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We love lists: Your Early Returns 2014 Top 10

Published by Mike Pound on .

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The traditions and customs of journalism dictate that we can't end a year – especially a fun one like 2014, what with Battling Toms, pornographic emails showing up in the inboxes of Supreme Court justices and a $144,000-a-year consultant whose duties we still can't quite figure out – without a Top 10 list. With that in mind, here are the Top 10 most popular Early Returns posts for 2014.

10) "A rival for Clinton?" U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she's not running, but sometimes it feels like she is.

9) "House Rs seek pension sponsors" Tom Corbett tried to keep the pensions issue at the forefront of the gubernatorial campaign, after this early crack at a relief plan failed to get off the ground.

8) "Madonna, Young or Corbett" As much as we wished this was that Madonna, Pennsylvania politicos Terry Madonna and Michael Young take apart Mr. Corbett's handling of the 2014-15 state budget.

7) "Forum to explore electing more women to office" Pennsylvania ranks 39th in the number of women holding elected office; this forum in February kicked off an effort to make that change.

6) "Republican poll, same results" Although he continued to express optimism publicly, Mr. Corbett had to be discouraged by these figures from Harper Polling released just days before the election.

5) "Unfriendly greeting for Slippery Rock voters" If you're a "Tom Wolf anti-gun Obamite Communist," the owner of this pickup didn't appreciate your effort to vote in Slippery Rock Township, Butler County, in November.

4) "Ravenstahl fires Twitter shot at Peduto" A suggested New Year's resolution for our perpetually disgruntled former mayor: Tweet more.

3) "Tax policy? It depends" We took a shot at going beyond campaign hype and getting to a detailed look at the tax proposals backed by The Battling Toms.

2) "Schwartz presses rivals on ACA" U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz tried to turn up the intensity of the Democratic gubernatorial campaign in April when she suggested that her rivals – particularly Mr. Wolf – didn't back the Affordable Care Act with sufficient enthusiasm.

1) "Education cuts? It depends" The contest between The Battling Toms was the top news story of the year, and the debate between the two candidates over education cuts was the campaign's top issue. Whether or not Mr. Wolf's claim that Mr. Corbett cut $1 billion from education is correct – a question we addressed in this post – the public sided with the Democrat on this one.

That's a wrap for 2014, boys and girls. We'll see you back here next year.

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Politico on why Sophie mattered

Published by Mike Pound on .

Sophie Masloff, 1989. (Post-Gazette photo)Sophie Masloff, 1989. (Post-Gazette photo)

Ariel Sharon. Maya Angelou. Ben Bradlee.

And Sophie Masloff.

Our late grandmotherly mayor earned a spot among Politico's 20 influential people who passed away in 2014. PG political editor Jim O'Toole does the honors. 

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Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Chelsa Wagner. (Ralph Musthaler/Post-Gazette)Chelsa Wagner. (Ralph Musthaler/Post-Gazette)

If you're having breakfast this week, it's OK to really dig in – there are no calories until Jan. 2.

1) Who gets to crack open the books at the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County? County Controller Chelsa Wagner says that audit is part of her job, and Pittsburgh Deputy Controller Doug Anderson said Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak asked him to start on an audit early next year. But the SEA says only the state attorney general's office – an office that apparently employs exactly zero auditors, our Molly Born reports – can open an audit on the authority. The SEA has challenged Ms. Wagner's request and Allegheny County – you may recall that Ms. Wagner and county Executive Rich Fitzgerald aren't exactly fans of each other – has also contested the request. Here's a prediction for 2015: this question will be answered by a judge before the weather thaws in the spring.

2) Hillary Clinton has topped an annual Gallup poll of the planet's most admired women, Politico reports. Does the fact that the likely Democratic presidential candidate was the only woman in the poll with a double-digit response rate bode well for 2016? It doesn't hurt, sure, but keep this in mind – this is the 19th time she's led the list.

3) Justice Correale Stevens, the judge who was appointed to the state Supreme Court to replace Joan Orie Melvin – who, as far as we know, still isn't especially sorry about her conviction on corruption chargeswill run for a full term on the court, Politics PA reports. The seat Justice Stevens holds is one of three that will be available in 2015; the others are held by retiring Chief Justice Ronald Castille and by Justice Seamus McCaffery, who resigned after his involvement with the state's porn email scandal was revealed.

4) There were a couple of instances last few days where we pointed you towards parts of an excellent series on legislative ethics – an oxymoron if we've ever heard one – by PG reporter Joe Smydo. We're going to do that one more time, because we've assembled all the pieces – including the interactive that shows the outside interests of our legislators – of the series on a single page, all the better for your reading pleasure.

5) Tis the season for year-ending, best-of lists, and Early Returns won't be left out of the fun. Coming on Tuesday: a countdown of the most-popular Early Returns posts from 2014, as determined by you, our ER readers, and your clicking fingers. Got a guess as to what post might top the list? We'd love to see it in the comments.

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Perry on Politics: The problem with 'The Interview'

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 The Interview Van Nuys erDennis Lavalle holds a ticket and a poster of the film "The Interview" starring actors Seth Rogen and James Franco as he attends the Christmas Day screening of "The Interview" in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles, California, Dec. 25, 2014. (Associated Press photo)

By James M. Perry

"The Interview" is a second-rate comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

It must have occurred to Sony Pictures Entertainment, the producer, that Kim Jong-un, who is clearly evil and may, like so may tyrants before him, be just a little crazy, would not be pleased. In fact, the North Korean government vowed "merciless actions" if Sony went ahead with releasing the film. Not many days later, Sony's computers were hacked by an organization that U.S. authorities say is somehow connected to North Korea. The film was finally released over the Christmas holiday.

"The Interview" purportedly is a comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, two whacko journalists charged with assassinating the North Korean leader with a strip of ricin hidden for a handshake, during an interview with the mad dictator. The movie ends, preposterously, with the two crazy Yanks in a tank, from which they shoot down and kill the North Korean despot circling overhead in a helicopter, scrambling to arm his country's nuclear arsenal.

As far as I can tell, no major studio has ever made a movie in which an active, ruling head of state is actually assassinated. "The Interview," therefore, is the first to do so. (There have been a dozen or more movies about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but they were all made after his tragic death. In "The Day of the Jackal" (1973), a paid assassin, played brilliantly by Edward Fox, comes within seconds of killing Charles de Gaulle, the president of France. Mr. De Gaulle, though, had died peacefully months before the movie was released.)

Assassinations, it seems to me (I was in Mr. Kennedy's motorcade the day of his death, a searing experience) are not funny.

Reading about the plot of this movie reminded me of the Three Stooges (Moe, Curly, and Larry) in one of their 190 slapstick short features (No. 44, actually) called "You Nazty Spy," in which they became, improbably, the rulers of Moronica. Moe looks and acts like Adolf Hitler, Curly seems to be Hermann Goring and Larry seems to be Joseph Goebbels. They indulge in the usual slapstick that amused millions of fans for 25 years.

"You Nazty Spy" was released in 1940, when the United States was technically neutral. It was the first major film satirizing Hitler.

Curiously, the Hays Code, which censored all Hollywood productions, pretty much forbid movies satirizing world leaders, no matter how evil. But, says one observer, the censors may have paid little attention to short subjects, such as those churned out by the Three Stooges.

Charlie Chaplin's celebrated "The Great Dictator," spoofing Hitler in his role as a barber who becomes dictator of Tomainia, came out nine months after "You Nazty Spy." Jack Oakie plays Napaloni, dictator of Bacteria. Pouty, posturing Benito Mussolini was often seen in real life as a comic figure, but rarely satirized in film. Mr. Chaplin supposedly said years later he never would have made a comedy about Hitler (in which storm troopers attack Jews) had he known about the horrors of concentration camps and the extermination of millions of innocent Jews.

Once again then. Assassinations are not funny.

Note: I confess I plagiarized the idea for this blog post from David Rogers, ace congressional correspondent for Politico.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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Christmas Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Studio Lambert/CBSStudio Lambert/CBS

One more work day before there are Christmas morning mimosas. In the meantime, here's your breakfast sausage.

1) Although some of the donors that allowed Mayor Bill Peduto to hand out cash to city workers in need during his "Undercover Boss" appearance prefer to remain anonymous, the mayor told reporters on Tuesday his office would account for the $155,000 he solicited for the show – and he dismissed any notions of impropriety: "If I can raise money to help worthy causes, worthy institutions, I'm going to do it. Because this was on TV, people see it differently. I see it no differently."

2) Want a beer with that Christmas Eve Pizza? Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board recently delved into the Byzantine maze that is our liquor laws and came up with an opinion that you can have that beer delivered.

3) A recent Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll found that 62 percent of Pennsylvanians support same-sex marriage while 32 percent oppose it, a stunning turnaround from a decade ago, when more than half of the state's residents opposed same-sex marriage.

4) We hope it turns out to be a happy holiday for George H.W. Bush. The 90-year-old former president was taken to a Houston hospital Tuesday night after suffering shortness of breath.

5) And we hope it's a happy holiday for you as well. Merry Christmas, everyone. We'll see you back here on Friday

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