Thursday, June 30, 2005

Eight Simple Rules for Taking My Teenage Daughter's Property

The Kelo decision has raised some fervorous discussions on the blogosphere, not all of which are completely informed, and a large percentage of which a fairly paranoid.

A couple points I'd like to raise:

(1) The negative reaction to the Kelo decision seems to blur the distinction between what is happening and what might happen. This is intertwined with the other blurred distinction: the difference between politics and law. While the law, apparently, has made a ruling, the political actors are the ones who ultimately will have to play this game. Hopefully, the system is set up so that there are significant checks and balances and enough transparency to make the process legitimate. As Fester said to me, under Federalist 10, you're hoping that there are enough competing parties out there to weed out the bad stuff.* Ultimately, however, the power to remove local politicians is in the hands of the electorate; that power we still retain.

(2) Eminent Domain practice, as alluded to in the majority opinion, is very much a localized practice. Personally, I've never, ever heard of a taking explicitly justified for economic development reasons, except the aborted Heinz/Pittsburgh Wool deal. [Chances are, if the Heinz/Pittsburgh Wool deal had gone through, it would have been rejected for explicitly conveying private benefits through a public taking, with only ancillary public benefits.] Kelo argues, in part, that State Legislatures need to set up their rules of what defines Public Purpose & Use, not the Federal Government.

(3) Finally, as I said before, I've never, ever heard of Eminent Domain used for explicit economic development reasons as listed in the Kelo case. I know that the Public School system can take property for Public Schooling purposes, Water & Sewer Authorities can take property for Public Infrastructure purposes, Housing Authorities can take property for Public Housing purposes, and Redevelopment Authorities can take property for Blight Elimination Purposes. The last one is, of course, the most fuzzy of all the "Public Purposes."

Of course, under Pennsylvania Urban Redevelopment Law (35 P.S. section 1701 et. seq., as amended), section 1712.1 § C states, "Blighted property shall include:

(1) Any premises which because of physical condition or use is regarded as a public nuisance at common law or has been declared a public nuisance in accordance with the local housing, building, plumbing, fire and related codes.

(2) Any premises which because of physical condition, use or occupancy is considered an attractive nuisance to children, including but not limited to abandoned wells, shafts, basements, excavations, and unsafe fences or structures.

(3) Any dwelling which because it is dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe, vermin-infested or lacking in the facilities and equipment required by the housing code of the municipality, has been designated by the department responsible for enforcement of the code as unfit for human habitation.

(4) Any structure which is a fire hazard, or is otherwise dangerous to the safety of persons or property.

(5) Any structure from which the utilities, plumbing, heating, sewerage or other facilities have been disconnected, destroyed, removed, or rendered ineffective so that the property is unfit for its intended use.

(6) Any vacant or unimproved lot or parcel of ground in a predominantly built-up-neighborhood, which by reason of neglect or lack of maintenance has become a place for accumulation of trash and debris, or a haven for rodents or other vermin.

(7) Any unoccupied property which has been tax delinquent for a period of two years prior to the effective date of this act, and those in the future having a two year tax delinquency.

(8) Any property which is vacant but not tax delinquent, which has not been rehabilitated within one year of the receipt of notice to rehabilitate from the appropriate code enforcement agency."
Just thought I'd share, we can hash out the exact condemnation procedure in the Commonwealth at a later date.

* Of course, the exact quote was laced with more drunken profanity.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bush Speaks (pt. 3)

I would have posted more instant reaction last night, but I was called away on an emergency appliance hunt, in which I tracked, killed, and skinned a 34" Kenmore Oven/Range, as was the way of my ancestors.

The result of this was that I missed hearing a good chunk of Der President's speech, which is actually fine by me; the guy's voice grates on me like Pauley Shore's nails on a chalkboard while I'm being punched in the nuts. To improve his public speaking abilities, the guy really needs to take some serious electrocution lessons.

Malapropisms aside, I took the opportunity to run through the transcript to do a bit of a word search and see how many times certain words came up.

Free/Freedom - 34
Terror/Terrorist/Terrorism - 34
Iraq - 34
War - 21
Security - 14
Progress - 7
Democracy - 5
September the 11th - 5
Violence - 5
Tyranny - 4
Difficult - 4
Complete the Mission - 4
Hussein - 2
Nuclear - 2
Liberty - 2
Afghanistan - 2
Oppression - 2
Osama bin Laden - 1
Weapons of Mass Destruction - 0
Mission Accomplished - 0

Total word count, by the way, was 3,635 words.

What struck about the whole speech was how uneventful it was. If you've been paying attention to the news (MSM or otherwise), you would have known all of the difficulties and problems that we are facing over there. Nothing in this speech was new, but instead a repeat of everything that has been said by the administration to justify the war. It was a near mindless litany of "Freedoms" and "Tyrannys" and "Terror", designed, once again, to draw a false connection between the events of September 11, 2001 and the premeditated attack on Iraq.

Bush goes through a whole recitation of tasks, that while noble, would not have been necessary if we had not taken pre-emptive action looking for weapons of mass destruction that do not exist. Perhaps the Pottery Barn doesn't have a "You Break it, You Bought it" rule, but we have surely discovered that Iraq does.

Perhaps most disturbing of all was the overly optimistic non-timetable timetable, in which Iraqis are supposed to become capable, independent, functional, and democratic. Let us suppose that this does not happen tomorrow... Next week... Next month... Next year. How long are we willing to spend to prop up a regime that may or may not work?

However, one part of the speech struck me:

But Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths. We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity and returns to strike us again. We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage. And we know that this great ideal of human freedom entrusted to us in a special way and that the ideal of liberty is worth defending.
Now replace "Americans" with "Democrats" and Howard Dean gets some free advice for his party. Howie, please steal that part of the speech.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bush Speaks (pt. 2)

Our strategy: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

I ask: What if they rise up?

Bush Speaks (pt. 1)

I came in late (damned streaming video)...

Nine minutes in and I'm already nauseous:
(1) Mindless pandering to the memory of September 11th.
(2) Repeated use of the term "terrorist".

Remember: Saddam Hussein attacked us on September 11th. Right? Right?

I suppose you just have to keep hammering the propaganda home.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

"As dear as Pittsburgh is to me, dearer still is the Truth," as Aristotle would have said, had he been born in Bloomfield.

That, in itself, raises an interesting scenario in which All men, by nature, desire to know becomes All yinz, by nature, desire to know, n'at." The Philosopher opines on Man qua Pittsburgher, stating that Man is a Football, Beer drinking Animal. Poetics need not conform to the three unities of time, place, and action, but do need to reference at least one Donny Iris song.

Of course there are still three types of ideal government, all of which run by the Democratic Machine.

But that's not what I wanted to write about... although it fills me with a perverse nerdish joy. Perhaps in the future.

Back to more salient points:

Saw an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times entitled "Pittsburgh region's per capita income growth beats national average". Apparently, in the first three years of this decade, Pittsburgh's per capita income rose at a rate of 2.55 percent per year.

OK, so per capita income has gone up... key words being "per capita," meaning "per person"... while population has gone down. So, basically, there's a gross regional income, and fewer and fewer people to spread it out against.

Now, if I had $1 and three friends, I'd have $.25 per capita; if one of my friends was a total whore and I was like, "get out of here before I punch you in your dirty whorish mouth," we'd have $.33 per capita, and a lot of hurt feelings. How is this different from the Pittsburgh income statistics?

Um... Am I missing something? Doesn't this seem like a duuuuuuuuuuuh! point?

I can only assume that either (a) they are adjusting for net loss of jobs that go with the loss of population, (b) there has been an change of number of jobs not commensurate with the loss of population, or (c) this is a meaningless statistic.

I think this is just a statistic qua crap... but that's because I'm irritable this morning, and have lost all ability to type correctly.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Kelo v. New London

OK, so the drugs have worn off and I've had a couple seconds to read the majority opinion for Kelo v. New London. I should have stayed on the drugs.

My take on it: it's not nearly as revolutionary as the pundits and the blogging community (both left and right) would have you believe.

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I have a passing familiarity with Urban Redevelopment Law, although not the urban redevelopment laws of the State of Connecticut. The opinions expressed here are probably wrong, but they are mine, and this is my blog.

Anyway, there were a couple things I noticed in the majority opinion:

(1) There is clear precedent for eminent domain. Duh.
(2) A sovereign may not take the property of A for the sole purpose of transferring it to another private party B, even though A is paid just compensation.
(3) The State may transfer property from one private party to another if future "use by the public" is the purpose of the taking, e.g., a railroad.
(4) The Sovereign power is not allowed to take property under the mere pretext of a public purpose, when its actual purpose was to bestow a private benefit.
This is an important point. While Stevens later goes on to argue against a higher standard of review for economic development inspired eminent domain cases, he's arguing that public purpose must be evident and the primary cause of the takings.
(5) A narrow use of "Public Use" and "Public Purpose" has been rejected since Strickley v. Highland Boy Gold Mining Co., 200 U.S. 527, 531 (1906)
(6) Stevens cites two cases Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954) and Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229 (1984), both of which are used as precedent for the taking of property for economic reasons.
(7) "Public Use" seems to be a, dare I say it, "Federalist" matter in this case. The majority opinion cites a "great respect" that the court has toward the various legislatures in determining what "Public Use" means.

After that, the argument runs down hill: If the legislature has enabled a Body Corporate to use eminent domain for the public purpose of economic development reasons and if the Body Corporate has followed the guidelines set forth in that legislation and if the Body Corporate has not tried to confer a private benefit as their primary motive, then the taking is legal. Q.E.D.

Some further comments:

First, I am a supporter of Eminent Domain in principle. There are some very reasonable and practical justifications for its use, including the elimination of blight, reconfiguration of a poorly planned area, elimination of a negative externality, and providing legitimate Public amenities or services. Just wanted to make that clear. I'm also of the opinion that eminent domain is like fire: in the right hands, it is a useful, practical tool... in the wrong hands it is a destructive force for ill.

Second, there are some obvious ways to avoid the nightmare scenario of Cities and States taking large swathes of property for seemingly private use. To me, the most evident way is to circumscribe the justification for Eminent Domain. Again, I'm no legal scholar for the Commonwealth, but I don't believe that Pennsylvania allows you to take property for "Economic" reasons. The closest I can figure is Housing Authority's power to take property for Public Housing and the general power to take property in areas considered "blighted." Still, these are very limited, carved out areas that do not rise to the sweeping criteria set down by Connecticut.

Third, transparency helps to avoid impropriety. At least in Pittsburgh, authorization for Eminent Domain powers has to go through massive public review, and only after a massive public review of a certified area. Moreover, projects that are quite evidently designed to provide a private benefit will be more easily spotted.

We're looking at you Pittsburgh Wool Co.

In any case, when impropriety is evident, the ballot box provides a reasonable measure of certainty that the right thing will eventually get done.

I'm not of the opinion that we're on the verge of a new dark age here. Legislatures will amend their eminent domain laws to confine egregious violations and questionable takings. Municipalities will have to find new and better ways to drive out unwanted elements and encourage economic development.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Eminent Domain Follow-Up Follow-Up

Just in from CNN: High court OKs personal property seizures.

This is a follow-up to the post here, which outlines the background story about the town of New London CT. The decision was a 5-4 split, with Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer in the majority.

CNN hasn't given much in the way of details except that, in writing for the majority opinion, Stevens justifies the "Public Use" criteria by saying:

The city has carefully formulated an economic development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including -- but by no means limited to -- new jobs and increased tax revenue...
O'Connor provides the dissent saying:
Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random... The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.
I'll a thorough and thoughtful analysis later, as I am currently whacked out of my mind on cold meds.

UPDATE: Text of the opinion on Kelo et al. v. City of New London et al. is found here

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

It's Not Paranoia If They Really ARE Out to Get You

I'm not usually a member of the tin-foil hat brigade. Working in Government for as long as I have, you learn that stuff happens for mundane reasons, not for fantastic ones. My commute in to work via black helicopter is not evidence of a multi-national conspiracy, but merely an efficient way to avoid the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. My upcoming meeting with the Tri-Lateral Commission on Thursday is not to discuss the continued domination of International Zionism, but only to discuss the impending invasion by the Greys.



I mean... my meeting with City Planning on Thursday is only to discuss the impending invasion by the Greys.



I'll be out of town Thursday.

Anyway, the juxtaposition of two recent articles sent shivers up my spine recently: one the results of the latest Presidential Job Approval Poll, showing GWB's ratings at an all time low and the other a brief blurb on CNN about how Porter Goss knows where Osama bin Laden is.

You remember who OBL was, right? He's the one that was conspiring with Hussein to stockpile Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Right? No? Hmmmm...

Anyway... if I was paranoid, I might think that the administration, seeing piss poor approval ratings, might be prepping to pull OBL out of their hat, causing approval ratings to rise. GWB enjoys, like he has three other times, a brief surge in the polls and is able to leverage the political capital necessary to make short term gains.

Of course, it only makes sense if there was either (a) an election that they needed the swing for or (b) a crucial vote in Congress that they needed the swing for. As mid-terms are more than a year away, now would not be an opportune time; as Congress is steaming into Summer recess, that doesn't make much sense either.

Would the capture of OBL increase enlistment rates? Lower gas prices? Provide an antidote to Summer TV?

I'm not paranoid, but my Spidey-sense is killing me.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Smart Growth

As a follow up to Friday's post on Robinson Township, here's a little eye candy that dropped into my in-box from the Sierra Club illustrating some principles of Smart Growth in real places.

Back to more germaine and radical economic development solutions:

I'm fully in support of carpet bombing as a tool of economic development. Robinson Twp., Cranberry Twp., and Monroeville are all on the top of my list. Fuck 'em.

I love the smell of burning Wal-Marts in the morning.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Robinson Township and Other (Market) Failures

I recall an old secret biketrail through the woods of Robinson Township, which, if memory serves correctly provided reasonable access across Montour Run to the Trail.

I believe it's aisle 6 of CostCo now.

Progress marches on, I suppose, which is why this story in the Pittsburgh Business Times is so disheartening.... or infuriating, take your pick.

Long story short: More retail in Robinson.

Long editorial short: Like we f'ing need more retail.

Longer editorial:
(1) About 80 acres of additional greenfield space to be destroyed;
(2) Via government subisized infrastructure improvements;
(3) Proposing an addition of 400,000 sq. ft. of retail space in an area that already has 6 MILLION square feet;
(4) A Region that is already saturated with retail is about to add more;
(5) Increasing automobile congestion in a corridor with too much congestion to begin with;
(6) Another development that's probably going to meet the poor design and planning standards of The Pointe and Robinson Town Centre;
(7) WTF?

This may be more Free Market pure than the South Side Works, but I don't think it's better.

In fact, it's probably worse.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Consummation Devoutly to Be Wish'd

A big congratulations to The One-Eyed Fat Man who is shuffling off this bureaucratic coil today, released from the Golden Handcuffs at the ripe old age of 55.

OEFM has been a mentor of mine for as long as I can remember, and is the inspiration for several of the Bureaucratic Rules that you see on the sidebar, most notably #2. The guy can also mix a mean vodka martini. He's one of the few people out there to whom I can explain my increasing confusing organizational structure without batting an eyelash. He's also one of the few who can cite the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 by chapter and verse, and further explain to you why your project violates the Act. More importantly, however, he instilled within me one basic principles, which I've tried, in my own small way, to impart to all of you that read this blog:

Public Service is a noble profession.

everything else pretty much follows from that.

In the last few decades, we've lost sight of that basic principle, choosing instead to see governmental employees as faceless apparatchiks of THE STATE or mindless boobs hoping to survive one more day until retirement. While we do have our share of these caricatures, it is more important that we in the government once again look at ourselves as Protectors of the Public Interest and Defenders of the Public Trust, instead of adversaries.

OEFM is leaving the government in part because he was tired of the work, but not of the job, which is a difficult distinction for a lot of people to make, but mostly because he was frustrated by the steady decline in Government. In his X number of years in service to King and Country, he's seen quality go down hill, good people leaving, bad people staying, and lunatics taking charge of the asylum. He blames Carter for this, and hated him more than any other president... until the current one. He doesn't expect things to get any better any time soon. The job quality has steadily declined; the work has remained the same.

And he's not the only one. The Golden Handcuffs are coming off many of his compatriots, leaving a vacuum of knowledge for which the Government has yet to find a replacement.

He may be back, although not under a GS Schedule. The novelty of retirement will probably last about six months as he watches every committee vote on C-Span, and he may consider going back as a contractor. Lord knows that the Government will need him and his institutional memories.


Monday, June 13, 2005


Michael Jackson was found not guilty of all counts of child of child molestation today.

Yesterday, four U.S. soldiers were killed in separate roadside bombings west of Baghdad, bringing the total up to 1702 American deaths in Iraq since the war began.

Guess which one got more coverage today.

Friggin' Clue for the Managers Out There:

To all managers out there, a bit of useful information:

It is ipso facto impossible to have two or more first priorities.

Please, for the love of Zarquon, go look up what an "ordinal number" is.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Federal Reduction in Pittsburgh Weed & Seed

The Trib actually has a pretty good and timely article on the proposed reductions to the Federal Weed & Seed Funds to Pittsburgh. For those of you who do not know what the Weed and Seed Program is, details are found here. In summary, though, the Weed and Seed Office makes available large grants to cities for crime prevention strategies, which can include increasing actual police presence to community building programs. The goal is to "weed" out the bad elements and "seed" in good elements.

Pittsburgh is losing it's chance to compete for $225,000 in Federal money because, according to the Justice Department (who oversees the program), because the East Liberty Area still has a balance of funds greater than $200,000 left in its program. The City counters that it has committed all but $18,000 and has requested a review of the DoJ ruling.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg for the story.

A large contingent of community groups in Pittsburgh are pretty pissed off about the proposed cut in funding. For over 10 years now, the Pittsburgh Weed and Seed Initiative has been held up as one of the model Weed and Seed Initiatives across the country. Weed and Seed is a vital collaborator with many Pittsburgh community organizations looking to stabilize their neighborhoods. Much of the crime prevention and enforcement work is not done in Pittsburgh! Unfortunately, the spirit of collaboration between Pittsburgh and the new Weed and Seed federal staff (led by Denise Viera, Deputy Director of the Community Capacity Office) has gone south. All this while police force numbers are down, illicit drugs use is on the rise, gang reemergence is a real possibility again, and violence is expected this summer.

But there's more.

From the Democratic Policy Committee in the Senate:

The President's budget cuts support to state and local law enforcement by $1.7 billion, or 42 percent, from Fiscal Year 2002 levels [for fiscal 2004]. These cuts include the State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance grants, Weed and Seed grants, COPS grants, and Juvenile Justice programs. These four programs were funded at more than $4 billion in Fiscal Year 2002, compared with the Fiscal Year 2004 request of $2.3 billion.

And more...

If rumors are to be believed, Pittsburgh is not the only city to see cuts in its Weed & Seed programs. New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, according to my contacts, are also seeing funding reduced for what is perceived as "techincal disqualifications." Further speculation is that these and other cities are being punished by the administration for "not voting correctly."

If I was the City, I would sue the Feds for these cuts... I mean, what do they have to lose?

There is a great disturbance in the force.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Friday Apologies

I'd like to apologize to my regular readers (both of them) for the dearth of postings recently. Aside from my weekend off dead for tax reasons, The Bureaucracy is humming along with activity, which is keeping me frightfully busy and with ittle time for blogging first thing in the morning. By the time I get home, slip out of the work clothes and into a dry martini, I realize it's becoming too late to do the things that normal people do, i.e., shop, bike, garden, play MarioKart, make a sacrifice to the Almighty Wayo, etc.

Blogging, unfortunately, has not been my highest priority when I only get 3.5 hrs of sleep.

But anyway, I had a story I wanted to share:

A coworker at The Bureaucracy received a call from Government A today asking if Program #54 could be applied to such-and-such project. As The Bureaucracy deals with Program #54, Employee of Government A thought we might have some insight into the regs of this program. Unfortunately, The Bureaucracy doesn't run Program #54, so we don't really know the answer to his question.

However, the entity that runs Program #54 and would know the answer is...

wait for it...

Government A.

In fact, said Employee of Government A is the one that oversees the implimentation of Program #54.

In short: Employee of Government A is asking us how to do his job.

I had an aneurism in response to his question.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Piggyback Contracts

From the Post-Gazette:

Council voted... to recommend legislation that would allow the city to buy "goods, materials, services, construction, vehicles or equipment" using any existing state, county, city, municipal or authority contract.
So, Erie, while you're up, could you snag us five firetrucks, two beers and the bag of Fritos. We'll get you back on Tuesdday.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Bob O'Connor is Kneeded

The Post Gazette is reporting that presumptive Pittsburgh mayor Bob O'Connor underwent knee replacement surgery yesterday.

Rumor has it that the new artificial knee is made out of the most durable, resilient, and strongest substance known to man:

Bob O'Connor's hair.

What the Heck Just Happened?

Just returned back to The Bureaucracy from a long, but not relaxing, weekend off dead (for Federal income tax purposes) to find 8 gagillion emails in my in box. All of which are marked "Urgent".

The first promises to enlarge my penis by 9".

The second offers me "the lowest fixed rate anywhere."

Only the tenth message has something of substance, and it's merely an "OK" from an email I sent out last week.

Well, it might not be exactly 8 gagillion emails (that could be a rounding error), but it certainly seems that way. It is a huge festering, steaming pile of crap, if nothing else.

This may take awhile...

(Oh Lord, I just realized I haven't even checked my voicemail yet. The Horror! The Horror!)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Competitive Sourcing

Before we get into the joys of competitive sourcing, a big Angry, Drunk, Shout-Out to W. Mark Felt who proved that you don't fuck with the Bureaucracy, even if you're the President of the United States.

If I had an ADB Hall of Fame, he'd be in it, along with Allegheny County Economic Development Director Dennis Davin and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

But outside of all the media navel gazing about Deep Throat, the Federal Diary pages of the WaPo had two interesting articles from the last week on Competitive Sourcing, that is, the OMB directive to contract out services that the government usually does. The articles can be found here and here. The first article deals with the efficacy of Governmental Contracting and the second deals with Executive pressure to contract out services.

I have two major problems with subcontracting in the government: responsibility/culpability and patronage.

The first is fairly straight forward: someone has to be "the Grownup" in the Bureaucracy. Contractors are not interested public good, they are interested in private good, i.e., getting the next contract. The measure of a consultant and the measure of an employee is not the same measure. Employees are expected to remain loyal to the company; consultants, loyal to the project. Too many contractors and consultants means too many people looking after short term goals and stock prices and not looking after the long term health of the organization. Somebody needs to be there to "watch the store," as it were.

The second is the reason we wrote the friggin' Pendleton Act to begin with: to avoid individual interests from obtaining government employment from political connections. I'm suspicious that this drive towards privatization is being unduly influenced by contributions made by corporate, consulting donors. I previously noted that a whole chunk of change went into political coffers during the last election from consulting firms, and, while I'm pretty damned suspicious, I can't prove a quid pro quo or anything of significance.

Can Bureaucracies benefit from consultants? Yes. Should Bureaucracies rely on consultants to do their work... well... It depends.

Do you trust Arthur Andersen to run the Country or not?