Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Populism's Denominator (Tuesday LINKS)

Here's a thought experiment for you: Imagine if a random person, of average intelligence (high school education), came into your office/work-space/traveling road-show at 10:47 am this morning, pointed to your computer, pile of documents, trained seal and said "What's that and what are you doing?"

How long would it take you to explain your task to the point that your inquisitor would not only understand what you were doing, but why, and had enough information to approve or disapprove of that action intelligently?  15 minutes?  1 hour?  18 seminar hours with a certificate at the end?

My guess is that you would originally say 15 minutes, but then stumble across some complex macro-issue that would need further discussion, which would then need additional context, and now we're talking over a full cup of coffee.

Does it concern you that our elected officials have to do it in 2 minutes or less, through a third-party news source, and that their job hangs in the balance?

I don't know whether it was the chicken or the egg, but a 24-hour news cycle enables and promotes populist government in ways that are not only dangerous to this Country, but already harmful to those conducting its business.  This may offend you, but I would suggest that if the average American understands a proposed policy choice or piece of legislation in 2 minutes or less, it is bad law.  Yet Americans were polled about things like "raising the debt ceiling" (something I still don't fully understand) and were overwhelmingly against it, with only ~35% being modest (or honest) enough to say they don't know enough to have an opinion. 

Poll-driven politics is paired with a rejection of "elitism", which is a code word for "anything I don't understand".  Politicians, particularly on the right, are discouraged from producing or supporting complex legislation in the same way education advancement may be discouraged in inner city neighborhoods.  Why?  Because the elites should keep their hands off our government...a government we understand in 2 minutes or less.

But that's ok.  Party politics gives us all Cliff Notes on the whole shebang.  "I missed those two minutes, could you tell me what the Answer to Number 14 is?  Thank you."  Meanwhile, voters across this Country will go to the ballot box and vote against their own self-interest because of party allegiance (on both the right and left, some more knowing about their self-injury than others).

The term "political science" always seemed like a lie to me.  Once you're actual in the capstone course, you're no longer talking about policies.  You're talking about statistics (and that is a sad sad day, my friends).  With all due respect to my statistician friends, political science is passive.  There is no laboratory where better politics is created and patented.  As such, in the midst of advancements in every other area of science and humanities, politics could very well be getting worse, and every indication is that it has been for some time.  More concerning is that these other advancements are whispers back-dropping the loud voice of politics at the microphone.

"Tom's on another cynicism binge.  Must have stubbed his toe on the way to the shower again."

Not really.  I honestly believe that if smart people ever stopped doubting themselves and started doing something about what they thought was wrong with the world, we would be in a much better place.  "We" (if I may) don't like dedicating ourselves too strongly a particular candidate, either because we resent their super-humanity or we know they will let us down.  "We" question our own positions on a semi-daily basis, because we've been wrong before and look forward to the opportunity to be wrong again.  Most importantly, we hate to admit that deep down inside we admire those with thoughtless convictions because it would provide some manner of certainty in a world that scares the dickens out of us.

There's no "right" or "left" to smart.  In fact, I would suggest that the most progress you can make for politics in general is being a self-critical Republican/Democrat.  I was listening to Rachel Maddow last night and thought to myself "She would probably do so much more good if she was picking on Democrats instead of straw-man Republicans."  Cable news is an entirely different post, but the sentiment remains.

Denominator politics is hurting this Country.  Partisanship, obstinacy, bad policy -- all of this goes into the fold of denominator politics.  We are dumbing down complex work.  And then boxing it into 2 minutes.


Corruption judge extraordinaire Dennis Sweeney will be presiding over the trial of Anne Arundel Executive John R. Leopold, who will face charges related to the alleged misuse of his police detail.  Many of you may be aware that Judge Sweeney is retired from the Howard County bench, and probably one of the nicest judges I've had the opportunity to meet.

Four young men accused of beating, stripping, and robbing a tourist in front of the Baltimore City Courthouse have pled guilty.  Most will serve some jail time, with the majority of their sentences suspended. 

The Baltimore Sun's Scott Calvert posts a jarring statistic: "On average, Baltimore City-owned cars and trucks are involved in more than two accidents a day."  Over the past 5 years, the City has paid out $31 million in accident related claims.  I would not blame the Mayor if she decided to stop reading the Sun.  It is like getting a bad report card every single day of your life.

Ken Ulman may want to pass on today's edition as well.  Real Estate Wonk Jamie Smith Hopkins found that two Ellicott City homeowners had received homestead tax credits that increased their bill instead of decreased the taxes owed, resulting in refunds of $1,941 and $784 (plus interest for both).  These errors were supposedly caused by a clerk performing the tax calculations manually and adding when they should have been subtracting.  Tax computations are no longer performed manually...because it is the twenty-first century.  Where oh where did I put that abacus?

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Lisa B, Mrs. S looks at some school redistricting stories with additional perspective from her service on the School Attendance Area Committee.  If you are a parent in Howard County, this is probably a item you want to look into.

A belated Thank You:
Edmund S. Coale, III (aka "Pops")

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!