Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Dread Lord" Zober Not Improving Relations With Harrisburg

Um ... Trib, Boren & Bumstead

UPDATE: From KDKA radio's Pintek Tonight: Doug Shields in two parts and Zober defending himself. Tuesday's Steelers jaunt is also discussed -- Pintek says KDKA was told Ravenstahl would be in "meetings all day," and later that his press office said regarding his whereabouts, "your guess is as good as mine."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ravenstahl Makes Everything OK for G-20?? ** [MUCHLY UPDATED, SATURDAY EDITION]

The headline reads, Mayor to grant all G-20 protest permits, which would include the ever-symbolic Point State Park -- only hitch is, protesters will not be able to camp overnight, and would have to disassemble all their infrastructure nightly. Meanwhile, proposed legislative restrictions on things like masks and PVC pipe would only be enforced if "used in commission of a crime".

This sounds too good to be true somehow, but wow. [**-UPDATES: Maybe it is. See below]

A spokesperson for the Thomas Merton Center, which has been sort-of convening the organization of the protest groups' efforts to lobby for permits, says so far this is news to them.

This from Vic Walczak of the ACLU, on the permits:

The devil is in the details. We haven't received any actual permits and we're already hearing they are cutting back on what was requested. Until we receive actual permits and see terms we are being cautious. That said, a qualified yes is certainly better than an unqualified no, which is what we received last week.

On the Mayor's legislation, and whether a stated intent "not to enforce unless" matters:

Legislation defines crimes very broadly as illegal activity. We need to do our legal research to figure out whether the proposed bills are constitutional.


The bills also ban protesters from using "noxious substances" against police including animal or human waste, rotten eggs, acid, gasoline, gases and alcohol. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

That much is good. Though I'm surprised that's not illegal already.

He (the Mayor) said all five groups seeking protest permits around the Sept. 24 and 25 summit of international leaders will be given conditional approvals for events in Downtown, the South Side, North Side and the Strip District. (ibid)

"Conditional" being the very operative word. It is widely suspected that the Secret Service will force City officials to revoke or dramatically curtail these permits. It is also somewhat widely suspected that City officials already know this, and are granting conditional permits in order to look like the "good cops" in the situation for a little while.

Two ordinances prohibit masks for the purpose of aiding in the commission of unlawful activity — including gas masks, which can be worn unless they're used to evade police — and items that protesters could use to chain themselves to buildings, evade police or inhibit movement of emergency-response equipment. (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

That seems like a distinction without a difference -- "unless they're used to evade police".

Imagine: Citizens go somewhere (or do something) that police in the field deem impermissible. Police order citizens to disperse -- which in itself triggers the "unlawful activity" clause for the remainder; at least some citizens do not immediately disperse, and many who try to do so have nowhere immediately available to go. Police gas citizens to protect selves before wading in. Citizens don gas masks in self-defense. Gas causes confusion and fog of war. Police target mask-clad citizens and treat them with a heightened presumption of criminal intent. Citizens see mates they view as innocent getting "abused" and decide to ... you get the idea.

Without prejudice to any particular aspect of this proposed legislation, I know that protest groups are formally calling upon the City and other authorities to adopt "Use of Force guidelines" for policing units to abide by. This seems reasonable.

If citizens are being handed a special set of game rules outside of what is ordinary in America, they should also know what to expect in this new situation out of their police. Everyone should know as much as possible. This isn't a war.

Pittsburgh G-20 Buyer's Remorse?

Go read this now, then rejoin us:

IMO, this [hosting of the G-20] is a sham. Pittsburgh, like all marks, has been duped because in our dark place we want to be the showcase of the world, and we've been sold our own dream. If somebody dies (police, protester, bystander) what accomplishment will justify their death? (WWVB)

That would have sounded pitiably pessimistic only a few weeks ago, but as the closures, restrictions and above all else the great security Catch-22 has become more apparent, ideas like this are starting to crop up more frequently.

On the right:

And certainly on the left: listen to Al Hart, United Electrical workers union, in a post at the Slag Heap. During the press conference, Hart went on at greater length about how the world's "rich" intend to take, take, take from Pittsburgh during this summit-- and from Pittsburghers themselves, considering lost wages and productivity -- and offer nothing in return.

I've also gotten wind that some City Council members -- I actually do not know which ones, so it may not be the ones you would immediately imagine -- are resentful of how Mayor Ravenstahl and County Executive Onorato kept the negotiations a big secret and then made a big surprise out of it, instead of hashing it out with their coequal partners in government. Now they own it exclusively, for good or for ill.

Remember back in May:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he knows the G-20 poses some security problems likely to be felt by Pittsburghers.

"Of course, it will be an inconvenience in some ways," he said. "But it's an opportunity for the residents of this city to experience something they've never seen before."
(P-G, Roddey & Sherman)


Mr. Ravenstahl said the event will result in "traffic, chaos and experience," but he and Mr. Huss said there should be no reason for residents to avoid the Downtown area during the summit. (P-G, Ed Blazina)

I still instinctively agree with those sentiments, mostly, and even find them admirable, as you can read in my comment under a prior WWVB post. "Chaos and experience" are things to be embraced in my view, and opportunities are there to be seized.

At the same time, having now read Vannevar's newest post, I have to wonder if my -- our -- assumptions were justified.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ravenstahl Defends Life of Ravenstahl

I am soooo tired of him making me write this post ... but if no one says what needs to be said, then no one says it.

This just in from a Kevin Acklin e-mail. If he's wrong about the facts, I'll gladly stick a fork in him, but for now I trust he's not making stuff up out of the blue:

KDKA Radio has reported that Luke Ravenstahl chose to attend Steelers’ training camp on Tuesday afternoon instead of participating in a G-20 media briefing, or instead of just spending those three hours in the city, doing the important work that we elect a Mayor to do. This is yet another example of how, time and time again, Luke Ravenstahl places himself and his own whims ahead of the needs of Pittsburghers.

In fact, Luke Ravenstahl had the gall today on KDKA’s Marty Griffin Show to tell a caller who thought he should have been working: "You think I should have no life between now and [the last day of the summit on] Sept. 25? I disagree." (Acklin schmengy)

For $96,500 a year, he should be able to make it through a Tuesday afternoon without running off to sniff Ben Rothlisberger's jockstrap. That is what life is all about. Case closed. What's next on the docket?

Ah yes -- the opening up of the Mayor's public schedule just like a normal public officeholder. Time to start asking that question again now, since the first few attempts don't count.

Thursday: Your Real News

You tell me if these add up. Honestly, it's hard for me to judge:

"The mayor expressed his hopes to have this done by the end of the first week of September," says the Council President.

"I think the public is plugged in, they're aware of what's happening and will be up to speed when these bills come to council.", says the Mayor.

Ravenstahl said his office hasn't sent proposals to council because the ordinances aren't completed. (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Also in that article, we learn that protesters must be obediently gassed when called upon, though apparently that is the standard.

Half of Point State Park will now be available to demonstrators, but only on the day before the summit. This article makes it sound as though far from the Secret Service calling the shots, it's really Public Safety Director Michael Huss. (Trib, Carl Prine)

Meanwhile, Vannevar is worried that we don't seem to have nearly enough officers, comparatively speaking, and is questioning the wisdom of this whole endeavor. (WWVB)


Pittsburgh Public Schools are set to receive a ton of money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation! Big cheers for all the grant writers, researchers, and everybody else; it sounded like a grueling process. Odd though; no quote here from anybody in the District? (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Just take those old records off the shelf! I'll sit and listen to them by myself... (P-G Early Returns)

Sometimes, I feel like Dan Onorato has Jedi mind-power over the P-G Editorial Board. Fortunately, Judge Wettick appears to be a Toydarian. (P-G, Edit Board)

All our pensions are belong to state? (Trib, Bumstead & Brandolph)

PittGirl Turns Into Real Girl***

First of all, for those of you that JUST CAN'T FREAKING STAND IT that a blogger is interesting to some people and therefore occasionally merits a bit of news coverage: HA!

She is not KDKA-TV newsman Ken Rice. As PittGirl's popularity rose, so did blogosphere speculation about her identity — including conspiracy theories suggesting Rice as author. (Trib, Carl Prine)

As an avid theorist of all kinds, I insist this phrase "conspiracy theory" be reigned in now, particularly as it incessantly applies to blogs. If PittGirl did happen to be Ken Rice, that would have made it a conspiracy comprising Rice and ... ?

Early yesterday, however, Montanez returned and bared all, posting a picture of herself staring at a pigeon in Market Square. (ibid)

Staring at a pigeon while holding a giant honking knife. It took me several viewings to notice that.

Zober and Ravenstahl were in a forgiving mood yesterday. "In the interest of moving Pittsburgh forward, Dread Lord Zober and I have decided to let bygones be bygones and let this one slide. And that's church," Ravenstahl said in a statement. (ibid)

Let this one slide, as in, Mind your p's and q's from here on out, Your Royal Worshipfulness, it would be a shame if we suddenly remembered to enforce Building Ordinance 20X6.17.7.D at Las Velas.


I also have to believe that the City's most recent press release, COMPREHENSIVE CITY-OWNED FACILITIES STUDY MOVING FORWARD, is some kind of tribute on the part of the Press Office.

**-UPDATE: And just like that, the real world kicks her in the teeth... (That's Church)


Done and done.

Both of today's news articles lead off prominently with the fact that she is a mother of two. She wrote in her introductory blog post that she's not going to become a Mommy Blogger, and having skimmed over that portion in my first reading, my own comment mentioned that she'd better not turn into a Mommy Blogger. I think this means she's destined to be a Mommy Blogger.

She also wrote, among other things, that she will "be unafraid to take risks, unafraid to step out of my comfort zone, and unafraid, if events warrant, to once again call Ben Roethlisberger a stupid, gift-wrapped bitch (gasp!)".

Now, although Queen PittGirl Virginia Ginny Weasley Montanez has been blogging longer than I have, I've been blogging as a real life human considerably longer. And although that idea is a laudable goal, I'd so like to see her try. Sure, you can do it every once in a while, but the pangs of guilt and regret eat your heart out. Not because you fear blowback or retribution, but just because being mean seems so much more mean and heavy when you're not a character, but just you saying something.

Unless it involves nasty Gollum feet. Solid gold trumps everything else.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mylan Sues the Post-Gazette

From what I have been given to understand, it is actually crap like this that drives newspapers to get more lame even as the blogosophere happens to get more interesting.

The Cecil company's statement described the coverage as "sensational and misleading" and said the newspaper "mischaracterized a minor deviation from an internal Mylan procedure, creating the false appearance of significant quality and regulatory issues." (P-G, Team Effort)

Maybe if we need anything it's a legal defense foundation for media that draws lawsuits from folks who feel wounded by ungenerous characterizations and perspectives.

As the P-G was being celebrated by several in our blogosphere for writing a hard-hitting investigatory piece on Mylan Inc, I thought to myself, "Well, that's great -- but the subject was a safely out-of-town company and a non-advertiser with little political or cultural clout around here." Seems even that is too risky.

MORE: Infinonymous; P-G, Sabatini & Boselovic

THE G-20 PROTESTS: Scrambling for Space

As you know, last night I checked out the organizational meeting among various G-20 dissidents at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

It was held in a small, hot room packed with 60 or so activists and another 20 or so media persons. A vote was held at the top of the meeting as to whether or not to allow the media to remain the whole time. After some discussion, the press was granted full access by a 3-1 margin. Prior to the vote, I was informed that as a blogger I'd be fine either way.

This probably should go without saying, but let me make clear: I am not a "G-20 opponent", and I'm not an opponent of capitalism. I'm glad the G-20 is coming to Pittsburgh, and I expect a lot to get accomplished here.

I am however a supporter of the Bill of Rights and of a broad and muscular interpretation of civil liberties. I plan on covering the G-20 which for me largely will mean reporting on and commenting upon the demonstrations surrounding it -- and hopefully generating some dialogue between those folks and summit participants. It's not out of the realm of possibility that if I see or learn of something most foul and atrocious, I'll whip off my editorial hat and grab a sign -- but I'm not expecting that.


At least four T-shirts worn by the activists bore peace signs. One had on a shirt from Code Pink. Another read, Arrest Bush. One gentleman wore the somewhat famous image of President Obama bearing the caption, Everybody chill ... out, I got this! -- although that same person went on to say that we must pressure Obama to lighten up on the G-20 militarization and satisfy the left wing which got him elected.

The back of another shirt bore a quote from Karl Marx: The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.

It was clarified to me by a couple sources that these were hippees. Indeed, though a few were strident orators, they seemed to me like the gentlest bunch of protesters a city could ever hope for. There was no talk of "stopping" or "disrupting" the G-20 Summit, there was only talk of a "non-hostile, family-friendly environment". They seek legal permits for protesting because "we care about our city and the integrity of our environment"

Not all protesters of the G-20 will be hippees. Supposedly there will also be anarchists. Their numbers, intentions, and relative seriousness is less well known. There is a feeling among the hippees that creating space and an infrastructure for civil protest -- in the Golden Triangle, near the Convention Center -- will lessen the volatility of the whole situation.


Several groups claimed that their own applications for permits were already formally rejected. Many more said they've received no response. One attorney in the room said the City is playing a "cat and mouse" game with the protesters, stringing them along and seeing how little they can offer.

In general, the sentiment in the room was that the City and Mayor Ravenstahl in particular would like to issue more permits and be more accommodating to protesters, but the mean old federal government and Secret Service isn't allowing them to do so. One person suggested that maybe this isn't the case -- maybe the City administration has more to do with with crafting the policy which is aggravating them -- but that person was harrumphed down.

One woman testified that Mayor Ravenstahl told her personally that he intends to issue permits for "two sites within shouting distance of the convention center," though she noted with skepticism that the Allegheny River technically qualifies by that standard.

There was a misconception at first by many that City Council has something to do with anything regarding permit and public safety policies, although this notion was mostly corrected. One tactic the demonstrators said they definitely intend to employ is asking the Council to adopt a resolution that "supports [their] right to free speech in a place where we will be seen and heard," and that "holds law enforcement accountable to a use of force policy to ensure that demonstrators are not abused." A petition was passed around to set up a formal Public Hearing on the issue.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo received numerous plaudits from the assembled, including for an address to Netroots Nation imploring the bloggers to return to Pittsburgh for the G-20, when it will be under "martial law".

The major issues seemed to be the denial of access to Point State Park, along with the fact that said park was to become a security staging area, or what many called a "military encampment". A few noted that the Point was long ago the site of a fort which was utilized for the purposes of stripping native inhabitants of their land and rights. If there was any noteworthy consensus reached among the dissidents, it seemed to galvanize around Point State Park and the fact that, as a public park, it should be reserved for the public.

"Unacceptable!", declared one young man, which drew cheers.

"If nothing else, I think we should fight for Point State Park just to keep the military out of it," said another.

"Poets on the Loose" was the first group to declare that they will be operating without a permit near the entrance of Point State Park. From there on speakers with more frequency talked about the need to protest where they feel they have a right to protest, regardless of permits, or march where and when they feel they have a right to march -- filling the prisons if necessary. "Power yields nothing without a demand," they said several times.

One fellow in the back pointed out that the City, to his experience, historically has never issued permits for Point State Park -- so perhaps the demonstrators shouldn't feel personally slighted. "I think you've got to be realistic," he said.

"NOOOOO!", the room literally shouted at him.

Nonetheless, a few alternatives to Point State Park were mentioned and written on the chalk board: the North Shore, South Side Riverfront Park, a march from Freedom Corner to the Convention Center (or as close as they can get).

My favorite suggestion came from a soft-spoken woman in the front:

"Maybe I'm an idealist," she said, "but I feel like we should be given a conference room right in the David Lawrence convention hall."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday: The Palm of Your Hand

1,000 Cometbucks awarded to the first people who submit carefully staged sightings of Sasquatch to Animal Control.

With iBurgh, city officials can map where incidents occur and schedule repairs or responses more effectively, said Priya Narasimhan, president of YinzCam. (Trib, Adam Brandolph; see also P-G, Timothy McNulty & ADB)

"My god, Victor! Shadyside is falling apart!"


More on technology. (P-G, Elwin Green)

Hey you newspaper leotards READ THIS!!! (NullSpace)

A group controlled by politicians is going to interview employees of the School District in order to really get to the bottom of this. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Do you feel the political consensus building? Well, do you? (P-G, Eleanor Chute and Tracy Mauriello)

But won't the fences and construction look ugly during the G-20? (P-G, Mark Belko)

Mayor Ravenstahl is asking City Council to return early from recess to vote on a raft of security legislation for that there G-20 show.

"Even if we got into session tomorrow, it would mean almost no public comment," Dowd said. "It's unfortunate for the city. It's undemocratic as well. This is clearly designed to squelch public comment and public dialogue." (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Can't these two hug it out already? Also:

Other ordinances will include a restriction on masks and the creation of a "safety zone," said Yarone Zober, Ravenstahl's chief of staff. Zober could not expound on what "safety zone" meant. (ibid)

"Restriction on masks"? OH MY GOODNESS! IT'S THE KEENE ACT!

"Safety zone"? Green zone? No-speech zone? Safety dance? Guess we'll have to see.

Meanwhile........ (PGHLesCor)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday: Will They or Won't They?

A nice article in Sunday's P-G helped us all understand a lot about what is so troublesome with property reassessments:

The problem is abundantly clear to Mr. O'Neal and his neighbors in Bedford County, where, until this year, property had not been reassessed since 1957.

"Our [reassessment] is most likely going to force a lot of folks to sell their land because they just can't pay the taxes on it," said Mr. O'Neal, whose farm is about two miles south of Clearville. He will see his annual tax bill double on the 517 acres he owns -- from about $7,500 to $16,000 -- as a result of the new reassessment. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

Alright, fine. A very sticky wicket. But of course:

In the Allegheny County case, the court ruled that not setting a timetable for regular reassessments is unfair because changing values allow owners of properties in declining areas to pay too much and those in growing areas to pay too little. (ibid)

I would just like to hear an acknowledgement from somebody who is not a judge or a journalist. "It is unfair, the way it works now". It is one thing to call for a statewide solution while grumbling about a mean old judge, it is another thing to do so while acknowledging what I think is an indisputable moral justification for change. As it stands, unless I've missed something, it's legitimate to wonder whether any given politician recognizes or cares about straightforward unfairness. That is one thing I look for in politicians, particularly in Democratic primaries. The Democratic party supposedly prides itself on just this exact thing.

Among [the Bedford Taxpayers Association's] stated objectives are to either get the results of the recent reassessment thrown out or the members of the board of commissioners that implemented it kicked out of office. (ibid)

Yes, yes. Very scary, very real. Groups like this will probably ensure that any statewide solution is partial, incremental and itself of dubious constitutionality -- as will Comet Senior Political Analyst Morton Reichbaum, who does not trust that the government will assess his property fairly given an opportunity to do so, and does not believe it will reduce the millage like its supposed to to achieve revenue-neutrality.

Still. An acknowledgement. It might even educate a few voters, making the inevitable medicine go down easier. I'm not actually sure run-of-the-mill property owners are aware of the connection. And I'm certainly not convinced that a statewide solution is being sought / pursued so much as it is being quote-unquote "called for".


Ed Rendell hires Vincent Fumo's press secretary [Cough, guffaw]. [Coughaw?] (P-G, Tom Barnes)

Say what you want about it, Dok Harris has staked out an identifiable Positive Vision For The City. This has supposedly been a stumbling-block of challengers past. The only problem is, it's so early everybody's going to copy it. "Oh, yeah. That was me. Totally." (P-G, Rich Lord;Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Meanwhile, our anonymous blowhard friend (one amongst many) is attaching a few more partisan harpoons into Kevin Acklin's hide. (Infinonymous)

I'm no security maven, and for all I know this sort of thing is actually getting taken care of, but:

"People do have the right to free speech, and if they are not going to provide us with the proper avenues to express that right, I am a little afraid for what might happen," she said. (P-G, Kaitlynn Reily; see also Trib, Matthew Santoni)

Me too. Srsly.