Monday, March 31, 2008

Marriage vs Civil Unions: Let’s Get Our Definitions Straight

I’ve been dreading this blog post. Not because the topic is not important. Not because I lack the necessary passion. My dread is rooted in the fact that defending mind-numbingly obvious positions, year after year after year after year, is an extremely difficult thing to do.

How does one argue with fervor that the sky is blue? How does one enter into such an odd, silly debate not just once, but many times over many years, and not get sick-to-death over the stupidity of the situation?

These were the thoughts I pondered as I prepared to write today.

I forced myself to go back to the argument’s premise for the thousandth time: Gays should not be allowed to marry. To do so would destroy the institution of marriage, the family unit, and the decency and order of our society as a whole.

As I tried to look freshly at an assertion I believed to be infuriatingly stale not to mention downright ignorant …something did crystallize. Something that both the heteros and homos of our species may not want to hear:

Whether you’re straight or gay, marriage as an institution does not exist for you as an individual. It is not there as a societal value judgment of your worth or your lifestyle. It is not there as public congratulation/recognition of the soul mate you’ve found.

Why then does marriage exist? Contrary to the beliefs of the self-focused, self-centered, ever increasing self-conscious world we live in, the institution of marriage exists solely to protect the emotional, spiritual, financial and developmental welfare of the children of such unions. People who marry have promised to be worthy vanguards of all our futures by properly raising the children in their care together, until death do they part. This is the crux of their sacred vow whether they realize it or not. Together means no divorce for any reason short of life or limb, no “irreconcilable differences”, no “growing apart.”

I don’t mean to imply that two parents are always needed for successful childrearing. If a child has only known but one parent who is good and loving …. Odds are that child will thrive. But once a child has bonded with two parents of any gender, permanent emotional harm is done when one parent leaves. The child always thinks he has been abandoned no matter how often the missing parent “visits”, no matter how nice the new mommy/daddy turns out to be. Worse, the child comes to believe nothing is sacred and permanent …. not even family. So more often than not, the child will spend the rest of his life trying to make up for the perceived abandonment. He will endlessly seek reassurance, security and confirmation of his self-worth from others. His own marriage will likely end in divorce, perpetuating similar damage to any children he may have. And so it continues.

No, the sanctity of marriage and the protection of family does not depend on the gender of those who have promised to do so. Rather, it depends on our collective acknowledgement as to the scope of the promise, the realization of who is making the promise to whom, and whether or not the promise is kept.

For those of us who do not wish to share the awesome responsibility of raising children with another ….. There is single-parent adoption. A vocation just as admirable, just as worthy as the two-parent kind. Maybe even more so.

For those who don’t want children at all (and there is no crime in that) but who do wish the responsibility that comes with bonding their own lives, dreams, aspirations and finances to those of another adult, regardless of the gender of that adult ….. There are civil unions. Civil unions that can be civilly dissolved without harming society’s children, who as it turns out are society’s future.

These are the definitions and distinctions which I submit are logical and equitable, which strengthen our institutions and protects whatever goodness our society possesses. And for the 4 millionth time …… None of it has anything to do with black/white, gay/straight, Democrat/Republican, fat/skinny.

Oh how I wish this were the last time I’d ever have to utter these words.....

Saturday, March 29, 2008

City Council Launches Multi-Pronged Attack, Mayor Takes Another Hit

City Councilman Patrick Dowd will introduce legislation on Tuesday to give council and the city controller seats on the city’s pension fund board. And that’s just the start of things to come. Seems there are other boards with either no council representation or where a council member was chosen by the mayor instead of council’s president. Dowd thinks a change is in order.

“Historically, for some number of years, the powers of council have sort of atrophied. Council has not necessarily exercised its authority the way it should in order to maintain the proper checks and balances in the system,” said Mr. Dowd.

Boy, Mayor Lukie is going to be pissed. Who knows who he’ll threaten this time.

The all-out war which has erupted between council and the mayor came on quickly. In fact it was just Valentine’s Day when all parties came together, kissed and hugged, traded compliments and literally signed a peace pact. The document they signed was spearheaded by newly-elected Dowd who thought it might be a good idea to start off the new session with a written list of common goals and agendas, a pledge to work together and play nice.

I guess you can’t blame Dowd for trying, even though we in the blogosphere did so harshly and often. We told him his olive branch was a waste of time. We harped that the mayor and his cronies were a scourge upon the land, not to be trusted. But in retrospect, I suppose having the record show council did make an effort was not such a bad move after all.

As it turned out, the fragile truce was shorter-lived than even the cynical blogosphere prophesized. Its first crack appeared on Feb 15th, only one day after its signing. Heavy snows blanketed the area and Councilman Bruce Kraus found himself and his district to be the object of childish political payback. Kraus had just won his council seat from mayoral buddy Jeff Koch. The mayor had taken pity on jobless Koch and hired him as Super-Duper Street Cleaning & Snow Plowing Consultant Guy. When the big snow hit, Koch coincidentally redirected salt/plow trucks away from Kraus’ district and over to areas where his own friends lived.

Then, only 3 days later, council learned the mayor and URA Development Czar Pat Ford had silently approved a 1200 sq ft LED billboard for a Downtown garage, completely circumventing lawful zoning process, completely ignoring the public’s right to a hearing, just plowing ahead (no pun intended) without one word of any kind to council, the parking authority or anyone else.

On February 26th, another newly-elected councilman who ran on a reform platform, took his first shot at trimming excess from the city budget. Rev. Ricky Burgess thought he was doing his job and fulfilling promises to his constituents when he offered legislation to cut 30+ city take-home cars assigned to folks who really didn’t need them. Even though the mayor’s city vehicle was not on the cut list, many assigned to his political posse were. So the Lukester dispatched the city solicitor to inform council it would be illegal for them, as legislators, to legislate any car cuts. And just to be sure he had their undivided attention, the mayor then threatened to nuke council’s department budgets in case they hadn’t listened good enough.

Meanwhile, Councilman Dowd had been trying unsuccessfully to review copies of budgets from other departments and authorities. The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s budget, in particular, had eluded Dowd until mid-March when he found at that time they didn’t have an approved 2008 budget to give him.

Something did finally come from the URA and Dowd’s preliminary review found a number of troubling items…… not the least of which was a $2.8 million development loan repayment which should have been paid to the city but was diverted to the URA instead. “My money, your money ….. what’s the big deal?” was all URA Exec Director and Head Mayoral Henchman Pat Ford had to say of the brazen money grab.

As if council wasn’t freaked enough by Administration antics by this time, an organizational chart surfaced showing an illegal reporting structure among the mayor’s top directors. Followed by rumors of (more) bizarre behavior by the mayor on St. Patrick’s Day. Luke supposedly walked the parade route a second time because he didn’t get enough attention on the first go-round. And after the celebration, our Commander-In-Chief purportedly got into a bit of a tiff with police (not his first) who tried to ticket his illegally parked car in front of North Side bar.

So …….. It seems council has decided enough is enough. They gave peace a chance and it bombed. It’s now time for war.

Patrick Dowd will lead the charge to expose our woefully underfunded pension and our out-of-control, under-no-one’s-authority authorities to the light of day.

Ricky Burgess’ attack on take-home vehicles is just one small salvo lobbed at the tip of an ugly iceberg. Elimination of institutional nepotism, political patronage, disproportionate allocation of city resources and finances is the good reverend’s real calling.

Bruce Kraus is the point man on the battle over a sign that is not a sign. Which is really a battle to insure we are governed by the rule of law. Not by the changing whims of a Boy King. Or by the threats and coercions of mob-like forces among us.

As Finance & Law Committee Chair, and with his many years of experience dealing with the inner-workings of Pittsburgh’s dysfunctional government, Bill Peduto is well-positioned to serve as intelligence officer and tactician.

Scrappy Council President Doug Shields has toughened and grown into a formidable general. So far this year he’s made good calls on when to hold, when to fold, when to bluff and when to simply tell them all to go to hell.

These are some decent advances made by a new council majority, in just the first quarter of 2008, which is hopefully the next-to-the-last year we’ll have to endure Ravenstahl and Company.

Go Team!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How-To Tips From A Lying Dirt Bag

Tip #1: When being accused of something and you’re caught with your pants down, ignore the accusation at hand and instead vehemently deny something else.

Councilman Bruce Kraus accuses Mayor Ravenstahl of threatening to gut council’s budget in retaliation for taking away the Administration’s pretty take-home cars.

The Accusation:
The threat to gut council’s budget, and cripple its ability to hire professional aides, Kraus said, was made in an attempt to stop members from voting to reduce the number of city take-home cars from 60 to 29, a move that passed yesterday on a 5-3 vote.

“The mayor came up to me, and his exact words to me were, ‘We’re coming after you,’” Kraus said of the incident.

The Proper Dirt Bag Reply:
“In no way did I physically threaten him, nor did I use the word threat,” Ravenstahl responded.

Notice the expert technique utilized by the mayor in this situation. He indignantly denied “physically threatening” the councilman and also denied even uttering the word “threat.” Both denials are brilliant as the mayor actually did not do either of these things. But (and here is the brilliant part) neither thing was part of the original accusation in the first place!

Bonus Points Awarded:
The words “threat” and “threatening” appear in both the accusation as well as the mayor’s successful denial leading the casual reader to think both parties were actually talking about the same thing.

Homework Assignment:
Successfully deny that a 20x60 sign, lit and powered by electricity, is in fact not an electronic sign.

** Completed homework assignments should be sent to Executive Director Pat Ford c/o the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mayor Sends Hit Man Motznik To Break Some Council Bones

Photo: One down, two to go.

It’s official. By way of what Councilman Ricky Burgess characterized as “an instrument of brutality”, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl declared war on City Council today when he lobbed the first public salvo: Brutal instrument and weapon-of-mass-destruction missile Jim Motznik blasted council by introducing two last minute resolutions. Both were crafted to punish council for cutting take-home vehicle perks from many of the mayor’s top administrator buddies. Both would strip council of $149,000 of budgeted staff salaries and other administrative tools which appear to exceed what is prescribed by the city’s Act 47 long range plan.

Why is Motznik, of all people, suddenly obsessed with strict adherence to every blessed budget line in the Act 47 (Distressed City) Cooperation Agreement? Motznik who has been a rabid-dog opponent of our distressed city status from before day one?

Because council had justified their car-cutting legislation by referring to vehicle levels stated in the Act 47 plan. So to punish council for having the nerve to take away the mayor’s toys, Motznik and the mayor thought it would be ironic, clever and very tit-for-tat to use the very same Act 47 plan to blow up council’s toys. The good welfare and betterment of the City of Pittsburgh be damned.

Motznik must have felt very smug, pleased and honored to be able to deliver what he thought was the coup de grace. The retaliatory nuke which would forevermore prove his unrelenting loyalty to the Boy Mayor and the dark Machine he fronts.

Except …… they miscalculated. Rotznik and Machine robotically drafted battle plans for an enemy they were accustomed to fighting, using maneuvers from a playbook handed down by generations of Machineheads. They failed to consider they might be dealing with principled human beings who entered politics solely to serve the city they love. That their normal dirty tricks and dirty threats may not work against an adversary who’s primary directive was not one of self-serving, self-promotion and self-advancement. In short, they forgot to consider that the Good Guys on council might fight back. And maybe even win in the end.

God bless the Reverend (and Councilman) Ricky Burgess who fired the first retaliatory shot: “I’d like to apologize to council and its majority for the action I brought to take away perks from the highest-paid administrators which has resulted in a firestorm of retaliation and retribution to this body.” Ricky went on to say he was simultaneously proud, however, that he and other councilmen had not buckled to threats warning what they’d suffer if they dared cut the Administration’s perks.

“I’m a grown man,” Burgess continued. “If you want to punish me for taking the cars away …. I say bring it on. Punish me. But do not punish the rest of council, or our city clerk, or the people of my district. Punish me.”

“But you won’t,” Burgess said looking over at Motznik. “You are not man enough to punish me. That would take an act of masculinity. Shame on you.”

Motznik protested that his resolution was not an act of retaliation and that he had acted alone in drafting it. Then Jim made his fatal error, blustering on, overplaying his hand. Just like Senator Gary Hart of the famed Monkey Business of long ago who dared the press to catch him in an affair he knew he was having but adamantly denied ……. Motznik called out in the same taunting, reckless manner. He (Jim) was tired of hearing about unspecified threats coming from unnamed sources. If anyone had threatened Ricky, then Ricky should either name the name or shut up about it.

God bless Councilman Kraus who broke the most sacred rule of dirty politics: Thou shalt not name names, especially in public.

“All right. I can’t sit here quietly any longer,” Kraus declared as he sat right next to Motznik. “I am the person who was threatened that Councilman Burgess has been speaking about. I was threatened directly by the mayor that he would come after us if we cut the cars. From the mayor’s lips to my ears, he threatened this would happen.”

KABLAM!!! KAPOW!! CHECKMATE!! Motznik was frozen with his mouth open and his pants down.

Does it really matter what anyone said after that point? Or before that point? Or at any other point? Hadn’t the space-time continuum of Pittsburgh politics been sufficiently ripped so as to render all else irrelevant? At a bare minimum, a moment or two of silence was needed to pay sufficient respect to the neutrino bomb Kraus had just set off.

But after that respectful silence had passed, remembering some of the other quotes of the day only helped add texture and body to my recollection of what had just occurred.

“Jimmy cracked corn and I don’t care.”
Bill Peduto, on an early retaliation attempt by the Dark Forces which would exempt council from auto mileage reimbursement.

“I’m kinda awestruck. It’s clear to me it is not illegal despite what the city solicitor says.”
Patrick Dowd, on City Solicitor George Specter’s legal opinion that council’s car-cutting legislation was illegal because only the executive branch (the mayor) has the authority to legislate such things, not the legislative branch (city council).

“If you want to be the apologist for the mayor, go right ahead.”
Doug Shields, after he had been glaring at Motznik for the entire council session.

“Can I speak now?”
Tonya Payne, after being told multiple times that she was speaking out of order, out of turn and not on the topic at hand.

“This is all just child’s play.”
Darlene Harris, on the day’s events. Her mid-table seating position put her squarely in the middle of the food fight zone and may have heavily colored her perspective.

You owe an apology to no one. I’m proud to stand by you, shoulder to shoulder. I also appreciate that Jim has finally come around to support Act 47. We need to get the Redd-Up crew where it can do some good …. On the 5th Floor.”
Bill Peduto to Ricky Burgess, on why he didn’t need to apologize for bringing on the mayor’s retaliation attack.

“Jim Motznik is an instrument of brutality.”
Ricky Burgess, simply stating a cosmic truth.

More gory details from the PG and the Trib.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Getting Ready to Metastasize

Governor Ed Rendell likes to award a lot of no-bid contracts … More than $1 billion between 2003 & 2008 with $246.3 million so far this year. Even in a state where payback, pork and patronage run rampant, these numbers stand out.

A particularly flagrant instance is the $1.8 million contract awarded to Rendell’s former law firm, Ballard Spahr Anderson & Ingersoll. The firm was retained in May 2007 for work on Rendell’s effort to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike but state lawmakers didn’t find out until last week.

So was this award illegal? Unfortunately not. Pennsylvania law allows state officials to award contracts without competition when it’s “in the best interest of the commonwealth.”

Has Fast Eddie been any worse than governors before him? That’s an interesting question. One everyone would like to know. Unfortunately the state’s Department of General Services can’t find the previous spending records. They claim the records were lost when they switched to a computerized system. Or maybe past administrations never kept the information. Either way, we don’t know and it appears we never will.

What we do know, however, is that Ballard Spahr has contributed heavily and consistently to Rendell’s political campaigns. A search of that firm on Pennsylvania’s Campaign Finance Reporting web site reveals some interesting information. Between 2001 and 2007, contributions to Rendell in the name of the partnership totaled $269,250. Individual firm attorneys gave a whopping $476,025 and another $200,257 came in labeled as ‘in-kind’. That totals a hearty $945,532 over that 7-year period.

For some reason, Rendell’s campaign had cause to pay some of that money back to Ballard Spahr. The reporting web site shows payments for “personnel” and “administration” totaled $431,427. Then there were a few bucks ($30,399) for travel and catering. All totaled, the Rendell campaign paid Ballard Spahr $461,826 leaving Rendell with net contributions of $483,706 for the 2001 – 2007 period.

Let’s see …they give nearly a half-million dollars. Then they get a contract for $1.8 million. Not bad. Not bad at all. Especially since it can’t be the only thing they’ve gotten over the years.

Even though Fast Eddie won’t be in a position much longer to throw millions or billions of state dollars at his friends, who have coincidentally contributed heavily to his campaigns, and who coincidentally are “in the best interest of the commonwealth”….. We shouldn’t be too quick to breathe a collective sigh of relief because Rendell has hitched his star to Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort. Rumor has it he wants to be her Secretary of Transportation and one can only imagine what damage he could do from that position.

He’s received a lot of support from outdoor advertisers over the years. Maybe he’d be ready on day one to plant an LED billboard every 50 feet on our nation’s highways and byways. Maybe Ravenstahl's LEDs wouldn't look so bad by comparison.

Yet another good reason in a long list of good reasons not to vote for Ms. Hillary. We just can't let this stuff spread.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Money, Your Money.....What’s The Big Deal?

Photo: Development Czar Pat Ford

After five months of asking, after 20% of the budget year had passed, after City Council had already transferred $12 million dollars to the URA, Councilman Patrick Dowd finally got his first look at the authority’s 2008 Administrative budget and he didn’t like what he saw: A $2.8 million dollar, 37% increase in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Administrative budget. Among other things, Dowd wanted to know why the increase was so large and where the extra money was coming from. As usual, extracting these answers was a long, aggravating ordeal.

Why did their budget jump 37% in one year? Simple. New Executive Director Pat Ford was reorganizing and restructuring the authority. He had big plans, big visions and big things cost big money.

Where were they getting this extra money? Not so simple. Seems it all started long ago and far away in a project called Parkway Center Mall. Part of the money to build that mall came from a federal UDAG grant. (Urban Development Action Grant) The terms of that grant were such that Parkway Center Mall would eventually have to repay the loan to the City of Pittsburgh. A sizable repayment chunk was due for 2008.

“Then why are you [URA] getting this [repayment] money instead of the City of Pittsburgh?” Dowd asked URA Finance Director Constance Eads.

Eads explained that UDAGs were no longer around. After the UDAG grant program was discontinued, repayment monies were treated like CDGB monies.

“Even so, CDGB monies should still come to the city and not to the URA,” Dowd pressed.

Eads countered that since the URA has a cooperation agreement with the city, the URA has standing to TAKE THE FUNDS.

“What’s the big deal here? Our money …. Your money ….We’re all supposed to be on the same team. What’s the big deal here?” Pat Ford blustered.

Totally immersed in his District Attorney Jack McCoy groove, Dowd snapped back at Ford, “You can’t take the money without asking for the money! That is OUR authority.” (Pun presumably intended by Dowd)

Further Dowd grilling brought to light that the large budget increase would continue in 2009 and beyond. That UDAG repayments were not predictable, not re-occurring and not necessarily enough to cover the expanded administrative budget.

“Well, then how can this budget level be sustained?” Dowd asked Eads.

“Yes …Uh …. That will have to be addressed in 2009,” she answered.

“Precisely my point,” was Dowd’s comeback. “And you’re going to be asking us [City] for money then.”

What were Pat Ford’s overall thoughts, concerns and views on getting into yet another scuffle with City Council?

“How can I work with you [City Council] when you [Dowd] use words like ‘reckless’, ‘unethical’ and ‘irresponsible’ to describe [the URA] in the paper?” Ford was a furious shade of red. “I just want to make some great changes. We’ve been trying but we’ve never been given a chance to explain them. Why can’t we just settle this ‘mano y mano’… man to man …. instead of in the press? Council takes six hours to talk about a billboard but we’re not allowed even one minute to talk about our mission or our plans.”

Normally the epicenter of loud rants and occasional cursings, Councilman Jim Motznik was unusually quiet but did manage to get one important piece of information on the official record for the day.

“I want everyone to know that I take credit for bringing [Pat Ford] back from Florida,” Motznik proudly proclaimed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Breaking News: City Solicitor Opinion Says It’s Illegal For Legislative Branch to Legislate

“Sometimes I feel we are living in an upside-down world,” said Councilman Bill Peduto.

It was City Solicitor George Specter’s latest wacked-out legal opinion that prompted Peduto’s comment, which would surprisingly turn out to be one of the kindest offered during the day.

Not to be outdone by URA Director Pat Ford’s assertion of last month that a 20x60 foot sign was not really a sign, Specter raised the bar a number of notches when he proclaimed that it was illegal for the city’s legislative branch to legislate.

Under pointed, sustained and fierce questioning from Councilman Patrick Dowd, Specter stubbornly maintained that legislation pertaining to the day-to-day operations of the city would only be legal if it came from the mayor’s office (the executive branch) and not city council (the legislative branch).

“A point of Basic Government 101 clarification,” a stunned Peduto lectured the city solicitor. “All legislation comes from the legislative branch. NOT the executive branch. This was one of the basics of the American Revolution.”

This day’s scuffle was centered around a bill proposed by Councilman Ricky Burgess which would cut the number of take-home city vehicles from 59 to 29. The 30 high-ranking bureaucrats slated to lose their car perks were all cozy with the mayor and all now very unhappy. City Solicitor Specter hurriedly gave his unsolicited opinion to council warning that it had no legal authority to legislate the cuts.

“If the mayor were to bring forth this same bill …. word for word … would it be legal then?” an irate Dowd asked Specter. Specter shockingly said ‘yes.’

“It’s ILLEGAL if it comes from the legislative branch,” an incredulous Dowd repeated. “All we can do is wait for the executive branch to bring things forward to us? (Long pause) That’s amazing.”

Councilman Burgess picked up the ball from Dowd and ran with it further. “I asked you (Specter) a specific question at the post agenda meeting and you gave me a specific answer. You said only recommendations which followed Act 47 were legal. You said my bill included other administrative items which made it illegal. Do you remember your answer? Do I have to play it back for you? I can. Do you want me to play it back? I specifically asked you and you specifically answered back.”

Burgess could not be stopped. “I can play your words back to you if you wish. Do you want me to do that? Because I am certain of your words. We played your words back over and over and over again. We scripted this bill to abide by your words.”

Burgess was not done yet. “This saddens me. It’s sad for our solicitor to come here on the air, in public, to change his opinion. Why don’t we just go home? Why are we here? Why should we introduce bills?”

Still more from the Reverend Burgess. “You are saying ‘If we don’t like what you do … its illegal.’ I’m offended. I’m not stupid. I don’t like to be treated like I’m stupid. How do we run a city when, if we don’t like things, at any time, we just say, ‘Let’s change the rules.’”

And then the coup de grace. “I’m tired of my colleagues being threatened, my staff being threatened.” Burgess charged.

Dowd, still reeling from the insulting foolishness which had been cavalierly lobbed his way said once again, “I want everyone to know THIS is the decision we hear from the City Solicitor. I want to re-emphasize, I want to be sure we get your statements clear. You are telling us this legislation is illegal but for the point of origin …… This is entirely suspect.”

Dowd continued, “What bothers me now …. Forget the cars, forget the day-to-day management …. You say the only way Act 47 recommendations can be acted upon is if the mayor introduces the legislation … not us. That is absolutely backwards.”

Councilman Bruce Kraus had been patiently waiting his turn. “Do you now understand why [city council] wants our own solicitor? [Council] did not ask for your opinion on this matter yet we have received a TIMELY one from you. Without asking. But we still do not have an opinion from you on the billboard situation. Why is that?”

All of this piling-on would have probably intimidated a lesser man but not City Solicitor George Specter. No, he took it all quietly, waiting instead for a passive-aggressive opportunity to get in his own digs. George politely explained to council that he never meant to infer they had little or no power. To the contrary, just because they can’t legislate like they thought they could didn’t mean they couldn’t request things from the mayor.

“You (council) are certainly entitled to this kind of dialogue. And you can request anything you want. My guess is if you did request …. The mayor would look upon you with favor.”


Isn’t that something a king does when he decides not to chop off the head of one of his subjects? Is that really a legitimate, acceptable dynamic between a mayor and a city council anywhere in the free world anytime after the Middle Ages?

It’s not an upside-down world which confounds you, Bill Peduto. It’s a parallel universe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama: A Nice-Enough Negro Who’s Unfortunately In Hillary’s Way

Some predators hunt alone. The Jurassic Velociraptor preferred to stalk its prey in pairs. The present day Clinton, however, is a team-player species that likes to take down its kill running in packs. It’s a socializing creature. A party animal that gets its dirty business done quickly, leaving plenty of time for a good cigar afterwards.

Even though the Clintons have been at this sport for many a year, they’re oddly off their game as of late. They’re busting the same groovy moves, singing the same progressive tunes. Except for some reason, this time around the shtick is not working. Not only is their prey not dead yet, he’s not even close.

So poof! The gloves have come off, the masks have come down, the drawers have been dropped and we have been treated to a rare view of these goons in all their bare-butt glory. It’s not been pretty.

Each member of the Clinton tag team has been re-dispatched, their efforts redoubled. Bill has been squinting his sanctimonious little eyes, wagging his crooked Monica index finger, warning all the peeps that Obama’s got no more going for him than that other light-weight black guy who ran for president and got nowhere. Sure, a black guy could be president. Someday. But not this black guy and not this day.

Bill’s message is aimed at the educated, supposedly-enlightened white who’d normally have no problem voting for a black. Bill’s gotta reassure these people that their inclinations are right, that their hearts are good, but that there’s also no shame in withholding their vote until the right black guy comes along. And Obama is just not the right black guy.

Attack Dog Ferraro was let loose to “lift up” and give hope to all the militant feminists who were feeling panicked that a man ….. a black man no less …..might rob them of their destiny. It’s their time, by god. (small ‘g’ intentional here) They’ve been burning their bras since the 60’s and that’s long enough. They must prevail. They must be given the respect they are due.

Governor Ed Rendell completes the demographic flanking maneuver. “Fast Eddie” has been dispatched to give Bill Clinton’s message to the working-class schlub because Fast Eddie speaks their language. In a kindly voice he tells Pennsylvania’s serfs that they are not alone. He knows there are a lot of hard-working, God-fearing (capitalization intentional here), good-hearted, blue-collared individuals out there who are just not ready to vote for a black guy. This does not make them bad people. This does not make them racists. They’re just not ready, and that’s not a bad thing. Besides, they can comfort their conscience by voting for another kind of minority, a safer kind of minority, one they’re ready for……A white woman named Hillary who was against NAFTA before she was for it.

So is all of this nonsense going to work? The Pist-Gazette has some predictions. Let’s see how many pan out:

Pennsylvania will swallow the Clinton bullshit but the rest of the country won’t. Hillary will steal the nomination from Obama in a flawed Florida redo. A redo so stinky and contested it will tear the party apart. African-Americans will sever their blind allegiance to the Dems and moderate whites will be forced to re-evaluate the entire political landscape. This will translate to a McCain victory in November and the Clintons won’t have a shred of remorse for anything but their own loss. After a very short period of depression, down-time and possibly attempts to kill each other …. The Clintons will rear their heads up once again, gather a new and more fearsome posse, and start on a plan to take back the White House in 2012.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bodies: Rep Fleck Wants Them Respected

**UPDATE 3/11/08: 49 total co-sponsors to date. See new additions at bottom.

On Friday, PA State Rep Mike Fleck of Huntingdon & Mifflin Counties introduced HB2299 which would regulate the use of human remains in for-profit exhibitions like the one currently running at the Carnegie Science Center.

“Bodies: The Exhibition” and its counterpart “Bodyworlds” have caused controversy and outrage as they have moved across the country. The displayed cadavers in these exhibits are deceased Chinese individuals who many fear are executed political prisoners. The remains have passed through U.S. Customs under the questionable classification of “plastic models” and bodies at the Carnegie have no paperwork showing the deceased have given their permission to be sliced, diced and displayed for profit. The Science Center and other exhibitors only have the Chinese government’s “word” on the matter, and for many this is not nearly good enough.

Fleck’s bill seeks to interject a bit of sanity into this shockingly barbaric situation. As written, it 1) Seeks to regulate the public display of human remains so as to “protect individual bodily integrity as well as the social and cultural values of the Commonwealth.” 2) Requires that exhibitors provide evidence of informed consent from the deceased individual being displayed. 3) Requires county permitting for such exhibitions.

Fleck’s bill has been co-sponsored by representatives:
Matthew Baker (Bradford/Tioga Counties)
Robert Belfanti (Columbia/Montour/Northumberland Counties)
Kerry Benninghoff (Centre/Mifflin Counties)
Karen Beyer (Lehigh/Northampton Counties)
Karen Boback (Columbia/Luzerne/Wyoming Counties)
Scott Boyd (Lancaster County)
Joseph Brennan (Lehigh/Northampton Counties)
Martin Causer (Cameron/McKean/Potter Counties)
Paul Clymer (Bucks County)
Craig Dally (Northampton County)
Dan Frankel (Allegheny County)
Jaret Gibbons (Beaver/Butler/Lawrence Counties)
Robert Godshall (Montgomery County)
Neal Goodman (Schuylkill County)
Glen Grell (Cumberland County)
Tim Hennessey (Chester County)
John Hornaman (Erie County)
Rob Kauffman (Cumberland/Franklin Counties)
William Kortz (Allegheny County)
Daylin Leach (Montgomery County)
Tim Mahoney (Fayette County)
Barbara McIlvaine Smith (Chester County)
Daryl Metcalfe (Butler County)
Thomas Murt (Montgomery/Philadelphia Counties)
Bernie O’Neill (Bucks County)
Eddie Pashinski (Luzerne County)
Michael Peifer (Monroe/Pike/Wayne Counties)
Tina Pickett (Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna Counties)
Marguerite Quinn (Bucks County)
Kathy Rapp (Forest/McKean/Warren Counties)
Brad Roae (Crawford County)
Sam Rohrer (Berks County)
Stan Saylor (York County)
Mario Scavello (Monroe County)
Curt Schroder (Chester County)
John Siptroth (Monroe/Pike Counties)
Samuel Smith (Armstrong/Indiana/Jefferson Counties
Jerry Stern (Blair County)
Richard Stevenson (Butler/Mercer Counties)
RoseMarie Swanger (Lebanon County
Katie True (Lancaster County)
Randy Vulakovich (Allegheny County)
Katherine Watson (Bucks County)

This controversy grows by the day, but the Carnegie Science Center still stands by their exhibit. They will shut it down only if they have to.

“We have hosted this exhibition absolutely in line with existing state and federal guidelines. If that landscape changes, we'll continue to evaluate the situation and act accordingly," Science Center Director Joanna Haas said. "We certainly believe it's the Pennsylvania Legislature's right to legislate the use of human bodies and to create structures for such exhibits. We would certainly intend to comply with any legislative parameters that may be put into place."

Okay, so let’s change the landscape and put these bodies to rest. Contact your local representative and tell him/her to support this bill. A listing of representatives by district number and their contact info can be found here.

************** UPDATE 3/11/08 *************

The following representatives have added their support to the bill:
Michele Brooks (Crawford/Lawrence/Mercer Counties)
Mauree Gingrich (Lebanon County)
Sandra Major (Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming Counties)
Bob Mensch (Montgomery County)
Rosita Youngblood (Philadelphia County)

Co-sponsors to date: 49

Thursday, March 6, 2008

NAFTA-gate: Was The Wrong Name Leaked?

Bag of Health and Politics dug up an interesting article in Canada’s Globe and Mail which says it was actually a Hillary aide who gave NAFTA the wink-wink-nod-nod. One way or another, seems like Harper’s gonna get to the bottom of the leak.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Kraus Moves To Hold Sign Resolution For One Week

“My own goal for bringing this resolution forward was to make sure the people and process are protected. I believe in principles before personalities.”

The resolution Kraus spoke of in his above statement was one whereby Council would ask the Mayor to direct City Zoning to rescind the permit they issued to Lamar Advertising for a 1200 sq ft LED sign on the new Transportation Center. The Kraus resolution additionally asked that the Exec Director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority rescind the lease agreement between that body and Lamar.

After issuing his opening statement, Bruce Kraus said he would be willing to hold the resolution for one week, giving Lamar Advertising time to voluntarily pull the permits they were issued. Kraus and the majority of council believe the permits were issued in error because due process was entirely ignored.

As usual, Jim Motznik and Tonya Payne were the two members who clearly voiced their support of the administration, whatever the administration does, and therefore their displeasure with the resolution before them. As usual, Motznik and Payne put forth a host of arguments. And as usual, none of them were germane to the issue at hand. The Pist-Gazette believes this is a calculating, oft-used tactic Motznik purposefully employs to muddy the waters, hoping to pull victory out of mayhem. We believe Payne, on the other hand, comes by her confusion honestly. She never seems to grasp the meat of the point in front of her.

Motznik argued that Lamar was a “good neighbor” and only followed “a process they were given.” He handed out pictures of many unsightly billboards Lamar had “voluntarily” removed and had replaced with the more visually-pleasing LED variety. Payne kept harping on the fact that Neighbors in the Strip, a citizens' group in her district, was in favor of the large LED.

Bruce Kraus, Ricky Burgess and Bill Peduto all had to once again remind Motznik and Payne that the issue before council was not one of judging the merits of the sign, or lack thereof.

Kraus: “The decision here is not about merits of the sign. My sole concern is the voice of the people in this process.”

Burgess: “My concern is not about the merits of the sign. That’s a discussion for another day.”

Peduto: “My issue today is not about the billboard. My issue is whether we have the same set of rules for everyone. It’s about fair and equal application of the law for everyone. We have a responsibility to not only write the law, but to also make sure it is carried out.”

Once again, Patrick Dowd took an oddly impassioned stance in favor of doing nothing one way or another. "At the present time." So impassioned was his non-committal, Patrick admitted he had heated words with Peduto prior to the start of Council’s session.

“I’m still not clear that it’s appropriate for us to be speaking on this matter. I have questions as to our role on Council. As individuals, we can certainly speak as to how we feel on this matter. But as a body, there is a different point. I’m not sure of the point where our authority begins and where it ends. For now, I’m not going to voice my opinion on the sign or the process. I will at the appropriate moment, but we’re not there yet.”

It was a point in time, however, for Payne to again became unclear as to what day it was, what planet she was on, or what she had just heard. “I hear the majority of you in favor of this resolution say that the process was flawed. Since we are all so worried about process (her fingers motioning quotes around the word process), maybe we should just change the process.”

Using the most patient, kindly voice he could muster considering Council had just recently endured a 6-hr session on whether or not a sign was in fact a sign….. And speaking as slowly as he could choosing small, simple words so that Payne would be certain to understand ….. Kraus leaned over and said, “The process is not flawed. The process was not followed.”

Doug Shields had the last word: “URA Executive Director Pat Ford said in our 6-hour session the other day that ‘We must agree to disagree.’” Well, that cannot be the outcome. There must be a resolution. I believe the code is clear. But at the end of the day it is a simple matter. A judge will wind up making a finding of fact. And that is how it should be.”

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Body By Any Other Name

Pictured above is a Lamar Advertising sign which may not be a sign, advertising “real human bodies” which may not be real human bodies. (There is starting to be a certain cosmic symmetry to all of this, now isn’t there?)

The Bodies being advertised and displayed are those of deceased Chinese persons who may or may not have been executed prisoners, may or may not have been “unclaimed”, may or may not have given permission to be part of the titillating, traveling exhibit.

Yesterday afternoon, KDKA radio personality Chris Moore spoke to Dr. Todd Olson, chair of the Anatomical Committee of the Associated Medical Schools of New York. Dr. Olson is squarely in the camp of those who think the exhibits should be shut down.

“In our view, [the Bodies exhibits] are here illegally,” Olson charged.

Putting aside moral and ethical considerations for the moment, Olson explained that there are practical and legal reasons the exhibits should not be here.

“They are brought into this country under false pretenses. Their customs declaration says they are plastic models, not human bodies. If they had been listed as preserved human remains, they would have had to have been accompanied by proper documentation. Documentation we require for any body for burial. They do not have that documentation.”

Dr. Olson continued that since these bodies are not classified as “real human bodies” for customs, they do not come under the jurisdiction of our health department. “This is why there are laws regarding bodies. The law tells us who may have a dead body and who may not. It tells us where bodies can be displayed and where such a display would be improper or pose a health risk.”

Olson was referring to the growing number of patently exploitative, obviously-not-educational locations where the Bodies are put on view: *At the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas where you can gawk at dead bodies at one end of the hotel and then catch live burlesque bodies at the other end. *At Union Station where you can shop, eat at a restaurant and then take in a dead body or two after dessert.

“That is the loophole they are exploiting.”

Now once the bodies get past customs, their status changes dramatically. Suddenly, to the likes of the Carnegie Science Center and other purveyors of art and science, they become “Real Human Bodies” because the general public is not going to plunk down $20 - $40 just to gape at “Real Plastic Models.”

What can we do? What should we do?

“Call your congressman,” says Olson. “Call your local health department. These [bodies] are individuals in the prime of their lives. This is not Grampa Charlie. This is not the type of body any anatomist ever sees in the U.S. This is suspicious.”

How does KDKA host Chris Moore feel about the Bodies? Chris, who is a Vietnam vet and who has seen more than his fair share of dead bodies in his lifetime?

“These people are Chinese,” said Moore. “I wonder …. If in Iraq, one of our soldiers had been killed, and then preserved, and then posed kicking a softball … How would we feel about that? Wouldn’t we feel horrified and outraged?”

Ms. Pist is not Chinese. Ms. Pist is not Iraqi. But Ms. Pist is pist and horrified and outraged nonetheless.

Call your health department. Call your congressman. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Michael Fleck is trying to return some sanity if not some ethics to our state. We all need to do whatever we can to stop this horror.

A Sign By Any Other Name

PITTSBURGH, Pa, Probably sometime in the future -- URA Executive Director Pat Ford recently beat allegations that he improperly approved an LED billboard for an advertiser's use by arguing that the billboard was not an electronic sign, it was instead a "glowing device for public enjoyment".

"There are no city codes regulating the usage of glowing devices," said Ford. "So in no way did I do anything that was improper."

The Carnegie Science Center and casino-owner Don Barden jumped right on this stroke-of-genius reclassification strategy to solve controversies plaguing their own organizations.

The Science Center filed court papers asking that plastinated bodies in their "Bodies" exhibit be re-classified as "bio-system containers." Barden followed suit claiming that the proposed 20-story garage for his casino was not a garage at all.

"It's a bridge of cutting-edge design which diverts traffic from one end of my property to the other," Barden explained. "There are no height limitations for bridges that I'm aware of. So construction of my casino bridge must therefore proceed immediately as any further delays will seriously jeopardize my bottom line."

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said all three parties seem to have a point. "Whatever needs to be done, we'll do it of course. But it's kinda hard to argue with such sound logic."