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Ed Driscoll

The Bloomberg Syndrome Strikes Philadelphia

April 27th, 2013 - 10:59 am

“The Philadelphia Inquisition” is explored by Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard who says that its “Its two weapons are fear and surprise .  .  . and ­ruthless inefficiency:”

On April 18, the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission held a meeting to examine the controversy surrounding Philadelphia’s March cover story, “Being White in Philly.” The author, Robert Huber, went around the Fairmount and Brewerytown neighborhoods near Girard and asked all manner of white people about racial tensions in these gentrifying areas of North Philly. The piece was by no means flattering to white people. Huber quoted them doing everything from using the n-word to wrestling with their consciences for failing to help 12-year-old black children selling drugs in their neighborhood. The article wasn’t above criticism, and Huber himself seemed abundantly aware of this. “When I drive through North Philly to visit my son, I continue to feel both profoundly sad and a blind desire to escape. Though I wonder: Am I allowed to say even that?” he wrote.

The answer to Huber’s question, said Mayor Michael Nutter, is an emphatic “no.” Nutter released the following statement:

I therefore request that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations .  .  . consider specifically whether Philadelphia magazine and the writer, Bob Huber, are appropriate for rebuke by the Commission in light of the potentially inflammatory effect and the reckless endangerment to Philadelphia’s racial relations possibly caused by the essay’s unsubstantiated assertions. .  .  . The First Amendment, like other constitutional rights, is not an unfettered right, and notwithstanding the First Amendment, a publisher has a duty to the public to exercise its role in a responsible way. I ask the Commission to evaluate whether the “speech” employed in this essay is not the reckless equivalent of “shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater,” its prejudiced, fact-challenged generalizations an incitement to extreme reaction.

There are many stories that the national media find uninteresting. One of them, surprisingly, turns out to be the mayor of a major city ordering an investigation of a city magazine for its political content. The Philadelphia Human Relations Commission has broad authority to investigate various complaints and impose penalties. Even if the city’s actions are blatantly unconstitutional, costly administrative proceedings can tie up accused offenders for years (see “The Sensitivity Apparat,” February 4, 2013).

Philadelphia’s Human Relations Commission has an illustrious history. It was the first body of its kind in the country, founded in 1951, and was at the center of helping resolve the city’s considerable racial tensions through the ’60s and early ’70s. In the late ’80s, the commission pushed the city for ordinances protecting gays. But the justification for the commission’s existence has been fuzzy for decades. The commission’s slick PowerPoint presentation blandly states that “in the ’90s the PHRC continued to hold hearings.”

In fact, the commission has been defining discrimination down for years. It spent over a year determining that the owner of Geno’s Steaks violated no laws with a sign asking customers to speak English. It crusaded against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority for transgender discrimination because riders must check whether they are male or female on their ironically named “transpasses.” The commission has also been enforcing a city law forbidding employers from asking job applicants about their criminal records.

And now it’s going after Philadelphia. To its credit, the magazine isn’t playing along. A few days before the April 18 meeting, Philadelphia editor Tom McGrath sent the Human Relations Commission a polite letter informing them that the magazine would skip the meeting. (McGrath had already moderated a discussion with Huber and critics at the National Constitution Center.)

Back in early 2011, when New York City was hip deep in a foot and a half or more of white powdery global warming and snow removal was spotty at best and nonexistent at worst, Victor Davis Hanson coined “The Bloomberg Syndrome:”

It is a human trait to focus on cheap and lofty rhetoric rather than costly, earthy reality. It is a bureaucratic characteristic to rail against the trifling misdemeanor rather than address the often-dangerous felony. And it is political habit to mask one’s own failures by lecturing others on their supposed shortcomings. Ambitious elected officials often manage to do all three.

The result in these hard times is that our elected sheriffs, mayors, and governors are loudly weighing in on national and global challenges that are quite often out of their own jurisdiction, while ignoring or failing to solve the very problems that they were elected to address.

Quite simply, the next time your elected local or state official holds a press conference about global warming, the Middle East, or the national political climate, expect to experience poor county law enforcement, bad municipal services, or regional insolvency.

Which brings us seamlessly to investment advisor Mike Shedlock’s article earlier this month: “Philadelphia, 5th Largest City in US is Effectively Bankrupt; Mayor Holds Closed Meeting With Wall Street to Discuss Asset Sales:”

It does not take a genius to figure out what is going on here. Philadelphia is bankrupt. Without even seeing the details, it is safe to assume untenable union wages and pension benefits are at the heart of it all. A 47.6% funded pension is rather telling in and of itself.

Gutless Mayor Michael Nutter does not even have the decency to let the public or the press hear what is going on. Instead he invited Wall Street to a private tour of Philadelphia’s assets, hoping to sell assets and stave off the inevitable.

This past Thursday, Gene Marks, another business journalist, writing on a blog at the Philadelphia magazine Website, agreed with Shedlock’s assessment and added, “I hope Shedlock is right. Mayor Nutter should move the city into bankruptcy. He would be doing its residents, the region and the entire country a favor:”

Of course, the media reaction would be brutal. It’s not every day that a city goes bust, particularly the fifth-largest city in the country. The Mayor, who proudly leads the U.S. Conference of Mayors, would be subject to harsh criticism from his opponents. Those on the right would cheer the Mayor’s courageous fiscal stand, while those on the left would lament the potential effects on workers and retirees. Our region would be the topic of jokes on late-night TV. It will not be pretty.

Philadelphia’s story is the same story that’s been told about American government for the past 30 years.

It’s a story of how our elected leaders over the past three decades have mismanaged public funds.

It’s a story of how the unions won negotiation after negotiation—and never had the self-discipline to confess that what they were taking from the public now would hurt the city in the long run.

It’s a story of how the public ignored the problems and hoped that they would all go magically away.

Nutter shares in the responsibility. So does Street, Rendell, Goode and other mayors and union bosses before them. We all share in the responsibility. Everyone is to blame for this mess. It’s a local problem. It’s a national problem.

But there’s now a unique opportunity to fix these problems. If only our Mayor is brave enough.

Think he will be? Me neither, particularly when PC and Alinskyism makes it so easy — and so deliciously tempting! — to find another Emmanuel Goldstein to gin up the Two Minute Hate.

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What would the Founding Father do if the government offered a rebuke to their speech. Wait! I know: “Open fire!"
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