Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: The Duke of Wellington

At the end of the day, "Obama's Waterloo" was less like the Napoleonic defeat in 1815 and more like the ABBA song: not the best in the world, but with a beat and you can dance to it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Paging Dr. Altmire...

And from 2PJs:

From the web site of Rep. Jason Altmire (D Health Care/UPMC Lobby-PA). Read it and weep, folks:
"I ran for Congress in large part because I believe we need to find a way to bring down the cost of health care. I also ran for Congress with a simple promise: I would do my best to represent my district and to give western Pennsylvania a voice in Washington, not the other way around.

"I regret that this year-long process of debating health care reform has resulted in a final product that I cannot support. The cost of inaction on health care is great, but it would be an even bigger mistake to pass a bill that could compound the problem of skyrocketing health care costs.

"Simply moving money around within the existing system, rather than enacting real delivery system reform, might change who pays the bill, but it does not improve the quality of care or reduce costs for families, small businesses, or the federal government. It creates a system of winners and losers, rather than reforming the system in a way that lets everyone win. It is estimated that after passage of this bill, federal health care expenditures would likely increase above what they would under current law.

"It has become clear that the vast majority of my constituents want me to oppose this bill. Particularly hard hit would be western Pennsylvania’s Medicare beneficiaries, which many experts believe would experience dramatic premium increases with enactment of this bill.

"I am acutely aware that my decision to vote against the health care bill will disappoint some of my constituents and alienate supporters of the bill. The politically easy vote would have been to vote with my party. But I was not sent to Congress to take the easy way out or to vote the way they want me to vote in Washington. I was elected to represent my district and give western Pennsylvania a voice in Congress. I strongly believe that a vote in opposition to the health care bill is consistent with the views of the district I represent, and is the correct vote based on the impact of the bill on my constituents and the overall health care system."
Why is my bullshit detector going off?

On one hand he's saying that he wants to reform health care, while on the other he's saying that he can't support the biggest (albeit far from perfect) reform to health care within his lifetime. Now, if he was disappointed that the bill didn't go far enough, I could understand and, while I would be vexed about his choice, I could at least agree that much more needs to be done.

But even the very liberal Rep. Kucinich eventually agreed that, in this case, half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.

The whole response smacks of a calculated attempt to retain a seat rather than doing what's right by the country. That's a shame. I mean, what's the benefit of having a Democrat in PA-4 if he's not actually going to, you know, vote for Democratic legislation; might as well have voted back in Missy Hart -- at least we would know how she would have voted.

Rousseau postulated that representatives should reflect the views of their constitutents, but Hamilton and Madison both argued that constituents are stupid as hell and could be ignored, less government descend into mobocracy. Both views of representative government are valid, but bear in mind, one out of three of those political philosophers is, and this is no insult to the people of France, a dirty, dirty Frenchman.

And so no Mr. Altmire, you were not sent to sent to Congress to take the easy way out or to vote the way the Democratic party wanted you to vote in Washington. You were sent to Washington as a small part of a larger hope that across this country we could elect people that weren't total ball sucking, bent-over, ankle-grabbing, twatwaffles.

I'm sad that we were wrong about former Representative Altmire.


If you're reading this, you probably already know about this.

And frankly, if you're reading about this on a Friday night, you most definitely already know about this.

And even more frankly, if you're if you're reading about this on a Friday night, you already know why this is important:


Seriously folks, can you imagine how many terabytes of porn the City of Pittsburgh will be able to download if Google installs high speed broadband access? We're talking about a ridiculous amount of ********, *********, double-*******, donkey ***** ******,***** ***** over **** with a *****, ********* ******** ********* watermellon, and *************** Cleveland ******. Let me put it this way: we'll guarantee that every elected member of city of government will *always* be at their desk.

Perhaps they won't be wearing pants, but they'll always be at their desk.

This is the most important high technology thing to happen to Pittsburgh in the history of ever... but don't take my word for it:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I was trying to find an obscure(ish) Irish(-ish) song that involved Legos and... well... enjoy:

Now, back off to the pub...

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Verbanac-Zappala Fiiiiiing List

By now, everyone knows about this:

Eight hours later, he got a response -- but not from Mr. Hassinger. An e-mail from Mr. Zappala read: "Are you fiiiiiing kidding me! Put him squarely on the list."
As Bram suspected, our diligent minions have been scouring every waste paper basket from here to Cranberry to find the "List", and we're happy to report that we think we've actually come up with it:
The Fiiiiing List
Michael Lamb
Ted Arneault
Ohio’s Bureau of Worker’s Compensation (BWC)
Don Barden
Greg Zappala
The City of Chester PA
Catherine Baker Knoll
The corpse of Bob O’Connor
Clifford Levine
Kevin Acklin
Rich Lord
Hunt's Catsup
The Pitt News
Tommy Smothers
Toner Cartridges
Brown People
The Letter "M"
Nattering Nabobs of Negativity
Oscar Schindler
Paul Newman
George McGovern
That "Urkel" Kid
Miley Cyrus (but not Hannah Montana)
Ticket Master
Windows 7
Carbon Paper
Yarone Zober
Mt. Washington (New Hampshire)
Mt. Washington (Pittsburgh)
The Ampersand
Prime Numbers greater than 2749
Wall-to-Wall Carpeting
Oh, and Bram: because you asked about "The List," you're now on "The List."

Down to the River to Play

And then there's this:

On Thursday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority board is expected to ratify an agreement with the Buncher Co., which owns major swaths of property along the Allegheny River, to implement a redevelopment strategy that could bring 1,000 units of housing to the riverfront between 11th and 21st streets, and bring a new industrial flex use to a now-cleared former mill site at 62nd Street.

The partnership between the URA and Buncher calls for a broad redevelopment strategy of three major parcels of Allegheny riverfront property totaling 80 acres, two owned by Buncher and one by the URA.
So that's neat and all, but here's my real question: when does water taxi service start?

I mean, seriously, my belief (which could be totally off base) is that water taxi service in Pittsburgh has never taken off because, well, you can't really *get* anywhere by water taxi. Sure, the Southside, Downtown, and Lawrenceville all border the rivers, but once you dock at these places, you're more likely to find an embankment and slag than you are to find shopping and eating establishments. If you want to go from Station Square to the Stadiums, that's one thing, but if you want to go from 41st Street to Smithfield, that's something quite different.

And, of course, the City can't really be blamed for this -- for years our riverfronts were pragmatic not recreational. Riverfronts are generally flat, large parcels of land with easy access to cheap transportation (i.e. barges), so it's no wonder than J&L practically owned the Monongahela. Still, those days are gone and the river is not nearly as disgusting as it used to be. We now have an opportunity to create terrific riverfront amenities, connected to existing neighborhoods that have, heretofore, been separated from the rivers.

Which brings me to my point (no pun intended): I want a highspeed Pittsburgh hovercraft taxi. I may never need to go from Lawrenceville to, say, Neville Island in eight minutes, but dammit I want to know that I *could* if I wanted to. I mean, it's more doable than a friggin' Maglev (high or low speed) as we already have most of the infrastructure in place and we don't have to come up with new technologies. The only drawback I could see would be a disturbing uptick in the number of kayak/hovercraft accidents... but if you're going to strap yourself into what amounts to a giant buoyant onesie, I think you deserve what you get.

And, well, if the flooding gets bad, we can always take the hovercraft into Oakland.

2010 Blog For Equality Day

Sue over at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents had asked all of us PghBloggers to write a little something about SB 707 (the so-called "Marriage Protection" Amendment proffered by Sen. Eichelberger), as part of Blog for Equality Day 2010.

Now, there are certainly really good reasons to vote against this bill:

* It writes discrimination into the PA Constitution.
* It is an unnecessary bill, PA already prohibits same-sex marriage. It is wasteful use of time and resources.
* It does not benefit anyone directly.
* It distracts Senate from more important business such as State Budget.
* It develops an atmosphere of being unwelcome to gays and lesbians.
* It develops an atmosphere of being unwelcome to large corporations which offer domestic partnership benefits.
And of course it goes without saying, the amendment really seems like a pretty intolerant, bigoted, homophobic, and downright... well, shitty piece of legislation.

But, I must say that I am in favor of this legislation as it will make this blog more fun to read. I mean, there's nothing I like more than pointing out the hypocrisy of legislators, especially those who are secretly in the closet, having tickle fights with staffers, having extra-marital affairs, or are getting married and re-married over and over again, while still saying that they are upholding the "sanctity of marriage." If this bill passes, it will make those hypocrite legislators so much easier to spot. Right now, they're putting up a good "Holier-than Thou" front and we, the intrepid nebshits that we are, have to dig through pages and pages of innuendo, rumor, and whisper columns to come up with a good hypocrite list. With this bill, in one swoop we can immediately go after the elected officials who are more than likely secretly getting it on with two midgets and an underage duck in their back office.

So I encourage all of our State Senators to vote for this bill and let us start to rummage through your dirty, dirty underwear laundry. If we don't impinge on these legislator's right to privacy, well, then it undermines the sanctity of other political offices.

I mean if we allow two loving gay persons to marry, that just undermines both of Brittney Spears' marriages, maybe two of Rush Limbaugh's, and definitely Rick "Man-Dog" Santorum's. And who could really live with themselves if that happened?

BREAKING NEWS: Luke Ravenstahl Assassinated on Floor of City Council Chambers

At an early morning pre-Agenda hearing, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was assassinated by members of City Council and other members of the Mayor's Inner Circle.

Mr. Ravenstahl arrived at Council Chambers early to discus a revision to Councilman Ricky Burgess's Living Wage Bill, when he was approached by Councilman Doug Shields. As other Councilpersons began to gather closer to him, the Mayor waved them away, but Councilman Bill Peduto pushed him down into a spectator seat. Mr. Ravenstahl was heard to exclaim "This is violence!" (In Latin: Ista quidem vis est!), before an on-rush of councilpersons and Mayor's Office staff persons rushed at him.

Within moments, the entire group, including Mayoral adviser John Verbanac, was striking out at the Mayor. Ravenstahl attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the mob continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless in the chambers. According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, the Mayor had been stabbed 23 times, with only one fatal blow.

According to City Clerk Linda Johnson, the Mayor's last words were heard to be "You too Verbanac my Son?"

At a hastily assembled press conference immediately after the assassination, Mr. Verbanac announced "People of Pittsburgh, we are once again free!"

Mayoral Chief of Staff Yarone Zober, the Mayor's infant son Cooper, and Director of Public Safety Michael Huss fled to Monroeville after a stirring eulogy by Mr. Zober.

Erin Ravenstahl, the wife of the now late Mayor, reportedly had informed the Mayor of a dream she had about the assassination attempt and a homeless man on Smithfield street had reportedly warned the Mayor to "Beware March 15th." Both warnings were left unheeded.

Control of the City now reverts back to City Council, who is expecting a protracted struggle with Mr. Zober, Mr. Huss, and the Young Ravenstahl.

Local Government insiders speculate that this action may precipitate the fall of the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter.

A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: St. Patrick's Day Parade Aftermath

In case you were wondering, yes the Boulevard of the Allies still smells of cheap beer, stale urine and desperate politicians.

Sort of like the County Gold Room on a Wednesday night.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Surprise Endorsements from the ACDC

If you were paying attention to the Allegheny County Democratic Committee nominating meeting yesterday, you would know that some guy's brother and some woman who lost her last race got nominated for something or other.

If you weren't paying attention, you would know about the following nominations:

* Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay: The Onorato for Governor Campaign

* Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film: SEA Arena Bond Issuance

* Nominated for Best Makeup: Melissa Hart

* Nominated for Best Director: John Verbanac

* Nominated for Best Animated Short: Teresa Smith

* Nominated for Best Sound Mixing: Doug Shields

* Nominated for Best Original Song: That Grinding, Whirring Sound in the Recorder of Deeds Office

* Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Tragedy: Yarone Zober

* Nominated for Best Gaffer: Cyril Wecht

* Nominated for Best Boy: Luke Ravenstahl
Of course, I may have fallen asleep watching the Oscars...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

From the "What are you preparing?! You're always preparing! Just go!" Department

This headlinein the Trib struck me:

Pittsburgh prepares to warn residents about possible flooding
But I don't think it's nearly as bad as the Mayor Luke quote in the P-G article:
"A flood's not coming anytime soon, but you need to be prepared, to start preparing today..."
Remember: both Custer and Von Schlieffen had "plans"; perhaps they should have planned their planning a little better.

Personally, I sit on the Committee for the Planning of Recommendations to Plan Recommendations on Planning. We've decided that we can't meet on Thursdays.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Fire in the Hole!

Arson is redevelopment by other means:

West Carson Street near the Duquesne Incline is expected to remain closed through today while crews raze part of a warehouse complex that caught fire early this morning, authorities said...

Firefighters responded about 3:20 a.m. today to a three-alarm fire at the abandoned warehouse complex near the west entrance to Station Square in the South Side, assistant fire chief Jim Crawford said...

Authorities closed West Carson between the West End and Smithfield Street bridges. The road likely will remain closed until tomorrow morning's rush hour, Huss said.

The facade of the middle building shifted while firefighters battled the fire, Huss said. Authorities said the building must be torn down...
A bit of history around this site.

For those of you that remember: the Old Lawrence Paint Company which sat across the street, was part of a fight between preservationists and Forest City Enterprises, who wanted to use as a staging point for a future gambling parlor (riverboat or otherwise). Intervention of the Bureau of Building Inspection rendered the discussion moot, when they found it to be dangerous and tore the building down...

Going back further, however, the North Pole Ice Cream Building which stood next to the Lawrence Paint Building collapsed in 1986.

The demolition of both these properties opened up vistas along the river, and made the road feel less claustrophobic. So, this could be a new opportunity to address a pretty ugly, choking eyesore along West Carson Street.

I wouldn't be surprised if the folks at the Riverlife Task Force or the Bureau of Building inspection were seen non-chalantly walking away from the seen with a book of matches smelling of gasoline.

Speaking of which, can they account for their whereabouts from 1986 until... now?

Location, Location, Allocation

One of the things you hate to hear if you work for government is "a hands-on elected rep." To wit:

For months, Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess has urged that scant city resources should go mostly to the neighborhoods that need the most help. On Tuesday, he plans to introduce bills that would write that philosophy into the city code.

He wants to change the way the city spends federal Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, money. The city expects $16.5 million in such aid this year, and traditionally it is spread liberally, though technically it is to be spent only in low-income "CD-eligible" census tracts.

Mr. Burgess would concentrate the federal funds on the poorest areas. "It seems to me that CDBG dollars should always be used as significant enhancements for communities that are struggling," he said last week, and overall city investments should be "based on need, rather than on political power."

A plank likely to be controversial on council would redistribute the $675,000 fraction of CDBG funding that is split evenly among the nine council members. Now, each gets to dole out around $75,000 a year to community groups. He would instead give each council member control over around $99 in grant money for each census block -- a fraction of a tract -- that meets federal guidelines for distress in his or her district...
Now, we'll set aside for the moment the fact that Rev. Burgess would get $40,000 more dollars for his district under his new plan than under the existing plan and concentrate on whether this is effective policy or not.

First point, made by Councilwoman Rudiak:
She said some community groups in her district serve neighborhoods that are "at the tipping point" but not poor enough to receive CDBG money. She said those groups are frustrated that "we need to move backward [economically] before we can move forward" using the grants.
Which is a salient point: Carrick may not be in critical condition today (like parts of Rev. Burgess' district), but if one looks closely one can see that there's potential for the neighborhood to slide into oblivion. Astute folks from the South Hills will point out that the Carrick of today is pretty much the Garfield of 40 years ago. The question is whether good money should be spent on stopping the decline of a neighborhood versus trying to resurrect one. My guess is that the bang for the buck is in Carrick.

Second, and tangentially related: Council Districts 2 & 3 have a good mixture of fairly decent neighborhoods and fairly distressed ones. Council District 5 has predominantly choice neighborhoods, with one exceptionally distressed neighborhood. The need in those districts may, in fact, be as great if not greater than District 5 & 9, but because they are mixed in with "good" neighborhoods, they won't have as much funding available.

Third, the dangerous implication: what Rev. Burgess is proposing discourages Council Members from improving their neighborhoods' conditions. If I have $114,000 in CDBG money in my pocket as councilman and if I want to be re-elected, I'm going to want to spread that money around to as many groups/neighborhoods/people as possible. In fact, in order to assure that I get more money next time, I'm not going to want to give too much money to any one area, in the off chance that their condition improves, and it's no longer eligible for funding. My goal is to improve the condition just up to the point where it is eligible, but no more.

Perhaps that's a cynical view for an extra $40,000, but in a lot of these more distressed neighborhoods, even $5,000 can buy you a lot of good will with the voters. (And as these areas are defined by the Census, that's $400,000 over 10 years!)

This brings me back to the whole extra $40,000 for Rev. Burgess' district. Now, no one is challenging the need for improvements in District 9, but the question is who benefits under the proposed arrangement? Clearly, District 6 & 9 would benefit the most. This makes me wonder if Rev. Burgess would feel the same way if his district was realigned to include more affluent areas or if he was a Council Member at-large.

Anyway... I lost my train of thought here (I warned everyone about that). Chris Potter has some wonkiness over here that covers some of the same points, and some different ones, and doesn't use the word "oblivion".

The Pension in the Room is Palpable

And then there's this:

Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd and city Controller Michael Lamb this morning proposed transferring ownership of city parking garages to the financially strapped pension fund.

Mr. Lamb said the proposal was evolving, and it wasn't clear whether some or all of the garages would be part of the deal.

The plan was billed as a more viable alternative to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's proposal to lease all parking garages -- and potentially surface lots and meters -- to a private entity and use the proceeds to shore up the pension fund.
Now, aside from the obvious flaws (the fact that the Pension Fund runs the pension fund, not garages; the historical mismanagement of the pension fund at that; the asset "swap" for the Parking Authority would be a loss on their books; etc.), the major flaw of this whole plan is that the City isn't thinking broadly enough. There are literally thousands of things that the City could be selling in order to fill up the pension fund:

  • Delinquent Taxes - Right now, the City sells them off to Jordan Tax Services, GLS, Capital Assests, or any other collection agency for an up front chunk of cash, while the collection agency tried to squeeze money from dead beats. But, rather than tossing those liens down a caulis negris, the City could give the delinquent tax liens to the Pension Fund and have *them* sell it off to the collections agency.

  • Asphalt plant - When I think of Pension Fund, I immediately think of skidding out on a slick road and then cracking my front end off of a 12 inch deep pothole that's been left unattended for years.

  • City Vehicle Fleet - If you're a middle manager and you need a City car, it'll cost you $8 for the hour. The downside is that, in order to lower future costs, the Pension Fund may decide to cut break lines in the hopes that you'll "remove yourself" from the pension pool. (Actually this would probably be no different than driving a Toyota now.)

  • The City-County Building - If the City leases it back from the pension fund, for the City it would come under the month budget, and not under the capital account.

  • Water Lines - Nope, wait we've done that.

  • Yarone Zober - A nice boy like him would probably fetch a decent price on the open market, and he's probably big enough for a couple of good steaks and a few stews. (Although, honestly I like my meat a little more lean.)

  • The Pension Fund - The City could have the Pension Fund sell the Pension Fund to the Pension Fund, take the write off for the loss and then purchase it back at a discount.

    Or alternatively, as I've suggested before: we take the whole fund, go over to the Rivers Casino when table games open up and bet on black.

  • Monday, March 01, 2010

    Pause for Station Identification

    If anyone seems to think that things are a bit, um, slow around here, well, they are. At least we seem to think they are.

    Between fits of writers block, two feet of snow on our front porch, the olympics, and general winter malaise, it's been hard to write anything of substance. We've been wracking our brains to find something funny out there (like how today's PG perp walk picture of Jeff Reed looks like Luke Ravenstahl and Yarone Zober had a freak love-child and then peed on it), but we're really just grasping at straws here.

    Last week we seriously considered changing formats to a cooking/horticulture/knitting/cat blog or, alternatively, starting up an ADB Twitter feed to satisfy our "Flowers for Algernon" -like diminishing attention span.

    Perhaps when spring finally rears its head, we'll find our muse again.

    Until then, expect either total crap or delicious recipes.