Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kalamazoo Results: Can Pittsburgh Expect Same?

Local Wage Tax Might Be Achilles’ Heel

The Kalamazoo Promise was announced just about two years ago. The program is in its infancy and data regarding its performance is just starting to be compiled. Some say the early data shows mixed results. Others are delighted with indicators they say are far more positive than expected. But good, bad or mediocre, most everyone in Pittsburgh is looking to Kalamazoo as a barometer of what we can expect here. As usual, our expectations are high.

At first glance both cities and their Promise programs look similar enough to anticipate similar results. Unfortunately, it turns out there are a couple of itty-bitty differences between the two that might not bode well for Pittsburgh.

Specifically, Kalamazoo’s Deputy Treasurer, Wayne Nelson, confirmed to the Pist-Gazette that neither Kalamazoo nor any of its surrounding municipalities has a local wage tax. More important than whether a wage tax exists is the fact that there is not a wage tax differential between Kalamazoo and its neighbors. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has a wage tax of 3% and is surrounded by townships who tax at a rate of only 1%. This 2% difference will immediately diminish the monetary incentive put forth by Pittsburgh’s Promise.

Mr. Nelson went on to say that the sales tax rate is uniform throughout Michigan and (very important) “the Kalamazoo Public School District encompasses an area substantially beyond the boundaries of the City of Kalamazoo, so a significant part of the district lies in a developing suburban area west and southwest of the city.”

Well that’s an eye-opener. Kalamazoo suburbanites do not have to move to city center to take advantage of their Promise because their Promise applies to schools in the suburbs! Additionally, any person or business relocating to Kalamazoo from outside the area to take advantage of The Promise can either move within the city limits or out in the “developing suburban area west and southwest of the city” that Mr. Nelson speaks of.

Mayor Luke “Big Picture” Ravenstahl cites Kalamazoo’s success as he stumps the city in support of tax credits for UPMC. The health care giant presently pays $1.5 million per year to the city and it now wishes to re-direct those monies to The Promise. Ravenstahl is steadfastly unconcerned by the budget hole this diversion will leave because he says new taxes from new people moving to the city because of The Promise will offset the $1.5 million loss in the short run. And in the long run? Well, he believes this may just be the economic catalyst this city needs to turn itself around.

Wow. Could this possibly be? Has Kalamazoo done that well?

Bob Jorth, executive director of the Kalamazoo Promise says, “Kalamazoo has welcomed 400 new families because of the Promise.” Even though his comment does not make it clear, and even though he was probably talking about the gain realized by the entire Promise area, let’s assume Mr. Jorth is speaking of a gain to the city of Kalamazoo alone. Let’s also further assume this gain was realized in just one year, not the two their Promise has been active.

Would 400 new families to Pittsburgh make up the “short term” loss of UPMC’s $1.5 million? Well, a little basic arithmetic tells us we’d need 1000 NEW families earning $50,000 per year paying 3% wage tax to make up for the UPMC loss. In other words, we'd need 1000 new families just to bring us back to where we were before UPMC diverted their monies. Family 1001 would be the start of our economic revitalization.

Can Pittsburgh lure over 1000 new families to Kalamazoo’s 400 when we’re handicapped by higher wage taxes than our surrounding neighbors? Handicapped by a school district which stops at our city limits instead of reaching into a “developing suburban area west and southwest of the city” like Kalamazoo enjoys? Has Luke or anyone in his administration run numbers such as these? Does Luke or anyone in his administration have a game plan or does he just defer these types of decisions to his campaign contributors?

From the onset, the Pittsburgh Promise debate has been framed in terms of adages. Rather than fight the trend, I’ll embrace the format as I conclude my thoughts.

This may not just be a case of looking a gift horse in the mouth. Or not appreciating who butters which side of what bread. It’s not even a matter of deriding a half-full glass for its half-empty portion. It may instead all come down to our ability to not only lead that gift horse to water, but also force him to drink as well. In the meantime, we’re going to have to cook the books so well done that apples and oranges will appear to be one and the same. As for Peter and Paul? Neither will know if they’ve been robbed, neither will know if they’ve been paid. Hopefully a few kids will actually get a college education out of the whole confusing mess. I'm no longer certain, but I think that’s what inspired the $100 million "gift" in the first place.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Since recent strings were found attached to UMPC’s Pittsburgh Promise gift, I decided to give a closer look to the program itself. No, I’m not looking a “gift horse in the mouth”. But having heard how the Pittsburgh Promise was modeled upon the Kalamazoo Promise, and how the Kalamazoo Promise has virtually turned that ailing city around, I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast the two. Especially since things in Pittsburgh have a funny way of not being exactly like they first appear to be. And especially, especially since we’ve come to hope that the Pittsburgh Promise will be the magic seed that, when planted, will attract all the suburbanites back to the city, bringing their much-needed tax dollars with them.

My bottom-line conclusion is that if The Promise does not deliver on its promise, it will be because of the program’s complexity. Because with complexity comes a certain level of uncertainty.

Kalamazoo's Promise is so very simple and straight-forward: “If you live here and you send your kids to our public schools, then we GUARANTEE we will pay ALL their college tuition, no matter how much it costs, so long as they maintain a modest GPA.” Period. This GUARANTEED, easy-to-understand, easy-to-acquire, easy-to-calculate-the-financial-benefits scholarship has proved to be an irresistible enticement for folks to relocate to Kalamazoo.

The Pittsburgh Promise, on the other hand, is a scholarship “of last resort” which is not guaranteed at this point and has caps which may or may not provide enough “last monies” to cover tuition costs 100%. In addition, because the amount of Promise monies awarded to a student depends on what the student needs AFTER receiving their Federal Student Aid (FSA) ….. And because they cannot apply for their FSA or know what they’ll be getting from The Promise until its time to go to college……And because the student will have had to have been a Pittsburgh Public School student since Kindergarten in order to have a chance (because of FSA) to receive the maximum $10,000 per year Promised…. How can a suburbanite calculate if a move to the city NOW will be worth the financial payout 13 years from now? If The Promise is still in existence at that time?

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical family where both parents are working and their combined annual income is presently $60,000. Assuming they get cost of living increases or raises of 3% per year, over the course of 13 years (K-12) Mr. & Mrs. Suburbanite will pay $18,741 more in wage taxes to the City of Pittsburgh than they would have paid to the suburban community where they presently live. IF The Promise is still alive in 13 years and IF the gap between FSA and college tuition is large enough at that time, Mr. & Mrs. Suburbanite’s child could receive the maximum total Promise scholarship of $40,000. This is a net benefit to the parents of $21,259. (They got $40,000 but had to pay $18,741 in city wage taxes to get it) Which is not bad, not bad at all. About a dollar-for-dollar match toward their child’s college education.

But is this enough? With all the IF’s involved …. is this enough to entice the suburbanite out of his safe, clean, pot-hole-free neighborhood, where the schools are also safe and clean and test scores are good? I don’t know. In fact, I think maybe not.

By the way, the break-even point for Mr. & Mrs. Suburbanite above is $128,000. Meaning anyone in the suburbs now making a combined income of $128,000 or more a year will pay as much in additional city wage taxes over the course of the next 13 years as they will get back from The Promise for college tuition.

Of course, it’s not just as straight-forward as Mr. & Mrs. Transplanted Suburbanite handing the city extra wage taxes and 13 years later the city hands it back. No, at this time Pittsburgh Promise money actually comes from the pockets of UPMC (and others?). Unless, of course, UPMC (and others?) gets the tax credit they’re angling for. In that case, the “gifted” Promise money would come from UPMC, but the city would then “pay UPMC back” by way of granting them a tax credit in the same amount. A tax credit the city could afford to give because of the extra wage taxes paid by Mr. & Mrs. Transplanted Suburbanite.

So yes, bottom line is if annual income is $128,000, Mr. & Mrs. Transplanted Suburbanite will in essence gift themselves their own tuition grant. But as with most things Pittsburgh, you can't just go directly from point A to point B. No, money around here has to loop around in circles so many times that “at the end of the day” no one can remember where it came from, where it was going and why it started circulating in the first place.

The comparison details between Kalamazoo and Pittsburgh are below. Read and see how successful you think our Promise will be.

Who is eligible?
Kalamazoo: All students who graduate from the city’s public schools, are residing in the district, and have been a city public school student for 4 years or more. Enrollment and residency must be continuous.
Pittsburgh: The above requirements apply plus: 1) Graduates of the Class of 2008 must have a minimum 2.0 GPA. 2) Graduates of the Class of 2009 must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and have 85% attendance in high school. 3) Graduates of the Class of 2010 and later must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and have 90% attendance in high school.

How much scholarship money is given to each student?
Kalamazoo: Tuition benefit is on a sliding scale with a 100% payment for any post-secondary school the student attends if the student has attended city public schools continuously since Kindergarten. The bottom of the sliding scale is a 65% payment if the student has only attended city schools since 9th grade. 10th grade and higher receive no tuition benefit.
Pittsburgh: Starting with the Class of 2008, the maximum Promise monies an eligible graduate can receive is $5,000 for each year of post-secondary school attended. This maximum amount jumps to $10,000 in 2012 if the student passes a graduation exam which the state will implement starting that year. Actual Promise monies paid, however, will be calculated by first considering monies available to the student through FAFSA (Federal Student Aid). An eligible student’s yearly Promise Scholarship will be equal to their yearly tuition needs, less their FAFSA grant monies, up to the maximum $5,000/$10,000 referenced above. The Promise Scholarship will be further decreased on a sliding scale percentage based upon the number of continuous years the student has lived and gone to school in Pittsburgh. 100% of the Promise Scholarship will be paid if the student has continuously lived in Pittsburgh and gone to Pittsburgh Public Schools since Kindergarten. The percentage decreases to 75% for those who have lived/been schooled in Pittsburgh since 9th Grade. Nothing is paid to those students residing/schooled in Pittsburgh since 10th Grade or higher.

What are the grant terms?
Kalamazoo: Kalamazoo will provide up to 4 years of tuition and mandatory fees for post-secondary education. 4 years is defined as receipt of a bachelors degree or 130 credits towards a degree, whichever comes first. Students must be full-time, maintain a 2.0 GPA and take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester. If GPA drops below 2.0, a student may be reinstated once the GPA is brought back to 2.0. Post-secondary education must be completed within 10 years of high school graduation with exceptions made for military service. Funds are paid directly to the educational institution and not to the student.
Pittsburgh: Will provide up to 4 years of Promise Scholarship monies. Students have up to 5 years to avail themselves of the Promise monies. School enrollment does not have to be continuous, but eligibility expires after 5 years of high school graduation. The 5-year time limit can be deferred for students entering military service, however. Students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA while making “adequate progress” toward a bachelor, associate or equivalent two-year degree. Students must submit a FAFSA every school year so that the Promise scholarship can be recalculated each year. Promise monies are paid directly to the educational institution and not to the student.

Which schools are eligible?
Kalamazoo: Any public State of Michigan university or community college.
Pittsburgh: All Pennsylvania state-funded schools, community colleges and most private schools in Allegheny County that offer two or four year degree programs, including many trade schools.

Friday, December 21, 2007

In Praise of Bill Peduto

So, can we all take a breather from our torturous circumstance and admit that it is not Bill Peduto’s fault we’re saddled with a lying, narcissistic, idiot of a mayor? Can we be adults about this whole thing and admit it is our own fault?

Peduto was derided and scorned for dropping out of the race after his pollsters discerned even Jesus Christ could not beat Luke the Visionary. Those pollsters were proved dead-on correct as we subsequently forgave and elected that little SOB, scandals/disgraces/outrages not withstanding. And this is Peduto’s fault?

Bill went on to RETURN unused campaign contributions saying he could not
bring himself to ask people for money

when he knew he didn't have a snowball's chance of winning. Nor could he bring himself to keep the money he had in hand after he called it quits. Instead of bulking up his campaign war chest for future elections, HE RETURNED THE MONEY. Has anyone heard of any politician doing anything remotely similar? Did we give him even a modest pat on the back for this rare show of honor and integrity? Nope, we instead hurled insults at a good man who was already down.

Bill always has and always will fight for this dysfunctional city of ours. Whether it is domestic violence, Act 47, budget overruns, zoning disputes, civil liberties or even small stuff like animal control …. Bill is the one everyone runs to because Bill is the one who is sane, honorable and capable. Can we all agree on at least that much?

Last night Luke basked in the glow of the city’s love and admiration as he was duly sworn in as mayor of Pittsburgh. He grinned, partied and puffed out his visionary chest as the Pittsburgh Tax Credit Promise unraveled in the background. Outside of the camera’s glare, it was AGAIN Bill Peduto who worked tirelessly and thanklessly, mopping up the mayor’s latest mess. Hammering out a sane, legal deal with UPMC. Peduto again trying to salvage our sorry, nearly-bankrupt asses.

If we don’t have it in us to thank this man for all it is he does do ….. Can we at least not saddle him with the responsibility for the existence of “Mayor Luke Ravenstahl”? We, the citizens of Pittsburgh, created that particular monster, not Bill. We, the citizens of Pittsburgh, freely voted for Luke in landslide proportions, not Bill. And guess what? We’re now getting exactly what we asked for. Surprise, surprise.

Come on, people. Let’s get real. A good start would be to thank Councilman Bill Peduto for everything he has done and continues to do.

I for one am very happy to say, "Thank you, Bill Peduto!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Open Letter To City Council

The Pittsburgh Partial Promise, With Strings Attached

I hate to laugh, but I just can't help it. But before I indulge myself in a bevy of "I told you so's", let me offer you a suggestion: YOU GUYS turn the "Pittsburgh Promise" into the "Pittsburgh Guarantee". UPMC has $10 million a year to spare for the next 10 years with $1.5 million either going to the city or going toward the Promise? Fine. In fact, that is very generous of them. So tell them and that wonderful mayor of ours to re-do the photo-op press conference but this time they need to celebrate the WHOLE truth. This time conduct themselves as honorable men doing a good thing for Pittsburgh instead of shell-game hucksters trying to reap $100 million dollars worth of political capital without having to actually pay that $100 million.

YOU TELL THEM thank you for their "gift" to the Promise of $85 million over 10 years. Because that is what it is. And then at the same time YOU TELL THEM you'd like to firm up their payments in lieu of taxes for a longer period since they appear to have $1.5 million in spare change for the next ten years. Pittsburgh's operating budget would benefit greatly by a 10-yr guarantee instead of having to go begging to them every couple of years. That brings their 10-yr "Guarantee" to $85 million for the Promise and $15 million to the city.

Period. End of story. End of drama.

My laughter? It's due to Luke sticking it to you again. Luke who was one of you and who howled when "the administration" was absent when HE wanted to question them during the Act 47 fracas. Luke who wailed further each time "the administration" shoved last minute legislation in your faces, expecting you guys to just give it the rubber stamp. Now that he's "the administration", he operates in exactly the same way. All the while proclaiming to be "fresh government". Now THAT is funny.

How does it feel having "one of your own" treat you worse than hired help? He is being heralded as the $100 Million Dollar Hero and has set you guys up as fall guys if you don't jeopardize the city's finances to pay for HIS coup. So now it's your fault if the city goes into the red and it's also your fault if the poor kids don't get to go to college. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And very, very funny also.

Tonya, word on the street and the blogs is you are supporting Luke because he's promised to wrest the council presidency from Doug and put the fix in for you. And apparently Luke's repeated disrespectful and shameful treatment of the folks on the Hill, YOUR CONSTITUENTS, is fine by you just as long as you get to be Council Prez. Besides, the woman Luke walked out on, MID-SENTENCE with cameras rolling, is one of your political adversaries. So no harm done, right? But is it okay that he's now scammed you by setting you up to be the fall guy here? Think he won't scam you over and over again if and when you are Prez?

Darlene, you okay with all of this? I don't know if Luke has promised you anything to buy your loyalty. If he has, I'd think twice. Luke has a tendency of picking the pockets of those he owes to pay them what he has promised. He'll pick your pocket for budget monies, political capital, or both. So get ready to give, give often and give a lot.

Doug …… You already know everything I am about to say. Do I really have to say it? You, who have "given" the most for Luke's benefit and not-so-coincidentally have been burned the most by him and the Party. Aside from Peduto, of course. Peduto who doesn't count for anything because he doesn't drink The Party Kool-Aid that's passed around and therefore is not really "one of the gang" anyway.

But Doug, have you forgotten? Luke & Motznik couldn't even wait for O'Connor to actually die before they roamed the halls lobbying for power. Luke ripped the O'Connor mantle right off your shoulders, not even leaving you enough to win your controller bid. He needlessly butted heads with you over invoice review thresholds during the Carlisle debacle. Why? Who knows. Maybe just to let you know who was in charge.

Now he's robbing Peter (city coffers) to pay Paul (his political image/capital), unconcerned with any budget divots he's left behind on the golf course. All the while standing shoulder to shoulder with the unions, grinning ear to ear, calling for an end to Act 47.

And you accommodate this "man", Doug? You continue to play his game on "his team"?

Oops, I've rambled too long. I started out laughing but the laughs are now gone. I should have quit before the point of remembering how pathetic our local government is. How the quest for individual political power trumps everything. How backroom deals and scams are the standard faire of the day. How spin and the relentless pursuit of political capital can even sour an $85 million "gift".

Maybe as you guys recess for Christmas each of you can quietly contemplate your own contribution to our local state of affairs. If you ponder the wisdom of not "looking a gift horse in the mouth", maybe you can also find time to consider just when, if ever, the end does justify the means.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jeff Foxworthy Sends Complimentary Copy of New Book to Luke Ravenstahl & Doug Shields

Dan Onorato On His "Wait & See" List.

You might be a financially distressed city if …

1) Your government employees outnumber your taxpayers.
2) Truckloads of illegal aliens blow past you on their way to Buffalo.
3) You award "Historic" designations to your oldest potholes.
4) Pension Fund diversification means splitting your investments between Powerball tickets and The Daily Number.
5) Your economic development plan centers around garbage pickup in Wilkinsburg.
6) You build a new Fort Pitt before the mortgage is paid off on the old one.
7) Your airport relocates to another city.
8) Your "Cost Cutting Task Force" is headed up by local unions.

Monday, December 3, 2007


The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Ravenstahl will not be using campaign funds to pay for his Carnegie Music Hall inauguration soiree. Instead, a “nonprofit” organization is being formed to foot the bill.

I presume this means anyone can contribute any amount, bypassing all campaign contribution laws since they are not contributing to a campaign. Additionally, the public will never know who contributed what since “nonprofit” contributor lists do not have to be published.

Quid pro quo? We’ll never know.

Transparency in government? You bet. From day one this administration has been very transparent as to who they are and what they are all about.

Is this legal? Oh, it would have to be. Myself, I don't believe the Ravenstahl administration would ever intend to do anything that was illegal. Or unethical. Or immature.

Candid Conversation With An Assistant Principal

I had a very interesting conversation with an assistant principal who shall remain nameless but who does work at one of our Pittsburgh schools. I asked this person what in the heck was going on? What was being done about the increased violence? The decreasing test scores? The K-6, K-8, Middle combined with High School flip flops?

This person acknowledged that discipline was the biggest problem in our schools. Unruly/delinquent kids have no desire to learn, their disruptions keep others from learning, they obstruct teachers from teaching, and more often than not they have parent(s) who don’t give a flip. This person went on to say the “reorganizations” we’ve seen in the last few years are nothing more than the district trying to buy some time.

No Child Left Behind says non-performing schools will be closed at some point unless they show improvement OR unless there is a reorganization plan. The assistant principal said certain Pittsburgh schools did not improve enough and were in danger of being closed. So the district reorganized, trying the K-8 model. So far, He/She said, middle school scores look worse under this configuration than they did when middle schools stood alone. So, to again ward off possible closures, the district is planning to reorganize once more, this time placing middle school kids with the big boys in high school.

Did He/She really think scores would improve with this configuration? Did He/She really think discipline would improve by exposing 6th graders to 12th graders? So they could either be picked on or more quickly learn bad behavior from the big dogs? He/She answered “no” and “no.” He/She fully expects test scores to further decline, but the district will have bought themselves some time, which is what they are primarily after.

Nice, very nice.

Why couldn’t we do what was done when Ms. Pist was young? At that time in ancient history “bad kids” got sent to “bad kid schools.” These unruly delinquents were heavily disciplined in “special schools.” They were made to behave and as a consequence sometimes they actually learned. If their behavior improved, they could rejoin the mainstream schools. If not, then at least their disruptive (sometimes criminal) actions would not deprive other kids of a decent education.

“We already have such a school” the assistant principal answered. “The problem is Conroy is already full and we don’t have another.”

He/She was speaking of Conroy School on the North Side. It was news to me to hear that kids in this school spend their entire day in their own classroom. They eat lunch in their classroom and each classroom has its own bathroom, so there are no hall passes to abuse. The kids are heavily supervised all day long.

My vote? Provide each child with the best *opportunity* for learning which is possible. If a student is disruptive, on drugs, assaulting others, intimidating others, a disciplinary plan should be formulated with the parent(s). If the parent(s) do not care, do not show up, do not cooperate, the student should be transferred to Conroy. Or Conroy II, III, IV, or however many Conroys are necessary to get a handle on this problem.

Is this just “leaving these problem kids behind?” Absolutely not. The problem kid has some sort of chance at Conroy. If left where he is, the problem kid is likely to become a dropout statistic. Or if he does accidently graduate, it’s not likely he’ll even be able to read. He’s then doomed for sure. To a life of poverty and worse. And this is after he’s robbed everyone around him of their own best chance at a good education.

So why don’t we just do the sensible thing instead of the politically correct thing? Aren’t we all sick to death of politically correct? Why not worry about what kids learn rather than which building they learn it in? Bringing everyone down to the lowest possible denominator is not “fairness for all.” Instead, Ms. Pist believes this is fairness to no one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monsters Among Us

It’s hard to fathom a monster, masquerading as a 30-yr-old human being, who would bite and rape a 10 month old baby.

Except for cases of self defense and to protect others from imminent harm or death themselves, Ms. Pist does not believe any of us has the right to kill another. This includes a mother taking the life of her baby inside, outside, or almost outside of the womb. This includes the state punishing monsters such as Clinton Smith who will be charged with raping Daniyah Jackson to death.

Daniyah (pictured above) died from multiple organ failure when she was penetrated by someone 10 times her size. And while Ms. Pist’s emotional side cries out for her attacker to be killed in exactly the same manner, Ms. Pist still believes “life without parole” should be the sentence for the most worthless pieces of excrement among us. “Without parole” should mean just that. No chance whatsoever to leave their cell no matter how many times the monster has “found Jesus.” The monster should stay in his cell, 24/7, with only brief excursions to eat and take a shower. No TV. No computer. No My Space Friends. No conjugal visits. A complete and total removal from the world he raped to death. This should be the “life” of Clinton Smith.

A final word to our young ladies: Understand there are monsters among us and that you must live your life with this reality in mind. DO NOT create life unless you are able to provide and care for that life. DO NOT bond with another to create life until you know that person inside and out for a long, long, long time. DO NOT bond with another to create life unless that other person has legally committed (marriage) to caring and providing for that newly created life. If you are a single parent, DO NOT expose your children to any “love interest” until you have known them, inside and out, for a long, long, long, time.

Fair or not, convenient or not, this is the reality of the world we live in.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bankruptcy Watch: Shields Wants End To Oversight

Council President Doug Shields wants council to pass a resolution telling the Act 47 overseers to go away. He says we’re in fine enough shape. (He must be talking to Jim Rohr)

“The city has, in large measure, met the requirements of the recovery plan and the conditions that led to the distressed status are no longer present,” Shields opined.

Hmmm. What a difference one month makes. It was just October 17th when Mr. Shields noted that city finances were on track largely due to empty positions going unfilled. He warned the city must fill those posts and also cautioned that several union contracts will open up in the next two years. These circumstances alone could change the current rosy picture.

What could have happened to change Doug’s outlook? After all, did he not see Joey King and Luke Ravenstahl standing shoulder to shoulder, grinning from ear to ear, just a day after the mayor’s election, both anxiously calling for an end to state oversight? Doesn’t he know Ravenstahl will wind up giving Joey King whatever Joey wants if state oversight is removed? Doesn’t he realize a return to outrageously bloated union contracts will send us straight into a tailspin of bankruptcy?

Of course he does! Doug Shields is no dummy! Doug must have come to the same conclusion as the Pist-Gazette who feels bankruptcy is not only inevitable, it is actually the only way out of our mess. And Doug, bless his heart, is obviously doing everything he possibly can to get us to the bottom, get us there quick, so we are able to rise from the ashes and start once again.

Doug! You are the man!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

PA Dept of Agriculture: Ignorance Is Better Than Confusion

Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff has come to the rescue of we Pennsylvanians who are too stupid to understand labels printed on our dairy products. Mr. Wolff, appointed to his post in May of 2003 by Gov. Ed Rendell, has issued an edict banning “absence labeling” on milk effective January 1. Wolff feels labels such as “hormone free”, “contains no artificial hormones” and the especially dreaded “rBGH-free milk” are misleading to consumers. His ban also applies to “pesticide free” and “antibiotic free”. Basically any label which informs the consumer that a particular product is free of unnatural substances will now be banned in the forward-thinking Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

According to the New York Times, Wolff is a “former” dairy farmer but his bio on the state’s web site says he currently owns a 400-head dairy farm called Pen-Col Farms. Not that Wolff’s status as a present or past dairy farmer would have anything at all to do with his decree. Of course not. Also of no consequence are the complaints he received from PA dairy farmers who use hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and rBGH in their milk. These substances increase a cow’s milk production by a gallon or so a day….. a margin the dairy farmers are not willing to give up. No, his ruling was borne solely from his humanitarian concern for his fellow Pennsylvanians who he feels would be better off uninformed than confused.

“It confuses [the public],” Wolff said. “[The labels] seem to imply there is a safe, nonsafe dimension.”

He elaborated further saying “no-rBGH” labels can’t be verified by scientific testing. Additionally, the labels incorrectly “infer” that there is a difference between milk from hormone treated cows and cows free from such substances because no study has ever proven there is a difference much less a harmful difference. Besides, “hormone free” is a very misleading statement, Wolff reasons, when you consider that cows produce hormones naturally.

Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk bottler, has told suppliers it’s time to dump the hormones. Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) remains illegal in many countries around the world including our northern neighbor Canada. The general public has grown increasingly skittish about the flood of chemicals and genetically engineered substances which proliferate in the food supply. Even so, the federal government maintains rBGH is perfectly safe and Mr. Wolff appears to agree.

Nonetheless and in response to public concern, certain dairies have told farmers they will no longer buy milk from cows treated with the suspect hormones. This didn’t sit well with Pennsylvania farmers using the hormone. Sure, they could sell to other dairies that weren’t as picky. But if this silly anti-hormone sentiment was left to grow unchecked throughout the consumer world, their profits would surely take a hit at some future date. Market forces could dictate they discontinue the hormone use, which would put an end to their extra gallon of milk per cow per day and whatever extra profit came with that gallon. Couldn’t something be done to help them out? Couldn’t these hyper-sensitive consumers be reigned in before it was too late?

Yes, something could be done and something was done. PA dairy farmers ran to their friend and former(?) dairy farmer, Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff. Wolff listened, Wolff deliberated, Wolff gave the matter the full measure of his unbiased consideration. Wolff decided Pennsylvania consumers are not sophisticated enough to appreciate the non-difference between natural foods and those containing pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. He spared the consumer the angst of choosing between products they thought were different, but were really the same, except for a few additives. He’s done all this by making sure the labels on both products are the same. No mention of any differences. After all, what we don’t know never ever hurts us.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Winners, Losers, And A Few Honorable Mentions

Much, much sadness in having to acknowledge you live in a city where 70% of the population joyously elects a total moron for mayor. Not an “alleged” moron, mind you. But a tried and true, tested and certified moron for mayor of Pittsburgh.

Other melancholy stats jump out as one browses the carnage. A few notables:

Worst Voter Turnout
The 1st Ward (parts of Downtown & Uptown) had the smallest voter turnout in the city. Only 7% of those registered to vote actually did. The award for the “Worst Voter Turnout in a District” goes to Ward 5 (Upper Hill), District 8, where 443 were registered to vote but only 1 (that’s right … ONE) did cast his vote. The other 442 must be fine with the concept of disenfranchisement.

Highest Voter Turnout
44% of the registered voters in Ward 31 (Hays/Lincoln Place) came out to cast their ballots. Many of our police and firefighters live in this area. A lot of them have a lot at stake. (Like the rest of us don’t? So why don't we vote?)

Highest Percentage of Non-Thinking Voters
Again, Ward 5 (Upper Hill) tops the charts once more. 67% of the votes cast in this ward were straight party votes. 67% treated the voting machine much like a slot machine. They walked in without much forethought, pulled one lever, walked out, and then hoped for the best.

Strongest Showing For Ravenstahl
No … It wasn’t his own neighborhood (Ward 26 – Perrysville/Riverview) where Ravenstahl received “only” 75% of the vote. There were actually five wards where Luke’s support was 80% or better: Ward 3, Lower Hill, 83%; Ward 5, Upper Hill, 82%; Ward 12, East Liberty, 84%; Ward 13, Homewood, 86%; Ward 21, Manchester, 80%. All of these wards are predominantly black. Maybe there is some kind of “abusive boyfriend, low self-esteem girlfriend” syndrome at work here. You know, that’s where the worse he treats her, the more she wants him.

Strongest Showing for DeSantis.
Yes ….The only wards DeSantis carried were Ward 7 (Shadyside) and Ward 14 (Point Breeze/Squirrel Hill). Both wards are predominantly white, educated and affluent. More telling is the fact that the little “pockets” he carried in other wards were exactly the same demographic: Dist 2 in the Strip (Ward 2) has the upscale warehouse loft conversions. Dist 7, 10, 12 & 13 in Oakland (Ward 4) encompasses historic Schenley Farms and the “mid-rise” condos of the northeast sector. Dist 7, 8 & 11 in Bloomfield (Ward 8) are in fact “Friendship” where folks are flocking to reclaim old mansions previously cut up into rentals. Dist 7, 8, 9, 10 & 12 in Highland Park (Ward 11) are those areas closest to the park with the largest homes. Dist 3, 4, 6 & 28 in Ward 19 are the sections of Mt Washington which have the view or Chatham Village. Dist 2 (Mexican War Streets) in Ward 22 (North Side) is where many of those “uncivil” unions reside.

So what does all this say? In two words ….We’re doomed.

I’m seriously toying with the idea of becoming a “Bankruptcy Advocate”. That’s where I actively support folks like Ravenstahl, Motznik, Bodak or any of their relatives for any office with the hopes of bringing this city to its knees as quickly as possible. That’s where we're headed anyway. Might as well get there quickly, get it over with, and get on with the business of rising from the ashes.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Man On The Street Poll: Bloomfield

DeSantis Tops At Tessaros

Two waitresses and sixteen patrons were polled at Tessaros on Liberty Ave in Bloomfield. The owner was also asked about his preference, but he deftly deferred saying no matter which way he went, he would alienate one segment of his customer base. So, he was going to steadfastly remain without an opinion.

Of the 18 polled, 3 were going for Ravenstahl (17%), 12 supported DeSantis (67%), 1 was undecided (6%), and 2 were not registered to vote (11%).

I had the Gourmet Burger with Provolone and a tall Guinness. That's what I have every time I go to Tessaros. It may be the best burger on the planet.

The details:

Ravenstahl Supporters:
- Female 1: 20-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Having a young mayor is a good way to try to draw young people back in to the city.”
- Female 2: 30-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I like his youth and his enthusiasm.”
- Male 1: 30-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “There was a landslide in my backyard. Ravenstahl showed up in person to give us support. He did that with the flood victims too. I like his straight-forward manner. I think he’s being torn apart just because he’s young.”

DeSantis Supporters:
- Male 2: 60-ish, Independent. Reason for vote: “The Democrats have done a lot of damage to this city. It’s time for a change.”
- Female 3: 40-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I want you to know I am not only a Democrat, I’m a far left Democrat. I will be voting for DeSantis because there is no comparison between what he would bring to office and what Luke does not have. It’s almost like Luke is running for Student Council President or something.”
- Female 4: 40-ish, Independent. Reason for vote: “Its time to get the Machine out.”
- Male 3: 40-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke does not have the judgement necessary to be mayor. My vote for DeSantis will be a vote against 70 years of one-party rule.”
- Female 5: 40-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke is too young. DeSantis has a great education. I think it’s time to mix things up.”
- Male 4: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I’m voting for DeSantis! The young guy is just a disaster.”
- Female 6: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I was for him at first. But now, I don’t think he’s ready to be mayor.”
- Male 5: 60-ish, Republican. Reason for vote: “This city needs a change. The time is now.”
- Wife of Male 5: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I have to agree with my husband. It's time for a change.”
- Male 6: 70-ish, Republican. Reason for vote: “This city has been run by Democrats for 70 years. 70 years of corruption. Patronage beyond belief. We need to get rid of all the brother-in laws, all of the sister-in laws. We need to get every relative of every politician off the payroll. We need to have the best and the capable, not the connected.”
- Female 7: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I am voting for DeSantis because it’s our chance for integrity.”
- Male 7: 70-ish, Republican. Reason for vote: “DeSantis is very educated. Luke has the same old people around. He didn’t clean house and we need to clean house.”

- Female 8: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I am a very liberal Democrat. I don’t like George Bush. I think Luke has tried to do a good job. But I just don’t know. I’m undecided.”

Will Not Vote:
- 2 Waitresses: Both not registered to vote, both will not be voting.

I shared my results with Tessaros owner before I left. He was very, very surprised

Man On The Street Poll: Allegheny East

Ravenstahl Reigns At Max’s Allegheny Tavern

One waitress and ten patrons were polled at Max’s Allegheny Tavern on Suismon St in Allegheny East. Of the 11, 5 were voting for Ravenstahl (45%), 1 was voting for DeSantis (9%), 3 were undecided (27%), and 2 were not voting at all (18%).

I had some kind of German thingie. It was bland and German. Thank God for Guinness.

The details:

Ravenstahl Supporters:
- Male 1: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke’s done a good job. He’s young, but he’s learning. We don’t need another Republican in office. Just look what Bush has done.”
- Wife of Male 1: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: She agreed with everything her husband said.
- Male 2: 40-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I don’t want cops out of the neighborhoods. And I don’t want City/County merger either. Luke is the lesser of two evils.”
- Male 3: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “My union has backed Luke.”
- Wife of Male 3: 60-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “He has great ideas to revive Pittsburgh.”

DeSantis Supporters:
- Male 4: 40-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “We haven’t learned yet that a one-party system is real bad. We need to know that now. I met Ravenstahl a few years ago when he was running for Council. I asked him at that time what he planned to do about revitalizing our economy. He started telling me about this big idea he had about Pittsburgh picking up the trash for the surrounding municipalities. I was not impressed with him or his answer. And now look what’s happened. He’s mayor, and what happens? By God, he’s still on that trash thing ….. picking up Wilkinsburg’s trash like that’s the answer to anything.”

- Waitress: 20-ish, Democrat. Hasn’t paid attention at all but will before election day.
- Male 5: 50-ish, Democrat. Hasn’t decided yet who he will vote for. He has no problem with Luke. But he hasn’t decided for sure.
- Male 6: 20-ish, Democrat. Not given it any thought at all.

Will Not Vote:
- Friend of Male 2: 40-ish, Democrat. Thinks system is corrupt. Thinks people pick on Luke because he hasn’t worked his way up through the ranks.
- Friend of Male 6: 20-ish, Democrat. “I’m not registered to vote, but if I were, I’d be voting for Ravenstahl just to spite a friend of mine who is presently the right-hand-man of a certain City Councilman who doesn’t get along with Ravenstahl. And also because I was never invited to the Masquerade Ball.”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pittsburgh: America's Most Livable City (Not!)

"Almanac" Publisher Says Its Not Just The City

Pittsburgh: America’s Most Livable City.

Have you ever wondered how we ever got that designation? Even with all of our problems and idiosyncrasies, I do love this city. But I am a realist. We are bankrupt, we’re near or at the bottom of most every economic indicator one can think of, our bridges are failing, our water mains explode monthly, our fish have turned androgynous, and we have a mayor whose grand plan for economic revitalization centers around garbage pick-up for Wilkinsburg. So how in the world did we ever make it to the top, winning the coveted title of “Most Livable”?

Well, my curiosity got the better of me. I decided to contact David Savageau, author/publisher of Places Rated Almanac, whose tabulations placed Pittsburgh at the top of America’s most desirable places to live. Did David use stats and indicators JUST from the City of Pittsburgh, or did he include, as I suspected, the neighboring suburbs as well?

Turns out it’s even worse than that. Per Mr. Savageau’s reply:

Thanks for writing.

Pittsburgh is one of 370 officially-defined metro areas in the United States. When we use “Pittsburgh” in PLACES RATED ALMANAC, we’re talking about the metro area surrounded by 7 counties, containing 441 cities and towns in NW Pennsylvania, and named after the largest city in the area.


David Savageau
Places Rated Books LLC
Washington, DC

So ….. What is the big deal here you might ask? What is my point?

My point is our esteemed government leaders should not be hiding behind the “Most Livable” banner. When we cry out about the miserable conditions which surround us and the miserable choices they have made, they continue to deflect responsibility and culpability by saying, “We can’t be doing so bad …. After all, we’ve been named Most Livable!” Additionally, many citizens continue to look to this ranking as vindication that our weaknesses must in fact be strengths, and "strenghts" are things we should not try to change.

Well, WE have NOT been named Most Livable. It is the REGION which has been named Most Livable. The REGION filled with evil Republicans and suburbanites. The REGION Mr. Ravenstahl wants no part of except to usurp its title.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Man On The Street Poll: Troy Hill

Billy’s Troy Hill Bistro Likes Luke

One waitress and eleven patrons were polled at Billy’s Bistro on Lowrie St in Troy Hill. Only eight of the twelve were city residents, however. The four non-city patrons lived in nearby Reserve Township. Of the 8 Troy Hill residents, 3 were voting for Ravenstahl (38%), 2 for DeSantis (25%), 2 were undecided (25%), and 1 never votes for anyone and plans to not vote for anyone this time around also (13%).

Of the 4 who lived in Reserve, 3 would have voted for Ravenstahl if they could have (75%), 1 was firmly in the DeSantis camp (25%).

I had the house specialty, by the way. The Black Diamond Steak was very tasty and I’d recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in the neighborhood.

The details:

Ravenstahl Supporters:
- Female 1: 30-ish, Republican. Reason for vote: “I just like Luke. He’s young and I like the changes he’s made. I had the opportunity to meet him and I liked what I saw. He has fresh ideas and I’d like for him to continue the changes he’s started.”
- Male Friend of Female 1: 40-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I want him to be able to continue doing what he’s doing now.”
- Fairly Drunk Male: 60-ish, Independent. Reason for vote: “Let me tell you … I hate Democrats. And I also hate Luke’s dad. Be sure to say that I really hate Luke’s dad. But I’m going to be voting for Luke. I think we need to give this boy a chance. Let’s see what he can do. Make sure you remember that I hate Democrats. I really do. Besides, I think DeSantis might be gay. He’s not married, you know.”

DeSantis Supporters:
- Man Sitting Next To Fairly Drunk Male. 50-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I think a little bit of intellect would be nice for a change.” Fairly Drunk Male warned that a DeSantis victory would be a catastrophe; it would turn things upside-down. “Maybe that’s what we need,” said Man Sitting Next To FDM. “Maybe we need things turned upside-down.”
- Friend Of Man Sitting Next To Fairly Drunk Male. 50-ish, Democrat. Reason for vote: “DeSantis is the smarter man. That would be nice for a change.”

- Couple. Both 30-ish, Both Democrats. Both had not made up their minds yet.

Will Not Vote:
- Waitress. 30-ish, Not Registered Anything. Reason for non-vote: “I never pay attention to politics and I never vote for anyone. But I tell you this, if I were voting this time, I would not vote for Luke. He comes in here from time to time and he always leaves a horrible tip. He was in here the other day with some people from the city and some girls. They drank and ate and the bill came to $88 but he only left a $4 tip. No, if I were voting this time, it wouldn’t be for him.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Man On The Street Poll: East Liberty Soup Kitchen

Alphabet Soup Jumbled, Ds and Rs Swap Places

Twelve volunteer workers were polled at an East Liberty Presbyterian Church soup kitchen this morning. Of the 12 polled, 9 Democrats were voting for DeSantis (75%) and 3 Republicans were voting for Ravenstahl (25%). Which begs the question: Who is the real ‘Lil Bush’ anyway?

The details:

Ravenstahl Supporters
- Volunteer 1: 60-ish Female, Republican. Reason for vote: “I think Bush is a very intelligent man and Luke is intelligent also.”
- Volunteer 2: 20-ish Female, Republican. Reason for vote: “Luke is very intelligent. He got good grades in college.”
- Volunteer 3: 20-ish Female, Republican. Reason for vote: “Luke is young and will take us in a good direction.”

DeSantis Supporters:
- Volunteer 4: 50-ish Male, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke is just plain stupid. That boy is going down!”
- Volunteer 5: 50-ish Female, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke is immature and too young.”
- Volunteer 6: 40-ish Male, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I agree. Luke is too young.”
- Volunteer 7: 20-ish Female, Democrat. Reason for vote: “[Luke’s] stupid!”
- Volunteer 8: 30-ish Female, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke is dishonest. He lied about the SUV and that was the final blow for me.”
- Volunteer 9: 30-ish Female, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke would ruin Pittsburgh.”
- Volunteer 10: 40-ish Male, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I hate [Luke]!”
- Volunteer 11: 50-ish Female, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke is a horse’s ass!”
- Volunteer 12: 30-ish Male, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke is a f*cker.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

First Pist-Gazette Unscientific “Man On The Street” Poll Just In

Brookline: Going for DeSantis?

The Pist-Gazette decided to venture deep into Ravenstahl-Motznik country this evening. An occasion to dine at the Moonlight Café (and Bar) in Brookline turned into the perfect opportunity to spot sample opinions and views from the locals regarding the Nov. 6 mayoral election.

I must say, I’m stunned. Practically stupefied. I expected near universal support for our Boy Mayor in this hotbed of public works, firefighters and Motz Man constituents.

Instead, out of 13 people “polled”, 5 said they were voting for Ravenstahl, 6 (!!!) were voting for DeSantis, and 2 said they were so disgusted they were staying home. Luke gets 5 out of 13! That's a whopping 38% for Luke IN BROOKLINE!!!

(Ms. Pist needs a moment to compose herself before she is able to move on to the details)

Okay, the details …..

Ravenstahl Supporters
- Busboy: Young, 20’s, Democrat. Reason for vote: "Because [Ravenstahl] is young and has that fresh look.”
- Man at Bar: Young, 20’s, Democrat. Reason for vote: Ravenstahl is a personal friend.
- Man at Bar’s Friend: Young, 20’s, Democrat. Reason for vote: “I like [Ravenstahl’s] views better. Except I don’t know too much about DeSantis.”
- 3rd Man at Bar: Young, 20’s, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke is a good mayor. He gets around a lot. I was just at a party last night where he was at.” (These are honest-to-goodness quotes.)
- 4th Man at Bar: Young, 20’s, Democrat, Marine 3 times in Iraq. Reason for vote: “I want a Democrat no matter what.”

DeSantis Supporters
- Waitress: Older, 50’s, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Because I haven’t liked the last couple of things he’s done. The car was the last straw.”
- Man at Bar: Older, 50’s, Democrat, has a son in Iraq. Reason for vote: Democrats need change, the city is being run into the ground, we need a sensible man to take charge, golf, golf, SUV.
- Female Friend of Man at Bar: Older, 50’s, Democrat. Reason for vote: She agreed with everything Man at Bar said, but eagerly added she couldn’t wait to vote for DeSantis.
- 2nd Man at Bar: Young, 20’s, Democrat, wearing a Roethlisberger jersey. Reason for vote: “Luke is an idiot.”
- Cousin of 2nd Man at Bar: Young, 20’s, Democrat, just back from Iraq. Reason for vote: "I can't think of one reason to vote for Ravenstahl. I will have to vote for DeSantis.”
- Woman at Bar: Early 30’s, Democrat. Reason for vote: “Luke can’t tell the truth. If you're going to do something, then just do it. But don’t lie about it. And when you go to a concert, you should take your own car.”

Those Staying Home
- Young Couple at Bar: Both 20’s, Democrats. Reason for not voting: "We're done voting for politicians. No matter who it is, they’re all on the take. It’s all just a scam.”

My God, this is Brookline? I hate to say it. I hate to mouth the words so as to maybe jinx a miracle in the making. But maybe Luke is deeper in his own shit than any of us ever thought.

Ms. Pist will be “polling” at other locales throughout the city before election day. It would be enlightening and maybe even entertaining if other bloggers did the same.

What Does It Take To Bring Left And Right Together? The Horrifying Possibility Of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

Both Endorse Republican Challenger Mark DeSantis

Has the world come to an end? Has hell frozen over? No, not exactly, but close to it. Both the Democratic-leaning Post-Gazette (link) and the Republican-inclined Trib-Review (link) have endorsed Republican underdog Mark DeSantis for mayor of Pittsburgh.

Prior to 9/11, many used to wonder what it would take to unify our country. Voices for the Left and Right had moved so far away from each other, it seemed they could no longer agree whether or not the sky was blue, whether or not the Earth was round. Then came 9/11 and with it a stark albeit brief realization that worse people exist in the world than the opposite party they had vowed to destroy.

Councilman Luke Ravenstahl’s ascendance to the mayoral throne was Pittsburgh’s very own 9/11. Both our major newspapers get it. Both stand united in realizing the horrific implications of an out-of-control Frat Boy running the city as it circles the event horizon of a black hole called ‘bankruptcy’.

The question is, will Mr.& Mrs. Average Pittsburgher get it? Will the myopic government worker who doesn’t understand his very job depends on tax dollars from the private sector get it? Will the mindless voter who gets ‘handed the slate’ be able to muster the wits to rebel against his own DNA corrupted by generations of same-party inbreeding? Will the unions finally understand that there is not one drop of blood left in any Pittsburgh turnips? Even if there was, will they finally admit the turnip-blood will never come from a boy speeding around town in his Batmobile, chasing after celebrities whilst admiring his own reflection?

Unfortunately, the answer to all of the above is probably ‘no’. Ms. Pist believes we Pittsburghers are for the most part hopeless, hapless and clueless. Ms. Pist believes Ravenstahl will win the election and Pittsburgh will continue on the path to its own demise. I guess it’s just what Darwin referred to as 'the process of natural selection’.

Huge thanks to the Post-Gazette and the Trib for standing up and doing what’s right. Mega-Super-Kudos especially to the Post-Gazette who has risked paying subscriptions from the mindless and the myopic. They have instead chosen to retain their journalistic and editorial sanity and integrity, and for this they will have my eternal respect.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“Gumball” Malloy Responds To Charges. Again.

Interviewed By KDKA “Yellow Journalists”. Again.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Spin From The Lukester

Luke seen here trying to astral project during his waking hours.

Pittsburgh’s 27-Year-Old Mayor Says The Election Focus Should Be On His Record, Not The Controversies In Which He’s Found Himself

Friday, October 19, 2007

FOP Deals Ravenstahl One-Two Punch

News Flash!

Kapow! The FOP endorsed Republican Mark DeSantis this afternoon in his bid for mayor of Pittsburgh.

Kablam! They rubbed salt into the wound by comparing *DeSantis* to the much-loved, late Mayor Bob O’Connor:

"We see a lot of the same things in him that we saw in (late Mayor) Bob O'Connor,” said Union Secretary Chuck Hanlon.

Maybe, just maybe the stupor-villian Frat Boy will be run out of Gotham City after all!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bodies: The Exploitation

Carnegie Science Center Enters World of 21st Century Circus Sideshows

“It’s art!” “It’s science!” “It’s wonderful!”


Let’s take a quick pop quiz. Which of the following qualifies as art and/or science?

A. The nearly complete skin of a human being, sliced open and laid flat on a table with the face attached. Much like a Blow-up Judy Doll that has been deflated.

B. A skeleton and a fully de-boned person left with only his muscles, both holding hands, leaning backwards frozen in a kind of do-si-do square dance pose.

C. A “Plastinated Petting Zoo” of sorts. Various plastinated organs on display for visitors to handle and touch.

D. A skinned, flayed dead person, posed sitting a la “The Thinker”, skull cracked open and brain popping out. (No doubt the result of all that hard thinking.)

If you’ve answered “Art”, congratulations! You are in the company of that esteemed artist and mass-murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer who temporarily housed skulls, genitalia and other fine objects d’art in his freezer.

If you’ve answered “Science”, you have a keen mind like Josef Mengele and other famed Nazi anatomists.

If you’ve answered “Neither”, then you agree with Ms. Pist who believes cadaver experimentation by medical students and researchers is genuine and valuable science. Throngs of morbidly curious freak-show patrons paying plenty to gawk at dead bodies posed doing things no respectable dead person would be caught dead doing ….. that is not science.

Art? Auguste Rodin’s “Le Penseur” (The Thinker) is an unquestionably superb, world-renown piece of bronze and marble sculpture. Propping up a dead guy in a similar pose with a cracked skull and exposed brain …… that is not art. It’s either desecration of the dead or, at a minimum, some violation of intellectual copyright laws.

Much has been made of the questionable sources of these “Bodies” including this blog. But on the subject of honor and respect for the humanity of the dead and what it says about a civilization when this civilized principle is abandoned ……. No more poignant words have been written on the abomination called “Bodies” than those of Rabbi Daniel Schiff.

Rabbi Daniel Schiff of Temple B’nai Isreal in White Oak is also the community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning in Squirrel Hill and a member of the City of Pittsburgh’s Ethics Board.

NY Times Corrections

Of all the many inaccuracies contained in the New York Times article about pitiful Luke being “hounded” by the press ….. The Times has admitted to making two. Sort of. One they blame on “misstatements” Ravenstahl made himself.

Well, two out of fifty or so isn’t so swell, but it’s a start.

Mustio To Legislature: “Put Up or Shut Up”

Bill To Reduce Legislature Stalled

The Post-Gazette’s Brian O’Neill reminds us that Rep. Mark Mustio (Moon) will hold a press conference today hoping to shame his fellow legislators to “put up or shut up.”

In response to the public outrage over the “Midnight Pay Raises”, many state senators and representatives have touted various government reform initiatives in an attempt to convince their constituents that they have seen the light. Shrinking the size of the state legislature has topped the public’s wish list, forcing the General Assembly to at least pretend they’d address this important reform soon. In that regard, a bill was introduced to shrink the House from 203 to 161 members and trim the Senate from 50 to 40. But considering much of the Assembly’s newfound zeal for reform is anything but earnest, the bill was shuttled over to the state government committee where it has been sitting “on ice” since January. The Assembly no doubt has been hoping it would languish there until hell freezes over or until the public’s ire passes, whichever comes first.

Mustio needs 102 House members to pass a “discharge resolution” which would free the government reduction bill from its current suspended animation status. Does that mean it would then come up for a vote? Not really. There would undoubtedly be other roadblocks for this bill which no one wants but everyone is too afraid to admit. Mustio is not deterred, however. He plans on taking the roadblocks on one at a time.

“I got elected to get some stuff done,” Mr. Mustio said, “not to make friends.”

With that, Mustio hopes to build public and media pressure by reading the names of the bill’s 33 co-sponsors, the names of the 50 freshman legislators who were elected primarily on the promise of reform, and the names of every other lawmaker who has ever claimed to support a smaller legislature. To date, only freshman Rep. Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon has signed on to the discharge resolution.

By the way, Pennsylvania spends more per capita on their legislature than all other states with the exception of Alaska and Rhode Island. In 2005 our legislature cost each Pennsylvanian $23.86. In that same year, similar-sized states such as Ohio and Illinois spent $3.69 and $5.83 respectively.

If you have strong feelings one way or another about this issue ….. today might be a good time to let your state representatives know how you feel. Legislator look-ups with phone, fax and email contact information can be found here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Sign Of The Changing Times

I was awakened by the doorbell at 7 AM this Saturday morning. It was someone wanting to know if I had a dollar to spare. They said they needed to put gas in their car.

I guess I’m lucky it wasn’t a home invasion.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Open Letter To City Council President Doug Shields


I am one of the nerds in Pittsburgh who follows the cablecast City Council meetings religiously. Consistent viewing gives me a good understanding of what is going on in the city and, just as importantly, I get an invaluable insight as to just who you councilmen are and where your priorities and loyalties lie.

In this way I’ve come to view you as a smart and generally good guy. You are articulate (too much so?), you generally put the city’s best interest above your own and no one can dispute that you are one of the best "numbers” guys around. Which is why I am speechlessly flabbergasted about your participation in the Motznik Parking Tax Plan.

I know the city is between a rock and a hard spot. To be more precise, we have made all the obvious cuts we can and we have maximized all the revenues we can. While we may be above water now matter what Luke Ravenstahl says, we won't be for long.

However, the operative word in the above paragraph is “obvious.” Yes, we have eagerly grasped on to every piece of low-hanging fruit in sight. Unfortunately our efforts seem to have ended there. None of our local leaders appear to possess the stomach or desire to tackle the really difficult items which MUST be confronted if the city is to survive.

Examples? City/County merger of departments, functions, etc. has supposedly been in the works for a couple of years now. There are millions of dollars in savings here but we’ve only scratched the surface because no one wants to let go of their personal turf and power base. It just never goes anywhere because there is simply no will for it.

The very profitable "non-profits" must pony up more. What they now pay is pitiful. I'm not talking about real non-profits like the Boy Scouts, etc. Do I believe, like DeSantis has implied, that UPMC et al would be more generous if they had more trust in the fiscal prudence of the city. DeSantis appears to have paved the way for greater non-profit contribution if those monies are put in a “lock box” to pay down our debt and/or shore up our under-funded pension plan. Why not be adults and forget about D vs R and just talk to the non-profits as DeSantis has done? Why not implement the DeSantis plan now because it is the right and NECESSARY thing to do?

Various people (I think basically you) talk about joining with the state in their pension/medical plan to save big money. Is there any progress in that direction or just more talk?

Oh yes, and there's a small thing like the firefighter contract that needs to be re-opened. I’m aware there’s a snowball’s chance of that happening. But looking at this from a purely non-political and adult perspective, why not? Doug, this is again something that HAS to happen. Someone is going to have to suck up their gut, roll up their sleeves and start swinging at this and other fruit that does not hang so low.

I know everything mentioned above is very difficult to achieve partly because one lone cowboy can't just pull out his six-shooter and do it by himself. Solutions to the problems above will entail huge sums of trust, cooperation, hard work and goodwill by MANY people. Many people will have to put the good of the city above shielding (no pun intended) their own turf. That is the difficulty level in a nutshell and the difficulty level is why no one wages the battle.

There is one last thing that I haven't mentioned because it’s the wall people keep banging their heads against. It’s the wall that doesn't give. It’s called “Harrisburg”. Going to "talk to", "confer with", "have a dialogue with" or just plain "beg" Harrisburg has not, is not, will not do any good. What good comes of whining about how Harrisburg “neglects us” all the while just banging our heads on that wall again and again? What good comes from putting the cart before the horse by flipping them the Motznik Tax Plan bird right before we go begging again?

I know none of this is a revelation to you, Doug. As I said at the onset, you are a bright guy. This is your world, your life and I'm just a blogging back-seat driver. But you know, Doug, all the political backstabbing and turf wars, WITHIN THE SAME PARTY NO LESS, has got to stop. You guys ..... all of you including the mayor who makes my blood boil daily ..... You all have to attack the big, hard, monstrous mountains together because the low-hanging fruit has been picked clean. You have to do this in concert, driven by what's best for the city and not what's best for the protection of the turf each person now has or the turf they aspire to in the future.


Ms. Pist

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Carnegie Science Center Adds Bonus Section to “Bodies” Exhibit

PITTSBURGH, Pa, Probably sometime in the future -- “Bodies: The Exhibition” opened to throngs of enraptured crowds at the Carnegie Science Center on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. All the bodies in the exhibit have come from China, a world leader in the development of exciting and innovative new uses for plastics and polymers.

Opening day for the exhibit was set aside exclusively for children under 12 so they could overcome their fear of dead and dismembered bodies while simultaneously learning to appreciate death and disease as the art forms they really are. As enthused as all the little tots were, nothing could prepare them for the special surprise in store courtesy of the good folks at the Science Center.

“We are very pleased to announce the addition of a new Jewish Holocaust section to the exhibit,” said Science Center spokesperson Margaret Flauster. “While all of the bodies in ‘Bodies’ are exquisite specimens, we nonetheless felt a responsibility to be more inclusive by incorporating bodies from other parts of the world as well.”

Squeals of delight could be heard from kids and parents as they perused the Jewish section. An immediate favorite was the pile of severed heads. Docents explained that the intent of the pile was to give form to the concept of “the collective consciousness.”

Not as popular but also drawing a respectable crowd of onlookers was the table of tattooed skins, human skin lampshades, and bars of soap made from human fat. The artistic message here was how useful each and every one of us can and should be to each other.

A two-headed baby was also included in the bonus section but seemed a bit out-of-place with the other pieces. Ms. Flauster admitted that the baby was not Jewish and was not even that old. “We thought it looked kinda cool, so we decided to include it in this section anyway.”

The Carnegie Science Center wishes to remind all its patrons that all the bodies and body parts have been treated with the utmost of respect. While they expect to rake in revenues like never before, they insist the education, enlightenment and enrichment of Pittsburgh …. especially the children of Pittsburgh …. is what inspired them in this amazing endeavor.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Post-Gazette Mayoral Candidates Forum

All and all, the evening was ….. okay.

Both Luke and DeSantis did well in general. To my eye and ear, neither screwed up, neither hit the ball out of the park. Both came across pretty much as who they were. There were (dare I say the word?) policy differences between the two and these came across fairly clear as well.

Did any candidate win over any voters tonight? In my opinion, no. Did any candidate blow it and lose votes tonight? Again, I think not.

But it wasn’t all milk-toast and bland. DeSantis got big applause when he said, “Youth does not equal incompetence, but it’s not an excuse either.” And, “People in the neighborhoods need to be heard. If you call a meeting, you have to show up.”

The clap-meter shot up when Luke was asked 'What is the single most important thing to improve Pittsburgh’s image?' He answered, “Elect a 27-yr-old mayor.” He also struck a chord with the audience when he spoke disapprovingly about privatization of government services.

Even the PG editorial board received kudos from the crowd by asking Luke what he would say to those people who are critical of his intentions to “continue to do what 27-yr-olds do.” No surprise, Tony Norman got a round of applause just for being Tony Norman.

But the night did not conclude without its share of surprises. The Socialist candidate, Ryan Scott, cornered the market on all of them. He left the planet early on and continued his journey into deep space at an impressive Warp 10 speed. Some of Mr. Scott’s disjointed thoughts on various issues, whether or not they had anything to do with being the mayor of Pittsburgh:

o He supports the rights of all countries to develop nuclear energy.
o Even though no one in the room quite understood why, it seems the Jena Six has something to do with his credentials to be mayor, why a young mayor (he is 24) is a good thing, and shrinking the size of City Council to correspond with the shrinking population.
o His campaign was in harmony with nature.
o “Crimes and devastation against the planet” was the single most important thing to improve Pittsburgh’s image. (???)
o Cops bring violence into the neighborhoods. He wants no more cops on the streets.
o There will be no true education until Capitalism is overthrown.

For a PG podcast of the 90-minute debate in its entirety, go here.

Ravenstahl A No-Show At Annual ICMA Conference

Was He At Steelers Game?

Marty Griffin reported this morning that one day after the New York Times article about Pittsburgh media hounding our beleaguered young mayor, un-friggin-believably Luke Ravenstahl was a “no show” at the Annual ICMA (International City/County Management Association) Conference in Seven Springs. Ravenstahl was scheduled to give opening comments to 4,000 national and international government movers-and-shakers on October 7th. Instead Luke blew them off at the last minute, leaving them high and dry, not offering anyone from his office as a replacement. Event organizers were so outraged by this pathetic insult from the City of Pittsburgh, they have vowed never again to invite Allegheny County officials to speak because it appears we just cannot be trusted to show up.

Marty Griffin emailed the mayor’s office this morning asking for an explanation to his latest outrageous behavior, his latest embarrassment to our city. No response thus far from the mayor or any of his ultra-cool spokespeople.

Where was Luke on Sunday at 3PM? No one knows for sure YET, but there was a Steeler game at that precise time. Certainly he could not have blown off yet another high-profile, important event just to attend yet another football game. After all, he vowed to the New York Times that he would not attend any more Steeler games until after the election because 'he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the game, being hounded by the press ‘n at.'

Ravenstahl’s preference for drinking, partying and carousing over the boring day-to-day duties of running the city is nothing new. In fact, his juvenile behavior has shown its ugly face since the moment he took office. Marty spoke of a trip Luke took to Washington D.C. when he first became mayor. Upon arriving, the first thing Luke wanted to do was go out and party. Some of the officers in his security detail told him this might not be such a good idea. They suggested he focus on politics instead. Coincidentally, the officers who gave him that common sense advice are no longer on the mayor’s detail today.

This is the “fresh government” offered up by the Ravenstahl administration. God help us all.

UPDATE: An angry Luke Ravenstahl called Marty's show to deny that he blew off the ICMA. He says his secretary emailed them a month before the event, telling them he had a conflicting engagement and would not be able to speak. Luke insists he has the email his office sent to ICMA and would forward it to Marty.

Marty asked Luke directly if he was at the Steelers game instead. Luke very directly replied, "No I was not."

Luke was angry. He confirmed there was a "pattern at work" but the pattern was that of the media who continues to spread lies and half-truths about him. He told Marty he would be patiently wating for an apology from John Delano (who originally spoke to ICMA), officials at ICMA and Marty Griffin himself.