Why Don’t They Care?

Harrisburg is paralyzed.

The budget stalemate between Governor Tom Wolf and the GOP- controlled legislature is heading into an unconscionable fourth month with no end in sight, surpassing the spectacle of Republican-engineered federal government shutdowns aimed at damaging the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Unlike the federal shutdowns, our local variety has no one clear villain but two: the governor and the legislature. To his credit, Wolf wants to restore education funding cut by former Gov. Tom Corbett and company; to his discredit, he wants to do it largely through regressive taxation.  The Republicans score points by opposing these new taxes, as well as any talk of taxing someone who can afford to be taxed.  They needn’t worry about that second point when it comes to Wolf, despite all of the overblown hype about his modest proposal to tax frackers.  And he’d offset that tax by lowering the overall corporate income tax rate.

Wolf loses more points by vetoing emergency spending bills while Republican members of state’s congressional delegation  — the big brothers and sisters of the people who slashed our education budget in the first place — appear reasonable by urging him to at least release federal funds already appropriated by Congress and dispensed to the state.

In the mean time, Meals on Wheels workers take voluntary pay cuts, pre-school and after-school programs for disadvantaged children are closing, payments for foster children are being held up, our less well-off schools and human service organizations are pushed to the brink . . .  There’s no end to the suffering and the worst awaits us, as there is no sign that an agreement on how to screw the poor and working people is imminent.

Why don’t they care?  Our political class are cheapskates when it comes to social spending, but both parties are now borrowing money to keep their legislative caucuses functioning.  Borrowed money has to be repaid with interest — the trap that many strapped school districts and nonprofits are falling into — but those profits will go into the coffers of the worthy wealthy — the bankers — who are , after all, just providing an honest if unchristian service.

So, why don’t they care?  Maybe it’s because the pain is being felt by the people who are supposed to feel it.  And why aren’t local news stations using this occasion to loudly publicize and track the debacle in Harrisburg?  Maybe it’s because the right people — the beautiful people, the ones who can afford to be polite and “reasonable” — aren’t feeling a thing.

Harrisburg is paralyzed but so are we.  There is no cry of outrage.

Western Beaver County school superintendent Rob Postupac noted that if there was suddenly no high school football on Friday nights, “you’d hear a cry so loud” that “something would happen pretty quick.” He’s probably right.

Rather than ask why they don’t care, perhaps the proper question is this: why should they care if we don’t care?

— Jim Collins

 

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KANE IS ABLE

The saga of Kathleen Kane, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, is a story worthy of the fabled television series, The Wire, with its twists and turns and ensuing exposure of the rottenness of Pennsylvania politics.

Kane (née Granahan) married into the family owning a large trucking and warehousing firm that enjoyed contracts with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, seemingly forever. You see their trucks often on the Turnpike with the words “Kane Is Able” painted on the sides. No doubt their special knowledge and capabilities combined with great bids allowed the firm to retain these contracts for decade after decade.

While Kane’s career as a lawyer was lackluster, her winning of the Democratic Party nomination for AG was helped along by a family loan of $2.25 million and the friendly encouragement of the Clintons. The Kane family maintains serious political clout in the Democratic Party.

But the Attorney General-elect proved to be an eager top cop. Ms. Kane decided to build a career around pursuing prominent miscreants in Pennsylvania—certainly there were many from which to choose. She went after Governor Corbett, suggesting that he stonewalled the Penn State sex scandal. That made her few friends, since rubbing an opposing party politician’s nose in it is considered bad form.

But worse, she tore into Pennsylvania’s nest of corruption, The Turnpike Commission. Historically, the commission was a source of political jobs and a conduit for political contributions, especially for the Democratic Party. She successfully prosecuted several officials, but just as aggressively plea bargained their jail time away. One might opine that her Party’s bigwigs suggested she back away and minimize the damage.

Along the way, Kane drew the attention of some nasty political operatives who vindictively pressed charges against her for “leaking” to the press, a practice as second nature to politicians as molesting the truth.

An inflamed Kane violated the unwritten compact between the two parties not to air the soiled laundry. She went public with the dirt on a host of politicians, judges, and bureaucrats—porno, racism, and misogyny… the nuggets of embarrassing candor that J. Edgar Hoover used to file away for future use.

The battle continues to escalate with Kane exposing some truly big fish: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has a history of vindictive, bitter internal conflict as well as real and rumored improprieties. The epic battles between Chief Justice Robert Nix and Justice Rolf Larsen were legendary. Larsen was later removed after a trail of misconduct caught up with him. More recently, Joan Orie Melvin was removed from the Court after felony convictions.

Kane is on the verge of going where no one else has ever gone—knocking off two Supreme Court justices! Her exposure of Justice McCafferty’s salacious e-mail chatter embarrassed him into resigning (McCafferty and Chief Justice Castille had been engaged in a long-standing, petty skirmish exposing each other’s shaky ethics. Castille helped push him into resigning).

Next, Kane set her sights on Justice Eakin, claiming evidence of his off-the-cuff disparaging remarks about African-Americans, Latinos, gays, and domestic abuse victims (nice!).

After Kane raised the charges, the Pennsylvania Judicial Review Board “investigated” and found the charges unfounded. But a little over a week ago, it back tracked and announced that they are re-opening the investigation. The board blamed Kane for not forwarding all of the evidence for the previous “investigation”. One can only marvel at the Board’s singular lack of curiosity about additional evidence in the midst of wide public interest. One can only wonder why it never occurred to the staff to ask about additional evidence or take its own look at the raw collection of e-mails at that time.

But with the Philadelphia Daily News exposing some of the uglier material, the “exoneration” is no longer tenable, casting a shadow over the Board’s competence, even integrity.

While Kathleen Kane is hardly Wikileaks, we owe her thanks for reminding us of how little the judicial system has to do with justice.

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It is difficult getting excited about the forthcoming elections, even with many judgeships in play, including three Supreme Court vacancies. Some would like to change the way judges are selected by replacing elections with appointments. But who would make the appointments? Ethically-challenged elected officials? That would simply make the public two removes from choosing their judges.

One candidate will get my vote, however: David Wecht for Supreme Court. I don’t know much about him, but he did attend an immigrant rights rally and march in the spring, offering literature and showing open support for immigrant rights. The simple truth is that most politicians—even the so-called “progressives”– won’t touch this issue or many other “controversial” ones in an election year.

But if you can’t support my causes, you don’t get my vote!

So Wecht gets my vote.

Greg Godels


Sacrificial Lambs

The Good Book tells us that those who hunger for righteousness will be satisfied, that the merciful shall obtain mercy and that the meek will inherit the very earth.  This is good news for Pennsylvanians who fit into those categories because the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic governor Wolfe are using this year’s budget showdown to further the ongoing, successful bipartisan crusade to make life for our state’s needy hell on earth.

The bad news is that the Bible doesn’t tell us when to expect this relief but it is definitely not forthcoming from the leadership of either political party.  Austerity is the name of the game.  The two sides are duking it out over conflicting conservative budgets.  In a state that already has one of the most unequal tax structures in the nation (according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy), we are given the choice of balancing our budget on the backs of poor and working people through such measures as regressive taxation; cuts or freezes in services; and increasing our pious state’s involvement in gambling (and preying on people who are often low-income or suffering from a serious addiction).

Not mentioned so far are state-run brothels, although it’s been said that pimping is profitable if not easy.  Also off the table is any talk of taxing profitable corporations (including fake nonprofits like UPMC) and the rich.

So intent are both sides in “winning” — and so great is their disregard for the people who are suffering while programs aren’t funded — that they can’t even agree on stopgap funding measures while they calibrate the extent of our long-term suffering.

Meanwhile, who are the sufferers?

  • The meek. They don’t come much meeker than foster children,many of whom are victims of abuse and neglect; public and parochial school children, pre-K to twelve; homeless adults and children; victims of domestic violence; people who suffer from serious mental illnesses and disabilities; and those caught in the throes of serious addictions, including gambling.
  • Those who hunger for righteousness (a.k.a., justice). Just about anybody who utilizes Neighborhood Legal Services or a women’s shelter needs some justice. So does anybody mentioned above.
  • The merciful are about to be laid off, if they work for legitimate nonprofits and tend to the aforementioned sufferers: social workers, therapists, counselors, nurses, case managers, etc.  School employees are next if the budget stalemate, now well past the 100-day mark, drags on much longer.

I love reading the gospel according to Matthew, to which I’ve alluded in this piece, but I disagree with his conclusion. The meek and humble will not get what they deserve on this earth — or in this state — unless they become decidedly unmeek in making their demands known. Instead, they’ll continue to be the sacrificial lambs for the austerity budgets demanded by the wealthy and faithfully passed by Republicans and Democrats alike.

— Jim Collins

 

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being… White

Kudos to Tony Norman for his recent harangue in the Portfolio column of the Post-Gazette. Norman, uncharacteristically bitter and sardonic, calls out Pittsburgh as the “whitest city in America” (for its size)– “one of the least diverse and least inclusive metro areas in America.” He effectively makes the case that Pittsburgh is an urban “Mayberry” in its parochial tolerance and nurturing of racism. Of course the case is not hard to make given the long history of educational, job, and housing discrimination enforced in the area and the persistent patterns of segregation. But it was good to see it prominently featured in the Post-Gazette.

Norman lays the blame for Pittsburgh’s cancerous racism at the door step of the city’s “Democratic Party establishment.” He delivers impressively virulent invective in the party’s direction: “.. a motley crew of good-government types, party hacks, old school progressives, neighborhood bullies, private sector rejects, ossified bureaucrats, entitled dynasties, clueless aristocrats, and smug dead-enders.”

As eloquently pointed as this list is, it calls out for some correction. “Old school progressives”– that is, New Deal Democrats– are extinct. Since the retirement of Tom Flaherty from active politics and the gerrymandering of Jim Ferlo’s Senatorial district and his subsequent retirement, there are no such politicians… none… zilch.

What remains are corporate liberals, liberals who are convinced that all social problems, including racism and poverty, can be dissolved with private sector solutions. They fundamentally believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, that generating private sector economic growth in Pittsburgh will improve everyone’s life chances. It is this thinking that animates the promiscuous use of tax abatement, subsidies, privatization, and the ubiquitous talk of public-private partnerships (public resources, private gain)– none of which have even a minute chance of eliminating racism or its consequences.

But all the blame can’t be laid at the Democratic Party doorstep. The unique and powerful influence of foundations– the wealth accumulated by the region’s robber barons– have singularly neglected support for African-Americans and African-American causes. The recent debacle of the August Wilson Center is an example of under funding and managing-to-fail that would never be possible with the more “white” cultural institutions. And any hint of African-American independent leadership has been erased by directing the August Wilson Center to the patronizing guidance of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a reliable safeguard of conservative cultural values.

And of course since the decline of steel and related industries, there are virtually no good-paying jobs for African-Americans. Apart from low paying jobs in the service sector and a few union-scale jobs in government, there are few economic categories welcoming Black people. The “Meds and Eds” economy boasted by all politicians since the exit of the steel industry has largely relegated African-Americans to the bottom rungs. Neither Pittsburgh’s elites nor Tony Norman’s media colleagues seem overly concerned about this disparity.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the area’s crude, visible racism like the omnipresence of construction sites and the sparseness of African-American and women construction workers on those sites. In warm weather, you can play a juvenile game of counting Blacks and women workers on sites as you travel through Googleville (East Liberty), Garfield, or Oakland. The results are a civic embarrassment only underscoring Tony Norman’s frustration. Apparently women and Blacks can negotiate a 25 ton articulated bus around Mayor Peduto’s bike lanes, but they are not qualified to work as laborers or operate construction equipment. Developer’s pretend to employ minorities, building trade unions pretend to welcome them, and local government pretends to guarantee minority inclusion.

Thanks, Tony Norman, for pulling the media curtain back.

Greg Godels

Pittsburgh Leaders Discover a Housing Crisis

Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) have discovered that there is a shortage of so-called affordable housing (a euphemism for low-income housing) in the area, especially in East Liberty, the focus of recent protestations. Last week, Kevin Acklin, the born-again-Democrat serving as Peduto’s chief of staff, announced that the city would be establishing an affordable housing fund to address the shortage of housing for those with a shortage of income.

It is strikingly surreal that our leaders have “discovered” a shortage of low-income housing because:

1. A casual ride through East Liberty/Larimer reveals residential construction nearly everywhere. In fact, observers have questioned how the newly constructed and soon to be completed apartments and condos will be filled in a city with stagnant population growth. At the same time, the hyper-active East Liberty Development Inc. has assured everyone within ear-shot that they have worked hard to guarantee adequate affordable housing in the neighborhood.
2. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania reported in early May that there was a shortage of 21,000 homes in Pittsburgh for families at or below the poverty level. Attorney Robert Damewood of Regional Housing Legal Services claimed that the local shortage was severe. Apparently the URA and the mayor’s office had yet to recognize this problem until recently.
3. Recent data from the Census Bureau show a poverty rate of 23.8% of the Pittsburgh population, a rate exceeding the national number by over eight points and the Pennsylvania percentage by over 10 points. Importantly, Pittsburgh poverty increased by nearly a full point (a four percent increase in the number falling at or below the line) in one year! Nearly one out of four residents of the city now lives at or below the poverty line. Until recently, no one in the local leadership thought that increasing poverty equated to a housing crisis.

This “discovery” of a crisis in low-income housing is another page in the ongoing saga of gentrification in Pittsburgh. Actually, “gentrification” is a euphemism for a more insidious process of ethnic cleansing. Europeans have a long history of ethnic cleansing in the New World, displacing peoples to suit their own settlement plans. In the case of native Americans, the answer was to collect them all on reservations. East Liberty was designated for a reservation of poor and African-Americans by an earlier generation of urban “renewing” civic leaders. Now they want it back.

Rather than tend to the needs of the neighborhoods– especially the urban poor– Mayor Peduto, like earlier mayors, has been occupied with bike lanes and other amenities that might attract migrant urban hipsters. His vision is to create a city for Richard Florida’s so-called creative class. He sees providing bike lanes for the 2 to 3% who regularly use bicycles (seasonally!) as a higher priority than housing for the 23.8% of our neighbors who fall below the poverty line.

Peduto likes to remind critics of his bike policy of the success of the bike culture in Amsterdam (apparently his model for the New Pittsburgh). What he doesn’t say is that Amsterdam can be bike friendly without neglecting the poor and disadvantaged. When confronted with a rise in the city’s poverty rate late in 2014:

Amsterdam city council has… recently announced measures to overcome poverty, including giving low-income workers entitlement to receive financial support.
The city has raised the minimum income threshold for support from 110 to 120 per cent of the legal minimum social income. Currently monthly minimum social income is 1.489 euros for a couple and 1.122 euros for an individual.
Amsterdam is setting aside an extra 20 million euros annually, in addition to the 60 million euros already allocated to combat poverty.

Apparently, the Peduto administration and the local foundations missed that element of Amsterdam’s urban planning.

 

— Greg Godels