Monthly Archives: March 2013

In a Glass Darkly, Part 1 – Security Culture, Public-Private Partnerships and Corruption

Yes, I strongly recommend seeing the show!


by Helen Gerhardt

As we prepare to elect a new Mayor here in Pittsburgh, as we consider the aspirations of potential new Chief Executives to address the evident mismanagement of accounts, staffing, supervision, and secondary employment in our Police Bureau, as we consider hiring a new Chief of Police, it may be useful to consider the mercenary boondoggles and abuses of force that have been enabled by our last two Presidents at the behest of powerful and wealthy corporate Networks that deploy force for profit rather than the public good. The local and national patterns darkly reflect each other.  

Back in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama inspired thousands of dedicated volunteers by promising to redirect spending from Iraq and Afghanistan back into investment in our own country’s needs and to bring accountability and transparency back to the Executive Office. 
But even as the national sequester now takes hold and bites deep into the most crucial infrastructure and social investments, even as our Pennsylvania state legislators argue over where/if we will find the revenue to fund our own health care, transportation, education, a recent audit showed that, at least right up through 2012, many billions of our tax payer dollars have continued to pour into Iraq and Afghanistan, a large proportion of such projects left unfinished or botched beyond any hope of functionality:
Broken China-town after Shock and Awe

 

Between 2003 and 2012, the U.S. spent an average of $15 million a day on Iraq reconstruction, running up a tab of more than $60 billion. At least $8 billion has been lost to contract abuse and mismanagement, according to a final audit released this month by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).



The audits show that the same contractors have continued to be rewarded with lucrative military contracts even after ten long years of repeatedly reported failures to meet the most basic standards for financial accountability or performance objectives. Enablement of such waste has been most evidently bipartisan.

Perhaps Bowen’s most depressing conclusion is that the U.S. government is no better prepared for reconstruction work in other countries than it was in 2002. No single government office has responsibility for such operations, he notes, and no tracking system has been established to help oversee related contracting…

What was not spotlighted in this and most mainstream news stories was that the Obama Adminstration’s Pentagon has also continued to pour our tax dollars into the pockets of rebranded mercenaries  with long histories of both incompetence and brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Blackwater, the very contractor that the Obama Campaign highlighted in 2008 as one of the most egregious examples of irresponsible contractors that they would bring to account. 

Over the past few months, developing news accounts have raised concerns that shadowy private-public partnerships may all too often determine how force is deployed throughout our own city.  It seems that many of our police officers are living double lives just as they work double shifts, public servants of all our diverse communities by day, paramilitary gunslingers for hire by whoever can pay by night.
 
The waste of our crucially needed tax dollars on lawsuits against moonlighting police who abuse their power in City uniform have long been shameful sideshows in Pittsburgh, creating scandals that often raise high ire by the most damaged communities and individuals but little effective change. Now, the intervention of the FBI to reveal the corruption of police Chief Nate Harper seems to have finally impelled a closer examination of the interlocking network of systems and vested interests that cannot be reformed by simply hiring a replacement to fill any one person’s shoes. 

Part 2 of this series will further explore the tensions generated by endemic conflicts of private and public interests and the consequent damages to enforcement of the most basic standards of accountability and the protection of our fundamental civil rights and liberties.





Fitzgerald wants Authorities on Same Page w/ The People

homestarrunner.com

We ought to recognize this might seem like a good idea

On Wednesday, Mr. Fitzgerald released the more than 40 resignation letters he has collected from appointees to boards and authorities, which are legally independent from the county. The executive says the letters are a pact between appointees and county government, an understanding that he and county council sets policy, not authority members.

If a board member goes rogue, he’ll pull out the resignation, Mr. Fitzgerald said. (P-G, Andrew McGill)

… if I was County Executive. People ought to be cognizant that this blogger, if elected, would never do anything wrong with that leverage; it would never be my intention to micromanage above my pay grade, or to deprive anyone else their input or creativity, or pursue my own electoral-political agenda within the Authorities.

I would simply make sure these Authorities are fundamentally on the same page — in terms of vision and strategy — as the mandate of the popularly elected officials in charge of County government. That would not be unreasonable in the slightest.

It probably still wouldn’t be a great idea though. People would grow skeptical of me no matter what. Maybe there is a more collaborative way to accomplish the same basic goal.

President Obama on urgency to address domestic Gun-Related Horrors.

RELATED: 6-person “shootout” in Clairton, a ‘Burgh neighbor.

In Jack Wagner, Challenged Nexus finds Willing Host

VIDEO by Kalea Hall with a piece at the P-G provide a good look at the Wagner for Mayor campaign effort — which, lest we forget, is to be understood as comprising an already and credibly UNITED FRONT:

The Firefighter’s union rep at the beginning of the big press conference listed Jack Wagner’s Purple Heart earned in the Vietnam War, and his successful elections to City Council, Council President, State Senator and Auditor General, and said, “This City needs that type of leadership.

“It is that type of leadership that will continue us on the road that we are, and our rightful place, as we continue as America’s most livable city.”

To hear it from them, things are very good indeed, and let’s go for more of the same. Not a surprise considering where they and the others (such as Ferlo) stood months ago:

“Tell us what [Ravenstahl]’s done wrong over the last six years in running this city?” [Firefighters rep Joe] King said. (Trib, Team Effort)

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has put himself behind us.

P-G, Michael Henninger

My real question, however, is why not Michael Lamb or Bill Peduto? If they are looking for a viable candidate and a likely partner, why not those two?

And does it have anything to do with the seething, defiant emotional passion, or the grim gravitas of that press conference?

These gentlemen don’t seem to be the type to be impressed by a long resume. And as canny officials representing ruthlessly for their memberships or constituencies, even a Purple Heart only gets you so far. The alternatives are all Democrats, they all kiss the ring of organized labor, do they not? So what is it about Jack Wagner that makes him so different from the other candidates?

Wagner took a few calls on PCNC’s NightTalk with Ellis Cannon last night, and I recorded the answers I think very fairly:

Jack’s failure to share any special wisdom on pensions is especially troubling, given his latest role in government and municipal pensions being the statewide tidal crisis on which Pittsburgh “hangs ten”.

Is Wagner not a details guy? Is he still playing catch-up on Pittsburgh issues? Does he not have a fundamental interest in urban policy? Or was it all just a bad egg salad sandwich? I don’t know what is going on.

But it makes one recall that also his recent answers on social issues questions were unfleshed-out and disappointing. In several ways already, this is seeming like a ginormous step backwards from Luke Ravenstahl.

So, no big surprise. The muckraking blogger does not favor the candidate which has been embraced by the City’s traditional sub rosa power structure of socially powerful city workers and economic development go-betweens. I don’t get the feeling Jack Wagner is a bad guy, in fact, by every account he seems to be a “great guy” (just like Nate Harper?) but so far he seems like a good-but-not-great, bad-but-not-awful career politician who wants a crowning swan song.

Good for him! But I feel that would not be an optimal move for Pittsburgh, on the brink of so much that might be positive or negative — especially with so many other qualified statespeople of political courage, experience and knowledge to choose from.

On working together, Wagner said:

“…and the people in government: just not the people that represent this building, but other levels of government. I believe that I bring that to this race, and hopefully to the future of our city. Our city needs that.”

I should like to hear more about that.

BONUSES: Apparently Bill Peduto is the Parking Reform Candidate. Once upon a year ago, parking was a big deal in city politics, and had something to do the pension problem. Also there is a short, sweet video of Rich Fitzgerald reintroducing Peduto to some southron city supporters. Michael Lamb is standing up for marriage equality with some organizations, but other than that he’s been low-key recently.

TRIB STORY: City’s deal with Politically Active business owner may be Shoddy, Raw.

*-UPDATE: With allegations of improper towing and more improper expansion in hours / space for the valet project.

The Tribune Review is alarming everybody:

Mitcham said employees of Tri State Valet Inc. of Green Tree have been erroneously telling drivers that they’re not permitted to park in Market Square without paying to use the service. He said Tri State employees are parking cars in metered spots on the perimeter of Market Square and the upper and lower portions of Forbes Avenue instead of driving them to a designated floor of 200 spaces in the Third Avenue Parking Garage that the Pittsburgh Parking Authority owns.

“We’re working on the issue. The valet company’s employees are not following the rules,” Mitcham said.

Robert Gigliotti, 46, of Banksville owns Tri State Valet and William Penn Parking. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

The businessman has been a prominent supporter of the mayor. The contract is with the Market Square Merchants Association, but Mayor Luke Ravenstahl started the pilot program through the Parking Authority. I wonder if this puts anyone else in the hot seat as go-between.

Spoiler alert: there’s no smoking gun, and the contract may have been earned fair and square. But of course the City pursued the valet program and the Police authorized the parking variances, and Pittsburgh is a small town.

It may all go away if the valet services improve dramatically, today. The public invested a lot into transforming Market Square and should get every penny and convenience in return.

Race for Pittsburgh Mayor’s parameters sharpen as 8-Week sprint begins

P-G, Grace Patuwo

In March of 2007, a rather young mayor of only several months’ experience was thrust into high-stakes negotiations on behalf of the City with Rendell, Onorato, Lemieux and the Penguins, and the NHL. A deal emerged, a hockey team was saved, and Mayor Ravenstahl earned ‘attaboys in the afterglow of the exhilarating first sensation of getting “it” done.

Yet even now, central business district development is going like gangbusters: chic wellness villages, a dining and entertainment complex, something distantly involving both Toby Keith and the Steelers, and a proliferation of Point Park University theater options. The Skinny Building will provide the fruit, flowers and seasonal favorites in a fit of dering-do. The National Institutes of Health can’t get enough UPMC.

The Police Bureau situation continues to be what it is. There is strong evidence of at least one as-yet unknown co-conspirator in the theft conspiracy. Within and around a determined department, a decisive shift towards openness and transparency is sought desperately and with conviction.

The Fugitive

Controller Michael Lamb‘s candidacy is in serious danger of getting strangled by the fraud revelations, despite the fact that the Police Bureau and credit union wrongdoers, the Public Safety director, the Finance director and his Treasurer in charge of receipts all got access through this data beforehand, and despite the fact that questions about and auditing of those accounts neatly preceded the federal activity. Nobody wants to hear that in-depth audits are not a routine Controller’s office function for the entirety of government, that in-depth audits including several within public safety have been numerous and bold, and that the Controller’s office budget for staff is what it is since Act 47.

Lamb fights for fairness in tax exemptions now towards the head of a large crowd. He once fought for honesty in investment accounting with less visible support, against pension spiking with none to speak of, and for comprehensive sex education and youth reproductive health services without uncouth sensationalism. Arrogance, elitism, intemperance and shadowy political patrons are all relative strangers to him, yet his profile and record both seem hostage to the criminals that eluded him.

Willy Wonka

Bill Peduto was the chair of City Council’s Finance Committee for two two-year terms, from 2008 through 2011. Previous to that he was among the Council that overlooked certain police fee formalities, but somehow he has not been driven against the wall by general skepticism. His formal campaign marches confidently with bands of placard-waving supporters.

Peduto’s last few daily rations of wonk-bait have included collaboratively leveraging innovative tools to fix blight, centralizing and streamlining new business development with collaboration, and curtailing some job development incentives to preserve natural areas and limit sprawl, but not without regional tax sharing. With ever more traditional support accruing behind the early front runner, his detractors are left grumbling darkly about political deal making and another machine.

Gene Hackman

Jack Wagner alone among top-tier contenders needs plea to no conceivable culpability in the Police Bureau scandal — but apparently had only a small-time and negligible effect on the breadth of the Pa Turnpike Commission scandal: a lavish, longtime, notorious pay-to-play pipeline. Although Wagner has for some time been addressing ruinous bond swaps deals by boosting transparency and more recently recommended terminating Turnpike bond swaps, we await eagerly any similar advice on our ongoing Water authority swaptions.

Though his campaign has operated a bit under my own personal radar thus far, some of his supporters are enthused to highlight Wagner’s 1993 advocacy for an assault weapons ban as a member of Pittsburgh City Council, and his expansion of hate crimes law as State Senator to include sexual orientation. Having been dogged a bit in the past by segments of the Democratic constituency on “social issues,” Jack Wagner volunteered to the Comet by telephone that “I didn’t do everything correctly, we all learn a lot in our lifetimes.” While he is fiercely proud to support and advocate for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender adoption” privileges, his opposition to gay marriage hinges on a concern for churches, and his position if any on civil unions is undefined. Efforts by the Comet to pin Wagner down neatly on questions of abortion rights were met with similar disinterested parrying; he preferred to redirect the conversation toward equality in promotions and quality public education.

The-Crusius

Jake Wheatley seems to be overcoming launch difficulties, Darlene Harris seems not quite fully collected and A.J. Richardson is what a far-out candidate is like in Pittsburgh, which is pretty cool.

Although we all knew Joe Brimmieir was neck-deep in the Pa Turnpike noise, John L. Tague Jr. seems to be a breath of fresh air from the policy and advocacy community; whereas the visibly shaken, whole-town indicting Jack Brooks is a retired Carpenter’s Union official appointed by Dan Onorato around the same time the North Shore Connector morphed from a bridge into a tunnel.

While the Post-Gazette is tracking down the details of a nearby fracking settlement, Pat Ford is bringing millions in international investment to Cleveburgh to manufacture natural gas extraction and storage valves and fixtures.

If the Race for Pittsburgh is like every other big political race, expect some nasty twists and surprises very soon. These candidates are all burdened with informing us specifically why they are better than each of the other alternatives — and without mincing words, sparing feelings, or sweating details. Before long some of them will actually wind up believing their own stories! Just keep your laughter, kindness and honesty dialed up. This has been Your Guide to ‘Burgh Drama, Episode 3: The Hon. Mayor Waters.

MORE:  Pittsburgh City Paper.

HUP HUP, HIKE: Non-Charities Shall Owe Taxes

memegenerator.net

This is what was just decided:

The majority of the Court in Bobov stated that the “General Assembly cannot displace our interpretation of the Constitution” and rejected the argument that the Court should defer to the General Assembly’s definition of “purely public charity.” (Saul Ewing, LLP)

And now:

The Senate, in a 30-20 vote, approved a proposed state constitutional amendment declaring the General Assembly has the exclusive role to set standards to determine which institutions are purely a public charity. The measure now goes to the House. (RH/TS, Robert Swift)

Sounds a bit like the backlash against property reassessments.

Hark.com (AUDIO)

It’s just a matter of preference, citizens of Pennsylvania. Who would you rather be in charge of determining what is a “Charity”: the legislature or the judiciary? Who do you trust to be more finally in charge “Free speech”? “Bear arms?” “Equal protection?”

The politicians, or the justices in black robes? Which is more likely to give a clear answer, that makes sense?

And it’s not as though taxing bodies and local governments can’t offer tax credits, for all sorts of commerce and activities for which it feels an air of mutual charity. Call it development if that’s what it is.

Liquor Reform Bill: A Confounding, Busy Waste?

Hey You! Have a Nice Day!

It’s what the free-market ideology Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s got me thinking:

But it’s like a 7 and 7 with no Seagram’s — a bit of carbonation but no kick.

Beer distributors are granted first crack at a new near monopoly and favored state financing terms for wine and spirits licences. Grocery stores can sell wine. But to sell beer, they have to also have a restaurant. Convenience stores can sell beer but have to have a seating area. (Trib, Edit Voice)
Hooray for more… seating areas at convenience stores. How do we feel about this additional expense in more space without shelving convenience items, although you’ve just added rows and rows of beer? Are the folks at the RHI okay with it?
Meanwhile, One of America’s Greatest newspapers is just plain sick and tired of regulating alcohol with even half of one eye peeled on public welfare…
Some lawmakers, both dino-Democrats and retro-Republicans alike, say the state should “modernize” the government liquor monopoly first. Except there’s nothing modern about modernizing a system… (P-G, Edit Team)
and they’ve lost lost me.
We’re getting closer, Pennsylvania. Maybe both of these bills — the one Governor Corbett twisted and finagled through the House, and the one the Left is calling “modernization”– maybe both deserve another coat of paint.

The Artist: Rick Derringer

The venue: White House Correspondents Dinner

Mapping Pittsburgh Murals

pghmurals.com

by Vannevar Bush

Over the last year my friend S. and I have been riding our bikes to the murals and outdoor public art in Pittsburgh, documenting and cataloging, and organizing our finds into a Google-map with drill-down info on the artists and additional info on the stories behind the mural. You can see the result at PghMurals.com.
Our hope is that this

  • provides a searchable, accessible resource for anybody interested in exploring and learning Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods
  • helps plan an afternoon’s outing
  • encourages people to explore the city and discover what lies a little bit off their routine track.

There’s a tremendous amount of high-quality, outdoors public art in Pittsburgh. Some of the artwork I’d point out to a first-time visitor as representative would include:
Brick Woman by Lady Pink in Braddock

Persephone by multiple artists in East Liberty

Mother Nature by Ashley Hodder on the East Busway

Untitled by George Gist in Wilkinsburg

Greenfield Connected by William Schlough in Greenfield

Grand Mere by Bob Ziller in Bloomfield

It’s Your Turn by Ian Green, Lauren Hinish in Homestead

Wheeling Heliocentric Orrery by Kevinn Fung in Lawrenceville

Rebirth by Gregg Valley in Carnegie

The Garfield Gator (by anonymous) in Garfield

There are over 360 different artworks mapped at PghMurals.com, and you can slice the database by neighborhood, artist, funding organisation – for example, the Sprout Fund murals, and this is a map of the Carnegie fund-raising dinosaurs – or you can search by keywords.
Might be a great way to plan an afternoon outdoors.