flashier, holds huge wads of cash and is the likely beneficiary of machine support and early buzz. He has been running hard for years, at times at the expense of governing, and his politics-driven mishandling of the assessment and drink tax issues has placed two huge explosives in his path to Harrisburg. Onorato's bad advisors and severe stubborn streak caused him to play foolish hardball on both issues, and after losing some court decisions he is still bleeding in both directions, with more pain to come. It also is difficult to forecast the degree to which Onorato might come to regret his early, prominent and unnecessary bearhugging of Pittsburgh's boy mayor.

Auditor General Wagner is a formidable statewide vote-getter --
he outran Barack Obama in November -- with an appealing personality and a useful resume. While Judge Wettick is slapping Onorato around the county and the restaurant association is hounding Onorato statewide, Wagner could close the funding gap and arrange some surprising endorsements. Wagner's brother is a problem, and his advisors don't seem any better than Onorato's, but over the long term I like Wagner's candidacy as much as Onorato's.

If Onorato could avoid an assessment meltdown and negotiate his way out of the drink tax mess, he probably would have the advantage, but he still seems to be intent on trying to stiff-arm Judge Wettick and the drink tax rebels.

I also don't dismiss Cunningham, although his campaign appears to be faltering. Three on the lead lap in early running among Democrats, but no clear favorite.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

George Specter Moves Up A Notch

For those who believe (understandlbly) that Pittsburgh's Office of the Solicitor has been undistinguished, we have incontrovertible evidence that it could be worse.

Meet Larry Wilder, city attorney in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

This photograph does not depict a martyred Mr. Wilder after a run-in with sinister forces he crossed while cleaning up Jeffersonville. Instead, Mr. Wilder was waylaid by the notorious C2H5OH Gang.

Those who believed Pittsburgh might have the worst city attorney in the United States stand corrected (while Mr. Wilder reclines).

If You Can't Step Away From The Screen (Vol. 1)

Two of Bill Murray's best films will be broadcast on AMCtv tomorrow (I try to avoid recommending television programs available solely by cable, but these films are also readily available elsewhere).

One, Caddyshack (3:30 p.m.), needs no introduction (other than, perhaps, "This crowd has gone deadly silent. Cinderella story. Out of nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion . . .") Murray improvised that scene, by the way: 'Get me four rows of mums,' he told the director. One take later, the world was a better place.

The other, Stripes, is not as familiar, but similarly hilarious. Murray and a pal enlist because their lives and bodies are hapless (assuring a police officer attempting to enforce the no-parking sign outside the recruiting office, "Oh, we're not parking it, officer. We're abandoning it."), quickly learn that military life is more than they bargained for, and nearly as quickly adapt with flair. Many military issues -- gays to psycho-killers, discipline and honor to empty-suit officers, procurement to the all-volunteer force -- are addressed without loss of a single comedic stride.

Groundhog Day is Murray's best, and several other lesser-known Murray films -- Mad Dog and Glory, Kingpin, What About Bob? -- deserve a search through the bargain bin, but Stripes is a standout.

Stripes (1981, directed by Ivan Reitman). Murray, Harold Ramis (Animal House screenwriter), Warren Oates, John Candy. Worth catching on AMCtv, Sunday, June 21, 8 a.m. or 5:30 p.m.

If nothing else, whenever someone says "Lighten up, Francis," from now on you'll understand.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Building The Wall (And A Moat?)

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has added some detail to his plans to enforce his mistaken belief that the cost of his mistakes (and those of his predecessors) should be borne primarily by those unable to vote for or against him.

Tagging undergraduates at the rate of $100 per year, collecting a $25 surcharge from those who enter hospitals (dead or alive, I suppose), and smacking parkers with a $5-per-day fee would provide short-term cash to the city. But would those measures help the city? They wouldn't prevent the boy mayor from spending millions on job-destroying "economic development" schemes; if anything, they might provide additional ammunition for misfires. They wouldn't incline city voters to elect better public officials; they might have the opposite effect. But the largest problem might not involve anything the city inflicts on itself; it might be a problem imposed by forces outside the city.

Pittsburgh residents constitute a small fraction (one-quarter) of Allegheny County residents, a smaller fraction of regional residents, and a rounding error with respect to the Commonwealth's population. If the city starts poking sticks in suburban eyes, it is difficult to see the city winning many of the resulting battles.

Suburban municipalities could enact tit-for-tat policies. Could a city that requires employees to reside within city limits complain if other municipalities refused to permit employees to reside in Pittsburgh, or declined to do business with professionals or other vendors that maintain any office or residence in the city? How would the mayor respond if other municipalities demanded (with backing from the state legislature) that UPMC stop diverting profits from suburban hospitals to fund the the inexplicably discriminatory Pittsburgh Promise? Why should a suburban municipality not enact reciprocal provisions that impose fees solely on residents of the city (or of any other municipality that imposes such fees)? Why should the majority of Allegheny County residents permit the public transit system to favor the city so aggressively with respect to routes and fares? If the city is going to continue to offer poor service at inflated prices, should the state direct public funds toward development of suburban corporate campuses (free parking would become a $3,000 or $4,000 per-capita annual head start with respect to many employees).

Logic (based largely on population-based power), morality and common sense should incline the City of Pittsburgh to avoid provoking a slapping contest with the rest of the region by seeking to offload responsibility for its dysfunction. I see no reason, however, to expect those factors to begin to play any role in decision-making by the City of Pittsburgh.

Let the chess game begin, with Pittsburgh employing the East German gambit. If the city builds a wall, the rest of the region might wish to respond with a moat. Complete with sharks with laser beams attached to their heads, of course.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Infinonymous To City: Drop Dead

Parades and vacations behind them, the elected council and mayor of the City of Pittsburgh gathered today to address the city's insolvency and failure (and the Act 47 plan). After the usual juvenile bickering, the city's leaders focused on the business at hand: indulging in fantasy, blaming the city's self-inflicting wounds on others, and demanding handouts.

Mayor Ravenstahl declared declared he would not raise property taxes, or any tax "that will solely be levied on this city's residents." Council member Darlene Harris castigated state government, complaining that state taxpayers and legislators had had five years to provide adequate handouts to the city, yet had not done enough to reward city voters and elected officials for decades of comprehensive dysfunction. Other council members, including Bill Peduto and Patrick Dowd, expressed staunch opposition to any plan that relied on tax increases for city residents.

The Act 47 coordinators' team, speaking through a strikingly impractical written plan, relied on enactment of taxes on nonresidents . . . which would require approval of the state legislature, which is about as likely to occur as a big sale at the downtown Lazarus tomorrow morning.

Read this part with care: The closest thing to a feasible proposal was the mayor's talk about emulating his predecessors' "kick the can" approach by selling the city's parking facilities, much as an equally inept mayor had helped to arrange the current disaster by selling the city's water system (part of a series of desperate, one-time reaches that a former city budget director derided as "gimmicks" designed to mask the point that "the ship in sinking"). (The city sold the water system to avoid imposition of Act 47 restrictions.)

The city's leaders can bark all they want, but they don't deserve a dime of assistance from outside city limits. And they are exceedingly unlikely to get it; the legislative climate in Harrisburg is accurately described by Michael Lamb as "non-starter," even before city officials annoy legislators with baseless and counterproductive whining. This leaves responsibility for the city's fiscal obligations where it belongs -- with the city voters, property owners and officials who created the mess.

Here is my self-help plan: Use a time machine to rescind the sketchy deals that wasted $4 million in public money at Iron City Brewing, avoid squandering $9 million in public funds on Lord & Taylor, and refrain from misusing $23 million in public resources with respect to the downtown Lazarus. Those three corrections alone would generate enough in savings to provide more than two years of the revenue increase contemplated by the new Act 47 plan. And there's plenty more where that came from.

Some may scoff at the time machine element, arguing it is unrealistic. It is at least as realistic, I submit, as anything the mayor has said or could formulate.

Where Was The Adult Supervision When Luke And Yarone Pissed The City's Bed Again?

Luke Ravenstahl and Yarone Zober invested approximately $4 million in taxpayer and ratepayer funds in a scheme whose result was moving dozens of manufacturing jobs --at the Iron City brewery, which had employed Pittsburghers continuously between (a) the Civil War and (b) the boy mayor getting involved -- completely out of town. Ravenstahl and Zober, after arranging for sketchy owners to get control of the brewery in a bankruptcy case, apparently relinquished secured positions worth nine figures (outside of a bankruptcy context, so they handed over the cash voluntarily) in exchange for some illusory promises from the owners, one of whom has been indicted.

Isn't this exactly the type of senseless squandering of city resources that Act 47 was designed to stop, and that the Act 47 coordinator is responsible for monitoring and preventing? Did Zober act improperly in making these calls without oversight, was the coordinator asleep at the switch, or is there a loophole in Act 47 that even an idiot can (and did) drive a beer truck through?

Maybe all three?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Imbecile, Moron, Or Idiot: You Be The Judge (Iron City Takes City For Millions Edition)

Even more spirited than the Stanley Cup finals has been the competition among almost everyone involved -- public officials, brewery representatives, labor leaders -- to make the most asinine and/or disingenuous statement concerning the disclosure that the city's million-dollar investment in Iron City was nothing more than part of a huge tragedy-comedy-fiction production culminating in the closure of a brewery that had survived nearly 150 years (but couldn't survive the current yahoos in charge of the brewery and the city it is abandoning).

I encourage everyone to classify each of the following statements as the work of 1) an idiot, 2) a moron or 3) an imbecile. (Here is a handy guide to the mental deficiency classification scale, defining the relevant terms with precision.)

Water and Sewer Authority Executive Director Michael P. Kenney
, referring to the authority's recent decision to relinquish a secured, million-dollar claim for unpaid water bills in exchange for . . . well, as it turns out, for nothing:
"I don't think that [city and authority officials] were played. I don't think that it was a bad decision at the time."

If this is the level of thought currently operating the city's water authority, I counsel everyone to start relying exclusively on bottled water (think Mexico) within city limits.
Iron City Brewing's Tim Hickman
"Exciting news" is how Iron City Brewing President Timothy Hickman described the decision to move production of Iron City and IC Light from Lawrenceville to an idled Latrobe brewery.

Yes, that is precisely the word people were searching for when informed of the closure of a brewery, the loss of jobs, the abandonment of the city, the millions of wasted public dollars, the crumbling of the brewery under current ownership. (Of course, Mr. Hickman, who has been plotting this chapter for years, had more time to think about it.)
3. Mr. Hickman again, exhibiting his brilliant grasp of the beer business:
"This is not a negative thing. We don't see that the sales will be impacted."

Surely I am not the only one who sees Mr. Hickman, on the strength of this statement alone, as a strong candidate for elected office in the City of Pittsburgh.
4. Tim Hickman yet again, this time in collaboration with union official Rich Malter:
"I feel let down by Tim Hickman, disappointed that me and my fellow co-workers are going to be out of a job," said Rich Malter, president of Local 144B at Iron City. Mr. Malter said Iron City's president told him two weeks ago he was scouring the country for a canning line.

Who's the bigger dope -- the guys who says something like that, or the guy who falls for it?
5. Onorato spokesman Kevin Evanto, exhibiting a conviction that the public consists entirely of idiots, morons and imbeciles:
"Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto said Mr. Hickman met Monday with Shawn Fox, chief of staff for County Executive Dan Onorato. Mr. Hickman told Mr. Fox the brewery was looking at a number of options, including moving production to Latrobe, but said no decision had been made, Mr. Evanto said.
Your story, Mr. Evanto, is that Mr. Hickman requested a meeting with Dan Onorato a few days before the abandonment was announced, and that the meeting followed this course:
'Hi, thanks for seeing me.'
'Sure, Tim, the county executive always has time to hear how our economic development dollars are working hard for the county. So, what in particular brings you here today?'
'Well, I want to inform you that we haven't reached any decisions yet. And I obviously thought it was important to schedule this meeting so I could convey this lack of news to you in person.'
'Great, Tim. I'm glad it wasn't any bad news. For a moment there, I was apprehensive that you might be abandoning the city and fleecing the taxpayers for millions. But I guess no news is good news! Anyway, here's an Onorato 2010 button, and you might want to check out our new website. And thanks for stopping by. Feel free to come in to see us every time you have no news to report.'

You would have been better off denying the meeting occurred, Mr. Evanto.
6. Joe Kohuth, business agent for the bottlers' union:
Iron City workers believe the contract was approved so production of Iron City and IC Light can be moved to Latrobe. Joe Kohuth . . . said the Latrobe contract "has nothing to do with Iron City."

With insight like that at the leadership level, it's hard to believe that union is now unemployed.
7. Michael P. Kenney again:
The executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which triggered the brewery's 2005 bankruptcy by seeking the payment of more than $2 million in unpaid bills, said it was protected should Iron City move production. Michael P. Kenney said he had heard that was an option, but has not heard anything official. PWSA agreed to forgive about $1.2 million of the $2.7 million it was owed if the new owners invested in a new kegging line and boiler for the Lawrenceville brewery by September of last year. Iron City refurbished the existing equipment instead of purchasing new equipment, and Mr. Kenney said that PWSA determined that complied with the spirit of the agreement.

I've seen this movie before, Mr. Kenney, but you apparently have not. In the original, your part belonged to Doyle Lonnegan.
8. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said through spokeswoman Joanna Doven that he was "disappointed" the brewery is leaving the city.

You can't be disappointed, Mr. Mayor, unless you actually expected Iron City to stay when you handed over millions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to the guy who has since been indicted for securities fraud. When you crowed about "saving the brewery and hundreds of jobs" a couple of years ago, I gave you the benefit of the doubt and figured you knew all along there was no chance you and Zober knew what you were doing.
9. Bob Hurley of the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development:
Hurley . . . does not sound worried about the county's $150,000 loan to Iron City, which was finalized Feb. 27. The loan was for "working capital and equipment," said Mr. Hurley, the department's deputy director, without specifying what sort of equipment has to be purchased. The "assumption was that equipment may be boilers," but it "may not be boilers." Also, there is "no particular time frame" in which Iron City has to act, he said. During a recent conversation with the brewery president, "it seemed that things were going pretty good."

Going pretty good? Please be sure to alert the media, Mr. Hurley, if you ever do come to the conclusion that a public investment isn't going well (so that citizens can evacuate the city, start sacrificing virgins and prepare for the Events Of Revelation).
10. Gov. Ed Rendell:
Among those receiving state assistance will be the new owners of Iron City Brewing Co., who took control of the troubled brewer last September in a bid to preserve the brand and save jobs. The state will kick in $750,000 to help the group of investors led by Connecticut businessman John N. Milne modernize the plant and continue to produce the venerable Iron City beer and two affiliated brands, IC Light and Augustiner.
The state aid will take the form of a $500,000 loan, a $200,000 grant and $50,000 in job training funds. It is expected to leverage more than $3 million in investment. Mr. Rendell said the money not only will help in "preserving a Pittsburgh tradition," but save 100 jobs. Mr. Hickman said the money would be used in part to buy a new keg system and a new gas boiler.

Please refrain from "preserving any more Pittsburgh traditions," Governor. We can't take much more of your help.

Rev. Burgess Opines On Act 47 Procedure

Rev. Ricky V. Burgess, apparently vying for the soon-to-be-vacated Jim Motznik Chair In Advanced Mayoral Fealty, has expressed his legal opinion regarding the approval-disapproval-amendment process associated with the Act 47 plan recently advanced by the Act 47 overseers and currently being fumbled by city officials.

My review of that letter indicates that, as a legal analyst and as a grammarian, Rev. Burgess is probably a fine man of the cloth.

Dan Onorato's Twits Tweets

Dan Onorato is tweeting.

I hope to meet a subscriber, purely for research/observation purposes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Your Children Take You For A Ride

One facet of parenthood involves tagging along as a child sifts through the world's offerings. Many of the stops along that route are indescribably endearing -- pursuing traveling fire trucks and earthmoving equipment, attending gradeschool band concerts, watching pint-sized martial artists, touring zoos, admiring a fledgling magician, even researching trampoline safety. Others, however, are nothing but aggravation and expense -- attending 'rasslin matches, NASCAR events, boy band concerts.

But not even Jeff Gordon, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Backstreet Boys could have prepared me for Jon & Kate Plus 8.

I knew that fake wrestling, synthetic bands and the like were taking cynical advantage of my children's still-developing judgment, and that pandering to them was little more than a route to my wallet. But, eventually, my children outgrew those obsessions, and I barely remember the time, effort and cash wasted on those chapters of my children's development.

With Jon & Kate, though, I fear the scarring is permanent.

On The Menu For This Summer's Political Grilling Season: Grinding Chuck (McCullough)

One of 2 Political Junkies expresses consternation regarding Chuck McCullough's continuing service as a member of Allegheny County Council (with special eye-rolling directed toward Mr. McCullough's position as a member of the Government Reform committee).

David identifies in detail each of the 24 charges headed toward trial.

24 counts. That's a lot.

But fewer than were advanced against Dr. Cyril Wecht in another politically tinted recent local prosecution. (Same overwhelming whiff of "kitchen sink" prosecutorial overdrive, though.)

One of the few practical consequences of the Wecht prosecution (other than impoverishing Dr. Wecht and taxpayers for no reason) was to remove from office one of the few indisputably competent elected officials in Allegheny County.

Why repeat that course with respect to Mr. McCullough, one of the best county council members by a substantial margin?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

(Former) Miss California Seems Exquisitely Prepared For Next Step In Her Walk With God

Former Miss California (and Miss USA runner-up) Carrie Prejean, whose foremost discernible talent is making Perez Hilton look like the reasonable half of a catfight, has responded to her decrowning by issuing a statement:

I am excited and looking forward to where God leads me in the future. I know He has big plans for me. I am proud to be the strong woman God has molded me to be. I will always stand for the truth, respectfully, and never back down.
Apparently, God's molding of Carrie Prejean has to this point involved (1) fake boobs, (2) a bottle-blonde makeover, (3) whatever classes one attends to learn such terms as "opposite marriage," and (4) strutting around in a skimpy swimsuit on high heels (left) when she isn't being (5) photographed without half of her swimsuit (right) in violation of her pageant covenants, or (6) lecturing on morality.

Against that background, I believe I can predict for Miss Jesusland where God is going to lead her next, and it involves big plans. It also involves six beers, five shots, four fraternity brothers, three orifices, two intense hours and one trip to the student health office . . . although, because she attends San Diego Christian College, she'll probably need to take a bus to San Diego State and pretend to have forgotten her ID to get her morning-after pill.

If Carrie Prejean (left, counseling known doper Michael Phelps with carefully selected Scripture) thought the devil was trying to tempt her with Perez Hilton at the pageant, I expect her to experience a genuine revelation when Satan puts her on that fraternity basement couch.

After which she will, no doubt, replace Bristol Palin, at least in Elisabeth Hasselbeck's eyes, as the "perfect candidate" to be the national spokeswoman for abstinence-only education.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Missing Link Etiquette (Link Etiquette Missing)?

I believe reporters, writers, editors and publishers should be paid for their work and are entitled to control it.

I therefore try to include links to an original source, and I attempt to avoid misappropriating work by wholesale copying (at least, when a link to the original could work).

It therefore surprised me to observe the Post-Gazette engaging in word-for-word republication of an entire article from the Morning Call. The P-G included a link, and perhaps an agreement entitles the P-G to copy entire articles from that newspaper, but it struck me as strange.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Another "Economic Development Deal" Goes Flat

The recent joking (well, half-joking) regarding Mayor Ravenstahl's misadventures involving Iron City beer appears to be taking an even more depressing turn as I write this (for taxpayers, expensive; for employees, devastating; for the sentient, predictable; for Yarone Zober, most likely baffling yet somehow familiar).

Maybe Iron City was the right beer to use if the Penguins failed, after all.

All propositions regarding Iron City are CLOSED. No pun intended.

UPDATE: On second thought, if anyone from the Ravenstahl or Onorato administrations wants to wager that production in Pittsburgh will continue, I'll take that action. Why should the owners of the brewery be the only ones getting easy money from those guys?

Nothing Null About It

Chris Briem (at Null Space; either his format or my ineptitude prevents me from linking to the precise entry, entitled "more Swaps Gone Sour") covers two interesting and expansive points in one relatively brief item.

First, he addresses the risks and losses sustained by outgunned government officials with respect to volatile and complex financial instruments peddled by high-fee, low-ethics "advisors" (which is what salesman are called after cutting a few campaign checks). To get a newspaper analysis, complete with a local angle or two, Pittsburghs can turn to a current series of stories in the Morning Call. To get a shudder, consider whether local officials might be susceptible to these pitches, particular if the advisors are also investors campaign contributors. If any local reporter wishes to try to catch up to the caboose on this one, I would start my research in the train car carrying the city and county authorities.

Second, he points toward a handy analysis of an issue that reinforces my belief that Gust Avrakotos was right about the G20 event in Pittsburgh.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sometimes Nuts Can Be In A Pickle

Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, told a reporter from jail that "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal" but refused to elaborate.

In other words, this man acknowledges that he possesses information about additional terroristic attacks to be conducted on "the homeland" but declines to divulge the information.

This must create intense cognitive dissonance for the likes of John Yoo, Dick Cheney and David Addington. I envision them huddled together, fondling their thumbscrews and electrodes and leashes, yearning to get busy getting medieval on somebody, yet wondering about the legal authority of Pres. Obama's "no torture" policy and torn between their lust for torture and their fealty to Republican Party platform dogma.

Another hate-ridden goober, Wiley Drake -- a pastor, one-time Southern Baptist Convention officer and former vice presidential candidate (running with Alan Keyes) -- has not only declared that the murder of Dr. Tiller was an answered "imprecatory" prayer but also announced that he is engaged in similar "imprecatory" prayer against President Obama and is 'praying for his death'.

The best way Christians could prosletyze would be to demonstrate that being a Christian can make a person one-one-thousandth of a degree better than the average person. Either that point eludes them, or they are incapable of exceeding the average by any margin.

Shhhh! I Think I Might Hear Something . . .

Drip . . . drip . . . drip . . .

Which Hat Looks Better On Luke Ravenstahl?

Today's report that Luke Ravenstahl will accept the Republican nomination for mayor of Pittsburgh complicates the issue of the mayor's party affiliation.

I assume he is registered as a Democrat. But his policy instincts (to the extent they exist or are known) are those of a Republican as much as those of a Democrat.

He has control of the Democratic City Committee but party loyalty appears to be a one-way street in that relationship.

He gets money from unions. He gets more money, however, from developers and big (and bigger) businesses.

Off duty? He loves golfing with bigwigs and appears to have the run of the place at Oakmont Country Club. There apparently is nothing he wouldn't do to get to a country music show.

On the November ballot, he has the endorsement of Republicans and Democrats.

Based on the available evidence, I call it a draw.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where's The Burning Sense Of Justice?

Jim Burn rode to the defense of Dan Onorato in a recent letter published by the Post-Gazette. He apparently was in such a hurry to saddle up that he may have inadvertently left some of his principles behind.

Mr. Burn is not only a county council member and a supporter of Dan Onorato but also -- as mentioned at the close of his letter -- chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Party. With the Democratic Party's history and values in mind, my eyes grated on these passages of Mr. Burns' letter:

In theory, Jim's [Roddey'] approach on assessments would work out any inequities that may exist in the system.
Jim talks about the consequences of Dan's base-year system. By continuing to use 2002 assessments, Allegheny County has stayed on an equal playing field with surrounding counties. It seems to be working.
Any inequities that may exist? The current system seems to be working?

Here is an "inequity that may exist": This property was offered for sale yesterday on one of the "Panorama of Estates" shows I sometimes stumble upon while looking for Meet The Press or This Week on Sunday mornings. Asking price: $1,500,000.00. Doesn't seem unreasonable for a six-bedroom, 5,700-square-foot home with an ancillary building on four acres of Fox Chapel. What is unreasonable, however, is the property's assessment: roughly half the asking price.

Here is how the system is "working" in less lofty areas. This property was profiled in a Post-Gazette article on Saturday. Asking price: $89,900. Seems reasonable for a well-maintained, two-bedroom home on one-sixth of an acre in Turtle Creek, and in line with the assessed value, $85,000.

The system seems to be working for property owners in Fox Chapel and Sewickley (unless, of course, their sense of honor and morality curbs their selfishness), and for owners of million dollar properties in other pockets of the county, as the next paragraph depicts. But is it working for Amy Horton (by the way, if you're looking, she appears to have done nice things to the interior) and her neighbors in Turtle Creek? What about taxpayers in Homewood? Duquesne? Braddock?


Asking prices vs. (assessed value) for homes currently offered in Allegheny County: $6,750,000 ($2,224,500); $5,000,000 ($1,441,400); $2,700,000 ($1,625,000); $3,200,000 ($1,349,000). These figures establish the immorality of the county's current assessments.

Did I miss the part of the recent Democratic Committee bylaws convention at which the party slogan was changed to 'Afflict the afflicted, and comfort the comfortable?'

Jim Burn and the party he leads are better than the positions expressed in that letter, promoted by certain elected officials and inflicted on the less-affluent residents of Allegheny County. I hope he reconsiders and brings his position into better alignment with what I believe to be Mr. Burn's worthy moral compass.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My Kind Of Guy

What would it take to get this guy to come to Pittsburgh?

I'd meet him at the airport with a satchel containing $50,000 in cash, keys to a car and an apartment, a mobile telephone, my telephone number and photographs of Luke Ravenstahl, Jeff Romoff, John Perzel and Dick Cheney.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another Republican Candidate For Mayor

Kevin Acklin, the Republican running as an independent, has launched his campaign against Luke Ravenstahl, the Republican who passes for a Democrat (much like several others in the strange environment of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County politics). Dok Harris, the Democrat, also is running, but not as a Democrat.

Why so much interest in being on the ballot against the frontrunner? Perhaps an expectation that the likelihood of a severe stumble makes it worthwhile to take a shot at being the Election Day alternative?

Politics and Prosecutors

Do prosecutors have a tin ear for politics or, instead, an exquisitely tuned ear immersed in politics? It is difficult to determine, in general and in particular cases.

For example, United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan (usually with her horse, Art) rode hard and long after Cyril Wecht, Tom Murphy, Joe Jaffe and Pete DeFazio, yet refrained from saddling up when a state legislator triggered terrorism alarms by sending envelopes of white powder through the federal mails in a bizarre response to public corruption charges, or a federal legislator was dodging newspaper and television reporters asking uncomfortable questions (spurred by whistle-blowing former staffers) about political abuse of public assets, or a United States Senator appeared to mislead public officials in an effort to induce middle-class Pennsylvania taxpayers to fund hundreds of thousands of cyberschooling dollars for children who lived in an upscale Virginia suburb.

When not prosecuting Democrats and ignoring Republicans, Ms. Buchanan's fetish was pursuing social conservative causes such as the War On Drugs and dirty movies.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala's recent political ventures have been equally interesting. He attempted to spare local taxpayers the cost of an investigation (never mind a prosecution) when it was reported that a local man (who seems to have the same last name as the D.A.) owned the juvenile detention facility at the center of a disgusting kickback scheme that has put two federal judges in prison . . . and also owned a similar facility western Pennsylvania. District Attorney Zappala helpfully got out in front of this one -- which involved incarceration of hundreds of innocent children for profit -- early by declaring the facility owner (a somewhat prominent player in local political and finance circles) "a victim."

Against that background, perhaps it should not be surprising that the justice system in these parts spawns such remarkable spectacles as a former defendant tailgating with his former jurors.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pirates Intend To Set That Record In Style

The Penguins started their season in October, eight months ago. The Pirates started their season in April, two months ago.

The Penguins are still playing intensely meaningful games. The Pirates' season is over.

Even at 1-3 odds, that (McLouth gone before Pirates have winning season) was easy money on the Propositions Board.

I would observe that the Nuttings and McClatchy are parasitic scum, but that would unfairly disparage congealed algae.

Silver lining: The City of Pittsburgh probably offload some of its pension liability by marketing to the Pirates' list of season ticketholders. Anyone still buying tickets in bulk to see the worst professional franchise in American sports history is gullible enough to prevent being counted out for anything the human mind could imagine.
The Post-Gazette photograph is exceptionally good. I hope the photographer's talents are soon directed toward something more important than the Pirates.

Propositions Board Comments Thread

Since transplanting the Propositions Board from periodic appearances at the Burgh Report to its continuous, current location (far right column), I have missed comments. I also am unable to determine how to add a comments feature to the current "sidebar" arrangement. Therefore, I solicit comments here -- opinions regarding the odds, suggestions concerning addition proposition subjects, outrage concerning current proposition subjects, discussion of winners and losers. If interest warrants, I will try to remember to start a comments thread from time to time.

I do not like putting the "majority of Iron City production offsite by June 1" tickets on hold, but resolving conflicting reports about whether most of the beer is already originating in Rochester has been exceptionally difficult. The better sources are indicating that Rochester is brewing more than half of the Iron City volume, but other sources insist this is not true. I am leaning toward the conclusion that most of the beer is being produced out-of-state already, but not enough to pay or cancel any tickets yet.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bongs, Dirty Movies, Facsimile Penises & Faxes: For Some, A Night Out; For Mary Beth, A Legacy

One would have imagined, from the Patriot Act-pushing rhetoric, that the Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania would have been necessarily and entirely devoted to combating terrorism since September 2001.

The lone apparent local accomplishment along that line, however, has been the sketchy excommunication (based on "national security") of a nuclear scientist from the Bettis Laboratory in West Mifflin.

Much more prominent and prevalent has been a series of confected nanny-state prosecutions designed to make western Pennsylvanians safe from dirty movies, celebrity bong lines, facsimile penises and, of course, felony facsimile abuse.

Mary Beth Buchanan has an admirable personal story. But she ran off the rails with respect to several of her moral crusades cloaked as federal prosecutions, using unbecoming subterfuge to confect a case against Tommy Chong before arguing that Tommy Chong's sentence should be intensified because his movies had (decades ago) mocked the War On Drugs warriors; pursuing Cyril Wecht in a manner reminiscent of a missing quart of strawberries; and staging the mailing of dirty movies from California to western Pennsylvania to arrange a yinzer jury as a point of leverage.

I do not regard Mary Beth Buchanan as the only or even the primary culprit for the manner in which the local U.S. Attorney's Office became a misguided vendetta factory. Instead, her term has been another sympton of the systemic corrosion that occurs throughout an organization when its leaders are inept, unhinged, misguided, or (as was demonstrated by the Bush Jr. administration) all three. Buchanan was a dutiful soldier for a Department of Justice that considered pornography to be a severe threat to our nation and whose gatekeeper was a mediocre-on-her-best-days graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University law school. The real culprits were George W. Bush and those who elected him. You hire a sanctimonious, overmatched religious goober, you get a government that takes its eye off the ball (bin Laden and the Taliban) and instead relentlessly pursues C-list actors for selling bongs and mocking authority, the most competent public official in the region for sending personal faxes on a public machine, the producers of adult movies, and anyone involved with the Whizzinator.

Our government owes Cyril Wecht a few million dollars, restoration of his reputation and an apology.

Monday, June 1, 2009

MVP (So Far) In Penguins-Red Wings series

The most valuable player (after two games) in the Stanley Cup finals has been the indispensable goaltender of the Detroit Red Wings:

Henrik Zetterberg

He saved Detroit in the first game by terminating a furious rush at the Detroit goal, overtly smothering (with his gloved hand) a puck that was resting on the back of Chris Osgood, inches from the goal line. The rules called for a penalty shot; the on-ice officials did not.

In the second game, during another chaotic scrum at the Detroit goal, the Penguins pushed a puck behind Osgood, toward the goal line. Whether the puck crossed the line was obscured by Zetterberg, laying across the goal line and atop the puck.