Friday, June 8, 2007


"Pittsburgh these days is, of all things, a college town—there's not a single steel mill within city limits. With 60,000 students, it has one of the highest academic concentrations in the country. The hospitals—research and otherwise—are among the best and busiest. The biotech industry is booming.

"At Carnegie Mellon University, they build robots; at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, they replace body parts. Eventually, I can only hope, these trends will merge, and a Pittsburgh-bred Superman will play linebacker for the Steelers.

"The parks, museums, libraries, concert halls, theaters, schools—all are first class, a legacy of civic pride and the philanthropy of Carnegie, Heinz, Frick, Schenley and others.

"The 88 neighborhoods are remarkably intact—a rarity." (LINK)

Lovely! Cut and paste, festoon with ribbons, and distribute with merry abandon.

The rest of the article is the usual tedious pablum.


Well, not entirely.

On the one occasion Mayor Ravenstahl was quoted meaningfully on an issue of public policy -- ever (just kidding!) -- it went down like this:

The city and county are sharing 911 and purchasing services, but Ravenstahl and other city officials have little interest in giving up what power they have. A merger of city and county—a move made by many other regions—would extinguish Pittsburgh’s “voice,” Ravenstahl told me. “No one would pay attention to urban issues.”

That could be construed as a victory of demagoguery over necessity. However, at this early point in the game, it would surely be a mistake to deride Luke Ravenstahl's protective instincts. (UPDATE: Or would it?)


But what the city and region need most is unity and optimism.

These are the words of the author, Howard Fineman of Newsweek Magazine, and they are ridiculous.

h/ts the Busman, AS

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Mary Beth in the Spotlight

Mary Beth Buchanan (R- here) will appear in Washington before a closed-door meeting of congressional investigators on Friday, June 15.

The interview will concern the political firings of several U.S. Attorneys (Ms. Buchanan not among them) within the Justice Department of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Some background:

(Note: We do not feel Ms. Buchanan would relish playing the role of a low-functioning pinhead.)

The meeting was to be held today, but it was recently pushed back. There are two theories as to how to read this postponement.

1. What is news that the Bush administration holds onto until Friday typically like?

2. Is Buchanan trying to find a face-saving way to wrap up her affairs with Dr. Cyril Wecht (D-here), whom she had gotten indicted for misuse public office for private gain, before heading off to Washington?

"None of this is coincidence," said defense attorney Jerry McDevitt, of the timing of the prosecution's request to meet. "She wants to make sure we keep our mouths shut while she's down there before Congress."

What could the Wecht camp talk about that would so trouble Buchanan in Washington?

The defense attorneys continue to assert that Dr. Wecht's is a political prosecution. They say that Ms. Buchanan wanted to take him into custody and walk him in front of media cameras -- what's called a "perp walk" -- rather than letting him turn himself in.

The facts as laid out in this P-G article by Paula Reed Ward do seem to suggest that Buchanan was doggedly insistent on the perp walk -- she maintains that Dr. Wecht was a flight-risk to Israel.

So, what? Is Dr. Wecht guilty of that which he is accused?

In addition, [defense attorneys] cite the fact that she obtained an indictment of Dr. Wecht before questioning Carlow University's president to corroborate a central claim in the charges against him.

In other words, who knows? It would have been nice to let the legal battle between these two titans Wecht and Buchanan play out on its own merits. So the Comet is left pondering:

1) If the case against Wecht was that strong, would she not want to prosecute the stuffing out of it, and simply leave him looking the fool for grandstanding?

2) The notion of Dr. Wecht's perp-walk as "the icing on Buchanan's cake" is exactly what makes the prospect of her eventual appearance before an open congressional investigation (and thence onto CNN and the Daily Show) so totally engrossing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A Face of the Future

We have just two observations about our mayor's address at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service "Faces of the Future" lecture series. (P-G, Lord)

"Being here at the Clinton School makes me reflect on some of the parallels between what has happened in my life and that of our former president, William Jefferson Clinton."

Really? We wonder what he had in mind. If he offered the crowd any examples, we hope either Lord or some other lecture attendee will share them with us.

"Somewhere back in Pittsburgh, a columnist is writing his or her perspective on how I could be doing better..."

Yeah, not likely.

The quality of Pittsburgh reporting is very high, and the editorial boards are always ready to offer frank advice.

Yet the columnists in this city -- the ones in the best position to offer constructive criticism and make it entertaining -- typically limit their scrutiny to the state level and higher. That is, when they are not mulling over their garden, or their tastes in music, or the kids these days.

Qualify that. Brian O'Neill has a new column (and poem) mocking city council's recent fixation on cats.

The thing is -- what should council be obsessing over right now, Brian? And what should they be thinking about it? Are you not complicit in the ascendancy of kitty-cat politics?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Big Giant Tuesday

Today is an especially high-fructose news day. Any one of these news items could merit a full post of its own.

The P-G's Rich Lord takes a look at the ICA board taking a look at our Fire and EMS departments, with one eye on a possible merger. The International Association of Fire Fighters sounds very open. The Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics sounds a bit closed.

The Trib's Tony LaRussa stresses that murder and rape has gone down in Pittsburgh. The P-G's Jim McKinnon stresses that the numbers went up for all violent crime, that the numbers for murders and rapes are still pretty bad, and that the numbers may not tell the full story. Jasiri X is liberally quoted.

Between 230-300 people met at the Civic Arena to give input on the next Penguins facility. The grand panel discussion was part of the public comment process prior to City Planning Commission action. There will be more, and in smaller working-groups also. The P-G's Mark Belko found some optimism in the room, whereas the Trib's Kevin Crowe played up the acrimony and suspicion.

Wedge issue alert! ACORN calls for a six-month moratorium on sheriff's sales, until something is done to get home foreclosures under control, reports the P-G's Jim McKinnon.

There are at least three others out there in the papers alone.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Other Mind-Blowing Material

Good old Skip opines that the Mayor will use the issue of an EMS / Fire merger as an chance to "give a prelude to his refusal to restructure city government and spend some of his unearned political capital."

He has a good recommendation for the state oversight boards, also.

Sue tips us to a show-down brewing over the Governor's nomination of a gay man to chair the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission. Re-nomination, actually.

The American Family Association of America is committing some deep irony here.

Jon Delano has reopened his Den, this time on the Blogger. It is a much-abbreviated version of his e-mail bulletin called Politically Savvy Friends.

We have read through a bit of the latest full PSF. It is of high quality, both lyrically and informatively. It is sort of like Early Returns, only built with finer quality wood. We will keep you posted.

A Fistful of Voters: Ranting and Raving

The City Paper post-election analysis is cowboy-themed.

Not ninjas -- not even pirates -- but cowboys. That's a pretty good synopsis right there.

Okay. We acknowledge we might be bitter because we were cast as part of a "a chorus of bloggers" described as "seizing" this and "damning" that, like so many deranged pit-bulls.

When later on, a triumphant new city council nominee is quoted describing us roughly as band of privileged dilettantes, more concerned with the likes of Britney and Anna Nicole than Iraq and New Orleans, we were not further encouraged.

How did that portion of the interview go, anyway? "Mr. Burgess, do you hate Luke as badly as the bloggers do? Do you take your cues from them?"

That's okay. We know how the game is played.

We're the guy who works at the Taco Bell drive-thru -- you pull up late at night to get your precious fix, then you toss the empty wrappers out the car window, brush your teeth, and tell people you eat mainly organics.

You love your zeitgeist, but don't want to see how it gets woven.


Here it the illuminating portion of the article:

And amidst the excited buzz, Peduto described the fledging coalition taking shape under the label of "progressive." The progressives, he said, would be an "entirely new form of alliance" including environmentalists, good-government reformers and "the more progressive labor unions."

For the record, any time the Comet uses the word progressive, we are using shorthand for the movement you are calling progressive. We despise the word progressive, largely because it evinces that liberals are still running scared from Ronald Regan and Rush Limbaugh. But more importantly, it does not describe what is going on out there.

Peduto correctly identifies an alliance, but just like everybody else, he gets the emphasis all wrong. It will only realize the powers of majority when it marches to the beat of good government. At least for the next hundred cycles.

Are you grinding the same political axes that your grandparents gave you? Are you always having to defend certain factions in intergovernmental turf-wars? Are your relations with the Scientologists merely cordial, or you a fully operating thetan?

Are you comfortable with the language of data-driven decision making, of multiple causes, and of four-pronged solutions?

These are the questions that will matter, and the answers to them will shape a political environment that is not so much fluid, but clay-like.

Inexplicably, the City Paper keeps returning to abortion as a good test of how these particles will interact.

If you're in it for abortion, or for gay marriage, or for peace in the middle east, you will find yourself intermittently frustrated, as ever.

But if you're in it for a solution to our public debt, our pensions burden, our sewer nightmare, for efficiency and equity in public services, for a more creative city government that takes a nuanced view of neighborhoods and development -- if you want a city that can take care of itself to the point where it can tackle big problems like violence and poverty -- then you may have a Hollywood ending in your future.

Although it will have to come at the end of a trilogy.

In Praise of Property Taxes: Huzzah!

Hooray for this Mark E. Dixon fellow.

French-kissing the third rail of Western Pennsylvania politics, the writer suggests that taxing people who can best afford it, and who lay claim to the world's most valuable resource, might be a good idea.

He had us at "destructive and demagogic" -- his description of our governments' fixation on "property tax relief for seniors."

Scratch a bit deeper, I suspect, and it would become apparent that helping seniors is mostly sophistry. What concerns too many of us is lower property taxes for ourselves. But spending less for our children's education is not a worthy goal, so it helps to dress it up in a cause that sounds noble.

In other words, tax cuts for the wealthy becomes tax relief for seniors.

Keeping seniors in homes larger than they need, or can afford, or can care for, serves no social benefit and deserves no public subsidy. After a lifetime of work and raising a family, a house is an asset that seniors can sell and then live on the proceeds in smaller quarters. It is not the state's job to spend public revenue to help seniors hold onto assets that will only enrich their heirs.

The vogue of eliminating progressive property taxes in favor of more regressive income and even sales taxes, is an issue that young voters in particular should rally around.

We can't wait until the letters start pouring in, accusing Mark Dixon of not simply hating the elderly, but looking forward with excitement to the death of his own parents.