Monday, April 30, 2007

Oh yeah, ...

I wanted to note the retirement of Peter Leo from the Post-Gazette (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07120/782186-294.stm). I have been reading him for years (decades), and while I didn't always find him funny, I can say he is consistently more funny than, say, … me. True to his somewhat oblique style, based on today's column, I can't say whether "The Morning File" will continue with a new byline. But I hope he will find some way to express himself publicly in retirement, at least occasionally. Maybe he could blog.

Iraq, still, from both directions

Maybe I will do some commenting from here, rather than there. Over at The Conversation (http://jonathanpotts.blogspot.com/) Jonathan Potts suggests that Charles Krauthammer is being something of a hypocrite for complaining that Boris Yeltsin failed to create total democracy in Russia since we haven’t been able to do so in Iraq. I guess I am sarcasm-impaired, this statement didn’t sit well with me:

“Perhaps a more capable leader could have guided Russia from totalitarianism to democracy. And perhaps a more capable leader could have brought democracy to Iraq. But to paraphrase a great man, you go to war with the president you have, not the president you want to have.”

I understand the comparison, but in my opinion it is flawed. Democracy, or some form of political change, was pretty much inevitable in Russia. By comparison, Iraq was entirely optional, interms of going there to set up democracy. If we had resisted going to war there, by now we might have rolled up much of the Islamic fundamentalist terror network and put a truly democratic government in Afghanistan.

I think it was on the PBS program “Now” that the idea was advanced that if we hadn’t disbanded the Iraqi army, the insurgency might have been headed off. Maybe. I accept the statements of the person being interviewed, that a day after the army was disbanded, the first IED attack occurred. But I think that even if the army were intact, there would be other problems over there. Tribal or religious divides would have emerged, or the people would get tied of the dictator that we would have put in place. Still, I suppose there is something to knowing exactly when the policy went to hell.

At two political junkies (http://2politicaljunkies.blogspot.com/) they complain about Jack Kelly’s latest column accusing congressional democrats of, well, treason or appeasing the enemy or something. Kelly is seriously off the deep end, but I don’t think his column should be dismissed totally out of hand. The democrats in Congress and running for president have an interesting problem. They realize that while people want to get the troops out of Iraq, they also want to win the war, if there is any chance to do so. Ths creates an interesting dance, because I think the democratic leadership sees itself as vulnerable. I mean, it hasn’t hurt Murtha, and Pelosi and Reid are possibly safe, but the first major presidential candidate who comes out for unambiguous pullout can probably kiss the nomination or at least the general election good bye. Really, for everyone; the President, the republicans and the democrats, waiting is maybe the most attractive answer. The democrats pulled off a good policy maneuver this past week, sending the president something with a timetable to veto, so that everybody can look like they are doing *something* to their base. But really we are likely to see a whole slew of odd postures as candidates try to seem like they are both for and against the war. Kind of like the bids on Price is Right, closest to winning (whether in pullout or surge) without going too far in one direction.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Yahoo's been quiet, too quiet ...

Well, today at 5:00 will make five days since Pat Dowd's campaign submitted an information request to councilman Len Bodack. I wonder what will happen, and whether the Piggy, I mean the Post Gazette, will cover it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

um.

The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat has written about a malaise settling in around the Burghoshpere, and obviously I’m as guilty as the next blogger. Besides the reasons he listed (minus the computer issues, I’m always tinkering with mine), I think the fallout from the Mayoral primary has taken the wind out of many sails.

Speaking of malaise (for me), I continue my monologue on the state of my commute. Today I have a dinner in Oakland, so I drove. I am getting up early enough, but still poorly motivated to try the folding ride (it was cold this morning, and supposed to b e rainy later). Maybe tomorrow.

You would think the Burghosphere would get reved up about the new (back to the future) Places Rated Almanac (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07116/781162-53.stm). Twenty two years ago they rated us “America’s Most Livable City”. Like most flukes (sports teams, Sony plants) it didn’t last, and probably hurt the book itself. No longer published by Rand McNally, in fact now self-published by the author, the book has once again rated us the most livable city. Apparently, of the seven or nine factors used to measure cities, we didn’t score in the top twenty in any, and as low as 111 in housing and 135 in climate; never the less we came in number one. So you can stop wondering what Ravenstahl did with his left over campaign funds (hey, its only natural the city would buy a few thousand books for the “Luke Ravenstahl Visitor Center”, housed in the olde Garden Theatre on the near North Side, even if we did place the order before the number one city was chosen).

Well, ok, I have no proof of that (in fact, I am making the visitor center shtick and campaign fund part up), but how else do you explain this rating?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Then I saw the forecast for today...

Then I saw the forecast for today, and decided to bag bike riding for today.
(see previous post)

Wus. sssssssss.

Well, steady rain in the afternoon is enough to give anyone pause. I have a bag for the thing, and, embarrassingly, a bag for the bag. Why get the things wet the first time I use them?

I’ll try on a day when there are only scattered showers predicted, not a ¼ or ½ inch of rain predicted.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Clowns on bikes music

I want to try to do the thing that I have thought about for some time. After all, we are only as small as our dreams, and mine is small. If I am not so tired tomorrow morning, I want to take my folding bike on the bus. Remember, I am in the East End, where the buses are crowded. And the folding bike is probably not good for more than a couple of miles before getting to be a drag. But I want to try. Maybe I will never do it again, maybe it is a dilettante thing, do a thing once to prove it is possible then never bother again.

Well, I figure I have to get up on time and exercise immediately to get out the door early, to get a less crowded bus. So I need to cut this short. If I do it, I’ll let you know. And yeah, it is supposed to rain tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I don't know what to make of the Burghosphere ...

(the point of this post comes in the last paragraph)

I don't know what to make of the Burghosphere ... I mean, I hang out at and no doubt annoy about six to ten different blogs or so, commenting like I’m part of a conversation (http://jonathanpotts.blogspot.com/), trying to find a null space (http://nullspace2.blogspot.com/) in the chatter to jump into.

Heh.

But it is really hard to take the whole thing seriously (credit to Bram for that phrase), because I see it as a group about the size of a classroom just talking to/at each other. This does not appear to be a significant part of the electorate, for example, and likely not representative of the electorate. Most everyone else in the Burghosphere is very well prepared and well read, and I don’t mind being taken as opinionated and probably wrong. So, my views are my own and if my logic doesn’t persuade you then its not strong enough and that’s my fault. I’m open to being persuaded myself, except not really. I’m vain enough to think that unless someone shows me I’m wrong, I’m not wrong. ‘course it is embarrassing how often people show me I’m wrong …

So this is leading in the direction of the on going Bodack/Dowd debate within the Burghosphere. I think I joined it early, posting about errors in email addresses and URL’s in a flyer I got from Pat Dowd. There were also errors on the web page. I posted on that. A few days later on a Sunday Pat Dowd knocked on my door and chatted to me and my step daughter about what he wants to do. I was frankly impressed, and I posted on it. I picked up a commenter who was clearly a Bodack supporter and we commented back and forth for a while. Now, I can’t say whether the accusations he has leveled at Dr.Dowd or his claims for Mr Bodack’s record are accurate or not, though I have no objection to his making them. Since my commenter has chosen to remain anonymous, I have made the assumption that it is one person. There have been a variety of anti-Dowd and pro-Bodack posts around the part of Burghosphere I read, many with similar writing styles. So I wonder if/kind of think it is the same person.

Regardless, I am a Patrick Dowd supporter because I have been persuaded by what I have seen. Currently my support is a bit like those yellow support the troops ribbons on cars, almost entirely in name. And that is fine with me (if not with Dr. Dowd), that is the real world of work and obligations. But I have been willing to talk about why I think Dr. Dowd is the better choice, and I will continue to talk about it. Once again, I don’t think many people read this site (and several have already abandoned this post), so even if I’m wrong I probably haven’t done much harm. I kind of like Barack Obama too.

I think Dr. Dowd put in an appearance in the comments of my last post. I say “think” because there really is no way to verify, and I noticed the poster who is pro-Bodack has started appropriating names, including the name of this blog, while commenting on other blogs. Anyway, the commenter Dowd answered very neatly an accusation made by an anonymous commenter, who had selectively referenced an ’05 PG story. And the real point of *this* post (there’s a point?) is to note that the commenter Dowd referenced http://www.patrickdowd.org/, a website used by Dr. Dowd for his school board work.

Which leads me to this: the Dowd campaign came out early with a web presence, and Dr. Dowd already had a considerable web presence. Although DowdforPittsburgh initially was quite light on issues, it has filled out considerably. It has a blog which I wish Dowd or his handlers would delegate to someone else, because it’s never been updated. But it also has video and pictures, press releases and so on, really as much as you could ask of any candidate. And patrickdowd.org existed prior to this campaign, and also has a huge amount of information. When Dr. Dowd talks about wanting to put transparency into government, well clearly he has already walked the walk. And once again, I can not find a Bodack campaign website, using Google on “Bodack”. My anonymous commenter has done yeoman work (that’s supposed to be a compliment) in filling in for this lack, with recent comments on the Burgh repore on a week old post, listing Mr. Bodacks accomplishments, and blasting the PG for endorsing Dowd. And I should note Mr. Bodack is one of a minority of council persons who have put there finances on the web. But the lack of a campaign website is, for me, enough to keep me from voting for Mr. Bodack, at least versus Dr. Dowd.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

They won all the battles but we had all the good songs

I'm thinking Tom Leher said that somewhere in the album "That was the year that was". Maybe.

The way my brain works… I have been thinking all day long that Pat Dowd needs a song. Since he has advocated for a council statement on the Port Authority situation, I’m thinking someone should update MTA. You know, Kingston Trio, “He’s the man who never returned”.

The funny thing is, it could be a hit. My wife reminded me that the song gets airtime on WJAS. I think young people in the district would be tickled to death to hear a protest song in this day and age. Maybe Agent Ska could produce it. But she would need a banjo player, or maybe just to sample the original …

The song starts (as copied from http://www.mit.edu/~jdreed/t/charlie.html):

Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Charlie handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
"One more nickel."
Charlie could not get off that train.
Well, the ten cents part and the train change wouldn’t work, but I can see the conductor telling him “One more quarter”.

Chorus:

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

Now all night long
Charlie rides through the tunnels
Saying, "What will become of me?
How can I afford
to see My sister in Chelsea
Or my cousin in Roxbury?"

I can see changing lyrics to “My sister in Baldwin” and “the Pirates in PNC”. And skipping ahead a bit, the relevant lines would be:

Now you citizens of Boston,
Don't you think it's a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay
Vote for Walter A. O'Brien
And fight the fare increase
Get poor Charlie off the MTA.

Changed to:

Now you citizens of Pittsburgh,
Don’t you think it is a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay,
Vote for Patrick Dowd
And fight the fare increase,
Get poor Charlie off the LRT.

Well, I wanted to get that out of my head (and perhaps into yours). I hope I haven’t plagiarized the poor Kingston Trio. I hope they would approve of the re-imagining of the song they popularized.

He's the man who never returned.
He's the man who never returned.

Peduto, from a yet a greater distance

I think I might have reached an epiphany of sorts (better look it up …yeah, that’s it). There was always a disconnect between Bill Peduto’s default position as designated reformer and his actions. When he talked on the KD/PG Sunday morning show, he described the race as about leadership, though he only offered a few tantalizing crumbs about how that should be defined (remember, at this point he had quit the race, and seemed to be waiting for the rebellion to pull him back in, to cry out how we had misunderstood him and truly needed him – draft Bill to run – a true Teddy Kennedy moment). No words about his plans for reform I heard (though I missed some moments). In the City Paper interview, he said, as I remember, that he was relying on the reform plans he had posted on the web in ’05, but maybe he should have reposted them or put some new ideas out …

So today I was in the process of replying, on the Burgh Report, as it happens, to a comment from Char (is that pronounced Burr Repore?) and as I formulated my reply something finally dawned on me. Bill Peduto wants to be mayor more than he wants to implement reform. That’s why he is staying with the democratic party, that’s why he is waiting to run. Yes, he can introduce reform in city council, but as one member among nine, he won’t be blamed if nothing is accomplished and the city goes further down the tubes.

I have an absolute blind spot, I assume that self-designated reformers share my interest in policy for policies’ sake (policy for policy’s sake?). Don’t get me wrong, I have my tin-plated swaggering dictatorial moments (I *like* to be in charge), but I also enjoy it when a plan comes together (in the immortal words of Hannibal wossiname). I like following the logic, identifying the effect of tax policy on tuition (a reform as one of several factors contributing to a negative trend) or using the tuition and fees deduction to bring down AGI and increase the Earned Income Credit (the only real tax trick I know … shhhhh, don’t tell anyone). But my blind spot is limited only to candidates whom I assume are na├»ve, I have learned that office holders who want to run again quickly learn lessons, and ambitious office holders have to make deals with people real reformers would only want to lecture to.

So, forgive me for being so blind. Peduto didn’t put reform material on the web because it didn’t work in the last primary. Luke was stealing ideas and the press was chuckling affectionately (“awww, isn’t he cute”). But Bill can see the shine will wear off our shiny mayor and Luke will be exposed as a clumsy politician. There is a distinct possibility that Doug Shields will become our mayor before ’09, but in any event the words “Grand Jury Investigation” are fast becoming all but inevitable. So Bill can wait.

But if Bill cared more about the city than his career (I know, so silly for me to suggest that)… I always have a special disdain for politicians who believe that their “leadership” skills are so valuable that it doesn’t really matter whether reform in enacted or not, the city (or whatever governmental unit) will benefit more from just being led by them.

And, you know, reformers aren’t, after any time in office. This appears to be the story of Jim Ferlo, who still speaks with reformer zeal about the convention center, but appears to have caved to the various machines on public transit and his old council seat race.

And that’s the thing, politician’s are like that now, always having to run and raise money and curry favor. Still, if they enact reform early, or even late when forced, it can live on. Luke could appoint that fifth member of the ethics board (at the end of his term, maybe) and it could start to shine light on government. Pat Dowd could get his transparency in city government and then break all his promises and run for mayor (arguably … never mind). The point would be that the policies would live on, no matter how good or bad the politician.

But Bill hadn’t even made any proposals. He judged it tactically useful not to bring up reform, and I fear a Peduto Mayorship might not have had much reform in it either. You have to go with the evidence and behavior at hand.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Something caught my attention ...

So I haven’t posted in over a week. Busy, busy, but also there’s not much in the way of news recently. The war in fact does seem like a lost cause, the democrats are trying to fix the AMT; interesting but not enough to draw me away from other things to the keyboard.

I will say this, UPMC’s plan to move their headquarters got me thinking. I guess a lot of the headquarters was probably already in Chatham Center, but the official-ness of the move from Oakland and the flagship UPMC hospitals to downtown has some symbolic value.

I think a lot of people think the label “Non-profit” is way too broad. I guess there is already a term “Not for profit” that covers at least Blue Cross/Highmark (or it did when I worked there). I, for one, am disturbed/annoyed that one of the tenants of one of the presumably higher priced buildings downtown will be paying no property tax on their rent. They will get to “choose” what contribution to make to the city/county. Sure, UPMC is regulated in their insurance business, they have to negotiate with insurance companies for payment and all the rest. But their protests about all their charity and their nonprofit status sound a little too much like the oil companies saying “we just had a good year” (record profits in the billions) “We have bad years, we can’t we have good years?”.