Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Filibuster this

Conservative blogger James Taranto previously predicted that the worst possible result for the Democrats of the Alito confirmation vote was for more than 40 Democrats to vote no. Liberal activists, Taranto said, would demand to know why, if there were 40 votes against Alito's confirmation, why there were not 40 to sustain a filibuster?

It's a good question. If you are a Democratic senator, and you truly believe that Alito is a threat to Americans' constitutional rights and the separation of powers, then why wouldn't you do everything you could to keep him off the Supreme Court? A no vote is a kind of equivocation; which constituency is that vote meant to satisfy? Republican activists who are determined to give the GOP a filibuster-proof majority aren't going to spare you because you merely voted no, rather than participated in a filibuster.

On the other hand, if the Democrats knew they could not sustain a filibuster, why would its so-called leadership allow senators like Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry--the latter two obviously pandering to 2008 Democratic primary voters--to promise a filibuster they knew they could not get their colleagues to support? This merely revealed the party's weakness and ineffectual leadership. True, senators are traditionally more independent-minded than members of the House; but can anyone imagine the Republicans in the Senate allowing a farce like this to play out? The minority party must be more disciplined, not less, than the majority party.

The Democrats have once again revealed that they are not a political party to be taken seriously. How can anyone trust them to govern?

Monday, January 30, 2006

You landed on my hotel

I have an article in this week's edition of the Pittsburgh Business Times.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006


Some movies are so good that you'll even watch them on a Saturday morning on TNT, sliced up by commercials and their dialogue butchered with dubbing. "Donnie Brasco" is one of those films. Al Pacino gives what is arguably the best performance of the latter portion of his career (though "Carlito's Way" might also qualify) and perhaps his most nuanced performance since "The Godfather, Part II." Pacino takes a lot of guff from critics for some of the bad choices he's made the last 10 years or so, but every once in a while he demonstrates that he is still capable of brilliance (i.e., "Insomnia").

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Hip to be square

Yes, yes, yes: The PG's Patricia Lowry says no to Bob O'Connor's misguided plan to turn Market Square into green space. To wit:

And what, really, would be gained by turning Market Square into a grassy park? It already provides shade trees, a stage and plenty of seating, thanks to the low granite walls that surround three of the four quadrants. Most people don't sit on grass, but it does provide comfortable bedding for vagrants and the homeless, as the edges of Point State Park attest.

The mayor thinks the square has an "old, tired" look. It's supposed to look old; it's historic. Tired? I just don't see it, at least not in the design of the square.

Despite the drug dealing and the bars, which won't go away if the streets are closed, Market Square is one of Downtown's liveliest and most successful public spaces. In the warm months, men play chess there, vendors hawk fruits and vegetables, art students play hacky-sack, bike messengers take their breaks, office workers and culinary students eat their lunches, and the pigeons -- a component of every thriving public square -- couldn't be happier.

You see, Bob O'Connor may be a lifelong city resident, but like many other Pittsburghers who have occupied the corridors of power in this town, he doesn't really understand cities. He doesn't get what makes them work. He has suburb envy.

But how do you know his plan won't work, you ask? Easy. As Lowry notes, we've tried it before.

It's almost never a good idea to close streets to cars where businesses are located, as the failed pedestrian malls of the 1960s in East Liberty, on the North Side and in many other American cities proved. Cars bring people, and people bring their shopping dollars and watchful eyes to the street. Closing Forbes through the square would have the domino effect of turning the blocks adjacent to it, between Stanwix and the square and between Wood and the square, into dead-end streets, making travel by car there difficult and jeopardizing those businesses as well.

Thanks to Rauterkus.

If cold medicine is outlawed, only outlaws will have cold medicine, part two

Iowa has implented tough restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold medicine that can be used in the production of methamphetamine. Meth problem solved, right? Wrong. Turns out that people are buying more potent crystal meth smuggled in from Mexico. The best part? It's more expensive, so home burglaries are up as addicts try to steal to pay for their next high.

"Our burglaries have just skyrocketed," said Jerry Furness, who represents Buchanan County, 150 miles northeast of Des Moines, on the Iowa drug task force. "The state asks how the decrease in meth labs has reduced danger to citizens, and it has, as far as potential explosions. But we've had a lot of burglaries where the occupants are home at the time, and that's probably more of a risk. So it's kind of evening out."

When the state surveyed the children in state protection in southeastern Iowa four months after the law took effect, it found that 49 percent were taken from parents who had been using methamphetamine, the same percentage as two years earlier, even as police said they were removing fewer children from homes with laboratories.

So while law-abiding citizens have a tougher time buying a legal drug, meth users face a greater risk of overdose and become more likely to commit crimes to feed their habit. Well done.

(See part one.)

Mr. Orwell, your table is ready

South Dakota lawmakers, in a bid to provoke a Supreme Court ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade, have proposed a bill to ban abortion in the state. In a lovely bit of doublespeak, they have dubbed it the Woman's Health and Life Protection Act.

Look, I can respect people who believe abortion is morally wrong. And I can even respect those who try to use the legislative process to ban it. Just don't pretend that you are trying to help women. If you think abortion is wrong, then make that stand. Don't rely on scientifically questionable studies about harm to the mother to bolster your claims.

The fact is, I don't believe abortion is right, either. But I don't believe that women who seek one deserve to lose their life or have their long-term health put in jeopardy, which is what would happen if abortion were outlawed.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

See you in Detroit

There are, no doubt, far bigger Steelers fans than me in this town. My pre-game trip to the Brentwood Giant Eagle confirmed that. I own no Steelers garb, save the 1995 AFC Championship hat and T-shirt that my mom mailed to me while I was in graduate school at Ohio University.

Let me tell, 10 years is a mighty long time. So this feels pretty damn good. There are far worse places to be tonight than Pittsburgh, Pa. Now, where can I get me one of those T-shirts?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Right next to the ads for the transgendered dwarves

The City Paper linked to my Baby Boomer-themed homage to Dennis Miller's rants in its Pittsburgh N'@ column.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"All these problems..."

Words matter. If I didn't believe that was true, I wouldn't be sitting here typing this right now, nor do I think you would be reading it. If words didn't matter, I certainly wouldn't have spent the last 10 years working as a writer in various capacities. There are other ways to make a living.

Words are how we express our ideas, and our ideas form the basis of our actions. We can apologize for the words we say, we can say we were joking or that we didn't really mean it, we can even deny what we have said, but our words, once spoken aloud or printed on the page, become indelible.

That's why it matters now that Trent Lott is making a bid to regain a Senate leadership position that he said in 2002, at the late Sen. Strom Thurmond's birthday party, the country "wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years" if Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948. Strom Thurmond, you'll recall, was a Democrat who ran for president on the Dixiecrat ticket to protest Harry Truman's support of civil rights legislation. To what problems was Lott referring?

Memory tells me that Lott's defense was that he was referring to Thurmond's position on national security, but reporters who examined the Dixiecrat platform found scant mention of defense policies, and certainly little to indicate a departure from the containment policies of Truman, and, later, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

So what did Lott really mean? He could have said anything in praise of Thurmond's long career. Why pick such a divisive event so long past? Lott's comment was not merely offensive, but bizarre. It betrayed not just insensitivity and racism, but a profound misunderstanding of the nation's social and political culture. Not only does this man not deserve a Senate leadership position, he doesn't even deserve to be in the Senate.

Our words matter, and we should be held to account for them.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A blight on our city

Reason magazine explains why TIFs are bad--and not the cost-free development tool that proponents make them out to be.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I don't mean to get off on a rant here, but...*

I'm pretty sick of the Baby Boomers. Not any individual Baby Boomers, mind you, nor even Baby Boomers as a group. I'm merely sick of what appears to be a resurgent obsession with this oversized cohort by the media. (A rather naricissistic fixation, when you consider that Boomers no doubt occupy positions of influence in the mainstream media.) This evening, ABC's World News Tonight included a story about clothing and cosmetics manufacturers who are making products to help Baby Boomers look good without trying to look young. I'm thrilled that Baby Boomers are trying to age gracefully, but seriously, who cares?

For awhile, our youth-obsessed culture seemed to have finally grown sick of this self-absorbed generation. But since the oldest of the Baby Boomers are turning 60 this year, once again we appear to be awash in stories about them. And you know what's worse? We'll likely have to endure these stories, at least on occassion, for at least another 30 years. The Baby Boomers turn 70. The Baby Boomers turn 80. The Baby Boomers are dead.

Enough already. Just because your parents shagged like rabbits, bequeathing you demographic dominance over all future generations, doesn't mean the world revolves around you. It's bad enough you are going to bankrupt Social Security and Medicaire long before anyone of my age gets to retire. Must we also be tortured with every excruciating detail of your life? Must every milestone you achieve be treated as an historic event on par with the invention of the internal combustion engine? I hope you live long, happy, healthy lives. I just don't want to hear about them.

Of course, that's my opinion. I could be wrong. I want to hear what you think, America.

*Apologies to Dennis Miller.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meet the new boss...

...same as the old boss:

Mayor Bob O'Connor's administration has asked City Council to start approving aid for development of the proposed PNC Financial Services Group tower, Downtown.

Council yesterday received a resolution that would allow the Urban Redevelopment Authority to craft a plan to borrow $18 million to help finance the tower.

The URA would pay the debt using most of the new parking and property taxes from the development that would otherwise go to the city, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Public Schools, in a process called tax-increment financing, or TIF.

Hopefully, one of the three taxing bodies need to approve this obscenity--the city, county or school district--will say no. Then again, listen to what our new City Council president has to say:

City Council President Luke Ravenstahl called the tower "the shot in the arm our Downtown needs," and said he plans to support the financing plan.

He may be a young man, but he's determined to perpetuate the same old ways.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Not the army you want

From the New York Times:

A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials. ...

Military officials and contractors said the Pentagon's procurement troubles had stemmed in part from miscalculations that underestimated the strength of the insurgency, and from years* of cost-cutting that left some armoring companies on the brink of collapse as they waited for new orders.

Who is responsible? And will they be made to answer?

*I'd like to know just how many years we are talking about here. Does this go back to the Clinton administration?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

He may be a whack job, but he's Bush's whack job

From Andrew Sullivan:

Here are the specific responses to Ariel Sharon's stroke by two leading fundamentalists in the world, Pat Robertson and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Julian cites them below. Robertson:

"He was dividing God’s land. And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone."


"Hopefully the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final."

The difference, of course, is that only one of these maniacs is on Karl Rove's A-list rolodex.

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, by the way, is the president of Iran.

Bush '08

The New York Times runs a contrarian op-ed today calling on lawmakers to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to two terms. I’ve believed the amendment was a bad idea ever since I was in college and I heard a professor argue that the amendment renders a president a lame duck the moment his second term begins. That may please you if happen to dislike whoever currently is in the Oval Office—and Lord knows, I do—but it doesn’t make for good governance:

A second-term president will, in effect, automatically be fired within four years. Inevitably his influence over Congress, and even his authority over the sprawling executive branch, weaken. His party leadership frays as presidential hopefuls carve out their own constituencies for the next election. Whether the president is trying to tamp down scandal or push legislation, he loses his ability to set the agenda.

The authors note that the 22nd Amendment was a way for the Republicans who controlled Congress when it was approved to repudiate the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, the only president to serve more than two terms. And while George Washington may have established a precedent by serving only two terms, that was not the intention of the Founding Fathers:

Washington's close confidant Alexander Hamilton also had firmly opposed presidential term limits. In Federalist No. 72, Hamilton argued that term limits for the chief executive would diminish inducements to good behavior, discourage presidents from undertaking bold new projects, deny the nation the advantage of his experience and threaten political stability. For his part, Washington added that term limits would exclude from the presidency a man whose leadership might be essential in a time of emergency.

Should presidents - whether George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton - be denied the opportunity to serve their country and carry through their programs? Should they be allowed to govern without any accountability to voters? Should voters be denied two supreme powers - the right to give popular presidents more terms in office and to repudiate a failed president at the polls?

Personally, I can’t imagine many presidents, with a few notable exceptions like Clinton, would want to serve more than two terms, assuming they could even win re-election. (Oh, sure, they might intend to serve three or even four terms, but many would think differently as year eight approached.) The modern presidency is a demanding job—President Bush’s generous vacations notwithstanding—and one that is hard to acquire much before one reaches their mid-50s. But I’m not sure much is to be gained by denying presidents the opportunity—and I say this as someone who has become alarmed at the growth of executive power typified by our current president.

One caveat: I do not agree that allowing presidents three or more terms would necessarily make them more accountable. It would only do so if they wanted to run for more than two terms. And as an aside, I take issue with the examples of second-term woes the authors cite in their opening. Nixon was a venal man whose dirty tricks began during his first term, and Clinton’s incurable skirt-chasing had nothing to do with being term-limited. (Same with Reagan's desire to circumvent the Congressional prohibition against funding the Contras.) Indeed, their political opponents likely would have attacked them with even more zeal had they been able to run for a third term.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Read all about it

I have a book review in today's Post-Gazette.

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