November 29, 2004

Decentralize the federal government 

posted by Paul Smith @ 11:08 PM
I'm always disappointed to see the extent of the sprawl of the D.C. metro region whenever I visit my home town of Frederick, Maryland. This past Thanksgiving weekend was no exception. State and local planners have simply not done enough to improve the transportation infrastructure to handle the massive growth north along the I-270 and, past Frederick, the I-70 corridors. Housing prices in the District and in Montgomery County -- the suburban area directly north of D.C. where most government and contractor workers traditionally reside -- are absurd, so people are living in Frederick County, Washington County to its north, and even West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania, commuting an hour and a half or more each way to government jobs. They're driving, of course -- the Metro has not been extended past Shady Grove in central Montgomery County, and a new commuter rail line in Frederick inexplicably takes you out of the way to a place called Point of Rocks before coming back towards D.C. This once semi-rural area in the Catoctin Mountains has become like every other exurb ever, with perpetual rush hour, McMansions and golf courses as far as you can see. Now, I'm no conservative -- I frankly believe the town's new-ish Borders bookstore is a much-needed civilizing and liberalizing force. Accomodating the demands of a changing and more suburban demographic is one thing; making smart and forward-thinking infrastructure decisions is hard but has a far greater impact on quality of life.

But let's just suppose that, despite a history of much-lauded smart growth efforts, Maryland can't get it's act together with respect to the I-270/I-70 corridor as it impacts Frederick County and points north and things continue pretty much along the trajectory that's been set out. The root of the problem is that all the jobs are in one place, and there's only so much space to live in. Is there any reason why we can't or shouldn't decentralize the federal government? Why can't the Department of Agriculture be relocated to Topeka, or the Department of Commerce to Chicago? Does the FCC really need to be in downtown D.C.? It would be easy to make a national security argument for decentralization. Put the State Department in NYC near the United Nations. The Defense Department is likely permanently wedded to Washington because of the Pentagon and the executive command structure, but other than that, to this writer it seems arbitrary in this age of air travel and telecommunications the need for all appendages of the federal government to be clustered together between the banks of the Potomac and Capitol Hill. (Quick update: when I say "decentralize the federal government," I am certainly not meaning by that the typical right-conservative desire for devolution of federal power to the state level.)

November 26, 2004


posted by Paul Smith @ 1:05 PM
W00t! If you've been to Europe in the last 5 years, you know the SMART Car. Well, it's finally been approved for sale in the U.S. I don't own a car, and I don't really need one where I live (in Bucktown, near the El, and I can walk to work), but the SMART Car to me is cool enough that I might lapse. They get 60 MPG and are small enough that you can park them nose-in to a regular parking space, and fit them three abreast in that space. It's like the iPod of cars, somehow.

November 23, 2004


posted by Paul Smith @ 11:48 PM
I'm still pissed off by that Gallop report.

Perhaps this is of a piece of a universal polling problem, where the phraseology can color responses. Is it that people have a fucked-up reaction to the word "theory"? Is it possible that when asked, "what do you think of the theory of evolution," people are like, "oh, theory of evolution," like it's some wishy-washy notion, like scientists are sort of fumbling around, and here, we came up with a theory that, you know, may or may not explain things … I hate to break out with a dictionary reference, but desparate times:
A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
Damn straight.

I hate to say it, but I think "theory" needs some moral framing therapy.


posted by Paul Smith @ 6:06 PM
I want to take a nap when I read stuff like this:
Only about a third of Americans believe that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well supported by the evidence, while just as many say that it is just one of many theories and has not been supported by the evidence. The rest say they don't know enough to say. Forty-five percent of Americans also believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago. A third of Americans are biblical literalists who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.
This is functionally equivalent to stating, say, "I don't believe in cheese." Not a whole lot of wiggle room here, people! And somehow I don't think 2/3 of Americans are making a nuanced epistemological challenge about what's knowable, either. While not very surprising, this is all nonetheless highly distressing.

And yet, 66.7% of Americans aren't living in caves, aren't disconnected from the electrical or telecommunications grids, aren't without indoor plumbing, aren't not buying digital cameras and laptops, aren't restricted to animal- and self-powered travel, aren't listening to music solely from the mouths of bards and each other, aren't living lives that last three decades, aren't going to bed at sundown, aren't subjugated to the will and whim of a king or emperor, aren't wearing clothes they made themselves, aren't eating only what they could catch or raise. So we're not totally in the hamper, at least; there's some shared functional acknowledgement of basic ontology. But this I would think has to qualify at minimum as an educational and theological crisis. (When I say "theological crisis," I mean, there's no reason Christian Sunday schoolers should be teaching that the fossil record is a hoax or that the science behind the Cosmic Background Radiation Explorer will eventually be discredited.)

Who ever thought "reality-based community" would become such a radical proposition?

November 21, 2004

Do some reporting 

posted by Paul Smith @ 7:37 PM
The CNN headline to the tax returns amendment to the omnibus spending bill story is "Frist: Tax-returns measure indefensible." The story is no longer the amendment, who put it there, or why, it's the "outrage", the damage control. We see this far too often; the media let the politicians move the goalposts, and in this case, we're left with a feeling that the Republicans, of all people, are the victims: "accountability will be carried out," CNN reports Frist as saying.

The story also quotes Frist as saying, "I have no earthly idea how it got in there," and apparently, neither does CNN. You get the sense that the reporter -- unnamed, attributed only to the CNN Washington bureau -- couldn't care less, can't be bothered to investigate the details of the story, is only interested in uncritically parroting what each side is saying. In fairness, I realize how difficult it can be to obtain this information. I mean, I had to use Google like a sucker.

November 18, 2004

Frank Rich 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:34 AM
I didn't notice when the practice began, but it looks like the New York Times is now putting Frank Rich's Sunday column up on its website the Wednesday before. Odd, but I'm not complaining: he's easily the most compelling writer the Times publishes, so I'm happy to read his stuff a few days early. His election season work always provided the right god's-eye view of the country, weaving cultural and political analysis and making it look effortless. His latest is, as always, obligatory reading.

November 17, 2004

New rule: sex scandal qualifier required 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:01 AM
All these sex scandals throughout history, it wasn't clear what sort of sex was being had. Thank god for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, which helpfully sets precedent by clarifying that, in the case of James McGreevey, he was embroiled in a gay sex scandal. Okay, thanks, but now the burden is on us media producers. There's nothing we media types hate more than some goody throwing off the curve for the rest of us. I'll be tied up most of the week prefixing normal to all sex scandal references in previous Polis posts about Jack Ryan. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused.

November 16, 2004

Dick Durbin 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:19 PM
Kudos to Illinois' own Dick Durbin on his elevation to the post of minority whip in the U.S. Senate, the Democrat's second-in-command in that chamber. Our senior senator may be overshadowed by his new junior partner for the time being, but Durbin is a party star in his right, a loyal Dem who has shown conviction during assaults on his 100% pro-choice voting record (which has, as a Catholic, put him at odds with the Church's leadership), and who was impressive in his questioning of former Attorney General John Ashcroft during Judiciary Committee hearings on the "torture memos."

The post of whip is a four-year committment, which indicates he's taken himself out of the running for a national post in 2008. He'll have to run for re-election then, and depending on how well the new minority leader Harry Reid does in holding off the impending Republican legislative assault, he'll be well-positioned to throw his hat in for leader. It bodes well for Illinois in any case, as having two powerful (Obama, thanks to his fundraising for other Dem candidates this fall, enters with the effective clout of a third- or fourth-year member) and well-known senators can only mean strong support for bills that are in the state's interests.

One big question arises: how does Mayor Daley feel about the sudden emergence of two powerful homestate Democrats? Daley, who's manage to keep threats to his clout at bay by not letting potential challengers come up from within, may not be too happy to see the political center of gravity shift to the federal level, and, to a certain degree, towards downstate.

November 10, 2004

A little principle, please 

posted by Paul Smith @ 11:23 AM
This has been taped to my monitor for the last few months. I forget who said it, but it's a clipping from an article in the Chicago Reader.
"You might as well steal a page from the right. They don't compromise on their goals before they submit their plans. They aggressively push for what they want. By doing so they push the center in their direction. If you lose, you lose. At least you fought for what you believed in."
This doesn't entirely map to my thinking: I believe Democrats need to be pragmatic as they approach the '06 and '08 elections with a plan to win, not simply to change the center of political gravity. Results matter, and we can hardly afford to lose more ground. But this quote gets to a lot of what's wrong with the way Democrats too often operate.

November 08, 2004

The next Dem candidate 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:22 PM
In 1996, 100,000 conservative evangelical preachers received video tapes, prepared sermons, and other materials, introducing them and their congregations to George W. Bush.

Republicans knew who their candidate for president was four years before the election. They're probably making the decision for 2008 right now.

Are the Democrats doing the same? Who do we have, realistically? They can pick at least between Guiliani, Pataki, Jeb Bush, Frist. Who do we have?

November 05, 2004

George Lakoff 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:50 PM
Pretty much everyone can agree that part of the reason Democrats lost was that we let the Republicans eat our lunch on moral values for the last however many years, and that as a party we've done a poor job articulating our core values. We have a set of issues that the country identifies with us, but we've not effectively laid bare the common moral thread from which those issues spring forth.

As we set about thinking how to better express our moral values and reframe the national debate on issues to accomodate them, I urge everyone to take time out to read George Lakoff, who's been doing the grunt work on this for the last decade. Your first stop should be Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, which is the canonical source on the topic. Then read Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives, which is manifesto-sized and topical.

For a taste of Lakoff if you haven't read him or know who he is, see these two articles.

November 04, 2004

Lesson from Russ 

posted by Paul Smith @ 9:48 AM
We're all sorting out the reasons John Kerry and the Democrats couldn't put this election away despite an appalling track record by the incumbent. Certain narratives have emerged, especially the surge of evangelical voters and the prominence of "cultural values" (i.e., hating gays), though I agree with Matt Yglesias that if you combine exit polling about "terrorism" and the "war in Iraq" into "national security," "cultural values" looks much smaller in comparison. Still significant, but smaller.

But there was, let's face it, a problem with the candidate. In key demographics Kerry did miserably because he wasn't perceived as a "strong leader" with "a clear stand on the issues." Without getting in too deep here, Democrats are simply going to have to do better about this in the future, to combat the perception that they are the party of wishy-washy and ineffective leadership.

Democratic candidates ought to take a look at Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. In 2001, he was the lone opposition to the Patriot Act in the Senate. His Republican opponent in the senate race this year, Tim Michels, thought he smelled blood and saw an obvious win: I'm going to nail Feingold to the wall for that vote, I'll make him squirm and force him to take two sides of the issue. So what did Feingold do? He said, without hesitation or focus grouping: yeah, I voted against the Patriot Act, and I'd do it again; here's why. And then he'd elegantly explain his rationale, but the point is, he totally diffused the situation and took the issue off the table. He won reelection by 12 points. Of course, that's not the only reason Feingold won, but there's no way he would have won had he not taken a principled and clear stand on that issue.

It's about leadership.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?