Slag Heap | Pittsburgh City Paper

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Arguments over Scaife divorce records continue ... and continue ...

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 9:01 PM

How did our latest courtroom effort to shed light on the Scaife divorce case go? Put it this way: The first decision Judge Alan Hertzberg had to make was whether to close the hearing on our petition to open some of the records.

Hertzberg has had the uneviable task of presiding over the contentious divorce dispute, in which teams of attorneys for Tribune-Review publisher Richard Scaife and his wife have been battling for three years now.

But today's proceeding had a hopeful beginning: Despite a request by the Scaife attorneys to clear the courtroom, Hertzberg decided to keep the hearing open. That's why you're reading this now, and why you may be reading accounts of the hearing in tomorrow's Tribune-Review and Post-Gazette. Both papers had reporters on hand.

(UPDATE: The Post-Gazette's coverage is here.) 

The truth is that what we were asking for seems pretty modest. At least to me.

First, we're asking the court to release the decree sealing the case, so that we, and the public, can understand why even courtroom testimony in this case is under wraps.

Pennsylvania's Constitution requires that "All courts shall be open," and while there are exceptions, youd expect the public to get an explanation about why an exception is being made. Not here, though: The order sealing the case has been sealed right along with it. As I noted when this issue first came to light, "we don't know what's going on inside the courtroom -- and we don't even know why we can't find out."

Second, in order to keep abreast of future developments in the case, we want the docket to be opened up as well. A docket is just an index of the actions taken in a case -- a timeline that shows, for example, that on such-and-such day, the defendant filed a motion to have the case dismissed.

At least, that's what I've always thought a docket was. But attorneys for the Scaifes seemed concerned that we might be asking for something more, like carte blanche to look at all the underlying documents themselves. Hertzberg seemed puzzled by their concern, and in fact said our request "was not that complicated."

But it was, apparently. In addition to the dispute over what a docket is, the Scaife attorneys also raised procedural objections, claiming (for example) that we only gave them 7 days to respond to our petition, rather than the 10 they said they were entitled to. There was also some speculation about what we were really up to.

Particularly vociferous in objecting was Wililam Pietragallo, the attorney for Margaret Scaife. Peitragallo called our petition "the first game of a charade, and I don't want to play." Yale Gutnick, the attorney for Scaife himself, worried that anything given to our attorneys would "end up in the newspaper" shortly afterward.

By the end of the hearing, Hertzberg decided to hold another hearing -- originally scheduled for this Friday but now delayed, perhaps for weeks. At the same time, attorneys for the Scaifes are apparently going to take another look at the records we requested, to see if they can pinpoint any sensitive information like "a matter of life and death or national security" -- as our ACLU attorney, Vic Walczak, put it.

So this may work itself out in the end. But ironically enough, before the Scaife attorneys could look at the docket, Hertzberg had to sign a court order giving them permission to do so. Even the attorneys who have been arguing the case, it seems, aren't allowed to take a look.

Self-inflicted wounds in mayoral debate on violence (now with video!)

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 4:34 AM

I'll try to put up some video of this later today (UPDATE: It's here) but last night's mayoral forum, held at the Kingsley Center and focused on violence prevention and gun rights, featured a couple candidates shooting themselves in the foot.

The most gaping wound was inflicted during a discussion of domestic abuse. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said that one of the proudest accomplishments was establishing more stringent policies for handling domestic abuse by city police officers. True enough. But as challenger Patrick Dowd pointed out shortly afterward, Ravenstahl only ushered in that policy after promoting three officers with domestic-abuse allegations in their past.

Given that one of the co-sponsors of last night's forum was the Women and Girl's Foundation, Ravenstahl picked a tough crowd to try this out on.

Dowd also scored some points off Ravenstahl's claim that having police detain kids in a curfew center would, in fact, be a way to help them relate to youth.

There were other key areas of dispute as well. The gun-control debate continued to play out, with Ravenstahl and Dowd more or less echoing each other's support for a city law intended to stop the "straw purchase" of such weapons. Carmen Robinson continued to denounce local legislation as a "distraction" from the real issues ... and to explain that she was not, in fact, a "card-carrying member" of the NRA.

Robinson also took issue with the fact that David Kennedy, a consultant the city hired to help devise a crime-reduction strategy, is white. That, she said, would make it difficult for Kennedy to devise an effective strategy in black communities (though Kennedy was brought in as part of an initiative launched by city councilor Ricky Burgess). And I could be wrong about this -- I was working the camera and stuff -- but I think she also said that Kennedy's resume wasn't any more accomplished than that of Tim Stevens, who has long headed the local NAACP chapter. 

I dunno. No disrespect to Tim Stevens, but among other accomplishments, Kennedy has literally written the book -- or at least a well-regarded text -- on criminal deterrence. Robinson also took a cheap shot at her rivals by suggesting that they'd only really gotten concerned with gun violence after the Stanton Heights police shooting. It just ain't so: Debate about the city's straw-purchase bill, among other changes, dates back well before that tragedy.

Like many others, I've been impressed by Robinson's performance in the past several weeks. She's got a command of the issues and she delivers her message with polish. She did a good job, for example, faulting Ravenstahl for saying that overall, crime rates are down -- even though homicide rates are up. (Ravenstahl's numbers aren't wrong ... but against a backdrop of spiking murder rates, they do remind one of an old joke: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?") But like the mayor, Robinson didn't have a great night otherwise. If you are scoring the debates at home, you'd have to put this one in Dowd's column.

Last night's debate was also notable for the inclusion of Dok Harris, who is running as an independent but got equal time with the candidates on the ballot this May. Harris was a thoughtful voice, but there's a business-school syntax to his delivery that made it sometimes hard for me to figure out what the hell he was saying. Again, though -- I was working the camera. Maybe when I post some footage online, I'll have more luck.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Onorato comes out for anti-discrimination ordinance -- and other news

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2009 at 9:25 AM

Sue Kerr broke the good news already, but I thought it might be worth seeing on the county exec's own letterhead: Dan Onorato supports anti-discrimination protection for the couty's LGBT residents. The operative part of his statement reads as follows:

I am strongly supportive of passing inclusive non-discrimination legislation here in Allegheny County, as well as at the state level. I encourage our elected officials to do so without delay. All citizens, including members of the LGBT community, need to know that they are fully protected in employment, housing and public accommodations everywhere in the Commonwealth in order to make Allegheny County and Pennsylvania stronger and more economically competitive.

Good for you, Dan. Wish you hadn't kept us guessing quite so long, but we'll take it for the victory it is. 


Speaking of keeping people guessing, the world's all abuzz with news that Arlen Specter is switching parties. The question here too is ... what kept you so long? Only this time, I think the answer is more crucial.

I think everyone gets the motivation here: Specter knows he can't win in a Repubican Primary, because so many moderate Republicans have left the party, ceding it to right-wingers more inclined to vote for rivals like Pat Toomey and Peg Luksik. In fact, speculation about Specter switching parties has been going on for awhile.

Specter would, I think, have been better off taking that advice at the time. By waiting as long as he has, it makes his opportunism seem even more obvious.

What's more, Specter's vote against the Employee Free Choice Act was sort of the last straw for me. Not only do I think it was a terrible vote, and a betrayal of many of the working people and unions who have backed him, but ... I'm just sick of the drama with this guy. I'm sick of how we have to watch the noble Arlen Specter wrestle with his conscience in public, and tell us what a hell of a thoughtful and deliberative guy he is. And of course at the end of the day -- the right thing to do always lines up perfectly with whatever is most politically expedient at the time. 

Even his decision to switch parties is an example.  "I'm putting principle at the top of the list," he says. Yeah, sure. I guess it's just coincidence that you discovered this "principle" only after polls showed you didn't have a prayer of beating Toomey.

There's lots of talk about how Specter's switch brings the Dems to within a vote of being able to thwart GOP filibusters. But that assumes Specter, Mr. Independence, will actually vote in concert with other Democrats. I'll believe that when I see it.

Don't get me wrong: I'd vote for Specter over Toomey in a heartbeat. But I hope there's a solid, progressive alterative to Specter in the primary. Specter would probably win anyway. But look how a challenger from the right has gotten Specter to dance. Imagine what he'll do when confornted with a challenger on the left.  


Finally, a bit of a heads-up. Tomorrow afternoon, City Paper and its attorneys at the ACLU go before Judge Alan Hertzberg in an effort to make public some of the goings-on in the Scaife divorce case. As we've previously reported, courtroom proceedings in the case have been sealed, along with even basic information usually found in the docket. 

We'll let you know what happens ... maybe. I mean, on the advice of our attorney, I couldn't even tell you about anything the Scaifes' attorneys may have filed in response to our requests. Because that stuff, too, could arguably be under seal.

And so it goes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

An echo of Stanton Heights?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Over the weekend a shooting took place in Florida which, as some commentators have already noted, bears a distinct resemblance to the Stanton Heights tragedy.

Joshua Cartwright gunned down two deputies before being killed in a shootout with other police. Cartwright, like Richard Poplawski, had been previously accused of domestic abuse. And according to a police report, Cartwright, again like Poplawski, apparently subscribed to conspiracy theories about the government. Cartwright's wife said "her husband believed that the government was conspiring against him. She said he had been severely disturbed that Barack Obama had been elected President." 

Guns don't kill people: A delusional right-wing world view does

I know, I know: Not that simple. Even if today we also learn, courtesy our friends at the Post-Gazette, that gun sales continue to boom -- thanks in large part to customers who share the fear that Obama is coming to get their guns.

A poster at the April 15 "tea party" in Market Square.
  • A poster at the April 15 "tea party" in Market Square.


Of course, if a lefty went out on a killing spree, it would be unfair to try to blame Keith Olberman. Though I'm sure Fox News would try. Nor do I see this leading to renewed calls for gun control: Cartwright apparently wasn't using an assault rifle ... which you can almost imagine gun-rights absolutists using as a defense

But you know, somebody is making a lot of money by fomenting all this fear of Obama. Fox gets ratings. The NRA gets new members. Gun dealers and manufacturers, meanwhile, are maybe the only industry in America that is achieving record sales in the midst of a recession. It's the rest of us -- including, lately, our police -- who seem to be paying the price.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hot debating action on video!

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 7:16 AM

You know, maybe we really only need a couple of mayoral debates after all.

I say this after attending a forum held last night at the Rivers Club by the African American Chamber of Commerce. Not that the debate, moderated by Pittsburgh Courier publisher Rod Doss, was a bad one. It's just the candidates have already reached that state of political equilibrium in which each candidate tells you what his rival is going to say before his rival says it. ("My opponent is going to complain that I should have handled this differently, but ...") Things sort of take on a ritualized quality, like a shadow-play.

Still, there were some lively moments. Mayor luke Ravenstahl opined that the city's law requiring residents to report lost or stolen handguns was not enforceable. Which raises familiar questions about how the city is going to enforce it. Conversely, challenger Carmen Robinson is sounding more and more like the NRA candidate in the race, to the point of unloading the hoary old "guns don't kill people ..." line on the crowd. 

The debate was also notable for a couple of exchanges where Robinson and city councilor Patrick Dowd tag-teamed the mayor, especially on the question of ethics. I've uploaded some (edited) video of one of these exchanges here. It begins with Robinson faulting Ravenstahl for not listening to his solicitor more often. Strange: I thought the complaint was that the city solicitor only told Ravenstahl what he wanted to hear.

I have to say that I was impressed by Ravenstahl's ability to sit there and take it, and to stay focused on the message. It demonstrates a maturity his critics say he lacks. And Ravenstahl's main line of counterattack here -- Pittsburghers deserve a race focused on issues, not personal attacks -- is OK as far as it goes.

Still, as Dowd rightly notes, an incumbent's record is an issue. So when Ravenstahl is given a chance to respond directly to those allegations -- as Doss gave him last night -- he needs a better response than "I don't even know where I'd begin."

I mean, let's imagine a slightly different context ...

Judge: Mr. Berkowitz, you are accused of being the "Son of Sam," of fatally shooting six people and wounding seven others. You have variously claimed to be a member of a Satanic cult, and to be taking orders from a talking dog. You are further accused of numerous acts of arson, setting potentially dangerous fires throughout New York City. 

Mr. Berkowitz, how do you plead?

David R. Berkowitz: Your Honor, I don't even know where I'd begin. 

For Ravenstahl's opponents, though, there's a bigger problem, which undermines any debating points they might have scored. There were fewer than 50 people in the room watching this debate -- and many of those were candidates for other offices. Obviously, there's a reason why the mayor has been so cautious about participating in more big debates ... or even debates cosponsored by your lowly old City Paper

I'll try to post more video sometime in the days ahead, but the Indefatigable Bram was also there with one of those little flip-camera jobbers, and he may beat me to it.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Diagnosis: Chaos!

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 11:42 AM

Granted, it's a little early for beach reading. But if you can't wait for Scott Turow's next novel to come out, perhaps this 45-page lawsuit -- filed against the city's health care leviathans this week -- will tide you over.

The lawsuit was filed by West Penn Allegheny Health System against UPMC and Highmark -- the 800-pound gorillas of Pittsburgh healthcare -- in federal court. And it makes a slew of juicy accusations. (Among them, that UPMC head Jeffrey Romoff is "obssessed" with putting West Penn out of business.)  But the gist is this:

In the summer of 2002, the lawsuit alleges, Highmark and UPMC put aside previous differences and forged a conspiracy to become a "super monopoly." As part of the pact, UPMC backed off its efforts to compete with Highmark through its UPMC Health Plan. Supposedly UPMC would also throw up hurdles to accepting insurance from national insurers like Aetna. Given UPMC's regional dominance, that would make it very hard for outside firms to come to Pittsburgh at all.

Highmark, meanwhile, allegedly started paying very favorable reimbursement rates to UPMC ... while shortchanging West Penn, and helping to hobble West Penn's finances in other ways.

For example, the lawsuit contends, Highmark rejected a bid by West Penn to refinance some hospital debt the insurance company held. The suit alleges that in November 2005, the chair of Highmark's board visited West Penn and said "Highmark could not assist [it] because UPMC would respond by either selling the UPMC Health Plan [to another insurance company] or contracting with United [a national insurer]." Either of those moves, the thinking seems to go, would create unwanted competition for Highmark.

The board chair, the lawsuit contends, "characterized Highmark's conduct as 'probably illegal.'"

West Penn also accuses UPMC of sowing doubt and misinformation about its financial health with other potential investors. Moreover, West Penn says, UPMC repeatedly tried to poach its doctors, paying them more than the market would ordinarily bear, just to undermine its competitor's services.

"During this raiding activity," the suit alleges, "UPMC repeatedly informed AGH physicians that UPMC intended to 'bury' AGH and to turn it into a nursing home." I'm assuming that's the ultimate insult in the hospital business.

And supposedly, these weren't just the big-shot celebrity doctors, either: West Penn alleges that UPMC sought to prize away every single anesthesiologist working for its rival. If such an effort were to succeed, it would effectively put West Penn out of business: Not many patients are willing to bite down on a hunk of leather during open-heart surgery. 

It's worth noting, of course, that UPMC and Highmark have already denounced the suit. Highmark points out that it signed a five-year agreement with West Penn last year. UPMC, meanwhile, says it and Highmark remain "fierce competitors." What's more, it adds ... 

UPMC did not cause WPAHS's recent $73 million financial misstatement or the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigations into their management practices.


Obviously, none of this stuff should be taken at face value. I mean, I'd be very much surprised if Highmark's board of directors was dumb enough to walk into "enemy territory," and confess that his nonprofit's behavior was probably illegal ... and that it was being extorted by its partner in collusion. Which is more or less how the lawsuit makes it sound to me.

Too, the lawsuit notes that "Beginning in mid-2002 both companies' earnings soared. UPMC's net income rose from $23 million in 2002 to over $618 million by 2007." But UPMC is on the record claiming that the overwhelming majority of those earnings reflect gains in the stock market. That explanation seems quite credible, given how many other enterprises have seen massive profits disappear overnight.

And note too that the lawsuit stops just short of including UPMC's earnings from 2008 -- when the hosptial giant only barely finished in the black. Did the conspiracy suddenly fall apart? Maybe so: UPMC opposed Highmark's own merger aspirations last year ... strange behavior for two entities supposedly in cahoots. 

Then again, like any good conspiracy allegation, the lawsuit sure ties up a lot of nagging questions. I mean, why don't some of the country's largest insurers -- companies that could have you butchered for spare parts anywhere else in the nation -- have a larger presence here?  

Either way, the filings in this case are going to make great reading. And one way or the other, there's gonna be blood on the floor -- and not just in the OR. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mayoral Debate Wrap Up

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Before I weigh in on last night's mayoral debate, a bit of disclosure. I don't have cable -- in order to understand the average Pittsburgh voter, I'm still viewing TV the way 84-year-old shut-ins do it. And while I've lived in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, WTAE has never come in very well in any of them. Nor does digital TV help matters -- instead of getting static, images sort of pixelize, looking like the last couple minutes of The Matrix or something.

Based on what I did see, though, the biggest surprise in this debate is that Bram is apparently still using a VCR. I would have sworn all you bloggers had TiVO. 

So yes, the promise of digital television is overstated (if it can't deliver a steady, uninterrupted flow of images of Eva Longoria, what use is it?) And so were the hopes that this debate would deliver a knockout blow. A draw goes to the incumbent, and I think even hostile bloggers are marking this up as a wash.

As a candidate with no previous political experience, Carmen Robinson had the most to prove, and acquitted herself well for the most part. I was a bit mystified by her desire to extend the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program to middle-school, though. A scholarship program is supposed to keep 13-year-olds on the straight and narrow? How many middle-school kids anywhere are thinking about their college plans at all?

Patrick Dowd got in a flurry of digs, and he's gotten better at delivering his message. He had an especially good line about the city budget -- saying it was balanced only in the sense that your household budget is "balanced," if you take your money from your grandparents and your kids. That pulled together Dowd's concerns about looming deficits and his initiative to deliver more tax relief to seniors ... and it bundled it in a good metaphor. 

Ravenstahl's response, though less artful, was also good: Don't take my word for the city's fiscal situation, he said -- ask the city's financial overseers. Frankly, I wouldn't trust the city's financial overseers to validate my parking ... but we're just discussing the talking points here. 

It's like I've said before: Ravenstahl does fine in debates. He's prepared, and he doesn't get ruffled. 

It was also interesting that Ravenstahl admitted, straight up, that he wasn't ready for the job when he first took it. Like I've said elsewhere, Ravenstahl's most telegenic screw-ups -- like the midnight plane to New York -- took place early in his tenure, before the 2007 election he won in a walk. 'Fessing up to "youthful indiscretions" now not only makes you look humble; it also helps innoculate you against the accusations of your rivals. 

Finally, I see that both newspapers say Ravenstahl is backing a raft of reform proposals councilor Bill Peduto put forward earlier in the day. Ravenstahl must have delivered this message during one of the black-outs in my TV reception, and I was surprised by it. But if it turns out to be true -- and Ravenstahl really and truly follows through -- just remember: You read it here first.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

Debatable Tactics

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2009 at 2:23 PM

It's with slightly mixed feelings that I announce that City Paper is co-sponsoring a mayoral forum on Wednesday, April 29 at 6 p.m.

On the one hand, I'm pleased that challengers Carmen Robinson and Patrick Dowd will both be on hand for the event, which is being held at Carnegie Mellon University's McConomy Auditorium. But Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's campaign has told us he will not be attending -- citing other committments.

Without going into the whole behind-the-scenes saga, I'll just say that our cosponsors, the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, did just about everything they could to entice Ravenstahl to come. All to no avail. 

No big surprise -- Ravenstahl has been publicly unenthusiastic about debates from the outset. But it's sad anyway. Ravenstahl has billed himself as a young, fresh-faced mayor. But he can't get out to a debate held on a college campus and co-sponsored by PUMP -- which is all about engaging young people in politics. (Other sponsors include CMU's student government, the Urban League Young Professionals, and the county chapter of the Young Republicans.) There are just two debates scheduled for this race (the first of which is taking place tonight) ... which means there are city council and, hell, school board races that are getting a more thorough airing.

I've heard plenty of suspicion that Ravenstahl is "afraid" to debate Dowd. I don't buy it. I've said this before, but Ravenstahl did quite well at the last debate we hosted with PUMP, a 2007 match-up with Republican challenger Mark DeSantis. Sure, Dowd is more pugnacious than DeSantis, as demonstrated by Dowd's accusation that Ravenstahl was using the Stanton Heights shooting to avoid debates. But I'm pretty sure Ravenstahl could handle himself -- as demonstrated by his response to Dowd's accusation.

So why not meet the challenge head on? 

Avoiding debates is just Politics 101, of course. Any debate inevitably helps the challenger, if only by giving him or her added visibility. So usually, it's in the incumbent's best interests to have as few debates as possible. 

That said, isn't it about time Ravenstahl graduated to the next grade level? To the extent that there are any issues in this campaign -- to the extent that there's a campaign at all -- they often focus on allegations that Ravenstahl goes AWOL, or fails to follow through, on key policy discussions. Which means that, no matter how the debates go, Ravenstahl would be depriving his opponents of a key talking point -- just by showing up. 

Now, though, because of Ravenstahl's reputation, he isn't going to be able to grab a smoke without setting off a chorus of sniping: "He has time for THIS, but not for discussing key issues before the voters?"

Case in point: this post over at Progress Pittsburgh:

Monday, April 13, 2pm - Mayor Ravenstahl is seen in Bloomfield with his campaign manager - looks like they were filming a campaign commercial

Tuesday, April 14 - Mayor Ravenstahl spends 20 mins at the Lawrenceville Block Watch

Actually, attending a block watch doesn't seem inappropriate to me. But reliable sources inform us that Ravenstahl was shooting a TV ad that Monday. An informant stationed at the Pleasure Bar (I have a whole network of these folks, just to keep track of the music editor) tells us that Ravenstahl was on hand long enough for "several costume changes." 

Ordinarily, I wouldn't care. And Ravenstahl did appear at a candidates forum this past Saturday. But according to another of my sources -- this one a CP staffer who (hopefully) hadn't just been sitting in a bar -- the audience was miffed that he came late. Prior to his arrival, moderator Tony Norman pondered whether the mayor should be allowed to speak, and there was some booing.

The mayor got to speak anyway -- with the added bonus that he didn't have to engage in any give-and-take with his rivals. Most likely, none of this will cost Ravenstahl. At least, not this time around.

Friday, April 17, 2009

SEIU sweeps up in Science Center unionization vote

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2009 at 9:58 AM

Just got word from the Service Employees International Union that the custodial staff at the Carnegie Science Center has officially, and unanimously, voted to unionize.

This is no great surprise: All 10 of the custodial staff signed union cards late last year. The only surprise is that it took so long to ratify that decision. As I first reported here, despite the early unanimous show of support, the Science Center forced the staff to hold an election, which wasn't held until today. (The P-G later followed up with a story here.) 

So congratulations to the SEIU and to its newest members, who will now begin negotiating a contract. And congratulations to the Science Center, I guess, for going another couple months without having to pay its custodians health benefits or a decent salary. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A final dip of the teabag

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 4:40 PM

On my desk right now, I'm looking at a pre-printed poster, in black and gold, handed out at yesterday's Market Square "tea party."

"A movement is brewing," it says -- just above the KDKA 1020 logo, and its daily program guide.

I guess it's not surprising KDKA embraced a one-sided political rally, where speakers repeatedly denounced the president. True, you could never imagine a local mainstream news outlet pandering to an anti-war protest this way. Handing out posters at a peace march would be ... unpatriotic! But hey, it's only talk radio, right? Nobody expects anything better -- even if the station does claim to be "committed to ... reliable, breaking news."

Anyway, Fox News has been using the tea parties to juice its ratings. So why should KDKA be different? Especially considering its lineup includes conservatives like Fred Honsberger and Mike Pintek?

Nor is KDKA alone. The MC of yesterday's events was Jim Quinn, of 104.7 FM (and formerly of a station owned by the family that owns City Paper). And the crowd was made up of people who could recite -- in unison --  some of Quinn's blithering axioms. (Nothing says "independent-minded citizens" like the ability to regurgitate propaganda on cue!)

But the KDKA poster is a sort of visual reminder that this whole supposedly "grassroots" protest is nothing of the sort. It's been co-opted by the special interests teabaggers want to depose ... and by the politicians they profess to hate. 

Consider that yesterday's Market Square event was addressed by Glen Meakem, a local businessman who sometimes sits in for Quinn and has a radio show of his own. Meakem, long a political operator, has previously pledged to back any Republican who opposes Arlen Specter's re-election last year. And guess what else happened yesterday? Patrick Toomey formally announced that he was taking Specter on. 

Consider too that yesterday's event was supported by FreedomWorks, who provided a speaker and some other posters I saw at the event. As I noted in the comments section of a previous post, the head of FreedomWorks is former GOP Congressman Dick Armey. Armey has been working as a -- brace yourself -- lobbyist for a prominent DC firm, DLA Piper. Among that firm's clients last year: Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Morgan Stanley

The guy whose firm lobbied for bank bailouts, in other words, is pimping the backlash those bailouts caused. And these are the folks who are supposed to challenge the status quo?

That, more than anything else, is what made yesterday's events so small and ugly and sad. This little "revolution" was sold out before it even got started. It's like finding out the Founding Fathers were just trying to land a wig-endorsement deal. 

Radio and cable-TV talkers pander to our darkest fears and deepest suspicions. The old politicians find new ways to bamboozle us, while a new generation of politicians steps up to the podium and promises to be different. Firearms dealers and the NRA rake in bucks as people make contributions and stockpile weapons. Everyone is making a quick buck off the enraged mob ... except for the people actually in it. They're getting used, and the seeds for next year's pitchfork rebellion are being planted even before this one is over. 

It's easy to go to these rallies and dismiss the crowds as a bunch of paranoid fools. But maybe the real problem is ... they aren't paranoid enough.


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