Friday, November 15, 2013

Weekender: Quashing our Illusions


Now this is a wake up call:

My French is pretty much limited to asking for ice cream, the bathroom and to go to the Eiffel Tower, but the Washington Post summarizes it this way: "The French urge their citizens to avoid Mount Oliver, Hill District, Homewood-Brushton and Hazelwood." (Early Returns, Moriah Balingit)

Yes. We are a serious tourist destination for Europeans in general and for French-speaking peoples. Thank you Mario, but your princess is in another castle.

Yes. The Hill District, Homewood-Brusthon and Hazelwood are being categorized as hazardous no-go zones by the French government. Think about that.

Mount Oliver is war-torn, too? Forgive me, I'm from the North Side by way of Squirrel Hill. Mt. Lebonon, Mt. Pleasant and Mount Oliver is all sort of a blur.

Mount Oliver? This is the municipality which Pittsburgh completely surrounds? I know what you're thinking, but not until we get a new Police leadership to partner in settling the scourge of urban violence in the Hill District, Greater Homewood and Hazelwood respectively. And even then we'd need to muster a new army and declare war (and/or prepare terms for an annexation.)

MORE:  Homewood Nation


In better news, another really good article was written about us:

Once she got back home, she couldn't help but notice both the exciting changes happening in Pittsburgh's East End, and the work that still needed to be done in the city's low-income neighborhoods. She realized Pittsburgh could use a native like her, and that she could apply the skills she learned in New Orleans right in her backyard. (Atlantic Cities, Nona Willis Aronowitz)

Names, labels.

Artist and Pittsburgh native D.S. Kinsel, 29, is trying to bridge that divide. He lives in gentrifying Lawrenceville and works as a program coordinator at MGR, a youth empowerment organization. MGR teaches middle and high school age students to use art as a tool for activism. Pittsburgh isn't full of oblivious young yuppies, he assures me. Many twenty-something natives living in the East End neighborhoods of Lawrenceville, Garfield, Bloomfield, and Friendship are "reaching out and listening to what these [lower-income] communities need." He welcomes change and transplants—"as long as they’re respectful when they get here"—but he gives most of the credit to people like him who have been there all along.

"Young Pittsburghers want to lay down roots," he says. "We're interested in making sure the grit survives." (ibid)

Irish Central
That's funny. Not long ago you would have heard, "We're interested in scrubbing off the grit." These days they appreciate there is some grit, some neighborhoods, some stories, some history, some real civic, cultural, educational, industrial and technological resources that have produced their own stories.

We're the ones who work on the big things that need to be made (and try to make them better) and who take care of the home front because that's what makes life worth living. We want to be beating most everyplace else at football, economically and in terms of quality of life.

The grit is the soil. The grit is the nitrogen.


Unusual squabbling amongst Allegheny County law enforcement:

Zappala asked council for nearly $500,000 to revive a violent crime task force to combat drug-related activity in Pittsburgh's eastern suburbs.

He wants to use the money to hire five detectives, a request that surprised some county officials. (Trib, Aaron Aupperlee)

It's a shame we can't just get out of this drug war business, and treat it as a crisis of public health.

UPDATE / MORE: Blame this link on Radley Balko.

Thanksgiving is coming. In Pittsburgh there are lots and lots of good opportunities to react to feelings of gratitude, but the KD Turkey Fund has long been a good one (see Julius's Turkeys). Look alive.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Workers of the 'Burgh, Unite! - Employment, Leadership and Premium Transit


Downtown workers in a hazardous industry at an upscale, profitable and expanding business are being inappropriately classified as "independent contractors" so they can be exploited for fun and profit.

The lawsuit says Blush dictates most aspects of the dancers' work, including which shifts they work, what clothes they wear, which songs they dance to and in what order they dance. 
The club also requires dancers to accept “Blu Money” from customers, the lawsuit says. The customers pay $110 for 100 “Blu” dollars, but the club only pays the dancers $90 when they cash them back in, the lawsuit says. (Trib, Brian Bowling)

Now that I have your attention...

If [nonunion City] workers don’t do their jobs, Mr. Peduto can take the necessary legal steps to remove them. If they choose to leave the city’s employ rather than go to work under his terms, they are free to resign. (P-G, Editorial Hectoring)

The P-G simply has not considered the financial and other costs of a long, drawn-out, emotionally frustrating transition conducted in fits and starts, as employees with skill sets better suited to previous mayors wind up engaging in guerrilla trench political warfare for retirement security. The Mayor-Elect has it in his head to fashion an organized, shorter, efficient transition that recognizes years of loyal service and the need for a crew able and willing to turn the ship of state about. But if Council wants to do it the P-G's way, I guess he could just fire everybody in weekly televised horror shows.


“I support President Darlene Harris. She has been a fair, objective and competent president of council,” Burgess said. “But this year, with the arrival of a new mayor, some members are suggesting it's time for a change. … And if council decides to change its president, prioritizing diversity means the next council president should be an African-American.”
Councilman Bruce Kraus, who is gay, said Burgess offended him by focusing exclusively on blacks. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

This is only the fourth race for Council President I have witnessed, but it is the first in which negative attacks have spilled out into the public (as to discretionary spending and attendance). It leads me to believe the results are growing more certain.

Councilman Burgess seems in one tactical respect to be like that most politically successful of State Representatives: Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County. He and Metcalfe both tend to lob broad, incendiary and moralizing leaps of logic across their respective chambers -- in order to ensure that everybody is talking about their own issues in their own terms with themselves as central. It's super effective for both representatives, and they'll continue doing so as long as they are insulated from suffering any kind of political penalty.

And finally...

The Port Authority wants to use $1 million in Allegheny County money to run a preliminary engineering study on a proposed bus rapid transit line connecting Oakland and Downtown. (P-G, Andrew McGill)

The Comet is usually pretty open to studying things -- and this project needs studied.

One million dollars, eh? And engineering, not feasibility, eh? To be continued.

Discussion question: Is anyone who uses the bus to get from Oakland to Downtown and back particularly dissatisfied with it? Anecdotally, a surprising number of riders have been telling me, "Things are fine, convenient, fast enough."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This Week in Intolerable Racial Tension

c/o Vannevar

Recently-paralyzed East Liberty teenager Leon Ford Jr., his parents and many of their friends and neighbors yesterday took to City Council chambers to decry both Ford's quadruple-shooting at a traffic stop in Highland Park which led to no charges, and a perceived pattern of Pittsburgh police not valuing Black lives.

That incident is being raised in the wake of national news about the shooting death of Detroit teenager Renisha McBride on a Dearborn Heights, MI porch, in a case bearing uncomfortable similarities to the Trayvon Martin fiasco.

It reminds me of the case of DeAndre Brown of East Liberty, jailed a month for a robbery he did not commit, seemingly because detectives on his case declined to investigate his stated alibi in favor of sweating out a guilty plea.

Recommended discussion topics:

1) When a chaotic incident wounds "police-community" relations or simply race relations, how does legal liability inhibit the civic repair process? A human response to either the Ford or Brown incidents would be face-to-face engagement between officials and those affected, some argument, some give-and-take, but surely some accepting of mistakes on both sides, or at least statements of "I/We could have done this instead" and "In the future we'll bear this in mind in this manner." But when the individual officers and their union are invested in utterly avoiding liability, the City and taxpayers are invested in minimizing liability, and those affected are invested in establishing as much liability as possible, what insidious effect does that pattern have on processing those incidents and the larger agenda of mending divides? While civil litigation is indispensable to the process of civil justice, what can we do to relieve that collateral clipping of the discourse?

2) How great are the opportunity costs to a City when a full one-quarter of its inhabitants perceive, for fairly valid reasons, that they are second-class citizens upon which their City places little value? What is lost when that 25% deduces from experience that they are considered Enemies of the State and of the privileged majority? And how much would it really take to turn that around?

UPDATE: Something like the acceptance of fault described above actually happened today regarding the Dennis Henderson episode in Homewood. Check out the reaction.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mayoral Transition so far a Grand Slam

Most 'Burghers seem enthusiastic over the new leadership and increased civic engagement.

(The People is the Hulk)

The media has been thrilled over the Transition's repeated, extensive and reflective engagement over the qualifications and the integrating roles of the new suits on 5th Floor North.

Residents and stakeholders are encouraged that they are all highly-qualified, accomplished professionals, successful in public-spirited service and a diverse array (in all but age -- no 20-something whiz kids quite yet).

The New Haters, such as we've seen them, are not raising hackles. Complaints that a few of them presently reside in immediate suburbs are divisive and insipid; grousing that a few of them were officeholders, candidates, public employees or politically active (and sometimes acted in solidarity with the Mayor-Elect and his coalition!) fails to appreciate that the bridge of this ship will need to be run by persons who have been engaged with the local politics and its possibilities. Opposing viewpoints within government appear set to be strongly institutionally encouraged.

Critics do themselves a disservice by missing the forest for the trees. Remember a few weeks ago, when we were writing of biases?

Bill Peduto (politician) on FB

Here is the sum total of everything I knew about Six Sigma:

That is satire; and there's no indication from his tweet that our Mayor-Elect is on the verge of becoming a Six Sigma "Black Belt". But if you want to envelop Peduto in a negative conversation, question the emergence of a City in which so many highly-paid "executives" with porous duties spend their days buzzwording, statistically overanalyzing, indulging consultants and distracting staff with too much of their own Scientology homework.

Yet even that can only get the reactionaries so far. Political success for the new administration will not be determined by insider optics so much as demonstrated results: in service delivery, resource allocation, civic functionality and good outcomes, one and three years out.

Cautionary notes were raised at the Council table today that diverse "faces" do not equal diversity in terms of power or dollars. True enough. But those outcomes depend partially on how well the team works and jells. Maybe our Chief Urban Affairs Officer and our Chief Education and Neighborhood Reinvestment Officer have been appointed to actually perform.

Some of their meetings will be filmed and broadcast, as well as among Departmental directors. That innovation is another cause for optimism.

The naming of an executive team was only the first pincer in a multi-pronged Transition attack. The public invitations to serve on eight transition teams is energizing people even along with the Ideas section of the Talent City initiative. And remember the whole Talent City approach to objective, transparent and rigorous overseeing and screening of job applicants. This all cultivates the optimistic civic mindset necessary to pursue change.

Today in a step that bridges the need to transform government with the reality of our civic challenges, Peduto introduced a measure to allow for the early full-pension retirements of longtime nonunion employees. Everything seems to be ramping quickly up to speed. It's the civic challenges themselves that remain the real issues; there are a lot of turkeys on the table, and we shall need to map them out soon.

BONUS: The best open advice for our Mayor-Elect arrives via Duquesne Student Media. It has been summarily approved.

Monday, November 11, 2013

With solemn pride and gratitude

Wash. Times (cropped)

Care of President Wilson, and by resolution of Congress:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples. (US gov.)

Now that's a proclamation.

Then care of history, President Eisenhower and subsequent Congressional acts:

Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. (ibid)

 Bottom-line: what are we now to do?

A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. (ibid)

Veterans Day has grown forward and outward, so how about backward and inward? Union Army Brigadier General Conrad Ferger Jackson and Union Army Brigadier General Thomas Algeo Rowley, Pittsburghers both, are each interred at Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville. Westmoco native and U.S. Army Colonel Daniel Leasure saw action in battles ranging from Secessionville to Spotsylvania. Union Army Seargent Alexander Kelly of Saltsburg, Pa. would retire to Pittsburgh after the Battle of Chaffin's Farm and is interred at St. Peters Cemetery in Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar. And in Arlington Heights, on the rise beside Devlin Street and another Saint Peter's Cemetery there once stood a Civil War-era redoubt named for storied US naval Captain Robert Smalls.

The City of Pittsburgh Veterans Day Parade begins at 10:30 am at Grant and Liberty, proceeds down Liberty to Wood, and finishes at the Boulevard of the Allies.

Later at 4:00 pm, Point Park University hosts a screening of short documentary The Veterans Breakfast Club followed by a panel discussion.

KDKA has assembled a short list of opportunities to acknowledge service.

The Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania seems to be a well-situated resource for local veterans of recent war.