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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

December 31, 2006 | Link to this story

Pardon Me, Ford Fans

Category: default || By jt3y

The day that former Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerster died, I happened to be talking to a local TV personality --- and I'm not going to say who, for reasons that will soon be obvious.

Foerster, then serving on county council, had left the commissioner's office several years earlier under something of a cloud. There was a scandal involving the public works department and there were many complaints about the new jail in Pittsburgh. Some people blamed Foerster (or credited him, depending on your point of view) for ending 60 years of Democratic control of county government.

Upon Foerster's passing, though, the newspapers and airwaves will filled with praise for his long career of public service, and some of the same commentators and political rivals who had been ripping him were now offering lavish tributes.

So I asked the TV personality what he thought of the accolades Foerster was receiving. He sighed. "If you never did anything good in your life, but you want people to say something nice about you, just die," he said.

Uh, ouch. That was an unfair thing to say --- Foerster wasn't that bad, and actually did quite a bit of good --- but I got the point.

. . .

I thought about it over the weekend as I read all of the solemn tributes being paid to former President Ford. Pundits are praising his "controversial" decision to pardon Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office --- and in case you're playing along at home, those crimes likely included illegal wiretapping, campaign finance violations, conspiracy to commit theft and burglary, official oppression and obstruction of justice. (Hey --- nobody's perfect.)

I have heard Gerald Ford compared numerous times to Abraham Lincoln, with his champions claiming that the man from Michigan, like the Great Emancipator, "held the country together" during a crisis.

If Gerald Ford is "Lincolnesque," it's only by comparison to the presidents who came before and after him. By the way, there's an inspiring trio of leaders for you: Ford, Carter and Nixon. Or as Bob Dole called them, "see no evil, hear no evil, and evil." But I digress.

Many editorialists are praising Ford's "courage" in issuing the pardon. True, it was courageous, since it probably cost him the 1976 presidential election. But you can do something that's courageous and wrong, too.

. . .

There are plenty of good reasons that Ford could have pardoned Nixon. After two years of investigations and months of hearings that had stalled the federal government, the Vietnam war was still dragging on, inflation was out of control and OPEC was threatening to shut off the flow of oil to the U.S. The country had to move forward.

And no one (except for the far left) really had any stomach for seeing a president of the United States put on trial.

But on the other hand, pardoning Nixon allowed him to collect his substantial government pension and benefits. It also effectively ended any attempts to figure out who had committed the various alleged offenses during his administration --- and what steps, if any, should be taken to prevent those offenses from happening again.

Make no mistake --- Nixon was completely unrepentant. In September 1974, before the pardon, the former president was subpeonaed to testify before Congress. His lawyers said he couldn't comply because he was suffering an attack of phlebitis. At the time, Nixon was playing golf in San Clemente. You could, as they say, look it up.

. . .

And people seem to forget that President Ford had denied over and over again that he would pardon Nixon ... almost right until the day that the pardon was announced. His press secretary quit in protest.

As for courage, Ford had been one of Nixon's most fervent supporters, going all the way back to the 1952 presidential election. According to Tom Wicker, when Nixon was accused of taking campaign contributions under the table (his denial was the notorious "Checkers" speech), U.S. Rep. Gerald Ford sent him one of the first telegrams of encouragement.

Throughout his career in Congress, Ford staunchly defended Nixon against all of his critics, even as the Spiro Agnew scandals and Watergate were pulling the White House down around Tricky Dick's ears. This unswerving devotion to Nixon no doubt helped Ford get the vice-presidential appointment in the first place, leapfrogging him over such contenders as John Connally, Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater.

The most conservative elements of the Republican Party didn't think Nixon had done anything wrong in the first place, or refused to admit that he was a scoundrel, and pardoning Nixon was exactly what they wanted. How did it take "courage" for Ford to issue the pardon under those conditions? And where was this "courage" a year later, when the right-wing demanded that Ford dump Nelson Rockefeller from the ticket?

. . .

I truly don't mean to speak ill of the dead, and I hate to beat up Gerald Ford, who by many measures was a great American, and a decent and honest human being. But I can't tolerate this reckless revisionism. There are perfectly valid reasons that Ford's pardon of Nixon was "controversial," and why it should remain "controversial" today.

Should Nixon have been frog-marched into a jail cell? No. But pardoning him before he even had a trial or a formal hearing certainly gave creedence to Nixon's boast to David Frost in 1977 that "when the president does it, that means it is not illegal."

Some people may argue that a trial was a mere formality --- that we already knew what Nixon had done. True --- but we knew that Saddam Hussein was guilty as sin, and he got a trial. (The merits of that trial are best debated elsewhere.)

I also heard several people say on talk shows that by accepting the pardon, Nixon did admit his guilt. Maybe. But to what? Ford pardoned Nixon "for all offenses against the United States which he ... has committed or may have committed."

What were those offenses? Until the day he died, Nixon never admitted a thing. He described the myriad of scandals that tainted his administration as "a complex and confusing maze of events, decisions, pressures and personalities," and accepted responsibility only for "not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate."

That's not an admission of guilt --- that's deflecting blame.

I understand that we occasionally have to look back and re-evaluate historic figures and their legacies, but let's try to place them in their proper contexts, please. Willful ignorance of the facts helps no one.

. . .

Ford was probably an average president --- better than many of our leaders, not as good as others.

But being the leader of the free world is not like participating in the Cub Scout potato sack race. You don't get a ribbon just for competing.

So let's try to keep Gerald Ford's legacy in its proper perspective, and please, don't start breaking ground for his monument just yet.

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Posted at 9:14 pm by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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December 26, 2006 | Link to this story

In Passing

Category: default || By jt3y

Just a brief note this evening to acknowledge the passing within one day of each other of former President Gerald Ford and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Believe it or not, they had a lot in common:

  • Ford became President in 1974; Brown took the song "Funky President" to No. 44 in 1974

  • Ford's wife opened a substance abuse clinic; Brown's wives helped him abuse substances

  • Ford was the only man ever to reach the No. 1 post in the United States without having run for national office; Brown was the only artist ever to place 46 different singles on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts without hitting No. 1.

Of course, there is a big difference between the two --- Brown beat up several of his wives and girlfriends, was convicted on armed robbery and drug charges, and used to threaten people with a handgun, but even he wasn't crazy enough to pardon Richard Nixon.

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Posted at 11:35 pm by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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December 25, 2006 | Link to this story

Peace on Earth

Category: default || By jt3y

Merry Christmas from Tube City Online

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December 22, 2006 | Link to this story

The Customer is Always Wrong

Category: default || By jt3y

Oh, for the days of local stores like David Israel and Cox's, where they actually gave a damn if you shopped with them.

Sales for Internet retailers are up nearly 25 percent this Christmas, according to Bloomberg News. I did a lot of my shopping online at several different websites, and I can't speak for anyone else, but I know why I dropped a C-note at Amazon and elsewhere instead of at the mall.

No, it isn't the crowds or the price of gasoline. It's the service.

True, you don't get much service from Amazon. But no service is better than the rotten service I've gotten practically everywhere this Christmas season. (With one notable exception, which I'll get to at the end of this Almanac.)

It may sound like I'm bashing clerks in some of these items. I'm not. Clerks have it rough --- for an alternative view (namely that customers are pigs), check out "Behind The Counter," a journal maintained by a Wal-Mart employee in Florida.

No, I blame the big, national companies that own most of the stores today. They're the ones who train the employees and set the idiotic policies that the sales personnel are expected to follow. They ought to be forced to shop in their own darned stores.

How do I loathe thee, merry merchants? Let me count the ways.

  1. I Am Not a Crook: You know, I didn't mind when they started requiring two forms of ID with checks. I figured that was for my protection as much as the store's.

    But try writing a check nowadays and many cashiers react like you've just dropped your pants and defecated in front of the counter. A growing number of chain stores now require manager's approval of any check, even if they have one of those little electronic validating machines, and even when you have proper ID.

    So you stand there, the customers behind you wishing you fourteen forms of painful death, while some 19-year-old shmuck in a smock slouches his or her way to the checkout stand, only to announce, "Gee, I forget how to validate a check. Nobody writes checks any more."

    You don't want to take checks? Fine. Don't accept checks, period. (Although I would note that most online retailers gladly accept e-checks with a minimum of fuss.) But don't treat me like I'm some kind of a mental patient.

  2. Steal This Card: It wouldn't bother me if they treated credit cards with the same amount of suspicion. After all, it's considerably easier to steal someone's credit card or to obtain a card fraudulently than it is to forge bank checks.

    Just start going through someone's mail for a few days, and chances are a pre-approved credit offer will show up. Bingo! You'll have racked up thousands of dollars in fradulent charges before your victim gets the first statement.

    (The Almanac is not encouraging anyone to commit credit-card fraud, and we fully support the vigorous prosecution of anyone using false pretenses to obtain credit, so if you decide to steal a credit card to buy Christmas presents, just remember we take a 16 neck and a 34/35 sleeve.)

    Anyway, you could walk into practically any store in the United States, present a Visa card issued by the People's State Bank of Namibia in the name of "Donald Q. Duck," and they'd cheerfully accept it.

    They rarely check to see if they name matches the person presenting the card. They never look at the signature. John Hargrave, a writer for, actually started signing charge slips "Mariah Carey" and "Beethoven" to see if anyone would reject his card. No one did. He even signed one "I Stole This Card." No problem!

    Only once did he get challenged --- and Circuit City still tried to sell him a $16,000 big-screen TV despite the fact that he kept signing the charge slips "NOT AUTHORIZED."

    And yet I've got to submit to everything short of a body-cavity search to write a check on the McKeesport branch of a bank while I'm in White Oak. Horsefeathers.

  3. Idiot Salespeople: This is an easy one. I strongly, strongly resent knowing more than the people who work at the store. If I have to explain to you the virtues, price and availability of your merchandise, then there is absolutely no reason for me to buy anything from you.

    Most manufacturers have online stores now --- if I'm going to do all of the work anyway, then I might as well cut you out of the equation entirely.

    I don't need you to hold my hand, but when I ask you what colors or sizes an item comes in, I would like some sort of response besides a shrug or a blank stare. Thanks. Appreciate it.

  4. Take My Money, Please: Hey, Macy's, Sears, J.C. Penney's, et al: If you want me to pay department store prices, then I expect to be able to find a counter open somewhere in or near each department.

    If I'm buying a quilt in Home Furnishings, I should not have to drag it down the escalator and across the store to Children's and Infants' Wear to pay for it. I am doing you a favor by spending my money. You are not doing me a favor by taking it.

    If you're not going to pay salespeople to answer questions and man counters, then I might as well go to Target, pick out the merchandise from the shelves, and wait in line at the checkout stand, huh? And perhaps this explains why you're getting your clocks cleaned by discounters.

. . .

I mentioned that I had one pleasant shopping experience this year. It was in a store that's new to the Mon-Yough area. A friend was looking for something for his wife and asked me to meet him at the Monroeville Mall.

And there, I got my first experience with Boscov's. There was a lot of very nice merchandise attractively displayed and there was a saleslady (sorry, they were almost all ladies) at nearly every department. For a minute I thought we had entered a time warp.

The salesperson at the cosmetics counter spent a half-hour with my friend, showing him different items, before suggesting that he might find what he was looking for at a competing store. Yes, just like Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street.

. . .

Maybe it's no surprise that Boscov's is still a family-owned business based not in New York City, but Reading, Pa.

I'm not a big department store shopper, but a few more experiences like that with Boscov's, and I might become one.

(One other place where I've been pleasantly surprised with the service is Walgreen's. After spending some time and not a small amount of money in their stores in Pleasant Hills and Homestead, I'm convinced that Rite Aid is in for a world of hurting in this market. More about Walgreen's in an upcoming Almanac.)

As for the rest of you clowns, you've got 11 months to shape up, or next year, I'm buying everything for Christmas online, including the egg nog.

Unless the shipping costs go up, in which case everyone on my list is getting road maps and air fresheners from the truck stop in Smithton.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Not surprisingly, the event calendar is pretty thin this weekend. I couldn't find anything significant in Our Fair City or its suburbs. If your non-profit group or organization is planning something, feel free to post it in the comments.

Otherwise, have a very merry and safe Christmas with your loved ones or friends, and read Al Lowe's roundup of holiday memories from Mon-Yough area people and personalities!

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December 22, 2006 | Link to this story

Cry Me a River

Category: default || By jt3y

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December 21, 2006 | Link to this story

East Side, West Side, All Around The Town

Category: default || By jt3y

We're tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of The 'Port:

. . .

Nothing for Christmas: Has anyone else noticed the conspicuous absence of two local Christmas displays?

The animated neon displays depicting angels and candles that have traditionally shown from the windows of The Daily News Building didn't appear this year. Neither did the big Christmas tree made of green and white lights that has decorated the side of the Mansfield Building at UPMC McKeesport hospital for at least a decade.

Messages left for UPMC McKeesport's spokeswoman by the Almanac have not been returned. I haven't asked anyone at the newspaper why the neon wasn't put up this year, though maybe someone there wants to email your humble correspondent with the answer.

I have a hunch that the neon from the Daily News may just be in need of repair (those signs have to be 40 years old), while perhaps construction work at the hospital precluded the return of the Christmas tree this year.

Though neither the News nor the hospital are obligated to provide Christmas displays for our amusement, both were very nice holiday traditions that brightened a glum Downtown business district. Let's hope they return next year.

. . .

A sports bar? Really?
Hot Dog!: A tempest in a stew pot erupted recently in the Daily News over a story about the former Sam's Superior Restaurant, the legendary Downtown bar and grill that served its last wiener last Christmas.

The new owner was quoted as saying the old restaurant was full of "junk" and also accusing the previous owner, caterer Philip Haughey, of not having the original recipe for the famous chili that topped Sam's hot dogs.

Haughey fired back with a letter to the editor, saying that the "junk" that the new owner tossed out included the 1920s-vintage equipment that had long been a landmark at Sam's, and adding that he had received the chili recipe directly from the descendants of restaurant founder Sam Pandel.

Meanwhile, the new owner is planning to convert Sam's into a family restaurant and sports bar.

Now, I bow to no one in my appreciation for Sam's, especially under Haughey's ownership --- the man and his crew made some delicious cheap lunches. But the location (on Tube Works Alley, wedged behind the People's Building) is terrible. There's no parking, for one thing.

The Almanac (which always has good ideas for spending other people's money) is on record as suggesting that Sam's should have moved down Fifth Avenue to one of the vacant buildings near the Palisades. A hot-dog shop would be a great asset to the ballroom and the marina, and would have good visibility at the end of the Jerome Avenue Bridge --- not to mention free parking.

And no one asked me, but putting a sports bar --- especially one that hopes to attract a family clientele --- in the old Sam's location might be the worst idea anyone's had since someone at Three Mile Island said, "Hey, what does this button do?" Few people with children are going to want to schlep them to a restaurant in an alley across from a boarded-up parking garage. Even fewer are going to want to park a block or more away.

I wish the sports bar lots of luck --- it's going to need it, unfortunately.

. . .

Regrettably, Harpo Marx did not submit a bid for the animal control contract.
Speaking of Dogs: City council has appointed a new company to do animal control after residents claimed that the previous service was "inhumane." According to the P-G, Triangle Pet Control of McKees Rocks will take over next year from city-based Ferree Kennels.

The complainants were upset that Ferree euthanized stray dogs and cats by locking them in an air-tight box that was fed with exhaust from a running gasoline engine.

Owner Ken Ferree noted that the method was legal under state law, but his testimony in front of council probably didn't help his case much:

"This is an approved method that's used by people who commit suicide," Mr. Ferree said, noting that some people kill themselves by shutting themselves in a garage with a running automobile engine until the fumes overtake them.

Hmm. Well, although that's true, if it were my business, comparing it with suicide would not exactly be the image I wanted to project, but I could be wrong.

. . .

A Bridge Too Far: Come to think of it, I didn't realize there was an "approved method" to commit suicide. If anything, I thought the approved method was to jump off of the Westinghouse Bridge, because (all together now) you can be sure if it's Westinghouse.

Wow --- that was a cheap line, even by my standards.

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December 20, 2006 | Link to this story

Not Quite the G.E. College Bowl

Category: default || By jt3y

Alert Reader Glenn passed along the following list, which saved me from having to write something (half) witty for the Almanac. I think some of these were inspired by a similar list going around called "You know you're from Pittsburgh." Anyway, see if any of these apply to you, and enjoy:

You Know You're From McKeeesport If:

  • You did your Christmas shopping at Murphy's, Cox's, Immels, The Famous, Goodmans, Helmstaders and Union Clothing

  • Balsamo's was the hit of the town

  • You couldn't wait to read today's Daily News

  • You've told your children to "redd up" their rooms

  • You've ever gotten hurt by falling into a "jaggerbush"

  • You couldn't wait until the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks at "Renzie Park"

  • You can pronounce correctly and spell the name of the main tributary into the Monongahela at McKeesport

  • You remember the blizzard of 1950 and remember not being able to go outside because the snow was over your head, and you would have suffocated

  • You drink pop, eat hoagies, and love perogies, halushski, and gyros

  • You know what a "still mill" is --- especially the "National Tube" and "Duquesne Works"

  • You grew up on a diet of Menzie milk, Vienna Bakery donuts, and Isaly's or Peters Triple "A" Chipped Ham

  • You usta swim at Rainbow Gardens swimming pool, and spend Saturday night at the Rainbow drive-in

  • You saw Gene Autry or Roy Rogers at the Capitol Theater

  • You went roller skating at the Palisades, then went to Loralie's Club Car, or Dick's Diner afterwards

  • You went to the County Airport to watch the planes take off

  • First Ward was a place to live, not a steel mill

  • When you misbehaved, you got a "lickin'"

  • Your last name has 10 or more letters in it (two of them are a "z" or "v" or three of them are "s-k-i") and nobody can pronounce it

  • The only food served at your wedding was rigatoni and stuffed cabbages

  • You went to Saturday night dances at the Library, the Palisades, or the Kennywood Ballroom

  • You got your First Holy Communion outfit at Byer's

  • Jim's Hot Dogs in West Mifflin was in it's own food group and now your children and grandchildren are also now realizing that

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December 19, 2006 | Link to this story

Harp, The Harrowed Angles Sting

Category: default || By jt3y

Some carols for our time, performed by Boy Scout Troop 147 of the Port Perry United Reformed Presbylutheran Church:


The first water main

On Sunday was broke,

It wasn't fixed 'til Wednesday

And that is no joke.

West Mifflin was dry,

And Munhall was, too.

They couldn't take showers

Or go to the loo.

No well, no well

No well, no well

They had no water 'cause they had no well.

: : :


O, little town of Wilmerding,

By Turtle Creek you lie.

Beneath the Bridge Street overpass

The rusty trains go by.

But in the Airbrake shineth

A flashing neon light:

The Sub Alpine Society

Has half-price beer tonight.

: : :


They keep North Huntingdon's highways clear

Those bright yellow trucks with salt,

Without them scraping the ice and snow

The traffic all would halt.

From Barnes Lake Road to the county line,

They push all the slush away.

We wish they woulda stayed home last night,

'Cause we have school today.

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December 14, 2006 | Link to this story

Well, It's About Time

Category: default || By jt3y

Regular readers of the Almanac (those who eat a lot of bran and get daily exercise) and friends of Your Ob'd't Servant know that for the past two years and change, I've been writing a history of the G.C. Murphy Co.

Murphy's was a McKeesport-based retailer that grew from a handful of five-and-10s to a billion-dollar discount store chain with locations in 24 states before becoming a target of corporate raiders and being taken over in 1985.

Many of my friends have said, "I can't wait until your book is done," mostly so I'll shut up about it, and also because I've used it as an excuse over and over again. "Oh, sorry, I can't come over this weekend --- I'm working on the book." "Oh, I can't take on that project --- I'm working on the book." "Oh, I'm sorry I stole your car and crashed it into a swimming pool --- I'm working on the book."

But a few others have said, "I can't wait to read your book," to which I've replied, "Neither can I." The research largely wrapped up over the spring and summer, and then the writing process began --- I'm about one-third of the way done.

Until recently, though, I had no firm deadline to finish, because we didn't have a publisher. Unlike a few of my former cow-orkers who have written boffo manuscripts and thus scored great book deals, I don't have a particularly sexy subject.

I tried to work in some mob connections, but alas, Murphy's founders were teetotalling Methodists whose most gruesome secret might have been their sale of "Murphy Mix" candy in the 1920s. (It was stale and out-of-date bulk candy mixed together, with the rancid pieces plucked out. And it sold like nickel ice cream cones in July.)

A few people on the G.C. Murphy Company Foundation (which has underwritten the research) and some Murphy Company retirees even wondered whether we would find a publisher.

"Look," I said, "people have published hardcover books on American Motors and the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. I know, because I bought those books. Someone will publish this thing, and if not, I'll have H.B. South print it and sell the damned thing myself."

Well, it looks like I won't be writing any large checks to South (which does a bang-up job, by the way).

I am pleased and a little bit humbled to announce that Penn State University Press has tentatively agreed to publish For The Love of Murphy's: The Behind-The-Counter Story of a Great American Five-and-Dime, with a projected release date of fall 2008. I've just returned from State College, and things seem very promising.

A great deal of credit goes to Dr. Curtiss Porter, chancellor of Penn State McKeesport Campus, who took a personal interest in the project and (before we knew it) pitched it to the university press. Bless his heart, he got us in the door.

An enormous amount of credit goes to the many, many former G.C. Murphy employees and their relatives who have provided information, photos, hours and hours of their time, and several swift kicks-in-the-pants to keep the project moving forward.

And thank you to all of my friends and family who have provided encouragement, advice and (yes) several swift kicks-in-the-pants.

The bad news is that now I have to finish writing this dad-blasted thing, so be prepared for a lot more whining.

The manuscript is still in rough shape, but a number of chapters are shaping up. In celebration of this week's good fortune, I've decided to tease you with a sidebar from one of the chapters --- it's the story of Murphy's largely forgotten sponsorship of a racing team in the Indianapolis 500 from 1965 until 1971. (Download PDF.) Please be gentle.

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December 12, 2006 | Link to this story

Water, Water Everywhere

Category: default || By jt3y

Remember when you could turn on your faucet and get water? Boy, those were the days.

Proving that no silver lining comes without a cloud, the recent warming trend caused the earth to move under our feet (cue Carole King), snapping water mains and leaving the taps dry.

I guess they're just not making 100-year-old cast iron pipes like they used to. On Saturday, parts of Evans Street and Versailles Avenue looked like the streets of Venice after a 12-inch main between the Centennial and Haler Heights storage tanks broke.

But that was a mere --- if you'll pardon the expression --- drop in the bucket compared to the ongoing adventures in creative toilet use that people on the other side of the river are now going through. Depending on where you live in West Mifflin, Homestead, Munhall or Whitaker, your water pressure has ranged from "pathetic" to "abysmal" to "non-existent" since Sunday.

It's not exactly a secret that the water and sewer infrastructure around most of the Mon-Yough area dates to the early part of the 20th century. While the gas, electric and telephone companies (even the fershlugginer cable TV companies!) have been systematically replacing their lines, our most important utilities are rusting away beneath our feet.

I don't know about you, but I can live without cable TV. Not being able to flush is another story.

I don't blame the local governments, either. In both McKeesport and the Steel Valley, the water systems were privatized years ago; the city's water system was sold to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County 20 years ago, while lines in the West Mifflin area have long been owned by Pennsylvania-American Water Company.

MAWC is an independent non-profit body while PAWC is a division of a giant German conglomerate called RWE.

Perhaps the state Public Utility Commission should be insisting that water mains be systematically replaced when they reach a certain age. And if money's an issue, perhaps all of this slot machine revenue that the Governor and the state Legislature say is coming could be diverted into low-interest loans and grants for water line replacement. A carrot-and-stick approach, in other words.

Oh, wait! The slot machine revenue is spoken for. It's going to float millions of dollars in bonds for a new hockey arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In a couple of years, then, a bunch of Canadian and Russian millionaires will have a nice new building to ice-skate in, while people in Homeville and Munhall Gardens will still be hauling water home in buckets to flush their potties the next time a 100-year-old pipe breaks.

I hope that thought comforts those of you who have been running around in the shower for the past couple of days, trying to get wet as the water dribbles out.

. . .

Meanwhile, over in Picksberg, construction is underway on that $435 million transit tunnel under the Allegheny River. (And you thought Port Authority didn't know its you-know-what from a hole in the ground.)

The taxpayer-funded tunnel is designed to allow people to ride Pittsburgh's three-hole, three-stop miniature subway (hat tip: Peter Leo) to the baseball and football stadiums that you're also paying for.

At the same time, PAT is holding workshops to decide what routes it's going to cut next year to stave off a $19.5 million deficit.

How much do you want to bet that the Mon Valley takes it in the shorts again? You had better believe that light-rail service to Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon is not going to be slashed.

. . .

Finally, from the Tube City Almanac's National Affairs Desk, the music goes 'round and 'round, oh-ho, oh-ho, oh-ho, and it comes out here. On the heels of the report issued by the Iraq Study Group, a blue-ribbon panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, the White House is writing its own study:

When the White House review began, the interagency group debated whether to try to beat the Iraqi Study Group's report or let it play out and then look "bigger and better" by doing a report later, said an official familiar with the discussions. It was agreed to wait. But the emphasis throughout the month-long process has been to produce a strategy that would be deliberately distinct, the official added.

The White House review does not have the depth or scope of the Iraq Study Group's, according to officials familiar with the deliberations. "There's a lack of thinking on other big issues -- oil, the economy, infrastructure and jobs," said one source who was briefed on the interagency discussions and requested anonymity because talks are ongoing. (The Washington Post)

In English: The White House appointed the Iraq Study Group to study Iraq, and is now getting ready to ignore their report and do whatever they wanted to do in the first place. Which, I guess, means more of the same.

Well! The Iraq Study Group was certainly a good use of time and money. How many soldiers, Marines and Iraqi civilians will die while the White House devises its next brilliant strategy?

It reminds me of a great-uncle I had who kept changing doctors. My grandmother said he was looking for one who would tell him it was OK to keep drinking. The President is looking for someone to tell him it's OK to keep Iraq bumping along from crisis to crisis ... at least until January 2009. I'm sure he'll find someone.

Since Baker was one of Poppy Bush's closest advisors, I suspect there will be a lot of uncomfortable silences around the Bush family dinner table this Christmas.

On the other hand, I'll bet their water will work just fine.

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December 09, 2006 | Link to this story

Pony Up, You Cheapskates!

Category: default || By jt3y

Alert Reader Jeff sends along the following message:

McKeesport is the bottom of the kettle in Salvation Army collections. Yet another note of shame against Your Fair City. Here is the latest Divisional Red Kettle Report that just went out over the wire:

In many communities across The Salvation Army's 28-county Western Pennsylvania Division, the cold snap has had a warming affect on its Red Kettles. Although 16 of its Worship and Service Centers are behind last year's levels, the overall total income has increased. Currently the Divisional goal of more than 2.3 million dollars is $38,000 ahead and the $800,000 Allegheny County goal is $18,000 more than this time last year.

"We are cautiously optimistic," said Major Robert Reel, the Western Pennsylvania Salvation Army's Divisional Commander. "While the total goals are good news, I am still very concerned about our 16 locations that are behind." Salvation Army Red Kettle income stays within the communities in which it raised. "These locations that are in a deficit do not have the option of fundraising in other towns," said Reel. "That is why it is critical that the local residents get behind the kettles in their own neighborhoods."

Kettles that are behind include the following communities: Altoona; Braddock; Bradford; Butler; Clearfield; Corry; Ellwood City; Jeannette; Johnstown; Kittanning; McKeesport; New Castle; Pittsburgh's Northside, Downtown, and East Liberty; and Rochester.

Deficits range from a low of $298.26 in Clearfield to a high of $17,454.66 in McKeesport. Salvation Army Red Kettles account for roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of each local Worship and Service Center's budget.

"Note of shame," Jeff? Are we going to take this? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Heck, no!

City firefighters are out this weekend along East Fifth Avenue collecting money for the Red Kettle Drive, so if you see them, spare some change. I'll bet if you stopped down at the Salvation Army chapel on Walnut Street at Ninth Avenue, they'd take a donation, too.

Better yet, go to the Sally Ann's website and donate online, or call (412) 394-4870 to find out how your family or organization can sponsor your own red kettle.

I've seen the Salvation Army do some really good work for people in trouble, including victims of fires and other disasters and people who are suffering temporary setbacks like unemployment. And although they are a religious organization, I've never heard of the Salvos refusing help to anyone (though, in fairness, they did have a bit of controversy a few years ago).

So unless you want a very angry tiger wielding a shovel at your front door this Christmas, pony up a couple of bucks. Don't make him come over there.

I mean, gee whiz, do you want Clearfield to beat us?

. . .

Moving Day: Kevin G. Barkes of the KGB Report announced this week that his domain name has been sold for an undisclosed amount ... his website is moving to

I wish someone would make me a big offer for one of my domain names. (A few people have offered to give me money if I'd just go away.)

By the way: You can now reach the Tube City Almanac at two different addresses ... or If one site is down, the other should be working.

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December 07, 2006 | Link to this story

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Category: default || By jt3y

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December 06, 2006 | Link to this story

Red Coats Save You Greenbacks

Category: default || By jt3y

Click to listen to a 1969 commercial for Eger Motors
Car buffs are going nuts over the new Ford Mustang and especially the hopped-up Shelby GT edition, which is being billed as the "most powerful Mustang ever made."

At the same time, work is continuing to transform the former Zayre and Ames discount store in Olympia Shopping Center into the new home of Tri-Star Ford.

So, it seems only appropriate that I share a little piece of history from the (half) vast Tube City Omnimedia archives.

Tri-Star bought the Ford agency in McKeesport from Pro Bowl Ford, who bought it from Babe Charapp, who got into the auto business in the city after buying Paul Jones Dodge.

While Charapp was running the Dodge agency, Fords were being sold by Eger Motors, located on Walnut Street at Seventh Avenue, in the building that now houses Pozzuto & Sons Plumbing.

That same building, incidentally, was originally a vaudeville theater --- the Hippodrome --- owned by John P. Harris, who in 1927 erected the Memorial Theater on Fifth Avenue. Harris, of course, also opened the world's first theater devoted solely to motion pictures, the Nickelodeon, in Pittsburgh. (But that's another story for another time.)

When the Egers bought the old Hippodrome building sometime before 1960, it was extensively remodeled. Oh, and about the "red coats" --- the gimmick at Eger Motors was that the salesmen wore matching red sportcoats.

Go around to the back of the Pozzuto building and you can still just barely make out a billboard-size painting that depicts one of the salesmen with the legend, "HOME OF THE RED COATS."

I don't think Eger Motors ever sold as many high-performance cars as some dealers, like Yenko Chevrolet down in Canonsburg, but they definitely handled some powerful machines. This forum for Shelby Cobra enthusiasts indicates that Eger Motors was allocated at least two of the Ford-powered, British-built sports cars in 1965-66.

Shelby Cobras sold for more than $7,000 then --- no small chunk of change --- and only five dealers in Pennsylvania even carried them. Town & Country Ford in Pittsburgh was allocated one. Eger Motors got two, which should tell you something about the kind of money that was flowing in the Mon-Yough area when the steel industry was running full bore.

This commercial, which aired on WIXZ (1360) in 1969, is advertising the 1969 Shelby GT, a special edition of the Ford Mustang which (like the modern version) was tuned and hopped up under the supervision of legendary race-car mechanic and driver Carroll Shelby.

I don't know how many Shelby Mustangs that Eger sold in 1969, but they sold at least one in 1970 --- it turned up on eBay last month at a starting price of $64,100.

As the jingle in this commercial says, the redcoats saved you greenbacks ... but you'd have to save a lot of "greenbacks" to buy a 1969 Shelby Mustang today!

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December 05, 2006 | Link to this story

Deep Thoughts From a Shallow Mind

Category: default || By jt3y

Does anyone really believe that Luke Ravenstahl is qualified to be mayor of Pittsburgh?

I don't have a dog in this fight, of course, and I know next to nothing about Ravenstahl --- or as Will Rogers said, all I know is what I read in the newspapers. For all I know, he's nice to animals, a snappy dresser and as Homer Simpson said after meeting God, "perfect teeth, nice smell --- a class act all the way."

I just don't think that two years as a city councilman, and no other business or governmental experience, qualifies him to be mayor.

What should the qualifications be for that office? I don't know, but like Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it, and Ravenstahl doesn't have them.

And no, I'm not jealous, just because he's mayor of Pittsburgh and I, a few years older, couldn't get elected president of a Lincoln Borough bowling league.

I'm also puzzled by the rush by various elected officials, like Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, to endorse Ravenstahl's campaign for election.

I'm not sure what they hope to accomplish --- is this merely an attempt to keep the peace between the city, county and federal governments? Do they want to forestall any potential Democratic primary fight? Do they think that Ravenstahl is pliable and that he'll go along with them?

I like and respect Onorato and Doyle, and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt --- that they see some quality in Ravenstahl that isn't obvious to an outsider.

I'd sure like to see some of those qualities for myself.

. . .

The O'Connor ‘Legacy’: Ravenstahl has been very careful, of course, to associate himself with Bob O'Connor's family and colleagues. No doubt that may help his campaign.

But it always puzzles me to hear people talk about Bob O'Connor's "legacy." There is no O'Connor legacy as mayor --- that's why his untimely death was such a tragedy.

A death alone, even from the disease that claimed O'Connor's life, is not necessarily tragic --- people die from terrible diseases all the time --- but he had spent at least a decade preparing to be the mayor of Pittsburgh, and never got a chance to do much of anything. Fate has rarely been so cruel.

As for O'Connor's few months in office, they were a mixed bag. His public statements struck all of the right positive notes, and I think he brought a real sense of optimism to the city at a time it desperately needs it.

But O'Connor's few public actions while in office were mostly confined to appointing people to offices, and some of those appointments were highly questionable. They seemed motivated more by a desire to find people who were politically suitable or well-connected than by any sort of "reform" impulse.

. . .

Another Brick in The Wal: I notice that the Foodland in Great Valley Shopping Center in North Versailles has closed. From the piled-up old newspapers in the front entrance, it must have happened in late October.

The main culprit, I suspect, is the massive Wal-Mart on the other side of the parking lot. Also vacant is the former Hills store opposite the Wal-Mart on Route 30. It's been empty since the Ames chain went toes-up, of course --- but no one has moved to occupy it. One of the two fast-food restaurants in the parking lot of the former Hills plaza just closed as well, a victim of the lack of traffic, I suppose.

Meanwhile, with the loss of the Foodland, Great Valley --- once a fairly decent little shopping center --- is now "anchored" by two thrift stores.

There's also a good, old-fashioned hardware store there. I'm a regular at the hardware store (I just bought my water heater there) and I'd hate to see them close, but I have to assume that with Wal-Mart across the street, they're hanging on by their toenails.

Wal-Mart's pros and cons have been well debated, and I suppose a Wal-Mart partisan would argue that the Foodland might have been a marginal business, or that Great Valley and Hills shopping plazas have outlived their useful lives, or whatever.

But can anyone deny the obvious --- that where Wal-Mart goes, it tends to suck the oxygen out of all of the surrounding retail stores?

. . .

This Would Be Fun: I was really hoping to call a moratorium on mockery of our outgoing junior senator in the spirit of not kicking someone when they're hurting. (After all, I'm not Rush Limbaugh.)

But it's hard when conservative pundits keep floating trial balloons like this one on the National Review's blog:

AMBASSADOR SANTORUM: How about Rick Santorum for the UN job? Yeah, there'd probably be a confirmation fight. And he may want to take a breather after 16 years in elected office. But it's worth thinking over.

I have a better idea. Rick will no doubt be returning to his lovely home in Penn Hills, and there will be a municipal election for school director next year. The senator has been a very vocal critic of public education, calling it an "aberration," saying that students get a "weird socialization," and criticizing the "clear liberal agenda" of teachers.

I can think of no one better to reform the public education system than Rick Santorum, and I think he should run for Penn Hills school director --- after all, Mr. Santorum is a resident, because he pays taxes there, and he should be able to get up to speed on the local issues very quickly.

Anyway, I'm used to seeing people get elected to school board who seem to hold the system in contempt. Penn Hills might as well get someone who's honest about it.

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December 01, 2006 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: default || By jt3y

The McKeesport Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert is tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd. There will also be a performance by the Mon Valley Children's Choir and a sing-along. The Joe Negri Trio is also scheduled to appear. For more information, visit the MSO website or call (412) 664-2854.

Meanwhile, just across the street at the Jacob Woll Pavilion in Renziehausen Park, the 21st Annual Festival of Trees is underway, today, tomorrow and Sunday. Dozens of themed, decorated Christmas trees from groups and individuals are on display from 12 noon to 9 p.m. each daily, and the Viking Lounge trolley bus will be shuttling visitors around Renzie Park.

Admission is $2 for adults, while children 12 and under are admitted with a canned good for donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Visit the McKeesport Recreation Committee's website for details.

Finally, McKeesport Model Railroad Club, 2209 Walnut St. in Christy Park, is hosting its holiday train show weekends through Dec. 17. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and a donation of $4 for adults and $1 for children is requested.

The club's 40-by-80 foot layout will be fully operational, and free parking is available behind the club building on Kountz Alley or across Walnut Street at CP Industries. Call (412) 664-LOCO or visit the website.

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December 01, 2006 | Link to this story

Pouring Out My Frustrations

Category: default || By jt3y

Chances are your neighborhood has one of those "Bermuda Triangle" pizza shops. Usually they spring up in old storefronts, though I've seen old gas stations used, too. One week it opens as "Mama Gina's Pizza." Two months later, it's "Rocky's." Two months later it's "Tony's."

And so on, an endless cascade of faded ambitions and squandered money --- no one ever seems to question putting another pizza shop where the last seven have failed. "My frozen dough and canned tomato sauce, along with surly help and high prices, will conquer this neighborhood's pizza-related needs!" the entreprenuers tell themselves.

I've always wanted to meet the bankers who loan money for these ventures. Have they ever heard of "due diligence"? "Gross malfeasance"? "Criminal incompetence"?

A large object lesson is playing out right now in Pittsburgh and Latrobe, where lawyers are trying to untangle the mess that is Gregory Podlucky's failed LeNature's Inc. According to my former cow-orker Rich Gazarik, who's been covering this story like the dew for the Tribune-Review, LeNature's ran up $700 million in debt while generating about $20 million in revenue last year.

. . .

If I went out and borrowed 35 times my income, at some point even Visa or MasterCard would say, "Gee whiz, it may be a bad idea to keep extending credit to this jagoff." But in the world of high finance, we are pikers who don't know how to play the game.

Incidentally, this explains why your bank is giving you 2 percent interest on your savings account while charging 10 percent on your home equity line-of-credit. The 8 percent spread allows the commercial loan department to keep shoveling out piles of cash with no apparent idea where it's going.

So, how does one tank (no pun intended) a bottling company like LeNature's? Let us count the ways. Court-appointed accountants and lawyers claim that LeNature's was:

  • Selling products for less than they cost

  • Expanding capacity (like adding a 500,000-square-foot plant in Phoenix) far beyond demand

  • Using short-term, high-interest loans to pay off long-term, low-interest loans

One court-appointed administrator "said Podlucky is a poor businessman," Rich writes in the Trib.

If all that's true? Uh, yeah.

The more serious accusations (not proven) levelled at LeNature's include what Len Boselovic of the Post-Gazette labels "monumental accounting fraud," including falsification of documents, hiding assets and destroying financial records.

. . .

I'm not sure why it took this long for people to figure out that LeNature's was a house of cards. Until fairly recently, the company was advertising on KDKA radio, so I went out several times to find some LeNature's juice or iced tea.

I couldn't, not in gas stations, convenience stores, supermarkets or the cheap dives where I usually hang out. Not in vending machines or discount stores, either. I'm sure they were for sale, but I didn't see them.

I even looked a few months ago in the BP mini-mart in downtown Latrobe --- almost in sight of the LeNature's plant. Nothing.

One might suspect that before someone invested in a product like LeNature's, they would go to the store and see if they could sample it. One would, apparently, be wrong.

. . .

To add irony to irony, Podlucky got some of his money to invest in LeNature's by selling his stake in Jones Brewing Company down in Smithton, which the Podlucky family took into bankruptcy a few years ago. They emerged from Chapter 11 after closing the historic brewery and laying off most of the employees.

Stoney's Beer is now just a trademark on merchandise, and what's still sold as "Stoney's" is actually bottled by Pittsburgh Brewing Company ... which itself seems perpetually on the verge of going out of business.

LeNature's was itself in serious legal trouble twice before --- in 2001, they improperly listed their products as "kosher" without the approval of the rabbi whose organization was being listed on their bottles.

The year before that, while operating under its old name ("Global Beverage Systems"), the state Department of Environmental Protection forced it to recall bottled water that was contaminated with e.coli bacteria. It turns out that Global didn't have a permit to bottle water.

Again, I ask: Doesn't anyone at one of these venture capital firms pick up a newspaper? Don't they ever try to use "The Google"? Didn't any warning signs pop up?

. . .

As a possible little sidelight into the corporate culture at LeNature's, read this guy's account of what happened when he posted a sarcastic, negative review of one of their products on his website.

He claims that they sicced a lawyer on him and his webhosting company, made harassing phone calls to his home and tried to crash his site. He's since set up a page on his blog where disgruntled laid-off LeNature's employees can vent grievances.

One of those employees claims Podlucky "had a paddle displayed in the main hallway" at LeNature's headquarters, inscribed with the words "The beatings will continue until morale improves," and that a bulletin board was used to shame employees by posting their mistakes for their cow-orkers to read.

None of the accusations may be true, of course, and I'll be interested to see what happens in court when Podlucky and his allies have a chance to defend themselves.

In the meantime, if any of the investment bankers and Wall Street whizzes who underwrote LeNature's should happen to read this, would they please contact me?

I want to borrow some money. You see, I have my eye on this pizza shop down the block ....

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