Monthly Archives: June 2011

Down Goes the Civic Arena

File this one under “Missed opportunity”, not “Calamity” nor “End of the world.”

After lengthy debate, council voted 6-3 today to reject a city historic designation for the 49-year-old landmark, all but sealing its fate.

Its decision allows the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the arena’s owner, to move forward with plans to demolish the iconic structure with the retractable dome.

The SEA wants to clear the site to make way for a 28-acre residential, commercial, and office development proposed by the Penguins. The team won development rights over the land in the 2007 deal to build the new Consol Energy Center across the street from the arena. (P-G, Mark Belko)

In point of fact, demolition only “makes way” for more discussion and debate regarding redevelopment — though at this late date, far more fertile.

As nice as it would be to go back to 2006-07 and negotiate a better deal with the Penguins, history is history — and at this point in history, there is certainly something to be said for obeying the fairly impressive uniform wishes of the African-American Greater Hill District. Even though some others might believe them to be mistaken for whatever reasons, they have a solid point in that a clean slate has certain inherent virtues.

[…] Councilman Bruce Kraus voted against the designation based on the potential for restoring the street grid from the Hill to Downtown and eventually connecting Oakland to Downtown.

“I am taking a gamble here,” he said, noting he originally supported the historic designation. (ibid)

There has lately and generally been a resurgence of talk about more seriously reconnecting that which lies unconnected in the street grid — in an aspirational time-frame we assume; Crosstown Expressway be hanged. The Comet has an immense fondness towards aspirations, especially when written down and posted in everyday lines of sight.

The Wedding: Angelisa & Sinjoyla, 2010 in D.C.

The officiant: Rev. David K. North, Holy Redeemer MCC

Obama Proposes 1/2000 Trillion Dollar Manufacturing Plan

Haz manufacturing plan? When you unveil it, make sure you’re not too far off Butler Street. Otherwise you risk losing Ferlo.

In the speech, he launched his new high-tech plan with six universities in what the administration is calling the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.

The plan also features 11 manufacturing companies, including Ford Motor Co., Caterpillar Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Leading the effort will be Andrew Liveris, chairman, president and CEO of the Dow Chemical Co., and Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (P-G Early Returns, Daniel Malloy)

Assertively rebuilding our manufacturing capacity and spurring our technological sector sounds like a good strategy for America.

The only issue is, when we think about “real money” these days, we usually think of it in billions if not trillions. This knowledge was revealed to us all in having attentively watched a parade of certain bailouts, stimulus packages, weapons systems, quantitative easing, routine entitlement and occupation spending, and tax cuts.

$400 or $500 million is real money in terms of building a skyscraper — albeit a fancy one — but is it even close in terms of rebuilding an atrophied world-power economy? Hard to say. What about once we concede there is a significant public-private-and-academic partnership aspect to the plan? That itself can be a real hot potato.


Alright, I admit it. When it comes to economics, I just read Paul Krugman and believe whatever he says. He’s the only one in the game with a Nobel Prize, and whose work passes the smell test on each and every occasion. No glaring omissions, no over-reliance on maxims and quotations, no flowery puffing up. It engenders confidence, this making of his real theses so easy to apprehend.

Let’s see what he has to say right now:

But [Republicans are] willing to sacrifice that future [they say is at risk due to the deficit], not to mention risk the good faith and credit of the federal government, rather than accept so much as a single penny of tax increases as part of a deal.

Given all that, it seems almost redundant to mention that federal tax receipts as a percentage of GDP are near a historic low: (NYT Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman)

Nothing on the President’s manufacturing plan yet, but note where Krugman focuses. We agree. Forget the deficit*. Prioritize our present spending, raise revenues, and plow all those sweet proceeds into manufacturing, technology, education and infrastructure — that is, with real money. Employ the country productively, then worry about the bondholders with a sufficiently productive and competitive country.


*- And forget the curveball, Ricky.

Docs say Insurers Shouldn’t War On Providers


“We’re hearing it from our patients: ‘What happens if I can’t go to a UPMC facility? Or what if insurance won’t cover a visit to the doctor who has been seeing me for 29 years?’ (P-G, Steve Twedt)

Congratulations, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center aka UPMC. You’ve found a way to turn all the Hillarycare, Obamacare and socialized medicine ghost stories into a horrid reality.

Now to change things sensibly. How?

Remember the old Glass-Steagall Act, separating investment banks and depository banks? Maybe we need something similar to ward off malignancy in these insurer-provider combines.

Remember Act 55, the old Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act? Maybe we’ll be asking that one day, or at least rereading it and tinkering with the fine print. If the dominant players in health care are intent on conducting their business operations more like corporate sharks and racketeers than humanitarians, we might as well buy some public safety vehicles and educate some children.


ARCHIVAL: A 2007 state Senate subcommittee hearing on Act 55 was liveblogged here and here.

Monday: Josh Wander, and Other Notes

Today we note the occasion of a great honor for Pittsburgh City Council District 5 candidate Republican Josh Wander, who is opposing Democratic party nominee Corey O’Connor in the November 8th general election.

Wander has joined an illustrious line of political figures whom the Comet has interviewed, only to spend absolutely forever getting around to actually chronicling the experience online. Far too long a time. To an embarrassing degree. To the point where an interviewer might forget wide swaths of the conversation.

Fortunately for Mr. Wander, there is a strong correlation between this very situation and the incidence of multiple-part blog posts and heightened long-term interest. Even still, that also sometimes correlates to an extended “teaser” period and stylistic unpredictability.

Yet c’est la vie, for que sera, sera. If you’ll pardon the French. Sometimes an unorthodox approach is for the best.


We begin this months-long festival of cop-outs and subsequent penitence with some questions posed to Wander by the Comet author’s Twitter followers:

Wander responds:

Attracting new businesses to our district and to our entire city has to be a main priority. It is the lifeblood of our economy and realistically, this is accomplished by removing government hindrances, not adding new ones. I would suggest making our city more business friendly, and I plan on providing specific examples as my campaign progresses. Please stay tuned.


Mr. Williams references this story above. Wander responds:

I appreciate the opportunity to address this prank that I played almost a decade ago. During the height of the Second Gulf War, when we invaded Iraq and France did not support our efforts, there was a movement to rename French Fries, Freedom Fries in protest. I decided, as a practical joke to up that by creating a website called,, which supposedly advocated returning the Statue of Liberty to make a “stronger statement” to France. I never expected it to go viral, but it did and was picked up by the national news. Trust me, I was humored. As I still am at people that drudge this up to be used against me!

The Comet led off its own interview by asking, “Why are you running?” Wander immediately gravitated towards a discussion on transparency, in decision making and in policy making.

He recalled a county-wide event among municipal leaders which he attended, one from among the several associations and forums wherein our fractionalized regional governments come together to commiserate over common problems, and hopefully cooperate. He described one municipal Council member giving a stirring address on serious pension-funding problems, and how they all need to get serious together to tackle this widespread challenge.

So far, so admirable — until that official went on to emphasize, explicitly, that this must be handled behind closed doors, away from the public. And there was a strong murmur of assent in the crowd. Wander says a light went on in his head at that moment, as to a big part of the nature our civic obstacles. (For some reason, Wander is naturally suspicious of what “must” take place beyond public view.)

He then touched upon issues that sometimes go hand-in-hand with a lack of transparency, in a way that mirrored what appears prominently on his campaign’s website:

78 years of one party rule, cronyism, patronages and just plan corruption has crippled our once shining beacon of bustling business activity, has seen young growing families – the city’s future – diminishing. Our schools are closing. And frankly, the city is so broke that the State of PA had to supervise it’s financial activities and put the city in receivership under the “Financial Distressed Municipalities Act.”

We asked Wander then specifically, how if in any way does his opponent O’Connor fit into this equation. Wander pointed out that he himself filled out every candidate questionnaire he was given, whereas O’Connor took criticism during the primary campaign for neglecting to fill out many of these and “remaining silent”. Front-runner status be hanged — voters deserved to hear O’Connor’s thoughts on these issues, and that they did not was “disturbing”.

The relative silence on the abortion issue particularly rankled Wander, who goes to great lengths to describe his nuanced position. He makes no secret in his campaign literature that he is deeply religious, yet at the same time specifies that “in Catholicism, the life of the fetus is held as paramount, but in Orthodox Judaism we put the mother first” at all times. Wander is Jewish. Whatever his ruminations on the issue — and he stubbornly refuses to simplify — it satisfied Planned Parenthood enough to earn a “mixed” rating in their Voter Guide.

Wander’s avowedly strong Jewish perspective has proved a mixed bag for him in the political realm before. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he says he placed on display in a campaign office what he described as factual information about then-candidate Barack Obama’s stance on Israel. He says he was criticized bitterly by some in the neighborhood for doing this — which he attributes to some extent to an overly reactive loathing for Republicans in general.

Closed-mindedness, he calls it, and which he described here recorded in a speech at a campaign forum. To his mind this closed-mindedness to alternatives feeds into that culture of insularity which produces non-transparency (opaqueness?) and other problems.


I think on second thought we’ll leave what (for lack of better terms) we’ll call “adult entertainment” or “sexually oriented businesses” to an entirely different blog post. We owe Mr. Wander that much.

Surely the hobgoblins of meddlesome minds can wait a day or two in this process, before we begin seductively peeling away layers of prejudice, assumption and political aspersion — until we fully reveal the breasts of empirical understanding and finally the areolae of truth. After all there’s no profit in giving it away all at once!

Sustainabiwity from a State Alphabet-Soup Money Commission

This is what’s up with the funders of Allegheny County’s and all of SW PA’s transportation master planning:

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission added sustainability practices to its update of the region’s long-range transportation and economic development plan for the first time five years ago.

Friday, at one of the many public input sessions the commission has held in recent weeks, transportation planners emphasized the need for municipalities to plan accordingly for the 2040 plan, an update of its 2035 plan. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

They say best laid plans of mice and men gang aft’ agley or else never get implemented, but all the same:

What I want to share here is the passion for this stuff that SPC transportation planner Tom Klavon shared with us when he talked about their session yesterday in Wilkinsburg.

There they did a walking tour and applied their TOD formulas to determine where Wilkinsburg is vis a vis successful transit-centered development.

He said something that made my ears go pointy: That a presentation by Mark Minnerly of the Mosites Co. — the guys who brought us Eastside in East Liberty — made him feel that Wilkinsburg today is where East Liberty was 15 years ago. (City Walkabout, Diana Nelson Jones)

Get it, girl! Great blog post.

The Artist: Rebecca Black

The record label: ARK Music Factory.

Secondary Effects: Real. Important.

The initial round of news stories regarding Councilwoman Smith’s initiative to regulate the city’s adult entertainment industry isn’t at all awful, especially considering the complex narrative and the legal trade-offs involved in the proposal.

What is being overlooked thus far — and maybe this is partially our fault — is any meaningful consideration of the “secondary effects” which accompany poorly regulated or unregulated sexually oriented businesses. So here are some resources.

Secondary Effects Research
is run by a group of university social scientists and criminologists. There is more than a tiny bit to read, but basically you will find one theme: we are contending with statistically significant increases in certain kinds of crime, and decreases in property values. Another good resource has been compiled by the Community Defense Council.

Why should such a correlation exist? Adult businesses, so the theory goes, attract patrons from a very wide area, predominantly male, prone to vice overtures, with lots of money in their pockets, who are frequently ill-inclined to report crime incidents for fear of embarrassment of some kind. Ideal targets, basically. Now add to this the social effects of promoting the type of business which promotes lap dances or couch dances, from subcontracted and off-book employees, behind closed doors, in the dark, where anything else might be provided or traded. Basically you are assembling all the ingredients for a regional crime node.

Unfortunately, especially in the cases of some smaller and independent strip clubs, that can make up a big part of the attraction of going into business in the first place.

Residents have objected to this on these grounds for some time. What we are discovering, going back into the Council archives, is that people have rarely gone into Chambers bewailing sin and corruption. Quite the contrary, they have been leery of attracting a “bad element,” and making it that much harder to rehabilitate their business corridors and attract homeowners. It has always been a micro-scale chamber of commerce issue.

Here is one easy to read, peer-reviewed study from Garden Grove to get you all started; here is another, on a slightly different subject matter, from Minneapolis (language on page 14 quite NSFW).

What we can already say about Pittsburgh based on an analysis of five years of local crime data is that we are seeing significantly higher incidences of:

  • Burglary
  • Larceny
  • Robbery
  • Vandalism
  • Vehicle Theft

…across the board in the areas surrounding our local adult cabarets, which corresponds perfectly with secondary effects theory.

I hope this long exposition is not presently robbing some reporter out there of enthusiasm for writing about this, as is sometimes known to happen. That would be a shame, because concern over the secondary effects surrounding sexually oriented businesses isn’t just an important part of this story. It’s the entire story.

Thursday: Items Typed Quickly

ZOMG, parking rates are going up! Why didn’t we figure out a way to get the money for nothing? Or cut a mere billion dollars out of our extravagant city budget? It’s pretty ridiculous. (P-G, Ashe, Butterfield & Feldman)

We could always go back to the tuition tax if you’d prefer.

Lost in the noise surrounding Councilman Burgess’s request of state government to please invade the City of Pittsburgh with siege weaponry and biological agents, was his request for “immediate mandatory enrollment in PMRS to be completed by March 31, 2012.” This comes on the heals of Auditor General Jack Wagner saying such a thing might not be a bad idea. Guaranteed 6% investment returns — regardless of any bad managerial decisions (which demonstrably have been occurring less often at PMRS than at CMPTF) and even regardless of a dreadful overall stock market — does not seem like a bad idea. Would it? It might help us avoid raising rates / fees/ taxes again sometime down the road. Isn’t relinquishing parochial institutional control in exchange for long-term financial advantage some species of a progressive value?

Here is an argument that is happening for some reason. (WDUQ News)

The Penguins believe it to be uncouth to mention how much public assistance they are receiving, in light of the fact that they are spending a portion of it. Maybe someone in the 4th Estate can do some math if there is some dispute, or a world record to report to Guinness. (Trib, Bill Vidonic)

Question about the Civic Arena: everybody says, “You realize, even if they designate it a historic structure, they can still tear it down.” So what are we arguing about? (P-G, Mark Belko)

Like the changes or not, somebody is going to have to edit the portions of pledge drives which emphasize of “your!!! station for” whatever. (P-G, Edit Board)

One of these days, all our old friends are going to come back to town for weddings and class reunions, and ask us, “Why does the City look like chincy trash all of a sudden?” all whilst zero foreign investors exclaim, “WOW! Flashing lights! Economic vitality! Is this Coruscant or Pittsburgh?” But these signs will not be permitted to be so bright they’ll literally blind us, and will only be permitted to change every 7.5 seconds, preventing seizure — and religious and community groups greatly desire to see their name in lights owing to the Nietzschean will to power. So this is the way it’s gonna be. (P-G, Sam Butterfield)