Friday, February 29, 2008

Councilman wants a vote on controversial billboard

Councilman wants a vote on controversial billboard Also a must to Mr. Kraus is a competitive process by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to decide who gets the opportunity to put a sign on the Grant Street Transportation Center, a parking garage and Greyhound Lines station to open in summer. Authority officials offered the opportunity only to Lamar Advertising, as part of a deal in which it would take down six other billboards.
Yes, Kraus is right.

The "no bid contract" aspect is what is the worst.

Kraus says that "Now we have other contractors coming in ..." Well, .... good job to the P-G's Rich Lord for that. But, it is the principle of the thing. That is what should be the red flag. I don't care if there are no others singing the blues. Doing the dance with exclusions just stinks.

Allegheny County Parks Action Plan Town Hall Meetings

Allegheny County Parks Action Plan Town Hall Meetings: Saturday, March 1 meeting, White Oak, McClure Middle School from 10:00 am - 11:30 am

View Larger Map

Parks Department - What is the Aquatics Test?

Are you fit enough to be a lifeguard for Allegheny County?
Parks Department - What is the Aquatics Test?: "What is the Aquatics Test?"



Construction of the Myron Mausoleum is scheduled to begin next week.

Russ Diamond kicks off race for PA House and points out the folly of those in power now

February 29, 2008
For more information: 717.383.3025

DIAMOND: Court Decision Only Raises More Questions

“It has always been my practice to review the nominating papers and petitions of my political opponents. I believe every candidate should do the same. After examining and investigating the filings of my opponents this year, I was shocked to learn that voters who purportedly signed a petition the incumbent claimed to have circulated denied having signed it at all. Frankly, I believe forgery was committed.

“To be clear, we found other problems with the petitions, including wives signing for husbands and corrections of voter municipalities by another hand. Although these are technical violations of the law as written, I consider them minor and undeserving of a legal challenge to a candidacy. However, multiple instances of forged signatures on a petition – especially when the petition’s circulator is the candidate – is a very serious situation.

“After a legal team put the formal complaint together, we notified the incumbent in advance of filing the case due to the severity of our findings. We also notified – through various channels – prominent members of the Republican Caucus in Harrisburg. I believe notifying the Caucus and the incumbent was only fair to afford everyone an opportunity to conduct a private review, do the right thing and facilitate a withdrawal from the race. No such action was taken and they decided to go to court.

“Although Judge Keith Quigley believed the incumbent when she said she didn’t know how forged signatures made it onto her nominating petition, the fact remains that many forged signatures do appear on her petition. Our claims of peculiar irregularities on the petition were not imaginary. In fact, during the Commonwealth Court hearing the facts became even clearer: The incumbent’s nominating papers contain dozens of forgeries (far more than we originally alleged) on a petition she signed as circulator and testified under oath was in her possession at all times.

“This raises the question of identity theft and the victims of the 101st district deserve some answers. Who forged the names? Where was the incumbent when it happened? Why did she sign as circulator if she didn’t witness the signatures? Why did she make a bogus petition part of her filing? Who are the victims supposed to call on for justice in this case – their State Representative? Last week the incumbent told the media she was looking into the problem. I believe it’s time for her to let everyone know what she’s discovered.

“I cannot imagine ever allowing anything like this to happen in my campaign. I entered the 101st race with integrity as the cornerstone of my platform, and I will continue to insist on integrity in every aspect of this campaign.”

Diamond Kicks Off Campaign in Annville

The Russ Diamond for State Representative campaign officially kicks off on Friday, February 29 with a meet-and-greet event at campaign headquarters, 109 West Main Street in Annville. The event begins at 6:00 p.m. and will end at 9:00 p.m. Light refreshments will be served and the public is invited.

From people & vips

For more information:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

1 in 100 Americans in prison: study 1 in 100 Americans in prison: study ,,,More than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report tracking the surge in inmate population and urging states to rein in corrections costs with alternative sentencing programs.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Schenley Splits

First up, Jen L's email:
Sorry, the following is solely a personal rant! Feel free to skip it, I'll try to be less biased and more informational again in the future.

I guess it took this vote to really crystallize what I find wrong with dividing up Schenley, both the building and the kids. It's not only broken the kids apart, it will, by design it seems, pit the schools against the other.

I chose the magnet program because I believed in the idea that different kinds of kids could learn things from each other. I chose it because when I asked for changes or better choices, I wasn't asking just for my kid(s), but for the whole school, the whole concept. I wasn't in it just for my kids, but for all of their cohort, their peers.

Now, I'm in a position where fighting for the best interests of my child (in particular my 8th grader) pits me against those kids who would have been his class, his cohort at Schenley.

To demand the best teachers teach at Frick next year is to lessen the possibility of the kids at University Prep having those same teachers.

To spend the money to make this staying behind palatable is to spend money that could have been better spent on a unified school, guidance counselors, mentors, improved programs.

To demand a range of classes (CAS, PSP, mainstream, electives) at Frick is to ask for resources that will take away from the kids at University Prep and Reizenstein.

To have programs move with the Schenley kids to Reizenstein (Youth and Government, the musical, band, chorus, etc.) is to deny other kids those same opportunities or to require duplication (likely impossible with only a small school).

This division guarantees that the good and great teachers have to make choices about where to be -- and right now there's not much room for them at University Prep! I can't see how they can be fairly split in the future, either.

I don't know how to ask for what's right for my kid when it's going to hurt other people's kids, because that's not right.

Less rambling, more planning later. I'd like to try to get together a meeting of 8th grade Frick parents just to nail down some of our questions and also to have some idea of who's still on board, who's wavering and who is off to Allderdice, Central Catholic, CAPA... The first A+ meeting about the IB/IS program is next Thursday (downtown, at 5:30 pm).

Don't feel like there are any great options right now, but hey, things change all the time, right? (That PA cyber charter ad that came on the radio just as I turned on the car...fate or temptation?!)

Jen Lakin
Jen -- let's not just meet with the parents of others with kids in the 8th grade. We need to meet more -- and we need to have open meetings.

And, rant away any time.

Amy posted:
As you know by now, the board voted to move the current 9-11 students to Reizenstein and have the IS freshman class for next year housed at Frick. I have not heard anything from any committee members (except Jen who is as upset as I am), so I don't know if anything else can be done. I wish now that we had focused more effort on keeping the 9th grade IS with us. It will be nearly impossible to determine until September the effects of having the 9th grade at Frick. By then, it might be too late.

There are so many questions that need to be answered concerning this move. I would advise attending the meetings being organized by A+Schools. I tried to copy/paste the info but got Japanese (or Chinese?) so if you are interested, go to their address below, which did paste in English. The meeting for IB information is Thursday, March 6 from 5:30 to 8 pm. You need to make a reservation; dinner is provided and child care if necessary.

There is still a possibility that this is a temporary move but I personally think that will be determined by how active and involved the parents remain. I also think that we are in a position to demand/bargain for what we want at the new school. It is unfortunate that it seems that the squeaky wheel seems to be listened to (sorry about the misused metaphor, I am not feeling particularly creative). I think that Mr. Roosevelt wants this move to succeed so we need to ask for what we want now.

I am sure that I will be sending more info later as information is released to us. Tons of questions: staffing for the "new/old" schools? extra-curricular? language teachers? transportation? . . .

amy moore (phone # nuked)

Pittsburgh Pist-Gazette nails it

Pittsburgh Pist-Gazette The most awesome Super City Planner ever to roam the earth.

Ron Morris' - The American Entrepreneur FREE Newsletter

See the same article, but at another site.
Ron Morris' - The American Entrepreneur FREE Newsletter: "A LOOK AT CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM, PART 3

Mark Rauterkus is a frequent contributor to TAE.

Proposal to Bankers for a Campaign Marriage, with drive-through guests

City schools sell old South Vo-Tech High

City schools sell old South Vo-Tech High: "The Pittsburgh Public Schools board has agreed to sell the former South Vo-Tech High School for $1.1 million to Gregory Development."
I am so angry at the schools right now. I'm bitter.

We need a Vo Tech School.

We need to sell lots of OTHER schools in other needy neighborhoods.

South could sit.

Sell the Board of Ed Building in Oakland.

The South Side School, Phillips, is at capacity. It has no gym, no stage, no hope of expansion with pre-K students. A move to a re-habed South from Phillips for a K-8 school would have made great sense.

Selling South was stupid.

Last night, it also approved a resolution authorizing the chief operations officer and the solicitor to "expeditiously move forward with the disposal" of 20 closed buildings, for which the ongoing maintenance costs exceed a total of $1 million.

If a building fails to sell "in their initial attempt," then the two are authorized to find a "responsible entity, within the immediate community of the school," which could receive the building at a nominal cost.

The 20 buildings are Beltzhoover, Boggs, Burgwin, Chatham, Columbus, Connelley, East Hills, Gladstone, Knoxville, Lemington, Letsche, Madison, Mann, Miller, Morningside, Prospect, Rogers (which will be vacant in 2009), Vann, Washington and West Side.

Glowing Downtown billboard transfixes council for 6 hours

Glowing Downtown billboard transfixes council for 6 hours: "A glowing billboard slated for the new Grant Street Transportation Center was the subject of a sometimes-heated special meeting of Pittsburgh City Council yesterday.

The meeting lasted nearly six hours but ended without resolution of a conflict regarding the approval of the sign without any public hearings or votes."
I watched some of this on the cable TV last night. It put me to sleep after a while. Train wreck. And, at a transportation building no less. Since it is a public building, it is an expensive train wreck.

I posted in the past that the move to make the chair of the meeting be put into the hands of Rev. Burgess was the power move.

Here is some logic that I do NOT understand.

Because there has NOT been a complaint nor a protest in the past five years does NOT mean that everything is fine now. The date can turn into a rape. Things can sour and turn illegal after 10 minutes, after 100 minutes, after 10 dates or after 10 years.

This is "an outright, illegal, underhanded deal" -- it is what it is, regardless of what's been done on some private bit of property in another part of the city.

The big picture, and I do NOT mean all 1,200 square foot of the lighted display, is authority madness. This is a parking structure that is being built by the Parking Authority. The fix is simple. Liquidate the Parking Authority. Liquidate the URA too.

I've made many complaints about that over the year. You can read my logs too.

"Never look at the zoning ordinance in a snapshot of time. ... Interpretations evolve. Interpretations become precedents." Giggle. Mr. Ford needs to be fired. That's a snapshot that I'd love to see.

Then Bruce Kraus got yelled at by the guy he gave the bear hug to. "Jimmmmmmyyyyyy!"

Then comes the notion of a connection of "FREE" -- and "without need to vote." That, for me, was the money quote. Because something is 'free' means that is is unaccountable, so hinted the 'gray-area bald guy, Mr. Ford.'

Getting the Picture - Surveillance cameras are on their way ... will they make Pittsburgh any safer? - Main Feature - Main Feature - Pittsburgh City P

Getting the Picture - Surveillance cameras are on their way ... will they make Pittsburgh any safer? - Main Feature - Main Feature - Pittsburgh City Paper - Pittsburgh: "Getting the Picture
Surveillance cameras are on their way ... will they make Pittsburgh any safer?"

Proposal to Bankers for a Campaign Marriage, with drive-through guests

Part 3 in a series on Campaign Finance Reform

by Mark Rauterkus of Pittsburgh's South Side

What happens in Las Vegas stays there and is kept confidential elsewhere, so they claim. Libertarians love privacy. Concealing personal matters is splendid. Small business banking should be kept under wraps too. Developing trade secrets and future strategies need to be cloaked in the marketplace.

However, Pittsburgh's political dealings and the associated campaign finances of candidates seeking public offices is a much different matter. Pittsburgh public should be at the opposite end of the spectrum of Vegas behaviors. The private deeds of Vegas should not be handled like public dances of local politicians in campaigns for votes.

This simple, free-market solution for government cuts governmental red tape and insures wider public participation through observation within our political campaigns. The campaign finance reform discussion (also see parts 1 and 2) calls us to think again on how to conduct local political races.

Now bankers and financial institutions can help to fix, rather than exasperate the folly. PNC Bank gets major windfalls from deals to refinance the city's debt. PNC Bank gets corporate welfare for downtown buildings and public garages next to its FirstSide office. Bankers, now is the time to provide a new type of basic service with a twist that helps citizens insure that campaigns for elected office are better able to be scrutinized.

As a citizen, I'm calling upon bankers at large and small institutions to help advance a new solutions. The implementation of the ideas will impact our political lives and become a best practice model with major ramifications. I do not advocate for public funds to finance the campaigns. The public treasury is too poor to do that. This new type of checking account cost nothing for the city and public sector.

Let's get local banks (or even one bank) to establish a new product for the specific use of political campaigns. This new service from the banking institutions would cater to campaigns, candidates and political action committees, called PACs. This product and service: a "Transparent PAC Account."

Banks generally emphasize privacy and identity protection. In this service, the opposite is desired. The goal of Transparent PAC Accounts is for giving notice of the accounts and to empower everyone and anyone to witness all transactions: deposits, payments, balances.

Transparent PAC Accounts would empower public viewing of campaign finances. Transparent PAC Accounts would eliminate doubts as to what campaigns and candidates are bought and paid for by which generous, special-interest donors.

Revealing campaign funds and transactions in modern ways with real-time postings of bank transactions on the internet is easily done with online banking. Everyone should be able to see all of the deposits (donations) into the campaign coffers of politicians. Tools should be made available so every voter can see how candidates save and spend money to fund their campaigns.

These accounts hosted at local banks (and even credit unions) could would be much like TRUST FUNDS in that others can witness the inflow and outflow of the funds. However, in this case, the trustees are the public. These trust funds exist in the world of banking today.

Candidates would happily move away from existing bank accounts stressing privacy into these Transparent PAC Accounts for their political action committees because filing requirements would vanish. Transparent PAC Accounts wipes away the need for need for governmental red tape in this realm. Since Transparent PAC Accounts have visible bank statements and histories that can't be manipulated and are hosted by trusted financial institution, candidates would only need to post the bank and account number details. Everyone, including media, opponents and watchdogs get clear views. The department of election and state can avoid redundant filing of paper records for those that use Transparent PAC Accounts.

Honesty, openness and accountability is needed and provided with Transparent PAC Accounts as new campaign finance measures are enacted. Otherwise, candidates can keep two sets of books and conceal wrongdoings. Pennsylvania is light-years behind in reforms of democracy. As a city, county and state, we have few if any campaign finance measures.

Pittsburgh's Transparent PAC Accounts could be a leading trend setter among local and national politicians, building on our banking and finance legacy.

Transparent PAC Accounts can lift the lid off of back-room dealings among politicians and special interest donors. Taxpayers and citizens get screwed when that "what-happens-in-Vegas attitude" surfaces among political players. Transparent PAC Accounts provide one way to keep the lights on.

Postings in this series:

Part 1: Local Campaign Finance Reform

Part 2: Making an ethical stand.

Part 3: Proposal to Bankers for a Campaign Marriage, with drive-through guests

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Unwelcome Bill - Blogs - Slag Heap - Pittsburgh City Paper - Pittsburgh

I love it when I'm able to change the course of history -- or in this case -- a few recycled electrons at a blog posting by Chris Potter, journalist with the City Paper.

The following is new content to the article from Potter that ran earlier today.
Unwelcome Bill - Blogs - Slag Heap - Pittsburgh City Paper - Pittsburgh In order to prevent the city from similarly ignoring its own limits, Rauterkus suggested adding teeth to Peduto's measure. Contributors found exceeding the limits, Rauterkus recommended, should be denied any chance to receive city contracts or remittances until the officials they contributed to left office. Rauterkus also suggested creating a 'Scarlet Letter' list to publicize the name of violaters.)

Edge of Sports Radio gets an opening -- kick off shows

Where sports and politics merge. I have followed this guy for some time.

Or if you want to skip around:




Double Yoy!


Two depart. Myron Cope has died.

But, there is more. We lost another last night too. A church friend has passed away as well.

Getting additional coverage in the Pgh City Paper

(A rare spark was provided by Avenging Libertarian Mark Rauterkus, who referred to county officials as "law-breaking scum" for having ignored a law county council passed five years ago to put campaign contributions on-line.)

See the article called, Unwelcome Bill No one wants to speak out against city councilor Bill Peduto's effort to limit campaign contributions, at least not yet. But no one is rushing to vote for it, either. Peduto's bill, which would limit campaign contributions to local ...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Today's Campaign Finance Reform HEARING -- and coverage in the P-G on the scarlet letter

The P-G article and my quote:

"I think you'll be laggards if you vote no on this," added Mark Rauterkus, a member of an advisory committee that has been honing the legislation for years. He proposed that violators be barred from receiving any city money -- including their salaries if they are city officials or employees.

The article says 9 out of 10 people who spoke were in favor of the bill. I spoke under the column of "comments." That is neither FOR nor AGAINST -- but -- clearly I'm in favor of getting something onto the books.

Labor opposes city campaign contribution limits
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nine out of 10 speakers at a public hearing today on proposed city of Pittsburgh campaign finance reform favored the idea, but the lone opponent was a representative of organized labor, a powerful political player.

"The bill limits the voice of the working class by restricting the amounts that can be given by political action committees," said Dave Vinski, of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation, who said he was speaking on behalf of Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea. Unions often form PACs to contribute to candidates that they favor.

"Creating limits will stymie transparency," Mr. Vinski continued. "Loopholes are always found, no matter how well-intentioned a proposal is."

His was decidedly the minority view on legislation by Councilman William Peduto that would bar any individual from giving more than $2,500 to a candidate for city office, and any partnership or political action committee from donating more than $5,000.

"This bill proposes a very common-sense, reasonable approach," said Barbara Grover, a board member of the League of Women Voters. She said 75 cities have enacted limits on campaign contributions.

{Insert my quote here -- shown above)

Under Mr. Peduto's proposal, if a person made a campaign contribution at the maximum level, he or she would be ineligible for any no-bid contracts from the city. The city's Ethics Hearing Board would be charged with advertising the new limits and hearing any complaints of violations. The controller's office would be charged with placing all campaign finance reports filed by candidates on a Web site.

It is based on a Philadelphia ordinance that survived a legal challenge that went to the state Supreme Court.

Council expects to hold a special meeting on the proposal next month, and then vote on it.

I had to speak and run out of the meeting to get my son after school. I didn't NOT watch the speakers that came after me. But, I'll tune in on the weekend on the tape re-broadcasting. My statement should be posted in a day or so.

Doctor Ron Paul's look at health care

Subject: Ron Paul's health care bill
  • Would you like a refund on your taxes for every dollar you spend on health care, including your insurance premiums?
  • Would you like to pay less for health insurance, while having more and more money to fund your own health care?
  • Would you like to see health care expenses go down, while quality improves?
  • Congressman Ron Paul has a bill that would accomplish all of this: the "Comprehensive Health Care Reform Act" (H.R. 3343). Please urge Congress to pass this bill.
Why we need Congressman Paul's bill . . .

The federal government owes $53.3 trillion in unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security. Instead of figuring out how to fund these commitments, the politicians keep promising more spending, especially on health care.

It's important to understand that government health care spending is the real cause of America's health care crisis. Government already pays for nearly half of all medical care in this country. This makes government the primary determiner of health care prices . . .
  • Bureaucrats decide what the government will pay for any given procedure
  • Lobbyists influence the prices the bureaucrats set
  • Insurance companies then follow the government's lead in terms of what they will pay
Health care costs are soaring because the prices are set by bureaucrats and lobbyists, instead of by free market competition.

To better understand how damaging this is just look at what's happened to the cost and quality of Lasik eye surgery, which isn't funded by the government, or insurance . . .
According to the federal government's Bureau of Labor Statistics the price for Lasik surgery has dropped from $2,106 in 1999 to $1,626 in 2004! The quality has also improved dramatically, even though the cost has fallen.
The same could be true for all health care procedures if prices were set by free market competition, instead of by bureaucrats and lobbyists.

But the problem gets even worse. Government tax polices have created incentives that tie most people's health insurance policies to their employer. This means "your" insurance companies work for your boss, and not for you. Losing your job could mean a catastrophic loss of medical care.

America's health care crisis is entirely the creation of the politicians in Congress. And now they want to use the crisis they've created to grab still more power and money, at a time when the government is facing a looming bankruptcy.

Congressman Ron Paul has introduced a bill that would solve these problems, immediately. His "Comprehensive Health Care Reform Act" (H.R. 3343) would . . .
  • Give you a 100% refund from your taxes of every dollar you spend on medical care, including insurance premiums.
  • Make it easier for your employer to deposit the money it now gives to the health insurance companies into a Health Saving Account that would belong to you
  • This money would come to you tax free -- you could use it to fund your health care and your insurance premiums
  • This means your health insurance would belong to you, not your employer
  • You would have the money to pay small medical expenses with your Health Savings Account, which would allow you to reduce your insurance premiums by buying a Major Medical Plan, instead of a Cadillac Plan
  • You would also earn interest on the money in your Health Savings Account, tax free -- you would get this interest instead of the insurance companies getting it (collecting interest on premiums is how the insurance companies make their money -- these profits could be yours instead)
  • Plus, you would become your doctor's customer, instead of the government or your insurance company being your doctor's customer
  • This would place the consumer in charge, creating competition that would lower prices and improve quality
Of course, neither the insurance companies nor the health care lobbyists want these changes, so you will have to fight for them. Do three things . . .

Democracy Rising cartoon

First frame: What do the PA Senate's Lobbying Bill and my great grandmother have in common?

Click to see second frame and punch line.Democracy Rising Pennsylvania Cartoon

Sounds similar to the proposed campaign finance reform bills being put forth by Bill Peduto. I've proposed (scroll down) a 'teeth transplant' to the bill as a friendly amendment. We'll see if it comes into being.

Video poker might be good bet: Onorato

Onorato says PAT problems run deep. Yep. deep, as in under the river. And deep again, as in Dan won't do anything about them.
Video poker might be good bet: Onorato - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review He said Port Authority's problems run deep.
Last year Onorato put executive pay at PAT in a 'frozen mode.' When executives are grossly over paid -- freezing them is the wrong thing to do. Cuts were demanded of the workers. Freezing happened to the top. That's not a fix.

The excessive pay has happened on Onorato's watch. Finally, now, they are starting to tighten up the golden parachutes that have been part of their game plans. Dan executed them well. These give-aways happened while Onorato was County Controller.

Blast from the past: By the way, back in 2000 when I ran for mayor (yes, it was an election held in May 2001, but I had announced I was running in August 2000.) I talked a great deal about video poker machines. The solution of video poker has been under discussion for many many years in some circles. Finally Onorato and others (media) have taken notice.

Video Poker Machines could be a cornerstone to insure that our region has the GREATEST Park District in the nation. Or, we can continue to have one of the worst landscapes for public parks programming. Q & A with Onorato

Dan doesn't see the need to lead. Capitol Ideas with John L. Micek Blog: Are you holding back because you think it's distracting to voters, or does it send a message?: 'I just haven't seen any need to do it at this point in time. Besides, April 22, the voters of Pennsylvania will be able to make their own decision.'
Dan doesn't see the need to follow the law either. In terms of campaign finance reform, the county election department is OUT OF BOUNDS. Local acts were passed that instructed the administration to put the campaign finance reports of candidates onto the internet, years ago. And Onorato didn't see the need. It wasn't done. Following laws is an option for him. He does what he wants. Taking advice and charting a course of leadership is more of a whim.

Onorato bucks certain forces of nature and shoves the drink tax and car rental tax onto the backs of certain populations. That money is to pay for -- so he said -- the operations at PAT (Transit Authority). But, he does NOTHING but advance the boondoggle of the tunnels under the river for a minor expansion of the light rail to serve the North Side stadiums and slots parlor.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Results of Presidential Election Released Early

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Bill's letter to action @ campaign finance reform

Dear Pittsburgh City residents:

Pittsburgh City Councilmembers need to hear from YOU!

Tomorrow, February 26TH, at 2 PM, City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed campaign finance reform legislation recently introduced by Councilman Bill Peduto that aims to limit individual and PAC contributions to individuals running for political offices in Pittsburgh (i.e. Mayor, Controller, Council).

As observed in Philadelphia and other cities that have already implemented similar rules, passing this legislation would help to further reform the local government process by limiting the impact of large-scale donors and reducing their access to decision-makers, while also enabling less well-funded candidates to run for office.

If you would like to make a public comment (limit three minutes) at tomorrow's hearing, please call Linda Johnson-Wassler in advance at 412-255-2138 to sign up.

Tuesday, February 26th, at 2 PM in City-Council Chambers 5th Floor, 414 Grant Street

To urge your City Council member to support the proposal, go to

Campaign Finance Regulation Ordinance proposed by Counciman Bill Peduto

Post-Gazette article announcing the proposed legislation:

Recent City Paper article on the proposed legislation:

Bill Godshall

Jen L (fellow parent, taxpayer, customer) is asking us to 'think positive' in terms of the looming vote to close Schenley High

Jen wrote in an email:
Hi all --

Well, a lot of issues were thrown into the mix at the agenda review meeting last Wednesday -- what are the real costs, what is the sense in creating a segregated school, what are the costs of renovating three buildings compared to renovating one, what is the real time frame needed to renovate Schenley, is it necessary to move the students out, what is the status of the program planning, for instance.

Not surprisingly, there still aren't a lot of answers to these important questions. There doesn't seem to be an overall plan for the district beyond these changes, the sci-tech high school concept is still up in the air, particularly as to location, money is being spent, and input into program changes isn't being taken until after tomorrow's vote. (Visit for a list of meetings, the first, about University Prep takes place on Thursday.)

The wording remains unchanged, so a yes vote tomorrow will split Schenley students into 10-12th grades located at Reizenstein, add 9th grade at Frick for one year, and reopen Milliones for a 9th grade class of University Prep (only one grade to be located there next year). Also, a request to submit to the state the construction plans to move ahead with a renovation of Reizenstein will be voted on.

If you can, send a letter of Schenley support to the board asking them to act in a responsible and well thought out manner, considering all the ramifications of their actions. We request that board members vote no or table the items regarding moving Schenley students separately and spending on multiple buildings. If it is felt that students must be moved next year, the wording should be changed to "temporary move" and should plan to move all students together.

Some points to consider:

-- Any money spent on currently closed facilities to establish "new schools" is money that could and should be spent on Schenley High School, the most architecturally impressive and structurally sound building of the district buildings.

-- Schenley's location in Oakland is ideal for both an international program and a university affiliated program

-- Using Reizenstein as a high school creates a corridor of high schools in the East End, likely necessitating other closures or moving of students. An overall plan for the East End (or for the district as a whole) should be formulated before decisions are made and funds are spent to open another school there.

The estimates for improvements at Reizenstein are in the $15-$21 million range.
Improvements on the Milliones facility range similarly from $12 million upwards.
The costs for improvements at Frick, for one year of use by 9th graders, are requested at $5 million.

These costs added together would be close to the costs for renovating the Schenley building, which would provide a facility that could house both a University Prep and IB/IS 9-12 program in one centrally located building.

-- The PPS administration has not explored all viable solutions nor have they taken a holistic view of the importance that Schenley has for the city and the communities that it serves.

-- A Financial Task Force of Schenley backers is exploring a wide variety of funding options, that the district has not yet considered, in order to piece together the puzzle of the cost of upgrading the building.

And any thing else you find important!

You can send letters to the entire board at

Or you can contact your school board member or Mark Roosevelt directly at:

Mark Roosevelt-
Heather Arnet-
Mark Brentley-
Theresa Colaizzi -
Jean Fink-
Sherry Hazuda-
Bill Isler-
Floyd McCrea-
Thomas Sumpter-
Randall Taylor-

If you do know a board member personally and are comfortable calling them with your concerns and requests, that can't hurt either.

And then, think positive Schenley thoughts!

Jen Lakin

Ravenstahl hires Pokora - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Touch Up / Correction

Trib gets it wrong again.
Ravenstahl hires former Controller Pokora - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Michael Lamb, the former Allegheny County prothonotary, beat Pokora in last year's Democratic Party primary to become city controller.
Tony Pokora lost last year's D Part primary to Mike Lamb. Then Mike Lamb got to advance to the general election. The winner of the general election became controller. Jeremy has it wrong.

It should read, "Lamb beat Pokora, Doug Shields and DaMon Macklin and Mike Dawadia in last year's D Party primary to get the dominant party nomination and then advance to the general election and face a fierce challenge from Mark Rauterkus, Libertarian. Rauterkus, with just $250, earned 6,476 votes and Pokora had 4,591."

I see the hiring of Pokora as a good trend as nearly all of my prior opponents are employed by the city or else are in hiding (i.e., Michael Diven and Wayne Fontana). I feels that the list is growing shorter and shorter with each passing week, given the shrinking size of the city. That Ravenstahl appointment I crave is just around the corner. I'd rather not hold out and be the one pegged to pick up the pieces after the ax swings on Ford's career. Shutting down the URA would be fun, but it isn't my cup of tea. Rather, the open seat on the Ethics Hearing Board looks ideal.

The TEETH -- the PUNISHMENT -- the End Results

Suggested Language for Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

Any individual, employee of a company/organization, owner or board member that is found "GUILTY" of exceeding the measures put forth within these campaign finance ordinances are to be put onto a list of rule-breakers.

Rule-breakers are NOT eligible for any payments from the city and its associated authorities. Contracts, payments and even salaries are not to be paid by the city controller. The city controller enforces a STOP PAYMENT order to those who are deemed on the list of 'rule breakers.'

Rule-breakers are to be eligible again to receive payments from the city and its authorities via the controller's office after the candidate that accepted the payment is out of public office. The controller is to remove the STOP PAYMENT orders for rule-breakers after the candidate that accepted the payment resigns from city office. A move from one public office to another keeps the STOP PAYMENT order in effect.

I don't expect this to fly. But, this is what I want to see in Pittsburgh's Campaign Finance Reform Legislation.

Parade on the carpet got a lot of limelight in the morning shows. But this was missing..

YouTube - Heinous Attack Caught on Tape: "And the Academy Award for the worst actor ever goes to..... The dumb old scrag in the front row... Yes the one with eyes in the back of her head!!"

Hat-tip to the pointer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

AMS Bulletin Board posts job at S.H. Country Club

AMS Bulletin Board: "The South Hills Area Country Club is seeking an Aquatics Manager" covers Kosovo "The Kosovo crisis of 1998-99 was the first international conflict that covered extensively, relying on dispatches from veteran war correspondent Don North in the field and on investigations of Washington’s strategy by reporters Mollie Dickenson and Robert Parry.

Given the resurgence of the crisis over Kosovo – following its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia and angry reactions in Belgrade and Moscow – we are publishing this look-back on our coverage, which faulted all participants in the human tragedy: Serb nationalists, Kosovar separatists and the Clinton administration."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

New threat to our way of life: giant pythons

Well, The Dice was NOT snake bitten today at the swim pool at Pitt. Schenley was winning the city league championship meet -- and the girls meet too. After the 500 free, about 3/4th of the way, the points went to The Dice, dipping Schenley into second.

Alderdice has won the city swim championships since 1977. Schenley has never won it.


In other snake bitten news... check this out.
New threat to our way of life: giant pythons: "The Burmese python is one of several nonnative giant constrictor snakes - believed to be former pets - that have been introduced and then established themselves in Florida's Everglades National Park. Biologists estimate 30,000 nonnative giant snakes live in the Everglades, perhaps more. Some have begun appearing in areas outside the park, alarming biologists and also people who don't care for snakes.
It makes sense to do open water swimming in our rivers -- and NOT in Florida nor SF Bay.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Post-Gazette's Early Returns give me some "recycled electrons" about campaign finance reform tips

You know, this is one of my best ideas -- transparent PAC accounts. I'd like to see it take root.
Post-Gazette NOW - Local News - Early Returns City campaign finance reform

Speaking of meetings and speeches, council's public hearing on member William Peduto's campaign finance reform legislation is set for 2 p.m. next Tuesday.

For those of you who can't wait for an earnest discussion of campaign donation caps and pre-campaign contribution limits, here's a neat idea former council candidate Mark Rauterkus dropped on Early Returns today:

Why not convince a bank to set up special political campaign accounts that anyone with an Internet browser can check in on whenever they want? The city could then compel all candidates for its offices to use such accounts for all of their campaign activity, making all contributions and expenses public instantly, rather than disclosing them only a few times a year in paper records filed on the sixth floor of the County Office Building.

Mr. Rauterkus said he presented the idea to a citizens committee on campaign finance that Mr. Peduto convened, and you can bet he'll be back at the public hearing.
At this week's Allegheny County Libertarian board meeting, and such a great meeting it was, we talked about this concept. One of the other board members said, "If we had transparent PAC accounts, there would be no need to have anything else. We'd know exactly who is the source of the money that is heading to the politicians.

I'm not certain that the "transparent PAC accounts" are a silver bullet. But, it is the best weapon we could ever wish for -- complete transparency.

And, to couple that transparency, we need the punishment phase to be all about the complete avoidance of payments of any types of checks and contracts (and pay) for those who break the campaign finance reform measures.

That's the other brilliant idea -- the scarlet letter!

Matt H dumps invoices on local medai & Project On Government Oversight (POGO) Blog: Whistleblower Documents Web Site Ordered to Shut Down

UPDATED below:

Matt H has released a ton of insights to the local media about bogus spending at the Housing Authority.
Pittsburgh Hoagie: All meat no filler: "Part of my story"
If he had come to me, I might have given him this tip. And, still to this day, he could take those documents and post them there. As it stands now, a copy of things just gets flipped before the TV camera. Put em up for all to see.
Wikileaks - Wikileaks: "Wikileaks"
In other, similar news, just hitting elsewhere, we learn of this:

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) Blog: Whistleblower Documents Web Site Ordered to Shut Down: "Wikileaks is openly defying a California federal court, which granted a permanent injunction last Friday ordering the site to shut down. Swiss company Bank Julius Baer sought the injunction to prevent the site from posting what it claims are stolen documents provided by a disgruntled former employee. The Court also ordered Wikileaks to stop displaying or distributing the documents, which allegedly show the bank’s involvement in money laundering and tax evasion in the Cayman Islands. Wikileaks believes the orders violate the First Amendment and vows to appeal."

Update on Friday, a response by Mayor Ravenstahl.

Why does the reporter say that Pat Ford and Mayor are "asking questions." Those two are the ones who should be giving answers. They are the one's who have the power to watch the spending, day-in-and-day-out. They should NOT be asking questions. Those two should be held accountable.

3rd Concept Mapping Conference.html

3rd Concept Mapping Conference.html

Ueberroth views U.S. Olympians as invited guests, not reformers - More Sports - Ueberroth views U.S. Olympians as invited guests - Friday February 22, 2008 6:33PM: U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth views American athletes as invited guests to the Beijing Olympics, not China's would-be reformers.
I'm not sure Ueberroth and the USOC would understand a reformer from a discus.

Behemoth, good word. Much like bureaucrat. Behemoths and bureaucrats are not to be trusted when it comes to reforms.

One of the architects of the 1984 Los Angeles Games that helped turn the Olympics into the behemoth they are today, Ueberroth acknowledged the upcoming Beijing Games will be different. They will shine a light on China, which before now was a relatively closed part of the world.

But "we don't just go there, we get invited there," he said Friday at the close of a USOC board meeting.

"We accept the invitation, and then there's a set of rules that are IOC rules," Ueberroth said. "We accept those rules. We expect and are sure that our athletes are going to respect their own country, respect their flag, respect the flag of every other country and operate as we all will, under the IOC rules of the Olympic Games."

The International Olympic Committee charter contains bylaws that say the Olympics are not to be used as a political platform. With the Olympics coming to the world's last communist superpower in less than six months, much has been made of China's record on human rights and free speech, to say nothing of its pollution and questionable food-safety practices.

The Beijing Olympics, many believe, are a golden opportunity to expose the problems.

Ueberroth said he's heard many of the same complaints before -- four years ago in Athens, in 1984 and with pretty much every other Olympics in between. But he said he expects these games to be "literally, the best ever."

"This is a virulent worldwide disease that takes place before any Olympic Games, and that's that the doom-sayers all come out and every worst-case scenario is portrayed," Ueberroth said. "I think it's fair for people to do that, but it seems like business as usual."

Of late, Britain's Olympic federation has caused a stir with one potential plan for athletes to wear masks during competition to fight pollution, and another calling for athletes to sign an agreement stating they will not use the Olympics as a political platform. The federation has assured the agreement will not be a restriction on free speech.

A Dutch lawmaker this week suggested a boycott of the opening ceremonies to protest China's human-rights record.

Mia Farrow has been loud in her calls for China to use its influence with Sudan to help end the conflict in Darfur. China is a major buyer of Sudan's oil and is regarded as one of that isolated government's closest international partners.

Farrow's campaign was bolstered by Steven Spielberg, who pulled out of serving as an artistic adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies because he said he could not reconcile working on the Olympics while China and other nations were not doing enough to ease the suffering in Darfur. American speedskating gold medalist Joey Cheek has spoken out, co-founding the Team Darfur athletes coalition to bring attention to the cause.

Relatively quiet in all this has been the USOC, which has repeatedly stated that it has no concerns with the food supply and is comfortable having its athletes eat the majority of their meals in the Olympic village; that it believes Beijing will get its pollution problems in check; that it won't use the Olympics as a platform to affect political change; and that it believes the Chinese government will fulfill its promise to provide journalists full access to the country through the Olympics.

Ueberroth agrees with the notion that the Olympics are bigger than sports -- "They provide a gift to the world of transparency," he said -- but he does not buy into the notion that the USOC should be out front, promoting change in China.

"In one sense, it's China's Olympic Games, but all they are is a host," he said. "All Los Angeles was was a host, all Athens was was a host. It really is the Olympic movement and you participate under their rules and guidelines, all their procedures and their protocols."

His comments came after a daylong meeting in which USOC board members received updates about the venues and preparation in Beijing, and also on the progress of Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics.

Ueberroth said he was pleased with the city's progress, thinks it will be a good thing for leaders to be at the Beijing Games to get a sense of the enormity of the project. They will make the trip if they are named one of the finalists after the next cut in June.

Ueberroth is confident Chicago will make that short list, but still doesn't consider Chicago a favorite in the contest, which includes Madrid, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and three other cities.

"They're improving every day, but so are their competitors," he said.

The board did not reach a decision on whether to relocate its headquarters or remain in Colorado Springs. Ueberroth said an initial list of six potential homes has been pared to three, including Colorado Springs. A decision will likely be reached before the next board meeting in May.

Neither Ueberroth nor CEO Jim Scherr changed their opinion of America as an underdog to win the medals count at the Beijing Olympics.

U.S. teams had a very good 2007 in world championships across the globe, winning four of six gold medals in women's gymnastics (a record), 20 in swimming (best in 29 years) and 14 more in track (nine more than second-place Kenya).

"Those championships were spread around the world, these games are in China," Scherr said. "The Chinese competitors, some were there in '06, some were there in '07, all will be there in '08. This will be a very difficult competition."
Food safety, OMG. Let's not be so quick to toss the first spit ball -- err -- meat ball. My kid's school district just dumped 95 metric cheesburgers into the bio landfill.

China has been "open" in recent times. It is so open that most of the items in any American household have more things made in China than anywhere else -- if you don't count the refrigerator art from your kids when they were in pre-school. Woops, there is another food mention.

American's have "OPEN" refrigerators and freezers -- and they don't have those so much in China.

Meanwhile, Chicago is in line to be a host of a future Olympic Games. Wonder if the IOC remember the last time Chicago hosted a big confab -- as in political convention, Chicago SEVEN. No big deal.

Really, 'doom-sayers' are the best friend of the thugs who wear black boots and swing clubs with badges on their chest. Homeland Security Types, TSAers, and the rest are always keen to cook up or make threats to increase security, spread fear, cause uncertainty and inject doubt.

The Olympic WARNING color is what, code ORANGE? Can the five olympic rings be blended into some warning signal for Tom Ridge's sake.

It was at OUR GAMES, in Atlanta, when the guy's life was changed due to a bogus bomb accusation.

We are guests. Everyone's a guest. They'll roll out the red carpet. It will be great -- because humans are great. Coming together is great. Reaching for greatness is fun, and its great to witness.

RICH STATES, POOR STATES: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index

RICH STATES, POOR STATES: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index: RICH STATES, POOR STATES

ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index

by Arthur B. Laffer and Stephen Moore

Save Schenley High School -- of course.

Amy M reports:
On Wednesday, February 27, the Pittsburgh school board will be voting on critical issues related to the future of Schenley, Frick, and Milliones, and the students who will be attending those schools. As I understand it, the 4 issues to be voted on are:

1. Move grades 10-12 of Pittsburgh Schenley to Reizenstein for the fall term.

2. Establish the robotics program at Pgh. Peabody.

3. Add 9th grade to Frick ISA.

4. Open Univ Prep at Milliones starting with 9th grade in the fall.

Three committees have been actively working to research our options and develop alternative plans that will maintain the Schenley experience while being mindful of the challenge of increasing student achievement and reasonable use of taxpayer funds. Those of us who have been involved in the discussions of the future of Schenley do not want any decisions to be made before complete information is available and all viable alternatives are considered.

If you are not a member of one of these committees, you can contribute in a very important way: PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER AND EXPRESS YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE UPCOMING VOTE. The board members are voted into office by the residents of the city and should be voting in the best interests of the citizens.

If you have been reading my previous emails and the emails of Jen Lakin, you are aware of my views on the subject but I am going to repeat some of the information/beliefs that I have already stated.

Schenley, the building, is definitely worth saving. The cost to make the building useable is not $64 million. According to Nick Lardas, our committee resident expert, the building is safe for use. If plaster is a problem, it could be safely removed during the summer. (Nick's complete speech to the board is in one of my last emails.) The building committee is actively at work with some very experienced knowledgeable people volunteering their time.

Schenley, the school, is definitely worth saving. The proposed move will eventually divide the current student population into 3 separate schools. The proposed university prep will create a nearly all African-American school which does not seem in the best interests of the students or our city. The school within a school has worked well, benefiting all groups. There are high schools in the city with much lower performance ratings than Schenley; the reform should not begin with a successful school. Spartan Spirit is very real and very much alive. High school is more than academics.

The central location of Schenley is critical to its success. Public transportation is readily available. Rigorous academic programs should be in the vicinity of the universities and the resources of those universities utilized.

Moving the freshman class to Frick for even a year will be a logistical nightmare. Students and teachers will have to travel between the schools for classes and extracurricular activities. Parents have been complaining about the world language teachers (or lack of) at Frick for several years; adding ninth grade will further complicate a bad situation. Students who are unhappy with another year in the middle school building will opt out of international studies to go to a "real" high school.

I know that I have not covered all of the facts or feelings about the Schenley situation but I want to get this sent. I hope that many of you will take the time to call or write your school board member. This vote is critical.

amy moore
Keep Schenley High School open. Put the University Partnership program into Schenley High School too.

We can't let the city schools make a new high school within an older Middle School Building that is only full of black students.

We don't want to re-open Reisenstein's building for a school. That school building does NOT have any windows. It doesn't have a stage. It was set up as a middle school -- not a high school.

Sell the Reisenstein building.

Sell the Board of Education Building too.

Keep Frick Middle School as it is -- but with better language teachers. We've been upset with the language teaching and learning at Frick for years. The bi-lingual teachers need to be given contracts in March for the next year. And, if they are not top flight, they should NOT have their contracts renewed. Frick is a fine middle school.

Moving all the programs to new locations and the fix up for the different buildings is very expensive.

A+ Schools has a job opening

Who wants a job with A+ Schools? Apply soon.

When you get there, perhaps you can update their web site and make certain that Michael Lamb's name is NUKED from the list of its board members. He resigned more than a month ago.

Get Psyched!

The WPIAL Swimmers are set to explode next week.

School Lessons from Milwaukee, via Allegheny Institutue Policy Brief

Policy Brief

An electronic publication of

The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy

February 22, 2008 Volume 8, Number 14

School Lessons from Milwaukee

Pittsburgh’s population continues to fall and could dip below 300,000 in the 2010 Census if recent trends continue. There can be little doubt that much of the population loss can be blamed on the outrageously expensive, poorly performing Pittsburgh Public School District. Substantial numbers of parents interested in a better education for their children, and who cannot afford private schooling, are moving out of the City to take advantage of better schools. Is there a way to stem this outflow? Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist believes school choice offers a real opportunity to stop and eventually reverse this long time trend.

In a recent Allegheny Institute forum, Mayor Norquist spoke of his experience instituting one of the nation’s first voucher programs in Milwaukee. In what he calls the “educational-finance monopoly”, families are compelled to send their children to public schools. Those who can afford to move out of the city typically do so as their children approach school age—and take their tax dollars with them.

As a result, poorly performing school districts can drain a city’s tax base. Norquist recognized this in Milwaukee and began a push for school choice noting that “school choice is especially good for cities” in helping to maintain their tax base. He further observed that “under the traditional government monopoly in education, children from affluent families were leaving the public schools, and leaving children from less-affluent families behind. Instead of choosing an alternative school for their children, wealthy parents were choosing an alternative place to live. Our city, and too many other cities, were left behind.”

In Milwaukee’s voucher system, the parents are assigned an amount equal to the state’s share of the per pupil expenditure to spend at the school of their choice—currently about $8,000 per year. The local per pupil share, derived from property taxes, remains with the school district. According to the Pittsburgh School District’s budget, state aid in 2008 is placed at $7,392 per pupil. Thus, if Pittsburgh had a voucher system similar to Milwaukee’s, parents in the City would have over $7,000 per year per child to send their children to the school of their choosing. This amount would cover most non-public grade schools and many private/parochial/other religious high schools.

Many factors contribute to the decline of a city’s population, but there is no doubt that the performance of the public schools is one of the major determinants. Note that in the ten years between 1990—just before vouchers were available—and 2000, combined private and public school enrollment in Milwaukee rose by 14.4 percent. During the same period Pittsburgh’s combined enrollment rose a relatively small 4 percent as non-public enrollment climbed while the public school count actually fell 3 percent. This occurred even without a voucher program to create an outflow from the public schools. Moreover, since 2000, Pittsburgh’s public school student population has plunged by 25 percent as parents continue to move away or find alternative ways to educate their children rather than send them to the public schools.

To further demonstrate the differences in the two cities, it is important to note that while both cities experienced a population decline from 1990 to 2006, the 15.5 percent drop in Pittsburgh was nearly twice that of Milwaukee’s 8.7 percent decline.

So what are the lessons Pittsburgh can draw from the Milwaukee experience if there are folks in the District who would like to adopt a voucher system? First, they will need a lot of help from the Legislature. Milwaukee had Polly Williams in the Wisconsin Legislature to help push through the legislation to make the voucher system possible. Secondly, there needs to be support from the school board and superintendent. Norquist notes that as mayor of the city, his influence was used to get pro-voucher school board members elected who then hired a superintendent willing to reform the public school system. While this may seem a daunting task in a Democrat controlled town such as Pittsburgh, keep in mind that Norquist was a Democrat mayor who fought for this enormous reform of Milwaukee schools.

The Milwaukee voucher system is less than twenty years old and with its current limit of 22,500 students who may participate is not yet a completely free choice system. But it was a good start and has shown the way for other cities around the country; including Cleveland and Washington DC .Will Pittsburgh follow their lead? Given the current attitudes toward school choice in this area by teacher unions and other powerful public sector unions, the battle would be long and hard, but anything is possible if the resolve is there.

Parents who are fed up with their child’s under performing school must take a leading role in the fight for school choice. Help from civic groups, business groups, and the philanthropic community will almost certainly be needed to reach the desired goal of a generous, far reaching voucher program for Pittsburgh’s children. By the way, this is a far superior way to keep and attract kids than the so called “Pittsburgh Promise” program.

It is must be recognized by people in the City who care about its future that school choice is a fundamental component of freedom and freedom is always a good thing in promoting competition and economic vitality. It is not pie in the sky rhetoric. The question has to be asked, “Why are parents being forced to send their children to poorly performing, sometimes physically dangerous schools that are egregiously failing the majority of students and where there is little or no improvement year after year?” In fact, the case can be made that for many schools things continue to get worse over time.

At the very least, if there is a shred of honesty and human decency left in the education establishment — teachers, board members, administrators, and paid defenders of the status quo — they should loosen the monopolistic, ironfisted grip of the public schools over the education of the City’s children. Are they afraid that an experiment in choice would lead to such a massive demand for the available vouchers that it would be impossible not to expand the program? If that is the case, it is tantamount to admitting they know in their heart of hearts that their system is a failure even with all the money being spent and all the programs and all the promises year after year that things will get better.

It is time for Pittsburgh to take what might be one of the most important steps it could ever take. Create some real school choice opportunities for those currently being held hostage by force of state law and school board governance of a system that fails far too many of the City’s young people. This is a moral issue. Preservation of the school district and the self-preservation of those who are employed by it are not the foremost consideration here. Offering opportunities for parents to seek the best education for their children without having to leave the City should be everyone’s primary goal.

In sum, we need to have a leader such as Norquist in this community—a leader who truly believes and understands that the City’s long term best interests and the education of the City’s children must take precedence over the beneficiaries of the failing status quo system. Such a leader inevitably reaches the conclusion that parental school choice financed through a generous voucher program is the single best policy that can be adopted.

Jake Haulk, Ph.D., President Frank Gamrat, Ph.D., Sr. Research Assoc.
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Schenley Hoopers: Boys snag City championship again -- Swim Fast Too!

Schenley -- in its last year (we hope not) as a wonderful, true urban high school -- is in its championship run. Last season, the Schenley boys hardcourt team was STATE CHAMPION. This year is different, but just as good in the city-league title game. Boys win:
Schenley snags City championship - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Schenley snags City championship
Next up for the guys, a March 1 date against the #3 WPIAL team.

Girls get second, by 1 point:
Westinghouse nips Schenley girls in City basketball title Westinghouse nips Schenley girls in City basketball title
In other, personal Schenley sports news, I had the pleasure of leading Tuesday's Schenley swim team workout. The swimmers, both boys and girls, are in the city championship swim meet this Saturday at Pitt's Trees Hall (around noon).

For years, the swim competition in the city has been dominated by 'Dice.' I don't know how long their streak is. But, the Dice domination is impressive.

This year, Schenley's teams want to break the traditions.

In the heat sheet -- after all the points are scored based upon the seeded times -- Alderdice girls win by only six points. That's a very close meet.

I gave the team nearly two hours of a tapered workout -- stressing starts, turns, finishes and end of season knowledge.

I was impressed with the squad's capacity to listen and follow new leadership from a guest coach. The team has good depth, good talent, and some athlete leadership as well. They'll do well at the city meet -- and I expect it to be a wild meet.

National Friendship Week

Send this to everyone you are friends with.

(see comments)

Thanks Gina!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Robotics Institute: Teaching technical creativity through Robotics: A case study in Ghana

There has been a robotics major at Schenley High School. They are now being moved to Peabody, it seems. Plus, there is to be a Univeristy High School Partnership with Pitt that is going into an old middle school.

I wonder what these kids in Africa have next to what we do with our own kids?
Robotics Institute: Teaching technical creativity through Robotics: A case study in Ghana Creating technology that is relevant and accessible to developing communities is an emerging area of scholarly and practical importance. Diversity in both the creators and cons of advanced technology is required to develop sustained and useful applications of robotics, AI, and other technical fields in developing regions. Increased diversity will result in a wider array of technological innovations that are of benefit to both developed and developing regions. However, due to restricted access to technical resources, infrastructure, and expertise, technology education in developing communities is non-trivial. Thus, international partnerships and creative course designs are required. In response to this need, we developed a partnership between Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA and Ashesi University in Accra, Ghana to design and implement an undergraduate introductory Robotics course targeted towards the Ghanaian context.
Check out this example of what's going on with high-tech in developing countries:

Of particular interest (from Joel) is one article linked to from the "Publications" section of the site:

Click on the "pdf" link to get the whole essay.

One has to respect these people -- both the folks from Carnegie Mellon and the natives of Ghana-- who are willing to take on subjects like AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robotics under the conditions they faced.

Near the end of the article, the authors describe themselves as being "in the preliminary development stages of a robotics kit modeled on the Open Source Software approach." I wonder how much progress has been made in this area? Is anyone up for contacting the article's authors and pursuing this?

Rogge: IOC cannot fix worldly woes - Chew on this while your at it. - More Sports - Rogge: IOC cannot fix worldly woes - Thursday February 21, 2008 12:25PM: "With the clash between sports and politics sharpening as the Beijing Games near, the president of the IOC says the Olympics cannot solve the world's problems."

Of course the Olympic Games can't fix the problems of the world.

In other news, pack a lunch if you are going to compete. Bring bread. The typical kitchen in China does NOT have an oven. But, there are plenty of bakery outlets. And, bring cereal. They don't eat it. In China, it is really hard to eat your Wheaties. They don't sell cold milk either. Buy it warm. Then put it into the refrig.

We hope to go to Beijing. We'll do what I can to bring our appetites. We're not going to compete. And, after the events, I expect you'll see a lot of very hungry, ready to party US Olympians.

The United States Olympic Committee's plan to bring its own food to China has disappointed the leader of food services for the Beijing Olympics.

"I feel it's a pity that they (Americans) decided to take their own food," Kang Yi, the head of the Food Division for the Beijing organizing committee, said Thursday. She added the USOC had not officially notified her department of the plan.

The USOC is planning to transport tons of meat and other foods to a training camp at Beijing Normal University.

The 600-plus American athletes are expected to eat their daily meals at the Athletes Village, USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. But the U.S. delegation also includes an additional 400-plus personnel -- support coaches, trainers, etc. -- who are not eligible for food service at the village and therefore will eat most of their meals at Beijing Normal.

Seibel said the food service at Beijing Normal will serve as a supplement to the Village, which will house about 17,000 athletes and officials during the Aug. 8-24 Games and be capable of serving 6,000 meals simultaneously.

"We have absolutely no concerns about the quality and safety of the food in the Athletes Village," Seibel said. "Also, we will be sourcing products from local suppliers for our training table, in addition to bringing some products with us. We had the same approach during the Athens and Torino Games, as well."

Food safety in China has become a major issue for the Olympics, following recent incidents of tainted products and reports of the heavy use of drugs and insecticides in food production. Officials are aware a positive drug test triggered by contaminated food could ruin an athlete's career and generate a public-relations disaster for China, which is intent on showing itself as a modern, sophisticated country.

"We have made lots of preparations to ensure that they (athletes) can get together at the Olympic Games," said Kang, speaking at a news conference Thursday on food safety.

Another official said there was no evidence drugs and growth stimulants used in meat production could trigger positive doping tests.

"As far as we know we haven't found any scientific report on this," said Lu Yong, director of the Beijing Municipal Food Safety Monitoring Center.

Tang Yunhua, a spokeswoman for the Beijing Municipal Office for Food Safety, repeated Thursday the plans for extensive monitoring from the pasture to the plate -- using bar codes, satellite tracking devices and labor-intensive operations -- for food served at the Olympic Village.

"We can guarantee the food safety during the Olympic Games," Tang said.

"We have a safety plan during the Olympics Games to guarantee our venues will be safe," she said. "And the standards for Olympic food safety are much more strict than international standards. So all the delegations can enjoy the food provided during the Olympic Games."
In the US, we have our own food worries with recalled BEEF. And, much of our food is not welcomed in other parts of the world -- as we use too many drugs and steroids. Go figure.

Making an Ethical Stand: Ethical operations deals among ethical players.

Part 2 on my series on Campaign Finance Reform

by Mark Rauterkus

Conducting a business presents choices as to who to deal with and who to avoid. The suppliers and providers of the the goods and services you buy matters greatly and impact the end product, the economy and one's sense of satisfaction.

The same holds true for the business dealings of our government entities.

The city of Pittsburgh buys supplies, obtains materials and lets contracts. Municipal, county and state government, as well as the authorities, have massive budgets. Some businesses cater to government sales and contracts, no doubt.

It makes great sense to be particular as to who you do business with and who to avoid.

If we want to live in a more ethical city and region, we need to tell our city leaders that we don't want them to spend any money with unethical suppliers. For instance, the City of Pittsburgh will NOT sell property it owns to anyone who already owes back taxes to the City of Pittsburgh on other property. If you want to obtain new property, from the public holdings, you had better not be a tax cheat. That makes sense.

This same line of thought can be applied to other aspects of city government. Felons need not apply for jobs in the courts. Background checks are needed for those who work in the schools and at parks. Campaign finance issues can come under the same type of scrutiny.

New laws on campaign finance reform are being discussed in city hall this week.
A public hearing is slated for 2 pm on Tuesday, February 26, 2008. Check out the ordinance to supplement administrative code, by adding "Campaign Finance Regulations," sponsored by Council member Bill Peduto at his blog: And, visit and search for "Finance."

Holding better campaigns and elections is important to the health of the region. But massive weakness with enforcement and penalties may cripple the good intentions of better elections and cleaner candidates.

If everyone plays above board and follows the (new, proposed) rules, we'd have wonderful new day. Dream on. This is politics. We're in Pittsburgh, a one-party town. Some have been known to cheat in the past.

When cheating occurs, the fair-minded folks get screwed while the cheaters trump the system. Those that are more clever at money laundering shouldn't have an upper hand in getting government jobs. Candidates who can money launder well and win elections would then get put into positions where they'd further refine their skills with tax-payer funds.

Keeping participants more faithful to the rules and spirit of campaign finance reform needs drastic, yet simple, measures.
I suggest a "Scarlet Letter Penalty."

If you want a city contract, you can't break our campaign finance rules. If you are at odds with the campaign finance measures, you're out. Let's live in a city that chooses to only make payments to those who honor our campaign finance laws.

If a culprit breaks any campaign finance reform law, that person, as well as his company, becomes ineligible for any contract from city government. All payments from the city to the offending person and firm, including pay checks, are terminated. These individuals and firms would wearing a 'scarlet letter" so as to be "black listed at the time of cutting city checks."

This "scarlet letter penalty" would apply to both, the candidate and the donor. A candidate that wins an election could keep his post, as the people voted and the election was won. But, the candidate won't get paid.

If a mythical great uncle wants to give a large sum of money to his favorite nephew to run a campaign in Pittsburgh, fine. The money from the great uncle can be taken by the candidate, reported and spent. Meanwhile, the generous great uncle won't be eligible to get any city contract. He won't worry about city contracts and won't try to benefit from them. This great uncle donor has no worries about getting special influences, and in turn, the taxpayers have few fears about corruption from that source.

The length of punishment is another factor to consider.
Some say that a four-year punishment is long enough. In their point of view, if someone gets caught and screws up in the 2009 election and buys a candidate a seat, in part by breaking a campaign finance law, the guilty donor would be eligible for city contracts four-years later, in 2013.

I don't like the timing of a four-year penalty phase. Four years could be too short. Or, it could be too long.

Consider, for example, Don Barden or some other slots parlor operator seeking to buy city council members. Barden holds a contract with the state for the exclusive operation of a slots operations in the city. The state sold license to Don Barden never expires. His was a one-time payment that lasts forever. Four years is NO TIME AT ALL in that type of deal.

A contractor that builds bridges, tunnels and other mega projects -- such as light rail extensions to Oakland and the East End -- would gladly suffer a few years of penalties to have votes on city council and contracts awarded in year five and beyond.

Punishment to the ones that make the infraction to the campaign finance regulations should be in effect for as long as the candidate that benefited is an elected official in any public position. The "scarlet letter penalty" should end when the candidate exits all public positions.

For the sake of example, if a guilty employee at a developer such as Forrest City gets caught giving $50,000 to a council candidate, (the limit is $2,500), then that firm is OUT for all city contracts. However, if the candidate who took the money resigns his or her post, then the firm could get back into the game for city contracts. The candidate who took the money and the company that gave the money are in bed together. They both should be linked while that candidate stays in any government post.

A big payment that exceeds the limits could go to a candidate can not be spent for years. The funds could sit and gather interest for future campaign cycles, decades into the future. The city does not have term limits.

I'm not fine with specific dollar amounts of the proposed fines.
Another suggestion was to set penalty amounts for fines for the rule breakers. They wanted to attach the dollars of the sin in the campaign finance deed to the penalty. The thinking of the rule makers was to charge the villains a three-fold putative damage. Make the guilty pay a fine that is three times what was spent on the candidate.

I think it is impossible to set uniform dollar amount penalties in this realm. In recent times, $50,000 could easily buy a seat on city council. If the risk of getting caught means a pay-back of three times that amount, say $150,000, that's nothing when contrasted with the totals being spent in public building projects. A public financed parking garage, for example, can cost $10-Million. That penalty of three times the amount of damages as tied to the sins that flowed into the election coffers is chump change.

A Sister and Rabbi and a vacant seat huddle and an Ethics Hearing Board meeting breaks out.

The new bills sponsor has the proposed campaign finance regulations being upheld by the Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board. I've seen glaciers move faster than the Ethics Hearing Board. That body is a total failure. The mayor's golf outing with UPMC executives in the summer of 2007 won't be resolved until the spring or summer fo 2008. They want to change the employee handbook to redefine perks from nonprofits. Sad to say, the Ethics Hearing Board in Pittsburgh, as appointed, can't navigate its way out of a wet paper bag. It would be more effective to administer Boy Scout Oaths to candidates, or do nothing.

Employees, companies, and citizens, it is time to ponder these proposals. Those who make and receive political donations are doing so with good intentions, but we need to think them through. I want the new rules to benefit challengers, competition, taxpayers and freedom.

Postings in this series:

Part 1: Local Campaign Finance Reform

Part 2: Making an ethical stand.

Part 3: Proposal to Bankers for a Campaign Marriage, with drive-through guests