Wednesday, May 30, 2007

voters who make bad choices, and the candidates that love them ...

Pundits, academics and bloggers are mad. They’re mad because even though they are so clever, nobody seems to be enacting their policy suggestions on a national level. Oh, people listen and tell them they’re clever, but the Bush administration keeps going on its merry way; no one seems to be storming the castle gates. Now that the congressional democrats have caved to the administration, the pundits and bloggers have someone new to whine about. With all this anger going around, so much desire to blame, it was inevitable that someone would blame the public. According to the NYTimes Sunday Magazine, in a section called the Idea Lab, a George Mason economist named Bryan Caplan has a new book “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies” where he argues that “voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational — and vote accordingly.” Apparently the conventional theory (“the Miracle of Aggregation”) is that voters act somewhat randomly, except for a small percentage of informed voters. Given a choice between a candidate with a wise plan for, say, health care and a candidate with a foolish plan, the ill-informed voters will, with their bundle of expectations, tend to split over the candidates, and the small percentage of informed voters will put the wise candidate over the edge. Except that Caplan says this does not, in fact happen. Large groups of voters can behave perversely in a systematic manner, and cancel out the other random and also the well-informed voters. His evidence comes from a survey comparing PhD opinions against average Americans opinions, but the popularity of the book will come (if it is popular) from people thinking about the ’04 election.

What Caplan is really complaining about is candidates, not issues. In our representative democracy, candidates have a variety of influences, and give us (the voters) a variety of statements about their positions. We may feel strongly about a single issue, a general position or simply like a candidate for a variety of commendable or not so commendable reasons (such as smartness or physical attractiveness or party affiliation). The thing is, of course, elected officials can run into unexpected situations, like the President with 9/11. The President’s behavior since 9/11 is the issue he has been judged on in subsequent elections. But I think the issue is more complicated, because the war on terror is so different from other wars. In the past we have given President’s wide latitude of action in dealing with wars, such as Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and Roosevelt’s internment camps. But the enemy in those wars was easy to see and the progress clear. By comparison, the role of the Iraq invasion and occupation is not clear in the war on terror, and the overall progress in the war on terror is not clear. But I think voters have hung onto and supported the President’s explanations as reasonable longer than they might of for a less important issue, such as a recession or immigration policy. We are, after all, supposed to be at war, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Voters should treat war differently. This war is more subtle than the events in Iraq, and I think voters know that. In fact, it is so subtle it is probably nearly impossible to define. After all, we are not at war with the Middle East, but we could be said to be at war with individuals and groups throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world (Indonesia, e.g.). We are not at war with Islam, but those who we are at war with describe themselves as devout followers of Islam. Voters can almost be forgiven for wanting to simplify the issue; I think that was a big part of the initial support for invading Iraq. I think voters still have a collective sense of guilt about that, and so want both to stay long enough to win (still), and leave as soon as possible to put it behind us.

Caplan, for his part, wants to give the Council of Economic Advisors “Supreme Court Status”; that is, the power to veto laws with bad economics. The NYTimes, for their part, argue that voters have been unable to make good voting decisions because the administration has lied to us. Myself, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t support any restrictions on democracy, unless you think campaign finance reform is undemocratic. Better funding of schools, and more college aid would actually probably help the situation some more. And maybe more Aaron Sorkin programs. Or maybe not.

I may come in and edit parts of this post as the day goes on ...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Anonymity n@

As I have run round electronically and commented this Memorial Day, I have noticed that a couple of blogs don’t allow anonymous comments. The irony here exists on several levels.

Actually a blog like Jonathan Potts’ Conversation has a certain right, he and Chris Briem have made it clear who they are. Of course, commenter’s merely have to choose a handle on, so the no anonymous rule is more of an inconvenience than anything else. But those commenters' that do choose handles and, even more, have the handles linked to a blog are to be commended. They are far more willing to be transparent or at least risk something in the Burghosphere than the legions of anonymous commenters’. But except for Jonathan, Chris, maybe Bram and (mostly) me (and in a weird way the estimable Matt H), we are all anonymous in this political corner of the Burghosphere (I’m sure there are blogs I haven’t stumbled onto yet). The handles we choose can persist, as far as I know. As far as I know my spelling of ”edheath” is protected by a password and unique in the blogging world. But really anyone could link to Cognitive Dissonance, and try a variation of edheath in a silly attempt to be me. On second thought, I can’t see anyone bothering when I am inclined to say things like the definition and defining of “pedantic” could be said to be the act of being pedantic.

Sorry. Anyway, I have commented twice recently on a related subject on different burghospehre blogs. There has been a fair amount recently in the Burghosphere of “is that you, Joe” or “quiet down, Joe Smith, Bill Jones gave you your Golgafrinchan B-Ark job and this is how repay him?” (, or “Who are you, Lord Kitchner, to say who should serve on the Soylent Green distribution committee”. Of course, there is no way to know who any commenter or even most posters are, and lots of the usual and tiring denials. The point I have been trying to make in these comments is the pointlessness of actually trying to identify anyone, because it really isn’t possible.

But I think you do have a right to wonder about the agenda of some blogs. I think we all know the agenda of two PJ’s is to bring down the administration of President Bush, in order for the terrorists to win, because they think those burkahs are really rad. I would suggest, dear reader, that you apply your own judgment to what you think your favorite anonymous’ blogs’ agenda might be. You should consider it like your favorite newspaper, which we know can have a bias, but be mindful of the differences between newspapers and blogs. After all, a newspaper has reporters and editors, people you can reach out and touch. Now, newspaper editorials are often anonymous, but also often reference stories done by reporters. You can tell the bias of an editorial board based on what it chooses to comment on and what stories it references. So too with blogs, I would encourage readers to think of them as anonymous editorial boards, with possible biases. It’s worse if blogs try to release original news (which they rarely do around here), but in any I would encourage readers not to take anything said on a blog for granted. I welcome skepticism on my blog, no matter how irritating I find it (safe for me to say anyway, given my tiny readership).

I’ve always thought of my blog as my only chance to write a continuous series of letters to the editor. After all, the PG only prints four letters a year from any given letter writer (damnit). I used to resort to writing to the Trib, but this is more fun (and safe, no one actually reads this). Reading other blogs is fun too, even if I do get a strong sense of Shakespeare’s sound and fury line; anonymous bloggers seemingly whispering innuendos about public figures and then being criticized by other masked men and women.

So … if you liked Mystery Science Theatre 3000, you’ll like Riff Trax. (that came out of no-where… well, several hours passed and I sat down again at the computer, tightened the editing a bit, and decided I was bored with this post). Actually, I imagine you can NetFlix a lot of MST3000 (hold on while I bop over to … (click, tap ..sorry, couldn’t resist). Yep, lot of MST3000.

So … be skeptical but not silly in your blog commenting. Who cares who Amber is; was the last comment coherent? Talk about the words, not the anonymous person. And get a handle and use it. It’s too much trouble having to tie a ribbon on you anonymous commenter’s.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

We win? redux and more

It looks like to me, per the Pa House website daily report, that SB 218 passed. Of course, I believe it did last year, but Ed Rendell had vetoed it, because its timing would have hurt cities. Now it is here in the spring, and cities have more than six months to prepare.

I have been thinking about the district office thing in district 7. Most council persons do not have a district office, and you can see why. Pittsburgh is a compact city, so a district office is perhaps a poor way to spend discretionary council funds. Still, I interned in federal level congressional offices, and there I came to appreciate district offices.

I have a compromise suggestion, maybe one of many, that may not be feasible or legal, and would require various parties to come on board. In this day and age of mobile offices, you could set someone up with a laptop in a wireless hot spot a couple of evenings a week as a part time district office. A possible venue would be Crazy Mocha, with the owner’s permission, of course (The claustrophobic Union Project would work for a couple *more* nights a week). This person could talk to “walkover” constituents, fill out and electronically file forms for them, and send emails as if from a councilman’s office (in this case Dr. Dowd’s office) to various city agencies as needed, with promises of follow up. You could pay this person as a 1099 subcontractor and possibly kick some money Crazy Mocha’s way for the use of a table (if the possible increased business wasn’t enough). You'd want detailed timesheets, such as the names of people who asked for help. Evening hours would not be convenient for everyone, but they would be convenient for people who in fact usually don’t have the option to visit a councilman’s office. Now, I would apply for (bid on?) this job myself (I can always use a few extra bucks), but I anticipate/hope to be doing taxes from January to mid-April next year. I can see Dr. Dowd assigning the job to a staffer or more likely doing it himself. But hey, if someone wants to bid it out after April fifteenth, you know where to find me (I can be bought for … say 11 bucks an hour).

Maybe this plan would catch on and all sorts of council persons would have to have caffeine fueled evening hours in dimly lit coffee houses. The comparison to the committee man who hangs out in a diner/luncheonette and trades favors for bribes is, perhaps, inevitable.

I guess you can’t help but have noticed email-gate. I am referring, of course, to the Mayor’s silly email to City Council’s President, covered including header and all(?) at the Burgh Report. Good access. I was instantly reminded of Dave Barry’s May 6 NYTimes review of the book “Send”. I think anyone can read the review at, but in case I’m wrong, I’ll *refrain* from printing the whole thing here. Meanwhile, I think the Burgosphere should pool it’s collective advertising pennies and send the Mayor a copy. Or perhaps a council person could use some of that discretionary money to do the Mayor a favor and get him a copy. This is my contribution: (

Update: sodmeone else printed the Dave Barry Review here: (
it is quite funny.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Important request

Kristie Weiland, from Just Harvest, sent me this. Just Harvest was the VITA tax site where I worked this past spring. The state rep for Morningside, Highland Park, Stanton Heights, Bloomfield (I think) and north to Ross Township (including Aspinwall and Reserve) is Lisa Bennington (, (717) 705-7011). I think - I'm sure about Moringside and Stanton Heights.

SB 218 will be voted on in the State House either Wednesday or Thursday! Please call your Representative now and urge him/her to vote yes on the bill, including an up-front exemption for low-income workers.

The current $52 Emergency and Municipal Services (EMS) Tax is collected from every worker in about 65% of municipalities in Allegheny County (municipalities, other than Philadelphia, can choose this tax instead of a smaller occupation tax, most of them have). The entire $52 is withheld in the first month of work creating a large burden on low-income workers, part-time workers and students. Some municipalities offer a refund of $42 to low-income workers, but each defines "low-income" differently.

SB 218 would change collection of the tax to $1 per week and mandate refunds for low-income workers earning less than $12,000 per year. The House Finance committee has added an amendment that would offer an up-front exemption to low-income workers so they wouldn't have to pay the tax then wait a year for the refund. They've also added an amendment that would create a uniform form that all municipalities would use for the exemption (this would make it much easier to access the form, especially for those of us who do taxes for people working in multiple municipalities). Just Harvest supports SB 218 and the 2 House amendments.

A similar bill was passed last year in November but then vetoed by Rendell because municipalities wouldn't have enough time to prepare. It is important that this bill be passed soon so that doesn't happen again!

You can find your state representative and their contact information at

Please contact me if you have any questions or need more information. Feel free to forward this alert to others.

Kristie Weiland
Community Organizer
Just Harvest
16 Terminal Way
Pittsburgh, PA

Monday, May 21, 2007


Chris Briem, of Null Space ( has a post up entitled “rethinking price elasticity for gas and Curitiba”. I want to say something about the price elasticity part, echoing sentiments which have been echoing around a few blogs around here since a report on Philly’s transit came out ( By the way, the Philly study is about what happens *if* no one gives them a hundred million.

The thing is, as gas prices approach and pass three dollars, we seem to hit a point of shared unconscious memory. Gas is reaching that point where it is now more expensive than it ever was before, in real terms (i.e, adjusted for inflation). Now, considering that the bottom 90% of us have not seen a whole lot of growth in our wages in real terms since the last time gas hit a high over twenty years ago, we are all getting nervous. Gas jokes are going to dominate the late night monologues for a while. The administration is going to hope for some Congressional committee to call Alberto Gonzales or Paul Wolfewitz (sp?) to testify to distract us. And we might think about taking the bus.

Oh wait, bus fares just went up. And I have to arrive an hour early to work if I take the bus.

You know, the state legislature has been relatively generous, but stopped increasing the amount it gave PAT for five or six years starting in 2000. Surprise, we developed a short fall. But now, if we could avoid the cuts and the fare increase, PAT’s ridership might go up, with lots of new middle class riders. PAT might turn the corner. Are you listening, Dan Onorato?

My State Representative, LisaBennington and State Senator, Jim Ferlo, need to get on the stick too. Their districts extend far away from the city, and to the extent they have commuters, they need help too. Even if it is the rest of us who ride the bus, the reduced demand for gas will make the price the commuters pay fall too.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

See, it's funny n@

See, I’m surprised people actually read this, which is the big thing to come out of what I did last night. Although I also watched “Night at the Museum”, which was a satisfying experience.

Right now, I’m trying futilely to channel Nick Hornby, who has written several good books and whom I can recommend in print or on film (though I haven’t seen either Fever Pitch). I was reading one of his collections of book reviews this morning before I logged on, and true to form I am a pathetic sponge, my inner voice has now taken on a slight English accent. If I had read Robert Parker I would be trying to be self deprecatingly tough and terse (and I am sure the terse part would be a welcome relief).

Well, I went to a Dowd campaign victory celebration last night. I had stayed at one remove from the campaign throughout the campaign, for reasons both real and (in my mind) cowardly. Of course, I should point out “The Candidate” is one of my favorite movies, so I have high standards in my mind for the life of a campaign. But I met several very nice people there and was somewhat flattered, unfortunately, because then you feel tortured later. In the real world, candidates do let you down.

As an aside, Hornby wrote about reading Candide, which I gather, in my illiterate way, is an attack on optimism. I think we get the suppression of overt optimism done sometime around the third grade these days, replacing it with a cheerful if world weary and familiar cynicism. I’m scheduled (imagine pronouncing “scheduled” with a soft “ch”, my inner voice is such a, um, lady of ill-repute to the last thing I read) to see Shrek III tonight. Although almost all of today’s movies end with an implicit end of history type happy ending (the end of Night at the Museum is the implication that forever more all the characters will dance every night away, even the bad guys, for example), its only in today’s cartoons that adults (or their voices) express that that is the way things should be.

Political candidates are, by definition, supposed to be optimistic, and Pat Dowd probably abuses the definition more than most. But so he should, his campaign was staffed by literate, friendly people who were interested in making a positive change. Well, I assume literate, I didn’t talk to too many people (I have curious blocks, I have no trouble blabbing on the internet or rambling in the occasional class I take, talking people’s ears off while doing their taxes, but I will stand alone at parties for hours, not wanting to break into other people’s conversations), but I was introduced to some scary Ellis and (I believe) Central Catholic students. The New York Times had a painful article about how there are really too many accomplished teenagers now, and the competition to get into the best schools has gotten ludicrous, especially considering how un-accomplished we were when we got in (I went to a good, but not great school, FWIW).

But Patrick Dowd’s people were quite nice. I remember (a little hazily) that someone mentioned they had met quite nice Bodack supporters and/or workers too. Judging by the yard signs in Morningside and Stanton Heights, Bodack supporters and Dowd Supporters were neighbors, and they probably coexist quite well through the rest of the year (or three and a half years).Morningside and Stanton Heights were the fifty fifty neighborhoods. Now Pat Dowd gets to try to live up to his people’s expectations. To win the election (barely) he has set the expectations bar kinda high. I know he seems to be a driven personality, and will work hard. But as one other person (who had reason to be also at one remove from the campaign) told me, his last advice to Patrick would be “Be careful what you ask for”. Having had several of those moments myself over time, I can only sympathize.

Did you read this in the Post Gazette ( These contracts need to be talked about in the Burghosphere. Ironically, I can find no fault with the Housing Authority, except that maybe they should have been more clear from the start. I haven’t looked at the Housing Authority website (no research!) and anyway this seems like a done deal. Interesting article, though.

By the way, the only reason I am writing all this stuff is because my site meter has jumped. I will try to be less long winded in the future, if only to get a few of these moments back for my own life (I can’t worry about yours).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fallout ...

I have a nervous feeling, waiting for the District 7 race to finalize. I don’t like it hanging like this.

(Update: Oh dear, let me rephrase that: I don't like the results hanging fire like this).

So now I know most of the district names or more exactly their number desiginations. Progressives won in District 3 and (unconfirmed) District 7. I gather Reverend Burgess might be somewhat progressive as well, but I don’t know for sure. How will it be for Dr. Dowd to sit across from Darlene Harris, the woman he unseated from the School Board? Well, he worked with Jean Fink on the School Board, without *reported* violence, and she had reasons not to like him, so he may have some skills in diplomacy.

But there is hardly a progressive majority in Council yet. The reliable numbers seem to be 4 progressives (at best) to five, with Mayor Ravenstahl in the distance with a veto threat. And we have to wait seven months for that situation.

The only good I can see it that it sucked people in, gave them a reason to pay attention to city council.

Stll, for a couple of reasons, I can’t get as worked up as many in the Burghosphere.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Turnout ...

As I await word about whether or when the absentee ballots have been/will be counted, I reflected on the notion of turnout. How big is district 7? You'd think that when districts can contain parts of neighborhood, they ought to be fairly close in size. But looking at the county election website, I noticed that turnout in district 7 was fairly larger than in other districts, including some hot races. District 1: 3764. District 3: 3893 District 5: 4369. District 9: 4813. District 7: 6180.

Maybe district 7 is a whole lot larger than these other four district’s. Maybe council should dispense discretionary money based on the size of the district. And how did Councilman Bodack know there were more absentee ballots than Pat Dowd’s lead over him last night (I don’t know when Mr. Bodack made that statement)?

Can't ... resist ... the... quips

The Dowd campaign is claiming victory by 81 votes. I don't think the phrase Red/Blue ward divide exactly applies, but it is startling how close the split is, of democrats in District 7 who care to vote on nice days with no serious mayoral or county executive challenger running. Besides, I wouldn't care to assign the red or blue label to either campaign (we're all *democrats* here, all campaign bluster aside). Still, if the Dowd campaign sees anyone named Chad hanging around, get rid of 'em. Don't need that.

Seriously, although I think the post is already staffed, I think councilman Bodack should be considered for the head of the Mayor's service center. Just my two cents. Maybe Senator Ferlo can talk to Rendell's people and find a post for Mr. Bodack. It would be a good thing.

We win?

The county website is reporting a victory of around 80 votes out of six thousand some for Dr. Dowd. Huh. Not a mandate, not political capital, but a win is a win (if unchallenged). I think I saw something in the PG from the councilman about absentee ballots, but the Allegheny County website is saying 100% counted. It looks like Bruce Kraus also won over Jeff Koch and Rick Burgess won in the ninth, with much more safe margins. And Michael Lamb won for Controller.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Mechanic and the Teacher ...

The Mayoral race was supposed to be the referendum on politics as usual versus reform. But then Peduto decided he couldn't compete with the self reinforcing national popularity of the boy mayor in celebrity-starved Pittsburgh.

But (at least) one council race picked up a lot of the elements of reform versus usual politics (probably two, but I don't live on the South Side). As we all know, Pat Dowd positioned himself as, among other things, a forward-looking reformer. Now, I think the endorsements or Pat Dowd's considerable door knocking will be more important factors in deciding this race. But there is that subtext that affects the exchanges between the two campaigns, and the way they present themselves.

I think it is reasonable to say the Dr. Dowd never met an issue he wasn't ready and eager to discuss (his disappointment at not being able to debate Mr. Bodack was through the campaign was obvious). Clearly being a teacher was a good choice for him. He seems to delight in obtaining, filtering and providing information. This is, of course, an essential part of being a progressive, reform-oriented candidate.

I don't know Len Bodack, and he seems determined to keep it that way, at least if you look for him on the internet. But his defenders want to say that if I did need him, I would come to appreciate his talents. Apparently they include hiring a community service oriented staff, and finding ways to help the district, in some sense (maybe the best sense) being an old fashioned community fixer.

I think it is fair to say that Pat Dowd thinks that if the city thrives, District 7 will too, while Len Bodack puts his district first in all that he does.

I do think we need people on council who will look past their own district's borders. The city will face new financial issues as we move through Act 47 status, that will require hard choices. I also think the combination of Bill Peduto and Pat Dowd on council could create a dynamic of new ideas, ideas that might put Pittsburgh in the national spotlight not for having a boy mayor or losing only a few less people than New Orleans, but because our policies are so innovative. It's kind of a "let them eat cake" kind of pipe dream, but all the pieces are actually in place. If district 7 wants it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

D'OH! Version 1.02

So I planned to visit the Dowd campaign at 7:00 tonight, but locked my one set of keys in my car around 6:00, and AAA took their time. They had invited Councilman Bodack to debate, but I guess they didn’t expect him to show up.

Meanwhile, I did visit the Dowd campaign for the first time today. If I had visited before I probably would have allowed myself to get sucked in to volunteering (and probably should have), but I went today because I was curious about what information they did have from the City Controller’s office. I have a feeling some volunteer went down and did some Xeroxing, but in any event they had some copies of records of check disbursements, along copies of back up justifying the reason for cutting the check. For some payments, the back up was excellent, copies of invoices to be reimbursed for a neighborhood organization, for example. For Robert Kramm, the backup was a phrase on what I believe was the check request: something like district office coverage, senior centers and constituent services. Now, I don’t know what the standard for Accounts Payable is for the city. These payments were made a couple of years ago, maybe someone in the city put a stop to them. I gotta tell, though, if I were cutting the check, I would ask for more detail.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Request for debate

Apparently the Dowd campaign is going to stage one more media event, challenging Councilman Bodack (unfortunately referred to as "Lenny") to a debate "Tomorrow night at 4326 Butler Street - in the heart of Lawrenceville - at 7 PM". This is following a separate press release where they detail some new developments

In this separate, prior, press release, they enclose a letter from John Tarka of the PFT which says:

“I have reviewed a May 10, 2007, City Council District 7 campaign letter from Mr. Len Bodack in which your honesty is challenged. The letter suggests that the PFT endorsed Mr. Bodack because of concerns about your honesty.

The PFT has not found fault with your service as a member of the Pittsburgh Board of School Directors, and the PFT has never had cause to question your honesty and integrity.”

Fair enough, doesn’t say why the PFT didn’t endorse Dr. Dowd, but he has talked about that in the past on the Burgh Report.

There is also a jpeg of a letter apparently from Councilman Bodack in the press release. I'm not going to retype it, but it doesn’t spend a lot of time with Dr Dowd, although it does call him a liar in boldface. The letter uses city stationary, which I'm not sure is appropriate for campaign mail. Remember the Redd-up crew. Maybe it’s ok but I would wonder if the City Solicitor’s office would have an opinion. The press release also suggests that timesheets and back up weren’t kept for work done by Robert Kramm for Councilman Bodack, and there are footnote numbers, but no actual footnotes. And it reminds us Councilman Bodack never did respond in writing to the request for information request filed three working weeks ago. Anyway, looks like things are heating up a bit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Class Issues?

There was a (not anonymous!) comment posted recently on "What is Cognitive Dissonance ..." (, my post from last week, that I thought worth calling attention to. The comment lays out the arguement that Patrick Dowd is a "slick" man, and that Len Bodack is a hard worker who helps constituents with their problems. It further says that the Dowd campaign's attacks can be seen as attacks on the ordinary residents of district 7. This mirrors but does not go as far as some comments that almost take a class warfare position, Highland Park versus 'awrenceville. Its actually a rather apt comment for the cognitive dissonance post, as it has some aspects of CD in it. I commented in response, disputed some points and tried to reframe the issue. My last, but least, suggestion was if city council and the state legislature and the Act 47 whatsis is full of clever people, who do you want to be represented by? A hard working but plain spoken man or a (also hard working, you have to admit) slick man (skilled speaker)?

Check aht the comments for yourself (near the bottom of the page), and consider the implications, if you wish.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"He's dead, Jim" (Redd Shirts, part deux)

I just love that title.

If only the campaign hadn’t ordered shirts that (apparently) look like Redd-Up crew shirts.

I was going to post about the many way to offer an apology. There is a good lesson from the movie Speed (in my opinion), but I think I will hold off.

So apparently it is coming down to how credible Jeff Koch is when he says he didn’t know something. The latest issues involve a former political rival and a call a Koch staffer made from her office (doesn’t seem too important) and the fact that his campaign accepted contributions from corporations (I didn’t know that was illegal, but I guess its not surprising). The second issue could get him knocked of the ballot.

I was surprised at the difference in coverage of ReddUpgate between the Trib and the PG. In the PG Koch seemed defiant, where the Trib had quotes that seemed to agree the workers in the shirts were in the wrong. I’m just saying.

So anyway, why did Jeff Koch’s campaign order shirts in a colour so like the Redd up crew, unless they planned for Mr. Sansone and others to wear them? Did Jeff Koch have any input on the colour and style of shirt? Obviously this shirt business has been in the works for a while, so Mr. Koch’s choices are to appear incompetent (not knowing anything about any shirts) or to admit he was in on the whole thing.

I don’t know how fast the state will act on the campaign contribution thing, but if the PG report is correct, this issue can only end badly for Mr. Koch. How bad remains to be seen. Mr. Koch's choices are similar, say he knew nothing about his campaign's finances or admit he knew and did nothing.

Redd shirts

So the Koch t-shirt scandal has got me thinking. First, I don’t even know if the Dowd or Bodack campaign’s even have t-shirts. I never get aht. The blue and lime green colour scheme of the Dowd campaign…well, I’ve worn worse running. The red colour scheme for the Bodack campaign … red shirts … man, those guys never survive when they beam down to the planet.

I commented on the t-shirt issue over at the Bur(gh) repor(t). Four guys got suspended for five days for wearing the Koch t-shirts while working for the city; (I assume) one of the four guys was Ray Sansone, apparently Jeff Koch’s campaign treasurer. The other three were Sansone’s co-workers and who knows what to the Koch campaign. Maybe the other three knew something like this blow up could happen (presumably Sansone should have known), but if I were Bruce Kraus, I’d kick maybe a grand each to these guys from his campaign fund, to compensate these Redd shirts for being the Mayor’s sacrifices to his new found religion of ethics.

Could Jeff Koch be telling the truth when he says he knew nothing about it? Sure could, it could have be a spur of the moment thing his campaign treasurer did with three co-workers that morning (”let’s wear these shirts”). Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if it hadn’t gone on for days, and only got noticed yesterday. Mr. Kraus clearly wants Mr. Koch to admit wrong doing here, like Dr. Dowd wants Mr. Bodack to admit wrong doing about his finances. Neither one seems real likely.

Meanwhile, the Mayor complained in strong terms about these guys behavior ("unethical, inexcusable and unacceptable."), and wants the ethics board to look at their behavior. Anything else that might be worth looking into, Mr. Ravenstahl? Photo’s used by the city and your campaign, a gift to your campaign (and apparently the city, and in what order?), including the canonical Redd Up image, arms akimbo. Any more Redd Herrings for the ethics board? If the Mayor sets the agenda for the ethics board, any pretense of independency is out the window.

Please, someone talk to this boy mayor before he … breathes again. He’s quoted as saying he is “now more focusing on the government aspect of my job and the neighborhood aspect of rebuilding communities” and then in the next paragraph he is going to a cocktail party and a pirates games where I guess he is supposed to be doing these things ( He needs help with his press exposure or at some point, he may well get himself in trouble, where the best he can hope for is to end up as popular as Tom Murphy.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Where's the information?

So I got a press release this morning from the Dowd Campaign, that Pat Dowd was informed Friday that he had under paid his city taxes by a couple of bucks, and he fixed that today. Apparently he missed around 70 bucks of income. I've seen enough W-2's to not be surprised. Helpful hit, for example, the city is allowed to go by reported state income on W-2’s if different (more) from reported city income. This sort of thing happens surprisingly often, one of the reasons why I think you should always try to get your taxes done somewhere, and ask what’s going on while they are being done. Of course, the first question you should ask is how experienced the person doing your taxes is, and hold out for at least a couple of years of doing taxes. But since single people with incomes under $25,000 can have taxes done for free at a VITA site (and couples or families with incomes under I think 37,000), there’s *little* excuse for not having them done. If you think you owe money (which can include every person who is single, childless, and not taking classes or with a student loan), do them early so you get your payment together by April 15th (yes, you can file in January and wait to pay till April).

I think this is supposed to remind us that Councilman Bodack has not released his finances yet. Or more specifically, the City Clerk has not completed doing so. Not that anyone was asking the Councilman to release tax information, but the city stuff still has not been *reported* as surfacing anywhere. Councilman Bodack was last reported as having asked the Clerk’s office to provide the requested information. I, for one, can see why there might be problem’s getting the information out, depended on how it has been stored. But this whole thing is an exercise in suggesting that, going forward, public records should be made more public, more accessible to the public. Not that its any one councilperson’s or clerk’s fault or that there is anything criminal going on. In fact, Len Bodack’s expense information is one of two on the council website that list totals by year and category; two of the other seven are less complete and five have nothing. It’s just that the technology exists to cheaply provide even more information to the public, so maybe we should use it to make sure there is no incentive to abuse the system.

Friday, May 04, 2007

What is Cognitive Dissonance in Pittsburgh

Over at the Burgh Report (which I like to pronounce in a Colbert fashion, something fairly extraordinary has gone on in the last week. A post with Councilman Bodack’s name in the title (“Bodack: I'm So Excited ... I'm So Scared”, some kind of reference to “Saved by the Bell”) has had 113 comments since Tuesday, most notably (in my opinion) several by Patrick Dowd late at night. After all, you can’t knock on doors at 11:00pm, so you might as well cruise the blogs. Dr Dowd’s willingness to debate matters in this race extended itself to an exchange between him and a school crossing guard.

To back up a little, I remember there was an issue so time ago about the crossing guards, that the school board decided it couldn’t afford them. As I remember, the city picked up the tab. According to the guard on the Burgh Report, (I think) the school board still has not picked up the tab again. It is possible (and now I am speculating) the city is paying the crossing guards as 1099 contractors, meaning no health benefits and a tax nightmare. Regardless of what the situation is exactly, I am not surprised that the crossing guards would have some antipathy for a school board member running for office.

I want to talk a bit about Dr Dowd’s views on anonymous commenter’s, but I think I will save that for another time. What’s interesting to me about the crossing guard commenter was how hostile she seemed to Dr Dowd. She is not *too* hostile to other commenter’s (including myself), taking a “you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe” attitude. But she almost seemed to have a “Perry Mason” type attitude toward Dr Dowd, that if she could list her accusations to him, in a public forum, he would admit “his lies” and … I don’t know, quit the race, stop teaching children and go work in a leper colony as penance.

I don’t want to be unnecessarily snarky or mean, but our crossing guard here is engaging in what *I think* can only be described as classic cognitive dissonance. While Dr Dowd might not be totally polite (really wanting her to reveal her identity), he is at least was pretty polite. She was not rude per se, but she is willing to ascribe negative connotations to everything he says, and everything said about him. What I think she believes:
*If Dr Dowd has someone’s support, it’s because they’ve been fooled or because they are rich. Conversely those who oppose Dr Dowd do so because they support working class people. Dr Dowd’s talk about transparency is a cynical attempt to pull the wool over our eyes, to accuse Councilman Bodack of hiding things when it is Dr Dowd who has much to hide.*

You’ve got to give both of them credit for talking, but unfortunately it was more at each other than to each other. That is the thing about cognitive dissonance, it is filtered listening, a closed but active mind. The only thing that might have helped the situation a little was if Dr Dowd had talked a little about what he wants to do regarding the crossing guard situation. Maybe it was an act, but to me the crossing guard’s pain when she was talking to “Agent Ska” was fairly obvious; she is very unhappy about her job situation (and who can blame her). It is unfortuanate that she seems to want to place all the on Dr Dowd.

I don’t know how this election is going to go, how this race is going to go. Councilman Boadack won last time in a special election and a primary in a three way split, by just a few votes. But that was with a competitive mayor’s race to spark interest. Councilman Bodack has followed what is probably the best strategy for him, hunker down, no debates, don't even acknowledge the competition much, run some district events and rely on the party to get out the faithful, in a race that could have a low turnout. Every person that Dr Dowd is able to convince to vote is a plus for him, but it remains to be seen whether he knocked on enough doors.

I do think, for whatever warts he might have, whatever mis-steps he might have made on the school board, the city needs Patrick Dowd to inject some ideas (along with Bill Peduto) into council. And I say that recognizing that Len Bodack has done nothing obviously wrong as a councilman.

Hopefully there are not too many people who are looking at the race in a cognitively dissonant way.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Okay, so my math skills are not what I hoped they would be. $1800 divided by 12 is $150 a month, not $300. D'oh. And I am sure, just like the state legislature, city council can authorize a flat reimbursement.

But I want to find out for sure.

And maybe lobby for a change.

The other expense reports on the council website don't show the $1800 mileage reimbursement. I remember seeing that Bill Peduto had one year of over a thousand dollars, out of the four on his expense report. Like he is asking to be reimbursed for only for actual mileage.

Look, I realize Councilman Bodack has a district office, and most Councilpersons don't (I believe). But should that be an excuse to take the maximum in mileage money?

Read my previous post too!

I don’t want to distract from my previous post, but a couple of things came up. First, in Early Returns there was mention of various endorsements. Specifically the endorsements of the Pennsylvania League of Young Voters Political Action Committee. Conspicuous in its absence (to me) was any mention of District 7. I looked for the PLYV website, and turns out they had endorsed Dr Patrick Dowd. So I emailed Rich Lord, who did get back to me and thanked me, mentioned he didn’t work on this entry, but didn’t really seem interested in doing anything about it (probably has a lot to do, and I didn't say I had been to the PLYV site). I got a second email from Mr. Lord almost immediately which said this:
Ed, I just got the below.
Rich Lord
Staff Writer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Campaign journal at

I dont know if its possible to correct the Early Returns blog, but we also endorsed Patrick Dowd for city council district 7. Unfortunately it seems you got one of the Press Releases that made it out without his name on it. I caught it, but only after some went out. I thought I had corrected it, but I guess I missed you. He is a major part of ourPAC endorsement slate so I'm hoping you can somehow correct it. I'd hate for him to suffer because I goofed. --
Jennifer England
Director of Communications
Pittsburgh League of Young Voters
(problems with spacing copying from Word into Blogger)
I left Jennifer’s phone off (that’s been an issue recently). I don’t think I am violating anyone’s privacy by reprinting the email. Now, as of noonish Early Returns had not been amended or edited. I think the PiGgy (I have heard PG staffers refer to it as that) could edit an online blog, perhaps they plan to put in an entry tomorrow.

The second thing I have been thinking about is the City Paper interview with Councilman Bodack. They caught him in the middle of a ten mile run on the treadmill? Granted, his pace could not have been too high or the interview would not have been possible. But several years ago I ran a few marathons (three or four?), so I have to say good for you, Councilman. Ten miles is a very respectable distance, and if you do that regularly, you should be commended not only for taking care of yourself, but for giving your district that much better service by being in good health.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Something stuck out on the spending report ...

I happen to have worked in Accounts Payable in the past, and still sort of do. In AP “mileage” expense is defined as traveling you do for work, in your own car. Usually that means trips for meetings or conferences. You are reimbursed by your company with tax free dollars because the Feds think it is a good thing to encourage business. The amount that the Feds will let businesses reimburse is set by the Feds and businesses are supposed to use that amount because the reimbursements are untaxed. The amounts set for reimbursements vary every year, based on the cost of gas. And the Feds forbid reimbursing commuting mileage. I guess they figure everybody is in the same boat with commuting; you gotta get to work to get paid. Reimbursing commuting does not really encourage business.

I mention all this for a reason. On Councilman Bodack’s spending report, there is a 2003 expenditure of $1362 for “mileage”, followed by an expenditure of $1800 for 2004, 2005 and 2006. Perhaps $1800 is the maximum amount council will reimburse for mileage, and Councilman Bodack and his staff put more than $300 a month of travel on their personal vehicles, apart from any commuting mileage. I believe that would be a bit more than six hundred miles to cover on city business, for the councilman and his staff, every month (the current rate is 48 cents a mile, in 2004 it was 37.5 cents a mile). If council is reimbursing for business mileage, the Controller’s office should have records of every trip, to comply with Federal guidelines for providing money tax free to city employees.

This is on the public record, provided by Mr. Bodack. It’s not even on the spreadsheet the Dowd campaign had sent out.

Mr. Bodack's data is back on the city website...

So I got a comment this morning on yesterday’s post, that councilman Bodack’s spending information is back on the city council website. And so it is. I’m not sure I buy the idea that its absence was caused by maintenance issues, but the councilman could very have pulled it while he audited his own office. That would have been a prudent thing to do. In any event, the information on the council website matches the information sent by the Dowd campaign *except* the council website information is yearly summaries only. The information from the Dowd campaign is broken down to individual amounts with dates attached, probably at the invoice level.

I have thought about this and decided *not* to post the information sent by the Dowd campaign. The two sets of data do match, but I have no way to verify the breakdowns. And frankly, I’m not sure I should try to verify the breakdowns sent by the Dowd campaign. I ‘m fairly sure some other enterprising soul round the Burghosphere will not be as conservative as me in this regard, so I suspect I am depriving no one.

The spending information being there is another step by Mr. Bodack in answering the Dowd campaign’s request for information. I'm sure it’s not enough for the Dowd Campaign, but it advances the discussion.

Meanwhile, I notice the DowdforPittsburgh website lags a bit behind the latest campaign emails. There's no reason I can see to deprive people not on the Dowd Campaign email list of their latest ideas, so I am going to take the liberty of posting one, on transit/transportation issues:

Transportation Proposals
By Patrick Dowd
Candidate, Pittsburgh City Council District 7
Monday, April 30, 2007

As you ride down Butler St. , Penn Avenue or Negley Avenue in your car, on your bike, or on the bus, you can feel the bumps and potholes. These bumps are the result of dwindling resources and infrastructure investment decisions being made to the detriment of our communities.

While recent attention is being given to Port Authority’s issues, they are only part of the story. Pennsylvania is also battling a crumbling road and bridge system that, when coupled with our mass transit system, calls for us to do business a different way. As we embark on fixing our system of mass transit we also need to change how we invest in our other modes of transportation whether it is highways, avenues, streets, bridges, or trails. Our transportation system creates the link between our communities. Our investment practices should do the same.

As you know, a transportation network is an integral part of any community. Ensuring that you can travel to and from the places where we live, work and play is an important part of all of our lives. Having a variety of transportation options available to us makes our communities more livable, economical and environmentally sound. We need to ensure that we can create this necessary connectivity by using our transportation resources wisely. This is why we need to create a transportation vision for Council District 7. To do so, I’d like to begin this conversation by proposing four principles.

1. First, we need to align transportation investments with community investments.
The district is seeing new growth and development. Where these opportunities are arising, we need to make sure that they support our communities and enhance our quality of place.

2. Second, we need to ensure that we fix our existing infrastructure first.
Before new roads get built, we must make sure that we take care of what we have first. New roads mean new potholes in addition to the ones we already have. Being responsible with our money means taking care of our current assets.

3. Third, we must design of a transportation system that meets the needs of our communities.

This includes:
A mass transit system that encourages development around transit stops and services populations that will maximize system efficiency

An Access and Para Transit network that creates opportunity for seniors and persons with disabilities

A Bike and Trail network that creates a safe alternative to the automobile

Road and Bridge Improvements that enhance economic development, reduces wear and tear on our cars and improves safety and efficiency

4. Fourth, we create a dedicated and increasing source of funds to support mass transit.

Investing in transit is an investment in our future. Successful regions around the country are making prudent use of Mass transit. People are locating near transit to provide themselves with this choice. Transit needs to be a choice in our district.

Policy Proposals:

Community Planning and Prioritization
We will work with the Community organizations, Department of City Planning, Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Department of Public Works to create the Pittsburgh Principles for Growth and Development. A community engagement and planning process that will help determine criteria for project prioritization, multi-neighborhood cooperation and the efficient allocation of resources.

Transportation Town Halls
We will work with transportation agencies, advocates, operators and planners to engage residents and begin the discussion to create a transportation vision for District 7.

Engage in the Regional Discussion
Transportation decisions go through a series of hoops. From the federal government to the state, to the metropolitan planning agency, to the municipality transportation resources move at a similar pace to the slow leak in your faucet. We will bring each level of the transportation discussion to District 7, keeping you aware of how your tax dollars are being spent.

Other issues for consideration:
· Support for the use of environmentally friendly busses
· Encourage and enhance bike safety and trail linkages
· Improve taxi-service
· Keeping bus stops clean and safe

Our City Council needs to play a bigger role in SPC discussions to make sure that projects inside the district are in line to get funding. That means advocacy, engaging with surrounding communities. We must align our transportation investments with community investments.

Our current representation isn’t thinking about how to connect our infrastructure with surrounding communities. Take for example the Enterprise Zone that runs from Millvale up to Aspinwall. How does that zone connect with Lawrenceville? Municipalities on the other side of the river are thinking about how to maximize this enterprise zone. 40th St is the lynchpin for the City to these communities.

We must engage in discussions with City Planning, the URA, and Community Organizations to get all stakeholders focused on this issue. There is more potential dedicated funding for this issue than anything else. If we aren’t spending our transportation dollars wisely, we can’t responsibly spend other public dollars.


Helpful Resources
Transportation Funding and Reform Commission

American Society of Civil Engineers ( Pennsylvania Report Card)

Pennsylvania Economy League (Investing in Transportation)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

And the saga continues

Not long after I posted this morning, I got a press release type email from Abby Wilson, with the Dowd campaign's take on Bodack's response. They mention that councilman Bodack had taken down his spending information from his city website. I thought it had been there in the past; my apologies to the anonymous commenter who had said it was. It's just gone now.

I commented over at the Comet on the present the Dowd campaign sent (a spreadsheet of information that probably was Bodack's spending report on the council website, saved by some forward thinking Dowd staffer). You can see my minimal comments here (

Just passin' this on ...

As noted at the Pittsburgh Comet in a comment by the PiGgy’s (PG's) Rich Lord, “Early Returns” ( covers Councilman Len Bodack’s response to the Dowd campaign’s request for information. It’s a little strange to me that I didn’t get an email on it (I am on their email list for lots of other stuff). Possibly the Dowd campaign is waiting for something more conclusive to show us. Man, no more Morning File. Only Tony Norman and Cat's Call ... Maybe Ruth Ann could go to five days a week ...

*Amended Post* A couple more thoughts... First, in a display of unforgivably bad manners, I failed to thank an anonymous commenter last Friday for updating us on Councilman Bodack's response to Dr. Dowd.
Second, the PiGgy's coverage of Mr. Bodack's response is annoyingly vague. Early Returns provided extensive coverage of Dr. Dowd’s original request; did Councilman Bodack not provide his response to the PG or are they merely being partisan?
Third and by the by, it is somewhat annoying that this entire exchange appears to be taking place entirely online. Don’t the disenfranchised (i.e. computer-less) residents of district 7 deserve to know about this? Apparently, information is the province of the computer-savy (I’m not sure what I mean by that…).