Vampire Antidefamation Guild United Eternally

In response to the following groundbreaking news story, more specifically, the city councilman with the chutzpah to pull out that level of sarcasm on camera (which, sadly, KTLA exploited), a group of folks are working to carry the humor forward.

Vampires, often underrepresented and always marginalized, finally got a political lobbying group together.  They’re called the Vampire Antidefamation Guild United Eternally (VAGUE).  They’ve formed a facebook account and put together a press release.

They even organized a (very small) protest march. I say we open a VAGUE chapter here in Pittsburgh, to ensure that the city doesn’t start planting garlic plants in public parks and street medians.

Prediction: O’Connor is a-Comin’

Corey O’Connor, the son of the late mayor, should be gearing up for a run at his dad’s old council seat.  This is not unexpected since he played around with the idea just over 3 years ago, when the term for the District 5 seat was ending.  However, at the time, Corey said he wouldn’t run unless Doug Shields, the incumbent and a former aide to Bob O’Connor, ran for another office.  As it turned out, Shields did run for Controller, but in a largely style-over-substance fashion, plastering campaign posters across the city, in what simply seemed like an attempt to raise name recognition for a run some time in the future.  Since Corey didn’t make a bid that year, that seems to imply Shields had no intention of leaving his council office that year.

During the November, 2006 interview, after confirming that O’Connor wouldn’t run if Shields stayed in office, Jon Delano asked, “And you’ll keep that political option open?” To which O’Connor responded, “I will always–that option will be open…”

And now, the political environment has changed, Shields (willingly) gave up his position as City Council President, signaling that he’s looking to downshift his work on council, perhaps to give him more time to run a campaign.  Thus, the path seems to be open for Corey, and he’s got friends in high places.  Not only is he close with Shields, but before Corey would announce his candidacy (probably early next year), he’ll have at least two years experience working for Pittsburgh’s U.S. Congressman, Mike Doyle.

Strategically, it’s the right time for him to run, and I bet we’ll be hearing much more of him in the not too distant future.  Whether he’s the right person for the job is another question to be determined once things get going.

Power the City with Electric Seaweed

One important part of the mayor’s push to “green” city government is energy efficiency.  The first step Ravenstahl is taking in that focus is auditing the city’s biggest energy user, the City-County Building.

The Post-Gazette reports the project “will eventually enlist at least $3.4 million in federal funds to lower the $1.7 million-a-year bill for energy and heating in the 95-year-old building…The city also is developing efficiency improvement plans for 100 other buildings of the 330 it owns. The city’s flagship building, though, will get the first and most attention.”

Bearing that in mind, here are a couple other local innovative examples of how to heat, cool and/or power a building sustainably:

How a heat pump works.

Geothermal Heat Pump.  Although, most major geothermal heating and electricity sources lie along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a geothermal system can be set up just about anywhere that you can dig a hole in the ground.  Basically, a heat pump works by relying upon the relatively stable temperature 200+ feet underground; it brings down heat during the summer and draws up stored warmth during the winter.  Here’s an example of a man in Martinsburg, WV that realized the energy benefits of installing a heat pump into his property.  Costs or regulations may be prohibitive to setting up a heat pump for downtown structures like the City-County Building, but it’s worth checking out the option.

Ecofriendly Hydroelectricity.  Most hydropower comes from dams, which are sustainable sources of energy, but can be harmful to ecosystems that rely upon the rivers blocked up by the dams.  However, University of Pittsburgh professor Lisa Mauck Weiland has come up with an ecofriendly system of harnessing hydropower through the piezoelectric capabilities of Polyvinylidene Fluoride, or PVDF, (in other words, generating electricity by moving a special plastic).  She has partnered with Vandergrift, PA (less than 30 mi away from Pittsburgh) to help develop a system that could deliver between 20-40% of the town’s energy.  The PVDF materials, which look a lot like seaweed, will be placed in the flow of the Kiskiminetas River, and as they ripple in the current they generate a modest amount of electricity to be channeled to the town.  One source reports, “Weiland currently plans to lay a grid, 30 yards wide and about a mile long, down on the river bed to help power the city…the researchers claim that they will maintain the health and appearance of the [Kiskiminetas], which is used for fishing, canoe trips and other recreational activities.”  This is the first freshwater hydroelectric power project of its kind.  If this electric seaweed turns out to be a success, I know a town with three rivers that might benefit from such a technology.

Sino-Googlese Relations

International espionage and the human right to freedom of speech have brought Google Inc. to a crisis point in its business venture in China.  A brief synopsis is that Google detected a “highly sophisticated” cyberattack on its system in mid-December, targeting political dissidents all over the world (not just Chinese freedom fighters) as well as other companies; they  also claim the infiltration compromised some of their intellectual property.  Although Google makes a point of stating that they have no proof that these cyberattacks are connected to the Chinese government, their response to the attacks implies that their level of trust with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is subterranean.  Google states,

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on…

If Google felt as though these attacks were not connected to the Chinese government, instead of challenging China’s laws of censorship, they’d probably be asking the Chinese government to enforce their laws against hacking.  Not to mention the web-links from the blog post that announced their new “live free of die” mentality, titles included:

  • A 10-month investigation of alleged Chinese cyber spying against Tibetan institutions
  • “Targeting Chinese Dissident Groups Abroad” from the 2009 Report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
  • “Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation”

Google couldn’t get much closer to saying, “It’s the Government!,” without saying it.  And, a report was just published confirming that the attacks came from PRC.

But even with this incontrovertible evidence, companies have suffered through worse at the hands of their host government for the sake of profits.  In fact, Google caught a ton of flack in 2006, when they announced they’d be opening up operations in China, stating they’d abide by the country’s censorship laws.  Critics claimed the company was violating their informal corporate motto “don’t be evil” by accepting censorship for the market prospect of 360 million Chinese internet users.

And go after those 360 million users, they did!  Google began with about 13% of market share in the 1Q2006, and grew to become the second largest search engine in the country, controlling about 35% of the market today.  What I find most intriguing about this whole kerfuffle is how little it seems to have affected Google’s stock.  They took a big hit (2.5%) the morning after their announcement, but earned it nearly all back by day’s end.  And things went positive for them today.  I’d normally expect investors would take the threat of an internet company losing access to one of the world’s largest and fastest growing populations of internet users as a bad thing.

However, to my delight, I think the world market saw Google’s move, as I did–a stand for credibility.  On the internet, where a person can easily choose between dozens of search engines, email providers and instant messaging services (all things that collect highly personal information), I think people use Google not only because it offers a quality service, but also because they trust the company.  I think investors see Google’s choice as a boon to their credibility, and thus, a move that will reinforce their position in the market place.  Not to mention, Google’s now got the backing of the White House (further strengthening its credibility).

But this was no easy decision for the people at Google.  Remember, they discovered this problem a month ago (maybe even before).  The reason that they made their announcement now is because it took them that long to decide what to do.  According to the Guardian, “the company’s decision was influenced by the experiences of Sergey Brin’s Russian refugee background,” who wanted to directly reproach the PRC, while Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, argued to stay.

Anyway, what’s tragically consistent is that most Chinese aren’t hearing much about this whole kerfuffle due to the strong censorship on the internet imposed by their government.  And what’s sadly noble is that a few who do know are laying flowers at and pouring out liquor on the Google China sign outside the office, as if it were a funeral.

It’s All About Accountability

Something tells me, given the opportunity, Ventura might actually try this.

Domestic-Violence Ordinance

At first, I was in full support of the proposed rules from the mayor’s office that would bring the hammer down on (prospective and current) city employees charged with or convicted of domestic abuse.

City workers arrested for domestic violence would face discipline, and those convicted would be fired, under rules proposed yesterday by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl…

Rules have been in place for police accused of domestic violence for two years. The new, tweaked policy would apply to firefighters, public works employees, paramedics and the rest of the city’s 3,300 workers.

Read more:

But then I read the above article and today’s editorial from the P-G.  And it seems the issue is a bit more nuanced.

The PG’s editorial starts off its argument on shaky ground, stating that “at least 40 percent of [police] officers’ families experience [domestic] abuse, compared to 10 percent in the population overall,” implying that simply because police families are four times as likely to experience abuse that it makes sense to hold cops to high standards.  My position is that prevalence among a group should not have a bearing on whether or not to hold that group accountable for domestic abuse.  In other words, everyone should be held accountable.

That said, as the PG Editorial Board rightly points out, “Officers have guns, know the location of shelters where battered victims go for help and know how to manipulate the criminal justice system. These victims typically end up having to report the abuse to the perpetrators’ friends or coworkers.”  Thus, cops, more than any other group, have got have immaculate records, in order to guarantee that domestic violence incidents and reports are handled as they should be.  Meanwhile, folks working in Pittsburgh’s city planning department do not have any connection with the management of domestic abuse cases.  Does someone who decides traffic patterns need the same immaculate record as someone who responds to a call of sexual assault?

Unfortunately, like most legislation, what is now coming out of Ravenstahl’s office is in reaction to the recent case of now-former Sgt. Eugene Hlavac.  Just like Ravenstahl’s legislative push 2 ½  years ago, to impose a zero-tolerance policy on the police department, in the wake of his foolish promotion “of three police officers [including Hlavac] who had faced past family abuse allegations, which provoked outrage among women’s advocates.” (P-G, Ibid.; see also: 2007 circumstances) When legislation is introduced in response to crisis, it is usually hasty and has negative unforeseen consequences, e.g. the Patriot Act or TARP.

Just as the mayor criticized the Prevailing Wage bill for having “too many vague and ambiguous terms, [and] needs additional input from the entire community,” it seems like he might want to listen to his own wisdom.  The unions are chomping at the bit to talk to Ravenstahl about the legislation, and they might provide a perspective that offers a more fair system of accountability and awareness.  Who knows?

In the end, if the mayor’s reaction to these incidents had to come down on one side of the spectrum, I’m glad that it came down on zero-tolerance across the board.  Much better to walk it back from an extreme than try to strengthen it from a weak position.

Lavelle: A new “Payne” in the neck?

How much of a change are we really seeing? (Pic borrowed from 2 Political Junkies)

Daniel Lavelle, the new councilman for District 6, who upset the mayor’s stalwart ally, Tonya Payne, in last May’s primary by just 228 votes (Lavelle: 1914; Payne: 1686; Brentley: 696), made short work of alienating a lot of his previous progressive allies.  Last week, he broke a pledge to vote to elect Bill Peduto as City Council President, which was seen by many as pandering to the mayor as well as a sign of opportunism over loyalty.

Lavelle had run Peduto’s field operation during his abortive mayoral campaign in 2007.  And Peduto worked the quid pro quo by donating $6,215 worth of in-kind contributions to Lavelle during last year’s campaign.  But, once he was installed in office, Lavelle broke the cycle of backscratching and exchanged it for an act of backstabbing.

For Ravenstahl, preventing the presidential ascension of Peduto, a knee-jerk opponent of the mayor, was of first priority.  So much so that the mayor pledged, if Lavelle supported his candidate for council president, he would arrange for Lavelle’s appointment to the coveted Finance Committee Chair and also pull support from long-time ally Tonya Payne in her campaign against Lavelle’s old boss, State Rep. Jake Wheatley.

Lavelle ran his council campaign with a slogan of “New Vision, New Voice.”  But now that it seems that he can be bribed into going back on his word, what’s to say he’s anything but a crony for the mayor?…Anything but another Tonya Payne?