Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Journalists and numbers

As is obvious at this point, I spend some of my time explaining numbers to the public via our fourth estate friends. On that subject there is an interesting post just put up at the Institute for Analytical Journalism: More insights into how and why journos can't deal with data


For the record I don't agree with the premise there that says "journalists face difficulties in dealing with statistics". . I'm pretty sure most journalists deal with numbers better than most.  What the problem is that most stories journalists are tasked to write must fit into an order of magnitude less space than what academics would use for similar material.  Academic lawyers may be the worst, check out the footnotes of a legal journal article which may be longer than the article itself.  Not the type of stuff that newspapers ever have space for and let's not even talk about television news segments.  

But the post points to some research showing that the public does better than journalists are taught when it comes to understanding some basic numbers.  If I understand it, it is saying the public grasps things like percentages and may only get confused when the same information is expressed as it would be explained verbally.

A perfect case in point comes to mind as I read this blurb just out coincidentally from the PBT on the most recent real estate metrics for the region.  Check out how much quantitative information is described in just a couple hundred words. It's kind of amazing when you parse it.   Sales are down, but the decline is lower than previous declines.(a declining decline)  Got that? Trends for higher value homes vs. others are discussed.   Some month over month numbers reported in there.  Year over year numbers as well.  Then there are this month's year over year numbers compared to last months year over year numbers.   Average prices down, but median prices up....  and county by county trends that are all over the place.  Even I am not quite sure what to make of it all and I've read it a couple times..  Maybe a chart or two would get the important concepts across a little more directly. 

and just in passing what may be the most important point: "The foreclosure rate was down 5 percent in the five-county region last month".   Foreclosure rate down?  In the climate all around is that not the headline?

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those SEA bonds again

Hey look.. Trib catches the story that the state is having to cover the costs of the variable rate bonds the SEA used for the arena bonds:  State to give Pittsburgh hockey arena $5 million assist on bonds

Unasked question... why didn't the SEA's swap work.  It was supposed to hedge against interest rate variability.  Too technical a point to get into for a news story like that, but someone really needs to ask that. I'll add that I am assuming the Trib had to dig for that story.  I don't see any other coverage of this, which would imply this wasn't just put out in a PR of some kind.. you have to believe this would be news all around if known about. 

Who said that this was probably a problem?  Actually who warned this was all coming over a year ago.  Sigh.

Anyway, here is chart I put together in that previous post on how the interest rate on the SEA bonds went over the last year.  Funny how we are only now learning about the costs of that. The story says the SEA "notified the state about the shortfall in December".  Last December? 




What really is odd here is a) why the bond needed bond insurance in the first place if it was indeed backed by the commonwealth.. and b) if the state is backing up the bond then why did interest rates spike when the bond insuerer lost its own credit rating.  It just seems to me that this was all structured in a way to obscure the state's backing of the bond with the result being a lot of extra costs.  It's as if the SEA paid for protection it didn't need yet didn't benefit from the protection it had.  In the end it lost both ways.

and looky:  The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is floating $145 million.  Not a big surprise, but you would think that is a bit of news since it is all money being spent to get out of the last bond issuance that went bad. 

update 2:  or maybe not.  Even though the above linked article clearly says "Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority Hitting Market with $145.5 Million New Issue" I am told that isn't the case.  Very odd.  Someone just made that up.  Nonetheless, there seems to be no disputing the Moody's analysis of the PWSA's situation which is pretty harsh.  Again from the link above: 
The underlying Baa1 rating reflects the authority's weak legal provisions, highly leveraged system (debt ratio 109%), and low debt service coverage levels averaging 1.2 times on all debt service payments. The rating also incorporates the authority's large, diverse, and stable customer base. The negative outlook reflects the risks related to the authority's debt structure in light of narrow coverage levels. These risks include: interest rate risk from its 50% variable rate demand bonds that are all swapped to fixed as evidenced by the higher interest costs experienced in the last year given market disruptions; the rollover risk associated with its liquidity providers, demonstrated by the authority's inability to obtain credit support for half ($26 million) of its subordinate 2008 C-1 bonds renewing on October 11, 2009; and counterparty concentration risk, given that all of the authority's surety bonds, swap insurance policies, and the majority of their variable and fixed rate bond insurance policies are provided by Financial Security Assurance, Inc. (FSA - insurance financial strength rated Aa3/under review for possible downgrade).  (emphasis added)


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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beyond the fruit machine

Call this the Casino Journal  mini-me version..... 

Somewhere between the budget miasma in Harrisburg, the news fog caused by the G20 and who knows what else, do people fully realize that Pennsylvania now has legalized table games in the casinos. Public debate? Discussion of any kind?   Some states even consider a public referendum for things like this.  People get up in arms over a pay raise for some legislators, yet this all goes without the least bit of consternation.  I don't get it.  The No Dice folks must be having a conniption.

What is really hard to reconcile:  A state that is just about the last holdout of state-controlled liquor sales somehow thinks a vast expansion of gambling activity is so trivial as to be passed without warning, debate or public discourse of any kind.  So controlling the ability the buy a bottle of wine is important, but expanding gambling is not even worth debating.  .

The question is why?  I do understand someone thinks table games will bring in $200 or so million dollars a year.  A lot of money for sure.  Yet the state budget as being reported is $27 billion. So we are talking about roughly 0.8% of the state budget.

Speaking of funny numbers.   I heard the casino's community guy  George Matta (former elected clerk of courts... there is a career path?  Also a former candidate for state house)  on TV say the casino has 90 full time police officers and that it was more than some local municipalities.  Well, looking a the list I compiled last month of local police officers by municipality it turns out that the casino has more police officers than ALL police departments in the county other than the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County itself.  Go figure. 

Some may have seen the PG story looking at the lost business Downtown during the G20 confab.  I have to admit I am curious what the casino numbers looked like during the same period.  Were they down because of the proximity to Downtown?  or maybe they were up from all the folks not going to work and heading to the casino instead?   We will see. 

But the numbers for the week before the G20 are out and they seem to be part of the rationale for the casino's bond rating to be lowered.  Which reminds me, what's the latest on thisUpdate: more casino finance comments from Dave.

Some reviews of the casino here at the AmericanCasinoGuide.com for what they are worth.

and some of the best gambling related numbers I have seen of late.   There is an absolutely hilarious (or depressing) table on page 9 of this paper:  The Lottery: a tax of people who are bad at math.  (opens a word file).


and Delaware tried to do us all one better and really tried to legalize gambling on single game professional sports events.  They just lost a court case filed to stop the idea from being implemented.  There is a combinatorics problem in the Delaware case.  It is aparently legal to bet on 3 sporting events at once; it's just illegal to bet on a single game's outcome which is what most do where sports books are legal (or where they are not).  Seems to me you could concoct a set of 3-game bets that work out to just betting on a single game. Probable gets too complicated with different odds on different games, but still.. anyone really good at math out there and want to help out the Delaware powers that be? 

Where is Nick Perry when you need him?  Just 4's and 6's is all he had to worry about.  The greatest part of that story is that there was someone thinking math.  They didn't just fix one number... it could have been any combination of 4's and 6's....  the (simplistic) idea was that it would spread out some of the betting and aide being detected among other reasons.  I bet even back then the detection algorithms then in use were more sophisticated than that.  The Mark 1 eyeball might even have noticed something odd in the betting leading into that scam.

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Numbers, numbers and more numbers

There are not enough wonks to go around to comment on all of this stuff.

Different datasets altogether, measuring some different things... but still two headlines in just the last day that may confuse: 

Pittsburgh Business Times:  Pittsburgh among top metros for per capita income growth

Trib:  Region's pay lags other areas

Also:

Unemployment is up to 7.8% in the region.  I won't repeat myself, but that now makes it 34 months well below the national unemployment rate.

Trib asked my thoughts on a slew of income data released today. It's really stuff that you can't squeeze into a news article.  Certainly not in the column inches those stingy editors give for stuff like this. 

Casino credit rating downgraded.... more on that later. 

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Return to regular programming

Where to begin to catch up? 

This is now a week and a half old, but I see little chatter over it.   I will have to defer to the legal beagles to explain what the difference is between the latest request by the county to delay the assessment litigation and its previous request which the state supreme court denied outright.  91 pages no less, but sure seems to be making the same argument as before. 

I wonder:  Do lawyers ever strategize beyond the legalisms? ...like maybe there is a point where it may make sense to cut your losses and not continue to prod the only judge the case has had for more than a decade. You almost have to consider if the intent is to try and incite the judge to do something with some hope of being appealable. 

I had thought I would be insightful and ask if the county's recent budget proposal has set aside any money for an assessment in any form.  The PG editorial board is ahead of me.  Anyone want to place odds that fact will be pointed out to the Judge at the next hearing over all of this. County has a bind in that sense.   If they budget money for an assessment they don't want to do, then they are tacitly acknowledging making plans for it.  If they don't budget for it, they are all but telling the judge they are not even planning on complying with his intent if not his outright orders. 

I said this before, but just observing all of this I can't get this scene out of my head.  That's the best reference I can find.  If anyone can find an embeddable clip of that I'd love to see it.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Unleash Hell

No, this isn't anything to do with any protest.

Going back to the use (or misuse) of language and the now ubiquitous quote that Pittsburgh was once “Hell with the lid off”. It was used by almost every visiting reporter.  I almost wonder if the quote was included in the memo all the visiting media must have been given on how to write the positive Pittsburgh story.   Here is just a partial list of newsoids in the last week using the mis-quote, or at least abusing the quote, to describe some version of a Pittsburgh past.

Los Angeles Times, Buffalo News, The Hindu , Daily Mail (UK) , Pacific Free Press , Financial Times (quote used as the title even) , Toronto Star, Agence Presse (France), PRI World (this one emphasizes the past ‘Dickensian nightmare portrayal of Pittsburgh’), Truthout (which explicitly says the description is ‘because of the smoke, soot, and brimstone coming from the steel mills that lined its riverbanks’... seriously brimstone??), etc, etc. There’s more actually, I’m just too lazy to type them all.

No wonder we are so conflicted. Even compliments are taken as insults.

As pointed out here via circuitous blog-provenance the” Hell with the lid off” description of Pittsburgh is out of context at best. As originally written it was not penned as a pejorative. It was at least with awe that 19th century writer James Parton looked down on 1866 Pittsburgh. The quote was almost a love letter (again as described the anonymous commenter) and certainly not the insult it has universally been interpreted as. Read Parton's actual words:

"There is one evening scene in Pittsburg which no visitor should miss. Owing to the abruptness of the hill behind the town, there is a street along the edge of the bluff, from which you can look directly down upon the part of the city which lies low, near the level of the rivers. On the evening of this dark day, we were conducted to the edge of the abyss, and looked over the iron railing upon the most striking spectacle we ever beheld ... It is an unprofitable business, view-hunting; but if any one would enjoy a spectacle as striking as Niagara, he may do so by simply walking up a long hill to Cliff Street in Pittsburg, and looking over into -- hell with the lid taken off……

…. all is curious and wonderful; site, environs, history, geology, business, aspect, atmosphere, customs, everything ... To know Pittsburg thoroughly is a liberal education in the kind of culture demanded by modern times."
If nothing else it's a bit more eloquent than any press release verbiage you would read today.

There is another odd misunderstanding of where exactly Parton was when making this description. The Atlantic in 1910 says Parton was atop Mount Washington. As pointed out by a different anonymous comment here, the original source says it was from Cliff Street which exists on in the Hill District today meaning Parton’s view would have been looking down on the flats of the Strip District, then the nexus of industrial activity in 1860’s Pittsburgh. It was (still is) a heights that could inspire. In the past-future and now gone were indeed several inclines built to scale the heights to the Hill District just as the Mon and Duquesne inclines scale Mount Washington today.

A friend reminded me of what is another awed visitor saw looking down upon history from a much higher vantage point nearly a century later. It would be in World War II that Secretary of the Navy would describe Pittsburgh thusly:

“I wish it were possible that the names of all the men who are doing this great production job in Pittsburgh could be written into the war history… Every time I approach Pittsburgh, especially by plane, I get a sense of tremendous power, a sense of accomplishment. Pittsburgh thrills you. "
The airport then in use would have been the Allegheny County Airport today whose approach paths would have been through the turbulence inducing plumes of the Mon and Turtle Creek Valleys. If Parton was awed by the mid 19th century Strip District it would be hard to imagine what he would have thought if sitting next to Knox on one of those flights.

But to try a bit of outsourcing from the far too erudite Null Space readership. The quote above is from Frank Harpers history: The Men and Women of Wartime Pittsburgh. Only the latter sentence is typically remembered, but the first sentence is actually as important as it really points out the role of Pittsburgh's labor force in the eventual victories of World War II. It would actually be my inspiration for my oped on what World War II meant to Pittsburgh.

But Harper’s histories are not always the most completely cited and the original source of that quote I have never found. If anyone has any idea where Harper pulls that quote from I would love to know.

At least from all of this I have figured out why Russell Crowe’s character in State of Play was said to be from Pittsburgh. Puzzle over that.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Core Values

Trib reporter as well as Army and Marine veteran Carl Prine has laid down a line in the sand asphalt over on the Pittsburgh Media Scoops and Gossip voy forum on the arrest of PG reporter Sadie Gurman last night.

Contrast that to the post just before his on the same subject. I am honestly a big fan of the right to comment anonymously in virtually all circumstances, a view that isn't all that popular these days, but somebody needs to stay under their rock.

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Back to the (electric) Future

There will be tomes written on the ex post impact of G20 on Pittsburgh... but for a moment of knitting:

Read the news today of a new electic automobile maker coming to town.  Just note the NYT story today on some of the history of the electic car

My history factoid to go with this. Before even talking of this new venture Pittsburgh is remarkably just about the only region in the US since WWII where there have been not one.. but two..  decisions y two different firms to be the site of major new automobile plants.   Of course, one wasn't completed, but there was a point when Chrysler was going to build a and even had started building the factory in Westmoreland County.  They chose not to pursue the project, but didn't choose somewhere else.  The unused site would become the Volkswagen plant (I once talked about its history here) and produced high mpg rabbits and jettas for a decade.   They were competitive in the decade coming out of the gas crises of the 70's.  So you can say we have been a 'green' manufacturer long before the current slogans??

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Benny Hill Lives

I didn't quite think about the irony that the BBC's version of the Pittsburgh story highlighted the Pirates. In fact, the story had a picture of PNC Park with this line:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a symbol of the city's transformation
Which really was a backhanded compliment at best these days  It takes the New Yorker to make sense of the line and what was lost in interpretation:
The Pirates? The franchise about which the kindest thing Pittsburgh sports fans say is, “They keep us humble”? Actually, it sort of makes sense. Part of the credit for Pittsburgh’s revival goes to its education sector, and that’s more or less the business the Pirates are in: the minute one of their players gets good, they trade him to a team that can win.
 I fear a bit that the BBC meant the double entendre....   or was it such an obvious dis that it was just a single entendre.

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Official Map of G20 happenings

Probably a few days late to be super-useful... but for our visitors still hanging out downtown. ADB had the only map you will need.

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Beyond the sound bite: The Decline and Rise of Pittsburgh

It has been a concentrated period of cascade pontificating for some of us. It's been flattering.  Most of my conversations and interviews with the visiting media have been orders of magnitude longer than the few quotes that can be used.  Most were limited by their respective mediums to only scratch the surface of the topics they were tasked to write about.

So this is nothing that should be unfamiliar to readers here...  but my friend, former biz columnist at the Philly Inquirer, and currently editor in chief of Moodys economy.com, Andy Cassel asked my take on the the whole Pittsburgh transformation story.  You can go over to his blog DismalScientist to see my longer thoughts on The Decline and Rise of Pittsburgh.  Yet even that is really just a quick summary of a much longer story I wish I had time to type.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Not a record

Can't even set a record this way.  According to the news reports, the Pirates drew ~3,000 people even today. Those folks all deserve some prize from the Pirates organization don't you think?  If you believe this source, the lowest attendance for a major league baseball game was 23 in 1916 or a modern record in the hundreds for an Athletics game in 1979.

I really wonder... if someone announced there was going to be a public protest of the Nuttings because of the Pirates record, how many people would show up? 

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ever more media

Maybe a temporary post for those who want to catch this in the morning.  Tomorrow AM on NPR, WDUQ 90.5 here, Morning Edition should have this:

G-20 Summit Lets Pittsburgh Show Off City After Steel.  By Scott Horsley. Maybe they will have other segments in the afternoon, I do not know. 

and if you want your own copy before they sell out... Thursday's edition of the Financial Times has it's special section on Pittsburgh.  though I am not quite sure how you would get a copy easily around here.  They must have extra copies being delivered to be sold around town.  I actually am a print subscriber (my only print subscription of any kind I think)...  But a lot of familiar folks quoted in these stories:

Face of the city: Civic foresight aids shift to cafe culture
Industry: No longer ‘hell with the lid off’
Rennaissance: Thriving on diversity instead of its mills
New industries: More than eds and meds

But again:  Hell with the lid off!   It's become a theme I think.  As I passed on from an unattributable source, a misquoted or at least misunderstood theme.  I haven't quite discerned it, but there is some deeper meaning in the misuse of the quote.

and Washington Post covers us: Pittsburgh Shows How the Rust Belt Can Be Polished Up

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Media updates

I said it the other day...  it's beginning.  All Pittsburgh All the Time All Over the World.  Can't document it all.  Folks I talk to wind up in the news box on the right side of the page, but there are lots of others:

Good and balanced BBC piece on the whole on us:  Pittsburgh steeled to be host city.

WSJ:  Signs of G-20 Are Visible in Unlikely Parts of Pittsburgh

another diasporan in journalism: Pittsburgh, City of Renewal, in the Atlantic.

Reuters has:  Five Facts About Pittsburgh.  But one of them seems to be a reference to the "Hell with the lid off" quote.  I need to compile all the recent references (and misuse) of that quote. 

and the Chinese Daily News says: Pittsburgh Pulls Up Socks

CBS video on Pittsburgh highlighting KDKA's Marty Griffith:




Extended Bloomberg TV interview with LR.  I'd say this is the type of earned media politicians would die for and is a reminder there is this election going to be held in just over a month... though I suspect that most of the people who actually watch Bloomberg television in the city are not likely to be voting for a Democratic mayor no matter.  But fyi: 


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Not Dante's Pittsburgh

LA Times weighs in on the Pittsburgh story: With G-20, Pittsburgh gets its 15 minutes. Sounds a bit incredulous of the memo being given to all the visiting journalists when the arrive which is ok. These folks are being force fed the Pittsburgh story via the proverbial fire hose and I’d honestly take a lot of it with a grain of salt if I were in their place having parachuted into town.

But it reminds me of something I've been thinking of. This article and a lot of the other Pittsburgh transformation stories that are being written harken back to the apocryphal quote that Pittsburgh was once Hell with the lid off. By almost universal belief it describes an image of a dystopian Pittsburgh past. In the LAT article the quote is used explicitly to say Pittsburgh is   "No longer called "hell with the lid off," as an early critic put it". 

Critic?  ........... Old Navy saying:  Never assume....  This being a family friendly blog I won't complete the  phrase.

What I learned once via Sam M. (where is Sam by the way?) who learned from an unnamed reader of his…. The quote was not meant as an insult! It was actually describing how amazing the view was on Mount Washington Cliff Street in what we now call the Hill District(see comments for source of correction) looking down on the urban scene that even back then was urban Pittsburgh. Imagine what they would think of the view today?

Since it is said so well I will now quote a quote whose authorship I do not know, but the actual context for “Hell with the lid off” which was penned by one James Parton in a 1866 travelogue on Pittsburg(h) is not what it may appear.  Again via one of Sam's past readers on Antirust:

In the oft-cited passage, he was talking about the view from what was then Coal Hill, and is now known as Mt. Washington:

"There is one evening scene in Pittsburg which no visitor should miss. Owing to the abruptness of the hill behind the town, there is a street along the edge of the bluff, from which you can look directly down upon the part of the city which lies low, near the level of the rivers. On the evening of this dark day, we were conducted to the edge of the abyss, and looked over the iron railing upon the most striking spectacle we ever beheld ... It is an unprofitable business, view-hunting; but if any one would enjoy a spectacle as striking as Niagara, he may do so by simply walking up a long hill to Cliff Street in Pittsburg, and looking over into -- hell with the lid taken off."

He's describing the view, molten wreaths of fire, as far as the eye can see; not the livability of the city, the cuisine, the people, or anything else. "Here," he wrote, "all is curious and wonderful; site, environs, history, geology, business, aspect, atmosphere, customs, everything ... To know Pittsburg thoroughly is a liberal education in the kind of culture demanded by modern times." It was practically a love letter to the city, yet that damned "hell with the lid taken off" line is all that survives.

So most of the positive press of late is a bit Back to the future-ish?   Ironically not really including this recent piece, but we'll give the author a few more days in town to see if we can win him over a bit more.

and if anyone wants to take public credit for the expostion above just let me know... honor code rules.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Diversity notes

I was thinking of keeping this all G20 until we get through the week... but some quick notes:

A bit of self promotion, but just now published academically:  Gender Wage Disparity in the Pittsburgh Region. Sabina Deitrick and Christopher Briem. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 53, No. 2 (October), 239-260 (2009)

Related to that, Sustainable Pittsburgh recently distributed their report:  Inclusion in the Workforce, Positioning the Pittsburgh Region to Prosper and Compete.

If you really want to obsess on diversity numbers within the local labor force, I did this a couple years ago now:  EEO Employment Data for Allegheny county and the Pittsburgh Region

and some more details on what will be on tonight, WDUQ 6:30pm: Ode to the Rust Belt.

OK... you can go back to trying to spot your friendly neighborhood anarchist.  They must be hiding behind the mailboxes. 

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Waiting for Godot G20

What are we going to do when this is all over with? No media hordes. No international media attention. No vast unknown of what disruptions will soon descend upon us.....  Life will be boring again. 

For now however the media sweeps are beginning.  This evening on NPR's Marketplace busness show which airs on WDUQ at 6:30pm during the week the focus will be something about Pittsburgh.  Imagine that....  transformation... young people leaving (or not) and the vast diaspora. Actually it was taped well before the current media hordes arrived so might not technically be G20 themed at all.   Might be a few familiar voices in there along the way. :-)

Just thinking of the folks I have talked to of late... coupled with the scores of buses that just happen to be parked outside my office for the more general media tours being conducted I have to wonder... how many stories about Pittsburgh can be written?  Between the 3 angles to what is being covered:  the 'Pittsburgh story', the protester story and the actual reason this is all happening, i.e. the G20 story itself... Thursday is going to be all Pittsburgh all the time all over the world all at once. 

You know what I was thinking of which is a really funny contrast to all of this?  There have been some recent periods of national media exposure for the collective Pittsburgh.  The presidential primary last year comes to mind.  Certainly the Superbowl and Stanley Cup runs generate extended media cycles, but are almost routine in a sense and don't really generate too much coverage beyond the sports reporters.  I was thinking of the visit to Pittsburgh by Denver columist Bill Johnson just a few years ago.  Remember him and how his one hastily written column generated an obsessive news cycle here for much of a week?  How personally his 'insult' was taken?  Maybe next time we just won't notice?  

Finally....  Mike has figured it all out and indeed Isaly's = 42.   My work is done here.  Not sure what I will do next. Guess I will have to apply to law school or something.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Steelers lose, city too depressed to host G20.......

........world leaders being sent to Altoona instead and the protesters are being redirected to Mount Jewett, PA where there will be plenty of camping available.

Speaking of the G20.  Bram describes the G20 watch: It feels like watching a hurricane develop off Bermuda.    It's more like seeing signs of a hurricane long before the era of weather satellites.  Nobody even has a clue how big a storm is out there.  Squall, nor'easter or cat 5 cyclone?  No idea.  Can't begin to guess where the dangerous semicircle is.

and so the week begins. What will we all be saying Saturday morning?  Will be asking ourselves what just happened to us?  or what all the fuss was for? 

and the Financial Times feeds the beast today... not sure why this is not showing up in my news filter there on the right.  But:  Obama's exemplar: from depressed steel town to diversified economy. It is on an inside page (p. A9), but it does have this odd shading for the whole article setting it apart from other stories. Don't want anyone to think the Pittsburgh story is like other mundane stories??   I am a bit curious how that story gets filed online under "FT Home > Companies > Industrials > Automobiles". 

There is another  FT piece there as well today on the steel industry full of good/bad messages:  Mittal puts shine on steel outlook.  It says there are positive signs in steel, but also is clear that: "The size of the year-on-year decline in steel demand in 2009 will almost certaily be the biggest since the second world war".  That exactly is the context for my quote in the Pittsburgh-themed FT piece today.  Steel is hurting more than in the 1980's and if we were still the steel region we once were the local economy would be worse than it was back then...which was pretty awful by most any definition.  Also that steel article lists the top 10 steel producers in the world.  US Steel makes the list... at #10 it looks like, so barely.  Also kind of a mixed message I suppose. 

and just in passing... big UPMC ad in the FT today FWIW. 

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

When forecasts are painful

I typed up the latest for the Wettick watch, but there is too much other stuff to note. But there is a new filing and astonishingly another appeal just filed in there. Really. Go look.  91 pages no less.

First thing to read is the Trib’s piece on some history that really is the starting point to understanding the Pittsburgh economy. See: Seeds of Pittsburgh’s Change Rooted in Steel’s Decline. It really is excellent that Robin A. tracked down former Pitt professor Martina Whitman who really was on staff here at Pitt working on the economic study the article talks about . Those reports are from the late 50’s and early 60’s and really are some of the very best research ever done on the Pittsburgh economy then, since then, and even into our future now. It pegged a long term forecast describing the decline of steel with amazing accuracy decades before it would become an accepted fact for most here. And that was just one small piece of the overall report.

Martina Whitman’s involvement is significant in lots of ways as well. We’ll get to the role of women in the local labor force in a minute… but something worth noting. Not to overlook any of Dr. Whitman’s long list of impressive accomplishments, but her full name is Dr. Martina Von Neumann Whitman. Yes that Von Neumann.

Then there is the oped in the PG on the role of women in the Pittsburgh story: How Women Changed Pittsburgh. Starting in the 1990’s I would tell people that the real change in the local labor force was the story of women finally being a part of the labor force in ways they should have been decades ago. It was just not the way anyone was thinking about what was going on and I would mostly get stares. Yet without understanding the impact of women entering the Pittsburgh workforce I am not sure anything else could make sense. It really is the number 1 story, if it makes sense to rank these things, on how the Pittsburgh economy has 'transformed' in the last couple decades.

Nonetheless, the oped goes and references back our own report on the topic. Not mentioned, but we put out our own oped on the topic at the time and we have a forthcoming academic article version to be published in the journal American Behavioral Scientist. Was that really our original work? The same studies Dr. Whitman worked on noted the problem of women missing in the Pittsburgh labor force from that 50’s/60’s period. Going back further I have noted how similar comments can be traced to the 1940’s.

So it all fits together like everything else in Pittsburgh. 

And the PG likes my haiku if you can believe that. Too funny.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

From one yinzer to another

I was going to title this "The Diaspora Strikes Back" but I thought it deserved a more first person tone.  I may rant a bit here, but in truth it takes an awful lot to get me really perturbed.   I see the latest Pittsburgh coverage in the Wall Street Journal.  Some sort of article or commentary:  Dreaming of Pittsburgh: On the eve of the G-20 summit, a native son finds a city moving toward the future but longing for its past.

For a moment I thought that it was a decent counterbalance to a lot of the hype that is the general theme of the coverage we are getting from the national and international media of late.  It was a passing thought. I just don't have the time to untwist some of the false premises and misused logic (or maybe it's the misused premises and false logic?) wrapped up in all of that.  Make no mistake, I know our warts and what really gets me is that I think most of the negative factoids thrown in there come from me pretty directly in one form or another.  I almost sense a null space reader.

It really is amazing that some folks just can't seem to accept the slightest thought that there is anything at all positive going on in Pittsburgh or that anything at all has really changed in the last 30 years.  Some of the most negative nabobs are here, but the most negative folks I have encountered are actually a set of the vast diaspora who moved away and seem to have taken their need to move away very personally .  I really wonder if the comments expressed stem from a Pittsburgh past as much as a Pittsburgh present. So while I do think it is best for all take some of the univerally positive press with a grain of salt, to just portray it all as an illusion begets another form of bafflegab altogether.

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добродошли у Питсбургу

Seriously... between the basic G20 stories themselves,  the coverage of protests, large or small, and the whole "Pittsburgh Story" there is a veritable army of media about to land on us from all over the place.  Lest there be any doubt that the G20 is a bit different from say the Super Bowl in terms of the "earned media" it is generating for the region... This may be the best so far.

http://eyugoslavia.com/featured/18/former-steel-city-pittsburgh-hosting-world-leaders-2211542/

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brown Town Now

The Economist weighs in:  The revival of Pittsburgh; Lessons for the G20

Of course, the Economist folks were a bit ahead of the curve

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G-20 is not a bingo combination...

... but it is fodder for haiku. 

You know things have gone off the deep end when the Wall Street Journal's coverage of the G20 conference extends to a newspaper columnist in Malta expressing herself via Pittsburgh themed haiku.  No joke, I am not creative enough to dream that up.  Read:  In Pittsburgh, It Takes Just 17 Syllables to Tell the G-20 How You Really Feel, subtitled: Haiku Contest Draws the Proud, the Lyrical and the Annoyed; 'We Won't Be Greeting You'. 

so kudos to the Pittsburgh Filmakers who clearly win the award for the most innovative way to garner earned media out of the G-20 conclave.  Who says the region is not benefiting from all of this?

Best I can do:

Piittsburgh a story
Steel or no steel we repeat
What next I wonder

Does that even count?  I think it represents my lifelong compilation of poetry.

and I didn't see it when I typed all that, but Potter has another angle to the haiku-burgh story.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wettick Watch

Headlines already covered the main points, but the details are in the latest memorandum from the court

and yeah, I really might have a file for every conceivable circumstance. We'll skip Google this time.  For this there is a very useful manual on the Sabre System methodology for the intitial mass reassessment in Allegheny County.  The issue the two sides will be debating over the coming weeks comes down to simply how much of that work needs to be repeated.  Does the county need to start from scratch as if there had never been a mass assessment completed here, or do they just need to run the model again with the latest data on recent sales. One option is fairly quick and inexpensive, the other long and costly.  

Then there is this little issue that there was a mass reassessment done for 2005/6 even though it was never used. It was a fascinating bit of reporting the other day on some disagreements between the county and its former chief assessor.  Was she a part time contractor or not?  That is less important than another aspect of this case that directly involves her.  I would give odds she will be testifying here pretty soon.  Some may recall that Judge Wettick engaged in some rare direct questioning of Ms. Bunn back in 2006.  So he knows who Ms. Bunn is quite well I imagine.  The issue that may become the most important in all of this is that Ms. Bunn testified that the never-used 2006 assessment numbers met the standards for the industry.  Somehow I think that one point may be brought up again by someone or another... maybe the Judge himself. 

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Something has been reversed

This is something I have in the hopper for when I have nothing else to say... But given all of the G20 hype it may be interesting to read.  The following once written about Pittsburgh. Seems to me that the situation has been reversed.  Read this and then note the date:  

It would seem, too, that a great deal could be done to advertise the advantages and good points of the Area (Pittsburgh). When the city is mentioned many people who have never been there say it is smoky, dirty and hot in the summer. Many who have been there complain about such trivial things as the poor taxi service at the station. It quite infrequently that one hears of Pittsburgh’s good points from anyone but a Pittsburgher.
Source. The Long Range Outlook for the Pittsburgh Industrial Area. 1947

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pittsburgh to everyone's surprise

Today's contribution from the Christian Science Monitor:  Seven cities that surprised in recession.

Less surprised is the WashPo which has:  Pittsburgh, three ways  with a dateline of this coming Sunday?

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Seeking Henry George

Speaking of Downtown parking.  Someone in a comment a while back asked an interesting question.  Why is the surface parking lot just across the street from the City-County building so undeveloped? 

Here is the assessment record of the parcel.

Looks like they are appealing their property value right now even.  So we can tie it all to assessments as well.

This press release might be about them, but I really don't know.  It says it is a parking REIT listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange.  Cool.  Gotta be a G20 link there somewhere.  And since this is Pittsburgh and everyone and everything is related, these folks sound like the optimal market in the potential bidders for the city's parking assets.  How many parking REITs are there out there big enough to think about that, and with some Pittsburgh experience to boot. 

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Survey says

 I really wish I could survey folks all the time. What would people choose for the most important issue they are concerned with among the following:
  1. G20 agenda
  2. Afghanistan troop levels
  3. Recession
  4. Troy's knee
Does anyone doubt which one would be the top local angst-producer? Notice I don't even pretend for a second that things like pensions, assessments or the lack of a state budget would even be considered on that list. Those trivial things are like the whether the Pirates won yesterday, i.e. things nobody thinks about much these days... sort of like the mayor's race.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

funny that

You know.. I see no meaningful mention of pensions today, nor the bill that was sent back to the Senate, from deep inside the capital:

http://twitter.com/capitol_ideas

I really know little about the current state of political machinations in Harrisburg...  but I will lay odds that the entire Philadelphia delegation will want assurances on that bill before they go along with a state budget deal.  What shakes about vis a vis the Pittsburgh pension deal is anyone's guess at this point. 

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just google" 'Judge Nicholas Papadakos'. eom

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sound Collision!! and take Judge Wettick's blood pressure while you're at it

I sometimes wonder if there will be anything at all worth blogging.  So I just checked out the Wettick Watch (there on the right) and what do I see that I didn't catch from a couple days ago?

It looks like the county had a rather curious exchange with Judge Wettick last week.  I paraphrase, but first the county says the county assessor is rarely in Allegheny county and can't make a hearing the Judge has scheduled for September 14 (that would be Monday!).   I kind of understand that actually.  What sane person in Allegheny County would want to be the assessor here?  But still. 

Then the judge replies, again paraphrasing:  Be there! (see handwritten order at bottom of above referenced letter also pasted at bottom of the post here). 

The bigger question actually is who knew that Deborah Bunn was no longer the Chief Assessor?  Who in the world is Ed Schoenenberger?  He may soon become the single most important person in the state.  Poor guy.I have a feeling he will soon be spending a lot more time in his county of employment.  and the judge for sure wants to see him in person standing there before the court.  Hmm.

And there is a proposed remedy filed there as well.  Can't say this is any surprise.  Plaintiffs are proposing county be ordered to use the extant 2005 assessment values immediately.

To extend the nautical speak. the description of the relationship between the county and the court at this point:  constant bearing, decreasing range.



It says:  Order of Court   Request to reschedule is denied; the Chief Assessment Officer of Allegheny County must be available to fulfull his functions.  9/9/09   /s/

So the judge isn't willing to consider for a moment a delay of 72 hours.  Says a lot right there.  I really wish I had time to go watch all of this.  I suspect at least parts of it will be entertaining.

Beyond that, all I can say is: Groundhog Day

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G20 Media Watch

I still recall my gut reaction when I read the news of the G20 coming here: Protesters Cometh

WSJ ramped up the protester watch yesterday had:  Pittsburgh Steels Itself for G-20 Protests

I really am wondering about something.  Article says Seattle was overwhelmed by 50K protesters.  Could 50K people really fit Downtown?  Granted 100k or so work Downtown, but they spend most of their days on upper floors and are never on the streets all at the same time.  Could the streets of Downtown really accomodate that many folks?  Probably, but then take out the security perimiters and other areas that are going to have to be cordoned off no matter and you get even less space Downtown.  It would be an interesting spatial geography question to figure out what the density would have to be in the area Downtown net of parcel footprints.  Again, even if that is all conceivable, the corridors that such a crowd would have to travel through in order to get to and from Downtown are going to be awfully narrow.  Gonna be interesting. 

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Friday, September 11, 2009

8:46am

I fear we forget:

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Checking in on Maglev

Even I am confused.  Last month the news was that the state added Maglev to what it wanted out of stimulus high speed rail dedicated funding.  I have not been following it that closely, but I thought it didn't actually make it into the final ask for the high speed rail funding.  The latest news is that the local Maglev project is getting $28 million to continue working on the idea.  That's like life support money.  So maybe it's not on the list for big $$, but not completely cut off. 

Got me thinking though about what is up with MaglevPA, the folks who have been working on getting maglev in Western PA since forever.  Literally decades at this point.

There is a little issue that surfaced last year.  The company building the technology that MaglevPA had been working toward implementing here, a company called TransRapid in Germany, had announced it was dissolving itself. I know from conversations that some people thought Transrapid had already ceased operations. Turns out not to be quite true.  The government in Germany jumped in and has been trying to keep Transrapid alive. I checked in and found this recent blurb in the German press on the ongoing travails of Transrapid. So it's still there, for now.

Whether Transrapid is still part of the plan for MaglevPA I have no idea.  I was looking at their web page to see if there had been some change, but much of the content is dated.  People have forgotten there was a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) produced on the potential maglev to be built here.  From the news accounts PAT just paid $70K for a consultant to actually finish the EIS. 

and don't forget, there have been two other maglev projects seriously discussed around here in recent years.  A low speed maglev just for within the city and a maglev out at the California University of PA.  I say there has to be some stimulus money for my favorite unbuilt transit system in the city.

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non-news on pensions

non-news on pensions as of this moment: 

http://blogs.mcall.com/capitol_ideas/2009/09/oh-never-mind.html

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The Steelers Mystique, the early Superbowl years and the Pittsburgh mythos

A couple months ago there were some thoughtful comments from the diaspora on the meaning of sports, the Steelers and Pittsburgh.  See this blog post.

It reminds me of something that has always been curious to me. The implosion in steel jobs was something that came to a head in the early 1980's. The first 4 superbowls were won between 1972 and 1980. The mythos of the rabid Steeler fans supporting the team while the economy collapsed around them is missing something in the timing. For sure, there were some bad times in the 70's. Two national recessions in the 70's were having big impacts here, but there were also periods when the region was faring better than the nation . It was a boom.bust cycle that what pretty common for Pittsburgh because the national business cycle had always been magnified here.  So looking at the economy back then through the prism of the 1970's, there was no vast economic collapse going on... certainly there was no appreciation for what was to come. The real miasma that would get the region to move past denial was years in the future.

So as Steelers fans were rooting for victories in Superbowls 9, 10, 13, and 14, the idea that the steel industry was permanently collapsing in the region was just not conceivable. Steelers Nation did not exist yet in part because the diaspora that fuels it had begun.  We are still stuck with the branding that America's Team (cough) was the moniker given to the Dallas Coyboys in 1979.   It was only after that run of Superbowl victories ended, when the regional economy did collapse, that migration out of the region accelerated... then the folks leaving were likely to have Terrible Towels packed with their other valuables in the moving vans as they left town. 

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Energy Mashup

NYT today covers some development in the nuclear power industry impacting Westinghouse: A ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ Stumbles Forward. by Matthew L. Wald.  The recent local news is that Westinghouse has filled its space in Cranberry and is still expanding there.  I can't recall if I ever said it here, but it sure seemed to me that the growth projections W have been putting out, positive as they have been,  were still erring on the conservative side. 

also from yesterday... behind their paywall but may be accessible via this link is a great interactive chart from the Financial Times on the Nuclear Power Revival worldwide.

A really keep forgetting to scan a post card I keep getting, this one from a different firm I think telling me about meetings regarding natural gas leases for my property.  The thing is, I live in the city where parcel sizes are miniscule.  I really want to know what the deal is but have had no time to follow up.  Are these folks looking for mineral rights or something?

But Jim covers some dialectic developments in the Pennsylania's neo-energy rush.  Looks like low gas prices are putting a damper on some developments, while others are seeing ever greater impacts across Pennsylvania.  All I can really say is that my heating bills better be lower this winter.

If this all continues on the positive side I was going to suggest an economics essay question:  Discuss "Dutch Disease and what its potential implications are for economic development in Pennsylvania".

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

iPension

Just because it seems like pensions will be in the news into the foreseeable future.....  For those that don't want to shell out for Ambien:  iPension: a perpetual beta non app.... or Everything you don't want to know about the City of Pittsburgh pension system.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

When Sid was not the kid

If the Pirates achieved the lofty status of being an 'average' baseball team, what would be the statistical probability of 17 consecutive losing seasons?  The answer is too painful to calculate.  My homophonic cousin defines the last time Pirates baseball mattered and the beginning of the end of my real (in-law at least) cousin's tenure managing the Pirates.  This is Pittsburgh and we are all related one way or another.  That is a corollary to the two degrees rule.

But Sid was out.

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The G20 and the SEA, more connected that you know

Since I put up a Labor Day factoid on Friday here is something else.   For the few folks reading here today this is something only Fester may really care about:

I have suggested several times it was worth watching the Sports and Exhibition Authority's bonds that are paying for the new arena in town. They were variable rate bonds which have caused all sorts of people trouble of late (remember the PWSA problems? or even UPMC's auction rate bond last year, though it's not the same exact situation).  The SEA bonds even had this problem I suggested that they were nominally insured by FSA, a bond insurance company, which has had its share of problems in recent years.  I was just wondering how the variable rate part of the equation was working out.

Without having enough information (or time) to evaluate how well the swap set up by the SEA worked this is just one part of the equation.I presume the swap must have been helpful... otherwise there was a big story missed in how the bonds variable rates spiked last year.  Here is what I quickly compiled for what the yield has been on SEA bonds as traded since they were issued and started trading just about 2 years ago now. 
The story there I presume is mostly reflecting the turmoil in the financial markets last fall.  It all could have been a disaster for everyone if the situation had not been brief and rates had not come back down quickly. For the SEA's bond, it's hard to imagine a swap could have obviated all of that volatility... but the bigger news now is just how far the yield has dropped since then. There are lot of implications to that. Again, I would have to dig into the swap to see just how much that is actually impacting the SEA's budget if at all, but many loans are seeing lower and lower interest rates.  Is the SEA realizing a savings from that?  Could be quite a lot compared to what was budgeted. Depends on a number of things I don't have enough data to fully evaluate. 

The same dynamic however is going on in the mortgage ARM world. Most decent (i..e. non-predatory) adjustable rate mortgages are indexed off the 1 yeart T-bill rate which has been hovering around or under a remarkably low half a percent give or take.
So there was a scary moment in the past, but some really low rates now.  Some questions that arise from all of that such as why the PWSA bonds were so problematic yet no news along the way of any issues for the SEA bonds.  Questions for that public finance class homework.  Now with the SEA literally hosting the G20 at the convention center.  Who knew the SEA's fate rested so much on what the G-20 folks will be deliberating while here.
I know I know.. should look the same up for how the PWSA bonds have been trading.  They are broken up into a lot of different blocks and I don't have time to sort it all out.  Looks like JP Morgan is still remarketing the bonds as of September though at rates that have also come down to near the1 year t-bill rate as well. 

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Post-cupcake Pittsburgh

I really wish I had come up with that phrase.  I may have to use it on occassion.  But Mike explores the meaning of a post-cupcake Pittsburgh.

I may need to update my compilation of bakeries per capita by MSA. Just one of many cupcake metrics. Not a number in that is made up for the record. Like all numbers, good use or misuse comes in the interpretation.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Globalization and steel+

On globalization and steel:

Just one of those things I make note of.  Via the Cleveland Plain Dealer today, Russian steel coming into the country via the port in Cleveland making its way to a finishing plant in Western PA.  The curious thing is the story is about the jobs the port gets by bringing in the steel.  The 80's really are a lifetime ago aren't they?  Back then the headlines were all about the jobs produced by bringing in steel from other countries.   Not.

But with G20 media attention on the burgh already clicking up,  here is a factoid of note that I have been giving out. Primary metals employment alone in the Pittsburgh SMSA then defined in 1980: 86,298.   Primary metals employment today in the MSA: 12K.  

On Real Estate and Homewood

If you really ask my opinion on what the future of local media will look like I would say look at the focused hyper-local news that is Elwin Green's My Homewood Blog at the PG.  I'm serious about that, but I do have to poke at his post yesterday about how Homewood real estate values are surging because they are showing a median value increase from $8,200 to 10K over the previous year... a remarkable 22% increase in a down economy.

I mean... it's certainly better news than a median price that drops below $8K per parcel, but at these levels you are talking about statistical noise.  Transaction costs and other factors mean there really are not market transactions for prices much below $10K no matter so to infer much from price movements in that range is overinterpretation at best.  So I hope Homewood real estate values are stabilizing, but Elwin's imploring folks to 'buy while still affordable' is scary advice when it comes to real estate.. no matter how affordable. I think lots of folks, especially out of towner's, were thinking that way a few years ago. 

Maybe there is something to write about politics.

I've been avoiding anything specific on local politics, like the mayoral race, because there hasn't been much to say anyway. The G20-apalooza is going to blot it out of the media cycle until October anyway.  But you know, the PG might get my $3.99 if what Vannevar says is true.  I wonder if he is pulling our leg though?  True or not, if PittGirl had actually gotten on the ballot it might have been an interesting factor to watch. My only prediction would have been that she would have gotten more votes than Josh Pollack.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Labor Day Factoid

I'd like to do something more with this, but no time.  But for Labor Day I looked in on what thedata shows for unionizaton levels here in Pittsburgh.   I run these numbers myself sometimes,but for a general reference I pulled this quickly from unionstats.com.  
This data is for employed private sector workers only (I forgot the 'private sector' in the title, I'll add later).  Unionization among public sector workers is different and a higher number most everywhere.  Since it covers employed workers it does not capture what may be a metric of union households with retired, laid off or former union members.  I have also plotted the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements which is a slightly different number than actual union members by a tenth of a percentage point or two. 
A couple suprising things.  One thing that always amazes people is just how low unionization level is in Pittsburgh, widely thought to be a big labor town. The current levels are right in the middle of what you would expect for large metro areas.  Nothing out of the ordinary at all in it. (again for private sector workers).
But something I just noticed with the most recent data (2008)...  a couple years ago it seemed certain that the private sector unionization rate was doing to dip into single digits, but it looks to have not only arrested the long term decline, but edged up a bit.  We will see if the uptick continues, but it has certainly leveled off. 

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ever more pension prognosticating

So . I still don't get what the point was to look at data 3 years old to see where we will be in less than two years if there is more current data available. But....

Nonetheless, the state says maybe, maybe, maybe the city can get to a 50% funding level in a couple years.  That would still make it pretty much the least funded system in the state, at least for larger pension funds. Some of the assumptions baked into that have not even been true in the years since 1/1/2007!

But there is a quote in the story of note:
He said the city made a formula mistake that resulted in a significant overestimate of the long-term benefits of the mayor's plan. The administration's analysis estimated that the fund would, by 2037, hold 85 percent of ideal levels, but Mr. Allen said it would really only be 69 percent funded if everything went according to plan.
So basically if lots of things go really well, then by 2037 the pension fund can get back to the funding level it achieved in 1999 after the 2nd pension bond was floated.  Here are the 'official' funding ratios for the city's pension fund over the last decade or so.  As of January 1, 1999 it reached 64% and was probably a bit higher in the months preceding that.   Such is what counts for progress around here.

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Poor Pension Prognosticating in the Past

Here is all I will add to the news (PG and Trib versions) that the city has provided with the state with projections on how they will have a solvent pension system in the future.

While I know this is mostly unreadable actuary-speak, here is the city's quite detailed projection from the 1990's on how just the earlier and smaller pension bond would solve all the city's pension problems.  You can skip the detail, the conclusion is that all will be well.  But lots of nice tables and graphs to make you feel good along the way in accepting that. 

I wonder if the projections provided to the state look like this in either their conclusion or their detail?  I am also curious. The Trib version makes clear that the city sent the state information from January 1, 2007.  So data almost 3 years old now.  They must be working on their actuary report reflecting data as of January 1, 2009. You would think that would be much more relevant.  As I have pointed out, the last two years have seen some expenditure trends that are diverging from the past and will have a real impact on updated liability calculations.  So anything based on 3 year old data could be very obsolete right out of the gate.What is the point with that?  Not much mention of this past attempt to right the pension ship and how it relates to current plans for same.

But check out the projections from a decade ago.  I would love to compare that to the projections the city prepared for the state this week. .

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Morning Stream of Consciousness

Just the way the brain works.... Don't ask me to explain it.

First off, you really have to wonder if a presumptive-judge is saying things quoted here,  would that be a prima facie case to appeal most any judgment said judge rendered in the future? 

Then I notice that someone hit the blog here with a search for "Pittsburgh best city".  What did they find? Actually it somehow lead to this old post that wasn't about Pittsburgh directly:  Make Realize Best City of Pittsburgh.

The only comment there is from Mark which at the moment I am only now appreciating.  Can you imagine what Sacha Baron Cohen could do in Pittsburgh for a week?   It's scary.

Which leads some neuron to:   ADB has a Part II which I really think I'm going to add to the list of G20 web sites there on the right.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oh My

Site Selection magazine's cover story this month is all about.....us!  Subtitle reads: Pittsburgh is a beacon of rebirth and growth for its state, region and nation.

Makes me wonder....  Can you beatify an entire region?

Next up... Forbes has something coming out.   But for the moment Forbes also just ran its annual story on the value of NFL teams.  Not the greatest of years overall, but given collapse of asset prices worldwide it's not so bad.  Steelers value went up by 1% and Forbes pegs their total value at exactly a $billion. How is it that the Steelers are worth less than the Browns!!!  That's chalkboard material for the accountants.

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US Airways? US Airways? Sounds familiar....

I am just fascinated that even big news for US Airways does not make news here anymore.  From Cleveland:  US Airways pilots union sues pension agency

And speaking of Cleveland.   PG+, PG+...   sounds familiar.  Good excuse to check in on what is going on with Cleveland+.

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33 months

So it's not quite a record in either duration or depth... but to add something to the news yesterday that the regional unemployment was up a tenth of a percent.  Here is my graphic of the relative unemployment rate.. i.e. the Pittsburgh unemployment rate minus the US unemployment rate.  FWIW it has now been 33 months where the local unemployment has been below the nation's.  Barring some historic rate of convergence in coming months it will be a uniquelong and divergent period even compared to the few periods in recent decades where the local unemployment rate dipped below the nation.

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Random G20 musings

Mike has Part II.  I think he isn't done yet.

I really wonder if London had as many G20 themed web sites as we do at this point.  Honestly I would skip them all and will be refering all foreign and domestic media to the official ADB Guide to Pittsburgh.

and also the PG mentions a company that is thinking of taking people's twitter messages to the G20 and flashing them in morse code.  I guess that means in a decade or so somebody will figure out what was being said. Want to give a message to the G20?.... I say bring in Pittsburgh's own chalkbot!  Can you imagine what the Secret Service would do if it were to be heading Downtown toward the convention center? 

Not G20 related.  Looks like I don't need to keep track. PG is watching the trend in casino revenues.Maybe it is a G20 thought.  Just a question: how will the G20 impact casino revenues?  I wonder.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

semi-tweet

OK.  I don't quite get the Twitter thing yet... but I eventually learn.  I don't think this is its intended purpose, but I have figured out how to put the titles here into Twitter automatically.  I take some people are really using Twitter for keeping up on things.   So FWIW there is now some activity on:

http://twitter.com/chrisbriem

But all this followers/following stuff?  Not there yet.

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hardware-less Burgh

DNJ beat me to posting this, but I found out last week that Bloomfield is losing it's last hardware store. I tried to buy something at Bloomfield Hardware on Friday and saw the sign that it was closing.  I wasn't sure there would be much interest for a post here, but after thinking about it there are some bigger implications.

The last hardware store you ask? I actually remember when Bloomfield had 3 hardware stores. Can anyone name them and identify where they were?

There is a bigger story in all that of course. Hard to not see how the opening of Home Depot in East Liberty contributed to the demise of a main street hardware store but a mile away.  Don't get me wrong, I use Home Depot all the time.  A great thing in lots of ways to have it in the city.  Thus I can't escape being partially at fault for Bloomfield Hardware's closing and I know full well there are costs to big box domination of local retail.  Not a big secret in that.  May be a bigger issue in rural areas than here, but see a paper from some folks at Penn State a few years ago: "Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty" in the June 2006 issue of Social Science Quarterly. An earlier verion of their paper available here.

I honestly need to see if I can easily collect the data on the number of hardware stores in the city over the last few decades.  It's down we know, but I bet down by how many could be a surprising number. As I said, Bloomfield alone used to have 3 different hardware stores, all right on Liberty Avenue.  Of course things are changing everywhere and Bloomfield can't escape all of it. It has in fact remained a remarkably stable retail main street despite all the changes everywhere.  If you ignore the gas station, one of the more amazing thing about Bloomfield was that there was virtually no chain presence.   I almost fell over when Dominos first opened up in Liberty Ave. and it has since closed.  Starbucks and Subway are still 'new' to me.. but barring a few exceptions it remains about as chain-free as you can get and still be a viable mainstreet.

That is all half an excuse to show again one of the best economic graphics out there showing the growth of Walmart across the country.  The better version is this original wmv file, but a youtube version is below.

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More from Cincinnati

To be clear, this isn't about anything here... but a cautionary note from down river: Stadium Funds Coming Up Short

I still want to know what is up with the disagreement between the SEA and the casino over the expected payments they thought were coming to pay for the arena bonds.   Per the PG the state gaming board was going to become interested if their spat was not resolved by August.

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