Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cool Summer = Less Murders

There has long been a supposed correlation between hot summer weather and violence. In the summer, kids are out of school and restless. The hot weather exacerbates that. This summer the weather was cooler, and the murder rate has dropped significantly. The city is on track for a 40% decrease in the murder rate this year over last. 3/4 of the way through the year, we have 34 homicides as opposed to a total of 72 last year. Boston has also seen the effects of bad weather with a drop in shootings.

This is great news for an incumbent in an election year even as the Post-Gazette is publishing that Ravenstahl's administration let the ball drop on a sweeping crime-reduction plan. I wrote about the PIRC plan last year when it was announced. I had high hopes that the violence in my nearby neighborhoods would be reduced.

"Press conference, photo-op, no follow-through," said Mr. [Franco Dok] Harris. "We talk a lot, and we don't seem to do much."

Let's make PIRC (Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime) more than a photo-op for the mayor.
This good news will be a short reprieve if Climate Change experts are right. In the long-term, Pittsburgh is expected to have colder winters and hotter summers, which means we better deal with the potential for violence now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Life in a SurvivaBall

Walking downtown yesterday morning, my first thought was: "it's amazing how easy it is to completely shut down a city." Congratulations to the security planners for such a thorough job. Now, please never do it again. It's unnatural walking around downtown Pittsburgh at noontime while the streets are speckled with walkers and way more bikes than cars. Police outnumber ordinary citizens. But at least we know how Pittsburgh will look in the Apocalypse after we run out of oil. Maybe that's the best protest demonstration pulled off?

So far, most of the protesters heeded the call to stay away from the center of the action, displaying their banners and masks far from the center of the action - permitted or not. 500 people in Lawrenceville insisted on protesting without a permit and ended up being dispersed by tear gas. There are just a few pockets of peaceful protest occurring downtown.

My favorite protest so far?
SurvivaBall guys. Their "gated community for one" is intended to mock selfish methods of dealing with Climate Change and oil shortages, calling out Exxon and Halliburton. They walk around in their big expensive bubbles making fools of themselves. What better way to protest than by making people laugh?

A close second?
The Steelers heads of state battling against poverty.

One day down, and some say the worst is behind us in terms of protests. The self-proclaimed anarchists got out of hand yesterday. 66 folks were arrested. Many windows were broken. But insurance claims will cover the damages at PNC bank and Boston Market. At Pamela's diner, supposedly protesters returned with money to cover the damages. Before you get too critical of the protesters, remember the damage results from the Super Bowl. The damage wrecked on the city to draw attention to the fact that we won a football game. As opposed to damage which draws attention to issues like Climate Change and the situation in Darfur.

And maybe if we as Pittsburgh'ers spend 2 days thinking about these issues and learning the names of our world's leaders instead of the Steelers, then maybe we'll learn something from the G20. If the G20 was anywhere else, how much would we care whether the US, UK and France were taking a stand against Iran? Or whether the developed countries are considering stopping subsidies for fossil fuels in developed countries or Tibet's or Ethiopia's status?

It's quiet out there downtown. Maybe it's a good day to stop and talk to some of those protesters and learn about their causes. And if all else fails, save up your money and buy a SurvivaBall for the next Apocalypse.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Transparency in Lobbying

Who says that we don't have transparency in government?

In Pennsylvania, once again, it's shown to be all too clear who controls the purse-strings of the state. The corporations. It's only fitting that the G20 will be based in Pittsburgh this week.

Latest moronic poor budget patch?

Adding sales tax to your ballet, opera, musical, play, zoo, and museum tickets.
At first glance, this doesn't seem so bad. Then, you realize who the state is leaving in exempt status - movie theaters and sporting events.

So our Pennsylvania tax dollars are subsidizing AMC Loews Theaters and Regal Entertainment Group - companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Our tax dollars are subsidizing the Heinz family and the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Flyers (yet again). Yet the state house wants to take away this subsidy for the City Theater, for Bricolage, for Quantum Theater, for the Carnegie Museums, for the Pittsburgh Zoo, for all these arts companies barely staying afloat and enriching our lives in un-measurable ways. Ridiculous.

Perhaps next, we'll have a fee on withdrawing library books? And exempt the sales tax for Barnes and Noble?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Registering for the Pittsburgh Party

Welcome to the Democratic governor's race, Mr. Hoeffel.

I'm currently registered to vote as an Independent. I'm not a huge fan of either the Republican or Democratic parties, though I do have a tendency to vote Democrat.

The longer I live in Pittsburgh, the more politically handicapped I feel by not being registered as a Democrat. I happened to be out of the country when Hillary and Barack were competing in the National Democratic primary. Similarly, I skipped town when the recent Pittsburgh Democratic mayoral primary took place. But I figure I may actually be in town one of these years for the Democratic primary. Especially if there's a decent Democrat running against Dan Onorato.

Anyone out there not registered as a Democrat? Are there any drawbacks to registering as a Democrat? Any reason I shouldn't fill out this form?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cool Off

The G20 is 2 days.

It will be crazy, and it will suck if you need to go downtown for those 2 days, but it is only 2 days.

Our kids will not become total college rejects because they miss school for 2 days. If you're boss is making you take mandatory 2 days of vacation during the summit, you probably already knew it was time to look for a new job.

Heck. When we won the Super Bowl, there were 2 effective days off - the Monday after the game and parade day. Do I have to mention that 350,000 folks slammed downtown to celebrate the Steeler's winning for a weekday parade? And we're only expecting around 50,000 protesters.

To those that say they regret the G20 being hosted in Pittsburgh, that's only natural. Grooms always have a moment of regret the week before they take the plunge. Olympic host cities have times when they regret the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on new stadiums that will never be full again. But ultimately, it is a privilege. The spotlight focuses on our fair city for a bit, and then it's over.

After all is said and done, we can compare windows smashed and couches burned to the post Super Bowl celebrations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I will stay if...

There's a party in Pittsburgh this week, and it aims to find out what people actually want out of Pittsburgh (and why they're here in the first place.) This is a refreshing take over the we-need-to-attract-lots-of-young-people college-brain-drain nonsense.

In honor of the party:
I will stay if...
Pittsburgh continues to have great random parties.
Pittsburgh gets a hostel.
Pittsburgh schools keep improving.
Pittsburgh becomes a bike-friendly city.

Ultimately, I think Pittsburgh is on a positive course. Lots of mistakes could derail it, including not fixing the pension crisis and giving up on any of the great progress started from biking to schools to green building.

For more details, see here, here, and here.

So why do you stay in Pittsburgh? (Or what could make you move to the city?)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2 Steps to Sanitizing the South Side

Perhaps as fallout from the upcoming G20, there is some renewed interest in sanitizing the South Side.

2 Cleanliness Culprits in the South Side

1. Public Urination. From what I hear of friends that live on the South Side, this is a pervasive problem. Many solutions have been tried in the past - a mostly vacant port-a-potty sitting over at 18th Street being the most salient reminder. Ideas have been thrown out of giving bar-owners subsidies for opening their bathrooms to the public. Councilor Bruce Kraus wants to take the direct approach. Fine the guys $500. If that's enforced, it might actually work. Of course, we'll also have Kraus to blame if there's a sharp rise in Urinary Tract Infections amongst college-aged men in Pittsburgh. Final vote is on Tuesday.

2. Dangerous Building Conditions. City building inspectors ordered the artist colony known as the Brew House (the former Duquesne Brewery at 21st Street and Mary Street) to vacate the unfit premises by September 19. As it turns out open wiring and lots of flammable materials (also known as art) make for a dangerous combination. Personally, I'd recommend they start with the state of college apartment rentals. The folks at the Brew House are choosing to be there. The college students are clearly morons who will end up pissing on their open wiring when they're kicked off the streets, causing a much more volatile situation. As for the Brew House residents and their building, I wouldn't be surprised if they end up in Garfield, and the lovely building gets turned into condos.

For the South Side, these changes are inevitable. They are the "living room" and ATM of the city. When houses cost over $300,000, you have to expect anger and indignation when someone pisses on your lawn or smelly artists move in next door. Happily, Pittsburgh still has the pleasure of containing many other pre-gentrified neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and Polish Hill. And when those are cleaned up, we'll still have plenty of more neighborhoods to follow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Recent Signs of Union Death

Is Union approval becoming the kiss of death in Pittsburgh and beyond?

Currently, city police, fire, and municipal unions are opposing Harrisburg pension legislation. They are clearly the most affected by any changes in the management of the system. I think we're choosing between a rock (Pittsburgh) and a hard place (Harrisburg). Yet the powers-that-be in Harrisburg (minus Senator Orie) are all in favor of pushing Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and any other problematic pension system towards the hard place as quickly as possible. For a more in-depth look at the city's pension problems, check out nullspace writer Chris Briem's iPension.

On Labor Day, Biden led a union rally in favor of Arlen Specter. Elsewhere, President Obama was giving a speech at a union party in Cincinnati, rallying the union in support of health care reform. The union members cheered for Obama and Biden both. But what are the odds of Specter or Health Insurance reform will pass the vote? All I'm saying is I wouldn't necessarily want to win union favor in the upcoming mayoral election.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Free Antibiotics

Giant Eagle has announced that it will be offering free antibiotics this Fall.

Which is a great slap in the face for anyone without health insurance.*

Why? Because you need a prescription to get your free serving of antibiotics. Getting a prescription costs a doctor's appointment which is way more than the previous cheap cost of $4 per generic antibiotic.

But I can just hear the anti-health-care propagandists now: "Why are people complaining about the cost of health care??? You can get free prescriptions! Down with socialist ideals!"

Giant Eagle's ploy is about giving folks a $4 coupon to shop in their store. It does not make antibiotics more accessible to those without health insurance. (Of course, I doubt whether they should be too accessible given the wide range of microorganisms developing resistance to antibiotics.) It makes good business sense, but it does not make health care more accessible for most of us.

*Note: I do have health insurance. I'm not one of "those people" dragging down our society by not having health insurance I can't afford.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

News Briefs Besides the G20

Hard to see through all the "news" about the G20 to what's actually going on around here.

So, what is going on around here?
  • 2 Violent robberies in the South Side on Sunday. Does this have anything to do with moving the police station up the hill? I sure hope not. But while I don't want to get robbed on the South Side walking back from the bar, in some ways, I'd rather there were robberies down on the South Side or over in Squirrel Hill instead of Garfield and Allentown. Maybe then the people that donate to political campaigns will insist on making all public safety a priority in this city.

  • "Still no state budget, Rendell talks taxes" [and pension takeovers]. Unlike the Mayor, I'm very torn on this issue. I think that Pittsburgh has clearly gotten itself in a pickle with pensions, but I don't trust the state to do any better. After all, we've been in Act 47 for over 5 years and we're worse than when we started in terms of pensions. As I see it, that's akin to putting someone in jail, telling them when to eat, sleep, and shit, then complaining about the results. How about the state takes off the handcuffs and gives Pittsburgh a chance to start again?

  • Faith trumps bureaucracy. Yet again, faith-based groups are showing that through hard work and determination, they can clean up neighborhoods and keep folks out of jail. Just imagine if they could strengthen their numbers by involving all the protesters from Planned Parenthood.

  • Pittsburgh Public Schools are solidly in the running for a big chunk of change from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Throwing more money at a problem never hurt, right? And they went through some pretty intensive hoops to get this money, so maybe it'll produce better teachers and improve college-readiness of Pittsburgh students as intended. If not, at least we'll all feel better knowing our latest Windows upgrade went to a good cause.