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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

LGBT Group Comes Out With Endorsements

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2009 at 12:20 PM

Get it? "Comes Out"? Hahahahaha. 

Just kill me. 

Anyway, I've been overdue in noting this, but the Steel City Stonewall Democrats have released their endorsements for the May 2009 primary.

Perhaps the most notable outcome is that Patrick Dowd edged out Luke Ravenstahl for the mayoral endorsement. If it's any consolation to Ravenstahl, who has reached out to the LGBT community repeatedly, Dowd was "recommended" rather than "strongly endorsed." That means he got a simple majority of the group's votes, rather than the two-thirds margn required for a strong endorsement. 

City council candidates Natlia Rudiak (District 4) and Bill Peduto were both "strongly endorsed." Georgia Blotzer in District 2 was recommended, while Tonya Payne receieved an "honorable mention."

For those interested, Sue Kerr has an excellent write-up of the proceedings last weekend. The Stonewall questionnaires are also worth a look. In the mayor's race, I was interested to see Ravenstahl give no answer for a question about needle exchange. He also didn't respond to a question about whether he'd ever supported an openly gay candidate.

As one would expect, Ravenstahl's answers are much terser than those of Dowd. But the distinction for weirdest answer goes to Carmen Robinson, who when asked to "describe your familiarity with Greater Pittsburgh's LGBT Community," answered thusly: 

I am a fan of Poet Gertrude Stein and Allegheny County and I am aware of their democratic party.

With that, I guess, Robinson has locked up the vote of all the fans of Tender Buttons who live in Pittsburgh. If the merits of experimental fiction come up in this primary season, look for Robinson to score some quick debating points. 

In council action, the District 2 questionnaires are also worth a look: Smith, the incumbent in that race by virtue of a special election earlier this year, did not respond at all. But both Blotzer and Rob Frank gave solid answers. Which is nice, unless you support Blotzer and suspect -- as some others do -- that Frank will peel off votes for your candidate. In District 4, meanwhile, a crowded race got thinned out in a hurry: Rudiak was the only person to respond to Stonewall's questionnaire

Over in District 8, Christine Stone's game response wasn't enough to overcome the fact that Peduto has years of street cred with the LGBT crowd.  One suspects a similar dynamic in play -- in more muted fashion -- in District 6, where both incumbent Tonya Payne and challenger Daniel LaVelle make the right kind of noise. (With the possible exception of a query on abstinence education, where neither had a comment.) Payne's "honorable mention" means she polled more votes than her rival, but without making the 50 percent mark. 

Other endorsements and candidate questionnaire's can be found at the Stonewall site. I'll just add that Pittsburgh has come a long way in a short period of time when even the candidate for sheriff, Bill Mullen, feels obliged to respond to the questions and concerns of LGBT groups. True, he didn't say a lot: His support of needle exchange was understandably conditional, and his assertion that "I do not believe abortion should be used as birth control" was a little weird. But it speaks volumes about the community's increasing influence that he said it at all.

Murphy's Blah

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2009 at 9:43 AM

I thought it was just me at first, but apparently Schultz saw it too: One high point of President Obama's speech was watching him blow off US Rep. Tim Murphy whilst entering the chamber for his speech before Congress last night. I wish I had video -- can anyone point me toward some?

(Re: Schultz's some-scars-don't-heal remark about our cover story a couple weeks back, I'll just direct readers to this long-winded defense.)

Did Murphy take offense? Here are excerpts from Murphy's response to the speech:

We must get our economy moving again, but we can't move forward if our first step is to go further into debt, overspend and raise taxes ... I heard from one small business owner who said he was not sure if his business would last through the year. Sales are down and he is now using his savings to pay the bills. But, like everyone else, his savings and investments have fallen and he has barely enough reserves to continue. He told me, 'If you raise my taxes I won't make it.'

That, my friends, is some convincing evidence. Some guy somewhere told Tim Murphy something about how he doesn't like taxes. Tim Murphy supposedly went out and found "one small business owner" who told Murphy exactly what he already believed.  What an amazing coincidence!

If this is how Murphy researches important questions, it's no wonder he and other Republicans found that WMD-in-Iraq evidence so compelling. 

More from Murphy:

[W]e have to work together on fixing healthcare in America, not just financing a broken system. We need to reestablish the doctor patient relationship that is focused on affordable, accessible, quality healthcare. Neither side of the aisle will get this right if we keep arguing about who pays the bills instead [of] what we are paying for.

So it doesn't matter who pays the bills? A government-run system for all then!

In fact, the evidence for the popularity of such a system is overwhelming. A small business owner I know recently told me that because of high healthcare costs, he's not sure his business will last through the year. He told me, "Unless you nationalize the healthcare system -- giving me and my employees the same kind of government-provided health insurance that Tim Murphy (R-PA) enjoys -- I won't make it."

And who is Tim Murphy to question the wisdom of the people?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today in political insurgency headlines ...

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 2:43 PM

Despite the misgivings of naysaying quislings such as myself, Georgia Blotzer is taking another shot at city council district 2 -- a post she lost in a special election earlier this month.

In a feisty press release, Blotzer noted that while she was compelled to run in the special election as an independent, this time around she'll "run as the Democrat that I am, representing the party of working families, job creation, and civil rights." She also notes that Theresa Kail-Smith, who won the special, "garnered just under half of the vote in an election notable for exceedingly low turnout."

Blotzer pledged to offer "specific plans for realistic improvement" in the district, and promised to conduct a "Listening Tour." I've fretted before that it may be a little late for such efforts, but Blotzer clearly has heard the "forgotten neighborhood" lament loud and clear: "Why is it that Pittsburgh's scarce development resources aren’t touching District 2?" her release asks. "[F]ar too many feel their particular neighborhoods have been ignored or forgotten."

In other campaign news, Patrick Dowd and Luke Ravenstahl are entering the debating-about-debates phase of the campaign, which by tradition follows close on the heels of the announcing-plans-to-announce phase and the actual announcement.

Dowd is playing this just right so far, asking for a series of nine debates -- one for each district, see -- and saying it's unacceptable that Ravenstahl "demands a near month-long gap (April 20th- May 19th) between the last proposed debate and the actual election ... Surely, if we instruct our staff to find mutually convenient slots of 90 minutes each week ... they will."

Give Dowd credit for not adding something like, "After all, there are no Steelers parades scheduled this spring, and I understand Snoop Dogg is busy recording."

Way to take the high road, councilor! 

But there is a slightly worrisome trend for Dowd backers. Just before Dowd formally announced his campaign, supporters began an online fundraising effort to scare up $5,000 for their guy. As I write this, the campaign is 58 percent of the way to its goal. Which sounds great ... except when I first checked the site shortly before hopping on the bus to Dowd's kickoff event, the campaign was already 42 percent of the way to its total. 

Which means that in the space of 4 days since Dowd's announcement, the campaign has raised about $800. 

Before Bram starts yelling at me, I counsel neither panic nor despair. At his campaign event, Dowd said that he didn't expect a lot of money to start rolling in until he proved his own seriousness. And for all we know, contributions are coming in by the bucketfull offline.

But if you believe that Dowd's campaign could -- like Obama's -- be kick-started by an internet insurgency, this total (along with some other signs) might be a tad worrisome.

In District 8, meanwhile, Bill Peduto has put out his call for volunteers to help with signature gathering this Saturday. Volunteers are urged to meet at Peduto's campaign office (5830 Ellsworth Ave., Suite 102) at either 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. A Sunday drive kicks off at 2 p.m. 

If you prefer your politics to involve as little human contact as possible -- and really, who can blame you? -- you might check out tomorrow's CEOs for Cities event, a discussion of stimulus plans and what they could mean for Pittsburgh. Peduto and others will be there, but you can watch it from the comfort of your basement in your fleece jammies by watching it here

Monday, February 23, 2009

If it's Sunday, it's another agenda-driven story in the Tribune-Review

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 11:11 AM

Well, here's a shocker: the Tribune-Review carrying water for its publisher in the news section.

The Trib has some talented folks working for it, but their efforts are often undermined by the agenda of its owner, Richard Mellon Scaife. This happens so often as to be nearly a dog-bites-man story (or, as the Trib might report it, "socialist cur bites invisible hand of free-market capitalism" piece). In fact, I'm not even sure what good it does to point out stories like this piece from yesterday's paper. But the issue -- Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's healthcare-delivery system -- is important, so what the hell.

Rick Stouffer's "Obama pursues universal health care," opens up with some play-both-sides-against-the-middle back and forth. But soon enough, we see the telltale signs of a reporter held hostage to his boss's agenda:

"Everyone agrees on the need for affordable, quality health care," said Sally Pipes, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based think tank Pacific Research Institute. "There are two camps: one that favors a market-based plan that empowers physicians and patients, and another that wants to expand government's role." The president's proposals fall under the second camp, Pipes said.

Well, of course it does. Stouffer doesn't -- can't -- tell you this, but in 2007 alone, the Pacific Research Insitute received $200,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation. As you might expect, that grant-making organization is controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife.

This is par for the course at the Trib, as we've written previously. The paper's news and op-ed sections often cite stories by right-wing think tanks bankrolled by Scaife, without identifying the connection: The process, which has been called "information laundering" by at least one Tribble I know, is a way to sneak the publisher's agenda into the paper without telling readers what's going on.

This particular piece, though, scores a somewhat more unusual twofer, witness this passage:

"Obama is aiming to get universal coverage, which is good during a time of economic crisis when people are losing their jobs," said Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School Business Administration professor, and an acknowledged health care expert. "But he relies excessively on the government, the care provider and the regulator."

Again, the Trib doesn't say so, but Herzlinger isn't just a professor at Harvard. She's also a scholar at the conservative Manhattan Institute. Which -- guess what? -- is also supported by Scaife. In 2007, the Sarah Scaife Foundation gave $240,000 to Manhatta.

Just looking at Scaife's 2007 spending -- the most recent year available -- his investment in this article appears to be nearly half-a-million dollars.

In fairness, the Trib piece does talk to a couple folks who are more open to Obama's plan, among them Pitt professor Beaufort Longest, an expert on health policy. Beaufort says he likes Obama's proposal: "Expanding health care coverage is much needed, particularly with what's happening with the economy, and simultaneously, he wants to make the system more efficient."

On the other hand, by this point we've already been told -- by Bob Laszewski, head of Washington, D.C.-based Health Policy and Strategy Associates -- that Obama's plan "is more about cost shifting than it is making the system more efficient ... Insurance is more affordable because [Obama] spends billions of dollars subsidizing access for everyone."

Laszewki, I'm happy to say, is one government skeptic who can't be accused of taking money from Scaife. He gets it directly from the healthcare organizations themselves. The HPSA Web site notes that among its clients are "health insurance companies, casualty insurance companies, HMOs, Blue Cross organizations, hospitals, and physician groups."

And of course, the piece closes with this dire warning from Herzlinger: If Obama's plan goes through, "The federal government will control all expenditures for health care, a board will tell people what they can and can't buy."

Yeah, that would suck all right -- imagine having some faceless bureaucrat deciding what kind of medical procedure you can or can't get. What a betrayal. It'd be almost as bad as a publisher trying to insert a partisan agenda into your news coverage.

Clarke M. Thomas: A reminiscence

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 6:18 AM

This space marks the passing of Clarke Thomas, the Post-Gazette senior editor and editorial writer who died this weekend. His voice was considered, considerate, and always worth listening to: steeped in a love for Pittsburgh, but never afraid to call upon us to be better than we were. 

He was also one of the most generous and genuine souls I've ever known.

I knew Clarke Thomas long before I ever met him. I'd interviewed him for a review of his book Front Page Pittsburgh, a history of the Post-Gazette -- but more than that, I'd been reading his op-ed pieces for years.

I doubt anyone has ever been on the right side of more issues than Clarke Thomas. He was a thoughtful progressive on as many issues as you can name -- the environment, labor questions, race, justice for the glbt community.

And he wrote without rancor, wrote with an optimistic belief that once we sorted ourselves out, we'd find a solution to the most vexing problems. He was the liberal elder statesman of Pittsburgh journalism. His was an informed, open and conversational voice that -- thanks to ideological scolds like me on both sides of the debate -- is almost lost now. 

But despite my long appreciation for his work, I didn't really meet Thomas until a few months back, through one of those only-in-Pittsburgh coincidences.

Years ago I bought a book, titled The Christian as Journalist, off the discount table at a used-book place. It was sort of an inside joke between me and myself: I figured a book about the intersection of Christianity and a cynical trade like journalism would have wide margins and lots of empty pages. As often happens when I make such purchases, I brought the book home, tucked it away on a shelf, and never looked at it. Then, a few months ago, I pulled it down on a whim and flipped through it. Inside was something I hadn't noticed before -- a note, written on the stationery of an Oklahoma newspaper, from a managing editor recommending the book to "Clarke T." 

The book had, of course, belonged to Thomas years ago. I got in touch with him, and Thomas surmised that his wife had probably given it to some charity in hopes of reining in the epic sprawl of his reading material. I'm that sort of husband myself, and we both agreed it would be amusing for the book to suddenly reappear on a coffee table in his home -- years after the spouse thought she'd gotten rid of it.

About all I can tell you of our subsequent encounters is that Thomas was every bit as gentle and affable in person as he was in print. That can be a rare thing in journalism. And he was indeed a practicing Christian -- at age 83, he sang in his church choir -- but with an open, tolerant approach to his faith and his fellow person. That can be a rare thing in religion too. 

Like I say, I never read The Christian as Journalist. But having known Clarke even a little bit, I probably no longer need to. 

And he never stopped working. Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed Clarke and his wife Jean for a story I'm working on ... and on the table between us was a manilla file filled with clippings about a column he was writing. It was going to be about the impact Barack Obama's election would have on our perception of African-American families.

I wish we'd gotten to read it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mad About the Boy

Posted By on Thu, Feb 19, 2009 at 6:26 PM

When announcing his candidacy today, Pat Dowd offered up an intriguing role model for the kind of mayor he'd like to be:

Following in the footsteps of a mayor that I've come to admire as a result of the people that I've met and heard stories from -- Pete Flaherty -- I stand here today to say that I am 'Nobody's Boy.' I'm just like that -- nobody's boy.

Of course, in a campaign where your rival is 29 years old, it's never a bad thing to use "boy" in the pejorative sense. Especially when you plan to run on a platform of reform and transparency, and accuse your opponent of being in the back pocket of campaign contributors.

But as Flaherty's own political career suggests, being nobody's boy can get pretty lonely. And in any case, some of the youthful supporters in Dowd's audience probably had no idea who Dowd was talking about. Or if they did, they remember Pete Flaherty when he was, in fact, Somebody's Boy: In the waning days of his political career, Flaherty was the quiet yes-man to county commissioner Tom Foerster -- whose name is practically a synonym for "Democratic machine." 

In any case, Flaherty earned the "Nobody's Boy" appelation as mayor of Pittsburgh, from 1970-1977. And to a large extent, it's easy to see why Dowd would want to adopt the monikker for his own. 

For one thing, Flaherty's tenure as mayor was defined by independence, sound fiscal management, and taking a hard line on expenses. As urban historian Roy Lubove writes in Volume 2 of his excellent Twentieth-Century Pittsburgh:

Flaherty had distanced himself from the Democratic party machine and run as an independent. He also distanced himself from the Allegheny Conference and corporate community. Flaherty was less concerned with corporate-driven development than with fiscal discipline, lean municipal government, neighborhood improvement, and reducing the tax burden of the ordinary citizen.

Lubove credits Flaherty with "balanced budgets and reductions in taxes and the municipal payroll [that] were an anomaly in the twilight years of the Great Society." It was, he contends, a prototypical rightsizing initiative -- "an early effort to adapt municipal government in Pittsburgh to demographic realities." Flaherty's devotion to fiscal discipline meant defying unions, and cutting the city work force from 7,000 to a little more than 5,200. He also embodied a backlash against the city's first Renaissance, which by the 1970s had lost much of its sheen. Flaherty argued that previous administrations had focused too much on developing Downtown, ignoring the neighborhoods. 

All of which is going to sound pretty good to many voters today. What's more, those attributes jibe with Dowd's own personality, and with the circumstances of his campaign. He's not going to get much support from labor, or the business community, or other politicians, after all. And it's a lot more palatable to be "nobody's boy," when you suspect no one wants to adopt you anyway. 

In other words Dowd -- who taught history not long ago -- has picked a smart, fitting historical antecedent for his campaign. Older voters will appreciate the reference especially, as they recall the happier days of yesteryear ... when the steel industry hadn't quite begun its swan song, your kids stayed in town, and no one you knew owned an imported car. 

But a note of caution: There's a fine line between being "nobody's boy" and being the red-headed stepchild. And Flaherty's own tenure in city government suggests a potential downside. 

To quote Lubove again: "To some extent, Flaherty translated personal idiosyncracy into public policy," and he had "a near obsession with independence and autonomy" that sometimes tripped up himself and his city. Flaherty's go-it-alone style resulted in long and fractious debates with county officials and other leaders, helping to precipitate the Skybus fiasco and endless debate over the old David Lawrence Convention Center, until the state nearly threatened to pull funding for the project. 

Arguably, this side of Flaherty jibes with Dowd's personality too ... and in a less reassuring way. Dowd has played a fractious role on city council, to the extent that even natural allies -- like Doug Shields and Bill Peduto -- have expressed frustration with him. Bloggers too have been vexed by Dowd's idiosyncrasies:

Which Pat Dowd will show up to campaign? The earnest door knocker who listens to each constituent? Or the guy who stands up at the Council table and argues that other Council members should not get paid for their legal bills (even though they were helping Dowd out with that Lamar sign appeal) because they didn’t ask for money ahead of time?

Time will tell which Dowd shows up to campaign, of course. An equally interesting question, perhaps, is which side of Pete Flaherty would Dowd channel if he has a chance to govern

Pat Dowd Kick Off (With Sound!)

Posted By on Thu, Feb 19, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Patrick Dowd formally kicked off his mayoral campaign today, before a crowd of about 50 supporters atop Polish Hill. Dowd maintained that the blustery February weather was proof that "winds of change" were blowing ... but trust your correspondent on this one: It was just freakin' cold.

Dowd offered at least a partial answer to a question he expects to be asked a lot in the weeks ahead: "Who is Patrick Dowd?" He also suggested a rough outline of his vision for the city -- pledging to create a fiscally transparent government that would be tough on crime. Perhaps a bit more esoterically, he promised to overhaul the city's planning efforts, which he contended were suffering from "decentralization." He said he would scale back the use of tax incentives to entice developers, even as he would seek to lure new residents and businesses from overeseas. 

Dowd also invoked the spirit of former Mayor Pete Flaherty, claiming that just like Flaherty, he would be "Nobody's Boy". As proof, he pledged that his first action as mayor would be to prohibit no-bid city contracts from being awarded to anyone who had made a campaign contribution to a city official. 

Some have fretted that Dowd won't be tough enough on the mayor, and that he lacks the stomach for a two-fisted political fight. Dowd gave a sense of his willingness to take on Ravenstahl when, in response to a question from KDKA's Jon Delano, he repeatedly asked "where was the mayor?" on a series of key issues over the past year. 

The media turned out in force to witness Dowd's remarks, and the crowd supporting him skewed young and enthusiastic. But the campaign kicked off on an improvisational note: Organizers had pro-Dowd stickers to wear, but the poster for the podium was drawn in magic marker. Perhaps because of the wind, or because the campaign realized it looked a little silly, the poster was removed before any of the real reporters showed up. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

When Being a Self-Serving Prick Is THE LAW

Posted By on Mon, Feb 16, 2009 at 6:58 PM

As you've no doubt heard by now, city councilor Patrick Dowd is indeed running for mayor, as was foretold

Our Wednesday issue will include a discussion with Dowd himself. But for now, I have to say that his campaign got off to a bad start with this piece in the Post-Gazette. The story concerns the use of campaign money for things like Super Bowl trips and other expenses that don't seem directly related to actually getting elected. Dowd, pondering a trip to Europe, is quoted thusly:

"If I want to have a good Belgian beer, that doesn't count as political or governmental work."

I don't have a problem with Dowd's interpretation of campaign-finance laws. As the P-G makes clear, you're supposed to use campaign money to win elections ... and clearly nobody drinks Belgian beer hoping to win the support of Pittsburgh voters, except maybe in a few East End precincts that are going to vote for Dowd anyway. Also, Dowd has less than 5 grand in his campaign treasury. That only buys you like two rounds at the Sharp Edge.

No, it's Dowd's apparent fondness for Belgian products that outrages this blog

And of course, there is a larger and thornier issue to ponder. 

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is quoted telling the paper, "In some cases I've decided to use campaign funds rather than city funds to do some traveling, because I think it's clean, it doesn't use taxpayer dollars. I think everything that we've done has been to promote me, to promote Pittsburgh and talk about upcoming campaign events or what we're trying to do in the city."

Some critics have taken this to be a sign of Ravenstahl's hubrisL'etat, c'est moi, as they might say where Pat Dowd gets his beer. To P-G House Blogger Chad Hermann, Ravenstahl's remarks  prove that "Attention to the mayor and his political career come before dedication to the city and its future"

But here's the thing: Campaign finance law all but requires Ravenstahl to emphasize himself above the city during such trips (or at least during his recounting of them). He has to say that puffing himself up was the main reason for taking his trips. After all, state law says very clearly that campaign money can only be used "for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election." So ... the one thing Ravenstahl can't afford to be is modest.

If he admitted that his trip down to the Super Bowl, say, was an utterly selfless chance to tout the city's position on the threshhold of a new tomorrow, he'd be in big trouble. If he says he went down there to get a photo op with Snoop Dogg in hopes of connecting with younger voters, though, he's golden. The law basically requires him to act like a self-aggrandizing prick. 

Anyway, for me the most wince-inducing line in the whole P-G story belonged to City Council President Doug Shields, who said he 

also used the war chest to cover local parking tickets -- some of which he said were wrongly written while his car was parked in his free, official space next to the City-County Building. "I wouldn't be getting them if I wasn't a politician," he said.

This doesn't sound like the most compelling explanation I've ever heard. On the other hand, Shields could argue that having a bunch of unpaid parking tickets would hurt his election chances. So paying those tickets off might arguably be a viable use of campaign funds. 

Which just shows how easy it is to stretch campaign-finance law to cover almost any expense you want. 

The more you think about it, the knottier a problem it is. On one hand, we don't want city tax dollars to fund the mayor's good time down in Florida, right? I mean, if Ravenstahl had taken our money and then showed up with Snoop, you'd be really pissed, wouldn't you? But on the other hand ... if campaign-finance money can cover just about anything, that opens up a huge loophole in ethics laws. If a business exec gives you airfare and free luxury accommodations in Amsterdam, it's a bribe. If the business exec gives your campaign a $20,000 check and you use that money to book your own trip, though, it seems to be perfectly legal. 

So the dividing line isn't clear. The P-G notes that some politicians used campaign money to go the Democratic National Convention last year. That seems like an entirely self-serving junket -- one whose only purpose could be to peddle influence and rack up contributions  from a bunch of glad-handing pay-to-play party hacks. In other words, a perfectly acceptible use of campaign-finance money!

But even there, the rules are murky. For example, if you go to a strip club by yourself whilst at the convention, you should pay for drinks out of your own pocket, right? But if you go with an important committeeperson, it might constitute a valid campaign expense, might it not? And what if the stripper her/himself is related to a constituent in your district? (Members of the "Pittsburgh Diaspora" are everywhere!) Is the $20 you tuck in the G-string really any worse than the $200 you give to a fellow politician's campaign? (A frequent, and entirely legal, practice.)

One wants a brightline standard in these matters, because as we've seen, blurry lines get stretched to the limit around here. But as long as politicians are funding their own campaigns, it's hard to see how the law will ever be able to distinguish shady-and-illegal uses of campaign money from shady-but-legal uses. 

Maybe the only answer is to take politicians out of the equation entirely, and fund all election campaigns publicly. Maybe elections are too important to leave in the hands of candidates.

Pat Dowd could start his campaign running on that

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Two Steps Forward, One Step Barack

Posted By on Sat, Feb 14, 2009 at 5:03 PM

There's been a bit of feedback for this week's cover story -- some e-mails and calls, and a typically thoughtful exchange over at 2politicaljunkies. And since the week is winding down, that I'd say a few words about why we ran the piece. 

Criticism about the story falls into two categories: One is "How could you publish a piece about this so SOON?" The other: "What the hell took you so LONG?"

To me, that mixed response says we got the timing just about right. 

The first set of critics fault the piece for jumping to conclusions about Obama so early in his presidency. "It's only been three weeks! How can you give up on him?" The second group, which tend to be more radical readers, faults us for ever assuming Obama was anything other than a moderate.

The first set of critics think we're too pessimistic about the future. The second set assume we were too naive about Obama in the past. 

Actually, I decided to publish it because what it says about our obligations in the present. 

I've argued before that Obama was essentially offering a radical centrism -- a cutting-edge package for thoroughly moderate ideas. The problem, though, is this. You can't really be "post-partisan" by yourself. Like I said last April, believing Obama's post-partisan appeal "doesn't just require trusting Obama; it means trusting that the GOP and their partisans want to transcend politics as well... Even assuming Obama could heal the nation's wounds, the GOP has done very well by reopening them whenever possible."

Apparently, they're going to continue doing just that, as I think we've seen from the GOP's performance in recent days -- opposition to the stimulus bill, the Judd Gregg fiasco, etc. Which would be fine if they were only putting themselves on a dead-end path. But as Paul Krugman and others have argued, Republican intransigence -- combined with Obama's vaunted "pragmatism" -- have weakened an already less-than-inspiring stimulus bill. The thing is so "pragmatic," politically speaking, that it seems unlikely to work.

And I can bet what will happen as a result: If the measure fails, Republicans will insist, "See? We told you! Government intervention doesn't work!"By indulging GOP efforts to undermine the bill, Democrats will have put their own job security -- and that of a few million other Americans -- at risk.

Which is why we ran this week's cover story.

If the right-wingers continue to push -- and they will -- the rest of us can't afford to just take a defensive crouch. If we do, we'll get what we got with Bill Clinton — a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating (politically, socially, and economically) centrism. Actually, something to the RIGHT of centrism. Because let's remember that there are plenty of Democrats who are already "post-partisan" in the sense of being pretty conservative to start with. 

Conversely, what if lefties kept pushing too? Instead of telling each other to "quit whining" and trust Obama, what if we start making demands, and expressing displeasure, just as much as the GOP? Maybe, perhaps, we might get something that really IS centrism ... if you define the "center" as the place where two opposing forces balance each other out.

Obama may have been elected because he was post-partisan, but we don't have that excuse. The point of this week's cover story is not to encourage people to give up, but to take Obama seriously when he said this election was about us, not him.

Because as another pioneering African American once said, power -- no matter who is wielding it -- concedes nothing without a demand.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Political Spin: Bill Peduto plays DJ!

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 3:25 PM

If you're like me, Valentine's Day is an annual source of tension with your significant other. I find the whole thing tiresome. If I wanted to exhibit strong passion on cue, I would have become an actor. Or a prostitute. Being an editor is bad enough.

But thanks to City Councilor Bill Peduto, my wife and I have this year's Valentine's Day plans all set.  

Tomorrow night at Cappy's -- the Walnut Street watering hole that is his personal domain -- Peduto will be conducting the latest installment of "Pedutube,"  his monthly sight-and-sound spectacular.

What is "Pedutube"? As the councilor describes it, it is "an exploration of 80+ years of classic video culled from the new media trash heap," with Peduto playing the part of Google-era VJ. 

Peduto used to be part of a two-man DJ team called "Music to Go" back in the mid-1980s. But Pedutube transcends requesting mere songs -- a hopelessly outmoded technology for imparting information. Instead, you request videos downloaded from Youtube (and perhaps God knows where else). Peduto uses alternating laptops to cue up the footage, and beams it onto a video screen for the appreciation of the audience.

"Maybe you want to see MLK's 'I Have a Dream,'" Peduto suggests. "Or just maybe you are pining to see that opening trailer for 'Bigfoot and Wildboy.'" 

Well, I wasn't before. But I sure am now! 

The event is charity fundraiser in which attendees shell out $5 to request a clip. An extra $5 expedites your request and brings it to the top of the heap ... much like a campaign contribution to the mayor.

Needless to say, money contributed tomorrow night goes to a much better cause than anyone's political ambitions. The proceeds from tomorrow night's event will benefit the Women's Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh. 

Personally, I'll be putting $5 on "The Nomi Song." If you want to head that off at the pass -- and trust me, you do -- come with a couple portraits of Hamilton.


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