Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wynn Is A Winner, In My Book

I was planning to stay at Caesar's Place (convention hotel) or maybe the Mirage (next door) later this year, but this exchange from a Wynn Resorts Ltd. conference call, announcing lower earnings, has changed my mind:

QUESTION: Can you talk about the potential for further cost reductions?

ANSWER (Steve Wynn): "Let's suppose that we can jam another $15 million to $20 million out. ... At this point I don't care about that last money if it means interfering with the employees and their lives, because that's our franchise. That's our future. ... I am not going to take the knife to the last buck when it comes to payroll. ... I think it has to be said: There comes a point in these companies in hard times when you make a decision - is it the money or is it the people? Speaking for Wynn Resorts, and you can hear me loud and clear: It's the people, not the damn money. Next question.
Staying at the Wynn would entail some transit time and taxi fares, but I now intend to direct my business to Steve Wynn, the guy who once poked a hole in his $100 million painting and reacted by saying, "Thank goodness it was me and not someone else."

If I must lose a few bucks in Vegas, that's a guy I wouldn't mind losing to.

Water And Sewer Board Meets Friday Morning

Although the website indicates the meeting occurred on July 24, I have been told the board of the Pittsburgh Water Sewer Authority will meet, beginning at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, at the PWSA offices along Penn Avenue.

This appears to be the final meeting scheduled before September 11, which bolsters the stories emanating from various corners of city and county government that indicate the mayor wants to ram through a resolution of the Iron City Brewing lien/payback issues. There may be a spanner in the works, however.

In one corner, carrying water for the company that abandoned the city after taking millions in handouts from taxpayers, is the Ravenstahl administration. The boy mayor is said to be pressing hard to clear the liens and let the defaulting, departing, out-of-towners at Iron City off the hook. Why?

In the other corner, pushing for at least $1 million in repayments of water and sewer bills (at least, that's his current position -- I suspect that in the end he is going to push for a bigger recovery) is council member Patrick Dowd. Why? The brewery is in his district, which means the jobs shredded by the liars at Iron City (with indispensable and inexplicable help from from the Ravenstahl administration) were located in his district. Dr. Dowd appears be trying to prevent a massive abuse of taxpayers.

The mayor has several puppets -- Scott Kunka, Dan Deasy, Margaret Lanier -- on the board, but perhaps not enough to overcome the apparent strength of Dowd's position (why, exactly, should city ratepayers give a dime to people who fleeced and abandoned the city??). Don Walko, chair of the board, has made some interesting recent noises that appear to support Dowd's inquiries. Robert Jablonowski, vice-chair, was a close friend of former Mayor Bob O'Connor and has no apparent connection to the boy mayor. Henry Blum is a union liaison with a Mellon Arena background. Who knows? Maybe one or two members are familiar with the term "fiduciary duty"!

If nothing else, I expect Dowd to shine a needed spotlight on some financial dealings that make no apparent sense (and, apparently, some shaky legal issues). The amount at stake for the public approximates $4 million.

My predictions:

> two-paragraph blurb, at most, in the Trib (which outdid itself with the Heather Bresch promotion story that mentioned neither her illusory degree nor the current, stock-roiling FDA scandal), with no mention of the Iron City angle

> six-paragraph summary in the Post-Gazette, a bare-bones recounting of votes and reports with no context

> an extensive report at The Comet

Those willing to forecast the degree to which the public will be abused should check the Propositions Board; new odds posted.

A Few Questions Rob Stephany Won't Answer

Rob Stephany, Executive Director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, is reported to have asked developers to contact the mayor's office, city council members and the media to express objections to a "potential 'living wage' policy."

Several questions for Mr. Stephany:

(1) Have you solicited similar opposition to prevailing wage laws for construction workers, which inflate development costs?

(2) Do you oppose prevailing wage laws for construction workers?

(3) Can you recognize the logical inconsistency in your positions?

(4) Are you man enough to try to explain that logical inconsistency?

The upside is that the more time Mr. Stephany spends solicitoring sob stories from developers for the mayor's office, the less time he can devote to wasting taxpayer funds and wrecking neighborhoods.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mylan Still Does Not Recognize Quicksand

It appears Mylan has forgotten Rule No. 3.

I have a hunch some regulators, or perhaps prosecutors, may provide an exceedingly expensive refresher course.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dowd Airs Water Authority's Beer-Puked Laundry

If you thought the Indictment Incubator had learned by now that irregular procedures + campaign contributors = special favors is a dangerous formula that produces bad results, this Post-Gazette story -- "Pittsburgh Councilman Seeks Higher Water Payment From Iron City" -- might change your mind.

It appears Michael Kenney (yes, that Michael Kenney) is attempting to arrange inexplicable undercover favors for Iron City Brewing (operated by liars who abandoned the city after taking millions in "economic development" funds) to keep the lid on mistakes by the boy mayor and his chief of staff (I hear both are culpable here, but one gets leniency because he must be tried as a juvenile).

Council member Patrick Dowd, reportedly, is asking questions and agitating for a better deal for taxpayers (echoing a prescient federal judge). The mayor's office (and, I keep hearing, the County Executive's office) apparently is trying to stonewall on information and rush to judgment.

Just a hunch, but my money is on Dowd on this one, particularly if other council members support his efforts to protect taxpayers. Dowd may not recover the entire wad that the mayor squandered, but he seems well-positioned to obtain recovery of more than Mr. Kenney seems inclined to seek, even if it takes a judge to help the Iron City owners find their checkbook (cashier's or certified check only, please).

A Farewell To Tongues and Dog Whistles

I have tried to find some sense in Sarah Palin's words for months, most recently with respect to her "I Love This State So Much, I Quit" farewell speech. As I attempted to chart a logical proof of her soldiers-democracy-reporters riff, or to divine what was so "obvious" about her reasons for bailing that she need not explain, it occurred to me that Sarah Palin engages in a secular form of speaking in tongues. No one can understand what in hell she is trying to say. Her fellow true-believers nod approvingly, entranced. Everyone else politely rolls his eyes in dismissive exasperation.

True believers immerse in delusion, oblivious to their intersection with the reality-based world, so when she says "Some still are choosing not to hear why I made the decision to chart a new course to advance the state," she means it: She believes the problem is that we are choosing to disregard her words, when the truth is her dog-whistle style makes damned near every sound she emits unintelligible to most of her audience.

I hope her resignation directs the spotlight away from her family; raising five children seems enough to consume anyone's attention without having every step scrutinized by the media-audience combination that is about to inflict Octomom on the American television audience. I would not want to live in that fishbowl.

I hope Sarah Palin resurfaces periodically, however, bringing Tina Fey back to Saturday Night Live, where she belongs.

Kirk Burkley, Planning Commissioner And Zoning Board Member: The Premiere Performance

The Comet -- unlike any other source of which I am aware -- has recounted the first public performance of Kirk Burkley, Planning Commissioner.

The early review seems promising. The Comet acknowledged some initial concerns -- lack of planning experience, lack of a public interview -- but ignored a more serious issue with respect to Mr. Burkley's appointment. Plus, anyone chosen by the boy mayor is assigned two strikes before approaching the batter's box.

From a sketchy beginning, however, Mr. Burkley is reported to have acquitted himself smartly -- engaged, sensible, inquisitive -- during the commission meeting. I have found no report of whether the conflict issue regarding Mr. Burkley's vote on a Rooney-Continental development application -- his spouse is employed by the Rooney law firm -- was mentioned, let alone reasoned, publicly. Then again, I still have not found any report, from the P-G or any source, acknowledging that the mayor, after cleaning house because a land giveaway involving the Rooneys and a sign giveaway favoring another campaign contributor were not rubber-stamped, appointed two people whose households depend on the Rooney law firm for funding.

Educated, articulate, energetic, inquisitive . . . it is hard to figure what the city administration liked about Mr. Burkley. Setting aside the submerged tie to a well-connected entity that regularly seeks favors from the city, Mr. Burkley has generated hope that he will be a good addition to the Planning Commission. I therefore feel somewhat bad about the first hit on a Google images search for "Kirk Burkley," so I am temporarily retiring the original photo and using another.

UPDATE: A comment indicates that Mr. Burkley has been a member of the Planning Commission for a year, and that his recent appointment was to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The city website indicates Mr. Burkley's current membership on both panels. I stand sit corrected.

UPPERDATE: Why Mr. Burkley is so favored by the mayor -- we were informed that the administration received a stack of impressive resumes, yet Mr. Burkley snags one of two open spots at Zoning while keeping his Planning position, and another Rooney-connected lawyer gets the second seat -- strikes me as worthy of exploration. Plus, I am still wondering why Mr. Burkley's wife was spotted by Bob Mayo inexplicably scurrying through service corridors (shepherded by the mayor's Director of Policy) to avoid questions when she was a member of the Ethics Board. Plus plus, so far there is no evidence that anyone acknowledged, let alone resolved, the issue of whether Mr. Burkley should vote on a seven- or eight-figure proposal advanced by a group led by a name partner at the law firm that issues paychecks that fund his household. I want to believe Mr. Burkley is something better than just another warm bulb in the mayor's indictment incubator, and The Comet's report generates hope, but I believe more information is needed to reach a reliable conclusion. I'm not reaching for that puppet picture yet, but I am keeping it within reach. Perhaps one of the Bernstein Law Firm or Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney employees who visit this site could provide insight?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Two Cheers For Sabatini And Boselovic

Sunday's Post-Gazette indicates that Patricia Sabatini and Leonard Boselovic, nemeses of resume-padding corporate executives, dishonest educational institutions and even governors, are at it again. At this point, I suspect their prospects for a PR gig at Mylan are remote.

These two reporters may have become the most formidable tandem in Pittsburgh media since Ed and Wendy King were conducting KDKA's Party Line, radio's first talk show (1951-71).

UPDATE: Signals from the P-G newsroom indicate Boselovic and Sabatini have more to report, and soon, but nothing appears on the P-G website as of late Monday.

Unsolicited Advice Series: Yarone S. Zober

After providing unsolicited advice (and more unsolicited advice) to Kevin Acklin, and wincing through, and then parsing, Yarone Zober's recent oratorical exhibition, I sense that providing unrequested advice to Mr. Zober would be the sporting course.

First, stick to a statement prepared by someone who knows what he is doing (think: outsource). If asked a question, respond only as is essential -- less, if possible. Think of Mario Lemieux, whose nature (and, I suspect, excellent training) leads him to pause and purse his lips after nearly every phrase, giving the impression that uttering another syllable would resemble birthing a jagged-edged bowling ball. Lemieux even nods silently at the end of every sentence or two, as if acknowledging an unseen coach asking him "why say another word?"

Second, eliminate unsolicited, impromptu statements. Unprovoked ramblings along tangents are usually imprudent, particularly if your nature is to be disingenuous and you are discussing matters better (from your perspective, anyway) left unilluminated.

Third, avoid easily refuted statements, such as "developers are abandoning downtown for Millvale" or "the city is growing" or "I will be hiking in solitude with my Lord along the Appalachian trail."

Fourth, eschew readily ridiculed opinions, such as a claim that a handful of protesters, rather than national economic quicksand, is to blame for stalling hotel projects that were unable to get off the ground when the development environment was overheated.

Fifth, devote special attention to steering clear of embarrassing topics and juxtapositions, such as describing job creation as the standard by which your administration's economic development policy should be judged on the day on which 150 years of continuous employment at a manufacturing facility is ending consequent to your administration's economic development activity.

Finally, please feel free to disregard these pointers, and to start singing like a canary sitting on a sackful of seeds, if people identifying themselves as an FBI agent and a prosecutor's investigator pull you aside deftly and quietly indicate they would like to speak with you privately.

Zober On Developers And Protests (Annotated)

The boy mayor's chief of staff, Yarone Zober, provided a 10-minute clinic on public speaking mistakes recently, recorded by and made available at The Comet (or in Infinonyvision, center column to the right).

Zober was fielding questions from reporters, with unprompted riffs on development policy, unions, community organizers, and other subjects included. A clock-keyed annotation:

"The main issue the mayor's concerned about is making sure Pittsburgh continues to grow . . . [after] decades and decades of decline . . . Pittsburgh is on an upswing."(:17)

Pittsburgh can not, by definition, continue to grow until it begins to grow. "The Pittsburgh region had the steepest population decline among cities outside areas hit by Hurricane Katrina from 2000 to 2006, according to Census Bureau estimates released today." Upswing? The city, insolvent, just signed up for another five-year receivership. The Ravensthal-Zober take on the city's bearing evokes two kids in the back of a station wagon, unaware that they are pointed in the wrong direction, furiously turning their toy steering wheels as they look out the back window, excited by how fast they are going.
"Our job is to create jobs." (:26)

Zober made this statement just as the final kegs were rolling out of Iron City Brewery, a business that withstood 148 years of Prohibition, plagues, World Wars, Industrial Revolution and (more recently) pathetic management -- but could not survive Ravensthal-Zober economic development measures.
"The goal is to create jobs, and to promote economic development so that we can generate taxes . . ." (2:30)

Except, of course, when the city ensures a development doesn't pay taxes.
"Certain hotel developments, for example, [that have been 'contemplated for several years'] are deciding not to come to Pittsburgh because of this type of {protest} activity"(2:35)

Projects that couldn't get off the ground in the go-go years are still going nowhere in a once-in-a-couple-of-generations national economic downturn, and the city administration naturally attributes this to . . . rabble-rousers.
(In response to a request for specific examples:) "You'd really have to talk to the URA about that."(2:40)

Great idea, because surely one might expect some familiarity with that topic from the chair of the URA -- Yarone S. Zober.
(Identifying relevant hotel projects:) "There's one on the South Side [Works] . . . one at the Pittsburgh Technology Center . . ." (3:52)

South Side Works? The project with more than 70% public funding? That's leading with your chin. Pittsburgh Technology Center? The $5 million TIF for a project worth less than $30 million?
"The bottom line is, some people will always want to stop progress." (3:54)

The old Tom Murphy "naysayer" angle. Of course, this point depends on one's definition of progress.
"Is it fair to have the North Side benefit from developments in the North Side?"(5:32)

Seems at least as fair as expecting the North Side to bear the brunt of parking, vandalism, public urination, and similar problems associated with venues developed on the North Side. Perhaps residents recall the manner in which the Heinz Field liquor license was ramrodded to issuance overriding standard Liquor Control Board practices, or the recurring sound issues, or have little faith in the assurances of a family whose appraisal of the situation included an apparently sober claim their fans do not become intoxicated at Steelers games.
(Asked about union objections:) "If you go to some of the people in the building trades -- they have said 'we don't support CBAs . . . because construction and development has to continue . . . you always have that divergence of opinion." (0:56, second video)

And what might explain the mayor's preference for one union agenda over another? If the city administration believes reducing impediments to and cost of development is an unalloyed good, why does it not pursue eradication of prevailing wage requirements? There must be a reason for such an incongruous set of approaches to particular unions' policy preferences. In any event, it would be fascinating to observe how a selfish blowhard such as Rich Stanizzo or a human job-killer such as Jack Shea would react were the Ravenstahl administration to aim its pro-development policy at cost-inflating prevailing wage laws.
"It would be the easiest thing in the world to say, 'OK, whatever you want,' and I'm sure there will be some people who will do that." (1:24)

A sentiment regarding which everyone can agree: Surely no one would advocate 'whatever you want' government decisions, lest we have government officials improperly dispensing no-bid contracts and engaging in legal gymnastics to provide similarly dubious and lucrative favors to campaign contributors and other politically connected characters.

I could continue ripping Mr. Zober a new one with his own words, but my sphincter-ripper is overheating, and I will need it to work on Tim Hickman and the other greedy liars at Iron City Brewery shortly, so I will cut to the core point made by Mr. Zober at the beginning of the second video: "We just don't share the same interest on their specific issue." Memo to Northside United: Forget protests and press releases, which will generate nothing other than chained doors and a cold shoulder. Instead, you should consider some other methods -- time-tested, proven methods -- designed to "align interests." You will marvel at how accommodating the city administration can be when it perceives shared interests.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One Cheer For George W. Bush

A recent exchange of comments included my point that no person is all bad, a point that is easy to forget.

This Time magazine article, which recounts the tension between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney concerning the treatment of Scooter Libby as their administration ended, reflects well on Mr. Bush. Not because the former president declined to issue the complete pardon for which Mr. Cheney pestered him, but because of his depicted disdain for "fixer" pardons, respect for jury verdicts and focus on the issues of whether Mr. Libby had lied and whether Mr. Libby had exhibited remorse.

I am confident that I could identify a redeeming quality of Mr. Cheney if I devoted sufficient time to the task. I probably would need some help with respect to Liz Cheney, though.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why Pick On The Post-Gazette?

Recent jabs at the Post-Gazette -- the swipe at substandard coverage of North Shore Uglitheater developments, the she-likes-pancakes snideness, the recurring and snarky Google-compatible Intertubes apparatus angle, the exasperation concerning disregard of the obvious hack-a-thon issues -- might cause a reader to conclude that (or, at least, wonder whether) I hold the P-G in especially low esteem, or that I find less fault with the Tribune-Review.

I like the Post-Gazette. I believe it often tries to find and report worthwhile news, including difficult stories. (For example, word wafting from Grant Street is that city officials -- in conjunction, for reasons not readily apparent, with county officials --have been fretting for weeks about a formal records request concerning the financial issues associated with Iron City Brewing, the water authority and squandered public subsidies, and most versions identify the P-G as the requestor).

The P-G often fights for access to public documents and proceedings, vindicates open meeting laws, and challenges the powerful. (Not always, however. It appears to have a few blind spots.)

The P-G has invested and participated in stories it covers. It periodically veers into bizarre territory, for reasons only the publisher (or a brave insider) might explain.

But, in a declining region and a challenging financial environment for journalism, the Post-Gazette provides Pittsburgh with a genuine newspaper. I note the P-G's faults because I believe the P-G might try to improve and might succeed.

Why not devote similar scrutiny to the Tribune-Review? Why do parents respond one way when their straight-A, never-arrested, hard-working, charity-volunteering child brings home an uncharacteristically low grade, and differently when the neighbors' paroled, addicted dropout gets arrested again, this time for a felony? Differing expectations, differing levels of concern.

What's The Story On Tuesday's Planning Votes?

The Post-Gazette reports this morning (after the Tribune-Review reported yesterday afternoon) that the City of Pittsburgh's planning commission has approved the $7 million, er, $12 million , er, publicly subsidized Continental Real Estate-Rooney proposal to build an entertainment complex just east of Heinz Field. The commission also improved a 170-square-foot LED sign for Heinz Field, home of the Rooneys' Steelers.

The Post-Gazette refrained from reporting:

(1) whether the entertainment project and LED sign were approved unanimously, by a single vote, or somewhere between;

(2) whether or how commissioner Kirk Burkley participated in the deliberations or vote concerning either of the Rooney-related issues;

(3) that Mr. Burkey's spouse is a lawyer whose paychecks are drafted on stock that includes the name "Rooney"; and

(4) the content of six conditions imposed on the project.

The coverage of friction between the exquisitely connected developers and neighbors was disappointingly thin, but thin > nonexistent.

I am not prepared to fault the reporter. Perhaps she submitted a competent report, but editors pared it to make room for the front-page news that former P-G president Diana Block likes pancakes.

Do not abandon hope: The Comet may yet illuminate these issues (well, maybe not the pancake angle).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All Work And No Pay = Commonwealth Employee

I believe the laws addressing non-payment of wages are brutal -- penalties, attorneys' fees, personal liablity, multiplied damages -- designed to terrorize employers to a point at which they wouldn't dream of stiffing employees.

In a better competent world, leaders of state government would set aside their ideological differences, partisan divide and personal failings long enough to recognize the indecency of causing state employees to work without paychecks. Those employees and their families are being held hostage because neither political faction knows when or how they could be used for political points. Personal liability for withholding wages, imposed on the leaders of the executive and legislative branches, would be a fitting consequence.

I would call those responsible for abusing the state employees pond scum, but that would unfairly disparage congealed algae.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

If You Can't Step Away From The Screen (Vol 2)

If you have not seen Up, the most recent Pixar production, you are fortunate . . . because you can look forward, beginning at this moment, to having your life brightened by a wonderful film. See it today, if possible. If not, tomorrow.

Aiming simultaneously at variously aged audiences -- helping adults endure parental obligation in a way that could never be matched by boy bands, skating shows or rasslin' matches -- has been a worthy advancement in animated films during the past two decades. Up wrinkles this development by offering excellent entertainment for adults that children should be able to enjoy, too. So take a child for cover, unless you do not wish to expose that child to a risk of seeing the elder(s) get a bit misty.

I can't recall whether an animated film has been nominated for Best Picture among the Academy Awards, but Up earns consideration.

"Coming attractions" previews baffle me -- how could anyone with a single kilobyte of functioning memory tolerate them? -- but I recommend arriving promptly for Up because, if you are lucky, a short work entitled Partly Cloudy will precede Up.

DeMint's Sex Scandal Can't Arrive Soon Enough

Unless the first two words that come out of the mouth of any Republican and/or conservative these days are "I apologize" or "forgive me," does anyone care what follows?

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-Discredited Ideology) sees it differently. He is not just out to prevent health care reform -- he hopes to use the issue to "break" Pres. Obama -- and he is boasting about it.

It is bad form, Senator, to root to "break" the guys brought in to clean up the mess after you and your pals broke the world.*

* h/t Seth Meyers

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mazefsky's New Policy: No Statement Too Stupid

The City of Pittsburgh's Gabe Mazefsky has a sweet gig -- Manager of Policy for a city whose policies appear to be limited to cronyism, ineptitude and insolvency, working for a mayor whose intellectual curiosity ranges from (a) whether Lamar Advertising or the Steelers has better Rascal Flatts tickets to (b) whether any of the golfers at that U.S. Women's Open will be hot enough to make chancing a return trip to Oakmont worthwhile.

In fact, until now, I sensed that Mr. Mazefsky's duties consisted primarily of sneaking political appointees with something to hide through back alleys to avoid reporters.

Today, however, we learned -- when the City Paper quoted Mazefsky in the wake of the recent hack-a-thon concerning city boards and commissions: "There is plenty of independent thinking" on city authority boards -- that there is now more to Mr. Mazefsky's public service. His portfolio has been expanded to include making statements so dumb no self-respecting 12-year-old would say them. And Gabe is taking his new responsibilities seriously: : "Lamar was not a factor, period, in appointments to the Zoning Board."

Congratulations, Gabe, on the promotion . . . and the strong start.

I won't clutter the Propositions Board with odds, but can anyone clear up whether Gabe got his job by being (a) Luke's Cub Scout leader, (b) the Student Judicial Board member whose vote allowed Luke to stay at W&J, or (c) the guy who found the guy who took the LSAT for Yarone Zober?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I May Have Been Wrong About Theresa Smith

A scene in Night Shift (Michael Keaton's breakthrough film) depicts a mild-mannered character portrayed by Henry Winkler in jail, charged with transforming the city morgue into a whorehouse (it's a Ron Howard comedy, believe it or not, and a good one). His job, his engagement, his life, all in tatters. Moments after his fiancee shows up at the cell door . . . to spit on him . . . he sits forlornly on a holding cell bench, head in hands, and concludes aloud, 'This is it. Rock bottom. My life can not possibly get any worse than this.'

At that moment, he looks to his side, where another prisoner, displaying a daisy chain of hearts fashioned from a napkin, blows a kiss to him.

"OK, I was wrong," he sighs.

If this report of Theresa Smith's comments concerning the recently ramrodded appointments to city boards

"I know what my community wants," countered Ms. Smith. "They have elected a mayor of the city of Pittsburgh, overwhelmingly," and mayors pick board members,

is accurate, I know precisely how Chuck Lumley felt on that holding cell bench.

Adventures in Politics (And Cash)

Recent revelations concerning the investigation (now featuring a guilty plea) of certain defense spending arrangements cause me wonder: Isn't John Murtha at least as powerful as Vince Fumo is was?

Post-Gazette's Technology Follies

The Post-Gazette's current electronic front page contains no mention of yesterday's handling of zoning, planning and historic review appointments by City Council; a 10-minute search -- hopping among links, using the search function -- likewise produces no evidence of a Wednesday story on Tuesday's events.

Prominently placed, however, are stories concerning recruitment of game show contestants (Deal Or No Deal) and a queue awaiting the earliest local exhibition of a film (Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince).

My conclusion: The reason the P-G still has no Googletronic 2000 (left) for its reporters is that the entire technology budget was blown on a random-story generator, which has replaced the layout desk.

Did the Nuttings buy the P-G while I wasn't looking?

UPDATE: Bob Mayo contributes a couple of apt points:

(1) There is a Wednesday Post-Gazette story locatable by proper intrepidity.

(2) The Tribune-Review is still wandering in the weeds, looking for the story.

Mr. Mayo's powers evidently have grown to the point at which he can create links that tie directly to, and highlight, particular portions of P-G articles.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Poor Journalists . . . I Mean, Journalism

I often feel sorry for journalists -- the Post-Gazette apparently still can't afford an Intertubes connector device of any type for its reporters, for example -- but it is difficult to muster much empathy concerning this story recounting the antics of some "journalists" during the opening rounds of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's search for solitude along the Appalachian Trail soulmate-snuggling in South America. The predictable suspects -- Fox News, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times -- scorn the "ridiculous" media skepticism concerning the governor's original story of innocent alone-time, apparently unaware of (a) the truth and (b) the prospect that a newspaper would obtain their e-mails through an open records request.

The best note, however, was penned by Stephen Colbert, who evidently maintains his character's cutting edge even off-camera.

Gubernatorial Pace Becomes A Prance

The race for Pennsylvania governor has moved from a shambling pace to a prance.

Jim Gerlach, four-term Congressman from Chester County, announced today that he will relinquish his House seat in favor of a run against Tom Corbett and Patrick Meehan for the Republican nomination.

Jack Wagner moved closer -- albeit at an angle -- to an announcement that he will seek the Democratic nomination.

Kevin Kinross, on behalf of Democrat Dan Onorato, sent nine e-mails to me (more accurate: I received nine copies of the same message, reproduced here), with 'updates from the campaign trail.' Among the updates:

"When Dan sees corruption or government inefficiency, he will get in peoples’ faces and demand change" -- which must mean that he is already working on this problem, right?

Dan signed the "region's strongest antidiscrimination ban into law" (well, maybe not the strongest) -- but still has not, apparently, indicated whether he supported the measure

Dan has collected much more money than Wagner has assembled, but neither is likely to match the wad Tom Knox plans to pull from his own pocket

I still see no clear favorite of either flavor.

Motznik: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Interviews

Pittsburgh's council, in a brief respite from accelerating the city's fiscal tailspin, briefly (and, for some council members, surprisingly) devoted its attention this afternoon to approving a dozen mayoral appointments -- by acrimonious 5-4 vote, and without interviews or hearings -- to the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Review, and the Historic Review Commission.

Council member Jim Motznik, apparently in his element within the councilmanic labyrinth as much as he is at home in the sewers, reportedly pulled a set of nomination papers from his pocket to begin an unexpected maneuver toward the end of a council meeting.

The mayor, by dodging public scrutiny of the appointments, managed to evade a question or two (or maybe even three) concerning some of the anointed.

I can understand why Motznik carried the mayor's shabby pail, and Tonya Payne's bitterness seemingly precludes any good-government votes on her last lap toward irrelevance, but the conduct of Rev. Ricky Burgess, Darlene Harris and Theresa Smith in this regard warrants a reexamination of the Propositions Board with respect to the race to replace Motznik as Paris' the mayor's BFF.

UPDATE: Propositions Board (far right) adjusted appropriately.

UPPERDATE: Yes, that is a photograph of a sewerbootlicker.

UPPERERDATE: The Rubber Stamp Five poster alone makes Junkieville worth a trip.

City Still Looking To Refresh Iron City's Drink?

I keep hearing that the Ravenstahl administration is working overtime, trying to figure out how to let the owners of Iron City Brewing -- the group that took millions in taxpayer dollars from the city, didn't do what it promised to do, then sent every beer production job out of the city after 150 years of operation -- get out of town with as little repayment of public money as possible.

Let's recap. Out-of-towners take over brewery with help of mayor, who forgives millions in debt. Mayor gives more financial assistance to owners, declares he has "saved" brewery. Soon enough, owners 'temporarily' move most production to New York. Mayor, meanwhile, forgives even more debt despite owners' failure to provide promised investments and employment. Owners then announce complete shutdown of production in city. Mayor sacrifices summer vacation, trying to put even more public money into pockets of those who stiffed the city on water bills, destroyed hundreds of jobs and fled the city.

In some versions, Dan Onorato's office is working in concert with the city administration to reward these job-killers. In every version, the aim is to get it done quietly and quickly.

Can anyone explain any of this? Otherwise, I will assume that when this story becomes a screenplay, the option will have been taken by "Law and Order: Grand Jury."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Finding The "Asses" In Assessments

Howard Hanna's televised tour of homes featured a distinctive property -- 899 Persimmon Road, Sewickley Heights -- this morning.

The asking price, $3.8 million, seems reasonable for an 8-bedroom, 6-bath home in excellent condition, located on more than 10 acres of prime Sewickley Heights land (a "meticulous landmark estate," according to the broker, along the type of street where homes are titled by "personal residence trusts").

The current assessed value of the home, determined by the County of Allegheny: $1.2 million. Which is roughly what it sold for -- in 1993.

The Howard Hanna website indicates the current owner pays $29,950 in annual property taxes. This means the underassessment generates an annual windfall approximating $60,000 for this property's owner.

When Dan Onorato and Rich Fitzgerald boast about preserving the current property assessment structure in Allegheny County, this is the immoral and regressive taxation system they are defending. Political ambition might explain their positions. How they persuade an elected official with Bob Macey's district, or Nick Futules' district, or Charles Martoni's district -- districts in which the average resident earns less than a privileged property owner evades in property taxes through inaccurate assessments -- to support this level of inequity is difficult to understand. Can anyone provide an explanation?

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Bright Comet Can Be Illuminating

The Pittsburgh Comet covers certain local events, such as the most recent Walnut Capital and Rooney-Continental capers and county council's handling of an anti-discrimination ordinance in a manner that should incline some professional journalists in these parts to take notes and note names.

Mick Taylor Cancels Pittsburgh Show

Pittsburgh increasingly holds the short end of the music tour stick -- unless you don't mind the situation described by one long-time local industry insider: "they'll buy anything country and golden oldies, and I do mean anything, but that's about it" -- and I have gradually become resigned to traveling to Cleveland or elsewhere for at least half the shows I want to see.

But it is nonetheless disappointing to learn that Mick Taylor has cancelled the Hartwood Acres show that had been scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. The change was attributed to a "health issue." A month or so ago, Rod Stewart cancelled his late summer concert at the Post-Gazette Pavilion, no reason provided.

Billy Price is a handy fill-in for Mick Taylor at Hartwood -- that's 7:30 p.m., Hartwood Acres, no charge -- but falling off the rock music map is one of the elements of Pittsburgh's decline that I like least.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

(More) Unsolicited Advice For Kevin Acklin

Kevin Acklin, the Post-Gazette reports, has proposed a series of four mayoral debates, declaring that the "voters of Pittsburgh deserve an open airing and discussion of the issues."

Instead of trying to maximize airtime for debates Pittsburgh voters "deserve," Mr. Acklin should be focusing on the distinction between "deserve" and "want," or that between "deserve" and "would pay attention to," or even the distinction between "deserve" and "could understand." City voters are the people who support Sarah Palin despite her "wonkish" nature and the way she "talks like some big-shot professor or something," and like her because she bounced around among a half-dozen colleges no one ever heard of.

If Mr. Acklin is to win, it will be because of a scandalous 72-point newspaper headline beginning with "Ravenstahl . . ." not because of anything that occurs in debates moderated by Sonni Abata, Trisha Pittman or Chris Fennimore.

This race will be won in 10 words or less, Mr. Acklin. The contents of that headline, or the lack of that headline.

Opposition research. The best available, the most you can afford.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Unsolicited Advice For Kevin Acklin

The Post-Gazette's politics blog today provides depictions of a Kevin Acklin campaign mailer and concludes that this mailer demonstrates "seriousness."

If Kevin Acklin is serious, he should be spending every dollar penny he can find on opposition research. Get the best people available, buy all the legwork you can afford. Forget paper and ink. If the Acklin campaign finds what it needs, publicity should be no problem. If not, publicity will not matter.

If the Acklin campaign wanted to be mentioned in the Post-Gazette, it was smart to use the postal service, because it appears the P-G has not yet installed an Intertubes-ready Googler.

'Video Games Live': Your Taxes Dollars At Work

I don't know precisely how to react to this story recounting (a) the Pittsburgh Symphony's hip new reach-out to the younger generation or (b) the involuntary spasms of a corpse bloated by taxpayer dollars.

I know this: When Green Day brings its music to Pittsburgh later this month, the performers will carry their own weight, artistically and financially. The band will not be heavily subsidized by taxpayers; it will pay plenty of taxes; and it will not require pathetic gimmicks to attract people young or old. (I do not consider a giant pink bunny chugging a beer to be a pathetic gimmick; I find it to be a fine way to start the show.)

When Billy Joe, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool are the models of self-reliance, fiscal accountability and personal responsibility, and the people in tuxedos (on stage and in the audience) are the ones sponging off society, it may be time to reevaluate something.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Deadender Revival Tour Hits Schenley Park

Several hundred right-wing deadenders congregated at the Pittsburgh Independence Day Tea Party in Schenley Park yesterday.

They railed about small government (without considering, apparently, how that concept aligns with social conservative issues such as imprisonment of marijuana users; censorship of dirty movies; school prayer; abortion; or homage to God in the national Pledge of Allegiance).

They listened to local vanity-radio figure Glen Meakem -- who used government assistance to build a company, then became rich selling stock in that company to people who knew far less about the company than he did (such as whether FreeMarkets would ever be profitable, or whether the stock he was selling for $300 would soon be worth about $2) -- lecture about the evils of government and the virtues of God-fearing capitalism.

They listened to Grover Norquist, an early supporter of George W. Bush and a conduit for Jack Abramoff's moneychanging, moan about broken government.

A Tribune-Review reporter's count of Tea Party attendees approximated 400. In other words, the Furries outdrew the Tea Partiers, 10 to 1, in Pittsburgh this weekend. (Anyone know how Jane Orie staffer Alan Berlin managed the scheduling conflict?)

Do You Really Need Another Reason To Stay Away From PNC Park? (If So, Here It Is)

WTAE-TV News, which always receives extra credit for employing Bob Mayo, didn't need it this morning, when it reported that the food safety practices at PNC Park are as substandard as the home team's performance on the field. According to health department inspection reports, the inventory in PNC kitchens shares space with mold, mouse droppings, mishandled raw poultry and insects -- at unsafe temperatures -- before becoming the fans' overpriced concession items. Forty-one (of forty-three) PNC Park kitchens were cited for at least one "critical violation" recently, WTAE reported. Mold in ice machines was a frequent violation.

Silver lining: The inspectors have demonstrated integrity by documenting these problems. There is no observable limit to the obsequiousness of their bosses -- local elected officials -- toward the owners of the Pirates and Steelers, and the principal concessionaire at PNC Park (Aramark) also works at Heinz Field, so the inspectors must have known accurate reports could displease the powers that be. These public servants deserve thanks.

I recommend eating at a restaurant before the game. That supports businesses whose taxes are paying for the ballparks, and appears to increase the likelihood that the home team's play will be the only thing that makes you retch during a family outing at the ballyard.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mixed (Up) Messages For God's Governors?

I fear that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (waving bye-bye, far left), each a hard-charging member of God's gubernatorial caucus, have been praying so furiously that some celestial circuits couldn't handle the load, and an urgent message intended for Gov. Sanford has instead been received by soon-to-be-former-Gov. Palin.

The botched delivery seems understandable -- Gov. Sanford's mailing address changed recently, consequent to a message delivered directly by Mrs. Sanford -- but Gov. Palin's promised resignation creates a devastating void in next year's gubernatorial beauty pageant.

The Propositions Board has been suitably adjusted; at this point in the Sanford story, we were assured he was hiking in solitude along the Appalachian Trail, clearing his head after an intense legislative session. We learned about the "intense . . . sessions" that destroyed his political career a few days later.

Mark And His Mistress: A Story For Our Time

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford leaned heavily on religion throughout his political career, wearing that religion on his Polo sleeve and castigating others for falling short of Biblical moral standards.

Everyone now understands even that time-honored crutch hasn't been strong enough to prop up Gov. Sanford, whose nature has been revealed to be immoral, hypocritical, inept and, most recently, arguably insane.

Gov. Sanford continues to hear and be comforted by the voice of God, who has used the story of David and Bathsheba to assure Gov Sanford that he need not resign.

(Why God needed to dig through his back catalog his even further back catalog to provide the desired solace is difficult to understand; the more recent spiritual journeys of David and His Whore or John and His Close Friend's Wife seem equally apt to Gov. Sanford's fleshly predicament.)

I'm no scientific theory expert, but I sense the evidence is approaching the point at which "family values Republican" can reliably be taken to signal "closeted gay hypocrite" and/or "egregiously adulterous hypocrite." Even without confirmation of that theory, it is plain that every finger-wagging, vote-courting press conference featuring a Bible-belting politician's condemnation of another's conduct should begin with two questions:

(1) "Do you pledge, without qualification and with God as your witness, to resign immediately if you are found to have strayed from the moral standard you are invoking today?"

(2) "For scheduling convenience, would you then forecast when our assignment desk should expect the initial revelation concerning your Argentinian concubine/insatiable taste for prostitutes/men's room arrest/conquest of your close friend's spouse?"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Out-Of-The-Box July 4th Telethon Proposal

Upon observing the mayor of Pittsburgh -- after tossing aside a Stadium Authority board member for questioning below-market conveyances of public assets to the Rooneys (echoing the earlier removal of Bill Peduto), and a couple Zoning Board of Adjustment members who did not vote for an unlawfully arranged billboard favored by the mayor and his campaign donors -- appoint replacements whose mortgage payments are provided by the Rooney law firm (two) and by UPMC (one), points that appear to have evaded the attention of any local news medium, I have a question:

When might we expect the Post-Gazette or Tribune Review to begin to provide to at least one reporter, on at least a part-time basis, access to a Google-capable Intertubes apparatus of some type?

Extra-Special Propositions: Anthrocon

By request (and only by request):

costumed in public
B.Peduto 10-1
B.Kraus 10-1
D.Shields 10-1
L.Ravenstahl 15-1
J.Motznik 50-1
P.Dowd 75-1
T.Payne 75-1
T.Smith 75-1
R.Burgess 75-1
Dar.Harris 75-1
Dok.Harris 15-1
K.McClatchy 8-1
Y.Zober 3-1
MattH 1-1

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Minding the Virtual Mailbag

Several correspondents have inquired regarding my recent discussions of the boy mayor's appointment of Zoning and Stadium Authority board members to replace members who appear to have been inadequately pliant for the mayor's taste.

A couple of friends and/or colleagues of S. Manoj Jegasothy have assured me that Mr. Jegasothy is a wise person of high integrity who does not deserve to be depicted as a puppet controlled by strings.

Another person, apparently somewhat less a friend to Mr. Jegasothy, asked whether I knew that Mr. Jegasothy's home is assessed at a value less than the purchase price. (Scant research indicates that this claim appears to be true, but that the discrepancy approximates five percent. Given the grotesquely huge underassessments that are common in Allegheny County (at least until Judge Wettick picks up his hammer), five percent reminds me of Phil Hartman's -- as Bill Clinton -- Saturday Night Live response to a Secret Service agent who begs that Mrs. Clinton not be informed that the security detail acquiesced regarding an impromptu stop at McDonald's: "Jim . . . there's gonna be a whole bunch of things that we don't tell Mrs. Clinton. Fast food is the least of our worries, OK?")

Assessment rap?Swing and a miss.

Another correspondent asked why I neglected to mention, after referring to Kirk Burkey's well-connected spouse, that Mr. Jegasothy is married to a UPMC executive. I have not researched this point exhaustively, but this University Times list of UPMC executives indicates that a Michele P. Jegasothy was UPMC's corporate secretary a month ago.

UPMC tie? Long drive, deep right field . . . going . . . going . . . gone! And you can kiss it goodbye!

Despite the disparate perspectives, I perceive a unifying thread among these correspondents. They all agree that I do not know what I am talking about.

A New Revised Amended Approved Act 47 Plan: Not An Answer In Sight, But Plenty Of Questions

A few questions in the wake of yesterday's 6-3 Pittsburgh city council vote approving another Act 47 plan:

(1) What is this plan designed to accomplish (other than kicking a rusty, dented, empty can aimlessly along a haphazardly paved street for a few more years)?

(2) What could incline anyone to believe that state legislators representing non-city residents would authorize the City of Pittsburgh to increase taxes on non-residents, some of whom pay higher property taxes for responsible governments, to bail out an irresponsible city?

(3) If a suburbs-via-Harrisburg bailout does not materialize, how would the city fund the new plan?

(4) Can anyone identify the planet Tonya Payne ('if we vote against the plan, the state will beg us for a plan we would approve') inhabits . . or, at least, believes she inhabits?

(5) Can anyone identify the sane and sober pension expert who has determined that a $10 million-per-year boost in contributions, even if it were to occur, would solve a Pittsburgh pension problem approaching a billion dollars? (If not, see item 1).

(6) Whom was Mayor Ravenstahl expecting to comfort with the asssertion that his personal relationships with Jim Motznik and Tonya Payne enabled council to assemble the necessary votes?

(7) Is there one chance in 100 that this plan could enable the city to become solvent and emerge from receivership . . . or is there no chance?

(8) What factors placed Bruce Kraus, Theresa Smith and Tony Payne among the three-person group that represented council members in after-hours negotiations with the Act 47 coordinators and other state officials?

(9) Does anyone believe the Act 47 coordinators would have proposed this plan were they working for a contingent fee (payment contingent on city solvency)?