Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Blog-freedom in Cleveland
The allegation of censorship is bad enough, but I really have to wonder what the Plain-Dealer was thinking and why this wasn't anticipated on their part. Either they didn't anticipate politicians to react badly to the postings of political bloggers, which would have been grossly naive, or they knew this was going to happen and figured they would have to jettison a content provider at some point. Were they planning to cave at the first inkling of opposition? I will be watching to see what response there is to all of this, but its not a proud moment.
more on USAirways
IMPACT OF AIR CARRIERS EMERGING FROM BANKRUPTCY ON HUB AIRPORTS, AIRPORT SYSTEMS AND U.S. CAPITAL MARKETS
That report is remarkably upbeat about how Pittsburgh could survive a post-US Airways world. I'm unclear if they really took into account the scale of downsizing that actually happened. But for now I wonder whether the airport can really keep responding to fewer flights by raising fees. At some point that becomes counterproductive. I am not an expert on airport finances, but I would say its worth the effort to compare the terminal fees that Pittsburgh has compared to other airports near and far. Anyone know of a source for that data already?
There is one positive story to this. If you had said a few years ago that the region's largest private employer was going to virtually disappear you would have predicted an awful amount of bad things to be happening and that just has not materialized. That in itself says a lot about how the local economy has changed in recent decades. For the airport authority itself however, it's a different story. I would be curious if it has any sustainable financial path for the future. There is still a lot of debt ($500mil+) on the books and you have to wonder about those payments. Some big balloon payments are coming due within 5 years which will force some new bonds to be issued. I'm sure the ratings agencies are going to chime in again soon.
For USAirways which caused all of this, another news blurb just out says some new survey results show it is viewed as the worst global airline. I have to admit I don't believe those poll results a bit from what I read in that short piece. It says BA was rated 1st last year and now comes in third which is still pretty high. Not really a knock on BA, but if you fly BA you are going to have to go through Heathrow which is just such a disaster these days. Read the last line in that blurb which is also worth noting: "43% had six weeks or more " (of vacation). Anyone have the comparable number for the US.
Monday, October 29, 2007
vicious mayoral debates
Sunday, October 28, 2007
quote: "the city has never looked so good"
"In the 40 years I have lived in the city, the city (of Pittsburgh) has never looked so good" and gratuitously broadened that statement to say many " (city) neighborhoods are thriving".
If that statement came from just about anyone else I would not have even noticed. Boosterism is always part of the public discourse, but it's inconceivable that Bill Green of all people was trying to spin a good-news-now story for the city. If Bill's views reflect popular sentiment in any way, there are real political implications for sure. No doubt he finds plenty of fault with the city and how it is being run now and in the past, but people react to the city around them more than anything else. So if Bill was even lukewarm on these points, from a purely political point of view, do any other points matter? You need to give Bill credit not shading his remarks toward a particular end. The remark came as their weekly panel was caught up in the fundamental debate over the state of the city as it relates to the election next week. The political types were mostly trying to make everything city related sound as dismal as they can be. That may be the nature of political races here and everywhere, but nothing is that simple. I would make one point as simply as I can. The state of city finances for example are what they are. I am on record as saying they are precarious now and precarious going into the future. What people confuse often is that the state of the city's municipal budget is somehow not indicative of literally every other metric about the city.
Friday, October 26, 2007
follow that story: downtown wi-fi
Actually, look at the businessweek link above announcing the companies bankruptcy. It has a tag line that I presume was composed automatically saying: "UWRL's price was unchanged after the transaction was announced on 10/9/07"... you gotta love pink sheet stocks. The price of the stock was 0.0001 per share... that is no typo, there are 3 zeros after the decimal place. So 1/100 of a cent per share.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
schools schools and more schools
on charter schools: Am not sure if this has had any notice here at all, but the Washington Post is reporting that down in DC former Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl has proposed converting several inner city Catholic schools to charter schools. Just from a purely financial point of view, I can only wonder what would happen if that were to happen here given the sheer number of students in parochial school here... it has to be higher proportion than in DC though I have never looked for that statistic. If I were on the school board here I would be watching pretty closely at what is happening there. If that experiment works out, do you think that in the future some local Catholic school faced with financial problems will choose the charter school route vice closing down entirely? How many schools could that potentially be in the long run?
on salaries: WPXI did a great piece of investigative/analytical journalism collecting teacher salaries from school districts in the region. It was good because they went beyond just the salary numbers by themselves which is typically all that the media and public glom onto. They also collected things like average years of service and educational attainment among teachers. It always gets me when someone throws out a statement about "teachers in school district X are being overpaid" and the only fact at hand is some average salary data with no appreciation for the differences between the workforce in different districts. If you just take that average of one district vs. the average of other districts are you making a useful comparison. I have taken the WPXI data and just made the scatter plot below which correlates median years of service to average salary per school district. That gives you a different perspective than just comparing the salary numbers by themselves. As correlations go that is pretty strong. A lot of the disparity in school teacher salaries here and elsewhere is just reflective of the fact that a lot of school districts have seen so little growth in so long that their average teacher tenure is higher than others, so they are higher on their salary scale... not necessarily because their salary scale compares favorably or worse. Does that type of difference affect other workers, especially other types of public sector workers? There is almost a built in bias against slow growing areas where public sector workers have not seen much hiring of new (and typically younger) workers in recent years/decades. Since you can't go around firing senior workers you will always see this type of pattern. And this is just one variable thrown into the mix, there are others that would go even farther toward deconstructing salary disparities across school districts (or other sets of workers). But here is that graph:
on Duquesne: PG did a nice piece recently on the apparently smooth transition going on down in East Allegheny (When Duquesne met East Allegheny, winners all around ) which absorbed a large number of the former Duquesne High School Students. I actually have an inside source down at the West Mifflin School District that got most of the students... you should take this as completely unofficial, indirect and anecdotal, but I have heard nothing bad from their experiences thus far either. I think everyone would agree that those teachers deserve a whole lot just for being professional enough to keep the kids first given the political turoil that went along with all of this.
and finally... yes I'm not done. A blog you may not have seen but is actually kind of interesting: Confessions of a Community College Dean.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
But this brings up a funny technology point. I was going to point out my pictures of Muscat, but I discovered that my link for online photos does not work any longer. I am not so much a Luddite as driven by inertia. While (or maybe it was before) everyone was putting pictures on flickr I put up photos on a different site photosite.com many years ago... low and behold they have gone belly up. I'm sure there are some lessons in all of that.
and just for the bloggeratti, there is another story in that New York Magazine issue on how some photo-artist translated blog-success into something bigger. Read: A Photo Blogger Lands Her Own Gallery Gig.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
but it's now two weeks until the fall election right? Seems shorter when you think of it as 350 hours or so until polls close... and some of that both candidates and voters need to use for sleep.
So what can I say without saying anything. In the spirit of openness... and just presenting data for you do interpret as you please...you could put this together yourself if you wanted to. I have put into one excel file a compilation of all election returns by voting district for the major races in the City of Pittsburgh over the last decade. Also included are the basic demographics and some other details that I am sure will be of interest to the political junkies (meant generically of course) out there. I hope someone puts this to good use. See this link to download the file:
new media watch: domestic auto sales
You can click on different years via the tabs on the top of the graphic and you can click on individual states for state-specific data. For Pennsylvania it's a pretty precipitous drop in the percentage of auto sales here that go to the big three domestic automakers (Ford-GM-Chrysler). In 1997, it was 78% of all sales down to 59% in 2006. I'm not sure if I am more surprised it was so high in 1997 or how fast it is coming down.
Monday, October 22, 2007
on the parking tax.....
Is there anything to add on the current debate over whether the city can/should/must/will/won't enact a decrease in the parking tax? I think there is a bigger picture to all of this. I was looking at this report from Harvard's Rappaport Center earlier this year:
Boston Bound: A Comparison of Boston's Legal Powers with Those of Six Other Major American Cities by Gerald E. Frug and David J. Barron, Harvard Law School.
According to one PR the study general conclusion was that Boston.......
"....lacks the flexibility and authority it needs to compete effectively in the new global knowledge economy, and is not able to fully capitalize on the innovation that it is known for"If that is true for Boston which has a fairly wide range of power that Pittsburgh does not, what does that say about the City of Pittsburgh which gets embroiled in a political semi-paralysis over whether a parting tax can be cut by 5% points or not.
But here is a great old PAT advertisement (with my 'doctoring' if it isn't obvious) I have posted below that could be relevant:
Saturday, October 20, 2007
More NYT coverage / also Hispanics in Pittsburgh during World War II
But speaking of history...... In yesterday's post on The Latino Experience web site is an essay on Latino's in the US during World War II. There is a brief mention of Hispanics working at the Pittsburgh Heinz plants making gliders. There were severe shortages of skilled wood workers here during the war, shortages of all workers for that matter. Thus communities of workers were attacted here from near and far. Below is a picture of glider wings leaving the Heinz plywood factory during the war. And below that is a picture of a shop floor at Heinz during the war... it's hard to tell in the online resolution, but it is amazing how many women appear to be doing the actual work. For that picture, if you click on it, it should bring up a very high res version of the same.
From: Men and Women of Wartime Pittsburgh. Frank C. Harper
Friday, October 19, 2007
implode-o-meter - tracking foreclosures
In looking for a more pessimistic version I found this report by ACORN put out just a few months ago. Yet even it does not paint the worst picture for Pittsburgh. It says Pittsburgh ranked all of 49th in the rate of foreclosures. 49th out of what I can't quite tell and on the top of page 3 it seems to say our rate is going down locally while we know nationally these numbers are jumping. It's curious in that it sure seems to me that the sentence where it describes the foreclosure rate going down sounds like it was written for data showing the rate going up:
"In Allegheny in April 2007, mortgage companies filed 395 foreclosure filings against homeowners who were behind on their mortgage. 460 notices were filed just a year earlier in April 2006. "
So my math may be off, but that is a year over year decline of 14% which would be noteworthy in itself, but that much more curious given the jumps in that rate across the nation or just within Pennsylvania. That lead me to see if this was really written for other regions and indeed ACORN has reports from around the country released the same time as the report on Pittsburgh. I looked at Cleveland's report and it just does not compare to Pittsburgh's. In Cleveland it said their rate of foreclosures in 2006 was one per 40 households while Pittsburgh's rate was less than half that 1 in 88 households for the same year. (update: here is a new blog focused just on Cleveland's foreclosure crisis: Foreclosing Cleveland).
My guess for some of the incongruous local stats: more older homeowners who have paid off their mortgages. They may be in similar financial straits, but they would not be captured by the bank foreclosure data everyone focuses on. They may be unable to keep up with taxes for sure which would be captured by tax lien or related data. Just suggesting hypotheses.
But high or low here, it's still something that is affecting a large part of the economy. So here is a remarkably informative web site keeping track of the problems in the nations lending markets: Implode-o-meter written about in the WSJ a couple months ago.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
there be rivers here......
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Lawrenceville is a complex place for sure. I don't have all the data to confirm this, but it has been suggested to me that on a percentage basis, real estate in the neighborhood is rising faster than most anywhere else in town. Even if not true, I wonder whether the opening of Children's Hospital will eventually have as big an impact as any single event on a specific city neighborhood in decades.
and just a personal obligation, but I will again say Goodbye, St. Francis.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Looking West - Economic Change in Ohio
GROWTH AND CHANGE:Employment Growth, Future Prospects, and Change at the Ohio Rural-Urban Interface. Prepared by: Mark D. Partridge, Jill Clark and Ayesha Enver (October 2007) of the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Ohio State University.
yeah, I know.. Nullspace... nullspot... close enough.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Death of an airline hub....
On Government - a Null Space spinoff
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Foodie's dilemma: Manhattan to Pittsburgh
Help! I would appreciate any suggestions for restaurants that will convince me to move with my husband of 30 years from Manhattan to Pittsburgh. Can a person
who lives across the street from Per Se and down the street from Fairway, Citarella and Zabar's find happiness west of the Hudson? Can anyone tell me about the restaurant/ food scene in Pittsburgh?
I love how even a food discussion on a food blog devolves into a discussion of Steeler-Jets. It is also pretty amazing how the discussion pretty much epitomizes the debate over the economy here vs. elsewhere. Seriously, replace 'restaurants' with 'jobs' and you get the same debates we have all the time.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Border Guard Bob seems like a renaissance guy
"Everywhere in America people are suffering and leading sad, empty lives. Everywhere except in a city called Louisville, where anything is possible."
Just checking this out some, there are some other similarities with Louisville. Maybe this goes along with the obsession on young people/migration, but Louisville also has its own diasporan bloggers such as The Urban Louisvillan who actually resides in Chicago. But from that Blog it is amazing how many things Louisville is planning are actually things we have already or will be trying as well. New sports arena? check. New downtown redevelopment? check. You could say they are like a decade behind us, just as they are with goofy ads.
and many know Louisville is example #1 these days in the whole debate over government consolidation. Ignoring most of that for the moment, I did learn from this blog that L'ville's neighbor: Jeffersonville, Indiana is also consolidating government via annexation.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Here are some relevant factoids. I will paste below the registration by party within the city of Pittsburgh as of last month. It really is amazing how small some of the third parties really are. While the Libertatian candidate for mayor at least officially represents 1,185 registered Libertatians in the city (a whopping 0.5% of all registered voters), the Socialist Worker candidate for mayor is himself a major chunk of the 28 registered socialists in the city. Now I know that party registration does not reflect actual political philosophy (and he needed more than 28 signatures to get his petitions submitted I would bet) and some parties carry a stigma you don't want to have on public record even if you are a sympathizer... but even some third parties considered relatively successful in a sense have minimal registration. Reform Party? 41 registered voters. Green Party? 965 total.
Party Total Registration
Consumer 20 0.0%
Democrat 163,485 72.4%
Reform 41 0.0%
Green 965 0.4%
Independent 1,946 0.9%
Libertatian 1,185 0.5%
Miscellaneous 11,183 5.0%
No Party 14,195 6.3%
Patriot 19 0.0%
Republican 32,667 14.5%
Socialist 28 0.0%
Constitutional 107 0.0%
Constitution 19 0.0%
Thursday, October 11, 2007
think you read enough blogs?
and PC magazine had a list of their top 100 undiscovered web sites last month.
Do they think they started as Cuyahoga Airlines?
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
News already going around about how the Majestic Star is likely to not open until 2009. No big surprise really given that winter is approaching fast, but remember how earlier in the year it was possible this fall could have seen both the new arena and casino under construction. With unlimited time it would be a fun exercise to go back in time and extract all the quotes predicting when the casino would open and track how they have changed over time.
I have brought this up before, but the PG ER blog points out how local state rep Don Walko is concerned that local Bingo operators are "having trouble attracting people to traditional bingos, raffles and other "small games of chance" ". If that is true now, has anyone at all asked the question what impact the new casino will have on local bingo operators. Also as the PG blog paraphrases Walko, local bingo operators are typically "nonprofit groups, churches and volunteer fire companies ". Trust me, there will be a story someday about some local fire department or church closing its bingo, or facing significant shortfalls and I bet the casino will be blamed one way or another.
You can read all about the other casino travails involving such as the anticipated parking issues and the ever larger neighborhood issues. We will forever be debating the economic costs and benefit of the casino to the city/county and region. What I read of the escalating conflagration on the North Side just makes me sad. Is the casino worth having city residents fight amongst themselves? While I am sure acrimony will get very personal, I think the structure of how we got to this point fed all of this. The anticipation of various forms of community support to be fed by the casino operation was left mostly unspecified and vague in the entire casino licensing process. Is it that surprising that different interests now have different ideas over the form of that support? There has to have been a better way to do this?
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Pittsburgh history in everything....... even this
Scarier is a quote referenced in the Carnegie's piece on Byers where the manufacturer of the stuff "insisted that his product could not have been the cause of Byers's death." ....... even stating: 'I have drunk more radium water than any man alive,' Mr. Bailey said, 'and I never have suffered any ill effects.' Now there is a credible source.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Pittsburgh to Steubenville in minutes
Sunday, October 07, 2007
and the one will become many....
What it all means? I dunno, but do not expect a null space video feed anytime soon. Can you imagine how dull that would be? but I can see the future factoid now... what city will be the vLoggiest someday.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
OT: Read this only if you want to feel old
Friday, October 05, 2007
And more from the East End: Any high school teachers out there? via the Friendship (the neighborhood) blog comes this info on the American Planning Association's Student Essay Contest on Creating a Green Neighborhood Plan. Someone here should be all over that, and it has a $5K prize. Here is what the it said:
2007-08 High School Essay Contest
Creating a Green Neighborhood Plan
THE ESSAY ASSIGNMENT: Everyone lives in a neighborhood, whether they live in a large city, a suburb, a small town, or even a rural area. For this essay, consider your neighborhood and create a plan to make it green and environmentally friendly.
Length: Essay is no less than 1,200 words and no more than 1,500 words.
If you know a talented high school student who would like to write a planning essay to compete for a $5,000 scholarship, please visit: http://www.planning.org/institutions/hsessay.htm
young people and wages... or is it wages and young people?
As simple as I can make it, the oped is clearly the perspective of a worker, i.e. labor demand, but says nothing about the labor market. There is this little concept of labor supply that factors into why wages are low and it may be counterintuitive as to why some young people feel they can’t earn as much as they want to in the local labor market.
I also hate to point out that the analysis in the oped is all based on some income statistics pulled from the census bureau. “Income” includes a lot more than just wage and salary earnings such as transfer and retirement benefits, along with other income sources. Due to our odd age demographic, all those income stats are heavily impacted by our elderly population here and say little about what local jobs pay. But no matter in that I don’t dispute the premise that we are paid less here, but it just does not work out to the disparities the oped claims to have discovered. A better source for looking up the “average wage per job” (something very different from median income) across regions is from the BEA. See this link for those who want to look this up themselves: http://www.bea.gov/regional/reis/default.cfm?catable=CA34§ion=2
From which I get these numbers for the regions cited:
Raleigh: $39,174 (note the oped actually says we get paid 34% less than in Raleigh??... it just isn't even close to being true.)
Before I begin, lets say I just skip the fact that the implied premise, that young people are leaving disproportionately, is baseless. I’ve beaten that to death as much as I can, let’s just look at the economic logic here. And lets stipulate entirely that there are people, many people I bet, who would stay in Pittsburgh or move to Pittsburgh if they could earn the same wage they can get on the open market in many other regions. What does that mean and what does it really say about the region? Something good or something bad? Given equal wages, everyone wants to live in Pittsburgh? Wow!
It is also worth mentioning, but I wont get into, that the oped does the common benchmarking of our educational attainment to other regions looking at the easily extracted statistic for the population age 25 and over. Again, that confuses the issue for us because we have older folks who generally have less education. But I have beaten that to death as well.
Lets talk about young, highly educated, recent college graduates who make up one of the most mobile parts of the labor force. What is Pittsburgh all about these days? We ‘produce’ an inordinate number of college graduates across a wide range of fields. I am pretty sure that if computed a ratio of new college graduates annually to the size of the local workforce would peg Pittsburgh at or near the top among large metro regions. Thus what you get is a nearly perpetual supply of workers being fed to local employers. Think that is affecting local wages? You bet.
Thus the problem is not that so many are leaving, wages are low because so many are staying. Seriously, by any measure, the educational attainment of our young workers ranks high, so somebody is staying…. a lot are staying. If somehow we really retained that many more graduates each year, we would soon become a top-heavy and dysfunctional labor force. The place can’t work with only PhD’s running around serving coffee at Starbucks, let alone working on the shop floor. With an overabundance of college graduates local employers looking for those workers are generally able to meet their needs by paying lower wages, that’s how markets work.
Now I know people bring up the issue of job growth in the region and clearly more job growth would both increase labor demand and also potentially push up wages but that is true everywhere and always. Even if we had several percentage points more growth each year in the workforce (which would be enough to shift us from a job laggard to a job leader among regions) we would still be producing a lot of college graduates for the size of the local labor market. That imbalance would still be there and so would be that wage premia (or negative premia) that we all abhor.
The low wage conundrum has a corollary: why Pittsburgh lags at attracting people to Pittsburgh. It’s just another effect of our high educational production. I have long suspected that local employers have gotten out of the habit, actually I doubt they were ever in the habit, of recruiting nationally for positions. If local employers can meet their needs with local workers it makes every sense for them to do so. It costs more to find and screen candidates from elsewhere… and there is a big hidden cost. Workers who move to Pittsburgh for a job are much more likely to move elsewhere if a better offer comes up. So until local employers are forced to find workers elsewhere, something that may not happen anytime soon as long as our local colleges and universities continue to succeed at their intended missions.
So what does it all mean? Are we are all destined to earn a fraction of what our friends in SF are making? Job and wage growth will come or it will not based on a lot of factors, but confusing the role of local wages is just bad economics. There is no button to push that will raise wages and keep people here. It all comes across as just another perspective that there is something wrong in the water inhibiting our future growth.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Also, I pointed out in the past. Penn State's Stephan Goetz and Hema Swaminathan made some waves with a paper published on the relationship between the growth of Wal-mart and county poverty rates. Here is a press release on their article "Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty" in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly. There is an earlier version of their paper available here.
and in case the big W feels I am picking on them, there is also news out the other day that Walmart has reached its goal of selling over 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs 3 months early.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Товарищ Рабинович, - говорит секретарь на заседаниипартбюро, - у вас есть мнение по этому вопросу?- У меня есть мнение, но я с ним не согласен!
Motley Fool on the Burgh
At some point I will compose my related thoughts on what I keep hearing about more and more, namely speculative type investment from people elsewhere coming in and investing in local real estate. We have all heard about some high profile investments like that, in particular Holly B's story about coming back to Pittsburgh and rehabbing the Grantite Building. Most have seen it of course, but you can read her related article on the subject in the New York Times last week: Where Everybody knows your team. Ironically, the Trib reported the same day that sales of Granite Bldg condos were not going so well. What I am more curious about is not the high profile investment, but people from NYC and elsewhere I hear about who are buying, sometimes sight unseen, multi units in some of our more depressed neighborhoods and municipalities. I am not sure if this is fact or fiction to the degree it can really be documented.
and just a note... with the news of the (penultimate?) collapse of USAirways here, there is already discussion on subject at USAToday's Today in the Sky Blog. Why "penultimate"? The ultimate collapse would be if they pull out completely, although what is the real difference between 90% pullback and 100%?
and speaking of Pittsburgh in the national news, or international news in this case. I knew our inclines were really called verniculars elsewhere, but the Voice of America actually describes them as "wooden cable cars" in its short piece: Pittsburgh's Wooden Cable Cars Recall Yesteryear.
neoSteel and the internet
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
I bet there is money in someone offering "Ghost" tours of Pittsburgh. Maybe somebody is doing it already?