Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gas prices ...

This time I don’t have an excuse for not having blogged in the last week, at least not a good one. I was curious to see what would happen because of the amended Act 47 plan (which I have still not read). I wanted to read the plan (see previous). I had already said much of what I wanted to say about the election (and no, that didn’t stop me from getting drawn into conversations on other blogs about it).

I probably could have said something about the G20 summit (what was Obama thinking … was it really something to do with Rooney …etc). But I find it difficult to know what side to be on about this. I mean, we are a silly choice. But any city not San Francisco, LA, Chicago or New York is a silly choice. I mean, maybe Atlanta or Miami, but only because they are already sort of tourist/convention destinations. So if it had been Cincinnati or Des Moines, I would have been chuckling at their expense. So I didn’t say anything here (a bit elsewhere… I mean, c’mon, a city essentially bankrupt?).

But what I really want to talk about is gas prices. They have been at the back of my mind for some time (occasionally at the front). Time magazine did a story (which I first saw on Yahoo) about gas prices. They contend that oil producing countries are storing some of the oil they produce. I believe refineries have cut back on processing (something they do every year at this time – for routine yearly maintenance, just in time to sock it to Memorial Day drivers). And apparently the speculators are once again making bets about the economy six months from now, and it is affecting current prices. So even though demand is weak, and the storage containers are filling up, gas prices have been going up.

“There is some risk we will run out of storage space in the next four to six weeks …If we run out of storage it could prompt a collapse in the price” said Simon Wardell, director of an energy forecasting company (he said that in the time article).

Yeah, come on limited storage space. Collapse that price. This is kind of speculative crap that produced last summer's run up in gas prices. That battering of our economy probably contributed to the economic crash last fall. I mean, you can't draw a bright line, but I have decided to be suspicious anyway. And Jack Kelly wants to bash Obama's economic policy. Apparently drill here, drill now only works if the oil companies don't want to make money.

After all, understand that the speculators are betting the economy will be healthy enough in six months to have increased demand for oil. Who thinks that? In fact, who thinks that putting additional pressure on consumers now will assist the economy in recovering and having a boom in six months? Man, they are easy to turn into villains and idiots, all at the same time.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

KD/PG follies

Sometimes the KD/PG edition is really worth seeing. I don’t know how to find out who’s going to be on, I supposed I should just ask someone at KDKA. Today for the first segment there was a red faced Mayor Ravenstahl, for the second Bill Peduto and Natalia Rudiak were the guests.

I don’t know if the Mayor was red-faced because he was out in the sun (maybe the day the Steelers went to the White House?), or for another reason. Regardless, he appeared to get redder as Stacey Smtih (KDKA’s sacrificial lamb) asked the Mayor about Pat Dowd. First the Mayor said he thinks Dowd owes him an apology since Dowd “all but” called him a crook and his administration corrupt, but the Mayor said he is looking forward to sitting down and talking to Dowd. When asked whether he had ever returned Dowd’s attempted calls to concede to him, the Mayor quickly said no but he was looking forward to sitting down etc etc, and the Mayor got redder. But the Mayor did speak eagerly about the new taxes he wanted to enact, and bitterly about how the local State legislature delegation has snubbed him so far.

Meanwhile, Bill Peduto, who seems to settled into a longer game, had a more relaxed view the new five year plan. Peduto talked about the old council, when he was an aide to Dan Cohen, that used to debate issues. Now Peduto thinks that a percentage based, more progressive EMS/commuter tax would be more fair. Rudiak, to her credit, did not declare allegiances to any side, saying she would talk to anyone interested about getting businesses to her district.

The last couple of days ...

For once I have a (mostly) good reason for not having blogged for the last couple of days. Not long after I finished Friday's post, I went off to work, and in the course of walking my usual mile from where I park to where I work, I developed a weird, freakish sort of vertigo. I became dizzy, nauseated and pretty much immobilized. I called CMU’s police, who called the City paramedics. They thought I might be having a heart attack (despite my lack of pain, and eventual totally normal EKG in the hospital), and although my doctor eventually guessed at a diagnosis that appears to have been borne out, I stayed over night in UPMC Shadyside. I did not get much sleep, though, due to a roommate whose breathing device had a shrill alarm that went off every few minutes, literally, from 1 am to 3 am. When I came home yesterday, I slept for at least part of the afternoon and went to bed shortly after dinner. I am now at about 95%, but I notice my typing seems to have suffered a bit, so I apologize in advance for any typos or lapses (more than usual).

But enough about me. The new City five year proposed plan is indeed out now for the public to view, at the City Council’s website (I swear it wasn’t there Thursday night, but so what). From the initial description of the plan, it seemed to me the City was being encouraged to find some savings besides those specifically recommended in the plan, and that the plan only specifically recommended keeping the parking tax at 37.5%. But now the Mayor, at least, if not other City officials, has seized on the proposal's comments that the City could petition the state to raise the EMS tax to $145 and to allow a new Pittsburgh levy on a new tax on non-profits that for profits already pay (I believe it is officially a “Payroll Perpetration tax”). Meanwhile, local members of the State legislature, from Jane Orie to Dan Frankel, are rebelling against the idea of increased local taxes. Jane Orie suggests legislators from districts across the state will not support the idea. I don’t see that myself, I think the only reason they might care if Pittsburgh tries to take more money from the surrounding county or counties (as well as from itself) is if the live in a suburb of somewhere like Philadelphia (which may have already done more). But I don’t think legislators from the Scranton area will lead the charge for Pittsburgh, it has to be our own local legislators. Who seem to be very tepid on the idea.

It’s funny to see the Mayor, who was campaigning on lowering taxes last week, suddenly excited about the idea of raising taxes.

Meanwhile, it is not clear what will happen with the Peduto plan. Bill Peduto is showing more of a political side than I have seen before (a good thing, IMO). He has already suggested a .2% tax instead of the $52 or $145 EMS tax (presumably .2% of income over $12,000, the current point below which people who work in the City do not have to pay taxes). Bill Peduto may work to incorporate parts of his plan into the new Act-47 five year plan.

Finally, I have to say something about todays’ Jack Kelly column. Now, I like Top Gear, and I had read Jeremy Clarkson’s Times of London review of the Honda Insight. Clarkson, who by and large despises Americans (and all other non-British people) as inferior, non the less has a very American attitude towards power in cars, and great disdain for efforts to make cars more economical. Which is fine, you can’t care about that (and I am sure Clarkson would share Jack Kelly’s point of view about the Obama administration’s CAFÉ standards proposal). Kelly has made it plain he thinks that oil is not a limited resource, at least not limited within the foreseeable future. I happen to disagree, and I think before there is no oil it will get very expensive. I think the less we consume now, the more that will be available in the future. The more people fifty years from now will have a lifestyle that matches our own, not some sort of Mad Max lifestyle. What I am saying is that if we dramatically cut back now, if we first of all encourage biking and walking to work, if we have electric (or at least hybrid) buses and cars, and if we set up parking lots at central spots for people commuting from the sticks to ride buses from, then we can begin to cut our consumption of oil. Of course, I am one of those who advocates a European style gas tax of 100%, coupled with an increased EIC (to ensure the poor can still work). I think an increase in the downtown parking tax would also be a good thing. Then, as time goes on, maybe new apartment buildings can be build along light rail lines (in the South) and bus-ways (in the east). More apartment buildings in Shadyside near the bus-way stops would be great, because there is great opportunity ofr shopping there now. Except maybe there will be a need for more buses on that busway.

I wrote a letter to the paper, briefly mentioning some of this. We’ll see if it is printed, but I wanted to say some of this here too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A tale of one plan ...

I wanted to repeat a point I made yesterday. It is hard for me to find the language that gets across just how much a favor the Act 47 team did Mayor Luke Ravenstahl with the timing of their new five year plan. Ravenstahl, predictably, is already making noises like he is pretending to resist whole hardily embracing the new plan, but in the end in makes no difference. He has no choice.

I have just started looking for a copy of this report. It is apparently 290 pages long, so it might take a competent lawyer a little while to get through (especially if they could get $500 an hour), and it might take a dumbass like me much longer. But I would like the opportunity to try. We citizens can hardly be expected to assist our legislators in the business of running the government if we can’t see the documents from which they work. 290 pages is a tall order for a pdf, but in this day and age of 10’s, 100’s and even 1000’s of megabit bandwith and 16 gigabyte flash drives available for as little as twenty dollars, there is just no excuse for not making it available. The thing was typed up on a computer, and these days it must be almost cheaper to distribute the thing on a flash drive than to print it (considering how often our big printer breaks down at work, it might be cheaper when you take into account the service calls). But Google and a visit to the State DCED web page have failed me so far.

I suggested yesterday that the new plan is less ambitious than Bill Peduto’s proposal, and I stand by that, but … I have to admit the new Act 47 plan anticipates a lot of changes in State legislation. Dan Frankel, a Squirrel Hill State Representative, predicts the Allegheny County delegation in state government might oppose parts of this new plan. If you can’t get your own local people on your side in the State legislature, how can you expect help from Crawford or Lawrence county reps, or anyone else across the State.

A lot of people, local and state-wide, have an interest in opposing this plan, which most of us haven’t even had the chance to see yet. Gonna be an interesting June ‘round here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A tale of two plans ...

There is another twist in Bill Peduto’s release, today, of his outline for a new five year Act-47 plan. That twist is that Dean Kaplan and the State appointed Act 47 team sent City Council their five year plan. It is markedly less ambitious than Peduto’s plan. But because this plan from the Act 47 people can only be modified by Council with the Act 47 people's permission, it is safe (unfortunately) to say that Mr. Peduto's plan is now DOA.

By the way, the Act 47 people did the Mayor an incredible favor by waiting until two days after the primary to release their plan. The Mayor would have looked much less like the architect of our recovery and much more like the puppet he is.

The Act 47 plan would freeze the 37.5 parking tax where it is, rather than let it drop. The Act 47 people noted that rates did not come down when the tax went down, so apparently the City might just as well not reduce the tax further, but instead should use the money for infrastructure (woo hoo, 2.5 percent of parking tax revenue, we’re rich, I tell’s you).

The City is supposed to increase its contribution to the pension plan by 10 million a year. If the City can’t find that money anywhere (property tax windfall, anyone?) it would be allowed to go (hat in hand) to Harrisburg for an increase in the EMS tax, from $52 to $145 or for permission to expand the payroll tax (payroll preparation tax?) to universities and hospitals and other tax exempt groups.

There direct input on pay raises for union employees, changes in benefits, closing a fire station, eliminating some deputy fire chiefs, changes in bargaining and trail board rules, in short, a slightly less severe set of limits put on government than was done in 2004. Rich Lord didn’t say whether the plan included limiting take home cars.

I look when I get a chance for a copy of the report. But from Mr. Lord’s initial description, the plan looks like another just barely adequate effort to see us through the next five years. At some point there may be balloon payments we might not be able to meet. Then it will hit the fan.

Bill Peduto's turn ...

So I don't know how I got on Bill Peduto's press release email list, but I am happy to be on it. He sent out a press release today on his (as Council finance chair) outline of a new five year plan, which is in the form of a letter to Dean Kaplan and Jim Roberts. I believe they were involved in the first Act 47 five year plan. I had decided to post on it at lunch time (since I am at work), so Bram scooped me on this(athough not, as far as I can tell, the PG). Anyway, you can get to the plan at Preduto’s Council web page (link for the plan:

First of all, the timing of the press release is interesting. If Dowd had won Tuesday’s primary (yeah, I know) I would like to think Bill Peduto would have approached Dowd about his plan. The letter is dated April 28th, indicating that it has already been sent, but Peduto could have delayed the public/press release of it until Dowd had had input. The letter indicates a copy was sent to Ravenstahl, presumably on the 28th.

Second, the plan itself is very interesting, very ambitious. Bram mentions Peduto’s final paragraph, which states that the plan can not be like a menu, that is, we can not simply choose easy parts and disregard the hard items. We need to do it all. Yet the “all” is no small matter.

Peduto calls for the State to take over municipal employee pensions and healthcare. That is absolutely huge, and begs a staggering number of questions. The implications for notion of contracts negotiated by municipal unions alone are big. Legally the idea of patching together all the different negotiated pension and healthcare plans at a State level … well, it could be done, but to get any savings a number of unions would have to agree to accept the same plan (or cafeteria of plans). Peduto does suggest having an auditing firm show local municipal retirees what will happen if we do nothing, perhaps as a precursor to reducing their benefits. Of course with modern computing, it would be easy enough to manage a vast array of different municipal health insurance and pension plans plans, although I’ll bet the contracting local health insurance and national pension administrator agencies would not be amused. But then there’s the question of our pension shortfall, how or if would that be made up. Peduto doesn’t say, perhaps hoping the State would volunteer a portion or all of the shortfall.

Peduto calls for a “Functional Consolidation of Municipal Services”. This is an interesting one. Peduto explicitly rejects the notion of the Nordenberg plan, a merger of Pittsburgh City and Allegheny County governments, with the Pittsburgh political government all but disappearing. He complains particularly that there is no explanation about what would happen to City debt in that plan, except to say it would remain with the City (whose residents would (practically) no longer have a voice in what rate they would be taxed at). But Peduto’s alternative has to be a nightmare for residents of Shaler or Brentwood. He proposes bringing certain services for all 130 plus of our neighboring municipalities (and the City) under “countywide” control. This would be for payroll, tax collection, personnel, law and presumably also purchasing and CIS. Peduto does not say this, but Presumably Pittsburgh’s existing systems are already large enough that they could simply be expended cost efficiently and the municipalities and the County government could pay us for our administering these systems on their behalf. I am sure the 130 municipalities will leap to be included in this part of the plan.

There are five other parts to the plan to look at (including our ling term debt), which I may do in a future post when I have more time. But I think you may have an idea of why I think Peduto’s is very ambitious, maybe too much so. On the other hand, if we don’t try to be ambitious, we are more likely to have to look at municipal bankruptcy as our only option.

So what lessons should we draw from Tuesday (my own version).

So what lessons should we draw from Tuesday (my own version).

First, during the campaign, we had a visit from a Ravenstahl volunteer. She didn’t try to persuade me when I told her I wouldn’t be voting for the Mayor, although she did ask about the household. I did not have a visit from a Dowd volunteer, to say nothing of the candidate (although I did get lots of emails). If I had been on the fence, which way would I have been pushed? I know I have advocated campaigning negatively, and I stand behind that, especially with this Mayor. But I think there needs to be more. If either of the independents running in the general is to have a chance, they will need even more to connect with City residents.

Which brings us to the next lesson. Len Bodack won in his first election when he had two popular progressives running against him (was it Mitch Kates? and Nancy Nozick? Who founded Lotus?). Natalia Rudiak won because two relatively popular candidates split a vote (and because, according to Chris Potter, she had volunteers knocking on a lot of doors). The threat against Ravenstahl this time may have been watered down because two candidates ran against him. So what will happen in the general if two independents run against Ravenstahl? Both Acklin and Harris have been, at some point, Republicans. So once again I propose that one of the two drop out, in exchange for becoming the Chief of Staff for the other if the other is elected. I would lean toward Acklin dropping out. Harris can run as an African American and the son of a famous Steeler. Acklin can provide the political skill and experience to help save the City.

Otherwise I think Ravenstahl out fund raises and watches them split the vote, possibly along similar lines as Tuesday’s election.

Independent(s), better start the campaign soon too. That was a mistake DeSantis acknowledged.

Meanwhile, just a mention, Gail Collins (in the NYTimes and in particular), drew our (my, anyway) attention to the fact that the Democrats in Senate are not doing all thy could with their majority. Not that the have 60 votes yet, but they are crumbling like a stale cake in the face of the diminished but still lock step Republicans. The Dem’s voted against funding the dismantling of the facility of Guantanamo Bay after having called for it to be closed during the last election campaign, and many voted for the amendment to the credit card reform bill that allows people to carry concealed weapons in National Parks (!). Republicans have always been willing to tell their constituents some unpleasant things (mostly about Democrats) while running, but Democrats seem to be in great fear of offending their conservative constituents.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Over forty percent

Over forty percent of Democrats in this city would rather see someone other than Luke Ravenstahl as Mayor. Not a majority, to be sure, but significant considering the Mayor spent over 600 grand on this campaign, and his opponents spent well under that.

Ad neither Pat Dowd nor Carmen Robinson is the child of the most famous running back, arguably the most famous Steeler, in Pittsburgh history.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Which are we?

The PG today has statements from the Mayoral candidates and also answers from each to specific questions. I am not going to go into specifics about their statements/answers except to cover an issue I think lies under the surface and yet is vitally important. Mayor Ravenstahl basically maintains the City is doing well, yet needs more work to secure it’s position in the future. Pat Dowd says the City is in trouble and needs leadership with transparency and accountability to guide us. Carmen Robinson talks about two Pittsburgh’s, and wants to reach out to the neglected one.

The gap between Ravenstahl’s position and Dowd’s position is what I want to look at (for the record, I agree with Robinson, but I don’t see much indication she will get anywhere in the primary). Is the City doing better than most cities in this economic downturn, with manageable problems on the horizon, or does the City have so much debt and obligations it can not recover without tough action now? Now, I credit the Act 47 five year plan with creating the surplus; it was written that way. The Mayor may have created a bigger or smaller surplus than was foreseen/feasible, but it was always supposed to be there, as were many of tax reductions the Mayor brags about, and the increased services. But evidently the plan was not intended to address our debt or our pension shortfall, and there is no way to turn 50 million (what’s left of our surplus after the ICA plundered it) into seven hundred million or two billion (whatever our total debt/pension figure is). Plus we are looking at problems with future healthcare costs. These are some of the issues Pat Dowd is talking about (btw, there is supposed to be a new five year plan, though I couldn't say what it will cover).

It is the difference between whether we are a desirable place to go/be in this economic downturn versus whether we are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and there is no one out there to help us out. If we go into bankruptcy, what will happen? We may renege on our debts, damaging our credit rating and making it harder to borrow on favorable terms for decades to come. We may throw our municipal pensions on the tender mercies of the State or the Federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. Our retirees may get pennies on the dollar (kinda makes you glad this is likely to happen on Ravenstahl’s watch).

Now I think the “City in trouble” line is likely true, though I don’t know how it will work out specifically under a Ravenstahl administration. I think at some point there will be a payment missed, City Council will squabble amongst themselves for a while, but eventually the Mayor and Council will jointly declare bankruptcy in Federal Court. It is possible that the State will step in and take direct control of the City before that happens (I am not sure about the legal rules here), although the only thing the State would be saving is face here, as they would not likely be happy about taking on the City’s financial issues. In the end, I think the City would continue, but I think it’s political power and prestige would be greatly reduced. City services would also be reduced for a long time to come.

Is Dowd the man to avoid this? Maybe. I don’t know that I trust him to be a magician, but he seems to recognize most of the crisis for what it is. His being in office, with an implied threat that he will declare bankruptcy if it is needed, might influence Harrisburg towards more generosity towards Pittsburgh.

That’s not much to hang a hat on, but that’s where we are.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Couple of days, and the story I won't let go of ...

So there are a couple of days to go until the primary. I’m voting for Dowd. He does not strike me as perfect, but no one is, especially among politicians. Still, he would be a clear step up from Ravenstahl, and Dowd’s the one running (yes, I am saying I regard Dowd's chances as better than Robinson's, and Robinson has not particularly impressed me either).

Bram is doing a fine job of covering that and other parts of the election (notably the South Hills and the West End, areas I know next to nothing about), so I urge you to visit the Pittsburgh Comet, or as I call it Bram’s Comet. Meanwhile, there is a small story that I have been following, about ACORN. I am not really following it that closely, but I did send a comment to OffQ, which they read on air last night. The set up is that last week they mentioned the story of the ACORN workers Stephen Zappala has accused of voter registration fraud. Now, I have to admit up front that some ACORN supervisors or offices might want to make themselves look good and so might have set up local quotas so they can meet some sort of registration goal. Apparently the national office says it does not set or condone registration quotas. At the same, it would surely be in the interest of the accused to workers to claim there is a quota for voter registrations. So far, from what I have read, there has not been an anecdotal, much less systematic investigation of ACORN’s actual voter registration effort that would indicate from a neutral source (ie, a registration worker not accused of fraud) whether there was a quota system. Maybe there is such a person or people, but the PG has not reported it yet.

But there are six or so ACORN temp workers accused of voter fraud. I assume the DA knows this because the forms were turned in. Were they flagged? ACORN says they would have been. From the reporting I don’t know if they were. Could they have been used to vote fraudulently? Maybe, you can construct a scenario where fraudulent voters travel from voting place to voting place, and vote in all these different districts. Of course, if that happened it would likely get out eventually (although by then we might be living in a communist country). I think this sort of concern is why ACRON tries as hard as it does to be transparent, to check registration forms. But ultimately, if ACORN is under the control of some evil organization, with millions of members who use fraudulent voting to increase their strength ten fold, then maybe anything could happen. A black man could be elected President.

Anyway, ACORN is also accused at the very least of clogging the elections registration system with registration forms, including and apparently most egregiously, the flagged forms. That was the line on OffQ last week I believe and this week, when my comment was read, Heather Heidelbaugh (sp?) was saying there is no (Pennsylvania? National?) law requiring ACORN to turn all forms in, even suspicious ones. Researching just a bit on Google, Wikipedia and the ACORN site, she may be correct about Pennsylvania. There is such a law in Indiana, and ACORN’s line is that when there is a question, the advice of their council is to turn all forms in. Look up the story on Spoul & Associates, and you will see why that is sound advice.

Why is the burden on ACORN to resolve problematic registration forms, anyway? There are several options for the County elections people that I can see. They could hire a temp service or outsourced firm to go through all the registration forms or just the problematic ones, and make calls themselves. They could set the problematic forms aside (we trust ACORN, right?), then go through when they are not gearing up for an election. If ACORN had marked many Republican registrations as problematic, when those people went to vote in would send up be red flags. Also, when they finally did go through the forms, if a pattern developed, they could alert the DA’s office or the FBI then and ACORN could be charged (the legislature might have to do something about the statute of limitations). Or the County elections department could ask for volunteers, say, lawyers like Heather H, who could put the time where their mouth is, and make some calls checking on registrations.

Anyway, I sent another comment to OffQ, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope that it will be read. This is one of those stories where the Republicans hope the Democrats are not going to stick their neck out, where the Republicans (and Stephen Zappala, apparently) hope that waving the flag will blind us to the hypocrisy of their charges.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nut's N'at

Brian O’Neill did a piece on ACRON yesterday. He took pains to be “fair and balanced” but I think that took him too far down the path conservatives take. Seven local ACORN temp workers were arrested for voter fraud just recently. O’Neill had actually walked door to door with one of the arrested workers back in 2004, and while he doesn’t say anything personally bad about the man, he does indicate he was fired a couple of years ago for “cutting corners”. In fact, the two main thrusts of O’Neill column are that (a) the conservatives claims that ACORN is trying to steal an election are false and (b) ACORN’s claims of registering tens of thousands of voters here and more than a million nationwide are (in his opinion) false as well. And it is the county election department workers who get stuck with dealing with the problem.

OK, O’Neill may be right that ACORN is not succeeding in registering enough people. But I think he gave inadequate credit to ACORN for it’s own efforts to police itself (at least as reported on the KD/PG program last fall). ACORN apparently acts as a jobs program, especially for people who ordinarily can’t get jobs, during the election cycle. Not only do they hire canvassers who sign people up to vote, they hire people to call the names on those voter cards. If they can’t get a response after three calls, they flag the card. Or if the response they get on the phone is suspicious or clearly not form the name on the card, they flag the card. But since these are voter registration cards, where the person’s signature indicates they swear they are who they say they are and are not already registered, etc etc, and given the history of voter intimidation in this country, ACORN turns in every voter registration card, but flags the ones a reasonable person might say to tear up.

I myself can’t be totally sympathetic with ACORN. They hire people who are out of work before elections, and sometimes these are people they have hired before. That indicates to me that some of the hires are not people temporarily displaced, but rather seem incapable of finding a permanent job (some of them). And ACORN’s system of trying to generate productivity has not found the right balance yet (and may never). And I too sympathize with the County election workers who have to sort out these registration cards. But, again. given the history of minorities being able to actually vote in this country, ACORN is actually performing an important public service for us all. Except, apparently, the those conservatives who want to see the likes of George W Bush in office.

There was also a piece on assessments in yesterday's PG, but that will have to wait for a few days. I'm pretty busy at work.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Daaah ...dah dah dah ... dah dah dah

When the first Star Trek series was introduced in 1966, in many ways it reflected its time. Which is not to say the 23rd century, rather that specific time of 1966. In some ways it stretched the mores of 1966. I don’t know that everyone was comfortable with this multicultural crew (even though the middle aged heterosexual white guys were ultimately in charge), or comfortable with the first on screen interracial kiss, even if the circumstances included aliens with mind powers causing it.

But in 1966 things were not bad in the United States. Vietnam was escalating, but Tet had not occurred yet. I believe the economy was still in good shape. The Watts riot had occurred the year before, but so had the Voting rights Act, so progress was still being made. What made Star Trek so remarkable, looking back, was that it reflected the thought that government worked. In fact, government was so wise that it’s main law (prime directive) was not to interfere in primitive cultures the government’s employees encountered as they jetted around the universe. Of course, Captain Kirk knew what was best for the noble savages and routinely broke that rule, but we trusted his judgment. Subsequent Trek spin offs have spun these ideas, making them darker and reflecting our post-Watergate, post-Vietnam and even post-Lewinsky era.

The new movie is said to “re-imagine” parts of Star trek’s history (they’re not supposed to meet the Romulans until “Balance of Terror” in the first season), but actual history has already passed Star Trek’s history by (Ricardo Montalban was supposed to be sweeping through South Asia in the 1980’s, instead we got the band Asia and George HW Bush). We’ve come 43 years since Trek first appeared on the screen, a length of time where a person could grow up and become a success. For example, JJ Abrams was born in 1966 (irony?). Maybe Trek has gotten old enough and mature enough for us to appreciate the new while remembering what we like about the old one, and why. After all, by now Star Trek has gotten old enough to move out of it’s parents basement.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Fetterman's troubles ...

Apparently John Fetterman is going to lose his primary in a few weeks. Not that I know much about it, but it seems the safe way to bet. Fetterman won his first election (which might have been the primary) by one vote. Now, according to the PG, he has antagonized a large part of the Braddock Council and picked up “vocal” critics. There are accusations that he is spending too much time on national television, and out of touch with the community. But I thought I detected an undertone of superiority in the PG’s reporting of the story, although I basically trust the story (as much as I do any newspaper story).

So the story covered Fetterman’s national exposure and his local efforts. It also covered the Council’s seeming dislike of Fetterman, as well as the anger of various individuals. Some of the points strike me as valid but complicated, like Fetterman owing taxes on two properties he bought for individuals in Braddock's youth programs(one of whom was shot and killed, the other moved away). Fetterman says he is trying to sell the properties to pay the taxes, but I would ask whether he was intending to offer these properties without having taxes paid up? The answer is, of course, we don’t get the full story, even in a paragraph devoted to it. But it does look bad for the Mayor to owe taxes on property, even in a complicated situation.

Maybe that is what comes across in the PG story, that at least part of Braddock does not want a complicated Mayor, they want a simple, easy to understand hometown boy. Fetterman’s competitor, a Jayme Cox, is a local business man made good, but he has a criminal record of sorts. Years ago he apparently attacked his wife of the time and took her purse. The charges were later dropped, but the two did get divorced. Cox said he “contested "everything" in the police report.” and says it is a personal matter that has been resolved (the wife apparently said nothing).

The PG is practically dripping with condescension when it finds a local critic, Lemuel Howell. He essentially accuses Fetterman of being a carpet bagger, complaining among other things about murals that Fetterman has encouraged. He compares Braddock to Mayberry, saying “And Mayberry is a little too small for them big ideas”. In the real world, I think you can entertain big ideas, even if you don’t adopt them. Doing things to make Braddock unique, like having a bio fuel shop in town, benefits Braddock and the larger region.