Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Farewell, Concilmember Motznik

I have the sad duty to report that Pittsburgh City Councilmember Jim Motznik's blog, Jim Motznik Speaks Out, was deleted at some point this morning. I'm sure that all of you join with me in mourning its passing. In its very brief and frankly rather ineffective life, it gave so much to all of us. I for one will never look at a pair of sewer boots quite the same way again. I had, with so very much hope, looked forward to even more profanity-laced diatribes from this fine public servant. But alas, it was not to be. Those of us who knew "Jim Motznik Strikes Speaks Out" will never forget it; the tall tales, the bogus innuendo, the outright lies, the four-letter words, and the high level of control from the mayor's office were all just part of what made it so memorable. Your blog may be gone, Mr. Motznik, but it will never be forgotten. In fact, I have a cached copy of it right here on my very own computer, just in case I ever want to reminise about the good times we had. Let me know if you want me to email it to you.

Farewell, Councilmember Motznik. You may have left the burghosphere. But we will never leave you.

UPDATE: If you click on the link to Mr. Motznik's blog, you will see that someone has taken the time to put both of his posts back up for public viewing. Once Mr. Motznik deleted his own effort, he also made the URL available again for anyone else to use. And now somebody has.

And Yet Another Glass Raised

Courtesy of the fantasic funny Carbolic Smoke Ball, I bring you a link to Pittsburgh City Councilmember Jim Motznik's new blog. The burghosphere is simply at no loss for humor today.

Raising A Glass to My Fellow Bloggers

For you folks joining us for the first time here in the burghosphere, allow me to extend a warm welcome to you. Thanks to countless mentions of a number of Pittsburgh blogs in the mainstream press, our little corner of the internet is seeing a new wave of visitors peeking their heads in to see what all of the fuss is about. You probably haven't come to the People's Republic directly. Instead, it's likely that you began your journey at one of the other excellent blogs which, quite justifiably, got most of the attention in the current news cycle. But if you followed a link from there to here, then I welcome you all the same.

I invite you to read my posts, take from them what you like, reject the things that you think are worthless, and to -- most importantly of all -- leave your comments about what I have to say. The popular notion out there seems to be that we bloggers are accountable to no one; that we we say whatever we want, spread whatever lies we choose, and have no regards for the truth.

If you spend some time reading (and writing) the comments here and on other blogs, you will discover that this notion is not entirely correct. We bloggers are in fact more directly accountable than you might think. While I freely admit that our personal biases and political world views seep into everything we post, we also know that we can't get away with pushing things too far. When we get things wrong, it will usually take only a few minutes for one of our readers to point out our mistakes. When we stretch the facts beyond their inelastic limits, rest assured that somebody -- maybe even you -- will quickly take us to task for it.

Reading a blog will give you some amount of news and a large amount of (usually) well-reasoned commentary. But reading and, again, writing comments about the posts will give you a great deal more. My blog, like many others, allows readers to post their comments anonymously. At first blush, this may seem like a recipe for disaster. But at least within the local burghosphere, it actually provides for a fantastic benefit. We get comments, often anonymously, from people whom you would not normally hear from. People who are knowledgeable about the topic at hand, but who would usually be too shy to tell you about it. People who have experiences to share, but who simply don't have the the time to craft a print-worthy letter to the editor. And perhaps most importantly, people who really know things about local government, but who normally could not speak up about what's happening on Grant Street without fear of reprisal by their political masters.

Sometimes, the comments are way off base, and can be just as biased and inaccurate as anything else that might appear on the internet. But the other commenters, such as yourself, will quickly take care of that by pointing out these errors and setting the record straight.

And so, I salute the local bloggers who, along with their readers, have made a difference to our political discourse. Two special tributes go to the blogs 2 Political Junkies, which was one of the first political blogs on the local scene, and remains as sharp as ever, and The Burgh Report, which does an outstanding job drilling down into the depths of what is going on in Pittsburgh. The authors and commenters at both of these blogs are particularly excellent, but they are only one corner of the burghosphere. Together, we have built a local blogging community that is providing a vital and very important service to the people of this city. I invite you to click away at the blogroll along the right side of your screen. You will find that you agree with some of them of the authors and disagree with others, but I promise that you will learn something from them all.

And finally, I want to close this post with a special recommendation for what may be the funniest thing that I have read on a blog in the past few months. The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat has written a simply hysterical "Open Letter to Jim Motznik" that had me literally in tears late last night. Here's just a sample of what appears there, which makes the point at just how important commenting can be far better and more humorously than I ever could:

We noticed that you have not enabled comments on your blog as of yet, probably, one would suppose, in hopes of staving off the vicious commentary that would surely ensue. You may have thought that this would have solved the problem, but, in reality, you've just moved the discussion to other more seedy venues, of which you have no control. Eventually someone will come up with a parody blog "Jim Motznik Speaks Up" or "Jim Motznik Eats Puppies" or "Jizz Shitsprick Comes Out" or something like that. It won't be pretty for you, but the parody blog will have 10x the content and quality, and probably show a continual loop of the video of you running from the television cameras, and will thus draw more readers than your blog.

And then one day, some old, blue haired constituent will ask you at bingo "So why did you change your name to Jizz Shitsprick?"
Thanks for stopping by, folks. Hope to see you again soon, especially in the comments.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ravenstahl to Motznik: Stop Blogging About Me

According to the Tribune-Review, Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl has asked his friend and designated attack dog, City Councilmember Jim Motznik, to cease blogging, at least about any topics that concern our Interim Mayor. What a shame. And just when the whole thing was just starting to get interesting. As the Tribune-Review article tells the story:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today asked City Councilman Jim Motznik to stop writing about him in a blog the Overbrook councilman began publishing online this week.

"We have issues to explore," said Ravenstahl, who’s running for reelection in the May primary. "The blogosphere is not, in my opinion, the place to do that."

A blog – or Web log – is an online journal that contains the unedited thoughts of the author and the unfiltered responses of readers.

In his blog titled “Motznik Speaks Out,” Motznik accused fellow councilman and mayoral contender Bill Peduto of spreading lies about Ravenstahl’s October 2005 encounter with police at Heinz Field before a Steelers game.
Obviously, I have a bit of bias here. But personally, I think the burghosphere is precisely the place to explore the issues that are facing our city. The article continues:
Peduto accused Ravenstahl today of encouraging Motznik to write a blog to dispel rumors that the mayor lied about parts of the incident with police.

"I think most folks understand that Jim Motznik and Luke Ravenstahl are two peas in a pod," said Peduto, who denies spreading rumors about Ravenstahl’s police incident. "There are no truths to what Jim Motznik is saying. It’s probably (being done) to protect his best friend, Luke Ravenstahl."

Ravenstahl said he did not tell Motznik to defend him.

"I did not put him up to it," Ravenstahl said today. "I respectfully suggested to him that he should refrain from this activity."
Damn it, Luke, Motznik's blog was just starting to make it fun to write about you again, and here you go and trample on the man's First Amendment right to embarrass the living shit out you. Well, I guess it was fun while it lasted.

I guess we can hold out some hope that Mr. Motznik will continue to blog about topics that don't concern Master Ravenstahl. But it won't be nearly as interesting as it could have been.

Interim Mayor Ravenstahl's order ("respectfully suggested", my ass!) for Mr. Motznik to cease blogging does, at least, lend some credence to the theory that the Councilmember's blog is now seen as a massive political blunder by the Ravenstahl campaign. Until Mr. Motznik dredged it back up, the Heinz Field incident was well and truly off of the Pittsburgh news radar. And now it's front page news all over again.

You know, Mr. Motznik, if you really are truly independent of the Ravenstahl machine, you could just blow them off. I certainly wouldn't take such an insult laying down. If you had any stones, you would keep posting articles on your blog, no matter what they are telling you to do. Maybe it's time to take a stand and show them that you won't be pushed around any longer. Come on, go for it! Who do they think they are, anyway?

Motznik and McIntire Meet in Murderous Mudslinging Melee

Wow. There are just so many things to report at the moment, all of them stemming from the inital post on Pittsburgh City Councilmember Jim Motznik's new blog, "Jim Motznik Speaks Out". The Post-Gazette did a brief story about Mr. Motznik's blog yesterday, and then followed up with a more full-bodied article in today's print edition. And now, after hours of silence (which is like 6 days in blog years), we finally have John McIntire's response.

This all promises to be entertaining. It also promises to divert most of the attention onto these two rather un-blog-like weblogs. Neither one allows comments. Neither one provides many links to their source material (Mr. Motznick could not even figure out how to make a URL clickable in his second post last night, but that may be fixed at some point). Neither one even provides a sidebar of links to other blogs. And neither one acknowledges other posts on the same topics made by other members of the burghosphere.

Basically, you have two angry middle-aged men using the internet to fling mud back and forth at each other. The article (and especially its accompanying picture) in today's Pittsburgh Comet (note: that's how you link to another blog) is dead-on-the-money appropriate for this occasion. This has all the makings of Trump vs. Rosie, writ small. Neither man had an enormous well of credibility to draw from in the first place, and they are both draining those wells as fast as they can. By the time the last fistful of wet dirt is splattered, the entertainment will have long since faded and all substance will be removed from the debate.

As I stated last night, Mr. Motznik's blog is suffering from a severe case of MacYapper envy. His whole writing style mirrors that of John McIntire, which is frankly rather saddening. From calling his readers "MotzYappers", to posting unsupported rumors, to using phrases -- such as "word on the street" -- that are lifted wholesale from McIntire's blog, Motznik's effort is a pale and rather weak imitation of something that was already a pale and rather weak imitation of the typical political blog.

John McIntire's blog, on the other hand, has some distinct points in its favor. For one thing, MacYapper reflects the author's own personal style. Like it or hate it, you have to admit that MacYapper is a Pittsburgh original, and that Mr. McIntire isn't trying to imitate anyone else. MacYapper also focuses on a wider range of issues, and is not limited to purely local concerns. It's also quite important that MacYapper's unsupported rumors have been proved to be true -- at least in part -- during the recent past. He may not have had all the details correct, but that was largely Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl's own damn fault. If Master Ravenstahl had answered reporters' questions honestly months beforehand, there would never have been any need for anyone to speculate about what had happened at Heinz Field that night.

Despite the overall weakness of Mr. Motznik's initial effort, it's still important to take a look at what he had to say. A very good analysis of his post is already available over at 2 Political Junkies (see guys? that's another link to somebody else's blog!), but I will take a few shots of my own. Mr. Motznik writes:

... a conversation was overheard in which McIntire was quite pissed off about false information that Peduto gave him. Peduto told McIntire that the Honorable Mayor Luke Ravenstahl “pushed” a cop and was “rowdy”... both untrue.
Even the most charitable descriptions of Master Ravenstahl's behavior that evening would acknowledge that he was "rowdy". The Post-Gazette, in it's very weak editorial about these events even referred to the Interim Mayor as "Rowdy Ravenstahl". And the then-councilmember did end up in handcuffs as a result of his behavior. If his arrest had not been at least somewhat justified by a certain degree of rowdiness on Master Raventahl's part, surely the police officer would have been punished for taking the young man into custody.

I acknowledge that sometimes cops lose their temper and make unjustifiable arrests of people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. I acknowledge that sometimes -- perhaps even most of the time -- they get away with doing it. But I can't believe that any police officer could pull such a stunt with a city councilmember and not face some serious disciplinary trouble. So clearly, Master Raventahl was, at the very least, "rowdy". Please, Mr. Motznik, spare us the bullshit.
Peduto also told McIntire that Mayor Ravenstahl “called either O’Connor or Regan” to get him out of trouble and that is the reason there was nothing made of this in 2005... also untrue. Boy, it must suck when you have such little credibility already and now you have Peduto, and his people, feeding you false information that you then post on the internet. No wonder, “according to this version,” McIntire called Peduto all pissed off. Maybe he will post a retraction and fess up to Peduto leaking the bad tips... probably not, that would be too much to expect from McIntire!
Wait a second. You say "McIntire called Peduto". So this conversation took place on the telephone. And you say that this "conversation was overheard" by somebody who told you about it.

How exactly, Mr. Moztnik, did you or one of your minions manage to overhear somebody else's telephone conversations? Because you seem a little bit too-well-informed about what was said on not just one, but both sides of the conversation.

I could certainly understand how, in an office environment, somebody could hear one side of such a conversation. Eavesdropping on what's going on in Mr. Peduto's office is hardly a dignified activity for a fellow city councilmember like yourself, but I at least see how such a thing is possible. But if that's where you got this, how on earth could you have any idea what was being said on Mr. McIntire's side of the conversation?

Or maybe somebody overheard John McIntire while he was on the telephone. Yet that seems rather implausible, Mr. Moztnik. I don't imagine that Mr. McIntire would be having this kind of screaming conversation on his cell phone while in the checkout line at Giant Eagle. Presumably, if he were engaged as such a key player this cloak-and-dagger, "vast technocratic conspiracy" that you describe, he would have the good sense to discuss such matters in private, where his side of the conversation could not be overheard.

Given that both Mr. Peduto and Mr. McIntire deny that any such collusion ever took place, I would have to say that your claims are pretty hard to support, Mr. Motznik. After all, if Dennis Regan can be taken at his word when he says that he never tried to get police officer Francis Rende promoted, why shouldn't we also accept the word of both Bill Peduto and John McIntire when they tell us that no such conversation ever took place?

Unless, of course, you are illegally wiretapping their telephones, which would make you the Linda Tripp of Pittsburgh politics. As I recall, that little stunt didn't end up doing Linda Tripp a whole lot of favors.

And even if Mr. Peduto did feed the story to Mr. McIntire, then one can only say that such behavior -- to use the Post-Gazette's own language -- "would be very Pittsburgh". It still doesn't change the fact that the incident at Heinz Field did take place. It still doesn't change the fact that Interim Mayor Ravenstahl lied to reporters when he was asked about it. It doesn't change the fact that he issued months of false denials that any such incident had ever taken place. And that makes Luke Raventahl the Bill Clinton of Pittsburgh politics. As I recall, that little stunt didn't end up doing Bill Clinton any favors, either.

And I'm not convinced that your blogging is doing "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl any favors. This incident had largely disappeared from the local news horizon. All you have managed to do is to drag it back into view, where even the mainstream news outlets are unable to ignore it. For that, I thank you. But Luke Ravenstahl may not.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Welcome, Councilmember Motznik

It seems a bit tardy of me to post this now. But since every other political blogger in the city is baking pies and dropping off casserole dishes to welcome Pittsburgh City Councilmember Jim Motznik's new blog, Jim Motznik Speaks Out, to the local blogosphere, I guess I should extend a welcome of my own. It's really is nice to see a city official take to the internet and post their own perspective on things, and I'm sure that it will provide the rest of us with an endless stream of source material to draw from. I look forward to reading your posts, examining your explanations, and dissecting your inconsistencies.

I would also like to point out that if you click on the "Settings" tab at the top of the screen, that's where you can enable comments so that us members of the peasantry can respond to your posts.

Despite the absence of commenting, Mr. Motznik is to be commended for his blog. Even if he did have to go and use the exact same layout scheme as The Burgh Report; I predict some massive visual confusion between the two. Nevertheless, Mr. Motznik's effort is a damn sight better that the Peduto campaign blog, which was supposed to be at located here. For the first week or so of it's short life, it was only open to those who were "invited" to see it. And now it seems to have disappeared entirely.

So welcome, Councilmember. It promises to be interesting. From reading your initial post, it seems unlikely that you and I will see eye to eye on the upcoming election. But there may be points of convergence in our views that I would never find out about without having access to your blog, and I welcome the opportunity to discover them.

I would also like to invite you to check out the rest of the burghosphere every once and while. You seem to be obsessed with MacYapper at the moment, and I guess I can understand why. But you are going so far as to model your writing style on his, for example by referring to your readers as "MotzYappers". That's not only unseemly, but it also makes it seem like you haven't really encountered the rest of us. John McIntire may have gotten all of the attention last week, but I suspect that the more cogent criticisms of your preferred mayoral candidate lie elsewhere in the burghosphere.

UPDATE: According to a new post on Agent Ska's blog, The Ideas Bucket, the link to the Peduto campaign blog was not supposed to be active at the time when its URL got leaked to the rest of the burghosphere. They were just storing it there while they worked on its design and layout.

Whatever. They still got beaten to the internet by Jim Motznik, of all people, which hardly makes the campaign seem hip and cool.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Responding to Comments: Tony Norman

I had intended to post a new comment within my previous post, in which I discussed my reaction to Post-Gazette Associate Editor Tony Norman’s most recent column. I wanted to respond to the comments that some people (along with Matt H) had left there. But my response to these comments got to be so long that I thought that it had really become a post in and of itself. So I am posting my response here, where it might enjoy a slightly wider readership.

Anonymous (can’t you folks at least give yourself a screen name of some kind so that it’s easier to respond to your comments?) wrote:

I think you may have missed the point of Norman's column. It's here in the last paragraph:

Not only did Washington offend homosexuals by slurring T.R. Knight, he embarrassed straight, black folks like myself who aren't eager to deal with the stereotype that all black men are homophobes.
I’ll get to Mr. Norman’s overall point in a second. But the thing here is that Mr. Norman couldn’t have made any point at all if he felt that Isaiah Washington hadn’t done anything wrong. Throughout the entire column, Mr. Washington’s behavior – rightly, in my view – is condemned. The parallels between Mr. Washington’s behavior and that of Luke Ravenstahl are obvious, and thus anyone who expresses such outrage at one offender’s actions should be equally offended by those of the other. The logical disconnect here is striking.

Now, onto Mr. Norman’s concluding point. Yes, he did have one. He seems to feel that Isaiah Washington is somehow acting as a nationwide representative of black men everywhere. To go even further, he suggests that the rest of America fully recognizes and accepts that Isaiah Washington is the President Pro Tempore of The United States of American Black Men. And to take it even one more ridiculously illogical step, there is this suggestion of a universal understanding that the actions of any such representative are always completely in touch with and indicative of the beliefs of those people whom he represents.

Right, and all Americans are loving the Iraq War, just because our elected president thinks it’s a damn fine idea.

To note how ludicrous Mr. Norman’s point really is, consider what happens when we recast his words to reflect Master Ravenstahl’s behavior:

Not only did Ravenstahl offend police officers by slurring Mark A. Hoehn, he embarrassed all other Pittsburghers like myself who aren't eager to deal with the stereotype that all Pittsburghers are drunken, foul-mouthed hoons who attack police officers at football games.

Mr. Norman’s conclusion, when presented this way, sounds pretty ridiculous. But oddly enough, as stupid as it sounds, it may be far more accurate than the conclusion that Mr. Norman actually wrote in his column. After all, Luke Ravenstahl is our city’s (interim) mayor. Most of the country would have no idea whatsoever that he was not elected to that post in a city-wide vote. Most Americans really would assume that he truly is our duly-elected representative, and that his actions really do reflect the prevailing sentiment of the majority of Pittsburghers.

All in all, I think I did Mr. Norman a real favor by not examining his illogical conclusion in the original post.

The same anonymous commenter also noted:

And with all due respect (and I mean that) he's only a member of the editorial board - he's not the board itself. It's even there on the page you linked to. … So it's entirely possible that he agrees with your points completely (he may also disagree - I don't know). So I'm not sure the charge of "double standard" can apply here.

As the Burgher, who writes for The Burgh Report, has already pointed out, the editorials at the Post-Gazette are intended to reflect consensus. If you read through the full text of the Post-Gazette’s explanation of where the editorials come from, they don’t publish one if they cannot reach a broad consensus on what position the editorial should take. It’s a pretty safe bet that the Ravenstahl editorial reflects Mr. Norman’s position, along with that of the rest of the editorial board.

A commenter calling himself “The Comet”, whom I can only assume to be Bram Reichbaum, author of The Pittsburgh Comet, wrote:

Clean out that insufferable, interminable bit about how you won't condescend to own a television machine, and submit to Mr. Norman…”

Thanks for commenting, Bram. I have long hesitated about mentioning my lack of a television set to the readers of this blog. Only a small number of our friends and family members know that my family goes without having one, mostly because we tend to encounter a fairly negative reaction when we reveal this fact about ourselves.

Just so that I can be clear about things, it is not condescension which leads us to live a TV-free existence. We aren’t Amish. We aren’t trying to save our children from the dangers of broadcast television. It just sort of happened.

When we moved into our current home several years ago, there simply was no obvious place to put the television. In most modern homes, there is a location where the cable and electrical connections coexist nicely along and expanse of otherwise blank wall space. But our home is several decades old, and no such location could be found. With a bunch of unpacking and other work to get done, we left the TV in the box, vowing that we would eventually decide where to put it. Before we knew it, months had gone by and the television was still sitting there in its box.

At that point, we realized that we had kind of built our lives around things other than television, and we just happened to like the way our evenings went without it. I don’t think that I’m better than anyone else because I don’t have a television. I don’t see myself as more intellectual because of our decision. Life just sort of happened that way, and I happen to be content with things the way they are.

I realize that you probably didn’t mean any offense, Bram. And I didn’t take any offense at all to your comments. But I thought I better explain myself before people think that I travel around town in a horse and buggy or something.

Finally, I must address Matt H’s comments., who wrote:

I think anyone who just read this blog post feels one of these: 1. Like they just wasted time reading absolute garbage. OR 2. They now feel a lot dumber after reading absolute garbage.

Matt, I respect your disagreements with me. But I can’t respect the fact that you don’t engage in any sort of debate on the substance of my post. I can’t respect that you have nothing to offer other than call my work “garbage”. I can’t respect your need to resort to personal attacks. I always strive to maintain a respectful demeanor in responding to you, and I would ask that you extend the same courtesy to myself and the other commenters. It’s getting to the stage where I am beginning to suspect that you are incapable of basic politeness, and that you are so self-involved that you simply can’t accept that there is anyone in the world who disagrees with you.

I hope that my suspicions are wrong, Matt. I hope that you can tolerate dissent, and even attempt to demonstrate any points at which the arguments presented in my posts fall apart. But if infantile name calling is all you’ve got, then you would do yourself a real favor by keeping your comments to yourself. It’s better to remain silent and be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tony Norman's Misplaced Double Standard

Today's Post-Gazette contains a column by Tony Norman that, at first glance, contains nothing of any real interest. Mr. Norman, who is – and this is of key importance – one of the paper's Associate Editors and a member of its editorial board, focuses today on a seemingly minor little controversy out of the world of show business. It all centers on a rather ugly confrontation which occurred on the set of a television program called "Grey's Anatomy", which apparently is rather popular at the moment. One of the show's actors, Isaiah Washington, lost his temper with one of his fellow cast members. During Mr. Washington's tirade, he seems to have said and done a number inappropriate things, culminating in the use of what Tony Norman delicately refers to as a "homophobic epithet" directed towards one of the show's other performers.

Fascinating as this incident may be to many in our fame-obsessed culture, it is not normally the kind of thing that I bother reading about. But, as we shall see, Mr. Norman's column shines a very interesting spotlight on Pittsburgh's politics and the way in which our news is reported.

But first, let me offer a bit of personal context. I don't watch television. I don't even own a television, and haven’t had one for nearly seven years. I have never seen so much as a single episode of "Gray's Anatomy", although I have read enough about it to know that it follows the exploits of a young and rather attractive female physician. I couldn't tell you the name of any characters on the show, let alone the names of the actors who portray them. And until I opened my paper this morning, I had never even heard of Isaiah Washington. The man could walk by me on the street and I would not only have no idea who he was, but would not even have a sneaking suspicion that I had seen him somewhere before.

It should be clear, therefore, that Mr. Washington is not a very important person in my world. I rather doubt that he is a very important figure in most people’s lives, at least outside of his own circle of friends, relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances. From looking at his acting credits, he seems to have had a rather undistinguished career in show business. In nearly 15 years of acting, he has only appeared in two films that I have ever even heard of (“Bullworth” in 1998, and “Romeo Must Die” in 2000), and I’ve never seen either one of them. Mr. Washington seems have lead a fairly typical life for a Hollywood actor, spending years working in no-name movies and doing an endless sequence of guest appearances on television shows before finally landing a role that provides him with a small amount of fame. He is neither especially talented nor especially lucky, and is clearly not especially important person in the grand scheme of things.

So why is Tony Norman so upset with Isaiah Washington? Well, first and foremost because Mr. Washington was stupid enough to have used the aforementioned "homophobic epithet". To be more specific, Mr. Washington was engaged in a very heated argument with an actor named Patrick Dempsey. Some reports indicate that Mr. Washington may have physically assaulted Mr. Dempsey, although Mr. Washington, backed up by a few witnesses, claims that there was no physical contact. Whether the two men came to blows or not, it does seem clear that both of them used some rather strong language. At one point, Mr. Washington told Mr. Dempsey that "I’m not your little faggot like…" fellow cast member T. R. Knight.

Scandalous. Uncalled for. Disgusting behavior in the extreme. But that’s not what really has Tony Norman so worked up in this morning’s Post-Gazette. Instead, Mr. Norman seems most upset that Mr. Washington had the gall, when asked by reporters, to deny that the event ever took place:

Instead of thanking God every day for a gig on "Grey's Anatomy" in which his fair-to-middling talents are a small part of the mix, actor Isaiah Washington couldn't resist hurling a homophobic epithet at a colleague and lying about it -- twice.

So now he has to spend time in therapeutic lockdown to save both his job and his soul. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Imagine that. The guy got in an argument, wasn’t really thinking about the consequences of his actions, did something that landed him in trouble, but then lied to reporters – more than once! – and said that the incident never took place. That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? But it doesn’t end there. Mr. Norman is also infuriated about what he perceives as Mr. Washington’s insincere apologies once his lying became public knowledge:
Please, forgive me, but I'm an old-school sinner with an old-school impatience for flim-flam. When it comes to repentance, it's impossible to take it seriously when it's coerced, especially when the alternative is banishment from Hollywood.

Remember when hanging one's head in shame, proffering an unambiguous apology, confessing to God and maybe buying a beer for the injured party was enough to cover a multitude of sins?
So the problem here, according to the Post-Gazette’s associate editor, is that Mr. Washington has done the wrong thing on so many different levels. He got into an argument that he probably shouldn’t have. He used very intemperate language during the argument. He may have used a bit of physical force, although that part is in dispute. He lied to reporters multiple times, denying that confrontation ever took place. And then, when he was caught in his own lies and could no longer deny things, he issued an inadequate and insincere apology.

Funny, but that sounds an awful lot like another public figure; somebody that we all know right here in Pittsburgh. And yet, Mr. Washington is the one who ends up getting taken out to Tony Norman’s woodshed, while our own Interim Mayor Luke “Handcuffs” Ravenstahl’s temper tantrum with a local police officer received little more than a grinning wink from Mr. Norman and the rest of the editorial board at the Post-Gazette.

In their editorial about the Interim Mayor’s arrest at Heinz Field on Halloween of 2005, Mr. Norman and his colleagues had little, if anything, negative to say about the then-City Councilmember's behavior: They note that Master Ravenstahl had been drinking, and that he used foul language during the confrontation. "But this is known to happen at Steelers games", they explained, as if the Interim Mayor’s conduct is acceptable merely because everybody else is doing it. They mention their suspicions that Master Ravenstahl might have been provided preferential treatment after being taken into custody, but then explain that away by noting that such treatment "would be very Pittsburgh". Mr. Norman and the rest of the editorial board finish by commenting,
… city residents may very well think of that expression made famous a few years ago by the elderly lady in the Wendy's commercials: Where's the beef?

This is a tale that seemed more interesting as an open secret than now as a banal, low-grade revelation. When the mayor's race begins in earnest this year, Pittsburghers would be wise to focus on issues of real substance.
In their editorial, Mr. Norman and his colleagues have nothing at all to say about Interim Mayor Raventahl repeatedly lying to reporters about the Heinz Field incident. They don’t take him to task for a barely tepid non-apology when the story came to light. And yet, when the offender is a second-rate character actor on a meaningless sitcom – and not simply the interim mayor of a major American city – these things suddenly become very important to Mr. Norman.

Why the double standard? Why does Interim Mayor "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl get a pass on his juvenile behavior while Isaiah Washington gets castigated for his?

The actions of Master Ravenstahl and Mr. Washington aren’t exactly alike, of course. Mr. Washington used a somewhat-reviled slur, "faggot", that is seemingly well on it’s way to becoming forbidden language. In a few years, it might be right up there with the n-word, at least when used by those of us who are straight. Interim Mayor Ravenstahl, as bad as his behavior during the Heinz Field incident probably was, is not reported to have used any massively offensive terms of this sort. At least not that we know of, anyway.

On the other hand, Mr. Washington’s argument with another actor took place away from the public eye, while Master Ravenstahl was spewing his profanities in front of a crowd of football fans which included, by his own admission, a number of children. Mr. Washington also wasn’t under the influence of adult beverages, as Master Ravenstahl was at the time of his incident. Mr. Washington’s argument was with a co-worker, while Master Ravenstahl chose to get in the face of an on-duty city police officer. And most obviously, Mr. Washington didn’t end up getting led away in handcuffs at the end of his argument with Patrick Dempsey.

As yet, there is no word as to whether Mr. Washington had somebody call Dennis Regan to make the whole problem go away. But it seems rather unlikely.

In basic terms, these two incidents are far more similar than they are different. Both men behaved very badly indeed, both during their respective incidents and in their attempts to hide the truth afterwards. But only one of these two men earned the condemnation of the Post-Gazette’s associate editor, Tony Norman.

Frankly, you would think that the behavior of our city’s interim mayor would be more important to Mr. Norman than the antics of some largely unknown television actor who lives all the way across the country. But instead, for reasons that I simply can’t begin to fathom, it seems like Mr. Norman has it the other way around.

UPDATE: Click here to read the Admiral's response to many of the comments made about this post.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bipolar Disorder Afflicts Penguins Fans

Whether you are a hockey fan or not, you've got to admit that it's been one hell of a tough ride for Penguins supporters over the past month or so. One day is bleak, the next looks rosy, and nobody at all -- including those directly involved with arena negotiations -- seems to have any idea of where this will all lead. On any given day, the Penguins are staying here in Pittsburgh, or headed for Kansas City, or headed for Houston, or headed for a city to be named later in exchange for two quarters, a dime, three nickles, and about 2.7 ounces of compacted pocket lint.

Let's take a closer look at some of the events that hockey fans have been hit with over the past month or so:

DOWN - 20 Dec 2006: PITG Gaming wins Pittsburgh's casino license, beating out Isle of Capri, which had pledged to build a new arena at "no cost" to either the team or local taxpayers. The Penguins respond by taking down the team's "For Sale" sign and vowing to pursue other options for the teams future.

DOWN - 03 Jan 2006: Penguins officials, including primary owner Mario Lemieux, travel to Kansas City, where they are promised a brand new arena, rent free and opening in time for the 2007-2008 NHL season, if they move the team there.

UP - 04 Jan 2007: Penguins representatives meet with state and local leaders to discuss the details of Plan B. Governor Ed Rendell, County Executive Dan Onorato, and Interm Mayor Luke "Flip Flop" Ravenstahl (that really does work better than "Handcuffs", don't you think?) are also present at the meeting. By all accounts, the discussions seem to go pretty well. Monsieur Lemieux emerges from the meeting stating that he is optimistic about reaching some kind of deal to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

UP - 08 Jan 2007: The Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority begins site preparation work at the new arena's planned location.

UP - 08 Jan 2007: In a show of public support, Penguins fans stage a rally prior to that evening's contest between the Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Spirits are reported to be quite high.

UP - 09 Jan 2007: As a contingency in case Plan B proves to be not attractive enough to the Penguins, Pittsburgh City Councilmember, soon-to-be mayoral candidate, and genuine hockey fan William Peduto proposes Plan C. Mr. Peduto's plan seems to build onto what is being offered in Plan B, while adding in a share of the profits from redeveloping the Mellon Arena site.

UP - 10 Jan 2007: PITG Gaming principal Don Barden indicates that he is, "willing to consider a partnership with the team in the redevelopment of the Mellon Arena site"

DOWN - 10 Jan 2007: In the same article, Mr. Barden makes it clear that his company's contribution to the construction of a new area will go no further than what is required by Plan B. Despite some pressure from the public, he will not increase his company's contribution beyond the already-promised $7.5 million per year for 30 years.

UP - 12 Jan 2007: The Penguins are offered the opportunity to use Mellon Arena rent-free for the 2007-2008 NHL season.

DOWN - 05 Jan through 18 Jan 2006: Despite an ever-shrinking amount of time to make a deal, Penguins officials and local elected leaders go nearly two weeks without holding a single meeting to discuss things.

DOWN - 18 Jan 2006: Team and government officials finally meet to discuss a deal, but are unable to reach any kind of agreement. Don Barden attends the meeting unexpectedly, and (perhaps as a result) things go very badly. Mr. Onorato and Master Ravenstahl leave the meeting without speaking to reporters. The two sides could not even agree about when (or perhaps whether) to hold any further discussions.

DOWN - 19 Jan 2006: News begins to leak out about why the previous evening's talks collapsed. Penguin officials reveal that, under the terms of their agreement with Isle of Capri, they will owe their former partners $10 million if a new arena is built for them in Pittsburgh. They also apparently disgaree with the terms of the profit-sharing proposal for both parking revenue and developing the current Mellon Arena site. The team feels that the terms proposed at the meeting are a worse deal than they would get by playing one more season, rent-free, in Mellon Arena. Governor Rendell, meanwhile, goes into full bluster mode, claiming that deal currently on the table, "is the best of any offer that's been made to any NHL team for a new [arena] in recent times and it's also by far the best of any offer made to any Pennsylvania professional sports team for a new stadium". Without knowing exactly what is being discussed during the meetings, the public is unable to evaluate this claim. But skepticism reigns, especially with a brand new, rent free, open-by-September venue on offer in Kansas City.

DOWN - 23 Jan 2006: Governor Rendell unleashes local politicians, such as State Senator Wayne Fontana, to serve as his surrogate attack dogs. The Governor's mouthpieces assert that the state's final offer is already on the table, and that it is fruitless for the Penguins to continue holding out against the agreement. Penguins owner Mario Lemieux states that the time is fast approaching where the team must make a decision and stick with it.

DOWN - 23 Jan 2006: Penguins officials announce that they will also hold meetings with government and community leaders from Houston. The nation's fourth-largest city already has modern arena available for any NHL team that may want to locate there, along with a far larger population base than Pittsburgh.

DOWN - 24 Jan 2006: Governor Rendell threatens to appeal to the NHL's Board of Governors if the Penguins attempt to leave Pittsburgh. Most local commentary notes that the NHL is exceedingly unlikely to block the team's move to a new city, given the extensive history of failed opportunities to secure a new arena here in Pittsburgh.

UP - 10 Jan 2007: Governor Rendell announces that, after speaking with Penguins investor Ron Burkle, he is once again optimistic that a deal is again within reach.

Up again, down again, back and forth, and who the hell knows what the score is anymore? Rather than looking like effective leaders, our elected representatives come off looking like strong candidates for lithium and electro-shock therapy. The Penguins' leadership doesn't come off looking much better, but at least their motivations are transparent. They have a business to run, and they are looking for the best deal that they can get.

I'm not a hockey fan. After meeting the team when my child was in Children's Hospital recently, however, I was impressed. I was intrigued. I thought I might take my older child to see a game. And then I saw how much the Penguins were asking for seats -- and especially seats that would hold the interest of a somewhat-spacey 6-year-old -- and I gave up on the idea immediately. For me, at least, the price of attending a Penguins game is far too much cost for a rather tepid benefit of watching a game that I don't particularly enjoy.

I guess what I'm saying is that I find it difficult to go along with blackmail, at least in this case. The Penguins offer quite a bit to the community, and there are of course jobs and dollars which flow into downtown on game nights. As the primary tenant of our arena (new or old), they carry much of the burden for keeping the venue going. It would be much harder to justify all of the upkeep required to keep an arena in good repair if it wasn't being used all that much. But our resources, especially in the form of taxpayer dollars, are finite here.

I supported the Isle of Capri plan. While it would not have been truly "free", it would have at least been funded without an excessive amount of taxpayer funds. And it would have spared us the spectacle of the Penguins threatening to leave town and our elected leaders throwing (our) money at them to stay.

But the Penguins are, ultimately, a business. If they can get a better deal elsewhere, when all variables -- including the likely local fan base -- are taken into account, then they simply should leave Pittsburgh behind and depart for greener pastures. A number of us will even help them pack. They will be greatly missed by some. Their fans' dollars will be greatly missed by many more. But I'm not convinced that the loss will be so great as to justify caving into unreasonable demands just to keep them in town.

There is one key caveat in all of this, however. My greatest fear is that, if the Penguins should leave, we will find ourselves in a few years time doing precisely what Kansas City is doing now. We just might end up funding a new arena entirely on our own dime, with no support at all from casino money or from the arena's non-existent primary tenant. A new area might prove necessary, even without the Penguins, simply to attract decent shows, concerts, and other forms of entertainment. A new arena will also be needed for the eventual fight to lure another NHL team back to Pittsburgh. And make no mistake, folks, our hockey fans aren't going to fade into the woodwork if the Penguins leave. They will be quiet and depressed for a few years, but they will eventually warm to the idea of bringing hockey back to the Burgh.

I don't want to see us pull a Baltimore, who lost the Colts only to spend far more money several years later to steal the Browns away from Cleveland. In the final analysis, it would have been much cheaper for Baltimore to have built a new stadium for the Colts in the early 1980s, keeping the team and its economic impact in Baltimore for all those years, than it was to bring the Browns to town in 1996 and construct a new stadium at late-1990s prices. If we are going to need a new arena anyway, and I rather suspect that we will, it is probably a better move to build it now than and retain its central tenant than to bear the costs all on our own several years down the line.

Mayor Appoints Peduto's Choice for Public Safety Director

I could post something long and detailed about Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl's decision to appoint Michael Huss as Pittsburgh's next Director of Public Safety. I could point out that he was advised to do exactly that by Councilmember William Peduto back in early October. I could use this as an excellent opportunity to rehash all of the Interim Mayor's colossal mistakes concerning Dennis Regan, whom Master Ravenstahl initially nominated to that position. I could discuss how that nomination, all by itself, has led to a series of missteps, misstatements, and outright mistakes that continue to haunt Luke Raventahl and our city to this day. I could provide an endless series of links which allow you, dear reader, to follow the story as it has developed over several long, tortuous months. I could wrap it all up with some excellent commentary about the situation.

Fortunately, I don't have to. The Burgher over at the The Burgh Report has already done all of this for me... for you, really. He has done an excellent job of summing up both the story and all of its inherent contradictions, and I salute him for a job very well done.

It's almost a shame that I have already christened the Interim Mayor as "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl, because "Flip Flop" Ravenstahl seems to roll off the tongue with far more ease, and because it seems to be a far better description for his political behavior. But at the end of the day, Interim Mayor Ravenstahl is to be commended for his choice, and for this new direction in his public policy decisions. It would seem that, even if the people of Pittsburgh don't get Bill Peduto as our real mayor early next year, we will at least get one who will make all of the same decisions anyway... albeit more than three months later than Mr. Peudto would have done it.

I would also like to apologize for going so many days without a new post. Work, family, and much-postponed cello lesson that I had to prepare for are all to blame. It looks like posts will be coming in fits and starts from me, at least over the next few weeks. I might be able to do several posts in a single day, only to go silent for the next few days after that. I apologize to all three of you who will miss me during my absences (Hi, Mom!).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog for Choice... But Choose Correctly

Today has been designated, due to it's historical significance, "Blog For Choice Day". A few local bloggers, such as 2 Political Junkies and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents have already made their posts in support of reproductive choice. I might as well throw my hat into the ring as well. But I doubt that there is anyone on either side of the debate who is likely to be very happy with what I have to say on this issue.

So let's get my policy perspective out of the way. Outlawing abortion would almost certainly be a disaster. Abortions would be drastically curtailed, and that would be a very good thing indeed. But the costs, and especially the unintended consequences, would be enormous. This genie has been out of the bottle for more than a generation. People have counted on abortion's availability, even if they haven't made use of it, and it would be almost unthinkable to go back. Like it or not, women have grown accustomed to having this choice available. Taking that option away would lead to all kinds of chaos in ways that none of us can easily predict.

So while I stand with those who wish to allow choice, I also understand, in a very human way, that abortion is all but universally the wrong choice for any woman to make. It is wrong. It is evil. It is bad. And for far in excess of 99% of all pregnancies, it should never -- never -- be pursued.

My best friend since my high school days was born in 1969 and adopted by the people who we all refer to as his parents. If abortion had been permitted in 1969, chances are that I would have had to find another friend. I would have had other friends. I would have gone on with my life. But there would be a hole in my life that I never even knew about. And I would be a lesser person because of it.

The swimming coach whose lessons have shaped my entire life and continue to guide me to this day was born in the early 1950s and adopted by another family. If abortion had been permitted then, chances are that I would never have become the man that I am today. I would still be here, but I would be a very different person.

One's religion doesn't really matter here. I am Catholic, so religion shapes my view on when life begins. But even those who have no religious faith of any kind, and who do not see conception as the beginning of life, cannot be blind to the human potential which forms at that precise moment. Whether you see conception as the creation of life or merely the point where life's potential begins, it is clearly a very important starting point for us all. For me, based on the teachings of my faith, abortion is the destruction of an innocent human life. For others, the morality may not be as well-defined, but abortion remains nevertheless the destruction of our human potential. Either way, it cannot be seen as a good thing. It cannot be seen as a good choice.

It is striking to me that so many so-called-liberal voices, who rage at the sacrificial deaths of our volunteer soldiers, seem to have no criticism at all for those whose immoral choices destroy so many (potential, if you insist) little lives. Or that those who scream about the injustice of the death penalty never exhibit even the slightest condemnation of those who choose to end a human life merely so that it never inconveniences their own. I grieve for each soldier lost, having been one myself. But they, like me, reached adulthood and volunteered for that path. I am no enormous fan of the death penalty. But those who face it have usually volunteered for the path that brought them to that point, and in any event have the benefit of judicial review before their life is taken from them. The aborted child, whether real or potential, is never asked to volunteer. It has no access to judicial review. There are no appeals for it to pursue. It faces death before ever seeing the light of day and before even drawing its first breath. And thus its destruction is far more tragic than either of these more celebrated liberal causes.

Many will see me as another paternalistic asshole who is trying to tell women what they should do. It's an easy claim to make. I'm a man, it is physically impossible for me to find myself facing the desperate and emotionally wrenching decisions that are brought about by an unplanned pregnancy. In many ways, this is an incredibly fair criticism of my position.

But no matter how desperate the circumstances of any pregnancy, there is still a life -- real or potential, a life -- at stake. My position on this might disgust some as crass paternalism, but compared to the loss of a human life, such criticisms seem very small indeed.

Abortion should remain a legal option. But it should be choice that is made far, far, far less frequently than it currently is. By all means, choose. But choose life.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Handcuffs" Ravenstahl Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Pair of Handcuffs

Despite hordes of developments in the Ravenstahl arrest story (which some have taken to calling "Taking-One-For-Team-Gate"), I didn't post anything new yesterday. This was largely intentional on my part. My previous post, which pointed out that Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl lied to reporters about the incident, remained at the peak of it's relevance. It covered most of everything that developed yesterday. It said everything that there really was to say, and I decided that I wanted to leave it right at the top of the blog so that it would remain the leading story here.

While the story of Master Ravenstahl's lies has stood firm for the last 48 hours or so, it has also expanded a bit in scope. We now know that he lied about it over and over and over again. We now know that he was asked about the incident by many different reporters on many different occasions and in many different ways. And in every case, until it was clear that truth could no longer be avoided, Interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl lied.

His defense and his defenders are twisting semantics as hard as they possibly can, bending logic and language into unrecognizable new forms in a desperate attempt to claim that no actual lies were told. Their hope is that we, the people, will take our eye off the ball and begin to argue meaning rather than substance. If the debate can be converted into mere semantics, they know that our attention will be diverted away from Master Ravenstahl's behavior, both during the incident in question and in lying about it afterwards.

This is largely the same tactic which was used, quite successfully, by President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair. It worked very well then. The public twisted itself into knots debating the real meaning of terms such as "sexual relations" and even "is", and in the end forgot about what the President had actually done. It worked then. And Master Ravenstahl and his supporters are hoping and praying that it works here.

It's a disgusting tactic. Arguing over whether Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl was or was not "arrested" makes him look cheap. It makes him look like he has something to hide. It makes him look weak and immoral. And it puts him in the company of such stellar indivuduals as Rush Limbaugh, who also tried to argue that his time in custody did not amount to an "arrest". When the Democratic mayor of heavily-Democratic city is forced to act just like Rush Limbaugh, you know that something has gone drastically wrong.

My strong inclination is to not engage in an argument over the meaning of the term "arrest" or "detained". I don't think it wise to allow us to be distracted with the precise wording of the reporters' questions to Interim Mayor Ravenstahl. I think it's important to stick to what anyone with common sense -- or at least anyone who isn't intentionally ignoring what their common sense is telling them -- already knows. Master Ravenstahl was asked about the incident. He knew precisely what incident he was being asked about. He knew that it had happened. And he looked us all right in the face and told us that it never had occurred.

Bill Clinton did, indeed, engage in some sort of sexual activity with Monica Lewinsky. Luke Ravenstahl was placed in handcuffs and taken into custody by a City of Pittsburgh police officer. Both of these men were given ample opportunity to be honest with their constituents about the whole thing. Both of them failed us when they instead denied that the incidents ever took place. And both of them failed us even further when they resorted to a bullshit argument based merely on semantics to extricate themselves from the scandal that they, and they alone, had caused.

Bill Clinton remained in office anyway, and in many ways his opponents' grossly excessive reaction to his behavior backfired. The same sort of thing may happen here. But nothing can change the simple fact that neither man served us very well by lying to us. Nobody ever really forgets being lied to. And nobody ever looks at a political figure quite the same way after their lies have been revealed. Those who have supported and stood behind Luke Ravenstahl through all of his troubles should know and understand that, even if he emerges from this scandal with an election victory in May, the public will never again trust him in the way that they did before.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Handcuffs" Ravenstahl Admits that He's A Big Fat Liar

If you read the last line of the Tribune-Review article concerning Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl's admissions concerning his 2005 arrest by city police, you will see that he is also admitting to something else. As the article, written by the Trib's Jeremy Boren, states:

The mayor said he was asked months ago about the incident and Regan’s alleged involvement. He said he denied the accusations then because he didn’t want to “lend credence to them.”
So in other words, he was asked about the incident, and his response was to lie about the whole thing and claim that it never even happened.

A quick lesson for you, Master Ravenstahl. Voters will forgive lots of things, but they really, really, really, really hate being lied to. They can forgive mistakes. They make mistakes themselves, and they fully expect that you will make them too. But they need to know that they can trust you. Lying destroys that trust. It's the one thing that they have a very hard time forgiving, and yet that is precisely what you have gone and done to them. Not good.

"Handcuffs" Ravenstahl could have done the smart thing by owning up to this incident when the story first broke, but apparently that was months ago when a reporter first asked about it. Between then and now, he had ample opportunity to contact the reporter who asked the question and come clean about the whole thing. He didn't. Now it's too late. He cannot "get out in front of the story" anymore, because he lied about it, and allowed that lie to sit there uncorrected until there was no other option. Tonight, Master Ravenstahl finds himself facing his very own "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" moment, and it's simply not good place to be.

Meanwhile, "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl is trying beat this thing by claiming that the leaking of the truth by blogger John McIntire is somehow "politically motivated". Nice try. Bill Clinton tried that one, too. It was -- at least in his case -- probably even true. It didn't matter. He still found himself on the receiving end of the biggest shit storm to hit American politics since Watergate.

I personally don't really think that John McIntire has any real political motives here. I don't think he's shilling for Bill Peduto. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that he really did this for purely political reasons. Who freaking cares? And how is it even remotely relevant, Mister Interim Mayor?

The fact is that the incident happened. McIntire didn't make you get in that cop's face. An even more important fact is that you lied about it, and denied that it ever happened. McIntire didn't make you lie to us. McIntire didn't put you in this position. You did that. All on your own.

I'm willing to forgive the incident. I'm willing to forgive being drunk at a Steelers game. I'm willing to forgive the anger, the rudeness, the profanity, and even the possible assault against the police officer. But I'm not willing to forgive the lies. It puts everything you have ever said in question, and makes it impossible to trust you.

"Handcuffs" Ravenstahl Admits that Something Happened That Night

Hell, maybe I was way to hard on John McIntire. It was on his blog that the rumor of Luke Ravenstah's arrest first surfaced yesterday. And now, as he himself reports, it looks like the Interim Mayor really did get himself handcuffed at a Steelers game in 2005. Master Ravenstahl himself, in a frankly pretty damn smart attempt to get out ahead of the story, gave his account of the incident to the media this afternoon (Links: Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review, WTAE (1), WTAE (2), WPXI, and KDKA.)

I'm not so sure that Master Ravenstahl did himself a whole lot of favors here, at least not when it is oh-so-easy to read between the lines of his story. From the Post-Gazette's report:

On Oct. 31, 2005, the mayor said, he was near the front of an unruly throng outside of Heinz Field shortly before a Steelers night game.

"Myself and other individuals in the front were really not even in control of ourselves," he said. "We couldn't control ourselves because of the force from behind.

"It was at that point that an officer went charging into the crowd, a crowd that included men, women, and children, at which time he was very aggressive and authoritative.
Which is exactly how a police officer is supposed to be when faced with an unruly crowd that is pushing a crowd of women and children so hard that they can't control where they are going.
"At which time I, verbally, expressed my objections to the manner in which he was treating the crowd at Heinz Field that evening."
Don't argue with a police officer who is just trying to do his job. Especially when you have been drinking. Especially not by using foul language in front of a bunch of "women and children". Even if you are a city-freaking-councilmember.
The officer, who Mr. Ravenstahl confirmed was Mark A. Hoehn, then retreated from the "uncontrollable" crowd, the mayor said. Mr. Ravenstahl, who was then a city councilman, went with him.
The police officer would not have "retreated" from the crowd if they were still uncontrollable. And Master Ravenstahl would not have been able to "follow" the police officer if the crowd was still uncontrollable and pushing him and his friends from behind. What, one minute they are pushing so hard that you don't have any choice where you are going, and the next minute you are free to chase after a police officer? Sorry. Not buying it.

What really happened is that Master Ravenstahl got angry and was drunk. He did something stupid and chased after the police officer to give him a piece of his city-freaking-councilmember mind. Again, this was a very bad move.
"I told him who I was, and I told him I didn't appreciate the way he was treating the fans, and I didn't appreciate the manner in which he represented the city of Pittsburgh," he said. "He expressed back to me that he didn't care for my opinion and didn't care what I had to say. But I didn't back down."


Mr. Ravenstahl confirmed that he had consumed "some alcoholic beverages" before entering the line, but said he was not intoxicated. He said he used swear words in his interactions with Ofcr. Hoehn, but "at no time did I physically contact the officer."
Oh my, "swear words"! Who the hell calls them "swear words" anymore? I stopped doing that in fourth grade! Why not just call it "foul language"?

But never mind about that. Anyone who has ever seen this kind of confrontation knows what goes on. Some guy has been drinking. He's all full of himself, even if he isn't a city-freaking-councilmember. And then some cop shows up and tells him that he (or even the people around him) are doing something wrong. Mr. Big Stuff gets all in a huff, mostly because he's been drinking and he thinks he's a big man. He gets in the officer's face, using heated language. The police officer isn't going to stand for this, and Mr. Big Stuff ends up in handcuffs. Of course there was physical contact! It's impossible to handcuff someone without some physical contact.

Interim Mayor Ravenstahl is probably doing the smart thing to get out ahead of this story. But he really could have done a better job in doing so.

Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl?

Over at his blog, John McIntire is throwing around some weighty speculation about an October 2005 incident involving then-Councilmember (and current Interim Mayor) Luke Ravenstahl being taken into custody for assaulting a city police officer. The end result, or so the rumor goes, is that Dennis Regan played a key role in getting the cop to remove Master Ravenstahl's handcuffs and prevented the case from proceeding any further.

I have no idea whether any of these rumors are true. If they are, I assume that they would have spread far and wide within the police ranks by now. And if the story is widely known among all of the cops in this city, it must have been passed along to any number of reporters. According to McIntire, a number of news outlets are aware of the story and are working like mad to break it first.

I'm not so sure. I personally think that if this story was in any way confirmable, it would have broken quite some time ago. Maybe not when Master Ravenstahl was elected by his colleagues as City Council President, but certainly when it became clear that he might end up becoming mayor. Or when when his elevation to mayor was imminent. Or shortly after he took office. Or after Mr. Regan's appointment as Director of Public Safety blew up in the Mayor's face. Of after Mr. Regan and Catherine McNeilly were suspended. Or after Mr. Regan resigned. Or after Ms. McNeilly was demoted. Or after last week's court decision which restored Ms. McNeilly to her old rank. Or... well, the point is that there have been a bunch of excellent opportunities for the news media to break this story, but it hasn't happened.

It must be said that this rumor, if true, does explain much of the Interim Mayor's actions concerning Dennis Regan. Many of the comments which have been posted on this blog and others -- usually anonymously -- have suggested that Dennis Regan "has something" on Master Ravenstahl. I've never given those suggestions much credence. At most, I figured that the two of them may have made some kind of verbal agreement when Mr. Regan resigned from city government; Mr. Regan agreed to resign, and Master Ravenstahl agreed not to bad-mouth him after he was gone. I was even willing to give Interim Mayor Ravenstahl some credit for sticking by such an agreement, when there was nothing that bound him to it and recent events have made it much more difficult to claim that Mr. Regan did nothing wrong. But maybe -- and I'm not saying that these rumors are true -- but maybe there really is something that has been forcing Luke Ravenstahl to keep his end of the bargain.

I don't know that any of this contains a hint of truth. I rather suspect that it either isn't true, or -- if it is true -- cannot be independantly confirmed well enough be reported by the press. At the moment, we have nothing more than vicious rumors and idle speculation. We'll just have to see what the future brings.

I can say that I would feel much more comfortable with this rumor, and more comfortable blogging about it, if it had come from some other source. As Bram Reichbaum mentions over at the Pittsburgh Comet, this post does come at a time when John McIntire, out of work and seeking a new contract with a local talk radio station, could make very good use of a little buzz and attention from the Burghosphere. And it comes just a few days after MacYapper made some way-over-the-line comments about having a sexual liason with the newly-widowed Betty Ford after her husband's funeral. Joking about something like that makes it seem much more plausible that MacYapper is absolutely ravenous for attention.

It's hard to know what to believe. But the next few months will answer that question far better than I ever could.

Icebergs on the Election Horizon

At least two icebergs have been spotted on the horizon of Pittsburgh's 2007 election. One of them is new, growing in size, but not entirely unexpected. The other iceberg's appearance was fairly predictable, but it has turned out to be even larger than anyone had anticipated. Both are enormously troubling, saddening, and have the potential to do even more damage to the already-listing, largely unseaworthy ships known as the governments of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh.

The first iceberg sits directly in the shipping lanes leading to Pittsburgh's District 9 City Council seat. This seat is currently held by the ethically-challenged Twanda Carlisle, who has been accused of everything from cronyism, to spending grossly excessive amounts on plagiarized reports produced by unknowledgeable consultants, to credit card fraud, to even bold-faced violations of our election laws. Earlier this year, the residents of her district even attempted to impeach Ms. Carlisle, but failed when a judge threw out their petition.

While Ms. Carlisle's reelection hopes have been weakened by all of these scandals, they are by no means dead. In her district, it may actually help that she is in a bit of trouble with "the man", and Pittsburgh voters are notorious for their ability to reelect incumbents, even when it is blatantly obvious that they are completely corrupt. The only real hope of defeating her is to put her up against a single solid challenger with reasonable name recognition, strong leadership skills, and a clean reputation. In most elections, this one-on-one challenge would take place in the November general election. But since this is Pittsburgh, with its perpetual one-party rule, the election will be determined during the May Democratic primary.

All of this brings us to the first of our two icebergs. Instead of facing just one challenger in the May primary, Ms. Carlisle is currently up against no less than four of them, with at least two more candidates expected to announce in the next few weeks. And as the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat reports, this furball of competition is already turning into one gigantic mess.

Unless these people get their shit together, Ms. Carlisle's reelection is all but assured. With the anti-Carlisle vote split across six different challengers, she should have no problem at all in securing the Democratic nomination, allowing her to run (most likely unopposed) in the November general election.

Perhaps the good people of District 9 could follow the example set by the citizens of Pittsburgh School Board District 2 in 2003. Back then, the District 2 seat was held by well-reviled Darlene Harris, and Democratic candidates to unseat her were threatening to come of out the woodwork. The primary would have been overwhelmed by challengers. The only way to handle things was to hold a kind of pre-primary to select a single Democrat candidate to go up against Ms. Harris. So in January, a grass-roots group of concerned citizens held a meeting at the local public library, and selected Patrick Dowd to be the only other name on the Democratic primary ballot. It worked. Darlene Harris was booted off the school board.

Don't get me wrong about this. I find these kinds of pre-primary candidate selection meetings enormously distasteful. In many ways, they are even anti-democratic. Many voters have no idea that these little-publicized meetings are even going on, and would find it difficult to attend one even if they did know about them. The result is that a very small group of people end up deciding who is worthy to appear on the ballot, which makes our elections just about as fair as the ones held in Iran. But since Pittsburgh elections are determined solely by the results of the Democratic primary, there seems to be little other choice.

None of this pre-primary maneuvering, of course, would be necessary if there were likely to be viable Republican challengers during the November general election. But this brings us to our second iceberg, namely the incredible ineptness of the local Republican party. As the Tribune-Review points out, there is currently not an announced Republican candidate for County Executive. Within the city, the Republicans haven't offered up a even token sure-loser candidate like Joe Weinroth for Mayor. If the Republican party can't put up a fight for the top posts in the city and county, it clearly won't be able to offer any kind of challenge to Ms. Carlisle or the other incumbent idiots who are up for reelection this year.

So what are county Republicans up to at this critical time? Well, as the Post-Gazette reported yesterday, they are in court, arguing amongst themselves over some ridiculously piss-ant issue concerning $5,125. They are bickering about their own by-laws; whether the county chairman was ever allowed to remove the city's chairman, whether the city chairman still holds that post, and whether the city chairman can be reinstated to a post that he claims he still holds.

Meanwhile, while these juvenile morons wrestle with issues that nobody outside of themselves gives even the tiniest shit about, they are paying no attention at all to the coming election. As a result, we are facing yet another November where a bunch of Democratic candidates are running totally unopposed. Those of us who are not registered Democrats will have -- and this is important -- absolutely no voice in who becomes our next mayor, county executive, and city councilmember. While this situation may make smug Democrats want to say "so what?", it's still a very bad thing for us all. It absolves anyone who is not a registered Democrat from any responsiblity in our region's many problems, and makes them tune out of the political process altoghether. And it looks like it will happen, yet again, in this year's election.

I wonder I can convince the Penguins to take me with them when they move to Kansas City.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Failed Attempt to Remove My Tin Foil Hat

Over the weekend, there were a few blog posts and a bit of reporting on the topic of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's (frankly rather weak) attempts to shift the blame for the whole Dennis Regan situation onto the shoulders of the very dead Bob O'Connor. The Burgh Report posted on it not just once but twice, complete with links to an article in the Post-Gazette and a story that was broadcast on KDKA. A similar post was made on 2 Political Junkies, which referenced a more readable text-based version of the same KDKA story.

As is clear from numerous previous posts, I have become strongly critical of Mayor Ravenstahl and his band of idiots. But this story seemed more than a bit hard to believe. Newsmakers all the way from Sienna Miller up to those whose IQs manage to break into the triple digits continually complain about their quotes being taken out of context. Frankly, I just assumed that the same kind of thing had happened here with Mayor (or, as the Burgh Report more correctly refers to him, Interim Mayor) Ravenstahl.

It would be pretty easy to do. Most news outlets, both print and broadcast, will only report a newsmaker's response to the questions that are thrown out by the reporters, and don't bother to tell us what question was being answered at the time. For example, imagine that the Interim Mayor was hit with a question such as, "Much of what led up to this case took place before you were sworn in as Mayor. To what degree to you hold your own administration responsible for these issues?". Granted, he is a professional politician. He should know by now how to tapdance around these kinds of "gotcha" questions. But it would be easy to understand him tripping up when responding to a question like this, which is all but guaranteed to produce this kind of "It was Bob's fault" response. Then the media, by reporting only the Interim Mayor's response, could easily make it look like Luke Ravenstahl was callously pissing directly on Bob O'Connor's grave.

So I was delighted to see, thanks to Bob Mayo's Busman's Holiday blog and it's associated set of podcasts, that we can all listen -- in it's entirety -- to Interim Mayor Ravenstahl's Q&A session on the McNeilly injunction decision. To me, this was key. I would be able to hear everything that was said, including both the questions and Interm Mayor Ravenstahl's answers. And I fully expected to find that he had been set up by one or more members of the media.

Well, I was wrong. Our Interim Mayor was not fed any questions at all which would have led to some kind of statement about Bob O'Connor's culpability for this fiasco. Instead, he shamelessly walked into that graveyard all on his own, pulled down his zipper, and let the urine fly.

And from what I can tell, Master Ravenstahl was pretty eager to do it. Here is only the second question that he was asked during the Q&A session:

Q: [Catherine McNeilly's] attorneys say, quote, the landscape of this case is strewn with allegations of wrongdoing on the part of police and on the part of an individual in the mayor's office, but that she was the only one who was punished. Your response to that?

Obviously, this question's central focus is on Ms. McNeilly's punishment, and specifically why she was punished but Dennis Regan was not. There is no obvious invitation for Master Ravenstahl to push some of the blame onto his predecessor. Yet that's precisely what the Interim Mayor chose to do:

A: Again these... everything that occurred in regards to this case occurred before I became the mayor. It was something that I had to deal with. It was presented to me. I dealt with it and I feel that I dealt with it appropriately.

As if this wasn't clear enough, the Interim Mayor came back to this theme later on. Again, it was in response to a question (or really, a set of questions) that had absolutely nothing to do with former mayor Bob O'Conner:

Q: You were mayor when Mr. Regan acted as Public Safety Director, although he did not have the position, to overturn the dismissal of a police officer.

A: That occured, correct, that occurred after the investigation had already begun.

Q: (unintelligible) your position and how you dealt with that?

A: The position that Dennis Regan no longer works for the City of Pittsburgh.

Q: Would you have fired him if he hadn't resigned?

A: It's not applicable at this point.

Q: You had the information at the time... Would there have been discipline against him? Did he do anything wrong?

A: He no longer works for us. He worked for Mayor O'Connor and Mayor O'Connor gave him the ability and authority to do what he felt was appropriate and most of these actions and allegation took place under Mayor O'Connor. When Dennis Regan worked for me, he worked for me, and he no longer does...

So there you have it. Luke Raventahl had no good reason to walk down this road. He was in no way invited to cast the blame on Bob O'Connor. He chose to do it all on his own. The only thing that one can assume is that he actually belives that this is all Bob O'Connor's fault. He didn't just say these things as a political ploy, since even the most inexperienced politician must know that criticizing a dead man, and especially Bob O'Connor, is likely to backfire. It's almost amazing to me. Luke Ravenstahl honestly doesn't seem to believe that he played any role whatsoever in creating this mess.

By the way, if Interim Mayor Ravenstahl had one central theme during this session with reporters, it was that whatever sins Dennis Regan may have committed in the past, he is no longer in a position to commit any more of them. You see this theme at the end of the exchange quoted above. And he rang the same bell again and again and again:

Dennis Regan no longer works for the City of Pittsburgh...
Mr. Regan no longer works for the City of Pittsburgh...
He no longer works for the City of Pittsburgh...
... he worked for me, and he no longer does...
He resigned and so... he no longer works for us...

This theme must be something that the Interim Mayor thinks is going to work for him. Not so far beneath the surface of these remarks is a plea for all us to recognize that this is all in the past, and that we should all move on to more important topics.

I'm not so sure that this is going to work. For one thing, as long as this lawsuit is alive, this story is going to keep coming up over and over again. There will be no escaping this situation until Ms. McNeilly's claim is settled, either by agreement or by the courts.

But even more disturbing is the glaring contradiction contained within these repeated statements. Master Ravenstahl appears to be taking credit for the fact that Dennis Regan is no longer employed in city government. Yet, as we have been reminded so many times now, the Interim Mayor's investigation into Mr. Regan's conduct found nothing wrong. There was no reason, according to Master Ravenstahl, to fire Mr. Regan. Instead, Mr. Regan voluntarily resigned from his post.

Sorry, Master Ravenstahl. You can't have it both ways. If you fired Mr. Regan, or even if you asked for his resignation, then you can indeed take credit for his departure. But at the same time, you also have to acknowledge that he did something wrong to justify this decision on your part. If, on the other hand, Dennis Regan did nothing wrong, then his resignation was entirely his own decision and you had nothing to do with it.

So obviously, I can't quite take off my tin foil hat (mandatory apparel for all Ravenstahl critics, or so you would think), at least not all the way. I tried to find a logical reason for Interim Mayor Ravenstahl's behavior, but I couldn't find one. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it turns out that he didn't deserve it. I really do wish that it had been otherwise, but Master Ravenstahl has, once again, let me down.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Bit More Digging, A Bit More Bluster, A Glimmer of Hope

I just couldn't help myself. I had to go back in and look at the transcript of Judge Ambrose's decision, which reversed Catherine McNeilly's demotion. I found something that I think is truly fascinating.

If you look around the Burghosphere for a while, and not just on this particular story, you will encounter scathing complaints about the vaunted "confidentiality" that is seemingly inescapable in all "personnel matters" involving public employees. We've seen it in this case, obviously. It's also shown up in fairly small matters (e.g., the alleged pilfering of coins from parking meters by employees of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority), more weighty scandals (e.g., the $213,000 payout to former Pittsburgh Public School official Lynn Spampinato), and even such highly-important decisions as last year's appointment of Dominic Costa as Chief of Police. In fact, in this last case, according the the Post-Gazette story which ran at the time,

Council members expressed less concern with Mr. Costa's 25-year track record with the bureau than with how details from it became public in recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. They called for an investigation of who leaked an internal report that criticized Mr. Costa and others for their handling of a Homewood standoff in 2002.
This presumption of confidentiality has enormously strong roots. From the way it gets thrown out there in story after story, you could easily reach the conclusion that public employees are completely protected, as a matter of law, from any public disclosures of their employment history.

This notion has always gotten on my nerves, because these public employees seem more than happy to take the public's money, but aren't willing to accept that the taxpayers are ultimately their boss. So imagine my reaction -- a mixture of shock, elation, and dismay -- when I encountered the following passage in Judge Ambrose's ruling:
The disciplinary action report [which was attached to the e-mail that McNeilly sent to City Council]... contains specific dates of Rende calling off sick and working secondary details before and after the sick leave, the dates and places of his secondary employment and the statistic of his, Rende's, arrests and traffic stops, all of which, according to Donaldson, are not inherently confidential and, according to Plaintiff's expert Rothlein, are public records in other jurisdictions, specifically Florida.

The Defendants [i.e., the City, Mayor Ravenstahl, and Police Chief Nate Harper] have not identified any statutory or constitutional basis for keeping this information confidential, and it appears that it is deemed confidential solely because of the working agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police. This is a contractual agreement which has less significance than if it were grounded in a statute or in the Constitution for weighing purposes.
[emphasis added]
So in other words, the Judge seems to be saying that there is absolutely nothing in the city statutes, Pennsylvania law, or the state constitution which establishes any expectation of confidentiality when it comes to the personnel records of public employees. If that's really true, then count me as totally blown away. From the way this old chestnut gets hauled through the coals every time a public employee does something even remotely questionable, you would think that it was bestowed upon them by the Almighty himself. Instead, it's simply part of the near-ubiquitous union contract which seemingly covers every single taxpayer-financed employee in our neck of the woods. Who knew?

To put it another way, city officials -- backed by several generations of union-dominated Democratic party control -- have long since bargained away the right of us taxpayers to examine precisely what we are paying for. Nice. Real nice. I think I may be sick.

Even better, ever since this provision was enshrined in some contract from the now long-forgotten past, it has been recycled over and over and over again in all subsequent contracts. From today's perspective, the right of public employees to be protected from public scrutiny has been around so long that, when combined with the Pittsburgh region's famous parochialism, has simply become a storied and accepted part of the "way we do things around here". What a load of crap.

In other news, Mayor Ravenstahl's reaction to yesterday's decision -- as reported this afternoon on the Post-Gazette's web site -- is a bizarre mixture of blustering stupidity combined with the barest hint of hope that his administration may do the smart thing and settle this lawsuit as soon as possible.

On one hand, the Mayor claims that there was never anything wrong with punishing Catherine McNeilly:
"I stand here proudly [believing] that I acted appropriately," Mr. Ravenstahl said... [H]e believes he acted properly to demote Cmdr. McNeilly for breaking a rule by releasing private personnel records. "The decision [to demote Cmdr. McNeilly] was made because the rules were broken," he said. "I stand behind those rules."
The Mayor also maintained his iron grip on this bullshit-ridden fairy tale that Dennis Regan never did anything even slightly wrong:
As far as Mr. Regan's actions were concerned, the mayor said it would be improper for anyone in the mayor's office to influence police decisions, but he's not convinced Mr. Regan did anything wrong. ... "There was no rule broken, no law broken," he said. "If anything, maybe bad judgment was used." Mr. Ravenstahl wouldn't say whether he would have fired or disciplined Mr. Regan if he hadn't resigned on his own.
The only hopeful thing in this afternoon's news was the last line of the article, where "the mayor said no decision has been made on whether to defend the case at trial or try to reach a settlement."

My advice? Settle it, apologize, and move on. Otherwise, this is all that anybody is going to be talking about until the primary.