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    • Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 15, 2019
      Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 15, 2019 by Tony Wikrent Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus Strategic Political Economy The Economy of Evil [Historicly, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19] Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister in October 1922. Nazis rose to power in 1933 in Germany. Mussolini convened a meetin […]
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WTF does he mean??

Trump is having another covfefe moment. This time, he is planning a “Pittsburgh, not Paris” rally to celebrate getting out of the global climate accord. 

Really??

I don’t even know what that means. Clinton won Allegheny County by 14000 more votes in 2016 than Obama won it in 2012. Pittsburgh is NOT Trump Country. The collective IQ here is still pretty high. Most of us are literate. We don’t even need secret hand signals to identify ourselves. We can easily avoid the raving fanboys and sTrumpets who bore us to death from their portable tables in the mall.

The Trump supporters here are outnumbered. They just haven’t come to accept it and understand that we consider  their willful ignorance tedious.

Or does he mean that Pittsburgh circa 1960 will become the new model with all the pollution from the coal generated smoke and sandblasting that turned our air into a dirty chunky mess? Like this?  

Well, this is what happens when you never actually get out of your vehicle on the way to your pre-election rallies. The steel mills are mostly gone and Pittsburgh is a robotics and IT center these days with a well educated urban population. Oh sure, there are Trump people here who can’t be reasoned with but like I said, they are outnumbered. 

Pittsburgh belongs to the rest of us. Don’t drag our beautiful, clean city into your stupid fight with the rest of the planet, Donald. 

My Favorite Things

My favorite obsession: ballet

My favorite city: Pittsburgh

My favorite composer- DeBussey

 

Ok, you have to admit that was nice.

Now, what’s going on in politics? Got any thots?

Weird conversation

CoWorker 1: When’s your last day?

Me: Sunday, I start my new job on Monday.

CoWorker 1: Where are you going?

Me: To blahdiblah Co. It’s the downtown office.

CoWorker 2: Oh, I wouldn’t want to work down there.

Me: Why not?

CoWorker 2: I hate driving downtown.

Me: (laughing) I’m not going to drive. I’m taking the bus.

CoWorker 2: Why are you going to take the bus?  I would never take the bus.

Me: I don’t want to drive, I don’t like to sit in traffic. I can read when I’m on the bus. I don’t have to pay for parking. I love the bus.

CoWorker 2: {{blank look}} I would never take the bus.

Me: Why? You said you don’t want to drive downtown.

CoWorker 2: {{long pause}}  I like driving my own car.

Ok, this is stupid. I have talked to a lot of people in Pittsburgh who think the bus is a lowlife conveyance device. My experience is that a lot of younger educated people don’t want to drive. It’s expensive, it’s inconvenient, it’s time consuming. So, they are moving to more urban neighborhoods and riding their bikes and taking the buses. When I worked in Oakland, the buses were full of regular people who got off at the Whole Foods stop and read on their iPhones during the trip.

It is the older boomers who have this really negative attitude towards mass transit. They can’t figure out why a person would rather commute to work via a bus. It’s easy. You drive your car to the busway, park the car in FREE PARKING, get on the bus to your destination. Think of it like a shuttle. It extends the life of your car. You will avoid accidents. You will avoid parking fees. The busway makes it easy to drive your car to the store on the way home after you get off the bus.

Duh.

I don’t know who is propagating all the negative mass transit propaganda around here (because I don’t watch the local news) but this is silly.  The bus system is one of the best things about Pittsburgh but someone has average older people convinced that its sole purpose is to import the ghetto to their neighborhoods. That kind of attitude is disgusting and deprives the rest of us of cheap, efficient transportation.

Whineter, and other stuff

Make it stooooop!

************************

In other news, from another parallel universe, Bill O’Reilly, international man of danger, lies about yet another story he “covered”, this one on the post Rodney King riots in LA. Apparently, he was so obnoxiously abusive and narcissistic that he provoked someone into throwing something at him. I know the feeling.

Oh, wait, that was yesterday’s lie. Today’s lie is about how he covered The Troubles in Ireland and went mano a mano with Irish terrorists.

(All the church ladies swoon)

Anyway, Jay Rosen says that Bill O’Reilly is really performance artist, not journalist. That’s what Fox News hired him for. That makes sense. Certain kinds of confrontational art is supposed to provoke a response in the viewer. Think Piss Christ. O’Reilly just aims his spray at anyone who isn’t laughably pious and deliberately ignorant.

Here’s Rosen’s take on O’Reilly and why Fox isn’t likely to hold him accountable.

Ahem, I live in Pittsburgh…

Afternoon rush hour on the East Busway at Wilkinsburg Station

Afternoon rush hour on the East Busway at Wilkinsburg Station

and I take the bus to work.

Granted, I only go partway to downtown, stopping at Oakland.  But I can’t say enough good things about the East Busway, where a constant, steady stream of buses and free parking, make it a breeze to ditch the car and take public transportation.

I’m not sure I’m totally onboard with the decision to eliminate the buses in downtown Pittsburgh just because there are too many people waiting for the buses.   That sounds like the dumbest excuse from a government official since the Republicans shut the government down for some unspecified gain they haven’t even dreamed of yet.  I mean, really, there are too many people waiting for the buses so let’s cut back on the buses and the crowds on the sidewalks will disappear?  No one will go downtown anymore because it will be impossible  to get there.  I don’t see any plans to expand the Parkway right over the river, because that’s what it would take to accommodate the increased car volume.

There are potentially good reasons for curtailing the buses downtown, but none are exceptionally convincing to me.  After all, my grandfather was a PAT bus driver for many decades and the buses downtown never struck me as the primary reason there were issues with traffic or crowds.

What I see as the traffic problem downtown is not the buses but the absolutely ridiculous amount of traffic trying to get across the Fort Pitt Bridge from either direction.  Basically, too many people are taking their cars downtown.  It’s not the buses that are causing the traffic jams.  After all, most of them are taking the Busways to get to downtown so they’re not the things cluttering up the Parkway, causing us hours to get from Monroeville to Ikea.

And while it’s true that Pittsburgh is very walkable, and because the city comes to a point, literally, nothing is very far away from anything, Pittsburgh does have possibly the most uncomfortable winter weather ever.  It’s damp, it’s slushy, it’s “slippy”.  You don’t want to go out of your house much less out of your car because the chill goes straight to the bone marrow like a thousand needles.  So, if the “presumptive mayor” wants to make life bearable for commuters who will now be forced to walk extra distances to work, he might want to take a cue from the Universities and medical centers in Oakland and employ a s^&*load of free shuttles.  They’re smaller and more nimble.

By the way, the universities pay quite a bit to PAT for the use of the buses for their employees.  If you have a university employee ID (Pitt, CMU, Carlow, Duquesne, UPMC), you can ride the buses for free.  That saves employees a ton of money in parking and gas.  And traffic in Oakland is actually kind of bearable, because there are dedicated bus lanes.   I’d call that a success.  Once you get to Oakland, your ID will get you almost to your workplace front door with plenty of shuttles and Pitt buses. There’s even a shuttle for the biotech corridor along the river. You don’t have to walk but walking in Oakland is pleasant and if you work in the medical center area, a daily workout up Cardiac Hill.  You can even track your shuttle on your mobile device.

So, maybe this plan is the “presumptive mayor’s” way of hitting up downtown businesses for money to support the bus system or a shuttle system.  Otherwise, I dread the increase in traffic.  It’s bad enough that the bus service to my area was cut back a couple of years ago.  I definitely notice a difference in the morning in traffic where the bus service picks up again.  The traffic jams going downtown are spectacular and just forget trying to get to work on time by taking the Squirrel Hill tunnels in the morning.  Nah-gah-happen.  Life would be so much better if the bus service to the suburbs went back to the pre-cutback state and more people took the buses to work along the breezy, fast moving busway.

Now, if Peduto wants to make the downtown district car free, I’m all for that.

Things I learned this week and other stuff

If you're 5 and can read this sign...

If you’re 5 and can read this sign…

I went back to work full time this week after my prolonged involuntary sabbatical featuring periodic consulting work.  Here’s what I learned:

1.) Don’t park in Oakland.  Just don’t.  Fortunately, this is only temporary for the summer because I have to drop the kid off somewhere else and can’t take public transportation.  In the fall, I’m taking the bus that’s within walking distance from my house.  My brilliant plan to take public transportation will work perfectly.  Bwahahahahahahahahhhhh!**

2.) It’s easier to get up and get going at 6am than 9am.  Go figure.  I guess I really am a morning person. If I get up too late, I might as well bag the rest of the day.

3.) Don’t take the Parkway to work, especially if your route has to go through the Squirrel Hill tunnels.  Getting to work on time?  Nah-gah-happen.

4.) If you want to get to the South Side in the morning, do the counterintuitive route and go east and then north west.  Sounds bizarre but I cut a lot of time off my trip and the view of Pittsburgh in the morning as I’m flying over the bridges is spectacular. We were gobsmacked. It looks like some skyline poster from the early twentieth century and you can almost hear Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background. I need to get a dash mountable video camera.  Pittsburgh really is beautiful.  Buy real estate now because when the rest of the biotech industry decides to move here, the neighborhoods with the great views will be in high demand.  I almost feel like buying a fixer upper nearer to downtown to renovate.  (No, no, stop me before I buy again.  What am I thinking??)

5.) Another counterintuitive thing: There’s more variety and diversity in Pittsburgh than in suburban New Jersey.  What I mean to say is that the marketers haven’t really pinned down this city so there seems to be a lot of choice here where there’s virtually no choice in New Jersey.  I feel like I’ve been missing something for the past 20 years.

Last night, Brook, who is changing her look, bought something at Hot Topic and the kid running the cash register asked us where we were from.  We told her we were fugitives from New Jersey.IMG_1978

** What is with the conservatives’ hatred of public transportation and trains??  I don’t get it.  30 years ago, I got around Pittsburgh without a car because the bus system was excellent.  In the past few years, funding for the PAT bus system has been cut, as have many routes.  This is a real problem for the studdabuppas who never learned to drive and now find themselves stranded in their neighborhoods without the buses they used to rely on.  In my case, the bus will stop close to my house at 7:04am and I will have to transfer closer to town.  I used to be able to take the bus directly to my destination but someone decided that people in the east suburbs didn’t need as many buses so they cut back and changed the route.  That means more traffic gets dumped onto the Parkway and snarls local roads on the way downtown.  And this is the summer.  I can’t wait to see what it’s like in the fall when everyone is back from vacation.

One disturbing trend I’ve heard from a couple of my  40 something cousins is that they think it’s alarming when an employer has to pay benefits to new hires and I think that’s part of what’s behind the cutbacks in public transportation.  The PAT drivers are union and they get bennies.  So, if there are fewer buses and more complaints, maybe there will be more pressure on the unions to drop their demands for benefits. The public might be willing to chuck the bennies in exchange for more bus drivers who are new hires not covered by the old contracts.  Just speculation on my part as to what the politicians are thinking.  I think it’s going to be tough to convince a lot of the boomer generation though who grew up in a very union city where the buses ran great and who still think that there’s nothing wrong with benefits.

Pittsburgh could use more trains.  It’s depressing to walk through Oakmont, a lovely little town on the Allegheny not too far from me, and see the unused train tracks that run right through the center of town to downtown.  Now, that former commuter train area is a pretty landscaped park.  I’m not exactly sure why it can’t be prettily landscaped and functional but for some bizarre reason known only to the editorial columnists at the Wall Street Journal, the wealthy, powerful and Republican hate, Hate, HATE trains, even if it means that the minions can’t get to work on time with the least amount of trouble and expense.

I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind this.  The wealthy and Republicans don’t need trains so no one can have them?  It’s perfectly ok to spend $150 million of public funds on a new sports facility because that’s what the wealthy want but not ok to spend the same amount of money on a better bus system because that’s what the not so wealthy want??  Who died and made them gods?  Where do they think they’re living? Rome?  Even Rome knew that it was a bad idea to skimp on the bread for the masses.  What’s really a bad idea is to party like there’s no tomorrow while the natives get restless and the barbarians are at the gate.

Quick Notes about Pittsburgh

IMG_1983

Parrothead pastries at The Oakmont Bakery

There are a couple of posts in the NYTimes today that are full of praise for the economic recovery of Pittsburgh.  (Here and a Krugman post here.)  So, I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents.

First, I love it here.  People are just nicer than they are in Jersey.  And there are fewer of them.

Second, it is true that you can get higher incomes in places like Boston and San Francisco.  A lot of people who lost their good salaries in NJ due to Pharmageddon decided to try their luck in Massachusetts because that’s where all the lemming CEOs pharma companies relocated a fraction of their workforce and where there are a bunch of start up companies.  And I thought about that- for about 15 seconds.

Although the chances of finding a job up there for me is slightly greater than in NJ, job insecurity comes with it.  I heard from a lot of people who were transferred there or got a job in a start up there or were already working there and they hated it.  They were scared to death of losing their jobs, the cost of living was astronomical and the commute from the burbs to Cambridge proper is ridiculous.  It was even more ridiculous when you consider that even with their good salaries, they couldn’t afford to live close to work.  So, I crossed it off my list.  I didn’t want to drag a teenager to a place where I could lose another job and spend all my money on rent and taxes because my salary was high.  It sounded like an unreasonably risky thing to do for a job.  I have no idea what the bonus class is thinking but I think it has something to do with the status of being near Harvard and MIT.  In my humble opinion, that is not a good enough reason in the age of internet to risk your staff’s domestic security and increase its precariousness.  Precariats are under too much stress to be innovative creative types.  You can’t whip and threaten them and expect them to discover all the time.  Nah-gah-happen.

When I sat down and did the math, I figured that I could have the same standard of living in Pittsburgh, on a much more modest salary, as I would in Cambridge or NJ AND because I own my home without a mortgage, I am not in danger of losing my house if the job goes away.  I can eek out a living here as a bartender and still live reasonably well.  Fortunately, I won’t have to relearn how to pour but if I had to, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

So, I’m glad that Pittsburgh is now being held up as a model of urban renaissance because it deserves it, although it would be great if the bus capacity went back to what it was 20 years ago.