Friday, February 2, 2007

Save the Date: Sun, Feb 25

Join us at the Shadow Lounge in East Liberty for CIVIC DUTY, at 9:00 PM on Sunday, February 25th. Civic Duty is a free-wheeling but serious-minded panel discussion on local topics, hosted by myself and by DJ Carazmatic of WPTS.

Our three special guest panelists are TBA, and in some cases TBD, but there will be mucho audience participation. $5 cover at the door; if someone can teach us an easy way to set up pre-registration via Pay-Pal or some such, we'd be very appreciative.

Thanks for joining us. We'll fire things up again on Sunday.

Pennsylvania Is The Worst

Pennsylvania has the highest black homicide rate in the nation, reports the Courier's Deborah M. Todd. Although the bulk of those murders took place in Philadelphia, 79% of Allegheny County's homicides were of black persons, a statistic far higher than the national average, and reflective of the entire state.

“This underscores the need to provide opportunities for education, for affordable wages and to have access to decent health care,” said Sonya Toler, executive director of Governor Rendell’s Advisory Commission on African-American Affairs. “Hopefully we’ll see some sensible gun laws in Pennsylvania that will help reverse this negative trend.”

The bulk of the article deals with Pennsylvania's struggle to enact tougher gun legislation, but without mention of the underground market and problems of enforcement. Nor was there discussion of how the state might provide "opportunities" and the such.

The Comet ran the photo above to provoke the question: is this really a matter of culture? The P-G's Tony Norman would disagree:

To a great extent, the cause for much of the carnage in urban Philly and Pittsburgh is rooted in socio-economic realities folks don't like to talk about: class, education, lack of opportunity and nihilism. Blacks, who are disproportionately poor and illiterate, are more likely to resort to solving problems with the easily available guns floating around. It's not an essentialist construct like "culture" that causes blacks to shoot each other. All of American culture is steeped in violence and get-rich-quick schemes.

Mr. Norman acknowledges there are no easy answers, but probably would agree that culture, at least, is not helping. His own suggestion sounds awful cultural: a movement within the African-American community of interventionism, reminiscent of the "Freedom Riders."

A complex problem like this calls for a whole raft of partial solutions. Even if Pennsylvania manages to get tough on gun access, and to somehow improve minority opportunities, we should acknowledge how many of those guns were bought with drug money, and fired in drug wars.

One component of our solution clearly should be the rational decriminalization of many drug offenses, if not outright legalization in some cases. Call it a strategic, phased withdrawal from a failed War on Drugs, that has been costing us in blood and treasure for almost thirty years.


Chris Heinz is getting married to Sasha Lewis in Washington, DC, on February 10th. (P-G)

We attended a Chris Heinz lecture at a Sustainable Pittsburgh gathering on Duquesne's campus about seven years ago, with our girlfriend of the time.

Mr. Heinz, who looks like tv's Mr. Big, was delivering an impassioned environmental power-point presentation, years before Al Gore made it cool. We could feel the affections of our ladyfan being diverted, as though by a black hole of money, intelligence, and tan, personally-trained hide. In fact, there was a distinct, tangy humidity in the air throughout room of young activists.

The Comet is glad Mr. Heinz has found his true love, and congratulate the happy couple.

Mayor Gives Back

"In 2006, we had the occasion of losing nine individuals, nine lives, in fire deaths" said Mayor Ravenstahl, in a story by the P-G's Rich Lord. Giving away smoke detectors is part of an effort "to make this city the safest in America."

Not only is the Mayor giving away 1,000 smoke detectors, he is personally taking charge. Lord leads his piece with the tale of Elizabeth Hogue, of Elliot, who recently suffered an oven fire. Although the 79-year old put out the fire with a small extinguisher, the Mayor himself dropped by days later to install a new detector.

"Isn't it wonderful?" she gushed.

Mr. Peduto has taken steps to mandate smoke-detector checks in certain apartment units, so this may be a way for the Mayor to one-up his rival ...

Wait a minute.

Elizabeth Hogue, of Ellliot. Hogue. Hogue. Of Elliot.

Matt H!!!! The relative with whom, if memory serves and our case-files are correct, he still lives! Mayor Ravenstahl dropped by to hand out free swag for his loneliest, and most prolific, e-spin-doctor! And used the occasion to generate some good press!

Thanks to the very alert Comet reader who tipped us off. Note to Maria, the Adm., et all: check your own smoke detectors and batteries. Help may not be forthcoming.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Feng-Shui, Race, Personality

Those seem to have been the dominant factors in the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's decision to award the lone Pittburgh casino license to Don Barden and PITG Gaming, on the North Side.

Much to the credit of the Category 2 Pittsburgh applicants, the Board has been presented with three very competent proposals, all of which are eligible and suitable for licensure under the terms of the Act. Unfortunately, the Board is constrained by the Act only to issue one license in Pittsburgh.

This sounds like my highschool science fair.

On December 20, 2006, during a public meeting, the Board voted unanimously to award PITG Gaming, LLC

Unanimity! Take that, holdouts for the appeals process.

Don H. Barden, an African American, is the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Barden Development

This was the first mention of Mr. Barden in the document. It was also the most forthright implication of the Gaming Board's approval of this fact. The heritage of the other potential owners were not mentioned. You thought Pittsburgh's reaction to Coach Tomlin was bound to be interesting!

By the June 2, 2006 deadline established by the PGCB for the receipt of written public comment, the Board received four-hundred thirty eight (438) written comments specific to the IOC project. Two-hundred fifty eight (258) were opposed to the project, while one-hundred eighty (180) supported the project.

We think this was fairly damning for the Hill District / Isle of Capri. Neither of the other plans garnered this much negativity. We think Dr. Goddess had an impact.

McCormick and Taylor also expressed concerns about how access to the gaming facility would be integrated with the remainder of the Master Plan. Trans Associates, Inc. indicated that they would look into the issue as the project moved forward. As of November 8, 2006, McCormick Taylor indicated that with some exceptions, specifically including seven surrounding intersections, it appeared that IOC’s proposed improvements adequately mitigated the project impacts and concluded that there were still issues that had not been addressed

So, traffic was also a factor with the Isle of Capri. But Harrah's scored even worse:

McCormick Taylor opined that the site itself had limited access routes primarily because of the proximity of Carson Street on one side of the site and the Monongahela River on the other and also determined that the traffic improvements proposed by Station Square Gaming were also going to be difficult to complete based on the project’s close proximity to a bridge and existing buildings. Station Square Gaming’s initial study also did not take into account the traffic impact of Pittsburgh Steelers Games and other events in the area.

So you had one casino with iffy traffic and lots of opposition, another whose traffic issues were just horrendous ... and a third in the relative clear. Finally we find this:

In addition, the Board notes that the personal commitment of Mr. Barden to the PITG – Majestic Star project was evident at every step of the licensing proceedings. The Board notes Mr. Barden’s personal presence at all proceedings and his unwavering commitment to PITG Gaming’s project as his "flagship" property. The calm intensity which Mr. Barden brought to this project and his undeniable dedication to make this project a success for all of Pennsylvania speaks volumes of his character and suitability for this license.

This is the entirety of the section "Other Matters," the final section before the report's conclusion. It is clear that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board liked Barden more than the others. Just how Pittsburghers will evaluate the Board's criterion for likability, again, may get interesting.

COMET EDITORIAL: Feng-Shui, as manifested by traffic flow, alone, should have made it obvious that the North Shore was our winner. We find it entirely appropriate that the owner's race was viewed as a supplemental benefit, especially as it lends more credence to his community development commitments. Furthermore, we are heartened that personality seemed to play a role. Huzzah for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board!

A & E Review: Sex, Politics, & Religion Night

If we could build a comedian with the wit of Gene Collier, with the delivery of Gab Bonesso, with the sexual tension of Snatchbox 20, and with the giant legal pad of John McIntire ... then, my friends, then we'd be a world-class city.

1. Opiegate
2. Acid
3. Wife: Orgasm

Was that your set outline, or your to-do list?

Speaking of the MacYapper, he's threatening another volley of unfriendly fire, this time having to do in some way with Allegheny General Hospital. This after his "Aw, shucks, all this fuss about little old me?" column in the City Paper.

We would not amplify this chicanery, were it not for the Comet's new-found familiarity with the concept of the "news hole," and the overpowering urge to fill up one's "news hole." Yet rest assured that if this somehow leads, even tangentially, to the release of anyone's personal medical information, we reserve the right to retaliate at a time and in a manner of our own choosing. Which probably just means more Photoshop. But maybe not.

"The Blogosphere - It'll Go Away If We Ignore It"

... this from the sagacious Fred Honsberger, during his recent interview with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Obviously, the Mayor is deeply frustrated over the staying power of Blurghosphgate; and that everyone insists on asking him about blogs and counter-blogs, instead of the finer points of his agenda and voting record; and especially that just as the mess was finally dying down, Councilman Motznik just had to dredge it all up again, keeping the whole sorry spectacle foremost in the minds of the voters, pause, not!

There was just barely time enough for Luke to tell the Honz that he's optimistic about an arena deal, that he has assured Hill residents a seat at the table, and that he'd like to keep the buses running.

Dan Majors's headline in the P-G reads "Mayor Vows to Aid Transit Agency," although whether "by the blood of his ancestors" or "by Earthshaker Posieden, Lord of these Three Rivers" remains unclear. All he's suggesting is lobbying the state for funding (they can take care of that during the pensions convoy!) and tweaking the methodology behind the cuts. And suggesting a fare hike, presumably in exchange for maintaining service. It will be interesting to evaluate the credit / blame trade-off for wading into these waters, particularly now that there's a vow to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, the 4th Estate of Yinzer Government (The Burgh Report) seems to have gotten a little traction out of the dormancy of the Ethics Board. Dick Skrinjar says it will meet soon, even if it is not meeting anytime soon, and at least one mainstream journalist is taking up the cause. Yet until such a time as either of the mayoral candidates starts banging their fists on the table, it is not clear how any of this will matter.

Query to Pops and Burgher: How is your blog pronounced? I assume we are to say "The Burr Repor," right? Because you are clearly engaging in satire, viciously mocking Bill Peduto and his advocates, and your real sympathies lie with the Ravenstahl administration, correct? Very sophisticated!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Random Political Analysis

With all the excitement before the big event tonight, our morning at Comet HQ is a little hectic. We'll just spit some awesome political analysis at you, and call it a day.

Candidate Bill Peduto joined the Honz Man this morning to talk red-lights and blogs. Once again, he trotted out the line that obviously, if he was behind the McIntire story, wouldn't he have held onto it until late April?

Well, no. Releasing it late would minimize its impact, because by April, fewer voters are still undecided. By setting off a scandal in January, a week before your campaign kick-off, awareness and interest in the mayor's race was stretched two months longer than usual. That's key, if you're a challenger who needs to make up a lot of ground in an off-off-year election. Every time we hear this "evidence," we start to wonder.

The P-G reports of nine candidates in the race for District 9 City Council. An anonymous analyst broke it down for the Comet this way: "This is like the race for Homecoming Queen at Taylor Allderdice. Five different Jewish girls are running, so of course the hunky's gonna walk away with the tiara."

Hats off to Jeremy Irons ... I mean, Jeremy Boren, at the Trib, for writing what will remain the finest piece yet on the blurghosphere (for at least another week).

"I don't think we can point to any blogs yet that have had an impact on a huge number of voters," Pitt Prof. Stuart Shulman said. "But a lot of people have looked at blogs as bringing a new level of democratic activity."

"Young people expect a level of interaction and real-time delivery of news and information, and blogs provide that more successfully than mainstream media outlets," said Khari Mosley of the League of Young Voters. "So blogs, message boards and online communities of all kinds become like virtual coffee shops where you can find out what your neighbors are talking about and join the conversation."

And, of course, there was the Burgh Report's coup, stumping the Mayor on the propriety of allowing City Solicitor George Specter to remain Acting for so long.

Finally, KDKA's Jon Delano now has his own blog, and let me tell you it is just adorable!!! His first question -- whether or not blogs ought to be taken seriously -- has resulted in just two content-screened comments thus far: "Unfortunate" and "Ridiculous." Rest assured, the Comet will be tracking the goings-on of this HOT new blogitrolla.

UPDATE: The Busman proves he's hipper than all of us with an Audio-Mashup of Peduto and Ravenstahl discussing Blurghosphgate with him..

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Politics Ain't Beanbag

Okay. Let's put aside the Comet's pretentious idealism for a moment.

Anyone who thinks Councilman Jim Motznik's foray into the blurghosphere was tactically senseless, stupid or ill-advised, must have spent the summer of 2004 living on Mars. In a cave. With their eyes shut, and their fingers held tightly in their ears.

Put another way: If Rich and Jeremy find themselves maneuvered into the Magazine section, and all the wannabe Riches and Jeremies follow suit, would that be helpful to a challenger? Or an incumbent?

Put a third way: karma's a bitch, ain't it, Johnny?

The educated and interested listeners of WDUQ were just told by their Mayor that we should all worry less about pie-fights in the blogosphere, and more about public safety. Oh and by the way, you'll have your new arena by Friday.

Say whatever you want about either one of these candidates. Neither one of them is hurting when it comes to the strategery department. Especially one of them.

Look alive, Pittsburgh.

Today's Idea: Support Public Transit

More revenue for public transit will always be preferable to less revenue, no matter what happens to service. And getting funding is always going to be a struggle, right? We're practically begging already.

Why not market bus passes more aggressively to people who, frankly, don't need them? Public transit can partner with public television and public radio a couple times a year, and work it like pledge drives.

Have P.J. Maloney, Chris Fenimore, and other pledgemeisters tout the community benefits of reliable mass transit, the joy of reading and relaxing during a commute, and the refined pleasure of meeting your neighbors along the way. Play the pride card, the guilt card, the repetition card. Include clips from local celebrities and athletes.

Government can't do it alone. We need you, you who care so much about the strength and vibrancy of our community, we need your support of strong public transit. If you donate just $30 a month, we'll thank you with your own 12-month bus pass -- a full year service! For $50 bucks, we'll let you go see Andre Rieu or some crap!

Best part: maybe some of those folks will actually use the bus, decide they like it, and keep their bloody automobiles in park!

Media F.Y.I. on Bloggers

We think its wonderful that established figures in politics and the media are starting their own blogs. We can't wait until they get the hang of it.

Note that only those established personalities "slumming it" in the blurghosphere are conducting themselves like acid-tripping weasels with attention deficit disorder. The great mass of Pittsburgh webloggers, though often passionate, provocative and amusing, are conducting themselves with baseline civility and professionalism.

When the P-G's Rich Lord calls the blogosphere "the scene of vitriolic commentary and rumor circulation," we're getting a bum rap because of those moonlighters, who think they've discovered some secret, morals-free, standards-free zone. Just be aware.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Matt H Exposed

Infamous pro-Ravenstahl web presence "Matt H" has been exposed in the comments section of the local weblog The People's Republic of Pittsburgh. Matthew Hogue, 22, is an employee of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, and devotee of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor. LINK

The Republic's author, who himself goes by the alias Admiral Richmond K. Turner, expressed regret that the "outing" took place in his own civil, dignified web space. We at the Comet seriously considered whether or not further amplification was appropriate.

We decided that by engaging so energetically, for so many months, in what can only be described as a blatant public relations campaign in support of Mayor Ravenstahl, Matt H went out of his way to make himself a public figure concerned with public business, thereby meriting public scrutiny.

Hogue is also a city employee, who until four days ago would have served under the controversial former chairman of the housing authority, Dennis Regan.

Matt H's identity was uncovered by another frequent blurghosphere commenter, Smittyfromtheflats. The first evidence to surface was a September P-G column by Tony Norman, in which a Matt Hogue lovingly recalled the recently deceased Mayor O'Connor. Matt H denied any connection.

Then Smitty produced an archival Burgh Blog post in which Yarone Zober, who had just stepped down as Deputy Mayor to become new mayor Ravenstahl's chief of staff, acknowledged praise by Matt "Logue." Matt himself corrected Mr. Zober, revealing himself.

But this was long before he became a local phenomenon, renowned for his prickly and sometimes offensive baiting of blog readers supportive instead of Bill Peduto.

Matt H's Myspace profile has also surfaced. The page has since been made inaccesable to all but the owner's approved contacts, yet screenshots have been captured as images by Dean, another blog commenter.

The Comet would like to close with the words of Matt H's virtual bounty hunter, Smittyfromtheflats:

Matt from now on your "hands off"...i respect the fact that at 16 you became a political soldier,got yourself a job via Bob o,and continue to be loyal...congrats

When Technocrats Attack

"My people who support me -- the ones that write checks -- don't sell asphalt for a living. They're not looking for city contacts."

This was not lifted out of context. This was a forthright body-blow delivered by Bill Peduto on KDKA's "The Real Deal" with Marty Griffin (Ravenstahl's turf?).

Safe to say that when the campaign fundraising reports are submitted on Wednesday (h/t P-G Early Returns), we will not be shocked by Team Peduto's unexpected strength. Peduto is laying the groundwork for spinning his monetary disadvantage into a populist advantage.

Ravenstahl "thinks there are a lot more important things to be talking about," apologizes for nothing, and invites scrutiny of Peduto's own contributors. There really wasn't much he could say.

The Comet will be tracking the money-as-evidence-of-machinery charge, the frequency of the "asphalt" meme, and whether or not it conjures more images of honest, hardworking Americans, or the layabout Sopranos on their "no-work jobs."

Boren to be Wild

With fifteen (15) distinct weeks remaining before the election, The Tribune-Review's Jeremy Boren starts our week off right with a cup of hot oatmeal and an in-depth look at the differences between our mayoral candidates.

After an enlightening-to-no-one lead graph on age, experience, and marital status (being married doesn't count with voters until you have children how much would that kick ass as an April surprise?), Boren cites four votes as especially illustrative:

1) Act 47 state oversight. Ravenstahl, AGAINST. Peduto, FOR.

There is broad agreement that Act 47 has been beneficial, so the Mayor will have to explain this vote, and possibly admit an evolution in thinking.

2) A buffer zone for protests around abortion clinics. Ravenstahl, AGAINST. Peduto, FOR.

Will this issue gain traction? Will Peduto try? Can the Mayor make it a 1st Amendment issue, or does it contribute toward his "Bush Factor"?

3) Dealing with Twanda Carlisle's spending fiasco. Ravenstahl PASSED limits on discretionary spending, Peduto FAILED TO PASS an outright ban on walking-around-money.

This places Peduto even more fixedly as the reform candidate; but people like money, and like when it walks around some.

4) Tax Increment Financing for PNC office tower. Ravenstahl FOR. Peduto AGAINST.

Oddly, this would seem to align Peduto with the Trib editorial board (think, "Mr. Rohr, give back the public money"), which in turn would align Ravenstahl with the Heinz Endowments.

Finally, Dick Skrinjar chimes in with this one:

5) Ravenstahl for Council President. Ravenstahl FOR. Peduto FOR.

Just like Ravenstahl has some explaining to do on vote #1, Peduto at some point must forthrightly explain this, whether or not it's a Skrinjar trap.

Interesting: Much of the analysis in Boren's piece came from the Allegheny Institute -- a local conservative think-tank -- and it was mostly in Peduto's favor. If Bill Peduto can swing being the candidate of experience, and the candidate of reform, and the candidate of conservatives -- that is something.

BTW, the Allegheny Institute has a blog, which accepts comments, and is totally worth following.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

On Kelly: Don't Prejudge the Surge

Jack Kelly is a former Marine and Green Beret who was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration. He is presently a columnist at the Post-Gazette, and can be described as a reliably hawkish unilateralist and free-market fundamentalist. As a special feature of the Comet, we will attempt to debunk the dangerous and foolhardy ideas put forth by Pittsburgh's most prominent ultra-conservative.

Jack Kelly informs us that both Al-Qaida and the Mahdi Army are already surrendering for fear of the surge! Huzzah! He offers three bits of evidence.

"First, al Qaida appears to be retreating from Baghdad. A military intelligence officer has confirmed to Richard Miniter, editor of Pajamas Media, a report in the Iraqi newspaper al-Sabah that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, has ordered a withdrawal to Diyala province, north and east of Baghdad."

The al-Sabah newspaper is part of the U.S. backed Iraqi Media Network, created by the Coalition Provisional Authority, and run by the Pentagon's Psy-Ops division. Seasoned journalists quit IMN because of heavy-handed CPA oversight. In March of 2004, it was nominally handed over to the Iraqi government, where it remains state-owned, and its credibility remains in the toilet. Sourcewatch.

Jack Kelly just spoon-fed us Pentagon propoganda. Ah, but what of the confirmation by Richard Miniter of Pajamas Media?

Richard Miniter: Author not only of "Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush is Winning the War on Terror" (Oct. 2004), but also of "Losing Bin-Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror" (Sept. 2003). You be the judge.

Pajamas Media: A notorious collection of exclusively conservative bloggers and pundits. Its founding editor, Roger L. Simon, wrote in Oct. 2005: "As for the run-up to the war, in looking back I think it was a big game of charades that everybody understood. Despite what was said, the obvious US motivation was geo-political." LINK

This is more charades. Miniter's source, the "military intelligence official," is plainly a Pentagon propogandist, who is "confirming" a story in their own house organ, al-Sabah. Moving forward:

"Second, the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Iranian-subsidized militia, the Mahdi army, is responsible for most of the assaults on Sunni civilians in Iraq, is cooling his rhetoric and lowering his profile."

"Third, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is putting more distance between himself and Mr. Sadr, upon whose bloc of votes in parliament he had relied for political support."

If Kelly actually believes there's anything of substance to al-Sadr's cool rhetoric, or al-Maliki's distance, we have about nine or ten local bridges we'd like to sell him.

"Don't prejudge the surge" is the title. "It just might work" says its subtitle. "Efforts to write it off in advance as a 'failure' are, at best, premature" he concludes.

This war didn't begin last month. We know the generals have been skeptical at every step, though silenced by the civilian leadership. We know this surge foolishness was concocted by the American Enterprise Institute, not by military commanders, on the ground or elsewhere. We know General Patraeus, god bless him, can only muster an uninspiring "it might work," because his president won't tolerate insubordination.

We've had enough of this misbeggoten and mishandled war, Mr. Kelly, and we're ending it.

Stop What You're Doin'...

... 'cause Robert Firth is about to ruin, the image and the style that you're used to.

The last page of the P-G's Forum, called "The Next Page," features a bold proposal for Port Authority Transit. It reorganizes the system into streamlined core routes, with short local circulators and a plush Downtown circulator. The authors claim not only that this would better serve riders, but will also save costs on a par with the draconian cuts we're facing.

We at the Comet are not equipped to evaluate the fine points of the idea, but we find ourselves being persuaded. The staff of Informing Design, Inc., headed up by this Robert Firth, have put together an innovative comic-book style polemic that is neither condescending, irritating, nor easy to refute.

Their proposal is based on a system developed in Curitiba, Brazil, and has been adopted by Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Cleveland. We doubt that such awesome innovations would be welcome in Allegheny County. Besides, there might be start-up costs to consider.

But we strongly urge Mr. Firth and company to utilize this format for delivering pro-active, instead of re-active, policy suggestions; for contributing to thorny foreign-policy discussions; and for delivering endorsements in local political races.

Pension Road Trip

The P-G's Rich Lord reports that all nine members of city council, and a rep from the Mayor's office, are going to Harrisburg next week to lobby for statewide pension reform.

Councilmembers Doug Shields and Jim Motznik were the point-men for outlining the strategy to the press. This could be an attempt to prevent pensions from becoming a political football between mayoral candidates, at least for now. The unity on display by this happy caravan is not just for the sake of the state legislature, but the local electorate. Remember Councilmember / Candidate Bill Peduto has already indicated unfunded pension liability as Pittsburgh's greatest looming problem.

It's a pity, though. Ten united Democrats from Democratland, off to ask for some Democrat-style big government intervention. With Harrisburg so evenly and interestingly divided, it would be nice if we could add a cabal of fiscally hawkish Republicans. Shame to have to summon Jim Roddy to play this part again. How about some of those names we've seen dropping? Melissa Joan? Mary Beth? Hons Man? Bueller?