Thursday, February 26, 2009

The eternal Luke for Mayor

Matt Hogue was kind enough to show the letter the Mayor sent around to Democratic Committee people asking for their endorsement. At the bottom of the letter he listed his campaign website, so I had to look (of course). It still says copyright 2007. I believe the Mayor (or his staff) is putting some effort into the Mayor's facebook page, or some kind of facebook campaign site, but then why not put that into the endorsement letter, instead of the neglected campaign website. Now, I always thought the Mayor's campaign website at once played to the Mayor's strengths by having streaming video of the Mayor talking about issues and also insulted the intelligence of voters, by having video of the Mayor talking about issues. Which is to say that the Mayor gives no real details about his plans or his accomplishments. Sad to say that plays well with Pittsburghers. Well, you can fall in love all over again with the Mayor like you did two years ago, because as far as I can tell the videos have not been updated (I will feel silly if they have been). The Mayor has a million freakin’ bucks in his campaign war chest and hasn’t updated his web site. I can understand why Pat Dowd hasn’t, he has no money (and it’s not like people are raising money for him over the internet …oh).

Anyway, we can see how seriously candidates take the internet in this town. As an interactive medium, it looks like we still have a ways to go.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And you were expecting ...

What did you think of Obama’s speech? I thought it was good but not great. It didn’t hit rhetorical highs, and it had to navigate through the selective madness that is the government’s role in regulating the free market, 2009 edition. I believe the speech was intended to serve a particular purpose, and I believe it probably achieved that purpose (at least mostly achieved).

Obama is not trained as an economist, but there are a bunch of people at the White House who are. I suspect they told Obama about the importance of expectations in economics, how if people believe the economy is improving soon they should start spending now (to take advantage of those great bargains out there), and if enough people start spending it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy (the economy does improve because all that buying improves the unemployment picture). Obama’s intention was maybe a bit more subtle, something closer to what he achieved in the debates. Before the debates, people believed that McCain’s experience made him more qualified than Obama to be President. After the debates, I think a majority of Americans (who had watched the debates) thought McCain was a tried and yet angry old man, and that Obama was in command of the facts, calm, rational and reassuring. That is what Obama was trying to achieve last night, to remind Americans that no matter how childish or foolish Congressional Democrats (and Republicans) might seem when giving sound bites or droning on, on those Sunday morning chat-fests, it is the calm, smart and reassuring guy who is in charge.

Bobby Jindal’s Republican response should have been more compelling, it must have seemed that way on paper. It was pretty simple and clear. But his smile looked like a comedian parodying a politician, his half apology for the last eight years was not convincing and his prescription – put money in our hands with tax cuts, was the central prescription that didn’t work for the Bush administration. He kept saying Americans can do anything, in slightly different formats, but (I say) it probably doesn’t seem like that to the guy looking for work. As an introduction to a national audience, it was not a good moment for Jindal, let alone the Republicans as a whole.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What do you call a nation that doesn't want to speak about race?

I finally got a chance to read Eric Holder’s “nation of cowards” speech. Contrary to popular opinion Mr. Holder showed a fine sense of the history of the Civil Rights movement (it was down near the bottom, while his “cowards remark was near the beginning, so readers could be forgiven for not noticing Mr. Holder’s actual remarks). I have been struck by something, though. Mr. Holder suggested that we do not now have a quality discussion about race. The comments I have heard about his speech certainly validate that proposition. People have said it is not appropriate for the Attorney General to make these remarks. People have complained about the Clinton administration record on the discussion of race. Tony Norman called Mr. Holder’s remarks “hamfisted”. Chad Hermann complained that Mr. Holder did not give credit to Union Soldiers who died to free his ancestors or to civil rights pioneers (except that Mr. Holder did, but not early enough in his speech to suit Mr. Hermann, who chose to ignore that he had done it). All this commentary on how Mr. Holder spoke, but not much on what he said.

Except for Michelle Norris on Meet the Press, who talked about how there are two dialogues on race in America. The white dialogue, as I mentioned above, is very focused on how race is no longer an issue. African Americans have to take responsibility for themselves now, white America has given them an education and access to jobs, and African America doesn’t try hard enough. Except that the education has been about as low quality as they come, and the jobs are not accessible by bus and rarely open to African Americans anyway. I believe she said the African American dialogue is much more of how some African Americans have gotten ahead, a few have succeeded, but most are still struggling. The struggle for civil rights is far from over, but white America no longer wants to talk about it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A tale of two blogs

So a couple of blogs used a bit of what I said in Dowd versus Goliath, in very different ways. Actually, neither mentioned the name of my blog, but one linked to me and the other didn’t.

So, first of all, “a local blog that fancies itself a source of thoughtful political punditry”. Um, I have never said that I think my blog is a source of thoughtful political punditry. Because saying it doesn’t make it so. If my readers don’t think I am interesting, they won’t read my blog (clearly). To me, this is a way for me to write letters to the editor anytime I want, and I am not pretending that it is anything else. I certainly don’t go around talking about how people are urging me to write this blog.

So I asked a throwaway question, how did we get on what seems, to me, to be a weird schedule for electing Mayors. And Chad Hermann was caused to laugh out loud, that Ed Heath would be so stupid as to have forgotten the death of Bob O’Connor. Except that we already had a special election, with Mark DeSantis and his team defeated by Luke Ravenstahl, and Mayor Ravenstahl won the right to serve out O’Connor’s term. The timing of the next Mayoral election has nothing to do with the death of Mayor O’Connor. Period.

The other blog that mentioned me was Chris Potter’s Slag Heap (at the City Paper). He had a link to my post and a paragraph he thought apropos to a point he was making. No slam about whether I fancy myself a pundit, just a point to make. The paragraph he quoted supported his thought, but it was also one of my favorites from that post. So I am very happy for it to stand or fall on its own, as a representative of my thinking.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

trash cans ... with lights?

So Bill Peduto announced a while ago that he was not going to run for Mayor. As did Doug Shields, then he repeated himself (to some fanfare) a little while ago. And Pat Dowd (or someone on his Council campaign) had said he wouldn’t … never mind (I doubt I can find the quote). But Bill has done a couple of small things that made him seem like better Mayoral material. There were the racks for parking meters to clip bikes to, which would have advertising on and so would not cost the City a cent. And of course, a few weeks ago there were the LED street lights he would be getting in for the City. They would be just as bright, whiter than the old street lights, use a fraction of the electricity, and by the way the initial cost would be free. Peduto had found some saps … er, fund, that would give us the money to change all our street lights. And all was happiness and celebration in the city of Pittsburgh (well, that might have had to do with some football game).

Uh, …

The Mayor has just announced the City will accept bids for companies to change all of our street lights.



Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dowd Versus Goliath

This is nuts. The mecurial Mr Dowd is going to announce? I think it might be worthwhile to put on our Chris Briem hats and try to speculate what will happen.

First, which Pat Dowd will show up to campaign? The earnest door knocker who listens to each constituent? Or the guy who stands up at the Council table and argues that other Council members should not get paid for their legal bills (even though they were helping Dowd out with that Lamar sign appeal) because they didn’t ask for money ahead of time?

Second, I am worried that the one thing Dowd won’t do is attack Ravenstahl on his record of personal ethical mistakes, that Dowd will run a high minded, clean campaign as far as this goes. Remember, voters were much more worried about whether Obama was/is a communist Muslim pointy headed professor-type than whether we actually need to enforce banking regulations.

Third, $2000 against $800,000?

And finally, and here is where we need to put on our Briem caps, does anyone remember the special election in Council District 7 that occurred when Ferlo went off to Harrisburg as a State Senator? The one that first put Len Bodack into Council? There was a special election and a primary shortly there after, and multiple candidates in at least one of those. Bodack, I believe, had the ACDC endorsement and his father had been a State Senator for a long time. Still, Bodack only won a plurality, but that was enough to propel him into office. For the current race, Dowd could (theoretically) win the DeSantis vote for the primary, which is to say Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and some progressive corridor of Highland Park. Carmen Robinson could split the African American vote with Ravenstahl (or even take it all). If Ravenstahl takes everything else, that will be enough. Two candidates running against the Mayor means the “Anyone but Luke” vote, to the extent it exists, could be split. Maybe Shields or Peduto will campaign for Dowd (although I suspect the have reason not to like him), but in doing so they would only cut their own throats politically.

When is the next Mayoral election after this one, in 2013? How’d we get on such a weird schedule? Anyway, could Dowd be positioning himself for a future run? Only if Ravenstahl moves into Onorato’s spot as Onorato moves into Rendell’s spot. But Dowd could lose his Council seat in the meantime. Remember that he beat Bodack by only 80 some votes last time (and received a call from Howard Dean for his effort, a sort of dubious endorsement). Bodack could run again, pointing out that Bodack had never abandoned District 7 to run for Mayor (although District 7 abandoned Bodack).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Public Works: Bridging the Chasm

Paul Krugman has a Nobel prize in economics and I have bupkis. And I trust his assessment on a lot of issues. Still, in today’s column in the NYTimes, he states that the CBO’s judgment is that “over the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between what the economy could produce and what it will actually produce”. I have no idea what growth numbers they are thinking of, but Krugman goes on to say “$800 billion, while it sounds like a lot of money, isn’t nearly enough to bridge that chasm”. I have to wonder if he wants bridge the chasm or fill it in with money. If we borrow $2.9 trillion, we would have all that money, but how would we ever pay it off (how will we ever pay off $800 billion, for that matter).

Meanwhile, Krugamn also complains that since Obama wanted a bipartisan stimulus bill and compromised with the Republicans, he didn’t get everything he wanted. Um, I’m pretty sure if I look up the definition of compromise, it will say something about giving up some things you want to get support from rivals (in this instance, anyway). I’m pretty sure the Republicans didn’t get everything they wanted, or even much of anything they wanted. Except that if, as Krugman predicts, the stimulus bill is not much of a success, then the Republicans can say it’s not their fault, that they helped get the bill through the closely divided Senate. But, the Republicans can say they were right all along, the stimulus, as the Democrats wanted it, was the wrong idea.

So we have learned the Republicans might be intending to continue to play the game they started a couple of years ago, with some modification. We will have to see if the Republicans can block a vote for cloture on a less important bill, which would mean that Specter and the Senators from Maine would have to vote with their Republican comrades. If that happens, it will be a long two years of blocked votes. Regardless, look for whatever RNC money there is to come into Pennsylvania, and look for a strong conservative to run against Specter in the primary.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cognitive dissonance everywhere ...

On the national side: Barack Obama says we need to grow up. We need to stop acting childish and trying to spend our way to prosperity. But when the Republicans push more tax cuts as the answer to our problems, what do the Democrats say? Well, people might only save the few extra pennies per paycheck in reduced payroll taxes, and where’s the stimulus in that? I guess we are supposed to stop spending tomorrow, meanwhile just like Bush said after 9/11, it is our patriotic duty to keeping spending.

On the other side from the Democrats, Michael Steele says the jobs the government pays for are not real jobs and only temporary. Um, I assume this recession is supposed to only be temporary too.

Locally, Doug Shields looked at the recent history of local races for Mayor, his own history in city wide races, Ravenstahl’s war chest and his own, and decided that staying President of Council is not such a bad move. I remember a few months ago Ravenstahl accused Shields of being the race, and Shields said “hunh?” (I paraphrase). Pat Dowd has yet to announce he is in the race for sure or not, he has only said he is thinking about it.

We in the Burghosphere want someone to run. Dowd would be a good candidate for us because he has tried to do the populist thing, running and winning first school board and then a Council seat by knocking on doors and talking to people. I know personally he was willing to talk about issues, I suspect if I had tried to talk about potholes he would have given me a mix of practical advice (here’s who you call) and some policy stuff about the city’s debt and smart ways to fill potholes.

But there are a couple of limitations. First, has Dowd done a good job in Council? The fact I can ask the question at all is sort of a problem. Second, do the qualities of a good legislator translate into those of a good city executive? We mostly don’t think (in the Burgosphere) that Ravenstahl is a good Mayor, but would Pat Dowd be? Thirdly (and kind of importantly), how hard do we want to fight this? I myself have argued that someone running against Ravenstahl needs to go for the jugular, needs to highlight all the Mayor’s indiscretions, all the sweetheart deals, and pound the lack of progress on dealing with the City’s real problems. But doing that puts the Mayor’s supporters in a bad light. It makes the ACDC look bad for endorsing him, all the politicians at the City, County and State level who support him look kind of bad. How are City Democratic voters going to feel about a bloody fight? Maybe if Dowd runs (kind of dirty) as a sacrificial lamb, and then the Republican candidate finishes the job. Then we might decide Luke wasn’t so bad after all, compared to a Republican.

Then again, I have to say I think the only influence the Burghospere has is with maybe a small part of the local progressive blob. We have even less influence than the PG.

I thought stuff was supposed to get better after Obama got elected. And I didn’t even say anything Geithner apparently having his voice crack at his bailout rollout, or how he was apparently laughed at.

Monday, February 09, 2009

They're just not that into you ...

Paul Krugman, in the NYTimes today, is still spouting doom and gloom about the stimulus. He is unhappy, and with good reason, that parts of the bill that helped poorer Americans have been cut out of the Senate version, like direct aid to states and money for unemployment insurance, food stamps and rebuilding schools. Meanwhile, the aid to first time homebuyers was doubled. This was done to please maybe three Republican Senators, just enough to get the thing passed. Maybe food stamps isn’t a classic stimulus item, but it would get spent.

Krugman points out the Obama tried to lure Republicans with the initial bill by adding in a lot of tax cuts. For his trouble, he got no House Republicans and apparently maybe three Senate Republicans. After the bill goes to Conference there would be two possibilities. The Democrats could achieve a hollow victory by sticking to their principles and restoring some of the cut items, in which case Senate Republicans would defeat the Conference bill. Or the Democrats could cave and say screw you to the poor, just to get three Senate votes.

Krugman likes to say the Republicans were in charge for the last eight years. Barney Frank said six on Meet the Press and I like to say just four. Still, four years with majorities in Congress, a Republican president and a friendly Supreme Court. You would think the Congress would have passed a balanced budget law, or removed all the Clinton laws about lending money for houses to the poor or added a line item veto. I guess Congress thought they had time for that, that they could get around to it. Even now, Republican Congresspersons and conservative commenters say that when Republicans wanted to reform the banking sector and get rid of those bad mortgages, “they” wouldn’t let them. I have, God’s Truth, no idea who “they” were. We all should remember that when the Democrats wanted to filibuster to prevent some four Bush judicial appointees from being confirmed, the Republicans talked about removing the ability to filibuster (now, in the last Congress, Republicans set a record of threats to filibuster resulting in bills being pulled). The sum point of which being that the Republicans had four years to fix things and did nothing, actually, with tax cuts, they probably made things worse.

The title of that current movie “He’s just not that into you” probably sums up my view of the Republicans. The day after the inauguration conservative pundits and Congresspersons were singing the praises of Obama. Now, they have turned on him. Turned out the romance was pretty short lived, and they are not that into Obama.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Did Bill Murray get bit?

Hmm, today is Groundhog day.

Hmm, today is Groundhog day.

Hmm, today is Groundhog day.

Hey ...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Steelers win


What's that line from the Simpsons? "Happy fans will be looting and turning over cars in Pittsburgh tonight?" Well, they use the name of what ever city is in the Super Bowl.

Stimulus Redux

So I watched “Face the Nation” this morning, which had Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer on. I don’t particularly like either man, which is neither here nor there (and of no consequence to either). McConnell was complaining about the stimulus bill, complaining about it’s size. 150 million for honey bee insurance and 600 million for government employees to buy (American) cars, he said. Well, actually, we do know that bees are in trouble, although I am not sure that bee insurance will help the bees themselves much.

But it is likely the Republicans will assert themselves, as I suggested in my last post. Maybe it will be smooth sailing in the Senate, maybe not; I doubt the Republicans want to be left holding the bag of blocked stimulus, so to speak. I think the Republicans will vote to help pass something, possibly a much smaller bill, and then it will go to conference. That could be where the real fun starts.

Now my memory is that NPR ran stories about how from January 2003 to December 2006, the Republicans increasingly kept Democratic Congressmen out of conference committee negotiations. I don’t know if the negotiations were done in formal meetings or informal get togethers, but I remember the end result was that the Republicans ran roughshod over the Democrats in Congress (something Mitch McConnell today specifically said can’t happen). So the question still is, will Harry Reid grow a pair, or at least a backbone? Will he force Republicans to speak forever? In reading the Wikipedia article on conference committees, it says that when the bill goes back to the Senate, it could still be filibustered. So it is possible to imagine that this process could drag on for a while.

A couple of stimulus issues that Republicans like to complain are support for education at all levels, and alternative energy industry support. I think both are actually pretty important and should be funded through the stimulus. Putting money into the pockets of construction workers to rehab old schools and hopefully improving the education of students is as good as have workers test bridges or repave highways (not better, but just as good). And investing in our future can hardly be a bad thing. Pretty much ditto for money for research and alternative power. Both may yield possible future benefits, in addition to the money (from wages) those employees would spend. I have a feeling the Senate Republicans will try to kill that finding where ever it shows up, which is a general shame. But republicans could admit that investing in the future is a form of stimulus, maybe America a better bet for that future.

Jack Kelly’s column today was interesting. He was saying something I have said myself (although not here, I think), putting more troops in Afghanistan won’t work. I was quoting someone who might have been on the News Hour, and who referenced the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. Interestingly, neither the commenter I remember nor Mr. Kelly had an alternative suggestion. Kelly, at least, I think just wants to keep criticizing everything Obama does.