Monthly Archives: January 2010


Why not get it from 2 Political Junkies.

From @Kenzie54: “#haiti #bresma i see a nurse holding a baby inside the bus”.

Fingers Crossed

You all just knew the week the Comet was going to go out of business wasn’t destined to be a quiet one, didn’t you?

Thoughts and prayers.

Some Nice Music

The Citizens’ BRESMA Relief Effort

I don’t mean to “brand” it as the Citizens’ BRESMA relief effort, this post just needed a title. Call it what you will. The following was written frantically, by me, through the morning of Saturday January 16th. Maria will confirm. However, out of worry that the possibility of the release of certain details might cause interference, it was embargoed until just now.

This is my story of what is reported within here on Friday, January 15th. Those are accurate enough accounts, but not particularly thorough nor illustrative. So here we go:

Sometime on Wednesday afternoon, I read what would have been Virginia‘s second or third fantastic blog post about the BRESMA orphanage crisis in Haiti. Here is the selection that got to me:

This is my plea to you to work any connections you have to help get Jamie and Ali McMutrie out of Haiti along with the children that already have adoption papers set for adoptions in U.S. homes.

I’m looking at you, local and state politicians with Washington connections. I’m looking at you, rich people with private planes. Please don’t look away from me.

Otherwise, these children will not survive. (That’s Church)

Ginny has since taken down that post among several others. Which is fine. More than fine. Those posts served their purposes and now aren’t necessary. The world moved. The world is still moving. It didn’t need to move any further. I just resurrected that one tidbit to give you an idea how this started, for seemingly lots of people who are trying very hard.

Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t act on that call-to-action until late into Wednesday evening. I just wasn’t “activated” quite yet. That’s when it occurred to me that the most powerful person I happen to know — no offense, City Controller Michael Lamb, no offense, City Council President Darlene Harris — would have to be former US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.

So I sent her the following short e-mail at 12:51 AM:

Lots of specific calls to action on the Internet, here is one ambitious one to pass along:

At 9:00 AM in the morning I got a phone call. Ms. Buchanan was on the other end. She said, “This is horrible,” and asked me who she should be talking to.


Ginny got me in touch with Jonathan Wander, who gave me a couple more names (and would go on to dispatch so much information amongst so many people over the next two days). I passed his information along to Buchanan. That was my contribution on Thursday, entirely.

Aside from occasionally staying in touch over e-mail, and watching a highly promising situation become inexorably, sickeningly more complex.

From what I understand, by that afternoon Buchanan had called some contacts in the public and private sector, received what seemed to be legal permission for these children to enter the country through Pittsburgh, got in touch with the sister of one of the BRESMA workers, learned that we were talking about 40 or so small souls and 2 very large ones, called a friend who owns a small private jet company and seemed well on the way to attaining the needed air transport.

It all seemed so easy for one morning and afternoon.

Way, way too easy.


In tracking down those early details, Buchanan had telephoned a Post-Gazette reporter who had already written a mid-day web update on the BRESMA situation. After getting the information she required about the family and the orphans, the reporter said something like, “Is this Mary Beth Buchanan, the former prosecutor?”

That’s how Buchanan wound up in the online edition of the P-G that day. And so, the next day in two papers, in print. It must have seemed like press releases had gone out, but it just kind of happened.

Only a little later in the day, we would learn from Jonathan that the total number of orphans was more like 150 — the 40 or so orphans ready for adoption would not be so casually separated from the rest of a larger BRESMA tribe. Getting a plane of that size, though not impossible, would be a lot harder. By the time serious possibilities for larger aircraft started to surface in the evening, it became known that the one airport in Port au Prince, which had only one operable runway, was growing impossibly jammed as the world also “activated” and rushed to help. I went to sleep not knowing what would happen.


“Bram, can you come over?”

Now it was Friday. I was eating breakfast.

Having been featured on Ginny’s very popular blog, having been in touch with other volunteers through Ginny’s blog and various social networks, and having been in the papers and having shaken a fair number of trees already by this point, Mary Beth was now being deluged with phone calls, e-mails, information, suggestions.

Buchanan also happened to be the most powerful person many of these other people knew, or now knew. Except for a few of the ones she was looping in, and so on.

I drove out there. Someone had to help her manage the deluge. We could have used another six.

So many people stayed active in the impromptu network all day. Amazing people. Doctors. Pilots. Aid workers. Lawyers. All just names coming up on a screen most of the time, or voices emerging from the other end of a phone, or far too often (UUURGH!) from voice mail. It didn’t take long before they started organizing amongst themselves, while Mary Beth worked on her contacts in and around government.

Congressman Tim Murphy called just about every hour. It sounded like he was trying to get his hands on military assets: planes, logistics, aid delivery.

My friends, we know the social networking model can be powerful. It can be nimble. It can be innovative. It can connect and combine skills that would never otherwise interact. Yet it can also be a pain to wield when it grows too large too fast too desperately.

Grrrrrrr. If only I had sent that original e-mail about ten hours earlier on Wednesday. What the hell was I thinking.


During the day, we experienced highs and lows and lowers. I must have fielded a couple dozen phone calls from people who at some point thought they might probably be able to get a sizable enough plane very, very soon. There was the period where it seemed like the best bet would be to move the orphans to another airport in the Dominican Republic — and they had the vans to get the children there! There were reports that FEMA and other aid planes were arriving in Haiti full and leaving empty — the right contact at the right subcontracting company could make the difference. Late in the evening we received word that there were two planes, in the right airport, waiting, possibly for us.

However, as the sun passed its zenith in the sky, a new problem became evident — those “humanitarian parole waivers” and guarantees obtained the previous day were no longer all they were cracked up to be. The State Department had firmly gotten its arms around the situation — and not without some justification. But a new challenge faced those of us worried about this orphanage situation: obtaining visas, for children some of which had no documentation.

Expectations had to be lowered. Slowly. Without shutting out the hail-mary entirely.


It was starting to become evident that others — office holders, within government — were wondering what the heck was going on down on the Mary Beth Buchanan homestead. Understandably. There was an undertone of leeriness on both sides. Since reporters were dutifully reporting on two different efforts it was only a matter of time before the political or partisan aspect became a “story”. Understandably. But it was uncomfortable to think about.

To everyone’s credit I don’t think anybody ever “sabotaged” anyone else’s efforts. That was the fear, but I think the notion seemed ghastly enough against the specter of these desperate babies that it was never actually realized. I hope not. Yet the two projects — the establishment-led effort that seemed populated by local Democrats and the outside-the-box effort which happened to feature several local Republicans — stayed, on the whole, warily out of one another’s hair.

To his eternal credit, somebody in our network at least once received outreach from the office of Vice President Joe Biden. From what I could make out, he asked where we were in our aid attempts, and if there was anything possible he could be doing to help. We gave him a status report and told him whatever seemed to be our pressing needs at that particular moment, I forget entirely. It was classy even for him.


We received some late updates from the orphanage thanks to Jonathan, who never stopped riding herd. It wasn’t good. It was awful. They were running out of supplies. They were running out of water. They were running out of time. Our doctor became an increasingly important figure in our little society. She used to be there to tell us what needed to be on the plane once the children arrived at the airport, smiling, grateful. Now she was there to tell us what needed to be hauled, raced to these kids as soon as humanly possible. Again, it was water more than anything else.

There were a couple times I thought about calling it a day. Hopeless. Out of our hands. Let the others do it.

Mary Beth wasn’t exactly a font of bubbly enthusiasm by that point either, but she didn’t stop. By which I mean, not for a moment. For 13 hours. Or seem to pause. To my knowledge. Of course, the phone kept ringing. Someone would always come along with a promising notion.

By which I don’t mean to say she was unique. There was a conference call on Line 2. “Line 1” was whichever phone she was on, “Line 2” was whichever phone I was on . And I had to take a call on “Line 3”. I told them I had to hang up, but Mary Beth would join the conference call as soon as she was off the phone with a State Department contact. They were happy to wait — that was the one aspect they lacked information on most.

Well, the phones kept ringing, and it probably took a little longer to patch back into the conference call than we anticipated. They were waiting for us, before they got started. Ms. Buchanan wasn’t the “leader” of the operation any more, but folks still seemed heartened by her involvement, and she still held a few puzzle pieces.

As it turned out, that might have been a profitable late-night conference call. We all connected — we think we all connected — someone who knew of aid resources stashed on the ground in Haiti to competent personnel that might be able to get it there. And if those basic supplies could get handed off and get through, in a hurry, supposedly Anderson Cooper could get there on Monday and ride to the rescue.

It occurs to me. This is what Katrina did to us.

Anyway. After all that. It still seems too easy. Ludicrously easy. Way too easy to be true, that these supplies could really be there in the airport, some custodian-in-abstentia talking to the right person on the ground. To be followed by this cable TV journalist. Silly.

But we take heart. Why? Because we’re not the only ones working on this. If our own attempts to assist these poor desperate children from the orphanage in debris-strewn Haiti — run by two heroic local girls — fail to succeed, then guess what, we still have lots of other people doing everything they can. All the attention generated throughout these last days resulted not only in uncommonly focused media coverage, but in the specific and concerted attentions of many of our leaders: local, state and national.

I’m not going to lie to you. It still seems impossible. Way impossible. But we may do this yet. We may even do it the old-fashioned way:

And if that doesn’t pan out, we’ll move on to Plan Q.

Martin Luther King Day Prevailing Wages Rally

Reproduced in its entirety from the Facebook invite:

Time: 2:30pm – 3:15pm

Location: Mellon Park, Penn Ave at East Liberty Blvd across from Bakery Square

PIIN will hold a rally to announce our opposition to the Mayor’s actions against the taxpayers and working people of Pittsburgh. The hotel complex in the former Nabisco plant got $13 million in tax subsidies and wants to pay hotel workers minimum wages.

We call on City Council to immediately pass the original Prevailing Wage bill again and override the Mayor if he attempts to veto it again.

The Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network won a major victory in 2009!

PIIN, and our partners in Pittsburgh UNITED, passed a “prevailing wage” law in Pittsburgh December 21st. By a unanimous vote City Council established that future service jobs created with tax subsidies would pay family sustaining wages and benefits for hotel, grocery, building and food service work.

Then on New Year’s Eve, with no warning, Mayor Ravenstahl vetoed the law! He did so when it was too late for Council to override him!

Join us on Martin Luther King Day to tell the Mayor we won’t stand for his treating working people this way. Dr. King died fighting for workers to have decent wages and benefits, jobs that support families. Let us honor his legacy by fighting for good jobs in Pittsburgh.

AW, HECK: This might also be a good time to mention that at this point I see no harm in debating Councilman Dowd’s 47 amendments to the original bill, the Mayor’s own prevailing wage bill, and having yet another full-throated debate on the aims and merits of prevailing wage legislation of city subsidized development. So long as that does not develop into an evident and cynical stalling ploy. After all, this is not literally a time-sensitively urgent matter, such as say Penguins playoff banners.

3 Star Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, Democrat, Picks Up Regional Endorsements for U.S. Senate

See also Part II, Part III and Part IV.

From the Post-Gazette:

Finishing up a two-day swing through the Pittsburgh area, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak picked up endorsements from five local Democrats yesterday in his race against Sen. Arlen Specter.

City Controller Michael Lamb, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, of Highland Park, City Council members Doug Shields and Bruce Kraus, and state delegate and 14th Ward leader Barbara Daly-Danko pledged their support for the second-term congressman from Delaware County on the steps of the City-County Building, Downtown. (P-G, Daniel Malloy)

Some notes taken from a get-together held in Mt. Washington on Sunday evening, filmed above, and from a short interview with the Comet:

– Sestak spent 31 years in the Navy and attained the rank of 3-star admiral. That is something I, as well as others I had spoken to, just did not know about him yet.

– “The best thing you can do to win the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan is increase the literacy rate among women.” I asked him what he meant by this and he explained that “If you are keeping women down, half the population doesn’t understand the problems around them.” He said right now there are “One or two women in Parliament arguing for the right thing,” and uses as a reference Northern Ireland, which “became the most prosperous nation in the E.U.” as women became more influential. He also lauded the power of $1,000 microloans to get more of the population employed and on the right track. At the same time, he frequently asserted that “there needs to be an exit-strategy for Afghanistan”, that it “can’t be an open-ended commitment”, that ” we can’t afford to nation-build anymore ” because the window for nation-building closed long ago — things have just deteriorated too badly.

– He is occasionally called upon by the Obama Administration to take to the airwaves to defend positions such as the closure of GITMO and the trying of its inhabitants in NYC, but he suggests that to have a U.S. Senator such as himself capable of doing the same thing would be even more effective.

– The compromise at the end of the Senate health care bill was “unacceptable”. He believes the President is “on the right path” but needs just “a few more allies” instead of many who were “just waiting for the deal at the end.” In addition to the health care “public option”, he also ticks off “DOMA” and “card check” as issues he would fight for.

– When I asked how he would respond to a Republican challengers such as Pat Toomey or Peg Luksik, who would be likely to attack the high cost of some Democratic programs and the impact on the national deficit, he responded: “I would remind people that Pat Toomey voted for the economic policy that gave us this.” Also: “He [Toomey] permitted doing away with PAYGO [“pay as you go”] — in fact, he voted ‘present'”. And: “This opponent actually gave us this savage recession.”

– I also asked his position on so-called “Cap and Trade” environmental legislation, and how he would respond to criticism by conservatives and others that this would negatively impact jobs during a recession. He gave a four-point answer:

* We need Cap and Trade for national security; to reduce our reliance on foreign oil

* It will produce jobs; such sources as the Environmental Protection Agency, MIT and the Congressional Budget Office claim it will produce 72,000 jobs and could net 1.7 million over its lifetime.

* The economics of responding to climate change is favorable: eventually, cows produce less milk, fruit grows smaller, et cetera.

* The cost is low. It would start out as “a postage stamp per household per day” starting in 2013, and by 2022, we would be reaping “$750 million in energy efficiencies”.

– Sestak had just come from a “Marcellus Shale event” in Philadelphia. He wants to close what he calls “The Halliburton Loophole” in the law which states we are not permitted to know what chemicals are seeping out into our groundwater.


Wednesday: Everybody In The Pool!

Look who’s coming over for governor. (KDKA, Jon Delano)

“A candidate needs three things — name recognition, organization and money. Cyril Wecht starts already with a great deal of name recognition,” said Allegheny County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn. “In a field with six people, that’s could mean a lot.” (Trib, Carl Prine)

Burn’s GOP counterpart Jim Roddey seems to be coyly suggesting that Wecht could be in this to spoil things for Dan Onorato. That seems like a lot of trouble — I’m a little closer to where Burn is on this. Not only does Wecht have name recognition and a lot of well-placed friends, but charisma and unconventionality go a long way in a crowded field, especially when there’s a change movement afoot. I don’t any reason why this couldn’t happen.

I do wonder now whether the suddenly resurrected notion that it was D.A. Zappala who initiated and instigated the case against him was intended a pointed political warning shot.

After a federal grand jury indicted Wecht in January 2006 for alleged abuse of his political office, Roddey began to believe that the case was politically motivated. (ibid)

Okay, but let’s all be clear. What was supposedly going on?

The federal government’s case against Dr. Cyril H. Wecht began with the politically driven agenda of the Allegheny County district attorney and was built using illegally obtained evidence, defense attorneys said today. [snip]

During a court hearing this morning and in documents filed today, Wecht’s lawyers attack search warrants used to gather evidence as well as the credibility of the lead FBI agent in the case and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. [snip]

Defense lawyers claim Zappala’s request for an investigation was designed to stop a public debate over the district attorney’s “failure to prosecute select police officers in the face of Dr. Wecht’s opinion that the citizen deaths at their hands were homicides.” (Trib, April 7, 2006)

Wait, I thought it was supposed to be … oh, never mind. It doesn’t matter anymore. Water under the bridge!


Considering the way things have been trending for 50 years, color me just a bit leery of any tentative contract with a public sector union which union leaders feel comfortable in the first public go-round describing as “good”. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Color me a bit impressed that Mayor Ravenstahl is daring to take a hard line with workers in other areas. (P-G, Lord and Ove)

Color me thrilled by Wayne Fontana. Call your state senator and get them on board, too. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Bruce Kraus is taking a second swipe at this Carson Street thing (Trib, Adam Brandolph). Color Illyrias as less than enthusiastic (PGH is a City).

It’s only a matter of time before the Braddockians find a way to fix UPMC’s wagon. They’ll never stop. I have faith. (Trib, Walter F. Roche, Jr.)

So Natalia Rudiak will get to enter the hermetically-sealed, barometric-pressure controlled soundproof chamber to evaluate the Parking Authority garage and meter lease proposal. And just generally rifle through Parking Authority file cabinets. This ought to be illuminating one way or the other. (Slag Heap)

Advice for Bill Peduto – Final Edition, Unresolved

“He should have gotten his five,” one political insider opined just prior to the Council presidency vote — not an insider that should be considered to have been 100% totally disinterested, mind you, but one offering spot-on analysis nonetheless.

“He should have pulled his votes together. But he couldn’t. And that says something.”

Yes. Undoubtedly. Indubitably. But without explanation, that’s really just a shot. What is it exactly?

“Bill believes that the whole city of Pittsburgh is pretty much like his district. It isn’t,” Payne said. “It’s mostly working-class people, who are doing their work and raising their kids. The majority of people don’t have it as good as the people in his district.” (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

That’s — that’s just not it. If someone would start identifying positions Peduto has taken that benefit the upper crust to the detriment of working-class, child-rearing and God-fearing yinzers, we could all entertain such an argument. Consider this an open thread, please. But I think that’s a hollow argument which exploits ignorance and maybe a little prejudice. An effective one at times, to be sure, so maybe it bears thinking about anyway, but it’s not “the core”.

“Legitimate objections are one thing, but if Bill is saying ‘night’ simply because Luke is saying ‘day,’ people are going to stop listening,” said Jim Burn, chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, who stressed he has always gotten along with Peduto. (ibid)

That’s only a wee bit warmer. I don’t recall Peduto having opposed a worthwhile mayoral initiative for its own sake — indeed it’s usually Peduto launching one crusade after another and the mayor opposing those. When Ravenstahl has put something laudable together, usually around bike paths or green lighting or the such, Peduto has been on board. Again, this is an open thread, please use it.

But what Burn said does suggest the difficult position Peduto has staked out. He’s not just a rival of Ravenstahl. He is, by his own words frequently enough, a foe of “the machine”. He’s an opponent of “the way business is done in this city.” He has that picture of the tanks in the street in Tianenmen Square up prominently in his office. He has compared administration maneuvering to North Korea on more than one occasion.

He’s a True Believer — which is great if you’re also one, but it’s not great at all for the game of politics.

That seemed timed to react to the Trib article. It’s exactly why the “progressive” base, such as it is, will not abandon him — probably not ever, no matter how sound the practical argument. He carries that dog-whistle. He’s the “It” girl. Anyone else who wants to take their shot will have to do so either with his blessing, or over his cold dead body.

Which means that either A) somebody needs to emerge who carries a louder, better dog-whistle, or B) he needs to fall into less of the pitfalls of a True Believer. If Option A happens, we’ll know it, so let’s talk about Option B:

1. Bill — they say that behind closed doors, or even only around corners, you are full of yourself. And I can believe it! What’s with this, “Give Up The Crown To Save The Kingdom” claptrap? Did that need to be said? Here you go: “I would have liked to have been picked, but Council President Harris is going to do a great job and I’m proud to have voted for her.” How hard was that? There have been many examples of this — and you’re beyond the point of anyone needing to be reminded of your leadership. It’s like, why would anyone want to go out of their way to pump your balloon? Because they agree with you on principle? Most people don’t have principles, Bill, at least not so much that it’s worth making look good someone with whom they’re not terrific friends. Which leads me to…

2. Bill — Skilled politicians don their brightest shit-eating grin and embrace people they can’t stand, or at least are sorely upset with. That way, the schnooks feel like they can still do business with you, that you can always be of use to them. So what’s with the cold, silent treatment for young Councilman Lavelle? Yeah, I know … I know … I know. Still, think like Caesar would have thought, or like Mayor O’Connor. The more you hate a guy, the bigger and more effusive the greeting, back-slapping and bear-hugging. People appreciate when you leave it on the field, it’s a magnetic quality. In fact, next time you see Councilman Dowd, I want you to greet him like he’s your son and he just got back from fighting heroically in World War III.

(PSSSTthat goes for the rest of you too! In fact, that’s what I really wanted to write this post about. When you tell a politician, “You’ve betrayed me, I hate you now, you’ve lost my vote,” then they only think to themselves,“Well, that’s one less person / constituency to worry about — ever. I’m surely better off!” Whereas, when you tell a politician, “You’ve really saddened me, I hope this doesn’t compromise your support for [issue],” then they think to themselves, “Well now maybe I’ve got to balance this out, get these kinds of people jazzed up about me again.” You can always save your heavy snark ammo for election-time, when it’s more fun.)

3. Bill — and I hope this doesn’t undercut what I wrote way up above — I think you’re still suffering from Pittsburgh First / Isle of Capri-itis. Remember that? Maybe there is a kernel of truth to what Tonya Payne said, even if that can’t be how she meant it (since she was also a big Isle of Capri booster). Irregardless (love that word!), maybe you should actively build more bridges among unarguably hard-luck neighborhoods. And not just where Pittsburgh United is involved, I mean! It could round out your profile. It could give you some ideas for initiatives that can not so readily be refused by some of your colleagues.

4. Bill — if you really want to screw them — I mean really, really frag them good — consider lending your support to another Democrat for mayor. Maybe a deal can be worked out. Maybe there’s a path for you to get into Congress somehow, or at least into the state legislature. That strikes me as a markedly not-horrible universe.

I’m just saying. There’s no real reason to think about this for an eternity. Or to be precise, for three eternities. Though I’m sure we will. Or you all will.

My 2nd Cousin Zack was just Bar-Mitzvah’d…

.. and his haftorah this morning reminded me I never found the right excuse to post this:

Speaking of relevant video, my tweeps know I’ve been on a major Battlestar Galactica kick:

Sorry about the Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner interlude.