27 August, 2009

Max Baucus and party discipline


Yglesias and others have been talking a lot recently about the discrepancy of party discipline between the Republicans and the Democrats. This is nothing new - the Bush administration, for all of its other incompetencies, proved quite capable of whipping the Republican caucus into line (with the major exception of immigration reform), and they never had close to 60 votes in the Senate. I shudder to think of if they had.

Take the health care debate. Chuck Grassley, despite being from a state that overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama, is much more terrified of upsetting the Republican leadership than his constituents or the Administration. Democrats on the other hand, have winners like Max Baucus, Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad who will bend over backwards for Bush tax cuts but think nothing of flagrantly thumbing their noses at the leadership of their own party.

And sure, they may be personally dispicable human beings, but at bottom it is a problem of incentives. Republican deviants face well funded primary challengers and punishments like losing a prime committee chairmanship, whereas Democrats face none of those things. This is not just bad for Democrats, it is bad for small-d democracy by magnifying the influence of one ideological tendency far beyond its popular support. One of my poli-sci professors liked to say that a healthy democracy requires Stalinist political parties - because parties cannot effectively transfer the will of the electorate into coherent action without strict discipline. And I think this is a major reason why Congress is among our least respected institutions. People can't see how the policy preferences they voted for translate into effective lawmaking. Because it doesn't. Partly because the Senate is really poorly organized, but probably equally as much because the biggest political party in our system can't get its shit together.

Latin America (along with some other parts of the developing world) is a great demonstration of this at the extreme. The extreme lack of party organization and internal discipline endemic to Latin American political systems has led to the extreme volatility and often breakdown of governing coalitions, which leads to military intervention or, more often nowadays, the total inability of the legislature to pass or enact any meaningful legislation, the people taking to the streets, the extra-legal replacement of the president, etc. Thankfully we're not there yet, but this kind of thing is still a serious problem for us.

Two Hour Parking

Here's a policy decision I just can't seem to agree with. La Crosse isn't big. It isn't a teeming metropolitan shopping Mecca. There are, however, more people than there is downtown. Downtown shops and hangouts are frequented by very nearly the same people all the time. I mean, just look at us.

And yet, the police are stepping up enforcement of two-hour parking by enacting an electronic tagging system of monitoring those spaces. Business owners have apparently been clamoring for more strict enforcement in the name of freeing up parking for customers. I don't entirely get it.

I spend a lot of time in the downtown area, and at all different times of day. There are two parking ramps quite centrally located--albeit one is taken up for the first few floors by private hotel parking. The whole area is about 5 blocks long down 3rd and 4th streets, and roughly the same wide by Main, State, and Cass. After that? There's nothing to see, do, or buy. When I head downtown, I am able to find a good parking spot near my destination--on the street--with little effort. Maybe 40% of the time I have to loop around and look on a different street that is perhaps a block away from where I'm going. Not too shabby. Certain streets fill up at certain times. Pearl Street is hugely busy around 12, but clears out shortly after 1 rolls around. Depending on the night, the streets are full of bar goers, and if you didn't walk or come down early, you'll probably be parking in the ramps. Big deal.

My issue with the policy is really with the assumption that by not having open parking spots immediately in front of your shop, you're somehow losing business left and right. This is highlighted by the ordinance that states cars may only be parked for two hours a day (in areas marked as such) on the same city block. If I'm parked at the end of the street, and move my car back one spot after my two hours, that's illegal. If I, however, pull my car around the corner one spot, I'm on a new street and in the clear. This is asinine to me.

When I think to myself, "oh shit, I've got to move my car!" One of two things happens. 1, I go out and find plenty of parking along the same stretch I've already been on--in which case all the stores have their frontages open ANYWAY. Or, 2, I drive around a block or two and hit up a new spot or the ramp. Elliot deftly points out that in the time it takes to circle the block, one could easily park in the King Street ramp and walk to the coffee shop, so there's really not much of a difference.

I guess I'm looking at this from the angle that when there's parking downtown, there's parking. Great. It's slow, people are at work, it's either not yet lunch or it has already passed, and the people who are there just to tour Greater La Crosse go untroubled. When there's no parking on the streets downtown, you go to the ramp, or circle the Pearl Street or Main Street blocks, and you undoubtedly find a spot in short order. In this case, everyone's downtown, business is booming, and everyone's happy.

I cannot seriously think that people who arrive at their destination but find the one spot immediately in front of the store occupied give up all hope and desire of shopping that day and go home. The policy is just inefficient and buying new equipment potentially wasteful. Rather than spend the money, they should just consistently apply the current rules so that the new, higher fines actually pose a deterrent--not to mention earn more money for the city until people figure out not to break the parking ordinance.

18 August, 2009

Captain Ineffective

Anyone who has spent almost any time around me recently probably knows that my favorite target for cynical bitching is Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), who is for some reason in charge of negotiating the entire nation's health care reform. And while it should be noted that the root of the problems are largely structural in nature, Baucus is still a raging dbag and this is still pretty funny. (h/t Yglesias)

13 August, 2009

Non-profit Investigative Journalism

With a little prompt from Eremita, I'd like to share something you may or may not know about that I was introduced to via WPR a few days ago.

It appears that investigative reporting isn't entirely an extinct art form, as Mother Jones Magazine adroitly points out. From what I can tell after only a few days avid reading, they take great care and pride in being as fact-based as possible in their large articles, like this one, something of an expose' of the Fiji Water corporation. Elliot--many of the articles read very similar to Harper's, in my mind.

Their blogs are blogs, contributed to by many on their staff, and deal with the issues many of the big name blogs already do. Still, they're worth a look.

On the whole, I'd say they lean a little to the left, with pieces decrying our favorite conservative talkingheads. However, once in awhile they seem to take a bite out of the left--however tenatively.

I leave it to you to decide.