Monday, February 28, 2005

Victim #2

We continue to plow headlong into the gooey caramel goodness that is the Pittsburgh's Mayoral Race by shamelessly mocking the hypertext skills and political ideals of those who wish to lead. The previous victim [Senor Bill Peduto] is found here. Now, on to Victim #2:

Bob O'Connor

I remember an old episode of "Super Chicken," where our hero saved the City of Pittsburgh from a giant head of hair. Eventually Super Chicken manages to turn the head of hair bald and it is relocated to Houston to become the Astrodome.

No, I'm not kidding... why do you ask?

Ever the Jay Ward fan, the episode's climactic battle scene is obviously being reenacted out on Bobby O's main page, as the citizens of Pittsburgh cower in fear from his massive 100ft silver main. The damned thing is bigger than the Fort Pitt Bridge, and probably better constructed.

I, for one, welcome our giant haired overlords.

Bobby actually looks really, really creepy in that main picture, sort of like that shop teacher you had in high school who drank too much. Sure, he was kinda cool and all, but he kept leering at the girls in the hall and he smelled of cheap scotch. Makes you wonder what happened to him after the police took him away for those magazines in his trunk.

Anyway, maybe Bobby's just uncomfortable because he knows that Super Chicken is on the way.

The site's MAIN PAGE says something to me. Specifically, it says "You will be reading very small print for two hours until your eyes bleed."

For those of you that don't wish to share my increasing myopia, here's the gist of The Big O's MAIN PAGE:

Son of Pittsburgh, Great City, Bankruptcy, Mismanagement, Life Experience, Relationships, Manage, Relationships, Governor Rendell, Success, Vision, Building Bridges, [Various Business Analogies], Mismanagement, Turn City Around, Business, Turn Around, That's what it's all about.
Word Counts:
Business (2)
Path (3)
Management (1)
Mismanagement (1)
Relationship (3)
Neighborhood (2)
Omphaloskepsis (0)

And just to prove that he can use a smaller, more unreadable font, Councilman Luke Ravenstahl has a side bar. I can't make it out, but I think it has something to do with Bob O'Connor. I could be wrong; it might have said Robert Conrad. I just don't know.

Bob has successfully filled his MAIN PAGE with trite cliches and vague paeans to the City, but nothing that makes me want to roll my eyes, and no pesky "issues" yet at which I may scoff. Good Job Bob.

You find out really quickly in Bob O'Connor's Biography that he is a "True Son of Pittsburgh," unlike Edmund O'Connor, the "Bastard Son of Pittsburgh and Des Moines," who was conceived after a rough night of tax increment financing and a forced congressional redistricting. Edmund, who was never recognized by his father, swore revenge and conspired with Bradford Woods and Pennsbury Village to usurp the crown and marry the Queen. Once safely on the throne, Edmund slew Bradford and Pennsbury in the tower, burying their bodies in shallow graves near the abbey. Only after Edmund's treachery was discovered by a wandering mendicant friar, was Bob presented with the proof he needed to avenge his father's death and slay his brother. And thus the winter of our discontent was made glorious summer by this "True Son of Pittsburgh".

Or so Bob's bio should have gone if it had been written by Shakespeare.

Instead, the biography runs pretty much the way you'd expect for a guy who was a VP of Operations for a restaurant chain: he "created performance audits" and "reduced natural gas consumption." Lots of business cliches: "'go-to-guy'", "putting the customer first", "relationship building", "crushing the souls of the infidels", etc. You can almost hear the thirty requests for the TPS reports.

Despite my gut feelings, I'm allowing Bob to survive for another round.

And by the way, Bob is a "True Son of Pittsburgh."

For those of you that thought political campaigns were all about who can raise the most money or who has the best hair, you are wrong. Political campaigns are about money... er... issues, which apparently is supposed to mean something to me.

Bob has four "issues," which is actually a one month's subscription if you join now.

Building Bridges
I remember building bridges in High School physics class. They were gloriously complicated balsa wood structures, with an attachment that we could hang weights from until they broke. Oh what fun we had as they shattered into dangerously pointy fragments surging towards our eyes! Granted we never learned about stress or force or any of those other critical engineering skills, which would have been useful to know in building bridges.

As I know nothing about real bridges, I'm assuming that Bob is referring to building Todd Bridges. Child stars always seem to have it hard, so good job Bob in drawing their plight to our attention.

Professional Management for Pittsburgh
Apparently, I deserve nothing less.

Professional Management sure worked well for Enron, Tyco, and WorldComm, wouldn't you say? Isn't it about time that Pittsburgh did the same?

And then Bob launches into a non sequitur about the schools. Management and schools are the key. Schools and management and ruthless efficiency. Schools, Management, ruthless efficiency, and nice hair. Those are the key.

Doing More With Less Through Cooperation
Bob promises to "promote" cooperation with Allegheny County, he doesn't actually say that he's going to cooperate. I mean, why should he, considering that Stowe Township never learned how to share and keeps hogging the good crayons.

Treating Citizens Like Our Best Customers
Does this mean that I get a free souvenir glass with every fill up? Or at least a buy one get one fee coupon with every entree? Can I super-size anything?

And he's a True Son of Pittsburgh.


At the end of all this, Bob has decided to forgo the pages and pages of text, and focus instead on one simple concept in five short lines: SEND MONEY HERE.

Bob's pictures have been getting increasingly creepy too; this one makes him look like the bran muffin just kicked in. Maybe this is his "O" Face?

Just like a True Son of Pittsburgh


So far, it's just the press release saying that (surprise, surprise) Bob is running for mayor (as if you couldn't have guessed by now). I'm pretty sure that the web designer for this site took this press release, put it in hypertext format, added the words "on the right path" and "True Son of Pittsburgh" a zillion times, spliced in a creepy picture of Bob, and called it a day. Total development time: one Episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. "No point in re-inventing the wheel," as those executives from Pappan Enterprises might say.

But it goes on, and on... so many words; so little actually said.

No mention if Bob is a True Son of Pittsburgh here, although it insinuates that Bob's niece is a third cousin twice removed from Milwaukee.


In a break from the previous pages where Bob inundated you with lines and lines of text, now it's YOUR turn to return the favor. I tried to put my master's thesis in where it said "Last Name," but apparently it wouldn't accept the 125 pages of text. Bob's going to miss out on Destruction of the Metanarrative of Linearity through HTML. His loss.

I volunteered as Mr. Bruce Wayne, of 1 Wayne Manor Lane, Gotham City, NY 00215. Mr. Wayne has volunteered to "Fight Crime for Bob."


Again, as with the CONTRIBUTE PAGE, this page is surprisingly sparse. Bob still looks creepy.

The email address looks like it goes a "Bobo Connor," which beats out both "Bozo Connor" or "Peabo Bryson" for the silliest names so far. I wonder if "Bobo Connor" is related to "Sarah Connor" and if Bobo can bring down Skynet?

Final scores:
(1) Eye Roll: None... eyes shut in quiet slumber.
(2) Yeah...and...: None... Bob needs to stake out a position before I can act all smarmy.
(3) Buzzword: None or All... I can't tell. There are so many business cliches and so much nonsensical jargon on this site that I've lost my ability to form a well reasoned opinion. None of this jargon seems to rise to the level of "Buzzword," merely crouching to the level of "triteness". Conceivably, I could have failed Bob at "On the Right Track," which is in the creepy photo on the main page, but then I wouldn't have had anything to write about. I'll let him go this time, but Bob has to write "I will not proactively empower paradigms" 500 times and also has to promise to design a new site that can't be used as a sedative.

Didn't have time to read all the text; decided to read War and Peace instead. In large print.

Bob is a True Son of Pittsburgh with the Management Experience to Build Bridges on the Right Track

It's not News, it's Snooze...

The headline that any one of us could have written about 2 years ago: O'Connor wins Democratic endorsement in city mayoral race, or more succinctly O'Connor gets Democratic endorsement.


Wake me when they report that Tom Murphy is an alien overlord controlling Bob O'Connor through mind altering drugs in order to impress Jodie Foster. Or that former Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn was really King of the Weasel People. Or that Pittsburgh will have a real Republican Primary with actual multiple, viable candidates.

Which of the above is the most likely?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Victim #1

As promised, I've decided to sit down and go through the web pages for the Pittsburgh Mayoral candidates. This is not easy; this is going to take several minutes out of my day where I could be watching the Weather Channel or old DVDs of Red Dwarf.

I bleed for you people.

Before I get started, I've outlined some of the criteria I'm going to be using to judge these things.


(1) The "Eye Roll" factor: How long is it going to take before I read something so smarmy/sappy/self-serving/something with similar sibilance/and so on, that my eyes roll back in my head?
(2) The "Yeah, and...?" factor: How long will it take before I read an unsubstantiated claim, an appeal to an abstract concept or an unrealistic promise?
(3) The "Buzz word" factor: How long will it take before I read a mindless buzzword. At this point, I will consider the web page over and will not log any futher score.
(1) Um... The Style...
Sorry, I'm a substance guy. Seriously though, bad Web pages are like pornography: I know it when I see it.

Enough with the idle chit-chat... on to Contestant #1:


MAIN PAGE: Ah... there's Bill in his yellow tie, coifed hair, and a smile that says Hey! Has my web page given your child a seizure yet?

Seriously Bill, Bud... the flashing bit has got to go. Yellow... Blue... Yellow... Yellow... Blue... Blue... It's like Piet Mondrian's bastard child went on to design web pages. The page is dying for a circle, an oval, or an arc of some kind.

Main page is seriously devoid of content though. Good job.

ABOUT BILL PAGE: Cheers to Bill for understanding that the web is based on "Links going to other links." Jeers to Bill for linking to his City Council website. Was Bill worried that he couldn't handle the bandwidth of the, literally, dozens of people like me? Feh!

Still, because Bill threw it out there, I'm going to nit pick at his homepage:

Li'l Jonathan Soisson is cute and all doing the pledge of allegiance, and he's not making my eyes roll back in my head, so that's good. That winsome grin, however, is making me a little nauseous. Oh how I loathe him.

The Guyasuta Fellowship narrative is definitely causing some ocular action, though:
Guyasuta, the leading spirit of the Seneca Native American tribe in Western PA, was one of the most powerful chiefs of his time. Paying homage to his name, the Fellowship empowers young people to engage in public policy by providing recommendations to Pittsburgh City Council.
Young people are then given blankets laced with small pox and driven from their land.

In the narrative, he used the buzzword "empowers," which should be cause for termination. We will, however, be allowing this since he is linking to his City Council page and, technically, Bill is cheating anyway.

At least the City Council page isn't flashing.

I get the feeling that Bill's mother put every damned drawing her son did on the fridge, no matter if they were of people that looked like cookies or of cookies that looked like trees. The Press page is a bit like that and a bit like a pile of old newspaper clippings strewn about someone's studio apartment, waiting for recycling day.

Those headlines range from the mundane ("Traffic control system gets the all-clear signal"), through the self-serving ("I'm Just a Bill: The political education of Bill Peduto"), to the God awful ("Standing up for the trees so they will stand for us"). Still Bill didn't write them, so no points lost.

Special bonus feature is, of course, the movie at the bottom, which is specially designed for those hard to seizure kids.

And the "P-Signal" goes out to "P-Man" to save "P-burgh" with his "P-ness".

Wait..that's disgusting. I should quit now.

Anyway, the movie uses the trite phrases "Tough decisions," "Proven Leadership," and "New Pittsburgh"... which all have to do with something or other. I couldn't tell as I was trying to avoid swallowing my tongue.

Bill's laid out an agenda here... says so on the page, right after "New" and "Urban". Not quite sure what a "New Urban Agenda" is. Makes me think that Snoop Dog and his "fo'shizzle" have something to do with it. I wonder if Bill would be willing to pop a cap in someone's ass, 'cause you know they never found out who killed Biggie.

So after introductions, the luncheon, and the awards ceremony, let's get on to the rest of Captain P's Agenda.

(1) Do more with fewer tax dollars.
Good job. Way to go out on a limb there Billy-boy! Lord knows there are those candidates that were proposing doing MORE with MORE tax dollars and LESS with MORE tax dollars, but you've really set yourself apart there. +5 points, reduced by 10%.

(2) Streamline government services.
What exactly is Bill talking about in his "Vision"? Does Shadyside have its own zoning board? Does Squirrel Hill run the buses? Who are these "various communities" who will save "taxpayer dollars" by "eliminating government services?" Oh...Good Lord! Is Bill suggesting that we take over Mt. Oliver? Wall? Penn Hills? There's some aggressive leadership. Annex those piece of Western Pennsylvania that are naturally Pittsburgherian! McKees Rocks must capitulate in order to secure peace in our time! Deutschland Deutschland uber alles! Well done!

(3) Solve today's problems with tomorrow's technologies.
This is largely the same strategy used in the Terminator movies. Bill seems to be on the fence, however, as to whether or not he is in favor of killing Sarah Connor. Ironically enough, Bill's fate will also be to die in a vat of molten steal.

(4) Actively seek out input from all Pittsburghers.
Just what we need: MORE people with stupid ideas. Who should we talk to first, Sombrero Man or Richard Mellon Scaife? [My vote: Sombrero Man!] I've got some input: why don't we hold an orgy? That'll bring in the revenue... but only chicks... and hot ones... and me. It'll be trickle down... OK, that took an unnecessarily dirty turn.

Moving on.

(5) Encourage development throughout the city
Basically Bill is saying: "Previously, I did stuff. I will continue to do stuff... only more." This one fails the big "Yeah...and...?" test. Bill, when you got nuttin', say you got nuttin'.

(6) Preserve what makes Pittsburgh great.
And BAM! we've empowered a panel! Huzzah! Next we're going to embiggen the citizenry. All of which is exceptionally cromulent. Seriously though, Bill is proposing a policy of not knocking down buildings as a great contribution to his political strategy. Which, of course, is fine if you have people that want to rehab and live/work in these buildings... unless they deal in rocks... little, white, rocks. Rehab strategy works great in places like Friendship or Shadyside. I wonder how it will work in Larimer.

(7) Clean up our neighborhoods as we clean up government.
"Nuisance crimes will not be tolerated by the Peduto administration." Sounds like someone lost a frisbee on old man Peduto's roof. Damn kids with their "rap music" and their "small pox," don't give a damn about the blight of urban bike trails. [Speaking of which, will Bill remove the graffiti from the Eliza Furnace Trail? Or is that "Urban Expressionist Art"?]

So, Bill effectively lost at Point #6 with the Buzz word "Empowered". Sorry Bill. I let you go for "Leadership" and "Streamline," but I couldn't forgive "Empowered."

The DONATE and the VOLUNTEER PAGES have little to add, 'cept that I did volunteer to sit naked in the City-County building from the hours of 3-5 PM on weekends. Gotta stick with your strengths.

Final scores:
(1) Eye Roll: Page 3, "Proven Leadership"
(2) Yeah...and...: Page 3, "Tomorrow's Technologies"
(3) Buzzword: Page 3, "Empowered"

Flashing and blinking and blinking and flashing and flashing....

SUMMARY: "Empowering tomorrow's proven leadership through flashing technologies."

"O's" Law of Political Shenanigans

I'm working currently on a review of the websites for the Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates. Between sessions of banging my head on the desk, I believe that I've stumbled upon a Law of Political Shenanigans, er, Discussions.

Most of you, I hope, are familiar with Godwin's Law and the tradition that whomever mentions Nazis has automatically lost (or "Godwinned") the argument in the discussion.

Before we go further, I present "O's" First Principle of "Empowerment":

"Buzz Words" mean nothing.
And "O's" Second Principle of "Empowerment":
The use of "Buzz Words" indicates an inability or unwillingness to identify and address real problems.
With that in mind, I'd like to present "O's" Law of Political Discussion:
As a Political Discussion grows among an increasingly larger group of citizens, the probability that someone mentions a "Buzz Word" approaches 1.
And Finally: "O's" Extrapolation on the Law of Political Discussion:
Whoever mentions a "Buzz Word" has said nothing and has immediately lost the discussion.
Play the game at home on C-Span or, even better, at a community meeting. It's fun. Really. You'll be amazed (or not) at how quickly public meetings collapse.

This Post Brought to You by: Sound and Fury, signifying nothing.

Literally at a Loss for Words...

Wow! Just, wow. I'm on a completely different planet than the AFA. Comparing me and the AFA is like comparing apples and gerunds.

My brain and my righteous sensibilities hurt.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Eminent Domain Follow-Up

I'm going to apologize in advance for the below. It's snippets of an article from The Economist which is available only to subscribers. Also, an interesting discussion going on over at over Eminent Domain (which is where I got this massive amounts of text). Check that out too.

I'll save you my comments for another post.

Despotism by Stealth

Feb 17th 2005 | NEW LONDON
From The Economist print edition

You think America is a land where individualism holds sway and private property is sacrosanct? Next week, the Supreme Court decides whether that is true

NEW LONDON is an old Connecticut whaling town halfway between New York and Boston. The day before Thanksgiving 1998, Susette Kelo, a registered nurse, got an unwelcome holiday gift: an eviction order. Her house, and those of six other families living on an abandoned submarine base called Fort Trumbull, had been compulsorily purchased. She had five months to get out.

What is unusual about this is that her house is no rat-infested health hazard. She bought and spruced it up three years before. Nor is it being seized by a branch of government: the evictor is the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a private non-profit body. The land is not going to be used for a public works project, such as a bridge or school. Indeed, it is not certain what her land is wanted for.

New London is trying to turn itself into a biotech hub. In 2000, it persuaded Pfizer to build its global research centre there. Now it wants Fort Trumbull for a biotech park, complete with hotel and fancy houses. Writs are flying. The residents accuse the NLDC of behaving like the Gestapo, pointing bulldozers at their front doors, surrounding an old lady's house with klieg lights and using deafening stone-crushing equipment in their backyards. The NLDC accuses the homeowners, who have less than two acres of land, of holding up a 90-acre development that would transform the city. In March 2004, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in the NLDC's favour by a 4-3 margin.

The case is now a celebrated one. Three of America's largest pressure groups, the AARP, the NAACP and Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, have lined up behind Mrs Kelo. New London has the backing of practically every local-government umbrella-group as well as New York and the American Planning Association. The case has divided the Republican coalition, with defenders of private property rights and small-government types on one side, and big business and development interests on the other.

On February 22nd, these two juggernauts collide at the Supreme Court when it hears Kelo v City of New London. The case marks the biggest test for 50 years of eminent domain (or compulsory purchase as it is more accurately called in Britain).

This sounds technical, but it involves fundamental issues. When may the government overrule private property rights for the sake of the public good? What constitutes the public good in such a case? Does it make any difference whether that good is delivered by a public or a private entity? George Will, a conservative columnist, has even suggested that allowing the government to seize a person's home on the grounds that it can make better use of the property is creeping despotism.

Most people accept that private property rights should not be absolute. Mad grandpa in his tumbledown shack can be evicted so a school can be built. But the power to take over private assets in the public interest must be constrained. The constitution does this by saying that private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation. State constitutions follow that wording.

The blighted and the condemned

But what is public use? In the classic examplesroads and schoolsit refers to entities that are publicly owned and which benefit everyone. But in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Berman v Parker that private projects meet the definition if they have a public purpose. The court approved a slum-clearance plan of the government of Washington, DC, over the objections of a local department-store owner. In the 1960s and 1970s, local governments often declared unsafe slums to be blighted and used the power of eminent domain to buy out people in the way.

Since then, two things have changed. First, definitions of blight have broadened. Lakewood, Ohio, condemned well-kept historic homes for being functionally and economically obsolete. In Lancaster, California, the city government condemned a discount store on the basis that a neighbouring retail giant, Costco, wanted to expand into it. Blight meant, in effect, making room for properties that would pay more tax revenue.

Second, local authorities have given up relying on blight at all. In 1981, the Michigan Supreme Court let the city of Detroit raze a working-class Polish neighbourhood, Poletown, so that General Motors could build a new Cadillac plant. The city did not condemn Poletown as blighted; it merely said a car plant would generate more taxes and jobs than a Polish neighbourhood. In this case, public use became something like economic benefit: private property may be taken if it obstructs a community's development.

New London did not use a blight designation. And Connecticut's Supreme Court said the economic benefits did not have to be substantial and certain (as had been required in Michigan). New London could condemn a property without knowing exactly how it was going to be used.

Defenders of eminent domain argue that these are logical developments, that courts have approved each step and that if voters dislike the outcome, then they can always vote the bums out. The last point is debatable in this case, because the city of New London has delegated its power of eminent domain to the NLDC. But the Supreme Court has traditionally given deference to local governments in local issues.

More broadly, argue the defenders, development in tough spots would stop without eminent domain. New London was dying before Pfizer put its research centre there. The new development, says the NLDC, would generate 1,000 jobs and up to $1.3m in annual taxes: who are seven people, who have anyway been offered compensation, to stand in the way?

Eminent domain has helped many big cities bounce back from decline. New York's Times Square is a good example: before eminent-domain purchases, 42nd Street was in poor shape. Shops now want to be huge (think Wal-Mart, or, indeed, Costco). Cities that have reinvented themselves as downtown malls, such as Indianapolis, have had to use eminent domain to acquire big enough sites. Otherwise, the shops would have fled to the suburbs.

Opponents reply that the system is not so much necessary as out of control. The Institute for Justice, which is arguing for Mrs Kelo in the Supreme Court, has combed through newspaper reports to count over 10,000 examples in which eminent domain condemnations have been used or threatened in 1998-2002and that is just a fraction of the total.

They also dispute the claims that the courts have approved each step. Rather, they say, there is legal uncertainty. Last July, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed its Poletown decision, admitting the original was a radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles. And while a dozen states frequently use eminent domain for economic development, a dozen specifically ban or discourage itwith little evidence of harm. Georgia has seen no eminent-domain cases in the past seven years; Atlanta is overwhelmed by growth. Washington state forbids the practice for private development; Seattle has won a stack of awards.

The opponents say they do not want to get rid of eminent domainjust to tie its use back to a meaningful definition of blight. Put simply, cities cannot take someone's house just because they think they can make better use of it.

Otherwise, argues Scott Bullock, Mrs Kelo's lawyer, you end up destroying private property rights altogether. For if the sole yardstick is economic benefit, any house can be replaced at any time by a business or shop (because they usually produce more tax revenues). Moreover, if city governments can seize private property by claiming a public benefit which they themselves determine, where do they stop? If they decide it is in the public interest to encourage locally-owned shops, what would prevent them compulsorily closing megastores, or vice versa? This is central planning.

The Supreme Court will announce its decision in the summer. For local governments, it could change the way they develop towns. For private-property defenders, it could decide whether there any constitutional restrictions on eminent domain. And for Mrs Kelo and her neighbours, it will merely determine whether they can continue to own the houses which some of them have lived in since they were born.

Copyright 2005 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Brain Teaser for the Morning

This one is a hard problem I'm working on at THE BUREAUCRACY, but I'm sure that those with a degree in higher math will be able to assist without a problem:

I have 16 players, 1-16, that are playing each other over the course of 5 weeks. Players will be lumped into groups of four every week to play. The next week, the players are to be put into new groups with players they have never played before, and so on for the 5 weeks.

For example:
Week 1: Group A (1,2,3,4), Group B (5,6,7,8), Group C (9,10,11,12), Group D (13,14,15,16);
Week 2: Group A (1,5,9,13), Group B (2,6,10,14), Group C (3,7,11,15), Group D (4,8,12,16);
Etc. for five weeks.

For Week 3, under the above scenario, 1 could play 6,7,8,10,11,12,14,15,or 16, but if it played 6, it could not play 7,8,10 or 14 (as they've already played 6). And if 1,6, and 11 played, they could not choose 12 or 15 for their fourth (as 11 played 12 in Week 1 and 15 in Week 2), leaving 16. So Group A could be (1,6,11,16), and these players become unavailable for Group B to choose.

It was immediately apparent that 5 weeks is not going to be possible (not enough players), so we'll parce it down to 4 weeks.

We're looking for four weeks of combinations where 16 different players never play against someone they've already played against... or we're looking for a reason why this is impossible.

So if you have time today, and an inkling, give it a shot and stretch that brain.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Rule #5

I've been promising Rule #5 for awhile now. It's an old quote from Napoleon, a stylized Occam's Razor for human action:

"Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

Bureaucracy is not necessarily evil, although Lord knows that the local media seem to think that we eat babies.

So as soon as you move from malice to stupidity, people become more frustrating, but less infuriating. You sleep better at night knowing that the world doesn't hate you and it's not out there looking to do you over. The world is more worried about Brad & Jen than about you; so go home, put on E!, and pass out in a bowl of Cheetos.


This post brought to you by: Monday-on-the-Tuesday.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Fantabulous Day Off

Ah! One of the joys of being a Bureaucrat is that every now and then you get a completely random day off. Behold the magnificence that is PRESIDENTS DAY!

I'm going to spend all day getting deals on appliances and buying tires. Fantastic!

Anyway, couple things: First, an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times regarding the proposed cuts in CDBG funds. For all the ED people I've talked to in Pittsburgh and in THE CITY, this is bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. This will probably cut the economic development projects that Urban areas can undertake by a huge amount. Important projects will end up lingering for years, or not being done at all.

The benefits of the CDBG funding is that it helps to leverage private funds by decreasing the risk on private lending institutions. The private market may only be willing to lend 80% of the value of the project, but the government can help fill that 20% gap in order to make the deal work.

"OK," the freemarketeers ask, "Why subsidize something that the private market isn't going to support? Isn't that antithetical to the private market and isn't it indicative of a bad project."

I would argue that the positive externalities to the city/region/state (elimination of blight, reduction of crime, creation of jobs, protection of green space, reduction of polution, use of existing infrastructure, etc.) outweight the costs to the city/region/state. The private market may not be interested in the negative externalities involved in their development, but the government can help guide their decisions and create an upfront incentive for urban development.

Speaking of private markets, read the articles here and here about the upcoming Supreme Court Case Kelo et al. v. City of New London et al. It's all about the use of emminent domain for economic development. In short, the City of New London CT is looking to take property for the development of a new Pfizer research complex. The property owners are arguing that the taking by the City and the proposed development would not rise to the qualification of a "Public Purpose".

As the PG Article points out, New London never established the area as "blighted". As I recall, "elimination of blight" is considered to be a Public Purpose under PA Urban Redevelopment Law.

Definition of "Blight" in PA Law:

[T]here exist in urban communities in this Commonwealth areas which have become blighted because of the unsafe, unsanitary, inadequate or over-crowded condition of the dwellings therein, or because of inadequate planning of the area, or excessive land coverage by the buildings thereon, or the lack of proper light and air and open space, or because of the defective design and arrangement of the buildings thereon, or faulty street or lot layout, or economically or socially undesirable land uses. From 35 P.S. § 1702(a); see also 53 P.S. § 6930.2(a)( 1)
So basically, you have to prove that an area is "blighted" and that the government's plan will remove the blight (public purpose) in order to receive emmient domain powers.

And we can talk about the negative externalities of "blighted" properties... especially those that are hindering real economic development.

So if New London loses, it'll might actually be a good thing for real emminent domain projects: the kind that DO eliminate blight or have some sort of tangible public purpose. [Help me out here, but I believe that all the recent emminent domain projects undertaken for economic development in the City of Pittsburgh have been to eliminate blight. Those that were sketchy (Heinz expansion and 5th & Forbes) never followed through with emmient domain.]

As THE BUREAUCRAT, I can see the reason why the government need circumscribed emminent domain powers; New London, however, seems to have gone about it the wrong way and it does not seem to meet the serious threshold for takings.

'Course, I don't think that the Deer Creek project is in a "Blighted Area" either, so there you go.

This post brought to you by: Ooooh! $300 Fridge! Sweet!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Friday Morning Rant

THE BUREAUCRACY deals with a lot of community groups, everything from fully functional Community Development Corporations (CDCs) through Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) to Homeowners Associations (HAs). There's a continuum of Community Groups from the highly organized, established, and effective to the disorganized, unestablished, and ineffective. Some of the best are responsive, not only to their boards of directors, but also to market conditions and the community at-large. Some of the worst are totalitarian cliques, sensitive only to their ability to make money, gain power, or attain glory.

All of these groups purport to represent "their community"... even if there are five different splinter groups in "their community."

THE BUREAUCRACY gets hammered all the time for what it does, and the media, politicians, and pundits continually call for the end of our fascist bullying. If you ever want to see what real micro-totalitarianism looks like, however, check out your local community group.

Don't get me wrong, there are several very effective Community Organizations out there that are genuinely interested in the well-being of their towns, neighborhoods, or blocks. These groups are effective at leveraging their skills and their resources in order to drive development or to maintain their existing community.

There are more groups, however, that are interested in demagoguery over democracy, self-importance over self-improvement, and control over cooperation. These groups are dangerous; even more so if they have the ear of a unwitting political lackey.

At least THE BUREAUCRACY is ultimately subject to the political will; no one votes for a self-forming community group.

This post brought to you by: Local Newspaper Article that Trashed "O" Personally.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bob O'Connor

If you were at Bobby O's official declaration on Sunday, you'll know without a doubt that he's going to be elected Mayor of Pittsburgh. The announcement was described to the ADB as not so much of a rally as a "coronation." Bob is the anointed one. ALL HAIL BOB.

Bob has a couple big advantages going for him:
(1) Previous runs for mayor and previous narrow losses.
(2) Harrisburg connections (read: money).
(3) Significant piles of cash and supporters.
(4) Old people love him.

Number 4, in my angry-drunk opinion, is the clincher for Bob. Old people consistently go to the polls. The elderly are not interested in this fluffy "new economy" crap or managerial optimization... they just want their damned Act 77 adjustment. Bob is their man.

Screw the youth vote; young people don't vote. Lamb and Peduto are chasing the wrong voting block. Even if all the money was equal between the three of them, Bob would still be able to mobilize the Blue-Haired Express.

Now give me my damned AARP discount.

This Post Paid for by the "O" for Overlord Committee (Peter Norton, Treasurer)

US Department of Duuuuuuh

The Washington Post is reporting the following this morning:

The insurgency in Iraq continues to baffle the U.S. military and intelligence communities, and the U.S. occupation has become a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, top U.S. national security officials told Congress yesterday.
Forgive me for harping on this point but: Duuuuuuuuuuuh!

Wasn't the foreign occupation of an Islamic country how the world ended up with Osama in the first place?

"What experience and history teach is this- that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it."
-G.F.W. Hegel (from Philosophy of History)

In case you didn't catch it the first time: Duuuuuuuuuuuh!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Stressing News for PA

In case you missed it: an article from the Pittsburgh Business Times regarding economically stressed cities. The 'Burgh comes in at 52nd out of 245 cities of 100,000 or more and 481st out of all cities (3,550). Philie was ranked 27th and 252nd respectively. York and Reading also placed badly.

Here's the factors they measured:

  • Percentage of people living below the federally designated poverty level
  • Ratio of households with low annual incomes (below $25,000) to those with high incomes (above $100,000)
  • Unemployment rate
  • Percentage of adults (25 or older) who didn't graduate from high school
  • Percentage of households defined by the Census Bureau as "linguistically isolated," meaning that no one older than 13 speaks English well
  • Percentage of families headed by one adult, with no spouse present
  • Percentage of homes sitting vacant (not including vacation homes)

    And for those who want to see why Pittsburgh wasn't #1, here are the most Stressed (Large) Cities:
    1. Hartford
    2. Newark, N.J.
    3. Brownsville, Texas
    4. Miami
    5. Buffalo
    6. East Los Angeles, Calif.
    7. Cleveland
    8. San Bernardino, Calif.
    9. St. Louis
    10. Paterson, N.J.

    In general, not good news for PA, although the 'Burgh ranked 10th in "Most Improved" and the only one in the North East to get that distinction.

    Full article can be found here.

  • Triumph des Suburbs

    Johathan Potts has a posting on Joel Kotkin's article in the Washington Post about the Triumph of the Suburbs over the City. Worth a read and certainly filled with just enough vitriol to make Urban Economic Development Practitioners happy.

    An extension of his post, is that cities are not as "doomed" as we think. The major advantage that cities have is a network of pre-existing infrastructure and services that can be provided/used with a minimal cost to the developer/business person.

    Moreover, in the long run, the net present value to suburbs for this development is probably negative, with increased burdens on their existing infrastructure and services. Development of, say, a mall in a corn field, necessitates increased water/sewage containment and flow control, increased security, increased fire protection, remediation of other externalities, code enforcement, etc. Urban Areas, in the long run, already have infrastructure set up to deal with these things, while suburban areas do not. Problem for the Cities is that suburban areas have a lower up-front cost. [We can talk more later about governmental subsidies to lower the barriers to entry for Urban development.]

    Even further and referenced in the Kotkin article, just because we now have an ability to telecommute, that does not necessarily mean that we can live out in the middle of nowhere... which is why Gateway Computers doesn't live in Sioux City Iowa anymore. There is a competitive advantage to the urban environment based on a need to be "where the action is".

    But we can also discuss Michael Porter and Cluster Development strategies later.

    Point is: Cities not doomed, unless of course Federal CDBG funding is cut. Oh...

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    A Critical Review Concerning Human Understanding and Other Bullshit

    From the New York Times:

    One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.

    Economic Development

    Two articles today one detailing the proposed redevelopment of Anacostia, and a second detailing the proposed redevelopment of the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. Both neighborhoods share a similar history: traditionally white, middle class neighborhoods that became poor black ghettos. Anacostia's transformation to a black enclave occurred much sooner than the transformation of Homewood. Big difference in the magnitude of the blight, however: Anacostia is a war zone compared to Homewood.

    Both cases are the opposite sides of the politics/policy/economic development coin. Anacostia is shown as a case where the private market has taken a direct interest in rebuilding the neighborhood. Homewood, by contrast, has seen very little private investment and has to rely on the public/non-profit sector for development growth.

    The obvious difference between the areas is in their respective regions: DC is a growing market; Pittsburgh a declining market. Anacostia is able to take advantage of a strong market, while Homewood is hurt by a depressed market.

    I don't know what I'm trying to get at here, except that the solutions proposed for growing a region do not necessarily address the immediate problems of a neighborhood in decline. The Homewood Strategy is, in the long run, unsustainable, but in the short run it is a necessity. Pittsburgh will not solve the problems of Homewood by jumping from demolition to demolition, but more could be lost by letting these wounds fester.

    Catch-22: We can't do nothing for the neighborhood and divert money to growth of the region lest the neighborhood implode and we can't do everything for the neighborhood at the expense of the region.

    Glad I'm not running for mayor of Pittsburgh. [I will, however, throw my name in the ring for "Overlord."]

    Sunday, February 13, 2005

    Design v. Reality

    Interesting article in the PG about Sara Moore from the River Life Task Force. It talks a bit about the design problems with the City of Pittsburgh and about plans to revitalize the City's waterfront. Paragraph #3, however, hit me like a ton of bricks:

    Sure, there are stumbling blocks, such as private owners who haven't yet relinquished the rights to redevelop their waterfront parcels.
    Which is developer-speak for "We got nuthin'."

    Architects like to say "Form follows Function." The Developer counters that "Form follows Money."

    Honestly, all the good design in the world isn't worth a damn if you don't have the cash to pay for it.

    Sorry, cynicism caught up with me there.

    Friday, February 11, 2005

    100% Above Average Children

    I hate Children.

    I also hate Parents.

    I see Parents in the street with obnoxious, overactive children. "I don't believe in hitting my children," they say.

    "I believe in hitting your children; stand aside," I say.

    Psychology Today has an interesting article on Parents that can't and won't let their children fail, and the demon hell-spawn children this creates.

    Cut the cord people. Let the little brats know who's boss; let them know pain and failure. Let 'em fall from 12ft high slides onto concrete onto their head. Let 'em struggle and live independently. Otherwise, they'll coast through life relying on Mommy and Daddy to bail them out, drifting from failure to failure, with few, if any, mediocre "achievements"...

    Or become President.

    This post... yadda-yadda-yadda.

    Thursday, February 10, 2005

    Oh My O'Malley

    Martin O'Malley raised a few eyebrows the other day when he likened Bush's axing of CDBG funding to Metropolitan Areas to the attacks of September 11th. This caused Democrats to be "abashed" and Republicans to be "appalled".

    O'Malley great sin: forgetting that the memory September 11th can never be used except for jingoistic reasons. [Cf. Afghanistan, Iraq, Tax Cuts, Budget Cuts, Homeland Security, Patriot Act, etc.]

    Doesn't O'Malley realize that as part of this War on Terrah, him and his commie, liberal, hippie, latte-drinking, pot-smoking, homosexual, tree-hugging, welfare pimp buddies are traitors to this country? I mean really!

    O'Malley has some nerve, suggesting that the strengthening of America's inner cities is somehow related the strengthening of the Country as a whole and that an attack on the Cities is an attack on the Country.


    This post brought to you by: Federal CDBG Funding

    Wednesday, February 09, 2005

    Dennis Davin is my Hero

    Allegheny County Economic Development Executive Director Dennis Davin is the greatest person in the history of Bureaucracy. Mr. Davin has correctly identified that the problem with public service is, in fact, the public. Mr. Davin has taken a creative step to deal with this problem. The only pitty is that he got caught.

    "Maybe if we start ignoring the customers, they'll stop bugging us."

    I love you Mr. Davin.

    This Post brought to you by: St. Dennis Davin


    One day I'll write a post on subsidizing sprawl vis a vis the Mon-Fayette Expressway, but here's the latest from the Post Gazette. What better way to clear up traffic congestion around the Squirrel Hill Tunnel than creating four additional confusion lanes for Pittsburgh Drivers? Why don't they just go whole hog and merge all into one lane, and put a stop-sign on the on-ramp so that drivers have to accelerate to 60 mph in 3/10 of a second. Oh, and land mines; that'll clear traffic up.

    I'm sure that if you follow the money, you'll find that the people driving this deal are those that get significant contributions from the Construction industry. I don't know about you, but if I were a Pennsylvanian resident, I'd rather pay for 5 more stadiums than see the M/F Expressway blow down the river.

    [Deep breath]

    Anyway, the whole Mon-Fayette situation reminds me of scene in this book.

    "I'm afraid you're going to have to accept it," said Mr Prosser gripping his fur hat and rolling it round the top of his head, "this bypass has got to be built and it's going to be built!"

    "First I've heard of it," said Arthur, "why's it going to be built?"

    Mr Prosser shook his finger at him for a bit, then stopped and put it away again.

    "What do you mean, why's it got to be built?" he said. "It's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses."

    Bypasses are devices which allow some people to drive from point A to point B very fast whilst other people dash from point B to point A very fast. People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what's so great about point A that so many people of point B are so keen to get there, and what's so great about point B that so many people of point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be.
    I'm going off to point D, which has coffee waiting for me.

    This post brought to you by: STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

    Tuesday, February 08, 2005

    Monday, February 07, 2005

    FDR Bitch Slap

    And they was all like: Oh yeah?

    And we were all like: No he di'int!

    Retail and Zero Sum Games

    The Pittsburgh Business Times floats a story on potential retail development coming to Lawrenceville. Great Economic Development news for the neighborhood; bad news for the Region. Here's why:

    Regional buying capacity is defined as the sum of all individual buying capacity. This is all is related to (1) the population of the region and (2) the wages paid in the region:

    (1) Lots of mediocre wage jobs, but hordes of people: OK.
    (2) Lots of good wage jobs, not a lot of people (i.e., relatively few people being paid, very, very well): Still OK.
    (3) Not a lot of good wage jobs, not a lot of people: Bad.

    [Pittsburgh seems to fit into category #3.]

    Ergo, if you increase the wages of the people living in the Region, but keep the number of people constant, you could expect an increase in the aggregate buying capacity. If you increase the number of people living in the Region, but keep the wages constant, you could see an increase in the aggregate buying capacity. If wages and population are stagnant or declining, buying capacity is stagnant or declines.

    So if your buying capacity is not increasing... why build more retail? You don't have any extra money to spend on the new retail. Wouldn't that just detract from the existing retail? Isn't this just a zero-sum game, where ultimately the economic gains are offset by economic losses? Would you be silly enough to put public money into such an unsustainable scheme? Shouldn't you be working to increase real wages or population instead? Should I stop with the rhetorical questions?

    This post brought to you by: Hmmm... More DayQuil.

    Saturday, February 05, 2005

    Who Wants to be Mayor of Pittsburgh?

    Despite their snarky attitude, The Pittsburgh City Paper sometimes does some passable journalism. Their latest Cover Story on "Why Anyone Would Want to be Mayor of Pittsburgh," is worth a look.

    Among the solutions that they seem to throw out are (1) merging City-County Functions, (2) elimination or merger of Several of the quasi governmental Authorities, (3) sale of City/Authority assets, (4) cost containment, (5) development of more efficient managerial system, and (6) deferral of maintenance / beautification projects. Unfortunately, the feature doesn't address some of the very real lingering problems of the city (some of which are discussed here), which are more of a bind on the operations of the city than anything else.

    The big problem for the office of the mayor, and one that the article doesn't really give enough time to, is that so many of these items listed above are outside of the control of the mayor. Beyond the ICA or the Act 47 Committee, the mayor will need buy in from Council, the County Executive, County Council, Authority Boards, the Governor, and the State Legislature. Some of the more extreme ideas will event require calling a Constitutional Convention for the State (hardly a power of the Mayor of Pittsburgh).

    The Problems of the City of Pittsburgh cannot be solved by any of the above... they may be delayed, deferred, withheld, or avoided, but given the current state of the City, County, Region, and State, the Problems will return eventually.

    So if the mayor is virtually impotent, this leads me to the question that every Pittsburgh voter should be asking every candidate when they start given their stump speech about the problems of the City of Pittsburgh and how we're going in the wrong direction.

    It's a simple question, and you'll kick yourself for not asking it sooner.

    Here it is:

    "Yeah, so what?"

    Simple huh?

    Listening to the candidates, as I am wont to do, one hears then rattle off a litany of complaints and then promises to fix them all.

    "Yeah, so what?" a snarky voice yells out from the back row.

    "We cannot continue this way."

    "Yeah, so what?" the snarky voice grows louder.

    "We need to attract more dynamic creative talent to this City."

    "Yeah, so what?" the snarky voice becomes a snarky chorus.

    "We need to create greater synergy."

    "Yeah, so what?" the snarky chorus chants in unison.

    And so on...

    The attitude of Yeah, so what? presses candidates to present real, workable solutions to problems that are effecting us all. We cannot accept empty phrases as answers and must not be swayed by political acumen. We cannot smile nicely and vote blindly as a candidate promises things out of his power. The candidate's rhetoric is cheap and I fear that the solution to the problems will cost us so much more.

    So, perhaps a little snarky attitude is OK, but let's take a good look at what the problems are first, recognize what the mayor will actually be able to do, and plan a strategy, and not just toss out cheap platitudes and unattainable goals.

    Frankly, anyone who wants this job of mayor obviously doesn't understand the amount of work needed to overcome these problems. No sane person should ever want to run for mayor...which explains, I suppose, the current slate.

    And why those who should run only drive cabs, cut hair, or write blogs.

    "Yeah, so what?"
    This post brought to you by: Mmmmm DayQuil

    Friday, February 04, 2005

    Feeling Sick V

    Just when I thought I was feeling better, I found My Super Sweet Sixteen from MTV and threw up for an hour and a half.

    Series guide: Rich teenage girls spend more than your yearly salary on a damn party.

    From Episode #103:

    The perfect party begins with the perfect venue. For Ava, this is the Four Seasons Hotel. Her mother doesn't agree with all of Ava's lavish plans. Ava's dad proves easier to persuade. He can't say no to his daughter.

    Next, Ava must choose four members of the Loyola polo team to carry her during her grand entrance. She has three requirements--the boys must be cute, sexy and have good bodies. The candidates take off their shirts and practice lifting Ava before she chooses.

    A party isn't complete without presents. Ava's father takes her to test drive different cars. Although "red is the closest color to pink" in the lot, Ava chooses a black Range Rover. Her dad is hesitant about her decision. He feels the car is too big for her to handle. "I will never settle for anything less than a Range Rover," Ava says.

    I can actually FEEL the downward plunge of Western Civilization.

    This post brought to you by: SO ANGRY! SO VERY ANGRY!! Now excuse me while I vomit again.

    Feeling Sick IV

    Back to feeling a bit more than slightly human, although I haven't been wearing pants for 43 of the last 48 hours... which is probably, now that I think about it, the other reason they asked me to go home from work today. One would have thought that I would have noticed the slight chill at my loins. One would have also thought that somebody could have brought it up at staff meeting.

    Anywho, while I'm continuing my recovery, feel free to discuss what Dillon's Rule and Hunter v. Pittsburgh have to tell us with respect to the proposed solutions to the City of Pittsburgh Financial Crisis. For extra credit, try to refrain from referring to any distinguished members of Pennsylvania's Legislature as "dicks" or "bitches."

    This post brought to you by: Luke Warm Cup of Green Tea

    Feeling Sick III

    So as soon as I realized that the Bush Social Security proposal was beginning to make sense to me, I knew that I was hallucinating again.

    That and when my boss came up to me and said, "You look terrible. Why are you here?" I took that to mean that I should go home and not that they're now firing the ugly people. Just as well, my productivity was at 0 and inching downwards.

    I now believe that I have the Plague, or SARS, or the Flu, or a nasty cold... or something. In any case, it's back to bed for me after some of the white people's ancient remedy for SARS (a bowl of chicken noodle soup, some Sprite, and some Ny-Quil).

    This post brought to you by The White People's Ancient Remedy for SARS

    Feeling Sick II

    As the delusions of buttery popcorn have subsided, I managed to get out of bed and into work. Still not feeling 100%, but well enough to make irrational decisions.

    Realized yesterday that posting while hallucinating isn't fun if it's caused by an illness. Posting while drunk is hysterical.

    Needless to say, posts will be few until the screen stops waving about.

    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    Feeling Sick

    In the last 3+ years I have worked at THE BUREAUCRACY, I've not taken a sick day.

    Until today.

    Stupid head cold is causing me to cough, sweat, and labor under the delusion that I'm Orville Redenbacher; all of which are more than enough reasons not to go to work.

    More to come between hacking coughing fits and various bowls of our light and tasty popcorn.

    Wednesday, February 02, 2005

    Increase the Size of Your Insurance by 9"

    One of the things I wish this blog to be is a sounding board for those parts of the bureaucratic life that really bug me.

    One of the other things I wish this blog to be is a vehicle for communication between myself and Mr. Timi Ooloo, who is apparently a Nigerian Businessman who needs help with rescuing $2.4 million from a closed state-run bank account. He's also promised to increase the size of my wang by 9".

    But let's stay on topic #1 for now; we can talk about my Nigerian Wang issues later.

    THE BUREAUCRACY needs insurance under Federal/State/Local law and because the lawyers, who bill hourly, need more work to do. So, my job is to go find insurance for THE BUREAUCRACY. No problem; we've used the same insurance broker for the last 6 years.

    I call 'em up, get the form, send it back, and wait for some confirmation that they've received my form and I owe them the balance of the premium.

    Only nothing comes.

    Days go by... weeks... months...

    I, of course, am distracted by other issues and don't notice until I get a NOTICE OF CANCELLATION from the provider. Turns out we've never paid them for the insurance. Immediately I call the broker... she's not in... try back tomorrow.

    Eventually (like after 3 days) I get hold of her; turns out that she never put our request in the Accounts Payable system and therefore we never got invoiced, she never noticed and never called to warn us. Basically, we need to get the check to her, now. So, I do a 100 mph dash to the finance department, cut a check, and rush it off to her.

    And I wait.

    Days go by... weeks... months...

    I call the broker... she's not in... try back tomorrow, next week, next month...


    OK, it didn't say that; it said "GIVE US OUR PROOF OF INSURANCE OR WE STOP PAYMENT ON YOUR CHECK!!" Only not in all caps. Or in bold. Or in red. And I think I used the phrase "kindly remit," but you could tell that I really meant to say "kindly remit, asshole."

    But then, surprisingly, they cashed our check.

    "Success," we think, "if they've cashed our check, they're now obligated to give us our proof of insurance."

    Sadly, no. We received a refund check from the insurance provider, but nothing to say "we cancelled your policy" or "we apologize" or "please don't beat us". Nothing. Nothing except this weird feeling that we've been left on the side of the road with just a suitcase, one day's worth of water, a dozen ferrets in our pants, and a very angry and jealous mime pursuing us with a sniper rifle.

    So our insurance broker of 6 years has "wanged" us over, with not so much as an apology. We will never use them again.

    The moral(s) of the story: (1) Don't screw a reliable client. (2) You have a better chance growing your wang 9" through the Nigerian Businessman Scam than getting what you want from an insurance company.

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    Yinz Are Not Alone

    In all the major yinzer media, this article from CFO Magazine on the looming crisis in major metropolitan areas has been making headlines. Pittsburgh is used as an example of the fiscal problems that other cities across the country are facing.

    From the article:

    Pittsburgh is not alone. Communities ranging from Atlanta and Buffalo to Chicago and San Diego are in dire shape. Compared with the fiscal troubles of the federal government, those of municipalities have received little attention from corporate executives. But sooner rather than later, businesses will feel the effects of local budget shortfalls, through higher taxes and fees, crumbling roads and bridges, and smaller police departments. Simply relocating may not be the answer — many suburbs now face the same fiscal pressures as inner cities...

    The NLC (National League of Cities) study, which included a survey of 288 municipal CFOs, found that 61 percent of municipalities will be less able to meet their financial obligations in 2005 than they were in 2004. And last year was not a good one for cities: it was the third year in a row that general fund revenues, adjusted for inflation, declined. At the same time, costs — especially for public safety and health care — have soared. The result is predictable: with reserves dwindling, many cities are resorting to severe budget cuts and hikes in taxes and fees.

    The trouble isn't limited to the old industrial cities of the Northeast. In fact, the study showed that communities in the West and Midwest — including some suburbs — are even worse off. Seventy-five percent of CFOs in Western cities reported deteriorating conditions, as did 74 percent of those in Midwestern cities, compared with 59 percent in the Northeast and 43 percent in the South.

    Couple reasons given for this crisis:
    (1) Change of income source from goods (taxed) to services (untaxed);
    (2) Overeliance on property tax revenue, which is vulnerable to swings in the economy;
    (3) The Political goals of Politicians do no equal the Governmental goals of the City;
    (4) Cities are burdened with unfunded mandates from the Federal Government and the States;
    (5) Rising personnel and pension costs;

    Pittsburgh's case also included the problems of binding arbitration, untaxed non-profits, and an inability to contain costs sooner.

    So if it comes as any small consolation to you yinzers "aht" there, Pittsburgh, Lakewood CO, THE CITY, and 61% of all the other cities are pretty much up the same creek.

    For those of you that love the big picture: if the economy tanks again, cities are screwed... but not just "sort of" or "kinda" screwed... I mean "late night scrambled cable station" screwed. I mean "back room of the video store" screwed. I mean "Fox primetime" screwed. I mean "Bob Villa and Norm Abrams got together to build a home entertainment center so that they could go and rent movies from the back room of the video store to watch with Jenna Jameson AND Paris Hilton" kinda screwed.

    But, of course, who doesn't love a man covered in sawdust?

    Anyway, I suppose that the rhetorical question in the upcoming Pittsburgh mayoral election is this: how many of these problems will the new mayor (or even the Act 47 or Oversight Board) be able to address and how many of these problems are out of his (her, their) control?