Monday, April 14, 2008

In Which I Offend . . . Pretty Much Everyone

Let’s get the week started off with a bang. This post began life as a brief “Impertinent Observations” entry, but it kept getting longer as I took the opportunity to vent on a variety of topics.

Starting at the local level, consider the recent Community Block Development Grant fiasco. By a vote of 6-4, the Commission pulled the rug out from under the East Athens Development Corporation and the Hancock Corridor Development Corporation to the tune of $285,000. I find myself ambivalent about this – not because the two organizations have been de-funded, but by the manner in which the “redirection” of funds took place. Like others, I certainly think that both EADC and HCDC have grown far too dependent on CBDG funds and, from what I can gather, internal reform of either organization is needed in the worst possible way. I likewise agree with the philosophy adopted by the Commission a while back concerning how CBDG funds are distributed from year to year. Be that as it may, however, like still others, I am concerned that the abrupt cancellation of CBDG funds may signal the death knell for a couple of organizations that, at least ostensibly, have worked for years to alleviate the plight of those in Athens’ lower income neighborhoods. Regardless, the CBDG mess prompts observations on my part concerning process, race, and bureaucracy.

Much has been made of the process, or the conspicuous lack thereof, involved in redirecting CBDG funds away from EADC and HCDC, specifically as to the abrupt and unanticipated nature of the proposal introduced on the floor the evening of the vote. And just where have these critics been for the past several years? The Commission has developed a habit of rushing various measures through with little or no advance warning. We have had a series of development moratoria enacted at either special called sessions, held on nights on which votes would not normally have been taken, or at regular voting sessions at which the agenda item in question was added on the afternoon before the day of the vote. Either way, the votes intentionally were taken before opposition could mobilize or to block specific, otherwise legal actions about to be taken by private property owners. Also, on the night of the infamous stream buffer vote, the Commission took about 45 seconds to make permanent the supposedly “temporary” one-size-fits-all restrictions on the basis of an unanticipated motion (from the public’s point of view at least) from the floor; the agenda item concerning the three-tiered proposal worked out over the course of a year by the Stormwater Advisory Committee was not even discussed or brought up for a vote. That the Commission might redirect CBDG funds “on the fly” should have come to the surprise of absolutely no one.

As to race, I understand the claim that the Unified Government is not attuned to the wants and needs of the local minority community – not that I necessarily agree with it (obligatory caveat - let me be explicit that I am not even remotely charging anyone with racism – as one of the few outspoken Republicans in this town, I know all too well how such charges are thrown around without justification). Coming on the heels of the denial of the rezoning request for the Boys Club/Girls Club, the denial of the rezoning request for ACTION, Inc., and the breaking of the promise not to expand the landfill, all of which disproportionately affect African-American residents, hanging EADC and HCDC out to dry with no notice fits into the template rather well. I just hope that the next time they go to the polls, minority Athenians will reconsider their (near) unquestioned allegiance to the Democratic Party, as the Commission that approved all of these things is composed exclusively of Democrats.

And yes, I know that are those elections are nonpartisan now. I actively campaigned for that (and was likened to the Klan for so doing), remember? Still, the reality is that the local Left will immediately scour campaign finance reports and the voting histories of anyone rumored to be running for the Commission so as to reveal any latent GOP sympathies with which to tar them.

Regarding bureaucracy as the answer to social problems, I wrote this on my campaign web site back in 2006 concerning the Partners for a Prosperous Athens, which has since evolved into OneAthens:

While wishing the Partnership well and eagerly awaiting its recommendations, I do so with a healthy skepticism. If the task force produces innovative proposals designed to empower the individual and curtail dependency, I will welcome them. If, on the other hand, the task force merely repackages the same failed big government approaches of the past that have institutionalized poverty and created intergenerational cycles of dependency, I will not.

From my perspective, thus far OneAthens has produced the same type of paternalistic, big-government, grant-dependent proposals that appear to be designed to accommodate the plight of the poor, not substantively alter it. This approach has not worked in the past, so I do not have any expectation that it will work this time. My fear, then and now, is that OneAthens will simply prove itself to be a conglomeration of formerly smaller bureaucracies, subject to the same ineffective fate as EADC and HCDC. Naturally, others will disagree (and how).

Another fiasco taking shape is the tiered “conservation pricing” rate structure for water (this is one of those issues on which I am in complete agreement with Carl Jordan). The pricing structure as approved is much too arcane and appears to punish those whose water usage was already frugal. Also, the skeptic in me suspects that the pricing structure has as much to do with raising revenue as it may to do with conserving water (for years the local water/sewer service has turned a profit). Other municipalities, counties, and states that have encouraged their citizens to conserve this or that revenue-producing commodity (water, gasoline, etc.) have run right into the Law of Unintended Consequences. As usage decreases, so does the tax revenue generating by that usage. Thus, in order to make up the difference, the government increases the tax on that which it encouraged citizens to use less. Look for the same to happen here. Of course, as one who lives in the peripheral area of the county and does not have access to typical “municipal” services, for me this point is largely academic.

Finishing up the rants pertaining to local issues, to my mind the AthensFAQ folks have been playing rather fast and loose with regard to rhetoric and reason in their anti-NBAF diatribes. Thus far, the strategy has been to throw whatever arguments they can muster in opposition to bringing the NBAF facility to Athens up against the wall, however improbable or histrionic they may be, and see what may happen to stick. Of course, any NIMBY or BANANA argument plays well in this community, but one that can be conjoined to Bush Derangement Syndrome, in this particular case the Department of Homeland Security, plays particularly well. For what it is worth, AthensFAQ seems to be flush with cash, having sufficient funds to pay for a web site, bumper stickers, yard signs, billboards, and newspaper advertisements. My fear is that if NBAF does not locate in Athens, regardless of the reason, AthensFAQ will claim the lion’s share of the credit and thus be emboldened to employ similar tactics with regard to other local issues.

As an aside, the NBAF debate has split the local progressive Left to a certain degree. On the one hand, some in the ruling establishment recognize the potential for economic growth the facility represents, which is desperately needed in our poverty-stricken burg (see above). Conversely, others on the progressive Left who are largely responsible for putting those folks in office have pulled out all of the stops to defeat the proposal. One local blog commentator attached to the ruling elite even went so far as to decry their “Republican tactics.” All that I can say to that is: “Welcome to my world.” As one who has fought against the local left-wingers on (so-called) historic preservation, the “living wage,” uniform stream buffers, rental registration and a host of other intrusive regulations and ill-advised policies, I can say from experience that they can turn to irresponsible, factually inaccurate, ad hominem attacks without much hesitation. It is just that now such arguments have been turned on the Left by the Left.

Moving up to the state level, here’s hoping that next session’s House of Representatives membership rids itself of Glenn Richardson as speaker. Various proposals advanced during the legislative session could have served as wonderful starting points for a thorough discussion of taxation and spending by those underneath the Gold Dome (while I did not embrace the GREAT tax, I am philosophically predisposed to favor consumption taxes over production taxes). Instead, we got months of backbiting and power plays, with the speaker unforgivably using his office to punish political opponents. If the GOP doesn’t want to spend another 130 years in the wilderness, its office-holders need to remember why we put them in charge and play nice with one another while pursuing the common good.

At the national level. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still fighting it out for the Democratic presidential nomination, to the bitter end if necessary (though I am not enamored of John McCain, I think that he is vastly preferable to either of the donkeys – but that is another matter). As Obama has won more popular votes, more state primaries and caucuses, and has more “pledged” delegates, Hillary’s only hope is in wooing the “super” delegates at the Denver convention. Of course, if Hillary were to steal the nomination on the basis of super delegate votes, the party hierarchy would have effectively overruled the party rank and file – which, of course, is precisely the role super delegates were designed to play when they were written into the nominating process in the 1970s. Remember that the next time you hear a Democrat whining about making every vote count.

Finally, at the “international” level, there are calls for the US to boycott the opening of the Olympics in Beijing this coming August as a means of protesting Chinese policy concerning Tibet. While I am in full agreement with the sentiment, many of the current protests strike me as somewhat hollow. I strongly suspect that the bridge-climbing types in San Francisco did it as much to get their Warholian 15 minutes as anything else, and having Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton lecture the Bush administration on the issue constitutes absolute farce (especially given the Clintons’ cozy relationship with Chinese campaign contributions). This is because, absent any policy to actually make the Chinese pay a price for their actions, the Tibet protestors have no real plan. I do not doubt that many who oppose Chinese practices are sincere, but the issue has been appropriated by others recently simply as a means to harangue Bush. To channel John Edwards, carping about a “Free Tibet” without a willingness to confront the communist regime in Beijing amounts to nothing but “bumper sticker” politics and domestic political theater. Of course, if the Bush administration actually confronted China aggressively about Tibet (or its threats against Taiwan, or anything else for that matter), such action would immediately be branded as a racist, fascist, warmongering, neoconservative plot by lots of folks on the Left who cannot even define the terms, much less apply them appropriately.

There, I’m finished. Normally, I would include hypertext links so that readers could view the relevant source material, but I didn’t have the time. Besides which, readers in the Athens area should be familiar with the specific local issues covered.

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