Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pittsburgh Police Union Endorsements

Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, which preferred Mark DeSantis to Mayor Ravenstahl a couple of years ago, has announced its 2009 primary endorsements:

Mayor: Luke Ravenstahl
City Council: Theresa Smith, Tonya Payne, Patrick Reilly, Bill Peduto.
County Council: Jim Ellenbogen
Sheriff: Bill Mullen
Common Pleas Court: Don Walko, Michele Zappala Peck, Susan Evashavik DiLucente, Arnie Klein, Jennifer Satler.
Commonwealth Court: Al Frioni.
Superior Court: Robert Colville and Kevin Francis McCarthy.
Supreme Court: Joan Orie Melvin
Magistrate Judges: Jim Motznik, Robert Ravenstahl, Anthony Ceoffe

Peduto, Mullen, McCarthy and Ellenbogen are good calls.
Klein and Colville are acceptable calls.
I don't know enough to assess the calls on Smith, Reilly, and Ceoffe.

Former Governor Tom Ridge: Still Classy

Tom Ridge, Governor or Pennsylvania when the sane were tolerated by the Republican Party (get your parents to tell you about it, kids), has issued a dignified statement in response to Sen. Specter's switch. Had Gov. Ridge finished his second term in Pennsylvania (he left to become the first leader of the Department of Homeland Security), Pennsylvania likely would have closed its state-operated wine and spirits stores. One more reason to despise Osama bin laden.

GOP Throwing Ultimate Stinkbombs At Specter

If your political party consists largely of lemons, the natural instinct is to try to make (and then peddle) lemonade. Trying to bruise Arlen Specter, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has unleashed a nasty website and robocalls intended to cultivate animus toward Sen. Specter by associating him with various undesirables.

So, which loathsome figures did the NRSC choose to quote in trying to tar Sen. Specter with the kind words of political pariahs? Osama bin Laden? Fidel Castro? Saddam Hussein?

Wrong, thrice wrong.

The Republicans, pulling out all stops already, are disparaging Specter by tying him to former President George W. Bush and former Senator Rick Santorum. If your lemons are of certain varietals, lemonade seems an unrealistic aspiration. Compost might be a better idea.

Dan Onorato Foreshadowing County Secession?

Illyrias and Bram Reichbaum and Chris Briem, commenting on Dan Onorato's response to the Supreme Court decision requiring reassessment in Allegheny County, have caused me to begin to wonder whether Mr. Onorato is contemplating going "Rick Perry" on us -- secession.

Mr. Onorato, according to published reports of his reaction to the court's ruling, 'repeated his vow' to refrain from reassessment and indicated he would not "just roll over and do something that will raise the property taxes of 1.3 million people." (For those who lack Mr. Onorato's law degree, "just roll over" is a technical legal term meaning "comply with a court order.")

Some intellectually fastidious observers might focus on the lack of logical correlation between reassessment and increased property taxes, but after three or four decades of nonsense and doubletalk this is no time to attempt to introduce logic or honest debate to local government.

Instead, let's focus on the 'vow not to reassess' and "just roll over" parts: The County Executive seems to be indicating that he will not recognize the authority of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, whose decision "requires" reassessment. This defiance doesn't strike me as off-the-cuff loose talk. Mr. Onorato, a lawyer, has known from the moment he filed the appeal that this result -- unanimous decision rejecting the county's position -- would almost surely arrive.

What would secession mean for the region? Mr. Onorato is not as close to Gov. Rendell or President Obama as many people (including Mr. Onorato) believe, so I don't expect the Pennsylvania National Guard or federal troops to take up arms on county government's behalf. Instead, the county would be forced to go it alone in defying the Commonwealth's Supreme Court.

Which could explain several other items, including the curious alliance with the boy mayor and the announcement concerning recent upgrades in local tactical weaponry.

The City Has A Paper, After All -- The City Paper

A strange confluence of events -- a divorce featuring hookers and arrests and billions of dollars, one newspaper published by a participant in the divorce, another newspaper curiously inactive, a weak judge -- has led to a remarkable circumstance in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in recent years: a court proceeding so shrouded that the public has been forbidden to see the court order declaring that the public can not know the events in a public courtroom.

The Pittsburgh City Paper, low on resources and competition, is valiantly attempting -- with the able assistance of Vic Walczak (left) and Sara Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union -- to force sunshine into the courtroom of Judge Alan Hertzberg, venue of the divorce litigation involving Richard Scaife.

The City Paper has asked Judge Hertzberg to open the courtroom and to unseal the docket (the formal record of documents maintained by the court clerk). After yesterday's hearing, Chris Potter reports small but unprecedented progress: The judge permitted the public to attend the hearing concerning a request to unseal the docket, despite vehement objections from the divorcing couple's lawyers.

Pittsburgh is lucky to have the City Paper, the City Paper is lucky to have the ACLU, and the Scaifes are fortunate to have gotten this far in their effort to conduct secret litigation in a public courtroom.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Allegheny County's Inaccurate Assessments Violate State Constitution, Supreme Court Rules

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania today ruled that the inaccurate and unfair property tax assessments Allegheny County's elected officials have been defending for years are so egregious that they violate the Uniformity Clause of the Commonwealth's Constitution:

Uniformity of Taxation
Section 1.
All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.
The Supreme Court had three practical choices:
1) permit Allegheny County's current application of the "base year" system -- a system designed to rely on stale assessments -- to stand;
(2) prohibit the "base year" system and require every county to reassess regularly; or
(3) reject the "base year" system not as a concept but rather "as applied" by Allegheny County.

The justices -- by unanimous smackdown -- selected Curtain No. 3, sending the case back to county Judge R. Stanton "Told You So" Wettick (left), who has signaled his inclination to order a prompt and comprehensive reassessment. The Supreme Court's ruling -- practical, politic and just -- avoids simultaneous infuriation of every county in the Commonwealth while vindicating the rights of Allegheny County's property owners and renters. Justice Baer, in a concurring opinion, outlined a likely roadmap to practical application of the decision announced today.

County Executive Dan Onorato immediately displayed the mixture of defiance, poor judgment and indifference to morality that has marked his handling of the assessment issue for too many years -- and the quality of legal reasoning that produced the torture memos -- by declaring he found "enough room" in the decision to support a conclusion that the decision does not require a reassessment.

"I'm in my sixth year as county executive and we haven't done a reassessment yet," the county executive (and would-be governor) inexplicably boasted. The conclusion to be drawn from such a statement by a litigant is that Mr. Onorato must assume Judge Wettick does not read the Post-Gazette.

This decision is good news for owners of modest properties and those who favor justice, bad news for property owners in affluent communities and those who had been able to arrange remarkably favorable assessments, and perhaps the first hit of a one-two punch (the drink tax decision is pending) unlikely to improve Mr. Onorato's gubernatorial prospects.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sen. Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania

Nice ring to that one.
Democrats gained a substantial edge in the general election today.
Republicans, meanwhile, can enjoy a small party.


(Cartogram, right)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Phil Spector's Wall of (Un)Sound

You know that new-fangled device that sends your photograph through the Intertubes, turning you into a Simpsons character?

Phil Spector doesn't need it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

District Attorney Misfires In Poplawski's Case, But Benefits From Luck Of The Judicial Draw

Dimitri Vassilaros was castigating Richard Poplawski's public defender, Lisa Middleman (left), by radiowave the other day for objecting to publicized comments (some by the district attorney, others by members of the victim's families) that, Ms. Middleman argued, violated a "gag order" designed to preserve a jury pool.

If I recall the broadcast correctly, Mr. Vassilaros approvingly quoted the district attorney's office labeling as "nonsense" Ms. Middleman's motion, which objected to this public statement from the D.A.s office:

"Our investigation of both the evidence and the background of the defendant has produced several compelling, aggravating circumstances with respect to seeking the death penalty," Mr. Manko said. "As of now, there are no mitigating circumstances. Consequently, our office will be seeking the death penalty."
I agree with Mr. Vassilaros' contention that Ms. Middleman's jab at victims' family members was a stretch (although I doubt his prediction that it will disadvantage Mr. Poplawski at trial), but not with his condemnation of the attempt to keep the D.A. in line.

Deputy D.A. Mark Tranquilli mocked the motion, claiming "it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that the circumstances in this case are compelling."

Speaking of brain surgeons, the D.A.'s office might benefit from consulting someone with a medical degree, because the law degrees in that office apparently could use some help. Next time, the D.A.'s office might not catch a couple of lucky breaks in the courtroom, and might even be held accountable for imprudent conduct.

D.A. Stephen Zappala's first mistake was to authorize the statement concerning his conclusions with respect to aggravating and mitigating factors. His second mistake was to send a deputy to the sanctions hearing. He skated on both mistakes, which I ascribe primarily to the schedule of Judge Jeffrey Manning, who was unavailable for the hearing (vacation, I hear). Instead, the parties drew Judge David Cashman.

Judge Cashman's demeanor -- easy-going conciliator -- differs from the more confrontational nature of Judge Manning, whose background was in the more binary world of criminal law ("ding 'em or fling 'em").

Judge Manning, as author of the order, also might have felt more secure footing in gauging and enforcing the contours of the order's intent -- such as whether an attorney involved with the Poplawski prosecution should "discuss the broader public safety issues rather than the particulars of the case."

I would have expected Judge Manning to handle at least two aspects of the hearing differently. First, when he observed that D.A. Zappala had sent an underling to the hearing, Judge Manning likely would have ordered the D.A. to appear before the bench in person and in minutes. Second, I doubt Judge Manning would have waved off the D.A.'s public statements concerning strength and nature of evidence so breezily as did Judge Cashman ("I think the statements . . . do nothing more than describe the structure of the case").

Judge Cashman ruled within the bounds of reason, but his involvement appears to have magnified substantially the home field advantage the D.A. possesses in essentially every court proceeding. The D.A.'s office should consider itself more lucky than vindicated.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Name A Bridge After Tom Murphy? Great Idea!! I Nominate The Perfect Bridge For This Honor

Chris Briem, at Null Space (via Return to Pittsburgh), points to a couple of articles in which someone who thinks highly of Tom Murphy (apparently, crossing the U.S. border creates enough distance to permit such thoughts) offers a glowing depiction of the former mayor who did his damnedest to put the "pit" in Pittsburgh.

Chris even exhumes a remarkable proposal to name the Hot Metal Bridge for Tom Murphy. That strikes me as a crackerjack idea, every bit as good as betting the mortgage on the Pirates to win this year's Series, or planning a big shopping trip to the downtown Lazarus (with a convenient stop at the nearby Lord & Taylor), or working on a spending plan for all of the tax revenue generated by the Fifth-Forbes project.

Those familiar with Murphy's terms as mayor will understand (with a wince) those references.

Murphy set the foundation for the worst sustained futility in the American history of major professional sports when he (a) tried to steer the Pirates to felon John Rigas (right, with federal marshal, more to the right), (b) shunning more than one first-rate bidder, and was consequently (c) forced to settle for the greedy, inept ownership group of Kevin McClatchy. Murphy compounded the failure by devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to North Side stadiums and parking lots, enriching the Rooneys and McClatchy's partnership while wasting scarce land. The result of that investment? A Pirates team with a lesser record, a smaller payroll and less attendance than was the case at Three Rivers Stadium. Plus a huge football field, used for roughly 20 games and a few concerts over the course of a year, on some of the most important land in a 100-mile radius.

Sixteen straight years of losing, illusory development, a nine-figure giveaway -- sound like a disaster? Not by the standards of Tom Murphy.

Murphy spent millions of public dollars to build a Lazarus department store, then bastardized a majestic historic building (an original Mellon Bank) to accommodate Lord & Taylor. Both stores failed spectacularly and closed quickly, leaving glaring symbols of failure at downtown Pittsburgh's heart.

Fifth-Forbes was a half-baked plan, hatched in secrecy and planned to batter its way past any dissent or analysis, to grab entire blocks of downtown Pittsburgh by eminent domain, raze the buildings piecemeal, and hand the entire area to a no-bid developer whose plans were pathetic. Longtime businesses were to be displaced, in many cases for similar businesses operated by acquaintances of the out-of-town developer. Residential development was not part of the plan, but a series of luxury stores was. The plan was derailed by a civic-minded alliance of downtown property owners, historical architecture advocates, and persons with average-or-above intelligence.

That is a mere summary of Tom Murphy's lasting impact on the City of Pittsburgh -- there is plenty more where that came from -- but even this brief list of highlights is enough to cause me to endorse the proposal to rename a bridge for Tom "Tantrum" Murphy. I not only second the motion but indeed request expedited consideration -- because, given the bridge that would be the most fitting symbol of Tom Murphy's legacy, this is an idea whose time not only has come . . . but probably can't wait much longer.

Davis Avenue Bridge, I dub thee the Tom Murphy Bridge.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Doctoring For Dollars: West Penn Health Aims Blockbuster Claims At UPMC, Highmark

Among the quirks of the Pittsburgh region are the lack of taxis, the belief that a hamburger can properly be labeled a cheesesteak, and the strange domination of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center over the region's health care industry, the local economy and even the university from which it took (literally) its name.

While the national chatter addresses the issue of "too big to fail," in Pittsburgh the issue has been settled for several years: UPMC is Too Big To Criticize. Politicians fear, serve and are funded by UPMC. Publishers and broadcasters are far too busy cashing checks for UPMC "image" advertisements (left) to spend any time questioning anything about UPMC's rise and reign. The University of Pittsburgh has been UPMC's plaything for many years. Large employers might chafe against UPMC's charges but enthusastically refrain from offending the only entity that rivals the Rooneys among Pittsburgh's royalty. (In legal and medical circles, some mumble about the openness of UPMC's conduct, and the legal issues associated with it, but only after checking the room to ensure that no one who might call Mr. Romoff is able to hear.) Highmark, ostensibly a competitor, has been UPMC's bitch for years.

Which makes the West Penn Allegheny Health System's recent filing of a major-league antitrust complaint against UPMC and Highmark fascinating. The details -- a claim that Highmark's chair acknowledged that UPMC-Highmark collaboration has been "probably illegal," a depiction of UPMC declaring an intent to turn Allegheny General Hospital (right) into a "parking lot," an allegation that an internal UPMC analysis showed that some of UPMC's conduct made no business sense outside the context of eliminating competition -- can be viewed as scattered points over a number of years, but most of them strike me as amply believable, and they might provide enough radioactive material for a legal detonation.

Perhaps there are explanations (other than a UPMC-Highmark conspiracy plausibly pinpointed in 2002) for Highmark's treatment of West Penn, for the inability of other health insurers to find traction in Western Pennsylvania, for the seemingly inexplicable attempt to raid every anaesthesiologist employed by West Penn.

This complaint might make Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg uncomfortable, however, and perhaps even cause him to rethink the Pitt-UPMC relationship (which appears decidedly slanted toward UPMC's favor). This complaint should cause the region's decision-makers to wonder whether UPMC is good or bad for the region. Those responsible for monitoring qualification for tax-exempt status could reasonably wonder whether UPMC operates "for the public good."

Nothing has been proven. So far, we have a one-sided argument (that seems congruent with years of whispering about town) that is entirely untested. But people should watch this one develop, and many familiar with the underlying circumstances will need no encouragement to do so.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Like DeJuan Blair ... So This Makes Me Nervous

The Post-Gazette reports that former Pitt basketball star DeJuan Blair has ditched his original lawyer-merchandiser and hired Happy Walters as his agent. This story, and the related context, generates several concerns:

First, that is a worrisome volume of strange activity for a young man (big man on the court, but a sophomore nonetheless) who has not yet been drafted.

Second, Blair appears to have refrained from seeking -- let alone heeding -- advice from his coaches, NBA insiders, or anyone else who has the appropriate experience and/or cares about him. Instead, he reportedly sized up his draft prospects by surfing the Internet and relied on a teammate for pointers on the agent market.

Third, and perhaps the most important, the "NBA agent Happy Walters" reported to have been engaged by Blair might be this Happy Walters

Cypress Hill and House Of Pain mamanger, Happy Walters was engaged in a shouting stand off with Suge Knight over politics on a soundtrack appearance. A few days after the altercation while withdrawing money from an ATM, Happy disappeared off the scene sending shock waves through the music industry as to his circumstances, however he reappeared several days later wandering the streets incoherent, shaved down, naked and covered in cigarette burns. When admitted to hospital he had amnesia and refused to comment on Suge Knight.

and/or this Happy Walters

IRON MAIDEN manager Rod Smallwood and SLAYER manager Rick Sales (both of whom work under the Sanctuary umbrella) were involved in a fistfight with record executive Happy Walters at the BMG Grammy party over the weekend. . . . Hits Daily Double apparently received an "open letter" from Smallwood addressing the incident. Said Smallwood: "I resent any implication that I am the type of person to get involved in 'brawls' at Grammy events or elsewhere, so let me make this clear. A group of us were chatting on the way out of the BMG party when Happy Walters stormed up and headbutted a Sanctuary Executive, Prem Akkaraju. Where I come from, headbutting is considered to be a vicious and cowardly act. I immediately stepped in to restrain Happy Walters from making further attacks on Prem Akkaraju. Happy Walters was shown out by security.

(I am still searching for the article reflecting Happy Walters' successful guidance of a non-prototype player through the draft and into a huge, first-round NBA contract. If anyone has it, please post it.)

Several doors have slammed behind DeJuan Blair recently (he jumped the gun unnecessarily on forfeiting eligibility), and he has made some dubious decisions (he is on his second set of professional advisors two weeks into a professional career that hasn't even started yet), but his future is still open and bright, with an unusually wide range of outcome. For that reason, I offer DeJuan Blair advice:

Go to people with Pitt connections -- you can't help them anymore, but they can help you -- who are familiar with the unforgiving world of professional basketball. Talk with Jamie Dixon, Tim Grgurich (upper right), Bob Hill, Billy Knight (left). Also, talk with Dave Wannestadt, Jimmie Johnson, Foge Fazio, Tony Dorsett, Jackie Sherrill (who helped the DeJuan Blair of the 1980s, Sam Clancy, another non-prototype NBA prospect, arrange the transition to successful professional football player). Perhaps most apt, check with Sam Clancy (lower right), who resembled you as a Pitt player from the City League, made a fine living in more than a decade of NFL football, and had a son chosen in the first round of the NBA draft recently. One of the best guys you will ever meet.

Also, find a top-flight lawyer. Not the kind of guy who has more "specialties" than can fit on a page. Not the kind of guy who signs contracts on the hoods of cars. A first-rate lawyer.

Ask these people for advice, and consider it carefully. If you play your cards right, you could emulate Charles Barkley or Antonio Gates or Wes Unseld or Sam Clancy. If you continue to play like the fish at a big-time poker game, however, you could wind up in Melvin Bennett's shoes. Mel Bennett, right, starred for Peabody in Pittsburgh's City League, then had a brief man-child stint with the Panthers -- so memorable he has a place on the Pitt Basketball All-Centennial Team despite having spent just his freshman season in Oakland. Bennett, relying on agents' bullshit, left Pitt early and squandered his chance at a solid NBA career (and payday). It is time to step away from that path, DeJuan.

No one can fault you much for a couple of missteps so far. You are a college sophomore without a background in legal and business matters; you don't know whom to trust; you are surrounded by jackals. But you need to find reliable advisors, and to start making appropriate decisions, without delay.

UPDATE: I do not intend to imply that Mel Bennett is living in a refrigerator box somewhere. Last I heard, he was coaching high school basketball. But he never reached his expected level of play or earnings in professional basketball, and I have always ascribed that to a bad decision to leave college after his freshman season.

District Attorney: Give Him Death

The District Attorney has announced that the prosecution will propose the death penalty for Richard Poplawski, the Jew- and Obama-hating gun nut from an complete clustermuck of a family (well, not complete but close to it, especially if you consider his friends part of the mix) who killed three police officers in Stanton Heights in early April.

The District Attorney's position is reasonable, although I disagree -- not because Mr. Poplawski deserves to live, not because of the cost (millions of dollars, plus extended anguish for survivors) of every death penalty prosecution, not because I care about his mother's feelings (or even his grandmother's feelings), but instead because humans are not capable of devising or implementing a death penalty system with adequate safeguards against condemning and killing the innocent.

We Interrupt This Blog . . .

. . . for a very important public service announcement.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mayoral Debate Offers Scant Hope

The mayoral debate was illuminative, which is more bad news for Pittsburgh (the city and, therefore, the region).

Carmen Robinson appears to be a well-educated, well-meaning, articulate, experienced (law and police), sensible person motivated to contribute to her community. Which means she has nearly no chance of getting within a mile of Pittsburgh's City Hall, so her relative lack of polish is not worth worry.

Patrick Dowd appears to be a highly educated, community-minded, exceptionally articulate and thoughful person with a strong desire to improve his community. Which means he is substantially handicapped in any election among the diluted gene pool of the remaining City of Pittsburgh electorate.

Luke Ravenstahl is, without doubt, the people's choice (if the people are the members of the City Democratic Committee, those who care more about the Steelers draft than about their children's prospects for college, and those whose livelihoods depend on city contracts and variances). Mayor Ravenstahl is becoming less awkward in public speech, but no less hapless with concepts of even modest complexity.

He referred to Iron City Brewing -- whose latest iteration of heavily subsidized, inadequate management was the beneficiary of millions of dollars in public assistance from the Ravenstahl administration just before it was caught outsourcing jobs to Rochester -- as one of the two economic success stories he could think of. His decision to use forgiveness of Water and Sewer Authority debts to prop up failed management (and deny a Pittsburgh icon a chance at a fresh start) likely doomed the brewery. (For a quantified assessment of the wisdom of the mayor's investment of public funds in Iron City Brewing, check the Propositions Board, right).

He crowed about Pittsburgh's "most livable" label without mentioning -- probably because he couldn't recognize the point on pain of losing beer privileges at Steelers games -- that the portions of the metropolitan area that earn the award are the Upper St. Clairs, Franklin Parks, Fox Chapels, Hamptons and Sewickleys (good schools, effective government, nice houses at nice prices courtesy of a moribund local economy). There might be four or five city neighborhoods that aren't leaden drags on the region's "most livable" calculations . . . or there might not be that many.

The mayor also boasted about the city's fiscal trajectory (a tailspin), the Pittsburgh Promise (unfunded and an impediment to collecting from "not-for-profit" entities) and city government's commitment to public safety (strange, so soon after the Stanton Heights tragedy illustrated the consequences of years of shortchanged training and equipment for police officers).

Some debate-point-scorers might survey the details and conclude that the mayor stumbled severely, but across a dying city the City Democratic Committee members exchanged properly confident high-fives concerning their endorsed candidate . . . the leeches who fund city campaigns smiled and nodded smugly concerning the security of their investments . . . and city voters continued their March of the Penguins Fans toward a straight-ticket walk for Mayor Ravenstahl.

The Propositions Board

Pittsburgh may be about to get a slots parlor, but it won't be a casino without blackjack tables, complimentary watered-down drinks (as described by Bill "Barred" Blazejowski) (right), and, most important, a comprehensive sports book with a huge tote board.

As a public service (offered without demand for a cut-rate, no-bid casino license, an enormous and counterproductive public subsidy or even a variance for a vista-wrecking jumbotron), Infinonymous introduces the Propositions Board, a tote board identifying a series of propositions, with odds.

Propositions regarding elections, endorsements, sports events and the like will be posted as adjudged appropriate by the management. Special propositions will be posted periodically.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Time To Put PAT Out Of Our Misery

A Port Authority radio commercial has finally convinced me that the authority should be dismantled.

I distinguish the Port Authority -- as comprehensive a failure as exists in a region nearly wrecked by bad government -- from public transit. I see public transit as an unadulterated good -- good for everyone, essential for those who lack automobiles -- particularly in a region whose downtown is constrained by rivers and bridges. This is one of the reasons I despise PAT and wish to see it destroyed.

The Port Authority has been mismanaged at every level -- by elected officials who botched strategy and appointed talentless hacks to the board; by boards overrun by conflicted and distracted (did I mention talentless?) hacks; by management that enriched itself while capsizing the transit system. Absurd employment contracts have plotted an unsustainable trajectory. PAT's day-to-day operations are as expensive as they are substandard.

But even against that backdrop of daily incompetence and decades of strategic failure, the radio commercial stood out. The Port Authority is digging a pointless hole underneath the Allegheny River. The cost of that hole is staggering -- hundreds of millions of dollars. The decision to build that hole was so misguided that its parents abandoned it long ago and can no longer be found (at least, not by Pittsburgh's standards of journalism). The opportunity costs -- a spur to Oakland, or a line along I-279 North, to the Alle-Kiski Valley, or to the airport, or even a fiscally sound transit system -- are heartbreaking. The dig created employment (as would have a hole aimed straight down until funding was exhausted, with similar practical results). That effort and money could have been directed more fruitfully in nearly countless other directions.

Every citizen of this region knows the project has been a debacle; PAT should be searching for ways to grovel and apologize in a proper manner. Instead, to my astonishment, PAT has been buying radio commercials to tout the tunnel. It actually boasts about how -- even if you never use the damned thing, even if you don't understand the point of it, even if it wasted resources this region needs desperately -- everyone has to admit the tunnel is cool.

I nearly drove off the highway. Cool? PAT is bragging about the tunnel? With commercials funded by public money? Everyone involved in the decision to broadcast that commercial should resign immediately, or be fired by the end of the day.

That commercial crystallized my thinking. PAT must be killed. After substantial consideration, I reject placing the entire board, most of the management staff and many of the employees in that tunnel before sealing both ends. But I believe it to be imperative that the authority be closed and a successor approach to public transportation created in its wake, so that mass transit might have a chance to succeed in Allegheny County. Now that would be cool.

Ravenstahl Gets One Right

I no longer recall where, but I read a blog comment criticizing Mayor Ravenstahl for his handling of the Stanton Heights tragedy. The mayor's public handling of this situation struck me as appropriate, to the point of mildly supporting the argument of those who assert that the mayor, at least to some degree, is improving.

UPDATE: I now recall where I read the comment. I'm not accustomed to comments yet.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Is Patrick Dowd Running?

A question frequently asked from nearly every spot along the local political spectrum: Why is Patrick Dowd running for mayor?

Council member Dowd is relatively new to the political scene and consequently lacks the type of name recognition, fundraising base and record that would constitute the foundation of a solid run at a well-known, well-funded incumbent. The boy mayor has plenty of faults -- little experience (in any respect), mediocre education, no apparent intellectual curiosity, nothing above-average in any respect, serious ethical blind spots, poor staff, a series of publicized mistakes -- but none is likely to trouble the greatly diluted pool that constitutes today's City of Pittsburgh electorate. (To the contrary, Mr. Ravenstahl's lack of a high-falutin' education, his ethical haziness and that striking deer-in-the-headlights response to complexity probably endear the incumbent to plenty of today's city voters.)

Dr. Dowd, with early interpersonal missteps on council, alienated several natural allies -- Bill Peduto and certain unions most prominent among them -- that might have helped him build a substantial challenge. Few who are not cogs of the machines -- the traditional city Democratic committee machine and the feed-at-the-Ravenstahl-trough machine -- have worked for Mr. Ravenstahl, but coolness among those expected to lean toward a progressive, smart challenger has been enough to deny Dr. Dowd necessary traction.

Against that background, the question is reasonable: Why is Patrick Dowd running?

I suspect the answer has several parts:

Dr. Dowd probably believed, at the outset, that Mr. Ravenstahl was a relatively soft target. Dr. Dowd's experience-based faith in door-to-door campaigning, his awareness of Mr. Ravenstahl's obvious weakness, his expectation that anti-Ravenstahl forces would coalesce around him . . . these factors likely generated optimism. It seems likely, however, that the realities of fundraising, the campaign grind, some expected support that never emerged and even cancelled debates have caused Dr. Dowd to sense that his original optimism was overstated. Perhaps he believes he has traveled too far to quit, or perhaps other factors incline him to continue.

Dr. Dowd might be acting on a perception that Pittsburgh, a failing city, can't afford a full term of Mr. Ravenstahl's performance as mayor. Just as physicians will try longshot measures to save a near-death patient, Dr. Dowd might have been railing against the odds to try to rescue a Pittsburgh in distress. This wouldn't be enough to cause a sensible person to undertake a campaign, but it might have tipped a wavering scale.

A more influential point might be the cultivation of name recognition. Pittsburgh lacks big-name politicians, to the point at which the entitlement to plaster a name on wastecans, gasoline pumps and dog license paperwork currently is a major issue. The deaths of Tom Murphy (figurative) and Bob O'Connor (literal) created a void yet to be filled; the city's elected officials are unknowns and lightweights, puppets manipulated easily and profitably by those who contract with and/or need approvals from government. Dr. Dowd might perceive an opportunity to accelerate his trajectory from promising newcomer to prominent figure in a wide-open political arena.

Or, Dr. Dowd -- whose academic field was history, I believe -- might be positioning himself to apply the obvious lessons of Pittsburgh's politics. How did the likes of Sophie Masloff, Dick Caligiuri, and Luke Ravenstahl ascend? Brilliant insight? Compelling leadership? Remarkable accomplishments? (If you aren't laughing by now, I gather you wagered a few bucks that the Pirates would win the Series this season.) Instead, each was in the right place when someone ahead stumbled, died or otherwise left office.

In a broad sense, Patrick Dowd might be running for council president by running for mayor. Or Dr. Dowd might have placed a relatively inexpensive bet that Mayor Ravenstahl would falter -- succumb to a scandal, or be indicted -- and positioned himself to be the beneficiary. Cliff Levine's apparent indecisiveness has enabled Mary Beth Buchanan to remain in the United States Attorney's office for longer than one reasonably could have expected. Curiously, Mrs. Buchanan's extended stay might be operating as a shield for Mr. Ravenstahl, because Mrs. Buchanan's misguided and one-sided performance appears to have made her a prosecutorial eunuch, at least with respect to prosecuting Democrats. Arrival of a Democratic U.S. Attorney could be bad news for the Ravenstahl adminstration. Mr. Ravenstahl also has experienced a lull in the scandal department -- of course, his original pace was unsustainable for any human not named Blogojevich.

No one, including Dr. Dowd, could have expected to enter April with Mary Beth Buchanan still in office and Mr. Ravenstahl enjoying such a substantial breather from scandal. Dr. Dowd also probably did not expect Mr. Peduto, the unions and other expected allies to maintain their distance throughout the campaign. Dr. Dowd likely has been surprised by the difficulties associated with raising money, assembling a campaign structure and landing shots against an incumbent in a largely comatose town. In a sense, nearly everything that could have gone against Dr. Dowd has -- yet it nonetheless might have been smart to have conducted the campaign, because of the likelihood that he will raise his profile, benefit from the experience of the campaign's grind, and position himself as prospective heir should the mayor be disabled, sooner or later, by career-killing scandal or indictment.

If there is a better explanation for Patrick Dowd's run, I would welcome enlightenment.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pirates Lose Again

That headline is customarily depressing in Pittsburgh -- the ripples from the failures of Tom Murphy and Kevin McClatchy show no sign of abating; the Pirates will soon establish their place as the most sustained losers in the history of major professional sports in the United States -- but today it constitutes great news throughout the United States and on the high seas.

A round of rye, with ale chasers, for all involved in the rescue.

When the United States aims before it shoots, I like its chances.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Did Karl Rove Say Something?

I see Karl Rove on television lately, no doubt babbling about something that should send viewers into uncontrollable, rib-twisting retches, but I have no idea what it is . . . because unless Karl Rove (or anyone associated with the Bush Jr. administration) starts with a heartfelt "I apologize . . ." I don't much care about what follows.

Someone at the University of Pittsburgh decided it would be worthwhile to pay Rove $40,000 for an eight-hour visit to campus a year or so ago. How far beyond Earth's orbit must one be to believe that a bunch of 20-year-olds want to hear anything from anyone from the God-guns-and-gays brigade that is today's Republican Party, let alone "the architect?" How warped must one be to conclude that eight hours of Rove's time is worth $40,000 of money taken from students through activity fees? That money could have funded two or three full-tuition scholarships.

The person who made that call (and the previous year's decision to invite the bottle-blonde, barren, fornicating spinster and "family values" morality lecturer named Ann Coulter) is too dumb to live. Good thing he has student activity fees (rather than any money he would be required to earn) to prop him up.

Death Penalty For Poplawski?

This debate is going to stir Pittsburgh's pot soon enough, so why not start?

We stand ready to stack our revulsion toward Richard Poplawski -- and much (but not all) of his entire clustermuck of a family -- against anyone's.

It is tough to imagine a better case for an execution. A cowardly gun nut kills three police officers by ambush, intensifying the venality by using an assault weapon to prevent help from reaching a victim who is bleeding to death. He is apprehended at the scene; no chance of mistaken identity, no possibility of innocence. He not only confesses but expresses mild regret that he didn't kill another officer. He appears to possess no redeeming value and to offer no mitigating circumstance that might warrant leniency.

We still wouldn't impose the death penalty. Not because this valueless punk deserves to live. Not because we believe a lifetime of shackled reflection is worse than death. Not because we hope that a lifetime of shackled servitude to the most sadistic predator of a cellmate our society could assign to Mr. Poplawski would be better than death. Not because of anything involving Richard Poplawski. This isn't about Richard Poplawski. He deserves to be executed. It is about our society, and about justice . . . or, more accurate, injustice.

The injustice that concerns me does not involve Richard Poplawski; our sole concern regarding Poplawski is to ensure that he is denied every comfort, every kindness, every preference for the remainder of his life.

The relevant injustice is that of the innocent condemned by mistake (or by worse). Humans are imperfect, incapable of devising or implementing a system reliable enough to foreclose the unacceptable risk of an innocent man killed by society for a crime he did not commit. The call on Poplawski would be easy. But most death penalty cases aren't. So long as we have prosecutors who tell a witness that unless she testifies in a certain manner a depraved killer will beat the rap, or law enforcement personnel who confect evidence, or eyewitnesses who didn't see what they thought they saw, or confessions obtained by force, or circumstantial evidence that can't travel as far as a vengeance-bent community wants it to travel, innocent men will continue to be condemned. We do not want to be part of a society that kills the innocent, and we believe that one of the essential safeguards in an inviolate refusal to impose the death penalty.

Shiver Their Timbers

For the first time in two centuries, pirates commandeered a United States-flagged seagoing vessel this week; after the boarding, the unarmed American crew overcame the attackers. After the pirates reneged with respect to an agreed swap of captives, the pirates took the ship's captain as a hostage and are holding him aboard a limping boat. A U.S. Navy destroyer is shadowing that boat.

The New York Times has reported that Somali clan elders, the pirates' overseers, have dispatched reinforcement -- larger vessels, more pirates, weapons -- to help the small boat carrying a few pirates and the captured captain.


I understand American forces' wariness with respect to the captain-carrying vessel. But I see no reason the other pirate ships should be permitted to venture more than two miles from the Somali shore before being blasted into bits.

We wouldn't need Captain Teague (left) to accomplish this mission, although his familiarity with the pirates' code could be handy; I'd wager that any American 10-year-old proficient at PlayStation, if handed the controls of a properly armed drone, could get the job done before snacktime.

While we're at it, we should vaporize a few other pirate vessels, simply for the sport of it. If the pirates learn than so much as squinting at a United States-flagged vessel constitutes an irrevocable ticket for a joust with the entire U.S. Navy, the American shipping industry might be rebuilt quicker than you can shoot a pirate between the eyes and say "The Code Is The Law."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What Does ACDC Stand For?

I can't see "ACDC" without thinking Malcolm and Angus, but a post at Progress Pittsburgh suggests I should try harder to recall that ACDC also is the acronym for the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.
Committeegrrl recounts the rule obligating committee members to support endorsed candidates (and to refrain from working against endorsed candidates); mentions some history of party discipline and waning party influence; curiously omits the recent consideration of the issue at a recent ACDC bylaws convention; and wonders whether several committee members (identified by name, including one whose name rhymes with fluke) will be called to account for openly supporting Anthony Coghill at the expense of endorsed candidate (and apparent beneficiary of at least one fraudulent vote by an imposter) Patrick Reilly.
[Note to ACDC: Public and serious consequences for those who sought to defraud the committee (and public) by blatant use of an imposter in an endorsement vote is overdue.]
Committeegrrl raises some worthwhile points. The party has nominated enough losers (literally and figuratively) to populate several Pirates rosters. The misguided city committee, one of the entities most responsible for Pittsburgh's dysfunction, continues to possess disproportionate influence. Some of the region's most promising elected officials, including Bruce Kraus and Patrick Dowd, won without the committee's endorsement. The committee has endorsed a number of unqualified judicial candidates, and outdid its customary level of disgrace this spring when several substandard candidates (including one who concluded that four years of mediocre law practice was adequate preparation for the bench) outpolled Phil Ignelzi, one of the best candidates willing to run the ACDC endorsement gauntlet in decades.
Rumors contemplate that discontent among sentient committee members with respect to the recent judicial endorsements is so severe that many members intend to flout the endorsement, and that some committee chairs are pressing for a declaration of an open primary.
Unless committee leaders address longstanding problems and acute embarrassments, committeegrrl's warning about waning relevance could be prescient. As the ACDC ossifies and the region declines, many Democrats -- including some of the best committee members -- are exhibiting disdain for the county committee's judgments and practices.
ACDC: A Critical Debate Coming?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I Hope I'm Wrong

Pitt basketball's DeJuan Blair announced today that he has signed a marketing contract (and consequently become ineligible for college athletics).

Blair, a fine fellow, often reminded me of Fifth Avenue's Sam Clancy, who regularly outplayed bigger (but not stouter) basketballers for Pitt in the 1970s . Clancy did not play football at Pitt, but crafted a handy National Football League career along the defensive line after a Pitt football coach (who could not persuade Clancy to join the football Panthers) alerted an NFL scout to Clancy's transferable skills.

I hope Blair can emulate Charles Barkley, who fashioned a strong NBA career under the basket with a non-standard body type similar to Blair's. I still sense Blair may follow the course established by Sam Clancy, and pursue his fortune in the NFL, at tight end or defensive end. I am attempting to ignore my fear of the trajectory established by Peabody graduate Mel Bennett, who left Pitt early for the American Basketball Association's Virginia Squires in the mid-70s and washed out.

If Blair acted on unqualified advice from reliable sources who care about him, and becomes an NBA lottery pick, it is quarrel with his reasoning or envision an unhappy ending. But I can't shake the sense Blair would probably have benefited in several ways from staying at Pitt for another (heavily insured) year or two, and perhaps from taking the path marked by Antonio Gates.

My Pirates Solution: Kill Them

I have little interest in calls for bombing Iran. The record, in Iran and its neighborhood, traced back at least 50 years, disinclines American intervention. The advocates, with a record that includes "greeted as liberators," "six months, tops" and "it will pay for itself." don't inspire confidence.

The invasion of Grenada, in my judgment, was petty bullying (unless the United States should have feared Grenada).

There are times, however, when the United States military is an unalloyed, reliable and indispensable force for good -- and this is one of them. When pirates attack a U.S.-flagged vessel, it is time to identify, track and destroy some pirates and their boats.

Frank Zappa, whose work I have long intended to introduce myself to someday, once observed that "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline." I propose expansion of that list to include superiority over pirates.

Kim Stolfer: Gun Nut

Kim Stolfer, described in today's Tribune-Review as chair of Firearms Owners Against Crime "and a life NRA member," is entitled to advocate that American citizens are entitled to possess guns for self-defense in the home. I agree with him regarding that point.

He also is entitled to advocate for broader positions with respect to weapons (concealed carry in public places, assault weapons, armor-piercing bullets, lack of registration, trafficking at gun shows -- heck, anti-tank weapons on rooftops and bundles of bazookas in basements). I largely disagree with him on those points, in part because unregistered assault weapons generate situations such as the triple homicide in Stanton Heights.

Mr. Stolfer is not, however, entitled to deny the costs associated with the positions he advocates. He may assert that benefits outweigh the costs, but he departs from logic and morality when he claims, according to the Tribune-Review, that "banning assault weaponss won't save police officers' lives" and that people would use other weapons to kill people if they are intent on doing so.

I am confident Pittsburgh police officers would express a preference that Richard Poplawski would have been armed with a small pistol or a knife or a hammer or a baseball bat when they were attempting to provide assistance as Officer Eric Kelly bled to death in the street as Mr. Poplawski used a 300-yard-range assault weapon to control the area. We can't ask Officer Kelly for a position on assault weapons -- which is one of the costs of the positions Mr. Stolfer advocates. 'Tis a pity Mr. Stolfer is not man enough to admit it.

Credit due: Jean Devine

Until today, it appeared that not one element of the Poplawski family had done anything to avoid unadulterated opprobrium, creating a risk that some might find the concept of attainder (corrupt blood) apt in this circumstance.

Enter Jean Devine, cousin of Margaret "What are those police officers doing to my boy?" Poplawski. Ms. Devine, the Tribune-Review reports, threw Margaret Poplawski out of her home on Monday, but the eviction is not what marks Jean Devine as a decent person. Instead, it is this statement:
"If I saw my child buying guns, trading guns, stockpiling food and all that in my house, I would have some issues with it," said Devine,
that distinguishes Ms. Devine and earns a sharp salute.

It can be tempting, but is wrong, to hold others' relatives against them. Judge each by deed and word, not by family -- a useful point when electing presidents, endorsing judicial candidates or gauging relatives of racist, hate-consumed psychopaths.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Poplawskis: Still Classy

Today, the Post-Gazette reports, Richard Poplawski's grandmother visited the scene of the crime and accused police of stealing her wallet and a wad of cash.

The Poplawskis also have asserted that police, after refraining from killing Mr. Poplawski, beat Mr. Poplawski while he was in custody.

The Poplawskis' accusations should be investigated (and not by anyone who had a close relationship with a victim), but seem lame -- for example, as the Post-Gazette noted, the Poplawskis assert that Richard Poplawski has been abused in custody while complaining they have had no contact with him since he was placed into custody. Predictions: The wallet is still in the house (perhaps buried under shell casings?) and any police-on-suspect action was precipitated by Mr. Poplawski's belligerence.

Mr. Poplawski's fellow "White Nationalists," meanwhile, are talking up a Storm(front).

This is a time for grieving and demonstrating respect; soon, however, it will be time for questions and answers. The questions are already stacked high.

Monday, April 6, 2009

More Questions Arising, More Answers Needed

Nothing overshadows the shock, grief and loss still hanging over the City of Pittsburgh, the region and those who knew and loved the fallen officers, but a number of issues must be addressed to ensure that justice is done.

First, a number of seemingly settled "facts" from published reports appear to be inaccurate. I see no deception or negligence; instead I see the natural rush and fog associated with reporting a story such as this one. But a couple of the apparently likely corrections could influence the judgments to be drawn with respect to the incident.

Second, a number of developments have intensified the questions concerning Mrs. Poplawski's conduct. I expect her to be charged, and I expect her to deserve it. UPDATE: Some of the "revised" information is favorable to Mrs. Poplawski, but the information available is incomplete and plenty of it is unfavorable.
Third, the attempted rescue and eventual death of Officer Eric Kelly appear to be substantially more complicated than is currently and generally understood.

Margaret Poplawski Is Angry (But Not Scum)

Margaret Poplawski, who did nothing to help police officers ambushed and shot on Saturday by a son she enabled to ambush them (if not because of the distress call she placed, then because she allowed the loser to assemble an arsenal to complement his derangement), expressed anger on Sunday.

What anger tore her away from somber reflection, from begging for forgiveness, from searching for a way to begin to make amends?

Not anger toward the reprehensible Richard Poplawski, who destroyed three lives and shattered families.

Not anger with respect to her many and severe failings.

Not even anger toward whatever general wickedness creates this type of inhumanity.

Instead, she is infuriated by the Post-Gazette's coverage of the senseless triple homicide and of the longstanding familial dysfunction underlying it.

In particular, the P-G reports, she demanded that the P-G stop publishing information about her and her son and stick to writing about the officers her son killed. If the P-G refrained from accepting her editorial advice, she threatened, it would "have the biggest lawsuit in the history of the city of Pittsburgh."

Her understanding of defamation and the legal system apparently resembles her grasp of parenting and morality.

I will refrain from labeling her low-rent scum not because of fear of a lawsuit but instead because (a) modest rents are good and (b) congealed algae deserves better.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mr. Poplawski's 'Friends and Family' Plan: Another Loser

At least three persons connected to Richard Poplawski -- two self-identified friends, and a woman described as a relative -- have been able to shake aside their grief and shame long enough to
offer their insights concerning Mr. Poplawski while in close proximity to broadcasters' microphones.

One, Ed Perkovic, described himself as a close friend who had spoken with Mr. Poplawski during the siege. He sugarcoated Mr. Poplawski's vile delusions -- perhaps because he shared them -- although he shed a bit of light on the situation by mentioning the "Zionists" and exhibited decency by observing that nothing justified Mr. Poplawski's murderous conduct. Mr. Perkovic said he never would have expected Saturday's events, a point difficult to square with the police affidavit recounting Mrs. Poplawski's statement that her son had been stockpiling guns and ammunition while admittedly awaiting a Zionist-Obama End Of The World As We Know It.

Another, Jeff Loeffler, labeled Mr. Poplawski a "good guy" who was "really smart" (echoing the other pal's MySpace observation that Mr. Poplawski is "a genius") -- in short, said Mr. Loeffler, "the guy you wanted to be around."

The aunt, Marianne Klimczyk, agreed that this violent rage came out of nowhere, adding that her nephew "was a good kid" (although "maybe a little depressed") who was "never in trouble." (This creates two possibilities: (a) the aunt had missed (1) the expulsion from school, (2) the washout with the Marines, (3) the several arrests, (4) the repeated police calls at the house, (5) the violent confrontations with neighbors, (6) the participation a in white supremacist website, (7) the physical abuse of a former girlfriend, (8) the apocaplytic ranting, (9) the Max Max preparations, (10) the basement bunker of a guy who slept with a pistol under his pillow and (11) Mr. Poplawski's life in general, or (b) the poor woman suffers from comprehensive synaptic dysfunction. Survey says: the latter.) She allowed that she had been aware her nephew had possessed a machine gun, but described that as "recreational . . . for hunting . . . "

Ms. Klimczyk expressed grave concern . . . about her nephew's reputation: "I don't want the stories about my nephew [his loser's past, his racism and misogyny, his gun nuttiness] to come out the wrong way."

Clues for the demonstrably clueless: If you believe Richard Poplawski was or is a 'good guy' or 'really smart' or 'a genius,' it is time to reevaluate your life -- your opinions, your associations, your standards -- and make substantial changes. If genuinely you didn't see this coming, you probably should add professional counseling to the mix. And even if you want to continue to believe such childish dribble, develop a shred of self-awareness and recognize that no one wants to listen to it, especially while the civilized mourn the consequences of the embodiment of pathetic dysfunction that was Richard Poplawski, Friends and Family Edition.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Questions Amid The Inexplicable

Richard Poplawski, a 22-year-old gun nut in Pittsburgh's customarily sedate Stanton Heights neighborhood, ambushed police officers responding to a domestic disturbance call (the relevant "domestic relationship" was mother-son) today, killing three officers and wounding another. Mr. Poplawski (who called himself "richie delicious" when composing a racist, hate-ridden MySpace page) was a loser's loser -- expelled from high school, a washout with the Marines, unemployed, fearful of "Zionists," President Obama and an invasion of the United States.

An investigation will be required to establish what occurred, how and why, but several questions are raised by information already available:

(1) Will authorities strive to charge, convict and bankrupt Mrs. Poplawski?

Mrs. Poplawski raised a loser, then allowed him to live at her house as an adult; engage in abusive conduct that precipitated repeated calls to police; aggravate her neighbors to the point of violence more than once; and supplement his hateful delusions with a substantial collection of high-powered weapons, ammunition, a bulletproof vest and survivalist supplies. Apparently unaware that this record had already disqualified her from "mother of the year" competition, Mrs. Poplawski displayed her maternal instinct as she left the house during the siege, reportedly (New York Times) shouting at police: "What are you doing with my son?"

(The answer, unfortunately, was not 'killing him.' Pittsburgh police, properly called to account for severe and systemic misconduct in the not-too-distant past, responded with laudable restraint when the cowardly Mr. Poplawski surrendered. Police officers drove Mr. Poplawski to the hospital, apparently unharmed after being arrested; he had sustained at least one gunshot wound while hiding in the house. The police are to be congratulated for handling Mr. Poplawski while in custody. The unfortunate point is that they were unable to kill him while he was firing.)

After observing "richie delicious" engage in whatever conduct triggered a call to police, ambush police officers with an assault rife, prevent assistance for the downed officers before three of them died, and hold the neighborhood hostage for hours, Mrs. Poplawski wanted to know what officers were doing to her son?

Her conduct and her comment indicate that her role in this episode should be explored carefully. She is reported to have made the call that lured police to an ambush. I have seen no evidence that she attempted to warn or help her son's victims. (She helped herself, by leaving the house before her son surrendered.) Why did she make the original call? If she was in a basement loaded with weapons, why did she do nothing to help police during an hours-long siege, with wounded officers stranded by her son's gunfire?

I hope the district attorney is able to identify suitable criminal charges for Mrs. Poplawski. I also hope survivors of the slain police officers advance civil claims against Mrs. Poplawski that enable those survivors to take her house and bankrupt her. I doubt she possesses the introspection that would cause her to recognize what a low-quality person she is, or her culpability; that task is left to the rest of us.

(2) Will gun nuts ever approach sanity?

I believe the Constitution entitles a United States citizen, under most circumstances, to possess a firearm for self-defense in the home. Some people amplify that position by demanding that they be permitted to carry a concealed .357 Magnum on schoolgrounds, or to tote an openly displayed anti-tank weapon down the middle of the street, or to maintain an arsenal of armor-piercing bullets in their basements. Those folks are properly labeled "gun nuts." For them, a nut with a record of anti-social behavior (including, reportedly, participation at a white supremacist website) has every right to assemble an arsenal of high-powered weapons and ample ammunition in his mother's basement. The problem, from the gun nuts' perspective, wasn't a weapon capable of overwhelming police officers and killing anyone within a 300-yard range. Instead, they fix all blame on the finger that pulled the trigger. A "one ambush" rule, similar to and just as silly as the "one-bite rule" for dogs. The NRA reportedly has offered financial assistance and counseling to victims. I hope the victims decline the funds and instead encourage the NRA to consider its role in these murders.

(3) Who disabled the "richie delicious" MySpace page?

I doubt Mr. Poplawski found an opportunity to disable his MySpace page today. Yet the page -- which I visited early this afternoon -- has been deleted. If the motivation for deletion was to conceal information, it has failed. Here is the "deep survey" that constituted most of the content (other than photographs, which others have preserved) offered by "richie delicious at his MySpace page [note: hate-filled, racist, profane rantings ahead]:

1. Where did your last kiss take place? in my driveway. actually the last few have taken place there, come to think of it. lol. goodbye kisses. "have a nice ride"
2. Who knows a secret or two about you?I spread my 'secrets' out. Everybody knows something, but nobody knows everything.but probably rye knows the most shit about me, by virtue of living at my house sometimes. or eddie p cause were on that IM tip every day
3. Three words to explain why you last threw up?Lake Wellington Water. Middle of January. On A Whim. Run Jump Splash. Before I Left.......Ill be back....
4. Have you ever burned yourself?I have two self-inflicted cigarette burns on the back of each of my hands. I remmeber sitting alone. Darkness, anger and pain enveloped me. I rationalized the idea by making it a stand against cigarettes themselves: 'a burn on the skin is far less harmful than a lifetime of smoke inhalation' cant keep smoking squares, i figured, ill end up paying for it in the long run, whether it be through means of disease or by getting my ass beat by a non-smoker with better endurance. Plus I needed a momento to seal the moment in my life. something to give form to said ideals, as well as other nameless vows. I put that newport out completely on the back of my left hand.months later, I did the second one to match. but it lacked the passion. you can see it in the shape and severity of the scar.i regret and am generally embarrassed by those acts of self-mutilation. that was the first and last time i would ever do some shit like that. never. that type of shit is for the birds. and i am no longer a regular smoker ;P
5. What's crazy to you?crazy to me is going through the motions. crazy to me is letting each day slip past you. crazy is being insignificant. crazy is being obscure, pointless. some could call me crazy, my answer would be that at least I insist to exist
6. Favorite cuss word:you fuckin nigger. cocksuckin cunt-of-a-whore. christ!
7. Who is probably talking a load of crap about you right now?lol, if anybody is up at odd hours of the night talking shit about me...theyre NUTS! but even if it were early afternoon, id still say its unlikely anybody is talking 'loads' of crap. i consciously make the effort to keep other peoples names out of my least i try. i hope those around me notice that and do the same for me.if anybody really is talking shit, its because theyre a HATER and must be JEALOUS about SOMETHING. but i doubt it. highly. i keep a good circle of friends. stand-up gentlemen.
8. Who is your hero?traditionally my hero has been Mario Lemieux for his feats on and off the ice. he will solidify his place if he completes the task of saving the Penguins, one more wise, i look up to my grandfather, poppy. even though by all accounts he was a jagoff in his day. i still am tryin to accumulate enough "i punched that motherfucker so hard" stories to match my old man.also, cuckie dearest, my grandmother, for the exact opposite reaons.
9. Would you ever want to be a model?absolutely. although its highly unlikely, its not out of the realm of possibility. some days i feel like im built out of brick, and boyishly handsome as fuck. but i guess everybody has those confident days, right? on the flip side, ill feel like skinny ass rich with 25 pimples the next day, so hey. i guess it would be a matter of pursuing the modeling industry, which i doubt ill ever do. it would be interesting to see howd theyd feel about the eagle tat, tho.
10. Who is the most experimental person you know?WAAAAAT. no.
11. Do you tell white lies?sure, who do i look like? Jesus? (stigmata effect aside, heh)
12. When is your next party?hopefully next wednesday or thursday when the Pens announce a new arena and future in Pittsburgh
13. Who do you want to be with right now?an extraordinarily wealthy woman who just cant live without me. but ill settle for Miss Pennsylvania, if shes reading this ;) hahaha
15. How do you handle a break up?out of sheer honesty, i didnt fare so well having my heart broken for the first time. it seems as though any other breakup is pale in comparison. so from then on, its cake.
16. Your motivation for tomorrow?Um, chest and triceps?
17. Last person to hurt you?rye made me scrape my arm bad as hell wrestling with me in my basement. as far as emotions go, im a rock these days.
18. Last person to make you laugh?myself. i steady stay laughing at things in my mind. i wake up out of a sleep laughing sometimes! i mean not uncontrollably like a psycho(how nuts would that make me), but more like "heh...crosby" matt had me laughing on the phone today, so did eddie p.
19. Last thing you ate?8 egg-whites raw. rocky aint got shit on me.
20. Do u ever go a few days without changing your underwear?ew no thats like the nastiest thing anybody could do. what would make you do that? are you like getting out of the shower and pickin ur gutchies up off the bathroom floor and slidin them back on?! or i guess ur not showering, i dont know. ick.
21. Have you ever accidentally eaten an insect?im sure we all have. not to my knowledge, or in recent memory.
22. Do daddy long legs freak you out?indeed. screw spiders.
23. Have you ever cleaned up someone else's vomit?not that i can remmeber. couldnt imagine a situation where id have to. unless somebody puked in my house or car and ran away. but id rather pay cleaners.
24. Have you ever dropped food on the floor and eaten it?depends on the food, and the floor surface. id really rather not. but have i? sure.
25. Do you kiss your pets on the mouth?i dont have pets. i wouldnt kiss my mothers bird or hamster at all. when i did have a cat, he didnt seem too interested in kissing me much. :( lolwhen i was babysittin somebodys german shepherd, i let her lick my toes. but thats as far as that shit went, i assure you.
27. What serial killer do you find most disturbing?anybody that fucks with little kids. thats ill. or grubs on thier victims, or chills with them/ mutilates them/ has sex with them after theyre dead. c'mon now.
28. Do you ever talk to the TV? "HEEEE SHOOTS AND SCORRRRES" if the pens are on, im highly vocal. i also tend to be fairly critical of newscasters analysis on certain things.
29. Would you ever work in a retirement home?im not an RN, an LPN, a CNA, a janitor, an administrator, director or executive of any kind. so no. my mom is a nursing supervisor at a nursing home tho.
30. Do you believe plants have feelings?no, thats ridiculous
31. Do you laugh at people with "bowl" haircuts?i dont see anybody with that 'do anymore. last person i can think of to rock a bowl cut: Joey D. hahahahaha.
32. Do you have nervous twitches?nope
33. Are you ever purposely irritating?why would you be?
34. If you could fly, where would you go first?hm. depends on how fast i could go. if were looking at a top speed of like 40 mph or less, id stay fairly local.
36. Love or lust?at this point, lust. love eventually....down the road....and over the hillside.....and around the corner
37. One best friend or 10 aquaintances?thats tough. cause what good is an acquaintance, really? have to take one good friend over any number of acqs
38. Favorite food?chicken fingers! extra cheese pizza! General tso's chicken with white rice! Lasagna! Ravioli! Calamari! Mahi-Mahi! Mozzeralla sticks! um...bananas! peaches! strawberries! a grilled reuben! Pancakes and Frech Toast! ham, bacon, and sausage! Eggs! Potatoes! Yes!
39. Do you believe that your first love never dies?shyttttt, shes lucky i didnt kill that brod myself. hahahalol seriously though, for me personally, once the clouded delusion of love passed and i got a rational look at things, i realized my first love was absolutely the most unintelligent, most immature, wrong ass brod for me to ever try to care for. period. the end.
40 What upcoming event are you waiting and ready for?come on summer! sandcastle season passes! hahah, gettin a tan! rubbing oil all over me and strutting around! hoorah!
41. Current smell?::sniff sniff:: ::sniff sniff:: i dont smell anything
42. Do you get your nails done?sexist ass survey question. pfft
43. Most favorite people?grandparents, friends, Pittsburgh Penguins, Penguin fans (especially female Penguin fans)
44.Last thing ordered at McDonalds?hAH. i bought a quarter pounder in west virginia on my way home from FLA in late february.
45. Are you an emotional person?in some ways. no elaboration here. it could take awhile. this survey is wearing out its welcome. if youre still reading, im highly surprised.
46. Do you like your name?nothin wrong with it. i like how my first and middle name flow together. Richard Andrew. heh.
47. What color underwear are you wearing?not have any, im wearing the (infamous) polar bear pajamas
48. Do you have plans this weekend?nope. counting on things to just happen.
49. Do you work?i work hard for the money, so hard for the money. i work hard for the money and im gonna work hard for uuuuuu ;)
50. Do you dance naked in your room at night?you most definitely better believe it. i will bust a naked groove a 100 yard wide. OH!
51. Why did your last relationship end?not quite sure, dont care to speculate too much. maybe a lil parental interference? a lil yearning for freedom? eh
52. What are you listening to right now?listening to myself typing up a storm
53. Biggest fear?see the one that talks about what i view as "crazy" right now i fear this survey will never end.
55. How long have you been a part of myspace?since feb 05
56. Favorite place to be?Stanton Heights, Pgh, PA. Wellington, Palm Beach, FL. Ocean City, MD. Daytona Beach, FL.
my bed. mellon arena. bowling alley.
57. Do you have a crush?several
58. Do you hate anybody?yeah, i hate ed Rendell this week. i hate Tampa Fans.
59. Does anyone hate you?interesting question. reminds me of the shit talking question. same spiel.
60. How many people do you trust fully?nobody. take "fully" out of this question and the number jumps to about 6, family aside.
the end? man it just ends abruptly like that? no closure question? lol.