Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The President and the Mayor

I started editing this post last week. I guess it took me a while to get it where I wanted it. Might have helped if I had spent some time over the weekend on it, instead of aggressively resting.

I have to say I enjoy President Bush’s logic. He’s been saying we are winning in Iraq , and so last week in his speech he said we should withdraw 5 thousand troops, because we are winning. I actually started to watch the speech and then dozed off a few minutes into it, but I caught the essence of it from the morning papers.

The only thing worse (generically speaking) in government than Bush is Congress. Which is to say that in the three or so times this administration has had to go to Congress; for war, to authorize military commissions for detainees, and recently for wiretapping, Congress has given Bush everything he asked for, if not more. Mind you, the wiretapping authorization was under a narrowly democratic party Congress. Further, this democratic party narrowly controlled Congress has not curbed the President in Iraq at all. Maybe it is a good thing this administration is a go-it-alone administration, so that Congress does not have more of a chance to roll over and demonstrate learned helplessness a whole bunch more.

Similarly, the Mayor of Pittsburgh has gone his own direction, in his interpretation of matters ethical, in his approach to management, in his view of Pittsburgh ’s future. Particularly in the management arena, we just had a taste of the Mayor’s take on that. I think it was, what, 11 guys asked to leave, literally. Promise of a national search, talk of hiring a head hunter firm, because the Mayor wants nothing but the best for Pittsburgh . There’s a ninety day clock by law, although George Specter had already blown through that in his own acting status. And suddenly, on September 13th, it’s all over. A few minor shuffles and the rest are fine where they are. One of the two fellows fired commented to the Trib that in his interview with the Mayor “Graziano said Ravenstahl didn't explain why he was fired.” and the Trib also said “Ravenstahl was vague when asked why he fired Graziano and Tutsock.” (Trib).

It reminds me of the bit in “The Princess Bride”, when Westley is recounting his captivity under the Dread Pirate Roberts. He said that he had to work as hard as he could, since the Dread Pirate Roberts generally didn’t take prisoners. Every night the DPR would say “Good job today, Westley. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” The DPR said that every day for some amount of time, five years or ninety days, I can’t remember which.

Of course, the question becomes whether the Mayor owes the voters an explanation for his actions. One way to look at it is the Mayor needs to explain only if he thinks the voters will hold him accountable. City government may have wasted a lot of time on the firings that weren’t that could have been spent looking for innovative ways to save money and the city may have wasted money on a head hunter firm. If elections were decided by people’s cold calculations about the costs and benefits of particular policies, then we would say the matter will be decided at the polls in November. Except that, as Bill Peduto might tell us, the Mayor’s popularity seems to have little, if not nothing, to do with his actions.

So in the end I am forced to grouse that the only thing worse than the Mayor is the electorate, with City Council and Main Street Media somewhere in the middle. We may be headed toward financial disaster, with debt and pension costs we simply seem to be unable to manage and thus ignore. The Mayor says everything is fine, the city has not had to take on any new debt and we are running surpluses. Jon Delano tells us that voters are going to stay home this election ( If that’s true, it is at least partially his fault, along with the rest of the MSM that sits on stories they know about and refuses to press the financial state of the city. City Council contributes to the mess by green-lighting the Mayor’s various shenanigans, including unethical behavior and sweetheart deals (and that’s just the stuff we know about). Council also refuses to address the issue of the future head on. But the major fault lies with us, the voting and non-voting public. I, for one, don’t know what to do. I suppose I could set myself on fire, like the Buddhist monks in Vietnam, except that no one would get the reference. Still, if you think about it, maybe suggest to a friend to listen to one of the Mayoral debates. If only for the entertainment value.

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