Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Did Neil Kinnock say it first?

Hats off to Joe Biden for this zinger:

Joe Biden justified his presidential campaign by getting off the best line of Tuesday night’s debates. Opining that Rudy Giuliani is “probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency,” he averred:

“There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There’s nothing else! There’s nothing else! And I mean this sincerely. He’s genuinely not qualified to be president.”

Someone finally said it: the wannabe Emperor has no clothes. (link)

Forget about beating up on Hillary Clinton. Every Democratic candidate should go on the attack against Giuliani, who promises to continue the unprecedented expansion of executive power begun under the Bush/Cheney regime.

You know, I wish that Giuliani had been able to take on Hillary Clinton back in 2000. Had he lost, even with 9/11, it's doubtful that he could be considered a credible challenger to the woman likely to be the Democratic candidate. And if he had won, well, one more Republican senator during the early years of the Bush administration wouldn't have made things much worse.

But somebody else would have been holding that bullhorn on 9/11, and Giuliani would now be just another member of the Republican minority.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

DeSantis poll

In reference to some comments on my previous post, we received a phone call tonight for an automated poll for the mayoral election, sponsored by the DeSantis campaign. My wife took the call. Much to Mark Rauterkus' dismay, it did not include third-party candidates.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

What they said

I wish I could convince myself that newspaper endorsements made a difference in political campaigns, because the Post-Gazette's endorsement of Mark DeSantis -- the paper's first endorsement for a Republican since 1969 -- is a doozy. Here are some highlights:

Why should a city dominated by Democrats consider a Republican for mayor? Because one-party rule has failed Pittsburgh and failed it repeatedly. It has failed to prevent population loss and business erosion. It has failed to head off the city's near-bankruptcy and job loss. It has failed to generate the big ideas that should be propelling Pittsburgh into the 21st century.

A Democratic mayor and a nine-member Democratic council have robbed the city of the robust political competition that renews the state and keeps the federal government in check. We see the invigorating value of shifting party control in Harrisburg and Washington, but on Grant Street we see rust, cobwebs and a city bravely trying to manage its own decline. ...

On the substance of governing, too, Mayor Ravenstahl has left much to be desired. Sure, he has continued his predecessor's "redd-up" campaign, stepped up the tear-down of abandoned buildings, sworn off new borrowing and submitted two balanced budgets.

But he is unable, despite his fresh arrival and the promise of generational change, to think big enough to break with the past. Instead of privatizing a service like trash collection, he extends it to Wilkinsburg -- not because it saves Pittsburgh money but because it's created a few more city jobs while helping a municipal neighbor. Instead of initiating action to combine services with the county, he's merely open to discussion and waiting to see a blueprint "put in front of me" (translation: not really interested). ...

(DeSantis) is tired of a city that puts up new buildings and sunny facades without adding net new jobs and businesses. He's heard enough talk and seen too little action on city-county consolidation, especially when both entities are led by Democrats. He's grown impatient with the sacred cows preserved by one-party rule, whether it's the number of fire stations, the size of the city budget or a lax approach to ethical behavior.

He wants to approach long-standing problems in a different way. Besides extracting more voluntary contributions from tax-exempt institutions, Mr. DeSantis says Pittsburgh should look beyond cash and, for instance, negotiate a deal with UPMC, the region's most profitable nonprofit, to provide health care for city retirees. He wants an ethics policy for city officials and employees that prohibits all freebies and uses an ethics compliance officer for enforcement. He wants city departments not just to operate well but to be judged against other cities' performance.

I can't call it persuasive because I had already made up my mind to vote for DeSantis, but it's the most eloquent case for the challenger that I've seen yet.

Speaking of Mark DeSantis, he is branded a "Republican insider" in a piece of campaign literature I received in the mail over the weekend from the Ravenstahl campaign. Fair enough. The flyer zings DeSantis for working for the first President Bush and for contributing to the campaigns of Rick Santorum and George W. Bush. (Though notable for its absence is any mention of DeSantis' affiliation with the late Sen. John Heinz, who remains a revered figure, even in Democratic Pittsburgh.)

But in calling DeSantis out for connections to Santorum and the current president, the flyer says that "Their policies were wrong for Pittsburgh..." Gee, I didn't know that Santorum or Bush had any Pittsburgh policies. Even if Mark DeSantis agreed with the president's decision to invade Iraq, I don't think we have to worry, since Pittsburgh does not currently possess any military forces. And if the president or the former senator had any views on, say, whether we should close fire stations or merge services with the county, they were not covered on Fox News.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Flock to the mock

My alma mater, Westminster College, will hold its quadrennial Mock Convention Nov. 7-8. Normally, the convention is held in a presidential election year, but the front-loaded primary schedule has prompted WC to move it up to this fall.

The college holds its mock convention for the party out of power in the White House, so that means it's a Democratic convention this year. When I was a freshman, in 1992, I was the state chairman for Alabama, and the convention nominated the Paul Tsongas for president and Barbara Roberts, then governor of Oregon, as the candidate for VP. My brother, also a Westminster alum, participated in the 1980 convention (he is 13 years my senior), which nominated Gerald Ford for president and George H.W. Bush for vice president.

Going back to 1936, with no convention held in 1944 because of World War II, it appears that the convention nominated for president the candidate who actually got his party's nomination in 1952, 1956, 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1988. (Up through 1956, the convention was held for the Republican Party only.)

The "correct" VP candidate was nominated only twice, in 1956 and 1980. At the '92 convention, Roberts' nomination was spearheaded by the Oregon delegation.

Anyway, the mock convention is a great tradition. Unless you transfer in or out -- or manage to finish your degree in less than four years -- you are guaranteed to be a student during the convention. I have to wonder if anyone has the dubious distinction of having participated in two conventions as an undergrad. I suspect it is not something you would put on your resume.

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"Shrinking to greatness"

Sam at AntiRust wonders if this City Journal article about Buffalo provides a prescription for Pittsburgh's recovery.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

I've seen this movie before

Eric Alterman brings to our attention this Newsweek column by Fareed Zakaria, who is alarmed at the war drums the administration is beating louder and louder. He tries to put the Iranian "threat" into perspective:

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

It's George Bush's planet, Mr. Zakaria. We just live on it.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oh say can you see our country going down the crapper

It seems that the right-wing nutosphere is having a collective aneurysm over Barack Obama's failure to place his hand over his heart during the singing of the National Anthem during an Iowa campaign event. Apparently this is not just tradition; the U.S. Code actually specifies what you are supposed to do with your hands while someone sings or plays the world's best known song about the War of 1812. I'm not sure what happens to you if you fail to place your hand over your heart. Perhaps the junior senator from Illinois needs to hire an attorney.

Of course this is not the first time the nation's conservative thought police have issued Obama a citation. He acknowledged that he stopped wearing an American flag pin -- de rigueur for politicians since the 9/11 attacks -- because he essentially thought that it was a cheap symbol.

If Obama's fellow Democratic candidates have any sense of decency, they will rush to his defense. (Assuming they have not already.) No one, not even a candidate for office, need prove their patriotism. Quite frankly, what we Americans commonly consider to be acts of patriotism are really acts of nationalism, with all that implies. Why must children recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school? (Why should a nation that regards itself as "the land of the free" even have something called the Pledge of Allegiance?) Why must we sing the National Anthem before every single sporting event? It's indoctrination, pure and simple.

I have to say that as a candidate for president, the pragmatic thing for him to do would be to make damn sure he puts his hand on his heart, and maybe even sings along, when someone sings the Star Spangled Banner. But good for him for getting rid of the flag pin. I'm sick of politicians exploiting and thus cheapening true patriotism. It's heartening that a candidate for president has the balls to say so, too.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

City living, part 2

I've seen one or two comments on local blogs (here and here) claiming that Mark DeSantis is going to lose votes by promising to end the residency requirement for city employees should he become mayor.

I can see the logic. A city resident may reason that if his or her taxes are going toward paying an employee's salary, then that employee should be paying taxes to support the city as well, and that an employee who lives here has more motivation to work hard. GM shareholders don't want to visit a Chevy plant and see a bunch of Fords in the parking lot.

DeSantis also gave the mayor the opportunity to cast himself as an advocate for taxpayers against the demands of public employee unions, who many people believe have helped to push the city to the brink of bankruptcy.

So, yes, some people may vote against DeSantis for wanting to lift the residency requirement. The arguments against the requirement -- which I also oppose -- are abstract: that you can draw from a deeper pool of talent without such a restriction, and that you shouldn't have to force people to live in your city. (I'd also argue that conscientious employees will work hard regardless of whether or not they live here. I work at a university, and while I have no college-age children, I think I do a good job nonetheless.)

On the other hand, the arguments in favor of keeping the requirement are concrete: Fewer people will live in the city if the requirement is lifted, potentially raising the cost of living here for the rest of us.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

City living

A debate has erupted over at the Burgh Report over whether Mark DeSantis' pledge to end the city's residency requirement for employees is a good idea. In response to someone who claimed the city school district has declined as a result of the end of its teachers' residency requirement, I posted this response:

First of all, no suburban district has a residency requirement. So the idea that teachers have to live in the communities in which they teach in order to be successful is ridiculous. Thanks to grandfathering and the exemptions that were handed out as part of the CBA, plenty of Pittsburgh teachers and administrators lived outside the city even before the residency requirement was lifted. And the reason it was lifted was because Philadelphia had problems recruiting teachers due to its residency requirement, and by state code only Pittsburgh and Philly had such rules.

I suppose the best reason to not require employees to live in the city is that it automatically increases the pool of potential employees. That may not matter much to the police -- I have no idea if recruitment is an issue, especially in light of the budget cuts. Perhaps police who live in the city do garner more respect from the citizens they ostensibly protect. But as the admiral noted, there are vast differences among Pittsburgh neighborhoods, and living in one of them may not give you an appreciation of the others. (I, for instance, live closer, in geography, to Dormont than to East Liberty.)

I don't like the idea of a change in policy being made strictly for an endorsement. But arguably the morale of an employee is better if they can live where they choose, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Yes, there is a cost, and I've certainly criticized past efforts to keep unions happy at the expense of taxpayers. Yet somehow I doubt we're going to see hundreds of for sale signs go up in the city as a result of this. I suspect there are plenty of police who like living in the city, or for other reasons aren't inclined to move.

And if we do see a mass exodus, then my friends we have problems. Because what does it say about our city if we have to force people to live here? (link)

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Friday, October 19, 2007

DeSantis and the blue wall

No doubt the Burgosphere is buzzing with the news that the city's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed GOP candidate Mark DeSantis in the upcoming mayoral election. I have no idea what, historically, endorsements have meant in Pittsburgh elections. The conventional wisdom is that the firefighters' endorsement in 2001 tipped a close Democratic primary in favor of Tom Murphy over the late Bob O'Connor. (Keep in mind that endorsement came on the heels of a generous contract that Murphy negotiated with the union.)

One thing is certain -- the endorsement is sure to energize the DeSantis campaign and its supporters. The momentum is definitely on the side of the challenger, though how much that matters in this Democratic stronghold won't be apparent until the votes are counted. But it raises the question, at least for me, of who exactly is excited about voting for Luke Ravenstahl? That's not to say I think he will lose; he is still the overwhelming favorite, if for no other reason than mere political inertia. But who is enthused about pulling the lever -- er, I mean, touching the screen -- for the incumbent? And why would they be?

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

At least my mom gave me a book

It seems that the Democrats in Congress never met a principle they weren't willing to compromise. To get Republican support for the S-CHIP program -- support that was insufficient to override the president's veto -- the Democrats agreed to increase funding for abstinence-only sex education by $28 million.

Of course, abstinence-only sex education doesn't actually keep kids from having sex; it just ensures that when they do, they will be more likely to catch an STD or get pregnant. (Which will lead to more abortions. Tell me again how the GOP is the pro-life party?)

In other news, it sounds like the Pennsylvania attorney general's investigation into the bonuses awarded by legislators to their staff is really heating up. Momentum for major reform of state government, which picked up after the infamous pay raise, seems to have slowed. Could this get the ball rolling again?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"It's time to make a choice."

Why do 12 former Army captains want the terrorists to win?

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Radio daze

Jason brings some common sense to the broohaha over WDUQ and Planned Parenthood, over at PBRT.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Actually, it would explain the finals years of the Reagan administration

John McCain loves bad movies:

(AP) Republican John McCain said Thursday that as president he would appoint Alan Greenspan to lead a review of the nation's tax code - even if the former Federal Reserve chairman was dead.

"If he's alive or dead it doesn't matter. If he's dead, just prop him up and put some dark glasses on him like, like 'Weekend at Bernie's,'" McCain joked. "Let's get the best minds in America together and fix this tax code." (link)

It's my favorite film reference from a public figure since Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin referred to "All the Right Moves" during the preseason. Go Ampipe!

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Get off the bus, Gus

Anti-sprawl activist Thomas Hylton makes an argument that he's made before: Pennsylvania needs to stop subsidizing bus transportation for local school districts, a switch that he believes would encourages school districts to renovate, rather than replace, outdated school buildings:

Pennsylvania school buses travel more than 381 million miles annually at a cost of more than $1 billion. That's nearly 75 percent of the cost of the state's urban and rural transit authorities. Although the state provides about half the funding for both systems, school districts are automatically guaranteed a subsidy based on their aid ratio and miles traveled, no further questions asked.

For example, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District in Indiana County recently announced plans to close its high school in Saltsburg Borough and bus those students an hour away to an enlarged Blairsville High School at an additional cost of $200,000 annually. Thanks to the state subsidy formula, district taxpayers will only pay $62,000 more. The commonwealth will make up the rest.

Generous subsidies for school busing are just one reason the number of students walking to school has plunged from 50 percent in 1970 to less than 15 percent today. In recent decades, hundreds of walkable neighborhood schools have been closed all across Pennsylvania, often to be replaced by sprawling mega-schools on the urban fringe.

These new schools spawn car-dependent development and drain the life from older communities. Statewide, the loss of neighborhood schools has been a major factor in what the Brookings Institution calls the "hollowing out" of Pennsylvania -- disinvestment in older urban areas in favor of developing suburbs. ...

The Mt. Lebanon School District is held up as a model. The district has not built a new school since 1963. Instead, it has renovated its two middle schools and seven elementary schools, most dating to the 1920s and 1930s, and will soon renovate its 1928 high school. The district's architect estimates the renovated schools cost about 70 percent of the price of new construction, not including land acquisition. (link)

On the whole, I agree with Hylton. By subsidizing school bus transit, without any conditions, the state is, in effect, subsidizing sprawl. Undoubtedly some districts would find it more affordable to rehab smaller neighborhood schools rather than build large new ones if they had to bear the entire cost of transportation.

But I think in some cases Hylton may be confusing cause and effect. Some school districts build large, consolidated schools because a decline in the school-age population makes the cost of maintaining several buildings prohibitive. It's not merely a question of whether renovation is cheaper than new construction, but whether the costs of renovation and ongoing maintenance of multiple buildings is offset by savings in transportation.

Mt. Lebanon can maintain its neighborhood schools because it has a relatively stable, dense population -- not to mention a healthy tax base. Those are luxuries that not every community enjoys.



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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's one of my "pet peeves"

Someone has devoted a blog to unnecessary quotations marks. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.)

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Money well spent

The Post-Gazette reports that Hi-Tops -- located directly across the street from PNC Park -- is shutting down. It's one of several North Side restaurants located near the ballpark that have closed down over the last few years, and some of those that have opened up did so after getting public subsidies.

I suppose one could argue that the Pirates' dismal performance lo these many years is to blame for these businesses folding, but the whole point of building PNC Park was so the Pirates could have a competitive team.

Then again, I shouldn't dwell on the past. The important thing is that our public officials have learned their lesson, and won't waste taxpayer dollars on any more pro sports facilities.

Oh, wait...

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