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Perry on Politics: Throughout history, snipers prompt unease

Published by Mike Pound on .

Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers PicturesPhoto courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures

By James M. Perry

The central figure in Clint Eastwood's film, "American Sniper," based on the life of the late Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in American history, is a "psychopathic patriot," says Bill Maher.

It's a "propaganda film," says New York Magazine.

It's also a huge success.

Snipers have been active in combat ever since the long-range rifle became available. From the beginning, soldiers and sailors have been uneasy about who they are and what they do. Soldiers and sailors normally fight alongside their mates. Snipers are lonely figures (though, these days, they often are two-man teams). They hide in trees or behind rocks. They pick off the enemy one by one. Chief Petty Officer Kyle, a Navy SEAL, killed as many as 255 during his four tours in Iraq. The official count is 160.

The first American sniper almost certainly was Sgt. Timothy Murphy, one of 500 handpicked sharpshooters serving with Daniel Morgan's rifle regiment at the battle of Saratoga in upstate New York in 1777 during the American Revolution. Most soldiers in late 18th Century armies carried muskets, smooth-bored weapons that were limited in range and wildly inaccurate. Mr. Morgan's men carried hand-made rifles with grooved barrels that were accurate up to 250 yards or more.

At one point in the battle, Benedict Arnold rode up to Brig. Gen. Morgan and said that the British general, Simon Fraser, was rallying his men and should be killed. "I admire him," Gen. Arnold (later to betray his country), said. "but it is necessary that he should die. Do your duty."

Sgt. Murphy, picked by Brig. Gen. Morgan for the job, climbed into a tree, and opened fire at a range of about 300 yards. The first two shots missed. The third shot tumbled Gen. Fraser from his horse. He died that night.

The British had their own sniper expert in the Revolution. Maj. Patrick Ferguson invented a breech-loading rifle and was carrying one of them at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. His attention was drawn to a high-ranking American officer who seemed to be in range. He refused to shoot him (British officers tended to think sniping was unfair), because his back was turned. The American might have been George Washington himself. Maj. Ferguson was killed at King's Mountain in 1780.

Britain's greatest naval hero, Adm. Horatio Nelson, was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 by a sniper high in the rigging of the French ship of the line, Redoubtable. The range was very short, though, and his weapon was a musket.

The first rifle designed for snipers was put together by Great Britain's Sir Joseph Wentworth in 1853. A number of Wentworths were used by Confederate snipers in the American Civil War. Confederate snipers with Wentworths were hiding in a line of trees at the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864. Members of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick's staff warned the general about sniper fire from those trees. "What?" he asked. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," Moments later, he fell to the ground, mortally wounded by a rifle shot. It is said he "died quickly, a smile still on his face." The range was 500 yards.

Probably the deadliest sniper in history was a Finn, Simo Hayha, who killed 505 Russians in Finland's 100-day Winter War (1939-1940). That's more than five Russians a day. Mr. Hayha didn't like telescopic sights, widely used by snipers, because they created a glare and required the sniper to raise his head a little higher to take aim. Like most Finnish troops, he wore a white camouflage suit and sometimes put snow in his mouth to prevent his breath from steaming. Terrified Russians called him "white death" and, finally, on March 6, 1940, one of their snipers shot him in the jaw. He survived and lived to a ripe old age (97), a Finnish national hero.

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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Workers line up to meet Wolf

Published by Karen Langley on .

Wolf meet

There was an unusual sight in the Capitol Friday evening: A line of people that stretched from the governor's reception room down the stairs and all the way through the rotunda to the Senate wing.

Gov. Tom Wolf and his wife, Frances, had invited state workers in the Capitol region to meet them after the workday ended. The meet-and-greet began at 4 p.m. and continued for nearly an hour-and-a-half.

"It's nice to meet him," Melissa Batula, highway delivery division chief at the Department of Transportation, said leaving the reception room. "It shows the appreciation: One of his first acts was to show the appreciation for the people working for him."

"I've never seen a governor do this," said Tom Macioce, a colleague at PennDOT. "It's pretty neat."

Workers in line by the rotunda could grab snacks, paid for by Wolf's inaugural committee.

The reception continued a practice Wolf had at his family's kitchen-cabinet business, said his spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan.

Speaking with reporters afterward, the new governor downplayed the novelty of the event.

"It's just normal," he said. "It's what you do: Go out and meet people."

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Allegheny County unloads Fitzgerald's SUV

Published by Mike Pound on .

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette)County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette)

By Molly Born

Buy a new car recently? You could be driving the SUV that drove Rich Fitzgerald to the brink with Chelsa Wagner last fall.

The 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee once issued to the Allegheny County executive was sold at auction last month for $4,900 after he turned over the keys in November.

The county cut it loose because of the vehicle's condition, wear and tear and the more than 150,000 miles logged on it, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said. The money -- minus the cut for the Perryopolis Auto Auction -- went into the county's capital fund, she said.

After an audit by Ms. Wagner's office found Mr. Fitzgerald had used the SUV for political and non-county purposes, he returned the vehicle and wrote the county a check for $42,737.52, which accounted for every mile he'd ever driven since 2012.

The findings were part of the controller's review of county-owned vehicles, expected to be released in full early next month.

Mr. Fitzgerald dismissed the accusations as political and started using his personal vehicle for all travel.

So somebody, somewhere might be driving it. Or maybe it was scrapped for parts. We'll likely never know, because county isn't told who bought it, only the price it received. An auto auction employee said they can't disclose details of any sales.

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Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Attorney General Kathleen Kane (John Heller/Post-Gazette)Attorney General Kathleen Kane (John Heller/Post-Gazette)

1) The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has given a breather to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, so it can dig into questions about the special prosecutor appointed to investigate Ms. Kane. We know a grand jury has recommended that criminal charges be filed against Ms. Kane for leaking investigative materials to journalists; we also know that Ms. Kane has vehemently denied being involved with the leaks. What we don't know: whether Thomas Carluccio, the special prosecutor appointed by a Montgomery County judge, has legal standing to investigate Kane. The justices will decide that matter this spring.

2) Another thing we know about the investigation of Ms. Kane: the grand jury that recommended charges also recommended that the state's shield law, which protects journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources, be watered down in instances where a story involves grand jury proceedings. That's a dangerous proposition; if journalists cannot protect those sources, it becomes likely that whistleblowers stop working with journalists altogether. And that's a problem for anyone who expects

3) Speaking of access to information: Day Two of the Tom Wolf Administration was eventful, as the new governor swiftly unraveled a number of executive appointments made by his predecessor. Chief among those was new job of Erik Arneson, the former staffer of state Sen. Dominic Pileggi who was named director of the state's Office of Open Records by Tom Corbett just days before Mr. Corbett left office. Mr. Wolf said the appointment of Mr. Arneson was political; Mr. Arneson said he'll challenge his dismissal on the grounds that Mr. Wolf cannot fire him from the six-year appointment.

4) Will the new Republican majority in Congress mean lockstep votes by the GOPers? Perhaps not, as the Washington Post notes; a group of the party's members blocked a restrictive anti-abortion bill yesterday, forcing leadership to replace it a less restrictive bill. It will be interesting to watch for a rift between mainstream Republicans and members who align with the tea party; it will also be interesting to see how Speaker John Boehner juggles the two groups.

5) We dedicate this song to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, for its rapid reversal of a halt to special orders for liquor and wine. And just in time for the weekend, too.

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Molchany joins Wolf team

Published by James O'Toole on .

Erin Molchany (Post-Gazette photo)Erin Molchany (Post-Gazette photo)

Former state Rep. Erin Molchany has been named director of Gov. Tom Wolf's southwestern Pennsylvania office.

In the job, she will be the governor's liaison to officials and community groups throughout the region. Ms. Molchany was elected in 2012 to a legislative seat that included some of Pittsburgh's southern neighborhoods and suburbs.

Through the redistricting process that the Legislature goes thorough every ten years, however, her seat was merged with an adjoining district represented by the veteran Rep. Harry Readshaw, another Democrat. More than two-thirds of the new district comprised neighborhoods that had been part of the former Readshaw district. Although Ms. Molchany was supported by influential Democrats including Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and city Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, Mr. Readshaw easily defeated her in the 2014 Democratic primary for the new seat and went on to an uncontested victory in the general election.

In the Legislature, Ms. Molchany was active on issues involving equal pay and gender discrimination. She voted for the transportation funding measure enacted by the Corbett administration. Mr. Readshaw opposed it, and the bill reemerged as an issue in their primary debate. Ms. Molchany was a regular surrogate for the Wolf campaign in appearances throughout the general election. The Mt. Washington resident was born in Allentown, and received a degree from Duquesne University.

She is a former executive director of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project. Ms. Molchany succeeds Mary Ann Eisenreich, who headed the Pittsburgh office under the Corbett administration.

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