Friday, September 18, 2009

The Composer: Rossini

The Song: "The Morning Song"

Watered-Down Pensions Bill Passes Legislature

It's virtually over, but it's an interesting case study:

A bill that gives Pittsburgh a two-year reprieve from a state takeover of its pension system and authorizes Philadelphia to levy a 1 percentage point sales tax increase easily won Senate approval on Thursday.

The bill goes to Gov. Ed Rendell.

Rendell said he will sign it because the sales tax enables Philadelphia to avert a fiscal crisis and the layoffs of 3,000 city employees. (Trib, Brad Bumsted)

This blog came out in favor of the 2-year exemption Pittsburgh sought in order to attempt to avoid or ameliorate a state takeover, so by all means let's pop at least a little Cristal.

However, the Comet was also becoming suspicious of mysterious changes to "the language" that the House made in order to appease certain unions. If there were real unconstitutional threats to collective bargaining rights, that would be one thing -- but if we just gave up on reigning in costs or changing the imbalanced equation in any fashion, that would be something else.

Some out-of-town news accounts aren't even making mention of Pittsburgh's exemption, focusing instead on what was more controversial. That makes for interesting reading:

In a brief debate preceding the vote, Sen. Jim Ferlo criticized the House amendment that watered down many of the municipal-pension provisions the Senate wanted, including a mandatory freeze on pension benefits for current employees and reduced benefits for new hires for funds with the most serious financial problems.

Too many policymakers "want to buy the world an ice cream cone with no money to pay for it," said Ferlo, D-Allegheny, who said he voted for the bill largely because of the help it provides to Philadelphia. (Philly 57, Assoc. Press)

Costly political pandering = ice cream cones for the world? Where have we heard that before?

"What happened today was council essentially attempting to give an ice cream cone to the world, and we can't do that," Ravenstahl said. "It's irresponsible for council to enact or vote on amendments [to Act 47] that aren't really paid for." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

So maybe that was a jab by Jim, or maybe it's just an expression that's popular in certain circles. We'll never know.

I wish I had been able to riddle out the dense language of the bill and what exactly it meant sooner. On the one hand, I feel like I need to congratulate Sen. Ferlo and several others who tried to exercise some serious discipline for as long as they did. On the other hand, I feel like the conversation about financial discipline vs. public employee constituencies never made it out from behind closed doors. Well, the employees definitely held their conversation out in public, but the budget hawks and taxpayer advocates never seemed to muster the courage to rally a forthright public argument until too late. And now the window of opportunity has passed.

For a little more on the politics of this, see the yellow-highlighted portion of P-G, Rich Lord.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Still Thrilled to be Hosting the G-20, But...

.. it could be that the cynical sensationalist drive-by media is getting to me. I'm officially worried. I think that means I'm sane.

The group, calling itself the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project, is declaring a "People's Uprising, a Sept. 24 mass march to disrupt the G-20 summit," according to a statement on its Web site. (P-G, Dennis B. Roddey)

Words like "resist" and "disrupt" have meaning. These are not used by groups like the Thomas Merton Center, the G-20 Climate Convergence, Code Pink, the G-Six Billion -- those which have been applying for permits and holding frequent press conferences.

One prominent anarchist collective, called CrimethInc, has previously praised the Pittsburgh Organizing Group, the core of the city's anarchist activism, for its performance during the 2008 Republican Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

In the months leading to the convention, POG said it would blockade an identified intersection in downtown St. Paul and, despite the prior publicity, managed to roll a car into the street disable it and close the intersection.

"They are technically exceptionally competent," said Sam Rosenfeld, a former British Army officer and chairman of the Densus Group, an international security consulting firm. Mr. Rosenfeld said his firm has monitored developments around the Pittsburgh G-20 protesters and believes they are capable of creating havoc. (ibid)

Do you remember when we elected a President named Barack Obama? Many opined that we did so because technology and social media reached a pervasive critical mass -- and that young, highly energized people long immersed in it proved surprisingly organized and sophisticated. My gut is telling me that the United States is ripe to experience just that kind of "I'll be darned!" moment with a more radical form of activism. This will be the first opportunity we will have had in a while for that capacity to be revealed.

I think we can ultimately replace stuff, material things, property -- remember most of the glass you'll see shattering will be insured -- but I worry that this targeting of property is designed to provoke a reaction which will spiral. Mob-mentality is not people-mentality. Even our friendly neighborhood pacifist protesters can turn wobbly if they see or sense the wrong thing going on around them.

And then there's this:

59. Greg Says:

I’ll be coming into town those 2 days, not to protest, but to WORK.

I pity the protester who pisses me off.

Nuff said. (That's Church)

I do not have infinite confidence in every single one of our public safety officers -- who were garnered somewhat hastily from all over -- to handle these pregnant situations ideally at all times. In fact I have confidence that at least some will be itching for confrontation every bit as much as the radicals.

As a thoroughly cowardly Pittsburgh bystander, my hope is that groups like the G20RP are already infiltrated up to their nostrils, that the dangerous elements will disappear days before the summit, and the remaining "leaders" will march the rest directly into waiting paddy wagons. But my suspicion is that these groups may have found ways to circumvent those old tricks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday: Happy Campers *

Capitalism has been taking it on the chin lately, but we're about to see just a bit of the upside:

"You will see us shortly," said Gale Givens, president of Verizon Pennsylvania, as she stood outside of council chamber after a unanimous vote allowing her firm to compete with Comcast. "We fully intend to be out in force in the very, very near future.

"When we come into a city, we come in with lots of initiatives and approaches," she said, declining to detail them. (P-G, Rich Lord)

That almost sounds titillating.

[G-20 demonstrators] also want to build "tent cities" in four parks, an idea city officials have already rejected.

Government attorneys say free speech rights don't give the protesters an unfettered right to gather, or to overrun parks which are for everybody's use. (Trib, AP)

The Tent City thing is big -- it is something that protest groups are trying internationally to establish as usual and expected. I heard Marty Griffin barking at them yesterday to "get a hotel room" like anybody else. I wonder, though, especially in a city without a youth hostel, whether Pittsburgh will stand out as a place that Bohemians and travelers of modest means ought to avoid -- the curmudgeonly old "Get offa my lawn" neighbor of the globe -- if we are going to be the only one that doesn't allow camping in parks even for huge global events. And then there is the issue of where these people are going to go exactly if they can't stay there.


Fifth, the National Media should keep the coverage of Pittsburgh's steel history to a minimum. Yes, it was a big deal. Yes, it impacted the region. Yes, we have a football team named after it. However, it's over. Framing the discussion about Pittsburgh in terms of Steel is for lazy reporters, NFL stock films, and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. (ADB)

Right. And I'm assuming there's going to be gavel-to-gavel coverage of this Summit on all the major networks, right?

The Mayor's LGBT Advisory Committee had their first meeting on Tuesday around 8:30 AM. I had previously contacted the individuals I had been advised (ha ha) would be serving and they basically sent me the exact sentences back in their various confirmation email messages. We can expect a press release "soon" with all the juicy details. (PGHLesCor)

I was trying to figure out why the Top Secrecy. I guess there's a chance that some of the Committee's preliminary invitees may not "click" with the administration's "vision" for the panel, and so guarding the roster of members until everybody is sure they want to be involved will save both sides the embarrassment of quote-unquote "quitting early" if that happens.

So what? Just this: To date, Acklin's campaign looks a lot more sophisticated than Harris's. (City Paper Slag Heap)

Glad he said it not me. I don't want to deal with throngs of belligerent anonymous commenters threatening lawsuits.

“But your honor! I pooped into an outdoor planter!” (That's Church)

Time to go re-write that legislation, folks! (*-UPDATE: Almost forgot: The Artist Formerly Known as PittGirl really wants you to go to this site and vote ten times for Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh to receive one of three state-of-the-art game rooms. What she hasn't told you is that each time you vote, you personally get entered into a contest to win an XBOX-360. So go vote, there are only three days left.)

FINALLY: Did the Post-Gazette take down a particularly inaccurate Jack Kelly column from its online edition? Did Dayvoe DeAngelo finally scale the walls of Troy? (2 Political Junkies)

Monday, September 14, 2009

"At the G-20, Dreams stay with you, Like a lover's voice, Fires the mountainsiiide.."

(I haven't been able to get this out of my head for like two months.)

We had some real think-pieces in this weekend's P-G about the upcoming jubilee.

The American global agenda in the triumphant capitalist expansion that followed the disintegration of the Soviet empire proved to be disastrous for the American working class, as well as for workers and the environment around the world. Free trade, privatization and deregulation pursued with varying degrees of ardor by both Republicans and Democrats over the past 30 years has concentrated wealth and increased the poverty of the majority of humanity by undermining local, traditional and indigenous economies -- all while polluting and degrading the natural world at an extremely dangerous pace. God knows there are reasons enough to protest. (P-G, Charles McCollester)

Fair enough.

The best way to marginalize the forces of violence is to accommodate the labor, anti-war and environmental voices that seek to be heard. (P-G, ibid)

Labor, anti-war and environmental. Labor, anti-war and environmental. Are we missing or excluding anybody here? How about the socialists? How about the anarchists? How about women, or Buddhists, or farmers? Should demonstrators such as these be less attentively accommodated, and if so, is that because we are saying they are likely upon accommodation to somehow un-marginalize violence?

The United States needs a crash economic program to manufacture and construct magnetic-levitation vehicles, rail and mass-transit systems to provide a realistic alternative to the highway. (P-G, ibid)

Way to take one for the team, Charlie!


Stop me if you've hard this one:

Pittsburgh was chosen by President Barack Obama because, unlike Cleveland or Detroit, it has adapted and allowed new industries, such as health care, higher education and high technology, to thrive. For a few days in September, Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to recast itself in the eyes of the world. (P-G, David Francis)

Most of this piece boils down to a plea from a journalist to be nice to journalists. Well, let me say as a blogger -- yeah, we're "influential" or something. You should show us a good time.

Most foreign dignitaries who attend the summit will focus on the important issues facing the G-20. They will care much more about coming to agreement on ways to keep the world economy moving forward and whether bankers' bonuses should be curbed. (ibid)

"Ways to keep the world economy moving forward." Meaning A) it is now moving forward for sure, and B) "forward" is really all you need to know about it. Such a gentle construction! And as far as "bankers' bonuses" go -- I'm telling you that's a smokescreen. All yappity-yap for the cameras.

If I could ask President Obama one question, it would be why he believes it is important to significantly increase global and U.S. funding for the International Monetary Fund, and whether that funding will come with any safeguards or reforms within that organization to protect borrowing countries from locking themselves into perpetual debt, while swiftly and clumsily uprooting their local economies. Because I would make my one question a two-parter.

To restore banking health and citizen support, the G-20 should concentrate not on managing banks but on curbing speculative banking activities. (Trib, John Browne)

Yeah! That too!

Cynical observers might speculate that there might be a hidden purpose to the suggestions of some key G-20 Socialist politicians, say, to nationalize the "wounded" big banks by stealth and so seize control of money distribution, as in China. (ibid)

What? There will be socialist politicians at this G-20? Aside from President Obama? Maybe some frustrated world citizens should make their enemy not so much "capitalism" as rather "greed and heedlessness" of all creeds and origins.