Friday, March 2, 2007

Happy Committeeing!

What an odd bird is Pittsburgh. What seems to be at stake: a center-right government (with great sympathy for certain unions), or else a center-left government (that is hawkish on the budget).

We also have a gulf of sorts between the activist and passivist Controllers.

We have a gut-check for the District 9 seat.

We have black communities, in District 9 and elsewhere, that have no use at all for any mayoral candidate. In some cities, the candidates might just agree not to go there, and go fight in out in the heights. In this city and state, race issues drag us all down in a way that does, we guarantee you, get reflected in our bond rating. Also, it's a close race.

Have a great weekend.

Our Last Word on He-Man / She-Ra (for a while)

The final ten minutes of the very best stand-alone episode of She-Ra.

Warning: Although this was a frequently broadcast 80's era children's cartoon, portions are borderline NSFW.

The Stone in the Sword is a tale of the five virtues: bravery, wisdom, agility, swiftness, and bravery again. Also, there is a very special lesson at the end for all low-level staffers and volunteers.

You do not need to know how She-Ra lost her powers, or how Keanu wound up in jail. You should know, however, that the gang has been playing around with giggleberry powder.

War Protests at CMU Robotics Facility

KDKA, WTAE, and WPXI all cover the protests by the Pittsburgh Organizing Group and others against the research and design of robotic killing machines at Carnegie Mellon University.

Thirteen adults and one juvenile were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing traffic, and possession of instruments of crime (a giant hammock). The police officers, reporters, and protesters interviewed all seemed to illustrate an orderly, nonviolent scene.

The Bus Stops Here

Allegheny County Council is holding a special committee meeting on transportation, today at 4:00 on the 4th floor of the City / County Building. Various and sundry individuals are gathering to give them hell over the proposed transit cuts.

If you cannot make it, watch the LIVE WEBCAST at this LINK.

Speculation 2007

Water rushes in from the north and east, flooding our confluence of rivers, and the committee men and women of our Democratic Party prepare to endorse candidates for public office.

Luke Ravenstahl has incumbency and narrative on his side. Bill Peduto has experience and ideology. Personality is still a toss-up.

Over at 2 Political Junkies, commenter Patrick writes:

"However, this whole contraception/abortion exchange does highlight for me my concern that Peduto, and his fellow travelers are NOT motivated by the nuts and bolts of local government, but rather by national cultural issues - and a desire to transform the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh into a left-liberal (and thus minority) interest group. The more the Democratic party is defined by the cultural left, the less success it will have in this area."

Easy Answer: Are those the same "nuts and bolts of local government" that caused our Convention Center to collapse? #rimshot#

Real Answer: Peduto certainly seeks to fashion our Democratic party into a left-center coalition -- with a Libertarian streak, actually, on tax breaks and subsidies. The "Libertarian Left" is totally in right now. If Peduto puts that together, that is potent stuff. But he still needs to add a couple of wagons to his wagon-train.

Ravenstahl needs to win by a three-digit margin to feel safe. Everybody knows that.

Secret balloting generally mitigates the incumbent advantage, and will mitigate this one.

We predict that Ravenstahl will be made to feel unsafe.

In the race for Controller: The brass ring will probably go to our fine Prothonotary, Michael Lamb.

We do hope that maverik Mike Dawida gets enough votes to continue bringing his inside-outsider message hard through May.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Millvale Factor

Jim Burn (D-Millvale) of County Council takes a pretty hard line with KDKA's Larry Reichart in regards to the collapse of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Burn is calling for Council investigations of the imbroglio, over top of those by the Chief Executive; and those of the contractors, both original and outside.

He paints a discouraging portrait of Sports & Exhibition Authority chief Mary Contruro, not simply for failing to report the 2005 incident, but for continuing to be out-of-the-loop and unspecific. He makes some reference to accountability.

Pittsburgh's Bourbon Street

WPXI reports that South Side residents gathered at a "town meeting" with Mayor Ravenstahl yesterday, to demand a limit to the number of bar licenses in their area.

Councilman Doug Shields is working on a solution, together with fellow Councilman Jeffery Koch, and some other notables.

We can not tell a lie; we do not fully comprehend the councilman's proposal.

We were still in shock at how very, very different Doug Shields is on the auditorium floor, rather than on stage. We encourage the Councilman to stand out from the pack of controller candidates, by dropping a few of those F-bombs straight from the podium.

Anyway, we believe his plan would adjust the zoning ordinances, in such a way as to limit, or possibly eliminate, Local Neighborhood Commercial zones (LNCs). There are way too f*ckin many LNCs. By levelling the playing field in terms of tavern-attractiveness across Pittsburgh, this is supposed to address the concerns of fed-up South Siders -- without capping bar licenses. It would also allow for a wider spectrum of development.

Cost Recovery for Police Secondary Employment

Jeremy Boren of the Trib reports on Candidate Bill Peduto's leading the charge in favor of the cost-recovery proposal, which would tax police officers when working side-jobs. (Pictured: She-Ra's beloved, powered-up ride, Swift Foot)

Attention Controller candidates: Some of you suggest that the office of controller provides a "bully pulpit" for issues relating to the budget and our debt burden. Should the city controller take up an issue like this, and if so, what kind of influence might you exert in that office?

The Burr Reporr has already highlighted this final quotation, which should open many cans of worms, from IUP prof. Dennis Giever:

"What if a business is in violation of the law? The owner is doing the officer a favor giving him a job, and now all of a sudden, he wants you to run a license plate or something," Giever said. "It gets you into an awkward situation and it's blurring of the role of law enforcement in the private sector."

Thomas Barry of Barry's Pub on Carson St. seems to argue that officer's wages should not be taxed like everybody else, and the city should provide equipment, administration, and liability coverage for free.

Meanwhile, in a mirror P-G piece by Rich Lord, the security director of Station Square warns of increased cost and decreased coverage. We wonder: would Station Square really sacrifice safety for $13,000 annually?

If this story is not doing it for you by now, it never will, until it merges fully with the whistle blower lawsuit, and with the impotence of the Citizens Police Review Board, to tell one coherent narrative about civilian oversight and reform.

Bill Peduto's Blog: Sucks

Councilman Bill Peduto is the first major party mayoral candidate to have launched a weblog in a while. (Rauterkus & Carmine both had blogs as Republicans in 2001).

However, Team Peduto posted no new content since its initial post, two weeks ago. Comments to that first post have been awaiting publication for at least five days. By any reasonable, commonly used standard for evaluating blogs, the Bill Peduto campaign blog sucks hard.

Even Jim Motznik managed to post twice. [Notznik]

In response to a call for pro-Ravenstahl blogs, P-G politics editor James O'Toole was made aware of a site called Pittsburgh Jack's Place. That site has not posted new content in almost three weeks; but it was a pretty consistent contributor prior to that point. So Bill Peduto sucks even worse than Pittsburgh Jack.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wednesday Afternoon: The Rest of the Story

Today is the deadline for the Penguins to take a one-year extension option at the Mellon Arena. The P-G's Mark Belko tells us why that is not going to happen. (One would think this is totally unrelated to a Rich Lord piece in that same paper.)

As of midnight tonight, the Comet Style and Usage Guide will be amended. In the future we will make reference to the "civic arena."

Twofer! Mark Belko also reports on County Councilman Jim Burn, D-Millvale, getting all up in David L. Lawrence's and Mary Contruro's grill. Meet the man!

Finally ... if somebody would patch together a Grand Unified Theory of this Burgh Report post, this Rich Lord piece, this other Rich Lord piece, a three-part series by the Admiral beginning HERE, the implications of the legal standoff outlined by the Busman, one of our own seminal works HERE, including a comment left by reader Grant W. Stapleton [warning: his website contains offensive material] ... we would be much obliged!!!

We're looking at you, Jeremy. We have a Masters of the Universe character picked out for you and everything.

Commitment 2007

The latest exclusive WTAE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Keystone Poll of people across Pennsylvania has been released.

Initial surprise: Rendell's proposal to tax oil company profits enjoys 62% approval.

It also would appear Hillary Clinton is not doing so hot.

The Comet can find no WTAE on-air, or on-web, coverage on the state of the invitation by 'TAE to mayoral candidates for a televised debate. Update: Although the Busman has some.

The Few, The Proud

Only .39% of teachers in Pittsburgh Public Schools are black males. That's point-three-nine percent. The Courier's Christian Morrow profiles teacher Brandon George.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ravenstahl vs. The McNeillys

Bob Mayo has updated information.

Jack Kelly: Quandary in Iraq

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.

First off? Jack Kelly? Totally blogging. Totally accepting comments, instantaneously. Website's called Irish Pennants. Have at it, lads!

Secondly, 2 Political Junkies is obviously using the new Jack Kelly Fisking Software package freely available on the internet. So easy, and just seconds to download.

This week's column: Quandary in Iraq. Quandary, not a quagmire. :)

"Many Democrats in Congress believe the war in Iraq is irretrievably lost, or that it would redound to their political advantage if it were lost. But they don't want to be blamed for the consequences of defeat."

Inelegant, and incomplete. Democrats believe the war in Iraq will not be won in this current battle. In order to prevent a defeat, they are advocating a strategic withdrawal, in expectation that the true enemies will be exposed during the interval, while democracy (and security) takes root in the period of non-aggression.

"Although barely begun, the troop surge already is producing positive results. Al-Qaida operatives are reported to be evacuating Baghdad, and Moqtada al Sadr and senior commanders of his Iranian-backed militia, the Mahdi army, are lying low and may have taken refuge in Iran. As a consequence, the number of attacks in Baghdad has declined by 80 percent, the Iraqi defense ministry said last week."

Kelly calls it the Surge working; we call it the Withdrawal working. If the bad guys are holing up and waiting us out, because of gutless surrender-talk by liberal bleeding hearts, so be it. They won't be staging sorties, and those monkey bars have to get old after a while. They'll have nothing to do but politick.

It is urgent for them that they find common ground, now that the British are leaving, and now that we are clearly leaving in steady stages, until spring 2009 at latest. Nobody who has power wants chaos. This withdrawal gives the factions the illusion of stability. Let us see what they work out.

The very worst thing we could do is adventure with Syria or Iran, or get too excited policing the provinces. If Iraq's nefarious neighbors are meddling, let them meddle. The Iraqis are no fools, and the Bush administration can still bring a pretty fair diplomatic game. (Unless you listen to John Bolton.)

More on the Convention Center

Dan Onorato makes it clear to KDKA radio's Fred Honsberger, and to the rest of us, that he is standing by Sports & Exhibition Authority ED Mary Contruro.

The Comet wonders one thing. A P-G article today by Mark Belko and Rich Lord confirms that the 2005 incident was blamed on overtightened bolts, NOT the weather-related expansion or whatever that caused the 2007 collapse.

Our question, is really? Really really? It seems to us that the same sort of mind who might fail to report such an event to superiors, might also be the sort of mind to latch onto a quick and easy solution when under duress, bypassing due diligence.

However. For now, the Comet is trusting in Dan Onorato's bloodthirsty tone in demanding investigations, and we are not calling for Mary Contruro's ouster. If she was going to get any of those bonuses this year, she probably should not. If she has perks, strip them. But she seems too valuable to too many people to throw over the rails. We hope she has learned some lessons.

Just because we're all still upset at Condoleeza Rice, we shouldn't up and martyr Mary Contruro.

About those investigations. Both Onorato and Ravenstahl seem to suspect the designers and engineers. They most certainly are suspects. But let's be frank: did we hire the same contractors that built the levees in New Orleans?

Fort Pitt Farts In Our General Direction

The Tribune-Review does a wonderful job with the gas leak emergency, evacuation, and emergency response at Point State Park. Justin Vellucci gives us just the facts, man, and Allison M. Heinrichs frames it in terms of continuing bad karma over the disturbance of the Fort Pitt area.

The Hilton Hotel came out partially against the renovations ... not so much because they had to order an evacuation yesterday, but because of the downing of old trees.

By all accounts, the performance of emergency responders and repair crews was superb.

On the television, KDKA's John Schumway provided good coverage, ending with his report that mud, having collected over weeks working through poor weather conditions, covered up a warning line that would have prevented the ram hoe from impacting the gas line.

Now that bad winter weather has degraded the safety and efficiency of construction, the Comet recommends this is a good time to take pause.

During which time we might finally discuss ... many things. For example, the transfer of those power lines, and the businesses they would service, to another venue; maybe some sort of grand outdoor public square, or circle, further inland, but still convenient to Downtown ...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Civic Duty: What Have We Learned?

1. The science, art, and dance of discussion moderation is an important and subtle work, which will require deep and specific examination of the works of Chris Moore, P.J. Maloney, Phil Donahue, Charlie Rose, and yes, even Oprah.

2. Nonetheless, I dropped 300-small on this microphone, and I'm going to hold it, thank you very much.

3. The resentment within the black community of police officers runs both deeper, and closer to the surface, than I would have expected. And I expected some already. Some sort of reaching out, or reinvigoration, is imperitive in this crisis, on both sides.

4. Our sad, semi-conscious, zombie-like plodding through the construction of flagrant public-works boondoggles is not a good thing. How many times will the trumpet-call of "You're a nay-sayer! You hate progress!" prevent us from realizing this in time?

5. The Pittsburgh League of Young Voters did yeoman duty to promote and support this event. Next time, we will recruit five or six more civic groups like them, to do my dirty work. As Jesse Jackson once said, "I'm a tree-shaker, not a jelly-maker."

The next Civic Duty will be held in about a month, either back in Slibberty at the Shadow Lounge, or else at the New Garden Theater, or the New Granada Theater. Anyone with the access, or the skills-of-a-hustler, to help make this happen please contact me. Look alive.

Liveblogging the Monday Morning News Check

10:56 - Joseph S. Mistick, left out of the He-Man analysis, looks at the mayoral race through the space-opera of his own generation, Star Trek. (Pictured: Sex & the City's Kim Catrall, and Mr. Spock, in a Vulcan Mind-Meld)

It remains a mystery whom Mistick supports, until someone discovers whether he considers himself a policy wonk, or a sycophant.

The Comet wonders whether the "chicanery and skulduggery" has been limited to one-upsmanship, as in the tax-abatement tango, or if Joe is referring to something lying elsewhere ... elusive.

11:03 - Battle Cat fiercely savages the downtown YMCA, who we suppose occupies some sort of midpoint between UPMC and the Little Sisters of the Poor. Ravenstahl plans to enter negotiations with nonprofits by declaring that he does not expect very much, wheras Peduto has some sort of 20-to-40-year plan.

11:09 - We of the Comet do not think that Luke Ravenstahl intends, or expects, to reap any political gain from his stance -- or rather, feelings -- on contraception and abortion.

11:14 - The P-G's Elwin Green has a lovely thumbnail history of Homewood. A surprise to us: Homewood used to be an Italian community, until those displaced from the construction of the Civic Arena arrived to cause a bout of "white flight." Which was followed by a round of "black flight."

11:17 - Hallelujah! Early Returns has updated!

James O'Toole says Ravesntahl "appears to be the favorite going into Sunday's committee endorsement." Agreed. He certainly appears that way. Is there any evidence? Besides that everyone sort of knows that? We wonder. We wa-wa-wa-wa wonder.

He gives The Comet a plug in his list of recommends. He rightfully asks to be told of any "rabidly pro-Ravenstahl blog " out there.

11:29 - The Trib has an Associated Press summary of the nonprofit tax contributions. There is much talk of inconsistency. Surely, nobody likes inconsistency?

11:34 - Hey Trib Whisper-People - If (#10) Ron Francis is such a peach, why doesn't he run against Onorato? Sure he ruled that out some time ago ... but the collapse at the Convention Center! The North Shore connector! The Mon-Fayette expressway! Property taxes! Won't somebody please think of the children?