Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not really posting ...

SO … I’m still having fun (and depleting my best ideas) posting over on 2politicalJunkies and The People’s Republic of Pittsburgh. So I don’t really have anything to say here that is earth shattering. Pat Dowd’s campaign seems to have been somewhat over shadowed in the Burghosphere (or whatever the small coven of Pittsburgh bloggers is calling it). I just got an email about from his campaign manager about the meeting of the local democratic committee for endorsements. It’s too bad the burgh’s blogosphere is ignoring Dr Dowd, he looks to be just as nerdy as Bill Peduto. If (by some miracle) Peduto should win the primary (and thus the election), who will be the resident nerd for city council? Is Bill Peduto’s council seat opening up, or will there be yet another “special” election (I am incapable of being politically correct; unbidden, thoughts of “special” election candidates running twitching down a Pittsburgh street a la Python’s Upper Class Twit of the Year rumble up from my sub-conscious). Ehh, better stop there.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ruth Ann Dailey's contribution to C-D

Jeeze, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I posted here. And its late, so I can’t stay long …

My site meter reported no visitors last week. Can you hack site meters? Probably. Probably ticked someone off.

So, I have been commenting some on 2PoliticalJunkies on Ruth Ann Dailey’s columns about Nancy Pelosi’s plane. She’s done the two. I realized I really *had* to say something here about what she had written because it really is a pretty good example of cognitive dissonance. It started as a pretty juicy story in the Washington Times. Pelosi asking for a big converted 757 (I think) military plane to take her back and forth between DC and SF, and probably to ferry family and friends as well. Ruth Ann wrote a column, apparently based on a Washington Times piece, talking about this. Apparently the story unraveled a bit when the House Sergeant at Arms said that he had made the request, and the size of the plane was based on the need for a longer range given that the last Speaker’s (Denny Hastert) district is about half as far away. The Speaker of the House is, I believe, third in line of Presidential Succession. Now, Ruth Ann’s first column started with the notion that democrats are sometimes as corrupt as republicans. Not a bad notion, something that honest observers of politics should agree with, and indeed, a good reminder to liberal citizens to keep a sharp watch on the politicians they like, to help keep them in office. Ruth Ann also I believe quoted from the Washington Times about some statements/threats Jack Murtha might have made if Pelosi didn’t get her plane. I believe Murtha could have made the statements, he is increasingly striking me as a bit of a loose cannon. An important loose cannon, because of his status as a former democrat hawk and because of seniority, but still a loose cannon. Still, after Ruth Ann wrote the first column, the story seemed to unravel a bit.

The interesting thing was the second column, because at this point Ruth Ann had to admit that the facts were reported differently in several other media outlets. Even the White House had largely dismissed the story. What Ruth Ann did was to hold fast to her original viewpoint: “Close reading of all the news available, however, reveals that none of the reports cancels others out.”

Now, frankly, on 2PJ I expressed the opinion that the House Sergeant at Arms might be sucking up to the new Speaker, and I say this because I know savvy bureaucrats in fact to suck up to legislators, since the legislators tend to control purse strings. On the other hand, the common sense arguments about the Speaker being safer flying non-stop are pretty compelling. Now, is Pelosi likely to take constituents and family on this plane? If she can, but remember that Air Force One also takes people besides the President on trips, and the President routinely uses Air Force One to fly to fund raising events, something we are not likely to see the Speaker do with her airplane.

The thing is that Ruth Ann was unable to concede that the Speaker’s motives were in fact *not* political or corrupt, or perhaps that the Speaker had not even had motives since she was not one to ask for a particular type of plane. Ruth Ann had to explain away the behavior of the White House and what was said in virtually the entire main stream media in order to hold onto her view of Pelosi.

Richard Cottom introduced me to the idea of cognitive dissonance and perceptual motivation in political behavior. In one example, Cottom expressed it in terms of people’s individual realizations that though they had considered themselves part of the fight against communism for more than two decades, one by one they realized the war in Vietnam had nothing to do with that fight (or at best very little). They had explained every action of the Vietnamese (and us) in cognitively dissonant ways, everything tracking back to Moscow (and our needing to destroy Vietnam in order to save it). Eventually, though, Americans simply ran out of ways to look at that fight in the cold war context. Ruth Ann’s second column was like a flashback to the conservative holdouts in the Vietnam war era, the people who said that just because the facts were contradictory didn’t mean that it wasn’t Moscow behind the scenes, or that we weren’t the good guys. Of course, this brings up an unwanted sense of déjà vu. Apparently we couldn’t have won Vietnam, yet if we somehow had, would America have been as disillusioned in the Seventies (or as Dazed and Confused)? If we were actually winning in Iraq, would the democrats have done as well in the ‘06 midterms?

All that aside, Ruth Ann’s second column is as naked an example of cognitive dissonance as I have seen recently. A fine lesson and a cautionary example for us all.

Friday, February 09, 2007

PAT comment

Today at 4:00 is the deadline for comments on the PAT's "right sizing", on their website. I guess this is not a public service in posting the deadline, unless you submit at lunch (or have the free time to submit). Below I post the comment I made this morning (just under the wire). As proof that I submitted, I will repeat the confirmation message I saw when I did submit: "You comment is appreciated" or something like that. I am guilty of dropping that "r" quite frequently from "your", still every time I see the word Luigi floats to the top of my consciousness.

I want to express my dismay at the proposed cuts and fare increases in bus service for Allegheny County. I do not want to blame particular individuals and I want to express understanding for taxpayers who live outside Allegheny County and outside the county(s) served by Philadelphia’s mass transit system. Paying for (subsidizing) someone else’s bus service seems unreasonable. But just like everyone pays for public schools because we all benefit from more educated, more employable citizens, the state benefits from Pittsburgh’s public transit in measurable ways, and even somewhat less measurable. There is a section on the Port Authority website:
that describes the benefits of public transit. I would call attention to the sections that mention reducing pollution and improving employment by making it possible for people to work further from their home (either comfortably or even at all). Less pollution particularly improves public health and adds that intangible quality of life benefit that some people deeply value. A stronger Pittsburgh in terms of employment and a gentler Pittsburgh in terms of our contribution to pollution are tangible contributions back to the rest of the state.

I don’t have any especially insightful suggestions. I think the county government needs to step up and find and offer a dedicated funding source. A good symbolic gesture would be a tax on SUV’s, or any non-commercial vehicle either weighing over a certain tonnage or with a power to weight ratio in excess of a certain percentage (i.e. a sports car). I would argue against a sales tax, since it tends to fall more regressively on the poor.

I think that the drivers and mechanics may have to be asked to at least freeze their wages. Ideally they would offer to do at least that, because there is a certain unfairness in the citizens of Allegheny County asking them to do that. I realize that as a union, the structure of the thing is such that the most senior employees would oppose a wage cut (their jobs won’t be cut). I would suggest that if a wage cut is proposed, 10% or 20% or whatever, management (all management) simply adopt it first before proposing it to the drivers and mechanics. That would be the way to start to show real leadership, and to approach the issue with a degree of moral authority.

All that said, the real issue of buses running with only two or three riders at night is a real problem. Still, simply cutting a route that has rush hour riders and serves remote neighborhoods is punishing Allegheny County for not having fixed PAT in the past. Even if the routes that are due to be eliminated are simply cut in half, that should save a considerable amount of money and preserve the ability of those who can’t drive or who are unable to, to still move around the city. It may inconvenience them, but a greater inconvenience would be to have to walk (or perhaps roll) an extra two or three miles in sub zero temperatures.

I would ask for consideration of the suggestions many others make, like switching to the smaller buses in between the rush hours and after rush hour. The hub and spoke idea should be tried (or expanded upon), it may not work, Pittsburghers may refuse, but at least you will have tried.

Finally, I would propose cutting fares, even a token amount. If Public transportation serves a public purpose and mission, it should not b trying to use fares to balance its budget. Lower fares might pay for themselves through increased rider ship (like lower taxes actually increase revenues, right republicans?). More importantly, though, increasing the number of riders increases the level of all those public benefits mentioned before (and on the PAT website), less pollution, less traffic congestion, easier parking for those who still need to, an improved employment picture for Pittsburgh, and a public service for the poor. More inexpensive public transportation for Allegheny County would promote the kind of revitalization the county wants to see.

My own stake in this issue is not strictly personal. I drive to work right now because I am working two jobs with a tight middle commute. I have a University ID, so I can ride the bus for free. I recently bought a folding bike, partly to be able to take it on buses, any bus, not just those with the bike racks. I believe in public transportation as one of those government agencies that can serve the public good. There will always be complaints and bumps in the road. But these route cuts and fare increases will be a permanent blow to the public’s opinion of PAT.