Monthly Archives: February 2011

Wisconsin, America and Public Workers

Pittsburgh caught Wisconsin Fever on Tuesday:

Amid battles over workers’ rights in the Midwest, Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday passed a proclamation honoring public employees.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, whose grandfather, Joseph Rudiak, was a labor organizer, assailed Wisconsin officials for trying to restrict collective bargaining rights and mandate pension contributions. Similar legislation is on the table in Ohio.

“It is a reactionary agenda that will end the livelihood of thousands of working Americans, and it must stop,” Ms. Rudiak said at a news conference attended by a couple dozen union officials and supporters. (P-G, Team Effort)

The great offense lies not exactly in what these bills are seeking to accomplish in terms of cost savings for states, but in taking certain things entirely off the negotiating table from the start, i.e. benefits.

In Wisconsin, Walker championed a bill that would make public workers bargain only for wages and require them to pay 5.8 percent of their pension costs; they pay nothing now. They would have to foot 12 percent of their health-care premiums, up from 6 percent. Police and firefighters wouldn’t be covered by the measure. (Bloomberg, Mark Niquette)

If you’re saying workers may not collectively bargain for benefits, working conditions and anything that comes affiliated with their jobs, that’s an abridgement of a fundamental human right. So when Post-Gazette columnist Ruth Ann Daily complains that the Wisconsin labor protesters are being selfish, I think she’s either missing that key distinction, or else feels that public sector unions’ efficient stranglehold on politicians make such an abridgement of human rights worthwhile, even necessary.

As far as leverage during negotiations go, in this world it usually lies with management. The fact that in some parts of one sector of our economy, it tends to lie a bit more with workers isn’t an immediate cause to start throwing babies out with bathwater. If it weren’t for generous government benefits and pension security, hardly anyone of any talent or experience would work for the public sector, owing to the fact that private enterprise can still churn out far better salaries in many cases.

If Ruth Ann would like to “stem the tide of red ink” in state budgets, a better course would be to agitate exactly how she does so frequently — for a higher awareness among a savvy, interconnected public of dire public concerns, and greater civic engagement to make changes. In other words, pressure politicians to give unions a haircut all you want, just don’t bust them with an end-around.

I will however say this:

This is a war, not a one-and-done battle. The most significant armies have yet to declare sides or take the field, and the parameters for future labor arrangements are squarely on the table for inevitable causes. So when Infinonymous points out:

If unions representing local police officers, paramedics, firefighters and state troopers continue to defend with mindless uniformity the inexplicably violent, irresponsible and obnoxious conduct of their members, those unions seem destined to lose public support. Why those unions would follow such a risky course when government budgets and pension plans are stressed is difficult to understand. Most public employees serve the public well; why do their unions seem to perform so poorly? (Infinonymous)

The anonymous provocateurs with unknown ties and affiliations behind that blog happen to be correct when they write that. It’s tough to ask a union brotherhood not to support one among its members if there is a legally conceivable path to allow him or her to keep providing for his or her family. But it would be better if those rare, truly uncontrollable hot heads and numb skulls were instead shunned on occasion by that brotherhood for not holding up their end of a very important bargain.

Second: when the Battle of Wisconsin is successfully concluded along with the Public Workers War of 2011, it sure would be nice (if not absolutely necessary) to see teachers, public works crews, and firefighters turn around, get in their cars, and drive for hundreds of miles to support janitors, food processors and nurses in the private sector — either through far more active and constant organizing or through supporting the actions of the relatively few organized private-sector unions. Otherwise, the rest of working America might look back on the carnival at Wisconsin and feel rather duped and used.

21st Century Billboard Regulations Coming

There is a public hearing tomorrow AKA Tuesday at 200 Ross St. at 2:00 PM on the Planning Department’s proposed amendments to the Zoning Code on electronic advertising and message signage.

Scenic Pittsburgh, a project of the PA Resources Council and a local affiliate of Scenic America, has just released their Top Ten Reasons Billboards should be Banned:

10. Billboards blight the natural and architectural beauty of a neighborhood.

9. Billboards lower nearby property values.

8. Billboards advertise adult services and products to our children.

7. Billboards detract from the cultural character of a neighborhood and from local business.

6. Billboards deprive us freedom from constant persuasive messaging.

5. Electronic Billboards distract drivers with bright light and motion creating a traffic safety hazard.

4. Electronic Billboards are visible for miles and obscure the night sky.

3. Electronic Billboards are environmentally wasteful; one billboard consumes 30 times the energy of an average home.

2. Electronic Billboards contribute almost nothing to the local economy while billboards companies earn millions of dollars.

1. The scenic beauty of Pittsburgh, our beloved home, is NOT FOR SALE!!!! (Press materials, Scenic Pittsburgh)

I’m not up to speed on this legislation, but I can see it includes provisions for “Major Public Destination Facilities Electronic Signs” and “Special Signage Overlay Districts”. I’m not clear about the former, but I understand the latter could come to apply to portions of the North Shore for example. Even though I agree with all of Scenic Pittsburgh’s arguments in all circumstances, I don’t see a good reason not to render unto persons of differing convictions what they are entitled by arranging some properly channeled “Las Vegas” atmosphere for the North Shore. I realize something similar was once said about the area around Grant and Liberty, but that was before anyone realized it was already a Very Precious Architectural District and also across the street from a residential high-rise.

I’m glad we’re taking a fresh look at the code from the ground up.

BREAKING: WDUQ News Reports on Foundation-led Regional News Project

You’ll be quick to peg this as unvarnished good news:

Using grants totaling $578,000, the Pittsburgh Foundation this summer will launch an on-line initiative “to preserve and strengthen the delivery of local news and information.” Foundation President and CEO Grant Oliphant says the initiative will offer in-depth reports on “key issues impacting the Pittsburgh region and cultivating broad community involvement.” (WDUQ)

Blast! Just when I gave up on journalism…

According to Oliphant, this venture will seek to work closely with regional partners in the mainstream broadcasting and print media, and initially will use a core of independent freelance journalists. (ibid)

It’s about time. Partners, eh?

“Independence and impartiality are critical requirements for the successful and credible operation of our on-line news service and Pittsburgh Filmmakers is an ideal partner, providing a resourceful base from which this initiative will continue to develop and grow.” (ibid)

Three cheers for independence and impartiality in the media. I heard this news story reported on 90.5 FM WDUQ in my car before I spotted it online. It happens to be pledge drive season, so before and after this news, pledge hosts were going on and on about the intelligent, non-agenda-driven, high-caliber news available on NPR and DUQ. Anyway, if the Foundation and the Filmmakers are embarking on a new regional news venture, they are to be congratulated and encouraged to roll things out on the best possible footing.

Speaking of WDUQ, it is in the process of being sold from Duquesne University to a new media venture, Essential Public Media. It could mean some changes for the station’s programming.

WYEP, Mr. Cardamone added, has talked informally with local foundations to gauge interest in supporting the new public radio station.

“The foundations have been on the scene from the very beginning. We need to build a sustainable radio station,” Mr. Cardamone said. (Marylynne Pitz)

Hmm, there again are the foundations. Might there be any connection?

Asked by WDUQ-FM staff member Kevin Gavin if the new station will offer jazz, Mr. Cardamone replied, “We don’t really have specifics. We understand the legacy that jazz represents in Pittsburgh.” (ibid)

So it was written. See, it’s the jazz listeners here, who must make up a sizable portion of WDUQ’s member base which is harvested from these very pledge drives, whom many see as potentially having the most to lose in this sale.

Well, who knows. Hopefully it will all work itself out, as good people with extremely laudable intentions have productive conversations which lead to to smooth processes and regional innovation based on sound grassroots principles.

*-SEE OTHER: Slag Heap, Chris Potter.


Forget teh Democrats. Three Republican candidates are now in the race for the office of Allegheny County Executive: accused elder fraud conspirator Councilman Charles P. McCullough, accused Tea Party organizer Patti Weaver, and Mt. Lebanon Ward 1 Commissionner Raja (P-G, Len Barcousky & Trib, Team Effort).

Learn about Raja the same way I did: from May 16, 2007’s Pgh Hear & Now, P-G, Dennis Roddy.

Snapshot of the Police Transparency Public Hearing

I call it that because as I understand it, the police reform legislation which still survives in the immediate wake of the Jordan Miles incident would require the recording, compiling and making transparent of certain raw data pertaining to police interactions with the public (or at least with suspects) perhaps by means of wide usage of some form of handy tear-sheets, a data entry clerk and a website. It would be optimal to also have watched the Post-Agenda session last week, but it will be pretty good to watch Council deliberations on Wednesday, Feb. 23.

Introducing the hearing on his legislation, Councilman Burgess:

Many registered public speakers spoke for three minutes. To give you blog readers a taste, here is the bevy of one-minute unregistered speakers towards the end:

The status of when I will have any or all of the 3-minute speakers online is: Part 1 and Part 2 and more and more of that is available, the rest will be eventually. The audio for some was lacking. Note also the presence of a podcast at Here is one final one-minute speaker (Lucille Prater-Holiday), followed by remarks from those City Councilors present:

I pick up the end of Burgess’s invitation to attend Feb. 23’s Council meeting and the hearing’s adjournment here. Thereafter by request he performed another bit of Reverendly duty here.


Battlestar Galactica, S4 EP4
“Love and Rocket”
The Valentine’s Day Episode

Who is Appalling, Outragious, Abusive, Shameful and Monarchical?

As many of you know, this happened on Day 1 of this year’s new session of the PA House of Representatives…

This video was circulated widely on the social media tip by House Democrats. One nice summary of the events can be found at Capitol Ideas by John L. Micek.

Democrats were offering 42 amendments to a reform package that had passed the chamber previously in 2010, when there were ironically even more Democrats. In apparent reaction, Republicans changed internal House rules to winnow minority-party representation on committees and change the way amendments are adopted. Rep. Mike Turzai (R-here) took a beating. Rep. Dan Frankel (D-here) guaranteed that “not one of these amendments was to be destructive” or “hostile,” and challenged the media to delve into the contents of the amendments (a smart play). The Democrats seemed conspicuously well-prepared to holler about tyrrany. This is basically how our House of Representatives felt it best to kick off the new year. Morning Call reporter John L. Micek seemed to be of the expressed sardonic opinion that the reforms in question weren’t all that necessary or important. What is the latest on this, and will it affect how Turzai & Company get, shall we say, state store privatization done? It seems like the Democrats may have had better stage presence, or have been hungrier to start off the year.

Early Spring Disclosure

Something of a noteworthy announcement. I am now doing a speck of research consulting for the City of Pittsburgh, through the office of Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith. I’ve been at it for a few weeks actually, but as a matter of routine the Council had to vote to approve it, which I understand it did with mercifully minimal discussion. Reckoning by the speed of proceedings that bill was signed.

It’s part-time work, and temporary — but obviously it means some changes for your Pittsburgh Comet.

What those changes shall be is not clear. Believe it or not the Councilwoman and I haven’t talked about it terribly in depth — I’ve received surprisingly few suggestions. Perhaps no suggestions at all? I know I have been encouraged to keep stating my mind. I know well enough on my own to redouble my aspirations to do so respectfully.

I think it’s safe to say you’re going to see more proportionally in this space about Harrisburg, about Allegheny County, about Cleveburgh, and maybe a bit about Baltimore. Just to be safe. There are other blogs for parsing Pittsburgh polemically.

Then again, I don’t see myself not writing about the pensions crisis anytime soon. I don’t see myself not writing about Hill District area planning and development (sorry, RDL). I don’t see myself not writing about public safety here and there. So maybe nothing will change but the background. Who knows.

From time to time, it will become appropriate to again disclose this interest, although I feel as though my blog commenters will take care of that for me.

Let me just say in regards to the work, I am really excited and really optimistic. I can’t say enough about the trust placed in me — after all the agonized howling I’ve done over City of Pittsburgh resources in this space, I feel a tremendous responsibility. Onward and forward!

*-SUGGESTED DISCUSSION TOPIC: Egyptian helmets (Non-Standard).

See guided photo essay at Anyway, I Digress…. I don’t see how it’s “un-PC” as long as it’s genuine; that photo has an AP stamp. It might be a little unsettling if you’re into Mubarak.

Week’s End Open Thread

Let ‘er rip. It’s a free country.

Looking Ahead to Rich Fitzgerald vs. Mark Patrick Flaherty

The most deviously powerful political office in Southwest Pennsylvania is up for grabs this year, and two candidates are going mano-a-mano, operative-a-operative for the Democratic nomination to it.

With three months remaining, here is literally everything I know about the two candidates for Allegheny Cah-nee Executive:


1) Has an Economics degree and a Law degree from Duke University.

2) Elected Allegheny County Controller in 2004.

3) Name appears in a conspicuously large, bold font on black and gold (or black and yellow?) Weights and Measures Division stickers on all gas pumps and grocery store checkout scales.

4) Utilized campaign PAC money to broadcast “public service announcement” commercials stressing the importance of these stickers.

5) From time to time releases audits that have been a bit more critical of the status quo than that which we have heard from his party colleagues on County Council for example.

6) Nephew to Peter F. Flaherty, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh from 1970-1977

7) Rumored to be the preferred option of the Ravenstahl administration and its supporters.

8) Says he wanted to conduct property assessments “a couple years ago” to “get them over with” and seems to oppose efforts to obstruct them any further.


1) Has a Mechanical Engineering degree from CMU.

2) Elected to County Council in 2000 and is presently its President.

3) Has supported County Executive Dan Onorato publicly in pretty much all things.

4) That support notably includes past opposition to conducting property assessments, and further efforts to obstruct them into the future despite a court order citing inequities.

5) Says western Pennsylvania is poised to become the “energy capital of the world” — a bit of bravado which reminds me more than a little of “Drill Baby Drill” — although he also says he favors a “reasonable” extraction tax (though that is an issue of state law).

6) Co-sponsored the county’s LGBTQ employment and housing anti-discrimination ordinance.

7) In addition to Congressman Mike Doyle, seems to be endorsed by most if not all of the Harris majority on Pittsburgh City Council.

8) Has at least a couple dozen beautiful red-headed daughters.

Am I missing anything? Is anything at stake here besides how soon we are likely to see property reassessments, and whose political factions will see their fortunes (or their operatives’ fortunes) enriched? Is anybody on the Republican side a likely concern going forward?