Author Archives: Bram Reichbaum

Monday: Grief and Resolve from Squirrel Hill

Squirrel Hill is in mourning for its slain and cherishing their memories, grieving for their families and for those who held them dear. We are worried for the injured, grateful for our heroes, and caring as best we can for all those who are left bereft, sorrowful, fearful, shaken and disturbed.

We are heartened by the special outpouring of national and international sympathies, after this Saturday morning’s act of hate and terror.

Some youths who attend Taylor Allderdice High School organized and led a vigil for the as-yet unnamed dead on the evening of the horror — which was good, because too many of the neighborhood elders would have been too intimately impacted and involved to organize an appropriate public service that quickly. (Another vigil and more fulsome community responses were in the works at the Sunday hour of this writing, and more will follow.)

After a prayer, some words, a song or two and a moment of silence, a bold young female voice declared from the speakers, “We are still Squirrel Hill.”

This earned the night’s only applause, which was sustained, and built, until it was replaced by hushed, low chanting: “Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote.

Because after all, ours is a proudly diverse community, and this was a political terror.

This is no question of policy — of gun control and safety, or mental illness and prevention. It’s not even a question of whether or not the deadly violence ought to be politicized. The shooter was politicized, and not only through racist prejudice. He was radicalized.

We American Jews tend to have a soft spot for refugees, migrants and other minorities, having a strong ethnic identity steeped in both Biblical oppression and diaspora, and more modern mass persecution and migrancy. That liberal solidarity frustrates White ethno-nationalists, who want to live in a nation wholly expressive of their own cultures — asleep to how even their most relatively meager securities are furnished by a legacy of ethnicized plunder and exploitation. Their strength lies only in their own numbers, and wounded pride.

Jews also enjoy the privilege of a heritage strong in both education and migrant industriousness. As Jews thrive, our habit of moralizing conscientiousness with respect to rights indeed helps keep us safe — and, it is whispered, protects our self-interested schemes. So sometimes, if your Jewish bill collector is annoying you, it might temporarily feel like it is because they’re of the same tribe of people that made up the Holocaust and invented the bomb to win Israel, and now control Hollywood and the media. But of course that’s all nonsense. The Holocaust did happen, people are individuals, business is business, artists tell stories of justice, our major organs of journalism try to report the truth, and life is complicated. The random murder of innocents is senseless, and as vile as murder on an industrial scale. I’m not fond of when today’s “antifa” movement encourages answering White supremacist speech with physical roughness, but so far they’re not opening fire, and at least they’re on the side of life! Refugees and migrants responding to suffering and pressure deserve at least an honest process and compassion, because that’s human rights and humanity.

To argue that those suffering mental illness might latch onto any vengeful excuse for wreaking violent mayhem, requires demanding leaders therefore discourage all pernicious, deeply etched narratives justifying ethnic and group loathing, especially when these are aroused and becoming heated. Migration pressures may test our political equilibrium and national security, but these must be managed with dispassion and sensitivity, not fired and stoked for cheap political points.

And to think it highly probable the gruesome massacre in my hometown or many others are all elaborate “false flag” operations is a malady — either of wits, political defensiveness, or complicity in too many false-flag stunts.

Paranoid anti-Semitism gets tied up in undermining Black and Brown success by rendering their pain and politics as no more than a theater of the ignorant, manipulated by Jewish puppet masters. Then the same scapegoaters turn around and raid the public treasury by warning that high taxes are just redistributive welfare for lazy colored people.

All that racist resentment brews in Trump’s coalition alongside angry reaction against womens’ liberation and they way women choose to wield their power, against Hispanics to the point of deceptively separating migrant children from their families, and against anyone with any perceived weakness he might exploit to demonstrate his own power to dominate.

We know this to be fascism. Trump’s right-wing populist bluster employs enough of the fascist playbook to strike the chords which stir fervor in souls to align with strength for strength’s sake, ethnic majority, masculine aggression, identification with the state, idealization of its past, the scapegoating of minorities, foreigners and the mentally ill, and a cocky, bullying disregard for the weak and any need to speak truth.

The lure of fascist rhetoric is not unique to our circumstance, merely unusual. It seems endemic to the human psyche. Democracies are proven breeding grounds. Since the matter is pregnant, we might pause for a moment to consider how to counter it. I don’t know much about fascism outside of what’s available on YouTube, but one might begin by trying to envision its “opposite”. What sort of person would subvert fascism on the most levels?

Willing to break with traditions.

Enthusiastic for human rights.

Celebrates others as whole human beings, without regard to political prejudices, confident in ultimate victory over darkness and disharmony.

Exalts our diversity, grounding our cohesion in the bewildering array of our journeys and struggles, all with hardship and humiliation.

Teaches how hatred rises from trauma, and trauma is cyclic.

Embraces idealism, and seeks to alleviate the sting of depravities unique to the modern manmade world.

Loves peace, and so tamps down rash fears of criminality and elite conspiracy

Recognizes the military’s capacity to consume treasure and blood in the name of our interests, enmeshing us in conflict.

Feels the corruptive tethers of personal enrichment and political patronage, and gladly seeks to act free from them.

Supports the poor and the working classes, to provide real economic security.

Reveres the feminized roles and virtues, is committed to equality and autonomy for women and for womens’ general advancement, and so is relaxed and reserved in masculine expression.

Highlights that which is admirable in those who are weak, marginalized, ill and unfortunate, and invites suffering and toil so that others may have life.

Values artistic and media freedoms, intellectual criticism and debate, and is openly self-reflective.

Honors truth and evangelizes important truths, with clarity and fair language.

Wields power gravely, with care for the outcomes.

Protects a broad voting franchise and the faith we keep in elections, and promotes sound democratic reforms.

Reveres our Providential journey, and regards the world’s spiritual movements with equanimity.

That still leaves plenty up for debate. I for one am liable to mansplain my feminism to some women, for example; the devils are in details, and life is an aggregation problem. How best to apply such lofty principles in real time? But the point is to seriously envision, pursue, elevate and reward such instincts, and thereby beat back this existential, eerily karmic threat. If you don’t like those in particular, I’m not surprised; they’re sloppily drawn, and I relied on a rigid and arbitrary method. But meditate on the idea of a life-affirming, omni-nurturing, vulnerability-transcending Antifascist Archetype during the interlude.

Yet the eruption of far right-wing fascism is not even the root cause of our disquiet. There is a surreality to this era that extends back before our self-promoting playboy billionaire president, and has been building.

Farcical cruelty and humiliation visited on too many Americans has been tugging on our hems with mounting urgency, making us susceptible to division and cynicism. Our core dissatisfaction and alienation runs as deep as the contradictions upon which our union was founded. Now the pressure is grown fearsomely critical, as even the environment lurches.

The risks to Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood and many like it are beyond the aid of autonomous vehicles and smart street lights, or any other type of innovation and economic development. We will need to assign value to humanity, and account for it.

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Foundations + Machine = Winning?

By my spirit animal, as told by Rawrist.

 

Comet Presumes: Council District 4 = Coghill

He will still have to face off against a Republican in the fall: Cletus Cibrone-Abate. But welcome to the mix, Tony! Let’s see what you bring.

Comet Projects: Mayor = Peduto. 4 More Years Unlocked.

Comet endorses Bill Peduto again, hopes for the best!

Bill Peduto is actually a pretty good mayor, as mayors go. If you don’t believe what I have to say below, google it, or google the things I’m writing about. Because I’m not providing links. Either you’ll know it already, or you’ll find out.

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Even though B-Piddy’s first term as mayor of Pittsburgh was awful hit-or-miss and herky-jerky (and he might be losing his majority on City Council) he is still worth going out and voting for today because he applies himself diligently to statecraft, is open to reason, has a lot of compassionate instincts, a lot of experience, plenty of know-how, is generally accessible, and has kept his administration free from any rank incompetence or sordid scandal, though not mistake and error.

That profile alone is a lot better than the Universe often likes to serve up, in terms of major executive officers.

Usually at this point, somebody objects: “What a low bar you’ve set, for our public officials!”

But is it really? Let us take a moment. No, really. Think about it.

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Is Peduto a neoliberal? Well, he is being dragged in that direction. There is this thing called capitalism, which is presently in command of the means of production.

Some people ask me, “Bram, are you a Democratic Socialist?” I like to tell them, “Yeah, I’m a democratic socialist, but I’m a democratic socialist who gets things done.”

If I don’t vote for Bill Peduto today, that means I’m either voting for John Welch or I’m staying home. And if too many of people do either of those things (in this very sleepy municipal primary) then we wind up with Mayor Darlene Harris.

Now, Mayor Darlene Harris would be an interesting ride. There are fewer flies on her than many seem to realize. But her entire platform and constituency consist in hostile, specious reaction to progressive reform:  from campaign finance, to affordable housing, to reproductive freedom and many vendettas in between. I say “specious” because if she’s not any longer complaining about the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections, then she was probably crying “wolf” the whole time. So now when she says we need a “federal investigation” of the Water Authority, we can see another reckless overreach. What’s been going on over at PWSA over the last 3 1/2 years hasn’t been criminal, it’s just uncivil and unfortunate.

Rev. Welch is calling for a State of Emergency. Now that’s interesting.

Before we drown in our water woes, it’s time to acknowledge John Welch, who hammered away on matters of real urgency: our drinking water, livability for the poor, and corporate accountability. That urgency was as informed as it was disciplined and dignified.

Yet Welch seemed to have a such small campaign operation, for a big city like this. He was no doubt hampered by his inexperience as a political candidate, not to mention the incumbency advantage, and a field split unfavorably against him. If John Welch makes a mark on this election, it will likely be as a spoiler.

And I don’t want things spoiled. There’s a reason Peduto drew only small opposition over what not long ago was a highly sought-after office. Peduto appears politically and competently in charge; many people feel like they can work constructively with him, and it not end in embarrassment or outrage. That’s not always on the menu.

The Pittsburgh Comet endorses a second term for Bill Peduto. Go vote for it. Better that way, than backwards and uncertain. Let’s count our blessings.

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And yet…

Though Mayor Peduto has retained the public’s confidence, and some still cherish high hopes, he has frittered away a lot of the enthusiasm that leads to real political capital, the kind you can exert while governing. The Water Authority after all is only just now entering the “task force” phase. Note also how the Land Bank and affordable housing are taking conspicuously forever, and wonder what that means for PWSA. Nor does any “deal with the nonprofits” show any real signs of being around the corner. Meanwhile, if you’re on the supply side of things, you’re probably noting that progress in the Lower Hill and at the Produce Terminal seems very, very, very tentative at best. Add to this stew how the tenants at Penn Plaza were chased out yet the Whole Foods fell through, and you can see how nobody’s really thrilled. Maybe Nova Place is catching fire, but it sounds quiet. Even Almono is at a snail’s pace; the Oakland Transit Connector sure as heck didn’t happen; if anything that whole Smart Cities Challenge diversion generated more dissonance with Uber than anything. If he spent half as much time in the Run pitching the OTC as he did at the conferences with “innovators,” there would actually be those podraces in Schenley Park. It’s getting a little trite to ask, but is Peduto fundamentally a good “negotiator?” Let’s say the jury is out. He doesn’t always have great negotiating instincts. There had to have been a better way to engage the School Board in their superintendent search, than find himself so thoroughly alienated. He ought to realize that leadership in regards to our water infrastructure is going on MSNBC and talking about how bad these 5,000 cities have it, not going on the City Channel or Twitter to downplay it so defensively. There was no reason to put Chief McLay in such an uncomfortable position at the Democratic Convention and in front of OMI that we had to lose him so soon. There was no reason to sacrifice his defenders’ ability to argue for his integrity, by having his redevelopment chief exploit this one weird trick to hit up developers for bonus stacks of campaign cash.

You may take such impatience and dissatisfaction for so much whinging backseat driving, but it all adds up. While it is voguish to deride political idealism, rebellions are built on hope. I wonder what happens today in District 4 between Tony Coghill and Ashleigh Deemer. Is Peduto’s brand of progressivism still seen as vital and worth fighting for? Or after 3 years of seeing it in practice, are people more in the mood to give the technocratic idealists a break, and instead try something old? Who even becomes Council President if Coghill wins? I’m having trouble counting to five for Bruce Kraus, and that’s trouble for Peduto’s coalition. Without Rudiak to kick around anymore, Peduto allies like Kraus, Gilman and Gross, the so-called “progressives,” might find themselves on the outside looking in. And how would Peduto adapt to that? There’s a very real possibility that the great progressive reform wave in City Hall that began in 2007 might have already reached its high water mark. We’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, I want to see how Peduto finishes this…

… so if you’re still making up your mind, do consider making certain he gets the chance.

Bus Rapid Transit: Four Years Later, Does It Look More Tempting?

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When Bill Peduto was elected mayor, one of the first things he proposed together with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was a new “Bus Rapid Transit” or BRT corridor through Uptown, to be completed hopefully within 3 to 4 years.

3-4 years later, and they are literally back to the drawing board, trying to earn that project’s first green light.

The Post-Gazette in particular seems to like the idea. We mean, really, really like it, in the coordinated promotional “news” article sort of way.

Little wonder: Continue reading

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Flood Rescue on the Scene: Preliminary “Green First” Plan Unveiled

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-2-51-00-pm“Anywhere we have the word ‘Run’, we have floods.”

That’s how Mayor Bill Peduto described the problem to City Council today, at a special meeting on flooding called by Councilor Darlene Harris. Peduto came prepared with a preliminary “green first” stormwater plan and the backing of about eight Departmental officials.

By the end of this year, they intend to finalize a plan that will both “keep water from ever being able to get into the system, and make our rivers cleaner.”

The plan consists of engineering in seven primary “action areas” including Negley Run, Four Mile Run, Sawmill Run and Streets Run for increased green infrastructure: restoring streams and lakes, wetlands, rain gardens and bioswales, Continue reading

City Council Weird, Tense and Tentative over Affordable Housing as Activists Rage

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-3-13-58-pmThe public got to speak at city hall on Wednesday evening, before the cameras, to tell City Council what they thought of the proposed “Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund”.

It would be a $10 million annual kitty, managed by the City, and structured to make investments furthering the cause of affordable housing for low-income people.

The overwhelming majority of the 100 or so speakers were wholly for it, and passionately — aside from a few real estate agents.

“Why is the city subsidizing market-rate housing?”

“I’m witnessing the 4th re-gentrification of the Lower Hill.”

“They’re being pushed to neighborhoods with less food, less transit…”

“Pittsburgh’s population is now less than it was in 2010.”

“Pittsburgh was cute before all the plastic surgery — now, it’s getting ugly.”

Continue reading